A viewer of my YouTube channel just can’t figure out what’s happening with his tomatoes:
Quite a mystery.
A viewer of my YouTube channel just can’t figure out what’s happening with his tomatoes:
Quite a mystery.
I picked the most likely candidate in the overgrown cassava bed down the hill and dug it:
That’s barely worth feeding to the chickens!
Back when I grew cassava in North Florida, the roots would grow huge in the loamy sand. Here, I don’t know. People do get decent harvests, but my guess is the shade and the clay hurt our yields.
I’m going to try again and see if I can do better. These were grown in loosened soil but I think they could have used more sun.
Today, in celebration of hitting 15,000 subscribers, I posted an entertaining tour through the little vegetable gardens out back:
The beds and fencing, etc., aren’t the way I would design a garden but the pre-made space works pretty well and has been a blessing. We’re getting some good pumpkins now, as well as greens and perennial cucumbers.
Here, as a comparison, is a garden I designed:
I don’t like raised beds all that much and was mostly phasing them out in my Florida gardens; however, they are more useful here where the soil is filled with rocks and clay.
In the future I hope to dig and sort all the rocks out of the beds which will help even more.
It is nice to get some Seminole pumpkins from the garden but I am quite disappointed they all seem to be the necked variety. That was unexpected – not what I thought I had saved.
Have a great weekend. I’ll be getting some gardening done today.
I finally got to encounter some non-cultivated velvet beans in the wild – and they are definitely unpleasant. It’s one thing to hear – it’s another to experience.
And you know me, I like to experience all kinds of unpleasant things.
Now I really feel sorry for Keith’s wife and her brush with murderous Mucuna!
Here’s my hunt from the other day:
I set off on my hike to hunt for wild velvet beans with the idea of asking a neighbor if he knew where any might be growing. It didn’t take long, as I came across a local farmer a minute after leaving my driveway. He asked where we were walking.
I told him we were hunting for the wild stinging beans and his eyes widened. “Why???”
I said they were good medicine and he told me, skeptical, that they were down the road by the burned car. And he also warned me to be careful… and handed us a few ripe sapodilla for the road. My neighbors are great.
I found the beans without trouble, and I thought I was careful handling them. I had gloves and jeans on, plus a plastic bag for the beans.
I wasn’t careful enough.
The itching creeps up on you. It’s a bit of a tickle, then a sting, then an insistent stinging itch that will drive you mad.
Though I didn’t touch any of the beans, the fine hairs drift off the pods when they are disturbed… and where those hairs will land, no one knows.
Granted, I didn’t get it too badly. My arms were driving me crazy for a while and got worse when I washed them. I carefully peeled out of my outer clothes and scrubbed my arms with soap and water. Eventually the itching subsided.
The beans we found in the wild were smaller and uglier than the ones Keith grew, and they definitely weren’t as large as the stingless types. They almost looked a bit mangy.
Originally I planned on planting these somewhere and using them like I used the stingless velvet beans I used to grow back in Florida.
Now? No. Too unpleasant a plant for the homestead, as much as saying that makes me feel like a loser.
If I ever get an “itch” to plant them, I’ll go back and watch this video again.
Hey! Let’s do a list post! How about “8 Reasons Why You Should be Growing Chayote Squash?”
Oh shoot. Now I have to come up with eight reasons, which is a number I picked arbitrarily. That shouldn’t be hard, though, as chayote really is an excellent addition to the garden. Also known as christophine and mirliton, they are a Mesoamerican crop which is now available around the world. Costa Rica exports tons of them to the EU and the US every year as the taste for this tropical squash-that-doesn’t-taste-like-a-squash has grown.
Ready? Let’s see if I can come up with eight reasons for growing chayote squash… here goes…
No lie! This squash is likely to be the star of your garden in 2017 if you get them planted this spring.
Here’s a photo-manipulated shot of a bag of them I picked in my North Florida garden at the beginning of 2016, just before the first frost of the winter (which was a very late one – January!):
It looks artistic, doesn’t it? I added an “artistic” filter in Photoshop!
You can see me harvesting these squash in this video (along with a few other goodies):
They are a wonderfully productive plant – but don’t think this productivity lasts for only one gardening year. Oh no – the story gets better!
