Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Fife Creek" Okra and our futures

A few days ago my gardening friend Pat stopped by and commented that the pods on my okra plants thriving in a Baby Pool-based Water Wise Container Garden, were too big and likely thus tough. I told him they are the heirloom "Fife Creek" strain sold by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds    ( ) and others that bears pods that remain tender even 4-5 inches long, longer if given extra water and nitrogen. Africans have long used tender young okra leaves in cooked dishes, as I do. They are also nice in a summer salad blend including leaves of true yams (Dioscorea species), sweet potatoes, katuk, moringa and more. Visitors to my yard marvel at the taste and texture of raw okra seconds after being picked....crisp, fresh, no slime, sublimely satisfying.

With Monsanto now suing and buying up and closing down small seed houses and seed cleaners across America, their banning seed saving of traditional crops in Iraq ever since Paul Bremer's order even though those crops date many centuries back to the Mesopotamian Era when agriculture was born, financially raping India's small farmers, and their other shocking acts totally devoid of honor or empathy, I feel it is up to every gardener to grow, save and pass on, reliable open-pollinated food crops for future generations, even as new ones evolve in our gardens, as did the 'Mortgage Lifter' tomato in the 1930s. Personal agriculture has never been static.

 Growing your own food is personal power of the highest order, even if it begins with a potted sweet potato plant grown for leaves that when cooked surpasss spinach in both taste and nutritional value. Start small....maybe next a zucchini squash plant, or Romaine lettuce or arugula grown in a 5 gallon pot filled with compost and fed fish emulsion fertilizer, plus crushed eggshells to provide calcium. That first harvest will tingle your soul and your tongue.

The corporatocracy that generals McArthur and Eisenhower  bravely warned us against, now routinely devises wars of choice for profit, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and likely someday soon Venezuela and Pakistan (funny how the U.S. never exports "democracy" to countries devoid of oil and other resources......) and with the aid of Monsanto now seeks to make us dependent on various food-like substances, genetically-engineered crops that require their chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and corporate food production and distribution. What better way to control a people distracted by "bread and circuses" like Octomom and 'Dances with Stars' and Brad/Angie than to deny them access to fresh, living wholesome foods like home-grown 'Fife Creek' okra and local raw milk and grass fed cow meat. Let's each become a "guerilla gardener" and save and pass on heirloom seeds, buy and drink the milk we want, raise backyard chickens for eggs and meat, enjoy cannabis if we wish as did Washington and Jefferson and Franklin, swap cuttings and live plants with friends and sell them plus seeds with cottage businesses to insure Monsanto can NEVER own the world's seeds supply.

It is worth remembering that this is the same soulless corporatocracy that sees over five thousand U.S. troops and over one MILLION Iraqi civilians killed by their war of choice based on deceit ("Saddam did 9-11 and has WMDs...."Freedom Fries!") as simply a cost of doing business. So while Qadaffi faces "war crimes" charges due to possibly a few dozen protestors being killed, Bush and Cheney and Powell and Rice and Wolfowitz and Rowe, who in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, the U.S. Constitution, plus ordinary human decency got over 1 MILLION people killed, all enjoy lifetime pensions, incredible health care plans, book deals and more. If they'd kill our kids by sending them into battle under false pretense, which they did, I am sure they'll turn a blind eye to Monsanto trying to make us all hostage to corporate food. After all, in an interview years ago, war criminal Henry Kissinger, slipped up with uncommon candor and called the "common" people of the world, you know, the ones whose daily labors make his ilk wealthy, as "useless eaters".

Grow, share, save!  John

My Evolving Driveway

Thanks so much to Tom Johnson for donating and DELIVERING all these pavers to advance my driveway! Once they are all down I will spread over the whole driveway a few five gallon buckets of beach sand to sweep into all the voids to tie it all together functionally and visually. John

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just look what a few good badly needed rains can do!

I love the true yams fried in coconut and roasted sesame oil with garlic and sea salt. Hot peppers can be nice too. John

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jolted, Almost Volted By a BOLT!

This afternoon, as a distant thunderstorm rumbled  far across the bay over St. Petersburg, I took my usual 1 gallon solar shower in my back yard beneath a sunny blue sky with patchy clouds. All of a sudden, just as I poured the rest of the Arizona Green Tea jug full of warm water over my head, a horizontal bolt of lightning passed overhead VERY close, ZERO delay for the thunder clap plus I  could hear the  sizzling bolt piercing the air.

Never has a wet naked man run to his back door so fast, clutching his towel as if in 'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to The Galaxy'!!

Today I regained my respect for/fear of lightning a LOT. With that storm so distant it did not even occur to me to be afraid of lightning. Good grief, were I to have been hit and zapped and cooked, the free range chickens would have feasted for days until some poor soul stumbled on my skeleton.

Yikes!  John

A Bean For Hot Summers

When that delightful woman in my class Saturday gave me a handful of what she called "runner bean" seeds I immediately felt they were a Lima bean due to the patterns on them plus her saying they THRIVE in summer here as years ago I grew one that was marked black and white vs. these colors. The pics I took came out fuzzy so just Google either Christmas Lima Bean or Speckled Calico Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus) to see them. I planted several today and want to share the rest with local friends soon so we can enjoy a harvest plus build up seed stock. I bet they can be bought cheap as a dried bean in a specialty grocery store. A short time ago I bought from Publix a bag of large white lima beans to plant this week too.

