Friday, 12 June 2015

home farm update

After 3 weeks away I've returned to find everything fine. Which is nice. A little slow perhaps, but nothing disappeared or died.

The soldiers are eating and seem to be doing well, though I'm really puzzled by the small number of pupas I'm able to harvest. It seems that I have loads of 'gusanos' in all stages of development, I have adult flies showing interest and I have a good food source and, I believe, set up. Yet I'm harvesting hardly any mature grubs. There's a wonderful Black Soldier Fly forum and I posted my issue on there, the suggestions to wet the bin and to protect against possible nocturnal predators are good ones, and I'll try them. However I see no sign of predation, and the distance between food and exit is all of about 4 inches, so I don't think it's that they can't exit. Still, we shall see. At this time I really expected to see more harvestable 'food' for the birds.

The spinach and fodder plants are coming on. We've had a lot of rain and little sun the last 3 weeks, so it's slow. Slower than I had expected, for sure. I need to up the mulching and feeding. It always surprises me that here in the tropics, even with a year round, day round growing 'season', that things take time to establish. It may be that I've been away from active gardening too long and I've lost touch with the slower rhythms.

The azolla and duckweed are doing well and threaten to overtake the deck. I'm waiting for the coop to be done to start planning a tank in that area. There is a risk of other beings enjoying the plants before the birds can: I could lessen the risk by raising the tank, but that means more infrastructure and complexity. Simple must be better. Perhaps the answer is a larger tank to allow for some loss. Or several tanks. I've seen gorgeous looking tanks from the Philippines for feeding pigs . . .

This is from, a great little blog on natural farming. 

I realise that I'm going to have to start with some commercial feed for the birds: my project is not yet sustainable. I'm researching fermenting the feed or making a bokashi feed. This sounds really interesting, though it involves a lot of preparation to begin. Perhaps I can transition into it as I transition out of it :) Or maybe I can use whole grains in place of commercial feed. I'd still have to buy it and ideally I would be using what we grow here. Grains are an issue. I wonder if I could use green banana or yuca or taro instead. More research need. Always more research!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Propagating cacao

The Talamanca region of Costa Rica has been growing cacao for millennium: the indigenous BriBri used it as both sacred medicinal and food; the Spanish grew it commercially beginning in the 1600s; the Afro-Caribbeans farmed it since settling this area a hundred years ago, and now it's seeing a local revival thanks to the growing interest in artisan chocolate.

We grow several heirloom varieties; some collected from indigenous upper Talamanca, some original Matina cacao grown here for centuries and some personal selections from almost 30 years of working the farm. We are collecting and sharing cacao seedlings from local cacao farmers to save and improve on local varieties. It's all quite exciting - especially seeing the enlivened local interest in growing great cacao.

We have the perfect climate with ideal growing conditions- high humidity and temperatures which don't drop below 73 degrees F, even on the coolest night.

Currently we are grafting much of our 'new' cacao, selecting the best from our heirloom trees and replicating. But we always need rootstock, so we sow many seeds. For those of you with an interest, this is what we do.

Cacao, like most tropical seeds, doesn't like to dry out, and will lose viability the drier the seed becomes. Plant as fresh as possible!

Lay cacao seeds on their narrow side, embedded about ⅓ to ½ of their depth into moist soil. Soil should be rich, potting soil, loose and moist. If not growing in the tropics, or if it's cooler than usual, 'tent' the potting tray in a plastic bag. This means place a roomy, transparent plastic bag over the tray, raised with the aid of a stick, with plenty of air inside. This creates a mini greenhouse with a nice moist, warm environment. Ambient temperature should not fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep soil moist, not wet and not dry!

Seeds should germinate in 3 to 6 days, depending on conditions.

 You can see here that we are quite hard on our seeds! But they do just fine.

Here are the seedlings potted up, developing quite nicely: you can see the remnants of the opened seed about 3 inches up from the soil. We will give these another month or so under the shade cloth before we plant them out or graft them.

