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New Food Forest plant list for USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10

 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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The plant list for our food forest was posted 4 days ago, and so far it has been downloaded 33 times. Since there appears to be some interest, I have posted our newest version, which now includes fields for water, sun, pH, and root structure. The selection of plants has also been improved, with many additions and a few deletions. This list is particularly designed for Zone 9A, where the soil is sandy, dry, and acidic, however many of the plant selections could work in other zones, particularly zones 8 and 10.

There are many other plants that could be grown in our area, but which I left off for various reasons, especially if I suspect those species would need baby sitting in order to flourish here in central Florida. We are willing to use some well water for the critical and highly prized members of the food forest, such as citrus and blueberries for example, but we are trying to design a fairly drought tolerant community overall. So, there are many sub-tropical species that could grow here, but we're leaving them out because they're too thirsty.

I want to encourage any feedback that would improve this list, such as corrections, additional plants, removal of plants, etc. I could use all the help I can get. So, for those of you who downloaded the old list, throw it away and use this one instead. It's a lot better list.
Filename: Garbarino food forest.pdf
Description: food forest example for USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10
File size: 108 Kbytes
[Download Garbarino food forest.pdf] Download Attachment
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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So, this revised plant list was downloaded 16 times in less than 2 days, yet no feedback. I could use more deep rooted nutrient accumulator/mulch plants in this design. Any suggestions?
 
Jeanine Gurley
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Could be that a lot of people are like me - I come here and just suck up as much info as I can and don't often take the time to even say thanks. Just the fact that it has been downloaded so many times means that people are benefiting from it. As for critical feedback? Could be that you have the best list out there. There are not too many good food forest lists for the southeast that I have been able to find --- despite the fact that we should be able to grow more food than anyone else.

And I have heard SO MANY TIMES that our soil sucks because it just disapears so fast. NOT TRUE. Applying permie techniques this is some of the richest soil around and if properly cared for it will regenerate and multiply itself, the only downside being more pesty bugs, fungus and mold.

BTW, I haven't downloaded it yet but plan to.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Thanks Jeanine. I'm guessing you're in zone 8, and if so then most of the plants on our list should grow well there. I'm adding day lilly and society garlic to the list, to be planted later when we have more shade so the ground can hold more moisture. To me, not even the bugs or the fungi are a problem in the southeast, as we have so many predatory and parasitic insects that the bad guys don't have much of a chance. We may grow our own mushrooms, too, but we have our hands full for now, so that'll have to wait. So, how far along is your food forest?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Canna is a durable fast-growing plant good for barriers and mulch. The tubers are edible.

http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/canna-lily.html

http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Canna+indica

 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Thanks Tyler. I didn't know Canna roots are edible. They are beautiful plants, too. One slight downside for our location is that they would have to be watered during our dry season. We have others in our design that have to be watered too, so we just need to decide if we want to add more thirsty plants or not. At any rate, we'll need to wait until later if we do decide to add them because the forest is too dry for now, until we get some growth and some more shade. I've reached my limit for now for how many things I have to worry about watering. We'll be glad when the rainy season gets here in June. Thanks for the input!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've found them relatively drought tolerant, that is, the ones I have did not die with only sporadic watering. Anything I've not killed is a durable plant, as I have been able to kill other things folks claim are unkillable, such as Sunchokes and Blackberries.....

 
Nick Garbarino
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Location: west central Florida
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I think we've all managed to kill a plant or two. That's how we learn. Canna lillies are so beautiful, I might have difficulty using them for mulch, but of course the best mulch plants are those that are so numerous that you need to thin them out anyway.
 
Andrew Ash
Posts: 24
Location: Chuluota, Florida
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Nick Garbarino wrote:So, this revised plant list was downloaded 16 times in less than 2 days, yet no feedback. I could use more deep rooted nutrient accumulator/mulch plants in this design. Any suggestions?


For deep-rooted accumulators, I've heard of chard and beets, sunn hemp, carrot, burdock... Probably any kind of tree or bush would probably be a good deep-rooted nutrient accumulator as well. Nitrogen fixating trees and bushes tend to be good for that, from what I've heard. A few that I've heard about, but haven't really researched much into, are alder, poplar, cottonwood, locusts (notably honeylocust), and acacia, so you have some names to look into...
 
Jeanine Gurley
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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"how far along is your food forest"







"how far along is your food forest" Aaaah (big sigh) That is such a loaded question. I have so much stuff planted that I have given up trying to list it. Eight years here. about 4-5 organic and this month is my first year anniversary of being a permie nut.

I have posted lots of pics on FB and I just started one for this ‘growing season’. In zone 7b/8a you are always in a growing season but this is the most active one. I am planning to try to document – through pictures – the gardens from April through Sept or Oct.
I have one hugel style bed that hasn’t been watered for almost a year now, a new hugel style bed that is already growing great guns, and planning to convert all beds over to that as soon they reach a point where they are in least production.

Here is a link on my FB if you care to follow: https://www.facebook.com/#!/Nowaymae
My FB persona is Mae West – not my real name obviously.

I would love some feedback on what I am doing. To be honest I am not usually sure about what I am doing. Long ago I learned that bare earth needed to be planted with something so in my unorganized fashion things get stuck everywhere. Now I can call it permaculture!

