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

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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!

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: The wrap-up

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Over the past few days I’ve been sharing pictures of the progress in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.

For all updates, visit The Great South Florida Food Forest Project page.

Today we’ll wrap up with a few more bits and pieces, plus take a look at the two new trees we added to the mix to replace the few that have died.

First of all, take a look at the fungi:

Thanks to the many logs we dropped on the ground back there and used to line the paths, there are mushrooms and fungi everywhere. There are also worms, which is not all that common in hot, dry, South Florida sand. We gave them moisture and lots of organic matter… and they wriggled their way right into the ecosystem.

Dad also stuck in a frangipani just for fun. These are some of the loveliest flowers you’ll ever smell:

Too bad they’re not edible.

Another wonderfully scented flower is the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) we planted as a “chop n’ drop” soil builder.

It has grown into quite a big bush. Dad will be cutting and planting the stems here and there so we have more for mulch in the future.

In other news, the Key Lime is still kicking:

It’s just a little tree but it keeps making limes. It never looks all that hot for some reason but the fruit is good. I keep worrying that it will succumb to citrus greening like the Navel orange and break Mom’s heart… but it’s a good little tree and hasn’t developed any issues yet.

And, finally – here are the two new trees we added.

First of all, a cashew!

Cashews are really weird trees. The wood is poisonous and the raw “nuts” are surrounded by a toxic acid that causes severe burns.

On the other hand, their fruit – the “cashew apple” – is edible without preparation.

I had to have one. Grow, little tree!

The second new addition is a “June Plum” tree:

I know next to nothing about this tree and have never tasted the fruit. Hope it’s good.

That’s the way we roll, though. If it’s a plant, I’ll grow it. Or talk my parents into growing it. 😉

In June I’ll be visiting the food forest again and will try to bring back a new video tour like the one I did back in October of 2013.

I’ll tell you what: a food forest is a LOT more fun than having a lawn.

If you’re ready to start your own Florida food forest, I recommend you pick up a copy of my booklet Create Your Own Florida Food Forest and get started!

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Yet more to see!

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A beautifully messy South Florida food forest.

One of the interesting things about creating a food forest and then not visiting it for over a year is that you get to see it progress or devolve in jumps.

Yesterday I mentioned that some of the trees and plants we added are now deceased – and we also saw many of the interesting “weeds” that have popped up to fill in the herbaceous layer.

That’s the way a forest works. If you don’t fill in all the gaps in your food forest, something else will. As you can see in the image above, there’s a lot going on in the understory layers – most of which is not edible. My chaya is looking good though the cassava is not happy… and they’re surrounded by some weird neighbors. Ferns, Spanish needle, green and purple wandering Jew, Mother-in-law tongues, Surinam daisies… it’s quite a pretty mess. You could probably start an ornamental nursery with the cuttings from this patch of un-mown jungle.

To the left of the main food forest is the perennial salad garden I created a couple of years ago. The survivors there include a thriving katuk, a spindly monk’s cap/Turk’s cap hibiscus and the longevity spinach.

Up above, the coconut palm is bearing more nuts than it ever has:

I planted that tree when I was 15. A couple of years ago Dad and I weeded out the asparagus fern from around its base and planted that salad garden. It really likes being without the competition of those root-strangling asparagus ferns.

As does the Natal plum out front:

There were multiple fruit on this bush when I showed up. It used to look really sad until we took out the asparagus fern and gave it a new lease on life. Now it’s covered with blooms and fruiting regularly. I’m hoping to grow some of these up here in North Florida. Though it’s a stretch, I have seen one growing without frost protection in Citra. Definitely worth trying.

Another happy tree is the mango Mom planted out back 4-5 years ago.

The piles of mulch and lack of grass competition have made this mango a stellar producer. It’s easily 14′ tall right now and loaded – absolutely loaded – with fruit.

