Category Archives: Earth Mama


Dana's garden

Apparently my newest Calculated Act of Kindness is to plant gardens an do yard work for friends. Even new friends, and people I barely know. When gardening with a friend the other day, I asked about his neighbor’s yard. It is such a cute neighborhood but this house… Well. It stood out for the wrong reasons. Come to find out he is a vet suffering from PTSD. Needless to say, weeds aren’t his priority. My friend told me that his family tried to help him clear his home once in a while and was even able to talk him into hiring a skip so they could at least help to clean up his yard. Apparently, leaving his house hasn’t been such a priority for the last few years either.

Dana's garden

Dana's garden

There was a woman who lived across the street from my childhood home named Karen. She lived alone and would always buy Girl Scout cookies when I came around. Otherwise, we’d wave hello but had very little other interaction with her. But we could tell, even as kids, that her existence was lonely. And because we grew up under the Donley regime, yard work was a regular occurrence. My parents had us outside picking up leaves and doing other odd work in the yard a lot. If we got in trouble, we knew what the punishment would be — yard work.

(I know. Poor little suburban white kids who had to work in their YARD. Who got to dip in their POOL when things got too rough. BOO FREAKING HOO. Don’t send the email, haters. I know. I’m spoiled.)

Planting Dana's garden

But I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when my brother and I came in one summer day after having picked the weeds out of Karen’s yard. Without being asked. It was like a Christmas miracle in July. Her little heathens had voluntarily done yard work. What we knew as kids, but couldn’t quite yet express, was that Karen needed a break. What we’d realize as adults was that she was suffering from MS and couldn’t manage another task. Soon enough, she’d greet us with a head nod, her hands holding the cuffs on her leg braces.

It was such a simple thing, but it made Karen cry. And it made me want to do it again.

Dana's garden

I’m not sure that picking someone’s weeds is the most patriotic way to spend Memorial Day weekend, but it is on the list. At least this time I have a machine similar to this mini excavator brush cutter so it’s not as much work as when I was a kid. (I’m obviously growing increasingly antsy for my own yard. So close. So close.) And in the meantime, Dana in Golden has a planted vegetable box. Because I couldn’t bring myself to let it remain fallow. Plus, this is the type of kindness I believe in. See something that needs done? Do it. Help your neighbor. Be kind. And if you barely know them? Well, you either made a new friend or you didn’t. Either way you spend the afternoon outside in the sun with your hands in the dirt doing good.

Dana's garden

(Also — how incredible is the greenhouse she and her father built out of recycled materials from the Habitat for Humanity Restore? Holy Moses. Awesome.)

Happy Memorial Day, friends.


Volunteer Gardener Diaries

When my friend BJ mentioned he wanted help “landscaping” the front yard of his new house, I did what I typically do: volunteer, come over-prepared after having enjoyed a gallon of coffee, haul him to the local garden shop with far too many ideas, and jump up and down on occasion during our progress throughout the day. He had a good idea of what he wanted his front yard to look like, so we knew what we were doing. However, he did mention that he wanted to install a wooden flag pole at some point in the front yard. A lot of people in his neighborhood do this, so he is planning on installing that in the future.

I could never be a hipster. I’m far too willing to show my excitement and happiness at the little things.

In progress

We started with two dirt patches filled with errant grass and weeds and a dusty porch. And one happy dog — Chaco — to watch us work.




Happy man

We finished with two dirt patches covered with black plastic — to cook off those weeds. And a porch decorated with baskets of hanging flowers, a potted poppy and clean chairs. A bit of weeding. A bit of sweeping. And now, a bit of waiting as the plastic and the sun do their thing. In a few weeks, we’ll put down mulch and plant some native grasses and a tree. BJ also wants to add some gooseneck lights outdoor on the porch for those darker evenings. Once that’s all completed, we will call it a job well done.

Basket of flowers

With any luck, we’ll come close to the glory that is his next door neighbor’s yard. She has one of the best wood porch swings I’ve ever seen. One day this garden will have a cool porch swing too! Not only is her porch swing adorable, but she’s let friends come into garden portions of her yard. It is a mini-community garden with boxes marked off and the whole enchilada. Amazing creativity, this community. I absolutely love the spirit of sustainability and sharing.

I convinced BJ to approach her and see if anyone else would like the two patches of earth he owns down by the street. The ones in front of her home are being gardened by some volunteer. It would be so much sweeter to see this space going to use for food. He agreed.

*UPDATED: Rosie sent me this link and if it isn’t the same front yard! Bravo to this woman, who’s turned her yard into a CSA.

Neighbor's porch

Neighbor's amazing garden

Of course, we celebrated our hour of labor with two hours of happy at a local brewery.

