Monday, May 31, 2010

A Mint Lawn for Cold Climate Landscapes




In the late 90s, when I still lived in Denver, I choked out my tiny 'Nature's Choice' lawn out front with cardboard and mulch for a few months to pursue a years' old fantasy.....a mint lawn. A few months later when I sure all the grass had died, I sprigged the area with runners of 'Candy Mint', which in that rich soil quickly colonized the mulched soil. I then set native flagstones atop the lawn to connect my front sidewalk to the flagstone pathway in my south rose garden. This 'Candy Mint' lawn needed just a couple deep waterings a month, and as I'd always imagined, was sheer bliss to mow with my little pushmower, my whole front yard reeking of 'Wrigley's Spearmint Gum'. Every once in a while, I'd skip mowing for a few weeks to let the mint get tall, than make a massive harvest using scissors, and dried the mint indoors to store in jars to use in winter. Since I already had a patch of the mint growing by a rain gutter, and the cardboard and mulch were free, and already had a pile of the flagstone, the cost of the conversion was VERY minimal.

Tired of watering and mowing a demanding grass lawn and live in a colder climate? Give it a try! John

Saturday, May 29, 2010

news about my Mom




My mother, Susanne Starnes, died yesterday, Friday, May 28 at 4:20 PM, at 'Hospice by the Sea' in Boca Raton Fl. She will be cremated at Bass funeral home in Okeechobee, date unknown as of now. She died from end stage COPD, cancer of the lungs and renal failure. Mom was 79, had been a smoker until just a few years ago, and had been ill at home a long time with the COPD and unmanaged diabetes, with Dad cooking and caring for her. I was impressed by the hospice staff and feel that she died peacefully and pain free. I think she knew that my Dad and my brother Kevin and I were there as she moved her badly swollen arms a few times when we spoke to her. She had been on a respirator for almost three months. I hope that her lifelong hurting, and often hurtful, soul has at last found some peace. They were married for 57 years.
If you'd like to send my Dad a card here is his address: John Starnes Sr.
10009 N.E. 16th Street
Okeechobee FL 34974
John

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Q & A from my St. Pete Times column in 2006

Dear John
Enjoyed your article in the St. Pete Times, could you please tell me where I might find a Barbados Cherry plant?
Thanks Judy
 
Oops! It looks like the source was edited out of the on-line version of my article!
Jene's Tropicals
6831 Central Avenue St. Petersburg
727-344-1668 www.tropicalfruits.com
 
 

Subject: butterflies
Dear sir,I read somewhere that pentas would attract butterflies to my garden,I have lots of pentas but no butterflies.HELP. DG Murray
 
Wow I am very surprised as even butterfly pavillions grow them for that purpose! Hmm...I have only grown the old fashioned tall types, which are butterfly champs. I wonder if you are growing the newer shorter hybrids, like the Galaxy series and others, and if for some reason they are less attractive? Do keep in mind we have peak butterfly seasons here, like the end of winter. Perhaps just give them some time and do keep me posted. Happy gardening! John
 
 
 
 
 
Hey,
Nice article, John.
Yes, don’t eat the Surinams until they are purple…you remember how they were so tempting as fully reddened orbs but really didn’t get rid of that astringent taste until they turned a deep-maroon? I spent many a day gleaning them from neighborhood hedges and bushes on the way home from school, waiting patiently (and sometimes too much in-a-hurry) for them to ripen.
We had a nice guava tree in the 60’s given to us by an older army WAC neighbor, "Miss Steve" ("Steve" Stevenhart): It did alright (though I never took to the fruit like I did the strawberry guava growing on the side of the road all over Hawaii, "The Big Island"). She was a principled woman who would come out and "take our balls" (an early dose of masculine envy?) every time they landed in her yard during a game at the next-door-neighbor’s house (it wasn’t bad as her house was across the street and comprised deep right and right-center field!). She also had other exotics like persimmon in her screened-in porch in back.
Anyway, thanks for the memories in print. I moved to Iowa 3 years ago to be with my girl. I don’t miss the summers there (except for the afternoon thunderstorms) but sure wish they were longer here. What would you rather have: 6 months of summer (FLA.) or 6 months of winter? Either way you end up spending a lot of time indoors.
Put me down for summers, will ya’?
Dave


Dear Sir,
Always enjoy your columns in the St. Pete Times, but you really brought back some memories today!
I am a fifty-something gal, raised in Miami (my Mom was even a cracker!)
Our small back yard in Miami was proud home to a huge mango tree, a very small lime tree, a large pink grapefruit tree, and my favorite as a child: a 20-30 foot hedge of Surinam cherry bushes. How I loved those things! I got to know, by trial and error, the best color cherries to eat, and those to avoid. Mary & Dave
 
 
 
Thanks Mary and Dave for sharing those memories...I am 50 something, and my Dad was born and raised in Coconut Grove and also feasted on Surinam Cherries (and MANY other things as he reminds me the Great Depression was raging then). Wonderful that central and south Florida can always feed us from our yards! Nothing like being a "Cracker", right?! John

Hello John,
I read your weekly column in the St. Pete Times and I have never seen anyone ask how to get rid of dollarweed in an ornamental garden. I have dollarweed in my gardens amidst my azaleas and flowers and groundcover. I have tried pulling it up by hand, but as you must know it is virtually impossible to get all of it. If only a small piece of the root, or runner I should say, is left in the ground then it will continue to spread. I cannot use any of the dollarweed poisons I have seen on the market because they say not to use on or near plants. I am at my wits' end. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Marianne
 
 
Hi Marianne
I hear ya! While a good annual application of dolomite can do wonders to control dollarweed in a St. Augustine lawn, it is only partially effective in a landscape bed. Plus you should NOT use dolomite around azaleas and other acid lovers.
What has worked well for me for my clients since the mid 80's is to cover every square inch around the plants in a bed with a 1 inch thick layer of damp newspaper, each overlapping the next 6 inches, so that the soil and dollarweed are completely covered and hidden from view, right up to the edging and each plant stem so there are no escape routes for the dollarweed runners.
I then cover this with 6-8" of a heavy mulch, like the grindings from a tree trimming company. I keep that thick mulch an inch or two away from the plant stems. This usually suffocates to death 99% of the dollarweed. You can then pull the few that manage to emerge, or, if you are comfortable, spray them with a glyphosate based herbicide. (I personally will not use them and make my own formula based on glyphosate minus the controversial additives in those famous ones). This approach kills nearly all the dollarweed plus does wonders to make the soil damp and fertile and earthwormy.
Happy gardening!
John
 
