David the Good
We’ve finished harvesting the cassava for this year, and have had a few nice meals of it so far.
Rachel’s favorite method for cooking cassava, and one which is very popular in our house, is to make cassava fries.
Since cassava requires boiling to make it safe for consumption, she peels the roots and cuts them into sections, then boils them in salty water until they are fork-tender.
The salt isn’t necessary to remove toxins, but it does make the final cassava fries taste much better.
Once the cassava is cooked, she then strains it and lets it sit for a while. Sometimes she puts it all in the fridge to finish later, other times she takes it right from the pot and moves on to the next step.
The boiled cassava is cut into fry-sized chunks and laid out on a baking tray that has been oiled with tallow or coconut oil.
She then uses a brush to apply more tallow to all the pieces.
Beef tallow is really the best. Lard is good as well. Coconut oil is okay.
Once the pieces are oiled, she salts them, then puts them in the oven to broil on “High” for about fifteen minutes.
It usually takes more like 20-25 to be finished, because often the timer goes off at 15 and she checks them and gives them another 10 minutes. It partly depends on the size of the pieces you put in. Thinner pieces cook much faster than thicker ones. I like them to get a little crunchy, too. A little black on the edges is fine.
Then you just take them to the table, or transfer them to an appropriate piece of glassware from the 1970s.
You can make homemade mayo or use ketchup to dip them in, but honestly: they are so good when boiled in salty water and then coated in tallow and roasted crispy, they don’t need anything to be perfect.
Cassava is one of the crops I highly recommend in Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, as well as in my other Florida gardening books. It’s easier to grow than potatoes, is perennial, has a different season from white potatoes, can be kept in the ground for a long while, and thrives in the state of Florida.
Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception… we’re headed to church today. And on the way, I will be hunting the international markets for some new root crops to test.
Bruce the Bad writes to ask why gardening in the Florida panhandle just isn’t working out:
Retired pre-pandemic in the Florida mountains. Northern Walton County, elevation 300+ ft. Zone 8ish. Pine and cedar are the old established trees, some small hardwood and lots of yaupon holly, wild grapes, poison ivy.
Have been unable to establish a productive garden/food forest on our 5A hobby farm/homestead.
Found your book this year and have started containerized (gardens) in 5,10 and 20 gal fabric grow bag. With a small greenhouse and 400Sq tilled garden plot. Compost with chicken, goat, horse. Have been raking up and burning pine needles to reduce fire risk.
Lemon trees died, mulberry and plum trees look sickly. 6 inch tall Fig trees still in pots in the greenhouse to plant this spring.
3 of the 5 acres are goat pens another acre is county road right away. Half of the remaining acre is full shade under larger old pines.
House, carport, pool, chicken house, greenhouse and garden make up the rest.
What am I doing wrong?
Let’s see if we can help.The Location “Retired pre-pandemic in the Florida mountains. “
Ah-ha, a transplant to one of the most difficult Florida biomes for gardeners – the miserable soil of pine lands, far enough from the ocean to experience temperatures down in the teens, yet deep enough south to suffer temperatures over 100 in Summer.
This is a rough area for gardening. Florida’s highest point, Britton Hill, is located in Walton County, measuring in at an altitude sickness inducing height of 345′ above sea level.
That height also doesn’t help with the climate, as it’s more extreme in winter.
There are some really nice places to garden in Florida, like the fertile area south of Okeechobee where the climate is almost totally tropical, and Ft. Myers, near the ocean, where mangoes and moringa and pineapple can be grown without protection. Or the Redlands area, south of Miami, where you can grow all the bounty of the tropical Caribbean.
Yet Walton County is not like that. It’s too cold, and too hot. This means your temperate species suffer in the summer, and more tropical species are killed in the winter.The Soil
Pine and cedar are the old established trees, some small hardwood and lots of yaupon holly, wild grapes, poison ivy.
Alas, these species love terrible, acid soil. If you have pine, cedar and yaupon holly, it indicates that your soil is less-than-suitable for most agriculture. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means that everything is uphill.
On the upside, blueberries should grow well – especially rabbiteye types.
YouTuber Florida Bullfrog does only small patches of gardening at his poor, acid soil farm in North Florida. Instead, he focuses on raising chickens, turkeys and guineafowl for abundant eggs and meat. Since you already have goats, you might get the idea. Animals are easier to raise in these conditions than gardens. Tough breeds of chickens, ducks, cows, pigs, sheep and yes, goats, can make sense. Fence some animals in, let them forage through the scrub, then get eggs or meat or milk or all of the above.
As for gardening, it’s not actually impossible – it’s just hard. We spent two years gardening in similar conditions in Lower Alabama. We had some luck with burying biochar and with deep mulching, and managed to start getting some decent yields. However, our yields went way up when we moved to a place with better soil.
That said, the primary issue with your pineland soil is that it needs lime. Lots of lime. Probably more than you think. I’ve seen lovely green pastures established on what was terrible pine soil, thanks to good liming. Use pulverized limestone, like the cattle farmers use, and in a year or less, you’ll start to see results.
And compost everything! That soil needs organic matter as well. Ours was less than 2%, and that’s terrible for plants trying to get nutrients from the soil.Other Considerations
Found your book this year and have started containerized (gardens) in 5,10 and 20 gal fabric grow bag. With a small greenhouse and 400Sq tilled garden plot. Compost with chicken, goat, horse. Have been raking up and burning pine needles to reduce fire risk.
