Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Obsessed with Purslane

If you've been following my blog awhile, you might recall how I weeded the garden just to have Dan come along and plant weeds in it. One of those weeds was purslane, (also known as pigweed or verdolagas in Spanish.) We heard that they could grow in harsh conditions, so Dan tried transplanting some in the gravelly dirt to the right of our garden. They immediately wilted and died.

To be honest, I have been kind of obsessed with this delicious, healthy (rich in Omega 3) weed since I found it growing abundantly on the service road behind our next door neighbors' fence. Free food! One day, I saw Dave weeding his yard so I asked him if he ever sprayed Roundup outside his fence. I was delighted when he said he hadn't. I took him on a little tour of the alleyway and showed him the purslane and asked if it was alright if we picked it. He said sure. I started weeding the burmuda grass to keep the city or another "helpful" neighbor from poisoning the area. A while back I had found a pile of dead bees by our gas meter. Since then I have been diligently weeding the area to keep the city from spraying it with poison. (Good news, the bees are back!)

Soon after our failed attempt to transplant the purslane, the purslane in the alleyway got bitter. (I think it went to seed...) Recently, I've noticed purslane popping up between the road and the side walk. It was often by some sort of water source - run off from the roof or an irrigation system. About  two weeks ago, I found a nice patch by the bus stop where there was a drip system watering the median strip. I picked a huge handful, carried it home (muddy roots and all) on the bus, and picked up some tomatillos and cilantro for Mexican verdolagas stew. As I washed the dirt off, I could almost taste the craveable stew. That's when Dan informed me that he wouldn't be eating that because it could be poisoned with Roundup. Determined that my effort not go to waste, I grabbed up my purslane and planted it (burying each plant a few inches away from each other) in the garden along side of some browning turnips. I figured it might come up next year or at least nourish the soil. Dan sporadically watered the few veggies left in our garden.

After a light rain, I was surprised to find the purslane growing where I planted it in the garden! I still had the tomatillos and cilantro, so I grabbed up a handful to make a small batch of the stew! It was as tangy and delicious as I remembered it. 

Here is my version of verdolagas stew slightly adapted from the traditional Mexican version. I love this just the way it is, but meat lovers can add pork. 

along with the purslane, we had fresh chard from our garden


4 tomatillos 
A large bunch of purslane (verdolagas) 
2-3 cloves of garlic 
1/4 of a medium onion
1/2 bunch of cilantro (optional) 
1 small chile serrano (optional)
2 slices of lime (optional)
queso fresco (optional) 
serve with tortillas 

Grab as much purslane as you can from your garden or backyard. (Leave some of the plant in the ground if you want it to continue to grow.) Wash it well. You might as well wash the cilantro now too. Chop up the purslane and the top of the cilantro separately. Set aside.

Peal the garlic, cut a quarter of an onion, simply remove the tough covering off of the tomatillos and cut into easily blend-able wedges. Throw all but purslane into the blender or food processor until it is liquidy (is that a word?) Cook in small pot or skillet for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the cilantro in blender. Add the purslane to stew. Cook until tender. Add cilantro just before serving. You can also melt a little queso fresco in the stew if you like. It's good either way. 

Serve with tortillas, add a squeeze of lime, crumble on some queso fresco. Yum! 

What we ended up having for dinner: fish rubbed with chili powder and topped with mango salsa, roasted corn with chili power, butter and lime, steamed chard from our garden and verdolagas stew on a flour tortilla.

Find a quicker version of this recipe on this blog. 


IDENTIFICATION AND PREPARATION HINTS: Purslane is considered a succulent. The tear shaped leaves are smooth and thicker than a tree leaf. The stems are pinkish or light green. The stems have a nice tangy, crisp bite when raw. They are best eaten soon after picked. You probably don't want to eat it when it's gone to seed or has flowers because it gets bitter.  You can add it raw to salads, sauteed (good in an omelet), stir-fried, in soups, hidden in tomato based sauces, or in most recipes where you would use leafy greens. It has a milder taste than most leafy vegetables.  

If picking purslane in the wild, don't confuse it with spurge. You can tell the difference because spurge is woodier, branches spread out from the middle along the ground. It is sticky to the touch and has a white sap if you break the stem.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pulverizing Bricks that Dam the Flow

At a Watershed Management Group workshop, we learned that the first step in passive rainwater harvesting is to go outside when it rains and watch where the water flows and gathers. It was no surprise that our backyard patio flooded. When my kids were little they used it for a wading pool. But it also kept valuable water from flowing to our garden and it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

I observed that there were two rows of bricks keeping the precious water from our wilting Mexican Honeysuckle. I concocted a plan. After studying the two rows of bricks, I decided that I would take out two parallel bricks that were closest together and nearest to the desperate plants.

