Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Green papayas: grow! GROW!

It's that time of year where we in frost-prone zones start to get nervous about our papaya trees...

Last year I harvested 87lbs of papaya. Unfortunately, about 70 lbs of that was green papaya.

Though it's popular in Asian cooking and in parts of Latin America - and there are some good recipes out there - I think green papaya is just an alright vegetable... whereas ripe papaya is a marvelous fruit.

Interestingly, there are dwarf types of papaya that will make lots of fruit even though they're shorter than I am. If I could nail some down, I'd grow those. Thus far I've been limited in frost protection because my trees grow to such silly heights.

I think you could dig a 6' deep pit, enrich the bottom with manure or compost, then plant dwarf papaya in there and put plastic over the top for the winter. Local, North Florida papaya could be a hit at the local farmer's market. Unlike our friends further south, we're not plagued by horrible papaya-destroying flies.

I love this fruit but it's been a lot of work to get ripe ones. I must design a better way or I'll be stuck eating green papaya every fall...

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall planting time!

I've been prepping and planting my fall gardens for the last couple of weeks.

Do a bit every day... and eventually it all gets done.

Rachel shot a few pictures of my planting transplants one fine fall evening this week:

That's a Plasencia Reserva Organica I'm smoking.

Organic garden... organic cigar.

The seeds that we started in the greenhouse failed on us so I was forced to buy transplants this year. I'll also be doing a lot of direct seeding of mustard, beets, carrots and other goodies.

That garden bed is a pretty sweet mix. It's got dirt from the old chicken run, biochar, half-rotten compost, rabbit manure, peat moss (which I don't like), vermiculite, peanut shells, bones, egg shells, chunks of wood, plus worm castings.


I'm already looking forward to the cauliflower, broccoli, collards and cabbages we'll be harvesting in a couple of months...

If you're need vegetable planting inspiration for your fall garden, check out the list I posted recently.

So - what are you guys planting?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Snakes are natural pest control

I like these guys:

This black racer was hanging out in a swampy scrubland area
It's truly incredible to me that many folks - even country folk that should know better - will kill the snakes in their yard.

Here's why you shouldn't. If you have ever complained about:

1. Rats
2. Mice
3. Cockroaches
4. Squirrels
5. Berry-eating birds
6. Frogs

...then you should hope you have snakes!

Think about it this way: which do you prefer?

1 snake


200 rodents

Snakes are natural pest control!

As a top-end predator, snakes are essential balancing agents in your garden, yard or farm. Rather than killing them, we should deliberately create habitat.

Rock, stick and log piles create good places for these vermin destroyers.

Even stacks of flower pots work well. Look at this beautiful ringneck my daughter and I found while potting up plants a few days ago:

I can hear some of you now: NO! Creating snake habitat is... SCARY! I mean, what about rattlesnakes???

C'mon, don't be a wuss. Seriously.

Click for Amazon page.
Unless you have rattlesnakes around your property, you're probably going to be fine. Their favorite place to live is generally gopher tortoise burrows.

What you want is to leave space for good guys like rat snakes, black racers, garter snakes, ring necks, king snakes, etc. They'll manage your pest control, plus add some slithery beauty to your homestead.

I recommend you get familiar with the good guys.

Heck, pick up a good field guide... maybe you'll start thinking snakes aren't so bad after all.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Madness of HOAs

One of my readers contacted me earlier this month.

Apparently, she committed the unforgivable sin of planting perennial peanut in her yard.

Now she's facing an ongoing lawsuit by her Homeowner's Association - check this mess out:

Though I'm not a legal expert by any stretch, this whole lawsuit seems rather silly, particularly since the Florida-Friendly Landscaping law should supersede some of the local neighborhood nonsense.

"In February 2007, we were sent a violation letter from Melrose Management that demanded we remove dead sod in our easement area.  We were under water restrictions at the time and waited until May 2007 to replace the sod withperennial peanut, a Florida-friendly groundcover.  Our HOA documents allow for 90% of our lot to be planted, covered, and maintained in grass or other natural vegetation. The groundcover is/was allowed by our documents; apparently someone on the "board" didn't like it.  The board's selective enforcement continues to this day: they claim certain landscaping changes are "not in keeping with the community aesthetics".  Whose community aesthetics?"

