Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pasutred Poultry

So it was my Birthday a few weeks ago and my lovely girlfriend, Colleen, got me Pastured Poultry Profits, by Joel Salatin. The book basically outlines a production, processing, and marketing model for small scale poultry production. The novel part of this method is that the chickens live in floor-less, mobile, pens that are moved daily to fresh pieces of pasture. The benefits are numerous, some obvious and others more subtle. Basically, the pastured poultry model allows birds access to fresh air and sunlight, exercise, as well as fresh green pasture which provides crucial vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, because the chickens are moved daily, they are not forced to wallow in their own poop and urine, which yields healthier, disease free birds, and healthier pasture. Even compared to free range poultry that live in a stationary building, the pastured poultry fair better. Keeping chickens in one place, even if they have access to pasture, inevitably leads to nitrogen build-up in the radius around their house, which causes nitrate toxicity in the soil and enables pathogens to live, grow and prosper in the feces of the chickens. I could go on forever about the benefits of pastured poultry and even longer about the detriments of factory chicken concentration camps, but I will leave it at that.

After reading the book, I decided that I HAVE to run a batch of pastured poultry. I set out to find some flat land (a difficult task in the highlands of Guatemala) and a partner to work with on this venture. Sure enough, i found what I was looking for.

In the town next to our, there is a local Guatemalan cow farmer, named Marcos, who rents and stewards 4 and a half acres of lake front property, which is incredibly flat and well equipped with healthy pasture. After spending a few days talking and working with the farmer, I brought up my idea of running some pastured poultry on his land. The fact that he has cows makes it all the better. Note that his milk cows are beautiful and his management of them is even more so. Each morning, he moves each of his 10 cows to a piece of fresh pasture, preventing manure build up and damage to teh grass, which providing a fresh daily piece of good green material for grazing. Running pastured poultry behind cows is incredibly beneficial, as the chickens benefits from the grubs and undigested grain found in the manure patties, and the pasture benefits from the chickens spreading and scratching the manure patties into the ground, to fertilize the pasture and prevent run-off into the lake.

Needless to say, he loved the idea and, after working out the details, hit the ground running. The first movable chicken pen is almost complete and we are then going to build a brooder house for the chicks. The goal is to have the first batch of chickens on to pasture by November 1st. Assuming all goes well, and we learn from the first few batches, we hope to be at about 40 birds per week production come mid-February. There is also some potential to diversify, for example, by running pastured turkey starting in March for a batch ready right before Thanksgiving. There will be lots more information on the blog, so you can keep up there if you guys are interested.

Pictures and more details will be posted shortly and, as this is a major project for me, I will try to use the blog as a log for all my expenses, experiences, and thoughts on the project as it progresses.

Just one other thing I want to note. As Marcos is primarily a cow farmer, I have been learning a lot about how to work with these beautiful animals. I even milked one for the first time. Furthermore, we now have unlimited access to fresh, raw, unpasteurized milk (and cheese, yogurt, cream, and butter, all f which can be made from milk). The health and nutrition benefits of unpasteurized milk are unparalleled, but the details will be left for another, later post. Cheers!

And We´re Back!

So after quite a long hiatus, I have decided to restart the weekly postings on Fun with Farming and Fermentation. In addition, Colleen has also agreed to post on here as well. The blog, as usual, will be devoted to the documentation of all our activities in the areas of farming, fermentation, and nutrition.

During our hiatus from the blog, we have been extremely busy. Just as a recap, here are some of the projects that we have recently been working on:

- Built a Chicken Coup near our house, which will soon house a flock of Criollo (indigenous)Hens that should provide us with eggs for eating and some to sell. The house is all finished and we are now in the market for a number of good looking hens to move in.

- Built a Rabbit Hutch that now houses 3 rabbits. I bought the rabbits in San Pedro La Laguna. The lady who sold them to me only had three, one mature female and two of her sons that are about 1 to 2 months old. Currently, we are looking for a mature male so that we can begin breeding for meat and fur production. The two younger males are being fattened up and I suspect that one will be eaten and the other will be traded in order to get a better deal on a mature male from a different blood line.

- Built a worm bin and filled it with red worms that are used to make incredibly rich compost. We are currently figuring out a way to integrate the composted rabbit manure as a food source for the worms. Already, the worms seem well established and happy in their new home. For their bedding, we are using coconut husks from our weekly coconut deliveries. Shredded and mixed with a bit of compost, this makes an extremely effective medium for the worms to do their thing.

- Making, Bottling, Labeling, and Selling our Kombucha Vinegar. Our vinegar is a live culture, non-distilled, raw vinegar that has been aged for three to four months. This vinegar is now being sold in a health food store in San Pedro, with more locations to come. This is also the beginning of our plan to sell a number of live-culture, whole foods to restaurants and health food stores in our area.

- Weekly Beef Stock: Understanding the benefits of animal fat and protein for human nutrition, we have begun patronizing the local butcher in order to work these products into our normal diet. The life of the typical cow that is sold at our butcher is a quite and lovely one. For the first several years of his life, he lives near the coast, eating fresh pasture and dried hay and corn stalks. During the last year of his life, he can be found in our town or the town next over, grazing and exercising in the open fields. Each Saturday morning at 3AM, a cow is slaughtered across the street from the butcher. I have actually had the pleasure of watching this ritual be performed. When we buy the meat Saturday morning, the flesh is still warm, signifying the freshest meat one can possibly buy. We typically buy 2 to 3 pounds of shoulder, bone and all. We make a beautiful stock that literally simmers for 2 full days. The meat and bones are then removed and the meat is picked out for use in other dishes later. The resulting stock serves as a base for soups, rice dishes, and also as a warm nourishing drink.

