jueves, 26 de agosto de 2010

mad chicken disease

A bad case of it too, very very mad. and definitely contagious. It's not as commonly known as mad cow disease, but you better believe it's just as ugly.

If you're not familiar with this dreadful condition, allow me:
Mad Chicken Disease, short for Mad At Chickens Disease, aka Mad That I Feed Chickens Who Don't Even Lay Eggs! Disease.

ahem. this brings me to my point: an update on my beloved chix coop!
Forgive my bluntness but lately the chickens are pissing me off.
Who, us?

A brief history: These are my first ever chickens
; I acquired the role as their caretaker almost one year ago during which time we have shared many ups and downs.
When Mama Canela began laying, I looked optimistically on our future egg producing/eating exhange. Her girls, the Chicklets, also started popping out a daily egg. happy days!
Sadly, a frustrating period commenced, as Canela became broody and refused to lay eggs. I tried every trick in the book, enduring her angry pecking and dramatic squawking as I attempted various anti-broody techniques. A stubborn hen, Canela refused to yield for many weeks.
Patiently I waited until the joyous day when she resumed egg laying service.
This brings us to recent incidents.
For about a week after our vacation, eggs were rolling in! then, one day instead of 3 eggs, I found only 2. the next day, only 1. eventually, you guessed it: 0 eggs.
The girls all seemed normal, eating well, no sign of broodiness. I beefed up their feed ration--maybe they were malnourished?? Still, no eggs.
Meanwhile, the coop was overtaken by a voracious ayote squash vine, a live decorative shade structure.
The squash leaves were so large and dense,, they were able to hide these from view:
Sneaky sneaky STRANGE chickens!! They had been laying eggs on the roof of their coop! which makes no sense. Are they doing this to upset me on purpose?? it's not cozy, private, safe, or any of the things a nesting box should be. but, there they were--a secret stash of perfect protein.
Well, now that the laying question was settled, we could get back to our previous arrangement, right?
not. so. fast.
Egg-laying ceased. from that day on, I have yet to find another egg. and i've looked, oh I'VE LOOKED! i've spent mucho tiempo in the coop this week, watching chicken tv.
what I did start to notice were the feathers. everywhere. fluffy down, long wing tips, you name it. all over the ground.
It appears my chickens are MOLTING. and during the 6-9 week molt, hens stop egg laying.
Seriously? because these girls have spent more time the past year off the nest than on.
is it any surprise that these chickens are making me MAD??

so for now, it is off to the mercado to BUY eggs, and stopping by the chicken coop each morning to gather squash ;)

viernes, 20 de agosto de 2010

"Starting" Over: a photo tour

Since getting back a month ago I've had to re-start the garden. With warm tropical temperatures day and night and just enough sunshine in between rainstorms, my new seeds have been spoiled into sprouting! Here's a rundown of my recently-started starts:

the results of a mixed bag of bell peppers. i can't wait to find out which varieties i've got.
and turning over a new leaf: turnip top greens! Seven Top turnip greens are grown only for their leaves, with no edible root to speak of. their flavor is much like mustard greens, they lend a spicy zing to sandwiches.

Not sure what type of chile peppers I have here--a friend brought the seeds from Mexico. Its gorgeous red peppers have a light, fruity spice

Gulp, here i go AGAIN with the upside-down tomatoes. i am so determined to have a healthy tomato plant!! (If you are unfamiliar with the upside tomato technique, see my Last attempt which was not successful; I did actually cultivate fruit during my first time around.)

Out in the garden, heavy rains nonwithstanding, my bush beans sprouted and are growing with a ferocity that would impress old Jack. Beautiful violet blossoms just showed up.

Finally, I started new luffa seeds, as my first plants have all died off. Since the luffa grow along the fence, I also planted a few cucumber seeds thinking they may be a nice climbing pair. Now i am unsure which is which!
The old luffa harbored one last fruit, which was looking a little too brown by the time I went to pick it. Our frequent rains are great for growing plants, but don't allow much time for anything to dry out. Several of the final luffa fruits rotted on the vine. anyway, as I was leaning in to harvest this last one, I stopped short. Someone was taking advantage of its dark color!
do you see who i see?

