Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Savoring Tucson's edible palo verde and mesquite

I took this great workshop with Jill Lorenzini of Desert Harvesters on foraging edible desert trees.  In addition to getting some great "how-to" advice, we got to taste some palo verde seeds (blanched for storing in the fridge), ironwood seeds and mesquite flour. Dan had to slap my hand away from taking too many of the yummy palo verde seeds.
Hey! I was hungry!

We've also eaten some off of our own backyard palo verde. They taste a lot like edamame, but you only eat the seeds because the pods are bitter. Unfortunately, you have to catch them while the pods are still green, or they get woody. If you ever feel wiped out while hiking, grab a handful for a quick protein boost! (Pick 'em right off of the tree.) 

No, that's not a "man purse."
My sweetie kindly carried my purse when I was wiped out by the summer sun.
Looks good on him though. Don't ya think? 
I have to apologize that I have been so caught up in my desktop activism that I didn't get this up until the palo verde pods had browned and it was the day before Desert Harvester's annual mesquite milling. Maybe you can go out and pick some today - if you can stand the 110 degree heat better than I can! A facebook friend said it was so hot that the mesquite pods were popping like corn!  

The tricky thing about harvesting mesquite is that you have to pick them when they are brown, but BEFORE they fall on the ground. So you need good timing. That's why I would recommend growing some of these drought tolerant desert trees in your own personal food forest. The mesquite only require watering until established. We have two volunteer palo verdes that we never watered at all! 

 Be sure to pick pods off of the tree, not from the ground.
Desert Harvesters suggests that you use a five gallon food grade container to put the pods in as you pick. Then you can store them right in that sealed container. (Our paper bags were a pain because they kept ripping.) You will want to sample a pod from the tree (suck on it) to see if it tastes good before harvesting the whole tree. Taste can vary from tree to tree. You can tell the sweet ones because the ants like them too. Pods ready to harvest will come off with a firm tug. You shouldn't have to wrestle with them.

Dan picked more than me. No fair! He's taller!
Be sure there is no moisture before you store the pods in the sealed container. With mesquite, it's the pods (not the seeds) that will be ground up into flour.  Go to the Desert Harvesters website for their best practices.

We managed to pick about 5 gallons of mesquite pods last night. Thanks for the great advice, Jill! We are looking forward to getting our pods milled at the 15th ANNUAL MESQUITE MILLING & FIESTA (Pre-Monsoon),  and enjoying some yummy mesquite pancakes!

For those of you with mesquite pods to mill, here's the particulars:

15th ANNUAL MESQUITE MILLING & FIESTA (Pre-Monsoon) with Desert Harvesters and Friends at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, June 22, 2017 — Tucson, (4-7 pm)

As always, we’re excited about this year’s event, timed to rhyme with the Sonoran Desert’s natural cycles, and hosted in conjunction with the Community Food Bank's Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market—and we hope you are, too!

Come and have your dry, ripe, mesquite pods milled into nutritious, delicious flour for you and your family to enjoy.  Pods for milling must be clean, dry, and free of mold/fungus, stones, leaves, and other debris.

Cost: $3/gallon of whole pods, with a minimum of $10.

(A bargain since mesquite flour sells for $17 a pound at the store.)

Bring a closed container for your flour. All your containers must be marked with your name, email and phone number so we can get in contact with you; especially if your pods are being milled at Will-call.

*When we reach the point where we get more pods in line to be milled than can possibly be milled, we will mill them at Will-call. Will-call pods are usually milled within a week to 10 days; but we will let you know when you are paying the milling fee the exact details.
Thanks to the support of Bean Tree Farm, Iskashitaa, Sunwest-Solar, Exo Roast Coffee.

See: for details.

enjoying our first time foraging for mesquite pods
How did we do, Jill? 

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 the 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 in it!