Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What to plant in your Florida fall garden

This is the time of year to get back out into the garden!

Mrs. Survival Gardener and I tore out our snake bean bed on Sunday afternoon (it isn't work for us... it's a Sabbath break from real life!), along with some sweet potatoes, and got to work on our fall gardening.

Winter is a wonderful time to plant greens. Here are my favorites for the cool months ahead:

Ethiopian Kale

For winter root crops, I love to grow beets; however, they consistently do poorly for me. With that in mind, I plant them again and again, hoping for better results... but I don't count on them. Garlic has done marginally for me as well. I need to try some new cultivars.

Here are the crops I know I can count on:


That's about it. For delectable winter goodies for the table, here are the vegetables we like to plant:

Cabbage (red and green)
Green onions

If we have beds that are just sitting around waiting for something better - or if they've done poorly and need a good kick in the seat of their sandy pants, we plant these guys:

Fava beans
Mustard (for kicking out nematodes)
Buckwheat (which expires with the frost but likes the cool before then)
Chick peas

You can turn most of those under to add fertility or just cut them down for the compost pile. In the case of the small nitrogen-fixers like lentils, chick peas and peas, I've also cut them back and planted other crops right in the middle.

This is also the season to start planting sugarcane for next year's crop.

Finally, the fall is a good time to plant fruit trees and shrubs that are cold-tolerant. Persimmons, mulberries, peaches, pears, goumi berries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.: they love getting in the ground in fall then bursting into new growth in the spring.

So... what are you waiting for? Get out there and get planting!

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Moringa won't make pods?

I've been growing moringa trees for almost four years now. I've grown most of mine from seeds since those seem to be stronger than the ones I started from cuttings; however, there's a problem.

They don't make pods.

I planted PKM1, which is supposedly the best type for quick pod production, yet I'm still not getting anything. I've wondered if the issue is pollination, since they do bloom, but I don't know. They'll flower every year, sporadically, then the blooms will fall without giving me any pods.

The same thing has happened with the moringa trees down in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project. Who knows?

I've asked around about this problem and have seen something interesting: folks are getting pods from them even up here in North Florida, but I'm not. On further inquiry, most of the success stories I'm hearing about involve pods being produced on trees that are either growing in stressed conditions or in containers. My guess is that the restricted root development/tough surroundings are pushing the trees to produce seeds.

This makes sense. Stress induces a race to reproduce in quite a few species, including our own.

Ticking biological clocks = OMIGOODNESSINEEDABABYNOW!!!

I think I need to try keeping some moringas in pots to see if this theory is correct. I'm also going to plant more seeds in the spring from alternate seed lines. I have some seeds from Thailand (thank you, ebay) and some from Jamaica (thank you, Rycamor). I also have some from my friend Cathy. Here's a pod she brought over to share the other night:

Though moringas look like they'd be a nitrogen-fixing tree from the bean and pea family, they're not. They're the own thing, as you can tell from the differently shaped pods and seeds.

Anyone have any good tips on getting moringas to set seed?


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Suggested Books for Wild Mushroom Foragers

Since I've gotten on a mushroom kick, I've been doing a LOT of fungal reading and have acquired a good number of new books for my library.

Below are some of the ones I've been enjoying thus far, along with their Amazon links (remember, if you decide to buy anything on Amazon... click through one of my links and I'll make a few pennies).

All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms

Though I'm in Florida there's a lot of bleed over in mushroom species from the west coast. Even if that wasn't the case, this book is worth buying just because David Arora is brilliant and hilarious. You wouldn't think that a mushroom guide would be funny, but this one is a scream. I was laughing out loud and waking my wife up.

Here's the more in-depth book from Arora that's a must-have for serious wild mushroom aficionados:

Mushrooms Demystified

Mushrooms Demystified is a hefty book with a ton of information in it. Very worth having, if somewhat unwieldy. It's also packed with snarky jokes and visual gags, despite its scientific pedigree. I really like David Arora's writing and endless enthusiasm.

For the person just interested in getting started with edible mushrooms, here's another option:

100 Edible Mushrooms

Micheal Kuo isn't nearly as fun as David Arora and some across as a little persnickety after the wild exuberance of "All That the Rain Promises," however, 100 Edible Mushrooms is in-depth and thoughtful, plus it's easier to dive into than a tome such as Mushrooms Demystified. It also has recipes. I own it and have been enjoying picking my way through it.

