Friday, May 31, 2013

@The Prepper Project: How to Double-Dig

You've seen my writing on double-digging before. The more I do it, the more I'm impressed with it as a truly superior method of gardening in smaller spaces. Over at The Prepper Project, I share more on the "why" and "how" of this excellent practice:

When we look at our garden plants, we tend to think about only what we see. If the growth above ground is green and happy, great! Unfortunately – that’s only half the picture. Root growth is really, really important to the health of a plant and its ability to stand drought stress, find nutrients and keep itself supported. When you use a tiller, you’re really only ripping up the top 6” or so of the ground. Beneath that, the soil might remain hard and unyielding to plant roots. The deep mulch method (also known as lasagna gardening or the “Ruth Stout” method) can loosen soil over time by attracting worms that aerate for you – but if you really want to get your gardens going in a hurry, double-digging is the way to put food on the table ASAP. (READ MORE)

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From the Inbox: Raised bed questions and planting times

I got an e-mail a week and a half ago from Emily in Ft. Lauderdale... and I'm finally going to answer it today. (Sorry for the wait, Emily!):

"Hi David. Hope you're doing well ... I wanted to ask you a couple questions about the garden I built:
I had a 7x3" raised garden built in the patio. At the bottom of this email there's a link to where you can see a few pics I took of the garden this morning. Unfortunately, my roommate and I have both been so busy that it's been about 2 months and we have not planted anything yet. So it's been neglected--save for the pineapple top I planted a few days ago. I'm going to move it to a planter when I get more soil. Is it still OK to plant seeds even though the soil has not been watered regularly?

I have organic potting soil topped with cow manure top soil. We have a bag of wood chips to cover it once we plant the seeds. We also have a soaker hose snaked throughout the bed. We can only leave it on for a few minutes or else the bed gets super flooded. We do have a tarp underneath and cut holes in it so it does drain, just not as fast as the water comes in. Do you supposed that would be a problem?

I'm planning to plant zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, romaine lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower. I also have another planter to plant herbs.  What do you think? Is it the right time of year to plant? Should I wait?

That's about it. 

Thanks for your help!"

Here are a few pictures Emily sent me of her bed:

Looking at this setup, I'm not sure you need a soaker hose. For a single bed, watering by hand every day or two ought to work well. It also gives you more interaction with your garden, which is a very good thing. Flooding the bed is okay, as long as it drains pretty quickly and doesn't stay soggy.

I can tell you this: that pineapple isn't going to be happy if the bed gets wet for too long. They tend to rot under those conditions. Moving it, like you plan to do, is a good idea.

"I'm planning to plant zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, romaine lettuce, bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower. I also have another planter to plant herbs.  What do you think? Is it the right time of year to plant? Should I wait?"

It's the right time to plant some of those things. Since you're in South Florida, you don't get the killer heat we do further north. Tomatoes should do quite well right now. Zucchini and cukes tend to suffer from diseases when the humidity of summer hits, so you'll want to keep them fertilized and growing fast so they can hopefully beat those things.

Bell peppers are tougher, but they also like the heat and are worth a try. I have much better success growing hot peppers - but they're definitely not as much fun to toss in a salad. Unless you toss them into someone else's salad.

Other things to grow in the heat include bush beans, corn, okra and yard-long beans (if you have a trellis for them to grow on).

You're going to have to wait for cooler weather to pull off spinach, lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower. Think November or so.

Many herbs are tough things that can take some abuse. Rosemary, sage and basil all don't mind the sun. Basil is really easy to grow from seed, too, which will save you buying a plant.

Another thing: I can't tell what your sun exposure looks like. Are you getting lots of blazing sun most of the day - or are you in half-shade most of the time like it appears in the pictures? If it's total, blasting sun, you may have some trouble. If it's too much shade, your tomatoes might not set fruit. In between? Perfect!

Thanks for the pictures - I hope this space gets you rolling. Leave me comments or send me questions whenever you like and I'll try to get to them faster than I did this time.

@Mother Earth News: Five Tips on Gardening With a Living Safety Net

I've got another post up on the Mother Earth News blog.

Are you dealing with pest issues? This one's for you.

