The Survival Gardener Book of the Week #1: Gardening When it Counts

gardening books

Today I’m announcing a new regular feature: The Survival Gardener Library!

Every Friday I’ll feature a book of the week worth adding to your library. We’ll focus on gardening, homesteading, food forests, permaculture and wild plant foraging and maybe even throw in the occasional book from out there in left field.

I’ve been a book collector since I was a child and those books shaped the man I am today. From the Animals Without Backbones to The Foundation Trilogy to Florida Gardening to The Lord of the Rings, books have uplifted and inspired me over the years.

And that doesn’t even count the book that has impacted me the most: The Holy Bible. If you don’t have that book yet, go get one.

This week we’ll start the series with the must-have book Scorpions of Medical Importance:

51TOPWMMjdL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Oh wait, no, that’s not it. I’m sorry.

This week we feature Steve Solomon’s classic:

Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Gardening When It Counts

I consider Steve Solomon my mentor.

We finally got the chance to meet via Skype a couple of months ago and he is brilliant in person as well. The man’s mind is a machine – yet his books are easy to read, accessible, and almost always practical.

Steve has gardened organically for years in a variety of climates. He’s farmed, run a seed company and written multiple books. I own them all, with the exception of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades – though you can bet your broadfork I’d buy that one too if I lived within a thousand miles of the region.

Gardening When it Counts teaches you to grow food without breaking the bank or your back. It will open your eyes to the value of wide spacing, sharp tools and traditional methods.

Reading Steve is like learning from a wise grandfather who has been there, done that, and grown the potatoes.

If you don’t own this book and you are a gardener, you should.

Go get a copy. Read it. Learn from Steve – he knows his stuff.

You can learn more about Steve Solomon on his website.

 

*Original featured photo by my friend Jean.

David-the-good-books-revised

How to Make a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials

simple compost pile with no infrastructure

Here’s a simple compost pile design:

Unlike many of my composting experiments, this is a traditional compost pile of alternating layers of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. The boundary is made from cut limbs hammered into the ground and woven about with palm fronds.

I also added homemade biochar to this compost pile to get it “charged” for future projects.

The C/N ratio in this pile should be about perfect with the greens and browns but if it doesn’t get hot enough I can always pour on some diluted urine to raise the nitrogen levels.

This simple compost pile can be set up anywhere in about an hour using local materials. I’ve done this in a cornfield before, cutting and chopping old stalks for the base, then adding on layers of greens and browns. Come back a few months later and harvest your compost!

Here’s a breakdown on the whole process.

How to Build a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials

Step 1: Cut Stakes

I used sticks cut from some unidentified roadside nitrogen-fixing tree locals use as a windbreak.

Simple_compost_pile_stakes

It’s a soft wood and easy to chop, but you can use anything you like from bamboo to oak to PVC. 4-5′ lengths are good, as you want the pile to reach at least 3′ tall and you need some stake depth to drive into the ground.

 

Step 2: Install Stakes and Put Down Rough Material

I had already cut up some rough material and thrown it down before putting in the stakes, but it’s better to put in the stakes first.

Simple ompost pile Step_1

Cornstalks, hedge trimmings and other rough materials filled with air pockets make a good compost pile foundation. In the case of this pile, I used chopped twigs and leaves from the nitrogen-fixing trees used for the stakes, some jasmine and hibiscus trimmings and a papaya tree.

Step 3: Weave the Sides

I can’t make a good basket, but I’m not bad at simple compost pile weaving.

Simple compost pile weaving the edges

The idea is to hold in the compost while still allowing some air through into the pile. This also supports the stakes. In a temperate climate you could replace the palm fronds with grape vines, tall grasses, cattails or other plant material.

Step 4: Add some Browns

Gotta get that carbon!

Simple_compost_pile_adding_brown_layer_to_compost

As I state in the video, these leaves have a lot of dirt in them. That soil contains microbes which will help break everything down, so I didn’t bother adding a few shovelfuls of soil as I normally would when making a compost pile.

Step 5: Add some Greens (and Keep Layering!)

