Homemade Bamboo Greenhouse

This homemade bamboo greenhouse really piqued my interest:

Bamboo greenhouse 2

I’m sorry I don’t have a photo from further back. The farmer and his children were standing next to the structure and I’m trying to respect their lives by not including them on the Internet. A lot of people here are not connected to the World Wide Web and even view people with cameras as somewhat suspicious. I’m sure the various waves of tourists have been less than respectful in the past. I try not to be “that guy”.

How Was This Bamboo Greenhouse Made?

 

This entire structure is made from just three things: bamboo, palm fronds, and some purchased greenhouse plastic.

The bamboo for the roof was split in half and the rounded sides face up towards the plastic. Massive stands of bamboo grow by the rivers here, providing the locals with plenty of free building material. Private property is sometimes a vague concept. To put it simply, if someone is not working the land… you are free to wander it, tether your goats, harvest bamboo, pick fruit, climb the coconut trees and take what you like, or hunt.

I don’t really see this as a bad thing. Though I am a huge advocate of private property, a lot of the land here is sitting around and may be held by some far-off investor. Meanwhile, the jungle grows up and mangoes fall to the ground. We don’t have a problem with people wandering through our property. We live here, we tend to the cocoa, we plant corn, and we have made friends with our neighbors.

Back to the bamboo greenhouse. The joints are not tied with coconut palm fronds; rather, they are from some sort of a local palm of which I cannot pronounce the name.

Bamboo-greenhouse

The farmer assured me that they last for years, as does the bamboo since it’s under cover.

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The high labor part of building this greenhouse was dragging all the bamboo stems up the hill and then splitting them.

As you probably saw, my own bamboo splitting skills are less than impressive:

Fortunately, this local farmer knows what he’s doing. And amazingly, he still has all his fingers.

So, why in the world would you want a greenhouse in the tropics?

 

As you notice, it has no sides. It never gets cold here. The problem is, the pounding monsoon rains will wreak havoc on flats of seedlings. This greenhouse gives them protection while still allowing the sunlight in.

Since the weeds grow very quickly here, I noticed many people start seedlings first, then clear the ground, then plant the seedlings when they are tall enough to have a head start.

I’ll bet this entire greenhouse cost about $20. Considering the amount of seedlings the farmer is able to start in it, it probably paid for itself in the first couple of weeks.

I asked how long it took to build and I believe he told me a couple of days. Not bad. Better than spending a grand on a prefabricated plastic structure!

Food Forest Spacing: How I Do It

Dylan asks about food forest spacing:

“I have (a) question … about the permaculture food forest concept. How do you address the spacing issues? I don’t mean traditional spacing like planting 20 rows of corn at 16 inches apart and in rows 2-3 feet apart blah blah blah, but how do you make sure that you aren’t putting a plant out all by itself or vice-versa not having one plant shadow out the smaller bushes and shrubs and things like that?”

My answer on food forest spacing

 

That is a huge question.

Here is a picture of part of my previous food forest:

food forest spacing

There is a lot going on there!

Generally, I like to fill up the space with a bunch of nitrogen-fixing and biomass-producing species. I make sure that the large trees that you cannot keep cropped back, such as pecans, are placed towards edges will they will not shade everything else.

I tend to start a lot of trees from seed and cuttings and plant more densely than the final food forest will be.

Know this: you can prune and bend the living daylights out of many fruit trees and keep them from overcoming the space. Plant a lot more, then clear later as the need arises.

Nature will evolve a system.

Dawkins-meme

No, not like that.

No new species are likely to spontaneously generate in your food forest.

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However, species will arrive.

Weeds, insects, birds, reptiles…

Things start to get exciting after a while as systems and checks and balances arrive.

Your initial biomass plants can be chopped and dropped to feed the trees you really love and want to produce food for you in the future.

In my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, I argue the value of a small plant nursery area. When you are spending big money on trees and shrubs, it’s hard to cut them down and you worry too much.

You can create 100 fig trees in one weekend via cuttings.

Or a flat of honey locust.

Or you can stick cuttings of Mexican sunflower and cassava all over the place.

Even starting your own peaches from seed is easy.

