A Subtropical Fruit Tree Guild

subtropical fruit tree guild

A few weeks ago I designed a fruit tree guild for the subtropics for a client in Central Florida. Today I’m going to tell you how I did it and give you an in-depth look at how fruit tree guilds work.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of plant or tree guilds, it’s a permaculture idea that serves multiple functions (as permaculture ideas often do!). Plant guilds combine intercropping or “companion planting” with pest control and insect habitat, nitrogen fixing and stacking more food and medicine into the same space that would normally contain just a single tree.

Wild Tree Guilds

 

In a forest, trees are almost never all alone. They share their space with mosses, ferns, creepers, shrubs, epiphytes, herbaceous plants, and lots of creatures. A fruit tree guild mimics nature’s patterning and builds upon it in a planned way.

For instance, you might see an oak by the road with a mimosa tree (nitrogen fixer) beneath it, a sumac (insectary and wild wildlife feeding understory tree) beside it, wild grapes (vines and wildlife food) climbing it, wild mint or bee balm (insectary plants and possible pest repellent) beneath it, along with who knows how many other species… and that’s not even including the resurrection ferns and Spanish moss in the tree’s branches or the fungi interconnected with its roots. The forest creates a huge amount of biomass via these wild tree guilds… and feeds itself and the animals quite well.

subtropical fruit tree guild garden bed

My perennial garden bed is basically a miniature planned forest. Lots of species, lots of good insects.

These are unimproved trees and plants, however. With man’s ability to tweak and breed and select trees and plants for great traits such as high fruit yields, sweetness and production… well, you can seriously get a lot of food going by creating your own planned fruit tree guilds.

Planning a Fruit Tree Guild

 

Here’s where I think people fall apart. By wanting “perfect” results, they instead end up getting nowhere. Look – you can spend ALL your time planning and no time planting!

I like to do things the other way around. All these plants are just here for ideas. You could literally blindfold yourself, throw 10 darts at a wall covered in pictures of plants, pick the ones you hit, plant them together around your fruit tree, and you’d probably do fine. The biggest thing seems to be not leaving your fruit tree alone.

You can do better than blind darts with a little planning, but don’t get too hung up.

Here are some suggestions for your subtropical fruit tree guild.

Add The Fruit Tree

If you want a nice fruit tree guild, first pick yourself out a fruit tree. Since I’m located in the subtropics, let’s go with that climate. You can pick trees and plants that fit a temperate or tropical climate, too, – it’s the same system. Look around for what does great in your area.

A fruit tree that don’t cast a huge shadow is great (sorry, mulberry and loquat – I’m looking at you!) unless you want to grow shade-loving plants beneath it.

Japanese persimmons, small citrus, pears (until they get huge), plums, peaches… all are pretty easy to deal with.

Add Small Fruits and Berries

Then pick out a few other smaller fruits you’d like to eat. Thornless blackberries, blueberries, strawberry guava, natal plum… the choices are endless. Pop a few of those in near your tree.

Add Herbs

Then grab some herbs for (hopefully) repelling some pests and spicing up your kitchen. Rosemary, oregano, lemon grass, turmeric (in the shadiest spot beneath the fruit tree)… you get the idea.

Add Greens

Now I like to add some salad and greens. Mexican tree spinach (AKA chaya), Surinam purslane, cranberry hibiscus – these are all good and don’t take up tons of space.

Add Tree-Feeding Plants

Now let’s add something to feed the tree. Pick a nitrogen-fixer or two and plant them right by the fruit tree. As it grows, chop it back over and over again and drop the branches as mulch. Every time you do this the roots will release some nitrogen for your fruit tree. In the subtropics, mimosa trees, black locust, coral bean, pigeon peas, autumn olive, cassias and plenty of other species work well. If you want to create more mulch and add other nutrients, you can also plant a great biomass producer like Tithonia diversifolia nearby (watch out – they get huge – be sure to cut them back regularly and drop the mulch around your fruit tree!) or, if you’re luckier with keeping them alive than I am, plant a bunch of comfrey like temperate climate pemaculturalists are apt to do.

