Sometimes, all you need to do is steer while nature drives.
Or, as in the case of these cantaloupe seedlings, splatter a rotten cantaloupe across the ground and wait.
You can see us planting these cantaloupes in a recent video where Rachel and I decided to see how crazy we could get with scattered seeds.
You always get the best pumpkins, melons and tomatoes from your compost pile. They seem to like to sit in the remnants of the previous year’s rotting fruit.
Take this pumpkin growing on our fence.
We didn’t plant that. All I did was spot the little seedling there and make sure I missed it with the string trimmer. I have no idea what kind of pumpkin this is. It looks different than the tropical pumpkin leaves I’ve seen. We had nothing to do with it. My guess is that the previous tenants fed the guts of a pumpkin to their chickens some time last year… and then the rainy season awakened one of those seeds.
Since we’re on the topic of serendipity, I was given some yard long been seeds by a friend. Since I injured my hand before I could finish the bean trellis, two of my sons finished it for me and then planted the seeds. They have already started coming up and look beautiful.
I used to wait for spring with bated breath. I would watch for a good day for tilling, go out and buy a bunch of transplants and seeds, and then have a wild and crazy weekend tearing up the earth and putting everything in the ground.
My nice garden beds were a good supplement to our diet but they weren’t a huge part of it. I was playing around with pretty beans and purple peppers, a few garlic plants, an heirloom corn I wanted to try… but it was haphazard and not planned for a long-term food security situation.
About a decade ago I realized how shaky the world was getting and knew things had to change. I also realized that just tearing up the ground and tossing fertilizer around wasn’t the way to ensure our piece of land was going to be healthy and strong enough to grow all of what we might need in a crash.
Even if you do work hard to build the soil, growing “all you need” is a tall order and it’s one even I haven’t reached yet… though every year I get closer. In 2015 I hit 1,000lbs of produce from our gardens (counting the random produce my children ate before it hit the scale) for the first time and the curve keeps going up.
I now work on preparing year-round by clearing and digging new patches of land, producing compost, planting fruit and nut trees and testing crops to find varieties that will go through the cold, the heat, the pests and the many diseases that want to rob us of our gardening sweat and toil. Much of this knowledge and experimentation culminated in my Survival Gardening Secrets course.
This fall, Chet and I want you to get ahead of the curve and get growing on a larger scale that takes less money out of your pocket and puts more produce on your table.
Here’s how you can build a fall garden – and an upcoming spring garden that will keep you fed through the year…
Though a pig might be more efficient for scrap disposal, chickens are also a formidable gardening tool.
They till the soil, manure, weed and eat bugs. I’d like to go the whole Justin Rhodes route with these birds even though there are only four of them.
By the way, Justin is offering the chance for a limited amount of people to join in on his “10 Hour Homestead” course and learn directly how he was able to grow 75% of his food in just 100 days of gardening… for less than 10 hours a week.
The chickens we now have are not really a breed such as one might have in the United States. Instead, they are a scrappy little local yard fowl, suited to foraging and living in the tropics. Unlike many of the birds I’ve had in the past, the hens of this variety are good mothers. As Rachel says in the video, none of these birds started its life in an incubator.
I will let you know how these chickens work out. Stay tuned.
When I visited a local farm to check out the pumpkins growing there, I was also fascinated to see an intercropped system of plantains, malanga, yams, sweet potatoes and even the occasional bird-planted papaya tree that had been allowed to grow by the farmer.
The tropical sun is intense, allowing a gardener to plant some of his crops in partial shade even though that would not work in a more temperate region.
This system, even on a small scale, could feed a family a significant percentage of their calories. Sometimes we permaculture folk think we are cutting edge… visiting farms and other portions of the world quickly reveals that a lot of people have already seen the patterns possible and have worked with them before.
Many of the farms I’ve seen here are mixed agroforestry plots. You might see cocoa, pigeon peas, corn, mangoes, bananas, malanga, yams, breadfruit, calabash trees, noni, coffee and sweet potatoes all growing together.
