Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Survival Plant Profile: Florida Soapberry/Soap Nut Tree



If you're a back-to-the-land sort or an alternative health, organic-market-shopping type, or a plant lover... you may have come across these trees before.

The Florida soapberry (Sapindus saponaria) is a native tree, though it's only seen in the middle of the state when planted on purpose. I've been told by Dave Chiappinni of Chiappinni Native Farm and Nursery that its only common range in the state is scattered across a few islands on the coast.

According to UF, it's hardy to USDA Growing Zone 10. This is demonstrably false since there are large specimens growing in Gainesville and bearing fruit quite happily right at the edge of USDA zone 8.

What's so great about this tree? It grows soap.

Soap on a tree.

For preppers, homesteaders and the cheap, this is good news.

The fruit, erroneously called a "soap nut", is loaded with saponins. Dry them (and pit them if you like) and they can be used to wash your hands or do a load of laundry when placed in a mesh bag. They last quite a few washings, too.

Soapberry fruit on the tree.


I first heard that the trees take 8 years or longer to produce fruit when grown from seed, however my friend Alex Ojeda of Permacultue Jax visited last week and told me that his soapberry trees bore fruit only three years after germination.

Germination is easy with soapberry trees, fortunately. I scarified a bunch of seeds and planted them in little pots this spring and got almost a 100% germination rate. Now I've got plenty of little trees in my nursery that I'll be growing and potting up for sale within the next year or so. We also have a few tall trees left if anyone wants two or three before they sell out.

Why do I say two or three? Well, like many uncommonly cultivated species, the soapberry needs a mate for pollination. Trees come in male, female and hermaphroditic varieties. Only females and hermaphrodites will bear soap nuts. If you plant three, chances are really good that at least one or two of them will fruit for you.

I've planted five in my yard so far. I want lots and lots of soap.

Because really... won't the Econopocalypse be better when you can take a nice shower between bouts of killing diseased and drug-crazed looters with a broken shovel?

Soapberry trees grow tall with an airy, open habit. In fact, they look a lot like the despised Chinaberry tree that's invaded railroad tracks and roadsides across the state, though unlike Chinaberry they have almost white bark. They're quite attractive.

If you have a small yard, I recommend planting three in a tight triangle so they grow like a triple-trunked tree and will pollinate each other without taking up too much space. That's what I did in my backyard, spacing them about 6' apart... though you could probably plant three in the same hole about 18" apart and it would look really cool.

Growing soapberry is easy. Soap nut trees are tolerant of poor soil and grow rather quickly into airy, lovely trees that don't cast particularly dense shade. Tuck some in on the edge of your food forest!

Just don't eat them - the seeds are reputedly poisonous.

That's a small downside on an otherwise excellent survival crop. Every prepper, gardener, homesteader and homemaker in Florida should have their own soap berry trees.

You can buy soapberry trees from the Florida Food Forests nursery - just let me know you want them, then stop by our booth at a plant show or Farmer's market to pick a few up.

SPUDOMETER RATING:




3 Spuds

Name: Florida soapberry/Soap nut tree
Latin Name: Sapindus saponaria
Type: Tree
Size: 30-40'
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Dried fruit
Propagation: Seeds
Taste: Don't eat them unless you say a REALLY bad word. Seeds poisonous.
Method of preparation: Dry and use to wash body/clothing
Storability: High
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Inedible
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low



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Monday, April 20, 2015

Tonight @ the Gainesville Gardening and Preparedness Network

First of all, my wife found a great picture of herself picking coconuts this week:

Quite a babe.

In more relevant news, I'll be doing a book signing and and talking about creating a Florida food forest as described in my new book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest at the Gainesville Gardening and Preparedness Network this evening.

Go, sign up for the group if you're local, then show up and say hi. There are some great folks that attend, some of whom are total plant geeks, like Andi from Greenbasket.me.

See you there.



Support this site - buy David's book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

Friday, April 17, 2015

More Chickasaw plum grafts/Grafting successes and failures

We had almost a 100% success rate with our Chickasaw plum grafting this year.

Behold!


Those two grafts are from one of my seedling peach trees.