If I had to guess right now, I’d say that this South Florida food forest project is already yielding about 300-400lbs of food every year, mostly thanks to the starfruit, the mangoes and the acerola cherry. One the chocolate pudding fruit, avocado, tamarind, canistel and other trees kick in… it’ll get ridiculous.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the other trees we added last week.

(To see all the posts on The Great South Florida Food forest Project, go here!)

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Failures and Problems

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Yesterday I took a look at some of the successes we’ve had in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project… today we’ll look at some of the failures and problems.

One thing about Florida sand, particularly down south: it eats organic matter and drinks water like there’s no tomorrow.

That means that without regular applications of new mulch, along with regular irrigation, some plants will struggle or die.

This food forest is low on nitrogen fixers and chop-and-drop plants (you’ll find a lot more info on species and ways to ensure your food forest survives in my Create Your Own Florida Food Forest book). Since I don’t live on site, I can’t stay on top of the maintenance required to make everything really happy. I’ve planted pigeon peas before, only to find out later that none of them germinated. I’ve also planted a few nitrogen fixers and had them disappear into the weeds. Many of the smaller perennial vegetables also kicked the bucket over the last year.

Here’s a list of the plants I added that are now deceased:


RIP:


Cinnamon
Edible-leafed hibiscus (2)
Naranjilla
Okinawa spinach
Saltbush
Sea purslane
Strawberry guava (2) 

 

Other plants, like the Jabuticaba, the fig, the canistel, the papayas and the Monstera are hanging on but not thriving.

Even the 6th Street mulberry, though it isn’t tiny, isn’t as big as I would have expected after two years growth.

It’s setting a few fruit at least:

Unfortunately, it’s not even as tall as me. Yes, it started as a 12″ tree… but usually mulberries grow about 6′ a year. Maybe this year will send it skywards.

My parents (who own this food forest) asked me what I would recommend for keeping things happy and growing.

My answer:

1. Add lots more mulch.
2. Add more water during dry patches.
3. Add more nitrogen and fertility.

Dad put a bunch of rabbit manure around the bases of all the trees this week after I left and watered them all really well. Many of the plants and trees look a bit yellow and stressed. The original layers of organic matter we laid down have mostly disappeared into the ground and been covered by a mess of weeds. There are also problems with Sri Lanka weevils chewing up lots of the leaves. We’re going to have to figure out how to control those or get the trees to outpace them.

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A ripe acerola cherry

Many of the trees and plants are also draped in strands of silk, though I didn’t see any spiders, mites or caterpillars. Who knows?

Another problem in this food forest is the lack of good understory plants. There are no sweet potatoes or other edible groundcover so the weeds have taken over, along with a weird variety of ornamental landscape plants that wandered in along with some of of loads of yard debris from the neighbors.

Check these interlopers out.

First up, wandering Jew:

And some bell-flowered weeds I can’t identify, plus a caladium:

A spiral ginger:

Rosary peas (more on those here):

And ferns are everywhere:

 

It’s interesting to see what pops up when you don’t mow.

I think the manure and extra water will get things going again – but I definitely need to start planning in more nitrogen-fixers and edible groundcovers along with a more robust vine layer. The African yams I planted seem to have mostly disappeared this year.

Tomorrow I’ll have more pictures and updates.

 

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Successes!

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pathway through a south florida food forest

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t been able to visit The Great South Florida Food Forest Project for over a year.

My last pictures were taken way back in February of 2014 and posted here.

I was finally able to visit last week and see how the ecosystem is evolving. Rachel took a bunch of pictures which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few days.

There have been some exciting developments and some disappointing failures.

One notable success is the acerola cherry tree my dad and I planted back in March of 2013.

Here’s what it looked like then (it’s the little tree beneath the red shutter in the middle of the frame):

Here’s what it looks like now:

Unlike a true cherry, the acerola cherry produces prodigious quantities of delicious sweet/tart fruit year-round.

Another great success is the tropical almond tree.

Here it is back in July of 2013:

And here it is now:

Less than 2 years – from seed! Pretty amazing.

Another success story is the tamarind tree we planted near the driveway.

