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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Singing in the rain

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I’m not even sure where to start. It’s been another soggy week in this land of trees and weeds and mud, but we’ve yet to be swept away into the ocean! Despite the rain, I was able to do a little more plastering on the Nid, a little more planting, and my Wednesday baking. Can you believe it’ll be September tomorrow? Craziness. I have lost all track of time and season since being here, for each week there are so many immediate challenges, opportunities, and…well…work to be done…that there’s no sitting around waiting for the seasons to change, it just happens, quietly. Here there is no vast preparation for the end of summer, no trying to fit in that final trip to the beach, no trying to coax the garden along before it is inevitably destroyed by frost…and no preparing for cozy days spent by the fire with a stack of good books and a pot of the tea that you’ve been saving for a cold winter day. It’s just different.

 

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Today we get to welcome our next WWOOF volunteer, Julie, into our humble projects and lives. She comes to us from the Great North, thereby escaping the inevitable drop of morale that sweeps upon her homeland with the disappearance of warmth each year…

With sadness I report the loss of my 2-week-old barred rock chicks. Raising poultry is a sharp learning curve for me, and this was one of it’s teeth…in the form of a mongoose. Mongoose will go on a rampant killing spree if allowed into a coop of chicks, though adult hens are able to defend themselves quite ably. And so, I found out that my outdoor coop was indeed not mongoose proof, and I must gather what I have learned and start anew. An order has been placed for 25 Ameraucana pullets – more than I need, so if anyone on island would care to take on 3-10 chicks, please contact me! If all goes well they will arrive at the post office on Friday.

On the same note, I’m in desperate need of shredded paper!! I use it as bedding for chicks, garden mulch, composting, and much more, so please take this opportunity to recycle! Newspaper is also always of use to us. I will even give you some of our delicious avocados in return!

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The real way to eat hummus: warm, with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of feta and capers.

The next Saturday bake day is not until September 13th (orders accepted until noon the day before), but remember, you can also order every Wednesday through VI Locally Grown, or directly through me for bulk orders.

Meanwhile, I’ll be hard at work on the Nid, Julie will very quickly be learning to mix cement as well as all the farming tasks, and we await Mandy’s return from Haiti next Saturday! If you haven’t been to Cruzan Gardens recently, come by and check out all the exciting plants and say hi to me – Thursdays and Fridays, 9-5 – avocados will be available there at a steal, just $1each.

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One lonely carambola on Mandy’s tiny tree.

Do you have plans for Labour Day already? Do you know about the mini Agricultural fair? Including produce, a dog show, and vintage cars – of all things! It should be fun, so go if you can to support the local farming community, and stock up on some local produce and value-added products.

Chicks in the rain

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Seasoning peppers, mallibar spinach, our first sweet potato, and bokchoy greens.

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The forest clearing that Landen and Miko helped to clear and plant. The hibiscus and chaya cuttings are already sprouting, sweet potato vines are taking off, cacao are still alive, and moringa seedlings are growing like weeds!

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A bed of sweet potato, pidgin peas, and moringa, just behind the Nid.

The sun is finally out! This isn’t something that usually causes me to rejoice, yet this week has been so very wet that I’m glad for a chance to dry laundry, sweep and dig away the mud that has washed indoors, and collect up some wood to stack in a sheltered place. The 4+” of rain over the past week has done more good than harm though, giving the newly planted food forest up back a kick start with no effort at all from yours truly! There’s some damage control to be done: some of the avocado trees breaking from the weight of their fruit, banana plants falling over, unable to maintain a grip in the soft wet soil, and drainage that needs re-digging, so my Sunday is less relaxing than it could have been!

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Front view – you can see my window mold in the Eastern end.

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Rear view – just starting the bathroom wall.

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End window cover roughed in.

The rain was already beginning by Monday, so plastering on the Nid was a little dicey, ending Tuesday afternoon amid a thunderstorm and absolute downpour. Some minor rain damage on one stretch of plaster, but at least none actually got washed off of the wall! Now I must wait until my driveway is dry enough to drive a fresh load of sand up the hill, after which I may commence working on the walls. If there’s no rain tonight it may be possible tomorrow..fingers crossed that I need not lose any work days.

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First day!

In other news, we now have baby chicks! On Monday I suddenly acquired 6 week-old Barred Rock pullets, cute little black-and-white bundles of fluff, squeaks, and poop. One sadly didn’t make it, but the remaining 5 have nearly doubled in size and will doubtless soon be trying to escape their makeshift brooder! As soon as they are old enough to be outside they’ll get moved into my original chicken tractor, while my older hens continue to roost in the new one at night, and get to free range most of the day – until their privileges get revoked when they cause too much damage in the vegetable garden.

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End of week one.

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I’ll keep this week’s post short and sweet, but please note that I will be baking this Saturday to make up for last week. Please have your orders in by Friday noon at the very latest! We also have delicious avocados for sale!

