Saturday, July 22, 2017

Planting monsoons and moringas in our street-side basin

For those of you who wanted an update on how our beloved street-side basin would fare during the monsoon, this is for you!  

In the previous blog, I detailed our painstaking efforts to get rid of the well-established bermuda grass while digging our street-side basin and how, in a incredible act of optimism, we planted moringa seeds in that basin. 


We were advised (thanks Chetan!) to plant three moringa seeds in each hole and, when they had grown, remove the smallest plants so the strongest plant could flourish. But the other two were doing pretty well, so we decided to replant them in the remaining holes. 

But then it got hot, REALLY HOT. Could our delicate little trees survive the 114 degree weather?

I did everything I could think of to protect my babies from the scorching sun. I concocted a contraption for shade. I did my best to keep them moist, but those poor little displaced moringas were in desperate need of the monsoon rains. 

What the heck! I gave a rain dance a try! 

Finally, the monsoons arrived! 

Would our fragile little moringa survive or be blown away in the storm?

Dan rushed home to see how his basin was making out. 

It worked!  The rain was sinking into the mulch like it should. Our precious baby moringas were holding tight in their blanket of mulch!

We watched as the rain from the sidewalk flowed into the catchment basin, instead of into the street (like the water from the driveway shown above).

You can see the path of the water from the erosion in the pic above... (Dan's going to have to do some maintenance to shore up the sides of the basin.)

Our replanted moringa are doing fine. They have even sprouted some new leaves! 

The stronger moringa is getting too big for it's shade contraption.

It is such a delight to see everything so green from the rain. Well everything but that brown grass that Dan planted in the basin. (It's important to have desert grass in the basin because the roots create a sponge to soak in the water...) 

So I spent the morning transplanting some desert grass into the basin.  

Moving away the mulch,  I could see how rich the soil is under it and how much it maintained the moisture.  I took some of the dirt and gravel that the grass was growing in so it wouldn't have such a shock when replanted.

While I was there I spotted something sprouting on the side of the basin. This little guy...

With the rain comes new life and - our old rival - bermuda grass. 

You might recall that our whole right-of-way was overgrown with bermuda grass (see the pic to the left). They say that you have to dig four feet to get the whole root system and our basin isn't that deep - especially the raised terraces the moringa are planted in.

Catchment basins do take a little maintenance. So I try to stay on top of it. I love to go check up on our moringa trees anyway.  I'm getting to know the neighbors.  In the month and a half that we've had the basin, I've dug out maybe 7 or 8 sprouts.  (No doubt the heavy rain will double that amount.)   I try to dig deep enough so they won't come back up anytime soon. I think I'm winning the battle.  I suppose nature will win the war.  I'll just have to learn to live in harmony with it. Commit a few minutes everyday to take in the smell of the rain, feel the sprinkles on my face, and watch the birds scampering in the puddles as I dig up a stubborn sprout.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Picking purslane in the park

When I first moved to Tucson, Fall was my favorite season. After the long, hot summer, I couldn't wait to feel those first cool breezes of autumn brush my cheeks. But right now I gotta say my favorite is Monsoon season. Perhaps it's the awe-inspiring sunsets or our new catchment basins working brilliantly or everything greening up. Perhaps it's watching the monsoon showers and the accompanying light show with purslane stew on mesquite tortillas and a glass of sangria. Mmmm...  

If you've been following my blog for a while, you might recall how obsessed I can get about purslane. I have been spotted carrying a handful home on the bus - muddy roots and all! If anything, I'm probably more obsessed with that yummy "weed" now! Could be all the anticipation of waiting through the long, dry summer...

I started to worry when July rolled around and I still didn't see any purslane in the easement behind our house. At this same time last year, it had become a virtual alleyway buffet. But this summer, my faded "No  poison. Edible weeds" sign guarded nothing but some sun dried bermuda grass. There wasn't even a hint of the purslane I planted in our garden coming back. 

Then one day I spotted a sad little purslane plant growing in a crack of the sidewalk down the street from us. 

Suddenly, stunningly, the monsoon arrived! I continued to check the alleyway for my beloved purslane. Nothing! Last year we had a carpet of native horse purslane after just two storms. 

Imagine my delight when I finally found several patches of common purslane growing in our neighborhood park! I couldn't help sharing the good news with a curious grandma there watching her grandkid. I told her how the Tohono O'odham referred to purslane and amaranth as summer greens. I showed her the difference between the purslane and the weed next to it - how the purslane was a succulent with thicker reddish or light green stems and tear-shaped leaves. I even picked her a handful to take home for her salad. Hopefully she won't come back with her whole family and snatch them all up! Doh! Gotta stop telling everyone about my favorite purslane spot.

The last two nights we celebrated with one of our favorite purslane dishes, Mexican verdolagas stew. (Verdolagas is the Spanish word for purslane.)  I'll share it with you, if you promise not to go picking all the purslane in the park. You can follow the link to the original recipe, or use my quickie version here.

First, pick a fairly large bowl full of purslane. Cut off the roots and set aside to plant in your garden later. Wash the stems and leaves thoroughly to get out crunchy rocks, grass or other unwanted surprises. I found a cute little beetle in mine! (Dan's typical response, "Protein!") Coarsely chop the stems and leaves. Saute in olive oil until tender. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons of tomatillo sauce. Serve on thick corn or mesquite tortillas. Top with queso fresco.

We had the added treat of using the mesquite flour from the pods we picked in our own neighborhood. We had them milled at Desert Harvesters annual milling. We used the Native Seeds/SEARCH recipe for tasty (the mesquite makes them slightly sweet) mesquite flour tortillas. Yummy!

