martes, 28 de abril de 2009

Bicycle Water Pump

Since WATER is the biggest health issue in the world, it is no surprise that here in Nicaragua people, animals, and plants are all suffering from lack of this most vital nutrient. A brief study (5 minutes, by me) of recent water policy in the region revealed that somewhere between 50 and 80% of Nicaraguans have access to water, with the figures for sanitation of said water being much lower. I'm not about to try to understand the intricate web of bureaucracy and hypocrisy and politics that leaves so many people here without clean water. What i'm focusing on right now is our little town and my thirsty garden.
From what i am told, our water is derived from the ground, pumped and distributed by the water company who expects their bills paid in full and on time, regardless of how often water actually drips out of my sink and shower. Due to poorly functioning pumps, the municipal water supply is rationed--in town we usually have water 5 out of 7 days; however out at the farm, en el campo, water flows once every 7-15 days. muy malo. I assume people in this area store up water in whatever containers are at hand, partaking of their valuable resource sparingly. This time of year, dry season, everyone is especially parched, as is the land. No wonder i got so many bewildered faces when i zealously sowed vegetable seed back in March, in the midst of the Dry Hot No-Chance-Of-Rain Season.
Until now, my irrigation system has consisted of these simple tools, plus 2 girly biceps:
Slowly and methodically, sometimes meditatively, i bear water to mis plantitas.

While confident that lots of gardeners use watering cans so why can't i, the increasing heat and drying winds made my job harder and harder. i was haunted by the locals' voices: silly gringa, planting happens in June, the advent of the Wet Season.
Now, armed with almost a full year of weather watching, we are very much looking forward to the generous rains! Until then, and because we will still need potable water in la casita, a very cool project comes in:

On the left under ground is a gigantic white 10,000 liter cistern, filled by the water company. A pipe will (soon) connect from the cistern up to the 2 black tanks on the tower--water will be pumped upward by sheer pedal power!

From there, good old gravity does its work to provide pressure for a beautiful new irrigation system (and from the other tank, water pressure into la casa!)
The inspiration for our crazy eco-bike pump came from here
Huge thanks to our favorite farm interns, Bailey and Jocelyn, whose energy and time got this project off the ground, or rather out of the ground? ¡Muy amable, amigos!

sábado, 25 de abril de 2009

busy bees

With the onslought of talented, motivated, and absolutely PHENOMENAL guests, there has not been much time for computers.

there has been time for this:

and then some of this:

Very exciting! i will post details and explanations soon--promise! For now, it is my honor and pleasure to accompany our industrious guests on an off-the-beaten-path tour of Nicaragua.

sábado, 18 de abril de 2009


i thought it might be refreshing to switch the focus for a bit off las plantas, and onto los animales. because of course, in every healthy ecosystem the animal kingdom exists and interacts with that of the plants, fungus, etc. Granted, we don't have any of the traditional farm animals YET. Once the house is finished and we are living on la finca, our friendly fauna wish list includes un burro, gallinas, una cabra, y 2 perros (a donkey, chickens, a goats, and two dogs).
However, i am not so arrogant as to assume that the farm is absent of animal life. on the contrary! the place is crawling (literally) with both welcomed and pesky critters. A recent arrival heralding the official beginning of the Dry Season are las chicharras whose music, for me, captures the nostalgia of hot muggy summers.
Annual cicada, Tibicen linnei

Above, see the exoskeleton of a chicharra, its crispy outer shell evidence of its final foray in the chicharra life cycle: molting into an winged adult, after anywhere between 2 to 15 years living underground.
These guys are not known to harm crops, save young fruit trees where females may prefer to lay eggs, so what's all the noise about?
HEAR it is! listen to this video clip, recorded at the farm around dusk. Apologies for the poor visual quality.

While i am eternally grateful that chicharras are not the biblical locust plague sent to descend upon my humble garden, and i recognize the VITAL importance of beneficial insects and pollinators, i admit that i am not a huge fan of bugs. That being said, if i had some pics of bees and butterflies i would be eager to celebrate them here, a small slice of internet fame in exchange for providing VIABILITY to my poor little forever-flowering cantaloupes:

Turns out, cantaloupe flowers require pollination for fruit set, otherwise all you get are cute yellow flowers. Sadly, i haven't seen much bee action en la finca, despite the attractive blooms of zillions of flowering "weeds" surrounding the garden. the next step would be something called hand pollination, in which one manually transfers pollen from a male to a female blossom. Call me squeamish, but i'm not sure i'm ok with that? i'm a first-year gardener for crying out loud!

And finally, not to be overlooked, our domesticated yet (occasionally) working farm animals:

You might remember Niña from the compost scandal a ways back, she's a little gal with a keen ear and a fierce bark.

Meet: Negro
a new addition to the farm, currently compost-forage apprentice to Niña, goofy, scrawny, energetic--this was the best i could do for his profile foto

¡y La Zaya!
Formerly a Californian house cat, Zaya spends 5-10 minutes a week honing her hunting skills in preparation for life on a farm. Pictured here with latest kill

martes, 14 de abril de 2009

You say: papaya, I say: papaya...

