Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home Grown "New Potatoes"

Here is my original version of an article that The St. Pete Times ran heavily edited in 2004.


Has a fine restaurant ever indulged you in the tender savory heaven of "new potatoes" in a garlic or cream sauce? Did you marvel at the tissue thin skins and the melt-in-your-mouth texture of each blissful bite? Did you choke when you got the bill? Central Florida’s balmy winter months beg you to see how easy it is to grow those gourmet delicacies in a sunny 4' X 4' foot garden. And the planting part is perfect for young children to help and thus learn where food really comes from....soil, not fluorescent lit, air-conditioned produce departments!

Potatoes like slightly acid soil rich in organic matter and sun all day long. Cover the soil in that 4 foot by 4 foot garden with an inch of compost, home made or bagged, 10 pounds of alfalfa pellets (sold in 50 lb. bags in feed stores) and 10 pounds of cheap dry dog food nuggets that will feed your earthworms and soil organisms first who will then nourish your "new potatoes". Turn this all under into the soil with your shovel, water deeply, then mulch the soil with 4-6 inches of raked up leaves or "coastal hay" from a feed store. Let it "ripen" for 1-2 weeks as autumn temperatures continue to cool (Taters hate our summer humid heat).

Then use both hands to part the mulch as you would hair with 2 combs to create 3 parallel rows about a foot apart. You’ll end up with the soil exposed to a width of about 6 inches for each row, with mulch piled up between those rows. Use your hand or a trowel to make holes about 4 inches deep and a foot apart so that each row has 4-5 evenly spaced holes when you are done. If you have a large vegetable garden, "stagger" your harvest by planting a new row every three week from October through early March.

Let your kids drop a starter potato into each 4 inch deep hole hole, then cover it up. Some folks swear by "seed potatoes" either mail order or from feed stores, but THIS tightwad uses only potatoes that have sprouted while in storage in my kitchen. ‘Golden Yukon’ makes perhaps the best "new potatoes" but any sprouted ones will work, like ‘Idaho’ or red-skinned potatoes. I have even bought those radical "blue potatoes" now showing up in the gourmet section and planted those. Large potatoes that have sprouted can be cut into fourths, allowed to dry a day in the shade, then planted. Spread the mulch back out into an even layer all over the garden and water deeply as potatoes like rich, damp cool soil.

In a few weeks you and the kids will thrill to see those first hopeful looking shoots emerge, and as they unfold and grow they will remind you of the tomatoes that potatoes are related to. Potato leaves are toxic; never eat them! About 2 months later white flowers will emerge on the now-husky plants, and as they fade, just fish around in the soil around each potato plant with your hand and use your fingers to find plum sized "new potatoes" by Braille a few inches down. Or use a pitchfork to lift up the entire plant and shake off the soil to reveal your tasty treasure. Rinse them in a colander in the garden then head in to the kitchen!

Drop them whole into clam chowder or cream of mushroom soup. Sautee’ them in garlic and olive oil with a little dill and salt. Simmer them till tender in an Alfredo sauce. You will be spoiled forever, plus you and the kids will see the miracle of old sprouted potatoes that most people discard transforming into gourmet gold!

Hey, life can be fair if we treat ourselves to delicious little victories like these!"

Free or cheap way to grow potatoes

For years I have dumpster dived bags of sprouted potatoes discarded by grocery stores, both to eat and to grow. Each fall through late winter here in central Florida, or early spring in cold climates, just ask your friends to save their sprouted potatoes for you vs. discarding them. Cut them up into chunks, with one sprout per chunk, let dry in the shade a day or two to heal the cut surface, then plant them about six inches deep in loose, rich, slightly acidic soil. Any variety works.....Russets, Idaho, Golden Yukon, the rare blue potatoes, you name it. Many gardeners are shocked to see the price of "seed potatoes" in catalogs even before shipping costs...this is a free alternative. You can also buy untreated potatoes from an organic market and let them sit in a north window sill until they sprout and do the same thing with them. In the last week I have planted several potatoe patches in April I should have oodles of thin skinned FRESH "new potatoes".

I will soon post a full article on this topic that ran in The St. Petersburg Times some years back to give you both more detailed planting instructions plus a simple savory recipe. Enjoy, John

Thursday, January 28, 2010


For centuries, farmers and gardeners have used livestock urine as a very effective fertilizer, and for centuries human urine has been used on the battlefield to rinse wounds as it is almost always sterile. Permaculturists have been using human urine either full strength or diluted to varying degrees with water as a wonderful source of organic nitrogen plus minerals and vitamins for decades now. Now more and more formal studies are confirming what many gardeners have known for a long time....using urine as a fertilizer vs. flushing it away not only benefits the growth of all plants, this also saves vast amounts of water. Just think how many times a day you pee then flush!
In Denver all winter long each year I peed into a liquid detergent bottle (some have the perfect size opening to accomodate a penis) then when it was full I'd pour it atop the snow around all my roses, which out front alone numbered 170. When spring would finally come and the soil would thaw, my roses would burst into lush growth and blooms due to that months long accumulation of soil nutrients. Here in Tampa I usually just pee in my chicken/compost path. When I DO pee into the jug (classic 3 AM pee) I pour that around my hungriest plants like my roses and bananas.
Some women permaculturists have told me they pee into a peanut butter jar then dump that where seems that very few women will squat and pee outdoors unless camping. Many men have peed in my yard, but to date, just one woman has. Hey I am too cheap to buy fertilizer, so I encourage any and all who visit me to pee to their heart's content anywhere in my back yard.