Now if you're ready to hit the field, I've found this guide to be the best so far:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (National Audubon Society Field Guides)

This guide was actually written by the brilliant mushroom hunter Gary Lincoff and the expertise shines through. It's well-organized and contains excellent photographs in color, unlike the black and white of most of the photos in Mushrooms Demystified. Gary Lincoff also wrote this book, which I own as well:

The Complete Mushroom Hunter: An Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying Wild Mushrooms

The Complete Mushroom Hunter will fill you with excitement for the hunt. It was the first book I read after Paul Stamet's must-read book Mycellium Running and it really pushed me out the door.

Speaking of Paul Stamets, here's a link to his book:

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Finally, don't forget to get a copy of Common Florida Mushrooms from the UF bookstore!

Anyone got a must-have mushroom book they'd recommend for this list?

Over the last week I've eaten boletes, chanterelles, puffballs, three Lactarius indigos, plus I picked an "Old Man of the Woods" yesterday which I'll be eating for breakfast today.

I'm feeling rich - I've never been able to afford to eat as many mushrooms as I'd like... and here they've been growing under my feet all the time and I was too scared. Armed with lots of reading material and guides I'm no longer afraid - and it's not like I'm taking risks! None of the species I've eaten has any dangerous lookalikes that can't be weeded out with a cursory examination of the mushroom in question.

Grab some books and give it a go yourself!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Eating Chanterelles and Indigo Milk Caps

NOTE: Don't eat any wild mushroom unless you know for sure what you have. And don't follow my example, then get sick, then sue me. Not everyone has my iron constitution or taxonomic giftings.

I'm cautiously learning my edible and poisonous mushrooms at the moment.

The first mushrooms I ever picked and ate from the wild were puffballs. Those are really hard to miss and with a few precautions (cut every one in half to make sure they aren't baby Amanitas or something horrid - also make sure they're white inside) they're a safe, if sometimes rather bland, wild edible.

Then I read this book:

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

and caught the mushroom bug.

It also helps that this is mushroom season. The cooling weather and the rain have made our fungal friends appear everywhere.

The other day I decided to take a stroll around the block. On the way home I wandered through an empty 3-acre lot with a few trees and a lot of weeds... and I found these:

I whipped out my guide books and discovered they were Lactarius indigo - an edible mushroom with no poisonous look-alikes.

Not only that, I discovered more chanterelles:

Take a look at the two species together:

Beautiful, aren't they?

Unfortunately, I made a beginner's mistake and plucked the mushrooms and put them in my basket without cleaning the dirt off them first. Cleaning them at home when they had dirt in the gills was really a pain - don't do what I did.

The night I picked the Lactarius indigo, I ate them for dinner. They were like big portobellos!

Unfortunately I had to sautee them in Olive oil since I was out of butter (#firstworldproblems) but they still came out nicely... especially with scrambled eggs. Look at how weirdly green they turned my eggs:

The little bit of dirt left on the mushrooms was unpleasant but overall it was edible. Not great, but edible. Free food. Hehheh.

As for the chanterelles... Rachel and I ate them for breakfast the next morning with bacon, sauteed in bacon grease and served alongside eggs and that wonderful persimmon I posted on a couple of days back.

Wild mushrooms aren't for everyone; however, once you nail down a few good edibles, you'll be saving money on groceries, plus wild food is really, really healthy.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market! GAINESVILLE EPIC FIGS! Haitian Basket Vine! Hot Peppers!

NOTE: Hopefully we avoid rain today. Keep an eye on the 326 Market Facebook page in case of cancellation.

Finally... I can make this announcement!

Remember this tree in Gainesville?

It's now a mother, thanks to some cuttings and a month in a propagation house (plus more months of growing!). Read more about this amazing fig here.

I have a few Gainesville Epic Fig trees available today for $12.00 each! Figs grow fast - plant this fall and you'll have figs next year!

Another cool plant most of us have never eaten is also now available for the first time: Haitian basket vine! (Latin name: Trichostigma octandrum.)

Haitian basket vine is a productive perennial plant that's good for cooked greens and herbal medicine, plus its long, long stems are pliable and perfect for basketry (hence the name). Pick one up and give it a try. I'm not sure how cold hardy they'll be here so you get to be my co-experimenters! 

