Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thank You Yarawski family!

Bill and Theresa Yarawski, now both 81, moved into the home behind me in 1961, and since 1998 have been THE best neighbors I've ever had. When I'd summer in Denver they watched the house, replaced light bulbs that burned out, reset lamp timers after a storm and just kept an eye on things. Ever since I moved in full time in November 2002, Theresa has been spoiling me with leftovers, and I've enjoyed giving them dumpster treasures and helping with their gardens. Sadly, Bill, who for years was the Catholic deacon for MacDill AFB, has suffered from accelerating vascular dementia, and for 5 years Theresa was exhausted by non-stop caregiving, and so recently she's had two episodes of congestive heart failure. Bill has been in a nursing care facility for a few months now. It has always been my pleasure to help when Theresa would call to ask for help due to Bill "acting out" as his dementia progressed, or to watch their home and dog Ginger (Sweety's best friend all these years and our yards share a back gate) when she'd be in the hospital since we share sets of house keys.

Recently, Mary Ann was down from Alabama to help her Mom again and one night called me, said to come over as her Mom had a question. So I walk in the back door as usual to find them both in the kitchen, grinning. There on the dining room table was a BIG gift wrapped box with a card taped to it....on the card it said "To John, From: The Universe". All the family members had signed the card and they thanked me for having helped over the years and I immediately got teary-eyed and choked up. Then they told me to open the box...inside was a gorgeous 24" LCD TV!

They've known of my "Universe Wish List" I've kept on my fridges for 20 years now, and in the past we'd talked about it being the same in spirit as their prayers as Catholics. They had recently tricked me into mentioning new additions to my list and got wind of the fact that my big TV had died and I was watching a little 13" portable I'd traded a rose for and so had put on my list a "big flat screen TV". So they bought me a gorgeous one!

Last night I got nicely "altered" and watched my 'Avatar' DVD that arrived yesterday, with my killer surround sound system cranked (I recently dumpster dived an even BETTER powered subwoofer than I had before, so it was almost like being in a theater!)

Thank You Yarawski Family for being great neighbors all these years, and for that loving generous gift and adding to the joy of my little homestead and "farm" in south Tampa! I have such an abundant life. Check out my wonderful new TV in my newly re-mirrored east side of my livingroom!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Restricted Drainage Tree Pot Gardens

20/20 hindsight tells me that my Water Wise Container Gardens were preceded conceptually by an approach I am still using now. I take large recycled black plastic commercial tree pots, pull a used plastic grocery bag halfway through EVERY drainage hole, then partially fill the pot with woody debris, like freeze-killed cassava stalks, small sticks, then add successive layers of Tampa sand from when I dig holes to bury Water Wise Container Gardens, fresh horse stall sweepings, wood chips mulch and leaves, sprinkling every 4th layer or so lightly with dolomitic limestone (to control acidity and provide calcium and magnesium) and a nitrogen source, such as feed grade urea, fish emulsion, or in this case, I cheated with a few handfuls of a very high nitrogen lawn fertilizer I got cheap as a torn bag at Lowe's. (I'm not a purist when it comes to soil foods though I use no pesticides beyond BT). Nitrogen deficiency in container gardens is a common problem, especially when making your own soil mixes using high carbon garden waste, and I overlooked this problem in my earliest prototypes.

This completed Restricted Drainage Tree Pot Garden is now planted with three seedlings of an heirloom squash I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds called "Upper Ground Sweet Potato". Since it was derived from the subtropical species Cucurbita moschata I expect it will do well this summer and send sprawling vines all over the place. A modified tree pot like this one to this day supports my Denver cemetery rose "Fairmount Red" in spite of all logic that a cold hardy once-blooming rose like it "can't grow in Tampa", much less thrive.

I feel that the grocery bags drawn through the drainage holes greatly reduce drainage and evaporative losses while still allowing for SOME essential drainage plus vital airflow to the roots at night when they take in oxygen. I now have several of these modified tree crops I use for extra thirsty crops like carrots and daikon. They need MUCH less than watering than if the same crops were in the sandy soil here.

The photos show the various stages of creating one of these, from drawing the bags through the holes, to the crucial framework of cassava and other stalks (once decayed they seem to act as wicks plus air channels) to the various layers of ingredients, including the few light sprinklings of dolomite.
If you create some versions of Restricted Drainage Tree Pots this season, please keep me posted as to your results. John

Monday, April 26, 2010

Freezing Surplus Eggs

Chickens lay just about daily all summer, but as the autumn daylengths shorten they taper off, with often no eggs at all some weeks in winter. So here is a tip I learned in Denver 20 years ago: crack your surplus eggs into your blender, add a teaspoon of salt, buzz the eggs, then pour into yogurt, cottage cheese tubs, etc. label with a felt tip and freeze. They will keep a year EASILY. As last night's wonderful rain storm raged, I enjoyed a savory, hearty 5 cheese broccoli/snap pea/onion quiche, my first quiche in years, due to thawing out the day before a big tub of frozen eggs.

