Survival Plant Profile: Corn

I like corn because it’s pretty.

Obviously, since I’ve noticed that, it makes me completely superficial.

Other grains don’t do it for me. They don’t look like jewels when they’re threshed, hulled, cleaned or whatever you need to do to them to get them ready for eating; corn, however, is in a class of its own.

That ear to the left? That isn’t sweet corn – it’s grain corn. Those kernels, though not completely dried yet, are really hard. The color is astounding, isn’t it? Like gold.

Growing Grain Corn for Survival

Sweet corn is for fun: grain corn is for survival.

The problem with corn is that it’s become a byword for the evils of modern agriculture. The plant has been used to make evil high-fructose corn syrup and had its genes scrambled into genetically modified variants that can stand being sprayed with poisons that would put us in a coma.

Corn is also a greedy crop that likes a lot of fertilizer as well as disturbed soil. When you grow it conventionally, you end up with erosion, run off, etc.

In another negative, corn, when used as a staple (and not nixtamalized), is also linked to pellagra, a niacin deficiency that can make you go nuts. You may even start daily gardening blogs.


Corn also has a lot of positives going for it (other than being pretty).


1. Easy to grow
2. Productive
3. Easy to clean and utilize
4. Storable
5. Calorie dense
6. A dense biomass producer
7. Great for chicken feed
8. Delicious

Corn isn’t quite as easy to grow in Florida as it is in some states. Sometimes extended rains will ruin some of your crop around harvest time… sometimes the bugs take over… and sometimes a nasty blast of wind will blow all your stalks sideways.

Yet even with those drawbacks, it’s usually simple to grow grain corn. Over the last couple of years, I’ve tested five different varieties here in North Central Florida: Hickory King, Tex Cuban, Floriani Red Flint, Green Dent and an un-named flint corn from the USDA germplasm repository.

Unnamed flint corn test bed. FAIL!

Out of these, Tex Cuban and Hickory King stand head and shoulders above the rest. Both are “dent” corns, and both take a long time to produce. The green dent and the Floriani produced quickly – and poorly. They exhibited small ears with lots of skips, pest problems, less vigor and many stalks that failed to bear anything. The un-named flint corn was a total fail, which I blame on bad seed. In a really good bed they only grew a couple of feet tall and didn’t bother making ears. Heck with that. I’ll give both another try next year, but thus far I am not impressed.

Three years ago we had a great stand of Hickory King that produced excellently on tilled soil amended with cow manure. This year I planted Tex Cuban on tilled soil and fertilized it with chicken manure tea and it’s done quite well. The ears aren’t as large as the Hickory King ears, but that may be the result of genetic depression or lower soil fertility in the plot. It’s hard to tell when you don’t grow things side-by-side in the same season.

growing grain corn for survival
Tex Cuban corn kicking tail.

All that stuff aside, grain corn is a lot easier to grow than sweet corn. It’s more tolerant of temperature fluctuations and pests, as well as lower soil fertility.

We don’t eat genetically modified foods, if we can help it, which means
I’ve been going without my beloved grits for years… except when I grow my own. The first time I ground grits from kernels harvested from my own garden, I was blown away by the rich corn flavor of homegrown
heirlooms. There’s nothing like it. Here’s how I make grits.

Interestingly, I’ve taken ears with me to church and other venues to show off. The question I usually get is “So what do you do with it?”

That’s the fun part. If you pick them in the “milk stage,” they make a decent, full-flavored sweet corn. In the mature stage, other than grits, you can turn the kernels into cakes, chips, tortillas, cornbread and other delicacies.

To grind the corn into meal or grits, one of these works fine. For finer grinds, though, you’ll need to get a better grinder. I have a Country Living Grain Mill which is supposed to grind corn (I have the right auger for it) yet refuses to do a decent job, probably because the relative humidity is too high. Whatever. You buy an expensive tool and think it’s just gonna work…

That aside, corn makes for great chicken feed if you “crack” it roughly in your mill so the birds can eat it. Whole kernels can be handled by larger birds, but I’d rather give them easier to handle sizes.