After days and days of scorching heat, an overcast sky beckoned me to work on removing the bricks.

I sat on my multi-purpose sometimes writing table, sometimes gardening stool and started digging on one side of the brick with a sturdy garden spade. Then I dug on the other side.

I had no idea how deeply embedded in the ground the brick was. But I finally hit some roots that were going under the brick. So I scraped under it.

Lucky for me the part of the bricks that interlocked was worn away. So I chipped away at it with my spade. I tried kicking it down but it didn't budge.

I squeezed a square ended shovel under the brick and (amazingly) it came loose!

Here I am frantically trying to get out the brick before it rained. 

Unfortunately, the line of bricks along the patio was more difficult to get out.

I couldn't dig on both sides of it because one side was brick. So I dug as deep as I could. I was surprised how far down the gravel went. In fact, I uncovered a second layer with green rocks under the red rocks. I widened the hole big enough for the shovel to fit under it, so I could pry it up. No go. It wouldn't budge. Dan suggested that I wait until he could get to the hardware store to purchase the right tool for the job (a pick), but I was determined to get it done right then and there. (Sometimes ya gotta go with the flow, baby!)  

I searched the shed for a sledge hammer, but it must have gone to my ex in the divorce. I managed to find an old hatchet. I kept the cover on, and used the back side of the ax to break up the brick. (Dan insists that I could have saved the brick with a pick.) I would suggest you use a pick or at least wear goggles. I was hitting the brick with my eyes closed. 

Here are the two holes that were left after I took out the parallel bricks. Now all I had to do was dig a channel between the two holes. I knew the water had to go downhill, so I filled part of the hole with the gravel and dirt I had removed before. On the end of the channel by the plants, I dug a deeper hole to take advantage of gravity. There were already roots there to make the water sink in like a sponge.

With bricks removed and channels built on both sides of the patio, all I had to do was wait for the rain, and wait, and wait...

Today the rain finally came. The patio filled with water and it flowed down both channels!

A toast to our first, however short-lived, monsoon rain.
And making channels to nourish the Mexican Honeysuckle.. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Food Security in the Desert

I attended the Sustainable Tucson meeting on "Food Resilience in 2016 — Learning to Adapt, Survive, & Thrive in the 21st Century." I was shocked to hear that about 96 percent* of Tucson’s food comes from other places. What?! What about all that agriculture that is using up 74 percent of our waterColorado River water is transported over 300 miles to reach farms in Arizona. 

I decided to do some quick fact checking. I called the big grocery stores in my area. I asked produce managers if they had any local produce (clarifying that I meant from Arizona.) Keep in mind that it depends on the season.  When I called Whole Foods, they had tomatoes from Wilcox. Fry's had lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, and oranges from Yuma and Payson. Sprouts (my neighborhood store) had melons, heirloom and organic tomatoes and hydroponic sprouts. Food City didn’t have any produce grown in Arizona; it all came from California and Mexico. There wasn't much local produce to be found at my neighborhood supermarkets.

Julie Murphree from the Arizona Farm Bureau said that most of our greens come from Yuma, Pinal and Maricopa County. She guesstimated that 80 percent of our produce is exported. 

According to the AZDA Guide to Arizona Agriculture: The state ranks second in production of lettuce and spinach in the country. Yuma farmers annually produce enough iceberg lettuce for every man, woman and child in the United States, Canada and Mexico to have their very own head of Yuma-grown lettuce. And there would still be nearly 90 million heads of lettuce to send to other countries in the world.  

Arizona’s durum wheat grain is known as Desert Durum®... Approximately 50% of each Desert Durum® crop is exported.

If only 4 percent* of our food comes from Arizona, where are we getting our food? Thirty-five percent of Tucson’s produce comes from Mexico. It is an understatement to say that our food system is inefficient. The people in Sonora can’t afford to eat any of the produce they grow, yet thousands of pounds of produce is dumped into landfills after arriving in Arizona. Part of that is damaged during transport, but another 120 thousand pounds may be dumped when prices go down in Florida. (Borderlands Foodbank of Nogales has taken on that challenge. The non-profit organization saves 30-40 million pounds of produce annually and distributes it to families in 20 U.S. states. At Market on the Move you can get 60 lbs. of produce - that would otherwise end up in a landfill - for $10!)

