Permaculture garden update

I’ve been busy, more so because my wife and I are both physically disabled.

Gardening at 7,000 feet means a short growing season and cool night, which is great for cool season crops. We’ve been harvesting kales, lettuces, radishes, sugar snap peas and green onions/chives (perennial walking onions).

Warm season crops require warm microclimates. My garden uses a lot of local sandstone rock and water jugs in the cold frame. Our runner beans, pickling cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, cocozelle zucchini and a deep orange winter squash are flowering. Tomatoes, collard greens, and more are on their way.

An April snow has not stopped our cool season crops from sprouting!

Cool season foods and medicinal plants like leafy greens, mint family herbs (catnip pictured), onions, and cool season legumes like sugar snap peas, have no problem with light to hard late frosts and late spring snow.

My book, “Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains,” shows you how.

Another day at the urban homestead


We got a short break from monsoon weather and had a few sunny days in a row. I solar cooked a large pot of beans; I made some vegan chili with fresh roasted green chiles. I baked a loaf of sourdough bread. The fig tree has baby figs on it already; I have now moved the tree indoors at night. My warm season crops are done for the season (green beans, zucchini, tomatoes—I have green tomatoes are ripening indoors). Tree leaves are starting to turn yellow.

Drying catnip in the kitchen


Catnip is an easy-to-grow cool season herb in the mint family. Cotton string and clothespins make a simple system for an arid climate and a lot of ventilation (no air conditioning). It has medicinal uses for people in addition to its well-known effect on cats.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

Eat your edible weeds!

I planted my one tomato seedling, a short season Big Boy indeterminate vining variety (78 days to maturity) that can grow up to eight feet high. As part of my vegetable crop rotations, I planted it in the trellis planter on my back balcony where I grew sugar peas last year.

The extra nitrogen produced by the peas fertilized a crop of self-seeding lamb’s quarters, a common garden “weed” around here. Lamb’s quarters are related to spinach and chard, but are even more nutritious. Many common garden weeds are nutritious edible. Lamb’s quarters have a mild flavor and make excellent salad and stir fry greens. If you have too many to eat, they also make great nitrogen-rich mulch or additions to a compost pile. I used the woody bottoms and roots as mulch around the tomato plant. Tomatoes don’t need too much nitrogen, so the lamb’s quarters won’t hurt the seedling’s growth; too much nitrogen causes tomatoes to focus on growing leaves rather than fruit.

It will probably take more than 78 days to produce ripe tomatoes in my climate, as the days to maturity is relative and commercial seeds are grown in warmer areas. Nighttime temperatures are now in the low 40s, still quite cold for tropical tomatoes, so I expect the plant will grow fairly slowly for a while.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

I decided I needed a gardening fix

Yesterday was mild and sunny after three days of snow and cold. I and went to a local plant nursery to buy my warm season herb and vegetable seedlings: an heirloom tomato, a zucchini, a bush green bean, stevia, and rosemary. I’ve started hardening them off to my climate’s strong sunlight, dry air and wind so that when all chance of frost is over I can plant them in my balcony containers. Hardening off seedlings makes them sturdier, more compact, and more cold and wind resistant. The nursery’s warning not to plant greenhouse-grown seedlings and all warm season crops outdoors at 7,000 feet elevation until June 15 or the possibility of frost is over highlights the hazards of spring gardening at high altitude.

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

My early spring garden

Now that my forest garden is maturing, nearly everything I am growing is either a perennial herb or vegetable or a self-seeding leafy green or other plant. The apple and poplar trees are still dormant, but the barberries have been blooming continuously for more than two months, and the leafy greens and Alliums are thriving. The rhubarb is also up, as are some second-year carrots that I absentmindedly planted last year; carrots are biennials and I will let them go to seed so I can collect the seeds. My guerrilla garden lovage is doing great near the creek bed. Up on my balconies, the sorrel is ready to harvest and the catnip, lemon balm, spearmint and peppermint are above ground. The stinging nettles will be ready for their first harvest soon. In may, I’ll plant an heirloom tomato where I grew peas last year, and plant green beans where I had the tomatoes for some crop rotation. See my 2014 home permaculture gardening highlights blog post for detailed information and links to past posts on all of these species.

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

Blooming wild sunflowers growing next to one of my apple trees. The Chinese garlic chives are budding. Sunflower seed heads, their number of petals, and their branching pattern all are based on Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio, as are all flowers in the daisy family. Food garden flowers attract pollinators to your garden.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

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.

2014 home permaculture gardening highlights at 7,000 feet elevation in Flagstaff, Arizona

Many people mistakenly think it’s difficult or impossible to grow food at my altitude in a semi-arid climate. The trick is learning how to work with the climatic and ecological conditions.

It’s been a great gardening year. My home urban/container garden produced quite a bit of food for it’s size:

  • We enjoyed a delicious winter Meyer lemon crop. We also received some home grown oranges and grapefruit from southern Arizona.
  • I harvested the first rhubarb stalks from new plantings last year.
  • There were a lot of spring greens, herbs & Alliums  including kale, nettles, arugula, lettuce, lovage, dandelion, chives, cilantro, walking onions, and Chinese garlic chives.
  • Summer brought sugar peas, summer squash and tomatoes.
  • Summer also brought a bumper crop of barberries (Oregon grape), from which I canned jam.
  • The monsoon rains made my tea and baking herbs grow profusely, like my mints and oregano.
  • I also grew many flowers for the bees and other pollinators.
  • I recently finished harvesting my first fig crop. The tree has just started to grow a new set of leaves, too.
  • There was plenty of free urban apple foraging to be had. I made cider, apple sauce and apple butter. We also ate raw apples for two months.
  • Cooler fall temperatures made my perennial and self-seeding leafy greens rebound until hard freezes finally ended the outdoor gardening year.