martes, 31 de marzo de 2009

Solar Muffins, upside-down tomates

Latest solar fare:
Banana Crunch Muffins, loosely based on this recipe

sun-tanned delicious!

And finally the time has come to harvest from the Upside-Down Tomato experiments! Out of the 4 i planted, this is the only plant that appears healthy. The other 3 produced a few tiny tomatoes but their branches have dried and withered.

It was affirming to hear that many other folks who planted the UC-82 variety were also met with a disappointing, flavor-less tomato crop. The seeds were gifted to us by a local agricultural co-op, a sandinista program i would guess, that collaborates with the university to provide ag-info, workshops, seeds, and probably much more. We recently attended a lecture on zompopos (leaf-cutter ants), an ingenious insect that farms its own mushrooms (!!) and often destroys coffee crops in the process. The little einsteins harvest chunks of leaves and haul them back to their underground fungus farm, then feed on some bacteria or micro-organism that lives on the mushrooms. In Costa Rica there are eco-tours offering hikes to see leaf-cutter ants in action! Admittedly, it is cool to see a long line of them trekking back to the nest, the slices of bright green leaf seeming to herald the arrival of a medieval ant calvary.
In the lecture i was very impressed at the the organic approach to managing the pest, including the application of neem oil and the value placed on understanding the zompopo life cycle.

Back to the dangling tomatoes: as far as UC-82s go, these were not bad! Good color, typical square-ish shape, slightly juicier than the in-ground crop.

All in all, i'd say it's not a bad idea if you lack ample garden space. Otherwise......they weren't worth the precarious balance act of watering on a stool.

jueves, 26 de marzo de 2009

solar oven lovin'

Despite the discomforts of squinting, profusive sweating, heat exhaustion, and sunburns, the blazing sol de nicaragua has redeemed itself to me by generously cooking, toasting, and baking my food!
Solar Ovens are SUCH a GOOD IDEA! Not that i hadn't heard of them before, but i had not ever observed the simple miracle of cooking with the closest star to our planet. Solar chefs boast of a special sun-infused flavor achieved only through solar cooking and sure, maybe that's true. i haven't noticed yet and i don't really care because i am fascinated and grateful enough that my food is being COOKED just by leaving it out in the sunshine!!!
First try was plain old rice--2 cups agua, 1 cup rice + 2 hrs in the oven--which turned out mostly cooked, the top actually too crunchy and dry.
Next, keepin it fairly simple--baked potatoes.
Here they are raw, awaiting solar oven lovin

The whole contraption is ultra-simple--a box painted black on the inside, a plexi-glass door, and shiny reflective panels all around. Lots of people make their own. Cooking pot and lid should also be black.

i gave the taters about 2.5 hrs.....during which time, being the goddess of contradiction that she is, look where Zaya chose to retreat from the scorching sun:


As peak sunlight hours waned, i gleefully served buttery *star* baked potatoes, my gas tank no less full than before and the kitchen blessedly cool without the oven's suffocating heat.

For my next trick,

Sun Toasted Granola

1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup honey
1/4 stick of butter, melted
1 cup chopped nuts--i only have cashews
1/2-1 cup dried fruit--raisins are all i could find around here, though i dream of dried berries
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 pinch sal

Los Ingredientes

Start with the liquids, mix 'em up

Add dry

Mix it all up

Spread onto a greased cookie sheet, or if your solar oven is a small square, spread onto aluminum foil inside a skillet

Catch some rays, though i think 2 hrs was a tad too long

what more can i say: Sola Granola!

martes, 24 de marzo de 2009

To everything, turn, turn

In gardening world, there's little time to cry and mourn over fallen crops. because new life is always springing up! i was pleased as punch just yesterday to note the fantastic blooms on my gandul (perhaps you know it as pigeon pea). i planted several rows of the round chickpea-esque seeds way back in November, knowing that despite a long growing period (average of 8 months 'til harvest), they were prolific producers.

Gandul, Pigeon Pea, Cajanus cajan

Celebrated in permaculture circles for its multi-purposes--cover crop, animal fodder, living fence, nitrogen-fixer, on and on--gandul is a legume commonly grown and chowed in India. The seeds can be harvested green and eaten like peas, or allowed to dry in the pod. Out of the 12 or so gandul i planted, only 2 or 3 are flowering right now, which is still a happy surprise as only 5 months have passed since planting. and by the way i have given these guys no attention, no water, no fertilizer, nada. Low Maintenance certainly being another reason they are a permaculture favorite.

A brand spanking new crop has sprouted, tiny and elegant and full of potential--can you guess?

this little beauty will grow up to yield ears and ears of sweet corn! yahooooo!