True garden beans are Phaseolus vulgaris and while they can do well in summer in northern states, in hotter regions they often struggle then fail as spring yields to summer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cheap Easy Non-Toxic Aphids Control

Whether one lives in Tampa or Denver or Tennessee, mid-summer can see aphids reach plague proportions on a newly established garden (less than 3 years is my feel) that has no or insufficient numbers of aphid predators like lacewings, trichogramma wasps or lady bugs. So in the meantime, as those populations increase, you can use a sharp spray of water from your garden hose nozzle to blast them off your crops....they are very sluggish and unlikely to make it back up onto your plants by ants who raise them for their "honey dew" as we do cattle for milk. The spray also rinses off dust and spider mites. John

Spirulina Update

So far I feel there is no evidence of growth in my first ever experimenta spirulina farm...of course there is the possibilty that there are no live cells in that brand I bought despite it being dried via that 40 degree Ocean Chill process....but cyanobacteria are VERY tough critters. So I am inclined to think the issue may be the pH of the nutrient solution as many sites say a pH between 9 and 10 is ideal. (and I have no pH strips and am too cheap to buy them). Plus I love to do things, be it cooking or creating artwork or experiments like this, by the seat of my pants and informed intuition. So in a few minutes I will add 1/2 cup garden lime (calcium hydroxide) to raise the pH further, plus add a level teaspoon of the dried spirulina. Since potent iodine tablets are used to sterilize drinking water when camping, I wonder if that 32.5 milligram iodine tablet I added to the initial nutrient solution could be the culprit but I doubt it as that is a very low amount. I will keep folks posted. I WILL persist in this effort until I am routinely growing and harvesting fresh spirulina! John

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What a great Saturday

It began with five delightful gardeners taking my 'Summer Salads Crops Plants' class.....we reviewed gardening basics, summer salad crops by name, discussed in my kitchen how to make budget home made salad dressings from scratch, then nibbled our way through my yard as we gathered a big salad as fresh as they come. Three folks had to leave before we made the dressing ( balsamic vinegar and olive oil  [CHEAP at Big Lots!) with a pinch of Mexican oregano, fresh Lesbos basil leaves, black peppercorns, Morton's Light Salt and a dash of honey, all buzzed in my dumpster-dived 'Magic Bullet' blender. We scarfed it down. One of the students, a passionate gardener with an unusual name I can't remember (Tiea?) turned out to be the first person I've ever met who grows successfully and readily 'New Zealand Spinach' (a Tetragonia species as I recall) so thanks to her tips I am going to buy a pack of seeds and try again.

Just as class was ending, Tom Hunter came in his truck towing a 20 foot flatbed and BobCat to give me TWO pallets of  20" x 20" and 24" X 24" pavers AND some heavy gauge red bricks!! They will certainly allow me to finish my hodge podge driveway evolving over the years from scavenged and scrounged bricks and such. It will be fun taking up the old decayed mulch I've used for years to hide the original cracked "faux asphalt" driveway that came with the house in 1998, use it to pot up roses I am dividing, then lay down these pavers and bricks. I am working  to make my yard look like a Dumpster Diving Packrat Slob doesn't in fact live here, and a tidy completed driveway will do wonders towards that end. It was my pleasure to thank him with some cool edible plants, plus I will mail him the Vigna unguiculata seeds I forgot to give him in my excitement.

On the way to the store to buy pet food and juice I got to see, finally, shirtless on a bike a hunky waiter who works at the nearby restaurant I barter garden goodies with for their scraps for my poultry (this guy is built even better than I'd imagined) and at said restaurant I got about 4 gallon of scraps I will feed to the chickens and ducks when the storm passes. Pecs ALWAYS make my day.

My mail man brought today my 2 pounds of bulk L-ascorbic acid Vitamin C I got for just $30 after shipping on line a few nights ago...this will at last let me test and address my hunch that Linus Pauling was right in saying we need MUCH more Vitamin C than is commonly thought. The bag says that 1 teaspoon is 4,500 milligrams....I will likely use 1/2 teaspoon daily stirred into juice or salad dressing as it tastes quite lemony. I turn 58 on August 15 and my limited lifespan has been apparent to me since my early 30s, so trying out higher Vitamin C levels seems a prudent step to see if I can match or exceed my grandpa's "robustly healthy with no decline then drop dead while shaving at 93". While I eat a lot of raw greens daily and have for years, I tend to not not enough fruit due to being too cheap to buy it, instead waiting for local fruits to ripen (in Denver it was apples and plums, here it is citrus, mainly in winter and spring). This bulk purchase is vastly cheaper than any sale on Vitamin C tabs I have ever seen, and it is the L-ascorbic acid our bodies absorb well. Those two pounds, kept in my fridge, will last me a long time.

And now, as I type, a grand and unexpected magnificent rain storm that blew in from the east is passing out into the Gulf...the lightning was incredible yet distant, so no power outages, unplugged computers, or freaked out dogs and cats. All my rain barrels look overflowed. It was caused no doubt by my failure to bring in ALL the dry clothes on my clothesline an hour prior. I would not be surprised to see 1.5 inches or more in my gauges when I check later. I love the sight and sound and feel of a heavy rain, especially a sustained one like this.

And now a delightful evening of fine music and "altering" awaits me as I tidy the kitchen and prepare for tomorrow's class about cultivating freedom on many levels...and to begin laying down those pavers!

Thanks to everyone who made this grand day happen.


