6 Ways to Grow Food Year Round in Any Climate


Spotted over at Mother Earth News:


Ultimately, no matter how many times we go over it, it seems that the greatest ecological difference we can make in pushing towards a more sustainable future is to bring our food sources back home. Whether that’s with a community garden or a backyard food forest depends on your location, but for the most part, we can all agree that the key to fighting resource consumption, topsoil erosion, and rampant pesticide use is by taking back control of our food sources.

Sounds empowering, doesn’t it? It’s not a popular thing to say in these circles, but I’m a capitalist, and so for that reason, I believe if you really want to make a change in the world, you need to hit unsustainable businesses where it hurts — right in their wallets.

There’s no way we can ever hope to break away from industrialized food production though if we don’t start taking into account that not everyone lives in the most accommodating climate for growing food.

So how do we solve this problem? How do we make it so even people in hardiness Zones 5 and below can realistically (without tons of electrical input or expense) grow enough food to sustain themselves year round?

Solutions abound — it’s more than possible, no matter where you are, to take control of your food again, and bring your supermarket home. Here are some simply brilliant solutions to challenging climates, so that everyone, everywhere, can start producing their own food.

Earth-Bermed Greenhouses


If you live in a particularly cold climate like I do, it’s time to get really familiar with this term: passive solar energy. This is the concept of capturing the heat of the sun in a way that makes internal climate control unnecessary in many scenarios.

With greenhouses, this concept is a game-changer. An earth-bermed greenhouse is either built into a south-facing slope, or is built free-standing, with earth piled up on the north side of the structure (much like Paul Wheaton’s wofatis).

This is a slow-working method of maintaining stable greenhouse temperatures, but one that is incredibly effective once you get the ball rolling. Paul Wheaton also talks about the theory of annualized thermal inertia — one that has yet to be tested, but is presumed to effectively make the earth a heat storage device on the scale of a full calendar year, rather than just days and nights.

Building an earth bermed greenhouse (walipinis as they’re sometimes referred to) is fairly straightforward, but I always err on the side of caution when it comes to shoring up earthen walls.


Hey – I like the way she thinks.

Go read the article – excellent ideas in it. It ties in very well with my book Push the Zone.

And Destiny is right to be a capitalist. It’s the best system out there.

This compost will destroy your garden!


I’ve written many times on Aminopyralid contamination in compost, on herbicides in manure and on the danger of bringing amendments from outside on to your property. Unfortunately, Karen Land didn’t find out about me until it was too late. After posting a heartfelt YouTube video (subscribe to Karen’s gardening channel here) on her ruined plots of tomatoes, Karen discovered a video I’d done and contacted me personally about the issue. After hearing her terrible story of killer compost, I asked Karen if she would share her story here. This is a serious problem and I don’t want any of you to go through what she went through or what I went through a few years back.

-David The Good

Karen’s Story


Karen Land got hit by aminopyralid

Karen Land

Many of us have heard the term “herbicide drift.”  Some of us have experienced it.

Herbicide drift is when a neighbor or nearby farm sprays an herbicide like Round-Up or 2,4-D on a breezy day, and some of that herbicide gets picked up by the wind and lands on someone else’s innocent plants. The result is herbicide injury, which can cause deformed leaves and even death of the plant.

Not cool.

There’s something even less cool lurking in our midst.

Unfortunately, most people have never heard of it. This thing that’s even less cool than herbicide drift is compost contamination. Specifically, herbicide contamination of compost.

This just happened to me, and I’m not happy about it.

My main garden consists of six 4×24-foot raised beds. This year, I needed to raise the soil level about 4-5 inches, so I ordered 7 yards of compost from a local supplier and had it delivered to my house.
My awesome neighbor then spent hours moving it, tractor scoop by tractor scoop, from the front of the property to the back, and into my raised beds.  The next day, my husband tilled the new compost in with my existing soil.  It was a beautiful sight!!


A few days later, I began planting out my tomatoes (which I’d been growing from seed in my house since January).


I got about 20 plants in the ground and for the first week or so, everything was fine.

After a week or so though, I noticed some slight distortion on the new growth on the plants. I tried to ignore it and pretend I didn’t see it, but that became increasingly impossible.

