Monday, June 30, 2008

Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth -

In the long run, the explosion in commodity prices will be a good thing. Capitalism, for all its inherent problems, is really good at solving problems.
Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth - "The company estimates this kind of shipping has cut labor by half and water use by 60 to 70 percent. More gallons fit on a truck and in Sam’s Club coolers, and no empty crates need to be picked up, reducing trips to each Sam’s Club store to two a week, from five — a big fuel savings. Also, Sam’s Club can now store 224 gallons of milk in its coolers, in the same space that used to hold 80.

The whole operation is so much more efficient that milk coming out of a cow in the morning winds up at a Sam’s Club store by that afternoon, compared with several hours later or the next morning by the old method. “That’s our idea of fresh milk,” Greg Soehnlen, a vice president at Creative Edge, said."

Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil - Los Angeles Times

Envisioning a world of $200-a-barrel oil - Los Angeles Times.

Not so long ago, it was just dirty frickin' hippies and know-nothing Kentucky farmers who were preaching "shorten the supply chain."
"Local distribution patterns could change too. Stephen Gaddis, chief executive of Pacific Cheese Co., a Hayward, Calif., cheese processing and packaging firm, thinks high fuel prices will push restaurants, retailers and food manufacturers to look for suppliers closer to their operations.

'Local sourcing is ideal. You won't pay as much for freight, and when you use less fuel it's better for the environment,' Gaddis said.

Soaring diesel prices will make companies rethink whether they should have large, centralized plants or build smaller ones around the country.

That's what Pacific Cheese is doing. It's building a packaging plant in Texas to be closer to one of its larger suppliers and expects to serve its Southwestern clients from there.

In the near future, however, consumers can expect to pay for the higher cost of producing food and moving it around the country, say food executives, farmers and economists. Even having a deep-dish pizza with extra cheese brought to your door costs more now that chains such as Pizza Hut are charging for delivery."

Can tomatoes be grown in Floridas heat? - Florida Gardening Forum - GardenWeb

July has been the end of tomato season for me in the past. The bugs and diseases get bad, but the main problem is that tomatoes stop setting fruit when the temperatures get much above ninety or when the lows don't get below seventy... in other words, most tomatoes stop setting fruit in July. (The exceptions are small-fruited varieties, which continue to set fruit all summer.) A recommendation from the Florida Forum...
Can tomatoes be grown in Floridas heat? - Florida Gardening Forum - GardenWeb: "Well, my second mater from this summer experiment was actually much better tasting that the first one. The Solar Set is clearly setting fruit better than the Solar Fire. I have them double-potted (7gal in 10gal) to keep the soil heat down and as you can see they are up under the canopy of a live oak tree so they are only getting six hours of direct sunlight. I didn't give them any CRF and I have not been the best at hitting them with MG, and I didn't cage them because I really didn't expect them to do as well as they have so far...."
Fruit set is just one problem... Bugs, heat, drought and disease are equally flummoxing. But if I ever feel the need for August tomatoes, I might give these heat-setting tomatoes a try.

Friday, June 27, 2008


At the Deland Farmers Market I got three very nice, healthy blueberries in gallon pots: Mirimba, Primadonna (sic) and another Gulf Coast. I planted them this morning along the same line where my other bushes are located. I amended the soil pretty heavily with pine fines and peat.

I tore out my Sharpblue blueberry which just wasn't thriving. (I have some suspicions that it was mislabeled, since the leaves look so different from my other Southern Highbush...)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quick pics...

Not a lot of time to blog (too busy writing, fishing, and gardening!) but some snapshots from the garden this weekend...

Nesbitt grapes.

This Jetsetter tomato has finally started setting fruits. (I mislabeled this tomato, and this morning, sorting through my seeds, I realized that this was a Tomande VFFNT Hybrid tomato from TGS.) I got my tomatoes out too late this year, and though it looks like they'll all produce a nice crop, it's only now that I'm in full production mode... which gives me, at best, another month of fresh tomatoes.

