Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Remnants of Hurricane Bob on our Yard: The Agony and Ecstasy

I wasn't sure how our moringa and edible forest would fare while we were away for a two week trip to Lebanon, Missouri. I had left directions on how to water the yard with my distracted son.  Saturday night we came home to this... Our littlest moringa had doubled it's size! The ground was still wet from two days of lovely rain - the remnants of Hurricane Bud.

The next morning I surveyed our terrain. The little moringa seemed to grow overnight. The wonders of a good downpour!

I was delighted to find the "dead" moringa stump (I had given up on after loyally watering it everyday with the rest of the moringa) had finally sprouted a branch! The palo verde/moringa mulch was holding the water nicely. The mulch, along with the native grass in the basin, had also prevented erosion! 

The tallest moringa had grown another foot! It towered over Dan's head. My reward for smuggling three dime bags of my moringa tea in my luggage for my mother? Now we have plenty! 

I found out later that Josh hadn't watered them at all in the two weeks we were gone...

Oh, no! Déjà vu!  Closer inspection uncovered some dead branches. Our old friends the ants were back again wreaking havoc on one of our moringas. 

But right next to it, the morning sun shimmered on some budding blooms offering me a ray of hope.

The effects of Bob's downpour on our desert landscaping caused me a roller coaster of emotions!

While watering the young chiltepin, grape plant, and Tombstone Rose, I spotted a line of erosion from the rain dripping off the roof. Before monsoon season starts, Dan really needs to install gutters leading to water barrels to redirect and save that rainwater!  Funny, I never noticed a line of erosion before Dan dug out the Burmuda grass. It seems that the elaborate root system of the die hard grass prevented erosion.

Click on the photo above to see how the little patch of mulch and weeds (native grass and purslane) interrupted the erosion seen on either side of grape plant. (Note: Dan advised that you wouldn't want a big mound of mulch retaining water right up to the foundation of the house.) For the first layer of mulch I used clippings from the native grass I found in the front yard. I didn't worry about the seeds because I knew that the roots from the grass would work with the mulch to create a sponge to retain the water like it did in our street-side catchment basin. I was happy to discover that the sponge also helped prevent erosion.  

My daily watering was doing double duty by nourishing the edible purslane, too. Actually, it's doing triple duty since I planted some cowpeas to add nitrogen to the soil.

I have gleaned from this little patch of purslane three times - leaving the roots and some branches so it can grow back. And it did! Think I'll grab me a little snack now! Yum! Refreshing citrusy greens! (I wash it before I munch.. At least I know there's no herbicide on them in MY yard. Hear that city council!)

The nearby Tombstone rosebush is also doing well in it's bed of organic mulch, native grass and used coffee grounds. The cowpea seeds I planted to add nitrogen to the soil also help with erosion. 

Now it's time to water the backyard edible forest with the rainwater collected in our blue rain barrels! 

Unfortunately, the leaves of our loquat tree in the greywater basin got fried despite Josh washing some loads of laundry and dutifully hand watering it two times a day. Maybe I should have given the non-native waterhog more shade to survive the brutal June sun. Live and learn.  

The walls of the basin also suffered some flood erosion near the loquat tree. 

To be honest, there was already some erosion from the rocks Dan put in the greywater basin to slow down the flow. So many lessons learned! We really need more mulch in the basin. But the winter wheat we planted to infiltrate the floor of the basin is helping to prevent erosion and breaking down into mulch.

The heritage fig trees and pomegranate are doing great thanks to Josh for watering them and the welcome remnants of Hurricane Bob. Oh, the agony and ecstasy! 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Directions for Josh

Fill up the water cans at the outdoor spickit.
Double check to make sure you turned it all the way off. 

Water all the mulch in the kitchen garden by the blue water barrel. 
One can in the morning and one after it cools off in the evening. 

Go over the mulch between these two plants a 2nd time
because that's where the potatoes are planted. 


See there's a new plant coming up on the left of the squash plant. 

The squash plant has new flowers so it could grow some squash this year!
Don't kill it! 

Water the two curry plants and the loquat tree. Saturate the mulch like a sponge.
Three cans split between the three trees in the morning and at night.

 Be careful not to wash the mulch around the loquat tree into the greywater basin. 

If you aren't washing a load a cloths that day, water the fig trees one can each 
(alternating between them so the mulch won't wash away.)  

Water the mulch around the two tomato trees to keep the soil alive. 

They can share a can with the mint.  Water all around the mint. 

