sábado, 29 de agosto de 2009

hooves,paws, & claws

i love gardening and its challenges but i must admit that for me, it is a decided effort to focus on the flora and not the fauna.In the past year while i've warmed to seeds and saplings and soils, our animal clientele has grown--the furry ones deserve a post of their own!

We inherited Lucinda from another farm where she was a work horse, pulling heavy loads, maybe plowing. She was scrawny and timid back then--three months as a free-ranging "rescue" horse and she is chummier with us than i believed a horse could be! She follows our car as we leave and enter the property and every morning she greets us with a cheerful whinny at the front door! Affectionately referred to as our living lawnmower, Lucinda's main job is to keep the weeds down.
I don't have a saddle yet, but Luci is fine with bareback. she loves mangoes, stomps her feet in delight while eating grain, and has the sweetest horse-breath.
Future prospects for Lucinda: a horse buddy? plowing with me, and riding to town in sophisticated leather get-up!
Lupita Maria y Ezmeralda

Our goat gals continue to amuse and alarm. Because of their habit? ability? to eat all things green, i keep them tethered in various weedy spots around the farm. otherwise our coffee and lemon trees, not to mention my veggies, would be long gone. Inevitably, the two of them twist and tangle their ropes into insane knots, often within minutes.
Ezmeralda and i tend to butt heads (ha, actually her head butts my leg) as we vie for title of alpha female. i read that to show dominance, you should hold your goat on her back until she stops fighting. i've showed her 3 times now, but we still do not have an agreement.
Ez's favorite activity is running into open spaces and jumping for joy! Second favorite is probably roughing up Lupita.
Lupita Maria is the kid sister ;) and behaves as such. she's quieter than Ez, and always wants to be where her big sis is. i love her floppy ears and pink nose.
She loves fresh fruit and afternoon naps in the shade.
Up next for las cabras (in a year or so): babies, milk, goat cheese!

Adjusting to farm life has been slightly traumatic, as Zaya is terrified of horses and dogs. you can sometimes catch her in a playful mood, but these days its rare.
The recent introduction of a new kitty has been the last straw for poor Zaya.

How could anyone not fall in love with this face?
Either of these faces! Thank you Jen for being a pedestal to our princesa: Chia
Chia makes up for her incessant mewing the second you pick her up by purrrring and nuzzling. she is a huge fan of the broom, piles of dirt, all insects, and being picked up.
Por las gatas: mediation, peace talks, friendship; more diligent insect control.

jueves, 20 de agosto de 2009

full of frijoles

'Tis the season
for BEANS!

A rite of passage for any latin american farmer, this was my first 100% On-My-Own bean crop.

who's counting? me:
Seven pounds planted
twice the rows weeded
ninety days plants grew
20-something pounds harvested (thus far)
lessons learned: innumerable
May 26 i gently tossed the first 2 lbs into 4 shallow rows, the crookedness of said rows being my involuntary trademark design (regardless of how hard i try to plant in straight lines).
A local farmer told us you weed your beans twice during the growing season, ensuring that your beans crop is healthy and low maintenance
note the inescapable (yet groovy?) curves

I didn't know it at the time, but these rows are too CLOSE. once the bean plants thrived and climbed and stretched, i was left with a wild unnavigable tangle of vines.
Bean harvest Nica style consists of a few simple steps:

Yanking up the dried plants and leaving them to sun dry for 4 days. these homemade drying screens work PERFECTLY

Once the pods are thoroughly dry (brown & crackly), the entire plant is stuffed into a sack which is then beaten with a stick. then shook.
until the majority of the dry beans are relinquished from their pods and drop to the bottom of the sack. A primitive process perhaps, but highly effective for releasing supressed energy and working your biceps.
The dirt/sticks/leaves must now be painstakingly picked out of the bountiful harvest. At this stage i flubbed up again and "cleaned" the beans in water, thus inciting the sprouting potential of the next generation of bean plants. can you eat red and black bean sprouts? never heard of it before but you sure as heck wouldn't store dry beans wet. hence, i was forced to plant out the sproutlings.
At this point the beans should be laid out in a safe sunny spot to DRY more. i learned this one the hard way when my first few pounds grew a fluffy white mold...

