Friday, September 28, 2012

Survival Crop: Collards

Collards are an under-appreciated staple of the Deep South. When it's collard season, it's really collard season down here. Piles of them overflow from the back of pickup trucks by the side of the road - and if you're a survival gardener, that's just what you want. Overabundance.

The thing that really makes collards key down here is their season. Most other crops get toasted by frost... but not these guys. You can stuff your freezer with these without much trouble. I put away at least forty pounds last year. We STILL have collards in the freezer. We even dried some to add to soups and omelets. Out of the brassica family, collards are right up there with radishes on the "ease of growing" scale. They're tough, take the cold, grow and grow and grow, and rarely if ever will fail to give you a harvest.

Observe the image above and see how patchy the grass appears... and how lush the collard greens are growing. Unstoppable.

On the nutrition front, collards are also impressive. Check out these stats (images from NutritionData.com):






















Low on vitamin K? Look no further. Collards to the rescue!

Other bonuses to collards: young leaves are excellent in salads. Cooked and cut in strips, they can fill in for pasta in low-carb diets. (My wife makes a killer "collard lasagna.") They can also be used to threaten children, as in "Clean your room or so help me I'm gonna serve collards again tonight!"

To plant the easy way, prepare a bare patch of ground, then scatter seeds, rake them around, and water for a week. Baby plants will come up everywhere. Thin as needed to give them space for growth and eat the thinnings. Harvest leaves as needed - the plants will take a lot of cutting.

And seriously - if you're not growing these yet, set aside a patch. Spring or fall: collards are a must-have.

SPUDOMETER RATING





3.5 Spuds

Name: Collards
Latin Name: Brassica oleracea
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Raw, boiled, steamed, dried.
Storability: Leaves can be dried/frozen
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fruit Tree Sale - Coming Up October 6th


I've seen the fruit trees they've been growing out for this sale at the Agricultural Extension - some great plants there. This is a good way to fund the Marion County Master Gardeners and snag some long-term food production for your yard.

I'll be there. Early. If you don't come at the beginning, you likely won't get much. These go fast.

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Start Your Fall Garden/Grow Food Now!

As Florida begins cooling off, now is the time to get plants in the ground. Down in South Florida you could stand to wait another month or two, but in the Northern half of the state, it's fall garden time.

Fall is tougher than spring, both in its timing and in the variety of pests you're going to encounter. The grasshoppers are huge, the beetles are hungry, and all kinds of freaky things are lurking and looking for tasty new plants to devour. But don't let that stop you. This is the time to get things in the ground like collards, peas, fava beans, lettuce, beets, broccoli, carrots, turnips and other plants that don't mind a bit of cold. If you wait until spring, you're putting your food security in the balance. So don't wait. It's better to try, fail and learn something than it is to keep relying wholly on a dangerously overextended and fragile infrastructure. Learn now, while you can.

Totally simple. C'mon, you could do this!



If you've never done much gardening before, you're not alone. Many times I interact with people at master gardening events and elsewhere, and meet those that haven't grown much of anything except for grass and weeds. That's okay. But don't stay that way.

For a quick, easy and cheap way to get started, try this:

1. Go out and find yourself a good container. A five-gallon bucket, a large pot, an old wheelbarrow, an old cooler... or just anything you happen to have lying around. Make sure it's at least a foot or so deep so it doesn't dry out easily.

2. Buy a bag of potting soil and a package of lettuce or spinach seeds.

3. Drill or punch a few holes in the bottom of your container, if they're not there already.

4. Fill it with dirt and put it where you get about a half-day of sun. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun. Also - keep it close to where you pass every day. Near your car or by a back door is perfect.

5. Sprinkle a pinch of seeds across the soil and lightly crumble them into the soil with your fingers.

6. Water gently and wait.

In a few days, your seeds will start popping up. Water the bucket daily and watch what happens. In about a month, you'll be picking young greens for salads. Once you start harvesting the result of your work, you'll realize why God placed man in a garden to begin with. It's healthy, beautiful and good for the soul to grow your own food.

Once you've started, it's hard to stop. But you need to start - now - so you're ready to expand and grow as the economy continues downhill.

(By the way, container gardening is a great way to get children involved in growing their own food... and trust me, it's a lot more worthwhile and eye-opening than a throwaway plastic toy from China.)

