Thursday, August 11, 2022

Good Weeds vs. Bad Weeds

With all this rain, we are getting a lot of so-called "weeds." A weed being any volunteer plant that we don't want in our yard. But before you start pulling out all of  your weeds willy-nilly, I thought I'd do a blog on which are the good weeds and which are the bad weeds (in my opinion.) The good weeds include edible weeds, wild flowers and native grasses. The bad weeds include buffelgrass and sticker weeds like goat heads and tumbleweeds . I'll show you how to identify both. If you've read my posts, you're probably aware that I'm an advocate for pulling the weeds where you don't want them and leaving them where you do. 

Should I start with good weeds or bad weeds?  I think we could all use some good news, so...

These native wild flowers (that some people might pull as weeds) aren't only beautiful by they slow down the flow in my jujube basin so the water sinks in instead of running out to the street. And the butterflies and bees love them! 

Senna covesii or desert senna

Sleepy Daisy

The native wild flowers in our catchment basin slow down the stormwater (along with that native grass that is part of the system) to sink in the water and protect the trees. 

This volunteer globe mallow is a nice addition to my cactus garden...

Here's an Arizona Poppy coming up in the place that I transplanted one last year.  

I'm really loving the abundant weed that is covering my front yard basin. I use horse purslane as living mulch. And then break it up into straw-like mulch when it dies! It also has pretty purple flowers that the pollinators just love. And yeah, it is also edible, but not as palatable as my favorite edible weed common purslane (see below.) I would cook it.  

Here I am walking on the horse purslane mulch left over from last year. It's like walking on a wet sponge!  Now there are mushrooms growing there too - a sign of microbes in the soil!  Who says you can't have good soil in the desert!? You just need native plants and rain! 

That brings me to common purslane (also known as verdolagas.) I have waxed poetic in the past about my love for this yummy edible weed and have posted many a blog with recipes. It sorta looks like a succulent with light green or pink stems (that are also edible.)

I guess you can't really call it a weed since I propagate it in my yard (like this patch below.) Check out the cute yellow flowers - that means they have gone to seed. Perfect for planting. I actually wash them off over a bowl to catch the little black seeds. Then I pour them where I know they will be watered - like in the catchment basin shown in the picture below.

baby purslane

This should not be confused with spurge, that is probably growing right under it.  You can tell spurge because white sap comes out if you break the stem. And I think it looks completely different. 

baby spurge 

Also not to be confused with the dreaded goat head... Don't let the yellow flowers fool you! They turn into nasty stickers. Here's a clear picture I got from a Master Gardeners class. 

You won't want to wait until the sneaky yellow flowers appear to pull them out because you may get pricked by a hidden sticker.  

Hey! How did the nasty sticker weeds creep into my good weed section? I'm not done with the good edible weeds! 

We finally got some amaranth in our easement. Yay!  (See pic at the top of the page.) 

While I was out and about I decided to pull some palo verde sprouts to help out our neighbor.  While those aren't traditionally thought of as weeds, by my definition weeds are plants you don't want. And I'm pretty sure they don't want a palo verde forest in their yard.  And I benefited too. Palo verde sprouts are delicious (like their edible seeds.) The neighbors liked them too! 

I grabbed some amaranth for supper....

First, I pulled the leaves off the stem and washed a big bowl of them thoroughly. It's important to pick quite a bit because they shrink when you cook them like spinach.  Then I sautéed them with onions and mushrooms.  Great earthy flavors!  

We love this in a egg scramble, but this time we tried something new!  Amaranth and mushroom enchiladas!  Amaranth is Dan's favorite!  Looks like Freddie wants some too! 

Now for the bad weeds that are popping up after all that rain. 

I kinda went on a quest to get rid of all the sticker weeds in the neighborhood. 

Hiding in the grass, was an innocent looking weed with purple flowers...and stickers!
Can you spot it? 

Oh! Here's the baby sticker weed! 

I'll grab this little goat head while I'm at it. 

There were a bunch of tumbleweeds that were spreading from one yard into the two yards next to it. I pulled those too!

