Survival Plant Profile: Peaches

lovelypeaches2
Growing peaches in Florida is pretty easy. Georgia gets all the credit when it comes to peaches; however, Florida is now giving them a run for their money thanks to improved low-chill varieties. Props to UF.

Our climate allows for a peach harvest a week or more before the Georgia crop starts, meaning Florida peach growers get a jump on the national market.

For the backyard gardener or homesteader, peaches are a rich spring and early summer treat.

If you’ve never had a peach fresh from the tree, you’ve never tasted a peach.

Life rarely gets any better.

The first time I grew peaches was in Tennessee. There I could grow classic Southern varieties such as Elberta and Belle of Georgia. I had both in my yard and the fruit was wonderful, though when you grow peaches, late freezes have a way of taking your blooms right before the “all-clear” of frost-free spring arrives.

Here in North/Central Florida, I’m growing Tropic Beauty, Flordaking, Flordaprince and a Sunraycer nectarine, not to mention the many seed-grown peaches I’ve planted.

Why would I include a nectarine in my list of peach trees? Well, they’re simply a peach without fuzz, able to cross-pollinate with peaches.

As a survival crop, peaches are somewhat lacking. They only produce at one point of the year, then take up space the rest of the time.

They’re also too sweet to be used as a staple and the only thing on a peach tree you can eat is the fruit itself.

But hey – getting through the Apocalypse will be a lot nicer with honey-sweet peaches, right?

Decapitate a zombie… eat a peach!

Watch the mushroom clouds billow overhead… eat a peach!

Wonder as the global financial system crumbles… eat a peach!

Suddenly we need a soundtrack:


If you aren’t yet growing peaches in Florida, I recommend you plant a few. However, pay attention to your chill hours. Not all cultivars will grow in all parts of the state.

Here – I looked it up for you over at IFAS:

You’re probably not going to have luck getting peaches to fruit south of Lake Okeechobee, but why would you care?

YOU HAVE MANGOS YOU LUCKY SONS OF —

Ahem.

Look up the chill hours for various cultivars, then plant accordingly. I recommend growing a couple different varieties with some chill hour variation. That way if one wakes up early and blooms during a warm snap, then loses its blooms, you can hopefully get fruit from the second tree that wakes up later in the spring. Genetic variation is your friend.

Pruning

Peaches respond very well to pruning. Chop them in half and they’ll snap right back. I like to prune in January before they wake up. Be brutal – you’ll be amazed how they snap back.

Alternately, I’m just letting my seed-grown peaches find their own shape without any pruning at all. If they fail to produce well that way, I’ll start cutting. If you get potted trees from a nursery, you’re stuck with pruning since they’re already been grafted and shaped. Quit pruning and you’re likely to get few fruit, not to mention breaking branches and a terrible shape to the tree.

This brings up another point: modern peaches WAY overproduce fruit. You need to thin, thin, thin the little fruit in the spring when they’re about the zie of marbles. Thin them to at least 4″ apart from each other, otherwise you’ll get tons of tiny peaches crammed close together. Trust me – the peaches are much better when thinned, plus the branches are less likely to break from the stress of carrying hundreds of fruit. Tiny peaches are also a pain to process.

Pests

As for pests, the worst ones are the plum curculio and the peach borer. The curculio tunnels into the growing fruit… the peach borer tunnels right into the tree. My feeling from a permaculture perspective is that both problems can be minimized through occasionally running chickens beneath your trees, as well as mixing them into a full ecosystem, rather than growing them in a monoculture.

Other than insects, you have to fight the squirrels for peaches. They’ll chew a hole here and there and knock fruit off the tree like the destructive rats they are.

Shoot and eat the squirrels. If they’re been eating peaches, they come pre-stuffed.

Nematodes are also really bad for peaches. Load up the root zones with compost and mulch. Also throw on mustard greens, grow marigolds around them, etc. Or spit lots of tobacco juice there. Anything to knock the nasties back.

Whatever you do, don’t grow peaches that are surrounded by a ring of hot, dry sound since that’s nematode heaven.