Great idea! Long (looonnng) ago I went to Gorrie elementary in Tampa. The hedges alongside the front walk were (I think) Surinam cherryand I used to relish the little "treats." We are restoring a house in Seminole Heights in Tampa and will be looking for landscaping when the (ennnndless) scraping and painting and etc. and etc. and et cetera are done. I have a special eye on protecting the footings on the house, since they aren't the modern poured concrete and steel type we use today but are actually several courses of brick. So...a question:The use of the citrus trees as hedges is appealing. Since these are actually trees, even though, as you have suggested, they will be cut back hard yearly, can I expect the root system to develop pretty much the way a normal citrus tree's would? If so, and I wanted to use the trees as hedges, say, in front of the house, how far from the walls should the hedge be planted to avoid any possible disruption to the footing?We had a very modest looking hedge of Ixora beside the housewhen we moved in, low and pretty scraggly. I went to put a deck in over the site and started to pull the Ixora out. I ended up literally throwing chains around the roots and dragging them out with a Jeep because the things had been in there for probably forty years and while the tops were beat down and ragged, the roots were extremely robust and hearty and had apparentlybeen growing apace despite the fate of the foliage. Hence the question. Thanks again for the great idea. I imagine that hedges bearing fruit might also attract birds, an additional benefit, I think.John

Thanks for the kind comments John...it sounds like a cool (but LABORIOUS!) project you are doing. I'm not sure about the citrus roots issue...I THINK you'd be okay as the ones I listed never become large trees even if never pruned as can oranges and grapefruits. I wonder if planting the citrus hedge 6 feet from the house would be prudent as regards both roots and proximity to walls for maintenance and painting? I hope this helps and happy gardening! John
 
 
 
Subject: shrubbery check
I live up in Dunedin fla. Its just north of Clearwater beach. My wife insists on hibiscus but I don’t want them,. They are too common and want something that will stand the heat and sun in A.M. against my house. Will those cherry bushes hold up in this locale? And what specific species should I seek out? I just want something simple and easy to raise. I will keep them hedged. Whadda ya think?
Thanks much……….. Rob
 
Hi Rob
I would think that with your being on the beach there, with hard frosts a rarity (right?) that you could grow any of the fruit shrubs listed in the article, perhaps even the guavas despite your being a bit north of me. Keep me posted as to the choice you end up making.
Happy Gardening!
John

John
I have followed and enjoyed your garden Q & A column in the St. Pete Times. Could you give us your opinion?
My wife and I live in Clearwater, Florida on the bay. We are in the process of putting in a pool and seawall in our backyard, which is narrow, only 75 feet wide and backs to a mangrove forest. We are trying to find a tree which will provide maximum privacy bordering the sides of our backyard and, which would be as narrow as possible in light of the limited area. From my research, I am considering using Thuja Green Giant Evergreens, which would seem perfect for the task. However, I am having difficulty determining whether these trees will do well in our tropical climate. From an internet search, one seller (www.fast-growing-trees.com) of these trees created a geographic chart of the US in where the trees can grow and it did encompass the Tampa Bay area, but barely. About 7 random calls to local nurseries was not helpful as the staff on duty had no knowledge of the tree and did not seem to think they had it in stock.
Any knowledge as to whether this narrow tall tree will live in the Tampa Bay area? If not, any alternative suggestions?
Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks,
Gary

Hi Gary
Thanks for your kind comments. I checked out those Thuja hybrids and when I see their breeding and where they are farmed (the Carolinas) I agree they are not likely to thrive here. My Dad in Okeechobee tried for many years to create a hedge using a similar hybrid and fought constant disease and death. After spending vast amounts of time and money, two years ago he cut the sickly survivors down. I'd choose plants that LOVE Florida.
If height more than 10 feet is not needed, the very fast growing hedge Silverthorn (Eleagnus pungens) would give you rapid privacy plus tasty berries in spring. It is a VERY tough plant that the state of Florida uses on roadsides and welcome stations. Despite the name it is thorn free, and in December and January the inconspicuous blooms fill a yard with a glorious perfume much like jasmine.
If you want greater height, consider any of the giant Bamboo species. They'd enjoy the conditions you describe, give you a tropical look, are very fast growing once established, plus would provide you lovely homegrown bamboo canes for making fences, fishing poles or furniture. Plus you can cut off the newly emerging growth tips while still tender and chop them into Asian cuisine
Happy Gardening!
John

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My June Classes

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 pragmatic hyper-frugal techniques things during the 19 years I ran my organic landscaping business, "THE GARDEN DOCTOR" here and in Denver. The class will be held here, 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611 (813 839 0881) on June 20th 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 street on my side to avoid damaging neighbor's lawns. The cost is $20 per student, $2 off for every 20 used sturdy 1 gallon pots you bring. 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 Food

Self Sufficiency Urban Farmsteading Part 2

This class hones in on FIVE permacultural techniques to help you transform a lawn-based, non-productive yard into one that helps to feed your family year round, to cut your water use dramatically, to improve your soil naturally and cheaply, and to teach children where food REALLY comes from while improving the QUALITY of what you eat while spending much less on groceries.
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 June, on the 6th and the 19th, 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, $2 off per 20 used sturdy 1 gallon pots you bring. 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. Please park on the street on my side of Paxton to avoid damaging neighbors' lawns. Let's transform your yard into a source of sustenance, personal independence, and spiritual satisfaction.. John Starnes

Water Wise Container Gardening

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, making gardening in the ground very challenging. 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 hard to get vegetable seeds, one for the summer season, one for this winter. The cost of the class is $20 per person. This class has been very well received, so I am teaching it again on June 5th then again June 27th, 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 JohnAStarnes@msn.com. 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. 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 on June 26th, 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 Starnes

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 again on June 13th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Question and Answer period after. The cost is $20 per student, and my address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 JohnAStarnes @msn.com RSVP is helpful in my planning how to best teach this class. Just think....as 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 Starnes

Least Toxic Pest Control, Indoors and Out

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 June 12th, 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: JohnAStarnes@msn.com Happy Gardening! John

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Gray Street Grape" update

Bunch grapes are considered very difficult in Florida, though a few very complex hybrids have been bred that thrive here. My Mystery Grape "Gray Street Grape" made its first grape last year, a light red one.....I'd expected purple, thinking it was a native species grape due to its EXTREME vigor as it quickly consumed the henhouse and then the quail pen. Maybe due to it being 4 years old, or because I told it I'd dig it up if it did not set fruit this year, or because of the chilly wet El Nino winter we had, it is very heavily laden with grapes rapidly increasing in size. A customer and student yesterday suggested 'Red Flame' as he says it grows and bears very well here despite being a Bunch grape (vs. muscadine). But that grape is seedless...."Gray Street Grape" has seeds (good! now I can grow my own resveratrol!)

So I Googled about red bunch grapes that like Florida and I found just one likely candidate...'Daytona'. I'm guessing these thousands of green grapes will show color by July...once they do I will post pics plus a video or two.

