Tag Archives: gardening

Be Like the Saguaro

I’ve noticed more bloggers are transitioning from blogs, or long Instagram posts, to emailed newsletters. This requires subscribing to another service and maintaining yet another way of communicating when I’ve got this little here blog, which I already pay for.

Sure, this space is a little dusty. I used to post daily, and sometimes multiple times a day. Now, I’m lucky if I get a couple posts up a month. There are several newsletters I now look forward to receiving. One is Affirmation Chickens, and the other is what Meleyna is cooking. Both offer delightful and personal insights to what is happening in their homes.

I like the idea, but I’m not ready to make the jump. So, I”m going to replicate some of that spirit here.

This week:

The tomatoes are orange, not quite red. This weekend was hot. The peppers, basil, rosemary, and dill are flourishing.

The geese and ducks are still at the lake, but I’d guess they’ll be gone soon. The saguaros are starting to bloom–a reminder that we should all be more like saguaros with our crown of flowers and arms open for life.

I completed my Proverbial Quilt, with a pattern by Denyse Schmidt. I’ve long admired how she looks at quilting differently. It was a pleasure to play along in this international quilt-a-long. Next up, these adorable honey bee blocks.

I’ve got Woodland Loafers on my knitting needles. I look to Mason Dixon Knitting’s March Madness to introduce me to the latest and greatest. This year didn’t disappoint.

The pandemic keeps us at home and it is beginning to feel psychologically like this is just how we live now. The idea of only seeing my family ever again on a small screen makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. We’ve been crying a lot this week over the loss of Gigi.

I’m cooking recipes that just feel good. I’m hesitant to say these are comfort foods because they aren’t heavy. It’s too hot already for mashed potatoes or cornbread slathered with butter and honey. Instead, tonight we’ll barbecue chicken, with salad, and fruit.

To end on a happy note, today is the 40th birthday of my best friend. Meg and I have been linked at the hip since we were teens on the high school swimming team. Her dad served as the officiant at our wedding. Her mom passed away earlier this year and it still doesn’t feel real. I’m so fortunate to have her family as my family. I know this birthday will be bittersweet without her mom there to celebrate with her.

Love you, Megs.

Garden Art


I know. I know. Another post with tomato photos. Trust me, even I’m getting sick of these. Humor me with one more week of celebrating the joy that is having a mighty little garden.  (How fun is that banana leaf platter my mama bought me when we were in Mexico for Christmas? Matty took it upon himself to fill it with the garden’s pick of the day.)



You mean you don’t display tomatoes in your living room like art?


Trust me, the hilarity of this nonsense has kept me going during a week of few other indulgences. I’m trying to get back into running and swimming shape. Without changes to my diet too, this will take exponentially longer than it should. So, we are eating a lot of steamed fish and veggies. And I’m taking walks in the evening to keep my hands out of the freezer and away from the ice cream.


Thankfully tonight is book club. I’m hosting and very much looking forward to turning this ball of dough and a bucket of those tomatoes into some fantastic margherita pizza, with basil from the garden. Considering I didn’t come close to finishing the book, I’m going to woo the members with food, wine and peach cobbler instead.

Today’s motto: “I smell like chlorine. I deserve a little pizza.”


Like the Forest


I’ve been volunteering with the Phoenix Permaculture Guild for about a year. Basically, we are a group who love to garden. Otherwise, our views and backgrounds couldn’t vary more. One of the men I often sit with at our meetings is a gazillionaire Republican businessman who likes to talk and talk and say again Arizona “not having enough water” is a myth. He has charts and his own data, no less.

Anyway — I truly enjoy this gumbo of gardeners. A member of the organization sent a brilliant email today addressing this and I thought I’d share for those interested. It’s long, but well worth it!

Liz Lonetti writes:

“Permaculture is NOT about individual techniques that might save energy or anything like that (like gardening, changing out lightbulbs, or even rainwater harvesting) it is about creating systems that solve many problems at one time while creating surpluses that further feed the system and contribute to long term sustainability and viability.  If that doesn’t exactly make sense – the example I like to give is that of the forest.

