Beth Wilder

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since Jul 11, 2018
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Recent posts by Beth Wilder

Hi, all!

First of all, don't get me wrong: I'm all for a) working to reverse man-made desertification, and b) planting, tending, and encouraging regionally appropriate plants wherever we find ourselves, to restore balance and healthy carbon and other nutrient cycling.

Gradually growing to love deeply the high desert grasslands where I live, however -- and, frankly, seeing a number of young permaculture enthusiasts arrive here having bought land sight unseen and announcing that they're going to launch grand waterworks bringing water from the mountains to the valleys and "green the desert" and seeming to scoff at everyone around them who's learned to live within existing cycles and work with them to gently redress imbalances -- I've started to wonder: Is there anything inherently wrong with this kind of system, i.e. is it inherently unbalanced? Do we in fact need to green all deserts?

I came across this from our neighbors at the Center for Biological Diversity in 2008: And then this from our neighbors at ASU in 2020:

I'm trying to learn more about things like the place of mesquite in our high desert grasslands, with the help of a local woman with a degree in rangeland management. We love this tree so deeply, and I hate to hear ranchers call it "invasive" and -- especially -- spray the crap out of it with aerial herbicides (which, frankly, don't have much effect in the long run, as mesquite is as stubborn as we are and comes right the f*** back). But she's starting to teach me some subtleties.

Meanwhile, a clear issue is the rapid depletion of our groundwater, which is an ancient resource that we are using far faster than we can replenish. Many who work to "green the desert" pull up more of this groundwater to establish trees that can't survive here without those wells. When they move on (as we all do eventually, whether we die or our wells run dry because of others' overpumping or etc.), the trees die.

Now, clearly, a few small forest farms are not by a long shot the largest, most problematic water users, and we are working hard to plug those enormous leaks.

But I'm just wondering: Should we really be advocating for any kind of well-fed greening of deserts? It's so rare to hear of folks who are working without wells. But can't we just work gradually and gently with the land to lose less rainwater to evaporation, runoff, and contamination, and work to help it infiltrate while feeding our plants on the way? Can we focus on trees and plants that can survive here on their own, so that our efforts outlast us?

What are others' thoughts on all this? Thank you!
2 years ago
I believe our two species here are Celtis laevigata var. reticulata (netleaf or canyon hackberry) and Celtis pallida (desert hackberry). They don't grow very tall here, although somewhat taller than the mesquite.

Chokecherry sounds like a great option to me for both overstory and edibility!
2 years ago
Interesting! We had them growing around us here in zone 8A, 4340' elevation, official avg. 13" precip./yr. (but almost none in the last year), but almost all of them are dead after the last year. Others saying they have wide shallow root systems helps to explain that. My husband likes the berries, and they do have a touch of sweetness to that thin dry shell around the seed, but I have to agree with other that I don't see much food value in them. There are two kinds near us, though, and I haven't managed to try the kind that my husband has said are juicier yet because we haven't found one fruiting. They definitely grow only along creeks and tanks, so clearly they need more available soil moisture than is available in most parts of this area. Also, I don't believe I've ever seen one as high up as 6300' elevation, although I could be wrong.

What are your local oak species? Do you have one that's particularly drought resistant, maybe something like the Emory oak or a pin oak? What part of the country are you in? Do you have any local nitrogen-fixing trees, like mesquite or acacia? A mix of good local trees would probably be better, as others have noted, than a whole lot of one kind that might fail at the same time like all the hackberries have around us in the last year. That would cause a huge fire danger in this dangerous drought time in the west if we had a lot of them all in one place. Not that we don't have huge fire danger in general and many fires burning around us already because everything is crispy...
2 years ago
Kathleen, Mikhail is definitely right, and also historical averages in each area are increasingly inaccurate.

Where we are, the average had been 13" precipitation (inc. a bit of snow)/yr. Last year we got much less than that. We still have enough water for our meager domestic needs for now, mostly collected in 2019 and the winter of 2019-2020, which was actually wetter than usual. But if we don't get a monsoon again this summer, we will run out within a year, I'm pretty sure. We had essentially no precipitation over this last winter. They're saying that this year will be even drier across the West than previous years of the drought, and possibly the driest in millennia, but we've also heard that the monsoon might start earlier than usual and might be wetter (although "than what" -- than last year? not hard. than usual? better, but seems unlikely -- wasn't made clear).

I would definitely be dubious about the water situation if I were you. I'd say we're more irate and galvanized than dubious and are doing all we can to fix what we can (using political means). Normally I'd say it might be a good idea to drill a well as a back-up to raincatch, but all our wells have been running dry, so what's the point? If we keep not getting monsoons (and winter precipitation) and factory farms and other heavy corporate users keep draining the groundwater at rates much, much faster than possible recharge, we will continue to have increasing and worsening problems, including that residence in these areas will be increasingly impossible.
2 years ago
That is an excellent meme, thank you, Nicole!

