Category Archives: Earth Mama

Bright and Green and Pollen Everywhere


I’m sneezing today, more than likely because I bragged to a friend yesterday, “I don’t get allergies. I grew up here.” Muh huh. The puffy face, runny nose and itchiness says one thing loud and clear: Spring has sprung. Spring training games are underway. Lots of pasty white folk from Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan are wandering around in shorts and saguaro-embroidered visors. There are thousands of tiny saffron-hued globes of mesquite pollen fluttering to the ground from aching limbs above.





My garden is in the groove too. Everything is coming up green and shiny.

First tomatoes

Tomato hedge to be teepeed

And wowza, the tomato hedge is running rampant. I read an article in one of my gardening magazines this month about creating bamboo teepees for your plants to climb. This just sounds like more fun that buying another stack of tomato cages. I bought enough for three teepees yesterday, plus a gazillion marigolds to keep the bugs away. I expect to be covered in mud, pollen and allergy fueled tears soon enough.


New Roots

Tomato bloom blushing

I know, I know. More than half of the nation is suffering from bitter cold and I’m wearing flip flops and planting tomatoes. Just remember that the other six months of the year, I’m wearing flip flops and a sweaty, prickly mess. So, three cheers for Arizona winter! And I’m trying not to think about that other season that is always looming.

20 new tomato plants

Instead, 22 tomato plants in the ground, along with thyme, sage cilantro and peppers.

The little marigold that could

Book a flight; there is going to be some great salsa on the table come April.


Change of Season





Turns into a carriage at midnight

I think I may be coming down with a case of Stendhal’s. I could have spent hours spinning around the garden in Chicago, dizzy with cool air, soft, golden tones, and steam rising from the plants in the morning. The simplicities of life once again make me more aware; my senses were heightened, and  I tried to take the musty garden home with me in deep breaths.

I told you — Stendhal’s. Or seasonal appreciativeness. Your choice.

Spending a weekend with close friends was reaffirming. I’ve been struggling with work;  it can been incredibly defeating to try to lead a small, well-intentioned, poorly funded nonprofit at this time. Our mission is very specific and while our programs are flourishing, our finances look more like those decaying leaves. I’m pushing as hard as I can to get us to a fertile spring and fruitful summer. The girls reminded me I have what it takes — namely passion — to even change the seasons.

I’m changing seasons in my perspective too, trying harder than ever to appreciate this very moment. I’m guilty of bemoaning the happiness and saddness of the past and focusing on the future life I have planned without considering the joys of the one I’ve got.  I’m guilty of being a list maker — checking off tasks during the day with a sense of accomplishment but rarely fulfillment. I’m abandoning this outlook. All we have is today. I have so very much to be grateful for, including having a job, and those wonderful friends.

As my momma says, I’m much prettier smiling.


A Nudge of Encouragement

pumpkins and squash

It’s really Finny’s fault I started gardening. She’s always showing what she’s growing, cooking and eating and my goodness — it is incredible. I thought I could do the same, nevermind she lives in the Bay area and I’m in the desert. Thankfully, after several years of poorly researched attempts, this is getting easier.  And it seems I’m not alone.

Squash blossoms

According to my latest copy of Real Simple:

19% more Americans are growing their own fruits, veggies and herbs in 2009

54% of households grow their own food to save money on groceries

$70 spent on planting a food garden can yield $530 worth of produce per season

Before -- the dreaded rocky plot

Before -- ROCKS

There is a rectangular plot of land between my home and my neighbor’s. When we moved in, it was grassy, with a gorgeous tree in the center. Unexpectedly, the lawn crew decided to cut down the tree and place rock over the grass. My neighbor John and I discussed the state of this nonsense earlier this week and decided a winter garden would certainly make more sense. (Don’t tell our HOA.) I put a plea out for bricks yesterday on Facebook and within three hours had a trunk full, thanks to a sweet couple from church.