These days I add a few drops of tincture of iodine to many foods I cook plus to these raw eggs in the blender to mimic the old style Japanese seacoast diet very rich in iodine as the health benefits of iodine supplementation are legion. In Japan, iodine is added to the chickens' food to insure that Japanese who've abandoned old ways of eating for Western style fast food get dietary iodine by default. The U.S. RDA for iodine is 83-100 times LOWER than most other developed nations...our RDA barely prevents goiter vs. meeting our bodies' actual needs. A bottle of tincture is about $1.25...the skull and cross bones on the bottle we grew up with is the result of Big Pharm bribing congressman decades ago to keep the public from self treating a wide range of health issues with what doctors then called The Master Nutrient they administered to patients as Lugol's Solution, which substitutes water for the food grade ethyl alcohol in the tincture we put on cuts......same kind of underhanded chicanery that got cannabis declared dangerous and illegal after having been in the US pharmacopoeia!

So all summer each summer, make a point to freeze eggs for those lean winter months. John

Wild Sunday Night Rain Storm

A BIG chunk of my neighbor Jerry's cherry laurel tree is on his front yard today.....the arriving winds were VERY violent, almost scary, with BIG trees down all over Tampa. I got 2.5 inches of rain, a friend in Lutz got 4 inches! Here is a little test of my video camera. John

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waste Not Want Not

Look how many potatoes my Dad grew in his Okeechobee, Florida garden from just one sprouted potato most folks would throw out! John

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Video Tour of my Urban Farm in Progress

Well now that I seem to have figured out how to download from my videocam I bought last September, and SEEM to understand working with YouTube, all I need to do now is be less jiggly with the camera and stop turning it sideways! Enjoy, John

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I love how sunlight changes as we orbit our star

My bathroom window faces south, and so it acts as my "Stonehendge" for short winter days. I love that very first day each fall when the sun gets low enough to send beams to the suspended crystals there. In Denver that would trigger winter depression in me if I did not use light treatments beginning each mid August to pre-empt SADS. But here it means our most abundant veggie growing season is here. All the Brassicas, plus peas and carrots and tomatoes, and tons more, all made possible by the cooler temps and lower humidity. Great sleeping weather too most nights, bedroom window open.

Plus my beloved roses bloom best in late winter into spring. This year is especially nice after that chilly, wet, El Nino winter my body did not like, but my gardening mind appreciated big time.

I am familiarizing myself with my barely used video cam and needed download software, now that I think I finally "get it", by loading to YouTube old silent movie bits I took with my older Olympus. I found this one I shot some years back when the backyard was far more open, with a full view of the sky. But to this day I love this annual earth/solar event that has such a profound affect on my food gardens.

For a few years now, another sign of shortening autumn days is on my bathroom window sill.....a solar-powered songbird model I dumpster dived years ago breaking into song for the first time one fall day when the sun dips low enough for the first time. I love my UnderSea Fantasy Bathroom, which was the first room I tripped out ten years upon realizing this is my last house that I fully enjoy living in until, hopefully, I am 94 (my grandpa's age). I had no idea at the time years ago that it would in turn trigger my livingroom. John

Baby Coturnix Quail Last Winter

I just now FINALLY downloaded one of three movies trapped in my lovely video camera for months after I finally found a way to bypass the ENRAGING "easy One Click To You Tube" software that came with the camera and used that one in my PC. Now I am hopeful that I can at last share on my blogs some of the many projects I keep myself busy with here. I have lots to learn about the camera itself but this little clip looks acceptable. John

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Woolly Vetch

I read today that this vetch with beautiful flowers also has usefulness on the farm and for livestock. I will look for seeds at Adams-Briscoe Seed Company in part because I think it could do double-duty as a lovely ornamental! John

Vetch Update for April 20, 2010

I am very glad I tried this lovely, edible (sweet and tender), high protein, nitrogen-fixing leguminous (a Lathyrus species hybrid) cover crop ( AC Greenfix Chickling Vetch) as a winter annual that I am now curious if will "over-summer" here in Tampa. Growth has been rapid, and it takes just a few minutes daily to chop up several handsful in a tray using kitchen scissors to feed to the chickens for their vital raw green plant matter fix. They definitely prefer the Bonar and other Rapes/Brassicas, but they and the Japanese quail will eat it if I chop it fairly fine as I harvest it. Its close relationship to the ornamental garden sweet pea, Lathyrus odorata, has been made even clearer by the small but lovely blooms that come in many colors that have recently appeared. I detect no fragrance, and people tell me I have a very sensitive nose. But it has done its job feeding the chickens, and I am sure is nitrifying my summer sweet potato patch. Here are a few pics from today. In northern climates now would be a good time to sow the seeds. John

