Monthly Archives: August 2013

How hot do you like it?

Growing up in Venezuela, I remember my father kept an old and very ornate cognac bottle in the refrigerator filled with peppers, onions, and herbs suspended in a clear liquid. He would take it out on occasions and add a few drops of the liquid to one of his favorite dishes, and would brag about it as he offered it to friends that came for lunch or dinner.

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Unlike the hot sauces sold commercially, or those that leave you sweating, with swollen lips and a destroyed digestive tract, Venezuelan picante (also known as ají, pronounced ah-he) focuses on adding extra flavor as it adds a bit of heat to the food. There is not one specific recipe, as with many traditional foods every family changes it to make chdp Continue reading How hot do you like it?

Meet B our interim farmer

When we came home from our vacation, my older son had one question for me, “where did you find a six year old farmer girl to take care of your garden?”. I explained that B is my friend’s daughter, and how she had offered at one point to help me with my chores. I related how excited she was to learn that she had been chosen to be totally in charge for a whole week while we were going away.

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Just before leaving on vacation, my wife thought that B was going to need an apron while working in the garden, one that would keep her from getting her clothes dirty, and with deep pockets where she could keep her tools, or collect fruit. She made her an apron that night and we left it with her mom just before leaving.

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B’s work week at the farm went fantastic, she reminded her parents every day that she had to come and work. She was responsible, very gentle with the plants and extremely careful with her work.

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B liked looking around our pond to find the elusive frogs that live in it.

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Her favorite chore in the farm was watering the plants and getting wet wile doing it, she said laughing.

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She was so good at making the water rain on the plants that she learned how to make rainbows.

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Not everything was easy, though, B says one of the hardest thing she had to do was tasting a cherry tomato, yuck!! Also cutting eggplants off without getting pricked on the fingers by the green part was very difficult.

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Spending a whole week caring for a garden gave B an insight on how fast plants do grow. She truly enjoyed the experience and  is even convincing her mom to plant a garden in their home so she can care for it. To feed B’s curiosity and interest in gardening, we will start a garlic and onion patch in her home this fall.

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As for my garden, what can I say? It really looked better than when I left. The new plants grew quite a few inches, the tomatoes are producing so much the plants look like they need a rest (just this week I picked over 6 lbs of cherry tomatoes), the eggplants are shinny black and plump, and all the peppers are screaming to be picked off the plants.  This really proves that caring is more important than a green thumb.

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When asked if she would do it again, she answered that whenever I go away I can always ask her to care for my farm. Would I hire her again? In a heartbeat!!

Thank you B, you are the best.

A walk on the wild sid

It’s been a week since we came back from vacation. It is really hard getting back to the full swing of life, but we find ourselves in a more serene state of mind. Our vacation was wonderful. My wife Beth and I spent a week hopping between New Hampshire and Maine hiking and kayaking. Following are highlights of our trip.

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The Highland Center is located at the foothill of the White Mountains. Here you can get excellent bunk style accommodations and incredible food before hitting the trails. This or the center at Pinkham Notch are perfect stops for hikers venturing in the Whites who are  in need expert advise, directions, update on mountain weather, maps, etc.

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That first evening, after dinner, we went for a short walk on a trail around the Ammonnoosuc Lake while waiting for the Perseid meteorite showers.

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Back at the Lodge, students from the Carthage Institute of Astronomy had an array of high power telescopes and were giving great explanations on the what we were seeing. By far the most interesting thing I saw was the planet Saturn, the rings around it showing perfectly, just as if it was one of those glow in the dark cut-outs. The Perseid shower that night turned out to be no more than a trickle.

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Early next morning we headed towards a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that we had not covered in our hike the previous year. We climbed the Crawford Path to the Mizpah Spring Hut, one of the AMC mountain huts located mid trail where hikers can take refuge, get some rest, food and water before continuing on their journey.

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From Mizpah we followed on the Webster Cliff Trail to summit Mount Jackson and Mount Webster where we got incredible views of the Presidential Mountain Range, and the ridge trail we had hiked in 2012.

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We descended Mt Webster on the Webster Jackson Trail, which ended up being very steep and rocky. It was not an easy trail to hike down, but it went by a couple waterfalls well worth the extra strain on the knees…or maybe not.

