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Fall Gardening in Lower Alabama/North Florida

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:06

The weather is cooling here in the Deep South, which means it’s lowered from the heat of an roaring furnace full of wet towels down to the more moderate temperature of a steam-filled bathroom after someone has taken a shower for a half-hour with the hottest water possible.

We haven’t hit 90 degrees in almost a week, so we’re working on resetting the garden beds for a fall crop. I live in zone 8b, which means we are bound to get some freezes during the winter. That means we can’t grow beans, corn, melons, etc., through the winter months because a single frost will massacre those warm-weather vegetables. We can, however, get another round of some vegetables before the freezes, like green beans.

Our main concentration right now is on staple crops such as turnips, carrots, potatoes and cabbages. Bad times are almost certainly coming so it makes sense to grow calories. A fall garden is like having a savings account of calories in the ground, so we are working as a family to bank those crops ahead of when we may need them.

Every Saturday we work together as a family to garden. Here’s the video from the work we did this last Saturday:

I highly recommend planting a fall garden if you can. And plant more than you think you’ll need. I have a bad feeling about what may be coming and it’s good to be prudent. If nothing happens and we have a great winter, we’ll have extra food. But if we get more crazy times, that food may be quite important.

If you can garden a little every day, you’ll do fine and get lots done.

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Grapes again

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 08:17

We got in some muscadines, at long last:

I was going to use the little poles I found laying around the property but our landlord insisted on bringing over some huge power pole culls, so we went with those. They aren’t going anywhere!

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Lots of Rain, but Little Damage

Mon, 08/30/2021 - 23:01

Ida barreled through, giving us some wind and lots of rain, but all is well here.

Some of the transplants I was growing under the magnolia tree for our fall garden got pounded pretty badly, and some of the beans out in the garden don’t look too hot, but we got off lightly. New Orleans looks like a mess – tough times over there, and our hearts go out to everyone.

The rain did hold back our YouTube filming this weekend. We spent Friday putting in poles for a grape vineyard, then the rains came and kept us from running the wires for the grapes. I hope to get that done in the next couple of days.

I’ve been hitting the gym regularly since March of this year and deliberately putting on muscle bulk. Moving those huge poles was a good test and it felt awesome to throw them around.

On Friday evening I was a guest at The Black Sheep Summit and had a good time participating in their evening panel discussion of cryptos, self-sufficiency, technology and some of the scary stuff that may be coming down the pike.

In other news, my brother Brian and his family closed on their new homestead in rural Virginia and were able to get moved in. He’ll have some great videos coming soon.

On Saturday I got the final draft of Waterwise Gardening (Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition) from Steve Solomon and have started getting it ready for print. Good Books is fortunate to have him on board – the book is going to be life-changing for many people. We hope to release it in the fall.

I also got a new song written and roughed in that I’m very happy with. Once the final recording is done, we’re going to film a music video and release it on the David The Good Tunes channel. I have it storyboarded out already, and it should be a work of art. At least, that’s the goal.

Also, unrelated, I love this song and have been listening to it again this week:

This evening the rain finally stopped and Rachel and I filmed a video comparing annuals and perennials. She filmed it on the USSR-made 44-2 Helios lens, which is her new favorite. I should have that up on YouTube tomorrow morning. See you at the premiere.

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Freedom Day, 2021

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 18:44

I didn’t know we’d end up here. We had a plan. We left the states for a tropical paradise, learned to grow a wide range of tropical plants, experienced a new culture, bought land and built ourselves a home.

Then came the pandemic and everything got weird fast.

So weird that we returned to the states, intending to live in Florida again. On August 24th I took a plane with 7 of my children from Grenada to San Juan and stayed overnight at a nice hotel near the airport. It was a ghost town. A big, beautiful place with very few people in it and a closed gym, closed swimming pool, and nervous people in masks. The lady at the front desk told me the occupancy was 10% of usual.

We ate pizza that night, then the next morning we got a van to the airport with a grandfatherly man with a limp. We tipped a baggage carrier to take us through all the security and lines, then got loaded up on a flight to Miami.

Later that day – August 25th, 2020 – we were picked up at the airport by family. We were home.

It was a shocking change. And it was to get more interesting, as we couldn’t secure a house to rent in Florida and ended up in Alabama instead through God’s Providence.

