Thursday, May 31, 2012


In hopes this arrives, yesterday I did a blanket sowing of Red Chori Beans (a Vigna vs. Phaseolus) in my revamped SE bed out back, planted a few clumps of Sunn Hemp seedlings, and today sprigged it with more slips of Satsuma Imo sweet potatoes and planted gandule beans. I'd love a long slow SATURATING rain tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Progress in the SE bed out back...

More Satsuma Imo sweet potatoes planted, along with Sunn Hemp, Winter Sweet Meat Squash, Indian Chori beans, followed by a deep watering then mulching with oak leaves. I was VERY surprised to see volunteer seedlings of 'San Ho Giant' mustard emerging in the soil around the Restricted Drainage Container the parent plants grew in last winter, and doubt they'll endure the summer heat, but nonetheless I spread the oak leaves thin there just to see what happens.

Despite the hype, this is NOT capitalism but corporate welfare in America where "welfare queens" are despised

Yet ANOTHER reason to close your BoA account!

Parasitize the U.S. taxpayer then lay off thousands then re-hire.....abroad. The truest personification of the ethical black hole that is the 1%.

Cassava Nutrition Status

My plants are booming in growth despite the ongoing drought, both established plants and cuttings stuck directly in the ground several weeks ago. Like most folks I originally grew them for the tasty tubers, but after several years ago finding this wonderful overview, I now rely on cooked tender young leaves as a staple in soups, casseroles and stir fries.

Sunchokes: I grew these in vast quantities along my north back fence in my Denver yard for 14 years, a perennial sunflower whose tubers raw are crunchy and remind me of a mix of almond, water chestnut or jicama and a FAINT trace of coconut. The main carb is inulin vs. starch so low calorie and good for diabetics. I'm not wild about them cooked but love them chilled in water in the fridge overnight then eaten raw. I grew them along my back west fence here until the drought kicked in. One of my students gave me a few tubers and they are doing well in a large early prototype of my Water Wise Container Gardens even though I often forget to water it. If all goes well, late this fall I'll have a big harvest to eat plus share for friends to grow. I don't know what strain this is but Chris says the guy who grows it way out in cold rural Plant City (I think) gets 25 POUNDS of tuber per plant annually!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A 2007 article from my St. Pete Times gardening column

                                  BEACHY KEEN

   The soothing sound of waves is the soul of seaside living in our lovely state. But look into the eyes of any beach side gardener and see a perfect storm of frustration and rage. That “romantic” sea spray and overly alkaline (opposite of acid) beach sand can and does thwart the very best efforts of even seasoned gardeners who just want a presentable lawn, colorful landscape beds, and a productive veggie garden. In past articles I’ve addressed one approach: growing salt tolerant plants. But lots of folks want to grow plenty of other things...what about them?

  Transform the soil! Work with natural materials that add acids, leach away salt, and add water-holding organic matter and soon you’ll enjoy a tantalizing taste of successful seaside gardening. And central to this approach is applying a deep mulch once or twice a year, at least 6 inches thick each time. Excellent choices include bagged oak leaves as they are already acidic, a big load of chipped limbs and leaves delivered by a tree trimming company, and the manure and sawdust bedding free for the taking at neighborhood stables. All organic matter generates natural acids as it decays, and those summer rains will leach those acids deep into the sand and heal it of the excess alkalinity that makes plants struggle. Soon, that loose sand will darken and enrich and begin to hold water and support our gardening allies, earthworms, who till the soil and enrich it for us. Mulch, mulch, mulch those landscape beds and veggie gardens!

   Powdered gymsum can be tricky to find in bags larger than five pounds, but this natural mineral (calcium sulphate) is unsurpassed for helping to leach salt out of soil if sprinkled on one or two times a year, ESPECIALLY after a hurricane has splashed saltwater all over your landscape. Chunks of broken up gypsum wallboard can be scavenged from a construction site with the permission of the foreman, or buy whole sheets at the hardware store and break them up...why?  Place a few hand-sized pieces at the bottom of the hole when planting new perennials and shrubs, and their roots will mingle with this built-in defense against salt build up.