After -- lined with brick

After -- dirt and fewer rocks

Several hours, and countless shovels of gravel removal later, I have a $6 garden plot — spent on compost and manure. Granted, there is nothing yet planted, but the list is long for winter vegetables. This is a great planting calendar, if you are living in the desert and interested in doing something similar.

Happy pumpkin plot

I think using the earth we have at hand to grow good food makes more sense now than ever. Plus, gardening falls in line with all my other newly acquired domestic skills. If I can do it, so can a trained monkey. Now, what to plant?


They Turn into A Carriage at Midnight


The pumpkins are growing at amazing speed, in part because I keep forgetting to turn the water off and they’ve received gobs of liquid love during the last month.


Even those little African seeds have taken off; I swear there are days I come home from work to find a new leaf has grown. Amazing! I can’t wait to see what happens to these in the next two months.



I know this may not look like much, but to me it means the world. I am finding myself in a strange area of transition. Like many, my job security is questionable. Add that to a spreading case of wanderlust and I am once again considering serious change.  Not just the little change, like canceling my gym membership after 15 years at the same place, or dramatically altering my spending habits thanks to a good kick in the pants from my financial advisor.

The life I’d been dreaming of and planning for doesn’t seem to make sense now. Instead, there are suddenly new opportunities to consider and I’m not sure what to do. I know leaving my tight web of friends in Phoenix for the lure of cooler weather won’t make me happier long-term. And yet, I crave a new start. I want to be near my family. I want four seasons. I want to live in a place where I feel like one of the gang and not a fish out of cultural waters.

silver leaves?

matty watering away

matt's babies grow

zucchini leaves

And so, I go out into the garden and daydream, mulling over the choices ahead. These little plants serve as a great daily reminder to thank God for what I do have, right here, right now, within my grasp.



june 25 010

june 25 011

I am now on the board for the Phoenix Permaculture Guild, which so far has been such an enjoyable experience. The board members are this incredibly ecclectic group of wildly successful hippies who love to garden. They’ve taken me under their wing and I feel a little like I’ve found my tribe. At the last meeting, between gulps of homemade wine brought by a member who grows her own grapes, bites of mangoes from another member’s tree, and slices of chocolate cake from a Betty Crocker mix that I baked (woops) — I heard that a failed pumpkin crop can be rejuvenated in Phoenix this time of year.  It seems counterintuitive to plant anything this time of year here, but these folks know what they are talking about.

june 25 008

I’d planted pumpkins several months ago and they either got too much sun or not enough water. Regardless, they are all goners. It made me so sad, especially considering how great those sunflowers did! Plus, nothing makes me feel like such a failure than when I can’t keep little plants alive. The recipe is so basic: good soil + sun + water = happy plants.

Taking their advice, I bought a new bunch of seeds and some organic compost this weekend. Two hours of clearing out yucky garden left-overs, turning the compost and washing the patio furniture, I also had these babies planted. Today I’m researching the best food and watering conditions for pumpkins. The timing is just right — they should be perfect come October 31st.  I have this ridiculous dream of inviting my many friends with children over to pick their own pumpkins.

june 25 009

Let’s hope I don’t make any promises too early. I could very well end up looking like a giant ass, although I do have a backup plan that involves strategically placed grocery-store pumpkins.

Pumpkins are certainly one of my favorite vegetables. They remind me of my dad, who calls me Pumpkin, and the fall — which really is the happiest time of year in Phoenix.


Bird for Dinner?

So pretty from this angle

Another tomato sacrificed to the birds

Damn birds

Blurry photos, but you get the idea. Matty currently looks like Elmer Fudd, walking around with a broom (in lieu of a gun), shaking it at anything that moves near the garden.

I’ve also decided next year I need about 15 tomato plants instead of 4. I’m not going to have the shelves of late summer canned tomatoes I’d hoped for. I keep hearing that I should have used fertilizer; I’d rather have fewer tomatoes than mutants.


