Friday, 30 January 2009

rabo de mono

This is a local fern with fiddlehead shoots that are quite delicious, tasting just like asparagus. While the indigenous people around here know where they grow in the forests, not many people grow them especially for harvest. A woman brought them to market several years ago, selling them by the dozen. Eventually we persuaded her to bring some plants and she brought 10 poor little things. Of the 10, 4 survived and now are doing - 4 years later - quite nicely spread around between the vanilla and the salak.

It's very hard to find information on edible ferns and how to harvest them sustainably. We know by observation that they have a surface stem which divides into two - at the point where it splits a fiddlehead grows. Now - if we take those fiddleheads what does that do to the plant, stimulate new growth or rob it of energy? We do both and watch.

It took some research to determine that the fern we have is called rabo de mono, (Thelypteris sp), monkey's tail. It's a spiny thing, with fronds up to 5 foot long and very pretty with a gentle arch to them which bends them towards the earth. They do best in open, moist spaces, making the upper farm just about perfect with its circle of forest trees and soggy bottom.

We harvest just enough for supper and for a customer or two, making sure not to take all the shoots from any one area. And we wait to see just what the best way to harvest is. And of course we appreciate the beauty and value the fern brings to our daily walks through the farm.


You know, it’s a funny thing. I go through phases like everyone else. And right now I notice I’m in a very domestic phase. I’m sure it has something to do with my recent move, of course, but I want to be home. Just home. I’m enjoying cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry and sweeping and feeding the dogs and all those home type activities. I’m not paying so much heed to my plants – they’re doing fine and growing just as they like. It’s rainy season here and the cranberry hibiscus doesn’t seem to like it so much. The katuk is doing well and the Okinawa spinach seems happy. And we have green tomatoes and fine jalepeno chilis and good yard long beans, and all is prospering. And I want to be up in the house doing my chores and reading and being with the dogs. This week we go to the other side of the country to work on a reforestation project. We’ll be gone for 5 days. Maybe that will end this phase and when I return home I’ll be ready for the garden again. Maybe.

farm chores

Working with Fukuoka’s natural farming method really keeps farm chores to a minimum. With no tilling, no spraying, no pruning we are left with time for other things. That’s not to say there’s no work to be done. There’s fruit and spices to be picked, flowers to be pollinated, paths to be maintained, seeds to be started, mulching to be done, and of course there’s plenty of work in the nursery.

My chores really though are centered around getting ready for the farmers’ market. Each morning I put on tea for the kombucha and while it’s cooling I rinse the mung bean and alfalfa sprouts. Depending on the day I’ll either be milling and soaking soy beans or preparing the tempeh, and checking on how the tempeh is coming along in the incubator. If it’s a Thursday I’ll be roasting cacao. And every other day I’ll be drying fruit, or prepping dried fruit for our fruit mixes. All in it takes about 2 hours each day to complete my chores. Not too bad, especially considering I work at home in a beautiful open air kitchen and navigate my way to and fro between our 4 happy handsome and often sleepy dogs

fermentation fervour

I've been making tempeh for a few weeks now and selling it at the stall at the farmers' market, and to a local restaurant. And of course we've been eating it. It's so good, and so easy to make and really fun to make. I love the idea of things sporulating and bubbling and fermenting in dark corners all around the house and farm.
We got a couple of books to build our fervour:

The Book of Tempeh

Wild Fermentation

so juicy, so worth a look at . . .

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

flea-ing the house

After a morning researching medicinal plants for a friend and client, Global Creek, it was time for a break. Just in time as the kitchen was filling up with army ants on the march and the dogs were getting excited.
A lot of insect activity this morning. Sandro cut lots of madera negra leaves to scatter below the house. Madera Negra has many uses (a common English name is rat killer tree), the leaves deter fleas and smell great, somewhat like alfalfa hay. We periodically scatter them below the house to give the dogs a break from scratching. We use madera negra all over the farm as a living support for black pepper, vanilla and beans: it's leguminous so a nitrogen fixer, provides shade and has edible pink flowers.
We took a walk along the ridge then cut down and followed a creek downstream until our way was blocked by fallen trees. More insects, we were chased by a couple of those big orange-eyed biting flies but managed to shake them off in the salak. Coming back along the trail we passed the huge leaf cutter ant nest, beautifully decorated with fallen yellow flowers from an overhead tree. I got stung by some flying creature picking chaya for lunch just before coming up the hill to the house. Got home to find the army ants had completed their inspection and left.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

