Reforesting Land With ORANGE PEELS?

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Compost everything, orange peel edition:

“Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot—and failed.

‘It’s a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it,’ Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was ‘like night and day.’

‘It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems,’ he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal Restoration Ecology, highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area’s turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.”

I’ve seen massive changes in an area after dropping lots of tree mulch. Struggling trees suddenly found their stride. Wildflowers and mushrooms appeared. Sweet potatoes exploded in productivity.

Read More: “Extreme Composting—How to Compost Everything”

Feed the soil, and the soil takes care of your plants. That’s why I argue in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting that making lists of rules of things you “shouldn’t compost” and chucking good stuff like bones, wood, etc., is foolish.

Compost Everything

Nature breaks down organic material wonderfully. She’s a well-designed machine. Work with instead of against her and good things will come your way.

If something as simple as orange peels can restore lousy land, imagine what would happen if you added in a wide range of compostable material?

Big changes occur, even when you start small. Compost everything!

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Cooked Food in the Compost Is Bad?

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D wasn’t happy with the free composting guide I give away to newsletter subscribers:

“You say in your compost guide to use cooked food!!! Isn’t that just asking for rats and maggots to come and invade, giving them a invitation?”

You can’t win them all.

Yet why would you not use cooked food in your compost? Do you think rats are particularly attracted to cooked vs. non-cooked food? No, rats love just about anything you throw their way, as do maggots.

Soldier fly larvae are maggots, and they are great composters!

And rats? Come on. Bury things deeply, as I do in my “melon pits:”

Other gardeners are picking up the melon pit idea as well:

Melon pits are an easy way to add cooked food to your compost if you’re really afraid of rats and other vermin.

Or you can just compost in a closed bin.

I mean, really … why throw potential soil fertility away? Compost everything!

Nature was designed to break down organic material, and she’s really good at it. Cooked food isn’t a problem; meat isn’t a problem; paper isn’t a problem! You can keep problems at bay by burying the really nasty stuff or by building bins that are animal-proof (provided you don’t have bears or Bigfoot in your neighborhood).

Quit worrying and compost on.

 

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Planting Corn in Stations

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Before I moved to Central America a couple of years ago, I always planted corn in rows, one plant every 6-12 inches, 1.5-3 feet apart.

Like this:

Planting Corn in Stands

Then a farmer taught me the local method of planting corn in stations, and I’ve found it really saves prep time.

Read More: “Hand Pollinating Corn for Seed Saving”

Instead of tilling an area, you just take a string trimmer (or scythe or whatever may be your weed-clearing weapon of choice) and scalp the ground right down to the dirt.

Then knock loose holes in the ground about 2.5 feet apart, plant 4 kernels in each hole, and feed with manure or whatever high-nitrogen material you have.

In a few weeks, the corn will grow taller, but the weeds you knocked down will also return. Come back with your string trimmer and knock all the space between the corn back to bare earth.

In a few more weeks, the corn will be tall enough to take care of itself and shade out the weeds. Eventually, you harvest the ears, then turn the ground over to grow something else.

It’s really an easy system. You can see a patch I planted this way in this video.

This method of planting corn can also be used in a pigeon pea/corn intercrop system like I wrote about here.

As I remark in the video, I’d really love to try this in a typical lawn. Imagine doing this in the midst of an expanse of St. Augustine or bahia! What great fun.

Here’s a large patch of corn growing this way:

Planting Corn in Stations on Hillside

See how it was done? It’s the same method of hacking holes into the soil and planting kernels. 3-4 seeds are planted in each hole and the corn grows nicely that way in a small clump. Between clumps is about 2.5 feet in all directions.

This method seems to work very well on slopes, as the roots of the weeds and grass hold the soil together, whereas tilling it all and row planting corn could lead to serious erosion issues.

The harvests are decent as well — I haven’t noticed a drop off in productivity at all. The wider spacing also means you can often grow corn without any irrigation, depending on your climate.

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Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case For And Against

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Are tire gardens toxic?

In a newsletter last year, I shared some thoughts on tire gardens, along with this video:

In response, one of my readers wrote:

“Hello David,
Tires do leach toxic, carcinogenic chemicals into the soil and plants grown in them. No time to research this? Then do not show pictures of plants grown in tires. That is irresponsible and bad karma as you pass on injury to others. Look into it. Fact: tire gardening and straw bale gardening are bad if you do not want toxin-suffused vegetables.”

And Sheila writes:

“One year, my father and I planted potatoes in tires. Just put on another tire and add dirt. We had lots of potatoes with seven high. PVC pipe with holes in it to water the plants. Problem was that they tasted like tires. Since then, I am not a fan of tires for living or gardening.”

Vegetables tasting like tires? And bad karma! Oh me oh my, I just want to give up.

Actually, I don’t care about tire gardens, though I do like the idea of recycling a waste product into a gardening bed.

But growing vegetables in tires isn’t a method I have any personal stake in. I’m happy to drop the method if it’s got its downsides, like straw bale gardening seems to have.

So—are tire gardens toxic? Let’s do a little digging.

Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case For Tires

Tires are, of course, cheap and widely available even in the third world. ECHO uses them in their urban garden demonstration area. You can set up tire gardens on driveways, on roof tops, in rocky lots, and in tight spaces.

They’re convenient, too. But are they toxic?

When Patrice at Rural Revolution blogged about their tractor tire gardens, she got a similar response to that which I got … but even harsher.

Someone wrote:

You could have created a floral landscape, a Dutch Masterpiece, an English Rose Garden, a French Formal Garden, and you chose Fords-Ville, Michelin Man, and polluted Mother Earth. Scrap timber is everywhere, so are bricks, tiles, even rockery stones, but tires no. Are you sure the food grown will be free of carbon rubber tire oil moisture? A carcinogen?

You can read Patrice’s response and entire defense of tire gardening here, but most of it boils down to what she wrote here:

“Tires have a lot of nasty things bonded into them, things that arguably ARE carcinogenic. But it’s the term BONDED that must be considered. Intact tires are distressingly inert (that’s why they’re everywhere rather than quietly decomposing into Mother Earth).”

She then quotes extensively from research done by Mr. Farber of www.tirecrafting.com (which now redirects to an Etsy site so the original essay appears to be missing):

Used tires already exist, and in their solid state, they are as safe or safer than any other construction material. The process and the result of this global discard nightmare being recycled by industry, whether grinding them up for road base, burning them as fuel, or recouping the oil, releases more hydrocarbons while costing the global economy billions of dollars for tire cleanup and commercial recycling. Modifying tires to create green space and home gardening available to everyone would not only absorb hydrocarbons, it could well be the key to salvation for practically every family on the planet that is otherwise excluded from adequate sustenance. Personal tire recycling potential benefits far outweigh all perceived hazards.

Still, I am not convinced. After all, if vegetables are tasting like tires, well, that doesn’t inspire confidence. Yet I do love what Patrice has done at Rural Revolution. In her case, it made sense.

Are Tire Gardens Toxic? The Case Against Tires

According to Brighton Permaculture Trust:

“Due to commercial secrecy, it’s difficult to find out the exact ingredients of a tire, and there are lots of different types. The list below is from a ‘typical tire’:

  • Natural rubber
  • Synthetic rubber compounds, including Butadiene—known carcinogen
  • Solvents: Benzene—known carcinogen, Styrene—anticipated to be carcinogenic, Toluene—has negative health effects, Xylene—irritant, & Petroleum naphtha
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Phenols—some are endocrine-disruptive, Benzo(a)pyrene—linked to cancer
  • Heavy metals: Zinc, chromium, nickel, lead, copper & cadmium
  • Carbon black—possibly carcinogenic
  • Vulcanising agents: Sulphur & zinc oxide
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls—known carcinogen
  • Other synthetic chemicals”

Again, though, these terrible things might have off-gassed during the tire’s usable life or been stabilized and made inert during manufacturing.

Yet as Mischa argues in that article:

“When it comes to growing food in tires, why take the risk?

Whilst the quantity of toxic chemicals may be small, we don’t know the exact amount used in tyres because of commercial secrecy.

People generally grow food organically for themselves to avoid exposure to synthetic chemicals. It seems ironic that a ‘Permaculture way’ of reusing tires could be unintentionally reintroducing potentially harmful chemicals back into the equation.”

And over at Science Daily, it gets scarier:

“Draper’s method has been to make up clean samples of water like those inhabited by several kinds of aquatic organisms—algae, duckweed, daphnia (water fleas), fathead minnows, and snails—and under controlled laboratory conditions, put finely ground tire particles into the samples. By letting the particles remain in the water for 10 days and then filtering them out, she created a “leachate” that included substances in the tire rubber. All the organisms exposed to the leachate died, and the algae died fairly quickly.”

This is not complete tires, of course, but tires will break down slowly over time in the garden—and if it kills ground life, well, that’s obviously a bad thing.

The science isn’t settled, but it is unsettling.

Conclusion

After multiple hours of research, I am now leaning against tire gardening. On my new property, I have not built any tire gardens and I don’t plan to add any.

If you’re in an urban setting, have terrible soil or no soil, and no options, etc., there might be a place for tire gardens. I built mine for fun in a few minutes and have enjoyed them, but I now have no desire to expand and add more. Yet digging beds is free—so why use tires at all?

Especially if it’s going to ruin the karma I don’t even believe in.

If you want simple, tried-and-true and even off-grid methods for growing lots of food without much money in tough times, stick around The Grow Network and keep learning!

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Featured Photo Credit: Mark Buckawicki / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

 

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No-Till Gardening: Tiny Life Doing HUGE Work!

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There is some good sense beyond the modern push toward no-till gardening methods.

One of the best arguments I’ve found is that no-till gardening and farming doesn’t disturb the soil ecosystem.

You may not think of a patch of ground as a huge web of living creatures, but it is. And those creatures do a lot of hard work, all day, day and night.

Check out this time-lapse video showing how soil fauna break down fallen leaves:

Impressive, isn’t it?

When you rototill an area, you kill off a lot of the useful creatures in the soil, both macroscopic and microscopic.

On a forest floor or a healthy patch of prairie, these creatures break down debris and turn it into the soil, bringing plants the good stuff they need to thrive.

Read More: “Improve Soil Fertility With Autumn’s Gift”

One of the reasons I don’t use pesticides and herbicides (with the exception of the occasional nicotine spray to kill pesky cucumber beetles) is because I do not want to kill soil life.

Just because you can’t see what’s happening beneath your feet doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Tread lightly and nature will do a lot of good work for your garden. Most bugs and worms are not our enemies.

 

*h/t PermieFlix for finding this video.

 

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Compost Fish Right in the Garden

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Yes, you can compost fish!

Last year, Jim wrote me to say:

“Since you are focusing on the wonderful world of rotting stuff, I wanted to relate a recent experience to you and your fans.

We garden in Alaska, and the whole composting thing is a big challenge for us. Because our average temperature is so low, it literally takes years to compost material.

Last year, we unfortunately had a chest freezer go bad, and it sat for a week before anyone discovered the problem. It was full of red salmon fillets and buffalo meat from what we had harvested previously.

After we cried about the 250 lbs. of rotting meat, we did what a lot of coastal Alaskans have done for 100s of years. We added the meat to the garden.

We garden in raised beds, so we dug out the dirt and placed the fillets (half of a red salmon each—about 2 pounds) in the bottom of the bed. The salmon was layered in the beds about 6 inches apart over the entire bottom of the beds and covered with 10 inches of dirt. We put approximately 20+ fillets (10 whole fish) in each bed.

We planted potatoes, peas, and broccoli in the beds and away we went. Luckily the bears left the beds alone, and the plants prospered.

We got a bumper crop of peas and broccoli, and the potatoes were the largest we have ever seen. The potatoes were the fancy purple kind and they grew 3-5 feet tall with 1-inch stalks.

They gave us a surprise by producing potato berries in large bunches. These berries are like large grapes. Unfortunately, they were everywhere, and the dog ate some and proceeded to vomit toxic berries for 2 days.

Lesson learned there!

So rotting, stinking fish flesh worked wonderfully, and the plants did not show any over-fertilizing problems as you would think.”

Oh heck yeah. When life gives you ruined meat … turn it into potatoes! Just don’t let the dog get into the solanine-rich potato fruits.

In a related idea, a reader e-mailed me this:

“My uncle told me a planting method for papayas in which you dig until you reach water (which, here, it only takes about 6 feet), refill the hole until there is no water showing, start a wood fire at the bottom of the hole, and fill the hole with organic matter.”

Another place for composting fish, perhaps?

I’ve not heard of that precise method, and it sounds like a lot of digging, but it’s not all that different from the melon pits I discuss in Compost Everything. That book also contains details on how to make fish emulsion in a barrel, just in case you don’t feel like digging.

Nature composts everything … why not do the same? Composting fish really isn’t that crazy. Remember the Pilgrims and the Indians? Why have we forgotten what our ancestors knew well?

Just go for it. Giant potatoes don’t lie.

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Need a Quality Garden Hoe? Use This Trick!

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It’s not much of a trick, really, as eBay has been around forever, but it’s become my go-to source for quality vintage tools.

Look at two of my recent scores:

vintage-hoe-headsvintage-potato-hoe

Sweet, eh?

Right now, there’s a plethora of great hoe heads on eBay.

I actually resisted putting this post up because I want to buy every single garden hoe for myself, but no … I am generous.

The two listings I won will be fit onto new handles. The “potato hoe” style works great in the hard clay here.

The old steel on these heads are a lot better than the new junk you get from the hardware store. Seriouslyit’s amazing. Put a sharp edge on an old hoe and it cuts through weeds like a knife. A new hoe just doesn’t “have it.”

I posted a video about my favorite vintage garden hoe so you can see just how awesome an old tool can be:

That’s the tool that changed my whole perspective on hoeing.

I just didn’t know what a real weeding tool was like until I got a good old American steel garden hoe working for me.

Half the time, the vintage hoe heads end up costing the same as a crummy new one from China … or less! I used a mop handle on one of my garden hoe heads, and it works great. Some of my other ones were re-handled here by a local farmer who cut wild coffee wood to make solid handles. Those look really cool and work quite well.

Anyhow, go ye forth and hunt. Beyond eBay, I also recommend yard sales. Look for the real old hoes with heads that are one solid piece instead of a couple of pieces welded together.

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Nature Is an EXTREME Composter—You Can Be Too!

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Learning From Nature

I admit it: I get a kick out of shaking things up. For years I listened to the rules on composting … then I shrugged, threw away the rule book, and decided to watch what happened in nature and copy the design I found there.

Basically everything organic can be returned to the soil. Paper, sewage, logs, animal carcasses, chicken soup … you name it.

And isn’t it much better to return these items to the soil than it is to dump them in a landfill? It’s a no-brainer!

In 2015, my years of experimentation and the knowledge I have gained were distilled down into the book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. The response was excellent, and the sales still continue to amaze me. It is transforming the way gardeners think about composting. Just throwing things away isn’t good enough anymore.

david-the-good-doing-some-extreme-composting

Unlearning the ‘Rules’

When I wrote the book I had no idea so many people would be willing to come along for the ride. It’s thrilling.

For years, we’ve been told not to compost meat … and then we’re told to use blood meal as a great organic source of nitrogen for our gardens.

We’re told to turn our compost piles regularly … but when we walk through the woods the leaves have created rich humus everywhere, no turning required.

We’re warned that human waste is incredibly dangerous … but every other creature on the planet fails to use a flush toilet with no ill effect.

People love recycling because it’s easy and feels like a good deed … yet those same people will often throw away a banana peel or a ham bone because composting is “too hard.”

It’s not hard when you do it like nature does. Composting is recycling “trash” into soil—and we should all be doing it.

Extreme Composting

Some of the ideas in Compost Everything are certainly extreme compared to the nice, safe restrictions foisted on us by well-meaning agricultural extensions and fuddy-duddy garden writers, yet nature itself is an EXTREME composter!

Why not see what she does and do the same?

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(This article was originally published on March 9, 2016.)

 

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The Incredible, Edible, Pindo Palm!

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A friend asks if a beautiful palm has edible fruit:

“There is a palm tree in the front yard of a house we bought in Ocala about 18 months ago. This year, it produced large clumps of a yellow-orange fruit that has a tough skin and a large seed inside each one. Pictures are attached.

pindo-palm-with-orange-fruit-edible

Can you tell us what this is, and how to protect and use it? (The fruits spoil almost a quickly as they ripen.)”

I wrote back:

“That’s a pindo palm! Great fruit. We stew them into an absolutely delicious jelly with sugar to taste and jar them. Best flavor ever. Also makes a great pancake syrup. You can also eat the fruit fresh. In the past, people have made wine from them as well. Butia capitata is the Latin name.”

They really are delicious. And it’s fun to say “Butia capitata.” Try it three times fastI’ll wait.

I planted two in my North Florida food forest because I was so impressed with the flavor of the fruit. You can see one of them here:

FoodForestAfter-Un11

Pindo palm fruit are not great off the tree, but the jelly … incredible. Coconut, pineapple, passion fruityou taste notes of different tropical delights in it. Very, very good.

I once harvested about 50 pounds from the Ocala agricultural extension offices and made jelly with them. The fruits often just fall on the ground unused and are available for the asking.

And the aroma of the fruit is intoxicating.

As Wendy Kiang-Spray writes:

“On the short walk from the pool to the house we rent in the ‘low country’ in South Carolina, Winter picked a berry from the tons of these little palm trees in the community and said, ‘Mom, smell this.’ Well, I’ve played that game before, and it’s not always fun. I was cautious at first, but then quickly began oohing and aahhing over the fragrance that in an instant transports you to the warm sunny place of your dreams. You cannot prevent the immediate inclination to hold in your hand a drink blended with ice and topped with a frilly paper umbrella.”

You’ll also find a recipe for pindo palm jelly in her post.

Pindo palms are often sold in ornamental nurseries across the Deep South. Their silvery foliage and cold hardiness make them very popular. I got my two trees from Home Depot and have encouraged many food-forest enthusiasts to add a few to their plans. You won’t regret it.

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DIY Liquid Fertilizer: The Really Stinking Easy Way to Feed a Large Garden

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As shared in my book Compost Everything, this method of feeding plants allows you to stretch fertility a long, long way and re-use “waste:”

Many people have written in to say how much they appreciate this simple method for creating liquid plant fertilizer.

As Gardener Earth Guy commented on the video:

“This is the absolute best garden trick I’ve learned in a long time. My banana have gotten giant, sweet potato have rope vines, and loquats are getting giant. What doesn’t get a chop ‘n’ drop goes in the bin.”

You can throw in weeds, fruit, kitchen scraps, urine, manure … just find organic matter and throw it in. I like a wide mix. This is a pretty simple batch, only containing moringa, compost, cow manure, and urine. I did get some Epsom Salts after making the video and also threw that in. A 55-gallon drum like this can easily feed 10,000 square feet of corn for a growing season. I know — I’ve done it!

It really beats making “normal” compost and having to spread it all around.

 

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Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Your Compost

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Don’t Kill Yourself Making Compost!

Long ago, I used to spend a lot of time making big piles of greens and browns—carefully mixed, watered, turned, and sifted…. And yet I never had enough compost to go around.

I’m sure you know the feeling!

I still make piles, since I like to have fine compost for sprinkling on new garden beds and making my own potting mixes; however, I no longer rely on finished compost for the majority of my fertilizing.

Instead, I’ve got a much easier system: compost tea.

Read More: “How to Make Composting Easy”

Watch Me Make Compost Tea

This is my favorite way to make free fertilizer. I use moringa leaves, manure, urine, compost, weeds, and other nitrogen-rich materials. I put them in a big barrel, top it off with water, and then let it rot on down into liquid fertilizer for my gardens. I’ll also add a cup or two of Epsom salts if I have them available for the extra magnesium and sulfur.

After a couple of weeks of sitting in the sun and rotting, you’ve got a compost tea with some serious fertilizing power. Take a look:

How to Use Compost Tea

I’ve fed big plots of corn and other crops effectively with very little trouble and very little material after discovering how well this anaerobic composting method works. It’s similar to Bokashi composting, but without having to buy Bokashi starter. Just let nature take its course, and you’ll have a rich, green garden like I do.

Warning: You don’t want to pour this stuff on your greens or on other crops you’re going to eat right away, as it is most definitely not safe for consumption!

I cover this method in my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, and I’ve had people write in and share their own successful experiments with the “big stinky barrel o’ fertility” method. Give it a try. Aside from the smell, I think you’ll like it.

A Quick Update

Here’s another video I made that offers specifics about my anaerobic compost tea recipe … even more stinky goodness from my “tea pot”! Won’t you be my neighbor?

(This article was originally published July 8, 2016.)

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Cast Iron Skillet Seasoning: How to Revive an Old Cast Iron Pan, Quickly and Easily (Video)

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I first jumped on the cast iron train more than a decade ago—and a big part of that was learning about proper cast iron skillet seasoning.

Back when I was a kid, I remember we had some old cast iron pans we didn’t use. They were rusty things and were eventually consigned to lying alongside the carport. Now, I wish I could go back in time and save them. All but two of the cast iron pans I now own were originally discovered in antique shops and thrift stores … then reclaimed through cleaning and seasoning.

When I was younger, I never thought all that much about cookware, other than to quit using aluminum and Teflon in favor of stainless steel. I used to have some really nice stainless pans. No more. Now I’m a hard-core cast iron user—especially for frying.

Once you’ve cooked on a well-seasoned cast iron pan, you’ll never want to go back to weird, nonstick surfaces and stainless scorch-fests.

To show you my method for cast iron skillet seasoning, I created a video on how I clean up and season cast iron quickly and easily with just some steel wool, oil, and my oven. Check it out…

Seasoning cast iron well can convert an old pan from being a pain to cook on, to being a delightful surface.

