Saturday, December 24, 2022

Illuminating Christmas

It's that time of year again when I try to wrap my head around the meaning of a Christmas without all the commercial trimmings and trappings. 

In our quest to have a more sustainable lifestyle, our little family does what we can to cut back on our consumption of single-use plastic. We have gotten into the habit of toting our reusable water bottles on the bus and bringing our reusable grocery bags to the store (including canvas bulk bags and produce bags). Our son Jeremy is great at bringing reusable dishes to take home his leftovers when he eats out. Reduced Waste gets trickier at Christmas time. We no longer buy wrapping paper or gift bags. We started by using what we already had. (There are all kinds of articles on how to creatively wrap gifts without paper.) We already have more Christmas decorations than we can use. We enjoy using real plates, glasses, silverware and even cloth napkins at our family gatherings and backyard carol singing parties.  


I guess the biggest struggle for me was phasing out gift giving. Growing up poor, a big part of our family tradition was opening gifts on Christmas Eve. I would use my birthday money to buy cheap presents for my sisters. I loved  playing Santa - getting up in the middle of the night and putting soda flavored lip gloss in the stockings. Buying stuff was a way of expressing love. After years of struggling to find gifts for distant relatives, sending cheap plastic "thinking of you" presents, and collecting a houseful of knickknacks (that I hear are out of style), gift giving has lost much of its appeal to me. 

It's no secret how commercialized Christmas has become. I remember when I was a child my parents trying to put "Christ back in Christmas" by having a birthday cake for Jesus. The whole idea of surprising people with gifts is so profit driven. It encourages people to buy items that the recipient may not want or need. What happens to all those well-meaning, unwanted gifts? We don't have enough closet space for all of ours. Sometimes they get re-gifted, but often they ended up at the thrift store. Some of the cheaper toys got broken and end up in the trash. The landfill is full of broken toys. In Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, there is the Island of Misfit Toys. Santa finally gets them to children who will love them. Yep, buying presents has been ingrained in us since we were old enough to watch an animated Rankin/Bass Christmas special. How could we be happy at Christmas without that special gift? 


Now that our Christmas Eve celebrations no longer center around opening gifts, we have had to find new traditions like having family game night or bringing back old traditions like our Christmas Sing-a-long party. I've discovered that what I really care about is being with friends and family. The last few years, we weren't able to get together due to COVID, so we got creative and had a Christmas talent show on Zoom. My sister and I made a real effort to share our lives by calling more often - and sometimes including the whole family on conference calls. That effort has really paid off with a closer relationship. This year we were blessed with visits from both sides of the family. Since we didn't have to do Christmas shopping, we had more time to spend together! The highlight was hiking in our beautiful desert.  I hope that becomes a holiday tradition.

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season! 


More thoughts on sustainable holidays: 

Recreating Christmas Traditions: Harking Back to Simpler Times

Celebrating new traditions that represent our values

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Our Yard the Bird Feeder

Someone on Nextdoor asked where to get a bird feeding table. I don't have one. We've designed our yard to be a habitat for birds - even got a sign from the Tucson Audubon Society for it.
Birds really like bushes (like bougainvillea and purple sage) where they can hide.
I don't put out seeds for the birds. But I have plenty of birds. I do have bird baths.

That's hackberry to the left

I have native plants that the birds enjoy: hackberry, wolfberry and chiltepin in the front yard.

Wolfberry in foreground and hackberry to the right of the mesquite

This bunny finds shelter in the hackberry bush while it nibbles on some native grass in the basin.
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I leave some chiltepin peppers for the birds...


And the birds love the horse purslane (some people call weeds) that I purposely grow in my catchment basin. See the pink weeds? That's dying purslane. The birds just love the seeds! When I leave it, the ants will go after the seeds rather than stripping the leaves off of my moringa!

I grow horse purslane as living mulch then break it down into straw-like mulch when it dies. It also nourishes the microbes in the soil.
Some birds also like my Mexican Honeysuckle seeds (that we water with our kitchen sink rinse water.)


I recommend you apply for the Habitat at Home program too! It's fun! 


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Harvesting and Prepping My Winter Garden for the Freeze

Brr... Holding this ice is cold....

After some winter rain, we had our first frost and then deep freeze in Tucson with the temperature getting as low as 28 degrees at night. Yesterday I woke up to find frost on our purslane mulch and ice in the bird baths. 


A few days before, I started harvesting and preparing for the hard freeze. It was past time to harvest my sunchokes (or as we affectionately call them "fartichokes.") The stalks and leaves were all dried up, and some of the roots were breaking through the ground and turning purple. 


 So I pulled the stalks up with the roots. Check out all the edible tubers! 

Can't tell my fingers from the tubers, can you? 

I was so excited that I called my neighbor Julie over to look. She took this pic for me. 


She got a taste of the oven-roasted sunchokes we made for dinner. 


I also picked some red chiltepins (leaving some for the birds.) I had given the last batch to Uncle Rick. 



The next day I harvested most of the moringa tree and hung the branches out to dry for tea. 


I grabbed some leaves and a handful of pods to make moringa soup (using broth I had made from kitchen scraps of onions, celery and carrots.) 


I'm afraid that didn't leave much left on our pour moringa. Just some of the smaller leaves, flowers and pods. See the leaves drooping after the freeze... I hope the seeds are still good in the bigger pods. From past experience I know that most of the trunks and branches will die in a hard freeze. We will eventually prune them down to about six inches. 


But don't worry, in the Spring they always come back from the roots. I like to give them the best chance by wrapping insulation around the bottom of the trunk. 


Next I tended our little winter garden.  I simply put a cloth over the cage that protects my basil from the birds and squirrels.  I didn't bother to cover the chard since it seems to do alright in the cold.  It is also protected by a canopy of palo verde branches and a wall on the other side.   

Yesterday, at the Master Gardeners Winter Garden class, I learned that lettuce and carrots thrive in the winter. The teacher recommended that I keep the soil (not the plants) damp. 


While I was at it, I also dug up some basil by the roots and planted them in a pot that I  brought into the house. (The day before I had sent one home with a friend who brought by his extra veggies from Produce on Wheels.) 

A volunteer avocado plant and our basil snug in their pots on the dinning room table.

But I needn't have worried. The basil under the cover fared well in the freeze. I think being in the ground and the nearby tree and wall helped.


I left the cover off to get a little sun this afternoon.  (Oh! That reminds me I should go cover it!) 


We have a tomato plant that still has some tomatoes on it. Looks like it's protected by the warmth from the south-facing wall. 


My curry plants are absolutely thriving in the cold. 


I'm afraid my new dragon fruit isn't doing so well....

I learned that you shouldn't water cactus before a freeze. My bad. 


I also learned from the Master Gardeners class that you shouldn't fertilize the fig tree before the freeze because the new growth would be more vulnerable. I hope that doesn't include the veggie water and used tea leaves. I use to nourish the soil under our little fig tree. We have some nice mycelium in that soil. The instructor did recommend mulch to keep the soil warm. (But keep it two inches from the trunk of the tree.) 

I was happy to hear that I didn't have to water trees that have gone dormant in the winter. 


It's kinda nippy in here.  A nice cup of moringa tea with orange would really hit the spot! 



For the list of upcoming Master Gardeners classes, go to:

https://extension.arizona.edu/pima-master-gardeners