- Lard Rendering: From the same cow, we also buy several pounds of fat once a month or so. We then render this fat to yield highly stable lard and also some cracklings. The whole process also takes about 2 full days. For all those who think lard and animal fat is bad for you, rest assured. We will devote a post not only to the benefits of stable, saturated animal fat in the diet, but also how to render your own lard and typical uses for it as well.

There are also a number of other things, but I will cut it short for now. We will be posting more detailed information regarding each of these projects, as well as updates on their progress. We are also working on getting a camera, so we can upload pictures.

We apologize for our hiatus, and we hope that you will continue reading and also spread the word to all your friends. Cheers!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beet Kvass

Beet Kvass is a traditional health tonic that provides numerous benefits to its consumer. From Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, "This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are just loaded with nutrients. One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the bloods, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other aliments."

Beet Kvass is a lacto-fermented drink that is made much the same way as one prepares traditional pickles. (This recipe is also from Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions)

- 3 Medium Beets- Cleaned, scrubbed, and very coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup whey
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- filtered water, enough to fill a 1 or 2 quart jar

First chop beets and add to jar, which has been well cleaned. Then dissolve sea salt into filtered water and pour over the beets. Leave about 1/2 inch between the top of the liquid and the lid of the jar. Seal tightly with lid and let sit for 3 days, upon which is ready to consume, and will store for up to several months.

NOTE: I have already posted how to make whey, as well as live culture cream cheese, from yogurt HERE.

If you do NOT have whey, substitute another 1.5 or 2 tablespoons of salt.

NOTE: If you save a bit of liquid from the first batch of kvass, that can be substituted for the whey in the next batch that you prepare.

Monday, June 22, 2009


So far, I have had no luck raising tomatoes in San Marcos Guatemala. We are at about 5000ft above sea level and thus, the weather is slightly cooler than tomatoes prefer. There are several local varieties of tomatoes, all of which grow relatively well here, but give little yield and offer very little variety in terms of types of tomatoes.

Here I have some heirloom varieties from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Because they re not localized to here and are likely adapted to the climate of Maine, which offer a shorter summer and warmer days and nights during the summer, to which tomatoes respond favorably.

Another problem with growing organic tomatoes here in the mountains is the white fly. This little insect damages the leaves of tomatoes and weakens the plant to such a point that it can no longer yield fruit.

Here is my solution. I grew my tomatoes in a 5-gallon bucket filled with topsoil and some rich compost. On top of that, I put a layer of mulch about 4 inches thick. This is to maintain even moisture and to provide slow-release organic fertilizer. On top of that, I laid a layer of plastic bags. These black bags serve to warm the soil throughout the day so the plants stay warmer at night. Also, tomatoes like evenly distributed moisture and do not like the daily soakings that accompany the rainy season. Thus, the black bags prevent the majority of water from entering and the mulch helps retain moisture and spread it evenly over all the soil.

Lastly, I fed these tomatoes with sea salt dissolved in water. Not sure of the concentration, but I used about 1 cup on this whole bucket, dissolved in a good amount of water. Sea salt contains all 92-trace minerals that are needed by both plants and humans. There is a lot to be said about sea salt. As it is more a nutrition topic (always eat sea salt and rarely or never use refined table salt), I will go into more detail about this topic in another post.

Needless to say, while there is a bit of white fly on these plants, their defenses are working perfectly and the plants are still growing beautifully and seemingly resisting the damage caused by the white fly. The control tomatoes which are planted in a basic vegetable bed are suffering from major white fly damage and are not likely going to survive for much longer.

It just goes to show that healthy plants are the best pesticide and when all trace minerals are available to the plant, the plant is strong and versatile, able to cope with stresses more easily. Furthermore, the resulting harvest of vegetables grown in mineral rich soil is also rich in highly important trace minerals, making them more nutritious to us. There are theories suggesting that the lack of minerals in our diet, caused largely by the take over of industrial chemical agriculture, is a major cause of all civilized world diseases including cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative disorders.

Lastly, I have begun mulching the tomatoes with their own clippings. Tomatoes should be pruned in order to allow them to invest more energy in fruit production, and I have been using the clippings to mulch the plants in the bucket. According to Rudolf Steiner, a master of agriculture and pioneer of biodynamic farming methods, “Tomatoes feel mot at home when they are given manure or compost that is as close as possible to the form in which it comes from the animal or other source. They prefer raw compost that hasn’t had much chance to be transformed through natural processes. … And if you were to use compost made from tomatoes plants, that is, if you were to let the tomatoes grow in their own compost, they would grow even better.”

We will see how the harvest looks.

Sowing Medicinal Herbs

Last year, I got really into medicinal herbs and also into the challenge of starting perennial herbs from seed. Most of these perennial herbs are more easily propagated by cuttings or plant/root division, but starting from seed allows you a greater variety of plants to choose from and also more control from an earlier stage in the plants life. So basically, I bought about 40 different herb seed packets from Johnny’s and began working on growing them in San Marcos.