HOAs: Evil... or just horrid?

Good luck, folks.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

From the Inbox: Florida Gardening Failure!

Hi, David-

I haven't been following your blog for long, but I really enjoy it and have found it very encouraging. You grabbed me with the one on two blocks- 17 edibles and I have been a real fan since. I started as a "real food" foodie, but since there is quite a bit of overlap with the prepper/self-sustainable community I have found that I fit into that one as well. 

I am hoping that you can offer some advice. I am in the greater Orlando area. I have put in a backyard garden for the last couple of years that I can't really call successful, but this one was a disaster. I started early, some from seeds others from plants. Got a pretty good crop of bush beans, 3 bell peppers, 8 tomatoes (from 6 plants), no cantaloupes (many blooms, no fruit), no watermelons, no garlic (3rd try), a few microscopic potatoes (see pic below- had more seed potatoes than that), carrots? (See below pic), onions- lots of green tops that never did anything (see pic), and I just dug up the sweet potatoes- none from what must have been 200 ft of vine (see first pic below). I really need some direction here- not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any advice? The goal of self-sufficiency has diminished to just a hope that I could get a few veggies. 

Please help!

D. L.



We have a conundrum here.

In a follow-up e-mail from D. L., she wrote:

On a whim I kept track all last year of every edible we purchased- just to see what would be the best things to grow that we clearly like. I'm almost embarrassed that between the two of us we went through 35lbs apples, 50 lbs bananas, 37 lbs grapes, 25 lbs peaches, 8 lbs carrots, 20 lbs onions, 30 lbs of various kinds of potatoes and about 45 tomatoes. It's not quite as bad as it sounds since I am a big canner. 

We had my 8 yr old grandson every Friday during the summer and planted some popcorn (on a whim- in college we had a leaky window and when a roommate spilled the popcorn some started growing in the living room- avocado green shag- carpet) just to see what it looked like along with some green peanuts. The corn got about 3 ft high before it gave up the ghost, but the peanuts still appear viable... I'm demoralized enough without thinking about the that. 

Honestly, I used to have a green thumb.

Any time you move to a new growing region, no matter how good you were in your previous location, you're going to face challenges. When I went from gardening in South Florida to gardening in Tennessee, I was lost for a while. Eventually I hit my stride, however.

(Interesting, the natives used to grow their popcorn on shag carpeting before the white man pulled it all up and put down laminate faux-wood tiles. True story.)

Let's attack the crop problems one at a time. D. L. mentions first that she had a "pretty good crop of bush beans."

That's not surprising. Many bush beans do very well in Florida. Now - if you want to go from "pretty good" to "holy moly" bean yields, put up a big trellis and plant snake beans.

Next crop: bell peppers. She writes that she only got three.

I wouldn't worry about that. You're lucky to get any. I've met people that claim they do great with bell peppers here in Florida; however, my experience with them has been the opposite. They're needy, picky, pain-in-the-neck plants. I wouldn't bother. Hot peppers grow like weeds here (in fact, I've had them pop up in my yard and grow without care). If you can't take the heat, try planting some sweet peppers that aren't bell types and see if they do better. Even John from doesn't plant bell peppers anymore.

Tomatoes: 8 from 6 plants? There's another tale that surprises me not. Most larger tomato types fail in Florida unless you plant them at just the right time, under the right conditions, when you see a raccoon howling at a perfect supermoon. They can be grown well - I have a friend that does wonderfully - but I would skip all the big types and just plant cherry varieties. They're much better suited to our climate and rainfall. Yellow pears do well also, but the flavor is bland.

I'm not sure what happened with your cantaloupes and their lack of fruit. Sounds like a bee deficiency. Might be the same problem with the watermelons. I'd try watermelons again, but cantaloupes haven't done the best for us here either.

Garlic is another crop that's not well-suited to Florida. We get some yields but they're poor. Finding varieties is the key: some types are better for the south, others for the north. I would research "garlic for hot climates". Also, fall planting works: spring doesn't.

Potatoes aren't the best root crop for Florida, though you will have luck some year. Russet types have done the best for me but between the heat and the fire ants... well...

Carrots and onions have performed much better for me as fall crops than spring crops. The heat knocks them out quickly. They don't like to set roots.

