Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Beauty of Fresh Living Home Grown Foods

My first and to date only harvest of home grown honey comb


A home grown meal

"Filipino Mexican Tree Pepper" Capsicum frutescens

Purple Yam 'Ube' Dioscorea alata var. violacaea

Key Limes from my tree before the 2009/2010 freezes.

A mandala of edibles from my yard I created for Fox News
a few years back.

Passionfruit and tomatilla atop a Jarradale Squash

Jarradale Pumpkin

My Dad John Sr. grew this 'Texas Star Ruby' grapefruit

For me, cooking and eating and truly SEEING what I grow is a healthy decadence. As a very visual man I like to photograph many of the things I harvest. Enjoy, John

Urban Agriculture on a Barge

"Baby Duck"

"Gray Street Grape"....I've changed my mind

Now the grapes are PURPLE and yummy sweet. John

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Autumn is closing in....

One sign here in Tampa are these tiny barely emerged bud clusters on my Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens) vines as daylengths continue to shorten. Long used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen and aphrodisiac, this native of India produces rampant annual vines in summer, oddly beautiful flower clusters that look like wisteria on acid in early fall, then the characteristic velvety pods in October, which I boil and freeze to later thaw and cook in water with seasalt, garlic and hot peppers eat like edamame soybeans. The medicinal effect is due to high levels of natural L-dopa, now being used to treat Restless Leg Syndrome, Parkinson's, and libido problems in men and women. Eaten daily for three weeks, then none for three weeks, back and forth, the L-dopa rich beans induce the pituitary gland to make more Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which in turn can delay the graying of hair, can create more lean muscle mass if one works out, and can be a potent aphrodisiac. See the pic I took yesterday of an emerging flower cluster, and one from past seasons of the mature pod. John

Thursday, August 26, 2010

'A Day in the Life'

I love the immersion and exuberance of these skilled musicians, and their brave performance of this iconic Beatles song. John

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A free, free-standing rain barrel

I used a dumpster-dived jig saw to cut out the top of a plastic barrel that my friend Tim gives quite a few of (I made the cut INSIDE the lip at top to retain strength and rigidity of the barrel) then placed it in a south garden hard to get a hose to. I set atop it a purple plastic dinghy boat cover that was on the boat I scavenged roadside a couple of years ago to see where gravity was inclined to hold it most in place, and to see where the lowest portion is. I used a 3/4 inch paddle bit to drill two holes in that low area, then set inside a very heavy antique Tampa clay street brick to steady it in windy storms. ( but it WILL blow off in a big storm). The end result is a rain barrel placed where I can bail out the water as needed that was free: I doubt I used a fraction of a penny's worth of electricity to drill those two holes. Visually, it is now in late summer largely obscured by some molokhiya and cassava plants.....and weeds. One good storm can fill it up! John

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

update on "Gray Street Grape" on my henhouse

Since "Gray Street Grape" is now PURPLE when fully ripe vs. being red a couple weeks, I am now back to thinking it is maybe 'Conquistator' after all and NOT 'Daytona'. I am thrown off though by the reference to ripening in mid July as it was ripening big time 10 days ago. The use of Concord to breed 'Conquistador' could sure help explain the deep purple color and wonderful flavor. John

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grow Your Own Salad Bar class

Many folks want more than anything to simply grow a luscious, crisp, pesticide-free salad to enjoy each day. The upcoming winter season is stellar for the classic salad crops like arugula, chard, romaine lettuce, broccoli, sugar snap peas, scallions, cherry tomatoes and more, plus our hot muggy summers boast their own unique salad crops. This class covers the basic of creating healthy soil either in a garden or a container garden, crops selection and planting them from seeds to cut costs (most are VERY easy from seeds), pest control, proper watering and organic soil feeding. You will quickly recoup the cost of the class in your first dozen harvests of many many dozens to come this winter season. You will get two free packets of unusual seeds for vigorous, mild flavored leafy greens you will never see in the grocery store, and instructions on their easy culture. One nice thing about winter salad gardening here is that, except for the tomatoes, the crops not only are cold hardy they LIKE frosts.....makes them sweeter.

I am teaching this class on September 25th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session after. The cost is $20 per student. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611 813 839 0881 Why buy pricey little bags of corporate salads when you can grow fresh salads for just pennies a day? John

Basics of Frugal Backyard Chicken 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. I've had chickens on and off since the mid 90s, and can share how to raise happy, healthy, antibiotic-free chickens and eggs VERY frugally. I am teaching this class again on September 18, 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. Please park on my side of Paxton off of neighbors' lawns. 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 this fall to provide raw green plant matter VITAL to having healthy backyard chickens. 813 839 0881 or e-mail to RSVP. See you then!

John Starnes

Basics of Urban Farmsteading Class

There is no security more reassuring than daily harvesting fresh meals from your front and back yard, just feet from the kitchen, even if just potted arugula or snow peas or cherry tomatoes for starters, or a fresh chicken egg or meat. Learn easy ways to deeply cut your water use, to insure fresh salads and root crops and fruits year round, a super cheap solar shower, and more. You'll get a lesson sheet of 15 topics to be covered; please be sure to bring a notepad and pen. Feel free to shoot pics and video. You will receive two free packets of cool weather veggie seeds, plus instructions on their culture, harvest and use. I've taught this class many times and folks say it it thorough and intense. It addresses a way of life vs. being a gardening class.

