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On trying to do it all

19 Jul

I came across a really lovely blog, A Cup of Jo, and particularly loved her series on work/baby/life balance where she interviews different working moms. Most of them live in the city and their work is writing. No one like me. So I decided to use her interview questions for my own life.

1. What’s your work schedule?

I teach first and second grade ESL and that goes from 8 to 10:30 everyday. So I usually will run one quick errand and be home just before 11. I then make lunch for me and Carlos and Leon and go and breastfeed. Then I have about 2 hours to do anything. I used to use this time for domestic chores, but I’ve started using it for the garden. Then I breastfeed again, and go back to work on the farm.

Working more on the farm, instead of using that middle work period for home stuff, has been great. Carlos feels less abandoned with all the work, I feel less cooped up, and of course our farm gets way more attention. It’s funny how two people working together is more than twice as effective. I was also missing Carlos because working together is how we connect emotionally.

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2. How do you handle childcare?

While I’m at school, Carlos stays with all three babies. If he gets construction work, we will have to hire a babysitter. Then when we work on the farm we can take them with us. The twins just lay on their blanket for now. Leon never stops moving. Sometimes he can get into trouble. Our farm is at Carlos’s mom’s place, so he also wanders into her kitchen a lot.

3. Where do you work during the day?

Happily, our farm is just down the street, so we can stroller over there. School is downtown, a ten minute drive.

4. What do you like best about your current set-up?

I love that both my husband and I are stay-at-home parents! We get to eat lunch and dinner together! I love that when I need a hand with the kids, Carlos is right there. And I love that we are really close to Carlos’s family, including nieces and nephews that like to come over and help clean the house or change diapers!

5. What do you find tricky about your current set-up? What would you change if you had a magic wand?

Definitely making time for it all. Like I said, I used to reserve the middle of the day for house work, but we found that the farm needed more time. So now housework is an afterthought. And that’s ok! I try to do it as I go.

6. How does your husband contribute to manage the juggle/house/childcare?

We are definitely partners. He often takes Leon with him while I’m breastfeeding because it really bothers me when he’s climbing on top of me and the twins. He is also responsible for helping Leon is he wakes up in the middle of the night, because I have to feed the twins at night.

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7. Do you have time for yourself? What do you do during that time?

I just finally discovered how to have time for myself! I get up at 5 am while everyone is sleeping!! I go into the kitchen with my ipad, and drink coffee, and answer emails, and read blogs. It is heaven! I find that I am way more patient throughout the day, because I made time for myself, and because I can look forward to my time the next day. No more trying to type with one hand while breastfeeding, or with Leon grabbing the computer. Ahh.

8. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?

Ha ha ha! I think this is a trick question. I don’t think it’s about balance as much as go go go! Get used to it. Forget your old life, and definitely don’t compare your life now to the way it was. I also try to remember that in 20 years everything will settle back down and I’ll have time to do whatever I want. Plus I will have the experience to appreciate it.

9. Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Do you think people are open about it?

Yes, for me I often feel like a slob. I mean, I’m not the only person with kids and a job, and yet my house is too messy. My floors are dirty. There is clutter everywhere. So I often wonder how “they” do it all. But who is they, really? As long as I just stay busy, I don’t have time to compare myself with these fictional moms.

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Tomato tunnel

28 May

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Here it is. A crowning architectural achievement here at Huerta Las Tunas.

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A way to keep pests out without any insecticides, because even organic insecticides kill.

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Above is a steamy eggplant, totally blemish-free. Without the pressure to battle pests, she is free to pursue other interests, namely blossoming and fruiting. I harvested many more eggplants from the plants in the tunnel than the ones outside of it.

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Green zebra tomatoes–something we had no luck growing out in the savage wild.

We may be onto something here! All it took was five arcs of 1-inch PVC, each about 5 meters long. We–ok, Carlos–hammered foot-long pieces of rebar into the ground and simply slid the pipe onto it. The black support running parallel to the ground is old drip tape. The grow cloth is actually only 2.5 meters wide, so we put two pieces on and joined them in the middle with clothespins. The outer edges are buried.

