Wednesday, July 31, 2013

@Mother Earth News: Seven Amazing Berries For the South

...and by south, I mean REALLY south:

This article ties in nicely with today's other post, and I just got the link back from Mother Earth.

Here it is.

Quit wishing you had stuff you don't. Seriously. It just makes you sad.

Blackberries, blueberries, Jamaican cherries, mulberries, Snacky's, goumi berries, silverthorns and more berries

It's berry nice here at Econopocalypse Ranch!

Daisy holds a handful of recently picked fruit.

The rabbit eye blueberries have just finished and the blackberries are coming to an end... but the Jamaican cherries are kicking along at a rate of about 6 fruit per day. For one tree, that's not bad at all.

Of course, I have no idea if it's going to survive winter here. Also known (like multiple other species) as the "strawberry tree," Jamaican cherries are a tropical tree. We shall see what happens. I'd really hate to lose it: the fruit taste like a cross between cotton candy and popcorn. Really delicious.

My Illinois everbearing mulberry has also decided to start kicking again with a new crop that should start ripening any day now... and then in another month or so, it'll be time for Snacky's Diner to re-open.

For some reason my goumi berries decided not to bear fruit this year. It might be that we're a bit too far south to get consistent crops. At least the silverthorns bore decently this spring.

On an up note, we've got elderberries for the first year here, and they're doing great.

I do have one raspberry plant, too. And it bore me ONE raspberry. Looks like I'll need to plant 15 to get a handful. Or 1,000 to make jam. Heh heh.

The great thing about gardening: there's always next year... we'll fertilize, mulch, cultivate, and see what happens.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Melon Pits: An Update!

Long ago, in a January, far, far away... I posted on my "melon pit" experiment. Now it's coming to fruition. Literally.



Nice, eh? Of course, the original idea was that the rotting wood would provide moisture, while the manure and compost provided nutrition for the growing vines.

The nutrition part has worked out well. I've got about 8 watermelon vines sprawling across the front yard quite happily. However, the moisture part can't be figured out. I haven't watered this summer since we've had more rain than I ever remember seeing. The "hugelkultur" bit of this experiment is therefore inconclusive.

Another thing: the weeds got away from me on the melon pits. The bare, richly fertilized ground was too much for the grass. It jumped in a little while after the melons sprung out, and now thanks to the rambling vines, weeding is almost impossible. Oh well - looks like we're still going to have some great melons. We've already eaten one (it was a delicious 6.5 lb baby), and there are at least six more in the yard right now, growing on top of the "lawn."


Now that's the way a front yard should be!

Monday, July 29, 2013

@The Prepper Project: How to Grow, Preserve, Harvest and Utilize Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are simply one of the best things you can grow in Florida.

They're healthy, easy-to-grow, prolific and delicious.

I expand upon my survival plant profile and go further in depth on this excellent crop over at The Prepper Project.

http://theprepperproject.com/how-to-grow-preserve-harvest-and-utilize-sweet-potatoes/

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plant ID: What Is In These Photos?

Sheila writes:

"Hi David,

I found a mystery plant yesterday on Pine Island and took a few pictures. I've never come across this one.  I think it's a vine rather than a bush.  It was mingled in with a firebush.  Do you have any idea what this is?  I am hoping it's edible, but I have my doubts now that I realize it's probably a vine."
 Along with her e-mail she attached three nice photos:


By the flowers along with the pods, I know this is in the Fabaceae family, but after that, I'm winging it. My first guess is ground nut... but these vines look tougher than the ones I've seen online. My second guess is wisteria, but the flowers don't seem as pendulous as those I've seen. Maybe tropical wisteria (Millettia taiwanensis)?

Can anyone nail down this plant for Sheila? If it's ground nut (Apios americana), she'd probably be thrilled since she's looking for edibles.

UPDATE: I sent these photos to Green Deane last night. His response this morning:  "Definitely not.... NOT... ground nuts."

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A tour of my front yard food forest

Because no one asked for it, here's a look at my front yard food forest:


NOTE: I made that weird music, then inexplicably put it in in this video.