In the meantime, my years old 'Triumph' muscadine grape on my south fence has just begun to bloom.....it looks to be a very "grapey" year indeed! John

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Frugal Fencing




Here is the original text of an article that The St. Pete Times ran in my gardening column in 2006. Except for the plants listed, it is fully applicable in cold climates too. John


SAFE AND SOUND

Nothing can enhance the beauty and safety of a property like an attractive fence. It can protect our kids and pets from stray dogs, discourage would-be thieves, offer privacy and be a powerful design element in a landscape. Trouble is, a commercially installed fence can easily run into the thousands of dollars, and building one yourself usually still costs a small fortune and requires a truck to get the sections home. Chain link fences are more affordable and manageable for do-it-your-selfers, but are sterile looking. And the last two summers have seen lots of our fences hammered by serial hurricanes.

But there is very easy and affordable way to build a sturdy fence that will last many years and offer a bonus.....color and fragrance in your landscape!
Yup, just go to a hardware store and buy green painted 6 foot long metal tree stakes (about $4), a 4 foot tall roll of green metal garden fencing (about $20 for 50 feet), and a small spool of steel wire (about $2) or a bag of metal rebar twist ties for $1.. One tree stake pounded two feet down into the ground with a sledge hammer every 6 feet will make your fence quite sturdy, but if you are on a tight budget space them 10 feet apart. Use a carpenter’s level to insure they are perfectly vertical. Then unroll the green metal fencing and use 6 inch lengths of the steel wire, or the rebar twist ties, to attach it to each post at the top, middle and bottom by twisting the wire with pliers. No need for the hassle and cost of concrete and post hole diggers, just pound, unroll and twist!
 
You can stop right here with this fast fence. But remember I said a fence can add color ? Well, just think of your new fence as a long long trellis, and plant flowering vines all along it! Soon they will weave into and through it and give you privacy as they clothe it in foliage and flowers. Our balmy climate allows colorfully blooming beauties like Tecomaria, Passion Flowers, Morning Glories, Flame Vine, Mandavillas, Carolina Jessamine, Pandorea Vine, and Allamanda. For an orderly look, plant several plants of just one of these all along the fence, or plant a mix of them all for year round psychedelic splendor....as one ceases blooming, another will kick in.
But wait!! There’s more!! Indulge in the rare elegance of old fashioned rambling roses that will gladly consume your new fence and add the splendor of fragrant blooms to your yard. Ones that thrive in good soil and on their own roots (vs. grafted) in full sun include ‘Climbing Old Blush’ (pink,date unknown), ‘Climbing Cramoisi Superieur (red,1885), ‘Prosperity’ (white, 1919), ‘E. Veyrat Hermanos’ (apricot, 1895), ‘Souvenir de Mme. Leonie Viennot’ (salmon-apricot, 1898) and ‘Francois Juranville’ (salmon-pink, 1906).
Got kids? Let them grow vining veggies on the fence. Pole beans (the variety ‘Scarlet Runner’ makes BRIGHT red blooms!), snow peas, hyacinth beans, chayote, true yams, and cherry tomatoes will give them their first successes as gardeners by helping you to make that fence pay for itself by cutting your food bill.

And of course one can always choose the understated cool elegance of green vines like Confederate Jasmine (fragrant white flowers now and then), ivy, nephthytis, philodendron, pothos and creeping fig.
So whether you see it as a fence or a trellis, use this cheap and simple solution to free up time and cash while making your yard safe and secure and stunning.

Original Version of the Pond Article that the St. Pete Times ran in 2008




POND PEACE
Who can resist the cool allure of a healthy fishpond sparkling in a lush garden? We are drawn to touch the shimmering surface on a hot day and be soothed by the silent movements of golden fish, our hearts stirred by the heady perfumes of water lilies. But so many of us try and end up with nasty green algae, foul smelling water and dead fish despite the expense and hassle of expensive pumps and filters and medications and changing the water over and over...what gives?
Whether your pond is a butyl rubber liner, a vinyl shell or concrete, fill it with fresh water from your garden hose...don’t use softened or recycled water as it is high in salt. Cover the bottom with 2 inches of rinsed pea gravel to harbor plant roots and crucial water purifying microorganisms. Let the water age for 3-5 days to eliminate chlorine and other additives. Sprinkle on the water a couple handfuls of ‘Sunniland Palm 8-6-6' fertilizer to insure ample nutrients for your water plants. Then add a cup or two of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes sold at most aquarium stores, like ‘PondZyme’, as they are remarkably effective at digesting the wastes that foul so many ponds. Skipping this last step to save money is a false economy....trust me!
Then buy a few bundles of the native warm water plant " Hot Water Cabomba", also called Fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana) and anchor them to the bottom of your pond with chunks of limestone rock.(The limestone helps keep the water non-acidic plus leaches out calcium vital to the water plants, snails and fish). This plant is not only beautiful but an amazingly effective living water filter! Drop some into an existing fouled pond and in a month you will see a big change in water clarity. I know of no other water plant that so effectively oxygenates pond water too.

Treat yourself to native white water lilies, or those lovely fragrant purple tropical water lilies as their roots will also cleanse the water and the pads offer shade. I use a stone to hold the tuber down in the gravel instead of growing them in submerged pots so the roots can meander through the gravel and absorb wastes directly as a living water filter. Native water plants like blue pickerel weed and those teensy floating duckweed plants add diversity and color while purifying the water and offering shade and food for goldfish.
I have found over and over in creating and caring for my clients’ ponds that elaborate filters and chemicals (vs. a simple pump for that soothing water sound) keep the ecology unbalanced by continuously filtering out the nutrients that the water plants need, while killing beneficial organisms that create ecological balance. The water in my front pond is now 6 years old and clear thanks to my water plants and snails.

Let this new pond age for 2 weeks so that the water becomes fully alive and oxygenated. Expect an initial algae bloom as the juvenile ecology gets established and coats the sides with an essential carpet of beautiful green algae your fish will later graze on. Now the fun part...adding the snails and fish! I never use koi as they tend to eat all the plants that are the primary "engines" of a healthy pond ecology. I instead buy goldfish, usually the cheap "feeder" goldfish that are fed live to oscars and other carnivorous fish. Or treat yourself to the fancy fantails and tri-colored goldfish. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they grow into sizable fish! Ordinary brown pond snails from a fish store are considered a nuisance by some indoor aquarium folks but are very effective scavengers of excess fish food and algae and fish poop. DON’T buy those huge ‘Apple Snails’ as they will likely eat every single water plant!
 
People’s own good hearts are often their pond’s worst enemy....it feels so nurturing to feed the fish daily, but that soon overloads the water with uneaten food that decays and sours the water and kills the fish. Better to let them graze on mosquito and other larvae and on the green algae you want to grow on the sides of your pond as a very effective water cleanser and oxygenator. A trick I learned from a commercial tropical fish farmer in the 80’s is to once a week drop in a few nuggets of dry cat or dog food instead of those expensive fish flakes...as they float and soften they give the fish something to strike and since they are a complete animal food, they act as a vitamin and mineral and protein supplement to the fish’s main diet of algae and larvae. Sounds weird but it’s cheap and it works! Plus pet nuggets seem less inclined to cloud the water.

