Saturday, September 9, 2023

Moringa oleifera

Moringa oleifera is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant tree that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is also known as the drumstick tree, the horseradish tree, or the miracle tree. Moringa is a highly nutritious plant that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of health conditions.

Moringa is relatively easy to cultivate and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11, or it can be grown as an annual crop in colder climates. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The trees will quickly grow to a height of 10-20 feet. To encourage leaf production and to make harvesting easier, keep the trees topped to force a more bushy habit. Moringa trees can be harvested for their leaves, flowers, seeds, or pods throughout the year.

Moringa leaves and flowers can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried. They can also be made into a powder or tea. The leaves have 7 times more vitamin C than oranges, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots, 17 times more calcium than milk, 9 times more protein than yoghurt, 15 times more potassium than bananas, and 25 times more iron than spinach, according to the National Institute of Nutrition in India (Gopalan C., B.V. Rama Sastri & S.C. Balasubramanian. 1981. Nutritive values of Indian foods. National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research, Hyderabad, India).

The tender young pods can be eaten raw or cooked.

Moringa seeds can be eaten raw or roasted. They can also be pressed for oil that is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid.

Some of the benefits of using moringa include reduced blood sugar levels, lowered cholesterol levels and boosted immunity. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Piper sarmentosum (wild betel, lolot)

 Piper sarmentosum is an herbaceous perennial, native to Southeast Asia, but is now cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

It is a popular culinary herb in its native land. The leaves are used to wrap meat and other foods, and they can also be eaten raw in salads. They have a mild herbal flavor that complements a variety of dishes. They are also good in soups and vegetable dishes.

Photo courtesy of one of my customers.

The leaves are dark green and glossy, and about 4 inches across. Thin, erect stems grow to a height of about 2-3 feet, and send out runners that root at each node where it touches the soil.

The plant also produces small, white flowers in spikes.

Piper sarmentosum will grow in sun or shade. The leaves are usually larger and darker green in the shade. Plants in full sun may need additional watering to look their best. This species is recommended for USDA Zones 9-12. Propagation is by transplanting the rooted runners.

The plant is known as "wild betel" because its leaves are similar in appearance to the closely related betel leaves, but these have a milder flavor. 

Lolot has a long history of medicinal use. The plant has traditionally been used to treat a variety of conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, cough, fever, and rheumatism. Recent research has confirmed some of these traditional uses, and lolot is now being investigated for its potential to treat other diseases as well. The plant has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties. Lolot is a safe and effective herb for most people, but it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using it if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any underlying health conditions.

Photo courtesy of one of my customers.

Related reading: Piper auritum

Friday, January 7, 2022

The history of our farm

This year our farm is celebrating 35 years of growing in this location, but the history of the land goes back much further than that.

Human populations have been living in this region for thousands of years. Paleo-americans were in the area as early as 14,000 years ago. Occupation by native tribes continued through the Archaic, Mount Taylor and St. Johns periods of pre-history. By the 1500s the Timucua were the main tribe. In the 1700s the Seminoles moved into the area and became the dominant population.

European immigrants arrived and the original survey of this land was completed in 1848. The Bureau of Land Management designated it as available to homestead in 1862, and the first settlers started arriving around 1877. The BLM made the original homestead grant of this property to Swedish immigrant Otto F. Johnson in 1890. He lived to age 72 and is buried in the local cemetery.

This land was part of the thriving Swedish colony of Piedmont in 1890. The Florida Central and Peninsula Railroad station was constructed that same year, and there was a small store and schoolhouse. Residents cultivated citrus, grapes, produce, livestock and poultry.

In 1889 The Piedmont Winery produced 3360 gallons of wine made from oranges and local muscadine grapes, and shipped wine as far as Nebraska. The Piedmont sawmill operated from the late 1890s until the 1920s.

The Piedmont post office opened in 1903 to serve 75 residents in 17 homes. It operated until 1922. Eventually the mailing addresses in Piedmont were shifted to Apopka, and the little community became a historical memory. When I bought this property in 1987 the post office building was still standing and was visible from my house. It burned to the ground a few years later. There are at least two homes still standing that date to around 1900.

I haven't been able to trace the ownership or land use of my farm between Otto Johnson and the early 1950s, but there is an old concrete foundation on my property that dates to that time period. A pecan grove and the remains of an ancient citrus grove still existed here in the late 1980s.

Piedmont resident John Ipsen at his home circa 1890.

Without a doubt, I have created the most diverse agricultural use this land has ever seen, while still maintaining a natural setting. I hope future caretakers of this land will continue on this path.

I leave off with a photo of a community gathering on or near my farm circa 1910. My house faces Blue Lake, where this photo was taken.

As we celebrate our 35 years, follow our Facebook page to get notifications of our giveaways and special deals all this year!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Alpinia hainanensis

Alpinia hainanensis is a large, fast-growing species of ginger. At first glance, one might assume it is a shell ginger, but there are several key distinctions. 

This species grows about 6 feet tall and tolerates sun or shade. Flowers appear in spring at the top of all mature canes. The inflorescence is an arching cluster of a couple dozen flowers, opening in sequence. 

The floral buds are soft pink and open to reveal a reddish throat and large, bright yellow lip marked by red striations.

Pollinated flowers develop into round green fruits that develop over the summer. 

By late summer, the seedpods mature and turn bright orange. They keep good color throughout the winter. It is these orange fruits, and the seeds inside, that are grated and used as a cardamom substitute.

Alpinia hainensis multiplies by long rhizomes that spread out underground from each cane. 

This results in a fast-spreading plant with canes spaced a foot or more apart. The canes are evergreen and will live for several years.

