Friday, January 30, 2015

Grafting a mulberry tree

The mulberry tree (Morus nigra) in my front-yard food forest has proven to be a less-than-exciting variety. Here it is:

It makes decent fruit but they're not all that big and they're not nearly as prolific as my "Illinois Everbearing" tree out back.

However, the tree has grown well for the last four years and has some good roots beneath it at this point so there's no way I'm taking it out.

Instead, I've decided to multi-graft it with more exciting varieties.

I started this project on Wednesday of this week.

First, I decided to take off the top of the tree. It was getting too tall for easy harvesting.

Then I took off some of the branches that were growing too close to the ground.

Once the tree was cleaned up a bit, it was time to start grafting. I picked a good branch for my first graft and made a cleft in the middle with my trusty Leatherman:

Then I sharpened up a couple of scions of "6th Street," a prolific black variety. When they were trimmed nicely, I popped the first one in.

You need to put them in carefully so you don't snap the long, thin wedge. Using the blade of a knife helps.

After that, I added the second one.


Next I tied it up tightly to pull the cambium layers together.

Your main enemy when grafting is having the graft dry out, killing the scion before it can join to the root stock. This is why you wrap it up tightly or paint the wound with tree sealer. Or both. In this case, I wrapped everything with parafilm.

And here's the final graft, labeled with an aluminum tag:

I also added a few scions of "Saharanpor Local Mulberry," a long-fruited white type, to another branch on the tree, this time using "whip and tongue" grafts to match like-sized wood.

Over time I'm going to keep adding varieties to this tree. Since my space is limited, I can just use this tree as a source of propagative material for my nursery as well as for fruit. Instead of planting all the varieties of mulberry I carry, I can graft on branches and later use them for cuttings I can add to the mist house.

Of course, there's really no reason at all for doing the following... except for SCIENCE!

What is that graft, you say?

It's a Brown Turkey fig I whip-and-tongued onto this black mulberry.

Will a fig on mulberry graft work? I have no idea, but the trees are cousins so I'm giving it a try. I got a really tight fit with that graft, then wrapped it up after the photo was taken. I think it would be crazy cool if I was able to grow figs on a mulberry tree...

The winter has been so warm I just couldn't wait to start grafting. I've got quite a few experiments going and if any of them succeed I'll be quite pleased.

Other than the mulberry, today I added nectarine, sweet cherry and plum grafts onto Chickasaw plum, sweet cherry and nectarine onto a Flatwoods plum, and sweet cherry onto a wild black cherry tree (Prunus serotina). I'm curious to see if they'll take. All are cousins... so the chance is there.

I'll keep you posted.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Juan is a Grafting Ubermensch

This is suh-weeeeet:


I'm going to be top-working my black mulberry out front any week now. 

Seeing pros perform various grafts is quite helpful.
Remember: if you have a fruit tree you don't like, or that's unproductive - don't tear it out! Just cut into that sucker and add something you like. 

Grafting is your friend. Embrace it. You don't need anything fancy. A razor knife and masking tape will get you there.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Unique Method of Grafting Pecans

I never cease to be amazed by man's ingenuity - check out this post at The Brilliant Homestead to see a video on the "four-flap" or "banana graft" method of grafting pecans.

I have a hickory seedling in the yard that's totally getting grafted with a pecan scion this spring.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grafting Chickasaw Plums

Last year I performed the above graft of an improved European plum variety onto a native Chickasaw plum and it took wonderfully. That scion has now grown into a 5' branch.

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Paul Miller of Rainbow Star Farm in Gainesville. For three-plus decades, he was in charge of the fruit tree breeding program at UF. The man knows his stuff.

I told him about my successful graft and he congratulated me... then told me something very, very interesting. Apparently, the Chickasaw plum is a "universal" rootstock for more than just other plums. It will also support peaches, nectarines, apricots and potentially even cherries.