If you live in Florida or another tropical or subtropical area, these types of gardens make a lot of sense. This is the system I encourage you to use in my little book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.
It is incredible to see these types of systems being used on such a large scale, albeit in a patchwork of tiny farms scattered across the mountainsides.
Trees provide shade and protect the ground from battering rain. They also hold the ground in place. They drop leaves and give good guys a place to live. Short crops such as sweet potatoes, pumpkins and corn provide quick yields.
Mix in some perennial vegetables for salads, such as katuk, Malabar spinach, cranberry hibiscus and you’ll have all you need to eat well.
All These Great Staples…
When I visited the farm the yams were just coming up. I didn’t see them at first because they were mixed up in the sweet potatoes. The farmer told me he would soon be putting out stakes for them to climb.
I circled some since they’re hard to see:
Remember, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing. These are the same yams I showed a couple of months ago in this video:
I have some growing in my garden now. Unlike the typical Dioscorea alata found wild in Florida, this type consistently makes a smaller, easy to peel and process root.
Plantains and bananas can be a staple in their own right.
That stalk right there, when mature, will probably weigh over 50 pounds. And that’s only one of many trees producing fruit at this time.
I cover bananas as a survival crop in a recent episode of Totally Crazy Easy Gardening:
Quite versatile and I didn’t even get into the more esoteric food uses for bananas and plantains.
On the ground beneath, the rambling sweet potatoes will also produce hundreds of pounds of food. The yams will as well. And malanga, though not as productive, provides both young leaves that can be eaten in soups and some good roots.
One more thing I should mention: the farmer was also growing pineapples around the edges of this plot:
In the middle there you can see more malanga and some young bananas or plantains.
But what if I live up North?
If you are a reader up north, don’t despair. There are some excellent inter-cropping systems for you as well. Though the tropics are abundant year-round, don’t write off the potential of trees such as chestnut, pecan, walnut, and even pears.
I used to have gooseberries and Nanking cherries growing beneath my pear trees in Tennessee.
Plant some horseradish and rhubarb around those and you’re doing better.
Plant a broad swath of Jerusalem artichokes at the edge of your forest.
Leave open spaces and in summer plant corn, beans, pumpkins and other staples that have been used for generations by natives and European settlers.
Unlike my Florida gardening friends, you Northerners often have the benefit of good soil. Make use of it!
My brother in Virginia took me on a virtual tour of his garden the other day. He has blueberries and fruit trees, strawberries, pumpkins and tomatoes, beans and all kinds of wonderful things growing together sprawling across his yard in the rich soil.
As we come into fall, think about the trees you could plant. Plant them. In spring, garden around those young trees. If you leave their spacing far enough apart, you’ll always have enough light to grow yourself some short crops while the sun shines.
The first round of tropical corn has come in with mixed results. This was the corn we planted along with pigeon peas like so:
I was urged by a local farmer to give them fertilizer — chemical fertilizer – but instead, I gave them compost tea. Unfortunately, I did not give them enough. I planted more than I could take care of and overestimated the time I would have available. It turns out that moving to a completely new homestead in a new country also requires lots of time in paperwork, errands, hunting down tools, and just generally getting settled. With that in mind, the next patch I plant will be closer to the house.
The pigeon peas are looking great. Another farmer told me I will have peas by Christmas. The great thing about pigeon peas: they make their own nitrogen! That means they didn’t suffer from the lack of nutrition like the corn did. Next on the agenda is removing the old cornstalks and dropping them as mulch. There is a lot of string trimmer weeding that needs to take place thanks to the huge weed growth resulting from our monsoon rains.
The Missouri pipe corn had a lot of trouble with rotting. Many of the ears were worthless and quite a few stalks failed to produce any ears at all. We did get a few great big ones, though, so I have seed to try again.
The local grain corn we planted down the hillside, as seen in the image at the top of this post, did not have any rotting problems. There was a lot of rain. The problem we had with that corn was rats.