Here’s what it looked like back in July 2013:

And here it is now:

Look at the caliper on the trunk:

Beautiful trees and delicious.

Another success is the chocolate pudding fruit tree. Though it’s not gotten a lot bigger, it’s filled out… and it’s blooming!

Chocolate pudding fruit, also known as black sapote, are incredibly delicious members of the persimmon family.

Here’s what the fruit looks like:

Amazing. Hopefully we’ll have some soon.

A final great success is the starfruit tree.

Here it is in a shot from March 2013:

It’s the tree on the bottom left – just about 4′ tall back then.

Here it is now:

starfruit growing in a south florida food forest

It’s about 12′ tall and has been bearing BUCKETLOADS of fruit twice a year.

Very encouraging.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of the failures in the south Florida food forest project – stay tuned!

 

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

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“I Can’t Plant A Food Forest… Where Would The Kids Play?” DEBUNKED!

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“I can’t plant a food forest! I have kids! They need a lawn to play in!”

Have you ever had that thought? Though it seems like a strange excuse
to some of us mad plant scientists, I’ve heard it multiple times.

There’s this idea that the lawn is sacred and that it’s just The
Place for kids to play. But what if you live in the forest? Would kids
not be able to play?

I think Christopher Robin would disagree with that conjecture.

Sure, a lawn is good for “kill the man with the ball,” soccer, slip
n’ slides and wrestling… but the forest has its own appeal. Secret
hideouts, climbing trees, hide and seek, tree forts; heck, even
paintball is better in the woods.

Just because you have forest instead of lawn, it certainly doesn’t
mean your kids will have no place to play. In fact, they’ll probably
have more fun playing than they would in a bare yard. Let’s take a look
at a few of the amazing perks of involving children in your food forest
project.

Benefit #1: It’s Fun To Play In The Woods

A few years ago when I began The Great South Florida Food Forest Project
in my amazing parents’ backyard, my mom, always thinking of children
and grandchildren, told me she didn’t want to take up so much yard that
there wasn’t a play area.

Unfortunately for mom, I have a rebellious streak and my dad is also a
free thinker… so piece by piece, we filled up a lot of the former play
area with plants. Cassavas, an avocado, naranjillas, cannas, a mulberry
tree… the list kept growing as the “lawn” shrank.

Last fall I made some proper paths through the rapidly growing forest area:

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A week or so after I installed them and went home, my mom called me.
“I was watching the _____ kids for their
mom the other day… they really love those paths! They were running and
skipping through the food forest and bumping into eachother… hiding back
there and having a good old time. Abi (my niece) loves them too!”
When you build a food forest, you’re
building a managed forest ecosystem. No big bad wolves or witches with
gingerbread houses – which is good, because gingerbread can’t compare to
fresh fruit and nuts. 
Just ask your local dietician.

Benefit #2: Your Kids Get To Pick and Eat Real Food

You might not be able to get your baby to
eat healthy and delicious limburger cheese (I’ve tried… the baby just
won’t. I think he thinks it’s some kind of carrion), but I haven’t met
many kids that hate fruit. In my yard I’ve got a great variety of edible
berries and fruit, many of which I planted with children in mind. 
Jamaican cherries, blueberries, mulberries, strawberries, figs, kumquats, Simpson stoppers, beauty berries… the list just keeps going. (BTW, the baby REALLY loves Simpson stoppers: proof.)
As a kid we had a grapefruit tree in the
backyard. We ate them, threw fruit at the neighbor girl, built a tree
fort in the grapefruit’s branches and generally adored that old tree.
Another much-beloved tree in my wife’s old neighborhood was a
wonderfully productive mulberry. We stained ourselves purple and ate…
and ate… and ate… (CLICK TO KEEP READING)
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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: New Photos

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The South Florida food forest keeps kicking!

I’ve been meaning to post these pictures for a couple of weeks now. They were taken in mid-February and I’m sure everything looks even better now… but here goes.