I am teaching this class twice more, in September, on the 5th and again on the 19th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Question and Answer 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. Please park on my side of Paxton off of neighbors' lawns. The cost is $20 per student. Happy Gardening! John 813 839 0881

Successful Frugal Organic Winter Veggies and Herb Gardening class

Waltham 29 Broccoli

Mizuna salad greens

Minovase daikon radish

Cherry tomato

With it steamy hot, now might seem an odd time to think about a classic Florida cool weather veggies and herbs garden. But this is a great time if you are a super busy family person with either no garden site created yet, or if your past efforts yielded crops of disappointment instead of food for the dinner table, to get started. I had my first veggie garden here in 1967 when I was in 9th grade at Madison Junior High, and have learned since then core principals and techniques that make winter food gardening in central Florida both pleasant and productive. Forget pesticides, forget wasting money on plants and seeds and crops that fail, and forget thinking that you have a brown thumb. Learn how to create a fertile garden site that will bless you with fresh pesticide-free produce for the six cooler months of the year.
I am teaching this class on September 4th , from 11 AM until 1 PM. 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. Please park on my side of Paxton off of neighbors' lawns.
The cost is $20 per student. You will receive two free packets of winter crops seeds. I will provide a handout, but be sure to bring a notepad and pen. See you then! John Starnes
813 839 0881
p.s. feel free to bring stale bread, cereal etc. to feed to my chickens and ducks rather than throw it out.

'Growing Food, Cultivating Freedom and Harvesting Joy' class

Home grown, home raised, home brewed lunch


Northeast view of my livingroom

Winter garden I helped a friend create

Growing and raising much of your own food can free you from an unsatisfying job and addiction to the New Serfdom of endless debt as a "consumer". Learn three basics of successful gardening in central Florida, see the ease of a few backyard chickens for fresh eggs, plus get two handouts with 30 key techniques, attitude shifts, and resources that can allow us to discover what we REALLY want out of life, how to live frugally, and ways to shed old, restrictive habits and replace them with pleasurable, expansive ones to create a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop of habitual joy and gratitude. People say my trippy livingroom exemplifies "thinking outside of the box that the box came in" so most of the class will be held in there after we tour my urban farm. I feel that happiness is a choice we can make daily, and that we can create our lives vs. them just happening to us, with productive gardening as the key. This class will be held twice in September, on the 12th then again the 26th, from 11 AM until 1 PM here at 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa, FL 33611 813 839 0881 or to RSVP. Please park on the south side of Paxton. The cost is $20 per student. Each student will receive 1 free packet of easy-to-grow seeds with instructions on their culture and harvest and use. See you then! John

Making Roselle Tea


You are a constant source of inspiration! Do you, by chance, have a recipe for roselle tea? Thanks and abundant blessings of herring to you!!

Theresa Beyer

Thanks Theresa, and you are welcome. You can just chop the leaves and ripe calyxes into water, simmer a bit, strain and sweeten to taste. I'd limit it to an occasional treat as the tartness is due almost solely to oxalic acid, which if consumed routinely, can lower blood levels of calcium and in turn weaken bones. Plus oxalic acid is a prime contributor to kidney stones.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Growing Ones Own Food is Both Powerful and Effective; Question Authority

"If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot, therefore, maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual." : Frank Herbert

Friday, August 20, 2010

Salted Herring Recipe

I am going to try this traditional recipe with my dried salted greenbacks. Sounds yummy! John

Food Self Sufficiency from the Sea

Oven-dried salted boiled greenbacks

Freshly caught greenbacks

I love the show 'Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern' and last night he was in Sicily showing foods that people have caught/grown/raised/prepared there for centuries. I love pickled herring and dried salted cod so the salted raw herring caught my eye big time. Since my twenties I've treated myself now and then to cellophane bags of dried salted raw baby fish of many species from Japan, sold in Asian markets. You can eat them like potato chips or crush them into Asian dishes for protein and flavor. Tampa's Oceanic Market has a huge selection but they can be quite pricey.
I've met Japanese fishermen and women on Sunshine Skyway bridge and elsewhere using bait cast nests to catch our very plentiful 'greenbacks' most folks think of as bait fish to salt and dry raw to store for later use. They sun dry them, raw and salted, on window screens here in humid Florida! When I first moved back home from Denver I Googled various Japanese methods for making them and chose the one where you boil them in very salty water for three minutes THEN I was a little squeamish about doing it raw. I have dried and eaten and served many hundreds of them...they keep for years in sealed gallon glass jars. The fish are tiny, too tiny to they are preserved whole, heads and all.
A couple years ago he showed seaside villagers making another similar ancient delicacy...raw mullet roe sacks pressed beneath salt for months the same way. It ends up a hard block shaved onto fresh hot pasta and tossed with herbs. I forget what it is called but I looked it up on line that night and it is nowadays a PRICEY rich person's food like caviar...I forget the prices per pound but it made my jaw drop. So guess who wants to catch a BUNCH of female mullet this winter and try it too? Only difference is the mullet roe is salted and fermented raw in the salt in a wooden box so the moisture can end up with something like a very hard dry parmesan or romano cheese. Since I love making the Italian dish with dried salted cod called "bacarra" (sp?) I can imagine this dried salted roe on steaming spaghetti noodles with garlic and herbs and arugula chopped fine!
So I want to try the recipe below for salted herring but use greenbacks instead. Needlefish, which I've eaten many of fried, should work too as their bones are tiny. They'd be easier to gut than the greenbacks, though I would cut the heads off before salting and fermenting raw in the salt for a few months. I have no fear of raw fermented fish as I have eaten tons bought at Asian markets, plus have a batch of kimchee in my fridge now almost 4 years old that is YUMMY that contains crushed dried greenbacks. Finger mullets should work too, though too would need to be gutted and deheaded. I've got some great glass crocks to salt/ferment them in, 1 lb. bags of the saltpeter are just $2.69 at the Oceanic Market, and the seasalt and brown sugar are cheap at Big Lots, Dollar Tree etc.
One of the things I love about his show is his highlighting how people for many centuries, before unhealthy processed foods became the norm, have made very creative use of whatever local foods were available to survive, but in ways that are delectable, with nothing wasted (like the rabbits Sicilians cook, including the heads as they relish the cheek meat). Since I am pursuing ever greater degrees of food self sufficiency here on Paxton, salted raw fermented greenbacks, finger mullets, needlefish and more should be fun. Plus there are tons of very old European recipes for salted herrings.
I want to do this soon so that by Christmas or so they will be ready. This takes place at room temperature, so I need to find an ideal dark place for the crocks but that I can get to easily now and then to view the progress through the glass sides. I LOVE trying new foods and recipes!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An article I had in The Rocky Mountain News in 2004....valid in most climate zones


