Saturday, February 10, 2024

False Spring or Just Crazy Tucson Weather?

First poppy of false spring

If you strolled past my yard yesterday morning, you might have caught me outside in my pink housecoat. On our sporadic cold winter days, I love to hang around the house bundled in my cozy robe. Who would have thought that I would be inspired by the sunny 57 degree weather to snap photos of the wildflowers sprouting in our rainwater harvesting catchment basin! I just had to capture a photo of the first poppy of False Spring.


The term 'false spring' refers to a period in late winter or early spring when temperatures become unusually warm, before suddenly growing cold again. The warm weather tricks the seeds that are waiting for spring to sprout prematurely - just be frozen again. I'm not sure whether that the term "false spring" really applies. Our weather this past year has been all over the place. For example, it snowed twice late last February and early March - when it rarely snows in Tucson. As the snow melted, our yards filled with wildflowers last April. Looks like it's gonna be another spectacular year for wild flowers! 

Poppies filled our basin last April

After an excruciatingly long summer with the most days over 110 degrees in Tucson's recorded history, it actually hailed in our back yard wreaking havoc on our poor agaves. After suffering from the brutal "non-soon" we are getting plenty of rain this winter. While the rain is a welcome relief, I'm afraid it isn't a good sign for the coming monsoon. I found out from a meteorologist at the Southern Arizona Heat Planning Summit that a wet winter means a dry monsoon. Doh! We are grateful to have cisterns to collect some of this winter rain to help us get through the dry summer ahead and desert trees that can handle these extreme shifts in the weather.

In the meantime I am enjoying seeing our basin green up - a sign of the wildflowers to come. #lovemyrainbasin  What else can I do?

It's fun to see the globe mallow springing back with all those leaves! 


I can't wait for all the orange flowers to bloom!

Globe mallow last April

One of the neighbors who caught me in my pink robe invited me over to take some of the succulents that had overgrown in her yard. (Of course I changed into my street clothes first! lol)


I planted a couple of agave in the right of way basin (leaving plenty of room for them to grow.) Thanks, neighbor!


So... False Spring or just crazy Tucson weather? You decide.

More poppies February 23rd

Monday, January 8, 2024

Harvesting Before the Freeze

Thursday, I heard it was supposed to freeze overnight so I went ahead and harvested the moringa leaves that were big enough for tea. I rinsed them off and laid them out to dry.  (When I have longer branches, I hang them to dry.)

It didn't freeze that night. 

But it snowed yesterday! 

So our moringa survived to live another day. I went ahead and grabbed a handful to add to some left-over moringa and chayote soup. The hot soup warmed me right up. 

Pulling the moringa leaves off of the little branch.
You may have noticed that our largest moringa tree (shown above) looks kinda scrawny this year. That was the result of a little experiment I conducted to see how well they would do on just the rainwater collected in our right-of-way basin. (After all, it had grown so big and full after the monsoon storms of 2019...) But I hadn't counted on the long dry spell we had this summer. Our poor moringa really suffered. The two smaller trees actually looked stunted. We finally gave in and watered them with harvested rainwater (a total of three times this year) in an attempt to get some leaves to harvest. In retrospect, we should have done it sooner. Live and learn.

Deep watering stunted moringa in basin.

It was a good thing that I harvested the leaves, because I woke up to a frosty 28 degrees this morning! It's COLD! 

Overflow from our cistern was frozen.
By 11 a.m. our biggest moringa looked like this...  

sad
On the bright side, it always comes back from the roots in the spring. 

Though...I am trying another experiment... (I never learn!) In past years I wrapped insulation around the bottom of the trunks to protect them from freezing. This year I decided not to since moisture had gotten trapped under it.  And it's supposed to rain soon. So cross your fingers.  

 In the meantime, at least I saved moringa tea to send to my mom... 

Dried moringa tea leaves.


NOTE: Our moringa trees were planted in the right of way to take advantage of the rainwater in the catchment basin. But they have no protection from the cold so they die back after a hard freeze. But there are large moringa trees in Tucson that don't freeze because they are sheltered by a wall or other trees. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

Catchment basins sink in winter rain


What a joy! There has been a nice steady rain all day long - the kind of flow that sinks so well into our catchment basins. If only our photos could capture that. Rainwater streams from the roof into gutters where the downspout directs it into the jujube basin (shown above.) The leaves and palm frond pieces create a layer of natural mulch that (along with some native grass) hold the water like a sponge to nourish the soil.


Again, this photo doesn't do the basin justice, but this is how the front yard basin looks after raining all day long. It has sunk in beautifully. 