Contaminated-compost-aminopyralid-effect-on-tomatoesSo I began researching and Googling every tomato virus I could think of, and comparing hundreds of images to my plants’ new “look.” I finally decided my plants had sadly suffered herbicide injury from herbicide drift. But because my knowledge of herbicide names was limited to Round-Up and 2,4-D, I spent another few days trying to decide which of the two was the culprit, and finally decided it was 2,4-D.

In this midst of my obsessive researching, I was also continuing to plant out my other tomato plants. About 50 more plants went in.

(Can I rewind my life at this point?)

Unbelievably, after about two weeks, every single plant had the same deformed new growth.  And I was pretty much freaking out.

Here are some of the possibilities I contemplated during that time:

Tomato Mosaic Virus

TMV causes new growth to come out deformed and curled up beyond recognition (that symptom, by the way, is impossible to differentiate from 2,4-D damage).  Check!  However, TMV also causes other symptoms, like, you guessed it, a mosaic pattern on the leaves.  I don’t have this on a single plant.  Moving on.

Nitrogen Toxicity

With nitrogen toxicity, while you may have some burnt leaf edges and that sort of thing, you’ll also have a massive blast of new growth.  My plants are completely stunted.  Not that.  Moving on again.

Some Other Virus Spread by Bugs

I will begrudgingly say this is “technically” possible, but with viruses that need to be spread by a bug (in other words, not a virus that can spread by contact or soil splash), it’s not very likely that all 70 of my tomato plants would simultaneously fall victim to such a disease.

The Answer Appears

At this point, I’d done as many different Google searches, rearranging words and phrases as many different ways as I could think of, but I still really didn’t feel I had a definitive answer.

Leaning toward 2,4-D, I finally called on my local extension office to get their take on the situation.

I told them the whole story and sent in pictures. Within minutes, I received an email telling me it was definitely herbicide injury, but not from 2,4-D. Instead, they blamed it on a word I’d never heard before: Aminopyralid.

I wish I could go back to never having heard this word.

What is Aminopyralid?


Aminopyralid is a broad leaf herbicide. David the Good goes into this issue in multiple posts on this site.

In a nutshell, if it’s sprayed where livestock grazes, the manure from said animals is not to be used as compost.


Because the herbicide goes straight through the animal and into their poop. It doesn’t break down or deactivate at all. So it goes into the poop, and there it stays for years. Yes, even in aged, fully composted manure.

St_Petersburg_Garden_SquashSidebar: Not all plants will show signs of aminopyralid damage.

 Plants like squashes and cucumbers will likely appear just fine.

 My tomatoes and potatoes were the canaries in the coal mine. The sacrificial lambs. If I hadn’t planted them in that compost, and only planted less sensitive plants, I would be feeding all of that poisoned food to my family.

 So, in a bittersweet way, I’m grateful I put my beloved tomatoes in first.

So let’s say you’re lucky enough to be BFFs with a super cool farmer who you KNOW doesn’t spray herbicides on their pastures or fields, and he’s offering to give you composted manure for your garden.

Think you’re safe? Think again.

Unless your BFF farmer friend is BFFs with his hay supplier and knows for an absolute FACT that that hay was never treated, you’re really not safe. And, even if your BFF farmer friend is super great and never sprays herbicides, and knows for an absolute FACT that his BFF hay supplier doesn’t treat their hay, what if you super cool BFF farmer friend lets his cows graze all the way down to the ditch on his property, where herbicide has been carried down to from the not-so-cool farmer next door who sprays herbicides?

Guess what you have… herbicide laden manure.

So what’s the answer?


Compost_960I have no flipping idea.

Oh wait, yes I do. Read David’s book  Compost Everything and stop buying compost from outside sources.

One last little shove of info for those still skeptical that this was herbicide-contaminated compost.

Remember my initial theory of herbicide drift?

Well, guess what: my potatoes have the exact same deformed new growth.

Here’s the kicker . . . my potatoes are nowhere near the tomato beds. In fact, the potatoes are on our deck in pots, about 50 feet from the tomato beds, and are among a myriad of other sensitive nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos), and none of those plants have any issue.