For those who are looking for a good list of planting times and crops for Florida, the University of Florida has a great downloadable PDF HERE.




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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Healthy Mess

Cannas, Candlestick cassia, malanga, papaya, lemongrass, irises, roses, wormwood, Graham's cassava and ginger living together in harmony.

This is what a bit of tweaked nature looks like. I do nothing but pull the occasional interloper out of here... and sometimes hack back the plants so the sun gets through a bit. Half of these are edible or useful in some way, and the others are edible. Got a space sitting unused? Start packing cuttings, seeds and starts into it and let 'em run wild. Anything is better than empty grass.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jack on Chickens

The following is from an interchange I had at Vox Day's blog (while he was off torturing people in the woods). Some thoughts on chickens from "jack" and a link to his wife's blog that contains some homesteading info:
"We maintain a flock of about 25 to 30 chickens. They are let out each morning to free range in the yard and within the first several yards of the woodline and down to the creek. They put themselves up at night and we close and lock the hen house to keep out the predators. We are lucky to have a dog that gets along well with the chicks [won't eat them] and she barks a good game [otherwise a total coward and she is part pitbull...go figure].

McMurray is a good hatchery. They ship via the postal service. Note that fresh hatched chicks are good on food for about three days; a bit less on water. When the post office calls you go right then, get them and have their tub or whatever ready with plenty of water and feed. Try to use non medicated chick starter for the first several months. Its sort of OK to have them vaccinated for cocci, mareks and maybe bronchitis. Now, that bronchitis stuff can sometimes cause more problems than it helps. We've decided to not vaccinate for bronchitis again. By all means let the chickens free range if you can. You end up with near organic birds [eggs etc.] that way. And, happy chickens. Plan on about one nest box per 5 birds. And be sure they always have a lot of clean water. Lack of water can kill a bird very quickly.

More thoughts: Ref. to coops above. Yes, predators can be a problem. We had one chicken killed by a hawk. Chigger, the dog, actually ran off the hawk before it could dine. The chicken lived for about two hours but our best efforts could not save her. Our best layer, too.

With our dog predators are almost not a problem. We're not fools about it, though. The hen house is overbuilt and the containment runs are protected by shock wire and overhead netting. I say containment with qualifications. You have to sometimes lock up chicks in a contained area. Free range as much as possible. Our contained areas are spacious indeed. Most people that see the setup wonder why we even free range. The reasons are obvious. Animals are not meant to be locked up. They are much happier on the range and far more healthy. Of course, your situation may not allow that.

Notes on chicken health:

We use, almost always, natural remedies with the exception of the initial vaccinations as young chicks. By the way, if you should have to use human made medi's after a layer is laying always wait at least three weeks after ending those meds before eating the eggs again or the chicken.

Apple cider vinegar in their water...boosts the immune system. Use
about ore or two caps per 1 gallon waterier.

Powdered Garlic for worming. Worm about twice a year. Mix the
garlic in chick starter to get the birds to ear it.

Powdered olive leaf for viral issues; mix with starter.

Black walnut powder for more serious infections. Order off net.
Use sparingly. Mix with starter.

Diatomaceous earth for mites. Use food grade only. Get at the
co-op and spread on their earth bath areas that they dig.
Also, this same earth sprinkled on the hen house straw
does a fine job of fly control. If needed, hand dust each
bird with this.

A chicken should have a medium deep red cone without any pale areas. Anything else is a sign of problems. They should also not look scruffy and should seem alert with tail feathers perked up.

Chickens love water melon. They also love bits of bread thrown at them. But go light on the bread, particularly with active layers.
They love crushed crackers. They will eat frogs, lizards, rats, etc.
Yeah, I did not believe it either till I started keeping chickens.

Here is my woman's blog site:

edificerex.blogspot.com

She is the studied expert around here on chickens. She thinks she doesn't provide enough info. Not true. Plenty on chickens, how we built the chicken/garden complex and, on the right, among other things, a very complete, step by step manual on how to build a passive solar house. There are numerous photos. She should know, she built it herself with little help from custom plans. And, the info is really from the horses mouth as she worked for about 20 years as a commercial carpenter and and certified structural steel welder. That's in addition to a bachelor of fine arts university degree. These days she earns her pennies making some very fine pottery."

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Weeds: Soil Bandaids

"And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard." -Exodus 23:10-11, KJV

Pokeweed: I love this stuff and let it grow wherever it wants.

