Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Park Seeds, Swallowtail orders

From Park Seeds:
  • Corn Silver Princess Hybrid
  • Chrysanthemum Gold Sticks Hybrid
  • Coreopsis tinctoria
  • Pepper Ancho
  • Green Onion Parade
And from Swallowtail:

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tropical Corn

I'm going to give a shot at growing a small patch (sixteen square feet) of sweet corn this fall, sowing sometime in August, hopefully harvesting some ears for Thanksgiving. After a lot of searching, I chose Silver Princess Hybrid, since it offers very early harvest, good disease resistance, and sturdy plants. I poked around the 'net for advice on growing corn in a sub-tropical climate (which ours is, kind of...) and came across this great picture of tropical corn in Peru from Breeding Field Crops.

Corn used to be grown extensively here in Central Florida, but that period ended with the Lake Apopka cleanup effort, which involved buying out hundreds of acres of field, many devoted to corn. The phosphorous and nitrogen run-off from these farms, combined with degraded wetlands caused by wanton development, destroyed the ecosystem supporting Lake Apopka,. When I moved here at the end of the 1990s, wading birds were (no exaggeration) falling dead from the sky and Apopka's shores were lined with dead bass...

There is at least one farm -- Scott's -- around Zellwood, FLA, which grows significant crops of corn, and, even though I wince at the ecological harm and the amount of pesticides and fungicides, I buy some every fall and again at the end of spring. Zellwood grows seriously good corn, for sale from the backs of pickups on byways at fifty-cents an ear. One of our family fall/spring traditions is to hold a shrimp boil made of Zellwood corn, potatoes and freshly-caught shrimp. We also find the time to visit the Zellwood Corn Maze in October to buy pumpkins and corn.

Walk Score - How walkable is your house?

Walk Score - How walkable is your house?:

"Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc."

An interesting site. We're in "downtown" DeLand, right across from Stetson University. We scored 60 out of 100 -- neither here nor there. Many of the entries are inaccurate (like listing a Japanese restaurant as a clothing store...), but all tools have their inadequacies, and results are only as good as data.

Subjectively, I'd rate our neighborhood as quite walkable, particularly for Florida, or generally the southeast. Many students here do without cars, and I've had short-term colleagues live here without a car.

What's your score, Floridians?

Monday, July 23, 2007

FPL Group, Boca start-up join in ethanol fuel project -- South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

FPL Group, Boca start-up join in ethanol fuel project -- South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com: "A tiny Boca Raton start-up got a big boost on Thursday from FPL Group, which will partner with Citrus Energy LLC to make ethanol from discarded orange peels.

The two firms will build a first-of-its-kind plant designed to produce 4 million gallons of ethanol a year to be blended with gasoline for vehicle fuel.

'It's great news,' said David Stewart, a former computer engineer who founded Citrus Energy last year. He said that the state now has very little ethanol in its gas. 'This would be a start in Florida.'"

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Yellow Sunrose

Aptenia cordifolia. This yellow one has proved to be a very good, dense, low groundcover for full sun. I got it at the DeLand "Plante Fair" for a buck. It roots extremely easily. I have a pink and a red, but the flowers are much smaller and the plant is generally not nearly as vigorous as this yellow one.
Posted by Picasa

Tuscan Sun Rose

I got a bunch of these roses from Merrygro. Very pretty, apricot color, almost metallic, that (in the summer in FLA, anyway) fades to a pale pink. I have it in a central bed, near a bunch of the very pretty "Our Lady of Guadalupe."
Posted by Picasa

Froggy Heaven... or Froggy Doom?

A frog house that also serves as a froggy death motel...
Posted by Picasa

The end of (full sized) tomatoes...

I couldn't deal with the stinkbug invasion, and decided to call it quits with my two remaining full-sized tomatoes. I'd planted these using the modified post--hole method, and they've been providing us with plenty of tomatoes since March. Absolutely no signs of RKN.