No need to change the pond water, ever. But to prevent the build up of nutrients just use your watering can to now and then treat all your potted plants indoors and out to a deep drench of that vitally rich pond water. A very slow drip from your garden hose overnight now and then will keep your pond filled during the dry season.

As we get bounced about by life’s rough spots it is nice to come home each day and soothe our eyes and our souls with a cool quiet oasis nestled in our gardens. Treat your self to an easy way the Japanese perfected centuries ago...the natural way to pond peace.

Creating a healthy goldfish pond


John, I have had great success since I read your article ( March 2008 St. Pete Times ) on self-sustaining ponds ! However I am starting to see a lot of organic leafy debris on the bottom of the pond building up ! Would you recommend a pond vacuum or some kind of algae – fighting product ?
BTW I used to live in Key West too

Cordially,
Diane



Hi Diane

Depending on the pond liner, you can use a rake or a kitchen colander to scoop out that debris. Do you have goldfish in there to help eat the spring algae bloom? I use my hands to pull out the excess algae from the spring bloom. Did you use the hotwater cabomba plant I wrote about? It is THE best water clarifier for Florida ponds I know of. I am glad my article helped you out! John

p.s. in Denver I used the cold water aquatic plant 'Hornwort' as an EXTREMELY effective pond clarifier and oxygenator for my own pond and my landscape customers' ponds.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Starting Your Own Sweet Potato Slips


John - Do you have any red sweet potato slips/plants I can buy, or do you know where I can get some locally? I know it is a bit late, but I've not been able to plant them yet. Shells is out of stock. If you can suggest a source I'd appreciate it. Thanks. Jennifer


Hi Jennifer It is easy to buy an organic untreated sweet potato, let it sit in a warm room until sprouts appear, then cut it up into chunks, let them dry indoors for a day, then plant each about 4 inches deep. You can get a LOT of shoots from just 2 sweet potatoes......MUCH cheaper than buying slips! John

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hot Pepper Guru/Psycho Allen Boatman




My friend Allen Boatman not only has amassed an ASTONISHING collection of hot peppers and seeds (1,300 varieties now I think!) he is a great guy, passionate horticulturist and gardener, and dedicated husband and father. Here are some great links highlighting some of his work with the prisoners at the Falkenburg Jail here in Tampa. He has given me some of his hot sauces.....AWESOME! Enjoy the links, John




Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Class: Least Toxic Pest Control, Indoors and Out

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: JohnAStarnes@msn.com Happy Gardening! John

Friday, May 14, 2010

Watering a Long Dry Garden Strip


A broken oscillating sprinkler, which I often find while dumpster diving, is THE perfect way to give a chronically dry long narrow area a DEEP cost effective soaking. Many people buy pricey soaker hoses only to discover that the soil never gets a DEEP soaking to draw the roots DOWN and away from the hot dry surface. Just be sure the control arm that makes the oscillator go back and forth is disconnected from the sprocket so that the water tube is loose and floppy. Turn on the water to make pressurize the tube so it stays in one play, and aim it UP so that the water comes back down like rain all along a long narrow band of garden hugging a sidewalk or driveway. Turn the pressure up or down to get the width needed. Let it run for about 15 minutes to soak the soil deeply, then mulch the area to trap that moisture. Future waterings will readily penetrate the mulch. I devised this technique in Denver to deal with those hot dry LOW humidity summers to keep the mulched beds between the curb and my sidewalk ( the "hell strip" is what folks call those areas) damp for my roses and perennials. Three to four times a month did the trick. John

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some cool pics my Dad took, and then some....













My Dad, John Sr. , has had fun and gotten quite good with my first Olympus digital I bought (like all my cameras) years ago from http://www.refurbdepot.com/ that I gave him after I bought my second one. Here are pics he sent me of Iris hexagona I gave him and Mom starts of for their pond in the mid 80s, an amaryllis in their driveway garden, a native water lily I gave them a few years ago for their upper, concrete-lined pond filled by the windmill, and of some cuttings of the Old Rose 'Cramoisi Superieur' he is rooting for me from the plant I gave them quite a few years ago. Dad has also gotten quite accomplished with the Dell PC I gave him in 2003 as part of a debt payback....he even shops on-line now! I've added pics of Dad as a young sailor, him and Mom about 5 years ago with their pooches, and as young couple dating, and of Dad on his then-new riding mower.....Dad LOVES to mow his three acres of grass while Mom is prone on the couch glued to daytime TV, like 'Judge Judy' and 'Divorce Court' and from when I took us down to Key West some years back to try and find his old Navy base (gone), the apartment on Catherine street I was a baby in, and to see his sister Ola Mae on Big Pine Key. I like the shot of him in the hat I took in the courtyard at the Hemminway House.

Enjoy, John

Attack of the Killer Caterpillars

Below is an article on caterpillar control relevant to all climate zones that I had in my gardening column in The St. Petersburg Times in 2004. My favorite brand of BT by FAR is the brand 'Dipel' made by Southern Ag, and sold to farmers in 4 lb. bags at feedstores. Look for a green bag and yellow label. Last year the cost was $5.50 at Shell's Feed in north Tampa, and since I keep the bag in my fridge to keep the bacteria alive, and since I rarely need to use it in the balanced ecology of my yard, I fully expect that bag will last me ten years.


ATTACK OF THE KILLER CATERPILLARS
 
Spring here can be like a scene from that corny 60’s Japanese sci-fi movie "Mothra", with giant caterpillars rampaging and wreaking havoc before transforming into winged beauties. St. Augustine lawns can be ravaged by sod webworms, mustard and broccoli stripped bare by caterpillars hatching from eggs laid by the beautiful Cabbage Looper butterfly, and I bet you have been grossed out by finding a tomato hornworm SO big you couldn’t stand to pick it off and step on it! Many of us have been painfully stung by those surrealistic looking spiky caterpillars whose acid-filled hairs stab an unsuspecting finger. And oleanders can look "furry" when heavily encrusted with those orange ones with long black hairs. Pretty scary!

Yup, spring is caterpillar time in central Florida. But before we declare war on them with insecticides, even natural ones, let’s remember that those crawling munching monsters mature into butterflies (or "flutterbyes" as they were called in Victorian times) and moths, many of them cherished for their beauty and grace in our gardens. So let’s control them only where they can render harm, likely the veggie garden and St. Augustine lawn. And let’s also feed our favorites like Monarch butterflies by planting butterfly weed, flat leaf parsley, fennel and dill in our flower gardens for the baby caterpillars to feed on.

Organic gardeners enjoy a lot of help from natural allies like birds and wasps who eat caterpillars and carry them off to their nests for their young to feed on…I have even seen wasps clutching caterpillars in their legs while in flight just like in the PBS specials! But since we don’t want our food crops and lawns ruined, we all need a specific tool to control caterpillars quickly. Luckily, this "silver bullet" has been around since the 1930’s and is available in many garden shops and feed stores that supply farmers, plus on-line.

