Diane on Steve Solomon’s Soil and Health Group recently reported on planting potatoes in fall and graciously allowed me to share her comments and photos:
Though this experimentation with living buildings is in its infancy, some very interesting ideas are being created by merging trees with architecture:
Since building my living fence from Gliricidia sepium sticks jammed into the ground, I’ve wanted to experiment more with living buildings. Once I get some land I think it would be awesome to make a tipi or yurt from bent and intergrown trees.
Earlier this week I posted a new video from the downhill pumpkin patch:
Though I pull in some good pumpkins, you can also see that the patch is under-performing – and I am not sure why. I should be getting a lot more. There are large areas yielding nothing.
All the hills were fertilized when the pumpkins started running. They’ve had lots of water and a good bit of sun in between, plus I kept the weeds down for the most part.
I am getting pumpkins, but many of these vines were grown from the seeds of fruit which were much larger than the ones I’m now pulling in.
Vine borers have sown up, but still – even the unaffected vines are mostly making 5-7lb fruit instead of 12-20lb.
My suspicion is that the soil here is not as good as advertised. I’ve been told again and again that the local soil is rich; however, I often had better luck with vegetables in my sandy North Florida yard.
If I owned the piece of ground I’m currently farming, I would dedicate myself to soil improvement via the planting of natural vegetative strips and chop-and-drop plants and trees, plus the addition of biochar and ashes.
I discovered with some exploratory digging that my sweet potato bed near the house is also a failure. It’s yielding a pathetic amount of small tubers, just like the previous bed I harvested earlier in the year.
I kicked tail growing sweet potatoes in North Florida but not here.
And I fed these beds with manure, compost tea, seaweed, compost and even some chemical fertilizer when everything else wasn’t helping.
I’m stumped. Something isn’t right.
Gary comments on my Inga Alley Cropping post:
“I have been thinking about experimenting with Guamuchil (Pithecellobium dulce). It’s not as nice as Icecream bean but is drought tolerant and grows well in Southern California. Thorny.”
Pithecellobium dulce is a useful species.
“Food: Pods contain a pulp that is variously sweet and acid, commonly white but also red. The seed and pulp are made into a sweet drink similar to lemonade and also eaten roasted or fresh. The seeds are used fresh in curries in India. In Mexico, Cuba and Thailand, the pods are harvested and are customary sold on roadside stands.
Fodder: The pods and leaves gathered from hedge clippings are devoured by all livestock; horses, goats, camels, cattle and sheep. The presscake residue from seed oil extraction may be used as stock feed.
Apiculture: Flowers are visited by bees and yield good quality honey.
Fuel: Fast-growing and coppices vigorously but due to its smokiness and low calorific value (5 177-5 600 kcal/kg), P. dulce wood is not of very high quality. In parts of India, it is planted and harvested to fuel brick kilns.
Timber: Sapwood is yellowish, and heartwood yellowish or reddish-brown. The wood of P. dulce is strong and durable yet soft and flexible. It is moderately hard and usually straight grained. It weighs about 590 kg/m³, is easy to saw and finishes to a smooth surface. In south India, it is used to make drums, while in China, it is said to be used for matches. It
can be used in construction and for posts. The short spines and irregular, crooked growth make it less attractive for wood uses.
Gum or resin: The wounded bark exudes a mucilaginous reddish-brown gum somewhat like gum arabic.
Tannin or dyestuff: Tannin, used to soften leather, can be extracted from the bark (about 25%), seeds and leaves; the bark is also used to dye fishnets a yellow colour.
Lipids: Seeds contain a greenish oil (20%), which, after refining and bleaching, can be used for food or in the making of soap and can substitute kapok and ground nut seed oils.
Medicine: In Haiti root and bark decoctions are taken orally against diarrhoea; fruit pulp is taken orally to stop blood flow in case of heamoptysis. The seed juice is inhaled into the nostrils against chest congestion and pulverised seeds are ingested for internal ulcers. The leaves, when applied as a plaster, can allay pain of venereal sores and taken with salt can cure indigestion, but can also produce abortion. The root bark may be used to cure dysentery. The bark is used medicinally as a ferbrifuge.”
