Dear Mark: Periodization Training, My Ideal Garden, and “Real” Strength

GardeningFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a quick three-parter. First, I briefly cover periodization training, explaining how and why I think everyone participates in it (even if they don’t know it yet). Next up is a question about my ideal garden. Now, I’m no gardener, but I do have some ideas about what kinds of food I’d like to grow. I give my personal list of calorie-dense and nutrient-dense produce (green thumbs, criticism is welcome). Finally, I discuss the difference – if any actually exists – between “real” and “neuromuscular” strength.

Let’s go, shall we?

Hey Mark,

I’ve searched around the blog but I found nothing. I was really interested in hearing your opinion, if any, on periodization training like so many athletes and fitness enthusiasts incorporate for better results?



I think it’s a very sound, very solid concept of training. At its most basic, periodization refers to alternating training intensity and training volume. If volume is high, intensity is low; if intensity is high, volume will be low. You don’t lift heavy weights for high reps, but rather heavy weights for low reps and lighter weights for more reps. Periodization training breaks up an athlete’s training schedule into periods of varying intensity and volume, usually depending on a number of factors including fatigue, markers of overtraining, timing of competition (intensity will often be reduced before competition in favor of technique work), and (most importantly) how the individual athlete responds to training. This guy might handle longer periods of high intensity better than that guy, who needs more frequent breaks from the intensity.

It’s usually applied to serious athletes who are going to be competing, whether at the elite or amateur level, but anyone who works out likely does a kind of periodization training – even subconsciously.

One easy example is dropping intensity after recovery from illness – I know whenever I’m coming back from feeling under the weather, I’ll keep the training real light for a few days until my body is good to go. I want to keep things moving, but pushing too hard will only extend my recovery.

Autoregulation training is a kind of intuitive “on the fly” periodization where the athlete increases and decreases intensity/volume at his or her own pace according to how they feel on a day to day basis. This is how I “periodize,” and some evidence suggests that with accomplished, experienced athletes, it’s even more effective than linear periodization, where the periods are predetermined. Note that these were experienced athletes with extensive lifting experience, not newbies with a brand new gym membership.

Anyone who trains and listens to their body is going to naturally fall into periodization. It’s the people who push, push, push without paying attention to their performance and how they feel doing all that pushing who will fail to shift toward a lighter period when necessary and hamper their training in the process. At the same time, if you always have a ton left in the tank but fail to push yourself, you’ll be relegated to suboptimal results.

Thus, even if you’re not formal about your periodization, modulating intensity and volume according to your needs and performance will generally elicit favorable results. I wholeheartedly approve.

Dear Mark,

I’m planning on putting together a garden. I want the most nutrient dense and calorie rich foods without resorting to beans and white potatoes. Basically, I want it to be the closest thing to primal that agriculture can be.

If you were to grow the perfect garden, what would you grow?



You want nutrients and calories?

Without worrying about soil health or interspecies relationships or seasonal congruency or climate or anything like that (in other words, real details that anyone growing a real-life garden would have to think about)…

I’d start with a variety of leafy greens: several types of kale, chard, lettuce, and spinach. These will provide phytonutrients, minerals, and bulk for Big Ass Salads. Plus, they are self regenerative. If you pluck a leaf of kale, it will regrow several times over. Almost no calories, though.

I’d do some squashes. Butternut, delicato, acorn, etc. These are nutritious, for sure, but they also provide calories in the form of healthy carbs. And nothing quite compares with some cinnamon-ginger-grass-fed butter slurry atop baked butternut squash.

Berries. If you can get them to take, they’ll spread like wildfire. Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, plus any of the other more obscure berries will provide high plant pigment-based polyphenols, soluble fiber, and a fine companion to fresh whipped cream, coconut milk, and/or Greek yogurt.

Sweet potatoes will get you calories in a major way. If you go for purple Okinawan potatoes, you’ll even get the benefits of polyphenol pigments (and great taste).

Other green things are good, too, so I’d probably have to grow broccoli, asparagus, and tatsoi.

Green beans are easy to grow, they stay out of the way by climbing up trellises, and they too go well as a side dish to just about everything.

Oh, and herbs. I’d be sure to grow tons of herbs. I want so many herbs that I could have a rosemary, basil, and sage salad if I wanted.

Round it out with some cabbage (purple and green), some carrots (purple and orange), heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and onions? I think you’ve got yourself a realistic, attainable, nutritious, calorically-dense garden.

What about you? What would you have in your garden?

Dear Mark,

How long does it really take to add strength? In coach Somers book, “Building the Gymnastic Body”, he states that it takes 6 weeks to add actual strength. He goes on to say that the gains in reps and weight experienced in the beginning are the product of neuromuscular facilitation. What’s your take on the subject?


That’s the widely accepted timeframe for actual structural strength – muscular hypertrophy, the physical growth of skeletal muscle. However, a recent review of the evidence found that “morphological” changes commence immediately upon initiation of strength training (PDF). Your muscles won’t grow right away, but the changes that eventually result in growth begin right away.

