Thursday, January 31, 2013

Growing Duckweed

A helpful post:

The authoress of that blog stopped by here a few weeks ago. She's got some good experiments going.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Saving seed

I've saved seeds for years. Some, like beans, work really well (that is... when they don't get bored out by weevils). Others are so-so. I'm switching to almost all heirloom varieties this year, so I'm researching the best ways to harvest and store seeds long-term.

One link I found helpful was:

A lot of the heirloom varieties have amazing stories. For example, I remember reading that Taos Blue Corn would've completely disappeared off the globe if it hadn't been for a bundle of it found in a sealed pueblo out West... that had sat for 70 years before being discovered! How's that for seed saving?

Incidentally, here's an adorable kid talking about her patch of Taos Blue Corn:

One problem with saving seed in a small garden is that some plants end up with a loss of genetic strength from generation to generation. Corn, for example, should be grown in large patches if you're going to save seed - otherwise, you may eventually end up with sad, poorly producing plants after a few generations. Or Charles II of Spain.

Shoot. He kinda looks like me. 


Anyhow - where was I? Ah yes. Genetic diversity and storing seeds and all that. In a survival situation, or even if Monsanto has its way, we may have a very difficult time getting seed. Learning about saving and storage now is a good idea. This is not an area in which I'm strong... yet! Much of my work has been with perennials but I've come to believe that annual crops are just as important - if not more so - in a collapse situation. Hopefully we never face that - but it's good to be ready.

If anyone has tips, post away.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Plants we're trying this year

Okay... since it's that time of year... let's talk trial varieties.

Tex Cuban grain corn (grew a small amount last year for seed - did well)
Floriani grain corn (as recommended by Mother Earth News)
Black Amber Cane sorghum
Lacinato (dinosaur) kale
Rosita eggplant
Strawberry Watermelon
Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage
Peredovik black oil seed sunflower
Scarlet Nantes carrot
Kebamka shell beans

A new variety of cassava (snagged from a Master Gardener friend)
Purple Kohlrabi
USDA seed bank "Green Dent Corn"
Dwarf papaya
Perennial Mallow (of some sort... it's hard to ID stuff when you randomly nab seeds off random plants at some random Ag. Extension)
Solanum quitoense (Naranjilla)
Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)
West Indian gherkins

I'm also working on starting some rarer plants from seed. Carob, strawberry tree, Siberian pea shrub (which isn't quite supposed to grow here), Mountain papaya (Carica pubescens), and a half-dozen other things I can't remember right now.

Anyone trying anything new and cool this year? Anything work really well last year?

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Monday, January 28, 2013


A squirrel I don't feel like killing!

A few days ago, the kids ran up to me yelling "There's a mouse in the tree! There's a mouse in the tree!"

Bemused, I followed them to the front yard, machete in hand (as always), wondering what they'd seen.

Instead of a mouse... I found this guy. A flying squirrel! I didn't even know they were native until after I took a few pictures and identified it online. (Sorry, animal lovers... I'm a plant guy. I don't know every local rodent - so sue me!)

I suppose this is yet another benefit of keeping some creature habitat in your yard: Flying tree mice!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Florida Gardening 101

Coming up this next week (though it might be too late to jump in):

Survival Plant Profile: Turnips

Turnips aren't tantalizing. They're downright pedestrian and often overlooked. I've grown them off and on for years, just because I like the way they grow. They used to be a complete mystery to me... and not at all something I enjoyed. Now I'm starting to like them, however. A few nights ago, Rachel sauteed some sliced turnips and pork loin - delicious. Peeling helps take away the bitterness, as does growing them quickly with good moisture.

Reasons to grow turnips are multiple. Being yet another brassica (is it just me or is this like... "Brassica Month" here at Florida Survival Gardening?), they're quite good for you. They're also very easy to grow. They can be used to fatten hogs, they grow in the winter, they keep the ground covered, and they look pretty. Additionally, they store well, can be harvested over a decent amount of season, and the greens are a good vegetable all on their own. Speaking of that: some turnip varieties are grown solely for their leaves. If you'd like roots, too, make sure you didn't buy that type of seed. The roots of the "leaf" varieties of turnips are woody and worthless.