I am only on 1 ¼ acre. The ¼ acre is being saved – untouched – for goats. The rest of it, I haven’t even begun plant it to the potential that I think it can reach. And last year we were overrun with food. I still have garlic hanging from last year and dehydrated produce that I haven’t used yet. I could go on and on but I’ll stop there. If you are a FB type check out the pics and tell me what you think.










 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Jeanine I was curious how much you've used mulch plants. Our soil here is exceptionally sandy and poor, and we have a long hot dry season in the spring. So, I'm needing to get a good crop of mulch plants going to help with moisture and fertilization. So far, we're using dog fennel, which is mostly tapped out, and we will be planting comfrey soon. Then mustard and horseradish will planted in the fall. You wouldn't know of a good source for comfrey roots? I need to get a lot of them - like several dozen, and I'm not concerned about getting the russian variety because I will not have any issues with it getting out of control in this location. It will be naturally controlled by the spring dry season, especially in shady areas.
 
                                  
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I've got a food forest in Zone 9a over here in Texas. I'm always glad to find info from my zone. We share many of the plants on your list.

How deep is the water table at your place? Mine is usually 4-5' deep, but floods to the surface during very heavy rainfall about once every year or two. I've found that waterlogging and the salinity (probably not a problem for you in FL) are probably the biggest factors to manage for tree and vegetable production here.

Have you ever grown burgundy beans, butterfly pea, or leucaenas? These all do well for me, though handling the branches/pruning of the leucaena trees is getting a little old. I've been making brushpiles for insect habitat, but as the piles grow I think I might start making brush-windrows for windbreaks. Then get the burgundy beans and butterfly peas growing over the piles.

Keep the info coming! Thanks.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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You're welcome. We are in a unique habitat called Sand Hill. The water table is very deep, no materr how much rain we get. We are 80 ft above sea level, and there may not be much hardpan until you get down close to sea level. So, you are correct that we have no problem with salinity or waterlogging here. That's why my list includes generally drought tolerant plants, at least among the "guild plants". Thanks for the plant suggestions. I will look into those. What do you like about them? How many years has your food forest been growing?
 
                                  
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My "food forest" (still not sure if I prefer that term) had it's first trees (jambolan plum and some citrus) planted 5 years ago. Just ate my first guamuchil and strawberry guava fruits last week.

The burgundy beans http://www.tropicalforages.info/key/Forages/Media/Html/Macroptilium_bracteatum.htm and butterfly pea http://www.tropicalforages.info/key/Forages/Media/Html/Clitoria_ternatea.htm have impressed me by being a legume that has thrived under neglect during drought and flooding, reseeded naturally, is very palatable to livestock, can smother weeds (and trees if you let it!), and has nice flowers. The butterfly pea is also edible though I haven't tried it yet. I plan to plant 1/8 acre of it or so as a soil improver/high protein creep graze for lambs soon. I understand it is often used as the first step to restore old cropped land in many places.
 
Jeanine Gurley
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Nick,
1. I too want some comfrey but I want the 'true' comfrey that Micheal Pilarsky talks about. I just haven't dedicated time to trying to get some.

2. My LIFE seems to be about mulch. Canna stalks and leaves, mounds and mounds of grass clippings, banana leaves, cabbage and other greens leaves - all green and piled directly on the ground I want to plant. Then there is the kitchen waste, plum and muscadine 'sludge' from making juice. All lots of hot green stuff. This year lots of clover. Chop and drop everywhere.

And here is the kind of 'cool' natural cycle part of it:

Here, in the summer, we have massive amounts of green stuff, then in the fall with leaf drop comes the brown stuff to balance it out. Like Mother Nature planned it that way. So, in my mind, this kind of follows something that I heard Paul say - This stuff works every where - we just tweak it differently but it is the same principle.

But I got to get back to the cannas: I had a massive ornamental bed of cannas about 7 years ago. Cut all the stalks and went over it with a lawn mower. Threw the green stalks and leaves in a pile. Both the bed and the pile where I threw the stalks in turned into black rich dirt. I don't know the science and I don't test my soil - all I know is that when I do that it makes good things grow.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Since we're just starting out this spring, and when we arrived here we started with a cleared sandy lot in very early stage succession, we just cannot produce enough mulch to be able to continue planting more things, and I refuse to go buy mulch because I'm a permie now. I'm letting any and all weeds come in and set up shop (except grassburrs), and yet we still have a lot of bare sandy ground and it bakes in the sun. We compost all our kitchen and yard waste, and use grass clippings, oak leaves and pine straw but we still need more biomass. So, I have decided to turn my attention away from planting anything else until after I get a good bit of comfrey going, spread around all throughout the food forest-to-be. The idea of any plant getting out of control seems impossible at this point. 3 more weeks until the monsoon, then breath a sigh of relief. I have some comfrey arriving by mail from a friend any day now, and I'm going to try to get more too. You can just call me Comfrey Man.
 
Jeanine Gurley
pollinator
Posts: 1399
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Just printed your list and am going to see what plants are on your list but not in my garden. I figure if it is edible or medicinal and it grows here then I need to have it.

 
Dan Jones
Posts: 5
Location: Palm Beach County, Florida, USA
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Nick, first "Thank you". I've had tremendous difficulty finding information, specific to my South Florida location.

