Monday, August 29, 2011

My Universe Wish List

I'd love to swap seeds, plants, cuttings or fresh eggs for the following items:

1. A spare keyboard to use on my old Dell until I get the new PC Jim gave me fully running so I can    
   download and post pics and videos

2. Potent cannabis

3. A LARGE paver to build my first ever Rocket Stove on

4. Tuber of yellow canna

5. Red clay like you see used in baseball fields to topdress my new driveway with

6. Hatchable Rhode Island Red eggs

Thanks!   I have a VAST selection of seeds and cuttings and plants to offer in exchange,

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Autumn Alliums

Chinese Chives/ Garlic Chives

   Scallions  from Allium cepa

Leek 'American Flag'

Below is the article I sent to my editor at The St. Pete Times before editing in 2005 when they began wanting shorter articles to free up page space for ads.  John


  Are you like me?......powerless and paralyzed in the kitchen if you miraculously run out of onions or garlic? Sure, the Asian spice asa foetida can serve as a vague substitute for either in Indian cuisine, but the sensuous warm flavor and aroma of garlic, onions, shallots, chives, leeks and other savory members of the Allium family hold a singular crown of honor in many kitchens. Plus medical research has proved the old lores that those sulfur-rich tasty herbs can lower cholesterol and combat bad microbes. And the next 6 or 7 months of cooler weather in central Florida make growing them a chef’s dream come true if we improve the soil in just about any sunny chemical-free corner of our yards, or grow them in big pots on sunny patios.

  Related to lilies, all the Alliums similarly love rich, humusy, pH neutral soil in full sun. Before planting, spread a 3 inch thick layer of organic matter like horse stall sweepings, compost, old leaves, bagged humus, or alfalfa pellets from a feed store, plus a generous sprinkling of cheap clay cat litter to trap moisture and provide the clay Alliums love. If your inland soil is very acid as is so often the case, apply a liberal sprinkling of dolomite annually about as heavy as parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Alkaline coastal soils can be acidified with a heavier quarterly sprinkling of cottonseed meal from a feed store….sprinkle it right along with the organic matter. Getting your soil’s pH (acidity vs. alkalinity) tested by your local extension service will confirm which is the best course of action. It sounds wacky, but adding to that organic matter and cat litter a 50 lb. bag of cheap dry dog food nuggets over a 10 foot by 10 foot garden before turning the soil will feed the earthworms wonderfully who will in turn nourish your garden. A 4 inch thick layer of mulch, like coastal hay or chipped tree trimmings, applied after the soil is turned and watered DEEPLY, will do wonders to keep the soil moist and cool but not inhibit the emergence of the bulbs’ foliage. Let all this “ripen” for two or three weeks then plant away.

 If you garden in a condo or town home or apartment with a sunny patio, just fill some three gallon capacity pots with drainage holes with a good compost and potting soil mix, adding cheap clay cat litter 10% by volume. Try one half “spent mushroom compost” sold at garden centers and one half of your favorite potting soil. Into each pot of the mix blend in the shells of a dozen eggs or beach side sea shell grit from the tide line to supply calcium, plus two cups dry dog or cat food nuggets. Mix it all together, fill the pots to within two inches from the top, water deeply and let it age for two to three weeks also. To keep the soil damp and cool and to reduce the need to water, I usually mulch my potted plants with maybe two inches of either horse stall sweepings or chipped tree trimmings mulch. You can plant any and all of the edible alliums in these pots.

  Scallions are simply the tasty results of planting ordinary onion sets “too deeply” and harvesting them “too soon”… let them mature a few months more and you’ll have regular onions! It’s fun to buy the sets of red Bermuda onions, yellow or white onions, or even Vidalia sweet onions, and plant them deeply (about 6 inches) in a furrow, spacing them about two inches apart. Mental over garlic like me? Break up a bulb and plant the cloves in the same manner, and in a few months you’ll have a religious experience eating and cooking with freshly pulled “garlic scallions”.....try them all and you will be spoiled for a lifetime. Be sure to snip off the tubular leaves of all of them to try as “chives” in countless dishes, even salads

  I always plant a few entire garlic bulbs just to be able to snip off their leaves to use as you would chives in salads, simple broths, rich casseroles or that occasional impetuous gravy or omelet. ( Friends visiting my winter garden always marvel at their first sultry savory taste of raw garlic leaves nibbled right there in the garden.) Harvesting the leaves will slowly exhaust the bulb, so plant one new garlic bulb per month from October through March for months of culinary bliss. I almost forgot....for sheer nirvana in the kitchen all year long, stuff a few fistfuls of garlic leaves into your blender, pour in some extra virgin olive oil, and buzz it all into a kind of “garlic pesto” and pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop the green cubes into a gallon freezer bag, and when you need a “fix” of fresh garlic flavor, toss a couple into a skillet or wok or soup or spaghetti sauce. On Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs, this is near the top for me!

  Experienced gardeners might try growing Leeks from seeds planted in shallow 1 inch deep furrows. A little slow, they are worth the wait. I get the best results from planting them in late fall in loose rich soil I keep damp with a deep mulch and deep weekly watering. As they gain height, start piling soil and mulch up against the row of leeks to blanch them into the long tender white portion we are familiar with. There is simply no other flavor like leeks, especially in potato soup.

  While Chinese Chives (Allium tuberosum) can be an acquired taste (they remind some folks of the related edible ornamental Society Garlic, they are very productive and will multiply quickly by fallen seeds and self division into a massive clump in the vegetable or flower garden (they produce lovely tall white flower stalks reminiscent of petite agapanthus blooms). I cut off handfuls of the strap-like leaves and chop them with my kitchen scissors into soups, stir fry and casseroles, or raw as part of the filling in spring rolls. The underground portion resembles a narrow scallion and can be used as such though the flavor is more potent, hence the nickname “Garlic Chives”.

  The true Chive I grew like a weed for me in Colorado, where it reseeds like crazy. But here in my native Florida I only get several months of growth out of them and have heard that from many other gardeners. But that unique flavor is wonderful in cheesy pasta dishes so I try them annually. I’d love to hear from someone who has learned how to get vigorous perennial growth from them in central Florida.

  When your alliums’ emerald spiky leaves are 8 inches tall, feed the soil again with a sprinkling of ‘menhaden fish meal’ from a feed store or a good drench of ‘fish emulsion’ solution at 3 tablespoons of it per gallon of water. A deep weekly soak will meet their needs and conserve precious water

  Life’s most reliable and memorable joys are the simplest ones, so indulge yourself this winter with a bumper crop of tongue teasing Alliums.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

'Farmageddon' at the Roosevelt 2.0 in Ybor City, Tampa last night

 This was my first visit to the Roosevelt 2.0, an open airy space teeming with creative, energetic, positive-minded people dedicated to recycling a formerly condemned century old red brick building into a nexus of hope and activism. A fresh juice bar, creative art work, solar LED lights, and the various farm and garden-related vendors sharing their wares and knowledge, often for free, created a great social setting for meeting enjoyable, interesting people as we awaited the movie. As to the art, I love the huge human brain sculpture upstairs constructed of chickenwire...genius in conception and execution. The massive paintings drew me in with their evocative content and symmetries.

