Friday, January 31, 2014

The Chickens are GONE

You can't have everything.

After almost three years of keeping chickens, I got rid of my flock.

I know, dear prepping friends, this smacks of heresy. And not only that... HYPOCRISY! After all, was I not the one that emphatically stated "you need chickens?" And was I not the clever innovator that developed a full chicken feeding plan?

Yes. It is true.

The problem is, my chickens were one too many straws on this camel's back.

I write 12-14 articles and posts per week. I also produce and edit a national radio broadcast. Beyond that, I'm working at keeping up a plant nursery, a teaching schedule, a bunch of garden beds and two food forest projects. Traveling is also difficult when you're keeping a flock... and I have to travel.

Something had to give. And give it did. After a string of raccoon attacks and a bad run of birds not laying eggs... and a look at how much feed was costing... I gave up. For now.

Part of the problem with keeping birds has been my limited acreage. I like to keep as much as possible on-site. Call it sustainable or call it cheap, I just don't like having to bring in inputs.

Original artwork by Michael Bingham.

In a couple of years my food forest should be unstoppable. I'm also hoping to acquire more land at some point. When one or both of those events come to pass, it'll be a lot easier to maintain a flock.

Until then, we're buying eggs again. We also have relatives that live only 4 miles from us and they have a big flock.

One final thing I've realized from keeping animals of various sorts: I don't really like animals. I've never had a dog, don't like cats, find ducks and chickens irritating... and don't get me started on goats.

I like people and I like plants. I get to spend more time with both now that the birds are gone.

But boy... I really miss those eggs. And the manure.

Though not the noise or the runaways.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

A particulary persistent spammer: 99aquaponics

Every couple of days I get a new comment on a random post - completely unrelated to content - posted by the user "flame93."

The comment is always something like:

"Check out this revolutionary gardening system (link redacted)"


"Also checkout this DIY organic garden (link redacted)"

When you go to the site (which you shouldn't bother doing) it's a cheap-looking site with a pitch for an aquaponics system.


Holy moly! Someone used a highlighter! This stuff must be important!

Look - when someone has a good idea, I like to hear about it. But when they post their spam over and over on your site without being any part of the community, it gets tiresome.

I've deleted flame93's posts many, many times.

In doing a little research online, I discovered that 99aquaponics isn't just spamming my site... oh no... they're spamming every single prepper and gardening site you can imagine:

Nice. Spammers are likely to be scammers.

Don't buy things without a lot of research. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That said, these guys are almost too BAD to be true. Look at all those spam links... everyone from The Sun to Mother Earth News has been plastered with their digital graffiti.

I don't care if they invented the best gardening system since Eden... I recommend you stay far, far away from these relentless robomarketers.


A dead time of year

Plowed Field. Oil on canvas, 2014
I'm yearning for spring, even though this winter has been exceptionally mild and particularly rainy. I don't think many of the fruit trees, not to mention the blueberries, will hit their "chill hour" requirements before spring comes.

I don't really mind, though, because the lack of harsh overnight lows has been very good for my citrus. Even the papaya trees are coming through this year. Though they're quite frost-burned, their trunks are still solid and green.

I have a feeling that this year will be the one where the food forest really springs into action.

Thus far we've had the occasional fig or kumquat, plus a handful of blueberries or blackberries now and again. Our main food supply has come from our annual garden beds. As time goes on and my perennials mature, that should shift. Some of the trees will take a long time, like the pecans and chestnuts... but others are now over my head, like the loquats and my black cherry tree.

Thanks to the addition of lots and lots of mulch from a local tree company, things are looking up for the front yard.

This leads me to another interesting experiment. I got a bunch of green potatoes from some boxes of discarded produce and threw them around the food forest and mulched over them. I'm wondering how well they're going to do on hard ground beneath 6-12" of newly shredded mulch. Since the seed stock and the mulch were free I don't have anything to lose. Some of them are popping up already.

If this works, I may just dump all my potatoes under mulch next year, since I wasn't all that thrilled with last year's harvest.

Right now there are a million projects I need to work on... but somehow, when it's 50 degrees and rainy, they just don't get done.

Maybe tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A little gardening humor

(Click to enlarge)

I just came across this comic I did back in '09 for a now-defunct media outlet. As you can see, I've been thinking about survival gardening for quite a while.

Now I want Cheeto.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Holy moly... a use for cogon grass!

I have a problem with cogon grass creeping into my yard from across the street. The stuff is one of our worst invasives and is very, very difficult to eradicate without chemical weedkillers. The rhizomes tunnel beneath the ground and easily pierce through cardboard, mulch, plastic, etc. Thanks to those rhizomes, new tufts of grass will also pop up as far as 15' from a previous clump of grass.

However, when life gives you lemons... you know what they say.

Check this out:

Cogon grass paper. Now that's clever. I'll bet it would look great in just its natural color.

Maybe I could paint a series of invasive plant pictures on cogon grass paper... hmm...

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Rosary Peas: Florida's Deadliest Plant

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Welcome, new visitors!

Thank you all for stopping by.