One of the rewards of a cold climate region’s autumn season is the chance to gather and preserve newly-formed seeds to plant and grow the following summer. Doing this takes little time, can save a lot of money, be a great project for children of all ages (even those belonging to AARP!) and offer some very cool surprises when they germinate and grow. All we need is native curiosity, tightwad instincts, cheap envelopes and a pen, scissors and an old cottage cheese or yogurt tub, and a few sheets of newspaper.

The first frost or two will usually finish up the ripening of seed heads unless they were green; look for ones that look fully browned and brittle. Snip the seed heads into the yogurt tub with scissors and let them dry a few days to release the seeds....tiny seeds like those of snapdragons or amaranth will fall out of their capsules if you swish them around a bit with your fingers. Big seeds like calendula, morning glory and beans need to be "schmoonched" up with your fingers to separate the seeds from their pods or husks. If they seem dry and ready for storage, write the name on a small envelope (box of 100 for $1 at Family Dollar, etc.) like "Heavenly Blue Morning Glory, open-pollinated 2004", pour the seeds in, seal the envelope and store them in your fridge till planting season returns.

Many times in Denver I have gone to public parks before city crews pulled up and hauled away the brown, frost-killed annuals, and harvested snapdragon and other seeds right into the envelopes on site...hey, why let them go to waste in a landfill?

It is commonly advised to NOT save seeds of hybrid flowers and veggies as they will not breed "true" but instead revert back towards their ancestors with each generation of seed saved. But this can be FUN! When I first moved to Denver in 1987 and for a few years after I saved the seeds from hybrid zucchinis and other squash and was amazed the following growing to see what came up! All were productive and edible but some were LOOKED like a zucchini but was white...even the stem attaching it to the vine was white! To do this just scoop out the seeds into a colander and rinse them well with a hose so the water can go into your soil and not down the drain, spread them on a sheet of newspaper to dry in the shade for a week or so, then label the envelope (i.e. "Black Marrow Zucchini, second generation 2004") then store them in your fridge (not freezer!) till planting time. Snapdragons and fragrant sweet peas "revert" ( or cross with nearby neighbors) very creatively. And pansies, if reverted enough generations, revert back first to Violas then Johnny Jump Ups and eventually their wild violet ancestors. Petunias do this too and become VERY fragrant upright, small-trumpeted pink and white flowers. Many rosarians save "open pollinated" rose seeds just to enjoy the surprises revealed a few years later then that first bloom appears.

If you belong to a gardening club, have a potluck where people can also bring and swap seeds...just have a bunch a pens and a box or two of cheap envelopes. We did this for years at the Colorado Permaculture Association potlucks. Visit your friends’ gardens and "plunder" them years past the Denver Botanic Gardens allowed me and others to rescue seeds before the brown frost killed plants were pulled and dumped so see if your local municipal gardens will allow that too.

With the economy slow and many of us inclined to pursue simpler pleasures in part as relief to living in toxic times, autumn seed saving can be a way to help your budget, foster child-like curiosity, meet and make new gardening friends, and to cultivate the sheer joy of surprise in the garden year after year.

Monday, August 16, 2010


There is no security more reassuring than daily harvesting fresh meals from your front and back yard, just feet from the kitchen, even if just potted arugula or snow peas, or a fresh chicken egg or meat. Learn easy ways to deeply cut your water use, to insure fresh salads year round. You'll get a lesson sheet of 15 topics to be covered; please be sure to bring a notepad and pen. Feel free to shoot pics and video. You will receive two free packets of veggie seeds, one each for the hot and cool growing seasons. I am teaching this class again on August 21, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Question and Answer 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. Please park on my side of Paxton off of neighbors' lawns. The cost is $20 per student. Happy Gardening! 813 839 0881

John Starnes

Posts I made at a cars forum about Velvet Beans on my birthday

"God bless you good sir... enjoy your birthday, then get back to living the life. With your diet and lifestyle, I'd say you're just about reaching middle age."

Thanks! Some women friends were convinced I color my hair, but I've been growing and eating Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens) for 6 years now. Used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as an adaptogen and potent aphrodisiac (it WORKS, big time, and I one horny little bugger to begin with.....expensive in capsule form, but being from tropical India the vines THRIVE in Tampa summers, giving me hundreds of the pods each fall I cook and freeze). Studies show that eating some daily for 3 weeks, then none for 3 weeks, back and forth, due to its high content of L-dopa, triggers the pituitary gland to make more Human Growth Hormone, delaying graying of hair and adding lean muscle mass. Well I still don't have pecs like I like seeing on other guys, but at 57 I have zero gray hair. Would be cool if none at 60! A great guy I am seeing is 45 and is trying it for both the hair AND the aphrodisiac effects. (don't worry.....I won't be sharing the outcome of the latter!)Woo hoo! I gave him a nice stash of cooked pods from my freezer to eat like edamame soybeans since it would be in my best interest too if the "effect" kicks in. We're growing some in his yard now too.It is being grown commercially now to treat Restless Leg Syndrome and Parkinson's as it is the world's richest source of natural L-dopa. I now sell seeds and plants of it to boost the income from my little cottage business. The wild kind has orange stinging hairs on the pods....I grow the non-stinging food grade form sold by the good folks at here in Florida where I got my first seeds. Great Christian permaculture organization.

