Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Hippy Holidays!

Milkhouse and Giant Toads

We have been wrapping up several projects so that by the end of the year we will have a clean canvas to start all new creations. Of course, many works will continue... like the cabin. Oh, the cabin. Our first wooden construction--which we chose to use because we have so many usable fallen trees all around us therefore making it super-sustainable-- is definitely making us miss mud-hutting. We aren´t exactly carpenters, (although one of our neighbors is and he does most of the specialty work required) and building by hand--yes, that means no power tools-- is challenging. But here we have an almost finished cabin (lovely, I think)... still needs some windows, stairs, and other detail work, but at least we are out of the tent! Hallalujah!
Here´s the front in the early morning light.And speaking of getting under a roof, I am proud to say that Paloma (the cow) has a new milkhouse to call her own. And just before the calf comes! She´s due around the end of the month or into the new year maybe.
Look at that belly! And those teets! Whew-wee!

Roofing the world, we are. We just extended our community kitchen to have a sun-lit patio eating area. Soon, we hope to build some earthbag benches and reclining walls for post- and pre-meal lounging. It´s sort of a mess still, but it´s coming along.

And this is Burpee. He´s a giant toad (one of the ones we released from the Hungarian reality show.) He lives in the planters boxes now, apparently, and is not lacking food, as you can see. He´s a welcome pet, just as long as he keeps eating the plant pests and mosquitos.

More news from Mama Roja after the holidays...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chickens, Bricks, and Scare-Parrots

Our chickens have a hip (mobile) home, and are being as bossy and squawky as chickens must. We have 6 hens and 2 roosters, all sharing a delux chicken tractor made from scrap wood, veggie crates, and tetra-pak cartons. They get along pretty well, except the one freaky micro-managing hen who steals all the crickets out of the roosters mouths and makes the other hens cower under her beak power. Marcelo says she´s the next to eat, but I kind of like her...

This is an inside view of the fancy two-story, alpine-roofed, tetra-paked hen dorm, the top being the nests and the bottom the roosts.

Our first egg!! They don´t give many so far, since they are pretty young chicks, but we´ve had a few little beauties...

Adobe bricks! Indeed, we´ve started to take advantage of the "dry" season, and make some bricks. These were first ones and we were mostly experimenting with the soil. We tried different mixes (sawdust, sand, straw...) to see what would be the strongest. The best batch was the simplest-- only cut straw and water added to our super clay-ey soil which, if they had been dried in the shade, I think, would be perfect (they cracked quite a bit sunny-side up.) More bricks soon to come!!

Mud-stomping in the jungle... ¡que divertido!

Our gardens are still lovely and generous, especially with cucumbers (which I have been eating, pickling, and giving away.) Since it´s been so dry lately, our little babbling brook stopped flowing, and many people in the area have dry wells. We are lucky, though, to have the river nearby for watering, and our spring still full. And this week the heat was broken up by some rainshowers and welcome clouds. More rain on its way, they say, so our veggies will no doubt be rejoicing soon...

The Scare-Parrot... our version of the famed scare-crow. In fact, our garden of corn is doing so well, we´ve had a few parrot visitors doing fly-bys a little too often. So, we installed this very high-tech anti-parrot remedy...

Can you tell which one he is??? (Hint: not the dramatic one on the left.) The only problem so far is that Rambo keeps forgetting and scaring himself into barking fits. He´s not the brightest dog, as Marcelo likes to remind us, but we love him just the same...

Bonus Photos:

Weird bug invasion! This is a bug... for real!

And this is an attempt to capture the full moon rising in the Mama Roja tree... She was magnificent!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Creatures Galore

The temperature is rising, and summer is on her hot path in. We are getting up earlier and taking afternoons off, cooling ourselves in the river and under the trees. We still have lots of projects going on, some more spontaneous than others...

Recently, the film crew of a Hungarian reality show (who are making something like Fear Factor here in Misiones) gave us some of their "discarded" local creatures. We brought them out to Mama Roja, and then released them into the jungle. The giant iguanas ("Golden Tegu Lizards") scurried away happily, with a little glance back over their scaly shoulders and a wink, and the fat toads ("Cururus") plopped their bellies into the river. The lizards have made several appearances around the farm, and one of the toads hangs out in the garden slurping up all the grasshoppers. They fit in just fine at Mama Roja.
Oh, and under the three fat toads in the bottom of the bucket was this little fella, who has been heard croaking by the tents in the evenings.

We are also visited by a myriad other creatures, curious as to what the bipeds in the jungle are up to now. The mantises are particularly entertaining and lovely, and give us little dance recitals in the kitchen.

All those wormy fat hairy caterpillars that we have been trying not to brush our skin against are morphing into gorgeous butterflies. We are working on matching up the caterpillars with their winged state.

The baby birds in our shed have hatched and chirp chirp chirp all the time now. The mama and papa bird had squeezed their nest right between some books and the shed wall (we had already kicked them out of nesting in the seed box and a backpack...) So, we temporarily closed a section of the library and donated it to our feathered guests. They don´t seem to mind us one bit. In fact, one can usually watch feeding time while sitting on our comfortable Mingo (our toilet, which is still in the shed for the time being...)

In between creature watching, we work on other projects in progress. Like the Cabin, which is still inching along, and considering that it is being built without the luxury of power tools (all by hand), I´d say it´s progressing quite nicely. This past week, we´ve been working on the odd-angle cuts in the Eucalyptus logs and putting in the interior walls and ceiling. It is becoming really homey in there (yes, we are still in our tent in the house...) or maybe I am just getting used to the sawdust and partial walls??

