Monday, September 30, 2013

Vicious Opuntia

This has to be the most vicious "prickly pear" I've ever seen.

I found quite a few specimens of this long-spined variety while hiking in Frostproof last weekend. I'll post more on that soon.

So far as I know, all the Opuntia (pad cactus) species are edible, though this one would give you quite a hard time. The spines were almost 3" long.

You know, I would've taken a few pads and brought them home to add to my collection of cactus but I was too scared.

Now I wish I had. Look how cool that thing looks.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This weekend, please enjoy some pictures of koi

What is it about ponds filled with koi? I took these shots at moat around Bok Tower in the middle of a rainstorm... they make me want to bust out my paints.

Imagine if they added sweeps of taro, water chestnuts, water lotus, etc. Then they'd have vegetables and fish. They could serve koi on beds of nutritious greens during their carillon concerts.

Maybe that would ruin the tranquil beauty... but with enough breading, any fish is delicious.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Prepper Project Article Round Up: Good Books, Worthless Trees, Log Skidding and Marxism

I've been busy writing lately, though you might not know it from this site.

Along side Florida Survival Gardening, I'm also secretly a radio script writer and audio producer, and of course I also do plenty for The Prepper Project. Over there, I'm staying busy with a lot of research and outlining for some very cool upcoming webinars... plus my regular article writing.

Here are a few of the latest - good stuff in here:

Hilarious Log Skidding Video From Pa Mac:

Where's the best place in the US for Gardening - and Freedom?

Solar lighting without electricity:

My top eight survival gardening books:

Dealing with stupid worthless trees:

How growing beans turned me into a Marxist:

Coming up soon, I'm going to do a few more plant profiles here, along with some writing on trips I've taken to some of Florida's lesser-known gardening hotspots.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Constant Waterer: A Film Excerpt

Observer #1: He's at it again.

Observer #2: As if he could beat us. As if he could beat the environment of the dimensional dome.

Observer #1: I hate his nonchalance. Can we not eat him like the others?

Observer #2: So THAT'S what happened to the others! I'd been looking for them.

Observer #1: Oh, yeah. That was me.

Observer #2: Did you eat the cute one? The redhead?

Observer #1: Uh...

Observer #2: Gorklack curse you, Brother Observer. I liked that one. She was rare!

Observer #1: Not when I was done with her.

Observer #2: Sometimes I loathe the partnership pressed upon us by The Collective.

Observer #1: Oh, you protest too much, brother Observer. It's not that bad. I let you keep the infant creatures called by the name "possum."

Observer #2: They died.

Observer #1: But you still kept them.

Observer #2: Yes, until the physical sensation called "odor" became too strong for my corporeal form to handle.

Observer #1: Yes, that sensation is rather... oh, look, our subject has a burning stick again.

Observer #2: That is called a "cigar."

Observer #1: Why does he enjoy them so?

Observer #2: Perhaps it is of religious significance.

Observer #1: Ah, like the Dance Of The Fire Ants they so often perform.

Observer #2: Exactly. It at least stems from a sense of the supernatural. But see the way he dangles the... cigar... from his lips? And how he waters constantly with such calm assurance that his own pathetic collection of chlorophyll-makers will survive?

Observer #1: Yes, I can see your irritation with this one. Though he does seem to have a gift of maintaining a collection.

Observer #2: Why didn't you eat this one, brother Observer?

Observer #1: Too bony, brother Observer. Too bony. And he has an odor of smoke.

Observer #2: Speaking of "odor," I think there's still a decaying possum baby somewhere on this station... let us close the aperture and search it out. We'll deal with the waterer later.

Observer #1: This sounds like a plan, brother Observer.

With a click and a smooth dilation of electromagnetic forces, the dimensional window closes. For a time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homemade grits

Remember this?

And this?

And finally, this?

Our piles of ears finally dried out well enough to grind, so on a nice, fine weekend, we decided it was time for home-made grits!