(Ed. note: look at how Karen’s potatoes exhibit the same deformed growth as the tomatoes pictured above):


Herbicide drift would not come onto my property, only land on the tomatoes, ignore the cucumbers that are four feet away, then hang a left and make a beeline for my deck, but then ONLY drop into my potato pots and spare every other plant.

How could this be, you ask?

Because the potatoes are the only thing on the deck that were planted in the same compost as the tomatoes.

So this probably isn’t the most uplifting story you’ve read today. But don’t worry.  I haven’t wasted this enormous learning opportunity. I’ve not only learned about this herbicide and how to avoid it, but I’ve also learned how to improvise and grow in containers.

On three-quarters of an acre, there aren’t many reasons to learn how to in containers, but now I am! I had a few pots of tomatoes that hadn’t yet gone into the raised beds, so I potted them up!

I’m also growing peppers, rat’s tail radishes, bush and pole beans, lettuce, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and a few different squashes… all in containers!

It is my dearest hope that my story will help you avoid having this issue yourself, and to show you that, even when really bad things happen in the garden, you can always plant another seed somewhere.  Soldier on and keep growing.

~Karen Land of Love Your Land


Karen is an accomplished gardener and highly knowledgeable on a wide range of horticultural topics. Despite her catastrophic encounter with aminopyralid she isn’t giving up. Subscribe to Karen’s YouTube channel here and visit her Facebook group here.

Get my FREE booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost – click here to subscribe to the newsletter!

Best Composting Toilet System?

Boonjon Best Composting Toilet

This guy invented the best composting toilet I’ve seen yet.

I recently discovered the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Today’s post may go outside of the comfort range of my more delicate readers, but remember… I literally wrote the book on extreme composting.


There’s a gap in our thinking when it comes to our own waste. For some reason, recycling banana peels and coffee grounds is “great” but recycling sewage is “oh heck no I’m not doing that! Gross!!!”

I understand, really. It took me quite a while to come around to the idea of composting everything.

The first guy that changed my thinking on the subject was Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. I built one of his “lovable loo” composting bucket toilets and installed it in our Tennessee house for a year as an experiment. It worked decently, but had problems with attracting some flies and odor. Close, but not quite what we wanted.

The_Humanure_Handbook_CoverGranted, the problem wasn’t really in the design so much as the fill material we had available. Peat moss worked great, but it consumed too much peat moss. I couldn’t find any safe sawdust locally, so that option was out, leaving us stuck with wood chips. Not great.

There are other composting toilet designs, ranging from quite expensive dehydrating Biolet models to the collection of cool outhouses Paul Wheaton covers in this video.

Now I have a new favorite… and have to say, I think it’s the best composting toilet system I’ve seen for both ease-of-use and simplicity of design.

The Best Composting Toilet System?

A few years ago, a man named Sandy Graves dropped me an email after finding my old Florida Survival Gardening website. He told me he’d developed a different composting toilet system and that I ought to come out and see it at some point.

I get emails from kooky people now and again, so the idea of going to see a stranger’s toilet wasn’t really all that high on my list… until I did some more research and realized he had something new and interesting going on.

Before the videographer who was helping me on the Crash Gardening series quit, I was going to go over with him to see Sandy’s system so we could film a pro-looking video. That never happened… and time moved on. I corresponded with Mr. Graves a few more times via e-mail but no solid plans ever firmed up. His office was about an hour from my homestead and it never seemed to be a good day for me to pack up and head off out of town to look at composting toilets.

Until a couple of weeks ago when we sold our homestead.

I’d loaded up a trailer with all our worldly possessions and we were heading down 40 towards I-95 when my wife says, “Hey – isn’t this where the guy with the composting toilets has his place?”

“Yes,” I said, “I should just stop now and see what he has going on… we could just film a spontaneous video!”

Rachel thought that was a great idea, so when we spotted the sign for “C-Head, LLC,” I pulled in.


Out front was a U-Haul trailer remarkably similar to the one being pulled behind my van, and I noticed it was being packed by a solidly-built, gray-haired man with glasses.

“Are you Sandy Graves?” I asked.