Also, if you’re growing your own tobacco, corn cobs make great pipes to smoke it in. Who needs fancy imported briar from some fruity European nation? If corn cobs were good enough for General MacArthur, they’re more than good enough for me.

Incidentally, if you have them, small bamboo stems make good pipe stems, as do dry elderberry twigs or any other stick you can clean the center pith from. I’ve made my own pipes from various materials… and can attest to the fact that nothing tastes as pleasant as a corn cob.

A final note on corn: the stalks are great forage for grazing animals, as well as being a good addition to the compost pile. I stack them on the bottom of a new pile to add air, then pile smaller stuff on top. By spring you’ll have plenty of compost to feed the next crop of corn.

If you haven’t tried growing grain corn, give it a go. You might fall in love at first glance, just like I did.




4 Spuds!

Name: Corn, dent
Latin Name: Zea Mays
Type: Annual
Size: 8-12′
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Ears
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Young ears as a vegetable, mature kernels ground for flour and grits, cobs for smoking pipes.
Storability: Excellent when mature and dry
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: So-so
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

Survival Plant Profile: Cayenne Peppers

I’m growing cayenne peppers because I like things spicy. Really spicy.

When I take my wife out for Thai food, I order my meals “Thai hot.” If I’m not bleeding from my eyes and nose by the end of a meal, it wasn’t spicy enough.

All that said, I’ve never been much of a pepper grower for some reason. Sure, I’ve grown a few thai peppers, some habeneros, a few jalepenos, etc., but I’ve spent more time with fruit trees and root crops.

That’s not to say I don’t grow peppers every year: I do. I just don’t pay much attention to growing them since I always end up getting obsessed with growing something new and exotic. Instead of planning peppers into my garden, I usually realize sometime in late spring that we haven’t planted any, then pop a few in for the heck of it. They’ll keep producing in the heat and through the summer when tomatoes and almost everything else gives up.

Over the last couple of years, I have discovered one pepper that really manages to produce excellently and taste great with no care: the regular old cayenne pepper. Despite my poor planning, I’ve managed to grown them for the last three years without much preparation or thought – and I’m always glad to have their delicious smoky kick in Rachel’s stir-fries.

One of the reasons cayenne peppers rock: they’re perennial. Once you plant these guys, they’ll last multiple years and keep fruiting for you as climate conditions allow. If you get a nasty frost, they’ll die. I piled mulch over four of last year’s plants some time in December, then uncovered them in the spring. Two came back. (I also had a lovely red habenero pepper growing in one of my beds… I dug that one up and put it in a pot in the greenhouse. In the spring, I popped it back in the bed and it’s thriving and producing more habeneros than we can use.)

Growing Cayenne Peppers

To grow peppers, I plant the seeds in flats or in the ground
after the last frost date. They grow quickly and usually will bear
in about three months. Interestingly, I’ve had them self-seed
here and there around my gardens. Occasionally, I’d toss a rotten pepper aside, or throw some in the compost… and a little baby would come up. If I liked its location, I’d leave it. If not, I’ll transplant them
into a bed. My bet is that cayennes are pretty close to being a wild
pepper. They’re tough, and they’re attractive plants to boot.

Even pepper pests are pretty.

The only pest problems I’ve had with these guys involve stink bugs. They’ll ruin a few peppers here and there by punching their nasty mouth parts into them and leaving spots that rot – yet even with those losses, we end up with plenty of peppers for the spice cabinet each year. Five plants will provide you with tons – plant more than that and you may need to start your own hot sauce brand.

Something like “Smack Me On My Flaming Butt Of Death And Call Me Satan ‘Cause My Fiery Mouth Is In Hell” brand.

I don’t think that one’s taken yet.

Now let’s take a look at where cayennes fall in the wild world of  peppers. For making salsa, jalapenos excel in juiciness and good raw flavor; in brutal heat and smokiness, habeneros are king. For a mild pepper for packing with cheese and rice, poblanos are tops. But the cayenne’s flavor… well, it’s good all around.

I said “good all,” not “Goodall,” dang it!

