Monday, July 30, 2012

Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)

When I was in Costa Rica in the early 90s I learned that a bitter tea made from this relative of the cucumber taken daily is a cherished health tonic that cures and prevents many health issues....a friend here in Tampa was told recently by her Jamaican friend that her culture views and uses it the same way. Inn Florida it is a hated summer vining weed, an annual. But I know people here who by eating a few leaves daily ( I now  each morning put three leaves atop my Cuban coffee grounds in my mini-expresso machine in part because I LIKE the bitterness it adds) have fully controlled raging hypertension and long term diabetes when drugs not only did NOT, but instead caused side effects. Here in Tampa Thai folks and East Indians gather the bitter immature fruits as a treasured medical addition to entrees, and since my teens I've relished the red sweet pulp inside the orange ripe fruits.

I sent this link to a friend with many health issues who had not found the capsules in local health food stores...this is a VERY good price in part due to the large number of capsules per jar.


Mary Jo and I are now sold on 'Fife Creek' okra due to getting many pods that remain tender even up to 9 inches in length on plants just 3 1/2-4 feet tall. We have pods now 11-12 1/2 inches in length that we are letting ripen for seeds for next season as this heirloom breeds true when grown in isolation. After growing 'Clemson Spineless' since my late 20s I am now a 'Fife Creek' man! I am growing mine in varying sizes of Water Wise Container Gardens and have fed them home made fish emulsion, urine and chicken poop tea as they REALLY like moist, nitrogen rich soil. They are a little pale in color so I will experiment with iron supplements and trace element supplements and Epsom salts, each experiment labelled. I just polished off a big batch of pickled raw okra I made two weeks ago....YUM!! It used to be hard to get the seeds but now Baker Creek and others carry it readily. I also like using young tender okra leaves as a cooked green as has been done in Africa for centuries. John

I've been pricing various above ground swimming pools....most are too big, WAY too pricey, and can be short lived. I don't want to "swim" just have a cooling pond to lie in, with the water processed by plants in meshed pockets hanging in a few places on the sides as is being done in Europe vs. pumps, filters and chemicals. I'd looked at stock tanks, galvanized and plastic....this is THE best price and design I've seen...and FREE shipping! It is going into the center bed where the ducks have been living as I am moving them back into the east bed. Next to create a cheap yet attractive source of light shade to use in summer, movable in winter. It will be fun thinking of solar ways to heat the water in winter. The 9 foot diameter and 28 inch depth seems perfect vs. a full blown pricey HUGE above ground swimming pool. John

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The next step in that west bed....

Today I will begin a slow, steady input of stalks from my towering "Bolivian Sunflower" (Tithonia diversifolia), which years ago before I ID'd it I called "Giant Fuckin' Daisy", atop yesterday's layer of Paper Mulberry branches. I will space them far apart at first to insure I not keep the newly planted peanuts from growing. As they gain height and girth I will apply those phosphorus-rich, rapidly decaying stalks more often and more heavily. By years end this formerly crappy looking catch-all storage area with sand baking in oven-like conditions, should be moist and fertile and quite "humusy".

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The south one third of my formerly junky west bed, long an oven each afternoon, is now planted with peanuts, mulched with Paper Mulberry and Cherry Laurel branches, plus some bagged oak leaves. I will now and then add more Paper Mulberry branches, horse stall sweepings and bagged leaves until the area is perpetually damp and fertile, and home to a new Jamaican Cherry and at least one citrus tree. There are currently two young citrus, a papaya, a Pig Chaya, plus I will add a Moringa. A red passion fruit vine is currently consuming that tall west facing chain link fence to give further relief from the afternoon sun. Self sown "Clay" cow pea vines are thriving as a nitrogen-fixing edible ground cover that the peanuts should have little trouble penetrating.

I tried to shoo Mr. Duck into a dog carrying cage with a broom....

He would not cooperate. I snagged him with a long handled swimming pool net to try to force him into the dog cage so I can move him into the east bed so I can begin work on that center garden...he tore through the net like a wet paper towel! Back to the drawing board! Muscovy Duck management can be a challenge!