I started many of the plants in the La Cambalacha herb gardens from seed in wooden flats. Another group of more obscure herbs needed to be stratified, which means pre-chilled, before germinating. These herbs, I placed in two airtight plastic bags and stored them in the fridge for several months. I kind of forgot about them until Colleen noticed them this past week when cleaning the fridge. Thus, I decided to sow them in a wooden flat and see if my fridge stratification was successful.

Wooden flats are the best and most cost and labor effective seed-starting tray. These flats can be made with scrap wood and once made, last for many years. Compared to plastic trays, they have longer life and are often cheaper. Recycled materials such as egg cartons are good, but again, only last one season and often are limited in space for plant roots to expand. Basically make the flat about 4-6 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide, and 25-30 inches long. When choosing a size, keep in mind flats will be a lot heavier with moist soil in them. The bottom of the flat should have many holes for drainage and the best design is to just use a number of 2-5 inch wide, ½-2 inch thick pieces of scrap wood spaced about 1 inch apart.

The soil mix used to sow these seeds is one part topsoil, one part screened compost, one part course white sand. The sand is good for seed flats, as it allows good drainage and good water retention.

The following herbs were sowed (Sowed from the ‘A’ marking): Angelica, Echinacea, Joe Pie Weed, Skullcap, St Johnswort, and Pleurisy root. All of these seeds are very small and also require a bit of light to germinate. Thus, I merely made small divots 1/8 inch deep in the soil, about 1 inch apart, and placed 1 seed in each space. I planted in short rows, 2 to 4 rows of each plant.

To keep tract of what is where, I marked an ‘A’ on the flat and use my knife to mark off number sections corresponding to each plant species, which is also numbered. These sorts of seeds can often take several weeks to germinate, so it is a slow process, which enables more things to go wrong in the meantime. It will be interesting to see what actually comes up and does well in this area.

I also direct seeded a few of the seeds into the garden bed pictured here behind come flower cuttings.

New Herb Bed at La Cambalacha

Here are some pictures from us building our 3rd herb bed. As you can see, the plot is initially filled with various weeds as well as incredibly rocking soil. The first job is to cut all the plant growth back and then remove the roots and rocks with a pickaxe and a hoe.

This next picture is of a two volunteers using the level and some fishing line to create a straight line that will be used to build the stone wall. The basic idea is that w want the wall to be even along the top so that all soil is retained within the wall and there are no leakage or drainage points, which remove soil fertility from runoff and leeching.

This is a picture of myself and Jorge standing over th pile of rocks we pulled from the soil. Ridiculous. We are now selecting rocks to be used in the retaining wall that will be built next.

We note that not as much effort went towards soil improvement as did in the vegetable bed. Due to the location of the herb beds, making charcoal is not possible and double digging is not really necessary. We do plan to add charcoal, but as for now, we only added compost and a heavy layer of mulch.

This is the end result. Note the retaining wall and the stone path in the middle of the bed. This path is so that the soil is never compacted by people feet. From this path, all points of the bed can be reached easily for cleaning, harvesting and other jobs.

Herb Gardens at La Cambalacha

Here are just a few pictures of the herbs gardens that we have built while I have been working at La Cambalacha.

This is our nursery. There I basically 3ft of topsoil below these plants and it is mulched heavily, about 6 inches below the ground, with newspaper and leaves. This helps the soil to stay very moist, even during the 6-month dry season. We used this to store out cuttings, propagations, and other special plants until the rains came, when we could then plant them out into their new homes in the formal garden beds. Now the nursery is relatively sparse, as we have been transplanting many species to their new homes since the beginning of the rainy season.

This is the first herb bed that I made at La Cambalacha. Species in this bed include Thyme, Rosemary, Pennyroyal (the lovely groundcover all throughout), 3 types of basil, Tropical Oregano, Mint Marigold, several types of mint and spearmint, Earl Grey, Cilantro, Lemon-scented Germanium, Feverfew, and wild thistle.

This is a more recent one that has just been planted in the last two weeks. Plants here include Lavender, Lemon Grass, Onions, Orseuss, Sage, Comfrey, and several other herbs.

This is a Noni Tree surrounded by Aloe Vera that was planted about 2 months ago. Noni is a ridiculously magical fruit that also smells like old cheese, dirty feet, and vinegar all rolled into one. From Sally Fallon in Noursihing Traditions, “Juice of the Tahitian Noni fruit is revered by the Polynesians for its curative powers, possibly due to the presence of an alkaloid precursor called Proxeronine, which contributes to the effectiveness of proteins on the cellular level. Noni juice has been used successfully to treat diabetes, injuries and pain, digestive disorders, depression and many other aliments. It should be taken on an empty stomach.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Delayed Posting

So, for the past week, i have been trying to upload a number of posts with pictures but as usual, the internet in San Marcos is ridiculously slow and I was not once successful. Now I am in Belize and will be deep in the jungle on our friends' Farm, so again, i will not be able to post for a few days.

