Wednesday, April 30, 2014

7 Survival Crops You Can Grow Without Irrigation

Did you realize that many vegetables will grow without irrigation?

Like us, most plants thrive when they get plenty of water – but some crops are also very good at mining for the moisture they need and hanging on to whatever falls from heaven.
When it comes to survival gardening, ensuring a good supply of water should be a top priority, yet there are times when it isn’t easy to drag water around or get irrigation to a field. If that’s the case, you might need to think differently about both how you grow and what you grow.
Steve Solomon wrote an excellent book on gardening without irrigation that really nails down some techniques, plus shares the great potential of dryland farming. You can read it for free here. Just a heads-up: typical intensive raised bed production is NOT the way to grow crops without water. Go read Solomon’s book if you’re interested. Seriously.
For now, though – let’s take a look at seven survival crops that are pretty easy to grow without irrigation. Let’s attack them in alphabetical order. Just because.


Amaranth - a crop you can grow without irrigationAmaranth is an ancient “grain.” (It’s not a true grain… it’s actually a “psuedo-cereal,” in case you were wondering). If you’ve read many of my gardening articles, you know I have a love-hate relationship with grains. Grains are generally not the best option for long-term survival for a number of reasons, but a couple of them stand out: amaranth and corn. (We’ll cover corn next, since it comes after amaranth in the alphabet.)
The reason amaranth stands apart as a grain is that it’s also a good leaf vegetable. It also requires minimal processing to be edible. Sure, the yields are low, but it’s easy to grow and it will usually yield abundantly even without being watered by man. I planted some a few years ago and it’s reseeded and come back again and again without any help from me… I just pop out and harvest it when I think about it.


Corn will grow without irrigationThis last year I conducted my first experiment growing corn without irrigation and was quite happy with the results. It wasn’t quite a fair test since we had a wetter spring than usual, but there were a couple of weeks in a row that went by without rain. Though folks often think of corn as a “needy” crop, some of the old heirlooms are true survivors. They were bred in an era before high-pressure sprinklers blasted water fifty feet into the air. Corn was a big part of Southwestern agriculture before the Spanish arrived… and you can bet the Aztecs weren’t that interested in hauling big clay pots of water around.

Jerusalem Artichokes

I’ve never had to water Jerusalem artichokes, either here in Florida sand or up north in Tennessee clay. They go through long stretches of low rainfall without complaint and always produce more tubers than you can eat. As a bonus, they’re perennial... 
(CLICK HERE to keep reading over at The Prepper Project)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Announcing My Brand-New YouTube Series: Crash Gardening

I've been wanting to "up" the quality of my YouTube videos for a while so I hired a videographer to get me started.

His name is Jeff and he's my cousin. And when I asked for explosions, he added them.

Life doesn't get any better.

Thanks to his hard work, we've now got multiple episodes and a few short features in the hopper.

So, without further ado... let's jump in with a short Crash Gardening Review of a couple of great hoes (a digging hoe and a grape hoe) I was given by Greg from


I made a mistake in my tool names... pulled the video until I can fix it. An ignominious start to a new series, to be sure... but that's the way the gardening crumbles.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Elderberries are blooming across Florida

Keep your eyes open for patches of elderberries at this time of year. The blooms are a dead giveaway:

As I travel Florida's turnpike north of Orlando, I see many hundreds of stands of elderberries.

Keep your eyes open now, then you can go back and harvest the excellent medicinal berries in a couple of months.

Places to look: swamps, drainage ditches, forest edges, roadsides. Elderberries like moist soil and will live in half-shade to full sun.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

We remember

Friday, April 25, 2014

Foreign Bananas Are Born In Sin And Filled With Pure Evil... So Grow Your Own Instead

My wife sent me an article the other day that contained some interesting (in a bad way) information on banana cultivation:

You’ve eaten a banana. You may be eating one right now. If you live in the U.S., it’s probable that you’ve eaten more bananas than any other type of fruit (save the oranges in your morning glass of juice) even though commercial bananas probably don’t grow anywhere close to your local supermarket.

