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Archive for February, 2013

When I first arrived at the Cultural Center at Rincón, the first thing that caught my eye was this ghost of a greenhouse in the Center’s garden area. It seemed as though it was just waiting for someone to come and revitalize it, love it, and fill it with all sorts of greens. Naturally, I thought this person was yours truly. I couldn’t get this greenhouse out of my mind for the following weeks. How perfect, I thought, I can work with the older people of the cultural center to plant and care for the greenhouse while providing them with a fun outdoor activity, while also providing the Center’s kitchen with fresh and organic veggies. Peace Corps project heaven!

Greenhouse

So I started asking around. Why was the greenhouse abandoned? Why was the plastic cover all ripped up? What was the story of this greenhouse? In order to learn more about the greenhouse and the community of Rincón, I started to volunteer at the Center every Tuesday, cooking with the women and talking with the abuelitos. While cutting up some nopales, I started to learn more and more. The greenhouse had been an initiative of the DIF a few months back. They built the greenhouse with the same intention that I would have, to supply fresh veggies to the Center while cutting some costs since they provide comida for about 50+ people twice a week.

The reason it was abandoned. Well, the young kids of the community destroyed the greenhouse, not once, but twice. Disheartened, the DIF decided to give up on the project. It wasn’t going to get anywhere, they decided. I thought differently, I decided that I would build my way up to the greenhouse. First, I would gain the trust of the abuelitos, next I would start a small herb garden with them, and finally, if all went well, we would get started on the greenhouse. Tired of looking at the waste strewn across the greenhouse’s soil, and thinking of all the chemicals leaking into the sustainer of future organic veggies, my first order of business was to clean up the greenhouse, to send a message that this greenhouse was ready, bueno, or about to be.

The Clean-up

The greenhouse was littered with plastic bottles because once the project was abandoned; the Center began to store the plastic bottles it collected for resale in the greenhouse. Literally hundreds of plastic bottles littered the floor. And so, I got to work. Bottle after bottle was disentwined from the captive roots of the grass, and placed in a bag, ready to be reused and recycled. With the clean-up out of the way, I asked the Director of the Center to follow-up with the collection of the bottles, so they wouldn’t continue to decorate the fence line of the greenhouse.

After

As it sometimes goes with Peace Corps service I was pulled in a million different directions for a few weeks after the big greenhouse clean-up and was unable to work at the Center for two Tuesdays in a row. This past Tuesday, finally, I had arranged my schedule to get back to the Center with the hopes of talking to the abuelitos about the following week’s workshop to plants some seeds so the herb garden would be ready for the approaching spring. Cilantro, basil, rosemary, chamomile maybe even some swiss chard and other lettuces. All the seeds were collected and ready to go. I had even attended a urban gardening course this past Saturday to brush up on some planting details.

Like every Tuesday, I rolled up to the Center on my bicycle, excited and ready to get the day started. However instead of finding the “after” picture of the greenhouse, I found the same greenhouse that I had first met a few months back – a sad greenhouse with plastic bottles strewn all over the floor. Since one cannot often control first reactions, a hot anger rushed up through my entire body. I felt my muscles tense up, and in order to expel the negative energy from my body, my mind kept pressuring me to let it all out and just scream. Scream because I had already invested time and energy into planning this project. Scream because sometimes with every step forward in Peace Corps service, I later find myself two steps back. Scream because sometimes the bad intentions can and do defeat those that are good. A few minutes of pacing later, I had calmed down, and went into the kitchen to forget about the greenhouse for a little and begin to prepare the day’s meal…

Once more, an abandoned greenhouse.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Sometimes the bad moments make the good moments in Mexico that much richer.

 

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For the past two weeks my home worm compost system has been up and running, and I couldn’t be happier with the results from this super simple DIY project. In the post, Worm Compost: Part I, I had all the materials needed for the system, two large paint-bucket type containers, a drill, and worms. To continue, I stacked the bucket with drilled holes (see picture) into the other bucket. Next, I added my worms with a bit of newspaper and cardboard bedding and some fermented sheep manure. Finally, I topped it off with the bucket covers. Now, while cooking, I add my veggie scraps to feed my happy worms. It’s that simple.

