Even if you don't intentionally grow edibles in your garden, you may have a crop to harvest pretty soon.
From late June through September, pods of the mesquite tree begin to ripen into a yellow-beige or purple color. That's the time to harvest them for eating right there or to dry and mill into flour.
Sharon O'Brien remembers eating mesquite pods as a child as a curiosity and a summer treat.
"When they were kind of yellowy and still moist, we would just chew those up," recalls the Tucson native and founding artistic director of Stories That Soar.
Two summers ago, she harvested the pods from the two native mesquites at her midtown home and had them milled by Desert Harvesters, a nonprofit group that encourages production of native Sonoran Desert foods.
Now that her flour has run out, she'll gather pods this year to take to one of Desert Harvesters' six to eight annual fall events.
O'Brien picks up fallen pods, tosses them into five-gallon buckets and allows them to dry.
"It's pretty simple," she says.
Megan Hartman of Desert Harvesters doesn't recommend harvesting pods from the ground but would give thumbs up to O'Brien's other practices for preparing them for milling.
Hartman, who coordinates milling events and handles administration for the volunteer organization, offers several tips:
• Pick only ripe pods from the tree. Avoid trees in polluted areas such as highway corridors or areas with pesticide spraying or polluted water runoff.
• Tiny holes in pods indicate the presence of the bruchid beetle. These are fine to harvest; the bugs will fly away.
• Eat the still-moist pod - you'll need to spit out the hard seed and fibers-to see if you like the taste. Flavor varies among species.
• Store pods in a dry area. It's OK to wash and dry them, but it's not necessary. Throw out any pods that become moldy.
You can grind the pods into flour yourself or you can attend one of the milling events. You can find a schedule and additional information at the Desert Harvesters' website, www.desertharvesters.org
When the organization sponsors the event, the cost is $2 per gallon of pods, with a minimum cost of $5.
When another organization sponsors the event, that sponsor sets the price.
Five gallons of whole mesquite pods will yield about 5 pounds of flour, says Hartman.
Other natives to harvest
You can harvest other native plants in the summer.
Ironwood and palo verde pods can be picked through July. Steam green pods and eat them like edamame. Dry-roast dry pods and eat them like peanuts.
Prickly-pear harvests run through monsoon season. Turn fruit gathered in August and September into juice. Gather young pads after a rain and sauté, boil or grill.
Details on harvesting these plants are available from the Desert Harvesters.
Saguaro fruit is harvested in early summer. Harvesting classes are planned at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum June 26, Colossal Cave Mountain Park July 9 and Tucson Botanical Gardens July 12.
Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at firstname.lastname@example.org