Thursday, June 29, 2017

Street-side basin ready to plant the monsoon rain!

If you've walked your dog down our street in the past few months, you may have wondered what that guy in the sweaty hat was doing digging a ditch in 114 degree weather. Well, I'll tell ya.  We are getting ready for the coming monsoons by installing a passive rainwater harvesting system to "plant the rain." The basins will sink the water from our roof and yard into the ground to irrigate the desert trees in our edible forest. The idea is to keep as much rainwater as possible from flowing onto the street and evaporating. The street side basin (above) is the last line of defense, so it is the deepest. If it works as planned, the street will be lined with a lush stand of moringa and wolfberry bushes.

This process has taken some time, planning, and plenty of sweat equity (especially on Dan's part.) Dan learned how to install passive rainwater systems by participating in Watershed Management Group's co-op workshops. At the workshops, co-op members get detailed instruction while working on passive (basins and berms) or active (cisterns) water harvesting or greywater systems. After volunteering for 16 hours, you can host a workshop in your own yard. If you have the money, I would highly recommend it. But to save money on the initial design consultation and co-op supervisor's fees, Dan decided to do the work himself. What a man!

*note: I think everyone should be able to afford to install waterharvesting features in their yard.  Apparently Watershed Management Group agrees. They've now offer a rainwater harvesting grant and loan program.  They also offer the free classes required to qualify for Tucson Water's rebate program. If you need inspiration, check out WSM's free living lab tour. It's fun!

Dan started by digging out gravel interspersed with (the bane of our existence) bermuda grass. That is one reason that this catchment basin is so deep. Some (sane) people would hire someone to excavate it with a backhoe. I would definitely recommend that if you have the money.

After Dan dug out the first layer of weeds, he had to remove a layer of plastic. Just under the plastic he found roots forming an elaborate design.

I was responsible for getting the weeds along the sidewalk. But I soon found that they were actually growing UNDER the sidewalk! Man! Those weeds are fierce! I used the side of the sidewalk as leverage to pry out the roots with my trowel (bending the trowel in the process!)

I got out as much of the roots out as possible. But the next day the grass under the sidewalk started growing again. Those weeds are invincible! They will be here with the cockroaches when we are long gone!  

I read somewhere that if you spray weeds with vinegar nothing would ever grow in that dirt again. Desperate times call for desperate measures.  So I sprayed vinegar right on the roots under the sidewalk.  

Those friggen weeds were everywhere! Here is my son Josh attempting to separate the weeds from the gravel. 

We still have 3 piles in our driveway: gravel, clay soil & palo verde mulch. (Four if you count the WEEDS! Argh!) We got free organic palo verde mulch from Romero Tree service.  They are happy to drop by the chipped remains of the tree they just pruned in your neighborhood! The only thing about our palo verde mulch is that there were still seed pods in the branches when they pruned it. A few of them actually sprouted, but I caught them while they were still small and easy to pull.

After removing all the gravel and grass, Dan started shaping the basins. He left truck-tire-shaped mounds to plant the trees and bush in. He made sure the floor of the basin was smooth - so there would be no puddling.

Before planting, we did a percolation test. I filled each hole with water to make sure it would seep into the ground in a timely manner. 

We planted the little wolfberry bush we got at Desert Survivors in one of the holes. Dan replanted some desert grass from our yard into the catchment basin. (No! Not bermuda grass!) The roots of the native grass create a sponge to keep the water in the ground. 
We mixed some sand we got from a nearby wash with the clay soil and put it in the bottom of the hole. (Moringa seeds need good drainage.) Then Dan mixed the rest of the soil mixture with some organic potting soil and filled up the hole. 

I planted 3 moringa seeds in each mound (about 1/2 inch deep) and watered them!

Dan worked by porch-light, then moon-light shoveling palo verde mulch into the basin. 

He was at it again the next day...

The mulch is so important to keep in the moisture - especially in the desert!  

Dan tamping sides of basin to make sure they don't wash away.

I watered the seeds just enough to keep it moist without soaking it. 

 In one week the moringa seeds actually spouted! Yeah! 

Then I deep watered the moringa and the hackberry bush every other day. 

I was worried about them in the 112 degree weather, so I put up some shade netting.
It also seems to help to water late at night. 

They are looking good. Growing new leaves! 

Ready for the rain! 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Savoring Tucson's edible palo verde and mesquite

I took this great workshop with Jill Lorenzini of Desert Harvesters on foraging edible desert trees.  In addition to getting some great "how-to" advice, we got to taste some palo verde seeds (blanched for storing in the fridge), ironwood seeds and mesquite flour. Dan had to slap my hand away from taking too many of the yummy palo verde seeds.

Hey! I was hungry!

We've also eaten some off of our own backyard palo verde. They taste a lot like edamame, but you only eat the seeds because the pods are bitter. Unfortunately, you have to catch them while the pods are still green, or they get woody. If you ever feel wiped out while hiking, grab a handful for a quick protein boost! (Pick 'em right off of the tree.) 

No, that's not a "man purse."
My sweetie kindly carried my purse when I was wiped out by the summer sun.
Looks good on him though. Don't ya think? 
I have to apologize that I have been so caught up in my desktop activism that I didn't get this up until the palo verde pods had browned and it was the day before Desert Harvester's annual mesquite milling. Maybe you can go out and pick some today - if you can stand the 110 degree heat better than I can! A facebook friend said it was so hot that the mesquite pods were popping like corn!  

The tricky thing about harvesting mesquite is that you have to pick them when they are brown, but BEFORE they fall on the ground. So you need good timing. That's why I would recommend growing some of these drought tolerant desert trees in your own personal food forest. The mesquite only require watering until established. We have two volunteer palo verdes that we never watered at all! 

 Be sure to pick pods off of the tree, not from the ground.
Desert Harvesters suggests that you use a five gallon food grade container to put the pods in as you pick. Then you can store them right in that sealed container. (Our paper bags were a pain because they kept ripping.) You will want to sample a pod from the tree (suck on it) to see if it tastes good before harvesting the whole tree. Taste can vary from tree to tree. You can tell the sweet ones because the ants like them too. Pods ready to harvest will come off with a firm tug. You shouldn't have to wrestle with them.

Dan picked more than me. No fair! He's taller!
Be sure there is no moisture before you store the pods in the sealed container. With mesquite, it's the pods (not the seeds) that will be ground up into flour.  Go to the Desert Harvesters website for their best practices.

We managed to pick about 5 gallons of mesquite pods. Thanks for the great advice, Jill! We got our pods milled at the 15th ANNUAL MESQUITE MILLING & FIESTA (Pre-Monsoon), and enjoyed some yummy mesquite pancakes!*

• Taste pods before you harvest (only pick ones that taste good - every tree has its own flavor)
• Harvest before the rains (to avoid invisible molds)
• Harvest from tree, not ground (keep it clean)
• Keep pods dry (should snap in two when you try to bend pod)
• Mill pods the same season you harvest them (fresh is best)

See for more on harvesting, preparing for milling, other events, and their cookbook "Eat Mesquite and More".

Have your dry, ripe, mesquite pods milled into nutritious, delicious flour for you and your family to enjoy.  Pods for milling must be clean, dry, and free of mold/fungus, stones, leaves, and other debris.

Cost: $3/gallon of whole pods, with a minimum of $10. (A bargain since mesquite flour sells for $17 a pound at the store.)

Bring a closed container for your flour. All your containers must be marked with your name, email and phone number so we can get in contact with you; especially if your pods are being milled at Will-call.

Velvet Mesquite - Arizona Tree Profiles:

Enjoying our first time foraging for mesquite pods!
How did we do, Jill?