Monday, March 31, 2008

Less Corn Could Mean Higher Food Prices - New York Times

Less Corn Could Mean Higher Food Prices - New York Times:

Corn prices already are high, and a drop in supply should keep them rising. Combine that with the huge demand for corn-based ethanol fuel -- and higher energy costs for transporting food -- and consumers are likely to see their food bills going up and up.

Corn is almost everywhere you look in the U.S. food supply. Poultry, beef and pork companies use it to feed their animals. High fructose corn syrup is used in soft drinks and many other foods, including lunch meats and salad dressings. Corn is often an ingredient in breads, peanut butter, oatmeal and potato chips.

Um, oatmeal?

Thank god I don't eat any of this stuff...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cuba's agricultural revolution an example to the world

Cuba's agricultural revolution an example to the world:

Laura Enriquez, a sociologist at the University of California-Berkeley, who has written extensively on the subject of Latin American agriculture, said: 'What happened in Cuba was remarkable. It was remarkable that they decided to prioritize food production. Other countries in the region took the neo-liberal option and exported 'what they were good at' and imported food. The Cubans went for food security and part of that was prioritizing small farmers.'

Cuba is filled with more than 7,000 urban allotments, or organoponicos, which fill perhaps as many as 81,000 acres. They have been established on tiny plots of land in the center of tower-block estates or between the crumbling colonial homes that fill Havana. One afternoon I visited a small garden of tomatoes and spinach that had been dug just a few hundred yards from the Plaza de la Revolution, a vast concrete square where Castro and his senior regime members annually oversee Cuba's May Day parade. More than 200 gardens in Havana supply its citizens with more than 90 percent of their fruit and vegetables.

But could Cuba's labor-intensive example be repeated without the availability of large numbers of enforced workers?

"I don't know. I think it is true that it has required much labor," Pretty said. "The thing is that it has also produced a lot of food. ... People are also closer to their food production. (In the West) we are worried that we don't know about where our food comes from. In Havana, people are closer to their food production and that may also have psychological benefits."

Labor would be a simple problem to solve -- people watch a little less of the idiot box, got off their duffs, and spent some time outside. That labor would likely go a ways in improving our god awful health problems.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


My strawberries have finally kicked into high production.
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Gosh, aren't they great? In a pot, very perennial. They die back completely in the wet season, but I stick them in full shade with some cover (to keep the rain out) and they come back, predictably, better than the previous year. Great cut flower, of course, but also a great spot of color in the garden.
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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Some spring blooms

Blue-Eyed Grass
My Ivy Geranium, finally coming into bloom. I planted this seed month ago... Easy enough to start, but a long time in blooming.
Okinawa Spinach. Delicious as it is beautiful.
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Backyards, Beware: An Orchard Wants Your Spot - New York Times

Backyards, Beware: An Orchard Wants Your Spot - New York Times:

In the last few years, an increasing number of Americans have turned their yards over to such mini orchards, planting them with dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, even in dense urban areas. Suppliers around the country have seen significant increases in fruit tree sales, like the 12 to 15 percent annual sales growth reported by the Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, Calif., which has one of the country’s largest selection of fruit trees (more than 1,300 varieties). [...]

The backyard orchard makes sense, given the growing popularity of the local-food movement. Nothing is more local than the backyard, after all, and home orcharding, as the practice is sometimes called, guarantees freshness and cuts the energy costs for transportation to nil. Anxieties about food safety — sparked by events like last year’s E. coli outbreak in spinach — may also be contributing to the trend. Ed Laivo, the Dave Wilson Nusery’s sales director, is a longtime advocate of dense tree planting, and wrote a how-to pamphlet called “Backyard Orchard Culture” in the early 1990s. He advises customers to choose varieties that will ripen at different times to spread out the harvest, a strategy increasingly being adopted by those wanting to eat fresh. “People are planting so that they have apples for four or five months straight,” he said, “rather than having one tree dump on them in September and then have to quickly make their pies and sauces.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alma Fig

The breba crop on my Alma fig. I pruned this down to four main stems, about thirty inches each. Each stem is neatly lined, appositely, from about one foot above the soil to the top.
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Flatwoods Plum and Flowering Dogwood

These trees are across from my office, so I've watched them carefully over the past seven or eight years. This year, by far, is the best for blooms that I've seen, presumably because of a relatively cool (more like average, at least) winter. The Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) (on the left) is really outside its zone, which ends around Ocala. And given the tough growing conditions (in the swale of a very busy intersection, no irrigation, no fertilizer), it's a wonder it blooms at all. The Flatwood Plum (it may be a Chickasaw, but I know the source of the tree, and I suspect it's a Flatwood) is a cloud of white blooms that's been blooming for at least two weeks like this.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Early spring blooms

Pot Marigolds (Calendula). These are from saved seed that I've had going on for several seasons. The yellow is first yellow calendula I've ever grown. Isn't saved seed cool?
For whatever reason, this African Blue Basil has thrived this winter, while others in my yard were zapped by our frosts. At any point during the day, there are at least a couple honey bees busy at work on this bush.
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Saved seeds...