Finally - sweet potatoes. That's a sad tale. Apparently, if you keep pulling up the vines and throwing them back so they don't root as much along their nodes, they'll concentrate on the main root clump at their center. Also, they may have been too well fertilized. Since all of your root crops have done badly, I'd consider adding bone meal to your garden in the future and seeing if that helps.

Without seeing your soil or how your growing your crops, it's not easy to pinpoint exactly what's going wrong with everything, yet the most obvious failure seems to be in varieties chosen. Raised beds are also not helpful in our fast-draining soils.

Since we're subtropical, not temperate, it's a good idea to look south for vegetables, not north.

You're going to have to get creative in your cooking but it's an adventure!

Here are a few suggestions to replace your failing crops:


Ditch the potatoes and plant cassava, malanga and true yams. They're all tasty and will fill the same niche in your cooking that potatoes fill. They'll also consistently succeed! I'd also try sweet potatoes again. Instead of onions are garlic, think about planting garlic chives and using those for cooking. The flavor is excellent and the plants are perennial.


Cherry tomatoes (Everglades cherry tomato is one excellent type), Seminole pumpkin (if you have space), perennial cucumber (Coccinia grandis) if you can find it - ask around at Indian markets if anyone has a plant. In winter: mustard, collards, kale, turnips. Also plant snake beans, edible hibiscus, Surinam purslane and other tropical species.


Florida, for the most part, wants to be forest. Consider adding some tried-and-true trees that will yield happily for you. Mulberries (dwarf, if you can't fit in a big one) are the best berry I've ever grown. Japanese persimmons are rich and delicious. Loquats are a very good fruit for canning and drying. Figs do very well, and Raja Puri bananas should thrive in your area. Pineapples are easy to grow with a little protection.

Good luck.

Finally - does anyone else have some suggestions for D.L.? Leave a comment and let her know.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market! Fruits and Nuts!

Celosia argentea: edible leaves and seeds + beautiful flowers.
We had a great week at the 326 Community Market last week.

Not because I made a lot of money (I didn't), but because I got to hang out with plenty of friends, talk about plants, plus send some trees and plants home with loving gardeners.

My friend Curtiss brought me some nice rooted cuttings as a gift. He's got a Tower Garden system that he uses as a plant-rooting machine. Apparently it works well - the plants he brought looked amazing.

Karen and Valorie stopped by and said hi... Vonnie popped in and picked up a plant... and I bought a nice-looking philodendron from the booth run by my friends at Blacksink Harvest. I also got two quarts of delicious raw honey from Eulee's booth.

Plus, various cute kids stopped in to say hello to my children and point at the blooming Celosia plants (pictured above) we had on our table.

And the weather - perfect!

By the way - this is the BEST time of year to plant fruit trees. Forget spring - fall is planting season!

Along with carrying a good collection of perennial vegetables, I've restocked my fruit and nut trees for the fall.

I've also got a few cool rare plants right now, like natal plums, acerola cherries, and a pair of nitrogen-fixing goumi berries.

Here's what I have, ordered by price:



CHAYA: $5.00

ACEROLA CHERRIES (small): $6.00

EDIBLE HIBISCUS (various): $6.00

GOUMI BERRIES (small): $6.00

KATUK: $6.00

NATAL PLUM (small): $6.00

BANANAS (Dwarf Red and Raja Puri): $8.00

LEMONGRASS (large stem type): $8.00






PEARS (various): $22.00

NECTARINES (various): $22.00

PEACHES (both gold and white): $22.00

JAPANESE PERSIMMONS (astringent and non-astringent): $33.00



Visit the 326 Market north of Ocala today and go shopping. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.
Google map is here. Their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info):

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling homegrown produce, real old-fashioned lye soap, handcrafts, handmade jewelry, signs, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

The prices are good and my gardening advice is free... come say hi!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Herrick Kimball's Four-Day Carrots

I'm getting ready to plant a few large beds of various bits and pieces. After fighting with weeds all summer, I was quite interested to see Herrick Kimball's approach to growing carrots.

One of the problems you face with carrots is their exceptionally long germination time. Weeds run all over them in a heartbeat.

Herrick gets them to germinate in FOUR DAYS.

Check out this great series he did:

I'm impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I just bought my own copy of The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners.