Glad you were able to (hopefully) catch The Survival Summit and learn more about EXTREME ULTRA-AWESOME SUPER MEGAFANTASTIC COMPOSTING!

I enjoyed putting that talk together, plus doing the follow-up Q & A. Don't let any fertility go to waste.

And also... don't let the remaining sliver of your weekend go to waste. I just got back from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park where I took a much needed break from garden writing and research.

Don't worry. I won't be cutting one of my ears off anytime soon.

Keep on growing, keep those questions coming, and don't give up on the dirt beneath your feet. It will feed you when you need it most.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Lessons From a Carnivorous Snail

A couple of days ago I was wandering through my yard and wishing for spring. As I did, I saw a small snail of a type I had only seen once before.


He looks kind of cute, doesn’t he? (I’m using the universal “he” here in an anthropomorphic sense, obviously, since snails are hermaphroditic.)

About an inch long, pretty shell, kind of friendly looking.

At first glance, I got “the fear,” though.


Because I was afraid I may have stumbled across a juvenile version of this monster:

Those are giant African land snails.

If you click the image, you can read a nice, creepy article from National Geographic on how they’ve invaded Dade County, Florida… and how they like to eat the stucco off of houses, not to mention devour almost every plant species of agricultural significance.

Fortunately, after a little research, I nailed down my snail as being a native type – the “Rosy wolfsnail.”

Not only that, according to UF, it’s a predatory snail that will feed on giant African snails, among other types:

Distribution: In the United States: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and southeastern Texas. It is widespread in Florida, including the Keys. It is widespread, but usually found singly in hardwood forests, roadsides and urban gardens (Hubricht 1985).

Comments: This snail was chosen as a possible biological control agent of the giant African snail. Live specimens were sent to Hawaii in 1955 (Mead 1961). Although feeding in Achatina was observed, as well as on the Asian tramp snail, Bradybaena similaris (Férussac, 1821) and native tree snails (Hart 1978), no real control was achieved. The snail reproduced rapidly in Hawaii and, by 1958, 12,000 snails were harvested for release in other Hawaiian Islands, New Guinea, Okinawa, Palau Islands, Philippines and the Bonin Islands. Chiu and Chou (1962) gave details of the biology of Euglandina in Taiwan. Individuals live up to 24 months and adults lay 25 to 35 eggs in a shallow pocket in the soil. These hatch after 30 to 40 days. In Taiwan, Euglandina consumed as many as 350 Achatina during its lifetime. Euglandina rosea is now considered invasive in Hawaii as it has caused the extinction of eight native snail species.”

Nice. It’s so bad to the bone that it makes other snails GO EXTINCT!

And it gets better...

(Click here to read the rest over at The Prepper Project because you totally have to see the weird videos I posted there!)

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Kobalt Magnum Grip Self-Adjusting Locking Pliers

The holidays are tool season. Local stores put out lots of bits and pieces, gadgets and gewgaws, assortments, kits, collections and all shades of rugged metal and plastic offerings for the handyman.

This Christmas my wife skipped the tool buying and bought me a reflex punching bag so I can take out my aggression without smashing any more of her oh-so-precious Fiesta ware. (Just kidding. I like the Fiesta ware and have smashed very, very little of it over the ten years of our marriage.)

But enough about my excess testosterone: back to tools.

I like good tools. This is no secret. I’m moderately good at carpentry, I can do a sweet mosaic on your floor, and I’m a whiz with a bandsaw. I firmly believe that part of preparedness involves owning good tools and knowing how to use them, so I’ve got a collection of them, both hand-powered and electric.

The problem is, I’m also rather disorganized, plus my kids often borrow my tools for their own strange projects. (This Christmas my nine-year old son took a half a coconut and some wood scraps, glued them to a piece of plywood, nailed about 3,000 nails around the pieces and declared the completed object as a “lego play area,” then gave it as a gift to his four-year-old sibling. My wife took one look at the terrifying assemblage [which was dropping lots of tiny sharp brads onto the floor within moments of being unwrapped] and quickly banished it to the outdoors.)

One of the tools that disappeared from my workshop at some point was my pair of good vise-grips. (It was probably my fault, not the kids’ fault, but one of the reason to have children is so you can blame your own mistakes on them.)

Vise-grips are the bomb. They’re the classic tool you use when you can’t find your pliers, a C-clamp, a ratchet, a wrench or a hammer. They’re also decent for cracking nuts.

I missed my good vise-grips. I have another cheap Chinese pair that are inexplicably painted fluorescent orange. They’re cheap, I hate them, wish they had never been made, and that I never saw them… yet for some reason I still have them.

So – now you know the problem. No good vise-grips.

Last week, I thought I’d found the solution. I was at Lowe’s and saw a display for the new Kobalt Magnum Grip Self-Adjusting Locking Pliers.


They looked sturdy. A lot like a beefier version of the old vise-grips I used to own. And you could get two pair, a big and a little… for $12.98.

I threw them in my cart and kept shopping.

A couple of days ago, I got around to taking them out of their packaging and seeing how well they worked.