Friday, July 22, 2011

An Overcast Day on The Farm

Light drizzles on and off today due I am sure to my having done a load of laundry waiting to go on to the clothesline. I am very pleased with the cosmetic and functional results of my revamping the entire kitchen door back patio and gardens.....MUCH more tidy and open and clutter nearly eliminated, all nicely tied together with fresh pine needle mulch I raked from my neighbor Theresa's yard. It was getting claustrophobic out there due to disarray and weeds and clutter. I may take pics or shoot a quick video tomorrow to share the results, likely before my 'Summer Salads Crops' class to take advantage of the morning light,

Today I used my hands and garden hose spray nozzle to blast off a sudden infestation of mealy bugs on my eggplants, and to a lesser extent, my Currant Tomatoes. Tomorrow I will drench them all with dilute home made fish emulsion fertilizer courtesy of Tampa Bay. The 4 gallon bucket I keep beneath my air handler for the central air today filled with drip from the coils, so I poured it onto a thirsty Molokhiya plant in a buried Water Wise Container Garden. Waste not, want not.

Today I took note of the posting by Debbie Butts of EcoFarm and WMNF's 'Sustainable Living' radio show on the Barefoot Gardeners forum that NOW is the time to sow tomato seeds for fall planting. I've always done mine September through February so will give this mid-summer approach a try for sure as she and Jon produce a LOT of all-organic produce on their wonderfully sustainable farm east of Tampa. If it works I could have tomatoes by Thanksgiving!

When I see our "leaders" advocating an "austerity budget" that cuts services to its highly taxed, overly incarcerated citizens while increasing "defense" spending (a.k.a. "empire building" ) despite this country's military budget already surpassing the rest of the world's countries COMBINED, I am glad to see more and more Americans questioning and defying morally bankrupt authority, raising chickens and creating community gardens and tending home gardens, buying healthy live local food vs. dead corporate "food-like substances", enjoying the safe simple pleasures of cannabis, and refusing to be serfs to debt and fear of a government that according to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, should fear US.

"Garden as if your life depended on it, because it does".  unknown.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Down on the farm.....

Well I THINK I see a faint green haze developing in my experimental 5 gallon spirulina farm that has now spent 2 days getting much more direct sunlight. My wonderful neighbor behind me, Theresa, oday gave me two boxes of glass vases from all the bouquets her kids have sent her.....I will  choose a few of similar sizes and shapes and volumes and test differing nutrient solutions in each, all labelled as to date and composition, with high pH being the main variable. I am assuming there are live cells in that 'Pure Hawaiia Spirulina Pacifica' brand due to their  Ocean Chill drying method brand of spirulina...I will find out I am sure with these ongoing trials.

Today I finished the re-do of the back door garden and patio area...the junkyard squalor has been replaced by tidiness, a lovely mulch of pine needles I raked from Theresa's yard, with just some final touch ups remaining. Soon I will repaint a nice bright white the circular concrete stepping stones using a water base latex paint I dumpster dived behind a department store a few years ago as I love the contrast that cheery bright white accents can lend to a landscape, be it elegant and formal, or "dumpster diving slob packrat" in my case.

I love being single but couples tell me they divy up tasks to keep their heads above water....hmmm....with weeds re-consuming my front yard I'd been making such great progress with, and my kitchen sink a perennial mess, I suddenly want a handsome, intelligent, considerate  husband who:

1. Has awesome pecs
2. Loves to weed and clean house
3. Loves to eat sumptuous home cooked meals
4. Can deal with my insatiable sex drive
5. Likes dogs and can deal with a stoner-slob

Is that too much to ask for?  Those weeds!!

"Mr. Duck" has begun his first molt...losing LOTS of feathers...and the new feathers indicate he may have a whole new color pattern. Soon I clip the wings of his chillun now that they are adult sized, then move them from the safety of the pen (south Tampa has racoons that see sleeping chickens as sushi)  into my west bed that has been a junkyard area for flower pots and more to give them more room while eating down the weeds for me. As best as I can tell from "Mr. Duck" and his semi-free range wives, racoons are afraid to attack grown up Muscovy ducks, but nonetheless I will be bit nervous that first week or two. I am also nervous about my impending first-ever duck slaughter.....soul of a vegan, body of an omnivore. I have too many ducks so time to deal.

That last rain gave me oodles of volunteer seedlings from my Sulfur Cosmos (Bright Lites and Klondyke Mix were the original sowings) that have since backcrossed and hybridized) so over the last couple days I've pulled a few dozen up from the street side mulch layer and moved them into my streetside gardens due to their remarkably undemanding natures and propensities to use vibrant color to attract butterflies.

Now off to enjoy getting altered and luxuriate in my CDs for 'My Sharona' and Amy Grant's 'That's What Love is For' and  Yoko Ono's 'Why'.


Monday, July 18, 2011

My First Spirulina Farm!

Like I told Mary Jo, once I flick my "obsess now" switch, things happen and fast. (I better flick it about my front yard weeds!). I looked extensively into methods of culture large and small, nutrients models, and pH limits. I watched a number of YouTubes about spirulina culture and harvest (I LOVE the idea of a permanent coffee filter vs. buying 40 micron cloth). So today I took a very rigid 5 gallon water jug I've had stored a while now, put in 4.5 gallons or so of rain water, then based on what I'd seen I came up with this "seat of the pants" recipe that reminded me of how I make great spaghetti sauce.....but it is never the same I wrote on an index card the nutrients and amounts used for this first effort and will tape it to the bottle, which is on my north facing porch to avoid too high water temps. (If this works it will likely end up on the south side each winter).

