Spring 2020 Florida Food Forest Tour – Part 2

Property tour 2020-04-02

In this second part of the spring 2020 food forest walk through we take a look at the back yard and what is growing there. Here you will also see some ideas I’ve put to use such as using logs as path borders and my yard trash cans (mulch bins) that second as a climbing support.

I’m going to start doing walk throughs twice a year, one in spring and another in the fall. In each video I’ll highlight what is new and what has signifigantly changed and also include other completed projects. I’m hoping to have a new garden area created by this fall. Stay safe everyone!

Spring 2020 Florida Food Forest Tour – Part 1

Property tour 2020-04-01

Finally, a property tour! Since spring is here and I’m getting to spend a lot of time at home (thanks to the coronavirus) I’ve finally had an opportunity to do a food forest walk through. This is broken into two parts, the first one is the front yard and includes the chicken coop, the second one is the back of the property. In the video I added annotations of a lot of the plant and tree names in case you can’t hear the audio, please let me know if this makes the video better or if I should leave them out.

The second video needs to be edited but is otherwise ready, I’ll have it posted in a few days. Hope everyone is staying safe!

Dragon Fruit Support – version 2

Back in February I wrote a post about building a dragon fruit support, then posted an update on their growth in June. What I didn’t show at that time is I’ve also planted a few random dragon fruit plants in the yard that are growing up palm trees instead of the supports. I thought they may really like the palm trees since the palms are fibrous and easy to grab onto with the dragon fruit air roots. This has worked well and sparked the idea for this project.

Dragon fruit growing up palm tree

The dragon fruit in the picture above is about seven feet high, one interesting feature to note is the segment length of the last growth. The segments growing on the other supports are at most two or three feet long, the one on this palm tree is about five feet. The disadvantage of this is that the dragon fruit plant will keep climbing the tree and the fruit will be unreachable without a ladder. How about combining the palm tree with a support frame?

This project involves cutting down a palm tree and using it as an upright support for the upper frame like from the other posts. I already have two extra upper support frames built so I won’t cover that here.

The first step is to find a victim, I mean volunteer palm tree. There’s plenty of these at Three Acre Paradise, I planned on thinning the palms out over time as other trees become established. The volunteer needs to be healthy and vertical, as a bonus the one selected is in a place where I need to get some more light through for some new plants. First step is to cut off the upper section, let’s begin by cutting a notch out to control the direction of fall:

Palm tree with wedge cut out

Next, start cutting on the opposite side just above the notch. I took a picture of where the cut is then continued cutting until I heard the tree creaking:

Palm tree backside cut

And boom! The tree fell exactly where expected. This was an easy one since the tree is very straight and there was no wind. If I wasn’t this confident I’d use some ropes to control the fall and the tractor to push it over.

Palm tree felled

I cut it a little high knowing that it wouldn’t be clean, one more quick cut and the top is straight and level.

Palm tree top cut level

Next is to cut an X into the trunk to set the support top in to. This was a little bit of a challenge, the palm trunk is very fibrous and can’t be knocked out like a hardwood notch. I used the saw to cut as much as possible including at an angle to loosen the remaining pieces.

Notching palm tree stump

Once the cuts were made I used a hammer to smash down the remaining fibers.

First palm notch cut

Next, the cross cut to form an X. Turns out I had to make all the cuts a little deeper than what was done on the first pass. Here’s the result:

X cut into palm tree stump

Now for the test fit of the support top:

Test fit of upper support

All good! The top sit pretty tight and level but it still needed to be secured better. I used the palm pieces that were cut out as wedges and drove a couple of heavy nails in to make sure it stayed put. The result is very secure, if there is rot or shrinkage over time it should still be OK as the dragon fruit will be draped over the top by then and will be  weighing it down.

Nailing and wedging support into palm trunk

Here’s a close up of the scraps wedged in:

Scrap wedged into palm trunk

The final step, planting the dragon fruit around the base. I had four plants that were already rooted so they should grow pretty quickly. I mixed in a lot of Black Kow with the existing soil, this formula has worked well in the past.

Dragon fruit planted around palm trunk

Here’s a shot of the whole thing:

Dragon fruit and support

I don’t like to waste any material including trees cut down, for palms I cut the trunk into pieces to use as markers for new planting areas. The top will be left to rot in a mulch pile. To cut the trunk I use the tractor to support it off the ground:

Tractor supporting palm trunk

Then cut the trunk in to various lengths, between eight inches and two feet.