Add Insectary Plants

You can also pop in pentas, flowering almond, African blue basil, milkweed and other blooms for the butterflies and bees. There are lots of options here. I like them for the beauty and the fact that the more insects you have buzzing and creeping around, the less major pest problems you seem to have. An active ecosystem tends to be self-policing, keeping problems from getting too out of hand.

Add Edible Groundcover

Sweet potatoes and Seminole pumpkins work really well for this. You can also plant Okinawa spinach and longevity spinach, among other good edible ground cover plants.

Voila! You’ve put together a guild. Mulch well, keep watered until it establishes, and you’re set.

Now – here’s the design I did for my client:

Subtropical_Fruit_Tree_Guild_Layout

A subtropical fruit tree guild. Center tree will likely be a Japanese persimmon.

The soil is acid, so the blueberries should be very happy. One area not shown is the ground cover layer, but that will likely be seasonal in this guild. It’s getting planted this fall, so sweet potatoes will not be appropriate until the spring weather kicks in.

Conclusion

 

FloridaFoodForestsCoverNewBLSm

My book has lots of tested plant species listed in the back. $2.99 = cheap gardening success.

Creating a fruit tree guild is easy. This subtropical fruit tree guild didn’t kill me to design, though I do admit that drawing it out neatly took a bit of time.

If you don’t have the money to buy plants, propagate your own from seed and cuttings. Don’t worry about getting everything together at once, just start from where you are and start popping things in. I’ve always got plenty of herbs, berries and other cool things getting started in pots… just take cuttings now and again, pop seeds here and there, and pretty soon you’ll have lots of plants for your fruit tree guilds. Even the fruit trees themselves can be started from seed if you don’t feel like paying and you have some time to wait.

Soon I’ll show you one I designed to fight citrus greening… but until then, get reading, check out all the species listed in the back of Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, doodle some of your own guilds and most of all – go plant some fruit trees!

David-the-good-books-revised

A beautiful pond apple

PondApple2
pond apple

When I was a kid growing up in South Florida I had no idea how blessed I was to be in the tropics.

I knew a few edible plants (I started gardening when I was six) but they were generally common things like coconuts, apples, spinach, radishes, beans, etc. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized there were a lot of delicious (and sometimes less delicious) wild edibles… and by that time I had moved out of the tropical paradise that birthed my gardening career.

The fruit above is a pond apple. Now that I’m much more sophisticated in my plant-spotting skills, I regularly see edible plants in the woods and on the roadsides that once would have passed me by unnoticed.

I admit: I haven’t eaten a pond apple yet since the ones I spotted along a canal (and picked the fruit above from) were not quite ready. Some reports say they’re good; others say they’re not.

They can’t grow up here in North/Central Florida, unfortunately, so I’m going to have to try and catch the season right with my next trip so I can try some. They are ALL OVER the place down south in wet places.

Pond apples are a cousin of the very tasty soursop fruit, among other edible relatives. The trees are short and attractive but will not grow in dry areas. If your backyard is a tropical swamp, this plant is for you.

One of these days I’ll get to eat one. One of these goldurn pond-appley Florida days.

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David-the-good-books-revised

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: June 2015 Video Update!

Updates-south-florida-food-forest

I was just down in Ft. Lauderdale and filmed another update on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project:

It’s coming along, though the dry weather has given some of the plants a beating. Later this year after the rains kick in things are going to look a lot better.

Growing a South Florida food forest is really, really easy. Need some food forest inspiration? Pick up a copy of my book!

Support this site: shop on Amazon using this link. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it helps pay for my hosting!

David-the-good-books-revised

What To Plant in a Florida Orchard

PurpleFigs3
Luscious purple Florida-grown figs.

Last night I noticed this comment on the high-density orchard post over at The Brilliant Homestead:

Most people think “apples” when they hear orchard. What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard? –Phyllis Franklin

Ah-ha!

Thou art in luck: trees are one of my favorite topics!

For those of you who don’t know Phyllis, she is a writer with her own homesteading blog “Evolution of a Farm Girl.”

Even better, she’s a homeschooling mom. (Since I was raised by a homeschooling mom, I’m rather partial to that rare and wonderful breed of lady.)

Now: trees.

The question, “What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard?” is not easy to answer without knowing a location.

The one thing I wouldn’t plant anywhere in the state is citrus. Just don’t do it – you’ll lose the tree.