I don't see banana, papaya, pineapple, or chayote on the list. These are the bulk of my program. They are all CHEAP to grow (pineapple, papaya, and chayote coming from grocery store "waste", and bananas reproducing like rabbits). They produce mulch (not the pineapple so much), require little care, and look nice. Other than the pineapple, they are very fast growers.

Check your Solid Waste Authority for free compost/mulch. Our soil is probably pretty similar, ie retains water like a seive! I knew mulch was important, but after watching the Return to Eden video and discovering free mulch at the SWA, I have made importing this stuff my number one priority!
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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You're welcome Dan, and thanks for the plant suggestions. I am adding chayote to my list, as it looks like it would come back after winter frosts, especially if we mulch it good. And it's a vine, which we don't have too many of. The others could be grown here, but because we get a few nights down into the mid 20's and we have a long hot dry season in the spring, I'm not yet convinced that I want to dedicate the space I have to any of those. After our garden matures a bit and becomes a little more moist and protected from the wind, I may give the bananas a try.

We do indeed have "free mulch" available from the county, but I would have to buy a trailer, plus do all the work hauling and unloading. I've taken many loads of it using a friend's trailer, and then spent a lot of time picking out all the pieces of plastic and other assorted trash. Now that I'm becoming a permie, I'm getting pretty psyched about growing my own mulch right in the garden.
 
Alan Foster
Posts: 26
Location: St. Pete,FL
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First, thanks Nick will be very helpful. The additional problems I have are being on an island of reclaimed land. Been very dry, like everywhere but has flooded in the past including salt water. When I put in a pond years ago I hit water at 18-20 inches. Top that off with being new to all this and health issues and it's slow work, so all help is appreciated.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Alan, that's a challenging location. I wonder if you have considered hugel beds? I've buried some logs in my berms and used logs to create swales, but that's about it as far as my hugelkultur-type experience. I know that it works because in our forest, the most luxuriant plants on the forest floor are those growing right above buried logs. I'm just thinking that it could solve two of your problems, one - getting you up out of the saltwater intrusion zone, and two - helping with your moisture. Maybe someone else more experienced with "hoogal culture" can address this for Alan?

On the positive side, you are able to have a pond where you are. That's cool to me because we will only be able to have one by putting in a liner, which is part of the plan. Aquaponics, wetland plants, solar powered lift pump, so much to do, but plenty of time. No excuse for being bored.

Hang in there, you can only do what you can do.
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Hi Nick. THANK YOU so much for starting this thread and posting your list. I feel like those of us in Florida are ignored by the rest of the country when it comes to permaculture. Our area poses so many unique challenges that it is hard to find general info that applies to us. Sometimes I think I am living on a different planet! Our growing season is reversed, we have sand for soil, intense sun and bugs year round! But where else can you grow both "normal" crops like corn, peaches and apples alongside "unusual" crops like pineapple, guava, persimmon and pomegranate?! I LOVE FLORIDA!

I purchased 40 acres of planted pine forest in Madison County (Zone 8b). There is currently a 1.5 acre clearing in the middle which I plan to expand to a total of 3 acres. In this clearing I want to have a 2 acre food forest. But getting it going seems daunting! As you know my soil is sand. It is also acidic (5.4ph) I am thinking of hauling in enough lime to raise the ph to a more neutral ph of 6.4, but I think that is going to cost me about $3,000! However I think the long-term return on my investment is worth it, if it will open up many more plants for me to successfully grow. I would love to hear any thoughts anyone has on this.

As I begin to design my future food forest, I have read many books including Guia's Garden, Introduction to Permaculture (Mollison), Sepp Hozer's Permaculture and Creating a Forest Garden (Crawford) among others. I have gained lots of general "book" knowledge but I have little actual experience. As I mentioned, my property where I will plant my food forest is in Madison county but I live in Miami, which is a 6 hour drive. I drive up to Madison one weekend per month, but this means I only have one weekend a month to work on the property. This will make it very slow going for me but I don't have a choice. Eventually I plan to move to Madison when I retire in 15 years or so. Hopefully by then I will have a Garden of Eden to retire to that mostly takes care of itself! That's my dream anyway.

If anyone can offer any suggestions on how to overcome the seeming impossible task of turning my sandy, lifeless "soil" into the kind of rich, organic soil that a food forest can thrive on PLEASE let me know. I am full of passion and book knowledge but not much real-world experience. I am one of those nature loving Republicans that wants to grow a permaculture garden but still watches Fox News that Paul Wheaton says he wants to include under the "Permaculture Umbrella"!

I have used the information I gained from my research to put together a plant list of my own for my North Florida area (8A). I cross referenced the plants from the books with the IFAS (Univ. of Florida) website to identify which plants should theoretically grow in my area, but I don't know if they actually will. If anyone has some real-world experience growing any of these plants in North Florida, please let me know how they did. My list is a work in progress and not as refined as Nick's, but hopefully it will still be of use to you. At this early phase of design I am focusing on trees, so that is essentially all I have in my list.

By the way I found a great website that you may like. It's a Permaculture nursery In Tallahassee called Just Fruits and Exotics. The website has tons of useful fruit tree info. You can find it at http://justfruitsandexotics.com/index.html

Thanks again Nick for the great thread and info. If anyone has any advice for me please feel free to share. I'm all ears!

