Forest Garden


Introduction
Mulching
Watering
Misting
Pruning
Plant Pests
Drought Stress Signs
Composting Weeds
Nutrients in Soil
Cold Protection
Leaf Senescence
Planting Seed Pies
Pepper Species
Planting Bare Root Trees
Mango Embryo: Mono vs Poly
Heirloom and Compost
How to Remove a Tree
How to Climb a Tree
Hand Saw
Banana Timing
Plant Feeding Cycle


Introduction

Forest Garden documents what we are growing at our homestead in central Florida, central zone 9.  There are a few freezing nights here each year but almost always separated by a number of warmer days.  The dry season is from October to May, averaging 25 inches of rain.  The wet season from June to September gets another 25 inches of rain.  The sun is very intense, and it's very humid almost every night of the year.

We are planting on about one acre and we have six to eight very large oak trees here casting a lot of shade.  About half of the ground gets between 4 and 6 hours of direct sun in the winter and between 6 and 8 hours in the summer.   The rest gets between 0 and 3 hours of direct sun in the winter and 2 to 5 hours in the summer.  There is a very gentle slope here so little air pooling.  Wind comes from all directions.  North wind is cold and south wind is warm.

More detailed climate features include high variability of weather within each week as winds shift often, usually between warm southeast and cool northwest. Some winters see a string of weeks with half clear/cold days, and half warm/wet days, causing excess ground moisture due to slow drying. Other winters are relatively clear, causing excess ground cooling. The summer wet season length varies considerably. The benefits and liabilities of each variation are much different, creating considerable needs for frequent adjustments to maintain ideal microclimates for the plants.

The soil here is yellow sand with topsoil between 6" & 12" depending on density of trees, and consistently well-drained. This soil dries out very fast after rains, and is notoriously infested with root-knot nematodes, which are reduced in winter, with moisture, and with organic matter in soil.

Mulching

Risk of heat stress prevails in Central Florida gardens due to sun, wind, quick-drying sandy soil, and humid nights that raise soil temperature. In such a climate probably the most beneficial garden practice is mulching. Warm soil in winter by removing mulch. Cool soil in summer by adding mulch. Add mulch as the air temperature warms up each spring. Consistent soil moisture, especially with compost application, enhances soil micro-organism populations increasing nutrient availability to plant roots. Mist evaporated from plants by dusk averts pathogens. Allowing topsoil to dry periodically also averts pathogens and, along with deep watering, encourages deep rooting.

Watering

Our climate has a 9 month dry season and a 3 month wet season in June/July/August. In the dry season we rely on mulch to retain soil moisture, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry for a week before replentishing and allowing the deeper soil to dry for a month before replentishing, in the warmer months. in the colder months we find the top soil replentishing period may be doubled and the deep soil period tripled.

We plan to build a rainwater catchment system for watering during the dry periods, given that our sandy soil dries fast. We find that a sunny sky and dry soil is a combination that does not grow trees particularly well, and likewise a cloudy sky and moist soil. Instead, we find that a sunny sky and moist soil is a combination that grows trees particularly well, facilitated by rainwater catchment.

Misting

Risk of heat stress prevails in Central Florida gardens due to sun, wind, quick-drying sandy soil, and humid nights that raise soil temperature. In such a climate the most beneficial garden practice beyond mulching & watering is very likely to be misting when hot & sunny, just enough to keep plant temperature below 90F. Misting enables plant growth when plants would otherwise experience high leaf temperatures and heat stress, lose soil moisture, and thereby miss their opportunity to grow under full sun. The opportunity to grow under full sun becomes especially valuable when regular and complete days of full sun are not available, such as during the often cloudy summer season here, and also in excessively shady locations. We found misting highly beneficial for persimmons, loquats, blueberries and avocados where flushes of new leaf growth would have been severely burned back by the heat of the sun without misting.

Pruning

We prune all branches at their collar (origin) so that the collar can close in the growth process of the parent branch to prevent decomposition/disease entry. The profile of the parent branch after pruning a child branch appears as if the child branch was never there. In other words, no stub is left, because stubs cannot close to protect the inside from decomposition/disease entry. Heavy duty wire cutters work better than saws/knives to prune small branches in tight places for best control, to prevent injury/damage to nearby bark. With any tool, the bark should be cut through all around the circumference before disconnecting the branch to prevent tearing the bark.