Growing Peaches From Seed

Now you know I like doing this. It’s not recommended with peaches and nectarines because of the afore-mentioned nematodes, but they grow so danged fast and well I think it’s an acceptable risk. Normally, peaches are grafted onto nematode-resistant root stocks, but your seedling peaches won’t have that advantage, so take care of them.

On the upside, they grow WAY FASTER than potted, grafted trees.

From sprouting a pit to getting this fruit took 2 years. That’s a FAST fruit tree.

My young seedling trees are taller than all the potted trees I planted a couple of years ago… and healthier, at least for now. Time will tell, but I’ve already gotten enough free peaches to make the experiment worthwhile.

If you want details on how to grow peaches from a pit, click here. I’m working on germinating about 200 right now. Yep. 200. Go big or go home.

Overall, peaches are a very worthwhile addition to the survival garden. When you get a big crop, can it, dry it, freeze it or turn it into something flammable, then you can enjoy peaches all year long.

And enjoy them you will.



SPUDOMETER RATING: 

3 Spuds!

Name: Peach
Latin Name: Prunus persica

Type: Tree

Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Grafting, cuttings, seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Fresh, dried, canned, jams, jellies, moonshine, cobbler
Storability: Moderate
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Turnips

Turnips2

Turnips aren’t tantalizing. They’re downright pedestrian and often overlooked. I’ve grown them off and on for years, just because I like the way they grow. They used to be a complete mystery to me… and not at all something I enjoyed. Now I’m starting to like them, however. A few nights ago, Rachel sauteed some sliced turnips and pork loin – delicious. Peeling helps take away the bitterness, as does growing them quickly with good moisture.

Reasons to grow turnips are multiple. Being yet another brassica (is it just me or is this like… “Brassica
Month” here at Florida Survival Gardening?), they’re quite good for you.
They’re also very easy to grow. They can be used to fatten hogs, they grow in the winter, they keep the ground covered, and they look pretty. Additionally, they store well, can be harvested over a decent amount of season, and the greens are a good vegetable all on their own. Speaking of that: some turnip varieties are grown solely for their leaves. If you’d like roots, too, make sure you didn’t buy that type of seed. The roots of the “leaf” varieties of turnips are woody and worthless.

On the down side, turnips are a bit bitter and they won’t be happy in the heat of summer. Don’t let that worry, you however – we’ve got tons of exciting summer crops we can grow here. Like cassava and snake beans! (There are plenty more I’m trying as well, including an edible variety of air potato… chaya… mountain papaya… chayote… West Indian Gherkins… anyhow, enough about that. Those are future posts. Back to turnips!)

I plant my turnips in the late fall via broadcasting them over disturbed soil. I then rake and water them in. If you’re planting a small space, just plant the seeds at a nice spacing. I prefer chucking them, of course, but you may have other, more neurotic, preferences. They come up in a week or so and grow rapidly. I tend to be able to pull my first turnips in perhaps two months or so. The harvest doesn’t usually happen all at once. I usually get a few early monsters, followed by a stream of turnips hitting harvest size for weeks and weeks after that.

Go ahead. Plant some turnips. And if you don’t like them, feed them to your animals. Or saute them in garlic butter. That fixes everything.

(BTW, turnips get extra points for being a high-calorie winter staple. Even if they aren’t the most delicious thing in the world – they could keep you full during a crash.)

SPUDOMETER RATING:


3.5 Spuds

Name: Turnips
Latin Name: Brassica rapa
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves, roots
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Fair
Method of preparation: Boiled, roasted, steamed, stir-fried, pickled
Storability: Good. Leaves can be frozen, roots stored
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: High

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Mustard

Mustard1

Growing mustard in Florida is easy and very satisfying.

Mustard greens are my new favorite potherb. This plant is easy to grow and is remarkably healthy for you, even containing anti-cancer compounds. Though it’s not as cold-hardy as kale or collards, mustard will stand quite a bit of frost before dying. Mine have survived the mid-20s without damage. In fact, if you want success, you cannot plant these during the warm part of the year. If you do, the plants will rapidly bolt and peter out. As temperatures rise, they get all crazy and overwhelmed with the desire to make babies. Here in North Florida, I put my mustard in around November, then harvest leaves through the winter. Boiled, mustard has a texture and flavor we prefer to its cousin collards. Stir-fried, it has a spicy bitterness the kids don’t really like – and I agree with the kids.

