Gardening in Shells and Mango Propagation

South_FL_Food_Forest_Mango

I’ve got two questions from a reader I’ll answer today today: gardening in shells and mango propagation. Let’s jump in!

Deniz writes:

Hope you and your family feel much better since the car accident. It has finally rained today after weeks of drought, I hope it rains in the tropics soon too. I had questions about starting my own mango trees. What do you things is the easiest method to start from seed and can mangoes also be grown from cuttings? I am also planning on making a food forest with mango as the main large tree, the only problem is that that soil was infilled with shells to about a depth of two feet, what would be a easier method to grow trees in this substrate then digging it all up and replacing? The sediment that it produces is white and does not retain water and contain any organic matter. In the summer weeds grow all of the garden except for this area, and this area is the only area large enough to make a food forest as I have a small yard.”

Let’s attack mango propagation first:

Mango Propagation

Growing Mangoes from Seed

Mangoes are very easy to grow from seed.

Take seeds right from fresh fruit and don’t allow them to dry out. Plant them an inch or two deep in potting soil or compost and keep them watered. It usually takes about a month from them to germinate. Years ago when I started my first mango from seed, I read that if the pit sends up multiple sprouts, it will produce “true to type.” If it sends up a single shoot, it’s a wildcard.

Some sites recommend cutting open the husk of a mango seed and just planting the embryo. This may increase your germination rates but I haven’t found it necessary. If you do open it up, you can see whether it’s polyembryonic or monoembyronic, i.e. a multiple or single-shoot type. The polyembryonic seeds have multiple sections inside them.

If it’s a single-shoot seedling you get, don’t worry. It will likely give you fruit, but if you want a specific type of fruit, you’ll have to graft to make sure you get that.

Fortunately, mangoes are very easy to graft. My grafting video demonstrates multiple easy methods, and there are more online.

This page has a lot on mango propagation, plus grafting.

Growing Mangoes from Cuttings

Mangoes are not normally grown from cuttings.

Seedlings or grafting would be my recommendation, though from rumors on the ‘net some people have apparently rooted them from cuttings.

I tried air-layering my Grandpa’s mango tree without luck and eventually gave up. That’s a more forgiving method than cuttings and if it didn’t work, well, I just don’t want to bother. Seeds it is!

Gardening on Shells

The shell fill sounds like the problem with many gardens in the Florida Keys. High pH, no water retention, almost zero organic matter.

According to UF:

“On our type of lime rock fill soils, with high pH, minor elements will become insoluble in water. This is of concern since unless something is dissolved in water, it cannot be absorbed by plant roots, even though it may be present in the soil in high levels. With the addition of organic matter such as composted plant materials, mulch or leaf litter, the soil pH can be lowered. Over time, the area with added organic matter can be fertilized with minor elements. The elements will stay soluble and plants will produce healthy vigorous growth and happiness for you.”

I’m a member of Steve Solomon’s Soils and Health Group on Yahoo so I sent your question on gardening in shells by them for more insight.

Russel Lopez wrote back:

“I’m not familiar with mango trees, but I don’t think I would go to all the trouble of digging out substrate, unless you have access to heavy equipment and lots of good fill to replace it with. You would essentially be making a pot in the ground.”

He then linked to this article, which notes:

“Early studies of tree roots from the 1930s, often working in easy-to-dig loess soils, presented an image of trees with deep roots and root architecture that mimicked the structure of the top of the tree. The idea of a deeply-rooted tree became embedded as the typical root system for all trees. Later work on urban trees that were planted in more compacted soils more often found very shallow, horizontal root systems. Urban foresters have successfully spent a lot of energy trying to make people understand that tree roots have a basically horizontal orientation, to the point that even many tree professionals now believe that deep roots in trees are a myth. The truth lies somewhere in between deep roots and shallow roots.”