The front yard basin continues to sink in and store water for our native plants and trees - long after our largest cistern fills up and overflows. 


In case you're wondering why the cistern overflows onto the patio (rather than to another basin which is the best practice), it is because the water from the patio flows into our Mexican Honeysuckle plants (shown in the background.)


We have been meaning to get a truck full of Tank's Green Stuff organic mulch to replace the mulch that is breaking down. Here you can see how we leave the leaves to build the soil.

Sure, our winter basin may not look as green as it did when the trees were full of leaves, but I still #lovemyrainbasin as it continues to feed the soil and give a habitat to native bees and other pollinators.

For move information on our basins, go to:


I would love to see your basins too. Please, post them on your social media page with the hashtag #lovemyrainbasin

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Choose Your Climate Story: Extrapolations or ReGeneration


Just finished watching Extrapolations and I'd like to share a few thoughts about it.  

Most of you know me from my environmental advocacy with Sustainable Tucson or from following my blog about sustainable living. But in another life I wrote reviews of meaningful films for Reel Inspiration. Before that I was actually a theater major! Funny how our journeys don't always go the way we imagined. I went on to get my MFA in playwriting which led to writing screenplays, which led to becoming active in Tucson's indie-film community, which led to me writing film reviews - where I watched a few documentaries on climate change. I started to notice the impact of climate change on our desert town. Every year was getting hotter than the last. Our normally raging monsoon season diminished to a mere whimper. That inspired me to learn everything I could about climate change: the causes, impact, and ways to mitigate it. We adjusted our everyday lifestyle to have less of a negative impact and more of a positive (regenerative) impact.  


Experience has shown me that no education is ever wasted. Even my theater background could be used to educate people about climate change. Much of the research I conducted was incorporated into ReGeneration: The Tucson Story, a play about the impacts of climate change on Tucson in the near future. It was a vehicle to share solutions I had learned about. Unfortunately, by the time the play was stage ready, all the theaters and schools were shut down due to COVID. So I ended up directing a virtual play reading in 2021 (that you can still find on YouTube.) 


Meanwhile, another climate story was in the works.

Extrapolations, a limited series by writer, director, and executive producer Scott Z. Burns, "introduces a near future where the chaotic effects of climate change have become embedded into our everyday lives." The marketing team couldn't have come up with a better logline for my play! Naturally, I had to check it out. It's been a while since I've written a movie review for Reel Inspiration. But I couldn't help forming a few thoughts on the series. Occupational hazard. Once a reviewer, always a reviewer. And, it was only natural that I would compare the series to my own script. 

First, I'm not sure it's correct to say that Extrapolations is set in the "near future." (I guess it depends on how you define "near future.") The time line goes from 2037 to 2070. 


But my play ReGeneration actually is set in the near future. Here in Tucson we are already seeing many of the impacts of climate change dramatized in my story. While we haven't had to suffer through the grid going down (yet), we recently had a scare when the power went out for a few days in some parts of town. We have seen the impact of extreme heat on the most vulnerable. Everything that happens in the story is based on things that are already happening here. 

To get a better understanding of the series, I looked up extrapolation - the name of the title.

ex·tra·po·la·tion
noun: the action of estimating or concluding something by assuming that existing trends will continue or a current method will remain applicable.

Given this definition, it seems that Burns created each episode based on an extrapolation of a current trend in climate and technology taken to a potential extreme. There was some continuity where some characters reappear in later episodes, but for the most part, each episode was a stand alone exploration of a potential future outcome of climate change and new technologies; like mass extinctions of animal species, the effects of extreme heat, or possible unintended consequences of attempting to solve global warming with geoengineering. 

While it is evident that the writers did extensive research on the causes of climate change and impacts, Extrapolations plays more like science fiction or dystopic sci-fi. It explores the dichotomy of the "chaotic effects of climate change on the everyday lives" of the underserved masses in contrast with the luxurious comforts the privileged few corporate CEOs are afforded due to future scientific advances. The general public endures rationed geo-engineered food, while billionaires enjoy gala events catered with the real food. Workers pay for shots of clean oxygen to endure the polluted air, while the rich are safely transported in flying machines to their domed, climate-controlled mansions. The idea of relying on for-profit corporations to share the technological advances needed for our survival is a frightening theme of the series.  

I guess the biggest difference between my play and Extrapolations is that in my play there is still hope as the teen protagonists fight for a livable future in our desert town. In most of the episodes of Extrapolations, the protagonists goals revolve around survival in a world that is rigged for profiting big corporations. Sort of a bummer, but an insightful theme. 

