Friday, November 30, 2012

More On Biochar: The Natural Wonder-Working Soil Amendment You Can Make With FIRE!


It's being touted as the cure for sandy soil, nutrient leaching, global warming, toxic residues, cancer and Bieber Fever.

Biochar! Check this out:

I made some with Ricky and Winky a few weeks ago, as you probably saw from my previous post. Rick basically takes a ton of branches and logs, gets them blazing, then covers the half-burned fire with a bunch of wet leaves and pine needles... then waters the heck out of it for hours. Of course, this is also a great excuse to drink beer, smoke cigars and burn stuff. Rather than making a big barrel or something that actually takes infrastructure, Rick's method is really easy - and it's based on his own experimenting, which makes it double-plus-good. Hurray for experimenters. I went home with four buckets of char from one of his previous burns... and there was still plenty left behind.

I've read conflicting reports as to biochar's effectiveness, with some trials showing poor results and others showing the opposite. It seems the very best way to make biochar effective is to mix it with some kind of nutrients or compost so it can be colonized by fungi and bacteria. Soaking it in compost tea, worm tea or urine is also apparently a good way to kick-start it.

Perhaps some field trials are in order here at Econopocalypse Ranch.

Anyone else using the stuff?

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Orlando's Very Own "Illegal" Gardeners Share More Info

Jason and Jennifer Helvenston have put together a central blog repository for docs, articles and photos related to their fight to keep their garden in urban Orlando - check it out:

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You Can't Grow Those Here!!!

Papaya?!? No way!

And yet I am, indeed, growing them in North Central Florida. It just takes some work to pull it off.

My first year's experiment was less than successful, but I've already gotten at least 8 fruits off this year's attempt. In order to grow papaya here, I start the seeds in spring, get the tree to about 4-6' tall in a pot, then plant out the next spring by the wall. I really, really like papaya. So much so that I'm thinking of building a greenhouse for just them. Obsessive? Perhaps. But there's a part of me that longs for the tropics... and papaya are a tangible emblem of that mystical realm. The ones we've harvested thus far have been very delicious - it's hard to share them with the children, but I do. Because I'm a Really Good Dad.

We got hit with a frost last week but it wasn't enough to hurt my trees much. The south wall of my house and a blanket thrown over the top of the nicest of my trees was enough... so far.

Of course, the worst of winter is yet to come. Stay tuned. I'm sure photos of melted trees will be posted here soon enough.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why You Should Grow Your Own Food: Reason 2

Because it doesn't contain heavy metals/industrial waste:

Seriously. Are people on crack?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Film Review: "Back to Eden" - 103 Minutes of Encouragement

UPDATE 11/30/12: I see this review has now been linked to from Back to Eden's Facebook page. Thank you - I appreciate what you guys are doing... hope there will one day be a sequel.

*     *     *

I finished watching this film for the second time online, then thought... what the heck - I'm buying the DVD to share. At $15 with free shipping, it's well worth the price of admission.

It's not that the film is perfect... it's just that it's totally encouraging. Back To Eden is one of those slices of inspiration that makes you want to jump up about half-way through and reinvent your gardens.

The story is this:

Paul Gautschi, a Christian arborist with a small farm, has been doing everything the hard way... that is, the conventional way. Tilling, hoeing, pulling rocks, irrigating and suffering through poor yields and low rainfall is just the way things are... until he hears from God and a whole new adventure begins.

After his revelation and some inspired hard work, Paul's dirt goes from looking like the sun-baked hardpan above... to the rich compost-filled magic below.

Paul Gautschi garden and orchard, upon which the "Back to Eden" garden concept is based, is a no-till compost and woodchips approach along the lines of a Ruth Stout or a Patricia Lanza design.

Through the film, we discover Paul uses little to no irrigation... has almost no problem with weeds... doesn't have imbalances in his soil... and yields huge, disease-free vegetables with consistency.

Giant cabbages and pretty gals! Heck yeah!

His enthusiasm is infectious and his memorization of Scripture impressive. When things get ugly, Paul is the sort of guy you'd want living next door.

As the film progresses, we hear from various experts about their views on soil, irrigation, organic growing and Paul's methods. One of those is his use of dirt from his chicken run... he mentions the amazing job chickens do of breaking down scraps into rich soil and states the eggs are "just a byproduct."