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Alternative Squashes for Hot and Cold Climates

Taiwan Pumpkin

Jamaican Pumpkin

my kitchen as the fall harvest progresses

Seminole Pumpkin

Thai Small Pumpkin

Something that is evolving in my yard


La Primera


There’s nothing like savoring a baked Butternut squash, especially during winter months. But all too often they fail to thrive in Florida's muggy summer gardens, falling prey to bugs and fungi. Yet several closely related tropical squashes loosely referred to as both "calabazas" and "pumpkins" glory in the summer months and can fill our homes with "winter keeper" squashes that will keep for up to 6 months indoors without refrigeration.
Many of us have been disappointed by the bland flavor of the tan-skinned "calabazas" that show up in many grocery stores vs. the now rarely seen dark green calabazas of old style Cuban cuisine. But reliable mail order seed houses provide a host of tasty ones, like the Japanese "kabocha", the Everglades native "Seminole Pumpkin", the various "Thai Pumpkins", the hybrid ‘La Primera’, plus assorted "calabazas" from Central America and southern Mexico, all being members of the species Cucurbita moschata. Over the last few years I have tested over 30 varieties of squash and pumpkins of that species and two others, C. mixta and C. maxima, in my yard and friends’ yards in a quest for the best growth, flavor and keeping qualities.
My years in Denver tell me that folks in northern climates, when ordering winter squash seeds, might consider buying ones bred from those last two species ( for example, 'Buttercup' was derived from C. maxima, perhaps one reason why it grew spectacularly in my Denver gardens but is rarely seen in central Florida gardens).

Their needs are simple; full sun, rich fertile soil, summer rains, and ROOM as the vines can sprawl 20 or more feet! Sow the seeds April through June in a fertile garden, or create a special "compost pit" to grow them in. Dig a deep hole 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep and pour in 5 lbs. of cheap dry dog food nuggets. If you have access to horse manure dump in about 5 pounds of that too. If you live inland and have acid soil sprinkle in 2 cups of dolomitic limestone sold in 50 lb. bags at garden centers for about $4 per bag. Then fill the hole with organic wastes like raked leaves, bush trimmings, and kitchen scraps like coffee grounds and eggshells, plus soiled kitty litter and compost. Cover this all up with the soil you dug out till you end up with a low dome, water it deeply, mulch with leaves or chipped tree trimmings mulch, then plant 3 seeds 1 inch deep at the top of the dome. Water deeply again. In a week, plump seedlings will emerge.
As summer deepens and the rains come and nights get warm, the vines’ growth rate will astound you, as will the lack of bug or fungus problems.
I enjoy eating the lovely yellow male flowers (a long thin stem instead of a baby squash behind the bloom as in female blooms) as a raw plate garnish, and the Japanese dip them in tempura batter and deep fry them. And the tender vine tips and newly unfolded baby leaves are delicious if cut into thin strips and added to stir fry and casserole dishes, another Asian cooking tradition. Immature green squashes may be harvested all summer and used like zucchini. So long before the bountiful fall harvest, "calabazas" will be feeding you and your family.

Late in the autumn, as the vines wither, your pumpkins and squash will be ready to cut off the vine and store in a cool room or garage. Don’t let them touch to reduce rotting problems and they’ll keep very easily for 4-6 months, sweetening as they age. Try them baked with honey and butter and salt, or with garlic powder, butter and salt, baked into "pumpkin pies", or cut raw into strips much like carrot sticks. Drop chunks of the rich orange flesh into winter soups and find many recipes on-line for Jamaican and Asian pumpkin soups. And be sure to rinse the seeds in a colander and let them dry on a paper towel...eaten raw they are very healthy and nutty tasting, or pan fry them in a skillet with a little roasted sesame oil and salt for a hearty snack. And of course any of these varieties will provide kids with some creative Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween.

My fifteen years of gardening in Denver tell me these varieties would resent the cool summer nights and low I KNOW they'd barely have time to produce in that painfully short growing season. But if your area has long hot humid summers maybe give them a try.