Back in the age of free love, it occurred to Bill Mollison (founder of permaculture who was an ecologist studying the forest ecosystems in Australia) that there was a vast difference between the way the forest worked as system and the way human’s civilization does – the immediate contrast was in the production of food (hence the name Perma[nent Agri]culture).  Our system is a one way consumption of water, soil and other resources requiring massive inputs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides to gain paltry outputs of grain and other staple foods that are then shipped great distances.  By comparison the ecology of the forest is one that is incredibly abundant in both animal and plant matter and is also quite stable over hundreds of years without any outside inputs necessary (no person is out spreading fertilizer in the forest, but the trees drop leaves and the animals and soil organisms create the soil fertility for ‘free’).  Mollison’s idea was to try to create a way for people to learn from those stable systems and apply that to the way we live.

That being said, there are a number of creative ways people incorporate specific techniques to accomplish this ‘systems’ thinking in their own lives.  Examples:

Compost – composting takes something that is considered a ‘waste product’ (like say leaves in the forest) and recognize it for what it is – an underutilized resource for building soil health, feeding microorganizms and putting organic matter in our desert soils.  In my case it also attracts some amount of insects that help feed my chickens and increased my garden’s fertility giving me a better quantity and quality of food.  It also saves me from having to purchase chemical fertilzers, supporting agribusiness companies that don’t share my ethics and values.

Microlivestock– If you’re going to have the hassle of having a pet – why not have one that also contributes to our urban ecosystems?  Chickens are an example of an urban pet that will do well in a typical backyard, happily eating weeds, grass (and your veggies!), and insects while distributing free fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and turning over your soil.  You are rewarded with fresh eggs for a minimal amount of input to this micro system.  My ladies keep the urban orchards weed free while benefiting from the shade and protection provided by the tree cover and cleaning up the occasional dropped fruits.

Edible Landscaping – by incorporating yummy plants into your existing landscape, you are now getting much more productivity for the same amount of inputs.  for example, by converting a grass lawn to food production, you can create something that is beautiful, productive, contributes to your health with high nutrient foods, connects you to the seasons of the place you live, gets you out to meet your neighbors, provides food that contributes nothing to global climate change as there were no trucks or chemical fertilizers involved with delivering these calories to your table.  It gives you a place to put your compost and other ‘waste’ products to good use (cardboard, paper, etc), diverting that from our landfills.

Urban Orchards – Fruit trees planted in your yard strategically can provide a lot more than just fruit.  They can help shade your house to lower AC costs, creating a cooling microclimate around your house.  If you’ve planted deciduous trees, they will allow winter sunlight into your home to help warm it as well.  A well planted tree can also provide a wind block keeping drying winds away from tender garden spaces or a funnel to encourage breezes into your favorite patio seating spot.  Leaves and trimmings can be composted or fed to livestock, which in turn will provide more fertilizer to the trees.

Can you see how all these things mentioned so far are interconnected?  You can weave these individual strategies together to contribute essential resources to each other making the entire system more stable and productive.  A short listing of other techniques that can be woven into our lifestyle include:

Repair, Reuse and Repurpose
Using Urbanite, reclaimed wood and other salvaged material instead of new
Creative repurposing of items like tubs or cattle troughs for planters or garden ponds
Collecting Coffee Grounds from your local barista to use on your gardens
Right house right location – smaller homes in town are more efficient on many levels than mini-mansions on the outskirts of town
Promoting Genetic Diversity
Polyculture plantings
Open source and heirloom seeds
Zone Design – thinking about how we use space and placing components appropriately
Rainwater Harvesting
Roof gutters can direct water to cisterns or directly into the ground to feed trees and plants
Patios, driveways and paths can be sloped to drain water into adjacent planting beds
Keeping water onsite reducing water runoff that contributes to contaminates to our natural water ways
Graywater Reuse
Running the washing machine or bath water to a grove of fruit trees
Energy Saving Strategies
Passive Energy
Added insulation
High Energy Windows
Shade Trees
Awnings and trellis covers
Turning off lights and appliances when not in use
Thick adobe style walls that help mitigate cooling/heating loads…
Active Energy
High efficiency Heating and Cooling units
Solar water heaters
Windmills, Solar Panels, etc
This list goes on and on and on, some strategies being lower impact on one’s ecological footprint (and wallet) than others
Backyard Habitat certification
Encourage native wildlife by planting some native plants (also can help conserve water)
Provide water and shelter for native insects that help pollinate the plants
Using Natural and EcoFriendly Building Products & Techniques
No VOC paints, clay or milk paints
Cob or straw bale construction
Natural fibers
Petroleum free products…
Locally Produced Products
Reduce transportation fuel needed by buying local
Supports local jobs
Alternative Transportation
Riding your bike or walking contributes positively to your health
Reduces fossil fuel use with people power or public transporation

There are lots more things that can be added, but this gives you a good basis for understanding that we’re looking for a bigger picture than just a pretty garden or a solar panel.  You certainly don’t need everything from this list, but the more you can add the better the sustainable example will be!”


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.


Small but Sweet

Sweet grape tomatoes



I based a menu around these items

Carrots from the garden

The harvest

I had a few friends over for dinner last night. I planned the meal around what could come out of the garden; it wasn’t entirely local or in season, but I’m doing the best with what I can grow. We had spinach salad with toasted pine nuts, pears, tomatoes and carrots, pasta primavera with artichokes, spinach, basil and tomatoes and strawberries with ice cream for dessert. It was a good meal, with even better company.

The community dinner has taken on a new life this year; in 2007-2008 I hosted meals for anyone and had a wide variety of people come. It was a good learning experience in cooking, hosting, entertaining and being patient. I’d guess I served 500 meals, with great happiness.

This year, I’ve changed the dinner party recipe; instead of inviting the masses and hoping to have enough food, I’m inviting fewer folks and making the meals tailored to those around the table. I’m trying to move my life in this direction — less, but more meaningful. If you’ve come to a community dinner in the past and I haven’t yet reached out yet, I will. If you’ve been to my little home, you know it is always open. You’ll just get a better meal if you show up with an invite (and RSVP.)


Farewell to Pretense

Go tomatoes gooo!

Why, hello there!

Four months of work for this bite.

First bite!

So good and so silly

The tomatoes have officially arrived! I need to get some more canning jars. I see lots of Finny’s prized tomato sauce being made in the next month.

Once upon a time, when I was spending far too much time reading blogs that made me feel completely inadequate, I dreamed of having a garden, baking bread, learning to knit, sewing gifts for friends and living a life with more meaning and less clutter.  With time, I realized all of those fabulous artsy journals that make motherhood (with five children and an adoring husband, bien sûr), a closet full of homemade clothing that look like Carolina Herrera’s latest collection, a spotless kitchen, a gaggle of well-groomed and trained pets, and an organic garden that could feed an army are a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I’ve yet to meet a woman who felt like she had everything balanced. (And yet, we regularly seem to strive to make each other crazy by suggesting otherwise.)  Even my yoga teacher screams into class late most weeks, with a cell phone to her ear and curly hair springing every which direction from her haphazard ponytail.

And so, I’m growing a garden (that may be able to feed an army of ants). I know how to bake bread. I can knit and sew and even do a cartwheel or two, but more importantly the last few years of stopping to journal has taught me to stop, take a deep breath, try to find the centering balance and appreciate the sweetness of life — however it may arrive. A golden tomato, a handful of spring flowers gathered on an early morning run, clean sheets, an ice cold swimming pool on a hot day, watching a child giggle and spin like a whirling dervish;  I’m pretty sure balance is over-rated. I’m not sure what I’d do if work was caught up, the knitting basket empty, the kitchen table actually used for meals instead of a resting place for the countless sewing projects, the tower of books on my nightstand read, and the fridge full of food for the week.  No chicanery here;  I’m swimming in a sea of chaos, but stopping to for a couple cannon balls along the way.


