Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You've got to admire his tenacity

I posted this video a week ago:

That snake has been back almost every day, sometimes for hours a day, trying to get in and devour my chicks.

I love snakes... this one is patient. I've caught him and tossed him in various places multiple times... and he keeps coming back.

I almost want to just let him have a chick. Almost.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Enterolobium Supreme

This last Friday I was on my way home from A Natural Farm with my friend Curtiss. We'd gone down there to pick up a few Cherry of the Rio Grande trees from Luc, the owner and all around great guy.

Curtiss was driving. He'd already stopped the van just a few minutes previously so we could pick some of the abundant papery pods from some Albizia lebbeck trees I'd spotted. They're nitrogen fixers and I always need more of those.

After turning around from that stop and heading north through Fruitland Park, I saw something I couldn't believe. Curtiss must've seen my head swivel.

"Alright... what did you see?"

"I could've sworn that was an Enterolobium tree over there!"

"Okay... I'll turn around."

Curtiss did and we parked and hiked back alongside the highway to the tree. On the way I stopped for a minute and gathered some bunches of rosary peas for my seed collection, but we got to the mystery tree in just a couple of minutes... and it was incredible.

There, standing by the highway and still bearing many pods from last year's fruiting season, was the largest Enterolobium tree I've ever seen... and it was definitely outside its regular range.

For those of you not familiar with the Enterolobiums, they're also known as "ear-pod trees" or "guanacaste" trees in their native South American range. They're beautiful and spreading, plus they fix abundant amounts of nitrogen - a perfect addition to any food forest.

This particular tree is an Enterolbium contortislliquum (thank you, Green Deane for helping sort out the species).

Here's a shot of me holding a few of the pods we snagged:

It's not every day you see such an awesome tree. I'll bet it was at least 60' tall and perhaps 100' wide. It felt like we were standing in the Amazon being beneath that monster's branches.

I'm definitely starting the seeds. And I'm very glad Curtiss turned the van around or else I would've missed a heck of a cool tree.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

SATURDAY is the Reddick Barbecue Festival: I'll be there with plants!

What do perennial vegetables and fruit trees have to do with barbecue?

Not much!

But that's not keeping us away from the EPIC Reddick Barbecue Festival tomorrow.

Stop on by - the event is happening at Friendship Baptist Church in Reddick: 15115 NW Gainesville Road, Reddick, FL 32686.

I'll be there with a wide assortment of rare and wonderful edibles.

There will also be live music, a big barbecue cook-off between various local churches, games for children and thousands of people in attendance. Much of the proceeds from barbecue sales will go to help the needy, so eat up. There's more info on the event website.

Though it runs both Saturday and Sunday, we'll only be attending Saturday.

See you there!

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Today at the 326 Community Market: Chinese Chestnuts and More!

We're in the midst of show season right now... there are lots of plants coming in and out of the nursery so fast I can barely keep track of inventory. That said, you can be sure that there will be some really cool edibles with me this week, including fruit trees, nut trees and perennial vegetables.

One of the trees I'm very happy to be carrying this year is the Chinese chestnut. It's a much shorter tree than its noble American cousin or the hybrid Dunstan chestnut.

This means it will fit in a small yard better, plus bear you edible chestnuts in the fall.

Plant two for nuts or just plant one if you want an ornamental tree for your landscaping.

My trees are young (about 2' tall) and ready to plant. Fortunately, chestnuts grow and bear quite quickly, sometimes in just three years from seed!

Along with chestnuts, I'll also have cassava plus some small perennial vegetables and other cool stuff - stop on by and say hi. Our booth will be set up from 3-7PM - look for the Florida Food Forests sign.

Market details are here. Friend them on Facebook - their page is quite active and you'll get regular updates on new vendors and events.

See you there!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Daikons (and don't forget the Gainesville Market this evening!)

Those are daikon radishes, a mild-flavored and crispy relative of our common red radish. Hailing from Japan, daikons are scrappy, easy-to-grow and productive.

This was our first year giving them a go and I'm happy with the results. Think of them as icicle radishes on steroids.

