Thursday, October 31, 2013

Homegrown coffee!

That's a coffee plant in a pot. In most of Florida, it's too cold to grow coffee outside. Fortunately (as I've written before), you can grow them indoors if the weather is really lousy in winter.

And hey - look at that! My coffee plant has ripe cherries on it!

The fruits have a pleasant flavor that's hard to describe. I'm not going to roast the beans, though, since I want them to plant.

I'd rather have 30 new coffee plants than a single cup of coffee. Seems like a good trade.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Compost cantaloupes

I don't know if these compost-pile cantaloupe vines are going to make it:

Like their cousins the squashes, melons thrive in compost piles.

It seems to me that I should just start throwing rotten melons and squash onto compost heaps and quit trying to nicely plant them in my beds... they always do better in the compost anyhow.

There is a lesson or Great Amazing Garden Idea here, but I'm too lazy to sketch it out fully right now...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pictures of pretty flowers

Florida cranberry:

Self-planted wild morning glories:
Annual Tithonia:

I'm not immune to the lure of flowers, but I do have a hard time not analyzing them in a utilitarian manner... so here we go:

Plant #1: Edible!

You can read more about Florida cranberries here. And watch a video here.

Plant #2: Psycotropic (and purgative!)

Morning glories can make you see things AND make you sick to your stomach at the same time. If you've ever wanted to hallucinate that you're vomiting into a toilet with teeth and tentacles, this is the plant for you. I recommend just growing it for the pretty flowers.

Plant #3: Nutrient accumulator and pollinator attractor!

Tithonia rotundifolia is an annual that grows to be about 8' tall. The butterflies love it and it makes lots of biomass. 

In Conclusion:

There. I posted pretty pictures of flowers and managed to justify it. 

Neener neener.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Welcoming a new blogger

Regular reader Mark Biggs (Ancient City Gardener) just let me know that he's launched his own blog. He also bought one of the Clarington Forge spading forks I distribute and really likes it. (Thanks for the plug, Mark. I don't make much selling them but I do enjoy being the guy who has really good tools.)

Mark is another Florida Gardener - stop on by if you get a chance and wish him the best with this new project.

Making coconut milk at home

For those of you further south in the state... this article from Pilgrim's Cottage will give you all you need to start making your own coconut milk.

I guess I never thought much about the difference between coconut milk and coconut water. I used to chop open the nuts and drink the water all the time as a kid, though my favorite part was the nut itself. Fresh coconut is wonderful.

It reminds me of being a kid and visiting my Grandmom and Grandpop's house. Along the canal behind their place there was a row of Malaysian coconut trees.

I've planted palms, climbed them, and even painted them.

One day I may live in the tropics again. Until then, I'll live vicariously through Jean's posts.


Friday, October 25, 2013


I took some pictures of the experimental buckwheat section of my big fall garden a couple of weeks ago... the bed is much crazier now.

First, the shot from high up:

And then, a little lower...

That's more dramatic, don't you think? Let's go further!

Whoa. Look at that. The buckwheat towers above! I feel so insignificant! LET'S GO FURTHER DOWN!

AHHHH! I am a tiny ant!

Okay, enough silliness. I'm very hopeful that buckwheat will be another easy-to-deal-with grain like corn. Not having grown it before, I can't say much yet - other than the fact that I like the way it looks and I appreciate how it brings in the bees and butterflies.

Buckwheat grows very quickly, so I think it would make a great green manure or compost crop. Once I harvest these seeds I'll have lots more to throw around. Next year!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October Natural Awakenings Article: Five Crazy Edibles

This is a fun one. If you've been reading here for a while, you'll probably know at least some of these plants already. Writing for Natural Awakenings allows me to reach a whole different set of Floridians. Any time I can introduce people to backyard edibles, it's a good thing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Sometimes he'd imagine nightmare scenarios
car accident


Her the subject. Him powerless.
Jerking awake in a cold sweat, he'd pray
The dawn would creep in the window
She'd awake, smiling at him, sleepy-eyed

Not knowing the weight
In a light kiss, the leaden pressure would lift
A flight of doves
A balloon in rainbow colors
And together
Him and her
Hand in hand
Would walk through the new light
Enjoying the gardens, talking of nothing
Bathed in Providence

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's persimmon season!

Time to get out and get picking. Hopefully you haven't missed your local window yet.

We've got multiple trees in our neighborhood and as I walk with the kids, they're always gathering up the fallen fruit.

Hard to beat... when they're FULLY RIPE.

Green Deane posted a recent article on persimmons that's pretty in-depth:

"About the only bad thing you can say about a persimmon tree is that it has pucker power, if you pick it at the wrong time.