If there's one thing I like... it's ideas!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Growing Your Own Herbal Tea

Last year my wife and I shared the magical experience of visiting an organic cocoa farm in the Caribbean. 
We tried bananas we’d never seen before… ate coffee cherries right off the bushes… tasted fruits we didn’t know existed… all while marveling at the incredible productivity possible in a year-round warm climate with great soil.
One thing I found quite interesting was the apparent glowing health of the natives. The men and women had excellent musculature, bright smiles and their skin was consistently good.
If you’ve visited Walmart lately… you know it’s not the same in the US.

Part of the reason folks there were healthy is likely their active lifestyle. Most people walked to work, school and the market. The other reason I believe they looked so healthy was because they were regularly consuming organic foods grown in mineral-rich soils rather than processed and packaged foods. Those were relatively expensive, whereas herbs, fruits and vegetables were cheap. They were so cheap that food was literally falling from the trees by the sides of the road.
How does this relate to growing your own herbal tea? I’m getting there!
At our friends’ house where we stayed, we were introduced to a local custom of making “bush tea.” Bush tea was herbal tea created by gathering a variety of bits and pieces from the yard or local jungle. The amounts varied and the species gathered also varied by season, mood or availability.
You might pluck some lemongrass and toss in some mint… or take some Jamaican sorrel calyxes and add tropical thyme or bay leaves or ginger… the possibilities were limited only by your imagination.
It’s tough to get proper nutrition here in the US. We eat a pretty lousy diet with lots of calories – and very little of high nutrient value. Most of us just don’t have perfect year-round climates with nutrient-dense fruits and nuts falling off the trees into our hands as we stroll to the seashore for a swim.
However, we can help keep ourselves healthy – particularly in the winter – by deliberately growing nutritional and medicinal herbs in our gardens and food forests, then drying and storing them for use as teas we can drink throughout the year.
Your local species will vary according to climate; but rest assured, there’s a delicious tea you can grow almost anywhere in the United States. Even if you’re in the frozen tundra you can grow some good herbs with the help of a growlight.
Here are a few plants I’ve grown and enjoyed as teas.


Spicy and tangy, rosemary is antibacterial and makes a non-conventional tea. Excellent when you’re sick. I toss a few sprigs into most batches of herbal tea I make.

Yaupon Holly

I’ve written on yaupon holly before. My favorite way to prepare it for tea is to trim off small branches and strip the leaves into a cast iron pan. I then toast them for about 10 minutes until they’re nicely browned, then crumble them up and brew tea in a French press. About a tablespoon of crushed leaves per cup of water makes a nice, earthy-smoky caffeinated tea.

Wild Onion/Garlic

When I have a throat cold, I love wild onion and garlic. Cut a fistful of leaves into little pieces and toss in a pot of water with chopped or powdered ginger. You can also add some sliced garlic cloves. I then salt with sea salt, making a very good soup-like broth. Quite soothing and delicious. If you want to get serious, toss in a couple of eggs while stirring and you end up with eggdrop soup!


Mint is good all the time. Everyone knows that so I don’t really need to write it; however, my sponsorship contract with the Society of Mint Cultivators, Experimenters, Users and Promoters of its Tantalizing Edible Applications (SOMCUPOTEA) requires that I mention mint tea in every article I write about teas. So there. I did it.


Like Rosemary, Oregano isn’t commonly thought of as being good for tea. However, it’s very healing and strongly antibacterial, making it worth consuming. It also makes a tea that tastes somewhat Italian. I like Italian culture so this appeals to me.

Wild Violets

Though I don’t know anything about their medicinal value, violet flowers make a wonderfully blue tea with a delicate floral aroma. My daughter adores it.


Moringa is a beautiful and incredibly healthful plant.
Moringa is one of the very healthiest things you can consume.
It makes a rich-flavored non-traditional tea. I mix the leaves, dry or fresh, in with many of my teas for both the medicinal and the nutritional benefits.

Note: you can buy moringa seeds here:

Moringa Oleifera Organic Seeds (100)


Sage is much like oregano and rosemary. Very good for you. Just don’t drink sage tea if you’re a nursing mother – it’ll dry your milk up.