Breck Brewery

Colorado loves its breweries. (I could be a hipster about beer. Pretty to photograph, but otherwise? Meh.)



The first orange

This is the very first orange produced at the Asbury Community Garden. I hope it is the first of thousands that will grow to feed hungry folk in central Phoenix and elsewhere. I am so very, very pleased this tiny community project now has 75 trees, with 9 more on their way in January. Just think — with 80 or so trees surviving, producing 1,000 pounds of fruit a piece each year on irrigation — we will be swimming in citrus in a few years.

This project speaks to my senses; we are using our resources smarter by feeding trees instead of grass. In turn, we’ll use land otherwise empty to grow crops for the hungry.

Speaking of great projects, Jessica’s work with the poor in Brazil continues to flourish. The Brazilian Babies project is posted. Thank you so very much to those who participated! The photos of those sweet girls with their new dolls — signs they are loved from afar. Ack! Sometimes I get a bit teary with the great things happening in the world.

If you don’t let the nuclear/sudan/northkorea/teabag craziness consume you? There are community gardens and Brazilian babies to celebrate. I vote we focus on this instead.


Home + Hope


This little house I have in Tempe feels like home. It didn’t for many years. Although I’ve been here for nearly 8, it’s only been in the last few that I put love into where I was living. It was always clean. I always had dinner parties and an orphaned roommate living in the guest room. Thankfully, there has always been plenty to eat, enough blankets to stay warm, a sturdy roof, and ice old air conditioning for the long summer nights. I remember one summer, the air conditioning broke and the heat was unbearable. I contacted an Air Conditioner Repair company and they fixed the issue really quickly (thank god!) I have so many memories here – both good and bad!


I never thought I’d be here as long as I have. I was dating a man I intended to marry and thought this would be a convenient nest egg — a real estate dowry I could bring into the relationship. Close enough to the university to always find renters, I thought I was so cleverly planning my future.

Life (again, thankfully) had other plans. While neighbors have come and gone — many having purchased at the top and watched their own tiny nest eggs disappear like so many in the United States — I’ve looked elsewhere but always returned to the trusty 85282. My home is just bigger than a shoebox by Arizona standards. In a sea of giant stucco homes with stories and walk-in closets and four car garages, I have a covered parking space, 900 square feet and a community swimming pool – which I was very relieved to see had an air source heat pump for swimming pool, so I knew it would be a nice temperature to swim in. The swimming pool is safe, I made sure of that before I used it, especially as it’s for community use. Inspections here are pretty much the same as anywhere else, such as pool fence inspections brighton way. To be fair, it passed with flying colors.

The pool is one of the things that attracted me to the property in the first place. When I was growing up, my friend had a pool and we would spend hours playing, swimming and relaxing in it. I’ve always loved swimming and dream of the day I can afford to move to a nice quiet house, hire a swimming pool builder, and just swim lengths whenever I please! So, when I saw this property so close to the community pool, I knew I had to go for it!


My home by big city and developing world standards is huge. And perfect. And more than enough. Sadly, it took me far too long to realize the same. You’d think eating dozens of meals in homes with dirt floors and long drops, I’d be thrilled to come home. Looking back, the pivotal moment of growth when I saw my house as a home came when I planted a garden.


Planting a garden is a sign of hope. You are confident you’ll be around to see it come to harvest. You invite conversation from countless neighbors and salespeople who ask a dozen questions. “What is it?” “When will it be ready?” And often more sheepishly, “Can I have a couple?”

(The answer to that last question is always yes. I plant with the rule of thirds. One third for me, one for the bugs to much away and the last third for hungry friends, neighbors and when possible — the food bank.)

Two weeks ago I planted an experiment — tomatoes in October. With the climates changing, I’ve heard rumors of growing tomatoes year-round in the desert. I companion planted with basil, peppers, lettuce, collards and cilantro. If I remember to cover them on “freeze” nights, I should have another bumper harvest in January. I’m planting this garden with hope that my next tomatoes will be in the earth after Mother’s Day — the rule in the high plains of Colorado. I’ve got big dreams of an acre plot with a white picket fence, a small house, a huge garden, a shed for the chickens, a dog door for the mutts and a welcome sign hung above the front gate. Arizona will always be home. With a bit of luck, I’ll create the same in Colorado. It’s a leap, but I intend to split my time between the two, writing, working with family, and watching my friends’ children grow in both places. I hope to take an annual trip to Africa too. Why not?

Once I got the idea I could do this, to took off like a kudzu vine. An African desert southwest kudzu vine.