And here we are. Tonight we will grill pork chops on our $20 Walmart grill and drink cheap champagne from Piggly Wiggly. We had plans, but God had other plans. And He has prospered us. We have dirt to farm, healthy kids, a baby on the way and good friends. I used to call May 3rd “Freedom Day” as it was the day we left the states for fairer climes, but those climes turned stormy, so I shall now dub our return date “Freedom Day.” It’s not the level of freedom we’d like, but Alabama is a danged good place to ride out tough times.

This last year has seen some big changes and there are more to come. We managed to sell our land at a loss down in the tropics, but we also had a good year on YouTube with lots of new subscribers. We also started Good Books Publishing and finished the 2nd edition of Create Your Own Florida Food Forest. It should be out soon, once the final text and layout are completed. We also have new books coming from Steve Solomon and John Moody.

The gardens have been spectacular and have proven the efficacy of my methods across multiple climates.

Today I released Grocery Row Gardening in print and ebook because it seemed a fitting date to launch a book.

I can’t think of a better way to commemorate God’s good work. It’s been hard to get writing done with the uncertainty of the last couple of years, plus moving and being limited on time, but I am finally getting back in the groove.

And speaking of getting in the groove… it’s time to go fire up the grill.

Thank you all for sticking with us.

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The Blessing of Pear Season

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 12:14

Yesterday afternoon we headed down the road to go pick pears from our neighbor’s huge sand pear tree.

The days have been hot and exceedingly humid, so we didn’t go on our excursion until around 6PM when the weather finally approximated the inside of a sauna instead of the inside of a volcano.

The pear tree is loaded with fruit right now.

These are a hard cooking pear, or a “sand pear,” as the natives call them.

It’s a good fruit for making pies, jams, sauce, perry, moonshine or even salsa.

Pears are best when they aren’t too ripe but aren’t overripe. Our favorite method to “pick” them is to just shake the branches.

My younger kids shook the lower branches.

And my eldest daughter climbed about 20′ up into the tree and shook the upper branches.

With the help of the children, we filled our buckets in short order.

The pears are big and sweet this year. I gave the tree a couple of gallons of Steve Solomon’s micronutrient solution earlier in the year and I think it helped.

Now we have to peel and core them, then I’ll be making salsa. Rachel’s also been roasting them and canning “pear sauce,” which is just applesauce made with pears.

Pear trees are very easy to grow in the south if you plant sand pear varieties. They’re lovely trees and quite productive, year after year. This tree was originally planted in 1979 – the same year I was born – and has been producing fruit for decades.

When we first got here last year, the neighbors let us pick the tail end of the pears that had fallen after the hurricane. This year we get to pick our way through the entire season.

Guess we’d better get back to peeling!

 

Note: The images in this post were taken with a Takumar Bayonet lens, 1:2.8, 135mm, originally made for a Pentax camera. Mom sent me this lens along with her old Pentax K-1000 earlier this month. The lens had some fungus in the front element which I cleaned out yesterday afternoon. Then I added an inexpensive adapter to the back of the lens so I could adapt it to my Canon 80D and take it shooting. The pears were its first test. Sure looks good for a 1980s lens! Thank you, Mom. 

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Garden Pictures, Mid-August 2021

Thu, 08/19/2021 - 13:30

Though we’ve had a few weeks of dry weather, the gardens are still doing well – particularly the Grocery Row Gardens. Lately we’ve been getting a lot of okra and a lot of hot peppers.

First, this is just one of the okra beds:

Behind it is a patch of black-eyed peas and Sudan/sorghum grass we are growing for compost.

And now for the peppers!

These are being made into sauces, both by me and my eldest son, and by our friend Matthew who is brilliant with making home-fermented hot sauce. I planted lots of extra peppers this year just to feed his fermenting crocks. It’s selfish, too, because I know he’ll give me some of the finished product.

We’re getting over a gallon of peppers a week now, maybe more.

Pests have been a minor issue in the gardens, causing a little trouble here and there. Leaf-footed bugs, grasshoppers, fire ants and aphids are in effect. Some of these guys are sneaky and just leave evidence behind of their midnight snacking.

Others are brazen and hang out in plain sight right in the middle of the day.

But don’t worry, the good guys are on the job.

We have a lot of spiders, as well as toads, stick bugs, praying mantises and wasps. Don’t spray and life will come your way. It would be a travesty to spray these life-filled gardens. My children play in them every day, as well as help with the maintenance.

Some more beans are coming up now and the Black Coco sprouts look good so far.

The raspberries and blackberries are making another round of fruit.

And my angle gourds are finally producing – and producing well!

We had some for breakfast today and the taste and texture are excellent. I’ve written about this unique crop in the past and am quite pleased to be able to grow it again. We were never able to get the seeds down in the Caribbean, but I missed it.