On the down side, turnips are a bit bitter and they won't be happy in the heat of summer. Don't let that worry, you however - we've got tons of exciting summer crops we can grow here. Like cassava and snake beans! (There are plenty more I'm trying as well, including an edible variety of air potato... chaya... mountain papaya... chayote... West Indian Gherkins... anyhow, enough about that. Those are future posts. Back to turnips!)

I plant my turnips in the late fall via broadcasting them over disturbed soil. I then rake and water them in. If you're planting a small space, just plant the seeds at a nice spacing. I prefer chucking them, of course, but you may have other, more neurotic, preferences. They come up in a week or so and grow rapidly. I tend to be able to pull my first turnips in perhaps two months or so. The harvest doesn't usually happen all at once. I usually get a few early monsters, followed by a stream of turnips hitting harvest size for weeks and weeks after that.

Go ahead. Plant some turnips. And if you don't like them, feed them to your animals. Or saute them in garlic butter. That fixes everything.

(BTW, turnips get extra points for being a high-calorie winter staple. Even if they aren't the most delicious thing in the world - they could keep you full during a crash.)


3.5 Spuds

Name: Turnips
Latin Name: Brassica rapa
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves, roots
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Fair
Method of preparation: Boiled, roasted, steamed, stir-fried, pickled
Storability: Good. Leaves can be frozen, roots stored
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: High

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Thursday, January 24, 2013


Coming up this weekend in Sumter county:


Okay, so I've taken to calling my in-ground hugelkultur experiments "melon pits." That's because I'm punching these 3' deep holes into my front yard food forest in the hopes of growing melons in them this summer.

Of course, the holes don't stay 3' deep. After the tough work of digging, I fill them with a mix of wood, moss, leaves, waste paper, bones, organic debris I rake from the chicken yard, raw manure, straw, biochar, etc.

Here's my process: the first thing I did was dig a pit, then throw in some chicken-yard debris or waste paper.

Then, I dumped in sticks, pieces of logs, or, in this case, busted-up pallet wood.

After that, a generous helping of raw manure and urine-soaked straw.

Then, I gave the whole thing a good soaking with the hose.

Followed by a planting with cool-season nitrogen fixers. Lentils, chick peas and fava beans. 

I found it quite encouraging that a few weeks after I started on this project, Leon posted the results of his own experiment with burying phone books. I hope that this summer I will in fact grow some melons (and squash!) in the front yard. I've had problems getting the more tender plants through the hot and dry months before the summer rains kick in. I'm praying this is the answer. I've already put in 4 or 5 of these out front between the young fruit trees. I suppose at the very worst, I've simply loosened and spot-fertilized what was previously almost worthless sand.

Wish me luck.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A few thoughts on cover crops

I recently came across this article by the always-helpful Harvey Ussery at Mother Earth News:

I'm a big fan of cover crops, though I don't always use them the way others do. I use perennials and annuals, depending on the location - and rather than tilling everything under, I often chop plants down as mulch, then put them around mulch-loving perennials or the next season's crops.

In an annual setting, say you want to grow peppers in the spring. In fall, you might plant a mix of lentils, ryegrass, mustard, turnips, chickpeas, garlic, peas, fava beans, and other cool-season crops. When the weather is warm enough for peppers, harvest whatever you like of those plants, then start chopping holes into the green mess and planting your peppers. As the cool-season crops fade, they're still protecting the ground from erosion and the baking heat of the sun. Some may be adding nitrogen, and others (like mustard) are deterring pests. Some might just be good for adding humus to the soil, whereas still others are good food for the table.

It's too cold for baby citrus trees... but not too cold for turnips, peas, ryegrass and other cool-season soil-building cover crops.

