It’s spring, and there isn’t anything I’d rather do than work in the yard, inhaling the orange-blossom scent until it practically knocks me flat. But why do all the trees and bushes around here keep grabbing my hair, scratching my face, and almost poking my eye out now and then?
It’s because they’re growing, and they need space, and the pathways are empty. Almost everything needs pruning. But I have a hard time with that. Not because it’s hard work, or because I don’t have a good pair of loppers, or because I don’t know what to do with the prunings. The reason I hate the job is because I have so much respect and admiration for anything that can grow in this dry desert. If something is reaching out for room to grow, I can hardly bear to snip it. It’s silly, I know. Plants usually become denser and maybe happier if their outer reaches are severed. But attachment isn’t logical.
I’d been using an oddball method to deal with the spreading limbs—propping them up with a long, forked stick, tying the fork to the branch, maybe with a piece of bicycle innertube. (Bike innertubes make the best plant tie-backs. You can get them at any bike shop, cut them lengthwise to any desired width.) With this jojoba I was afraid to cut off the leafy ends because the trunk and low branches had grown bare. What if I killed it?
The fact was, I’d never pruned this bush. And it was forty years old! It had been a small stick in a little black pot when I bought it, back when the UA’s Office of Arid Lands Studies was studying the plant. The seed famously contained a wax, an oil, resembling that of the sperm whale. They hoped the jojoba substitute would make it unnecessary to kill the whale for its oil.
And that’s what happened. Check out this happy whale story. Myriad skin and hair products with jojoba oil followed. You may have used one.
Anyway, how could they not succeed with a slogan like, “What the jell is jojoba?” to help people pronounce the word?
Through the U of A studies I also learned that, if I wanted my jojoba bush to produce nuts, I needed to look for a female plant. In the wild there are four male plants to every female, ensuring good pollination for seed formation. I must have neighbors with male plants, judging from the productivity of my one bush.
I thought about getting the oil out of the nuts I harvested . . . somehow. Maybe I could put bags of them behind my car tires, and squash them as I drove in and out of the driveway. Before I actually followed through on the idea, though, I got rid of my car. You could try it, though!
What I did follow through on was making jojoba coffee. The nuts look a lot like coffee beans, once you’ve peeled off the loose, golden-brown sheath. And to make the drink you also roast them. Use your preferred roasting method; I like to do it over my outdoor fireplace. Then, again like coffee, you grind them in your coffee grinder. That’s where the oily difference shows up: it won’t take long for them to grease up your machine. But it’s worth it! Steep the grounds like tea or prepare them like coffee. The roasted nuts taste roasted, like coffee beans, but also distinctly nutty.
How does this relate to new stuff? Well, you don’t have to purchase that hazelnut flavored creamer. (Isn’t that usually packaged in a hideous plastic bottle?) And you could also buy less coffee, stretching it with jojoba flavor. Or, because jojoba nuts have no caffeine, you can drink it straight as your morning brew if you don’t need the drug. A small note of caution: As with some other native foods, you don’t want to ingest too much. Native peoples considered jojoba nuts a snack, and said that if you ate too many you’d get a stomach ache.
But recently—admittedly I was working on the pathway right next to the jojoba—the bush became quite aggressive, getting hold of my hair and yanking me backward a couple of feet, with the painful force of that boy in grade school who grabbed my pony tail once
What if the bush killed me?
It had recently seeded itself, too—three baby plants were coming up at its base. If the old, invading, woody thing died of leaf deprivation, it would be superseded by some young’uns. In a decade or so.
Yeah, I was ready to chop. And soon I had a pile of leafy branches.
I let it sit a couple weeks. These branches seemed to hang onto their leaves longer than others. But eventually they let go, especially as I trampled the pile.
The stiff, almost plasticky leaves, were a little too big to run through my regular sifting screen, so I had to pick out the little twigs and pebbles by hand–overkill for compost, but perfect for my simple toilet. They felt nice by the fistful, like rolled oats but smoother and larger. I scooped them into my antique coal bucket in the loo.