What is “actual strength” though? I think making a distinction between “real” and “imaginary” strength is confusing and unnecessary. Neuromuscular facilitation is just as legitimate and “physiological” a way to build strength as hypertrophy.

You’re learning how to synchronize and activate the motor units (a bundle of muscle fibers with a nerve cell) that make up a muscle cell, to utilize them as a cohesive group rather than a ragtag bunch of misfits. Groups of motor units contract (flex/move) the muscle, so the more synchronicity your motor groups have, the more effective (read: strong) your muscular contractions will be.

You’re learning how to selectively activate the agonist and synergist muscles of a movement while inhibiting the antagonists of the movement. In other words, you’re figuring out how to activate the right muscles for a given movement. Strength is a skill, and learning that skill is part of getting stronger.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and keep the questions coming!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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93 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Periodization Training, My Ideal Garden, and “Real” Strength”

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    1. One more thing…for someone who is new to gardening, you should start with the “easy” veggies to grow, cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini may not be the best bang for your buck so to speak, but they are good for a beginner because they are pretty easy to grow.

      1. +1

        Those creeping vines like squash, green beans, and big growers like tomato are always a hit! The berries are a great idea, but they can be very frustrating (especially for a novice), because you most likely will be waiting a year or three before you get a decent crop on them!

        I have to throw in a recommendation here. If you’re growing fruit, try and find space for a tree! Around here people with apple and plum trees get way more food than they can eat, even if they dry it and snack all winter long on the stuff. They can also be one of the easiest once they get going, an annual pruning and maybe a little water is all they require.

      2. A caveat regarding tomatoes… We grow heirloom tomatoes. Delicious but fussy. They don’t like long, cold springs and short summers; they don’t like being either too wet or too dry; and they don’t like dirt that is either too rich or hasn’t been sufficiently amended. Any or all of these variables, plus a dozen others that come to mind, can result in small, thick-skinned tomatoes, tomato plants that have bud drop, tomato plants that have beautiful bushy foilage but few tomatoes, etc., etc.

        In short, good heirloom tomatoes really aren’t that easy to grow because there are a hundred things that can go wrong. Beginners should pick a no-fail hybrid suited to the soil and climate where they live. Not as tasty, perhaps, but a lot less challenging.

        1. Speaking as a person who works at a garden center, ditto on what Shary said. Living in the southeast, I don’t think of tomatoes as easy but they are sure as heck rewarding!

        2. Something else to consider is that you aren’t necessarily going to save a ton of money by growing your own veggies. The exception is probably the hybrid tomatoes as suggested above (and cherry tomatoes). They cost a fortune in the stores, and you can get a really nice crop out of just a few plants in large pots.

          So grow veggies for the other good reasons like satisfaction or controlling the chemicals used, etc. not because you think it’s uber-economical.

        3. Or you could look up Paul Wheaton’s permies blog, specifically ‘hugelkultur beds, a sceptic’s experience’ (something like that) and grow anything with relative ease. Including trees and tomatoes apparently.

        4. Herbs are hands-down the biggest bang for the buck, especially perennials like rosemary, sage, thyme & oregano– you only have to plant them once for years of yield– (at least here in NC). Basil grows like crazy too. Yum.

          But home-grown tomatoes are my absolute must-have. SO much better than store-bought!

        5. I am not a vegtable person I am a flower person but I still grow some veggies because it is really satisfying to put at least part of the dinner on the table from my yard. I always tell my husband “think of how much we are saving off our taxes.”

          Grow heirloom tomatoes along side the easy ones so you can have your own taste test in September and see the difference. Every failed plant type also teaches you something so don’t stress and call yourself a “black thumb.” Just tweak what you are doing and try again.

          Last year I grew Sungold, a cherry tomato (a must for me for every year), Brandywine (truly fussy, truly worth it. If it only gave me 1 perfect tomato it’s still worth the space), Jet Star and Moskowitz (ok) and finally, Bush Goliath (pretty good). Once mid-August rolls around stop taking care of the tomatoes, no water. They need to start thinking “life is tough and I better put out my seeds now.” Happy gardening.

        6. Oh, & how could I forget arugula? To me it’s like a cross between a green & an herb, it’s easy to grow, & I’m addicted to arugula salads.

  1. High Mowing Seeds sells nice starter garden seed sets, including one for container gardening.

    And check your farmers’ market in the spring for transplants, which give you a head-start, especially for things like tomatoes and cukes that need a little babying in most climates.

  2. I like growing beets. They may be a little high in carbs, but you don’t have to eat much since they are so flavorful. They’re full of nutrients and you can eat the tops just like chard or other greens. Radishes and turnips also have edible tops.

    Butternut squash are also pretty easy, but make sure you have plenty of space, or maybe a trellis to grow them on.

    Start composting now so that you’ll have some good home-made soil nutrients to add when it comes time to seed or plant. Vegetable gardening is very taxing on the soil so you need to give your garden a steady stream of minerals and organic matter.

    1. Also, if you grow beets you can pickle them! I just bought some lacto-fermented beets and carrots at the farmers market, and they are delicious!