.
Filename: Food Forest Tree List Florida 8A.pdf
Description:
File size: 208 Kbytes
[Download Food Forest Tree List Florida 8A.pdf] Download Attachment
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Diego, you are very welcome. If I have helped in any way, it's my pleasure. What an absolutely beautiful plan you have! The property sounds gorgeous and the size of the food forest is amazing for a "backyard garden". As far as suggestions at this point, wow it's so big it is kind of intimidating to even know where to start. I guess I can share with you what I'm figuring out about our sandy, acidic soil here in Florida.

I added lime in specific spots as a soil amendment when planting some of our trees, like the apples and citrus, for example. But, overall, I'm trying to gradually bring the pH up a bit just by growing biomass and mulching, which of course is also going to add fertility and organic matter for holding water. To that end, I've planted pigeon peas, lamb's quarters, and will soon begin a major comfrey planting effort. I'm also trying to avoid any plants that can't handle fairly low pH. All the plants on my list so far can handle at least some acidity. On my list, those with a number entered under the qty column are actually in the ground, and so far they are doing well. I point this out just to explain which species are doing okay with the acidity, at least so far. I have used some Black Kow (composted cow manure) to amend the soil for some of those plants. But only just enough to help them get established. I'll be counting on the pigeon peas and comfrey to keep all the plants happy long term. As you know, spring is the most difficult season here because it is hot and dry. I hope that by next year, we'll have enough shade and biomass, and I'll have enough comfrey to do a lot of mulching, and I won't have to do as much watering as I have this spring.

In your case, you have plenty of time to get your soil in great shape, and you may not want to plant too many fruit and berry plants until you can be there more often. I would think that you have enough time to improve your soil over the next few years using plants instead of lime, but either method can do the trick. I am going to sow some buckwheat as a cover crop this fall. You might want to try it or one of the many cover crops, and preferably one that will grow well with minimal attention to it. That's why I'm sowing it in the fall when it's less likely to dry out before it gets going. Anyway, it's hard to be too specific without knowing more about the land. Is it bare earth? Overgrown with weeds? Any small trees popping up yet?

The other thing that comes to mind is that since you have about 15 years lead time, you can get your nut trees started any time in the next 5 years or so, and they'll already be producing heavily by the time you actually take up residence in your garden of eden. You'll likely need to mulch fairly heavily when you plant them to fend off competitors in your absence.

One other thought - natural succession, over the next few years, in that cleared area in the middle will be fun to watch and if you have the time, you can do some things to help direct how that goes. I'm guessing you'll have a lot of dog fennel if you don't already have it. Its a good fast growing dynamic accumulator, mulch plant, and you don't have to plant it - it should be there already. In the beginning I was digging ours up but now I'm letting it all grow, and using it for chop and drop. It is great to have mother nature making my mulch for me. And if it does grow all the way till the end of the growing season you'll have free garden stakes so you can find all the things you planted or the volunteers that you want to keep. Your project sure sounds fun.

Take care, my friend.
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Thanks for replying so quick Nick! You had some great information in your reply!

I will probably lime the land because I tend to be a little impatient and I want to be able to grow things SOON. Although you are right that I do have time until I retire, but in the meantime I want to build a home there in about a year and use it as my vacation home. So I would like it growing sooner rather than later.

Right now the clearing has a few mature long leaf pines in it. It is mostly bare sand with some bahia grass clumps here and there that I seeded. It gets mowed monthly so not much else is allowed to grow there. If I didn't mow it, it would be a weedy field with wild persimmon and ferns taking it over. I have not seen any dog fennel. At least there isn't enough of it that I have noticed it.

As far as nut trees go, I plan on planting pecan and black walnut. I know walnut is allopathic, but i love them. I also want several chestnuts. Thanks for the tip on buckwheat. I think I will seed it this fall. I also think Sunn Hemp makes a great green manure/accumulator plant. It grows quickly in the summer and can reach 7 feet in ten weeks. It literally adds TONS of biomass as well as nitrogen. I can use it to cover up soil in a chop and drop system in the summer, then switch to buckwheat in the fall. I recommend you look into it. IFAS has info on it at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/tr003

I look forward to staying in touch with you. I'm glad to have a new friend! Hopefully we will both achieve our food forest vision in Florida!

Thanks,
Diego
 
Allan Babb
Posts: 63
Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
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Some plants that I didn't see on your list. I grow these and I'm in zone 9a(Just south of New Orleans). My soil is sandy, with a clay hardpan about 1.5 feet down(go me for living on "reclaimed" swamp land). My soil is sort of on the neutral side though(had to use peat moss and pine bark mulch for my blueberries and camellia sinensis).

Some plants I noticed that were missing(maybe intentionally):

Yarrow - Achillea millefolium - Traditionally used to treat wounds, cuts and abrasions topically(Achilles was reported to have carried this plant into battle, hence its name). Other uses are soil erosion prevention due to its drought tolerance. It can be used in cooking as either a cooked vegetable(like spinach) or as a dried herb. The leaves are said to be used to promote clotting. This was planted simply to attract ladybugs in my garden. Not substantiated yet, but I hear it's also a good accumulator.

Banana Plant(though I see someone has already mentioned that) - whatever cultivar works for you(I'm unsure of mine..all I know is that it's a dwarf variety) - Even if you will never get bananas from it, it's great for mulch/biomass/diversity/compost(my banana plant is right next to my compost pile). It dies back every year because it can't handle even a mild frost, but it does keep sending out new pups.