Container gardens are fine, but you have lots of land. I recommend you learn how to garden right in the ground. Are there any gardeners in your area? I would try to meet them, and see what they’re doing! Or watch some of our old videos from The Sandpit of Death, where we lived from 2020 – 2022. This is the full playlist.
Also, compost from animal manures can completely wreck your gardens, as North Florida farms are riddled with Grazon and other long-term herbicides.
Be very careful, unless you’re growing your own animal feed. I don’t take manure from anyone else, either, unless he is not buying in hay off-site and raising his animals on ground never sprayed with long-term herbicides.
As for the pine needles, that makes sense; however, you might consider using them to mulch some blueberries instead.Tree Problems
Lemon trees died, mulberry and plum trees look sickly. 6 inch tall Fig trees still in pots in the greenhouse to plant this spring.
Though the Meyer lemon is moderately cold-hardy, the freezes in your area will kill them every few years if they’re not well-protected. They’re good into the 20s, but you’ll hit the teens sometimes, like what happened this last winter in December.
The mulberry and the plums probably need some lime and a lot of mulch around their bases. That helps a lot.
Figs like to be fed with ashes and also appreciate deep mulch.
What am I doing wrong?
It’s probably a combination of soil and climate more than you, though if your manure is contaminated with herbicides, that can also cause a lot of damage and stop your trees and gardens cold.
- Build the soil and garden in the ground, as you can see us do with our Grocery Row Gardening videos. We added lime, biochar, ashes, alfalfa and “clean” cow manure, as well as planted lots of cover crops – particularly black-eyed peas, winter rye and clover – to improve the ground. We also made swamp water to feed the plants.
- Once the soil is a little better, plant plants that thrive in Florida. Sweet potatoes, turnips, true yams, okra, Seminole pumpkins, black-eyed peas, Everglades tomatoes and yard-long beans. That will give you plenty of food.
That’s most of it.
Just build your soil – and don’t be afraid of foliar feeding – and then base your gardens around plants that will thrive in your climate.
If we did it, you can do it. You’ve not even that far away from us.
Good luck, and thank you for writing.
The post Gardening in the Florida Panhandle – Why is it SO HARD? appeared first on The Survival Gardener.
We’re harvesting the F1 generation now, and I will be leaving some exceptional specimens to serve as the basis for the next generation.
The color mix between the pure red of the Red King radishes with the pure white of the Japanese daikons has been interesting.
Instead of getting a uniformly pink radish, we’ve gotten many with coloration like purple-top turnips.
Here’s one growing next to a fully red daikon:
And here’s a white in the same bed:
And a red one:
The majority have been pink and white, however – and usually cylindrical and rounded off, not carrot-like, as some of the original daikons were.
The roots stay good up to a large size, and we’ve also been eating some of the greens and feeding others to the chickens. The greens are really lush and crisp right now. Here’s a shot of the bed from this morning:
The daikons are all to the right. To the left is a mix of other brassicas.
The flavor is good, and not too sharp. The original Red King II may be better, but hey… we grew these without buying seed. And we do use a lot of them.
Thus far, we’ve harvested 77lbs of daikons in 2023 and there are probably another 30-40lbs left to go.
Time to make more kimchi.
Finally, happy Feast of Saint Nicolas!
For years we’ve been growing various types of true yams (Dioscorea spp.)
This year we had a good harvest of roots and have been able to share some of them with others. On Sunday we gave a couple of purple ube yams to a Filipino friend who was amazed to see that we’d grown them ourselves.
Here’s a pile of yams we harvested some years ago:
We have more than that sitting in a pile on our porch right now… and we haven’t even dug them all.Yams are Easy Calories
Those big, root-covered tubers are a lot of calories gained for very little work. The biggest effort is raising the yam hills and then planting and later staking the yams.
This is how Grenadians make yam hills:
If you were to till with a tractor and use a bedmaker, it would be really easy, yet we don’t have that kind of a setup here right now so we just make a long bed and plant it.
That trellis to the right of the wheat is one of our yam beds from this year.
Our yams have had no pest or disease issues and are easy to grow, making them a very good survival crop, as I cover in Florida Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, and in the new, massively expanded and illustrated 2nd edition of Create your Own Florida Food Forest.
The yields are decent, too, especially if you start by planting larger pieces. You can make a lot more plants by using smaller pieces via the minisett method or starting yams from cuttings or bulbils, but bigger yams grow from larger planting material.
The bulbils that grow on D. alata look like this:
Larger ones grow into larger yams.
If you plant small bulbils or small pieces or cuttings, you’ll still grow yams, but they won’t be a good size and you’ll have to let them grow another year to get good-sized roots. Since yams are perennial, this is easy, so plant what you have and know that good things come to those who wait. This yam took two years to reach this size from a bulbil:
On the up side, it took almost no work to grow, since I just planted a bulbil at the base of a dogwood tree and ignored it for two years.Yams Aren’t Sweet
Another benefit of true yams is that they’re starchy, not sweet, making them an excellent stand-in for the common potato. You can boil them, mash them, and put them in a stew, just like a “normal” potato.
We made mashed yams for Thanksgiving one year as a substitute for mashed potatoes and a visiting friend couldn’t tell the difference.
Someone commented on YouTube the other day that “white sweet potatoes make a good substitute for regular white potatoes.”
This isn’t really true. They are still sweet, which is less useful than having something starchy. I don’t know about you, but I often get tired of sweet things and prefer to just eat white potatoes, cassava, yams, green bananas, etc., as a side with some meat.Yams Have a Wide Growing Range
Though most yams are tropical, many can be pushed up into zone eight. Others, like the Chinese yam (D. polystachya) will grow all the way into zone five.