Here’s a quick overview of the steps I follow to prepare the pan in the video:

Cast Iron Skillet Seasoning and Cleaning

Step #1—Clean Up the Cast Iron
A metal brush can work for this step, but I like good old steel wool. I’ve also sanded cast iron smooth with some light sandpaper. The idea is just to get the rust and junk off your pan so you can start fresh.

Step #2—Wash the Pan
Wash any gunk and metal filings from the pans with simple dish soap and water, then towel dry your pan thoroughly.

Step #3—Oil the Pan
My favorite oils for seasoning cast iron are lard and tallow. I think the saturated fat does a nicer job than just vegetable oil. Coconut oil works, too, but if you don’t have any of those three, just use whatever cooking oil you have lying around in your pantry.

Step #4—Bake the Pan at 500 Degrees
Some directions will tell you to cure cast iron at 350°F. This has never, ever worked well for me. 500°F really bakes that oil coating into the iron and gives the cast iron a glossy, solid black surface.

Follow these four steps for cast iron skillet seasoning, and you’ll be transported into a new realm of sauté bliss. (And, for more on everyday cleaning and maintenance of your cast iron, check out the tips in the comments below!)

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(This article was originally published on October 9, 2015.)

 

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Pear Varieties for the Deep South

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Pears are thought of as a cold-climate fruit, yet they are more adaptable than you might think. One of the benefits of being a garden writer is the many comments and ideas I get from readers. Today we’ll focus on pear varieties, thanks to some insight from gardeners in the south.

These originally appeared on a survival plant post on pears I created here.

Erik writes:

“Supposedly the ‘Chinese white pear’ (Bai li) cultivars Tsu Li (which is really ancient and supposedly good but quite slow to bear) and Ya Li (which need to be planted together, as they bloom earlier than even the pyrifolia Asians [‘apple pears’]) will both fruit with only 450 chill hours and are fireblight resistant.

I have had grocery Ya Li and am not impressed–crisp, watery, no flavor (that is also my opinion of most of the larger, pyrifolia types which someone must like because they are more expensive than aromatic, buttery European pears that taste like pears).

However, I found a delicious way to treat firm Boscs that also works with low flavor sand/oriental pears and Ya Li: Poach them in flavored syrup. The bland ones actually keep their shape better than good European types (turn a Seckel glut into pear butter instead). The flavor comes from the syrup rather than the pear, but hey, it works. (The French mostly use sweetened wine, but even stale coffee. In [Polish] Chicago, I can get blackcurrant juice or syrup and mostly use that. Vanilla and ginger blend nicely with most pears, even the aromatic ones that are mostly high chill and killed by fireblight.)

‘Warren’ is often recommended as a moderately low chill (NW FL and north), fireblight-resistant European sort similar to Bartlett, but I don’t have personal experience with it. Poached pears with vanilla ice cream may not be an option if the something hits the fan, but is nice in nicer times.”

And Carl responds:

“I have a lot of pear trees in Northwest Florida that are mostly grafted over pears I purchased in box stores or in flea markets. I pick varieties that were either developed in the deep south by normal people or were found after many years to do quite well.

Best fresh-eating pears and fire-blight-resistant so far for me are: Southern Bartlett (from Abbreville, LA), Golden Boy from Just Fruits and Exotics, and the Asian pear Olton Broussard from an old shipment to a nursery labeled ‘Oriental Pear.’ Kieffers and Orient pears for cooking/salads and for pollinating the Olton Broussards.

There are many new pears that I am trying out at the moment that are said to be very good. But the three I mentioned are about as sure of a thing as there can be in the South. The Olton Broussard may not fruit in zone 9 or during extremely warm winters in zone 8b.

The Hood is another good but early pear that is disease resistant and very low chill. It was university-developed unlike the other eating pears that I mentioned. See http://tandeecal.com/page10.htm —  My Southern Pear interest group.”

Pear Varieties for the South

There are some nice field reports on pear varieties for the South at the link Carl provided. I recommend checking them out.

For North Florida (which also coincides with Southern Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, portions of Texas, and other subtropical areas), the University of Florida recommends:

  • Ayer
  • Baldwin
  • Kieffer
  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Hood
  • Pineapple
  • Tenn

The range of those pears probably goes a good bit farther north. For south of Gainesville, the only three pears recommended are:

  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Pineapple

Le Conte grows in the deep south and is apparently an excellent pear; however, it’s not as disease resistant as some varieties.

When I visited the Orange County extension office in Orlando to film my video on fruit trees for Florida, I noticed that the “Pineapple” pear was the only tree that was thriving. However, the trees were planted in a hot field.

I believe they would have done much better in a mulch-rich environment with a variety of other species, food-forest style.

Here’s that video:

In my North Florida food forest, I grew Flordahome, Pineapple, Hood, Kieffer, Baldwin, and other recommended pear varieties for the South, plus grafted branches onto some of them from an old productive pear tree of unknown variety growing in Gainesville.

People often don’t realize how far south you can grow pears.

It is good to see people having success. Don’t overlook pear trees — try some on your homestead!

Imagine homemade pear pie, pear sauce, canned pears, pear salsa … eating them fresh and sun-warmed from the tree. I never knew how good pears really were until I grew my own trees. Store-bought pears are a pale imitation of ripe fruit from the tree.

 

*Pear image courtesy Dave Minogue. CC license.

 

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Garden Slugs? 3 Easy Ways To Kill Them WITHOUT Poison

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What’s the best way to kill garden slugs organically? Well, I’m glad you asked.

There’s more than one way to kill slugs in the garden… instead of giving you one cure-all, today I’ll give you three easy ways to slaughter the slimy saboteurs.

This post was inspired by JTF, who asked: “Please tell me how you stop slugs eating through your crops! l have a million slugs, you would think l was trying to grow them! Any help appreciated.”

A few years back we had a major slug infestation in our gardens and I had to act fast. Now if slugs attack, I’m ready.

Here are three ways to catch and kill garden slugs that actually work.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #1: Scrap Lumber

One simple method to find slugs is to wet some pieces of scrap lumber, then lay them on the ground in the evening.

The next morning, the slugs will often be underneath them, hiding from the sun.

Actually killing them now requires you to embrace your hatred.

You can throw slugs into a bowl of sudsy water, put salt on them, or just go full psycho and chop them into pieces with a knife or scissors.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #2: Cheap Beer

If the slugs in your garden are really out of control, go out and get yourself a few cans of cheap beer.

Now, drink them all. After a few minutes, you will no longer care about the slug infestation.

Just kidding. The beer is for the slugs, not you.

Get yourself some little bowls and put them here and there around the garden in the evening. Pour an inch or so of beer in the bottom of each one. The next morning, each bowl should have dead slugs in it.

See, slugs are nature’s alcoholics. They have very sensitive senses of smell and will crawl to wherever there is beer and literally drink themselves to death.

This method was quite effective in our garden. But we also paired it with slug-killing method #3 for a complete beatdown.

How to Kill Garden Slugs Method #3: Hand-Pickin’

Slugs are mostly nocturnal. They like the cool, moist evenings.

When the slugs really started destroying our pea plot a few years ago, my wife and I went out with flashlights a little after dark and started slug hunting.

Sure enough, we found dozens.

The first night’s hunt I brought a little dish of salt with me and we tossed them in there to bubble away into slimy, desiccated corpses…. but then we found it was just easier to take scissors in hand and nip the slugs in half with the blades.

Brutal revenge.

Final Thoughts

A few last points.

If you have mulch in your garden, slugs love that. They don’t like bare ground as much. Slugs and their cousin the snail like lots of material they can hide in. Bare ground doesn’t provide that. Raised beds with wood or stone borders also give them a place to hide. That’s one reason to just build your beds from mounded soil, like so:

Double-Dug Garden Beds

 

It’s also cheaper than buying boards or blocks.

Also, staying on top of slug issues will keep you from losing as many plants. Look for shiny trails around the garden and obviously gnawed areas—and don’t wait to get started! Hunt around and get killing before they eat up your hard work.

If you have ducks, they love to eat slugs. Letting them wander the garden now and again might work, though I don’t have enough faith in ducks to do so. Better to just pick off garden slugs and throw them to the ducks.

You can also throw the bowls of beer and slugs into your compost pile. Slugs compost just fine, as does beer.

Show no mercy.

 

The post Garden Slugs? 3 Easy Ways To Kill Them WITHOUT Poison appeared first on The Grow Network.

Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile

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My friend Steve Solomon (who is the #1 gardening author you should read) recommends you add clay to your compost pile, especially if you have sandy soils.

I’ve seen applications of compost disappear in a couple of months in hot, sandy soil. It just doesn’t stick. Unless you put a little clay in it.

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile

Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back … but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in this video:

I really didn’t need to add that much, but heygo big or go home!

An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results from adding clay to a compost pile:

The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned. The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built, but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and rewatered, too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.

Clay is made up of very fine particles, so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut-sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge, so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors, and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.


The resultant compost is packed with nutrients that are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long-lasting, water-retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile Is Good for Sandy Soils

In sandy soils, organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay hangs on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.

If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via bentonite.

Just sprinkle it in as you layer materialsyou really don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.

According to Infogalactic:

“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.

Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”

Fortunately, bentonite is what cheap, non-scented cat litter is made from. If you can’t find powdered clay in sacks locally, just rob your kitty instead!

Make that compost stick around!

 

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

The post Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile appeared first on The Grow Network.

Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile

My friend Steve Solomon (who is the #1 gardening author you should read) recommends you add clay to your compost pile, especially if you have sandy soils.

I’ve seen applications of compost disappear in a couple of months in hot, sandy soil. It just doesn’t stick. Unless you put a little clay in it.

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile

Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back … but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in this video:

I really didn’t need to add that much, but heygo big or go home!

An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results from adding clay to a compost pile:

The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned. The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built, but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and rewatered, too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.

Clay is made up of very fine particles, so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut-sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge, so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors, and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.


The resultant compost is packed with nutrients that are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long-lasting, water-retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile Is Good for Sandy Soils

In sandy soils, organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay hangs on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.

If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via bentonite.

Just sprinkle it in as you layer materialsyou really don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.

According to Infogalactic:

“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.

Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”

Fortunately, bentonite is what cheap, non-scented cat litter is made from. If you can’t find powdered clay in sacks locally, just rob your kitty instead!

Make that compost stick around!

 

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

The post Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile appeared first on The Grow Network.

Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile

My friend Steve Solomon (who is the #1 gardening author you should read) recommends you add clay to your compost pile, especially if you have sandy soils.

I’ve seen applications of compost disappear in a couple of months in hot, sandy soil. It just doesn’t stick. Unless you put a little clay in it.

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile

Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back … but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in this video:

I really didn’t need to add that much, but heygo big or go home!

An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results from adding clay to a compost pile:

The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned. The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built, but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and rewatered, too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.

Clay is made up of very fine particles, so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut-sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge, so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors, and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.


The resultant compost is packed with nutrients that are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long-lasting, water-retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”

Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile Is Good for Sandy Soils

In sandy soils, organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay hangs on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.

If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via bentonite.

Just sprinkle it in as you layer materialsyou really don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.

According to Infogalactic:

“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.

Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”

Fortunately, bentonite is what cheap, non-scented cat litter is made from. If you can’t find powdered clay in sacks locally, just rob your kitty instead!

Make that compost stick around!

 

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

The post Why You Should Add Clay to Your Compost Pile appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crops (VIDEO)

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Earlier this year I created a video on the top 10 tropical staple crops. It took me way too long to write and edit, so I hope you find it incredibly helpful.

Let’s run through them here, along with a few notes.

10: Grain Corn

Corn

 

Stick to dent corn varieties in warm, hot climates. Flint corns are better for up north, dent for down south. Corn needs decent soil and plenty of nitrogen, but it’s the best grain for production and processing—much easier to process than small grains like oats, rye, and wheat. You need to nixtamalize it with lime or eat it as part of a balanced diet to avoid pellagra, a niacin deficiency which will really mess you up.

9: Pumpkins/Winter Squash

Pumpkin

 

These are one of my favorite plants to grow. In the tropics, most of the pumpkins grown are C. moschata types, though there are others, too. Pumpkins take up a lot of space, but make big, storable fruit. On the downside, they’re not that calorie dense and it’s easy to get sick of eating pumpkins.

8: Breadfruit

Breadfruit

 

Breadfruit is delicious and productive, plus it’s a tree so you don’t need to plow and plant like you do with annual staples. They are tough trees, though they can’t take any cold. The downside is that the breadfruit come in seasons instead of spread out through the year.

7: Coconuts

Coconuts

So long as you don’t cut through your hand while opening them, coconuts are very good. They are high in good fats and nutrients, grow easily even in terrible soil, and require very little work to maintain. The fronds are also useful for crafts, thatching, baskets, and more. The downside of coconuts is they are a pain to open.

6: Bananas and Plantains

Plantains

It’s a fruit! No, it’s a starch!

Unripe bananas and plantains can be cooked and eaten like potatoes or fried like chips, making them a good way to fill in the caloric cracks. Though they are non-seasonal, they do produce better in the rainy season unless you keep them watered. And they like a lot of water! They also like a lot of nitrogen. Plant them around the septic tank and you’re golden.

5: Malanga and Taro

Malanga Roots

Malanga, a.k.a. dasheen, has edible leaves (when cooked ONLY) and tubers (ditto). They like a lot of water and grow like weeds in a drainage ditch or shallow pond.

4: Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Peas

Pigeon peas are a very easy-to-grow nitrogen-fixing tropical staple crop. The dry peas are a good source of protein and the younger peas can be eaten like common green peas. If you have marginal ground, hack holes in it and plant pigeon peas. The downside is that shelling the peas takes way too long. I also find them a bit hard to digest.

3: Cassava

Cassava Coming Up

Cassava is a carbohydrate bazooka. It’s productive even in bad soil and has roughly twice the calories of white potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s almost devoid of real nutrition. It’s just a blast of carbs. This makes it great for a crisis, but not good to eat all the time. The leaves are edible when boiled and are nutrient-rich, so it makes sense to eat the leaves and roots together.

2: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have edible greens and roots, produce abundantly in a small space, are high in calories and nutrition, and are non-seasonal. An excellent choice for survival.

1: True Yams

Giant Yam Root

Yes, I am prejudiced. Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are my favorite staple crop. The flavor is good, they take almost no work to grow, they’ll live on the margins of a food forest, and they’ll even grow and produce when guerilla-planted in the woods. Grow some—you’ll be impressed.

Conclusion

Any combination of these 10 tropical staple crops could keep you alive in a crisis. I recommend planting more than one of them for variation in diet, plus redundancy. If cassava does badly one year, you’ll still have pigeon peas. If the malanga doesn’t get enough water, maybe the corn will come through. Experiment and see what grows best in your area.

Did I miss one of your favorite tropical staples? Leave me a note and let me know.

 

The post The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crops (VIDEO) appeared first on The Grow Network.

Planting a Living Fence (VIDEO)

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After a wandering bull ate my pigeon peas I realized I needed a fence — quickly.

Problem: I rent my property and really don’t want to spend money on new infrastructure.

Solution: Plant a living fence!

So I did, and I filmed the process so you can see what I did:

Isn’t that the greatest song ever to be used on YouTube?

No?

Okay, that’s fine. I understand. It really is terrible, isn’t it?

Back to the post.

I’m not a living fence expert by any means. Back when I was young I did help my dad and Grandpa plant multiple fences by taking long aralia cuttings and jamming them into the ground. I have also planted living barriers of blackberries, silverthorn and pyracantha, but they were more hedges than the interwoven sticks I’m now experimenting with. Yet I’m learning and testing now — and as you probably know, I’m rather insane when it comes to experimentation.

Since there were a lot of questions on this living fence/instant hedge, I posted a follow-up video answering some of them:

Species Options for Planting a Living Fence

For subtropical climates with little to no frosty weather, you could build a living fence with Gliricidia sepium, moringa, some aralia species, purple mombin, or even governor plum.

Farther north you can do this with willow branches — especially in wet areas.

Living fence made of willows

 

Living fences could also potentially be planted from the branches of species of mulberry, though I’ve had 0% success rooting mulberry by sticking branches in the ground.

If you don’t have any trees with branches that can be rammed in the ground to root, just plant almost any kind of tree seedlings in V shapes at 45-degree angles and tie them together at crossing points.

Dwarf apples, anyone?

There are a lot of possibilities for building a living fence. Interweaving the trees causes them to graft together over time and make an almost impenetrable barrier — even more so if you use a hard and thorny tree like osage orange!

As recounted over at Mother Earth News, “Easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, or sprouts from the roots, Osage orange is tolerant of a wide range of soils, resistant to drought, long-lived, and affected little by insects or disease. Planted at a spacing of 1 foot, in four years it makes a fence that is ‘horse-high, bull-strong, and hog-tight.’”

Osage orange is also one of the best woods for tool handles and bows. Bonus!

From the same article:

“Other thorny species that could be used to make living fences are pyracanthas, jujube, hollies, black locust (also fixes nitrogen), honey locust (which has high-protein seeds and pods for livestock and people), prickly ash, and rugosa rose (which has vitamin C-rich fruits, or ‘hips’).”

Other Side Benefits of Living Fences

Beyond just keeping out wandering livestock and nosy neighbors, living fences have some serious advantages.

Let’s run through a few.

1. A Living Fence is Free

Unless you buy seedlings to plant, you can start a living fence for free. In my case, all I had to do was cut some Gliricidia branches and plant them. As for potted trees or shrubs, you can start your own. I always keep a little plant nursery going with a lot of bits and pieces in it. Maybe a multi-species living fence would work? Imagine that! Bougainvillea, noni trees, purple mombin, alternating with nitrogen fixers… crazy! A 2-D food forest!

Oh man. I need to try that.

But the point is: free. Free is good.

2. A Living Fence Produces for You

A wire or wood fence is just a barrier, but a living fence is more than that. It’s a living, productive line of trees.

The top can be cut and fed to livestock or used as a green layer in compost. You can also let it grow taller and make the trimmings into plant stakes. Or charcoal/biochar.

Not bad, eh?

3. A Living Fence Supports Other Species

If your living fence is a nitrogen-fixing species, it will feed the plants alongside it.

A living fence can also serve as a trellis for yams and other species as well as a home for birds, beneficial insects, and lizards.

There are plenty of good reasons to plant a living fence and plenty of species that work almost no matter where you live.

My Gliricidia living fence is now dense and strong after growing through the summer. In another year it will be so strong that passing through it will be impossible.

Sorry bull, no more pigeon pea lunches for you!

 

*Willow living fence image via Rhian on Flickr. CC license.

 

The post Planting a Living Fence (VIDEO) appeared first on The Grow Network.

Sprouting Avocado Pits the Easy Way

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Today we’ll cover sprouting avocado pits the EASY way.

Though you are probably familiar with the “toothpicks and water” method of sprouting avocado pits, there is an easier way that seems to have a higher success rate.

The short of it? Plant them in potting soil or compost.

The long of it? Well, watch my video on how to sprout avocado pits, then we’ll meet on the other side for a step-by-step. A couple of important things should happen in order to guarantee your avocado pits sprout.

Avocados, like many tropical trees, have seeds that are designed to hit the ground and grow. The pits are not designed like many cold-climate seeds which have an embryo sitting in suspended animation that can be saved on a shelf for a long time and then spring to life when planted.

No.

These guys need to get into the ground fast, so it’s important to plant your avocado pits quickly or keep them damp until you can plant — preferably by keeping them inside the fruit!

But I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s do a step-by-step picture guide, breaking down the frames from the video.

Step 1: Open an Avocado and Take Out the Pit

how to Sprout Avocado Pit sprouting avocado pits

This avocado grew out back of our current homestead. They are nice and large with rich buttery interiors. An excellent tree and well worth reproducing.

When I took out this pit it already had some small roots growing on it — all ready to go! I took it along with a half-dozen other pits outside to plant, which takes me to step two.

Step 2: Plant Your Avocado Pits in Potting Soil

 Sprout Avocado Pit

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step5

There is a right side up on avocado pits. It’s the rounded side. Plant the flat side down since that’s where the roots will emerge. You could probably make a mistake and still have the tree come up fine, but I like to give my sprouting avocado pits every advantage.

A nice, loose potting mix is good but you can also easily germinate avocado pits directly planted in the ground — or, what seems to be even more successful, let them “accidentally” come up in your compost pile and transplant them.

Step 3: Water and Wait!

HowToSproutAvocadoPits-Step6

This is the hard part — waiting for the avocado pits to sprout.

They will, though. Keep them watered but not soggy in a nice sunny location. Then, one day…

germinating avocado

Beautiful!

When you sprout pits in water indoors, they then need to go through a “hardening off” period of adjustment to the harsher, brighter outdoor conditions or you can kill the young trees. When you instead sprout them in pots in full sun, you don’t have this issue. They’re ready to go.

Now many of you live in a northern climate where this is impossible. That’s fine — you can start avocado trees indoors and even grow them as a houseplant; however, they’re unlikely to fruit under those conditions. They need more sun.

How Long Does it Take for a Seedling Avocado To Bear Fruit?

The earliest a seedling avocado tree will fruit is at four to five years of age. My friend Eddy, however, scared his tree into fruiting at three years.

I have a beautiful seedling avocado tree growing in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project that is getting close to bearing size.

Rachel took this picture a year ago and it’s even bigger now.

avocado seedling I started by sprouting avocado pits

I wish I could pay that tree a visit again. Maybe when it fruits. The avocado I started it from had fruits as big as honeydew melons. It’s some sort of Thai avocado variety that was being passed around the local Thai community in South Florida. I’m excited to see this thing produce!

The California Avocado Commission claims it takes 5-13 years for a seedling tree to bear but you’re much more likely to see it fruit on the earlier end of that spectrum if they are well-tended, watered and grown in full sun.

Why Sprout Avocado Pits?

Common objections to growing avocado trees from seed are:

  1. Trees don’t always come true from seed
  2. It takes a long time for them to bear
  3. Purchasing grafted trees will give you exactly the type you want

All of these objections are easy to answer.

