Florida Survival Gardening
The #1 Florida Gardening Blog!!! (as ranked by its creator)
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Zaytuna Farm Tour
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
If you're in the city, there's only so much you can do.
As we're seeing with Sandy and NYC, the intricacy and top-down nature of a metropolis is its weakness. The sheer weight of population makes waste management, the supply of food, water, electric, sewers and transportation into a highly complex system. A lot of things can go wrong.
Would you be ready to lose power for a week? Two? Can you do the laundry, deal with human waste, take a shower, deal with looters, keep your food from spoiling, stay cool/warm, get enough water and cook?
Use every opportunity as a chance to ask questions. And send up a prayer for New York and the surrounding areas. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near a big city in these unpredictable times.
Monday, October 29, 2012
The Farmhand's Companion
Friday, October 26, 2012
Why I'm Doing This
I started this blog because I love gardening.
I love the rich soil God put beneath my feet and the trees He designed to tower above. The thousands of fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers.
But beyond that, these are terrifying times. No one with half a brain is happy with the way things are going... with the ruined economy, the untrustworthiness of government, corporations, churches, schools, banks, cops and even our own neighbors.
However, we can start preparing right now by planting seeds, shrubs and trees that will feed us through the lean times.
I've been gardening for a long time now. At age 33, I've accumulated knowledge beyond my years by reading brilliant folks and sharing conversations with yard people, farmers, master gardeners and neighbors. "How did you do that?" is one of my favorite questions. I generally read at least two hours a day, often on garden-related topics.
And I think, despite the ugliness of what's going on right now, we can still share what we know... and what we grow... and perhaps the upheavals of our time will fade beneath the joy of a shared sun-ripened tomato or a laugh exchanged.
I pray so.
I'm doing this because I want more people than just my own family and friends to do well. To survive and thrive. If there's anything you want me to focus on or answer, ask away. I tend to be a bit of a lecturer... pull me back to earth whenever you like! I'm posting at least 5 posts a week for you... not just so I can make myself happy (though I do love writing).
And - if you've got a killer idea or tip, feel free to write it up and I'll make a post out of it. Let's grow together.
(There - that's enough of me getting sentimental for a while. I probably need to do another post on slaughtering now to regain my Rugged Outdoorsman persona. Blood!)
Survival Plant Profile: Moringa
Moringa has been called the "Miracle Tree," and for good reason. It has an incredible assortment of attributes in its favor. From cleaning water to fending off malnutrition, it's a tree of many uses. Fast-growing, easy to grow and containing complete proteins in its leaves, the Moringa is a must-have for Florida survival gardeners. If you're stuck living off rice and MREs, you're going to want more nutrition - and that's where this tree shines. The leaves are absolutely loaded with nutrients, brought up from deep down by the tree's questing roots. The tree has been named the "most nutritious on earth." It's also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, as well as being a really fast producer of biomass. Its pods are often called "drumsticks" and feature prominently in some regions of South Asia, however, it's hard to get them to set pods in regions with frost.
From seed, the Moringa will easily hit 10' during its first year of growth. In the tropics the tree apparently reaches 60', though the wood is very weak. My 2-year-old trees easily blew through 20' tall this year and the growing season isn't done yet.
|A cute lil' baby Moringa.|
Spring: Plant moringa seeds (or stick cuttings) in desired locations
Summer: Watch them shoot to the moon and harvest leaves as desired.
Fall: Cut back the trees and harvest lots of new growth for storage.
Winter: Put a 2' diameter ring of chicken wire around the base of the tree and fill with straw to protect against frost. Cut off all top growth and save leaves, then cover cut trunk. Wait until after all danger of frost the next year and then remove ring and straw. BOOM! The Moringa flies back into action as soon as days warm and you're harvesting fresh leaves again.
The trees I protected from frost came back with significantly more vigor than those I simply let freeze to the ground.
I've read that you can dig the roots and grate them to make a horseradish substitute - but I've already read that the roots are somewhat toxic. If you try it, let me know if it works out or if you suddenly die. I have yet to see any pods develop here in North Florida, though one of my protected trees has flowered. The blooms dropped, sadly, but perhaps next year we'll see some pods produced.
ECHO in Fort Myers is seriously involved in Moringa research and their store is one of the few places you can get the seeds. (More fascinating info about the plant here and here.)
4 1/2 Spuds
Name: Moringa Tree, Miracle Tree, Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree
Latin Name: Moringa Oleifera
Nitrogen Fixer: No (updated 10/31)
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Leaves, pods, roots
Propagation: Seed, cuttings
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, dried, sauteed. Leaves and pods.