I plan to start tomatoes the middle of next month, for transplant into the garden the middle of September. For my fall crop, I'm going to try: Black Plum, Jetsetter, and maybe Nepal. All recommendations from the Florida Forum on GardenWeb.

A garden update in pictures, part I

'Don Juan'


A garden update in pictures, part II

Abraham Darby

'Foxy', defying all zones and bloom times.

Berggarten Sage (it doesn't bloom like garden sage. mine is 3 years old)

One of the great things about Kumquat is that it will flower (and set fruit) anytime of the year that it puts off significant new growth.

A garden update in pictures, part III

Glorioso Lily. Amazingly quick from planting to bloom -- maybe six weeks.
'Our Lady of Guadalupe' from Jackson & Perkins

'Desert Sun' Zinnias going strong...

Tabasco Peppers

A garden update in pictures, part IV

Egyptian Kale from ECHO. Doesn't mind the heat one bit...

Yellow Sunrose. Small but very pretty flowers.

A garden update in pictures, part V

I've come to really like Torenias. During the hottest part of the summer, they bloom their heads off, so long as they have enough to drink and a bit of shade...
Brugmansia. I got this as a seedling this winter, and this is how it looks after three months in the ground.

My purple corner. You can see 'Purple Knight' Alternanthera, 'Mr Lincoln', ornamental bananas and Gaura.

Posted by Picasa

Swallowtail Garden Seeds Shopping Cart

Swallowtail Garden Seeds Shopping Cart:
1 AN518 TIDYTIPS $2.95 $2.95

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Romancing the Velvet Bean -- Old Flame of Southern Farmers May Make a Comeback

Romancing the Velvet Bean -- Old Flame of Southern Farmers May Make a Comeback: "ROMANCING THE VELVET BEAN -- OLD FLAME OF SOUTHERN FARMERS MAY MAKE A COMEBACK

AUBURN, Ala.__-- An old romance between southeastern farmers and velvet beans may soon be rekindled, thanks to research underway at Auburn University.

Rodrigo Rodriguez-Kabana, professor of plant pathology in Auburn's College of Agriculture, has been exploring the use of velvet bean as a nematode control for Alabama's cash crops. His research has shown that velvet beans are highly effective, natural nematicides that provide multiple benefits to farmers and may have cash value of their own.

Rodriguez-Kabana explained that velvet bean is a tropical legume native to Southeast Asia and related to soybean and kudzu. Velvet beans were introduced into the southern United States in 1875, apparently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some southerners used the fast-growing vines for shade around their homes. Farmers also used velvet beans for a variety of purposes, especially after the discovery of a short-season velvet bean that became known as the 'Alabama' variety.

'Then, as now, nitrogen fertilizer was very expensive,' explained Rodriguez-Kabana. Because velvet beans are legumes, they can fix nitrogen from the air and return it to the soil, so many farmers used it in lieu of nitrogen fertilizers. Velvet beans also were used to control erosion, build soil organic matter and as a forage and feedstuff for cattle, said Rodriguez-Kabana. Southeastern farmers held the velvet bean in high esteem until the 1950s, when two occurrences displaced the crop. "After World War II, nitrogen fertilizer became much cheaper to buy and soybeans became the glamour crop," said Rodriguez-Kabana.

During the 1960s, farmers began to plant soybeans because they promised greater economic and nutritional value as a cash crop and feedstuff. Velvet beans rapidly vanished from the southern landscape. "At one time, there were about a million acres of velvet beans in the state. Now there are only a few," said Rodriguez-Kabana.


The AU plant pathologist is exploring the effectiveness of various plants that may be natural nematicides, including velvet and other beans, indigo, sesame and various grass crops. Rodriguez-Kabana's management strategy is to rotate acreage planted in traditional cash crops with one of these rotation crops when it is profitable to do so. While several of these crops control some nematodes, velvet beans effectively control a wide range of these diverse pests.

"Velvet beans control most types of nematodes. There is no other plant I know of that can deal with all these, and there are no nematicides that can do that," stated Rodriguez-Kabana.