"Happy Birthday John, And please keep on treating us to those 'herbal tips" I am not too far from you . . . I am going to look into those Velvet Beans right now.Funny, its your birthday and you gave us a gift . . . thank you"

You are welcome...once a gardening nerd, always one! WAY too late to plant them now.....wait until next April/May. The vines are rampant...the guy I am seeing stumbled on a pic of my henhouse consumed by them by Googling "Velvet Bean". Many people with Restless Leg Syndrome react badly to the artificial dopa compounds but not those in Fava Beans (quite low content) or Velvet Beans. You get a hyper-aphrodisiac effect by cycling the Velvet Beans and taking another Ayurvedic herb 'Ashwagandha' (Withania somniferum)....a few years ago I confirmed that accidentally by growing Ashwagandha and eating 3 leaves daily due to the ginseng-like compounds called withalamines. Within a few weeks I noticed I was feeling the overriding need to, shall we say, take matters into my own hands 3-7 times a day!! Fun as hell to be sure but I had chores to do, weeds to pull, plus was feeling controlled by my sex drive. So I dropped the ashwagandha. You can get capsules for both at GNC or on-line.I have a fairly older friend with severe long term diabetes, and his otherwise great multi-decade marriage to his wife had been sexless for many years. He bought JUST the ashwagandha capsules, did not even get the velvet a few weeks they were enjoying carnal pleasure weekly! The last time they attended one of my potlucks they had that "newlywed glow"....was cute as hell to see in a couple in their mid 60s! The plant grows in arid Afghanistan and similar regions in alkaline soil so here I grow it in pots I can move when it rains. You can buy ashwaganda seeds from an awesome company....

Just remember though...3-7 times daily happened to me with the two, which I learned that year is THE Ayurvedic aphrodisiac for both sexes. Good thing I've been taking zinc for 25 years as we men lose some each time we "arrive".


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Woo Hoo! Happy Birthday to Me!

I turned 57 today. Will celebrate by weeding, rooting cuttings, cleaning house, then eating my body weight in seafood and sushi at my beloved Tampa Buffet at Britton Plaza. I will concern myself with losing that last 12 pounds beginning tomorrow! When I was deeply depressed and closeted in my teens and twenties, I could have never imagined that by my forties I'd be so damned happy. And folks back then were fifties have been a blast! John

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer Salads in Florida

"Filipino White" Sweet Potato

Opuntia cochenillifera

Molokhiya (Corchorus olitorius)

Last week I splurged and used a BOGO to get me some Wishbone Chunky Blue Cheese dressing that is HFCS free (though a touch of partially hydrogenated soybean oil.....I eat SO little transfats I thought "what the heck?").....I made a nice salad of one half molokhiya leaves and one half young cowpea leaves.....I'd have used Okinawa spinach leaves but mine have been hammered this year by was very good! Next time I will add sweet potato leaves, especially those from "Filipino White" as they are extra tender, plus very young pads from my thornless Opuntia cochenillifera cactus plant. Nice to enjoy the rare decadence of bleu cheese dressing but in summer! Here in Florida, summers are too hot for the usual salads greens like arugula and lettuce and others we have to grow in winter here, so I am enjoying exploring options growing in my lush WEEDY summer gardens. John

"Every 10 years or so, the US needs to pick up some small, crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.": - Michael Ledeen

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One More Reason to Grow Much of Your Own Food

Granted, home production of grain is not feasible, but we can grow other carbs. Here in Tampa the true yams (Dioscorea species) and Sweet Potatoes (Ipomaea species) and Cassava grow easily for year round carbs crops. In colder climates one can grow lots of potatoes, sunchokes, winter squash, apples (for drying), fava beans, bantam corn ( for drying), and other starchy crops. Despite the fact that astronomers have confirmed that for the last 20 years the sun has been at a low ebb of energy output, and that for 200 years human have been pumping methane and CO2 into the atmosphere in massive amounts, some folks still insist that "man can't possibly affect something as big as global climate". But the Earth is a giant petri dish, and we are swarming all over the "nutrient medium"....which is finite. My favorite seed sources include:


Controlling Plagues of Aphids

Aphids are nearly all female (rare males have wings), are born pregnant, are parthenogenic (they don't need to have sex to reproduce), and give live birth to miniature HUNGRY egg or larval stage! So in a very short time they can cover the growth tips of okra, roses and many other plants and literally suck the life out of them. Short term control can be achieved by blasting them off the plant with a garden hose spray nozzle, spraying them with a Kirk's Castile soap solution (see recipe on an early page of the blog archives), and letting native ladybugs and lacewings colonize your yard over a couple of years after you cease using pesticides. But an excellent long term approach that has done wonders for me and landscape clients since the early 90s is to buy mail order the eggs of the TINY, non-stinging Trichogramma wasp that over two years colonizes a landscape as the female wasps lay their eggs INSIDE the aphids. When they hatch they eat their way out like the monster in 'Alien', leaving behind a hollow husk.