Killer dirt from the chicken run.

We also get to see inside other farms that are still struggling with more conventional growing techniques and the comparison isn't flattering.

In the second half of the film, the producers take us on a journey to "Back to Eden" gardens constructed elsewhere. This part of the film doesn't varnish over the issues with nitrogen robbing by high-carbon materials and the time it takes for the soil to reach a higher fertility. However, it also gets a little thin on content, particularly if you're a Certified Mad Horticulturist such as myself.

No snakes in the "Back to Eden" garden. Or nudity.

For newbies, though, it's just fine. In fact, one of the reason I bought the physical DVD is so I can share it with my less green-thumbed friends and relatives and open their eyes to new possibilities for their yards.

One rather entertaining segment features Paul sharing his produce with visitors, including a boy from China who basically eats his weight in produce.

Slow down, kid - it's not like you're Ethiopian.

All around, a good watch and an encouraging flick. If you're not sold on buying the DVD, you can see the entire film here:

The filmmakers obviously had a lot of fun putting this together, as manifested in a music video featuring fruits and veggies lined up to the beat... and fun scene changes such as this:

Worth watching. Copies can be purchased here.


3.5/5 Spuds

Monday, November 26, 2012

Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse - Episode VIII: Winky and Ricky Make Biochar

In which two crazies have fun burnin' stuff and all dat.

(I admit, this one is a little weird. I dunno what happened. I gave my camera to Winky and let him have a try. When I got the footage back, I almost died laughing.)

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Covert Urban Gardening/Homesteading

Chrissy Bauman starts a thread - go contribute your ideas:

If you're a gardener, and not on - shame on you. Go sign up.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Good "Chop 'n' Drop" Video

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Response From the Padin's - the Helvenston's Neighbors Who Contacted Code Enforcement

The plot thickens!

The following was recently both sent to my e-mail and posted as a comment on a previous post (my own response below):

Dear Mr Goodman:

I am the owner of the house next door.  I live out of town, but pay taxes on the property, and has the same rights.  My farmer neighbor is very collective in your interview, but when we approach his wife to discuss alternative, we never had a response from them.  He called our property manager to insult him.  This is not an attitude from a farmer, I am a farmer also a biologist and understand the natural process and sustainability movement, but this crying baby attitude is what confused me with the right purpose of farming.

Since to me that he only wants to get publicity for his business.

What's next? Chicken, Gardens, herpetologist???

I live in Puerto Rico and proud to serve the US Navy.  I'm willing to discuss our rights and opinions to anyone.


Pedro Padin 787-612-9127
Gretchen Rivera Padin 787-413-7788

The key issue here is to keep the place neat and clean and that's why we are concern about the front garden.

RESPONSE FROM ME (via e-mail):

Dear Mr. Padin,

Thanks for writing. I'll bump your comment (and this response) to the top of my blog. I'll also make sure the Helvenston's are apprised of your concerns.

I can't necessarily speak for the Helvenston's motives, not having witnessed the entire situation. I only met them recently and know just what they've told me.

However, I don't understand why you would have a problem with anyone growing food in their own yard. If Jason and Jennifer planted a garden in your yard, you'd have every right to complain. But shouldn't a person be able to use their own property as they wish, providing they aren't hurting anyone else?

It doesn't seem that vegetables are hurting you guys in any way, except for not being "neat," as you state. If there's more to this, please let me know - but this nation was founded on private property rights. Whether or not you get along with the Helvenston's - and even if they're rude or self-seeking or anything else you might assert - it's still their yard and I believe gardening in it should absolutely be allowed, just as you should have a right to use your own yard as you see fit.

I hope your family and their family will be able to resolve your dispute and be at peace once again. I'm sorry the neighborhood has been caught up in controversy. I wish it could have been resolved without the city having been involved.

All the best,

David Goodman

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Beautyberries at Snacky's

You've probably seen these things growing around:

That's the American Beautyberry, also known as Callicarpa americana. For some reason, everyone thinks they're poisonous. Perhaps it's the brilliant color of the berries or the pungent smell of the leaves. Fortunately for us, however, they are edible. They're not the best-tasting thing in the world, being mealy and sometimes slightly reminiscent of turpentine... but they're safe as milk. And apparently, they make a good jelly.

