Thursday, February 28, 2013

Protecting moringa trees from frost

I've posted on moringa before and mentioned that I protect them from frost with a ring of chicken wire stuffed with leaves or straw or pine needles or whatever.

This is how I do it:

Can you make out the moringa tree in all that mess? Though the top of this tree is now roasted by frost (this picture is from December of last year), the trunk is fine and keeps putting out new growth during warm stretches. We're probably home free at this point of the year, so it's about time to pull the chicken wire off and spread the pine needles around my blueberries.

I would venture to say you could grow Moringa trees through most of Georgia with this method - the species is very tough, provided it doesn't get frozen. If I lived that far north, however, I'd probably cut the tree lower, make a larger diameter ring of chicken wire, then pile on plenty of leaves as a thick blanket. It's definitely worth the effort.

The trees that I've protected produce a significantly higher amount of leaves than the ones I allow to freeze to the ground. It only takes a few minutes to do - and the results are excellent.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chrissy's got it figured out

Covert homesteading in the city, that is:

Personally, I'd like to see the cities plowed under and the ground salted, but Chrissy is convinced compromises can be made. Her ideas are good, as always (except when she disagrees with me).

If you are dealing with problematic codes and overreaching bureaucrats, take note.

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Growing key limes in north Florida (and probably beyond)

Yes - it can be done!

In a previous post or two on microclimates, I've mentioned that I grow zone 10 plants in my zone 8b yard.

One tree that has a deep allure for gardeners is the Key Lime. This tree has almost an almost shamanistic pull upon anyone from about Broward County down south to the Keys. It represents the tropics. Margaritas. Salt breezes.

And of course - the king of all citrus confections - Key Lime pie.

Basically, Key Limes =

The problem is: Key Limes can't stand freezing since they're one of the most tropical of all citrus. Up here, the poor trees will freeze to the ground ever year, then limp back with a foot or two of growth, only to get knocked down again. Growing them without protection is impossible - and growing them with protection is risky and time consuming. Can you really be at your house for every frost? Will you remember to wrap your viciously thorny Key Lime tree with Christmas lights and cover it with blankets? Will you watch the weather like a hawk all winter?

Like I said - it's time consuming... and I really don't want to bother.

Fortunately, I've found a way that works without all that trouble. I grow my Key Lime tree outside and unprotected and it's doing great.

Here it is this very February, after we've had close to ten freezes:


Cool, huh? The tree is completely and utterly unscathed, thanks to a tree-training method called "espaliering" and the almost mythically powerful south wall of my house.

To do it, I nailed those three pieces of galvanized conduit into the ground with a hammer and also secured them to the wall near their tops. The tree is planted within a foot of the wall, keeping it safely inside the warm pocket created by the concrete's thermal mass. As branches grow forwards, I tie them back to the conduit, keeping them from reaching out too far and into the Frost Zone of Death. 

I'm sure there's a prettier way to pull this off - but I can't argue with the results. There's a lot of tender new growth right now that hasn't been touched in the slightest by cold.

You know... I think I might need to set a few conch shells down to match the coconuts (sadly, imported from south Florida) at the base of that tree.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A hugelkultur cinderblock raised bed (with mosaics)

When it comes to gardening, my wife likes order and I like chaos. She likes raised beds and neat rows - I like hacking holes in the ground and throwing seeds around. I like mixing everything together - she likes keeping things sequestered.

Our styles are very different but between the two of us, our plots are much more productive than they would be with either of us alone. Her preferences dial me back a bit... and my experimentation stretches her. As I've posted on before, I built Rachel some raised square foot beds in the Mel Bartholomew mold. One of the first of those was made from cinder blocks but I never liked the open industrial look or the weeds that came out of the holes in the blocks. Another thing I didn't like was the amount of water we had to give the plants in it. We went with 6" of Mel's Mix over weed cloth. The plants did well but needed quite a bit of water.

That's all changed now. I found an aesthetically pleasing and water-retentive way to re-invent this bed by melding the wisdom of Sepp Holzer with the neatness and order of Mel Bartholomew. This is similar to my Melon Pits, but contained by lovely Bauhaus-style concrete. Well... at least they WERE Bauhaus before I busted out the tiles and mortar.

Behold! The Hugelfoot Bed Of Mosaiced Incredibleness!

Isn't that cool? And it's not just pretty... it's a super-duper raised bed. What makes this bed special? Let me show you:

Here's the foundation. I put solid cap blocks on top of standard hollow cinderblocks. After I leveled everything, it looked nice, clean and solid. I then dug down about 2' further.

The next step was to drop in some chunks of wood. As they decay, they'll act like water reservoirs.

After that, it was time to throw in waste paper, junk mail, old paper plates, sticks, moss, corncobs and other carboniferous debris.

Yeah, that needs a stomping!

Ah, that's better. Now time to water everything in.

Then I put in a heaping load of mostly finished compost.