My first indication that they were less-than-adequate for gripping was that the little ones popped open on their own, multiple times, after being clenched shut... (read the rest over at The Prepper Project)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

From the Inbox: Ants, Avocado Spots, Growing Bananas, Planting Fruit Trees In Existing Forest

I get asked a lot of questions via e-mail. Usually, but not always, I'm good at getting back to folks.

It strikes me, though, I should share my answers more often, since some of you may be dealing with some of the same problems.

Let's jump in:

Q: I live in south mississippi and will be planting a few pear, plum, peach, mayhaw, etc. trees in the coming weeks. I had a crazy idea to clear out a section of woods (overgrown cut-over) and plant in this location as opposed to my yard which is low wet clayey and not organically rich. The location would be an east facing forest edge I guess you could say.

Would the existing root layer "outcompete" the fruit trees or would the leaf litter etc. provide a great place for these. I have plenty of ramial wood chips to mulch with. -T.R.

A: There's a lot to think about when you jump into the middle of an existing system. The roots from trees will reach more than double the size of the leaf canopy outwards. That said, I've seen videos on how old settlers used to simply girdle unwanted trees, then plant apples and other fruit right in between them.

The great benefit to planting in established forest is on the microscopic level. Forests contain fungally dominated soils which are more beneficial to trees. There's a huge network beneath the ground of mycellium which will connect with your new trees and help them flourish. Forest edges are notoriously good places to grow a wide range of species. East is also better than West, so you're good there.

Here's what I'd do: I'd clear a little space for each tree, plant them in, then see how they do. If the weeds, etc., grow back around them, keep chopping that stuff down and dropping it around the bases of your desired trees to feed them and mulch the ground as they grow. Trees like to grow in the remains of other trees... keep that going and they should do great. Ramial wood chips are a great addition as well.

Q: J.P. - What's wrong with my avocado tree? A lot of the leaves look like this:

A: Looks like some kind of leaf spot disease to me - probably fungal. I'd try picking off the effected leaves and burning them. If it comes back, try spraying with copper sulfate according to instructions.

Q: I came across your website and was happy to know that you are so close to where I live.  I am ... thrilled to see another survival garden in the nearby area, especially one with the same climate.  I basically have veggies, adding different odd edibles each year. I have some papaya growing in my greenhouse waiting for the weather to break before planting but I am really interested in what you do with your bananas in the winter.  We have one planted in the back and have tar paper wrapped around the trunk and cover it with a blanket during the hard freezes. It's about 3 years old but no bananas yet. Another BIG problem I have is ants - what do you use to kill them?  I grow an organic garden and since I am retired I have the time to pick off caterpillars but the ants are something else! -G

A: Bananas are not the best producers in this area and most of what I have are a type I dug up from a foreclosure property. One thing that really helps them is LOTS of nitrogen. The best I've ever seen were growing over a leaking septic tank. I grow some of mine by the back of the house. I cut out the pipe running from my kitchen sink and ran the water directly onto the banana trees, so they're swimming in a slop of food wastes and warm water half the day. They grow like crazy. Unfortunately, the frosts still take about half of the crop each year. It's sad. I need to try some new types.

As for ants, I've had luck kicking their piles open and dusting the insides with diatomaceous earth. It doesn't kill them all, but it also doesn't poison my ground. They are bad here... there's just no way to get rid of them all without harsh poisons.

Have a question? Drop me an e-mail on the e-mail link at the top left of this page. Just know this: I'm likely to post it online at some point, especially if you say something hilarious. (I will, of course, edit out personal details to maintain your privacy.) -David the Good

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reminder: The Survival Summit is Still Available for Free

I was just sent the following from the folks at The Prepper Project - you can still sign up to hear my (and many other presentations) for free:

Have you registered yet...?

The Survival Summit is taking place this week.  It's a 100% online
seminar that you can watch FREE on pre-recorded video.

34 survival and self-reliance experts -- interviewed.

... giving you over 43 hours of training in post-collapse survival!
Property defense & security.  Building a retreat and finding
like-minded community members. Food production and storage.
Water, energy, and fuel systems.  It's all covered!

And when you sign up here you get access to 5 or 6 NEW video interviews every day.

Who hosts a FREE seminar, with 34 guest experts?

The Womach brothers are doing it...  And the wealth of
information they're giving away is extraordinary.  Tens of 1000s
of people are crammed into their website, watching right now.

So don't wait to register...

Because there's ONE CATCH:  each new set of videos is
only available FREE for 24 hours.  After that, you have to
pay for access.

(Not much of a catch when you think about it... A seminar of this
caliber would cost you $5000+ to attend in a city like Vegas.)

Register with your email to watch The Survival Summit videos here:


Like the promo copy says, I'm impressed with how much they're just giving away. I also think it's cool that Paul Wheaton, Marjory Wildcraft and I are all part of the same event.

Listen in if you get a chance - there's not much time left.

-David the Good

Rolling Cigars

I know, I keep harping on it... but if you don't see tobacco as important to survival, I feel for you.

During the worst days of the crash, when I was unemployed, watching friend after friend go broke and seeing folks lose their homes right and left... a good cigar was one of the few simple pleasures that made things better (at least for 45 minutes or so.)

That's not to say I was rolling my own.

