Does Composting Destroy Weed Seeds?

beautiful-sifted-compost

Does composting destroy weed seeds?

We are regularly assured by composting experts that hot composting destroys seeds… yet I have some pumpkins that beg to differ:

composting destroy weed seeds

Those pumpkins grew as volunteers from one of my compost piles a few years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a regularly turned pile, meaning that they probably missed the hottest part of the compost… but how many of you have turned your compost regularly and still had little tomatoes or weeds pop up in it?

My bet is ALL of you.

Here’s an example of “hot composting kills weed seeds” advice from Aggie Horticulture:

“The composting process also naturally kills weed seeds. Properly managed, a compost pile should easily reach 140°F, which breaks down all organic matter, including weed seeds.”

They recognize the difficulty, though, as the next line reads:

“The key word is properly.”

My bet is that few gardeners reach that lofty, “proper” goal.

Why Our Backyard Compost Doesn’t Kill Weed Seeds

 

compost destroy weed seeds

A typical backyard compost heap isn’t insulated or turned often enough to maintain heat and rotate all the viable seeds in the compost through the hot center of the pile.

Yes, the heat generated by thermophilic bacteria in a hot compost pile is high enough to destroy seeds, but getting every bit of your compostable materials hot enough to kill the seeds takes very good compost management.

My old pile didn’t do it. It was built from reclaimed landscape logs with too many gaps to get everything hot. Plus, turning it was a pain.

I imagine if you owned a cement truck and packed the barrel of it with a proper mix of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials, then rotated it every day or so, and perhaps insulated the inside with foam, you could get that compost to heat up perfectly.

I’m joking. A bit.

My composting methods have gone from complicated to simple over the years as I’ve realized creating perfect compost doesn’t really matter.

Nature doesn’t create perfectly sifted, totally rotten-down brown humus. No, she throws logs and leaves on the ground. There’s always some finished material and some fresh material, some fungi eating at this and some insect boring away at that.

But let me back up. What prompted today’s post?

This Viewer Asked a Question

There was a comment that prompted today’s great big post on weed seeds in compost. Four words that led to 1145 words:

weed-seeds-in-compost

Martha asked this question on this anaerobic compost tea video I posted back in the summer:

My answer was:

“Good question. I try to avoid throwing plants with mature seeds into the tea. They never seem to get completely killed in hot compost piles, either, though, even though we hear all the time that “hot composting kills weed seeds!” It’s probably true for the ones in the middle of the pile, but I’m always getting volunteer tomatoes, wheat from straw, weeds, and pumpkins popping up even from hot piles. My guess is that this tea method will rot down most of the seeds if it sits long enough but not all of them.”

It takes a lot of faith in your compost-fu to deliberately throw in weedy materials, no matter how you’re composting.

Stretch_And_Grow_Your_Compost_Cover+sm

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If you have spiny pigweed going to seed in your food forest, do you really think you’ll be able to throw that in your compost bin and then use the resulting compost in your spring gardens?

Do you want to take that risk?

composting-weed-seeds-feel-lucky-punk

But I Compost the Right Way!

That’s fine – I appreciate the thermometer and sifter brigade.

To those about to compost, I salute you!

I am totally sure that I could destroy weed seeds by hot composting if I thought it out properly. My interest, however, is more in gardening than in the processes that lead up to it. Making “perfect” looking compost isn’t as important to me as growing corn, pumpkins, beans, yams and fruit trees. I also don’t like spending money to make perfect systems.

If you enjoy it, that’s fantastic. I love the smell, look and taste (well, maybe not taste) of finished compost. I made some nice-looking stuff myself this year and just sifted it the other day:

composting destroy weed seeds

I made that compost with almost no work, though. No thermometers, no turning, no measuring ratios of carbon/nitrogen to get that 25/1 mix. No, I just threw it all on the ground in one of my garden beds.

And – oh YES – LOTS of seeds came up in it! Enough to start my new fruit tree nursery.

I view this as a feature, not a bug. Sometimes I just let compost piles turn into garden beds since there are so many volunteer edibles coming up.

But What About Killing Weed Seeds???

Right – that’s what you all want to know, right? How CAN you compost those pesky weedy plants?

Weed_Bouquet_3

My favorite method is to keep them out of the compost piles and gardens altogether.

In my former food forest I would just chop down weeds and throw them on the ground around my fruit trees and other shrubs. If they self-seeded and came back, I’d chop them down again.

Unlike delicate annual garden plants such as lettuce and cabbage, trees and shrubs don’t need to be perfectly weeded in order to produce. I just knocked down the weeds again and again, and every time I did, guess what?

Those fallen weeds rotted into humus.

Nature does this all the time. The winter freezes come once a year and toast all the weeds, letting them fall down and rot into the soil, improving it. The Bible instructed the children of Israel to let their land go completely fallow one year out of seven. Weeds regenerate the soil, as I’ve written before.