"Many people have seen my gardens and said “Whoa, you don’t have any pests, do you?” I hate to disabuse them of that pleasant notion, but I do indeed have pests. I just don’t have nearly as many as a lot of other local gardeners. I have a few explanations for that..."

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Compost Like a Boss!

How To Compost
This Infographic Brought To You By

@ The Prepper Project: Two Must-Have Survival Crops

Want to put a big bank of calories in the ground? I've got a new post over at The Prepper Project that tells you how - click on over and check it out:

There are very few similarities between these two plants. One is in the sunflower family… the other is in the spurge family. One bears roots year-round… one does not. One has pretty flowers… the other has graceful canes and palmate leaves. They do have a few notable places where they overlap, however.

1. Both grow like weeds and produce in less-than-ideal conditions.
2. Both produce an abundance of calories.
3. Both are tall plants and not readily recognizable as food sources.
4. Both will mess you up if you don’t prepare them right. 

5. Both are exceptional survival crops.
6. Both are bothered by very few pests.
7. Both are excellent chicken/pig feed.


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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chocolate pudding fruit

This is one of the most amazing things I've come across yet:

This fruit looks just like a green simulacrum of its cousin the persimmon... except the inside is filled with soft, chocolatey flesh. My friend JJ took me to rescue some tropical edibles from a house for sale down south... and I picked one of these fruit to see if I could get seeds from it. Sadly, it was seedless... but the flavor was incredible. Like moist, soft chocolate with a sweet persimmon overtone.

God is way too creative. I imagine Him making the persimmon... making the cocoa plant... then thinking "Hey... what if I combined them into one fruit? Mankind is going to totally enjoy these things!"

This is now at the top of my list as a new addition to the Great South Florida Food Forest Project. Unfortunately, I can't grow them here.

More info on this amazing tree here.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plant Diversity: Guest Post by Rachel (aka Mrs. Survival Gardener)

     The other day, while taking the kids out on an errand, we passed a billboard that read something to the effect of “Can you name 10 vegetables in 2 minutes?  A little while later we came across another asking, “Can you name 20 fruits in 2 miles?”  My first thought was, Sure I can!  Why, what we’ve got growing in the yard right now could fill both lists…or almost anyway.  But then I thought I’d have a little fun.  Could the kids name the fruits and vegetables in the allotted time?  I asked and they gave it their best shot.  I’m really not surprised that they succeeded.  Actually, depending on which kids you query, they can even correctly identify the fruit and vegetable plants.  They may not know the latest Disney movie character, but they know sure do know their edibles.  And in my mind, that’s more important anyway.
      But this little pop quiz got me thinking.  Is it really even all that hard for people to name 10 different vegetables and 20 different fruits—I mean, for people crazy and extreme as we are?  I know the point of these advertisements is to get people interested in different types of produce, but I can’t help thinking that it’s all one big sham.  David often reminds me of something we heard in the documentary Food Inc.:  We don’t really have choices when we shop at the supermarket—we have the illusion of choices.  How many types of apples do you see at the local grocery store?  Maybe a half dozen or so.  Now go Google “apple varieties.”  It’s ok, I’ll wait.  (Me whistling while I wait for you to look it up.  Me whistling a little more as you marvel at the lists, colors, descriptions of taste, growing conditions and habits.  Me, stuck here, whistling away because, clearly, you’ve been sucked into this beautiful world of apples, from which you won’t return until you’ve picked out a few saplings and had them shipped to your door). 
     And that’s just apples, friends!  How about the other 19 fruits you named in 2 miles?  There is such diversity out there!  I know you regular Florida Survival Gardening readers are more broad-minded than most, but still I think we’ve only really begun to scratch the surface when it comes to species diversity.  So, keep on experimenting.  Plant seeds!  Even Especially if your neighbor tells you the plant that emerges won’t be any good.  Seek out the unusual varieties!  Nothing is gained if we all sit back and continue growing the same varieties found in the grocery store.  And let’s keep on sharing what we’ve learned.  What different variety grows best where you live?  Maybe it will work for me too.  Yes, we’re survival gardening here, but let’s have a little fun with it.  It’s so exciting to see and taste the diversity in God’s creation.  It’s part of what makes life delightful.  And when we’re talking about preparing for TEOTWAWKI, I have this feeling we’re going to really enjoy the little things that make life a little more delicious. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Wild-edible dominoes - and A CHALLENGE for YOU!