October Gardening in Phoenix

S+J's visit  -- Desert Botanical Gardens

So, you want to plant a garden but live in the great Sonoran desert. Don’t know where to start and/or don’t want to eat grilled javelina with prickly pear sauce? (You should really give prickly pear another shot. It’s delicious! Skip the javelina. They are in the rodent family.)

June garden harvest

One of the beauties of living in Phoenix is we have four complete growing seasons. With enough shade and water, you can grow year-round on the desert floor. This is so very rare and I’m pretty sure it isn’t included in the tourism material, as it should be. As if growing your own food in a time of mass seed production, corporate food processing monsters and the complete craziness that McDonald’s hamburgers cost less than an organic apple — in Phoenix, it is also easy. The seasons also make it a joy to sit out on my 2 seat patio set and admire my handy work.

Stay away birdies

I promise you easy peasy gardening that can produce handfuls of basil, buckets of tomatoes, squash, sunflowers, onions, garlic, carrots, rosemary and more. I can promise this because I’ve grown all of these with such a tiny space, it’s miraculous. When I started I was sure that I was going to need a big space for my garden, I even started looking for landscape construction services that might have been able to help me with the space I needed. I live in a shoe box-size home with a giant, oppressive HOA. When the evil money suckers weren’t looking (or apparently responding to my countless letters about changing the landscaping from grass to desert appropriate landscaping), I took over a couple community areas and began renegade gardening. I put seeds and tiny plants in the ground, covered them with compost and coffee grounds, watered with care and quickly began harvesting. Don’t forget about your lawn during these months, it’s just as important as your tomatoes! You can quickly see if you’re in one of service areas for some tips!

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

Tomato hedge to be teepeed

The tomatoes go wild

The tomatoes go wild

Thankfully, I keep my neighbors happy with handfuls of tomatoes, sprigs of fresh herbs and lemon pies and cookies when the lone tree is in season.

If you are interested in:

These classes typically cost $10. The networking, however, is priceless. You’ll meet other folk who are interested in the same things, having the same struggles and have found solutions. You’ll end up swapping seeds and compost, sharing loaves of homegrown zucchini turned bread, and finding a community of people in Phoenix who are so incredibly kind and well intentioned. I am really thankful to be a part of this ever-growing circle of like-minded friends.

Homemade pesto

Homemade pesto

Homemade pesto

Homemade pesto

Homemade pesto

Also, you don’t need Birkenstocks or a car that runs on used french fry oil to participate. There are people of all walks of life who love to garden. You must only have a willingness to learn and share.

As for what you need to garden — Starbucks free coffee grounds, a shoe box (or other container), water and seeds. I recommend this seed source. They are Tucson-based and a cooperative of dedicated gardeners. I also recommend planting heirloom seeds, taking the PPG seeds saving course and not giving a dime to the corporate seed companies that are genetically modifying nature. (Fuckers.)



Beets starry!

Pretty pommies

To be fried!

What to plant?

From October 1-15:

  • Globe artichoke
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Green snap peas
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Melon
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onion
  • Oregano
  • Parsnhip
  • peas
  • Peppers
  • Radish
  • Sage
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip

Shoot me an email if I can help encourage you in any way to get going. Remember kindergarden when you planted the bean and grew a little plant? It’s still that easy. It’s also a great way to show an appreciation for desert living. Growing your own garden is one of the most spritually fulfilling things I’ve ever done.


{Also, shame on you Congress. SHAME! For the subsidies that make corn prolific and the family farm rare.}

Fruitful Harvest

Did you know 1 in 3 children in Arizona is considered “hungry?” This is simply unacceptable to me.

garden 077

Remember when I tried to get that community garden off the ground, so to speak, in central Phoenix? Well, a few lessons were learned in the toil. Namely, taking earth that’s been happily growing Bermuda grass for decades and trying to transform it into fertile soil for vegetables requires a lot more than a bunch of volunteers and hand tools. Perhaps a commercial-grade construction crew who used could have done it, but we couldn’t. We, meaning me and probably more than a hundred volunteers in the last two years, spent countless hours digging, weeding, pulling, pushing and aching as a result. The bumper crop of okra was a mild success but the true gem of the garden is the orchard. The 75 fruit trees don’t mind a bit of Bermuda at their heels. With regular irrigation, they are thriving.

In the next year we should see a crop of citrus, apples, cherries, plums and figs. The trees cost about $20 a piece to get into the earth. They require little care and will soon be mighty producers of fresh fruit — a luxury in this community.

garden 020

This got me thinking.