Seeds from my Summer Glory Lettuce mix. Tough to separate the chaff from the seed, but I got several tablespoonfuls of seed from the three or four plants I let go to seed.

Fruit census...

My daughter asked me what fruits I had growing in my garden...
  • Two peaches (Flordabell, FlordaPrince)
  • Nectarine (Sunred)
  • Six citrus (Honeybell Tangelo, Hamlin Orange, Owari Satsuma (these all on Flying Dragon), Sambokan Lemon, a Kumquat and a Navel Orange)
  • Figs: ('Alma,' 'Brown Turkey,' 'Kadota,' 'LSU Purple' and 'Celeste.')
  • Brambles: Bababerry, unidentified blackberry, unidentified raspberry (from tony_k), and a 'Brazos' blackberry
  • Blueberries: Woodard,Blue Gem, Brightwell, Gulf Coast, Sharpblue, Emerald
  • Grapes: Nesbitt, Black Spanish, Bronze Fry
  • Strawberries (Chandlers mostly) (these are annuals in Florida)
  • Pomegranate (Grenada)
  • Pommes (Anna Apple, Dorsett Golden Apple, Hood Pear Tree) (all of these grow on a trellis)
  • Papaya (Waimanalo)
  • Mulberry (Black Beauty Mulberry Tree, unidentified weeping dwarf)
  • Carambola ('Sri Kambangum')
  • Bananas (four kinds, mostly dwarf, including Oronico & Ice Cream)
  • Mango (Cogshall)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fruits in early spring

Flordaprince peach tree, leafing out. I pruned this tree back heavily in December.

A breba fig from what I'm pretty sure is an 'Alma' fig. There are about a dozen ripening fruit on the tree. It's my only fig in the ground (the rest are in pots). Last season, it's first in the garden, it produced a couple of handfuls of fruit. I prunded it back very hard, to about thirty-two inches, which I'm sure cost me a bunch of early figs, but was necessary because the fig was growing out of bounds. On the fig forum, I've read how many growers cut their figs down to as little as eighteen inches every year -- sacrificing the brebi crop, but keeping the trees very productive in the fall. (This would obviously only work in hot climates like here.)
'Dorsett' apple, breaking dormancy. Anna is still sleeping...
Sambokan lemon blooms. I have five citrus in my yard, and they're blooming in a series, perfuming the whole courtyard.

Blooms on my new 'Sri Kambangum' carambola (from ECHO's fruit nursery). It's in a three-gallon pot; I might move it to a seven-gallon, or put it in the ground. I haven't decided... It's grafted, so it might even produce some fruit this season. It's technically out of its zone here, but I have a Brazilian friend up the street growing several largish ones with only minor frost damage this year. She harvested hundreds of fruits.

Friday, March 07, 2008


It's pouring out there right now -- my guess is we've had at least an inch of rain, with much more expected. It's just too wet to even check the rain gauge. I did my spring fertilizing today, so this rain is particularly welcome.

We almost never get this weather in the middle of March. I'm planning on doing some major landscaping projects tomorrow, so for me this is perfect. It's been, overall, a fairly cool winter here -- witness the dogwoods and Prunus blooms, which are a lot more florid than in recent memory. I'll have to take some pictures...

Update: They've dropped the forecast to thirty-five degrees. Brrrr. Keep in mind that it was eighty-three yesterday!

Holy Cow Update: I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of an intense rainstorm -- drops so huge that I thought initially someone was walking up the old wooden staircase to our bedroom. This morning the gauge read three-and-a-half inches! On top of the half-inch earlier this week and the inch last week. March is usually a pretty dry month, averaging just under four inches of rain in a normal year.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Florida Weave Tomatoes

The "Florida weave" method of trellising tomatoes, as practiced by ECHO gardens. These look like determinant tomatoes, and the system looks to work well. But I wouldn't think about this method for indeterminant tomatoes, which get in excess of ten feet here.
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Macademia Nuts

ECHO is developing some smallish, quick-to-bear macademia trees. The trees are beautiful, about twenty feet tall. You can see the flowers and small, immature fruits.
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Isn't it beautiful?
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St Augustine Gardens

St. Augustine, Florida, is a pretty place. Walking around there reminds me of all the history that's been forgotten: Florida has really the longest recorded history of any state in the Union, that four flags (French, Spanish, English and American) have flown over Florida, that the Spaniards were really the discoverers and conquerors of North America. The city should be congratulated for enforcing strict building codes in the historic district, and for preserving/restoring much of the area. It's an architectural treasure, though a bit of a superficial one.

But I was hard-pressed to find much in the way of interesting municipal areas from the horticultural point of view. The public spaces were predictable units of weedy St Augie, oleander, and crepe myrtle. Yawn. Even Flagler College, with its all its stunning architecture, was landscaped with little more than some sagos, azaleas, and crepe myrtles. Oh, and weedy St Augustine. The courtyards of private houses, glimpsed from the street, were hardly more interesting. Lots of ratty potted geraniums and asparagus fern.