Gardens-in-the-sand was inspired by Friday's post on wild edibles around the neighborhood:

There are some good points in there. Though we're in decent shape down here in the south, edible-wise, it would still take some serious searching to get all you needed off wild lands and not end up going Donner. And animal sources of food - like deer - are some of the best you can get. Living on boiled thistle leaves won't sustain you for long. That said... deer, rabbits, squirrels, etc., would probably disappear quickly in a full-on crisis situation - hence, knowing edible insects and roots is a good idea.

Delicious woodland!

Note: I wouldn't eat that black and red-orange locust pictured by Gadrens-in-the-sand. They're toxic:

"Adults of eastern lubber grasshoppers possess a variety of abilities to defend themselves. Their bright color pattern is a warning to predators that the lubber contains toxic substances. Indeed, there are several records attributing the demise of individual birds failure to exercise caution when selecting prey items. Also, small mammals such as opossums have been known to vomit violently after ingesting a lubber, and to remain ill for several hours. However, shrikes are reported to catch and kill lubbers." (more on lubbers)

I believe all other locusts down here are edible, though. I've eaten wild grasshoppers... just never the lubbers. I do like the paper wasp eating idea. Hmm...

Anyhow - that aside - I think doing "wild edible" photo tours is a great idea! So thank you, Gardens-in-the-sand, for inspiring...


If anyone posts a "Wild Edible Walk" on their site, let me know and I'll link to it. Share your pictures and thoughts! Did you try something that was awful? Did you make a salad from Spanish Moss? Got a recipe for whitegrub fritters? Put it in there! (Just try not to poison yourself or your readers.)

Show us what you got!


Saturday, May 25, 2013



It's hard to believe that this dream of mine has flown as high as it has in less than a year. Thank you all for stopping in, sharing your thoughts and helping this site become better and better.


Friday, May 24, 2013

2 Blocks: 17 Edibles

One of the kids asked me if I'd go on a walk with them last week. Being a great dad, I said yes... but before I left, I had a thought: why not bring a camera and take photos of the many wild edibles within a couple blocks of my house? Granted, I live in a rural neighborhood. However, even in suburbia there are often plenty of chances to snag something tasty while strolling - particularly in Florida.

And now, for your enjoyment, is a photo tour of the great bounty to be found in the "wild."

First up - some shepherd's needle:

Sauteed, boiled, or steamed... these are a good green. They're also everywhere in Florida. If you can ID them, you won't starve.

The next plant we came across was a majestic hickory tree:

We got buckets of nuts from that tree the year before last and the kids spent weeks hitting them with hammers and bricks and eating the tasty kernels. Though they're really a pain, labor-wise, the nutmeats taste as good or better than pecans.

Beneath the canopy of the hickory, there are plenty of these:

What's that thing, you say? It's a beautyberry! They're blooming right now and it'll be a few months before the berries are ready... but it's good to ID where they are now so you can hunt 'em up later.

Now... this guy is more of a condiment than an edible, but I'm including him anyway:

Recognize that? It's a bay tree. One of the multiple varieties that grow here in Florida. Laurel wilt disease has wiped out quite a few, but there are still many healthy ones scattered through the woods around my house. I hope they're disease-resistant enough to continue.

Anyone know what this next plant is?

If you guessed "wild lettuce," you guessed right. Though they're not nearly as sweet as their cultivated relatives, they're still edible. And I'll bet they're a lot healthier than any lettuce you'd buy in the store. Now... speaking of things you'd buy in the store... this next plant is easy to identify:

Aww yeah... wild grapes. There are plenty of blooms this year so I'm hoping for a bumper crop of tart muscadines so we can make jam again. Last year's turned out great. They're not very good right off the vine - but for processing? Awesome.

And speaking of awesome... this next wild plant produces one of the tastiest things you'll ever come across in the Florida woods:

Recognize that? It's a passion vine, which is where we get passion flowers:

Which is where we get passion fruit... provided these guys don't eat all the plant first:

That scary-looking thing is a Zebra Longwing Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Most ornamental gardeners plant passion vines in their butterfly gardens just to get these spiny orange and black monsters to show up - along with the spiny white and orange Zebra Longwing caterpillars. Not me... I want fruit! And, speaking of fruit... recognize this tree?

