Monday, March 31, 2014

“I Can’t Plant A Food Forest… Where Would The Kids Play?” DEBUNKED!

“I can’t plant a food forest! I have kids! They need a lawn to play in!”

Have you ever had that thought? Though it seems like a strange excuse to some of us mad plant scientists, I’ve heard it multiple times.

There’s this idea that the lawn is sacred and that it’s just The Place for kids to play. But what if you live in the forest? Would kids not be able to play?

I think Christopher Robin would disagree with that conjecture.

Sure, a lawn is good for “kill the man with the ball,” soccer, slip n’ slides and wrestling… but the forest has its own appeal. Secret hideouts, climbing trees, hide and seek, tree forts; heck, even paintball is better in the woods.

Just because you have forest instead of lawn, it certainly doesn’t mean your kids will have no place to play. In fact, they’ll probably have more fun playing than they would in a bare yard. Let’s take a look at a few of the amazing perks of involving children in your food forest project.

Benefit #1: It’s Fun To Play In The Woods

A few years ago when I began The Great South Florida Food Forest Project in my amazing parents’ backyard, my mom, always thinking of children and grandchildren, told me she didn’t want to take up so much yard that there wasn’t a play area.

Unfortunately for mom, I have a rebellious streak and my dad is also a free thinker… so piece by piece, we filled up a lot of the former play area with plants. Cassavas, an avocado, naranjillas, cannas, a mulberry tree… the list kept growing as the “lawn” shrank.

Last fall I made some proper paths through the rapidly growing forest area:



A week or so after I installed them and went home, my mom called me.

“I was watching the _____ kids for their mom the other day… they really love those paths! They were running and skipping through the food forest and bumping into eachother… hiding back there and having a good old time. Abi (my niece) loves them too!”

When you build a food forest, you’re building a managed forest ecosystem. No big bad wolves or witches with gingerbread houses – which is good, because gingerbread can’t compare to fresh fruit and nuts. 

Just ask your local dietician.

Benefit #2: Your Kids Get To Pick and Eat Real Food

You might not be able to get your baby to eat healthy and delicious limburger cheese (I’ve tried… the baby just won’t. I think he thinks it’s some kind of carrion), but I haven’t met many kids that hate fruit. In my yard I’ve got a great variety of edible berries and fruit, many of which I planted with children in mind. 

Jamaican cherries, blueberries, mulberries, strawberries, figs, kumquats, Simpson stoppers, beauty berries… the list just keeps going. (BTW, the baby REALLY loves Simpson stoppers: proof.)

As a kid we had a grapefruit tree in the backyard. We ate them, threw fruit at the neighbor girl, built a tree fort in the grapefruit’s branches and generally adored that old tree. Another much-beloved tree in my wife’s old neighborhood was a wonderfully productive mulberry. We stained ourselves purple and ate… and ate… and ate... (CLICK TO KEEP READING)

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Your Garden Can Beat Climate Change, Disease and Looters: Here’s How

When the potato famine hit Ireland in the 1800s, it left three million people dead.

Three million. Because they were relying on one crop.

Are you doing the same? Let’s take a few minutes and consider the “what ifs” of a total collapse… then see if we can beat them with a little planning.

What If We Get Some Serious Climate Change?

A mild winter allowed this “Tropic Beauty” peach to get a head start on its relatives with higher chill requirements.

People have been worried about the climate for years. Whether you feel we’re shivering into a new ice age or sweating our way towards global warming, the climate is a fickle thing. It’s changed before – many times – trailing extinctions, shattered empires and starvation in its wake.

How can you beat something so large?

With plant diversity.

Annuals aren’t the biggest problem in a climate change scenario. Sure, you might get shorter summers that wipe out your corn… or rainfall that threatens to overwhelm your squash with mold… but it’s the trees that really suffer in a big shift. You can switch annual crops as needed but an orchard is a long-term commitment.

Different fruit and nut species have specific requirements. Some don’t like too much cold… others need lots of cold or they won’t bloom at the right time.

The wise gardener should plan ahead by planting a wide range of varieties in his garden. Just changing up your cultivars of one fruit can make a big difference.