In the warm season, as you look forward to perhaps planting cabbages or broccoli in the fall... plant cover crops such as beans, buckwheat, sunflowers, marigolds pigeon peas, etc. The more varieties, the better. I'm all about intercropping.

Right now, I've got a large patch of cool-season cover plants (see above!) going that will be converted to corn in the spring. It's not only good for your soil - it's a great use of space that might otherwise be vacant. There's no excuse not to garden year-round here!

Anyone else experimenting with cover crops? Any good suggestions I missed?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Almost half of all food is thrown away

From the "How Stupid Can We Get" file:

Of course, those of us here never chuck food.

We give it to chickens!

Compost it!

Can it!

Dry it!

The problem isn't that we have too many people on earth, it's that we have too many people on earth doing STUPID things.


Monday, January 21, 2013

In case anyone has a hankering for escargot

I humbly present a list of edible molluscs, discovered on the amazing internet:

I would really like to grow apple snails for food, even though I have no idea if they'd be good. I got the idea from one of John Starnes' posts some time back and now I can't stop thinking about it.

I bet they'd make a good faux clam chowder for the family.

(Of course... my wife won't even eat okra because it's "slimy." This is gonna be a REALLY hard sell!)

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Saturday, January 19, 2013


The blog just hit 10,000 views today... that's since the official launch on August 30th, 2012.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by (except for the Russian spiders that artificially inflate my numbers overnight).

I'm going to keep posting daily, creating plant profiles and answering questions as long as my fingers remain attached and I can keep the internet bill paid. My goal is to keep this site free, helpful, fun and inspiring to all gardeners throughout Florida and the Deep South.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Marion County - Native Tree Giveaway Tomorrow!

This just came across my radar:

For people that are working on food forests... they're offering native plums and persimmons. I want to go but it's a bit of a haul for me... and I've got a lot of farm projects cooking tomorrow.

Survival Plant Profile: Mustard

Mustard greens are my new favorite potherb. This plant is easy to grow and is remarkably healthy for you, even containing anti-cancer compounds. Though it's not as cold-hardy as kale or collards, mustard will stand quite a bit of frost before dying. Mine have survived the mid-20s without damage. In fact, if you want success, you cannot plant these during the warm part of the year. If you do, the plants will rapidly bolt and peter out. As temperatures rise, they get all crazy and overwhelmed with the desire to make babies. Here in North Florida, I put my mustard in around November, then harvest leaves through the winter. Boiled, mustard has a texture and flavor we prefer to its cousin collards. Stir-fried, it has a spicy bitterness the kids don't really like - and I agree with the kids.

From seed, mustard germinates quickly and you can start harvesting leaves in about a month. Depending on the variety, you can get purple leaves... curly leaves... or even huge leaves. I cut off leaves as I want them and the plant continually produces new ones. I can barely keep up with the 24 or so plants I have going right now.

Another benefit of mustard: it can kill nematodes when used as a green manure. I plant on hacking some of my mustard viciously into the soil as soon as it starts bolting in the spring, then planting something else in the bed. DIE NEMATODES! DIE!

Of course, if you let the plant go to seed, you can make your own delicious mustard from the resulting seeds. I might save some to try that as well... because in the econopocalypse, we might really start missing condiments. Especially as we're forced to eat rats and gnaw on old boots for sustenance.

If you haven't done it before, set aside some space for mustard this year... it's well-worth growing.


3 Spuds!

Name: Mustard
Latin Name: Brassica juncea
Type: Cool-season annual
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves, seed
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Leaves steamed or boiled, leaves raw in salads, seeds for condiment.
Storability: Decent. Blanch and freeze.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Excellent
Recognizability: Low
Availability: High

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

FNPS debunks the myth that "planting natives will save water"

I chuckled at this article for the Florida Native Plant Society:

They're really right. I've heard that many times. "Natives save water!" As I commented beneath their article... "not if you plant elderberries or cattails!"

Incidentally, I've thought of joining FNPS, but I'm afraid they'll stone me for some of my more invasive experiments. I love the idea of preserving native species and growing what's already proven to thrive here... but I also have a thing for mad biomass producers that make zillions of babies and LOTS of food.