That completed, I topped it off again with the original 6" of Mel's Mix.

And voila! Magnifico!

That looks good enough for most people. But I've been itching to do more mosaic work, so the kids and Rachel and I had a mosaic day. I assigned each of the older children a solid cinderblock and let them have at it. The next day, I did a few, then the day after that, Rachel and I did the rest and grouted everything.

Here are a few shots of the mosaic:

As it is, this bed has about 36" of depth, plus tons of compost and a wood reservoir in the bottom. My hope is that this marriage of hugelkultur and square foot gardening will meld the strengths of both.

Here in Florida it's tough to keep things watered and happy in the heat of late spring... we shall see how this bed performs. If it works significantly better than my other beds, I'll do the same with them (though I'm not sure I'll have time to mosaic everything!).

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Allen the Beekeeper shares a few thoughts on bees

Photo by Jon Sullivan (public domain).
I asked my friend Allen for his thoughts on bees - below is what he sent me last week. He started with the following quote, then continued:

"In the temperate zone, honey bees survive winter as a colony, and the
queen begins egg laying in mid to late winter, to prepare for spring.
This is most likely triggered by longer day length. She is the only
fertile female, and deposits all the eggs from which the other bees
are produced. Except for a brief mating period when she may make
several flights to mate with drones, or if she leaves in later life
with a swarm to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the
hive after the larvae have become full-grown bees. The queen deposits
each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees. The egg hatches into a
small larva which is fed by 'nurse' bees (worker bees which maintain
the interior of the colony). After about a week, the larva is sealed
up in its cell by the nurse bees and begins the pupal stage. After
another week, it will emerge an adult bee. For the first 10 days of their lives, the female worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. On days 16 through 20, a worker receives nectar and pollen from older workers and stores it. After the 20th day, a worker leaves the hive and spends the remainder of its life as a forager. The population of a healthy hive in mid-summer can average between 40,000 and 80,000 bees." -Wikipedia


"There on Wikipedia are the basic essentials of bee keeping - all you have to do is anything a matriarchal society wants!

My opinion: **PLEASE DO NOT TREAT EVERY COLONY AS AFRICANIZED!! Let a professional that WANTS to help the environment make that decision.  Chances are if you are NORTH of Okeechobee will never see an african bee. I've met a South African just as interesting, but much less harmless (unless bored), but that's another story.

Most people want to grab the first can of toxic ingredients at hand
and go after bees. This is wrong on too many levels, STOP!!! Remember you are poisoning YOUR environment too.

Call a local Apiarist. Most pest control companies will tell you "they don't
handle honey bees," and thankfully now (unless they're a dire threat) they won't kill them either, so what to do?

Allen in action.

So now to the common sense. Don't spray them with water if you see a swarm colony on the move. (Many have done it; therefore, I must say it!)

DON'T worry. Typically, they hang around for a few days and move on. They are just waiting on the slow relatives to catch up so they can
get to their new home.

If you feel the need to "check them out," wear light colored clothing, no loud smells and watch them from a safe distance (they will let you know what that is.) When you see a honey bee, one of the biggest signs is before a bee stings, you will get bumped. Due to their sense of self preservation, they will NOT sting YOU at the first chance - they want to live too. If you get bumped, back off and enjoy their company and unless IN a home of their own they will go away soon enough on their own.

And hey... what's the worst that could happen? A new colony gets a fair start - and all the flowers have had all the sweet tenderness they need to make seeds for the next generation of food... and O2 for US!"

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Great Fruit Trees for the Deep South: The Persimmon

I've started a new series on fruit trees over at the Mother Earth News blog. Check it out:

In future posts I plan to cover mulberries, figs, pomegranates, loquats and a few other species.

Anyone have a favorite fruit tree I'm overlooking?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another reason why you should raise your own meat (as much as possible)

Though many people don't consider raising and slaughtering their own animals (it's cruel... I couldn't do that... I'd get attached... etc. etc. etc.), there are some really compelling reasons why you should.

Such as this bit of trickery:

You have limited choices if you're concerned about this kind of practice.

1. Become a vegetarian
2. Find a local farmer and stay away from the industrial stuff
3. Raise your own

I've gone with option three. I tried vegetarianism for about a year. During that time I was sluggish and couldn't stay lean (though we saved plenty of money). Vegetarianism is not for me. And because we're on a tight budget, we're raising as much of our own protein as possible.

If you care about your health and the health of your family, do what you can... unless you simply enjoy the rich velvety goodness of meat glue.

Mmm. Meat glue.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Timely Tips for February

Here's my latest "Timely Tips" article for the Marion Gardener.

NOTE: For some inexplicable reason, the Powers That Be at the Extension edited out my recommendation to drink Martinis while pruning trees so you could sterilize your shears in your drink as you went along. So I put it back in here.

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

The madness is back. Can you feel it?