  3. I have found that periodization is really good for breaking through lifting plateaus. If I stall on my bench press then I will stop my normal chest workouts and do a ton of push ups for a week or two to build muscle endurance and increase the size and depth of the capillaries in my muscles. It definitely works.

  4. “One easy example is dropping intensity after recovery from illness – I know whenever I’m coming back from feeling under the weather, I’ll keep the training real light for a few days until my body is good to go. I want to keep things moving, but pushing too hard will only extend my recovery.”

    Funny you should mention this as today is my first day back in a little due to some illness.

    This is far from the first time an MDA post has directly lined up with my life at the most necessary moment.

  5. As a gardener I prefer to grow the things that are a) either too expensive or not available; b) grow well in my Zone (I am in Zone 3), have short growing cycle or are perrannual with minimal watering + yield well and c) taste much better from the garden than even organic varieties. In addition, I like the crops to look aesthetically pleasing.

    The first rule for me is to pull out every conifer anyone planted on my property, with the exception of a couple small ones that I mercilessly chop to protect other plants for the winter.

    Berries: I come from Eastern Europe, and I am heart-broken about North Americain specific fruit fly that attacks currants. It ruins at least half a crop, and leads to endless need to spray the bushes. Not really ideal. I am pulling it this year. I am trying goosberries, but not the stupid Black Velvet variety available everywhere, but a larger green one. Strawberries are hit and miss in my zone, and one thing that goes against them is that you have to start new plants almost continously, and move them to avoid sickness. Blueberries are a total scam if you do not live in an area with an acidic soil. I am watching haskaps grow instead; have not had crops, but in a year or two, I am hopeful… Raspberries grow well, but will overtake the garden & require rigorous pruning, and ideally need to put them to the ground for the winter. My blackberry survived – and I know it is annoying when they grow wild in the warmer clients, and I have to pamper my bramble like a princess. I also planted a joji berry bush last summer.

    From trees, sour cherries, Evans and from the Uof Sask selections are great, heavy fruiting and no maintenance except for pruning. Hope for the first crop next year. Nankins cherry is a heavy bearer, but only good for jams and jellies, so you will use sugar to preserve it.

    Plums – I am trying these ones, but I cannot source wild Canadian plum which is supposed to be the best pollinator (not the western sandcherry or other hybrid). I have 2 varieties, and my first attempt at the multi-grafted ones died in the second winter (last year). So, we’ll see. I will replace them with crabs or apples if they do not fruit.

    Our house came with a couple of choke-cherries, we eat some berries of them raw, but overall – a useless plant.

    Rhubarb is a great plant, frozen it makes for a fantastic smoothie addition or a sauce base.

    From the vegetables, I grow squashes – an awesome crop, both zucchini and winter varieties. No troubles, but they do take a LOT of space and you have to take care to plant very FEW of zucchinis. (2 plants max for a family of 3!) If you don’t have the space, don’t plant them. They are normally cheap, and don’t taste any better.

    I have a baby girl, so I plant one pumpkin plant from small sugar pumpkins. Last year we got 1 pumpkin. Overall, it is far more effective to buy a few after Halloween, and cut up & freeze them.

    From tomatoes, I grow only grape varieties, because stacking is not my thing & they have a short ripening season + they are a treat to pick and eat!

    Root vegetables are the must where I live. First, you can grow such delicacies as golden beets, that are not available, second your own carrots are fun to pick and they most def taste better from the garden.

    Peas and beans imo are a must for every garden. I mix and match the eating peas and beans with the sweet peas on my trellises, that give a garden the splashes of color, sweet aroma and sweet peas. Plus it improves the soil!

    I plant herbs every year, and love it. Last year I have gotten a rosemary shrub, not sure it will overwinter even with protection. The annual herbs are doing well here, and thyme was even perennial!

    What I do not like growing are salad greens. I do some aragula, swiss shard and spinach, but lettuses in my view are too easy to overseed so you get tons of them and have to throw 80% away, they bolt too quick, need to be shaded, and just too much trouble for what they are worth.

    Garlic, I plant every fall all over the garden to protect it from pests. I really want to source a bit of rocamboles for the half-forgotten flavor of real garlic!

    And chives, of course, grow everywhere on their own, and their flowers make the salads fun!

    1. A relative of Tolstoy maybe? LOL

      I don’t find blueberries a “scam” but they take some attention if you’re not in their acidic, swampy soil: keep the soil damp, mulch with pine needles, and add the sulfur tablets the blueberry farmer gave me.

      Given how small our urban garden is, I like quick-growing crops, so salad greens, kale, and green beans are constants. Usually also plant brassicas, roma tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. This year I want to figure out onion and garlic too.

      1. I just threw some cloves of garlic into pots a few months ago just to see what happens. I am getting little green shoots coming up out of the ground, I read that the garlic is ready when the leaves above ground start to die off, so that is when I will start digging 🙂

        1. Haha that’s awesome! I’ve always wanted to try that. I did grow an apple tree from an apple seed once, but it never got nearly big enough to produce apples.

    2. Where are you from? Your gardening adventures make you sound like an Albertan (me too!). Seriously considering those haskap plants, but as we’re on military property I’m reluctant to plant anything long-term.