According to, Almost 100 million metric tons of bananas are consumed every year. Bananas are cheap, they taste good, and they’re convenient, but should you keep eating them? I quit bananas several years ago for a few reasons.
The Cavendish, the type of banana we’re most familiar with, is high in sugar. Per 100-gram serving, it contains MORE sugar than soda (12 grams to 9 grams). Of course, bananas’ sugars are naturally occurring and healthier than the junk in soda. But even though bananas are rich in fiber and potassium, they are a highly sweet fruit. The riper a banana gets, the sweeter, too.
If you’re minding your sugar intake for health reasons, this is one fruit that you might do best to replace with something less sweet. Strawberries, for example, have one-third fewer sugars.
While more than 15 percent of all bananas are Rainforest Alliance certified, which is helping to correct some issues in the banana industry, the majority of the bananas that are sold in the U.S. aren’t Fair Trade, or Rainforest Alliance certified. Banana plantations have been called out for using child labor, clear cutting massive swaths of our deteriorating rainforest, and implicated in political corruption, reports “Large corporations involved in banana production have historically had negative influence over Latin American governments in the countries where their plantations are based...” (KEEP READING)

We live in Florida. You CAN grow your own bananas here. If you aren't, maybe it's time to start.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

At the 326 Community Market TODAY From 3-7PM

I'll be back at the 326 Market in Ocala today, plants in tow.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.

Google map is here.

Their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info):

Here's a sample of what I'll be bringing with me this week:

Variegated Agave
Pears (I've now got Pineapple pears!)
Surinam cherries


FREE Mystery Seed Balls!

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling melt-on-your-mouth Florida peaches, goat milk soap, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, fresh lemonade, dolls and lovely homemade greeting cards, crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies (really good), local raw honey, homemade birdhouses and more.

It's a great group of people and very friendly... the way a local farmer's market should be.

Come on down.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I am not dead...

...I'm just busy.

I'll post tomorrow. Running a nursery is hectic at this time of year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Another mystery bird

"DAD, look! A bright blue bird," my daughter yelled to me from the living room.

"Where?" I replied, running to the glass. Then, for just a moment, I saw a flash of blue and black as the mysterious visitor darted across the yard and behind our gum tree.

A second later, I saw it again, just barely, in the brush at the base of the tree.

"Good eye, girl," I said to my daughter, "keep watching - I'll get the camera."

I did, then attempted to zoom in and take a shot of the reticent bird through the front glass. The focus was terrible and the bird was moving here and there, so this was the best shot I could take before it disappeared:

I know.

That photo looks something like this:

Or this:

But seriously!

That bird was there, man!

And really blue!

And it was REAL!

I did some looking online and it seems to be an Indigo Bunting.

I found that photo at this, which also has a really nice bird ID filter where you can select regions, colors and body shapes until you find a species you've spotting.

According to their page on our likely visitor, Indigo Buntings prefer "brushy slopes, old pastures and fields grown to scrub, woodland clearings, and forest edges adjacent to fields."

That perfectly describes my up-and-coming food forest. Indigo buntings also eat "insects, larvae, grains, seeds and berries."

Sounds like a healthy diet to me... and one I don't really mind them indulging.

There's a great joy in seeing things I've never seen before - and it happens all the time now that I've quit cutting my grass, added diversity by planting lots of different plants, and kept this little corner of the globe free from chemicals and poisons.

Welcome, lovely friend. You're safe here.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Another good reason to keep nettles around

This isn't the best photo in the world, but it should be good enough for you butterfly watchers to play "name that species:"

Can you tell me what it is?









If you guessed a "Red Admiral," then you're right.

Red Admirals are a butterfly found far beyond just North America. I've seen them before but never really took the time to find out what their babies eat... so I rectified that oversight a couple of days ago by reading up on the species.

Surprisingly, it turns out that Red Admiral caterpillars eat nettles.

