The Human Element (of gardening)

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The birth of a guanabana tree.

Life. It’s happenin’. 🌱

Let this tiny sprouting guanabana seed be a reminder that your plants, your trees, your garden, all WANT to grow. They are designed to grow even under adverse conditions. But, the chances of this seed becoming a fruiting tree all by itself are incredibly low- that’s where human input comes in.

We are given the intelligence and ability to maintain the garden that exists around us, to guide and shape our fruit trees into abundant production. But we have to get out there and do it. Every farmer knows that his trees won’t make a reliable crop unless he takes care of them. Now that doesn’t mean back breaking labor, it just means a bit of assistance here and there.

I am often asked question after question about how to care for plants, and I am happy to answer them! But some people get discouraged, feeling that it is too complicated….
It’s really not. I may ramble about pruning techniques or nutrient requirements, but that’s part of my job. Your job is only to be willing to learn.

Your relationship with your garden is what matters. Think about this: if you have a child, they are going to grow up no matter what. The time will pass. But without your guidance as a parent, they may not grow into the best person they could be. The same applies to fruit trees- most of the time they’ll grow even if you pay no attention. But the fruit might not be as good as it could be with your help. I know that sounds a bit corny, but it’s the truth.

All this to say: get out in your garden! It’s fall now, the best time of year to be outside in south Florida. The season is upon us. Enjoy it! 🙂

 

Originally posted on instagram @greenhouse_homestead

In unrelated news, here is a new youtube video I posted – live streaming a backyard banana harvest.  Be sure to subscribe to the channel for future content!

Anyone Can Do This

This was originally an instagram post, but I received so many compliments on it that I decided it should be posted here, as well.  This was a very inspiring bowl of soup.

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This soup was almost entirely homegrown, and it is delicious.
Those ingredients are:
-Seminole pumpkin
-Sweet potatoes
-Onions
-Jalapeño & Habanero
-Okra
-Tree collards
-Cranberry hibiscus
-Rosemary
-Coriander

Not homegrown:
Coconut milk, bone broth, garlic, chili paste, salt & pepper.

My grocery bill has dropped significantly as I’ve grown more and more of my own food over the last couple years. So far this year I’ve harvested 537 lbs of food from my yard. That’s with only a few hours per week spent working in the garden- my main focus is the nursery (a full time job), markets, maintaining the house, a part-time property management job, and all other aspects of life.

Guys, it doesn’t take much more than planting seeds. Anyone can do this. Maybe you’ll have to give up that extra dozen hours a week you spend watching netflix. Maybe you’ll have to wake up a half hour earlier to plant a bed before going to work. Not a big deal. You’ll be better for it. I’ll help.

The food is better than anything you’ll find at a grocery store. Not only that, but the satisfaction of eating what you grow is the healthiest part, because it keeps you sane and anchored in reality. Last time I checked, a lawn couldn’t do that. Who cares what your neighbors think when they see you outside in the rain, pulling sweet potatoes from your front lawn? They’ll be jealous when they see you harvest that banana rack that’s been hanging for months. Maybe they’ll come over and ask you about it, and you’ll be able to tell them how easy it was. Maybe they’ll want to do the same with their yard- maybe they’ve always wanted to, but never had an example to follow. We are only a few generations removed from people who grew and raised everything they ate. Why did we stop tending the garden? What is more important?

Food for thought.

As always, I’ll be at @districtfarmersmarket tomorrow from 9 am til 2 pm, having a blast, talking to people about their favorite varieties of mangoes, and why their basil died for the 4th time in a row. No worries, I’ve personally killed more plants than most people would like to admit, but seeds are cheap and I just keep going. Nothing’s more fun.

#GrowFoodNotLawns

Passionfruits Are Coming In Heavy

This past week my passionfruit vine has been exploding with blooms.

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It’s been just over a year since this Passiflora edulis was planted, and the rainy season just started over the past few weeks.  In a year, it has spread and taken over at least 50 feet of fence.  That’s with multiple prunings too.

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When the vine was first getting established, I fed it compost tea pretty regularly for about 6 months.  Also, lots of water and mulch around the base of the trunk.

At one point it started climbing the neighbor’s tree, and it frequently grabs onto the potted trees I have sitting next to the fence.

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If all goes well, we should be expecting tons of passionfruit over the summer.  Some of the earlier blooms already set fruit:

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Notice the gulf fritillary caterpillar in the background.

This is the “Purple Possum” variety, which is self-pollinating.  I’d recommend it for anyone in south Florida, as long as you have a good amount of fence line or a tree that it can take over.  They are very vigorous!