Have you ever taken a close look over time at a construction side or a road-improvement project? The heavy equipment rolls in and carves up the soil, leaving long bare scars through the grass. When the work is done, the ground is a mess of naked earth and scattered rocks. But within a few weeks, there's green everywhere. Look closely, however, and you'll see the green usually isn't the same as it was before. Where there once was grass, now there are weeds. Clovers, thistles, morning glories, pigweed... all kinds of species have appeared seemingly ex nihilo.

Why?

They're doing God's work. One plant is fixing nitrogen... another is accumulating phosphorus... a third is fixing a sulfur deficiency and others are simply adding humus to the soil as they grow rapidly, drop leaves,  make seeds and die.

Do you recall the John MaCrae's poem "In Flanders Field?"

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row..."

After the extensive shelling destroyed the ground during the Second Battle of Ypres during World War I, it's related that the ruined landscape erupted into a profusion of red poppies... seeds that had been turned to the light by the explosions and troop movements... thriving in ground that had been wounded by the brutality of war.

Sometimes called "pioneer species," the hearty weeds that arise and cover disturbed ground come from many sources. Some are blown in on the breeze... others fall in the droppings of birds... and many come from seeds long buried in the soil that awakened when the ground was turned and opened to the sunshine.

The principle of crop rotation and leaving the ground fallow is an ancient one. Repeated plantings of the same crop take the same nutrients from the soil year after year - and encourage the buildup of pests. But letting weeds (or different planned species) grow gives the ground a break and lets nature find its balance again.

I often use the permaculture "chop n' drop" method of feeding my fruit trees. Tall weeds growing near a sapling persimmon? Get your sickle, chop 'em down, then throw them as mulch around the base of the tree. The weeds pull up nutrients constantly... and when you chop and throw them to the tree, you're giving that tree the benefit of another plant's hard work. I let pokeweed, shepherd's needle, thistles and other "weeds" grow throughout my food forests for a variety of reasons, but the accumulation of nutrients for my cultivated trees is a primary one.

Next time you see a thistle... remember... even in the Curse God proclaimed over creation back in Genesis... He left blessings for us. Yes... they aren't fun in the cornfield, but they still have a worthy role in the maintaining of a healthy ecosystem.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Snake Beans

Bean Noir.

Vigna unguiculata, also called the Yard-long Bean, the Snake Bean, the Asparagus Bean and various other weird names, is an Asian green bean that kicks tail in Florida. I mean, SERIOUS tail. This thing is a monster.


The pods aren't really a yard long, though they are quite impressive at roughly a cubit. (Yeah, I said cubit. Look it up.)

Let's talk about how crazy awesome these babies are.

The vines grow really long with little or no care. If you grow these, which you should, make sure you've got plenty of climbing room for them. Something fascinating about this plant: you can basically plant it at any warm time of the year as long as you give it enough water to get started. I planted them in mid summer and got a good crop, as well as in fall and spring. This sucker grows like a weed. I've even stuck seeds in the front yard and let them run across the grass and eat neighboring trees and shrubs. With zero care, they still bore beans. I once planted them in a spot that received only indirect light: they bore a large crop anyhow. Another time I planted them on a baking-hot  fence. Same deal. Tons of beans.

And what beans: the taste is almost nutty. A lot of green bean flavor with overtones of roasted almond and a bit of asparagus.

Snake beans take a little while to get started. For a few weeks, they're just cute little bean plants. And then they pull the Incredible Hulk routine on you and start reaching for the sky in a blinding green rush.

Force perspective, heck yeah. (BTW, that is NOT a bean in the middle with the heart-shaped leaves - it's a type of yam.)
Look how huge the vines are compared to this blonde chick and her baby (hi, honey).

The seeds are available rather widely now in a variety of cultivars. Every one I've grown has been awesome. My guess is that these are just one step removed from weeds and have had little of their vitality bred out by successive genetic manipulation. Bugs leave them alone for the most part and the vines are really, really good at climbing on whatever is handy. They also respond well to diluted urine as a fertilizer. Mix it 5-1 or so with water and spray it on the leaves. Or just pee around their bases occasionally. Relief + fertilizing = WIN.
 
Also, this plant is a nitrogen fixer and a good source for compost at year's end. It has no tolerance for frost, however, so don't plant it too close to frost dates.