The leaves are about 30 inches long, and glossy, with distinctive ruffled edges. The leaves and stems are highly fragrant when brushed against.

The native region of Alpinia hainanensis is south-east Asia. It is one of the hardiest of the Alpinias, surviving underground in USDA Zone 8, although flowering won't occur where the canes freeze back.

Propagation is normally by division of the rhizomes, but it is also easily grown from seed.

There is a horticultural cultivar sold under the name 'Pink Perfection'.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ipomoea macrorhiza (pink moonvine, large-root morning glory)

Ipomoea macrorhiza has beautiful nocturnal flowers and an edible root. It is a true perennial; the vines go dormant in the winter and sprout from the short stem at the top of the root in the spring.

The vines twine around upright supports as they grow, and seem to do little branching. They start blooming at a height of about 6-7 feet. This species will also grow as a groundcover if there is nothing to climb on.

Flower buds often appear in clusters at each node. The buds at a single node generally do not open on the same night, instead blooms will be scattered along the vine each night during the bloom period. Flowering occurs in late summer.

The pale pink flowers are about 4 inches across, and have a purple throat. The deep tubular throat is nearly as deep as the flower is wide. There is no detectable scent.

The triangular leaves have a crinkled appearance, especially when young. The furled leaves and growing tips appear white.

Native Americans cultivated this plant for its large, starchy roots.

During the dormant season, the root can be harvested and eaten, either raw or cooked. Its flavor, color and texture is nearly identical to jicama.

The dry, brown seedpods contain several fuzzy seeds.

Even seedlings only a few weeks old already have a thick, elongated root.

Ipomoea macrorhiza is native to the Southeastern U.S. It is recommended for USDA Zones 7-10.

This species is also known as pink moonvine and large-root morning glory.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Senna mexicana var. chapmanii (Bahama senna)

Among all the species in the Cassia/Senna group, Senna mexicana is one of the most desirable to grow. It flowers nearly continuously throughout the year, providing plenty of color in the landscape. It also generally grows no more than 3 to 4 feet tall, making it easier to manage in small landscapes and butterfly gardens.

Yes, this is a great butterfly plant, serving as a larval food plant for the Cloudless Sulphur, Orange-barred Sulphur, and Sleepy Orange butterflies.

Senna mexicana is native to Central and South America, the Caribbean, and South Florida.
It is recommended for USDA Zones 9b - 11, but stays small enough to be container-grown anywhere.

It will grow in full sun to light shade. Although flowering is probably best in full sun, mine bloom well with only a couple of hours of late-afternoon sunlight.

The evergreen leaves are alternate and pinnate. Flowers are followed by flat, dry pods that turn brown when mature.

Established plants are drought-tolerant, and they are also salt-tolerant, making this a good choice for coastal plantings.

Propagation is usually by seed.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rose apple (Syzygium jambos)

Syzygium jambos is a small tree or large shrub bearing delicious yellow fruits with the flavor of rosewater.
The yellow blooms are borne in clusters at the ends of the previous season's growth. In subtropical locations flowering usually occurs in spring. The flowers consist of numerous stamens and one stigma, and the trees are quite showy when in bloom.

The clusters of yellow fruits ripen 3 months after flowering. Individual fruits are about an inch in diameter. When fully ripe they will drop from the tree, but they can be picked once they have turned from green to solid yellow.

The fruits are hollow and usually contain 1 or 2 seeds. The flesh is slightly crunchy and somewhat dry, but with an amazing aroma and flavor reminiscent of rosewater. They are usually eaten fresh, but can also be made into jams, jellies, or syrup.

The seeds are dark brown, and have a rough, almost sandpaper texture.They are poly-embryonic and may produce 1 to 3 seedlings from each seed.

Syzygium jambos grows to about 20-30 feet tall, often with multiple trunks. Some specimens get much larger. Leaves are opposite, lanceolate, and about 8 inches long by 2 inches wide.

New growth is a coppery-red color, gradually turning dark green as the leaves harden off.
The bark on the trunk is gray and slightly furrowed.

This species is believed to be native to Southeast Asia, but is grown in tropical and subtropical climates around the world. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9b-11.

Propagation is generally by seed, but air-layers are also possible. Cuttings have a low success rate.

Syzygium jambos is commonly known as Rose Apple.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Zamia maritima (cardboard plant)

Zamia maritima is a cycad, a taxonomic branch that has existed virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Its thick, firm leaflets are the reason it is often known as cardboard plant.
The leaf petioles are covered with numerous stiff prickles.

The natural spread of mature plants is about 4 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide, so give them some room in the landscape. Although the leaves can remain on the plant in good condition for several years, each year sees just one flush of new leaves all at once.

On young plants the leaves grow in a rosette around a single growing point, as in the first photo.
As it matures, the plant has a clumping growth habit, and increases in diameter by splitting off new growing points, each with their own rosette of leaves. This is the same plant 5 years later:

The individual plants are either male or female, and can be identified by their blooms, which appear in early summer.

Male plants produce slender, upright, tan/brown cones.

Female plants produce cones that are fatter, and with larger segments.

Male plants produce their cones in large quantities, and male plants also tend to form more offsets.

The seeds develop inside the cone for 7-8 months, then the cone splits open to reveal the bright red, glossy fruits.

The fruits are toxic to dogs. If you are concerned about your pets, plant male specimens, or remove the female cones any time before they split open.

Zamia maritima is native to Mexico, and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11. It will grow in sun or shade, and also makes a durable houseplant. This species is drought-tolerant, as well as salt-tolerant, and can be used in beach-side plantings.

Propagation is by seed.