Get that nitrogen in there!

Simple_compost_pile_adding_green_layer_to_compost

Grass clippings are a really good compost pile starter – if you have them, use them.

Just keep laying greens and browns until you’ve made the pile nice and tall. You can also throw in biochar if you have it.

Simple_compost_pile_adding_biochar_to_compost

It won’t really help the composting process, but my hope is that it will be charged up with nutrients, bacteria and fungi as the pile rots.

Step 6: Water Well

This is important: composting uses a lot of water, so get some on at the beginning. If most of your materials are dry, you might want to water each layer as you build the pile. I was too lazy to do that so I soaked it from the top before finishing the final covering layer.

Simple_compost_pile_water_the_pile

Step 7: Cover the Pile

Covering the pile hold in heat and moisture. Sticking with my locally available materials, I used banana leaves.

Simple_compost_pile_cover_the_pile

You can also use a tarp or just another layer of brown leaves. Compost really isn’t a finicky thing to make – it’s will work, even if you don’t do anything “right.”

It’s going to decay and become humus over time, hot or not, perfect ratios or not.

In a few months you can turn this pile over and sift out the good stuff – or just push it around over the garden bed beneath and get planting.

Finally, for some serious composting inspiration, get my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Get out there and get composting!

David-the-good-books-revised

Silence

appalachian-trail

appalachian-trail

I read an article this last week which claimed that silence can regenerate your brain:

 

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.”

 

As stay-at-home parents of many children, Rachel and I don’t really get much quiet. Children, especially young children, are loud. Our house is also loud, as it’s got a lot of open framing, wood floors and no windows.

My writing takes place in a corner of our bedroom, which is a part of the upstairs and all the higher parts of the walls are wide open.

It’s amazing I get anything done – yet I’ve actually written two books since getting here, one of which should be out in March.

A pair of good headphones is the only thing that saves me. But boy… I would love some silence now and again.

Of course, eventually the children will all be grown and it will be quiet.

Then I’m sure I’ll wish they were home again.

I remember staying with my elderly grandparents in Live Oak once. They took a long nap in the middle of the day while I sat in the living room and read books.

The house was a very quiet house on a very quiet street in a very quiet town.

The ticking of the grandfather clock was like a hammer in the stillness. The creak of its weights occasionally added to the sound, along with the quarter-hour ding and the hourly chimes… but that was it.

Other than the clock, it was so quiet I probably grew a new brain that week. Maybe two.

I am the oldest of seven children. It was loud growing up, just like my house is now.

It was a good kind of loud. Laughing, giggling, games of pretend… but when you found a quiet spot at the park… or at the home of grandparents… you really felt the silence.

I’m not sure if this whole “quiet grows your brain” is junk science, but after family church this morning I think I’ll wander off into the rain forest and look for a quiet spot.

Then I’ll see how long it takes for boisterous and laughing children to find me and drag me off to the creek to play.

 

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

David-the-good-books-revised

Happy New Year! My Goals for 2017

2016_Goals_And_Resolutions

2017-goals

Happy New Year, you wonderful people!

2016 was fun… but I have a great feeling about 2017. It’s time to Make Agriculture Great Again.

Here are my goals for the year.

Goal #1: Publish Three New Books

I got behind in my book publishing in 2016. I actually wrote two gardening books but didn’t get them finished and published. This year I’m changing that.

My first book of 2016 is slated to be published in March. It’s on zone-pushing, i.e. growing tropical edibles outside their “natural” range. After that I hope to finish Southern Beekeeping, the book I co-authored with beekeeper Allen Dovico. Then, if all goes well, I’ll be publishing a rather crazy follow-up to Grow or Die titled Tactical Gardening.

Goal #2: Purchase a Homestead

land

My gardening demonstrations and videos have been less than satisfactory to me since I’ve been renting a place.

It’s a marvelous little cocoa farm with an abundance of fruit but I can’t dig in and do some of the experiments I’d like to try. Getting some land of my own is a top priority right now and I’m praying something comes our way soon. I must – MUST – build another food forest!

