Friday, July 24, 2015

Jamaican Sorrel leaves are a good green


Rachel made something delicious a few nights ago.

She took chaya greens (which are one of my favorites) and cooked them mixed in with Jamaican sorrel leaves (Jamaican sorrel is also known as Florida cranberry - and in case you wondered: YES, Jamaican sorrel leaves are edible).

The tartness of the Jamaican sorrel meshed excellently with the hearty flavor of the chaya, making a really tasty mess of cooked greens.

The bed above was planted this spring and bears more leaves than we could ever consume - and later in the year, it will bear the delicious tart red calyxes used for cranberry sauce, mixed drinks and teas.

Quite a versatile plant. We find the leaves a bit too tart for the main part of a salad, but mixed in with a few other greens they have a refreshing bite reminiscent of a good balsamic vinegar.

Rachel is still working on her "strange vegetable" cookbook and these greens will definitely be in there. Stay tuned.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Today at the 326 Community Market: Large-fruited PawPaw Seedlings!

I was very fortunate to be able to purchase fresh pawpaw seeds last year... and get them to germinate.

It's not all that easy, since you need to have totally fresh seed that's never been dried out, then you need to chill it for months, then you need to plant and wait a few more months...

...but all that is over now. I now have a bunch of little pawpaw starts - Asimina triloba to be precise - and I'll be selling them for $5 each this week at the 326 Community Market.

These are NOT the little scrub pawpaws with the tiny fruit - these are the big tree type with large, tasty fruit. We're at the bottom of their native range, however there are trees here that set fruit. If you have a shady spot, pop a few of these in. I recommend buying at least a couple of them or else you're not likely to get pollination.

Beyond the pawpaws, I'll also be bringing some larger and rarer plants - perhaps even a big fruiting coffee tree - so stop on by. As always, I'll also be selling copies of Create Your Own Florida Food Forest for $7.

And I still have some white-fruited mulberries left, so come and get 'em.

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. See you there!


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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Another Florida Stinging Caterpillar: The Saddleback Caterpillar!



Look at those amazing spines. Aren't they something else?

I'm a bit of a sucker for dangerous animals and plants... and this one is no exception. I've previous written about Florida's stinging puss caterpillar... today we'll take a look at this week's visiting stinging caterpillar.

The saddleback caterpillar is not particularly dangerous, really, but it does sting like the dickens. Here's the rest of that fellow:


This lovely stinging caterpillar was discovered on one of my yard-long beans by the children. Fortunately no one bumped into him.

I love the way the saddle looks - really a beautiful creature.


The spines are also lovely. The saddleback caterpillar is like a little stinging assault vehicle.

They don't really do much damage to plants, fortunately, so I just leave them alone to grow up into moths and fly off to go make little stinging babies.

To wrap up, here's a little video I did of this particular saddleback caterpillar:


Florida is truly a weird and wonderful place. Even our poisonous caterpillars look cool.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

WOCA Interview 7/21: Pumpkins, Weird Beetles, Composting and More!

As promised, here's the video from WOCA:

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Monday, July 20, 2015

I'll be live on WOCA Tuesday morning at 9AM

Monday morning on In The Garden with Carol Ann Baldwin, I'll be joining Larry Whitler and filling in again for Carol Ann.

Call in - we'll be talking gardening, Compost Everything and whatever else folks want to talk about.

You can catch the show live online here or tune in via 96.3FM or 1370AM in the Ocala area. The call-in number is 352-622-9622.

Later on in the day I'll post the YouTube recording of the show.


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Happy Monday: here's a video of a Florida flatworm!

I was eating breakfast on the back patio with my wife recently when I noticed something really cool creeping between the cracks of the bricks... and I caught it and put it on the table so I could film some footage.

It was... a flatworm!


You don't see those every day.

And they move fast. Check out my video:


It's a tiny little thing.