The beans can be eaten raw or cooked and continue bearing for a few months after maturity. Pick the pods before they get too big and leathery. You'll get a feel for it quickly when you grow them. Just a few beans are enough for a good serving at dinner. And in case I didn't mention it: they're delicious.

SPUDMETER SURVIVAL RATING:




5 Spuds!


SURVIVAL PLANT PROFILE:


Name: Snake bean, Yard-long bean, Asparagus bean
Latin Name: Vigna unguiculata
Type: Vining annual
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun recommended: in reality, shade too
Part Used: Leaves, small stems
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Excellent
Storability: Moderate (can or freeze as green beans)
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: High
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Farmer Dave Vs. The Econopocalypse - Episode II: The Devil Weed

In case you didn't see this on the previous incarnation of this site, here's a short film in which I set a bad example... and show you how to get tobacco plants started.

Try it (puff puff), it’s fun.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September "Natural Awakenings" Article: A Garden that Lasts

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Self-Sufficiency Gardening in Climate Zones 8 and 9

This is a crash-course in survival gardening I originally published at SurvivalBlog.com - enjoy:

"Unemployment is rampant. The government is bankrupt. Foreclosures are everywhere. And one day soon, you may find your local grocery store has closed and shut off your supply of Hot Pockets. Most of us have never had to grow our own food. Those that have grown their own generally do it as a hobby – or as a way to get a vine-ripened tomato without selling a kidney.

Climate zones 8 and 9 [found in much of Arizona, parts of Florida, and the regions at the north end of California's Central Valley] are not a gardening paradise. If you go further south, you can grow tropicals year-round (like papayas and mangos) – further north [or into higher elevations], and you get fewer destructive insects and more options (like horseradish, gooseberries, and European pears).

However, that’s not to say you can’t grow food here..."

Read the rest at SurvivalBlog.com

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Monday, September 17, 2012

A Survival Gardener... in Oregon

The below is worth reading. (Incidentally, I've also been published at SurvivalBlog - I'll post that article tomorrow). The site is a valuable resource.

http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/11/survival_gardening_by_delia_l.html

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Intercropping

God is said to be a God of order. If that’s the case... why does nature look like a rambling mess of vines, scraggly sumacs, tumbling-down oaks and a profusion of annual weeds?


Probably because the order is a lot more complex than we realize. Generally, human beings like geometric forms and straight lines. We like to see all our corn in neat rows and our grapes on taut lines. And when it comes to harvesting and planting, there is an ease to this system.

A productive mess. Cassava, sweet potatoes, figs and weeds.

In Florida, however, some of those neat rows more closely resemble a death march across the desert than a good food source. We’re always watering the thirsty sand, picking off locusts or aphids and praying things will live long enough to produce.

When you add more species, however, things change. You’re no longer counting on one thing to produce heavily enough to justify its existence. You’re also not trusting that patch of earth to be the Perfect Lil’ Environment (TM) for whatever you’re craving. Instead, you’re making a mix of plants - and often their interactions allow a greater harvest across that patch than would be possible alone. The benefits of putting marigolds in your garden has been expounded at length - we’ve all heard that they repel pests. In reality, they don’t seem to make much difference - yet the more plants you put together, the more pests seem to be confused by the profusion. It’s like taking the buffet at a Golden Corral out of its geometric organization and scattering it here and there around the establishment. The mashed potatoes are in a truck outside, the chicken-fried steaks are beneath a table and the chili is already steaming away in a toilet (saving you the trouble of passing it through your digestive tract.) Now the lardy patrons are having a hard time finding a meal. It’s all there... somewhere... it’s just tougher to identify.

OMIGOSH... This guy's a PLANT HOARDER!


Herbs and veggies mix well. The patch of garden up above has a mixture of lettuce, spinach, sage, catnip, mint, dill, onions, beans, potatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, lentils and garlic... and a few opportunistic weeds. (It's also the background photo for this site.) These plants together are doing much more than they could alone. By intercropping intensively like this, we can:

1.Confuse pests
2.Build the soil
3.Harvest a wider variety
4.Conserve space
5.Freak out neatniks
6.Keep moisture in the soil
7.Ensure we harvest something

The lentils, beans and peas in this patch are fixing nitrogen in the soil. I use lentils as a cool-weather ground cover and soil-builder. I don’t find the lentils particularly worthy of harvest, but they’re easy-to-grow, keep the earth covered from the sun, and as they mature and other plants grow between them, they make a good mulch. They’re a “nurse crop” that fulfills a variety of functions. Plus, you can buy a bag of dried lentils from the grocery store for a $1 or so, soak them overnight, and wing them across your garden with a little soil-turning and you get a lot of green going quickly. The same is true of beans, green peas, and chick peas.