My little church isn’t the only one on irrigation in central Phoenix. Nor are we the only faith community with grandfathered water rights, lots of space, a desire to be more social aware, and home to community-minded folk. What if we paired the Valley Permaculture Alliance (I’m a board member) with the Association of Arizona Food Banks and the local faith community? What if we asked each church, synagogue, mosque and faith center on irrigation to plant 5 fruit trees at an expense of $100? We could partner the churches with a permaculture volunteer who knew something about planting trees and a food bank willing to get the produce to hungry families in the Valley?

Even better, what if we grew enough produce that there was a glut and we were able to send fresh fruit created from earth and water that was otherwise going to feed Bermuda grass to hungry bellies nationally?

garden 082

Oh, we can. And we will. The national gleaning system, which the Association of Arizona Food Banks is a part of, will likely see truck-loads of grapefruit, oranges and lemons sent to northern states in return for trucks of potatoes and grain for desert bellies. The best part of this community project is that no extra water or space is needed. Fewer than 10 volunteer hours a year are required and a simple investment of $100. I don’t think we could make large-scale community changing work any simpler.


Here is where you come into play. Do you attend a church or other faith center in the Phoenix area? Do you have irrigation? Are you interested in helping see this project come to light? I’ve got the permaculture guild and the food banks on board. My church will be participating. I’ll be volunteering. I’d love it if you would too.




The tomatoes go wild

One of the most fulfilling aspects of gardening is the progress. Remember these 23 baby tomato plants that went in the earth in January? And then here we were in March where I was shouting, “Oh! A tomato hedge! I have a tomato HEDGE!” Little did I know.

The tomatoes go wild

Then I convinced Matt to build a teepee for the tomatoes, thinking this would help keep things in order. How naive! I really should have read a book for four about tomatoes before spending so much time playing in the garden. I didn’t know about trimming back the bushes to keep the tomatoes off the ground. Or anything about suckers. Instead, after our attempt at wrangling chaos with the teepee, we’ve let things go a bit wild.

The tomatoes go wild

The tomatoes go wild

A month ago, we had our first tomato. She was a big one. An early bloomer. A leader in her field. But little did we know that her delicious flavor would pale in comparison soon enough. The swarms to follow have been earthy, sweet, lush and the scent of freshly picked tomatoes cannot be beat. Just being near the tomato plants this time of year makes me want to dance in circles. I feel like a cross between Julie Andrews and a wild hippie when doing so.

The tomatoes go wild

Wild, I tell you. Today, the hedge has grown up to the front door and I’ve got tomatoes — homegrown, organic, lovely sweet delicious OH MY GOSH THIS IS WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO TASTE LIKE tomatoes — coming out of my ears. Now, remind me again why I didn’t start gardening 10 years ago? The best part of this tiny little garden is that I know without a doubt that if I can reap this bounty of a harvest from “borrowed’ HOA land in a condo complex in Phoenix, Arizona — you can grow a farm’s worth by comparison. (I’m making two assumptions there: 1. you have more than 3×4 feet of land to your name. And 2. You don’t live in an oven. With caliche soil.)

I have absolutely loved getting stuck into this gardening project. In fact, growing this hedge has inspired me to think about getting some new trees planted in our garden. One of our neighbors apparently knows a reliable tree surgeon that can provide a wide range of tree surgeon services so I am going to ask for some advice. As much as I love gardening, some things are best left to the experts, and I want to make sure that I am making the right decisions for our little garden!

That is not all I have planned though! As you can see from the photos above, the paving slabs in my garden are well overdue an upgrade. Ideally, I would like to get some flagstones fitted as I know that they are hard-wearing and built to last. A friend of mine has told me to browse these flagstones from Westminster Stone so I think I might have to see which colors I like best. I am so excited to see how my garden turns out when all my little renovation projects are complete.

The tomatoes go wild

Anyway, this mighty progress is translating to canned tomatoes this weekend. I’m also having friends over for homemade pizza too. My thanks, again, to Finny for inspiring me to take on new hobbies that seem so Herculean, but end up so deliciously fun. (See: knitting, sewing, canning, swearing.)



Remember how I mentioned I wanted tomato teepees, thanks to Organic Gardening?

Tomato Teepees

Voila. Yet another project the African successfully took on. These plants have responded to a little TLC with fury. They have grown so much since this photo, taken just a few days ago.


And there is a bit of landscaping prep happening for the upcoming garden party. I love marigolds — the way they smell and that they keep bugs away. I also admire their bright, unapologetic brashness. (And on a practical note, if I keep these watered, they’ll thrive in the Arizona heat.)

Also, by chance anyone from Organic Gardening happens to catch wind of this post — your magazine is fabulous. I truly enjoy it and cut out pages and pages of idea from the latest and then gave the skeleton to a friend to enjoy. However, poly-bagging your magazine? YOU ARE CALLED ORGANIC GARDENING! Really, a ridiculous disappointment.