I decided to add my song "Worms" as a soundtrack. It seemed appropriate. If you really want to suffer, you can find the complete album here. My favorite tracks are The Superman Song, Eye of the Hurricane and Publix... though I think they're all cool.

I am, however, quite biased. I've also been reliably informed that I have "terrible taste" and that my music has "no commercial value whatsoever."

As for this cool little flatworm... you really never know what you'll find crawling around in a healthy ecosystem.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Alright - my post was too terrifying for some folks

...so I pulled it.

I'll be snake-hunting if you need me. ;)



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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Today at the 326 Community Market! White Mulberries! Turmeric!



I'll be at the 326 Market this afternoon with plenty of interesting bits and pieces, including little white-fruited mulberry trees.


White mulberries don't stain the driveway - and they taste like honey! (Photo credit)
Along with white mulberries, I'll also have turmeric plants, goji berries, various fruit trees, perennial vegetables and all kinds of cool stuff.

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. See you there!



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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's fig season!

The figs are falling off the trees here at Econopocalype Ranch.

My trees are now about 4 years old and one of them has really come into its own. We've been eating figs daily.


I thought my tree was a Brown Turkey but judging by the fruit I now think it's a Celeste. They look too golden in color to be Brown Turkeys.

I started this particular tree from a cutting and over the last few years it's grown from a foot tall to ten feet tall. I'd say we'll get at least a gallon of figs total off the tree this summer. As it gets bigger the harvests will as well - this is the first year it's given us more than a handful. The children are loving them and I love letting them have a couple every day.

If you don't have a fig tree, what are you waiting for? This is a delicious and exotic fruit. Pick one up and start growing your own. They taste like honey with a floral bouquet fresh from the tree - and dried they're even richer.

The trick is to pick them as soon as they droop. This means checking the tree every day. Wait and the bugs will get them. Too early and they taste like latex. But when they're soft, ripe and drooping... they're heavenly.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mango-picking in South Florida isn't Like You Think



See those fruits? In case you grew up in a blighted Yankee hellhole (spits) and don't know what those are, those are mangoes.

They are one of the most incredible and delicious fruits on the planet. If you live in an aforementioned Yankee state and have bought them in a grocery store, you don't know what they taste like. They're terrible from the grocery. Sweet-sour with a turpentine undertone.

Those are not the mangoes we have in Florida. The mangoes in Florida, or more specifically SOUTH Florida, are rich, sweet, tropical, bursting with flavor and absolutely addicting.

A Master Gardener in North Florida once told me that they loved the oak woods in North Florida and really thought South Florida was sad because they didn't have towering oaks.

I responded, "Oaks? In South Florida, the MANGO TREES are the size of oaks!"

Evidence:



Those are 50-60' mango trees. They are absolutely incredible.

These particular trees are growing at my in-laws' house. Long ago, a man planted a small orchard of mango trees in his yard... then sold the house to my mother-and-father-in-law, and the trees just kept on growing... and growing... and growing.

Picking the fruit takes some serious work. Here's my father-in-law taking a few down:


That's a massive telescoping pole used to change fuses on transformers. It's a serious fiberglass tool with a hook on the end. A mango hook!


The trick is to catch the falling fruits... or eat them quickly if they smash into the ground.

I admit: I did badly at catching the fruits the day I took these pictures. The tropical sun was high in the sky and as they fell they bounced all around the branches unpredictably. I was also a little concerned about getting brained.

But, in the end, we gathered a couple of lovely buckets of mangoes, God's gift to Floridians.

Though mangoes can't take the winters where I live, I do get to visit the trees down south now and again. I'll take that... especially when I get to eat their fruit.

Thanks, Dad!

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Pears Grafted Onto Hawthorn: An Update


In April I undertook an experiment: I grafted pear scions onto a hawthorn tree growing at a friend's house.

IT'S ALIVE!!! IT'S ALLLLLIIIIIIIVVVVVVVEEEEE!!!

My original post on this experiment is here.