To adjust pH and provide nutrients:   1/2 cup baking soda    1/2 cup dolomite

To provide nutrients:  1/8 cup 20-20-20 soluble greenhouse fertilizer, 1/8 cup feed grade urea (for extra nitrogen)  1/8 cup Azomite (for many dozens of trace elements from prehistoric deposits)

32.5 milligram tablet of potassium iodide

I shook it all up, then added 1 level teaspoon of powdered spirulina by 'Pure Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica'....5 oz, for TWENTY DOLLARS that I bought at south Tampa's 'Village Health Market' on MacDill Avenue. Thankfully, they were on-line and let me use their laptop to see what the patented, trademarked 'Ocean Chill Drying' is....very cool! The freshly harvested spirulina is dried at just 40 degrees Farenheit in a CO2/oxygen atmosphere. The other brands did not say HOW their spirulina is dried but my obsessing last night revealed that it can include spray drying into 130 degree air (which I think could kill many cells), simple dehydration, or freeze-drying. So MR. TOTAL TIGHTWAD puckered up and blew the $20 vs. coming home to try to find the same brand cheaper (gotta support local business!) so I could get started today as I am all fired up about this.

I figure I will know in a few days one or more things....was the Spirulina alive?....was my nutrient solution okay (I see over and over that a pH close to 9 is the ideal so next batch, if need be, I will add the 1/2 cup of garden lime I withheld today to see what happens. If all goes well, VERY soon the water will begin to turn green.

I will take pics and/or a video if this first effort works. This is a blast and holds much promise for my south Tampa urban farm.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Growing Your Own Spirulina

The remarkable nutritional content of this ancient food harvested by the Aztecs from alkaline lakes (an alkaline pH is the key to letting ONLY the spirulina grow) has long been known. For the last 1-2 years I've now and then casually, briefly, thought about trying my hand at growing my own, but never followed through. But I was yesterday reminded by Dr. Mercola's health newsletter of the unique nutritional profile it offers...even just a tablespoon a day can be very beneficial as I saw when I looked into it. I of course obsessively Googled to see what options exist for home culture and harvest for the urban farmer, and I especially like this guy's work as seen in the video link below. I will visit a local health store and price capsules and tablets, plus read labels to see if they've been heat dried vs. simple drying as possible sources of starter spirulina cells.

I have a few dumpster dived aquariums to trial the process in, ample dolomite or lime to raise the pH of the water ( ESSENTIAL to raise the pH to prevent undesirable microbes ), and I like the idea of compost tea or fish emulsion (purchased or home made) or urine being the nutrient source.   I can see a role for bio-char in water purification.  I think I have a small aquarium air pump stashed somewhere but if this trial works I'd like to try a bigger one to use in a 55 gallon plastic drum that Tim gave me for a bigger air bubbles column for better agitation. 40 micron fabric sounds expensive....I wonder if the white linen pillowcases I just dumpster dived might work? The Aztecs just harvested dense mats of the spirulina from lake surfaces using ropes.....I can imagine growing it thusly outdoors in kiddy pools filled with nutrient-rich, high PH rain water. The lower tech the better.

If this works I will eat it raw....add it to salad dressings for example. Just can imagine it added to guacamole and many sandwiches in mayonnaise as a spread.  As a science nerd since childhood I am delighted that spirulina has been reclassified from an algae to a cyanobacteria due in part to its cell structure. Since I subscribe to Darwinian Evolution, the Punctuated Equilibrium model in particular, as a likely pattern for life on this planet, I find  discoveries of fossilized cyanobacteria from VERY early in Earth's history as the source of the oxygen that transformed our world intriguing. That modern cyanobacteria could help feed us while absorbing CO2, all in a modest home setting using just a 10 gallon fish tank by a bright window, is a very promising and exciting life style option I am finally looking into.

A well-nourished, well-informed, iodine-sufficient people can much better resist a corporatocracy that tries to ban live whole foods like raw milk, or sneak Monsanto's GMO crops into our food supply with deceptive labelling, that wages a multi-decade war against its own citizens who enjoy and benefit from cannabis, dispose of nuclear wastes like depleted uranium by dropping bombs of it on people in their own conveniently oil-rich countries like Iraq (Google that for a real eye opener) and that with no discernible qualms sends our young, well-meaning, women and men into amoral wars of choice for profit, all the while waving Bibles and spouting the meaningless mantra "Support Our Troops". I will have fun seeing if home culture of spirulina is workable for me as a new layer of liberation and self sustenance....


Moringa "Miracle Tree"

I've grown a couple casually for years in an "out of sight out of mind" way, just occasionally nibbling the leaves raw. But my Tampa friends Mary Jo and Tim have renewed my interest as regards more focused efforts to grow and consume it. I plan on growing the three cuttings I just stuck in my main back bed as small trees for light shade cover there as my "Food Forest" evolves. But I am increasingly intrigued by folks who cut theirs back HARD now and then so as to end up with super-productive Moringa SHRUBS easy to havest the tender new growth from. While some folks dislike the horseradish-like taste of the raw leaves, this taste vanishes when the leaves are dried and powdered or lightly cooked in a soup or stir fry or omelet. Just look at the remarkable nutritional profile!  John

My Universe Wish List updated.....