I also offer cacao seeds for growing on my Etsy store, here's what most Mondays look like: harvest the cacao pod, clean and pack in damp sawdust (from the farm, so organic!), then double bag and label appropriately. There's 10-12 fat, fresh seeds in each bag.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


The soldiers have been here for 3 weeks today. And it's quite something how far we've come. Three weeks ago I caught two of the females who come every time we grind roasted cacao, and put them in a bucket along with some mango and banana peels and coffee grounds. Today I found two cascaras - the empty pupae skins. This I don't quite understand: according to my research it takes about 4 days for the eggs to hatch, two weeks for the larvae to grow - under ideal conditions, and then a further 3 weeks to a month for the fly to emerge from the pupae. I've been surprised even at how few of the pre-pupae I've seen 'crawl off' thinking that the environment wasn't ideal, too dry maybe. Obviously some decided to stay in the somewhat dry compost. This is the only thing I can think of as the whole situation was completely new and fresh 3 weeks ago.

I started with one bucket, which given how much mango and banana we've processed the last couple of weeks, quickly became 3. On Monday I went to the recycling center and came home with a nice cracked trash can which quickly became the home to the contents of all 3 buckets. There were so many grubs. So many. The bottoms of the buckets had became anaerobic - completely 'preserved' mango seeds and peels under a layer of black goo. Everything got shaken and stirred up going into the bin, so I think they'll be able to get to it. I'm so impressed by how quickly and how efficiently these soldiers polish everything off. The castings look great, almost ready for the garden.

The bin is full, and right now I'm not sure how much more I can feed. I've read that 100 pounds of scraps become 20 pounds of grubs and 5 pounds of compost/castings. I've certainly got a lot more than 5 lbs, and I'm quite sure I haven't put a full 100 pounds in there yet. So, what do I do? Wait for them to go through it again? It's true that I certainly overfed in the beginning - we just had so much fruit - so I'm thinking that the stuff in there can still be worked over.

I'm also wondering if I should make the bin wetter to ensure I don't have anyone pupating inside. Right now I'm not harvesting, but rather working on increasing the fly population (sounds odd doesn't it?), but it's something that will be happening fairly soon and I want everything operating smoothly.

So much fun. And I used to abhor maggots. Actually I still do somewhat, but now it's a morbid fascination. You can hear them eat, and watch the surface move with them. I sat fascinated on Saturday watching them devour a tomato. They had eaten everything but the very outermost skin - it was almost transparent and you could see their bodies through it. Yet it still looked like a tomato. Real horror show - one might say.

This is the Gardener Soldier Fly, much shorter - about ½ the length and less wide. Grubs are still as voracious though, and seem to mature earlier too.

And this is the Black Soldier Fly, this one is resting in the kitchen just by the chocolate making.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Duckweed update

It's been a couple of weeks of experimentation and observation. Actually it's been a lot of fun and has made me quite content to do nothing other than watch plants grow and things decompose.

The idea is to have a sustainable egg production. Sounds simple, but actually requires a bit of work. The farmer is agreeing to contained poultry - and that's what's making it more work. If they were free range then it would be all rather natural and easy. Instead they will be relying solely on humans for food and water. That's a shame really, but I think over time I'll be able to let them out. The plant man just needs reassurance that the feathered ones won't destroy the orchard. Patience.

So even though it's another month and a half until they arrive, and even though the site hasn't been fully cleared or the coop / run built, food production is under way.

We've planted spinach, pumpkin, pidgeon pea, moringa and a local green (chickens love it, no-one has a name for it) for fodder. Early days, but everything is coming up and looking good. Weather has been co-operating with sun and rains.

I have 3 tubs on the deck with duckweed and azolla. One tub has lots of leaf litter and tadpoles and gets about 4 hours of sun a day, one tub has just leaf litter and is in the shade, another tub contains Orinoco (my betta splendens) and is in more shade with indian almond leaf which makes the water soft and slightly acidic.

So far the tadpole tank is doing the best in terms of duckweed production. This is also the only tank with azolla, which is also doing well. We're not talking dense mats, but it is growing. I'd say doubling every 4 days. The azolla is slower, but also growing. Thus far I'm not at all confident that it will be the major green stuff in the birds' food. I need better production.