Clutch your wallets and purses, gardening friends – alluring trays of veggie seedlings are everywhere. And don’t forget the pots of flowers… brimming seed racks… birdhouses… shiny new lawnmowers… whimsical yard art… kink-free hoses… flower-printed gloves and all the other sordid paraphernalia of green fever.

Yep. It’s time to get started on your spring garden. Hurry! It’s almost too late!

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult or expensive to get a plot started. Seeds are the cheapest route and often do better than transplants. Why? Because they root in place and acclimate right where they are, rather than being under or over-watered in a garden center, getting bound up in their own roots and dealing with random light conditions in the process. When you plant a seed in place, it can find its own pace and never has to deal with the considerable shock of transplanting or “hardening off.” You can plant a garden for a few bucks if you start with seeds. And if you’ve got access to homemade compost or rotted horse or cow manure, you certainly don’t need to buy dirt. Even trenching in your kitchen wastes can make a big difference. Or you can take a cue from the Indians and dig holes, toss in some meat scraps, kitchen waste, fish, road kill, manure or all of the above… then cover with soil and plant on top of that. From personal experience, I can tell you that’s a great way to grow squash and other vining crops.

As for tilling, consider double-digging instead. It certainly takes a lot longer, but the results are incredible. My double-dug beds significantly outperform areas where I’ve used tilling alone. Also, if you turn up an area of decent soil and don’t keep it damp, or mulched, or seeded immediately, it rapidly turns into a patch of sandy desert. Don’t do it! Topsoil is hard enough to maintain around here.

Vegetable gardening aside, this is also the time of year to bust out the pruning shears and attack your trees and shrubs. Make sure you sterilize the shears in between similar species so you don’t inadvertently spread disease. Alcohol is a great way to do this. If you’re a drinker, simply dip the blades of your shears in your Martini as you sashay through the yard. (Just don’t do this when trimming oleanders or it’ll be your last drink.)

As the weather warms up, keep water needs in mind. This is usually a dry time of year and plants really feel the lack of water in warmer temperatures. Water well and top off beds with mulch to keep moisture in. Just make sure to water good and deep every week or so, rather than shallowly and often.

Enjoy a wonderful new year of gardening – and if you see a two-for-one sale on flower-printed gloves, pick up an extra pair for me. They’re… uh… for my wife.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Capturing a swarm of bees

Back in January, I had the chance to capture a swarm of bees. My friend Allen the Beekeeper called me out of the blue while I was hanging out with my cousin Jen, a fellow homesteading/gardening enthusiast.

"Hey Dave - want to go catch some bees?"

My answer - of course - was yes.

Allen and Dave star in UPN 33's late-night movie The Andromeda Strain.
The next morning we set off for a rental house in a residential neighborhood. The landlord had been told there were bees there, so she called Allen to get rid of them. Jen joined us and documented the experience with photos and video. (Final Cut is giving me fits right now. I'll figure it out and post the video in the future... I hope).

Even though it was winter, the bees had swarmed - and then built a hive-  right out in the open. I've never seen anything like it.

Right on the side of an oak, about 12' up, there were perfect hanging pieces of comb, covered with bees - and filled with larvae and honey. Totally bizarre. I can't figure out how they were surviving the cold out there.

I climbed up and cut them down as Allen rubber-banded them into hive frames, then put them in a nuc box. After that, we brushed as many bees as possible into the box and prayed we got the queen. (Well... I prayed. Allen's a born-again pagan, so I suppose he willed good karma at it). At any rate, we boxed up all the bees we could get, then Allen installed them in my backyard.

Jen - our adventuresome photojournalist.

Some days later, we busted open the box and found there was indeed a queen in there. Hurray for bees!

It's been a few years since I kept bees... this was something I was really missing. Thanks to Allen and these batty out-of-season-swarmers, I've got 'em again.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reasons NOT to start fruit trees from seed (and why they're dumb)

Rachel and I were talking this morning about starting trees from seeds and why some people simply won't do it. The reasons not to do it are less compelling than they are sad, in a retarded bunny rabbit sort of way. Probably the number one excuse I hear is "It takes sooooo long!"

Aw. My heart bleeds. Someone call the WHAAAAAAaaaambulance!

The problem with it "taking so long" is more cultural than practical. We want things RIGHT NOW, DANG IT! Waiting 3-10 years for fruit or nuts drives us crazy.

Another reason people simply won't bother planting tree seeds is that "it won't be like the parent." Did that stop your parents? Does that stop dog breeders? Does that keep us from scattering heirloom flower seeds about? No. It's just when it comes to fruit (or nut) trees that we get nervous. It also relates back to the "it takes sooooo long" argument.

"What if it doesn't produce well? Or it's bitter or sour?"

Is that really a big deal? Like I've said many times - make marmalade or graft onto it. Cut it down and use the wood for tool handles. Seriously.