From seed, mustard germinates quickly and you can start harvesting leaves in about a month. Depending on the variety, you can get purple leaves… curly leaves… or even huge leaves. I cut off leaves as I want them and the plant continually produces new ones. I can barely keep up with the 24 or so plants I have going right now.

growing mustard in Florida

Growing mustard in Florida is easy as pie… er… greens

Another benefit of mustard: mustard can kill nematodes when used as a green manure. I plant on hacking some of my mustard viciously into the soil as soon as it starts bolting in the spring, then planting something else in the bed. DIE NEMATODES! DIE!

growing mustard greens

Growing mustard greens for the table alongside cayenne pepper.

Of course, if you let the plant go to seed, you can make your own delicious mustard from the resulting seeds. I might save some to try that as well… because in the econopocalypse, we might really start missing condiments. Especially as we’re forced to eat rats and gnaw on old boots for sustenance.

If you haven’t done it before, set aside some space for mustard this year… it’s well-worth growing.

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

 

3 Spuds!

Name: Mustard
Latin Name: Brassica juncea
Type: Cool-season annual
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves, seed
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Leaves steamed or boiled, leaves raw in salads, seeds for condiment.
Storability: Decent. Blanch and freeze.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Excellent
Recognizability: Low
Availability: High

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Broccoli

MoreBroccoli

Growing broccoli in Florida is easier than a new gardener might imagine.

I used to think there was some magic to growing broccoli. It was a strange and beautiful plant I didn’t feel comfortable trying.

I don’t know why, but somehow beans, cucumbers, beans, radishes and more beans were less scary to me than broccoli.

Anything but broccoli!

That all changed this last year. After reading Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, my wife Rachel decided she wanted to try growing broccoli and I figured I’d let her try and see what happened. What happened was amazing – we had lots of delicious broccoli. Perfect heads. Lush greens. Amazing flavor. And since then, we’ve grown plenty more, starting from seeds in the spring and fall. It’s crazy – the plants do wonderfully here in Florida! So what was the trick?

Letting my wife do it!

In reality, I believe we have great luck with broccoli because we keep it well-watered, well-fertilized and also mixed in with other crops like peas, carrots and beets, making it less attractive to pests. I’m also a firm believer in foliar feeding. I’ve seen sad-looking plants turn into green giants. The garden beds are filled with lush, deep green growth thanks to our special method of regular fertilization. Don’t tell anyone, mmmkay?

Though they’re usually grown for their cluster of flower buds, Broccoli leaves are also edible in salads (you might want to remove the tough mid-ribs first) or as a cooked green. The flavor is very similar to that of collards – which makes sense, since collards are its less blue-blood relative. (It’s often the case that a garden plant with one edible part also has other portions that can be eaten. Take sweet potatoes or Florida cranberry, for example. Those extra uses are just icing. Or salads, as the case may be. Which are generally better for you than icing.)

growing broccoli in florida in winter

Frost doesn’t faze broccoli. It always comes out a head.

As a survival crop, broccoli isn’t the easiest or most productive thing to grow. It likes decent soil and good care. It’s also rather recognizable (though I imagine thieves would rather be eating hot pockets or sugar-basted possum – not broccoli) as food.

On the up side, broccoli is delicious, healthy and grows through the winter without being troubled by frost. It’s also very healthy for you.

A few months ago we planted plenty of broccoli from seed and we’ve just started harvesting the heads. Since we over-planted beyond our immediate desire for broccoli, we’re going to be freezing plenty this spring as they all come into production. And that reminds me – when you harvest broccoli, just cut the first big head off before it gets close to blooming. Then keep checking on the plant… it’s going to grow multiple side shoots that will make many smaller heads as they grow. Keep cutting! Once that baby goes to seed, you’re done. The harvest season can be long with broccoli. If you plant it in fall, you’re likely to still be getting new shoots for months… maybe even into early summer.

In my experience, it does best right from seed, rather than as a transplant. Of course – most plants do. Forget the expensive transplants – buy a pack of seeds and scatter away, then thin ’em out and eat the thinnings. (I like to crouch over the beds, clawing up young plants and growling like an ogre as I consume their tender flesh… but that method is obviously not mandatory.)