Rachel has put a few jars in brine to pickle in the fridge. We've also added them to kimchi, stir-fries, and eaten them fresh and crispy right from the garden.

There are apparently much larger varieties of daikons - I'd like to try those this fall. The entire bed has now bolted so I think we're done growing them for this year... it's sweet potato and Seminole pumpkin time.

On another note, I'll be at the Gainesville Farmer's Market this evening from 4-7 - look for the Florida Food Forests booth. We'll have a variety of interesting plants for sale including cassava, gingers, blueberries, persimmons, peaches and other delights.

Come on by and say hi! The Union Street Market website is here. There you'll find directions and more about the market.

There's a lot of great produce there, along with other plant stands, handicrafts, homemade ice cream, freshly baked sourdough bread from my friend Joe at the Mosswood Farm Store, homemade soap and lots more.

I scored a beautiful Vietnamese hollyhock last week thanks to my friend Kathleen, a fellow plant-seller a couple of booths down from mine.

Stop in and check it out.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Diggin' these phat beets

I'm not sure why these beets are so pink, but I am glad we are finally enjoying some success with one of my favorite root vegetables. The variety we're growing this year is called "Cylindra". It's a longer type, rather than the typical round beet commonly grown.

Beets looking good
The beets in the top photo were added to a batch of kimchi (along with some homegrown daikons, hot peppers and cabbages, plus store-bought turmeric, ginger and garlic) and are now happily fermenting in the fridge.

Beets also have nice greens, making them both a root and green vegetable. I'll have to take more pictures when I pull up this whole bed, which will be soon since the temperatures are rising.

For now, I'm letting them get as big as possible in anticipation of beet-pickling day.

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of some of our daikons - that's also been one of our nicest carryover crops from winter.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Showy Rattlebox: Nature's Tiny Maracas

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Friday, March 20, 2015

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: We're at the Kanapaha Spring Sale!

I will be bringing a LOT of fruit and nut trees to this huge garden show, along with a wide variety of other edibles, herbs, vegetables and rarities from around the world.

Details here.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is worth visiting just for the incredible variety of rare and beautiful plants on the sweeping grounds.

It'll be even better with the many plant vendors. I'll be at booth #134, right next to the wonderful folks from Taylor Gardens Nursery. Come to me for your edibles... then visit them for lovely ornamentals and pollinator plants.

See you at the show!

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Today at the 326 Community Market: Blueberries! Natal Plums!

Florida Food Forests has now got a bunch of blueberries and fruit trees in stock.

Come on down to the market and pick some up.

If you have pines in your yard, you can probably grow blueberries without amending the soil. If you've got oaks, add in lots of pine needles and pine bark and they're easy to grow

Even if you live in an apartment you can easily grow blueberries in large containers.

I will have rabbiteye and Southern Highbush types, plus I might still have a few native varieties.

They're just $9 a pot.

Along with blueberries, I've also got cassava, longevity spinach, mulberries, peaches, southern crabapples and LOTS of other cool edible plants you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else, including natal plums:

Natal plums are a beautiful shrub with an edible plum-like fruit that tastes somewhat like raspberries.

The variety I have is experimental for this area. The mother plant is 10 years old and growing in Citra without protection. I know it survives the cold but it may or may not fruit. I'm betting it will with proper nutrition - we'll all try them together and see what happens.

The Google map for the 326 Community Market is here, and their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info).

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free... come see me!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cassava ALMOST Sold Out!

UPDATE: We are SOLD OUT Until Summer

FYI: I'm down to about 100 cassava canes left, so if you're hovering over the decision to plant cassava in your garden this spring, don't hesitate any longer.

The last frost really cut down my nursery stock, so if you miss buying now, you'll get another chance in fall... but this is about it for spring.

Once you have cassava, you can propagate your own easily. Plant a big patch and you'll have food security no matter what crisis comes our way.


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Smilax: Florida's Asparagus

I was out in the woods hunting down wild plants a couple of weeks ago and the smilax shoots were out in full force.

Smilax, also known as briers or greenbrier, is a native perennial wild edible that's a first-class culinary treat.

They're a relative of asparagus which are much despised by homeowners for their rampant thorny vines. These things are made to tear up legs.