That aside, here are my recommendations.

Trees for a South Florida Orchard

A fragrant lychee.

In south Florida and large parts of coastal Florida, your options are incredible. My in-laws, for example, bought a house that had a small mango orchard planted in the front yard. The trees are now gigantic and bear incredible quantities of mangoes which bring them a decent side income during mango season.

My parents have a tamarind, a canistel, an acerola cherry and a jabuticaba tree in their front yard in Ft. Lauderdale. In the side yard they have a fig and a tropical almond. Out back there’s a chocolate pudding fruit, a mango, a Key Lime, a coconut palm, multiple bananas, cattley guavas, Surinam cherries, dragon fruit cactus, a Grumichama, a starfruit, plantains, papayas and probably a few more trees I can’t remember (they’re all parts of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project).

If you wanted an orchard in South Florida, all of those trees would be excellent choices.

I’d also add:

 

Sapodilla (Mmmm)
Jackfruit (Largest fruit in the world)
Mulberries
Longan (high market value)
Lychee (high market value)
Custard apple
Cashew (a fruit AND a nut!)
Macadamia (Awesome nut, nice big tree)
Soursop (anti-cancer!)
Ackee (poisonous unless harvested at the right time)
Loquat (grows in north and south Florida)
Jamaican cherry (delicious)
Tropical guava
Cinnamon (large tree and very beautiful)
Peruvian apple cactus
Coffee (Yep, it grows into a small tree)
Nutmeg (probably marginal)

 

…and probably a hundred more tropical trees.

The quantity of fruit you can grow down there is astounding. I’d bet on at least a 1,000 species since the Tropics are BY FAR a much more productive region than the world’s temperate zones.

Trees for a Central/North Florida Orchard

A tangy loquat.

The further north you move in the state, the more your options dwindle.

That said, you do pick up a few new species that cannot be grown in the southern tip of the state, such as plums, peaches and pears.

The transition isn’t immediate, but basically once you have overnight lows that go below the upper 20s, your tropical trees become a hard-to-grow liability rather than good orchard fodder.

My favorite three N/C Florida fruit trees are mulberries (white, black, Persian and Pakistan), Japanese persimmons (be sure to get both astringent and non-astringent types – they both have their uses on the homestead) and loquats. Finding improved loquat varieties isn’t easy but they’re worth buying since they bear larger and sweeter fruit than the landscaping seedling trees usually found for sale.

After those, I would add these trees to my North Florida orchard:

Pears (“Pineapple” is my favorite – tough and disease-resistant. Orient is a good pollinator.)
Plums (UF varieties)
Peaches (UF varieties or seedlings from locally-picked fruit)
Apples (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet, Ein Shemer. None are particularly easy to grow here)
Pecan (gets big, but has high market value)
Chestnut (fast producer of sweet nuts – get two “Dunstan” types)
Figs
Nectarine (UF varieties)
Avocado (cold-hardy types such as Lila and Mexicola. Subject to early death via disease.)
Bananas (Raja Puri, Orinoco, Red Dwarf, Ice Cream all survive cold)
Pomegranates (Note: some spontaneously die. Don’t get attached!)
Autumn olive
Goumi berry
Black cherry (gets tall – hard to harvest – flavor is amazing)
Japanese raisin tree (rare)
Sichuan Pepper
Jujube (Chinese)

 

Among these trees there are many cultivars and variations that should keep you quite contented as you plan. I currently prefer a food forest to an orchard; however, an orchard is better than having just a couple of trees… and a couple of trees are still better than lawn.

As you plant I would mix up the species rather than keeping them together in blocks of the same type. That makes it harder for pests to jump from tree to tree. Running chickens through the orchard on a regular basis also feeds the trees and knocks back potential pest problems.

Along with these trees, you can add a couple of wires for grapes as a nice upgrade. Or build an arbor.

Now go, Phyllis. Plant!

 

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David-the-good-books-revised

More Food Forest Sweet Potatoes: Gainesville Edition

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I posted last week on our wonderful success growing no-work sweet potatoes in our front yard food forest.

Two days ago I saw that my friend Andi reported similar success.

food forest sweet potatoes

I like her idea of growing sweet potatoes as a ground cover one year, followed by squash the next. That would definitely help lower the pest problems on both crops.