In my latest video you can see what they were doing to the corn:
What I found interesting about this tropical corn variety was its ability to still set plenty of kernels even though some of the ears were quite small. This has not been the case with previous varieties I’ve grown such as Tex Cuban and Hickory King. If the ears are small on those, they often had pollination issues and few kernels.
I’m not sure why the pollination seemed to be so good on this hillside corn patch but my guess is because of the excellent breezes. Corn is a wind pollinated species.
In my next corn patch, I’m going to mix the local grain corn with the Missouri pipe corn and select for large ears.
Wish me luck. It ought to at least be entertaining – and I will feed them a lot more nitrogen this time.
I have been experimenting with pumpkin hills. Since I believe the soil here is acid, though I can’t prove that via a pH test yet, I am starting my melon and pumpkin hills by starting a fire first. Then I fork in some half-finished compost and water with compost tea. The first experimental pumpkin hill looks like this now:
You can see me do this in this recent video:
A native farmer told me that he always burns a brush pile and then plants watermelons. The Seminole pumpkins I planted when I got here on melon pits containing fresh cow manure did terribly. As they moved away from their source of fertility, the vines got scrawnier and scrawnier and only one of them actually produced a pumpkin. A tiny, tiny pumpkin.
These were Seminole pumpkins from ECHO and might have been from a less vigorous genetic line, but I believe the real problem was soil nutrition, the thick clay, the rapid growth of weeds around the original pits, and acid soil.
I visited a local farm and saw big tropical pumpkins growing in big rambling masses of green down the sides of the hill.
Here are some curing:
They may be better adjusted to the climate or there’s something about growing pumpkins here I don’t know yet. My new method is to take some breadfruit leaves or banana leaves pile little sticks on top of it, light it, then douse the fire with compost tea. I also work in some rough compost from my compost bed in the main gardens.
The pumpkins I planted in the video are already coming up and they look very nice.
I am hoping for my own pumpkin covered mountainside.
Growing pumpkins is a passion. I don’t even like the way they taste very much, except for the very good Seminole pumpkins I grew back in North Florida. It’s just… they’re awesome to grow. The fruits can be massive. The vines are terrifying in their growth rate. The blooms are beautiful. And the grand variety of sizes, colors, and shapes that can be found in pumpkin cultivars is breathtaking.
For those of you who have grown pumpkins in Florida or in other tropical climates, does anyone know if there is a good C. maxima type that will take the heat and humidity?
My best luck has been with members of the C. agyrosperma and C. moschata groups… but there are some beautiful pumpkins in the C. maxima clan. Back in Tennessee I grew Golden Hubbard winter squash which were a lot of fun. That was the variety I first planted on my original melon pits which ended up earning their place in Compost Everything… and which I show off in ridiculous fun in Compost Everything: The Movie.
I found a nice fat butternut squash in a local grocery and have saved seeds from that.
I also saved the seeds from the tiny Seminole pumpkin and my wife and children are actually planting them down the hill as I type.
Why, you may ask? Why am I not down the hill planting pumpkins?
Well, I sustained a rather severe injury to my hand and it’s currently immobilized in a cast. Rachel isn’t letting me do anything right now and she is the nurse. You’ll see what I did in a video later this week and I’m going to have Rachel reenact the injury as me.
It’s going to be hilarious.
When life gives you injuries, make YouTube videos.
In case you wanted to know, yes, it was machete related.
Pro tip: you won’t finish your yard-long bean trellis if you sever a couple of tendons in the middle of the job.
Back to pumpkins.
As survival foods go, winter squash and pumpkins are a must have. Varieties such as the Seminole pumpkin are particularly valuable since they store for a long period of time.
Many of the tropical pumpkins I’ve tasted, such as calabazas, do not have excellent flavor and tend to have stringy flesh. I have been collecting local varieties from the market and from farmers and hope to rectify this through selecting pumpkins with superior flavor and texture. We shall see.