Anyone out there a member? Anyone growing cattails in a pine hammock? (Ha!)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Timely Tips for January

A little late again - here's my monthly column for the Marion Gardener:

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

January is a time of rest and reflection for most Marion County gardeners. Before too long, we’ll be planting out seedlings and biting our nails over late frosts… but right now, we’re in the coldest month of the year and there really isn’t a lot to worry about. That said - the excitement of new challenges is building as each new seed catalog arrives in the mail.

I admit it – I’ve got “seed fever” right now and there doesn’t seem to be a cure. I’ve already bought a quantity of grain corn seed to try, some bizarre cucumbers, dwarf papaya seeds, heirloom tomatoes, a cigar tobacco variety and all kinds of other exotic stuff.

If you’re itching to try something new and you don’t have space, now is the time to make some. Digging new beds, putting in landscape logs, mulching and making compost are all good activities as we count down to the new planting season.

Setting goals is another good idea. Did you grow enough tomatoes last year? Do you wish you’d taken better care of your lawn? Have you wanted to plant a peach tree but just haven’t done so? Make some resolutions and plans and then write them down.

For example, during 2012, I harvested over 330lbs of food from my gardens, despite having had a run-in with herbicide-contaminated manure that wiped out a lot of my spring beds. My goal for 2013 is to produce over 1000lbs of food. Manageable? Just barely! It gives me a solid target to hit – and if I decide to grow zucchini, I might just make it!

On the non-edible side of the fence, we’re ticking off the days until azalea season now. If your plants are looking leggy – don’t trim them. Leave those poor things alone until after they flower or you won’t get blooms. You can, however, mulch and weed around them so they look their best for their grand appearance next month. This is the month to think about “hardscape,” that is, the landscape elements of your property that aren’t living. Fixing ponds, mending fences, laying pavers – all these tasks are very nice in our wonderful January weather. If you put it off too long, it’ll get hot… and the jobs are unlikely to get done at all. (Trust me – I’ve been there and done that!)

Get outside – get working – and have a wonderful 2013.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Duckweed and Edible-leaved Taro

Don't these plants just look cool? They're growing in a plastic bin that was left in my barn by the previous owners. This shot was taken before the recent frosts wilted the taro down.

I'm currently testing duckweed as a chicken feed. I need to find a way to grow it in greater quantity, though. I put some in the algae-filled swimming pool of a local foreclosed home but it didn't take. It also doesn't seem to like much fertilizing.

As for the taro, it's grown rather slowly but I have hopes it'll take off this new year once things warm up again. I'm hoping to install a bed into my aquaponics setup-in-progress.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

A Greywater Oasis

Or at least, I'm hoping it will become one.

I live in a home with a slab foundation. This means it's really darned hard to access my greywater before it hits the septic tank. My washer is located in the dead middle of the house, making it impossible to run a pipe outside... the showers and baths drain directly into the floor... and only one of my sinks was located next to an exterior wall: the kitchen sink.

So I did what any reasonable man would do. I punched a hole in the wall, ran a piece of PVC from under the sink (after the P trap), put an elbow on it outside and ran it off into a bed of mulch by my banana trees.

I also added some papyrus or bulrushes of some sort, a few malanga plants, and a few more little banana trees.

I didn't  want the water draining directly beside my foundation, so as you can see, I put in a 45 degree bend away from the wall. About 18" down that final piece of pipe, I started drilling lots of little drainage holes. The whole pipe was then laid into a little trench and covered with mulch.

The downside of this plan is that I can no longer use regular dishwasher powder without salting the bananas. So we're washing by hand a lot more and using as little detergent as possible. We'll see how the plants manage. If this is a FAIL, I can always reconnect the water to the septic. But that just seems like a horrible waste. I wish I could get off the septic tank altogether and just run all the house's water into the yard.