Various worms and larva like to eat sweet potatoes, squash bugs and borers like to eat squash. The pests don’t cross species. They also tend to overwinter in the same place. If they wake up after eating sweet potatoes one year to then discover the food is gone… they’ll move on.

As a side note: good squash (like Seminole pumpkins or butternuts) and sweet potatoes taste quite similar and can even be used interchangeably in many recipes, meaning you’re not really giving up much by switching.

Harvesting sweet potatoes is like digging for treasure.

Try growing some sweet potatoes in your food forest next year and let me know how you do. It’s worked for me, it’s worked for Andi, and I bet it’ll work for you too.

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David-the-good-books-revised

From the Inbox: Florida Gardening Failure!

TinySweetPotato

Hi, David-

I haven't been following your blog for long, but I really enjoy it and have found it very encouraging. You grabbed me with the one on two blocks- 17 edibles and I have been a real fan since. I started as a "real food" foodie, but since there is quite a bit of overlap with the prepper/self-sustainable community I have found that I fit into that one as well. 

I am hoping that you can offer some advice. I am in the greater Orlando area. I have put in a backyard garden for the last couple of years that I can't really call successful, but this one was a disaster. I started early, some from seeds others from plants. Got a pretty good crop of bush beans, 3 bell peppers, 8 tomatoes (from 6 plants), no cantaloupes (many blooms, no fruit), no watermelons, no garlic (3rd try), a few microscopic potatoes (see pic below- had more seed potatoes than that), carrots? (See below pic), onions- lots of green tops that never did anything (see pic), and I just dug up the sweet potatoes- none from what must have been 200 ft of vine (see first pic below). I really need some direction here- not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any advice? The goal of self-sufficiency has diminished to just a hope that I could get a few veggies. 

Please help!

D. L.

Pictures:

 

We have a conundrum here.

In a follow-up e-mail from D. L., she wrote:

On a whim I kept track all last year of every edible we purchased- just to see what would be the best things to grow that we clearly like. I'm almost embarrassed that between the two of us we went through 35lbs apples, 50 lbs bananas, 37 lbs grapes, 25 lbs peaches, 8 lbs carrots, 20 lbs onions, 30 lbs of various kinds of potatoes and about 45 tomatoes. It's not quite as bad as it sounds since I am a big canner. 

We had my 8 yr old grandson every Friday during the summer and planted some popcorn (on a whim- in college we had a leaky window and when a roommate spilled the popcorn some started growing in the living room- avocado green shag- carpet) just to see what it looked like along with some green peanuts. The corn got about 3 ft high before it gave up the ghost, but the peanuts still appear viable... I'm demoralized enough without thinking about the that. 

Honestly, I used to have a green thumb.

Any time you move to a new growing region, no matter how good you were in your previous location, you’re going to face challenges. When I went from gardening in South Florida to gardening in Tennessee, I was lost for a while. Eventually I hit my stride, however.

(Interesting, the natives used to grow their popcorn on shag carpeting before the white man pulled it all up and put down laminate faux-wood tiles. True story.)

Let’s attack the crop problems one at a time. D. L. mentions first that she had a “pretty good crop of bush beans.”

That’s not surprising. Many bush beans do very well in Florida. Now – if you want to go from “pretty good” to “holy moly” bean yields, put up a big trellis and plant snake beans.

Next crop: bell peppers. She writes that she only got three.

I wouldn’t worry about that. You’re lucky to get any. I’ve met people that claim they do great with bell peppers here in Florida; however, my experience with them has been the opposite. They’re needy, picky, pain-in-the-neck plants. I wouldn’t bother. Hot peppers grow like weeds here (in fact, I’ve had them pop up in my yard and grow without care). If you can’t take the heat, try planting some sweet peppers that aren’t bell types and see if they do better. Even John from GrowingYourGreens.com doesn’t plant bell peppers anymore.

Tomatoes: 8 from 6 plants? There’s another tale that surprises me not. Most larger tomato types fail in Florida unless you plant them at just the right time, under the right conditions, when you see a raccoon howling at a perfect supermoon. They can be grown well – I have a friend that does wonderfully – but I would skip all the big types and just plant cherry varieties. They’re much better suited to our climate and rainfall. Yellow pears do well also, but the flavor is bland.

