Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Natural Apples

GREAT place to order seeds from

I just placed a new order with these folks that I've liked for some years now.....good prices, they fill your order fast, free shipping for orders of $7.50 or more. I ordered fresh seeds of the Ayurvedic aphrodisiac herb Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) that works VERY VERY well when taken with Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens) plus a giant Bulgarian leek to grow this winter. TONS of very exotic tropicals to be had, along with a great many crops, herbs and flowers for temperate climates. I can't recommend them highly enough. John

Home Made Solar Food Dehydrator

I'm going to try to make one of these but with sturdy components vs. cardboard and plastic film. Looks easy and effective to me, and building things is NOT one of my strong points. John

The Scoop on Poop!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Constant Cornucopia

In these uncertain times, we can relish the security of fresh food from our yards just as our great grand parents did. All it takes is fertile healthy soil, a sunny location, and growing the right crops for the right time of year to enjoy daily crisp salads, crunchy sweet sugar snap peas and carrots, pungent arugula and so much more. So cultivate a thriving organic garden and a prosperity mind set using a few simple techniques.

First, feed your soil NOT your plants! Chemical fertilizers force feed your veggies while neglecting or even damaging your soil. Choose a 10 foot by 10 foot garden site in full sun, remove weeds, and sprinkle on the following:
50 pounds of cheap dog food nuggets (as they decay they nourish your soil with a wide range of nutrients)
4 bags of Black Cow dairy compost
4 bags of Black Velvet mushroom compost
5 twenty pounds bags of cheap white cat litter IF you have sandy soil to add clay, which helps to hold water.

Turn this all under with a garden shovel (not a tiller), leave the surface rough, then water deeply for 30 minutes. Rake smooth, then mulch with 4 inches of either hay or free chipped mulch from a tree trimming service. Let this all "ripen" for 3 weeks to create truly rich fertile soil.

Gardens in largely frost free areas, like most of Florida and much of the Gulf coast, can plant cold hardy crops like the entire Cabbage family ( kale, broccoli, mustard, boy choy, collards) plus carrots, beets and peas October through February. Gardeners in colder regions can plant all these plus others in spring when frost danger has passed.
Just use your hands to "part" the mulch to expose 10 four inch wide bands of soil so that the garden looks striped by bands of mulch between the rows, and plant your seeds and seedlings in the exposed soil. Hand water daily for two weeks for best germination, then weekly but deeply thereafter...the mulch layer will keep your soil moist while decaying and adding more organic matter.

For best growth and vigor, when your seedlings are about 4 inches tall, drench each row with one gallon of water into which you’ve mixed three tablespoons of that wonderfully stinky old-fashioned fish emulsion your great grandma used on her potted plants. It provides all the nutrients plants need, including trace element minerals from the sea. Water it in, then brace yourself for months of vibrantly healthy home grown all-organic veggies any chef would envy, and at a fraction of the cost of even non-organic produce. "Alaska Fish Fertilizer" is my favorite brand.

Come home after a hard day at work, slip into something comfy, and enjoy the feeling of security and abundance as you harvest a healthy FRESH meal for your family from your own back yard.

Help America's Family Dairy Farms

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dumpster Diving Tip

Whether you are new to mining resources from dumpsters, or a long time "diver", it's nice to leave the scene laden with treasures AND with clean hands. I keep in my Dodge Caravan an Arizona Green Tea jug filled with a VERY cheap home made hand cleaner and deodorizer. Just fill the jug with water to about an inch from the top, then add a few drops of dish washing liquid, and a few tablespoons of store brand pine cleaner (19.9% pine oil vs. the smidge in Pinesol), shake and keep your car along with a hand towel. If you dumpster dive by bike and backpack as I did in the 1970s, pour some of that same solution into a small plastic bottle from a recycle bin, and keep it and that towel in your backpack. I LOVE the sturdiness of Arizona Green Tea jugs and snatch them from recycle bins whenever I can. They are great for giving a friend a gallon of horse manure or compost tea or home made fish emulsion for their garden.