Did I mention that it's been raining a lot here? Three more inches on Friday, making something in excess of ten inches since the drought broke ten days ago...

Lots of peppers, hot and sweet, in my garden right now. I pickled these.

More Sungold and Matt's. These went into the pickle jar with the peppers.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Five thousand...

This blog now attracts around three hundred visitors on a good day. Last month, I topped five thousand unique visitors. More than four hundred posts since my first, on September 24, 2005.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wordle in my garden...

From the blog posts this month, I made this very cool wordle Word Cloud. Click on it!

Who knew? Banana flowers are edible...

I have a bunch (hah!) of bananas in bloom... The "male" flower (can a parthenogenic plant have a male and female flower?) at the tip is apparently edible.
The deep purplish-crimson-coloured banana flower is used as a vegetable from Sri Lanka to Laos. The flower is borne at the end of the stem. Long, slender, sterile male flowers with a faint sweet fragrance are lined up in tidy rows and protected by large reddish bracts. Higher up the stem are groups of female flowers which develop into fruit without fertilisation.

In Thailand, slices of tender banana flower are eaten raw with the pungent dip known as nam prik, or with fried noodles, or simmered in a hot sour soup with chicken, galangal and coconut milk.

The Banana Blossom Guinatan recipe -- banana flowers cooked in a coconut sauce -- sounds delish.

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas!

Having lived in Russia during the early 1990s, when bananas were a novel rarity that merited standing in line for hours, I enjoyed this article and its focus on the strange ubiquity of bananas in the United States. The article doesn't mention the parthenocarpy (sterility) of the (cultivated) banana, which makes it very difficult to breed new cultivars that are resistant to a given disease.
Op-Ed Contributor - Yes, We Will Have No Bananas - Op-Ed - "Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined, which is especially amazing when you consider that not so long ago, bananas were virtually unknown here. They became a staple only after the men who in the late 19th century founded the United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita) figured out how to get bananas to American tables quickly — by clearing rainforest in Latin America, building railroads and communication networks and inventing refrigeration techniques to control ripening...The final piece of the banana pricing equation is genetics. Unlike apple and orange growers, banana importers sell only a single variety of their fruit, the Cavendish. There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It is the only kind that is shipped and eaten everywhere from Beijing to Berlin, Moscow to Minneapolis.
I guess I never knew that we ate Cavendish. It kind of bums me out, since I have a huge Cavendish with tons of fruit ripening out in my garden now. I agree that Cavendish is less tasty than other kinds of bananas I've tried. I have a NOID banana growing on the side of my house that every year and a half produces forty or fifty pounds of really tasty, custardy, half-size bananas.
That bananas have long been the cheapest fruit at the grocery store is astonishing. They’re grown thousands of miles away, they must be transported in cooled containers and even then they survive no more than two weeks after they’re cut off the tree. Apples, in contrast, are typically grown within a few hundred miles of the store and keep for months in a basket out in the garage. Yet apples traditionally have cost at least twice as much per pound as bananas.
Well, let's leave aside the obvious geographism here, in the Deep South, where we're far closer to banana growing conditions than to apple land. (Ignoring, for the moment, the tropical apples growing in my grove.) $150 a barrel oil will surely change the way we eat as much as it changes the way we commute.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Queering the front yard...

I spent a long, hot Saturday helping my friend Mark transform his front yard into an edible landscape. We have something like a labor cooperative -- everyone shows up for a few hours on a weekend, and pitches in on a project. Company makes the drudgery into a pleasure.

We had some help from Tony, who started it off with a few layers of newspaper to defeat the St. Augustine. Tony minces. The girls have no idea what to make of it.

Then a thick layer of pine bark nuggets in the sunniest part of the yard, for a small fruit grove.

On the east side of the yard, which gets just a bit less harsh Florida afternoon sun, we put a yard of mushroom compost.

A civilized break. Guava pastries, espresso, and lots of cold beer.

