Archive for September, 2009

“They don’t make things like they used to”

Margie has many tools at the farm that are clearly antiquescpress.  She doesn’t keep them around as decoration; some of them we use on a daily basis and others occasionally.  One of my favorites is this citrus press.  I’ve used it a few times to save Key Lime juice when the hardy little tree produces a flush of fruit.  It’s so nice to have Key Lime ice cubes all year in the freezer.  Whenever I need it for a recipe or simply to dress a salad or an avocado I put a cube or two in a cup and let it defrost for a few minutes.

Chickens and Groves, stacking enterprises

All around the farm in Homestead and the Redland area it is full of groves, primarily Avocado groves, but also Mango and a few other tropical fruit. 99% of them are not organic and use herbicides to keep the weeds down under the trees and in the pathways. As you drive around the area you can see block after block of fenced in groves with brown deadness underneath them. All I can think is what a waste of space and what a shame that they are regularly putting down hundreds of pounds of chemicals into the ground and into the aquifer that all of our farms depend on.

chicken tractors in between avocado trees at Bee Heaven Farm

chicken tractors in between avocado trees at Bee Heaven Farm

Chickens and groves are like peas and carrots. There is plenty of research, experience and literature supporting the many facets of the symbiotic relationship between these two enterprises. At Bee Heaven Farm we have 10 chicken tractors fertilizing and mowing our 2 acres of Avocado groves while simultaneously laying eggs for us to sell. Inside each tractor, which is basically a bottomless metal chicken coop with wheels, live 7 to 10 chickens. They get moved to a fresh patch of grass twice a week making their way down the pathways between rows of Avocado trees (and in

mowed and fertilized path left behind as the tractor is moved

mowed and fertilized path left behind as the tractor is moved

some sections Mango, Longan and Lychee trees). This system works very well for many reasons. It is very easy and quick to maintain; it takes only a few minutes to refill feed and water as well as move each one. The chickens are laying delicious/nutritious eggs with bright and firm yolks because they get a daily diet of grass and bugs along with their organic feed. As the tractors are moved along they leave behind a weed free path and the chicken manure that is also left behind serves as a balanced fertilizer for the fruit trees. Using this system a farmer can produce two different products to sell on the same acreage.

In my opinion, all of the conventional groves in the area could be raising eggs or chicken meat using this system and instead of spending money on chemicals they could be making twice as much money on the same amount of land.

prepping for the brunch at Possum Trot

Oh man, what a full day!

First of all, I either slept through my alarm or it didn’t go off for some reason this morning… Either way I woke up just in time to make a quick tea and greet a volunteer who had arranged to be here at 8am. Her name is Traci Epperson and she was with us all day. I have to say that she was a “dream volunteer”! Her attitude was amazing; she’s the kind of person who makes things happen; she worked hard and efficiently and she had a good sense of humor. Thanks Traci, come back any time!

This morning, after picking flowering basil to use for centerpieces at the brunch and transplanting some scallions to condense them and clear up a planting bed, we set off to weed a relatively small planting area in the SE corner of the farm. Even though we do weeding every day and there is usually nothing too special about it, today it’s worth mentioning it because we had some serious encounters with fire ants. Mike got it the worst – he has welts all over his feet. All in all, we must have been out there less than an hour, but with the heat and the ants it felt like eternity. There isn’t much worse out there to run into than fire ants; they are the fastest creatures I know of and their bite is as painful as a wasp or bee sting. They go crazy during the summer here and make nests everywhere, so around this time of year when we are weeding areas that haven’t been used for months it can be very unpleasant.

We had two lunches! After the ant attack we needed a rejuvenating and fresh snack. A beautiful fruit salad with Carambolas, Bananas, Blueberries, Key Lime juice and a bit of honey was perfect! Later we all went to Robert’s and sat down to a feast lunch of spinach, pork roast with carrots and potatoes and stuffed Avocado halves. He really knows how to make a good roast!

Eventually, we got down to the business of peeling and cutting 70 pounds of root veggies for the Root Medley. My hand is still sore from using the paring knife so much as well as stained by the beets, but I’m not complaining; it was a good time and we made a great team. We also made a very concentrated batch of Lemongrass tea to dilute tomorrow as needed, which scented the whole room and made us feel like we were in a spa. At the same time, in Robert’s other kitchen he and two of his guys were cutting, juicing and mixing fruits as well as baking the most yummy muffins I’ve had in a while. Actually, these whole wheat Allspice-berry muffins remind me of the Lemon-basil Raspberry muffins I was making in upstate New York at Four Winds Farm this summer. They both have an herbal flavor and a subtle sweetness.