That means they come back year after year. Look at this one growing back:
I love perennial vegetables. (You might be surprised at how many great ones there are – if you want to dive down the perennial rabbit hole, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables will get you dreaming.)
If you live in a colder climate, mulch over chayote’s roots to make sure they don’t freeze in the winter. My bet is you’ll be able to keep them going all the way into zone 7 if you’re clever with frost protection.
There is a highly productive vegetable that starts with a “z” which I don’t wish to mention, as it is a hateful and vile thing.
People grow this, then throw them away.
Unlike that abomination, chayote are good enough that you’ll want to eat them. They are much like a dense cucumber and some call them a “vegetable pear.” If you play pretend, they are somewhat like a mild pear but without the grittiness.
How do you eat them? I need to make a another point, obviously, or I won’t hit eight. So…
Chayote can be sliced and eaten raw like their cousin the cucumber, or they can be peeled and cooked. we discovered through experience that if you don’t peel them the skins get quite tough in cooking.
Chayote can be made into pickles and relish and can also be sauteed. One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the vine, like a fruit.
They are denser than a cucumber and hold up better in cooking. They’ll also absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so they’re a good filler for the pot.
This is something I discovered while I was visiting the H.E.A.R.T. gardens in Lake Wales and touring the plants with my friend Josh Jamison.
“Have you ever eaten the shoots?” he asked, when I recognized chayote growing on a trellis.
“No,” I said, “I heard they were edible but never tried them.”
“Here,” he said, breaking one off. “You have to try one.”
I did. “These are amazing!” I said.
He grinned. “They really are good – I’m growing this trellis just for the shoots!”
I was impressed. They’re good in the way asparagus is good. Chayote shoots are a mix of subtle flavors, nutty, fresh, green, sweet, delicious.
Some vegetables – like tomatoes – are technically a perennial but practically speaking are an annual. Unlike these fair weather perennials, chayote sticks around happily. I’ve had few problems with insects, disease or nutritional deficiencies… they just like to grow. Strangely, though, I have had multiple chayote rot when they were planted, instead of grow. I found out what I was doing wrong, however, and now plant them differently.
In a video I posted yesterday, I show you how to plant chayote to give them a better success rate from the beginning.
Planting them on their side, not all the way in the ground, seems to be the best way to do it.
There is such a thing as garden bragging rights. In fact, once you reach Super Elite Gardener Status(TM), you start competing with other gardeners to see who has the wildest and weirdest things growing.
Super Elite Gardener #1: “So… did you see my mouse melons?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: (yawns) “Oh yeah. I grew those, like, five years ago.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Of course. Everyone grows them. But I know you used my guest bathroom earlier… notice anything… interesting… in there?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “Uh…”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “You did, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Tell me what it was.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “It was… a… 30-foot…
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Yeeeeeeeessssss?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “…or maybe longer…”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Say it.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “…vanilla orchid with pods on it.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Which you wouldn’t think was anything, would you, if it were just a NORMAL vanilla orchid, right? Why is this one so special? Tell me.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “I’d rather not say.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “That’s because I win, don’t I?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “Fine!” (sobs) “You win! It was a VARIEGATED 30-foot-plus vanilla orchid with pods on it growing 1200 miles from the tropics! You win! I hate you!”
Chayote may not be at that level, but it will put you ahead of the typical backyard vegetable gardener.
Unlike some vegetables that need to be tied up carefully and supported well, chayote will happily cover whatever is available.
I’ve seen them growing 40 feet up in oak trees. They’ll climb towards the sunshine and put fruit way up in the air. This is good and bad, of course. It’s great that they are so scrappy, but it’s hard to harvest fruit that high in the air.
If you have a chain link fence, a small tree you don’t care about or a rotting garden shed… plant chayote next to it and let them run. They’ll turn that support into a beautiful green mass of vines in a season. Growing chayote squash over eyesores isn’t a bad idea, actually. Got a burned-out car? Grow chayote on it! An ugly spouse? Chayote!
My chayote vines quite happily grew over an unproductive pomegranate tree and covered it with fruit… albeit not pomegranate fruit.
They make good shade, too, so you could plant them on an arbor over a sitting area for summer shade.
Actually… I could add a 9, too. Let’s do it!
Because of the list above, chayote is a very good addition to a survival gardening plan. Their nutritional profile is good, though they are unfortunately low in calories. The productivity makes up for low caloric yield, though, and they’re a good break from MREs, spam and canned beans!