The problem, he told me, is that the Chickasaw plum is very flexible and doesn't grow nearly as large as many of the trees you can graft onto it. That means that above the graft you can have a large tree top that will bow the lower Chickasaw trunk down to the ground. This is exactly what's been happening with the graft pictured above. In order to fix this, he told me to simply knock a fence pole into the ground and tie the tree up.

Why would you want to bother?

For one thing, the Chickasaw plum is a super tough little tree. It manages lousy soil, nematodes, drought and all kinds of other stresses without flinching. It's hard to say the same for improved fruit trees.

For another thing, Chickasaw plums will pop up all over the place, thanks to birds dropping the seeds around. If you're in an area where Chickasaw plums grow in the woods near your place, you're likely to have them show up in the yard if you quit mowing.

On the downside, the Chickasaw plum is a prolific creator of suckers. They'll form a thicket in no time if you don't stay on top of them. Of course, there's nothing keeping you from grafting additional peaches, nectarines and plums onto those suckers and making a home-grown thicket of edible fruit.

Down the street from me there's a wild plum (which may be a Flatwoods plum, not a Chickasaw) growing over the fence in an empty lot. Since it was popping into bloom this last week, I decided to take the opportunity to guerrilla graft in some peach scions from one of my seedling peaches.

I'm hoping they take.

If they do, I think whoever owns the lot is going to be totally confused by the peaches that will soon be growing on the roadside.

I'll keep you all posted.

I'll also be offering Chickasaw plums for sale in my nursery this year. They're a decent sweet-tart fruit in their own right, but if you're interested in grafting... it's hard to think of a more entertaining subject for improvement.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

A Video on Growing Apples in Uganda

If apples grow in Uganda, apples should grow in Florida:

Notice how they strip the leaves in order to induce "dormancy" and a new bloom cycle.

Really brilliant stuff.

The varieties of apple recommended for Florida are Anna, Dorsett Golden, and Ein Shemer - though chances are we can grow a lot more than that.

Yeah, I'm obsessed. Going to be planting my orchard this week. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

"It's a Long Road, Backholme"

There are times when one needs to step back from gardening in order to create a deeply meaningful art film.

My friend Kevan and I have collaborated on a wide variety of interesting projects in the past, though rarely one of this stunning artistic depth.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Giant purple sweet potato

I don't remember where I got the original sweet potato I grew slips from, but these purple beauties taste rich and look amazing. When baked they turn a darker purple and have a sweet, slightly dry consistency. Very good with butter and salt.

I'm going to have to propagate more to grow this summer. They're a hit.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Growing Apples in the Tropics Book

I bought this book a couple of days ago. Utterly fascinating.

You can find it here as a download. I bought the .pdf, printed it, three-hole punched the pages and put it in a binder so I can read in bed at night and skip staring at a screen.

I'll have to post a full review when I'm done reading. I'm half-way through it now and I believe it's going to prove greatly helpful in my new quest to grow good apples in Florida.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Potatoes 2015: Yeah, I'm Trying Again

I'm trying again. Last year's potato patch was an abject failure, thanks to fire ants. They ate the roots, giving me only a few potatoes in a big patch I planted.

This year, I'm watching for them. And I WILL kill them all.

As you can see in the background, I've got a little 2-year-old helper who was fetching seed potatoes for me. Life is better with baby helpers.

The hoe I'm using to make the rows is this cool one from (Thank you, Greg. I like these tools.)

These potato beds are in my former sugarcane patch. The yield of annual vegetables is much higher than the yield of sugarcane and my space is limited. Now I'm planting white potatoes - later in the season I'll plant something else, then in the fall I'll plant it yet again. You just can't get that kind of productivity from sugar cane. Sugar cane also isn't great for feeding the family... or reaching my goal of growing 2,000 lbs of food in 2015. (I've still got some cane growing in the food forest, so it's not totally gone - I really like chewing fresh cane in the fall and so do the children.)

