Sunday, October 28, 2012

Urban Core Shade Gardening Basics

This post is for Michael O'Connell and all the others interesteed in having a productive garden on a canopy tree covered lot.
Containerized plants do well under trees where roots are thick

Many established urban core neighborhoods are covered with large canopy trees, beautiful old trees providing shade and broad limbs from which hang innumerable swings.

Gardening under these trees doesn't have to be difficult.  Follow a few basic concepts and your shade food garden can be an important source of food, cut flowers and family pleasure.

Though the list of available shade plants is lengthy we will only mention a few here today.  Starting the garden is the most important step.  A half dozen food plants in the ground are much better than the fat package of seeds sitting in the garage waiting for planting.

First step to a successful urban core shade garden is to make sure the trees on your lot are allelopathic free.  Allelopathic trees are those species whose leaf drop is toxic to other plants.  Allelopathic trees have evolved this capacity as a mechanism to suppress other plants who may compete for nutrients and water.

Locally here in Florida, cypress (Taxodium spp.) is somewhat allelopathic.  Other allelopathic trees are listed on the University of Florida's IFAS website here.

If your urban core yard trees are allelopathic you may want to consider porch container gardening.

Secondly, tree roots need oxygen and water.  If you cover the ground under a tree with garden soil you may damage the tree.  If you dig too deep while preparing your soil you may damage the tree root systems (even nicked roots can damage trees through infections).

If you have a shady area free of roots then prepare the soil accordingly.  If, as I suspect most urban core residents will find in older, established neighborhoods, you have too many roots then you may should consider container gardening.

Containers are scalable and cost-effective.  Many containers are efficient with water conservation.

Most all my current gardening efforts are focused on containers.  Judy has the garden.  I have the containers.

We are moving into the winter season now and it is time to plant leafy greens.  In sixty days or so you can be enjoying wonderful pestos, salads and cooked greens!

You will find spinach and lettuces and many other leafy greens excellent choices for shady areas.

My Grandpa grew spinach in between his crotons through his Miami yard shaded by giant live oaks.

Garden fresh herbs and vegetables are a welcome addition to any kitchen!
Organic spinach, container or ground level grown loves shade.  Of course, some direct sunlight (even an hour a day) always encourages vigorous plant growth.  Organic spinach is quite costly in the local health food store and a number one shade vegetable.

Lettuces too most always do well in shade.  Our teens forage daily throughout winter afternoons, creating tasty afternoon crisp salads from the lettuces in our garden.  There are many wonderful types of lettuces available from most seed companies.  Check out the Seeds of Change selection here.

A cornerstone of our garden are our indestructible and evergreen Garlic Chives.  We use the leaves almost daily for accent or flavor to most any dish.

Garlic Chives grow well in containers or in the ground.

Keep a container of mint growing in the shade for tea, fruit salads, your favorite beverage or a number of other uses.  Mints I'd choose include spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and orange mint.  Mints can take over though so they are best planted in containers!

Homemade cilantro dips and pestos fresh from the Florida Permaculture Garden!
Parsley is so tasty in salads, soups, on sandwiches and good for you too (full of zinc).  Curly parsley does very well here in the North Florida Urban Core.

Don't forget Cilantro now.  If you love cooking you probably love cilantro.  Cilantro is another great shade vegetable.

There you have it!  Start with these six plants and you will fill your kitchen with so many healthy foods at a fraction of what they'd cost in the organic section of your health food store.

Shade gardening can be fun!  No time like today to start!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Urban Agriculture, Photosynthesis & A Garden Where We Forget to Die

Green Roof plant photosynthesis has been a topic of conversation here on this blog many times.

Florida Permaculture Garden - Lots of Food in Small Spaces

Previous readers now know there are three types of  photosynthesis in plants.  What we may not know is the lesson in human longevity we can also take away from these three types of photosynthesis.

Remember,  photosynthesis is the plant process for converting sunshine, water, CO2 and nutrients into building blocks for growth.

Those of you following the blog will remember plants are classified as having either C3, C4 or CAM photosynthesis characteristics.

If this is new to you, no problem.  Just think of C3 plants as those plants who grow very fast and produce lots of flowers quickly because their photosynthesis occurs on the plant leaf surface, an area where sunshine, water and CO2 are  plentiful.  The downfall to C3 plants though is, because photosynthesis happens on the leaf surface they are prone to rapid desiccation if not continually provided with water and other necessities.