I’m also looking forward to creating a few different test areas where I can experiment with small space gardening, pumpkins, sloping agricultural land technology and growing fuel wood.

Somewhere there is a place we can settle.

Goal #3: Return to Daily Posting

After a couple of months of dropping down to weekly posting here, and an announcement to that effect, I’ve decided to return to posting regularly.

I’m not only going to post on weekdays, like I did for four years: I’m going to post seven days a week.

It’s too hard to step away and I find writing here keeps my creativity flowing. So… this is the official announcement. My goal is to post at least 365 posts in 2017.

Goal #4: Reach 30,000 YouTube subscribers and Create 200 Videos

Here’s how many subscribers I had on December 31st:

youtube-views-end-of-2016

I did well in 2016: over 600% growth from the less than 2,000 subscribers with which I started the year. Hitting 30,000 seems like a reasonable goal, especially as my videos just get better and better.

I hope to create 200 videos in 2017. That’s about 4 per week.

Goal #5: 10,000 Newsletter Subscribers

My newsletter is published once a week or so and features a bit of extra news and inspiration beyond what I publish on the blog. It’s also where I announce new books and sales.

Right now the newsletter has just under 5,000 subscribers. Let’s double it!

So – what about you? Any goals for 2017?

David-the-good-books-revised

2016: The Year in Review

2016-year-in-review

It’s time yet again for the annual “Year in Review” post!

(Here are my previous year-end posts from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015)

2016 was a year unlike any in my life. I moved south – REALLY far south!

Unlike previous years, in February I quit weighing the produce we harvested because we spent most of the year in a rental property and transition from Florida to the equatorial tropics. I also had to leave my scale behind when we moved overseas.

Don’t worry, though – I just got a new one this week and I’ll get back to tracking yields once I get a new homestead operational.

Here are the yields from the first two months of 2016:

Chayote: 20lbs

Green papaya: 20lbs

Bananas: 8lbs

Various Citrus: 8lbs

Lemons: 20lbs

76lbs total

 

After those first two months, we sold our property in North Florida and moved to Ft. Lauderdale for a month, then flew out of there to the property we now rent in Central America.

Here we walked into an operating homestead with lots of bananas, plantains, cocoa, mangoes and various other fruit trees.

It feels like cheating. We’ve certainly harvested near a ton of bananas and plantains, plus just the wax apple tree alone has made baskets of fruit. I’ve also dug near 100lbs of wild yams in the jungle.

I’m going to hold off on further yield tracking until I get a property of my own and can start from scratch again with what I plant.

2016 Failures

I had a goal at the beginning of the year to get three books published, plus a booklet. All I finished was the booklet.

TheSurvivalGuidetoGrowingCaffeineFIXsm

I have three first drafts of three different books sitting on my hard drive right now, all of which need to get published.

The editing and illustration takes time and moving to a new country, doing paperwork, trying to get established, etc., has been time consuming. I put a lot of things on hold, including my book writing.

The Machete Affair

I also managed to cut through two tendons in my left hand, thanks to a coconut-opening accident with my machete.

Rachel reenacts that failure here:

That accident really set back my writing as well, as it kept me from typing well. I was almost back at hunt and peck levels.

The Stupid Car

Another failure of 2016 was our purchase of a car. We had an importer get us a 2003 Toyota Noah from Japan.New-carIt ran fine for less than two months, then the engine failed on the way up our road. Totally failed, as in the mechanics tell us it needs to be replaced.

This is insane. We paid roughly $11,000 for this car, thanks to the high cost of import duties and taxes. Back in the US that would have bought me three cars. And now it’s dead… and because everything runs slowly here… it’s been sitting in the shop for over a month and isn’t getting fixed. Apparently they’re hunting for a new engine.

I don’t make enough money to take these kinds of losses, so this was a major failure. Multiple people told us to go the import route – and we got screwed. And the screwing is ongoing, as I’m walking a couple of miles to buy groceries, we can’t go anywhere as a family, and we’re going to have to pay a lot to get this piece of garbage fixed.