What most people don’t know is that the persimmon is the North American ebony, Diospyros virginiana (dye-OSS-pih-ross ver-jin-nee-AY-nuh.) There are few trees more versatile than the persimmon. The fruit, actually the largest native berry in North America, can be eaten out of hand or cooked in various ways.... (read the rest)"

Bonus: you can plant persimmon seeds in your food forest in the fall and they'll often come up in spring. I did pretty good by throwing fistfuls in a flat of soil, then leaving it out all winter. In late spring I had at least a dozen shoots. This is an easy native edible... grow a few!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pictures from the Appalachian Trail

My friend Fred and I hiked the Springer Mountain approach to the Appalachian Trail this last weekend... what a beautiful place.

We camped one night on top of the mountain, then hiked down again via a different route. Along the way I was impressed by how different the plants were from those in Florida. There were very few I could nail down definitively. Some were familiar, like oaks, hickories and poison ivy... but others were foreign to me.

Those look like violets, but the leaves are very tough and glossy. Maybe it's a variety I haven't encountered before. I also hadn't seen ferns like these:

Or a bug like this:

This plant looks like it came from Mars:

Trilateral symmetry! War of the Worlds! And speaking of terrifying creatures, I had never in my life seen a tree like this:


One plant I was very pleased to see (and proud of myself for recognizing) was an American Ginseng:

The leaves had wilted away, but the fruit was a dead giveaway. I'm not sure how I knew what it was, but I did. I saw this guy and went "ginseng," then thought... how the heck did I know that? I must have seen an illustration at some point.

I don't think I'll ever hike the entire trail, but this was a great trip. If you ever get a chance to go to Springer Mountain, especially with a knowledgeable hiker like my friend Fred... take it. You gotta get out of the garden every once in a while.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A sweet permaculture garden

I posted this recently at The Prepper Project... but in case you missed it, it's a must-see, just for the plants this fellow has.

You can do plenty with a tiny yard. Life isn't all about tiny square foot beds and cabbages. There are so many useful and edible plants on this earth you could spend your entire life and never try them all.

But hey... I'm going to try anyhow.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Negative marketing

C'mon, aren't turnips a hard enough sell as it is?

I found this image in the Flickr creative commons... apparently it's hanging above an art gallery.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wild food forest

I took some photos of the "dumping" area at the park where we stayed in Frostproof.

For years the maintenance staff has piled up yard waste in a corner of the park... and over time, that area has turned into a lush patch of edible and ornamental plants:

Grandpa Ralph planted those bananas at one point, giving a bit of focus to the area... but a lot of the rest of the plants just ended up there. I found cannas, aloe, cassava, thornless nopale cactus and even sweet potatoes (see bottom photo) running about. I

It helps that the neighborhood is owned by Indians who like growing their own food. The brush left over from edging yards, weeding and cleaning up forgotten corners contains a much higher than usual level of edible and useful plants.

If a food forest can spontaneously generate from piles of yard debris, trust me - you can plan and build one. Just start planting useful and edible things and watch the system evolve.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cosmic grain corn

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prepper Project Article Roundup:

Here are some of the latest highlights from the Prepper Project:

The Marvelous Power Of Nitrogen Fixers:

The Ivy Gourd: A Perennial, No-Care (illegal) Cucumber:

Gardening In The Shade:

Book Review: Paradise Lot:

The Amazing Edible Air Potato - and Its Enemy, the Government:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Impressive moringa tree

You may have seen this image in the video I posted yesterday:

This moringa tree at H.E.A.R.T. has seen quite a few winters and keeps coming back.

They don't protect it, and as you can see, the trunk has thickened up significantly. It's almost 2' across, though it may be hard to tell from this photo.

My own tree-protecting strategy has kept my moringas from freezing all the way to the ground thus far, but I'll bet there's a point where the trunks will get so thick they become impervious.

Perhaps some experimentation is in order.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

A video tour of the gardens at the H.E.A.R.T. Missionary Training Institute

Best day ever - it was plant geek heaven.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Today, if trends continue, we're going to blow through 100,000 pageviews!

Not bad for a blog that's just over a year old.

Thanks, robots... stat vampires... and of course, all the honest-to-goodness REAL people that have made this site so much fun.

Time to bust out some party music from the Vegetable Kingdom!

Monday, October 7, 2013

A look at laurel wilt damage

A few days ago I wrote a little about Ralph's gardens and mentioned that he lost his mature avocado trees to a blight.

I asked him if it was "laurel wilt" and he wasn't sure. When I mentioned it was spread by a beetle that burrowed into the tree and laid its eggs, leaving behind it a fungus... he said, "Yes. That's exactly what they told me it was. Definitely a beetle."