You probably don’t have a coal bucket in your bathroom. Where are you going to put your cover material? Well. On top of your composting food waste, of course. (It’s the same thing as a “brown layer.”)
I can’t bear putting food waste in my wastebasket any more. It hurts. It also stinks and drips. But as soon as I throw it in the compost bin, it ceases to be waste. And when I cover it with brown organic material, like dried jojoba leaves, it ceases to stink. A few twigs in the mix should compost just fine,.
But why go to the trouble? What’s the point?
I recently received this chart from Population Connection, a nonprofit concerned about world population. It compares different ways of preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.
Does it shock you? I couldn’t believe food waste was the biggest offender. How could reducing it be more than ten times as effective as driving electric cars? Should reducing food waste be our Number One goal if we want to fight CO2? (Other gases are released by food, though not part of this chart.)
It probably refers to all food waste, not just household food waste. The entire journey from farm to table is inefficient and wasteful. Yes, let’s fix all of it! But in the meantime, I wanted to start with what happens at my house:
Nobody wants smell lines to rise from their property! But they can also represent rising gases. Gases rising from Nature’s property—the Earth—is a much worse situation. They’ll be collecting in the atmosphere and circling the globe. They’ll be part of everyone’s sky.
Carbon dioxide is the gas we hear about most, but methane—if we’re listening—is a little scarier. They tell us it’s “many times worse.” But how many? I kept hearing different numbers—quite different. At last I learned why. Carbon dioxide hangs around longer than methane, but methane has a much stronger presence while it’s up there.
A backyard compost bin probably can’t prevent CO2 from leaking out. After all, lots of carbon-based material is breaking down inside. But methane is a slightly different story.
Landfills are, by definition, filling up. Contents are piled up, piled on, and pressed down. Organic stuff doesn’t break down because it’s layered with tons of inorganic material, and doesn’t get oxygen. Below the surface of a landfill, everything’s airless. If any processes are at work, they’re anaerobic And anaerobic processes generate methane.
Home composting depends on making sure air gets into the mass. Good bins have holes or open sides. Periodic turning or mixing of contents helps, too. If the contents sit motionless in a big blob, getting slimy and a little too pungent, anaerobic activity is taking over, and methane is being created.
The stench isn’t great for you, or your neighbors, and the gas isn’t good for your atmospheric canopy—the global weather patterns.
Let’s say your bin or pile has been set up outside. Now, do you throw that hunk of “whatever” into the wastebasket, or into that pretty ceramic flask next to the sink? For me, it’s the same amount of effort. Sure, there’s a bit of additional work later: dumping the flask when it’s full, rinsing it back in the kitchen, turning what’s in the bin now and then. Look online for more about the practice. Read the instructions until they get boring, then just do it. Fine tuning can come later.
This year we have the best kale garden ever, the deeply curled kind—is there a mathematics that might describe the leaf edges that turn in on themselves a thousand times per leaf? I doubt it. One of those, ripped into beak-sized pieces, sends the chickens over the moon—though most days I’m too selfish to pluck even a single leaf for mere birds. Steamed, with salt and butter and a sprinkle of vinegar, along with a tall glass of cold, filtered water to vanquish the salt. It was so, so easy to shovel the soil from the kitchen-scraps bin and spread it in that plot, pushing the seeds into it, watching and waiting, pinching off the leaves that best relieved the beautiful density.
Tonight I would like to fly to Sudan, or Ukraine, or Afghanistan, and find a hunkered-down family, and turn over the buttered greens and a big pitcher of the pure water. All the while it was so easy—and pleasant!—to align myself with Nature’s cycles, appreciating my place in them. Why is it so hard to get the cycles to turn like that everywhere? Does it mean anything that we all share the atmosphere and the sea?
In spite of all the pruning, my jojoba bush is very much alive, and putting out green nuts with little acorn-like hats. I love them as though they were elf heads. Though I think they’re bitter at this stage.
I still have a lot to do, and to write, and to learn.