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At day 3 our original plans called for a start to our kayaking and camping trip down the Saco River. However, the day came in with copious rains, and since there was the chance of parts of the river getting shut down due to high water level, we decided to spend a day visiting Portland ME. The detour was well worthwhile, we walked around the city  harbor, had great chowder and lobster for lunch and visited some stores. That evening we were lucky to find a place to stay at a bed and breakfast in Naples ME. The Augustus Bove, a well kept and very comfortable B&B, attended by their owners Arlene and Dave. Great country atmosphere, fantastic breakfast, and you are sent off in the morning with a hug and a kiss, it does not get any better than that.

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The fourth day came in and the sun was shinning high in the sky, a perfect day to the start of our kayak/camping experience. We drove back into NH to Center Conway, and after stopping for some last minute supplies, went to Saco Valley Canoe to leave our car and get transferred with our kayaks and camping gear to the put in place on the river at Swans Falls over the ME border.

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With the boats fully loaded with gear, supplies and firewood we headed out towards the Broomfield Bridge, a point 19 miles down the river where we could be picked up from and transferred back to our car. The rules of the river are simple and reasonable, one can land and camp anywhere it is not posted as prohibited, campfires are only allowed on sandy beaches and after obtaining a permit, no out of state firewood and   pack in pack out rules apply.

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From the point we put in to our destination the Saco is a gentle, wide river flowing at about 2.5 miles an hour. The water is super clear, the scenery is fantastic, and at least during the week you can get away from crowds. DSCF4426

That night we camped by a beach we had all to ourselves about 8.5 miles down river. At the time we set up camp the sun was about to go below the tree line so it started getting dark and chilly pretty fast.

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In spite of the damp fire wood and kindling we managed to have a roaring fire on the beach. Our dinner that night was simply delicious, or should I say “simple but delicious”? Mac and cheese always tastes great when shared with right person and under the stars.

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Next day after tearing down our camp we had some  breakfast, hot instant oatmeal. I had forgotten I do not really like oatmeal, “but it is good for you and  it fills you up for a long time” said Beth, so I went along.

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We paddled and drifted for a few hours stopping to see whatever caught our attention that day, had lunch at another beautiful sandy beach, and ventured into two large ponds that connect with the Saco. In the latter, Lowell Pond we saw a bald eagle and a fledgling perching at our path.  DSCF4496 DSCF4515

Our intention to camp on the river a second night was abruptly changed when a post at mile 17 indicated that overnight camping was not permitted between that point and our destination at mile 19.

After being picked up and brought back to our car, that afternoon we headed Northwest towards Franconia Notch. The next morning we hiked up to the Lonesome Lake, where AMC has another mountain hut.

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The trail takes you up from the parking area on a gentle switchback. At the top there is a beautiful lake encircled by high mountains, the view is certainly  incredible.

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We had hoped to have lunch at the hut, but were not hungry then. To get back to our car we chose the longer way down following the Cascade Brook Trail, a very nice section of the AT with a very fit name.

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We stopped several times to admire the dozens of cascades that form on this rapidly descending river, as well as the massive granite formations on which it flows.

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That eve, tired but very happy, we started on our way South. We met with our friends Maureen and Brian had dinner with them, and spent the night at their beautiful cabin near Holderness NH. Next morning, we picked our son up from camp and spent the rest of the day driving around and sightseeing the lakes region of NH.

At the Lonesome Lake there is a memorial plaque that sums up how we feel about this week, it reads: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away”. I don’t know about you, but I am already planning our next adventure.

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B is the new farmer in charge

So we are finally getting ready to leave on vacation to beautiful New Hampshire and Maine. We have made plans for months in anticipation of this moment, having changed them quite a few times. I checked tons of websites and trail books, read dozens of trip reviews and watched quite a few videos to figure out how to best spend the few days we take off every summer.  I have spent many nights tracing possible trails and selecting daily destinations. This year we chose to combine hiking, kayaking and camping. With this in mind, I made lists of equipment we’d need on every leg of the trip, gathered most of it from our basement, custom built a few things to out rig our boats, and ordered whatever else we did not have but was on the list. Certainly if half of the fun is getting there, preparing for it is got to be at least a quarter.