Below is a link to one of many articles about the safety and efficacy of using human urine as an ideal liquid organic fertilizer that is FREE and that most of us dispose of, along with several gallons of perfectly good water each time.

All I am saying is.......GIVE PEE A CHANCE!

Manure Tea Recipes

While you won’t find this recipe on the Food Channel, it’s been a staple of European gardeners for centuries. To brew that nutrient-rich elixir called "Manure Tea" or "Russian Tea" or "Poop Soup" relied on by millions, all you need is a non-leaky garbage can, water, a stir stick and, you guessed it, fresh manure.
Horse manure is far and away everyone’s favorite "tea bag", with fresh rabbit, goat, poultry or pig dooky running a close second, but you can settle for bagged sheep or poultry manure from a garden shop...but do take a few garbage bags to a neighborhood horse stall and treat your self to "the real thing" for best results., Fill the garbage can to within a foot from the top with water and let it sit 24 hours so the chlorine can outgas, add enough fresh horse poop to equal 1/5 the volume of the "teapot", and let it "brew" for two weeks with the lid off. I cover mine with an old window screen to be mosquitoes and flies can’t breed in there. Stir your "Poop Soup" daily with an old broom handle to mix the sunken "goodies" with the foamy top. At the end of two weeks, "it’s time for tea!"

Those manures other than horse are MUCH more potent, so I'd use one part of them to TEN parts of water for the "brewing" stage.

Just use an old mop bucket to bail out the barnyard scented elixir onto your hungriest plants like corn, roses, asparagus, raspberries, peonies, hibiscus, okra, pole beans, leafy greens, bananas, grapes, fruit trees, and Bird of Paradise. Then water it in deeply. They will lap up the combination of dissolved plant nutrients and beneficial bacteria, and you may soon be convinced you can see them growing!

For young seedlings of veggies and flowers just feed them a dilute mix of one half "poop soup" and water, then water that in too. This weakened strength insures you won’t "burn" those teensy young stems and roots. And use this dilute formula for a real pick-me-up for all your potted patio and indoor plants...don’t worry...that musty barnyard fragrance many folks actually like will pass in a few hours.

When the tea is all drawn off, just spread the dregs at the bottom around your gardens as part of your ongoing mulching/sheet composting habit. Or toss it atop your compost heap. Hey, many of us save our tea bags and coffee grounds for the garden, why not this too?!

As with all recipes there are variations, and people think of new ones all the time. "Rose freaks" like to toss in five pounds of alfalfa pellets from the feed store. Passionate veggie gardeners will add a few pounds of dried kelp meal from the feed store, but you can use sea weed and dead fish washed up on the beach. Why the sea products? They contain valuable trace minerals all plants need for optimum health. Tossing in a two cups each of Epsom salts and DynaMate and Optizyme from a feed store will add the sulfur and magnesium and potassium and beneficial microbes many soils scream out for. If soil tests show you have highly acid soil, toss in a couple cups of dolomitic limestone to "sweeten" the tea. Soil tests show your soil too alkaline? Toss in a bushel basket of FRESH green grass clippings, then brew two weeks with the garbage can lid ON....with no air available your tea will soon be being brewed by anaerobic bacteria who will produce so many natural acids that the resulting tea dissolves egg shells and chicken bones! This version smells horrid (I call it "Puke Juice" due to its effect on the human gag reflex) but is a remarkably fast, cheap and natural way to acidify alkaline soils that also supplies a whole range of dissolved nutrients. I made several batches the summer of 1988 my first year in my Denver yard to quickly lower that pH of 8.5. The smell goes away in a few hours.

Julia Child was a gardener I hear, so I bet she’d even give these recipes a try...ready, set, brew!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Regardless of where you live in the U.S., now is a good time to curl up with a quality seed catalog and dream and plan, then order. As I tell my gardening students, if I had to choose just one seed catalog, it would be Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds based in Missouri. Begun by an idealistic young man named Jere Gettle when he was just seventeen years old, this wonderfully eclectic seed offering is the result of his impassioned touring of the U.S. and the planet, scouring open air fruit markets, seed houses, private family seed collections and more, then growing the seeds commercially for distribution to gardeners and farmers. Each category is astonishing in its breadth...into tomatoes? Brace yourself?! Into squash and pumpkins? You'll be amazed. Live in the deep South and live the various Vigna "beans"? His selection is remarkable. Into melons or okra or eggplant? Same thing....OODLES of varieties. He sells NO GMO monstrosities by the ethically vacuous Monsanto or anyone else, just open-pollinated, non-F1 hybrid seeds that in some cases have been grown for centuries in their culture of origin.