  Bermuda grass is the best choice for beach side lawns, and municipalities and hotels sod it into playgrounds and parks where even with no care it looks surprisingly good. But if we feed it each March, July, September and December with the same cottonseed meal we use on those mulched gardens, Bermuda grass will become lusher and greener than you thought possible for a lawn by the beach yet remain amazingly drought tolerant. Sold in 50 pound bags by feed stores, cottonseed meal is a potent natural acidifier that also supplies nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in abundance if sprinkled on lawns and beds as heavily as you’d put parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Fed to livestock, it is a non-burning natural soil food perfect for healing sea side soils. And contrary to belief, your Bermuda lawn CAN be mowed with a conventional rotary mower; only golf courses require reel mowers as they create a hard low turf surface for balls to roll on. Each November, apply winter rye grass seed to your dormant Bermuda lawn for a quick green up that will add organic matter to the soil when it dies and decays each spring. Mowing with the bag OFF your mower all year long will allow the clippings to decay and nourish the sandy soil too as a form of “mulch”. Once again, as it decays, natural acids released will steadily combat excess alkalinity.

  If you can’t find cottonseed meal at feed stores and are comfortable with chemical fertilizers (they too tend to acidify alkaline soils) feed the Bermuda four times a year with either Sunniland Palm 8-6-6 (if you rarely water) or something along the lines of Lesco 16-4-8 (if you irrigate frequently) to provide ample nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plus trace elements like manganese, iron, magnesium, boron, molybdenum, zinc, copper and sulphur.

   The natural mineral sulfur is sold in five pound bags at garden centers, and if sprinkled lightly atop your thick mulch layer each spring will quickly acidify the soil when the summer rains come so that at last your pale, sickly ixoras, gardenias, hollies and azaleas can perk up. Again, that parmesan cheese analogy will help you decide how much to use. Iron sulfate works even faster...apply it more like salt on food as it is potent. Keep it away from concrete surfaces as it will stain them a rusty red brown color. But boy does it work on yellowing plants!

   Hey, nothing’s perfect....but successful seaside gardening can be a part of your parcel of paradise if we change the salty sand into soil.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Testing my new JVC Everio HD Hybrid Camcorder

My PC won't play CDs or DVDs, but a very smart helpful tech at JVC walked me through on how to use the Movie Maker program on my PC to download and copy videos to a new folder he taught me how to create. Here is my first new video in quite some time!   John

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Canna Blooms Are Edible and Delicious

I usually pull a whole, newly-opened bloom out of its calyx to use as a lovely edible plate garnish, but when I have an abundance I'll tear the blooms into a salad mix for color and a mild, sweet, lettuce-like flavor and texture.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Videos Coming

My wonderful 3 year old camcorder died in stages a few months ago....diagnostic efforts were inconclusive.But that $130 camera I bought from a site I REALLY like,, gave me almost three years of great performance. So today, as a reluctant tightwad wanting to share positive developments here, after the refurb site was sadly frozen when I hit "Add To Cart", I bought this equally DEEPLY discounted camcorder from that I've also had universally good experiences with. It looks to be in many ways better, though I am unclear about its "hard disc drive" vs. the smart card of my first camcorder. I am psyched!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Can't Beat Sweet Potatoes!

"Filipino White" makes an extensive ground cover whose leaves are a wonderful spinach substitute, especially if lightly cooked, and the ivory white tubers are slightly sweet, wonderful raw or cooked.  The pic of the harvest by my feet is from just one chunk of 'Puerto Rico Gold' I planted that summer. I've also used sweet potato leaves to make wonderful kimchee.

 "Filipino White"
 "Filipino White"
Puerto Rico Gold

My Classes This June

Barring medical emergencies with my Dad in Okeechobee, I will be offering these classes in June. Cost is $20 per student, times are 11 AM until 1 PM, and my address is:  3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 Hope to see you!

Hot Weather Summer Crops:  June 2
Breaking Free- Living Life On Purpose:  June 3
Water Wise Container Gardening:  June 9
Least Toxic Pest Control Indoors and Out:   June 10
Backyard Poultry 101:  June 16
Composting Basics Plus Advanced:  June 17
Super Frugal Tightwad Gardening and Landscaping:  June 23
Perennial Food Crops for Central Florida: June 24
Planning a Productive Winter Veggie and Herbs Garden Now:  June 30

New To Me Root Crop

The cost of starter tubers for this yummy sounding crop has to date kept me from ordering some, will price it again plus check for fresh tubers in health food store produce sections where I also hope to find bulbs of "Potato Onion".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fresh Florida Cheeses

I know Pam Lunn...she is a trip!