I have read that gardeners in the Keys will hack holes right into the compacted lime rock and shell mix, fill with some soil, then plant. The trees survive and thrive.
I would make a hole a few times the size of the root ball, put in some local earth, then plant. Mulch, keep it watered, and see what happens. Trees are very resilient. If you don’t have rock beneath, the roots should find what they need. Watch for pH issues, though. If the leaves yellow, I recommend adding some sulfur as well.
You can also foliar feed with compost tea and/or a balanced fertilizer containing micronutrients. Steve Solomon recommended Dyna-Gro to me but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet.
Good luck and send me updates! I would love to hear how your mangoes grow.
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

Updates on Grape Pruning, Coconut Seedlings, Jackfruit and Pigeon Peas

grape-pruned

I have had multiple requests for updates on my grape pruning and on my seedling tree plantings. This morning I posted a video sharing how things are going.

The pigeon peas and corn have come up, though the corn germination is patchy. One of the coconut trees gave up the ghost, so I planted a new tree to replace it.

In a few minutes I’m going down the hill to pick some more pigeon peas and I’ll take the camera with me. It’s rained a lot the last few days and I’m sure there’s plenty down there I need to harvest.

Pigeon peas really are remarkable. I’ve seen them thriving in rough ground scattered with chunks of concrete, along roadsides, in patches of weeds and in areas with little water. Add to that the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen, fuel rocket stoves and put protein on the table and you have a great crop.

If you missed it, check out my recent survival plant profile on pigeon peas here.

The jackfruit seedling is looking good:

jackfruit-seedling

That is the remaining tree after I thinned the seedlings out. You can see me plant this jackfruit in this video:

That makes this seedling about 8 months old. We need to get it growing faster.

…and there’s another video I could film!

I’ll get right on it.

David-the-good-books-revised

Germinating Peach Pits is Easy: Check Out These Pics

sprouting-peach-pits-2

My video on germinating peach pits has garnered almost 30,000 views since I posted it back in July:

Since posting that instructional video, I have received multiple comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

My friend Amanda, who is NOT obsessed with me at all, sent me these two pictures recently of her peach sprouting success:

sprouting-peach-pits-1 sprouting-peach-pits-2

Some years ago I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

SproutingPeachPits

I did this despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners in the world who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong. And boring. And stupid. And they smell.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

lovelypeaches2 lovelypeaches3

In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do. It’s a YUGE, high energy thing to do.

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t really experts. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say the same things.

Heck with that.

Better Gardening Through Experimentation isn’t just a film I made… it’s my modus operandi.

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits:

GrowAPeachPit-Update

Have fun!

David-the-good-books-revised

Sprouting Avocado Pits the Easy Way

Today we’ll cover sprouting avocado pits the EASY way!

sprouting avocado pits easy way image

Though you are probably familiar with the “toothpicks and water” method of sprouting avocado pits, there is an easier way that seems to have a higher success rate.

The short of it? Plant them in pots!

The long of it? Well, watch my video on how to sprout avocado pits, then we’ll meet on the other side for a step-by-step. A couple of important things should happen in order to guarantee your avocado pits sprout.

Avocados, like many tropical trees, have seeds that are designed to hit the ground and grow. The pits are not designed like many cold-climate seeds which have an embryo sitting in suspended animation that can be saved on a shelf for a long time and then spring to life when planted.

No. These guys need to get into the ground fast, so it’s important to plant your avocados quickly or keep them damp until you can plant.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s do a step-by-step picture guide, breaking down the frames from the video.

Step 1: Open an Avocado and Take Out the Pit

how to Sprout Avocado Pit sprouting avocado pits

This avocado grew out back of our current homestead. They are nice and large with rich buttery interiors. An excellent tree and well worth reproducing.

When I took out this pit it already had some small roots growing on it – all ready to go! I took it along with a half-dozen other pits outside to plant, which takes me to step two.

Step 2: Plant Your Avocado Pits in Potting Soil

 Sprout Avocado Pit

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step5There is a right side up on avocado pits. It’s the rounded side. Plant the flat side down since that’s where the roots will emerge. You could probably make a mistake and still have the tree come up fine, but I like to give my sprouting avocado pits every advantage.

