“SC: What would be the one unique good thing and the one greatest challenge to each of the climate zones you have gardened in so far?
DG: Great question. The good things about colder climate gardening: the bugs get wiped out by the cold and you get a reset every spring. You also get a break in the winter. The greatest challenge is timing. Plant too early and the spring frost destroys your hard work. Plant too late and the fall frost does the same. Gardening in Tennessee taught me to measure the seasons closely.
The good thing about gardening in the tropics is that you can grow year-round. You can literally feed your family on a half-acre because every time you pull something out you can plant something new. You also have a much larger range of potential crops. More than a thousand fruit tree varieties, compared to maybe 50 temperate fruit trees. Honestly – how many can you name? The downside is you never get a break in the tropics. If you don’t keep chopping and weeding, the jungle will literally eat everything you plant in a matter of months. The bugs can be an issue in some areas as well, as they never get taken down by cold.
SC: A benefit of a colder climate is that the bugs get wiped out by the cold but in Grow or Die you emphatically state that one doesn’t want to lower the insect population but increase it. This seems paradoxical but reading further you go on to state that by using pesticides one doesn’t only kill the parasites but also the predators that feed upon them. Besides freezing temperatures directly affecting plants in cold climates do you think a lesser but still significant reason the yields are greater in the tropics is due to the greater (in numbers and variety) insect population or did I drink too many beers already? It seems more insects of all types is always beneficial over a seasonal culling of the population.
DG: It is rather paradoxical, isn’t it? Basically, you’re looking for checks and balances. If you play God and wipe out all the bugs, you make more trouble for yourself long-term. You’ll be stuck using pesticides regularly. If instead you allow spaces for beneficial species to live and breed, they’ll do some of the pest culling for you. The main reason yields are higher in the tropics is due to the year-round growing season. Secondarily, the vast variety of crops you can grow – including a lot of high-calorie roots, which add up fast – makes a big difference. I just remember that Nature is a complex and complicated system and killing this or burning that or cutting down that thing over there, well, you sometimes can’t see the ripple effects until later. So I’m cautious on interventions without a lot of observation.”
I was recently interviewed in depth by Everitt Foster over at A Natural Reaction after he found me at Gab:
Tell us a little about where you grew up and what it was like when you grew up. Were you always interested in gardening and composting? Were you always interested in being an author? Who were some of the most influential people in your early life?
I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, down in sunny South Florida. I never knew how good I had it as a kid until I moved to Tennessee for a radio production job in my 20s. There I quickly realized that I really hated being a million miles from the beach and slogging through mud in 35-degree winter weather as rain fell from gray skies. After a few years in exile, I returned to my beloved Florida for six years, then moved early this year to the equatorial tropics. Growing up I was introduced to gardening by my kindergarten teacher in a private Christian school. She had us plant beans in dixie cups of soil, then water and take them home. Less than a week after planting, the little bean plant burst from the soil and I was hooked. I had never seen anything so amazing, so I raided my mom’s pantry to repeat the experiment. I planted all the beans I could find in pots of dirt here and there, totally enthralled. Since I did poorly in school (other than when I was planting beans), my mom pulled me out and homeschooled me from first grade through high school. This gave me plenty of time to pursue gardening. I asked Dad if he would help me plant a garden in the back yard. He was not a gardener and knew nothing about it, but he was (and is) a great Dad, so he got some railroad ties and some decent bagged dirt and cut an 8’ x 8’ spot in the backyard where I could plant. I regularly bought seeds with my allowance money and tried planting all kinds of things. Many of my experiments failed, as South Florida is not hospitable to vegetable gardening, but I had enough success to keep gardening. By the time I was in college, my parents had ceded about ¼ of the backyard to my garden plots. I grew everything from long radishes to coconut palms. Dad did draw the line at some Asian beans that I planted, though. They rapidly grew up a trellis and covered a big chunk of the roof, the vines thickening into monstrous trunks as the beans grew and grew. I have no idea what they were – this borderline homeless guy from church gave them to me and said some Thai had given them to him. As for composting, I learned about that from the gardening books I devoured. I was reading serious natural history and biology texts at age nine so I picked up a lot of information. No one in my immediate family did any gardening so my friends and teachers in the field were books combined with experience.
