My 10 Great Gardening Ideas for the Coming New Year

DecemberBroccoli

I’ve got a bunch of plans for the homestead right now.

There are way too many great gardening ideas in my head but I’m going to try and get the important ideas down for now.

If any of these strike your fancy, try ’em and see how you do.

IDEA #1: Micro-farming

 

I’m thinking of trying my hand at farming a small amount of vegetables for a circle of local friends.

A box subscription sort of a deal. Like… $30 a week and I provide a regular box of fresh-picked organic produce to everyone on the list.

Just toying with the idea right now.

IDEA #2: Massive Banana Circles

I’m also considering hanging gutters on the portions of my house that don’t currently have them, then creating 3 or 4 BIG banana circles to catch the run-off and simultaneously grow us more bananas.

We get a decent amount of bananas right now but I’d like to have enough that each kid can eat one per day. That’s a tall order, but it’s a goal.

IDEA #3: Grafting Mulberries

 

It’s time to try grafting mulberries.

I’m not happy with the fruit quality or quantity from my largest mulberry tree in the front yard so I’m thinking of grafting a half-dozen different varieties all over it. Ought to be fun.

Imagine white mulberries, Pakistan long mulberries and other types all growing on the same tree. I don’t know about species compatibility since it’s a Morus nigra and I’d be grafting Morus alba and Morus rubra onto it… but hey, why not try?

IDEA #4: Expanding The Annual Garden

 

This was my last year fiddling with a big patch of sugarcane.

I need more space for food for the family, so it’s goodbye for now.

I’m going to press that area into service as an expansion of my vegetable gardens.

More roots, more Seminole pumpkins, more greens!

IDEA #5: Build a Smokehouse

 

Photo credit

After my successful small-scale experiments with smoking on the StoveTec, I’m going to go big.

It’s time for me to take a bunch of cinderblocks and get busy building a killer smokehouse.

 

IDEA #6: Build A Tropical Food Forest

 

IN NORTH FLORIDA!

That’s right. A friend owns a greenhouse frame and wants me to have it. It’s a HUGE greenhouse.

I’ve got a friend with some land. She and I are talking about setting it up at her place and planting a tropical in-ground food forest beneath it. The plastic could be removed for half the year, then installed in the winter.

I don’t know if it’s workable or not but I’d like to try.

IDEA #8: Grow More Yams

Apparently, there are non-invasive varieties of true yam which grow in Florida and make huge roots.

I want to grow some. I love the winged yam but my nursery license doesn’t allow me to carry it in my nursery.

I’m looking for Dioscorea caymanensis in particular. If anyone has a source, please let me know!

IDEA #9: Grow Sweet Potatoes In Plastic

I’m thinking of covering an area with a plastic tarp or weed cover, then putting small holes in it for my sweet potato slips.

I think the tarp should keep them from secondary rooting and weeds, leading to much bigger final tubers.

Going to have to try and see.

IDEA #10: Plant a Mahonia Patch

Photo credit
Mahonias are an edible berry that grows in the shade. I have a big patch of shade.

Why not plant it then start using the berries? They’re acid but can be processed into jams and jellies. Maybe they’d be good dried?

I need to know!

In Epilogue

Finally, what happened to Idea #7?

I don’t know. Idea #7 was obviously so secret that my subconscious caused me to delete it.

And a better question, what are YOUR great gardening ideas for the new year?

If there’s anyone reading who hasn’t succumbed to post-Christmas blood sugar overload… share your ideas in the comments!

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David-the-good-books-revised

A New Trial Banana Variety: The 1000 Fingers Banana

1000FingersBanana

I love bananas but they’re definitely marginal here. I don’t know how this guy is going to do, but I’m willing to try anything:

1000 fingers banana one thousand fingers banana

A young Thousand Fingers banana

That is a baby 1000 Fingers banana!

My foreclosure bananas have done well for me this year.

I call them that since my cousin Timmy and I saved them from a property headed into the cold and grasping hands of an evil bank. We’ve got four hands of bananas in progress and they started early enough this year that we should be harvesting them before frost.

The problem: the foreclosure bananas only produce about 20 or so bananas on each stalk. They’re great bananas that work well for cooking or fresh eating, but they take up a lot of space considering their limited production.

The banana tree above is a different animal. This is the stalk it’s supposed to produce:

1000 fingers banana
Photo credit: unknown (if this is your picture let me know and I’ll link you!)