Wormwood, as you would expect, makes a very bitter tea. That bitter tea is super-good for dealing with digestion issues. It’s also powerfully anti-parasitic. Grow a little wormwood and drink some once in a while. I’ve come to enjoy the bitterness. Bonus: wormwood can stand in for hops in beer brewing.


Ginger is excellent for upset stomachs. In northern climates you can grow it in a pot. The roots and the leaves are both good for tea. I think they taste better fresh than dried. Learn more on growing ginger in this post.


Lemongrass makes a healthy citrusy tea that’s very refreshing when iced and consumed on a hot day. It’s also well-suited to pot culture.

Other Ideas

The list above is just a start. You can also make tea from Lion’s Ear, Florida cranberry, true tea (Camellia sinensis), bay leaves, goji berries, a wide variety of mushrooms, elderberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and many other ingredients. Many herbs are very easy to dry on a countertop or hanging in bunches. Once dry, pack them away in jars and store them in a dark cabinet for the very best quality long-term.
Mix, match and figure out what you like. Now is the time to start drying what you can find. Plan ahead and you’ll be sitting by a toasty fire in January with a nice steaming cup of your own delicious herbal tea.
It might not be a tropical island… but it sure feels close.
Article originally published at Add them to your short list of sites to visit - there's always a stream of good info coming through over there.
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Taro: A Root Crop Worth Testing in Florida

I've been fiddling around for the last few years with various root crops for Florida.

Thus far, we've tested the following:

Jerusalem Artichokes: Generally not worth growing. Roots tend to rot.

Yacon: Worth growing. Easy but roots are not calorie-rich.

Malanga: Yields low except in greywater basin. More testing needed.

Cassava: Definitely worth growing. Easy and moderately productive.

Sweet Potatoes: Definitely worth growing. Very productive.

Boniato: Failed to set many useable roots.

White Potatoes: Generally poor yields. Succumbs to fire ants.

Ginger: Easy to grow. Yields moderate.

Turnips: Easy to grow. Very good yields.

Water chestnuts: Easy to grow. Moderate yields.

Now, thanks to my friend Mart, I also have some taro plants I'm testing out.

Taro, like malanga, is a type of edible "elephant ear." They like moist or swampy conditions and have few if any pest problems.

Along with giving me plants, Mart has also hooked me up with a stream of information regarding the cultivation of this potential staple for Florida - like this informative video:

Anyone here have any luck growing taro? What have been your experiences?

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Friday, October 10, 2014

A Friday PSA: How to Make Your Smoke Alarm Stop Beeping

...because I can't garden all the time:

You know, maybe part of the angst I felt over that smoke alarm relates to the fact that my brother is a real honest-to-goodness firefighter.

Chicks totally dig firefighters.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market: FRUIT AND NUT TREES ARE BACK!

It's fall... and that means it's planting season.

I've just restocked with chestnuts, persimmons (including some of the amazing astringent types... I couldn't help myself), peaches, nectarines and pears.

Along with those, I have white mulberries, dwarf mulberries, and a few Illinois Everbearing mulberries.

And figs! Don't forget the Gainesville Epic Figs I started!

Anyhow - this is going to be a great week. Lots and lots of new stuff, plus my regular selection of perennial vegetables, bananas, peppers and other fun plants.

Plant your own chestnut orchard. Did you know chestnut trees can bear within a year or two of being planted?

Visit the 326 Market in Ocala today and go shopping. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.

Google map is here. Their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info):

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling homegrown produce, real old-fashioned lye soap, handcrafts, handmade jewelry, signs, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

It's a great group of people and very friendly... the way a local market should be.

Come on down!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Edible Mushroom: The Old Man of the Woods

Since I've started branching out into fungi identification, I think it's good idea to start cataloging some of my experiences with wild foraging for edible mushrooms.

Hopefully what I write will be helpful. And hopefully no one dies.

Perhaps in the future, once I've become significantly more experienced at hunting down tasty fungal bounty, I'll be able to do a series of "Survival Mushroom Profiles" similar to my Survival Plant Profiles.

For now, I'll just tell you where I found edible mushrooms, how I identified them, and how they tasted.

(FYI: If for some reason this blog ceases unexpectedly, it means I screwed up on an ID.)