If you want to use weeds to feed your gardens, you’ll have much better luck in a no-till system where you throw a pile of seedy weeds on the ground, then cover them up with mulch… and then DON’T TILL!

If you till, you’ll bring those seeds up to the light and warmth and they’ll go crazy in your eggplants. Beneath a layer of mulch, however, they’ll eventually rot away safely.

Compost_960-webThat’s my two cents on composting destroying weed seeds. Yes, it can – but most of us aren’t doing it “properly,” so don’t trust too much in the magic of compost to pile-drive your pesky pigweed problems.

Personally, I prefer cold composting anyhow as I believe it keeps more of the good stuff in the pile instead of steaming away into the air. Nature almost always cold composts, and while that process takes longer I think it’s a simpler and gentler method.

Then again, I may just be lazy.

You decide.

And go get my book Compost Everything if you really want to transform your thinking on the wonders of composting. It’s even available as an audiobook, read by me.

And it’s funny.

Supercharging Garden Beds with Biochar and Compost

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Biochar and compost, my friends. That’s what I’m doing this time.

And… freshly tilled garden beds are irresistible to chickens. Little punks.

biochar and compost and a chicken

Yesterday I shared how we started working the garden beds, along with a video. Today I have a follow-up video, plus a deeper look at my experiments.

After seeing Steven’s success with biochar and leeks – and after getting really sick and tired of how gluey the clay can get here – I’ve decided to make lots of charcoal to add to my beds.

biochar and compost

I did an open burn and managed to get over 15 gallons of biochar. It’s mostly from fast-burning materials like palm fronds and bamboo, with a big of hardwood and random sticks thrown in.

Charging Biochar

If you throw charcoal directly into your beds it soaks up the minerals for a time, lowering or even eliminating your yields; however, if you “charge” it first with some minerals and nitrogen, it acts like a reserve in the soil. Or that’s the theory as I understand it.

Being rather insane, I decided to soak the biochar in seawater and Epsom salt. And urine. And some compost. I only soaked it for a couple of hours, though, which may not be enough.

Biochar wasn’t the only amendment I added to the garden beds. I also sifted some compost with my redneck compost sifter, AKA a carefully bent hunk of hardware cloth:

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redneck-compost-sifter

Some of the compost is being reserved for a new batch of potting soil I’m going to make to pot up some of my compost pile fruit trees, but some of it we put in the garden beds along with the biochar. Biochar and compost – what a wonderful combination!

Rachel helped with this part, even after all her vigorous broadforking.

putting-biochar-and-compost-in-garden-beds

There are few things I enjoy more than working in the garden with my wife.

Having a task in front of us and getting it done together is better than watching a movie or hanging around smoking a hookah. I think. We’ve never actually smoked a hookah together, so that’s just conjecture, really.

Next on the agenda is planting… when we do that, I’ll share it as well.

Stay warm and have a great Sunday. We’ve been unable to make it to church for weeks now due to our car and I really miss it. I hope you are part of a good fellowship… and also have a working vehicle. Eventually we’ll be back to our normal Sabbath routine. Not worried. We have food, gardens, a beach within two miles walk… hard to feel too bad about a busted car.

And we definitely have “two or more gathered together” in the name of Jesus here on our homestead.

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Getting the Gardens Going Again

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Howing-garden-bed

I apologize in advance to those of you dealing with January cold. Maybe this will send some warmth your way.

Back on Wednesday I posted that I was going to say “heck with it” and plant garden beds again even if the house sells before I can harvest.

I liked this comment by dfr2010:

Sounds like you made the right choice. Possible outcomes:

1. You get to harvest what you’ve planted, without moving.
2. You have to move, but get to harvest anyway.
3. You have to move, and someone else moves in … you’ve given them quite the potential house-warming present!

Doesn’t sound like there’s any real downside to me.

Heck, I’ve planted fruit trees across multiple previous properties at this point. People are harvesting and enjoying fruit now that they didn’t have to plant. No loss.

On Wednesday after finishing up some office work I took to the gardens and brought the camera with me.

You can see how I use a garden bed as a compost pile for a period of time, then rotate to another bed. I first did this on a lousy, sandy bed back in North Florida. The crops had done horribly in it, so I thought “hey, why not make THIS space the compost pile instead of piling up compost somewhere else?”

This is a crazy idea I like to call

Using a Garden Bed for a Compost Pile

This works great, as I share in greater detail in Compost Everything.

I don’t bother turning compost anymore.

I just pile up compostable materials and let them rot down over time.

If you do this in a garden bed, all the good nutrition that seeps out of the compost goes right into the soil beneath where your crops will find it when you later rake away the compost and plant the ground. Worms are also drawn to that area by the delicious rotting kitchen scraps.