C3 plants grow quickly, make a huge impact yet may whither and die just as fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, CAM plants have embedded their photosynthesis processes deep in their leaf, protected by layers of guard cells.  Consequently, CAM plants experience slow to moderate interactions with water, sunlight, CO2 and more.

We all know CAM plants as succulents, such as the Christmas Cactus.  Aloe is another CAM plant.  Aloe is always there for us, if we water the plant or not.

CAM  plants are steady throughout the seasons.  Don't expect them to fill up your garden overnight but do expect them to be around after that extended vacation, when the other once beautiful, flowering garden plants are frazzled and dried up due to lack of watering.

C4 plants lie midway between the C3 and CAM plants on the drought tolerant and growth rate spectrum.  Many C4 plants have some measure of embedded photosynthesis systems,  Other C4 plants can switch back and forth between C3 and CAM functions.

C4 plants tend to be moderate growers and are usually fairly resistant to environmental changes.  C4 plants are slower growing than C3 plants but faster producing than CAM plants.

How does this relate to human longevity?

For decades I never saw the corollary.  Yet you probably already have.

Good permaculture principles have taught us to always plant perimeter wind break plants around our gardens.

We have always used tough and hardy CAM  plants as perimeter wind break plants on a Green Roof to protect the more sensitive yet fast growing C3 plants from desiccation.

CAM  plants not only can survive where other plants cannot, CAM plants also provide a 'safe harbor' for other plants to grow.

There have been times in my life where my behavior mimicked a C3 plant's behavior.  I'd jump up early before dawn, work my body and mind until I was exhausted, accomplish way more than many, then crash back into bed.

Little did I know about the damage occurring in my heart and aorta, fueled in part by genetic tendencies from Marfan Syndrome and compounded by the C3-like hustle and bustle of 'making it all happen'.

Whenever I'd reach the burnout phase, I'd briefly shift gears into the C4 mode.  High stress functioning and endless activity would be some moderated with a weekend of spring hopping, scuba diving or swamp exploration.

Yet memory of those many perceived accomplishments would quickly begin to diminish and I'd soon be ready for the C3 performance level again.

I found myself longing for the adrenaline rush of doing what others could not.

We built a two-story house on a small upland island in the middle of a mighty cypress swamp, dragging in huge poles and timbers with the power of our legs and backs, creating an amazing and beautiful herb and flower nursery, raising special children, going to law school and graduating near the top of my class, creating a successful environmental consulting firm, designing and constructing marvelous landscapes and living roofs, crafting an extensive urban farms comprised of geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, hens and food and medicinal plants, and so much more.

My Dad however would usually mention something along the lines of 'save some for tomorrow'.  But I did not listen.  My C3 accomplishment needs propelled me forward.  I was living the great dream of 'making it happen'.

Looking back now on life before the scene-changing aneurysm I can easily understand the C3-CAM metaphor.

Unfortunately, finishing all I wanted to do in life and making a big splash in a much shorter period of time than practical made me much more vulnerable to stress-related health issues.

Today, a multitude of artificial heart and aorta components requirements have forced me out of the C3 mode into CAM mode.

Life's activity is now measured, activities occur on a paced basis and there is little or no rush anymore to finish first.

Now Judy and I focus on growing much of our own food in her Florida Urban Permaculture Garden.

No, we don't live on a farm and in fact we have very limited space to grow plants on our tiny lot.  This summer though we've grown okra, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, lemongrass, basil, black eye peas, collards, kale, arugula, chives, sweet potatoes, sage, seminole pumpkin, blackberries, grapes, figs, grapefruit, oranges, bell peppers and a host of other herb, veggie and flower plants.

Our life's pace slowed considerably.  Our accomplishments were measured and we took time to  laugh or cry with the challenges and surprises confronting us.
Yet even with meds my systolic blood pressure would not drop below the mid 130's.

Then last week I decided to try eating primarily form the garden or food caught  from the ocean or foraged from the wild.  Knowing processed foods contained substantial amounts of salts, nitrites  and other chemicals and wondering if a simpler diet would have real benefits, I committed to staying away from foods-in-a-box for two weeks.

The results were immediate and surprising.

Importantly. I haven't really gone hungry.

Though only one week has passed since my diet changed, my body has begun removing all the salts and excess water previously stored around my waist.  Waist line measurements have decreased by an inch, overall weight has declined by almost five pounds and my systolic blood pressure has dropped by approximately 25 points from the mid 130's to around 105.