  1. Who cares? Maybe you’ll get something better!
  2. So? Are you planning on dying soon?
  3. What if you don’t want to spend money? And like experiments?

I really find the arguments against growing fruit trees from seed tiresome. The “common wisdom” on the subject is lame. Man has grown trees from seed, including avocados, for thousands of years. We have the varieties we have today because of gardeners like you and me who love to experiment and take joy in raising up good things from tiny seeds.

If you get a variety that just isn’t great, graft it!

Seedling trees make great root stocks. Heck, even if they don’t fruit for you fast enough you can graft on a piece from an already fruiting tree and speed up the process.

Start your own avocado pits the easy way and eventually you’ll be bringing in baskets of fruit. It’s great fun, especially when you can plant seeds with children, and totally worth the time.

Trees you grow from seed cost nothing and will give you a sense of accomplishment like nothing else. I still remember how excited I was when my seedling peach trees fruited for the first time. It’s a great feeling.

So go start sprouting avocado pits. I’m rooting for you… and so will they.

(This article was originally published on January 17, 2017.)

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Sprouting Avocado Pits the Easy Way appeared first on The Grow Network.

Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients

Today you’ll learn how to create homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful. As a bonus, it contains beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients appeared first on The Grow Network.

Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients

Click here to view the original post.

Today you’ll learn how to create homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful. As a bonus, it contains beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients appeared first on The Grow Network.

7 Staple Crops for Northern Gardeners

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If you live in a cold climate and have to garden to feed yourself, what staple crops would you grow?

There are plenty of staple crops in the tropics (I cover 10 good ones in my Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown video), but as you move farther north it gets harder to produce a lot of calories on your land. Seasons are short and sunlight is less intense, plus the variety of plants you can choose from is greatly limited.

Yet all is not lost.

Here are a few tried-and-true survival crops for the north, plus one that shows great potential.

7 Staple Crops for Northern Gardeners

Potatoes

Your best bet as a survival staple in northern climates is the trusty potato.

staple survival crops - the potato

Potatoes are really hard to beat on yields and caloric content, plus they take less space and a lot less work than small grains.

I’ve grown wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Though they’re pretty easy to grow, processing makes them a serious pain. I outlined the pros and cons in this article–go read for yourself. Potatoes are much simpler.

The Three Sisters

This is a classic method of gardening practiced by American Indians, as seen here.

Interplant corn, beans, and pumpkins/winter squash for a three sisters garden.

Let’s cover them individually.

Corn

I love corn. It’s a ton of fun to grow, and it’s much easier to harvest and use than most other grains. It’s also beautiful.

staple survival crops - corn

The number of grain corn varieties is staggering. Up north, I recommend sticking to “flint” corns, as dent corn takes much longer to mature.

Beans

In the three sisters garden, pole beans are used. For a survival crop, look for types you can shell and save–not green beans.

Beans

Beans aren’t high on yields compared to a root crop, but they do contain a good amount of protein.

Pumpkins/Winter Squash

Pumpkins and winter squash will yield you a lot of weight in long-storing calories if you pick the right varieties. Vermont Harvest of the Month has a great illustration and recipes on their site.

winter-squash-vermont

In the north, gardeners should mostly stick to C. maxima and C. pepo varieties. In the south, C. moschata usually does better.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Steve Solomon and I were talking about northern staples earlier this year, and I suggested the Jerusalem artichoke as a super-easy root crop; however, he pointed out that the difficulty most of us have in digesting them makes them a lot less attractive in the long run.

I love their productivity, but the tubers mess up your digestion unless you’re very acclimated to them. They are likely a better choice as an animal feed, particularly for pigs.

staple survival crops - Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are beautiful and make a great addition to the edges of a property or in rougher soil where regular vegetables don’t grow.

I planted these along a rough drainage ditch in hard Tennessee clay and rocks, and they grew like crazy.

Turnips

Another option is turnips. I planted big beds of turnips one year and had great success . . . but eating turnips daily gets old fast.

Turnips: staple survival crops

I knew we grew too many when my wife Rachel presented me with a turnip pie she baked for dessert one evening.

After weeks of turnips stewed, mashed, roasted . . . then in pie . . . I didn’t want to see another turnip for a long time.

On the up side, the greens are very good to eat and quite nutritious, making them a dual-purpose crop.

Chinese Yams

Some northern gardeners have had luck growing the cold-tolerant Chinese yam, a.k.a. Dioscorea batatas.

a staple survival crop chinese yam

Experiment and see how it does. As a bonus, the Chinese yam produces tiny little roots on the vine. Cook them up like mini potatoes!

See those here:

Try Chinese yams in your garden and tell me how they turn out–they did well for me in North Florida, and Eric Toensmeier grew them successfully in Massachusetts. I think they have a lot of potential as a staple survival crop. Just be careful, as they may be an invasive species in some areas.

BTW, I mentioned their invasive nature in my newsletter and reader Sharon wrote back, the real invasive species is soy and GMO corn. Wild yam will feed you along with many other weeds.”

I agree. Feeding yourself is of high importance, and if a vegetable grows like a weed and produces calories . . . I find it hard to demonize.

You can buy Chinese yam bulbils from Sharon in her online store here, along with an assortment of other obscure and wonderful plants.

Conclusion

There you go: seven staple survival crops for northern gardens. Did I miss any of your favorites?

Let me know in the comments.

And check out my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening for serious help in a collapse.

Another great title is Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.

And the must-have Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), by Steve Solomon.

 

* Beans image by Kenneth Leung. Creative Commons license.

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post 7 Staple Crops for Northern Gardeners appeared first on The Grow Network.

Plastic in the Garden: Good or Bad?

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Earlier this year I had a conversation with my friend Craig of Permie Flix after he asked about plastic in the garden in the comments of my video on making potting soil:

“I noticed you used a plastic tarp, bag, and bag pots. Most gardeners are cheapskates and do similar. What are your thoughts on plastic use in gardening?”

I answered:

“I go back and forth on plastic. I hate throwing it away. I do like the DeWitt/Sunbelt woven nursery fabric for occultation of new beds/no-till. Water comes through from the top but not light. Plus, the stuff will last a decade or so. It’s a pretty good trade-off. As for pots, discarded metal soup cans with holes punched in them work okay. Clay is too expensive. I just don’t see anything other than plastic for nursery work being feasible at this point. These plastic bag pots last for a few years and cost a few cents.”

Craig in turn raises some good points:

“Plastic is so useful in ag, and everyone seems to be using plastic green houses, plastic mulch, and fabric row covers like the DeWitt/Sunbelt. Plastic fertilizer bags, plastic pots, fabric pots, plastic trays, plastic irrigation, plastic totes. That’s a lot of plastic in ag. I’ve just been wondering what the Earth’s carry capacity for plastic might be before ecosystems are irreversibly damaged, and how much is acceptable, because I can’t see it’s use going away, only accelerating. I’ve read that the doubling time for plastic is around every 11 years. And that there are end-of-life problems like toxic materials such as heavy metals that leach out of the plastic as the products decay over a span of years. Tad at KIS organics wrote an interesting post about fabric pots last year containing lead and BPA among other things: https://www.kisorganics.com/blogs/news/fabric-pots This week I’ve read two articles, one on the isolated Henderson Island that was found to have 671.6 items per square metre of debris on North Beach, 99.8% of which were plastic. And another that showed of 17 brands of sea salt only one had no microplastic in it. Previous studies in Sydney harbour showed >30% of the mullet sampled had microplastics in their guts, and over 90% of seabirds feast on plastic and then defecate it on land. It’s also entering our soils through ag and municipal compost. I know that worm growth rate is significantly reduced at 28% w/w microplastics and that they distribute microplastics in their casts throughout soils. Considering that plastic was only synthesised in 1907, I’m on the go back side of plastic use and planting directly in the ground where possible. But like you mentioned there aren’t many other options for nursery work if you want to save your back and pocket. And I can’t see consumer demand for biodegradable products making a dent in regulatory or commercial practices anytime soon either.”

Dang it, Craig, why do you have to be so smart?

It really is a conundrum. I would certainly like to go without using plastic, yet sometimes there really isn’t a better option.

What About Other Options?

Back in Florida people used to ask me, “What about soil blocks for transplants?”

They’re great except Florida’s “soil” won’t hold together. It’s like beach sand. You have to get some clay from somewhere else to make them stick. And with the time involved in hunting materials, you might as well get some plastic trays.

When I ran my plant nursery, many of my pots were scavenged from other nurseries. I reused pots over and over again and would give extra plants to people that brought back pots after planting my plants in their gardens . . .

. . . yet eventually those pots would wear out and be thrown away.

I don’t like the large amount of plastic ending up in the environment. It’s everywhere. Even recycling may not make sense as I’ve read it takes more energy to recycle plastic than it does to just throw it in a landfill.

Yet try building a greenhouse without plastic! If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to scavenge old windows, but still—the construction is much more time-consuming than just throwing up a plastic sheet.

But eventually that plastic wears out and is discarded.

And what about your rain barrel or cistern? Did you cast one out of concrete? Plastic is a lot cheaper and easier.

Tough.

Getting Rid of Plastic?

It’s tempting to burn plastic to get rid of it, but that releases some nasty toxins into the air.

“Current research indicates that backyard-burning of waste is far more harmful to our health than previously thought. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver, in the reproductive and development system.

The burning of polystyrene polymers—such as foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers—releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs. At high levels styrene vapor can damage the eyes and mucous membranes. Long-term exposure to styrene can affect the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness,
and depression.”
Yeah, that’s no fun. You can also burn yourself if you run through the ashes barefoot. My little brother did that when he was a kid, stepping on a piece of molten plastic and burning his heel badly.
Takeaway: don’t run through molten plastic and ashes barefoot.
no-bare-feet-on-fire plastic in the garden - dont burn it
That brother is a firefighter now. No kidding.

All burning of plastic may not be bad, however. There may be the possibility of using plastic as fuel in the near future:

“Burning plastic in the traditional manner creates extremely polluting byproducts, as evidenced by the black smoke produced by the cup. But this didn’t thwart Levendis, who noted that plastic contains the same amount of energy per pound as premium fuel.

“We wanted to tackle the problem by preprocessing the plastics,” said Chuanwei Zhuo, a doctoral candidate in Levendis’ lab. Toward that end, the team developed a combustion system that adds a simple step to the burning process that allows for turning plastic into a fuel that burns just as cleanly as natural gas.

That simple step has a daunting name: pyrolytic gasification. Instead of directly setting the cup aflame with a match in the open air, the team’s reactor heats the material to a whopping 800 degrees Celsius in a completely oxygen-free environment. This causes the plastic to become a gas, which is then mixed with air before it is burned as a clean fuel.”

So is Plastic in the Garden Good or Evil?

Realistically, it’s probably evil—yet it’s an evil without good alternatives right now, at least that I can find.

And sometimes it’s an “evil” that is so useful it might push on through to being good. Herrick Kimball’s “Minibeds on Plastic” gardening idea, for instance.

That’s pretty impressive.

Plastic, though! Plastic! It’s a conundrum.

I like it when people like Craig ask, “have you thought about . . . ?”

I’ll keep thinking about plastic in the garden. I’m still on the fence. I don’t like the environmental impact, but I also don’t know what else to use. Greenhouses, pots, weed barriers, cisterns, row covers . . . plastic everywhere!

So, what are your thoughts?

The post Plastic in the Garden: Good or Bad? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

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Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees?

Growing gardens under oak trees? Jennifer asks if it can be done:

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front yard. At the base of one of 
the oaks I have started my food forest experiment. I dumped a layer 
of compost, a variety of seeds (squash, beans, herbs, morning glories, 
echinacea, passionflower and i forgot what else lol!), and light mulch 
because of the oak roots, it is growing good so far. So we talked about 
before i would begin to stop raking leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  
I would then have a self mulching landscape. From my understanding 
not much will be able to grow as ground cover since the leaves will 
ultimately smother them out. I know i can grow vines that travel up though.  
Also any fruit trees or bushes will be of low yield since they would only 
receive dappled light. Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me 
if what all I am saying is true? Also I am thinking this is a mesic oak 
hammock since we are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone 
because we sit up in the hammock zone. Hope that helps.

Thanks

Jennifer

I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms—sometimes even edible mushrooms—so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.

Lactarius_Indigo_Edible_Mushroom

This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though—Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.

Leaves

One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus.

Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those!

Violets? They’re a good edible.

Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types.

See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens. I learned this concept from the late Toby Hemenway and it has worked wonderfully.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

The post Growing Gardens Under Oak Trees? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds!

Click here to view the original post.

If you’ve read my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting or watched my presentations during multiple Home Grown Food Summit events, you know that I recommend building compost piles right where you plan to garden in the future.

Go ahead — build ’em right on your garden beds!

After following my advice, long-time reader W. R. sent me a composting field report:

“It is good to see you all are having fun in the tropics. I watch your videos weekly.

I haven’t been doing a whole lot of active gardening, but I wanted to give you a little update in photos.

I have two to 4’x 8′ raised beds next to each other that were left fallow since last fall. They were both recently cleared of weeds and grass, and here you can see the difference between them:

Which-bed-compost-in-the-garden

The left one is a native soil I started adding kitchen scraps to, but not for very long. It also was more exposed to the sun. The right one was a compost pile I threw kitchen scraps and coffee grounds in.

This bed had more growing in it, and the soil was more protected by the sun. The right one looks more like good soil, eh?”

This is a great illustration of what in-bed composting accomplishes. It just makes sense to build compost piles on top of garden beds.

Why Compost on a Garden Bed?

Less Materials Handling

When you compost directly on top of a garden bed, you don’t have to worry about moving as many materials.

You throw your kitchen scraps, leaves, rabbit manure, etc., right onto a bed. Don’t worry about it getting hot — it will rot down over time.

If you want it to compost hot and fast, build up a compost pile higher over the bed like I do in this video:

But really, nature will handle it.

Throw everything down on a garden bed and then some months later when you’re ready to plant, fork off the rougher stuff onto the next closest bed and get planting.

More Good Stuff Stays Where You Want It

Second, all the good leachates that would normally run into ground beneath a compost bin are instead transferred right into the ground where you will be growing.

If you’re ever moved a compost pile and seen the right worm-filled soil beneath it, you know what I mean. If you’re not planting that area, it’s a waste!

W. R. has also been composting meat and bones like a good extreme composter should:

bones-in-the-garden

As bones break down in the soil, they will feed your garden long-term. Yes, I know you’re “not supposed to compost meat” and all that. Heck with those rules — if you throw those materials away, you’re throwing away nutrition for your garden. There are plenty of ways to compost meat safely, though that’s fodder for another article.

For now, I just urge you to quit working so hard and start composting right where it will make the biggest difference.

Wherever you compost, good fungi and bacteria populations explode, worms arrive and till the soil, plus you don’t have to move your compost all over the place.

Though I do still have a bin, I also keep a compost pile going on one of my garden beds at any given time. It works.

The post Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds

Click here to view the original post.

How to save pumpkin seeds demonstration

Are you are a crazy seed saver?

You know the type: you have avocado pits sprouting on the counter, watermelon seeds drying on paper towels, lemon seedlings sprouting on the bathroom windowsill…

Life is full of temptations for seed savers. Every fruit has a pit… Every nature hike has a must-have wildflower… Every trip to a botanical garden, you’re keeping your hands stuffed in your pockets so they don’t “accidentally” pinch a cutting.

But then, fall arrives… and you completely lose it.

Farm stands are loaded with amazing produce containing seeds!  Yes seeeeeeeds, precious seeds! The grocery store is stocking winter squash varieties you’ve never seen before. That nice Mennonite family down the road has some crazy birdhouse gourds in a shape you haven’t seen before.  There is amazing Indian corn for sale on the roadside.  And you’re all over it.

My personal favorite finds are the pumpkin and winter squash, and this is most definitely the season.

The other day I screeched to a halt in our car after passing a roadside stand sporting the craziest pumpkin I’d ever seen for sale. After realizing we weren’t all going to die in a fiery crash, my wife grinned at me and said, “pumpkin?” I nodded and ran before someone else could snag it.

She’s used to this seed-saving madness. I’ve been doing it for so long that if I ever stopped, she’d know I was taken over by an alien space pod.

But I digress.

Since Halloween is almost here and a lot of us will be cutting open pumpkins, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds. If you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o’-lanterns yourself or if you’re the type that can’t help but bring home beautiful new varieties from the local farmer’s market, today’s post is for you.

I’ve been growing pumpkin and winter squash for a long time and I’ve always loved how easy it is to save pumpkin seeds. They are a great size for planting and also germinate readily. Much more fun than dealing with mustard, lettuce, or carrot seeds.

Recently I posted a new video on how I save pumpkin seeds — and how I make seed packets to hold them until it’s time to plant them in the spring.

Here’s the video:

Now let’s break it down into a nice visual guide with pictures and everything.

How To Save Pumpkin Seeds, Step by Step

Are you ready to pack away seeds like a kleptomaniac squirrel so you never have to buy another pumpkin from the store again? I will help.

Step 1: Gut the Pumpkin and Save the Slop!

How to save pumpkin seeds step 1

The inner cavity of pumpkin and winter squash is filled with a stringy mess of pumpkin bits and seeds. This isn’t the “good eating” part of the pumpkin, so it’s not worth trying to save any of the stringy mass, except for the seeds. In order to do that, move on to step two!

Step 2: Clean the Pumpkin Seeds

saving pumpkin seeds step 2

I dump pumpkin guts and seeds into a colander and swish them around under running water to clean them off, smashing the goop through the holes and separating the strings. If you’d like to save pumpkin seeds for eating rather than planting, you can just go directly to roasting them at this point.

For seed-saving purposes, I’ve sometimes let pumpkin guts sit on the counter for a few days and rot around the seeds. This smells bad but really loosens up the seeds when you wash them out. I think it may also increase the germination rate but I haven’t tried a side-by-side trial.

Step 3: Dry The Seeds

saving pumpking seeds step-3

Seed-covered paper towels on counters, windowsills, shelves, tabletops, dressers and even the bathroom counter are common in our house during the fall as we save pumpkin seeds alongside the other heirlooms we want to plant in our spring gardens.

Spread your pumpkin seeds out someplace where they won’t get wet again. Also make sure they aren’t too wet when you spread them out (sometimes I pat them down with one paper towel, then spread them onto a second) and have good air circulation as you most definitely do not want them germinating on your counter. They should dry quickly. This will also keep them from molding as easily in storage and potentially losing their ability to germinate.

Step 4: Make Seed Packets and Pack ’em Up!

 saving pumpkin seeds making homemade seed packet

There are better ways to make seed packets, but I just rip a sheet of paper in half, fold that, then fold up the edges a few times and tape them. You can see how in the video – it’s very simple.

Because I’m cheap and hate throwing things away too fast, I use scrap paper from the children’s homeschool assignments or pieces the toddler has doodled upon.

My friend Steven Edholm has better looking seed packets, but they’re a bit small for the amount of pumpkin seeds I store.

saving pumpkin seeds homemade seed packet step-6

I also illustrate my homemade seed packets, which is NOT OPTIONAL. You have to draw on them. You just have to. It’s the rule.

Along with a drawing of the mother pumpkin, I also note the variety, the harvest year and notes on type. This is important as I work on my pumpkin breeding projects, but for your pumpkin seed saving, you likely just need to note the type or draw a nice picture of the headless horseman.

If you live in a humid climate or need to store seeds for a longer period, you can dry pumpkin seeds a little further in a dehydrator and then pack them in tightly shut Mason jars stowed in the fridge.

That’s it, the whole scoop on how to save pumpkin seeds. Happy gardening and enjoy the rest of October.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published October 25, 2016.)

The post Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds

How to save pumpkin seeds demonstration

Are you are a crazy seed saver?

You know the type: you have avocado pits sprouting on the counter, watermelon seeds drying on paper towels, lemon seedlings sprouting on the bathroom windowsill…

Life is full of temptations for seed savers. Every fruit has a pit… Every nature hike has a must-have wildflower… Every trip to a botanical garden, you’re keeping your hands stuffed in your pockets so they don’t “accidentally” pinch a cutting.

But then, fall arrives… and you completely lose it.

Farm stands are loaded with amazing produce containing seeds!  Yes seeeeeeeds, precious seeds! The grocery store is stocking winter squash varieties you’ve never seen before. That nice Mennonite family down the road has some crazy birdhouse gourds in a shape you haven’t seen before.  There is amazing Indian corn for sale on the roadside.  And you’re all over it.

My personal favorite finds are the pumpkin and winter squash, and this is most definitely the season.

The other day I screeched to a halt in our car after passing a roadside stand sporting the craziest pumpkin I’d ever seen for sale. After realizing we weren’t all going to die in a fiery crash, my wife grinned at me and said, “pumpkin?” I nodded and ran before someone else could snag it.

She’s used to this seed-saving madness. I’ve been doing it for so long that if I ever stopped, she’d know I was taken over by an alien space pod.

But I digress.

Since Halloween is almost here and a lot of us will be cutting open pumpkins, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds. If you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o’-lanterns yourself or if you’re the type that can’t help but bring home beautiful new varieties from the local farmer’s market, today’s post is for you.

I’ve been growing pumpkin and winter squash for a long time and I’ve always loved how easy it is to save pumpkin seeds. They are a great size for planting and also germinate readily. Much more fun than dealing with mustard, lettuce, or carrot seeds.

Recently I posted a new video on how I save pumpkin seeds — and how I make seed packets to hold them until it’s time to plant them in the spring.

Here’s the video:

Now let’s break it down into a nice visual guide with pictures and everything.

How To Save Pumpkin Seeds, Step by Step

Are you ready to pack away seeds like a kleptomaniac squirrel so you never have to buy another pumpkin from the store again? I will help.

Step 1: Gut the Pumpkin and Save the Slop!

