Monday, April 28, 2014

My "Indian Shallots" I got from that Indian man in the Tampa Rare Fruit Council have multiplied wonderfully in a small Water Wise Container Garden I made from a scavenged window box planter, with just one division becoming big clumps! Great flavor. Iv'e been told that I should lift and store them when the tops die back else they'll rot underground this summer. A nice addition to my years old edible Alliums for Florida obsession! I am almost sure it is a white Potato Onion, which is a form of shallot. Good oniony flavor above and below ground.

There are many cultivars of these species loosely referred to as "bunching onions", with the majority being short lived here but being truly perennial multipliers in colder climates. It has taken me about a year to decide that "Eliska's Bunching Onion" that she grows in St. Pete and got originally as loose bulbs in a bin at Ace Hardware, IS different from my strain that came from seeds here (I'll never know WHICH as I was trialing a few varieties that year and an intense rain storm splashed dirt and seeds from adjoining trays into each other). Eliska's is far more petite than mine, has VERY mild flavor, and the bloom is maybe the size of a small peach. My strain is very robust, can be taller/thicker than a leek, has very strong flavor (which I prefer) and the bloom can easily be the size of a grapefruit...its seeds are very viable. Eliska is going test germinate seeds from hers to see if viable as she never gets volunteer seedling, though I don't either. Both are truly perennial (those I've sold and shared years ago still thrive for folks and set oodles of seeds) and both divide and multiply at the base. She and I are both making conscious efforts to get both out there into people's gardens since perennial onions are very uncommon here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One reason I leave my giant back yard male papaya grow year after year is that each day it litters the ground with a large number of fallen blossoms that the chickens feast on first thing each morning when I let them out of the hen house.

So many folks I know are exclaiming about heavy fruit set on mulberries, Surinam Cherries (mine is LOADED!!!), bananas, Star Fruit, citrus and more. My Raja Puri banana out front has produced 3 MORE fruit stalks ripening now! The "Gray Street Grape" now limited to just the hen house so I can grow crops in the former giant duck pen is growing explosively and bearing a vast number of blooms. My now huge Jamaican Cherry has thousands of blooms and is bearing already thanks to a very mild winter. I'm guessing a wet summer followed by a wet winter is why folks are enjoying such bounty.

For years I've hated/fought the male paper mulberries that invade my yard from the lot east of me, but I'm learning to see them as an on-site source of biomass. Here is the base of what will be a very thick chop and drop mulch layer in the center food forest. Next layer will be greatly overgrown Estrella chaya and Tithonia diversifolia. My hope is that the final THICK layer will put a stop to a fine bladed annual (thankfully!) grass that appeared mid summer last year yet still let the sweet potato vines up through it all. Plus this should do wonders to keep the soil moist and cool as the leaves drop off and decay, with the stalks and branches being sources of lignin. I've been considering trying this experiment since late last summer, nice to see it beginning! This area contains a giant bog garden that was once a lined fish pond that I turned into a huge Water Wise Container Garden by punching the sides about 2 feet from the bottom, a smaller lined bog garden that is home to my guava, Okinawa Purple Sweet Potato, Mojito Mint plus a buried jacuzzi that will be filled and use plants to process the water as a place to sit in and cool off beneath a decorative tarp, a Moringa and Neem and Everbearing Mulberry and Scarlet Mombin tree, Vietnamese pomegranate, a chayote vine going up a tower and with Jack Beans on the east side fence, a fish pond, plus my huge edible thornless Opuntia cactus.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I've failed a few times trying to grow the chenopod Magenta Spreen, which thrives for Craig Hepworth each summer in central Florida, getting 8-10 feet tall. I got seeds at the ROOTS festival this spring so just scattered some into the Water Wise Container Garden that I grew Hong Vit edible leaf radish in this winter.....fingers crossed!

In Denver, Plantago major (White Man's Footprint) is a hated lawn weed and a cherished forage plant both as food and medicine, but I rarely see it here though the lance leaf one is common in parks. Raw it is very bitter but I chop some into salads, stir fry or, like yesterday, spaghetti sauce just fine. The giant leafed form of Plantago major that my non-English speaking Korean neighbor gave me a few seeds of 2 years ago and that self sowed into a small Water Wise Container Garden somehow and that THRIVED this winter, is now setting a very nice crop of seeds. I'd love to know if the hugeness of the leaves is due to the variety, or rich conditions in that container garden as they utterly dwarf any I've seen anywhere. I noticed it is a staple of Chinese medicine. I've already gathered MANY seeds and will have thousands more within 2 weeks. It will be fun this fall and winter to see just how many self sowed in that garden area beneath my avocado tree!