Because nettles are a good compost addition as well as being edible, I let them grow here and there in my yard as I've written previously.

Now we have one more reason to let them live.

You never know what damage you might be doing when you start chopping down all the "weeds."

Don't be quick to race for the RoundUp or the lawnmower... the bees, the ladybugs, and the butterflies will all thank you for letting the lawn get shaggy. Sometimes even the biggest "pest" plants are blessings in disguise.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Resurrection and transformation

I saw a beautiful thing on Good Friday: a swallowtail that had just emerged from its chrysalis. The brand new butterfly was climbing up towards the light and stretching its wings for the first time.

It reminded me of what many celebrate this weekend.

Have peace - there is beauty and redemption possible for all thanks to the completed work of Jesus Christ.

The ugliness of the crucifixion led to the wonder of the empty tomb... and eternal life for all those who believe. There is nothing so ugly in your life that it cannot be washed clean by the power of the Resurrection.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 

His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” 

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inb the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As you walk through your garden on this day of remembrance, know that in the end all things will be made beautiful... and that He is alive and with His children forevermore.

Glory to God!

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Can you grow fruit trees in bad soil?

Can you grow fruit trees in bad soil?

Will fruit trees grow in Florida sand?

Will fruit trees grow in pine scrub?

Will fruit trees grow on a train in the rain with a goat on a boat, etc?

If you have lousy soil or white sand in your yard, you may despair of ever growing happy fruit trees... yet all is not lost, even under rough conditions. Fortunately for you, God long ago planned ahead for "bad" dirt and created a variety of edibles that will handle conditions that would be miserable for many of our common fruit trees.

My friend Jeff (Democritus Xenophon III) and I were on our way to deliver a few fruit trees the other day when I had to stop the car because I saw something amazing in an empty, scrubby, rough, white-sand lot by the side of the road.

Here - can you see what made me stop the car?

Probably not. Look a little closer:

Can you see it now?

No? Then I'll make it really easy for you:

Yes. I stopped for that. What can I say? I have incredible plant-sensing powers.

That there is a native Florida pawpaw... and it wasn't alone.

Across this lot we found at least three different species of pawpaws. There are probably a hundred or so individuals altogether.

There's one up close. At this time of year, they're in bloom and thus easy to spot.

In Florida, pawpaws tend to be shrubs, not trees. Here's a shot from a little further back so you can get an idea of perspective.

After they bloom, pawpaws tend to blend into the prairies and forest edges, so keep your eyes open right now so you can identify little ones growing in your neighborhood. Unfortunately, they won't transplant from the wild until you're a total pro, so don't even bother. The tap root is ridiculous and breaking it will kill the plant.

Now - back to my theme of growing fruit trees in bad soil. We now know pawpaws will handle it, but the natives don't usually bear abundant crops. But - after seeing the pawpaws, I stepped a little further into the lot and started poking around.

To my delight, I saw this:

That, my friends, is a native persimmon tree. And like the pawpaws, it wasn't alone. There are probably at least fifty of them along the forest edge, with more seedlings scattered here and there.

Now we have two edible fruit trees that grow in "bad" soil. But we're not done yet. The next plants I discovered aren't trees... but they are wonderful fruit.

Check this out:

It just looks like a bunch of scrubby shrubs, doesn't it? Look closer:

Those are native Florida blueberries. Here's an even closer shot:

Some of these plants are completely covered in berries right now. Our native blueberry plants don't have the large berries of cultivated varieties - but they make up for their tiny size by packing an incredible burst of blueberry flavor you have to taste to believe. In this one lot, there are likely hundreds of blueberry bushes.

Beyond the fruit, I also found multiple other useful and edible species, including spurge nettle (edible root), prickly pear (edible pads and fruit), sumac (edible fruit) and Yucca filamentosa (a source for fiber).

Along with these directly useful plants, there was also a large population of poison oak, a couple of pines, scrub and turkey oaks, various aster family members, smilax and this amazing milkweed:

That's this guy. Beautiful stuff.

