Friday, December 22, 2023

Catchment basins sink in winter rain

What a joy! There has been a nice steady rain all day long - the kind of flow that sinks so well into our catchment basins. If only our photos could capture that. Rainwater streams from the roof into gutters where the downspout directs it into the jujube basin (shown above.) The leaves and palm frond pieces create a layer of natural mulch that (along with some native grass) hold the water like a sponge to nourish the soil.

Again, this photo doesn't do the basin justice, but this is how the front yard basin looks after raining all day long. It has sunk in beautifully. 

The front yard basin continues to sink in and store water for our native plants and trees - long after our largest cistern fills up and overflows. 

In case you're wondering why the cistern overflows onto the patio (rather than to another basin which is the best practice), it is because the water from the patio flows into our Mexican Honeysuckle plants (shown in the background.)

We have been meaning to get a truck full of Tank's Green Stuff organic mulch to replace the mulch that is breaking down. Here you can see how we leave the leaves to build the soil.

Sure, our winter basin may not look as green as it did when the trees were full of leaves, but I still #lovemyrainbasin as it continues to feed the soil and give a habitat to native bees and other pollinators.

For move information on our basins, go to:

I would love to see your basins too. Please, post them on your social media page with the hashtag #lovemyrainbasin

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Choose Your Climate Story: Extrapolations or ReGeneration

Just finished watching Extrapolations and I'd like to share a few thoughts about it.  

Most of you know me from my environmental advocacy with Sustainable Tucson or from following my blog about sustainable living. But in another life I wrote reviews of meaningful films for Reel Inspiration. Before that I was actually a theater major! Funny how our journeys don't always go the way we imagined. I went on to get my MFA in playwriting which led to writing screenplays, which led to becoming active in Tucson's indie-film community, which led to me writing film reviews - where I watched a few documentaries on climate change. I started to notice the impact of climate change on our desert town. Every year was getting hotter than the last. Our normally raging monsoon season diminished to a mere whimper. That inspired me to learn everything I could about climate change: the causes, impact, and ways to mitigate it. We adjusted our everyday lifestyle to have less of a negative impact and more of a positive (regenerative) impact.  

Experience has shown me that no education is ever wasted. Even my theater background could be used to educate people about climate change. Much of the research I conducted was incorporated into ReGeneration: The Tucson Story, a play about the impacts of climate change on Tucson in the near future. It was a vehicle to share solutions I had learned about. Unfortunately, by the time the play was stage ready, all the theaters and schools were shut down due to COVID. So I ended up directing a virtual play reading in 2021 (that you can still find on YouTube.) 

Meanwhile, another climate story was in the works.

Extrapolations, a limited series by writer, director, and executive producer Scott Z. Burns, "introduces a near future where the chaotic effects of climate change have become embedded into our everyday lives." The marketing team couldn't have come up with a better logline for my play! Naturally, I had to check it out. It's been a while since I've written a movie review for Reel Inspiration. But I couldn't help forming a few thoughts on the series. Occupational hazard. Once a reviewer, always a reviewer. And, it was only natural that I would compare the series to my own script. 

First, I'm not sure it's correct to say that Extrapolations is set in the "near future." (I guess it depends on how you define "near future.") The time line goes from 2037 to 2070. 

But my play ReGeneration actually is set in the near future. Here in Tucson we are already seeing many of the impacts of climate change dramatized in my story. While we haven't had to suffer through the grid going down (yet), we recently had a scare when the power went out for a few days in some parts of town. We have seen the impact of extreme heat on the most vulnerable. Everything that happens in the story is based on things that are already happening here. 

To get a better understanding of the series, I looked up extrapolation - the name of the title.

noun: the action of estimating or concluding something by assuming that existing trends will continue or a current method will remain applicable.