When I was young I really didn’t enjoy writing. I wanted a story to be fully down on paper as fast as I could think and I got frustrated with writing everything out. I liked the idea of being a novelist but I didn’t do more than write occasional lacklustre sci-fi and fantasy tales and attempt to sell them to Asimov’s and The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I got a nice rejection note from Gordon Van Gelder in college, though. I started writing for the school newspaper in college because I was one of the few students on the paper that could actually write, though I started there as a staff artist and cartoonist. From that I got a job writing radio scripts and advertising for Coral Ridge Ministries, thanks to being given a chance by Chuck Burge who was the Executive Producer and head of the radio department at that time. My job was to write the “coming up next time” style promos that radio stations would run, then from there I went on to writing full scripts, ads, television commercials and all kinds of other marketing-related stuff for a range of clients. This taught me to write even when I wasn’t “feeling creative.” Previously I had just written when I felt like it – being on a deadline made me into a force of nature. At one point I wrote scripts for three different daily radio broadcasts at the same time. This meant I was cranking out fifteen scripts a week, plus versions tagged for weekend airing. When I started my daily gardening blog later on, it was a breeze.
My greatest influences early on were my Dad, my Mom – who was also my teacher – my Grandfather, Judson, who taught me to work with my hands and think big, my Grandpop, Hal, who taught me how to think about money and time, my neighbor across the street, Cheryl Campbell, who taught me some creative writing and hired me to manage her lawn and gardens when I was 14 and she was spending months on end with her husband and daughter on their houseboat… there were quite a few that helped me out and encouraged me. I remember my Great-Grandfather taking me out to work in his huge garden in Upstate New York when I was quite young, then sending me home with a handful of beet seeds and some lime for my garden back South. Stan DeFrietas, author of the Complete Guide to Florida Gardening, was my go-to teacher through his words, though I never met him in person. I read through that book dozens of times.
If there is one thing you would like to communicate through your writing what would it be? What do you hope people take from your work?
We live in a system designed by a loving Creator God who left patterns for us to discover. When we work with those patterns, we will succeed. I want people to realize that there’s no magic in gardening, though it often feels like it. Anyone can be a green thumb. It’s a learned skill and all of us fail our way to success. Some people get it quickly, some don’t, but anyone can grow their own food. Look for the patterns and discover what grows well for you and what doesn’t. God placed man in a garden at the beginning – you’re doing His work when you tend the soil.
Survival gardening is a term I was unfamiliar with until I came across your books. Can you tell us a little about what it is and whom it is for?
I ask questions like “can I live off this ground if everything else was taken away? For how long? Would this help me with nutrition? As medicine? With Calories?”
I discovered Austrian Economics in the early 2000s. I also spent most of my adult life under the shadow of terror, inflation, crashes and booms. If you don’t know how to grow food – a basic skill – you are leaving a very important part of your existence in the hands of centralized forces. A lot of our food now comes from factory farms which are often thousands of miles away from where we live. Meanwhile, we grow grass lawns. This is stupid. I believe centralization is doomed to failure and re-localization is going to happen whether we like it or not. People always screw up complicated systems. Rome fell, the USSR fell, we will fall. I know how to take a lawn and keep a couple of families alive, at least for a time. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re putting too much trust in governments and corporations, not to mention your fellow fallen man.
What is the difference between survival gardening and something like subsistence farming? Is it just a matter of the words you use?