Unlike regular processed grits, we don't bother with nixtamalization or de-germing or any of that stuff. We just grind the corn coarsely and cook it until it's soft.

Then Rachel adds salt and butter to hers, and I add salt, butter and sharp cheddar cheese to mine.

Organic, heirloom, fresh-ground, delicious.

This is why you grow your own. There's nothing like it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall blooms

It's happening... everything is trying to get in one last hurray before fall. Soon the Tithonia diversifolia will join in... and the Jerusalem artichokes are already at it.

I love this time of year.


The only problem with this time of year, of course, is that winter comes next. And that means running around and covering things.

But let's not think about that now.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gathering, processing, roasting and grinding coffee: from the tree to the cup

Rachel found these videos of a couple in Hawaii gathering, processing and roasting their own coffee from wild trees growing near their home. Not only are the videos informative, their banter is entertaining - check 'em out:

If you live in South Florida, there's no reason why you can't grow your own coffee.

If you're further north, you'd probably choose to grow tea or yaupon holly.

One final thought: the processes they're using are time-consuming. If you had a lot of beans available, you could find ways to streamline and mechanize some of these steps pretty easily.

Especially if you were hopped up on caffeine.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

A chicken tractor/rotating garden bed design

I really like junk mail. It's the canvas for many of my best ideas. And more than a few stupid ones.

The other night I had a dream. In it, I designed the following system. There was a series of double-dug beds with step-stone paths in between them, and a chicken tractor that could be pulled from bed to bed for clean up and fertilization.

Here's what it looks like:

I did a better drawing with the main pathway fixed and the stepping stones in place... but I can't find it. So this is the quick one I sketched during a church dinner.

Give me your thoughts - I'd like to hear them.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

An amazing little insect

Found on a walk around the neighborhood:

That's a "railroad worm," also known as a "glowworm," also known, most precisely, as Phrixothrix hirtus.

This specimen is an adult female. Strangely, the females keep the appearance as a larva (they call it a "larviform" species) whereas the males mature into a beetle form.

Though I kept this gal in a jar until after dark, she wouldn't glow. I set her free in my blueberry patch where she promptly buried herself in the mulch.

What do they eat? Millipedes! This is good, since nothing else seems to eat those creepy grey monsters.

For more on the railroad worm, click here.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fall beds cleared!

Five of these beds will grow buckwheat, one is for potatoes, and the three in the far back by the barn will be used for salad greens.

I cleared this area with my broadfork, then the family and I weeded. After that, I stomped down some good paths and voila!

I'm not sure how well buckwheat will do here - this is another experiment. I'm mostly interested in growing it for chicken feed and compost fodder, but if it produces decently, we may add it to our diet as well.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The power of encouragement

25 years ago, my parents gave me a book. I still have it.

It was my ninth birthday and I was already a gardening nut. Rather than rolling their eyes at my strange hobby or getting on my case for messing up the weedy little corner of the yard where I'd staked my claim, they encouraged me.

Dad had built me a little 8' x 8' raised bed probably a year or two earlier. I'd planted most every seed I could find in Mom's pantry. I'd left tools out in the yard, shared bitter little radishes with my siblings and bugged everyone I knew who had plants, plying cuttings and seeds from old ladies and asking endless questions.

It wasn't just my parents that encouraged me. Some time before I'd been given Florida Gardening, I remember visiting my Great Grandpa in upstate New York and seeing his huge garden. We picked beetles off the potato plants (I thought we were just "catching bugs" and was horrified when he dumped them all into a can of kerosene and torched them), ate berries, talked about the dirt and enjoyed the sun. He gave me a little bag of lime for my garden, along with a handful of beet seeds and told me to "keep growing things."

Another time I remember visiting my Uncle Andy and Aunt Lynn and seeing the big broccoli they were growing behind their house somewhere in Hollywood. Wow... I'd never seen broccoli growing before. It was amazing.

Unlike a lot of children, I was nurtured in my interests. I have parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins that stayed married, did the right thing, worked hard and invested in the next generation. My garden is just a little part of a family legacy that stretches way back into the past.