While much of our produce comes from Mexico and California, food is also shipped across our country or even the world. Imagine how much energy is expended just transporting food to Tucson (not to mention the energy used to manufacture the packaging.)

Besides the environmental impact of transporting our food, there is the question of food security. As resources continue to diminish, we won’t be able to keep this up. What would happen if we were cut off from the food superhighway? Big grocery chains only keep 2-5 days’ worth of food in their stores and warehouses. Most households have less than two weeks of food in their pantries. There are no protections if this system shuts down.

Data shows nearly 94,000 Tucson residents live in a food desert; those are low-income neighborhoods where the closest grocery store is at least a mile away - according to the article, New research finds rainwater harvesting could be solution to Tucson food deserts by Jamie Warren. 

But the article goes on... New research finds rainwater harvesting could be solution to Tucson food deserts. Researchers with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University say rainwater harvesting may be the answer to eliminating them.

On a normal year, our annual rainfall supplies enough water for all of our citizens. Unfortunately, our current system doesn’t utilize that water. Our streets and washes are designed for flood control. All that water that could seep into our aquifer evaporates on its way out of town. Despite that, Tucsonans still use 40% of our water for landscaping.

Fortunately, the solution is in the problem. We can cut down on our water use by transitioning to desert landscaping and by watering our plants with rainwater redirected from our roofs! Brad Lancaster of Desert Harvesters and the Watershed Management Group teach Tucsonans how to replenish our aquifers and rivers by harvesting rainwater! Tucson Water even offers rebates to encourage rainwater harvesting! Some city officials are starting to catch on too. Outside of the new municipal buildings green infrastructure including curb cuts have been incorporated to use street water to irrigate roadside trees.

Of course, to be self-sufficient, we need water to grow food. At Watershed Management Group’s workshops, you can learn how to harvest rainwater for your gardens or greywater from your washing machine and sink to irrigate your fruit trees.

WMG has worked with the Community Food Bank and several schools to capture rainwater for their gardens.

Led by visionary educators like Moses Thompson of Manzo Elementary and Oscar Medina and Luis Perales of ChangeMaker High school, students are taught practical science by growing crops to feed fellow students and their families. Students also learn valuable business skills by selling extra produce at farmers markets. One thing that TUSD is doing right, is that they are purchasing food from local farmers and allowing school cafeterias to serve the produce that is grown in their gardens.

Some ways for Tucson to become more self-sufficient in food production

We need to pull together as a community and take care of our neighbors by:

1) Supporting local farmers
2) Growing our own food
Tucson CSA's basket of the week by Sleeping Frog Farm of Benson

3) Growing more durable desert adapted food plants
  • Use dry desert gardening techniques like covering the ground with organic mulch and cardboard
  • Fertilizer made from composting kitchen scaps, leaves and other organic matter can help retain moisture in the soil 
  • "Plant" ollas in your garden to save water on irrigation
  • Use diverse heritage seeds found at Native Seeds/SEARCH or Seed Libraries (ex. amaramth)
  • Ensure future diversity by seed collecting
  • Grow edible desert plants like prickly pear cactus and mesquite. 
4) Conserving Water
  • Plant edible native and drought tolerant trees that don't need much watering once established
  • Direct rainwater to gardens and greywater (from washing machines) to heritage fruit trees 
  • Put in catchment basins filled with organic mulch and native grasses to hold the water like a sponge
  • Plant native trees in the high end of catchment basin 
  • Water your garden or landscape in the early morning or evening so water doesn't evaporate
  • Find out how much water your plants and trees require so you don't over water them
  • Plants take 3-5 times LESS water in the winter  
5) Making our yards into shady edible forests using rainwater harvesting catchment basins

6) Harvesting our desert bounty in a responsible way that preserves the plant for future use