      I try new varieties nearly every year, especially carrots as there are so many cool varieties out there.

    3. Leida, a principle of permaculture is to put in ‘sacrificial’ plants alongside so bugs who decimate your most precious/delicate plants will be attracted elsewhere, sparing the plant you value.

    4. Lingonberries are good where you are – they handle serious cold. You also might have better luck with blueberries in containers. In an area with bad alkaline soil, I saw them growing huge in half-barrels filled with nothing but pine bark. No lie. I imagine you’d just have to fertilize a bit with something acid forming once in a while.

    5. The fruit fly which attacks berries, cherries, apples, etc. can be controlled by an organic spray made with “Spinosad” bacteria. This works, is safe for bees if applied at the right time, AND wipes out the local population of the “Apple Maggot Fly.”

    6. What!! Chokecherries are not a useless plant. We search high and low for chokecherries every year – I just ordered 60 saplings for spring. The chokecherry juice boiled with honey makes an excellent syrup. We eat it on pancakes, poured over ice cream, mixed in water to drink – I even give it to my kids for sore throats.

  6. Mustard comes in beautiful forms, grows easily and is delicious cooked. Snap peas and snow peas are always good. I wouldn’t be without tomatoes.

  7. Asparagus a herbaceous, perennial plant you can enjoy in the spring while you work on everything else. Garlic, onions and you can make the most delicious of salads…Your fresh greens with sliced onions, garlic and fresh picked tomatoes doused in balsamic vinegar.

    1. I keep dreaming about my own Asparagus! My whole household is addicted to it and can take a pound out at one supper.

      I planted a few seeds 3 years back, when I first broke the ground, and one plant kept surviving, but I ended up moving it every year as I was adding new beds, so hopefully I will see actual edible asparagus this year! It’s certainly very hardy and wants to live. Just not yielding yet with all the move, heh.

  8. One tip i received when I started gardening was to only plant things that you know you will eat. If you try new foods that you are unsure of, you can be certain you will get a bountiful crop that you will end up wasting or giving away. Do a little research on the plants as well, I planted 3 eggplants and had way more eggplants than I needed, same with zucchini. Now that I know how much one plant yields, I will cut back on those and use the space for more lettuce and other things.

    That being said, there is hardly anything better than the daily trip to the garden to pick fresh salad leaves.

    1. Yeah. I grew okra multiple years even though I don’t much care for it. I just liked the way the plants looked. And it annoyed my wife. 😉

  9. My garden is all leafy greens and root vegetables, since I grow at 8000 feet. Used to do broccoli, but takes up too much space and has limited window up here. Spinach, kale, bibb lettuce (burgers and tacos!), radish, beets, carrots, parsnips, purple potatoes. Progressively plant your greens so you don’t have it all coming up at once—10 heads of lettuce at the same time might sound great, but then it’s gone. The big ass salads I enjoy in the summer are truly amazing.

  10. I’m seeing that a natural way to add strength to workouts is by consuming bone broth pre-workout. On days that I drink a cup (with sea salt) prior to heavy lifting, my workouts seem remarkably easier — I feel like Popeye. It’s a perfect more-natural way to get your amino acids instead of taking supplements or protein powder. Check out my slow cooker bone broth recipe and let me know if you see any difference in your strength workouts.

  11. Does anyone have an opinion on the hydroponic tower gardens for growing veggies on the patio or terrace? I work with a company that manufactures them, but would like to know if there are any negatives with personal experience?

    1. We are actually trying aquaponics instead. Part of the reason is we don’t want to have to add extra liquid from who knows what fertilizers. The fish will help make a system that closed.

      Benefits of hydroponics or aquaponics is that you can grow indoors usually. Cons included expensive grow lights if you plant indoors in winter.

      1. The third con (or maybe pro) is having your residence monitored for in case you’re using the equipment to produce, uh “medical marijuana”. 😉

  12. I like your point about increasing strength. Whether strength gains are due to neuromuscular or physical changes, an improvement is an improvement. Still, it’s interesting to know how long the former phase lasts before feeding into the latter.

  13. If you want a mega easy productive garden try “All new square foot gardener”. (book)

    Its brilliant.

    Hardly any work and multiple crops virtually year round.

    1. Haha I went through a phase where I got super obsessed with planning the perfect square foot garden, where the plants would only be next to other plants that were beneficial for them, and the vegetables would be rotated to keep the soil healthy…unfortunately my plan never came to fruition because we don’t have anywhere good to plant one!

      We do have a rosemary bush though, and I can say that was a great investment. Rosemary year-round!

  14. I really need to pitch SQUARE FOOT GARDENING.

    It was designed by a civil engineer (Mel Bartholomew), and the new version eliminates the need to dig anything. you build a 4×4′ box, block it off into one-foot squares and you plant. No digging, hardly any weeding, no wasted space.


    I bought it, I know a man who uses similar concepts to container-garden, and I started my compost pile already.

    1. +1

      It’s a really great book. We sink our gardens only because we hate weedwacking. But other than our tweak (which has some other disadvantages), you can’t grow (tee hee) wrong using his book.