If you’ve got a space for luxury foods, put in broccoli. At the very least, it make keep some members of the Bush family out of your garden.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

3.5 Spuds!

Name: Broccoli
Latin Name: Brassica oleracea
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Flower heads, Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Raw, boiled, steamed
Storability: Leaves and heads can be blanched and frozen
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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

Survival Plant Profile: Moringa

sprouting moringa seeds

Growing moringa is easy and worthwhile

Moringa has been called the “Miracle Tree,” and for good reason.

It has an incredible assortment of attributes in its favor. From cleaning water to fending off malnutrition, it’s a tree of many uses. Fast-growing, easy to grow and containing complete proteins in its leaves, the Moringa is a must-have for Florida survival gardeners. If you’re stuck living off rice and MREs, you’re going to want more nutrition – and that’s where this tree shines. The leaves are absolutely loaded with nutrients, brought up from deep down by the tree’s questing roots. The tree has been named the “most nutritious on earth.” It’s also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, as well as being a really fast producer of biomass. Its pods are often called “drumsticks” and feature prominently in some regions of South Asia, however, it’s hard to get them to set pods in regions with frost.

From seed, the Moringa will easily hit 10′ during its first year of growth. In the tropics the tree apparently reaches 60′, though the wood is very weak. My 2-year-old moringa trees blew through 20′ tall this year and the growing season isn’t done yet.

Growing moringa in my garden – this is a young seedling

But tall trees aren’t really what you want. You want trees that are easy to harvest. To get that, simply cut the trunks at about 4′ and let them shoot up lots of tender new growth. The compound leaf stems are easy to break off so the tiny leaflets can be dropped into soups, sprinkled into salads or dried/frozen for future use. After learning of its incredible nutrient profile, I’ve started putting the leaves into everything from smoothies to scrambled eggs. Bonus: they taste good.

The trouble with this tree, however, is that it’s a tropical all the way. It quits growing when the weather gets cool – and freezes to the ground during a frost. That means those of us in the central to northern part of the state won’t get 60′ trees that collapse onto our roofs during thunderstorms. Fortunately, the Moringa is hard to kill and in spring will generally come back from its roots.

Growing Moringa Where it Freezes

 

Spring: Plant moringa seeds (or stick cuttings) in desired locations.
Summer: Watch them shoot to the moon and harvest leaves as desired.
Fall: Cut back the trees to 3-4′ and harvest lots of new growth to dry for storage.
Winter: Put a 2′ diameter ring of chicken wire around the base of the tree and fill with straw to protect against frost. Cut off all top growth and save leaves, then cover cut trunk. Wait until after all danger of frost the next year and then remove ring and straw. BOOM! The Moringa flies back into action as soon as days warm and you’re harvesting fresh leaves again.

(Click here for more on moringas and frost protection!)

The trees I protected from frost came back with significantly more vigor than those I simply let freeze to the ground.
I’ve read that you can dig the roots and grate them to make a horseradish substitute – but I’ve also read that the roots are somewhat toxic. If you try it, let me know if it works out or if you suddenly die. I have yet to see any pods develop here in North Florida, though one of my protected trees has flowered. The blooms dropped, sadly, but perhaps next year we’ll see some pods produced.
More fascinating info about the plant here.

growing moringa

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

4 1/2 Spuds

Name: Moringa Tree, Miracle Tree, Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree
Latin Name: Moringa Oleifera
Type: Tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No (updated 10/31)
Medicinal: Yes
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Leaves, pods, roots
Propagation: Seed, cuttings
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, dried, sauteed. Leaves and pods.
Storability: Leaves can be dried/frozen, pods could likely be pickled
Ease of growing: Easy to hard, depending on growing zone
Nutrition: Unbeatable
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Loquats

AllenAndLoquatsweb
Loquats – also known as Japanese plums – are one of the easiest fruit trees you can grow, hands down.
growing loquats easy

Don’t mess with loquats or Allen’ll kick yer patootie.

In my book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, I rank loquats as “totally stupid easy” to grow.

But let me back up and tell you a story. I took a botanical tour a few weeks ago with my friend Allen.

