Monday, July 4, 2022

Celebrating new traditions that represent our values

 

A few years ago, I joined the Zero Waste Tucson community on Facebook. I've learned so much from the group about how to enhance our lifestyle by reducing the use of single-use plastic by practicing the 5 R's of Sustainability: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (compost). The holiday got me thinking about a particular post... A member was fretting over how to tell her mother not to buy more plastic toys for her children. She knew it was a sensitive subject since that was the way her mother expressed her love for her grandchildren.  But her whole house was already full of plastic toys that the children only played with once. I imagine she didn't want her children to equate love with material possessions. Perhaps more important was her need for her mother to respect her shift in values - away from a consumer lifestyle. 

Since we transitioned to a reduced-waste lifestyle, we have become more conscious of our own wasteful consumer traditions during the holidays. We have found ways to celebrate the holidays that don't involve food waste, disposable plates, and wrapping paper. But gift giving was another matter. It was actually difficult for me when my grown kids no longer wanted to participate in a Christmas centered around gift giving.


I still feel nostalgic when I hear Christmas music piped over the store intercoms in November (sometimes October!) It brings me back to happy times of exchanging gifts around the Christmas tree. But if I'm honest, there were more moments of disappointment, jealously, and stress. It was actually a relief when I didn't have worry about Christmas shopping anymore. I finally came to realize, at the ripe age of  53, what I really wanted was family time and tradition.


As I hear neighbors setting off fireworks this 4th of July, I feel conflicted. I don't want to scare the neighborhood dogs or risk a fire by following that tradition. While I still pine for those family get togethers, I realize that my values have changed. I  no longer want to participate in another consumer holiday. During these challenging times, it's become even more important to me to build family traditions that fit with our new values. 

We're blessed to enjoy a rich sustainable lifestyle. That's worth celebrating! We've created some little traditions to do just that. I'd like to share some with you. 


Celebrate nopales season by picking pads and preparing a prickly pair brunch with a nopales scramble and prickly pear fruit lemonade or margarita. 

Celebrate purslane season by picking some purslane, rinsing it off over a bowl and pouring the little black seeds where it's already being watered.  Then make your family's favorite purslane recipes. 

Celebrate mesquite season by gleaning pods before the first rain and eating mesquite pancakes or cookies.


Celebrate the start of Monsoon Season!  Rush out and watch how the rain is sinking into the catchment basins. Take lots of pics!  Dance in the rain! Warm up with a hot bowl of soup made with food scrap broth. Sit on the porch and watch the storm roll in, toasting it with loved ones. 

Celebrate the moringa tree growing back after the monsoon by hanging branches out to dry into tea or making moringa soup with the green leaves and pods. 


Celebrate the summer harvest by picking tomatoes and basil grown in homemade compost with rainwater from the cistern by serving tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella on homemade bread. 

Funny how many of these traditions revolve around food. Some things never change!  

We've found these traditions all the more rewarding because they celebrate the fruits of our labor.  Hope you come up with some meaningful traditions of your own!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Excessive Heat Wave

I was nervous about going on a two week vacation and leaving my precious plants to be hand watered by a kind neighbor during the hottest month of the year. Our cisterns and water barrels had long since run out of rainwater. In preparation for the trip, I started deep watering all the plants a few days ahead.  Dan had read that when the temperture is over 80 degrees that plants can't transpire, so they don't take in water. Since we don't have a drip system, I had to wait until it cooled off in the evening or early morning. I used that time to gather my Zero Waste assessories for our road trip.

For our deep watering we use a method recommended by a local arborist. Dan had drilled two small holes in five gallon buckets.  We use three buckets of water on each of our three jujube trees. It takes 20 minutes for each bucket to drain. Luckily, we have three buckets or I would have been there all night. I did that same process with our moringa, pomegranate, fig, and curry plants. The day before we left, I even watered our cactus garden, agaves, and an acacia that hadn't started to leaf yet. On the night before we left, I used the hose to slow water our hummingbird trumpets that usually get our sink rinse water everyday.

Meanwhile, I took pictures of our plants to include in the directions for our neighbor (which included filling the bird bath.) I didn't get much sleep that night worrying about my plants and all that water!  I guess you can call me a parachute plant parent. And I still had to plant my sweet potato slip in the morning! 

