Saturday, March 31, 2012

Florida Is Running Out Of Water

This is why I grow crops mainly in Water Wise Container Gardens, have saved my kitchen gray water for 25 years, have several rain barrels, take 1 gallon solar heated rain water showers, have long practiced deep mulching and pit composting and am now embracing hugel kultur, and use my stove timer when I DO run the hose. Next priority is to install the first of two 250 gallon totes to be mega-rain barrels, one out front, one in back.
A combination of herding the chickens and ducks into the 5 main beds in the back yard at varying times last year largely eliminated my SEVERE problem with Starre grass and Spanish Needle 'Bidens', and hand pulling 'Bidens' and Florida Pellitory (which I thought was Chickweed until meeting Andy Firk and taking his herb walk at the Sustainable Living Conference last Saturday) from the front yard to feed to the flocks is QUICKLY letting me tame that area too. Seed production of both is now a fraction of what it goal is to CEASE seed production by them as I phase in own root roses in buried Water Wise Container Gardens plus annuals and perennials out front. Thank you Joel Salatin for inspiring me to rely on rotational grazing for weed control!  MUCH MUCH easier and MUCH more effective, plus I like seeing the weeds transformed into eggs and meat!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Elegantly Simple Rocket Stove

Special thanks to Jim Porter for sending me this link!  John

Blanching Greens

With summer closing in I will be blanching and freezing collards and arugula to enjoy during the muggy summer season. VERY easy.....just bring water to a boil in a large steel pot and drop in chopped greens of your choice and let simmer 1-3 minutes. Drain and pack into freezer bags or recycled yogurt tubs. To prevent freezer burn, add just enough water to cover the blanched leaves, then freeze.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Horse Domestication Confirmed

Origins of the modern cow determined

Easy Poultry Mites Cure

Some years back I learned the hard way of the existence of poultry mites....HUNDREDS of very itchy bites on me within a week, plus who knows the hell the quail and chickens endured. They even got into the house and my bed as back then I stored Mr. Rooster's sleeping box in my laundry room vs. the garden shed. They were very likely introduced by the crafty crows entering the hen house. I put a kitty litter box of food grade diatomaceous earth in the quail pen and hen house to give the poor things immediate relief...and it DID! It showed in their demeanor. I learned that year that the mites, just like red spider mites on plants, require dry dusty conditions, so I ran my shower sprinkler in each pen for 20 minutes. Problem solved. I do this once each spring. In the last week I got about 8 bites, so as I type the sprinkler is doing a 20 minute run in the hen house. A side benefit of this spring ritual is that is gives "Gray Street Grape" not only a deep watering, it rinses the winter accumulation of chicken poop into the root zone.

My class this Saturday:

Urban Farmsteading 101:   This intense class addresses some of the key points of a way of life I've embraced to varying degrees since 1984 that has allowed me food independence and freedom from debt for years. The class handout features 15 topics but  several more will be covered. This is NOT a gardening class but one about fashioning, in steps, a way of living more fully and freely based on gardening. Each student will be given two packs of unusual food crops seeds, one for the summer season now upon us, and the upcoming winter season. I've taught this very well received class a few dozen times the last few years and folks tell me it over-delivers, so DO bring a note pad and pen. Class times are 11 AM until 1 PM this Saturday, with a 30 minute Q & A session if needed. I am asking $20 per student. My address is:  3212 West Paxton Avenue  Tampa FL 33611 If you have questions feel free to call me at:   813 839 0881.  John

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mini-hugel kultur

Just inside the base of the new section of 5 foot tall goat fencing a wonderfully generous blog reader gave me that I've erected along the west bed, I today dug a pit about 2 feet wide and deep, dropped in several chunks of VERY dried out sycamore logs that Pat dropped off, sprinkled in a handful of dolomite and 10-10-10 tropical fertilizer with trace elements, several big shovels full of fresh horse stall sweepings, covered it all with the sandy soil I dug out of the hole, and am now doing a slow deep soaking to settle it all in. Next I pound down a ten foot length of rebar to make that section of goat fence sturdy vs. wobbly.  I am sure I will need to add more sand and manure as it all lowers due to the slow saturation. Then I will plant the very vigorous chayote now thriving in a 1 gallon pot of soil from the free range chicken path, then mulch the whole area in a 4 foot diameter circle with oak leaves and horse stall sweepings. Lastly, I will briefly turn the sprinkler up a big and soak for 10 minutes that whole area. If all goes well this mini-hugel kultur pit will at LAST give me oodles of fresh chayotes plus vine tips to use in stir fry.

