Oh yeah! Speaking of caring for livestock and operating heavy machinery…
There was that time I took care of a four cute little cows called “terneros” named “L”, “M”, “N” and “P” for a month or so. I would have said five, but pretty early on “O” got bit in the face by a “terciopelo” hiding in the tall grass that summer. A local neighbor came over to help me find out why he didn’t show up at the daily roundup and hand-dug a deep enough grave for the very heavy little thing right there on the spot. I watched. And I cried. What the vultures did before we found him was traumatic and probably why I blocked the memory until now.
I put out their salt and molasses in a cut out old tire and did a head count, sometimes rotating the fence-lined pasture and sometimes multiple times per day “repairing” the holes with whatever I could find, including plastic lawn chairs. My assigned goal wasn’t to take care of the livestock so much as keep them out of the corn and harvest whatever needed harvesting. The little cows fed on the grass and watered themselves in the streams accessible to them on both sides of the property line.
It was on this farm I did not learn to use any heavy machinery
Instead I hauled heavy buckets of water from the natural spring to the “shack” for drinking; honed my first skills with a machete and a rounded scythe(?)used for trimming around the delicate new coffee bushes planted a few years before. It was bound to be a big harvest year with the avocado, banana, cashew, cacao, coffee, carambola, corn, mandarina, mango, lemon, limon (both kinds), pigeon peas, pineapple and possibly even the monk fruit coming into season after several years of work by the owner who left me in charge while he went back to the states for a visit.
The farm was in the foothills of the mountain range in Costa Rica called Cordillera Tilaran near Lake Arenal (the volcano was not active at that time). There were plenty of large howler monkeys who didn’t seem to be any too concerned about the food production going on or the medium-sized tilapia pond but at some point clued in to the fact that I was a seemingly lone female in a large now “unclaimed” territory. Did they begin to “woo” me by following me around playing hide and seek with giant leaves? I may never know for sure but I stayed alert to their presence and booked out in a hurry when I heard their calls flanking me out of an exit one fine day after peeing into the wind without thinking about the consequences.
For fun I picked the corn (that was left), made notes and eventually a spreadsheet about which varieties were most tasty, best texture, quickest cooking times, etc. Then I saved and labeled the top picks for replanting again the following year.
I learned how to harvest cacao properly from the tree, open it with the machete and hand scoop the white fruit covered beans from the ruby and yellow pods into buckets to ferment, then set up a portable drying area (maybe the most challenging part in the rainforest).
There was an over-abundance of mandarina and lemon (yellow) that year so I gave a lot away at the farmer’s market down the road and sold a couple buckets to a local ceviche stand. They were already established customers of the farm and were waiting the delivery.
I ate or gave away all the avocados, limon dulces and mangoes that were growing at the house I was still sitting for overnight while working this farm during the day. There were two new avocado trees to tend to and maybe 50-60 new coffee plants with berries to pick, ferment and dry as well.
Count your chickens before the bananas
The banana trees right over the pond ripened as expected and had been prepared to “fall” away from the water. It was successful for the most part except for the flooding rain that overflowed the pond the night before. I arrived to a soaking wet 50+ pound “bunch” of ripe yellow bananas sunken into quick-sand-like muck between the pond, the outhouse and the chicken “coop”.
You might think I would just leave the bananas, but it was my first bunch and I was determined to succeed at all endeavors including not letting the wood in the outhouse continue to get wet and go to rot.
So, first I counted all the chickens. They mostly stayed up in this one tree at night. Later I found out there was a long black and pale yellow/gold snake of the benevolent sort called “mica” hanging out in that tree “protecting” them from other predators. Nice way to cohabitate! (I never found any eggs though, hmmmm.)
Next, noting how deep the not heavier than me bananas had sunk, I tied some leaves to my rubber boots so I wouldn’t lose them again. Then began the earnest work of “building” a berm around the pond’s blurry edges. It was like trying to shape wet bread dough so I chopped up some small branches from the banana tree plant as a boundary; sculpting out soft trenches to redirect the water away from the wood foundation of the small but very necessary room. Luckily, the banana tree trunk had fallen in the the perfect line to act as a ditch and a dam once I leveraged it over one roll revealing the canal shaped depression. Phew!
That day I was grateful for a cold water outdoor “shower” from the metal rain water collection tank with an on/off spout glued in to fix a leak. It would have been warmer but the sun was not shining.
Cashew, carambola, pigeon pea and pineapple left right?
Right. On to cashew! Having researched the dangers of harvesting cashew I was still determined to have a go at the strange fruit that dangled from the branches high above my reach. Very long and in depth descriptive story short, if you’ve ever seen a cashew fruit you know why they are captivating and so expensive!
Mmmmemories of sweet, sparkling yellow “hola carambola”! You know the smell of a carambola aka star fruit tree before you even see it because a lot of the fruit has already been partially eaten by whoever wants to drop in. It’s most likely the easiest tree(s) to work with on the whole farm (no tools required)! Very unlike the thorny unruly yellow lemon tree-vine that requires 300-hour yoga teacher training to harvest. Not the sweetest tasting fruit however. Inventing a palatable way to consume that much carambola was the only challenge and fast because they didn’t last long after ripening.
Pigeon pea or the poor man’s bean bush as it is known in parts of Costa Rica didn’t harvest much but just the knowledge that someday it would provide prolific protein in such a tiny package made me proud to watch it grow.
And finally, the piece de resistance! The very first pineapple! It was two years in the making and almost fully ripe. As it turned out, the owner returned before it was ready but invited me back to pluck it out of the top of the stalk that grew from the top of the pineapple that came before it. Amazing.
I’m sure I’ll think of another fruit I missed telling you about or a cool machete trick I learned keeping the jungle from growing in around the hex house the owner was building. Oh! The Monk fruit! I didn’t get to see that one bear fruit but I did get to taste it earlier in the year and it really does make everything sweet. Even those super sour (orange) “limon”. There you go, there’s two more in two sentences.
May you remember all the sweet tastes you have tasted in life and may the bitter and the sour make them all the better,