Monday, February 1, 2010

May 27, 2009 - First Day of Gardening

05/27/2009 – First day of Gardening
After a few months of failed vegetable gardening, I am now gathered with information and knowledge from my classes and readings. I am above all empowered with… patience.
Forty-two days past the compost piling. It’s not ready yet as hummus or even as a fertilizer. Last night’s rain turned the pile even more wet. I need to have it revolved somehow. I have none to help me with this job.
I raised the beds today in a small section closest to my house. I chose this site with basis on what I wanted to sow. It is wiser to have easy access to herbs and leafy vegetables.
MC’s father-in-law, a man in his early sixties whose alcohol, rope cigar, and harsh life had taken a toll on him. Smelling like urine, he taught me the best way to lay the beds and the height of it. Most books instruct to raise beds above 25cm, but he said the wind would dry it away quickly, so it rather be only 10 cm. It is a relief, as raising beds is not so easy or a light job. It requires a fair amount of muscle work. But the weather helped. It was cloudy and the soil wet enough. The soil had black spots from chicken manure. At the end of afternoon, I had sowed cilantro, parsley, collard greens, arugula, purple wild chicory, and three flowers to repel insects such as calendula, marigold, and nasturtium.
On a different plot, I sowed anis and two varieties of hot peppers. I plan to process peppers as sauce and dry flakes.

May 24, 2009 - My Mother´s Legacy

May 24th, 2009 – My Mother´s Legacy
My mother still lives, even though she doesn’t perform many of the voluntary movements, including eating, speaking, and walking. Since she has become unable to do anything, I started to see all things related to her as history. This way, of the many legacies she has left is the orchard: half an acre of tall, leafy fruit trees of many varieties that still bear fruit. We walk among the trees, but specially, under their shade. My daughter’s secret place is there. Under an aging cashew tree surrounded by orange and coconut trees. The wiggly branch almost touching the ground becomes her seat. When her kitty died, she mourned her loss there. She brought a medallion in her honor and buried somewhere.
When I first moved to the farm, the orchard had not been kept for a long time. Many trees where full with leaves and branches covering the ground. They mistakenly looked luscious. I finally had many trees pruned and trimmed at gardener’s class taught on the farm. I then got the wide site of the orchard, being able to see through. I used to get lost soon after pruning for not being able to locate myself.
My first vegetable gardening failed experiments had been at this place. I built here my ongoing compost pile. My beloved guinea hens were attacked by our dog after following me to this site. I play hide-and-seek with my daughter who hides behind the trunks. Place where I still eat oranges under the trees, collect acerola berries for juice, or dig for taro roots. There is a history to it.
The same way that the old age has reached my mother, my orchard is also dying. I have to replace all the trees if I want to leave a legacy for my daughter, so told me my instructor.
Today a woodman paid a visit. He wants to trade lumber for work. I started to grieve the loss of the tall trees.
An orchard may be forever, but not the trees. The trees have to go. I grieve. My daughter too. Secretly, my father may feel the same.

May 7, 2009 - Visit to a Cow Farm

May 07, 2009 – Visit to a Cow Farm
I drove around the block at least three times before taking courage to park in front of a funeral service agency. I used to study elementary school near this place. At that time, an array of coffins was displayed for passersby to see. An unpleasant site combined with the smell of fresh varnish and chrysanthemum exhaled out the door. As I pulled over, a funeral car that seemed to be following me, parked right behind. Quickly, I jumped from the car and crossed the street determined to talk to a funeral plan salesperson. A young man got off the car and approached me before I reached the sidewalk. “Hi. What happened to the owner of that car you are driving?”, he asked. “That’s because I am interested in buying his pick-up truck. Who are you?” I couldn’t hold my smile. Again, the old car spoke by itself. I think it is funny how easily we keep track of each other. “I am his daughter. Are you Danielle’s brother?” I had heard about him. His sister works as a secretary at nearby town where I take Organic Horticulture class. She is engaged to the cousin of my mother’s nurse. People give details (or numbers) about other people’s lives. I learned that this man who is not only a funeral plan salesman but an embalmer as well. He is on call 24 hours and makes only R$1,500.00 per month, informed me his sister. He was the person who I wanted to talk to. I was actually interested in getting a discount at doctor’s visit that comes with the funeral plan. He wanted to get a pick-up truck for his wife to haul milk. My father wouldn’t sell it. He still needs it. Besides, I could use to haul milk myself. Anderson is such a good-natured man and good looking that don’t match with his job. He not only gave me the information on the plan, but also about milk farm his parents’ have. I left with an invitation to visit his parents’ farm to see how to work with cows.
A few days later, I showed up at the farm with my father and daughter. His mother, a typical farmwoman, thin, fair skin, face wrinkled more by her own thoughts than by her age. I was surprised to see that they live in an old wooden house, almost extinct around here. That didn’t prove me their prosperity the milk supposedly was bringing. Dona Cleide proudly showed me a former pigpen adapted into a corral. It was more than rustic, it was primitive. But it looked it worked. The most modern thing was the mechanical milkier. My father candidly asked if health department inspector has never paid a visit, concerned about the hygiene, or the lack of.
I left with a slight feeling of disappointment for having expected to see a fancy project.