But - let's take the length of time thing and treat it seriously. Yes, it takes quite a while. No, it's not instant gratification. That's why you need to start right now.

I start trees from seed, but I'm also not sitting around waiting for them to grow up so I can eat their fruit. I plant seeds every few months or so, then do something else. If you want food quickly, work on your annual beds - and at the same time, put aside a few pots here and there for tree seeds. You can eat corn and cabbages now... chestnuts and key limes later.

Your life span, hopefully, allows you plenty of time. Small, incremental steps lead to big possibilities that you'll never reach if you don't look ahead a few years.

Just like Allen the Beekeeper's report on his dad's trees yesterday... a few minutes of looking ahead years ago led to something beautiful today. Those grapefruit trees will produce massive amounts of food over their lives with very little input. Can you say the same about your annual beds?

Go - plant a seed!

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Growing fruit trees from seed: a delicious success story

Allen the Beekeeper shared some pictures with me a couple weeks ago of the beautiful grapefruit trees in his dad's yard.

Right now they're loaded with fruit and as healthy as can be. The cool thing about them - they grew from seed.

Allen related to me that one of his dad's rare "gardening experiments" consisted of burying a couple handfuls of grapefruit seeds in his yard, then not mowing that area for a few months. Some time later, he had seedlings... then saplings... then producing trees. Now, 20 years later, he's enjoying (and giving away) hundreds of pounds of grapefruit each year.

Don't listen to the haters. Experiment! Plant seeds! Win!

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Long-Awaited, Gigantic, "Starting Fruit Trees From Seed" Valentine's Day Post

Okay... I've posted on this before... and I've written a bit about starting nuts here, but it's really too juicy a topic to cover in just two little posts. The following is my do-it-yourself guide to starting a variety of trees from seed - with plenty of pictures I took of my own projects. Yes - they're not huge trees yet - but they will be. I've only been at this for three years and I'm already amazed by some of the successes.

I'm madly in love with seeds. They're cheap, readily available and could potentially grow into something amazing. The promise contained in a tiny seed is incredible.

Baby carob trees sprouting in a sunny window. 
However, when it comes to growing trees from seed - fruit and nut trees in particular - we're almost always told "don't do it!!!"


"It won't breed true!!! You'll get tiny/bitter/nasty/worthless fruit!"

Really? When you save cabbage seed and plant them the next year, do you get tiny/bitter/nasty/worthless plants? No!

The reality is, you won't get exactly what you started with, but most of the time, you'll get something worthwhile. There are always genetic traits we don't like that may pop up, but most of the time, you get something decent - or even excellent - when you plant seeds, fruit trees included.

1-2 year old citrus seedlings in the greenhouse.

Unlike grafted trees, trees that grow on their own roots are often tougher and larger, if not always as productive. Grafting is very useful for commercial farms because it allows them to grow exactly the variety they want. The navel orange, for instance, is a cloned variety that's been around for almost 200 years. The same genes... replicated ad infinitum via cuttings and grafting. It's amazing - but in my mind, not the safest thing to rely on when you're dealing with diseases, pests and changing climates. Where do we get new varieties with disease resistance, larger fruit, higher cold-hardiness, etc.? We get them from planting seeds and seeing what hidden gems might pop out of the plant's genome.

Of course - this doesn't happen overnight. Unlike corn, you can't breed trees quickly. It takes a long time to go from seed to producing tree. Sometimes prohibitively long. But that doesn't mean we give up. That just means we start planting right now.

I fully intend to get a variety of something named after me before I die. I'm really not picky - it just has to be something tall, productive and handsome so it compares well with its namesake.

If you're ready to get started with starting trees from seed, the loquat is a great first candidate. It's in fruit at this time of year, so it's likely you can nab some seeds easily. Now let's look at some various trees and how to start them.


Here are some one-year-old loquats I started from seed last spring:

They're about 2' tall now and growing fast. Pretty much ready to be planted out. Loquats start quite easily from seed and don't need stratification or scarification to germinate. Just pop a handful of fresh pits in the ground and start watering. Most will sprout. When they do, carefully pull out and pot up the ones you want to keep - then plant the rest on a local foreclosure property.


Citrus are also really easy to grow. Here is a key lime tree my daughter started from seed a little less than three years ago:

It's over 4' tall and thriving. Interestingly, unlike some citrus, key limes breed true to type. Plant a key lime seed, you'll get a key lime tree. Most citrus will give you something edible and similar to their parent (see tomorrow's post), but not all. From what I've heard, cross-breeding is often a possibility, as is the occasional reversion to a sour variety. Plant citrus seeds when they're fresh as they don't last long. If they dry out, they're dead.


Avocados are another easy-to-grow tree. Almost every year when I was a kid, my grandmother would start pits impaled with toothpicks and suspended in water. They would grow 1-2' tall in her window, then she'd transplant them out to her backyard where they would invariably die of neglect. This was sort of a hobby of hers, I suppose. (I miss her tons... I wish she was alive so she could read this post and scold me...). The tree below was started from a Hass pit.

