Maintaining a Banana Grove

Banana-grove

I let everything get away from me in the banana grove but I’m now starting to catch up.

We got a lot done this last Saturday and I filmed more so you can see how I’m cleaning and thinning out the many banana “stools” on our property.

Bananas are usually a heavily sprayed and fertilized crop but I’m managing them organically. I need to gather a lot more cow manure, plus maybe some seaweed and other materials. There are so many banana clumps to care for that it’s hard to get enough fertilizer to them.

Banana-grove2

Buying 10-10-10 and throwing a few handfuls to each stool would be easy.

Getting piles of manure isn’t.

There is a goat research facility up in the mountains – maybe I should go over there and see if I can get a few loads of manure.

There’s a thought!

David-the-good-books-revised

Fermented Plant Juice

fermented-plant-juice

This is similar to the Korean Natural Farming method of fermenting plant material anaerobically:

Multiple comments beneath the video claim that it IS the same method, but it isn’t.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 3.25.00 PM

This Hawaiian technique for creating fermented plant juice uses a lot of sugar and lacks leaf mould and sea salt. I am curious if it works well.

Some commenters claim it has done miracles for their gardens.

Youtuber Tom Fisher writes:

“I used your FPJ made out of Henbit and raw sugar and mixed it with EM1 and Bokashi Juice. The first spraying was FPJ and BJ. The plants took off right away. AMAZING!!! I sprayed our, and my neighbors flowers and shrubs with it and they are gorgeous! My garlic is over 30″ tall and my strawberries are a foot tall have have more flowers on them than I have ever seed in my life on strawberry plants. Thanks for an excellent video. You are a blessing to me and my family. Blessings to you!! My next batch will be Comfrey or Purslane.”

I may have to do a side-by-side test of methods to see how this works compared to the JADAM method.

Many compost tea enthusiasts will tell you that anaerobic fermentation is a bad practice, yet my own experiments have shown it to be a good source of soil fertility, particularly when compost supplies are low or you are gardening in sandy soil and need to optimize plant nutrition.

Pulling a bunch of materials from a wide range of plants is good for minerals.

Not having to bother with stirring or a bubbler or rapid application after creation is labor-saving.

So… I’m on the anaerobic train. Darn the microbes – full speed ahead!

I am gratified to see my own experience and experiments are backed up by both traditional Korean and Hawaiian practices.

Compost Everything!

David-the-good-books-revised

Free Nitrogen-Fixer Seeds

Nitrogen-fixers

I’m not picky when it comes to sources of soil fertility.

Sure, I could go the classic route and plant soybeans or peanuts, like farmers do, or I could go the grocery store and buy dry beans, peas and lentils, or…

…I could just go wander through the woods or even along the shoreline and pick up seeds from obvious nitrogen-fixing species.

Many, though not all, members of the bean and pea family, more properly known as Fabaceae, enjoy a special relationship with certain soil microbes which allows them to take nitrogen from the atmosphere – which is inaccessible to plants – and “fix” it into a form which plants can use.

Soybean-root-nodules

The roots of the plant share sugars and water with the bacteria, and in return, the bacteria give the plant nitrogen. It’s a fantastic design and one the gardener can put to work in his garden.

Once you learn to spot members of the bean and pea family, it because easy to find them.

If you don’t feel like you’re very good at plant ID, the book Botany in a Day has a lot of photos which will get you spotting plant families in no time.

Botany in a day

Though you’re not really going to learn botany in a single day – unless you’re some kind of a savant – Elpel does a nice job visually putting together plants into families and getting you going. You might not nail down a species right away, but you will be able to tell pretty certainly that the plant is in the hibiscus family or the soapberry family or, as concerns today’s post, the bean and pea family.

Nitrogen-fixing trees and plants are everywhere. In the case of the bay beans and Crotalaria I picked up at the beach, I know both of them fix nitrogen – and even if I didn’t know for sure, I could make a very good guess since they look like beans and are also nice and green in an area where they don’t have much right to look so chipper!

I’ll be planting these in rough areas and then later cutting them for use as compost while leaving the root systems in the ground. If you leave the roots instead of pulling them, you get more biomass in the soil and as the roots decay they’ll feed the next thing you plant.

Crotalaria isn’t edible (so far as I know) and the edibility of bay bean is disputable.

This woman, however, cooked and ate some – plus she made a nice privacy screen by planting a bamboo trellis with bay beans – but eat at your own risk. I’ll wait until I have more data.

Edibility is a nice plus with nitrogen-fixers but isn’t necessary. I’m mostly interested in feeding the ground for now.

If you’d like to see some of the many nitrogen-fixers I added to my old food forest in North Florida, check out this post.

Have a great Saturday – get out there and garden!

David-the-good-books-revised

Fertility is Everywhere

seaweed

You can find food for your garden in the strangest places.

Fallen leaves, manure, rotten wood, ashes, fish guts, urine, grass clippings… even seaweed and sea urchin shells will work:

I don’t have a standard mix of materials I add to my garden. Instead, I add whatever is currently available, from Epsom salts to rabbit manure, coffee grounds to moringa leaves.

I like a broad mix as I’m not only interested in making the plants look green, I’m also interested in maximizing their nutritional content, as Steve Solomon writes in his excellent book The Intelligent Gardener.

