Friday, November 28, 2014

Velvet beans: useful and medicinal

I've been growing velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens) for a few years now.

Actually, I just planted them once and they keep reseeding around the food forest.

My kind of plant.

The beans are slightly toxic; however, I find that when cooked green in the pods in briny water the flavor is delicious - a lot like boiled green peanuts. They're a natural testosterone booster as well as a mood lifted thanks to their dopamine precursors.

Just don't eat too many.

Velvet beans are known to be an excellent nitrogen-fixer so I planted them in the lousiest and driest areas of my yard.

In rich conditions they grow rapidly and to great height, provided they have something to climb.

Check this out:

They climbed about 30-40' up into that oak tree over the course of the summer, bearing copious amounts of unreachable pods.

Here's a shot at ground level:

Impressive, eh? When you need some green cover, these guys fit the bill. They shade the ground while adding fertility and biomass. Plus, since they freeze to death in the winter in areas with frost, you don't have to worry about them eating your entire yard.

Since velvet beans are not frost tolerant at all, plant them in the spring after all danger of cold, then stand back and watch them ramble.

If you're looking for seeds, I noticed this week that Grower Jim has some for sale, along with a nice profile on this excellent bean.

At some point I may offer some for sale - I have a boatload of them in my home seed bank - but not yet. Grower Jim is a good source for rare and beautiful plants and I've bought from him before. His blog is also an excellent resource - I recommend you check it out.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Florida Cranberry Relish Recipe

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, today we're featuring a guest post from Mrs. Survival Gardener. This Florida cranberry sauce (or relish, depending on what you'd like to call it) recipe is an excellent way to take a local, homegrown organic crop and substitute it for a faraway import from the north. If you're interested in learning more about growing, harvesting and processing Florida cranberries (also known as Jamaican sorrel) click hereFor now, let's get cooking!

When Thanksgiving comes around each year, I like to include as many things from our own homestead as possible. When we first grew Florida cranberries it seemed like a natural fit to substitute them for the real deal in my Mom's cranberry relish recipe. The first time I served it to the extended family, they all had to be told it showcased Florida cranberries--that's how closely these strange fruits resemble their namesake. Here I've doubled the recipe to feed a crowd, but it is easily halved.  

First, put some orange juice or apple cider into a pot on the stove. In the past I have always used orange juice since that's what my Mom has always done. But this year, since I'm brining the turkey in apple cider, I thought I'd go that route. To this, add some sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg...

...and ground cloves.

Cook this for a little bit until the sugar dissolves.

Throw in the raisins...

...and the Florida cranberries.

These were in my freezer, all ready to go--meaning the pods were cut out and discarded and the calyxes saved (remember - you can visit their plant profile to see that process). This is the cranberry part!

Don't be confused by the picture. I forgot that in years past I chopped these up before putting them in the pot. After I took this picture, I had to pull them out, chop them up, and throw them back in.

It's much easier to do that first.

In the words of the Pioneer woman, "don't be like me."

Bring this to a boil and reduce the heat and then cook for a few minutes. I don't have a picture of it, but at this point, you add some chopped pecans.

Then just chill it till you're ready to serve your meal.


I like to make Florida cranberry relish the day before as the flavors just get better the next day. One year I made extra, mixed it with cream cheese and we ate it on crackers as an appetizer.


Here it is in a more traditional recipe form:

Florida Cranberry Relish (AKA Jamaican Sorrel Relish)

1 1/2 c. orange or apple juice
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a couple of dashes of ground cloves
24 oz. Florida cranberries
1 c. raisins (golden or ordinary)
1 c. chopped pecans

In a saucepan, combine juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved. Add Florida cranberries and raisins, bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, simmer 3-4 minutes.

Remoce from heat, stir in nuts. Chill for several hours.

If you try this recipe, please let us know what you think!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

@Mother Earth News: Composting for Anarchists

Tired of tumblers, piles and turning? Composting doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't require any infrastructure. It's a simple, natural recycling method. If you hate rules and ratios... this post is for you.

Easy composting only has two steps.

Ready? Let's compost!

Step 1: Find Some Organic Matter

An avocado skin? Great. Moldy baked beans? Wonderful. Old bills and non-glossy junk mail? Sure. Eggshells, tea bags, cardboard, citrus peels? Yep. It makes sense to keep a small trash can with a tight lid in my kitchen. Anything compostable goes in there. But kitchen scraps aren't everything: there's a pile of ways you can grab more materials to compost. For instance, when you’re pruning trees or dealing with fallen oak limbs in the yard, don’t drag them to the side of the road for disposal or burn them in a pile.