For years I and my clients have bought them from Gardens Alive. I prefer the "combo" that has the eggs of two species, Trichogramma pretiosum to protect plants up to 5 feet tall (roses, most crops, low shrubs) and Trichogramma minutum for tall shrubs and trees. For about $23 you get 24,000 eggs in three bi-weekly installments. I feel that spring is best but if you order now you might get a population established before winter. Order them at: or at: 513-354-1482


Letter from a reader

Hello, I've been reading and enjoying your Rosegasms and Urban Farm blogs for awhile now and I see you've mentioned nematodes a few times. I was wondering if you had any hints to share on your blog about how to control nematodes, specifically root knot nematodes, which had the nerve to show up in my garden this year and ruin my green beans, a cantaloupe patch and a Black Krim tomato plant. Any ideas you could offer would begreatly appreciated! Regards, Kari

Hi Kari, thanks! Since the early 80s I've had quite good results in reducing nematode populations by adding LOTS of organic matter to our sandy "soil", and annually applying a light sprinkle of dolomitic limestone to control the excess acidity so common in central Florida. This encourages the growth of a natural fungus that under a microscrope looks like a teensy cowboy's lasso......when a root knot nematode passes through the "lasso" it constricts and digests the nematode!

So for years I've been able to grow straight smooth carrots and healthy crops of okra. I hope this helps. John

Breaking Free: Living on Purpose with Passion

For years people have told me that my way of life and thinking is upbeat, creative, authentic and valuable, (hey, I thought I was just weird!) and that I should make an effort to share it via a class or a book or two. So here goes! I will share 25 key techniques, attitudes and exercises that can allow us to discover what we REALLY want out of life, how to shed old, restrictive habits and replace them with pleasurable, expansive ones to create a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop of habitual joy and gratitude. People say my trippy livingroom exemplifies "thinking outside of the box that the box came in" so most of the class will be held in there. I feel that happiness is a choice we can make daily, and that we can create our lives vs. them just happening to us. This class will be held on August 14th, then again on August 22nd, from 11 AM until 1 PM here at 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa, FL 33611 813 839 0881 or to RSVP. The cost is $20 per student. There will be a detailed handout and a brief tour of my weedy urban farm too. John

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Making BioChar at Home

My gardening friend Pat sent me this great link.....I am putting on my Universe Wish List on my fridge that I want to scrounge metal barrels to make my first one, and, eventually, several, so I can make biochar in earnest. Great simple method, well done video. John

Monday, August 9, 2010

Iodine Supplementation for Good Health for People and Pets

Hey John, I've been meaning to e-mail you for a while to ask you about it, since you posted it on the Barefoot Gardener's list. Then I was going to ask you when I saw you at the Community Garden meeting, but you left before I got a chance! I've been hearing more about Iodine recently, and was going to ask you about your pet dosage for my cat who has hyperthyroidism. Then yesterday my chiropractor tested me for mineral deficiency, and gave me some organically bound mineral tablets that include 225mcg of iodine! What brand would you recommend and what has been your experience with it, if you don't mind sharing? Thanks for bringing the subject up! Cheers, Natasha

Hi Natasha,

My friends and I (and our pets) all began either with daily consumption of dried kelp seaweed (cheap at the Oceanic Market in downtown Tampa) and/or with a few drops daily in juice or water of the tincture used on cuts ($1.19 at Sweetbay) once we confirmed that the LAST thing iodine is is toxic (it's been used to sterilize drinking water while camping for decades). The skull and crossbones on that bottle got put there nearly 70 years ago due to Big Pharm bribing congressman as it empowered people to easily and cheaply prevent and self treat MANY diseases through the use of then widely available Lugol's Solution. Most of us ending up buying 12.5 mg Iodoral tablets or 32.5 mg. potassium iodide tablets, Source Naturals brand. Coastal Japanese take in 37-42 mg. or MORE daily from kelp, etc, and are remarkably free of cancer, thyroid and breast issues and more. Yet our gov't tells us that their blood levels of iodine are "toxic".....hmmmmm. Most western nations have an RDA for iodine 83-100 times HIGHER than our gov't's paltry 150 MICROGRAMS a day, which is barely enough to prevent goiter. But that 225 micrograms would be a start, in my opinion since I am not a doctor! John

p.s. iodine supplementation did WONDERS to not only add two years to my wonderful dog Sweety's life, they were two QUALITY years. I learned about iodine after wasting $200 at a south Tampa vet who somehow mistook her classic profile of symptoms of advanced hypothyroidism for flea allergy! Within THREE days of my adding a tablespoon of shredded kelp to her daily stew, her symptoms of incontinence, failing back legs, lethargy, skin itching and odor and dull coat began to reverse DRAMATICALLY! I then switched to a few drops a day of the tincture daily in her stew and within three months she looked and acted ten years younger. People at the dog beach marvelled when I'd tell them her age and how tragic she looked before iodine. That one $1.19 bottle of tincture of iodine from Sweetbay lasted that two years that she had a whole new lease on life that in turn triggered an epiphany in my life and many of my friend's ( and their pets') lives. No WONDER Big Pharm tried (and tries) to discredit iodine supplementation, especially the classic iodine supplement Lugol's Solution. Check out what the Linus Pauling Institute, and the World Health Organization, have to say about the CRUCIAL role of iodine in human health!

I want to start making biochar for my own soils here. John

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Common Cents Savings

Are you one of millions of Americans getting squeezed by rising bills and a shrinking paycheck? By thinking outside of the box that the box comes in, we can cultivate creative frugality and our most cherished plants while enjoying the simpler things in life. Hey, cheap is chique!

Don’t have $2,000 laying around for a sprinkler system? Buy a $12 hose end "oscillating sprinkler", the kind with a long tube with a row of holes in it that fans back and forth. Set on "Full" it will water a very large area and over a 3-4 hour period will give each spot the deep watering needed weekly during the spring drought. To be sure you are not wasting water, set 6 soup cans of the same size in the spray pattern area, run the sprinkler for one hour, pour five of the cans’ water into the sixth, measure the depth with a ruler, and divide figure that by six. The resulting number is the hourly watering rate of that particular sprinkler model. The goal is to give your landscape one inch of water weekly. And by duplicating natural rain fall, an oscillating sprinkler will rinse off spider mites and dust from leaves too.