The prices and seed amounts are very fair, and I am certain that if you have not seen their catalog or ordered from these good folks, you will be as enthusiastic a supporter as I am once you do! I occasionally pen an article for their charming magazine 'Heirloom Gardener', which is well worth a subscription to also.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
2278 Baker Creek Road
Mansfield, MO 65704

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cheaper, healthier, home made dog biscuits

I got Sweety in Denver twelve years ago at the Dumb Friends League, and all these years she has truly earned her name, gentle with even baby chicks, kittens, toddlers, dogs playing rough with her and more. Yet she is a great guard dog, especially on those many many three day road trips back and forth from Denver as she, the two cats and I would settle in exhausted at yet another motel room strange to us. Like her predecessor Sergeant, she also very rarely digs or enters a garden, and messes only in the house when it is my fault for leaving her indoors too long. So since she is now thirteen and suffering from hypothyroidism I was able to 98% reverse for over a year with iodine supplementation but am now using low dose thyroxine to control, I more than ever like "spoiling" her with simple pleasures.

One reason she has amazingly good white teeth and healthy gums is that I made it a point all these years to give her cooked bones, leather chewies and chewy biscuits, which I did not do with Sergeant, or Captain before him, hence their oral issues. Years ago in Denver I noticed she liked 'Meaty Bone' brand biscuits, and would get big boxes of them on sale for her. But she tired of them a I finally read the ingredients...then tasted one. That "flavor coating" had VERY little taste and was mostly food coloring. I noticed that store brand biscuits for large dogs were made of virtually the same grains, etc. So for years now I've been making Sweety MUCH tastier healthier dog biscuits for a fraction of the cost of 'Meaty Bone'. Just as my spaghetti never comes out the same twice, the healthy broth I make t0 flavor her biscuits with varies a lot. Sometimes I put in a few drops of Lugol's Solution to provide iodine for her hyothyroidism, sometimes coconut oil for the lauric acid in it that is SO good for people and pets alike, sometimes roasted sesame oil for flavor and its anti-oxidant properties.
But each batch begins by boiling soup bones from Publix that I freeze individually for her....she is like Sergeant and when I start to get "altered" on cannabis and a few drinks she wants to party heartily too and wags her head big time until I give her either a frozen soup bone zapped in the micro, and/or a home made biscuit. Below is pretty much how I made her this new batch of homemade biscuits I put up for her today:

1.Boil soup bones in a large saucepan with seasalt and garlic powder and a spoon of food grade diatomaceous earth (for dietary silica for skin, bone heart and other tissues) a few splashes of 9 Crabs fish sauce, a few tablespoons of chopped kombu seaweed for minerals and natural iodine for her thyroid, then simmer for an hour. Remove the bones from the broth, cool and freeze
2. With the broth barely simmering, stir maybe 2 heaping tablespoons of cassava flour (MUCH better thickener than corn starch) in a cup of COLD water, then stir into the hot broth. Stir now and then until it thickens, turn off heat.

3. Dump store brand dog biscuits for large dogs into a LARGE soup pot, pour the broth over the biscuits evenly as possible, let cool. Then toss them by hand to coat them with the gravy at the bottom of the pot.

4. Arrange the wet biscuits closely on a cookie sheet or in large Pyrex dishes (I dumpster dived both so can make large batches of these biscuits)

5. Bake at 350 for half an hour, then turn off, open the door to release the steam, then close the door on a towel so the light stays on, and let the bulb continue to heat and dry the biscuits over night.

6. The next morning, reheat the biscuits at 250 for half an hour (I'd skip this were I still in Denver's dry air, but in humid Tampa I want them DESSICCATED when I store them to avoid mold.), then again leave the door propped open with a towel to allow the last of the moisture to escape.
7.Let cool, then pack in tightly sealed containers. If I have one, I will drop in a silica gel pack to keep them dry and fresh.

Attached is a pic of a few on a yellow plate of the ones I put up today, having baked this batch at 300 that second time to get them extra roasted and crunchy. Also attached is a photo or two of Sweety ten years ago on one of our first visits to this house then brand new in our lives. She has slowed down, has gray in her face, but is still a dear sweet gentle animal companion. She is leery of cameras, but I want to take a photo soon of her at thirteen here at my retirement home in Tampa where I am aiming for my grandpa's vigorous old age with no decline then boom, drop dead at ninety four. (He was shaving, I want to go in the middle of one my fabulous flying dreams). I am doing my best to insure that Sweety does not suffer a sad lingering old age, and am beyond thrilled what the iodine did for her after a $200 vet visit missed her hypothyroidism, called it "flea allergy" and put her on toxins.....until I wised up and Googled effectively.