  15. What zone is Sarah in? It’s tough to give someone advice on what to grow when we don’t know what their growing season is like!

    If they’re in Florida (like me!) or California, avocados would definitely be my recommendation!

    — Winter squash is rich, easy, and delicious but also takes up a lot of space (and needs a little bit of curing time for the flavors to develop fully).
    — Beets are also easy, delicious, and nutritious. However, it’s very easy to get sick of beets! But they are SO versatile- bottoms and tops can both be prepared and eaten in many ways, and they can be pickled.
    — Cabbages provide you with A LOT of food, and they are also delicious, nutritious, and incredibly versatile. Also- so beautiful! When the plants go to flower, they are just…sigh, beautiful. Even when they’re not in flower, the colors of the leaves are really kind of mind-blowing. (
    — Turnips! Hakurei turnips are insanely delicious (seriously, you can even eat them raw) and can grow anywhere from WA state to FL

    Just a warning- Sweet potatoes and (especially) tomatoes are difficult to grow if you live in the NW.

    You should see about getting chickens and rabbits. Both are surprisingly cheap and easy to keep in the backyard. Rabbit is a delicious and sustainable source of meat that is often overlooked… both chickens and rabbits are easy to self-slaughter, too 🙂

  16. Living in the desert (Sunset Zone 13), where our average daytime temps are over 100 for four months of the year, I frustrate myself reading about all of the wonderful greens that gardeners in other areas get to enjoy all summer. Of course, the tradeoff is that Mark’s suggested greens perform great here in our winter, but come March or April, they’re toast (or a Primal version thereof).

    For those of you who share my predicament, here are a few heat-loving greens that have worked well for me:

    Chaya, or tree spinach, grows like a weed here all summer long, tastes similar to chard and is perennial to boot. Downside it that it MUST be cooked for at least 5 minutes to dissipate the small amount of cyanide it its leaves. Every time I prune off a branch, I strip its leaves for cooking, then I plant the denuded branch and have a new plant in no time. I usually saute it with bacon and nuts. It also serves well as the “pasta” layer in lasagne, as its leaves are quite sturdy and large, almost like sycamore or maple leaves. Doused in a little coconut or olive oil and salt, then baked, these leaves make super tasty and crispy chaya chips.

    My Moringa oleifera is a perennial tree with high-protein leaves. Loves heat. I use its sort of peppery, watercressy leaves in smoothies. When I prune off one branch, several more grow to take its place.

    Sweet potatoes thrive here all summer. I use them primarily for their great-tasting leaves. Seems the more leaves I pick, the more these vines produce new ones. I have never harvested the roots; I just let them grow lots of leaves. I have been growing the orange-fleshed ones for a few years, but have just rooted some purple ones to try. Not sure if their leaves will contain the same beneficial antioxidants that their roots offer. Anyone know?

    Another wonderful edible leaf I grow is Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella), a gorgeous perennial shrub which grows rampantly in our summer heat. From a distance it looks like a Japanese maple, with pink flowers in the fall. I chop up its sturdy red leaves to add to salads. I never make a whole salad of it though, as it’s kind of tart.

    Anyone else have suggestions for hot-weather leaves?

    1. Steve,

      I’m in Phoenix, Arizona and I’ve been quite a fan of red Malabar spinach. I’ve been growing it for almost 3 years now. It does quite well in the heat but does better avoiding that late afternoon sun. You know… the oven. It vines and climbs, looks pretty cool and is completely edible. All of it. Let it flower and go to seed; you’ll get hundreds to replant and give to friends and family. Also, it seems to be impossible to overwater.:)

      Oh. And every type of chard I’ve grown has done well at least part way through the summer. The red stemmed variety lasted the longest. I let that go to seed too, then threw the seeds around in various places where there are no raised beds just to see what happened. At the begining of October they ALL sprouted (with watering of course). Fun!

      Happy gardening!

      1. I live in the high desert in CA. I have never tried any veggies here other than radishes, but over the summer I planted an herb garden outside – mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, and chives. Even though it gets below freezing at night now, my chives and thyme have hung in there. My mint is growing like crazy! What am I going to do with all that mint!!! By basil and rosemary died in the cold.

        Thanks for the tip about the malabar spinach and chard. I think I’ll try some seeds this spring.

        1. Also, apples, peaches, apricots, and pomegranites do well here in the desert too. We always get an abundant crop.

          Steve – Do you think kale would do okay in the summer heat?

    2. Here in south central Texas, for greens in the summer I grow orach, turks cap (the fruit, flower and leaves are edible), purslane/Portulaca, malabar spinach. I also grow lettuces in pots under shade trees – they get morning sun and shade when it gets hot and this keeps them going until it gets really hot. I also grow a lot of edible flowers and herbs like tagetes lucida, pansies (in the colder months) and there are some good lawn weeds like purslane, spiderwort and dayflowers, henbit, and dandelion. Also, the greenbeans and blossoms from redbud trees are edible. Too many to list.

      An excellent book on the subject is “Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest” by Delena Tull, and “Feasting Free on Wild Edibles” covers cooler states.