It’s a natural bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, or "BT" for short, sold under product names like ‘Dipel’, ‘Biotrol’. This plague of the caterpillar world isn’t genetically engineered and doesn’t hurt any other living things…honeybees, earthworms, flutterbyes, kids, pets, birds, in-laws, not a one. Just caterpillars who ingest it by biting a leaf sprinkled with BT…poor things, because just like in ‘Alien’, the organisms multiply inside their bodies, paralyzing their digestive track with sharp crystals of a protein toxic to them. As a result they quit feeding on your plants, often within 20 minutes of that first bite. Soon they die and their bodies split open, releasing billions more bacteria to further protect your lawn or garden.

That is why BT is the kiss of death for the butterfly garden so many of us have enjoyed creating and living with. Use it judiciously only where needed. And it has been my experience these 20 years of gardening here that just ONE application inoculates the organically maintained lawn or veggie permanently as the bacteria are soil dwelling and welcome the absence of fungicides and agricultural antibiotics. But to be sure you have enough of them living in your lawn or garden, consider reapplying BT each spring. Cheapest in 4 lb. bags at feed stores, it is also available in 1 pound canisters at many garden shops as a "tomato powder". I rarely use the liquid forms like Thuricide as the petroleum distillates they contain force the bacteria into the spore stage, delaying their becoming active in the garden. Just sprinkle the powder on the damp leaves or lawn so the moisture can bring the bacteria to life. Some folks prefer to mix the powder into bottled water (the chlorine in tap water can kill the bacteria) in their garden sprayer then spray it just where it is needed.

While none of us want "Mothra" pillaging our yards, flutterbyes and moths are essential aspects of the color and charm of Florida. And as more and more of us invite them in with butterfly gardens, perhaps fewer will become extinct due to habitat loss. But caterpillars on my broccoli? Ear worms in my corn? No thanks!

SOURCES
www.victorpest.com
1-800-800-1819

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sweety is gone









I went to check on my sweet old girl this morning, with a cooked marrow bone (she LOVED them and always wanted a few when I'd get "altered" so she could party to excess with Dad) but she had been in total renal failure for 36 hours....not a drop of urine entered the catheter bag. The vet agreed with what I realized last night....even IF we got past the kidney failure, she'd be in chronic pain from arthritis and severe hip dysplasia, which, thankfully, had suddenly become severe just two weeks ago. And the drugs that could possibly address both conditions attack the stomach lining, liver and kidney...so the only option other than the euthanasia I chose was to have an immobile dog pooping and peeing daily on her sleeping towels as she had started to do a few days ago, while on high doses of pain killer. That would not be living.
She went quickly and peacefully around noon, and I cried more than I thought I would as she had been my first "aloof" dog compared to her two male predecessors who'd been the classic "best friend" kind of dog. She stopped breathing maybe 10 seconds after the shot entered the catheter in her foreleg. When I got her from the Denver Dumb Friends League in December 1997 she was a year old, had been abandoned on a Denver street in a blizzard, and had very clearly been abused...it took me over a year to make her realize she was safe and loved in my household.
My Siamese cat, Luvyu, is in for a shock as when I adopted him feral in 1998 from a Denver cat rescue organization he'd been in 5 foster homes in 4 months after being found abandoned in a meadow with his sister, also in winter....as SOON as he saw Sweety that day he bonded INSTANTLY to her, glued to her side every chance he'd get all these years since. So I would not be surprised if he starts howling and looking for Sweety as my last cat, Lovely, did when Sergeant died. Maybe my other cat, Angel, whom I got the fall of 1998, will give him some comfort.
Sweety and I had 13 good years together to help make up for her first horrible year with that abusive family that dumped her on a brutal Denver winter day, especially since 2003 when I stopped landscaping to stay home and work on all my various projects vs. her being a alone alot like when I put in LONG days working in people's yards. So we've had MANY MANY trips to her favorite place in the world, Picnic Island Beach, her last one maybe 5 days ago. Plus she liked her road trips to Mom and Dad's 3 acres where she could run and chase wild rabbits.
I am glad that her illnesses escalated rather quickly vs. a sad slow lingering decline, and that her last 36 hours were pain free due to being on very high doses of pain killer. She truly was a sweet sweet dog and I will always miss her and be glad I got her. I've long known that I'd want my next dog to be a Border Collie mix like she was (the rest was Chow) and her much smaller predecessors were. So I will, when I am ready, ask the Universe that a great Border Collie mutt type puppy that needs a good loving home come into my life at the right time.
Thanks to everyone for your kind words and wishes for us both. John

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Mystery Grapes One Week Later!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu161CjPk2g

Sweety


My wonderful sweet old dog Sweety is now in the hospital with kidney failure after a very rough month of an arthritis flare up and an even worse spell with the hip dysplasia she had even as a puppy in Denver. With tears in her eyes the vet told me there is maybe a 25%-30% chance that Sweety will pull through. But I will not prolong her suffering needlessly as she is 13. I considered briefly putting her down today to end her suffering, but figured it was worth $615 to try a three day hospital stay. Iodine supplementation has done WONDERS for her quality of life the last 2 years by curing the hypothyroidism another vet somehow overlooked, with her skin and coat issues, lethargy, lipomas, incontinence and back legs failure completely reversed in just a couple of months. I hope I am doing right by her. I will keep you folks posted. Here is a pic of her 10 years ago. She truly IS a sweety, gentle with kids, other pets, even baby chicks. John

Friday, May 7, 2010

An article I had in The St. Pete Times in 2004....the techniques are applicable in any gardening zone

SHEET COMPOSTING

Have you ever walked through an old growth forest and felt beneath your feet that rich spongy layer of natural compost accumulated over many human lifetimes? Year after year, a steady rain of falling leaves, bird droppings, pine cones, expired perennials and annuals, fallen fruits and the nutrients dissolved in rain water recreate and revive the soil beneath the green canopy of trees. This life-giving mantle of organic matter is a far cry from the lifeless sprinkling of decorative red bark nuggets, or occasional bag of peat, or a "miraculous" blue chemical fertilizer that many of us have attempted to heal our soil with. So how can we bring Nature’s soil enriching methods into our gardens?

"Sheet composting"! Many of us have never gotten around to conventional composting because we don’t have a compost bin, or aren’t thrilled by the thought of having to turn the compost pile monthly, or spreading the finished product all over the far reaches of our landscape only to start all over again. Sheet composting eliminates those hassles by simply spreading compost-forming materials all over one’s gardens in a "sheet" of compost that builds up and decays and feeds the soil directly and steadily. It is an easy way of duplicating the forest’s method of constant soil improvement. Just think, with every good rain or deep watering, that sheet of organic matter leaches into the soil beneath it a life-giving broth of nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi. What was once funky lifeless dirt soon is rich humusy soil teeming with earthworms and healthy garden plants, all for free!