I'd love to trade plants, landscape consultations,  fresh eggs and produce, live ducks or chickens, or my artwork for any of the items on my list below:

1. Aquarium air pump
2. Giant crystal to mount to the center of my livingroom ceiling mandala to replace the little quartz crystal
    hanging by invisible thread a few years now as a "seed crystal".
3. Petite table lamp for my bedroom dresser
4. Steel sauce pans
5. Potent cannabis
6. Above ground swimming pool kit, non-inflatable type
7. 8" diameter reflector telescope
8. Italian Domestic Honeybees "nuc"

What's on YOUR Universe Wish List? I just might have something you want. John

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Blogger STILL will not let me respond to Comments using the Comments function so once again I am making a new post to reply......Ellen I am so glad you too are enamored with Molokhiya and are finding it to be less thirsty than it has been for me here. As to the Bidens plants....while it does have those positive traits I very much want to put a stop to it making the paths between my evolving rose beds impassable. I don't enjoy weeding anyway, especially in the heat, so I tell myself  "time to feed the chickens and ducks" when I am pulling up VAST quantities of it.....I MUST put a stop to its bearing seeds here. Thanks for those tips as I very much admire what you and your hubby are doing on your urban farm across the bay!

Thanks MUCH to "B" for so quickly making what I am sure is the correct ID of my newly acquired "Mystery Veggie".....Gynura procumbens! I Googled it, saw lota of images, and since I grow and eat Okinawa Spinach and am very familiar with its taste, texture and cultural needs I immediately knew your ID was correct, especially in view of what Paul told us all at the meeting as he handed out cuttings. Since my Dad, friends and myself have some issues with hypertension and/or blood sugar levels, I am psyched about making as many clones as quickly as I can for them to grow and use!


Can Someone Help Me Identify This Mystery Tropical Vegetable?

At last Sunday's meeting of the Tampa Rare Fruit Council, Paul was giving away a LOT of long cuttings of this vining veggie I believe he said he got his start from a Thai family. He knew of no name for it but grows and enjoys it cooked year after year.....he said it is reputed to treat high blood pressure and blood sugar problems. I nibbled it raw....mild, slightly fleshy, zero bitterness or astringency. If all goes well the three cuttings I made from one long one will soon be rooted for me and friends. He said it is quite tropical so initially I will grow mine in a pot I can bring indoors during freezes. The stems are fairly stiff and reminded me of the Plectranthus family, but when I Googled 'edible Plectranthus' all I found are two I now VERY much wish to acquire as they make large potato-like tubers underground......Plectranthus esculentus and Plectranthus rotundifolius.

Here are two pics of my cutting before I processed it....I will cross my fingers that one of my readers will recognize it and tell us what I've scored.


One More Reason To Grow Much Of Our Own Food.......

"It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize and teach the American people to hate, so we will let the Establishment spend any amount of money on arms."-- John Stockwell, former CIA official and author

Friday, July 15, 2011

Molokhiya Leaves As A Staple Summer Veggie

Last Monday I was pleased to see big bags of Molokhiya stalks sold factually as "Jute Leaves" at Tampa's  downtown Oceanic Market. But I was struck by how UN-economical purchase that would be compared to growing your own in wet soil in container gardens since the stalks are discarded. But I am glad they are offering this superb summer crop so people can experience the mild flavor and tender texture. The more we can grow at home the better as a basic tenet of personal freedom and empowerment as a way of life within and in defiance of the war-based economy that General Eisenhower warned us of many decades ago.

Molokhiya leaves are mild and tender and very nutritious and thus are amenable to a great many dishes. But the plant DOES need humid heat and wet soil rich in nitrogen to prosper.


Defeating Spanish Needle: Bidens bipinnata

Just 2 weeks of heat and a couple good rains has this hyper-vigorous composite reclaiming my front yard quickly just as I was making such steady progress reclaiming and re-inventing it based on growing roses in buried Water Wise Container Gardens!!  I'd love to barter a class of mine and/or seeds and plants for a few folks to join me some day to wipe the weed slate clean here, and feed it all to the Muscovy ducks out back. I simply MUST prevent a new crop of seeds this year! Help! How about I add a home-cooked meal to the offer?  Let me know. John  813  839 0881   

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Bee Hive Fence for Elephants in Your Garden...

Thanks to my long time friend Michael Mowry in Denver for sending me this link. Very imaginative thinking!  John

My Semi-Day Off.....

Goofed off mostly....Cracker and I hit Picnic Island Beach for the first time in 4-5 weeks, had a blast, he is SUCH a "beach dog", romping and swimming joyfully.....I brought home some seashell grit for my poultry and a 5 gallon bucket of  fresh "sea grass" the high tide had piled up all along the beach in hopes the chickens and ducks would feast on it....nope! Ran errands then picked up kitchen scraps from the nearby restaurant to feed the flocks. I poured some 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer I was given ages ago into a 5 gallon bucket of kitchen graywater plus some monocalcium phosphate and a handful of trace elements plus a plum sized chunk of feed grade urea. I stirred good, let it set a while, stirred again than divied it up between three roses out front in buried containers....'Mme. Antoine Marie', 'Duchesse de Brabant' and 'Reve d'Or' who were already refoliating heavily after that 8 inches plus of rain several days they should REALLY take off as I treat them to 5 gallon buckets of rain water.

Today on the way home from the beach I stopped at the old Rembrandt apartments next to my alma mater, Robinson.....buildings gone, whole property fenced with HIGH fencing BUT...that south side ditch the Vietnamese there used as an urban farm is accessible and still being tended to in a short section and loaded with that original strain of Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) memory was is VERY different from the strain I bought a bag of Monday at the Oceanic Market. In the ditch I sunk up to my hips in muck to reach the water spinach (the muck sucked off my flip flops, I had to fish them out by hand...yuck!) but I got a nice rooted clump plus a fistful of cuttings. I will root them in pots of garden soil set into trays of water. I'm guessing they will be ready to share in 2-3 weeks.