The winners in the garden over the last couple of weeks, however, were the pumpkins

Many of those are the mixed-up Seminole pumpkin varieties we got from multiple sources. The deeper orange and the green ones are mostly from the Walmart pumpkin I brought home last fall. We cleaned the seeds and planted them and got a crazy mess of crossed types. The dark green pumpkin to the lower right, with the bright orange spot, is a spaghetti squash that volunteered in the compost pile. We ate that one the other night.

Though this isn’t the most productive season of the year for most vegetables, it is a good time for seed saving. Some of the crops of spring are being allowed to grow to full maturity so we have seeds for next year.

Like these snake beans:

And this (unprintable) vegetable:

The Grocery Row Gardens are performing quite well. A chunk of them are now in full cassava production mode.

They take a little work to maintain, but not much. The dirt paths are easy to weed with a wheelhoe.

I love these Grocery Row Gardens. The new booklet goes live on August 25th.

If you want to help get it ranked high up in the Amazon charts, please pre-order the ebook here. We’re at the top of the “Garden Design” section of Amazon right now, and a good launch will help the book rank high in the charts for months or years to come. The paperback version should be finalized this weekend and will be up for sale in week or two. Right now I’m concentrating on the kindle launch so we can get the algorithms to promote the book in the future.

Finally, we are truly blessed to be here and to have space to garden. I feel for those of you that don’t have land to use. Even though we’re renting, it feels good to plant trees and vegetables and have roots in the ground.

No matter what, though, we can’t trust just in ourselves – garden space or no space.

I read this passage in Jeremiah 17 this morning:

Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Keep your eyes on things above, and garden if you can. If you can’t, I hope you’ve enjoyed a few pictures from our garden.

-DTG

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Planting Beans For a Protein Supply if Meat Disappears

Mon, 08/16/2021 - 13:50

We’re planting beans right now to see if we can get find dry varieties for this climate. It’s important to have a good supply of protein in tough times and I believe a collapse is coming. Though animals are a better source of protein, beans will do if we can’t get meat.

A couple months ago I bought Black Coco beans from the Vermont Bean Seed Company.

According to a conversation I had with Steve Solomon, the “Black Coco” bean tastes much better than most other beans. The beans themselves are large, black and rounded more than other black beans I’ve seen.

Last week I planted two rows under trellises before I realized they were bush.

Duh.

They’re coming up now, and are happy, despite my mistake.

Anyhow, them being a bush type is good, as I have plenty of non-trellised space. As meat may be lacking in the near future, I am testing bean varieties. Dry beans are also storable. Many bean varieties are bland, however, so if this type is as good as reported I will plant a lot more of them.

In a meat shortage, eggs are also good and I got chickens for that reason. We also plant hunger-satisfying carbs. Potatoes, grain corn, cassava. It’s hard to get full on most plant food. Beans are the latest experiment, since I don’t trust the meat supply. I’ve had a hard time with them in the past as they tend to rot in the pods in rainy tropical weather. Hoping they do well in a dry fall.

Other varieties I plan to test include kidney beans, pinto beans and garbanzos. We’ll let you know what works out.

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A 60′ Row of Jerusalem Artichokes

Fri, 08/13/2021 - 14:29

W shares pictures and some data on his Jerusalem artichoke garden in Pennsylvania:

“Just wanted to share my 60’ row of sunchokes.

This is an old riding ring we built and it is modified bank run material topped with just sand. Over time weeds and grasses grew, We did a chicken tractor for 2 years. About 2 years ago I started the 2 rows with horse manure and hay and then started adding daikon radish and this year potatoes , the sunchokes and a late planting of sunflowers which are not eve in the manure bed, they are just in the wood chips. I’m in the process of trying some more daikon and winter squash where I took the taters out. I have another pile of manure to move, hope I can get 2 more rows built.” I’ve always been fond of Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes, even though I don’t find them particularly digestible. They have very good uses as a survival crop to feed animals, even if we don’t eat them. The plants also make a good amount of biomass for the compost pile, and grow and produce under poor conditions. I once grew them in the rocky subsoil of a construction site in part shade and still got a yield. We didn’t find them to do well in Florida, but here in Alabama I have some nice-looking plants in one of the Grocery Row Gardens. If they do well, I should make a bed like W made. It’s lovely and when they burst into bloom in fall the effect is magical. Gorgeous flowers and a useful crop.

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Thank You, Darling

Tue, 08/10/2021 - 10:29

I just had to take a moment to thank my camerawoman.