Palm trunk pieces

Besides being great border pieces, they also become home for insects and plants. In this picture they are around a newly planted Jamaican cherry:

Palm trunk pieces as border

I’ve got high hopes for this batch of dragon fruit, besides the palm trunk the location is similarly shaded like the other grouping that is growing well. I’ll post updates of all of them in a couple of months and hopefully there is some flowering by then.

The chain saw I use is a battery powered on by Echo, model CCS-58V4AH. Most of my lawn tools are the battery powered Echo series, they work great except for the pruning saw extension (it’s not recommended for the battery powered model but I tried anyways). I was able to make all the cuts shown in this post on a single battery charge although I do have a second battery for backup.

Next week I’ll show a neat way to propagate plants using a cloner. I’m always open to suggestions for future posts, if you have any ideas or want more detail on anything I’ve done please let me know. Until next time, keep on planting!

 

Pigeon Peas and Fence Clearing

Last week I mentioned how well the Dragon Fruit was growing, this week I want to add another great plant to the list. In addition, I’ve started clearing the fence line for the remainder of the property. This will help with the three main goals I had this year: level and fill, fence the whole property, put in the electrical and irrigation infrastructure.

Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Peas (wiki) are a perennial legume that fit in well with food forests (and permaculture) environments. They are heavy producers once established and will continue to re-seed to keep the population going. There’s a lot of benefits to this plant –  they are a good food source, beneficial to the soil, can provide shade and wind break, and can be used for animal food.

When I first started planting these over a year ago they had a really slow start. The plants only grew to about a foot tall then seemed to stop, much like these pictures of some more recently planted ones.

Pigeon Pea juvenile plants

They did provide a few pea pods, maybe 3-4 per plant. After the pods dried up and dropped, the plants really took off.

Pigeon Pea mature plants

The plant on the left is about four feet tall, the one on the right about seven feet. I’ve read they can get to 12 feet tall, these seem on their way and are bushing out quite nicely. Once they start providing a new crop of peas I’ll post an update. Also, you can see some of the land leveling going on around this planting area.

Fence Clearing

This week I’ve started clearing the west property line for the wildlife fence (see Upcoming Projects). This is going to be a bit challenging, it is pretty overgrown bit in addition I don’t want to clear beyond my property line.

Overgrown fence line

There is actually an old fence in there, mostly barbed wire that has fallen apart but also a chain link section the neighbors put up years ago. Even though the old fence is useless as far as fences go, it is serving a couple of purposes. First, my property survey has these identified so I can tell where the property line is (it’s not right where the fence is, the fence wavers across the property line). Second, since I am technically repairing the fence there is no permit needed so I save a few dollars and don’t have to deal with the county.

Rotted fence post

I never really paid much attention to the property line on the survey, it turns out the chain link fence is actually well on my side. I’m an easy going guy so I’ll work with the neighbor on replacing or moving this, the challenge is that the house next door is for sale and currently vacant. It was bought by a house flipper so I doubt he cares to put any money or time into this, maybe by the time I’m ready to put the new fence up the new owner will be living there.

Chain link fence looking south

In the picture above you can see my orange marker on the south end, my property is on the left and the neighbor on the right. On this side I’ve got about a foot, the north end is a foot and a half. I’m putting more solid and visible pipe in as I go so it is clear where the line is:

Chain link fence north end

In this picture my property is to the left and neighbor to the right. The chain link fence is heavily damaged so something needs to be done anyways, also I’d like it to be taller to match the fence I’m putting up. We’ll see where this ends up.

Here’s a neon green lizard I spotted while clearing:

Bright green lizard

I though that was pretty cool.

I got the front section cleared out without too much trouble, the back is a lot longer and has some challenges. The one that will slow me down the most – poison ivy. When I bought the property and started clearing in 2013 I had never really been exposed to poison ivy. The result? A few months of downtime due to spending a day pulling it out of trees. Here’s a picture of my leg at the time:

Poison Ivy on leg

Ouch – I can still remember what a tough few months of recovery that was. I got both legs and arms pretty bad but luckily nothing on my chest or face. If you are working around poison ivy get some of this – Mean Green Power Hand Scrub – it’s the same as a lot of the very expensive washes and works great at a tiny fraction of the cost. Use it to wash your hands and body parts after any potential exposure and it will wash the oils off. I wish I had found it sooner, it took weeks of research. Also, I eventually threw out all clothing that had potentially been in contact or was washed with contaminated clothing.