A few things that need to happen in my food forest:

1. More nitrogen fixers.
2. Lots of soil loosening. I'm thinking broadfork, then scattering seed.
3. More organic matter. Gotta get a tree service to dump tons of mulch.
4. More flowers. Just because I like flowers.

Overall, it's coming along pretty well. By next year I'll probably not be able to see the road from my house. A couple of years after that and we'll be eating so many fruit we'll need insulin drips.

I can't tell you how much fun I'm having with my yard. Every day... every week... every month... every year... the system gets better and better. There are more beneficial insects, more flowers, more butterflies, more fruit and more beauty.

It's a wonderful blessing to take a piece of burnt-out lawn and turn into Eden. You ought to try it.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

@ThePrepper Project: More on Toxic Herbicides

If you've been reading here for very long, you know I had a nasty run-in with herbicides in composted cow manure a couple years back.

In one of my latest posts for The Prepper Project, I talk more about what you can do to avoid... contain... and identify if your supposedly organic and wonderful amendments are contaminated with DEATH.

Today's takeaway: Don't use off-site manure in your garden unless you own a freaking lab. Seriously.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tool Review: The Planet Whizbang Wheel Hoe

When I was offered the use of a chunk of land for my field crops, I knew some of my gardening methods needed to change. The plot we paced off was a quarter acre. That's way too much space for raised beds, double-digging, or hoeing by hand. Unless you own slaves. And I don't, since that's wrong and bad.

Some time back, I discovered an old school tool called a "wheel hoe." It's basically an oscillating hoe, also known as a scuffle hoe or hula hoe, with a wheel (or a pair) in front of it and two handles. The idea is that you can roll along a lot faster than you can walk and chop. You get extra leverage from the wheel and handles, too.

I couldn't really use a wheel hoe for my little beds... but the new plot finally provided me with an excuse to buy one.

Being a cheapskate, I didn't immediately go buy a Hoss or a Valley Oak model. I'm sure both of those are great - and I'd really love to try them out - but without getting my hands on a tool, I don't like to drop a chunk of change. (Hey, though... if you guys want to send me one... I'll give it a go!)

The Whizbang wheel hoe.
As I researched, I came across a model from Planet Whizbang.

I have to admit: I'm a total fan of Herrick Kimball. The dude invented a chicken plucker you can build at home that will pluck a chicken in seconds. Most people sit around and watch TV - this guy solves problems. And, like me, he's a homesteader. When I found out that he had his own version of the wheel hoe, I was already sold.

The other thing that got me was this: you get to assemble it yourself.

I like Legos, so this works for me. There's a plan online, you buy a $99.00 hardware kit and a wheel from Northern Tool (coupons here: http://verified.codes/Northern-Tool).

Get your bits together, paint 'em, start building, and VOILA! Wheel hoe!

My cost:

$99 for the hardware kit (shipping included)
$17.99 for tire from Northern Tool
$7.49 shipping from Northern Tool
$0.00 for plans
$0.00 for paint (I had an old can already)
$0.00 for wood (I already had a board laying around)

Total: $124.48


It takes a little basic carpentry skills, as in you need to measure and cut the handles, but other than that, building this hoe can be done in a couple of hours, including painting the parts. My handles are made of mahogany. Yep. Mahogany.

Once built, it's a weed-eating machine. I took it through my corn patch and it performed admirably. I have the wide blade as well as the standard blade for it. The wide blade is very good in my large garden, since I can cover more ground with less walking.

With tall weeds, the hoe tends to choke up and needs regular clearing, but with short ones it's a champ. I used it on a piece of lawn as a test. Yes, you can clear it one chunk at a time but it will KILL you. A wheel hoe is made for using in already worked soil. It's a clean-up tool that's not really suitable for breaking ground.

Compared to a regular hoe, I can move about 10 times as fast through my garden. It doesn't have the precision of hand-hoeing, but it's really, really good on the straightaway.



On the down side, the Planet Whizbang wheel hoe is for weeding only, unlike some of its competition. You can attach plow pieces, cultivators and even a seeder to some other wheel hoes. I suppose if you were clever, you could make some of those upgrades yourself. Right now they aren't available. This is okay, though, because it's a tough-as-nails little tool at a killer price. You don't spend $124.48 and expect miracles. This wheel hoe seriously over-performs for the price.