One last thing: those rampant vines will choke out nearly all weeds, so create a "compost pit" garden for your calabazas wherever you have a weedy sunny area you’d like to wipe clean. What a treat to turn weeds into bounty for the kitchen.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:
Ph. (417) 924-8917
Evergreen Y. H. Enterprises
Ph. (714) 637-5769

A wonderfully drippy Sunday in central Florida

Our El Nino wet winter had shut down like someone flicked a switch, with us VERY dry the last two weeks or so, and I'd used up all my many buckets of rain water plus emptied all three rain barrels and had begun to water. So to have what had been a forecast for a slim chance of rain today go up yesterday, then to have brief waves of rain arrive last night as I "altered", then to wake up to a drippy Sunday with a slow steady rain and buckets and barrels filling, is a total delight. The downside is that I will likely have no students for today's Summer Tropical Veggies class...odd how so often rain DOES occur on weekends when I teach! That was the only downside to the El Nino winter for income took a real hit due to many classes being rained out. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Check out this forecast! The vetch patch was getting quite dry...this sloow soaking will do it wonders. John

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I have failed in a couple past efforts a year or so ago to germinate kenaf seeds, but I am sowing in a pot in a few minutes some fresh seeds I just got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, with the intent to transplant the seedlings into Water Wise Container Gardens...if we have a "wet" spring I will plant some directly into a garden site. I look forward to cooking and eating the leaves of this okra relative (the blooms look VERY much like okra blooms), and am hopeful my chickens and quail will accept the raw leaves as a summer "green". The stalks could be wonderful for when I fill new Water Wise Container Gardens, which work best by far if light-weight vertical plant stalks, like freeze-killed cassava stalks, largely fill each container, before I begin adding the lasagna-layers of soil and soil formers in each....they seem to act as wicks and, when decayed, as soil aerators. I am expecting that here in Tampa I will get ample seed set this fall, but I gather it grows well in northern summers. The very fast growing plants could also give me non-commital, temporary shade along my garden path out back. I met a kenaf plant in the summer of 1998 at the New Orleans Botanic Gardens when I gave a talk to the New Orleans Old Roses Society, and it made a very positive impression on me. I had no idea at the time that I was just months away from buying my "old man house" here in Tampa so I could finally, after 15 years of homesickness being trapped in Denver by what is now called an "underwater" mortgage, escape a brutal climate and utterly hostile geography alien to me as a native Floridian. So I hope that in the summer of 2010 I get to experience kenaf in my gardens.

Both it, and its look-alike, Cannabis, hold very great promise as sources of paper (plus seed oil) far superior to standard monocultural pine plantations. John

'Menina Rajada Seca" squash

Since this selection derived from Cucurbita moschata is grown commercially in Brazil, I am hopeful mine thrives too. I love these long neck type winter squashes as they can be picked when very immature and used like a zucchini, and, when ripe, have deep orange flesh with the seeds in a small cavity at the lower the whole neck is solid meat. I am going to sow the seeds in a buried 55 gallon Water Wise Container Garden in my south bed out back. John

"Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash"

Today I sowed seeds of this southern heirloom squash in a very large, restricted-drainage tree pot that I have recorded the creation of and filling of with growth medium.....I'd planned on posting pics of this by now, but my camera batteries died and my haunted new battery chargers (both) are again giving me grief about actually CHARGING batteries. This concept of "restricted drainage" pots was, in hindsight, an early prototype opf my "Water Wise Container Gardens" that to this day I still employ as a way of making very productive use of discarded (free!) black plastic commercial tree pots. I will post those pics as soon as I can power up my camera.

I am hopeful about this squash because it is a member of Cucurbita moschata, a squash species that is tropical in origin and that generally thrives in Deep South and Florida summers when C. maxima, C. mixta and C. pepo often struggle and fail. (All the "calabaza" pumpkins are derived from C. moschata and hence are known for their RAMPANT healthy productive vines in good rich moist soil). The leaves of any strain of C. moschata are unmistakable as they have very attractive, nearly-metallic, silvery-grey patterns on their leaves vs. the plain green leaves of the other species (see attached pics). I bought these seeds from my favorite seed folks, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I just got a great order from them a couple of days ago and will share those crops as I sow them either directly or in starter pots.
The young newly opened leaves and vine tips, and the male blooms, of all the cultivated squashes are edible and nutritious, so you get food long before the squash forms.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One More May Class: Least Toxic Pest Control, Indoors and Out, Year Round"