Has anyone tried growing mushrooms from stem butts? Most grocery store mushrooms don't include that bit, but if you grew your own mushrooms from a kit or you got mushrooms directly from a local grower, keep those bulbous bits and try this.

I've been trying it in a very unscientific way. I had some stem butts from a batch of common oyster mushrooms our neighbor grew, and I had a big bowl of used coffee grounds saved up for a few days. I was going to pasteurize them, but I never got around to it (it wouldn't have been hard: put the grounds in a cloth bag, tie it shut, and put it in just-boiled water for 1.5 hours). I hoped that getting pasteurized once being made into coffee was enough. I re-moistened the grounds and buried my stem butts in there. I didn't really expect much, but within a few days the surface started to turn white. That process has progressed, but no fruiting yet. Sadly I didn't take notes (shame!), so I don't know how long it's been, but I'm not too worried about it since the whole process has been free both of cost and pressure. If we get oyster mushrooms, I'll let you know! If we get something else, we won't eat it. ;)
2 years ago
Hi, everyone! I've been shampoo-free for about three years, I think. I have long-ish wavy-to-curly hair, fine-textured but lots of it so it's been described as "thick" most of my life. I actually don't even rinse it with water very often. Every month or two or whenever it seems to need it, I do, and then usually I use baking soda (with rosemary essential oil) scrubbed in and then herbal apple cider vinegar in the rinse (I steep rosemary, juniper berries, and mugwort in the vinegar and I also use this vinegar to soak a clean washcloth and place on my forehead to help relieve headaches). Lately that's left it a little too dry afterwards, and prone to static, so I think I'll stop using at least the baking soda and will likely stop using both even though I really like my herbal vinegar (leaves my hair smelling great). We exclusively use filtered raincatch for our water.

When I first started to decrease the frequency of washing with shampoo, and then stopped using shampoo altogether, my hair would definitely get greasy. But now it takes it at least a month to get greasy at all. So for those who've asked about how to moderate greasy hair, I would say just give it some time. Maybe stock up on cotton hair wraps (bandanas or whatever you like) to wear over a bun until things settle down. I still wear these to keep blowing dust and grease and things out of my hair when doing dirty work or riding a motorcycle or just being out for any length of time in the spring windy season.

Anyway, the main thing I do to clean my hair and keep it healthy is comb and brush it for a good long time once a day. I use a very wide-tooth comb (what they sell as a "shower comb") first because I couldn't get it through the tangles without a ton of damage otherwise, and once it's thoroughly detangled, I use a brush in sections so that I make sure to get all the way to the scalp. This removes dust and dirt and distributes the scalp oil all the way to the ends. For years I've used a nice wooden-handled brush with soft "natural-feeling" bristles, but I actually don't know whether they're boar bristles or plastic, and I sort of suspect the latter.

I just finally got myself a brush that I'm sure has good long boar bristles, and I'm excited to try it. Best of all, it didn't cost an arm and a leg, the avoidance of which had kept me from investing for this long. What I got was a Calcutta boar bristle brush with a pear wood handle from Desert Breeze Distributing, and because I don't care if there's an "odd grain pattern or flaw in the wood handle" -- in fact, I'd prefer it -- I got it for a discount, and threw in a cleaning kit, too. All three wooden-handled items (the brush, a cleaning rake, and a cleaning brush) appear to be very high quality. I have no affiliation with the company, but I'm a repeat customer, as I've also bought a very nice wool pad from them that I use for needle felting. So I'd recommend them highly. Here's a link to the discounted brushes.

We don't use soap, either, except on our hands and if there's some kind of actual grease or filth on us like if we've been changing the oil or otherwise working on vehicles or have spilled while cooking or have turned the poop compost or something. We've tried making our own simple coconut oil soap to use for that and dishes, but so far it hasn't worked -- can't get a trace, maybe because we're stubborn about using lye we make from the hardwood ash from our stove rather than buying sodium lye. So we use a simple shea butter soap for our hands and carefully-vetted liquid detergents for dishes and laundry that won't put too much sodium into our greywater. We do use just diluted potash lye for laundry sometimes, but I don't feel it gets clothes as clean (my partner swears by it).

My skin has been healthier these last few years since making this change than ever in my life before. Using one of those salt crystal deodorants is helpful at preventing armpit odor, although that also is reduced since I gave up coffee again last year. For dry skin I use various herbal oils I make with olive oil, and I use a lot of creosote salve (creosote herbal olive oil and beeswax) for cuts, scrapes, insect bites/stings, and especially any kind of early skin damage from the sun. (I'm bad about remembering to put on zinc sunscreen, and it took me a while to find a wide-brimmed hat I really like that does a great job now of blocking sun from my face.)