Bamboo - whatever cultivar works for you again - Mine is golden goddess or something like that. The culms only get to be about 1.5" in diameter, so it's perfect for my veggie garden as poles. But then again, I see you have dog fennel listed for garden stakes. Come to think on it, having multiple sources for the same thing is very permaculture!

French Marigold - Tagates patula - reseeds easily enough(sometimes too easily). It has been proven to fumigate nematodes, it also looks nice(and the flower is edible)! Other marigolds are less effective at fumigation, and the only one that I've read that does still fumigate is the african marigold(Tagates minuta), but not as good as the french.

While I have yet to test the reseeding abilities of nasturtium, they are rather tasty and seem to attract bees well enough.

How well does your roman chamomile grow? I've not had much luck with the german.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Allan, Thanks for the plant suggestions. I'm going to look at yarrow and french marigold. If they self seed here, they'll probably make the cut. I wish I had several acres, and could plant a lot more species, but I only have a half acre, and the house uses up some of that space. When we moved into this home two months ago, the lot was mostly bare, exposed sand. We have hot, dry spring weather here so I'm planting everything during the most challenging time of the year. Bananas need so much water, I'm holding off. The dry season lasts a good 3 months or so. I know I will have to water certain things every spring, like apples and citrus, but I should be able to get some of those marigolds going as part of their guilds, and give them a little water too, while I'm at it. I just don't want to have to water the whole food forest every spring. Maybe by next year, if I have an area that seems to hold moisture better, I might give bananas a try, we'll see. Overall, I'm trying to stay with drought tolerant plants, but they also need to be okay with 50 inches of rain the other 9 months of the year. The soil is so sandy that no amount of rain causes anything to have soggy roots. That's nice. I also need more height to our trees for some wind protection. We get blasts of afternoon winds that could topple banana. I'd like to have some bamboo, if it's not too aggressive. The kind you have is the right size. Thanks again. Oh - the roman chamomile is not planted yet - waiting for fall. I did grow it in Austin, Texas and it really took off covering the ground densely once it was established.
 
Allan Babb
Posts: 63
Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
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Thanks for the answer on the chamomile, guess I'll be trying that this fall(and hoping it can compete with st.aug grass). My garden is just a small(40'x50') back yard, but it really is amazing how much you can cram into that area. I've been sprouting the seeds(using peat moss and vermiculite,but am trying a compost/native soil mix right now) and then transplanting them into the yard. It definitely saves on watering.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Diego, thanks for the tip on Sunn Hemp. That's 2 or 3 times now that I've seen that mentioned so it must be good.

I guess everyone has a different take on how far into permacuture practices they want to go. For me personally, I would embrace the "weeds" and only mow right around where you will be building the house. The persimmons have deep roots, so I let mine grow. I use them as nurse plants for pineapple guava, pawpaw, and anything that needs shade. They will all eventually be chopped and dropped, but they are very useful and make valuable contributions in the early stages. Our sand is quite bad, really. I've spent the last 2 days planting 44 comfrey roots in about a quarter acre area, and I can see that I'll still need more mulch plants. In the permaculture books, the examples usually show 2 or 3 comfrey plants in each guild, but I think because our soil is so poor, we need more like 10 for each guild. For a 3 acre food forest with, say, 500 nut and fruit trees, that's about 5,000 comfrey plants.

The startup phase is the most difficult phase in establishing a food forest. That is, if you plant all your trees and shrubs right away. Unless you get all the guild plants in too, you will be fighting a lot of competition in your orchard. I really don't see how you can put in a true food forest if you can only be there one weekend a month. You can plant an orchard, and mulch like crazy bringing in expensive mulch from outside the system. That would be a fine orchard, but not a food forest if I understand permaculture.

I am letting succession happen in our food forest, for the most part. I am only selectively removing volunteers here and there where I want to plant things. The rest of "the weeds" are all good because they cover up the bare ground and build the soil. Biomass is good. I am augmenting the natural succession with my guild plants - comfrey, pigeon pea, lamb's quarters, etc. And I am sowing buckwheat where even the weeds are struggling to gain a foothold because the barren sand is so hot and dry. I will let the buckwheat grow and die in place without chopping it or disturbing the soil. I am eagerly anticipating the rainy season - it's going to look like a different forest every day. I amy need to step up my efforts to guide the succession process at that time. In other words, I may be pulling some weeds, but only in the right places.

I'm glad to have a new friend, too. Stay in touch.
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Hi Nick. I understand your approach. It should work well in a small area. In my case if I didn't stop the "weeds" I would be overrun and not able to manage the land into my desired result. So in my case I envision a true permaculture food forest as the end result, not the beginning process. I guess it will be essentially an orchard at the beginning. I want to plant the trees first because they take the longest to grow. I also have to plant it in stages because I don't have enough money and time to plant everything at once. Therefor I will plant the trees, and just use cover crops to enrich the soil while they get established. Then I will put in the large shrubs as the next phase, etc until I have installed all 7 layers of the food forest. I would love to do it all at once but it's just not possible. In my view of permaculture, I use nature as a model, but I choose the plants and trees I want rather then allow any plants to grow that occur naturally on the property. Of course I will NEVER use any toxins or synthetic fertilizer, but I know I will need to provide natural fertilizer the first couple of years until it the system begins to feed itself. I also plan to use LOTS of comfrey as well. I kind of used the same approach in my small 1/4 acre yard at my home 10 years ago before I ever even heard of Permaculture. I had to frequently fertilize and work to guide the garden. Today, I haven't fertilized or sprayed in years. In fact all I do now is harvest mangoes, bananas, jaboticaba, jack fruit, sapodilla, and star fruit. Not bad for a suburban lot! I have LOTS of diveristy in my planting. I just wish I would have learned about permaculture earlier so I could have selected better guild plants. I had no idea then about dynamic accumulators, nitrogen fixers, predatory insect attractors etc. I draw a lot of strength and confidence in this. If it worked for me before, I know it will work again. It's just the sheer size that is daunting to me. But I really don't think it is hard. I think the main thing is diversity. The more diversity you have the healthier your food forest will be.