Rachel has been such a trooper getting our videos recorded. She does a great job learning the equipment, working on shots and trying to find interesting angles. Sometimes it’s hard for her to get down low because of her current delicate condition, but she does it anyhow, getting those awesome shots like a boss.

As I’ve moved into using vintage lenses, she has learned those as well. She now prefers the manual focus lenses to the new autofocus ones and over the last few weeks has gotten much better at using them. It’s tricky to get perfect focus and learn how to use the different focal lengths on prime lenses. Both of us had some failed experiments in the beginning, but it’s coming together and the character of the footage is beautiful.

You know… I think I may be in love with my camerawoman.

Today we head to town for her mid-pregnancy ultrasound appointment. It’ll be fun seeing our baby. Have a great day. I’ll be posting the latest video shortly.

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The Beauty of a Vintage Helios 44-2 for Video

Mon, 08/09/2021 - 20:52

We filmed a new video over the weekend showing the work preparing the gardens for fall. During the filming we used an adapted Soviet-era lens called the “Helios 44-2,” which is well-known for its interesting optical effects.

Here are a few freeze-frames:

It’s quite interesting. Sorry there are so many pictures of me… the perils of hosting YouTube!

I need to take this thing out as a photography lens and shoot the swamp. It costs much less than the modern lenses I’m used to using but it has way more character. There is a warm, soft, dreamy look to the shots. It only cost $16 for an adaptor that would adapt the Helios 44-2 58mm lens to my Canon 80D camera. The lens itself costs less than $100 on ebay.

I should have the video up tomorrow. We did a lot of shooting and it took a day to edit everything down. Rachel shot the entire video on manual mode, adjusting the light and focus herself. These old lenses don’t work with autofocus, which is an interesting challenge. Unlike modern lenses, this lens also has amazing lens flares.

Rachel is a fast study and is really enjoying improving her videography. We’re going to test another old lens on the next video.

See you tomorrow.

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Foundations for Farming vs. David The Good Gardening

Mon, 08/02/2021 - 13:30

I spent a wonderful weekend with Noah Sanders, author of Born Again Dirt and teacher with Foundations for Farming (formerly known as “Farming God’s Way”).

We were also joined by Zimbabwean farmer and human rights activist Ben Freeth, who is a thoughtful and loving Christian brother with a unique heart for the downtrodden.

L to R: Ben Freeth, David The Good and Noah Sanders

Noah’s farm is a meeting place for all sorts of interesting people from around the world. Missionaries and businessmen, new gardeners and old experts, educators and homeschooling moms. We enjoyed our time there and the hospitality, plus the kids enjoyed meeting other homesteading children with an abundance of Nerf guns.

When I was in Indonesia back in 2019 before the world fell apart, I became more familiar with the Foundations For Farming curriculum as it was being used by Kingdom Workers, the Lutheran charity that send me as an advisor. Overall, it is a useful system for restoring degraded land and avoiding the continued destruction of already suffering ecosystems. I enjoyed reading through their training materials in the little apartment we had in Timor.

The ethics and the “Foundations for Profitability” points in the curriculum are solid.

As stated on their website:

“Profitability is essential for sustained production and development. The only alternative to profitability for survival in the short term is begging or theft, both of which cause poverty in the long term.

Profitability is possible if you faithfully apply these management principles of doing everything:

On Time. Plan ahead. Prepare well. Start early. Never be late!

At a High Standard. Do every operation and detail as well as you can with no shortcuts. Be honest and honorable in all you do.

Without Wasting. Don’t waste time, soil, water, sunlight, seed, nutrients, labour, energy, opportunity etc.

With Joy. If you do these first three things faithfully without self pity, complaining, blaming others, making excuses, but with thankfulness, there will be no need for fear and hopelessness and you will have hope and joy which gives you strength.”

Good points, especially when applied in the third world where poor standards and terrible timing are commonplace. We all need these things, too. Especially joy and honesty.

The Foundations for Farming System of Growing

As for the actual system of farming itself, the points are as follows:

Foundations for a Successful Crop

In order to produce a good crop these principles should be applied:

-Maintain a mulch cover. Don’t burn!

-Maintain the soil structure & preserve the natural fauna. Don’t plough!

-Plant according to precise spacings and specifications in order to achieve optimal plant populations that give your plants the best chance to thrive.

-Give nutrition to your plants in whichever form you are able i.e. manure, compost, etc.

-Weed regularly and thoroughly, catching the weeds while they are small in order to save time and energy and cause the whole system to become far more manageable.