We also put up a fence to give the yard some structure. In the grove, we planted Persian Lime, Meyer Lemon, Red Dragonfruit, and a Dwarf Cavendish banana... oh, and some dwarf, weeping mulberries.

Mark loves Caribbean cuisine, so we put in my idea of an island summer garden: Sweet potatoes, lots of hot peppers (Tabasco, Habanero), Sun Gold tomato, some Okinawan Spinach (not very Caribbean, of course, but we needed some greens!), basil, oregano and cassava. It'll take a few weeks to fill in, but with all the sun and water, things will be overgrown by mid-July.

I'm most excited by the Dragonfruit, which I've never grown myself. We got it at Edible Nursery in Daytona, which has a pretty good selection of fruits for our zone.

Since Mark's property is on a hill, the fence took a lot of time to get right. The three of us spent about eight sweaty hours digging holes, cutting posts, spreading mulch and compost, and cleaning up.

This is just the beginning. Mark's yard get a LOT of sun, with west and south exposure. There's a perfect spot for a big avocado tree, and plenty of space for a bit more citrus, a peach tree or two, and maybe a tropical apple or two. We need to add okra and crowder peas to his summer garden.

Mark was inspired at least in part by an article by Michael Pollan in the "Green Issue" of the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Faced with the seemingly overwhelming challenges, and frankly the apocalyptic possibilities, of global climate change, Pollan asks "Why bother?" When the problems are so big, can individual action really make a difference? Isn't it like feeling guilty for the flood downstream because you pissed in the river? Pollan makes a great argument, one that derives much of its worth from something Wendell Berry said about four decades ago in a book I dearly love (and one of the reasons I garden now):
And they have seen that these public absurdities are, and can be, no more than the aggregate result of private absurdities; the corruption of community has its source in the corruption of character. ... Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.
There is something so sensible, so logical -- but at the same time, so humane and patient in the way that Berry writes. We must "begin the effort to change."

Pollan claims that we should bother, we must do something, that our individual choices and stances can ramify through culture -- he cites the example of Vaclev Havel and Adam Michnik, who decided during the deep funk of communism in Eastern Europe, to just act as if they were free. Their personal example "created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern bloc." It's a bit of an overstatement, but there's truth in it.
But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.
We must "begin the effort to change" somewhere, and where better than in our own front yards?

Another day...

Another inch. Rainy season has arrived.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Coitus interrupted...

I hope these lubber-lovers appreciated their last seconds on my plumeria... I despise them--they hiss and spit as the pliers close around their noggins.

Dreadful beasts. Red of claw, indeed.

Snack-sized tomatoes

Sun Gold (the larger of the two) and Matt's Wild Tomatoes (the latter is also known as Everglades Tomato). Matt's in particular produces pretty abundantly throughout the hot season. The downside is that it is really weedy and motile. "They" say it's the ur-tomato, the wild tomato whence all others. I have my doubts, but it sure is vigorous.

Sun Gold is pretty widely considered (by the numerous accomplished gardeners I know) to be the best small tomato to grow in Florida. The fruits can be picked slightly green for a tart, rich tomato. When allowed to go completely gold, they are sweet but balanced, with a nice acidity and strong tomato flavor that is hard to find in other grape and cherry tomatoes.

I reject the American obsession with "vine-ripened" tomatoes. I think a tomato is at its best a few days before it is completely ripe, mainly because I find very ripe tomatoes to be overwhelmingly sweet. (My dad, who was a fine gardener, used to eat his tomatoes sprinkled heavily with sugar. Blech.) I like mine with a bit of an edge, and some tooth to the flesh. What's more, you can avoid troubles like splitting if you pick the fruit when the base just slightly colors. Left on the countertop for a day or two, the fruit will be perfectly ripe and ready for noshing with oil, salt, and a sliver or two of basil or tarragon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


00 FXUS62 KMLB 110756 AFDMLB


Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 09, 2008

End of Exurbia

In the long run, this change is for the better.
"At $4 per gallon gas, $125 per barrel oil and $10 per million Btu natural gas, a lot of activity becomes uneconomical,'' says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The lifestyle of the exurban commuter may be one casualty.