Name yams have grown well for us here, though their tubers haven’t kept through the winter, either in the ground or in storage.
Basically, you can grow some variety of true yam from the equator all the way up into the Midwestern United States.
Recently we got a new variety that we’re going to try, though it took us some time to track down what it was! You can read about our search for the name of that mystery root here.Conclusion
Part of the joy of being a garden writer and teacher is learning about new plants and crops and new ways to grow them. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos from African yam farmers so we can improve our own harvests.
There are so many great plants out there that we’ll never get to the end of them, and that’s a great part of the fun of gardening.
If you haven’t tried growing yams, I highly recommend giving them a shot. There are lots of articles on the blog covering yams and other interesting crops. We’re up to 2,983 posts on The Survival Gardener so far.
In an era where most gardening sites are overrun with junky articles lacking info – or worse, written by AI (heyo, Sports Illustrated, we’re looking at you!) – this site is a place where we share real research and real tips for growing, not just re-hashed material from Wikipedia written to drive clicks.
We’ve been posting since 2012 and aren’t about to stop. This year we’ve managed to put up a gardening post for every weekday, and regularly answer the comments we get.
Thanks for sticking with us. Now go find some yams and plant ’em!
Years ago, I learned how to propagate multiple varieties of true yams (Dioscorea spp.) by dividing roots into pieces in winter or spring, dipping those pieces in ash, then planting them to grow new, full roots by the end of the year.
We put all the pieces into a big pot of soil:
Then we covered them with more soil and waited. When they woke up from dormancy, they’d start making shoots, like this:
One the vines started growing, we’d transplant them into a bed to grow until harvest.
Yet another trick is to just cut off the “head” of the yam, where last year’s vines grew, and then replant it to make a new yam by the end of the year.
See the tops of these purple yams that a reader grew in Tennessee?
You just cut off that head, with some flesh attached (an inch or three), and then replant it.
This video from Lillian’s Gardens shows how she does it:
Though this technique does not multiply yams like cutting them into minisetts does, it will allow you to regrow all the yams you decide to harvest for food. For instance, if you want to eat twelve yams, you can – and you get to make twelve new yams from the “waste” portion you cut off when processing.
We learned this trick in Grenada. There, farmers and wild yam foragers would often just cut off the top when they dug a yam and then put it back into the hole to grow a new yam the next year.
Putting the yam heads in pots through the winter makes even more sense for those of us in colder climates, since you can keep the pots in a frost-free location until it’s time to plant in spring.
It also makes sense if you don’t have a yam bed ready to place them in.
Yams are one of the best staple survival crops you can grow in Florida and the Deep South. That’s why they feature heavily in Florida Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, and in the new, massively expanded and illustrated 2nd edition of Create your Own Florida Food Forest.
True yams are starchy, not sweet, easily replacing white potatoes in the diet while growing with less care and work.
After years of going without, we finally broke down and bought a good commercial greenhouse. I’ve mentioned it here, but this week I was finally able to finish and release the build video. We were delayed by having a baby among various other items, but the video is now finished and shows you an overview of how this greenhouse was put together.
The excuse is that we need it for our plant nursery.
The reality is that it’s just epic.
In the video, I don’t do a full step-by-step build, but you do get a look at how it was built and how it looks when finished. In the video we also cover how to keep a greenhouse warm (in a mild climate) without spending money on electricity.
This is a good commercial greenhouse we got for a very decent price from Greenhousekits1.com. We started it on September 28th, and finished it at the very beginning of November. Now we can propagate plants through the winter and build our nursery stock when everything is still dead outside.
A huge thanks is in order to our friends James and Holly, who helped us work on it for almost a month. I must also thank Carolyn Smith, who gave us a series of superchat donations over the last couple of years with repeated statements about them being “for the greenhouse fund.” Okay, Carolyn, we finally did it! Thank you for the push. I must also thank my mother Jenni, since she shared some inheritance money she received after my dear Grandmom passed away. And finally, I also thank Greenhousekits1.com, as they gave us a discount in return for us featuring their company in my videos.
This is the model we bought, in the 24 x 96′ configuration. This will allow us to get a good jump on spring and have lots of plants available in the spring of 2024 that we wouldn’t have been able to grow otherwise.
Thank you, everyone, and thank you Lord for the resources and some land of our own to build on.
Have a great weekend, and welcome to the lovely month of December!
Over the years we have grown a wide range of edible staple roots, both tropical and temperate.
Thus far, we’ve cultivated the following yam species:
Air potato yam (D. bulbifera)
Chinese yam (D. polystachya)
Fiveleaf yam (D. pentaphylla)
Greater yam (D. alata)
Lesser yam (D. esculenta)
Name yam (D. cayenensis subsp. rotundata)
And we’ve grown:
Groundnut (Apios americana)
…and a few more I’m sure I’ve missed.
Yet the other day, I found a root that stumped me.
We were traveling home from our new baby’s baptism when I stopped for a minute at the Saigon Market market in Pensacola to see if they had any different sugarcane varieties for sale. There, I found a bin of strange roots, and bought four of them:
These strange little things are only about 8″ in length.
Judging by the skins, they were a true yam (Dioscorea species). Yet I had never seen any this size and shape, with skins devoid of hairy roots.
This is what a purple ube yam looks like:
And these are lesser yams:
And the other yams I’ve seen and grown also don’t look like them. They’re either shaped differently, or are much larger, or have a different color, or have lots of hairy roots on their sides.