My thoughts on the Foundations for Farming Growing System

Though I appreciate the work FFF does, I am not a complete advocate of the system. Here are my thoughts on the five points.

Mulching and Burning

On maintaining a mulch cover, I have a mixed opinion. Sometimes mulching can lead to an incredible buildup of pests, particularly in wet tropical situations. You may build lovely soil, but you may also have all your tender crops consumed by slugs. As for not burning, this is a good general approach, particularly in areas where slash and burn is rampant. However, I believe in controlled burning in order to create biochar and ashes for feeding the soil. It’s too broad to say “don’t burn.” I don’t like to lay down commandments when it comes to farming.

Without burning, you don’t get terra preta.

Bare soil and burning can both have their place in a sustainable system. Burning a field to rejuvenate the area and drive away poisonous snakes is helpful as well.

Plowing

On the second point, I also believe there is a place for plowing – or at least some form of tillage. I primarily dig only once and then build up the soil from there, but that initial dig is very helpful. Plowing can destroy soil structure long term, so I understand the prohibition, but again: it’s too broad. You can have good luck building soil by tilling under cover crops. The method of tillage makes a difference, too. Remember The Plowman’s Folly.

Spacing

On point three, no arguments. Good spacing is a good idea. Your spacing should vary based on climate and soil fertility, however.

Fertilizing

Point four is okay for survival gardening, but not for the best nutrition. There is a strain of no-till dogma these days that promotes the idea that soil mineralization and composition doesn’t really matter, provided you have plenty of microlife in the soil to make nutrients available. I do not believe this to be the truth. I also don’t believe in the other extreme, where you simply look at the dead mineral composition of the dirt and add whatever is lacking without considering the life in the soil. Instead, I embrace the idea that you need both lots of life in the soil as well as plenty of raw materials for that soil life to make available. If you need to garden to survive, sure – go ahead and feed with whatever you have. But if you want optimal nutrition in your food, you should seek out fertilizers that also provide micronutrients that plants can use and then make available to us. There are studies showing a decrease in the minerals in our food supply due to the depletion of soils. I don’t think these minerals can be replaced in poor soil with simply composting on site or throwing on some local manure.

Weeding

On the final point: yes, keep the weeds out. They compete for resources and will lower your harvests.

I’m not opposed to the Foundations for Farming System as a good jumping off point; however, I do believe there are exceptions to some of the rules. The principles were useful when I was in Indonesia, as they were meticulously removing all the weeds and grass down to bare dirt everywhere and burning all the organic matter in between gardens. It was shocking to see houses surrounded by nothing but bare dirt because that was what they believed was best. Learning to compost and stop burning everything is important. And mulching around their fruit trees is a great idea. But there is a time and place for everything. Foundations for Farming is a decent foundation in some situations, but not in all.

Whether you’re reading about Back to Eden Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Single Row Gardening, Deep Mulch Gardening, Biointensive Gardening or even Grocery Row Gardening, you need to take what works for you in your situation and discard what doesn’t.

Learn to observe, test, learn and be diligent and you’ll succeed with your very own system of gardening. I don’t think God has any one favorite form of farming (except for maybe food forests).

All that said, I greatly appreciate the good work being done by Ben and Noah and many others. The primary importance in this is saving souls and helping people grow their own food. It’s light years ahead of poison-based commercial farming methods. I certainly agree much more than I disagree.

So – what do you think about the Foundations for Farming methods? Perhaps these “rules” are needed in places where everything is upside-down and good education is lacking. Maybe I’m way off-base. I have been in the past, like when I used to not like okra.

Please share your thoughts below.

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Helping Life Arrive in Your Garden

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 07:58

Much of the farming we see embraces death and destruction in order to get a yield. The “enemies” of a crop are sprayed with poisons. The ground is beaten into submission and soaked with chemical fertilizers.

The tiny living creatures which attempt to live in these fields find themselves in a dangerous and inhospitable place. Bees get poisoned, spiders get crushed, worms get chopped into pieces, etc.

It’s hard to grow food on a large scale without causing a certain amount of destruction. Trying to avoid killing anything is difficult and may not even be a correct goal, as some things just need killing. I can’t imagine growing enough corn for all the tortilla chips consumed during an American summer without big tilled fields filled with rows of corn fed by chemical fertilizers and harvested with specialized equipment that cares nothing for the tiny lives of ladybugs and crab spiders.

But in a backyard garden there’s no need to roast everything. Instead, we should embrace and encourage life, with the notable exception of the squirrels that steal our heirloom corn. We know what to do with those.

