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Homemade Beef Sausage in Wild Betel Leaves

piper lolotThat’s the long description for a dish with a much shorter Vietnamese name- bo la lot. This is one of my favorite dishes to order in Vietnamese restaurants. Despite the name of the dish specifying wild betel leaves, if you order this is a restaurant you will likely get boring old grape leaves out of a jar. I’ve also seen shiso leaves substituting for la lot but I was holding out for the real thing. I finally found one of these plants at a plant sale back in April at Bamboo Grove. I’ve been nursing it along all summer. Wild betel loves water (but not too much) and fertilizer (but not too much). I’ve been feeding it dilute fish emulsion and it seems to really like it. Finally, finally the plant was big and healthy enough to harvest.

raw bo lalot

If you don’t have lalot, there are any number of reasonable substitutions. The most desirable would be fresh betel leaves, the leaves of Piper betel. These can usually be found at any well-appointed Indian grocery store and often at any grocery store catering to Indonesian and Vietnamese people, too. You can also substitute preserved grape leaves, hibiscus leaves in the South or mallow leaves in the North. I love bo la lot with cold rice noodles and salad, with nuoc cham and plenty of crushed cashews.
vietnamese dinner

Bo La Lot

1 lb ground beef, high fat content
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbl Mysore curry powder
3 large stalks of fresh lemongrass, white ends only, minced
3-4 green onions, minced
2-3 tsp fish sauce
1 tbl palm sugar (you can sub brown sugar or coconut sugar)
1 heaping tsp freshly cracked black pepper (Don’t skimp! It’s important)
1/2 tsp salt
15-20 fresh lalot leaves, or any substitution listed above.

This is making homemade sausage. It’s all about texture. Make sure to keep the beef very cold. You can use half beef and half pork, too. Take half the beef and put it in a food processor with the garlic, curry powder, lemongrass, 2 tsp of the fish sauce, and the palm sugar. Blend until it’s a smooth paste. Add the salt and pepper to the remaining cold ground beef. Then scrape the paste out of the food processor and mix with the cold ground beef by hand until the two are thoroughly mixed but the texture of the ground beef is still distinct- you don’t want the whole thing to become paste. Add the remaining teaspoon of fish sauce if the mixture seems dry.

Take the leaves and wash them carefully. Boil a small pot of water. Dunk the leaves in the boiling water. Count to ten slowly. Dump the leaves out and rinse in cold water until they’re cool enough to touch. Lay each leaf out. Put a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture in the center and carefully spread the meat out from side to side. Then roll the leaf around the meat to make a cigar shape, using a dab of the meat mixture to seal the end.

Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Do not add oil! Add as many of the rolls as you can fit in a single layer. Let them fry slowly. The beef will render enough fat to fry the rolls. Fry until lightly browned, Gently turn over and fry the other side until lightly browned. If there’s any meat mixture left over, shape into small patties and fry until cooked through. Eat while hot.

Subtropical Herb Field Trip!

Although I doggedly grow sage, thyme, and other European and Mediterranean culinary herbs every year, I know that this really isn’t the climate for them. So I’ve been finding subtropical culinary herbs to grow along with the medicinal herbs. I’ve been growing and eating different subtropical vegetables for a couple years now, finding plants that both thrive through our intensely hot & wet summers and my family will actually eat. And so far I’ve found some real winners like lambsquarters, seminole pumpkins, cassava, and taro. So a couple weeks ago I took a weekend trip south and visited two amazing places for subtropical herbs- The Mustang Flea Market in Pinellas Park and Bamboo Grove in Arcadia.
The Mustang Flea Market is 80% typical Florida flea market and 20% amazing Thai and Laotian farmers and nursery market. It was like a wonderland for me. Exotic foods everywhere! I went a little crazy buying galangal roots and hanging baskets of every southeast Asian culinary herb I didn’t already have. Then I headed further south to Arcadia and Bamboo Grove.
Somehow I didn’t get a single picture with any of the 40 or so people at the event, but here you can see the wild diversity on his farm and nursery. Plant Fest was lovely and Andy Firk’s generous spirit and hospitality are without equal. I also picked up some extremely cool plants here too. Altogether I brought home: Limnophila aromatica, Polygonum odoratum, a giant-leaf variety of Eryngium foetidum, Alpinia galanga, Alpinia officinarum, Curcuma zedoaria, Curcuma caesia, Stephania tetrandra, a couple lovely Pandanus amaryllifolius and some malanga I’m going to try growing. I’m not using common names on purpose- these plants are grown on several continents and have common names in multiple languages- how could I choose?

