Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wow, lots going on here, but all at this slow pace of  Latin American.
I met with a few local growers and shared a bit about Morning Star Farm. What I grow, how and to whom I sell veggies to. Also about my growing practices. I was fore warned that even these small growers who wanted to use organic growing methods used chemicals. It was still shocking to see my host family father all dressed in rainwear with a dust mask on spraying some kind of pesticide .  Not very appealing to come onto his finca and weed for a few hours anymore.
Today I had an even bigger shock. Helicopters spraying pesticides on sugar came crops. Just plain nasty! The backyard wells here are all contaminated, and it is common for kids and older men mostly to die of kidney failure. What for? So the one large landowner can make a buck! The spraying really affects these small guys tryin to feed their families using organic methods.
What happens is that these blanket sprayings is that the entire insect population is killed, both the pest and the beneficial insects. As nature works the pests are faster at repopulating themselves, with the beneficial lagging behind a bit, must have a secure food supply you know? Anyhow when you blanket spray even with an organic pesticide, you continually disrupt this balance and your crops take the brunt of this imbalance. Here and in Baja it seems that white fly populations just take over.
My immediate response was just to shoot down the helicopter. This of course creates so many more problems than it solves, but, well , it is a very real feeling. As the day has unfolded I realize a far better solution would be for consumers to purchase organic sugar. I now know up close how much damage the chemical agriculture of sugar came causes.
Oops , hard to stay on track, back to the small growers. I ended the meeting by offering to come out to their parcelas, get a tour, and make a compost pile. I got permission to make a pile at the research garden and was feeling pretty comfortable about finding a good balance of carbon to nitrogenous materials with which to build a good pile. Have I already mentioned how eager I was upon my arrival to make some compost out of all this great manure . Have I lost my marbles or what?!? Been practicing BioDynamics for too many years now and I have never had the opportunity to use such great manure. Fresh cow manure from grass fed milk cows, like a pig in the mud.  I have made 2 piles with appointments to make 2 more in January.

Monday, November 26, 2012

First week of work in El Salvador

El Salvador continued......
Last week was my first official week of work and true to Latin American culture, it got off to a slow start.
I did get a better look at the demonstration garden at the center in Cudidad Romero. I am still thinking about how to up grade the drip system there and stick with the original idea to create one using   various material readily available and spending as little money as possible.
I spent Thursday getting dirty working with Freddy and Geraldo, the two gardeners at the center. We spent the day making a batch of Bocashi compost. I was quite pleased until I heard the pile had to be turned everyday for the next two weeks. I never turn compost piles! I was pleased to learn that they are paying good attention to the composting process and turn the pile because it heats up too much other wise and kills all the microbiology. I am hoping we can build a few other piles and experiment with creating a quality compost that does not require the labour  of turning it!
Another exciting thing to me is their new seed bank! So great to see their traditional seeds beimg saved and re-used. There are 4 or 5 types of corn commonly used, about the same amount of beans and various other vegetables. Other farmers are dropping seeds by, so the collection is growing .

I took advantage of my weekend and headed up to Alergria a lovely small town on the side of the Volcano Tecapa. I got out for a 3 hour hike up
And over the volcano with a great of lakes, the rio Lempa, the Pacific and beyond. 
I better quit while I am ahead so to speak, this technology is getting the best of me and I am reduced to posting blogs using the screen on my I phone. So please excuse any typo's. Onward