I wouldn't be able to pin down the species unless I saw it up close. Maybe this will help you?

See the little green fruits? Wild persimmons! We ate a bunch of persimmons off this and a couple of other trees last fall... and I planted the seeds right afterwards. A few weeks ago I was rewarded with about a dozen sprouts... but that's something I can share in another post.

This next guy is a nasty plant to run into unawares:

A member of the Euphorbiaceae family, also known as the "spurge family," that there is a Cnidoscolus stimulosus... the "tread-softly" plant, also known as the "spurge nettle." It packs a nasty sting... and an edible root... like its cousin the cassava. It's also related to the delicious chaya... though I've never discovered if tread-softly leaves are edible.

Next up, a gourmet edible that's everywhere right now:

That's a smilax shoot. Break off the top eight inches or so of new growth, steam or sautee in butter, and the taste is a dead ringer for its cousin... the asparagus. (NOTE: these are also called "greenbriars" or just "brambles." The vines are covered in vicious thorns, unlike the young shoots. Later in the year they can make the woods almost impassible. My daughter tells me they should be named "frownax" instead of "smilax," since they're always scratching you up!).

On the other side of the block, I found this:

Yep - it's a cabbage palm. They are everywhere here. The fruits are edible and sweet, though they have almost no flesh. Roasted, you might be able to grind the seeds... but otherwise, they're like buckshot. The heart is edible but that requires killing the tree. If I had plenty of land, I'd harvest them selectively and let the birds replant. They take a long time to get to any size.

Another interesting edible we found was this beautiful plant:

Those are coral bean blooms (it's also known as the "Cherokee bean.") The beans it produces are bright red and poisonous - DON'T EAT THEM! However, according to Green Deane, the blooms are good if prepared correctly. You can find details here. I don't eat them, personally, but I do plant seeds and start plants around the base of my fruit trees to add nitrogen to the soil. Yep, they're a nitrogen-fixer.

Here and there along the sides of the road, we came across quite a few of these unlikely salad sources:

It looks like a mulberry... but that's actually a basswood tree. The leaves are excellent food for livestock and people. I just recommend eating the really young leaves when they first appear, otherwise the texture is rather coarse. Your goats won't care, though, so give them the big tough ones.

Speaking of trees, here's another tree with edible parts:

That's the "winged sumac," a non-poisonous sumac that has clusters of red berries that are filled with vitamin C and make a good drink in late summer. I keep meaning to make some for a barbecue... and speaking of barbecues, look at this delicious edible:

That's Canis lupus familiaris, also known as a "dog." Dogs are made up of meat and can be served any way you'd serve goat, venison or cat. Unlike cats, though, they're unlikely to scratch you when you put them in the pot. And, along the lines of getting scratched, here's a classic edible - the blackberry:


Can you believe how much food we've seen thus far in one short walk? There are plenty of things that aren't ready to eat yet, like the blackberries, but I'm keeping my eye on them for later. One plant I really don't want to miss harvesting this year is this medicinal and edible standby:

Elderberries! There are a couple of dense wild stands just around the corner and they're in full bloom right now.

The blooms can be made into tea... and the fully ripe berries are edible... but the rest of the plant is totally toxic. So don't go eating elderberry-leaf salads, okay?

And on that note... my walk is over. Are you amazed by how many edibles we came across? I was. 16 edible plants in two blocks. Before things get tough... make sure you know how to forage. (And keep your dog locked up.)

Finally, if you're lost in the Florida woods and wish you knew your plants better, this book is excellent (click for the Amazon page):

Now get out there and have some fun in the woods!

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Corn patch update

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago... and they're almost twice that size now. This is the little patch of corn I first wrote about here. The variety is doing quite well thus far, though the leaves have been chewed up by grasshoppers. It seems to be quite tolerant of low water levels. I'm it'll make plenty of seed corn for next year... I need to get my stock up.