How to save pumpkin seeds step 1

The inner cavity of pumpkin and winter squash is filled with a stringy mess of pumpkin bits and seeds. This isn’t the “good eating” part of the pumpkin, so it’s not worth trying to save any of the stringy mass, except for the seeds. In order to do that, move on to step two!

Step 2: Clean the Pumpkin Seeds

saving pumpkin seeds step 2

I dump pumpkin guts and seeds into a colander and swish them around under running water to clean them off, smashing the goop through the holes and separating the strings. If you’d like to save pumpkin seeds for eating rather than planting, you can just go directly to roasting them at this point.

For seed-saving purposes, I’ve sometimes let pumpkin guts sit on the counter for a few days and rot around the seeds. This smells bad but really loosens up the seeds when you wash them out. I think it may also increase the germination rate but I haven’t tried a side-by-side trial.

Step 3: Dry The Seeds

saving pumpking seeds step-3

Seed-covered paper towels on counters, windowsills, shelves, tabletops, dressers and even the bathroom counter are common in our house during the fall as we save pumpkin seeds alongside the other heirlooms we want to plant in our spring gardens.

Spread your pumpkin seeds out someplace where they won’t get wet again. Also make sure they aren’t too wet when you spread them out (sometimes I pat them down with one paper towel, then spread them onto a second) and have good air circulation as you most definitely do not want them germinating on your counter. They should dry quickly. This will also keep them from molding as easily in storage and potentially losing their ability to germinate.

Step 4: Make Seed Packets and Pack ’em Up!

 saving pumpkin seeds making homemade seed packet

There are better ways to make seed packets, but I just rip a sheet of paper in half, fold that, then fold up the edges a few times and tape them. You can see how in the video – it’s very simple.

Because I’m cheap and hate throwing things away too fast, I use scrap paper from the children’s homeschool assignments or pieces the toddler has doodled upon.

My friend Steven Edholm has better looking seed packets, but they’re a bit small for the amount of pumpkin seeds I store.

saving pumpkin seeds homemade seed packet step-6

I also illustrate my homemade seed packets, which is NOT OPTIONAL. You have to draw on them. You just have to. It’s the rule.

Along with a drawing of the mother pumpkin, I also note the variety, the harvest year and notes on type. This is important as I work on my pumpkin breeding projects, but for your pumpkin seed saving, you likely just need to note the type or draw a nice picture of the headless horseman.

If you live in a humid climate or need to store seeds for a longer period, you can dry pumpkin seeds a little further in a dehydrator and then pack them in tightly shut Mason jars stowed in the fridge.

That’s it, the whole scoop on how to save pumpkin seeds. Happy gardening and enjoy the rest of October.

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published October 25, 2016.)

The post Grow Your Own Jack-o’-Lanterns: Learn How to Save Pumpkin Seeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

Does A Compost Pile Destroy Weed Seeds?

Click here to view the original post.

Does a compost pile destroy weed seeds? Or more specifically, does YOUR compost pile destroy weed seeds?

We are regularly assured by composting experts that hot composting destroys seeds … yet I have some pumpkins that beg to differ.

composting destroy weed seeds

Those pumpkins grew as volunteers from a compost pile a few years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a regularly turned compost pile, meaning they probably missed the hottest part of the heap, but how many of you turn your compost regularly? And I’m going to bet that you still had little tomatoes or weeds pop up in it. Come on, admit it!

My bet is ALL of you.

Here’s an example of “hot composting kills weed seeds” advice from Aggie Horticulture:

“The composting process also naturally kills weed seeds. Properly managed, a compost pile should easily reach 140°F, which breaks down all organic matter, including weed seeds.”

They recognize the difficulty, though, as the next line reads:

“The keyword is properly.”

My bet is that few gardeners reach that lofty, “proper” status.

Why Our Backyard Compost Pile Doesn’t Kill Weed Seeds

compost destroy weed seeds

A typical backyard compost pile isn’t insulated or turned often enough to maintain heat. Those viable seeds in the compost don’t get rotated through the hot center of the pile.

Yes, the heat generated by thermophilic bacteria (an organism living at hot temperatures) is high enough to destroy weed seeds, but getting every bit of your compostable materials hot enough to kill the seeds takes very good compost management.

My old compost pile didn’t do it. It was built from reclaimed landscape logs with too many gaps to get everything hot. Plus, turning it was a pain.

I imagine if you owned a cement truck and packed the barrel of it with a proper mix of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. Then you rotated it every day or so, and perhaps insulated the inside with foam. You could get that compost to heat up perfectly.

I’m joking. A bit.

My composting methods have gone from complicated to simple over the years. I’ve realized creating perfect compost doesn’t really matter.

Nature doesn’t create perfectly sifted, totally rotted, brown humus. No! She throws logs and leaves on the ground. There’s always some finished material and some fresh material, fungi eating at this, and some insect boring away at that.

But let me back up. What prompted today’s post?

This Viewer Asked a Question

There was a comment that prompted today’s great big post on weed seeds in a compost pile. Four words that led to 1,145 words (give or take):

weed-seeds-in-compost

Martha asked this question on this anaerobic compost tea video I posted:

My answer was:

“Good question. I try to avoid throwing plants with mature seeds into the tea. They never seem to get completely die in a hot compost pile, either. Even though we hear all the time that “hot composting kills weed seeds!” It’s probably true for the ones in the middle of the pile, but I’m always getting volunteer tomatoes, wheat from straw, weeds, and pumpkins popping up even from a hot compost pile. My guess is that this tea method will rot down most of the seeds, if it sits long enough … but not all of them.”

It takes a lot of faith in your compost to deliberately throw in weedy materials, no matter how you’re composting.

If you have spiny pigweed going to seed in your food forest, do you really think you’ll be able to throw that in your compost bin and use the resulting compost in your spring gardens without spiny pigweed popping up?

Do you want to take that risk?

I hear you, “But I Compost the Right Way!”

That’s fine—I appreciate the “thermometer and sifter” brigade.

To those about to compost, I salute you!

I am totally sure that I could destroy weed seeds by hot composting if I thought it out properly. However, my interest is more in gardening than in the processes that lead up to it. Making a “perfect” looking compost pile, or compost for that matter, isn’t as important to me as growing corn, pumpkins, beans, yams, and fruit trees. I also don’t like spending money to make perfect systems.

If you enjoy it, that’s fantastic. I love the smell, look and taste (well, maybe not taste) of finished compost. I made some nice-looking stuff myself this year and just sifted it the other day.

composting destroy weed seeds

I made that compost with almost no work, though. No thermometers, no turning, no measuring ratios of carbon/nitrogen to get that 25/1 mix. No, I just threw it all on the ground in one of my garden beds.

And—oh YES—LOTS of seeds came up in it! Enough to start my new fruit tree nursery.

I view this as a feature, not a bug. Sometimes I just let compost piles turn into garden beds since there are so many volunteer edibles coming up.

But What About Killing Weed Seeds???

Right – that’s what you all want to know, right? How CAN you compost those pesky weedy plants?

Weed_Bouquet_3

My favorite method is to keep them out of the compost pile and gardens altogether.

In my former food forest, I would chop down weeds and throw them on the ground around my fruit trees and other shrubs. If they self-seeded and came back, I’d chop them down again.

Unlike delicate annual garden plants such as lettuce and cabbage, trees and shrubs don’t need to be perfectly weeded in order to produce. I just knocked down the weeds again and again. Every time I did, guess what?

Those fallen weeds rotted into humus.

Nature does this all the time.

The winter freezes come once-a-year and kill all the weeds. They fall to the ground and rot into the soil, which improves it.

If you want to use weeds to feed your gardens, you’ll have much better luck in a no-till system where you throw a pile of seedy weeds on the ground. Then, cover them up with mulch … and then, DON’T TILL!

If you till, you’ll bring those seeds up to the light and warmth. They’ll go crazy in your eggplants. However, beneath a layer of mulch, they’ll eventually rot away safely.

That’s my two cents on composting and destroying weed seeds. Yes, a compost pile can destroy weed seeds … BUT … and it’s a big but … most of us aren’t doing it “properly.”

Don’t trust too much in the magic of compost to pile-drive your pesky pigweed problems.

Personally, I prefer cold composting anyhow! I believe it keeps more of the good stuff in the pile instead of steaming it away into the air. Nature almost always cold composts! While that process takes longer, I think it’s a simpler and gentler method. I wrote an entire book on composting (Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting) and many of the methods in that book are cold compost approaches.

You might also like these composting articles from David the Good:

How to Build a Super Simple Compost Pile From Local Materials

Back to Eden Chicken Run Composting: Easy and Productive!

Nature Is An Extreme Composter—You Can Be, Too!

Manure Tea—An Easy Way To Stretch Your Compost

So, tell us … have you had success hot-composting seedy weeds? The comments below are waiting for yours!

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More Food from the Wild and Your Yard – Graft Fruit Trees!

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LoquatVeneerGraft4

Despite a smashed thumbnail, the author bravely grafts a loquat tree in his food forest.

I once did a horticultural analysis of a property way out in the scrublands. The owner had good clean water, no real neighbors, a great location… and hot, fast-drying, mineral-poor sand that was really, really bad for gardening.

There was no couching it. I had to tell him: this area just won’t cut it for most of your planned annual gardening projects. It will barely support much in the way of fruit or nut trees.

What it did have was a decent amount of native American persimmon trees. They were dwarfed by drought and stress, but they were strong and alive. That said, I saw very few with fruit.

With antive persimmons you deal with a variety of drawbacks. Unlike their cultivated Japanese persimmon relations, they’re dioecious. That means you have male and female trees – and you need both to get fruit. The male won’t make fruit but it does provide the pollen that allows the females to fruit.

Japanese persimmons are self-fertile, plus they make hefty, sweet fruit that’s very worth growing. They’re also regularly grafted onto American persimmon rootstock.

Seeing the wild trees gave me an idea: why not use the existing trees as rootstock for Japanese persimmons? They’re already established and growing in poor soil, making them a perfect support for a higher-producing and delicious variety of improved persimmon!

Sometimes our first observations aren’t the best. You might see a crabapple with lousy fruit in your yard and think “I hate that thing! I’ll tear it out and plant a good apple in its place!”

Step back and think about it: maybe that tough tree is a resource you can use. With grafting you can go nip some twigs off good apple trees and just graft them onto the tree you don’t like. If it’s a happy and healthy mature tree, use it! If you can graft fruit trees, you can grow more food for less money.

Another interesting factoid to consider: you know those stupid ornamental pears people grow for the blooms? You can graft REAL pears onto them. There are folks doing that in California right now by illegally “guerilla grafting” street trees:

Doesn’t that change the landscape a bit? Ornamental trees are generally a non productive liability… productive trees are a serious asset. If you’ve got ornamental pears, plums, peaches, apples, etc… why not switch them up by grafting on some good varieties?

Grafting In Local Woods and Property

Here’s another thought for you.

In my neighborhood there are wild persimmons growing here and there around the block. Some of these are on empty lots and in unused property with absentee owners. We don’t know how bad things are going to get in the future so it makes sense to grow as much food as possible near our houses… even if that food is on other people’s land right now.

Wild persimmon fruit is only found on 50% of the trees (since the other half are male). That fruit is about 1″ in diameter, plus it’s astringent and seedy.

I have Japanese persimmons in my yard that make fruit that looks like this:

Hachiya1

That fruit is as large as a beefsteak tomato and just as delicious (if not more so).

Though the legalities are rather grey, I don’t think anyone would really mind if I were to take buds off my Japanese persimmon tree and graft them into the wild trees here and there around the neighborhood. People will find it rather puzzling, sure – but be upset by it? I doubt it. Heck, at the very worst all I’ve done is improve somebody’s tree. Hehhehheh.

Just thinking out loud here. In your local woods you may have quite a few trees growing which could be judiciously improved, turning them into fruit-production machines rather than marginally useful wild specimens.

Grafting Is Easy

I know what many of you are thinking: “All the above is nice, Dave… but I don’t know how to graft fruit trees!”

I understand that feeling. I was in your shoes for a long time. Grafting was something that seemed… complicated. Planting beans? No big deal. Drying fruit? Easy.

Grafting? OMIGOSHNO! THAT LOOKS HARD!

Well… it takes a little whittling experience (unless you go this route)… and a couple of decent tools… but it isn’t really hard. If you’d like a quick illustrated guide, click here. Though it states that wood should be dormant, I’ve been able to successfully graft in summer here in Florida, at least on loquat trees.

One of my favorite (and most successful) ways to graft is called “veneer grafting.” At my site you can see how I saved the genetics of an improved loquat tree hit by a string trimmer by grafting some of its buds onto some seedling loquats.

Don’t worry about messing up. We all mess up. There’s no harm in trying something new.

This spring I grafted a big, sweet improved plum onto a sour native plum tree. I did five grafts – one took:

WildPlumGraft1

The leaves on the grafted plum variety are about 10 times the size of the weenie leaves on its native plum host. The author finds this strangely hilarious.

Now, in the fall of the same year, that branch is about 3′ long. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have it bear fruit this coming spring.

Get yourself a sharp pocketknife, some pruning shears, a roll of grafting tape and your courage… then start experimenting.

Grafting can help you get food from unproductive trees and lots – harness it and you’ll be just that much more prepared for an uncertain future.

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Top 7 Mistakes To Avoid When Harvesting Rain Water

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Harvesting rain water should be a priority for any serious prepper or gardener.

Did you ever go on a long hike, then find yourself parched with thirst? The need for water catches up with you quickly.

If the city water or your well shut down for a week, would you be able to survive or would your house become unlivable? Stockpiling guns, gold and food is a good idea – but having a way to hold on to water is of paramount importance.

Fortunately – in most climates – God gives us a ready supply from above if we can just figure out how to capture it. I’ve been harvesting rainwater on a budget for years and have figured out what works and what doesn’t.

Today I’ll share my top 7 mistakes to avoid when harvesting rain water. I’ve also put them into a video version:

Let’s jump into the mistakes, starting with a very common one.

Mistake #1: Make It Expensive

Harvesting rain water DOESN’T need to be expensive!

If you have a larger budget and plan on keeping your homestead for a while, there are excellent systems with diverters, filtration, underground cisterns and pumps – which are great – but not necessary if you’re having a hard time rubbing two nickels together. You can do this on the cheap. I’ve even converted trash cans to rain barrels:

harvesting rain water

Though after I set up a couple of homemade rain barrels at my old homestead, I realized I could capture a lot more water for free by creating ponds. Instead of digging proper ponds with expensive liners, I got a pair of solid old hot tubs from a local pool company. All I had to pay was a delivery fee (these suckers were too heavy for me to move!), then find PVC caps to fit the pipe holes in them. Direct a gutter into a hot tub and you’ll hold hundreds of gallons of water. I planted mine with edible and useful aquatic plants and threw in some local “mosquitofish” and gold fish to eat any mosquito larvae that might show up. I also scored another hot tub by the side of the road, taking my total up to three.

The total capacity was roughly 1200 gallons between them and I had plenty of water to keep my gardens alive through any drought.

Mistake #2: Let the Mosquitoes In

Mosquitoes can take a great idea and make it a health hazard. As new viruses sweep around the world, people are rightly concerned about the danger of harvesting rainwater improperly. Even old tires hold enough water to breed mosquitoes, so a rain barrel has the capability of breeding thousands of the bloodsuckers.

The best way to keep them out is to keep your rain barrels or cisterns covered so mosquitoes don’t lay their eggs. I’ve covered mine with screening in the past, then had the screening get pushed in during a heavy downpour, which then let mosquitoes lay eggs, leading to a bunch of squiggling larvae.

harvesting rain water

I cover compost tea barrels and rain barrels with screening but it isn’t foolproof.

A friend with an excellent rainwater harvesting system much bigger than my own told me that he had issues with mosquitoes occasionally due to openings, but he had used “mosquito dunks,” which are a non-toxic mosquito-killing product comprised of bacteria that sicken and kill the larvae. Just desserts!

I tried it and they worked like a charm; however, the best method is just to keep things closed.

Mistake #3: Choke The Flow

This was my first rookie mistake.

I built a pair of rainbarrels and carefully attached spigots to the bottoms of them, hoisted them a few feet above the ground on stacked cinderblocks, then directed in the gutters. After the first rain I was excited to give them a test, so I put a bucket under the spigot and opened it fully. To my great irritation, the faucet aperture was too small. It would take about three to five minutes to fill a bucket. That’s an eternity if you’re hoping to get some watering done, and it meant I used those rain barrels a lot less than I would have if they had generous faucets.

A friend has a great big PVC outlet on the side of one of his 1,000 gallon cisterns that allows out a blast of water when cranked open.

That’s what you want – don’t use fiddly weenie faucets!

Mistake #4: Go Too Small

Don’t go too small!

Just like you don’t want little faucets, you should also avoid small storage capacity. Though I thought rain barrels were a great idea at first, I realized that they filled in just a few minutes under the gutters, then overflowed for the rest of a rain storm. That’s when I got thinking about ponds and then added hot tubs. The rainwater harvesting capacity of a roof is incredible.

The University of Arizona reports “A one-inch rain will collect 600 gallons from a 1,000 square foot roof, while 4,500 square foot lot will receive 2,800 gallons!”

They further share how you can calculate the water catching power of your roof:

  1. Measure the square footage of the collection area (for example a roof that is 30 feet wide x 50 feet long = 1500 sq. ft.)
  2. Multiply the area by the amount of rain in inches
  3. Multiply that number by 0.623 (that is the quantity of water in gallons one inch deep in one square foot of space)

= number of gallons that can be collected.

More capacity is better!

Mistake #5: Miss The Power of Swales

This is a common mistake.

Like your roof, the ground also catches a lot of water, yet much of it is lost due to evaporation and run off.

Using swales as a method of rainwater harvesting makes a lot of sense. Swales are just ditches or indentations deliberately constructed to slow the movement of water and allow it to soak in.

Here’s a swale running through our cocoa orchard:

harvesting rain water with a swale

Though this isn’t a method for harvesting rainwater you can drink, swales hydrate the soil deeply and effectively, particularly on sloping ground. Using swales creates passive irrigation downhill from the swale and can transform a dry area into an oasis.

Find the contour of your land and dig some swales, then plant fruit trees or gardens or both around them. I’ve seen roadside ditches filled with green vegetation at the bottom during a drought that has burned all the surrounding grass brown.

If you’re harvesting rainwater to grow food, look into swales!

Mistake #6: Muck it Up with Algae

Algae is the enemy of clean water.

Though it won’t hurt your plants to dump scummy green water on them (in fact, they like it), it’s not appetizing or helpful if you hope to filter and drink the water you catch.

Like mosquitoes, the best way to beat algae is not to let it into the system to begin with.

Harvesting rainwater in black covered containers will keep algae from becoming a problem. They are tiny plants which photosynthesize for survival, so if you cut off the sunlight you cut off the algae. I’d rather use darkness than an algacide if I have my choice.

Mistake #7: Not Harvesting Rain Water at All!

The biggest mistake in harvesting rain water… is to NOT harvest rain water at all.

You need very little infrastructure to get started.

Heck, throwing a trash can under a gutter is better than nothing – and digging a swale isn’t tough either. Just mulching after a rain will trap moisture in the soil and make your plants happier. If you have more of a budget, get some big cisterns going.

Where I live in Central America, almost every house has a cistern for harvesting rain water in case of hurricanes or a loss of city water. Water is life – get harvesting now and you’ll be in a much safer place. Without water, you and your survival gardening plans will come to nothing.

Good luck and thanks for reading. May your plans prosper and the rains fall abundantly.

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Roll Your Own Cigars

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If you don’t see tobacco as important to survival, I feel for you.

I’ve been growing it for years (and you can too) and during the worst days of the crash, when I was unemployed, watching friend after friend go broke and seeing folks lose their homes right and left… a good cigar was one of the few simple pleasures that made things better, at least for 45 minutes or so.

That’s not to say I was rolling my own. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to master that skill – but this video has given me some hope that I will one day:

The packing of the interior seems to be where my attempts always fall short. I’ve noticed that the elasticity of the tobacco leaf on the interior wrapper also presents problems, though I’ve been working on hydrating it better and my last couple of attempts did quite a bit better.

Sometimes it’s “try, try again,” especially when you don’t have a teacher locally.

If you don’t think you can manage to roll cigars, you might try making your own pipe tobacco or even grinding snuff with a coffee grinder. That works really well and ladies totally dig the snorting and sneezing associated with this arcane pleasure.

If all else fails, it’s pretty easy to roll a cigarette, too, but I don’t go in for those. It just doesn’t pack the “awesome” that a cigar does.

Trust me, though: if SHTF, tobacco is going to be a highly desirable commodity, no matter how it’s processed or consumed. Learn to grow it, at least – then pray you can find a Cuban friend to roll it for you.

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The Top 7 Survival Gardening Secrets

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If your eyes are open right now, you know Western Civilization is in trouble. Now is the time to start survival gardening.

Today we share 7 survival gardening secrets that will get you off on the right foot.

1. Grow Near, Not Far

This is one of those “secrets” I can’t repeat enough. Don’t put your garden beds at the edge of your yard. Put them where you’ll see them. This will keep pest problems from becoming plagues. If your chickens are digging up the corn, you’ll see it… instead of finding bare ground and chicken tracks a week later. You may think you’ll be out there in the garden every day, but “out of sight, out of mind” holds truer than most of us would like to admit.

2. Healthy Soil is Key

Make sure the ground you’re trying to garden upon is suited to it. A reader recently sent me pictures of the land she is hoping to plant as a food forest. I took one look and shook my head.

The ecosystem was obviously Pine Flatwoods: acid sugar sand, poor mineralization, a clay layer, intermittent flooding and droughty conditions.

survival gardening

This is tough land for survival gardening.

When even the weeds look sick, you may need to hunt for a better spot. Though it’s possible to grow a food forest there – barely – a better use for the ground would be for growing timber and blueberries, not survival gardening or food forests.

If that was the only land I could get, I would turn to livestock such as goats, chickens and cattle for my calories, rather than plants.