Overall, I like lots of life in my garden. It’s great to see butterflies, bees, beetles, spiders, dragonflies, praying mantises, toads, lizards and worms. Yeah, we have some leaf-footed bugs and cabbage moths, but they aren’t huge issues. The sheer amount of plant species and hiding places for predators keep things somewhat under control. This doesn’t look like a typical row garden and doesn’t have the same pest problems either.

We had worse problems last fall and in early spring before we built our Grocery Row Gardens and added all the other plant species. Look at the picture above and imagine how many hiding places there are in there! Then imagine all the roots in the ground and the micro-life that those roots bring. Lots and lots and lots of life.

If I were to spray malathion now it would be a desecration. I’d kill countless good guys. The gardens are now beyond that. It’s not a monoculture system that needs tilling and spraying. It’s developed into a forest edge polyculture. God’s design is taking over and the checks and balances are falling into place.

Stop spraying, plant lots of different species together, then watch and see what happens. Life will arrive!

Embrace life and see what little miracles come your way.

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Moving to the International Shedquarters

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:47

Over the last week+, I have been converting an 8 x 10 shed into my new office. It’s now got electric, AC and a bookshelf!

My father-in-law Charlie was a huge, huge help. We put in the electric and insulation together, then paneled the walls.

I’ll post a video soon showing more of the build, and my classic wall-bracket bookshelves.

Yesterday I officially moved from the little office I had inside the house to my new shed office.

Feels good! I gotta get some writing done today – may post the video tomorrow or Monday. See you then.

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Grocery Row Garden Photos from July 20th, 2021

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 06:14

I took these pictures on Tuesday. It’s amazing to see how well the Grocery Row Gardens are performing.

We have lots of peppers:

These yard-long beans are outside the gardens proper, but they are still beautiful:

This area of black-eyed peas and Sudan/sorghum grass is probably going to be turned into Grocery Row Gardens this fall.

And now the actual gardens:

Some of the paths are more consumed than others. Below you’ll see the summer squashes encroaching on the pathways.

The variegated canna lilies are particularly beautiful right now. 

Some of the Cucuzza squash are now climbing into the oaks.

Here the paths are getting even thinner:

The amaranth look amazing right now.

This is supposed to be a path but the Everglades tomatoes ate it.

On the right (below) we have Tithonia diversifolia getting tall. On the left, “Burgundy” okra. 

One of the beds has some “Kakai” squash ripening in it beneath the cassava. This is a hull-less pumpkin seed variety we’re trying for the first time.

There is a lot of life in the system, despite the endless rain.

I have now put my new book on the system up for pre-order if you are interested.

It works!

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Why Didn’t I Do Something Else With My Life?

Wed, 07/21/2021 - 09:09

“Hello David,  

Greetings! Hope this email finds you well.

Here at Grubterra, we raise black soldier fly larvae for chicken/poultry owners. They are extremely healthy for poultry and are packed with protein, healthy fats, and calcium.

Free Product

We would love to set up a collaboration. I can send you a custom discount code for 100% off one of our 5lb bags of dried black soldier fly larvae. In exchange for a review video. 

If this is something you would be interested in, please let me know, and we can hash out the details!”

I am starting to think I should have started a blog on luxury cars. Or guitars. Or nice cameras.

No, instead companies try to offer me bags of dried maggots in return for a video.

There is negative temptation to take an offer like this. Why would I bother getting my camera out to film a review video that will pay a whopping 5lb bag of BSF larvae? That is a terrible return. It’s insulting. And ridiculous.

“Hi, I’m David The Good and I want to tell you about this exciting treat for your chickens!”

At least offer me something cool, like a chipper/shredder. Or a Taylor guitar. Heck, I might even switch to Martin if they sent me a free model.

But I ain’t doin’ no 5lb bag o’ dried grub videos! I got pride in my work!! I’m a contender, man!

You can take your desiccated maggots and go home.

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Check Out These Crazy Red and Yellow Caterpillars On Our Coontie Palm

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 07:48

“What are the red and yellow caterpillars eating my coontie palm?!”

They are the larvae of the formerly rare Atala butterfly!

My nieces and nephew planted some butterfly plants at my mom’s place in Ft. Lauderdale.

While doing so, they discovered some very strange caterpillars eating Grandma’s coontie plant:

My sister did some investigation and discovered that these bright red and yellow caterpillars on the coontie were the larvae of the Atala butterfly, which was once thought extinct.