Urban farmers could use chicken feet and heads to make the broth, or perhaps secure the bones of a cow raised collectively by folks in open air pastures.....I forget what that this called, but folks share the cost AND the meat of a cow to insure it has a good life vs. a bleak cruel factory farm life. I have also used turkey broth at Thanksgiving as the basis for a batch of biscuits broth. Please let me know what steps you take to give your animal companions a good diet and great life.
Enjoy, John

Soil Feedings

So kelp meal and fish emulsion (or fish whatever) is all you use to fertilize, John? Is that true of your veggies also? Martha

I have used neither in years, though when I first moved in a decade ago I applied copious
amounts of menhaden fish meal, kelp meal, dolomite plus many many loads of horse poop and chipped tree mulch to transform the dry weedy sand that my lot was back then. Now I mainly pee all over the yard, use my kitchen graywater with all the food scraps in it, let the free range chickens fertilize the "compost path" that creates the soil for my potted plants, bring in horse poop now and then, use garden soil in my litter box and throw the soiled soil around my bananas, and a few years ago I bought several torn bags of Sunniland Palm 8-6-6 and flung it all over as a "tonic". About 5 years ago I bought a few bags of feed grade mono-calcium phosphate and flung it all over to raise my phosphorus levels. I think most of my soil fertility now comes from my habitual sheet composting (the stalks of "Bolivian Sunflower" (Tithonia diversifolia) can have as much phosphorus as raw phosphate rock!) and my reliance on nitrogen fixers like Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens) and Vigna unguiculata that thrive each summer into fall. Since I eat a rich, mostly healthy diet I try to pee all over as human urine is a great source of nitrogen, vitamins and minerals for the soil. I am now piling up all my freeze damage cutback stuff along the back fence lines where my citrus and bananas and fruit trees plus my true yams (Dioscorea species) grow to decay and feed those plants this summer. I now very rarely buy any actual soil foods as I feel I have a sustainable nutritional base here. John

Barter Plants for Dog Food

My poultry LOVE dog or cat food nuggets soaked in water, but it has been ages since I dumpster-dived a torn bag. If any locals folks have dry nuggets that their pets have turned their noses at, I'd love to barter ornamental or edible plants or cool vegetable crops seeds for it. Thanks! John

more good news about Adams-Briscoe seeds

I called these folks and asked to speak to an owner/manager, and was connected to Jimmy Adams, second generation owner of a family business founded in 1946. Very friendly helpful man whose business is aimed at meeting the needs of smaller farmers. I wanted to pass on a few things....

They have a second lengthy plant list of vegetable crops he is mailing me! He said it IS on their website, but can be hard to find, and is a pdf file....and as a rule I find pdf files cumbersome and awkward to use. Jimmy also said that "broken bag" means "by the pound" from a 5 lb. bag, 1 pound minimum. So I will be working up a cool order...have for many years wanted to try 'chufa' is my chance. I told him that alfalfa grew like a weed in Colorado and that I'd LOVE it if I could grow a strain here, even if only as a winter annual, to feed to the chickens and add to my manure teas. He said the strains on that list that have numbers like 802 or 805 in the name have a heat rating of "8" which means they MIGHT work here. So I am going to get a pound of one of them.

This purchase will end up big I am sure, but I will find the cash one way or another. It will let me try new-to-me crops, plus give me way-cool seeds to give to my students.

He is mailing me the veggies list today, which he said includes a fair number of Vignas, which thrive here in summer. I will also try a pound of their Sesbania exaltata, which I researched after seeing a Sesbania on John and Debbie's farm and have been obsessing on as a soil nitrifier, chicken feed and, possibly, a human food. I am really psyched about having belatedly discovered this family run seed house!


Very cool seeds source

Adams-Briscoe Seed Company sells a remarkably eclectic mix of bulk seeds (broken 5 lb. bags to 50 lb. bags) that could be very useful to large scale gardeners, community gardeners and farmers. I was stunned to see on their mailing a broad mix of grains, legumes, grasses, brassicas, cover crops, some to be grown and harvested, others as green manures and livestock feed, others to attract and feed wild birds and other wildlife. Expect to be amazed! I am sure to order several of their broken 5 lb. bags to test and grow, plus share with friends and students, as I find many of these crops very intrguing (finally, a chance to try growing chufa!).

Their address is: P.O. Box 19 325 East 2nd. Street Jackson, GA 30233

phone: 770-775-7826 web:

Friday, January 22, 2010

News About My New Blogs

So far, both seem well-received and getting hits daily as I get ready to launch a third and final one about roses...together, the three blogs will let me address and share all my interests in life. I am signed up for Google AdSense, and once I get X-number of hits daily I start getting monthly checks due to the ad banners on the right side of each blog. I also took other advice and linked my long time PayPal account to both blogs so that if so moved, folks can make donations to my efforts using the button at the bottom of the page, and/or purchase seeds, my artwork, etc. So if you are enjoying the blogs I'd love it if you'd send the links to folks, and also become a "follower" of each as I gather that aids my Google AdSense rating too.

Today I got my first sale.....$6.50 from two seed packets offered at the top of the Urban Farming blog. I have one of my Star Trek "altered landscapes" that in the past I've sold via EBay on my Starnesland blog. I am LOVING developing each reminds me of when I created 'The Garden Doctor' gardening magazine 20 years ago in Denver, but without the backdrop of homesickness for Tampa and financial strife and those LONG winters!