I love play days where I still get grown up stuff done!  John

A Great Week in The Gardens So Far...

My new very interesting, very well travelled self taught botanist friend Mark brought me a couple days ago 6 tip cuttings of African Blue Basil; he said they root very easily which might explain the difficulty I had rooting woody cuttings that Roberto gave me from Sweetwater a few years ago. I am rooting them in a 2 gallon "terrarium" I also root rose cuttings in. As a basil collector with a chef brother he says it is now his favorite basil.

Monday when I was on Sustainable Living on WMNF a very interesting man from Africa called thing he mentioned I am now OBSESSED with getting seeds of is "Fluted Pumpkin"....Google it to see cool sites....the botanical name is Telfairia occidentalis. I want to try the edible seeds and leaves. I will check my favorite tropicals seeds site next,

On the way home I stopped at Oceanic Market and bought a bag of live Water Spinach with a leaf shape I feel is narrower than the one I used to grow. I am rooting the stems in ponds. This week I am taking Cracker to Picnic Island Beach and on the way home will stop at the closed down Rembrandt apartments next to Robinson High to see if the strain of Water Spinach I grew before is still in the ditch...if so I will get some for me and friends.

At the Oceanic I also bought a 2 lb. bag of dried Red Chori "beans" for $3.99 to cook and mostly to grow...some sites say it is a true Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) others say Vigna angularis. Vignas of ANY kind love summers here so I planted some in a giant tree pot and will plant more elsewhere, maybe inside the duck pen once I clip their wings and move them into the west bed to clear out weeds in there for me. Years ago I grew a true Red Adzuki "bean" that was sometimes classified as a Vigna, sometimes as a true bean (Phaseolus)...even though it looked very much like a Phaseolus it grew like crazy that summer, so I am curious about this Red Chori. Those seeds sprouted in just TWO days!
While I am glad we got all that rain the weeds here are growing explosively! Beds that looked tidy and "done" two weeks ago are being CONSUMED.

Despite the heat my Old Roses 'Coquettes des Blanches', 'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer', 'Mme. Antoine Marie' and 'Nastarana' have blessed me with their lovely fragrant blooms. My 'Teasing Georgia' pillar rose has also begun blooming again.

Due to Tim and Mark reminding me of the incredible nutrition of Moringa leaves I have planted a few more in my main bed around the big pond out back plus am rooting several for friends and to sell. They should be ready in about a month. I am hopeful that the leaves of both Moringa and Sunn Hemp are accepted by my ducks and chickens.

Always something new to learn about plants! John

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I learned a lot so far this week.....

Thanks to a caller hailing from west Africa to Monday's 'Sustainable Living' show on Tampa radio station  I've learned about the 'Fluted Pumpkin' and its centuries'  long usefulness as a food and medicinal crop. Two friends have reminded me of the remarkable nutritional content of the leaves of the Moringa, and so I have stuck cuttings from my east-side Moringa tree into my south bed that will soon be home to a bog garden of Guava and Jaboticaba trees to give me luscious fruits until I am a 93 year old gracile senior citizen singing 'I Am The Walrus' hanging clothes on the line one lovely spring morning.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Great blog entries about Woodstock energy Brittany....I confess to anger at rude dangerous drivers, but then again I don't wish to die due to their poor choices. I LOVED your eggs comparison! As to wing clipping I clip both equally so they can flee a predator plus reach their roosts easily while not being able to get into my gardens and ravage my crops. Cool about your being on 'Sustainable Living' soon...great show!  John

Friday, July 8, 2011

'Sustainable Living' on WMNF Radio 88.5 in Tampa

I've been a guest of Jon and Debbie's on this great show a few times, and next Monday I will be joining Jon at 11 AM as a guest and to assist with the station's fundraiser by donating a class or two of mine. Plus I think Jon will be taking calls from folks with gardening and other questions. Debbie is out of town so I think I may be helping Jon in her absence. I always have a good time on their show and hope you can listen in via the station's website!  John

Summer Salads Crops Class

There is an unfortunate myth that we can grow salads crops only in the cooler half of the year...come to my jungly south Tampa yard to see and TASTE for yourself some of the many edible-leafed crops that thrive in our hot muggy summers. Use their diverse tastes and textures to make mild-to-wild salads from spring through fall. You'll also learn how to make super-frugal salad dressings from a just a few flavorful ingredients, and avoid the chemical additives found in so many bottled dressings. The class fee is $20 per person, and you will get two packs of seeds with instructions for their culture, harvest and use. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611, phone is 813 839 0881 and the class will be held on July 23 from 11 AM until 1 PM. See you then! John

Thursday, July 7, 2011

More July Classes


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". You will 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 is NOT a gardening class but one about lifestyle and mindset, and will be taught again on July 24, 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 seeds with instructions on their culture and harvest and use. See you then! John


One does not have to be a hippie to enjoy the wonderful security and satisfaction of being able to prepare many of one's meals from abundant gardens around our homes. Imagine FRESH omelets and meat from a backyard henhouse, or expensive "exotic" crops such as arugula, Barbados Cherry, cassava, chaya, papaya, Cape Gooseberries, true yams, edible cacti, many herbs and staple crops for Thai and other ethnic cuisines fresh your own yard. But where to start if you have a "normal" yard of high maintenance lawn and ornamental shrubs in an uptight neighborhood? Organic landscape consultant and garden writer John Starnes (St. Pete Times, Fine Gardening, Rocky Mountain News, Sunset Magazine, Florida Gardening) shows how to make the transition in stages based on your time, temperament, budget and goals, using his jungly south Tampa "urban farm" as the classroom.