It’s a good thing I rather enjoy taking the bus. I’ll probably be doing it for months to come.

The Survival Gardener Forums

After being told multiple times that forums would be a good idea, I finally bought some software and set up forums.

I rapidly discovered I had neither the time nor the inclination to keep forums running. They’re currently a spammed up mess and need to be deleted. It would work if I had someone else to run them but I just don’t have the time.

Fail!

2016 Successes

Broken vans and machetes be darned, it’s time to talk about the good stuff.

We Got Out of Dodge!

I count finally making it overseas as a great success. I tried to get out of the US for almost a decade before we finally pulled it off. And here I am, relatively established in a new nation. I managed to get a visa, thanks to my agricultural work, and I truly love where we live. Especially our neighborhood.

This is my kind of place:

Second-story goat. #tropics #goats

A photo posted by David Good (@david_t_good) on

Always fun. And it’s beautiful around here as well:

More-beach-instagram3

I liked North Florida, but this is paradise.

YouTube Exploded

My goal for 2016 was to hit 5,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel.

Instead, I made it to almost 12,000, thanks in large part to a challenge I was given by Justin Rhodes.

I produced 208 videos for YouTube this year. That’s pretty amazing.

This was helped immensely by an anonymous donor who paid for me to upgrade my camera to a professional model.

The Canon 70D has been great. I just got some new lenses and a pro video tripod for it as well, so 2017’s videos will be even better.

You can subscribe here if you haven’t already.

Speaking of videos…

I Participated in 2 Homesteading Summits

In February I took part in the 2016 Home Grown Food Summit with Marjory Wildcraft.

My video was one of the most popular and I later released it for sale as a standalone download.

Here’s the trailer:

Then in November I contributed another fun video to the fall Mother Earth News Online Summit, this time on Better Gardening through Experimentation.

I hope to offer that film as a standalone download soon. It was also a favorite, ending up in the top 5 presentations out of over 30. What an honor!

The Newsletter Keeps Growing

I had the goal of reaching at least 5,000 people with my newsletter in 2016. As of right now, it’s at 4900 and something. Not bad, considering I started the year with 1,985.

The newsletter is entertaining and non-spammy. I cover bits and pieces I don’t over here, plus announce book projects and share cool pictures.

You can subscribe here and get my free booklet How to Grow and Stretch Your Compost.

The Website Keeps on Kicking

I wrote 270 posts for this site in 2015.

Back in October I announced that I was done posting every weekday, after 4 years of hitting that goal. I posted once a week for the next month or so, then started creeping back up towards daily.

I can’t stop. It’s just built into me now.

The Get Grafting! Film

My instructional film Get Grafting! was a complete success.

Here’s the trailer:

You can download the film here for a donation of any amount.

Bonus: it’s funny.

The Top 8 Posts of 2016

Growing Arrowroot

Growing Arrowroot

The Hidden Danger of Straw Bale Gardening

The Hidden Danger of Straw Bale Gardening No One is Mentioning

The Top 5 Best Garden Hoes

The Top 5 Best Garden Hoes

Growing Raspberries and Blackberries in Florida

Growing Raspberries and Blackberries in Florida

How to Grow Turmeric

How To Grow Turmeric

How to Grow Yams

How To Grow Yams

Get Rid of Squirrels

Get Rid of Squirrels

And, the most popular of them all:

This Compost Will Destroy Your Garden

This compost will destroy your garden!

In Conclusion

 

It’s been a heck of a year with a lot of challenges and excitement.

Though I sold my North Florida food forest property, I learned many lessons from it that I can apply to my next property. And I made a profit when I sold, which is great. Sometimes you really wonder if putting in a food forest is a good idea… after all… what about property values?

The new owner of my food forest bought it FOR the food forest, so not everyone is a Philistine! She tells me she’ll be sending a video update in 2017, which I look forward to sharing with you all.

Tomorrow I’ll post my goals for 2017.

All in all, 2016 was a great year and I hope you did well with it. If not, there’s always next year. Let’s face it together and conquer!