Recycling has progressed from being a "hippie fringe behavior" to a respectable mainstream habit our society embraces more and more in an effort to protect an environment under daily assault by a burgeoning human population. "Sheet composting" allows each of us to keep valuable organic matter out of landfills by healing our soil with an intriguing array of freebies. Why buy expensive bags of lifeless perky red mulches made from killed trees once you start noticing the boxes of cabbage leaves and corn husks your grocer will give you, or the kitchen scraps you’ve always sent down the disposal? Duplicate that forest and mulch your veggie or flower garden with chopped up bush trimmings and pesticide-free grass clippings, or leaves covered up with the horse manure the neighborhood stall pays to have hauled away. Buzz each evening’s kitchen scraps in the blender with water and toss that nutrient-rich slurry onto your sheet compost to feed the soil without attracting raccoons and opossums with intact table scraps. Use cheap clay cat litter, or plain garden soil or tree grindings mulch instead of the anti-bacterial clumping stuff in the litter box and toss that nitrogen rich mixture into the rose garden. Stop at your local coffee shop once a week and bring home big bags of coffee grounds and sprinkle them onto that sheet of compost forming steadily in your landscape beds. You get the idea…..if it will rot and it is free, bring it home and sheet compost with it!

Of course, esthetics are important, and who wants to gaze at a flower bed littered with decaying fruit, cat litter and corn cobs…hardly the cover of "Better Homes and Gardens"! Just sprinkle a more attractive mulch material over your newest "deposits" to your soil’s fertility account, like tree chips mulch, pine needles, raked leaves, or a bale of hay shredded quickly by hand…one $5 bale will easily cover a 10 foot by 10 foot area with a pleasing blond mulch hiding all those decaying treasures while minimizing flies.

As your sheet of compost formers becomes a continuous mantle over all your gardens, you’ll notice that the soil stays damp and dark and earthwormy between rains and waterings, and that your plants are perking up big time. You’ll notice too that your deposits to the garbage man have shrunk, and that you’ve started coveting neighbors’ yard waste… "Hey man, can I have your pine needles?" "What are you going to do with those bags of leaves?" You’ll also notice that your gardens need less and less fertilizer. Why? Compost is the gold standard of soil amendments. A light sprinkling of fish meal each spring and fall all over the sheet compost will insure perfect plant nutrition. If your soil is acid, a light sprinkling of dolomite or garden limestone each spring will keep your soil "sweet" while supplying vital calcium and magnesium. While ordinary mulch primarily keeps soil moist and cool, modifying it into sheet compost turns it into a continuous Thanksgiving Day feast for your gardens. And a thick damp mulch will help slowly acidify alkaline soils.

Poor soil causes most of our ongoing gardening frustrations, and is crying out for us to imitate Nature’s ways. Sheet composting is a solution for those woes, so let’s use this simple mulching method to heal our soil, our budgets, and a burdened environment.

"Sauna Season Veggies"

Below is an article I wrote for 'Florida Gardening' in 2006. To the list of crops mentioned I would add: Katuk, Currant Tomato, and my new favorite, Molokhiya (Corchorus olitorius), a heat NEEDING leafy vegetable from Egypt that thrives in summer here. While this article was written for Florida gardeners who think summers are too hot here to grow food crops, it should be helpful to gardeners anywhere where summers are long and hot and humid. John



SAUNA SEASON VEGETABLES

What passes for winter in central Florida is already a cool memory many will long for this upcoming "Sauna Season" of tropical muggy heat, and our cool weather veggies will soon be showing signs of heat stroke too. So March through May are excellent times to plant some classic Southern crops, plus "alternative" ones, that glory in summer’s excesses, crops that dislike cool temps and can be killed by frosts and freezes. Just think of the gardening year as a 6 month Hot Season spanning April through September followed by a 6 month Cool Season…October through March. Luckily, there are food crops that thrive in each season. Northern transplants embracing this concept will have their chronic failures replaced by success once they get over that old habit of planting everything in spring!

Try tucking some of these Hot Season veggies as seeds and seedlings right in amongst your maturing Cool Season crops for a steady and productive transition. Scatter a 2 inch thick layer of horse stall sweepings all over the garden before or after you plant those transition crops to insure good growth for the entire garden. Don’t have a nearby horse stable? Scatter a one half inch thick layer of dried sheep or poultry manure sold in bags at garden shops, or a sprinkling of "menhaden fish meal’ from a feed store about as heavy as you’d sprinkle parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Or if you are an avid composter what could be better than top dressing that garden with an inch or two of rich moist compost! No need to turn these nutrients sources under the soil…...to do so would destroy your cool weather crops! Just let earthworms and rain and your occasional hoeing incorporate those nutrients into your soil. My favorite mulch for the veggie garden is those horse stall sweepings, but bags of oak leaves, pesticide-free grass clippings or free wood chips mulch from a tree trimming service work fine too, especially the fresh green grass clippings from an organic lawn as they are teeming with beneficial bacteria and vital nitrogen. Each March is also a good time to give acidic inland soils a Parmesan cheese-style sprinkling of dolomite limestone to "sweeten" the soil….get your soil tested or check for a predominance of acid-loving weeds like dollarweed, sandspur, goats beard, or sedge. Most veggies like the soil only slightly acid, but often our soil is very acid. South Florida and coastal folks fighting high alkalinity can lower their soil’s pH with a heavy sprinkling of cottonseed meal each March, July, September and December when they feed their soil. Those decaying mulches will release natural acids to help too.

An easy way to start is to buy a bag of Black Eye Peas from the grocery store for cheap seeds…plant them 1 inch deep and 5 inches apart in a garden row for a very reliable summer crop that originated in tropical Africa. Neither a pea or a bean they belong to the Vigna Family (as does the just-as-easy ‘Chinese Yard Long Bean’) and offer edible young new leaves that can be snipped into stir fry. The orchid-like flowers are lovely and edible in salads.

Buy a generic‘Calabaza’ squash from a Cuban grocer, or a Kabocha squash from an Asian market, and save several of the seeds when you bake it and plant them in a big pile of compost off by themselves as the rampant vines will swallow up a veggie garden. The lush tropical-looking vines bear huge golden yellow blossoms that make lovely edible plate garnishes, and young newly unfolded leaves can be diced into casseroles and stir fry. Late each summer you’ll have a bounty of deep green or tan squashes with nutty tasting orange flesh…they keep for several weeks, can be baked, chunked and added to Cuban and Jamaican and Thai stews, used in "pumpkin pies" or cut raw into strips and dipped into salad dressing. Or buy on-line selected varieties of Calabaza from central America, southern Mexico or the Caribbean for variations in flavor, size and productivity. ‘Seminole Pumpkin’ is a native squash from the Everglades that glories in summers here and was the Seminole Indian’s favorite crop.

