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!

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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?

Playing with my 17 month old: cloud dough

18 May

Leon’s amazing fun Aunt Kim has left for the United States. His musical, entertaining Uncle Rob and sweet patient Aunt Bel have also left. That means my maternity leave is over, so I’m back teaching English to first and second graders three hours a day. It also means I’m babysitting three babies when I’m not at school (is it still called babysitting when they’re your own?)

It is so difficult! If you’ve ever been a mother, I’m sure you remember the laundry, the feeding times, the endless dirty diapers, and the infinite “no! Don’t touch that put that down right now don’t you dare go in the street come back here sit down stand up give me that put that away icky don’t eat that eat this!!!! And stop putting things in your brothers’ mouths!”

Obviously we’re still figuring this whole parenting thing out. Hopefully by the time the twins are his age I will have developed great new stores of patience, age-appropriate activities I can pull out of plastic containers like the moms on Pinterest, and most importantly, a big fenced-in area that is escape-proof. Maybe sound-proof as well. 🙂

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Thankfully Carlos has been rocking it out in the garden, because if it were up to me everything would be dead, even the chickens and the goats! But it’s ok, I’m just trying to find my mothering rhythm, which at this point pretty much means entertaining Leon/picking up after him. I’m also drinking lots of chamomile tea. I find that when I can’t bear to get up after a meal and go do something, making myself a cup of tea is all I need to transition smoothly.

Today Leon and I played with cloud dough, something I’ve seen on several mommy blogs. It’s way more fun to play with then I imagined, so if you have a toddler in your life, try it out!

Ingredients
Corn starch
Baby oil

Procedure
Put about a cup’s worth of corn starch in a bowl. Make a well in the middle, like you’re making bread dough. Fill the well with oil and stir it up. That’s it! Store covered in the fridge.

Leon and I were entertained for at least fifteen minutes, which is a lot of time in Leon’s world, and just enough for Mommy to be able to sit down for a moment.

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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!

No more complaining, part 2

18 Apr

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I am sixteen days into my No More Complaining challenge. You can read the introduction here, but basically the idea is to go for 21 consecutive days without complaining. So, like I said, I’ve been doing this for sixteen days, and I’m still on Day 1. The furthest I’ve gotten is three consecutive days!

I’m not discouraged yet, if anything, the opposite. I’m aware of how much I do complain and how much I need to stop!

I do feel positive changes already. I am complaining a lot less, after all it only takes one complaint to set you back to day one. Because I am whining and raging less, I feel calmer and less stressed-out. This is going to be great for my kids, so they don’t learn to whine!

Is anyone else out there trying this out? I want to know if it’s as hard for you as it is for me!

Managing time

16 Apr

My brain and heart are overflowing with things I want to do, but of course I can’t do them all.

First, I used to practice aikido, an amazing martial art, but I stopped when the teachers here stopped giving classes. Well, now Dominique Sawyer Sensei is back at it. I took my sister to a class and we both loved it. I told Carlos I wanted to go once a week and would he please watch the kids. He was not into the idea!

I won’t go into the details of that discussion, but I will say that when the following Tuesday rolled around, the twins took his side by demanding to nurse just when it was time to leave! I had a choice: inflict chaos on Carlos (digging out the bottles, filling with formula, and tandem nursing the three-month-old twins while juggling Leon, our 14 month old), or just stay home.

I chose the latter.

Second, I read BORN TO RUN, by Christopher MacDonald and loved it! If you haven’t read it, it’s really interesting and engaging and ties in a lot of ideas from different disciplines. Being the gullible type, I was totally convinced and started barefoot running immediately. My third workout is today and I’m looking forward to it!

My first time running barefoot was spectacular, and all I could think throughout it was, “wow, I really was born to run”, because I felt my Achilles’ tendon flexing like a spring, just like MacDonald said it would.

A huge advantage to this over aikido is that it doesn’t have to be at a certain time. Whenever all the kids are asleep, I can go for a run, and I don’t have that stress of trying to be out the door at a certain time. A second advantage is that Carlos is coming with me, because he has been talking about going running for a while now. So we can spend time together, instead of me unloading all the kids on him and dashing to class downtown!

Now the third thing demanding my attention is our horse. I’d been pregnant for about two years, so naturally I haven’t gone riding. Here’s a picture of me on Luna, when I was six months pregnant with my oldest.

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The potranka in the background is Fortuna, who is now ready to be ridden! An old aikido teacher and farming mentor is down visiting and he wanted to go riding. So we saddled up two green horses, and he and Carlos went for a ride. Fortuna did awesome for her first time with a bit and saddle! I rode her part of the way home, and so now of course I want to start riding regularly!

So I’ve got all those things I want to do, plus taking care of the babies, when really I should just be working in the garden! I guess if something has to go, it’s going to be housework!