A nice, loose potting mix is good but you can also easily germinate avocado pits directly planted in the ground – or, what seems to be even more successful, let them “accidentally” come up in your compost pile and transplant them.

Step 3: Water and Wait!

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step6

This is the hard part – waiting for the avocado pits to sprout.

They will, though. Keep them watered but not soggy in a nice sunny location. Then, one day…

germinating avocado

Beautiful!

When you sprout pits in water indoors, they then need to go through a “hardening off” period of adjustment to the harsher, brighter outdoor conditions or you can kill the young trees. When you instead sprout them in pots in full sun, you don’t have this issue. They’re ready to go.

How Long Does it Take for a Seedling Avocado To Bear Fruit?

The earliest a seedling avocado tree will fruit is at four to five years of age. My friend Eddy, however, scared his tree into fruiting at three years.

I have a beautiful seedling avocado tree growing in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project that is getting close to bearing size.

Rachel took this picture a year ago and it’s even bigger now.

avocado seedling I started by sprouting avocado pitsI wish I could pay that tree a visit again. Maybe when it fruits. The avocado I started it from had fruits as big as honeydew melons. It’s some sort of Thai avocado variety that was being grown passed around the local Thai community in South Florida. I’m excited to see this thing produce!

The California Avocado Commission claims it takes 5-13 years for a seedling tree to bear but you’re much more likely to see it fruit on the earlier end of that spectrum if they are well-tended, watered and grown in full sun.

Why Sprout Avocado Pits?

Common objections to growing avocado trees from seed are:

  1. Trees don’t always come true from seed 
  2. It takes a long time for them to bear
  3. Purchasing grafted trees will give you exactly the type you want

All of these objections are easy to answer.

  1. Who cares? Maybe you’ll get something better!
  2. So? Are you planning on dying soon?
  3. What if you don’t want to spend money? And like experiments?

I really find the arguments against growing fruit trees from seed tiresome. The “common wisdom” on the subject is lame. Man has grown trees from seed, including avocados, for thousands of years. We have the varieties we have today because of gardeners like you and me who love to experiment and take joy in raising up good things from tiny seeds.

If you get a variety that just isn’t great, graft it! It’s easy to graft, as I demonstrate in my “Get Grafting!” film which is available for a donation of any amount.

Get_Grafting_Preview

Seedling trees make great root stocks. Heck, even if they don’t fruit for you fast enough you can graft on a piece from an already fruiting tree and speed up the process.

Start your own avocado pits the easy way and eventually you’ll be bringing in baskets of fruit. It’s great fun, especially when you can plant seeds with children, and totally worth the time.

Trees you grow from seed cost nothing and will give you a sense of accomplishment like nothing else. I still remember how excited I was when my seedling peach trees fruited for the first time. It’s a great feeling.

So go – start sprouting avocado pits. I’m rooting for you… and so will they!

David-the-good-books-revised

How To Save Pumpkin Seeds

How-to-save-pumpkin-seeds-step-5

Just in time for Halloween, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds.

How to save pumpkin seeds demonstration

Learning how to save pumpkin seeds is a good idea, especially if you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o-lanterns yourself.

I’ve been growing pumpkin and winter squash for a long time and I’ve always loved how easy it is to save pumpkin seeds.

Recently I posted a new video on how I save pumpkin seeds – and how I make seed packets to hold them until it’s time to plant them in the spring.

Here’s the video:

Now let’s break it down into a nice visual guide with pictures and everything!

How To Save Pumpkin Seeds, Step by Step

Are you ready to pack away seeds like a kleptomaniac squirrel so you never have to buy another pumpkin from the store again? I will help.

Step 1: Gut the Pumpkin and Save the Slop!

How to save pumpkin seeds step 1

The inner cavity of pumpkins and winter squashes is filled with a stringy mess of pumpkin bits and seeds. This isn’t the “good eating” part of the pumpkin, so it’s not worth trying to save any of the stringy mass, except for the seeds. In order to do that, move on to step two!