Say “summer” and many homeowners and gardeners and pet lovers alike cringe and think of plant-ravaging bugs and diseases, plus swarms of fleas and roaches and mosquitos making life miserable for us and our animal companions, and poultry mites in our henhouses biting us AND the birds. This class will teach you a great many natural, non-or-least toxic methods of controlling and eliminating those scourges, including biological methods that need be purchased just once from mail order or local sources. All of these control methods are VERY inexpensive (hey, I’m a lifelong pathologically cheap tightwad!) and easy to acquire or make at home. Food self sufficiency gardeners like me CAN enjoy fresh produce all year long by defeating pests without poisoning those crops or the environment. A detailed handout, complimented by the notes you take (bring a pad and pen please) will let you begin right away winning the “battle against bugs and fungus” all year long. I am teaching the class again on May 23rd, from 11 AM until 1 PM, and the cost is $20 per person. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 e-mail is: Happy Gardening! John

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Classes for May 2010

Tightwad Gardening and Landscaping

Times are tough for lots of folks these days, plus many are trying to break their dependence on fiat currency, endless debt, store bought corporate-produced food, and soul-draining jobs. But if one is not careful, starting a food garden to “save money” can quickly result in a tomato that has $47 in hidden costs (just an exaggeration but you get my point). Plus one can spend a fortune on basic landscape and yard care supplies. But a lifetime of pathological frugality has taught me MANY ways to grow organic produce for VERY close to free, and to spruce up a tired landscape for next to nothing with free mulches and soil foods, plus low cost edgings, bird baths and more. I will use my back yard as a classroom to teach these tightwad techniques and ideas, plus I will have a handout listing many freebies to be had from our wasteful culture. My free range chickens may walk in and out of the “classroom”. I have some cool garden-related dumpster treasures to share too. I learned a lot of cool things during the 19 years I ran my organic landscaping business here and in Denver, "THE GARDEN DOCTOR". The class will be held here, 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611 (813 839 0881) on May 30th from 11 AM until 1 PM. To get you in the spirit of “tightwad gardening” I will have free seeds and cuttings. You can park on the mulched area hugging the street, behind my white Dodge Caravan, or across the street where the white picket fence is, or the yard east of me on my side of Paxton. The cost is $20 per student. This class should very quickly begin paying for itself many times over so you can pay down debt and save up for a rainy day AND end up with a lush and productive landscape and gardens.Happy Gardening! John Starnes

Basic of Food Self Sufficiency Urban Farmsteading

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 class twice more in May, on the 2nd and the16th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, from 11 AM until 1 PM followed by a 30 minute Q & A session. The cost is $20 per person. 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 help folks eager to transform their yards into sources of sustenance, personal independence, and spiritual satisfaction.Come see how little the freeze affected my food supply, and enjoy fresh raw nibbles as we walk amongst the free range chickens. John

Water Wise Container Gardening

We have here in central Florida been blessed with a damp cold El Nino winter after easily 20 years of dry to me, all that moisture compensates for the extensive freeze damage. Hopefully, we are all making wise water use a central focus in our lives as Florida's population continues to boom. But the dry spring heat is back. I've invented an alternative method of making home made container gardens that grows food and flower crops well with much less water, and that can be made for free to just $10. As a result, despite my yard being an urban farm, my June 2009 water use bill was just $1.35! This class teaches you how to make your own from free recycled plastic containers, how to create a great soil mix for it, and easy ways to maintain and sustain yours using cheap and/or dumpster-dived supplies. This simple design avoids the problems that many have experienced with others often described as "self watering containers" and that can cost $100. You'll see several of mine in differing styles and stages of growth to help you decide what works best for you and your space and budget. This class also covers veggie gardening basics in central Florida, and so would be a great choice for northern transplants who feel that Florida gardening is either impossible or difficult at best. My first veggie garden here was in 1967, so I can pass on practical, time-tested techniques.I love how my Water Wise Container Gardens use VERY little water vs. my growing the same crops, including my beloved Old Roses, in my in-ground gardens. Growing food crops in this manner can also allow a gardener to avoid using Tampa's and St. Pete's reclaimed water that has caused severe difficulties for many folks due to the very high levels of salts and chlorides. Plus one is not supposed to eat raw veggies grown with reclaimed water, which rules out growing fresh salads and herbs from one's own garden! Special attention will be paid to the very common problem of nitrogen deficiency often encountered in container gardening whether one makes one's own soil as I do, or purchases it in bulk or bagged. You will get two packs of very hard to get vegetable seeds that will thrive all summer long in your Water Wise Container Gardens. The cost of the class is $20 per person. This class has been very well received, so I am teaching it again on May 8th then again May 15, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session following. My address is 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611. Phone is 813 839 0881, e-mail is RSVP is not required but helpful in my planning each class. Come learn how to grow your own organic produce for a fraction of what you pay in the stores while slashing your water use and bill and avoiding the toxic-to-plants reclaimed water. I've been asked several times to offer classes on weekdays, so I am offering this class also on Wednesday the 5th, from 6 to 8 PM.Happy Gardening! John Starnes