Learn the ease of "sheet composting" vs. buying an expensive compost bin, using household graywater to nourish your crops and cut your water bill, cheap and easy organic pest control, plus a very effective, low-labor method for killing lawn areas in place and turning them into productive gardens. You will receive a detailed class handout, but be sure to bring a notepad and pen, and, if you wish, a camera, as people tell me that my classes are very information dense. You will also get 2 packs of cool veggie seeds with tips on their culture.

I will be teaching this class again on July 30 from 11 AM until 1 PM, from 11 AM until 1 PM followed by a 30 minute Q & A session. The cost is $20 per person. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611, which about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill Avenue. I hope to help folks eager to transform their yards into sources of sustenance, personal independence, and spiritual satisfaction.

John Starnes

Evolving My Urban Farm

I've been influenced by both Joel Salatin and the "Food Forest" concept and my urban farm's evolution by trial and error (weed control is my nemesis!) is being shaped by both, and so to help create some LIGHT shade cover for this hot full sun yard while adding the green and ripe papaya fruits that were a staple for me until two successive hard winters nuked all of mine, I yesterday bought a Caribbean Red papaya from Publix (EXCELLENT flavor) and started the seeds in a big tray. My goal is to pepper my yard, front and back, with a minimum of 50 papaya plants. I have about a dozen papayas in 4 inch pots from an earlier fruit purchase, and so today I will plant three just outside my kitchen window that faces south. A month ago I planted out back where I once had an experimental salt water pond stocked with life from Tampa Bay the loquat tree that Mary Jo gave me, am planting out front  amongst the roses one  I got from the RFC meeting, and today am sticking into the ground out back a few woody moringa cuttings I made yesterday from my east side tree. Moringa leaves lose their horseradishy/bitter taste when dried or cooked briefly, and due to their extremely nutritious natures I want to add a few more trees to my fledgling food forest. I want to emulate my Asian neighbors who know when to pick and cook the long bean-like seed pods when they are tender.....I love the idea of pickling some. My intent is to grow them in my main center bed where each summer I've lost the battle against bidens (Spanish Needle) that my chickens are currently re-grazing down for me, and have it once again be a very productive sweet potato patch. And wouldn't you know...yesterday when I went to the nearby restaurant that daily saves kitchen scraps for me in a lidded 7 gallon bucket (I give them Lesbos basil, hot peppers, thornless cactus and eggs in return) the chef had put in the bucket a few HUGE sweet potatoes that had sprouted heavily...and here we have rainy weather coming....
Talk about the Universe and synchronicity helping me out! John

Some of My July Classes


Many folks are realizing the wide spectrum of health benefits of eating probiotic fermented foods, but that also they can be very pricey in the health food stores and grocery stores. Garden writer John Starnes (Fine Gardening, St. Pete Times, Colorado Gardener, Sunset Magazine, Florida Gardening), The Rocky Mountain News) loves to grow and cook and prepare foods for friends and himself, and in this class will show easy very affordable ways to make your own kefir, natto, tempeh, kimchee, kombucha, and cheese. There will be samples for tasting too. Be sure to bring a note pad and pen to write down the simple steps and ingredients, some of which can come from your own garden. The class will be held on July 16, from 11 AM until 1:30 PM, and the cost is $20 per student. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611 813 839 0881 Please park along the south side of Paxton to spare the lawns of my neighbors on the north side. Thanks. Come hungry! John


Learn easy frugal ways to transform the produce from our gardens and our friends' gardens and poultry into quick and easy yet satisfyingly savory meals for our family and friends. I LOVE to cook for friends by using what my urban farm is bearing at the moment as the catalyst for "cooking by the seat of your pants". You'll learn key basic spicing themes for ethnic cuisines (Thai, Indian, Turkish, Mexican and more) that you can tweak and mix per your creative cooking spirit and your gardens' production. In this class we will together harvest many key ingredients from my urban farm and whip up a delicious entree we will then share. This class celebrates cooking and gardening and eating and costs $20 plus an onion and takes place on July 17 from 11 AM until 1 PM. at 3212 West Paxton Avenue in south Tampa. Call me, John Starnes, at 813 839 0881, or e-mailo me to confirm your attendance. Thank You! John


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. See also the ease of raising Muscovy ducks. I am teaching this class again on July 9, 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


Drought is the new norm for Florida. Water is scarce and expensive, so I've invented an alternative method of making home made container gardens that grow food and flower crops well with much less water, and that can be made for free to just $10. As a result, despite my yard being an urban farm, my June 2009 water use bill was just $1.35! Most months my water use bill is below $10 despite all the food and Old Roses I grow here. My March 2011 water bill was $3.84.

This class teaches you how to make your own from free recycled plastic containers, how to create a great soil mix for it, and easy ways to maintain and sustain yours using cheap and/or dumpster-dived supplies. This simple design avoids the problems that many have experienced with others often described as "self watering containers" and that can cost $100. You'll see several of mine in differing styles and stages of growth to help you decide what works best for you and your space and budget.

I love how they use VERY little water vs. my growing the same crops, including my beloved Old Roses, in my in-ground gardens. Growing food crops in this manner can also allow a gardener to avoid using Tampa's and St. Pete's reclaimed water that has caused severe difficulties for many folks due to the very high levels of salts and chlorides. Plus one is not supposed to eat raw veggies grown with reclaimed water, which rules out growing fresh salads and herbs from one's own garden!