Storability: Leaves can be dried/frozen, pods could likely be pickled
Ease of growing: Easy to hard, depending on growing zone
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Film Review: Geoff Lawton's "Urban Permaculture"
The DVD begins with a look at the possibilities of the urban growing environment and the madness of the traditional grass lawn.
|Geoff is not amused by your unproductive grass-scape.|
From there, we're taken through a variety of intensively managed Urban Edens. Backyards overflowing with life... medicinal herbs beneath fruit trees... lettuces and mints in planters... citrus trees managed as shrubs in a 1' wide strip on a balcony... a swimming pool converted into a fish pond... plenty of eye-candy.
We also see quite a few irrigation and water reclamation systems, from roof-fed cisterns to swales dug across yards to catch rainwater. My wife found this part of the presentation tougher to grasp, as did I, it being only a rough overview. The re-use of graywater and the technology of solar pumps, filters, diverters, etc. are much more complicated than the scope of this DVD.
|Look upon this garden ye mighty and despair.|
|Geoff Lawton: Permaculture Rooster|
For a newbie... the DVD is a wealth of information... and for the expert, it's a well of inspiration. That simply seems to be the word that fits the best: inspiration. Grab some popcorn, your date and a bottle of something good and toast Lawton's latest. It's well-worth a watch.
Find a copy HERE
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
More on Mushrooms
As I posted previously, mushrooms and their kin are really, really important to a healthy ecosystem.
If you haven't seen it, this Ted Talk from mycologist Paul Stamets will make you rethink fungi. Though I don't agree with his evolutionary worldview, I do think the man is brilliant.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Biointensive Gardening Redux
This is part one in a series of videos posted on YouTube by John Jeavons and his compatriots - I highly advise checking them out. As mentioned in my Natural Awakenings article this month, I've had excellent luck with this system, even in our sandy soils.
The Biointensive method as they practice it is as close to a closed loop as you're likely to get on an annual crop system. Unlike many gardening systems, they take into account the inputs you're going to need and grow compost crops accordingly.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Survival Plant Profile: Loquats
|Don't mess with loquats or Allen'll kick yer patootie.|
Though it's not native to Florida, the loquat grows excellently throughout the state, often naturalizing itself in the midst of oak forests and by the roadsides. Allen related that as a kid, he planted half the loquat trees in Ocala, either directly or indirectly.
(FYI: the "spitting pits off a bike" propagation method definitely works well... try it. Come on, do it.)
The fruit is fuzzy, sweet-tart and contains a couple of large smooth pits inside. Because it has a short season and soft fruit, the loquat is almost never seen for sale except in cans at the Oriental market. Which makes sense, because the Orient is the original home of the loquat.
|"Loquats and Mountain Bird," Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)|
|"Monkey Holding a Potted Loquat"|
Another note: when you do end up with fruit, check it regularly for ripeness. When they start to get a little soft, harvest like mad. You seriously only get a few days to pick the tree before they start falling, rotting and bruising. My recommendation is to dry and freeze as many as possible (once pitted, of course) or juice and ferment them as fast as you can. Time is of the essence.
Go out and get a few of these - they're certainly worth having. If you want a low-care fruit tree, this is it.
3 1/2 Spuds
Name: Loquat tree, Japanese plum
Latin Name: Eriobotrya japonica
Type: Tree or large shrub
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Fruit
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, jellied.
Storability: Poor fresh. Preserve by drying, canning, fermenting into wine
Ease of growing: Easy
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Found Video: 300-Year-Old Food Forest
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Why You Should Grow Your Own Food: Reason #1
Starting Trees from Seed
|Baby calamondins reaching for the light.|
Sure... it takes "forever." But the satisfaction of growing trees from seed is unbeatable. I have 4' key lime trees out back that my daughter and I started from seed. I just put them in a corner of my garden area and water as needed. And they grow... grow... grow.
This spring we started pecans from seed and planted a few out in the yard. We've done the same with loquats, pomegranates, peaches, various nitrogen-fixing trees, papaya, a plethora of citrus and even avocado and mangoes (which we keep in large pots to overwinter in the greenhouse.) Right now I'm attempting to germinate some American persimmon seeds. They're sitting in a little flat of potting soil, exposed to the elements. This should give them the winter chill they need over upcoming months and send them through the earth sometime in the spring. If they fail... I'm out a few minutes planting time and the moments spent gathering overripe persimmons from the ground and squishing the seeds out. If they succeed, future generations can share in my success.