These two are Sunhome nectarine grafts:



  And this is the UF plum variety I grafted last year:


Now look a little closer:


Yes! It has ACTUAL PLUMS on it!

I can't tell you how thrilled I am that these experiments are working so wonderfully.

Lots of folks have wild plums growing in their yards. If they use those plums as root stocks, they've got a hardy resource already in place and can create some amazing fruit cocktail trees that will handle tough conditions without breaking a sweat. Not that trees sweat. Well, they do release moisture into the air via a process called...

Oh, nevermind.

Anyhow, I'm stoked. My little Chickasaw plum is well on its way to being a one-stop stone fruit destination. It's amazing how well the new grafts are doing. The best takes appear to be the "whip and tongue" grafts.

Next year I hope to add a few more varieties of plum to the mix. The only failures we had this year were the sweet cherry scions. None of those took on the Chickasaw - and they also failed on my wild black cherry tree. It was worth a shot, but that shot was a blank.

As a recap, this is what has worked for us this year:

Nectarine grafts onto Chickasaw plum
Peach grafts onto Chickasaw plum
Improved plums graft onto Chickasaw plum
Black mulberry onto black mulberry
Orient pear onto Kieffer pear
Thanksgiving pear onto Kieffer pear
Various apple onto apple
Peach onto Bruce plum
Nectarine onto seedling peach

Too soon to tell:

Texas Everbearing fig onto unknown yellow fig
Black mulberry onto paper mulberry
Pear onto wild hawthorn

Failed:

Brown turkey fig onto black mulberry
Minnie Royal cherry onto wild black cherry
Minnie Royal cherry onto Chickasaw plum
Long mulberry onto black mulberry

This has been a lot of fun so far... can't wait until next February when we go at it again!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

No Market Today!

My van's transmission has failed, so I won't be at the 326 Community Market this afternoon.

Look for me again next week - hopefully all will be working well by then.

Until then, here's a picture I took of the first bloom on our Red Angel pomegranate tree:


Hope we get a few fruit this year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A magnificent result: check out my perennial garden bed! (No Market Tonight!)

I'm really loving the way this bed is looking:


This is not only a food bed, it's also an insectary for the rest of my gardens, as well as being a place for my daughter to grow her heirloom roses.

If you remember my post on the mosaic-decorated hugelkultur bed, that's what started this thing off.

I expanded that bed this winter. This is what it looked like back then:


Boring!

Now it's really filled out. It contains three roses, three varieties of raspberry, rosemary, garlic chives, lion's ear, perennial marigold, oxalis, cut-leaf coneflower, milkweed, plus a Saijo astringent persimmon right in the middle.

That's blooming right now:


The benefit of having these plants growing in the garden cannot be overstated. Though some are only there for beauty (such as the roses), they all provide shelter for good insects, as well as food, spices and medicine for us.

Japanese persimmons are a small tree that fit nicely into a garden design. They don't cast a lot of shade and their fruit is a slice of heaven.

NOTE: I will NOT be at the Gainesville Farmer's Market this evening - look for me again next week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Want a FAST food forest? Try this!

Behold my epic seed mix!


That's right boys and girls - I mixed roughly 1.5 trillion different types of seed together!

Then I packaged it in my secret patented way:


That bag actually SEALS AT THE TOP, holding in the (Potential) Food Forest Freshness!

I'm a fan of cover crops but now I've gone all out.

Here's what I'm doing to add more biomass/food forest plants quickly:

1. Let the chickens tear up a piece of ground for a few days in their tractor

2. Tear up the ground a bit with a broadfork

3. Toss handfuls of seeds

4. Throw down some loose straw

5. Water for a few weeks and watch the magic

So what's in this mix? There are so many things I've forgotten the complete recipe, but I can tell you it includes:

Mung beans
Pinto beans
Pigeon peas
Moringa
Mustard
Buckwheat
Fennel
Dill
Peanuts
Amaranth
Wildflower mix
Moth beans
Black beans
Southern peas
Castor beans
Radish
Leucana
Sorrel
Luffa
Marigolds
Zinnias
Morning glory
Velvet beans
Sorghum
Kebarika beans
Tickseed coreopsis
Cosmos
Asjwan (whatever that is... got it from an Indian market!)
Chia

...and lots more. After a week, lots of stuff starts coming up:


Look at that beautiful mess! Can't wait to see what madness happens next.