(Note to self: make some beautybery jelly)

I've allowed beautyberries to grow all around my yard and I've also deliberately planted them around my chicken run, since I've noticed the chickens love them. When I remember, I grab clusters off the bushes and scatter them for my hens. Free food!

For some reason, my kids also love beautyberries. They do a game they call "Snacky's Diner," wherein they gather up beautyberries in jars, then serve them up as if it was a restaurant. Occasionally, they'll also yell across the yard things like "Snacky's Diner is OOOOOPEN! COME ON IN!!!"

You might plant these babies and try the same thing when you have company over.


(I have no idea where they came up with that name... or this game. But they find it amusing enough that they play it every Fall when the berries ripen.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Extreme Composting II: More on Composting Human "Waste"

I came across an excellent article at As I've posted before, our use of flush toilets is incredibly wasteful. Ever thought about what would happen if they quit working? The following solution may just be exactly what many will need in a crisis.

Here's some food for thought:

 "The fundamental (so to speak) error in the way we have thought about human wastes for a couple of centuries is to think of them as waste at all, i.e. as dross or discard, a substance with no value — or a substance with extreme negative value (dirty, pathogenic, icky). The collection of humanure and urine into centralised processing centres to be biocidally or biotically neutralised and then dumped into bodies of water means that we have interrupted the nutrient cycle, turned what should be a circular energy diagram into a linear one. Instead of returning the excess or byproduct of our metabolic function to the soil that produced the food we ate — as every other living creature on Earth does in a healthy biotic system — we have intervened; we “flush away” our own metabolic byproducts and (in modern times) dump them far, far from the fields which fed us. We thus impoverish the soil (by removing nutrients, minerals, elements which are not replaced), and increase the cost of agriculture by having to replace artificially the missing nutrients, etc. If a herd of antelope grazing on savannah were to club together to have their manure removed by train to the coast and dumped on a beach, it would be no more absurd...." Read More

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guerrilla GMO Labeling

I think they're on to something:


Extreme Composting I: Outhouses, Humanure and "Where the Heck Do I Go Now That My Toilet Is Busted?"

I've composted human waste (humanure!) quite successfully before... more on that in a future post. But for now, this tour of four outhouses is quite entertaining. (My kids have asked to see it over... and over... and over.)

We may have to start thinking about reusing our "waste" in the near future. We're currently urinating and defecating into clean drinking water... a stupid use for a highly valuable resource. And our excrement is a darned good fertilizer if used appropriately.

Supply lines, water treatment and infrastructure are unlikely to continue in their current state for much longer... think about alternatives to the common commode before you're forced to.

Another great video is here (Go ahead! Stick your head in!):

More food for thought: I have read (and own) this book and found it very impressive - worth buying (if you buy it at the link below, you help fund my blog):

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition

Anyone out there using an alternative system? Or seen a good model for re-use of human "waste?"

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse: Episode VII - Cassava and Bob Ross

In which I show you how to harvest and process cassava.

Note: Cassava is my favorite plant. Ever.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Article for Mother Earth News on the Helvenston's "Illegal" Orlando Garden

The editor of Mother Earth News had me do a story for them on the Helvenston's fight to grow food in the front yard of their home in urban Orlando.

Here's the link: 

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The Roots of Two Cassava Plants (In a Basket)

Thank my wife for the tasteful arrangement... video on cassava harvesting coming soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Found Video: An Urban Garden

Just because space is limited or the surroundings aren't ideal, it doesn't mean you're completely up a creek.

Like the Helvenston's garden, part of this one was also deemed "illegal" by city officials - though they backed down after the neighborhood came together in protest.

Check out Ron Finley's space:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012


This is what you get when you have plenty of water, excellent soil, and a hard-working wife:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Orlando News 13 Picks Up the Helvenston Garden Story

Positive coverage keeps coming in - Jennifer just sent me this:

She also let me know that "Front Porch Radio" on WPRK 91.5 will be interviewing them tomorrow at 4PM.

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Video Interview with Jason and Jennifer Helvenston - the Orlando "Illegal" Front-yard Gardeners

Many of us saw the article last week on the couple who have been told by Orlando to tear out their vegetable garden. I saw it too and was inspired to dig deeper. Fortunately, the Helvenston's were nice enough to sit down with me for a half-hour interview over Skype.

