By Ginnee Hancock
At this time we have just one variety of fish, tilapia. As a cook my goal is to make this fish every way possible, but not recognize it as tilapia. If store bought tilapia is your idea of tilapia, you would not recognize our fresh from the tank, farm raised fish. Sweet, flaky, white meat, it is perfect. I pan fry it whole, coated with corn meal, Cuban style and I make New England fish chowder with it. Fish tacos, fish salad, ceviche, the possibilities are endless. I will smoke some this weekend when we smoke pork bellies for bacon. Think smoked fish dip, perhaps Finnan Haddie. I also want to salt tilapia, think salted cod, anchovies and other salted or dried and slightly salted fish, like fish jerky. The salted tilapia pizza will be awesome.
I know our fish are raised with kindness in pure fresh water, no chemicals, no antibiotics, and with love. That is as good as it gets in life for them and for us. I prepare them with love, cook them superbly, and honor them at the table.
By Ginnee Hancock
Ducks, aren't they beautiful, sweet, graceful beings? We have a beautiful little pond with banks of wild grasses and Malanga on the edges. We got the ducks as babies and after they got big enough to fend for themselves, we introduced the little beasties to their new environment and they love it. They love eating mud and seeking bugs like we thought they would. They stay busy rooting, pecking, and .... destroying every plant they come into contact with, including the Malanga (Cassava). Who knew?
Do they know it takes a full year to grow that Malanga? No, I don't think they care. They ate the leaves, destroyed the plants and then they dug into the tubers and ate those. The beautiful expensive Lilly pads that were prospering and the tilapia liked......gone. Because they had never lived in the wild fending for themselves, we make sure that they have grain available to them, so it is not that they are super hungry with nothing to eat; it is just what ducks do. They muck up their environment. Although a bit surprised, we now know what to expect and can plan accordingly. No more fancy water plants for a while.
We have more ducks to release, a different kind, but I expect the same results. They will be set free in a different pond. We tried to integrate them with the beasties, but the beasties attempted to kill the new guys, looked as if they were trying to drown them, it was ugly. So much for pond peace....it’s my dirt, my pond, my water, my mud, my bugs…..little narcissist ducks.
The ducks smell, we expected that, but the tilapias who share their pond are thriving on the algae that are helped along by the duck poo. The smell does not affect us as they are far enough from the house in their natural environment. If you plan on doing ducks yourself, although you may think that eating breakfast and watching the ducks is pretty cool, you really do not want the pond close to your home or to be up wind from where you dine.
The green season is just beginning and the 240 to 300 inches of rain that we receive should help to clean the air, refresh the ponds and make ducks happy.
By Philip "Felipe" Hancock
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.