Let’s look at peaches. As an extreme example, “Belle of Georgia” needs 850 chill hours(1) to bloom; “Tropic Beauty” needs only 150.(2)

If you get a mild winter… your “Belle of Georgia” will almost assuredly fail to bloom in spring… and may not even wake up until summer. If you get a long winter, your Tropic Beauty is likely to bloom early and lose all its blooms to frost.

Spreading your chill hour requirements that far apart probably isn’t necessary… but I grow trees here that have a range of about 150 – 500 so I can get fruit regularly.

My Tropic Beauty peach now has peaches on it… but my Flordaking (a 400 chill-hour peach) has nary a bud.

Look at your USDA growing zone and plant fruit and nut trees and varieties that grow further south and further north. Then you’ve got a cushion.

I’m growing pears, oranges, papaya, chestnuts and even sweet cherries now. Some of these aren’t even close to being “proper” for my growing zone… but every year, as the climate swings back and forth, different plants that thrive and produce.

What If We Get A Serious Pest Or Disease?

This avocado tree had all its above-ground growth killed by laurel wilt disease. Now young shoots struggle to grow around the dead stump.
This avocado tree had all its above-ground growth killed by laurel wilt disease. Now young shoots struggle to grow around the dead stump.
If the Irish had balanced out their reliance on potatoes by maintaining another staple, there would be more redheads in the world right now (which would be a very good thing.) Unfortunately, their climate and relative poverty gave them very few options, the only alternative being small grains with relatively low yield compared to potatoes.

What was needed was more diversity among potatoes. Lots and lots of varieties would have helped keep the blight from striking as hard as it did.

I never plant one type of potato. In fact, three is usually my minimum.

Again, you don’t know what will happen from year to year. The sure-fire crop for 2013 could be a flop in 2014.

Here’s another example: for year, avocadoes have been an easy tree to grow in South Florida. Now, however, a wood-boring beetle has arrived carrying a fungus that can completely destroy an avocado tree – almost overnight. I’ve seen lovely trees that had all their above-ground growth knocked off by this disease of the laurel family.

If you’re a farmer in Homestead counting on having an orchard of avocados to feed you in your old age and bring in some income… you may now be up guacamole creek without a corn chip.


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Planning a Food Forest? Don't Go Scorched Earth!

I’ve recently been engaged in discussions with a couple of folks planning food forest systems… and there’s one question that keeps coming up.

“Should I clear out everything before I plant?”

If you’re planting into an existing forest, I’d argue that it’s almost easier than starting with a bare field.

“But how can that be, Davy G? All that chopping! All those horrible invasive weed trees! All the shade! Heavens… give me a lawn any day!”

I know. Starting with a bunch of huge oaks or towering poplars is daunting… but there are benefits to starting with an established and mature ecosystem.

“Like what? My chainsaw budget is already outrageous… and all I’ve done is carve a manatee mailbox with it!”

Yes, yes… I’m getting to it. Stop interrupting!

A forest is more than trees. It’s a huge web of interactions. Birds, mammals, reptiles and insects fill a healthy piece of woodland… and things are even more complicated beneath the surface. In the trees’ “rhizosphere,” i.e., where the roots live, there’s an amazing diversity of microscopic activity going on. The complexity of a forest microecology is far beyond that of a simple lawn… and you’re going to want to keep those interactions going for optimum success in your project.

Here are a few tips.

1. Make The Pests Work For You

If you have fast-growing foliage, dense thickets or invasive species on your plot, you can often use many of them to your advantage. Let’s take a look at one common example. One of the trees of the southeast that I get plenty of complaints about is this deceptively beautiful invasive:

Photo credit: Rusty Clark. CC license.

That’s a mimosa tree, also called a silk tree, known properly as Albizia julibrissin. It often grows in disturbed areas along roadsides, as an understory tree on forest edges, and right in the middle of your landscaping where you don’t want it. The tree is a prolific seeder and grows very rapidly. It will come back from the ground if you chop it down so killing it can be tough.

That said… why kill it? Unless you’re a native plant purist and can’t stand to have your property defiled by an invader, there are some great uses for this tree.