A Hot Pepper and Okra Summer

I'm growing MUCH more of both this year, with "Fife Creek" okra thriving in a Baby Pool Garden and other forms of Water Wise Container Gardens to enjoy both raw and fried, unbattered but in quantity. I now have three "Filipino Mexican Tree Pepper" plants growing in 18 gallon Water Wise Container Gardens, and one plant of the Mystery Pepper that came up in large numbers when Mary Jo sprinkled a jar of Dollar Tree hot pepper flakes on a container garden to deter squirrels. It makes pods that are about 3.5 inches long, somewhat sinewy in shape, and when eaten green (no ripe ones yet) remind me of a mix of cayenne and Thai Hot Peppers are regards both heat and flavor.

Woo hoo! Due to leaving dry laundry on my clothesline I just induced a brief light rain here in parched south Tampa! It's now inside re-drying......maybe I should wash a new load?!

Friday, May 11, 2012

I'd love to try to make one of these!!
Following edible plants for sale on my Front Porch Honor System sales tables, $4-$5 each in 1 gallon pots, priced and labelled on strips of scavenged mini-blinds: Green Sugar Cane, Celosia spicata, Caribbean White Yam, Lesbos Basil, Sweet Cassava, Chinese Sword Bean, Molokhiya, Thai Lemon Hibiscus, Chaya (Tree Spinach) plus a dozen fresh fertile eggs on the stone shelf to the left of my red office door. Just slip your cash through the white plastic dryer vent embedded in that red office door. Thanks!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thank You!

To the folks who've clicked on the Donate button on the bottom of the page to help to support this and my other efforts!  John

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cassava Leaves Are Very Nutritious

I've used tender young leaves for years in stir fry and soups, and am today making my first ever batch of African stew made from pureed leaves. This version will have scavenged cow meat, garlic, hot peppers, palm oil, fish sauce, simmered until thick and served over rice. I can't imagine my south Tampa urban farm without my several cassava plants.

My Universe Wish List

I'd love to trade plants, fresh free range fertile brown hens eggs, or seeds for the following items:

1. Long handled garden shovel
2. Hav-A-Hart animal trap
3. Potent 420
4. A "nuc" of Italian Domestic honeybees to restock my Top Bar hive with
5. Bulk compost
6. Rhode Island Red chicks
7. Cattleya corsage type orchids
8. Lavender tropical water lily
9. Ongoing source of just-expired gallon jugs of milk for my cheese making

Thanks in advance!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sexing Papayas

I guess I assumed until recently that most people know how to sex their papaya plants but I was wrong. People will nurture a male papaya for over a year and wonder why they never get any fruit....only the females set fruit. Thankfully they are very easy to tell apart. I cut down my males as soon as I know they are as there is no apparent need of their pollen by female plants. Just remember...the male blooms are long, like a penis!


Monday, May 7, 2012

My Favorite Collards By Far!

I am SO thankful to my student this spring who gave me a partial Home Depot pack of seedlings of a collard I'd never heard of nor grown. Remarkably vigorous growth, low semi-heading growth, VERY mild sweet crunchy cabbagey flavor, very little bitterness, tender texture in both the leaves and the stems. I just blanched a big batch of chopped leaves and stems and once they are cool I am freezing them for summer use. I plan on buying a big pack of the seeds to share with friends. Far better than ANY collard I have ever grown. I am growing LOTS of it this fall and winter in part to be able to supply large amounts to south Tampa's wonderful Wimauma Restaurant on south MacDill. I never thought I'd go mental over a collard! See its breeding lineage would be fascinating as it to me it almost more of a cabbage than a collard. I feed the lower older leaves to the chickens who scarf them up.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This guy's work is amazing!

What a dog!

Gandule Beans in North Carolina?

Hi John,
I came across your post about growing gandules. I am interested in doing so here in NC.  Wondering if you can provide tips and info.
Many thanks,


Edna it is a very tropical crop that needs humid heat....I wonder if your summers are long and hot enough to get pods before the first frost? Maybe try and keep me posted!  


An article from my St. Pete Times column

                      BEAT THE SUMMER BLUES

   Weary of the steamy summer heat? How about slipping your eyes into a cool blue flower garden as you sit and savor an icy drink? We can choose from a handful of inexpensive but reliable perennials and one annual to refresh a fried flower garden that looked good briefly when planted in spring. Plus some are lovely long lasting cut flowers for the dinner table too.

