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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
South Shore News

Visit the country’s largest neem farm in Brandon


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Some people garden for fun, food or beauty, but Vicki Parsons could hardly garden at all because of her sensitivity to the toxins so often used. She was determined to find a way, though she couldn’t even walk through a garden store without her head hurting.

Then she read about neem and decided to experiment. She is still experimenting.

Her first question was would the neem trees grow here? They are native to India and need warm winters, which we most often have. Although a cold winter can zap them to the ground, once the root system is mature, the plants usually come back. They have in my garden.

And then would the parts of the neem tree do all the amazing things that some research said they would do? Vicki found out they do even more.

Neem was considered by ancients as the healer of all ailments and has been the cornerstone of the Ayurvedic medical system for 5,000 years. Today experts consider neem a tree for solving global problems.

Before she knew it, Vicki was growing and selling neem leaves and trees, and her toxicity worries were in the past. Neem trees grew tall in her front yard.

In general they grow quickly in full sun, especially with our long spread of warm winters.

Now Vicki owns Neem Tree Farms, which looks like a charming house with a large yard, but if you look in the back, you will see two greenhouses that grow important plants that are seldom seen. There, on 2½ acres, zoned agricultural, she and her crew of three grow more neem trees than any one else in continental USA.

They sell Neem leaves for people who want to make their own products. In fact, she’s now shipping neem leaf to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for research.

In 2009, for the first time ever, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered full-spectrum neem oil – including azadirachtin, it’s main property – to be sold as a pesticide. Neem Tree Farms is a distributor for NimBioSysTM Neem Oil Biological Insecticide, the first retail-ready, 100 percent neem oil to be sold with an EPA-registered label. While neem is an excellent pesticide, it’s safe enough to eat the leaves.

When Dr. Oz recommended neem recently, Neem Tree Farms got so many calls and emails that Vicki decided to create a separate web page to address the questions. Check all of this and much more at neemtreefarms.com or visit the National Academy Press website to read the book that started it all, “Neem: A Tree for Solving Global Problems.”

On Saturday, Nov. 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., you’re invited to come to Neem Tree Farms, 602 Ronele Drive, in Brandon, just off Kings Avenue a block north of Bloomingdale, to see Vicki’s greenhouses full of plants, including neem and other rare herbs used in Ayurveda. It is primarily an internet business that ships across the country and is open to visitors twice a year to coincide with my Open Gardens. My fall event will be from 10 to noon.

Today’s pick is the chrysanthemum, the flower of fall. When I lived in Ohio I planted 500 cuttings in rows in my vegetable garden every spring in full sun, pinched them back as needed to keep the plants low and compact until August, and sold them each autumn, dug fresh out of the ground. The plants were nearly as big around by then as a bushel basket with dozens and dozens of flowers.

Mums are one of the few plants that can be transplanted while in bloom without any problem. These plants will grow only stems and leaves during long days, so the pinching is important. They bloom when the days are short, often in both spring and fall in Florida. They like sun and are great as cut flowers, as well.

Now’s the time to tell you I had never heard of the chop-and-drop method Vicki uses for making mulch on the spot, though I’ve been doing part of that all along. The method involves cutting off the parts of any plants and letting them drop to the ground. Then you chop it into small pieces so it doesn’t look messy.

The part I missed was planting a legume such pigeon peas or cow peas around the plants to put nitrogen into the soil. You let the peas and the weed of the season grow. Before the weeds start to make seeds, chop them. The peas can bloom and drop more seeds for continual growth.

Upcoming events

The library nearest you has free monthly clinics given by master gardeners almost every month from September through May. For subjects, times, addresses and other information, stop by or call your local library.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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