Thanks to the USDA seed bank for these guys - I'm researching varieties for Florida and they were kind enough to help me out by sending 100 kernels of this Indian variety I selected from their massive database.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Check this out:

I shot that picture the day before Rachel made coleslaw from this lovely head of cabbage. It was growing in a few handfuls of dirt stuffed into the middle of a rotten chunk of oak trunk I picked up by the side of the road. I barely had to water it - and the cabbage (which is a small variety) clocked in at a respectable 3lbs. It's like a tiny hugelkultur pot, eh?

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nice worm bin composting setup

This is cool:

I'm keeping my worms in an old dishwasher right now. It's lying on its back and what was the front door is now the lid. My friend Jeff came over the other day and we drilled a few holes in the bottom, raised it up on bricks and put an old bin underneath to catch the "worm tea." (I'd been meaning to do that for months... I've had worms in that thing forever and kept forgetting to add drainage.)

The fellow in the video claims worm tea made his garden grow like mad.  My guess is that the beneficial bacteria it provides are probably just as important as its nutrient content. Just a hunch. Vermicomposting isn't the simplest way to get compost, but it's bascially impossible to beat the quality of the final result.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Natural Awakenings Article: Three Amazingly Easy Fruit Trees (for Florida)

I've written about these three trees before, but they really shine in N/C Florida. It was time to share them with my Natural Awakenings readers:

(Click the following links to read more about loquats, mulberries and persimmons.)

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Passiflora lutea?

Perhaps some of my taxonomically astute readers can ID this species:

Is this Passiflora lutea? I found it in an empty lot while on a walk and took some photos. I had no idea what it was, but some Google searching makes me think it may indeed be the "yellow passionflower."

I think I may need to save one for my yard.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fertilizing Organically on the Cheap

In my latest post for Mother Earth News, I take a look at how you can fertilize on the cheap... and provide a horrifyingly stinky recipe that will make your plants grow like mad.

Anyone have some favorite fertilizers for their garden they'd like to share?

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Friday, May 17, 2013

@The Prepper Project: Feeding Chickens Without Buying Feed

Here's my latest post for The Prepper Project... you chicken-lovers should enjoy it:

"There are plenty of theories and grand ideas on feeding chickens self-sufficiently, but many of them are unwieldy… require a significant amount of land… are unrealistic… or, in one notable innovation involving buckets of maggot-riddled carrion… disgusting.

I can’t say that this post is going to have all the answers on feeding your chickens without buying in feed – but I do hope it helps you get further in your quest to nourish your flock without trucking in bags of factory pellets..." (READ THE REST)

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coleslaw from the garden

Rachel sent me this pic of her coleslaw fixings from the other night. Cabbage, onion leaves and carrots from the garden. We basically grew everything but the mayonnaise... and man was it good.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Keep 'em pollinated!

Spotted in a pasture: a little wild bee sipping on a cactus flower:

A great post from Keoni Galt on biotech

This post is great. Go read it.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013


People have asked why I don't do anything about the aphids on my grapes. "Why not spray them?" is the usual question.

The answer is easy. Aphids breed faster than ladybugs and rapidly hit plague proportions... but... the ladybugs will usually catch up if you don't spray. After a week or two, you'll start seeing ladybugs and their larvae everywhere... and a week or two after that... the aphid issues have cleared up.

What most folks do is this: they see the aphids, they reach for poison, they kill the aphids (and the ladybugs that are just emerging)... and the beneficial predators never get a chance to balance things out the natural way. This leads to more problems with aphids in the future, since the population is now under your control, rather than nature's.

I don't even spray aphids with garlic water anymore. If they're really bad, I spray them off with a blast from the hose. Otherwise, I just wait on the ladybugs to do it for me.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Survival gardening for the complete n00b

A few days ago, on this post, mrlespaulman stated his discouragement with his garden thus far:

"While having a farm in my backyard that sustains my family is my main goal, I'm starting to learn that its quite a lot harder than I thought it would be. Between the bugs and my lack of planning, I don't know how in the world I could end up getting enough of a harvest to put up a decent amount--not to mention having enough left over to eat right then. It always seems I end up with more hot peppers than I know what to do with, leafy greens full of holes, split radishes, tiny onions, rotting squash, and only about 15 green beans at a Any pointers on the planning aspect of survival gardening for a complete and total n00b? Thanks!"