A matter of words. I believe you can do better than mere subsistence if you’re really smart, but many of us – myself included – would be lucky to even hit subsistence levels in the first world. The game is stacked against us. City codes and regulations, a slant against agriculture, property taxes – these things mess you up. Try farming your front yard in most places and see what happens…
There’s a lot more there – probably more than you EVER cared to know about me, but a big thanks to Everitt for kindly inviting me to share my story plus my philosophy on gardening and survival.
Maybe one day I’ll write an autobiography and you’ll see just how strange my entire story gets…
ALL ORGANIC MATTER MUST RETURN TO THE EARTH – TERRIFYING AND HORRIBLE THINGS INCLUDED!!!
There’s a gap in our thinking when it comes to our own waste. For some reason, recycling banana peels and coffee grounds is “great” but recycling sewage is “oh heck no I’m not doing that! Gross!!!”
I understand, really. It took me quite a while to come around to the idea of composting everything.
The first guy that changed my thinking on the subject was Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. I built one of his “lovable loo” composting bucket toilets and installed it in our Tennessee house for a year as an experiment. It worked decently, but had problems with attracting some flies and odor. Close, but not quite what we wanted.
Granted, the problem wasn’t really in the design so much as the fill material we had available. Peat moss worked great, but it consumed too much peat moss. I couldn’t find any safe sawdust locally, so that option was out, leaving us stuck with wood chips. Not great.
Now I have a new favorite… and have to say, I think it’s the best composting toilet system I’ve seen for both ease-of-use and simplicity of design.
The Best Composting Toilet System?
A few years ago, a man named Sandy Graves dropped me an email after finding my old Florida Survival Gardening website. He told me he’d developed a different composting toilet system and that I ought to come out and see it at some point.
I get emails from kooky people now and again, so the idea of going to see a stranger’s toilet wasn’t really all that high on my list… until I did some more research and realized he had something new and interesting going on.
Before the videographer who was helping me on the Crash Gardening series quit, I was going to go over with him to see Sandy’s system so we could film a pro-looking video. That never happened… and time moved on. I corresponded with Mr. Graves a few more times via e-mail but no solid plans ever firmed up. His office was about an hour from my homestead and it never seemed to be a good day for me to pack up and head off out of town to look at composting toilets.
Until a couple of weeks ago when we sold our homestead.
I’d loaded up a trailer with all our worldly possessions and we were heading down 40 towards I-95 when my wife says, “Hey – isn’t this where the guy with the composting toilets has his place?”
“Yes,” I said, “I should just stop now and see what he has going on… we could just film a spontaneous video!”
Rachel thought that was a great idea, so when we spotted the sign for “C-Head, LLC,” I pulled in.
Out front was a U-Haul trailer remarkably similar to the one being pulled behind my van, and I noticed it was being packed by a solidly-built, gray-haired man with glasses.
“Are you Sandy Graves?” I asked.
“Hey – I know you!” he replied, “David! Welcome! We’re just packing up for the Mother Earth News Fair!”
I asked if he had time for a video, so leaving the packing behind, Sandy took me to see the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.
Check it out:
The system began as an experiment on Sandy’s boat… then moved to land… then became an entire business with a variety of models.
The BoonJon composting toilet system ties in nicely with a backyard compost bin. Sandy encourages soldier flies in his compost piles and told me he keeps discovering new things about the species that makes him appreciate them more.
I was amazed how little fill material was required for a BoonJon composting toilet. Quite affordable! Back when I built my composting toilet, it consumed a lot of fill material.
A Unique Way To Fertilize With Urine
The diversion of urine into a separate receptacle is also a very good thing. That allows you to use it as a liquid fertilizer in your garden or orchard.
The way Sandy irrigates his beds with urine is quite clever (don’t you dig inventors?) and grows some of the biggest tomato plants I’ve seen in a Florida garden.
He also grows some good-looking raspberries:
When you think about how much water we waste – plus all the fertility we literally flush away every day – composting toilets make a lot of sense.
Why would we use clean water to dispose of… fertilizer?