They're not crazy, they're not bad neighbors, and they don't view themselves as radicals or revolutionaries. They're just an environmentally keyed-in couple who needed space to grow food and refuse to roll over before city officials who think unproductive grass is better than organic veggies.

Here it is in their own words:

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Update on Helvenston's Garden - Video Coming Shortly

Update: I've recorded a great video interview with the Helvenston's about their "illegal" front-yard garden in Orlando - stay tuned.

The files are rendering out right now and I'll get it on YouTube as fast as possible.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Response from Mayor Dyer on Jason Helvenston's "Illegal" Front-yard Garden

After sharing the story of Jason Helvenston's (given wrongly in previous reports as "Helvingston") front-yard garden being threatened by the city of Orlando, I later posted my e-mail to Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Incidentally, I've also been in contact with Jason and Jennifer Helvenston and hope to catch them for an interview later today - with luck, I'll be able to dig deeper into the story and share what I find with all of you.

This morning, I heard back from Mayor Dyer - here's his response:

Dear Mr. Goodman,

Thank you for reaching out to us on the topic of residential
gardening. The City of Orlando is committed to environmental
responsibility and encourages the use of vegetable gardens as a
sustainable source of producing food.

While media reports may have inaccurately led you to believe the City
has an ordinance against vegetable gardens, nothing could be further
from the truth.   The City is working with the property owner to
address a concern shared by a neighbor regarding lack of ground cover.
 This code helps the City maintain standard levels that help keep
property values up for residents and creates an inviting atmosphere
for neighbors.

However, our existing landscape code never contemplated front yard
food production, hence the confusion related to this recent story. As
society’s tastes change, we continue to adapt our development and
landscape codes.

To assist with this process and the topic of sustainability as a
whole, the City has created a Green Works Task Force.   The Task Force
will help develop Orlando’s plan for sustainability, which will serve
as the road map to steer future policies, developments and
investments.   The task force will address items such as this to
ensure there is a balance between sustainable practices and
maintaining the high quality of life Orlando residents expect.

To learn more about the City's sustainability efforts, please visit


Buddy Dyer

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Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse: Episode VI - Florida Cranberries

In which we harvest and process delectable Florida cranberries...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Morning Sunlight

Who says gardening has to be all pain? Check out the edible beauty outside my bedroom window. Lemons, cassava and Florida cranberry.

A mug of tea and light streaming through the greenery... it's a lovely weekend... and life is good.

Though I think it might be time to dust the windowsill.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Florida Cranberry

This is possibly one of the coolest-looking edibles you can grow. And not only is it beautiful, it's also delicious. The Florida Cranberry is a member of the hibiscus family (which also includes okra) and like many hibiscus, has multiple edible parts.

The blooms, leaves, and pods on this plant are all edible - but the reason most people grow Florida Cranberry is for the calyxes. What is a calyx, you ask? It's the pointy red bit at the base of the flower. After blooming, the flower withers and the pod inside the bud begins to swell. After a few days, the calyx around it is large and juicy - ready for picking.

Perfect little "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" pods!
I use scissors to take them off my bushes when they're about an inch across. Then you get to do the fun part:

Chop the stem end off, slit one side and pop out the green fruit in the middle. (They're like freaky little okra babies... I send them right out the door to the chickens.) Then save the calyxes in the freezer until Thanksgiving - they're a dead ringer for cranberry, though not as bitter. My wife uses them interchangeably with cranberries in her sauce making... and the results are delicious. 

Check out her recipe here:

The light cycle effects when these start their blooming, so keep that in mind. You'll have lovely flower-less bushes until sometime in October, then the blooms arrive in profusion. Pick regularly to keep the plant going, which it will until frost. 

Another great thing about these plants: the leaves are delectable. They're a lemony-tart and satisfying flavor that's perfect in Caesar salads. Try it - they'll blow your mind. That is, if it's not already blown by the plant's gorgeous blooms.

Tip: start these guys from seed in the spring, then transplant out. They'll grow like crazy with a little care. Finding seeds may be difficult - my previous supplier no longer carries them. If I get some this fall, I may offer them through my nursery in the spring - but if anyone has a good source right now, please post below and share the wealth.


