lunes, 28 de diciembre de 2009

chicken tv

With no cable television on the farm, we are frequently left to our own devices during our ample leisure time. No one offers better live entertainment than the chickens.
back in September

Recent coop drama has brought about big changes amongst our chicken familia. You might remember that since September, I've watched and waited to learn the gender of the four pollitos, crossing my fingers for at least 2 females. At around 4 months old, chicks begin to outwardly display their sexual maturity, but until then, they are physically identical. Keeping my hopes up, (and attempting to conjure some chicken voodoo), I gave each of them a girlie name.
Look how they've grown!

But, last week my little Pimienta, (now Pimiento), uttered his first croaky cock-a-doodle-doos!
As handsome a rooster I'm sure he will be, we decided way back to only keep gallinas--the coop can only accommodate four comfortably; hence, there is no need for an on-site sperm donor.
Upon learning Pimiento's true identity, he was abruptly removed from the coop as an impromptu christmas present for Don Chico. Little did we know what chicken stew pot we had stirred...
Up until now, Mama Canela has been an overprotective mother--call it empty nest if you will, this mother hen all but suffocated her adolescent chicks. She nudged the tastiest morsels into their beaks, and I caught her still trying to sit on them at night! With all of her attention focused on the big kids, Canela had yet to lay a SINGLE EGG.
The minute Pimiento's absence was felt, so was Mama Canela's grief. For days she clucked and puffed and keened, leaving her three young gals to fend for themselves. However cruel our intervention appeared, it also triggered the very act we'd been waiting for:
Coop dynamics have been overhauled. Gone is the sweet chicken family sitcom; today it is all HEN. Canela keeps her own company, usually pecking about the coop or resting in a dust bath until nature calls: with much squawking fanfare, she heads up to the laying boxes every day at noon!
Las muchachas are your typical teenagers--constant gossip and rustling feathers, cackling that can be heard throughout my garden.
Who will be our next layer? Will the threesome remain close once their eggs come in? Will Canela's lonely days in the coop incite her to become broody once again?
Stay tuned for more CHICKEN TV!

martes, 22 de diciembre de 2009

christmas coffee

It is all about red and green on the farm right now, or more specifically red OR green, as we are in the midst of COFFEE HARVEST!
The ripeness, and ultimately the flavor, is determined by the color of the coffee's fruit, the cherry. Ideally you want to harvest only the reddest cherries, leaving the green ones more time to mature. This usually means harvesting more than once during the season, as the fruit does not all ripen at the same time.
As the veggies and fruits are my gardening project, I have had little to do with coffee farming. But this past year I did enjoy a dark rich blend derived from our very own local harvest for about six months, when our "year supply" ran out. Since then, I've had my eye on the coffee plants, keeping tabs on the growing green fruits. I have been excited to get in there hands-on to be a part of the process. Luckily for me, these ladies are patient and friendly teachers:
Traveling from farm to farm during coffee season, November through January, Marta and her family pick the cash crop for 8 to 10 hours a day, earning their wages based on pounds picked per day.
With a wide basket strapped around my waist, I accompanied Marta in the coffee field. The women chatted over the rows, invisible to each other but for rustling amongst the branches and occasional singing or humming. I struggled to keep up, scanning the bushes for red and clumsily yanking the ripe cherries into my basket. Within an hour Marta's basket was brimming with the multi-colored fruit, mine like so:
Nonetheless i was proud!
We sell the majority of our coffee wet, meaning the unprocessed raw cherries, to a local buyer. By next year we plan to invest in larger scale processing equipment; currently the farm has only manual-operated machinery, which we used to process my contribution to the harvest. Our de-pulper is a charming antique device that separates the fruit skin from the seed of the coffee.
The seeds retain a clear, slimy layer that aids in an overnight fermentation. The following day they are rinsed thoroughly and spread out on a screen to sun dry.
From here, there is yet another hulling procedure to remove a papery layer of skin; then roasting (locally this is done over an open fire); finally, grinding and brewing!

While these seeds dry, I await the call for the next harvest. Hopefully my picking fingers will gain speed and agility so that I can pull in enough for the coming year ;)

lunes, 14 de diciembre de 2009

farm pup

Yet another new animal en la finca: meet Stella!
A 10 week old German Shepherd, Stella is bursting with energy! She is currently learning basic obedience and a vital lesson for all pups: socialization, which around here includes a wild array of different creatures.