I put them in re-used plastic bags to keep the seeds from flying down the street when the garbage truck picks them up. A good morning's work, if I do say so myself! 

And don't forget buffel grass. You don't want that growing in your neighborhood. It spreads like wild fire and burns as hot. It's pretty easy to pull when they are little. You can identify it because it grows out from the middle and often has burgundy tips. 

But once they go to seed, you'll want to carefully pick off the seeds first and put them in a sealed bag. Then try to pull them out by the roots using a shovel. It's easiest after it has rained for a few days. Then put the whole plant into a sealed plastic bag so the seeds won't spread when the garbage truck picks them up. The buffel grass pictured below spread through the whole lot then down the street and through the neighborhood. Now, when I can't get them out, at least I remove the seeds. 

Buffelgrass identification brochure:

Here's a pic of some baby buffelgrass.  I'm afraid it looks an awful like some other grasses. But a big buffelgrass with seeds nearby is a good clue. 

Weeds are in the eye of the beholder. In the 80s many people planted Bermuda grass - that is now considered an invasive plant. (Which you are well aware of if you've ever tried to remove it. It sends out seeds and runners and has a deep root system....) 

To keep it under control, you can cut it back before it goes to seed. I use the grass clippings from my neighbor's yard on my compost pit! 

But I purposely plant native bunchgrass in our yard to prevent erosion (like around the base of the curry plant below.). It's an integral part of our catchment basins - allowing the rainwater to sink in and acting as a sponge (along with woodchip mulch) to hold the water longer.  (I have been known to give it a hair cut to keep the seeds from spreading too much.) 

I hope this helps you see "weeds" in a new light. Keep the native plants you like, pick the 
weeds you don't. And you can walk barefoot in a yard you love as much as we love ours.

Thanks to Jared from Spade Foot Nursery for helping identify some of the local wild flowers. 

More Information: 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Where are we supposed to put all this friggen' trash!?

The piles of brush and bulky in our neighborhood got me thinking about where all our trash goes after it is picked up. I have never understood why they pick up the tree branches and other organic materials at the same time as other big junk like broken washing machines, flat tires, and furniture. It all goes into the Los Reales landfill. 

The Los Reales landfill takes in 2,300 tons of solid waste daily and the city spends roughly $8 million every year to process waste at the site.

A big portion of our trash that ends up in landfills is food waste. The US EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 24% of the amount landfilled and 22% of the amount incinerated. When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. 

How can we keep that food waste out of our landfill?  In addition to cutting down our food waste,  I'd like to see the city offer a separate bin for food scraps so it can be composted for community and neighborhood gardens. I have a "lazy compost pile" myself.  And my neighbors' food scraps don't go to the landfill either - because they give them to me! 

Is there anything else we can do to cut down on the trash going into the landfill?  One of the first solutions people think of is recycling. After all... recycling materials takes less energy than mining materials and producing new products. But all those products we consume contribute to climate change -  even before it gets to the landfill. According to Sustainable Tucson's Zero Waste Lead, Kevin Green:
The US EPA published a landmark report in 2009 that found 42% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the goods we use and food we eat. This includes the extraction or harvesting of materials and food. The report indicates that 29% of GHGs result from goods produced within the US, while food production contributes 13% of the GHGs.
So consuming less trash in the first place is really the way to go. That's why many people are moving towards a "zero waste" lifestyle where you follow the 6 R's of Sustainability: Rethink/Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair, Repurpose, Recycle, and Rot (compost).

“Zero Waste: The Conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials without burning them and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

And there are other problems with recycling.  For one, you need a buyer for those materials. ReCommunity Recycling Center no longer recycles glass because it doesn't have a buyer. I was shocked to find that they were throwing glass bottles into the landfill because it cost the city 3 million dollars a year to store it. Hearing his constituents' dismay, our Council Member Steve Kozachik championed a project to crush glass to make into cement and sandbags. Now we have glass drop-off sites all over town.  