A skimpy packet of vegetable or flower seeds can be $2, and we often garden to SAVE money. But there are two easy strategies to wipe all most of our seeds costs. One is to save the seeds from our favorite veggies and posies at the end of their growing season, storing them in envelopes in our produce or meat drawer. I will likely never again have to buy seeds of Thai basil, tree hot pepper, arugula, calabazas and kabocha squash, papalo, gandule beans, Malva sylvestris, and many more. Old time farmers grew their own seeds...we can too. Great way to avoid GMO seeds too.

The second approach is to buy veggie seeds sold to be EATEN....a seed packet of the black eye peas or lima beans that thrive in summer here has a couple of dozen seeds for easily $2. So instead buy a whole bag of them from the grocery store, plant those you need, then cook the rest! This works wonderfully with all manner of familiar dried beans like pinto and black beans, plus fava, garbanzo and mung beans, lentils, even popcorn! In that same spirit, plant the sunflowers in bird seed mixes to enjoy their towering beauty while growing FREE bird seed.

Can’t get your gas lawn mower to start? Before charging a new one on pleading plastic and sweating the payback, buy a $2 "one pull" spark plug for your model at a hardware store, fill the tank once with high test gas and you may well breathe new life into that "broken" mower. Or help your budget and the environment by buying a used electric mower on Craig’s List. Better yet, turn your lawn into a garden!

A $3 dollar jar of "rooting hormone powder" from a garden shop will let you root right in the garden where you want them hundreds of FREE flowering perennials and shrubs during the summer rainy season easily, even if you have never done it before. Just snip 6" long sections of stem from Pentas, Apple, Pear, Hibiscus, Roses, Forsythia, Lilac, Salvias, Coleus, Plumerias, Geraniums and more from favorites in your or a friend’s garden. Strip off the lower leaves, dip the cut tip lightly in the rooting powder, and place it in a 4 inch deep hole made in the soil with a screwdriver in the mulched garden where you want it to grow and water it in. Just 2 inches of the cutting will protrude, then invert a clay flower pot over each cutting to cut sun stress while allowing air and light to enter...having so much stem buried will help insure success as roots will form down deep. Presto, a new free plant! A great way to make a whole hedge of hibiscus or roses for pennies!

Going broke feeding wild birds? Buy cheap 50 pound sacks of black oil sunflower seed or bird seed mixes at feed stores or Big Lots. Or choose an open mulched area in a landscape bed (to prevent sneak attacks by cats) and scatter starchy kitchens scraps preferred by many birds like leftover pasta dishes, stale cereal, pet food sneered at by your picky companions, or old baked goods your grocery store baker may give you if asked. I scrounge pizza from a local pizza buffet dumpster and even get ibises in my yard (they love the cheese!).

In that same spirit of recycling wasted food I feed my six chickens primarily the scraps I get from that dumpster plus the Chinese buffet dumpster nearby....people comment how robustly healthy my "girls" look compared to those fed dry costly chicken scratch. Some times I ask my feathered friends how many chickens in this world feast on snow peas, broccoli, Chinese noodles, pizza, shrimp, eggrolls, crawfish, fried rice, beef and pork shish kabobs, plus salmon and tilapia, but they are too busy scratching and clucking and eating to answer. And my friends adore the FREE thick-shelled brown eggs they make! Each day, lovely wild birds thankfully clean up any leftovers "the girls" miss.

Your molded plastic lawn chairs faded? Clean them well with sudsy water, wipe dry with an old towel, set each one on a flattened cardboard box, and spray paint them the matching color, be it gloss white or Hunter’s green. A $2 can of spray paint will freshen up one chair with paint left over to start the next.

Is your tired looking landscape begging for fresh mulch? Skip the perky pricey red bagged stuff that does little to help the soil and call a tree trimming service and ask for a free load of chipped tree branches to be dumped in your driveway. Spread 6 inches thick it will spruce up your beds pronto, and as it decays will feed your soil and keep it moist. Oak and cedar are the prettiest free mulches by far, and both exude a lovely woodlands aroma.

Soil famished and with poor texture? Call local horse stables in your yellow pages as most are desperate to get rid of VAST amounts of horse poop...some even deliver! Free poop-to-go is hard to beat. Just spread it two inches thick over your lawn and gardens then water deeply. The "barn yard" aroma will fade in a few days and your landscape will savor the sudden infusion of free nutrients.

Fresh pesto is "delish" on pasta dishes, but both it and fresh basil to make your own are pricey. So each spring and summer plant easy-to-grow basil seeds 1/4 inch deep in empty spots in flower gardens, or in patio planters, or as a border around a veggie garden for an endless supply of really fresh pesto you can freeze in used yogurt tubs. I’m too cheap to buy the pine nuts ($16 a pound!) so I use walnuts from Big Lots instead, plus basil leaves, parmesan cheese, sea salt, garlic and olive oil in my blender and buzz away. And be sure to try using fresh arugula to make pesto..... nummy!

Pesticides for bugs and fungi are expensive and toxic, so let’s copy our great grandmothers and buy an 80 cent bar of Kirk’s Castile soap, drop it into a wide mouth one gallon jar and fill with HOT water and let it dissolve one week. That one gallon of concentrate will store for ages. Mix one cup of it in 1 gallon of water and pour that solution into your spray bottle or garden spray tank to cheaply and safely control aphids and mites and white fly, plus black spot and powdery mildew fungi on foliage. Got scale or mealy bugs? Pour 2 cups of soybean or canola oil into that 1 gallon of solution, shake very well, then spray them...the soap will penetrate their protective coverings and the vegetable oil will suffocate the little buggers.

