Archive for category vida en la granja

strawberry terraces forever

beautiful polycultures at the finca

I haven’t really done much justice in the blog to Finca La Amistad Verde, the French-owned farm I volunteered at in Boquete, Panama, so I’m going to remedy that right now. The photo above shows one of the many varied and lovely polyculture beds that they have on the farm, this one boasting kale, fava beans, marigold flowers and other veggies.

So, among the many jobs I did at the farm, my most notorious project was to help build mini-terraces for strawberries, which they were not having much success with because as soon as the fruit touched the ground they would get mildew. The idea was to plant them in narrow terraces so that the fruits would hang over the edge, and also place flat stones on top of the mulch around them both to collect heat and help them fruit and again to prevent the fruits from touching the ground.

So, I was shown the area where the whole thing was going to be placed, a quite steep slope that would help towards making the terraces narrow and close together, and which would also help if ever they were to be covered, since it would imply less covering material and a quick installation.

Since I had never built a terrace before, on the first day Anal helped me and showed me the ropes, as we hauled long bamboo poles (some of which had filled with water and were quite heavy) to our work site and started digging and placing the posts that would hold the long bamboo poles in place. After that we’d bring forward the earth behind it to fill the space and make a flat surface and continue further up. We made three narrow terraces for the strawberries, making it still easy to reach into each of the terraces for picking time, and then a broad walkway between the first set of three terraces and a second set. Then the soil was prepared my mixing in biochar soaked with stinging nettle and comfrey teas and the strawberry plants themselves were transplanted into the terraces with some thyme and rosemary at the ends of the rows to intimidate bugs.

A second set of terraces just like the one I made has now been built by other volunteers right next to the first one, and it sure has to be a beautiful sight to behold! I might just get to see it in a couple of weeks when I return to Boquete to help my friend Juan Carlos make his cob pizza oven, but that is another story, for a future post! 🙂


The site before we started work on it


the site with all the heavy earth-moving work finished

Anaël shows me how to do a terrace and we do 3 together

the first terrace, always special to one’s heart…

our first 3 terraces

at the end of the first day with Anal, the first three terraces completed!

and the strawberries go in!

the first plants in, which I temporarily surrounded with any stones I could find. Doesn’t look as good as the real thing but it gives you the idea. This initiative was frowned upon and has since been corrected with the proper slate stones that were available but the location of which had not been revealed to me…


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a book I recommend – Wild Fermentation

Can you fall in love with a book?
Well I’m definitely close when it comes to Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation. Part recipe book (I don’t say cookbook because there’s no cooking), part science lab experiment book, part biography and part activist manifesto, I just love the way this guy writes and love everything about the book. The just go-ahead-and-do-it mentality expressed in its 200 pages and the strong references against cultural homogenisation are some of the most powerful activism I’ve read in a while, and all through food. My kind of book! 🙂

Here’s a couple of the passages of the introduction that I find most interesting, and then there’s the recipes themselves, also full of great anecdotes and information!

One of the most striking insights in the book:

“In 1985 I spent several months travelling […] in Africa. In Cameroon […] we were introduced to a couple of Pygmy people who took us on a trek through the jungle. These Pygmies have carried on a long tradition of subsistence in that jungle. In the course of our hike, we came across several Pygmy settlements engaged in cacao farming. We came to understand that the government was trying to force these people in to cash-crop agriculture. Their migratory lifestyle was being outlawed, phased out because it was of no value to a state in desperate pursuit of tax revenue and foreign exchange to pay off debts to global financial institutions.
When traditional cultures are outlawed, that is the homogenization of culture. It’s an old story, which could be told by any Native American, or by my grandparents, who fled pogroms and saw the Eastern European Yiddishkeit they were born into disperse and disappear in a single generation. By the time I headed home to the land of obscenely stocked supermarket shelves, I had come to the conclusion that no matter what I said or did, my presence in Africa served only to glamorize the capitalist world order, adding to the seductive allure that if you abandon your traditional culture, educate your kids in colonial languages at missionary schools, and grow cacao beans for export, maybe someday you’ll accumulate the kind of excess wealth to travel to the other side of the globe, just for fun and stimulation.”

And another little jewel:

“Mass production and mass marketing demand uniformity. Local identity, culture and taste are subsumed by the ever-diminishing lowest common denominator, as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and other corporate behemoths permeate minds on a global scale to create desire for their products.This is the homogenization of culture, a sad, ugly process by which languages, oral traditions, beliefs , and practices are becoming extinct every year, while ever-greater wealth and power is concentrated in fewer hands. Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there to produce your own unique fermented foods.”

And finally a quote on fermentation, which is really what the book is mostly about ;):

“There is a mystique surrounding fermented foods that many people find intimidating. Since the uniformity of factory fermentation products depends upon thorough chemical sterilization, exacting temperature controls, and controlled cultures, it is widely assumed that fermentation processes require these things. The beer- and wine-making literature tends to reinforce this misconception.

My advice is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated. Fermentation does not require specialised equipment. Not even a thermometer is necessary (though it can help). Fermentation is easy and exiting. Anyone can do it. Microorganisms are flexible and adaptable. Certainly there is considerable nuance to be learned about any of the fermentation processes, and if you stick with them, they will teach you. But the basic processes are simple and straightforward. You can do it yourself.”

