Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rebel Dishwater Gardener

After studying up on climate change (from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to NASA’s climate data), Dan and I have no doubt that climate change is happening and that we must do something about it. But it is such a hot button issue for so many people, that I have steered clear of blogging about it. I felt I could do more good blogging about our journey from a consumer lifestyle to a more sustainable one (fits and starts and all). But since Trump took office, everything we’ve worked towards is under siege. So I’m rebelling the only way I know how, by stepping up our water harvesting efforts and starting a new blog. I’ve never been much for news, but with Trump’s daily assaults on the environment, I have to stay on top of it. I’ve become a sort of “desktop activist” – answering calls to action against the daily attacks on our water sources, air, wildlife, forests… and reposting them.

We are in the process of installing passive rainwater harvesting features in our yard.  But until we can get that and a laundry-to-landscape system finished (and finally get some rain!), we are using dishwater to irrigate four new desert trees and a tiny garden by the house (above).
We will dig out the red gravel to make a catchment basin.
The greywater from our outdoor washing machine will irrigate fig trees there. 
It can be sort of a pain, but it is also my solace.  It forces me to get outside during the loveliest time of the day when the birds twitter away as they raid our compost pile. It is such a joy to see our little garden growing. It makes my day! 

Our future edible forest! The baby desert trees are watered with the "clean water."
We will be planting drought tolerant, edible moringa trees in the catchment basin when it is done! 
I don’t pretend to be an expert gardener. You can probably teach me! Dan and I are still experimenting with different techniques in sustainable, low-water gardening. But I’m happy to share what we’re learning along the way.

"Clean water?" Yep! Coffee grounds go in there!  Plants love it! 
We are having to re-learn how to do the dishes. We have two plastic water basins – one for “clean water” and one for soapy dishwater.  

We rinse off produce and cutting boards (immediately after cutting produce) into the clean basin. Our plants love the broccoli water left in the steaming pan and the black water from the French press. 

The "clean water" goes to my little garden first, then the startup trees. The dirty dishwater goes on more established trees, bushes and finally our cactus garden. Even though I use low sodium dish-washing soap, I like to alternate with clean water if I can. The chunkiest (yuck!) water goes to dampen the compost pit. 

It’s not always easy. Sometimes Dan and I bicker on the best way to do it. (I don’t like food fragments, grease, or cooking oil in the soapy water…) But we are finding ways to solve the problems (like having the dog lick the greasy pan or soaking the pan separately and dumping that water directly into the compost rather than into the dishwater.)

Finally found a sustainable job for Pooh...

Sure, it's a challenge retraining my teen boys to save water by washing dishes by hand  - or at least opening the door while I carry out the dirty dishwater! Sure, it's awkward opening the door with a basin full of water!  But there are always solutions... 

I think it’s worth it. Many thanks to all the people who are conserving water and irrigating their yards with rainwater or greywater. We are making a difference! That’s why Tucson Water offers up to $2000 in rebates for rainwater harvesting.

I understand not everyone has the time or energy to carry out dishwater, but we can all be more conscious of how much water we use and find ways to conserve water (like turning off the water while we suds up in the shower or while brushing our teeth. We can landscape with desert plants that don’t require watering, or install a high-efficiency toilet.) We can all be rebel water savers in our own way. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tell Your Legislators: Keep Up the Clean Energy Momentum!

Clean energy in the United States is showing unstoppable momentum, and states are leading the way. More than two million Americans work in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and in 2016 alone, the country added enough solar to meet the needs of two million households. There’s no turning back. From coast to coast and everywhere in between, states are enjoying the public health, job, and other benefits of lowering harmful power plant pollution and embracing efficiency, renewables, and electric vehicles.

Now more than ever, continued state leadership is necessary to keep up this nationwide momentum.

Write your legislators today and tell them: keep accelerating on clean energy!

Please make your letter personal by adding in your own thoughts and concerns. Every letter makes a difference, but customized letters have the greatest effect!

Clean energy is sweeping the nation. See how your state stacks up.

From one mother to another, my letter to Ivanka Trump

Good news! According to, the Trump administration has delayed its decision about the Paris Climate Agreement. A meeting about the deal that was scheduled for this Tuesday between key administration officials was cancelled, and the President’s Press Secretary said the decision will be made at the end of this month. This shows that the global outcry by other heads of state, business leaders, scientists and regular people like us is working.

The more pressure we can apply between now and the end of May, the better. Sharing the petition to keep the pressure on would be a big help -- click here to share on Facebook and here to tweet.

When I heard that Ivanka Trump had been put in charge of the Paris Climate Agreement,  I tried to contact Ivanka by phone to ask her to encourage her father to honor our deal. The volunteer operator suggested that I write her. Wanna join me?

Ms. Ivanka Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
NW, Washington, DC 20500

Here's my letter for inspiration:

Dear Ms. Ivanka Trump,

I’m writing to you as a fellow mother. My husband and I live in Tucson, Arizona where we volunteer with Watershed Management Group to restore the ground water and rivers that have been depleted from a 20 year drought. Why do we do this? Because we want our children and all children to have access to clean water. The water we drink is currently pumped 330 miles uphill from the Colorado River. The pumps are powered by a huge, dirty coal powered plant. A growing number of children, including my own son, suffer from asthma. I believe it is caused by the pollution created by the coal plants. We live in the desert, so there is an abundant supply of sunlight year around. So there is no reason to keep these antiquated dirty coal powered plants going - especially since solar creates more higher paying, long term jobs than the rest of the fossil fuel industries combined! We should be leading the world in transitioning to clean energy.