 We nibbled goat cheese dishes on crackers prepared by 'Dancing Goat' Pam Lunn who raises and milks the goats, chunks of a smoked pig leg, microgreens and I inhaled a huge $5 burrito that was superb, plus a delightful young man with Mother's Organics gave me a plastic bucket of probiotic compost to innoculate my own compost with. I enjoyed the aquariums in the expansive front windows, stocked with gambusia minnows, what looked to be native iris, and lush forests of algae. All that glass offers much potential for indoor gardening and air purification. Light poured in from the street until sundown for a relaxing ambience as the movie began.

 I liked 'Farmageddon' for it arousing ire about people in "the land of the free" being denied basic healthy food choices for themselves and their families due to extreme harassment of small family farms, especially those offering living dairy foods, while dead food and Monsanto get subsidized with tax payer dollars. I enjoyed seeing the iconoc Joel Salatin, inspirational, informative and funny as always, beaming on his thriving Polyface Farm. To see armed police and sheriffs and SWAT people, guns drawn, occupying homes and private co-ops then seizing the foods, at times under false pretense, as in the case with the couple raising sheep for milk, made me livid. I don't think it intended to offer specifics about farming or resisting these shocking raids non-violently, just to let folks what sheer hell that these farmers are being put through and get you pissed off...worked on me!

  I will be offering my skills and ideas to these good folks at Roosevelt 2.0 as their passion and positive focus is refreshing and inspiring at a time when social awareness and activism strikes me, as a fifty eight year old hippie environmentalist who protested the Vietnam War, has having been at a low ebb for too long now. Brian and Ryan told us all of planned changes involving agriculture incorporated into the building itself, aquaculture, further reduction in energy use, and more that I feel certain will be exciting for the Tampa area community to both witness and contribute to.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Voted For "Change I Could Believe In" hasn't happened

This October signals a sea change in America....we will no longer be obedient pawns. In place of fear of our government we will hold them accountable to the same laws they impose on us. No more funding with our tax dollars and children their wars of choice for profit that generate "terrorism" by brutalized peoples around the world. We will grow our own safe food and refuse to succumb to Monsanto and the corporatism that IS the government. If we can't be in Washington we will participate locally. It's time for action, there's no option.

Toxic Red Kidney Beans

Hey folks,
Mary Jo has taken up sprouting, and as we spoke today an old vague memory semi-surfaced, then fully surfaced...raw, undercooked or sprouted red kidney beans can be VERY toxic. See this one link below, look at others, then pass it on! John

"If you follow your bliss, you'll have your bliss whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose the money, and then you don't have even that. The secure way is really the insecure way and the way in which the richness of the quest accumulates is the right way." - Joseph Campbell

Dumpster Freebies

I always give my students two envelopes of seeds to grow, and a couple months ago I ran out of the vast number of new envelopes my friend Mary Jo gave me when a friend of hers who works at a print shop saved them from the dumpster. So I'd resorted to buying cheap envelopes at Dollar Tree and Big Lots. I was delighted to a few days ago find this whole box of gift card envelopes in a department store dumpster. Thank you Alley God!    John

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My September and October Classes

Sept. 3-Successful Winter Veggies Gardening 4-Water Wise Container Gardens 10-Urban Farmsteading 101 11- Backyard Poultry Raising 101 17-Cooking What You Grow 18-Fermented Foods 101 24-Grow Your Own Salad Bar Class 25-Growing Food, Cultivating Joy, Harvesting Freedom

Oct. 1- Urban Farmsteading 101, 2-Grow Your Own Salad Bar, 8-Cold Hardy Winter Veggies 9-Backyard Poultry Raising 101, 15-Water Wise Container Gardens, 16-Growing Food, Cultivating Joy, Harvesting Freedom 22-Cooking What You Grow 23-Fermented Foods 101 29-Tightwad Gardening 30-Frugal Living Holiday Gifts

Classes are $20 per person and run from 11 AM until 1 PM each time, with a 30 minute Q & A session after if needed. Each student gets 2 packs of free seeds.

3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611     813 839 0881 to inquire and RSVP. Thanks, John

Dennis Sent Me This Great Video About Aquaponics

Talk About Sustainable Living!

What a skilled and brilliant man.....cute too!  John


Jim Porter recently told me he was not wild about bio-char because this might be a better use of the wood. I've done this unknowingly in the past but vs. a raised bed, filled pits with the wood then buried it. Very interesting concept! I am in the process of turning my old apple snail pond into a giant Water Wise Container Garden by having stabbed the sides in many places with a machete about 2 feet from the bottom to turn it into a bog garden in which to grow my new guava tree and my long-suffering jaboticaba tree......I'll ask the Universe for some log sections to toss in too along with the soil and mulch, etc. Plus I will start burying the wood waste I've been putting around my banana clumps.

Thanks for this link Jim! John

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Know I Would Not Be The Man I Am Had I Not Heard 'I Am The Walrus' When I was 15...

then this ground-breaking piece when I was 17, a senior at Robinson Highschool here in south Tampa. To this day they are my two favorite songs, eclipsing even 'Appalachian Spring' and the theme song for 'Twin Peaks' and 'Sailing' by Christopher Cross.   John

Look What This Brilliant 13 Year Old Boy Conceived Of Then Built!

Mary Jo Sent Me This Great Overview of Moringa's Amazing Nutritional Profile


Family: Moringacae

Range: Native to the Indian sub-continent and naturalized in

tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world

Description: Deciduous tree or shrub, fast-growing, drought

resistant, average height of 12 meters at maturity

Other twelve (12) varieties of Moringa species

- Moringa Arborea

- Moringa Borziana

- Moringa Concanensis

- Moringa Drouhardii

- Moringa Hildebrandtii

- Moringa Longituba

- Moringa Ovalifolia

- Moringa Peregrina

- Moringa Pygmaea

- Moringa Rivae

- Moringa Ruspoliana

- Moringa Stenopetala

Common Name of Moringa Oleifera: Benzolive, Drumstick Tree,

Kelor, Marango, Mlonge,

Mulangay, Saijhan and



Moringa Oleifera is the best known of the thirteen species of the

genus Moringacae. Moringa was highly valued in the ancient world.

The Romans, Greeks and Egyptians extracted edible oil from the seeds

and used it for perfume and skin lotion.

In 19th century, plantations of Moringa in the West Indies exported

the oil to Europe for perfumes and lubricants for machinery. People in

the Indian sub-continent have long used Moringa pods for food. The

edible leaves are eaten throughout West Africa and parts of Asia.


For centuries, people in many countries have used Moringa leaves as

traditional medicine for common ailments. Clinical studies have begun

to suggest that at least some of these claims are valid. With such great

medicinal value being suggested by traditional medicine, further

clinical testing is very much needed.

India: Traditionally used for anemia, anxiety, asthma, blackheads,

blood impurities, bronchitis, catarrh, chest congestion, cholera,

conjunctivitis, cough, diarrhea, eye & ear infections, fever, glandular

swelling, headaches, abnormal blood pressure, hysteria, pain in joints,

pimples, psoriasis, respiratory disorders, scurvy, semen deficiency,

sore throat, sprain, tuberculosis

Malaysia: Traditionally used for intestinal worms

Guatemala: Traditionally used for skin infections and sores

Puerto Rico: Traditionally used for intestinal worms

Philippines: Traditionally used for anemia, glandular swelling and



Over the past two decades, many reports have appeared in

mainstream scientific journals describing its nutritional and medicinal

properties. Its utility as a non-food product has also been extensively


Every part of Moringa tree is said to have beneficial properties that

can serve humanity. People in societies around the world have made

use of these properties.