7) Avoiding food waste
  • Harvest unattended fruit trees in your own yard & around town. Learn what is edible
  • Arrange for Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network to pick unused fruit rather than throw it in the trash to end up in a landill 
  • Restaurants and schools can arrange for UA Compost Cats to pick up their kitchen scraps
  • Encourage our City Council Members to start a curbside compost pickup program
  • Get 70 lbs. of produce that would otherwise end up in a landfill for a $15 donation at P.O.W.W.O.W. or 60 lbs. for $10 at Market on the Move
  • Have a plan for how you will use your rescued produce 
  • Check what is in your fridge before shopping and make a list for foods to supplement what you already have 
  • Use kitchen scraps to make broth 
  • Compost your kitchen scraps
  • Find out what your local grocery store does with it's "ugly" produce and expired food
  • Start a neighborhood produce exchange program (Share your bountiful tomato harvest while your neighbor shares their chard) 
  • Share what you can't use with your neighbors in a little free pantry or produce stand  
  • Check up on elderly neighbors and share your food with them
8) Raising chickens for eggs
  • Chickens process food scraps into the best fertilizer
  • Chickens eat bugs near garden 
  • Crush egg shells to add calcium to homemade fertilizer with dirt, banana peels, used tea and coffee grounds 
  • Compost egg shells  
Note: many areas of Tucson have plenty of calcium in their soil so they don't need more from egg shells.  

9) Eating a (mostly) plant-based diet or sustainably produced beef 

The area needed for animals to graze and grow feed is huge. It takes up about 80% of all agricultural land. Researchers found that the switch to plant-based diets would reduce annual agricultural production emissions by 61%. Additionally, converting former cropland and pastures to their natural state would remove another 98.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of the century. 

The rapid growth of animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation. Up to 70% of the Amazon Rainforest has already been destroyed and is now occupied by pastures and feed crops. One of the main crops grown in the rainforest is soybeans used specifically for animal feed.

However, there may be a solution... 

A 2018 study by researchers in Michigan and Washington, D.C., entitled "Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems," showed that intensive, rotational grazing could offset greenhouse gas emission through carbon sequestration that will result to a carbon sink. The researchers noted that grasslands could become highly efficient carbon sequesters that can be maximized using management practices for livestock grazing.

You can help by: 

By making these positive changes at our homes and neighborhoods, we can show our governing officials how we can be more self-sufficient by maintaining our own ground water and food supply (rather than transporting so much from far off states and countries).

Combating Food Insecurity

The Community Food Bank collaborates with organizations like P.O.W.W.O.W. and hosts a community garden and desert gardening classes.

We need to support organizations like the Community Food Bank and advocate for easier ways for those who are food insecure to access the help they need.

But mostly we need to advocate for a living wage so people can afford healthy food.

Community bike tour held by WGA

So… what are Dan and I doing in the way of food and water sustainability? A while ago we began composting and we started a desert garden (experimenting with durable heritage plants.) I began with simple water harvesting by digging up a few bricks that blocked water from flowing to our Mexican Honeysuckle. Then Dan removed gravel and dug a street side catchment basins to water drought tolerant, fast growing and super nutritious moringa. We planted edible native trees in our front yard basin. We also planted jujubes in a basin watered by runoff from our roof. We harvest fruit and pads of our spineless prickly pear. We finally adapted the plumbing on our outdoor washing machine to irrigate some drought tolerant heritage pomegranate and fig trees. We installed two big cisterns to water our backyard garden. A kind neighbor offered to let us collect the run-off water from his huge roof. for the garden too! It’s all a process.

Our future plans:

We'd like to build a chicken coop near that garden and a green house. Dan dreams of installing a composting toilet. We'd also like to start a neighborhood association with the idea of having a neighborhood garden and sharing our own produce at neighborhood potlucks or a produce exchange.

There is so much inspirational work being done around Tucson. The Tohono O’odham are teaching volunteers at the Mission Garden to use their ancient dry desert farming techniques and how to grow sturdy heritage crops. Tucson was the first city in the United States to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. “The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on relocalizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and professor at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. “From food banks, seed libraries, and farmers’ markets, to community gardens, community kitchens, and literary luminaries writing on food and culture, we are serving as a nursery grounds for new innovations, not merely for preserving our food heritage.”

*See Tres' comment for clarification on this percentage.