I’m not sure what happened with your cantaloupes and their lack of fruit. Sounds like a bee deficiency. Might be the same problem with the watermelons. I’d try watermelons again, but cantaloupes haven’t done the best for us here either.

Garlic is another crop that’s not well-suited to Florida. We get some yields but they’re poor. Finding varieties is the key: some types are better for the south, others for the north. I would research “garlic for hot climates”. Also, fall planting works: spring doesn’t.

Potatoes aren’t the best root crop for Florida, though you will have luck some year. Russet types have done the best for me but between the heat and the fire ants… well…

Carrots and onions have performed much better for me as fall crops than spring crops. The heat knocks them out quickly. They don’t like to set roots.

Finally – sweet potatoes. That’s a sad tale. Apparently, if you keep pulling up the vines and throwing them back so they don’t root as much along their nodes, they’ll concentrate on the main root clump at their center. Also, they may have been too well fertilized. Since all of your root crops have done badly, I’d consider adding bone meal to your garden in the future and seeing if that helps.

Without seeing your soil or how your growing your crops, it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong with everything, yet the most obvious failure seems to be in varieties chosen. Raised beds are also not helpful in our fast-draining soils.

Since we’re subtropical, not temperate, it’s a good idea to look south for vegetables, not north.

You’re going to have to get creative in your cooking but it’s an adventure!

Here are a few suggestions to replace your failing crops:

ROOTS

Ditch the potatoes and plant cassava, malanga and true yams. They’re all tasty and will fill the same niche in your cooking that potatoes fill. They’ll also consistently succeed! I’d also try sweet potatoes again. Instead of onions are garlic, think about planting garlic chives and using those for cooking. The flavor is excellent and the plants are perennial.

VEGETABLES

Cherry tomatoes (Everglades cherry tomato is one excellent type), Seminole pumpkin (if you have space), perennial cucumber (Coccinia grandis) if you can find it – ask around at Indian markets if anyone has a plant. In winter: mustard, collards, kale, turnips. Also plant snake beans, edible hibiscus, Surinam purslane and other tropical species.

FRUITS

Florida, for the most part, wants to be forest. Consider adding some tried-and-true trees that will yield happily for you. Mulberries (dwarf, if you can’t fit in a big one) are the best berry I’ve ever grown. Japanese persimmons are rich and delicious. Loquats are a very good fruit for canning and drying. Figs do very well, and Raja Puri bananas should thrive in your area. Pineapples are easy to grow with a little protection.

Good luck.

Finally – does anyone else have some suggestions for D.L.? Leave a comment and let her know.

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David-the-good-books-revised

Florida Gardening for Beginners (and Yankees)

FrostproofSunset
a beautiful lake in Frostproof

Have peace. Today we will talk about Florida gardening for beginners.

I received this e-mail over the weekend and asked if I could respond here:

Good morning!  

We’ve been following your blog for a few months, since we decided to move to Florida.  We closed on a home 2 wks ago & will be moving down to (the central Florida coastline) in October from (a really cold state in the Northeast – USDA zone 4).

We are avid gardeners, but because the climate is so different, we are trying to learn what we can plant in the fall (both edible landscape and vegetables). 
We have one grapefruit tree in our front yard.  We have 2 acres & are interested in planting fruit & nut trees. 
 
We plan to travel up to Ocala for the Thursday farmers market once we settle in & look forward to meeting & talking to you in person; but until then any suggestions would be most welcome.
Thanks very much for your help.
C. & L.
 

 

First of all, welcome to Florida – this is a great place to garden. Let’s talk Florida gardening for beginners, because everyone is a beginner when they change climates.

When looking at a new property, the first thing I like to do is figure out where my trees will go. Fruit and nut trees are long-term food-producing scaffolding for a homestead.

In the center of the state, I’ve found that the three easiest trees to grow are mulberries, loquats and Japanese persimmons. After planting those, I’d add in some “sand pears” (Pineapple pear is my favorite variety, though Hood and Flordahome are also good), along with figs. If you want to fiddle around more, add peaches, nectarines and apples. Jujubes are also easy, as are bananas. Another great (and often overlooked) fruit is borne by the pindo palm. It makes the best jelly in the world. Plant multiples of each tree and you’ll have redundancy and good pollination for the trees that need it.