A florist’s bouquet adds class to supper but dies quickly and can cost as much as the meal. Treat yourself to some needed "down time" and wander through your landscape with a water-filled vase and scissors and make an informal "country style" bouquet using whatever happens to be in bloom in your yard. Your creative eyes will surprise you with the beauty you can bless the dinner table with. Even the humble flowers on spirea and ligustrum and photinia hedges can make for a charming arrangement. One branch of our native "Chickasaw Plum" (Prunus angustifolia ) in full bloom, or azalea or fragrant citrus in a simple vase makes an elegantly Zen centerpiece. Each spring I indulge in sumptuous dramatic bouquets of the amaryllis that pepper my landscape. All would cost a fortune at the florists.

Life rarely lets us have our cake and eat it too, but our produce markets can dazzle us with a wealth of chances to do just that. Buy a sweet exotic Crenshaw or Canary Island melon, savor the flavor, save the seeds and rinse them in a colander. Dried on newspaper for a week then stored in a small envelope in your fridge (not freezer) all winter long, those seeds from those high-priced hybrids will produce very similar fruits next if planted in spring in rich sunny soil. The same goes for those exotic looking baking squash, like the Turk’s Cap and Kabocha and Butternut, each one an Alladin’s lamp granting you the wishes of fine eating, free seeds, and the joy of growing their beautiful rampant vines. Save the seeds from a store bought passion fruit or papaya and save a fortune as young plants of both will bust many purple passion fruit vine bears hundreds of fruits annually that are $3 each in the produce section, but it came from a fruit at Publix instead of my seeking out a rare $20 plant. Just be sure to label each envelope and keep them cool....I use my meat drawer in my fridge.(I’d plant the papaya and passion fruit seeds right away as they sprout best when fresh). I have close to 100 papaya plants in my landscape as the green cooked fruit is a staple in my largely Asian diet...and they did not cost me one penny as the seeds came from fruits that friends bought to eat.

Got kids? Buy an ear of dried, multi-color "Indian Corn", strip off the seeds with two hands in a twisting motion, and each spring let them plant and grow decorations for Thanksgiving. Pick the plump ears just as the silks turn brown and cook them up boiled or roasted for a colorful variation of corn-on-the-cob. Not sweet but wonderfully hearty.

Hey, no Gulf Coast child should grow up without his or her own sugar cane plant...keep your eyes peeled for fresh sections of the bamboo-like canes at roadside stands, plant them horizontally in a 4 inch deep trench in a full sun spot and very soon the grassy shoots will emerge. Each winter you can cut off and peel a natural sweet treat with surprisingly rich flavor plus the vitamins and minerals stripped away from refined sugar. The plant itself is gracefully beautiful and makes a fast growing privacy "fence".

Bring home 6-8 "Jerusalem Artichokes" (Sunchokes) from a health food store produce section, eat a couple raw (they taste like a crunchy blend of almond and coconut and have no carbohydrates, just inulin, so diabetics and dieters can munch away) and plant the rest 6 inches deep in rich soil in a sunny area.....6 months later you’ll have OODLES of those tasty sin-free tubers produced easily by lovely 6 foot tall perennial sunflowers.

Autumn produce markets will also boast the richly-flavored heirloom garlics; buy a bulb, break it up into cloves and plant them for tasty leaves and a harvest of bulbs a few months later when the tops die back. Buy a few of those exotic "blue potatoes" and plant them....winter frosts may zap them back but the next spring, as the vines wither, you’ll dig up many many of them that make amazing purple-blue mashed potatoes. (Sold as "seed potatoes" in mail order catalogs they are several dollars a pound!). Same with raw peanuts; purchased for planting they are pricey; buy a quarter pound for eating and instead plant them for the miracle of seeing planted pods erupt into lush plants whose blooms literally burrow into the ground to become the freshest fresh peanuts you have ever eaten! Kids will love pulling up the yellowed mature plants to see the pods dangling beneath.

Us gardening tightwads have imaginations when it comes to squeezing money out of living piggy a whole green coconut and plant it. Save the seeds from those charming "grape tomatoes" in a salad and grow them. Key Limes are easy from seeds unlike most and grow them. Don’t throw out those sprouted potatoes.....plant them each winter and spring for home grown, thin-skinned "new potatoes" that are a pricey gourmet item. Munching on a yummy guava? Save and plant those seeds. One person’s compost scrap is another’s source of free seeds.

Hey, life is short, and money can’t buy happiness...but a lack of it sure is stressful. We don’t have to go without...just think outside of the box that the box comes in and have some frugal fun in your yard and gardens. John

WMNF's 'Sustainable Living' Show

Hi Barefooters!

Be sure to check out the Sustainable Living Show on WMNF 88.5 FM on your dial ( to listen online) this coming Monday, August 9th at 1:05PM for a special gardening show. Jon and Debbie Butts will be hosting our own Barefoot Gardener and Urban Homesteader--Gardening Guru, John Starnes--plus special guest, Roberto Saenz, Farm Manager at Sweetwater Organic Community Farm & CSA in Tampa. John is always our most popular guest on the show, and we are thrilled to have Roberto share some of his gardening secrets with the listening audience. You will be able to call or email in your questions and comments as well. If you have anything pressing to ask you may have a better chance of getting through by emailing us ahead of time (before Monday morning) at

Plant City

If you miss it go to the WMNF website archive ( and listen to it anytime!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

video of a Velvet Bean vine tip one evening

For several years this tropical annual vine has been a staple food for me, plus a medicinal source of natural L-dopa. I was charmed one evening to notice this one vine tip's movements, so I grabbed my flashlight and playfully shot this video. Enjoy, John

The Joys of Urban Foraging.....Sea Grapes!!

Check Out My Other Blogs

Do you share my love of roses, especially Old Roses? Check out my Rosegasms blog.