A couple of weeks ago I was foraging in the same empty lot where I discovered chanterelles and Lactarius indigo mushrooms. While there I came across an edible mushroom I only knew from photos - the "Old Man of the Woods:"

The Latin name on this bolete is Strobilomyces floccopus, though Michael Kuo notes in his article on the "Old Man" over at that the classification is rather shaky.

It's a pretty easy mushroom to spot for beginners. It's flaky and fluffy and has pores beneath the cap - NOT gills. If it has gills, you have something else and it may be poisonous.

The Old Man of the Woods lacks gills. My thumb looks ugly.
Slice or damage the flesh of an Old Man of the Woods and it will turn pink and eventually fade to black.

As for flavor, it's decent. It tastes pretty much like a typical store-bought button mushroom to my unpolished palate. Sauteed in butter it's definitely good.

I found this mushroom growing in mixed pine-oak woods near the base of an oak tree. It was all alone, though there were chanterelles and other varieties of boletes growing in the same patch of open woods.

As edible Florida mushrooms go, this isn't at the top of the list - but it certainly isn't as blah as some authors report.

For more photos of the Old Man of the Woods, check out this link.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FALL SALE: Cassava cuttings for sale with FREE shipping!


The terrible dirty secret behind is that it's funded by a smattering of plant sales and a little bit of income from Amazon Associates. I don't like adding trashy ads to an informational site, so I stick to these two outlets to fund my research and writing. I pay for hosting, domain name registration and all that stuff with whatever comes in from you, O dear reader. Buy a cutting... support a garden writer. Buy a gardening book or a machete from an Amazon link on this site... and I happily keep on posting survival plant profiles and weird stuff about fungi. Capitalism! 

Right now, it's getting closer to frosty weather up here in North Florida... and that means I need to start clearing out my nursery stock for the winter.

I have a large amount of healthy cassava that would LOVE to make its way into your gardens.

Cassava is a perfect survival plant as well as being great for edible landscaping. Since it's perennial you don't have to harvest it at a particular time. That means once you have an established patch you can basically pull roots s you need them over a couple of years, and replant as you go.

Once you have a few plants, you can also make as many more as you'd like by planting cuttings of the woody growth.

Since the frosts will soon take down the plants I have (they come back from the ground in spring),  it's time to send them off to greener pastures.

If you live in a climate that frosts in winter (I wouldn't try this north of zone 8, though), you can simply plant cassava cuttings on their sides about 2-3" deep and they'll come up in the spring. It's also easy to plant cuttings in pots then protect them through the winter.

For more on this plant, check out this cartoon I created for an unreleased seed-saving book:

An order of 10 cuttings will get you started with a nice cassava patch. If you order 25 cuttings, you'll be in great shape for the apocalypse (and the price goes down to just $2.00 each).

Get in on the sale now - I'll only have these until frost comes!

Buy 10 Cuttings for $25.00

Buy 25 Cuttings for $50.00

For more on cassava, check out this cartoon I drew for an unreleased seed-saving book:

how to plant cassava

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Delicious World of Edible Hibiscus

Originally published at

When you think about delicious homegrown greens, you probably think of lettuce… mustard… spinach…
Not hibiscus.
Hibiscus is just that big flower that decorates Hawaiian shirts.
Photo credit Preston Rhea
Photo credit Preston Rhea
I mean… vegetables aren’t usually printed on shirts, right?
What you might not know is that many people – particularly Southerners – already eat a very controversial hibiscus known as “okra.”
Today we’ll look at that and other amazing edible hibiscus. What you discover may shock you. I mean, some of these are seriously good edibles. Don’t believe me? Read on!


Photo credit Yun Huang Yong
LATIN NAME: Abelmoschus esculentus
Since we already mentioned this one, hey – let’s start with it.
Yes, okra is slimy. And yes, it is a hibiscus. (Well… sort of. Botanists made theAbelmoschus genus its own thing a while back. They’re still close cousins to the hibiscus.)
Look at that bloom. It certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a flowery shirt, would it?
With okra, unlike the other hibiscus on this list, you eat the green seed pods. Pick them too late and they’re fibrous.
Some varieties of okra have some nasty spines. I try to avoid those as much as possible. When you buy seeds, look for varieties labeled “spineless.”
NOTE: this advice doesn’t apply to gals shopping for a husband. It’s just for okra.
Okra is an annual that thrives in the heat of summer, hence its popularity in the south. It’s also highly productive as long as you keep it picked regularly.
Though I’m not a big fan of okra, I don’t mind eating the occasional raw pod or two off the plant while wandering through the garden.
Bonus: okra leaves are also edible.