Stretch_And_Grow_Your_Compost_Cover+sm

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Look at this beautiful stuff!

rough-compost-in-garden-bed

After letting a bed rot down like this for 6 months to a year, you can then plant right on top… or steal some of that compost for another project, making sure to leave a bit behind for the crops to come.

I sifted out about 3+ gallons of good compost from this bed using a piece of hardware cloth. You can still see some eggshell pieces, or as Rachel calls them, “slow-release calcium”:

beautiful-sifted-compost

This finer compost gets used when I prepare beds, make potting soil and as food for my potted fruit trees.

The rougher chunks that don’t make it through the screen get thrown into the new compost/garden bed. I also chopped-and-dropped a self-planted moringa tree I’ve let grow there.

new-compost-bed

Moringa leaves can be used as a fertilizer all by themselves, so it’s great to have some growing near or even in your garden area.

As for the previous compost bed, I broadforked it with my trusty Meadow Creature broadfork to loosen the soil for planting.

broadforking-old-compost-pile

Look at me! I’ve literally broadforked my head off!

Man alive, it feels good to get in the dirt again. As for the other beds which weren’t covered with compost, I used my grape hoe to get those weeded, then broadforked them as well.

Now I need to supercharge all these beds with long-term soil-building materials.

…but you’ll just have to wait to see how I do that.

Harvesting Rainwater with Swales, Plus Christmas Gift Ideas

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falling-rain

I just posted a video on harvesting rainwater with swales (and cisterns, too):

The swales running through the cocoa orchard slow down water, catch organic matter and fight erosion. They are quite important on slopes.

People used to ask me all the time back in Florida, “have you done anything with SWALES in your food forest?”

No. Because Florida is almost totally flat, so it makes no sense. Plus the ground is sand, so drainage wasn’t a real problem.

Here, though, we have clay soil and steep slopes. When I start my new food forest, I’m definitely adding a lot of earthworks.

I went down to the creek yesterday during a break in the rain. It was swollen and yellow-red with mud. Fortunately, the gap in the weather was long enough that I could capture the view with my paints:

 

It’s been raining like you wouldn’t believe. Yesterday the work area under the house turned into a pond. It’s sunny right now as I type but more clouds are on the horizon.

Christmas Gift Ideas

 

I created a couple of lists some time back with my favorite gardening books and tools on them and keep updating both.

I like to give useful and beautiful gifts at Christmas. Things like books, tools, seeds, pocketknives and creativity-inducing art supplies.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out my list of the best gardening books here. And my list of the best gardening tools here.

As always, if you buy through one of my Amazon links here, I make a little commission and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

You can do your Christmas shopping at the Amazon home page through this link if you really want to send some love to The Survival Gardener – just bookmark it.

Updates from The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: Fall 2016

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Updates-south-florida-food-forest

It’s been too long since the last update on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.

Mom sent me photos from just before Hurricane Matthew limped past the coast. There was no damage after the storm but the clouds in the pictures look amazing.

First, take a look at the tropical almond (background) and the black sapote (foreground, right):

Black-sapote-tropical-almond-florida-food-forest

See that little Senna alata (AKA candlestick cassia) growing to the left of the chocolate pudding fruit tree? We planted some of those when establishing the food forest and they seem to have naturalized… all over the place.

Now take a look at the avocado seedling:

avocado-coconut-palm-florida-food-forest

It’s over 6′ tall now and is a Thai type which makes huge avocados the size of honeydew melons. It just needs to get big so it can start bearing!

Here’s another look at the chocolate pudding fruit tree:

black-sapote-south-florida-food-forest

Definitely getting taller and it looks very happy. Those are passionfruit and yam vines growing in the fence behind it.

Now check out the starfruit tree:cassava-starfruit-florida-food-forest

Mom reports that this tree produces gallons and gallons of fruit twice a year with long harvest seasons. The fruit are very good and sweet. Quite refreshing. Note the cassava on the right side of the image. The fallen sticks all over the ground are chopped-and-dropped Tithonia diversifolia stems. Great food for the soil.

Here’s a good looking chaya growing in front of the neighbor’s fence:

chaya-south-florida-food-forest

That’s the deeply lobed variety as opposed to the maple leaf type. I have both growing in The Great South Florida Food Forest.

Out in the front yard, Dad prepared for Hurricane Matthew by cutting back the acerola cherry:dad-cutting-back-acerola-cherry-florida-food-forest

Stretch_And_Grow_Your_Compost_Cover+sm

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CLICK HERE to get David The Good's free booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost!

You'll transform your garden forever!

That tree bears year-round and has sweet fruit. It’s been a huge blessing to my nieces and nephews, not to mention the children of the many friends who visit my parents’ place. They all love fresh-picked cherries!

Another big blessing has been the mango tree. It bears large crops of fine-fleshed wonderfully sweet orange-fleshed mangoes.

mango-chaya-southfloridafoodforest

The ferns on the ground beneath it planted themselves. I love those “accidents” of nature.

