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! 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Changemakers show us the way.

Luis Perales beaming with pride that the Changemaker students' proposal was accepted.
When Luis Perales, CEO of Changemaker High School, invited me to meet with him to see how we could help each other, I had no idea what he wanted to talk about. Perhaps a status report on the doc Evan and I were making on water harvesting? It had been awhile since our initial meeting to see how we might include the incredible work Changemaker High was doing in the documentary. After a warm greeting, Luis asked me how I was doing. The great thing is - he really wanted to know. He had seen the frantic posts on my facebook page since Trump announced his intention to remove regulations protecting our water, and he was concerned that I might burn out. And to be honest, I have been stressing out. It seems like every day Trump is making another assault on the environment or human rights. And here Luis was offering support as a fellow sustainability advocate.

WMG coop workshop or "Where's Dan?"
If you’ve read our blog you know how passionate Dan and I are about restoring our aquifer through rainwater harvesting. As more states experience droughts like ours, there will be more competition for the Colorado River water that we all rely on. So it is urgent that we set up water harvesting in as many yards as possible. So, while I’ve blogged about water harvesting, Dan has spent his time digging catchment basins in other people’s yards (along with Watershed Management Group’s fabulous coop), helping maintain the desert landscaping and water harvesting features at Ward 6 and WMG’s Living Lab, giving tours of the Living Lab, and setting up a system to monitor it. 

While I’m thrilled that Dan has dedicated himself to advancing watershed management, it’s also kinda frustrating. With all of his volunteer work, Dan hasn’t had much time left to install our own water harvesting features. Last weekend he finally got around to planting a little mesquite tree in the front yard. And most people don’t have the expertise to work on their own yards, so they have to rely on a few experts. This creates what Luis calls the bottleneck effect – where you have to wait to get the work done. And, as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t getting done fast enough. 

Proposal shows catchment basins and berms in the flood plain
So I was really jazzed when Luis shared the plans Changemaker students had developed for restoring the floodplain in the Naylor neighborhood near their High School. They didn’t wait around for the experts to advise them. Students and educators became experts themselves -  alongside community members and environmental allies that were willing to share knowledge. How empowering is that?!!! 

Envisioning how lush the desert park will be
Luis Perales describes it best:

“The Swan Wash Bridge Project was initiated by a group of students who were challenged by their science instructor to take on a citizen science project that would have a positive impact in the local community. The group of students decided to focus their energies on alleviating a flooding problem that existed up the street from school and adjacent to a local park. The problem of flooding stemmed from the blockage of a neighborhood waterway, Swan Wash, by another local school. This problem was identified by the students because they had experienced the flooding first hand. This experience led them to conduct a root cause analysis, collect data from local community residents, and propose possible solutions. Their project findings were presented to the school, to the local neighborhood association, to local political leaders, and to audiences at local and national conferences. In short, the group of students along with their science instructor became mini experts on the issue of local flooding and the local wash. Their proposed solution was to create a pedestrian footbridge over the wash and to capture some of the flood water in roadside rainwater catchment basins. These basins are intended to utilize rainwater to support the needs of bird/pollinator gardens.”

The students presented their proposal to the Pima County Neighborhood Reinvestment Board on May 2, 2016. The recommendation to fully fund the project to the tune of $229,000 was announced on July 1, 2016! They got the final approval on their revised proposal on the day I was there! Needless to say, Luis’ enthusiasm was contagious!

While I fumble around trying to get the word out about water harvesting, these kids are demonstrating how important it is. They are educating the city of Tucson about transitioning from the current form of water management - flood control - to one that restores our floodplains and groundwater by directing the rainwater with berms and sinking it in with catchment basins. As their project progresses and succeeds, it will be used as a model for other schools to work with their communities on sustainable solutions.

All of this came out of Changemakers’ mission to change the face of education by creating the conditions where young people can turn their ideas into action. Through their example, they hope to create a culture where schools everywhere take on the responsibility of improving their communities. Perales explained, "Imagine what our communities would look like if every school would adopt their local community within a one to three mile radius. Imagine for a second that the school and its resources not only worked within their own gates to teach students to read, write, and do math, but with equal importance, taught students the skills necessary to transform the look, feel, and potential of their community."