If you are stuck with poor conditions all over your yard and need to garden, I recommend deep mulching the worst areas if you have the material – and if you don’t, then double dig or broadfork the soil, then feed it well with a wide range of nutrients. Planting nutrient-accumulating chop and drop species for mulch and compost is another good idea.

3. You don’t Need Lots of Compost

Having tons of organic matter is great but most of us don’t have that luxury. It’s hard to make enough compost (though I greatly expand the possibilities in my book Compost Everything) so you need to get creative. My favorite method is to make an anaerobic compost tea with a wide range of inputs. Manure, urine, seaweed, saltwater, fish guts, kitchen scraps, Epsom salts, weeds, grass and leaves – if it has some decent nutrition in it, I will pile it in a barrel, top off with fresh water and let it rot for weeks, then use it as a diluted fertilizer for my crops. Like this:

It (literally) stinks but can save your life in a survival gardening situation.

4. No Irrigation? No Problem

If you get a decent amount of rainfall during the growing season, you may not have to run irrigation to your gardens. Instead of planting intensively in tight spacing, clear more ground and increase the space between plants and rows. I grew a corn patch this way as an experiment one year and had fine luck.

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Since then I’ve done the same with cassava, pigeon peas and winter squash.

Wide spacing and clear ground will keep your plants hydrated as root competition will be reduced and they can find the moisture in the soil with less difficulty. Steve Solomon’s book Gardening Without Irrigation is available online for free – download and read it for good in-depth info.

You can’t do this in all climates but you might be surprised how many farmers pull off irrigation-free gardening and where they are able to do so.

Want To Know Where To Find Hidden Water Sources For Irrigation?

Discover where neighborhoods hide 1,000 of gallons of emergency water

5. Urine is an Excellent fertilizer

This ties in with the anaerobic compost tea idea but it’s quicker. Urine contains a range of minerals and lots of much-needed nitrogen. In many countries it’s been used instead of chemical fertilizers and I think it makes more sense. I’ve seen rich, green gardens and trees fed on nothing but urine. It works.

Dilute urine with water so it doesn’t burn the plants with nitrogen and salt – I find six parts water to one part urine works well. I’m feeding some weak pumpkin vines this way right now and they’re really starting to perk up.

6. Calories First!

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I grow African yams as a staple.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but we gardeners aren’t always the most practical people on the planet. We like the challenge of growing interesting things and we also love our culinary treats. Fresh tomatoes, cilantro, hops. These are all great – yet if you’re survival gardening, you’re not hobby gardening.

You need to find the best staple crops for your area and concentrate on those primarily.

As I’ve written before, plant calorie crops first – then plant some patches of nutrition crops next.

Keeping yourself from starving is more important than the potential nutritional deficiencies you might face later.

I would argue that in most case you could probably meet many of your nutritional needs through wild plant foraging for greens, nuts, berries and game.

Finding caloric staples is harder.

Plant roots, winter squash, beans and grain corn first in most climates. Also – Jerusalem artichokes and white potatoes are good in the north, cassava, sweet potatoes and African yams in the Deep South. Dent corn is your grain corn for the South – flint corn for the north.

This ties in to my next tip:

7. Snag Seeds Locally

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I found this beautiful pumpkin at a roadside stand. Now I own the seeds and can grow my own.

Buying seeds through the mail from a seed company growing crops in a different climate isn’t the best way to prepare for a crash.

If the plants were cultivated for seed in Southern California but you live in New Hampshire, the varieties may not be well adapted to your growing conditions. This is why I seek out local varieties of vegetables at farmer’s markets, farmer’s stands and local gardeners.

See a stack of pumpkins on a stand by the road?

Ask the farmer if he grew them locally. If he did, buy one and save the seeds. Ask around for bean varieties that do well in your area. Pick up local grain corn from the farmer’s market if it’s being sold for decorations in the fall.

Keep your eyes open.

You want those seeds which will make plants that can handle your levels of sunshine, pests, humidity, rainfall and everything else. Local is good – start hunting!

I buy pumpkins all the time and save their seeds. In this video you can see how I do it:

I have been known to screech to a stop by a roadside farm stand because I spotted a variety not currently growing on my farm.

Conclusion

The survival gardening secrets I shared today will put you in good stead in a crisis but they’re just part of the story. You can grow your own food in a crisis but it’s very important to start right now.

I highly recommend you pick up my Survival Gardening Secrets program and learn. Get growing – and may God be with you.

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Fall Survival Gardening REDWOOD UPDATE

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What To Plant in Your Fall Survival Garden

Unlike the spring and summer, fall is a time when nature is winding down. Depending on how far north you live, this may be an almost complete cessation of growth with frozen soil and plants buried beneath snow and ice… or it may be in some half-living state where most everything is brown but there are still vibrant green patches of cold-loving weeds such as wild mustard.

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Almost all the best staple crops for survival grow in the spring and summer months with many of them ripening in fall. Beans, grain corn, winter squash, sweet potatoes. These are storable calories you can pack away for the cold months of winter.

Fall crops have to produce fast before it gets too cold unless you live in the South. Even then, many species are not cold-hardy enough to consistently feed you every winter. Carrots and cabbage might do fine one year and be turned into frosty mush the next.

The predominant characteristic to seek in a survival crop is calories. The second attribute to seek is nutrition. Both are very important but it takes longer to have problems with nutrient deficiencies in your diet than it does to become very hungry. Planting kale is a very good idea but living on kale would be tough.

Cassava is a good survival crop for warm climates because it’s quite calorie dense. However, if you consume just cassava roots you’ll be dealing with nutrition issues after a while, making greens, berries, meat and other food sources important.

Potatoes are calorie-dense and more nutritious, but a gardener should still throw in beets, carrots, broccoli, etc., to round out his diet.

You get the idea. Throwing all your eggs in one basket isn’t a good idea, especially when gardening for survival. It’s not good for your health or your survival prospects. Just ask the Irish.

Let’s assume this fall garden you are planting is your first garden of the year or that you were not able to plant all you wanted to plant in the spring. Perhaps rats ate your corn (like they did with a lot of my corn this year) or you lost your prize Hubbard squash to blight.

What three high calorie crops would you plant in a fall survival garden to get you through a long winter?

Here are my suggestions.

High Calorie Survival Crop #1: Turnips

Though turnips will keep you alive, if you eat too many of them you’ll wish for death. Not because they’ll upset your stomach or anything; just because they’re painfully boring. I plant them anyway, because they are a bank of calories in the ground you can trust to grow in a crises. We have had them in stews, sautéed and even as an ill-considered pie. In my mind, the best part of the turnip is probably the greens. Those are quite nutritious, but unfortunately lack the caloric load of the roots themselves.

What turnips lack in appeal, they make up for in ease of growth. And they are beautiful.

cold frame gardening

Plant turnips in late summer or early fall, depending on your climate, and you’ll soon have more than you can eat.

Turnips like loose soil with moderate fertility and they need space to make good roots.

My preferred planting method is to rake out a seed bed and to scatter the seeds across the surface and cover lightly with compost or raking them into the soil. Water well and seedlings will usually emerge in a week or less. Cutworms and other insects will sometimes do some thinning for you so don’t be too quick in thinning out the bed. I usually let them grow at least their first pair of true leaves or a little more before snipping off some of them at ground level with scissors and adding those thinned plants to sautés or even fresh salads. Thin the young plants to about two inches apart. Then when those plants are touching each other and starting to crowd, repeat the thinning process and continue eating the nutritious greens.

If you are planting turnips over a larger space, planting them further apart in rows maybe a good idea as thinning becomes labor intensive in a larger space. A seed planter can help. The awesome seeder attachment for the Hoss wheel hoe designed by my friend Greg at easydigging.com is a marvelous tool I have used in the past – just be aware that it has difficulty in loose sand and needs some tweaking to give you good coverage in those conditions. A cheaper and less precise method is to make furrows with a hoe or by pressing a dowel or tool handle into the ground. Then drop seeds in by hand at about a two inch spacing and cover lightly with loose soil. Don’t plant turnips too deeply.

In two to three months, depending on temperatures, you can start harvesting roots. Final plant spacing should be at about six inches, but with a bed like this, you will likely only have to thin once. Ensure that the seeds you plant are for a root variety and not for greens, as those produce woody and inedible roots. Turnips may not be exciting, but they will keep you alive.

High Calorie Survival Crop #2: Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are a Native American staple which can sometimes be found wild in North America. Some people have difficulty digesting them but they produce a lot of roots for a little work.

cold frame gardening

To grow Jerusalem artichokes, plant tubers at two foot spacing in Fall, Winter, or early Spring. Though they will not feed you until next Fall, it is a very good idea to get them in the ground so they will be there for the future. In my mind, they are a better livestock feed than a human feed. The roots are delicious raw, with a mild earthy flavor somewhat reminiscent of a light carrot.

Just be careful, they can give you incredible gas. Seriously. Don’t eat many of them until you have tried them out. Some methods of cooking help, fortunately, but boy… they can mess you up if you’re not used to their power.

In the far South they are less reliable but they grow excellently all the way north into Minnesota and are a perennial which is an additional benefit for survival gardeners. Jerusalem artichokes do not require high soil fertility or much care. They prefer full sun but I have had them produce decently in half shade on marginal ground where the topsoil was stripped off by construction the previous year.

That’s impressive.

Plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers in a place where you don’t intend to grow another crop any time soon as they are very persistent and will regrow from any piece left in the ground. When you plant them in the fall and in the winter, don’t expect them to come up until the following spring when the soil warms. They look just like sunflowers when they emerge which makes sense as they are a species of sunflower. All summer they’ll grow taller and taller, bursting into bloom in the short days of fall.

cold frame gardening

After they freeze back, you can pull up the stems and harvest the abundant clusters of knobby roots. They do not store well once dug but store excellently in the ground and can be pulled all through the cold months until they start to sprout in the Spring. Then the tubers deteriorate rapidly to feed the new growth.

One final benefit: Jerusalem artichokes make a lot of biomass for the compost pile, often reaching to eight feet in height. That growth can also be cut and fed to cows, goats and rabbits.

High Calorie Survival Crop #3: Parsnips

Parsnips are an often overlooked high-calorie member of the carrot family.

cold frame gardening

Photo credit Troye Owens

Parsnips can take some freezing weather and actually improve in flavor after a frost; however, if your weather is quite cold you’ll need to shovel some dirt or mulch over your parsnip bed to keep them in the ground safely until spring. They do take almost four months to make good harvest-sized roots, so it’s time to get them in the ground if you live in a mild climate or you will have to wait until spring if you live where frosts are imminent.

Before planting, loosen the soil well so the roots can push deep. Plant parsnips like you would carrots and be careful not to bury the seeds too deeply.

They will take at least a couple of weeks to emerge so be patient. Thin as they grow to give each root about 4” of space, then wait until they get nice and fat and start to push the tops of their roots up from the ground before you harvest.

Other Crop Possibilities

For nutrition’s sake, I would recommend also planting kale, cabbage, mustard collards, beets, garlic and carrots.

Garlic cloves will live in the ground through the winter and emerge in spring to make nice heads, so don’t pull them early.

Some varieties of kale are hardy enough to live through lots of snow and still be dug for leaves in the winter.

One more winter crop I like to plant is the fava bean. It gets damaged when temperatures reach the teens, but it’s a nice thing to grow just for its nitrogen-fixing ability. If you have an unused fall bed, plant it with fava beans. Even if you don’t get a harvest, they’ll make that ground better for the spring. If you do get a harvest, you’ll be enjoying gourmet fava beans. No way to lose!

If you have enough time before frost, you can also plant some potatoes in fall and dig them up before they freeze completely, giving you some roots for the cellar.

Conclusion

Time is ticking away until temperatures end this year’s gardening for good. Get started now – and if it’s already too late in your area for most of these crops, start gathering leaves for spring composting and be sure to plant Jerusalem artichokes before the soil freezes. You may be glad for those in the future.

Any cold-hardy high calorie crops you think we should have added? Let us know in the comments.

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FACEOFF: What’s The Most Important Desert Survival Skill?

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What's The Most Important Desert Survival Skill?

Picture yourself alone beneath the blazing sun. You can feel the beginning of a sunburn and it’s only 11AM. Cursing yourself for forgetting a hat, you take another swig from the single bottle of warm water you grabbed from your car, cringing at the oily plastic taste. It’s already 3/4 empty.  You start to wonder if leaving the car was a good idea. Maybe someone would’ve spotted it? Yet the road is in the middle of nowhere. What a place for radiator failure. The horizon ripples with heat as you try to remember the last town you passed in your air-conditioned vehicle, radio cranked up, looking for that out-of-the way cell tower you were supposed to service. The road ahead stretches on forever. No shelter and no hope in sight. In another hour your water will be gone… and the worst of the day’s heat is still to come…

 

If you were stuck in the desert… how far could you go? What skills would you need?

The world isn’t as stable as it once was. And the world has never been very stable in general.

There are earthquakes, wars, plagues and riots, and the ever looming possibility of a TEOTWAWKI event.

There are even simple things like mechanical failure on a lonely strip of highway or a wrong turn on a hike.

Get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time and you may end up dead. Yet the desert can be conquered – or at least survived – if you have the skill. Many tribes have done so throughout the centuries.

Desert survival requires serious knowledge and experience… and the experts we gathered to answer our questions abound in both. Men with their own unique skills, backgrounds and abilities.

Four desert survival skill experts: Max Cooper, Bob Hansler, Tom McElroy and AZ Prepper.

We asked them all the same question: What do you think is the #1 skill people will be sorry they didn’t practice before they end up being in a desert survival situation where their life depends on it?

Read and learn as one day the stumbling man in the desert… may be you.

Max Cooper on Desert Survival Skill

Max-cooper-desert-survivalWhat do you think is the #1 skill people will be sorry they didn’t practice before they end up being in a desert survival situation where their life depends on it?

“The number one survival skill is mindset.

While this is more of a “soft” skill as opposed to a “hard” skill, it is incredibly important. You must have the mindset that you will survive no matter what happens. The desert is a brutal environment where everything is out to get you such as extreme heat, blistering sun, lack of water, poisonous snakes and a variety of thorns from plants and cactus. In a true life or death emergency your survival mindset must be strong.

I like to say, ‘The will to survive beats the skill to survive.’

A survival mindset allows you to properly plan before you enter the desert to ensure that you are properly prepared. It allows you to have contingency plans for when things do not go as expected. A survival mindset gives you the confidence and focus you need in an emergency so that the physiological and psychological reactions of stress do not overwhelm your coping mechanisms. Too many people overly rely on hard skills such as fire starting and shelter building while never giving any attention to the importance of mindset.

If you do not possess a survival mindset no amount of skills will keep you alive. A survival mindset gives you the mental capacity to focus on survival so that you do not give into fear.”

 

Vital Stats on Max Cooper:

Max Cooper is an author and survival instructor who is highly skilled in both mountain and desert environments. He has worked inside the criminal justice system, taught firearms courses, trained with the FBI and has extensive experience in officer safety and survival. He also designs outdoor gear systems to prepare for different types of emergency situations including natural disasters, terrorism, civil unrest, and more.

Go check out his books here and follow him on Facebook here.

Bob Hansler on Desert Survival Skill

Bob-HanslerQuestion #1: What do you think is the #1 skill people will be sorry they didn’t practice before they end up being in a desert survival situation where their life depends on it?

“Quick Answer: orienting by starlight. Being able to navigate at night is one of the most important aspects of desert survival. In the desert you should be most active at night. Knowing a few of the constellations and being able to locate the North Star can allow you keep your bearing, especially when heading over distance towards a landmark or potential water.

Complicated answer: the art of finding water. The most sought after substance in a desert is water. It is hard to find and those organisms that do have some stored away have become masters at holding onto it… so it often comes down to finding unclaimed water of your own.

First is patience. Shade and rest should be forced during daylight hours, your mind and body might urge you to act and move during the day, but that would likely be a fatal mistake. Let the twilight hours and the darkness of night become those of wakefulness and activity. Moving at night will save your body from the sun, reduce fatigue and lessen your water loss. An additional benefit to moving at night is that many deserts become cold after dark and staying active during these hours will keep you warmer.

Secondly, reading the land so that you have somewhere to go when the sun does finally fade. Simply stated, you want to find contours in the land. High points such as mountains will provide shade in their canyons and likely hold water of some form. Without mountains, head for lowland contours. Look for water runoff and dry creek beds. Follow these down while keeping an eye out for taller vegetation and areas of green. These lusher areas indicate that water is either at or close to the surface.

The further you travel down, the higher your chances of finding that lifesaving water.

An important note to consider when planning on walking by moonlight is that landmarks such as mountains are not always visible once the sun has set. Marking the direction of the mountains during the day and then orienting to that direction in respect to the north star when night falls can keep you on the right track through the dark hours.

Brush up on some basic astronomy.”

Vital Stats on Bob Hansler:

Bob Hansler teaches survivalist, bushcraft, and primitive skills in the great state of Texas. His popular YouTube channel is a wealth of information on everything from finding wild edibles to fishing and primitive cooking.

Bob is a lifetime advocate of Boy Scouts and an Eagle, as well as a former Biology Teacher and an avid outdoorsman with an insatiable desire to do more, learn more, and go further.

Tom McElroy on Desert Survival Skill

Tom-McElroyQuestion #1: What do you think is the #1 skill people will be sorry they didn’t practice before they end up being in a desert survival situation where their life depends on it?

“The trouble with theorizing about survival situations is that survival strategies are incredibly dependent on the resources available and the environmental conditions— there are countless variables. This is why I make sure my students have a huge bag of tricks to draw from so that they are able to dig deep into that bag and pull out just the right solution to the problem they are facing. Survival situations are the ultimate problem solving game, with the highest stakes. Its not enough to only know one friction fire making technique, or a few ways to make cordage from plants.

To be a good survivalist a person needs to have the ability to improvise with every environmental variable and adapt their strategy to suit the surroundings. I can imagine a desert survival situation where finding shelter materials is extremely difficult and others where it is a incredibly easy—the same for fire, water and food.

That said, I do feel that learning how to make an effective shelter and the ability to find water can be learned and completed with less practice than making a friction fire. Often times, a fire is necessary in a desert as there isn’t enough insulative materials to make a shelter that will keep you warm at night when the temperature bottoms out. Getting that first fire before nightfall can be the difference between life and death. Fire is also great in the desert as a signal and will increase your chances of being rescued immensely. For desert situations, the bow drill make of Yucca stalk and yucca leaf cordage is a great start.

Hand-Drill would be even faster if you can pull it off. However, for every thousand “survivalists” that learn how to create a bow-drill fire with prepared wood and a nylon cord as a string, there is one that can walk into the wilderness with nothing and make a friction fire from scratch. So, don’t assume that just because you can make a friction fire at home in optimal conditions, that you will also be able to make one in the wild. Get out there and do it time and time again, and when you really need it you change the worst night of your life into one where you stay warm and safe.”

>Editors NOTE: For a great video on other uses of the Yucca plant mentioned above you may also be interested in checking out our video on how to make yucca root soap.

Vital Stats on Tom McElroy:

Tom McElroy has taught survival and primitive skills to more than 15,000 students worldwide over the past 20 years. Tom has taught everyone, ranging from young children to avid hunters, outdoor enthusiast and elite military groups such as Seal Team Six. He has consulted for numerous news programs, Hollywood movies and was featured on the Discovery Channel. He hunted with blowguns in the Amazon with the Huaorani tribe, ran through Copper Canyon with the Tarahumara (Raramuri), lived with a tribal shaman in a palm thatched hut a hundred miles off the coast of Sumatra, trekked through the Baliem Valley of Papua New Guinea, the Andes of Peru, Sumba Indonesia and the Costa Rican Jungles.

Discover more and find out how you can join him for epic survival training via his website. His YouTube channel is also very worth watching.

AZ Prepper on Desert Survival Skill

69a53f6617b175e7c3d51d98866afc4c_400x400Question #1: What do you think is the #1 skill people will be sorry they didn’t practice before they end up being in a desert survival situation where their life depends on it?

“The two key components for survival in the desert is water and fire. Without both of these, you die.

Water is the most important immediate item for the body to function, but once found, it often needs cleaning to be made safe to drink. If only needed overnight this isn’t important, assuming medical assistance will be available quickly afterwards. But if you are stranded in the desert for an extended period of time, you must have safe drinking water. If the water isn’t safe, then death can follow soon afterwards.

In order to make water safe to drink, a fire is necessary. And then when evening arrives and the temperature drops, a fire is needed to stay warm and make it through the night.

Click Here To Learn How To Start A Fire

Starting a fire ad

Although the temperatures throughout the day may reach into the 120’s, the evenings can drop down to the 50’s or lower, making hypothermia a real threat.

Therefore, fire-making skills are the most critical skill. Whether it is making and utilizing a bow drill with the components readily available in the desert, or utilizing flint and steel from a tin carried with you in the desert, practiced skills are required.

It is a very easy thing to learn and simple to perform if you know what to do and practice. If you don’t know what to do, it is near impossible. So without some knowledge and practice, death is fairly certain.”

Vital Stats on AZ Prepper:

AZ Prepper is a knowledgeable guide to preparedness and has written on everything from gardening to camping, raising quail to C.E.R.T. training.

His excellent site on raising rabbits has also helped many homesteaders get started (including David The Good’s wife). As AZ Prepper writes, “…despite what you may think, preparedness is a very fun thing! Once you get started, a whole new exciting world opens up! And it’s a great thing to do as a family. Get your children involved. Teach them skills and empower them to be able to handle all things throughout their lives. Involving them will teach them about responsibility, planning ahead and will also help increase their self worth. No matter how you look at it, preparedness is a very positive thing. Be sure to keep stay away from fear mongering. Being prepared eliminates fear. It empowers a person. Keep your intentions right and help others as well.”

Discover more here at his website.