Here you can see the mango to the left, coconut palms in foreground left, moringa tree in center and the Thai avocado to the right. Yam vines (Dioscorea alata) are draping across the trees through the center.moringa-avocado-yam-mango-florida-food-forest

Now here’s a nice tree to see: the 6th Street Mulberry is flying!mulberry-south-florida-food-forest

That is going to be a lovely, multi-branched tree. It’s already been bearing fruit. Hard to believe it looked like this not long ago:

MulberryJune8-2013

Here’s a view of the profusion from the other side. Isn’t this MUCH more interesting than a lawn?south-florida-food-forest-2016-fall

Moringa, cassava, mango, yams, sunflowers, mother-in-law tongues, ferns, orchids, starfruit, bananas… it’s a lovely mess of great plants!

Here’s another view of the starfruit with the moringa on its right:starfruit-moringa-florida-food-forest

And back around to the front yard again, on the other side, to see the tamarind and the canistel:tamarind-canistel-south-florida-food-forest

That canistel is now my height (tree in foreground) and the tamarind is almost 4 times my height. I love to see them both growing happily.

If you’re interested in starting your own Florida food forest, you’ll find inspiration and lots of ideas for plant species in my little book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.

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It’s also available in audiobook form, read by me.

This is a great way to use your property. As the trees mature, you get more and more fruit… for less and less work. My parents aren’t even “plant people” and they greatly enjoy seeing the trees grow and having all the extra fruit to share with friends and family.

Go for it – you have nothing to lose but your boring grass!

Carving Out a Florida Food Forest From the Palmettos: Possible?

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I recently received a quite interesting question in my inbox relating to pine scrub food and Florida food forest planning:

David,

FloridaFoodForestsCoverNewBLwebI recently found your books, bought and read the (ones) for Florida, and have handed them off to my home school children to get them started! We were blessed and got a great deal on some 15 acres – 3 is wetland – in St. Augustine surrounds. The uplands was cut and left to regrow about 30 years ago. I’m struggling with palmettos everywhere.

I have a small tractor and have been bush hogging some – and now know I could use this for compost – but overall I have acres of palmettos – and a VERY SMALL tractor lol. I have called to have the land pillaged to dirt, and this is very expensive – and I’m not sure ideal after reading your works. I’ve also looked at chemicals – maybe planting as I went to roll in as I try to poison them – but it takes horrible poison, and lots, and I want to grow food…

I searched your site (not yet your videos).

If you have written on how to start a food forest from solid palmettos, I’d like to read it.

Totally_Crazy_Easy_Florida_Gardening_350Your time is precious, and you can’t answer all the emails – and I feel guilty even dipping into your time – but I’m hoping you may already have a simple answer that is different than the rest. I’d rather have acres of food forest. I have time – I have only just found your thoughts, and will be fixing the area I have cleared (with my daughter taking the guiding role – why not, talk about random!). It will be beautiful – but right now I have about an acre clear with all the rest palmetto (though I’m searching your notes for an image guide to find the good that must be mixed in out there).

So the specific question: do you know of a decent way to either eliminate palmettos without going nuclear, or rolling them back somehow to get to food-forest state?

If you don’t have time for specific questions, I’ll still be a fan – and understand – so peace, and keep spreading the good news and writing books even my kids enjoy reading!

Les V.
St. Augustine Fl

Les also wrote a couple of follow-up emails and sent me photos of what they are dealing with:

(It looks) mostly like this – lots of palmettos, islands of gallberry(?) and small trees, pines.

Scrubland-palmettos-5

I’m using your books and videos trying to entice my daughter into loving this stuff – is there a Florida image heavy field guide? We would like to know what treasures might already be here – hard to know which to buy. It may be on your site – I will look.

Some places you must machete thru, but most has trails. Only one bad/aggressive snake (water moccasin) killed to date – in wetland. Rattlesnakes avoid us.

I bought almost no sod, but did plant Bahia around the house in “normal” fashion – where I have planted trees they have not grown – I’ll start feeding them. Soil is sandy, has clay, and is often wet 30″ down due to clay.

Would like to start large trees in front, not sure what – would love pecan, but don’t know if the possible wet feet ends that. Some medium live oaks – I have found 36-40″ stumps at near ground level rotting from their razing some thirty or more years ago. Jerks could have planted something – but then I wouldn’t have afforded the land!

Thanks for your thoughts, I will watch your site!

 

A lot to cover here but I’m going to give my unvarnished opinion on converting this land to food forest, though Les may not be happy.

First let’s analyze what nature is doing here, so ask the question:

What Type of Ecosystem Is This?

 

The answer is “Pine Flatwoods.”

This type of ecosystem is quite common in Florida and has its own rough beauty.