Keep in touch Buddy!
Diego
 
Ben Walter
Posts: 92
Location: Deland, FL
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Something I've been experimenting with which will go a long way to improving our sandy soil is biochar. I'm growing a half acre of corn and sorghum on the property, half with and half without biochar. It's only been in the ground about 3 weeks but I can already visually see a difference. It is a bitch to make in any significant quantity, but I'm pretty sure that UF is going to come out in the next few years recommending it and that will drive a lot of business. A year ago you could barely find any online, and now there are already several places selling in bulk, it's still pretty expensive though. Biochar shows promise for holding water and soluble nutrients, as well as providing great pores for biology, esp. fungus.

With a large area I would look into planting acacia trees, you could even seed them. I'm experimenting with a few types but I can't recommend anything yet. Many acacias are nitrogen fixers, and many have very deep tap roots that will get down to ground water. Also, many are great ruminant fodder and some have edible seed pods for chickens.

I agree that buckwheat is a great crop for spring and fall. I have some in my garden about the flower and the bees love it when it does! I've found cowpeas or iron/clay peas to be a great cover crop. They produce alot more biomass than buckwheat, do great in the summer heat, and fix nitrogen. I grew sun hemp in Georgia about 3 years ago for cover crop. It's absolutely amazing. We cut half of it off at about 3 feet when it was 6 feet tall. That stuff bushed out and broke down faster at the end of the season. THe half we didn't cut grew to be about 10 ft tall and it's thicker stalks took longer to break down. THe only reason I don't use it here is that it's quite expensive. It also has beautiful yellow flowers that we used as cut flowers. Lab-lab was another one we experimented with. It's also a nitrogen-fixer and grew really well, but it's also pricey. I should probably grow some to seed and save it.

Also, if you have a large area I think a very important part is using animals. I know you don't live there but maybe you could find a neighbor who will to run there animals out there. If it's done responsibly it really improves the soil. Oh, and I would also recommend mulberries. They do great without much care, shade the soil quickly, and are great animal fodder and chickens and pigs love the berries.


 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Ben, could you explain the basics of biochar - are we talking logs, little pieces, how deep is it buried? Theoretically, it seems to me that it would be the perfect way to address sandy soil.

I agree completely on the mulberry recommendation - our red mulberries are growing faster than anything we have so far, although the thornless blackberries are kicking it into gear now too, and the cowpeas have been exploding. I wish I had planted more of them. But now I have a whole bunch of pigeon peas coming up and they'll be there for 3-5 years, so even better.

As I see the use of animals, one of the main benefits is the animal feed that is brought in from outside the system, which ultimately becomes part of the soil. In our case, we don't have anyone to look after animals when we're away, and I'd like to end up with something that has no outside inputs other than some well water during the spring dry season. Funny thing though, it was my investigation into chickens and chicken tractors that led me to permaculture.

Thanks again for the comfrey roots. The more I hear about what you're doing in Deland, the more I'm thinking we need an excuse to head to the east side so we can see your operation.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Diego, I like your plan. It's probably safe to say that I just embrace "weeds" more than you do. Wait, that didn't sound right. No, but seriously I would think that one could spend a lot of money bringing in outside inputs and still not build the soil as well or as quickly as the natural community of opportunistic plants that are dying to get in there and do it for you. Just my humble opinion.

One thing that I am counting on with my weedy approach is that as my food forest matures, the increasing amount of shade in the garden will automatically control the weeds to some extent. It should at least make it easier for me to control them. In fact, whenever I decide to start removing some of my persimmon nurse plants, I will need to think about how much sunnier it will be in that spot and make sure I have desirables ready to take it over instead of weeds. Also, by letting the weeds grow, I have discovered 2 more rare bigflower pawpaws that I didn't know I had. I have also had a sand hill milkweed show up, which is an exquisitely beautiful little jewel of a plant that I will keep around just for ornamental purposes and interest. It is considered an indicator of the sand hill habitat. I have a gopher tortoise that comes out of his burrow and brouses on the wild grasses. Its uncanny how he stays mostly on the trails, and so far he's had no interest in eating the plants that I have planted. We have many species of lizards, and a few nonpoisonous snakes too. I just don't have the heart to destroy their home. So, we're all going to share it together, but I'm going to guide the succession process. This is one of the most enjoyable endeavors I've ever undertaken.

That being said, for a very large area, I'm thinking Ben may be on to something with his biochar idea. In the forest around us, I see all the time that there's some luxurious plant growth and when I look closer, it's growing right above an old buried log. And making the buried wood better at holding nutrients by charring it, that really does sound promising to me.
 