There's nothing like leaving a dumpster, blessed and laden with free treasure AND clean, pine-scented hands. John

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beneficial Bacteria from Yogurt and Kefir

My Dad's GERDS, plus MANY people I've met, have had their IBS/GERDS/acid reflux GREATLY improved by drinking weekly that yummy Lifeway kefir at Sweet Bay and Publix, which has 10 beneficial bacteria.....this study reveals why. Even just Activia yogurt helped a California friend, and I think it has just two bacteria. The blueberry kefir is delicious though my favorite is the plain. I recently made a batch of homemade kefir by adding a cup of Lifeway kefir to a gallon of milk a neighbor gave me that I'd poured into a clean glass cookie jar, covering the top with a clean washcloth rubberbanded in place, and set out overnight on my front porch. The next day the bacteria had multiplied BIG time and curdled the milk into a very thick cultured YUMMY kefir. Imagine the kefir one could make adding the Lifeway kefir to farm fresh, raw goat or cow's milk!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Salad Veggie Egyptian Molokhiya

FOUR AVAILABLE as of Thursday, June 24.

This is now one of my very favorite summer veggies as I love the mild tender leaves added to summer salads, plus used in stir fry and omelets. It is a heat loving annual that LOVES damp rich soil in full sun...if you have a low-lying wet area grow it there. It NEEDS heat and can quickly reach 6-8 feet tall in good conditions and thus can provide hundreds of the nutritious leaves all summer. You can grow it in a 5 gallon capacity pot kept in a tray of water to keep the soil damp if you have no drainage ditch or air conditioner drip areas. It is the most widely eaten leafy veggie in Egypt and is grown in India and Pakistan and other hot humid areas. Its stems are the centuries old source of jute fiber, and the seed pods that form in the fall contain seeds that are an amazing blue-green malachite color! (be sure to save some for the next season). The flowers are small and yellow and inconspicuous, and if you look REAL closely you'll notice the similarity to okra blooms but on a TEENSY scale. (It is distantly related to okra).
I have currently have 4 plants, each about 3 feet tall, grown in home made soil with no pesticides in 1 gallon pots for $4 each on glass tables near my front porch. Just use my Honor System to slip your cash through the payment slot in my red office door on my front patio. The 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 south side of Paxton. Please avoid parking on my neighbors' lawns.
Thanks and Happy Gardening! John Starnes

African Jack Bean Plants for Sale

FIVE available as of Thursday, June 24.

Known botanically as Canavalia ensiformis, this annual tropical vine LEAPS into growth once the humid heat settles in, soon covered with lush leaves, beautiful blooms (VERY fragrant in the morning) and then those amazingly giant tender "bean" pods that, when cooked, taste much like a good Romano bean. Raw they contain low levels of the same cyanogenic glucossides found in other raw tropical crops like Cassava ("yuca" on Cuban menus), chaya, lima beans and more, but just a few minutes of cooking eliminates them. The vines are too strong for your average trellis.....plant your seeds in rich soil and in full sun by a chain link fence, or something similarly strong....expect vine growth of 8-12 feet. Be sure to let a few pods ripen and turn tan and dry each fall to insure you have seeds from now on. Crops like this one that LOVE summers here are one reason my gardens are productive year round, whereas so many folks think there are no true summer crops here and thus let their gardens lie fallow and unproductive half the year. When young and tender and stringless, the pods can be cooked whole like a giant Romano bean. In late summer, when the green pods get tough and plump up with the big fat lima bean-like seeds inside, I like to brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and garlic powder, and cook them in their jackets on a covered barbecue grille, to eat as finger food as you would fresh edamame soy beans...friends agree...the taste and texture is very close to an excellent butter bean. Be sure to let a few pods ripen and turn tan and dry each fall to save the seeds for the next summer season.
I have 5 plants in 1 gallon pots for $5 each on glass tables near my front porch. Please use my Honor System to slip your cash through the payment slot in my red office door on my front patio. The 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 south side of Paxton. Please avoid parking on neighbors' lawns.