According to UF:

“Pine flatwoods are characterized by:

  • low, flat topography
  • relatively poorly drained, acidic, sandy soil
  • and in the past, by open pine woodlands with frequent fires.

The USDA Soil Conservation Service classification system divides the pine flatwoods into two distinct groups: 

North Florida flatwoods are typically open woodlands dominated by pines.  This ecosystem is most commonly used as woodlands (timber, wildlife, recreation, etc.). 

South Florida flatwoods are typically savannas, a type of vegetation community intermediate between grassland and forest.  This ecosystem is used extensively for range (cattle grazing).”

Les has some aspects of both ecosystems in my opinion.

There are dense areas:

Scrubland-palmettos-9

And more open areas:

Scrubland-palmettos-3

Unfortunately, this is a very difficult environment for most fruit trees and vegetables.

The soil is acid and the alternating dry and wet of baking-hot sugar sand and sodden clay can wreak havoc on root systems.

Even the weeds don’t really look happy in most Pine Flatwoods.

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The happiest plants you’ll see are usually the pines, turkey oaks and of course, the palmettos along the ground.

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You can only push nature so far without having a serious uphill battle on your hands. I urge people to “buy the soil,” then the house, if they are interested in gardening.

This is a beautiful piece of property but it is, frankly, a rough row to hoe for building food forests and gardens. Not that it’s impossible – it’s just that the construction of the soil and its nature fights against growing most of the pampered food-producing trees and plants we love.

Should It Be Cleared?

 

I would argue no, except for perhaps the acre you are working on. I don’t see any reason to take down all the palmettos (or even many of them) in order to try out a food forest. Instead, I would conduct more testing near the house with various species of trees. Les remarks that the fruit trees currently there are not growing – this does not surprise me! The ground is not good for most fruit trees. Don’t expand into new areas until you really figure out how to conquer a small piece of this ground. Your hard work will likely come to naught as the palmetto re-conquer and the trees fail due to harsh conditions.

Instead, if this were my property, I would cut some nice trails through to interesting areas and let nature run free all around the edges. Up close to the house I would do some major composting. I would also have the soil analyzed for nutrients by a good lab, then do exactly what they say to amend it around the fruit trees.

If truckloads of tree mulch from another environment could be found – like a live oak/hickory/wild plum/bay hardwood forest – I would dump those in a quarter to half-acre area a foot deep and start my food forest experiments there. Do a whole acre if you desire, but know it will be hard work!

Whatever you do, DO NOT bring in any manure, hay or straw – or even factory compost – as they can all poison the land for a long time.

My friend The Scrubland Avenger has done some deep mulching and made a pretty darn nice garden in a scrub area similar to Les’s. It took a lot of work, though – and the trees farther out struggle.

Is There Anything Worth Foraging Here?

SmilaxShoots3

Yes, fortunately.

I have led foraging walks in scrubby areas and in pine flatwoods. The best wild edibles are blueberries and their edible berry relatives, along with occasional native passionfruit (Passiflora incarnata).

Sometimes you find good edible cactus as well, plus some edible yucca, pawpaws and maybe even the occasional persimmon tree.

Hawthorn may also be present, with their fruit being good for jam and their trunks being a possible rootstock for pear. I also often get smilax and even wild grapes occasionally.

Before you cut anything down, hunting over and over again until you really know the land is a good idea.

In the article quoted earlier, UF also mentions these species as being in the Pine Flatwood ecosystem (which meshes perfectly with my own observations):

Four Dominant Trees Characteristic of Flatwoods

  • slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. elliottii)
  • south Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa)
  • pond pine (Pinus serotina)
  • longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) 

Understory Shrubs

  • saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)
  • gallberry (Ilex glabra)
  • fetterbush(Lyonia lucida)
  • wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
  • dwarf live oak (Quercus minima)
  • tarflower (Befaria racemosa)
  • blueberries / heath (Vaccinium spp.)

Minor or Infrequent Hardwoods

  • live oak(Quercus virginiana)
  • water oak(Q. nigra)
  • sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • red maple(Acer rubrum)
  • ash (Fraxinus spp.)

As you probably noticed, most of these are not particularly edible, though you can eat palmetto fruit if you really desire to do so.

You can usually manage to hunt some game in the Pine Flatwoods, too. That’s a bonus.

Florida Foraging Books

Les asked about Florida foraging books so they can hunt wild edibles.

Stretch_And_Grow_Your_Compost_Cover+sm

Never have enough of the good stuff?

CLICK HERE to get David The Good's free booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost!

You'll transform your garden forever!

I recommend these:

The Shrubs & Woody Vines of Florida

Shrubs-woody-vines-florida-gil-nelson

Gil Nelson knows his stuff and as the publisher states, “more than 550 woody vines and shrubs native to Florida are covered in this easy-to-use field guide with line drawings and color photos.”

