The customary excuses
I know this blog was mainly created to provide interesting info on natural building and gardening but I must say that it feels more like a means of updating our friends out there around the globe. I do try to post stuff about the gardening but I am a bit insecure about that yet so probably still careful. Therefore you guys are likely to get a somewhat mixed content for a while longer.
Lucky hippies on holidays
Today It’s raining. Again. It has been a very rainy summer so far. Great for the plants. Not so great with two kids in a 45sqm tin can. Luckily we have been away most of this rainy season so far. Yes, we are just freshly back from some super-duper holidays. We were lucky enough to be able to entrust our pets, veggies and property to a good friend who did an amazing job and we could go off on a 4900 km road trip with the kids. The trip went as follows: after a brief stay in Bs. As. we drove south-west to Lago Espejo, a stunningly beautiful lake close to Villa la Angostura. The lake lies within a national park so the whole area is spotless, uncrowded and so pretty it hurts. There we were totally spoiled with boat, hiking, swimming, biking and even floating excursions all in very pretty settings as is the rule in Patagonia. This went on for a whole week.
Next was my childhood holidays hangout, Cosquin. The town itself is really nothing special but my grandma’s house (now my uncles’) is right by a clean and quiet river a bit out of town. My mom, uncles and cousins were there too, some of them I did not even know since they had been born when I stopped going there so it was extremely nice to spend some time with them. They were all very good with the kids and TnT loved them. We were also lucky with the weather so for yet another week we were spoiled and our only concern was which spot of the river we should chose to go to bathe in…
I can state that I still love bathing in that river as much as I did years ago and totally love walking on rocks but most of all, I was very moved to see my own kids loving all that I used to love when I was their age. It was like they had been born there really, very, very strong. I also reconnected with an old friend from my childhood who happens to have a much better memory than I and it was super cool to hear all the stories from those long summers in the 70’s-80’s.
The slow business
Now, back to our actual business. I am almost tempted to believe that things here have reached some sort of constant variables and routine now: too many plans, too little time, lots of things pending. We juggle: kids, everyday life, veggie growing, house building and all kinds of unexpected mishaps (leak in the shower, water tank cracking, a roof part torn apart by a storm, trellises blown to the ground by another storm, emergency rides to the vet, etc., etc.). Meanwhile time continues to fly and it feels like we only do toddler steps… We get things done, but everything takes forever. Sometimes I wonder whether we have some kind of intrinsic and contagious “slow factor” that is spreading throughout the property. One which only weeds and spiny acacias seem to be immune to mind you. This said, I must say that this spring was amazing. Many of the fruit trees and bushes older than a year have flowered and given fruit. Except for the pecan (too young), apricot and almonds. I think with the apricots and almonds it was my fault because I pruned them during winter. Next winter I might try a trick of tying down this years’ growth somehow bending the branches since I have read that doing so might encourage flowering. They are growing happy and strong though. Same goes for the grape vines who have struggled and recently suffered an unwanted bark-attack from the grass mower….
The kids have been enjoying mulberries, blackberries, strawberries and 4 (yes, all 4) blueberries. They actually shared them and even tried sharing them with me. They are so cute sometimes! Now we are fully into passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) season and coming along are the arazá (Eugenia stipitata), guava (Psidium guajava) and guayabo del pais (Acca selowiana). Growing in the future food forest, with some degree of struggle given that they don’t get that much attention, are this years plantings of pomegranate, grapefruit, apples, figs, plums, apricots, kiwis, kaki (Dyospiros kaki), pitanga (Eugenia uniflora), arazá, ubajay (Hexachlamys edulis) and guaviyú (Myrcianthes pungens). Hopefully this -so far- wet summer will give them a growth boost before the winter.
Veggies and their future
Regarding my work area in this project; I have recently decided to cut down my veg-growing area dedicated to commercial purposes to 50%. I will try to refresh your memories a bit. The whole area is some 3600 sq mts. with an electric fence around it. Roughly 70% of that is organized in four rectangles of aprox. 24×11 meters. Those rectangles have 8-9 90Cm wide high beds. I did this in order to gain soil depth for cultivation by piling up the earth. This technique works really well and is the perfect solution for heavy rain periods like the current one because the beds are covered with mulch of hay and therefore the good upper layer of soil is not washed away, neither does it get too wet nor weather beaten in any way and the excess water is drained downwards towards the south end of the area and further down to the food forest and adjacent forest avoiding any flooding problems altogether. But the soil is still rather poor (it might take several years to really build it up) so basically everything I plant takes forever to grow, like double of what it is supposed to take. Plus, the area is way too big for only one person.