Nutritional analysis indicates that Moringa leaves contain a wealth of

essential, disease preventing nutrients. They even contain all of the

essential amino acids, which is unusual for a plant source. Since the

dried leaves are concentrated, they contain higher amounts of many

of these nutrients except Vitamin C.

Vitamin A is obtained from vegetables in the form of its precursor,

carotene. The intestine only absorbs a fraction of the carotene in

foods. Thus, there are differing views on how to calculate the amount

of carotene that is absorbed and converted to Vitamin A. Thus the

charts below simply give the figures for carotene or beta-carotene.

The most commonly accepted conversion factor of carotene to

Vitamin A (retinol) is 6:1

Nutritional Analysis of Moringa pods, fresh raw leaves, and dried leaf

powder have shown to contain the following per 100 grams of edible


Nutritional Analysis Pods (per



Fresh Raw

Leaves (Per

100 grams)

Dried Leaf

Powder (Per

100 grams)

Moisture (%) 86.9% 75% 7.5%

Calories 26.0 92.0 205.0

Protein (g) 2.5 6.7 27.1

Fat (g) 0.1 1.7 2.3

Carbohydrate (g) 3.7 13.4 38.2

Fiber (g) 4.8 0.9 19.2

Minerals (g) 2.0 2.3 -

Calcium (mg) 30.0 440.0 2003.0

Magnesium (mg) 24.0 24.0 368.0

Phosphorous (mg) 110.0 70.0 204.0

Potassium (mg) 259.0 259.0 1324.0

Copper (mg) 3.1 1.1 0.6

Iron (mg) 5.3 0.7 28.2

Oxalic acid (mg) 10.0 101.0 0.0

Sulphur 137 137 870


Vitamin A - B carotene


0.1 6.8 16.3

Vitamin B - Choline


423.0 423.0 -

Vitamin B1 – Thiamin


0.05 0.21 2.6

Vitamin B2 –

Riboflavin (mg)

0.07 0.05 20.5

Vitamin B3 – Nicotinic

Acid (mg)

0.2 0.8 8.2

© 2006-2008 Dolcas Biotech LLC, All Rights Reserved Page 2

Vitamin C – Ascorbic

Acid (mg)

120 220.0 17.3

Vitamin E –

Tocopherols Acetate


- - 113.0


Arginine (mg) 360 406.6 1325

Histidine (mg) 110 149.8 613

Lysine (mg) 150 342.4 1325

Tryptophan (mg) 80 107 425

Phenylanaline (mg) 430 310.3 1388

Methionine (mg) 140 117.7 350

Threonine (mg) 390 117.7 1188

Leucine (mg) 650 492.2 1950

Isoleucine (mg) 440 299.6 825

Valine (mg) 540 374.5 1063

**Amino Acid contents are expressed per “g N (Nitrogen)”, in this

specification it has been converted into “mg” for clarity


Vitamin A content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Carrots Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

18 mg 6.8 mg 16.3 mg

Vitamin C content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Oranges Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

30 mg 220 mg 17.3 mg

Calcium content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Milk Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

120 mg 440 mg 2003 mg

Iron content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Spinach Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

1.14 mg 0.7 mg 28.2 mg

Potassium content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Banana Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

88 mg 259 mg 1324 mg

Protein content (per 100 grams of edible portions)

Yogurt Fresh Leaves Dried Leaf Powder

3.1 g 6.7 g 27.1 g



4 times Vitamin A of Carrots 10 times Vitamin A of Carrots

7 times Vitamin C of Oranges ½ times Vitamin C of Oranges

4 times Calcium of Milk 17 times Calcium of Milk

3 times Potassium of Bananas 15 times Potassium of Bananas

¾ times Iron of Spinach 25 times Iron of Spinach

2 times Protein of Yogurt 9 times Protein of Yogurt

Many of the listed vitamins, minerals and amino acids are very

important for a healthy diet. An individual needs sufficient levels of

certain vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients for his

physical development and well-being. Actual need for different

vitamins, etc, will vary depending on an individual’s metabolism, age,

sex, occupation and where he/she is residing. Recommendations for

daily allowances (RDA) also vary according to whom is doing the study.

WHO/FAO recommend the following daily allowances for a child aged

1-3 years old and a woman during lactation

RDA Child 1-3 years old Nursing Woman

Vitamin A – Beta


1.5 mg 5.7 mg

Vitamin B1 –


0.5 mg 1.6 mg

Vitamin B2 –


0.8 mg 1.8 mg

Vitamin B3 – Niacin 9 mg 20 mg

Vitamin C – Ascorbic


20 mg 95 mg

Protein (in grams) 16 g 65 g

Calcium 400 mg 1200 mg

Copper 0.8 mg 2 mg

Iron 10 mg 15 mg

Potassium 800 mg 3000 mg

Magnesium 150 mg 340 mg

Phosphorous 800 mg 1200 mg

The following list the composition of Moringa pods, fresh leaves and

dried leaf powder and what this represents in terms of

recommendation daily intake for children 1-3.


(100 grams)

Fresh Leaves

(100 grams)

Dried Leaf


(100 grams)

Protein 15.60% 41.9% 170%

Calcium 7.5% 110% 500%

Magnesium 16% 16% 257.5%

Phosphorous 13.8% 8.7% 25.5%

Potassium 32.4% 32.4% 165.5%

Copper 388% 138% 75%

Iron 53% 70% 282%

Sulfur 137% 137% 870%

The following list the composition of Moringa pods, fresh leaves and

dried leaf powder and what this represents in terms of

recommendation daily intake for women in lactation.


(100 grams)

Fresh Leaves

(100 grams)

Dried Leaf


(100 grams)

Protein 3.8% 10.3% 41.25%

Calcium 2.5% 36.7% 167.5%

Magnesium 7.1% 7.1% 108.75%

Phosphorous 9.2% 5.8% 17.5%

Potassium 8.6% 8.6% 43.75%

Copper 155% 55% 28.75%

Iron 35.3% 46.7% 188%

Sulfur 137% 137% 870%

© 2006-2008 Dolcas Biotech LLC, All Rights Reserved Page 3


Leaves and pods of Moringa Oleifera can be an extremely valuable

source of nutrition for people of all ages. Moringa Leaves can be dried

and made into a powder by rubbing them over a sieve. Drying should

be done indoors and the leaf powder stored in opaque, well-sealed

plastic container since sunlight will destroy Vitamin A. It is estimated

that only 20-40% of Vitamin A content will be retained if leaves are

dried under direct sunlight, but that 50-70% will be retained if leaves

are dried in the shade. This powder can be used in place of fresh

leaves to make lead sauces, or few spoonfuls of the powder can be

added to other sauces just before serving. Addition of small amounts

of leaf powder will have no discernible effect on the taste of a sauce.

In this way, Moringa leaves will be ready available to improve

nutritional intake on a daily basis.