I tried using my favorite Plant ID website and it claimed they were tamarind or possibly “stinking toe”:
Nope, that’s not it. And it’s a crazy guess, since both tamarind and stinking toe (West Indian locust) are legume tree pods. You can’t always trust Plant ID apps, though they are a good place to start.
When the plant ID site failed, I then performed a reverse image search and got some fascinating results:
Ah-ha! It’s a spinosaur tooth! That’s it!
No, that can’t be right either. Why would they sell fossil teeth in the produce section instead of near the denture adhesive?
Since I wasn’t having any luck on my own, I put the picture up in a YouTube post and asked for help with identification.
There were a lot of guesses, with some commenters claiming they were a type of sweet potato, or a type of yam I already knew, or a variety of cassava.
However, sweet potatoes look like this:
Yet sweet potato skins do not have that gray-brown wrinkly texture in any cultivar I’ve ever seen.
And the skin of cassava root definitely doesn’t look like the roots I found, as its coarser and usually reddish-brown:
Another person guessed it was taro, but taro looks like this:
Nope, definitely not taro.
And then, we got a winner on the guesses!
After doing a quick search for Dioscorea trifida, neferacroom3273 was confirmed correct. Thank you! We had our root!
According to Plants for a Future’s write up on Dioscorea trifida:
“Cush cush yam is a perennial climbing plant producing twining stems about 3 metres long from a tuberous rootstock. These stems scramble over the ground, or twine into the surrounding vegetation. The plant is widely cultivated in tropical areas, especially S. America and the Caribbean, for its edible root.”
Once I had the name cush cush, I remembered my neighbor Derek in Grenada telling me cush cush was a very good yam variety “from the earlies,” (meaning “the old days) but wasn’t so common on the island anymore. In fact, my Grenadian friend Mike once gave me a piece of it to grow when we first moved to the island, though I lost the plant when we later moved to our apartment. The leaves on that vine were different from other yam leaves, as you can see on the PFAF page linked above, and I never really got a good look at an entire root.
“Cushcush is one of the lesser known cultivated species of tropical yam. Other common names are yampi (Jamaica), aja (Cuba), maona (Peru), mapuey (Puerto Rico), and cara doce (Brazil). Cushcush is native to the Caribbean where it is known as the best of the yams because of its flavor and cooking qualities.
In general, yams have never become as important a staple food in the Americas as they have in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands because the same food purposes are served by sweet potatoes, cassava, and coco-yams. Cushcush is used throughout South America, Trinidad, and the West Indies, but not as a staple owing to the presence of cassava. It is highly probable that cushcush could be grown in Florida, but at present it is rarely grown or recognized by gardeners. Vines of other Dioscorea species are grown as ornamentals that do well in North and South Florida.”
He further writes:
“Cushcush, like other tropical yams, is perennial, surviving adverse seasons via the tubers. It is best produced as an annual planted early in the spring and harvested 10 to 11 months later. It is a warm season crop and does not tolerate below freezing temperatures.Growing cushcush is similar to growing potatoes, except for trellising. Plant small, whole tubers or large tubers cut into 2-ounce pieces. Pieces taken from the upper portion of the tuber have more eyes and produce more stems and tubers than do seedpieces taken lower on the tuber. Because of the vining habit of the plants, stakes 6 to 9 feet in length are used. Weak stakes and poorly supported trellises will be pulled down by the vigorous vines.
Harvest of tubers follows planting by about 10 to 11 months in climatic areas similar to South Florida. The foliage dies back when tubers are about ready to be dug. Spade or fork them out of the soil much as you would potatoes. Yields of cushcush tend to be much lower than for other forms of yam, such as D. alata. The tubers, which contain 7% protein and 38% starch, may be baked whole or peeled and cut for boiling.”
If 10-11 months of growing is truly required, it’s a bit cold here to grow cush cush; however, we’re obviously going to try it anyhow.
There are some good pictures of the roots at this website, where they also offer cush cush roots for purchase.
We’ll have to try growing some in the garden and some in the greenhouse. I have no idea whether or not they’ll sprout quickly or wait for months before emerging, so I’m going to put some in well-drained soil in the greenhouse to see what happens. I’ll let you know if they grow.
Thank you all for the help on YT guesses – I’m very glad we were able to pin down the exact species. If you live in South Florida or a similar non-freezing climate, this could be a good addition to your list of survival root crops. If you get roots, try and see and let me know how you do!
It’s nice to have flat land – but what about when you don’t? And you don’t have the cash to hire a backhoe to terrace it?
@allnaturalhomesteaders comments on YT:
“Dude I’ve been watching you for a hot min now, a few years. I just purchased a new property, your videos were perfect for my old property, but now I own a piece of the Appalachian mountains, and I have a huge mountain for a yard, meaning boulders, and a huge hill for a yard with a stream at the bottom, how would you garden this? We’ve thought about terracing it , like the Chinese do their gardens. But there’s Soo many boulders and it would probably take heavy equipment, something I can’t afford, so suggestions?? I have videos of my property on my page, I’m new to YouTube, as far as making videos, don’t judge me, but please let me know what to do with my mountain yard, I’m broke and want it to be ready to plant by spring. But I also want to be able to walk on it. Help!!!”
One of the main themes Smith covers in Tree Crops is the danger of farming corn on slopes. If you till any ground with a slope, you risk losing most or all of your topsoil when it rains.
Once it’s gone, it’s very, very hard to rebuild.
Usually, sloping ground is covered with perennial plants and trees that hold it together with their roots. Otherwise, you end up with bare rock or highly eroded subsoil.
My recommendation is to concentrate on trees and perennials anywhere there is a slope of 15% or more.