Getting them planted properly to begin with on a fertile hill of compost and ashes seems to be key, though I have just started and am still learning from the natives.
If I can just stop injuring myself and recover, I’m going to transform this mountainside.
This was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. I knew that I needed to get the camera and see if I could take some photos.
Though the zoom lens I have is from an old Canon model and makes a lot of noise when I try to film with it, it takes nice photos and I was able to use it for filming by setting the focus precisely on where the nest was and not allowing it to autofocus during filming.
Taking shots of the nest required my hanging up in a tree and shooting down while waiting for the mother to appear.
My leg went numb and the ants got me but I managed to complete my mission and I now have the film to prove it:
Hummingbirds are not only beautiful, they are pollinators. By allowing lots of space for them to live in by planting plants that deliberately attract them, you’ll bring both beauty and a healthier ecosystem to your homestead.
I wondered for years what hummingbird nests look like and where they raised their babies. I count myself as blessed to have finally found out in person… and to have had a good camera to take some shots with.
If you’ve ever wondered how to sprout apple seeds, I demonstrate the process in a recent episode of Totally Crazy Easy Gardening:
A couple of days ago I followed up that demonstration with a report on how the germination had turned out… and, I got Rachel to join me in potting up the young apple trees.
I was quite happy with the results. I believe we got a 100% success rate, as we didn’t find any seeds in the jar which hadn’t sprouted. It took one month for the seeds to germinate in the refrigerator. Not bad at all.
However, we may have to wait 8 to 10 years to find out if they will actually fruit… and if that fruit is good, so-so, or poor. If it is poor, it will still be good for pies. Even crab apples have their uses.
How to Sprout Apple Seeds
All you need to do is eat a few apples and save the seeds. Plant the seeds rapidly and don’t let them dry out.
You’re not planting them in their final location at first. As you can see in the first video, Rachel simply puts them in some moist potting soil in a jar, and then places that jar in the refrigerator. A Ziploc bag works even better than a jar. Within a month, the seeds had already sprouted and were growing roots.
Once you see little roots and shoots, transplant them just as we did in the second video.
Occasionally, apple seeds will already be germinating inside the apple or will start right away from the fruit. My friend Steven Edholm at Skillcut, remarked in the comments of the first video that many apples are stored under refrigeration which breaks the dormancy cycle of the seeds, so sometimes all you need to sprout apple seeds is to plant them directly.
Don’t place your newly transplanted apple seedlings right into full sun. Find a shady spot and put them there and take extra care when they’re young. Soon they’ll be large enough transplant into your orchard or food forest.
Why Sprout Apple Seeds?
I’ve always been a fan of growing trees from seed, particularly edible fruit trees. There’s a certain magic to growing something from a tiny little sprout into a productive and useful tree. I gained a huge amount of satisfaction from the peach trees I started from seed some years ago. When they started producing peaches, I firmly believe they were the best peaches in the entire world. In the entire history of peaches, there were no peaches as excellent as the peaches I started from seed. You can’t talk me out of this fanciful belief so don’t even try.
Sprouting apple seeds is an excellent homeschool project. The same goes for germinating peach pits, though it generally takes longer. If you live in a climate where apple trees grow, and they grow in a lot more places than you might think, why not start your own apple trees from seed? Then if they don’t turn out to be what you expected, go ahead and graft them.
You can get my grafting movie for a donation of any amount at this link. It demonstrates three simple methods of grafting. (If you’re poor, or a widow, take it for free. If not, please deposit a huge amount of money into my PayPal account. Thank you in advance. Every little bit helps. And huge amounts of cash help even more.)
There’s really nothing to lose when you plant fruit tree seeds. You can plant more seeds for trees then you need, then thin them out. It’s not like you have any money invested in the process. All you’re out is a little bit of time.
If you had a tree that was absolutely abysmal and you didn’t want to graft it, apple wood is great for smoking!