The soil is rich sandy loam and I'm very happy with it. If potatoes fail here, I might just quit.

Don't they look pretty?

Hoping for the best.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Growing Apples In Florida

Now I've done it:

Most varieties of apple are not supposed to grow in Florida, including all of the varieties on the above receipt.

Interestingly, I came across a site that throws into question the entire concept of apples being strictly a northern tree.

At the same time, I also watched The Permaculture Orchard. And I had some grafting conversations with this guy and that got me thinking... and thinking...

Since my sweet cherry trees are still doing fine (though my almonds are not)... and because I would really like to grow apples... I pulled the trigger and bought this set of bare-root from Peaceful Valley.

Now just because I'm buying and planting Granny Smith, Fuji, Honey Crisp, Gala and other apples that aren't supposed to grow in Florida... don't think I'm recommending it. I'm not.


I've already got a few Anna apples, a Dorsett or two, plus an Ein Shemer and a Tropic Sweet in the Food forest. Those are recommended varieties... the others are most definitely not.

My bet is that we will face significant battles with fireblight. They may be able to grow in the dry warm climates, but our wet warm climate may prove deadly.

Resolution: I'm going to do my best with organic means (as far as is possible) to grow traditional apple varieties here in Florida.

I'll post photos as I go and keep you all updated. I'm going to experiment with growing some root stocks and grafting varieties as well.

I dunno about you, but I'm excited.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Found: A Weird and Wonderful Florida Worm Lizard

My third-born son was hoeing around the citrus trees in the food forest the other day when he made a discovery... and promptly caught it to show us.

"Look! A pink snake that looks like a worm!"
I've seen photos of this strange creature but never had the chance to meet one in person.

That is a Florida worm lizard, known more properly as Rhineura floridana.

It's a good little predator and rarely seen. I'm excited to constantly be coming across new species in the food forest. Dropping lots of rough organic matter and stick piles around... putting up bird houses... not mowing... planting a wide diversity of plants and trees... it makes a difference.

The neighbors might think you're nuts but Nature is quite happy to move in and entertain you with an ever-changing array of strange and beautiful creatures.

My son was kind enough to let his younger siblings hold his newfound pink friend.

And then, after all the children had seen the mysteriously worm-like reptile, we set it free in our Miami Garden, where it rapidly buried itself in the mulch.

My naturalist's heart was warmed to see my children fascinated by a bizarre creature without shrieking or yelling "kill it!"

Hopefully our Florida worm lizard will eventually have many children of its own that we will meet in future years.

For more on the Florida worm lizard, check out this page I found.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Taking the top off a tree and changing the variety

I've been studying up on grafting over the last couple of weeks and just found a good post by Lee Reich over at Mother Earth News:

I might be accused of being the Henry the Fourth of horticulture. Visitors here are amazed — or is it shocked? — to learn of my apparent ruthlessness.

Bark graft scion after cutting.
A case in point: I grow about two dozen varieties of pear, all trees I made myself by growing rootstocks from pear seeds and grafting onto those rootstocks one or more stems (known as scions) of a variety I want to grow. (Pears on seedling rootstocks grow very large and I’m afraid of heights. So I usually make dwarf trees by grafting scions onto scions of special dwarfing rootstocks that, in turn, get grafted on the seedling rootstocks.) Problem is that I’ve never tasted many of the varieties I’ve grown. I chose them from recommendations or from printed descriptions. Alas, some varieties never live up to their promise, for me at least. And then, it’s off with their heads.
Grafting for a tree makeover.

In contrast to Henry, I don’t lop off their heads and that’s the end of them. Instead, after lopping a tree back to a fairly low stub of trunk, I then stick on some new scions. With a full-grown root system beneath them, the scions, once they’ve knit to the rootstocks, really take off, often growing more than 3 feet in one season.