The amount of soil moisture conserved by misting likely rivals the amount of mist water consumed. Conserving soil moisture, especially with compost application, enhances nutrient availability to plant roots. Mist evaporated from plants by dusk averts pathogens. Allowing topsoil to dry periodically also averts pathogens and, along with deep watering, encourages deep rooting.

Plants vulnerable to pathogens thriving in above-ground moisture/humidity need drying periods between mistings. If these plants are also vulnerable dry soil then it becomes important to water the soil without wetting the plants alternately with the misting. Such careful attention is probably crucial for plants that thrive in clay soil to also thrive in sandy soil.

Plant Pests

Different pests attack different plants in different places at different times. Let's review what helped others with similar pest problems in their gardens.

Our spray-on contact pesticide for ants, whiteflies, mealybugs, spidermites and scale is 1 qt water to 1 tsp soap & 1 tsp oil. We use castile liquid soap from soapmakers' supply which lacks additives and we use cold-pressed olive oil. The oil makes the soap stick better and the soap destroys the pests. We think it will also destroy larvae/eggs. We add 1 tsp baking soda to kill fungal spores. Since this also destroys beneficials, we only spray where the pest population has exploded to cause serious damage.

We've found covering young papaya fruit with spanish moss immediately after flowering until growth to a diameter of 3" is effective in preventing papaya fruit fly (papaya wasp) stings.

We're wrapping the stems of tomato, pepper & other transplants with cardboard from ground level up a couple of inches to prevent girldling by unknown pests (problably slugs).

Drought Stress Signs

Plants don't always tell you when they need water. Some species will exhibit no changes for weeks as the deep soil gradually dries out. Then the drought stress hits them suddenly without warning. So we have to check soil moisture directly at the various depths. More water is needed for plants that are leafing and fruiting.

Composting Weeds

In harvesting weed plants for composting, for many plant species, harvesting everything above-ground kills the plant so the roots compost in-place, building the soil. If the plant is weakened, rather than killed, it can grow pathogen populations, so then cutting out the root crown is best. If the plant is perennial and isn't stealing resources, trimming it keeps it alive as an ongoing source of compost material.

Nutrients in Soil

We ask how plants thrive in nature to help us answer how to manage a forest garden. Nutrients in soil is a particularly important question. We read that plants need nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in larger amounts, and other elements in smaller amounts. How are these elements provided by nature to plants? We read that nitrates assimilated by plants are fixed by soil bacteria and fungi from nitrogen in the air. We think that legumes may significantly increase the amount of nitrogen fixed in soil. It appears to us that natural ecosystems have evolved without the high volume nitrogen production of man-made compost heaps, because the nitrogen in live plants typically escapes into the air before soil microbes can reach it. We think potassium, phosphorus, and other elements, are made available to plants by the breakdown of plant materials by soil microbes and other biota.

Composting - Cornell Waste Management Institute
Composting | NC State Extension
Composting and Mulching | UGA Cooperative Extension
MasterComposter.com

Cornell--Master-Composter-Manual.pdf
Virginia-Cooperative--Onfarm-Composting.pdf
NRAES--Composting-To-Reduce-The-Waste-Stream.pdf


Cold Protection

Winter 2017-18 in Central Florida gave us 30 or so nights below 50F, and 3 nights between 26F & 32F. Tropical fruit trees die slow deaths from cold exposure so it wasn't until May or so until we knew the verdict. Out of 7 banana stalks, the largest two died, the next largest survived and fruited, and the smaller ones survived with minor setback. The two that died had the least protection from the big oaks and rain trees but we suspect their exposure due to their size figured in. Two young sapodillas died, having little protection from oaks. Covering with sheets on the freeze nights was not enough, we think, because of the below 50F nights. We didn't measure soil temperature but we suspect removing mulch to sun the soil might have helped. We know the three freeze nights minus the below 50F nights would not have killed them because we've had such freeze nighte before.

