September in the garden

Written by karen on September 6th, 2021

It is September, and the monsoons are still going. This is the longest they’ve lasted while we’ve been here. Portal just broke a record for rain set in 1967. The mountains are green, and the grass is getting waist high. There are tadpoles in the puddles, frogs jumping around, and turtles all over. It is truly marvelous.

The garden is doing well. We have had the best tomato harvest in years, and I am canning and freezing sauce and salsa for the rest of the year, as well as enjoying fresh tomatoes with every meal. 

The weeds are phenomenal as well. I’ve spent many hours this weekend trying to clear out beds to start on fall planting. And this is the year of the caterpillars. (Each year, there is something that seems to thrive to an unbelievable degree. This year it is caterpillars of every color and stripe, including hornworms.)


The loveliest time of year

Written by karen on July 26th, 2021

This morning here was one of those times you could think you were in the English countryside. Cool moist air, low fog, wet dew on the thick green grass, cows softly mooing. It was just beautiful.

Contrary to the predictions, the monsoons have been strong this year. (Last year, we had almost none, causing fairly widespread concern here about the future.) We have had several very heavy rains, and in fact, some areas are having flooding. The plants here are very happy, as are we. In particular, we have been worried about our treasured oak trees and are glad they are getting a good deep drink. The animals are celebrating as well, and we have been seeing frogs and turtles as well as some very healthy looking coyotes.

(PS You may have heard me say that other times are the “best” times of year. There are many here!)


Next steps

Written by karen on July 18th, 2021

The monsoons are in full swing. We pretty quickly filled up our first 550 gallon rainwater catchment tank. And fortuitously, we were able to find another used tank.

This one is 1500 gallons and is 8 feet in diameter and about 6 feet tall. In trying to move it, we first had to drain all the water. (Water is very heavy; the tank is heavy but manageable with a little thought.) We quickly learned though that most moving trucks and trailers, including ones from UHaul, etc., are 5 to 7 feet wide. This posed a problem.

We searched and searched and talked to all kinds of people (including tow companies, who wanted an exorbitant amount of money to do the move), before finding a neighbor with a large flat bed truck who was willing to help us.

Here are pictures of the move.

Next we’ll be working on a gravel bed to mount this on and then plumbing between this and the other tank we got for overflow. 

In the meantime, we’ve been watering the garden with rainwater from the first tank, and our plants couldn’t be happier.



Written by karen on June 24th, 2021

Yesterday, we finally got some rain. It was so glorious, and I can’t express what a relief it was.

And we harvested our first significant amount of rainwater — about 200 gallons! While our system is not completely set up, we’ve had in a position that just in case it rained, we could catch some of it. And we did!


It was pretty amazing to see a fairly brief rain shower result in quite a lot of water in the tank. (I doubt our old small buckets would have even gotten filled.) The math of this is interesting.

It rained about .25″, and our current catchment is about 1200 square feet. It won’t take long to fill up our first 500 gallon tank. There is more rain forecast for next week, and monsoons seem to be starting. Fingers crossed. And yes, plans for more and bigger tanks (and filtering) are in the works.


Hot, hot, hot

Written by karen on June 21st, 2021

As you may have heard, it’s hot here. Really hot. 

It’s often hot here in the summer, but never like this that we remember. A few days ago, we had a day where our outside thermometer read 118 degrees (in the sun). It has been over 100 every day for more than a week. 

Being off the grid, we have no air conditioning, but in the past have been able to moderate the temperature pretty well with careful attention to raising and lowering blinds at key times and opening and closing the windows to get the cool night air in and keep the hot day air out. Generally, as long as it gets to 70 or so at night, we can cool the house down sufficiently and then keep a good differential during the day. With the insulation we have, this typically means a 20-30 degree difference between inside and outside temperatures during the day.

In this stretch though, we’ve had nights that haven’t gotten out of the 90s until 4am and then only for an hour or two. When this is the case day after day, it can result in inside temperatures that don’t get below the mid 80s or so. This week, it has been up to 90+ inside at times. I find that high 80s are about where I’m saying enough. It’s been challenging.

We’ve made some adjustments like putting up reflective sheets of cardboard inside the shades, and we have ideas for other modifications we can do if necessary.

We’re waiting to see how long this goes on. The forecast doesn’t look good temperature-wise, though there is a 25% chance of rain midweek. Fingers crossed.


The next phase

Written by karen on June 7th, 2021

You may remember that about five years ago, we were given a small greenhouse which we took down from it’s former location and reassembled on our property (the “cussingest project ever“). 

We’ve grown a lot of food in that little greenhouse, but over time, the plastic panels began to come apart. We replaced some of them and taped together or caulked others. With the unrelenting strong winds we get here, this has been getting more challenging. Also the beautiful new clear plastic corrugated roof panels we put in turned black and warped due to the extreme heat here.