Originating in tropical Africa, okra is the archetypal Southern summer veggie, bearing huge numbers of those protein-rich pods that are deliciously crunchy (not slimy) if eaten raw fresh from the garden. Once again, the young newly unfolded leaves may be diced into cooked dishes for color and nutrition, and the beautiful pale yellow and maroon flowers look beautiful in the garden and as an edible garnish. "Clemson Spineless" is an old standby and my favorite variety, but this year I am trying the purple podded varieties that turn green when cooked just for the heck of it. A wonderful heirloom okra is "Fife Creek" sold by the great folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com)

Get cuttings of cassava (Manihot utilissima) from Cuban or Filipino neighbors and root them easily for lush, 8 foot tall tropical-looking beauties that about a year later yield the richly textured and flavored tubers you may have savored as "yuca" in a Cuban restaurant. The young leaves may be cooked with spices as a summer "green".....Google African recipes for this cool use of the vitamin and mineral and protein-rich leaves produced in abundance all summer.

Cucusa, or Cucuzzi, seeds were once rare, traded amongst us gardening nuts but are now showing up on seed racks. Another rampant vine great for covering arbors and fences, this member of the true Gourd (Lagenaria) Family has the characteristic white blossoms and oddly scented leaves. Each June and July it bears large numbers of 2-4 foot long pale green "squashes" shaped like baseball bats and that taste like firm nutty zucchinis; they are best when the length of your forearm. It grows like a weed with no real pest problems till midsummer when the stink bugs take it out.

Eggplant is a "love it or hate it" vegetable, but if you love ‘em you can’t get enough. Yet another African tropical, it can reach 6 feet in height so that the semi-woody stems can bear the weight of oodles of shiny back fruits free of the bitterness of store bought ones. The purple and yellow blooms add needed color to the veggie garden and make the plant look at home in landscape beds. "Black Beauty" bears heavily and reliably, as do the long slender Asian types.

Watermelons, cantaloupes, Japanese melons the size of apples and eaten whole add something sweet to your garden’s bounty if given very rich soil amended with high nitrogen materials like compost, fish waste, or horse manure. As the fruits form set them up on a small pile of wood mulch or an old clay pot to keep them off the soil and avoid rot. Melons are a great "kids crop".

Sweet potatoes are neither potatoes nor yams but tuberous-rooted members of the Morning Glory Family whose leaves have been eaten steamed and stir fried in Asia for centuries…they taste very much like spinach and are loaded with vitamin A and iron and lack the oxalic acid in spinach many women try to avoid as it leaches calcium from the body. The vines create a beautiful groundcover and look right at home in a landscape bed, allowing you food production right along with flowers and shrubs. Just buy an organically grown sweet potato (the lack of chemical growth suppressants will let it sprout much more quickly) and plant it 3 inches deep in rich soil and full sun. That one tuber will multiply into many by harvest time each late fall, plus others will form where the vines touch and root. As you snip off the leaves to cook as a hot weather spinach substitute, keep your eyes peeled for the lovely white or lavender-pink morning glory blossoms that form in the autumn. At harvest time be sure to try one sliced and eaten raw if you never have before…tastes like a very sweet and crunchy carrot!

The true Yams (Dioscorea family) are never sweet, bear INedible leaves, but produce large starchy tubers that make hearty entrees if baked, boiled or fried. Buy one at an Asian or Hispanic grocery, or now even mainstream grocers under the Hispanic name of "Name’ " (pronounced nah-may) and plant it at the base of a fence so the rampant vines can climb. Each January dig up the newly formed tubers as you need them and replant the top you cut off to make new plants for free year after year. My favorite is the Purple Yam, Dioscorea violacea.

The Hyacinth Bean (Dilochos lablab) is perfect for covering sheds or henhouses with its lush vines and beautiful lavender flower spikes that soon transform into easily shelled bean pods that may be green or maroon. The flavor reminds me of a cross between pigeon peas and edamame’ soybeans.

Buy and plant a Chayote(Sechium edule) from the produce section and let it sprout on your window sill, then plant it where the Jack-and-The-Beanstalk vines can consume a dead tree or long fence. The crunchy pear-sized fruits are produced in fall and winter if not nipped by frost, and both the flesh and large pit inside are delicious sliced raw and drizzled with Key Lime juice, or baked, fried, boiled or pickled. Be sure to save one for planting each year though the perennial starchy root may bear for years to come....some folks dig IT up and eat it too.

Need a temporary summer privacy barrier you can eat from? Buy a bag in spring of Gandule Beans or Pigeon Peas (Cajanus cajan) in the Cuban section of your store and plant each seed 2 inches deep and 2 feet apart....by summer’s end you’ll have 6-8 foot tall dense plants screening a hot tub or pool from view and yielding many hundreds of pods that if shucked release a treasure of tasty fresh green "pigeon peas" considered a mainstay in the Caribbean. The plant is a perennial that will bear for years if spared hard frosts. Pet chickens love to feed on the foliage if offered them.

Cherry and roma tomatoes both resist summer’s muggy heat better than do large fruited types so be sure to add a few. Both bear heavily in rich soil if fed fish emulsion or fish meal but will likely be exhausted by the end of summer. Sprinkling a handful of Epsom salts around each plant as the flowers form can give you a healthier greener plant and better production. Crushed eggshells or seashells beneath each plant in acid soils will help prevent blossom end rot by releasing vital calcium.

Thai gardeners rely heavily on Surinam Spinach as it grows like crazy all summer, produces oodles of succulent leaves that are tartly delicious raw in salads, or tossed into stir fry and soups. Native to Borneo, it loves Florida summers, reseeds freely, and roots amazingly easy from cuttings you may be lucky enough to get from Thai neighbors.

Say "luffa" to most people and they think of an exotic sponge for the bath....but the beautiful vines with yellow flowers bear a gourmet item; the young luffas harvested with 6-7 inches long and still tender. Prepare them as you would summer squash or use in Asian cuisine.

Another ethnic staple are the edible elephant ears, whose stinging calcium oxylate crystals are destroyed and leached out by boiling or frying. Hispanic culture embraces varieties of Yautia or Malanga (Xanthosoma species) while Asian cuisine relies on Eddo, also known as Dasheen and Taro (Colocasia species). We’ve always been told that elephant ears are "poison", but these two types have been staple crops of tropical people for centuries. The tubers are rich in starch, protein, and minerals, and the leaves of Eddo, if boiled once and the water discarded before a second brief boiling, may be used as spinach or blended with coconut milk and spices to make a glorious creamy healthy soup. Both prefer wet soils so grow them in your boggiest areas.

The Amaranth species produce leaves that are often colorful and useful raw in salads or added to stir fry. And the protein rich seeds produced by the feathery flower heads can be added to muffins, pancakes and other baked goods due to their nutty taste. Even the "decorative" Amaranths like "Summer Poinsettia" and " Love Lies Bleeding" have edible leaves and seeds. All love the hot months here and many are seen in Thai and Vietnamese gardens.

By adding hot weather veggies to the empty spaces in the winter garden each spring, then incorporating them into our landscapes, we can enjoy fresh, home grown, pesticide- free produce 12 months a year for a welcome taste of self sufficiency in unsure times…just one more reason to live here as our northern friends spend half the year waiting to garden!