“Hey – I know you!” he replied, “David! Welcome! We’re just packing up for the Mother Earth News Fair!”

I asked if he had time for a video, so leaving the packing behind, Sandy took me to see the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Check it out:

The system began as an experiment on Sandy’s boat… then moved to land… then became an entire business with a variety of models.

Row of the best composting toilets I've ever seen


The BoonJon composting toilet system ties in nicely with a backyard compost bin. Sandy encourages soldier flies in his compost piles and told me he keeps discovering new things about the species that makes him appreciate them more.

I was amazed how little fill material was required for a BoonJon composting toilet. Quite affordable! Back when I built my composting toilet, it consumed a lot of fill material.

A Unique Way To Fertilize With Urine


The diversion of urine into a separate receptacle is also a very good thing. That allows you to use it as a liquid fertilizer in your garden or orchard.


The way Sandy irrigates his beds with urine is quite clever (don’t you dig inventors?) and grows some of the biggest tomato plants I’ve seen in a Florida garden.

He also grows some good-looking raspberries:


Final Thoughts

When you think about how much water we waste – plus all the fertility we literally flush away every day – composting toilets make a lot of sense.

Why would we use clean water to dispose of… fertilizer?

Everything is upside-down when you think about it. I’m glad for people like Sandy Graves who are using their talents to make a difference in the world through simple technologies. Decentralizing waste management makes a lot of sense.

Imagine how much water we could save!

How many gardens we could feed!

How many wastewater plants we could close!


What do you guys think – is this kind of composting too crazy for you?

Mummy Wheat & 800-Year-Old Squash Seeds: The Weird World of Seed Saving


Earlier this week I came across a great seed saving story.

A buried clay jar filled with squash seeds was discovered – and the seeds germinated, bringing back a long-lost Native American staple squash.

What a great story! What a drama!

So I tweeted it out to my followers on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.09.52 AM

The link to the original story is here.

But the great seed saving story is just that: a story.

A day after my original tweet, a fact-checking reader sent me another link:

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.28.40 AM


Here’s the link William sent me.

From that article:


The story that accompanied the “Gete-Okosomin” squash seeds was that they were found in a clay ball at an archaeological excavation near the Wisconsin-Illinois border. It went on to suggest that the dating of the clay ball indicated that the seeds were more than 800 years old.

The story captured the imagination of seed savers and gardeners across the continent. It is a good story, but is it true?

When asked, Kenton Lobe, instructor in international development studies and one of the CMU Farm’s founders, smiles.

“The truth of the story of these squash seeds is still emerging,” he said.

Further digging into the history reveals that they were originally gifted to David Wrone, a University of Wisconsin emeritus historian, by some elder women gardeners from the Miami Nation in Indiana in 1995.

One of these squash had been grown and saved by the Miami people for many generations, perhaps even thousands of years.

In a note to the White Earth Seed Library, Wrone related that he had earlier received squash seeds that had been found deep underground in a Kentucky cave.

They were well preserved and estimated to be several thousand years old. Wrone grew them, but they were “smallish and not as tasty.”

The seeds from the Miami women were shared with Wrone and eventually with White Earth Seed Library.

Over time and through many tellings, these two squash seed stories crossed and turned into one.


As often happens, a few different stories got mixed together into one AMAZING SEED SAVING STORY that was infinitely press-worthy.

The fact that my first tweet got 25 re-tweets within a day is a testament to the power of a good story.

Seed saving stories inspire us. They connect us to the past. They testify to the power of life.

Seeds Capture the Imagination


When most of us have a hard time getting our corn seed from last year to germinate consistently, it’s inspiring to read the tale of a Biblical-era date palm pit springing to life 2,000 years after it was hidden away or a wildflower that was successfully cloned after an alleged 32,000 years of icy entombment.


That latter story would be perfect for a conspiracy theorist to latch on to since the leader of the Russian science team died right as the findings were announced:

“Tragedy has now struck the Russian team. Dr. Gilichinksy, its leader, was hospitalized with an asthma attack and unable to respond to questions, his daughter Yana said on Friday. On Saturday, Dr. Price reported that Dr. Gilichinsky had died of a heart attack.”