Community Garden: Seed Drive


We’re getting close to ground breaking on the vegetable plots with the refugee families and community members. A few hurdles stand in our way, other than the wicked Bermuda grass. Namely, we are trying to create a source of food security, potential income and community togetherness out of a field, with few resources other than a group of dedicated volunteers. Many of you have left the most encouraging comments about this project; I am very thankful. I am also hoping you’ll make a $2 investment and become part of this great vision.

I would like to collect as many seed packets as possible in the next month. The more seeds I can collect, the more food we’ll be able to grow, the less money we’ll have to spend on these materials (vs. the lengthy list of other needs) and it is a simple way to become part of something with amazing potential. Considering we’ll plant the first week of May in Phoenix, these are the seeds I’m looking for: blackeye peas, eggplant, cucumber, melon, okra, pumpkins, peppers, squash, tomatillos, watermelon and sunflowers. I may be breaking state law by asking you to mail me a packet of seeds from your home (or preferrably from your garden!), but hopefully the postal/agricultural gods will stare at the sun for a moment.

If you are interested in gathering and sending seed — whether purchased or heirloom — please let me know. I would sincerely appreciate it and can promise you lots of photos of your good deed making a positive change for a poor community in Arizona.



Garden Spoils

personal 133

Goof ball in her element

I took back a return to REI yesterday and instead got this great hat. I’ve wanted a new hat for a while, but have been mindful of spending. Thankfully with the exchange, I got this dandy cap and a new blouse for $6. Woo! After Juliann, a friend and librarian, read the post yesterday — I realized the books I wanted were at the Phoenix Library, saving another $30.  Thank you for your detective work, J! I had a complete stamp card for the book I did purchase, costing exactly nothing. Double woo!


Remind me of pom poms

More flowers

With new accessories, I headed out to the garden. After an $8 splurge on new flowers and seeds, I cleared out the remaining cilantro and onions to make room for a new batch of basil and eggplant. I swung through Starbucks for another giant bag of coffee grounds and fed the garden. My neighbor asked if I was brewing coffee.

Nope. That’s just the way my garden smells.

Future pumpkins

Reaching for the sky

And imagine my delight when I found the pumpkins are coming up nicely! Grow little babies, grow!


True Community

Laying them out


Planting with Greg

Trees planted

The community garden kicked off yesterday and we were able to plant 25 fruit trees. They took up remarkably little space, leaving plenty for another orchard planting for the Fall. We’ll then add apples, figs and peaches to our citrus grove. The planning for the citrus orchard was much to the thanks of Greg Peterson. If you’ve worked with this local “green” hero, you know how kind and easy-going he is. You’ll also know how knowledgeable he is. Working with dozens of volunteers yesterday, he smiled and taught countless times how to do the very basics of gardening and did so with sincere happiness. I owe him a great debt of thanks!

Jackhammering away

We also used a rented jackhammer to try to remove a concrete slab. What a mess! First, renting a jackhammer and having them load it in your tiny sedan raises a few eyebrows. Then imagine when you ask how to use it! Thankfully there were plenty of men around yesterday who wanted to wrestle with their inner construction worker and happily took on the job. After hours upon hours, we removed one-fifth of the concrete. I am going to plan B: call construction companies and beg for some free help. We need to remove the slab to plant our vegetable plots. The surrounding Bermuda grass make the land unusable without paying for extensive grass removal.


So, two steps forward, one step back. It was truly a wonderful day. I can’t wait to see these lovely Burmese, Burundian and Iraqi families return to the garden in a few years to reap the bounty of our work. There was one point where I had a Burundian baby on my back, my hands in the soil, a crisp blue Spring Arizona sky above and a nice wind blowing across my face. I’m not sure moments of grace come in any prettier or happier of packaging.

Working on the trees

I am incredibly blessed to be attending this church, at this time, with this calling to work with refugees and the ability to bring together like-minded folk to dig in and help. Woo hoo! And it looks like yesterday was a great day to kick off a garden.