Conclusion

These guys know their stuff when it comes to surviving the desert. We highly urge you to hunt them down online, follow their books, websites and YouTube channels and learn. A big thanks to all of them for joining us here at The Prepper Project – time and knowledge are some of the most valuable commodities and they graciously shared both with us. We will have them all back soon to answer more questions, so watch for that.

So how about you? Do you have the skills you need? I know I don’t: yet. That’s why it’s important to keep learning, and as Max Cooper wrote, “you must have the mindset that you will survive no matter what happens.” Get knowledge now before it’s too late.

Stay safe out there.

DesertSurvivalDVD

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Build Your Own Paiute Deadfall Trap for Desert Survival

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The Home-made Paiute Deadfull Trap For Staying Fed

While doing research for an awesome upcoming post on desert survival, I came across Shawn Woods, a seriously cool YouTuber who makes primitive weapons, braids his own rope, hunts frogs with an arrow sporting a head he hand-knapped from an old Jack Daniels bottle… this guy is intense!

We often focus on finding water in the desert, or maintaining hygiene – but how about food? Knowing plants is a good place to start but you will soon start to crave protein. Shawn Woods may have provided the answer in this video on the Paiute deadfall trap. In it, we discover why this is a better option than the standard “figure 4” deadfall trap, and see how to build one step by step.  Plus, don’t forget how learning to make and use traps like this let’s you lighten your bug out bag load by allowing you to scratch a couple of items off your bugout bag checklist.

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How Does the Paiute Deadfall Trap Differ from a Figure 4 Deadfall Trap?

Shawn illustrates at the beginning the difference between these two iconic traps.

Parts needed for a paiute deadfall trap

“Figure 4” deadfall trap parts on top; Paiute deadfall trap parts on bottom.

The Paiute deadfall trap is slightly more complicated and has a piece of twine and a small trigger piece which the figure 4 deadfall trap lacks. According to Shawn, this makes it more effective.

So, how do you build one?

Step 1: Find Your Rock

First, find a suitable rock or log.

Rock-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

Make sure the rock is big enough to kill your desired game. In the video, Shawn is hunting mice so the rock is small.

Step 2: Secure Some Twine or Braid Your Own

braiding-twine-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

The twine for the trigger can be purchased or, as Shawn does, made from local materials. In his area, he notes that cordage can be made from milkweed, dogbane, cedar bark and stinging nettle. In the desert you would turn to the trusty yucca for good fiber.

Step 3: Get Your Blade Ready

For the sake of historic authenticity, Sean uses a piece of flint that he chipped off a larger chunk.

Flint-knife-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

Most of us would simply use a pocket knife, but the flint is definitely an option for you hardcore history buffs.

Step 4: Start Whittling Sticks

Cut your sticks and notches as shown in the earlier illustration.

cutting-sticks-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

At the end of your whittling, you want this set of pieces:

sticks-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

Step 5: Create Your Trigger

Now it’s time to create the trigger. This requires drilling a small hole through the flat trigger piece and running your cordage through it.

trigger-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

You can secure the twine with a knot or a small twig looped through it.

Step 6: Tie On the Trigger

It’s time to attack the trigger and get this sucker ready for trapping!

tying-trigger-for-Paiute-deadfall-trap

Step 7: Learn to Set the Trap

Now is the time of reckoning. Trap-setting time.

Setting-paiute-deadfall-trap

Seeing the pieces and how they fit really puts it all together in my head. As you can see, the trigger is bent around the base of the prop stick which holds up the diagonal stick. The little twig in the back is then separately braced against the trigger and tucked tight under the rock to stabilize the deadfall.

Step 8: Bait and Kill Meat!

Shawn demonstrates his trap on rats and mice via a night vision camera:

Mouse-in-paiute-deadfall-trap

To hunt bigger game, make the trap larger. Ideally, you would be nailing creatures a little larger than mice in a survival situation but the dynamics are the same.

Note the bait – what appears to be peanut butter – smeared above the small stick that holds the trigger in place. Any leaning or bumping that little twig and SMACK! You’ve nailed some meat.

Conclusion

So how hard is it to make a Paiute deadfall trap?

Well, my nine-year-old son built one after watching this video a few times. Though he is a sharp kid, I’m sure you could do the same. I’m going to practice my skills now before I need them.

Heck, I’d do this just to kill some of the rats eating my corn.

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Your Getting Started Guide To Fall Gardening Like Your Life Depended On It: Part I

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I used to wait for spring with bated breath. I would watch for a good day for tilling, go out and buy a bunch of transplants and seeds, and then have a wild and crazy weekend tearing up the earth and putting everything in the ground.

Thinking ahead? Naw… I had Spring fever! I wouldn’t think much about gardening until the seed catalogs started arriving… and then I would mostly browse and dream.

My nice garden beds were a good supplement to our diet but they weren’t a huge part of it. I was playing around with pretty beans and purple peppers, a few garlic plants, an heirloom corn I wanted to try… but it was haphazard and not planned for a long-term food security situation.

About a decade ago I realized how shaky the world was getting and knew things had to change. I also realized that just tearing up the ground and tossing fertilizer around wasn’t the way to ensure our piece of land was going to be healthy and strong enough to grow all of what we might need in a crash.

Even if you do work hard to build the soil, growing “all you need” is a tall order and it’s one even I haven’t reached yet… though every year I get closer. In 2015 I hit 1,000lbs of produce from our gardens (counting the random produce my children ate before it hit the scale) for the first time and the curve keeps going up.

The reason? I now work on preparing year-round by clearing and digging new patches of land, producing compost, planting fruit and nut trees and testing crops to find varieties that will go through the cold, the heat, the pests and the many diseases that want to rob us of our gardening sweat and toil. Much of this knowledge and experimentation culminated in my Survival Gardening Secrets course.

This fall, Chet and I want you to get ahead of the curve and get growing on a larger scale that takes less money out of your pocket and puts more produce on your table.

Here’s how you can build a fall garden – and an upcoming spring garden that will keep you fed through the year.

Let’s start with chickens.

Chickens Are Gardening Machines

When you pull out the gnarled remains of your summer tomatoes and squash, why not let chickens do the hard work of preparing your fall garden plots?

Get a good chicken tractor or fenced area in place around that plot and let those claw-footed tilling and manuring machines go!

My friend Larry built this simple chicken tractor for about $150:

He raises a good portion of his large family’s meat in there while improving his lawn. If you did the same thing with a garden plot, you’ll reap the benefits of all that turning and manuring. Chickens will compost in place while ridding your garden plot of stinkbugs and cutworms. I’ve pulled out a mess of spent vegetable plants from a garden bed and have been amazing to see just how many destroying insects are crawling around in the suddenly uncovered shade area beneath the brown stalks. Chickens turn those pests into eggs!

While this is a GREAT approach if you have a flat lawn, this sucker gets real heavy to pull through loose garden soil, up hills, in and around tightly planted Orchards or over raised Garden beds, which is why Chet Created these plans for a more light weight Chicken Tractor:

The Ultimate Portable Chicken Tractor

(Chet’s Chicken Tractor Blueprints Can Be Purchased Here)

Paul Gautschi of Back To Eden fame has a different approach. He uses his chickens to make good soil in their pen, which he then sifts and takes to his garden beds. If you have a big problem with predators snagging your Kentucky Fried goodness, this is another approach worth considering:

Kill the Weeds While the Sun Shines

I used to avoid using plastic in my gardens. Then I discovered its power for weed killing and I haven’t looked back.

If you have an area you’d like to garden but you haven’t gotten around to tilling it yet, summer and fall are the time to use the remaining heat of the sun to get it ready for later.

Get yourself some thick sheets of clear plastic and put them over the area. Pin down the edges with rocks or logs and let the sun create a weed-destroying greenhouse effect that will kill what you don’t want without removing the good biomass of all those weeds. They’ll bake and put humus into the soil beneath that plastic, then you can get out there and loosen the soil with a broadfork (this one from Meadow Creature is my favorite) or spading fork, then get planting when you’re ready.

When you till you turn up a lot of seeds that are waiting in the ground. When you kill with tarps this is less of a problem. I used to prefer black plastic until I saw some tests that were done side-by-side. Now I’m in the clear plastic camp.

An Alternate Approach

If you want to kill the weeds and really improve the soil long-term (and if you don’t have a big problem with pests like snails and slugs in your area), sheet-mulching is a good approach. The downside of sheet mulching is how much material it takes to cover a large area. If you have a friend with a tree-trimming company, great. If not, it’s not easy to get everything you need.

I successfully knocked out a persistent patch of Bermuda grass by putting down a double layer of cardboard and then stacking a foot of tree company mulch on top of it for a year. Back when I tilled that same area I had a very hard time keeping the grass from invading my beds and sapping the life from my tender domesticated vegetables.

Get Digging

One of my favorite ways to improve the tilth of the soil and reduce the water needs of my crops is to deeply double-dig garden beds. This is hard work but it’s good work. If you double-dig a garden area it adds more oxygen to the soil, improves the drainage and helps your crops delve deeply with their roots so they can get what they need in the soil.

I once did a test where I created a perfect square foot garden bed and a double-dug bed in sand that had only been amended with a half-inch of compost on top. The double-dug bed gave us about the same yields but needed a lot less watering. It also ate up a lot less compost, as a “proper” square foot bed is 1/3 finished compost. That’s too much pile-turning for me!

If you dig a garden bed well and then don’t step on it, it can stay loose and friable for a year or more. Pick areas where you can expand your garden beds while you’re planting your main beds in the fall, then get digging. If you’re not going to plant them right away, cover the area with tarps – or even better – woven plastic professional landscape “fabric” and then they’ll be ready to go when you need them. You can also dig beds and plant them with bags of beans, peas, rye, buckwheat, lentils, fava beans, chick peas, mustard or wheat seed from a local organic grocery store with the bulk bins. That’s a cheap way to cover the ground to keep out weeds while improving the soil at the same time. Sometimes I make a big seed mix from these bins, scatter it on the ground and rake ‘em in. As a bonus, you often get a bit to eat from these beds.

Double-digging is time consuming but when you dig a bed here and there on nice days, you’ll find eventually that you have a lot of long-term space in which to plant.

Get Composting Now

Composting used to be a chore for me. Now that I’ve realized Nature doesn’t care all that much about turning and aerating and that jazz, I’m having a lot more fun. After over a decade of extreme composting experiments, I even wrote a popular book on it. I’ve composted meat, sewage, pasta, paper and all kinds of other naughty things and my gardens just keep getting better and better. There are two main ways I compost without much work.

The first way is to choose a garden bed that I think could use some help and then start piling up compostable materials there, like this:

The other way is even cooler. It’s borrowed from the Koreans and isn’t anything like most compost most Westerners have seen.

All you do is find materials you want to compost and throw them in a barrel of water to rot down and ferment. I pick highly nutritional items such as urine, manure, moringa, seawater and comfrey to start with, then add whatever else I have around. Like this:

That looks insane but it works.

Let that rot for a few months and then thin it out as a liquid fertilizer for your gardens. It’s the bomb and it grows some danged good corn. Corn is needy, so if that crop likes it… imagine how the others will do!

On the downside, it smells horrible. Get a clothespin for your nose and don’t worry about it. And don’t pour it right on anything you’re about to eat. That’s nasty. It’s best for the establishment phase of a garden up until a few weeks before harvest. It’s also powerful growing magic for fruit trees.

One thing you absolutely DON’T want to do is buy compost or manure for your gardens.

Why? Because a lot – and I mean a LOT – of compost, manure and straw now contains persistent long-term herbicides that will utterly wreck your beds for a year or more. Don’t believe me?

Just ask Karen about her tomatoes.

Yikes.

I’ve read a lot of stories like this now and it happened to some of my own beds almost 5 years ago. Don’t let it happen to you.

BONUS IDEA: Plant Fruit Trees!

Fruit trees are really cheap compared to their potential yields.

What is an organic pear worth? Maybe $2? Imagine getting 400 of those from a tree you paid $25 for! That beats the heck out of most investments. Yet many of us don’t want to wait the 5-10 years it takes for impressive yields on fruit trees.

I used to feel that way… and then I got older. I plant on being here in a decade. Don’t you? Then get planting.

Plant more fruit and nut trees than you ever think you’ll need. Every fall, plant more. Go, drop $500 on fruit trees. Seriously. Get them in the ground, mulch around them, water them for the first year or two… and then, each spring as you plant your new garden beds, watch them wake up and grow. Eventually they’ll bear a few beautiful fruit. And then more and more and more. You can dry and preserve them. You can turn them into wine or hard liquor with a still. You can barter with them. You can fatten pigs on the fruit that falls. You can make incredible pies and cobblers, serve your children sun-ripened apples and peaches.

Look – just do it. Don’t wait to plant. Plant now and in the future you’ll look back and thank the “you” that is reading this right now.

Conclusion

We haven’t even covered all the potential vegetables you can plant in a fall garden yet… but what I’ve shared in this post will hopefully get you thinking long-term about your survival gardening plans. Get those chickens working. Get those weeds torched. Dig some new beds. Start some batches of compost. When you have the proper groundwork in place, your cabbages and turnips will almost grow themselves.

And so will the purple peppers (shh!).

Want More Survival Gardening Ideas?

Grab a copy of my Survival Gardening Secrets course that teaches you how to grow enough food to feed your family, even after the gardening centers close and you can no longer buy seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides to keep your garden alive.

Click here to access Survival Gardening Secrets

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How To Fertilize 8 Fruits & Vegetables for OUTSTANDING Flavor

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Fertilizing for growth is common… but fertilizing vegetables for flavor? That’s a different animal, but it’s something we need to consider.

If you were to spend a year eating potatoes, corn, beans and cabbage – without much in the way of seasoning – I’ll bet you’d be longing for some good chicken curry or a plate of fettuccine Alfredo at the other end.

Heck, I want both of those right now and I had eggs, bacon and fried plantains for breakfast.

In a survival situation, we may not have the luxuries or even the common spices we desire. You may, Lord willing, be able to grow all the best survival food you need for the table – but you also might get very tired of bland food over time.

Let’s face it: some vegetables just aren’t that exciting. I’m not going to name names, but…

Poor tasting Turnips

Fortunately, there are ways we can improve the flavor of our food without stockpiling gallon-jugs of Texas Pete and Adobo.

The key? Fertilizing for flavor!

Fertilizing Vegetables for FLAVOR? What?

Let me start by telling you a story that I’ve told before.

One year I dug a new garden bed on unused ground at my old house in Tennessee and planted a bunch of potatoes I “reclaimed” from a grocery store dumpster. I wondered how they would do in the hard, red clay, but I knew that the woods nearby and the wildflowers were always abundant, rich and green so I guessed the soil was fertile.

I was right.

When we later harvested those potatoes and prepared them in the kitchen, I was amazed. Unlike the potatoes I’d been eating all my life, these had a rich potato flavor that had to be tasted to be believed.

The mashed potatoes were heavenly.

The French fries were gourmet.

My wife’s stew was divine.

Yet remember: these were grown with boring old grocery store potatoes as the seed spuds. There was nothing special about them genetically; they had the exact same genes as the run-of-the-mill potatoes I’d been eating for years. It wasn’t like an old, half-blind farmer in the Andes had handed me an ancient heirloom variety and as I took it from his trembling hands I felt the weight of history.

No, these were just boring potatoes that had somehow turned into superb potatoes.

The key was the soil.

If there’s a proper spread of micronutrients in the ground, food just tastes better. If you are using 10-10-10 on poor soil, you may grow good-looking crops, but their flavor probably won’t match that of a neighboring gardener’s vegetables grown in mineral-rich soil.

General Principles for Fertilizing for Flavor

When I was a younger gardener I fertilized with the thought of “what will make this plant grow well?” in mind. Now I fertilize with the additional thought of “what will impart maximum nutrition to this plant?” Maximum nutrition is linked to maximum flavor – and it’s also better for your family’s health, obviously, as the nutrients you give to the plants will later be consumed by you.

Though there’s always some guesswork in the garden, I do most of my fertilizing with complex “teas” that contain a broad mix of materials in order to give my plants a high level of nutrition.

It may seem somewhat insane to the uninitiated, but here’s a recent video I did illustrating just the range of craziness that can be included in a fertilizer/compost tea:

Note that I didn’t have to buy anything to make this tea. Instead, I mixed in grass clippings, tree leaves, kitchen scraps, urine, manure and other materials.

This is a far cry from the three simple elements in 10-10-10. Beyond nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (which are abundant in urine), I’m adding grass and weeds, which contain lesser elements like manganese, calcium, zinc, iron, copper, etc. And I’m adding a lot of other bits and pieces that are sure to add even more micro and macronutrients.

As you can see in this following video, I also harvest sea water and seaweed and add that as well, which massively increases the levels of micronutrients going into my gardens:

With some plants – such as the potatoes I mentioned – I can definitely taste a difference in flavor because of micronutrient levels. With others it’s not as noticeable, though I haven’t done a serious side-by-side comparison.

Let’s take a look now at some survival crops you can “juice up” by targeting them for flavor and nutrition levels.

Potatoes

fertilizing for flavor makes for better potatoesPotatoes are my top all-around survival crop, unless you’re in an area where they don’t grow well. Unlike many garden vegetables, they like an acid soil. Providing this acidity makes it easier for the potatoes to take up nutrition. I grew them in Florida sand with 10-10-10 as a fertilizer and found their taste inferior to those grown in the rich clay of Tennessee, where I didn’t fertilize them at all. Potatoes do not like much nitrogen and they adore phosphorus, so if you want good root development, give them something rich in “P” like bone meal, then give them homemade compost tea (light on manure/urine) for the micronutrients. Coffee grounds in the garden bed are likely to be good as well. I used to get buckets of them from an espresso joint down the road and they went into all my garden beds. Rotten pine mulch is another good way to make your potatoes happy… and happy potatoes taste better.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are undemanding, so long as you have enough warm days to grow them during; however, they’re happier with some fertilizing. Like white potatoes, they don’t do well with a lot of nitrogen. I feed mine compost tea and usually throw some compost onto the soil before planting. Mulching with a good mix of materials (such as the mulch created by tree trimming companies clearing the powerlines) also seems to improve their happiness levels, though they’ll also grow quite happily in bare soil.

The real key to growing delicious sweet potatoes is the “curing.” If you pull them right from the garden, they’re starchy and somewhat bland. Set them aside for a few weeks to rest, however, and the flavor and sweetness vastly improve.

As a bonus: sweet potato greens are an excellent cooked green. Increase the nutrition in your soil and you’re certain to improve the flavor of the greens as well.

Kale

Kale harvested fresh from the garden is vastly better in flavor than the tough stuff you’ll find in the supermarket. Regular watering and planting before the summer heat seem to impact the flavor of kale more than any specific mode of fertilization, but I feed mine with regular applications of compost tea and make sure they also get plenty of nitrogen. I once side-dressed them with chicken manure and had them burn, so be careful. The best results on growth and flavor I’ve had was when I double-dug a garden bed and stirred in compost, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate, lime, Epsom salts and a tiny touch of Borax and sea salt. Again – it’s the wide mix of nutrition you’re shooing for. I got the idea to add sea salt and Borax from the excellent book The Intelligent Gardener which really dives into the importance of micronutrients in the garden.

Beans

beans fertilized for flavorI give my beans lots of compost tea and I also make sure to keep them watered and pick the pods regularly before they become stringy and hard.

For dry beans, I grow beans in between other crops and water them regularly and deeply with water and compost tea.

The flavor on both is better in rich soil than it is in poor. The black-eyed peas in the image tasted better than any we bought from the store (though the labor involved makes them a dubious survival choice).

Don’t give beans too much nitrogen, though, or they won’t give you as good a harvest.

Just compost is great – and they love mulch as well.

Wondering how much beans YOUR body will need when the SHTF, then take our 4 day survival calorie calculating test here.

Squash

Squash are so much fun to grow that I always plant some every year.

I skip the summer squash types and instead grow the real survival varieties: winter squash. These are the ones that keep for long periods of time on the shelf and that’s what I want.

Of course, if you’ve been gardening for a while, you know where the very best squash like to grow: right in the compost pile!

Look what happened in my garden one year:

great tasting pumpkins because of compost

Though I wasn’t consciously fertilizing for flavor, the compost made these pumpkins grow and taste amazing.

All those pumpkin vines – and the pumpkins in the wheel barrow – grew out of my compost pile.

Squash love compost and they taste great when grown in an area of rich fertility and allowed to reach full maturity on the vine. Once harvested, like sweet potatoes, they need a “curing” period to reach their full flavor. This ranges from a couple of weeks to a month or so. Just let them dry out on your porch, then bring them inside and tuck them into a well-aerated area to sit and cure.

I’ve had good luck digging pits, throwing in everything from meat scraps to ashes and raw manure, then covering with soil and planting squash or melon seeds on top. You can find out more about this method and a lot of other ways to turn everything into soil in my popular (and highly entertaining) book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Grain Corn

Forget sweet corn – grain corn is what you want for survival!

fertilizing for flavor grain corn

I give this crop a good write-up in Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening because it’s easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to store. Corn also creates a lot of biomass, making it a great base for compost piles.

Corn reaches its top growth and yield potential when you give it plenty of nitrogen. Diluted urine is a remarkably good fertilizer for corn, as is the rich compost/manure tea I explain here:

Corn, like potatoes, really likes rich soil and had amazing flavor when grown in the red clay of Tennessee. To recapture that fertility requires mixing up a good range of minerals for your crop through not only giving it urine or manure, but also giving it good compost. If you can’t create enough compost for the field you’re growing, water it with that anaerobic compost tea along the base of the stalks every couple of weeks.

It will fly – I guarantee it.

Garlic

Garlic is both medicine and food. It’s also been scientifically proven to increase in flavor and nutrition when provided with extra sulfur. I give them (and my other crops as well) Epsom Salts to “up” the sulfur and magnesium and increase growth.