If you're row gardening on anything larger than a couple thousand square feet, a wheel hoe is a really good investment. The Planet Whizbang version is a handsome little machine which is a lot more pleasant to use for weeding than a tiller. I'm happy with mine and it's already killed many thousands of weeds.

One warning: once you start pushing it around, it's hard to stop.

Final verdict?

4.5 SPUDS!!!


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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wait! What's in the bag? A surprise?




That's a yellow rat snake slithering out of the pillowcase in the third frame. It's blurry because Rachel started backing up really quickly as she took that shot.

This poor guy was about to be shot when I rescued it from a relative's yard. He'd been hanging around the chicken coop and was no longer wanted. Since I'm a bit of a softie, and because I like lots of predators in my yard, I intervened and brought him home to my place. This particular guy was about 6' long. 

And yeah, I've found snakes in my own hen house before. I don't really care if they eat an egg here and there, since I know they're also going after squirrels, mice, rats and other varmints. Snakes our our friends.

Well, at least most of them are...


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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

PKM1 Moringa?

One of the reasons I like writing my daily posts here is because I often get some fascinating input from readers. For example, I got a cool comment a little bit back from sengie thao on my post Using Moringa As Fertilizer:

"Grow the pkm1 variety. That's the one my mom is growing now. It bloomed last month(planted from seeds in Feb this year). They are said to bloom in 6 or so months, so you should be able to harvest some pods before the first frost comes. eBay has them for quite cheap, other site that sell them is more expensive for the same amount that the seller on eBay is offering" 

Very interesting - this could be quite useful. I hit ebay, and yes indeed, there are a lot of seeds available.

Has anyone else experimented with this variety? Is it a hybrid? Is it EVIL GEN-MOD MORINGA? I dunno! Gotta do some research.

I'd love to get some pods to grow. Even down in South Florida my moringa trees are taking their sweet time producing. Blooms will appear but never pods. And that yard is loaded with bees, thanks to my friend Eddy across the street (yeah, the one with the great avocado tree).

Perhaps I need to buy some seeds and try it out, for the good of us all.


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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yeah, I'm obsessed

I had to write more about my broadfork in my latest post for Mother Earth News.


This fall and winter, I'm going to hit a lot of my compacted front yard with the broadfork, plus redig my biointensive beds.

It's just too hot right now, except in the morning and evening. Plus... there's hardly a thing that will survive being planted this time of year.

Might as well wait. You can only handle so many southern peas, you know?

By the way, in this photo, I look cool:



Yet in this photo, I look more like a fruitcake:



That's why we shoot lots of pictures and only keep the best ones. That was, fruitcakey photos don't end up online.

Oh wait...

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: July 2013 update (Pt. II)

In Friday's post I shared a few shots of the new paths and trees we planted in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, plus a look at the amazing new soil that's forming. Today I've got a few more cool things to show off. Like this baby canistel:


That's in the front yard. In a few years, it's going to be bearing fruit. None of us have any idea what canistel taste like, yet we planted a seedling. How crazy awesome is that? We'll taste it for the first time when the tree bears.

In the middle of the front yard, Dad planted a poinciana tree a long time back. It's coming to the end of its life and will soon need replacing. The tree I hoped to put in its place was a tamarind - but then I read that tamarind trees will create a shade issue and tend to kill off things beneath them.

That discovered, we put it in the side yard. Dad was initially reticent.

DAD: "Will this thing kill the grass I've worked so hard for?"

ME: "Maybe when it gets big."

DAD: "Hmm..."

ME: "But hey... you're not as keen on mowing as you used to be, right?"

DAD: "Yeah."

ME: "So... if it starts to kill off the grass, let's replace the grass with shade-loving edibles and just mulch the whole strip."

DAD: "I guess we could do that. What is this tree again?"

ME: "Tamarind. It's got edible sweet-sour flesh in what look like bean pods. Even if you don't eat them, your Chinese friends will." (A note about Dad: he has a LOT of Chinese friends and is actively involved in a Chinese church. It was totally cheating for me to bring them up. He loves those folks.)

DAD: (not quite looking convinced) "Alright, fine. I guess we can put it there."