But there were other problems with our recycling program - namely contamination. That means putting gross things in our recycling like dirty takeout containers or even soiled diapers. It was so bad that we nearly lost our recycling program because China would no longer accept our dirty trash! But we haven't totally learned our lesson. We still put things that aren't recyclable in our recycling bin - like Styrofoam and plastic bags. (Plastic bags jam up the recycling machine.) Currently, the city only recycles #1 and #2 plastics. 

Since so many of his constituents were frustrated about how much plastic ends up in the landfill, our pragmatic city council member came up with another innovative solution - making plastic blocks out of much of the plastic that can't be recycled, including plastic bags! He is currently conducting a pilot program to demonstrate to the Mayor and Council that the public will support the idea.  He's asking his constituents to drop off the plastic that couldn't be recycled at the Ward 6 office. (See the list below.)    

I have mixed feelings about this - because of the reasons I mentioned above.  If you're already living a zero waste lifestyle, no doubt you will be making few or no trips to the Ward 6 office to drop off your plastic scraps. Keep up the good work. But in the current consumer culture, many of us have found it impossible to be be entirely zero waste. We are doing our best to reduce waste by toting refillable water bottles, recycled glass jars, reusable grocery, bulk and produce bags.  But there are still products that we can't get in bulk or plastic free, like mushrooms wrapped in plastic and a lot of organic produce. What the heck?!!! Until our community can make the paradigm shift we need, Steve K's plastic block project is a good start.  

I do have one suggestion though. Instead of using EVEN MORE PLASTIC by putting it in the plastic bags Steve provides in his starter kits, please put it in one of the many plastic bags that we can't help getting.  

This is a cereal bag that I'm putting in a bigger bag we got with a delivery. Don't judge. 

Here's a message from Steve: 

Ward 6 Wants Your Non-Recyclable Plastic Trash

From now until the end of the year Council Member Kozachik and the Ward 6 Office are hosting a pilot program in which we are collecting non-recyclable plastics and turning them into construction-grade building blocks. All those plastic materials you cannot place in the blue bin are right now ending up in the landfill. We want them. And we’ve got free plastic bags for you to collect them in before dropping them off at the ward office.

We’ll be handing out free clear plastic bags along with informational material describing the pilot project we’re hosting. Bring us bubble wrap, plastic drink cups, lids and straws, candy bags, single use plastic bags, 6-pack holders, plastic food trays – bring it all. Working with our partners in this program – ByFusion, Tank’s Green Stuff and the City of Tucson Environmental Services – we'll turn that waste into reusable products you’ll soon see in building projects around the city.

The Ward 6 Office is located at 3202 E. 1st Street. Stop by and grab your Starter Kit and join us in being a part of this waste reduction/reuse program. Nobody else in the state of Arizona is doing this, so your involvement is a part of Tucson residents leading the state by example – once again! Thanks to Reyna Preciado from KGUN for stopping by the ward office and covering the story. Here’s a link to her piece.

Councilman Steve Kozachik is collecting rerecyclable plastic - KGUN 9

Recently ByFusion was highlighted in national media through CNN (See link below.)  You can see their operation in action and hear the background on how this whole idea got started. You’ll see that our pilot is a part of cutting-edge stuff that only a handful of jurisdictions are currently doing. We don’t mind leading by example – and we love it that so many of you are on board.

In the video, you see them building various structures with the blocks. I’ve shared this image before – it's the seat bench we built out in San Gabriel neighborhood. The seat is made from Anita Goodrich’s crushed glass (also spawned in the ward 6 garage) and the blocks are the one’s we’re now collecting plastic for. If you want to see the San Gabriel bench it’s in their pocket park located at Irving and Santa Barbara. When you go by, don’t worry about it looking kind of lonely in that location. We are working with Tucson Clean & Beautiful on a landscape design for the area. Planting is scheduled for this fall.

Here’s the graphic showing what we can use. 

"On Sunday, I did a little dumpster diving in our Plastics Only bin – I was removing Styrofoam someone had thrown in. NO STYROFOAM. It is not plastic and constitutes contamination in this process. It belongs in the trash."