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Throughout all this preparation, the thought of leaving my garden in the middle of the summer was constantly on my mind. After all it is the middle of production. We are getting a few pounds of tomatoes every day, the peppers are ready to be collected, every couple of days one or two eggplants are ready to eat, and all my seedlings still need to be watched to guarantee harvesting in the early fall. I did the best I could at increasing irrigation intervals to prevent a bake like it happened when we went away for a few days in early July. My main concern was “Who would be picking the fruit?”. We definitely do not want it to rot or go to waste.

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That is when B came to mind. I recalled she had offered to help me with my garden a few weeks ago. At the time I had offered to go pick her up and bring her over, but she declined because I did not have a booster seat in my car. B is my colleague’s daughter. She a  very bright 6 year old with beautiful brown eyes and an engaging personality. Who better than her  to take care of the place while we are gone?

Her appointment as farm tomato picker was sent to her  as a text  through her mom. B, jumped, danced and hollered “woohooo” as she was read that she had been chosen from among “hundreds of applicants”. That afternoon, she came to my house to learn the ropes and take the reigns of my “farm”. We met at the curb, and she skipped all the way from there to the backyard, stopping only to say hi to my wife Beth half way up. Once there we took time to touch and smell all the herbs, the scents and names of plants were all so new to her. She saw where the carrots are growing, and of course we spent some time picking cherry tomatoes, one of which she tasted but not liked. She learned that to pick eggplants you grab the fruit, not the prickly stem, and that some peppers can be very hot. She tasted fresh broccoli, and managed to walk in between narrowly planted rows of seedlings with some grace (this was the hardest thing for her, so this morning I planted a stick with orange blazing tape next to each seedling so she can see better where they are). Of all the things B got to try, I think watering the plants was the most fun, especially when we turned the hose in rain mode and she could get her head wet too.

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B’s short training visit yesterday made me somewhat wish I was not leaving so soon. Not because I am afraid she will not take good care, nor because I am going to miss my garden terribly while hiking or paddling through some amazing wilderness. I guess I wish I could spend more time showing her fun things, like how cucumber plants lash on to things, or why flowers attract bees, or just how to name a few plants or birds. I am sure we will have a chance in the future to do some gardening together. This is her week to explore and to be the farmer in charge. With an attitude like hers, she can only succeed. Hopefully next post we will have some of B’s gardening photos.

Do you share your garden experience with your children? What intrigues children the most in a garden? When do your children start joining you in the garden?

Hobbs Farm, volunteers welcome

In our travels we are always looking to meet interesting people, or visit awesome places or operations to learn from or exchange ideas. Today I want to share my recent visits to one of my neighbors, the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, a place with a fantastic history and and great mission.

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The farm, which is located on Long Island in Centereach NY, sits on an 11 acre plot wedged among residential developments. The farm was donated by the Hobbs family in 1990 to the Bethel AME Church. In 2007 a group of concerned members of the church formed an organization to restore the farm house and the barn and created a two acre co-op garden. Their mission was simple, to provide fresh wholesome produce to those in need.

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Since its rebirth, the farm has expanded considerably, and now also has a greenhouse and 4 different planting areas: The Son Shine Acres, where most of the food is grown, harvested and distributed to the needy through a network of local food pantries and food programs. Excess production is sold at the farm produce stand, the revenue being used to cover operational costs.

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The Community Garden, a series of 24 5‘X20’ plots where members can grow their own flowers and veggies while helping with community tasks.

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The Education Garden, an area where individuals and groups can participate in specific educational projects while at the same time helping grow produce for the hungry.

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The last area was just recently developed with a grant from the Christopher Reeves Foundation, and the assistance of Stony Brook University and local patrons. I am not sure it has an official name yet, but I heard its main promoter and steam engine of the project, Ann Pellegrino,  calling it The Garden of Hope, a name that very well fits its purpose. This area  has a series of wheelchair-accessible raised beds, where persons with disabilities can not only learn to garden, but also may harvest and keep the production for their use.

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This is not your regular backyard garden, it is a real farm, run in a very efficient and ecologically responsible manner. The crops are drip irrigated to conserve water, and are never treated with pesticides. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this farm is the positive atmosphere that can be felt from the moment you are faced with the Volunteers Welcomed sign and are later warmly  and sincerely greeted  by a member who will proudly show you around.

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The farm is open to individuals and groups looking to roll up their sleeves to make a significant difference in our community. To learn more about how you can become involved with the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, or to donate to their program please visit their website at  http://www.hobbsfarm.info/index.htm .