More Information:

Planting & Maintenance of tree - Trees for Tucson

Recommended Native Tree & Understory Plant Lists - Desert Harvesters 

The Changing Faces in Arizona's Food System 1.pdf

Good Food Finder -  go-to source for locally grown and produced food

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Imagine this Place

Imagine this place…
Where we live in harmony with nature
Landscaping reflecting the natural beauty of the Sonoran desert
Instead of gravel and cement; agave, mesquite, palo verde flourish
Rainwater washes down roof tops to nourish fruit trees and fill aquifers
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Rivers surrounded by cottonwood and oak

Imagine this place
Where we live in harmony with others
Nurturing, inspiring the individual gifts everyone has to share
Instead of TV and Youtube: family, neighbors, community connects
Supporting local farmers, artisans, craftsmen, passionate entrepreneurs
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Talents developed with encouragement and love

Imagine this place
Where we live in harmony with the dirt
Harvesting nourishing, heritage crops for everyone to share
Instead of teaching lack and fear, we teach love, justice, environmental respect
Restoring local rivers, aquifers with berms, water tanks, catchment basins
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Desert crops sprout in the dirt, roots reaching for the

Imagine all the time
Time to live in the present, fully alive
To soak in the brilliance of our sunsets during an evening stroll
To feel the wind in your face as you coast down a hill
Time to take in the fragrance of creosote after the rain
To toast the spectacle of monsoon storms with your love
Time to dig in the garden with your children
To settle back and watch things grow
Time to share your harvest at a neighborhood potluck
 To paint, to read, to bake, to sing, to dance, to play…

Imagine floating on your back, you are part of the flow

Imagine this place

The true cost of "cheap" water

We are blessed here in Southern Arizona to have reliable, clean water sources at a very low cost. Less than two cents per gallon...even if you are using water at the highest residential use rate. 1/10 of a cent per gallon at the lowest rate. Try buying a bottle of water at the store for two cents! But this water comes at a cost very few of us are aware of. I didn't realize just how energy-intensive, polluting, and wasteful our cheap water was until I mapped the process of getting water to Tucson at the recent Hack for Change Tucson event.

As an engineer, I can appreciate the tremendous marvel of technology the Central Arizona Project is. It pumps more than 456 billion gallons of Colorado River water to agricultural and residential users in Phoenix and Tucson - a distance of 362 miles and more than half a mile uphill. The pumps that move that water are powered by the enormous Navajo Generating Station - one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas) in the United States. All of Tucson's water coming from the Central Arizona Project and 10% of Tucson's electricity is powered by the NGS. But there isn't just one coal-fired plant we rely on.

Have a good look at this image. (This is a figure from Chapter 5 of the Tucson Electric Power 2016 Preliminary Integrated Resource Plan. I would highly recommend getting familiar with this document. The final version scheduled for release in 2017 describes how TEP plans to meet its share of the EPA Clean Power Plan requirements for Arizona.) But the thing I find most disturbing about this map is the location of the power plants in relation to the Indigenous Nations. The green areas on the map are the boundaries of these nations. Notice how close the eight power plants in the map are. In some cases, they are inside the borders. However, NONE of these power plants are owned by the people they are located next to. They are all owned by private operators and consortiums of utility companies. The usual agreement, as was the case with the Navajo Generating Station, is for a government entity to lease the land from the tribes and then to turn the construction and operation of the plants and supporting coal operations over to private energy companies. The tribes get jobs, annual lease payments, and low market rate payment for the water used from their aquifer. Is that a fair price for what they are losing? What happens when the generating stations are eventually closed down? The jobs will go away, the lease payments will go away, but the generational health effects and environmental degradation will remain. We've outsourced our pollution to the poor...again!

This image? That's the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimate of the solar power generation capacity in the Southwest. All that orange and red? Those are areas that receive enough sunlight to average between 6.5 and 8 kiloWatt-hours per meter of surface per day. This means that many of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Southwest could power our homes most of the year using solar panels on our roofs. Why are we relying on burning all this coal in a part of the country that has such abundant free energy? 

At this point, you're probably saying: This is all well and good, but what can I do? I have no power! Well, you can choose to read the news releases after the decisions are made and gripe on Facebook about how they've done it again - or you can make your voice heard. TEP's Final Integrated Resource Plan isn't due until next year. Read the Preliminary IRP and let them know what you think! On a statewide level, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will be working on Phase III of the Arizona Clean Power Plan until September. ADEQ holds public stakeholder meetings to provide feedback on the plan. You can attend in person, or you can call in to listen to the meeting and submit your questions and comments via text. 

UPDATE: Navajo Generating Station is closing. Tribal leaders, utilities, the federal government and energy companies must address injustices of the past to pave the way to a clean energy future for the Navajo. Find out how here!