With all the fresh purslane and mesquite we picked ourselves, it was a very reasonably priced dinner. I only paid $5.99 for the queso fresco and $2.99 for tomatillo sauce for dinner two different days and we still have some of those left!

Verdolagas stew on mesquite tortillas while the monsoon storm crashes around us. Yep. Definitely my favorite season in Tucson!

Purslane sprouting in our garden!  Finally!

For more purslane recipes scroll down past this blog after clicking this link

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Last preparations before the Monsoon rains!

Inspired by the looming rain clouds, Dan works on his long neglected catchment basin.

First, he digs up the gravel and pulls out the plastic to find a tapestry of roots.

Look at me! A human tamper! Or is that a rain dance? 

my baby moringa
Check out the moringa we transplanted in the street-side basin.  Poor thing is struggling in the heat. Hope it can withstand a good downpour!

A familiar sight in the neighborhood...
I dig out some weeds UNDER the sidewalk. As always, pooh is a big help.

To prepare for the coming rain, I clear out the dirt and debris blocking the ravine I built last year.

Dan secures the rain spout by our kitchen garden. 

Yikes! We really should clear the cat's claw from the gutters...

But we're off to harvest the last of the mesquite before the monsoon starts....  

...or doesn't...hmph! 

Ann Marie from S.E.R.I. delivers our rain barrels.
Gives us a chance to get rain barrels from S.E.R.I. before the next day's downpour! 

Ready for the rain!

To be continued... 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Street-side basin ready to plant the monsoon rain!

If you've walked your dog down our street in the past few months, you may have wondered what that guy in the sweaty hat was doing digging a ditch in 114 degree weather. Well, I'll tell ya.  We are getting ready for the coming monsoons by installing a passive rainwater harvesting system to "plant the rain." The basins will sink the water from our roof and yard into the ground to irrigate the desert trees in our edible forest. The idea is to keep as much rainwater as possible from flowing onto the street and evaporating. The street side basin (above) is the last line of defense, so it is the deepest. If it works as planned, the street will be lined with a lush stand of moringa and wolfberry bushes.

This process has taken some time, planning, and plenty of sweat equity (especially on Dan's part.) Dan learned how to install passive rainwater systems by participating in Watershed Management Group's co-op workshops. At the workshops, co-op members get detailed instruction while working on passive (basins and berms) or active (cisterns) water harvesting or greywater systems. After volunteering for 16 hours, you can host a workshop in your own yard. If you have the money, I would highly recommend it. But to save money on the initial design consultation and co-op supervisor's fees, Dan decided to do the work himself. What a man!

Dan started by digging out gravel interspersed with (the bane of our existence) bermuda grass. That is one reason that this catchment basin is so deep. Some (sane) people would hire someone to excavate it with a backhoe. I would definitely recommend that if you have the money.

After Dan dug out the first layer of weeds, he had to remove a layer of plastic. Just under the plastic he found roots forming an elaborate design.

I was responsible for getting the weeds along the sidewalk. But I soon found that they were actually growing UNDER the sidewalk! Man! Those weeds are fierce! I used the side of the sidewalk as leverage to pry out the roots with my trowel (bending the trowel in the process!)

I got out as much of the roots out as possible. But the next day the grass under the sidewalk started growing again. Those weeds are invincible! They will be here with the cockroaches when we are long gone!  

I read somewhere that if you spray weeds with vinegar nothing would ever grow in that dirt again. Desperate times call for desperate measures.  So I sprayed vinegar right on the roots under the sidewalk.  

Those friggen weeds were everywhere! Here is my son Josh attempting to separate the weeds from the gravel. 

We still have 3 piles in our driveway: gravel, clay soil & palo verde mulch. (Four if you count the WEEDS! Argh!) We got free organic palo verde mulch from Romero Tree service.  They are happy to drop by the chipped remains of the tree they just pruned in your neighborhood! The only thing about our palo verde mulch is that there were still seed pods in the branches when they pruned it. A few of them actually sprouted, but I caught them while they were still small and easy to pull.

After removing all the gravel and grass, Dan started shaping the basins. He left truck-tire-shaped mounds to plant the trees and bush in. He made sure the floor of the basin was smooth - so there would be no puddling.

Before planting, we did a percolation test. I filled each hole with water to make sure it would seep into the ground in a timely manner. 

We planted the little wolfberry bush we got at Desert Survivors in one of the holes. Dan replanted some desert grass from our yard into the catchment basin. (No! Not bermuda grass!) The roots of the native grass create a sponge to keep the water in the ground. 
We mixed some sand we got from a nearby wash with the clay soil and put it in the bottom of the hole. (Moringa seeds need good drainage.) Then Dan mixed the rest of the soil mixture with some organic potting soil and filled up the hole. 

I planted 3 moringa seeds in each mound (about 1/2 inch deep) and watered them!

Dan worked by porch-light, then moon-light shoveling palo verde mulch into the basin. 

He was at it again the next day...

The mulch is so important to keep in the moisture - especially in the desert!  

Dan tamping sides of basin to make sure they don't wash away.

I watered the seeds just enough to keep it moist without soaking it. 

 In one week the moringa seeds actually spouted! Yeah! 

Then I deep watered the moringa and the hackberry bush every other day. 

I was worried about them in the 112 degree weather, so I put up some shade netting.
It also seems to help to water late at night. 

They are looking good. Growing new leaves! 

Ready for the rain!