And now that i've got your wheels turning, may i present the true MYSTERY seedlings, in hopes that you may be able to help identify these poor jane does of the plant kingdom:

My gardening habits mimic my unorthodox kitchen habits, wherein i mix various recipes, never measure anything, and tend to create smallish messes all about me. In my fervor to germinate every fruta nueva that i try (and through the inadvertent encouragement of one Richard W. Langer in his The After-Dinner Gardening Book), i have been dropping seeds into plastic bags and Coke bottles left and right. Our backyard has transformed into the science lab of my agricultural experimentos, save one vital science-experimenty detail: labeling?
I hypothesize, ahem, that these seedlings could be 1) the jocotes i am so enamoured with, 2) a tasty fruit called manzana de agua that is not really an apple, or..... 3)something i forgot i planted.

A final flower featured in my garden right now, one deserving mucho respect for its pest-detering properties, not to mention its beauty: Marigold, Calendula officinalis

Supposedly one of the easiest and "most rewarding" flowers from which to save seed, i did just that for the very first time ever.

I studied up first, of course. then carefully dissected two dried French Sparky marigolds, to my delight discovering a wealth of wispy light seeds, ¡que bonita!

A time to reap, a time to sow.

lunes, 23 de marzo de 2009


While the nutrient cycle claims the has-beens of my first garden crop, only several feet away la casita has been growing up up UP!

Seen here she looks much like a castle, no? and strikingly similar to the plans we drew up mere months ago, our vision of home a scribbled circle, little squares labeled dormitorio and bodega. Look at her now, ¡Increíble!

Below you are looking into half of the kitchen (envision me washing dishes under that window, glancing up every few minutes as a ripe avocado plops from a high branch); and the large opening is our backdoor, with a sweeping vista of mi jardin; (that protruding lower wall is actually a bar/counter--picture me there mixing a mojito with fresh-picked menta).

We've decided to go ahead and have our contractor put up all the interior walls, opting for this convenience over experimenting with cobb inside the house. Fear not! playing and constructing with mud will happen for another structure nearby, possibly a workshop/tool shed.

With our goal to reduce energy use and to rely primarily on alternative sources (wind, solar), I am burdened with finding non-electric substitutes for many of our energy-sucking appliances. Unfortunately, the trend these days in kitchen gadgets seems to be plug it in and push the button, whereas the hand-powered egg beater and hand-crank coffee grinder that i seek were apparently retired with the final publication of Sears-Roebuck back in 1922.

I did, however, discover a solar oven here in the garage. FUN! so far i've only cooked rice, but seriously it worked! The little box heats up to over 250 degrees F, supposedly i can bake whatever in there. Photos and documentation to come.

miércoles, 18 de marzo de 2009


Correction from last post: farming so far has been trial by error. Yes, error, ok? i'm being honest here. Deep breath,,,here's to learning from one's mistakes.
The blossom end rot was a bummer for many of my tomates y ayote; there was an unfortunate pest attack on the potatoes (though i did manage to salvage a couple tiny taters and they were GOOD); i've already gone on about the cacao (see Feb 28); i already went on about the wind? And another sad story is the tale of compost. Before any seed sprouted or blossom bloomed, when the farm was nothing more than a lemon forest, I faithfully hauled our household compost to a designated spot, layered appropriately (greens + browns), and encouraged Mother Nature to do her thing. Some people send out pics of their kids, some their pets, even a shot of a well-manicured flower garden might pass without raising eyebrows. I, however, shared with my nearest and dearest an intimate photo of my very own rotting pile of discarded organic waste mixed with yard clippings, seen here:

Looks great, eh? Gracias, but la problema presented itself in the form of this adorable, starving, and to top it all off pregnant, farm dog, who was delighted by the loads of yummy-smelling edible treats I generously dumped for her each week.

The owner of Niña, who is actually the mandador of our farm, has more important mouths to feed than poor hungry Niña's and those of her then developing 4 puppies (who subsequently all died, surely of malnutrition). Entonces,,,, compost hasn't happened. seriously, what would you do?

Bitching and Moaning Part 2: Live and Learn
Tomato Season Round 1 is winding down, thankfully, because the tomatoes were not good. (Like i said, honest). In this case, I feel comfortable blaming the tomato variety, as this same square-ish flavorless mealy fruit is the only type to be found in the markets here. Boiled down and carefully seasoned they yield a decent sauce, but i would never ever choose to eat one in my ensalada. Upon researching, we discovered that the tomato variety we so despise is a hybrid known as UC 82, probably cultivated for its ability to ship long distances and maintain a vibrant red. How did this tasteless excuse for a tomato infiltrate the Nicaraguan vegetable market?
I prefer to showcase them here in my toaster oven, broiling handsomely, where they maintain some shred of culinary integrity, rather than naked and so glaringly inadequate.

Anyway,,,lessons learned. Not all tomatoes are created equal. And,the UC 82 is a determinate variety of tomato, in which all the fruit comes in and ripens at once. I am now armed with several different seed varieties, including an indeterminate heirloom seed that touts superb FLAVOR with no mention of the tomato's shape--hallelujah!
Tearing out the tomatoes' withered brown stems today was cathartic, bidding adios to my first crop as a Nica farmer and heaping the leftover nutrients into the compost pile--one down, many to go.