Special attention will be paid to the very common problem of nitrogen deficiency often encountered in container gardening whether one makes one's own soil as I do, or purchases it in bulk or bagged.

You will get two packs of very hard to get vegetable seeds that will thrive all summer long in your Water Wise Container Gardens. The cost of the class is $20 per person. This class has been very well received, so I am teaching it again on July 10 from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session following.

My address is 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611. Phone is 813 839 0881 RSVP is not required but helpful in my planning each class. Come learn how to grow your own organic produce for a fraction of what you pay in the stores while slashing your water use and bill and avoiding the toxic-to-plants reclaimed water.

Happy Gardening! John Starnes

"The only normal people are the ones you don't know well". unknown

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hey Jason....

Blogger still refuses to allow me to post replies to comments...some technical thing that keeps requesting I "sign in" over and over. Anyway...sorry to hear you are getting stinkbugs on your papayas....I had no idea they would attack that crop. Are they feasting on the plant itself or the fruit?  Happy Gardening, John

A Wonderful Interview with Joel Salatin

This excellent farmer has joined my list of people I deeply admire who've injected invaluable positive energies into my life over the years including e. e. cummings, The Beatles, Ruth Stout, Yoko Ono, Pee Wee Herman and Marcel Duchamp. My south Tampa yard is currently entering a new phase of evolution due to Joel Salatin's practices and philosophies. I especially agree with his suggestion that we can disempower food tyranny by refusing whenever possible to buy industrial food. To that I would add we can refuse to send our children to wars of choice for profit carefully selected by the Military Industrial Complex of which toxic, earth-raping Factory Farming is a part. Buy raw milk. Enjoy cannabis. Refuse to accept rigged elections as in 2000 and 2004. Don't invest in companies that invest in war against innocent peoples for their resources. Boycott Monsanto whenever possible. Grow as much of your own food as you can, using only heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. And learn from innovative, soulful people like Joel Salatin.  Enjoy, John

My Muscovy Ducks

The twelve "babies" are now as big or bigger than Momma in their secure pen, safe from predators when young in there, but now it is time to catch each one, clip the flight feathers, then transfer them plus the adult male and the two adult Momma birds into my west bed to eat the weeds in there while making the soil fertile. I will dump the rich water in the fiberglass dinghy boat onto the citrus trees in that east bed and move it to the west bed as a superbly portable duck pond. The soil inside that duck pen is hyper-fertile and I am considering growing Filipino White Sweet Potatoes in there, mindful of the light shade cast by the "Gray Street Grape" vines covering the pen. Soon it will be time to do my first ever duck usual, the thought makes me nervous. I've read that their meat is dark and lean, much like cow meat, and I've seen the incredible prices that frozen Muscovy duck breasts command on-line. I will offer a few ducks for sale too to help generate cash for gas and groceries. When I consider how fast they've grown compared to chickens while eating the same foods, I feel they could well be a better solution for those of us who enjoy eating meat and/or whose bodies are unhealthy when vegetarian  (me), I am moved to emulate Joel Salatin and his reliance on grazing animals to control weeds, enrich his soil while providing high quality nutritious meat. The bit of rain I've gotten has made appear very quickly a weed grass I DESPISE, a ground hugging and rooting monster that last year CONSUMED my east and west beds despite hours of hard pulling and digging and cussing......I hope that THIS summer my ducks will save the day.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My "Food Forest" efforts

I am being increasingly influenced by this concept, in part because much of my yard would benefit from SOME light shade canopy. So along with planting my Guava and Jobaticaba trees in my soon-to-be bog garden made by filling in my years old apple snail pond out back, I will be peppering the front and back yards with papaya seedlings I am growing in 4 inch pots, plus the back yard with several Moringa Trees I will be rooting from cuttings from my two. A new loquat seedling given me at the last Rare Fruit Council meeting will go in the front yard in or near the bed where an own root 'Abraham Darby' rose grew for many years until 'Mermaid' kept me from reaching and watering it for nearly 2 years. I will soon be planting in the back yard a Mystery citrus seedling or two that have shown great vigor plus raising the crown of a Mystery citrus seedling by my south fence. Since I love green papaya fruit as a staple raw or cooked, and as a ripe fruit, I will be buying another ripe papaya to start even more seedlings....I love the idea of fifty or more in my back yard alone to provide unobtrusive shade and OODLES of nutritious yummy fruit. John

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Mr. Garbage Gut" DOES have his limits!

Friends and my Dad and I joke about how I can eat and enjoy almost anything.....I've not tried bugs yet, but my Will Not Eat list is very short......sea urchin sushi, mince meat pie, Christmas fruit cake, Krispy Kreme donuts, sangria wine, and ranch dressing come to mind (the latter two remind me of gastric juice when you burp too hard). But yesterday I discovered that even though I have a bitter palate and love many bitter herbs and veggies, my oddly lush volunteer seedlings of arugula that came up despite the drought and heat are simply WAY too bitter for me to eat, even after a lengthy cooking. Folks here in central Florida grow it in the cool winter season when the flavor is nutty with a TOUCH of bitterness, and the plant itself is immune to frosts and freezes. Debbie and Jon Butz had arugula seedlings appear in the heat too.....I'll have to ask if theirs is ultra-bitter. When I made the harvest yesterday when the wonderful rains eased up (looks like I got over three inches!) I had to carefully pick through the leaves for young stink bugs...though I doubt I could have tasted them in that extreme bitterness.