Start thinking about the many garden inputs available to you. Chances are you’re missing some great fertilizer opportunities.

Have a wonderful Lord’s Day – see you Monday.

 

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Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry,[b] and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

 

-Psalm 4, ESV

David-the-good-books-revised

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.

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.

David-the-good-books-revised

Does Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizer Destroy Soil Carbon?

DirtBeforeAndAfter

According to a recent article at Grist:

“At a time of climate chaos and ever-growing global greenhouse gas emissions, anything that helps vast swaths of farmland sponge up carbon would be a stabilizing force. Moreover, carbon-rich soils store nutrients and have the potential to remain fertile over time–a boon for future generations.

The case for synthetic N as a climate stabilizer goes like this. Dousing farm fields with synthetic nitrogen makes plants grow bigger and faster. As plants grow, they pull carbon dioxide from the air. Some of the plant is harvested as crop, but the rest–the residue–stays in the field and ultimately becomes soil. In this way, some of the carbon gobbled up by those N-enhanced plants stays in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Well, that logic has come under fierce challenge from a team of University of Illinois researchers led by professors Richard Mulvaney, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth. In two recent papers (see here and here) the trio argues that the net effect of synthetic nitrogen use is to reduce soil’s organic matter content. Why? Because, they posit, nitrogen fertilizer stimulates soil microbes, which feast on organic matter. Over time, the impact of this enhanced microbial appetite outweighs the benefits of more crop residues.
And their analysis gets more alarming. Synthetic nitrogen use, they argue, creates a kind of treadmill effect. As organic matter dissipates, soil’s ability to store organic nitrogen declines. A large amount of nitrogen then leaches away, fouling ground water in the form of nitrates, and entering the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas with some 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. In turn, with its ability to store organic nitrogen compromised, only one thing can help heavily fertilized farmland keep cranking out monster yields: more additions of synthetic N.
The loss of organic matter has other ill effects, the researchers say. Injured soil becomes prone to compaction, which makes it vulnerable to runoff and erosion and limits the growth of stabilizing plant roots. Worse yet, soil has a harder time holding water, making it ever more reliant on irrigation. As water becomes scarcer, this consequence of widespread synthetic N use will become more and more challenging.
In short, “the soil is bleeding,” Mulvaney told me in an interview.”

 

I don’t worry at all over the spectre of man-made climate change, but the loss of soil potentially caused by synthetic nitrogen directly impacts farmers and gardeners.
We have a rough patch of ground right now that I plan to improve via chopping and dropping biomass-creating species such as Tithonia diversifolia and nitrogen-fixers such as pigeon pea and Leucaena leucocephala.
If I tilled that ground and chemically fertilized it instead, I would get yields at the beginning but would likely burn up what’s left of the topsoil. For whatever reason you decide to do so, getting carbon in the soil is a good idea. I’ve seen soil transformed from sand to rich loam in less than a year thanks to an abundance of organic matter.
I want a rich soil filled with microbial life – not dead dirt shocked to a semblance of life by chemical fertilization.
It seems science is with me.
David-the-good-books-revised

Time to Prune Grapes (if you’re in a mild climate in the Northern Hemisphere)

time to prune grapes

It’s about time to prune grapes again, at least if you live in a somewhat mild climate.

I made this video a few years ago showing how I pruned my muscadine grapes back in North Florida:

It’s not hard, except psychologically. When you’re a beginner it’s hard to take off that much vine!

Fortunately, I’ve gotten over that and have now pruned hundreds of grapevines, thanks to some work I did with my friend Dave Taylor at Taylor Gardens Nursery.

He’s the guy who explains how to grow muscadine grapes in this video:

There is a single grape vine here on our current property that hadn’t been bearing grapes.

A few days ago I gave it a brutal pruning and also chopped and dropped Gliricidia leaves and twigs around it as a slow-release feed for the roots.

Actually, around this time of the year it seems like it’s becoming a tradition for me to post grape-pruning videos…

More on Grape Pruning

If you have grapes and live in a warmer climate, it’s time to prune grapes. Get out there and get pruning before the buds break in the late winter and early spring.

UF has this to say about the time to prune grapes:

“Pruning is done in Florida during the following dormant periods: (a) south Florida-January; (b) central Florida-January 1 to February 15; and (c) north Florida-January 1 to March 10.

Vines that fail to reach the top wire during the first year should be pruned back to buds near the ground. “Bleeding” of grape vines is not harmful. Vines that reach the top wire during the first year should be pruned to a single cane of 3 to 5 buds along each wire in each direction. After the second year, leave 4 new wood canes (1 for each direction on each wire) with 8 to 12 buds on each cane. The older and more vigorous the vine, the greater the number of buds that can be left on each cane at pruning time. In addition to the 4 canes, leave short 2 or 3 bud spurs near the points of cane origin (near the trunk) for renewal of canes the following year.

Canes are pruned short (3 to 5 buds), and many more canes are left per vine if the “clothesline” trellis is used.

If vines are not pruned at all, the number of clusters will increase, but the size of both clusters and berries will decrease so that only stems and cull berries are produced. Further, the length and width of the vines will make them more difficult to harvest or cultivate.”

If you live farther up north, you’re set for a couple more months so take the time to relax and enjoy your seed catalogs.

David-the-good-books-revised
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