More on Turning Weeds into Soil

building_soil

The net is back up, so I’m back at it. Thanks for your patience.

Yesterday one of my viewers on YouTube told me I should check out “The Natural Farmer” channel.

Turns out it’s great. The guy knows his stuff and presents information wonderfully.

When I saw this video on turning weeds into soil in five months… I shared it with my newsletter subscribers, and now I’m sharing it here as well:

I left a nice comment below the video and it turns out he already knew of me and my work. Instant friendship! Gotta love it.

If you’re fighting with your gardening, it’s possible you’re really fighting the soil, not the plants.

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Get that life going in the soil and it will feed you!

This is one of the things I share in Compost Everything. Drop organic matter on the ground and nature will do the rest. It’s so simple. And look at the before and after in his video. I subscribed to his channel and I recommend you do too. Gotta support people sharing great ideas.

Eat Your Dirt

If you really want to know more on building soil, the upcoming “Eat Your Dirt” online conference looks awesome.

My friend William Horvath will be in it, as will Paul Wheaton, Dr. Elaine Ingram, Brad Lancaster… it’s great. Like a who’s-who of experts. Sign up here for free.

Catch you all soon.

Internet down

Net is down today – will post as soon as I get it back. Get ye outside and garden! -DTG

Pigeon Peas: A Survival Plant Profile

Pigeon-peas-shelling

Pigeon peas aren’t your typical garden pea. They are a big plant – you could even call them a small tree.

On Saturday Rachel and I walked down to the big patch of pigeon peas we planted last summer and found to our delight it was finally time to start picking.

We stuffed two shopping bags with pigeon pea pods.

Pigeon peas in the shell

There are at least two different varieties of pigeon peas growing on our plot. Some have reddish-brown pods, the other has green pods with blotchy red-brown patches.

If you leave the pods on the pigeon pea plants, they mature to a very good dried pea. If you pick them a little earlier, they can be shelled and eaten like regular garden peas.

pigeon peas shelled

We ended up with a few gallons of green peas after shelling. We also got some dried peas from pods that had already matured on the plants.

dry pigeon peas

Last night we had green pigeon peas and rice mixed with saltfish for dinner. That was good. Hearty and healthy.

A Reader Interjects!

But… let me back up a bit. Reader James Paganacci wrote the following on my Survival Plant Profiles page a few days ago:

“I’m not sure if you have grown pigeon peas? They grow nicely in southern Florida (probably ok up north also?) and last a few years. They fix nitrogen and grow in sandy soils. Although they do better in rich organic soil. They don’t transplant very well, have to be careful with the root system or they go into shock and die. They are very easy to grow, prolific and produce a lot of edible seeds. I believe the amino acid profile is pretty good. This plant is a good addition to the survival plant list.”

Yes, I agree – so let’s make this a fully-fledged survival plant profile!

Pigeon Peas: An Excellent Survival Crop

I like having knowledge and success with a plant before I write a profile (though the recent survival plant profile I wrote on stinking toe trees was all based on research, not actual growing hours) which is why I waited for some time to write about pigeon peas.

In North Florida I attempted to grow pigeon peas multiple times and they always succumbed to frost before making more than a few peas. They’re day-length sensitive, which means they won’t flower until the fall and winter… and that spells doom for your crops.

In South Florida or anywhere with frost-free winters they’re a very good option as they fix nitrogen and can handle lousy soil.

Dry pigeon peas are found at Indian grocery stores. They grow readily. Sow them a couple of inches deep and wait a week or two. You can literally hack chunks out of your lawn and plant pigeon peas… and they’ll thrive.

As a further bonus, the hard wood of pigeon pea shrubs fuels rocket stoves like a boss.

Heck, this is another Swiss-army knife plant, so let’s make a list of its attributes.

Pigeon Pea Uses

Storable dry peas

Green peas good as a vegetable

Green manure

Drought-resistant source of calories

Windbreak

Erosion control

Good chop-and-drop for establishing food forests/mulching

Wood useful for firewood

Great forage for animals

Fixes nitrogen

Breaks up hard soil with its strong roots

Can be used to suppress weeds

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Good road-side hedge

Impressive, eh? Yeah. They’re awesome.