I will say that, doing this, it becomes much clearer what we each individually really smell like, without scented products that strip our natural oils, and these smells vary a lot from person to person. Luckily my partner and I both like each other's smells. Except when it's really hot or we've been working especially hard, these aren't strong smells, and then we bathe, eh? My partner likes the smell of my hair so much he actually gets a little miffed when I wash it and it smells more like herbs for a few days. But I can see problems arising if you start doing this when you're already in an established relationship and then you don't end up liking each other's smells... Check in with each other! It might reveal some interesting things.
2 years ago
Thanks so much for the link, David! That sounds potentially like a really great system, although I can't help but wonder if anyone has looked into how much, if any, methane is generated during the fermentation of the agave and legume silage into digestible animal feed, and whether or not that offsets the carbon sequestration in terms of climate change effect. Livestock can and do eat mesquite and other leguminous trees' foliage, as well as things like yucca stalks that tend to grow in the same areas (cows do, anyway), as it is without fermentation. I wonder if the focus on carbon sequestration is over-complicating the system while the fermentation of the agave leaves may be canceling out the potential benefits of the sequestration. I wanted to comment and ask those questions of our old friend Ronnie Cummins, who wrote the article, but there doesn't appear to be a comments section. Does anyone here know if anyone has looked into these things further?

Like Via Organica and like the majority of farmers and ranchers in Mexico that Cummins mentions, we don't have groundwater irrigation here, and we don't have much collected rainwater to spare for irrigation after we make sure we have enough to drink and cook and clean ourselves with (although certainly we use every drop of that greywater), so we rely primarily on whatever precipitation falls directly and we can get to stick around as long as possible in the soil, etc. That means we only attempt to grow trees and other plants that can survive this kind of tough love. Mesquite and acacia are especially important in this kind of system. In addition to their nitrogen-fixing capacity and nice leaf litter and wood chip mulch, mesquite provide some of the only shade around here, and in the brutal early summer and even parts of the monsoon season (if we ever get a monsoon again), that shade can be all that keeps other plants alive. At our other property that we're just beginning to observe and plan out, there are more whitethorn acacia than mesquite or catclaw acacia, and those also produce very nice shade (and deadwood like rocket fuel! man, those dry limbs in a woodstove burn hot and just keep burning).
2 years ago
I'm curious why a couple of you have said that mesquite doesn't play well with others. Mesquite are known locally in Spanish as madrina because they help to nurse so many other species along here in the Arizona desert. We plant all our new bushes and trees around mesquite (ours are mostly Prosopis velutina), and we collect leaf litter from under lots of mesquite around the property to use as mulch to help nitrogen-hungry plants that we can't huddle under mesquites. Since mesquite deadwood is our primary fuel for heating and cooking and busting it up produces lots of woodchips, that's our primary woody mulch material, too. We haven't noticed any kind of adverse effects on any other plants from all this; quite the opposite. Of course mesquites have thorns, and of course we get cut and pierced by them all the time (mostly collecting firewood, but also doing things like planting under them), but it seems a pretty small price to pay for the abundance that mesquite represent in what can be a very challenging climate.
2 years ago

Anita Martin wrote:Regarding good bacteria for cleaning: As I am not sure about the English term I don't know if EMa are also a thing? These are a certain culture of lactobacillus bacteria that are not only used for fermenting bokashi but can also be diluted to wash down surfaces and eliminate odours, as an additive for pet food, as an activator for healthy soil.

Anita, are EMa "effective microorganisms" like this proprietary blend from TeraGanix? Have you used something like this for household surfaces? I've fermented citrus peels and pineapple rinds with some sugar, water, and some brine from previous vegetable ferments as a Lactobacillus inoculant, then diluted the resulting liquid. I spray that on our chest freezer, which doubles as a food prep surface. I have a feeling that, if I sprayed it on our soil, the red ants would go nuts.
3 years ago

Julie Hoolie wrote:Thank you, Beth, for the informative reply!  If I'm going to switch from the bleach-water in the bathroom, would you suggest just straight baking soda for the toilet?  I do have a toddler in the house whose aim is less than perfect so I'm cleaning the floor tile most days as well.  I'll try the peroxide there.

You're welcome, but I'm really not a cleaning expert! (Witness our house. Well, really, please don't.) Raven Ranson has an ebook on good natural cleaners here that I think is great and very useful. In that, if I remember right, she questions the common combination of baking soda and vinegar to de-clog drains. Fair enough. But toilets are a place where I think the two work well together (see this recommendation). Vinegar, in addition to being antiseptic/disinfectant, is especially good at breaking down urine (got a cat that pisses on your bed in revenge? you learn this trick fast), so you could use that first (as the last parenthetical link recommends), and then follow up by scrubbing with baking soda on your toilet brush to remove stains and continue deodorizing, then rinse with water.

Julie Hoolie wrote:Also, which do you recommend for a shower that gets heavy use?

We don't have a shower (I miss showers!), but here are things I've done in the past when I did: Do you keep a squeegee in there for each person to use as soon as they're done in the shower? (Your toddler might even love using it as far up as he can reach!) That should help keep mold and mildew from growing. Then, when it does need cleaning, I've used a spray bottle filled halfway with distilled white vinegar and halfway with water, adding in a few drops to a teaspoon of tea tree oil (like this), to spray on tile and similar surfaces like that, let it sit a while, then wipe off.

What do other folks use for cleaning their bathrooms?
3 years ago