Thanks and Happy Gardening! John

Natural Organic Grasshopper Control

Years ago I cured my lubbers problem here in my then new Tampa yard by broadcasting Nolo Bait, which is bran treated with the protozoa Nosema locustae. It does not give much short term control, though it does sicken and weaken them, but in 2 years it GREATLY reduces their numbers due to cannibalism spreading the germ and the egg cases getting infected internally. They used to hatch by the thousands in my neighbor's yard until he let me spread Nolo Bait out front. This year I had an odd increase in the number of lubbers, maybe because of the cool wet El Nino winter, though they were still very manageable. Might be time I buy a new bag. I learned of it years ago in Colorado when ranchers and farmers used it to stem a classic plague of grasshoppers. But it works great on our lubbers too. You just have to be patient.

Nolo Bait has a short shelf to buy it directly from the source and broadcast it immediately.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Waste Not Want Not: Dead Plant Stalks As A Resource

Cheap or Free Non-Toxic Indoor Flea Control

I bought the 50 lb. bag of food grade bulk diatomaceous earth to use ON my pets a few years back......HUGE bag since the stuff is so fluffy! I think I paid $19 plus $22 shipping.

But the video is NOT about diatomaceous earth for flea control so check it out! John

Waste Not Want Not

I was working on this entry last night when that blessed rain storm knocked out the power despite being quite far south at the goes again.

Due to the hard freezes I had here in south Tampa last winter (including two LONG nights of 27 degrees despite my being close to the bay) all my cassavas, plus my Bolivian Sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) froze to the ground. Of course they are coming back from their bases, but I had a LOT of unsightly lightweight dead stalks to cut down. Some pieces are going into compost piles, some into Water Wise Container Gardens, and some being used as a component as I sheet compost gardens.

Here are pics of some the stalks.....coming soon will be photos and videos of how I am using these freeze-killed stalks as a resource vs. doing as my neighbors are and taking plant waste from the freezes to the landfill.

Waste not, want not! John
p.s. in Denver I made similar use of the stalks of annual sunflowers, sunchokes, and corn as they too decay rapidly.


For easily 10 days now, NE Tampa areas have been getting 1-2 even THREE rains daily as south Tampa remained BONE dry....our perennial "rain shadow". But last night a storm came from the south and gave us a GLORIOUS soaking with thunder and lightning big time. I will post a video later if it turned out okay. I woke up to FOUR inches of rain in my gauges plus filled rain buckets and barrels! How many gay men do you know who'd be thrilled with four inches!


Time To Plant Vigna "Beans"

Now that it is hot and steamy and rains are at least possible, this is a great time to plant any members of the legume species Vigna unguiculata, collectively called "Cow Peas". I've given to students free seeds of the heirloom strain called "Clay" due to their red-brown color. But black eye peas (plant ones from the grocery store to save money) or Purple Hull or White Acre or Zipper Peas, Cream peas etc. all thrive in summer into fall here. I use the young leaves and vine tips in stir fry and soups. The plants themselves are excellent nitrogen fixers, especially if plowed under young as a "green manure". "Yard long beans" are a subspecies of V. unguiculata (I forget the name) and they glory in summer too. This year I am growing one called "Thai Long No. 3" that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have an INCREDIBLE selection of Cow Peas plus the Asian long beans.

If you live in an area with cool summer nights, like Denver, you will see far less vigorous growth.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

A delightful Beatles video after a day in the gardens....

I got a lot done today about growing gandule beans and molokhiya and and sweet potatoes and a few others, summer sheet composting, spot waterings, and find this classic video by The Beatles as an additional reward for a grand day Enjoy, John

An exquisite video composition of dragonflies in flight and alight.

This gem was created by a guy who checks my farm blog daily and whose career requires, and has honed, admirable skills with a video camera. I love the close ups!

This year's HUGE surge in my dragonfly population has, so far, treated me to a very mosquito-free summer.

Enjoy the video and fine sound track.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wonderful Solar Cell Breakthrough

Imagine your roof covered with this to recharge your electric car! John

I Made it Rain!!!