Velvet beans may also suppress weeds, diseases and insects and they have potential as a cash crop, which means velvet beans can be viewed as an organic, sustainable pesticide crop."

Press Release : Natural Resources and Environment : University of Michigan

Press Release : Natural Resources and Environment : University of Michigan: "Researchers from the University of Michigan found that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms. In developing countries, food production could double or triple using organic methods, said Ivette Perfecto, professor at U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one the study's principal investigators. Catherine Badgley, research scientist in the Museum of Paleontology, is a co-author of the paper along with several current and former graduate and undergraduate students from U-M.

'My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,' Perfecto said."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Papalo salsa

OK, I've been won over. I really liked this salsa cruda, my translation of this recipe. It was an excellent way to use up some green tomatoes, and had a nice complexity.


Under a broiler or on a hot, dry skillet, roast four garlic cloves (in their jackets) and two to four cuaresmeños chilies (cuaresmeños peppers are a kind of large jalapeños -- I used two of my very hot Italian Roasting Peppers, from TGS). The garlic skin should just color on all sides before removing; the peppers should be nicely browned and blistered all over. When cool, peel the peppers and remove the veins and seeds. (Now, go wash your hands, and don't touch ANYONE for at least a few hours!) Peel the garlic.

Chuck the peppers and garlic in a blender or food processor, along with six leaves of papalo, half a pound of hard green tomatoes, the juice from half a small lemon, a splash of olive oil, and salt to taste (about 2 tsp). Whiz it until just smooth. Taste for salt and acid. Right before serving, add some thin slivers of white onion (or scallion whites) that you've rinsed in plenty of cold water.
We served this salsa mounded in fried masa boats, sprinkled with goat cheese and, piled high on top, fresh garden cress and purple basil from the garden. It was a great summer dish!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The accidental squash...

Sometime in June, I saw this vine crawl out of blackberry bed that I had mulched heavily with kitchen waste. I kept meaning to yank it out, but somehow kept forgetting. then I went out of town for three weeks. Bill, who was looking after my garden in my absence, asked me what squash I was growing. I had no idea.

When i got back a week ago, I had a perfect 1 pond butternut squash. I guess it only set one fruit before it got too hot.

We ate it tonight, coated with a fiery spice rub and roasted until it was so done you could eat the rind, too. On a bed of rice, with lentils. fresh tomatoes for dessert. (mmmmm....) Perfect.

I bet if I tried a dozen times to replicate this -- to grow a winter squash in July in Central FLA -- it would never again work

Detailed information on Papalo, Papaloquelite Porophyllum ruderale subsp. macrocephalum

Detailed information on Papalo, Papaloquelite Porophyllum ruderale subsp. macrocephalum: "Papalo, Papaloquelite, Porophyllum ruderale subsp. macrocephalum"

My gardening conspirator Bill gave me seeds for this plant, which goes under various names, and is the same species as Bolivian Coriander, though this is the macorcephalum (big-headed) subspecies. Bill (who is culinarily pretty adventurous) hated it, and yanked the plants out of his garden.

I'm still trying to decide whether I like it: the flavor is very strong, much stronger than cilantro, with a bit of arugula on the finish. Lots of herbal notes, maybe a bit of citrus, too. Complex, in any case. I found this description in French that sums it up pretty well:
Une plante utilisée au Mexique à l'instar de la coriandre pour ses feuilles aromatiques. Odeur forte, ultra fraîche et musquée, qui rappele vaguement la coriandre mais aussi l'ozone. Saveur très concentrée: un petit morceau de quelques mm suffit pour assaisonner une salsa. À utiliser comme la coriandre. Grande plante à feuilles arrondies de couleur vert bleuâtre. Environ 1,50 m de hauteur. Soleil, mi-ombre.
We had it tonight on beans and rice, and I thought it played out nicely against the earthiness. I can see how it'd be really good with tomatoes and hot peppers, too.

The seeds reminded me a lot of zinnia seeds. I planted six seeds, but only had one of them germinate. I think this had to do with my lack of familiarity with the seeds: Like zins, there were a lot of husks that probably didn't contain seeds.