But I did find this little gem of a courtyard at the O'Reilly House Museum. Too bad the darn place was closed on Wednesdays. But I snapped some pictures from over the top of the fence. A nice mix of edible and ornamental landscaping in a classic courtyard style of straight lines. They even managed some nicely trellised trees -- I was too far back to see what kind, but perhaps these were fruit trees? The leaves look elongated like a peach tree, but I hope they didn't try to trellis a peach tree, since it peaches grow far too quickly, and have far too few buds, to trellis successfully.

Summer plantings...

Even though we're forecast to have a very cool week (highs in the 60s... in March! That's been rare the past few years...), I decided to transplant and seed some of my plants for the summer season before heading to work today.... Very briefly:
  1. Sungold Tomato, the most prolific, tastiest tomato I grow
  2. Two cucumbers that I started a few weeks ago in cups, from Pinetree: BUSH CROP (55 days)
    and SALAD BUSH (F1 Hybrid 56 days)
  3. Goose Creek Tomato (thanks, Bill!)
  4. my "Seminole Squash" wilding from this past fall
  5. Rattlesnake Beans (several weeks going now)
  6. Cherokee Purple (from winter garden)
  7. Better Boy (from winter garden)
I already have a number of peppers going: Jalapeno and Ancho (both sown sometime this winter); and Tabasco, Pimiento de Padron, and banana peppers, all survivors from last spring. Many of my peppers are in pots, but the ones in the ground do pretty well and are less of a hassle to keep watered.

Some of my lettuce crops have bolted; they've been in the ground for months, so regardless of warm or cold temperatures, these were bound to bolt soon. I plan to replace them soon with Queensland lettuce from ECHO and more cuttings from my Okinawan Spinach.

With the exception of cowpeas and sweet potatoes, that'll be it for my summer veg garden. The cukes will be destroyed by the pickleworm by mid-May (sigh) The runner beans and tomatoes will produce into July, when they'll burn out or begin to suffer too badly from pests. I'll harvest sweet potatoes and cowpeas from mid-June until frost. I might try some yucca this summer.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Collecting Lettuce Seed

I let some of my 'Summer Glory' lettuces go to seed. I noticed today the achene had put out its little parachutes, so I gathered some of the heads, tied them together, and left them in the dry, hot sun. I'll hang them upside-down in a plastic bag until the seeds fall out. Then, in a plastic baggie and the fridge for the summer.
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Rice in Florida

ECHO had two rice beds -- one dry land, the other a more typical flooded paddy. The docent told me that the dry land technique produced superior yields -- something like twenty-three pounds in a twenty-five by twenty-five area. The flooded paddy had about half the yield, but was much less labor intensive. (Rice is grown in water primarily to reduce weeds.)

ECHO had some hardware on display, too.
I love simple, commonsense inventions like this one. They never grow old. No moving parts. Essentially a chimney that burns rice hulls.

Brings water to a boil more rapidly than liquid gas.

Sunken Beds

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Perennial peanut as a green manure crop

All over ECHO they use perennial peanut as a green manure crop. It also acts, clearly, as a weed block and a living mulch. ECHO agrees with me in rejecting IFAS's warning against using mulch (green or otherwise) near citrus trees. As long as the tree has some airflow, fungal problems are unlikely and the benefits outweigh the unlikely detriments. All over the farm, I noticed that they mulched with plant debris from the surrounding crops -- avocado leaves and branches (unchipped) piled high around avocado trees, mango trimmings under mango trees. I'd read everywhere that such use of a crop's own detritus was a sure-fire pathogen vector, but it doesn't seem to be the case in practice. Once again, what logic dictates, nature ignores.
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Wick Gardening at ECHO

I was really impressed by the wick gardens in the Urban Garden area of ECHO farms. No fancy equipment or special potting mixes. Instead, they use old bits of fabric (nylon, presumably -- it wouldn't rot) and discarded rubber and plastic mats. A bucket with a three-eights inch hole drilled into the lid (above) is filled with compost and manure "tea" (made in the barrels in the background). The bucket is inverted, and the fertilizer solution flows out. When the carpet/mat becomes saturated it creates a vacuum that seals the hole and the water flow ceases. Evaporation and absorption lowers the water level, the vacuum is broken, the solution flows out...
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Any kind of mulch (they used pebbles, old tin cans, and coarse, shredded plant debris) keeps the mositure in and provides a mooring for the plants' roots. Hydroponics simplified.
Chard and onion sets growing on a rubber mat and pebbles. Note the bucket in the background. The chard looks better than mine!
Circle of life, un-Disney-fied. The chickens in the coop are fed a mix of grains and greens. The greens grow on top of the coop (same wick garden set-up -- you can see a bucket peeking out of the upper-right-hand corner). The greens and wick garden keep the coop cool. The chicken waste drops through to the pavement below, then goes into the barrel of manure tea. The tea goes into the wick garden. The greens go into the chickens... Out comes the poop and the whole thing starts again. Ultra low inputs (just some grain), ulta low space requirements, and you get three "crops" (collards, eggs, and meat) from one set-up. Very smart.