 About 10 feet NW of this I will then dig a VERY big pit and line it with the above ground pool liner my neighbor gave me, puncture it a couple of feet from the bottom on the sides to make it a GIANT Water Wise Container Garden, fill it hugel kultur style, then plant the Raja Puri banana that Mary Jo gave me last week in this bog garden. Once the drought settled in over 7 years ago my bananas population dropped from 21 colonies of 16 varieties to a handful of three varieties that RARELY set fruit....hopefully this bog garden will give me back a vigorous clump!

Alyce Clover

I learned of this today from Lynda Mink on Face Book. It looks promising as a summer source of fresh greens for poultry while adding nitrogen to the soil and as a source of green compost material. I will poke about and see if the seeds can be bought by the pound. Thanks Lynda!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Damn I'm a Good Cook!

First, maybe a half gallon of water in my giant steel soup kettle.....chopped yellow onions, sea salt, a bit of potassium chloride and diatomaceous earth, garlic powder and red pepper flakes, then from the freezer half a rooster breast and a small bit of frozen ham I noticed, all simmered until I had a nice broth. Next went in wheat berries, 4 big collard leaves chopped with my kitchen scissors, maybe a dozen Lesbos basil leaves and a pinch of fresh rosemary simmered about 45 minutes. Rare night that the TV is on.....watching 'Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern' while eating this lovely soup as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon create another new lovely triangulation in the sky. Life is good! Thank you Universe.

Kombucha "Leather"?

Just out of curiosity I've let a few SCOBYs dry in an indoor room a couple months now....they feel like mix of raw rabbit hide and parchment. So I find this very intriguing.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What A Bizarre Early Spring!

It is so odd to see Velvet Bean and Hyacinth Bean vines survive a  winter, with the latter in bloom and setting pods! I never thought I'd be getting my first nibbles of Molokhiya leaves in March, or see volunteer seedlings popping up in container gardens. The Passion Flower and Cucuca vines are racing thing you know I'll see my yams (Dioscorea) sending up their first shoots now vs. late April or early May. A downside of this early heat is seeing some of my Brassicas bolting early, with my nasturtiums and arugula fading fast. In a few minutes I'll be propagating sweet potato shoots emerging like crazy from the "official" sweet potato garden as I intend to grow MANY more this year, in both the new east bed and the south bed....maybe even the west bed. I'd LOVE it if this unseasonal heat brought us several MILD hurricanes and MANY tropical depressions to re-saturate Tampa....hard to believe that back in 2004 when we had so many hurricanes come here that I had TARO growing in one garden as a border plant (vs. a container garden as has been required ever since) and that I had 21 colonies of sixteen kinds of bananas!

As if I didn't have enough digging to do, now I've decided to dig two BIG holes and line them with scavenged pool liners, puncture them in several places about fifteen inches from the bottom, fill them with logs and yard waste and mukch and horse poop plus sand that came out of the hole, and turn one into a damp banana bog, and the other a damp guava patch.

One of these days this yard will be largely "done" and I can just sit back and enjoy the bounty!

 Guava Blooms
Banana Harvest 2004  Pisang Raja
After that oh-so-mild winter, my long-desired Jamaican Cherry (Mutingia calabura), which not only got very minor frost damage to a few branch tips, is now easily twice my height and budding and blooming like crazy! I want to get some sphagnum moss and layer quite a few to sell to recoup some of my gardening costs this year as very few folks sell it. I love the berries.....they taste like a mix of watermelon and cotton candy.

Thanks Andy Firk!!