I love this nitrogen-fixing summer crop and Mary Shalhub-Davis just mailed a bunch of seeds to Josh Jamison to grow at H.E.A.R.T. this summer. I love the whole pods boiled when young and tender, older pods filled with plump tender seeds grilled with olive oil, garlic and salt and eaten like giant edamames, plus use the dried beans as I would soybeans. It took a while but I found this video that one of my blog readers in SE Asia sent me a few years ago showing how this nitrogen fixer feeds people while healing and nourishing the soil. LOVES our muggy summers and can be perennial if winters are mild. The flowers have a wonderful perfume, especially in the morning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My "masculinized hen"/possibly rooster is now trying to crow about a dozen times each where near loud enough to bother the neighbors.....yet. It continues to get bigger, the tail longer and more elaborate, yet no spurs plus the comb and wattle look hen-like. No sign it ever lays eggs. So if no eggs and it can't father chicks, the roasting pan is increasingly the best option.

Thanks to antibiotics from my neighbor Theresa that hand-sized skin infection on the side of Cracker's belly is MUCH better as is his energy and appetite (thankfully he wolfs down the stew containing the Doxycycline). Over the years I've seen plenty of "hot spots" but this was very different....almost scary as it seemed systemic. South Tampa's beaches have been closed for days now due to bacteria and years ago I was told by local fisherman that the reason we see mullets in south Tampa's lakes is because they are connected to the bay. Twice before this outbreak Cracker had plunged repeatedly into the lake at the dog park at the south end of Himes...before that his skin was PERFECT, with actual hot spots from oak pollen cured by one bath and one neem tree leaf tea dip, so I feel almost certain that this very painful upsetting issue was caused by bacteria in that stories said the ones at nearby Picnic Island and Davis Island beaches are called "enterococci" (sp?). From now on I will do my best to monitor bacteria levels at Picnic Island as years ago, Sweety got a terrible skin infection and I got a bad UTI by swimming and wading there a few hours the day BEFORE they closed the beach. Cracker is usually such a happy care free dog, so this has been very hard on him and heart breaking for me to witness. That hand-sized area yesterday finally healed enough for me to apply Neosporin, but he still yelped. Be careful folks! If I walk him at that park again I will keep him out of that lake!!! I hope the people I see fishing at both spots cook those fish THOROUGHLY!

I've long heard of the South American crop Yacon, so thanks to Charlei Scott who gave me a baby at ROOTS in St. Pete I now have one! I took the advice given me by a few folks and planted the tiny little baby in a peat pot in the center of a 1/3 barrel Water Wise Container Garden beneath my avocado tree where it is growing like crazy. I'm hopeful it does better for me than do the related Sunchokes (also contain inulin vs. conventional carbs) that grew RAMPANTLY in my Denver yard. Since the Arrow Root rhizome that Josh Jamison gave me about a year ago thrived in an identical barrel garden right next to it, gave me a good harvest to eat and share and is now regrowing from an unharvested rhizome, I hope this Yacon does just as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hi Bob I am so very pleased that you were willing to invite Tanja and Jared Vidovic and their supporters to do trial plantings of fruit trees in those three Tampa parks. Coverage of the project in the paper and on-line was glowing! For the eight years that I had a gardening column in The St. Pete Times I could have never imagined that a bay area city would allow and even encourage something so progressive that over the years, as the effort continues and expands, can do much to improve the quality of life for its citizens, especially children. Part of my own childhood in both Michigan and then my native Florida was the joy of picking apples and hazelnuts and pecans and guavas and Surinam Cherries plus citrus from trees growing Tampa children can experience that too. The local gardening community applauds Tanja and Jared for their vision and initiative and tenacity, and we are all grateful that you and the city of Tampa appreciate and support their work. Plus their own very tidy and productive yarden next to Rowlett Park is a lovely asset to their neighborhood and provides food and plants and seeds to quite a few folks. Please accept my sincere thank you for being an open minded and progressive mayor! John Starnes 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881

I didn't want to get cocky because my back is so much better and re-damage it so my yard helper Paul and I worked together to get all the containers of horse poop, 4 bags of leaves and 3 bags of Publix cat litter from the front yard all the way to the back south bed bed. As I applied varying layers he dug out eight 5 gallon buckets of soil from a long dormant giant Restricted Drainage Container Garden (shaded out by the now giant Jamaican Cherry tree) to add body to all the organic matter. Next I set the sprinkler in there for a DEEP soak to settle it all in and hydrate all the varying components. If it pours tomorrow so much the better! Then next week I paint the exterior with semi-gloss white exterior to make it last for years in the harsh sunlight. This summer I'll grow okra and Currant Tomatoes in it. Nice to see it done after two years of him-hawing as to where and how to use it!