The National Gardening Association reports:

Chemically, Epsom salts is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. It’s also the compound that gives vegetables such as broccoli and onions their flavors. Sulfur is seldom deficient in garden soils in North America because acid rain and commonly used animal manures contain sulfur, as do chemical fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate.”

Epsom salts are quite beneficial for the flavor of garlic and onions, not to mention cole crops like cabbage, broccoli and kale. Along with compost, throw some in and see how your garlic tastes.

Bonus Plant: Strawberries

fertilizing for better tasting strawberriesThough I think strawberries aren’t the best survival plant unless you’re in their optimal climate, they are nutritious and take up very little space.

Personally, I prefer cabbage for vitamin C and mulberries as a berry crop, but if you want something sweet in the Apocalypse – or if you’re growing with nutrition in mind, as my fellow columnist Kendra urges us in her article on the most nutritious survival foods to grow – strawberries are nice to have.

Gardening expert James Wong, author of the new book Grow for Flavor, recommends a few methods for growing sweeter strawberries, including giving them full sunshine, avoiding over-fertilization, and fertilizing with comfrey liquid (which is similar to how I make my anaerobic compost teas – just a stack of leaves in a bucket of water, left to rot, then applied to plants).

I’ve also made my own fish emulsion and strawberries seem to love its mineral rich essence, as do the neighborhood cats.

Conclusion

In the garden, if it’s good for you, it probably tastes good.

This goes against the “if it tastes horrible it has to be good for you” common wisdom we often hear.

A perfectly sun-ripened and well-fed tomato is delicious. Organic apples from the tree are wonderful. And I’ve already told you about how very good my potatoes tasted in Tennessee.

Do I know all the answers for what makes vegetables taste great? No. But I do know that deliberately fertilizing for flavor by increasing the micronutrients in the soil has made my produce taste better, at least in my admittedly subjective opinion – and there’s some science to back up my assertions. If you grow healthy, mineral-rich produce, you’ll be healthier as well.

Think nutrition and you’ll be on your way to better flavor. Mix up materials from year to year, compost everything, don’t forget micronutrients such as the ones found in seaweed and even diluted salt water… and you might just be able to put away the curry and the white sauce once in a while.

The post How To Fertilize 8 Fruits & Vegetables for OUTSTANDING Flavor appeared first on .

How To Fertilize 8 Fruits & Vegetables for OUTSTANDING Flavor

Fertilizing for growth is common… but fertilizing vegetables for flavor? That’s a different animal, but it’s something we need to consider.

If you were to spend a year eating potatoes, corn, beans and cabbage – without much in the way of seasoning – I’ll bet you’d be longing for some good chicken curry or a plate of fettuccine Alfredo at the other end.

Heck, I want both of those right now and I had eggs, bacon and fried plantains for breakfast.

In a survival situation, we may not have the luxuries or even the common spices we desire. You may, Lord willing, be able to grow all the best survival food you need for the table – but you also might get very tired of bland food over time.

Let’s face it: some vegetables just aren’t that exciting. I’m not going to name names, but…

Poor tasting Turnips

Fortunately, there are ways we can improve the flavor of our food without stockpiling gallon-jugs of Texas Pete and Adobo.

The key? Fertilizing for flavor!

Fertilizing Vegetables for FLAVOR? What?

Let me start by telling you a story that I’ve told before.

One year I dug a new garden bed on unused ground at my old house in Tennessee and planted a bunch of potatoes I “reclaimed” from a grocery store dumpster. I wondered how they would do in the hard, red clay, but I knew that the woods nearby and the wildflowers were always abundant, rich and green so I guessed the soil was fertile.

I was right.

When we later harvested those potatoes and prepared them in the kitchen, I was amazed. Unlike the potatoes I’d been eating all my life, these had a rich potato flavor that had to be tasted to be believed.

The mashed potatoes were heavenly.

The French fries were gourmet.

My wife’s stew was divine.

Yet remember: these were grown with boring old grocery store potatoes as the seed spuds. There was nothing special about them genetically; they had the exact same genes as the run-of-the-mill potatoes I’d been eating for years. It wasn’t like an old, half-blind farmer in the Andes had handed me an ancient heirloom variety and as I took it from his trembling hands I felt the weight of history.

No, these were just boring potatoes that had somehow turned into superb potatoes.

The key was the soil.

If there’s a proper spread of micronutrients in the ground, food just tastes better. If you are using 10-10-10 on poor soil, you may grow good-looking crops, but their flavor probably won’t match that of a neighboring gardener’s vegetables grown in mineral-rich soil.

General Principles for Fertilizing for Flavor

When I was a younger gardener I fertilized with the thought of “what will make this plant grow well?” in mind. Now I fertilize with the additional thought of “what will impart maximum nutrition to this plant?” Maximum nutrition is linked to maximum flavor – and it’s also better for your family’s health, obviously, as the nutrients you give to the plants will later be consumed by you.

Though there’s always some guesswork in the garden, I do most of my fertilizing with complex “teas” that contain a broad mix of materials in order to give my plants a high level of nutrition.

It may seem somewhat insane to the uninitiated, but here’s a recent video I did illustrating just the range of craziness that can be included in a fertilizer/compost tea:

Note that I didn’t have to buy anything to make this tea. Instead, I mixed in grass clippings, tree leaves, kitchen scraps, urine, manure and other materials.

This is a far cry from the three simple elements in 10-10-10. Beyond nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (which are abundant in urine), I’m adding grass and weeds, which contain lesser elements like manganese, calcium, zinc, iron, copper, etc. And I’m adding a lot of other bits and pieces that are sure to add even more micro and macronutrients.

As you can see in this following video, I also harvest sea water and seaweed and add that as well, which massively increases the levels of micronutrients going into my gardens:

With some plants – such as the potatoes I mentioned – I can definitely taste a difference in flavor because of micronutrient levels. With others it’s not as noticeable, though I haven’t done a serious side-by-side comparison.

Let’s take a look now at some survival crops you can “juice up” by targeting them for flavor and nutrition levels.

Potatoes

fertilizing for flavor makes for better potatoesPotatoes are my top all-around survival crop, unless you’re in an area where they don’t grow well. Unlike many garden vegetables, they like an acid soil. Providing this acidity makes it easier for the potatoes to take up nutrition. I grew them in Florida sand with 10-10-10 as a fertilizer and found their taste inferior to those grown in the rich clay of Tennessee, where I didn’t fertilize them at all. Potatoes do not like much nitrogen and they adore phosphorus, so if you want good root development, give them something rich in “P” like bone meal, then give them homemade compost tea (light on manure/urine) for the micronutrients. Coffee grounds in the garden bed are likely to be good as well. I used to get buckets of them from an espresso joint down the road and they went into all my garden beds. Rotten pine mulch is another good way to make your potatoes happy… and happy potatoes taste better.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are undemanding, so long as you have enough warm days to grow them during; however, they’re happier with some fertilizing. Like white potatoes, they don’t do well with a lot of nitrogen. I feed mine compost tea and usually throw some compost onto the soil before planting. Mulching with a good mix of materials (such as the mulch created by tree trimming companies clearing the powerlines) also seems to improve their happiness levels, though they’ll also grow quite happily in bare soil.

The real key to growing delicious sweet potatoes is the “curing.” If you pull them right from the garden, they’re starchy and somewhat bland. Set them aside for a few weeks to rest, however, and the flavor and sweetness vastly improve.

As a bonus: sweet potato greens are an excellent cooked green. Increase the nutrition in your soil and you’re certain to improve the flavor of the greens as well.

Kale

Kale harvested fresh from the garden is vastly better in flavor than the tough stuff you’ll find in the supermarket. Regular watering and planting before the summer heat seem to impact the flavor of kale more than any specific mode of fertilization, but I feed mine with regular applications of compost tea and make sure they also get plenty of nitrogen. I once side-dressed them with chicken manure and had them burn, so be careful. The best results on growth and flavor I’ve had was when I double-dug a garden bed and stirred in compost, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate, lime, Epsom salts and a tiny touch of Borax and sea salt. Again – it’s the wide mix of nutrition you’re shooing for. I got the idea to add sea salt and Borax from the excellent book The Intelligent Gardener which really dives into the importance of micronutrients in the garden.

Beans

beans fertilized for flavorI give my beans lots of compost tea and I also make sure to keep them watered and pick the pods regularly before they become stringy and hard.

For dry beans, I grow beans in between other crops and water them regularly and deeply with water and compost tea.

The flavor on both is better in rich soil than it is in poor. The black-eyed peas in the image tasted better than any we bought from the store (though the labor involved makes them a dubious survival choice).

Don’t give beans too much nitrogen, though, or they won’t give you as good a harvest.

Just compost is great – and they love mulch as well.

Wondering how much beans YOUR body will need when the SHTF, then take our 4 day survival calorie calculating test here.

Squash

Squash are so much fun to grow that I always plant some every year.

I skip the summer squash types and instead grow the real survival varieties: winter squash. These are the ones that keep for long periods of time on the shelf and that’s what I want.

Of course, if you’ve been gardening for a while, you know where the very best squash like to grow: right in the compost pile!

Look what happened in my garden one year:

great tasting pumpkins because of compost

Though I wasn’t consciously fertilizing for flavor, the compost made these pumpkins grow and taste amazing.

All those pumpkin vines – and the pumpkins in the wheel barrow – grew out of my compost pile.

Squash love compost and they taste great when grown in an area of rich fertility and allowed to reach full maturity on the vine. Once harvested, like sweet potatoes, they need a “curing” period to reach their full flavor. This ranges from a couple of weeks to a month or so. Just let them dry out on your porch, then bring them inside and tuck them into a well-aerated area to sit and cure.

I’ve had good luck digging pits, throwing in everything from meat scraps to ashes and raw manure, then covering with soil and planting squash or melon seeds on top. You can find out more about this method and a lot of other ways to turn everything into soil in my popular (and highly entertaining) book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Grain Corn

Forget sweet corn – grain corn is what you want for survival!

fertilizing for flavor grain corn

I give this crop a good write-up in Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening because it’s easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to store. Corn also creates a lot of biomass, making it a great base for compost piles.

Corn reaches its top growth and yield potential when you give it plenty of nitrogen. Diluted urine is a remarkably good fertilizer for corn, as is the rich compost/manure tea I explain here:

Corn, like potatoes, really likes rich soil and had amazing flavor when grown in the red clay of Tennessee. To recapture that fertility requires mixing up a good range of minerals for your crop through not only giving it urine or manure, but also giving it good compost. If you can’t create enough compost for the field you’re growing, water it with that anaerobic compost tea along the base of the stalks every couple of weeks.

It will fly – I guarantee it.

Garlic

Garlic is both medicine and food. It’s also been scientifically proven to increase in flavor and nutrition when provided with extra sulfur. I give them (and my other crops as well) Epsom Salts to “up” the sulfur and magnesium and increase growth.

The National Gardening Association reports:

Chemically, Epsom salts is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. It’s also the compound that gives vegetables such as broccoli and onions their flavors. Sulfur is seldom deficient in garden soils in North America because acid rain and commonly used animal manures contain sulfur, as do chemical fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate.”

Epsom salts are quite beneficial for the flavor of garlic and onions, not to mention cole crops like cabbage, broccoli and kale. Along with compost, throw some in and see how your garlic tastes.

Bonus Plant: Strawberries

fertilizing for better tasting strawberriesThough I think strawberries aren’t the best survival plant unless you’re in their optimal climate, they are nutritious and take up very little space.

Personally, I prefer cabbage for vitamin C and mulberries as a berry crop, but if you want something sweet in the Apocalypse – or if you’re growing with nutrition in mind, as my fellow columnist Kendra urges us in her article on the most nutritious survival foods to grow – strawberries are nice to have.

Gardening expert James Wong, author of the new book Grow for Flavor, recommends a few methods for growing sweeter strawberries, including giving them full sunshine, avoiding over-fertilization, and fertilizing with comfrey liquid (which is similar to how I make my anaerobic compost teas – just a stack of leaves in a bucket of water, left to rot, then applied to plants).

I’ve also made my own fish emulsion and strawberries seem to love its mineral rich essence, as do the neighborhood cats.

Conclusion

In the garden, if it’s good for you, it probably tastes good.

This goes against the “if it tastes horrible it has to be good for you” common wisdom we often hear.

A perfectly sun-ripened and well-fed tomato is delicious. Organic apples from the tree are wonderful. And I’ve already told you about how very good my potatoes tasted in Tennessee.

Do I know all the answers for what makes vegetables taste great? No. But I do know that deliberately fertilizing for flavor by increasing the micronutrients in the soil has made my produce taste better, at least in my admittedly subjective opinion – and there’s some science to back up my assertions. If you grow healthy, mineral-rich produce, you’ll be healthier as well.

Think nutrition and you’ll be on your way to better flavor. Mix up materials from year to year, compost everything, don’t forget micronutrients such as the ones found in seaweed and even diluted salt water… and you might just be able to put away the curry and the white sauce once in a while.

The post How To Fertilize 8 Fruits & Vegetables for OUTSTANDING Flavor appeared first on .

How to Grow Grocery Store Ginger

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Beautiful, Edible, Medicinal Ginger

I’ve already shown you how to grow grocery store potatoes… today I’ll show you how to grow grocery store ginger!

A perfect example of how to grow grocery store gingerA perfect piece of ginger for planting.

When I was a kid, we were friends with a Chinese-Malaysian architect. He was the first person I’d ever seen growing ginger.

Before I saw him pulling roots from a large flowerpot, I had no idea that ginger even was a root. I only knew it as a the zippy part of ginger ale and gingerbread men.

Now that I’m older, I’ve really come to appreciate ginger both as an ornamental and a culinary plant. Over the years, I’ve planted ginger root from the store many times; however, good roots are getting harder to find. A lot of what I’ve seen lately is limp stuff from China without any good “eyes” on it. You have to look hard to get good pieces but good grocery store ginger pieces for planting can be found.

Grocery store sweet potatoes: How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

Be Choosy When You Grow Grocery Store Ginger

You want pieces that have eyes like this:

Nice grocery store ginger for planting

Nice, healthy yellow-green bumps. Those are where your new ginger plants will grow from. Watch out for pieces like this:

Bad ginger for planting That’s what a lot of the ginger in the store looks like these days. The growing eyes have been chopped or abraded off. Skip them and keep looking.

When you have your nice, healthy pieces of ginger, break them up into a few pieces if they’re huge chunks, and ensure each piece has at least one or two growing buds.

Grow Ginger as An Ornamental

I planted a long row in a planter bed as part of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project – check it out:

New ginger bed

After spacing the roots on the surface like that, I buried them all a few inches deep. In a few months, ginger plants will pop up in a lovely row and it’s off to the races.

Forget plugging in non-edible ornamental plants… why do that when you can grow something delicious and beautiful? Growing ginger is easy. They have few or no pests, grow in so-so soil, like the shade and they’re good for you.

We use it for seasoning (the leaves can be added to soups like bay leaves) and to treat upset stomachs (ginger is a champion at calming queasiness… I pop chunks of it into tea all through campaign season).

See my food forest: Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

Don’t Plant Ginger Outdoors in Cold Climates

Now here’s the downside: if you live in a colder climate, you won’t be able to grow ginger in the ground. If the soil freezes, it will die. In that case, grow your ginger in pots and then keep the pots indoors or in a warm outbuilding during the winter. Ginger tend to go dormant in the winter anyhow, so the lack of sunshine won’t be a problem. Just don’t let them dry all the way out and definitely don’t let them stay wet. Waterlogged roots during dormancy will quickly lead to dead ginger. In the spring when the weather warms up and it’s time to plant corn and bush beans, put your ginger back outside.

I’ve been growing ginger for years and won’t be without it again, no matter what the climate.

david-the-good-top-10-survival-crops

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How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

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Plant Sweet Potatoes from Slips, Vines, or Roots

If you live in a good climate for growing them, you should plant sweet potatoes every year.  They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

Here’s how I plant my sweet potatoes.

Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!

This isn’t hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell “slips,” which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.

You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden… or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.

Plant sweet potatoes from the pantry

Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It’s perfect.

I’ve done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root easily at every node. Water them for a couple of weeks and they’ll take off.

Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn’t matter that they’re small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate, so there’s not a problem with “selecting” for tiny roots.

No room for sweet potatoes?  Check this out: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

Step 2: Prep Your Bed

You don’t have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great… but they’ll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.

Plant sweet potatoes from tubers

The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.

We grew this particular round of sweet potatoes in a bed where we planted white potatoes the year before. You don’t have to worry about sweet potatoes and white potatoes sharing diseases – they aren’t even remotely related species.

That said, after pulling white potatoes the year before, I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.

Here’s what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:

Potato bed with rye and lentil cover crops

Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keep it “alive” between plantings.

I dug three trenches about 4′ apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4′ apart down the trenches.

Plant sweet potatoes from vines

Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.

We get plenty of sweet potatoes from our gardens each year, and we wouldn’t want to be without them.

Infographic: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato

Step 3: Water Well… and Stand Back!

Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them… and the areas around the garden… and some areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20′ from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.

Plant sweet potatoes from old plants

This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.

If you haven’t planted your sweet potatoes yet, it’s time to get going as soon as the danger of frost has passed. If you have a long enough warm season, you can start one bed then use it to start a second, as I do in this video:

As a final note – sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they’ll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground… the bigger the roots tend to get.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!

david-the-good-top-10-survival-crops

The post How to Plant Sweet Potatoes appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Make Recycled Paper Fire Bricks

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See How It’s Done

My friends Kim and Bill recently showed me how to make recycled paper fire bricks, and they graciously allowed me to film their process (though they didn’t want to be on film themselves).

These paper fire bricks they’re making aren’t the “fire bricks” used in creating a baking oven or chimney – they’re really just compressed paper “wood” for burning. Like paper logs.

You can make paper fire bricks from just about any scrap paper. Kim and Bill don’t use any glossy paper in their paper fire bricks so they can later add the ashes to their gardens.

Watch my video about making ovens: Building an Oven with Cob

Making Recycled Paper Fire Bricks

First, get yourself a stack of scrap paper. Newspapers, paper plates, napkins, cardboard, shredded paper from the office, $100 bills… whatever.

Then, take those and soak them in a bucket of water until they’re saturated. Bill and Kim recommend letting them sit for quite a while – even a few days – so the fibers can break down.

Once you have them all nice and soppy, shred them up with something. They use an edger blade attached to a drill. An industrial blender would likely work well, too.

Now it’s time to press your paper fire bricks. Any kind of multi-holed receptacle with a follower will work. Bill and Kim used a second bucket with lots of tiny holes drilled in it.

Throw in a good portion of shredded paper. Then press hard and get that water out as much as possible, then put the brick somewhere to dry.

Watch another video: How to Revive an Old Cast Iron Pan – Quick and Easy

Keep it Out of the Landfill

These paper fire bricks look very much like something I want to eat. Hard. To. Resist.

Once dried, they’re ready for use… then the ashes can be used to add calcium and alkalinity to the garden.

Consider it another form of composting.

Though I’ve yet to be convinced of the input of labor to output of fuel efficiency of this project, I greatly admire the ingenuity and the fact that paper is being kept out of the landfill.

david-the-good-top-10-survival-crops

The post How to Make Recycled Paper Fire Bricks appeared first on The Grow Network.

Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

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Balcony Gardening Basics

If you’re balcony gardening, you may be feeling sorry for yourself.

Don’t!

View it as an exciting challenge instead.

In my film 13 Tips, Tricks and Lessons for Homesteading an Acre, I share the story of how I used to long for a large space, wishing for 10, 15 or even 20 acres I could farm.

After working my acre for over five years, I no longer feel the need for a big space. I’ve even caught myself looking with longing at small urban backyards and apartment porches.

Why?

Because of the power of focused effort. Balcony gardening allows you to create a little paradise oasis without killing yourself.

Why Balcony Gardening Rocks

When you spread all your work across a large space, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s hard to make everything look the way you want. It’s hard to keep 100 trees healthy and happy unless you’re a full-time gardener or farmer. It’s hard to pick the bugs off 600 cabbages. It’s hard to harvest 10 beds of potatoes.

But if you have a small space garden, you can make it incredible with much less time and effort.

I learned this lesson when I owned a small cottage in Tennessee. The cost of fixing up that little 3/1 house was cheap. We had to replace the roof: it cost $3,500. Sure, that’s a chunk of change — but it’s NOTHING like the cost of fixing the roof on a big, complicated multi-story house.

You could repaint a room with a gallon of paint in an afternoon. You could sand and varnish all the floors in a weekend.

It’s the same way with balcony gardening. If you only have a little area, you can really make it look incredible for only a little bit of money.

Sure, you’re not going to be able to grow everything you like. A pecan tree is out of the question (unless you make it into a bonsai!) and grain corn would be a bit tough; yet you could pack in a lot of plants by growing vertically and sticking to species that are miserly with their space considerations.

Trying to grow food in a window sill? Check this out: Grow Sprouts and Microgreens Indoors All Winter Long

Plant what you love. Make your balcony an escape from the madness. Put a little table out there amongst your plants and start writing your novel.

Here are just a few edible plants I would grow on a balcony.

Plants for Balcony Gardening

Ginger

Ginger needs shade, so if your balcony doesn’t get a lot of direct light, plant ginger! Roots from the store will usually grow. Bury them in a pot about 4-6″ deep and wait. They’ll come up. A year or two later, when they go dormant in the fall, you can tip the pot out and harvest the mass of roots — or just break off a little here and there as you need it.

Basil

Basil is a no-brainer. Start from seeds in a pot of well-drained soil in at least half sun. If you can find African blue basil, great. It’s a perennial version you won’t have to replant. Just know this: you need to buy your first African basil as a plant, or beg a cutting from a friend. It doesn’t grow from seeds.

Bush Beans

Bush beans are so easy to grow that it’s almost embarrassing. A half-barrel planter should be able to host about 12 plants, which will each give you a couple handfuls of pods. Beans like lots of sun, so if you have a shady balcony you likely won’t have much luck.