The Grandmother Method of starting avocados works well, as does simply burying the pits near the surface of the ground and watering them occasionally until they sprout. Some always will - and avocados also will grow into good trees from seed. I started a pit from a Thai variety with massive fruit the size of cantaloupes, then planted the year-and-a-half old tree in my parents' backyard. You can see it here

(Incidentally, the volunteer-run Edible Plant Project in Gainesville is working on a long-term cold-hardy avocado breeding project if anyone is interested.)


Pomegranates also grow well from seed, so next time you buy a freakishly expensive fruit from the supermarket, plant the seeds.  Here's a dwarf tree I started from a fruit a neighbor gave me:

It bore fruit within a year of me planting it - and, as you can see, it's working on another round right now. Dwarf pomegranates aren't as tasty as the full-size trees, in my experience, but they're still edible. I let the kids spit pomegranate seeds onto paper towels to dry - and then we plant them. They also lose viability over time, so plant earlier rather than later. One nice thing about pomegranates is that they are precocious trees - they only take a few year to bear fruit.


I've no idea whether or not date palms will survive here, especially with our humidity and the various palm diseases spreading across the state - but when you start with seeds, the experiment is basically free. The little palms below were started from a container of dates I bought for a picnic.

Yep. My date palms came from the supermarket. Unfortunately, starting date palms from seed is slightly tricky. There's a lot of strange info online involving various tricks for starting palm seeds. This method worked for me. First I scrubbed the flesh off the date pits, then let them dry for a few days. After that, I soaked them in water for a couple of days, changing the water frequently so they didn't rot. Then I planted them a couple inches deep in a terracotta pot of moist vermiculite and set that on top of the water heater.

A couple months later, I dug in to see what was going on and discovered a few of the seeds had developed roots. I took those out and put them in pots outside to continue growing. I had sporadic germinations occur on top of the water heater for another month or so, and I potted those out as well. After a few weeks outside, they'd poke up leaves and it was off to the races. Overall, I'd say I had a germination rate of maybe 25%.


Peaches are tricky in Florida for a couple of reasons.

1. They require rather specific chill hours. If you plant pits from the grocery store, chances are the tree will never thrive even if it manages to reach maturity. Unless they're bred for it, they can't set fruit without getting enough cold. Their dormancy cycles get messed up, they flower sporadically, they tend to get frozen down at weird times, etc. 

2. Nematodes can be deadly for peaches. There's a root stock used here called "Nemaguard" that is resistant to the darned things - but when you plant from seed, you're playing the lottery.

Those two contingencies haven't stopped me. I plant them anyways. In the summer of last year, I got a bunch of fruit from the popular low-chill cultivar "Tropic Beauty" - then I did what any mad horticulturalist should - I figured out how to germinate the seeds.

Unlike our previous subjects, peaches need stratification to germinate. That means they need a cold period - a real or simulated winter - in order to start growth.

Here's how I started mine. First I cleaned and dried a pile of pits, then carefully cracked them open with a nutcracker and removed the seeds inside. I then soaked those in water for a day or two. After that, I put them in baggies of moist potting soil and popped those baggies in the refrigerator. 

About two months later... a miracle happened. The pits started forming roots. As they did, I put them out in pots and flats to grow - which they did quite well. Now I'm sticking little peach trees in the ground around my yard and hoping they survive the nematodes. Total cost? $0.00.


Growing trees from seed is cheap and satisfying. If you have more time than money - or like to experiment - or need to fill a large area with trees - this is the way to go. I took all the pictures in this post last week. Those trees basically cost me nothing. If you plant seeds every year, you've always got something new coming up... and trees growing older and bigger from last year... and the year before... and the year before.

It's not an instant gratification thing, but over time you can get a wonderful variety of trees going and find excitement in knowing that no one else has the varieties you're growing. If you plant plenty of seeds, you're bound to get some good trees. If one of your home-grown trees produces poorly or bears sour fruit - so what? Graft onto it. Cut it down and make a melon pit. Turn it into wood for your smoker. Make marmalade! What did it cost you? $0.00. There's no risk!

And who knows - maybe one day, just like me, you'll get a variety named after you.

Tomorrow I'll share another fruit tree seed starting success story. Until then, get off the 'net and go plant something. (After you kiss your sweetheart, of course.)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Natural Awakenings Article for February: Five Super-Easy Veggies for Brown Thumbs

Here's the latest piece for Natural Awakenings magazine.

This article is a little pick-me-up for the downhearted Florida gardener - or a launchpad for a new one. It's often not where you're growing - it's what you're growing that matters. The five crops I cover this month are all perfect for Florida.

For my new readers, click away to discover more on mustard, collards, sweet potatoes and yard-long beans.