We have this species – or a very similar one – growing locally. Children here gather the pods and suck out the sweet flesh from inside. They’re quite nice.
Like Inga edulis, Pithecellobium dulce fixes nitrogen, grows quickly and produces something edible. However, I’m not sure the latter will rot as quickly as Inga does – especially in an arid climate where the rate of decomposition is lower. It also may not create the same level of leaf biomass. Yet in Gary’s area, Inga isn’t going to grow anyhow as it’s greedy for water. I have observed that Inga species thrive alongside rivers and are absent in dry areas.
The thorns are another drawback. I once planted a Jerusalem thorn tree (Parkinsonia aculeata) in my yard as a nitrogen-fixing food forest species.
See those thorns? When you chop and drop the branches to feed the soil, those sharp, sharp thorns last a long time. The wood doesn’t rot quickly and if you’re walking through the yard barefoot and accidentally step on one, they’ll mess you up.
Thorns can be a benefit, of course, if you’re keeping out intruders or wild animals – but in a chop-and-drop or alley cropping system, I would avoid them if possible.
Other than the thorns, I think Pithecellobium dulce is a good species and worth trying in an alley cropping system. If it’s well-adapted to the climate, go with it. See how it works. Maybe the thorns won’t be a problem – and I already know the fruit is good to eat.
Experimentation is the best way to figure out what will work. Try it!
Zori asks if you can grow coffee in Florida:
“Hello David Good hope all is well. Why can’t I grow coffee here in Florida? I mean, Florida is subtropical right? The coffee belt has somewhat of the same whether, all though it’s mountainous in some places, also it’s either rainy, cold, or hot and dry. Florida is all of those things except the mountains lol.”
It’s a good question. Let’s dive in.
Where To Grow Coffee in Florida
First of all, Florida is not a monolithic state. I’ve had people express surprise when I told them I couldn’t grow mangoes, coconuts or even Key Limes out in the open at my old North Florida homestead. It’s simply too cold. We’re talking 12 degrees overnight cold on occasion. Sure, it’s warm most of the time, but most of the time isn’t enough.
One night of freezing weather and coffee dies. Take a look at this USDA zone map:
The dark orange area is where you can grow coffee outdoors without protecting it, except for on very rare frost events. 10b.
In 10a, you can still grow coffee but you will need to protect it occasionally.
How To Grow Coffee in Florida Beyond Zone 10
In 9a and 9b, you can grow coffee in Florida against a south-facing wall as I describe in detail in my book Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics.
I lived in what they’re now calling 9a, but it was really more zone 8 for multiple winters. My coffee survived against a south-facing wall but only because freezing conditions were always mercifully short, lasting only a few hours or a single night.
There have been times in the Ocala area when temperatures stayed below 32 for longer than overnight and on through the next day.
That is the end for a coffee tree, unless you wrap it in sheets and Christmas lights or put a big barrel of water next to it, like I did for my loquat tree.
Why DON’T People Grow Coffee in Florida?
Florida is a land of extremes. It gets both colder and hotter than coffee prefers, plus the humidity fluctuates between summer and winter.
As UF writes:
“Coffee is usually grown under shaded conditions but may be grown in full sun. Optimum growing conditions include temperatures from 59 to 75°F (15-24°C), high humidity, and protection from windy conditions. Temperatures above 77°F (25°C) slow growth, and leaves are damaged at temperatures above 86°F (30°C). Constant, large fluctua- tions in daily temperatures, and constant temperatures at or below 41°F (5°C) may cause leaf drop and tree decline. Coffee plants may be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures.
In the tropics or warm subtropics, coffee is grown at high altitudes (up to about 3,500 ft; 1,100 m) where temperatures are moderate and never freezing.”
Florida’s hot and sandy conditions aren’t the best.
Where I live in Central America, you can grow coffee without even working at it. Just stick plants in the ground and they’ll be fine. The soil is rich and the temperatures are not too hot or too cold. The humidity is high year-round as well, and coffee loves that.
