A native bumble bee

We appreciate the ecological importance of native bees. We grow flowers in our permaculture polyculture guilds that attract bees. This bee is pollinating grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum.

First swallowtail butterfly of the year!

Beneficial insects are a key ingredient in successful permaculture gardening, providing pollination services, pest control, and showing us beauty. Wild animals are highly useful in permaculture landscapes. They are especially important in vegan permaculture gardens, which are not animal-free.

Never forget the usefulness of beauty, especially during these difficult Anthropocene times. We require beauty to thrive as human beings.

Our dear friend Robin moved in with us just before the Covid-19 pandemic became a problem. They helped us dig a hole for our new dwarf apple tree today; we are very grateful for their help as both LynnAnnRose and I have extensive osteoarthritis due to birth defects and accidents. They are an artist and hairdresser with an eye for beauty. They noticed the swallowtail and took wonderful photographs.

More pics of the apple tree and permaculture garden-in-progress tomorrow.

Lorna sass Interview 2010: Part II

Nationally-known cookbook author and food writer Lorna Sass interviewed me on Feb. 21, 2010. See Part I, Part II, and Part III.

I’m wearing one of my handwoven tunics. In this second video I talk about how I became a vegetarian in college. I later interned for Farm Sanctuary taking undercover videos in Pennsylvania stockyards. Watching the horrific abuse made me a vegan. I also talk about my early effort to write a cookbook based on foods that grow well at high elevation. Finding a word-processor in a dumpster was a big help to creating the first edition of my book, Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains (now in its fourth edition). I also discuss how I became interested in baking sourdough bread. I explain the feeding schedule for my sourdough starter and show off my Lehman’s grain grinder

This brand new book by a beekeeper and gardener with a lifetime of experience is a great addition to any gardener’s, wildlife enthusiast’s, or beekeeper’s library. Whether you just want to help out struggling native or honeybee populations being decimated by colony collapse disorder, or you are a food gardener who wants to attract pollinators, or you are a beekeeper, this book is the go-to reference guide for bee-friendly gardening. Other species of pollinators will benefit, too.

Author Peter Lindtner has been head horticulturist at the world-renowned E.I. DuPont Garden at Hagley Museum, the original site of the DuPont company, for more than 30 years. I know Lindtner. He live lives a few miles away from where my family lived in Delaware. His daughter is friends with my sister. Lindtner is a Czech immigrant, while his wife is a Hungarian immigrant, so our families have a shared ethnic history. His daughter helped him with computer and internet-related book tasks.

From the book Introduction: “Have you ever wondered why honey bees are more attracted to certain flowering plants and not others?  Which flowering plants are better sources of nectar and pollen?  What can we do and how can we promote honey bee friendly gardens?  What are the best trees, shrubs and plants we can plant to maximize honey production?”

“My interest in honey bee attracting plants began when I was 15 years old. … During my studies for my Masters Degree in Plant Science, at the University of Delaware, I conduct(ed) research on the pollen collection from four beehives in a specific location. I collected pollen pellets for eight months, twice a week, beginning in early March through November. During this time I produced thousands of color slides, black and white pictures, and images from a scan electron microscope. I have selected approximately 700 of these images to illustrate this book.”

“Beekeepers should be familiar with nectar and pollen plants surrounding their apiaries to maintain successful honey producing beehives.  They can encourage park authorities, garden owners and nature lovers to plant more bee attractive plants which will bloom throughout the growing season.”

“Small gardens provide a more natural and organic environment for honey bees since they typically aren’t sprayed with poisonous chemicals unlike monocultures which are sprayed systematically.  This strongly supports my idea in using garden plants for improving “bee pasture” (the significance of wild and cultivated plants, bushes and trees that supply forage for bees with plentiful nectar and/or pollen). “

Buy the book from Wicwas Press. Amazon has a “Look Inside” feature for the book on its Kindle edition page.


Prickly pear cacti provide food & dye in the desert

A flowering wild prickly pear cactus on the way to Prescott, Arizona at around 5,500 feet elevation. What a gorgeous sunny Arizona day!

A vegetable & a fruit

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

All prickly pear cacti (Opuntia spp.) have edible pads (nopales in Spanish) and delicious fruit. Each fruit variety tastes a little different. Prickly pear cacti grow wild across the Western U.S. There are many species, and they hybridize easily in the wild. Purchase varieties suited to your microclimate(s) at a native plant nursery or collect seeds or root cuttings of plants collected nearby. Domesticated varieties with small spines are from Mexico; domesticated nopales and fruit are sold at locally owned grocery stores in Arizona.

I have a couple of safe canning recipes for prickly pear juice that I created in The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair trade foods.

A food for a natural dye source

Cochineal scale insects (Dactylopius spp.) parasitize prickly pear cacti. They produce carminic acid, a red dye, to deter being eaten by other insects (carminic acid does not taste good to other insects). Carminic acid dyes protein fibers (wool, silk, soy silk, milk fiber). Cochineal insects are found from South America through Central America and up into North America as far north as Colorado. Flagstaff, Arizona, where I live, has a wild cochineal species living at 7,000 feet.

Commercial dried cochineal insects and pure cochineal dye extract come from Dactylopius coccus, a species domesticated by indigenous people in Central America hundreds of years ago.The domesticated species produces more dye per unit of weight than wild species do, plus the insects themselves are much bigger than wild ones are, so you need fewer of them. However, the wild ones are perfectly usable for dye, too.

Photo: Sheep grazing in a Flagstaff-area ponderosa pine forest. Northern Arizona University Special Collections call no. NAU.PH.84.1.78.

Just like we all have a foodshed, we also have a fibershed. Do you know the history of fiber agriculture in your area? Did farmers grow cotton, flax or hemp? What varieties? Did they raise fiber animals? Which breeds? Are there farmers today who still grow fiber crops or raise fiber animals in a small scale, humane way? These questions and their answers are necessary to relocalizing sustainable economies.

Sheep ranching was one of the Flagstaff area’s first export industries. During the summer, flocks would be herded up into the San Francisco Peaks and other mountain areas. in the winter, the sheep would graze at lower elevations in the ponderosa pine zone. Many of the first sheep herders were Basque immigrants from northern Spain. Basque bumper stickers can still be seen on vehicles in Flagstaff today.

Today, individual families keep a few sheep or alpaca here and there, but that’s it. We could be self-sufficient in wool if we wanted to be, as indicated by the following “Today in History” column in our local newspaper, September 1889:

“The French-American Merino is best adapted to our climate. The number of owners is sure to increase in the near future as comparing profits between sheep and cattle has the former paying 33 percent gain against 16 percent for cattle.”

“Tuesday last, the firm of Hubbell & Dench dispatched from the Navajo Reservation a consignment of 6,000 pounds of wool to R. H. Cameron.”

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.


It’s snowing today, so I am reminiscing about summer. This is Sasha in a barrel planter with a trellis growing cucumbers. Permaculturists design garden ecosystems in which every element has a minimum of two functions within the ecosystem. More functions lead to higher yields and a greater level of garden self-maintenance.

Excerpt from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens, “I have a teepee trellis in a wooden barrel planter. The planter sits on the northwest corner of my north-facing balcony. The trellis blocks late afternoon summer sun that used to heat the adjacent room. I also spend a lot of time in the summer on that balcony. I rotate edible, vining annuals in the planter: green / dry beans / peas, cucumbers / squash / melons and tomatoes. The plantings are beautiful, provide food, shade, screening from the neighbors, and nectar for hummingbirds; hummingbirds pollinate the flowers. That totals six functions.”

And, no, the cats are unable to get anywhere near the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds are way too fast for them.