As for lettuce, you're on your own.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cassava: A reliable staple for subtropical gardeners

Here's my latest entry for Mother Earth News - an ode to one of my very favorite crops:

As a side note on today's article: one thing people always worry about with cassava is the cyanide.

Relax. Take a deep breath. There's cyanide in a lot of different plants, including some of our most common edibles. With proper preparation, there's no need to worry. It's not like you're going to kick off like a double-crossed super-villain if you eat a piece of raw cassava, either. It's not that toxic. Also - the leaves are safe for your compost. During fermentation, boiling, composting, or even drying, the cyanide precursors off gas harmlessly into the atmosphere.

I've also fed limited amounts of cassava leaves to goats as a de-wormer. Amazing stuff.

For a shorter overview of cassava as a survival crop, click here.

UPDATE: To buy cassava cuttings, click here.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Rycamor shares some cassava success

Since we're not in the tropics, keeping cassava cuttings alive through the winter so you can plant them again the next year isn't always easy.

Last week, my friend rycamor sent me an e-mail about his successful method:

"It looks like my black bag methodology is sound. Had this loosely-knotted bag in the garage since first freeze, and look at it now. All damp and rooty. Planting them today."

Nice work. My bet is the trash bag kept the canes from drying out... they certainly look lively, don't they? We're in uncharted territory as American cassava growers - it's not like you'll find growing info in the Burpee catalog. Experiments like these are vital.

(On a related note: I've got a post on cassava going up at the Mother Earth News blog later today. When that's there, I'll share a link.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Live at the Gallery East

Not only did rycamor and I play at the mural dedication at Gallery East in Belleview today... we also became honorary members of the Marion County Audubon Society (thanks, Judy!).

And, double-plus good, our new friend Captain Erika took pictures of the gig and was kind enough to send a few my way.

One final bit of awesomeness: before the gig, I discovered a huge Dioscorea alata yam in the woods near rycamor's place. The two of us dug it out (with much effort, since it was in clay). It was likely 10lbs or so. I'll post pictures and share more on that species later this week.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Playing at the Audubon Society mural dedication

Though I unfortunately didn't get asked to paint the mural (though perhaps that's a good thing for the local AS, since I have a hard time not inserting amazon women, giant insects and UFOs into my artwork), I did get asked by Ms. Greenberg to play some live guitar at during the event. Regular commenter rycamor (who is a killer good guitarist) will be joining me. If you're local and have time on Sunday, you're invited to come on by.

Here's the media release:

Media Release By: Marion Audubon Society
Contact: Judy Greenberg, President Marion Audubon Society – 352-871-1094
Event: Environmental Mural Dedication & Birdsy Art Exhibit
Date: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Time: 3:00PM to 5:30PM
Location: Gallery East – US Hwy 441 south of Belleview

Venue: The public is invited to meet the Mural Masters for the dedication of the outdoor environmental mural at the Gallery East. Artists of the Gallery East will have a special Birdsy Art Exhibit inside the Gallery East for all to enjoy. Social time begins with refreshments at 3:00PM in the gallery. Dedication ceremony begins at 3:30 on the patio. Guest speakers for the occasion include: Eric Draper, Executive Director for Audubon Florida, and Pat Carver, Natural Resources Chairman for Deep South Region of the National Garden Clubs, Inc. A special Birdsy Art exhibit by the artists of Gallery East will be on display throughout the gallery during the event.

More About the Mural Dedication:

The mural dedication is a tribute to the joint effort by the Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala and the Marion Audubon Society to raise awareness about water conservation opportunities in Marion County. The Painted Rain Barrels for Conservation Project spearheaded by the two organizations involved local artists and local government in the educational campaign. Rain barrels are an excellent way for individuals and businesses to collect water during the rainy season for outdoor use during the dry seasons. The Painted Rain Barrel Project raised $2,300.00 from the sale of tickets for an opportunity to win a artistically painted rain barrel. The painted rain barrels were awarded to four different ticket holders: Michel Northsea of Dunnellon, The Urology Health Team of Ocala, Marsha Waldron of Gainesville and James Wanous of Belleview.

Dr. and Mrs. Klimberg of The Urology Health Team of Ocala donated their barrel to the Pioneer Garden Club for display at the garden center on Silver Springs Blvd. Marsha Waldron donated her painted rain barrel to the Kanapaha Botanical Garden in Gainesville. It will be displayed in the children’s garden as part of a water conservation demonstration. Proceeds from the ticket sales will be awarded to environmental education at designated parks and preserves in Marion County.

Approximately 750 individuals purchased tickets for the painted rain barrel drawing and ten local businesses participated with the Painted Rain Barrel Project as Conservation Partners:
Boring & Associates
 Dr. Kent C. Weitzel, DMD
Collier, Jernigan & Goedert, P.A.
Agricon Equipment - The Kubota Superstore
Miller Cottage, LLC
Anthuriums: The Love Flower, LLC
The Mojo Grill
Superior Landscape
Get It Done Scaping
The Urology Health Team of Ocala

Details about the mural dedication and the Painted Rain Barrels for Conservation can be found on the Marion Audubon Society Website:

You can't grow that here! You can't do that! It won't work! You're nuts to try!