Where was I? Oh right… uses. The cayenne is a pepper that’s made for drying. It’s got lower moisture right off the plant, so if you string them up, they’ll usually dry pretty well. If you have a lot of humidity (like I do), you can stay safe from mold by putting them in a dehydrator to dry instead.

My favorite use for cayenne peppers is as ground red pepper. I picked
up a Braun coffee grinder at the thrift store for $1.75 and use that for turning dried peppers into homemade ground red pepper.

As a survival plant, this isn’t the best. You can’t live on them, but they sure do add flavor to the things you can eat. There are also proven benefits to consuming hot peppers, such as improved circulation and Looking Cool When Around Your Peers. Hot peppers can also be used to make insect-discouraging sprays for your other plants. They’re also a lot easier to grow than bell peppers, just in case you wondered.

If you haven’t done it before, add a couple of cayenne peppers to your next garden. You’ll be glad you did.




3 Spuds!

Name: Cayenne pepper
Latin Name:
 Capsicum annuum (cultivar)
24″ – 36″
Nitrogen Fixer:
Full sun
Part Used:
Fruit, green and red
Method of preparation:
Raw, stir-fried, in stews, dried and ground
Good. Dry, pickle or freeze.
Ease of growing:
Very easy

Survival Plant Profile: Green Beans

Other than radishes, growing green beans is about as basic as it gets. Reliable, productive, tolerant of poor soil and tasty, they are one of the first crops any new gardener should try.

Of course, there are many, many beans that fall into the “green bean” category. If it’s called a “green bean,” that basically just means it’s a bean with an edible pod you eat while the beans are still unripe. If it’s a variety you let hang on the plant until the beans are basically ripe, it’s a “shell bean.” Some varieties of shell beans are eaten while still soft, others are allowed to dry completely until you have “dry beans.”

Beyond the “shell” or “green” varieties, beans also come in “bush” and “pole” varieties. Bush beans are usually small, squat plants that can stand without support. Pole beans are climbers and need trellises to do well. (A profile on my favorite pole bean, the snake bean, is here.)

Today I’m focusing on bush green beans since they’re drop-dead easy. No trellises, no drying, no shelling. Plus, quite a few can be grown in a small space.

Let me show you the Bean That Got Me Gardening:

I was six and went to the store with Dad to buy some seeds. The yellow beans caught my eye… we bought them… and they went into my very first garden. Burpee’s “Brittle Wax” beans. I’m still growing them today because they’re consistent, productive and taste good. They’re not the most flavorful bean we grow, but they look cool.

And speaking of cool – we grew these beans a few years ago in Tennessee. They’re incredible:

513_6441_largeThose are called Purple Romano beans. The purple color makes them really easy to see and pick on the plants, even though they turn green when cooked. I originally bought seed at a big box store… and never saw them for sale since, except online. Territorial carries them, and that’s also where I stole the above image from:

Beyond varieties – let’s talk about culture. Beans like warm weather and will not stand freezing temperatures. Bush beans do not have the strong root system of pole beans, so they need a bit more water to stay happy. Plant your beans 1″ deep and about 6″ apart in rows roughly 12″ apart and you’ll do fine. In a week or less, they’ll pop up and it’s off to the races.

growing green beans
This little bed produces enough beans that you could serve them a few times a week.

Beans usually start producing pods in less than two months – and once pods start getting to picking size, keep them picked. If you don’t, the plant will give up producing new pods. We planted a few small beds of beans this year and we’re getting baskets of beans right now. Enough to eat every day, share at church and probably freeze as well.

Bush beans can be sown multiple times through the warm season and you’ll get more beans that way. Plant a new bed every three weeks or so and you’ll be rolling in tasty pods.

As for pests, you’ll get stink bugs and maybe bean beetles later as the summer progresses. I don’t worry about them unless we get a total plague. One year the bean beetles totally chewed through a bed I’d planted. Fortunately, we’d already harvested plenty of beans. It was my own fault they went nuts, though – I had planted the bean bed in a monoculture. Nice, even rows for the beetles to feast upon… nothing but beans for miles, man.