For years I've fought against and complained about invasive suckers from the big one in the yard east of me popping up all over my yard. But after an experiment I now see these suckers as an on-site source of soil-cooling biomass. A papaya struggled in my oven-like west bed despite a few inches of oak leaves plus getting my daily gallon of shower water. One day I touched the oak leaf mulch...that brown color made it a solar collector and it was HOT to the touch! So I applied maybe 8 inches of overlapping paper mulberry branches, each 3-4 feet long...within a DAY the papaya ceased its usual afternoon wilt, and the soil beneath the branches was cool to the touch even after the mulberry leaves died and fell off. So today, I will plant more peanuts in the south half of that bed now free of pots and clutter and boasting self sown "Clay" cow peas and cover the whole area with branches from a sizable paper mulberry sucker that popped up in the center garden where many of my Muscovy ducks like. Two more closer to the house will let me deeply mulch the north end of that bed once I clear IT of pots and clutter. Waste not want not!! John

The flock of Muscovy ducks has completed weeded the main center garden that last year was bidens hell....after all that pooping that area will be SO fertile. So today I try to shoo them into a dog cage and begin transferring them back into the original east bed with three ponds where the first three ducks began here. Then I planted two raja puri bananas in what was a GIANT apple snail pond that I have turned into a Water Wise Container Garden with selected punctures after I finish filling it with logs, horse manure, leaves and the sand I'll have when I dig a huge yet smaller hole and line that pit with a scavenged pond liner, punctured and filled the same way, to become a home for my guava. Next the entire bed gets covered with a THICK layer of paper mulberry branches, perennial sunflower stalks, horse stall sweepings and bagged oak leaves to cool and rehydrate that naked sand. An urban farmer's work is never done.

Next I will try placing a few in the south bed after the chickens have had a few weeks there to finish up the weeding.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Passion Fruit Passion

For years I had a monster vine on my south fence that I grew from seeds I got from fruit purchased at a Publix store...I have no idea what cultivar that fruit was. But when my vine began producing fruit a couple of years later the flavor of those that ripened naturally and dropped to the ground, then kept in my kitchen at room temperature until they shriveled, was over-the-top decadence! I have a new vine (also from a store bought fruit) thriving on my west fence, it growing in a buried 5 (7?) Water Wise Container Garden as that bed tends to be dry and hot as I convert it to a food forest. I doubt I will get blooms or fruit this year...maybe next year. Passion fruits vary WILDLY in quality and shape and color and size and thus can confound and disappoint the home gardener. I love the HortPurdue sites...this one helped me to get my mind around why I could not get my mind around the cultivars I had encountered, and why some can be so disappointing as regards productivity and flavor.

As the hot sauce simmers, I'll be saving seeds from the unused habanero pods:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chicken Poop is organic gold

For years I've had my hen house set up so that the poop of those that roost on one pole collects on scavenged glass panes set atop a very large bird cage that houses young chicks. About 10 minutes ago I scooped several double hands full from there into a clay drainage tray, then spread what I'd guess is about four pounds of it onto the freshly weeded and turned soil in baby pool-based Water Wise Container Garden along with about four pounds of cheap cat litter made from bentonite clay. Next I will water this all in deeply with rainwater from the barrel, add two inches of rich soil from the free range chicken scratch path, then cover that with one inch of wood chips mulch to suppress Pig Weed (Amaranth species) germination. Next I will sprinkle some brassica seeds (not sure which yet) then 1/2 inch of soil followed by 1/2 inch of wood chips mulch. I am sure the seeds will germinate, but how will the seedlings fare between now and the October cool down?

Eggs Galore

With these long day lengths and my free range flocks' healthy diet of weeds, bugs and restaurant scraps plus seashell grit from Picnic Island Beach I have tons of eggs to sell, eat and save for this winter when they are barely laying. Here is a trick I learned many years ago in Denver:

Crack a bunch of eggs into your blender until it is nearly full, add a teaspoon of sea salt, blend, let sit a few minutes as the salt dissolves, blend again, then pour into recycled cottage cheese and yogurt tubs, label with an ink marker then freeze.