Except for a brief shower two Fridays ago, south Tampa has been bone dry for over a month now even though WONDERFUL storms have been daily saturating portions of north Tampa plus east of Tampa out by Plant City lately. South Tampa is cursed with a "rain shadow" that deeply frustrates gardeners and homeowners year after freakin' year. But I made it rain today! A light rain grant you, barely enough to dampen the mulch. How did I do it?

I left a full load of dry laundry on my clothesline and my car window down! Try it! John

Home Generation of Hydrogen is Closer than Ever

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dragonfly Population Boom

I don't know if it is due to that chilly wet El Nino winter we had, or my mature large fishpond becoming a hatchery, but this year my yard has a HUGE population of dragonflies in many sizes and COLORS zipping and dipping all over my gardens, front and back, all day, every day. Aside from the joy I get from seeing them, they are blessing me with a near-total absence of mosquitoes. I am curious if anyone else here in central Florida or elsewhere is experiencing this delightful phenomenon.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wasp Nest?

I rarely kill wasp nests, unless they pose a danger to me and students and friends as they are such effective predators, especially of caterpillars. But this morning, seconds after I began weeding my back door veggie garden I got stung in the right cheek...I'd not noticed that small wasps had built a nest on the tomato cage just inches from my face. I am nearly immune to bee and wasps stings, probably due to my having been bit many hundreds of times over the years as a Florida landscaper by fire ants, who inject the same poison.....formic acid. So the pain and swelling will be brief. Yet I DO need to weed that garden!

So I went to my laundry room, and grabbed a giant can of WD 40 that I dumpster dived ages ago, and sprayed the nest. Death of the adults is near-immediate, plus the larvae all die soon therefter when the WD 40 penetrates the paper nest. It is best to do this at night when all the wasps have returned to the nest, but I want to weed that bed today.

Sure this is not an "organic" technique, but it is cheap and one hell of a lot less toxic than using a commercial bug spray. I realize that this approach will be outside the comfort zone of a purist, but it IS effective and meets my own comfort zone needs.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

'I Am the Walrus' live and remarkable

My Classes for July 2010


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 July 17th from 11 AM until 1 PM. To get you in the spirit of “tightwad gardening” I will have free seeds. 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


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 July 11th, 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 next 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

Planning a Productive Fall and Winter Veggie Garden.....NOW

With the steamy heat just beginning, now might seem an odd time to think about a classic Florida cool weather veggies 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. 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. Use the hot summer months 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 July 31st, 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

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 on July 4, 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


One can go broke trying to "grow organic" instead of "buy organic" produce. This class is for tightwads like me. Key basics of probiotic soil feeding, seasonal planting, "dealing with bugs and fungus", water conservation, proper crops for the season and more will be covered, with keeping costs VERY low the prime focus. You will get two free packets of seeds or a true yam (Dioscorea family) tuber to plant right away. I am teaching this class twice in July, on the 3rd and again on the 24th, 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. 813 839 0881 Happy Gardening! John

Folks move here from northern states with rich loamy soils and where things GROW, only to encounter Florida sand with no organic matter, and laden with nematodes instead of nutrients, and soon conclude that Florida is "Gardening Hell". I was born in Key West, have gardened all over Florida, plus fifteen years in icy Denver, and two in Albuquerque, was a kid in Michigan and so I fondly remember the tulips and daffodils and peonies and bearded iris and lilacs and rhubard, but yet I love Tampa best by far. Snow and ice on my landscape, (as it was for fifteen years in Denver) is inherently wrong to me but I can relate to people not liking it here. For them there are no mountains, no fall color, no white water. This class on July 25, from 11 AM until 1 PM, elaborates on a few simple cheap principles focused on short term success while getting in tune long term with the unique nature of gardening in Florida, which can be really wonderful. 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 get two free packets of veggie seeds, one for each main season here. 813 839 0881 Happy Gardening! John Starnes