How to Plant Pigeon Peas

In January Luis Quinones commented on one of my previous pigeon pea posts:

“In Puerto Rico mi grandma use to plant in the same hole at the same timeof planting bush beans sweet corn and pigeon peas. Both the bean and the pea will benefit the corn by fixing the nitrogen in the soil. Plus she fertilize one time only.
1. First to harvest was the beans. Feeding the plants and husk to the goats.
2. Second came the corn. Also feeding the leftovers to the goats and pigs.
3. Last one the pigeon pea. She will do 2 harvest one for green peas and last one for dry peas. Which she store in old one gallon milk only for later use that will last for a year. Then feeding the pigeon pea bushes to the goats.
This is like the 3 sisters system that the American Indian use to do. The difference is they used pole beans, corn and squash.
With the squash you don’t have to weed.
Find your 3 sisters combinations where one plant will benefit from the others.”

I like that idea. I just planted another round of pigeon peas in a new location and am thinking of adding squash/pumpkins to the plot to increase the overall yields. Pigeon peas are a perennial which will produce for a few years, long after the corn and pumpkins are gone.

You can see how I planted the new patch in the video I posted yesterday:

I’m not sure how the corn will do as we really didn’t loosen up much ground and the grass here is tough; however, I know the pigeon peas will take off.

You don’t need to interplant them, either. You can plant them alone. Got a rough patch of ground? Get it going with pigeon peas.

3-4′ spacing is perfect for pigeon peas, as they get big and branch out.

Pigeon Pea Allelopathy

You might not want to grow pigeon peas too close to some other crops, though. A local farmer told me that pigeon peas make other plants around them unhappy and that trees don’t like them.

I thought this was strange as pigeon peas are often recommended by permaculturalists as a great nitrogen-fixing species.

After a little research I discovered they are allelopathic.

According to everyone’s favorite agricultural company:

“As with many other legumes, pigeon pea has been shown to have Allelopathic properties which may inhibit the growth and performance of the following season’s crop. This should be taken into account if large fields are planted.”

I planted pigeon peas around some trees in my North Florida food forest but am unsure whether or not they had an effect on growth, positive or negative.

More tests are obviously needed, but for now I wouldn’t shy away from planting them in developing food forests. They certainly don’t seem to dampen the growth of corn.

Conclusion

Worries about allelopathy aside, I grew pigeon peas in an area of dead sand which had been rendered a mini-desert by goats. The peas thrived and the area was restored to a good gardening spot.

There are plenty of reasons to grow this excellent staple survival crop. It meets the test of being useful for many things, plus it tastes good and provides a good amount of protein unlike many other staples.

If you can grow pigeon peas, do it!

You’ll find more info at Infogalactic.

And at Tropical Permaculture.

And at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

SpudMeter51

 

 

 

Name: Pigeon Pea, gunga pea, sometimes just “peas”
Latin Name: Cajanus cajan
Type: Shrub/small tree
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: Some uses claimed
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Peas, leaves for forage and mulch, stems for cooking wood
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled. Dry peas boiled until soft. Peas can also be sprouted and used.
Storability: Dry peas, very good. Green peas, frozen.
Ease of growing: Totally crazy easy
Nutrition: Good. High in protein.
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

A Must-watch Documentary

Terra-preta

Sit down for an hour and watch this. I guarantee it will be worth your time.

I have some ideas I’ll share soon. Watch the documentary, then share your thoughts in the comment section. I have a million thoughts running through my head – I think it will do the same for you.

Preparing and Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes

SweetPotatoes1

Planting a bed of sweet potatoes is easy.

Preparing a bed for sweet potatoes is a little harder. That takes some digging and loosening.

Fortunately, my trusty Meadow Creature broadfork is always up to the task.