This is a nasty bug. See these trunks?

That second picture looks like a nice little avocado tree, but that's just the tree trying to return from the ground. A great big canopy will disappear almost overnight in a sudden, irreversible cascade of wilting.

Around my neighborhood we've lost countless native bay trees to this nasty bug.

Here's a closer look.

This is why I haven't bothered buying any avocados to grow in my yard. If the pits I plant grow... great. I'm not spending any more money on trees that are likely to get nailed by horrible diseases.

It's like citrus and greening. The risk just isn't worth it anymore.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

An unknown Eleagnus: SOLVED!


I need some help. I found a shrub on the same hike I was taking when I found yesterday's scary cactus.

I'm 99.9% sure this is an Eleagnus:

It has the same strange shape to the new growth, it has leaves that are a weird color underneath them (a rich brown, not silver like some of the other eleagnus varieties), it bears fruit with a single pit and it was growing in poor soil but still exhibited good green growth, meaning it's probably fixing its own nitrogen.

Look at more pictures:

My problem is, I can't nail down WHAT Eleagnus this is. It's not a silverthorn, an autumn olive or a Russian olive since the fruit were black. Is it perhaps a rare native? A new invasive?

There were multiple bushes scattered across the sandy scrub where I was hiking. I ate some of the berries and they were delicious - a lot like raisins in flavor, with a large pit.

Here's what the berries looked like:

Notice how they're rounder than the other Eleagnus fruits - and they don't have the silver or gold "sparkles" on them.

Anyone have any idea what this could be? I ate a bunch of berries without getting sick, so I'm reasonably certain it's not poisonous. (Kids - don't try this at home!)

Whatever it is, it would make a great addition to a food forest.


B.A. e-mailed me a tip that it might be Reynosia septentrionalis. The fruit is right, but the leaves and growth are not quite the same as the photos I've found.

In the comments, Misti suggests Ilex glabra. Close, but the fruit and leaves don't quite match. No pucker on the end of these fruits.


B.A. e-mailed me two more suggestions.

Those still weren't quite it, but they were two more plants I've never encountered. I'm getting quite an education. The thing that stands out on this particular plant are the brown leaf bottoms.
Finally, I got my answer in an e-mail today (Sunday) from Bunny with the Florida Native Plant Society.
"Hi David,
I was looking for information about Seminole Pumpkins (or something?) when I got sidetracked checking out your blog. I belong to the Florida Native Plant Society, which makes me an expert at nothing. But your Unknown Eleagnus does look familiar to me. I believe it might be a Tough Bully (Sideroxylon tenax) or a Florida Bully (Sideroxylon reclinatum), which are both found in your area. I often use the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants to check plants out. It has pictures and good information. Heres the link for Sideroxylon. See what you think. By the way, your painting of sweet potatoes is really nice!
She likes my paintings... and she can ID obscure edibles. Hard to beat that.

So - this is it! Check it out:

The plant is NOT an Eleagnus at all - it's a "Tough bully." (The worst type of bully, if you ask me... I prefer the weak ones that buckle after you throw your first punch), also known more scientifically as Sideroxylon tenax.

Fortunately, it's not poisonous. Unlike the other options, this guy matches on fruit, leaves, growth and everything. It's also a dead ringer for an Eleagnus, strangely enough. Here are some photos from that link:

Fantastic. Thank you, Bunny - and all the rest of you that sent in suggestions. Sapotaceae family. Nice.

We're smarter together than apart. :)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bok Tower

Friday, October 4, 2013

Survival Plant Profile: Chaya

Greens aren't all that interesting to me. That doesn't mean I cut them out of my life... but they're not as exciting as big piles of roots or amazing homemade grits.

Some greens are better than others, of course.

For instance, I firmly stand by the mathematical postulate that mustard greens > collards.

Moringa leaves are good in soups. Bidens alba greens are fine in stir-fries... and turnip greens are about as interesting to me as the 1974 Bowling Championships.

Yet there is a green I find quite enjoyable. So good, in fact, that I will sometimes cook up a pot and eat them as a meal. That green, as you've hopefully guessed from my title, is chaya. I think the flavor is similar to a mild and sweet broccoli. It has a nice chewiness to the cooked leaves I also find enjoyable.

Chaya is in the same wild, wonderful, beautiful and often toxic family as cassava. It also contains high levels of cyanide, so you need to take care not to eat it raw, even if you want to. Just don't. Stop. Put it down. NO!

Boil leaves for 20 minutes, then enjoy them. They're apparently ridiculously good for you and full of vitamins, which makes sense to me since they taste hearty and delicious.

Growing chaya in Florida is a cinch if you can find cuttings. Cuttings root in a month or so when it's warm. Just stick them in moist soil and wait. They're not as fast as cassava but they'll usually take.