Now look at this cute tree:





Feel sorry for that perfect St. Augustine grass? It's life is gonna get a LOT worse! Wait until this tamarind hits 100' tall! HA HA HA!!!

(Actually, we'll probably have to keep it from doing that...)

Beyond the tamarind, the jackfruit, pigeon peas, and the tropical almond I mentioned planting in my last post, we also put in a fig and a couple of surinam cherries, plus a naranjilla, some cannas, a lobster-claw heliconia (just because) and another yam.

Here's a little surinam cherry:


Aww! What an adorable little invasive!

This one is actually a seedling I snagged from a dark-fruited sweet variety. Some surinam cherries taste suspiciously like shellac. This didn't. Much.

Oh... I can't NOT tell you about the crowning achievement of this trip. Dad and I managed to find - and purchase - and plant... a...

wait for it...

Wait For It...

WAIT FOR IT...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

CHOCOLATE PUDDING FRUIT TREE!!!

Yep. The amazing fruit I discovered a few months ago... has now been installed in my parents' yard, much to their (and my) delight.



Thank you, Spyke's Grove Nursery. I can't believe how many cool things they carry. (Note: the staff I've run into there are less than friendly, but at least they have really great trees.)

One new development in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project that Mom was particularly impressed by was the appearance of our very first cluster of bananas.


I wish more people could experience the joy of growing their own food. I don't get why so many folks, particularly in a tropical paradise like South Florida, will spend hours on their stupid lawns and stupid toxic landscape plants... when you can bring forth sweet abundance from the earth. A lot of tropical fruit and shrubs don't even require watering down there once they get established... yet people slave along, mowing and fertilizing their worthless lawns.

Is that you? I hope you'll quit. Plant something edible, then plant another... and another... and another. Pretty soon you'll be reaping the sweet bounty and having plenty to share - and when you do, stop on by and tell us about it.


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Saturday, July 20, 2013

@The Prepper Project: How to Fix Clay Or Sandy Soils

I was particularly happy with this article.

Getting to a point where you know how to build your soil = arriving as a serious gardener. The soil is full of life - steward that and your plants will respond with glorious abundance.

http://theprepperproject.com/how-to-fix-clay-sandy-soil/


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: July 2013 update (Pt. I)

I just got back from a week-long visit to South Florida... and that means it's time for another update on the Great South Florida Food Forest Project!


It's amazing how much can happen in a month. The cassava is at least a foot or two taller... the winged yams have emerged and are tumbling about... and the sand is turning into a rich, black soil exploding with earthworms. Dad has been piling on organic matter and the difference in soil inside the food forest plot is astounding. Look at this:


The sand on the left was taken from a path just outside where he's been stacking biomass... the soil on the right is taken from just inside the log boundary at the edge of the food forest. I knew deep mulching was the key to creating rich earth in the tropics but I still find this transformation amazing. It's taken months, not years, to convert light gray sand into soil. Sure, the black area is only about an inch deep right now - but that inch of soil would've taken years for a forest to build. Dad fast-forwarded the process by dumping almost two feet of leaves, logs, trimmings, grass clippings and other debris from the "yard waste" trash bins up and down the street. I started with a layer of cardboard, a little compost and some leaves... he's continued by piling it on and the results are miraculous.

While in town, I added some new paths and expanded the forest boundaries by another eight feet on one side. Check out the new stepping stones:


Along the fence, to the right of the photo above, there's bare dirt. That area used to contain a hedge of plumbago. Heck with that! I ripped it out and planted pigeon peas instead. I also discovered a bunch of buried stepping stones, hence the new paths. On the left, you'll see a clump of recently topped Tithonia diversifolia. As I've shared before, those are one of my favorite chop 'n' drop plants for Florida.

Oh - by the way - remember this post on drift seeds? In the picture you'll see a couple of tropical almonds. I planted a handful of them I found on the beach... and one came up. That one is now installed in Dad's side yard:

And while we're on the always entertaining topic of "trees from seed," I did another post recently showing the dissection of a jackfruit. The seeds we obtained had an almost 100% germination rate... and now one of those babies is also happily residing in Ft. Lauderdale, about 15 feet from the tropical almond.