Perhaps one day I'll figure it out.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

100+ Acre Profitable Permaculture Farm

Here's a fascinating interview with farmer Mark Shepard containing a lot of good info. I particularly liked his focus on finding existing perennial food systems in your area:

106 Acre Profitable Permaculture Farm - Interview with Owner Mark Shepard from GroAction on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Florida-Friendly Landscape Challenge

I just got this flyer from the local extension. Though I'm not a complete friend of the "Florida-Friendly Landscaping" system, it is better than what a lot of people are currently doing. Now if we could just get them to recommend edibles...


Friday, January 11, 2013

Helvenston garden fight goes to Orlando's City Hall on Tuesday

Here's the press release and a link to the new proposed regulations:

"Friends and Supporters –

We have attached the new Vegetable Garden Proposal that the city announced 01/08/2013.  Most of our Patriot Garden must go and now they are regulating the back and side yards too.

We have until Tuesday 01/15/2013 at 8:30a to prepare a presentation for the Municipal Planning Board that is selected by Mayor Buddy Dyer.  They have given us little chance for success but we are going to still try.

Here are our major points:

1.  The government shouldn’t be telling us what we can or can’t do with the land we own as long as there are no quantifiable impacts.

2.  The Proposal is a conviction against edible annuals while all other annuals are unrestricted.

3.  The Proposal is a clear strategy against edible gardens by pushing them under the roof line of the building or in its shadow while at the same time requiring year round success.

4.  The Proposal is an assault against the financially less fortunate that cannot afford expensive fences and raised bed structures by pushing their edible gardens even further into the shadows of the building.

5.  The Proposal is discriminating against ALL edible plants by requiring higher standards and special definitions than any other plant in the City's Landscape Code.  By discriminating against the plants that we eat, you are discriminating against us.

6.  The Proposal is a discredit against sustainability.  The City's code will allow max. 60% environment crushing grass but only max. 25% edible annuals with no impacts. 

The best and fair solution for the City is the simplest.  Edible plants meet the same standards and requirements as all other plants.  An edible ground cover gets treated the same as any other ground cover, an edible annual gets treated the same as any other annual.  Each yard in the City of Orlando must be "kept and maintained" to the same levels as any other yard.  NO HIGHER STANDARDS FOR FOOD. 

Therefore, we are creating a formal Landscape Proposal for the MPB from us which states just that. 

We are asking all local supporters to attend the Municipal Planning Board meeting on Tuesday the 15th at 8:30a in the City Council Chambers, Orlando City Hall.  Please gather in front of City Hall at 7:30am and wear a GREEN shirt.
Thank you so much for your continued support.  God Bless.

Jason and Jennifer Helvenston"


UPDATE: Take a look at how the city's new regulations would effect the Helvenston's garden:

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Survival Plant Profile: Peas

Before I get into this plant, let me get one thing straight: in a survival situation - or even a pinched grocery budget - peas wouldn't be my first choice as a staple. They're a lot of work for only a little food. Fortunately for them, they aren't useful for their peas alone.

The common garden pea is not just a tasty cool-season vegetable, it's also a nitrogen fixer and a decent producer of fast-decomposing organic matter. If you grow various field pea varieties, you can get a decent yield of dry peas without too much work. It's certainly less work than shelling green peas.

When I put new ground into circulation, I have some cold-weather green manures I like to throw down before planting serious crops. Peas, along with lentils and chick peas, and occasionally rye grass or turnips, are some of my favorites. If you're lucky, you can get bags of whole dried peas in the grocery store. They're also often available in big bags at farm-oriented retailers. I use peas more for ground-covering nitrogen fixers than anything else. Anytime there's a gap in my fall, spring and winter gardens, I try to tuck in some peas. If they produce peas for me - great. If they don't, they're still feeding the soil and making biomass for my compost. I've been known to chop them down in spring and plant peppers and other transplants right into their newly mulched remains.

Intercropped: peas, lentils, collards, etc.
Another thing about peas that many don't know: you can eat the leaves and shoots in salads. They're a pleasant, crunchy, vaguely pea-flavored green that mixes will with other common salad ingredients. And of course, the young pods can be stir-fried (yeah, they're stringy... unless you get an edible podded snow-pea type variety).