Step 2: Clean the Pumpkin Seeds

saving pumpkin seeds step 2

I dump pumpkin guts and seeds into a colander and swish them around under running water to clean them out, smashing the goop through the holes and separating the strings. If you’d like to save pumpkin seeds for eating rather than planting, you can just go directly to roasting them at this point.

For seed-saving purposes, I’ve sometimes let pumpkin guts sit on the counter for a few days and rot around the seeds. This smells bad but really loosens up the seeds when you wash them out. I think it may also increase the germination rate but I haven’t tried a side-by-side trial.

Step 3: Dry The Seeds

saving pumpking seeds step-3

Seed-covered paper towels on counters, windowsills, shelves, tabletops, dressers and even the bathroom counter are common in our house during the fall as we save pumpkin seeds alongside the other heirlooms we want to plant in our spring gardens.

Spread your pumpkin seeds out someplace where they won’t get wet again. Make sure they aren’t too wet when you spread them out (sometimes I pat them down with one paper towel, then spread them onto a second) and have good air circulation as you most definitely do not want them germinating on your counter. They should dry fast. This will also keep them from molding as easily in storage and potentially losing their ability to germinate.

Step 4: Make Seed Packets and Pack ’em Up!

 saving pumpkin seeds making homemade seed packet

There are better ways to make seed packets, but I just rip a sheet of paper in half, fold that, then fold up the edges a few times and tape them. You can see how in the video – it’s very simple.

Because I’m cheap and hate throwing things away too fast, I use scrap paper from the children’s homeschool assignments or pieces the toddler has doodled upon. My friend Steven Edholm has better looking seed packets, but they’re a bit small for the amount of pumpkin seeds I store.

saving pumpkin seeds homemade seed packet step-6

I also illustrate my homemade seed packets, which is NOT OPTIONAL. You have to draw on them. You just have to. It’s the rule.

Along with a drawing of the mother pumpkin, I also note the variety, the harvest year and notes on type. This is important as I work on my pumpkin breeding projects, but for your pumpkin seed saving you likely just need to note the type or draw a nice picture of the headless horseman.

If you live in a humid climate or need to store seeds for a longer period, you can dry pumpkin seeds a little further in a dehydrator (I like this reliable and inexpensive one for everything from fruit to jerky) and then pack them in tightly shut Mason jars stowed in the fridge.

That’s it – the whole scoop on how to save pumpkin seeds.

If you’re interested in going much deeper into saving seeds of all kinds, Seed to Seed is my own go-to resource on the subject. It’s a must-have for serious gardeners.

Happy gardening and enjoy the rest of October.

David-the-good-books-revised

Steven’s Seedling Apple Tree Update

A-seedling-apple-update

A-seedling-apple-update

Steven recently posted a new video updating us on the progress of his seedling apple tree – the first one to fruit – which is bearing good apples, in complete defiance of conventional “wisdom.”

I am a vigorous advocate of growing fruit trees from seed and Steven provided the inspiration for my own apple-growing.

Though I have to leave behind my Florida apple orchard (ouch!) in order to move to paradise, I am growing apple trees from seed again. Just because.

Though we lost some of them to cutworms or something, we still have some growing nicely in pots. When we find our new homestead, I hope to get scion wood from the US to experiment with here in the tropics.

Why not? If Steven can grow good apples from seed, maybe I’ll be able to grow good apples in the tropics!

David-the-good-books-revised

Sea Coconuts

Sea-coconut

The sea coconut (Manicaria saccifera), not to be confused with the true coconut (Cocos nucifera), is a common drift seed.

I recently captured multiple images of this kid-pleasing aquatic rambler at a local beach.

Sea-coconut-2 Sea-coconut Sea-coconuts

While wandering the shoreline, I also saw this crazy-looking drift seed and wondered what it was:

Unknown-sea-seed

I did some research and discovered that spiky capsule is the container from which sea coconuts are released!

Check out this old illustration:

I should have just busted one open; however, I failed to bring any home with me. Next time I see some at the beach I’ll take some home to open up.

Back in Florida I almost always found the spherical seeds without any accompanying pod. One time I found a single, half-broken pod but didn’t connect that with the multi-lobed things washing up on our local beach.