Unfortunately, I've yet to master that skill - but this video has given me some hope that I will one day:

The packing of the interior seems to be where my attempts always fall short. I've noticed that the elasticity of the tobacco leaf on the interior wrapper also presents problems, though I've been working on hydrating it better and my last couple of attempts did quite a bit better.

Sometimes it's "try, try again," especially when you don't have a teacher locally.

If you don't think you can manage to roll cigars, you might try making your own pipe tobacco or even grinding snuff with a coffee grinder. That works really well and ladies totally dig the snorting and sneezing associated with this arcane pleasure.

If all else fails, it's pretty easy to roll a cigarette, too, but I don't go in for those. It just doesn't pack the "awesome" that a cigar does. Trust me, though: if things get uglier economically, tobacco is going to be a highly desirable commodity, no matter how it's processed or consumed.

Learn to grow it.  Then pray you can find a Cuban friend to roll it for you.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Spam Attack/Slight Change in Comment Settings

I got hit with a major blast of spam attacks a few days ago - look at this:

That spike represents about 6 times the average traffic.

Two posts in particular received thousands of hits along with a lot of accompanying junk comments advertising all kinds of garbage. I killed their comment sections after awakening in the morning to an inbox full of spam comment notifications.

So... that's the end of the experiment with totally open commenting I started a month or so ago. I'm going to have to stop doing that.

That's not to say I tightened it all the way up. You can still comment anonymously but only with word recognition.

Sorry for any inconvenience the change might cause. If it's really a pain, let me know - maybe I can make further tweaks.

Now back to gardening.

"Restoring the Environment? That'll Be $130,000" - an Interview With Sean Law

Over a week ago, my dad sent me an article on Longwood homeowner Sean Law and his battle to restore his piece of the Earth to a healthy ecosystem.

When I saw the piece, I felt a quick connection to the guy, particularly when he mentioned Fukuoka as an influence. So, after some finagling, I managed to reach him personally for an interview.

Before I caught up with him via phone the first time, I wondered if he was going to be one of those "crazies" that simply won't abide by the rules or make friends with neighbors, etc. You know, the kind of guy that fixes cars late at night with pneumatic wrenches while cranking up AC/DC, or the gal that stuffs her house with piles of newspapers and dead cats.

Sean Law's inspiration, Masanobu Fukuoka
Instead, I found Sean to be more caring about people that you would imagine, considering his current battle with the city of Longwood. He's unassuming, friendly, coherent and well-versed in Florida law. He also has a deep love for the environment and the many creatures that inhabit it, right down to the microorganisms in the soil.

His focus, rather than being on the way things are clunking along right now and on the codes that keep us in a cycle of cropping and poisoning... is on the future of humanity and our planet.

Here he is, in his own words:

Sign his petition by clicking here.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Art blog re-launched: new painting up

Runner Beans (det.)
My painting has taken a back seat for too long, but I'm back at it now. I'm starting a new series of pieces from nature and focusing on seeds in particular.

You can see the first painting of the series here.

Since I've made myself stick to this gardening blog for over a year, I suppose there's no reason to think I can't make the same commitment to my painting.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is It Possible That Everything You Know About The "Dangers" Of Tobacco Is WRONG?

I've wondered about it for years. When the entire establishment and media seem to be against something, chances are, it's probably good for you.

Keoni Galt puts his finger on it in a post worth sharing:

Two things we must consider first and foremost - one, their may or may not be a significant difference between cigarette smoking versus cigar and pipe smoking (the difference between inhalation and puffing of tobacco smoke on health); and two, natural/organic tobacco versus "Big Tobacco" grown with possibly radioactive fertilizers and adulterated with a host of additives that may or may not be the real reason why Big Tobacco cigarettes may be what is really harmful to human health...not tobacco itself. This is a topic I've covered before:

"There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and at least 69 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer."

Oh you're telling me that if I took a seed from a natural, organic tobacco plant, and grew it in my yard, and than harvested the leaf, dried it and smoked it, I'd be ingesting industrial chemicals like cadmium, formaldehyde, arsenic, toluene, hexamine, and methanol?

Somehow, I don't think so.
So the real question here is this: Is the tobacco plant itself a cancer causing agent in the human body, or is the fertilizers and/or additives put into the tobacco by the Big Tobacco producers?

I know what I think about that particular topic.

But how about taking it a step further, and consider the idea that not only is tobacco smoking possibly not bad for you at all, but actually quite beneficial to health and longevity?

(Click here to read the complete article.)

Just as the whole "saturated fat gives you heart disease" paradigm is being disproven, and the idea that exercising during pregnancy is dangerous has gone out the window, I think one day it'll be obvious that tobacco isn't and never was the demon we've made it out to be.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Why You Should Grow Tobacco (and How To Grow It)

Homegrown tobacco, homemade pipe.
Homegrown tobacco, homemade pipe.
I wrote this in-depth article last year for Unfortunately, there was a business reason that forced them to take it down... so they gave it back to me.

In light of my pro-tobacco post from a few days ago, it seems fitting to re-post it this week. Enjoy! 

-David the Good

For the last few decades, we’ve been told smoking is the cause of everything from lung cancer to heart disease.