Thanks for your support, and feel free to make suggestions as to what topics you would like to see addressed in each. I expect to launch the roses one very soon. enjoy! John

Home made Victorian style fence

Modern landscapes are often soulless, and the classic elegance of a white Victorian wrought iron fence is a sure cure. But who can afford one since even a starkly simple, hollow aluminum "wrought iron" fence can run $22 per linear foot?! But we can easily add "fu fu" to a basic double rail wooden fence and create a sturdy, charming design feature unique to our home and personality.

Tap into your creativity and frugality and go to businesses that sell the cast aluminum decorative add-ons for home security doors, often a wrought iron contractor’s supply store. They come in different lengths and styles and prices; I chose an elegantly simple Victorian swirls pattern, each measuring 30 inches in length. Four holes drilled easily through them made it easy to use wood screws to attach them sturdily to the basic fence I had built in advance.

Between rot and insects and hurricanes, fences in Florida need to be sturdy if they are to last and not be a maintenance nightmare. I cut ten foot lengths of "wolmanized" 4 X 4's in half and sank each five foot section vertically one foot deep in holes made with a post hole digger that were then half filled with a bag of concrete mix on sale. A carpenter’s level insured they were perfectly straight and vertical. A vinyl fence post cap atop each one sealed them from rain plus began the Victorian "fu fu" theme. In two days the concrete was fully set and I could proceed.
I spaced the posts eight feet apart and linked them with two parallel eight foot lengths of wolmanized 2 X 4's, easily attached to the posts with standard galvanized fence brackets sold at hardware stores selling the lumber, concrete, wood screws and vinyl caps needed for the project.

The aluminum security door add-ons become "pickets" when screwed into place on the fence rails, adding both strength and beauty. Eight foot lengths of 1 ½" X 1 ½" square hollow white vinyl fence tubing, screwed across the center of the backs of the row of "pickets" adds a nice visual solidity and additional barrier against entry by dogs.

Once you have built your "one of a kind" Victorian fence, apply two coats of a white gloss enamel, such as deck enamel, to seal the wood, join seams and make them disappear visually, and to unify the disparate elements of metal, wood and plastic into one uniform texture. My fence spans nearly my entire yard across the front and one side, offering over 80 feet of Victorian grace for a little over $300. Now 9 years old, it didn’t shimmy a bit during all those hurricanes, shows no sign of decay, and boldly defines my collection of nearly 170 roses and a jungle of perennial flowers. And it is so strong I can stand on the top rail and use it as a "ladder" while training my climbing roses!
I placed cheap white plastic rain gutters on the ground below the fence as a visual highlight, plus to hold in place the mulch behind the fence line. I think a 10 foot length runs around $6 now.

So take a look at your yard, and imagine starkness replaced by the charm of our great grandmother’s garden. Yup, you can do it too!

Basics of Urban Farmsteading Class

There is wonderful security and satisfaction in being able to prepare many of our meals from abundant gardens around our homes. Imagine FRESH omelets and meat from a backyard henhouse, or expensive "exotic" crops such as arugula, Barbados Cherry, cassava, chaya, papaya, many herbs and staple crops for Thai and other ethnic cuisines fresh your own yard. But where to start if you have a "normal" yard of high maintenance lawn and ornamental shrubs? Organic landscape consultant and garden writer John Starnes (St. Pete Times, Fine Gardening, Florida Gardening) shows how to make the transition in stages based on your time, temperament, budget and goals, using his jungly south Tampa "urban farm" as the classroom.

Learn the ease of "sheet composting" vs. buying an expensive compost bin, using household graywater to nourish your crops and cut your water bill, cheap and easy organic pest control, plus a very effective, low-labor method for killing lawn areas in place and turning them into productive gardens. You will receive a detailed class handout, but be sure to bring a notepad and pen, and, if you wish, a camera, as people tell me that my classes are very information dense. I will be teaching this well-received class twice more on in February, on the 14th and the 21st, from 11 AM until 1 PM, from 11 AM until 1 PM followed by a 30 minute Q & A session.

The cost is $25 per person, or $20 per person in carloads of four or more to help foster considerate parking for my neighbors. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611, which about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill Avenue. I hope to see folks then eager to transform their yards into sources of sustenance and spiritual satisfaction. Come see how little the freeze affected my food supply. 813 839 0881

John Starnes

Planning Your Spring and Summer Gardens Class

There is a widespread myth that summers are too hot, muggy and buggy to grow a successful organic garden here, but nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy soil and choosing subtropical and tropical crops that LOVE the heat is the key to fresh abundance from your yard for that long hot half of the year when so many folks let their gardens go barren and weedy. You will receive a handout with a long list of heat-loving crops, plus I will give you seeds of two kinds that utterly thrive each summer here. Growing these crops organically is easy as very few pests attack them, but we will cover those few possible problems and how to deal with them cheaply and without using poisons.