Or maybe THEY don’t want us bringing back plants from the past!


In the past, some unscrupulous seed salesmen did use amazing seed saving stories to pitch their dubious wares to a gullible public.

The passion for “Mummy Wheat” in Victorian England is one such story that held a fascination for many, as recounted in this paper by Gabriel Moshenka:


“The precise details of the introduction of mummy wheat into Britain in the mid-1800s remain unclear, with several conflicting accounts that may simply describe multiple points of origin. Day describes an 1843 advertisement for wheat “bred from a bag of seeds found in the hand of an Egyptian mummy recently unrolled in London” (2008:623), as well as wheat brought from Luxor by Sir William Symonds and cultivated in Ireland. Pettigrew’s account in his lecture to the British Archaeological Association was designed in part, as he mentions at the outset, to dispel the widely held belief that mummy wheat derived from seeds that he himself had found in the winding cloths of a mummy.”


What a great story! Ancient wheat, clutched in the dry skeletal hand of a long-dead pharaoh… springing to new life in your backyard.

Too bad it wasn’t true. Wheat just doesn’t want to germinate after a couple of decades. Seeds are living things in a state of stasis… and eventually their clocks run out.

The Seed Clock is Always Ticking


Janisse Ray Seed Savers UndergroundA few years ago I read The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. It’s marvelous. Janisse Ray has some of the most beautiful prose imaginable. Even when I disagree with her, I love the way she says what she says.

A point that struck me again and again while reading her book was how dynamic a process seed-saving is.

You can’t just save a good batch of seeds one year, pack them prettily into mason jars, then rest on your non-germinating laurels for the next ten years.

The men and women who are carefully selecting, maintaining and sharing lines of seeds have to work at it. They may get to skip a year every once in a while – but skipping multiple years leads to weak lines and poor germination rates.

The death of one dedicated seed saver may mean the death of multiple seed lines with him.

There are almost infinite possibilities contained in some of our vegetables. Just look at the wide range of corn you can grow. Or beans!

Image from Baker Creek

There are hundreds… thousands… millions of possibilities!

If you have a lima bean that mutates and produces pink striped lima beans, you have a new variety. If you don’t save the seeds, it will disappear, perhaps to resurface for someone else in the future… or perhaps never to be seen again.

History Marches Onward


Every individual plant is a distinct creation, like snowflakes and fingerprints. You can end up with an “heirloom” variety by planting individuals with similar characteristics or by inbreeding a line until what you like is dominant and expresses itself consistently… but it will change over time, slightly, from generation to generation.

If it gets accidentally crossed with something different, you may never get that original consistent line back again.

The wheat we eat today is a far cry from the wheat our ancestors ate. The Gala apple of modern supermarkets isn’t the same as the apples the Romans ate.


All we have on some of these ancient seed-lines is conjecture.

Yet many of the genes are still being passed in, albeit in modified form, in our modern vegetable seeds.

Year after year, garden after garden, farmers and gardeners have saved seeds and selected for their favorite characteristics. I’m doing that right now with my Seminole Pumpkin/Dave’s Giant Mutant Tropical Squash breeding project.

One day people in the far future may wonder where this amazing tropical pumpkin seed line came from.

Perhaps they’ll even tell the story of how the body of an ancient gardener with a tasteless shirt and hat was exhumed with a bag of still-viable seeds clutched in his moldering hand…

…then someone will debunk the tale and ruin all the fun.

Quit Worrying and Start Survival Gardening


I’d venture to say most preppers have squirreled away a few seeds for the future, whether it be one of those apocalyptic sealed cans containing 50,000 varieties of lettuce or just a dozen packets tucked into a cabinet “just in case.”

The problem: if things really did collapse, most of us don’t know how to get those seeds to grow into plants that will actually produce honest-to-goodness food for the table.

Most folks are still at the “I bought a pepper and it died” phase, not the “I got 100lbs of potatoes from one of my beds last week” stage.

Bags of rice and wheat eventually run out. MREs do too (thankfully). Yet if you’re able to convert part of your lawn into a garden and have the confidence and skill to grow a good chunk of your family’s diet in that garden, you’re in better long-term shape than the guy with 1500lbs of pintos stuffed beneath his bed.

