Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chance the gardener

Here are the last few moments of my all time favorite movie, 'Being There', a charming and evocative film about a gardener and politics and our vulnerabilities. I have no idea why, but I get joyfully teary-eyed each time he starts to walk on the lake. Enjoy, John

Home Made Pickled Cactus Pads (nopales nopalitos(

Home Made Pickled Nopales Cactus Pads

I finally did it and made a batch, now cooling on the stove as a new monster batch of Velvet Beans JUST begins to cook. (I will be selling cooked frozen Velvet Beans this winter, 120 pods-enough for three week cycling through all of 2011- for $50 per bag of frozen cooked pods).

Video of the Nopales pickling using pads of Opuntia cochenillifera coming soon. John

Friday, October 29, 2010

Velvet Bean Cooking and Freezing Steps

My Universe Wish List

underside of gold stealth AEROGAMI plane

Display at an art show in south Tampa some years back

A very different folding format is used to create these SST

Inspired by the 1990's European 'HOTOL' shuttle proposed then....."tail fin"
over the nose a key my planes it greatly prevents stalling, gives
smooth flights
Here are a few things I desire to trade plants or cooked frozen Velvet Beans for with local readers of my blogs to aid me with gardening and cooking and art projects, plus my RC foam airplanes:

1. Gallons of just-expired milk to make cheese and kefir with
2. Broken carbon fiber fishing poles to use to strengthen the wings and bodies of my foam planes
3. Camera tripod to allow me to shoot various demos for my YouTube channel
4. used 1 gallon pots, hundreds of them, for my cottage plant sales business
5. big sheets of 1/4" mirror for my livingroom floor project
6. fertile eggs of Rhode Island Reds to hatch in my incubator
7. sheet of BlueCore foam insulation to make planes from
8. servos and speed controllers for electric RC foam planes
9. piano wire to connect the servos to the rudders and elevons
10.a metal wok
11.reflector telescope
12.a young male Border Collie mutt
13. a damaged bike wheel with carbon fiber spokes I can use in my foam planes
14.metal crab trap, the kind that closes up and traps the crabs inside when you pull up on the
15.a specimen of 'Jamaican Cherry' (Muntingia calabura)

I can offer various edible plants, OODLES of cool veggie seeds, cuttings from roses and Bolivian Sunflower, or my small painted AEROGAMI paper airplanes.
Thanks in advance!


Fall Gardening from Seeds in Tampa

The cool thing about gardening here is that we get to sow crops that folks in cold climates, like Denver where I lived and gardened for 15 years, plant in the spring. I've now sown in Water Wise Container Garden trays and the soil the seeds of edibles and herbs like ashwagandha, daikon 'Minovase', Finnochio and leafy fennel, Ethiopian kale, Waltham 29 broccoli, catnip, arugula, purple kosaitai, Nero di Toscana kale, 'American Flag' leeks, mizuna hybrid, Thai hot peppers, 3 kinds of tomatoes, plus ornamentals like Fordhook Tall snapdragons, Unwin Hybrid dahlias, clarkia, Dwarf Jewel Mix nasturtiums, white sweet alyssum, Bachelor's Buttons, Shirley Poppies, with more to come. The cool autumn has been helpful but this bizarre "mini-drought" that took the place of hurricanes and tropical storms has NOT been....we are SO dry here. And the "official" dry season has yet to begin, with a strong La Nina' now brewing in the Pacific....looks to be a grimly desiccating winter gardening season! I will share photos of these varying crops as they mature.

Happy Gardening! John

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall Harvest of Vigna and Velvet "Beans" in Tampa

Quick Listing of my November Classes

Easy Frugal Organic Winter Veggies and Herbs Gardening: Nov. 6, 27th
Water Wise Container Gardening: Nov. 7
The Basics of Urban Farmsteading: Nov. 13, 28th
Least Toxic Pest Control, Indoors and Out: Nov. 20
Growing Food, Cultivating Freedom, and Harvesting Joy: Nov. 21

Class times are always 11AM until 1 PM Class fees are always $20
Please park along the south side of Paxton to spare the lawns of my north side neighbors.

3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881

Feel free to bring food scraps you'd normally discard to feed to my chickens and ducks

Thanks! John

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yet One More Reason for Humans to Breed Much Less and Embrace Permaculture

Cucuzzi "Squash"

Cubans call it Cucusa, Italians cucuzzi....the botanical name is Lagenaria siceraria var. longissima. It is a true gourd with white flowers and rampant vines, and is a wonderful summer crop, especially in hot humid regions. Use it as you would zucchini, or shred it into a slaw, or into spaghetti sauce as a high-fiber thickener, or slice and fry it in olive oil with garlic, add cheese, chop it raw into salads, you name it! John

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recipe for Indian Curried Veggies

I love Indian cooking, have lots of the appropriate spices, and the next 6-7 months will be peak production for many gardens in central and south Florida. I am going to try this and quite a few other recipes. John

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Home Cheese Making

Freshly salted pressed cheese curd

The big new refrigerator my Dad gave me!