There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in this debate. If you’re a smoker, you’re an outcast… a pariah… a Very Bad Person.

However, the truth about smoking isn’t nearly as cut and dried as you might think. Did you know that lung cancer rates rose even as smoking declined? Or that some studies showed longer life expectancies for pipe smokers than for non-smokers?

Strange but true. (Just don’t ask me for the documentation right now, ‘cause I used it to roll my own.)

Wherever you fall on the smoking spectrum, there’s one thing that’s sure: smoking isn’t going away. And this presents an opportunity for the hard-core prepper. Why?

Keep reading.

Why Grow Tobacco?

A lot of folks need their daily nicotine. Business gurus will tell you that meeting needs is a great way to profit. Though you can’t legally sell your own homemade cigarettes right now, there may come a day when regulations fly out the window and the free market takes over again. Even if it doesn’t, being the guy that has what people need is a great place to be.

Imagine shipping gets shut down, or the cost of tobacco shoots to the stratosphere due to regulation or the rising cost of fertilizers or any of a number of reasons.

Even if you’re not a smoker, having some tobacco around could be very useful. Say you have a nice tobacco patch in your yard that you grow each year. Your friend needs a smoke really bad. You want help on a fence, you trade him some leaves and bingo: that tobacco patch has paid for itself.

Sounds pretty smart, right?

“But,” you may ask, “How in the world do you grow tobacco? I know nothing about the plant other than the fact that it smells like burning manure? Dave! Help me! I’ll trade you some .22LR rounds and a can of beans!”

Alright… because you asked so nicely… and because I’m hungry… and because .22LR is roughly equivalent to gold bars these days… I’ll help you start growing your own tobacco.

How To Grow Tobacco

Growing tobacco is pretty easy. I’ve grown tobacco for almost a decade in my home garden. Though my method may not be the best, it works well for me and has been tweaked over the years into a pretty fail-safe operation. You need a few things, but all of them are really easy to find (with the exception of seed).

Materials list:  

Tobacco seed

Fine soil
Planting container

Spray bottle

Plastic wrap (optional)

To get started, you need seeds or transplants. If you live in tobacco country, you might be able to buy some transplants locally; otherwise, you need to seed your own. Unfortunately, starting tobacco from seed isn’t the easiest thing in the world – yet it’s not as tough as you might think.

Tobacco seeds are even smaller than poppy seeds and will get you in less trouble. A pinch of them contains hundreds of potential plants.

Because of their minute size, they need to be planted differently than most other seeds. To add an extra layer of fun, they also need light for germination – and when they do germinate, the seedlings are really, really tiny. This is why it’s really difficult to direct-seed tobacco in your garden. Chances are, the sun will wipe your plants out before they develop into anything – even if you have a totally perfect little square foot bed – so instead of planting them right in the soil, it makes sense to start them in carefully managed flats. These flats can be made from just about anything. I used to use egg cartons but I found that the soil in them dried out too quickly so I switched to using home-made wooden flats that are about 4” deep.

To plant tobacco, prepare a fine soil surface in your flat or container, make sure it’s good and damp, and then simply sprinkle the tiny seeds across it. Mist your seeds with your spray bottle, and make sure the flats are in the shade – if they’re not, you may dry out the soil and kill the plants before they emerge. If you live in an arid climate, you might want to cover your flats with some plastic wrap to keep in moisture. To avoid mold problems, I’d take the plastic off once a day and mist the ground when I did. If you don’t cover with plastic, try and remember to mist your flats about twice a day or anytime you think of it. (If they do dry out a bit, don’t freak out. Moisten them well and keep your fingers crossed. I’ve had tobacco pull through even when I’ve been less than religious about my watering. That said, do your best!) In about 10-14 days, you should see tiny seedlings begin to emerge from the soil. They’re so small you almost need a magnifying glass to see them at first.

Within a week or two, they’ll get bigger – and in a month or so, they’ll likely be an inch or so in height. As the seedlings grow, I thin out the flat with a pair of scissors, decapitating unwanted plants rather than pulling them out and disturbing the roots of their neighbors. Give each little plant its own space and their growth rate will be much higher. When your plants get about 2-3” tall, transplant them to a second flat until they’re large enough to transplant – or, if your weather is mild and the sun isn’t too brutal, put them directly out into the garden. I usually wait until they hit about 6” before placing them in the garden, but I’ve had good luck with smaller plants as well. Once tobacco is transplanted, it grows really fast. Feed it compost, manure or whatever you have available. I've had them do okay in poor sand, but they do amazingly if they get a little more care. In a couple of months, your plants will be huge. At this point, you can start picking nice leaves. Watch out for hornworms, though – they’ll take a tobacco plant to pieces really quickly. Other than those, you’ll deal with minor pests like aphids, but overall, I don’t get too much loss. If leaves get chewed up, they go in my “pipe and cigarette” tobacco pile, if they’re broad and intact, they go in my “attempt to make cigars again” pile. After a few months, depending on your climate and average temperatures, your tobacco will burst into bloom.