All that said - go ahead. Plant some peas as the world burns. Just don't expect to get fat off them.


2.5 Spuds!

Name: Peas
Latin Name: Pisum sativum
Type: Annual
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Seeds, unripe or dried; leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled, young pods stir fried, pods raw, leaves in salads 
Storability: Poor - use immediately, if possible. Blanch and freeze for long-term storage, or simply allow the pods to mature on the vine and use the peas as a pulse.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Self-Watering Container Gardens

Here's a clever tiny garden design for those of you stuck in a pathetic condo-centric existence:


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Consider this as you buy seeds this year

Here's a list of seed companies owned by Monsanto... and those not owned by Monsanto:

Vote with your cash.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It seems Orlando is STILL going after the Helvenston's garden!

What madness:

Visit to join the fight.

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Ramial Chipped Wood

I got an interesting e-mail recently from a reader regarding a soil amendment I formerly knew nothing about - "ramial chipped wood."

Just when I think I'm nearing a Unified Field Theory of gardening, new doors open. The links are fascinating:
Hello David,

I just read your recent article in the November issue of Natural Awakenings. I think your column is a great addition to the magazine.

One thing that caught my eye was your mention of the film Back to Eden. After watching it about 6 or 7 months ago I spoke with a professional agricultural consultant, and in our conversation he said that the ideal garden soil would be that originating from a hardwood forest. He suggested venturing into a hardwood forest and removing the top few inches of a section, and bringing it back to my garden. I then decided to search on the web to see if I could find out more information about the soil of hardwood forests. After a while I came across an article about ramial chipped wood. Canadian researchers at Laval University, in Quebec, Canada, began researching the effects of wood chips in agriculture back in 1978. Their research continued for many years and they made some big discoveries. Rather than go deeper into the subject in this email, I'll give you some great links about their work. It took a while to find some of these.

Prior to the Canadian research, there was an experiment done at Cornell University, in New York. It spanned 15 years, from 1951-1966. Just as the Canadians discovered, there were great improvements in soil structure and fertility.

Best Regards,

Richard (expurgated)
Gainesville, FL

Amazing stuff. Thanks to Richard for sending over the links... I spent half a night reading away. It just shows how little we really know about forests and their regenerative power.

I think I'm gonna go throw some sticks around the fruit trees now.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Inoculating Trees Grown from Seed?

J. H. writes:

"I was reading your article on growing trees from seed, and was curious if you inoculate with mycorrhizal fungi when seeding them. I have done side by side comparisons of garden beds with and without it and seen the difference, but trees take so long to do a good comparison I just inoculate everything. It would be cool to see a nice comparison of the two if you've ever tried it."

I confess. I'm a bad inoculator. In fact, I've not even inoculated my beans/peas/lentils with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, though for the most part they've done well without it (I believe this is because I've got multiple species growing in my area [Black medic, desmodiums, etc.] that have relationships with various rhizobacter that should also colonize my other legumes).  Recently I picked up some universal legume inoculant and I'll be using it this spring.

But of course, that's not fungi. There's a lot I need to learn and research in that area. I've come to realize how important that Kingdom is and I've actively sought to encourage its presence via leaving logs scattered about, shredding and burying mushrooms I've found on walks into the mulch of my food forest, burying compost, pouring on compost tea, etc. I've also touched on fungus's importance here and here.

Though I haven't deliberately used a known inoculant when planting, I've taken to mixing in a bunch of finished and half-finished compost in my tree planting holes. I'm guessing the inoculant you've used is something like the ones here:

I'm always game for an experiment, though I am a cheapskate. If you do try with trees, feel free to share the results and I'll happily post them here. I'll also post on how my trees planted with compost do compared to ones planted in straight dirt.

January Natural Awakenings Article: Don't Toss That!