As we applied the varying layers I sprinkled in trace elements, dolomite, food grade potassium chloride, phosphate, chicken poop. After the deep soaking I'll plant seeds of okra (not sure if my usual fave "Fife Creek" or the Abelmoschus calleili that Jim Mannino gave me) and in the center, one of my two strains of Currant Tomato (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium). 70-80% rain chance tomorrow!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

To some extent I unknowingly used hugel kultur the whole 19 years I was an organic landscaper: my conscious goal was to get lignin formers beneath the root zones of roses and other perennials I planted in clients' landscapes here and in Colorado. But once I learned of hugel kultur itself a few years ago I consciously applied it when filling up my various Water Wise Container Gardens. I also add maybe 5-10% by volume cheap Publix white clay cat litter as it does wonders to help the soil hold moisture. The logs and branches come from my yard but mostly donations from neighbors who don't want to drive all the way to the brush dump on Adamo Drive. The giant kiddie pool I scavenged roadside 2 years ago now has a number of drainage holes drilled on the sides about three inches from the bottom, and is in my south bed that I am very heavily revamping for several uses now that the Muscovy ducks are gone. I'll fill the lower half with wood waste gotten by tidying up the back yard, then atop will go dry weeds, oak leaves plus dried chicken poop from the hen house, Publix cat litter, compost from a few barrels, some soil from the free range chicken path, then a few inches of aged oak mulch. This summer I will grow "Fife Creek" okra in it, and next fall I'll plant leeks in it.s. Due to my gardening almost entirely in Water Wise Container Gardens, saving kitchen gray water, my solar heated 1 gallon rain water out door showers, peeing outdoors, rare DEEP waterings of areas and other techniques, I generate very low water use bills despite growing a lot of food plus bill last month was $4.18! Nice to see so many people gardening, and so many of them trying to be conscious of their effect on the environment!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ecofest 2014 Celebrates Earth Day Tampa Bay

Cracker and I are likely attending, my first one. John

  • at 10:00am - 3:00pm
    3 days from now
  • Lowry Park bandshell area – 7525 N. Boulevard, Tampa, Florida 33604
EcoFest 2014 is a community event organized by Learning Gate Community School, the City of Tampa and the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability to celebrate the many businesses, organizations, and individuals in the Tampa Bay area dedicated to the principles of sustainability – Ecology, Equity and Economy.

Our 5th Annual EcoFest will be held on Saturday, April 12th at the Lowry Park bandshell area – 7525 N. Boulevard, Tampa, Florida 33604. The event will be open to the public from 10:00 A.M. until 3:00 P.M. Admission to the event is free.

There will be live music, workshops, demonstrations, informational booths, green living products and services. Some local artists, green businesses, environmental organizations, alternative health practitioners, renewable energy specialists, organic farms and gardens with produce will be in attendance. All vendors must supply their own tables, chairs and tents. In addition, we encourage you to become an EcoFest 2014 sponsor to highlight your green brand within the community. Vendors and sponsors can apply now!

For additional information on EcoFest 2014, please email or call (813) 948-4190.

Apply online at:

During a break in the rain yesterday I made several divisions of that wonderful, "perennial in Tampa" mystery mint that appeared here years ago as a seedling that I thought that I'd lost. Most are in one gallon pots, I made a BIG tree pot colony to insure I never lose it again, plus a three gallon. There should be enough runners to make 5-6 more one gallon ones from that surviving one gallon pot due to the runners being so dense. All are in that same baby pool with the usual few inches of water. They should be share-able in 6 weeks or so. Debbie King found growing wild in Lowry Park a wild pungent mint that due to the pic she posted on FaceBook I suspect might be a native Pennyroyal...she got a chunk for me!