Given this definition, it seems that Burns created each episode based on an extrapolation of a current trend in climate and technology taken to a potential extreme. There was some continuity where some characters reappear in later episodes, but for the most part, each episode was a stand alone exploration of a potential future outcome of climate change and new technologies; like mass extinctions of animal species, the effects of extreme heat, or possible unintended consequences of attempting to solve global warming with geoengineering. 

While it is evident that the writers did extensive research on the causes of climate change and impacts, Extrapolations plays more like science fiction or dystopic sci-fi. It explores the dichotomy of the "chaotic effects of climate change on the everyday lives" of the underserved masses in contrast with the luxurious comforts the privileged few corporate CEOs are afforded due to future scientific advances. The general public endures rationed geo-engineered food, while billionaires enjoy gala events catered with the real food. Workers pay for shots of clean oxygen to endure the polluted air, while the rich are safely transported in flying machines to their domed, climate-controlled mansions. The idea of relying on for-profit corporations to share the technological advances needed for our survival is a frightening theme of the series.  

I guess the biggest difference between my play and Extrapolations is that in my play there is still hope as the teen protagonists fight for a livable future in our desert town. In most of the episodes of Extrapolations, the protagonists goals revolve around survival in a world that is rigged for profiting big corporations. Sort of a bummer, but an insightful theme. 

I know my virtual play can't compare with a professional production with state of the art special effects and star power.  But if you are looking for hope in this time of climate change, you might want to watch the recording of my play. I find the most hope in taking action. My goal in writing the play was to present realistic solutions and impactful actions we can all do to lessen the impact of climate change - hopefully in an entertaining way.  Maybe you can find some ways to share your own talents and skills to create a more resilient future, too. 

Here's a few ideas...   

What Kind of Climate Champion Are You?

For the Love of Tucson: Creating a Desert Oasis to Combat Climate Change

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Leaving the Nest

The day had finally arrived - when Jeremy left us to go off to college. We had been preparing for this day since we read him his first board book.  But there were still mixed feelings as our last child left the nest. I was excited to witness this move towards independence and exploration, but I was going to miss him. I hoped that we had prepared him to live a sustainable lifestyle on his own.

As the departure date grew closer, we started gathering what he would need for his first apartment. Jeremy drafted a list and I kept adding to it. I was pleased to see that he included vinegar in the cleaning supplies section (instead of some poisonous chemical cleaner.) I added baking soda to the list. I figured out what utensils he would need to make his favorite vegetarian foods and went through our cupboards in search of them. I started stacking them - along with our extra pots and pans, silverware, etc - on the dining room table. 

In addition to the usual household items, I gathered what he would need to continue our reduced plastic life-style. Just because he was going off to college, there was no need for him to resort to single-use plastic convenience items. I grabbed some sturdy reusable cloth grocery bags and filled them with reusable produce bags and bulk bags. I figured they wouldn't go to waste, since Jeremy was already accustomed to using them. 

I also included some reusable takeout containers that Jeremy had gotten in the habit of bringing for his leftovers when he ate out. 

I have to admit that I was a little concerned because Jeremy hadn't really cooked much. Cereal, PB&J sandwiches and quesadillas - that was pretty much it. He usually ate what I prepared or the left-overs from eating out with his dad. He didn't even heat up his leftovers! I had shown him how to make a few of his favorite dishes like roux for scalloped potatoes. I hoped he was paying attention. And he knows how to make our style of enchiladas since we compile them together as a family. As it got closer to the departure date, Jeremy started asking how to make some of our vegetarian staples - like veggie broth from kitchen scraps (onions, celery and carrots are the basics) and marinara sauce. I even tested the mini crockpot to make sure it worked so he could use it to make beans. (I reminded him that they would need to be soaked overnight.)  

I was surprised when Jeremy asked me for cloth scraps for cleaning. That's my boy! I cut up some old tee-shirts for him and they went into the bag. 