Here's another shot:

Can you spot the monarch caterpillar in the image above?


Now, to answer the question "can you grow fruit trees in bad soil?"


Basically, this entire vacant lot is a wild food forest containing a healthy community of plants interacting and producing food with no help at all from humans.

This is why you need to look around at nature constantly and quit trying to force things. You might have a hard time growing apples, peaches, bananas and pears (though some of the pears I carry in my nursery, like the "Pineapple" pear would probably do well) on a lot like this... but you'd probably do great by getting "improved" relatives of the plants that are already there.

If I was going to grow a food forest on land like this, I'd plant Japanese persimmons, rabbiteye blueberries, nopale cactus, cassava and chaya (relatives of spurge nettle), and of course, some pawpaws.

Almost wherever you are, you can grow fruit trees if you let nature be your guide.

Now go.

And look.

And learn with childlike wonder as you see what the Great Gardener has planted.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

At the 326 Community Market today from 3 - 7PM

Last week was a great success. Some lucky folks cleaned me out of chestnut trees, persimmons and blueberries.

That said, I'll be back at the 326 Market in Ocala today.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.

Here's a sample of what I'll be bringing with me:

Native persimmons
Pears (I've now got Pineapple pears!)
Nopale cactus
Surinam cherries


FREE Mystery Seed Balls!

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also vendors selling fresh Florida peaches, goat milk soap, handcrafts, pallet wood furniture, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies (really good), local raw honey, homemade birdhouses and more.

It's a great group of people and very friendly... the way a local farmer's market should be.

Google map is here.

Come on down.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A swarm of bees find a bee log

Read the description in the video. I'm very, very happy.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Definitely a mild winter here

I've never gotten a fresh papaya at this time of year before.

Normally, I have to plant seeds in pots in the spring, let the trees get big, move them to the greenhouse, then late the next year I get ripe papaya. Or... I just have to wait until the trees along my south wall grow back from their roots and bloom again.

This year, some of the trees didn't freeze like they've done every other year.

Oh elusive global warming... please be true!

Pretty please with CO2 on top?


Wait! That's not a cattail!

I added some cattails to one of my hot tub ponds last year. Cattails are excellent water purifiers, as well as being edible. Knowing that, I dug up a few from a swampy area near a local Publix supermarket.

The only thing is... I just found out they weren't cattails. How did I find out?

They bloomed!

Holy moly... that ain't a cattail.

I looked it up in my guide to Florida wildflowers. It's called a Dixie iris. The bloom is almost 6" across... and it's a native.

What a lovely surprise!

Here's a shot from further back:

You can tell, hopefully, how I originally confused them with cattails (especially since I dug them out as small plants). I'm really thrilled to have made this mistake. These irises are truly stunning. Not edible, sadly, but still... it brightened my day to be surprised by incredible flowers. Let's take another look:

Amazing. God is incredibly creative.

Note to self: time to go looking for cattails again.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Awesome loquat tree

A few days ago, Allen The Beekeeper and I made a sacred pilgrimage to visit The Mystical Loquat of CCF.

World's best loquat tree... ever.

I've written about this tree before here. This spring it's outdone itself with production (though as you can tell from the photo, most of the lower fruit have been picked already).

Unlike some loquat trees, the fruit on this one are very sweet and quite large as loquats go.

That's a big loquat.
I'm amazed by the taste of these fruit. Very good. Additionally, the shape of this tree is perfect for harvesting. When you don't "limb up" a loquat, it can become a big ball of branches, making the fruit very easy to harvest.

Confession: this tree is so awesome that I walked up to it and yelled "YOU'RE SO AWESOME I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES!"

Not literally, of course. I just mean I want to propagate it.