Ben Walter
Posts: 92
Location: Deland, FL
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Here's some basic info on Biochar

I would also check out the International Biochar Initiative

The best basic explanation I can give is that you are adding charcoal to the soil. Charcoal can hold a great amount of water, and do to it's structure it has a slight magnetic property that holds onto soluble cations and anions. These are the nutrients that we lose in our soil because they are water soluble and wash out. Normally your humus and organic matter would do that, but as you know we really don't have any of that. My soil is around 1% organic matter. Because charcoal is so stable it remains in the soil for a very long time. Estimates range from 100 years on the short end, and probably more around 1000 years. That's nice because once you've properly amended your soil, it's the last time you will ever have to do it. So this char is stable and "soaks up" your soluble nutrients (nitrogen, boron, etc.) Plants have the capability to access these nutrients in their normal process of exchanging an H+ ion for the nutrient on the char. It's essentially how plants absorb nutrients from organic matter as well.

There's a lot of research still going on and lots more to be done. The interest in biochar stems from Terra Preta soils found in the amazon rainforest. It's man-made soil that is very productive, high in charcoal and has a biological component that is still being investigated.

Another benefit to biochar is that it sequesters carbon in the soil. This could be an opportunity to not only make our soils more productive, but also reduce the amount of atmospheric CO2.

My long-term goal is to make char and electricity at the same time. My simple kilns now produce a lot of excess heat that can be captured with a steam engine. Also, wood gasification produces char and wood gases that can be used to power a slightly modified gasoline engine. I'm leaning towards steam power because I feel the machinery will last a lot longer.

I truly believe that biochar will transform agriculture, especially in places like Florida with poorer soils. Imagine if we can get our soils built up and have our great growing conditions! I also love Florida because we are buffered by the Gulf and Atlantic if global warming takes off. The biggest problem we'll have is more powerful hurricanes, but I'll take a hurricane over a tornado any day.

My goal for my most productive areas (annual beds) is to apply 1lb. per square foot. Right now my CSA garden is 1/2 acre so I would need to produce about 20,000 lbs. I plan to apply the char in the top 6-8 inches and transition to no-till with heavy mulch. Right now i'm tilling and applying lots of mushroom compost and organic fertilizers. The rest of the farm (pastures, etc) I will broadcast it on the surface and hopefully the biological action will help incorporate it some.

Wherever I've been planting trees i've been using a biochar/hugelkulture hybrid. I dig a shallow pit and fill it with wood. I burn this for a while, not to ash, you want a lot of coals and smother it with compost and soil. I let these smolder for a few days and then soak it with water. I prepped about 35 holes like this in my chicken paddock. I'm putting out the trees I have this week! I've dug up a few of these pits and they already have mycelium growing through the char, and the wood that was not charred is nice and punky.

As you can see i'm excited about biochar's potential and could talk all day about it. Oh, and I forgot to talk about particle size. I think smaller particles are best for catching nutrients, and larger chunks will best assist the biology. Most of what i've made in kilns is from wood chips and the pieces range from dust to about 1/2 in. diameter. The char I make in the tree pits is much larger chunks. I may till it up to break it into smaller pieces before I plant.

I hope this wasn't too scattered, but there's lots of good info out there!

 
Ben Walter
Posts: 92
Location: Deland, FL
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ps - You're welcome to visit anytime. I'm sure we could learn a lot more from each other.
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Hi Ben,

I must say that you really got me excited about the possibilities of biochar! I had heard Paul Wheaton mention it in a podcast but I hadn't researched it yet. He specifically recommended it for Florida. I am definitely going to incorporate it into my plan. Does it matter what type of wood I use? The reason I ask is that I am going to clear about 1 1/2 acres of planted pine soon and I can have them spread the burnt wood and bury it for me instead of completely burning it to ash. However I know Pine trees can be allopathic so I want to make sure I am not shooting myself in the foot! If Pine is ok I could ask them to haul in more every time they clear land in the area. Do you know what a fair price is for a truckload of biochar? I think I could get a good deal since he was already paid to clear it and my money is a secondary income on what he was already paid for instead of just burning it on the site. People are clearing land around me all the time. Also, since you have used Sunn Hemp in the past, I would like your opinion. I plan to grow it until it begins to flower and then chop and drop it. I read that right when it begins to flower is when it has the most nutrients in it. Do you think I should till it into the soil or just leave it lying on top?

I'd also love to visit you someday and see your plan in action. You are about 3 hours south of my property in Madison County, but it's a fairly small detour if I stop by on the way up or down. I could learn a lot from you! I'm so appreciative of the new Floridian friends I'm making!

Thanks,
Diego
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Nick,
I completely agree with your assumption that the shade should help with the weeds. In the pine forest that comprises the other 37 acres of my property, that is indeed the case. The only plants that grow there in abundance in the deep shade are ferns, which I think are quite beautiful! Plus as soon as the weather cools they disappear on their own. I also have gopher tortoises. In fact when I walk around my land I have to be careful not to step into a gopher tortoise hole because they are so prolific. Several times I have moved a tortoise off the dirt road that leads to my property to make sure someone doesn't accidentally run them over! A word of caution though, if you have kids be careful because rattlesnakes love to hang out in those gopher tortoise tunnels also. Kids are very curious about those tunnels and you want them to stay clear just in case! I have a 7 year old daughter who LOVES to explore nature (which I of course encourage) but I taught her to be careful with those tunnels and when walking through the forest because we do have rattlesnakes and coral snakes in the area. I am such a sap that I don't even like to kill a bug. I want to live in harmony with all creatures, even rattlesnakes. We just have to learn how to be safe while respecting life as well. My wife thinks I'm crazy but I won't kill anything unless I absolutely have no choice.