Since I've been in Tucson, our yearly high has gone up from 107 to 117 degrees. Talking about getting out of the frying pan and into the fire! It will only get worse if we keep on extracting fossil fuels from our most vulnerable regions and don’t protect our forests and woodlands. We need trees to breathe! I want my children to be able to enjoy our incredible national parks and monuments without toxic black clouds hanging over them.

You have been given a great opportunity and responsibility. You can improve the future for your children and for all our children by championing the Paris Climate Agreement. The scientific consensus is that climate change is happening and is affected by human activity. Your father’s policies are making it worse! Please, honor our word and work with the other countries who also signed the Paris Climate Agreement – so we can leave an inhabitable planet for our children.

Thank you,

Jana Segal

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Oppose TEP's Anti-Solar Proposal!

Here we go AGAIN! Dan and I wrote statements last time around!  Time to pick up our signs and fight this again!

Make your voice heard at the Arizona Corporation Commission now and in person on June 26th. Time is running out to speak out against TEP's attack on solar.

 posting sign last time
TEP is proposing an additional $25 to $30 in monthly charges for new solar customers, in addition to a reduction in the export credit for solar energy.

This monthly charge would be based on the size of a customer’s solar system: $3.50 per kilowatt installed. The average customer has a 7 kilowatt system, or $24.50 a month, plus TEP has proposed doubling a meter fee, from $2.05 today to $4.32. This proposal is in addition to implementing a December 2016 decision by the Arizona Corporation Commission to eliminate net metering for solar customers, which alone will greatly impact solar customer savings and, ultimately, solar jobs.

If approved, TEP's solar penalty would:

*Limit Arizonans' ability to choose solar energy.
*Ignore the compromise set forth by the Arizona Corporation Commission in the Value of Solar decision last December.
*Punish solar customers with high, unjustified charges.
*Send a clear signal to the growing solar industry that Arizona is closed for business.
*Reward TEP for attacking customer choice and competition.

Contact the Arizona Corporation Commission

1. Send your comment to the ACC.

Regulators need to hear from you!

Click this link to comment via the ACC website.

Please reference these docket numbers when submitting comments to the Arizona Corporation Commission:


2. Ask your representatives to take a stand!

Ask local Tucson leaders to represent you and speak out.

Click this link to email your City Council and find your state representative here.

3. Attend the Public Hearing | Save the Date, June 26th!

And spread the word.

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 next weekend!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Goin' to a Garden Party

Last Saturday, Dan and I were trying to figure out what to bring to Sustainable Tucson's neighborhood garden party - when I spotted an event announcement on facebook. Market on the Move was in our neck of the woods that very moment! Forgive my disheveled look, but we literally threw on our clothes and ran for the bus. We had been wanting to go ever since I first mentioned Market on the Move on my blog about Food Security in the Desert. It's such a great deal! For just $10 you can get 60 lbs. of produce that would otherwise end up in a landfill

We managed to pick out two grocery bags full of produce. Inspired by the abundant tomatoes and summer squash, we decided to make ratatouille. We stopped on the way home for the rest of the ingredients: eggplant, onion, and orange pepper. I already had crushed garlic and basil. 

The summer squash and some of the tomatoes were what I like to call "ugly beautiful." (In our consumer society, we have gotten so used to seeking out perfect veggies in the grocery store - without stopping to think about what happens to the rest.) My flawed veggies may not be pretty, but they're still delicious and nutritious! And I think it's beautiful that they didn't end up in at landfill!  Even if the tomatoes had been soft and overripe, they would have been fine to use in sauce.

As you can see, Dan and I are starting to develop some new, more sustainable habits. Now we wash our produce over a plastic container so we can use the water on our baby trees. (This supplements rainwater on our low-water desert plants, so we aren't using the hose anymore.) It took a little getting used to (my kids are now trained to open the door for me), but it gives me a chance to get outside and enjoy the morning breeze.

If there had been any bad spots, we would have just cut them off.
While the tomatoes boiled, I cut the rest of the vegetables into wedges (leaving the peels on.) Then I sauteed them one vegetable at a time. I added garlic when the onions were nearly cooked.

I made sauce by boiling the tomatoes until they were pretty soft. I ran cold water onto them, peeled off the skins, cut off the bad spots and stems, then chopped them up on a plate with high rims that held the juice. I sauteed that with the onions, garlic, and some basil, (crushing the bigger tomato pieces with my spatula.) Finally, I stirred all the veggies into the sauce, simmering until the flavors had blended.

A while ago, I got sick of the metallic taste of canned tomato sauce (not to mention the recycling bin full of cans) so now I make my own sauce this way. (The boys love it!) It's actually gotten easy with practice. Just another habit - like putting the peels in the compost.

Here's Dan and me goin' to the Garden Party...

Ratatouille! Fits in perfectly with the garden theme! 

The host told us how he has regular garden parties with his neighbors where he shares the bounty of his garden and gardening insights. Can't wait to have our own garden party!