April 20, 2009 - Milk Cows

April 20, 2009 – Milk cows
The Organic Horticulture class is going on a slow pace. I myself show up an hour late for class every time. But I got a good justification. I cook meals for my family and bathe my mom before leaving. I don’t know about others. The landowner where the practicum takes place has never anything ready for the class. This time, he didn’t have material for compost. Last time, he didn’t have the land plowed and hired a tractor to do the job after the class had started.
Nevertheless, it is always nice to see my instructor willing to teach and genuinely caring for us. We meet classmates around the hardwood farm table at the veranda drinking strong sweet coffee and listen to stories. The class itself could be resumed in less than an hour if well conducted with Jose’s concentrated effort.
But time that we spend waiting for things to happen, we can talk. In one of these conversations, I mentioned working with milking cows to the president of Rural Worker’s Union. He gave me a good feedback, perhaps, thinking of selling his calves for me to start the business. During lunch, my Rural Entrepreneur class instructor sit right beside me. I used this time to flood him with questions. Most people like to show knowledge and complain what everybody knows. He suggested working with milking cows as it is suited for small farms. I talked to my father about it. I even learned that there is finance for the sector. I am very enthusiastic about it. I have the land and want to work. I just don’t have the money (or the knowledge). I start talking to people. Soon, I am going to visit some neighbors and take a specialized class on the subject. I can even see myself not only caring for the cows, but also processing milk products.

April 16, 2009 - The Compost Making Day(s)