Basic of Cheap and Easy 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 and humane lives (and deaths) for the birds. This class covers how to make a predator-proof hen house cheaply or even for free, how to feed chickens cheaply or even 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 this class for free. I have been asked to teach this class again, so I am twice in May, on the 9th and again on the 29th, 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 $20 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 sow next fall to provide raw green plant matter VITAL to having healthy chickens. 813 839 0881 to RSVP. See you then! John

Hot Weather Loving Crops for the Summer Veggie Garden

There is an unfortunate, widespread myth that summers are too hot, muggy and buggy in Florida 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.
In this class 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. Be sure to bring a pad and pen as folks tell me my classes are information-dense. Growing these summer crops organically is easy in good soil and full sun, 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 twice in May, on the 1st and the 22nd. The cost is $20 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

"Magic 8" Allergy Tea

I discovered this remarkably effective herbal tea treatment for allergies in the spring of 2003...fifteen years in Denver had wiped out my immunity to Tampa's infamous spring oak pollen that literally coats cars etc. with a yellow visible allergy reaction was debilitating. Claritan and all those make me feel creepy, plus I believe in addressing root causes. This tea has no ephedra or other symptoms seems to go right to the heart of the problem. One tea bag per WEEK for three weeks "fixed" my oak I get just a slight touch of sneezes then that stops. Last spring, Sweety, like many Tampa dogs, reacted both with respiratory issues plus a heart-breaking skin inflammation that led to hot spots. But just one cup of the tea from one tea bag, mixed into her daily high fiber stew, weekly for three weeks, also "fixed" her. I have turned many Tampa friends onto it for them and their dogs and they too are walking commercials for it. I find the listing of herbs on the box intriguing. I get 24 tea bags for $4.99 at the "Oceanic Market" (a huge Chinese market with a loyal following) in downtown Tampa. But I am guessing other Asian stores would carry it, plus maybe one can buy it on-line. So if you are enduring "allergy hell" I enthusiastically suggest you give it a try! John

Window Gardens Video

Very innovative and inspiring! John

Freeze Damage on Trees and Shrubs

Whether it is my avocado or Key Lime tree or guava bush or Barbados Cherry tree here in Tampa, or a rose bush or apple tree or stone fruit in a cold climate, the best way to detect and remove freeze-killed branches is to wait until spring growth reveals the extent of the dead wood before pruning. It is a good thing I waited, as those two nights of 27 degrees did LESS damage than I thought and I would have pruned off live branches. John

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A New Scoop on Poop

By placing these discarded plastic baker's racks beneath where some of my chickens roost, then covering them with scavenged pine needles, I ended up with a wonderful "tea bag" for compost tea. I let the chickens poop on it a few months to get a nice heavy layer of poop, then take it out of the henhouse, let it dry in the sun a few days, peel the pine needle/manure mat from the baker's rack, and soak it in maybe 20 gallons of rainwater for a couple of weeks. The end result is a wonderful elixir for seedlings, established plants, peonies and roses, and other hungry, rapidly growing plants. It can be used straight, or diluted any number of ways. There is nothing like fresh poop from home raised, free range chickens to feed your soil with, especially when brewed into a "tea". John

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Gray Street Grape"

Conventional table grapes grow poorly, if at all in Florida, and many people are not fond of Muscadine grapes. Four years ago I rescued a grape from a soon-to-be razed rental, named it "Gray Street Grape" and planted it on the south side of the henhouse. Last year, year three, it suddenly took off BIG time and utterly consumed the henhouse AND the quail pen QUICKLY where it offered the birds wonderful summer shade. It bloomed for the first time last year, twice, but made just one red grape with good flavor. But THIS year it is budding up heavily JUST as the leaves emerge vs. last year's oddly timed bloom phases, so I am hopeful I get a genuinely productive harvest of grapes. I have obsessively tried to figure out what it is....a cultivar or a species, at times thinking Vitis aestivalis a likely ID...but that one grape being red really makes that unlikely. It may also be a variety that requires a pollinator.

Since I have established purchased plants of grapes that DO perform well in Florida thriving in 5 gallon Water Wise Container Gardens, if this year this Mystery Grape does not set fruit well I am killing it to make way for one of these productive ones (Blue Lake, Conquistador and Southern Home). Why grow a monster grape vine that makes no grapes?!