This is more than redeemed by the delicious shoots that pop up in spring from the large starchy roots.

At this time of year they're everywhere. Some of the shoots are tiny but many rival asparagus in their girth - and flavor.

Go hunting and break off the shoots about 6-12" back from the tip. Just snap them where they break easily. Then saute them in butter and garlic with some salt... delicious.

On another note - don't forget: today I'll be at the Union Street Farmer's Market in Gainesville from 4-7PM with plenty of interesting plants in tow. We've got blueberries, gingers for tea, perennial vegetables, peach trees and other delights - come find me!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I know... no post this morning.

We've been crazy busy loading, unloading, stocking up, planting seeds and propagating... the show schedule is brutal this month, as you can see on my events page.

This coming weekend is the Kanapaha Spring Sale in Gainesville... that ought to be fun. Then next weekend we'll be in Macintosh, then in Reddick for the Reddick Barbecue Festival the week after.

I'm trying to get my own garden going as well... on my way outside to plant some various squash and Seminole pumpkin seeds.

Jean of Cottage Life on Pilgrim's Farm also mailed me some seeds from the amazing tropical pumpkins grown in her part of the Caribbean... I'm looking forward to starting those as well.

Get out and get gardening... I'll make sure to get posts up for the rest of the week. Right now I'm sorely missing the Sabbath rest I failed to get this weekend.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Native Florida Blueberry Spotting In Florida Pinewoods

Hiking north of Gainesville. Photo by David The Good, Jr.
Just over a week ago we went camping with some friends.

The idea was to hunt hogs - which failed. (There's a hilarious story in there, though, involving a rifle with a tricky safety and a close encounter with chupacabra - ask me about it sometime.) What didn't fail, however, was my hunt for edible plants on what used to be a pine plantation.

Since the land had been cropped many times with pines, then clear cut, the species diversity was poor. Parts were swampy and parts were sandy. Overall, the soil was mostly pretty moist - and wild blueberries were everywhere, undeterred by the land's monoculture past.

Those tiny little red, orange, yellow and green leaves belong to the sweetest little wild fruit in all of Florida: Vaccinum myrsinites, also known as the shiny blueberryOnce you've spotted one of these for yourself, you'll see them everywhere - provided you're hiking around in pine scrub. There are often many dozens or even hundreds of them growing in colonies under the right conditions.

The blueberries are tiny but have an incredible flavor that has to be tasted to be believed.

Unfortunately, all I was doing on this particular hike was scoping out the native populations for future harvesting - there won't be blueberries ready until a few months later in the year.

Another species of blueberry that was scattered here and there through the scrub was the wild rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei), a taller plant with much larger leaves than the diminutive V. myrsinites.

That shrub may not look like much but it makes some very nice fruit and takes basically no work to grow in your landscaping.

In fact, I have about a dozen or so in my nursery that are loaded with young fruit. I'm more than half tempted to just plant them all in my yard rather than sell them...

If you're hoping to spot blueberries it's pretty easy to do at this time of year thanks to their distinctive blooms.

They look like little bells and contrast quite nicely with bandaids and dirty thumbnails.

(I totally cut myself with a machete. So there. What did you do with YOUR weekend? Bet it didn't involve chopping bits of wood up for a rocket stove with a giant sharp blade, then missing and slicing into your finger. That sort of experience makes life worth living. And helps fund Johnson & Johnson.)

Wild blueberries are all over the place once you know how to look.

If you see pines, start looking.

If you see pines and palmettos, you're definitely on the right track.

If you see pines, palmettos, poison oak, spurge nettle and prickly pear... you're probably standing in a blueberry patch.

There are some look-a-likes, but they don't set berries. Our native blueberries have cousins that only make dry seed capsules... so if you notice the characteristic bell-shaped flowers and they aren't later followed by berries, you've likely found one of blueberry's underachieving relatives.

Get out there and go hunting!