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. 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. To RSVP call: 813 839 0881 or e-mail: Happy Gardening! John

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." - Plato

Monday, June 14, 2010

Living Simply but Happily

I live on about $8,000 a year, have no debt, a paid for home, and love deciding each new day what interests and passions to explore.....even if just gardening or a trip to the nearby beach or making a big batch of natto or tempeh. Life is good! John

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Plants-For-Pet Food Barter

I could very much use several bags of dry dog or cat food nuggets to feed to my chickens, Muscovy ducks, and Coturnix quail, and if any of my local blog readers have bags of either that their pets have turned their noses up at, I'd love to barter edible and/or ornamental plants and/or seeds, for the pet food. Before the downturn, slightly torn bags of pet food tossed into store dumpsters was a fairly common more!

Also, if any of my local blog readers own or work at a restaurant or school cafeteria, I'd love to trade weekly or more, fresh free range chicken and/or quail eggs for food scraps that are normally discarded to feed to my poultry.

Thanks! John

Growing Sunflowers Using Kitchen Graywater

The True Yams, the Dioscorea Family

Here is a video overview of true Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes. John

Video Update of Grape Vines on My Henhouse

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An updated version of an article I wrote for 'Florida Gardening' in 2008

Velvet Bean - Mucuna pruriens

Vigna unguiculata "Clay", an heirloom Vigna

African Jack Bean- Canavalia ensiformis

Scarlet Runner Bean- Phaseolus coccineus

While written with Florida in mind, this article references several edible legumes that will thrive where ever summers are long and hot...humid is best. Enjoy, John

Beans Galore

Beans, beans, they’re beautiful and they’re good for your heart, the more you grow and eat them the more you’ve got art in your landscape. But I’m not talkin’ pinto and navy beans, but some beautifully flowering exotic tropical "beans" that grow like crazy here from spring into fall. Their lush vines boast a blend of blooms and protein-rich bean pods for bouquets and the dinner plate. All they need is full sun, soil enriched with dog food nuggets, and an ugly fence you’d love to see transformed into a lovely flowering "trellis".

But beans? Yup. Remember Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) from our grandma’s flower gardens? A white mailbox looks charming swathed in those emerald leaves and ruby blooms. Imagine picking and nibbling a crisp raw pod as you reach in for the daily mail! Chop them into salads and stir fry for a taste and texture you can’t buy in the produce market. And those crisp red blooms add a sweet surprise to salads. Look for them in the garden flowers section of seed displays.

Many of us think no veggies will grow in our hot muggy summers. But the Vigna family offers many that not only offer tasty "bean" pods during the sauna season (true beans are in the Phaseolus family), but also lovely flowers for dressing up mailboxes, fences and trellises. All bear tender young leaves excellent in stir fries, hail from tropical Africa and Asia and so are right at home here from late spring through early fall. What’s cool too is that bags of their seeds for planting can be found right on the grocery store shelf and in neighborhood Asian markets, giving you hundreds of seeds for about $1!

Black Eye Peas are the one (Vigna unguiculata) that we are all familiar with, a classic of southern summer gardens for two centuries now. Just buy a bag of dried ones at the store and plant one seed 1 inch deep every 3-4 inches in a row in your veggie garden, or as a decorative border around a landscape bed. You will be amazed their rate of growth and how soon you will be picking tender immature pods for stir fry or a light summer soup, or plump mature pods for shelling green black eye peas (I am usually too lazy for the latter!). I also love the shiny tender young leaves in casseroles and stir fry
That same species has many variants, like the various cow peas and white acre peas we have all savored in cans, their seeds available from mail order catalogs. Most produce bushy attractive plants bearing yellow or lavender blooms, and each offers a uniquely colored and tasting bean. An excellent source of many varieties is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at (417) 924-8917 or
Are you into Asian cuisine like me? Try the vining Vigna unguiculata subspecies sesquipedalis variants called The Yard Long Bean sold in Asian veggie seed displays and on line. Sometimes called "Noodle Bean" and a staple of Chinese cooking, this relative of the Black Eyed Pea thrives just as well in our muggy summers. Expect the lovely orchid-like flowers to quickly transform into bean pods up to 3 feet long, though they are best picked when a foot long and sweetly tender. Easy and thus great for kids to grow, they also provide newly unfolded leaves excellent when chopped into soups and stir fry for extra fiber, bright green color, and healthy nutrition. Try their fresh flowers for a colorful sweet topping for a salad.
The Mung Beans (V. mungo) we think of as "bean sprouts" can also be bought dried at an Asian market and planted, the young pods and leaves used young and tender, or let the pods ripen and turn brown to release home grown mung beans used in Indian and Asian cooking.