In Florida, the winters are dry and the soil is poor. Coffee likes to be well-fed. I’ve written in the past about how far you can grow a coffee tree – even the feasibility of growing coffee indoors way up north in places like Canada – yet for enough production of beans to be anything more than a curiosity, you need a decent climate.
In my booklet on growing coffee and other caffeine plants, there’s a complete interview I did with Gary Strawn, a Kona coffee farmer in Hawaii.
He explains that there are very solid reasons why Hawaii is known for its coffee and Florida is not, despite the southern portion of the Sunshine State being technically warm enough for the plant. It’s a very good interview. There is a lot more to growing and producing quality coffee than just keeping the plant alive through the winter.
So Should You Grow Coffee in Florida?
Yes. Come on – if you CAN grow something as awesome as coffee, even marginally, why wouldn’t you? Don’t be a wuss! It’s COFFEEEEEEE!!!
I would absolutely plant coffee – lots of coffee – if I lived in Ft. Lauderdale or Naples or Homestead or any place where I could start a little outdoor plantation.
Tucking coffee trees under some canopy trees works well as coffee can tolerate some shade and still produce. Doing that also moderates the heat of the day and the cold of the winter.
Put them under some mangoes and you get two crops in the same space!
I’ve dreamed for years of starting a little coffee plantation in South Florida and selling the green beans as “locally produced!” in nice paper bags bearing the outline of Florida.
“Dave’s 100% Florida Coffee!”
How awesome would that be? Though the flavor wouldn’t be as good as something from Hawaii or Jamaica, it would be local and you can bet people would support that and pay well to have Florida coffee. It’s a great idea. Maybe one of you guys can do it.
My bet is that Coffea liberica would do well in Florida and maybe better than Coffea arabica. That’s what I currently have growing on my property here. It tastes great, too.
I bought my first plant at a rare plant booth at a gardening show, then planted the seeds from that. Sometimes you can also get fresh seeds but they’re hard to find. If you can’t find coffee seeds that are fresh enough to germinate, you can also get coffee plants on Amazon for a decent price. Gotta love Amazon.
Coffee is worth trying to grow if you live in Florida. Just for the bragging rights.
Additional coffee resources:
18-Day Compost? Possible?
Quite possibly. I watched Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Soils again the other night with Rachel.
In it, Geoff makes a few extraordinary claims about his compost.
He says it’s possible to make compost in 18 days, and if Geoff says it is… well… it is.
That said, 18-day compost isn’t a new idea; it’s what the Berkeley Method does, though you need a shredder of some sort (lawn mower, anyone?) to move the process along:
Following this idea, over at Deep Green Permaculture there’s a solid DIY post on 18-day composting which reports:
To illustrate the point, a friend with a small with only a courtyard (in a rental property) wanted to attempt hot composting, and I helped him out with the project. He gathered a wheelie bin full of fallen leaves from his local street, one wheelie bin full of weeds from his garden, purchased a small straw bale for the sake of it. I helped him collect a few garbage bags of cow manure from an urban farm. It took us under an hour to pile it all up in reasonably thin layers (under 5cm) of each ingredient to get a good mix.
It was his first attempt at hot composting, and in around 18 days, he had over 1 cubic metre of rich, dark, compost to use in his garden. You couldn’t distinguish any of the original ingredients in the final product either, and it had a very fine consistency. Best of all, it cost him next to nothing – the straw bale was just a $17 luxury, it would have worked just as well without it, and without it it would have cost absolutely nothing.
Just think that 1 cubic metre is 1,000 litres, and if you think how much you pay for a 30 litre bag of potting mix (over $10) here in Australia, you realise what value this entails.
Compost is valuable, and if you make more in a faster period of time it helps you get beds going. Right now we’re entering the rainy season and I want a lot of compost fast. Our beds are being dug and planted and having it available to feed the growing crops would be quite helpful.
I decided to try 18-day compost using what we have available on our homestead.
The first thing I needed to do was build another bin, as I already have a batch of compost going. It should be done in a few weeks, but I wanted to start NOW!