This brings me back to the book. Though it was not for my age range and had plenty of technical information in it, I read it from cover to cover. Stan, if you're out there, thank you for writing this book. It was a big part of my gardening education.

That said, my very favorite part was just inside the front.

Thank you, Mom and Dad. I love you right back.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Prepper Project: Article Round Up!

Here are some of my latest articles - click on over and check them out:

Weeds for Attracting Native Pollinators:

Growing Edible Cactus

Death Salad:

Five Reasons To Save Your Own Seeds:

Planting A Survival Garden From Your Pantry:

Sorry, Pooh, That Ain't Honey

Subsistence Farming In Ghana

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Survival Gardening Webinar: Replay

Check it out!

Chet posted the complete replay of our webinar the other night:

Tools, fertilizers, and what to grow. Tons of info in here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Variegated cassava

This is just a cool plant. It doesn't get as big as the regular crop variety, but it's stunningly beautiful. I had to take a picture of this little one, rising like a ghost in the midst of a forest of giant sunflowers.

I have a few cuttings of these available, if anyone would like to start their own. Just buy cassava cuttings like you normally would, but send me a note saying you want the variegated type instead.

The growing season is coming to an end for this year, so the cuttings will be gone before you know it. Unless I can dig a root cellar in time. THAT would be cool.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

What do we do with sand?

When you've got lots of sand... what do you do?


A couple weeks back, rycamor's dad was cleaning up a bunch of scrub and oak pieces from his yard. Since he's got my back, rycamor said "Hey, why don't you ask Dave if he wants that for his yard?"

So he did, and being the completely anti-grass permaculturist that I am, I said "sure! Pile it up!"

Now I have two piles of rotting wood and branches in my yard.

Maybe they'll get made into hugelkultur beds or something. Or paths through my food forest. Or maybe I'll just let them rot where they are for a year... or ten. It's better than sand.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cold-hardy cassava

I got this plant from Taylor Gardens Nursery a couple years ago. It's withstood the cold of winter without freezing to the ground like my other cassava do.

Yet I haven't been able to find anything related to its edibility. My best guess is that it's Manihot grahammi, but I can't even nail that down for sure.

It's in the spurge family, known more specifically as the Euphorbiaceae family. That family contains a wild variety of beautiful, useful and toxic species including chaya, cassava, poinsettia (including our wild Florida native variety), the "crown of thorns" plant and this guy.

I visited The Great Wall Of Lutz blog a week or so ago and saw that ChrisC lost a wild poinsettia... and apparently gained a cold-hardy cassava. There's enough similarity between the species to confuse you. It's like chaya and spurge nettle. Pretty similar when they're small. DON'T CONFUSE THEM OR IT HURTS REALLY BAD AND YOU WILL CRY LIKE A BABY!!!11!1!!

All that to say... does anyone know if this type of cassava is edible? It's been fruiting and self-seeding in the yard, so if you can eat it, I'd like to know... before I let it take over completely.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Natural Awakenings for September: Growing Sugarcane

In my latest article for Natural Awakenings Magazine, I share my success with growing sugarcane... and teach you to do the same.

It's almost time to plant again - keep your eyes open at the Farmer's Markets for good healthy canes you can use to grow your own.

Growing sugarcane in Florida is easy. I've tested it out in multiple plantings and found you don't need a swamp and you don't need year-round non-freezing weather.


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Monday, September 9, 2013

Sweet potato firstfruits!

Recently, I read this book, mostly because I liked the cover (thrift store treasure hunting pays off):

It also had quite a bit of decent info on growing a variety of crops organically, including sweet potatoes, though it was too late to try any of the suggestions.

So I grew sweet potatoes in my normal manner this year. I made slips, I planted slips, I stood back for a few months, then I dug 'em up. (For more on sweet potatoes and how to grow them, click here and here.)

See this treasure? 21lbs of nice tubers from about a 5 x 10 space.