I know what you mean when you say "This is one of the most enjoyable endeavors I've ever undertaken.". When I am on my property I feel a real sense of peace and harmony! I know it sounds crazy but I get the feeling the land appreciates that I want to be a good tenant and welcomes me. I feel like my resident creatures want to live in harmony with me as well. I've even accidentally stepped on an ant hill and the ants crawled over my feet but didn't bite me...I was astonished! I've had large wasps set up a nest practically above my head where I sit on the porch (a small cabin I set up) and I have never been stung! I believe that we put out a "vibe" that tells animals if we are a threat or not. How else can you explain it? I had a visitor step on an ant pile as well and they got stung all over! I don't care if it's all in my head or not but I choose to believe it and it brings me joy. The time I spend on my land is the happiest time I have. I too find this to be the most enjoyable endeavor I've ever undertaken!

 
Ben Walter
Posts: 92
Location: Deland, FL
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Diego,

I have read that there are some differences depending on the feedstock for the char. There isn't much info out there on this, but I've seen a chart where char made with pine is slightly more acidic than those made with hard woods and some other materials. If the wood is completely charred there should be no concerns it's allopathic residue. However, if you are burning large amounts and smothering, you're not likely to get everything to completely char. However, I wouldn't worry about that myself.

As far as the sunhemp goes, it depends on what you are trying to do. We were following the sunhemp with a winter crop so we tilled it in. If you're looking for long term improvement, I would cut and leave the residue on the surface. Actually, if you were thinking really long term, I would let it go to seed and hope is sprouts the following year. I haven't tried this, but if it could get a self seeding stand, I bet the results would be impressive.

Stop by whenever you're headed up this way...just give me an email... benw3179@gmail.com
 
Ben Walter
Posts: 92
Location: Deland, FL
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I know what you mean when you say "This is one of the most enjoyable endeavors I've ever undertaken.". When I am on my property I feel a real sense of peace and harmony! I know it sounds crazy but I get the feeling the land appreciates that I want to be a good tenant and welcomes me. I feel like my resident creatures want to live in harmony with me as well. I've even accidentally stepped on an ant hill and the ants crawled over my feet but didn't bite me...I was astonished! I've had large wasps set up a nest practically above my head where I sit on the porch (a small cabin I set up) and I have never been stung! I believe that we put out a "vibe" that tells animals if we are a threat or not. How else can you explain it? I had a visitor step on an ant pile as well and they got stung all over! I don't care if it's all in my head or not but I choose to believe it and it brings me joy. The time I spend on my land is the happiest time I have. I too find this to be the most enjoyable endeavor I've ever undertaken!


Awesome! I definitely think plants and animals respond to your state of mind and intentions.
 
Diego Melians Ii
Posts: 13
Location: Miramar (South Florida Zone 10b) and Lee (North Florida Zone 8b)
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Ben,
Thanks for the info. It sounds like something that I want to pursue. Also, thanks for letting me stop by some time. When I have a trip up with a little time to spare I'll let you know. But it might be a while because for now my to do list is so long whenever I go up that I don't have the time to spare, but I really want to stop by so hopefully it won't be to long!
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Diego,

I have updated my plant list (attached) and made a few changes specifically because of our sandy soil in Florida. I am beginning to fully realize the importance of root structure for both draught tolerance and the ability of the food forest designer to ensure that the soil is fertile enough for the plant. I look around at the long leaf pines and oaks and realize that its all about having a tap root here. They can send those roots down and not only find water, but also find nutrients that have been washed down below the reach of the shallow rooted plants.

Good tap rooted trees for us are pecan, chestnut, mulberry, persimmon, jujube, and pawpaw. Pigeon pea, true and false roselle (cranberry hibiscus) are tap rooted shrubs. I am growing Bolivian sunflower for mulch and it is tap rooted. Other tap rooted plants include lamb's quarters, comfrey, amaranth, mustard, and horseradish. A tap rooted and drought tolerant ground cover is purslane. All of the above are draught tolerant.

There aren't many shallow rooted plants that could prosper, if not survive our dry season and generally droughty weather at times, without regular irrigation. Rosemary and pomegranate are a couple of exceptions. There are some native shrubs too, including saw palmetto, prickly pear, and yucca.

I am seeing that my shallow rooted stuff is needing irrigation - including grapes, apple trees, citrus, avocado, fig, pineapple guava, peach, loquat, blackberries, and blueberries. I do expect the blackberries to become more draught tolerant as they become fully established, but I think they will produce better with some irrigation.

For me, I was somewhat aware of which plants were drought tolerant and which ones weren't, but now that I am growing and tending to the garden here in the sand hills, it is really hitting home. Also, it seems to me that the use of hugelkultur and biochar are more relevant to the shallow rooted plants than to the tap rooted ones.

Hope this helps.
Filename: Garbarino food forest.pdf
Description: Food forest plant list for USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10
File size: 113 Kbytes
[Download Garbarino food forest.pdf] Download Attachment
 
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