2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

I’ve taken on a new community project that I am really excited about. It was mentioned at church a few months ago that our conference is pushing for facilities to become more “green.” Considering our church was built nearly 100 years ago, the windows leak, the roof could certainly use solar panels and we could probably do a better job of recycling. One thing we do have going for us is a lot of land and grandfathered water rights via regular irrigation.

When the community garden idea was mentioned, I jumped. I formed a committee of local folks I thought would be interested in having a stake — including a refugee organization nearby that is looking for land for their clients to use, a hunger organization trying to find new methods of helping those in need and a local Green Guru who I’ve admired from afar for many years. We are quickly making progress. This weekend we decided after surveying the land to start with a citrus orchard, and transplant several date palms shooting from the mama, which came from a seed brought back by a congregant who’d visited Israel. This week I’m making tree cut-outs to sell after service Sunday. For $25, anyone interested can buy a citrus tree for the orchard. They can come to help plant them in the next couple of weeks and eventually help pick the fruit — if they are interested. Or, they can just give a bit of  “seed money” to help support the project.

Eventually, the garden will also include a dozen 3’x4′ plots that we’ll divy among refugee families, community members and anyone from the church who wants to garden too. The fruit from the orchard, which will eventually include peach and fig trees too, and the vegetables from the church plots will, in theory, be given to hungry families in the congregation and the area. This church sits in a not-so-ideal section of town, so hunger is an issue — especially for produce.

I’ve been talking/planning/dreaming of a large space to garden for years. While the opportunity to buy a larger home for just such a reason hasn’t yet presented itself, this incredible stroke of luck has. In the process, we’ll get to know those who live near the church, introduce refugees and congregants and hopefully get some good, organic and nutritious food to those who need it most. If you live in the Phoenix area and are interested in getting involved, the more the merrier! We’d love to have your support and your elbow grease to see this grassy lot turn into something much more beautiful.

Happily, I’ll be posting the progress as we plant these seeds!


Don’t Cry for Me, Arizona!

So, I made lemonade out of lemons and managed to accomplish a ridiculous amount of tasks without my sewing machine to keep me company. Also, after several generous offers for loaned machines (thanks, friends!), I’m picking up a loaner tonight. In the meantime…

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

Remember this little plot I cleared and bordered last weekend?

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted 2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

I stopped by Starbucks to pick up some warm grounds,

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

Pulled out my basic tools,

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

Swung through the local nursery,

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

And voila! Five tomato plants, three pepper plants and a dash of marigolds to keep away the bugs.

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

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

2-7-09: Front Veggie Garden Planted

Can you see the cute little copper signs in front of the plants? They were a birthday gift from my friend Elaina. With a bit of grease pencil calligraphy, they are currently labeling this sweet little plot.

It rained this morning as though Mother Nature was welcoming these new babies with open arms. If they are smart, they’ll soak up as much of the moisture and pleasant weather as they can. This plot is such a small accomplishment, and yet I’ve been talking, wishing and hoping for a vegetable garden for so long. I am certainly happy I finally got off my booty and made it happen.

Grow little plants, grow!


Garden to Table

I achieved one of my long-time goals yesterday and you’d think I’d won the domestic lottery:



Garden to table

Table set

Food from the garden to the table! Cilantro for the guacamole, to be precise. Yesterday I hosted a small staff happy hour at my house. For social acceptance purposes, I didn’t let anyone know how dang exciting it was that I was in part feeding them out of food I grew myself. Woo hoo!

As for the recipes for the photos I posted yesterday, I have to ask for your patience. I’m working on a new project that’s keeping me from sharing too much, but I hope to have them in your hands soon! Thanks for all the sweet comments. You know if you are ever in Phoenix, you always have a seat at my community dinners.