Since he left, we have chatted on the phone a few times. He told me about all the dishes he made. He hasn't eaten out once! One time he messaged me about how to make spinach dip. (He remembered how to make the roux! He WAS paying attention!) He's even posted pics of his creations on social media - like some burnt spaghetti from a technique he learned online. I think he's gonna be alright. 

This weekend he came home for the first time since he went off to college. You guessed it! He brought home his laundry! lol 

He wanted to use our washing machine because the water goes into our greywater basin to nourish the fruit trees! 

I couldn't be prouder. 

Jeremy will be coming home next week to join me in performing environmental stories at the ¡Agua es Vida! Celebration of Water in the Desert and Short Film Showcase at Watershed Management Group! Looks like I could be prouder...

More stories about Jeremy's journey: 

Reduced Waste Road Trip

Engaging the Next Generation

Teachable moment for the boys

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Yep. I water my weeds

That's right. That's me watering my weeds... the edible purslane I planted in my yard, that is. 

I had this brilliant idea that I could spread the yummy common purslane throughout my rainwater harvesting basin in place of the less palatable horse purslane that had completely covered it last summer (see pic below). Don't get me wrong. I loved my living horse purslane mulch. Even wrote a blog about it. I hoped that it would help retain the microbes in the soil at least. 

I had taken great pains to pull the purslane out by the roots, plant it by a few Mexican sunflowers and protect it from critters with a plant cage. I always like to plant purslane where I am already watering something to save water. But if I'm honest, I was really using the sunflowers as an excuse to water the purslane during this record heat wave. OK, I was propagating the purslane. And if the non-soon wouldn't water it - I would - with rainwater from our cistern. 

Meanwhile, in the (fake) decorative river in my neighbor's yard volunteer purslane was flourishing.  I asked my neighbor not to spray Roundup on it so I could harvest it. Just in time too! He was just heading out there with the hula hoe to mow it down. Off I went to harvest some for breakfast. Yay! 

So I got a little carried away...

Actually, in the produce bag was some overgrown purslane I gleaned by Udall Park that I planned to plant. Since there were little flowers on it, I figured it was close to going to seed and would spit out those seeds in the yard. 

After the purslane in the plant cage flowered, I removed the cage with the hope that the seeds would spread and be watered by the next rain (if there is one.) 

Click on the pic below to see the yellow flowers on the purslane ready to burst out seeds! 

I can only hope that it will do better than the horse purslane that is wilting in the scorching sun. 

The horse purslane that got more water from the downspout is looking more perky. It worked great to slow down and sink in the rushing water when we had that big storm. Now the plants are benefiting.
NOTE: These are only being watered by the rain. 

I don't know if we will ever get enough rain to spread the purslane through the basin, but the neighborhood bunny is sure enjoying the evaporative cooling from the water I put on the purslane.


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Surviving the "Nonsoon"

Tucsonans have developed many theories on how to bring forth the monsoon rain. Some claim washing their car will do the trick. Others swear it's deep watering their trees. A Facebook friend urged me to use the last bit of water in my rain tank that I reserved for my veggie garden. (I had already gone through most of the water in four cisterns and two fifty-five gallon rain barrels.)  So...despite proclaiming that I don't use any city water for my landscaping on the six o'clock news last spring, I finally broke down and deep watered my jujube trees. It stormed that very afternoon... 

You're welcome!

Gardening in this extreme weather has been very humbling. I have struggled to balance conserving water during our current water crisis and keeping my poor plants alive in this unrelenting heat.

I've lived in Tucson nearly 30 years and I have never experienced anything like this. (The drought the year before last came the closest.)  I try to get up early enough to water my little veggie garden before it reaches 80 degrees (the temperature when evapotranspiration stops on some plants), but most days the temperature never dips below 80 degrees - even at night! Some evenings it has gotten as high as 90 degrees! That's bad news for people and plants. And it's NOT normal. In the old days, Tucsonans slept on the roof after the house got too hot. When we first moved to Tucson it stormed every afternoon during monsoon season. 