I have no idea if it will do that here, but I’m willing to see what happens. This is how we roll here at Econopocalypse Ranch.

Just the thought of such an insane column of ladyfinger bananas sold me. If it doesn’t work here, I’ll plant one in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.
Science!

David-the-good-books-revised

Foreign Bananas Are Born In Sin And Filled With Pure Evil… So Grow Your Own Instead

Bananas4web

My wife sent me an article the other day that contained some interesting (in a bad way) information on banana cultivation:

You’ve eaten a banana. You may be eating one right now. If you live in the U.S., it’s probable that you’ve eaten more bananas than any other type of fruit (save the oranges in your morning glass of juice) even though commercial bananas probably don’t grow anywhere close to your local supermarket.

According to FairTrade.net, Almost 100 million metric tons of bananas are consumed every year. Bananas are cheap, they taste good, and they’re convenient, but should you keep eating them? I quit bananas several years ago for a few reasons.

The Cavendish, the type of banana we’re most familiar with, is high in sugar. Per 100-gram serving, it contains MORE sugar than soda (12 grams to 9 grams). Of course, bananas’ sugars are naturally occurring and healthier than the junk in soda. But even though bananas are rich in fiber and potassium, they are a highly sweet fruit. The riper a banana gets, the sweeter, too.
If you’re minding your sugar intake for health reasons, this is one fruit that you might do best to replace with something less sweet. Strawberries, for example, have one-third fewer sugars.
While more than 15 percent of all bananas are Rainforest Alliance certified, which is helping to correct some issues in the banana industry, the majority of the bananas that are sold in the U.S. aren’t Fair Trade, or Rainforest Alliance certified. Banana plantations have been called out for using child labor, clear cutting massive swaths of our deteriorating rainforest, and implicated in political corruption, reports FairTrade.net. “Large corporations involved in banana production have historically had negative influence over Latin American governments in the countries where their plantations are based…” (KEEP READING)
We live in Florida. You CAN grow your own bananas here. If you aren’t, maybe it’s time to start.

 

David-the-good-books-revised

From the Inbox: Ants, Avocado Spots, Growing Bananas, Planting Fruit Trees In Existing Forest

photo-1

I get asked a lot of questions via e-mail. Usually, but not always, I’m good at getting back to folks.

It strikes me, though, I should share my answers more often, since some of you may be dealing with some of the same problems.

Let’s jump in:

Q: I live in south mississippi and will be planting a few
pear, plum, peach, mayhaw, etc. trees in the coming
weeks. I had a crazy idea to clear out a section of
woods (overgrown cut-over) and plant in this location as
opposed to my yard which is low wet clayey and not
organically rich. The location would be an east facing
forest edge I guess you could say.


Would the existing root layer “outcompete” the fruit
trees or would the leaf litter etc. provide a great
place for these. I have plenty of ramial wood chips to
mulch with. -T.R.

A: There’s a lot to think about when you jump into the middle of an
existing system. The roots from trees will reach more than double
the size of the leaf canopy outwards. That said, I’ve seen videos
on how old settlers used to simply girdle unwanted trees, then
plant apples and other fruit right in between them.



The great benefit to planting in established forest is on the
microscopic level. Forests contain fungally dominated soils which
are more beneficial to trees. There’s a huge network beneath the
ground of mycellium which will connect with your new trees and
help them flourish. Forest edges are notoriously good places to
grow a wide range of species. East is also better than West, so
you’re good there.



Here’s what I’d do: I’d clear a little space for each tree, plant
them in, then see how they do. If the weeds, etc., grow back
around them, keep chopping that stuff down and dropping it around
the bases of your desired trees to feed them and mulch the ground
as they grow. Trees like to grow in the remains of other trees…
keep that going and they should do great. Ramial wood chips are a
great addition as well.



Q: J.P. – What’s wrong with my avocado tree? A lot of the leaves look like this:

A: Looks like some kind of leaf spot disease to me – probably fungal. I’d try picking off the effected leaves and burning them. If it comes back, try spraying with copper sulfate according to instructions.