Debbie's wild mint:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I tried to grow Kenaf 'Everglades 41' last spring but lost the seedlings to drought and errant chickens so with the chill behind us I'll look for my seeds and try again. All the kenafs have yellow okra like flowers, but the leaves can range from looking like cannabis to looking like sycamore leaves...the latter are better for eating for people. This could be a good forage crop for chickens, goats and cattle plus a great source of biomass for deep mulching. The plant that for the last several years has been sold and shared as kenaf that has magenta-burgundy blooms came originally from my yard was unfortunately and mistakenly renamed by that herbalist as kenaf when in fact it is Hibiscus radiatus. It is my hope that permaculturists and gardeners will seek out and test seeds of the various real kenafs out there. Here is a very thorough overview:

My attempt to make one using a plastic bucket failed to attract any...maybe I should set it up and try again. This giant one could sure feed a lot of chickens!

Some years back I tried to grow this chenopod, both in summer and winter and failed. But Craig Hepworth gets 8 foot tall plants with giant leaves, plus they freely self sow...I clearly did something wrong! I'm ordering seeds and will try again as the huge leaves dwarf those of the lambsquarter that reseed in one of my baby pool gardens.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Each spring my back east bed that is home to a few citrus, a Cereus peruvianus, a moringa and possibly soon the Elderberry that Paul Zmoda gave me for my 60th birthday last August, true yams, plus several container gardens, SUDDENLY gets VERY over run with bidens, pellitory and other weeds. So I try to protect the containers' crops with various scavenged things then open up the north end so the chickens will enter. They are so used to it being closed off that today I had to throw a few handfuls of dry dog food nuggets just inside to lure them in. Last year they cleaned it out completely in three weeks. This year, after the bed is closed off again, I'll be planting quite a few of Jon and Debbie Butts' hyper-aggressive sweet potato in hopes of choking out summer weed growth while adding to my food supply. Important I remove the covers that don't transmit light once they are in the hen house at dusk and leave them off until 11 AM when I let the chickens back to insure the crops get some sunshine.

I am having more and more conversations with permaculturists seeking to produce their own chicken and duck food, both to reduce costs but also to avoid GMOs. For years I've been okay with scavenging restaurants scraps, still am, but my two best ones either closed or stopped throwing out scraps. Yesterday I re-did a "roach and pill bugs farm" and today will start another. My past efforts to raise Black Soldier Fly larvae failed though I know a few folks who've succeeded. I've increased the number of water filled containers here that I raise duckweed and hot water cabomba in as the chickens love both. They also love the Florida Pellitory that grows far too plentifully here and that I pull up so much of. My back east bed is rapidly getting weedy once more, so I will again try to protect the crops thriving in large container gardens in there then open up the bed so my flock can once again stuff themselves on fresh green weeds plus scratch in the mulch for bugs....last year they made it 99% weed free in three weeks. This summer I'll try growing sorghum plus greatly increased sowings of gandule beans to see how that goes. For years I've brought home 5 gallon buckets of seashell grit from Picnic Island Beach for their gizzards and calcium needs. I'd love to hear of other folks' efforts in this regard.

Thanks to long time key member of the Tampa Rare Fruit Council Andrew Hendrickson I now have four seedlings up of this luscious fruit in the pot he gave me at a meeting. He's given me a few small baggies of the fruit....wonderful tart sweet flavor. I'll put three in 1 gallon pots and the fourth in a 5-7 gallon Water Wise Container Garden and likely bury it in the rapidly evolving south bed that I let get ruined by Muscovy ducks and Cassia alata seedlings in two failed experiments. This plus Strawberry Guava and Everbearing Mulberry plus the usual guava are fruit trees I want duplicates of due to my so enjoying them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What an ingenious and visually beautiful to get potable water from the air!

First stage of the Roach Farm renewal is done.....bottom layer is a mix of Cassia alata branches then those of an Opuntia cactus WITH glochids I am slowly destroying, splash on a few gallons of aged, nasty smelling kitchen gray water, then a thick layer of sweet potato vines, then oak leaves then the jacuzzi cover held in place with blocks. In 3-4 weeks I should be able to remove the cover and see in the greatly compressed layer tons of roaches the chickens will feast on. Within a week they will have scratched it all into organic matter I will add to the bottoms of new Water Wise Container Gardens for summer crops. Waste not want not and finally a use for the covers that came with the free jacuzzi that were in the way for so long. This is the second time I've done this....first time worked VERY well. Cool to see roach protein become egg protein....waste not want not!

I realized that due to my 15 years in Denver and this chenopod I am growing here that thrives both at EcoFarm and All World Acres, that I was confused about lambsquarter vs. goosefoot....looks like two nicknames for the same species.