The pic of the bud cluster is a few days old.....since then it and the hundreds of others have GREATLY increased in size and number. The other pic is from early last summer before it took off. John

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fighting the Scourge of Poultry Mites

I'd never heard of these little bastards until last year when apparently the crows that sneak into the henhouse to steal eggs brought them in. They are TEENSY, did not see them, but suddenly I had HUNDREDS of VERY itchy red bites all over me. I Googled, learned of them, saw that when I went into the henhouse they'd IMMEDIATELY go up my shoes then feet and legs....they instinctively climb UP so I had to put orange oil on my feet prior to getting eggs. But then they infested the mulch pathways and ended up in my BED, making me use TONS of water laundering my bedding. I sprayed my mattress with permethrin I dumpster dived and fixed that. We had a BAD drought last spring and they NEED dry dusty materials to live and breed in. As soon as I watered down the henhouse heavily, and we got a rain for the paths, they virtually vanished. So a few days ago I ran my wonderful shower head sprinkler in the henhouse for 15 minutes to give it a deep soaking, then soaked the quail pen too. I sure hope they are a thing of my past as that was nightmarish. Be aware they can afflict poultry and people in nearly every climate zone, and that wild birds are often the carriers. Yikes I ITCHED SO BAD! Was horrific when I'd feel them crawling on me in my own bed I'd JUST laundered! Putting a couple inches of food grade diatomaceous earth in litter boxes, one for the henhouse, one for the quail pen, allowed the birds to cure themselves by "dust bathing" in it. era has ended.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My current Universe Wish List

An essential aspect of my attempts to cultivate a pleasant, largely self sufficient life for almost 20 years has been to post on my refrigerator door a "Universe Wish List", in part to focus my efforts as a self employed man since 1984, to keep my eyes peeled for desired items curbside and in dumpsters, and because I have ample reason to believe in The Power of Attraction. That wish list helped me to find and buy my "Old Man House" here on Paxton Avenue, my wonderfully reliable 1998 Dodge Caravan minivan, plus too many other treasures and blessings to list, including some of the wonderful plants I grow and eat, and long sought Old Roses, like my beloved 'Louis XIV'. A few times daily I say outloud "Thank You Universe" after noticing new evidence of abundance in my life.

So in the spirit of continued faith and casting a wider net I am posting here my current refrigerator door "Universe Wish List".

Universe Wish List April 2010:

10 foot rebars
big flatscreen TV
battery charger
Rosy and her fetal baby prosper
"new" refrigerator
Mr. Clean Magic Sponges
giant crystal for center of livingroom ceiling
"new" back door
Bern's Steak House throne for my Gay Trailer Trash on Acid livingroom
mirror plexi-security dome for livingroom ceiling
Bush regime face justice
1 gallon sapphire blue paint for kitchen project
"new" kitchen sink
2 pounds of rhinestones for livingroom walls
Theresa Y. make the right decisions
an ideal life partner for Avena
free dry dog and cat food for poultry
big slabs of mirror for livingroom floor
dark blue or olive bath towels
landscape flood lights
tea strainer
"new" office mini-blinds
generate a $5,000 windfall with my efforts
bird seed
mirror plexi-tubes for livingroom ceiling
potent cannabis
long plexi-mirror strips for livingroom walls and ceiling

Thank You Universe, John

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beyond Frugal: Pine Straw

Keep your eyes peeled for bags of pine needles that people set out for garbage pickup. I have long enjoyed using them as a decorative, water-shedding mulch for garden pathways. Dry long needle pine is great for giving chickens a nice soft bedding for their nesting boxes for folks in the southeast U.S.. For folks in Australia, the very soft needles of the "Australian Pine" (not really a pine and long banned in Florida) would serve well for both tasks. John

My Favorite Broccoli

Since 1984, both first in Tampa, and then in Denver, then Tampa again these last several winters back home, 'Waltham 29' has been the most rewarding broccoli cultivar I've grown. It came out in 1954 when I was just one year old, and I fully expect to grow old cultivating and enjoying this very productive open-pollinated heirloom broccoli (I guess I'm heirloom too!). It makes nice sized, tender flavorful main heads, then after those are harvested, oodles of side branches each topped with florets. I am getting ready to blanch and freeze for summer a lot of the great tasting leaves and florets I use all winter in salads and omelets, but to use in cooked dishes until next late September when I will sow it again. I like to sear the fresh florets with chopped onions in HOT olive oil with tons of garlic plus seasalt. John

Monday, April 5, 2010

Improving a Sprinkler Can

A couple years ago I dumpster dived two sturdy plastic sprinkler cans I like to dip into rain barrels and fish ponds to spot water seed trays, etc. with. But the holes were so tiny the flow rate was very low, plus the holes would plug easily with bits of mulch, etc. So a few months ago it FINALLY occured to me to solve the problem by drilling a few larger holes into the spray heads. Now they dispense much more water yet are gentle enough for seed trays, plus rarely get stopped up. It took just a few seconds to modify each watering I love using them. Their being free adds to the satisfaction!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Growing "Wish Trees"