In all the research I've been doing there seems to be several "limiting factors", or variables: sunlight, nutrients in the water, temperature, hours of daylight. I'd also add munchers - something ate half my azolla when it was at ground level. Duckweed - it is said, prefers some shade, though in this case, it prefers a few hours of direct sun. The tadpole tub has probably the best nutrient rich water - both from the large number of tadpoles and the decaying leaf matter.

Initially I tried tubs with no leaf litter, no wildlife (that I could see), and added fermented pee to the water. Too much it seems. Not good. Since researching more it needs only 20mg of urine a liter, so my initial enthusiasm all but killed the plants. Unless I build a large tank I don't think the pee is an efficient idea, much as I like it.

I've also been reading that the effluent from black soldier fly larvae is also great for duckweed. It so happens that I have such an effluent, so another tub will in all likelihood get set up today to try that out.

I'd like to make a small duckweed pond by the coop, we'll have to wait til all the construction work is done for that.

I'm almost delighted that the most natural tank - with lots of leaf mulch and tadpoles, is the most successful. "Almost" delighted in that it's the one that requires the least participation, but of course quite delighted to see that Nature is always ultimately the most efficient, sustainable and long term winner.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

hill farm or home farm or upper farm? Importance of naming

I'm developing a new farm, a small, integrated, efficient and exciting facet of the larger farm. One that will no doubt take up a lot of time and create a lot of interest - at least for me. At last, I'm getting poultry. They can't be free-ranged - agreement with the farmer, and with the dogs - so it has to be a more complicated, creative system. They'll be near the house, on a slope which we don't use but which has several fruit trees (columbian sapote, araza, lime, pitanga), which will be incorporated into their larger run, and which should provide seasonal food, shade and shelter.

Construction won't start until beginning of May and the birds won't come until mid June, which gives plenty of time to establish the basics.

Firstly the coop and primary run must be absolutely secure - dogs, raccoons, pizotes, possums, olingas, snakes and hawks being my main concerns. The primary run will be completely wrapped in hardware cloth, ¼ inch - including a subterranean floor about a foot down. I'd love to use recycled plastic bottles or bamboo as the main building material, but I think I'll end up going for zinc panels for the extra security and longevity. The slope is about an 8 inch drop over 15 feet, and about 35 feet from the top of the ridge, so it shouldn't get too muddy. I'll cover it partially with a tarp, and the coop will have a zinc roof: it's been a really wet year.

Secondly food is a major concern: even though Talamanca has declared itself GMO free, pet and livestock food is basically GMO soybean and corn. I'd like a closed loop system as much as possible, with as little resorting to commercial feed as I can.

This means that I'll also be farming black soldier flies, duckweed and several forage species. I've started my bsf colony, or barracks, and a week into the project all is going well. The black soldier fly is native here, and for years the flies have been visiting me working in our workshop kitchen, maybe just one every other day or so. The farmer and Ana have always shoo-ed them out, saying that they bite. But they never bothered me, they look placid and I have always figured myself a bit of an Ancel Doolittle capable of living in harmony with them. Well it turns out that they don't have a functioning mouth or a digestive system, so they don't really bite. They do look a bit like chias, a sometimes aggressive wasp, and I think that's what troubled the farmer and Ana. I'm not so much a Doolittle as a I thought.

The pupae is an excellent source of protein (42%) and their nutritional breakdown looks an awful lot like the nutritional label on better quality chicken feed. There's a lot of information online about raising black soldier flies, (the photo comes from the excellent black soldier fly blog:  ) and I'm sure I'll be throwing in my experiences too. So far I have questions about humidity levels and I have an egg cluster that just hasn't hatched and I don't know why. But my bin is up and running and I'm about a week away, maybe, from harvesting the first batch. Very excited, like can't sleep excited. These first batches I'll be just growing out the flies to ensure I have a good supply and a few generations which know where the bin is. I'll have two bins: one down by the workshop, where we process all the fruit, and one up by the poultry house for composting the manure. The manure bin won't be harvested - at least not for the poultry.