First of all, it’s a nitrogen-fixer. If you plant a fruit tree next to a mimosa tree, then chop the mimosa branches as they reach above the fruit tree, your fruit tree will do better than if it was planted alone. Every time you cut back a nitrogen-fixing tree, nitrogen is released as the root mass declines in response to the loss of canopy. 

Secondly, you can use the chopped branches as mulch around the base of your fruit tree… which leads me to my next point.

2. Harvest the Biomass

If you have a forest, you have a lot of resources. One mistake I see people making all the time: they cut down trees and shrubs, then burn them to clear the ground. 

Don’t do that! You’re literally sending your soil fertility up in smoke. If you plant wanted species, then chop and drop the unwanted species to feed them, you’re saving on mulch and soil amendments as well as feeding the all-important soil microecology.

At this point, I must confess: when I first bought my current property, I needed to clear some oaks to make way for my garden. Once they were felled, I was overwhelmed with the amount of debris so I burned it. The next year, I really got into the idea of hugelkultur beds and feeding rotten wood to my food forest. 

I kicked myself over that one. 

BUT – it’s never too late to repent. Even if you simply set aside logs and let them gracefully rot away into the ground, you’ll be adding greatly to the soil beneath.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Nathan's Pet Snails"

The other day my oldest son brought me a 2007 issue of Highlights magazine he'd been given in a box of books. In it was an article on snails he thought I'd enjoy - and that perhaps I'd like to post here.

After reading it through, I looked the piece up and was pleased to see it had also been posted online.

I think you'll enjoy it too:

Some things about Nathan’s pet snails seemed strange right from the start.

First, they were fast. They could travel the length of Nathan’s forearmfrom his thumb to his elbowbefore he could say their names: Soldier and Ephenie.

Second, they were big. With bodies fully extended from their narrow tube-like shells, these snails stretched as long as Nathan’s index finger.  

The garden snails he usually found were about the size of his thumbnail.
And finally, Nathan’s pet snails weren’t much interested in lettuce or other green leaves, the usual snail food.

The Mystery Solved
By the time Nathan decided to investigate, he had adopted his fourth snail. He took Soldier III in a plastic container with dirt, leaves, and a water dish to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

There, he showed the snail to Dr. Bob Jones, the curator of invertebrates. Invertebrates are animals with no backbones, including snails. Dr. Jones said Soldier was a rosy wolfsnail. He was a predatory snail, which means a snail that eats animalsin this case, other snails or slugs.

“Rosy wolfsnails are native to the Southeast region,” Dr. Jones told Nathan. “They’re great to have in your garden because they keep the other snail and slug populations down. (Keep reading)

The rosy wolfsnail is the same species I wrote about back in January.

It's amazing what you can discover in your backyard.

It's also nice to have kids that get excited about nature enough to share their discoveries - and the occasional article - with their dad.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In case you haven't seen it: Permaculture Paradise at Val and Eli's

This is worth taking the time to watch - I've seen it a few times now and there's always more to catch. Lots of info, plus you get a great idea for what can be done in a small space:

I'm psyched about this year's growing season. Because my space is ten times as large as the one in the video, my efforts across it have been diluted. As I've planted more and more, however, the entire front yard is becoming an Eden of fruits, flowers and wildlife.

I noticed the first new leaves on my persimmon trees today. Life is good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Beating pollen season

Photo credit.
It's that time of year.

The time for drifts of falling yellow.

The time for golden dust on your car.

And, in my case, the time for red eyes, sneezing, headaches and wheezing.

I've been staying inside as much as possible (which kills me) on dry, sunny days.

I did go out to Lowe's one day and was recognized by a friend. My eyes were swollen and I know looked pretty lousy. (Pollen season is really a difficult time for one blessed with my natural good looks... being without them... even just having red eyes for a bit... tough.)

I could see the worry in his eyes. Was Dave on drugs?

"No," I said in response to his unasked question, "it's not the Faces of Meth... it's just pollen season."

I had an idea, though, when I got home that night.

What if I got a pair of goggles and a particulate mask? Then I can rock that Zombie Apocalypse look, plus be free to go outside without succumbing to the YELLOW DEATH.