Swan Wash Bridge Project Team: Adilene, Alejandra, Victoria, & Mrs. Snook (Missing, Laynah.)
I am so grateful to the Changemaker students for taking the initiative and advancing more sustainable water management as a practical solution for their community. And for giving me hope for the future.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Prayer for Water Protectors evacuating the Oceti Sakowin Camp

Protesters participate in a prayer circle on Turtle Island on Thanksgiving day.
Trump gave permission for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to break the law by proceeding to build the pipeline under the Missouri River with out the required environmental impact statement. The Water Protectors have been asked to evacuate the Oceti Sakowin Camp by 2 o'clock, February 22.

Today at 2 o'clock (N. Dakota time) many will leave the Oceti Sakowin Camp in prayer and ceremony, others (including some veterans) have chosen to make a stand and to be arrested rather than leave.

Water Protector Lisha Sterling writes:

Good morning, water protectors! This is not a vacation! It is time to pray!

In fact, it will be hard to do anything else besides pray today as my thoughts are constantly on Oceti Sakowin, Sicangu and Sacred Stone. May the water protectors stand today in one mind. May peace and strength emanate from the heart of every water protector throughout the camps, and may that peace and strength connect them all like a mycelial web, from heart to heart, mind to mind. May the ancestors and spirits of place rise up to defend the water protectors even as the water protectors stand to defend all our relatives. May those on the side of DAPL and those who would block, remove, or in any way harm the water protectors be confounded today, and let those who have good hearts have their eyes opened and their minds changed so that they too will stand with us.

Let there be peace. Let there be power. Let there be right thinking and right actions.

May our people have the time to fully clear the land that we have called home these many months, leaving no trace, and may we continue to stand together in new places for the protection of the water, the land, the air, and all our relatives as a community of prayer.

Live broadcast of the evacuation here:


or here:


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stop Pruitt from destroying the EPA

Just sent this to Senators McCain and Flake. I recommend anyone who cares about the air we breathe or the water we drink should also write to your senators:

Dear Senator,

I grew up in Southern California in the 60s and 70s. I well remember days we couldn't go outside because of smog alerts when the smog was so thick you couldn't see the back wall across the yard. While LA does still have some pollution issues to deal with, the days of dangerous smog are over. Why? Because President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Stricter emission standards, conversion to unleaded gas, and penalties for communities that exceed safe levels of airborne pollutants have made the air safer for all of us to breathe.

The EPA plays a vital regulatory role in our government. Gone are the days of choking smog, rivers that catch fire every summer, and acid rain. While there is still much to be done, we have come a long way in this nation towards creating a healthy and clean environment.

That is why I am writing you today. President Trump's nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has shown on many occasions (including 14 lawsuits against the EPA while he was the AG of Oklahoma) that he will not support the actions of the EPA that have improved our environment over the last 46 years. I am begging you, please do NOT vote for Scott Pruitt's confirmation to head the EPA.

Thank you,
Daniel Stormont

How confirming Pruitt will prohibit Arizona's progress

I just sent the following e-mail to Senator Flake at:


Dear Senator Flake,

Sure, Arizona has abundant reserves of coal, but that doesn't mean it is in our best interest to extract it from our public lands. Extracting coal uses up our already depleted water supply. Why do that when Arizona has a more abundant and profitable alternative: solar energy. Solar energy has already created more long lasting, high paying jobs than all of the fossil fuel industries combined.  Why aren't we leading the way in this growth industry?

In the midst of a 20 year drought, shouldn't we find more sustainable methods of procuring water than pumping it 320+ miles uphill from the Colorado River? The coal burning plant that powers those pumps has already depleted the Hopi and Navajo's aquifer. Why do that when Tucson has enough annual rainfall to supply every Tucsonan with water. We need to incentivize water harvesting and rebuild our antiquated "flood control" system to sink the water into our depleted aquifers. This would also save taxpayers millions yearly from flood damage.

Investing in a more sustainable infrastructure would not only create job security (rather than those temporary coal mining jobs) while protecting our national treasures that bring in 21 billion in tourism dollars.

It's not too late to be a hero to our children. Please, vote "no" on Pruitt. As head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt will protect the fossil fuel industry, not support a clean infrastructure that will strengthen Arizona's economy. He will cut regulations that protect Arizona's beautiful land, air and water. Confirming Pruitt will only prohibit Arizona's progress.

Jana Segal

Now to Senator McCain...