Last winter I used a very large tub of frozen egg plus three shredded cheeses on sale plus onions and garlic to make a HUGE quiche with a whole wheat crust in my biggest Pyrex dish. I cut it into pieces, and froze each individually....I got SO spoiled by eating a glorious cheesy quiche whenever the mood would hit me!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peanuts as a possible weed choking summer groundcover

I'd obsessed for a while on getting the hay type tall growing peanut hybrids being called "tropical alfalfa" but failed.....which I now see as a good thing. I bought at Publix  last week a 1.5 pound bag of live raw peanuts for $2.99 and today began planting them in the west bed that at LAST has damp soil. As I clear out pots and other detritus I will continue planting them throughout that bed. Since true peanuts are tall-growing, add nitrogen to the soil, and MIGHT be able to choke out weeds if planted closely enough, have leaves edible to my chickens and ducks,  plus offer the bonus of home grown peanuts, I am excited about this experiment.  I grew them in a small area in the kitchen garden some years ago so a friend's children could experience them.....they became a perennial presence in that area due to peanut pods being missed each harvest. My intent is to let the chickens in that bed this fall to pig out on the peanut plants plus any surviving weeds, knowing that the underground pods I don't harvest will be dormant underground until next spring, when they will germinate. If all goes well I will have a very large perennial peanut patch that will shade and improve my soil, feed me and my poultry, and bring dramatic color to a formerly drab bed when they bloom each year. I THINK the popular new yellow flowered "peanut grass" being sold and grown as a lawn alternative was bred from the edible peanut...I'm not sure but will look into that.

"Potato Onions"

I now know that they are an enlarged, perennial, multiplying form of shallot. Two days ago at south Tampa's DoBond market, a charming Vietnamese store, I spent $2.49 on a good sized bag of shallots that struck me as bigger than usual. Despite the muggy summer heat, I will plant some now in a Water Wise Container Garden, and hope that the rest keep until the October cool down. To plant a bulbing alllium in midsummer is a long shot, but over the years I've learned a lot from "risky" experiments in the garden.

This is a forecast I can live with!

Satellite pics show a big system headed here from Cuba!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Long shot but.....I've wanted an above ground pool for almost ten years, want to finally get one sans the pump and filter and instead devise side-hanging pouches of aquatic plants to cleanse the water. I'd love to trade classes/plants/a landscape consultation/chickens/ducks/artwork for a new one still in the box, preferably the rigid walled type. I have room for an 8-10 foot diameter one.

Trial and "Error" Can Be A Great Teacher....I have a vast quantity of arugula seeds from last season, so today I will experiment with an early sowing in a 20 gallon Restricted Drainage Container Garden made from a scavenged commercial tree pot just to see what happens. But I will plant an eggplant in the center as originally planned. For me, "risky" experimentation in the garden has been one of my best teachers since the mid 1970s in Seminole Heights where I rented two places.

My new morning ritual....

As my black Cuban coffee brews in the expresso machine (with three balsam apple leaves atop the grounds) and Cracker romps in my neighbor Theresa's yard behind me, I feast on ripening "Gray Street Grapes" while picking up ripe Jamaican Cherries off the mulch and relishing them too. Once back inside.....three cups of nice black bitter coffee while checking e-mail, FaceBook and weather forecasts. What a good simple life I lead!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bird Deterrent

I was literally getting NO fruits from my big Jamaican Cherry (Muntingia calabura) tree as the birds would eat every one showing even the earliest sign of color change from green. But hanging two strips of shiny mylar emergency blanket, and two sections of Christmas garland, has put a COMPLETE stop to the problem. The best tasting ones are on the ground and the blue jays and cardinals and mockingbirds are even leaving those alone!!

Edible Legumes As Weed Choking Ground Cover

Several weeks ago I sprinkled most of a bag of Red Chori beans from India (some botanists feel it is the same as Red Adzuki beans) over much of my newly revamped southeast bed, covered them with a couple inches of oak leaves, then deep watered. Germination was RAPID and tropical storm Debby dumped NINE inches on my yard which really kicked them into high gear. Not really a bean (Phaseolus) but a Vigna species it THRIVES in summer in Tampa. The flowers are a lovely lavender at sunrise but by afternoon are a muted yellow. By working with Rhizobia bacteria, the roots convert atmospheric nitrogen gas into natural nitrate fertilizer, thus improving your soil while choking out weeds. The pods, if picked when young and green and tender, are wonderful raw or added to stir fry and omelets and soups. Those allowed to ripen and turn tan provide seeds that can be cooked like any dried bean or saved to plant the following spring. I am very likely going to open the gate this fall and let the chickens in to feast on the dying vines and ripe seeds and the few surviving weeds, with their pooping further boosting fertility.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fruit galore!