Water the garden behind the fence two times a day. 

Use one can for the two rows of chard and another can at night. 

Water all the mulch around the two new little plants but put more near the plants. It might need two cans to really saturate the mulch. Don't dump the water too fast. It will leave holes in the mulch. Also, don't pour the water directly on these delicate baby plants. Water it in the morning and evening. 

Now the front of the house...

Use one can of water twice a day on the grape, rosebush and chiltapine on the corner of the house.

Don't trip over the cactus rib on the way to the baby moringa in the roadside basin. 

Water the baby moringa one can of water at night.  Water all the moringa at least once a week. 

Don't forget to SLOWLY pour your dish water and rinse water on the hummingbird trumpets.

Pour your coffee water on the rosebush, the mulch around the tomato plants or in kitchen garden.


Make sure the animals have food and water. 
Take Pooh out with you when you water the backyard. 

Thanks for keeping our garden alive! 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

City Council, Stop allowing City Maintenance to poison Tucson UPDATED

It's no secret my fondness for edible weeds or my complete disdain for Round Up. I hung a sign in the alleyway, "No Poison, Please. Edible Weeds Grow Here." I've done my best to educate the poor, misguided landscapers and maintenance workers who spray Round Up on every little weed and even baby palm trees. (Won't kill 'em anyway...) Sometimes I'm more successful than others. At a recent city council meeting, a woman took advantage of the public hearing period to urge the council to stop weeds from coming up this monsoon season by spraying pre-emergent herbicide all over town. Right then and there I decided to use my time to speak up about it. But Mayor Rothschild, in his great wisdom, had me speak on my other issue instead. That was just the nudge I needed to share my concerns with him and all the city council members in great detail... including links. lol

Feel free to write your Council Member too!

Dear Mayor Jonathon Rothschild and City Council Members:

I've been meaning to speak up at a city council meeting about the transportation department's overuse of herbicides for some time. After my mom got a severe headache from breathing in the Round Up sprayed in a right of way on our street, I spoke to the landscaper about it. He replied, “The city sprays it everywhere, so can we.”

Following the city's example.
Since then I have been very aware of herbicides sprayed on city property. The other day I was stunned to see an entire lot covered with it. Recently I walked by the County Public Service Center building. In the catchment basins - that should be an example of the best water-harvesting practices - there were turquoise patches of weed killer. Right where the rainwater sinks in to restore our aquifer! I brought this up to the Pima Department of Environmental Quality just to be told that was the work of the city maintenance department.

I took this picture to show bad water-harvesting instalation - a native tree planted in the deepest part of basin.
But my camera inadvertently caught the herbicide right by the drain.
I am writing today because I was disturbed by a comment I heard at last night’s meeting. A woman claiming to be from the “landscape advisory committee” suggested that monsoon season was upon us so the city should spray pre-emergent weed killer everywhere to keep the weeds from coming up.

I have several problems with that. First, it won’t keep the weeds from coming up. We have used so much that the weeds have grown resistant to it, so we need more and more to kill any. Weeds will come up after the monsoon rains anyway. By spraying them with herbicide before the monsoon rains, the poison will just run into our yards, playgrounds and those catchment basins (that are meant to sink the water into our ground water). The post-emergent herbicide, glyphosate, has been proven to cause cancer: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/widely-used-herbicide-linked-to-cancer/. However, there are also concerns about preemergent herbicides. It was once thought that herbicide contamination would be mitigated through filtration, but the active ingredients have been found in our ground water: https://water.usgs.gov/edu/groundwater-contaminants.html.

In response to a comment on facebook:  Yes, Roundup is a postemergent herbicide sprayed on weeds and grasses that have already sprouted. That has nothing to do with preemergent herbicides that are intended to keep weeds from sprouting in the first place. Observing the practice of landscapers and maintenance people around town, they frequently are misapplying Roundup as a preemergent. But preemergent herbicides have a number of issues. One is that any one chemical is only effective on a small subset of weeds, so multiple herbicides have to be sprayed to kill all of the "undesirable weeds." They also just don't work on some of the most noxious invasives, like buffel grass. The other problem is that the application period is very specific in order to kill the seeds when they are germinating. Not all landscapers are going to apply them at the right time to have any effect. Plus, they need to be watered after application to sink the chemicals into the soil. How many right of way sprayings are being watered immediately afterwards. They also shouldn't be used in a landscape with organic mulches because they will bind to the organic mulch and affect the growth of desirable plants. And, of course, just like the postemergents, they also contaminate the soil and the groundwater. Diuron, one of the pre-emergent herbicides recommended for use by the Arizona Department of Transportation has been shown to be toxic to birds, wildlife, and aquatic life and - even worse - one of the biproducts of the breakdown of diuron in the environment is the production of an even more toxic chemical, which stays in the soil and can contaminate groundwater. The European Union has banned its use, but of course it's still being recommended for use in the US.*