There are few things more discouraging than jumping into an exciting new venture... and then being beaten back. The problem is usually not the bugs... the soil... or even making mistakes; it's usually a problem of scale.

I don't know if this is the case for mrlespaulman, but I do know that in times past I had grand and glorious garden plans that I put into execution... only to be run over by cutworms, poor growth, lousy  yields, drought, etc. etc. etc.

Creating solid and productive gardens usually doesn't happen right away. Practice makes perfect. Starting on a grand scale and hoping to put away piles of produce at the end of the year WILL make you discouraged.

I usually tell folks to start by growing their own salads, herbs or both. If you can keep a few pots of salad greens going... and a bit of basil for the tomato sauce - you're officially gardening.

From that point, I'd move on to a 4' x 4' bed... or a 4' x 8'. If you try to build a ton at once, you get burned out. You scrimp on soil amendments. You're stretching compost and you're not managing anything well. If you can manage a 4' x 4' patch really well, you'll probably get more out of that than you would with a badly managed 4' x 40' patch.

A garden this size is easy to build, easy to manage, and encouraging as heck.

Put serious, loving care into a small space, watching it daily, fertilizing with good stuff like kelp meal and compost, and you'll start to build confidence and the skills you need to manage a much larger space.

Now - as for having more hot peppers than you know what to do with...rotting squash... tiny onions, etc. - that's Florida!

Some things are MADE to grow here. Peppers, for instance. They love the heat, they love the sand and they produce like crazy - sometimes for years.

Most squash don't like the humidity. Rot city. Onions don't like the heat and the weird rain cycles. Radishes are the same. Grow them really early in the spring or plant in the late fall. Otherwise: kaput!

Green beans usually do all right here, depending on variety. Northern pole beans often aren't happy - and some of the bush beans tend to become bug feed pretty fast. Snake beans are almost unkillable. Other varieties usually produce less. If you've got soil that hasn't grown beans or legumes previously, they may be suffering from the lack of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, in which case I'd feed them with diluted urine or compost tea to give them a boost.

BUT - there are crops that are really, really good for Florida. Look around your neighborhood. Who is growing what? Ask them how they're growing it. Look at local farms - ask them what they grow and how they grow it. Go to the local extension office and ask them what grows best in your area. Is your area warm enough for highly productive tropical plants? Is it mostly field crops? Are their orchards? Do lots of edibles grow in the wild? Ask around and read up.

Then... take that data with a grain of salt, and start experimenting. I guarantee you: there are plants that will produce bushels of food for you. Your goal is to identify what those species are. Head knowledge is fine: but actually experimentation is where you'll find glory.

In my area, I've learned (through observation of my plots and those of others) that these species generally do well:

Sweet Potatoes
Snake Beans
Seminole pumpkin
Cayenne peppers
Florida Cranberry
Winged yam

These crops generally do poorly or simply so-so (at least for me):

Large watermelons
Sweet peppers
Brussels Sprouts

Jerusalem artichoke

Don't get discouraged. Keep reading, keep experimenting, learn to grow really good gardens in a small area - and learn to eat the weeds. You'll accumulate knowledge and skills rapidly if you don't give up... and in a few years, you'll be laughing at your past harvests.

Go forth and garden!

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Bee log

Check it out:

That is a hollow log filled with bees, tied to my fence. Yes, the neighbors find me "eccentric," but I don't care. I'm saving bees, dang it.

There was a storm a couple of weeks ago that knocked over a tree at my Uncle's shop. This section was about 20' in the air. When it fell, thousands of bees started flying about and my Uncle called me and asked if I wanted to save them. So naturally, I called Allen the Beekeeper. We spent about a day sawing and cleaning up limbs, carefully removing sections to save as much of the interior comb as possible. (He's got some really cool pictures that need to be shared - if he sends them, I'll post them). Remarkably, even after a week of laying on the ground, the comb was intact and there were new eggs in the hive.

It took four guys to move this thing into position... in the dark. The cinderblocks beneath are pretty uneven... but it was hard to line things up late at night beneath a heavy log while covered with angry bees. The trunk segment easily weighs over 300lbs. There's comb in there from top to bottom.