Back to the clearing, here’s how the front looks where I ran a string line and pushed back the old fencing (my property on the right):

String line along property border

And here’s the beginning of the back clearing. I haven’t gotten very far, this will probably take a few weeks or even months. There’s a lot of poison ivy, although I though I had eliminated it from Three Acre Paradise it has heavily grown along the untamed jungle along the border. I’m using a long pair of needle nose pliers and a trash bag to pull Poison Ivy first, then coming back through with some loppers to find the old posts.

Property line clearing

New Plants

I’ve got a few new plant additions for Three Acre Paradise this week, I’ll try to get them planted and some pictures up by next week. The list of things growing here on the blog  is getting pretty outdated so I need to give it some attention, I’m also tying to add pictures to the actual plants growing here to every page.

Upcoming fun stuff – using a plant cloner, Aerogarden vs Burpee Seed Starting kit, generator hookup panel installation, and chicken coop build. I’d like to make two posts a week but there just isn’t time, at some point I’ll be more organized and faster at this so then it will be a possibility. Until then, keep on planting!

 

Upcoming Projects

Last week I posted my views on homesteading, prepping, and self sufficiency which are all goals for Three Acre Paradise. While those are all part of the big plan, there’s also some other things that are very important when working towards these. Low maintenance, aesthetics, and convenience are all key items. I like to build things so they don’t require a lot of work to maintain, otherwise I’d be spending my time with weekly chores rather than enjoying the property and working on new projects. They must fit in and be pleasing to look at to help create a relaxing and low stress environment. That’s what Paradise is all about.

Here is an overhead view of the property as it is today. The house, pond, and workshop are in the middle, the main road at the bottom and driveway leads up to the house and shop. The red border indicates the property line. The width of the property is about 230 feet, the depth is 550 feet.

property_plan_00

The top priority right now is to get the property fenced. I’ve had a lot of trouble with deer eating just about everything from the smallest plants to the larger fruit trees. They have chewed down vegetation, scraped bark off trees, and trampled through sensitive gardens. Secondary, the fence will keep our small animals in and others out. We have three small dogs and a flock of chickens that all seem attracted to the woody areas where predators like to hide. We’ve also had the neighbors dogs over feasting on the chickens, fencing should cure these problems. The first step is to fence the front and put up a gate, that has been contracted out and should be done in the next few weeks. The yellow lines show the approximate area for the this:

property_plan_01 - Fencing

Here’s what it looks like along the road. I’ve made sure the area is clear and level so the fence company shouldn’t run into any problems.

property_plan_02 - Fencing

The fence along the front will be a three board split rail made of vinyl, similar to this:

property_plan_03 - Fencing

The gate will be aluminum and eventually automated. Since the split rail does not keep smaller animals in or out I’ll have to put another layer of fencing behind it. This will be the same or similar to what is used on the remainder of the property. The only part that will remain un-fenced is a section along the back where there is a utility easement.

property_plan_04 - Fencing

The easement will allow animals (such as the deer) to easily pass between properties such as they do today and hopefully will keep them from thinking they have to jump over the fence. There’s already a good collection of wildflowers growing in that area, I’ll probably add seed for some other beneficial plants. I can’t put any trees back there in case the city has to dig to access the buried water main. Here’s what that area looks like today:

property_plan_05 - Fencing

The dirt mound is a raised and cleared path for the future fence, the utility easement is to the right. Since the neighbors yard behind me is fully fenced this access path is pretty important. The fencing that will be used will be a field fence such as this:

property_plan_06 - Fencing

Once the fencing is complete the focus will be on a new garden area. Here is where it will be on the property:

property_plan_07 - Garden

The garden will be approximately 40-50 feet per side. There will be a pergola running down the middle with supports to help with plants that like to be trellised. The garden area will also be fenced so there will be two layers of protection from larger animals. An electric wire will help discourage the smaller ones from climbing in. Here is what that area looks like today, it has already been cleared and prepped:

property_plan_08 - Garden

Next project will be a potting house on the pathway to the garden (PH on this drawing):

property_plan_09 - Potting House

This will be a work area for planting seeds and storing gardening supplies. I’m also thinking of adding a sitting area on the side facing the pond just as an area to relax. This area has also been prepped:

property_plan_10 - Potting House

Once the garden has been moved the old garden location will become a carport. I’ll have a concrete slab put down and a metal carport cover put in. This will have two parking places for whatever extra vehicles we have at the time (CP on drawing):