Each one of these pods contains enough seed to plant your entire yard.
The flowers are pretty and resemble their cousin the petunia. Commercial tobacco farmers remove the buds to force larger leaf growth, but I keep them for seed and because, well, they look nice. (For a video on growing tobacco, check out this one I made a couple of years ago.)

Curing Tobacco

Now here’s the artistic part of this whole odyssey: curing. People will tell you it’s “not worth growing tobacco because it’s a pain to cure.” However, it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a smoke, all you need to do is dry and smoke the leaves. I used to park my car in the sun with the windows cracked open and spread leaves all across its dashboard.

One afternoon in the sun and they were nice and crispy.

I’ve also hung leaves in the barn for a year to dry and cure (those tasted better than the dashboard leaves.)

 If you’re used to the taste of cigarettes, know this: that taste isn’t what raw natural tobacco tastes like. It’s a product of factories and flavor sprays and special blends. The taste of raw tobacco is smoky, grassy, biting… and yet still enjoyable.

If you’re more of a cigar smoker, you may not ever be happy with your homegrown smokes. Curing cigar tobacco is an art, much like wine-making. It can most definitely be done, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

For pipe smokers, I’ve found it’s possible to make a pretty good latakia/English pipe blend imitation by taking dry leaves, soaking them in water and molasses, then putting a basket of them in the smoker for a day. I used hickory chips, which I’m sure is totally wrong, but it tasted great.

Like smoking a pipe of beef jerky.

After taking the whole leaves from the smoker, I cut them into little bits with a pair of scissors, then let them dry to a good smokeable moisture content. Not bad at all.

If you’re more of a “Captain Black” smoker, you’ll have to look around for pipe tobacco flavoring – I haven’t been able to make a decent aromatic blend from my homegrown leaves, though I’ve used black cherry juice concentrate, vanilla and other experimental flavorings from my wife’s collection of spices.

Speaking of spices, if you like smoking cloves, you’re in luck. A decent clove mixture can be made by simply taking dried tobacco, sprinkling it with ground cloves, then rolling that in your wrapping paper of choice.

Been there, done that, got a numb mouth.

A Final Puff

Yes, it’s true that tobacco has earned some of its deadly reputation – yet if you really want to talk about a health crisis, you should talk about sugar/high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The very people that often condemn smokers don’t seem to realize that their diets of processed foods and Coke aren’t any better than putting away a few packs of cigs a day.

The key, as always, is moderation.

Growing your own tobacco without pesticides and not adding weird additional chemicals in the processing phase is a pretty good way to minimize risks. It’s ORGANIC, for goodness sake. And we KNOW organic is good for you, right?

Besides – even if you grow tobacco, no one is going to force you to smoke it. In fact, you can’t barter something you’ve already consumed. Think of your tobacco patch as insurance for the future.

One other thing about tobacco: beyond smoking it, you can also use it as a powerful organic insecticide. Boil leaves or cigar butts into a tea, then strain and spray as needed. Just don’t spray it on tobacco, peppers, eggplant, potatoes or tomatoes, since those plants are all related and may share viruses. (You also might not want to apply it to your salad greens – too much nicotine, like many things, will make you sick or kill you.)

Now, finally, I realize that every time tobacco comes up, some gal is likely to get all weepy or angry and point her finger and yell “How dare you say anything good about tobacco? My dad/aunt/mother/grandpa/ brother/demon lover/best friend’s sister’s baby daddy/hamster died of lung cancer!”

Yeah, I know. I’m very sorry.

Got a match?

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Natural Awakenings Article for January: Illegal Gardens

Here's the latest - click to see it larger:

The whole illegal gardening thing really irritates me. If it's your land, you should be able to use it to feed yourself. Period.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yard tour with Sean Law

Right now, this fellow is facing $130,000 in accumulated fines for using his land to create food and habitat:

People just don't "get" what folks like Sean are doing.

I'm going to be interviewing him later today and hope to share that with you shortly.

Neat grass and landscaping may make people feel nice, but it isn't good for the environment.

It's time for us to wage war on lawns. Whether it's through the Fukuoka method, or edible landscaping, or Patriot Gardens... it needs to happen.


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Tuesday, January 14, 2014


In my area, it's almost always 4-5 degrees colder than the forecasts.

Watch your plants, gardeners! There's a cold wind a blowin'!

6 Creatures That Should Be In Your Food Forest

"We Miss You"
I built upon my birdhouse post from the other day and really thought more on what animals should play key roles in a healthy food forest system. Once I made a good list, I wrote it into a new article for The Prepper Project. Click over there and read it - you'll like the part about lizards.I guarantee it.

"Over the holidays I had an epiphany. As I was considering my front-yard food forest and the new plants I should add in the spring, I realized that I should plan in some new habitat for animals as well.

If you’ve read this site for very long, you know we’re a fan of putting chickens to work in our planned edible ecosystems. Though that’s a good start, chickens are also high maintenance and almost always require supplementary feed unless you make careful (and extensive) plans to feed them completely off your land. Beyond chickens, other domesticated animals that can be (carefully) added include ducks, guinea fowl and even pigs.

Yet in nature there are a lot of other creatures that do plenty of work behind the scenes. Many of them aren’t usually recognized as our partners in food growing. Some are considered little more than nuisances to be fought with.