Nonsoon? I don't know. We finally got a couple of monsoon storms, but by mid-morning the ground is bone dry. My poor plants! Unfortunately, we had to take out our pest-infested eucalyptus tree, so our "desert adapted" heritage fruit trees have no protection from the scorching sun. I finally put a shade contraption over our little fig tree.

But despite getting up at 5:30 am and cooling it off with a can of water (not to mention regular deep watering), it just withered away. Keep in mind that it also gets greywater from our outdoor washing machine. But we had the dilemma of when to wash our cloths - since it never got below 80 degrees while we were still awake. We finally started the laundry just before bed anyway. (We were out of underwear...) 

You'll be happy to hear we had better luck in our front yard. We've been fortunate to go as long we did without using city water. Our rain basins had sunk in enough water to keep them going.

The jujubes are thriving in their basin. Apparently jujubes are very drought tolerant. Perhaps it's their shiny leaves. I just wanted to make sure they had plenty of water to promote fruit growth.

Sadly, I waited too long to deep water the moringa in our right-of-way basin. They are tropical plants that should take the heat, but without enough moisture they were really suffering. The recent monsoon rain (and some deep-watering) has done wonders. They are coming back with some new sprouts. 

Most of our desert plants are hanging in there. I finally had to give a little water to the pricky pear and agave. All of the desert trees (mesquite, sweet acacia, and hackberry) fared well on the high end of the shallow basin. Since the two monsoon storms they are really flourishing. Have I mentioned I #lovemyrainbasin yet? 

The mesquite tree acted as a nurse plant protecting the hackberry and saguaro cactus from the sun as well as providing nitrogen to the soil. I went ahead and picked some volunteer mesquites that were sprouting under it.  

And after two storms and some sprinkles, life is springing up in the basins! I found tepary beans (from last year) sprouting under the jujube tree. It is odiously tepary bean season, so I went ahead and planted more for ground cover in the garden.

Horse purslane is starting to pop up too - a welcome sign that monsoon season is here. It will act as living mulch and add much needed organic matter to the basin!  

We are enjoying the common purslane that I propagated in our yard! (That cage kept the critters out long enough for the purslane to spread and grow).

Celebrating the (late) start of monsoon season with a purslane scramble breakfast burrito. I think we deserve it for surviving the nonsoon!  (So far.)  I think we will be O.K. That big storm pretty much filled up our rain barrels. Hopefully there will be enough water to get us through the rest of the nonsoon. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Reporter shares my passion for rainwater basins

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows how passionate I am about our rainwater harvesting catchment basins. I've been known to share the benefits with anyone who strolls by our yard. I even started a #lovemyrainbasin campaign to promote them. 

If you're looking for a way to conserve water, putting in catchment basins to water native plants is one of the most effective and affordable things you can do. Sure, covering your yard with gravel and drought tolerant cactus and agaves saves water, too. But there are more productive uses for that space that actually enhance our desert environment. With a little love and care, you can create a shady habitat to enjoy the frolicking birds or glean delicious food from your own edible forest.

I recently had the opportunity to share my basins with Clara Migoya, a reporter with the Arizona Republic, who had read about our campaign. 

Spurred on by the water crisis, a few reporters have done mini-stories on our rainwater harvesting features. While I excitedly pointed out the benefits of our basins, they inevitably zoomed in on our rain tanks. So it was refreshing chatting with an environmental reporter who seemed genuinely interested. 

After the usual interview questions, I showed off how our gutters and downspout direct rain into the long basin that nourishes our three jujube trees (Chinese fruit trees). I explained how Dan had to remove a hedge of ugly, aging oleanders before digging the basin and planting the saplings. The tree on the far end grew four times faster than the two that were planted where the oleander had poisoned the soil. Clara snapped pictures as I pointed out how the native grasses slowed down the water, keeping it from washing away the mulch and organic matter. The roots of those grasses also allowed the water to sink in and helped build healthy soil. The basins soaked in so much rainwater, that I haven't had to water the jujube trees this spring. And the two smaller trees have grown nearly as big as the tallest tree! 