It’s the difference between consumption and production, which we Rothbardian acolytes understand so well. The non-gardener with the bagged beans cannot create more beans—but as a gardener you can. Almost infinitely.

Right now most of the vegetables my family consumes grow in our yard. We’ve also got hundreds of pounds of edible roots beneath the soil that can be dug as needed. These stockpiles can also be regenerated and increased year after year with the proper knowledge. It took me years to get to the point where I reached the certainty that even if things fell apart, I would have food.

That’s a great feeling. You can get there too. I’ve shared my gardening knowledge and methods (including how to till without gasoline and keep a garden irrigated without city water) in my new book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardeningbut even if you don’t get my book, I want you to know how to get started today so you don’t starve tomorrow.

Ready? Let’s grow.

1. Set Serious Goals

Don’t start from nothing with the goal of “growing all you eat” if you fear failure and unless you’re willing to spend hours and hours in the garden. Start with something manageable, such as “I’m going to grow all my salad greens” or “I’m going to grow enough roots to feed us for a month.” Nailing down something smaller will boost your confidence and get you knocking down more goals.

2. Compost Continually

Quit throwing away potential soil fertility! No more excuses. Start a big pile somewhere and start chucking all your biodegradable kitchen scraps onto it. Having perfect ratios and a nice bin is a lot less important than simply DOING it. Throw stuff on the ground and it will feed the soil. It’s that simple. Throw it in the trash and you’ve exported potential fertility from your homestead. Don’t do that.

3. Experiment Constantly

One variety of bean may thrive in your area—another may fail. Test a lot of types and don’t get caught up in the pursuit of novelty. With survival gardening you want to grow plants that are tried and true and well-known for their productivity. With the exception of zucchini. Zucchini is nasty.

(Click here to read the rest of my post over at LewRockwell.com!)

New Video: Planting and Growing Sweet Potatoes The Easy Way


I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes. I grow them in beds, in the food forest, on a train, in the rain, with a goat, on a boat, etc.

Unlike many crops, you can start sweet potato beds later in the season here and still get good yields. They don’t seem to mind the heat like other vegetables. Once you have some vines growing in a pot or in a garden bed, starting new beds is easier than you might think.

In my latest video I show you a really easy method to start a new bed of sweet potatoes:

Growing sweet potatoes is easy – what are you waiting for?
Support this site: shop on Amazon using this link. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it helps pay for my hosting!

Want a FAST food forest? Try a crazy cover crop seed mix!

Behold my epic cover crop seed mix!
cover crop seed mix
That’s right boys and girls – I mixed roughly 1.5 trillion different types of seed together!
Then I packaged it in my secret patented way:
bagged cover crop seed mix
That bag actually SEALS AT THE TOP, holding in the (Potential) Food Forest Freshness!
I’m a fan of cover crop seed mixes but now I’ve gone all out.
Here’s what I’m doing to add more biomass/food forest plants quickly:
1. Let the chickens tear up a piece of ground for a few days in their tractor
2. Tear up the ground a bit with a broadfork
3. Toss handfuls of seeds
4. Throw down some loose straw
5. Water for a few weeks and watch the magic
So what’s in this cover crop seed mix? There are so many things I’ve forgotten the complete recipe, but I can tell you it includes:
Mung beans
Pinto beans
Pigeon peas
Wildflower mix
Moth beans
Black beans
Southern peas
Castor beans
Morning glory
Velvet beans
Kebarika beans
Tickseed coreopsis
Asjwan (whatever that is… got it from an Indian market!)
…and lots more. After a week, lots of stuff starts coming up:
cover crop seed mix coming up
Look at that beautiful mess! Can’t wait to see what madness happens next.
If you have lots of seeds and a sprinkler, you can do this. You’re guaranteed to get something cool.
I keep adding seeds to a big bowl on the counter, then throwing more out on a patch every week or so, then adding more…
Half of these seeds came from bags at the Oriental store or from the bulk bins at the local organic market.
Anarchy at its finest.

Survival Plant Profile: Cayenne Peppers

I’m growing cayenne peppers because I like things spicy. Really spicy.