If you’ve dealt with moles, deer, squirrels or crows, you know what a pain some animals can be. Even these have their place, of course, but today I’m going to focus on six “good guys” and how you can add them to your plans, starting with one insect that always get a bad wrap. Let’s jump in!

(Click here to keep reading)

I like writing for the guys at The Prepper Project. They're good folks, plus the deadlines and wide range of topics force me to keep thinking about what I'm doing and how I can share it with a broader audience. That said, don't forget to sign up for the free upcoming Survival Summit so you can hear (and see) my Extreme Composting presentation. It's going to be fun.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Who were you, Helen Parkey?

I was on ebay a couple of weeks ago and came across a fascinating original press photo for sale. In it, as you can see, a woman is showing off a massive clump of Dioscorea tubers growing in her garden, also known as winged yams.

Since I'm a fan of both yams and eccentric gardeners, I purchased it.

The photo was originally taken by photographer Steve Dozier to illustrate a story by Hazel Geissler in the St. Petersburg Times that ran on April 20, 1979. I was born later that same year.

The woman in the picture is Helen Parkey. The back of the photo gives some details, plus a piece of the article:

According to the text, Helen was growing and eating the roots for years before knowing what they were or if they were edible.

My kind of gal.

Unfortunately, I can't find any more information on Helen or her family or her story. The writer of the article passed away some time ago. If anyone knows more about Helen Parkey, I'd love to hear about it. I'm thinking of calling the newspaper on the off chance they have more info or a complete copy of the original article... Ms. Parkey seems like my kind of gardener, though I'm sure she's long since passed into the next life.

Maybe we'll meet again up there.

I'm sure, unlike the state of Florida, God doesn't classify Dioscorea alata as a hateful non-native invasive. I'll just keep on walking down the streets of gold until I see a trellis covered with rambling vines, bedecked with dangling bulbils and sporting pointed heart-shaped leaves...

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Awesome Free Online Survival Event - Go Sign Up!

Attention, survival gardeners!

Coming later this month, there's a killer online event you won't want to miss. I got all the details a few days ago and passed them on in the newsletter - but in case you don't get that, I don't want you to miss your chance to register.

I got tapped to take part in The Survival Summit, a six-day online event assembled by the folks at The Prepper Project. I'll be speaking on extreme composting and sharing a LOT of crazy ideas on how you can turn almost anything into soil fertility, including stuff that the local extension will freak out over.

Not only that, if you sign up, you can hear people that are at least as smart as me, including Paul Wheaton on gardening with NO irrigation (he's the MAN on that), Marjory Wildcraft on homesteading and survival gardening, how to legally make alcohols for fuel and barter with Josh Bayne, how to grow enough protein to feed 22 adults in only 400 square feet with Nick Klein plus a whole bunch more folks on different topics, including making biodiesel, hunting, self-defense and all kinds of stuff.

Don't put this off. It's free for the days of the event... but once the event is over, it's over!

I'm really thrilled to be part of The Survival Summit. Sharing the platform with these guys is an honor.

So go - sign up! Now! It's free! It's fun!

Sign up!

See you all there. Go tell your friends!

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Friday, January 10, 2014

New Video: Beat The Cold, Warm Your Greenhouse, Protect Your Moringa and Grow a Key Lime in North Florida

Since pictures speak louder than words, I filmed a bunch of my favorite cold-beating themes and jammed into a video less than 10 minutes long.


UPDATE: I should mention - that's the same greenhouse I review here.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is it just me... or is the Weather Channel getting dumber?

The content always make me wonder:

"His Head Went Out The Plane" and "The Road Is Covered in... AAHHH!" both sound like they came right out of Idiocracy.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why does David visit for his weather reports?"

My response would be, "Because I like to check multiple sources. Plus, 'weather dot com' is easy to remember."

And... I really want to know "19 Things Your Bikini WON'T Save You From" and learn more about why "Scientists Call It The Sock Monster," not to mention discovering why "You Won't Believe What Was Found In His Earlobe!"


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Space-saving Food Forest Ideas

Most of us tend to think of fruit trees as being needier than they are. Some trees warrant this preconception, sure… like commercially grown peach and apple trees.

Trees may also be needy because you’re trying to grow them in a location not ideally suited to their needs.

Yet if you’re growing something that works in your climate and making sure it gets plenty of compost and other good stuff, then you can take a deep breath and start thinking of new ways to increase production or save space.

If a gardener spends his time reading Ag extension guides to growing trees, he’ll start to think you need huge spaces between individual specimens in order to get production. Yet… forests don’t work that way. Trees are packed in here and there in a crazy quilt of life.

Yes, when you plant things close together you get less production per tree… yet you may get more production from the space as a whole.
Here’s a great video giving you one idea how this can be accomplished:

Now: imagine you planted comfrey around those trees… or onions and garlic… or sweet potatoes. Your production from the space has just jumped higher. Better yet, plant a row of trees this way and tuck in berry bushes and other perennials along the front and back of that row, with various herbs mixed in to repel pests and provide you with culinary delights (or even natural antibacterial bandages).

