Weekly News Update: April 23

Happy Earth Day everyone! I know I’m a day late but go with me on this one. After all, every day is technically Earth Day. Unless you’re an astronaut.

Riparian Bosque Nature Trail Established

On the back 40 acres of Harmony and Health land, there is a large wash. It is protected by law – no one is allowed to build anything within 100 feet on either side. As a sustainable and nature-minded community, we decided to use this section of land as a way to educate people about the desert environment. We recently had two volunteers, Hannah and Rachel, spend many, many hours establishing the first stage of our vision. They carefully mapped and marked a nature trail that travels near the wash. They marked out five areas to be converted into campsites with raised platforms for monsoon season. They will be ideal for nature lovers, researchers and birders who want to be surrounded by the desert. They identified dozens of plants, learned the basics of the ecosystem, collected and pressed flowers, took many pictures, and assembled a Bosque Identification kit. They also wrote an educational zine for future visitors and led two inaugural tours on the trail during our April Second Sunday Brunch.

The first few blossoms on our kumquat!

Food Forest Begun

Amethyst, a new member of the community, has begun the food forest! A vision of a food forest has been held for a long time. A former community member cleared an area of land near the Harmony Garden and built approximately two dozen raised beds for the project. It has since been on hiatus, but as of this week, the food forest has officially come into being! We are starting slow of course. It will be two years before it will look anything like what the term “food forest” conjures in the mind. We’re starting with five raised beds for herbs and berries, a kumquat tree, a pomegranate tree, and 3 moringa trees. We are indebted to Rillito Nursery & Garden, located on N. La Cholla Blvd., for donating two dozen seed varieties to our non-profit and to our neighbors at Kokopelli Gardens for the moringas.

Tool Shed Begun

Ashtar, a new member of the community, has begun building a tool shed! We had a tool rack, but a proper, large shed will allow us to store more tools and protect them from the sun’s UV rays and the monsoon rains. We thank Kevin, a friend of the community, for donating building materials for the shed. We envision this shed becoming a tool lending library. Anyone on the land who needs something will come to the tool shed, sign out a tool, and return it when they’re finished.

A very tiny praying mantis in the garden.
A very tiny praying mantis in the garden.

Harmony Garden Update

The Harmony Garden is in transition. We are halfway through the garlic harvest, with a couple hundred bulbs hanging in the drying shed. Several of the winter vegetables have bolted and gone to seed. We will collect the seeds over the next few weeks and store them for winter. Once the last of the winter vegetables are out, we’ll plant the summer vegetables and the cover crops. This soil hasn’t been worked before, so it is need of amendment – the nitrogen-fixing cover crops will help improve the soil. We’re also looking to add rabbit or llama manure to the soil, so if you know anyone who could help us on that front, let us know!

Learn About Composting Toilets

Have you ever thought about how strange and wasteful it is that we use perfectly good freshwater to send our waste into the oceans? Who the heck came up with this system anyway? Finding a safe, useful, and water-conserving way of getting rid of waste is the concept behind humanure and composting toilets. After all, humans compost animal dung all the time, and use it for growing crops. We can do the same with our own waste. If done properly, there’s no smell, no flies, no contamination, and minimal maintenance work.

Here at Harmony and Health, we currently have two composting toilets. We will be building more as we expand our community and host more events. Because of varying comfort levels with using composted human waste, we won’t be using humanure on our food forest or gardens. We will stick with regular kitchen compost and composted animal manure for our food, and use the humanure for shade trees, decorative flowers, and arundo (a nice shade plant similar to bamboo.) (Just to be clear: human waste is NOT put directly on the ground near plants. Bacteria, heat and moisture all work their magic on the waste for over a year, until the waste becomes just regular dirt.)

If you’ve never heard of this concept, we highly encourage you to learn a bit more about it. More and more people are switching to composting toilets: from the United States to the Philippines, from cities to suburbs, and from family homes to entire communities. If you want to learn A LOT about this subject, read the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. It has been published in dozens of languages and is available in printed form as well as online as a free PDF. Go forth and learn!

Hope for Bees

A few bee swarms have settled in undesirable places out here on the land. New friends of the community have been helping us remove the hives. They will be our partners in a beekeeping project, so keep an eye out for beekeeping workshops and honey over the coming year!

Mesquite Harvesting Soon

One of the upcoming activities on our agenda is mesquite harvesting. We are surrounded by acres and acres of mesquite trees. Their blooms are turnings into pods now, and these will be ripe to harvest in June, before the rains come. The pods have a sweet and nutty flavor, and make a great flour when dried and milled. Mesquite is gluten free, and has its own sweetness, which reduces the amount of sweetener needed in baked goods. The flour can’t be used solely on its own for baking; it must be mixed with something else like rice flour.

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