These “top-worked” trees also bear quickly, sometimes within a couple of years. And a couple of years after that, the graft smooths out so that you’d hardly guess at the apparently brutal treatment the tree endured just a few years back. Unless, of course, I’m not pleased with the fruit of the new variety, in which case it’s again, “Off with your head."

My favorite graft for these tree makeovers is known as a bark graft and the time to do it is just as leaves are beginning to poke out of recently dormant stems and the bark easily separates from the wood. Which is now, early May, here in New York’s Hudson Valley. Ideally, foot-long scions of one-year-old wood (last years growth) have been gathered a few weeks previous and have been kept dormant with refrigeration.

The nice thing about the bark graft is that it comes with an insurance policy. Onto a stub of a trunk a couple of inches or more in diameter, you can stick 3, 4, 5, or even more scions, depending on just how wide the trunk is. Only one scion needs to grow; the more that are grafted, the greater the chance of success.

Grafting fruit trees for health and vitality.
The graft itself is simple. I make a long, evenly sloping cut, typically about 2 inches long, near the base of the scion. Then, into the freshly cut stub on which the scions will be grafted, I make two slits about the width of the base of the scion and through the bark and down to the wood. Lifting the bark near where it was cut provides an opening into which I slide the cut scion with this sloping cut facing inward and deep enough to cover its sloping cut. 

This is repeated with the other scions, all around the stub. One or two staples from a staple gun or a wrapping of electrician’s tape suffices to hold the scions and the flap of bark from the rootstock in place.

CLICK HERE to keep reading at

It's truly amazing what trees will live through. I'm going to be severely cutting back a mulberry in a month or so and grafting away.

We'll see if I can pull off this method successfully.

It's not like I'm going to kill the tree trying... killing a mulberry is really tough.

I'll post pictures when I graft and keep you all posted.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

An Excellent Florida Artist: Tim Forman

This isn't gardening related, but it's worth mentioning.

I grew up with this cat - he's always been brilliant, but now he's really making waves in the Florida art scene:

When there's so much depressing garbage out there, it's wonderful to see artists capturing the beauty of nature.

Confession: I graduated with a degree in fine art. Most of the stuff we learned was worthless. Clashing colors, gluing things to other things, painting junk fluorescent colors, writing curse words in tile...

...I'm still recovering. You may have seen my art site before - I now strive to capture beauty rather than pour my rage and angst onto the canvas as I did as a younger man, but it's mostly just for fun rather than for shows.

Some years back I was entering gallery shows multiple times a year and actively selling my work.

Now, of course, I don't paint as often as I would like because of my nursery, writing and homesteading work; however, I can live vicariously a bit through the success of friends like Tim.

A few years ago I invested in one of his original paintings and I'm so glad I did. Soon I won't be able to afford them. At least I have his 2015 art calendar. Maybe I can get him to sign it...

Florida is a wonderful state and artists that capture her beauty should be commended. Tim Forman is doing excellent work and I'm looking forward to seeing him on the national stage.

Check out his site - lots to see there.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Revenge of the Ants

I saw this comment here yesterday and laughed out loud:

Heh, usually I fight with my dad about our garden because I want to do everything organically and he's like, "What's wrong with a little Roundup? It says it's safe to eat!" This year the leaf cutter ants teleported in and ate an ENTIRE newly transplanted grapefruit tree and half a loquat tree overnight (these were like five-foot-tall, five-foot-wide trees!) and I the next day I said, "Dad, I have abandoned my principles. Go to the feed store and buy the nuclear-option ant killer. I don't just want them to die, I want them to suffer. I want ants to be unable to reproduce on this ground for the next hundred years. I want our yard to be a story that the old ants tell the young ants about the Place That Must Not Be Visited." So we killed them all and then our entire yard and driveway caved in because their tunnels were so extensive. Sigh.

Jen, I dunno if you're pulling our legs, but that's hilarious.

Thank you.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Goal for 2015: Grow a (Literal) Ton of Food

This last year's yields weren't as impressive as I had hoped.