I put labels on most of these trees so my family (and the visitors they take through on tours) can keep track of what we've planted. Not everyone is a SuperPlantGeek(TM) with a photographic memory for species. Labeling is just common courtesy, right?

Finally... before I run... I have to talk about the Barbados Cherry we put in the front yard. It's been thriving and bearing lots of fruit. In just a few months, it's probably grown 18". It's incredible how much faster things grow in the tropics. Within a couple of years, this system is going to be incredibly productive. On Monday I'll share a few more shots - but for now, here's the cherry as seen through the front landscaping:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

@The Prepper Project: Three Ways to Garden Without Land

This should help those of you struggling to find space:

http://theprepperproject.com/three-ways-to-garden-without-land/


How to bud graft a fruit tree

Now this is a handy little video:


I'm going to have to try this, particularly since I've started so many seedling trees.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

@The Prepper Project: Why You Should Make a Mess Of Your Garden

For the less-than-neat among us... here's some justification.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Greywater oasis: July update

Two months ago, I posted this picture:


Now look!

 

I'd say the greywater experiment has been a rousing success.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to (hopefully) kill nematodes naturally

Nematodes are little worms that chew up roots, reducing plant vigor and generally messing up your plans for a healthy garden.

We hates them, precious. We do!

I pulled up a row of bush beans a couple of weeks ago and found that the roots were amazingly knotted - and not with nitrogen-fixing nodules. Nope, that was nematode damage.

I've read that lots of compost will keep their populations down - yet this bed was filled with compost. Loaded with it. And still, my beans were getting chewed to bits. Don't believe me? Look at this!



Creepy. It's obvious that we have a problem here.

I've read in another place that nematodes don't like cabbage or mustard leaves tilled into the soil. I also know that wormwood kills a variety of parasitic worms.

So... I decided to make a concoction.



Look at that! What IS that?

Well, the white leaves are wormwood from my front garden. And I also shredded some collards to mix in, since I didn't have mustard or cabbage lying around.

Then I got crazy.

I added coffee, tobacco, pokeweed, pencil tree leaves, cassava leaves, habenero peppers, moringa, comfrey, dog fennel, rosemary, mint, senna alata and oregano.

That means I have caffeine, nicotine, phytolaccatoxin, toxic latex, cycanide, capsaicin, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, anthraquinone and various aromatic oils, along with a laundry list of other minor compounds.

After mixing all these things together, I covered them with water and I'm letting them rot into a toxic stew. That stew is then going on this bed.


Suck on my beans, will ya? Then suck on this!

(Of course... I have no idea if this will work. We shall see.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Go on, have a cigar!


Over at The Prepper Project, I take a look at the why and how of growing tobacco in a total puff piece:

http://theprepperproject.com/why-preppers-should-grow-tobacco-and-how-to-grow-it/

Even if you don't smoke, you need to grow tobacco. Just because.

I had a big patch growing along my front walkway a couple years ago. Friends from church would come over and ask my wife, "What's that?" and she'd respond, "Tobacco!"

The next question would invariably be, "What for?"

When she replied "So David can smoke it," they thought she was kidding. Surely Good Christians(TM) don't use tobacco!

Chapter and verse, man... give me a chapter and verse. If it was good enough for Spurgeon and Pink Floyd, it's good enough for me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The "Blessing of Weeds" and goodbye to being a Master Gardener

Here's my latest piece for Natural Awakenings magazine, in which I look at the bright side of "The Curse:"

http://issuu.com/gonaturalawakenings/docs/july2013naturalawakenings/24

As a side note related to this article... I am no longer a Florida Master Gardener. My articles for Natural Awakenings have to run through the local Ag. Extension before publication. In the past, this hasn't been a big deal - though I have rankled over the fact that negative references to evil corporations and herbicides/pesticides have been excised from my articles. However, in this article, I quoted the Bible... when it returned from the Extension, the verses had been snipped.


Editing out negative references to your corporate buddies is one thing; editing out a Scripture quote is another. So far as I know, the Old Testament isn't illegal yet - whereas Dow AgroSciencese "Grazon" should be.