      1. I forgot about amaranth leaves – they should be cooked to get rid of some of the oxalic acid.

        1. We eat them raw and cooked – and feed the grains to our chickens. The level of oxalic acid doesn’t worry me too much. From my research, you’d have to eat a ton to have trouble.

    3. I grow nasturtium as an easy care summer green as lettuces etc turn bitter in our summer heat. They look great in the garden, the flowers are pretty in salads and I love the peppery/rocket taste either raw in salads or thrown in a stir fry at the end.

    4. Cassava leaves are edible if boiled. “Florida cranberry,” (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is another good hibiscus with delicious lemony leaves. “Shepherd’s needle,” (Bidens alba) a common weed through the US, is also a good green when sauteed. We’re growing chaya, moringa, and sweet potatoes for their leaves as well. I’ve been profiling various survival crops on my website – it’s hard to find good greens that will handle the brutal summers.

      One other plant you might try: basswood. The tilia species have edible leaves, though most people only know them for their wood.

  17. Hi Mark found you via Sebastian H!

    My fiancee and I moved from Melbourne (Australia) to near Byron Bay onto 10 acres. We have the opportunity to pretty much plant whatever we want (except some select cold climate nuts). We have about 1/4 acre veggie patch and here’s what we have.

    Whilst our focus has been on what we like to eat, I also like to think they are all nutrient dense or very healthy in some sense.

    – tomatoes: loads of different tomatoes
    – chinese cabbage and wombok: good for inflammation and great in stir fry and salad
    – climbing spinach – PROLIFIC regeneration and growth great in eggs/omelettes and salads, pasta etc
    – capsisum
    – chili
    – corn
    – beans
    -snow peas

    Like you I think leafy greens and cruciferous veggies are totally worthwhile. They are core daily eats and not hard to grow.

    Kale is good as is an Australian native Warragul greens if you can get your hands on it.

    Silver beet and plain old spinach are great too.

    I agree berries are AWESOME – mulberries grow in lots of climates (hello Melbourne!) but only fruit for a short period (ours fruited for 3 weeks and required me to madly collect thousands each day and freeze them for smoothies). Strawberries are so bloody sensitive. I think blueberries and raspberries are easy-ish – if you can get a wild raspberry, get one! They go mental and taste awesome.

    Something else to consider is chili, turmeric and ginger. Depending where you live, you can pretty much take a ginger and put it in a pot with awesome compost and it will grow. Same for turmeric.
    Turmeric and ginger are two of those magic foods that are good for you in every way. I basically don’t get sick any more (used to get bad colds) due to eating lots of these three things (turmeric is a dinky di super food).

    Most of that can be grown in planter boxes in cities as long as you have good compost.

    We also have 2 avocado trees. I highly recommend them as well. Good fats etc etc. (Plus you can sell them to your neighbours and undercut the supermarket).
    We have 4 mangos which are good for salads.

    We have oranges/mandarins/lemons/lime/ruby grapefuit (good for a bunch of stuff) which all make total sense in terms of benefits.

    We have 2 pecans and will be putting walnuts and peanuts in (too tropical to grow almonds here) as well as tropical apples.

    We have about a dozen macas.

    Whilst I realise that most people don’t have the space we have, you could selectively choose dwarf varieties of trees: you can get dwarf avos, oranges, lemons and grapefruit as well as apples, mulberries.

    Alternatively you can fairly aggressively prune citrus and get good yield.

    If you don’t have land with good soil, planter boxes can easily accommodate what you need – get GOOD compost! My mum grows most of what I listed entirely in planter boxes.

    If you have a typical suburban place, and want to grow veggies, get a good compost system (with worms) and start getting a compost going. You don’t realise how good it is for your veggies until you grow a compost/non compost batch of the same stuff at the same time. Compost FTW!


    1. About to buy 10acres just north of Melbs, great info thanks Tim.

    2. Thanks for the post . Very informative and inspiring. Hard winter is just beginning here but I can dream, can’t I?

  18. For the beginner, or someone who rents/has a small space/moves alot

    I have the traditional in the ground garden and did two of these last year. Hands down the square foot did better and was easier to tend.

    Canada Zone 3a on a good year

    Bush Beans (yellow, green and purple)
    Snow Peas or other edible pod variety
    Yellow Summer squash
    Pickling cukes
    Swiss Chard (Rainbow)
    Roma type Tomato from hanging planters
    Peppers (in South facing planters)
    Red beets (for the tops)
    Golden beets (for the root)

    I get all my seeds from Veseys Seeds located on Prince Edward Island.

  19. On the subject of compost:
    Make your own. Compost bins are not that
    difficult to make.
    I read somewhere the average household generates about 200 lbs of compostible waste a year.

  20. “Without worrying about soil health or interspecies relationships or seasonal congruency or climate or anything like that (in other words, real details that anyone growing a real-life garden would have to think about)”

    Mark, thanks for the laugh!! Just like my parenting, my gardening was best (and most ambitious) when it was theoretical. 🙂

  21. Mostly repeats of advice here –

    1. Grow only what you’d look forward to eating. Kale may grow easily and be nutritious but if it ends up as fornlorn stocks next March, it was still a waste of time.