After a lovely family vacation, I finally got the nerve to text our neighbor to see how things were doing. She said the plants were doing well. She enjoyed two tasty cherry tomatos. Whew! 

When we got home three days later, I was shocked to find that Tucson was under an excessive heat warning! 

One of the tomato plants was looking pretty sad (despite having several tomatoes on it.) Our mint plant that was strugging before the trip was now dead along with some tomato volunteers. (Mint never makes it in our yard... Go figure...) Some of the leaves on our sunchokes were a little crispy.  Oddly, our moringa had flowers. Usually they get flowers after they are really big. And one of them was really struggling.

After 12 hours on the road, I stayed up late watering my emaciated plants. 

I was actually surprised to find that the sweet potato plant was flourishing with new leaves (in the compost under the bird netting cage.)

And the curry and some of the tomatoes were doing just fine. Thanks to my kind neighbor! Of course our native plants were doing great. The acacia now has leaves, and the mesquite has lots of pods. I was surprised to see how well the jujubes were doing. All three have lots of little fruit! Maybe those shiny leaves make it durable?  

Since I got home I've been kind of sleep deprived, staying up late and getting up early trying to water the plants in my garden before it reaches 80 degrees.  It was 78 degrees at 5:30 this morning! When am I supposed to water them?!! We haven't even washed our dirty clothes from the trip yet because the greywater irrigates the fig and pomegranite and we don't want to waste that water if they aren't taking it in. 

When I decided to write this blog, I figured I'd reach out to some gardening experts on Facebook.  

I heard that plants can't take in water after the temperature reaches 80 degrees. With this extreme heat way into the night, how are you watering your plants? Also, are there some plants (heritage figs and pomagranite or native trees maybe) that have adapted to take in water after 80 degrees?

Jared Kitty Katt McKinley from Spade Foot Nursury gave the best reply: 

That is an overstatement. And it’s a dangerous one because it leads people to making bad choices. One must water plants when it’s hot and dry. Plants most certainly take in water above 80°. It’s kind of ludicrous to suggest otherwise. Especially native plants that evolved with monsoon. Sometimes institutions take research done in other places and extrapolate. I would pay that advice no heed as it really doesn’t apply to our climate. Plants cool themselves off by taking in water and letting the water evaporate from their leaves. If they weren’t taking in water after 80° they would die. One can always expect some wilting and visual struggle in some plants, particularly new plants in summer. But as someone who has started countless plants in summer, I’m here to tell you that so long as you water consistently and correctly, your plant (given it’s appropriate for our climate and properly planted) will make it. For whatever it’s worth, I think it’s best to water in the morning in summer if only because you don’t want a plant to spend it’s driest hours during a hot part of the day.


Thanks, Jared! So what did I learn from all this?  That I should check with our local desert plant experts before getting sleep deprived. I think it's best to water early in the morning or late at night so the water doesn't all evaporate.  We need to get those other two cisterns installed before the big monsoon rains start! And hook up a string of clay ollas to them so they can be self watering! I'm so grateful to have native mesquites and drought adapted jujubes that do great on just the water that sinks into their catchment basins - and palo verde volunteers that shade our little garden.  

I plan to finally get a good nights sleep... well... as soon as I water the moringas. 


Larger considersations:

Planning for Urban Heat Resilience

PAS REPORT 600 BY LADD KEITH, SARA MEEROW


Friday, June 10, 2022

Reduced Waste Road Trip

  

I have been meaning to write a Zero Waste blog for sometime now.  But, to be honest, our life-style is Reduced Waste at best. We try to practice the 5 R's of Sustainability: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (compost).  But our consumer culture makes it hard. COVID made it next to impossible. Our neighborhood grocery store, Sprouts, started bagging everything in the bulk section and wouldn't even allow us to use our reusable produce bags. Boo! 