One especially productive Vigna is the "Red Chinese Bean" or "Adzuki Bean" (V. angularis). The tender stringless pods quickly follow the pale yellow blooms, occurring in groups of three or more, held high above the lush looking bushy plant. Buy a bag of them at an Asian grocer and plant as you would black eye peas.( If you want steady production of pods, plant a new row somewhere in your yard monthly from April through early September of any of the edible Vignas so as one crop matures and declines another takes it place.)

"Corkscrew Flower", Vigna caracalla, is grown for its heavily fragrant, twisted lavender and white blooms that resemble translucent sea shells, perfect as a conversation piece on your mailbox. Rarely seen in garden shops, it can be ordered from Logee’s Greenhouses at 1-888-330-8038 or
Want to freak out friends, neighbors, passers-by and dinner guests? Grow African Jack Beans (Canavalia ensiformis) and watch jaws drop first when the vines rival those in ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’, then again when monstrous bean pods form. I use mine in soups and stir fry when 8-10 inches long and crisply tender, pods and all. No need to shuck them. Think that size DOES matter? Grow African Jack Beans! Same goes for their relatives Chinese Sword Bean (Canavalia gladiata) and Florida’s native Beach Bean Vine (Canavalia rosea). The seeds of all three contain low levels of cyanogenic glucosides destroyed by a few minutes of cooking. Try cooking them in their jackets on a covered grille until they are steamed through and through then pop them out like giant butter beans.

Prized in Filipino cuisine, the green-podded Hyacinth Bean (Dilochos lablab) is tastier and grows far more luxuriantly than the equally edible purple-podded ornamental kind sold in flower seed racks. If you don’t have a Filipino neighbor who can share seeds with you, look for them on-line or in the seed display in an Asian market. Lovely on a chain link fence, bedecked with flowers reminiscent of wisterias, Hyacinth Beans cover my henhouse each summer to provide "my girls" with shade and nutritious leaves they love to peck at and nibble. By summer you can pick the flat green pods, boil them in salted water, and shuck out flat green beans that when lightly cooked taste much like edamame’ soybeans. Allowed to ripen and dry on the vines, the tan pods can be shattered to release beautiful black seeds, each with a white spot, that can be cooked like any dried bean. All summer long I treat myself to petite bouquets of the long-stemmed lavender blooms yet still end up with numbers of beans for stir fry and soups. This year I am growing a lavender podded hybrid called ‘Purple Moon’ I chose from the great selection at:
The Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens) hails from India, loves Florida summers, will cover my henhouse in a month, plus yields protein rich "beans" in plump pods covered with a dark brown velvet. These beans are the world’s richest source of the L-dopa used to treat Parkinsons and Restless Leg Syndrome, and the extract is used by body builders to boost muscle mass and burn off fat without using steroids. Studies show that eating a few beans daily for three weeks, then stopping for a few weeks, back and forth, trigger the pituitary gland to produce more Human Growth Hormone to aid muscle mass and delay graying of hair plus function as a potent aphrodosiac.....I will surely attest to the latter (!!!) plus I am 56 and do not have not a single gray hair after 6 years of eating Velvet Beans medicinally. The rampant vines are also good for compost, feeding livestock (even my Golden Apple Snails I raise for their VERY tasty meat) plus the roots are a very effective nitrogen fixer for soil. I got my seeds from the wonderful folks at
All these "beans" are easy to grow....just scatter dog food nuggets all along a sunny fence (a 20 lb. bag will do 20 feet of fence, turn them under, plant one seed every 2 feet or so, and water deeply weekly till the summer rains kick in. Then jump back out of their way!
Got beans?