Monday, November 19, 2012

El Salvador

Hey, I finally got back onto my blogspot! I have been living on El
Salvador these past three weeks, and today starts my first month volunteering with the Mangrove association.
I spent my first two weeks in the capital San Salvador living with a Salvadorian family attending classes in Spanish . My family consisted of two women who did a great job mothering me and showing me around. They fixed my hair, painted my fingernails, went to the beach with me and Nena took me out Salsa dancing.
Spanish classes were great. The second week I was the only student at my level, so I got some great private lessons. I spent my afternoons in a Cultural and Political program. This turned out to be daily field trips with Don Oscar a great guide, so well versed in history. He was delightful and we went to many  museums, a few cathedrals, the war memorial, the Jardin Botanical, a organic coffee plantation owed by a cooperative, the Devils door, which is a really great formation of rocks that affords a view of half the country. Keep in mind that El Salvador is the size of Virgina and takes about 3 hours to get across the entire country.
The violence and grief from the Civil war is still very present here . Everywhere you go there are paintings and posters of Father Romero. He made a profound statemt shortly before his assisination, he said"If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the actions of my people". I am also in awe of how involved and educated everyone seems to be about matters of Political and Social justice. Americans seem so uninformed and apathetic in comparison .
Let me give some quick background information. At the end of the Civil War, 12 years ago the peace accords broke up the largest land holdings on this country and started a process to give parcels
of land to campesinos. Some of this land has returned to larger holdings, but most of the land here in the Bajo Lempa region is now owned by small land owners and they are building new communities with schools, public water systems and farming.  I am continually impressed by their knowledge of the enviremt, and there willingness to make personal sacrifices for the bigger good. Let me give a specfic example or two. Last week I got to see a Mangrove restoration project. The people in the surrounding pueblos dig out a canal by hand, hauling mud out by hand on canoes. It took them about 3months. The results just 3 months later are astounding , partially because they did not have access to large earth moving equipment and so had a very low impact on the environment as they worked. Mangroves must have a certain mix of salt with fresh water to thrive. Then in this Eco system there is particular type of crab. The emviromental impact studies showed they could sustainably harvest about 2000 a month instead of the 5000 they were harvesting. So the communities came together and agreed to a system of harvesting so that they were harvesting the 2000 crabs instead of the 5000.
I must wrap things up for today, I need to pick up my bike from the repair shop now. I will get back soon and share more about the Agriculture here and get some photos posted .
Ciao Farmer Melinda

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I am calling this post Onions 101.

 Here we have a great visual of onions that will keep and onions that will not keep or store well.  Both onions look good, nice size, shape or form.  But notice that the white onion has a very shrunken stem or neck and the yellow onion has a nice fat strong green stem and neck.  The fat stemmed yellow onion will not keep well. Once you cut that stem off, it will sprout a new growing shoot, and get soft and mushy.  Why did the white onion end up with the shrunken stem that will allow it to sit dormant, not re-sprout, and therefore store well?

Here comes the onion 101; Onions are day length sensitive.  What does this mean?  Well in the northern United States at summer solstice they have a pretty long day, lots of light.  In the southern United States, they do not have such long days of light.  The onions get triggered to bulb up by the amount of day light, so there are 3 types of onions you can buy, either as seed, or starts.  Long day length onions, like the classic Walla Walla onion that does well in the Pacific Northwest, Short Day length onions, like the Vidalia that do well in Georgia or Texas, or a Day length neutral onion.

Add to this mix the choice of onions, sweet, storage, red, white and yellow and you get a lot of choices going on.  To narrow your choices, first choose an onion that suits the day length of your climate.  I can only choose Day Neutral onions.  Nothing else finishes here in Taos at latitude 36.  If I still lived in Oregon in the Willamette Valley, I would choose a long day length onion at latitude 45.

Once you choose a good onion for your location, it can be pretty easy to grow, harvest and store a nice big 50 lb sack with a 100 or so onions. Start your own onions from seed in late January. I start mine in square flats, about 16 inches by 16 inches.  You can sprinkle a generous amount of seed onto the flat, since you can plant them out in March or April, they can stand some crowding.  I put 30 to 50 seeds in the flat.  Or it is getting easier to purchase good onion starts from seed catalogs.

Onions will tolerate a lot of cold weather and still produce a good crop.  If it drops into the teens too many nights, they can get stressed, and the result is that the onion sends up a seed stalk.  You can still eat these onions, but they will not keep or store well.  I usually plant my onions out in April, but we have cold springs here in Taos.  I think March would be fine in many locations.

As the onions finish, make sure to cut back the water.  If you keep the soil too moist, your onions will end up with various molds and fungus, once again ruining their keeping qualities.  I sometimes leave mine in the field for several weeks at the end of the season with out irrigating them.  Onions will develop more of a papery skin as they cure after harvesting.  I put mine in re-used onions sacks that I get from the local grocery stores, or restaurants.  I like to leave them out on a rack for a few weeks before bagging them for storage.  This process also gives me a chance to inspect the onions, sorting out any that have nicks or soft spots, or discolorations.  I still use these onions, but I use them up first as they do not keep as well. Onions keep well in a colder place, 32 to 36 with low humidity is the ideal.

I do not do anything special or different to the soil that I plant onions into. I add good quality bio-dynamic compost that I make to all my garden beds.  It can give you a good head start if you add the compost to the bed for your onions in the fall.  This way if you have a wet or difficult spring, your planting site will be ready.  Onions do need to be kept clean and free of weeds in order to get big.