So... a couple of days ago, I hit Amazon and bought this.

Now I just need a chainsaw for all the stupid oaks.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Herrick Kimball's "Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian" Kindle edition on sale for $0.99 this weekend


Herrick is the real deal.

Inventor, family man, gardener, small businessman... the kind of fellow that made America what it is.

Worth reading and worth supporting.

If I owned a Kindle, I'd buy a copy.

The Power of Microclimates: Peaches in Paris

One of the members of posted this fascinating article last week:

Peaches grown right here in Paris? Believe it or not, centuries ago, Paris became home to a thriving peach farming industry that produced up to 17 million fruits a year– and even today, a little-known community of cultivators are still growing them in the very same orchards.
Established during the seventeenth century, in a prominent neighbourhood of the eastern edge of Paris known as Montreuil, a 300 hectare maze walls and agricultural plots provided a unique and unlikely microclimate for the fruit, normally suited for cultivation in warmer areas such as France’s Mediterranean coast.
The peculiar architecture, known as “Murs à pêches”, wall for peaches, served to protect peach trees planted near the walls and adapt them to a much colder environment than the fruit is typically used to (READ THE REST)

See all the walls? This is how I grow Key Limes here in N. Florida.

The "peach walls" idea requires a lot of infrastructure, certainly, but it does make you think, doesn't it? Imagine reclaiming an old industrial space and creating an orchard! The crumbling walls of a Detroit factory could be used as microclimates to grow nectarines... the south-facing sides of a New York bridge could shelter plums... or perhaps we could tear down the banks in Florida and plant the ruins with starfruit and papaya.

Grand dreams aside, there's likely a space on your property that will support species that don't normally thrive in your region. Your job is to find it. And plant something!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Goodies in the mail

When I started this blog a year and a half ago, I never imagined some of the side benefits.

I've gained quite a few new friends, gotten help identifying rare species, been hired to write by other good sites and even ended up with some great teaching gigs.

Beyond that, though... checking my PO box has now become an adventure.

Check out a few of the nifty things that have arrived randomly in the mail.

That little book came from Herrick Kimball, one of my favorite agrarian writers and inventors. I also have a sneaking suspicion he's actually a long-lost relation. We share a lot of similar views.

This last week I got another surprise from my new friend Kathy:

SEEDS! Lots and lots of weird seeds. Plus a great letter that included this printout:

I laughed out loud.

I also have no idea where you'd get chocolate pudding fruit seeds. You can find the trees for sale down in S. Florida, though. They won't grow up here, sadly, because they're not very cold tolerant. (Maybe that's a breeding project I should undertake). I planted one in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project... if that makes seeds, I'll mail some to you, Kathy.

Finally... at one of my recent talks, my friend Louise randomly gave me a totally cool book:

That's from 1902 and is quite a fun read... the authoress is quite amusing, plus the illustrations are fantastic:

Beyond these gifts, I've been given tropical celery (thanks, Jorge!)... sent hazelnut seedlings (awesome, Jay!)... and even gotten a tool or two to try out.

Folks ask me if this blog makes any money. The answer is: very, very little. About $3-5 a month in Amazon sales.

I've been told, "David... why would you spend all that time doing a daily gardening blog that doesn't pay you anything?"

My answer: life is more than money.

Trading seeds and getting random presents from people that appreciate the research and knowledge I share... that's satisfying.

One day I may strike it rich... but I already feel rich.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

From the inbox: Growing corn right in a bed of mulch

My friend rycamor writes:

Check this out: I figured I would try to do something useful with the rest of that leaf mulch (a one-year-old pile of leaves), so I just raked it out to a 10x20' space and scattered the Red Flint corn in there.

I've literally watered it only once. The corn just took off. Apparently it loves that loose leaf mulch soil. Pulled a couple up and the roots
are already over 6" long.

Amazing. Now I wonder if I would have success sowing corn into the mulch in my food forest. The kids threw some beans out there and they look pretty good.

Large-seeded species are pretty forgiving.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Manure: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Awful

“Cows, Water and Trees.” Original painting by the amazing Roos Schuring.