ECHONET 239-543-3246 fax 239-543-5317
EVERGREEN SEEDS 714-637-5769

Monday, June 7, 2010

Interesting Short Video on Urban Chicken Raising

Least Toxic Pest Control

I wrote this article for 'Florida Gardening' magazine ( a GREAT magazine by the way!) in 2005, but the techniques and principles mentioned are viable in any climate zone. John

Who among us hasn’t had a favorite plant chewed to bits by hordes of bugs, or watched their lawn quickly transform into a collage of brown and green as some weird fungus among us quietly attacked? And we’ve also noticed helpful critters in our gardens…lady bugs, lace wings, wasps, spiders, lizards, birds and snakes all filling their tummies with tasty plant-feeding insects and mites, ignoring the foul-tasting carnivorous beneficial bugs (like lady bugs) the way we humans don’t eat lions and coyotes. Bees and butterflies zip from bloom to bloom, pollinating our fruits and veggies.

A healthy landscape is also one with fertile soil teeming with beneficial microorganisms, and a diverse mix of plants harboring more carnivorous beneficial critters than plant-damaging herbivores. And once this balance is achieved gardening requires far less work and expense while offering vastly more joy and relaxation.

The trouble with non-selective pesticides, even natural ones, like rotenone and pyrethrin and tobacco tea, is that unless they are used as spot treatments, they tend to kill off ALL the inhabitants in the garden so that a big population of beneficials is never established. So much damage ensues that one feels one MUST use pesticides once again, ad infinitum. I call these toxic chemicals "Agricultural Crack" since one can never use enough of them often enough!

Yet those of us who garden organically, relying on the same principals of ecological balance that have largely sustained this planet for over 4 billion years, even through the traumas of global extinctions equivalent to spraying your entire yard with diazinon or benomyl , have gardens remarkably free of pest issues. By not using fungicides and insecticides and instead focusing on creating healthy soil, in time we end up with many billions of allies in the garden controlling pests for us.

As with any philosophy, there are "wild eyed fundamentalists" in the realm of organic gardening demanding absolute "purity", condemning for example using soap spray because "it can irritate mucous membranes in the eyes", or using tap water in the garden because it contains chlorine. But the vast majority of organic gardeners simply want to protect their lawns, gardens, children, pets, the environment and their budgets.

Many of us native Floridians remember the fire ant pesticide Mirex almost wiping out our beloved native pelicans (but not the fire ants!) in the 60’s and 70’s till it was banned, just as this nation almost lost the bald eagle to DDT. And think of the many thousands of wells now capped off due to toxic herbicides leaching into the groundwater, herbicides that their manufacturers thought would stay put in the soil then break down harmlessly.

But I prefer shades of gray to black and white, and so rely on a few least toxic pest control tips that have helped me and my clients over the years to cheaply and easily defeat the villains while the good guys are multiplying. Folks who do use artificial pesticides have noble goals…protect the food supply and human health and the beauty of the garden. Gardening organically meets those goals while protecting environmental health so together let’s explore some middle-of-the-road alternatives to either extreme of wanton pesticide use or fanatical environmentalism.

A favorite pesticide of many gardeners is……..water. Yup water! A boiling tea kettle of it will cruelly but effectively nuke a fire ant nest or weeds in the seams of sidewalks. A daily morning rinse of it from a spray nozzle on your roses can do wonders to reduce powdery mildew by washing off the air borne spores. A sharp coarse spray of it will blast off thousands of aphids, white fly and spider mites from okra, junipers, roses, tomatoes and potted plants. It also rinses off the dust that spider mites love to live in.