I love a good onion soup, and years ago I found a recipe in the Miso Cookbook that is so easy and delicious. I will share it with you here:

Get a heavy bottomed pan, I use a cast iron pot.  Add a few TBSP of oil, I use olive oil.  On a very low heat, add several onion sliced thinly.  About 3 cups worth on onions is a good amount. Sprinkle with a 1/4 tsp or less of salt. Stir the onions occasionally , maybe you can wash the dishes, or make a batch of corn bread, or put some squash to bake while the onions cook slowly.  After the onions are all translucent and starting to brown add water.  1 to 2 quarts, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Put a generous TBSP of a good miso in each individual soup bowl, ladle the soup in and smash or mix up the miso.  Add more miso if you like more of a saltily taste.  You can also add the classic croutons and cheese to the top too!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Here they all are, the shining winter squash, freshly harvested!

But wait, what do you do with all these yummy beauties?  Well, first you need to wait at least a few weeks before eating one.  Winter Squash need some time to convert the starches they produce into sugars.  One year I read somewhere that Delicata squash can be eaten the same day as it is harvested.  I tried it, and did not cook another one for months because the one I did cook and eat had no flavor.  Long story short, the second one was yummy.  So it is worth the wait!

Storing squash can be a bit tricky.  It likes best to be around 50 degrees. Much colder is not better.  My dad used to store his hubbard squash under the bed in the spare bedroom that did not get heated.  I bag mine up after a few weeks out on the porch, and leave them in an unheated back room.

As you can see from the photo, I grow several varieties, and folks are often curious about which are my favorites, and how I cook them.  Favorites first!  I like the Sweet Dumplings, and Buttercups the best.  My yoga teacher likes the Sunshine, the bright orange ones best.

My favorite way to cook squash is to slice or cut it in half, scoop out the seed, place the flesh side down in a glass baking pan, add a few inches of water, cover with foil and bake for approx 1 hour in a 400 degree oven.  You can tell they are done when you poke the squash and it is soft under your finger.  Smaller squash can cook in 45 minutes, like the delicata.  And yes, I add butter to the cavity!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

okay, enough farming!  I had to take a day off, so I went hiking in the mountains for a few hours.  This is my favorite time of the year, the Aspens are just starting to turn color.
As an added bonus on my way home I picked a shopping bag of pears that will last for a long time if I can find a cool spot in the house to keep them.
I am getting a bit tried of trying to keep up with all the abundance of the garden, but will tackle making sauerkraut in the next days.  Food processors make short work of shredding, or actually slicing the cabbage.  Then I have this super healthy raw food that keeps for months!  I have also been making other fermented vegetables.  My version of Kim Chee.  I will post a few photos and recipe suggestions later this week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Love all the veggie art!

Wow, fall is starting to be in the air.  Time  to make room to store all the winter squash, and making plans for garlic planting. Then perhaps it is time to harvest and store some of the beets too!
Another tip for fall is to get all your row covers or blankets, tarps or whatever you use to cover crops for those few nights of frost we are bound to get here in Taos.  I get everything ready so that I can cover quickly on that night when a storm clears out and it gets COLD! The normal pattern here in Taos is to have a few nights of frost, and then for the nights to warm back up for another 2 to 4 weeks.  So it can be worthwhile to take the time to cover crops.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chiogga Beet Heaven, the original precursor of psychedelic art.
The farm is really entering into the full on harvest mode!  Not much need to shop at the grocery store. Eating left-over vegetables for breakfast with farm fresh eggs. Steamed enough haricot vert beans for dinner and some extra to add to a farm style Chef's salad for lunch. Lettuce, the first cherry tomatoes, cold steamed beans, onion, fennel, and cucumbers. Yummy! and did I mention a side of beet salad?
Here is one of my favorite beets salad recipes:
Take 3 to 5 Chiogga beets, also sold as Bull's Eye beets, slice in thin slices or strips. Steam until tender. While the beets steam, mix some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few tbsp of your favorite mustard together.( If you are watching calories, use very little oil) Pinch of salt, a clove or two of garlic pressed and some chopped tarragon or fennel adds flavor.  Mix the hot beets into the dressing and chill. Delicous and healthy!  If you need amounts, try a 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/8 cup vinegar.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Class Schedule

Summer and Fall Class Schedule


click here to checkout:
Morning Star Farm of Taos SCHEDULE


Welcome and thank you for checking out my new blog. Make sure you bookmark this site as it will be developing soon!