Eryngium foetidum is a perfect example. Despite being native to central America, this unassuming and rather spiky herb is mostly known on Caribbean islands and inexplicably, in southeast Asia and somewhat less in India. I’m not surprised that it reached there since it’s much easier to grow in hot, steamy weather than its culinary sister, cilantro. Unlike cilantro this herb thrives in part-to-full shade and needs humidity. In full sun the leaves stay small and it bolts almost immediately and dies back.

First Root Processing

I just harvested some lovely bellflower root (Platycodon grandiflorus). It’s also called jie geng (Chinese) and doraji (Korean) and used for chest colds, asthma, and congestion, opening and dispersing lung qi. It’s also well-known in Korean cuisine. This is my second year growing jie geng and I feel confident enough about growing the plant that it’s definitely getting added to the farm. Now I just have to be able to process the roots correctly.
jie gengI also re-potted most of my growing medicinal herbs nursery and split many of my zingibers- the plants in the ginger and turmeric family. The Curcuma wenyujin (Yu Jin) had grown so large that the rhizome “fingers” had pushed the plant up in the pot. I decided to harvest and dry some of the fingers for an experiment. I tasted some of the raw root- it’s incredibly strong and spicy, with a sweet & bitter edge too. Like a super-spicy/bitter carrot.
yu jinSo I let the roots dry in the shade on the porch for a day, then washed them carefully using a nail brush. Then I sliced the thicker pieces and left the thinner roots whole. I was thrilled to see the inner corona on the jie geng slices, just like what the sliced roots look like when you purchase them.
sliced jie gengSo I put them in my electric food dehydrator at 105* for 24 hours.
dry yu jinThey are definitely dry- I can snap a piece in half- but they are also shriveled up, which is not what the purchased herbs look like. The jie geng looks the same- all shriveled up. Any suggestions on why this happened? Did I dry the pieces too fast? At too high a temperature? I don’t know, I’ll have to harvest and dry more roots to find out. Next up- smilax root and comfrey root!

September Sweet Potato Harvest


The final seed distribution for the Grow Gainesville seed cooperative is next Monday so I needed to clear the raised beds for fall planting. One bed is already cleared and “resting” covered with cardboard and newspaper to discourage grass, and one bed is still full of struggling ashwagandha so the sweet potatoes in the third bed had to go. And it turned out to be a good thing, too. As with the last couple years, the white sweet potatoes (boniato) fared much better than the orange. The orange sweets are cracked and heavily chewed by larvae while the boniato are without blemish, untouched by nematode, beetle or mole. There’s fifteen pounds of sweet potatoes here but a few pounds are too damaged to be really edible. The crazy thing is that this raised bed was an experiment. The sweet potato starts were planted in yard waste- bags of oak leaves, dry plant stems, grass clippings, and some wood chips- basically a compost pile. While the sweet potatoes grew the yard waste broke down and now it’s all full of gorgeous black soil.

I’d like to avoid the insect damage and cracking next year. Cracking is caused by too much water before harvest. Instructions for avoiding cracking sweet potatoes include ” Watering should cease three to four weeks before harvest” which is laughable. We received 11 1/2″ of rain in August! If you’re supposed to harvest sweet potatoes during dry weather then we are planting sweet potatoes too *early*. We start drying out in mid-October. Maybe if I waited to plant until June then my sweet potatoes would grow during the hottest wettest months and be ready to harvest during the drier autumn?

sweetpotato3I have to admit, the sweet potato crop this year is a complete accident. In the spring I noticed sweet potato vines popping up in the garden from roots that I missed in last year’s harvest. They were not chosen in any way. Instead of ripping them out as weeds I transplanted the strongest-looking shoots into the raised bed and let the rest frolic through the forest garden. This year I’m going to try and be more methodical in digging the sweet potatoes in the forest garden and in the spring I’ll probably pull any stragglers so I can start fresh with new seedlings.