It's a long road to sustainability, but I believe we can - and must - get there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Going with the Flow (Conserving Our Precious Water)

Ever since we went on that first home tour hosted by Watershed Management Group, I have been longing to have our yard redesigned so rainwater from our roof and yard irrigates a big shade tree (we have yet to plant) by the house. Can’t wait to replace all that boring gravel with natural desert landscaping.  There will be a catchment basin surrounded by rocks and covered with organic mulch so the water can sink in. Imagine… in a few years we will have our own oasis in the desert.

catchment basin
At the WMG rainwater harvesting workshop, we got information on how to save money on our water bill AND get rebates from Tucson Water for using rainwater. But what really intrigued us was their co-op program. After working just 19 hours, the volunteers will work on your yard for FREE. (You pay for any consulting and the supplies.)  Excited by the opportunity to learn by helping other people landscape their yards, Dan immediately joined the co-op.  I couldn’t wait to start harvesting rainwater!

Now summer has arrived. Last weekend was a brutal 110 degrees. As temperatures continue to rise in Tucson and this drought continues into its 20th year, it seems even more vital to conserve our precious water.

That got us thinking… What can we do to conserve water until we can make our dream landscape a reality?

We looked into simple changes we can make to conserve water - like watering our garden and shrubs in the early morning or evening so it doesn’t just evaporate. I know, that seems obvious, but I used to sprinkle our hummingbird trumpets when they looked wilted in the heat of the day.  

We can put some of the other things we learned at WMG into practice. They taught us to watch where the water flows and puddles when it rains.  We observed that the water from our gutter dumps onto a brick sidewalk.  As monsoon season approaches, we will simply change the direction of the downspout so it pours into the nearby planter box to water a new kitchen garden.

We have a lovely backyard with a cactus garden and palm tree. But much of the yard is covered with bricks to keep out weeds. We noticed whenever it rains a pool of water settles on those bricks creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. A line of bricks prevents that water from flowing into the planter box that holds the patch of hummingbird trumpets. We thought we could simply remove some of bricks that line the Mexican Honeysuckle so they can benefit from that water. But some things aren’t as simple as they look. Dan informs me that the job requires a trip to the hardware store for the right tool (a pick!) Men and their tools! I got the job done with a sturdy hand spade, a shovel, and a hatchet! 

Look at all that rain! Who says there's no water in the desert?

In the greywater class, we learned how to adapt the plumbing so that our outdoor washing machine drains into the trees in our backyard. We plan to direct that water to irrigate sturdy desert fruit trees. 

Meanwhile, I’m trying to be more conscious of my water use in my everyday life. From simple things like changing my habit of leaving the water running while brushing my teeth to being aware of how much water we use when we wash dishes. We figured out that we were basically washing the dishes twice (because our dishwasher didn’t get them clean unless we rinsed every morsel of food off of them.) So we decided to just wash them by hand.
turning the tap off while I brush

A while ago (just before I met Dan) I noticed that my water bill had really gone up. I called the water company and they suggested that I check to see if my toilet was running.  So that’s what that noise was!  A simple part was all that was required to save hundreds of dollars and all that water going down the drain!  

While doing research for the Central Arizona Project blog, I found out how much water was expended to create electricity. I also discovered something much more shocking - how much electricity is needed from one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the nation to get our water here to Tucson.

Our water doesn't come outa nowhere!

Since then I have become conscious of how much electricity I use. I started noticing how many lights were left on around the house, and started switching them off.  Sorry dad for all the times I rolled my eyes when you bellowed, “Turn off the lights! What do you think, I’m made of money?!” Turns out you were right. We have also switched to energy saving LED light bulbs. When we can, we turn on the fan rather than turning up the AC.

Just keeping up on simple maintenance can make a difference, like making sure our air conditioner works more efficiently by changing the filters more regularly. Then there are the bigger decisions. When we got our roof retiled, we had them use cooler white tiles.  Eventually, we plan to follow the lead of our neighbors and have new energy saving windows installed.

Some small actions can have a big impact - like taking a few minutes to sign the petitions going around to stop our ground water from being sold to the highest bidder (whether it’s Nestles bottled water, the new housing complex near Sierra Vista, or the Rosemont mine on the Tohono O’odham reservation) and reposting them on your favorite social media.

By just being more conscious, I found out there was a lot I could do to conserve water. Sure it takes a little effort to change old habits. But if I can do it, anyone can! I am proud to announce that I finally remember my reusable bags when we walk to the store.

So grab your water bottle! It’s gonna be a long, hot summer!   

Friday, June 3, 2016

How Does Our Garden Grow?