Out of the many grafts I undertook, four seem to have stuck.

I posted a video a few days ago - check it out:


The interesting thing about this: if the pear scions keep growing and work out, they'll be growing in a place that's rather inhospitable to most decent fruit trees. This is some hot, sandy, dry scrubland. The hawthorns can handle it, so as a rootstock they should really do well.

We'll see how things turn out long-term but I'm encouraged to see these guys growing so far.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

A Brilliant Modular Pallet Chicken Coop Design

If you're looking for a simple, well-built, cheap, predator proof chicken coop design... here it is:


Bonus: this is a chicken coop made of pallets.

Pallets! That's cheap and strong.

The problem with many chicken tractors is that they're not predator-proof. I've gone from free-ranging birds to keeping them totally locked up to experimenting with tractors to building tougher coops to again building tractors... but Allan's pallet chicken coop is a great design. I also like that it's modular. You can build it in pieces, then bolt it together, provided you can find the right-sized pallets for your chicken coop design.

We should write up some plans! I was impressed.

Here in Florida, predators are always a problem. I've lost more chickens to racoons, possums, hawks and even snakes than I care to mention.

It's all well and good to talk about the "natural" way of letting them run around the yard, but at the end of the day, homesteaders are keeping chickens for eggs and meat - and chickens are a tasty prey animal. If they aren't completely protected in a predator-proof coop, you will lose some - or all - of your birds.

Putting hardware cloth all the way around may cost some cash but it's better than coming out in the morning and finding out that your birds have been decapitated and strewn around the yard.

Been there, seen that, hated it. Never again. A safe, tough, pallet chicken coop like this one is a great idea and I thank Allan for sharing it with us!



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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Today at the 326 Market!



We had a great time last week at the Watermelon Festival... and this week ought to be plenty of fun as well.

My friend Donna is now selling a great assortment of wonderful handmade soaps, there are folks there with fresh-baked bread, there are amazing jams you can spread on that bread, there are magnificent pieces of handcrafted jewelry you can wear while you eat your bread and jam...

Anyhow, it's a great market.

And I'll be there with lots of plants for sale. Stop in and pick up some perennial vegetables and fruit trees for your yard!

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. See you there!

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Jackbeans from Thailand

Last time I was down in Ft. Lauderdale, my Thai aunt-in-law showed me a really cool bean plant in her garden:



That's a heck of a bean pod, isn't it? That's called a "jackbean."

She cooks the young pods in stir-fries and boils the green beans, once shelled, as a vegetable.

However, she tells me the mature dry beans are poisonous (and the internet backs this up) so they're good only for planting.

And... joy of joys... she had saved a mature pod for me!


I can't wait to see how these things grow. They're really a monstrous bean and look pretty darned awesome in the garden.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My First, Full-Length Gardening Instruction Video!

Earlier this year, Marjory Wildcraft invited me to be a part of her Home Grown Food Summit. 

I agreed and hired my cousin (he almost volunteered, in fact, since it was a lot of work) to help me put together a good gardening presentation for the event.

The result was 13 Tips, Tricks and Lessons from Homesteading an Acre.

The video played live during the summit and was ranked among the top five presentations by viewers. It generated a lot of really good press but was only available as part of a multi-video package deal.

Until now!

I've set it free and am now offering the almost hour-long presentation for $4.99 as a video download for your enjoyment and gardening edification.


In this film you'll see some of my gardens, plus demonstrations of some really cool hand tools, a look at dangerous deadly manure, see my simple chicken tractors, learn about simple water storage and composting... and more. The amount of information is high and I keep it interesting.

Pick up a copy here - and thank you all for continuing to fund my wacky experiments. Without the little bit of income I get here, I'd probably have to go take on more work elsewhere and cut back on this site. I really appreciate all the sales and kind words. We're all in this thing together and I'm happy to see more and more people gardening every day. May my experience on our jam-packed one acre homestead help you with your own farms and gardens!