Digging in sandy soil with a broadfork is easy. In rocky clay, it’s not nearly as easy. It’s basically an extreme sport in clay.

meadow-creature-broadfork

It’s not impossible, though. That bed took me perhaps 45 minutes to prepare, mostly because it takes more stomping on the broadfork than I’m used to, plus I had to bust up the big clods.

Sure, it’s work – but it’s work that needs to be done, especially for root crops.

Why Dig a Garden Bed?

The major reason: loose soil. If the soil structure is open and crumbly, plant roots do a lot better. They can dig deep and get the minerals and water they need without having to force their way through hard earth. You’re doing the hard work first to make their lives easier.

Digging garden beds even works well in sand, as I discovered back in Florida.

DoubleDugAbundantBed

When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.

The Initial Feeding

When I prepare a garden bed I rake in compost right at the beginning. In the past I’ve also used amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and kelp meal – all of which are excellent additions to the soil.

Here, though, I can’t get most of those things, so I stick to compost, biochar and sometimes seaweed.

You can see a recent bit of bed prep in this video:

You don’t need a ton of organic matter in the soil. A few percent is fine. I sprinkle perhaps a half-inch cover of compost on a newly dug garden bed and rake or turn it in before I plant. The plants really appreciate compost and it lasts longer and releases its nutrition over time, unlike chemical fertilizer.

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When preparing this garden bed I used my Back to Eden chicken run compost, which is probably hotter than compost from a typical backyard pile. The plants don’t seem to mind, though.

Here’s how I made that compost:

Simple.

Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes

This is easy as shoo-fly pie.

Just cut some vines and stick them in.

planting a bed of sweet potatoes

You can start your own sweet potato slips with store-bought sweet potatoes if you don’t have any vines currently growing on your homestead.

Use the toothpicks and a jar method – or – even easier – start potatoes growing by burying them shallowly in a pot of soil, then cut vines off of those to plant.

I use a stick to dig holes, then plant the sweet potato cuttings a few inches deep into them.

They’ll look like they’re going to die for a few days, then they’ll recover as the vines root. Sweet potatoes are tough.

For more on growing sweet potatoes in Florida and why they’re one of my top crops for the Sunshine State, check out my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

For more on sweet potatoes as a survival crop, plus an in-depth look at various garden designs and their pros and cons, get my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

I’ll post a video update on this bed soon – you’ll be amazed by how good these little pieces of vine look after a week or two.

Planting a bed of sweet potatoes takes some prep work, but do that preparation well and you’ll be rewarded with abundant harvests.

Lemongrass Firestarters

lemongrass-firestarter

Did you know you can use lemongrass as a firestarter?

I only found out about this use recently, thanks to my pastor here. He demonstrated how to roast a breadfruit and when doing so, lit the fire with a rolled up hoop of dried lemongrass. Awesome.

The grass hoop I burn at the end of the video wasn’t the best example as it was made from old grass I pulled from the edges of a lemongrass plant. If you cut and make your own loops, then dry them, they have more oil and burn stronger.

Lemongrass is a great herb – and it lights things on fire. Win-win.

Have a wonderful Lord’s Day, everyone.

 

*          *          *

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Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”

“I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break[a] them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”

Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

-Psalm 2, NKJV

Weed & Feed

weed-and-feed

My Dad was really a lawn guy when I was growing up. He loved this stuff:

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I don’t, obviously, as I don’t keep a nice lawn and I don’t like herbicides – however, you can combine weeding and feeding if you’re clever.

Rachel demonstrates:

No chemicals required!

Bird Feeders and Bee Houses

Habitat

I have written before on attracting beneficial creatures to your yard and garden.

I have even built a few bee houses.

BeeHouse-300x231

It’s nice to watch the insects and birds and know they’re working on my behalf (most of the time).

A couple of weeks ago I met Eric via an online gardening consultation and he showed me his homemade bird feeder and insect hotel. I asked if I could share them here. He graciously agreed and sent me pictures.

First, here’s the bird feeder:

bird-house

I love reclaimed materials.

Now check out the bee house / insect hotel:

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Insect-hotel

And, just for fun, check out this nicely set up woodpile Eric also created:

Woodpile

I dig the door knob and latch.