Here’s a shot of a newly-transplanted pepper plant in a bed of now-mulched lentil plants:



Doesn’t it look happy? Leave the roots of your leguminous (bean and pea family) nurse crop in the ground when you chop them. I take a machete and hack down a section, then pop in my desired transplant. The roots beneath the ground feed in nitrogen as they decay, and the tops of the plants act as mulch, sheltering the soil from evaporation.

I’ll write more about intercropping in the future - the possibilities are as endless as your enthusiasm. There’s a lot of fun in finding carrots in the peas and basil in the potatoes and parsley in the corn. Trust me. It's awesome.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Ilex Vomitoria (The Black Drink!)

Yaupon tea: delicious, maligned, caffeinated.

The one thing most people will miss the most in a total societal breakdown is coffee. More specifically... the caffeine inside it.

We can live without malls, Tex-Mex restaurants and half-and-half... but coffee? That would be hard. Yet it’s already getting brutally expensive. Before I quit the caffeine habit, I stockpiled extra, just in case, since you just can’t grow the stuff here without a greenhouse. So, in the sad chance we may lose it for a while, there has to be an alternative source of caffeine for those of us with, shall we say, MASSIVE ADDICTION ISSUES.

Enter Yaupon: North America’s Very Own Native Caffeine Source!(TM)

Naturalists gave this plant the unfortunate Latin name “Ilex Vomitoria” because, as the story goes, the native Indians (Americans? Savages? Arboreal Peoples? Those Of The Awesome Headdresses?) would make and drink huge quantities of Yaupon tea, have visions, ecstatic frenzies, act crazy... and vomit their guts out. Sounds like either a Hippie Vision Quest or a Frat initiation.

Anyhow, the tea is delicious. It can not replace coffee, sadly, since nothing can do that... but it is a good way to get your morning (afternoon, evening, midnight) buzz. I prepare it thus - 



Clip some nice young leaves and stems.


Boil them for a while, until the water darkens to a nice mid-tone green/black.



Strain into a teacup, add a little sugar or honey, and serve!

(Technically, you’re supposed to dry or roast the leaves, hence its original name “The Black Drink,” rather than the “Scary Dark Green Drink,” but... green tastes great too. Quick note: don’t chew the raw leaves - they’ll irritate your mouth. If you need caffeine THAT bad, you need to seriously consider rehab.)

Now, for a long time, I looked around for a Yaupon tree to add to my landscaping. After fruit trees, nuts, berries and tobacco, having a caffeine source was pretty important. Turns out, Ilex Vomitoria is rather popular in Florida as an ornamental. I found my tree at Taylor Gardens Nursery, an excellent native (and exotic) plant source between Ocala and Gainesville off 329 in Sparr. It doesn't matter if you get the standard, the dwarf or the weeping version... they're all good sources for THE BLACK DRINK!



SPUDMETER SURVIVAL RATING:




SURVIVAL PLANT PROFILE:


Name: Yaupon Holly
Latin Name: Ilex Vomitoria
Type: Small tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: Yes, and evergreen
Exposure: Sun, shade
Part Used: Leaves, small stems
Propagation: Cuttings
Taste: Excellent
Storability: Excellent
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Low
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Moderate

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Slaughtering

Even plucking chickens is fun when you've got great company.
I'm not a big fan of killing things,but the value of meat as a part of the human diet is hard to argue with. We’re born omnivores.

Yet most of us get the heebie-jeebies when it comes down to the thought of whacking animals for food. If you’re going to survive, however, you’ll have a hard time doing so without learning at least some basic butchering.

Trust me... I’m no expert. I’ve had to overcome my natural squeamishness in order to have a farm. I started with turnips, moved on to gutting fish, then I managed squirrels, a few doves, then a chicken, then many chickens, then some guinea fowl, a young goat buckling and a pair of racoons.