I actually had it all planned out with the crop rotation and everything for all four rectangles, but I just did not manage. So I decided to leave two of the 4 rectangles aside for a while and try to occupy them with things like oats, linseed, chia whatever can be sown and left alone. I chose to “abandon” 1&2 which had been giving worst results despite the huge effort put into them. One of them was even fertilized with manure, solarized (covered in heavy duty black plastic for more than 6 months to burn all weeds and seeds) and had a green cover growing on it before I planted it with carrots, beets and corn, and it still gave really bad results with low harvests and super slow growth, except for the ryegrass (Lolium perenne) that loved it there. This was very disappointing considering all the effort I put into it. So I’ll leave that one and one more alone and concentrate on the two other (3&4)
Number 4 (pics A-E) was COMPLETELY free of weeds before we left and is doing quite well still. I harvested the garlic in one of the rows the day before leaving and planted mung and adzuki beans straight ahead. Both growing nicely as we speak. The rest is fully planted as well with: onions (already under harvest), sweet potato, leeks, tomatoes, bell peppers, aubergine, kidney beans, melons, zucchini, and corn plus one row with Magnus’ chilies. I actually managed to complete a whole rectangle for the first time ever YEY! Very proud since I find it hard to work in an organized systematic manner, you can only imagine the effort it took me to be a DNA-lab technician. Now I need to keep this one rectangle nice, tidy and productive and get on with the remaining one which is partly planted with cucumber, swiss chard, kale, pumpkin, zucchini and beetroot and partly covered with all kinds of other green stuff. Soon its time to start over again with brassica seedlings, carrots, spinach and more beetroot on that one.
Magnus has been trying to work on the oven, guest house and working tables all at the same time. He built me 2 super nice tables. One for potting and planting and another to have my nursery on top and my stuff on a shelf underneath. This he did after adding yet an extra batch of chapa (roofing stuff) to extend our roof even more. It was all very nice and just when I was about to get somewhat organized and settled there, he bought wood which the delivery guys dumped all around my workplace… I knew it was too good to be true. The place is a total mess now and I cannot even walk around the table so I have given up the whole thing for a while. Hopefully the wood will be gone by the time I need to start doing seedlings again.
Actual useful info
I also need the space to make more Bokashi. Which brings me to the tech part of the blogging. I have actually been working on a few soil enriching concoctions. I am not sure whether I have posted anything about this, but last year Pocho and I made one Bokashi batch following Jairo Restrepo’s recipe (“El ABC de la Agricultura Orgánica” by Jairo Restrepo). The idea is to make a fast composting mixture with selected ingredients that will turn into useful, enriched soil within a month with the final goal of nourishing the microorganisms in the soil to get them to work for us instead of pumping fertilizers into the soil itself. So I am hoping to restore the life into my soil so that it can start working its magic.
The recipe calls for:
- soil as the main substrate
- rice husks that will aerate the soil and eventually provide silicon (Si). We did not have, used old hay instead
- cow manure: provides microorganisms (M.O) that will do the actual composting work
- carbon/charcoal: provides niche for M.O’s and C as it disintegrates along
- yeast+molasses: more M.O’s and food for them
- sifted ash: for minerals
- old Bokashi: as an inoculant (we did not have so I used the activated wheat germ Bokashi* used for accelerating household compost)
- forest top soil: for local M.O (we skipped it)
This stuff turned out to be totally worth it. I really want to make it again. Even though I did not make it by the book and neither did it get hot enough for a long enough period of time (we made it in the middle of winter), it still made a huge difference for the plants. This is supposed to be sprinkled around the plants but I used it differently because I did not have enough. The reason being that the shoveling that needs to be done in the beginning in order to mix, aerate and cool off (if necessary) the mixture is quite a heavy one and I wanted to know what I was dealing with before going full on. So I sifted part of the resulting Bokashi and used it as potting soil for seedlings and all of a sudden: huge success! I’ve had very low germination rates in the past and I am pretty sure it was due to the bad potting soil I was using (plus a dash of cluelss-nes) which was commercial -very expensive- German or Finnish peat moss which turns out was not a good option (in addition to being total nonsense – daaa). The part left unsifted I used when re-potting my small trees and under the fruit trees I transplanted in the food forest and they are all very, very happy so I say it worked for them too. Now I need to prepare more of this Bokashi URGENT and I even have rice husks this time so I am looking forward to getting some roofed space back. One more reason for me to be extra eager to get the guest house done. I will try to do a more concise follow up of the process next time and post a detailed recipe and procedure.
I also made a new cow dung fertilizer. Also following Restrepo’s recipe (Caldo super magro, from the same book). The basic recipe is the same as the one I have used before (fresh cow dung, yeast, molasses, water and milk) but this one calls for an addition of different salts every three days or so. It might not be so natural or organic given that I had to buy lots of salts but I need to boost my crops a bit whilst I work on enriching the soil, otherwise I risk getting too frustrated. I have just started using this one in a 1:10 dilution so I won’ comment on it quite yet since I have no idea whether it will work the wonders it is said to work.
To wrap up
If my low tech info turns out useful to anyone out there I might start taking it more seriously. I very often get frustrated looking for info on how to germinate different seeds, transplant stuff, etc. on the internet and I find there is a lot of bad information out there so I might post more about what I do and actually works. Two days ago I was quite provoked by some post claiming you could make a banana plant from a seed from a banana from the grocery store… It’s like an insult. Grhhhh
*Wheat germ Bokashi: Goes by the same name as the more elaborate composted mixture I refer to (“El ABC de la Agricultura Orgánica” by Jairo Restrepo). This is a recipe I found on the internet for a home-made version of the commercial Bokashi. Apparently one can buy a kit with a bin and the Bokashi to make a faster, odorless compost at home. The Bokashi in this case is an inoculant prepared with wheat germ, some form of sugar, water, yeast and a bit of minerals that comes neatly packed and ready to use. Nothing like the huge pile of soil, dung, etc. that goes by the same name.