I've also still got a few edible hibiscus plants in stock: Turk's Cap, broad-leafed spinach type, plus red cranberry hibiscus with its delicious tart leaves. Come and get 'em!

I also have some dwarf mulberry trees in stock for $8.00 a pot. Plant a mulberry hedge!

Visit the 326 Market in Ocala today and go shopping. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

Some of my wonderful selections include:


HOT PEPPERS (Jalapeno, Habanero, Cayenne!): $1.50 ON SALE!!! Or 10 for $10!

CELOSIA ARGENTEA (great green/amaranth-type grain): $3.00 a pot

SURINAME SPINACH/PURSLANE: $3.00 for small pots, $6.00 for large

CHAYA: $5.00



I also bring a limited number of other rare edible/perennial vegetable and fruit from the tropics and beyond!

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):

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling melt-in-your-mouth Florida peaches, goat milk cheese and soap, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, fresh lemonade, chickens, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies (really good), local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

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

Come on down!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hachiya Persimmons: Delicious and Beautiful!

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Japanese persimmons (and their less prestigious American cousins). I've planted three in my yard thus far and plan to plant more.

Though the non-astringent Fuyu types are nice, the astringent Hachiya types are persimmons for grownups.

This is the first fruit we've gotten off the tree I planted last spring:

Hachiya fruit are large and heart-shaped rather than being flatter like the Fuyus. Though you can't eat them when they're firm, the astringent types have an incredible rich and spicy complexity when they reach ripeness... not to mention an unbelievable sweetness.

Hachiyas are also very good for drying unlike their Fuyu cousins.

I tried carrying astringent persimmon cultivars in my nursery this spring but found that almost everyone but me prefers the Fuyu types.

You know... I like my Hachiya tree so much I think I might start grafting buds on the native persimmon trees growing wild in my neighborhood.

Wouldn't that be cool?

As for the fruit pictured above... it was carefully plucked when fully red orange, then sat on our windowsill in the kitchen until it became soft and semi-translucent.

It served as part of a wonderful breakfast a couple of days ago, along with some home-raised scrambled eggs and some chanterelle mushrooms I foraged from an empty lot.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Angle gourds: an impressive cucumber-like fruit for Florida

Almost 10 years ago I was given a packet of "loofah" seeds. I planted them and ended up with heavily-ridged loofahs that were almost completely impossible to clean for use as sponges/scrubbers.

The netting was good inside... but getting the skins off? No process worked. I tried boiling water, letting them rot, drying, waiting until they were dry on the vine, picking them early, scraping with a knife... nothing worked.

I did some more research and discovered that my "loofahs" were actually "angle gourds."

This is an easy mistake. Both are loofahs... but only one is good for sponge-making.

I thought I had Luffa aegyptiaca... whereas I had Luffa acutangula.

After growing them once in Tennessee and once in Florida, I gave up.

The thing is, angle gourds don't give up as easy as I do. I threw some old ones in the compost pile in my food forest... and lookie here:

They're growing themselves!

Since the plant is so very persistent despite the heat and humidity, I decided to try the young fruits and see if they were tasty. The smell has put me off in the past: they have this rank green odor when the fruit and leaves are broken - yet to my surprise, the cooked young fruit are delicious and sweet... though they really do look strange.

They remind me of the Hindenburg.

The flavor: imagine the best of a zucchini mixed with a cucumber. Very good!

They're really good sauteed, incidentally.

Why yes, that is bacon grease. And the beans? These guys.
Since I haven't done well with either zucchini or cucumbers during Florida's summers, I think angle gourds will be filling a larger role in my future gardening plans. Since I've had them self-seed more than once, it may just be that I can scatter the seeds here and there and let them find their own way in the food forest. That's what they're doing this year, so why not?

Now that I've tasted them and found them delicious, angle gourds now get the green light to ramble as far as they'd like.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Grafting loquats

Remember the rare loquat tree I tried to save?

Well... it finally gave up. The top started to turn yellow and the leaves began to droop about a month and a half after I attempted bridge grafting the poor thing. Here, look:

That's pretty sad. Here's a close-up:

Obviously, at this point, the tree was not long for this world.

By God's grace I noticed what was happening before it went too far, so I cut off every stem tip.

The twigs in the glass of water have had all their leaves removed; the ones in my hand are about to get the same treatment.

Those little twigs are ready for a new life on a new host. Fortunately, I have lots of seedling loquats planted around the yard.