Organic gardeners love manure; yet if you use it wrong, you may destroy all you’ve worked for.

I recently was e-mailed by a regular reader. She wrote:

“Hey David, have you done a post on the different types of manure yet?
The reason I asked is that I’m looking to grow my gardening area (the size) and was thinking about what type of compost/manures to add. I thought about your post about compost manure can be a concern and also from the ag county may have herbicide. I was also considering mushroom compost (mushroom farm nearby —) but read about the concerns of how the treat for bugs, etc.

So what did I come up with? Bunny poop! :) I found on craigslist two bunny poop suppliers here in — – woot! :) Very inexpensive, one is $3/50 lb size bag, other $12/50 lb bag (theirs is dried). Since I’m dumping on the ground as soon as I get bags, not worried about it being “wet”.

Also, I asked the Ag extension people and they said to not worry about herbicides in their compost, it’s all gone by the time it’s available.

Sooooo, with spring around the corner and warm crops needing to go in – if you haven’t done a manure article yet, you might want to consider it. I know I spent hours researching this and would have LOVED a simple article explaining all this! LOL Yeah, it’ all about me. :)”

“All about me” or not, it’s a good idea. So let’s do it.

Why Manure?

The earth was designed to be a self-perpetuating system; many animals feed off plants… which in turn feed off animals, both on their manure and eventually on their bodies when they die.

As animals graze, they pick up plenty of nutrients and what they can’t use during the course of the day gets excreted. Both urine and manure are good for gardening but if you’ve ever tried to get a goat to pee into a mayonnaise jar, you know why farmers usually just collect manure for their plots. Using animal droppings for farming also makes sense because it closes the “nutrient loop” and reincorporates fertility into the soil, rather than disposing of it off site (city sewer engineers… I’m looking at you!).

For most of recorded history, man has used manure to nourish his crops. Unfortunately, that usage fell drastically with the advent of the tractor and the rise of chemical fertilization. It’s a lot easier to handle dry granules with perfect NPK ratios than it is to collect and distribute manure. On a small family farm, where you might have chickens, goats, a cow or even a horse, using manure is easy… but it’s not so easy on large farms that are growing monoculture crops without the use of animals.

Unlike chemical fertilizers, manure contains a broad range of nutrients. It also contains organic matter and a range of microorganisms that improve the tilth of the soil and its biodiversity.

My aunt, the most amazing gardener I know, once told me that she and my uncle had dropped a load of cow manure on their property and incorporated it into their gardens as needed. The surprising thing was that the place where they’d originally piled it up off the trailer remained green and lush for years after the manure had been used up. That’s good stuff.

What Manure?

This is where things get a little more complicated. The gardener has a variety of manures available for his fertilizing arsenal so one must ask what is the best manure for your garden. Some are usually too “hot” to use right away, like cow, bat or chicken wastes… others are filled with weed seed, like horse droppings… and others, like humanure, need to be handled carefully to avoid contact with pathogens.

The good news: composting fixes everything. If you’re not sure if manure will be too hot, compost it. Waiting will allow some of the nitrogen to dissipate and kill off pathogens. A few months is usually good enough, but if you’re paranoid, two years is the magic number in for complete safety.

Goat and rabbit manure are super-special because you can apply them directly to the garden without having to worry about burning your plants. In fact, the gal who wrote me was lucky to get “bunny poop,” since that’s one of the highest quality droppings you’ll find anywhere.

Though chicken manure sometimes gets a bad rap for being a garden killer, I’ve found that side-dressing plants with a dusting of dry chicken manure works well. Just go light – I went a little nuts one year and roasted some of my kale. If your plants turn yellow and brown, then you’re doing it wrong.

For my field corn, I put a couple shovelfuls of chicken manure into the bottom of a 55 gallon drum, then fill 2/3rds full of water. Every time I visited my field – about every two weeks or so – I’d stir the amazing-smelling slop and then fill a couple of cheap watering cans (with the nozzle roses removed) and walk along the corn rows letting the manure water stream out. This works wonders.