The Atala Butterfly Makes a Comeback

Richard Levine in Entomology Today shares the story:

“Back in 1888, the Atala butterfly was so numerous that it was called “the most conspicuous insect” in South Florida, but half a century later, in the 1950s, it was thought to be “probably extinct.” Fortunately, the butterfly was actually hiding deep in the remaining pine rocklands and tropical hammocks of coastal southeastern Florida, where its host plant still remained.

The Atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala) relies on a plant called coontie (Zamia integrifolia) in the same way that monarch butterflies rely on milkweed species. Atala females lay their eggs on coontie, the only native cycad in North America — and only on coontie (or on other cycads brought to South Florida as ornamental plants) — and after the eggs hatch, the caterpillars munch on the coontie leaves.

Unfortunately for the butterfly, people also like coontie. Native Americans and European settlers harvested the roots as a source of starch that was capable of withstanding the high humidity and temperatures of Florida. Although the coontie plant contains numerous neurotoxins, they are water-soluble and the plant was heavily utilized as a mold-proof harvest. It was exploited to the extent that it was simultaneously sold during the Indian-American Wars to both the Indians and the U.S. Army, and it was also sold to European markets as gourmet flour.

Previously, so much coontie grew along the New River in Fort Lauderdale that the Indians called it the “Coontie Hatchee,” meaning the “the Coontie River.” But by the 1920s, all of the coontie plants within a reasonable distance had been harvested.

The butterfly, of course, went down with the plant.

Luckily, the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiveristy received donated preserved specimens of Atala butterflies, which offered clues about them. The specimens had been collected in pine rockland habitat in southeast Florida (now part of the Everglades National Park), so scientists knew for sure that they once lived there. They also knew that some coontie plants were still growing there.

In 1979, a local naturalist “discovered” an Atala butterfly colony on one of the barrier islands along the coast of Miami, and that’s when the recovery began.”

Fantastic!

Propagating Coontie Palm

After looking up the Atala butterfly, I remembered my old friend Gary Paul who once showed a few preserved specimens to me. He was germinating coontie palm (it’s not really a palm, but I digress) seeds on his back porch. When I looked up propagating coontie to see if there was a vegetative method as well, I found this excellent pdf with photos from BrowardButterflies.org.

If you want to grow pretty coonties, the Atala caterpillars are making it less and less possible in South Florida as their population grows. However, if you want to grow pretty butterflies, you’re in luck. Plant coontie and they will come!

This one in my parents’ yard has been there for years, though the caterpillars are new.

What a fun discovery to see the Atala caterpillars arrive. Hopefully all the new nectar plants will keep the butterflies hanging around the yard.

My sister is now propagating coontie palm to plant in her own yard.

Can’t wait to see all the butterflies showing up. Good job, kids!

The post Check Out These Crazy Red and Yellow Caterpillars On Our Coontie Palm appeared first on The Survival Gardener.

A Beautiful Nevada Suburban Garden

Sat, 07/10/2021 - 08:22

Cody writes:

“Just thought you might like to see my Nevada suburban garden.”

Yes! I would like to see it! And I think the rest of you will as well. Look at all this beautiful life:

I love it – thank you, Cody!

The post A Beautiful Nevada Suburban Garden appeared first on The Survival Gardener.

The Recipe for Steve Solomon’s “Solomon’s Gold”, With David The Good Extras

Tue, 07/06/2021 - 08:00

The original recipe Steve Solomon gave me to replace the minerals in my poor soil was:

4 quarts cottonseed meal
1 quart garden lime (better to use 2/3 quart garden lime and 1/3 quart dolomite)
2 cups pelletized gypsum
3.5 cups bonemeal
2/3 cup potassium sulfate
1.5 tbsp borax
2 tbsp manganese sulfate
2 tbsp zinc sulfate
2 tsp copper sulfate
1 quart kelp meal
1/8 tsp sodium molybdate

I have now added these additions to my mix for extra minerals:

1 Cup Azomite
1 Cup Sea90
1 Cup Greensand
1 Cup Magnesium Sulfate

Along with this mix, I sometimes also add a quart or so of Bentonite (via unscented clumping kitty litter) to make my soil stickier.

The post The Recipe for Steve Solomon’s “Solomon’s Gold”, With David The Good Extras appeared first on The Survival Gardener.

“Thank You for Saving My Garden”

Mon, 06/28/2021 - 08:31

Aminopyralid damage in gardens is everywhere, but most people still are blind to the dangers. Amanda wasn’t, so she tested the local manure before adding it to her garden – and it’s a good thing she did!