U.S. Income Inequality.....one more reason to grow your own food

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25399.htm

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wonderful Idea by One of my Blogger Readers

I have lurked "Barefoot gardener " for a long while and have read your blog with great interest.
I am amazed at your lifestyle and a bit jealous. I do try to put as many of your wonderful ideas into practice here in Dundee-land as possible.

I had a new one though that I'd love your opinion on-

I used a disposable diaper in the bottom of a flimsy black plastic pot- filled it with my potting mixture and started my papaya seeds in it. ( my trees died in the freeze) I planted the pot and all. The diaper has those little water absorbant beads like in the Miracle Grow moisture retention soil.

I did a pot without the diaper also. The diaper pot seeds have sprouted- so did the others but the diaper sprouts have stems that are twice as fat and twice as tall ! They get the same compost tea fertilizer but the growth difference is amazing.

If you were to try this , I bet you could dive some used peed in diapers free! Mine were pee free because I just couldn't bring myself to ask anyone for their peed in ones nor could I do it, but then I have a ways to go before being a self sustainable homestead.

Best wishes and thank you for all your wonderful information.

KJ

Hey thanks for your kind words and for sharing that very cool and creative technique for starting your papaya seeds!! May I post your e-mail on my urban farming blog to help others with their seeds germination issues? John



You can post away- Imagination is the limit with diapers- but any containing baby fecal matter should not be used for food crops- as I'm sure you know. The physician in me just shivers at the idea. Pee... ick, but o.k. poop- never. Thanks again for all the fantastic information.

KJ

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 winters....so 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 JohnAStarnes@msn.com. 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 @msn.com RSVP is helpful in my planning how to best teach this class. Just think....as 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

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever.....in space

http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Low_Maintenance_Strawberry_May_Be_Good_Crop_To_Grow_In_Space_999.html

Cheap Non-Toxic Fungus Control for Plants

We’ve all had to deal with fungus problems on roses, squash, herbs and more. And we’ve all had aphids, mealy bugs, scale and red spider mites feast on garden treasures too. Those funky smelling chemical fungicides and insecticides rarely seem to work for long, and if they do, eating the produce or sniffing the blooms can be pretty scary! Plus, who wants to eat or inhale toxic chemicals? But for over 100 years Southern gardeners have relied on a cheap, non-toxic and VERY effective natural alternative they bought in grocery stores, and that thankfully we can now also order toll free or on-line.

What is it? An old-fashioned lye soap called ‘Kirk’s Castile’. Yup, dissolved in hot water this true soap (most "soaps" these days are detergents) is an organic gardener’s dream come true as a non-toxic all purpose garden spray. I was taught this concept in the 70's when I was an idealistic hippie/art major living in Seminole Heights with wise elderly neighbors who’d used it since the 1930's. These women said that back when they were young gardeners it wasn’t called "organic gardening"…. it was just a very cheap, tried-and-true common sense gardening aid…just splash the used dish and laundry water on plants with fungus and bug problems!

To make a small batch of soap spray, rub a bar of "Kirk’s Castile" against a cheese grater, then dissolve 1-3 heaping tablespoon of the soap flakes in 1 gallon of very hot tap water in an old plastic milk jug. Let it sit a couple days, shaking the jug daily to dissolve lumps. Then pour the spray into a trigger spray bottle or your garden pump sprayer then spray the affected plants every 7-10 days till they are dripping. Be sure to apply the spray when you don’t plan on watering for a few days so it can cling to the leaves and do its job. Don’t be afraid to experiment with slightly weaker or stronger strengths as it is non-burning unlike some of the dishwashing detergent liquids you may have tried in vain.

To make a big batch of concentrate for future use, drop a whole bar into a wide mouth gallon container. Fill that jug with 1 gallon very hot tap water and let sit a week, stirring daily. You’ll end up with 1 gallon of a thick soap concentrate that keeps just about forever in a lidded container. To make a batch of spray, dissolve 1 cup of this concentrate in 1 gallon warm water, shake, then pour it into your sprayer. Thus a cheap bar of soap will make you SIXTEEN GALLONS of a very safe and effective fungicide and insecticide that won’t harm the environment nor make your vegetables and flowers and herbs toxic. For tougher problems try 1 part soap concentrate to 10 parts water for a thicker, more potent soap spray. And there is little worry of leaf burn from harsh summer sun.

How does it work? The soap alkalinizes the leaf surface, but powdery mildew and black spot and sooty mold ( on squash and monarda and citrus and gardenias) fungi need an ACIDIC leaf cuticle to grow on…plus as a soap it helps to rinse them off. Spray UP at the undersides of the leaves if you are after blackspot fungus on roses.

What’s cool too is that the coconut oil in the soapy water (true soap is an oil or fat plus lye) help suffocate bad bugs by plugging up their breathing holes and permeating their chitinous exoskeletons. (that’ll teach’em!) Aphids on new growth? Spider mites on leaf undersides? Mealy bugs or scale on the stems on shrubs? White fly on your tomatoes? Just spray the plant thoroughly till it drips. Quite often the wing coverings of our garden allies the ladybugs and lacewings seem to spare them by acting as umbrellas. Adding 1 cup of cheap vegetable oil to that soapy gallon and shaking it thoroughly will let you wipe out vast numbers of scale insects.

Okay, its 2010, not 1976, and I am a little more grounded and happily middle-aged now, but now more and more folks wish for less toxic ways to grow their garden favorites. So a century old secret deserves to be better known and tried before we resort to expensive chemical sprays that can kill many unintended and valuable inhabitants of our yards’ ecosystems and endanger our children and pets while adding to the burden of poisons endured by our own bodies, the groundwater and what remains of the planet's ecology.

SOURCES: Publix, Albertson’s Kirk’s Natural 1-800-825-4757 http://www.kirksnatural.com/  

Subsidized Corporate Farm Food

http://sn126w.snt126.mail.live.com/default.aspx?wa=wsignin1.0

Monday, May 3, 2010

Solar Clothes Dryer





It was not until I moved to Denver in 1987 that I discovered I love the relaxing ritual of hanging laundry on a clothesline and taking them down when dry. Back then I worked my butt off 7 days a week from spring to fall as a landscaper, and my clothesline there gave me rare chances to be calm, watch the sky and birds as I hung or took down laundry. So as soon as I moved into my "old man house" here in Tampa I put up a clothesline that does double duty supporting a hammock. But as a tightwad I've noticed that my wood clothespins have short lifespans, and a long time had passed since I'd seen them cheap at Dollar Tree....I was down to barely enough old discolored ones to hang laundry and they were WAY too expensive at regular stores. Last week they FINALLY got some in at Dollar Tree....packs of 36 pins for $1. So I stockpiled four of them. In an effort to make them last longer, I put them in a plastic cookie tub I'd scrounged and poured over them some 'Thompson's Water Seal" that has been in my shed for years after I had dumpster dived it. I let them soak for a few minutes, then hung them on my clothesline to cure and dry. I have a feeling as a pathologically cheap tightwad that they will last MUCH longer. John