The class will be offered on February 28, from 11 AM until 1 PM, to give you time to plan the summer garden, prepare the soil, and acquire the needed seeds and soil foods. The cost is $25 per student, and my address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 JohnAStarnes RSVP is helpful in my planning how to best teach this class. Just your winter garden fizzles out each spring, you can phase in six more months of productivity with a whole new range of tastes, textures and nutrition! See you then. John

Basics of Home Poultry Raising

Many folks these days are considering, or have followed through on, pursuing a long time desire to raise backyard chickens for fresh eggs or even meat they know the origins of. But if one does not know some key basic data, enthusiasm can result in great needless expense, losses to racoons, and a long-imagined "fun" hobby offering frustration instead of omelets. This class covers how to make a predator-proof hen house cheaply or even for free, how to feed chickens for free (chicken scratch from a feedstore surprises people with its cost), preventing disease without using antibiotics, hatching fertile eggs for free chickens, insuring a quality life for your birds, and how children can help easily while learning where food REALLY comes from......children 12 and under can attend for free. I have been asked to teach this class again, so I am on February 20th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session after. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611, about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill, jungly yard on the south side. The cost is $25 per student. Please bring a note pad and pen as we will cover many points. You will receive a pack of winter greens seeds to grow to provide raw green plant matter VITAL to having healthy chickens. I should be able to give each person a fresh egg, too. 813 839 0881 to RSVP. See you then! John

"bwawk bwawk bwawk!"

Cooking What You Grow Class

I love to cook for myself and friends, and my spicy savory contributions to potlucks are always very well received, and for years people have said I should teach cooking here goes! We'll use produce, root crops, herbs, spices and eggs from my urban farm to create a fresh omelet, spicy fried African yams (true yams, not sweet potatoes) and a basic salad dressing if my lemons survived the freeze. We will harvest some items fresh from the gardens and henhouse, then work together in my small kitchen to cover how to use healthy oils and various spices to cheaply create authentic ethnic cuisines, such as Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian and Italian. Nutritious eating can be tasty eating!

I am teaching this class twice in February, on the 13th and 27th, from 11 AM until 1 PM. The cost is $20 and one onion (yellow, white or red) per person (I can never have enough onions!). My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 RSVP is helpful in my planning how to make the best use of your time as we discover the joy of creatively cooking the fresh harvests from our gardens. See you then! John

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Freeze Damage 2010 on the 3200 block of West Paxton Avenue, Tampa

The first few days after the freeze the plants looked green, but the air was heavy with the scent of bruised foliage. Now the dead tissue is beginning to turn brown and will get more so over the next few weeks. Notice how even lawns, except for winter rye, turned brown too. The coldest morning the SOIL in my yard was frozen. We all will have a LOT of pruning to do come March!

Freeze Damage Update

All over Florida and along the Gulf Coast I am sure, gardeners and homeowners are seeing delayed evidence of just have severe the freeze was....Tampa is amazingly brown as thousands of palms, citrus, bougainvillas, hibiscus and countless other tropicals and subtropicals are now revealing just how much dead plant tissue they are burdened with. But in most cases it is a good idea to wait until possibly early March to begin hard pruning for a few reasons:

1.Waiting until spring to see where new growth emerges from on branches will show you where to prune......damage might not be as severe as it seems on woody shrubs and trees. Pruning now, you might prune too hard.

2. Pruning now might trigger new growth that could be zapped by followup frosts and freezes.

3. Waiting until spring will also allow dead leaves to be shed by all these plants to contribute to your mulching and sheet composting efforts.

I AM pruning now my zapped herbaceous ornamentals and food crops. Since I planted my pentas, crinums, and dwarf allamandas and other perennial flowers deeply, they should come back from the base below ground this spring, so I am cutting off the unsightly, completely dead above ground portions. Since my true yams (Dioscorea species) and cassava have already formed underground a huge harvest (hundreds of pounds I am sure) of their edible roots, and the above ground portions are completely dead since they are non-woody plants, I am cutting them to the ground and piling up the debris along my east, west and south back fences since that is where I grow many of my yams and my citrus, bananas and other fruit trees. As these piles decay next summer, they will do wonders to feed those crops.

In March I will be feeding my soil heavily to help with the regrowth. If you are comfortable with chemical fertilizers, I would suggest 40 lb. bags of Sunniland Palm 8-6-6. It is loaded with trace elements, and the extra nitrogen will help with top growth. I am currently fermenting 55 gallons of manure tea to which I have added about 3 five gallon buckets of dead fish from the freeze. By spring that "tea" will be diluted with water and splashed at the bases of all my fruit trees and plants. I will also be spreading a few loads of horse manure from the nearby stable at Ballast Point called Hunter's Oaks as they do no spray their stalls with pesticides.

In the meantime, BOY do I have a LOT of pruning to do!!! John

Monday, January 18, 2010

Basics of Easy Organic Winter Veggies and Herb Growing Class

The cold winter temps are here, and a fall and winter veggie garden is by far the best confidence builder for a beginning gardener due to frost hardy crops that LOVE the cold, and the scarcity of bug and disease problems during the cool season. Learn how to choose your garden site, and employing probiotic soil healing and creation methods that do wonders to encourage lush growth in your cool season crops while greatly discouraging disease and pest issues, techniques useful year round that I shared for eight years in The St. Pete Times and still do in 'Florida Gardening' magazine. Even better is the low cost of this approach so that growing a garden really DOES cut your food bill.