property_plan_11 - Carport

We could also use the carport area for parties and gatherings, it’s nice to have some additional shaded area due to the sun and unpredictable rains. This is what the garden looks like today, it has a shade cover and everything is planted in containers:

property_plan_12 - Carport

Yup that’s a lot so far, but the biggest stuff is done at this point. Timeline for these is by the end of 2020 but hopefully sooner. After these I’d like to build a fire pit and picnic area with paths leading to them (FP and PA):

property_plan_13 - Fire Pit

One more overhead to go, this one is pretty all inclusive. What I’ve added here is the current chicken coop on the left about mid way down, current aquaponic system behind the shop (AP), and a bunch of poorly drawn squiggly lines. Those lines are the approximate edge of the grass to natural areas. Basically, there will be grass parallel to the driveway, around the house, and partially around the pond. Everything outside that region will be gardens, food forest, walking paths, and other small coops or structures. The grass along the driveway will provide parking for when we have a lot of guests over.

property_plan_14 - All

There are a few other things to be built but I haven’t pinpointed the locations yet, this includes a quail area, tractor shed, mulch bins, and aquaponic expansion.

Some of the other projects that are planned are expansion of the solar power system, battery backup, antenna tower, shop storage, aquaponic improvements, seedling start experiments, growing microgreens, and more growth comparisons (EarthBox, aquaponic, grow bags, raised beds, in ground, others).

For more fun, I’ve got some ideas for a “live off the land challenge” where I consume only what the property produces for a day, three days, and eventually a week. Planning for these are still in the works but I’ll post a timeline soon.

Stay tuned for next post in a couple of days, a six week check into the Aquaponic vs Earthbox challenge!

The Best Produce I Didn’t Plant

It’s been just a little over three years since we moved onto this property and about two and a half since I started gardening, it was a slow start but even those very small efforts have grown into much more over the years. The first year after the house was built there wasn’t much time to even think of planting a real garden, we were busy moving in, clearing the land, and digging the pond. My vision then, and now, is that one day there will be a huge variety of edible things growing that require minimal care, they just produce year after year with little effort on my part.

Florida is a great place for growing, there’s many challenges such as heat, insects, and bad soil, however the year round warm climate turns what would be annual plants in many areas into perennial plants here. Plants that aren’t perennial often reseed themselves which also helps reduce the need to replant every year. These two things have already shown their value at Three Acre Paradise.

My first planting was on a whim, we bought some green onions and I remember reading that instead of throwing the cut ends away you could stick them in the ground and they would regrow. I didn’t have a garden or any area allocated as such so I just stuck them in the ground near a well head where they would be safe. They grew, and grew very well. A few months later I transplanted them to a pot and put them in a makeshift garden area. They became a constant handy source for green onions for salads and cooking and actually grew quite large. Then, one day they flowered. I didn’t really know what would come out of that so I left them alone. They finished flowering, then went back to normal.

didnt_plant_01

Funny thing happened, all the sudden there was dozens of new onions growing. They were in the same pot and in every pot and container nearby. Aha! So those flowers did produce viable seeds, and they grow very good! I’ve planted many store bought seeds since then but nothing seems to be better than seeds fresh off the plant. I transplanted a bunch of the baby plants to new containers, and here we are a year later and those children are flowering. This time, I’ll catch a bunch of the seeds and put them around the yard so they can grow year after year with no effort. These turned out to be really good white onions so I pull a bulb once in a while or just continue to harvest the green leaves.

didnt_plant_02

I can’t say I didn’t plant those original onions, but going forward they will keep going with no effort. I’ll make several areas in the yard for them and mix them among other plants. Here’s another reuse of a grocery store cut off, a celery stalk placed into the aquaponic system. It is growing great, I’m hoping it goes to seed and I can spread those around as well. Since a lot of our store bought produce comes from Mexico and Central America those varieties seem to do well in Florida.

didnt_plant_03

The garden area is full of volunteers (plants that weren’t planted on purpose). Here’s a Cucamelon plant growing up near an EarthBox, normally I pull these out but I’m going to let this one go to see what it does. Tomatoes and peppers are the ones that seem to do this the most so this little guy gets a pass for being different. The seeds probably came from a Cucamelon that fell off the plant.

didnt_plant_04

Last year I had some Bok Choy that bolted, I know most people say to yank plants out when they bolt but I’m trying to save seed so I let it go. I harvested a lot of seeds from it, so many that I didn’t bother with the last batch of seed pods but rather just crushed them up and spread them on the ground around one of the banana circles. Not much happened until a few weeks ago them bam! – hundreds of plants popping up. Technically these were planted but there wasn’t much effort involved, they weren’t even covered with soil. Now I can have Bok Choy every day.