Mine is in a gallon pot. It yawns at full sun, low water -- conditions that spell IMMEDIATE DEATH to cilantro.

I'm going to try this recipe soon, since I have plenty of hot peppers and green tomatoes & papalo:


2 chiles cuaresmeños asados y desvenados
2 chiles cascabel o morita asados y desvenados
1/4 kg. de tomates verdes chicos, crudos
4 dientes de ajo asados
6 hojas de pápalo (se puede usar 2 cucharadas de hojas de albahaca, perejil, cilantro o epazote);
1/2 cucharadita de jugo de limón
1 cucharadita de aceite
sal gruesa
2 cucharadas de cebolla picada fina


Se muelen la sal, los chiles, el ajo, el pápalo, los tomates; se añaden el limón y el aceite. Al final, se agrega la cebolla picada.

NOTA: Si se muele en licuadora se pone a baja velocidad para que quede con textura y no líquida.


I love ECHO's research publication, Echo Development Notes, which disseminates information about their research on crops and agriculture practices. The following bit, even though it's directed at marginal, subsistence farmers in the tropics, offers an excellent set of observations for the gardener in Florida. The "discovery" at the end, viz., that for things to grow well (organically, sustainably, prolifically) in the tropics, one "must imitate the highly productive, millions-of-years-old humid tropical forest" would come as no surprise to Sir Albert Howard, who said basically precisely the same thing in the first chapter of his 1940 book "An Agricultural Testament."

The five principles laid out in the piece are the bases of good gardening (veg or flower) here in almost-tropical Central FLA:
  • feed plants through the mulch.
  • maintain biological diversity.
  • use zero tillage.
  • keep the soil covered.
  • maximize organic matter production.
They're also the principles that my garden runs on...



The odyssey of my colleagues and I started in 1982, the day Conrado Zavala, a Honduran villager, sheepishly showed us his experiment. Skeptical about the value of the organic matter we had recommended, he had piled a huge quantity of compost into several rows of his maize field. The last two rows he left as a control untilled and unfertilized. There, before our eyes, stood a field of 2 1/2 m maize, with a last row less than 40 cm tall. That was the day we began to realize the incredible degree to which organic matter can restore soils. Little by little, work in a dozen countries has convinced us that the vast majority of soils can be made highly fertile. How? By using our first principle: maximize organic matter production.

Conrado’s particular approach, however, was anti-economic. The cost of using compost on basic grains exceeds the benefit. But intercropped green manure/cover crops (gm/cc’s) can produce from 50 to 140 T/Ha (green weight) of organic matter with very little work: no transporting of material and no cutting up or layering or turning over of compost heaps. In fact, sometimes, because of the gm/cc’s control of weeds, net labor costs decrease. And soil quality often improves visibly each year. Then, as often happens, we found we were far from the first to employ intercropped gm/cc’s. Gradually, between 1985 and 1992, we learned that villager farmers from Veracruz State in Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras were intercropping velvetbeans (Mucuna pruriens), cowpeas (Vigna spp.) and jackbeans (Canavalia ensiformis) with their maize and sorghum.

To our amazement, these systems, virtually all of them in the supposedly infertile humid tropics, allow farmers to plant maize every year for decades, with productivity increasing over time up to 4 T/Ha. (1) In other words, these farmers have found an answer to slash-and-burn agriculture. Migratory agriculture is most frequently motivated by decreasing fertility, increased weed problems, or both. In the Mesoamerican gm/cc systems, nitrogen fixation and biomass recycling maintain soil fertility. Mulches of crop residues and fast-growing gm/cc’s drastically reduce the weed problem. We had learned a second principle: keep the soil covered.

Gm/cc mulches provide a whole series of additional benefits. They protect the soil from irradiation and the heat of the tropical sun, thereby also reducing burn out of organic matter. They save a tremendous amount of work; farmers can sow into the plant residue rather than tilling the soil. They keep the excess nitrogen from acidifying the upper soil horizons. (2) And they largely prevent soil erosion, even on slopes of 40%.