You might also use natural vegetative strips to gradually terrace portions of the land.
I would also hunt your land for already existing plants and fungi that may be useful, such as persimmon, ginseng, chanterelles, wild blueberries, blackberries, etc.
You can mix in some annual beds by stacking logs or making beds with whatever you have. Just prop it up well and get growing.
On sloping areas without beds, I would plant pears, chestnuts, plums, apples, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, persimmons, mulberries and other good trees, along with perennials like Jerusalem artichokes, raspberries, blueberries, Siberian pea shrub, goumi berries, Autumn olive, Chinese yam, Good King Henry, perennial kale, etc.
And also – don’t forget animals. Chickens, ducks and pigs are all pretty easy to raise.
Make good paths, then garden where you can and how you can, concentrating on keeping permanent roots in place and avoiding tillage.
It’s a fun journey. Congratulations on the new land!
We are growing cassava in zone 8b, which is far from its preferred tropical climate!
Yet we’ve found it to be quite possible to grow it here, with a little extra work.
Yesterday three of my sons and I cut down all the cassava plants growing in our gardens, taking the canes to the greenhouse and leaving the stumps and roots in the ground.
The canes will be turned into cuttings, some of which we’ll sell, and others of which we’ll plant out in the spring.
The stumps left behind in the garden were then covered with old hay to keep them from freezing. In the spring, we’ll uncover them and they’ll grow new canes, and the roots beneath the ground will grow much larger and be ready for harvest next fall.
In a tropical climate, cassava is often ready for harvest in about a year. Here, it usually takes longer than that since they don’t grow well in cooler weather. Most of their growth takes place from April into October, and then nothing happens during the cool months. Since they’re not frost tolerant, they also get wrecked when the weather drops to 32F or below. The entire canes freeze readily and die.
This requires us to take cuttings before the cold, and to cover the bases of the plants so they don’t freeze to death.
Sometimes they’ll emerge from the ground in the spring even without protection, but they have a much higher success rate if you mulch over the cut stumps.
These are first-year roots from a plant we started in the spring from a cutting, then harvested from the Grocery Row Gardens in fall before frost:
Though the roots were worth harvesting, they aren’t nearly as big as they could be! They would have grown much bigger in the second year, if we had kept them through the winter.
This is how the roots grow in spokes, reaching out from the main stem:
Yesterday we did harvest a few roots from a precocious plant, but with the other thirty or so plants, we simply cut them down, saved the canes, then mulched over the bases.
Here are the canes in the greenhouse right now:
And, looking the other direction…
That’s a lot of cassava!
Meanwhile, these are what the remaining stumps look like in the garden:
A pile of leaves, straw, or, in our case right now, old rotten hay, is then used to cover the cassava stumps
Each of those little mounds of hay is covering cassava plant. They’ll reemerge in spring when the weather warms, growing rapidly and producing much larger yields than if we harvested them now.
I’ve posted more on how to grow cassava here.
And you can get your own cassava cuttings to plant here.
If you shop on Amazon and would like to support our work this Christmas season, I have created a list of books and tools we really like.
If you purchase anything through those links, we get a small commission which doesn’t cost you anything.
This is the slow season here, as book sales drop and video views fall. It’s also the time we use to get book projects finished and new garden beds created, and to clean up all the weeds that ate the gardens in summer.
It looks like a frost may be incoming, so today we’ll be doing some frost protection and bringing in cuttings from tender plants that aren’t likely to survive.
That 29 degrees could take out the remaining cassava, so today we’ll take cuttings and store them away for spring.
I also have one more sugar cane wheel to plant, since we found a few more canes we’d cut and forgotten about.
One of the nice things about cold, sunny days, is how pleasant they are for work. We can work all day when the temperatures are in the 60s. In the 90s, we can only work for a half-hour or so without a break, particularly if there’s no breeze! The high humidity and still air make it feel like you’re breathing in steam.
Today we’ll get some stuff done! We might even get our Christmas tree set up.
It’s really important to “make do” and not complain about what you don’t have.
As the old saying goes, “I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
Stop complaining and use what you have!
Joe Bob makes a good point in this recent comment:
I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it’s true.
“I wish I had time to garden…”
“I wish I had space…”
“I wish I could get out of debt…”
“I wish I could work on my book idea…”
That’s pathetic. Especially when applied in a spirit of envy.
Envy is ugly and gross. When something nice happens to someone, often there’s some self-centered person that will say, “I wish that would happen to me…” or worse, “they don’t deserve that…”
Guess what? No one “deserves” anything, really. At least not anything good.
When we tried to expatriate to the Caribbean, we learned how hard it can be to go without some of the simple conveniences we take for granted in the states. Things like being able to find what you need at a hardware store, the ability to pay bills online, or just hit a Walmart and get food and clothing. Everything was much harder and took longer. It was a good “check” on what we’d always assumed was “normal” life. It’s not normal everywhere.
Yet we found people that made things happen despite all the obstacles. My friend Mike was able to garden and live and build his own house, despite lacking a vehicle (or driving experience), lacking a college education, lacking more than perhaps $20 a day in income, and lacking most power tools.
He made things happen.
If you have a little space, use it. Often God won’t give you more if you’re not using what you have well.
You don’t need acreage and a tractor and all that to start garden. Garden where you live, whether that means on a borrowed plot, in containers, or in a tiny bed alongside your house, like City Lot Gardening did with this year’s sweet potatoes:
If there is something you want to do, don’t dodge it until the timing is perfect.
It will never be perfect. There is no perfect here on earth.