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Weird and wild tropical fruit in South Florida


I really had fun in Ft. Lauderdale two weeks ago working on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, visiting the beach, seeing family... and of course,wandering around and staring at other people's plants.

I'm like a botanical Peeping Tom, staring over fences, furtively snapping photos of roadside trees and casting lingering glances into backyard gardens.

The fruit above is an Ackee, one of the most popular fruits of Jamaica which also thrives in South Florida. It's also a very attractive tree.

Speaking of attractive, the next plant on today's list is the coco plum, a tasty native edible fruit from the coast that is often planted as an ornamental hedge:


That's a white-fruited variety, though coco plum fruits also come in blue-black. Both taste good, though they are a bit stringy with a big seed in the middle. Sort of like a sweet-fluffy cotton candy.

This next fruit is a really weird one. It's called a "screw pine", also known as Pandanus utilis



The fruit is reportedly starchy and edible, though I've never had a chance to give one a try. Here's what the entire tree looks like:


Very weird-looking - I wish I could grow one up here.

Another fruit I wish I could grow is the sapodilla:


I can't tell you how delicious these things are. This tree was growing in the same yard as the ackee fruit in the first picture. Someone is a gardener after my own heart.

Finally, here's an under-utilized fruit tree from the tropics that I really love:
 

Those, in case you didn't grow up as blessed as I was, are sea grapes.

My grandma and grandpa had them growing in a hedge along the back wall of their yard in Ft. Lauderdale when I was a kid. My brother and I used to try to walk the entire wall in between their huge and twisting branches... and we also ate the fruit. The wood of the sea grape is also a bright and lovely hardwood with an incredible red-orange color.

This Florida artist has used it in a hand-carved bowl:


The fruit is really best for jam-making but I used to eat it right from the trees in season. Some are really good... and some taste weirdly over-ripe.

Even if you couldn't eat the fruit, however, the tree is a thing of beauty.

I imagine one day having a food forest in the tropics where I can plant sea grapes, ackee and other wonderful tropicals together...

...until then, I'll try to be happy with visits down south. 

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Monday, July 6, 2015

A Nocturnal Visitor


This beautiful creature showed up at my office window on a dark and humid night last week. I was writing and my wife stopped in to say "hi," and then remarked "David - look at that - on the window!!!"

I was thrilled - a Luna moth! I snatched my camera and got a good shot before it flew off into the night.

Someone just this last week asked why we leave various sweet gum trees around the yard. The answer is multi-pronged (I like the extra biomass for chop-n-drop, plus they shade the bad sandy area of the food forest, they make good living yam trellises, etc.) but one of the main reasons is that I want a place where Luna moths can feast. They also eat hickory, persimmon and sumacs, all of which I've allowed to grow in my food forest as the birds plant the seeds.

This is the second Luna moth I've seen this year. What a wonderful distraction from my writing.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Okay - no weekends for me!

I had enough people in fear for my sanity step in and dissuade me from my idea of 7-day-a-week posting.






See you all Monday.



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Friday, July 3, 2015

A Crazy Tropical Vegetable Cookbook: Share Your Ideas!



Happy Independence Day Weekend!

My wife has started a cool project: she is writing a cookbook for Florida gardeners growing the crazy crops I recommend on this blog and in my books.

One of the downsides of growing and selling relatively unknown edible plants (at least unknown inside this country) is that people often will grow the plants and then at some point realize they have no idea what to do with them... and they go shopping at the grocery for something familiar to eat instead.

How do you use malanga? Cassava? Chaya? Katuk? We're going to give folks a nice place to start. It's no use growing these incredible tropical crops if one don't know how to use them!

We're gathering and sharing our own homestead recipes right now.

If you have a plant or recipe you think should be included, send it our way. Let's get this project rolling!


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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Okay - who sent me seeds - and what are they?