    2. If budget is an issue, focus on growing what is expensive (especially as organic) in the grocery store. Berries and fragile vegetables require special handling, which is what makes them expensive. (They also tend to benefit from personal attention on the bug front as well.) Sweet potatoes are calorie dense, but they’re also 70 cents a pound year round near me.

    3. If you’re nervous about trying to grow food, try lettuce first. It grows quickly in mid spring and will regenerate until the heat of summer kills it. It’s early success is encouraging. Radishes (if you like them) grow extremely quickly as well.

    4. Square foot gardening (there’s a book) is awesome!! You’ll never be tempted to plant in rows again unless you acquire a tractor.

    5. Don’t forget the flowers! 🙂

  22. Save some space for ground cherries, if you can find them! They are like sweet, mini, tomatillos. They thrive on neglect and are so delicious. And it’s so exciting to give people a taste of something they’ve never had before. Bush beans are incredibly easy to grow. My favorite variety is Jade, though I’m trying a variety called Slenderette this year. Sprouting broccoli is super easy to grow and expensive in stores. I really like purple sprouting broccoli. It’ll get huge if you let it grow for a while. I started mine in August and let them overwinter– they were like small trees! And produced tons of slender, purple broccoli shoots. Snap peas are also delicious and you can eat the shoots as well as the pods.

  23. I’m not sure if it’s the same “periodization” that Oliver was asking about but there’s also Pavel Tsatsouline style periodization where you essentially start lifting and once you burn out your max, you start the cycle over with a higher initial weight. Thought I’d mention it since it also happens to be one of the best ways to build strength, “real” strength that is. 😉

  24. I always grow ‘hedges’ of lemongrass around my garden – keeps the pests down and can be used in many dishes and for tea. Good to keep Mozzies down too!

  25. I live in Australia. I’ve got citrus trees and herbs and herbs and rhubarb at the moment. Disasters of the past include: blueberries and pumpkin (I think you call them squash)and broccoli and eggplant and lettuces (always going to seed before I can eat them). Successes include: zucchini (I agree 1 plant is enough), tomatoes and cucumbers.

    1. I’m not much of a gardener, but I have a small plot. About the lettuce and broccoli, if it goes to seed too early, or “bolts” is the term I’ve read, what worked for me was planting the lettuce and broccoli in a place that doesn’t get all-day sun (for me, the one side of my house that gets morning sun but gets shady toward the afternoon). Hope that helps!

  26. I have been roughly following a periodization for training (or physical efforts) based on the moon cycle, for years, because it works for me. I make peak training efforts on or just before the full moon. When trying to really challenge myself (as long as I am rested) I noticed that I always did better near or at a full moon, so I now time efforts accordingly.

    1. That sounds awesome! I’m getting towards the end of a linear progression right now, so I’m starting to collect programming methods. I’m totally trying this. I hear it works for gardening, too.

  27. We grow a lot of veggies, fruit berries, (and meat); but we couldn’t without thinking of soil health, rotation and two greenhouses (and lots of bird protection). Climate isn’t always your friend. We do lots of nice pasture.

  28. I am starting out on my Primal journey and had been thinking of growing some of my own vegetables. Rabbits!!! Little, cute.. but eat their way through anything I plant. I have areas netted off but you can only go so far with that.
    I am also horrified at how little upper body strength I have. I started carefully doing the exercises, I walk a lot, do pilates and cycle so thought I was fairly fit. Then tried press ups. Can’t do a full body press, have to bend my knees. That galvanised me into ordering a door bar to do chin ups. My husband fitted it today – and it has given him and the dog the best laugh they have had for ages! The sight of me struggling to even get my toes off the ground convulsed them, they egged me on with shouts of ‘when are you going to start? Come on then, get a grip, lift!’
    Well, I can’t. I have had to raise my leg level at an angle and do the chin ups that way.
    So, here’s to all round body fitness, not just lower body :0) And more hours of merriment for husband and dog..

    1. When I fence off my garden, I make sure that the fencing meets the ground and maybe even have the pointy ends poke out. I’ve also planted marigolds in my garden. Deer and rabbits don’t like how they smell. (My mom recommends laying human hair around, but that’s kinda gross.)

    2. I saw a great idea for growing lettuces and other shallow-root greens. Attach some lengths of rain gutter to a fence or the side of the house, at a slight angle. Fill with dirt and then add seeds. You’ll have zigzags of greens growing in no time. They’ll also be high enough off the ground to keep the bunnies out.

    3. Beth,
      Just start with negative chins. Step on a stool to get your head over the bar and then lower yourself slowly, in about 2 to 3 seconds.
      Make sure to lower through the whole range of motion. You’ll be doing full chins in no time!

      1. Thanks Tom, I will try that – when no one is looking! I am building up my arms this weekend in another way. We have about a foot of snow, so clearing our long and rather steep drive is giving me a fairly decent workout!