Though not focused on edibles per se, The Shrubs & Woody Vines of Florida will help you nail down almost everything you are likely to see, then you can go hit up the internet for edible, medicinal or practical uses for those plants.

To find just the edibles, I have two other suggestions.

 

 

Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America

PetersonWildEdiblePlants

Though not focused specifically on Florida’s unique and wide-ranging ecosystem, this field guide is helpful and covers plenty of species.

As the Edible Wild Plants description notes, “More than 370 edible wild plants, plus 37 poisonous look-alikes, are described here, with 400 drawings and 78 color photographs showing precisely how to recognize each species.”

The downside of this guide is that the illustrations and photos sometimes just aren’t enough for a good ID. I own and use it, though – and would want it with me.

 

Florida’s Edible Wild Plants

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Though I still haven’t managed to get my own copy of Florida’s Edible Wild Plants by Peggy Lantz (dang it!), I have a copy of the author’s previous work with Dick Deuerling titled Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles. That is another book you should have if you have any interest in Florida plant foraging, and knowing its enjoyable nature and good info I have no problem recommending this second book sight unseen.

This book comes highly recommended from multiple sources and if I still lived in Florida, I would definitely pick up a copy right now, before I even finished this article.

 

What CAN Be Done With This Land?

After starting an intensive little food forest with deep mulch and amendments as recommended by a laboratory, I would look further into what else could be done with these difficult pine flatwoods.

Though you may not like any or all of these options, they would be easier and more suited to the ecosystem than traditional gardening.

You will be going with the grain more than against it.

Beekeeping

Beekeeping isn’t really all that easy anywhere any more, but the bees do like palmetto blooms and will appreciate the nearby wetlands. Some people don’t like palmetto honey but I do.

Blueberry Farming

Blueberries like this environment, provided their roots aren’t flooded. My friend Bill Hall at B & G Blueberries in Ft. McCoy has beautiful acres of berries growing on his U-pick located on clay and sand much like yours. He dug furrows and planted on mounds. His best luck has been with rabbiteye types in that area.

Cattle Raising

These areas are better for grazing animals than for most other forms of agriculture as goats and cows do decently on rough areas. Running goats to lower brush and then planting grass for cows can work and it will also improve the soil over time.

Chickens

Chickens are a good meat and egg source to raise and they don’t mind the pine flatwoods. I would keep them in very good housing, however, as there are many predators in Florida that will see freerange chickens as an all-you-can eat buffet.

Pond Gardening

Malanga, taro, cattails, duck potatoes, kangkong and even the terrifyingly invasive water hyacinth can be useful species, though I wouldn’t introduce the last two on purpose as that’s… illegal. If you have deep enough areas or can dig them, I would definitely look into stocking with catfish and bluegill for easy-to-raise food. You can also go the hot tub pond route for smaller gardening spaces.

Pine Logging

There’s a reason Florida produces a lot of pine timber. It has a lot of areas like yours that are well-suited to pine trees. Dedicating a few acres to this renewable resource isn’t a bad idea and it’s a long-term monetary investment that takes little work once established. Or so I have heard, since I have never tried farming pines myself since I lacked the space and soil.

What Edible Plants Might Work?

Try the following and see how they do:

Loquat

Persimmon (Native and Japanese)

Sparkleberry, Rabbiteye and Native Blueberries

Black Cherry

Pecan (on higher spots)

Chestnut (on higher spots)

PawPaw (Asimina parviflora)

Spineless Prickly Pear (on drier ground)

Passionvine

Muscadine Grapes

Cassava

Malanga/Taro (in wet areas)

Sand Pears (“Pineapple” in particular is good)

Mulberry

Black-eyed peas

Yard-long beans

Chaya

Bananas (in wet areas)

Yams (planted to climb trees)

Yaupon Holly (for home-grown caffeine!)

Conclusion

A few final thoughts:

This is tough ground for traditional gardening, orchards and food forests. Only clear a bit and test. Don’t dive all the way in and take big risks… let nature run most of the ground until you know what will really do decently. You’ll likely need irrigation, mulch and lots of nutrition to get trees and plants established. Build out from “islands” of improved soils with happy plant communities which you’ve gotten to take.

If need be, try container gardening with mulch, compost and decent soil.

Biochar may help, as may planting lots of nitrogen-fixers and other nutrient accumulators you can “chop and drop,” like Mexican sunflower (annual Tithonia rotundifolia and the robust perennial Tithonia diversifolia), Enterolobium (spp.), Leucaena leucocephala, Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbelatta), cassias and even the dreaded “mimosa” (Albizia julibrissin). These can be planted heavily in areas you hope to reclaim from the scrub, then used to feed the ground from above and below. You can also cut back and drop the native scrub plants and trees around your desired species and planted edibles.

Machete gardening!

Good luck, Les. It may not be exactly the answer you hoped for but I want you to have the best chance of success. Great work being a homeschooler – hurray for homeschooling!