I picked plenty of fruit and will be planting the seeds in my nursery so the genes of this great tree are passed on to future generations of loquats. Look me up in a couple of years and I'll sell you a nice one.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sheila attempts drunken composting

This is amusing:

I have a large compost tumbler which we purchased at Tractor Supply last summer.  I put it right outside our back patio door so that it's easily accessible to dump our kitchen scraps into.  I have to admit, it isn't working quite as well or as fast as I had hoped.  It makes kind of a goopy slimy mess.  No resemblance of "soil" in the least.  I've been using this two ways - either I dump it in a pile and work it into a patch of crap soil, or I put a good lump into a 5 gallon bucket, add water, and let it fester for a week and use for "compost tea".  As I'm making the compost in the tumbler, I top each dump of kitchen scraps with a like amount of leaves, which are always within reach thanks to our tropical almond trees.  So the wetness is a mystery.  I guess I'll have to ask hubby to drill holes in the bottom, as he suggested.

So I did a little experiment today making compost in piles.  I used the "drunken compost" method...

Click here to read the rest on Sheila's blog.

There are precisely 1.27 million ways to compost... which do you prefer?

Friday, April 11, 2014

How To Get Your Husband's Help Gardening

“I’m gonna save his sorry hide from starvation if it’s the last thing I do!” Photo credit.
Chances are, you’ve faced this common problem: You want to grow a garden, but your husband couldn’t care less.
You feel a chill when you bring up planting potatoes. Blank stares meet you as you discuss the wonder of squash. And seed-saving? Seriously boring.
When it comes to gardening, you hoe a lonely row. But you hoe it anyway, because you know that a good garden could one day make the difference between inconvenience… and starvation. Why can’t he see what’s so obvious to you? Why won’t your husband tear up some of the lawn? Or spend his Saturday with you and help chop through bindweed and shovel manure on the corn patch?
I know how you feel. Not everyone senses the dangerous winds sweeping around the globe. Not everyone is willing to think about what might happen when the grocery stores run out of food.
But you think about it. And you know you need to convince him to get on board. You can’t do all the gardening alone… and if things get bad, you want your husband and children to know how to grow food.
As a person who’s personally converted many non-gardeners into avid enthusiasts… and who’s been convinced by my wife to jump into projects I might not have undertaken, I have some insight for you on how you can get your husband into gardening. Ready? Let’s start manipulating encouraging the good man to get on board! Here’s how to get your husband’s help in the garden!

1. Use Fear As a Motivator

Fear is a powerful motivator. Machiavelli wrote that it’s better to be feared than loved… and if you can’t get your husband to love gardening, you might be able to convince him to fear the alternative. Start dropping casual comments like, “Honey… did you know that one zillion people starved during the economic crash that happened in Greater Tramplestan?” or “Wow, did you see that the Slobmart in Dingleton got sacked after an EBT card screw-up?”
Photo credit.
“Darling, look! Here’s a photo of the local Food Lion, taken 3 years from now!” Photo credit.
Playing “what if” games is good for you and for your family anyhow. It may be that your husband hasn’t explored the possibilities in his mind. Scenarios like “what if the electricity went off” or “what if the Yellowstone caldera blows up” can help you think through potential doomsdays… and after you do, planting a garden looks like a lot better idea.
Fear is a better motivator than “hey, don’t fresh beans taste great?”
Of course… if fear doesn’t work… it’s time to go for the wallet.

2. Appeal To Common Cents… and Dollars

Gardening can save you money, particularly if you grow expensive things like salads and tomatoes. Though those aren’t necessarily “survival” crops, growing high value vegetables that you regularly eat will free up extra money for the home economy. That’s money you could use to sock away some silver dollars or buy some sacks of rice.
Men often think in concrete rather than emotional terms. Use this to your advantage by finding ways to stretch your income… and include gardening in the list. Some time with a calculator and a notebook might make all the difference in getting your husband on board. I always appreciate my wife’s work to be a “helpmeet” around the house… it’s good for the male soul to know that his partner is interested in saving some of his – or your – hard-earned income.
Of course… if that doesn’t work… there’s another alternative…