The manure bin is an important aspect of my micro farm: I don't want the smell to attract any more predators or rodents, and it's quite near the house. The bsf deter houseflies and an active barracks should be able to deal with all the manure produced each day, plus it will get eaten so quickly that there will be little time for smells to develop. The waste produced by the bsf is, I understand, excellent food for worm bins, so hopefully I'll be able to incorporate those in the future.

For green feed we already have katuk and chaya up here. I've planted out some spinach and I'll be adding gandul, pumpkin and moringa. According to what I can find online, madera negra can be used for up to 4% of the diet. Yucca / cassava leaves have mixed reviews, as do taro leaves, Canna edulis is another option. Needs further research.

Duckweed we already deal with in the nursery and pond, so I'll be bringing some up here to 'farm'. Dry weight, it's between 25 and 45% protein depending on the nitrogen source and sunlight. Not sure yet whether it'll be fresh and free choice
or whether I'll have a separate system.

So, the name. The act of naming bestows a sense of reality and lends a permanence to things. My little micro farm needs a name. Hill, home and upper are all such common names but for that I like them as they seem rooted in tradition, and again, have a sense of permanency. Upper is too broad, as that's what we call everything that's not the lower farm. I like home farm - sounds cosy and may endear others to the project. I have other plans on closing various other loops, but all in good time :)

Friday, 2 May 2014

catching up

The farmer and I have been trying to get away since January, and finally this week we did: into the mountains for two nights, then to the city for a night. Came back refreshed, and with supplies.  I spent today catching up with all the things I needed supplies for - and realized that we actually do a lot of things! So, here's my (partial) inventory of things we produce on the farm, and will be taking to the market tomorrow:

  • fresh fruit for tomorrow: champedak, duku and calamondin
  • greens for tomorrow: katuk and chaya
  • ornamental plants
  • chocolate bars: vanilla, rosita de cacao, allspice, milk
  • raw cacao
  • chocolate nibs
  • vanilla extract
  • vanilla paste
  • vanilla beans
  • calamondin marmalade
  • araza jam
  • dried fruit mix
  • candied ginger
  • cookies!
  • black pepper: ground and whole grain
  • medicinal honey: healthy spoonful, loving spoonful and sleepy spoonful
  • soaps: tomorrow we'll have activated charcoal, volcanic clay, papaya citrus, goats' milk, sandalwood orange, vanilla mint, eucalyptus mint, chocolate, oberon, coconut, tropical smoothie, playa negra and tooth!
  • activated charcoal and volcanic clay mask
  • jungle juice bug repellent
  • ginger hair serum
  • essential oil perfume blends: sweet and clear, and yoga
  • soothing salve
  • tincture blends: cleanse, immune, memory, gastric, kidney, liver, menopause, strength

  • Now I know why it took us so long to get away :)

    Tuesday, 3 December 2013


    I've been enjoying honey these days. Didn't used to like it, found the smell cloying and too heavy, reminiscent of fields of rape and mustard seed around childhood homes. But I like bees and have always fancied keeping a hive or three. And I love the scent of beeswax. We can't have honeybees on the farm, as the farmer is allergic and there are too many Africanized bee incidents to make it work. But  I'm hoping that soon, very soon, I'll be able to take a workshop on melipona bees. These are the small stingless bees native to the tropics. There are many varieties none of which produce honey in the same quantities as the honeybee, but their honey is medicinal, rich and delicious.

    Meanwhile we've been buying honey from a local beekeeper. We've made vanilla infused honey for a few years, but I've started infusing other herbs. I'm working with 4 different blended infusions right now. The honey is a perfect base for these medicinal blends, not only sweetening the medicine, but bringing another layer of anti-bacterial and anti-viral  properties. My favourite is 'Lovin' Spoonful' with cuculmeca, cacao, vanilla and ginger. It is dark and thick and has a great smack of energy which it delivers about 3 seconds after it enters your mouth. These are potent remedies and not be be eaten by the spoonful!!

    I'm also putting honey in lip balms, soaps and lip scrubs, mostly for the humectant and soothing properties, but also for the golden colour and richness it gives. The lip scrub and balm already have beeswax so the honey brings a little more depth to the honey / beeswax scent.

    I've also just been spreading it on bread.