Here’s what I created:
See how fast you can build a compost bin when you just have junk laying around your yard? Redneck FTW!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough material to get a solid start on this pile. I need to go cut some grass and gather some manure before I can make a good go of it. I’m not sure mango leaves are going to break down quick enough, though they do seem to rot a lot faster than cocoa leaves. They are the main “browns” I have, so they’ll just have to do. Even if turning regularly means I’ll get compost in a month instead of a few months, it’ll be great. I have made compost pretty quickly in the past by getting more air into the pile and rotating non-composted materials into the center, so we shall see. Maybe we’ll make 21-day compost. Or 19-day compost!
Stay tuned – I’ll be hunting biomass and will start this experiment soon. Our internet is out right now but I’ve tethered my phone’s connection via bluetooth to my Mac so I can keep posting until the line is back in service. It’s burning through my data plan like a drunk through cheap wine, but I haven’t run out yet.
Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and I’ll see you Monday.
* * *
Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
O my soul, you have said to the Lord,
“You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You.”
As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
Nor take up their names on my lips.
O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Yesterday I walked up to the big galvanized compost pile I created and was amazed by how much heat was radiating from it.
That’s the pile I built in this video:
It got me thinking again for the umpteenth time about the potential for heating water with a compost pile.
At our house there is a sweet solar water heater on the roof which provides abundant hot water… except on rainy days. The compost pile made me wonder: what if the water from that heater were backed up by a compost pile water heater like this article describes:
“…the basic idea behind a compost water heater is that tubing is coiled throughout the compost pile and then filled with water, which in turn is heated by the compost pile.
As the below image illustrates, cold water goes into the coiled tube and hot water comes out. Not only that but it’s also possible to extract methane gas from the compost pile, which can then be used for cooking or heating.
Looking back at the work of Jean Pain, his compost piles built with wood chips were massive. In some cases, he was employing 60 tons of compost in a single pile to provide his energy needs. More recently, however, experiments have used piles that are as small as 6’ x 6’ to create a similar effect. Some of these modern piles are producing temperatures of 150°F or more.
The trick to improving the original design is the use of more polyethylene tubing. In the typical 6’ x 6’ compost pile mentioned above, you might expect to use at least 300 feet of 1 inch diameter polyethylene tubing. This tubing is carefully coiled and layered in between the layers of compost to repeatedly heat the water as it moves through the various layers of the coil system.
As a general rule, the pile will start with a compressed layer of compost followed by a layer of coiled tubing followed by a layer of compressed compost until you reach the desired height.
Since a compost water heater does not have a hot water tank, the tubing becomes the “tank” in this example. This means that the more tubing you use, the more hot water you will have available at a given time. Think long, relaxing shower versus being the last one in the house to get a shower before work.”
Just thoughts for now.
Let’s see if this works:
The clay here is very hard to dig, particularly near the house where the topsoil is thin and the clay and rocks are abundant.
A local told me to try planting yams in a trench filled with leaves and grass, so I decided to give it a try.
We’ll see how it turns out. Yams are an EXCELLENT tropical staple crop and figure prominently in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.
If you live in Florida and want a solid calorie crop that produces well and takes almost no work – give yams a try. The trenching isn’t required in a sandy soil.
Just pop bulbils or minisetts in the ground and wait.
A pastor from Haiti asks about dry bean varieties for the tropics:
“Recently, I was contacted by a small group of farmers who have secured acres of ground in Haiti and are diligently working to produce a variety of crops – utilizing a cooperative of Haitian farmers and growers to produce Plantain and Peanuts.
The pastor further informed me that they are looking for dry bean varieties, not green beans. Think storable protein.
I recommended pigeon peas and he wrote further:
“I have been reading about the pigeon peas and ordered the seed today to arrive in time to take with me.”
So that’s good – pigeon peas can take a lot of heat and humidity and produce crops for at least two years, provided wind damage doesn’t take them down.
Another thought I had was the classic “black-eyed pea” or “zipper peas,” also called “crowder peas,” “cow peas” and “Southern peas.”
Their Latin name is Vigna unguiculata.
They take heat, poor soil, humidity and low rainfall and still produce crops.
We had great success with them in dry and wet conditions and high heat.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has quite a few varieties for sale.