3. Wear A Bikini

Photo credit.
“Want to play in the garden with me? Or take pictures of chemtrails?” Photo credit.
You don’t have to wear the whole bikini, of course… you can wear a pair of jeans on the bottom if you’re afraid of getting your legs scratched up… but even just a sexy top goes a long way towards convincing a fellow that some time in the garden isn’t such a bad idea. 
Don’t tell me this is sexist or chauvinistic or whatever. It’s the truth. Bikinis are a powerful force. Chances are, your husband likes looking at you… or he wouldn’t have married you. 
I don’t hear about Adam complaining when he was in the garden with Eve… naked.
Seriously… just dressing cute helps. And being pleasant. A nice “Darling, I’d love to spend some time with you… I’m going to garden, wanna help?” goes a long way, especially when it’s said by a gal with an adorable sunhat and a bright smile...
(CLICK HERE to keep reading over at The Prepper Project)

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

TODAY: Snag some GREAT edible plants at the 326 Community Farmer's Market!

I've decided to start exhibiting some of the great plants in my nursery at the 326 Market in Ocala.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM.

I've been there before... it's a wonderful, laid-back Farmer's Market with good vendors, good food and great people. It's about time I start expanding my reach and getting edibles into more people's hands.

Here's a sample of what I'll be bringing with me:

Mulberries... Cassava... Pears... Apples... Pomegranates... Rabbiteye blueberries... Nopale cactus... Surinam cherries... Mystery Seed Balls... Chestnut trees... and more!

Hope to see you there. My prices are good and even if you don't buy anything, I'm always game to talk about gardening.

Google map is here.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Creating a solitary bee habitat

This year I created a wild bee habitat, which I mentioned I was planning to do in my birdhouse post a few months ago.

Here's the bee house:

Those are chunks of wood and bamboo stuffed into an old wine box. The roof is an aluminum cooking pan that had seen better days. Plus Alzheimer's is scary.

Mason bees and other solitary bees and wasps like to build nests for their babies in wood holes.

Creating a solitary bee habitat is easy. I just drilled a bunch of holes in varying sizes to give them some ready-made housing. Call it an insect condo... a bee house... an insect hotel or whatever you like. It's working!

Thus far I've seen a brilliant green bee on the house, multiple small solitary black and white wasps, and some mason bees.

Why do I want them around? Pollination and pest control! They're hunting caterpillars and other insects as baby food and they're visiting my fruits and vegetables and scattering pollen about. We can't always count on honeybees anymore, so it's time to recruit their cousins.

Here's a close-up showing one of the holes they've filled in:

Since I took these photos a few days ago, there's been a lot more activity... the vacancies are filling up and there's always activity around the bee house.

I'm impressed - and I'll be building plenty more to scatter around the yard next year.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grafting cultivated plums onto wild plums

Grafting cultivated plums onto wild plums can indeed be done... and I have a photo to prove it!

This year I decided to try an experiment. I planted a Chickasaw plum in my front yard a couple of years ago. Being a tough Florida native, it's grown like a weed and suckered wildly.

Before it leafed out this year, I took some bud wood off a couple of improved Florida plum varieties and grafted them on to some of the suckers. Out of five tries, it seems that at least two have taken... and the one in the picture has really flown.

There are native plums all over the place. They produce small, tart fruit that are mostly eaten by the birds... yet the trees are carefree and grow in terrible soil. It's interesting how different the leaves are on the improved types... big green leaves instead of the tiny green and red leaves of the Chickasaw plum.

Why not take advantage of their hardy nature and graft in some big, sweet plums? It's too late for this year, but it would be a good February project to try in 2015.

I'm certainly going to graft some more varieties onto the suckers in my yard. I might even guerrilla graft some on trees around the neighborhood. All you need is a good donor tree for bud wood, some grafting tape and a sharp knife.

Free plums!


Here's the grafting tape I use (thanks, Amazon!)

Poly Budding Tape

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Monday, April 7, 2014

How to plant sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of the easiest to grow vegetables, provided you have the right climate.