If you have a picnic in the yard with the children, use uncoated paper plates. Then save them… along with whatever uneaten food the toddler leaves behind. If you feel like working a little harder to gather organic matter, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. When you have a potluck dinner at church, help clean up at the end and throw all the napkins and food scraps into one container you can then take home. Check with your local coffee shop and see if you can pick up grounds from them. See if you can get boxes of expired produce from your local grocery store or farm stand. Gather cardboard from alleyways.
Ask your local feed store if you can sweep up the straw and alfalfa that falls to the ground from their bales. (I’ve gathered a lot of material this way.) Ask your neighbors to dump their yard waste at your place. Collect shredded documents from work. Pick up bags of leaves by the side of the road in fall. Ask local tree companies if they’ll drop their fresh-chipped “waste” in your yard.

If you want maximum fertility on your little piece of the earth, collect everything organic you can find. All the time. And then, my anarchist friend, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Throw It On The Ground

Once a week or more, take your kitchen-scrap trash can to a place that needs fertility, then dump it. Do the same with your yard waste, dragging it to wherever the soil looks a bit sad and throwing it on the ground.

What’s this look like in practice?

Well, fruit trees and shrubs need fertilizing, right? Normally you’d give them a hit of chemical fertilizer now and again through the year. Instead of doing that, just drop organic matter on the ground around them. Pretend the tree’s root zone is a big, rough compost pile. Chop up some sticks, throw down some paper plates, spatter rotten salad greens, throw some spoiled fruit… it’s easy and fun. You can also put hunks of logs near the bases of your trees and along the edge of pathways and gardens to act as bunkers for fungi and other beneficial organisms...

CLICK HERE to keep reading over at Mother Earth News.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Thai Black Banana

I bought a "Thai Black Banana" tree this spring. It was about 2' tall when I planted it in the food forest... now look at it!

It's over 12' tall. That is one fast-growing banana.

This type is sold for landscaping, not for eating; however, some of the landscaping types also have edible fruit. We'll see if it lives through the winter, and if it does, what it produces.

Anyone ever grow this type of banana before? I'd love to know if it's more than just a pretty ornamental. I've had little luck searching it out online.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Crash Gardening Season 2: The Japanese Persimmon

Enjoy this short segment of me getting bit by mosquitoes while talking about Japanese persimmons:

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pop quiz over at the Southern Forager's place

Can you name the wild edibles?

Go visit her site and take the quiz!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Marion County Homesteading Group

If you're within shooting distance of Marion County, there's an excellent new homesteading group that's worth checking out:

Marion County Homesteading

I attended last night, gave a short talk and also heard an excellent presentation on aquaponics. Friendly people with a lot of knowledge scattered through the group.

Worth joining.

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A beautiful persimmon tree

On the way to church this last sunday, my wife spotted a beautiful little Japanese persimmon tree by the side of the road. Since we were running late, we remembered the spot and came back to it on the way home so I could take a photo.

Here it is:

That's about the size they normally grow. Japanese persimmons are not large trees, unlike their American counterparts. Check out the great wavy shape - it's really a pretty growth pattern. They always remind me of Japanese ink paintings.

This particular tree looks like an astringent Hachiya type, judging by the large acorn-shaped fruits.

I just thought it was great to see a bearing fruit tree in someone's front yard.

Whoever you are, nice work. Enjoy your fruit.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

No More 326 Community Market: Done for the Winter!

I've had a great run at the 326 Community Market this year.

They're still open through the winter; however, much of what I sell in my nursery doesn't display well during the cold season so I'm calling it quits for now.

I mean, just imagine:

ME: "Hi, ma'am, how are you today?"

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "Fine. What are you selling? Sticks in pots?"

ME: "Yes. A great selection. This stick is a pear tree... this one is a Japanese persimmon. Over here, I have peach and nectarine sticks."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "I have sticks at home."

ME: "But these sticks will turn into fruit trees in spring."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "What are those trays of little green plants?"

ME: "Various rare perennial vegetables."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "Can I plant them in the winter?"

ME: "No."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "I'm going to another booth."

ME: "No - please stay."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: (starts to walk away) "I'm going."

ME: "You have pretty eyes!!! And a nice sweater!!!"

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: (moving away quicker) "GOODBYE!"

ME: "WAIT! I have cassava! You can plant those in JUST four months!!! WAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTT!!!!!"

This just isn't a good time of year to be a nurseryman. I'm going to spend the next couple of months improving my homestead's infrastructure and finishing my new book on composting.

That said, I'm still going to be hitting the market to buy eggs, fruit and honey. Stop on by and support the local community.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Food Forest Sweet Potatoes: Gainesville Edition

I posted last week on our wonderful success growing no-work sweet potatoes in our front yard food forest.

Two days ago I saw that my friend Andi reported similar success.

I like her idea of growing sweet potatoes as a ground cover one year, followed by squash the next. That would definitely help lower the pest problems on both crops.

Various worms and larva like to eat sweet potatoes, squash bugs and borers like to eat squash. The pests don't cross species. They also tend to overwinter in the same place. If they wake up after eating sweet potatoes one year to then discover the food is gone... they'll move on.