There is also the Kebarika bean from Kenya that’s available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
We grew those in a hot and rainy summer in Florida and they were one of the few bean plants that produced dry beans for us.
The flavor is bland but the plants were strong.
The pastor mentioned lablab (Lablab purpureus) in one of his emails – that could be another good option, though I have not grown them much myself.
Via Tropical Forages:
“Lablab is a dual-purpose legume. It is traditionally grown as a pulse crop for human consumption in south and southeast Asia and eastern Africa. Flowers and immature pods also used as a vegetable. It is also used as a fodder legume sown for grazing and conservation in broad-acre agricultural systems in tropical environments with a summer rainfall. Also used as green manure, cover crop and in cut-and-carry systems and as a concentrate feed. It can be incorporated into cereal cropping systems as a legume ley to address soil fertility decline and is used as an intercrop species with maize to provide better legume/stover feed quality. As a dual purpose (human food and animal feed) legume , it is sown as a monoculture or in intercrop systems.”
Winged beans are a Swiss Army Knife bean species. Edible leaves, green pods, roots and dry beans.
“Winged bean thrives in hot weather and favours humidity, but it is an adaptable plant. It is reported that the winged bean can adjust to the climate of the equatorial tropics. Winged bean production is optimal in humidity, but the species is susceptible to moisture stress and waterlogging.”
I have heard that dry winged beans need plenty of cooking to become soft and digestible but have not tried them as dry beans myself – they are on the list of test crops for us.
Final Thoughts on Dry Bean Varieties for the Tropics
If this were my project, I would gather a wide range of bean varieties and test them all over a few years to see which did the best. Sometimes a type will work that you thought wouldn’t – or a sure-fire variety just doesn’t do well under local conditions.
Experiment, experiment, experiment. If you have bed space, definitely grab some Southern peas, lablab, winged beans, pigeon peas and Kebarika… and then spin out from there.
Pintos may do well, or some variety of Roma bean from Italy – you don’t know until you try. I pray you find great success.
If any of you brilliant readers have any further suggestions on dry bean varieties for the tropics, please let me know in the comments.
If there’s something you’ve grown that worked great in the heat and humidity, share it. Let’s help this pastor have success with his gardening experiments!
*Kebarika bean image via Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
I read in an ECHO publication that you can use termite nests to feed crops.
Proving that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, that made me decide to do this:
These acts of Termitidae terrorism were perpetrated for the purpose of making potting soil.
I smashed us two termite nests over a tarp, then put the contents into a couple of buckets.
Looks like good material for a garden… or for potting soil, doesn’t it? I mean, massive swarms of tiny termites aside.
I’ve made/stretched potting soil before and did a video on it a few months back:
That previous batch of potting soil wasn’t totally from scratch. So while looking around for good fillers, my eyes fell on the big conehead termite nests down in the cocoa orchard.
What I didn’t expect was how interested the local wasps would be in these termite nests.
You need to watch the video to see just how crazy things got.
Anyhow, I figured the wasps would clear out after they’d eaten all the termites. I was wrong.
Check out this update video I posted yesterday – the wasps are still at it!
Hopefully they calm down eventually. You can see the various ingredients I mixed to make potting soil, which leads us to
My Experimental Homemade Potting Soil Recipe
Smashed arboreal termite nests
Biochar (mostly from bamboo) charged with urine, seawater and Epsom Salts
Mix ingredients together on a tarp, smashing occasionally with your feet. Try to avoid getting carried off and/or stung to death by the ravenous swarm of wasps eating the termite nests. Wait until night when the wasps go home and pot your plants.
Serves 30 seedlings or 1,000,000 wasps.
At first I was happy the wasps were eating the termites, as my chickens were too dumb to come when I called.
Now, after a few days, as the crowd of wasps continues unabated, I’m concerned they may be eating up the termite nests themselves. Not sure. I talked to a local farmer today and he said something in broken termite nests always attracts the wasps.
I’m not surprised they keep coming as the termite nests smell surprisingly sweet, similar to a bee colony. That I did not expect.
Anyhow, I’m probably just going to pot plants in the dark if these wasps don’t go away soon. They’re really overwhelming.
Nature is nuts.