   ‘Indigo Spires’ salvia is three to four feet tall and wide when mature and thus makes for a lovely backdrop to a landscape bed, the long flower spikes ranging from various blues to lavender blues, blooming non-stop plus inviting the charm of butterflies. I’ve yet to see this sterile natural hybrid suffer from bugs or disease. Discovered in the mid 70's at the Huntington Botanical Garden in Los Angeles by a friend of mine, Fred Boutin, this formerly rare treasure can now be had for $4 in a one gallon pot at many garden centers each summer! It is sorely underused as a “retinal cooler” and begs to be in more gardens AND bouquets.

  ‘Salvia guaranitica’ is simply stunning, rich blue honeysuckle-like trumpets adorning a bushy plant about half the size of ‘Indigo Spires’. Plant a few in front of that backdrop for a nice, slightly lower succession of new shades of blue to draw in admiring eyes. Until very recently this was a very rare salvia seen only in collections of “salvia freaks” like me, but it too can be had for that same amazing price. I am still not used to seeing it in the “Big Box” garden centers but am thrilled by that development. It forms underground tubers, so will bounce back in spring after a winter frost or freeze.

  For the “water” in your “flower pool” just fill the garden the rest of the way with Blue Torenia plants spaced about a foot apart. Look for them in four inch pots for about $1 each, sometimes under the names ’Summer Pansy’ or ‘Wishbone Flower’. Skip the new pink hybrids and grab those in the shades of blue that most appeal to you as some are almost purple, others in light pastels. They reseed easily, so feel free to transplant those volunteers to other gardens or pots. This is one of those tough reliables even kids can grow easily.

 But hey, what’s a pool without a “fountain” ?  Lily of the Nile is nickname for Agapanthus, a relative of the amaryllis who various species and hybrids surprise heat strained eyes  with sudden sprays of sky blue, sapphire or the richest royal blue. It tolerates light shade well, as do these others, so the whole “blue lagoon’ garden can be created at the edge of spreading tree, or in the shadow of your home where respite from the noonday roasting sun is offered. Pop in a few in between the Blue Torenias to complete the effect. One long stemmed bloom in a narrow vase is pure class.

  Okay, step back, sip a cold one while admiring that lovely oasis, and when no one is looking, pop in a few pink plastic flamingos!
 Indigo Spires
 Salvia guaranitica

An article that I wrote for Florida Gardening a few years ago:

                      Bean There Done That

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

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

   The Yard Long Bean (Vigna sesquipedalis) is sold in Asian veggie seed displays. A staple of Chinese cooking, this relative of the Black Eyed Pea thrives just as well in our muggy summers. Expect the lovely orchid-like flowers to quickly transform into bean pods up to 3 feet long, though they are best picked when a foot long and sweetly tender. Easy and thus great for kids to grow, they also provide newly unfolded leaves excellent when chopped into soups and stir fry for extra fiber, bright green color, and healthy nutrition.

  Want to freak out friends, neighbors, passers-by and dinner guests? Grow African Jack Beans (Canavalia ensiformis) and watch jaws drop first when the vines rival those in ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’, then again when monstrous bean pods form. I use mine in soups and stir fry when 8-10 inches long and crisply tender, pods and all. No need to shuck them. Think that size DOES matter? Grow African Jack Beans!

  Prized in Filipino cuisine, the green-podded Hyacinth Bean (Dilochos lablab) is tastier and grows far more luxuriantly than the equally edible purple-podded kind sold in flower seed racks. If you don’t have a Filipino neighbor who can share seeds with you, look for them on-line or in the seed display in an Asian market. Lovely on a chain link fence, bedecked with flowers reminiscent of wisterias, Hyacinth Beans cover my henhouse each summer to provide “my girls” with shade and nutritious leaves they love to peck at and nibble. By summer you can pick the flat green pods and shuck out flat green beans that when lightly cooked taste much like edamame’ soybeans. Allowed to ripen and dry on the vines, the tan pods can be shattered to release beautiful black seeds, each with a white spot, that can be cooked like any dried bean. All summer long I treat myself to petite bouquets of the long-stemmed lavender blooms yet still end up with numbers of beans for stir fry and soups.

    All are easy to grow....just scatter dog food nuggets all along a fence  (a 20 lb. bag will do 20 feet of fence, turn them under, plant one seed every 2 feet or so, and water deeply weekly till the summer rains kick in. Then jump back out of their way!

 Got beans?