Foraging based and Urban Garden food preparation is certainly much more time consuming and a slower process than grabbing food from a package or box.

Hunger pains seemed to decrease in relationship to the amount of time required to prepare food or snacks.  Readily available food or snacks spiked with salt, fat or sugar were much more prone to be quickly consumed than the fresh produce waiting to be picked from the garden.  Spicy goldfish in a box were easier to count on for hunger relief than the flounder swimming in the surf.

The commitment of giving up the packaged and processed foods actually slowed and decreased my overall consumption of food 'stuffs'.

Taking the time to gather, pick and prepare food taught me an appreciation for the reduced quantity but increased quality  of edibles ending up on my plate.

A new light flickered on in my head, an appreciation for 'slow foods'.

Lower blood pressure could possibly add months, years or decades to my life.  Though the surgeons replaced a portion of my ascending aorta, the descending portion was still dissected all past my kidneys down into my feet, just waiting for the high stress event that could burst the remaining arterial lining.

Weight loss helped with my mobility, easing joint pain.

My eyes were opened to exciting new opportunities, including the adventure of creating a food forest on our diminutive urban lot where concreted lanai space rivaled open areas available for plantings.

Fishing now served to relieve daily stresses and provided an opportunity to gather healthy food.

And so I began to post updates of my progress on social media networks.

Creative garden-based (or as Judy says - 'yarden-based') recipes arrived via e-mail or messages, sent from friends and strangers alike.

And then a social media contact in San Francisco sent me this story last night.  A New York Times feature about an 'Island Where People Forget to Die'.  And it all began to finally make sense.

Slow is better than fast.  Ber rabbit does not win in the end.

CAM plants can teach us about longevity of life.

I am now forever committed to integrating my Urban Ag Diet into a daily routine.

No more 'grow, show and wilt' in a hurry.

Slow, measured eating practices and a yarden-forage diet may be a path for me to outlive my cardiologist.

Even in our limited urban spaces, Judy and I are creating our own 'Garden Where People Forget to Die'.

So can you.

Be sure to read the New York TImes article about longevity and life, in the Article entitled "An Island Where People Forget to Die.

Many thanks to Kerrick Lucker for the link.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foraging Wild Edibles & Eating from the Florida Permaculture Garden

Urban Ag! Seminole Pumpkin Breakfast
Eating from the garden and wild foraging for the past week has been a challenge I must say.  In search of answers about Urban Agriculture and the practicality of feeding a city, I wanted to see if I could eat for two weeks either from wild forage or our Urban Permaculture Garden.

So far some surprising results!

First of all I've learned about the power of salt addiction.  Salt can be poisonous.  Salt has been used as a herbicide for millennia.  And salt has been responsible for countless human health issues, yet the mineral excites our taste buds in such unique ways it is hard to do without.

Processed foods are loaded with salt!

Going without salt for the first few days was hard.  Salt gave me a pseudo adrenaline-type rush once on my taste buds.  Salt enlivened otherwise seemingly dull tasting foods.

Now, after six days without salt-laden processed foods I've found that my desire for the mineral is rapidly declining.

And my systolic blood pressure has quickly dropped overt twenty points.  Before my foraging/garden diet my systolic blood pressure was running in the low 130's.  Now my systolic hovers at 100-105, an amazing benefit - especially with my dissected aorta condition.  I've had no other change to my diet or medications other than eliminate processed foods.

This morning I'd even been wearing my lightweight wrist weights for a couple hours prior to checking my blood pressure.  Long term a 25% decrease in blood pressure may result in many more years of life for someone in my condition.

In addition to the blood pressure drop there are other surprising discoveries with the yarden diet and I'll discuss those in the next post!

An Urban Agriculture diet that replaces processed foods may potentially create super healthy cities!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating from Urban Gardens, Day 3.5 Update

Eating from an Urban Garden can provide insight into many interesting concepts.  I've either foraged or fed myself from our very tiny backyard garden going on or the last 72 hours now, drinking lots more water than I normally used to.

Florida Permaculture Garden Cow Peas
Though I've yet to really get hungry, my want for salt and sugar spiked during the first couple days.  Going without salt has really had a significant impact on my body.

I caught several  fish Monday evening and have had plenty of protein.  Combined with sweet banana peppers, collard greens and black eye peas from the 'yarden' as Judy calls it, there has been plenty to eat.

Salt is pervasive in processed foods.  I never add salt to my food, except in the form of soy sauce or tamari, which I understand has lots of salt as an ingredient.