Here are some of the seeds I found back in Florida, including a sea coconut with most of a shell on it:

DriftSeeds2

We must be much closer to where the trees grow so the action of the surf hasn’t opened all their shells yet.

The bumpy things are everywhere.

I have a fascination with sea beans, as I’ve revealed in previous posts.

I’ve even painted their portraits.

David-the-good-drift-seeds-painting

 

I’ve germinated some of them, too.

Sometimes they germinate right on the beach, like this tropical almond:

Sprouting-tropical-almond

The tropical almond tree in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project was that size when I planted it.

Now it’s a beautiful, big and productive tree.

If you’re interested in learning more about drift seeds and sea beans, you’ll enjoy this page.

I love the beach. The sea life, the birds, the surf, the driftwood and the strange botanical debris always washing up from strange shores.

Anyone else collect sea beans?

David-the-good-books-revised

Back to Pumpkin Breeding

Two-crazy-pumpkins

I was unable to continue the Seminole pumpkin breeding project I began last year for a couple of reasons.

  1. We sold our property in Florida and missed the spring of 2016
  2. Bringing seeds into our new country legally is difficult

I could have snuck some seeds in with me (as one native told me, roughly, “no one expects you’ll follow those rules! You got to stick them in your clothes, in your pockets!”) but I couldn’t in good conscience sign a piece of paper on the plane stating I wasn’t bringing in plant material while bringing in plant material.

I’m hoping to get a special permit to bring in my Seminole pumpkin seed lines but thus far have been denied because the seeds are not “professionally cleaned” and packaged. Since they’re my own line of seeds, saved right from the guts of pumpkins and spread out to dry on a kitchen countertop, they definitely aren’t professionally cleaned. I’m not sure why this is important but I assume it has to do with the potential for viruses to some into the country, which would be terrible for local farmers. I’m okay with it – eventually they may let me bring some in if I meet the right people and/or figure out a way around the issue of cleaning.

For now, I’m gathering varieties of local pumpkin from the markets as I spot them.

Pumpkins like the one I just posted on my Instagram account yesterday:

Isn’t that beautiful?

This is the pumpkin I also feature in yesterday’s video, where I talk more about my plans to breed better varieties:

When life doesn’t let you take your Seminole pumpkin breeding project with you… make lemonade!

Or something like that.

David-the-good-books-revised

Sprouting Apricot Pits

Germinated-apricot-pit

Sprouting apricot pits is easy. You germinate apricots just like you germinate peach pits… and if you watch my video, you’ll be starting your own apricot trees from seed in no time.

sprouting apricot pits germinate apricot

Look at the beautiful apricot pit bursting into life!

That said, no matter how many times you do something, once you do it on film you start to worry if you did it right.

When I did my “How to Germinate Peaches (and Other Stone Fruit)” video back in July I hoped I would have some success, even though I’ve done this before and never had it fail:

After buying the fruit, doing the work to make a nice video and posting it to YouTube… doubts entered my mind.

Could the fruit I chose be sterile? Might the pits fail to germinate and just mold over instead? Should I have cracked the pits first and just taken out the kernels?

Will the universe conspire against me to make everything I do fall into weeping and ashes?

Apparently not:

Now I have no idea if I can get an apricot to grow in the tropics but, by golly, I’m going to give it a go. I know it will be fine for the first half-year until it needs a winter dormancy. Maybe I can build a big outdoor fridge! Sprouting apricot pits is just the start… now I actually need to grow the trees.

That said, if my seedling peaches are any indicator, we’re going to do fine with the tree part:

Apricots are one of my favorite dried fruit. I wish I’d tried this with apricot pits back in Florida or Tennessee where I’d have a better chance of getting fruit, but we’ll try tricking them into fruiting here by leaf-stripping during the dry season. It could happen, and if not: well, we pulled off a good demonstration on how to germinate apricots, at least! The other pits haven’t germinated yet but they can take a few months. I’ll bet we get a few more soon.

David-the-good-books-revised
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