Okay chicken there such a thing as a rooster that does not crow? I've got this GIANT chicken that came from one of Pam Lunn's eggs that has LONG struck me as rooster like due to the long luxurious tail feathers. Its comb and wattle are NOT huge like I've always seen on roosters. But moments ago as I dragged a huge new Water Wise Container to the south bed I saw him/her mount and mate with a chicken BIG time! Silent rooster? Lesbian chicken? Maybe I should put a few eggs in the incubator and see if they are fertile...any thoughts chicken people?

The tail feathers are now MUCH longer than in these older pics, plus the bird has gotten MUCH larger.

Saturday, April 26at 8:00am - 3:00pm Show Map Heart Missionary Training 13895 Hwy 27, Lake Wales, Florida 33859 We've got a line up of incredible speakers who will help you gain insight into various topics surrounding homestead gardening. Wondering what to do with the kids? They're invited too! Children ages 2-12 will enjoy age appropriate, hands-on activities to keep them engaged and excited about the earth. Your ticket price includes admission to 3 different seminars, a delicious lunch and a keynote address by Danny Blank. Tickets available at Seminars Include: Probiotic Gardening by John Starnes Thermophilic Composting by Brad Ward Gathering Fertility With a Scythe by Jim Kovaleski Intro to Fermentation by Andy Hillmer Using Sheet Mulch by Paul Saucier Meet Your Keynote Speaker: Danny Blank worked at Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) from 1994 through 2009, primarily as its farm manager. During his ECHO tenure, Danny traveled to Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and SE Asia meeting with missionaries, development workers, NGOs and farmers and participated in international conferences on topics related to smallholder farm development in the tropics. Danny received a joint MSc. degree in ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Integrated Watershed Management’ from Hohenheim University (Germany) and Chiang Mai University (Thailand). In 2013, he joined the h.e.a.r.t. team as the agriculture instructor. Danny currently resides with his wife and two children in Ft. Myers, FL and is a fruit grower.

Here is the description of the talk I'll be giving April 26th at the Garden Celebration at H.E.A.R.T.

"Since 1987 John Starnes has relied on beneficial organisms to balance the yard ecologies of his landscape clients and his own. He will cover the basic concepts of Probiotic Gardening and how to acquire and make your own garden probiotics very frugally. There will be a handout but please do bring a note pad and pen. If there is time a Q & A session will follow the talk."

Those Lambsquarters/Goosefoot chenopods from EcoFarm are budding up like crazy, so I should soon be harvesting a lot of seeds. Plus some are sure to self sown in that baby pool garden.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My chickens are laying like CRAZY after a long winter hiatus and even though I score little restaurant scraps these days....they just forage in their main path, and now and then I let them into side gardens to eat the weeds for me. A few times a week I toss them some dry dog food nuggets, plus I feed them weeds I pull up....right now that is mostly Florida Pellitory. I'll freeze some for next winter, then make my first batch of pickled eggs in a few years. I looked at recipes and saw that they are fairly low salt and fairly sweet vs. the briny/vinegary ones I've made in the past.

Years ago when I first met Allen Boatman we devised this "study name" for a perennial pepper I'd gotten years prior from my Filipino neighbor Joe. The split second Allen saw my monster 6' X 6' plant he went nuts and said it was a form of Capsicum frutescens. It lived for 7-8 years with just a hard cut back and feeding each spring and bore many thousands of peppers on par with Thai peppers as regards heat and flavor. Then I lost it to a hard freeze but two years later found some old pods and started a new one that is in an 18 gallon Water Wise Container Garden in my south bed. It made some pods and I now have some seedlings popping up! I want to have half a dozen growing here so I can go back to making various hot sauces in bulk plus share seeds with gardeners who want an endless supply of hot peppers.

Two years ago a non-English speaking Korean neighbor gave me some seeds of what I felt sure was Plantago major. I grew some last year in a container garden....growth was so-so. SOMEHOW seeds from there got into a much damper Water Wise Container Garden about 15 feet away and THIS winter growth was lush. I have a very bitter palate yet am challenged by its bitter taste eaten alone but can enjoy it chopped into a salad or Thai stir fry as it is very medicinal as a tonic plant. Looks like I am in for a big harvest of seeds. In Colorado this is a very common "weed" but I rarely see it except in rural areas east of Tampa. Friends over in St. Pete see it there now and then.