Q: I came across your website and was happy to know that you are so close to where I live.  I am … thrilled to see another survival garden in the nearby area,
especially one with the same climate.  I basically have veggies, adding
different odd edibles each year. I have some papaya growing in my
greenhouse waiting for the weather to break before planting but I am
really interested in what you do with your bananas in the winter.  We
have one planted in the back and have tar paper wrapped around the trunk
and cover it with a blanket during the hard freezes. It’s about 3 years
old but no bananas yet. Another BIG problem I
have is ants – what do you use to kill them?  I grow an organic garden
and since I am retired I have the time to pick off caterpillars but the ants are something else! -G




A: Bananas
are not the best producers in this area and most of what I have are a
type I dug up from a foreclosure property. One thing that really helps
them is LOTS of nitrogen. The best I’ve ever seen were growing over a
leaking septic tank. I grow some of mine by the back of the house. I cut
out the pipe running from my kitchen sink and ran the water directly
onto the banana trees, so they’re swimming in a slop of food wastes and
warm water half the day. They grow like crazy. Unfortunately, the frosts
still take about half of the crop each year. It’s sad. I need to try
some new types.

As for ants, I’ve had luck
kicking their piles open and dusting the insides with diatomaceous
earth. It doesn’t kill them all, but it also doesn’t poison my ground.
They are bad here… there’s just no way to get rid of them all without
harsh poisons.

Have a question? Drop me an e-mail on the e-mail link at the top left of this page. Just know this: I’m likely to post it online at some point, especially if you say something hilarious. (I will, of course, edit out personal details to maintain your privacy.) -David the Good

David-the-good-books-revised

Gardening in the Tropics: Pt. II

Bananas1

I’ve posted before on why the tropics are the most amazing place for food growing, and I’ve also shared quite a bit on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project… but nothing compares to the sheer, lush extravagance of being right near the equator and seeing the abundance in person.

In the tropics, many plants produce year-round. There’s always something to eat. Winged yams were a common weed… bananas were laden with stalks of fruit almost too heavy to carry… and papaya were everywhere. Along the sides of the road were fallen passion fruit, golden apples and other fruits I’d never even seen.

It’s a far cry from the struggle to produce we face in temperate climates.

That is a breadfruit. I’ve wanted to try them since I was a kid but they simply will not grow inside the continental United States. The flavor was rich and starchy, with a slightly sweet undertone I found more than satisfying. Bonus: the trees grow really fast. My friend’s tree was only two years old and it towered at 20’+ and was loaded with fruit. In its first year it bore 60+ breadfruit.

Try to get that kind of success with pecans or chestnuts. It won’t happen.

I hate to make any of you fellow Floridians jealous, but…

…man alive…

David-the-good-books-revised

A Greywater Oasis: Reusing kitchen sink water!

Greywater3

I’ve started a greywater oasis project and am reusing kitchen sink water thanks to this book.

I live in a home with a slab foundation. This means it’s really darned hard to access my greywater before it hits the septic tank. My washer is located in the dead middle of the house, making it impossible to run a pipe outside… the showers and baths drain directly into the floor… and only one of my sinks was located next to an exterior wall: the kitchen sink.

reusing kitchen sink water to grow crops

So I did what any reasonable man would do. I punched a hole in the wall, ran a piece of PVC from under the sink (after the P trap), put an elbow on it outside and ran it off into a bed of mulch by my banana trees. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Punch a Hole In Your Wall!

I also added some papyrus or bulrushes of some sort, a few malanga plants, and a few more little banana trees.

 

I didn’t  want the water draining directly beside my foundation, so as you can see, I put in a 45 degree bend away from the wall. About 18″ down that final piece of pipe, I started drilling lots of little drainage holes. The whole pipe was then laid into a little trench and covered with mulch.
The downside of this plan is that I can no longer use regular dishwasher powder without salting the bananas. So we’re washing by hand a lot more and using as little detergent as possible. We’ll see how the plants manage. If this is a FAIL, I can always reconnect the water to the septic. But that just seems like a horrible waste. I wish I could get off the septic tank altogether and just run all the house’s water into the yard. Reusing kitchen sink water on the crops is a good start… but man… imagine if all the shower and bath water could be sent into banana circles!
Perhaps one day I’ll figure it out.
David-the-good-books-revised

Time to watch the bananas frost

BananaDoomed

When bananas frost over, they die. Or at least the fruit die – depending on how cold it gets, your banana trees will often live through a frost… but their fruit won’t.

As I posted recently… bananas are tropical plants. That means they have no idea what to do in the cold (much like myself).

bananas frost over easily

Bananas frost over and die quickly at just below 32 degrees.