People act like creating compost is a ridiculously big deal... in my latest article for Natural Awakenings, I counter that idea and share "the easy art of composting:"

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Sunday, January 6, 2013


As I posted recently... bananas are tropical plants. That means they have no idea what to do in the cold (much like myself).

This poor thing decided to fruit... at a totally inappropriate time of year. Chances are, these bananas will not reach maturity. I took this shot before we got our last few frosts... the fruits are already looking a bit burned. If it doesn't pull through to the spring, I'll have to cut down the stem and wait a year or more for one of the pups to try again... and just pray it doesn't do so in winter. These trees are simply too tall to protect. Perhaps I should get some dwarf varieties?

Anyone out there growing a really hardy variety that actually makes fruit? I'll be happy to trade something for a pup or two.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Survival Plant Profile: Broccoli

I used to think there was some magic to growing broccoli. It was a strange and beautiful plant I didn't feel comfortable trying. I don't know why, but somehow beans, cucumbers, beans, radishes and more beans were less scary to me than broccoli. Anything but broccoli!

That all changed this last year. After reading Mel Bartholomew's "Square Foot Gardening," my wife Rachel decided she wanted to try growing broccoli and I figured I'd let her try and see what happened. What happened was amazing - we had lots of delicious broccoli. Perfect heads. Lush greens. Amazing flavor. And since then, we've grown plenty more, starting from seeds in the spring and fall. It's crazy - the plants do wonderfully here in Florida! So what was the trick?

Letting my wife do it!

In reality, I believe we have great luck with broccoli because we keep it well-watered, well-fertilized and also mixed in with other crops like peas, carrots and beets, making it less attractive to pests. I'm also a firm believer in foliar feeding. I've seen sad-looking plants turn into green giants. The garden beds are filled with lush, deep green growth thanks to our special method of regular fertilization. Don't tell anyone, mmmkay?

Though they're usually grown for their cluster of flower buds, Broccoli leaves are also edible in salads (you might want to remove the tough mid-ribs first) or as a cooked green. The flavor is very similar to that of collards - which makes sense, since collards are its less blue-blood relative. (It's often the case that a garden plant with one edible part also has other portions that can be eaten. Take sweet potatoes or Florida cranberry, for example. Those extra uses are just icing. Or salads, as the case may be. Which are generally better for you than icing.)

Frost doesn't faze broccoli. It always comes out ahead.
As a survival crop, broccoli isn't the easiest or most productive thing to grow. It likes decent soil and good care. It's also rather recognizable (though I imagine thieves eating hot pockets or sugar-basted possum - not broccoli) as food. On the up side, broccoli is delicious, healthy and grows through the winter without being troubled by frost. A few months ago we planted plenty of them from seed and we've just started harvesting the heads. Since we over-planted beyond our immediate desire for broccoli, we're going to be freezing plenty this spring as they all come into production. And that reminds me - when you harvest broccoli, just cut the first big head off before it gets close to blooming. Then keep checking on the plant... it's going to grow multiple side shoots that will make many smaller heads as they grow. Keep cutting! Once that baby goes to seed, you're done. The harvest season is really long with broccoli. If you plant it in fall, you're likely to still be getting new shoots for months... maybe even into early summer.

In my experience, it does best right from seed, rather than as a transplant. Of course - most plants do. Forget the expensive transplants - buy a pack of seeds and scatter away, then thin 'em out and eat the thinnings. (I like to crouch over the beds, clawing up young plants and growling like an ogre as I consume their tender flesh... but that method is obviously not mandatory.)

If you've got a space for luxury foods, put in broccoli. At the very least, it make keep some members of the Bush family out of your garden.


3.5 Spuds!

Name: Broccoli
Latin Name: Brassica oleracea
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Flower heads, Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Raw, boiled, steamed
Storability: Leaves and heads can be blanched and frozen
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Planting Sugar Cane

In the fall, you'll often see sugar cane for sale at roadside produce stands. If you can keep yourself from chewing it all, it's easy to plant and grow. I buried multiple canes in the fall of 2011 and got a decent harvest in the fall of 2012. Now I've gone bigger and planted a bunch more.