If you have lots of seeds and a sprinkler, you can do this. You're guaranteed to get something cool.

I keep adding seeds to a big bowl on the counter, then throwing more out on a patch every week or so, then adding more...

Half of these seeds came from bags at the Oriental store or from the bulk bins at the local organic market.

Anarchy at its finest.

Monday, April 13, 2015

African Yam propagation from minisetts: it worked!

I posted on my "minisett" experiment last month.

Here are the results:


Not all of the pieces emerged. I knew some of the yams were old, so I'm guessing that was the issue. The tissue inside some of them was a bit mottled, which makes me think that's why they rotted rather than jumped to life.

Lots have come up, however - check it out:


Those vines are really hopping. I need to get transplanting ASAP!

True yams are an excellent survival crop for Florida and other subtropical areas - I can't recommend them enough.

Speaking of yams, here's a rare purple one that's popping back up after its long winter sleep:


I've got that growing at the base of a pollarded sweetgum tree. The pole beside it is there to give it a jump onto the trunk. 

This year the root will likely be large enough to harvest...

...and make more minisetts for next year.

Go out, hit your local ethnic market and hunt down some yams. They're beautiful and easy-to-grow - and unlike air potatoes, they're not at all invasive.

Friday, April 10, 2015

SATURDAY: I'm speaking in Volusia County and bringing fruit/perennial vegetables for sale!

Come on down!

Details here:

http://www.meetup.com/volusiacountybasegroup/events/221665279/

I'll be talking about spring gardening, answering questions, sharing some from my new book and generally having a grand old time with this excellent homesteading and preparedness group.


https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Last Chance!

Today is the last chance to see my hour-long presentation "13 Tips, Tricks and Lessons from Homesteading an Acre" for free at the Home Grown Food Summit!

Go sign up! You'll enjoy it.


https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

How I protected my loquat fruit from the frost


These are the first fruits to appear on this loquat tree. It's likely 6 years old, though I planted it 2 years ago.

We had a late frost this year that would have taken all the fruit off this tree... except for the fact that I had a secret weapon!


That is a drum filled with liquid plutonium.

No. It's not. It's just water.

The thermal mass of that water, along with a few thrift store sheets and blankets made a big difference.

Look at the entire tree:


I'm not sure if you can see it in this photo, but the only place on the entire loquat tree that held fruit was the portion right around the barrel of water.

Loquat fruit are only cold-hardy down to 25 degrees, though the rest of the tree can easily handle the teens.

Because I HAD to know what the fruit on this tree tasted like, I covered that one corner of the tree, plus added the barrel - and it worked like a charm. Water holds a lot of energy. You can use this trick to protect young citrus and other tender plants as well. Just tuck a barrel right next to the trunk and cover the plant with a blanket or sheet to keep the heat of the water in.

It works.

Unfortunately, the loquats are really lemony-tart and sour (which has nothing to do with the cold weather). Not all loquat trees are created equal, which is why I wanted to see what this seedling tree would bear.

Now I know it needs to be grafted with scions from an improved cultivar. It'll take some work, but will greatly improve the fruit. I've waited 4 years for fruit - why not graft and wait one more?

I've got time.

For now, I'll just pretend it's a cold-hardy lemon.

https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Today at the 326 Market: Florida cranberry starts, blueberries and more!


As is my Thursday custom, I shall be at the 326 Community Market this afternoon with plenty of interesting plants... including Jamaican sorrel/Florida cranberry starts for $2.00 each!


If you're not growing this plant, you need to. Here's why.

I've also got some good-looking blueberries in stock right now. Multiple varieties of rabbiteye and Southern highbush types at good prices: 3 gallon pots are $14 and 1-gallon pots are just $8.

I've also got some culinary ginger, Chinese chestnuts, yacon plants, longevity spinach, butterfly-attracting chaya and more.

Stop on by and say hi!

The 326 Community Market's webpage is here. Just north of Ocala. It's a great little market. You can pick up plants, farm-fresh eggs, worm castings, raw honey, fresh produce, horsehair jewelry, crafts, baked goods and a lot more.