When I take my wife out for Thai food, I order my meals “Thai hot.” If I’m not bleeding from my eyes and nose by the end of a meal, it wasn’t spicy enough.

All that said, I’ve never been much of a pepper grower for some reason. Sure, I’ve grown a few thai peppers, some habeneros, a few jalepenos, etc., but I’ve spent more time with fruit trees and root crops.

That’s not to say I don’t grow peppers every year: I do. I just don’t pay much attention to growing them since I always end up getting obsessed with growing something new and exotic. Instead of planning peppers into my garden, I usually realize sometime in late spring that we haven’t planted any, then pop a few in for the heck of it. They’ll keep producing in the heat and through the summer when tomatoes and almost everything else gives up.

Over the last couple of years, I have discovered one pepper that really manages to produce excellently and taste great with no care: the regular old cayenne pepper. Despite my poor planning, I’ve managed to grown them for the last three years without much preparation or thought – and I’m always glad to have their delicious smoky kick in Rachel’s stir-fries.

One of the reasons cayenne peppers rock: they’re perennial. Once you plant these guys, they’ll last multiple years and keep fruiting for you as climate conditions allow. If you get a nasty frost, they’ll die. I piled mulch over four of last year’s plants some time in December, then uncovered them in the spring. Two came back. (I also had a lovely red habenero pepper growing in one of my beds… I dug that one up and put it in a pot in the greenhouse. In the spring, I popped it back in the bed and it’s thriving and producing more habeneros than we can use.)

Growing Cayenne Peppers

To grow peppers, I plant the seeds in flats or in the ground
after the last frost date. They grow quickly and usually will bear
in about three months. Interestingly, I’ve had them self-seed
here and there around my gardens. Occasionally, I’d toss a rotten pepper aside, or throw some in the compost… and a little baby would come up. If I liked its location, I’d leave it. If not, I’ll transplant them
into a bed. My bet is that cayennes are pretty close to being a wild
pepper. They’re tough, and they’re attractive plants to boot.

Even pepper pests are pretty.

The only pest problems I’ve had with these guys involve stink bugs. They’ll ruin a few peppers here and there by punching their nasty mouth parts into them and leaving spots that rot – yet even with those losses, we end up with plenty of peppers for the spice cabinet each year. Five plants will provide you with tons – plant more than that and you may need to start your own hot sauce brand.

Something like “Smack Me On My Flaming Butt Of Death And Call Me Satan ‘Cause My Fiery Mouth Is In Hell” brand.

I don’t think that one’s taken yet.

Now let’s take a look at where cayennes fall in the wild world of  peppers. For making salsa, jalapenos excel in juiciness and good raw flavor; in brutal heat and smokiness, habeneros are king. For a mild pepper for packing with cheese and rice, poblanos are tops. But the cayenne’s flavor… well, it’s good all around.

I said “good all,” not “Goodall,” dang it!

Where was I? Oh right… uses. The cayenne is a pepper that’s made for drying. It’s got lower moisture right off the plant, so if you string them up, they’ll usually dry pretty well. If you have a lot of humidity (like I do), you can stay safe from mold by putting them in a dehydrator to dry instead.

My favorite use for cayenne peppers is as ground red pepper. I picked
up a Braun coffee grinder at the thrift store for $1.75 and use that for turning dried peppers into homemade ground red pepper.

As a survival plant, this isn’t the best. You can’t live on them, but they sure do add flavor to the things you can eat. There are also proven benefits to consuming hot peppers, such as improved circulation and Looking Cool When Around Your Peers. Hot peppers can also be used to make insect-discouraging sprays for your other plants. They’re also a lot easier to grow than bell peppers, just in case you wondered.

If you haven’t done it before, add a couple of cayenne peppers to your next garden. You’ll be glad you did.




3 Spuds!

Name: Cayenne pepper
Latin Name:
 Capsicum annuum (cultivar)
24″ – 36″
Nitrogen Fixer:
Full sun
Part Used:
Fruit, green and red
Method of preparation:
Raw, stir-fried, in stews, dried and ground
Good. Dry, pickle or freeze.
Ease of growing:
Very easy