Kiddy Pool for my Perennial Onions

After I convert it to a Water Wise Container Garden I am likely setting it up in my south bed, maybe the center bed since that is much closer to the kitchen. I love the idea of half of it planted with Egyptian Multiplier Onion, half in Allium fistulosum. I will keep folks posted as to how it goes. John

Perennial Onion for Tampa: Allium fistulosum

I ended up getting a vast number of seeds last spring from this Allium fistulosum that popped up in a seed tray a couple years ago, after a few years of buying and trying and failing with strains of it from Wales and Japan. The flavor is like a savory hearty scallion. Between it, Allen Boatman's strain of Egyptian Multiplying Onion and Allium canadense, it looks like I am closing in on my goal of onion self sufficiency in Florida as someone who simply can't cook without onions. It seems other strains of A. fistulosum and Egyptian Multiplier NEED a cold winter to be Denver I planted in customer's gardens a VERY vigorous giant form of Multiplier that died each and every time I tried it in Tampa. Today I am starting in a tray a few hundred of the seeds and if all goes well I will have seedlings to share, sell and plant in about 6 weeks. Tim gave me a 6 foot diameter kiddy pool and after I patch the bottom and drill 12-15 holes on the sides three inches from the bottom then fill it will soil mix, I hope to plant it with a vast number of these seedlings for year round onions! John

Cumin vs. "Black Cumin"

In case some of you folks subscribe to the Mercola health newsletter often rife with inaccuracies, please know that in today's issue he again confuses unrelated plants yet promotes them. Nigella (aka "black cumin" ) is not cumin at all, not even related. You can buy Black Cumin seeds in an Indian market, but it has ZERO cumin taste as it is not cumin. I am dismayed at the money he makes while dispensing so much MISinformation.....guess he's never heard of Googling. Black cumin is closely related to a lovely flower I grew as a summer annual in my Denver flower gardens, "Love in a Mist". John

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cat's Eye Nebula

This breathtaking photo of an exploding star by Hubble is a potent reminder that we live and garden on a tiny oasis of life in the midst of incredibly vast wonderment. I hear thunder in the south as the sun's hoping a good soaker is on the way.  John

Farm Circle Discussion This Friday Night In Ybor City

Ryan Iacovacci invited me via Facebook to attend a group discussion at 9PM the 26th after the showing of Farmaggedon. I am usually in bed by 10:30 and rarely go out at night but I am inclined to attend as I am certain there will be a LOT of interesting, positive energy people there that could make for some exciting and informative conversation. I will likely bring some kind of a snack in case there is a bit of potluck energy there. Address for Roosevelt 2.0 is:  1812 North 15th street Ybor City 33605. Ryan has taken a few of my classes, 2 Saturdays ago came with 2 friends to weed my front yard in exchange for a class and seeds/cuttings, and is a passionate community activist on many fronts. Hope to see you all there. John

270,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto

AWESOME!!!    John

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The 'Bonar' is up!

Early last evening we had a nice rain cell form here in south Tampa; my gauges say I got 7/10s inch! So it was nice to wake up and see my 'Bonar' seeds germinating a day earlier that I'd hoped. Now to see how they fare in the humid heat as the October cool down is quite a ways off. John

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The original text of an article I wrote for my old column in The St. Pete Times


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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, its 2004, not 1976, and I am a little more grounded and happily middle-aged now, but now more and more folks wish for less toxic ways to grow their garden favorites. So a century old secret deserves to be better known and tried before we resort to expensive chemical sprays that can kill many unintended and valuable inhabitants of our yards’ ecosystems and endanger our children and pets while adding to the burden of poisons endured by our own bodies, the groundwater and what remains of this beautiful state.
Publix, Albertson’s

Kirk’s Natural 1-800-825-4757


Two days ago I pulled the three spent 'Fife Creek' okra plants from their baby pool Water Wise Container Garden on the back patio to let the fourth one ripen those giant pods, weeded the soil then top dressed it with compost, and sprinkled some 'Bonar' forage rape seeds atop and worked and watered them in. Like other brassicas it is a cool weather crop, but since I have a pound of the seeds, am curious by nature, and love the idea of an earlier harvest, I thought 'Why not?". I am sure the seeds will germinate, probably by Monday...the question is..."How well will the seedlings endure the humid heat until the October cool down?"  I will keep folks posted as 'Bonar' is wonderfully vigorous with tender mild sweet leaves yummy raw or cooked. John

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Lovely Song and Video

While I don't believe in an afterlife (guess I'll find out) I love the enigmatic hopeful message of renewal, the captivating rhythm, and  creative imagery of this hypnotically addictive dance song and video from the 1980s I'd never heard of until an Australian member of a GM cars forum I belong to turned me onto it some months ago.  If only I had a dollar for everytime I've played it while altered!  Enjoy, John

Thursday, August 18, 2011

'Fife Creek' okra

This heirloom strain bears pods that can be 5-6 inches long and still tender. I am letting several pods ripen now for seed for next year, and they are almost one foot long! I bought my original seeds from the good folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Burt The Bird



  One morning in early May, 1992, a fierce thunderstorm whipped through my northeast Denver neighborhood as I landscaped a home beside the foothills several miles to the west. That afternoon I returned to see that my yard, the streets, the whole neighborhood, was rain-soaked and littered with wind blown twigs and green leaves torn from trees. Two grackles paced nervously side by side on my roof, squawking hysterically. Moments later I found two dead baby birds (mauled by a cat, likely mine) on the ground below my cedar tree where a week before a friend had pointed out a nestful of cheeping hatchlings near the pinnacle.

   But from directly below where the parent birds made such a fuss, in a flower garden, came the frantic cheeps of a survivor. There, huddled between red poppies and purple iris, was a soaked, shivering, sorry-looking baby grackle. I took him inside, and quickly rigged up an incubator using a clear plastic bulk food bin from a grocery store dumpster, a  soft towel, and a 40 watt bulb in a reading lamp. Soon his feathers were dry and fluffy and he no longer shivered, nestled in the towel and basking in the warmth. I named him Burt, the Bird.

   Since re-arriving in Denver two weeks before, I had been barely functioning, on automatic pilot, nearly paralyzed by shock and grief over the violent suicide of my old friend Renee Ashley, which occurred as I migrated back from Tampa and learned of less than an hour after unlocking my dormant house. But Burt was simply too hungry too often for me to slip further into numbing grief  as I struggled to devise a diet for him. Id always heard that feeding orphaned birds a food slurry with an eyedropper can get it into their tiny lungs, leading to fatal pneumonia.

   So I soaked little pellets of dry dog food in a weak solution of warm water and liquid baby vitamins until they softened and swelled. When I offered them to this tiny but incredibly loud baby bird he sucked them up like a black hole, making a hilarious gurgling sound as he continued to scream through a throat full of wet nuggets!  Each feeding hed wolf down seven or eight of them till his neck filled up, and wash them down with an eyedropper full of baby vitamin water, then quickly fall asleep in the warm glow of the bulb or in my hands. An hour later his screams for more food would echo through the house once again, and Id obey. Umpteen times a day Burt screamed and I fed him: it became a Pavlovian response for me, even when dead asleep. I had instantly fallen in love with this infant eating machine. And Sergeant, The Worlds Best Dog, didnt seem jealous, only curious.

   Burt grew like something in a 50s sci-fi movie, and soon his fuzzy baby feathers fell out as wave after wave of flight feathers emerged from his translucent grayish-pink skin. All this growth and change was fueled by vast amounts of watermelon, slugs, raw corn-on-the-cob, peeled grapes, cereal, oatmeal (cooked or dry), raw beans, citrus, bananas, cherries, cottage cheese, and his favorite.....some of Sergeants Prime Cuts canned dog food. Like me, he was a voracious garbage gut!