I have thousands of fruits ripening on "Gray Street Grape" and am daily eating many dozens of Jamaican Cherries (Muntingia calabura) as the Cactus Apples (Cereus peruvianus) continue to ripen daily. A garden of  Eden indeed, but with no scary threatening patriarchal "god" to be found!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fresh Home Grown Fruit

As my Cuban coffee was prepping in the mini-expresso machine this morning, I feasted on Jamaican Cherries. Moments ago I peeled and relished a perfectly ripe Cactus apple. The Persian Lime and Meyer's Lemon are laden with ripening fruits, with all three grape vines bearing vast numbers. Life is good on the Starnes farm!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cereus peruvianus

Not only does this cactus make lovely flowers at night, they sometimes form a delicious fruit. This one plant in my back yard is setting a fair crop. The one that Jim and his son and I ate Wednesday was okay but another week on the plant it would have been sweeter and more flavorful.

Down on the farm today...

What a joy to wake up to 2 inches in the rain gauges and overflowing rain barrels and damp soil! I celebrated with a lovely brunch of store bought potatoes browned and steamed in coconut and palm oil with garlic and Thai hot peppers and panang curry paste. Next in went leaves of katuk, moringa, and two kinds of chaya....I forgot the Water Spinach and perennial scallion leaves. Lastly, in went three eggs for added protein, cooked slowly and covered. Delicious! Some sweet smart guy with nice pecs should marry me for my cooking and insatiable sex drive.

Mary Jo reminded me how much I love pickled okra, so today I will the daily harvest of 'Fife Creek' okra to make a jar of sweet/spicy refrigerator okra pickles.

Life is good here!

No more 'Clemson Spineless' okra for me!

I've grown that classic since the early 80s, but 'Fife Creek' okra is simply incredible! I've been guessing that pods 7-8 inches long were still tender, but so was this  ELEVEN inch long one I ate a short time ago! It is an heirloom 'Cow Horn' okra.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Thwarting robber birds with garbage

Two shiny mylar emergency blankets (given me by a friend who kept them out of a dumpster) and two lengths of gold Christmas garland given me by a friend to adorn my tacky living room with, tied to the branches, seem to be keeping the birds away entirely from my Jamaican Cherry tree.....I've gone in just a few days from getting NO ripe berries to feasting on a dozen or more each day, with HUNDREDS of green fruit adorning the branches. Before I did this, they were taking unripe ones showing even the FAINTEST trace of trying to ripen. That watermelon/pink cotton candy taste is amazing!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Home Made Washing Machine

I've been doing something like this a few months since my ancient washer sprung a leak except I have the lid off and use a dumpster dived aluminum baseball bat as the plunger. Works great!

"Okeechobee Multiplying Onion"

On a previous trip of mine to Okeechobee my gardening cousin Mike said a friend of his there has a perennial onion that makes baby plants atop a tall stalk instead of flowers, that he'd try to get me start. From that description I imagined perhaps a form of Egyptian Multiplying Onion for Florida like the strain that Allen Boatman turned us onto. So I am totally psyched to see that instead it is a true BULBING onion that multiplies underground AND that makes a vegetative reproductive top!!!!!

I immediately wondered if it is one of the forms of "Potato Onion" I learned of some months ago and have been obsessing on getting that is considered a type of shallot. But shallots are yellowish...this one is white! I am planting it Wednesday in a fairly large pot in my newly revamped southeast bed in back. IF it multiplies for me here in south Tampa (Okeechobee is MUCH colder in winter, routinely dropping into the teens), I will start a second colony in a nearby much larger Restricted Drainage Container Garden made from a scavenged commercial tree pot.

IF it succeeds here that will give me four perennial alliums so I can no longer need to buy the onions I simply can't cook without:

Allium canadense (Mary Jo Clark)
Allium fistulosum (perennial multiplying scallion)
"Okeechobee Multiplying Onion"
"Egyptian Multiplying Onion"  (Allen Boatman)