First of all, this is the salad bed I posted on a few months ago:

As you can tell, it filled in nicely. In the foreground is a band of kale… and in the back are all perennial greens.

Next, here’s a shot of the food forest from the front:

There’s a lot going on in there and the native wildflowers have taken a liking to the undergrowth. Bees, wasps, butterflies, birds and reptiles have moved in rapidly and are enjoying the slice of paradise.

Here’s one of the other paths – notice the mango blooms to the right:

Moringa and papaya are silhouetted against a rainy sky:

The acerola cherry is looking bushy and healthy:

Again, here’s a view from another angle of the back food forest – how many species can you spot?

Papaya trees hug the wall:

Mangoes prepare to delight:

The tropical almond – which started as a seedling with two leaves – has grown by leaps and bounds:

a tropical almond growing in a south florida food forest

Malanga and naranjilla exist in harmony:

Tomatoes climb the fence next to a baby Monstera.

More diversity than any other yard on the block:

The chocolate pudding fruit is even putting on some new growth. The tree was root-bound and chlorotic when we bought it… it’s a lot better now:

Altogether, this has been a most worthwhile project. Production is minimal at this point… but the bounty is on its way.

Plus, it’s a lot prettier than a regular, boring patch of grass.

For more on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, go here!
And to create your own Florida forest forest, get this book!
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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: Pt. I

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You may have seen the older video on the South Florida food forest project I’ve been working on for the last couple of years.

Though I make it sound like it’s this incredible, unattainably awesome Work Of Science, it started as a few tropical plants in the back yard of my parents’ home in Ft. Lauderdale.

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The beginnings of a South Florida food forest

Long ago, when I first became interested in gardening, my Dad gave me a little 8′ x 8′ patch of dirt to work with in the backyard. There I planted a variety of things over the years, going from radishes to cacti, to giant invasive pagoda flower bushes to rambling cucumber vines. Then I moved out, bought my own house and gardened across other yards…

…until I got obsessed with the food forest concept a few years ago (and also started helping Mom with her garden). I asked if I could perhaps start a tropical island of plants. Dad, being a forward thinker, basically told me I could take what I wanted of the yard, provided I told him what could be mowed, and what couldn’t.

Years ago, I planted a coconut back there which is now a lovely palm – and Mom had already planted a mango and a Navel orange tree about 3 years ago (the latter succumbed to the greening virus at a tender age)… so I decided to add a few more trees and some cassava to the mix.

Over successive visits, I added a starfruit, a fig (now deceased), some bananas, a couple moringa seedlings, a lemon, a giant Thai variety of avocado, and a Key limequat. Then I put in a few support species like Tithonia diversifolia, coral beans, black bamboo, malanga, Senna alata and other bits and pieces. Dad and I piled compost, yard waste, tree limbs, leaves and whatever organic matter we could find around the plants, putting it on top of cardboard to smother the weeds and grass and give the edibles a good head start.

When I visited a few weeks ago, most of the first round of plants were looking great. Dad was game to add some more, so we hit Spyke’s Grove Nursery in Davie… a classic place to find exotic plants in Southeast FL.

Check this out:


Anyhow – that’s enough of that. I’m getting the fever again. There isn’t a nursery big enough in the world to satisfy my desire for plants; though my wallet is another story altogether…

Where was I? Ah yes – hunting for tropical fruit trees with Dad.

We went to Spyke’s and I had a few things in mind. I’ve been obsessed with Jaboticaba trees for over a year, so we hunted down two of those (one for Dad’s yard, and the other for my greenhouse). We also nabbed a grumichama tree, an acerola cherry, a cinnamon tree and a strawberry tree (that one’s for my yard).

On this trip, I had also brought down with me a “6th Street” Mulberry and a cattley guava from the Edible Plant Project in Gainesville, along with another cassava variety to try out.

Next post… I tell you what we did with them and share a few more pictures.

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A just-planted grumichama tree. Wish I could grow these where I live…

See all the updates on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project HERE!

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