There would've been a higher yield if I had planted at a greater density - or waited a couple more months to harvest - or just planted sweet potatoes by themselves. The first sweet potato vines I planted in that bed were intercropped with other plants that later expired in the heat. Fortunately, I have a bunch more sweet potato beds that I won't touch until November or so.

You know, I have a problem leaving things well enough alone. Sometimes I just really, really want to dig things up and look at them. This is something that amuses my wife immensely. I know... it doesn't make sense for someone as hands-off and pro-nature as I am to get nutty about clearing beds and digging areas up before everything is ready to harvest.

I'll bet the Best Ideas folks never do that. No, they probably have everything graphed out on charts and punched into calculators.

But - while we're on the topic of Best Ideas, I have to say... I did adopt one thing from the book.

Garden fashion!

UPDATE: It seems you can still get this book on Amazon. Better still, it's $0.01 - check it out:

Best Ideas for Organic Vegetable Growing

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Live survival gardening webinar next week: 100 spots available

FYI - on Tuesday the 10th, from 8:30 - 10PM EST, I'll be teaching a live survival gardening course along with Chet from The Prepper Project.

I'll cover tools, plants and fertilizers in a grid-down situation.

Sign up for free here:

Join me if you can - I've got a lot of solid info to share.

There's also a promo video here with more details:

Guest post: How to make jam from wild grapes

Hello!  This is Rachel again (Mrs. Survival Gardener).

Quick question...have you ever had your husband walk through the door with a massive amount of produce and say something like, "Woohoo!  Look what's ready for harvest! We could eat for a couple of months on this, isn't it great?!"

This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. It's all well and good to grow the majority of your own food, but you actually have to eat it as well. When you go the grocery store, you might buy enough food to last a week or two. There's some diversity there. You don't just buy 5 heads of broccoli and call it a trip.

And yet that's rather likely to happen when you're gardening.

Yes, it's a blessing to have an abundance, but you must be able to preserve the abundance in such a way that you are able to eat it here and there, as you need it. Otherwise your kids are liable to grow tired of, say, turnips and you'll be forced to come up with interesting ways to serve them. Ultimately, and completely hypothetically, you might resort to baking a turnip pie. Perhaps not your finest culinary moment but, you know, if you put enough sugar in something... did I mention this was hypothetical? 

As David mentioned yesterday, we recently harvested grapes, both our cultivated ones and the wild ones growing along the fence. What fun!  But, what do you do with them? Sure, the kids will eat just about anything.  If we had simply left them out on the table, the little grazers would have polished them off in no time. But we like to make things stretch around here. Most of the grapes were small, with a bunch (my turn for a pun) of seeds in them. In my mind, they were screaming to be turned into jam.

Pink nail polish: check! Bandaid: check! Wild grapes: check!
Disclaimer: We've made jam, of one sort or another, every year, so for me the process has become a no-brainer. If you've never done it before, or you're a bit rusty, you might want to read up on some basics before jumping right in. Botulism isn't fun!  Also, this is probably not the recommended, gourmet way to do this, but I don't really care. It works, and it's easy.

First, put all the grapes, stems and all, into a large pot along with about 1/4 cup of water. I turned it to high, and when it started to sound like the water was heating up, I turned it down to medium. I think a lot of recipes will tell you to start at medium or medium-low, but I'm impatient. I want things to get up and get going, but not burn. Just keep an eye out and you'll be fine.

Fill your largest, widest pot a little more than half-way full of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off but leave it on the burner.

Put all the spoons in your silverware drawer into your freezer. Yes you heard me right. Just go do it. You'll need them later.

While that's happening, get a bunch of half-pint jars out and wash them along with their lids and rings. Now here's a trick for you, the manufacturers of these lids will tell you that you can't use them over again.