Tucson councilman collecting plastic trash for construction projects

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

A love letter to our catchment basins

If you have been following our blog lately, you know how thrilled we were to finally get our last two cisterns installed.  (You did it, baby!)

We really needed that harvested rainwater for our thirsty garden this summer as our plants suffered from record heat.  I was feeling guilty for giving them so much water as our main water source, the Colorado River, is drying up due to the extreme drought.  

But now that we've had some rain,  I am really appreciating the beauty and ease of our catchment basins.  During the first big storm even the biggest cisterns filled up, so I needed to figure out how to use up some of the water in order to leave room for the next downpour.  Our Mexican Honeysuckle (that get the overflow) had MORE than enough water, so I wanted to spread the wealth. 

Meanwhile, I watched in wonder as our catchment basins kept sinking in water.  Rainwater harvesting Guru Brad Lancaster said that a catchment basin can actually store more water than the big cisterns. The cisterns fill up and that is it. But the catchment basin keeps sinking in water. The roots of the native plants and grasses help the water sink in. Those so-called "weeds" help prevent erosion, and keep the woodchip mulch in place to create a sponge to hold the water longer.  That moisture also feeds the microbes in the soil. What a joy it is to see mycelium under the mulch and the resulting mushrooms! The birds love our yard! We like to think of it as an edible food forest for us and the birds. 

Dan has designed our system so the overflow from the cisterns flows into a basin or somewhere where that water can be used. He transformed our front yard into a rain garden.  Every time it rains, we rush outside to see how well the system works! 

My favorite is the jujube basin. We already had gutters and a downspout that directed the rainwater where we wanted the basin. That was the easy part.  But it was quite the effort to get the roots of the aging oleanders removed. Dan planted the three jujube trees up on mounds and dug a basin along the side of the three trees. Then he filled the basin with mulch (that has long since decomposed into nice soil.) We got so much water there during a big storm that it actually washed some of the mulch into the street until we got some volunteer native grasses, horse purslane and wild flowers to catch them. They act as a living mulch. And when the horse purslane died it became straw-like mulch that keeps the moisture in longer. During the winter, I only had to deep water them once a month (or longer.)  During the recent heatwave, it was every two or three weeks. I haven't had to water them at all during monsoon season. And they are flourishing and growing lots of fruit. 

Now much of the front yard is covered with basins.  It didn't happen overnight.  It was a process.  Here's a little history of that process... 

First Dan dug a basin in our right-of-way leaving mounds with five gallon holes in them so we could plant a wolfberry and four moringa trees. At the time, the right of way was completely covered with deep-rooted invasive  Bermuda grass. It was quite a struggle to get it out. (It was even growing under the sidewalk.) Dan conducted a "percolation test" to make sure the water would sink in within twelve hours. Then Dan filled the completed basin with organic wood chip mulch and native grasses.

We planted moringa seeds in June so they would be established by the time the monsoons started.  We were amazed how huge the moringa grew in just one season! (Those moringas have quite a story of their own that you can follow by clicking on the link in the label column to the right.)

Next Dan dug out at least two feet of gravel and the plastic under it. It was funny... when he pulled out a big sheet of plastic underneath it we found Bermuda grass roots creating a design that resembled children's yard art!

It must have been covered up for years just waiting for a crack in the plastic to break through!  Dan took some of the gravel and built up a small berm to keep the roof water from the foundation of the house. It gradually sloped down into a basin that he filled with woodchip mulch.  On the high ends he planted native trees. Near the mesquite tree he put a hackberry bush to take advantage of the nitrogen that the mesquite fixed in the ground. (Dan loves that mesquite tree! He likes to call it his "Charlie Brown" tree because it was a scrawny project reject from WMG. ) Now that mesquite and the hackberry are thriving in our catchment basin!

