By Erika Hope Alvarado
Sunday we took a little field trip off the farm to visit a life long friend of William. A tiny little light complexioned guy with natural red hair that everyone calls “chocolate”; not sure what that is about, but his kooky personality deserves an odd nickname I guess. We drove clear cross to the other side of the valley and then up this narrow tightly wound road that I am sure was planned out long before cars were part of daily life. Carts pulled by oxen were probably the transport of choice for crops and supplies when the land was settled. Chocolate works his family farm with his now retired father and mother, they have a collection of animals and oddities on their coffee farm, but what stands out most at their place are the massive tilapia ponds that are built into the slope of their farm. Each one or sometimes two ponds are on a terrace, all are fed by spring water from the mountain above keeping the ponds clean and aerated. They have collected a variety of tilapia species from other farms throughout Costa Rica, some even transported in a 5 gallon bucket via bus. If there is a will, there is a way. Chocolate is a real smart guy, but definitely a rare character, I would never have the balls to drag a bucket full of tiny fish on the bus halfway across the country. They also have collected lily pads and other water plants to keep their fish happy and safe. Yes, I wrote safe. The lily pads and their underwater branches not only provide shade and hiding places for the fish, but they also help to protect them from air born predators and land bound critters. We have had a problem in the past with critters cleaning out a pond over the course of an evening. It is really difficult to efficiently fence in a natural pond with grasses and marsh surrounding it, so we needed an alternative. We hope that the lily pads will do the trick. Chocolate offered us some, and then fully dressed he climbed right into the pond and fished us out a few plants to take home in an old feed sack. William planted them this morning. A couple in the natural pond below by parent’s house and we are going to try and grow one in the cement tilapia tank near the nursery. We hope that a bucket full of earth is all that plant will need to prosper in the tank. Won’t know until you try, everything is a learning process here on the homestead.
More adventures with Chocolate to come, we’ve invited him and his mother to pay us a visit in the near future, we can’t wait.
by Ginnee Hanock
It was important for me to live with fresh air and cool breezes, no air-conditioning; I did not want to sweat until the day I died. Mission Accomplished. When asked what kind of windows I wanted. I said I don't. We never close them, they are always open and they always need washed, so let’s not have them.
We have some 21 big window openings in our house and they have screen on them to keep out bats, birds, and all of those things that are attracted to lights. In the rainforest, those critters are abundant. Bat wrangling is amusing with a butterfly net, but they got to exit the house and need help. Felipe is good at it, he can often get them on the first swipe. If he misses it can turn into a ballet of sorts. No animals are harmed in the reallocation of bats and birds.
When it gets cold, we put on more clothing, when it warms up, we shed clothing. It can get cool. Several times this week I was wearing two sweatshirts. We learned to always have an item of warm clothing with us...just in case the weather turns, it can turn quickly.
We built our house around an old existing house that was now only a slab with two foot stem walls. We left the existing house, poured more slab around it, and built. Three months later we were living in our new home.
The middle of the house is our open plan suite that includes our bedroom. Our actual bedroom space is just large enough for our king bed with walk around space. When we are in bed is makes me feel like being in a canopy bed, snug, warm, comfy but not frilly. One wall is a clothing closet hidden behind fabric, the “wall” at the foot of the bed is a library wall. The bed and head-board are on the third wall. The fourth wall is a canvas painter’s drop cloth that hangs from a conduit rod on bamboo rings that we made. It is my sliding wall, one of my very best concepts ever. With the wall open, we can lay in bed and look at the forest. When the temperature drops, we close the fabric wall to regulate the air blowing in through the screens. Two years ago we put in 3 glass panes in front of my husband's office area of our suite. It facilitates a clearer view for his bird watching, and knocked down some of the too strong winds.
Overall, I love it. I would like a rocket stove fireplace within the next house.
I learned that walls are expensive, you only need them if they are load bearing. Find another way to divide your space, such as a bookcase, closet, or movable fabric walls.
by Ginnee Hancock
4 years ago I was given a small Brazilian spinach plant purchased at the local feria. A nice gesture, but what do you do with just one small spinach plant?
I decided to plant my gift and propagated it. It is easy to grow from cuttings, I lay the stem sideways in good mulched soil, dug in just enough to cover the stem, and I have left the leaves on. Give it some water each day and year after year you will have a rich fast growing crop.
Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) is also knowns as Poor Man's Spinach, Samba Lettuce, and Sissoo Spinach. It is a low growing perennial leaf vegetable, which forms a neat mound. It is used as tropical spinach, suitable for subtropical and tropical areas only. It is a tasty wet-season green leafy vegetable, for us it is for all seasons. I love it cooked in stews, soups, stir-fries, in empanadas, with eggs or raw in salad. Use it as you would any other spinach.
It turns out that it is also a great ground cover. I began to notice that where the spinach grew, there were no weeds, so I started planting the spinach as ground cover. It is a beautiful rich dark green editable ground cover that requires almost no maintenance. Even better, the chickens like it as do the pigs.
That little spinach plant became a huge gift, we now have hundreds planted all over the farm as food and ground cover.