Happy-goat

See you on the flip side,

David The Good

David-the-good-books-revised

Pumpkins are Starting to Get Exciting

Rachel-cutting-pumpkin

Rachel-cutting-pumpkin

Our friend with the bamboo greenhouse gave us one of his land-race pumpkins as a gift.

He collects varieties of squash and pumpkins and plants them together on the side of the mountain. The slope is quite difficult to navigate for mere humans, but the pumpkin vines do fine.

By the way, I took the photo of Rachel above candidly with a neat little lens on my Canon.

It’s the 24mm “pancake” lens.

Looks like this:

Canon-24mm-pancake-lens

Not expensive as lenses go, but it lets in a lot of light and I use it for videos and indoor photography in particular.

It also has a nice wide angle, and takes great close up shots. It’s not as quiet on auto-focusing during video as I would like, but I suppose I have to forgive it.

I am waiting on a few new lenses that will allow me to go even deeper with my videography and photography. Unfortunately, because they’re imported I basically have to pay for them twice: once when I buy them in the US and again when I pay a chunk of tax on them at import. Ah well, it will all be worth it.

I filmed a video on Wednesday where I travel down the hill to visit my first experimental pumpkin hill… more pumpkins started from seeds from my farmer friend.

I can’t do much in the way of weeding or string-trimming right now as my cast makes it impossible, but I am determined not to let the jungle eat my pumpkins like it ate my cucumbers.

Soon I will be better. Three weeks and three days until my cast comes off. Then I am off to the races. The land-races!

David-the-good-books-revised

Free-Range Chickens… can be a PAIN!

chickens can be kept in a pallet chicken coop

Free-range chickens have worked about as well for me as the old 1969 Ford Galaxy sedan I used to own.

That is… not very well.

This is how I like to keep chickens:

free-range chickens or chickens in a cage

IN CAGES! Like slaves! Like egg-making slaves!

Yet… I’m trying again.

What was I thinking?

I wrote an in-depth post on chickens and their housing earlier this year.

In it, I share my struggles over the years with keeping birds happy and keeping them safe from predators.

Everything wants to eat chicken. Even other chickens will eat chicken.

However, keeping birds happy and healthy requires letting them have some sunshine, grass, insects, and forage.

That’s why I was chasing chickens underneath the breadfruit the other night. Good for the birds’ happiness and healthiness, I guess; less so for my own.

It was fun seeing that huge bat, though. I would not have seen that if I wasn’t trying to get roosters out of trees. It was seriously a foot across.

At least.

Now I want a pet bat.

There are smaller bats living in an empty building right near my house and it was bigger than one of those.

But back to free-range chickens…

 

If I owned this property instead of just renting, I would spend the money to get some good fencing and create a multi-paddock chicken system. Justin Rhodes uses electric fence but I don’t think I can find that here.

The birds we have are a scrappy little variety. They do fend for themselves well in the jungle but if I let them go too far we won’t have any eggs.

For now, I will let them out during the day but will be corralling them back in at night before gets too late.

Sometimes I like chickens. Sometimes I don’t.

What I do like is eggs and bacon every morning. Nice, fresh homestead eggs.

And the best eggs, in my opinion, come from free range chickens. I would love to grow all their feed, as I once wrote in a big post at The Prepper Project, but I haven’t pulled that off yet.

Speaking of feed, I wonder if it would be worth raising my own bacon? I’ll bet free range pigs would be a lot of fun…

David-the-good-books-revised

Last Chance Chickens Webinar: The Self-Sustaining Flock

Chicken_Coop_Chicksaw_Justin_Rhodes

Chicken_Coop_Chicksaw_Justin_RhodesJustin Rhodes let me know that’s he’s doing his last free Permaculture Chickens webcast on Sunday – this is your chance to get in on the free information before he’s done. This webinar focuses on the self-sustaining flock.

Go and sign while you can!

Justin always has great ideas and the chance to ask questions live is quite valuable.

Feeding and raising your own flock from your own land is vital if things fall apart. Counting on far away chick-raising may not always be possible, plus, having birds well-suited to your land and raised by your own hens is a very good thing.

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