When I get back into the San Ignacio, I will be posting at least 6 very nice, informative posts. I should note that in general, I will be posting every Friday and Saturday, unless circumstances prevent me from doing so, such as what happened this past week. I apologize for the delay and will be posting shortly. We love Fermentation.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Passion Fruit Cuttings

Speaking of plant propagation, here is an example of another type, known as taking cuttings. Many plants can be propagated very easily by taking cuttings of mature plants, often much more easily than saving seeds, and not to mention faster. Most trees and bushes, many vines, and other perennial plants are good choices for propagation by cutting.

Here we have a Passion Fruit growing amongst some raspberry bushes. (Note that raspberries prefer plant division for propagation) Passion Fruit is a vine that is native to South American rain forests. The plan gives many small, oval-shaped fruit, of which the flesh and seed is edible. It tastes like a mix between grapes, apples, and pear all mixed together. As with most vines, it is good to prune off pieces that will not give fruit. These clipping are perfect to use for cutting propagation.

The general rule for taking a cutting holds true for almost all plants that propagate well by this method. Select a branch from the mother or mature plant that is between ¼ and 2 inches thick. Cut the branch off with a very sharp knife or pair of shears. Make the cut directly below a node (place where new branch and/or leaf comes off the main branch), as this is where the highest concentration of stem cells is located. We want stem cells, as they are capable of turning to root cells very quickly. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle as this also encourages root cell development.

Generally, the length of the cutting should be 4 to 8 inches, but can be larger or smaller, depending on the plant. The idea is to plant 2/3 of the cutting underground and the last 1/3 above ground. You thus need to remove all the leaves on the 1st two-thirds of the cutting, as well as all of the leaves that are on the lower half of the piece of the cutting that is above ground. Basically, you only want about 3-5 leaves on the cutting and only on the top 1/5 of the cutting.

Note that you may be pruning a tree that you wish to take cutting from and you select a branch that is 2 feet long. You can make four 6” cuttings from this one piece. Just always cut at a 45-degree angle and right below a new node on the branch.

Here you can see two new Passion fruit cutting planted in old plastic water bottle halves. Make sure to put holes in the bottom of your containers and to try to use a soil mix that is more towards the sandy side. Also, try to keep the humidity high around your cuttings. It is useful to devote one little shaded area in your garden to be a nursery, which can be kept moist and cool all day long. Some cuttings can be left in water first for several days and then transferred to a soil mix, but it is not necessary.

A word on rooting hormone: Many places offer rooting hormone, which is applied to the tip that is being planted in the soil. While these hormones are probably helpful and effective, they are not needed. In case you have not figured out yet, I believe that gardening should be a free activity and no special equipment should be needed. I also believe that there is a natural alternative to all commercial products. This instance is no different.

Willow trees, which grow near lakes and rivers and are the natural source of aspirin, offer a substitute. All you need to do is mash up a handful of willow leaves and apply this poultice to the tips of your cuttings and success will be greatly improved. Again, there is no need for this. The best part is, taking cuttings from mature plants is free; all you need is time. So take a bunch of cuttings and wait. If they all die, try again.

Keep the soil around your cutting wet and the air kind of moist and in 1 month or so, they should be ready to plant out.

Saving Lettuce Seed

Saving seed is an activity that has been performed by hundreds of generations, basically since the beginning of food production. The ability to save seed is an enormously powerful technique that lays at the very foundation of self-sufficiency.

So much can be said about saving seeds, which is actually one of four to five more common types of plant propagation. The others include root division, plant separation, cuttings, and layering. Depending on the type of plant, one or more of these propagation techniques can be employed to obtain more plants of the same species.

Saving seed preserves genetic diversity. A seed can actually be thought of as a little piece of infinity, with all possibilities capable of being expressed from within. When germination occurs, the seed actually express one of these possibilities. Some plants will yield seed that gives more plants identical to the previous generation (seed said to hold true), while other plants yield seed that can bare very little resemblance to its parent. For example, lettuce holds true while apple and orange seeds do not. The benefit of saving a cultivating seeds from plants that do not hold true are many and include the preservation of genetic diversity, increased pollination of the desired varieties, and most importantly, the possibility of discovering a new breed with more desired characteristics.

I also want to note here a problem with hybrid seeds and more importantly, with genetically modified seeds. Companies like Monsanto are actively altering the genes and expressions of common crops such as corn and potatoes. Often times, genes are tweaked to achieve herbicide resistance, drought resistance, or the exaggerated expression of a desirable trait such as size, color, or the ability to keep for long periods of time. The problem with this is that the offspring seed of these modified plants are often sterile and/or very different from the parent plant. Thus, farmers are being robbed of their naturally endowed ability to save seeds from nature and preserve, propagate, and multiply this bounty according to their liking.

Here are some pictures of me saving lettuce seed. In November, I bought an organic lettuce variety mix from Johnny´s Selected Seeds. There were about 7 types of lettuce in this mix and we sowed and planted them in December. While we did harvest numerous outer leaves as the lettuce matured, we never harvested whole heads. We instead let the heads of lettuce bolt, which means they send up a stalk from the middle, which bears flowers and then seed. Once the plant dies off and the stalk turns brown, the flowers should be gone and the seedpods should be well formed and filled with developed seeds. Do not worry about whether the seeds are still wet, but dry days re preferable for collecting seed.

I cut the plant and then I use newspaper and a fine mesh screen. I basically crumble all the seedpods over the newspaper and then run them through the screen several times. This is known as threshing, in which you are removing the covering from the actual lettuce seed. Please note that the screening process should be relatively light, as the seeds will break if they are handled too roughly.