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Reaching for those last rays of sunlight!

Anyone else growing passionfruit? Tips, tricks, experiences?  Let us know by commenting, and sharing this post!

3 New Fruit Trees in the Ground

Got to work yesterday planting some new trees in the food forest – A jackfruit, a loquat, and a wax jambu.  How many of those three have you heard of?

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“Butter Crunch” Jackfruit.

Though it is a pretty small property, there always seems to be enough space to fit a few more trees here and there.   This loquat got planted in a nice cozy spot between a firebush and Mexican sunflower.

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“Christmas” Loquat.

This one is a grafted variety, “Christmas”, named so because it blooms early.  Loquats are great, very tasty fruit.  Totally worth growing one in your yard, and the foliage is pretty.

 

Last but not least is the wax jambu – AKA wax apple.

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Wax Jambu.

Right in the back near the compost pile and the dilapidated fence.  Very productive tree from the tropics, it makes crispy bell shaped “apples” which have a nice, lightly floral taste.  Planted it just outside of the mango canopy, in a spot where a large pile of branches was laying previously.  This one is currently blooming:

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Check out those blooms!

I can’t wait to try the fruit.

A good Sunday’s work.  Planting fruit trees is extremely satisfying.  Here’s to future production!

How To Propagate Raspberries (The Easy Way)

If you’ve ever had raspberry canes growing in your yard, you know that they spread quickly and can easily cover a large area if not managed.  They send branches toward the ground, burrow into the soil, and quickly shoot up new canes once rooted.  In the video I show you how to take advantage of this and propagate more raspberry plants with ease.

Mysore raspberries, (the type I grow) are basically the only variety which will produce well here in South Florida.  But, all varieties of raspberry will layer themselves as shown in the video, so this can be applied to any type.  They can be a real pain when they try to take over the yard, especially the thorny varieties, but the bright side is that you can obtain a yield- new raspberry plants! The problem is the solution, as we say in the permaculture world.

Have any experience propagating raspberries using this method, or others?  Let me know in the comments!

Growing 1,000 Pounds of Food in 2019

I decided about a week ago that I would give myself a challenge – weigh all of my harvest for the entire year, and see if I can grow 1,000 pounds of homegrown food.

Here’s my video showing the first harvest of the year, earlier today:

 

1 pound, 12 ounces.  A small start, but a good assortment of stuff – salad greens, radishes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, starfruit.  I’m excited that those young starfruit trees are starting to produce now.

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1,000 pounds seems like a lot.  And it is.  But, I have a few big harvests I know I can count on.  The 80+ year old mango tree on the property will produce hundreds of pounds of fruit in the summer.  I’m expecting several racks of bananas, lots of papaya, and will be digging up a ton of root crops throughout the year.  Sweet potatoes, cassava, yams- all excellent calorie crops which do great in this climate.  And maybe I’ll finally get my pumpkin game up to par! I’ve got the seeds.

A lot to look forward to over the next year.  I’ve set a goal of posting regularly to youtube and this site, so stay tuned as the journey progresses.  Let me know in the comments if you have any big goals set for the year, and what you think about mine!

The Most Important Gift – Self Expression

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Merry Christmas to all of you! 🍌🐝💜 Gift giving • this banana's gift to the bee is nothing more than it's own self-expression. The sweet nectar of the flowers it produces is irresistible to the bee, but also fundamental to its own existence and growth. The bee's gift to the banana is pollination. It is drawn to the flowers for sustenance, and in return it gives the plant exactly what it needs to produce its fruit, fully expressing its potential. Yet the bee is doing only what it was always meant to do- beeing itself. The gift of self expression is the most honest gift we can give. Neither of the two in this photo purchased or wrapped a gift for each other. They just did what they were intended to do, with perfect timing. Remember this when with your family today, that the best thing we can do for each other is be there, and be ourselves. #bananaflower #ediblelandscaping #foodforest #growfoodnotlawns #selfexpression #gifts #pollinators #bee #bananas #southflorida

A post shared by Incredible Edible Landscapes (@greenhouse_homestead) on

It’s December 27th, 2018 and this Christmas season has been very different for me.  Not at all like the wonderous Christmases of my childhood- This one was very quiet,  and not that exciting.  I spent some time with family, which is bittersweet as my family divided 6 years ago in the summer before my senior year of high school.  The adjustment has been tough.  Going to different houses now to see separate parts of my family, which for my whole life were unquestionably together for the holidays.  On top of that, the breakup of an amazing relationship has been really weighing me down lately.  This is not how life should be, but I can’t change it.  I can only control the way I respond to it.

