» Archive for the 'plants and gardens' Category

Turnips and Tusas

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 by Marie

We are so kind. We share our turnips with tusas: the Naked-nosed pocket gopher.

Tusas are animals that most gardeners in Michoacán dread. They dig up gardens ruthlessly, leaving behind the signature mound of turned over soil. Some of our friends who have farms or gardens buy Jack Russell Terriers, dogs that are known for their hunting skills, hoping to kill off any tusas that are feeding in their gardens. Another friend of ours makes extra money by charging farmers 100 pesos (around 8 USD) per tusa that he kills. He waits patiently, quietly, lurking around areas where a tusa has obviously set up camp.

We haven’t taken drastic measures to control the tusa population this year. We do plant trees and bushes that have a bitter taste around some gardens, hoping to deter the tusas away from our vegetables. But mostly, we are just waiting.

Patiently waiting, for natural predators to realize that the Bosque has lots of yummy gophers running around. Coyotes, which we can hear singing nearly every evening, likely already take care of some of the gopher problem without us even knowing. And we over-plant; sharing some of our bounty with gophers and rabbits is something we expect when we plant a garden.

And, an upside, when tusas dig up dirt alongside a trail or in a garden, we sow seeds in the freshly tilled soil. Lots of former tusa holes now hold trees, flowers, and edible plants growing happily. And if we ever investigate hunting for food, the tuza might be a good target.

The Hornworm

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 by Marie

DSC_0086

Oh, we feel so sorry for our poor tomato plants.

They have a hard life in this climate.  During the dry season we choose a few to water with our kitchen greywater, but aphids become a problem.  During the rainy season they tend to rot, so this year we planted several of them in pots that we can move in and out of the rain to protect them from too much water.

And then the hornworm showed up.   At first we thought, “How pretty!” and snapped a few pictures and let it be.  Then we looked the worm up and found that it is the culprit that has eaten the first 4 signs of fruit on our Oaxacan tomato plants!

We will be on the lookout for more of these little buggers and try to get some yield this year from our tomato plants.  We are not planning on using any chemical control to get rid of them, however they will be great food for our chickens!  Hopefully some of the local birds will come help us out as well.  Hornworms are notoriously difficult to find since their green color matches the plants, but they glow under black light.  At night we can use a black light flashlight to easily spot them and remove them from our tomatoes.

Mushroom season begins!

Friday, July 16th, 2010 by Marie

Thousands of mushrooms have begun popping up all over the forest in the last couple of weeks.

Four obvious mushrooms grow here in the forest that we can harvest to eat.  There are a number of other mushrooms that are edible and those with experience sometimes harvest them for food or medicinal use.  The first ones to pop up every year are the “Yellows” - Amarillos. The scientific name is Amanita caesarea.  Because other mushrooms in the Amanita family are very poisonous, if there is any question about whether we’ve got an amarillo or not, we don’t cook it up to eat.

The amarillos are incredible to add to dishes for body and distinct mushroomy flavor.  Around here people roast them on a comal to eat for a snack, letting them cool a bit before eating plain, with just a touch of salt.

At the Bosque we try to spread the mushroom love as far as possible, so we add them to soups or send them to the Casita for folks to add to their eggs in the morning.

The next edible mushrooms we expect to see are trompas.  Trompas grow like crazy here.  After a couple of rainy days it is easy to walk around and collect bags full of the bright orange goofy-shaped mushrooms (though, as wikipedia mentions, this mushroom is not a ’shroom at all, but a parasite that grows on mushrooms).

And apart from the edibles, hundreds of other mushrooms are all over the place.  Some prefer to grow under the pines, others under the oaks.  Some grow on trees, others on the ground.  The beginning of mushroom season is our final sign of life returning to the forest after months without rain.  We welcome the forest fungi!

Read about the list of mushrooms at the Bosque here.

Grafting success!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010 by Marie

Three years ago we started grafting quince and pear trees onto a native fruit tree. Read how we graft in this past entry.

Today, we have over 1,400 grafted trees throughout the Bosque. Walking around the other day we spotted one tree that is doing particularly well, with several small quince fruits starting to show up.

These grafted trees are a very clear example of successful permaculture and food forestry.  The pear and quince trees have strong, native roots of the manzanillo tree, and require no water, fertilizer, or care.  As we mention quite often, we would love to keep irrigation to a minimum at the Bosque.  Planting fruit and nut trees that can survive here through the dry season is a total win.  And a volunteer here right now recently spoke very highly of quince jam he made and preserved in a farm in Europe…  we may be trying that soon!

The fruits showing up remind us of our need to make a solar dehydrator and think of other ways to preserve and use the fruits.  Pear cider?  Quince jam?  Ideas?

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Pine Beetle Plague

Friday, February 12th, 2010 by Marie

Since December we have been fighting a plague in our pine trees.  This has involved cutting down over 300 pine trees in the forest - for those who have been to the Bosque you will notice a big difference in the Dimple, the Mesa, and the entrance from the nearby village.

The culprit is the Mexican Pine beetle:

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The beetles make their way under the bark to the cambium layer and lay their eggs.  They eat the trees until they die, and then move to another tree.  Different species of beetles are doing the same in many areas of North America.  Ten years ago a nearby village lost an entire forest to this plague.  To read more about this beetle, click here.

We were so fortunate to begin our fight against the plague on the arrival of Angie, a certified Arborist and Forester.  She took to the task right away and led large volunteer teams in cutting down infected trees and burning branches.

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We were also fortunate that the height of the battle took place during a spike in volunteer help - we had teams of 6 - 20 people working daily to clear out infected trees, tarp over piles of large infected branches, and burn the remaining branches.  Below is the group during a short break from chopping up wood and cutting down trees.

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While watching parts of the forest getting chopped down was a bit unsettling since our primary objective is to protect and diversify the forest, there are many positive aspects to losing some trees.  We’ve used our new sawmill to make beams that will allow us to construct new huts and buildings.  We collected the sawdust to use in our cob mixture to make natural walls for the chicken coop and huts.  We saved some large trees to carve more totem poles.  And the new open spaces will allow us to plant a great diversity of trees and plants.

This forest was clear-cut 60 years ago to be used for crops.  According to a friend of the Bosque who knows some history of the land, the forest was naturally re-planted; it is mainly pines, oaks, and madrones.   In the areas where we lost the pines, the oaks and madrones will find more space to grow and re-populate.  We will supplement the diversity by planting fruit trees among the oaks and madrones.

The fight against the pine beetle appears to be nearing the end.  We will do weekly walks around the forest to look for infected areas.

We are so grateful for our friends from nearby villages and our volunteers who helped us in this battle!  Thanks for helping us save the forest.

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