Yesterday was YamFest, Andy Firk’s annual event celebrating, teaching, and swapping perennial vegetation fit for human consumption. Nate and I have been a part of the permaculture, plant-focused, Latin-name knowing (though we don’t, but many old-timers do) crowd for a little while now, but you learn that 2 years of experience putting some green things in dirt and smashing squash bugs doesn’t amount to a whole lot when you encounter people that do this full time post-retirement or for a living and have been for many more years than that.
Lunch was delicious – the most legitimate potluck I’ve had in a while.
Someone (I don’t recall his name) brought wild boar! Best pork Ever.
YamFest was held at H.E.A.R.T. in Lake Wales this year. It was supposed to be at ECHO in Ft. Myers, but there was a snafu somewhere communicating with those in charge of large events at ECHO – but I’m glad it was where it was because the location was amazing and because there wouldn’t have been a plant/seed swap if it were located at ECHO. I’m a sucker for swaps because I love getting new plants and seeds, but it’s become more of an opportunity for me to justify my somewhat out of control seed collecting habit. If I can share the seeds with other people and lessen my behemoth collection, then I don’t have to feel at all bad about getting more seeds when I find that next interesting thing that I just have to grow.
Plant Swap- we came away with a soap ginger, katuk cuttings, some seeds, a corkscrew mulberry cutting, and a few other goodies
Nate finally got to try a miracle fruit!
Nate and I had a conversation on the drive back about a few points that were raised that we didn’t entirely, but partially disagree with. Josh Jamison talked about how annuals are put into a wound – a gap in growth so to speak – and that open earth and full sun that annuals need is creating a need for healing (I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s the general idea). He did give the caveat that he’s not saying it’s the only way to grow things, but I tend to think caveats are given for the sake of being nice and diplomatic (which he was) and not necessarily because the speaker actually thinks those things.
So H.E.A.R.T stands for Hunger Education and Resource Training and they are a part of Warner University in Lake Wales, set up with the intention of training Christian students for missions overseas (or not if they head down to South America) and abroad with the expectation that they will be living in much more primitive environments and not have access to common amenities and the Western ways of acquiring food (the corner store, grocery store, refrigerators, etc.). So with that expectation, the students live in primitive housing (less primitive than I expected, they looked like cement buildings and trailers with no electric), they use latrines/outhouses (lemme just say I prefer this method to a portable toilet any day), and they raise their own food in the gardens, including their own livestock – from birth to the plate as our tour guide put it.
Because this program is designed to work largely in areas that have a great deal of heat (sub tropical and tropical mostly), not a great deal of infrastructure, and an expectation of generally poor economies the benefit to the way things are grown at H.E.A.R.T. is that the perennials provide a great deal of food all year long, they help repair the environment, they require minimal outside investment from fertilizers, and they require minimal work to maintain and grow. I agree this is beneficial. I also agree that generally speaking, an ecosystem and environment that mimics the natural forest and the climates it creates that benefit all animals involved, including humans, is the ideal. It seems, though, that annuals are being given a bad wrap. Let’s not forget that Native Americans cultivated corn and beans – annuals. They did so in pretty large quantities, too, as far as I can tell. They just did it in such a way that they weren’t damaging the land in the process and they balanced their system with their annuals and the perennials around them – relying on things like acorns and hunting just as much as their annual production, storing food through the winter in smoked larders or some other place, safe from the elements and scavengers.
It’s also important to remember that while there are perennials that exist throughout many climates, the majority of the plants cultivated at H.E.A.R.T. – probably 60-80% I’d guess – wouldn’t survive the cold if you went 2 states North of Florida. Again, don’t get me wrong, I think what they’re doing is great, but I also think remembering that methods of food survival and preservation extend far beyond that of making sure you have plants growing all year round that will feed you – sometimes making sure you have food all year round means working harder through the warm months and storing up food that you either grew, gathered, or hunted – and often annuals play at least a partial role in that.
Tindora, a delicious cucumber-like vine, that we were lucky enough to acquire through Andy
Looking for ripe Tindora fruits – they turn bright orangey-red when they are fully ripe.
Lots of insects in the area enjoying the plants as much as we were.
Tree Spinach? I should’ve taken notes on my pictures. I don’t remember what this is.
Aerial yam tuber – this is how yams are propagated. Just plant one of those aerial guys in the ground and wait.
The annual garden
Bat poop! They go to a local bridge and shovel this stuff out in large enough quantities that it’s a primary fertilizer at H.E.A.R.T.
Josh Jamison’s baby – the edible air potato. Which, thanks to the USDA in FL releasing beetles that eat the air potato, may not have much of a chance to become the next big edible crop. Drat!
They’re only about the weirdest looking crop of plants ever.
Air potato flower tendrils!
The flowers up close
A tiny guy developing tendrils along with an aerial just starting to form
Despite knowing this is an edible, I know enough to stay away from things that look so much like poisonous crops. I don’t trust my ID skills that much.
I think this was a weed flower.
Canna edulis, which is NOT arrowroot despite what my initial google searches of that name led me to believe. Edible tubers.
Edible hibiscus flower, closed.
Bitter melon, unripe.
Bitter melon, ripe. Edible, but needs a boil to take the sharp bitterness out. Haven’t tried it myself.
Papaya paired with sweet potatoes
Student garden. Comparing various fertilizers
Biochar kiln (is kiln the correct term for that?)
I heard the ducks from afar – it sounded just like our house.
Learning about biochar
Digging up a purple ube
Look at that beaut!
Edible leaves on this; don’t recall the name
Only one of the largest pepper plants I’ve ever seen
I didn’t have much luck using tired in the garden, but if we ever did swales and berms, they’d come in handy – and I really loved these tire stairs.
Rabbitry. Love that their rabbits are all fed from the gardens. We’re working toward that.
Don’t tell – there is some water hyacinth (edible bulbs) and water spinach (edible leaves) in here – but both are considered highly invasive. They’re contained in a greenhouse so they can’t spread at will.
Nate and I came away from the whole thing realizing just how much more we have to learn about plants. We feel like total plant nerds, especially when we talk to people at work about what we do, but when we get around the veterans of the trade, we recognize all over again just where we stand on the sliding scale of plant knowledge.
Beautiful property, beautiful day.
Thank you Andy Firk and Josh Jamison for you awesome talks! Thanks Andy for hosting the event, and thanks to everyone that was there and got to share in such an awesome plant-nerd experience with us. Like Andy said, gardening is really just an excuse to make friends, and we enjoy meeting new people and learning new things – especially when those things can help make the world a better place for anyone involved.