Everything is upside-down when you think about it. I’m glad for people like Sandy Graves who are using their talents to make a difference in the world through simple technologies. Decentralizing waste management makes a lot of sense.
Imagine how much water we could save!
How many gardens we could feed!
How many wastewater plants we could close!
What do you guys think – is this kind of composting too crazy for you?
The interview was originally going to cover more ground; however, Skype was not behaving at all so we had to cut off before I got into my Alien abduction theory of obesity and mind control.
Oh well. I suppose it’s controversial enough as it is.
Though you may not be with P. D. Mangan in his thoughts (or my thoughts) on Veganism, he does have a lot of scientific research and knowledge backing his statements.
The “consensus” on health is always changing. Just as we once failed to recognize germs and their role in disease, one day man will probably look back on our nutritional ideas as quaint and perhaps even downright dangerous.
Margarine used to be touted as good for us. Now there are campaigns against trans fat.
The wheel keeps on turning and P. D. Mangan is on the cutting edge. I appreciate his time and hope you all enjoy the interview.
Viidad: Why did you write Compost Everything? David The Good: I suppose I should say “because I love our mother the
earth” or “because I want to world to reduce, reuse and recycle” or
something stupid like that, but really, it’s because I’m a cheapskate
and I hate following all the rules that tell me I should throw out stuff
that could be added into my gardens as fertilizer.
Viidad: Like dead bodies.
David The Good: I wish people would stop bringing that up. One or three times does not a pattern make.
Viidad: But the precedent is there… David The Good: I will not answer any more questions along these lines. I am VFM, craven servant of the Dark Lord, serial number 0156…
Viidad: Are not! That’s my number!
David The Good: Surely The Most Evil One could not have made a mistake…!
Viidad: Never! But… well… hmm… I… whatever. Okay, weird. Back to
the interview. What about this question: who should really give a flying
fetid flip-flop about composting?
David The Good: Everyone.
Viidad: Why? I mean, seriously – what about people in apartments? Why should they buy your book?
David The Good: First of all, because I’m poor and buying this book
helps you give back while checking your privilege. As a
Teutonic-American and descendent of Roman slaves, you should want to
support my work. Second of all, because the current paradigm is unlikely to last. This may appear on its surface like a fun little book about turning your trash into fertilizer; however, it’s actually a survival
manual if things get ugly. If things ever get bad, you’re not going to
be able to buy bags of mushroom compost or manure or fertilizer from the local garden center. They’ll be closed and the supply lines will be
broken. You’ll need to grab every bit of fertility you can in order to
feed your family. That means planting squash on top of buried raccoons,
learning to reclaim urine and feces and compost them safely, turning
fallen trees into water reservoirs of rotten wood beneath the soil
because irrigation is tough, etc. This book takes you to the edges and
helps you harness the cycle of nature to feed yourself without external
inputs. If your apartment complex becomes a war zone, you’ll be
(hopefully) making your way out to the country… and you’re going to need food. Most composting books are simply about making neat little piles in a suburban backyard during a boom time. The boom time may not continue.
Viidad: What if it does?
David The Good: Then Compost Everything will just help you save lots of money rather than saving your life.
Viidad: Is it true that your dreams are haunted by an entity known as “Dinky Worm?”
I’ve always been fascinated by rare and exotic fruit trees. For years I wanted to see a Florida native pawpaw tree in the wild but never had any luck – until I went on a foraging trip with Green Deane. He found a teeny little tree by the side of a path and announced “Ah, a pawpaw.”
I couldn’t believe it. That little shrub – a pawpaw? Deane assured me it was – and told me that the pawpaws in Florida were often tiny things; not the decent-sized trees we’ve heard about up north.
I started to wonder: how many times had I passed one and been unable to identify a Florida pawpaw because it didn’t fit my expectations? I had the same problem with persimmons. Though I’d walked past a tree in my neighborhood dozens of times, I didn’t see it until my wife pointed it out one day. “Look at that – what kind of fruits are those?” Persimmons! I’d always missed it because the tree was small and tucked into the woods.