I know my virtual play can't compare with a professional production with state of the art special effects and star power.  But if you are looking for hope in this time of climate change, you might want to watch the recording of my play. I find the most hope in taking action. My goal in writing the play was to present realistic solutions and impactful actions we can all do to lessen the impact of climate change - hopefully in an entertaining way.  Maybe you can find some ways to share your own talents and skills to create a more resilient future, too. 

Here's a few ideas...   

What Kind of Climate Champion Are You?

For the Love of Tucson: Creating a Desert Oasis to Combat Climate Change

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Leaving the Nest


The day had finally arrived - when Jeremy left us to go off to college. We had been preparing for this day since we read him his first board book.  But there were still mixed feelings as our last child left the nest. I was excited to witness this move towards independence and exploration, but I was going to miss him. I hoped that we had prepared him to live a sustainable lifestyle on his own.

As the departure date grew closer, we started gathering what he would need for his first apartment. Jeremy drafted a list and I kept adding to it. I was pleased to see that he included vinegar in the cleaning supplies section (instead of some poisonous chemical cleaner.) I added baking soda to the list. I figured out what utensils he would need to make his favorite vegetarian foods and went through our cupboards in search of them. I started stacking them - along with our extra pots and pans, silverware, etc - on the dining room table. 


In addition to the usual household items, I gathered what he would need to continue our reduced plastic life-style. Just because he was going off to college, there was no need for him to resort to single-use plastic convenience items. I grabbed some sturdy reusable cloth grocery bags and filled them with reusable produce bags and bulk bags. I figured they wouldn't go to waste, since Jeremy was already accustomed to using them. 


I also included some reusable takeout containers that Jeremy had gotten in the habit of bringing for his leftovers when he ate out. 


I have to admit that I was a little concerned because Jeremy hadn't really cooked much. Cereal, PB&J sandwiches and quesadillas - that was pretty much it. He usually ate what I prepared or the left-overs from eating out with his dad. He didn't even heat up his leftovers! I had shown him how to make a few of his favorite dishes like roux for scalloped potatoes. I hoped he was paying attention. And he knows how to make our style of enchiladas since we compile them together as a family. As it got closer to the departure date, Jeremy started asking how to make some of our vegetarian staples - like veggie broth from kitchen scraps (onions, celery and carrots are the basics) and marinara sauce. I even tested the mini crockpot to make sure it worked so he could use it to make beans. (I reminded him that they would need to be soaked overnight.)  


I was surprised when Jeremy asked me for cloth scraps for cleaning. That's my boy! I cut up some old tee-shirts for him and they went into the bag. 


Since he left, we have chatted on the phone a few times. He told me about all the dishes he made. He hasn't eaten out once! One time he messaged me about how to make spinach dip. (He remembered how to make the roux! He WAS paying attention!) He's even posted pics of his creations on social media - like some burnt spaghetti from a technique he learned online. I think he's gonna be alright. 

This weekend he came home for the first time since he went off to college. You guessed it! He brought home his laundry! lol 
 

He wanted to use our washing machine because the water goes into our greywater basin to nourish the fruit trees! 

I couldn't be prouder. 

Jeremy will be coming home next week to join me in performing environmental stories at the ¡Agua es Vida! Celebration of Water in the Desert and Short Film Showcase at Watershed Management Group! Looks like I could be prouder...

More stories about Jeremy's journey: 

Reduced Waste Road Trip

Engaging the Next Generation

Teachable moment for the boys


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Yep. I water my weeds


That's right. That's me watering my weeds... the edible purslane I planted in my yard, that is. 


I had this brilliant idea that I could spread the yummy common purslane throughout my rainwater harvesting basin in place of the less palatable horse purslane that had completely covered it last summer (see pic below). Don't get me wrong. I loved my living horse purslane mulch. Even wrote a blog about it. I hoped that it would help retain the microbes in the soil at least. 


I had taken great pains to pull the purslane out by the roots, plant it by a few Mexican sunflowers and protect it from critters with a plant cage. I always like to plant purslane where I am already watering something to save water. But if I'm honest, I was really using the sunflowers as an excuse to water the purslane during this record heat wave. OK, I was propagating the purslane. And if the non-soon wouldn't water it - I would - with rainwater from our cistern. 


Meanwhile, in the (fake) decorative river in my neighbor's yard volunteer purslane was flourishing.  I asked my neighbor not to spray Roundup on it so I could harvest it. Just in time too! He was just heading out there with the hula hoe to mow it down. Off I went to harvest some for breakfast. Yay! 