A voracious bean beetle.

If you get problems like that, I’d just just bury the plants 12″ or deeper under some other crop area, bugs and all, wait a bit, and start over again. Or burn them. Or chuck them over the fence for your chickens to mangle. No big deal. Seed is cheap and beans grow fast. Beans are also a nitrogen-fixer, so planting them in front of demanding crops and on new ground is a great way to give your garden a boost of fertility. I throw beans into empty corners during the warm season, just as I do with peas during the cool season. They’re tough enough to thrive without much care… and they feed the ground? Yep. All aboard the bean train!

But… the best thing about green beans? Letting your kids eat them right out of the garden, sweet and sun-warmed. When I pick a basket, I always acquire little “helpers” who wish to eat the beans. And since the pods are pesticide-free, nutritious and abundant… who am I to say no?



4 Spuds!

Name: Bush green beans
Latin Name: Phaseolus vulgaris
Type: Annual
Size: 12 – 16″
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Pods
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, pickled
Storability: Poor. Freeze or can to preserve.
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

Turnip round-up


A few days ago, I hauled in the final batch of turnips for this year.

Total weight of all turnips (mostly just the roots… I give most of the leaves to the hens) harvested this year: 36lbs

That’s a good start for 2013. And it doesn’t count the many small and misshapen roots I chucked to the chickens… or the turnips we ate and forgot to weigh.

(For the survival crop profile on these consistent producers, click here.)


Survival Plant Profile: Turnips


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.)


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

Survival Plant Profile: Mustard


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.




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

Survival Plant Profile: Peas


Growing peas in Florida might not occur to new gardeners here; after all, peas seem rather… European, not tropical! Fortunately, peas do grow easily in Florida. Snow peas, snap peas, shelling peas… you can grow them all here.

Before I get further into this plant, let me get one thing straight: in a survival situation – or even a pinched grocery budget – peas wouldn’t be my first choice as a staple. They’re a lot of work for only a little food. Fortunately for them, they aren’t useful for their peas alone.

growing peas in Florida in a pot

Growing peas in a pot!

The common garden pea is not just a tasty cool-season vegetable, it’s also a nitrogen fixer (and it has cousins that are nitrogen fixing trees!) and a decent producer of fast-decomposing organic matter. If you grow various field pea varieties, you can get a decent yield of dry peas without too much work. It’s certainly less work than shelling green peas.

When I put new ground into circulation, I have some cold-weather green manures I like to throw down before planting serious crops. Peas, along with lentils and chick peas, and occasionally rye grass or turnips, are some of my favorites. If you’re lucky, you can get bags of whole dried peas in the grocery store. They’re also often available in big bags at farm-oriented retailers. I use peas more for ground-covering nitrogen fixers than anything else.


I write more on nitrogen-fixers such as peas in my composting book. Buy it!

Anytime there’s a gap in my fall, spring and winter gardens, I try to tuck in some peas. If they produce peas for me – great. If they don’t, they’re still feeding the soil and making biomass for my compost. I’ve been known to chop them down in spring and plant peppers and other transplants right into their newly mulched remains.

growing peas in florida along with other cover crops

Intercropped: peas, lentils, collards, etc.

Another thing about peas that many don’t know: you can eat the leaves and shoots in salads. They’re a pleasant, crunchy, vaguely pea-flavored green that mixes will with other common salad ingredients. And of course, the young pods can be stir-fried (yeah, they’re stringy… unless you get an edible podded snow-pea type variety).

All that said – go ahead. Plant some peas as the world burns. Just don’t expect to get fat off them.



2.5 Spuds!

Name: Peas
Latin Name: Pisum sativum
Type: Annual
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Seeds, unripe or dried; leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled, young pods stir fried, pods raw, leaves in salads
Storability: Poor – use immediately, if possible. Blanch and freeze for long-term storage, or simply allow the pods to mature on the vine and use the peas as a pulse.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

Survival Plant Profile: Broccoli


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.




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

Survival Plant Profile: Loquats

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.



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

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