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

SALE on fruit trees in our booth at the Master Gardener Sale

It was a great day at the Marion County Master Gardener Spring Festival. My sister Jessica and I met a lot of folks, put a lot of edibles into people's hands and generally enjoyed ourselves while remaining standing for 10 hours. ;)

If you're getting ready for spring, this is the time to stop by. We totally stocked up on fruit and nut trees before heading to the show this weekend... and on Sunday I'll be giving a discount to anyone that wants to buy more than a couple of trees.

Buy $100 worth and I'll knock of 20% from the order.

We have four varieties of pears, plus:

Persimmons, Dunstan chestnuts, black mulberries, native mulberries, pomegranates, peaches, soapberries, southern crabapples, sassafras, loquats, hazelnuts, Chinese chestnuts and more.

I'd like to move as many of the larger items tomorrow as I can so I have less to load after the show.

If you're in the hunt for fruit trees, come find me between 9 and 4 ath the Marion County Agricultural Extension (more details on the previous post). And if you're not hunting for fruit trees, come find me anyways. You know I love to talk with fellow gardeners.


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Friday, March 13, 2015

THIS WEEKEND: The Marion County Master Gardener Spring Festival Plant Sale!


This is one of the BIGGEST plant shows in North/Central Florida. Lots and lots of plants, plus educational programs for children, garden accessories, food vendors, educational talks and more.

Florida Food Forests will be at BOOTH #87. I'll be pulling out all the stops and bringing as much as I can to the show - including paper copies of my new booklet.

My lovely sister Jessica (seriously... she's a babe) will be running the booth with me for this weekend along with Allen The Beekeeper.

This is your chance to start your food forest, get vegetable transplants or launch a new life as a gardener.

Come down and see me!

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

This week at the 326 Community Market

Last week at the 326 Market was a lot of fun. Good friends stopped in and new friends said hi.

I'll be bringing a variety of plants to the market, including most of those from yesterday's trip to the Gainesville farmer's market. Unfortunately, I sold out of may apples but I'll have some more soon.

Come on down to the 326 Market between 3 and 7. The Google map for the 326 Community Market is here, and their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info).

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free. I'll also be bringing paper copies of my new booklet, fresh from the publisher!

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling fresh vegetables, baked goods, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, chickens, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, 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!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This Week at the Union Street Farmer's Market

I will be back at the farmer's market in Gainesville this afternoon (and on future Wednesday afternoons through the spring, summer and fall), selling plants and answering gardening questions.

I'll also be bringing paper copies of my new booklet, fresh from the publisher!

Stop in between 4 and 7PM and say hi!

I've got a couple of cool new plants coming along with me this time, including the fascinating native mayapple - an attractive fruiting for full shade:

Mayapples are uncommon in Florida; however, I think they would definitely be worth trying in a dense food forest or yard under some live oaks.

Along with a few mayapples, I'll be bringing:

Florida soapberries
Native blueberries (two types: highbush and V. darrowii)
Native pawpaws
Gingers (various)
Natal Plums
Mulberries (various)
Cold-hardy bananas (Raja Puri)
Black Pepper (only one left for now!)

...and more! As I head out the door I almost always throw a few rare goodies in my van for true plant geeks.

Note: the market has moved from its previous location at the Bo Diddley Plaza to the parking lot at the corner of SW 1st Street and SW 1st Avenue, right in the heart of town.

The Union Street Farmer's Market website is here.

See you there.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"King David" Apple Graft is Taking!

It's nice to grow things named after yourself, isn't it?

That's a King David apple scion I received from Steven (of the Turkeysong Experimental Homestead blog) starting to grow after being overgrafted onto a very young Anna apple I have in the food forest.

It's waking up with the warmer weather and looks good.

Time will tell, but I think it's a GO!

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Upcoming Events

FYI: I've just created a new "Events" page with my spring schedule of talks and plant shows.

There's a lot coming up. If you'd like to meet up, I might be in your area soon. Check it out here.

Three plant shows, multiple talks, a barbecue festival... this is shaping up to be some spring!

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Loquat firstfruits!

Those fruit are on a loquat I planted out front four years ago.

Loquats are one of my favorite trees for Florida. Attractive, easy-to-grow, productive and tasty. I recommend it highly as a super-easy fruit in Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.