Yummy! 
So I got a little carried away...


Actually, in the produce bag was some overgrown purslane I gleaned by Udall Park that I planned to plant. Since there were little flowers on it, I figured it was close to going to seed and would spit out those seeds in the yard. 

After the purslane in the plant cage flowered, I removed the cage with the hope that the seeds would spread and be watered by the next rain (if there is one.) 


Click on the pic below to see the yellow flowers on the purslane ready to burst out seeds! 


I can only hope that it will do better than the horse purslane that is wilting in the scorching sun. 


The horse purslane that got more water from the downspout is looking more perky. It worked great to slow down and sink in the rushing water when we had that big storm. Now the plants are benefiting.
NOTE: These are only being watered by the rain. 


I don't know if we will ever get enough rain to spread the purslane through the basin, but the neighborhood bunny is sure enjoying the evaporative cooling from the water I put on the purslane.

#lovemyrainbasin

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Surviving the "Nonsoon"

Tucsonans have developed many theories on how to bring forth the monsoon rain. Some claim washing their car will do the trick. Others swear it's deep watering their trees. A Facebook friend urged me to use the last bit of water in my rain tank that I reserved for my veggie garden. (I had already gone through most of the water in four cisterns and two fifty-five gallon rain barrels.)  So...despite proclaiming that I don't use any city water for my landscaping on the six o'clock news last spring, I finally broke down and deep watered my jujube trees. It stormed that very afternoon... 

You're welcome!

Gardening in this extreme weather has been very humbling. I have struggled to balance conserving water during our current water crisis and keeping my poor plants alive in this unrelenting heat.

I've lived in Tucson nearly 30 years and I have never experienced anything like this. (The drought the year before last came the closest.)  I try to get up early enough to water my little veggie garden before it reaches 80 degrees (the temperature when evapotranspiration stops on some plants), but most days the temperature never dips below 80 degrees - even at night! Some evenings it has gotten as high as 90 degrees! That's bad news for people and plants. And it's NOT normal. In the old days, Tucsonans slept on the roof after the house got too hot. When we first moved to Tucson it stormed every afternoon during monsoon season. 

Nonsoon? I don't know. We finally got a couple of monsoon storms, but by mid-morning the ground is bone dry. My poor plants! Unfortunately, we had to take out our pest-infested eucalyptus tree, so our "desert adapted" heritage fruit trees have no protection from the scorching sun. I finally put a shade contraption over our little fig tree.


But despite getting up at 5:30 am and cooling it off with a can of water (not to mention regular deep watering), it just withered away. Keep in mind that it also gets greywater from our outdoor washing machine. But we had the dilemma of when to wash our cloths - since it never got below 80 degrees while we were still awake. We finally started the laundry just before bed anyway. (We were out of underwear...) 

You'll be happy to hear we had better luck in our front yard. We've been fortunate to go as long we did without using city water. Our rain basins had sunk in enough water to keep them going.

The jujubes are thriving in their basin. Apparently jujubes are very drought tolerant. Perhaps it's their shiny leaves. I just wanted to make sure they had plenty of water to promote fruit growth.

Sadly, I waited too long to deep water the moringa in our right-of-way basin. They are tropical plants that should take the heat, but without enough moisture they were really suffering. The recent monsoon rain (and some deep-watering) has done wonders. They are coming back with some new sprouts. 

Most of our desert plants are hanging in there. I finally had to give a little water to the pricky pear and agave. All of the desert trees (mesquite, sweet acacia, and hackberry) fared well on the high end of the shallow basin. Since the two monsoon storms they are really flourishing. Have I mentioned I #lovemyrainbasin yet? 

The mesquite tree acted as a nurse plant protecting the hackberry and saguaro cactus from the sun as well as providing nitrogen to the soil. I went ahead and picked some volunteer mesquites that were sprouting under it.  

And after two storms and some sprinkles, life is springing up in the basins! I found tepary beans (from last year) sprouting under the jujube tree. It is odiously tepary bean season, so I went ahead and planted more for ground cover in the garden.


Horse purslane is starting to pop up too - a welcome sign that monsoon season is here. It will act as living mulch and add much needed organic matter to the basin!  

We are enjoying the common purslane that I propagated in our yard! (That cage kept the critters out long enough for the purslane to spread and grow).



Celebrating the (late) start of monsoon season with a purslane scramble breakfast burrito. I think we deserve it for surviving the nonsoon!  (So far.)  I think we will be O.K. That big storm pretty much filled up our rain barrels. Hopefully there will be enough water to get us through the rest of the nonsoon.