He’s a wealth of information on everything from Native American culture to welding to beekeeping to “what’s wrong with my car.” Every once in a while we’ll jump in the car and he’ll take me to see bees, friends’ greenhouses, interesting houses he’s discovered or outstanding tree specimens. This trip, we stopped to see an amazing mounded loquat tree, allowed to run all the way to the ground for ease of harvesting. Many times landscapers limb up loquats, training them to lofty (and hard-to-harvest) heights, but in this case, foresight was shown on behalf of its fruiting potential – which is obviously incredible. When we visited, the tree was in full bloom. My guess would be that the yield on this tree could easily reach 150-250 lbs a year, frosts permitting.

Growing loquats is easy – look at all these blooms!

Though it’s not native to Florida, the loquat grows excellently throughout the state, often naturalizing itself in the midst of oak forests and by the roadsides. Allen related that as a kid, he planted half the loquat trees in Ocala, either directly or indirectly.

(FYI: the “spitting pits off a bike” propagation method definitely works well… try it. Come on, do it.)

The fruit is fuzzy, sweet-tart and contains a couple of large smooth pits inside. Because it has a short season and soft fruit, the loquat is almost never seen for sale except in cans at the Oriental market. Which makes sense, because the Orient is the original home of the loquat.

“Loquats and Mountain Bird,” Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)

As for growing these babies, you can find them all over the place. From seed it’ll take a while for you to get a fruiting tree, but many landscape stores sell larger trees at affordable prices. Interestingly, they’re not usually sold as fruit trees. Instead, they’re used primarily as easy-care landscape specimens. Typical American thinking. Unfortunately, this also means that the large-fruited cultivars from Japan and China are almost impossible to find. The tree simply isn’t well-enough known as a fruit tree for the market to support much experimentation. Fear not, however, for even the landscape specimens make an abundance of tasty fruit. The trees are tough, basically disease-free (watch out for fire blight) and tolerate some shade. And apparently, monkeys like them.

“Monkey Holding a Potted Loquat”

One caveat: in the northern half of Florida, the loquat’s propensity to early blooming means you’ll lose some year’s crops to freezes. The tree itself is very cold-hardy, surviving all the way into zone 7… but the blooms are not.

Another note: when you do end up with fruit, check it regularly for ripeness. When they start to get a little soft, harvest like mad. You seriously only get a few days to pick the tree before they start falling, rotting and bruising. My recommendation is to dry and freeze as many as possible (once pitted, of course) or juice and ferment them as fast as you can. Time is of the essence.

Go out and get a few easy-to-grow loquat trees of your own – they’re certainly worth having. If you want a low-care fruit tree, this is it.

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

3 1/2 Spuds

Name: Loquat tree, Japanese plum
Latin Name: Eriobotrya japonica
Type: Tree or large shrub
Size: 10-40′
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Potentially
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, jellied.
Storability: Poor fresh. Preserve by drying, canning, fermenting into wine
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: High

David-the-good-books-revised

Survival Plant Profile: Sweet Potatoes

SweetPotatoStarts

What makes the sweet potato easy to grow is its incredible vitality and resilience. Those vines ramble and root like nobody’s business!

Sweet potatoes are just about my top survival crop.

It is widely grown as an annual across the south – yet it’s a perennial in Florida and the tropics.

A relative of the morning glory, the sweet potato is highly nutritious, calorie-filled, packs less of a glycemic hit than grains, cassava or potatoes and stores excellently. However, it doesn’t like frost, so you’re not going to get any growth during the winter. And don’t plant them too early the first year – it’s better to wait until there’s absolutely no chance of freezing your tender young starts.

Speaking of “tender young starts,” anyone ever stuck a few toothpicks into a sweet potato from the store, stuck it in a glass, then watched the buds turn into vines? If not, grab a potato and try it. The new vines that form can be broken off and planted in the ground once they get to be a few inches long. The potato will continue producing new ones for months. These little vines are called “slips.”

You can also bury sweet potatoes on their sides in a pot or flat of soil and use the vines as they emerge.

Make sure to keep them watered as they get established. Once they’re established, they’ll grow like weeds.