3 Spuds
Name: Jamaican Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, Roselle
Latin Name: Hibiscus sabdariffa
Type: Annual shrub
Size: 4-7'
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Potentially
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Calyxes, leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Delicious
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, jellied, leaves in salads
Storability: So-so. Preserve by freezing, jellying.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Orlando Gardener Fights to Keep His Front-yard Garden

Jason Helvenston (UPDATE: his last name is wrong in the video - it should be Helvenston, not Helvingston) is my kind of guy. And his garden is beautiful. It's just not where code officials think it should be.

Look - everyone's property values have fallen through the floor here in FL... might as well get a tiny fraction back by growing food. Please - step up, Orlando, and do the "green" thing - support local food production.

Incidentally, I've been to the Ag extension in Orlando and was very impressed with some of their forward thinking. Then I see a story like this and just scratch my head... we need to change our "perfect and unproductive lawn" thinking ASAP. Someone in city government can help Jason keep his garden - he's already got 200 signatures supporting it!


Call or e-mail Orlando's mayor and let him know how you feel (if anyone can find e-mail addresses from the "board" that will be hearing this case, please post them in the comments).

Mayor Buddy Dyer

Phone:  407.246.2221
Fax: 407.246.2842

UPDATE: Here's the e-mail I just sent to Orlando's mayor:

Subject: A Plea on Behalf of Jason Helvington's Garden

Dear Mayor Dyer,

Thank you for leading Orlando in these tough times.

I'm a Master Gardener, Floridian and garden writer in Marion county... I've got family and friends in Orlando and have toured your excellent Ag. Extension. Orlando prides itself on being "green," and I know you've done a lot to promote sustainable uses of land.

Would you please step in and save the front-yard garden of Jason Helvington? I just saw this news story and find it very upsetting:

Many of us are really struggling with our terrible property values (houses in my area fell to a quarter of their "boom" value a few years ago) and growing food helps take some of the bite out. Respectfully, I believe people like Jason should be encouraged to use their land to feed themselves. His neighbors love his little garden and it truly makes Orlando look totally cutting edge. If the zoning board plows it under, it would be a crime! There are few things more beautiful than seeing food spring up from the earth in the midst of a suburbia. It reflects resilience in the face of economic woes and should be encouraged.

Thanks for your time - I pray you step in. Grass consumes resources without yielding anything - gardens produce much more than they consume.

Please - for the sake of our future - go on over, visit Jason, have a fresh carrot or tomato... and save this lovely little plot. I promise - it'll seriously make you one of the coolest Mayors in the state.

All the best,

David Goodman
Marion County Master Gardener  

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Timely Tips for November

The following is my latest article for the Marion County Master Gardening Program's "Marion Gardener" publication:

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County (November)
David Y. Goodman, UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener

Though many of our plants and trees are going to sleep, we gardeners shouldn’t do the same. November is a beautiful time of year here in Marion County and as the rest of the country starts to freeze, we have plenty to thank God for.

If you started your winter garden last month, you’re probably already harvesting lettuce and radishes. And if you didn’t, it’s not too late to pop in a few cold-hardy veggies like peas and collards. Though they may not grow as fast as you’d like, they generally survive the winter fine and burst into growth as spring approaches.

It’s also not too late to plant a tree. Fall is a great time for that since it allows the new tree to settle in and grow roots throughout the winter. One thing to watch for in November, however, is the lack of rainfall. New transplants need lots of water – don’t let them dry out. One trick is to leave a garden hose at the base of a new tree and just barley turn it on. The slow trickle won’t flood the roots and it also keeps the tree from experiencing as much transplant shock.

Around the yard, it’s acorn season again! Though most acorns are too bitter for humans to eat without extensive preparation, they make great food for goats, pigs, squirrels and some birds. They’re also really good for slingshot ammo; however, the University of Florida does not recommend that particular usage.

In November it’s also time to think about frost protection for your more sensitive trees and shrubs. Canvas, sheets and blankets work well, provided you can keep them from flying away in the wind. Other options for frost protection include strings of incandescent Christmas lights (the LEDs are worthless in this regard), running the sprinkler on your plants all night through a cold snap, keeping the ground bare and un-mulched beneath trees to provide radiant heat from the earth, burying smaller plants beneath straw, planting next to the south wall of a building – and of course, the old standby, praying like crazy that the thermometer stays above 32 degrees. I do all of the above.