Whatever manure you have access to, chances are there’s a use for it in your garden… unless… well, you’d better just keep reading.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Inoculating pawpaw trees with fungi

Inoculating your plants with fungi probably isn't on the top of most gardener's "to-do" lists - and it may smack of voodoo for some - but indulge me for a moment.

I've read about the microbiology of soil and heard plenty about how long it takes for some trees to establish without having the right microorganisms in the soil. Fungi have complex relationships with a variety of plants and allow them to reach further through the soil and reach nutrients that would normally be inaccessible to the plant alone.

I planted a few of Terri's native pawpaw trees last year - and I bought three more from her to plant this year.

When I was out with my wife today at a doctor's appointment (scientists are still baffled by my remarkable transhuman DNA patterning), there was a weedy lot next to the parking area.

There in front of us, I spotted a few small pawpaw trees. They didn't look all that happy, but I went further into the lot and found a larger group of very healthy specimens.

The thought hit me: I should grab some dirt from around the happy trees and take it home to inoculate my pawpaws.

So I did.

When I got home that evening, it was rapidly getting dark but I went ahead and "treated" my trees in the fading light.

Here's how I inoculated my pawpaws:

Step 1: I took dirt from around healthy trees

Step 2: I mixed some in a bucket of rainwater (not chlorinated water)

Step 3: I pulled back the mulch around my trees and poured it on

That's it.

Grow, little mycellium... grow!

There's really no way to tell if this fungi inoculation works, at least not without a proper control group, but I think it's a good practice.

I believe in the power of mycorrhizal fungi... do you?

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Native Florida Plant Source

Photo credit: Hawthorn Hill Native Wildflower and Rare Plant Nursery

These folks know their stuff:

I've been reading that site for a while and really love the profiles on various natives. They also have some of them for sale.

When you plan gardens and food forest systems, I feel it's important to include habitat and living space for native species. Plant native plants and you'll attract a variety of useful insects, birds, reptiles, etc.

Plus, you're doing your part to keep Florida plants growing. It's no secret that I'm a fan of some "invasive" species, and I like growing crops from all over the world... but I also love to see the wonderful variety of plants that would have been seen by the early explorers of our very blessed peninsula.

Check 'em out.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: New Photos

I've been meaning to post these pictures for a couple of weeks now. They were taken in mid-February and I'm sure everything looks even better now... but here goes.

First of all, this is the salad bed I posted on a few months ago:

As you can tell, it filled in nicely. In the foreground is a band of kale... and in the back are all perennial greens.

Next, here's a shot of the food forest from the front:

There's a lot going on in there and the native wildflowers have taken a liking to the undergrowth. Bees, wasps, butterflies, birds and reptiles have moved in rapidly and are enjoying the slice of paradise.

Here's one of the other paths - notice the mango blooms to the right:

Moringa and papaya are silhouetted against a rainy sky:

The acerola cherry is looking bushy and healthy:

Again, here's a view from another angle of the back food forest - how many species can you spot?

Papaya trees hug the wall:

Mangoes prepare to delight:

The tropical almond - which started as a seedling with two leaves - has grown by leaps and bounds:

Malanga and naranjilla exist in harmony:

Tomatoes climb the fence next to a baby Monstera.

More diversity than any other yard on the block:

The chocolate pudding fruit is even putting on some new growth. The tree was root-bound and chlorotic when we bought it... it's a lot better now:

Altogether, this has been a most worthwhile project. Production is minimal at this point... but the bounty is on its way.

Plus, it's a lot prettier than a regular, boring patch of grass.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Growing apples in Florida

Photo credit (cc license)

Can you grow apples in Florida? The answer is yes - and not just the type you think might grow here. Since I'm on an apple kick right now... today I'm posting some more tantalizing info... this time on growing apples in the tropics.

The article below was pointed out to me by several folks and is definitely worth sharing:

It is a shock to many people that yes, apples can be grown in a tropical climate, and have been grown by the millions for many years.  

This goes against the conventional wisdom that apples need between 800-1,000 hours below 7° C. (45° F.) in order to break dormancy and set fruit.  But experience has shown that using tropic apple culture methods can fool the tree into thinking that it's chilling-hour needs- whatever they may be- have been satisfied and it will then blossom and fruit.  You still must be choosy about which varieties to plant, and the tree will act much different than in a cold climate, but the end result is crisp, juicy, tasty apples.