This poor banana decided to fruit… at a totally inappropriate time of year. Chances are, these bananas will not reach maturity. I took this shot before we got our last few frosts… the fruits are already looking a bit burned. If it doesn’t pull through to the spring, I’ll have to cut down the stem and wait a year or more for one of the pups to try again… and just pray it doesn’t do so in winter. These trees are simply too tall to protect.

Growing bananas in north Florida isn’t that hard, but sometimes it’s heartbreaking to wait for fruit and then see it succumb to the frost. Planting a banana circle right by your wall is a good way to cut down some of the damage… but anything below freezing is usually going to knock out your hard-won bananas.

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Bananas

Bananas2web

Growing banana trees in North Florida is more than possible. In South Florida, bananas will produce year-round. Since they’re non-seasonal, your goal should be to plant a big patch of them so you’re getting new fruit for cooking and fresh eating on a regular basis. In the northern half of the state, frosts and cold will take a big chunk out of your yields.

That’s not to say it isn’t worth planting bananas there – it’s just going to be less reliable than some other plants. Like collards or even a weed like Spanish needle. Of course – bananas taste better than both of those, so heck with it. We’re gonna grow them anyway – because that’s what we mad horticulturalists do.

Here – I did a video on growing bananas in North Florida – check it out:

Bananas, even though subject to frost damage, are still beautiful trees and worth growing.

One of the most beautiful plants. Grow it!

Most of us know that modern bananas are seedless. They weren’t that way originally, but over time we bred the seeds out of them. (Interestingly, there is also an alternate theory on where the fruit came from.)

Now we can only propagate most banana plants by dividing off the pups. That’s not good for genetic diversity, but it is good for getting consistent results.

north florida bananas

I know. You’ve seen this before. This, incidentally, is the south wall of my house. ZONE 10!

Let’s assume you’ve got a little baby banana plant that someone really nice gave you. When you plant that in your yard, it will start to grow into a big banana plant. Quickly if you water and feed it… slowly if you don’t. Beneath the ground, a bulb is growing. As the first “tree” gets bigger and bigger, little pups will generally start growing alongside it. Leave at least one there – you’re gonna need it.

When your original banana has successfully created a certain number of leaves, it will then flower and create a lovely stalk of bananas. Watching the bud unfurl and young bananas peek out is like magic. The first rows are all female, meaning they’ll be your fruit… and then after those have all appeared, the bud will continue to descend and reveal male flowers. The bananas take a long time to ripen, in my experience. At least four months or more.

This is bad if the tree decides to bloom in the fall… and you get frost in your area. I have one in my side yard doing that right now. It being December, those poor bananas are going to freeze right off unless I can find a way to protect them.

When the fruit turn yellow – or start to – you can cut the entire cluster off the tree and bring it inside to ripen completely. Plantains are a higher-starch variety of banana that are used for cooking – I usually wait until those are mostly black before cooking them. If you’d rather them not be sweet, you can cut and cook them earlier. Unfortunately, plantains do NOT like the cold (though I’m attempting to grow them here anyhow). If you’re up north, I’d recommend begging pups off friends, neighbors or strangers in your local area… that way you know the plants are likely to survive some freezes.

These Orinoco bananas are great fried like plantains

Once you harvest your bananas, that “tree” is done. Kaput. Played out. Yesterday’s news. Old hat. Dead and gone. Expired. It’s not going to make more bananas for you. So cut that stem down WITH A MACHETE! Or it will die on its own. Then the next largest pup beside it (you did leave a pup, right?) will take its place. Remember – the “tree” is basically a big bulbous plant with multiple tops above ground – not a real tree at all.

As for growing bananas, they like a lot of water so pick a moist area. They can take sun or shade and like it warm. Think: south wall right next to the house. They’ll also eat every bit of nutrients you can shovel their way. Most of the trees in my yard were originally growing on a foreclosure next to a broken septic tank that was seeping sewage. They looked so amazing there it was hard to move them. Now they’re being fed by a greywater line coming from my kitchen sink… but it’s just not the same… hmm… wait… that gives me an idea…

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

 

2.5 Spuds!

Name: Banana
Latin Name: Musa spp. (It’s complicated, actually.)
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/shade
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Division
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Green bananas cooked, fresh bananas raw
Storability: When pulled green, they keep for a week or two. May be dried or frozen.
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: Moderate, depending on location in state

David-the-good-books-revised