Emerging suburbs and exurbs -- commuter towns that lie beyond cities and their traditional suburbs -- grew about 15 percent from 2000 to 2006, nearly three times as fast as the U.S. population, as Americans moved further out in search of more affordable houses or the bigger ones that are sometimes derided as McMansions.

``It was drive until you qualify'' for a mortgage, says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, Virginia. ``You can't do that anymore. Your cost of transportation will spike too much.''"
Though this blog is mostly about gardening, I wander into related issues of sustainability, community, public planning, and the economy as a whole from time to time. Times are tough for people who made bad choices, like buying cars that guzzled, and houses that were too large and too far to be practical. They were egged on by interested entities in the greater economy, told by advertisers and developers and friends that they deserved everything for nothing. But the consumers share a major part of the blame for their own bad decisions. We'll all pay the price in the long run.

When I moved to my present house almost six years ago, I drew a small circle around my workplace that represented a walkable distance, something I decided arbitrarily was ten minutes or so. This priority was paramount -- and I made it when gas was a couple dollars a gallon. I can walk to work, Publix is less than a mile up the road, and there are a dozen restaurants (some of them even acceptable) within a walk from my house. But I also deal with living on a busy noisy street, in a very old house, on a small plot. All decisions have opportunity costs.

My money could have gone much further had I been willing to live outside my "urban" zone, but I counted other things as more important.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Black Swallowtail update...

Update: They flew away today, June 17. We had five that made it. One sneaked out of its container, found a spot to hide somewhere among our bookcases, cocooned, metamorphosed, and flew about the sunroom this morning until I caught (carefully, delicately) with tongs and let it free outside. We put the rest of the cocoons outside on the gazebo and missed their transformation and departure.

For all our labors, they left us husks of their former selves.

Tomato Hornworm caterpillar

Manduca quinquemaculata. I noticed the damage yesterday on my Goose Creek tomato, and meant to find the bugger, but got distracted. Today it continued its rampage until I found it. Though very large (more than two inches long), these caterpillars are very hard to find, since they so closely resemble a tomato leaf. I find them by gently shaking the plant -- the hornworm "leaf" weighs so much more that it continues to bob after I stop shaking.

Given how quickly tomatoes grow, the damage they cause is pretty minor. I let the kids decide -- bucket of soapy water, or happy home next to the Swallowtail caterpillars. The kids gave me pollice verso and he's now contentedly munching on some tomato suckers I pulled for his delight.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Speaking of squirming things... I noticed that the Pickleworms have finally made it back. They destroyed the handful of cukes left on my vines. Oh, well, they arrived mid-May last year. I guess I got a few extra weeks of cucumbers. Last year, I had some really productive varieties (Cucino, in particular) at peak production, and it made sense to go the extra mile and cover the cukes with bags. Not worth it this year.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillars on dill...

I had picked up my last dill plant, planning to toss it into my compost barrel. Noticed just in time that it had Black Swallowtail caterpillars all over it. Thirteen, on a tiny, nearly-dead plant. They were making quick work of what was left of its vitality. I have plenty of Florence Fennel in the garden, so I stuck a couple long fronds into the pot, alongside the dill. Within seconds, the caterpillars were happily munching on the fennel.
Posted by Picasa

Real Florida...

Mary's pastures. Only three miles from me, but might as well be another world.

Valencia oranges...

Valencias are the last juice crop of the season. I helped a friend glean her small grove, and came away with about eighty pounds of Valencias and a few dozen old-fashioned yellow grapefruit. The juice from the oranges is a vibrant deep yellow, almost pumpkin-colored. It's sweet but has a nice acid kick, too. Truly, the best orange juice I've ever tasted.