At my old property I had places for toads and snakes, wasps and bees, beetles and butterflies… my yard was alive with life and my pest problems were minimal, unlike most suburban gardeners.

Now I live in the jungle so habitat is everywhere, but I do think I should probably pop in a few bird houses one of these days.

Eric is on the right track. Make a place for life on your homestead!

An Unconventional Use for Snails

snail-waters

I was researching medieval history today for a project and came across a post on snails I found entertaining:

 

“Snail water was also known (counterintuitively to this writer’s tastes) to whet the appetite. In this recipe for snail water in the collection of the New York Academy of Medicine, snail water is fortified with ale: “Let the Ale this water is made of, be the strongest that can be Brewed, this exceeding good to cause an Appetite.”

Snail water as a cure may seem strange to modern sensibilities, but as Alun Withey points out, oral testimonies taken in rural Wales as late as the 1970s reveal evidence of the medical usage of snails, “including one involving skinning 12 black snails, putting sugar on them and leaving them overnight, before eating the gooey remains the next day!”

One could argue, in fact, that vestiges of humoral thinking remain to this day, particularly in the beauty industry. In the last couple of years, snail mucus has been marketed as a wonder treatment for wrinkles, acne, and skin texture. For example, through a company called Holy Snails, you can buy a hydrating serum that contains snail mucen extract. And even the big-box store Target has joined the trend, offering the “Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Skin Treatment” containing 30% snail slime extract.”

 

I have eaten river snails, cooked, and found them palatable. Eating snails raw is dangerous, stupid and gross.

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But the recipe in the post above… well, you just have to go over there and read it.

Ack.

 

 

*Featured image via TheGraphicsFairy.com

Natural Vegetative Strips

natural vegetative strips

I came across a fascinating video on “natural vegetative strips” yesterday.

Check this out:

According to FAO:

“Natural vegetative strips (NVS) are narrow live barriers comprising naturally occurring grasses and herbs. Contour lines are laid out with an A-frame or through the ‘cow’s back method’ (a cow is used to walk across the slope: it tends to follow the contour and this is confirmed when its back is seen to be level). The contours are then pegged to serve as an initial guide to ploughing. The 0.3–0.5 m wide strips are left unploughed to allow vegetation to establish. Runoff flowing down the slope during intense rain is slowed, and infiltrates when it reaches the vegetativestrips. Eroded soil collects on and above the strips and natural terraces form overtime. This levelling is assisted by ploughing along the contour between the NVS – through ‘tillage erosion’ – which also moves soil downslope.
The vegetation on the established NVS needs to be cut back to a height of 5–10 cm: once before planting a crop, and once or twice during the cropping period. The cut material can be incorporated during land preparation, applied to the cropping area as mulch, or used as fodder. This depends on whether the farmer has livestock or not, on personal preference, and on the time of cutting. If the grass is applied as mulch or incorporated, the technology can be considered to be an agronomic, as well as a vegetative, measure.

NVS constitutes a low-cost technique because no planting material is required and only minimal labour is necessary for establishment and maintenance. Some farmers had already practiced the technology for several years before the intervention of the ICRAF (The World Agroforestry Centre) in 1993. ICRAF came to realise that farmers here preferred NVS to the recommended ‘contour barrier hedgerows’ of multipurpose trees – which land users viewed as being too labour intensive.”

How is the Practice of Natural Vegetative Strips Different?

 

Imagine hedgerows or alley cropping, then make it simpler.

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All the farmer does is find the contour of their slope, then let the native vegetation grow. It’s rather like Inga Alley Cropping, but with grass and weeds instead.

According to FAO, over time, those strips eventually create terraces instead of a steep slope. This illustration from the .pdf shows how:

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 8.58.04 PM

I never thought much about swales, runoff and hedges on contour back in Florida. Here in the tropical mountains, things are a lot different and I’m learning all over again.

I can see how this natural vegetative strips idea would work well here by stopping erosion, providing a place for beneficial insects and lessening the slope of the land over time.

I’m filing it for the future.

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