I laugh when people tell me one of my gardening ideas is impossible. Sure... some things are almost impossible. For instance, it would be really hard to grow Bing cherries here. Not totally impossible - but really hard. (To pull it off, you'd need a walk-in freezer, some shade cloth, a good timer, a very large pot and a lot of time on your hands. But I digress...)

I've heard this is too far north to grow good cassava. WRONG
I've been told that many seeds won't grow into good fruit trees. WRONG
I've learned from experts not to compost meat, paper, etc. WRONG

Anyhow - you get the idea. Just because it's supposedly impossible doesn't mean you can't pull it off. My experiments with microclimates have been very informative. I learned exactly how far out from my south wall I could plant zone 10 species before the frost claimed them (about 18"). I'm now growing tropical plants without cover outside in North Florida... thanks to the thermal mass of my house.

My experiments with planting corn directly into ruts cut in my lawn were a complete failure. But I learned from it. Now I've started my new "melon pit" experiments.

I started about 50 peaches from pits I took from the fruit of a Tropic Beauty tree and planted them in pots and around my yard. Will they live without the all-important "Nema-guard" rootstock? We'll find out.

Look - the key to growing is constant experimentation and observation. Think like a scientist. Plant multiple varieties in multiple places at multiple times of the year for multiple different years. What worked? What didn't?

Would you believe this? I have a tropical papaya seedling growing in my front-yard food forest. It's seen multiple frosts down into the 20s and doesn't show a touch of damage. Meanwhile, I have other large trees out back that have lost their entire tops and even had their trunks turn to mush. Why is that? Genetics? Microclimate? Canopy cover? I don't know yet... but I'll see if it stays alive and what happens this next year. If it fruits and keeps living, I'll plant the seeds and see if they've inherited some cold hardiness. If I had followed the standard advice, I would've never planted papayas at all. YOU CAN'T GROW THEM HERE!

I've seen tropical avocados, papaya, guava and mangoes growing in a miniature food forest in Polk County. It freezes there and these plants don't die. Because they're tight together and tended by an old missionary who I believe has some sort of special favor from God... they live and fruit. THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!

Remember the rules. Go ahead and repeat them to yourself until they're meaningless. Then laugh and go throw more seeds around. Do something impossible. The rules can be bent... nature is resilient... and you never know until you try... sometimes many times.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

You must be kidding

Another claim that it takes roughly a bazillion dollars to raise a child:

Who are these people? I've got kids and it's not nearly that expensive. Of course, we don't believe in paying for college... shuttling kids off to daycare... making regular trips to the doctor/dentist... buying videogame systems and cell phones... paying for a teenager's car expenses etc. etc. etc. We've chosen a life of voluntary simplicity and from my vantage point, it's a heck of a lot more stable (and cheap) than the rat race most find themselves in.

And... of course... we grow a good bit of our food. That right there saves plenty. Our kids are happy, healthy, well-behaved and pick their own salad greens throughout the day.

If those of us who believe in caring for the earth and revolutionizing agriculture fail to raise a next generation that will do the same, our efforts will fail. Because there are always plenty of WalMart People willing to go with the status quo (that is... until their EBT cards are cut off...).

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

And so Big Ag made a factory farmer...

With apologies to Paul Harvey (and Dodge), I present the following:
And on the 666th day Big Agriculture looked down on God’s paradise and said, "I think we can do this better than God." And so Big Ag made a factory farmer.

Big Ag said, "Let’s have farmers get up before dawn and pop suction cups onto the cracked and bleeding teats of undernourished cows stacked into concentration camp-style paddocks, spray some poison on the fields, crank up the milker again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight with some lobbyists that will help keep 'em profitable. So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

Big Ag said, "We need controllable illegal labor. Strong enough to pick up 100lbs of dead chickens from the floor every morning, yet gentle enough to castrate a piglet without anesthesia. Some poor Pedro or Miguel to spray ammonia on tainted meat, feed afterbirths into the incinerator, come home ill from chemicals, dust and manure and have to wait for dinner until his wife is done cleaning the home of some lawyer in town under the table while she’s praying her husband’s not sent back across the border by us." So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

Big Ag said "We need folks that can dress in hazmat suits and eliminate every scrap of greenery from a million acres, cull sub-par and sick animals and feed them back to their former stallmates. And... who, every season, will create massive amounts of toxic run-off from manure, antibiotics, herbicide, pesticide and various other poisons that will stick around for centuries. Then, as if that’s not enough, we’ll have 'em destroy millennia of careful plant breeding by introducing GMOs that will spread their hacked genes across the land." So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