This tree isn't an improved variety, just a seedling, so I'm hoping the fruit is of good quality. They almost always are, in fact, but I've tasted excellent fruit on certain trees so I know how good loquats can be.

The tree has fruit here and there all across it; however, since it's about 15' tall, I can't cover it all with blankets... and the frost claimed most of the young fruit clusters.

The ones above survived because I put a barrel full of water beneath that branch and covered that whole corner of the tree with blankets to preserve at least some of the fruit so we can decide whether or not to leave the tree alone or graft on different varieties.

Soon they'll be ripe and our four-year wait for loquats will be at an end!

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Grafting Sweet Cherry On To Black Cherry

My black cherry tree is in bloom right now. This is its second year blooming and it has a lot more flowers than it did in 2014.

Our native black cherry, known more properly as Prunus serotina, is a good fruit, though small. It's bittersweet, with a wild flavor that's excellent for jams and wines.

Of course, sweet cherry fruit is better, so I'm trying an experiment. I took a couple of scions from a sweet cherry tree and grafted them on to a side branch of the black cherry to see if they'll take.

So far, so good:

I read somewhere that grafting sweet cherry on to black cherry isn't supposed to work - but I have to try. If one or both of these take and grow this year, I'll start adding more and more. Black cherries can grow to 60' in height very quickly, so I need to graft soon before the tree totally runs away from me - it's already at least 20' tall and only been in the ground for three or so years.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Today at the 326 Market: Soapberries, PawPaws and more!

We had a good week last week with friends driving all the way up from Lake County to visit the booth, as well as new friends stopping by after finding this blog.

Many of my trees still look like sticks, yet this is a good time to plant.

Soapberry Trees

One of the most exciting additions to my nursery is the Florida soapberry tree, known as both Sapindus saponaria and Sapindus marginatus.

This hard-to-find native tree is remarkable. It's attractive, drought-tolerant, and it ACTUALLY GROWS SOAP.

Soap on a tree!

The fruit, sometimes called "soap nuts," are loaded with saponins and can be used to wash laundry, your hands, or anything else you might use soap for. They're even sold commercially.

Photo credit Lisa Brewster

To make this soap there's no rendering fat, using lye or anything else: you just take out the seeds, dry the fruit and they're ready to go.

The University of Florida states this tree's range as being in zone 10. This is false: there are large trees growing quite well up in Putnam county. It goes dormant and sails through the cold. My bet is that they're a solid zone 8 tree, judging by the towering specimens I saw.

The downside of this tree is that you need to buy at least two of them for pollination, since some are males, some females, and some hermaphroditic.

The soapberry trees I have for sale are already a few years old and about 5-7' tall. They're $25.00 each, but if you buy enough plants and/or say nice things about my new hat, I might give you a discount.

Pawpaw Trees

Though I don't have all the cool types of pawpaws that my friend Terri carries in her nursery, I do have two types for sale: Asimina triloba and Asimina parviflora. (NOTE: these are not papaya trees - they are the deciduous tree or shrub that's native to North America.)

Both varieties of pawpaw have edible fruit and both are very hard to find. I've spent a lot of time sprouting pawpaw seeds, so I know why they're hard to find. The don't transplant well once planted in the field, the germination takes a long time plus it requires very fresh seeds, they don't grow from cuttings...

...but they make a delicious fruit, so it's all worth it.

Photo credit Wendell Smith
I'm going to plant some pawpaws in the shady part of my front yard food forest, since this is a fruit tree that actually likes some shade.

Asimina parviflora is probably better adapted to Florida than A. triloba; however, its fruit are half the size. I'd plant both for the best chances of yearly fruit. (And don't let the swallowtails eat all the foliage, unless you prefer butterflies to food.)

Beyond pawpaws and soapberries, here's some more of what I'll be bringing to the market today:

Florida Pineapples
Red Dwarf Bananas
Native Persimmons
Natal plums
Sassafras trees
Black pepper
Wild blueberries (both Highbush and V. darrowii)

Those are all coming to the 326 Market with me this afternoon, along with other bits and pieces.

The Google map for the 326 Community Market is here, and 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 fresh vegetables, baked goods, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, chickens, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, 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!

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