Heat in a plant or in the ground is lost at a rate determined by its temperature and the potential for heat loss. The potential for (radiation) heat loss to the night sky (celestial bodies) is increased as leaf, tree, and cloud cover, and humidity are reduced. This mechanism can dominate when wind is calm. The potential for (convection) heat loss to the air is increased with wind speed and with the absence of barriers such as trees, hedges and mulch. This mechanism can dominate when there is significant wind. Conventional discussions tend to neglect (radiation) heat loss to the night sky, so outcomes may be surprising. We have witnessed abundant evidence of its contribution in different outcomes as leaf, tree, and cloud covers vary with planting positions and weather conditions.

Weather History

Leaf Senescence

Don't try to compost dying leaves, e.g. on a banana plant. In general, we think, if you leave the leaves on the plant as they die, the plant recovers nutrients from the dying leaves. Probably the same is true of flowers.

Leaf Senescence

Planting Seed Pies

Aluminum pie pans seem to work well for starting tomato, pepper seeds, also eggplant and ground cherry. These need transplanting because field-sown they are highly vulnerable to cutworms. We max 1/3 compost and 2/3 native sandy loam from under the oak trees in our seed pies. This soil compacts with water so we fill the pie pan to the top, water it well, and add more soil after the watering compacts it. After the soil dries sufficiently then we plant the seeds. We're careful not to water too much since these containers don't drain. The plants seem not to be bothered by our breaking apart their rootballs for planting. We do have to protect the seed pies from coons who like to dig in any fresh soil.

Pepper Species

In our garden here in central Florida zone 9a/9b, Capsicum chinense pepper plants thrive 3+ years producing hundreds of fruits while Capsicum annuum plants barely produce 2 fruits before dying. We think this is because Capsicum chinense is much better adapted to our climate, particularly the humidity. So we think the following basic data may be a valuable guide in choosing pepper varieties: Capsicum annuum is especially productive in warm and dry climates. Capsicum baccatum is the domesticated pepper of choice of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile (highlands). Capsicum chinense is native to Central America, the Yucatan region, and the Caribbean islands. We've experienced a challenge with wildly variable heat among hot pepper fruit, even among fruits on the same plant, with a huge impact on dish prep.

Planting Bare Root Trees

Bare root is a way to ship deciduous trees that minimizes shipping costs because they can survive without soil when dormant. After we receive shipment of bare root trees we unpack them immediately, keep their roots moist, and keep them in shade with fresh air and a temperature between 40F and 80F. We plant them in the soil with the highest root immediately below the soil line and no deeper. This is extremely important because we found that in general the highest root is the only reliable indicator of the root crown. If the tree is planted deeper, the stalk/trunk above the root crown can be fatally attacked by fungus. Two of our bare root trees were killed by such fungus as a result of our mis-identifying the root crowns and planting too deep.

Mango Embryo: Mono vs Poly

Indian mango varieties are mostly monoembryonic while Indochinese mango varieties are mostly polyembryonic. In the case of mangos, monoembryonic means the seed contains one embryo that is not a clone of the mother plant, and polyembryonic means the seed may contain multiple embryos, all except one being clones of the mother plant. Not well-documented is the fact that some polyembryonic varietes, in particular the small yellow fruits commonly sold in US groceries, produce mostly monoembryonic seeds. So if one seeks to grow clones of the mother plant, one must cut open the woody seed hull of several or even many grocery fruits to find one that is polyembryonic. Here is an image comparing mono & poly mango embryos. The poly embryo has multiple attached parts.



Heirloom and Compost

Heirloom varieties of garden plants were selected in compost gardens so these are most likely to thrive in compost. We see how positive things tend to be connected.

How to Remove a Tree

We have a lot of tall skinny trees that need removing to increase sunlight for our food forest. We need to control a tree's direction of fall to prevent it hitting the house. We saw the tree in the direction we want it to fall to the point just before the remaining wood becomes too weak to hold the tree up. We then tie a rope to the tree as high up as we can get with our 8 ft ladder. We then pull on the rope to bring the tree down.