Citrus used to be easy but isn’t any longer, thanks to the many diseases now in the state, of which citrus greening is the worst. It’s good you have a grapefruit but I wouldn’t add any more citrus until they figure out how to get the trainwreck-in-progress under control.

I’m not sure if you can pull off chestnuts or pecans in your new location, since it might be too warm in the winter. Call your local agricultural extension and ask them. If you can, I’d add both.

If you’re right on the coast, you can add some plants that would be impossible further inland. Starfruit, macadamia nuts, mangoes, jabuticaba and sea grape are all good choices, though they may or may not fly. None of those will do well if temperatures fall below 32F for more than a couple of hours. A south-facing wall could probably support smaller trees, however. I’d try growing a starfruit like I grow my Key Lime tree here.

For root crops, forget about some of the more Northern staples. You can grow some of them in the winter and spring, but they’ll be nothing like you’d get back home. Instead, think about growing exciting new crops like cassava, true yams, malanga, boniato, arrowroot (Grower Jim carries it), yacon, ginger and sweet potatoes.

Trust me – you’ll barely miss the old roots once you try real yams or a rich, nutty malanga.

For berries and small fruit there are some great options. Improved varieties of Surinam cherries (I carry them in my nursery) are easy to grow. Cattley guava is wonderful. Southern highbush blueberries are pretty easy if you get the pH right at the beginning. You can also grow the interesting (and tasty) Simpson Stopper bush. It’s a native with good fruit. Mulberries are also really easy, though they’re a tree. Strawberries are possible but will disappoint you here. I don’t think they’re worth the effort. Mysore raspberries are a very good tropical cane fruit that’s quite productive, though rather spiny. Passionfruit is another great crop and will cover a fence nicely.

As for other crops, consider growing some muscadine grapes. The grapes you find at your local Home Depot/Lowe’s are not likely to thrive in the middle of the state… even though they sell them anyways. The diseases wipe them out – but muscadines can take all kinds of abuse, plus they make nice large grapes.

For greens and vegetables, consider growing malabar spinach, Okinawa spinach, snake beans, edible-leafed hibiscus, katuk, moringa, Florida cranberry, ivy gourd, Ethiopian kale, collards, longevity spinach, oxalis (spp), chaya and amaranth. They’ll take the heat and keep on cooking and the perennials will grow for for years. You can also grow some pretty decent broccoli in the winter. Mustard also does well.

It’s nice to have mild winters.

If you add a pond, you can also grow some very good plants like water celery, Chinese water chestnuts, duck potatoes, kang kong, water mimosa and taro. Highly productive, plus you don’t have to water them!

Finally, take pictures before you start planting – it would be great to see some before-and-after shots. You’re going to have an amazing time gardening down here. It will be frustrating, exciting, rewarding and delicious all at the same time.

I hope to meet you in person soon.

All the best,

David The Good

David-the-good-books-revised

Is it too late to plant a garden?

FallGardenBeds2

It’s November 21 and you had a really busy summer… and fall hasn’t been much better… so you’re wondering to yourself, “Dang, did I miss the bus on my fall garden – is it too late to plant a garden???”

The answer is: almost.

Fortunately, it’s not ALL THE WAY too late, provided you live in Florida.

Normally, I urge folks to direct seed their plots, rather than buying transplants. This late in the year, however, there’s no time for that. You need to get on down to a nursery or feed store, bust out your wallet and nab a few transplants. They’re still selling them locally here in North Florida – I know, because I almost missed the bus myself this year. Life has been hectic, I’ve been traveling and writing, I’ve taught some classes… and next thing I knew, my garden wasn’t ready. I hit the store, grabbed some cheap 9-packs, and voila – instant garden.

Forget about plants like tomatoes, bush beans and squash unless you live in a frost-free region of the state. Nothing like that will handle the cold. However, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, kale and cauliflower will. See what’s on sale and nab what you can.