Water is precious, so using it to control pests also helps us water our plants well within the hand watering guidelines of current restrictions… "two birds with one stone" as they say. And water is a selective pesticide doing little harm to beneficial lady bugs, lace wings and assassin bugs to name just a few. And it poses no danger to visiting birds, our children or pets whereas a friend of mine nearly killed her neighbor’s dog by using poison granules on a fire ant nest. A yard safe for ladybugs is safe for our families and butterflies and birds.

Water has sustained life on this planet for billions of years, and it is central to a healthy yard, farm or garden. Hey, a pesticide I can brush my teeth with makes sense to me!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

John, A thank you for the neat things I learned in your class last Sunday; the cactus and yam is planted. It was a fabulous idea to use grocery store beans as seeds. I have some sprouted sweet potatoes that will be going in the ground today. I enjoyed your eclectic views and original artistic home decor! My sympathy on your recent losses...the circle of life closes. Beverly P.

Thanks much Beverly Let me know the differing ways you eat/serve the thornless Opuntia cochenillifera cactus! John

Let Nature Clean Up BP's Catastrophic Oil Spill

My Universe Wish List

If any of my local blog readers have bags of dry cat or dog food their pets won't eat, or stacks of used one gallon black plastic pots I can recycle for my plant sales cottage business, I'd love to trade seeds and/or plants for them. I used to dumpster dive lots of pet food to treat my chickens to (they LOVE pet food nuggets soaked in water for an hour or so) but the downturn has not only greatly reduced the amount of usable items going into dumpsters, but it has triggered a BIG increase in dumpster diving....I now routinely see middle class looking folks driving nice cars and trucks "mining" resources from dumpsters I've relied on for years. I now frequently see a distinguished looking elderly man dumpster diving in his Lincoln Town Car! Thanks, John

Crops for Hot Humid Summers

Freshly harvested home grown gandule beans

Gandule Bean Pods

Black Eye Pea blossom

I just want to suggest that folks buy a bag of black eye peas and gandule beans (pigeon peas) at the grocery store (the latter in the Hispanic foods section) and plant them now as both glory in hot humid summers while bearing nutritious edible pods and seeds. Once the gandule beans get 6 feet tall or so, you can whack off side branches to offer to chickens as a valuable source of hard-to-get raw forage for their health and happiness each summer when brassicas either die or fail to thrive. Both are legumes and, like Velvet Beans, are excellent soil nitrifyers. Buying their seeds as a food item is a cheap way to get thousands of them!


Please Support Family Poultry Farmers! John

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Favorite All Around Soil and Plant Food

For decades now I have felt that fish emulsion is THE single best way to feed soil and hence the plants. In my youth, Atlas was the famous brand, the same one that our grandmas used. For maybe 15 years now, 'Alaska Fish Emulsion' has been the one to buy due in part, I believe, to their taking over Atlas in the early 90s.

The analysis of fish emulsion is 5-1-1, but that high nitrogen level is offset by the fact that it is a slow release persistent nitrogen. Fish emulsion has ALL the sea minerals in it, which is one reason that so many gardeners have a near-religious experience after using it the first time after years of using grossly incomplete chemical fertilizers, including that perky blue soluble one.

My Home Depot here in south Tampa sells one quart bottles of 'Alaska Fish Emulsion' for $ 7.57. Since my favorite recipe is 3 tablespoons fish emulsion mixed into a gallon of water (NEVER use softened water on plants!) poured as a soil drench around plants in pots and in the gardens, it can be much more cost effective than some famous chemical fertilizers that leave out essential trace elements while having high levels of salts.

The fishy odor fades in a few hours....try feeding your indoor plants before you go to work, and find the smell greatly reduced when you come home.

Herbs, roses, young seedlings, ferns, veggies, begonias and many many more plants thrive on 'Alaska Fish Emulsion' try to buy it in the much more cost effective 1 gallon size on sale.

For years I've told readers and students alike...if you want a real gardening confidence builder, try 'Alaska Fish Emulsion' on your plants every 4-6 weeks or so (although I would use it just 4 times a year on succulents). So many people think they suck as gardeners, when in fact they've been buying pricey chemical fertilizers that suck!