In the meantime, we had been reading Fukuoka’s book, The One-Straw Revolution. (3) However, his recommendation of zero tillage failed to convince us. After all, most of the traditional agriculture in Latin America uses zero tillage, yet is far from productive.

In mid-1993, I visited the work of EPAGRI in southern Brazil. Having visited over 160 agricultural development programs through the years, I found this largely unpublicized effort to be the finest of its size I had seen in Latin America. Literally tens of thousands of animal traction farmers were producing harvests approaching those in the USA--with gm/cc’s and zero tillage. (4)

Valdemar de Freitas, EPAGRI’s manager, showed us that the secret to achieving zero tillage is applying massive amounts of organic matter to the soil. Brazilian farmers, after some four years of applying gm/cc’s to the soil, are able to quit ploughing. The advantages, in terms of better soil structure, reduced soil compaction, higher fertility, and decreased cost, are impressive. Interestingly, farmers often use nonleguminous gm/cc’s to increase biomass in order to quit ploughing sooner. That is, they spend scarce income on chemical nitrogen fertilizer for three or four years in order to achieve zero tillage sooner.

The Brazilians’ discovery explains why the zero tillage gm/cc systems of northern Honduras--and Fukuoka’s--produce so well, while many traditional zero tillage systems do not. Thus we added a third principle: use zero tillage.

EPAGRI’s investigation and dissemination of over 60 species of gm/cc partly to avoid diseases and insect pests, confirmed another, more widely known principle: maintain biological diversity.

The last principle was discovered by Martha Rosemeyer, a Cornell doctoral candidate working in Costa Rica. For several years, agronomists working with a low-cost, traditional, mulched-bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) system had been trying to solve a phosphorus deficiency problem. With highly acid (pH = 4.0 to 4.5) soils, virtually all the phosphorus applied became tied up almost instantly. Farmers’ harvests averaged 500 kgs/Ha. (5) Martha and a group of farmers tried broadcasting the phosphorus on top of the mulch. The results, since confirmed in numerous additional experiments, were astounding. Bean yields rose to between 1.5 and 2.5 T/Ha. (6)

This phenomenon has not yet been validated with other crops. Yet it would help explain the success of

Mesoamerica’s gm/cc systems, and coincides with the fact that plants as diverse as maize, manioc, and tropical trees tend to develop a heavy mass of feeder roots immediately under thick mulches. (7) Furthermore, it makes simple sense: when soils are as hostile to plant growth as are the humid

tropic’s acid soils, feeding plants through a mulch would seem a much more promising alternative. The fifth principle is undoubtedly the most unconventional: feed plants through the mulch.

These five principles enjoy a nice synergy. For example, if we are going to feed our plants through a mulch, we certainly cannot plough our fields. Nevertheless, the most important relation between these principles is precisely the one that took us the longest to figure out: they describe quite well the way a humid tropical forest functions. That is, all we discovered in our 12-year odyssey is something we should have guessed all along. In order for humid tropical agriculture to be both highly productive and sustainable, it must imitate the highly productive, millions-of-years-old humid tropical forest.

Three months ago, I searched the computerized agricultural data system in the United States for information on the nutrient dynamics in mulches and the feeding of crops through a mulch. I found virtually nothing. The above principles mean we are going to have to develop agricultural systems totally different from those agronomists have tried, for so many years, to ”transfer” from the temperate nations.

The possibilities are enormous. A study from northern Honduras shows that the gm/cc/maize system there is 30% more profitable than the high-input maize system nearby. (8) It may well be we are just beginning to fathom the full potential of low-input agriculture in the humid tropics.