I double-dug a series of trenches and dropped in cane segments. The soil should keep it alive until spring when it'll pop up and make a nice bed. Sugar cane is truly beautiful and looks a lot like bamboo. Fortunately, it does not require swampy conditions. I had it grow quite well mixed into my seldom-watered food forest out front. Bonus: sugar cane is a perennial! Once you get a stand going, it'll keep producing for years.

My wife wants to make cane syrup, so I'm growing tons. Actually, there's really no reason to grow quite as much as I am, but darn it... I just want to. I LIKE IT AND I'LL DO WHAT I WANT! SUGAR CANE FOREVAH!!1!!1!!!

Interestingly, I picked up two different types from two different farm stands. One kind has green canes and one has maroon. Neither seem to be good chewing varieties, even though they're delicious. I'm guessing it's "crystal cane," i.e., the type you make commercial cane sugar from.

After taking the photo above, I buried the canes under about 4" of soil... and dug in another row or two. I. CAN'T. STOP. PLANTING. SUGARCANE!

Did I tell you I love this plant?

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Soil Loss Pushes Some Towards Agroforestry

Here's a sobering story from Al-Jazeera - but it's not all bad:

"While declining soil health is a global problem, many of the soils in critical condition are in the global South. Tropical soils are especially vulnerable, and when they're farmed, all kinds of problems can be expected: loss of essential nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients; washing away of already-thin topsoil; carbon depletion; crippling of the soil's ability to store water; buildup of salts and aluminum toxicity; acidification and perhaps most importantly, destruction of the many species of microorganisms needed for a robust soil ecosystem. When that has happened, farmers have still managed to produce harvests by pouring on synthetic fertilisers (if they can afford them.) Instead of restoring the soil, that renders it a more-or-less inert growth medium." (read the rest)

Interestingly, they're pointing to agroforestry as an answer. Maybe food forests are starting to catch on?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Leon Reports an Experiment

Regular reader Leon posted something cool in the comments section of this post. I decided I needed to re-post it - because it's brilliant:

"(...) That reminds me of another experiment I did last summer - I dug a hole with a posthole digger and stuffed it with rolled up phone books and catalogues. Then I covered it with a bit of sand and planted cow-peas on the top of that hole and a few control holes (with nothing but sand inside). No irrigation except for the rain. Plants on top of yellow pages were about 3 times as big and lived a whole month longer into the Fall and almost made it to seed (I planted them pretty late, July, I think). I take it means that here water is the main limiting factor (and it's great to finally have a way to use them stupid catalogues for something good :)"

Three times as big. That's success!

These are the kind of things you do when you color outside the lines and don't live your life by the "conventional wisdom." These "eureka" moments make gardening exciting. We're interacting with a dynamic, living world and sometimes something as weird as burying a phone book can cause very productive results.

I wonder if specific sections of the phone book would be more conducive to plant growth? For example, if you planted an invasive plant over the "legal" section of the Yellow pages, would it die from fear?

Heh. Anyhow, that reminds me... I need to post on the "melon pits" I've been creating out front. It's a similar concept to Leon's "Post Hole Phone Book = Awesome" experiment.

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Any New Year's Resolutions?

Here at Econopocalypse Ranch, we're going through seed catalogs and having a blast.

I'm going to try growing Floriani red flint corn, sorghum, a new variety of cassava, Kebarika beans, and half a dozen other new things. Hopefully this will also be the year my tomatoes work out. As I wrote here, last spring we bought a bunch of heirloom seeds and then had our crop completely destroyed by Aminopyralid-contaminated manure. (I'm gonna keep beating this drum - there's no excuse for anyone to be spraying these long-term poisons onto the earth!)

This fall I also planted a bed of sugar cane that I hope comes up nicely in the spring. As I reported yesterday, we've also dug multiple new garden beds and started on an aquaponics system that should start producing this year.

But enough about me! What are your garden plans and resolutions for this new year?


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