   Burt had bonded to me on day one, always wanting to be with me, perched on my head  (and pooping indiscriminately) as I typed, washed dishes or worked in my gardens. We were buddies. If he was elsewhere in the yard or house and I called out his name, he would invariably answer me with a loud singular chirp. One heartbreaking day though, as he sat drying on a tall squash trellis after a dip in the bird bath, he fell about four feet as I gardened beside him  and landed skull first on the corner of a pane of glass at the back of the henhouse. Already filled with horror and sadness over Renees death, I saw him bounce sickeningly to the ground, legs painfully stiffening, eyes closed then he lay motionless. I felt guilty for putting him up there too wet too glide, certain he was dead.

   But he was still breathing!  So I put him on the hay on the floor of his little sunning cage atop the hen house, begging him not to die, my eyes filling up, a big lump in my throat, pretty well maxxed-out with negative life events. I stayed with him, softly calling out his name, watching his breathing. Soon he sat up, head waggling dizzily and unable to stand without falling over. But within the hour he was almost back to normal and screaming for food. Whew!

   All that summer most mornings began with taking Burt, perched on my index finger, out to my neighbors expansive lawn (vs. my token 10 foot oval of it) for daily flying lessons as I sipped my coffee.  Id launch him with a gentle swing of my hand, but he just controlled his descent. As he got better Id give him a softball-style underhand toss, and hed fly maybe fifteen or twenty feet. By midsummer Burt was still a poor flyer as dozens of young grackles flew over the house daily. His now nearly adult feathers were a gorgeous shiny gray-black with an iridescent overlay of indigo and violet but the tips of his wing and tail feathers had frayed a little due to rubbing against the bars of his bird cage made vital by my and other cats whod approach him hungrily. I wondered if he would ever be able to leave home to be with other grackles, even though Id nearly weaned him from hand feeding by showing him how to catch pill bugs, earthworms, crickets and slugs, and by offering him assorted dry grains and seeds.

   Tragedy struck Burt once again one morning during a flying lesson, when he landed on the heat-retaining compost berm on the north side of my house where he spotted and gobbled down a wild mushroom. The next morning the inside of his mouth was a sickly gray, his saliva was gummy, his golden eyes very dilated and his movements slow and jerky. So I gave him fresh water continuously from the eyedropper he had outgrown a few weeks prior to flush him out. He would not eat and seemed very spaced out.....was he tripping? If so it was clearly a bad trip. The next morning he was okay but bonded to me even more, downright affectionate, like a tame parrot. I asked him to recall this lesson about mushrooms when he was off in the wilds as a free bird someday.

   A few weeks later, during a practice flight, he proudly surprised me by leaping off my finger and flying straight across my yard and the next 2 neighbors yards in a long, strong but very low flight. But panic filled me as he crossed Ruths yard when one of her cats leapt off the front porch and nabbed him in mid-flight with its front paws, pulling him screaming to the ground. Like an hysterical parent I shot forward bellowing my lungs out at the damned feline who was so freaked by the sight of a deranged and angry maniac  bolting his way that he released Burt before biting him and fled into the bushes. Walking back to my yard with my heart thumping and Burt perched on my index finger, I noticed the cat saliva on his wings, relieved that this poor cursed bird had once again cheated fate.

   October came, the leaves changed to gold and rust, silvery frost coating my gardens each morning and still Burt the Bird barely flew, never again having repeated his Wright Brotheresque  performance. I wondered if hed be migrating to Florida soon but in my truck with Sergeant and Lovely (the Worlds Fattest Cat) and my chickens. Suddenly though he was decidedly untame, pecking at my offered finger instead of jumping onto it as usual. One sunny autumn morning, as thousands of grackles oddly swarmed into the tall trees in my neighborhood, their voices filling the air, I coaxed Burt onto my finger and took him out of his big back yard sleeping cage (big to reduce the fraying of his feather tips) for yet one more disappointing practice flight, knowing that winter was closing in. Suddenly he shot up at a forty five degree angle and landed in the dead fifteen foot tall pollarded elm beside my raspberry patch. Convinced it was a fluke he had for the first time ever gained altitude, I climbed up to rescue him once more. With my outstretched hand just inches from him, Burt burst away in a beautiful arcing upward flight to the big apple tree half a block away!

   Back on the ground I was filled with conflicting emotions.....pride, joy, relief, uncertainty and a touch of sadness that  this might at last be the goodbye Id hoped for and worked towards all summer. I never wanted Burt to be a pet, just a mature and healthy wild grackle. Parental concern drew me to the apple tree filled with grackles feasting on the red ripe fruits, and I spotted him due to his frayed feather tips right where hed landed. I called out his name, and as usual he answered back. Without warning there was an explosion of grackles from that tree and towards a distant elm. Grinning and misty-eyed, I spotted one grackle flying lower and slower than the rest of the flock, but damn, he was keeping up!

   Back home I read that grackles migrate south each winter too in large gregarious flocks, ending my fears of his freezing to death in Denver, hungry and alone. And all that winter in Florida, whenever grackles flew over making that oh-so-familiar call,  Id check first (usually) to see if anyone was looking then call out Burt!, entertaining the fantasy that one would break away from the flock and descend to land in front of me, screaming for Prime Cuts and slugs.

   I still occasionally wonder where he is, if he is, thankful for the chance to have first saved him then grown to know him. And while I dont believe in an anthropomorphic God running a cosmic show, I still cant help but to see Burt as a gift of light and life at a  time I was nearly completely filled with pain and darkness. While I will always miss Renee, Burts golden shining eyes reminded me all that sad summer following her death of Life and Love and Innocence.

  If that is not a priceless gift, what is?

Florida Drought Disasters

My Classes This Weekend


For a bounty of crisp crunchy carrots, daikons, sweet potatoes, true yams (Dioscorea) and more the keys are: correct crop for the right time of year, and improving this sand we call "soil". You'll taste fried true yam plus learn of local and mail order sources of truly cheap seeds to make your family self sufficient in these staples year round. The class date is August 21, and your harvests this winter will soon earn you back the class fee, with a huge bonanza awaiting you next summer. To RSVP call John Starnes at: 813 839 0881

FERMENTED FOODS 101      8-20-2011

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, Florida Gardening) 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, bortago 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 August 20, from 11 AM until 1:30 PM, and the cost is $20 per student. The 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

Down on the farm.....

Blogging is now SO MUCH EASIER and faster thanks to the super PC that Jim Porter gave more TEDIOUSLY slow pic downloads! Thanks so much Jim plus to Mary Jo for the older Mac she gave me and the invaluable how-to-stop-fearing -your Mac- and- new- PC procedures she walked me through by phone to use my now-active external Fantom external hard drive (turns out it has been CONNECTED but not RUNNING for two years due my never having actually installed it!) to back up, copy and transfer all my photos (almost 13,000) and articles into both of my new computers.

Despite the humid heat I weeks ago, as I have since I was ten, "felt" on a cellular level the shift towards autumn, and so today will start some tomato seeds plus do my first rough sort of my winter crops seeds and will try a super early trial of Brassica in 1-2 Water Wise Container Gardens just to see what I can get away with.