Jamaican Sorrel, AKA Florida Cranberry

Photo by the author
LATIN NAME: Hibiscus sabdariffa
I love this plant.
At Thanksgiving, my wife uses it as a cranberry substitute and everyone is impressed by the near perfect impersonation it does of the renowned fruit of northern bogs.
Though Jamaican sorrel is another annual (or short-lived perennial), it’s a productive and stunningly beautiful plant that’s very worth growing.
In the Caribbean, the plant is grown extensively for its deliciously tart calyxes (that’s the cranberry bit). Unlike okra, the pods are discarded.
This is the part that you keep:
1FloridaCranberryCalyxCrazy, right?
As a wonderful bonus, the young leaves of Jamaican sorrel are a tender and lemony-tart addition to salads. My children regularly pick them off the plant and snack on them while wandering through the yard.
Growing Florida cranberry is easy. Plant the seeds as early as you can in the year and they’ll grow into a bushy shrub that reaches about 5′ tall. Blooms don’t appear until the days shorten in the fall. Harvest after blooms appear when the calyxes (the bases of the blooms) swell to 3/4 to 1″ in diameter. You’ll have to pick regularly or they’ll get away from you. For a deeper look at this amazing edible, check out my survival plant profile.

Edible-Leaf Hibiscus

Photo credit Forest and Kim Starr
LATIN NAME: Abelmoschus manihot
This plant has many common names and is relatively unknown as a vegetable inside the US (with the exception of Hawaii).
Though it’s a tropical plant, commenters at Dave’s Garden report having it re-grow from the ground after cold winters in zones 7 and 8.
The shape of the leaves is quite variable. I have two varieties in my nursery: one with very long, thin leaves; the other with broad dinner-plate sized leaves. Both types make for excellent salad greens.

Turk’s Cap

LATIN NAME: Malvaviscus arboreus
Around here, most of the Turk’s Cap shrubs seem to be a sterile Mexican form.
The blooms are edible and filled with nectar, making them a delicious snack to pick on the go. The plant is also quite attractive to hummingbirds.
The native Texan varieties will often set fruit which is also reported as edible (though I haven’t been lucky enough to find a fruiting one here in Florida so I can’t vouch for the flavor) and good for jams or fresh eating.
The young leaves can also be eaten, though they’re rough textured on the plants I’m growing here so I generally stick to other hibiscus leaves.
I wouldn’t call Turk’s Cap a major edible… but it’s a delicious snack and the blooms are striking against the dense green foliage.
It’s also a low-maintenance plant-and-forget shrub.
That means you get food for no work.

Cranberry Hibiscus

Photo credit Forest and Kim Starr
LATIN NAME: Hibiscus acetosella
This plant is a particular favorite of mine. Though similar to the Jamaican Sorrel mentioned above, the Cranberry hibiscus is a true perennial.
Unlike Jamaican sorrel, the calyxes on this plant are tiny and not worth harvesting.
Often grown as an ornamental, Cranberry hibiscus shines in the landscape and at the table. The young leaves are lemony-tart and excellent in salads.
Though you can pull this plant off into about USDA zone 8 (with damage from frosts), you could easily grow it in a large tub and drag it into an outbuilding during freezing weather further north. If you ever get a chance to taste the delicious leaves, you might decide it’s worth the work.

 Other Edible Hibiscus

Even if you don’t live anywhere near the tropics, chances are there’s an edible hibiscus (or mallow) somewhere near you.
This page has a good list of links if you’re interested in gathering more information.
Click over to to read more articles on gardening, homesteading and preparedness.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five plants that look like Marijuana: a helpful visual guide for law enforcement and the curious

Back when I lived in Tennessee, I attempted to grow cassava plants indoors over the winter with the help of some grow lights. They were sitting on a nice window seat by one of the front windows of my house. I kept the curtains drawn to help keep in some of the heat.

One night after setting them up I went for a walk and looked at my house from the road.