Goodbye Pumpkins


I’ve been working long hours and not getting home until after dark, so today was the first day I’ve really seen the pumpkin patch in over a week. This started as a few caterpillars in the pumpkin patch. This pumpkin patch is 15′ across. Now it’s toast.


This is a cabbage looper, the culprit in all this destruction.


And this is what cabbage loopers do. First poisoned hay and now cabbage loopers annihilate a 10-15′ pumpkin patch in a week. I think on the next dry day I’m going to rake everything in the center of the pumpkin bed and set it all on fire. These damn things pupate in plant debris so if I burn the whole patch hopefully it’ll get the pupae too.

Florida Pear Honey

It’s sand pear season again! I was browsing pear recipes on Punk Domestics and found this crazy jam recipe including pears, pineapples and ginger! I don’t know where this recipe originated, but I bet if you tracked it back far enough you would find North Central Florida. This has to be the only area of the country that both pears and pineapples are being harvested at the same time. I looked at two dozen recipes for pear honey and only a small percentage include ginger but since I have ginger growing in the back yard and I love pears and ginger together, the ginger stays. This is probably the second-best jam I’ve ever made (this grapefruit campari marmalade is still #1) but I’ll be making this every single year from now on, and if I can get fresh sand pears on my next weekend off I’ll make another batch to give as gifts. For you locals, sand pears and pineapples are available directly from local farmers at the Alachua County Farmers Market on Saturday morning. The pear season is pretty short so get’em while you can.

pineapples and pears

Also, I broke down and bought a food mill just for this recipe. I’ve needed a food mill for a while- peeling and coring more than a few pounds of fruit kills my hands- and so I broke down and bought the second-nicest food mill at our local specialty kitchen-supply store. Once I figured out how to use it the pureeing went to quickly and easily I’m kinda kicking myself for not buying one years ago.

food mill

Florida Pear Honey

8 lb sand pears
1 small ripe pineapple
1 chunk of fresh ginger
10 c sugar, preferably organic Florida blonde unbleached sugar
1/4 c lemon juice

Cut pears into fourths and then in rough chunks, no peeling or coring. Peel and core the pineapple and roughly chunk it. Puree in the blender until you have 20 ounces of puree. Grate the ginger until you have a heaping tablespoon or so. Combine everything into a large enameled pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring regularly, and cook until the pears can be mashed with a spoon. Ladle the pears and syrup through the medium plate of a food mill- you want the holes large enough that the ginger and pineapple solids pass through, but not the pear seeds. When all of the mixture is pureed, bring the mixture back to a simmer and cook until thickened slightly. This is where I screwed up! Stir the mixture often during this stage because the bottom will scorch easily. When the mixture is thickened to the consistency of honey pour into hot jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. This recipe made 8 pint jars.

pear honey

My Garden is Poisoned


This is my poor roselle bush. See the stunted, twisted growth?


This is a dwarf mulberry tree. See the cup-shaped leaves, that look like crumpled paper?


This is piper auritum, hoja santa. Note the same exact curling of the leaf edges and crumpled-paper appearance?


And the final photo, this is turmeric. Same curled edges and stunted growth.

At first I thought this was leaf-curl virus because I noticed it in the mulberry first. I just planted that mulberry and I thought it brought a virus with it, and the virus was spreading. Then I started paying attention and realized that the plants that seemed the most affected were not from related plant families. So I started looking for other plant diseases that would affect these plant families and cause these symptoms and found nothing. Other plants were affected too- greasy beans, cucumbers, the persimmon tree, and all my chile pepper plants too.

Then I remembered seeing this article on The Survival Gardener. The only thing these plants all have in common? They’re all mulched with tons of hay. Farmers spray herbicides on their hayfields to kill pigweed (amaranth) and other broadleaf weeds. Then they harvest the hay and the herbicide is still there. I purchased a big roll of hay in the spring off of Craigslist. I asked the guy if he used herbicides and he said no, so I didn’t think anything else about it until now. Once I saw the herbicide-poison photos, I took all these photos and sent them to The Farm Doctor. She agreed that it looks like herbicide poisoning.