Since I’m volunteering for the upcoming Master Gardener Spring Sale here in Marion County, I checked out the list of vendors and saw there was a booth space rented by “Pietro’s PawPaws.” I couldn’t take it. I had to call and find out who this person was and what they were growing. The phone was answered by Terri Pietroburgo, the booth’s renter and the owner of (so far as I know), Florida’s only native PawPaw nursery. After talking to her for a few minutes, I realized she was a gal after my own plant nerdy heart… and I asked if she’d agree to an e-mail interview. She did – and not only that, she provided me with some of her incredible photos of pawpaw tree species from across the state.
Without further ado, I present part one of my interview.
* * *
DAVID: Terri – how did you get into growing PawPaws of all things?
What’s your story?
Asimina obovota (the Bigflower Pawpaw)
TERRI: Pawpaws are Florida natives and the host plant for the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly. They have beautiful white or purple flowers and edible fruit. I searched for five years for pawpaw plants for our butterfly garden. In 2005 I drove two hours to a nursery and paid $20 each for three pawpaws the size of tooth picks and only one lived because they hadn’t been grown correctly. Then in 2007 we were
driving home from church and I saw a Bigflower Pawpaw blooming on the side of the road. Went home, got my truck, wandered into the woods and found fifty blooming obovata pawpaw. I figured there must be people like me who had looked a long time to find them. So I took it as a sign from God because we found them on the way home from church – and I started a pawpaw nursery.
I have learned a lot about pawpaws as I continue to try and add a new species to my nursery every year. Pawpaws are very hardy plants if they are grown correctly at the start. So I take much care in the way I grow them and the instructions I give out so you can enjoy a great plant and butterflies for a long time.
Asimina incana (the Woolly Pawpaw) fruit
DAVID: I always thought PawPaws were a Northern fruit tree – and even when I lived up there I never had any luck finding them in the wild. If they’re living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?
TERRI: The pawpaw most people have heard of is the Asimina triloba or common pawpaw which is a northern pawpaw. It grows from the Florida line up into Canada. It is a tree that can reach thirty feet or more and is usually found as a understory tree. It has the largest fruit native to North America – but you would be lucky to find one with ripe fruit on it, even if you knew where to look. Pawpaw fruit go from raw to ripe to rotten in about three to five days so the animals usually beat you to
DAVID: That could explain my lack of luck. So… if pawpaws are
living in Florida – where? And what do they look like?
TERRI: We have eight species of pawpaws native to Florida. One species is found as an understory tall shrub to small tree in mesic (ed. note: “mesic” means an area of moderate moisture) woodlands, floodplains and coastal dunes. The other seven species range from small shrubs to a small trees and live in flatwoods, scrubs, dunes, pineland and dry woodlands all over the state. They have either white or purple/maroon flowers and all produce an edible fruit.
Asimina parviflora (Smallflower Pawpaw) fruit
DAVID: Pop quiz: what are the native varieties and their
DAVID: So… if I found a PawPaw growing in the wild, say on a
site that was being cleared, could I transplant it?
Terri rescuing native pawpaws.
TERRI: Your chances of transplanting a pawpaw are not very
good. It is probably more work than most people want to do for one plant. They have a very long taproot as seen in the picture of the dwarf pawpaw I dug up (left). It only had a foot of growth above the ground and a six foot taproot. They are not happy when their roots are disturbed.
DAVID: What do the native PawPaws taste like?
TERRI: They are a member of the custard apple family so the inside is soft just like custard. The Florida pawpaws don’t taste as good as the northern triloba because it has been cultivated to taste certain ways. The Florida pawpaws have a tropical taste that isn’t the same as anything I have eaten. I have tasted six of our eight species and liked them all. Like anything else you pick in the wild sometimes you get one that’s not that good but overall I have liked the taste. My grandson eats them as fast as I can get the seeds out!