As a side note: good squash (like Seminole pumpkins or butternuts) and sweet potatoes taste quite similar and can even be used interchangeably in many recipes, meaning you're not really giving up much by switching.

Harvesting sweet potatoes is like digging for treasure.
Try growing some sweet potatoes in your food forest next year and let me know how you do. It's worked for me, it's worked for Andi, and I bet it'll work for you too.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Protecting Moringa Trees, Citrus and Other Tropicals from Frost

Since much of north Florida is facing its first frost tonight, I think it's worth reposting this video on frost protection I created almost a year ago:

Good luck everyone. See you on the other side.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Crash Gardening S2, Episode 2B: A Tour of My Food Forest (Continued)

Last week I posted part one of my food forest tour... here's part two.

Check out the wide variety of trees, the amazing grafted plum, the sweet potato groundcover, plus see a vicious bear attack.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Homegrown Pickled Jalapeno Slices Recipe

Making pickled jalapeno slices is easy and fun
This year I started a bunch of hot peppers in the greenhouse for folks to grow in their gardens.

Some of the plants that didn't sell got too big for their little pots so I decided I would go all-out and plant about thirty of them in my fall garden.

That means I'm raking in plenty of peppers right now. I'm making my own ground red pepper, of course, but I've also been experimenting with canning my own jalapeno slices (I started with this simple recipe I found online, then expanded on it).

I finished my second batch this week and I think my recipe is ready for prime-time.

The flavor... oh my goodness... the flavor. These pickled jalapeno pepper slices are incredibly good.

Are you ready to can your own? Here's how I do them.


4 lbs jalapenos
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
1.5 quarts vinegar
1.5 quarts water
6 cloves garlic
Dash of turmeric
2-3 hot red peppers (any kind)
Sprinkle of pepper
Sprinkle of mustard seeds

Yield: 6 Pints

Note: Before step one, wash your canning jars and lids so they're ready to go.

1: Pick Your Jalapenos

Crisp green jalapeno peppers fresh from the garden
That's about 4-5lbs of Jalapenos. Two weeks later, I picked another 4-5 lbs. Yeah, that's the way we roll in my garden.

I like to pick mostly green ones but leave a few reds to ripen here and there. They add color and a sweetness to the mix. I also toss in a couple of cayennes when I have them.

2. Chop Your Jalapenos

Or just have your wife chop them. Extra points if your lady is as foxy as mine.

I tend to chop them in perfect circles; however, ellipsoids also fall inside pickled jalapeno orthodoxy.

One thing that's amazing about homegrown jalapenos is how crisp and juicy they are. The quality you'll get from your garden is far beyond what you can buy.

PRO-TIP: For extra fun while chopping jalapenos, touch your eyes.

3. Start Your Brine

Mix your vinegar and water together, along with your salt and sugar, then bring to a boil.

I tend to throw in a dash more or less of salt and sugar according to taste.

If it's zippy and a little salty and sweet, it's good. (My two favorite salts are Himalayan pink salt and Celtic sea salt. I get them both from Amazon in the 5lb bags. Regular table salt is a factory product with some ugly additions... my understanding is that real salts contain micronutrients and a much better balance of potassium and sodium, among other things.)

4. Pack Your Jars

This is where you get to see how pretty things are going to be.

Isn't that great?

Pack in the jalapenos as tightly as possible, then mash them down further and pack a few more in. Otherwise, when the jar is canned they'll get a little thin as they cook.

Once the peppers are packed in, add a pinch of mustard seeds, a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of pepper, along with a chopped garlic clove in each jar.

5. Pour On The Brine

Having one of those mason jar funnels is a big help at this point. Load the jars up with brine to about 1/4" from the top of the jar. Make sure you jog them around a bit since bubbles tend to hide inside the slices. Add more brine as necessary.

Screw the lids down tight and you're ready for the final step.

6. Can Your Jalapeno Slices

Canning is easy when you're dealing with pickles. You're not going to get a horrible disease if you mess it up, since the vinegar keeps the food good and safe. I boil my pepper pint jars for 10 minutes in my excellent stock pot.

Note: if you're scared of canning, just pop your jars into the refrigerator. They'll keep for longer than you think, thanks to the vinegar.

This jalapeno recipe is easy and tastes amazing. 

I gave a jar my friend Ray a week ago. He called me yesterday and said "Dude... I've just eaten half a jar and I can't stop! I got some chips, some sour cream... and man... these are OUTRAGEOUSLY good! I'm still eating them as we talk... wow..."

I hope he's still alive.

Homemade pickled jalapeno slices: just one more reason to garden.