Yet by removing salt-laden processed foods from my diet, including soy sauce, for three days and drinking two gallons of water daily, I've lost a significant amount of previously retained body water.

My belly feels much less 'sloshy', I've shed four pounds water weight and my blood pressure has dropped by ten systolic points from 125 to 115.

The sugar urge has been easier to deal with.  Foraged saw palmetto berries have loads of natural sugars and 'quench' the urge for sugars.

I am looking forward and excited to see the end results after two weeks.

Eating from the garden and wild forage has also opened my eyes to an awareness of what the 'slow food' movement is about.  I spent four hours fishing Monday evening.  Four hours is a long time to spend on food, or is it?

Sitting in the beach chair under the brilliant early evening sky a calming wave of peace flowed through me.  All the stresses of the day soon disappeared and I felt one with the universe.  My breathing became deeper and more measured.  Not only was I fishing for food but I was also fishing for stress relief and health.  The experience was every bit as good as a yoga session or massage.

The effort expended with throwing the cast net for bait, setting up the beach chair and fishing rod and cleaning up afterwards actually moderated my appetite that evening.  Though I cannot do near as much as most because of my aortic dissection, I found clarity in the experience of actually spending effort for my meal.

Over the last three days I've come to realize just how addicted I was to packaged and quick food from the refrigerator.

Now I am just beginning to see the beauty of simple eating.  Our Urban Garden really offers all I need.

I am now seeing an amazing result around the corner as simple foods become more integrated into my life.

A small balcony or rooftop could easily provide a couple with all the food, year around, that they need.

More soon!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Urban Agriculture & Native Plants Diet

Many of us dream of growing our own, organic healthy food and breaking away from industrial pre-packaged groceries.
Dinner from the Florida Permaculture Garden, peas, okra, peppers and more

Yes, Judy and I have always had a healthy diet.  Virgin olive and sesame oils are the primary fats we've cooked with for almost twenty years.

Our garden has provided daily vegetables throughout the seasons.

Yet I've been asking myself if I could really break from grocery market food.

So this week I am giving it a try for a week, starting yesterday afternoon (Sunday, October 21, 2012).  The teens and Judy are welcome to participate if they like.

Anyway, I'll be updating my diet successes or failures daily on the blog here and posting similar updates to Facebook.

The ground rules are simple.

The only food I am going to eat for two weeks will come from the garden or will be wild foraged.

Right now I've gone twelve hours and feel fine.  Of course I am watching my blood pressure and INR. I am assuming my diet will include more green vegetables since we have so many in the garden   Green vegetables mean vitamin K.

Having artificial heart components I must make sure my blood doesn't clot around the titanium valve.  An increase in green vegetables translates into a probable increase in Coumadin to keep the blood thin.

Dinner Sunday evening consisted of sweet Saw Palmetto berries, a wonderful mix of garden veggies heated on the stove (including okra, black-eye peas, peppers and more - see photo above) and delicious Seminole Pumpkin from out back.

Seminole Pumpkin were cultivated by the native Floridians and originated probably in Central or South America.  This calabasa keeps for a very long time once picked and is absolutely delicious baked, tasting very similar to a cross between a butternut squash and a pumpkin.
Seminole Pumpkin from the Floria Permaculture Garden

Today I'd like to net a bucket of mullet running along the shoreline, clean, soak in vinegar and bake.  I also found an awesome patch of lentil-look-alike Florida native Thicket Bean, Phaseolus polystachios.  I easily had a bag of pods, leaving most on the vine, within five minutes.  We will see how tasty they are later today.

Florida native Thicket Bean, Phaseolus polystachios

Can I stay away from the commercialized and industrialized pre-packaged foods?  Can I stay away from Publix?

Each day you will find comments and recipes, creative I am sure, of my garden and forage adventure.

Why do this?

Preaching Urban Green and Sustainability is one thing.  Living the life is another.
Native, wild saw palmetto berries.  Many can not stand their taste but I love them!

Now is the time for me to see if I can really live the low-carbon footprint life and just how hard weaning one's self from cardboard boxed foods, is.

Day One Diet:

Saw Palmetto Berries, freshly picked;
Marvelous sauté of garden vegetables (okra, peppers & black eye peas)
Baked Seminole Pumpkin
hot Yaupon tea (black drink)

I'd love to hear about your experiences too!  Emailed testimonials of Foraged & Garden Diets will be posted along with my experiences.