    Sunday, 1 December 2013

    There's something both liberating and limiting about being a purist. Maybe the liberation comes with the limitation. When one knows and understands one's boundaries, it becomes freeing. Perhaps just knows - understanding is much more work. It's not that I'm a purist in everything, just in some ways. The drive to do things myself, my way - which almost always is the old way. The 'getting back to the land' dream. Simplifying is part of it. But the simplification isn't really the end goal, it's something to be done on the way. This internal, ongoing dialogue about doing away with things, processes, people even. It's almost competitive.

    I haven't had anything to say for a long time. I've been caught up, entrenched, drowning in other things. Things outside and beyond myself. Drama. Life. But now I'm in retreat, hiding away on the farm, staying low, keeping quiet. I still don't feel like I've anything to say. I'm a bit lost.

     But what I am beginning to remember is the importance of purity.

    Not in some huge, overarching significant way, but in the small things. Eating a breakfast of jam and toast. Jam and bread that I've made myself. Using a spoon I've carved to dollop the jam. Fruit I've had a hand in growing, certainly in harvesting. Flour I've dried and ground myself. Sourdough that's appeared here, out of the air. Purist. It's something real, tangible, I can touch. Grounding. Helpful.

    Sunday, 10 November 2013

    sunday morning rain brings delicacy

    These appeared at the foot of our stairs this afternoon. A delicacy when still contained in their egg  shaped casing, they don't seem so appetising at this stage. Not a great smell. But amazing to look at.

    Saturday, 9 November 2013


    A man died at the farmers' market this morning. We were just arriving, just before 7 and a group of men were standing to one side, some kneeling, some crowding and one doing CPR. They were taking it in turns, but one could tell by their faces and by their constant motion that it was not working. Across the way a group of people were looking, hands to their mouths. I knew the men who were there, and then someone came running across and said it was Frederick. Frederick was a regular at the market, always there early, always smiling, as strong as a bull. Tall, lean, in his late 60s I think. He'd built bicycles in India and for the Contras in Nicaragua, he was a poet and a wordsmith, and he was incredibly strong. He'd built his house way back in the jungle, off grid, a huge wooden structure tall with a complicated roof and no walls. We had been neighbours for a year. His heart just stopped and he was already dead by the time he hit the ground. They loaded him onto the back of a pick up and took him to the clinic. Someone went to fetch his wife. The market was subdued, quiet. The mothers took their children away quickly after buying their groceries. It was strange and awful to see them load him into the pick up. He was wearing the clothes he always wore, but already he had lost all his colour. His groceries lay where he'd been repacking them. After 20 minutes the market got very lively, a lot of people laughing like a wave of positive energy came through. I don't know if it was relief, or people were recovering from the shock, or if it was the energy of Frederick himself, but the market was buzzing. Gradually it faded and the normal hubbub took over, people coming and going, oblivious to what had happened. Someone set up with a box of puppies for adoption in the same place Frederick had fallen. And so life continues, for us, today.

    After the market I worked on a new vegetable garden we're starting. Laying out contour lines, planting madera negra sticks and vetiver to keep the slope steady, heaping up mulch and hauling rotten tree branches and small trunks. Frederick was in my mind almost constantly. Just smiling and nodding. It's not that we were close at all, it's more that this man who was so energetic was gone, but his energy was there, palpable.

    As we were leaving the market I saw the wife of another neighbour  who had taken his life in September. We were away and had missed the wake and the funeral. It was the first time I'd seen her since his death. She had been talking to one of the market vendors and she was crying. We hugged, she looked lost and very far away. The image of her face came to me while I was working in the garden too: the ones who leave and the ones who remain, vastly different experiences of the same phenomena.

    God Bless you Frederick and Juni, and warmth and love to you Eva and Beate . . .