One of the things we are working on is not wasting food. But inevitably we would discover moldy, slimy vegetables at the bottom of our curiously named "vegetable crisper." We figured at least we could compost those uneaten vegetables so they wouldn't go completely to waste.  Little did I know that the stinky compost pile would lead to ME actually gardening! 

HISTORY OF THE GARDEN: When my ex and I first moved into this house in 1996, we discovered a fenced in garden area and the remains of an elaborate, antiquated watering system. As I examined the garden remains, I had flashbacks of working up a sweat picking my Nana’s green beans on her little farm during that long, humid Missouri summer. Moments like that inspired me to dub the state “misery.” Well, that and all the ticks and chiggers. Nana would coax us on with, “We’ll get to eat all the yummy food we pick!”  But I detested the bland green beans that filled her freezer. Kazaam! An eighty-year old man appeared in the garden! He showed us how to start a garden in the plot he had built back in the 60s. He picked up a hoe and started removing weeds.

We were pretty much obliged to garden at that point. That season we grew more romaine lettuce than we could eat. My strict vegan sister strongly encouraged us to grow her some organic vegetables. She came over one time and harvested ONE head. The carrots were pretty pathetic and more work than they were worth.

There were some good times. I remember digging a hole about the size of a mop bucket and planting pieces of an old potato that had grown roots. I watered my little garden hole faithfully and eventually potato plants surfaced. The little curly-haired neighbor girl, who used to drive her pink Barbie electric car around the block, helped me dig up the tiny potatoes. It was like a treasure hunt! We savored our potato lunch.  That little girl is now a college graduate. I ran into her a few months ago. She asked if I still had a garden. She remembered it fondly.

artifacts of gardens past 
I’m afraid I let down that curly haired moppet, Nana, my previously vegan sis, and our fairy gardener. Those were the only foods me and my ex ever grew in the garden.  Mostly we grew weeds. When my son was seven he helped me weed the garden. We “planted” fossilized stones, petrified wood, and collectible rocks to be dug up at his paleontology birthday party. Dan and I still unearth the occasional polished rock, toy shovel, action hero or truck. Just the other day, Dan dug up the habitat that a pet crab was buried in.

A big motivation for starting our garden was to see if anything could grow in our desert soil (research for Dan's Sonoran Gardener app.) We began with heat resilient heritage plants. You might remember the blog post where I bemoaned weeding the garden just so Dan could replant weeds in it. While the purslane flourished in the alleyway behind our house, the edible weeds didn’t survive the move. 

organic mulch of dried grass 

Next, Dan selected some heritage and seasonal seeds from the seed library.

He planted Sonoran winter wheat and carrots, radishes, kale, chard, turnips, and cilantro. Remember the fragrant compost pile? He didn't use any of it. (It wasn't ready....) He covered it with an organic mulch of dried grass (weeds!) and the leaves that fell from the huge eucalyptus trees overhead. I was sure that the weeds would grow more weeds. We watered it with a sprinkler three days a week.

What did we learn from our Test Garden?

We learned we could actually grow food in that soil. Yeah!

We (correction... I) learned to not to irrigate during the day, or it will only evaporate. (Yes, smarty pants knew.)

We learned to snip the leaves off of our cilantro and leave the stems to grow more leaves.

We learned that radish greens are delicious sautéed with sliced radishes.

We learned we liked steamed chard from our garden better than store-bought spinach.

We learned that only Dan will eat the kale.

We learned that the mulch didn't regrow grass and that the eucalyptus leaves and bark weren't as good as the grass mulch. (Darn it...those trees shed so much every Fall!)

I learned that you can keep the weeds up by pulling a few every morning. And that I feel satisfaction by staying on top of them.

I learned that I should probably stretch my creaky old bones before weeding.

I learned to bring out a step stool to sit on rather than straining my back.

We learned that gardens attract lizards, (a HUGE horny toad!) and birds - even quail.

We learned why our little patch of Sonoran wheat kept shrinking...

We learned that those stubborn carrots need more water or ya don't get nothin'.

We learned the turnips were the slowest to grow. Gotta keep watering 'em.

We learned that the cilantro turns into coriander seeds - plenty of seeds to replant or grind into a handful of spice.

I learned that I actually like gardening. It was an excuse to get outside, sink my hands in the soil, and enjoy the morning breeze as lizards skitter about and birds chirp in the palo verde tree.

And sometimes I still feel the presence of my fairy gardener.