Florida is perfect for sweet potatoes. They like the heat, they like the long summers and they don't need much care.

To learn how to plant sweet potatoes, read on.

Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!

This isn't hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell "slips," which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.

You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden... or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.

Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It's perfect.
I've done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root at every node easily. Water them for a couple of weeks and they'll take off.

Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn't matter that they're small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate so there's not a problem with "selecting" for tiny roots. They're clones!

Step 2: Prep Your Bed

You don't have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great... but they'll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.

The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.
This year, we're growing in our former white potato bed. They're not related species so there's no danger of disease build up in the soil.

This is pretty lousy area that generally fails to yield well, so we're going with our drop-dead easy survival staple this time around. We'll see how they do. I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.

Here's what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:

Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keeps it "alive" between plantings.
I dug three trenches about 4' apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4' apart down the trenches.

Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.
We should get plenty of sweet potatoes from this planting... plus we always miss a few that pop up again the next spring after the frosts leave us alone for a while.

Step 3: Water Well... and Stand Back!

Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them... and the areas around the garden... and the areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20' from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.

This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.
If you haven't planted your sweet potatoes yet, it's time to get going. You have until about June, but they'll be a lot bigger and happier if you start before the weather and bugs get too intense.

As a final note - sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they'll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground... the bigger the roots tend to get.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!

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Friday, April 4, 2014

First mulberries of 2014!

My daughter made a discovery today - our first mulberries of the season!

Fresh-picked mulberries!

These are off our "Illinois Everbearing" tree. My pair of standard black mulberries still seem to be weeks away from ripening any fruit... and the Pakistan "long mulberry" is behind them.

This is good, since it means our complete mulberry season should last for months rather than weeks.

If you don't have a mulberry tree, I highly recommend you plant one. They're delicious, productive and easy-to-grow; plus they usually produce their first crop within a year of planting.

I'll post a full survival plant profile on the mulberry before too long. I'm waiting for the main harvest to come in so I can post photos of overflowing baskets and purple fingers.

Oh yeah.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Growing Almonds and Cherries in Florida: Update

As I wrote before, I'm attempting to grow both almonds and sweet cherries in Florida... and keeping track of my results.

On March 28th, I planted two more trees.

Cherry Test Varieties:

1 Minnie Royal Cherry, Semi-Dwarf

1 Royal Lee Cherry, Dwarf

Tree Source: 

Grow Organic

Test Location:

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

Plant Date:



Trees were shipped on 3/18 and arrived bareroot on 3/25. Both were planted 3 days later. Unfortunately, the trees were already budded out and both were water-stressed at the time of planting, so there's some worry about their survival. Both trees roughly 5' tall. Planted in sand. Light dappled shade, Southeastern exposure. In order to maintain soil moisture, both trees have hoses at their bases constantly dripping a small amount of water.

Planters: David Goodman and Democritus "Jeffrey" Xenophon III.

Two of the previously planted cherry trees have not leafed out yet; however, all of the almonds have. Looking good so far...

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back to gardening!

Yeah... yesterday was April Fool's Day, in case you wondered.

I did have at least one person write who was concerned that my site was hacked... another one simply commented "Wtf"... but one of my favorite emails about the "Limestone Healing Center" gag was this gem from Louise:

"Were you stoned when you wrote today's offering?  Even the word is misspelled."

I take this as a testament to the rarity of typos in my writing.


And no, in case you wondered, I wasn't stoned. I was just listening to a lot of rock.




...I'd better get back to gardening.

If you haven't planted them yet, it's almost past time for corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, beans and melons. The insects and the heat will soon be upon us.

Keep an eye on your young fruit and nut trees if we go without water for more than a week or so. The establishment period is vital.

Also, watch out for grass growing around your fruit trees. Hoe it away from the trunks (but don't hack too deeply) and the trees will grow much more quickly than if they have to fight with grass. 

Now... get outside and get growing!


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