Even the most gringo of gringos can pronounce papaya with the ease and elegance of well-spoken español. Try it: PAPAYA
So easy, si?
Papayas are tropical-loving plants all the way. Dr. Seuss has nothing on this tree--look at it! From their long giraffe-like trunks all the way to their enormous frog-fingery leaves, these guys make truffula trees look like your average joe oak. Not to mention those wild groovy fruits!!!

Carica papaya
If you had never seen the inside of a papaya, you might be startled by its vivid orangey innards, and even more so by the plethora of slimy black semillas. this is not the most flattering photo, but honestly papaya is a delicious fruit!

Like your other orangey-red fruits and veg, papaya contains antioxidants, as well as the digestive enzyme papain--which means that somehow, papaya is good for your digestion! The flesh isn't the only medicinal part, the SEED of papaya has also made a name for itself. Ground up maybe, or just nibbled, the seeds are reported to expel intestinal worms (around here, this is critical info, i should know),,,and others (raw foodists, who else) claim that the seeds' flavor mimics that of black pepper. i am currently drying some up to give it a try.

Over at the farm, i employed papaya seeds (from the tree shown above) to fulfill the One True Destiny of all seeds: PROPAGATION! Following the advice of friendly online tropical gardeners, i deposited somewhere between 50 and 100 seeds into a shallow, fertile bed with ample sunshine, the idea being to thin out the more scraggly guys after germination.

After almost 2 months of impatient watering, we've got papaya! In keeping with their bizarre atypical appearance, papayas are one fruit tree that will produce fruit within the first year--the countdown is on!

you can already recognize the frog-fingers on this one!

lunes, 6 de abril de 2009


My guest of honor for this post is an incredibly versatile FRUIT, and is in fact growing en la finca on at least 1 enormous tree (maybe more, i'll have to search).....
a fruit frequently featured in a savory DIP,
a fruit revered by raw foodists as well as cooked foodists.........
my personal FAVORITE FOOD, hands down, on the planet:


The avocados on our tree actually have not ripened yet, see below,

but with the range of mini climates in the area, perfectly soft yet firm fruit of the gods will be available for months starting now. Hailing from the very not-tropical state of Virginia, i maintain a fascination with and something like desperation for good, ripe avocados. In el mercado, i cannot say no to an avocado offer--i physically cannot restrain myself. they are so ripe and so cheap and so available! Of course the problem arises when i arrive home with bagfuls of the heavy green fruit, and only these two little gringo mouths to feed.

For sure, guacamole goes a looooooooong way

i serve it up on Nicaragua's comida tipica, gallo pinto, as well as the usual with chips, in a 7 layer dip, on a sandwich, with eggs, etc etc. By the way Nicas don't do guacamole--despite the sensational flavor combo of avocado with onion, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and tomato--they slice it and leave it blandly on the side of the plate, an afterthought not worthy of its own serving bowl. sacrilege i say!

However, i have been to that place of too much guac, where instead of inviting pleasure and delight, the sight of another bowl of smooshed avocado simply repels. With this knowledge, i am sashaying my way into avocado season, determined to keep my taste buds interested.

Taking a cue from raw foodists, i decided to incorporate aguacate into dessert for a change. Gross, right? i don't much prefer any fruit in my dessert if i can help it. as tasty as cherry pie and peach cobbler might be, dessert is CHOCOLATE and CARAMEL and CANDY. that's just me. little did i know what drama was to unfold....

the meeting of 2 tropical fruits

At first, they didn't seem to relate. The prissy packaged cocoa powder, her fluorescent price tag like bling, almost mocking the bohemian aguacates, naked and wild and free of plastic.

but when the package was opened and the powder emptied out, maybe she remembered those days growing as a cacao fruit, dangling from a tree in the hot tropical sun; before being harvested, fermented, dried, then pulverized, the cacao was living that same bohemian lifestyle!

Into the blender they went, 2 tropical fruits, footloose and fancy free!

+ 2 more, caña + vainilla...

a match made in heaven!

insanely delicious creamy chocolate mousse

jueves, 2 de abril de 2009

Home Brew

Now that i'm appropriately armed with
glass bottles
fresh caps
the Red Baron capper
killer home brew,


ok so really i started with 11 bottles as a trial run. (this is a grassroots revolution, people! they all start small.) IF i perfect the bottling, and IF i can spread kombucha love throughout Nicaragua despite the language and cultural barriers and IF i can turn a profit selling re-used beer bottles, i may have my own humble kombucha business--refrescos fermentados!

My first bottling endeavor went a little something like this:

Step 1) Boiling re-used bottles about 5 minutes on stove top for sterilization

Step 2) Filling the clean empty bottles with my 2 latest brews: té verde con raspberry y té negro

i added a pinch of ginger to several of the bottles, which in retrospect, makes for a gross chunky swallow when you drink straight from the bottle. next time i will flavor before bottling.

Step 3) Using this nifty capping mechanism (the Red Baron), i sealed the magic that is kombucha into 11 air-tight vessels

¡que profesional!

It's that easy, folks. You too can bottle your own fermented tea at home. just please please not in Nicaragua! i'm not quite ready for competition.

In my eagerness to judge the bottling experiment, i waited only 2 days before sampling (usually i give the komucha 7+ days to marinate flavor.) oh well, taste test results:
1 botella té negro con jenhibre: fizzy and tart, deliciosa!
1 botella té verde con raspberry: sweet and a little flat.