The next stop was the right of way basin. Dan rooted out the bermuda grass that had taken over the area, and dug basins around higher mounds where we planted moringa seeds and a wolfberry plant. He filled the basin with woodchip mulch (that has since broken down into soil). And we planted native bunch grass to help the water infiltrate and prevent erosion. Along with the mulch and other organic matter, it creates a sponge to hold the moisture longer.

Three moringa trees, a wolfberry, Mexican honeysuckle, a volunteer desert broom and some wild flowers provide sustenance for a variety of pollinators. We harvest the moringa leaves to add nutrition to various dishes and dry them to make a healthy tea. 

The moringa trees die every winter during a hard freeze. But they come back from the roots in the spring. Native grasses really did their job here. So much water sunk in from the rainy season that we haven't had to water them so far. During a rainstorm the water will continue sinking in long after our 500 gallon cistern is full. Here I'm demonstrating how high the moringa grow during one monsoon season. That means the roots under the surface must be that long as well.   

I pointed out a good angle to shoot our mesquite guild with the slimline rain tanks in the background. Noticing the Audubon's HABITAT AT HOME sign, Clara asked what makes it a habitat. I was happy to point out the native plants in the mesquite guild that provide food and shelter for birds, pollinators, and other desert critters.  

The mesquite tree provides shade and nitrogen to the desert hackberry and our cactus garden. It acts as a "nurse plant" to protect a young saguaro cactus from the harsh desert sun.

You might be asking, "Where is the basin?" Dan built a berm to direct roof water away from the foundation of the house and into a shallow basin. The desert plants were placed on the high end of that basin. I remember when Dan brought home his scrawny "Charlie Brown mesquite tree." Now it is thriving! 

A gravel path separates the other side of the front yard basin where we have planted a native acacia and another variety of hackberry. Birds enjoy shade from these trees as they peck for seeds from volunteer wildflowers and native grasses. A sign proudly proclaims: PLANTS FOR BIRDS. 

No tour of our yard is complete without a stop at our little garden. The garden is watered with rainwater collected in our rain tanks. Yes, I appreciate them, too. The catchment basins conserve water leaving more in the rain tanks to irrigate our garden! 

What a lovely way to spend the afternoon - discussing a shared interest with an inquisitive environmental reporter (and my son Jeremy who took the pictures of us.)  

Clara and I searching for worms in the compost pit

Wanna help promote rainwater harvesting basins?  Share a pic of your favorite basin on your social media pages. Add the hashtag #lovemyrainbasin 

 If you don't have a basin, you can still help out by "liking" or commenting on other people's posts. 

READ CLARA'S ARTICLE (in the Arizona Republic): 

It's free, it's drinkable. Why don't more Arizonans harvest rainwater during a drought?

Friday, April 28, 2023

How to get rid of toxins in your kitchen

The average American is contaminated with 212 synthetic chemicals*

Including pesticides, phthalates, flame retardants, and chemicals used in plastics and other consumer products.

Many of these toxins come from your home, and in particular, your kitchen.

Where they can have a serious effect upon you and your family’s health:

Many common toxins are endocrine disrupting, can cause developmental and reproductive issues, disturb the gut microbiome and have been linked to cancer.

In short, toxic exposure is NOT GOOD.

But there are simple things you can do to reduce your toxic load...

Starting with some simple actions and swaps you can make in your kitchen...

*Statistic obtained from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found 212 chemicals in blood and urine samples.

Another interesting albeit long read is a study by the Environmental Working Group that found an average of 232 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. Read it here.