Make something happen. If there’s something you wish you could do, it’s usually better to fail trying than not to try. Pick yourself up and try again.
Don’t make excuses. You can do it. And don’t shoot down people that are trying. Even if you’re too sick, old, weak or completely broke to do something, find someone else and encourage him!
Finally, as Katie writes on a previous post about making do:
“I enjoyed reading this David. I can relate to a lot you said. I grew up in the city, though I was exposed to rural living through members of our church. When I married and moved into my husband’s urban home with a tiny backyard in Milwaukee, I felt my heart overflow with gratitude for that tiny little 20×20 backyard that we transformed into our first garden. That is where I learned. Heck it was simple square foot gardening but man did I learn. I loved it. It gave me the foundation to eventually scale up, and through God’s providence we are now cultivating 12,000 sq ft of food gardens upon 19 acres along the Niagara Escarpment.”
Have a great weekend.
The post Don’t Make Excuses to Avoid Gardening – Instead Use What You Have! appeared first on The Survival Gardener.
There is a misconception that a compost pile must be made directly on the ground.
Though we have done that many times, we have also composted in barrels, in large enclosed bins, in an old refrigerator, and on concrete slabs.
In our latest video I explain why composting in a pile with a bottom on it is just fine:
The main issue with composting directly on the ground is the power of tree roots. If you are anywhere near a tree, it will happily fill your pile with roots.From the Comments
Chet writes: “We had our first compost bin under a very large maple tree in our chicken run. I think it was there for maybe a year and a half and then transitioned to keeping one nearer the garden. Now 2 1/2 years later you can still see where it was because of the mound of maple tree roots that grew up into it”
And Jeanna writes: “I found this out the hard way. It was AMAZING how happy those tree roots were….”
SS writes: “True true. I composted near bamboo. The roots grew up in it. Probably sucked everything out of it to. Great explaining this system. I suppose a cheaper would be laying roof tin down.”
zmblion writes: “I agree with you ive had my compost 100ft or more from the nearest tree and have found roots all in it. When i rebuild mine i will at least line it with brick or block or something. I’ve found worms in a gutter that wasn’t cleaned for years. I think this is a great system”
internetcomposting writes: “I remember cleaning out someone’s gutters of 10+ years of neglect & I managed to get 6 full garbage bags of the stuff & had the hubby haul it back down to our place, hours away, to put in our compost pile. The stuff was absolutely amazing.”
ganggreen writes: “Not a compost bin, but a similar issue. I have a medium size back yard with a very large maple tree right in the center. A few years ago I put in three raised bed gardens, by this spring they were totally root bound by the tree.”
gelwood writes: “Yes, roots will always find a way to take over the compost. Even with a tractor after a few months, we went to turn it and it was impenetrable! We took down the sides and let nature have its way! This was exactly what I needed to see because I was thinking of putting down a sheet of steel roofing to stop it but I now don’t think even that would work.!”
k.p. writes: “I actually DO have room for a smaller version of your compost area. I stopped composting because of the tree issue. There is nothing more aggravating than building a pile for over a year, to finally be ready to use it, and to find the spider web of millions of tree roots. Even worse, to find they had sucked every scrap of nutrition out of the pile, and basically you have 5 CY’s of fill. OH, and then the Johnson grass that took over another pile. Chopped and chopped and chopped and that stuff got a SUPER charge to spread throughout my yard.”
sixheadedgoblin notes: “I buried cinder blocks underneath my compost bins because of roots. Not tree roots – that part of my property has a ton of bind weed. Six years in with those bins now and I’ve yet to have any real trouble with the bind weed getting into my compost. There’s been a weak vine here and there that likely came from seed, but no intrusion of the roots into the pile. There are definitely reasons to exclude the wider soil from your compost pile.”The arguments against compost piles with bottoms
The argument against compost piles having bottoms on them is generally “but the worms won’t be able to get in!,” with occasional other objections about the soil bacteria and fungi being excluded.
However, we have seen worms climb walls, so that’s really not a worry. I have worms living in potted plants that are sitting on plastic weed barrier. They get in if they want to.
As Dan writes: “I have found worms in my gutters and wondered how the worm knew to climb up there?”
As for soil life, bacteria and fungi, that’s not an issue either. There is plenty of soil that gets mixed in with these piles, inoculating them well. And even if there wasn’t, the fungi and bacteria would still find them. Bread breaks out in multi-colored patches of mold on your counter without you inoculating it with anything, and despite it not sitting on the soil… don’t you think compost will be colonized similarly?
You’re fine composting on an impermeable surface. You’ll get compost.
However, you don’t need to do so. We have often composted on top of future garden areas so the extra nutrients go into the soil where next year’s crops will grow. We’ve also made plenty of piles right on the ground.
The important thing is to compost and avoid throwing good organic material in a landfill.
Our giant three-bin system was created to handle tons of waste which can then be broken down into a fine compost we can use in our plant nursery. You might not need to do anything on that grand a scale, but the principles of composting are the same.
Throw things on the ground (or on a slab or whatever) and they rot.
* * *
There is a lot to be thankful for.
We finally got some good rain
The greenhouse is finished
The new compost pile is done
We had a support pillar on our porch start to fail and friends helped us fix it before it did serious damage to the house
We have wonderful friends
We have a good church
The children are safe and healthy
The garden gave us over a ton of food
Scrubfest II went off without a hitch
We have my mother here for Thanksgiving
The Grocery Row Gardening system continues to prove itself
We own our own home (via a mortgage, but ’tis better than renting!)