I've always called this Chickweed....NOT!! I fight it in my front yard big time, see just a little of it out back. The chickens and ducks love to eat it when I pull it up.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Sustainable Living Conference in Plant City, Florida

I had a great time today there. Good folks, good loving energy, lots of knowledge and plants and seeds swapped. I especially enjoyed meeting Florida wild plants guru Andy Firk and taking his tour of the World Acre Farms property for edible plants, and hearing  and seeing Jungle Jay's expansive overview of global warming, bio-char plus archaeology and paleo-history as regards human agricultural innovation and mega-fauna like mastodons. My presentation addressed creating ethnic cuisine using spice combinations, and, mostly, home made fermented, probiotic-foods. Andy gave me quite a few seeds of two bean varieties that have evolved in his yard over the years here in Florida....a black turtle bean and an Anastazi (sp?) bean.

 A day of sharing indeed.  John

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Great Blog Launch

For decades the U.S. has brought "democracy" via pre-emptive war to oil rich nations.... in the Empire's sights....water-rich countries. No wonder some states in the U.S. now ban using rain  barrels....the 1% wants us dependent on them for everything. Question authority. Occupy your yard and your life!


Last night, just as I'd given on the storms raging north and east of me for hours, they finally arrived. 1.75 inches in my gauge and the rain barrel I use to wash pots and pans and for my daily 1 gallon solar shower is filled again! So nice to wake up to a WET yard!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Long Life Bulk Foods For Storage

Tepary Beans

I'd forgotten about these, have never grown them and wish to try them in south Tampa where a rain shadow each summer is the norm. I doubt they'll like the humidity, but it I can get a pack cheaply after shipping I'll be interested to see how they perform.  If I still lived in Denver I'd DEFINITELY be hopeful about this ancient crop doing well there.

Summer Heat Closing In Early

I better start harvesting, blanching and freezing collards and other brassicas, plus buy extra virgin olive oil at Big Lots and puree arugula to freeze to use this summer along with Lesbos basil, garlic and pecans or sunflower seeds to make pesto. The chickens are laying like CRAZY....I think I will reduce eggs sales a bit and freeze a few blenders full to enjoy next winter when they are barely laying.

Thanks to neighbors I have an abundance of bagged leaves and am making progress slowly trudging them down the east side of the house for use in the east, south and west beds out back as I chop down and chop up trash trees to build up a deep layer of mulch. I am determined to boost food production in those areas this year, and while I WILL water more than in seasons past, I wish to limit that increase. A steadily increasing number of buried 5-7 gallon Water Wise Container Gardens, such as the 7 gallon swimming pool tablet bucket my Jamaican Cherry, and the 5 gallon bucket my Passion Fruit are thriving in, helps a lot.

My friend Pat gave me two 3 gallon pots with oodles of papaya seedlings coming up to aid me in my plan to pepper the back yard with many dozens of plants this year to create a light shade canopy in my starkly sunny yard, and to bless me with green papayas to use raw and cooked as a staple vegetable, some to eat ripe, and to sell surplus off.

Now if only south Tampa would have nice soggy summer!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Universe Wish List

I'd love to trade plants/seeds/eggs/classes for the following:

1. A steel wok
2. Garden gates or gate-like objects
3. Those steel barrier sections that line Bayshore during Gasparilla
4. Potent 420
5. 10 foot rebars
6. A Dancy tangerine tree
7. A red grapefruit tree
8. A division of a fragrant Cattleya orchid
9. A hammock
10.Sphagnum Moss

Thanks in advance!    John

Good Grief This Sounds Delicious!!
This mild winter not only barely frost damaged my long lusted after Jamaican Cherry (Mutingia calabura) which is now nearly ten feet high after being planted last spring as a young wispy three foot tall plant, it is budding up already! I've wanted one for years after failing many times with seeds that would always germinate but into seedlings that simply would not grow...special thanks to Jim Porter for snagging for me at the USF Plant Sale last spring!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