I have done my own monitoring on the effectiveness of herbicides on weeds. Every day, I walk by that house where the landscapers insist on spraying every little weed (and sometimes the whole yard) with industrial strength Round Up. I’ve observed that the herbicide works temporarily on the tiniest weeds, but even more weeds pop up by the next month – which get sprayed too. So it’s a never ending cycle of toxic weed killers in our neighborhood. Just wait a week or so for the weeds to die in the desert sun! Herbicides have no effect on Bermuda grass (which would take a bulldozer to get out the whole root system) or the bigger weeds.

We actually moved native grass into our catchment basin to help with erosion and sink in the rain.
We need to rethink what we consider acceptable desert landscaping. The plastic and gravel we use to keep weeds out of the yard also keeps rainwater from sinking in to restore our ground water. Many so-called weeds are planted in road side basins to help the water sink into the ground and prevent erosion. The native grass works with the mulch to create a sponge to soak in the monsoon rains.

We need to reconsider what we call “weeds.” Many Tucsonans glean amaranth and purslane (in Spanish, Verdolagas), my personal favorite. I’ve heard of preschool teachers taking their students on neighborhood walks and having them taste edible weeds. We certainly don’t want to poison children foraging at our neighborhood parks!

Purslane and amaranth I harvested from our alleyway buffet. Yum!
Please, look into the effect of herbicides on the public health and the cost of repeated use. Then ask the maintenance department to stop spraying that ineffective weed killer all over town.

Thank you,
Jana Segal
Sustainable Tucson Core Team

*Updated response added after e-mail to Mayor and City Council. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Story of 4 Little Moringas

It was a dark and stormy night...December 22, 2017. 
With only a sheet tucked around their trunks for warmth,
 my beloved moringas were struck by the SUDDEN FREEZE.

I woke in the morning to this sight.

Just days before we had discovered that our drought tolerant moringas had grown another foot since they had stopped being watering by the monsoon rains.  Bees buzzed around the blooming flowers. The pods would soon be big enough to eat. Life was good.

After the freeze, I shared my disappointment with sympathetic followers who responded with kind words. Some commented that the moringas might return if the roots were still alive. I held onto that hope.

That was my one consolation. That, and harvesting leaves for tea.

Some of them had grey sections from mold and sap seeping out of them, but there was still an inch of green at the bottom of each plant. (Thanks to the sheet I wrapped around them?) 

In my earlier research I read that to have full bushy plants you can harvest easier (rather than long willowy ones), you need to top them after they reach 2-3 feet tall.  But I never could bring myself to do that to my baby moringas.  The freeze finally forced us to cut them back. 

Dan cuts back the moringas in March. 
The mulch in the basin had started to decline, so Dan cut the branches and trunks into wood chips and left it around the stumps.
This is what Brad Lancaster calls "chop and drop."  
Breaking this chip into smaller pieces
Dan watered the mulch. That mulch retains the moisture longer and as the wood chips break down it nourishes the soil too.

Trees love their own clippings!

It was Spring, so we started watering it (one can) every evening to see if we could get our moringas to come back.

And they did! 

We noticed the first branch sprouting on March 17th
(despite grey mold on the upper part of the trunk.) 

By April 1st, there were signs of growth on a second stump...

Can you see the growth on the bottom right?
And a second branch started sprouting out of the first plant! 

It's cool how the leaves grow over the stump. 

April 7th
Now they look like this! 

For a few weeks we gave these two a can of water every other day.
Now we are trying out watering them every 3 days.
Soon we will let the monsoon rains do their job.

Now we are watering a THIRD moringa every day
to allow it to catch up with the other two!  

So 3 of our 4 moringas survived the freeze.
One little, two little, three little moringa! 

We're afraid this one isn't coming back, but who knows?

Maybe we'll plant a palo verde in the palo verde mulch...

Last year, the moringas froze before the pods were big enough to eat or to collect the seeds. We should have planted them before June 7th. This year's moringas already have a jump on them! 

Here's to second chances!  

More moringa stories:

Planting monsoons and moringas in our street-side basin