coffee with sloth

Last night, just at sundown we heard a female sloth calling for a mate, it's an eery sound, more like a hawk than a mammal. She was in a tree immediately in front of the deck. We sat with our coffees, watching the silhouettes of two male sloths moving slowly towards her call. Odd to think of these slow placid creatures procreating, but the males were moving about as quickly as a non-falling sloth can move (they fall from trees with about the same speed as we might). One was clearly more interested and he disappeared into the shadows.
This morning sitting with coffee, we watched his rival move through the tree, he was in clear view, about 20 feet from us at eye level. A young male, fairly slight but handsome enough. He was looking for breakfast, descending on a vine pausing at branches to inspect likely new leaves. He moved hand over fist, like a sailor scaling a rope, but with his body sticking out parallel to the vine rather than hugging it. He was as comfortable hanging upside down as right side up. It seemed fitting enough to be sloth watching laying across the deck sipping coffee and whiling away the morning.

morning walk

Walking through the rainforest on a cool Sunday morning brings a quiet sort of joy.
On our path a javillo tree (hura crepitans) had dropped a branch and we scrambled gingerly across. The javillo is covered with sharp thorns laden with poison: if touched the thorns will readily spray their toxic juice - enough to hurt for a few hours. The indigenous people would tap the sap, much like tapping a maple, fixing a calabash gourd to catch the flow. They would pour the sap into rivers to stun the fish making them easy to catch. It's a softwood, not much good for lumber, but it can be hollowed out for dug-out canoes.
The English name for the javillo is sandbox tree. In colonial times the Europeans would use the dried fruit of the tree - shaped somewhat like a doughnut with a dimple rather than a hole - to hold sand. They would keep the 'sandbox' on their desks to blot paper. One had to be careful in collecting whole fruits - they disperse their seeds by exploding the shell and scattering the seeds in all directions. This gives the tree its other name - the monkey's dinner bell, for the sound of the pop and scattering seeds like rainfall down through surrounding leaves.
Lying across our path it posed no real threat, but the spikes were still sharp enough to catch skin and cloth. The dogs took a longer route round.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Saturday Farmers' Market

Between the botanical garden and nursery being open and selling at the local Farmers' Market in town, Saturdays are busy. We had a good day at the market today, selling out of pepper, granola bars, tempeh, dried fruit and sprouts. We came home with some kombucha, but that's certainly not a problem as we're drinking lots. This was our first time selling our home-made tempeh, last week we took samples and it went over really well. looks like I'll have to soak a lot more soybeans this week!

Friday, 16 January 2009


We just returned from a little planting expedition on the upper farm. A pink jackfruit from a permaculture project in Panama, a langsat, a curry tree and a rare forest tree, related to the kasha. On the way we took cuttings of katuk to plant. The upper farm is a relatively small area nestled into secondary forest: surrounded on all sides by jungle it sits on a gentle slope with water running through it. There are maybe 3 giant fallen trees splitting it into different areas. The giants are rotting down beautifully creating new soil. Nitrogen fixers such as kasha and madera negra are planted throughout and we have lots of nutrient rich run off from the forest trees above. The area is already planted with salak, citrus, vanilla, charicheulo, pulasan, cheesecake fruit and passion fruit, as well as vegetables such as yampi, air potato, katuk, chaya, chilis and fiddlestick ferns.

The dogs came along and watched as we decided where to plant what. The winter rains have made the slopes muddy and even the dogs have to spread their toes to keep from sliding. We harvested some fiddlestick fern shoots for dinner and some ginger and made our way back just before the afternoon rain.