Somebody in Sarasota just sent me three packages of seeds:


They look like some sort of big lentil or legume... but there are no labels and no notes in the package. Thank you... I think!

Anyone care to enlighten me? ;)

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Today at the 326 Community Market: Watermelon Festival and $16 Fruit Trees!!!

Hey folks - it's WATERMELON FESTIVAL time!

That's right... this week at the 326 Market there will be sack races, seed-spitting contests and all kinds of watermelon-related craziness. Bring the whole family and prepare to have fun!

At my booth I have peaches, pears and Japanese persimmons for just $16 a pot right now. These are young trees but are plenty big for planting - and at a price you'll find hard to beat.

I also have - wait for it! - ONE, nice, big improved loquat tree for $30.00. First come, first serve. The cultivar is "Wolfe."

There's a little write-up on this cultivar here that states "'Wolfe', (S.E.S. #4) (a seedling of 'Advance' selected and named at the Agricultural Research and Education Center of the University of Florida in Homestead, and released in 1966)–obovoid to slightly pear-shaped; 1 3/4 to 2 in (4.5-5 cm) long and 1 to 1 1/4 in (2.5-3.2 cm) wide; yellow with fairly thick skin and pale-yellow, thick, firm, juicy flesh of excellent flavor, acid but also sweet when tree-ripe; has 1 to 5 seeds (usually 1 to 3). Tree reaches 25 ft (7.5 in) and bears well nearly every year."

I also have large-fruited prickly pears, some bananas, chaya, goji berries, soap-nut trees and more.

And - in related news - my friend Donna will be setting up her booth for the first time this week and selling some of her amazing homemade soap. Be sure to say hi to her as well.

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, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, 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, July 1, 2015

More Victims of the Satanic Grazon Herbicide


That is a very sick sunflower.

It's sick because of "Grazon" or possibly "GrazonNext," a popular herbicide glowingly recommended by the University of Florida for broadleaf weed control in pastures.

Here's the deal: Grazon or other Aminopyralid-containing herbicides are sprayed on pastures because they don't kill grasses, only plants such as horse nettle, pigweed and blackberries. Then after application, the cows, horses and other animals graze on the grass, ingesting the herbicide which passes undigested through their systems and into their manure.

The manure can be composted for a year or more and it will STILL kill your garden.

The picture above came from my friend Luzette, owner of Buffalo Girl Soaps. She came over to my booth at the Union Street Farmer's Market in Gainesville last week and told me that she had no idea what was happening to her garden this year.

"Everything is all messed up for some reason. I added a lot of horse manure - we can get tons of it - and I planted like usual..."

"Grazon," I replied. "Your garden has been poisoned."

I hate this stuff. I utterly hate it. I lost a thousand dollars of plants a few years back and poisoned a decent amount of my young food forest, setting it back for years and whacking some of my trees. There's an olive tree in my front yard that is shorter now than when I planted it.

It was poisoned by Grazon in a load of cow manure.


Grasses also take up the toxin, meaning that adding straw or hay to your compost is now no longer a good idea. Many, many fields are being sprayed.

AVOID ALL MANURE on your garden unless it's produced by your own animals and they are not fed with hay from outside your property. All manure should now be considered potentially deadly to your garden (with the possible exception of Black Kow - I have yet to hear a bad report about them so I'm assuming they're screening for Aminopyralids).

Here are some more pictures from Luzette's ruined garden:


The cantaloupe plants, she reports, looked okay but the fruit were small and hard. 

The peppers show the tell-tale leaf curling caused by Grazon damage:


And these beans are goners:


Even blackberry brambles are showing serious signs of damage:


In my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I dedicate quite a few words to this evil stuff. I don't hesitate to call it Satanic, since it utterly perverts God's design in nature.

I have no idea how to fight the poisoning of manure, which has traditionally been the mainstay fertilizer of organic gardeners, but I do want you to know that I won't stop writing about it and trying to save as many of your gardens as I can.


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