Resourceful, affordable, easy, functional!

How to repair leaks in drip-tape

20 May

I’ve already written about installing drip tape so here’s what to do when you inevitably get a leak. For the readers out there that aren’t growers, I’ll warn you that this is a technical post!

You can buy connectors and all that for fixing a leak, but this is how to do it using drip tape and plastic hose.

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These are your supplies.

The plastic hose is about 1/2 inch diameter. We use it to connect the drip hoses to our main 3 inch PVC artery. I don’t have a picture, but it’s really easy: we just drill a hole in the PVC, slide the hose in, and then connect the hose to the drip tape. You can use a connector or tie the tape directly to the hose with a slice of drip tape. See this post for more about tying with a slice of drip tape.

In case you looked at that post and are confused because there is no PVC, I’m sorry, it’s a slightly different set up in the home garden than the farm, where the PVC is. Stay with me; here’s where it gets fun.

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Here’s a big leak I made with a pitchfork. %#*!!!

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You can see the ends of the plastic hose are cut at an angle in the first picture. That will help you slide it right into the drip tape. You may have to use the knife to make the leak bigger so you can slip the hose in.

It’s like a catheter. We get to play heart surgeon.

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Now just wrap that slice of drip tape around and around, pulling tight on each pass. The drip tape should be stretchy (some brands aren’t), and you should stretch it a bit before you start wrapping.

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Now just tie a tight knot.

You’re done. It’s pretty easy, kinda fun, and a lot better than running out to the store to get a connector. And it’s definitely cheaper.

How are your spring gardens coming along?

Irrigating with drip tape

27 Apr

Carlos is out catching up with a ranching friend who lives near where we have a few cows. He wants to make sure our cows are still grazing in the area and is going to ask his friend to corral them next time he sees them.

It was getting late, so I decided to take care of his evening chores for him: I fed the goats and the chickens, and checked on the irrigation. I had little 3 month old Peter with me, in the stroller, and Leon, our 14 month old riding on the front step!

Now I am alone. The kids are all in bed. Carlos is not back yet. It’s dark, quiet, and I’m sitting in peace outside, enjoying the night. No one is crawling on me. No one needs me. And it feels so good! I’m going to take this time to write without interruptions! Ahhh….

We just put in some additional beds here at home, so I’ve got irrigation on my mind. In this post, I’m going to show you how to install drip tape, for easy watering.

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In this photo you can see a thick black hose connected to a white T. Off the trunk of the T is the drip tape. Also black. The thick black hose is the main artery, and the drip tape goes down the beds.

Here’s my favorite part.

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We cut off a piece of the drip tape a little over a foot long. Then we cut that into centimeter-wide strips.

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This material is slightly stretchy and perfect for sealing the drip tape to the connector! Stretch it out just a bit to start.

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Now wrap it around, pulling tight on each pass and tie a knot.

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This will create a perfect tight seal that won’t leak. Best of all, it’s cheap, easy, and takes advantage of a resource you already have on hand, if you’re irrigating with drip tape.

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A garden is born

24 Apr

Every year we battle with growing lettuce, a spring crop, in the hot summers here on the Tropic of Cancer. Why bother?

Our restaurant clients depend on us, and I hate to let them down! I tried explaining that it’s a spring thing and that they should invent a summer salad, like a Greek tomato, cucumber, feta mix. They looked at me like I was crazy.

It seems that their clients depend on them, and that everyone is in the mood for a cool salad in the hot summer. Makes sense. So where does that leave us?

We are installing a garden here at the house (the farm is a block away on my brother-in-law’s place). The site here is shady, and we also have more access to water here, because in the summer months, the powers that be drastically reduce the agricultural water coming our way. Luckily here at the house we can supplement with municipal water.

Installing a Garden

1. Lay down drip tape. Water for a few hours.

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2. Loosen soil with a pitchfork or a shovel. A day after watering, the soil will be soft for digging.