So tomorrow I get to rake up all the damn hay all over the garden and hope that whatever herbicide this is, it disperses quickly. The irony here is that the herbicide-laced hay mulch doesn’t seem to have affected the “weeds” in the garden whatsoever!

Top Five Native Plants to Attract Pollinators

Here are my recommendations for native plants to plant for the following conditions:

No supplemental irrigation needed
Attracts native pollinators like bees, butterflies and wasps
Either perennial or self-seeding annual

beach sunflower

1. Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) This sprawling perennial will bring all the native bees to your yard. It’s also an excellent groundcover, will take light foot traffic, blooms from late spring to the first hard freeze, and produces a huge amount of biomass for chop & drop. It does spread from seed so it will hop around your yard but doesn’t seem to smother other plants. It needs relatively rich soil and full sun.


2. Florida Pusley (Richardia scabra) Pusley is a really unfortunate name for a neat groundcover that also brings the tiny native bees. You probably already have this in your yard if you look for it. I let this “weed” grow freely in my lawn and on the edges of beds. Small native bees love the tiny white flowers and the plants are also host to some moths and butterfly larvae.


3. Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) Give this plant room! It needs sun and relatively rich soil, but no extra water. The large orange flat blossoms are stunning. I grow this plant in my forest garden primarily for chop & drop and feeding the bees in the late summer. Since most fruit trees bloom here in the early spring, to keep the bees hanging around you have to provide them plenty of food all year.


4. Ironweed, either Giant (Vernonia gigantea) or Common (Vernonia augustifolia) These lovely plants also need sun and room- they get large and self-seed prolifically. Excellent for chop & drop if you can catch them before they go to seed. Wasps love ironweed and so do butterflies and hummingbirds!

dotted horsemint

5. Spotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata) This one is included in the list because even though it has a shorter blossoming window, the bees, flies, small butterflies, wasps, and beetles make a cloud around this plant when it’s in full bloom. Self-seeding annual, mild medicinal herb for chills and fever, has a spicy taste similar to oregano but slightly more bitter.

These five plants can be found at the native plant sales in the Spring and Fall at Morningside, you can purchase seeds, or you can collect seeds in the wild and seed it yourself.

Chinese (and Ayurvedic!) Herbs in July, Part 2

Here’s some more of the herbs I’m currently growing.

ashwagandha july

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) grows easily and well here. Unlike many other medicinal herbs it does have some pests and diseases, but so far nothing too dire. I found out recently that the medicinal quality of ashwagandha roots supposedly decreases after one year, so the three year old plants I’m harvesting this fall might not be higher quality after all, but they sure smell and taste strong with no discolored core or soft spots. I may keep these to experiment with their medicinal action myself. I love growing ashwagandha and expect this to be a main crop for the farm.

jiang huang july

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is well known all over the world but few people realize how easy it is to grow. It’s easy to grow but tricky to grow well. I’ve been trying to discover the sweet spot with my turmeric patch and now that the rainy season is here I expect rapid growth. I think turmeric is probably going to be the farm money-maker.

bringraj july

Bringhraj (Eclipta alba) is a fun and easy plant to grow. I missed the time of highest quality to harvest it, which was apparently about a months ago, since it has declined rapidly with the onset of the rainy season. I don’t think this will sell well so I probably won’t grow it at the farm.

gotu kola july

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) This plant loves water. In fact, if you don’t give it enough water it will die back within a day or two. Gotu Kola cannot withstand drought at all. As easy as this plant is to grow, I don’t have any swampy areas at the farm and don’t want to commit to the amount of irrigation this plants prefers, so I probably will not try to grow it commercially.

gao liang jiang july

Gao Liang Jiang/Galangal (Alpinia galanga) this delightful plant is one of my favorite gingers to grow. It’s definitely more cold-hardy than some of the other gingers and thrives in deep mulch and morning sun. This fall I will be splitting this thick patch. This is a primary “soup herb” but is also used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

zingibers july

This is my secret stash. I’m hoping gingers are going to be the backbone of the farm, and my collection of medicinal gingers is growing- Cao Guo/black cardamom, E Zhu/zedoary, Curcuma wenyujin/Yu Jin, and Alpinia katsumadai/Cao Dou Kou. The cao guo and cao dou kou are still up in the air, since the medicinal part is the fruit and I don’t know if the darn things are going to flower in this area, much less fruit. But I have high hopes.