And, despite producing a beauteous visual effect, the colorful red + black combo was unintentional....another consequence of planting rows of frijoles negros too close to rows of frijoles rojos, not to mention culinary taboo in the eyes of red bean loyal Nicas.

domingo, 9 de agosto de 2009


For the most part, every plant i'm growing i started from SEED: not always an easy task. There are several nurseries in the area, but they are typically ornamentals or fruit trees. Plus i've been attempting the monumental (or dim-witted?) enterprise of growing north american crops down here where i am learning that the two distinct seasons (wet and dry) are equally extreme and challenging in their completely opposite ways.
Por eso, it seems smart to save as many seeds as i can, which i'm still trying to get the knack of. some plants make it easier than others:

Scarlet Runner Beans, always an eye-catcher!
Sadly though, this is one of only 4 pods that I harvested from the 10 plants that i started! Transplanted in January, the little starts seemed happy enough...leaves were large and green, tendrils began to curl and climb. BUT, they were not destined for high places i suppose, as the leaves repeatedly began to yellow and eventually fall off. When red buds finally appeared on my one would-be show stopper, I cheered thinking it would grow and flourish.
Despite the hopeful blossoms, you can see the leaves continued to wither and die. I suppose i should count myself lucky that there were any beans at all? The question remains: what the heck was wrong with them??

From day one, sunflowers have had a presence in the garden. Braving a thirsty dry season, the first batch never grew over 4 ft (though the package claims that Mammoths will reach 12 feet high!) Being a favorite decoration as well as healthy snack, I was eager to harvest the tasty seeds.Supposedly an heirloom variety, these seeds should be viable. however....
most every single one is shell with a dried up carcass inside. Maybe they needed more fertilization??

Moving on, borage, a lovely edible flower as well as butterfly attractor, is a fun flower to harvest seeds from.

Little green pods open to reveal four round seeds, which when dried, turn brown and are released.

i am waiting to plant these guys, as i read that borage is an avid self-seeder. But if not, i've got seed stock ;)

Maybe i've mentioned them before, but i am continually proud of the bell pepper plants i nursed from seed to start and now FRUIT!
Because it was a mixed bag of bell pepper seeds, (and i just discovered that all pepper plants start out green regardless of their end color), the identity of my eight pepper plants remains secret!

Glutton for punishment?
you tell me. i couldn't resist trying again, this time with a supposed heat resistant variety. Upside-down Tomato Experiment : take 2

sábado, 8 de agosto de 2009

the little things

First post FROM THE FARM: we finally live here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (and we have a new kitty: meet Chia!)
Despite the presence of a seemingly miraculous internet connection (cryptically referred to as 3G), life out here in el campo has been a significant step away from mainstream technology and a huge leap into the welcoming arms of alternative energy. Which ironically isn't as simple as the so-called simple life implies.
Miles from city lights and telephone connections, amidst coffee plantations and avocado trees, our sweet little casa houses a myriad of complex new/old technology.

First step was the use of a handy device called the Kill-A-Watt. seriously.

This handy gauge measures the amount of wattage your electricity-guzzling appliances are guzzling. After measuring each and every plug-in item in our old place, I was forced to cut out some of my favorite guzzlers (notably my toaster oven). Our hope is that our lightened electrical load will be a more feasible burden for la systema solar.
One week down powered 100% by our six 200 watt panels. and this is the rainy season! Lucky for me, my live-in engineer knows exactly what's happening in the "solar closet," pictured below:

My department has been finding low-energy alternatives....

such as the simple switch from our auto-drip coffee maker to
the french press, supposedly the best cup of joe out there. ¡que simple!

Rather than burning electricity, breakfast en la casa presents a perfect opportunity to burn some calories: remember this blast from the past??
Our buddy Rich putting an egg-beater to appropriate use

And in an impressive attempt at resurrecting a lost culinary art, a grinding stone sits prominently on my new counter-top, awaiting its chance to pulverize dry corn....or something?
I admit I haven't employed this one yet.....but i will ;)