“How could you slaughter that lil' goat - he’s SO CUTE!” one of my neighbors said. And yes, he was cute. But he was also a male who would soon be attempting to breed his mother and his cousins. He also consumed resources on my small farm. With the price of red meat where it is, slaughtering Bucky was much better than letting him eat up my livelihood. And the resale market on male goats is very, very poor.

If you haven’t slaughtered anything before, start to learn. Acclimate yourself to the necessity of ending life for the sake of survival... because if you don’t, you don’t have farm animals... you have pets. And most pets (some dogs excepted) will not help you in the econopocalypse.

Unless they’re served in a curry sauce.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Found Video: Backyard Permaculture

I came across a video that I have to share. The host is the most wired gardener I’ve ever seen - and knows what he’s doing. I generally know what I’m doing, but I couldn’t get that wired even if I drank a pot of espresso and stuck my finger in the fuse box... while taking a shower. Guess you’ve gotta have lots of energy to transform your yard in less than an hour of video, though.

Take note of some of his plans - they’re brilliant. Permaculture design principles focus on making life easier for the gardener and using natural systems to reduce energy inputs. This video is a great start - and well worth an hour of your time if you’re serious about growing your own food and don’t have a tractor, lots of space, or a huge budget.

Note: You TOTALLY don’t need a chicken house as awesome as this guy’s. They’ll live in just about any enclosure. But his is really cool. If I was envious, I’d say OMIGOSHIWANTTHATHENHOUSESOBAD. But I’m not, really. I'm happy with 5-gallon-bucket nest boxes and an old shed with a sagging floor. The chickens just don't give a rip.

And of course... just because it needs to be said... to the devil with the local authorities if they don't like your plans. Just give your neighbors some eggs and veggies and stick it to the man.

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Upcoming Event - October 2nd at the Ocala Home Depot






Hope to see you there. I'll be giving the introductory talk and sharing the power of long-term perennials as food-safety insurance. 

Survival Plant Profile: Cassava - King of Staples


Inside the US, cassava is generally unknown except among various ethnic minorities. But... it's where tapioca comes from (or "fish eyes," as my Uncle Stuart calls them) and has been used as a source of laundry starch. The roots are really, really high in starch.

Growing to about 12’ tall, the cassava plant looks very tropical. Its palmate leaves and graceful cane-like branches are attractive in the landscape or in the garden. Cassava’s pseudonyms include yuca (with one “c,” NOT two – “yucca” is a completely unrelated species), manioc, the tapioca plant, and manihot. In Latin science-speak, it’s Manihot escuelenta.

Whatever you call it, it’s a serious staple crop. Virtually pest-free, drought tolerant, loaded with calories, capable of good growth in poor soil – cassava is a must-have anyplace it can grow. And it’s MUCH less work than grain and much more tolerant of harvest times. In fact, once it’s hit maturity, you can basically dig it at any point for a few years (though the roots may sometimes get too woody to eat).

But there is a caveat on cultivation: cassava doesn’t like cold. At all.

If temperatures drop to freezing, your cassava will freeze to the ground. This won’t usually kill the plant, but it does mean you need to plan your growing accordingly.

In the tropics, cassava is a perennial, capable of growing huge roots and living for years. Here in Florida the plant does well until you get north of zone 10, then the occasional frosts will knock it down. Growing it at any zone beyond 8 is likely an exercise in futility. Cassava needs warm days and nights to make good roots.

And speaking of roots… the cassava’s roots contain roughly twice the calories of a comparable serving of potatoes. Bonus: they’re easier to grow.

Of course, there is the cyanide to consider.

CYANIDE?!?

What – you didn’t think a plant this awesome could exist without a downside, did you? Yes – cyanide. The plant is full of it, from its lovely leaves to its tasty roots. Fortunately, boiling or fermenting gets it out, so fear not. A lot of plants we eat are poisonous. Just google the “cashew tree” or look up the toxicity of dry kidney beans. Now THAT’S scary. Compared to many things we eat, cassava's pretty tame. Microwaveable Burritos, for instance.

Now – moving beyond the cyanide – how do you grow these things? Unlike many plants, cassava is not usually grown from seeds except for breeding purposes. The only way most folks grow it is via stem cuttings. (Roots from the grocery store almost definitely won’t work since they’ve been separated from the stem and dipped in wax.)