ECHONET 239-543-3246   fax 239-543-5317

EVERGREEN SEEDS   714-637-5769

John Starnes

Very Inspiring!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It came through this mild winter with a teensy bit of tip is now, literally, a small tree! Hundreds of blooms and green fruits. Impossible for me from seeds for years (they'd sprout by the HUNDREDS then refuse to grow.....incredibly tiny seeds and seedlings...did not matter what soil, nutrients, time of year they just sat there). Jim Porter got me this one Spring 2011 from the USF Plant Sale, about 4 feet tall in a 3 gallon pot. I buried it in a 7 gallon Water Wise Container Garden, drilled about 3 inches from the bottom on the sides using a 3/4" paddle bit. I'd love to layer some branches to sell to recoup gardening costs plus plant a second one here as I LOVE the berries that taste like a mix of watermelon and cotton candy. A few weeks ago I priced a small bag of sphagnum moss at Lowe's and walked out empty handed. I gathered a garbage bag full of fallen Spanish Moss and roasted it in full sun a couple weeks, one week inside the black plastic bag, another week out. I soaked a big blob of it in my south rain barrel that has live duckweed in it, and today took out a big blob, let it drain, and layered three branches. I scraped each branch in 3 places with a knife, dabbed on some rooting hormone powder, wrapped it with damp moss then wrapped that with a clear produce bag tied tight at each end with string from scavenged mini-blinds. If all goes well I'll see roots inside the clear plastic in 4-6 weeks, sever and pot each branch then do a bunch more

Simply Wonderful!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I find a fair amount of vegetable and animal fat while dumpster diving, plus get fat when I slaughter and cook a rooster.....I want to try this out!  John

Higher Nitrogen Lowers Levels of Oxalic Acid In Purslane

Since I nibble this "weed" all the time and Pat just ordered seeds of the improved large leaf vegetable form, this is good to know since I avoid oxalic acid in my diet.

For Sale Today:Edible plants in 1 gallon pots, all labelled and priced $4-$5 each: Lesbos Columnar Basil, Celosia spicata and a rosemary in the same pot, Chinese Sword Beans (Canavalia gladiata), Green Sugar Cane, Blue Pea Vine (Clitoria terneata, edible blue flowers), Perennial Scallion (Allium fistulosum), Chaya "Tree Spinach". A 3 gallon specimen of the rare Filipino Purple Yam "Ube" (Dioscorea volacea) is $20. All avaliable on my front porch Honor System sales tables, if I am out just slip your cash through the white dryer vent in my red office door. 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611. Thanks! John Starnes (p.s. free gardening books next to the eggs, help yourself)

And soon.....African Yellow Yams and Sweet Cassava!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I feel this is likely the ID of the GIANT grape vines in full flower I noticed thriving at the edge of the swamp between Dad's nursing home/rehab center and Raulerson Hospital there in Okeechobee. The size and structure of the bloom clusters made me feel it will bear small clusters of small grapes, much smaller than my "Gray Street Grape" now laden with thousands of large green grapes. I'll be sure to check this grape each time I visit Dad

Edible plants in 1 gallon pots, all labelled and priced $4-$5 each: Lesbos Columnar Basil, Celosia spicata and a rosemary in the same pot, Chinese Sword Beans (Canavalia gladiata), Green Sugar Cane, Blue Pea Vine (Clitoria terneata, edible blue flowers), Perennial Scallion (Allium fistulosum), Chaya "Tree Spinach". A 3 gallon specimen of the rare Filipino Purple Yam "Ube" (Dioscorea volacea) is $20. All avaliable on my front porch Honor System sales tables, if I am out just slip your cash through the white dryer vent in my red office door. 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611. Thanks! John Starnes (p.s. free gardening books next to the eggs, help yourself)

One more reason to rely on Water Wise Container Gardens


If you are lucky enough to grow the perennial garlic relative Allium canadense, here in central Florida it has likely sent up the flowering bulbing stalks and will likely within a month seem to have died as it enters dormancy for summers here, only to re-emerge next October. If you grow it in a northern climate, it is now likely actively growing now and for the summer, to die back and go dormant this fall, as it hails from Canada. The clusters of bulblets atop the flower stalk can be snipped off and planted in pots or in DAMP ground to form whole new colonies of this wonderful savory herb whose flavor reminds me of a mix of garlic and sweet scallions. Going dormant in late spring is how it survives Tampa hot muggy summers.