When Life Gives You Scrubland, Plant an Amazing Permaculture Garden! (Pt. II)


(For part one, click here.)

That’s what a permaculture garden should look like.

Of course, I say that as somebody with terminally rectangular beds in my backyard…

Do as I say, not as I do. Heh.

Beans are growing along the trellises Sam built in his permaculture garden, both traditional pole beans:

And velvet beans:

Another thing you’ll see in this garden is the use of plant “guilds;” for example, here’s a classic apple/comfrey guild:

In the mix as well is some thriving yarrow. Tucked in nearby are a few healthy summer squash vines:

And a psychopathic gnome:

Also nearby are some arrowroot plants, just emerging from their winter slumber:

If you don’t have arrowroot, come see me at the 326 Community Market; or, if you’re further away, you can pick some up online in the winter from Grower Jim.

Look, anyone can grow a garden. When you prep the soil properly and apply water regularly, plants will grow. It may take a while to figure out what is going to thrive, so do like Sam did: plant a bunch of different things and tweak as you go. This garden is just a testing ground for him before he opens up some larger acreage for a food forest.

His permaculture testing ground looks a lot better than most people’s regular gardens.

And, of course, if you’re interested in diving into permaculture gardening in Florida, pick up a copy of my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon for $2.99 in Kindle version or $6.99 for the paperback.

And if your soil is bad and you need to kickstart it without killing yourself or going broke, pick up a copy of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Composting.

Whatever you do, don’t give up… even if you’re in the scrub. Sam’s garden proves the power of permaculture!

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

Tan Cheese Pumpkins for 2014


You may remember this guest post from last year in which rycamor talks about his amazing Tan Cheese pumpkins.

Since they blew my Seminole pumpkins away in terms of productivity last year, I decided to plant my own in the food forest this year:

tan cheese pumpkins growing up

Tan cheese pumpkins!

I planted that pair on top of giant chunks of buried rotten oak (thanks for the idea, Leon) along with fresh hot manure and I’m hoping they’ll grow irrigation-free all summer.

I also planted a bunch of other seeds in various places… some on top of rotten wood, some in just the ground and some with just manure. We’ll see what happens. If rycamor beats me in yields this year I’m going to be gravely disappointed.

C’mon, grow!

If you’re ready to start your OWN food forest, buy my book!

What do we do with sand?


When you’ve got lots of sand… what do you do?


A couple weeks back, rycamor’s dad was cleaning up a bunch of scrub and oak pieces from his yard. Since he’s got my back, rycamor said “Hey, why don’t you ask Dave if he wants that for his yard?”

So he did, and being the completely anti-grass permaculturist that I am, I said “sure! Pile it up!”

Now I have two piles of rotting wood and branches in my yard.

Maybe they’ll get made into hugelkultur beds or something. Or paths through my food forest. Or maybe I’ll just let them rot where they are for a year… or ten. It’s better than sand.

A massive Florida hugelkultur bed in progress


A Florida hugelkultur bed? Can it be?

I was visiting my friend Cathy a couple months ago and had to take pictures of her latest project… a big hugelkultur bed right in the Florida sand. I’m just now getting around to posting them. Check this out:



florida hugelkultur bed

Can you tell what’s going on? She had a fellow with a tractor dig a big old trench in an “L” shape, then pile it up with tree waste. Next thing that will happen is the dirt on the left will be dumped back on top and… HUGELKULTUR!

I’m curious to see how this gardening method works in Florida. As much as I keep fiddling around with varying experiments, I haven’t created a full-on hugelkultur bed yet (though this one is close). I’m usually short on tree debris and time.

Good luck, Cathy… can’t wait to see what happens and how you do with your Florida hugelklutur bed!

NOTE: For a good article on the “hugelkultur” method, check this out.



Check this out – I’m growing a cabbage in a stump:

I shot that picture the day before Rachel made coleslaw from this lovely head of cabbage. It was growing in a few handfuls of dirt stuffed into the middle of a rotten chunk of oak trunk I picked up by the side of the road. I barely had to water it – and the cabbage (which is a small variety) clocked in at a respectable 3lbs.

It’s like a tiny hugelkultur pot, eh?

A mosaic cinder block garden bed


Rachel works on our mosaic cinder block garden bed

When it comes to gardening, my wife likes order and I like chaos. She likes raised beds and neat rows – I like hacking holes in the ground and throwing seeds around. I like mixing everything together – she likes keeping things sequestered.