The bees are already finding their way about my un-mowed yard.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled. The previous swarm we captured failed to live through winter... so it's try, try again.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

At The Prepper Project - Fertilizers: Chemical vs. Organic in Three Rounds

Is organic better? Are we being silly by rejecting chemical fertilizers?

In my latest article for The Prepper Project, I dive into the details of chemical vs. organic fertilizer from a survival gardening angle.

"When you go shopping for something to feed your plants, you quickly realize there are a lot of choices. Most of these revolve around various combinations of NPK. 6-6-6, 10-10-10 and 13-13-13 are considered “balanced” because they contain equal ratios of these macronutrients. The numbers are percentages and the rest of the bag is usually comprised of filler material, unless it specifically states that it contains magnesium, copper or other micronutrients. Scatter 10-10-10 around your garden and the results are rapid and hard to argue with… until you start looking into the details... (read the rest)"

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Friday, May 10, 2013

How to Identify Citrus Greening: A Quick Visual Guide

I hate to say this... but I think we need to stop planting citrus for a while.

The spread of this disease is consuming the state. My mom had a tree that got it in Ft. Lauderdale... a woman came to one of my talks and told me two new trees she'd just planted were diagnosed with it... I talked with the Orlando extension agents and they're getting cases almost daily... it's ridiculous. Not a good time to plant an orange tree.

If you think your citrus has greening, you need to ID it quickly; then destroy the tree. There's no cure at this point. Greening is spread by the Asian Citrus Psyllid, which looks like this:

Original photo is from

The psyllid is a tiny thing... but it carries the disease much like mosquitoes carry malaria. If they feed on a sick tree, then on a healthy one, the healthy one may become infected. Ladybugs love to consume these guys, so if you keep plenty of places in your yard for beneficial insects - and don't spray - you may dodge the greening bullet.

A Quick Visual Guide to Identifying Greening

1. Look for strangely yellow shoots. If the new growth looks like the tree is way short on nitrogen - look out!

2. If the fruit is bitter, salty, misshapen, twisted or ripening in weird ways - look out!

3. If your leaves look mottled and chlorotic, look out!

The above photos were taken during a tree examination I did in South Florida. I double-checked with the experts at the Extension office... and my fears were realized. We destroyed the tree in the hopes that the disease hadn't already spread to the neighboring citrus. Chances are good, however, that it has, so further monitoring of those trees is necessary.

Many of us are sad about seeing Grandma's tree get sick... or the 10-year-old Navel orange you planted when you got married... or the wonderful lemon tree at the neighbor's house that just doesn't produce right anymore. Once they have greening - you can't save them. Don't try. Get rid of the tree before the disease spreads further... and pray that soon we'll have a cure... or at least citrus varieties that are genetically resistant.

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A gift from the tropics

Look what we have here:

My friend Ray came into town from Ft. Lauderdale... and brought a gift from Chuck, the fellow with the amazing jackfruit tree down in South Florida. Now I just need to wait for it to ripen a bit more and I'll see what they taste like.

And - oh yes - I'm gonna plant all the seeds.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eight Essential Human-powered Garden Tools for TEOTWAWKI

This week over at The Prepper Project... I take a look at what you need to farm if the grid collapses:

"Ever consider what life might look like if fuel became rare… super-expensive… or both? Ever think about what the grocery store shelves would look like if shipping was disrupted? Ever wonder what would happen if an EMP took out the grid?

I have (usually while clutching a tumbler of Jim Beam and hiding under a mattress along with my 3,000 cans of baked beans).

With a single jolt to our supply lines, a lot of what we rely on for daily life would no longer be reliable – and food would be at a premium. Gardening, at first glance, seems like it wouldn’t be that hard without technology and fuel. But when you consider that most gardeners are relying on mowers, tillers, tractors, RoundUp ™ and chemical fertilizers, we’ve got a problem.

Could you manage even a quarter-acre garden without gas? (read the complete article)"

As a side note on this post, one of these days I think I'll buy a Clarington Forge spading fork/shovel pair. I use a spading fork so often (and break one every year or so) that investing in a really good one might not be a bad idea.

Incidentally, in case you're interested, here's my favorite type of machete. Worth $6, for sure. Heh.

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