We have a working vehicle
We have food in the fridge and in the garden
Our two cows each gave birth to a healthy heifer calf in the last few weeks
…and most of all, our new son was born safely and protected from all harm.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
It’s been a good year!
That’s 2297lbs of produce, plus 2330 eggs and 5 roosters!
This is even better than we did when we rented a small farm in Grenada.
There we already had multiple mature fruit trees and pineapples and bananas and plantains that really stacked the deck, giving us a yield of 2008.5lbs.
This time, we managed more than that from scratch within a year.
…and we haven’t even dug all the yams yet. I’ve only dug about 8′ of them and have roughly another 100′ of trellis to go. There’s no way we’ll be able to eat them all over the next few months so we’ll probably just leave a lot of them in the ground to keep for later.
Despite a late frost and an early fall frost, plus crushing drought, our gardening systems came through for us. Once we get more compost in the ground and improve the soil further, we should do even better. In a few years, we’ll also start getting fruit from the trees which will help even more.
Next year I wouldn’t be surprised to hit 3,000lbs. God is good! Thank you for better soil and a place of our own, Father.
Earlier this year I posted a video on how to start a food forest the easy way:
This morning I received this comment:
“David, for some of us we only have a city lot 50×140 and that lot contains the house, a shed or garage or both, a place to park a car or two before you know it there is not a lot of space left to put in what you would like and still have room to get around and work what you are growing, and heaven forbid there happen to be a low spot in the yard that floods when it rains. Trying to find an affordable acre or two of workable land for sale is not so easy everywhere. Even as a single person it takes some creativity and planning to grow enough of something to get you through to the next season when you live in zone 3.”
Oh yes, I understand. And I think you can still do a lot more than you might think.
But you can’t sit around and long for things you don’t have. If you have a small space, you learn to grow in it. If you have a cold climate or a hot climate or a dry climate, you learn to adjust to it.
Shoot, I could go on YouTube and watch ranching videos and say, “Oh great… you know, not everyone has 5,000 acres of open range…”
Sure, I might like 5,000 acres, but I will never own that – and if I worried about not having it, I wouldn’t enjoy what I do have.
We’ve gardened while renting an apartment, we’ve gardened in the city, we’ve gardened in clay and then had our entire garden washed away by a flood, we’ve gardened on borrowed land, we’ve gardened at rentals, we’ve gardened in absolutely abysmal sand… but we kept gardening.
If you want it, you will make it happen.
In the case of food forests, this is a good example of a small-space backyard system.
And there is a lot more on gardening in small spaces if you search for “small space” on this blog.
Do you see the picture at the top of this post? That was my neighbor’s house down in Grenada. He built it from discarded coca-cola crates, and he gardened out back. I highly doubt many of my viewers are living in houses made from plastic crates! Are you thankful yet?
Yet the commenter does have a difficult situation. If I lived in a house on a tiny lot in a freezing climate, I would sell and move to the country somewhere further south. Yet if you want to stay where you are for family or work or other reasons, you definitely can still grow some food using season extending row covers, intensively amended and planted beds, vertical gardening, fruit trees pruned small, small livestock, etc. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Or, just borrow some land from a neighbor or friend and grow your garden there, concentrating on plants that will thrive in your climate. It will take more work, but it isn’t impossible.
We don’t have a great climate here. It swings from hot to cold and makes it hard to grow anything tropical OR temperate, due to the abrupt changes. We get hurricanes, floods, droughts, late frosts, early frosts, hot weather in winter followed by hard freezes, deer, bad, acid soil, lots of bugs and more.
There is no ideal place to garden, but we do need to learn to be thankful for what we have.
It helps to start the day with thanking God for all He has provided. I’m not great at it and I complain too much, but I do know that when I stop and look around and start saying “thank-you,” my soul is uplifted and I have a much better attitude in dealing with less-than-ideal situations.
Decide what you want: to move, to be sad about what you lack, or to be contented with what you have! And when you watch others, just learn what you can and apply it to your own situation. My acreage is tiny compared to many of the permaculture farms and regenerative ranches I’ve seen. It’s also bigger than a city lot and seems huge to me, since I grew up packed into the middle of Ft. Lauderdale suburbia.
You can make things happen almost wherever you are. I believe in you.
Though the tomatoes and peppers and melons are gone, and the gloriously abundant roots of summer are now stored in the mud room, there is still food in the garden.
At this time of year we’re harvesting the daikons, pak choi, mustard and mizuna we planted two months ago.
We’re also bringing in oregano and rosemary, as well as the African blue basil which somehow managed to dodge the first frost of the year.
We planted an assortment of brassicas in the two test beds we used to see if mimosa leaves could be used as a fertilizer, and those have been bringing us a consistent supply of greens. Some of them are rutabagas, which I didn’t even remember I had planted, so I’ll probably thin some of the greens around them to give them more space to grow. If the weather stays mild enough, we could have greens and radishes all winter, yet that rarely happens here. Though our winters aren’t harsh by northern standards, they do swing erratically in temperature. We’ll get 80-degree weather for a week followed by an overnight plunge into the low 20’s. That wreaks havoc on plants.
It’s rather akin to being on the beach in your bathing suit, then having a snowstorm whip through.
This is what AI thinks that would look like:
We can’t take that sort of a temperature swing, and neither can the plants.
This is why we buy thrift store sheets and blankets and cover our rows on frosty nights. Though some of these greens are known to handle cold weather, they often don’t adapt well to it since it’s usually warm before turning cool.