Our styles are very different but between the two of us, our plots are much more productive than they would be with either of us alone. Her preferences dial me back a bit… and my experimentation stretches her. As I’ve posted on before, I built Rachel some raised square foot beds in the Mel Bartholomew mold. One of the first of those was made from cinder blocks but I never liked the open industrial look or the weeds that came out of the holes in the blocks. Another thing I didn’t like was the amount of water we had to give the plants in it. We went with 6″ of Mel’s Mix over weed cloth. The plants did well but needed quite a bit of water.

That’s all changed now. I found an aesthetically pleasing and water-retentive way to re-invent this bed by melding the wisdom of Sepp Holzer with the neatness and order of Mel Bartholomew. This is similar to my Melon Pits, but contained by lovely Bauhaus-style concrete. Well… at least they WERE Bauhaus before I busted out the tiles and mortar.

Behold! The Hugelfoot Bed Of Mosaic Cinderblock Incredibleness!

mosaic garden bed

A mosaic cinder block garden bed is prettier than a boring cider block bed.

Isn’t that cool? And it’s not just pretty… it’s a super-duper raised bed – now with hugelkultur goodness.

What makes this bed special? Let me show you:
Here’s the foundation. I put solid cap blocks on top of standard hollow cinderblocks. After I leveled everything, it looked nice, clean and solid. I then dug down about 2′ further.

The next step was to drop in some chunks of wood. As they decay, they’ll act like water reservoirs.

After that, it was time to throw in waste paper, junk mail, old paper plates, sticks, moss, corncobs and other carboniferous debris.

Yeah, that needs a stomping!

Ah, that’s better. Now time to water everything in.

Then I put in a heaping load of mostly finished compost.

That completed, I topped it off again with the original 6″ of Mel’s Mix.

And voila! Magnifico!

That looks good enough for most people. But I’ve been itching to do more mosaic work, so the kids and Rachel and I had a mosaic day. I assigned each of the older children a solid cinderblock and let them have at it. The next day, I did a few, then the day after that, Rachel and I did the rest and grouted everything.

Here are a few shots of the mosaic:

As it is, this bed has about 36″ of depth, plus tons of compost and a wood reservoir in the bottom. My hope is that this marriage of hugelkultur and square foot gardening will meld the strengths of both.

Here in Florida it’s tough to keep things watered and happy in the heat of late spring… we shall see how this bed performs.

If it works significantly better than my other beds, I’ll do the same with them (though I’m not sure I’ll have time to mosaic everything!).

For mosaic inspiration, I highly recommend this book:

For Square Foot Gardening, get a copy of this book:

Melon pits!!!


Okay, so I’ve taken to calling my in-ground hugelkultur experiments “melon pits.” That’s because I’m punching these 3′ deep holes into my front yard food forest in the hopes of growing melons in them this summer.

Of course, the holes don’t stay 3′ deep. After the tough work of digging, I fill them with a mix of wood, moss, leaves, waste paper, bones, organic debris I rake from the chicken yard, raw manure, straw, biochar, etc.

Here’s my process: the first thing I did was dig a pit, then throw in some chicken-yard debris or waste paper.

making melon pits
Then, I dumped in sticks, pieces of logs, or, in this case, busted-up pallet wood.

After that, a generous helping of raw manure and urine-soaked straw.

Then, I gave the whole thing a good soaking with the hose.
Followed by a planting with cool-season nitrogen fixers. Lentils, chick peas and fava beans.

melon pit planted with cover crops

I found it quite encouraging that a few weeks after I started on this project, Leon posted the results of his own experiment with burying phone books. I hope that this summer I will in fact grow some melons (and squash!) in the front yard. I’ve had problems getting the more tender plants through the hot and dry months before the summer rains kick in. I’m praying this is the answer. I’ve already put in 4 or 5 of these out front between the young fruit trees. I suppose at the very worst, I’ve simply loosened and spot-fertilized what was previously almost worthless sand.
Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Melon pits work!

For those of you interested in this project, I’ve written a lot more about melon pits in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. It’s only $2.99 as a Kindle edition or $9.99 in paperback – and beyond the melon pit idea, I also share a ton of other easy composting methods for using all the organic matter that comes through your household.

compost everything contains melon pitsFish emulsion, redneck vermicomposting, composting toilets – oh yeah, we’re talking serious composting. Pick up a copy!