How to Climb a Tree

If you have tall, skinny trees that need pruning, and the lowest branch is out of reach, you can make a climber out of rope.

Get 16 feet of natural fiber rope strong enough to support your weight, cut it in half, and make two identical climbers like so: make a 2 inch diameter loop, using a loop knot, at one end, the diameter being large enough so other knots in the rope easily pass through. Next, make a 10 inch diameter double circle loop 3 feet from the 2 inch loop end, using a loop knot. Tie the double circle together using string. This is the foot loop, and is large enough for most size boots to fit through. The double circle is for comfort. The 3 foot length between these loops will go around up to 1 foot diameter trees. Adjust these parameters according to your needs. Next, cut off any remaining rope.

Loop one of the climbers around the base of a tree, and put the foot loop, knot and all, through the 2 inch loop, step into the foot loop and support your weight on it. Now do it again 2 feet up on the tree with the second climber, and your other foot. If the tree is smooth enough, you can raise a climber without removing your foot from it, while standing in the other climber. Don't forget to attach your pruning saw to yourself in some way. Note that natural fiber has the best grip but also the least strength. Take your time, and be safe.

Hand Saw

We've had great luck with our pruning saw cutting tree trunks/branches. The saw blade is curved with cross-cut teeth. Curved pruning blades allow for less lateral force for the same amount of cutting, and cross-cut teeth are symmetric in shape so that it cuts in both directions of the blade movement. The blade cost us $2 and we attached it to a board 0.5" x 1.25" x 4' by cutting a slot in one end and securing the blade with two bolts/nuts. After a couple of years of great service, the blade began to jam in the wood as the depth of the cut grew more than 0.5" or so, due to the blade losing its set. Blade set is the protrusion of the teeth sideways, in alternation, to cut a slot that is wider then the blade to prevent jamming. To set the blade, we hold it with heavy-duty needle-nose piers, and clench a small pair of vise-grips on each tooth, bending it out about 1/32 inch. Sharpening is done with a small triangle file. After setting/sharpening, it cut easily through a 7 inch camphor tree trunk in 2 minutes of sawing. Sharpness of tooth point is vital because if it rolls over the wood then it doesn't matter how sharp is the rest of the edge.

Banana Timing

Most of our banana plants are Dwarf Cavendish, leaf tips reaching 10 ft, in our Zone 9a/9b in Central Florida. We allow one plant to fruit at a time per root mat, removing pups accordingly. Our main challenge is choosing which pup to be the next adult in the root mat, given the challenges of growing this tropical species in our subtropical environment.

One problem is that a plant flowering in late fall is slow to mature its fruit due to the cold killing most of its leaves. A plant that is not flowering in fall can grow more leaves in spring before it flowers, but a plant that has alreadly flowered depends on existing leaves to carry the fruit through maturity. We think pups around 1 to 3 feet to leaf tip at start of spring are candidates for removal (because these are most likely to flower in late fall the next year) so that pups of other sizes may be able to fruit before winter, or during winter with enough leaves. If the adult in a root mat is killed by a freeze, it's the same scenario because this will shift the next pup's schedule up a full year, causing a 1 to 3 foot pup to flower in fall of the current year instead of the next year. Such schedules will of course vary with the usual factors, such as shade, soil, weather, etc.

Another problem is that enduring a cold winter (or other adverse condition such as inadequate nutrients) will stunt rather than slow growth resulting in a smaller yield of fruit on the same schedule. We think smaller/younger plants are not affected by cold as much as larger/older plants. We think pups emerging in spring would enter next winter at 3 to 6 feet high and be adversely affected so it's best to remove these and keep only pups emerging in fall so that they will enter winter below 3 feet. Plants entering winter at full size will produce a full yield after flowering in either winter or spring, so long as they are not killed by winter freeze.

Plant Feeding Cycle

Plant a tree and each year's crop is the size of its nutritional input, which is its own dropped leaves/roots from the previous year. Add a companion plant and prune/turn under 1/3 of its foliage each year and a portion of its lost foliage/roots suppliment the size of the tree crop. Pawpaw Patch



Copyright (c) 2005, 2006, 2007 Robert Drury
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