You will receive a handout with a long list of frost hardy, cool season veggies so you can seek them out now and store them in your fridge (not freezer) until planting time for excellent germination for kids and adults who could use some confidence building as gardeners. You will also receive two packets of very rare winter vegetable seeds to help insure success and abundance in your garden. The cost is $25 per student, or $20 each in groups of four to ease my limited parking.

I am teaching this well-received class once more on January the 23rd, from 11AM until 1 PM, with a half hour Q & A session after. Please bring a note pad and pen as students tell me my classes are very information dense.

My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611 and my phone is 813 839 0881 if you have any questions. E-mail is: The winter garden is by far the easiest and most productive for beginning gardeners, and is the best way to boost your gardening confidence, and now is the time to create the foundation for abundant success! Come see how little freeze has impacted my food supply!

Happy Gardening John

Frost Hardy Living Salad Bowl Gardens $5

Now on sale at half price, these organically grown "Living Salad Bowls Gardens" came through the freeze unfazed, and thus are perfect for someone gardening in limited space on a sunny patio or balcony, or who lost their gardens to the freeze.

Each pot is filled with homemade compost and garden soil fertilized by free range chickens and homemade fish fertilizer, and will grow best if set into a drainage tray that can hold an inch of water to keep the fertile soil nice and moist. Some are planted with arugula, the rest with mixed greens that can be eaten raw in salads or added to stir fry, soups, salads and casseroles. I overplanted each pot with too many seeds so that people can slowly thin them down to 3-5 plants per pot by pulling, rinsing and eating the seedlings. Snip the lower leaves from those remaining 3-5 plants for easily 3 months of weekly harvests.

If you wish, in 6 weeks, feed each pot 1 gallon of water that has 3 tablespoons of fish emulsion mixed in to assure strong growth right up until they succumb to the return of heat this spring. Each pot has been pre-treated with the organic bacterial caterpillar killer Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis) to protect them from the spring return of the Cabbage Looper caterpillar. I have 8 of these available, with three on the sales table today. They are now just $5 each and could make great gifts for frustrated apartment and condo gardeners. They are on a glass table near my front porch: just use my honor system slip your payment through the slot in my red office door.

My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611, about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill, jungly yard on the south side, giant yellow home across the street. Thanks in advance and Happy Gardening! John Starnes

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sex in the Garden

We humans aren't the only ones that enjoy kinky outdoor sex in our backyards where the neighbors might catch us! Look what I've caught going on here.

Free rain "barrels"

Not that long ago if you had a rain barrel you might be considered a granola-eating, cannabis-smoking they retail at hardware stores for $150. Here is a tightwad alternative based on recycling discards. Many businesses throw into their dumpsters vast numbers of plastic buckets with handles, ranging from 4 gallon to 7 gallon capacity. Have a friend with a swimming pool maintenance business? Ask him or her to save for you the sturdy 5-7 gallon buckets the chlorine comes in. Approach the bakery and deli departments at your grocery stores and ask them to save for you the 4-5 gallon buckets that cake frosting, mayonnaise, hard boiled eggs and more come in...same goes if you know someone who works at a school cafeteria. Giving them surplus veggies from your garden, surplus fruit from your trees, or surplus eggs from your chickens makes it a nice, pleasant, fair-to-all barter. Everybody wins just by saving buckets from a landfill.

When rain approaches just line up your empty buckets along the eaves of your house. Here is a pic of a few outside my front door this morning after last night's wonderful rain...there are more outside the view here. Plus I have some lined up behind the house outside my bedroom. Sure they overflow, but a LOT of water is captured none the less to use in container gardens, to flush the toilet after you poop (I ALWAYS pee outdoors as it is a grand safe fertilizer), and to pour into birdbaths and watering cans.
Yesterday as the rain front approached I cleared out freeze killed annuals and weeds in a bed hugging the street and planted thousands of seeds of white sweet alyssum, Shirley Poppies, Dwarf Jewel Mix nasturtiums, and linaria. They should germinate quickly after that wonderful rain. And the water in these buckets out front will do wonders to sustain that bed once it begins to take off. A friend gave me a 20 lb. bag of soluble Bloom Booster fertilizer, so I will dissolve a couple of cups in one of the 7 gallon pool chlorine buckets, and use a high flow watering can to feed the whole new bed for even better growth.

I think you will be surprised at just how many buckets you can get just by putting the word out. John

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Feeding Back Yard Chickens for Free

Many visitors here comment that my chickens look SO much more robust and healthy than any other chickens they've seen...but my chickens live off of restaurant scraps primarily, plus weeds, bugs, and seashell grit I bring home from the high tide line instead of expensive commercial chicken feed. I also occasionally give them probiotics like yogurt and kefir, plus routinely supplement their food with a few drops of tincture of iodine (Japan adds iodine to chicken feed to compensate for the Japanese eating much less seaweed in favor of American style fast food...the iodine goes into the eggs AND meat, and I am a BIG believer in iodine supplementation.)