I just sprayed the hordes of mealy bugs on my eggplants and molokhiya, then in a few will spray the light infestation on my two Thai peppers. I used the homemade spray based on Kirk's Castile soap I wrote about for years in The Rocky Mountain News and The St. Pete Times, and will later post one of those articles here.

Yesterday I laid the last of the pavers and red clay bricks Tom gave me for my work in progress driveway. Next I take Cracker to Picnic Island Beach to swim, play and get a few 5 gallon buckets of sheashell grit to sweep into the cracks between the paver and bricks...the test area I did last night looks great. I will take pics or a video once it is all completed.

'Gray Street Grape' and 'Triumph' muscadine are now past peak but still laden with ripe has been a joy to eat fresh grapes right off the vines daily for weeks now. I might give making home made raisins a try as raisins with seeds would not bother me.

Now that Ryan and his two friends and I have almost completely wiped out the horrific weeds of the front yard I can accelerate burying more Water Wise Container Gardens made from plastic buckets, one rose per bucket, plus plant more perennials and annuals and papayas between them as part of the drastic revamping of my front yard devastated by years of drought and being consumed by the now-gone giant climbing rose 'Mermaid' (thanks Pat!) to again have a wondrous collection of roses but THIS time use MUCH less water since drought is the new norm for Florida. I will be sure to post pics at my Rosegasms blog.

My two Holy Basil plants (Ocimum sanctum) grow by leaps and bounds, despite blooming and seeding non-stop, one in the ground, one in a Water Wise Container Garden on my back porch. Since it is a known adaptogen with a 4,000 year history of use in Ayurvedic medicine I want to begin drinking a cup a day of the pleasant tasting tea. See pic of one of my plants.

Today I will be listing some of 5 month old, adult sized Muscovy Ducks for sale, here and on Craig's List. Soon I will man up and kill my first duck as I have too many poultry mouths to feed plus I hear and read that Muscovy Duck meat is a gourmet treat, dark and lean like cow meat vs. greasy like White Pekin ducks. The ducks are $20 each and I can now sex them due to the males' beaks showing sexual maturity is close at hand.

Thanks to the folks who've ordered seeds from me....I hope they thrive in your gardens. John

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Calabaza From Panama

I bought this long necked calabaza today at Publix for 69 cents a pound, mainly for the seeds, to share and grow next summer IF has a thick dense flavorful neck of meat as does 'Argonaut' and other Curcurbita moschata hybrids that love humid hot summers. John

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Today I dog-eared several pages in their new catalog that, as it has for years, offers a very eclectic mix of seeds of wildflowers, native grasses, plus herbs and cultivated flowers by the packet, the ounce and the POUND. The per-pound prices are excellent for folks who wish to create a meadow. Since I live in Zone 9b, many of their offerings are unlikely to thrive here, so I again chose those that my instincts tell  me stand a fair chance in Tampa. I am especially looking forward to trying the Evening Primrose, Purple Horse Mint, Moss Verbena, Rose Mallow (which I grew each summer in Denver for years), Showy Primrose (which I planted in many Denver landscape clients' gardens) and Standing Cypress, which reseeds readily in Denver, and Tuber Vervain. I've spoken by phone with the owner....a delightful guy, and I am so glad that years ago I took his advice and tried Yellow Cosmos/Klondyke Mix as it utterly THRIVES in Tampa, self sows like crazy, and is a magnet for butterflies. His per-packet price makes it possible for a gardener to test many varieties in their area.


A Special Thanks to Ryan Iacovacci and his room mate and a friend......

They came by today at 9 AM (sorry Ryan's friends for forgetting your names already!) and in two hours nearly rid my entire front yard of my nemesis 'Spanish Needle' Bidens weed. They/we quickly filled a few garbage cans over and over, which I took out back and dumped in the chicken scratch path for the flock to feast on. We shared good conversations as we worked, then at 11 AM we went inside, cooled off, drank cold water and kombucha tea, and I taught them my 'Basics of Winter Gardening' class and shared seeds and cuttings and a SCOBY in gratitude for their hard work and positive energy.  They were enthusiastic students.

 All that remains is to cover the now empty beds with flattened cardboard boxes and six inches of mulch from the pile out front to smother fallen Bidens seeds to finish reclaiming my front yard and turn it back into a fabulous collection of all-organic, own root roses again but THIS time around each rose will be in a buried 5-7 gallon bucket Water Wise Container Garden. I wish I'd thought to take a pic of these three energetic young men. How nice to SEE my garden paths and beds again after their being consumed by a weed that I truly loathe despite it being appealing to bees and butterflies.

 Tampa is lucky to have a passionate, focused community activist like Ryan as he does so much in so many arenas.

Thanks guys!   John

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer Food Crops Plants for Sale

They love the humid heat...just keep their soil damp with water from your rain barrel. On my front porch honor system plant sales tables are a few plants each of: African Blue Basil, Lesbos Basil, Thai Lemon Hibiscus (tart edible leaves), Blue Pea Vine (lovely cobalt blue edible blossoms). They are in 1 gallon pots filled with homemade soil from free range chickens making my compost, and are $4-$5 each. If I am out just slip your cash through the white slot in my red office door on my front porch. Thanks in advance. John 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When I'm Not Busy Outdoors in the Gardens I'm Busy Indoors With Projects

Go to my Starnesland blog to see my newest "airworthy" Starship Enterprise model nearing completion. John

Nuking Invasive Trees

An ongoing challenge here is cutting down Brazillian Peppers, Paper Mulberries and Cherry Laurels that invade my back yard from neighbors' yards. Since I want to try to revive my surviving bananas by building up DEEP layers of yard waste and compost formers around them, next I begin cutting the offending trees back once again and piling the branches around my Saba and Orinoco and Icecream bananas, followed by sweepings from my nearby non-spraying horse stable to trap this recent wave of wonderful moisture. John

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


7/10 inch of rain yesterday, 4 1/2 inch today. As they say..."When it rains it pours".
All because yesterday I did a load of laundry, including bedding, and put it all on my clothes line....I suspect that the bedding element may surpass silver iodide as a cloud seeding/rain causing agent. Forecasts indicate they will remain on my clothesline another day. How wonderful to have such a rainy day.

The fall and winter gardening season is fairly close at hand, and so today I did an experiment....when the lovely rains abated for a while I scattered a  teaspoon or so of seeds of 'Barkant Turnip' atop a baby pool based Water Wise Container Garden on my back patio to see if I can get an early start on this mild flavored cold hardy leafy crop. Germinations should be apparent by this weekend, especially after these lovely laundry-induced rains.

I am so thankful to Joel Salatin for inspiring me via 'Fresh' to let my chickens weed FOR me, especially in the west bed into which I will soon be placing the once-baby ducks, now big enough (I hope) to be safe from predators. Earlier this year my chickens were invaluable in eating down weeds in two east beds and my south bed. Turning weeds into eggs and meat from dinosaur-descendents living free range lives works for me.

I hope to learn from folks how they keep their yards and gardens tidy as I seek to meet that goal while relishing the many things that keep my happy mind busy.


With it steamy hot, 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, to get started. I had my first veggie garden here in 1967 when I was in 9th grade at Madison Junior High, and have learned since then core principals and techniques that make winter food gardening in central Florida both pleasant and productive. Forget pesticides, forget wasting money on plants and seeds and crops that fail, and forget thinking that you have a brown thumb. Learn how to create a fertile garden site that will bless you with fresh pesticide-free produce for the six cooler months of the year. I wrote about these techniques for eight years for The St. Pete Times and still do for 'Florida Gardening' magazine.