I am delighted that this sublime participatory art exhibit by Yoko Ono has been so well received wherever it has gone around the world for years now. I experienced it in Miami in 2002 at the then-travelling "YES Yoko Ono" retrospective of 40 years of her astounding, Zen-like creativity....they used a ficus tree there at that Miami gallery. I think this might be an interesting thing to do in our own yards. John

Saving Seeds from Brassicas Family Crops

The Brassicas, also called Cole Crops or Cruciferous Vegetables, include crops like mustard, cabbage, broccoli, kale, boy choy, rape and MANY more. But if allowed to bloom, they usually make sprays of cheery yellow flowers (daikons are usually pinky-white) followed by the archtypal long slender seed pods also arranged in sprays. The trick to saving their seeds is to let the pods get ripe and tan, then cut off the seed spikes BEFORE the pods begin to shatter. I like to dry the severed spikes in a brown paper bag for a couple weeks, then use my hands to shatter the pods. You can wind winnow away the chaff out doors or, depending on the size of its holes, use a kitchen colander to strain the chaff out of the seeds into a bowl below. Pour them into a paper envelope, label, like "Green Wave Mustard" 2010. I also like to right on the envelope what brassica it grew close to as the Brassicas can be wildly interfertile. For instance, the pics of blooms and seed spikes are of a seedling that popped up last August in a baby pool Water Wise Container Garden that was OBVIOUSLY a cross between Purple Kozaitai and Mizuna. Since no other Brassicas were in bloom at the time, these blooms should be self-pollinated and seedlings next fall could show wild variation next winter due to genes from ancestors activating, just like a blond man and woman can have kids with red or dark brown hair....grandparents and great-grandparents' traits could show up! Here in Tampa, the Brassicas set seed in spring and early cold climates expect the seed clusters in the autumn. Give it a try...not much work, can save you money as regards buying new seeds, plus seeing what emerges from the seeds (in Denver I had spontaneous crosses between Daikon and Purple Top Globe Turnip appear!) can be fun.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Gandule Beans/Pigeon Peas

Gandule Beans (Pigeon Peas) are a stand alone legume crop SUPER easy in Florida in summer...can be perennial if winters are mild. I suspect that they would thrive as an annual crop all along the Gulf coast and even in northern states where summers are long, hot and humid. I think the botanical name is Cajun cajunus or the reverse of that or something close....I've been growing them since the mid 80s so I have no idea why I continue to have a mental block about their botanical name! It gets 6-8 feet tall fast in fertile soil that is not too heavily acid, but a light sprinkling of dolomite annually would correct that. The young leaves are great in stir fry and soups, and to feed to poultry, plus the raw flowers are lovely in salads. I find the green pods a real pain to shuck.....I don't see how folks in the Caribbean manage to do that! Someone told me they have a hand cranked shucking machine that does it. So I cook my green pods in water with salt, garlic, sometimes hot peppers and eat them like edamame soybeans as finger food. Just buy a bag of the "beans" in the Hispanic foods section and sow them 1 inch deep and 2-3 feet apart. They grow FAST and thus can be a great emergency privacy screen around a hot tub or outdoor shower. If I can find pics of the blooms I will attach them. This crop is an excellent soil nitrifier perfect for farmers who rotate crops. Good forage for livestock too. No pests that I know of. Loves rich damp soil. A bag of the beans is about $1.50 so you'd get thousands of viable seeds very cheaply that way vs. buying them from a seeds catalog...give them a try! John

Friday, April 2, 2010

Edible Florida Native "Beach Bean" seeds for sale

This relative of the African Jack Bean is known botanically as Canavalia rosea, and has similar growth habits and uses in the kitchen. Cooking drives off the low levels of cyanogenic glucossides in the "beans". Expect rampant vine growth once the summer heat kicks in as it is a Florida native. The pods are smaller though, and to me the blooms are even more fragrant. Last year my plant froze to the ground then came up with a vegeance in summer......I will be curious if it somehow survived THIS winter. If a northern gardener decides to be a guinea pig and try this crop in their region, please keep me posted as to the results. The flavor of the cooked beans in the pods is similar to boiled peanuts with a touch of butter bean...use very young immature pods whole in stir fry and soups. Be sure to let several pods ripen and turn dry and tan this fall to insure you have seeds for future crops. You will get 10 seeds for $4 and a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope sent to me at:
John Starnes 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611