The garden too is receiving lots of love. This past week, we made tomato supports and cucumber trellises out of the bamboo we harvested. And we have started to eat some of the beans, the cukes, and lots of herbs... and they are delicious!

Next week, we start working on the earthen oven (which is Kimberly´s birthday present), making adobe bricks, and introducing ourselves to our new chickens! We made a coop (which is a moveable chicken tractor) and today we should be receiving them from our friends. Yippee! Photos soon to come... stay posted.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our Cup Runneth Over...

A salute to the dry corners of the earth, wherever they are (cause they ain´t here.) The last month has been, let´s just say, a wet one. True, it has been interspersed with days of glorious sunshine and perfect temperatures. But the Uruguay River swole over 12 meters (!), which means our little creeks who feed into it also grew. Our cute little Babbling Brook which runs just by the campsite grew into a water-bellied barage of swift-moving energy, which stole a beer and challenged our bucket-fridge. Luckily, we all survived, staying "mostly dry" under the roof, and deepened our appreciation for sunny days and dry winds!

Paloma, the cow, also survived, and even enjoyed the refreshing rainstorms (as you can see by the smile on her face in the photo below.) We are getting more used to each other now, and I dare say, she likes us. Well, at least she has stopped headbutting us, mostly because I bring her treats like banana peels and corn cobs, and let her lick salt off my hands.

Rambo, on the other hand, did not quite know what to do with himself on those rainy river days...

The Cabin: We´ve moved in!! Not to say the cabin is finished (blasted rain!) or that we are not in our tent anymore (cause we are)... Actually, we are in our tent in the cabin. So, I guess we have a partially enclosed tent platform that we live in. But soon it will be a real non-tented cabin with windows and walls and even a loft and floor! We are inching along, but now that summer and dryness are predicted, we should be out of the tent soon enough. (The photo is pre-tent set-up...) Oh, and we installed ur solar panels, which work even on cloudy afternoons. We get enough electricity to run our kitchen light, a small radio, and charge all our batteries, and then some... Halallujah!

The gardens: We have several, all experimental, and in-progress as we speak. There are hoed and bermed beds, potato tyres, sheet mulched beds, untilled earth beds, and broadcast wilderness kamakazi beds... Our inspirations: all the books we have and are reading (by experts and the like), and our generous neighbors and local farmers. Learn as you go, as usual. So far, so good. The only problem is that the grasshoppers and the cutter ants have taken a particular liking to a few corners, and we have to "organically encourage" them to move elsewhere (like that delicious jungle that surrounds us!)

These are some of the culprits who munch our chard...

Speaking of creatures... this is full on butterfly season, which also means caterpillars!! They are everywhere! And most of them are hairy and itchy (from the juices on their tiny hairs). Some are totally impressive in size and color, and will certainly be gorgeous gigantic butterflies one day.

Bonus photo: A walk through the woods to one of our swimming holes...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Holy Cow.. in the jungle!

Her name is Paloma. She just moved in. She´s 7 months pregnant (due in December). She´s getting used to us and the farm. I´m wooing her with banana peels and dried corn (her favorite!) Now she lets me rub behind her ears...

But this cow business is all new for us!! Learn as you go... The neighbors are letting me practice milking on their cows. (I am also making lots of cheeses, yoghurts, and other milkty delights!)

In the meantime, Marcelo and a neighbor are putting up the outside walls of the cabin. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, so we can keep working... and move in soon!

FYI-- the outside wood is Eucalyptus, the hardwood heart of the tree that the paper and plywood businesses usually toss out or burn.

We also transplanted 90 little trees this week, as part of our reforestation project... just in time for the rain!!!

And, of course, we must take time to enjoy the dipping spots in the river. Playtime is very important in the jungle farming world.

Bonus photo: lots of these long-legged hoppers loafing about the kitchen lately...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oxen, Compost and Birds Nests

In the last couple of weeks, we´ve been busy (as usual).

We finally finished the Earthbag wall in the kitchen, and of course, painted it red (with lime putty and oxide pigment.) The kitchen was somewhat put together, but then we took it all apart to start working on the floor to get it level and prepped for rock-and-cementing it... We didn´t take pictures of that mess.

The first friend to find the wall!

And with the help of our super volunteers, we built a new and improved double sided compost bin!! We used old pallets and some creatively recylcled things from a local junkyard. So far, so great!

Also, Marcelo and a neighbor used oxen to cut up and haul old fallen hardwood trees from the forest, and take them up to our local sawmill. We are having the trees cut into boards to use for building the inside walls of the house (and other future projects). This is Minero and Fasero-- they spent a couple of nights with us in the valley. Though not very social (they don´t like hugs much), they sure were hard workers!

And it seems our volunteer popularity is growing, so this week we grew to a big family. We have been doing lots of craft sharing. We are using vines from the jungle to make baskets, carving peices of wood into tools, making macrame hangers... and loads more. We love to learn new things, especially when we can use the materials in the jungle.
Of course, springtime means lots of feathered company. This is a Surucua Rojo-- a spectacular bird who moved into a dead tree near the spring. She and her partner take turns guarding the nest and looking at us walk by. We also have been discovering birds nests in our backpacks, the seed boxes, and other tucked away dry places in the toolshed-toilet house. Some we let stay, but others, well, we have to encourage them to move outside. It´s always fun to see who shows up every morning!

On one of our night hikes, we followed the croaks of this little guy and found him by the babbling brook.

Ode to Marcelo...

We celebrated his birthday this last week, with a big asado lunch shared by our friends and volunteers. Marcelo confessed (post-vino) that he feels a little left out of the blog, being that we never post photos of him. So, happy birthday, mi amor. This part is all for you...