I am teaching this class twice in August, on the 13th and the 27th, 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 easy to grow 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

Seeds for Sale: $2 plus a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope

A teaspoon of seeds per order, approx. 500 seeds for the Rapes, 20 seeds for the Vignas. Just mail me $2 and a SASE and they'll be on your way. Thanks!  John  Starnes
                                                                            3212 West Paxton Avenue
                                                                            Tampa FL 33611

'Bonar' rape- Mild tender sweet leaves raw or cooked, winter crop in Florida, spring crop in colder climates

'Dwarf Essex' rape- Much like 'Bonar' but flavor a little more like kale

'Barkant'- a turnip that bears no root, just abundant tender leaves, cold hardy like the rapes

Vigna unguiculata 'Clay'- an heirloom "cowpea", hyper-vigorous in Tampa summers, sow after soil is warm in late spring in colder climates, young leaves wonderful in salads and stir fry as bonus to the abundant pods

Vigna angularis 'Red Chori'- a heat-loving 'cowpea' from India grown for young pods and ripe dried seeds cooked like beans

Mucuna pruriens 'Velvet Bean'-food grade form used as source of medicinal L-dopa, needs a long summer season, tropical from India. Pods free of the stinging spines of the wild form. 5 large seeds.

Monday, August 8, 2011

One More Reason to Grow Your Own Food, Buy Locally Grown Food.....

and practice Gandhi-style peaceful civil disobedience. Guns drawn on a raw foods grocery store while Monsanto peppers the USDA and the Dept. of Ag with board members? Aspartame and fluoride and Splenda in our food and water via government subsidy but raw milk and cheese from grass fed (vs. diseased factory farmed) cows gets busted with guns?  GMO crops by Monsanto snuck into our food supply but a dairy farmer can't label his or her milk as hormone free? Tobacco gets huge subsidies but millions of folks who enjoy cannabis get put behind bars? Monsanto sues farmers whose crops were ruined by errant GMO pollen and WINS? All of this in "The Land of the Free" when in fact America has the largest prison population and incarceration rate in the world,  all the while spreading "democracy" via 800 bases in 120 countries? Like The Beatles said in 'Revolution'......"don't you know you can count me out...."

Grow our own food, raise and sell and enjoy raw dairy, avoid GMO seeds and crops. Keep our children out of the armed services that don't "protect our freedoms" but instead expand the Empire, thus generating "terrorist" retribution for loved ones killed in their own countries. Forget to file your taxes since corporations willfully and skillfully pay none. Enjoy cannabis as did Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. Explore urban permaculture, raise poultry. Join a local food co-op. Stay out of debt. Hang out with positive minded people.

When I watch this video many feelings, including sadness and rage surface in me. And I can't help but wonder, if as is so often the case with seized cannabis and cocaine and cash, just how much of this "unsafe" food ended up being savored in the private homes of some of these "Peace Officers" by their families anf friends benefiting from so much real food.......without paying for it.

The video is a little long but insightful. John

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Nothing like a night time thunderstorm to soak the soil and rinse the gardens....

The Salami Approach to Being Tidier

Hey, I've been a dumpster-diving, packrat, ADDHD slob long enough! I'm okay with all those traits EXCEPT "slob"!  John

My Gardens As My Teachers

I turn 58 on August 15 and as usual I instinctively reflect on the substance of my life to date, the choices I've made and make, lessons I am taught and need to learn, and my shortcomings my ego will let me own. And it is in my gardens that I see a pretty decent summation of all that and more.

Growing much of my own food became central to my life when I moved into a funky little trailer park in west Tampa in this day I cherish the memory of my wonderful 35 foot long eight wide 1950s vintage trailer and the abundant gardens that evolved around it. It is there I began my 1 man landscaping business 'The Garden Doctor' that sustained me for 19 years and  that led to my self published magazine of the same name for 10 years. Prior to that, like most Americans, I bought my food. When I moved to Denver in 1987, self sufficiency based on landscaping and gardening took on a new edge in that forboding climate where I learned to plan WAY ahead as regards saving food and money for the long lean winter season, and using that painfully short growing season effectively.

It is in Denver that I became a self taught botanist, then garden columnist and teacher who'd learned enough, and made more than enough mistakes, to share with others lessons learned to date. It amazes me to look back on being 34, new in Denver, with almost no clue as to basic plant families like the Amaranths or the Cucurbits. As hard as my 15 years in Denver was, they were my crucible that taught me tenacity, hyper-frugality and creative problem solving. Moving back home to Tampa in November 2002 after all those years of homesickness, trapped in Colorado first by an upside down mortgage, then my goals as a rosarian and rose breeder, taught me, belatedly in life, the bliss of daily gratitude.

My garden and yard remind me that due in part to my having a busy mind, often scattered in many  fun directions, I tend to be a slob. This is made worse by my being a dumpster diver and a packrat. So this year I am choosing to be tidier in one small area at a time vs. feeling overwhelmed by the squalor. For instance, today I will pick up the drinking straws etc. from the restaurant scraps I feed my free range chickens that litter the big path that encircles my back yard and finally spread the bags of leaves I scavenged weeks ago. Am once I lay down the last of the pavers a blog reader gave me on my evolving driveway and spread beach sand over them and sweep it all in, the front of my place will have one more area that will look tidy and "finished".

At a birthday party last night my gardening friend Mary Jo and I by accident/synchronicity found ourselves chatting with gardeners about making healthy diet choices and more. I am not a very social person but realize anew that I am drawn instinctively towards people with positive, expansive attitudes and pull away from those make suffering  martyrdom a way of life. In this one brief life, with far few years ahead of me than behind me, I prosper most when I cultivate choices that create possibilities vs. the "safety" of painting oneself into a corner. I feel certain that happiness can be a choice I make daily simply by taking stock of my many blessings and being overtly thankful to the Universe for them. What I lack is dwarfed by what I have.

Humility is one of the most useful harvests my gardens give me. Some folks see me as a "gardening expert" because of my being a garden writer and teacher but I know better...I am just a passionate gardening student who loves to learn. If I was so damned good I would not be battling for the first time ever a virtual plague this summer of mealy bugs on my eggplants, currant tomatoes, and hot peppers, with some now even on my molokhiya. My perennial battle with weeds, with them all too often winning, insures I not get cocky and self-assured. Sure I grow lots of food and Old Roses, but any visitor here can tell at a glance that I am not in control here, always behind in so many tasks, always trying to "get caught up" vs. the landscape that last night's party was held in.....ORGANIZED, tidy, manicured and orderly.

