A garden in progress

I’m gradually altering my yard to become a permaculture garden. The woman who lived here before me grew purely ornamental plants, especially bulbs. The garden beds had been neglected for years.

I just discovered “waste” rock left over from the beds and main pathway buried around a large pine tree in the northwest corner of my yard. I have used much of it to build up the pictured raised bed and north garden walkway. I now need to fill the garden bed with soil that I will collect from burying the pathway rocks and bed edging rocks.

I plan to plant summer and winter squash and pickling and lemon cucumbers in this bed. It gets early morning sun and stays sunny until mid-afternoon.

I’m very much into repurposing things. Staying at home because of Covid-19 makes repurposing absolutely necessary. I will never be bored!

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.

Sourdough Italian focaccia with poppy seeds

Excerpt from my book Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, “The original Roman panis focacius was a flatbread cooked in the ashes of an open fire (‘focus‘ is the Latin word for hearth and ‘panis‘ means bread). Today, focaccia (foe-CAT-cha) is as varied as Italy itself. It can be thick or thin, plain or topped with olive oil, herbs and seeds, made from artisan dough or very wet dough (see ‘No-knead focaccia’ below), and even sliced horizontally to make sandwiches. … After the bulk fermentation, hand-stretch and press the dough to the desired thickness, (try ½–1-inch thick).”

This focaccia is made from a basic artisan dough formula (active sourdough starter, my freshly ground whole wheat flour, water, salt). I topped the flatbread with olive oil and poppy seeds, my favorite focaccia variation (maybe because I’m Hungarian and poppy seeds are a Hungarian staple food?). I let it rise and baked it at 450°F for about 20 minutes.

Growing poppies for their seeds

By the way, you can grow your own poppy seeds. Breadseed poppies are technically the same species as opium poppies (Papaver somniferum); breadseed poppies are placed in the Paeoniflorum subgroup of the species to distinguish them from opium-producing poppies. Commercial poppy seeds are imported from other countries, like Hungary. And yes, it is true that if you eat too many poppy seeds in one sitting (the amount found on four commercial poppy seed bagels) you can test positive for opium on a drug test.

It is legal to buy and possess the seeds. It is a legal grey area to grow opium poppies in the U.S. As long as your intent is for culinary purposes (i.e., to harvest poppy seeds) or to grow them as ornamental flowers you are OK. (See the Wikipedia entry for a little more information or read a long and detailed article by Michael Pollan entitled, “Opium Made Easy” in Harper’s magazine. P. somniferum grows well in USDA zones 3–8.

Two other species of poppy have edible seeds:

  • Corn/Flander’s, P. rhoeas, USDA zones 3–9 (the red flower petals are also used as food coloring)
  • Oriental, P. orientale, USDA zones 3–9

Other poppy species do not produce edible seeds. Poppies are cool season flowers that do well in high elevation climates and cold climates (short season climates). See my book Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens for details.


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

Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog just arrived. Another great seed source if you live in a cool/cold climate or grow vegetables, herbs, grains and other foods during the colder months in warmer climates. Hybrid and open-pollinated short-season varieties of vegetables, herbs, grains, flowers, gardening supplies, books. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee-owned company committed to organic growing.

I just received my first 2014 seed catalog in the mail. Bountiful Gardens is a really good choice for seeds.

Now is the time to think about whether you want to save seeds starting with next year’s plantings. You’ll need to learn about the seed saving requirements for the different species you might want to save (minimum number of plants, cross-pollination protection from related varieties, etc.) and then choose appropriate varieties for your bioregion, garden microclimate(s) and types of growing beds (raised, sunken, container gardening, trellising, greenhouse, runoff capture site, etc.).

From the Bountiful Gardens website:

Bountiful Gardens is a non-profit organization and a project of Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula which does garden research and publishes many books, information sheets, and research papers, some in other languages. Ecology Action operates a research mini-farm in Willits, CA and promotes the GROW BIOINTENSIVE™ method of food production

Bountiful Gardens sells untreated open-pollinated non-GMO seed of heirloom quality for vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains, green manures, compost and carbon crops. We are able to offer many varieties as Certified Organic, Natural, Biointensive or Grow Biointensive™ sustainable seed. CCOF Certified Organic Handler, CDFA OP #23-0336.

Specialties: Rare and unusual varieties. Medicinal herbs. Super-nutrition varieties.

Biointensive books/videos for growing soil sustainably using mini-farming techniques such as double-digging, intensive spacing,and companion planting.

I bought the hard wheat seeds that I grew for several years in a community garden plot from Bountiful Gardens.

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens, 4th edition, 2013:

An eco-agricultural system that can be a gardening method for permaculture zone 1 is biointensive mini-farming. Biointensive farming has been practiced by numerous cultures for thousands of years. It is designed to allow people in poor, overpopulated, land-scarce countries to live healthy lives on the least amount of food possible. It was created as an organic alternative to synthetic chemical-laden Green Revolution techniques. The nonprofit Ecology Action was formed to promote biointensive techniques.

Biointensive farming emphasizes annual food crops, biennials grown as annuals, and raised bed organic gardening techniques that allow people to grow the maximum amount of food calories and nutrients on the smallest plots of land possible. See p. 105 for a listing of high-yielding biointensive crops.

Use the following coupon code for a 10% discount off items totaling at least $5 at my Etsy shop or my book website: raynerblog10. Good until December 31, 2013.


Museum of Northern Arizona Colton Collection, c. 1940.

Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, an artist, author, educator, ethnographer, and co-founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff ran an experimental farm (pictured) in the early decades of the 20th century on museum property. She experimented with vegetable, grain and other crop varieties and animal breeds that did well at 7,000 feet in this cold semi-arid climate. Potatoes, oats and pinto beans were three crops that thrived here.

I did a lot of research into the history of agriculture in the Flagstaff area and other high elevation areas in the Southwest when writing Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens. I wanted to know what people grew successfully without modern high-tech inputs.