I wanted to write this post to expand on a thought that I had on Christmas morning.  A new banana flower had just started to open up, and I went out to take a look before making my holiday rounds.  Banana flowers have this sweet, juicy nectar which drips out from the flowers, attracting pollinators, especially bees.  You can drink it yourself- it’s delicious honey water.  I saw one particular bee really loving on this banana flower, and since it was Christmas morning, I thought about the gifts being given in that moment.

The banana’s gift to the world is its flower.  The flower it was born to produce- a pure example of its own self expression, a fundamental part of its growth.  It would have produced that flower no matter what, as long as it got enough fertility and water.  The banana did not rush itself to flower on Christmas morning, but went at its own pace.  In this case, it was perfect timing for the bee, who was looking for nectar to drink that morning, and found the jackpot.

The bee’s gift is the act of pollination.  In the process of feeding on nectar, the bee transfers pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing and allowing fruit to form.  The bee does not go out of its way to do this as a gift for the plants, it is simply how it expresses itself as a bee.  Yet the banana receives the benefits of the bee’s bee-ness, and can start to fill and ripen its young fruits.

Neither of these two individuals went to any lengths to purchase a gift, wrap it with fancy paper, or worry about whether the receiver of the gift would like it, or what they’d think of the giver.  They simply went about their lives, expressing their full potential and their own unique abilities.  Somehow there is symbiosis, and love.

I had been hoping to get certain things done in time for Christmas, hoping to make a certain impression on certain loved ones with gifts that I had gone out of my way to procure.  The night before, I gave up on some of those ideas, I was just way too tired.  The next morning, after pondering the interaction between the bee and banana flower, it hit me: The best gift that we can give our family and loved ones is the expression of our true selves.  Reaching our potential in our own unique way, at our own pace, and not being afraid to share our uniqueness with those around us.  Being there for each other, in full, is much more valuable than anything with a shiny plastic bow on it.

“Be a lamp, or a ladder, or a lifeboat”

Expressing your honest, vulnerable self is so important because, as has been said many times- when you shine your light, you give others permission to do the same.  We all want a world where people are honest, and free, and have no fear.  The way to create that world is to be your most potent, loving self, in a way that allows others to feel comfortable doing the same.  Create a ripple effect.

The other part to the equation of the bee and banana, is me.  I receive the gifts of having a banana rack on the way, and a bee population that is apparently thriving.  Not to mention the gift of being able to watch this interaction take place, it’s what inspired the idea behind this post.  All started by my own expression of my desire to have food growing at home.  I now get to continue passing on that gift here, by writing this for you.  I hope you’ll take the torch and continue passing it on!

When We Heal the Earth, We Heal Ourselves

Heal The Earth

When we heal the Earth, we heal ourselves.

We have all been through trauma of some sort, whether in our childhood, in adolescence, or collectively as we wake up to the harsh reality of the human struggle. The world is not what we hoped it was. We can’t go backwards.

We have a choice- either let the trauma stay in the back of our head, in our subconscious, controlling every interaction and preventing us from ever reaching our full loving potential… OR, we can name it, speak it, share it with trusted others, let it motivate us, and begin to heal ourselves.

Each individual is accountable to the other billions of humans on this Earth, we all determine the future with our thoughts and actions. We need to grow up, and learn to support each other. May our choices be guided by humility, compassion, a willingness to be vulnerable, and a close connection with the Earth.
I am praying for myself and others to have the clarity and courage to take the necessary steps toward healing. Healing is growth.

•💔
Personally, I have been going through a very hard time in my life. Heartbreak is the worst- it feels like you’ve been hit by a train, it’s hard to stay motivated, you don’t know where your life is going anymore, and you feel so drained at the end of the day, yet still can’t sleep. It is visceral and if preventative measures aren’t taken, it’s easy to slip into depression. I try to keep in mind my own value, integrity, and the effect I have on the world. I am keeping my head up, because I know that I’m accountable to every one of you. I will heal. I appreciate everyone who supports this page and what I am doing, it has been a hell of a journey so far. A year ago I had no idea how to take care of a plant, let alone a homestead. There is still so much to learn… I will be very busy over the coming months, so stay posted.
Quote by David Orr.
Photo taken at @urbanabundancefl farm in Jupiter, FL

Originally posted on Instagram, November 19th 2018 – @Greenhouse_Homestead

6 Methods for Organic Pest Control in Your Backyard

Anyone that has tried growing a vegetable garden, food forest, or even just some herbs in their backyard has found that (especially here in South Florida) there are a number of pests to be dealt with.  Some are sap-suckers that will posse up on the underside of leaves and drain the life from plants, some insects will spread diseases and fungus, and then there are caterpillars who can mow an entire tomato plant down in an afternoon.  Since the point of growing your own food at home is to keep everything organic and healthy, how do we deal with these pests?