A great place to take your family for a nice afternoon out. See you there!

https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

SIGN UP NOW!

The Home Grown Food Summit is now on Day 3 - almost time for my in-depth 60 minute video presentation (I'm on day 5!)

If you want to see it for free, go sign up!


https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Today at the Union Street Farmer's Market

It's been nice getting to know a new crowd and putting plants into the hands of Gainesvillians and beyond.

I'll be at the market today from 4-7 along with an esoteric selection of edibles, ranging from fruit trees to perennial vegetables. Some of my new and recent offerings include yacon, culinary ginger, Chinese chestnuts and pawpaws.

I've also got a different type of chaya (Mexican tree spinach) that attracts butterflies like you wouldn't believe.

There are some great photos of this chaya at The Great Wall Of Lutz - like this one:



Stop on by and see what I have!

The Union Street Farmer's Market website is here.


https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Survival Plant Profile: Coffee

Homegrown coffee cherries.
COFFEE?

What does COFFEE have to do with survival?

If you're asking that question, you must be one of those strange and rare creatures that live their lives in a state of drug-free serenity.

Perhaps you sleep in late, eat only vegetables, and spend hours watching a fishtank in your condo.

For those of us addicted to caffeine, coffee (or tea) isn't just a plant. It's a need. A burning need combined with pleasure.

The smell of roasted grounds... the hiss and trickle of a percolator... the first hit of the day...

These things will make the oncoming Econopocalypse almost bearable.

I mean, honestly: who wants to face a horde of the undead or fight with AI-equipped death-dealing homing drones without a cup o' joe in the morning?

Not I.

Coffee, unfortunately for those of us dwelling in non-tropical climes, is a completely tropical plant. It likes somewhat cool temperatures though cannot stand the frost.

Fortunately, there are ways to grow it outside of its natural range. Growing coffee in Florida is easier than in most states.

Thanks to its ability to grow as an understory plant, coffee can be successfully cultivated indoors and in sheltered locations through the cold of winter.

My mother plant. It's about 2-3' taller now than in this picture.


If you live in South Florida, you can pop some coffee plants into your yard and they'll grow without much care; up in my neck of the woods, however, they're best grown in pots or against the south wall of your house as I've started to do in my Miami Garden.

I've been growing a coffee tree in a large pot for about four years now and it's paying off. During the freezes I keep it in my greenhouse. During the spring, summer and fall, it resides in a shady spot outdoors, happily blooming every spring and producing coffee cherries in the fall and winter.

Though I've been told that "good" coffee only comes from the mountains, I'm not all that concerned. If shipping lines fail, I will happily enjoy my locally grown coffee.

Right now, however, all the beans are being used to grow new coffee plants.

A word on those "beans": they're not really beans. They're the seeds inside a small fruit called a "coffee cherry." Coffee cherries taste a lot like sweet red bell peppers with a bit of spice to them.

Not bad at all. Just spit out the seeds, then roast and grind them.

Coffee trees take a little bit of time to propagate.

Last year I started a couple dozen of them and sold them in my plant nursery, though the time involved was a bit silly.

Here's why germinating coffee seeds is a little tough:

1. You need fresh seeds

I've bought coffee seeds through the mail and tried to germinate them. They all failed. If the seeds are more than a few weeks - or maybe months - old, they won't come up. Roasted beans from the store are obviously not going to work, so finding green, non-aged seeds is the first thing you need to do to get started. I paid $30 for my mother coffee tree and then waited a year for seeds so I could get started on my future plantation.

2. It takes time for coffee to germinate

Coffee beans usually take a couple of months to germinate. Even then, the germination is uneven and hasn't been that high. Maybe 50%. Bottom heat helps. I've had them come up in a month with a heating pad (like this one) beneath my seed trays. You need to keep them moist during this time. I put the seed trays on a large oven sheet with a little water in the bottom so they don't dry out. That works well for me.

3. It takes time for coffee to grow

From germination, it takes 2-3 years for your new coffee tree to start blooming. Fortunately, coffee is self-pollinating so you'll be able to get beans off a tree without its needing a mate. The plants I sold last year were mostly about 6 months old and 6-8" tall. They grow moderately quickly if you keep them in acidic soil and supplied with nitrogen. I feed mine with rabbit manure and coffee grounds. Blood meal is another good choice.