If you’re gardening in a small space you don’t have to give up on tree crops. You just need to do things differently.


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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sweet garden pictures and a new fertilizer mix

It's been a strange winter. Lots of rain, plenty of warmth, and a plethora of great days to work outside.

Last night we got a hard freeze and it's still thawing out... but before that hit I took a few pictures in the garden. It's hard to believe how wonderfully everything is doing at this time of year... but we still have cabbages:

And even papaya... though they're probably cooked now. We'll see in a day or two what kind of damage they suffered. In this shot, they're still looking good on a nice rainy day:


I've even got a few irises blooming in the front garden:


And an amazing bed of salad greens. We fertilized them a couple of months ago with a mix of kelp meal, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate, lime and a pinch of borax and Epsom salts. As you can see, the plants are very happy with all the nutrition:

The cabbages got the same treatment. See the rich color of these leaves up close?

The exact mix I used is in this book.

Steve Solomon has an abundance of tantalizing insights, as usual. I highly recommend The Intelligent Gardener for a look at how micronutrients affect plants and human health.

The gardens have certainly enjoyed it... at least until last night.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It's going to freeze again tonight.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Thanks to a six-year old, the yacon is in the ground

My six-year-old wanted a garden space of his own so we put together a 5 x 10' bed with reclaimed cinder blocks I got from a demolition site. Writing about it now reminds me of when my dad did the same thing with me many years ago.

He chopped weeds, dug dirt and made that bed look great. I was impressed.

"What can I plant in here, Daddy," he asked. "What can grow in the cold?"

"Well," I replied, "We have these yacon tubers I need to plant."

"Great," he said, "let's plant those!"

And he did. That kid never stops when he gets an idea in his head.

After we planted that bed, he then helped me plant a few more across the front yard food forest.

Sometimes people ask me why I have so many kids (that is, when they don't immediately start out with insults relating to me and my wife's extraordinary fecundity... we get plenty of those).

The answer, obviously, is farm labor. Plus, they're the biggest blessing I could ever have. The haters are totally missing out.

And hey... what six-year-olds do you know that are growing their own esoteric crops? I'm raising a crew of little nature-loving permaculturalists who will add much more to the world than they consume.

No welfare, no food stamps, no hand-outs. Just us, God and the good earth.

And lots of yacon.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Comic Book Coming Soon!

It's almost here!

10 info-packed pages on my favorite survival crops. Here's a sample page:

I'll let you guys know how to get a copy soon. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you already know this is just the beginning of a bigger book.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

I want one of these

Can you imagine how much free fertilizer a bat house this size would give you? And how many mosquitoes would no longer live in your neighborhood?

I can't ever simply do things the easy way. Whereas a normal person would just buy and erect a little bat house, I would like to raise an entire shed into the air on poles.

If I ever end up wealthy, I'll definitely do it.

As a side note: why do flying bats mesh so well with techno music? There's got to be a thesis paper in there somewhere...

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Food Forest Upgrade Project: Add More Habitat

Over the holidays I got a bit obsessed with building bird houses and feeders.

I've never been much of a bird watcher (though I am an honorary member of the Audubon Society, thanks to my guitar); however, I've become very interested in how they interact with the ecosystem.

The forest provides cover and nesting areas for birds. Every day, the birds will roam far and wide, fill up their bellies, then return to the woods and leave their rich droppings at the base of their arboreal homes.

It's a good trade, and it's something I need more of in my fledgling food forest. Most birds provide more in pest control than we appreciate - enough so that I don't begrudge them a few fruit here and there.

The little birdhouse above is the first one I ever made. It's built from recycled pallet wood with a hammered out #10 can for the roof.

I also added a little initial plate on the back:

I went on Amazon and bought a cool set of letter and number punches like this. They work pretty darn well, though it's not easy to line them up perfectly by eye. The copper is from a piece of scrap pipe. I snipped out chunks and hammered it flat to make little plates for my birdhouses.

Here's the whole back:

Not the best photo, I know, but I already gave the house away so I can't take another one.

I'm building more for my yard - I actually boughta book on building birdhouses (which I never thought I'd do) to ensure I drill the right size holes and have the right nest spaces for a variety of species.

Along with adding nesting spaces, I'm also adding feeders to the yard and I also built one for my mom for Christmas:

That's now hanging under the mango tree in the Great South Florida Food Forest.

I may also add a birdbath to the front yard.

Along with building more space for birds, I'm going to create a lot of space for solitary bees, plant a bunch of flowers for the butterflies, and hopefully add a bat house... but those are posts for another time.

I love the winter - I get a chance to mess around with projects that aren't related to planting and harvesting.

Can anyone think of other wildlife that would be worth bringing into the food forest?

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Start the New Year With A New Crop: Yacon!

I was over at Mart's place this weekend, checking out his cool wicking beds and seeing how his permaculture plans have progressed. While there, I saw a big, rough-looking plant and asked him what it was.

"Yacon," he replied, "And it's time to harvest."

So harvest we did, and tasted it. Here's the documentary evidence, thanks to Mart:

I got a bunch of chunks to plant in the food forest. Awesome plant.

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