To grow from fresh cuttings, chop a sturdy stem into pieces about 1.5’ long, stick them in the ground on their sides about two inches down and cover them lightly with soil – or, as I plant them, stuck in vertically with the growth buds pointing up – and within a week or so they’ll be growing new leaves. 6-12 months later (depending on care and rainfall), they’ll be ready to start harvesting.

To harvest, machete down the entire plant a foot or so from the ground, throw the branches to the side and start digging. Be careful, though – the roots are easy to chop through. Some careful exploratory digging with a trowel is often a good idea. The roots you’re looking for grow down and away from the main stem and are generally located in the first 1-2’ of soil. They’re deep brown with flaky skin. Don’t dig them too long before you’re going to process them as cassava doesn’t store well at all.

Once you harvest the roots, you’ll want to chop up the rest of the plant to make a new set of canes for planting out. I snap off all the leaves and compost them, then cut the bare canes into planting size. Canes that are too green tend to rot rather than root, so throw them on the compost too. Sturdy, 1-2” diameter canes are perfect.  Plant them a third of their length or so into the ground and stand back so the new growth doesn’t knock you over. Just don’t plant them upside-down. Ensure they’re right side up by looking for the tiny little growth buds by the leaf bases (or where the leaves were before they hit the compost bin). That little dot should be above the leaf’s base, not below.

Preparing the roots is another post for another day. I’ll take pictures next time I pull some roots.

The Cassava plant is a must-have in Florida. You can bury cut canes in a box beneath the ground for the winter, as a Cuban friend told me her family does… you can let your current plants freeze to the ground and just wait for spring to bring new growth back… you can put cuttings in pots and bring them inside on freezing nights, then plant out in spring… or you can get a greenhouse and always keep a few plants in there for propagative stock. It’s pretty tough stuff. And as for work, the worst part is the harvesting. (View it like digging for treasure and it’s fun.)

Another great thing about this plant: its leaves are also edible (boiled, of course – remember… CYANIDE!) and rich in nutrients. The young leaves are best and remind me of a drier-tasting collard green. Not bad at all. At harvest time I usually grab a few baskets’ worth for the table or the freezer. The roots can be chopped and frozen raw as well – they keep quite well that way.
Get some now and start learning this plant. It’s literally proved a lifesaver in insecure regions of Africa.

Survival Plant Profile

Name: Cassava, (Yuca)
Latin Name: Manihot escuelenta
Type: Woody shrub, perennial
Part Used: Leaves, roots
Propagation: Cuttings
Taste: Good
Storability: Poor unless frozen, dried or fermented
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Roots - low. Leaves - good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

 SPUDMETER:

 


 5 Spuds

SOLD OUT UNTIL SUMMER

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Florida Watering Explained

Last year I came across an excellent post on watering in Florida at the very good site “Gardening in Central Florida.”

Michael, the gardener and blogger responsible for the site has given permission for me to link over:

 “A commenter asks about watering. There's a very long answer that I have been articulating in my head for a while that involves various ethical and economical tradeoffs. But the short  answer is easy: You need to water as much as the plants need, and more specifically, you probably need to water a lot more than you currently water. Certainly that has been the case for me: Slowly over the past five years I've realized a simple and obvious truth: Plants need copious water to grow well here, with our (sometimes) arid climate, strong sun, winds, and overly-drained soils...” (READ REST OF POST)

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

August "Natural Awakenings" Article: Aminopyralid Contamination of Manure

What happens when you bring home a normally safe organic amendment... only to have strange symptoms appear in your plants? I delve into the mystery in August's article for Natural Awakenings Magazine.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Survival Plants

If everything crashed... what would you eat?

Personally, I’ve had enough MREs (one) to know that I wouldn’t want to survive on them.

Better to stockpile grains and beans, which you can live on in a pinch, then have some chickens for protein. Then you need fresh veggies. Which is probably why you’re reading this.

What plants are the best for survival?

Over the years, I’ve researched (and grown) quite a few plants as a test of their usefulness. That said, I’m working on a series of plant profiles that will be posted in upcoming weeks. We’ll look at a few key items, such as:

Ease of growing
Palatability
Length of season
Storage capability
Nutrition Recognizability
Availability of propagative materials

I’m going to use a 1-5 Spud Scale, based on that most excellent of survival crops... the potato. (Until a blight, of course.)

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Farmer Dave vs. the Econopocalypse - Episode 1: Intercropping

In case you haven't seen it, I humbly present episode one of my survival gardening series.

Enjoy.

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