Coffee takes well to growing in a pot and can actually be grown as a houseplant year-round. The leaves are attractive, the blooms are lovely and the fruit is a fascinating conversation piece.

Back in the day, David The Good was a cartoonist. And coffee junkie.

To roast your own beans, go hit up YouTube. There are plenty of ways to do it at home. I can't spare any right now due to my need to grow them for my nursery, though one day I'll finally have enough to spare. (Call this post a "preliminary" survival plant profile. I can grow coffee well at this point but I haven't actually processed it out yet... when I do, I will update this pot.)

What I can tell you on cultivation: it's hard to kill coffee. If you move it into full sun, it will burn the leaves and make it unhappy. If it goes without water for too long, it will wilt but usually recovers rapidly when water is reapplied. Just keep it fed and watered and it will reward you with plenty of rich, glossy leaves and abundant blooms and fruit.


According to my non-scientific estimates, a serious coffee drinker will require about 25 bushes to stay caffeinated through a year. An occasional coffee drinker will only need a few. They bear more and more every year and can grow into a decent-sized tree under good conditions.

I met a man at the Kanapaha plant show this year that grows a small plantation of coffee trees in his yard somewhere around Gainesville. They're brought in during freezes but he told me he's had great success with fruiting and production. (If you're the guy I met and you're reading this, drop me an e-mail - I want to see your place!)

If you're not growing coffee, give it a try. It's a lot of fun, even if you're not an addict. If you are, it's a necessity - unless you're willing to switch to Yaupon tea.

SPUDOMETER RATING:


3 Spuds

Name: Coffee
Latin Name: Coffea arabica/canephora
Type: Tree
Size: Can grow to over 30' under ideal conditions. Usually much smaller.
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Part to full shade
Part Used: Seeds
Propagation: Cuttings under mist, seeds
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Roast, grind and consume
Storability: High
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good - high in antioxidants and POWER
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

Monday, April 6, 2015

Grafting Pear onto Hawthorn

The victim, pre-surgery.

I've read that it's possible to use wild hawthorn trees as a root stock for pear, though I've never had the chance to try until now.

While doing a horticultural analysis of a client's property in prelude to installing a food forest, I discovered a large number of hawthorn trees on the premises (probably Crataegus flava).

Though they have edible fruit, they're generally said to be bland and only really good for jellies.

Since the trees are thriving on highly drained humus-deficient sand, if it's possible to add pears to their tops, they'd serve as a hardy rootstock rather than trying to establish new pears.

I shared the idea with the property owner and he was intrigued. The answer: "Go for it!"

I love folks like that.

Since my own pears were still dormant when we discussed the idea, I cut a good amount of dormant scions from multiple trees and refrigerated them until this last week when we started phase one of the food forest installation.

To start on the tree, I cut off quite a few of the crossing and smaller branches, then picked out which limbs would support my pear scions.

(I use this parafilm tape and this Japanese pruning saw. It's simply got to be tried to be believed - I can carve through 4" of oak in half a minute.)

Once I did the initial clean-up, I started plugging in scions. Here's what the tree ended up looking like:




And here are some close-up shots:



I tied the grafts tightly with flagging tape before wrapping them in the parafilm.

It's very important to have a tight fit between rootstock and scion. My friend Steven also told me one of the most common reasons for grafting failure is having the scions dry out, so I'm now quite meticulous with my parafilm wrapping or wound seal application (I lost my bottle of sealer somewhere so it was just parafilm on this hawthorn).

Due to the wavy nature of hawthorn growth (the branches are all zigzags) it wasn't easy to line up my pear scions. Most of the grafts are cleft grafts, though I also performed a few somewhat shaky whip-and-tongue grafts as well, just to see which would work.

I will report in the future on whether or not they took. If they do, I'll be thrilled and will have opened up another avenue for food forest fruit production. If not, I will have invested an hour of my life in the pursuit of an enticing possibility that didn't pan out but will have taught me something new.

Win-win.


https://wdf87122.isrefer.com/go/hgfs/FLPrepper

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