I let wild trees pop up wherever they like. Some can be grafted, others can be used for trellises, you can feed them to other trees by chopping them down or you can use the wood in your rocket stove. Food forest spacing isn’t a big deal. Just watch those un-prunable trees.

Planning is fine. Over-planning may mean you never end up with a food forest.

Nature is malleable – get out there and get planting.

No fear.

Gardening Serendipity

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.

Splatter-planted-cantelopes

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.

Pumpkin-on-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.

Emerging-yard-long-bean

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Beside the bamboo bean trellis, the second generation of purple podded Roma beans are also emerging.

Purple-beans-emerging

Our pastor also gave us some Malabar spinach cuttings and their vines are reaching for the sky.

Malabar-spinach

Quite a beautiful vegetable.

One final bit of fun: if you have read my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, you probably remember the appendix on planting a garden from your pantry.

Just for the heck of it, I’ve decided to demonstrate this idea in one of our garden beds.

To do so, I bought a 13 bean soup mix which is basically a bag of dried beans with a seasoning packet. I’m going to plant them all in a garden bed soon… and create The 13 Bean Soup Garden!

Why not? My luck has held so far.

Except with a machete.

Start Fall Gardening Like Your Life Depends On It: Part I

I just wrote a new article for The Prepper Project I think you’ll like. -DTG

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.

Thinking ahead? Naw… I had Spring fever! I wouldn’t think much about gardening until the seed catalogs started arriving… and then I would mostly browse and dream.

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.

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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.

The reason?

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…

Click here to read the complete, info-packed article over at The Prepper Project!

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Chickens AGAIN!

I’ve written at least one “chickens are back” post in the past. Maybe two!

Chickens!

That is our little flock.

A rooster and three hens, lovingly gifted to us by a friend.

Rachel is quite happy:

Since moving, we have had to buy all of our own eggs. We have also had only the compost pile to deal with fallen fruit. Not all the mangoes look like these when they fall from above:

Mangos

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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.

You can sign up here.

He is also doing a free webinar tonight only on “The Tools of the Ten Hour Homestead.”

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.

Plantains, Sweet Potatoes, Yams and Malanga: Intercropped!

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.

plantain-intercrop-2

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.

FloridaFoodForestsCoverNewBLwebIf 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:

Yams-intercropped

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.

Plantains

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.

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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.

plantain-intercrop

One more thing I should mention: the farmer was also growing pineapples around the edges of this plot:

plantain-intercrop-3

In the middle there you can see more malanga and some young bananas or plantains.

Sweet.

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.

Pearsweb

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.

Tropical corn experiment: round 1 is concluded

Local-grain-corn tropical corn

The first round of tropical corn has come in with mixed results. This was the corn we planted along with pigeon peas like so:

Pigeon_Pea_Corn_Intercrop_In_Stations

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.

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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.

Machete Safety

I can’t believe Rachel jumped in and did this… she’s amazing. And hilarious.

Enjoy:

Have a great weekend!

The day of the accident

It was going to be a perfect day.

We got up before dawn, made coffee and a weird smoothie, and set off for our gardens.

The evening before I had cut down some of the weeds with my string trimmer and burned the first pile for a new patch of pumpkins…

…and that’s where this video starts:

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We did get a lot done before everything was cut short.

Get it? “Cut?”

Sorry. I also must apologize for my lack of a shirt at the end. I wasn’t quite myself after surgery and felt like I just had to finish the video.

Tomorrow I’m going to post a follow-up that I think you’ll really like.

Unless you hate ketchup. Then don’t watch.

My Experimental Pumpkin Hills

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:

expeirmental Pumpkin hill

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.

tiny-seminole-pumpkin2

tiny-seminole-pumpkin1Pathetic!

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:

More-tropical-pumpkins Tropical-pumpkins

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.

Pumpkin-sprout

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.

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Never have enough of the good stuff?

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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 like the great, big, beautiful slate blue original Hubbard squash but they are hard to find seeds for anymore… thank goodness for Baker Creek.

I found a nice fat butternut squash in a local grocery and have saved seeds from that.

Nice-butternut

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.

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