I've seen chaya wild down in South Florida, but in the northern half of the state you're not likely to come across it. Where I live it freezes to the ground every winter but will usually return from the roots and rapidly shoot for the sky. Once you get a couple plants, it's easy to make more.

A young chaya bush. This one has been harvested multiple times.

Bugs don't seem to bother my chaya plants (CYANIDE!) and they grow decently even in poor soil. I've planted them in full sun and in almost full shade and they've lived in both places, though the ones grown in shade are thin and leggy.

Grab some chaya, tuck a few into your yard... and you'll have great perennial greens for years to come. This plant's a winner.


4 Spuds

Name: Chaya, tree spinach
Latin Name: Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
Type: Perennial shrub
Size: Can grow to over 15'.
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade. Sunny is the best.
Part Used: Leaves, tender new shoots
Propagation: Cuttings
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Boil leaves for at least 20 minutes.
Storability: Poor
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Excellent
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Meet Ralph

Some years ago we went through a bad patch financially. I had started my first business a year before. It did magnificently for about 13 months... then I lost two out of three clients within a few weeks of each other.

At that point we were renting a house down in South Florida and the housing boom was still in full swing. Our rent for an 800 square foot home with a 1/10 acre yard in a working class neighborhood was $1250 per month.

That hurt. I know it's not New York or California prices, but I'm the sole breadwinner with a few mouths to feed.

Facing a major hit to our cash flow, we had two classic choices: increase our income or reduce our expenses. Since well-paying clients are few and far between, and it was the holiday season, meaning nailing people down was next to impossible, we decided for the latter.

My Aunt Jeanette managed properties for a little mobile home community in the nowhere town of Frostproof. We called her about renting a place and found that a 1500 square foot house was available for half our current rent.

A major bonus of this move was that I got to know Grandpa Ralph. He's my Uncle Steve's father, making us tenuously related through marriage. Ralph is a retired missionary who grew up in a farming family in Southern California, then spent much of his adult life overseas in the jungle of Ecuador.

He's also an amazing gardener.

I spent a lot of hours visiting him in his tropical backyard gardens. His place was two houses down and across the street from ours, so it was easy to slip off in the middle of the day and chat about citrus, wild Indian tribes or the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between church denominations.

I'd tell my wife "Hey, I'm going for a walk... be back in a few," and she'd laugh. "If you're going to Ralph's, I guess I'll see you in a few hours..."

Ralph also built a food forest which I enjoyed before I even knew what a "food forest" was.

In his small backyard, he grouped together at least a dozen citrus trees along with papaya, cassava, guava, avocados and even a mango tree. You can see the mango tree in the photo behind us. Those are not supposed to grow in Frostproof, which, despite its name, is not at all frost-free. Bonus: he grew that mango tree from a seed he got from my biological grandpa's tree down in Fort Lauderdale.

I got to visit Ralph during our recent trip after not seeing him for about five years. Unfortunately, he's lost a lot of trees thanks to frosts and the fact that he's no longer to work the ground much anymore. The forest forest is down to just the group of citrus trees... and they're not looking so hot. The mango is doing okay but never bears fruit... and he lost his mature avocado trees to laurel wilt or something similar.

I remember asking him once why his plants looked so amazingly green and healthy.

"MiracleGro," he told me. "You just mix it up and spray the leaves. You don't even put it on the roots or in the ground. Just on the leaves! And then they turn green."

Then he winked at me. "Maybe THAT'S the miracle!"

Even though Ralph's gardens aren't the wild profusion they used to be, he has a legacy. His children follow God... he's been married to the same wonderful woman for 66 years... and he's always glad to spend time with a friend discussing things that matter more than plants, frosts or magic fertilizers.

I miss being neighbors with him. At a point where I was broke and stressed, his yard was my escape from deadlines and bills.

Thank you, Ralph.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sweet potatoes

I threatened to break out my paints this last weekend... and I did.

But I didn't paint koi. I just wasn't happy with the strangely blurry forms of the fish beneath the water, so I went with something else I like: sweet potatoes.

This is a little 8 x 10" piece done in acrylic on Masonite. I haven't painted in almost a year, ever since Stupefying Stories rejected my ill-fated Halloween cover last year. Cornball humor was apparently not on the menu. That wasn't really the reason I haven't been painting, however. It's been all I can do to keep up with writing and gardening.

And on the gardening side of things, actual, non-painted sweet potatoes and their accompanying vines continue to flood over the edge of their beds and take over broad swaths of my yard.

In November, I'll go sweet potato prospecting. I love doing that.

Anyone have anything amazing going on in their gardens this week?


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