The greens and herbs we picked this morning will be sautéed with scrambled eggs and bacon. We’re also fermenting daikons and serving them as a side with breakfast.
In the summer, we enjoy endless cucumbers and melons. Now we enjoy rich and delicious greens.
The seasons are a blessing. Just about the time you get bored with something, it finishes and a new crop begins.
We only planted a few beds of greens, but they’re more than enough to keep us from buying any vegetables. We still have months of pumpkins and sweet potatoes to eat, not to mention all the yams we’ve not yet dug!
Rachel just texted to tell me breakfast is ready… but before I run, did anyone else plant a fall garden?
Adding mimosa leaves as a fertilizer to a bed didn’t increase plant growth. Instead, it seems to have stunted it.
A couple months ago we set up a test where we added mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) leaves to one bed, with a control bed next to it. Then we planted a variety of brassicas, including mustard, pak choi and cauliflower. Interestingly, the bed with the mimosa leaves has done worse than the one without.
We got the original idea for using mimosa leaves as fertilizer from a book titled Restoring the Soil by author Roland Bunch. In that book, Bunch describes using fresh Gliricidia sepium leaves as a fertilizer by burying them next to growing crops.
We decided to do the same thing with mimosa.
Here’s what we found:
While watching that video, James asked in the live comments section:
Albizia julibrissin might have some use as a nitrogen-fixer due to the species below-ground nodulation; however, using the high-protein leaves to fertilize a garden bed was not effective. We have used alfalfa as fertilizer before and planted right away, which gave us good results, so the problem isn’t because we were “burying leaves” and soaking up the nitrogen in the soil. The nitrogen in these leaves would preclude that anyways. Burying high-carbon materials can be a problem, not buying “green” composting materials.
There is another issue going on here. My guess is that mimosa is allelopathic and suppressed the growth.Allelopathy in Mimosa
There is a noticeable difference when the beds are compared side-by-side. It seems there is an allelopathic effect from the leaves which dwarfs brassica growth and induces earlier bolting.
A reader shared a study claiming A. julibrissin is allelopathic to the invasive “Tree of Heaven:”
“The current study evaluated the allelopathic potential of the Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) leaf residues on seed germination and biomass attributes of the Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) seedlings. An experiment was conducted based on a completely randomized design by eight replications. Experimental treatments consisted of different levels of leaf residues at concentrations of 0%, 2.5%, 5%,and 7.5%.Germination index was used in order to investigate the effect of allelochemicals on seeds germination. In addition, the effect of allelopathic materials on seedling biomass was measured by calculating the parameters of collar diameter, fresh and dry weight of seedlings, root dry weight, number of leaves, seedling weight vigor index and percentages of seedling water content index. The results revealed that seed germination index, seedling dry weight, seedling fresh and dry root weight and seedling weight vigor index significantly decreased at different concentrations of leaf residues compared to control, but the increase in concentration had no significant effect on these attributes. But higher concentrations of leaf residues had stronger inhibitory effects on seedling collar diameter, fresh seedling weight and the number of leaves per seedling. The present study clearly proved the allelopathic effects of the Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) leaf residues on biomass attributes of the Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) seedlings. In addition, the Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) leaf residues can be used to control the irregular growth of Tree of heaven seed as an invasive species, as well as weed management in agroforestry systems which require further studies.”
Note that it reduces biomass, and that it was the “leaf residue” which did so.
I’ve used mimosa as a chop-and-drop tree for a decade or more, yet it appears this might not be a good idea. This is why we do backyard science experiments, instead of just assuming that a method or a species will work.WITH MIMOSA:
Looks like I’ll just have to plant more comfrey.
The post Nitrogen-Fixer Fail! Adding Mimosa Leaves Decreased Plant Growth appeared first on The Survival Gardener.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is throwing down the gauntlet when it comes to corn, pitting food sovereignty against the country’s trade agreements.
His proposed ban on genetically modified corn has upset U.S. corn farmers, trade groups and officials and has prompted the U.S. to establish a third party dispute panel to help resolve the disagreement. And yet, López Obrador gives no signs of backing off — making it clear he believes corn, or maize, is a cultural touchstone worth fighting for.
“We will continue campaigning against junk foods that affect our health, including GMO corn,” López Obrador said in a speech given in Spanish earlier this year. “We must first take care of our health and protect native corn varieties.”
Mexico is considered the birthplace of maize, which is still the most extensive crop grown in the country. There are dozens of native corn varieties and many efforts in place to protect them. “Sin Maíz No Hay País,” which translates to “Without Corn, There Is No Country,” is a campaign and phrase used to garner support for protecting native corn varieties.
“Corn is quintessentially Mexican,” said Diego Marroquín Bitar, a fellow for the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, a non-profit that promotes trade between the two countries. “It plays a really important role in the construction of the Mexican identity, and I think that’s where the president comes from.”
López Obrador recently released a revised draft of Mexico’s national food production standard, stipulating that no genetically modified white corn is to be used in corn dough, or masa, for tortillas and tostadas.
The GMO pushers keep on pushing. Hopefully Mexico defeats them.
We finally got some good rain here. Three days of a slow soak. 3″ total so far.
It wasn’t soon enough for the yams, cassava, taro, sugarcane and other tropical crops, but it will soak the pastures and bring in the grasses and weeds of winter.
Thank you, Father! We needed this!
I didn’t get to overseed the pastures with winter ryegrass this time, but I do hope that there are enough seeds already there to come up and grow. It’s a bit late in the season to plant now, so we’ll see what happens.
I’m hoping this also starts to get the pond back into shape. Maybe we’ll have a wet winter, as some have predicted.