The cost of starting trees from seed is almost zero. And if you're always planting the seeds from the fruit and nuts that come through your kitchen, the gradual result is that over time you have lots and lots of young trees you can plant out and share with others.
Plugging a few into vacant lots around your neighborhood isn't a bad idea either. What's the loss? 2 minutes of planting time?
Try starting a few. It's addicting.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse: Episode V - Chop 'n' Drop
Growing mulch and fertilizer in place. Whacking plants with machetes. And a random shot upwards that completely misses the Tithonia diversifolia and basically just shows you dogwood branches. All packed into this short episode!
For a cool article on the use of Tithonia Diversifolia as a green manure, check this out.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Get to Work
Quit lying around.
Don't put off preparing until tomorrow. NOW is the time to start your gardening plans.
Dig a plot, pick out some seeds, plant something, turn your compost, feed the chickens, take down a branch to provide sunlight, put a fruit tree in the ground, shop for a better shovel... whatever needs doing, do it. One piece at a time and you will succeed. But if you lie around, you cannot expect to do well.
"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man."
By the way... this post is just as much for me as anyone else. Sure, I pulled over 100lbs of sweet potatoes a couple weeks ago... and I've put some trees in the ground... and I've been fighting my invasive cogongrass... but many, many more things need my hands on them. What needs fixing at your place?
Friday, October 12, 2012
Not Just Survival: More Thoughts on Habitat
We often think in a linear manner.
As in: HOLY COW IMA GONNA GETS ME SOME FOOD NOW!!11!1!!!
But long-term planning and thinking should go deeper than putting RoundUp on a patch of grass, whipping out the tiller and planting a big crop of grain corn, though that may be what you have to do in a total collapse. (Please don't freak out... I am an organic farmer... but I did say TOTAL COLLAPSE. In a TOTAL COLLAPSE, you do what you need to do!)
A well-managed plot of land that has the complete ecosystem in mind can support lots more than just your immediate needs. It also recycles water and nutrients, improves the soil rather than depletes it, and provides habitat for other creatures.
When I first moved onto my piece of Florida sand, I noticed a couple of good-sized gopher tortoise burrows. My food forest planning was adjusted accordingly. The burrows are all from the same tortoise, who is now living better than ever. I've planted lettuces, wildflowers and left plenty of weeds for him to gnaw on. And unlike the former residents of this house, I'm not spraying pesticide or flinging chemical fertilizers across the lawn. I also don't own a dog, which allows other worthwhile animals to come in (and keeps my yard from being a crap minefield).
I've planted lots and lots of trees... let grass get long... allowed vines to creep over fallen branches... all the things that a good forest would do. And the animal life has exploded. Butterflies, frogs and snakes wander unmolested through my yard as birds and squirrels chatter in the branches above. At night, owls and armadillos patrol for unwary prey.
And, you know, if things get really bad, you're going to appreciate having a few squirrels, armadillos and other mammals around. Though you could eat a tortoise too, they're really better as mobile lawn decorations and reminders that beneath the economic madness and wars of men, Creation continues poking along.
(Note: If you try eating my tortoise, I'm going to be really mad. I like the old guy.)
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Mushrooms Are Your Friends
Fungi in general are very important to soil health. By avoiding tilling, you don't tear up the tiny mycellium running through the soil... and by letting things rot in peace, you Deepen the Awesomeness Of The Mystical Soil Web. Or something along those lines. I created a compost tumbler out of a 55-gallon drum (which sounds better on paper than it works in real life) and then forgot to tumble it for a while. An incredible flush of mushrooms was the result.
Fungi decompose what many bacteria can't. Wood and paper fibers, for instance. If you see them in your yard or your compost, be happy. Good things are happening. The mushrooms you see, interestingly, are only the fruiting body of what is often a much larger organism. Tiny threads from one entity could be woven beneath the surface of your entire yard... only to reveal themselves as an occasional mushroom on the surface once in a blue moon.
In a compost pile, fungi take over after the thermophilic bacteria, yeasts and other microorganisms have done a lot of the primary work. As the pile cools, they move in and help complete the process of decomposition. Yes, some fungi attack our plants... but many others feed them in ways we can hardly imagine. From extending the reach of plant roots to providing nutrients from sources unavailable to trees, to dissolving rock, fungi are vital. And, though many are inedible, they do bring a delicate ethereal beauty that's all their own.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse: Episode IV
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
October Natural Awakenings Article: Biointensive Gardening in Florida
Monday, October 8, 2012
Survival Plant Profile: Sweet Potatoes
The sweet potato is widely grown as an annual across the south - yet it's a perennial here in Florida. A relative of the morning glory, the sweet potato is highly nutritious, calorie-filled, packs less of a glycemic hit than grains, cassava or potatoes and stores excellently. However, it doesn't like frost, so you're not going to get any growth during the winter. And don't plant them too early the first year - it's better to wait until there's absolutely no chance of freezing your tender young starts.