We did what we could. We bagged our own groceries so we could use our reusable grocery bags. We found other ways to cut back on single-use plastic like brewing sun tea and using kitchen scraps to make veggie broth (that I store in repurposed mayonaise jars.) But we also wanted to support our favorite local restuarants by getting take-out once a week. We were shocked (and upset) by the huge pile of plastic and styrofoam take-out packaging. We are forever grateful to restuarants like Zayna's that offer paper takeout containers. Those are the ones we frequented most often.  

Recently, we were presented with a new challenge...traveling during COVID. When we got news that my family was getting together for my mom's 80th birthday party, I really wanted to be there. Since the mask mandate had been lifted, we decided it would be safest to drive to the reunion in Wisconsin. Road trip! We don't own a vehicle, so Dan rented a mini-van (which got surprisingly good gas mileage.) 

I prepared for our "Reduced Waste Road Trip" by gathering our zero waste accessories: re-usable grocery bags, a travel coffee mug, water bottles, take-out containers, toiletries, etc. Since we had a van, we had plenty of room. When Dan saw the plates and bowls I set out, he said I was getting carried away. (While he was packing his coffee grinder and french press...) He claimed we wouldn't need them since we would be eating at restuarants - one of the joys of traveling cross country.


So off we went, our refillable water bottles and a travel coffee mug at hand. We simply filled them up when we stopped at rest areas. No single-use water bottles for us! Nope. When it came time for lunch, it was my son Jeremy's job to look up restuarants that had outdoor dining and vegetarian options. When we arrived, he brought the reusable take-out containers. Jeremy loves left-overs, so he had already gotten in the habit of bringing plastic bowls with lids when he ate out.  At this point in our journey, we'd already saved at least 8 plastic water bottles, 3 to-go cups, and a styrofoam take-out container from the landfill. And it was just lunch time on the first day of a three day drive. Yay us! 

At the hotel, we unpacked our toiletries including a shampoo bar (no plastic bottle) and our own bar of unpackaged soap (so we don't have to use theirs.) I even brought deodorant in a cardboard container. We brought homemade toothpaste (baking soda and coconut oil) in an old caper jar. And...yes...that's a plastic toothbrush.  I didn't have any bamboo toothbrushes left, so I used a plastic one I found in my toiletry bag. One of the principles of Zero Waste is to use up what you already have first. The baggie we carry the soap in has been reused for 5 years! Full disclosure... Dan did use one of the hotel's disposabable glasses for brushing his teeth. But he brought it along to use for the rest of the trip.


I had my handy-dandy water bottle by my bed with ice from the ice machine. Good thing I brought two bottles (one for tea, one for water) because the opening of the other one was too small for the ice cubes. 


I also brought real silverware and our reusable plastic bowls (Jeremy's take out containers). These came in handy when we took advantage of the continental breakfast.  I used my reusable plastic bowl in place of the styrofoam plates the hotel provided.  I just wish I had my own cup for the orange juice. Doh! 


We just needed to pack some lightweight plastic cups and plates into our handy Zero Waste bag. Dan! 

When we got to our hotel room in Wisconsin, we unpacked the big comfort items. In addition to Dan's coffee grinder and french press, I brought a glass jar to make ice tea in.  Since I couldn't make sun tea, I microwaved it and let it cool off over night.  

       

We were so happy to see that the hotel was making some attempt at recycling...


They encouraged customers to use the same towel several times to conserve water - which we did!


Inspired by these signs, I used shampoo from the dispensers instead of our bar shampoo. They must be refilling these bigger containers, right? But I found out from the housekeepers that they just replace them. Oh, well. It was an opportunity to teach them about plastic waste, "Did you know that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish?" 


We picked up some fruit and other goodies from the store - in my reusable produce and bulk bags...


I always keep a few produce bags and a light grocery bag or two in my purse. You never know when you'll go shopping... 


I love shopping at thift stores while on vacation. You learn a lot about a town by what ends up at the Goodwill. Check out what I found!  A sweater I have been searching for forever, shorts, a new hat and even a Dutch girl souvenir. The birthday girl found some great books. Recycled and reused! (Look up how much fast fashion ends up in the landfill.) 

I just wish I had gotten a small drinking glass...


Here's to finding an outdoor coffee shop with paper take-out containers! Good to know there are like-minded people out there. 


Even the gas station in Oklahoma encouraged customers to use re-usable glasses... 