Once they have been screened several times, I leave the on newspaper in a dry and airy spot for several days to dry. Each day I move them around to help them dry more quickly. After a few days of drying, they can be stored in glass jars for at least one year and often up to 3 or 4 years.

So basically, I bought the lettuce mix, which gave me several varieties of lettuce. Now, with my seed saving activity, I never again have to buy lettuce seed for as long as I live. I could even pass this same seed down to future generations and for years, the same organic lettuce can be preserved and grown in the garden, without ever having to purchase new seed.

Sourdough Bread: Unicorn Style

This is a picture of the first-ever Unicorn Sourdough Bread Loaf, made with real, live Unicorn Yeast.

For those readers that do not know, sourdough bread is made using a naturally occurring yeast that is captured from the air via a flour-water mixture that is left out to sour. Sourdough bread has a number of nutritional benefits over that of regular whole-wheat bread, which is made with aggressive, commercial, prepackaged yeasts. These benefits lie in the fact that natural yeast provides a more complete fermentation process, which actually predigests the flour making the resulting loaf more digestible and less taxing on the body’s enzyme and various organ systems. Furthermore, sourdough bread made the traditional way is actually gluten free, which is good for those diagnosed wit Celiac’s Disease.

“The history of bread making is a good example of the industrialization and standardization of a technique that was formerly empiric. … It was simpler to replace natural leven with brewers yeast. There are numerous practical advantages: the fermentation is more regular, more rapid and the bread rises better. But the fermentation becomes mainly an alcoholic fermentation and the acidification is greatly lessened. The bread is less digestible, less tasty and spoils more easily.” Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels

Traditional sourdough is always made with a ‘starter’, which is a mixture of flour and water, made to mud consistency, which attracts natural yeast from the air when left out with only a cloth cover. Making a starter takes about 3 days and while you can buy or obtain a starter from a dealer or a friend, making your own starter in your own house ensures that you are attracting and using naturally occurring yeast from your own highly localized area.

Note: People may be familiar with San Francisco Sourdough Bread, which basically refers to the fact that this bread is made using yeast that is naturally occurring in the San Francisco Bay area. Hence our Unicorn Sourdough Bread from Hotel Unicornio.

To make your sourdough starter, you need a glass jar (preferably quart-size, but can be a bit smaller), a cloth to cover the jar, a small wooden spoon, water, and whole-wheat flour. Note that our sourdough starter is in a plastic bowl and we use a metal fork to stir. While this is frowned upon, with glass and wood being more favorable, it is not a necessity.

In the glass jar, mix about a cup of flour with water to the consistency of thick mud. Make sure you stir well to dissolve all the flour making a relatively smooth mud-like mixture. Cover with cloth and set in outside, but covered spot. A porch works perfect for this. Each day, stir the mixture and add a bit more flour (as little as a tablespoon) and water to keep the same consistency. In three days or so, the mixture should start to smell sour and there should be bubbles forming in the mud, rising to the top of the mix slowly. This is when it is ready.

Sourdough starters only need to be made once and can then be saved for many years, as long as it is fed and cared for properly. Each time you use the starter to make a new loaf, save at least a ½ cup of starter in the bottom of your glass jar. Immediately feed it a few tablespoons of wheat-flour and add water to desired consistency. Do this each day or at least once every 2 days. If the jar gets too full you can give or throw away a bit of your starter, but it is important to feed it regularly. If not, it will go bad and not be good anymore.

The basic sourdough recipe is as follows:
• 1 quart whole-wheat sourdough starter
• 6-7 cups whole-wheat flour
• 2 tablespoons sea salt
• 1 ½ cups cold water

Mix the starter together with sea salt and 1 cup of water. Begin to add flour slowly, stirring a while. When necessary add the remaining water and stir in al remaining flour. At some point, it becomes easier to mix with your hands. Once it is basically mixed together, do NOT knead it. Merely make sure that all the flour is mixed in well to the dough. Cut the dough and place in well-buttered baking pans. Let rise in warm place for 4 to 12 hours. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Homemade Ginger Beer: Part 1

Real Ginger Beer is made with a ‘bug’, which is actually a live bacteria culture made with sugar with ginger. On the first day, add 1 ½ cups of water to a glass jar and then add 2 teaspoons refined sugar and 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger. Put a tight lid on the jar and shake well. Let sit for 24 hours. Each day for the next 7 days, add two more teaspoons each of refined sugar and fresh grated ginger. Each time you add more sugar and ginger, shake well.

By the 3rd or fourth day, the mixture should begin to bubble and give off a bit of gas. This is the beginning of the bacteria colony, which was living on the ginger and is now eating the sugar and multiplying in the ginger, water, sugar solution.

After 7 days, add 2 cups of molasses or dehydrated raw cane sugar to 8 quarts of water and heat until dissolved. Add the juice of a few limes and then when cooled, but still warm (like bath temperature) add just the water from your Bug (name for the ginger, water, sugar solution and the residing bacteria. Put all this in an open-mouthed container and cover with a cloth and rubber band.

After 7 days, transfer to bottles with wire-held stoppers or corks and let sit for at lest 14 days. After that, it is ready to enjoy.