I lost my beloved ten year old Barbados Cherry three winters ago to a very hard was already drought and shade stressed. The one I rooted last year is thriving in a buried 55 gallon Water Wise Container garden in my south bed out back as part of that longstanding and still evolving food forest along with bananas, a seedling citrus (am cutting it down as the fruit are meager in number and like a dry lemon), chaya, Jamaican Cherry (Mutingia calabura), Triumph muscadine grape, African Yellow Yams and papayas, with more papayas to come, and a lychee in that same container garden. 
Back home after assisting Dad in Okeechobee a few days, nice to feel rested this morning after a delicious "altering" last night after two sleepless nights there. Lovely breakfast omelet....three fresh eggs, chopped Sugar Snap peas, chopped Allium canadense and Lesbos basil leaves, chopped broccoli, fried in coconut oil. Life is good!

My newest batch of cheese made from dairy kefir grains is my best yet....the texture and taste remind me of a good cheddar with a hint of bleu cheese.

Sadly, instead of being settled in back home after five weeks in rehab as planned, Dad is back in a hospital on the east coasts for tests as to why he felt poorly almost as soon as he came home. Tests at the hospital in Okeechobee said all clear.

My Classes This Weekend

3-17-2012 Summer Bounty With Hot Weather Crops
3-18-2012 Back Yard Chickens and Ducks 101 

$20 per student, bring note pad and pen. Two packets of free seeds per student. 11 AM until 1 PM each day. 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611   813 839 0881

A Soulful Piece About Awareness of Nature

Monday, March 12, 2012

The 2012 Sustainable Living Conference at All World Acres 4715 Bruton Rd. Plant City Friday through Sunday - March 23, 24, 25

Tiny Homes!

Legalize Chickens in Tampa

I have to miss the city council meeting about chickens on the 15th in order to assist my Dad recuperating from 8 months of severe illness, and so have asked two friends who might be in attendance to read this brief statement. I'd e-mail it to council members but two have confirmed what I LONG suspected...they rarely, if ever, read their e-mails.

"I have raised chickens in several communities since 1991 and not only have I had NO problems with neighbors, they enjoyed both the eggs and the ambiance, giving me empty cartons and food scraps in support. Chickens rid yards of roaches, slugs and grubs and weeds, add fertility to the soil, cause no odor or fly or noise problems, all the while helping to feed families and educating children about where wholesome local food really comes from. It is my hope that Tampa will lead the way by ENCOURAGING home poultry keeping and gardening just as both were championed in America during World War II. Thank you for considering my views and request. John Starnes in Sun Bay South, Tampa".

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My class today: Creating Healthy Soil and Compost Frugally. Since 1984 I've used simple affordable techniques and materials to transform this sand into living fertile soil. We will cover improving garden soil, sheet composting, container gardening and making bulk compost. 11 AM until 1 PM 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 $20 per student. Nice handout but do bring a notepad and pen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My class this Saturday: Summer Bounty With Hot Weather Crops.   Sadly, many people think that our summers are too hot and muggy to grow a garden, but this class and the handout reveal there are a GREAT many crops that utterly thrive then. Each student gets seeds of two of them to try right away. 11 AM until 1 PM 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 $20 per student.

My class this Sunday: Creating Healthy Soil and Compost Frugally. Since 1984 I've used simple affordable techniques and materials to transform this sand into living fertile soil. We will cover improving garden soil, sheet composting, container gardening and making bulk compost.  11 AM until 1 PM 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 $20 per student. Nice handout but do bring a notepad and pen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Taro Farm Update

That plastic kiddy toy box I turned into a Water Wise Container Garden but with the drainage holes a few inches higher than normal is now buried and filled with log sections and garden soil. Next I will cover those portions still visible with tree mulch then wooden planks to protect the plastic from UV for years of functional service. I gave it a very deep soak and will soon plant two taro tubers from south Tampa's wonderful DoBond Market, an Asian foods delight in a tiny building. The pics of taro leaves are from years ago when my yard was SO wet after so many hurricanes that I could grow taro, a swamp plant, in the ground!

One More Reason To Occupy Monsanto!