I suddenly noticed the window: the grow light behind the cassava silhouetted the leaves against the curtain and I was shocked. It totally looked like I was growing pot.

I went inside and rapidly moved them to another location. The last thing I wanted was for my neighbors or the local police to think I was doing something illegal!

Seriously - it was a hilariously incriminating tableau, if harmless. Cassava don't look much like marijuana up close, but they do have a similar leaf shape. With a light shining through them and out into the dark front yard, it looked like Cheech and Chong's house.

Here's my take on the laws regarding marijuana and how I treat them.

Romans 13:1-7 reads:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

As much as we may not like the rules sometimes, those of us who hold the Bible as true will submit to it - and to those in authority, providing they're not commanding us to do evil.

I've always avoided breaking the law. Heck, I rarely even exceed the speed limit, let alone grow drugs. I'm also not a fan of the drug culture and all the evil that attends it. I grew up in the church and saw a lot of folks with broken lives who left behind all manner of substance abuse... or fell back into it later on in their lives.

That said, there are plenty of plants - like cassava - that can sometimes be confused with marijuana by folks that aren't that good at taxonomy. I thought it might be helpful for me to do a post containing some of the various plants that grow in Florida that you might see in landscapes, food forests and butterfly gardens which have a cursory resemblance to Cannabis sativa.

Here's what Marijuana looks like:

Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Actually, the only time I've ever seen marijuana growing was when we rented a house down in South Florida. Apparently someone had dropped seeds in the side yard because there was a sickly little plant there. The landlord pointed it out to us when we were inspecting the house for the first time, laughed, cracked a joke, then removed it.

So... let's take a look at the look-alikes

Plants With Leaves That Look Like Pot

1. Coral Plant

Latin name: Jatropha mutifida

This attractive flowering plant in the spurge family has leaves that look like marijuana; however, the milky latex, bright blooms and fleshy stems rapidly rule it out. Before flowering it could perhaps be mistaken for pot; afterwards, there's no way.

2. Cranberry Hibiscus

Latin name: Hibiscus acetosella

This tasty-leafed member of the hibiscus family is often planted as an ornamental in Florida. It's a perennial shrub with pink blooms that have burgundy throats.

If you were colorblind you might get worried about this one; otherwise, the red leaves should convince you that your potential criminal is just a plant enthusiast, not a drug dealer.

If the suspect has a tattoo of Bob Marley beneath a glowing mushroom, however, all bets are off.

3. Rose Mallow/Scarlet Hibiscus

Latin Name: Hibiscus coccineus 

I have a police officer friend who informed me that this particular native Florida plant has gotten more than one officer a bit... excited... over someone's garden.

The leaves on it do indeed resemble marijuana. When it's not blooming, I can see how it could be confused with Cannabis, though my police officer friend told me that marijuana plants have a particular smell that stands out when the leaves are crushed. Hibiscus don't really smell like anything.

4. Cassava

Latin name: Manihot escuelenta

I don't really think cassava looks like marijuana, though people do joke about it when they visit my place. Cassava is a tropical root crop with tall stems that just look... well... tropical! The only real resemblance it has to marijuana is the palmate leaves. The giveaway, other than the growth habit, is the fact that marijuana leaves have toothed edges and cassava does not.

5. Kenaf

Latin name: Hibiscus cannabinus

Now this plant looks like marijuana before it blooms.

I once got some kenaf seeds from the USDA and planted them in my garden. I was hoping they'd be a good source of fast-growing biomass for my food forest chop-and-drop; however, when they came up they really, really, really looked like pot. As they grew, they just got worse.

I was starting to worry that I'd get raided or that a Predator drone would come firebomb my garden so I pulled them up and threw them in the compost pile. The police have mistaken these plants before - and not had to pay for the damage they caused with their mistaken raid - so I figure they're just too close-looking to be worth growing. I like my peace and quiet - they can go after that guy with the tattoo instead.

To tell kenaf apart from marijuana is easy when the plant blooms. Otherwise, you'll need to smell it or do a lab test for THC. It's too bad it looks like something illegal, since kenaf is a great biomass crop.

Can you think of a plant I missed? Let me know in the comments. 

(If you're in law enforcement, I'd particularly love to hear your stories and any more ways to identify marijuana and its lookalikes - thanks for stopping by.)
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