I didn't want to disturb the speckled one, so the rotting luffa remains.

martes, 17 de agosto de 2010

Platanos & Homemade Salsa

A close relative to bananas, though larger, starchier, and generally less sweet, plantains are a staple of Nicaraguan cuisine. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner platanos are served in one form or another. If you don't like them at first, you will!
Most farms and quintas grow at least a few plantain trees, their gigantic green leaves and spectacular flowers making sure you don't forget this is the tropics. Plantain and banana trees flourish during our rainy season, and continue to produce fruit throughout the dry times. Every year new trees are planted amongst our coffee bushes to provide shade, guaranteeing me a constant supply of plantains in the kitchen.
Platanos require cooking in order to be palatable, and their form and flavor vary greatly depending on when and how they are cooked. Green unripe platanos are frequently fried up as a side dish, sliced in rounds or in the case of tajadas, in long thin strips. In the latter, plantains serve kind of as nachos, topped with meat or cheese or anything you want. As I inherited a local mandoline slicer over a year ago and have never used it, I decided it was time:
Tajada Time!
Slicing plantains so thin was time-consuming, not to mention a bit dangerous; bare hands near a wide blade required careful attention. I wish I had taken a picture of the uncooked strips to demonstrate how delicate they were.
Here I am frying them up in a generous pool of sunflower oil.
The ideal tajada is thin and crispy like a potato chip. After a few batches, I got the hang of it!
All the hard work paid off when the tajadas were served! We topped them with refried beans, soy "meat," shredded cabbage, and my new homemade hot sauce--see below for recipe. On the side I served cooked chayote squash.
I am always experimenting with new salsa recipes, this one is a favorite. and very easy! The recipe I found calls for jalapeños, for which I substituted our local chile pepper, congo. Congos are tiny so I used a whole handful--use your own discretion when choosing spiciness level. Hot peppers, along with several tomatoes and a few cloves of garlic are tossed with olive oil and then broiled.Once the tomatoes are blackened, remove from oven and cool. Peel off tomato skins, then blend it all up. Add cilantro, salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon. that's it: roasty, flavorful, spicy sauce!
¡Buen provecho!

domingo, 8 de agosto de 2010


At long last, I am so proud to brag that I am growing my all-time favorite flower!!! After many years of oohing and ahhing over its dramatic colors and showy displays, envying other gardens cascading with its tropical vine, even obsessing over its tangy fruit juice, I GREW IT! it is mine. and not just one, but TWO thriving plants!

Without further ado, allow me to introduce my garden's latest showstopper:
The family Passiflora is large and varied, so identifying specific species is a bit out of my league. Passionflowers stand out with their dazzling bold blossoms, typically pollinated by large bees and hummingbirds (both of which I have seen buzzing by this very flower).
Passionflower of course produces passionfruit, a baseball-sized fruit that Nicas call calala, which is popular in juice. In the market they are sold a ripe yellow color, so as of yet, the calala in the photo is not mature.

I can take a pretty good stab at this, my second vine, being the largest of all passionflower varieties, Passiflora quadrangularis.
Granadilla is a gigantic fruit, also containing a tart flesh used for refreshing drinks. It is especially large for growing on a vine, but sorry--I do not actually have any fruit on this guy yet.
isn't this blossom enough???!
The granadilla vine is part of my vision of a natural shade patio; an edible, ornamental, and also functional plant!
the flowers dangle straight down, as will the fruit

For now I am perfecting the art of passionfruit juice so that I'll be ready when my own crop is ripe ;)

Calalas contain dark colored seeds encased in a slimy pulp, which I know, does not look super tasty. but stay with me...
In Nica it is common practice to serve fruit juices with their pulp and/or seeds, leaving you with gulps of chunky beverage to enjoy, or if you're like me, with a tricky "straining of your own glass without looking too gross" technique. Therefore, in making my own batch, I press the pulp through a strainer, extracting as much of the tangy flavor without the actual globs.
Add water in the straining process, about 1 cup per fruit, and sugar to taste.
PASSION in a glass: ¡Deliciosa!

jueves, 5 de agosto de 2010

Homeopathy in the Garden

I had heard of homeopathy for treating people, as an alternative form of health care. I don't pretend to fully understand the how, but I used to take a homeopathic remedy for poison oak, which typically gives me a horrendous rash, when hiking in California. The preventative results were remarkable!
Only recently did I learn that using the same logic, homeopathy can be used to treat plant plagues and diseases. Through a fortunate meeting in the Houston airport, our farm became a part of a homeopathic experiment. Presenting my debut in the homeopathy video world.....

La Gata Gorda on Homeopathy from Tamara Montenegro on Vimeo.

To learn more about homeopathy, check http://www.homeopathyworldcommunity.com/