Reshared from the Zero Waste Cartel

Sunday, April 23, 2023

"Love my rain basin!" campaign

I love my rainwater harvesting basin! 
Most Tucsonans are finally aware that we are in a serious water crisis, but many aren't aware of one of the best solutions available: rainwater harvesting! On a normal year, Tucson gets enough annual rain to provide every Tucsonan's water needs. Since Tucsonans use up to 40% of our water on our landscapes and gardens, collecting rainwater in our yards can go a long way in conserving city water! 

Tucson Water understands that rainwater harvesting and green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) are some of the most impactful actions we can take to save water. The city implemented a GSI policy, now an integral part of their Storm to Shade program. You may have seen curb cuts directing stormwater to native trees along city streets. This program will help us achieve the city's million trees initiative

Tucson Water also encourages customers to harvest the rain in their own yards. In fact, they put their money were their mouth is. They offer a rebate of up to $2000 for installing rainwater harvesting systems. Unfortunately, only about 1% of Tucsonans take advantage of this opportunity. Education is a big factor. 

Rain barrels aren't the only way to harvest the rain. My favorite rainwater harvesting features are the simple catchment basins and berms we use to water our low water trees and plants. During a rainstorm, our catchment basins keep sinking in the water long after our 500 gallon cisterns fill up. Right now, in our front yard, we have several native trees, three jujube trees (Chinese fruit trees) and three moringa trees thriving without any city water - just the water that has been stored under the surface of their mulch covered basins. Did I mention I love my rainwater harvesting catchment basins? 

You might be wondering, "Where are the basins?" Not all basins need to be rock-lined (like those in the Dunbar-Spring neighborhood). Our front yard basins have subtle slopes lined with native bunch grass to prevent erosion and help the water infiltrate.  The organic matter and wood chip mulch holds the moisture longer. A path with red gravel divides the two basins. Our cactus garden and native trees (that need less water) are on the high end of the basins. 

Here's the challenge...

Do you have a catchment basin in your yard? Do you enjoy a lush desert oasis nourished by the rain?  How about sharing that joy? Let's start a campaign! By sharing photos of your basin with your family and friends, we can reach a broader audience than those in my little social media bubble.  

Here's how:

1) Just grab your cell phone and take some lovely pictures of your best rainwater-harvesting catchment basins. (They should be greening up nicely right now.)
2 Share them with your Tucson friends and family in emails or on your personal and neighborhood social media pages.
3) In the subject area above the pic, simply write, "I love my rainwater harvesting basin!" Or "I love my catchment basin because... (fill in the blank) 
4) Include the hashtags:

I'll start the ball rolling with some sample pics of my catchment basins..

Here's a pic of  our basin when it was new and full of woodchip mulch...

Here's that same basin after rain saturated the mulch...

We can keep this campaign going for the different seasons - showing off our basins full of wildflowers in the spring, filled with water during the monsoon season, or even covered with snow in the winter!

Check out our right of way basin. These young moringa trees grew like gangbusters. 

Dan and Pooh measuring how fast one moringa grew in the right of way basin. 

The flowering moringa and the wolfberry are thriving from the rainwater that comes off of the sidewalk and sky... 

Our three jujubes are budding with just the water stored in their own basin.

We already had gutters and a downspout - so Dan just had to dig the basin and plant the jujube trees. The native grasses help to slow down and sink in the water. 

When it rains, I run out into the yard to see how far the water flows in our jujube basin! This time it reached the last tree! The native bunch grass slows down the rushing water. The roots help the water sink into to the basin and hold it like a sponge! 

So I've shown you some of my favorite basin pics. Now it's time to show me yours. Get outside in this gorgeous spring weather and enjoy taking some pics of your inspiring basins. Then post. Easy smeazy. 

When family and friends ask where they can get more information, direct them to Watershed Management Group for their free Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Classes or Sonora Environmental Research Institute (SERI) for the limited income grant and loan program (and their rebate classes.) 

Together we can inspire Tucsonans to enjoy lush desert landscaping while saving municipal water. 

Here's Dan installing our basins...

Finally got my catchment basin!