Fortunately, I'm friends with the publisher of Natural Awakenings. She urged me to go ahead and send my articles directly and say sayonara to the MGs.

Part of me hates to say goodbye. I'm not just leaving because of having my articles edited, I'm also leaving because I don't have enough time to volunteer - and because Master Gardeners aren't allowed to say they're "Master Gardeners" and make a profit at the same time. Now that I own a nursery, that's a tough restriction. Additionally, I picked up a quantity of new information when I first started, but soon realized that my interests went beyond most of my comrades in the program.

To my friends in the program - thank you for a wonderful couple of years. I enjoyed the friendship, the cuttings, the conversations and the laughs.

I'll remember you all fondly, even as I voyage out on my own. You'll do fine without me.


Right?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why... hey... it's 7/11!

And that makes me want a Slurpee!



Anyone else remember going to 7/11 on a hot summer day as a kid and grabbing one of these amazing frozen sugar bombs? My parents didn't buy them for us very often, so when we did get one it was a major treat.

I used to mix the blue, the red and the Coke flavors together, then suck the different layers through my straw until my brain would freeze.

Yet... now as an adult... I can't get a Slurpee without thinking about genetically-modified corn, artificial sweeteners, diabetes...

Sometimes it's great to be a grown-up... sometimes it's not. Especially when other grown-ups write mean articles about things you used to love as a kid.

I wonder if I could make good, healthy organic high-fructose corn syrup from my heirloom corn? Then I could crush my own cochineal insects for red dye, hand-crack my own ice... and re-create those classic Slurpee headaches in my own home...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lychee fruit

We got our first lychees off my little tree a week or so back.



Lychee trees don't grow up here, unless you feel like covering them constantly through the winter... or, if you do like I do, and put a tree in a big pot, then keep that pot in the greenhouse. We only get a small amount of fruit, but the fruit tastes incredible. In South Florida, they'll mature into lovely shade trees - and all your Chinese friends will be totally thrilled that you're growing them.

Incidentally: yes, I'm planting the seeds.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Did you ever get really tired of a particular type of animal?

Like... say... ducks?



Then, next thing you know, you've removed their heads, plucked and gutted them, then put them in your freezer, where they reside until slow-roasted into a series of delicious, gourmet dinners?

There's only so much noise a guy can handle before he quacks up...

Side note: ducks are a royal pain to pluck. Omigosh holy mackerel for serious.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Putting a new plot into production

For the last few years, most of our gardening has been done in our own yard. This spring, however, we had a huge windfall when my much-loved Uncle and Aunt moved into town from further north... and bought an 11-acre homestead just 3 miles from our place.

Half of that property was filled with grass, woods and landscaping - the other half was a 5-acre field that was being farmed by a neighbor.

Since he knew that I was interested in testing a few different corn varieties, my uncle talked with the farmer and we marked out a space at the end of his rows of southern peas for a corn patch.



Then, a couple of weeks ago, after the farmer's peas were harvested, my uncle granted us another 1/4 acre strip down the side of the field. Now we've got some serious space for experimentation.

Here's my goal: I'd like to grow enough grain to feed our chickens - plus enough dry beans to feed the family. Doing this isn't easy in a small space, so this overflow garden will help a lot.

Challenge: I need to do this without irrigation. Getting water to our new patch would be pretty tough, though not impossible. I'm going to pretend it's impossible, since I like the challenge - and the idea of growing food on just rainfall. A few weeks ago I posted a little about that; however, we've had a wonderfully rainy year thus far, so I'm probably not getting fair results. The corn in the picture above is now reaching over my head and is totally happy.

Now - back to the new plot. After the farmer tilled under his bean patch, we marked off our new bed with bamboo stakes and colorful rags.



This will hopefully keep us safe from tractor accidents, since the remaining 4.75 acres are still being conventionally farmed.

After marking the boundaries, I raked out the tractor ruts and leveled the ground as best as I could. Then, I busted out my new row-maker/furrow digger:


Nice, eh? I found the original design here on YouTube. Brilliant and simple. It's also a great workout.

As I made planting furrows, my wife planted. Occasionally, we'd meet in the middle. Awwwwwww....