So it’s time to get crocking! 🙂

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siguiendo la trocha hasta los boquerones – una aventura fluvial

linda piedra en El Boquerón

en una salida de domingo Ricardo, un vecino que trabaja en la Finca La Amistad vecina a la nuestra, nos llevó a ver unas cascadas cercanas. Viendo que caminábamos bien y que teníamos ganas de aventura nos preguntó si teníamos prisa por volver, y así fue como acabamos vadeando río arriba durante más de 1 hora… ¡una salida inolvidable! 🙂

He hecho un vídeo de la salida. Dura casi 9 minutos, así que es sólo para cuando no tengáis nada mejor que hacer. Recordad: ¡la vida es una aventura que hay que salir a vivir por uno mismo, no por medio de las aventuras de los demás!

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building a traditional palm leaf roof

When I got to the Lazy Man’s Farm the main structure of posts and beams was already built and all we needed to do was just put up the roof, so that’s what I’m going to explain how to do here.

The materials used were local trees for poles and beams, a vine called marica for tying up the main load-bearing structure and the bark of the malagueto tree (Xylopia spp.), which provides long flat fibres that are ideal for tying the palm leaf stems to the rafters.

the raw materials

These are the raw materials: posts for rafters, and the marica vine and malagueto tree for fibres to tie everything together

the fibres of the malagueto tree are long and flat

The bark of the malagueto tree, a nice long fibre for tying the palm leaf stems to the rafters

the base structure

The structure as it was when I arrived

a closeup of the marica vine tying up the main load-bearing joints

A close-up of the marica used to tie up the main structure. It actually gets harder and draws tighter as it dries, turning into a woody clamp

men at work

The guys at work

the structure going up

This is what the malagueto fibres used to tie the palm leaf stems look like from the inside

closeup of nots tied with malagueto

A close-up of the fibres

the palm leaves are tied with malagueto, the rafters with marica

Here we can see clearly the malagueto used to tie the palm stems to the rafters and the marica vine to tie the rafters to one another

tying up the side panels

Fixing the side panels

time to attack the roof

Time to get started on the roof!

finishing off the saddle

Marcelino working on the saddle, which needs to be attached strongly because we get very strong winds in the area, so here we forgot about natural materials and went for wire

the pretty pattern of the roof seen from below

The beautiful patterns viewed from below! 🙂

harvesting more royal palm leaves

We ran out of palm leaves and had to go get some more

cutting the leaves along the stem so they can be folded over

this is how to prepare the palm leaves: they are placed with both sets of leaves facing downwards, for which they must be cut along the stem on the opposite side of the central vein of the leaves, so that it is this central vein that keeps them holding on to the stem

the cut leaves, folded

the cut and folded leaves look like this

placing and tying the leaves as a 3 man job

placing and tying the palm leaves is time consuming, but the time involved can be reduced by getting as much help as you can. Time for community work! 🙂


And the finished structure looks like this. Time to put up a hammock under it and have a siesta! 🙂

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morning pancakes

  • milk
  • flour
  • eggs
  • salt

mix until you get a smooth fluid paste that runs in a single thin line from your ladle (meaning that it doesn’t fall off in blobs). Then heat the pan, smear oil over it using kitchen paper so that you only put a very thin layer of oil on the pan and make your first pancake. If it cooks too quickly, add more milk, if it takes too long, add an egg to help it set.

Easy! 🙂

If you’re making pancakes for a lot of people use more pans or you’ll be stuck in the kitchen for a while! (I’m talking from personal experience here)

the dough

the dough, freshly added to the pan

¡se me hinchan!

my pancakes puff up! In Mexico, when making corn tortillas, it is said that girls are ready for marriage when their tortillas puff up like this. I’m not looking to marry yet, but I guess it’s still nice to have my pancakes puff up! 🙂

surprise, surprise!

I wonder what may be hiding under there…

delicious savoury pancakes!

Ooohhh, delicious! Could have done with some ham and cheese, but there weren’t any… 😦

delicious xmas pancakes!

Special Christmas pancakes with Spanish chorizo! 🙂

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colocando baldosas en la Finca de los Perezosos

Esta semana nos ha tocado colocar baldosas en el suelo de una de las habitaciones de John Douglas para recibir a su hija durante las fiestas. Los “expertos” albañiles haciendo el trabajo hemos sido Marcelino y yo, que hemos recibido un curso intensivo de unos 15 minutos antes de empezar al más puro estilo Matrix, es decir, viendo unos vídeos por internet! 🙂

El suelo ha quedado como si fuera un trabajo profesional, con baches, picos que sobresalen, baldosas un poco torcidas, igual que cuando uno paga poco por hacer una chapuzilla en casa, pero en este caso no han pagado poco, sino que no han pagado nada!

Marcelino haciendo el trabajo fino

Marcelino haciendo el trabajo fino

la habitación casi terminada

la habitación casi terminada

detalle de la colocación de las piezas

detalle de la colocación de las piezas

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old age as an excuse for not working? maybe not!

this man is 73 years old, and here he is carrying a plank of wood that’s quite heavy for use in the formwork for a bridge. Now I know some people who say that they’re too old to do many things, but when I see this I’d like them to think again! 🙂

this old man is 73

this man is 73 years old!

and off he goes...

and off he goes…

these are the planks he's already carried

these are the planks he’s already carried

these are the planks he's already carried

these are the planks he’s already carried

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