We note that this beverage, which is slightly sweet and a bit alcoholic, is enormously better for you than any soda or beer you can buy on the market. This actually contains a living bacteria culture that is beneficial to your whole body. Live culture foods are a valuable piece of total nutrition. They help keep beneficial intestinal flora, which aids digestion and they help in the assimilation of nutrients and the expulsion of bad bacteria and unwanted chemicals.

Here you can see our jar. This week, we will post pictures of the next steps.


Basil is an incredibly familiar culinary herb that also has a number of medicinal properties. Medicinally, it is mainly used as a tea for colds and flu or for upset stomachs and/or vomiting.

Like many garden herbs, basil prefers light, well-drained soil and partial to full sun. Basil is a great companion plant throughout the garden, growing well with tomatoes and generally repels flies and mosquitoes.

The type of basil pictured here is local to the highland regions of Guatemala. It is actually so well adapted that it grows almost like a weed, often shady out other plants in its area. This plant is almost one year old and was start from a cutting about ¼” thick and 4” tall. Look at it now, enormous.

To encourage bushy growth and longer life (Basil survives for several years or more in sub-tropical areas where there is not harsh winter), it is good to cut the tips of the plant and especially all of the flowers off on a regular basis. We use the basil flowers for tons of things in the kitchen and the chore of cutting back the plant also serves as a harvest as well. With the leftover basil, one can make pesto or dry out the herb for later use.

This is me and Maynor cutting off the flowers from the giant basil plant.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Making Cream Cheese from Yogurt, with the added benefit of Whey

This is a very simple process that yields good quality, live cream cheese, which is infinitely superior to store-bought cream cheese. The whey that is obtained is useful for an enormous amount of things, and is also incredibly healthy for you.
From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Whey can be used “as a starter culture for lacto-fermented vegetables and fruits, for soaking grains and as a starter for many beverages.”

From Ageless Remedies from Mother’s Kitchen by Hanna Kroeger, “Whey is such a good helper in your kitchen. It has a lot of minerals. One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion. It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young. It will keep your joints movable and elastic. When age wants to bend your back, take whey.”

To make cream cheese and whey, pour plain yogurt into a strainer, whose inside is lined with a cloth. Set the strainer with cloth and yogurt over top of a bowl, which will catch the whey as it begins to drip.

Leave covered with another sheet or cloth for several hours. When you return there should be some whey dripping into the bowl and the cloth holding the yogurt will be very moist.

At this point, tie the four corners of the cloth (holding the yogurt) to a wooden spoon handle, which can rest on the edges of the strainer. Now the rest of the whey will drip out and the cloth with form a nice ball of fresh, live-culture cream cheese.

After 6 to 12 more hours, the process is basically complete. Put the whey in a jar or plastic container with a tight fitting lid. This can be felt out for several weeks and perhaps even longer and will last 6 months if refrigerated. The cream cheese will last for a few days out, or for a month if refrigerated.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Winemaking: Plum, Apple, Mango, Jalapeño, Rosemary, & Fennel Natural Panela Mead

Our winemaking endeavors stem from a desire to be self-sufficient and control exactly what enters our body. By making your own wine, you can ensure that no sulfites or other harsh chemicals were used in the process and you can also make varieties that cannot be found in local boozer. We try to use all household items for our equipment, local and/or organic fruit, and natural substitutes for all chemical additives. Until now, the only special item we needed to make wine was wine or champagne yeast.

Wine making is basically a specific type of fermentation. What actually takes places is as follows. In the presence of sugar, whether it is sugar from fruits/vegetables or from cane or honey (or a mix of the two), the yeast eats the sugar and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide (in gas form). Once the alcohol concentration reaches a certain point, the yeast dies, as it cannot survive in environments beyond a certain alcohol content, depending on the species of yeast.

Yeast is everywhere and there are tons of naturally occurring varieties. Wine and champagne yeast has been bred to withstand high alcohol concentrations, as high as 21% alcohol by volume. To make table wines, one needs to use this type of yeast, but when making mead, herbal wines, or other less alcoholic beverages, one can simply rely on the natural yeasts that live all around us in the air that we breath.

This is the first natural mead that we made. The ingredients are:
• 5 lbs Apples, rinsed
• 3 lbs Plums, rinsed
• 1 Mango
• 2 Jalapeno Peppers, rinsed
• 4 sprigs of Rosemary
• 4 sprigs of Fennel
• 5 lbs Dehydrated (Sugar) Cane Juice, called Panela
• ½ liter Honey

The process is as follows. First, get the largest soup pot you have, fill it ¾ of the way and begin heating the water. Dissolve the Panela into the heating water. Note that it is easier to soak the panela in water overnight, as it will dissolve faster. Otherwise, you have to cut the panela into small pieces before putting it into the heating water to dissolve.

Into a 5-Gallon food-safe plastic bucket (known in wine-lingo as the Primary Fermenter), crush all of the plums with your hands. Then core the apples and blend the flesh. We separate the cores before blending because you do not want to crush the seeds, as they give off a very bitter taste. That being said, we do add the cores with the seeds to bucket, as they do contain sugars that will ferment.
Also into the bucket, add the peeled mango as well as the pit. Take out the seeds of the jalapeno and add just the flesh to the bucket as well. When the sugar water is getting hot, add the sprigs of herbs and cover while finishing off the heating and dissolving process.

Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sugar water and herbs to the bucket and top up to almost full with water. Cover the bucket with a cloth and tie a string around it, so that it is pulled taught across the top.
For the next week, we will stir the wine mixture daily. After a week, we will take out the fruit and siphon the wine into a water cooler jug, also known as the secondary fermenter. This process will be explained in greater detail when we actually perform it.

Also, I have yet to make a post on the basics of wine making and recipes for basic table wines. They are almost identical to the steps described above, but using cultured yeast to inoculate the crushed fruit and sugar water (also known as Must) in the Primary Fermenter. Will link to this post when it goes up.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coconuts: What Wonderful Magical Fruits

About a month ago, I ate a whole coconut for the first time in a long while. The whole process of removing the husk, cracking the shell, drinking the sweet sweet liquid, and then slowly eating the flesh over the next several hours, is quite an amazing experience.

Since then, Colleen has looked up and shared the Health Benefits of Coconuts and especially their water; we have now vowed to work these magical fruits into our regular diet.

Ah the joy of living in Guatemala. This is Alberto. He is the Coconut guy. Every Sunday he travels about 100 kilometers to the pacific coast and picks up an enormous sack of fresh coconuts. He returns on Monday to our town and can often be heard in the streets, advertising, “Hay Coco, Hay Coco!”

This is the first of our weekly deliveries. Each week, Alberto will bring us 8 coconuts, which works out to four each for Colleen and I, making a lovely addition to our diet.

Because we do not always eat all of the flesh, we have been working on other ways to use the whole fruit. Some ideas have been to blend the flesh and strain it through a cloth to get coconut milk. The remaining blended flesh can be dried and used for baking and other culinary delights.

Raw Honey from African or European Bee (with plans to attract a new hive)

Speaking of bees, the other day I received a gift from the regular honey lady. She lives in the next town over and sells honey, usually by the 5-gallon bucket. The problem is that often times the honey is actually mostly sugar and water heated together to form honey-like syrup. Needless to say, I bought 5 gallons of sugar water honey from her a few months ago. Soon after, I realized that it certainly was not pure honey. I presented this to the honey lady and she was certainly apologetic.

As an act of good measure, she soon brought colleen and I a gift: some pure raw honey, still in the comb of what I believe is an African bee species. Since then, we have resolved only to buy this type of raw honey from her.

Today, she brought this beautiful set of honeycombs, filled to the brim with dank dank honey. For only $2.50, she happily sold them to me. Ridiculous.

The plan is to get the honey out while preserving the integrity of the combs, basically by turning them upside down while suspended above a tray to catch the honey. When the combs are mostly empty, I plan to build a small wooden box with a lid and put the combs in the box, vertically. With the left over honey, the comb structure, and the smell of the beehive, there is a chance we can attract some worker bees, which will proceed to make a queen and begin producing more honey, so as to take advantage of the prebuilt little home we will have provided.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bee Keeping: The First Harvest

Today, I decided to prepare the hive for the division next week, by putting it in a better box and moving it into a more accessible spot where the division process can be done more easily. In the process of moving the hive, I made my first harvest of honey. To harvest, basically you just have to ply the hive away from the box, as the bees tend to connect their hive to the inside walls. Using a machete, I cut around the inside of the box and lifted up the hive.

The honey from these local stingless black bees is different from normal European or African bee honey. The taste is slightly bitterer; it has more medicinal properties, and is typically darker than usual honey, as well. Also, as opposed to honeycomb storage, these bees store their honey in little sacs mad out of wax and about the diameter of a penny. There is also a ton of bee pollen to harvest, which is an incredible health and magic power food. When harvesting, it is important to leave about half of the sacs for the bees to eat off of, as they make more honey. Sadly, these bees make considerably less honey than European or African species, both of which are more common as they have been selected for commercial apiculture.

A note I want to make is that I think I waited too long to make the harvest. Only about a third of the sacks had honey in them, while the majority appeared as though they once held honey, but it was either eaten or leaked out. As you can see, there are many sacs, but only about a third of them are filled with honey.

Considering the limited quantity of honey provided, as well as the ease of harvesting, and the high frequency at which I suspect it should occur, I have a new strategy for making these bees produce a good amount of honey for daily consumption. I say one should strive to obtain 8 hives through division, taking likely a year or more to get 8 from 1 starter hive. Then, harvest two hives each week, which I suspect could provide about ½ liter of honey. After the first two are harvested they should rest for one month, while you are harvesting from the other 6, 2 per week. Once all 8 have been harvested, the first two should be ready for another harvest. Down with sugar!

Stingless Black Bee of the Highlands of Guatemala

So my good friend Charlie, at La Cambalacha, came into a hive of Stingless Black Bees. A local man found the nest in the mountains and brought it down to Charlie. After sitting untouched for several years, a beekeeper from Canada came to our town and agreed to help us divide the hive into two and build some boxes that are fit for holding this type of bee.

The division process is very basic, basically involving a machete, which is used to slowly cut the hive in two. When there are two separate pieces, one should stay in the first area and the other piece needs to be moved at least 500 meters away. This is so the piece of the hive that does not have a queen will be encouraged to start making a new queen for their hive. If the two pieces remained close together, all of the bees would just go to the piece of hive that has the original queen, leaving the other piece to rot. Next week, we plan to do another hive division. My friend Terri, who is helping us start our MILPA, has agreed to make new boxes for the division process in exchange for one of the hives. Thus, I will put up another post with pictures and more detailed information regarding hive division and also bee box design.