Like this one:

I learned at the Florida Earthskills Gathering earlier this year that one of the easiest ways to graft a loquat tree is to "veneer graft" it.

I started on this tree by removing a section of leaves from the middle of the trunk.

Then I picked out a twig from the donor tree that was close to the same diameter as the seedling tree and used my grafting knife (this really cool Opinel model) to make matching cuts on the budwood and the trunk.

I then joined them together:

A good fit is important. You want the bark on the budwood and on the tree to match up well so they can grow together. The layers just beneath the outer bark (the "xylem" and "phloem" - glad you asked!) transfer sap and will heal together as the graft takes. A tight wrap of grafting tape helps (I use this stuff - it's great) keep the bark together while preventing the budwood from drying out. I wrap all the way to the top. Since it's summer and brutally hot, I don't want to chance the grafts drying out and failing.

Once the leaves grow out on the bud and the graft appears to have healed, it's time to cut the original top of the tree off.

It's been a few weeks since I took the first set of photos and did my grafting. Most of the grafts are taking nicely now - here's a shot I took two days ago of one of the grafts:

Loquat grafting isn't hard. Knowing it has allowed me to save the genetics of a tree that would have otherwise been lost to my yard.

I was worried that the time of year was completely wrong for grafting fruit trees. At least in the case of loquats, I have happily proven my worries unfounded.

Now grow, loquats, and bring me fruit!

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Improve Your Food Forest by Adding Density

A patch of tropical jungle at Pilgrim’s Farm. These friends of the author have stacked layers of edibles together.
Why is it that we find wandering through a lush woodland a wonderful thing… yet fight against lush growth on our own properties?
In our yards we seem to have disconnected ourselves from natural ecosystems. They’re scary I suppose. I mean, what would the neighbors think?
Our gardening is feeble and contrived, as if we’re making mudpies in God’s driveway.
We clear and cut and till and plant at extension-approved intervals and spacings.
Some time back I created a big post at my site on growing fruit trees from seed. One of the responses I get when I talk about seed-grown fruit is “what if some of the trees make crummy fruit? I don’t have space to grow trees from seed, only to have some of them turn out to be lousy!”
Trust me, unless you’re in an apartment… you have some space for seed-grown trees. Even for ones that don’t turn out well.
How’s that?
Look – trees don’t need as much space as you think they do – and trees with lousy fruit can always be grafted or cut down and composted. Or used to fuel a smoker or barbecue. Or cut and inoculated with mushrooms. Or cured and used for woodcarving.
We’re just too tentative in our gardening. Yes, sometimes you might plant things too close and end up with a tree (or three) that’s too shaded or too strangled… but you might be surprised how tight your spacing can get before a tree becomes completely unproductive.
Beyond just the trees, adding a larger number of plant species (basically packing in lots of biomass!) will help build soil and create a lush and resilient ecosystem.
I have seen multiple food forest projects that miss the benefits of density. They’ve made the transition from standard annual gardening to a more permaculture approach; yet they look more like an orchard without straight lines than a species-rich forest edge.
It’s fine to start by planting trees and mulching away the grass around them – but once you’ve got those trees as scaffolding, don’t quit! Build density and you’ll get more food and have less work in the long run.

Planting Around the Base of Trees

I use larger trees as shelters for my less cold-tolerant species. I’m growing guavas and pineapples in my front yard around the trunks of some large oak trees. Despite winter temperatures that occasionally reach down into the teens, they don’t freeze to death. If I planted those pineapples out in the open, they’d be toast. The increased density of my yard allows them to grow where they normally wouldn’t.
Some trees can also support climbing species. I’m growing yam vines up a small sweetgum seedling that popped up in my food forest. The tree grew rapidly and I considered cutting it down to replace with something edible… then I realized I should just take advantage of its quick growth and non-productive nature. I wouldn’t grow yams on my prize Hachiya persimmon tree… but on a sweet gum? Who cares!
If you add nitrogen-fixers, nutrient accumulators and pollinator-attracting plants around your fruit trees, you can support those trees better than you could with just mulch. I also like to plant herbs, leaf crops, sweet potatoes and wildflowers.