They can be reused over and over again, but you have to make sure they are sound! Test them. As long as the dome on the top will pop down and up again, they will work. Also, take a look at the rubber seal--the part that touches the top of the jar. If it makes contact with the jar all the way around its rim, it will work. The same goes for store-bought jars and lids.  We've saved them from store-bought jam, salsa, you name it, so that we don't have to buy new jars each time we want to can something.

After the jars and lids are washed, sterilize them by putting them into the oven. I place the jars on top of a cookie sheet on the top rack of a cold oven and the lids into a pie plate below. Then turn the oven on to its lowest temperature. When the oven is finished pre-heating, the jars and lids are finished sterilizing. At this point I turn the oven off and leave them in there until I'm ready for them. I find this to be much simpler than dipping them all into boiling water. 

With a potato masher, mash the grapes every now and again to help them release their juices.

When the grapes themselves have turned to mush, you're ready to strain your concoction. I used a fine mesh metal strainer and mashed small batches at a time. If you have a food mill I recommend using that.

This is when purists are probably screaming. "Who's ever heard of grape jam. You're supposed to make jelly from grapes. And you can't squeeze or press the juice out or you'll end up with cloudy jelly!"  I don't really care if my jam is cloudy. I think my method is a lot faster than waiting for gravity to do its magic. That's why I call it jam and not jelly.

Once you've pressed out as much juice as your patience will allow, measure it. 

The USDA publishes recommendations on all sorts of jams and jellies. I just looked up how much sugar to add per cup of grape juice and went with that. This is pretty important. If you don't get enough sugar in there, it can cause the jam to spoil--and you may not always be able to tell when that has happened.

Rinse out the large pot and put the juice back in along with the sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce a tad to between a boil and a simmer, then sprinkle in a tablespoon of pectin. I prefer the little jars of "low to no sugar needed" stuff. Stir for about a minute. Now take one of the spoons from the freezer and drop a small amount of jam on it. Tilt it downward. If it sets up, touch it.  Does it feel like the thickness of jam?  Then you're finished with this step. If not, add another tablespoon of pectin, stir for another minute and re-test on a frozen spoon. Do this until you reach the desired consistency.

Turn the heat back on to high underneath the large pot of water.

Remove the jars from the oven and ladle in the hot jam. Wipe the rims clean of any sticky jam so the lids will have a good surface to stick to.  Put the lids on, but don't over tighten them. Just finger tight will do. Use jar tongs to place the jars into the pot of boiling water. The water should cover the lids. If it doesn't, add more. The USDA told me to boil these half-pints for five minutes. Different recipes and jar sizes call for different lengths of boil time. Be sure you look it up as this can effect how the jam keeps.

After the allotted time, remove the jars and listen. As they cool, the domes on their lids will pop down. After they have cooled, check to make sure they all popped. Any that haven't won't keep on the shelf but will last for a week or two in the fridge. You could attempt to re-seal them.

This rarely happens to me, but when it does, we just eat it right away.  Label the jars with the month and year.  They should keep in a room temperature, dark place for one year.

And there you have it: your own wild grape jam!
(how to make muscadine jelly, making grape jelly, make wild grape jelly, make grape jam, preserving wild grapes, canning grapes, muscadine jam)

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wild grapes

When we first visited the home we live in now, it was a foreclosure house with an overgrown yard. (Now it's a paid-off house with an overgrown yard.)

As I wandered through the yard, I wasn't all that impressed by the variety of plants. There was some liriope grass, a few sad crepe myrtles, oaks, a magnolia, a sweet gum and a variety of weeds like begger tick and dog fennel. Not really inspiring... except for along one fence, where there were clusters of tart black grapes. Wild muscadines!

The kids and I ate a few during that visit, then basically forgot about the plants.

Now, however, we've really started looking forward to the harvests we get. Every year, a few giant wild grape vines along the fence produce a few gallons of grapes within reach... plus a few more gallons we can't reach. (My oldest son jokes that the high-up ones are sour anyways so we shouldn't worry about trying to get them.)