Through the years the woodchip mulch has decomposed and turned into fine soil.  We really need to get some more... But after last year's monsoon, the whole basin filled with horse purslane - that acted as a living mulch! The bees and butterflies just loved it!  I pulled it away from the pathway and sidewalk so it looked intentional. I actually got compliments on our weeds!  When it died at the end of the season, I broke it into straw-like mulch.

It keeps the moisture in nicely! It is starting to breakdown too, so I'm happy that new purslane is popping up to take its place! (See photo below.) Who says Tucson doesn't have good soil?! You just need organic matter and water! 

We don't like to play favorites, but I gotta say that our catchment basins are my favorite rainwater harvesting feature.  All they take is a little sweat equity, native grasses and mulch!  Like Brad Lancaster is fond of saying, "Love it!" 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Being Neighborly (or Crazy Weed Lady Strikes Again)

Neighbors walking their dog by my moringas
Dan and I are blessed to have good relationships with our neighbors. One reason is because I chat with them when I am out tending my yard. As anyone who walks down my street knows, I love to talk about our "edible food forest." Our neighbors know all about the edible weeds in our yard and how our native trees and moringa are flourishing in our rainwater harvesting catchment basin. One neighbor gamely tried purslane and then planted it in her own yard! 

In a previous blog, I shared how Dave allowed Dan to install gutters and a downspout on the overhang so we could collect the rainwater in our cistern. The overwhelming response on Facebook was, "Good neighbors!" And Dave is a good neighbor. But it was also mutually beneficial. Directing that water into the cistern prevented unwanted erosion in his yard. 

On the other side of the house, our neighbors leave their kitchen scraps for our compost pile. Again, mutually beneficial because it doesn't stink up their trashcans and occasionally they get some of what we grow in the garden. And other food items are distributed over the wall as well... veggies from a big haul at Produce on Wheels, soup (made from food scrap broth), even desserts!  

In the other blog I shared how I will pull the weeds in my neighbor's yard (especially nasty goat heads.)  After the big storm that filled the neighbor's yard with palm fronds, I picked up some and cut them into mulch for our yard. You see, our woodchip mulch has broken down over time and become a part of the soil. So last year I cut our horse purslane into mulch. (It looks like straw...) I decided to take advantage of the palm fronds until the horse purslane grows back and makes living mulch. I wouldn't really recommend it. For the amount of mulch, it really wasn't worth the effort.  

You can see the horse purslane starting to grow back in the picture below and some of my makeshift palm frond mulch. 

While I was in my neighbor's yard I spotted a bunch of palo verde sprouts. To them, they were weeds. To me they were yummy sprouts.  So I picked them and washed them to eat. Again, mutually beneficial!  I even convinced the gals to try them.  They liked them so well, that we split the bounty! How cool is that?! 

Picking the palo verde pods led to the easement where I found my favorite edible weed, purslane, and Dan's favorite, amaranth!  Dan and I gathered a bunch.

That's our dog Pooh, not Dan. This is an old photo.

We gleaned enough for Saturday and Sunday brunch. Saturday we had amaranth scramble with eggs and potatoes. And Sunday we had sautéed amaranth and mushrooms. YUM! FYI Amaranth tastes a lot like spinach (only it's healthier!) 

While I was out watering my yard, I noticed that the bermuda grass in Dave's yard was growing like crazy from all that rain.  So I decided to give it a trim and maybe use it in my compost pit. 

While I was at it, I pulled some sticker weeds. 

I pulled some grass out by the roots and gave some a trim and collected it all for the compost pile.

I should have gotten to it sooner, because some of it had gone to seed. Live and learn...

So I spent an hour going through it and taking out the seeds before putting the grass in the compost pit. (I was curious how much seed was in there, but I won't be doing that again.) O.K. I admit it. It was a waste of time.  But while I was out there I had a nice conversation with the neighbor across the way about not using RoundUp. While we were talking another neighbor came up and told me that she has stopped using RoundUp out of respect for me. 

You can see why Dan calls me the "Crazy Weed Lady." lol  I don't know if that title has caught on with the other neighbors.  But they don't seem to mind my ramblings too much.  I recently found these two gifts at my front door. Aren't neighbors great!