  29. I live in an apartment, but am fortunate to have a landlord that gives me some garden space. It’s only a small segment, but we make the most of it. I grow tomatoes, zucchini or yellow squash (not both, not enough room), jalapenos, basil and dill, and lettuce. I live in the Midwest, so that limits what I can grow (bell peppers and cilantro have been no-shows for me when I’ve tried them). I’ve also tried onions, but uprooted them too soon. They were still babies.
    My advice is to plant things you know you’ll eat and use a lot. Also, start small since it can be overwhelming to have a large garden. This year, I want to expand and have a separate area for herbs. Hopefully the landlords will be ok with that.

  30. I don’t think I could go through a summer without planting a big garden. The fresh veggies you get from a home garden are so much better than the stuff you get at the grocery store, it’s incredible. My favorite garden crops are these:
    Cool weather veggies: broccoli, kale, snow peas, snap peas, carrots, beets (golden and red).
    Warm weather veggies: tomatoes, peppers, pole beans

    Compost is an absolute must!! Build a simple compost pile/bin, and throw all your veggie scraps and other biodegradable materials into it, and spread the finished compost on the garden every year. I have been doing this for years, and my garden soil just keeps getting better and better. Your garden soil is like gold…….nourish it and protect it and it will reward you many times over with fantastic and nutritious produce. I use raised garden beds, and never use anything but a spade to turn the soil over (no rototiller, and never walk on your garden soil).

    1. Yeah – it’s incredible how the fertility can increase when you don’t keep busting the ground up and exposing it to the air. Good work!

  31. We grow avocados. We also have a passion fruit vine to feed our parrot, a tiny tangerine shrub and a lime. Nothing else grows in our yard due to all the shade from the avocados. I have learned that a lot of the weeds in the yard are edible so now what used to be my roof-top herb garden is a weed garden and I eat the weeds.

  32. I’m a Master Gardener, writer for Mother Earth and other magazines and the creator of Your choices are excellent and echo our own. My family and I are all primal (thanks to you) and we grow a ton of our own produce organically, share it with friends and church members… and also share the knowledge on our site. On green beans, I grow “yard-long” beans because the yield is incredible – and the taste is excellent. Also, kale is a killer winter crop. A lot of you could probably plant it now, provided you’re in roughly USDA zone 8 or higher. Mustard is another good winter crop, and it’s healthy. Tasty boiled greens – heck yeah. If anyone has questions, I’m happy to answer them.

  33. Periodization is a method of sport-specific athletic training for competitive sports. Since most do not train for competitive sports, hardly anyone uses it.

    It’s not accurate to suggest periodization is little more than alternating training intensity and training volume. People merely working out to be fit are not doing periodization.

    Specifically, periodization applies a timing method to training for sport so that when the day arrives for a competitive event, the competitng athlete has his body ready for peak performance. Back in the days when commie Soviets were desperate to show communism as superior to Western republics and capitalism, the Soviets tried to master periodization in their pursuit of Olympics dominance. Though made famous by Soviet Olympic weightlifters, Fins had experimented with periodization in track and field long before the Soviets.

    A guy named Matveyev came up with a pseudo-scientific model, with all of the appearance of scientific principles, which many accepted and then misinterpreted what he said to do. This is why many say periodization involves low intensity/high volume training progressing to high intensity/low volume training. It is way more than merely that.

    Proponents of periodization describe the period between successive competitive seasons as a macrocycle. Within that macrocycle, trainers push athletes through microcycles.

    Assuming a layoff from a previous season (post-competition, restoration transition phase) or having never competed before, the athlete starts with a prep microcycle of aerobic workouts to ready the body for training. Next comes a strength microcycle, where the athlete trains for maximal strength. After which comes a conversion microcycle during which specialized, sport-specific training converts maximal strength into maximal power, speed or endurance.

    Periodization proponents attempt to time this training, using statistics of past training efforts and ongoing measurement in attempt to get the athlete at the peak of maximal power, speed or endurance right at the moment of first competition.

  34. Garden tips for Northeastern US, if you only want a few large Winter squash plants (like Butternut, which are resistant to bugs and wilt) and don’t have a lot of space, trellis them on a sunny fence, treat the root zone to plenty of compost and compost tea during the growing season, and in late Summer when the vines are heavy with green fruits, start pruning off the new vine growth at the nodes and commence pruning off all baby squashes (they are delicious in a saute). This will help all your others mature before frost. I got fifteen large fruit off three plants this way last Summer, and they only used a few square feet of ground space in the garden.

    Plant spinach in late Summer for Autumn harvest instead of Spring. It often warms up too fast here and they just bolt right away.

    Leave some unpicked Kale plants in the ground to overwinter. In Spring they will send up MASSES of flower stalks that can be snapped off and eaten raw or flash-cooked. Cut the flower shoots while immature and green, before the yellow blooms show. They will look like slender broccoli rabe, but much more tender and non-bitter. Delicious.

  35. OH- and if you enjoy spicy greens, grow some Osaka purple mustard greens in your garden for fresh eating. They take up less space than Southern mustard, are prettier in the garden, have the same fiery character, are easier to clean, and are wonderful in salads or served as an edible bed for any meat.

    Great as the greens on a roast beef sandwich too, when I’m being bad 😉