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China is pretending that she’s uninterested in chicks and suchlike.

Til’ next week, cheers!

What in the world

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It’s been a challenging and sad week in the news – I keep finding myself going to the weather forecast whenever I’m online in order to escape the bitterness. It seems as though people everywhere are picking fights, finding faults, and creating great bitterness and tragedy for themselves and others. Why can’t we all put aside whatever differences we think we have and just get along and get on with our lives already? It’s been a sad week for me as well; I had to say goodbye to my dear friend and companion of the last 7 years, Zada. She was a great dog, who traveled far and had many amazing adventures over the years.

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Zada, you leave big paw-prints upon our memories.

Little work has been done this week, for obvious reasons. However, we have continued to expand our variety of edible plants with a couple of pretty neat things. We planted green amaranth about 4 weeks ago, and it is already 1-2ft high and flowering! The seeds of the amaranth are used as a grain, despite being extremely small. The leaves and stems are used as a raw or cooked green vegetable, are very high in vitamins and minerals, and when lightly sauteed taste exactly like northern spinach! This fast growing plant could prove to be a great boost to our diets, as well as providing animal fodder in the future. I’m a little worried that we may have unintentional fields of it soon!

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Green Amaranth, starting to bloom.

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Sugar Apples, in season right now! Sadly our trees are not the healthiest, so we get very few.

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We’re approaching the peak of avocado season, my favourite!

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Bay tree.

Further expanding our (already fairly vast) array of trees and shrubs, my brother gave Mandy a Bay Rum (Pimenta racemosa) tree for her birthday. These are gorgeous bushy little trees with thick, glossy leaves, that enjoy some amount of shade. The leaves are used in cooking (curries!), can be used to infuse alcohol for cologne (bay rum), made into a “medicinal” tea, and used to repel insects from storage spaces. It is closely related to allspice, which I’d love to get my hands on also…

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The strange, scaly, wonderful breadfruit! We’re getting a good harvest of them this year, and have been eating them boiled, roasted, mashed, made into chips, cakes, fritters, curries, and more.

Speaking of interesting plants, as of next week I’ll be working part time at the wonderful Cruzan Gardens, a small family owned plant nursery. I can’t wait to learn about all the incredible plants that Cynthia and Ken propagate there! You can look them up on Facebook, and I hope to soon have a part in posting about particularly interesting and/or unique species on their page.

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Another summer crop, okra. Best straight off the bush, standing in the garden.

‘Til next week, my friends…may the world seem to be a better place by then.

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Empty nest

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Bertha: red footed tortoise #2

Today we said goodbye to two of our best WWOOF volunteers, Landen and Miko, who have helped us to come so far with all the projects over the past weeks. With their help we have thinned an area of genip forest and planted what will ideally become a “food forest” area of very low maintenance, removed much of the invasive vines that overtake all the trees on the property, planted new garden beds, moved material around for landscaping purposes, and done a great deal of work on the Nid, among other things. After having a rocky start to becoming a WWOOF host farm, with our first two volunteers being a complete disaster, these two have proven that it can indeed be a good and mutually beneficial experience. We’re now looking forward to hosting our next volunteer, who will be joining us in a few weeks!

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Banana muffins for our little Saturday market.

Since TS Bertha came through last weekend, we’ve been getting a good amount of rain which is making the garden – both edible plants and weeds – spring forth ecstatically. This bodes well for everything we’ve recently planted, and for having garden greens throughout the rest of the summer, however, it also means that there are many many hours of weedwhacking in my near future before the entire property becomes choked with guinea grass and weeds. This is still better than having to carry water by hand to the newly planted slips…

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Lamb and pork sausages – our first time making them, using a meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachment on the wonderful Kitchen Aid mixer that a friend passed on to me a while ago.

The Nid is coming along, and seems bigger every day. Somehow a mere 200 square feet seems gigantic, with the vaulted ceiling and open floor plan. The ceiling especially feels huge, as I struggle to plaster above my head on a curved and ever more horizontal plain. The walls, though endless, are quick and relatively easy to plaster. I’m taking this week slow, as I’ve now worked several weeks straight through, and can finally take a little recovery time while there is no one to keep up with on all the work! Doubtless by halfway through the week I’ll be back at it all, having become hopelessly bored with the concept of resting.

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Plastering the ceiling.

Here was supposed to be a video of the plastering process, but my connection refuses to cooperate in loading it, so next time!

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Reed matting around the back of the bathroom.

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First plaster on the walls!

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2nd section of the ceiling – getting more and more horizontal.

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starting the inside of the walls.