Speaking of "tender young starts," anyone ever stuck a few toothpicks into a sweet potato from the store, stuck it in a glass, then watched the buds turn into vines? If not, grab a potato and try it. The new vines that form can be broken off and planted in the ground once they get a couple of inches long. The potato will continue producing new ones for months. These little vines are called "slips." Make sure to keep them watered and shaded as they get established. Once they're established, they'll grow like weeds. I know people will tell you all kinds of things about harvest times, etc., but I usually pull sweet potatoes in November... or when I get tired of their vines covering everything. I follow the vines and pull up all I can. Invariably I've left some in the ground that return the next year, and that's fine.
One thing I recently discovered is that sweet potatoes are pretty bland until you let them sit and age for a while. When you dig the potatoes, let them sit out for a little while to dry, then put them in a basket, dirty or not. After a few weeks' storage they'll sweeten up. They keep for a long time under cool dry conditions, too. Months and months. I've stored them for six months and still had decent roots to eat, despite what you read about short storage times.
Another benefit to the sweet potato: its leaves are edible raw or cooked. We eat sweet potato leaves in our salads all summer and fall. They don't have a lot of flavor, but they're a great salad stuffer and have a pleasant crunchy texture, provided you don't pick when they've been wilted by the sun.
This plant is excellent all around - just don't eat the roots raw. They won't kill you, but they do have some anti-nutrients that are removed during cooking. FYI.
True story: the picture at the top of the little sweet potatoes in water was taken in my greenhouse this spring. I bought an organic "sweet potato assortment" in shrink-wrap at Publix. It was a total gimmicky thing with a few small different-colored roots in a row, selling for the ridiculous price of $2 and change, ready-to-microwave! I thought "heck with that - I can grab about 5 cultivars of sweet potato in one fell swoop and PLANT THEM!"
So I did, and had some very interesting varieties growing in the garden this year. The picture to the above right was most of this year's harvest. God is good! (And sweet potatoes aren't half bad either.)
Latin Name: Ipomoea batatas
Type: Vining perennial
Size: Vines easily crawl 15-25'
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade. Lots of sun is the best.
Part Used: Roots, leaves
Propagation: Slips, cuttings, roots
Method of preparation: Roots cooked, leaves raw or cooked
Ease of growing: Easy
Odd Berry Crops
|Goumi berries are good. So are dirty thumbnails.|
Life isn't all about the commercial crops found in your local grocery.
In Florida, we're uniquely suited to growing some amazing and almost unknown berries. Sure, we know about mulberries, right? But how many trees have you seen lately? Probably very few, since the modern idea of a nice suburban yard doesn't have a place for a messy (that is, HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE) tree like a mulberry. Heck no - let's plant a freakin' worthless ornamental!
When TSHTF, you're going to be glad for mulberry trees.
Can't eat all the fruit? Dry them for later.
Weather won't allow it? Ferment them and make brandy.
Not legal to make brandy in your locale? Feed them to your chickens.
Seriously - that's not a mess, that's food. I'll do a future post on mulberries since I'm just using them as a passing example here.
If you're down in South Florida, you can grow cocoplum or Surinam cherry hedges and have something to eat as well while you enjoy your privacy. Heck, you can eat berries naked once the hedges fill in enough. It's fun.
In the middle of the state, Goumi berries are a great choice. A relative of the popular silverthorn (used extensively for hedges), goumi berry shrubs fix nitrogen and bear delicious, tart red berries with tiny silver spots on them. I've got a half-dozen in my front yard in both sun and shade. Plant them in your food forest and the roots will also feed the trees around them.
Another native with edible berries is the "Simpson Stopper." They're a decently sweet little red berry with an interesting bitter grapefruit aftertaste. One of these days I'll dry some and see how that works out. Just another way to think outside the typical berry basket.
Bonus: most people don't recognize these plants or their food value, meaning you can be eating goumi berry jam while the rest of your town is dealing with major food theft issues.