So we’ve been stripping off all the panels and thinking about how to repurpose this space. Our original thought was to cover it with hardware cloth and make it another bed for asparagus, but we’ve also been thinking about making it a part of some outdoor living space we’ve been contemplating. Stay tuned for where we go with this.


Easing into summer

Written by karen on May 31st, 2021

There has been another fire in Horseshoe Canyon this month (the Warren fire), which has brought lots of firefighters and jets doing retardant drops. While it’s been windy, there have been enough breaks for the planes to get in, which has helped a lot. At this point, the fire is about 50% contained, and they are starting to reallocate resources.

Other than that, it’s been a pleasant spring here, cooler than usual. We’ve had lots of beautiful birds and have seen three gila monsters, including a mating pair.

The garden is doing well. I’ve been focusing on our soil and have begun doing some in-bed composting in the beds I am resting. It seems to be working well. 

We are also beginning a project I have wanted to do for some time — rain water harvesting. I have talked to people who harvest rain water for all their water needs (washing, drinking, garden, etc.) even with rainfall as low as ours. (We get about 15-20 inches a year, though that varies considerably.) The trick is to have a very big tank. There are calculators for the tank size you need based on average rainfall, peak rainfall in volume per unit of time, and collection area.

To date, we’ve just done very small collection with buckets under the roofline. We’re going to expand this gradually, starting with new gutters and a small-ish thousand or so gallon used tank that we were given. Then after we get this installed and working, we can add things like a larger tank and possibly plumbing and a pump out to the garden. 

The last year and a half has made me reflect more on our impact on the environment. I like this approach to projects, starting small with recycled materials and then scaling up as appropriate. 



Jack Fire

Written by karen on April 23rd, 2021

Wednesday morning, I went out to hang laundry and saw smoke from a fire back in our canyon. With very high winds and a red flag warning all week, I immediately called the forest service. Within a couple hours fire crews and air support were on their way. By Wednesday evening, the fire had grown to 800 acres. 

This is the first major fire for this season, so it’s gotten a lot of press coverage even in Tucson. As a result, people have been calling to check on how I am and offer me a place to stay if I need it. Very kind, but also a little anxiety producing.

They’ve been very aggressive with DC-10 retardant drops, and this morning, things are looking better. As of last night, the fire was at 2,000 acres but hadn’t traveled north much so the outlook is good for now. (You might remember that a few years ago a fire in the same place and in similar weather traveled about 100 miles and burned for six weeks. No one wants that to happen again.)

I fear that this is part of the “new normal,” but for now, we are safe and sound.



Written by karen on April 16th, 2021

It’s spring here, one of my favorite times of year. With COVID and other things that happened last year, it feels like it’s been two years or more since we’ve enjoyed spring.

I have lots of tomato starts in the house right now and am staring to put them out to harden. They are looking especially strong, and I’m hopeful for a good garden year despite forecasts for little rain. Spring is always the season for hope!

Currently, we are harvesting tons of lettuce and also asparagus, kale, spinach, and chard. The garlic is going strong as well.


A year in books

Written by karen on January 3rd, 2021

This year was an uneven year of reading for me. The pandemic started with me being very unfortunately midway through The Stand. I toughed it out, but after that my reading slowed. After months of being home, I wasn’t able to focus on much, but then I jumped into some lighter fare, including a lot of Michael Connelly (Bosch). In the fall, I read quite a few food politics books as a part of an Eat Local work project I’m doing. By the end of the year, I exceeded my normal 50 books by a few.

  1. Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele
  2. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. The Stand by Stephen King
  4. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende
  5. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
  6. Security by Poul Anderson
  7. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
  8. Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
  9. Navajos Wear Nikes by Jim Kristofic
  10. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  11. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller
  12. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  13. The Peripheral by William Gibson
  14. Agency by William Gibson
  15. Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
  16. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  17. Sundiver by David Brin
  18. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  19. Heart of a Lion by William Stolzenburg
  20. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
  21. The Guardians by John Grisham
  22. The Black Ice by Michael Connelly
  23. Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
  24. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
  25. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
  26. Camino Winds by John Grisham
  27. The Concrete Blond by Michael Connelly
  28. The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly
  29. The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben
  30. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
  31. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
  32. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  33. My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
  34. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl
  35. Savage Feast by Boris Fishman
  36. Plenty by Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon
  37. Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
  38. Eat Here by Brian Halweil
  39. Growing Tomorrow by Forrest Pritchard
  40. The Poet by Michael Connelly
  41. Local by Douglas Gayeton
  42. Blood Work by Michael Connelly
  43. Angels Flight by by Michael Connelly
  44. Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini
  45. A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly
  46. Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
  47. Void Moon by Michael Connelly
  48. City of Bones by Michael Connelly
  49. Waging Peace by Diana Oestreich
  50. Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly
  51. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  52. Earth by David Brin
  53. Each Step is the Journey by Patricia Klinck
  54. Hippie by Paulo Coelho
  55. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
  56. Food from the Radical Center by Gary Nabhan