Since we just planted this patch last week, and it's really hot this time of year, we only had a few crops to choose from. We put in black-eyed peas, lima beans and a couple rows of small red beans, just to see if they could take the heat. This fall, we'll be planting mangels (those are big fodder beets, also known as mangolds) and patches of buckwheat for compost and seed. I'll probably also work in a few rows of small grains for the birds and additional composting material.

We'll keep you posted - I'm excited. This is the largest single patch of ground I've ever had to work with. If I can pull it off, I'm totally gonna jump into large-scale monoculture factory farming on thousands of acres.


No - I'm just kidding. That would take the fun out of things... though I certainly wouldn't be adverse to farming a few more acres and sharing the abundance.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Growing pawpaws from seed; plus, amazing facts about pawpaws!

In my neck of the woods, native pawpaws are ripening, however you have to be fast to catch them, particularly in the case of the short shrubby varieties like Asimina pygmaea.

Last week, my friend JJ brought over three little fruits from a wild pawpaw on his property. They weren't completely ripe, but hopefully they're far enough along to have viable seeds.

Obviously, teeny little pawpaws like these wouldn't yield much in the way of edible fruit - but there are like, a ton of other good reasons to plant them. Here are 23, right off the top of my head.

Good Reasons To Plant Weeny Little Native Pawpaws

1. Pawpaws are sort of rare.

2. The fruit look like those pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

3. The zebra swallowtail eats them.

4. People will be like, "Whaa... thas a pawpaw? Lol WUT? F'real?

5. Every time you plant a pawpaw, the FNPS receives a dollar. (This is a lie. In fact, what REALLY happens is that I mail them an air potato. TRUE!)

6. Pawpaw trees are easier to grow than peaches.

7. Gopher tortoises like pawpaws.

8. Pawpaws can cure cancer. (I think.)

9. Teeny little pawpaws look much more refined than big bloated grapefruit.

10. People overseas in many places like the Iraq and such as can't grow pawpaws.

11. Chuck Norris once frowned at a mango tree. It picked up its roots, moved north and became a pawpaw.

12. My friend Terri owns Pietro's Pawpaws. If I don't mention pawpaws positively, she might kill me with her mind powers.

13. Pawpaws don't look like a fruit tree.

14. Pawpaws are pollinated by flies. Do it for the flies.

15. Pawpaws will never say they're going to be someplace, then never show up and leave you hanging for hours and wondering if true love will ever find you. This is because pawpaws can't talk.

16. Pawpaws have taproots that are 6' long. Don't you want a plant with a 6' taproot?

17. Pawpaws won't get stolen during the Econopocalypse. Looters won't know what they look like or if they're edible. Of course, you'll still starve, but at least you'll get a bite or two of pawpaw first.

18. You need to grow pawpaws because I do, and I'm amazing.

19. See above.

20. A Rabbi, an Irishman, a blonde and a pawpaw walk into a bar... and the pawpaw is the only thing that walks out without being stereotyped.

21. Pawpaws can shoot their spines over 50'.

22. Pawpaws bring a piece of native Florida to your yard.

23. Pawpaws are going to outlast the Dow Jones.

See? Don't you want a pawpaw now? You do? Then here's a helpful video on how to grow them from seed!


Keep your eyes open for ripe fruit, and if you'd like to learn more about pawpaws, check out the two-part interview I did with Terri Pietroburgo some months back.


Incidentally, if anyone has had luck growing their own pawpaws from seed, let me know - I'll happily post your success (or failure) stories. As you know, I'm a huge fan of growing trees from seed.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tool Review: The Meadow Creature Broadfork

This 4th of July, I think it's highly appropriate to feature an American-made tool. I really like tools, especially tools I can't break. When I'm gardening, I don't like to worry about handles snapping, bolts coming loose or blades dinging up.

I once bought a machete - a Gerber machete- that was a complete piece of garbage. That made me never want to buy any of their stuff again. Maybe there's a reason they have the same name as a baby food company. I should probably write a review of that machete just so I can rant about how worthless it was, then give it ZERO SPUDS!

Unlike that piece of soft metal trash, today's tool is a monster.

Meet the Meadow Creature broadfork.