You can also take this window to plant some garlic cloves. Just break a head of garlic apart and plant the pieces. Easy. Other seeds that will still work include peas, mustard and fava beans – though some of these guys may wait until spring to produce anything. That’s okay – just call it an early start. I broadcast a big bed of mustard a few weeks ago and it’s coming up in fluorescent green sprinkles:

On warm days, your cold-hardy crops will grow… and on cold days, they won’t. There’s no telling where the winter will take us – you may get an early harvest or something a little later on. If you plant nothing, however, you’ll get nothing.

So get out and get planting before it really is too late to plant a garden!

David-the-good-books-revised

The power of encouragement

FloridaGardeningCoverWeb

I want to tell you about the power of encouragement in a child’s life.

25 years ago, my parents gave me a book. I still have it.

It was my ninth birthday and I was already a gardening nut. Rather than rolling their eyes at my strange hobby or getting on my case for messing up the weedy little corner of the yard where I’d staked my claim, they encouraged me.

Dad had built me a little 8′ x 8′ raised bed probably a year or two earlier. I’d planted most every seed I could find in Mom’s pantry. I’d left tools out in the yard, shared bitter little radishes with my siblings and bugged everyone I knew who had plants, plying cuttings and seeds from old ladies and asking endless questions.

It wasn’t just my parents that encouraged me. Some time before I’d been given Florida Gardening, I remember visiting my Great Grandpa in upstate New York and seeing his huge garden. We picked beetles off the potato plants (I thought we were just “catching bugs” and was horrified when he dumped them all into a can of kerosene and torched them), ate berries, talked about the dirt and enjoyed the sun. He gave me a little bag of lime for my garden, along with a handful of beet seeds and told me to “keep growing things.”

Another time I remember visiting my Uncle Andy and Aunt Lynn and seeing the big broccoli they were growing behind their house somewhere in Hollywood, Florida. Wow… I’d never seen broccoli growing before. It was amazing.

Unlike a lot of children, I was nurtured in my interests. I have parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins that stayed married, did the right thing, worked hard and invested in the next generation. My garden is just a little part of a family legacy that stretches way back into the past.

This brings me back to the book. Though it was not for my age range and had plenty of technical information in it, I read it from cover to cover. Stan, if you’re out there, thank you for writing this book. It was a big part of my gardening education.

That said, my very favorite part was just inside the front.

Thank you, Mom and Dad. I love you right back.

Spread the power of encouragement to someone else right now.

UPDATE: Since this post went up two years ago, I’ve become a gardening author myself… and a best-seller. Go – give the gift of encouragement!

David-the-good-books-revised

Florida Gardening in August

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How can you go about Florida gardening in August?

Well, first of all.. you just have to remember… it’s hot out.

This is the time of year when most gardens are laid to rest here in Florida – but not ours. The first round of yard-long beans are tapering out and the second round is starting to come in… the figs are ripening intermittently and the watermelons are about ready. We’ve got lots of southern peas about to ripen, plus the mung beans are getting close to being ready. We’re also picking occasional West Indian Gherkins. They don’t seem to have any disease or pest issues, though productivity has been low thus far. The flavor is excellent – like a lemony cucumber.

Most of the beds of greens played out long ago… but we’ve got moringa, sweet potato leaves and Florida Cranberry for salads, plus comfrey and lots of herbs. We’re set on cooked greens, since I’ve got chaya planted all over the front yard food forest. I’ve also got velvet beans and Seminole pumpkins climbing up the trees.

Our beds are mostly filled with beans and sweet potatoes right now, though I’ve also got a nice bed of boniato kicking along next to the sugar cane patch.

And speaking of sugar cane, isn’t that looking good? That’s the same patch I wrote about here. Amongst my tropical plants, we’ve got naranjillas ripening right now; unfortunately, this variety was from an ornamental plant nursery and the fruit are worthlessly seedy.

We’ve also got guavas that are just starting to form.

And don’t let me forget grapes!

 

We also pulled a perfect, rich yellow fruit off one of our pineapple plants a couple days ago.
There’s nothing like homegrown pineapples.
In a few years, we’ll be picking tons of fruit during the summer and fall. We’re not there yet, but we’re also not suffering; there’s plenty to do and plenty to eat, even in the heat.
And, speaking of things to do, it’s time to start prepping for fall’s garden…
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