Letting The Seeds Fall Where They May

EmergingSeeds1Sometimes I play seed fairy and throw handfuls of seeds all over the food forest. When I’ve got more time, I make seed balls and chuck those around.
Did weevils get into some of your dried beans? Don’t throw them away – throw them in the food forest! The resulting bean plants will feed the soil, even if you never harvest them.
I once gave my children a bunch of old beans and told them to go have a bean fight in the front yard. Not only did they have fun… they also scattered nitrogen-fixers everywhere!
Throwing seeds around lets nature pick and choose what works and what doesn’t. I like a mix of flowers, brassicas, beans, grains and assorted tree seeds. Sometimes you’ll have seeds coming up a year or more after you threw them. I can never remember what the heck I’ve planted so I’m often surprised by what pops up.

Start ‘Em and Stick ‘Em

Plants can be expensive. When you spend $25.00 on a tree, you don’t really want to jam it into a shady corner and hope it survives.
I think economics are part of the reason some of the food forests I see are so regimented. The spacing, the watering systems, the perfect mulch circles – they make sense when you’re protecting an expensive investment.
I used to worry a lot about my trees. Now that I have a nursery and do a lot of propagation, I don’t worry as much.
When you start your plants from seeds and cuttings, they’re more expendable. You just don’t have that much money out there. It costs pocket change for decent dirt and old coffee cans and milk jugs can be pressed into service as pots.
Buy a couple of healthy plants from nurseries, then start a lot of babies from those initial purchases...

I ate these

They were great. These fungi are some kind of Cantharellus I found while on a walk. 

A little fruity with a smoky, meaty, very rich aftertaste. Very, very delicious.

Kids - don't try this at home!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mystery Bolete: Solved!

I was 99% certain I could eat the boletes I found on Thursday... but that 99% wasn't enough. Here are some shots:

My Audubon guidebook didn't contain the species, so this morning I decided to try again via my copy of James Kimbrough's Common Florida Mushrooms.

Lo and behold, it was in there! And it's edible! Check out these scans:

Everything matches... from the color to the look and the odor. And it was discovered under live oaks on a shaded lawn. Definitely Tylopilus tabacinus. With a confirmed ID in the bag... I put the mushrooms in the dehydrator and will soon make soup.

If you want to get your own copy of Common Florida Mushrooms, get it from the UF store - not from Amazon. It's a LOT cheaper. For a Florida mushrooms hunter, this book is a must-have.

A thanks also must go to permies.com, particularly to those who gave suggestions in this thread.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Foraging for yams and mushrooms

Yesterday was a banner day for foraging.

On my way to the bank I re-visited a vacant lot where I'd previously identified a good-sized colony of Dioscorea alata, the DELICIOUS winged yam, also known as the edible air potato. Unfortunately this species is listed as invasive, meaning I can't sell it in my nursery (and I can't send them to you in the mail... so don't ask)... but that doesn't mean I can't find it and eat it!

The bulbils and the large roots are both edible. I didn't come across any good roots (and I didn't want to dig any of them up anyhow), but I did get a gallon or two of the bulbils:

Though I've eaten the roots before, I've never eaten the bulbils because they were generally small or few in number. This time I don't have that problem!

After finding all these I called my brilliant friend Mart and asked how he prepares his bulbils.

"Cooked until soft, just like a potato."

Good deal. I'm going to have to see how they taste.

After running my errands, it was time to pack up and go to the 326 Market for my afternoon plant sale. As I pulled in, Kathy (the organizer) told me I ought to check out the mushrooms and pick them before they got trampled.

To my delight they were some variety of bolete and were in great shape.

I'm 99% sure these are edible... but that last 1% keeps me from eating them.

Mushrooms are nothing to play around with. I'm working on learning my species and the dangerous types but I'm not there yet. Unlike most plants, fungi can be super-duper crazy poisonous.

Dang it. They smell and look delicious.

At the Market I ran into many wonderful friends (Hi, all - you know who you are!) and met some new ones. The Dwarf Mulberries sold out and I also managed to give away quite a few peppers to people buying other things.

I was also visited again by the wonderful gal (the older of the two) I wrote about here and we talked seeds, plants, writing and more about plants.

When the market closed and I'd packed up, a couple of my children and I wandered further into the field to look for more mushrooms... and we hit the jackpot. Our recent rains have brought plenty of fungal bounty to the surface:

I wish I knew which of these were edible and which were poisonous. I'll get there one day.

For now I'm taking notes and pictures as well as making spore prints. I'm also reading multiple books on mushrooms at the same time.

Maybe next year I'll be brave enough to start eating what I find. Maybe.

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