It was then assumed that apples could be grown only in the highland tropic areas that receive quite a bit of cold weather, but not down in the lowlands with the heat and humidity. 

However a three-year study¹ in Nigeria and Southwest Cameroon proved that this was wrong. In that study 18 localities in Nigeria and 8 in Southwest Cameroon comprising both cool highlands and hot tropic lowlands were selected and planted with the apple variety Anna and a pollinator.  Several different cultural methods such as planting density and irrigation were employed at each location and an evaluation of the fruit pack-out was done at the completion... (KEEP READING)

Before I "retired" as a Master Gardener, I was taught that you can basically only grow Anna, Dorsett, Ein Shemer and Tropic Sweet apples in Florida... yet I'm discovering that apples are apparently a lot more tolerant of our climate than previously suspected. Even some of the classic "northern" varieties can be managed in Florida with a little adjustment.

The more you think you know...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Growing apples from seed

Is growing apples from seed worth doing?

I met a fellow via e-mail recently who has a wide range of named varieties and seedlings growing down in Polk county... and fruiting. Everything from Granny Smith to unnamed types.

I'm totally impressed.

You already know my answer on whether it's worth growing fruit trees from seed, but yesterday I found an excellent article (and blog) that gives us lots more to think about:

When writing about apples and their propagation in both technical and popular literature, it seems almost compulsory for the author to assure us that if we grow an apple from a seed, that it will not be the same as the apple that we took the seed from.  

We are usually further assured that the chances of  actually growing a toothsome new apple variety bursting with juice and flavor from those little seeds are extremely dismal.  One might imagine, and sometimes we are even subject to descriptions of, the small, hard, green, sour, bitter and worm eaten result of such an experiment!  In the past, I have been discouraged from making the experiment of growing apples from seed by this common knowledge, especially upon learning that modern apple breeding programs cull thousands of seedlings to find one gem worthy of propagation.

I will concede that under many circumstances growing apples from seed may not be the wisest course of action or the most likely to yield the greatest reward.  Who wants to invest in the time and patience required for the growing of an entire tree only to find the secret unlocked from it’s genes by our roll of the dice is some hard green apples for the kids to throw at each other?   Not I, not ye, not no one!  I only know of one apple that is supposed to grow fairly true to seed and that is the Snow Apple A.K.A. Fameuse.  Otherwise the chances are that a seedling will be at least somewhat unlike it’s parents.  But then, this genetic variability is what really makes the apple able to give us the great variety that it offers.
The genes of the apple hold many secrets.   

Combinations and mutations of it’s genes have already yielded a remarkable array of attributes.  Resistance can be found to many diseases.  Northern Spy is nearly immune to the wooly aphid and breeders used it to bring us resistant rootstocks.  Some trees do well in wet soil, some in drier soil.  Some require a long chill in winter while others can bask in tropic heat with virtually no chill and not only grow and fruit, but also produce a delicious apple.  And we all know that apples come in a great variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some will ripen in early summer and others can hang on the tree well into winter and even into the spring.  Some must be eaten post haste before they begin to deteriorate while still others have kept in a common cellar for two years.  

What most do not know however, is the flavor potential locked within the gene pool of the apple.

Apples encompass an amazingly diverse range of flavors which most people never even have a chance to explore.  banana, mango, fennel, berry, pineapple, citrus, cherry, rose, vanilla, spices, pear, wine, “apple”, jolly rancher’s candy and more all lurk in those genes.  Probably the greatest variety of flavors contained within any fruit. (Keep reading)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to keep mosquitoes out of your pond

Add fish... say goodbye to mosquitoes:

Those are "feeder" goldfish from a local pet store. They were originally an inch or so long and they're about 4" now. Goldfish will clean up mosquito larva like mad. Another good fish is the local native "mosquito fish," which is a minnow-sized little guy you can easily catch in almost any local body of water.

It's a good idea to keep lots of water on your property, both for emergencies and for the wildlife it attracts. You just don't want to breed mosquitoes.