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Better yet, become a "follower" for each by signing up for e-mail notification and learn of new posts as they happen.

Thanks for your support! John

Yet One More Reason to Enjoy the Fiery Bliss of Hot Peppers!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Fungus Among Us

Ever notice how most everything offers mixed blessings? All during the long winter and spring dry season, we pine and whine for the return of the summer monsoons. But soon it seems that in the steamy heat various fungal diseases coat our roses and veggies and lawns like agricultural acne. Rarely dangerous, these various fungi can weaken and disfigure both our landscapes and our egos. So what’s a soul to do?

Some folks prefer the sometimes immediate results of using broad spectrum chemical fungicides like Daconil or Benomyl or Funginex, whose price tags stun even true believers. But since they can also wipe out the beneficial fungi that help control disease and nematodes, plus nourish plant roots while enriching the soil by decaying organic matter, they can be like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly on a piece of fine china. Such sprays simplify the ecology of a garden, but in nature it is the complex ecologies that are healthy and stable.

But those of us who garden organically to protect the health of our families and the environment can mimic nature’s billion year old wisdom and fight fungal diseases by adding teams of beneficial fungi and bacteria to crowd out the harmful ones. This "biological crowding" has kept my gardens and my clients’ gardens virtually disease free the last 20 years. And as you’d expect from a lazy tightwad like me, the technique costs little and takes little effort.
Fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and let it age 2-3 days in the sun to drive out the chlorine (rain or fishpond water is best). Then add two cups each of:

Calf Manna (25 & 50 lb. bags in feed stores)
any dry compost starter
fresh home made compost
Ringer Lawn Restore
sugar or molasses
1 probiotic tablet of ‘Primal Defense’ from a health food store
add a packet of baker’s yeast, stir and let this "Bio Tea" steep for 2 days.

Stir again, then use a watering can to splash it on the leaves of your roses and other plants to innoculate their surfaces with billions of good critters. Strain it through panty hose into your pump garden sprayer (make sure it has NEVER held herbicides) to spray it onto your lawn and shrubs to coat them too with these natural allies who will control disease FOR you as you tend to life’s affairs. Just think of this as your landscape’s equivalent of when you eat yogurt after taking antibiotics to repopulate your digestive tract to prevent the yeast infections so common after a tetracycline regimen.

As with most natural gardening and good health approaches, this "Bio Tea" is not a fast acting "silver bullet", but a gentle, steady means of achieving a stable and sustainable balance. Want an infomercial-style "cure"? Blast the garden with fungicides. Want fungus diseases reduced from scary plagues to minor cosmetic issues? Try a batch of "Bio Tea" and use the money saved for several nice meals out!

Ringer Lawn Restore

Monday, August 2, 2010

Me on Animal Planet's 'Most Extreme' show

He captured riveting action in that dumpster!

Director Daniel Allen showing me his vision of diving into a dumpster!

Oh my......

I was going through my files of pics to send to my delightful editor at 'Florida Gardening', Kathy Nelson, when I spotted these shots of a cool hysterical life event that occured several years ago, 2004 I think. Their producer in New Zealand stumbled on me by Googling "Dumpster Diving" and saw the piece that CNN did about the "scandal" surrounding my submitting my Space Couch to a slip cover company's annual Ugly Couch Contest. A judge for the contest disqualified me because he was sure I made the couch TO ENTER the bummer as I was in the Top Three and we and our couches were to be flown to New York to be on the Regis Philbin Show....they had even sent me reservations for my Manhattan hotel room! But the judge would not budge, even though folks avowed that my couch had been that bad for a LONG time. Top prize I think was $2,000 which I could have really used as back then I was in debt and had a mortgage on my Denver house. As Eb says on 'Green Acres'....."Kay Sarah Sarah".

The Animal Planet crew guys were a sheer delight as over a few days they shot a segment on my Art Tacko living room made mostly from dumpster treasures, and another on my feeding my chickens restaurant scraps. We had fun, worked well together, and despite their sheer exhaustion on this global jaunt to shoot segments for the series, they were remarkably focused, open to ideas, good humored and when done they treated me to Crazy Buffet.....sushi heaven. We had some brews and great conversation. They were professional top notch guys. I got a crush on Daniel the director, and some weeks later I had the joy of seeing our sound guy (I forget his name but he was a very modest and agreeable man, and consummate perfectionist) win an Oscar for his sound work for 'The Lord of The Rings' !

Dumpsters have helped to sustain me since 1976, have given me year after year the stimuli and fodder for creative projects, all the while cutting my cost of living very deeply to allow me much delicious lateral freedom all these years for projects like urban farming, artistic projects, rose breeding, plus decadent goof off time too. I've met many delightful people WHILE diving, or, as in the case of the 'Most Extreme' guys, BECAUSE of my being a dumpster diver.
When I see those room shots from 2004, I am stunned to see that back then it was still the original white latex walls vs. the near total mirror it has been for years now.
New project. Soon, the livingroom mirror floor gets replaced with brand new BIG slabs of 1/4 inch thick mirror, some scavenged, some WONDERFUL gifts from friends, each mirroe backed by cheap contact paper for tensile strength that GREATLY prevents cracking, but that holds the shards in place safely and attractively the rare occasion it happens. When I am done, there may just be a little throw rug here and there to cover small areas of the original gnarly looking brown 50s linoleum that inspired this project, if I can jigsaw them all together effectively. My long term is to have the livingroom floor 100% mirrorized.
I'd love to hear from folks of their most memorable dumpster finds.
Peek and You Shall Find!

p.s. When people have asked I've tried to find those two segments at the 'Most Extreme' site to no avail....I have just the VHS they mailed me before broadcast that year.