    Sunday, 3 November 2013

    Sacha Inchi Seeds

     Sacha Inchi is one of those magical plants straight out of a fairy tale. A briarless briar that will up and over everything in a matter of months, burying shrubs, trees, castles beneath its vibrant green flow of leaves and vines. The flowers are like little lances, tiny white yellow balls on a small sturdy stalk - you can see the remnants in the first photo. One would never think that a little slender stick would become such a Cinderella's carriage of a fruit. The fruit is star shaped and can have between 4 and 7 points (though I'm sure there are 3 pointers and 8 pointers out there), though we see mostly 5 and 6 pointed fruits. Star shaped fruits are always magical in their symmetry and simplicity, and the sacha inch has to be one of the most beautiful.
    The green fruit
     Gradually the green fruit begins to ripen and turn brown, losing its swollen firmness and taking on a more streamlined and floral aspect. The outer layer splits underneath to reveal the first of 2 seed casings. We wait until the outermost layer has almost rotted away, or dried up into a downy fluff. Termites really like this material and are quite good at cleaning the seeds. The seeds can then fall or can be hand picked. And its then that the real work begins.
    The mature seed pod
    We sun dry the fruits until the outer husk can be almost brushed off and then - with a lot of patience, and ideally some good conversation or music - we begin shelling. There are two shells, an outer more woody pale shell covering a thinner and darker inner shell. Sometimes we are able to remove both shells together, but mostly not. We store the seeds with their inner shell, removing it when we want to roast the seeds. They are very pretty, about the size of nickels, smooth and cool to the touch.
    Almost shelled sacha inchi seeds
    We're experimenting with a slow low roast in the dehydrator to preserve the full Omega 3, but the seeds are also delicious roasted with a little garlic and salt in a heavy bottomed pan. The reason why we go to all this trouble is the incredible nutritional value of sacha inchi. 

    With the highest known percentage of Omega 3, about 50%, and a great balance of Omega 6 and 9, sacha inchi or Nut Vine, Inca Peanut, Peru Nut as they're also known, is a wonderful addition to our diet. They are rich in protein - about 33%, a complete protein source including all the amino acids; high in vitamins A and E; and a good source of minerals including calcium and iron. Very highly digestible and rich in fibre. They are also really tasty. We eat them as a snack with ground kefir lime leaves, garlic and salt, or add them to salads. They are also a great addition to a trail mix. 
     Fully shelled seeds

    We've just planted out a new trellis, and we should be starting harvest on the new plants in about 6 months. Meanwhile we just finished a major harvest and are currently working on drying and shelling the seeds. We have some in our Etsy store.

    Saturday, 2 November 2013


    We've been making chocolate for almost 2 years now. Hard to imagine but true. It's a lot of work to take the fruit from our old heirloom cacao trees and transform it into the bars you see above, but it's good work. Four years ago today I wrote a post about harvesting our cacao:

    so I won't retell that story :) But after it's harvested, fermented and sun dried, roasted, milled and winnowed we turn it into bars. I'll save the explanation of that magical process for another post. Just to say it takes 3 days to go from bean to bar. We do the entire process ourselves, from harvest to selling the bars at the farmers' market. In all that time there are no more than 4 people who handle the chocolate, and it travels no more than 1 mile from tree to market stall. It's quite wonderful really, the process. And the bars? They're very good, rich, dark, fudge-like texture and rewarding.

    We want to stay as true to the roots of chocolate as we can. We have three flavors: vanilla, rosita de cacao and allspice: all 3 are traditional indigenous additions to cacao: meaning they were added to cacao drinks before the Europeans appeared.  Vanilla comes from the Veracruz area of Mexico - it's native to much of Central America, but it was the Totonac Indians who first cultivated it. Our vanilla bars are 1%  organic vanilla (we grow organic vanilla), we call them Totonac Bars. Rosita de Cacao needs its own post. We love it, it's a pretty little white flower and comes from the Oaxaca area of Mexico, we call our Rosita bars Olmec after the Olmec Indians, and the Allspice bars are named K'An which is the Mayan glyph for Allspice. The Mayans used Allspice for cacao, as a medicinal and as a ritual plant.

    As a special request we also make a really delicious milk chocolate. Shh . . .