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3. Throw compost on the bed
Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of Carlos doing this step, and he refused to reenact it for me! Just fill a wheelbarrow with compost and use a shovel to cover the bed. Doesn’t have to be neat!

4. Use a shovel to turn the soil. Just mix the top layer of compost under. If you compost all the time, you could skip this step and just leave it on top. We want that nutrition to be down with the roots right away in our case.

Happy planting!

Kids are good for some things, like planting tomatoes quickly!

22 Mar

We had a couple flats of tomatoes ready to go in the ground and a niece and a nephew hanging around, so we took advantage and put them to work! They’re at that perfect age where they still think work is play, especially if they get to do it with the adults.

Luckily the beds were already prepared–compost dug-in and mulch on top–so we were able to get straight to planting. Carlos sat down on one end of the bed with the flat and carefully took each seedling out. I went ahead with a shovel, killing stray arugula and digging holes in a zigzag.

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Here’s Dominga planting a seedling.

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Here comes Jonathan with one while Dominga goes back for another.

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There’s Jonathan carefully planting! I love to see them working hard and learning about farming, helping, and finishing a job.

They helped us make a long task a lot quicker!

Easy Ways to start growing your own food

24 Oct

1. Grow a container garden with cilantro and basil.
Sprinkle cilantro seeds close together in a pot, about one seed per square inch. Place in a sunny window in your kitchen and water and love until the plants are about three inches high. Whenever you need fresh cilantro, trim a whole section of the pot to about one inch. Cut often; plants are very resilient! This will keep your cilantro from getting tall and flowering.

Basil should have about four square inches per plant. Again, trim often and don’t be afraid to cut low. Just make sure to cut above a leaf. If you cut below the bottom leaf, it won’t grow back. When you cut the main stem, two branches will grow. This will make your plant nice and bushy rather than tall and top heavy. You can also just pinch off the top cluster of four leaves if you just need a bit.

2. Make a small lasagna garden.
I have yet to make a lasagna garden but I think it sounds like fun and I appreciate the philosophy behind it. It’s easy to get started because it doesn’t require any digging! It does require lots of composting supplies. Gather tons of newspaper and cardboard boxes, leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds, straw, anything you would throw in your compost pile.

Layer the newspaper down covering the entire future-garden-area. Put lots on! Throw some cardboard on there as well. Thickly! Now choose another material, say leaves, and layer that on thickly. Keep going, layering, until your lasagna is two feet deep or more.

Now, if you have a few months to wait, you could water deeply and let it sit. When you’re ready to plant, just dig a hole with your hands, add finished compost, and plant into that. If you don’t have time to wait, you can go ahead and plant into it as is. Use a spadeful of compost to give your plants something extra to work with. You can even sow seeds into this.

Add new layers of mulch every year to keep the weeds away and because your plants will love it.

3. Grow a tomato plant in a hanging basket.
Hanging tomatoes are all the rage in home gardening magazines. It certainly eliminates the need for staking and tying and makes harvesting a breeze. Just make sure it’s in a sunny place and water frequently. I’d give it some compost tea once in a while as well to ensure good production. If you’re starting from seed, sow three or four and thin to one later. Keep moist until it has good strong roots, and even then water every day.

4. Grow lettuce in a window box.
When you harvest your lettuce, you can cut the whole head clean across with a knife, even with the dirt. Alternatively you can pluck off the outer leaves.

If you like baby leaf lettuce, sow the seeds thickly–about every square inch. When they’re about three inches tall you can begin to harvest. Cut clean across with a knife above the ground. You’ll be able to harvest again in about ten days!

5. Grow a three-sisters garden.
Beans, corn, and squash: each crop supports or feeds the others in some way. Corn is good for drawing fungus out of the soil and also serves as a trellis for pole beans. And of course beans are nitrogen fixers so they will feed the corn and the squash. Squash is a low-growing crop which takes up a lot of space and has big leaves. This shades the soil, conserving water and preventing weeds from flourishing.

Check out this website for excellent thorough planting instructions.