Enjoy the cool weather, get some work done while it’s nice out – and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November Natural Awakenings Article: Deep Mulch Gardening

Here's my latest Natural Awakenings article, in which I dig into Ruth Stout's gardening wisdom.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Another Reason Why Florida Gardening Rocks

We can pick bananas when Yankees are thinking about putting chains on their tires.

Beneficials in Action!

Mate and lay lots of eggs, my friends. The pattern below is a spiral of lacewing eggs I discovered on a ginger leaf.

A good sign for the health of your garden is the presence of predatory species.

More info and pictures of the various development phases of lacewings here:

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Shepherd's Needle

Never heard of Shepherd's Needle? That probably doesn't stop it from invading your yard, spreading hundreds of seedlings across tilled ground and sending its seeds hitchhiking on your socks.

Horrible weeds! Oh no!
Shepherd's Needle, Latin name "Bidens alba," is an amazing weed that looks like a little daisy. The plants grow 2-4' or so and will spread from springtime until the frosts knock them back to the ground.

However, like many weeds, this plant is a resource in disguise. Even if you can't manage to grow spinach, cauliflower or a bean without holes in it, you can grow this thing (though most people fight to KEEP it from growing) - and the leaves are edible. It's easy to find growing along roadsides, in fields and any place there's a sunny spot and some disturbed ground.

A faux-vintage blurry fake colorized bee!
Behind my house is a three acre lot that gets bush-hogged a couple times a year. There the Shepherd's Needle plants proliferate like... well... weeds. And that's a good thing, since not only are the leaves edible - the blossoms are a solid nectar source for bees for about half the year. They also draw in lots of butterflies, moths and other pollinators. I intentionally leave patches growing in unused areas of my yard, just for the life they bring in.

The parts that like socks.
Though you couldn't subsist on them alone, the leaves are reportedly high in nutrients. They also stir-fry quite well and are good in salads and omelets. By themselves, they're a bit grassy-tasting, but mixed with other greens or sauteed, they're delicious. Just watch your socks when you pick them.

Next time you find some growing in your yard - and provided they're not too near your garden beds - leave a few. The bees will thank you. And your palate might not mind either. In terms of a survival green, it's hard to beat one that's healthy, easy-to-find, prolific and basically unknown.

More here:

And a look at Bidens alba by Green Deane at


2 Spuds

Name: Shepherd's needle
Latin Name: Bidens alba
Type: Herbaceous perennial/annual
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Leaves raw, cooked, dried, sauteed. 
Storability: Poor fresh. Easy to dry.
Ease of growing: Way too easy.
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Very high

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Thursday, November 1, 2012


The elusive microclimate. I’ve stalked it for years.

As winter creeps closer, I'll soon be preparing my cassava and other tropical plants so they can carry on into next season.

Two years ago I planted out a half-dozen small papaya trees in the summer, interspersing them around the yard. When a solid freeze came, however, they melted into papaya-tree slush.

A few papayas were kept in pots on my south-facing porch - those survived. I planted them along the south wall of my house in the spring and they reached about 10' tall and bore me some fruit before the chill stopped their growth... and the frost lopped off their tops. After it hit, they looked like this:

In the spring they came back from their bases and the one on the right is setting small fruit again. It's likely too late to be much good, though.

This spring, after surveying the damage, I planted more papayas against the wall - this time right next to the concrete. Those are now bearing large fruit and will likely give me something before their decapitation by cold. It's better than nothing. I need a smaller cultivar so I can manage to protect the plants better.

There are different ways to “zone push” and grow things where they won’t normally survive. Rocks and water are used by Sepp Holzer to grow cold-sensitive crops in the Alps. Both hold heat and moderate harsh temperatures thanks to their thermal mass.

Last year I created two passive heaters for one of my small guava trees - a pair of large gin bottles filled with water and painted black. I placed them, along with a ring of stones, beneath the 2’ canopy of the recently-planted tree, hoping to keep it just a little warmer during the upcoming freezes. The poor bugger froze to the ground anyhow. The coldness of the vacuum above is hard to beat. Nothing kills plants like a wide-open sky on a freezing night. The heat is sucked away into the void, gin-bottles or no.

Other ways of fighting the cold include mounds, warm compost piles, south-facing walls, pavement, tree canopies and windbreaks. All I need is one more zone, then I’ll stop. Just one more zone...

A helpful article is here:

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