To the uneducated eye, you might think this was a strange piece of tractor equipment or some sort of medieval weapon. It's got amazingly vicious spikes on the end with a wicked curve to them, and the solid steel construction doesn't look like any other garden tool most of us have seen.

That's because it's NOT like any other garden tool. This is a ground-breaking machine.

WARNING: Broadforking is hard work. If you're a wuss, you won't like it.

Since getting deeper into the John Jeavons' method of double-digging, I've become much more aware of the need soil has for air. The beds I've double-dug have done better - and areas that have been simply tilled have done poorly. Even in Florida sand, compaction can and does occur.

Yet double-digging is murderously hard. I think it often needs doing - but sometimes you just want to get a big area done without breaking your back. Other times, you may want to loosen up an existing bed without busting out the shovel and digging fork again. That's where the broadfork comes in.

Most broadfork manufacturers warn against breaking new ground, or tell you that they're only made for "already-loose" soil. Really? That's like having a shovel that's only for digging holes that have been dug once and then filled in. Are you kidding? There may be a place for delicate little tools - but it ain't on this homestead. My tools get hauled around to different beds, lent to friends, worked hard and occasionally drenched by Florida's unpredictable monsoons.

The Meadow Creature site reads "We are confident enough that our tool is indestructible to guarantee it forever. Customers tell us our broadfork is great for removing turf, digging out blackberry roots, quack grass and bermuda grass. And also digging up trees and prying out boulders -- it's not meant for that, but we'll stand by the guarantee anyway."

Nice, eh? As a person who regularly uses wrenches to hammer nails and scissors to trim fingernails, I appreciate that kind of guarantee.

The Meadow Creature broadfork is made of solid steel allow - even the handles. (There's a bit of a downside to this strength - it's somewhat heavy - but that's actually an advantage on the downstroke.)

Breaking new ground out back. This thing is bad to the bone.

The first time I tried my new broadfork, I was amazed how it cut into the ground like a knife. I went to the most compacted and oak-root riddled part of my yard... and it handled it. No problem.

With the Meadow Creature broadfork, I can break about 50 ft2 of new ground in roughly 15 minutes. That's new, unworked ground, covered in weeds - which is not what a broadfork is supposedly for. In my less-weedy beds, I can go about three times that fast.

On new ground, the broadforking doesn't take as long as the weed-pulling does, though the weeds come out easily once the broadfork has passed by. Once they're pulled, the soil is perfect for planting.

One note: you will get blisters and wear yourself out if you jump in too hard on your first try with this broadfork. The motion is rather addicting, and before you know it, you're more tired than you thought you were. Cotton gloves might be a good idea. The handles are smooth, which allow you to change your grip easily and slide your hands into different positions as needed.

So far, my wife and I have broken about 2000 ft2 of ground with this fork and we're still having fun. I've also let multiple visitors try it out. Men in particular were impressed by this broadfork's strength and ease of use.

My wife, despite not having anywhere near my strength, still finds the Meadow Creature broadfork easy enough to handle. She did about 500 ft2 when we broke up this spring's potato bed and still had energy to plant multiple rows of mung beans. I think it helps that the broadfork has a really good balance. You can jam it in the ground and easily work it in without falling over.

One other thing you should know about this broadfork: it's not cheap. The Meadow Creature will set you back $199.00. I got the 14" version, since that seemed to be the most versatile.

That said, I've come to realize, after buying a lot of tools: cheap isn't good. I buy DeWalt power tools after breaking quite a few cheaper brands... and they hold up. I also don't like Chinese crap. If it's made in China, sell it to someone else.

The Meadow Creature is made in the USA, and it's expensive. However, it's going to last.

If you only have a small garden, this tool might be overkill - but if you've got a larger space in cultivation, then it's worth the price. I'm using mine regularly - and when things cool down this fall, I'll probably use it a lot more as I prep new areas and revitalize the weedy beds left over from summer. I actually filmed a short video of me tilling a strip out back and posted it to YouTube yesterday - check it out:


I don't usually get real hyper over anything but plants... but the Meadow Creature broadfork is cool as heck. This is my kind of tool. If you get a few bucks together - and feel like saving on a gym membership - you'll find them for sale at www.meadowcreature.com.

Rating: 5 Spuds!

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