I am comfortable eating eggs and meat from chickens fed restaurant food but realize some folks would not be. But I am a tightwad whose diet is SO not standard American fare, mostly organic and a great deal eaten raw right from the garden, I just don't worry if there is MSG or hydrogenated fat in some of what the chickens eat. And friends who eat all organic love getting surplus eggs from me.

I live close to a pizza buffet that daily sets in their dumpster a sealed bag of pizza taken off the buffet line at shift is easy to reach in, grab it, put it in my van, then give it to the free range chickens and the Coturnix quail in their huge spacious pen. The meat, veggies , cheese and crust gives them varied nutrition sources, as does the scraps I get from the dumpster of the Chinese Fusion buffet a hundred feet away. Both are at a mall I shop at weekly anyway, so I don't make any added trips to get the free chicken food.

Folks with chickens might ask friends, relatives and neighbors who work at restaurants, caterers, school cafeterias or grocery stores if they could trade fresh eggs for salvaged food destined to be wasted in a landfill. Attached is a pic of a bag of pizza that had just come out of the buffet in a brand new clean plastic bag, fresh enough to eat myself...which I HAVE done a few times!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Florida Freeze Damage

While this freeze was no where as severe as the snow of '77, the Christmas Eve freeze of '83, or the freeze of '89, it is causing a LOT of hardship for commercial growers of citrus, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries and more. Urban farmers have been impacted too, though our cold hardy winter leafy crops, especially members of the Brassica Family (collards, turnips, mustard, broccoli, etc.) should have come through barely affected....mine frozen solid and are just fine.

The above ground portions of my own tropical food crops got zapped pretty hard though, especially my papayas, bananas and cassavas. Papayas rarely come back from a freeze, but since they are an herbaceous plant vs. a tree, they are VERY fast from seeds and I already had a tray of seedlings I will soon put into 4 inch pots to grow until it is safe to plant them in March or late summer they should be bearing fruit. I will leave the bananas alone until March as the browned fronds can act as insulation in case we get another freeze......IF the trunks WERE frozen, I will cut them down in March with a handsaw, and pile the chunks around the base of the stump to act as a mulch, then mulch the whole area with oak leaves and horse stall sweepings, then give them lots of the kitchen graywater I trap in a 4 gallon bucket beneath my sink (I disconnected the outflow pipe ages ago). Since cassavas regrow VERY rapidly in summer, and the part I eat is underground I will begin cuttings them back and chop the waste into the free range chicken scratch path that acts as a giant compost factory for me. Same goes for the true yams (Dioscorea species) I grow all over the yard....I have HUNDREDS of pounds of their nutrittious tubers that taste like an Idaho potato safely underground, and they never get woody, even when years old, so I will cut back the vast amounts of their dead vines consuming my fences and tall rebar in the backyard and let the chickens shred them for me. The only way the freeze impacted my food supply is loss of papayas and hot peppers.

Out front, where I grow mostly ornamentals, I will do little pruning until March as the dead tissue acts as insulation for future cold snaps. However, since I am reclaiming my front yard rendered an impenetrable jungle due to my deadly thorny GIANT climbing rose 'Mermaid' (which I am girdling to kill it since constant pruning did little to contain it) I WILL be cutting back and digging up perennials that simply got WAY too big during the year that 'Mermaid' kept me out of my own front yard.. I will also be cutting to the ground my overly large 'Bolivian Sunflower' (Tithonia diversifolia) and putting that vast amount of chopped up phosphorus-rich stalks into the chicken path too, which I should have done last March.

For me there are positives to this freeze...zapped mosquitos and garden pests and weeds, forced pruning of overgrown perennials, and especially, a good chilling period of needed dormancy for my cherished "Denver Roses" that are thriving in 18 gallon 'Water Wise Container Gardens' even though experts say that Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons "can't grow in Florida"....I am expecting a grand display this March, April and May.

There is a decent chance of rain this weekend which could do a lot for folks' damaged and stressed plants following this very severe freeze. I hope this post helps Florida urban farmers decide how to address damage to their crops. John

Home Grown Eggs: Feast or Famine

Those of us who raise chickens in our yards know that in summer, when daylengths are long, chickens usually lay one egg per day per bird, but as daylengths shorten in fall and winter, they ovulate much less often, especially after they moult their old feathers. But here is a simple trick I learned in Denver.
Crack your surplus eggs into a blender until it is nearly full, add 1 teaspoon of sea salt, buzz, let sit a few minutes to be sure the salt has dissolved, then blend again. Pour the mixture into recycled yogurt and cottage cheese tubs, label, then put in the freezer. So on some winter day when you are hankering for an omelet, or want to make a big batch of pancake batter, but the chickens aren't laying, take one of the tubs of frozen eggs out of the freezer and let it thaw. Better yet, take it out the night before.