Mandy is preparing for her departure to Haiti for three weeks, where she’ll be working to make sure that the many projects she runs with the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti are on track after the recent outbreaks of malaria and chikungunya. They are doing really important work; providing free education programs, health care programs, and much more, in a remote part of the poorest nation in the Caribbean – not so very far from here. They are making an extremely small amount of resources go a very long way – please check out their website and consider supporting GSF in any way you can.

While Mandy is gone, I’ll be keeping everything rolling along with some assistance from Jan. I hope to remain fairly focused on my building, though it will be far slower without help in mixing cement! Despite having a small cement mixer, sieving material, measuring, putting in it and out of the mixer, and then plastering and finally cleaning up is grueling work, particularly as I get higher on the roof and walls and have to hop up and down from scaffolding with materials and tools. Yet somehow work shall continue, and hopefully we’ll get no more major storms before I have at least the outer cement shell on the Nid complete.

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Great progress on the outside of the walls.

That’s it for my somewhat tardy post this week, Cheers!

Bertha

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I write to the howling wind and heavy rain of tropical storm Bertha. So far it looks as though she will pass us by, ravaging, instead, Ponce in Puerto Rico some 100 or so miles North of St Croix. Nonetheless, we are having 40 to 50 knot gusts coming through, and the drought has been dramatically ended with such a soaking as to let small trees fall over in the wind, their roots suddenly loosed from the tight grip of hard, dry soil. The electricity has been flickering on and off, so in all probability it will be a day or two before I am able to publish this post, by which time I may have had to add news of damage from Ms Bertha – meanwhile, let me tell you of the happenings of the past week at Nidulari.

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It was with both excitement and apprehension that I embarked upon the large task of plastering the Nid roof early in the week. Not only is it a huge plastering job, but it’s a curve, ranging from 6ft above the ground to 14ft, the curve making it impossible to use conventional scaffolding. So, the lower section on each end I did standing on first a workbench and then a stepladder, and then the highest section I did perched atop the framing of the roof itself. That left a 5ft section on either side, too high to reach from a ladder, and too steep to perch on! Thinking “outside the box” a little, I came up with a simple, slightly precarious, but overall functional scaffold, putting to use the outward curve of the walls. Perched on a 6inch wide plank, I was able to plaster the remaining section of the Eastern side (rather hurriedly) amid preparations for the arrival of Bertha. There is still a section to do on the Western side, assuming that it hasn’t all blown away in the storm! I’m becoming quite good at basic plastering – right-handed, left-handed, upside-down, behind my back, balanced on one foot…

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…and I have a great plaster-mixing team, Landen and Miko: our wonderful WWOOF volunteers!

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Once the outer layer of plaster is complete, I must plaster the inside, thereby sandwiching the bamboo lathes and reed mats between the two layers of cement forming an impermeable and (hopefully) strong cement shell. Then adding reed matting to the wall structure, and proceeding with plastering those inside and out. It’s a long and arduous process, but I’m quickly building skills…and…a house of my own!

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Abricot seedlings – a mid-size fruit tree.

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Cacao seedlings – chocolate is made from the seed pods.

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Root ginger sprouts. We might have fresh ginger root in about 3 years…

Due to some chainsaw issues, I’ve yet to finish thinning out our experimental agroforestry project area in order to begin planting back there, but more and more undergrowth is being gradually removed, and soon there shall be exciting things growing! At times like this, when I’m at a crucial stage of construction and we’re into hurricane season, it can be very challenging to balance out the many ongoing projects so that they all continue to progress in a timely manner. Yesterday marked 5 months of my being back on St Croix, in which time so much has been achieved, yet there is an ever growing number of things still to be done! A little overwhelming at time, but I shall persevere.

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All this rain and wind makes it hard to believe that just yesterday afternoon I was out on the East end of St Croix, at the beach with the entire household, visiting friends and trying out stand up paddleboarding (SUP). It was my first time on a SUP, though as kids on St John we’d spend endless afternoons playing on and paddling around on old windsurfer boards – not so different – and it was so much fun! I arrived completely exhausted from 2 days of plastering the roof, my shoulders aching, and wanting nothing more than a nap. Yet one minute (and one dowsing as I pushed beyond my limits on a turn) of being on the water and I was hooked. There is something about being out on the water, dependent on no one but yourself, able to set your course, your goals, your hopes, leave behind worries and opinions and trivialities of daily life. It’s a feeling that I had not had for many years, since sailing and rowing dinghies growing up; different to the exaltation of climbing mountains or wandering through fields and wooded valleys, or of driving off into the horizon, a captive of those who built the roadways, funneled from place to place. May I have time to make a habit of seeking out such peace and personal fulfillment amid my hectic weeks of projects – which are invigorating as well, and give me great satisfaction, yet in a different way.    DSCN1162

Bertha seems to have gone on her way, so now I must go and check for damage on the Nid and in the garden! Please remember to put your bread orders in for next Saturday, August 9th in a timely manner. Cheers!