As for precaution, because they are stingless, I did not use too many precautions in terms of netting or smoke. I basically put a hood on tightly tied and a t-shirt across my nose and mouth. The bees do not sting, but they pinch and they also tend to climb into your ears, nose and mouth.

The hive was divided about 2 months ago and since then, my piece has sat in a basic cardboard box under the shade of a few lime trees. I just built a simple roof for them to provide a bit more shade and protection from rain, as they cannot get wet. They actually seemed very happy in the cardboard box. Within two weeks of being there, they completely attached their mud hive to all sides of the box. They seem to be quite happy there and I have not bothered them really at all since then.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Our Milpa: Seed

The Seed for our milpa is all heirloom and organic, each variety dating back hundreds of years. All three of these seed crops have never in their genetic history seen or been exposed to any chemicals, they are the same descendants that were planted by the Mayan people for hundreds of years in the village of Tzununa.

The seed is highly attuned to this climate and that makes all of the difference. I do plan to make another Milpa in San Marcos and I will aim to get organic heirloom varieties that originated in this village, just to get the subtle benefit of that specific adaptation developed by these plants over the many generations.

Our Milpa: Part 2- Planting the Seed

For this job, a pickaxe is useful, as well as empty pockets and/or shoulder bags for holding seed. Using the pickaxe, loosen the soil down to about 12 inches, removing any big rocks, for a diameter of about 6 inches. If this is the first time the ground has been worked and you did not prepare hotbeds, it may be helpful to add one handful of compost to each area while loosening the soil.

Spacing is about 1 meter from the center of the first loosened area to the next, but it is by no means exact. It is best to eye ball it and to plant closer together, as opposed to farther apart if unsure. Also there is no need to plant in rows. Just cover the entire area, as large as you want with plantings, all spaced about a meter apart. It helps to think of an equilateral triangle to guide your planting.
It helps to have two people working together, one loosening the soil and the other planting the seeds, switching off at intervals.

In each space, plant 4 corn seeds, 1 bean seed, and in every 4th hole, also throw in one squash seed. The seeds can all be planted in the same divot. The technique used by many is the put all the seeds in the palm of your hand and then press all your fingers together and use them to make a divot into the ground. Go as deep as your knuckle and then let the seeds fall, cover them and pat down so that you know it has been planted.

Our Milpa: Part 1- Preparing the ground

Select a site that is sure to receive a lot of sun throughout the day. Prune branches on any trees that would otherwise provide shade. The space does not have to be all connected, you have patches that are each a few meters, spaced between some trees or other non-plantable spaces. First cut down all of the vegetation that is growing in the area where you want to plant. A machete is very useful here. Pile up branches that re larger/thicker in various piles located in shady spots. The shade not only helps the decomposition process, but you want to plant in all available sunny spots.

For the next step the hoe is an invaluable tool. Use your hoe to scratch the root clumps, grass, and other vegetation up from only the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. It is not necessary to turn all of the ground up like a rototiller would. This is basically a cleaning process to remove most of the weeds and clear the ground down to the topsoil. The roots, grass, and bits of soil that are scratched off these areas are also made into piles in shady areas around the land. These piles will later be spread out over the growing crops.

At this point, if this is the first time that this piece of land has been worked, you could prepare and enrich the soil and remove any big rocks from the area. See Preparing a HOT BED. Note this THIS IS NOT NECESSARY. It is true that a good recipe for growing any crops is to dig down at least 12” (preferably 24’”, while respecting soil level compositions), removing any rocks, and then adding a good amount of organic matter such as decomposing leaves or compost, along with some lime to balance the soil. That being said, merely cleaning the area and planting, as described below, you should get decent results, even in the first year.

Our Milpa

Here are some pictures of the land before we began the process of planting the Milpa. Notice the bananas and other fruit trees growing. The cactus on the rock is actually Pitaya, also known as Dragon Fruit.

The traditional Milpa refers to a cornfield typically raised by Mayan people in Central America. The selected area for our Milpa is in the highlands of Guatemala, in a valley plateau in the village of Tzununa. The elevation is about 5000 ft, with rainy seasoning stretching from the end of April through to the end of October.

The traditional time to plant corn in the highlands in on or around May 15th, this day holding particular significance to some villages, which say one must plant corn only on May 15th of every year.

Our Milpa has about one third of an acre planted with corn, beans (which will grow up the corn stalks), and a local variety of squash known in Tzutujil , as Kum.

What attracts me to the Milpa is that it is a very efficient way to grow an abundance of food that easily stores for a year. On this small piece of land, the eventual yields will be about 150 to 200 lbs of dried corn, 50 lbs of dried beans, and tons of squash. Not to mention all of the fresh corn on the cob and fresh beans that are harvested throughout the year. All that food with only one person doing at most one day of work a week, most of which is harvesting. We also note that this is all pure organic farming and pure organic heirloom seed.

Our good friend Terri actually owns the land that the Milpa is being planted on. As he is a seasoned and highly skilled organic farmer, he is also our mentor throughout this project. We give him much thanks.

Weekly updates of the Milpas progress and details of how to make your own Milpa to come.