I have found by accident that when I make kefir, if I put in a quart of mixed fruit juices ('Old Orchard' brand like blueberry pomegranate) and 1/2 cup sugar and do a 3-4 day ferment in my warm laundry room, I get wonderful firm curds for home cheese making. Since the Lifeway brand kefir I use for the "starter" has 10 beneficial bacteria, my cheeses by default are probiotic. Today I am making a new batch, but this time will dry the air drying technique mentioned below so as to get a true "rind" on the cheese before aging it in my fridge for 6 months. I am hoping to barter fresh eggs and veggies with a south Tampa dairy department manager for their gallons of milk that expire on a given day so I can use the big beautiful new refrigerator my Dad gave me to pursue home cheese making in earnest. The link below offers nice overviews of the simplicity of this ancient craft. Oh to make some cheese with local fresh raw milk!


What a Bright Young Man!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

From John Lennon's Wife on His Birthday today.....

Thank you John for all the joy and inspiration you gave the world. John

Always Time for Fun on My Farm

Got paper? John

Recycling Paper on My Urban Farm

Check out my Starnesland blog about my various interests and creative projects to see the video about my AEROGAMI paper airplanes I make from paper I rescue from printers and paper suppliers. If you share my eclectic interests in art, political activism, soul-tingling music, trippy videos, way-cool cars, spaceships and airplanes, and news about sciences like botany, astronomy, paleontology and ecology, you might find 'Starnesland' a fun interesting site to visit weekly.

I am enjoying revisiting my early 1990's AEROGAMI concepts in 2010, and will soon once again offer them for sale to kids of all ages.


Sheet Composting

This article appeared in 2004 in my St. Petersburg Times gardening column. It is fully relevant now and in all climate zones as a healer and builder and sustainer of rich, living soil. John

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 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.

Thank You!

I very much appreciate the great comments and encouragement I get from folks about my work on this urban farming and self sufficiency blog, and plan on making it more useful and interesting as it ripens on the vine. Thanks too to the folks who offer financial support by donating to my blog via the PayPal button at the bottom, though I will gladly accept checks and cash in the mail too, or slipped through the Honor System slot in my red office door that local folks use to pay me for my edible plants when I am all adds up and I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness!

John Starnes
3212 West Paxton Avenue
Tampa FL 33611

Thanks too to the many local folks who attend my classes here, and that purchase my eclectic mix of edible crops. Money is tight for nearly everyone these days, and so I am very grateful to those who financially support my efforts as a gardening/urban farming blogger sharing what I've learned over the years as an organic gardener growing much of his own food.


Greek Columnar Basil 'Lesbos' plants for sale

SIX plants available as of Saturday, October 9

I have a new crop of this unique interspecies hybrid that has unusually potent small leaves in vast numbers on erect growing plants that can reach three feet tall in good soil and full sun, either in a garden or a large pot. It rarely blooms so you do not have to pinch off bud clusters very often....this results in extremely vigorous growth that allows me to make and freeze vast amounts of pesto each summer. The flavor is also perfect for Asian cuisine, such as inside fresh spring rolls.

The plants go woody and decline in about one year, so be sure to root a six inch long cutting monthly to insure a permanent supply of this wonderfully pungent herb. A friend in Sulphur Springs says his thrive in a fair amount of shade. Be sure to grow one in a pot to bring in during frosts and freezes. Friends who have always struggled with basil can't believe their success, plus how easily it roots from cuttings.

I have 6 plants in one gallon pots for $5 each, all grown in home made soil with no pesticides. They are sitting on glass tables, each marked with a section of white miniblind, along with other edible plants, right by my front porch: If I am out, just use my honor system to slip your cash through the dryer vent payment slot in my red office door. The address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611, about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill, jungly yard on the south side. Please park on my mulched area to avoid damaging my neighbors' lawns. Thanks in advance and Happy Gardening! John Starnes

Friday, October 8, 2010

Urban Farming 101

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 and a mindset vs. being just a gardening class. I am teaching this class again twice in October, on the 17th, and the 31st, 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

Growing Food, Cultivating Freedom, and Harvesting Joy class

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 on October 16th and again on the 24th, from 11 AM until 1 PM here at 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa, FL 33611 813 839 0881 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 winter crops seeds with instructions on their culture and harvest and use. See you then! John

Velvet Bean Vines at Sundown in My Gardens

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Waste Not, want Not

No urban farm in central Florida can have too many ponds! John

Dealing with Depression?

Do you get SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome) each fall and winter due to shortening daylengths? Light treatments did wonders for me in Denver, but look at this study regarding non-seasonal depression! John

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Batch of Home Made Kefir

I recently scavenged a few of those heavy glass rectangular glass aquariums that we used as kids to raise those little green turtles in. I cleaned one out well, rinsed it with bleach, then poured in 1 cup of my own kefir that had originally been cultured with plain 'Lifeway Kefir' (* has ten species of beneficial bacteria that address GERDS and Acid Reflux with incredible effectiveness!), a gallon of "whole milk" from Publix, then stirred in a few cups of 'Old Orchard' Blueberry-Pomegranate Juice and 1/2 cup sugar to feed the bacteria, placed a freshly laundered terry cloth towel over the top of the tank, then set it in my laundryroom that is not air-conditioned or heated. Three days later I had a WONDERFUL batch of homemade kefir that my friend Avena loved. A quart of 'Lifeway Kefir' can be $4.29 at the store....this gallon of thick, creamy, flavorful kefir cost me less than $3.50! John