Probiotic salsa?

11 Apr

I just made a super delicious batch of salsa. It’s just your ordinary Mexican salsa–tomato, cilantro, onion–with garlic thrown in for good measure. I chopped it all up in a blender and threw in some salt. Oh! And one chile Serrano! It looks green, because they’re heirloom green tomatoes, but you can just use red ones.

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The best part is yet to come, because I put it all in a jar and left it to ferment. Yes! I saw the recipe on this amazing website and thought, wow a fermented food that’s totally normal and not slightly dated. I mean I love all the pickled cabbage and green beans we’ve been consuming, but this is something I can serve without a little pep-talk (this is soooo good, try it, plus it’s got bacteria that are good for your gut).

So today was the big reveal, and yes, it’s got an extra flavor tang after fermenting for a few days. And it turns out I still can’t help myself and served it with a gut-boosting pep talk. I’m just peppy that way.

And who wouldn’t be? Did you know that bacteria cells in your body outnumber your own cells 10 to 1?

That is mind-blowing, bringing up all sorts of existential questions, like ‘Who am I really?’ Contained within ‘you’ is an entire universe of other beings! Whoa! Turns out these beings affect everything, like when you feel sleepy or hungry, just by living their lives and putting off gases that are then absorbed by your body.

Makes me think I am Mother Earth to a whole world. That’s why I eat sauerkraut, and dilly beans, and kombucha. I’ve got to keep my citizens happy!

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Here’s a picture of some green and purple beans fermenting next to pickled nopal.

The best part about this lacto-fermenting is that I can preserve the harvest, and I don’t have to can, which honestly intimidates me and seems like a lot of work. I just make sure the veggies are not floating in the air in their jars.

This just in: green beans!

9 Apr

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I love it: watching the beans get taller and taller underneath their white grow cloth, peeking, seeing white blossoms, anticipation mounting–soon, soon–watching, waiting, forgetting, until one day I’m busy in the kitchen, and in walks Carlos with a bucket of French green beans (and purple ones too!)

Ah, the wait is over; they have finally arrived. And now the work begins: every other day, for the next three weeks, we have to stoop under the bean plants, digging through their broad, dark-green leaves, plucking.

Their arrival got me thinking that it’s time we had an open-house. I’ve been wanting to invite people to our place for years, but I just never felt that the farm was perfect enough. I guess I finally learned that perfect ain’t coming, so I may as well get on with what I want to do!

So, this Saturday everyone is cordially invited to our farm! 8 am to 12, be there!

We’ll have green beans, cherry tomatoes, and lettuce all ready to be picked by you. You can also expect to pet baby goats, smell our big old billy, and cut alfalfa to hand-feed the goats! We’ll have chickens and our fine lady hens for viewing, as well as a talk about composting. I might even make lemonade!

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Sapote syrup and tomato sauce

4 Apr

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Woo! It was a hot day in the kitchen and now my legs and feet are tired from cooking. I want one of those rubber cooking mats they have in restaurants to cushion our concrete floor.

Anyway, let’s start with the sapote fruit. What’s that, you ask? It’s a funny green fruit, about the size of a softball. You pick it hard and then let it sit until it holds a dent when you touch it.

It looks like dark dark chocolate inside, so at first I thought I should make some sort of raw pie. Then pancakes creeped into my head, and once there, it’s nearly impossible to get them out, so I made it into syrup. I just added sugar and boiled for a while.

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It gives a great maple syrup taste, which is great since I don’t buy the high fructose corn syrup and the real stuff is understandably expensive here in Mexico.

Then I made tomato sauce!
1. Score a cross into the peels.

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2. Drop into boiling water.

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3. When you see the peels starting to peel away, remove to a bowl of cold water.

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4. Meanwhile, chop and mince carrots, celery, and onion, and sautée.

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5. Peel the skins, and put them in with your sautéing veggies.

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6. Now just let it cook down. I mashed a bit to get the tomatoes to break up more. Stir. Add a teaspoon of sugar and some pepper.

Now comes the tedious part. If anyone has an easier way, I’d love to hear it!
7. Strain the sauce to remove the seeds and fiber.

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8. Now cook again until its the thickness you like! Oh, and add salt at this stage, too.

Yay homemade tomato sauce! We ended up with three full yogurt containers. Not bad. These kind of traditional staples are some of my favorite things to make. It’s like magic: voila, so that’s how they do it!l

There’s a huge organic farm down here that exports to Whole Foods and sells their unworthy produce dirt cheap. Since our tomatoes aren’t quite ready, I buy and resell theirs. And all the tomatoes I bought are heirlooms! They’re beautiful! I’m thinking I have to take advantage and stock up while they are in season. Next, I’d like to dehydrate some.