The best thing about working (or hanging out) at Robert’s is that he has a wealth of information and is very happy to share every bit of it. I always feel like I came out of a class when I leave his place. Today for example, after we finished peeling and cutting, he did an informal wine tasting of various fruit wines he makes as well as some delicious preserved Carambolas in sugar. The tasting transitioned into an elaborate conversation and demonstration on how he makes them including a visit to his “wine room” which is a truly amazing place. It was an inspiring adventure.  I wish I had pictures… maybe next time.

A fork in the Road…

I took the fork in the roadToday was the day to start tilling. I took off the front end loader, put on the tiller implement, started the tractor, and STOP!

Looks like we hit a fork in the road. Literally. I guess it came from the rock pile I was using to fill in low spots in the driveway…

Robert (Possum Trot) came to my rescue, with a radial plug and an air tank. Thanks to his prompt action, I was able to get started within an hour of the mishap.

Still, I only got part of the first pass done – the Sunn Hemp plants had been so tall a lot of them got knocked down whole when they got mowed. Consequently, there were some very long fibrous pieces. I couldn’t till cross-wise everywhere, so ended up with a lot of plant material wrapped around the tines. Finally, I had to stop to unravel the accumulation, with Muriel’s help.

Tomorrow is another day – we’ve already taken the fork in the road, so now our path is set!

First WWOOFers of the season

Jade and Mike cutting bananas for the dehydrator.

Jade and Mike cutting bananas for the dehydrator.

Jade and Mike arrived a couple of days ago from Kentucky/Indianapolis.  The morning of their first day, after a tour of the farm, we got ready to fill up the dehydrator.  First we picked all of the ripe Muntingia, also known as Cotton Candy fruit because they taste just like it.  Then we sat down to cut all the ripe fruit in the barn, which consisted of Carambolas, Bananas as well as Longans and arranged them on dehydrator trays.  Longans take an extra amount of patience.  First you have to peel off the out shell; then you rinse the “eyeball”; last, cut around the seed very carefully because they are super slippery and you end up with 2 little cup-shaped pieces of Longan flesh.  They are AMAZING dried!  In fact, I heard they are an aphrodisiac in Indonesia (or was it Thailand?).

Top to bottom: Carambolas, Longans, Bananas and Muntingia in the dehydrator.

Top to bottom: Carambolas, Longans, Bananas and Muntingia in the dehydrator.

A Bounty of Bananas



Bananas seem quite unpredictable. You wait with bated breath – for an eternity, it seems. First the plants grow for awhile. Then suddenly one day, you notice that a bloom is emerging – or more likely, you see that not only has the bloom popped out, but there are baby bananas peeking out from the curled-back (uh, what are they, anyway – sepals? sheaths?) modesty shields. New rows of baby bananas keep appearing for a bit, then you stop noticing. Some time later (weeks? months?) you realize that there’s a full stalk of bananas there, not quite filled out yet. And the waiting begins. Now it seems like they just sit there and sit there with no perceptible change. But wait! Suddenly, they’re fat and plump and – NO! we missed it! The whole plant bent over from the weight! Some are already turning bright yellow! Quick! cut it down! Let the cut end drip for a few hours before bringing it inside. Ahhh, pure heaven… those poor imitation unripe bananas from the supermarket have NOTHING on these – but you MUST wait until they are fully ripe. How ripe, exactly? Read more

A new season begins

Returning Farm Intern Muriel arrived two weeks ago (already?!) , along with increased responsibilities and a great attitude! She immediately got to work cleaning up the summer’s accumulation of spiderwebs, dust and debris in the barn, taking inventory of planting supplies, starting germination tests for our heirloom tomato seeds, posting CSA enrollments,  and a host of other startup chores.

In the meantime, I, Farmer Margie, was waiting to till under the cover crop… and waiting…and waiting…and waiting… Why? It was raining every single day, and not just a little. The soil has been soggy for weeks. You can’t work the soil when it’s so wet – you’ll destroy its tilth, and that’s something you want to avoid – even if it set you back a few weeks.

So what the heck is ’tilth’ anyway? Read more


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September 2009

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