April 16, 2009 – The Compost Making Day(s)
When I was about to give up on new projects on the farm, my father agreed to lend me a hand and helped me with collecting compost material. The first day, he allowed his daily worker, Osvaldo, to hoe and dig the allotted space. He worked first on my old patch. I asked him to cut down everything, including wild cucumber vines that I had been watching every day for fresh fruits. But I had to let them go for a higher good. We cleaned up three patches. I had been there several times with a hoe, but as soon as I started to do it, I would get discouraged. The weeds growing strong, dry soil that looked barren, the bright sun burning my arms. Nothing seemed to help me until I got Osvaldo to do the job. He is an older man, perhaps in his sixties. Even though he suffers from diabetes, which I learned after I fed him with a big chocolate-topped carrot cake, he rides his bicycle for about 5 miles to work. He told me he carries his lunch, his snack, a bottle of coffee, and a big iced water jug. He is one of the very few left to work on the land as “cold meal”, as they are called. This is because they carry their lunch, which consists of rice, beans, some meat or egg, and maybe some cooked squash or chayote. By their lunchtime, at 10:00 am, the food is already cold. But nowadays they bring it in a thermal container. Some eat half at lunch and another half at 2:00 pm. Some won’t take an afternoon break and get off at 4:00 pm. Some still would eat the very first meal before 7:00 am on the road. Every morning, I see him riding his bike uphill, running late, or under a tree having something. I feel sorry for him. At sixty, he still has to work hard for a daily wage of R$20.00, less than US$10.00. Besides, he told me his second wife takes all his money and she is threatening to sue him for alimony.
First, my father brought heaps of dry grass, besides all the dry leaves Osvaldo and I had gathered from the orchard. On the second day, we started to pile alternating vegetable matter and chicken muck. For the first time, something as chicken manure excited me. Dung had taken all different connotation for me. I even helped to spread some on the pile. My Guinea hens came all happy, eating bugs that came with it. It has been a tremendous feast for them since I released them from the cage. They can roam freely, call me any time they hear my voice, follow me around the garden, and eat carrot tops. They nearly killed them. But I don’t care. The carrots are small. I didn’t have all the knowledge when I sowed them. I am happy to have my Guineas to eat ants and any other moving bugs.
I didn’t get to finish the stack. As I looked to the heaps of dry material, I imagined that the compost piles were going to be huge. Half way through, I think that I may need to re-stack. I followed the instructions, but the information is never so complete that would answer questions I had all through it. So far, what would be a meter high pile is only less than half of it. The problem is that it may be too long, about six meters long.
I came home with some feeling of partial accomplishment and a bee sting on my nose. It hurts my eye. I don’t know if it has to do with it, but I am also sleepy. I didn’t really do a hard job. I let Osvaldo do it.
April 20, 2009 – Still piling
It has been several days and the compost project is not completed. Every time we stack more material and water it, the pile shrinks. I have lost count of how many layers we put on. With much work gathering material, hauling chicken manure, watering and spreading lime, we are still at 2/3 of it. Next time I can do the math. It’s easy. Just divide by three or four and you will know how much of piled material you are going to have. We need to cut grass a few days earlier to have it dry out for straw. Then, haul animal manure. On the piling day, we need freshly cut grass. It would be ideal if we had more people working. My compost is taking too long, and the process has advanced on the bottom. I even saw a fume coming out.
I had never felt prejudiced for being a woman at work, except now that I came to the farmland. I cannot do many things. It’s either too dirty, too heavy, too mechanical, or plain too hard.
On the same day that I had been working with muck, I was also making bread pockets filled with ground beef (called esfiha) that needed hand kneading. I was running back and forth from the garden to home to do my chores. I complained to MC saying that man can easily finish a project without being interrupted. But I had to drive my child to school, care for her at home, go shopping, cook meals, help with my mom, and also attending my classes.
I am glad that my father supports me in this project. He had told me that farmer’s capital is the soil, so we need to take good care of it. We are studying the possibility of making compost for mulching our coffee plantation. In addition, I was thinking the possibility of selling the surplus. However, my father says that it is so laborious that it doesn’t pay by selling. Why give profit to someone who wants to buy it? We should use it ourselves.
April 25, 2009 – The Birds
The spreading of chicken manure brought many birds that I had never seen before.