Just a few thoughts.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Talk To Your Kids
Discovered at permies.com:
Friday, October 5, 2012
Thursday, October 4, 2012
This fellow is a prime example of how we should approach gardening. Check out his unique growing system and the video he took of root development here:
Now I need to find a stump to bury.
Timely Tips for October
The following is my latest article for the Marion County Master Gardening Program's "Marion Gardener" publication:
Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County (October)
Fall is in the air, the Christmas displays are pushing out the patio furniture in your local home improvement store… and suddenly… as the mercury drops… gardening is fun again.
Did you start your fall veggie garden last month? If not, there’s still time to attack it. If you’re from up north, the idea of planting a garden at this time of year probably sounds ridiculous – but in Florida, we can grow through all four seasons. Of course, it’s too late to plant tomatoes and hoping for another crop of green beans is probably a stretch, but peas, collards, carrots and other cold-hardy plants are perfect for carrying on through the winter. You can also manage to grow some decent lettuces as long as you’re willing to protect them on frosty nights.
On the tree and shrub front, it’s time to quit fertilizing. Feeding right now will encourage new growth – and that new growth will be susceptible to frost damage. Let your plants wind down for the year and prepare for winter. Coaxing an extra burst of growth out of them before the end of the year isn’t worth the destruction that could result. Tender new growth on citrus, pomegranates, cattley guavas, figs and olives suffer terribly.
Speaking of cold, do you have a greenhouse? If so, you can keep it warmer for your plants by adding “thermal mass.” (i.e., “something that holds heat.”) One of the best ways to do this is to buy 55-gallon drums, fill them with water and place them about the space. I did this in my unheated greenhouse and was amazed at the difference it made. The gentle warmth of the barrels protected even my fully tropical plants - there wasn’t even a touch of frostbite. Just having that slight radiant heat is very helpful – and it saves you from more expensive heating options. In Florida, simply holding on to the heat of the day is usually good enough for most greenhouse plants.
Also, if you’ve ever wanted to grow tropical plants but haven’t been able to pull it off, take a look at the south side of your house. Do you have a sunny wall there? You might be surprised by what you can grow. I’m currently growing pineapples, bananas and a key lime tree right next to my south wall. It’s my own little piece of USDA Zone 10 and I love it. Experiment and see what you can do – I’ve noticed that if I get further than 2’ from the wall, the frost damage really picks up. Just like barrels in your greenhouse, a nice concrete wall really holds the heat… think about trying something new there.
October is a good month for putting in deciduous trees. If you’ve always wanted a peach or a plum, a live oak or a dogwood, snag one and plant it now. It’ll go to sleep and awake refreshed and ready to go in the spring. Though we don’t see leaves in the winter, the tree is still putting out roots and gathering strength while it awaits the return of warm weather. Plant now and you get a jump on next year.
Until next time, enjoy your gardening.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Book Review: All New Square Foot Gardening
this book has sold more than 2 million copies. It takes the vagaries of soil, the toil of weeding and the squinting at seed package directions... and throws them in the compost bin in favor of a highly engineered yet remarkably simple approach to gardening. You could do a lot worse than follow Bartholomew's advice. In fact, I recommend this book regularly to new gardeners. If you're interested in growing consistent beds of annual food crops, the method is almost foolproof. One might argue that in a survival situation it would be near impossible to find the perfect soil amendments needed to create "Mel's Mix," i.e. the perfect soil Mr. Bartholomew recommends (which, incidentally, works very well even here in Florida). And that person would be right. However, the new book recounts their efforts in food growing in Africa using straight compost created on-site - and the system's continued effectiveness even in less-than-ideal situations.
If you're not jumping into a full-scale food forest system... or if you have some resources now and want to get kicking before it's too late to buy nice stuff... or if you're scared of gardening - buy this book and implement it. You'll be pleasantly surprised. My wife and I created a half-dozen square-foot beds as an experiment and we've found them highly productive and low maintenance. For the overwhelmed gardener, Mel Bartholomew's grids and directions are a breath of fresh air. Plus, the guy's just so darn positive you can't help but enjoy the read.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Monday, October 1, 2012
What Happens When You Add Habitat
You get scenes like this:
|Yum. I mean, just yum.|
Snakes and toads are both beneficial, so in this case, the toad getting eaten is a bit of a loss... but thanks to the plentiful breeding grounds, rocks, sticks and abundant foliage, there really isn't a shortage of toads in my yard.
Leave wild spaces, unkempt corners and damp areas. Then you'll get plenty of species - and free entertainment. Incidentally, the snake in the picture is one of these.