Some more tips…

DO take note of your ratio of  “greens” and “browns.” Greens consist of such things as kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, plant waste, tea leaves and bags and veggie peels and cores. “Browns” include shredded newspaper, egg cartons and cardboard. You want a pretty even ratio of “greens” and “browns.”  If you see your compost is too watery, add some “browns.”

DO chop up large pieces of fruits and vegetables for faster breakdown. The worms actually eat the bacteria and fungi in decomposing food, so the older the food and the more exposed to air, the faster the worms will get to it.

DO harvest the worm juice at the bottom of the bucket for foliar application. This is the reason for those holes in the stacked bucket! The juice is invaluable as a natural pest repellent and fertilizer. Water down the juice with a 15:1 ratio of water:juice.

DO aerate the compost every few days using a wooden spoon or a stick to turn the materials.

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DON’T add kitchen scraps cooked with oil or with high amounts of salt.

DON’T add meat, dairy products, or highly acidic products. I don’t even like adding orange or lemon peels. Garlic and onions also don’t typically appeal to the worms, and can stink up the containers.

DON’T feed fresh manure to your worms. The heat from uncomposted animal manure can burn the worms. Also, only use manure from vegetarian animals – cows, sheep, rabbits, etc.

Some more facts about the wrigglers…

* Worm compost is very concentrated (1 ton of worm castings is equivalent to 10 tons of animal manure)

* The land that is passed by worms has 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more potassium, and double the amount of calcium and magnesium.

* The worms can live up to 16 years

* Worms double their population every 40 days

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: In order to limit fruit flies in my worm compost, I dry my banana peels in the sun before adding them to the bin. Fruit flies LOVE to lay their eggs in banana peels. If you’re not living in the desert like this girl, you can also give the peels a quick rinse before adding them to the compost.

Contained Compost System

Worm Juice Flow

Make your holes smaller than I did. I had some worm escapees.

Spot the Worms

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I saw this spiky heart-shaped nopal cactus pad on a hike in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato, and couldn’t resist snapping a picture of it to share with you all for Valentine’s Day. Here in Mexico, this day isn’t just for lovers. It is also a day to celebrate friendships, and people in general. No need for a novio or a novia (boyfriend or girlfriend), share some chocolates with a best friend or gift a rose to a complete stranger. Why? Well, because love is in the air…

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: My plans for Valentine’s Day? I will be gifting myself with some freshly baked nutella-filled donuts using this recipe I found yesterday on Foodgawker.com.

PPS: Check out where the twigster was last Valentine’s Day here.

PPS: The nopal cactus is also found in the desert regions of the US. Check out some cacti I came across while traveling in Arizona last year here.

A Prickly Heart.

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The roof dogs of Mexico. They are there to stare at you, bark at you, or flat out entertain you. Either way they’re a good site from down below.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: This first guy looks scarier than he is. Another volunteer who lives in front of this dog in San Luis de la Paz (Guanajuato) says that he is quite friendly.

Roof Dog

 

 

Close up!

 

Scruff the Pup on duty

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Guiltily, I have never had my own compost system. I have always lived in apartments with roommates and family members who were never too keen on the idea. However, now that I have my wonderful apartment in Mexico, one of my first priorities is to get a red-worm compost system started and see how it all works. I live in an apartment in the town center of Huimilpan, so although I escaped the concrete jungle of New York City, I still don’t have a green patch to call my own. And so, with the help of Nicole Salgado, a friend of the Peace Corps here in Mexico, I am constructing a compost system for city/apartment dwellers.

The basic concept is a system of two stacked buckets. The stacked bucket will have holes in the bottom to allow the worm liquid or “worm juice” to escape into the second bucket. This liquid can be used for compost tea or as a natural pest repellent.  The stacked bucket will also house the worms, bedding, and of course the food and resulting worm castings.

Here are the steps I have taken thus far:

1. I purchased two large paint bucket-type containers.

2. I drilled many small holes into one of the buckets

3. I asked a community member for a gift of some worms, which I will receive tomorrow.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: I will keep posting as more developments arise and I have the finished product. UPDATE Worm Compost: Part II

PPS: Check out this article about Worm Compost on a huge scale in a US airport.

Worm compost bucket with small holes drilled in

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