Big Ag had to have somebody willing to glue rotten meat together with enzymes and re-grade it as expensive cuts. So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

Big Ag said, "I need somebody weak enough to live in debt and sell their souls… and yet stupid enough to destroy feet of top soil, help create super-bugs through massive use of toxins… and who will live off subsidies that pay him other people’s money to plant one field and not plant another." So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

It had to be somebody who'd never question what they’re doing... and never consider the new diseases and risks they could unleash. Somebody to grow corn to burn in gas tanks, or make into sugary concoctions that cause obesity and heart disease. Somebody to rake and disc and plow the earth until it’s as dead as the lunar surface. Somebody who'd bail his family out with debt, who'd sit on his fat butt and eat processed crap from the grocery because all he ever grew was one huge monocropped plot... and then respond with a sneer when his son says he wants to start “something organic” instead. 

So, Big Ag made a factory farmer.

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Paul Gautschi of "Back to Eden" fame talks about chickens and GMOs

Plenty of food for thought here. Paul isn't feeding his flock of 30 chickens any commercial feed... it's all veggies... and they're laying!

Plus, the chicken run is his compost bin. Brilliant.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

British cabbages

Because I like cabbages, I enjoyed this article.
Obviously, Florida doesn't have the perfect climate for cabbages... but they do grow here. When I was in Frostproof a few years back, the Mexican migrant workers were planting them between the orange trees near my Aunt and Uncle's neighborhood.

Talk about incongruous.

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And so God made a farmer

The best ad of the Superbowl:

Farming was the very first profession. When you take up the shovel, the rake, or the hoe, you are walking in the shadow of Eden. Be proud of what you do. And remember this earth is not yours. The choices you make to nurture or poison... conserve or destroy... will be counted for or against you.

It's good to see farmers honored. Be worthy of it. UPDATE: The embed link failed on me - it's working now. (I was also just imagining what a hilarious parody I could make of this ad by making it about factory farming. That would be evil... and fun.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

My letter to the editor on Aminopyralids at Mother Earth News

I wrote Mother Earth News a letter to the editor a few months back and I see it's hit the website:

They're doing a great job covering the contamination of manure and compost by toxic herbicides.

UPDATE: I might as well drop the news now - I've been invited to start as a blogger with Mother Earth News. This is quite an honor for me since they are the premier source for all things homesteading. I've also read MEN for years and gotten plenty of ideas from the magazine and their website.

My first post for their blog should be going up later today - I'll post a link when it's there.

UPDATE II: My first blog for Mother Earth News is up:

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Illegal chickens - viva la revolution!

The push for urban chickens continues both legally and illegally:

Underground Chickens: Episode 99 of The Perennial Plate from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Many of us are dealing with boneheaded government officials and clueless neighbors, like usual, so nothing is easy. Like the Helvenston's garden and other notable stories, home food production is often countered by The Powers That Be... and petty tyrants who desparately long for everyone to have perfectly manicured deserts - I mean lawns - instead of anything that smacks of dirty, yucky agriculture.

I used to keep bees illegally inside Smyrna, TN (may the city perish in fire and brimstone) despite their idiotic codes. We also had a humanure system and a hidden compost bin. Most neighbors would see our luxuriant garden and compliment us as they walked past... but the folks at code enforcement weren't so accommodating. 

Anyone have some good illegal chicken stories to share?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Can you eat silverthorn berries - and do they taste good?

Yes... and yes.

An almost ripe fruit. Unripe fruits are astringent. Like your mom.
The eleagnus family has plenty of edibles in it, though they're not well known. The best-known edible is the goumi berry - but the most common plant you'll see around central and north Florida is the "silverthorn," also known as Eleagnus pungens.

A baby silverthorn that will soon grow big. It'll grow 2-3 times as tall as you are.

Because we've had a mild winter, the berries are popping up a bit earlier than usual. This is normally a February fruit, but I got a few ripe ones at the end of January. It's hard to beat something that makes fruit so early, stands the cold, and stays evergreen. Though most people grow silverthorn as an ornamental hedge plant, it's a good edible and a good nitrogen fixer. Plant it in lousy soil and it will still thrive. I've got them growing near my citrus trees and as they grow bigger, I'll chop them back and use the trimmings for mulch. That way they're simultaneously feeding the ground with their roots and with what I drop. Win-win.

Keep your eyes on these. Soon... soon...

The fruits taste like a tart-sweet cherry. Quite nice. If you don't have any of these yet, go buy a few. They're lovely, fast-growing and hardy plants that fit excellently into a food forest.

Even if you aren't currently growing silverthorn, keep an eye out - chances are, you can snag some berries locally. This is your window of opportunity - seize it!

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Why You Should Grow Your Own Food: Reason 4

Because when you buy at the store, you might not be getting what you pay for:

Seriously? How stupid.

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