I know what you're thinking. It's supposed to be a vacation! Was it worth it?  I think so. It's actually kinda fun. And it feels good to know that we kept all of that plastic and styrofoam from two weeks on the road out of the landfill! All it takes is a little forethought and before long it becomes a habit like brushing your teeth with a bamboo toothbrush.

Check out how our plants did while we were away....

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Yummy palo verde seeds ripe for the pickin'


Want a native food snack that isn't as spiny as some?  You might have some growing in your own yard!  I spotted these palo verde pods hanging over the backyard fence. 

It's so much easier to pick them from the tree then bending to pick them after they sprout in my garden!

If you gotta pull them from the ground, you can munch on the new sprouts!  

But they won't be as tender and sweet as the green palo verde seeds. Just crack open the pod and pop the seed in your mouth.  Unlike mesquite where you can gnaw on or suck the ripe pod, the palo verde pods are bitter.  But the seeds are so delicious - reminisent of edamame. (And you don't have to blanch and salt them.) 

Yum! Palo verde seeds! 

Unless you want to blanch and freeze them... But why wait when you can have a yummy snack right now?  

nom nom nom

For more ways to serve palo verde, check out this blog

And here's how to harvest mesquite

Sunday, May 15, 2022

UPDATE on Spring Garden in Desert Food Forest

In my April 6th blog I wrote about my little experiments of growing a vegetable garden amongst my desert plants at strategic spots around the front yard.  Here are the results of those experiments and what I learned from them. 

I planted one of the tomato plants in a hole left from pulling out a dead milkweed. The soil around the roots looked really good so I thought the tomato would do well out there in the sun. I protected it from lizards and squirrels with a plant cage.  As you can see, this tomato plant did great. I was delighted when it got flowers. But I wasn't sure if it was a self-pollinating tomato, so I took the cage off of it for a few days.  


To be honest the plant cage was a little bit of a pain. I had to remove the gravel I had built up around the cage to keep out the pesky lizards. And it was difficult getting the spike that held the cage down back into the hard ground. One day I spotted some termites in the woodchip mulch dangerously close to the tomato plant, so I had to remove the cage to pull the mulch back. Another time I had to remove it to pull off some low branches that were getting brown from touching the ground. But all in all I'd say it was worth it. Look at all those tomatoes that the squirrels can't get! 

opening the cage
The next experiment wasn't as successful. I wanted to see how our tomato plant would do in the mesquite guild. I was hoping the tomato plant would benefit from the nitrogen the bean tree fixed in the ground. I don't know if there was too much shade, mulch or the hard ground that kept the plant from thriving, because I damaged the trunk when I pulled off a low hanging leaf. 😒


Next are the Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes). I hand water all of my garden to control how much water I use. I was concerned about how much water I used to get these started.  I watered them several times a day to keep the bulbs moist as recommend.  It was really good for soil. Check out the mushrooms growing there! 


But all the new watering used up the rainwater in my cisterns. Once they were established I cut back the water to once a day.  They seem to be alright with it. I think the living purslane mulch helps retain the water.  I heard that plants don't take in water above 80 degrees. So I try to water them in the morning just after 8 a.m. (Now that it is getting hotter, it's more like 7 a.m.) 

Jerusalem artichokes now hitting the top of the cage 

Unfortunately, I didn't get directions on the sunchokes before planting them. I found out later that they would crowd out any other plant nearby. So when they got bigger, I removed the tomato I planted under the same cage.  I dug the hole in the new spot first, then I carefully dug around the roots of the tomato plant and grabbed some of the surrounding soil to plant with it.  

Might have been better not to do this during the heat of the day... It was looking really sad. I even had to prop up the wilty branches with some sticks.  I thought it might be a goner. 


But I watered it and concocted a shade contraption for it.


I went ahead and harvested some purslane for lunch while the sunchokes were uncovered.  

The tomato plant is thriving on the south facing wall that gets plenty of sun and occasional shade from the toilet planter (don't ask... lol)  I try to water the tomatoes at the same time everyday at 8 a.m. before it gets too hot.  


Well, that was a fun and mostly successful experiment!  I learned a lot and didn't kill most of my plants.