I mean... come on!


Kid stuff. That's pathetic, especially considering that I teach gardening.

Granted, I was running a nursery and writing about 10 articles/posts a week in 2014, plus I wrote a book... but that's really no excuse.

This year is it. This is the year of the one-ton garden.

There should have been 10 wheelbarrows full of potatoes.

The less productive crops are being phased out (goodbye, sugarcane!) and the more productive staples will be phased in (hello, Seminole pumpkins!)

Since the weather has been so warm I've decided to start planting the cool-season spring vegetables now. We've expanded the garden beds by about 500 ft2 in the last couple of weeks and will soon add another 1000 ft2.

Yeah, I supposed I could cheat and just plant a ton of watermelons to reach my goal... or maybe giant pumpkins...

But I won't. I am going to go for higher-yielding plants. The Seminole pumpkins did amazingly well for us, as do the sweet potatoes and yard-long beans. I'm also going to really go crazy with the cabbages. I love those. My beets are even looking good this year, so I just planted lots more. And onions. Oh yeah.

I'll probably also try potatoes again and just kill all the fire ants so they don't destroy another harvest.


(Would that still make my garden organic? Just a LITTLE poison?)

So there - I wrote it down. The goal for the year is 2000 lbs of produce.

What's your goal?

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Crash Gardening Season Finale: Water Chestnuts Hijacked by WHAT AM I WATCHING???

Jeff and I were going to create a highly educational Crash Gardening video on how to grow and harvest Chinese water chestnuts... but instead, our project somehow got hijacked by a nature documentary on the Yanomami of the Amazon.

Or something.

I very, very, very, very, very sincerely and seriously apologize.

Now I don't even know if Crash Gardening is educational.

Of course, if Captain Planet can make it on TV...

You know, I think the AK-47 bear massacre in Episode 2 was really the beginning of the end. We held it together pretty well, though, until Michael Moore showed up.

Whatever's going on, it's definitely coated in solid awesome. And partial nudity.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Cleaning a heart of palm

Some of my neighbors had a few trees removed so I asked the crew for the trunks to feed my food forest.

Imagine my excitement when I found they'd cut down a cabbage palm and the heart was still fresh.

Here's me butchering it:

I've never had heart of palm before since it requires killing a multiple-year-old cabbage palm tree. I find that rather wasteful unless you have a lot of palms on your property. In this case, the deed was already done so we got some free dinner from the deal.

The flavor of this rare treat is mild and nutty and the texture is wonderfully fine. Mrs. Survival Gardener sauteed most of the palm heart with grass-fed ground beef and onions.


I think I'm going to turn the rest into sauerkraut.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Growing Moringa Q & A: Yields, Maturity, Frost Protection, Seeds, Drying, PKM-1 and More!

Moringa trees
This week I received two e-mails in the same day regarding moringa growing.

Though I'm not a total expert on the health side of Moringa, (my friend Cathy is more amazing than me on that front), I am very good at growing them - and I've got multiple pounds of dried Moringa powder in my office to prove it.

Moringa is hot stuff right now.

My dad is growing two moringa trees in the Great South Florida Food Forest Project. He was approached by a friend interested in stripping the leaves for re-sale at the local farmer's market. He said no, since the yields on his small trees wouldn't really be worthwhile and he'd rather use them himself.

Now... let's see if I can be at all helpful in regards to the e-mails I've received this week.

Moringa Email #1:


Got your contact information on your Florida Survival Gardening.

Hope you don't mind asking a question. I'm contemplating in adding Moringa Oleifera Leaf powder as a supplements to mine, my family and relatives on our daily regimen.

I also enjoy gardening, it is very meditative for me, so I'm trying to decide to either grow the trees myself on just buy the dried powder. In as much I love to garden I'm NOT sure how many trees to plant and expect a reasonable amount of Moringa Leaf powder to produce.