May your thumbs – and your Pine Flatwoods – always be green!

 

*        *        *

 

Finally, I do in-depth direct food forest and land consulting like this for a fee, so if you are a gardener or hopeful food forest planter reading this and want help on your own property – get in touch at the link. My goal is to save you lots of work and get you growing in the most appropriate way possible.

 

Update 11/3/16:

Linda Duever just shared a report on Palmettos she wrote – it’s a must read. Get the PDF here. I had no idea they could live for centuries or that so many creatures relied on their fruit. Another thing to consider as you plan your site!

Fleet Farming Growing Front Yard Gardens in Orlando – Great Idea!

Fleet Farming is on the leading edge of a revolution in food and farming:

“I just think that the whole idea of lawns, especially in a place like Florida, is absurd,” says Henderson, standing amid rows of tomatoes, sweet lettuce, carrots and arugula growing smack in the middle of his front yard.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s a quote from this recent NPR article:

In Florida, homeowners have a propensity for landscaping. They take great pride in the green carpet of grass in front of their homes. But one Florida man is working on a project that’s turning his neighbors’ lawns into working farms.

Chris Castro has an obsession — turning the perfectly manicured lawns in his Orlando neighborhood into mini-farms.

“The amount of interest in Orlando is incredibly surprising,” Castro says.

Surprising because he’s asking Floridians to hand over a good chunk of their precious yards to volunteers who plant gardens full of produce. His program is called Fleet Farming, and it’s starting off small, with 10 of these yard farms. Most of them sit smack in the middle of the front yard.

Lawns are a thing here. Urban farms? Not so much. But so far, no neighbors have complained.

Fleet Farming volunteers

Fleet Farming volunteers Michele Bimbier, A.J. Azqeta and Blake Addington prepare freshly picked vegetables. Catherine Welch/WMFE

 

“We’ve been lucky,” Castro says.”

 

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According to the Fleet Farming website:

“Fleet Farming transforms unproductive, wasteful lawns into community-driven urban farm plots. Rather than traveling 1,500 miles from farm to plate, our produce is hyper-local. Everything we grow is sold at local farmers markets and restaurants within a 5 mile radius!

Our bike-powered fleet eliminates nearly all fossil fuel consumption during production and transportation, not to mention it reduces the emissions that would have been produced from mowing lawns. Lastly, we are reducing pollutants in our community by cutting the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and using organic methods to grow food instead.”

They have been lucky for sure, though the ground has been softened up a bit by previous fights in Orlando. In the past I covered Orlando’s ridiculous fight against the Helvenstons’ garden… then interviewed Sean Law about his illegal front-yard garden.

The Helvenstons won their fight… but Sean lost his fight… and his house!

fleet farming similar to helvenstons

The Helvenstons and their formerly illegal front-yard garden

Grow Or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening keeps selling copies because we all know this whole rotten system is going to change and change soon. Local food and survival gardening go hand in hand.

Now it seems Orlando may be coming around. The pressure keeps rising as more and more individuals realize the current paradigm is a mess. They’re ready to do something about it. Fleet Farming is a great idea, as is replacing your lawn with food.

I’d love to see this idea move beyond non-profit activity and expand into a profitable business for small farmers across urban areas. There are lots of lawns sitting unused… and there is plenty of demand for good local produce.

Keep up the good work and great ideas, folks.

*H/T to Steve G. and Cary The Bad for sending me articles on Fleet Farming.

Food Forest Spacing: How I Do It

Orlando_Food_Forest_8

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.

David The Good’s Secrets to Growing Better Produce

Jackfruit_Almost_Ready

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by the Eco Garden House site looking for some gardening tips… here are my thoughts:

 

My primary consideration in gardening is, “How do I get the most food for the least amount of work?”

My secondary consideration is, “How do I do this without poisoning the ecosystem and/or myself and my family?”

Obviously, the least amount of work would involve skipping garden day and just ordering pizza on a credit card…but that way fatness lies.

Though I don’t bill myself as an organic purist, I’m a lot closer to that end of the organic growing spectrum, and in many ways I go beyond most organic gardeners.

Nature was designed with patterns that can be observed. It has checks and balances.

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For instance, if you decide to spray all the aphids on your grapevines with malathion — or even an “organic” pesticide – you’ll also wipe out the up-and-coming ladybug population.

The more you try to control an ecosystem, the more work it takes to keep it running.

Add more species! Add habitat for insects! Let weeds grow and don’t be quick to reach for that malathion or Sevin dust!

A Gardening Lesson From an Untended Patch of Forest

Take a lawn as another example. A perfect swath of green composed solely of a single species of grass is unnatural. Maintaining it in green perfection requires a lawn mower, fertilizer, weeding and watering.

Now consider the patch of forest growing on that empty lot down the road. Though it’s not watered, fertilized, weeded or mowed by man, it’s healthy, green and loaded with a wide range of plant and animal species.