April 7, 2009 - Autumn Days

April 7, 2009 – Autumn Days
The hot and humid days are gone now. The cool breeze under declining sun announces the arrival of autumn. Autumn starts in April in the South Hemisphere. In the rainy months, from November through February and sometimes March, when I started gardening, I had lost crops for excessive water that washed away my seedlings and moved carrots from the spot I had sowed. Early yielding vegetables such as arugula and radishes were eaten by pests. Visiting my patch now, I see what the natural talents of this piece of land: cucurbitaceous – watermelon, cucumbers, loofah, and squash of many kinds. They all flowered and fructify regardless of the diseases that roam around my garden.
As the first vine of watermelon spontaneously appeared on my front garden, I kept it to see what it was going to happen. It naturally suffocated one or another plant, but it grew vigorously, climbing on a fence and sprawling on the ground. My front flower garden is still half-barren. It used to be a construction debris disposal place, so the ground is full of bricks and hard materials. Not having enough information, my sister went ahead and planted some jasmine and two other plants without cleaning it. None of them thrived well. That’s why I wanted to give watermelon a chance. It grew in spite of the soil condition.
On the vegetable patch, around and over few other herbs that managed to survive, an exotic green round fruit stood alone. A close look and I knew it was some kind of squash. After all, the leaves look alike. It calls caxi. As soon as it looked grown enough but still tender, I sautéed it, discarding the skin. It may have a taste and texture of the white rind of a watermelon.
Today, I found three wild cucumbers, the same kind I harvested in January by the basketful. It is greener, bigger, with prickly skin. The skin is as taut as any other squash, but inside is similar to cucumbers and we can eat it sautéed with garlic. That is what I am going to have later.
Even regular cucumbers that I thought to be gone, as the only surviving vine was dry, managed to yield one fruit, laid on the ground, already mushy, as its last effort. I am learning that cucumbers don’t like to have their surroundings disturbed. That’s what happened to other vines. As I removed the weeds around, they died. Funny one.
One plant that doesn’t fail to grow on this land is loofah. So much that we often forget to collect it when the time comes. They sprout everywhere and climb on anything. One vine is twisting around a clothes wire, bearing heavy fruits under large foliage. Besides working as a scrub pad, loofah can be eaten when young and use to make art crafts. Unfortunately, I missed the class at the Union. It happened the same week I had Organic Gardening and Rural Entrepreneur classes. Loofah as food doesn’t appeal to me. I even grabbed some very young ones, but it looks rather fibrous and slimy. That is one of the very few vegetables I don’t want to try.
Besides the plants that appeared and thrived spontaneously, MC has a big chayote vine supported by a pergola. My father had earlier detected a disease attacking the leaves but nothing was done, so we enjoyed young chayote only once. Right beside the chayote vine, several squash vines spread on the ground where their leafy vegetable patch used to be. Still yesterday, MC brought me a young, tender, juicy green squash that I ate right away.
I can’t complain. Even without taking proper care of the soil before sowing, I enjoyed fresh corn. After hearing that they start to turn from sugar into starch soon after they are picked, I cooked them immediately. The small grains were already passing their corn-on-the cob time. They were getting orange and hardened. I learned to gather at the exact point of maturation I want my corns: before all the hair gets dry. From several beds of seeds, only about twelve yielded good size corn. Good considering edible, as they were half of the size of the commercial ones. On the second patch, the corns didn’t grow more than half meter. Courageously, they fructify with mini-corns. I may use it whole as in Chinese cuisine.
The sweet basil is the most successful of all I had sowed so far. They are tall, lush, aromatic. A feast for the palate. I can’t think of harvesting them all for pesto. They look so beautiful midst my frail carrots. I collect some bottom leaves anytime I want them for tomato salad or for a spaghetti sauce. Today, we are going to have Margherita pizza.
Some others are surviving timidly. Melissa is next to sweet basil; purple basil has just lost its companion and stands alone as a sample; a medicinal herb called carqueja, rosemary, thyme are undisturbed.
Autumn brings orange, to be fully matured during winter. I have gotten some persimmons as gifts from family and friends that don’t enjoy it much or cannot eat it for high sugar content. Therefore, we get to savor the soft pulp, unlike any other fruit, symbolic of autumn for its color and texture.
After being attacked by some insects, acerola fruits are back. In search for some drink for lunch, I thought of lemon. Half way to the tree, I saw the red ripe acerola cherries hanging. I switched my gears, collected them and made juice with orange, cold water, and sugar. Many of our juices are mixed with water, like lemonade. Even orange juice we serve it thinned.
Not as many, but pitanga cherries are also coming back slowly. My favorite of all small wild berries around, I like to eat straight from the tree. The big pit in relation to the delicate, yet fragrant flesh, it is good just to be eaten like that.
Of many seeds sowed unsuccessfully, soy bushes are carrying bunches of pods, which I am eager to try it green, boiled, as edamane. This famous appetizer served in Japanese restaurants is delicious, lightly nutty, and satisfying. When I sowed soy, I also dropped sunflower seeds. Many of them got eaten by caterpillars. That’s what it is used for in organic gardening. They work as bait, distracting them from the main crops. However, a few of them managed to survive and are blossoming now. They are the small head ones. I wanted the big ones covering the whole field just like in some Van Gogh’s paintings.
Driving back and forth to the town, I get to see the silk cotton trees turning all pink. The tall tree loses its leaves to bloom magnifically. It’s usually the only color to break the monotony of a dark green background of the landscape.
Around the cement patch where my father sun dry coffee beans after harvest, unusually, different kinds and colors of flowers are blooming, mixed with other weeds and of course, some kind of cucurbitaceous. I have already spotted wild cucumbers and watermelon.
I walked up to where the young coffee bushes are, in search for wild cucumbers I got to harvest in January. My father believed it had none as he had used some herbicide to kill the weeds in the plantation. To my surprise, the weeds were dead, but young vines were spreading green and strong. Soon we are going to have a lady harvest of wild cucumbers.
The bananas are still thin and green, but they promise a good bunch of creamy delicacy.