Last week, we spent a couple of hours on a lovely afternoon picking grapes. I'd been sitting at my computer for way too long, trying to get some work done... and then the thought came into my head "Hey, how about picking grapes."

So the screen went off, I gathered up Rachel and the children, the baskets came out... and we picked. It was wonderful.

Some people make wild muscadines into wine. I haven't done that for two reasons:

      1. I consistently fail at winemaking
      2. I'm too lazy to try again

Instead, we render our wild grapes into wild grape jam.

In French, the finished jars are called "Cadeaux de Noël, à partir de rachitique homesteaders." Or something like that.

This is the time of year to seek out wild grapes in North Florida. Keep your eyes open - some are still ripening - but they won't be here for long.

As a final note, Rachel is going to post her jam-making process tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

@The Prepper Project: Finding Power In Fear; or How I Learned To Start Gardening And Love The Bomb

Ya'll ought to enjoy this:

Survivor: Avocado Edition

Any bets on who dies first?

Contestant #1 is a tropical South Florida avocado, started from a pit in the compost pile. She's now residing in the front yard, on the edge of the oak canopy. Her roots are buried in good organic matter... yet her pedigree suggests she won't survive the brutal sub-freezing overnight lows of Norther Central Florida...

Contestant #2 is a 4' tall well-established Thai variety who spent his first winter safely inside my greenhouse. Now he's been planted in poor soil deep beneath the cover of a water oak. Right now, all seems well... but will the limited canopy above his head be enough to prevent him from... death?

Contestant #3 is the daughter of a California "Hass" avocado with diminutive fruit. As an embryo, she was saved from the trash at a party... then planted in a melon pit out front. Will she take the cold better than her totally tropical competitors in this fight against the elements?

Only winter will tell. There are just a couple of months left before things get interesting.

Stay tuned...

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tequila for the apocalypse

I'm growing blue agave? Are you? They're in a lot of landscapes across Florida.

Most people don't know what these guys are. Some people don't want to know, after that horrible night they spent in college, face down on the floor covered in cheese dip and vomit, passed out and getting covered in gang tatoos by a friend of a friend only known as "DredInk Southside."

But for those how enjoy God's gifts responsibly, tequila and mescal are pretty decent drinks. I have no idea how to go about making it, but I suppose if the Spanish could do it long ago with limited technology, it can't be too hard.

Now I just need to find some gusanos.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Simpson Stoppers: an overlooked edible

I don't care what anyone says about this plant or its mom. It's delicious.

Much like the coco plum, Surinam cherries, silverthorns and natal plums, the Simpson stopper is a plant with delicious edible fruit that has somehow been relegated to the "generic hedge plant" category.

This is crazy. It's native, it's tasty, it's a handsome plant and it's easy to grow.

I was shopping at Taylor Gardens Nursery some time last year and saw a big Simpson stopper in full fruit. I picked a handful as I was talking to Dave Taylor, the owner. He eyed me incredulously as I popped the fruit into my mouth.

"Now you're gonna die," he told me.

"No, I'm not. These are edible. They're delicious!"

"Nope. You're gonna die. And I'm gonna have to tell your wife."

Dave then ran me through with an African spear. As the berries fell from my now-limp hand and my eyesight dimmed, I could hear his gravelly laugh as he carefully cleaned off the gory spear.

"Simpson stoppers don't kill people. I kill people!"

Actually, Dave didn't kill me. I'm sure he's thought about it, but it hasn't happened yet. I buy too many plants for him to do me in.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Got it.

Simpson stoppers are at their very best when fully ripe. As I've mentioned before, they have a nice sweet taste on the front end, followed by a slight bitter grapefruit aftertaste. Really nice. And as we now know, babies love them.

If you have space, pop this plant into your yard. Or pop three into your yard like I did. I'm very happy to have such an attractive edible hanging out in my food forest. Because no one knows they're edible, I get to introduce visitors to the fruit every summer.

That's it for today. Gotta go disinfect this old spear wound before gangrene sets in. I wonder if Simpson stoppers are antibacterial?

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