Adding more species, more insects, more fungi, and more bacteria makes your life a lot easier…

Click here to keep reading at their blog

Survival Gardening Indoors?

If you don't have enough light coming in, add more with grow lights. Photo credit missellyrh (creative commons license)

Survival gardening indoors – is it possible?

Hypothetically… but I have some more ideas that go beyond trying to feed yourself in an apartment.

Jess writes:

“Hi David,

Grow_Or_Die_Cover_WebI have thoroughly enjoyed reading Grow Or Die. In the last, well.. two days, I couldn’t stop reading! I have never had a green thumb, but grew up watching my father pull it off wonderfully. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn from him long enough before he passed and have since turned to books to help teach me what I need to know about gardening.

My husband and I are very firm believers that preparing for negative outcomes of the world is wise. We have a plan to get to where we want to be, which is to have land, homestead, and survive without as much dependence on worldly things.

In our attempts to reach our goal, we are making sacrifices to save financially to get us there. And that means apartment living in Tennessee. Just for a season. I feel this may be ridiculous to ask and quite useless, but is there ANYthing I can grow inside with little to no sunlight availability (and without allowance to set plants outside whatsoever)?

I fear that if I cannot start something now, I will be too terrified of my killer anti-green thumb to successfully garden when we once again get in a house on property.

I’m a native-born Kentuckian and have recently moved here to Tennessee and know little of the soils in this region. Any advice on indoor and small space gardening, as well as what to expect for this regions soil would be wonderful! Or rather, what resources could help me with these concerns.

You seem to be a wonderful inspirer through all you do!

Sincerely and God Bless,

Jess”

Jess, thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it and I feel for you being stuck in an apartment, watching the world burn – sometimes literally. I’ll give you a few options and you can see what works for you.

Indoor Grow Lights

Have you considered getting some grow lights and setting up an indoor garden area?

Something like this might be good, though you can also run with some cheap, bright fluorescent bulbs for growing good greens such as kale, lettuce and perhaps even some radishes.

gardening indoors for survival

If you don’t have enough light coming in, add more with grow lights. Photo credit missellyrh (creative commons license)

It takes more light to grow crops that fruit, such as tomatoes, beans and peppers: make sure you have lots of light if you want those.

A timer that will run for 12 hours or more, then go off to simulate night is a big help. I know some people run the lights for 18 hours.

Personally, I’ve always gardened in the yard or in pots when renting but if I were completely constricted in my options, I’d go for a dedicated small space indoors.

Borrowed Land

Do you go to a local church? Have friends or neighbors with space?

Screw up your courage and ask them if you can have a little space to practice gardening.

Many people would love that… particularly people who would like to grow a garden but never got around to it. Busy people might also be interested, if you promised to share produce. Be sure to let them know you’re a beginner and will make mistakes, though.

There is a lot of good land sitting around in Tennessee.

Tennessee has lots of wide open space. Though this is probably too open, there are lots of backyards that might be "borrowed" for gardening

Tennessee has lots of wide open space. Though this is probably too open, lots of backyards could be “borrowed” for gardening. Photo credit Lin Mei (creative commons license)

I used to live there and we passed acres and acres of empty ground as we drove from place to place.

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Don’t be shy!

Join a Community Garden or Gardening Club

There are a lot of people like you that you haven’t met yet. Start looking up meetup groups and community gardens.

Beautiful-community-garden

A beautiful community garden. Photo credit Scot Nelson (creative commons license)

You’ll get to meet lots of other, more experienced gardeners as well as beginners. Gardening is hot right now and new community gardens are popping up in the most unlikely places. Connect, share and get started. If you can spare a few hours a week, this is a very good option.

Stockpile for Emergencies

Stockpile food, guns, gold, silver, cash, ammunition, redundant medical supplies and personal care products.

Without your own land, you are vulnerable as you already know. Double up on storable goods when you go shopping, since things could get ugly quite quickly… because… what if the lights go out?

Additional Articles Related to Survival Gardening Indoors

I’ve written more articles on small space gardening and gardening indoors for survival… you can glean some more information from these:

Self-Watering Container Gardening

Survival Foods For Tennessee

From the Inbox: Composting in an Apartment

Balcony Gardening

Three Ways To Garden Without Land

God bless – and thanks for getting in touch. Gardening indoors for survival – in a complete way – is very difficult; however, I think you’ll be able to break out and find some land with some pavement pounding.

I pray you get your own land soon. Get in touch when you do and I’ll share what I know about Tennessee gardening. I grew there for six years and had great success.

Also, get the book Gaia’s Garden if you want inspiration on how you can grow with nature in a permaculture way… it’s quite inspiring.

And pick up Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon. That’s a fantastic resource.

To round those out, grab Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener. Very good information there on survival crops.

Don’t give up. You can grow!

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