Strawberries

Strawberries are the consummate container plant. They even have their own special planters. A few years ago I bought my sister-in-law a hanging basket of strawberries and she’s been keeping them alive for years and harvesting berries off and on. Strawberries will take about half sun but produce better with more.

Blueberries

Blueberries work remarkably well in good-sized pots. Plant them in rotted pine bark (not normal potting soil) and they’ll be quite happy. Blueberries also love coffee grounds, so just empty ’em all in the top of your blueberry pots.

Dwarf Mulberry

Dwarf mulberry varieties are shrubbier than their tree relatives and can easily be kept growing at only a few feet tall. Some will produce through the year. Just know this: dwarf mulberries have vigorous roots and will fill a pot right up, then get thirsty all the time. I’d put the bottoms of their pots in trays of water so they always have some to sip.

Oregano

Oregano is really easy to grow in pots and will take shade or sun. Don’t overwater it. The vining habit of oregano makes it nice for hanging baskets, though my permaculture side would encourage you to just grow it as a ground cover around the base of one of your larger balcony gardening additions, like the following small tree.

Japanese Persimmon

I love Japanese persimmon trees. Though they may not be the most productive addition to your balcony gardening plans, they do make marvelous fruits and are easy to grow in a large pot. Unlike many fruit trees they can be kept small as well.

Kumquat

The kumquat is another excellent small tree, and likely more productive than the Japanese persimmon. They do well in pots and will handle half to full sun. I’ve also seen some citrus growing in full shade and fruiting; however, I wouldn’t count on that.

Key Lime

The Key lime is a nice small tree, so why not add Key lime pie to your balcony gardening? The downside for this little tree is its brutal thorns. Be sure they’re off to the side where they won’t scratch limbs and tear your visitors’ clothing off. Unless that’s the idea.

Lemon

Lemons are also easy, easy, easy to grow in pots. They’re not very big trees to begin with and the constraint of growing in a pot will help keep them from getting out of control. Half to full sun.

Calamondin

I covered this tree in two videos last year — first, one on the fruit in general, then a second one on how my wife and I made whiskey sours from this incredibly flavorful little citrus. Calamondins are very beautiful trees with nicely-scented blossoms. They’re worth growing just for the way they look. Bonus: some trees will fruit twice a year.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a form of ginger and is a high-value crop that gives curry its yellow coloration and earthy spice. Grow it the same as ginger. Curry on your balcony — how cool is that?

Hot Peppers

Hot peppers do really well in pots — I’ve seen some huge ones growing like shrubs. They’ll live for years under the right conditions. Add some spice to your life. Make sure your balcony has plenty of sunshine before planting peppers — they like it bright and hot.

Cranberry Hibiscus

Cranberry hibiscus is a dark red-leafed perennial hibiscus with tart leaves that are excellent in Caesar salads, plus it makes a nice hedge. They also have wonderful flowers and can be pruned as needed.

Coffee

Coffee is a great potted plant for shady spaces. If it’s freezing cold outside, let it live in your living room until warmer conditions return. The yields aren’t high but the novelty is great. Bonus: you can use the leaves for tea!

Rosemary

Rosemary likes lots of sunshine and not too much water. Give it a well-draining mix and a place in the sun and it will live for years and spice up your life.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes may actually be easier to grow in a pot on a balcony than they are to grow in the garden. The pest problems are fewer, plus they get perfect soil from the beginning. Make sure they have lots of sunshine and some breeze for pollination. If there’s no breeze, shake the plants now and again when they’re in bloom to jostle the pollen into the right place.

Lettuce

Lettuce is really easy to grow in pots. It’ll take sun or shade. Buy a packet of leaf lettuce seeds, fill a good-sized pot with soil, rip open the seed packet and sprinkle the seeds around, then lightly knead them into the soil. Water, and in a week or two little lettuces will start emerging. In a month, you can start picking leaves… and you’ll have free salads for months.

Read about fertilizing your container-grown edible plants here: How to Fertilize Your Container Gardens

More Inspiration for Balcony Gardeners

Here’s a YouTube video where I answer a couple of questions from people without much gardening space. In it, I also pretend to be John Cougar Mellencamp:

Low light? See a functioning indoor fodder growing system here: How To Grow Food In Small Dark Places; Indoor Fodder System

And here’s Bill Mollison, co-founder of the permaculture movement, showing you how to do balcony gardening: (he starts talking about balconies at about 9:06)

One of these days I may write a book on balcony gardening and gardening in small spaces.

I’ve also considered deliberately creating a small, fenced in patio at my new house as a test small space garden. Say a 6′ x 10′ space I could use as a proving ground for some of my ideas. That way I could be more help to the many of you who are living in apartments, rental houses or urban locations. I could then plant as much as possible in that space and record yields just as I do on the rest of my homestead. I’ll bet you I could pull off at least 200lbs of food in that size space over a year — probably more.

Think trellises. Deep pots. Tight crops. High-dollar vegetables and roots.

I’ll think on this idea more. For now, balcony gardeners: don’t be upset with what you have. Embrace the challenge and let me know what you grow in 2016 — I’d love to see it.

The post Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces appeared first on The Grow Network.

Nature Is an EXTREME Composter – You Can Be Too!

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Learning from Nature

I admit it: I get a kick out of shaking things up. For years I listened to the rules on composting… then I shrugged, threw away the rule book, and decided to watch what happened in nature and copy the design I found there.

Basically everything organic can be returned to the soil. Paper, sewage, logs, animal carcasses, chicken soup… you name it.

And isn’t it much better to return these items to the soil than it is to dump them in a landfill? It’s a no-brainer!

In 2015, my years of experimentation and the knowledge I have gained were distilled down into the book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. The response was excellent, and the sales still continue to amaze me. It is transforming the way gardeners think about composting. Just throwing things away isn’t good enough anymore.

david-the-good-doing-some-extreme-composting

Unlearning the “Rules”

When I wrote the book I had no idea so many people would be willing to come along for the ride. It’s thrilling.

For years, we’ve been told not to compost meat… and then we’re told to use blood meal as a great organic source of nitrogen for our gardens.

We’re told to turn our compost piles regularly… but when we walk through the woods the leaves have created rich humus everywhere, no turning required.

We’re warned that human waste is incredibly dangerous… but every other creature on the planet fails to use a flush toilet with no ill effect.

People love recycling because it’s easy and feels like a good deed… yet those same people will often throw away a banana peel or a ham bone because composting is “too hard.”

It’s not hard when you do it like nature does. Composting is recycling “trash” into soil — and we should all be doing it.

Extreme Composting

Some of the ideas in Compost Everything are certainly extreme compared to the nice, safe restrictions foisted on us by well-meaning agricultural extensions and fuddy-duddy garden writers, yet nature itself is an EXTREME composter!

Why not see what she does and do the same?

Though I couldn’t cover all the methods I explain in my book for the safe and simple recycling of even the most “extreme” items, I did manage to pack a lot of exciting and practical composting demonstrations into the movie I created for the 2016 Home Grown Food Summit. My talk is going live in just a couple of days—I hope you’re signed up! If not, sign up here Now!

Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it yet:

See you all there. It’s been a great event so far… don’t miss another minute!

 

Can You Imagine Florida without Oranges?

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I recently went orange picking in a local citrus U-Pick here in North Florida.

At first glance, the scene was idyllic.

florida-orange-grove

A Victorian-era home with a friendly wraparound porch and an outdoor barn sat near the entrance to the grove. Five gallon buckets of citrus sat on the ground for sale and the elderly proprietors, a man and his wife in their 80s, waved as we pulled up.

“The tangerines are mostly gone and the grapefruit aren’t in yet,” the wife said as we stepped up to the table with the cash box. “You can pick all you like of the oranges, though.”

“What types do you have?” I asked, curious.

“All different kinds. I can’t even tell you anymore,” she replied. “Both juice and eating oranges. All good.”

I thanked her and set out with my son through the grove. Above were a few stately pecans, overshadowing both thorny seedling trees and well tended oranges.

There were all sorts of oranges and every single one we picked turned out to be delicious; yet as I wandered the grove, I saw quite a few trees with yellow leaves and less-than-healthy growth. A few were half dead and some spots had recently been filled with new trees. It was a beautiful grove at a distance… yet up close, all was not well.

As I walked around, I decided to film the fruit, the trees and the beauty of the grove. I thought to myself: will my children even see a grove like this ten years from now?

We filled three buckets (the cost per bucket was only $6, so why not?) and walked back to the table in front.

As I checked out, I asked the woman “Have you been having problems with citrus greening?”

She nodded. “We planted this grove a long time ago. Now I don’t know if it’s going to be around in even a few years. Lots of the trees got it. It’s not good.”

I shook my head, offered my condolences, paid with a $20 and told her to keep the change.

It hurt to see those trees and that couple under the cloud of an incurable disease.

Few things represent my home state of Florida more than oranges. They’re a symbol like few other things can be. They’re definitely better loved than alligators.

Yet thanks to citrus greening, the orange industry is falling to pieces.

What does that mean for us, the home growers? Good question.

Should You Still Plant Citrus?

The spread of citrus greening means the tree you buy and plant today is likely to end up dead within a decade unless something changes quickly.

It kills me to say this, since I love my citrus trees and wish I could plant a dozen more — yet the psyllid that has infected the groves is known to travel for miles. That means if you’re in or near a greening infected zone, you’re likely to end up with the disease before too long.

One of the more painful things I’ve had to do over the last few years was to pronounce the last rites over my Mom’s young navel orange tree. She was so happy when that tree was given to her, but only a few years after planting it went into complete decline and was bearing twisted fruits and yellow leaves.

I’ve heard similar stories of citrus trees that were planted in greening zones and rapidly succumbed to the disease.

It’s all across the state and if it’s not in your area, it’s likely to spread there.

Now if you’re outside of Florida, as I know many of our readers are, greening may not be a big deal. The restrictions and challenges that face us here aren’t an issue in some citrus growing regions. If you live outside the shadow of greening, grow some citrus!

For us here in Florida, however, I’d just avoid it until a cure or a resistant variety is found.

To make myself feel better, I used the footage I recorded in the grove and overlaid it with a sad, sad song I wrote on citrus greening (also known as Huanglongbing).

Yes, I write songs about plant viruses. Can you watch this one without weeping?

Around Christmas, I also posted a pair of videos on one of my favorite citrus fruits, the “calamondin” or “calamondin lime.”

First I explain the fruit:

And then, a few days later on Christmas Eve, my lovely wife and I decided to make homemade whiskey sours from calamondins.

Much silliness ensued.

To say that I’m really sad over the spread of citrus greening would be an understatement.

I want this thing cured. I love citrus trees.

When I was a kid we had a huge grapefruit tree in our backyard and my Dad built a tree fort for my brother and I in its branches. There were so many grapefruit we could hardly give them all away.

That’s the Florida I want to see again. I fear it may not return, yet I still hold out some hope.

I have started testing out a permaculture solution for citrus greening by creating a plant guild designed to repel the psyllids that spread the disease. It’ll take time to know if it works, though.

For now, send up a prayer for our researchers and our oranges — they need it.

Good luck, folks.

 

10 Reasons to Garden NOW!

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small vegetable garden design, garden, garden ideasSomeone commented on one of my videos the other day that she was “a city girl” who didn’t know what she was doing in the garden… and that she was probably just going to give up.

I urged her to keep going. Now is a terrible time to quit gardening!

With the way the world is going, this is the time to garden like you’ve never gardened before. Here are just a few reasons.

1. GMOs
Do you really want to be part of a big science experiment, eating gene-spliced foods without knowing if they’re safe or not? Me either! Grow your own food with heirloom seeds and step away from the lab.

2. Economics
The economy is rotten and is likely to get worse. Runaway immigration, shaky banks, rising food costs, global unrest… all these have an impact on wages, investments and savings. Fortunately, a garden can save you some serious money.

3. Eating Local
Why count on food coming in from 1,000 miles away? Eating locally is a big deal right now – and you can’t get any more local than your own yard. Put in a garden and cut out the shipping!

4. Fresh is Better
There have been studies showing a significant loss of nutrition in vegetables and fruit that have sat around before consumption. It often takes days for food to reach your plate. Grow your own garden and you can reap the maximum nutritional benefits.

5. Gardening is Healthy
Think about it: you’re working outside in the sunshine and fresh air, interacting with nature and getting your hands into the good earth. That beats sitting indoors in front of the television — plus it won’t turn your brain into oatmeal.

6. Homegrown Food Tastes Better
Seriously: store tomato vs. homegrown tomato. Is there any comparison?

7. Time May Be Short
History is punctuated with periods of prosperity followed by periods of strife, disease, war and famine. We’ve had things good for a long time now and there are clouds on the horizon. Knowing how to grow your own food makes sense against the backdrop of an uncertain future.

8. Avoiding Toxins
The level of pesticides sprayed on our crops is a horrifying thing — and the herbicide levels are also ridiculous. Do you want to eat food — or poison? If you’re eating typical commercially grown crops, you’re getting both. Grow your own food and you’ll know exactly what’s gone into your dinner.

9. Gardening is Great for Families
My children all eat their vegetables and enjoy them. I believe this is in large part because they’ve helped grow them! We’ve spent many weekend afternoons together working outside, pulling sweet potatoes, planting seeds, weeding rows and enjoying each other’s company. Gardening is good family time and it builds real-world knowledge.

10. Gardening Beats Worry
If you’re concerned about the future, get planting. There’s nothing like seeing rows of potatoes, cabbages and beans in the ground to make you feel a little better about tomorrow. If it’s too cold to garden, gather leaves and build compost or go through seed catalogs with your sweetheart. If you’ve never gardened much and you’re counting on your tinned Apocalypse-Brand Seed Bank, you’re on shaky ground. Most folks can’t grow a lettuce without killing it! Learn now and you can quit worrying about the future.

Finally, my publisher just released my latest gardening book and I’m thrilled to see its popularity thus far. If you’re not sure where to start with your gardening plans, this book is for you.

It’s called Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening. Check it out:

david-goodmans-grow-or-die-book-cover

In this book, I cover crop varieties, off-grid irrigation, tilling without gasoline, and a lot more. You’ll dig it. It’s only available in the Kindle version right now but a paperback will be coming soon. At $2.99, it’s really cheap insurance against an uncertain future and will give you all you need to start gardening before your life depends on it.

Bonus: it’s also funny.

Now get out there and start gardening like your life depends on it… because one day it may.

 

Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

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Over the last decade, I’ve helped convert multiple liabilities into assets that grant returns on a level stock brokers would envy.

The liability: a typical lawn.

The asset: a high-yielding food forest.

Why is a lawn a “liability?”

It’s something you pour labor, water, fertilizer, and gas into (hopefully not literally, though burning fire ant hills with gasoline is entertaining… must… resist…) in order to keep neat… and in return, it gives you nothing but inedible grass. And sometimes chinch bugs.

An asset pays you for your investment.

For example, what’s the return on a mature pear tree? Perhaps 100—200lbs of fruit per year?

What is a pear worth — maybe a dollar or so?

$100 – $200 worth of fruit… every year… is a great yield for a tree that originally cost about $25 at a nursery!

If that tree takes up about 400 square feet of your property, that’s a nice yield on the space.

What would 400 square feet of grass pay you over the course of a year?

Nothing. In fact, at $10 per mow, you’re probably paying a kid over $250 just to maintain it.

When you go further than just planting one tree, and instead plant a big edible forest ecosystem filled with fruits, nuts, roots, and greens – you can turn a non-productive space into a veritable food factory.

I did that with my front lawn. Here’s a “before” picture:

front-yard-food-forest-after

And here’s an “after” photo of the same space:

front-yard-food-forest-after

In that piece of abundant jungle there are mulberries, plums, chestnuts, oranges, persimmons, arrowroot, cassava, black cherry, loquats, figs, pecans, nectarines, peaches, perennial basil, Mexican tree spinach, wildflowers, sweet potatoes, jujubes, African yams, and more butterflies and bees than you can count… plus many more plant and insect species that would take too long to catalog.

It took me five years to build that food forest — and that’s only 1/3 of the complete system (and I have a lot of annual gardens out back).

Unlike a traditional orchard, a food forest is easier to tend and has excellent yields due to its diversity of species. The bad bugs get eaten by the good ones and diseases won’t spread like they do in traditional systems. And you can basically prune with a string trimmer and a machete.

I don’t miss my mower, I can tell you that.

And I love picking fresh figs, tangerines, herbs and lots more from the front yard. There’s always something new in every season.

That said — my home and food forest are up for sale right now (click here to see lots of pictures and my listing page) because I’ve got another opportunity to do it again in another climate and I can’t turn it down. You can also see what I’ve built here in Central Florida in this recent tour video:

Creating a food forest seems like a huge task the first time you do it, but over time it gets easier and easier. You start to see the patterns behind the trees and their interactions. You know when they’re going to be happy and when they won’t be. And you learn what works and what doesn’t. As the trees grow and sink their roots into the soil, they become less and less demanding on your time as well… and they feed you like a king!

My challenge to you is this: pick one little piece of your lawn and transform it into a long-term investment. Plant 1-3 fruit trees and surround them with some edible shrubs, some flowers, and a few perennial vegetables. Mulch the area and keep it watered as needed for the first few years.

The productivity and beauty of that little island should cure you of your grass addiction. I fell in love a decade ago and will never go back.

The cost of food isn’t likely to go down as The Great Depression 2.0 rolls on… and gas isn’t getting cheaper… and the stock market is primed for a crash… and you can probably name a half-dozen more reasons why growing your own food makes sense.

Turn your liabilities into assets by turning your lawn into a food forest — and reap the sweet rewards!

 

(Video) Building an Oven with Cob

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cob-ovenI usually like to do things fast!

Why bake when you can fry?

Why whittle when you can use a bandsaw?

Why bother planting all your seeds in perfect rows when you can scatter them everywhere and thin later?

Yet sometimes, taking things slow leads to wonderful results. In the case of my friend Joe Pierce’s homemade earth oven, his patience and design work have created something beautiful, and profitable.

This is his third cob oven and he believes it’s so well engineered at this point that it will be around long after he’s gone.

For those of you not familiar with “cob,” it’s an ancient method of earth construction that relies on clay, sand, straw, and sometimes other ingredients such as manure and sawdust. Once mixed properly and kneaded together, cob can stand for centuries – and its insulation power is incredible.

You can use cob to build ovens, houses, and even (with some extra ingredients) showers and ponds.

Building with cob is not as quick as framing up a building or buying an iron stove, but when you see this oven and hear Joe share how many days it stays hot after firing, along with how versatile a “low-tech” earth oven can be, I think you’ll agree that the extra work was time well-spent.

Check this video out:

He’s using that oven for making pizza, baking bread, drying jerky, dehydrating, and even for making biochar for his gardens. Joe also explains in the video how you can use this oven for wood gasification or even generating electricity!

Something that surprised me as well is how little wood it really takes to get multiple days of baking out of this oven. I went to Joe’s knowing very little about cob construction and received a whole education in earth oven construction — and he was nice enough to let me film the entire thing and share it with all you wonderful members of the [Grow] Network. (By the way — I post a lot of gardening and homesteading videos on my YouTube channel — you can subscribe here: davidthegood’s Youtube channel).

Building that oven took time, yet it certainly proved to me yet again that good things come to those who wait. It was also quite peaceful working the cob into the sides of the oven… reminded me of being a kid again. Unfortunately I couldn’t film and apply cob at the same time, so you won’t see me covered in mud in this video. That’s going to have to wait until Marjory signs off on my Homestead Mudwrestlemania idea, which should happen any day now.

So — have you done cob construction or had experience with earth ovens? I would love to hear your stories in the comments section below!

Note: if you’re ever in Micanopy, Florida — you can see this oven and check out Joe and his wife Emily’s excellent homesteading, bake shop, and coffee joint at www.mosswoodfarmstore.com.

 

(Video) How to Revive an Old Cast Iron Pan – Quick and Easy

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seasoned-cast-iron-skilletI first jumped on the cast iron train a decade ago – and a big part of that was learning how to properly season cast iron.

Back when I was a kid I remember we had some old cast iron pans we didn’t use. They were rusty things and were eventually consigned to lying alongside the carport. Now I wish I could go back in time and save them. All but two of the cast iron pans I now own were originally discovered in antique shops and thrift stores… then reclaimed through cleaning and seasoning.

When I was younger I never thought all that much about cookware, other than to quit using aluminum and Teflon in favor of stainless steel. I used to have some really nice stainless pans. No more. Now I’m a hardcore cast iron user — especially for frying.

Once you’ve cooked on a well-seasoned cast iron pan, you’ll never want to go back to weird, non-stick surfaces and stainless scorch-fests.

This week I created a video on how I clean up and season cast iron quickly and easily with just some steel wool, oil, and my oven. Check it out…

Seasoning cast iron well can convert an old pan from being a pain to cook on, to being a delightful surface.

Here’s a quick overview of the steps I follow to prepare the pan in the video:

How to Clean and Season a Cast Iron Pan

Step #1 – Clean Up the Cast Iron
A metal brush can work for this step but I like good old steel wool. I’ve also sanded cast iron smooth with some light sandpaper. The idea is just to get the rust and junk off your pan so you can start fresh.

Step #2 – Wash the Pan
Wash any gunk and metal filings from the pans with simple dish soap and water, then towel-dry your pan thoroughly.

Step #3 – Oil the Pan
My favorite oils for seasoning cast iron are lard and tallow. I think the saturated fat does a nicer job than just vegetable oil. Coconut oil works, too, but if you don’t have any of those three, just use whatever cooking oil you have lying around in your pantry.

Step #4 – Bake the Pan at 500 Degrees
Some directions will tell you to cure cast iron at 350 degrees. This has never, ever worked well for me. 500 degrees really bakes that oil coating into the iron and gives the cast iron a solid black glossy surface.

Those four steps are all it takes to season cast iron and transport you into a new realm of sauté bliss.