Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Worms...More than just bait!

Jana and I were able to join the very inspiring UA Students for Sustainability at their community garden for a vermiculture workshop the other day. What's vermiculture, you ask? As we discovered at the workshop, it is putting earthworms to work processing food waste to create high-quality compost in a short period of time.

We began by using damp newspaper to line a surplus bathtub that one of the students picked up at a local thrift store. (Talk about an awesome find!) The tub was divided in thirds, so the worms can be encouraged to migrate over time by moving the food waste into empty sections, making it easier to harvest the fertile compost after they've vacated the premises.

Next, we wet down some shredded newspaper...

and put it in the tub.

After that, it was time to add food waste from the garden and trash cans around the property.

Time to introduce the earthworms to their new home!

Finally, a celebratory photo to commemorate the occasion...

and then cover up the bin to keep the earthworms cool and to keep the compost from drying out too much.

Now that we know how easy it is, we can't wait to try out some vermiculture ourselves. Hmm...we have that old wheelbarrow we don't use anymore...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Finally got my catchment basin!

I don't know if it was getting the little cactus (hidden between the rocks), planting the first trees of our future edible forest, or posting Watershed Management Group's sign that did it. But Dan finally dug a shallow catchment basin to direct rainwater from the roof away from the house and to irrigate a patch of amaranth.

For some time we have been meaning to dig up the gravel and plastic that was keeping the rain from sinking in to the ground. Bermuda grass was already coming up where the aging plastic was cracking anyway.  We recently took out the bricks that were trapping the water next to the foundation of the house. Then we scythed the dried grass and piled it in the back for mulch.

This all started with observing the rain and watching where the water flowed or puddled (as they suggested at WMG). Using what he learned, Dan developed a plan that included an edible food forest, and a striking (and edible) burgundy amaranth patch. It would all be irrigated with rainwater redirected with berms and shallow basins. But digging up all that gravel was a little daunting, so Dan decided to do it one manageable section at a time.

First, he shoveled up a layer of gravel...

See how he dug it out in the shape of the basin he wanted. 
Pooh blinded by Dan's farmer's tan.
Wow! Must be at least 13 wheel barrels full of gravel there! 
Then Dan pulled the plastic up. He used his handy-dandy knife to cut along the line where he wanted the basin to go.

Oh, my gosh! Look at that clay and those grass roots! 

We thought nothing could grow under all that plastic and gravel! 
It took some real manpower to break all that up with the pickax. He had to go over it twice to get out all the roots.

When he got done, he could see that the ground was sloping (uneven towards the house). So he had to use the dirt he had broken up to build up a little trail. Then he had to go another round with the pickax. (Dan was careful to avoid the sewer line.)

"Boy, I wish I had that tamper for the trail." 

Finally Dan put down some of that dried Bermuda grass as mulch to keep the moisture in if it rained. (I know, I know. It sounds crazy but we've discovered that this locally abundant grass makes great mulch. It keeps the moisture in our veggie garden and in our baby trees.) See how well the little mesquite is doing with the grass mulch (below)? And no new grass has come in.

Finally got my catchment basin! (Thanks, baby!) Looking forward to planting amaranth in it!

Desert Landscaping: Going Native for Tucson's Rivers