NOTES: l. Elio Duron, presentation made to CIDICCO’s First Interchange of Ideas on the Role of Leguminous Plants in Today’s Agriculture, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April 1990. 2. Bernard Triomphe, personal communication on the results of his doctoral dissertation research on the long-term effects of a Honduran gm/cc/maize system on tropical soils, 1994. 3. Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution. An Introduction to Natural Farmers (Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1978). 4. Roland Bunch, "EPAGRI’s Work in the State of Santa Catarina, Brazil: Major New Possibilities for Resource-Poor Farmers”. Photocopied. 5. Martha Rosemeyer, "Yield, Nodulation and Mycorrhizal Establishment in Slash/Mulch vs. Row-cropped Beans,” in H. David Thurston, et al., eds., Tapado. Slash/Mulch: How Farmers Use It and What Researchers Know About It (Ithaca, NY: CIIFAD and CATIE, cl994), pp. 169-178. 6. Kenneth Schlater, personal communication on the results of his doctoral dissertation research on the effects of applying phosphorus to the mulch of slash/mulched beans, 1995. 7. Rattan Lal, "Conservation Tillage for Sustainable Agriculture, Tropics vs. Temperate Environments,” in N. C. Brady, ed., Advances in Agronomy, vol. 42 (San Diego, California: Academic Press, c1989), and P. M. Vitousek and R. L. Sanford, Jr., "Nutrient Cycling in Moist Tropical Forest,” Annual Review of Ecological Systems vol. 17, 1986, pp. 137-167. Also, Bernard Triomphe, personal communication (see above). 8. Milton Flores and Nicolas Estrada "Estudio de Caso: La Utilizacion del Frijol Abono (Mucuna spp.) Como Alternativa Viable para el Sostenimiento Productivo de los Sistemas Agricolas del Litoral Atlantico,” paper presented to the Center for Development Studies at the Free University of Amsterdam, 1992. Mimeographed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Orange-Barred Sulphur Caterpillar (Phoebis philea)

I found him busily munching on some Cassia in my butterfly garden cum veg garden. I was busy myself, pulling weeds and beating back sweet potatoes. But I always have a moment to appreciate nature's miracles.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sunshine Blue Blueberry

Another blueberry cultivar to add to my garden. From tony_k_orlando, on GardenWeb's Florida Forum:

"Sunshine Blue is what I have been growing for yrs now. The beauty of this variety is that they require the LEAST amount of chill hours, they are self pollinating and grow no more than about 3ftx3ft AND they are the least fussy when it comes to pH levels."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Debate Over Subsidizing Snacks - New York Times

Evil, wicked "agri-business"...
The Debate Over Subsidizing Snacks - New York Times: "Between 1985 and 2000 the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables increased nearly 40 percent while the price of soft drinks decreased by almost 25 percent, adjusted for inflation, according to a study done by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a group in Minneapolis set up to help save family farms and rural communities."

A Cane the World Can Lean On - New York Times

A Cane the World Can Lean On - New York Times: "July 5, 2007
In the Garden
A Cane the World Can Lean On

Mount Vernon, Wash.

BAMBOO is a versatile, ancient plant that shows up in creation myths as well as in pots on Manhattan terraces. It comes in clumping varieties that behave themselves and running “timber” types that spread by rhizomes — great for a grove, but not so good when they are planted as a property screen that escapes into a neighbor’s yard.

But it’s that very vigor that has environmentalists hailing bamboo as the new “It” plant for saving the earth.

Bamboo is a workhorse at sequestering carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen. It is a tough plant that manufactures its own antibacterial compounds and can thrive without pesticides. And its porous fibers make a cloth that breathes and is as soft as silk. In fact, there is such a stampede of fabric designers to China and Japan, where it is farmed and processed — no such industry exists in the United States — that in its May issue, National Geographic predicted that “this upstart fabric may someday compete with King Cotton.”

Yet as the world clamors for more, bamboo is in short supply. A plant that generally flowers only every 60 to 120 years and then dies is hard to propagate from seed."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A good way to plant peas...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I planted far too few peas last year. I need to plant my peas like this in the fall... that looks to be a 4'x4' slightly raised bed built using some some one-by's, and garden twine. I'll probably tweak the design and use conduit and wire.