Other herbs that have tested well in trials: Achyranthes bidentata/Chuan Niu Xi, Motherwort/Yi Mu Cao, Luffa cylindrica/Si Gua Luo

Herbs to test next year: Suan zao ren, Chuan lian zi, Ban zhi lian, Zhi zi, and a couple other vines and small trees.

Chinese Herbs in July

So we are halfway through the year and it’s time to check in on the herb test beds.

bai ji july

Bai Ji (Bletilla striata) This is an effortless little plant, well-suited to part-shade and rich free-draining soil. It’s multiplying slowly in this little patch but it is multiplying. I’m looking forward to transplanting this out to the farm and propagating it more aggressively.

ban xia july

Ban Xia (Pinellia ternata) is a new addition. It’s staying in a pot until I can find out if it’s as invasive in Florida as it in Pennsylvania and New York. Considering that the part you harvest is the roots, “weedy” might be a good thing.

dang shen july

Dang Shen (Codonopsis pilosula) is a plant I’d really like to grow but it really does not love the Florida sun. It’s easy to start from seeds but difficult to keep alive through our dry springtime and full sun anytime after noon fries it. These are the most successful plants yet, in pots with regular watering, fish emulsion, and about an hour of morning sun. I think Codonopsis will thrive in the forest farm.

gou qi zi july

Gou Qi (Lycium barbarum) This little plant has been another struggle. I originally had this planted as the bush layer in a full-sun polyculture with pomegranate trees and beach sunflower but it never grew and was often completely leafless. I moved it into an area with afternoon shade and it’s finally flowering and sporadically fruiting. After three years I’m confident saying that while Goji berries are fun to grow they aren’t productive enough here to be a commercial crop.

ginkgo july

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is the tree that produces Bai Guo, which is the fruit of the female tree. I planted this ginkgo about four months ago after an unhappy winter in a large pot. It survived and is finally stretching its legs a bit. I say “its” because I won’t know until maturity whether this little tree is a boy or a girl. If it’s a boy I can still harvest the leaves.

huang qi july

Huang Qi (Astragalus membranaceous) This is one test crop that is only a maybe. Poor astragalus does not love the heat and wanted far more water than I was willing to give it through the dry spring. It may be the lack of inoculant but the seeds germinated readily enough, the plant is just not thriving. I’ve just given this patch a good dose of composted chicken manure so I’ll be watching how it grows through the rainy season.

jie geng july

Jie Geng (Platycodon grandiflorus) is a definite yes. It grew easily and well, has beautiful blooms, seemed to thrive in the heat, and produced beautiful succulent roots. I was very happy with last year’s test plot and will grow it more intensively this spring to gather data on root yield, inputs, etc.

ku shen july

Ku Shen (Sophora flavescens) These little seedlings are being held in pots until I can plant them at the farm. They will grow to large bushes up to 6′ tall. Keeping plants like this in pots long-term is definitely teaching me about keeping a plant nursery- mainly, that potted plants in Florida need constant fertilizer because the rain washes the nutrients right through.

pi pa ye july

Pi Pa Ye (Eriobotrya japonica) is the leaf of the loquat tree. Loquats grow all over the place here so this is an easy choice. There is already a feral loquat growing at the farm but I grafted an improved fruit variety onto this one.

xuan shen july

Xuan Shen (Scrophularia ningpoensis) This plant has been an interesting experiment. I started a whole pack of xuan shen seeds back in February… and got close to 100% germination. I let the seedlings get too big in the germination tray and killed at least half of them transplanting them into starter pots. Then I held them in the starter pots too long, let them get too stressed, and gave them too much sun so most of the bolted and tried to go to seed before I got them in the ground. I decided to cut off the flowers and seed pods and plant them anyway and they have grown some but they’ve been stunted and twisted. I planted five in huge pots at the acupuncture school’s garden at least a month earlier and those plants are tall and gorgeous. I will probably pull these plants in the fall and start over. If I can get the timing right, I think this will be an easy crop to grow here.

xie bai july

Xie Bai (Allium macrostemon) is a gimme. This is an easy crop here in full sun and will be even easier in bright shade.

Whew! That’s about half. I’ll post the rest tomorrow.

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