An interesting tidbit: putting some ponds (that include larva-eating fish) in your yard will actually lower your overall mosquito population in the neighborhood by providing a place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. The female will assume her job is done, not knowing that her precious little babies will soon be fish food.

That's one less batch of mosquito eggs that will be hatching in the old tire pile next door.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Science Project: Growing Almonds and Cherries in Florida

"It's totally impossible."

"You can't do it."

"They won't work."

"(Insert pest/disease here) kills them."

"The chill hours are wrong."

"The extension says you can't."


I promised in a post last week that I'd tell you about my attempt to grow sweet cherries in Florida.

It gets better than that. I am trying cherries this year... but I'm also trying almonds as well. Here's the proof:

Yes. I spent that much on an experiment. See how much I love all of you?

Apparently, you can't grow cherries because the chill hours are wrong here... and you can't grow almonds because the humidity messes up the fruit.

On the first problem, there is hope. People are growing apples in the tropics. Check this link out.

One of the keys seems to be stripping off the leaves to induce dormancy. No problem - I'll do that.

As for almonds, here's my thought: the climate is changing.


No, I haven't. But climate is a dynamic thing.

This year we had a very strange winter. Up north, people were buried under snow and suffered brutal lows... here, it was pretty warm... though much, much wetter than usual.

My thought is this: if the winter was wet, could it be that we're shifting to a more rainy winter/dry summer climate, like much of Georgia? If so... perhaps almonds will in fact become possible here.

My goal is to get the trees going, feed them well and treat them as my honored guests... in the hope that they may start bearing and perhaps even giving me good nuts in favorable years. Just because there's no "commercial" potential doesn't mean it's impossible.

Somebody needs to try and write about it. I searched and searched for good data and have come up empty. So I'm making it now.

Let's go:

Cherry Test Varieties:



Coral Champagne

Almond Test Varieties:

Texas Mission
Ne Plus

Tree Source: 

Willis Orchards

Test Location:

North Central Florida; Latitude: 29, Longitude: -82

Plant Date:



Trees arrived bareroot on 2/25. All 4' tall or shorter. Planted in sand. Light dappled shade, Southwestern exposure. Spacing: 12'. Trees dormant at planting. Planters: David Goodman and Democritus "Jeffrey" Xenophon III.

Above: just-planted almond tree.

Above: just-planted cherry tree.

This, my friends, is how to really figure out what grows in your area. Try everything... be prepared to fail... and see what happens.

If these trees successfully produce any fruit at all, the seeds from those fruit will be planted right here in my yard... and we'll try again and again until something takes, even if the parents succumb.

(Updates and more photos will be posted in the future.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Speaking/Plant Sale Tonight in Volusia County

If you live in the area, come on by.

I'll be getting into the spring spirit by teaching easy gardening for Florida - plus I'll have a bunch of good plants with me for sale, including cold-hardy bananas, pomegranates, pears, mulberries and persimmons.

TIME: 6:30 PM to


Pelican Cove West Clubhouse

299 Falcon Ave, Edgewater, FL (map)

Hopefully I'll see some of you there.

-David the Good

Friday, March 7, 2014

More on the wonder of weeds

I really, really love weeds.

There are so many reasons to be happy for weeds. They harbor beneficial insects, keep the sand from blowing around, feed the soil, mine for nutrients...

There's just good. Sure, we have to fight with many of them to keep our more "desirable" plants happy, but weeds are still a net gain, not a loss.

They're also beautiful. Take a look at these lyreleaf sage blooms:


They're perfect for picking and giving to your mom in a bouquet, aren't they? My kids sure seem to think so... and I agree with them. Who needs to buy expensive sprayed roses when you can pick these by the road?

Another one I love: thistles.

Their deep taproots make them great nutrient accumulators, plus they have a wild spiny exuberance that I find irresistible. Tear up a patch of ground and they'll often pop up even if you've never seen them there before. They also have nice, puffy seed heads, just like dandelions.

As a final bonus, they're edible, like many of our "weeds."

You can plant a garden to get nice, big sweet salads... but if you want to eat some seriously healthy vegetation, foraging for wild greens is where it's at.


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