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What does “Organic Pest Control” mean?

“Organic” in terms of pest control simply means that the methods you use are comprised of either physical control, plant derived chemicals, or predatory insects.  There are a wide range of techniques- some are more broad-spectrum, and some only effect a certain bug in a certain scenario.  It can benefit you to become aware of a handful of them so you can decide what will work best for your situation.  Let’s start with the most basic.

1. Squishing them with your fingers

Yes, it can be gross.  Especially when you’re dealing with mature, full size caterpillars.  However, this technique can be surprisingly effective.  It is best applied before a full on infestation takes place.  Sometimes, you can find caterpillar eggs on leaves before they hatch, and just squish them between the leaves.  Young caterpillars are pretty much the same, although sometimes hard to find.  If a leaf is curled over itself or stuck to another leaf, you will be likely to find a caterpillar inside.  Squish it.

As you may have guessed, this technique is best for caterpillars, although it can be effective for aphids or whiteflies as well, provided they haven’t already multiplied out of control.  And, there is something to be said for leaving the goo of a squished insect on the leaf you found it on.  Pests don’t like to lay eggs and multiply on the decaying bodies of their ancestors.

Sometimes you will find other pests, like scale or leaf miners, that appear stationary.  For scale, you can just pick/flick them off of the plant in question.  Leaf miners can be squished inside the leaves they are mining (they are at the wider end of the “trail” they have made).

2. Homemade sprays

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There are dozens of recipes online for organic pest/disease control sprays that you can make in your kitchen, using ingredients you probably have on hand already.  The most basic would be a spray bottle full of water, a bit of castile soap and a couple drops of vegetable oil (the soap deters the bugs, and the oil helps to emulsify the mixture so it spreads on plant leaves easier).  You may have heard of this as a cure for aphids, but it can be effective for several types of pests.  Other ingredients for a homemade spray can include baking soda, garlic cloves, hot peppers, vinegar, lemon juice, and various other plant materials. Here’s a recipe I’ve used, and can vouch for it’s effectiveness on aphids:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 cayenne peppers
  • 2 tsp mineral/vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp castile soap
  • enough water to fill the rest of your spray bottle

Combine ingredients and blend, then let sit overnight.  The garlic and peppers will become more potent if you wait.  Then strain the mixture and pour into your spray bottle.  This can be sprayed directly on aphids or whiteflies and other pests.  Just make sure you don’t touch your eyes with hot pepper juice on your fingers… that would be painful.

Another homemade spray worth mentioning for plant care is a baking soda solution.  Not for pest control, but this can help with controlling powdery mildew and other fungal issues, particularly on squash, melons or cucumbers.  Just mix a few spoonfuls of baking soda with water and a couple drops of oil, and spray directly on the leaves.

3. Neem Oil

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Some people are rolling their eyes.  Neem oil works, I promise!  Well it kind of works.  It definitely works… somewhat.  The issue is, it doesn’t kill any pests (good news if you are a militant pacifist vegan), and does not last very long. It takes multiple applications.  And it has to be sprayed in the evening since it can burn plant leaves if applied in full sunlight.

Here are the benefits: It’s organic.  It is very easy to find. It doesn’t matter if you use slightly too much or too little, it won’t harm the plant.  It smells good (just me?).  You can even get a Neem tree for yourself and blend the leaves with water, to make it for free.

It doesn’t work for everything, but I use it almost exclusively for whiteflies.  I will put a spoonful or two of Neem oil into my gallon sprayer, fill with water, and go out at night with my headlamp and soak the undersides of my seedlings’ leaves.  It definitely keeps whiteflies away, but is short-lived. I usually do this two or three nights in a row to get the best effect.  The other benefit is that it is anti-fungal, and the problem with whiteflies is that they tend to spread fungal disease on the plants that they feed on.  So I consider this the most useful application of Neem.  In fact, it has been praised as a skin care ingredient for the same reasons – anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.  So don’t knock it completely.

4. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)

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Caterpillar killer.

Bt is becoming more and more popular in organic gardening and farming.  It is a strain of bacteria which is safe to apply to plant leaves, and is very effective against caterpillar-type pests.  It has no effect on birds, worms, or other beneficial insects.