Nearly 6 decades on this planet have taught me the joy of learning on many unrelated fronts, hence my "ADDHD" scattered mindset that, while fun, dilutes some of my more concrete efforts. So today as I tidy that chicken garden path, counting my blessings as I sweat in this remarkbly sweltering summer, I will be addressing and correcting one of my biggest character flaws......not focusing. Letting my gardens teach me to be focused, and to FINISH ONE TASK BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER, would be the best birthday present I could give myself this year.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

My August Classes


For a bounty of crisp crunchy carrots, daikons, sweet potatoes, true yams (Dioscorea) and more the keys are: correct crop for the right time of year, and improving this sand we call "soil". You'll taste fried true yam plus learn of local and mail order sources of truly cheap seeds to make your family self sufficient in these staples year round. The class date is August 21, and your harvests this winter will soon earn you back the class fee, with a huge bonanza awaiting you next summer. To RSVP call John Starnes at: 813 839 0881

FERMENTED FOODS 101      8-20-2011

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, Florida Gardening) 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, bortago 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 August 20, from 11 AM until 1:30 PM, and the cost is $20 per student. The 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

BACKYARD POULTRY RAISING 101        8-6-2011

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 well-received class again on August 6, this Saturday, 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


With it steamy hot, 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, to get started. I had my first veggie garden here in 1967 when I was in 9th grade at Madison Junior High, and have learned since then core principals and techniques that make winter food gardening in central Florida both pleasant and productive. Forget pesticides, forget wasting money on plants and seeds and crops that fail, and forget thinking that you have a brown thumb. Learn how to create a fertile garden site that will bless you with fresh pesticide-free produce for the six cooler months of the year. I wrote about these techniques for eight years for The St. Pete Times and still do for 'Florida Gardening' magazine.

I am teaching this class twice in August, on the 13th and the 27th, 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 easy to grow 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


Many of us grew up on" fast food" and processed foods, and so don't know easy frugal ways to transform the produce from our gardens 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 at the catalyst for "cooking by the seat of your pants". You'll learn key basic spicing themes for ethnic cuisines including Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Turkish, Chinese and more that can you can tweak and mix per your creative cooking spirit and your gardens' production throughout the year. 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 fun yet informative class costs $20 plus one onion and takes place on August 7, this Sunday, from 11 AM until 1 PM. at 3212 West Paxton Avenue in south Tampa. Call me, John Starnes, at 813 839 0881 to confirm your attendance. Thank You! John

GROW YOUR OWN SALADS       8-28-2011

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

I am teaching this class on August 28th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session after. The cost is $20 per student. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611 813 839 0881

Why buy pricey little bags of corporate salads when you can grow fresh salads for just pennies a day?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Articles for Sale

I've learned that for years The St. Pete Times has been charging (and getting) $3 for each edited, abbreviated on-line version of the articles I wrote for them for eight years. No, I've not seen a penny of that. So I am offering for sale, via e-mail, the original texts of articles I wrote for them and The Rocky Mountain News in Denver the seven years my column there ran. Easiest way to pay me I guess is via the PayPal Donate button below, though cash and checks and cannabis are cool too!

I have hundreds of them in my hard drive, and can sell them by category:

Old Roses for cold climates
Old Roses for mild climates
Organic Pest Control
Organic Lawn Care in Colorado
Organic Lawn Care in central Florida
Cold Climate Vegetable Gardening
Vegetable Gardening in Florida
Edible Flowers
Cold Hardy Veggies and Flowers
Fragrant Roses
Frugal Gardening and Landscaping Tips
Adding color to Colorado and Florida landscapes
House Plant care in hot and cold climates
Improving soil in hot and cold climates
Herbs for hot and cold climates
Climbing Roses for hot and cold climates
and more....

In this way I can hopefully boost my income a bit and get out into the world my original articles that were often brutally edited by both columns to make room for ad space...very often I winced with embarassment to pick up either newspaper only to read an article bearing my name! Yikes, total "face palm". I'd love for folks to receive what my editors did, raw and not "perkified".

Best I guess is for interested people to order the type of article and number you wish me to send you, like "John, send me 5 articles about cold climate roses" or "John, send me 2 articles about winter veggie gardening in Florida". Since these articles are all copyrighted, and I have bills to pay, I sincerely ask that you not forward/print out them to folks who have not paid me, just as you'd wish to be paid for your labors. Times are tough enough.

"BUT WAIT!!!    THERE'S MORE!!!!   (just kidding, no free Ginshu knives or spice racks)


This and That

"Gray Street Grape" is now bearing like crazy, and my Muscadine grape 'Triumph' on the south fence has just begun to drop ripe grapes. For some reason I am having a real problem this year with mealy bugs on eggplants, currant tomatoes, even molokhiya......too much nitrogen? Blasting them off with the garden hose helped but next I am spraying the plants with the same Kirk's Castile soap spray that so many of my St.Pete Times readers still swear by when I run into them. It is so odd and humbling to go from no mealy bugs ever to a near-plague.

Still no convincing sign of growth in my experimental spirulina farm.......was the Chill Dried spirulina I added dead? Do I have nutrient or pH levels wrong? I will keep trying new variables.

I have the PC working enough to today belatedly list my August classes on Craig's List.....just one more to place there. Next I send them to The St. Pete Times, the Barefoot Gardener's Forum, and of course my own blog. Amazing to realize in this heat that it is time to begin planning for the fall and winter gardens!

I'd hoped that Emily would arrive in Florida as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane and give the whole peninsula a DEEP soaking...but now it looks as though she will pass east of us, which often draws moisture OUT of the atmosphere above Florida vs. adding to it if they pass due west of us. Never in my teens and twenties would I have imagined summer days here with no rain, day after day after day. Good thing I now garden mostly in my Water Wise Container Gardens.

Today I took a break from the PC and planted a row of large white lima beans along the anti-chicken fence on the south side of the henhouse, both as food for me and to discourage the chickens who've learned how to jump that fence and cause damage in my inventory area. The sky was odd today....a bleak overcast that let  some sunshine through now and then. But it looks like no chance of real rain, though last night we had  a very light rain that dampened the mulch.

About 1/3 of the driveway pavers and bricks are down.....amazing how quickly I get so hot moving and installing them. But OH the driveway will look so much better when it is done and I sweep several buckets full of beach sand over them to fill in the seams and voids.

I am propagating lots of plants for sale and friends and am pleased that the Moringa cuttings I stuck for Tim and Kathy rooted SO quickly. My gardening friend Mary Jo has been experimenting again with drying and grinding Moringa leaves to add to her food due to the incredible nutritional profile. Like me she cut hers back HARD to create more of a Moringa BUSH to yield many more leaves and closer to the ground for easier harvest.

  No more harvests of my 'Fife Creek' okra....time to let pods ripen for seeds for next summer. Who knows if/when Monsanto will close down the very few seed houses that carry it?

The giant yellow house across the street from me that the former owners walked away from has been sold by the guy who bought it to fix it up (the former owners stripped it bare) to a couple from Illinois I believe. The water and power bills it generates, even when unoccupied, blow my mind! I'll stick with my humble little trippy hippie house thank you!

Cracker has fully settled in and is a near perfect dog after some serious issues of trying to nip visiting women's heels (he was dumped by three female households when I got him when he was about 6 months old), major digging in ground gardens and container gardens, and a protracted problem with pooping and peeing indoors. But he clearly knows that THIS family is his final one amd is very happy and secure and very affectionate dog....and thankfully, he just wants  to give the chickens a daily token chase vs. EATING them!

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived. Dalai Lama

Holy Basil: Ocimum sanctum

Known in India as 'Tulsi' and a mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, this basil is proving to be very vigorous for me, growing like crazy despite blooming profusely. It makes a delicious, mild. very clear medicinal tea, and last week I served it freshly chopped atop homemade Indian dal soup made with yellow split peas, asa foetida and other Indian spices. I have sold a few and given a few to and will have more for sale in two weeks, $5 in 1 gallon pots. John