And now, I live in Las Vegas. We've lived here a few years...long enough that I consider it home--where it freezes in the winter, and hits 117 for months on end in the summer. When I first moved here, there was a lot about the natural environment I wasn't fond of. Everyone's yards were covered in rock; few people had grass, and there are scorpions and black widows aplenty. (During the summer on my mom's back patio we can find at least ten black widows hiding in corners on any given day.) But over time I've learned I wasn't giving the desert a fair shake. It's different from the wetter climates back east to be sure, but it has its own share of benefits. Like the fact that we have no mosquitoes. And no gnats. And very limited flies unless you live near a garbage dump or horses. That's right. You can sit outside on any evening and not get bit by a single mosquito. Ah, heaven. And I learned the black widows pretty much keep to themselves.
Similarly, tomatoes have a hard time growing in scorching Las Vegas sun, and having a full grass lawn is one of the least "green" things you can do in this town....but you'd be surprised just what DOES thrive in Las Vegas. Even with our blazing sun, crappy soil, and four-inches-of-rain-per-year.
With the right potting soil, watering routine, and giving the vegetables partial shade, you can grow nearly anything in Las Vegas, but I want to focus on things you can grow here that are more sustainable. Not everything prefers rich, acidic black midwestern dirt.
First, the indigenous plants:
Prickly pear cactus, aloe vera, and blue agave come to mind. Blue agave is best known for its use in making Tequila, and more recently its popularity in the production of "Agave Nectar". However, since there's a fair bit of controversy over the supposed health benefits of agave nectar I don't know that I'd recommend it for consumption, but it's a very common plant for decoration. Aloe vera on the other hand, is well known for its healing benefits. You can buy the juice at whole foods and drink it or add it to smoothies; it heals sunburns and has antiseptic properties on cuts. But those flimsy, pathetic looking houseplants you find in window sills in temperate climates? Nothing like what Aloe looks like in its natural habitat.
Aloe thrives in the sandy, white, alkaline, junk soil we have here in the desert, and can handle the heat. It never needs watering either. You can harvest the outer leaves and use the inner "gel" for both food and medicinal purposes.
Prickly pears, found on cacti, also grow naturally here, need little to no watering, and though I've never tried them, I hear the fruit taste great and are good in smoothies.
Next, onto the Mediterranean!
In recent years there has been a greater focus in America on the many health benefits of eating a mediterranean diet. The region is considered one of the world's few "blue zones"...where people are living better, longer, happier lives. Many of the world's "super foods" are native to that region, but most of those foods are expensive. Have you priced pomegranate juice lately? Or dates?
So imagine my excitement when I had my lightbulb moment: Las Vegas is pretty similar to Israel's ecosystem. It is hot and dry, in a valley surrounded by mountains, with rocky soil. So here is my list of super foods that can not only survive in Las Vegas, but thrive here, with minimal intervention on my part!
Pomegranate Bush (People have them all over town and I've heard they grow like weeds, with far more pomegranates than they could ever eat. A good problem to have in my opinion.)
Stone fruit trees (Plum, Nectarine, Apricot)--they all use minimal water, are pretty, provide good shade, can handle the summer heat, and need at least some cold in the winter to produce a good fruit crop. My mom has a dwarf plum tree in her front yard, and with absolutely no help from us, it produces lots of miniature purple, juicy plums every year. They make great jam, and are an easy snack during walks around the block. :-) Those dwarf plums have grown to be one of my favorite trees.
|Which is sweeter? The plums, or that sweet face?|
Date Palm Tree- low water usage. From my understanding, the leaves are sharp enough to easily cause much bodily harm, and they grow quite tall. But for free dates, it might just be worth it to hire someone to climb up there and harvest them for me! I love Larabars, and dates are the primary ingredient in them.
Nuts! Almond and Pistachio trees grow well in Las Vegas with minimal watering. Pecans also grow well but the trees get huge, and they require a bit more water.
Fig Tree- Fig trees also grow rather quickly and thrive in desert climates. In addition to the tasty fruit, the leaves are large and would provide great shade.
Grapes- If you just want grape vines for covering and shade, they will grow with basically no watering. To produce grapes, a bit of watering is needed, but they do well in Las Vegas soil and sun, which is a big plus.
Lavender- I cannot begin to describe how excited I was to learn that lavender grows best in sandy, alkaline desert soil with lots of heat, and needs little watering. I guess I always assumed it needed a more temperate climate, as its common name, "English Lavender" would suggest, but such is not the case. Not only do I love the smell of lavender, but the aroma calms down my busy children and gets them to sleep. Lavender essential oil also has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to sterilize surfaces in cleaning the house and in cleaning wounds. Oh, I cannot WAIT to grow lavender! P.S.- a wee bit of trivia for my Bible-reading friends: when "nard" is mentioned in the bible, (see John 12) they are referring to lavender. (The Greeks called it "nardus" after the city of Naarda). During Roman times, a pound of lavender would cost a month's wages!
Some other plants that grow well in Las Vegas climate that may require some watering but can handle the soil and heat: rosemary, cumin, beans, sweet potatoes, melons, pumpkins, zucchini and summer squash, spinach, strawberries, and carrots.
So, I write this blog to encourage you to try to live sustainably wherever you call home. If it's possible in Las Vegas, it's possible most anywhere. We're in the process of buying our first home, and I've already planned out our garden and orchard in the back yard. I am hoping it will need watered infrequently, and when it does, I plan to use grey water and captured rain water. As we tackle new ways to keep our footprint down in the desert, I'll share our journey with you.
How do you live sustainably where you live? Any advice to those just starting?