Friday, July 15, 2022

The Day After (the rainstorm)

After a joyous night celebrating our new cisterns capturing the rain,  I was tempted to sleep in the next morning.  After all, the garden had been watered by the rain... But there was the issue of the water overflowing from a full tank.

How could that happen?  Maybe because I concentrated on using up the water in the smaller tanks first because they fill up the fastest. I should have alternated using the water in all of the tanks. Doh! Fortunately, I had previously removed some bricks that framed our patio (that had been a mosquito haven) so that water would flow into our Mexican Honeysuckle in the back. So the overflow water wasn't a total waste. 

The next day after the rain...

One of my main rainwater harvesting rules is to use up the rain before it can overflow during the next storm. And Google says there's a good chance it will rain this afternoon! My big dilemma was where to put the water since the yard had already been watered by the previous night's storm.  I know...I know... That's a good problem to have! Now I just need to use up some of that water! 

I checked the soil by the sunchokes under the roof since the rain goes over them.  As I suspected the ground was dry. So I gave them their usual 2 1/2 watering cans of water. But this time they got the benefit of nutritious rainwater!

Then I checked the desert plants on the high end of the basin. The agave looked a little yellow, so I gave it a little bit of rainwater. That gave me the idea to deep water the curry plants and fig tree that are on mounds by the greywater basin. While I had watered the mulch around the plants to maintain the microbes in the soil, I hadn't deep watered them this week. Since I usually use city water on these trees, there was probably a build up of calcium under the ground. So it was a good time to rinse it out with two buckets of rainwater!

5 gallon buckets with two small holes on the bottom let the water out slowly

I poured pasta water on the ground under the fig to build the soil AFTER I watered it, so it wouldn't be flushed away.  (Remember - no salt while cooking pasta.)

After the brutal drought in June, I am keenly aware that every drop counts. As I was filling up the watering can, I noticed the puddle of water that leaked from the hose when I put it on the ground. So now I put the hose into a jar to collect every drop.

Next I checked to see how much water had sunk into the garden. The branches of the palo verde blocked some rain from getting through (and also prevented my soil from being washed away.) So I used half the water I usually use in the garden. 

While I was there, I built up more dirt around the bird netting cages so the pests couldn't get in. 

Then I checked to see if the compost pit needed covering to prevent it from getting over saturated (and becoming anaerobic) if it rained later that afternoon.  The pile had actually gotten just the right amount of rain! Later, when a squirrel dug a hole in the compost, I discovered some nice mycelium growing in the compost! And further investigation showed that the worms (I had previously added to the pile) were multiplying! Yay! 

While I was out there I went ahead and...

Checked for standing water to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs in it.

Dumped out the water on this lid... 

Replaced the birdbath water with fresh to prevent mosquitoes (dumping the old on a nearby plant). 

Removed debris in the channel to the Mexican Honeysuckle. 

Removed any eucalyptus bark from the basin and the leaves from the water barrel filter.  

(We had already checked the gutters after the first big downpour and removed some branches and leaves that were blocking the flow to our downspouts and cisterns).

It's not always easy to get up early, but I always enjoy the sweet morning air and being in my garden. Today, when I was out watering, I spotted two baby squirrels wrestling in the greywater basin. So cute!  No wonder I putter around doing all these little tasks! And while it can be a challenge figuring out how much rainwater to use vs. how much to keep in the cisterns for dryer times, I am so grateful to have that rainwater to nourish my trees and little garden.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Racing to get our cisterns installed before the monsoon storms

Dan and I have been anxiously awaiting the rain - while hustling to get our last two slimline cisterns installed to take advantage of the rain that falls on the Southwest corner of the house.

This happy moment has been a long time timing. It's been quite a process. It's taken years to get where we are. First, we had to dig up all the plastic and two feet of gravel from the yard and replace that with catchment basins covered with organic mulch and bunch grass. The catchment basins work beautifully to create rich soil and hold water for our native food forest.  But we also wanted to plant some heritage fruit trees in the back yard, so Dan set up a greywater system from our outdoor washing machine with its own basin. And then I started gardening, so we needed water for that. We started with two fifty-five gallon rain barrels and then added two cisterns (one using the water from our kind neighbors' roof).

It took a while to get the parts and for Dan to find the time to put in our final two cisterns. Last year, Dan optimistically put in the gutters and downspout.  

Dan finally managed to get all the parts he needed for the used cisterns and got to work cutting plastic piping, and gluing them together with PVC cement then installing baskets and covers on the cisterns. 

The next job was to level the ground where the cisterns would go.  Dan was racing against time to get the cisterns in before the monsoon storms. Unfortunately, he made an unexpected discovery. He found pavers hidden under the ground that he spent two afternoons digging up. 

He didn't quite get them out before the first big downpour... We tried to catch what we could by putting buckets under the downspout.  After that bone dry June, we cherish every drop. 

With our hot weather, it didn't take long for the ground to dry.  So Dan got right to work the next day digging out a base for the tanks. He made sure it was level and tamped to make the ground firm. 

Dan gathered sand that had washed into the street from the nearby Arcadia wash. 

There were all these sprouting seeds in the sand, so Dan and I sifted through it to get rid of them and the sharp rocks and glass that might puncture the plastic tanks. 

After spreading the sand out evenly over the hole, Dan made sure it was level. This is important so the tanks don't end up tipping. 

Dan had to hustle on the next workday. He was racing a possible storm. The wind was blowing hard. 

Dan had already cut and placed three PVC pipes across the base and was ready to roll the tanks in place when he found out one tire of the hand truck was flat. So he had to pump it up every time he used it.  

He used the hand truck to put the cistern on top of the PVC pipes (by himself!) 

Then he rolled the cistern into place under the downspout. I finally got to help by pulling the pipes out as Dan lifted the tank.  He repeated that process with the other tank and made sure the tanks were level.  (He uses his level a lot!) 

Dan put the two tanks together with the flex connector.  They lined up just right! Yeah! 

As the wind picked up, Dan changed the direction of the downspout to go over the basket in one of the slimline tanks. 

He added some length to the downspout to direct the water to the opening in the tank. 

There were still some final touches to put on the tank (like a hose bib on the second tank) but it was getting dark. At least we would be able to get the rain from the impending storm.  

But alas... it barely sprinkled that night. 

The next workday, Dan raced to complete the job before the rain.  

I'm so proud of my guy! He got the slimlines installed just in time to catch 3/10th of an inch of rain! 

Needless to say, we celebrated catching all that rain! What a joyous day! 

Wanna share the joy of  rainwater harvesting?  Learn how at Watershed Management Group's and SERI's rainwater harvesting rebate classes. 

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 today 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 one 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 - that was our family tradition. 

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 every 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 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 under a plant that's already being watered.  Then make your family's favorite purslane recipe. 

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.  #lovemyrainbasin 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.  Here's to hoping you come up with some meaningful traditions of your own! Cheers! 


Greening the Holidays: How to Celebrate Sustainably

Sonoran Desert Foraging: What to Forage in Summer