I also understand that it takes 7 pounds of fresh Moringa Oleifera leaves to produce 1 pound of Moringa Leaf Powder. With that in mind I have a few questions and hopefully you can help me determine what to do next.

1) How old/mature a Moringa Oleifera tree before it start to produce leaves that are suitably and effectively can be used as a supplemental dried leaves ?

2) How much leaves approximately a 6 month old Moringa Oleifera tree will produce ? How about a 1 year old tree?

3) Do you happen to know a source of Moringa PKM-1 and PKM-2 seeds?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Kind regards, B. P.


Moringa powder is an excellent supplement. The data I've seen is quite impressive - it's basically a multivitamin tree. We consume moringa regularly - I dry my own powder here, which is easy since the leaves are very thin.

An incriminating photo of moringa drying indoors beneath a fan on a bed of cardboard.
If you're in Florida or another relatively warm state, it's definitely worth growing your own. In USDA growing Zone 8 and 9 it will freeze to the ground in winter. If the trees are well-established, however, they'll return. There are specimens in Gainesville that have regrown for 8+ years.

Though you can start moringa from cuttings, seeds make much stronger plants. They're easy to germinate as long as the weather is warm - and they'll grow into a 10-20' tree in ONE growing season if conditions are good.

So, in answer to question #1: you can start harvesting leaves from a tree that's only a few months old. To get some quantity, however, plant a group of 8-10 trees a few feet apart and keep cutting them back to make them bush out and produce more stems and leaves. I have a patch of 8 trees that make us about 4-5lbs of dried leaves every year. That's enough to keep your family very well supplied with Moringa.

Question 2 is tough to answer. If you water and fertilize well (just don't water too much when the trees first germinate - they'll rot), plus keep chopping shoots to encourage branching, you could probably get a pound or so of leaves from a year-old tree. A six-month old tree? Maybe a quarter pound. They really start flying towards the sky at six months but won't reach their full potential until a year or more. Even with freezing to the ground, they grow back again with amazing vigor the next year.

They'll do even better if you protect them like I do in this video.

Question #3: Where to get seeds?

You can get PKM-1 from ECHO or sometimes on ebay or, even easier, on Amazon.

I haven't tried PKM-2. Where I live the moringas in my yard fail to set seeds no matter what I do, so it doesn't seem to matter. I've planted seeds from multiple sources and always gotten lots of leaves but no pods. Oh well - they're still worth growing.

Moringa E-mail #2:

Good morning, Moringa question...

I just bought five 4 ft. trees that have been in a greenhouse. One has a long brown seed pod. Should I remove it and save it til Spring to plant seeds? Or give it to David Goodman? What is the right choice here? 


Also, there are lots of leaves and flowers. Should I remove the leaves and dry them? Are the flowers edible? I'm going to try to keep the trees from freezing by sheltering them next to my air/ heat unit against the house with a cover over them when it's cold. Will that be enough? So many questions and cold coming tonight.


Thanks for thinking of me, but save the pod for yourself - I've have about three quarts of various moringa seeds in my office right now.

Yes, I get a little obsessive.

You can remove leaves if you like, or cut them back. They won't mind. At this time of year they don't usually grow very fast, though, so don't expect much regrowth. The flowers are edible and have an interesting flavor. If you're lucky, they'll set more seed pods.

The only success stories I've heard of getting moringa to set seed here are A: moringas in pots with restricted roots and B: moringas in really bad soil. I think the stress induces pod set.

To keep your trees from freezing, it would be best to bring them inside or put them up against the back wall under a porch or in a shed. 32 degrees will melt them back to their roots. When they're only 4' tall, you might as well keep them from harm until spring, then plant them out. Your plan of putting them next to the air conditioner and covering them is likely the next best thing.

My moringa trees in the winter.
I hope that helps - thanks you both for writing and allowing me to answer here on the blog.

Anyone else have some suggestions for our moringa-growing friends? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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