Amanda writes:

“Thank you for saving my garden. Because of your consistent warnings about aminopyralids, I first tested some horse manure from my local area before hauling yards of it into my garden. One sample (Manure “A”) was from fresh manure and another sample (“Manure “B”) had been aging in a pile for 3-4 years. I put a bunch of beans in 3 separate plastic cups with paper towels and wet them. I germinated them indoors and let then grow for a week. I soaked each manure sample in water for a day then added this water to the experimental bean cups while adding hose water to the control. Within 2 days both Manure A and Manure B seemed to show the typical leafcurled edges characteristic of persistent herbicides while the control did not. We are going to put the manures we already received on our sugarcane and not gather any more additional manure to our site.”

Here are the pictures from her test:

I wasn’t joking when I said “manure can destroy your garden.” It wasn’t an exaggeration. It wasn’t hyperbole.

It is observable fact, based on the experience of many unlucky gardeners. These herbicides were designed to destroy broadleaf “weeds” and to stick around for a long time.

I covered this in my book Compost Everything and I continue to write about it. Don’t put manure in your gardens unless you are 1000% sure it did not come from animals grazed on treated fields or animals that may have been fed hay from treated fields. Manure used to be one of the best and safest amendments. Now it can cause the death of your gardens for multiple years.

Watch your back.

And good work, Amanda. The results are obvious!

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The Effect of Pottery Shards in Terra Preta

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 08:01

Why are there pottery shards in terra preta?

When I did my video on my attempt to recreate terra preta, many people wondered what role pottery shards played in the original mix.

Here’s my video on our attempt to make terra preta:

“Why add broken pottery?” I was asked.

Perhaps the pottery shards were incidental, and not part of a plan to improve soil. Heck, maybe terra preta itself was a complete accident of primitive waste dumps.

Or maybe not. We don’t know anything for sure about how terra preta was created. We just know that it stays rich and fertile centuries and that it contains bones, pottery shards and charcoal.

I added all three to my mix. Without an understanding of “why,” sometimes you just have to “do” and see what happens.

This morning I received an email from Jordan that appears to fill in one piece of the puzzle: the ubiquitous pottery shards found in terra preta soils. They do have a use!

The Effect of Pottery Shards in Terra Preta

Jordan writes:

I’ve been making biochar for a while now, and studying terra preta profusely. Pottery shards are a key aspect often overlooked, but they are hard to come by in abundance.

He attached this video, demonstrating how the use of pottery shards effects terra preta:

Jordan continues:

We’ve been digging a retention pond to stock fish, and I now have plenty of soil. I’ve made pottery clay a few times now. I roll it into long thin strips and put it inside my bio char retort, and usually by the time I have char, the clay has been fired, and being rolled long and thin it’s cracked and shattered down to a good soil aggregate size, ready to use.

Sounds like a simple method that anyone could do at home. Someone in the comments of my video on making terra preta noted that the plants growing on top of a pile of old bricks did much better than those growing without bricks. Can you imagine? The first thing most of us would do in our gardens is to take out the bricks!

In the video Jordan sent, a group of people make clay patties for their soil with low-tech methods, probably not dissimilar from how the Amazonians created their pottery.

Making Pottery for Terra Preta

At the beginning of the video, the wicking of water up a clay brick is shown, leading to the germination of a seed which then proceeds to grow healthily despite its very tiny amount of soil.

From there, it progresses into the making of low-fired clay patties to use in terra preta soils.

The Process

First, two women take dry clay and smash it down into powder, removing stones as they go:

Then water is added to the dry clay mix and kneaded by hand.

After the clay is at the right consistency, small handfuls of it are pressed into clay patties and set aside to dry.

After drying, these patties are placed into a pyre of dry wood, which is then lit.

When the fire burns out, the resulting fired clay patties are removed to be used as a soil amendment in creating terra preta.

At the end of the video, the wicking power of a stack of fired clay patties is shown:

So why are there pottery shards in terra preta? The most obvious answer is for their wicking effect. The shards almost act as sub-soil irrigation, moving water through the root zone of plants and making it easier to access.

I have a bed out in the garden that needs some work to bear better crops. The garlic I planted in it last fall did poorly, so I’m going to re-do the bed with lots of amendments to improve it for this coming fall. It’s obvious now that I need more clay. I’ll get the kids making patties, plus I’ve got some bisque-fired pottery shards from a local pottery studio I can add. Heck, maybe I’ll even throw a few bricks in it. There are old bricks scattered all over the yard.

Stay tuned. We’ve got experimenting to do.

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