Now that I made it to 9 of 8, let’s take a minute and look at growing chayote squash in your backyard (or front yard, if you’re hardcore).
Growing chayote squash is easy.
First, get a few chayote from a grocery store, a fellow gardener or a farmer’s market.
Leave the fruits out on your counter for a few weeks. Eventually some of them should grow shoots out of the blossom end. (Chayote do not grow from proper seeds. Instead, the fruit surrounds a single embryo in the middle.)
Once they sprout and the vines are a few inches long, I plant them as shown in the video above.
Make sure you have something sturdy for them to climb where you plant the sprouted fruit. They’re not picky, as I said, but they are vigorous.
Chayote like full sun but will take half shade. Morning sun is the most important.
Chayote like compost, nitrogen and mulch. I fed mine with diluted urine (and sometimes undiluted) poured at the base of the plant. My bet is they’ll also appreciate calcium.
My plants produced in the fall after growing vigorously all through the spring and summer.
Have fun growing chayote squash – it’s a worthwhile vegetable to add to your survival garden.
Do you remember this post where Kerri worried about her sweet potatoes wilting?
Good news. Kerri kept growing and ended up with a nice yield:
She writes in a recent email:
“Thank you so much for your help! I’m super excited to grow my second crop! Last year, I planted the slips on June 3 and harvested on October 8. I planted 11 slips in a 4×4 bed. (Of course the vines spilled outside the bed, making 18” of awesome soil on all sides of that bed! But there were no potatoes outside the 4×4 bed.)
The potatoes were delicious and we ate them all during the fall. On Christmas day, we mashed the final bit for the family dinner. The little ones were pretty great mashed. 🙂
Anyway, here are my questions for you:
1. Why are some so huge and some so little? I thought it might have been too many slips in too small a space, thus crowding the potatoes, but I watched your recent video and you planted a TON of slips together. Then I thought it might have been that I harvested too early, but I had a couple of super huge potatoes and I’m afraid they would have been monsters if I waited.
2. When should I plant my sweet potatoes this year? Is early June a good time? I think in the past you told me you usually harvest in November. If I plant them in late March, can I harvest earlier? (and maybe plant a second bed in June or July for fall!)
3. Will sweet potatoes grow in sandy soil? Maybe I can put them in the sand with some weeds and organic material and let them be some of the living roots in the ground like the Natural Farmer shared.
I appreciate your help and expertise in everything gardening! I’m voraciously reading your Compost Everything book right now. I am desperately trying to turn some sand into soil! 😀
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I love being able to answer the majority of my gardening questions by using the search bar on your site.”
Thank you, Kerri, I appreciate it.
Let me take the questions one at a time.
This is just the way sweet potatoes grow.
We’re used to seeing sweet potatoes in similar sizes stacked up in supermarket displays. Farmers don’t want huge potatoes or tiny ones, so those are culled.
The USDA breaks sweet potatoes into different grades.
For example, “U.S. Extra #1” sweet potato rules are:
I answer quite a few questions on topics ranging from composting, gardening, survival and food forests. A few of them I share here.
This recent question about gardening in Okinawa is worth covering here, just because it’s so out of the ordinary:
Fantastic. Never tried the mound method for planting cassava. Will have to try that. I’ll bet it makes harvest much easier.
I like this field fencing, too:
That’s a lot of labor, but you can really grow a ton of calories in this space.
Cassava and yams will feed you for a long time.
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.
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.
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.
Last night we had green pigeon peas and rice mixed with saltfish for dinner. That was good. Hearty and healthy.
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!
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.
Storable dry peas
Green peas good as a vegetable
Drought-resistant source of calories
Good chop-and-drop for establishing food forests/mulching
Wood useful for firewood
Great forage for animals
Breaks up hard soil with its strong roots
Can be used to suppress weeds
Good road-side hedge
Impressive, eh? Yeah. They’re awesome.
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.
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.
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.
Name: Pigeon Pea, gunga pea, sometimes just “peas”
Latin Name: Cajanus cajan
Type: Shrub/small tree
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: Some uses claimed
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Peas, leaves for forage and mulch, stems for cooking wood
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.
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.
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.
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.
When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.
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.
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:
This is easy as shoo-fly pie.
Just cut some vines and stick them in.
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.