    Sunday, 3 June 2012

    Congo bees and bats

    We're having a typical Sunday here: french toast with homemade chocolate sauce for breakfast and dog baths. Lyla was a bit over excited after her bath so I thought I'd dry her off and reached for the dog towel - but it was somehow stuck and my tug was followed by the appearance of quite a few congo bees. The farmer gave it an almighty tug and off it came, followed by quite a lot of bees. The space below the towel was filled with quite a good sized nest, we're not quite sure whether this means that a) congo bees build really quickly, or, b) it's been some time since I dried a dog. Either way the bees weren't too impressed at the disturbance and flew around angrily for some time. Congo bees are very common, smallish and black. They don't sting, but they do have a tendency to get stuck in your hair and bite. Best avoided. I'm trying to think of a way to scare them off long enough to see if that's really honey in those golden globes. The lizards and big ants seem pretty interested in the nest too. They must have larvae and eggs in there, but I can't see any.

    We have a small colony of bats that live on the back wall of the house, but have recently been spending the days inside the bathroom. Of the 5, 3 are currently carrying babies. Not a great picture, but I hope you can see the babies . . .

    Sunday, 11 March 2012

    Sunday morning with birds

    It's a cool, overcast morning out on the deck. It's March and so the beginning of the northward migration of raptors, and we were treated to a nice gathering of vultures, rising from different trees in the forest below and riding out over the beach to rise in the thermals before heading north over the Cahuita National Park. The deck has a tree directly in front which is often covered in small purple flowers in a cone formation. The flowers give way to small lilac coloured berries which the toucans and aricaris love. A flock of toucans visited this morning and we watched two toucans either fight or begin a mating ritual: banging their beaks together then falling madly and rapidly downwards spiraling almost out of control, before swooping back up again to repeat the beak banging. When they left the aracaris came with their dangerous silhouettes and hunched narrow shoulders. Meanwhile the oropendulas were sweeping through the trees with the blaze of their golden yellow tail feathers showing their flight. There's another large forest tree to the immediate left of the deck with small white flowers, and now small green white berries. This is a wonderful tree to see parrots. This morning we have blue headed (Pionus menstruus) and brown hooded parrots (Pionopsitta haematotis), yesterday we had white crowned parrots (Pionus senilis). It is really fun to watch these beautiful birds, such acrobats! Normally we see smaller light blue parakeets eating these berries, but I haven't seen them yet. They better hurry, the bigger parrots, and the squirrels are enjoying the harvest.

    Sunday, 18 September 2011

    talking to trees

    Someone recently compared me to a fig tree. I, of course, immediately thought of the strangler fig, but was reassured that that wasn't quite what she meant. This and the fact that many of our trees are raining fruit this week, has left me pondering trees.

    I love trees. I love their size, their quiet, their enduring nature. I find myself thanking them for their fruits, their seeds, their shade, their wood, for feeding the mushrooms when they rot, for feeding the birds and insects throughout the year, for providing habitat, protection, nourishment. For their beauty.

    I think it makes a difference. The Rose of Venezuela throws out incredible oblong seeds that are prized here on the farm. The seeds take a year to form in their pods and are expelled with a crack and twist - easy to miss, and the reason we have a grove of saplings forming around the mother tree rather than a line of potted seedlings in the nursery. The days I walk with the dogs I talk with the Rose of Venezuela. I ask her for her seeds, and always, always if I ask she reveals them one by one half hidden, half buried in the grass and leaf litter around her. Today I found 14, one after the other. Just for the asking. And the thanking.

    Rose of Venezuela pods and flower:

    I like fig trees.

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    well, it's been some time . . .

    over a year in fact. I was thinking I would sneak an entry in at the beginning of August and maybe no one would notice, but really it's been over a year since I wrote on this blog. Shame on me. It's not that I haven't been writing - just elsewhere. Anyway, I'd like to reconnect. So for your viewing pleasure (if anyone is still out there!) here are some toucans:

    The toucans are all in a tree planted especially for them, behind the workshop. The farmer doesn't know what the tree is, nor has he seen it anywhere else, but one happened to start by the house and he realized that the toucans loved the purple berries. After many attempts to start it from seed he finally tied a branch to the house and started a couple of air-layers, one made it. He planted it out in a prime viewing spot and this year it started producing fruit. What a treat to see the toucans visit! Three of them came and spent a few minutes picking through the small berries. The tree up at the house has much larger fruit so we have high hopes for the new addition to our landscape.