Make a batch and let me know how they turn out!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

This week at the 326 Community Market

Last week was fun, as usual. I got a visit from my friend Heather, chatted with Farmer Tim (his produce stand is next to my plant stand), hung out with Kathy and Leah (they're planting a dwarf mulberry hedge at their house), saw multiple other friends and, of course, sent some delicious edibles home with various folks.

Pineapples do indeed grow here!
My nursery is a little thin right now but I'm not tapped out yet. I've still got some trees, some bananas, some vegetables and a collection of strange edibles in stock.

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

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):

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling homegrown produce, real old-fashioned lye soap, handcrafts, handmade jewelry, signs, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

The prices are good and my gardening advice is free... come say hi!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Indian Pipe: A Rare and Beautiful Native

I was walking through the woods with a few of the children when my daughter suddenly called out.

"Dad! What type of mushroom is THIS?"

She was pointing at a strange cluster of white growth emerging from the ground. As I took a closer look, I realized it was a strange wildflower I'd only seen in guidebooks: the Indian Pipe, also known as the "Ghost Plant", or most properly, as Monotropa uniflora.

Unlike normal plants, the Indian Pipe doesn't produce chlorophyll, which means it doesn't take its energy from the sun. Instead, it seems to be a parasite on specific mycorrhizal fungi that co-relate with certain trees.

That means a tree gets energy from the sun, shares it with a fungi connected to its roots, then the Indian pipe connects its roots to that fungi and steals some of the energy its receiving from the tree.

Now that's an amazing design - and it's also the reason you don't see Indian Pipe plants very often. They like rich soil, mature trees of specific species that must also be interrelating with specific fungi or the plant cannot grow.

I've been looking for one for a very long time. In this particular patch of woods I found four or more additional clusters of Indian Pipes after my daughter spotted the first group. Here's another picture I took:


No matter how long I wander the woods it seems there's always something new to see.

According to some sources, Indian Pipe may edible. Other sources claim it's medicinal.

Since it's so rare, I won't be harvesting them for any reason. Instead I'll just take photos and marvel yet again at the strange wonders of Creation.

To start searching out your own wildflowers, I recommend the Audubon Society's guide - it's excellent.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Growing Sweet Potatoes in my Florida Food Forest

For the last few years I've been trying to grow sweet potatoes in various places.

In Florida sweet potatoes are one of the easiest crops you can grow. Healthy, nutritious, low water needs, plus high in calories - you can live on these roots.

Bonus: you don't have to grow them in a conventional garden.

The first way I grew them as a kid, long, long ago, was in my neighbor's flower box when she was out of town. They took over and smothered the petunias.

It was awesome.

Later, I've grown them here and there in raised beds and in deep mulch gardens and even in my blueberry patch.

I don't recommend doing that anymore, since my blueberries grew really slowly thanks to the root competition.

I also tried growing them around cassava but the canopy overhead was too much for them - if I do that again, it will be with widely spaced cassava plants.

Now I'm sold on a better way to grow them: right in the food forest.

I've done that for a few years. It was a nice ground cover; however, the yields were poor due to the lousy compacted sand they were growing in.

After dumping a few loads of mulch last fall, however, along with doing a lot of chop and drop (and shredding stuff), everything is starting to look really, really good.

And the sweet potatoes know the soil has improved.

I went out on Sunday afternoon and started rooting around.

There was something good in the ground... I could feel it...

Almost there...

AH! Here's the mother lode!!!

Look at all the fungal mycelium in there - those are all those white patches. That's good stuff. I planted the original slips through 6-12" deep mulch into the soil, but they put roots everywhere. Check out this view of the path where I tossed the sweet potatoes I unearthed:

Mrs. Survival Gardener is my photographer. And lover. Shhh.
Overall, I planted perhaps 20 slips in the spring... and just let them run through the food forest around my trees and shrubs. Some made plenty of roots... some didn't.

The total yield?


Not bad at all considering I didn't water or fertilize or do anything from March all the way through November. I just let them ramble and occasionally pulled vines out of the paths.

Some of the tubers ended up getting quite large:

Check out my foxy new glasses. And my giant sweet potatoes. Which are more awesome? Hard to say.
The biggest sweet potato tipped the scales at 3lbs, 12 oz.

I really pulled in a decent yield considering the lack of work involved. Just some cuttings in spring, some deep mulch, whatever rain the Lord sent and then a little digging.

Fortunately, I received a lot of help from our two-year-old. That boy is great at filling baskets.

Babies + sweet potato harvesting = a great afternoon.
By the way, we buy our baskets from local thrift stores for a dollar or two each. They're great help on the homestead and much cheaper than buying new baskets or totes. Plus they're all different and homey.

If you haven't planted sweet potatoes in your food forest or mulch beds, why not try some in the spring? They're a wonderful crop and very rewarding. Pulling them up is like digging for treasure.

And the best part? We'll be enjoying these well into the winter... and when they're done, it'll be time to plant again.

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