I know people will tell you all kinds of things about harvest times, etc., but I usually pull sweet potatoes in November… or when I get tired of their vines covering everything. I follow the vines and pull up all I can. Invariably I’ve left some in the ground that return the next year, and that’s fine. Get them before frost, if you can help it.

sweet potato easy to grow

The sweet potato – easy to grow and productive!

One thing to remember is that sweet potatoes are pretty bland until you let them sit and age for a while. When you dig the potatoes, let them sit out for a little while to dry, then put them in a basket, dirty or not. After a few weeks’ storage they’ll sweeten up. They keep for a long time under cool dry conditions, too.

Months and months.

I’ve stored sweet potatoes for six months and still had decent roots to eat, despite what you read about short storage times.

Another benefit to the sweet potato: its leaves are edible raw or cooked. We eat sweet potato leaves in our salads all summer and fall. They don’t have a lot of flavor, but they’re a great salad stuffer and have a pleasant crunchy texture, provided you don’t pick when they’ve been wilted by the sun.

This plant is excellent all around – just don’t eat the roots raw. They won’t kill you, but they do have some anti-nutrients that are removed during cooking. FYI.

sweet potato easy to grow big pileThe picture at the top of the little sweet potatoes in water was taken in my greenhouse this spring.

I bought an organic “sweet potato assortment” in shrink-wrap at Publix.

It was a total gimmicky thing with a few small different-colored roots in a row, selling for the ridiculous price of $2 and change, ready-to-microwave! I thought “heck with that – I can grab about 5 cultivars of sweet potato in one fell swoop and PLANT THEM!”

So I did, and had some very interesting varieties growing in the garden this year. The picture to the above right was most of this year’s harvest.

God is good! (And sweet potatoes aren’t half bad either.)

February 2017 Update:

Check out my video on digging and planting a bed of sweet potatoes:

That’s how easy it is!

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

 

5 Spuds!

Name: Sweet potato
Latin Name: Ipomoea batatas 
Type: Vining perennial
Size: Vines easily crawl 15-25′
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun/part shade. Lots of sun is the best.
Part Used: Roots, leaves
Propagation: Slips, cuttings, roots
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Roots cooked, leaves raw or cooked
Storability: Excellent
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Excellent
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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Survival Crop: Collards

CollardsWeb
If you’re in the south and you’re not growing collards… what’s wrong with you?
Collards are an under-appreciated staple of the Deep South. When it’s collard season, it’s really collard season down here. Piles of them overflow from the back of pickup trucks by the side of the road – and if you’re a survival gardener, that’s just what you want. Overabundance.
growing collards

Growing collards alongside a patch of cardboard that’s killing the weeds in a new gardening plot.

The thing that really makes collards key down here is their season. Most other crops get toasted by frost… but not these guys. You can stuff your freezer with these without much trouble. I put away at least forty pounds last year. We STILL have collards in the freezer. We even dried some to add to soups and omelets. Out of the brassica family, collards are right up there with radishes on the “ease of growing” scale. They’re tough, take the cold, grow and grow and grow, and rarely if ever will fail to give you a harvest.

Observe the image above and see how patchy the grass appears… and how lush the collard greens are growing. Unstoppable.

You should be growing collards just for the Vitamin A! Look at those numbers!

On the nutrition front, collards are also impressive. Check out these stats (images from NutritionData.com):

Low on vitamin K? Look no further.

Collards to the rescue!

Other bonuses to collards: young leaves are excellent in salads. Cooked and cut in strips, they can fill in for pasta in low-carb diets. (My wife makes a killer “collard lasagna.”) They can also be used to threaten children, as in “Clean your room or so help me I’m gonna serve collards again tonight!”

To plant the easy way, prepare a bare patch of ground, then scatter seeds, rake them around, and water for a week. Baby plants will come up everywhere. Thin as needed to give them space for growth and eat the thinnings. Harvest leaves as needed – the plants will take a lot of cutting.

And seriously – if you’re not growing these yet, set aside a patch. Spring or fall: collards are a must-have.

SPUDOMETER RATING

 

3.5 Spuds

Name: Collards
Latin Name: Brassica oleracea
Type: Biennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Raw, boiled, steamed, dried.
Storability: Leaves can be dried/frozen
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Very good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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