New Chicks

One popped out late yesterday....I woke up to four with more eggs hatching!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Life Abounds On My Urban Farm On This Lovely Spring Day!

What a joy to see container gardens burgeoning with winter crops as I phase summer crops into others, to see leaf buds swelling and opening on my monstrous "Gray Street Grape" consuming the hen house and duck pen, and to hear chicks cheeping inside their eggs in my incubator as the expresso machine belched out out black Cuban nectar.

I am one fortunate man in so many ways.....thank you Universe!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A ten year old article from my St. Pete Times column....

Magic 8 Herbal Tea for Allergies

I learned of this the spring of 2004 after I had a HORRIBLE reaction to the spring oak pollen after fifteen years in Denver robbed me of my immunity to it. I can't speak too highly of it and have turned many people onto it for them AND their dogs that get inflamed itchy skin from oak pollen. Poor Cracker was having a severe itch from it last week sans the red inflamed skin that Sweety got, so I tore open a tea bag and mixed the herbs into his dog stew......wonderful relief by the end of the day that as with Sweety lasted a few days. I buy it at downtown Tampa's wonderful Oceanic Market.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Allium fistulosum

After testing several strains over a few years, I three years ago got one that DOES multiply and IS perennial here in south Tampa. Now that spring is here their growth is rapid in a few large Water Wise Container Gardens (including a 6 foot diameter kiddy pool that Tim gave me) plus in the one gallon pots I am selling them in. Below is a good overview that also addresses the various strains with differing climate needs. I literally can't cook without onions and hope that this particular strain at last lets me reach my goal of onions self sufficiency vs. buying 2-3 three pound bags of yellow onions each month.
Available today on my Honor System sales tables by my front porch.....Lesbos basils in 1 gallon pots $4, free range chicken eggs $4 a dozen, Allium canadense perennial swamp garlic in 1 gallon pots $5, Perennial Multiplying Scallion Allium fistulosum $5 Just slip your cash through the dryer vent in my red office door. 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 Thank you! John Starnes 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Taro Farm

Taro is a swamp crop that used to grow in my gardens back when we had so many hurricanes and I had a WET  yard...back then I had 21 colonies of 16 kinds of bananas too! But years of drought have me now gardening mostly in varying versions of my Water Wise Container Gardens. I was delighted to get before the garbage man this VERY substantial tub.....I was on my bicycle and getting it home was quite a struggle. But no way was I NOT getting it! I have no idea what it actually is, but it had one small hole in one corner on the bottom, which I filled with silicone glue and duct tape. Since taro wants truly soggy soil I will drill the drainage holes about 8 inches from the bottom vs. the usual 3. To protect the plastic from sunlight to make it last for many years I will bury it, likely in the newly revamped east bed. To introduce an element of hugelkultur to it I will put in 1-2 sections of log before adding layers of rich soil from the chicken path and wood mulch. I will buy the  taro tubers from south Tampa's wonderful DoBond market...hopefully they will have my favorite variety...'Lila'.

Free is good!

 I so miss making Thai taro leaf soup and look forward to it this summer.

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Batch Of Kimchee

The yummy gallon I made over 4.5 years ago is down to a few cups in a small jar in the fridge, so yesterday I began a new batch. Here you see the jar yesterday afternoon packed tightly with layers of chopped daikon root and leaves, yellow onions, and  peeled green papayas, topped with pickling salt and sea salt, with filtered water poured over slowly to create a strong brine solution. I will let it sit until this afternoon to draw moisture out of the raw veggies, then drain the brine off. I will then make up a seasoning slurry of garlic powder, roasted sesame oil, hot peppers, crushed dried salted greenbacks I netted at Picnic Island Beach, some brown sugar to feed the lactic acid producing bacteria, plus some of that old batch to inoculate the slurry with those essential bacteria responsible for the vital fermentation that transforms and preserves the veggies. If I have some shrimp paste I will add that too. This gets poured over the brined veggies, then the jar gets sealed lightly to age in the fridge. I will take my first taste in mid August when I turn 59. But it won't really be "done" until it is at least a year old. There is nothing like stinky old home made kimchee!