We’ve started a new garden plot at the neighborhood community garden

LynnAnnRose and I have a plot at our neighborhood community garden. After removing the drip irrigation tubing and raking back last year’s straw mulch, we prepared the soil and planted some pre-sprouted sugar snap peas and radishes so far. The soil is sandy, in contrast to the compacted, silty soil in Flagstaff; it required very little loosening. We had to buy some compost to spread on top since we don’t have our own compost bin yet. Compost works to improve all types of soil. We added plenty of new straw mulch on top to prevent soil water evaporation. The tomato cages on top are preventing the mulch from blowing away.

We bought the pea and radish seeds and other heirloom seeds from Native Seed/SEARCH, including one of LynnAnnRose’s favorite foods, Chimayo chiles. Chimayo is a small village not far from Santa Fe. The chiles have been grown for centuries by Hispanic farmers in the region. We also have some purchased seedlings of vegetables and herbs that will be planted mostly in out back and front yards. We plan to save the seeds from the open-pollinated varieties.

Native Seed/SEARCH is a regional seed bank for Native American and Southwest Hispanic seed varieties. Limited quantities of these seeds are available for purchase.


The Ancestral Puebloans & the Great Drought

These are ruins of cliff dwellings at the Palatki Heritage Site in the Coconino National Forest to the southwest of Sedona, Arizona. Palatki means “red house” in Hopi. The bottom picture shows some wild foods in the area that the Ancestral Puebloans would have harvested to supplement farming and hunting, including juniper berries, pinyon nuts, agave, and prickly pear cactus.

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

The Southwest’s first farmers grew many domesticated and wild plants including corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, bee plant and amaranth. They encouraged the production of wild foods like pinyon nuts and weedy field greens. The ancestors of today’s Puebloan tribes developed hundreds of native plant varieties well-suited to our climate and soils, many still grown in traditional fields today.

They practiced rain-fed and dry farming (without irrigation), harvested rainwater behind check dams, planted terrace gardens, farmed in washes, and used volcanic ash as a nutrient-rich mulch. They made use of sophisticated astronomical observations to help determine times for planting and for conducting agriculturally-themed rituals. The first farmers also invented sustainable farming techniques such as placing yard-high piles of rocks in fields to store heat (thermal mass) and collect dew.

The population of the Colorado Plateau fluctuated with the availability of the food supply, indicating that humans had reached their maximum land carrying capacity using the available technology.

The Northern Arizona University Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau web site says, “The ancestors of the Hopi built a sophisticated agricultural civilization in many of the desert areas of the Southwest, including the southern Colorado Plateau. This era probably ended gradually in waves of drought, diseases, invasions and other crises, including a Great Drought that occurred in the American west from 1276–1299. In the Four Corners region, most of these ancient population centers suffered a collapse and were abandoned at different times between 1100–1300 A.D.”

In the area around what today is Flagstaff, “From A.D. 1100 to 1225, the Wupatki culture flourished. Then rainfall began to decrease, the growing season shortened, and soil nutrients became depleted. By 1400 the Sinagua had deserted their pueblos and migrated to other communities.”

The area was not farmed again until the arrival of European-American immigrants in the 1880s.

Hopi Tribe seed varieties

The top photo shows Hopi bean varieties that I initially received as a gift of seeds from a Hopi farmer: a green bean variety (golden color) and two pinto-type beans, one purple with black speckles and the other white with red speckles. I grew the beans in community garden plots for several years and saved the seeds.

The lower photo is an 8 1/2” x 11” sheet of paper with Hopi seed varieties taped to at a day-long conference on Hopi horticultural methods a number of years ago at Homolovi Ruins State Park.The Hopi claim those ruins are the homes of some of their ancestors, Hisatsinom, in Hopi (ee-SAH-tse-nom), just as they claim an ancestral tie to the ruins at Walnut Canyon National Monument. Various Hopi clans migrated to the Hopi Mesas from different areas in the region hundreds of years ago.

One interesting thing is that their is no overlap between the beans I grew are not included on paper sheet. The Hopi people have bred dozens of seed varieties of corn, beans, squash, amaranth, cotton, sunflowers and much more over the centuries. These varieties are especially well-adapted to the arid Hopi Mesas in northeastern Arizona. They are truly heirloom seed varieties.

You can buy many of these seed varieties and others not pictured here from the Native Seeds/SEARCH seed catalog. They sell varieties individually and also have a Hopi seed collection sample pack that includes red dye amaranth (used to dye Hopi corn breads pink, among other things), a pumpkin variety, a casaba melon, a yellow watermelon, several sunflowers, rattle gourd, yellow beans, yellow lima beans, and greasy head flour corn, which is listed on my Hopi seed variety sheet. Even if you live in a humid climate, some of these varieties will thrive in your garden, especially if you live in a region that is suffering more droughts due to climate change.

Native Seeds/SEARCH is also a regional seed bank and ethnocultural research institution. They sell Southwestern Native American and Hispanic varieties of vegetables, herbs, grains, legumes, plus native foods, crafts, books and more. It’s an important institution doing necessary work in the 21st century.

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

Gardening strategies of southwestern peoples such as the Hopi, the Quechua of the Andes Mountains of South America, and the Tibetans are especially helpful to those of us living in cool, high-altitude, semiarid climates.

The Hopi practice dry farming in sandy soils below the Hopi Mesas (pictured). Hopi farmers have bred unique, short, shrub-like varieties of corn that are planted 12 inches deep in a layer of water-retaining clay below the sand (the same clay that creates the springs). Traditionally, Hopi farmers plant corn continuously from the last spring frost until the summer solstice to hedge their bets against crop losses due to spring flooding, drought or frost.

Hopi food production also historically depended on spring-fed terrace gardens at the base of their mesas. Clay and shale layers underneath the mesas are impervious to water penetration, which forces the water out sideways in the form of springs.

The 17 varieties of corn that have been bred by Hopi farmers come in a variety of colors, including white, blue, red, yellow and speckled. White corn is the number one staple crop. It is treated with lime to make masa harina-style flour and hominy for posole-style stews. The next most important variety is blue corn, used to make breads, mushes, sauces and drinks. Hopi cooks also traditionally chewed cornmeal to allow their saliva to sweeten the flour for use in dishes like Hopi-style tamales. Sweet corn is eaten in stews and also roasted whole in underground pits both when it is “green” (immature) and later when it ripens. The Hopis consider corn smut, a fungus that grows on corn plants, a delicacy.


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.