The way it works:  You spray a Bt solution (usually 2-3 tsp per gallon, read the label) on the leaves of your plants.  Moths lay eggs on plants, caterpillars hatch shortly after.  Caterpillars start eating leaves, and ingesting the bacteria you sprayed.  The Bt produces a chemical effect in their stomachs, which essentially blocks the process of digestion, causing the caterpillar to die from starvation.  This can take place within a few hours.  It can be sprayed as a preventative measure, or applied once you notice caterpillar activity.  Although, if you already have a large infestation, you might as well start with tip number 1 (Squish them).

5. Companion planting

Here is a method that is the subject of much debate, simply because it’s so broad, and can be influenced by many other factors.  Still, some specific benefits have been documented and it can’t hurt to try.

In general, planting polycultures is an effective pest management strategy, simply because a wider variety of plants in the same space can be confusing for pests looking for something to eat.  Most of us have heard that planting marigolds can deter nematodes, because nematodes don’t like the exudates produced by marigold roots.  We’ve also been told that planting basil next to tomatoes can protect the tomatoes from pests, and improve their flavor.  There are plenty of things that people swear by in this realm, but I’ll go over a few common (and proved) plant companionships.

  • Basil (and herbs in general) planted throughout veggie beds.  The aroma and volatile oils emitted by certain herbs can be effective in keeping pests at bay.  Plus, you can never have enough basil.
  • Borage is an herb that produces edible blue flowers, and is said to repel tomato hornworm and cabbage moths.
  • Catnip can help with squash bugs and aphids,if planted beside plants that are likely to have problems with them.  You can dry the leaves and make a tea which relaxes the stomach, or spray the tea on plants for pest control.  Or, give it to your cat.
  • Carrots are said to be effective at repelling most pests in the veggie garden, and are easy enough to plant in small rows in between other crops.  The same is said to be true with other plants in the carrot family, which includes celery and parsley.
  • Lemongrass seems to be an effective all around pest deterant.
  • Onions (and other alliums) are also easy to inter-plant, and can keep pests away from brassicas, tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, etc.
  • Sunflowers are obviously a great addition to any garden, but they are also a great trap crop for aphids.  Most other flowers will work well too, as they attract beneficial/predatory insects, which will balance out the pest population.

If this is too complicated, here’s the gist of it: Plant a bunch of different stuff next to each other, it will help repel and confuse the bad bugs.

6. Beneficial insects

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What eats the bugs that eat your plants?  Beneficial insects do.  There are many predator/prey relationships to speak of…  If you do nothing at all to respond to a pest infestation, eventually something will come and eat those pests after they have multiplied to a point where it’s a free buffet for their natural predator.  Most of us would prefer to act sooner in order to preserve our crops, so here are a few predatory insects that you can encourage, or purchase and release in your garden.

  • Ladybugs will eat aphids if they can find them.  You should always be pleasantly surprised to see ladybugs on the leaves of your plants, as they are likely to be eating aphids or other mites.  They are also pretty.
  • Assassin bugs live up to their name, and will “take care” of caterpillars, beetles, leafhoppers, aphids, and other bugs.  They insert their proboscis into their prey, injecting a lethal saliva which liquefies the insides of said prey, which are then sucked out.  Brutal!
  • Predatory wasps are very unlikely to sting you, and most are very small.  There are hundreds of species, most commonly used in agriculture is the Trichogramma wasp.  They help by laying their eggs on most caterpillar and worm-type pests, then when the eggs hatch, the larvae immediately start feeding on the caterpillar from the inside out.  Then, when the wasps are mature, they feed on nectar and help pollinate your plants!
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Parasitic wasp eggs on a caterpillar’s back.
  • Green Lacewings are another great predatory insect, sometimes known as “aphid lions”.  As that nickname suggests, they love to eat aphids and will also prey on other soft-bodied insects such as thrips, mealybugs, whiteflies and small caterpillars.  They can consume hundreds of pest insects per week.

 

There are many other methods of controlling pests organically, but these are the ones that I see as being most accessible for the home gardener and urban farmer alike.  You can try any of these methods easily and quickly, and see if they work for you.  Best of all, they ensure that your home-grown goodness is kept clean from systemic pesticides, poisonous chemicals, and other nasty stuff that we try to avoid as organic growers.  I hope that this was useful, and showed you pests can easily be controlled with organic methods.  If you have experience with any of these methods, or have another that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments!

 

One other thing to note, is that in the case of a plant nursery where you are growing a lot of seedlings, cuttings, or otherwise tender plants, having them on a raised platform can help.  It will deter pests, and promote airflow and drainage for overall healthier plant growth.  Check out another of my blog posts for instructions on How to Build a DIY Bench for your Backyard Nursery.