didnt_plant_05

OK, all the above were started by me but are on autopilot. What about the real volunteers? That’s where it gets fun. I’ve got pepper and tomato plants growing in all kinds of places, too bad I won’t know what variety most of them are until I get some fruit. Here’s a new tomato growing in a banana circle, probably started from some chicken poop I threw in there after cleaning the coop.

didnt_plant_06

It gets better, here’s a tomato plant that started in one of the mulch bins. It is now producing tomatoes, and they are very good. They are most likely Husky Cherry Red based on size and flavor. That tall plant to the left is Romaine lettuce that recently bolted which will provide some seeds for next year.

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I haven’t treated the tomato plant very nice and in exchange it is producing pretty good. Seems like tomato plants like a little abuse.

didnt_plant_08

That metal grate on top of the mulch bin is to keep animals out, I cover one bin or the other depending on which is currently being used. While the mulch bin plant has been good, it doesn’t come close to what this next volunteer is doing. I do know this is an Everglades tomato, one of my favorites and a Florida native. These tomatoes are small and sweet, perfect for throwing on a salad.

didnt_plant_09

It’s hard to tell scale from this picture, this plant is around twelve feet across. I have never watered it or taken any care other than to not mow or weedwack it down. It is producing hundreds of tomatoes. I’ve been eating a bunch but also taking them and throwing them into other areas hoping to repeat this. Here’s a closer picture:

didnt_plant_10

No question that is my favorite one to date and I did not plant it, in fact it’s growing and producing better than any I have purposely grown. This is what I’m trying to accomplish but with a variety of other useful plants.

One other I’ll show here. This is interesting because I only recently learned about the plant. It is called a Plantain, not the one like a banana but this one is actually considered a weed in some cases. It is edible and has some amazing medicinal qualities, after reading about it I put it on my list of seeds to order. A few days later I hosted an event at the property for a local permaculture group and some one pointed out that I had some Plantains growing wild, nice! No need to order seeds, I have some plants and I can try to get seed from them so I can grow them where I want. Here’s what a Plantain plant looks like, this is one in my yard:

didnt_plant_11

Here’s what a bunch of them look like:

didnt_plant_12

Great! I have a lot of them. Actually,

didnt_plant_13

hundreds and probably thousands of them. This can be checked off the list.

My self sufficiency plan includes growing as much food as possible, as well as some animal products (eggs, quail, fish), power, and water production. These go hand in hand with homesteading and prepping which will be my topics for next week. Until then, keep on planting!

Banana Circles!

A typical banana circle is a hole dug into the ground with the excavated dirt mounded around the hole in which the banana plants are placed. The hole is then filled with organic material (mulch, tree trimmings) to help feed the plants and to maintain moisture. Sometimes they are incorporated into sloped land to also help capture water runoff for the banana plants. Other plants can also be incorporated to help control weeds, pests, or just make the circle more attractive or productive.

I’ve created two banana circles at Three Acre Paradise (link to types of bananas planted) with plans of at least one more. The design is a little different, there’s no need to try to capture water as that is not a problem here. Whenever we get heavy rains there can be standing water for up to a couple of weeks which has proven to be a problem for many plants. The design here is to create a mound right on top of the ground instead of digging a hole. I have a source of very rich topsoil which should make the banana plants quite happy.

Here’s the first step, just dropping the topsoil on the ground in an almost circular shape. The center hols is about 6 feet across and the diameter of the outer circle is about 15 feet. You can see how wet the ground is, it’s already seeping up into the dirt at the bottom.

Banana circle dirt mound

Next, clean up the circular shape.

Banana circle leveled

Drop the mulch in the middle. I’ve got several piles of this thanks to a local tree trimming company.

Banana circle mulched

Last, plant bananas. This circle has Hua Moa Bananas along with some Okra and Pigeon Peas direct seeded.

Banana circle planted

Here’s the other circle, it has Cavendish Bananas, Sunflowers, and a Cowpeas. One of the banana plants (the larger scraggly cold damaged one) was moved from a different part of the property.

Second banana circle

Once the companion plants begin to grow I’ll add some other plants, possibly squash and pole beans. It’s sort of a three sisters setup but with perennial plants. I’ll post updates in three months or sooner if things change quickly.

Happy planting!