I dub her rapport with the goats "playful animosity."
Happily, she and Chia are a perfect match!
Prone to high-speed indoor chases and zealous wrestling matches, chairs are overturned and water bowls spilled on a daily basis as these two develop their friendship.
Who, us?

Although the plan is for Stella to be our security dog, it is important that she first learn basic obedience. And contrary to popular belief, a properly trained security dog is treated well, not abused. Once trust and loyalty are established, Stella will undergo more serious attack training. This isn't to say she will be vicious, rather that she will be able to follow specific attack commands and will keep an intruder at bay.
For now however, she is all about loving attention :)

jueves, 10 de diciembre de 2009

La Purísima

Last week I enjoyed yet another new cultural experience: a week long celebration of the Virgin Mary, La Purísima (The Most Pure). A uniquely Nica tradition, and rooted in catholic ideology, La Purísima ironically has a funky, halloween-like energy.
During the days leading up to the Immaculate Conception, Nicas set out statues of the Virgin, creatively decorated and lit up near the front of their homes.
Each evening, devotees of the Virgin crowd into neighbors and strangers' front rooms to admire and sing to the colorfully displayed icons.
After the requisite singing, this is where things get fun: the hosts pass out brindi: homemade goodies, snacks, small toys and prizes, free stuff! I enjoyed traditional foods such as a baked squash with honey, raw sugar cane, and a gingery beverage that I plan on concocting myself.
The final night of the celebration is La Gritería, or The Shouting (are you feeling the halloween vibe now?)
At precisely 6pm all over Nicaragua, fireworks are ignited and people flood the street to shout:
Quién causa tanta alegría?
La Concepción de María!

What is the cause of our happiness?
Mary's Conception!

The joyful noise is to thank Mary for the miracles she performs. A deluge of people, young and old, rich and poor, then parade through town to visit the literally HUNDREDS of altars.
Doors remain open as hordes of people pour in and out, leaving with sacks full of cookies, chips, even house ware items such as laundry soap and matches.
La Purísima is an opportunity for more affluent families to share their wealth and hospitality with others. In many homes, canvas tote bags and satchels were handed out to be filled with brindi!More fireworks and shouting occur at midnight and the following morning at 6am, after which a sacred silence is observed. This is a very holy day in the Catholic church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Visiting homes, making new friends, and just cruising the streets at night amongst a boisterous crowd made the event for me. Not to mention coming home with all my brindi!

martes, 8 de diciembre de 2009

28 days later

Ok, so it wasn't exactly apocalyptic, but 28 days is a long time to leave your garden, especially in a tropical climate. I felt a bit like Sleeping Beauty after that 100 yr stint when vines grew all up her castle....isn't that what happened?
All in all, i was pleasantly surprised. Having learned the hard way twice before, this Non-Sleeping, or rather Sleep-Deprived Up at Crack of Dawn Farmer Beauty was not going to siesta while the Voracious Vegetation Dragon devoured her garden. I was super diligent about leaving this time. A garden requires mucho preparation before abandonment: extra weeding, heavy mulching, pruning, etc. I even wrote out a numbered list for our caretaker to ensure that nothing would be overlooked.

Joyfully, this was the first time i didn't cry upon returning to my garden!
As usual, ayote squash sprawled like suburbia over garden paths, oregano plants, even the compost pile.
Humongous chayote was dripping off the vine: i filled this basket in seconds!

The chicken coop is shrouded in a weedy fortress!

Exciting surprises awaited me as well:

After 8 months, my gandul (pigeon pea) finally bloomed, and pods developed--
Aren't they gorgeous?!

For whatever reason, I've had a heck of a time getting cucumbers to survive, despite the cozy, shaded mounds and artful climbing fences I've constructed. However, I leave the farm for 3 weeks and a mysterious, hearty cucumber plant shoots up in an unfertilized rocky strip of soil along the concrete's already FRUITING!

Probably the most dramatic of all, the much-anticipated LUFFAS! these suckers are already an easy 12 inches long, the vine over 10 ft!!
Countdown to all-natural scrub-a-dub!

Los animales are a whole other post...stay tuned.