Sunday, April 13, 2014

April - our autumn


Would you like to spend a few months in Brazil this year? Even if you’re not a soccer fan, 2014 promises to be an exciting year to visit the land of Pele, samba, Rio, the old capital with its lovely beaches, and Brasilia, the new capital in the tropical central highlands – which is where we are.
We’re looking for one or two people to live with us for a while and work alongside us on a variety of projects - permaculture, gardening, bio-construction, advanced composting, and working with bamboo. We offer room and board in exchange for a few hours of work a day. You pay your own round trip fare to Brasilia, we pick you up at the airport, show you around, assist you with practical matters, help you learn Portuguese if you wish. If you’d like to know more, please email me at   


April 13, 2014

Another two months have lapsed without a new post. We completed our part of the video that Guy helped produce for the eleven-year celebration of my son’s language school in Brasilia ( The video comprised part of the March 21 party, an elegant affair with gourmet finger-foods, an amazing array of beverages – from tropical fruit juices to bubbly wine, beer and Johnny Walker Red Label. In addition to the video there were skits highlighting the various languages and activities the school offers, a learning-oriented bingo game, prizes, and finally informal ballroom dancing, a sine qua non for Brazilians.

Fofo on the roof
Some of you already know about Fofo, the kitten that showed up the morning after we turned over the video for final production. We’d been working 10-12 hour days and weren’t sure what to do with ourselves next. So a sweet playful kitten was just the ticket. We have no idea from whence he came – we live in the country, tucked away and hidden from the road, with no neighbors closer than half a mile. He likes to climb on top of the house to watch birds and stay safe when we’re not around, and he’s a good mouse-catcher, a real benefit here in the country.

Quaresma flowers announce the dry season.
In the meantime the rains picked up after the semi-drought in late January and early February, and we’re now secure in our water supply for the next few months, as the dry season arrives later this month and lasts until October. The creeks are running full, and here and there the water table has broken through the surface of our hilly plateau, at the northern lip of the La Plata watershed. Already the quaresmeiras blossom along the borders of the woods. The dirt road that connects our land to the asphalt road about five miles away is full of huge puddles and deep ruts but still passable.

Two siriemas (roadrunners) on the upper corner
of our property
We have begun to prepare for the second phase of our house-building project. This time, instead of hiring a local crew to build in the current squared-off manner, with hollow bricks, concrete, a wood structure, and cement-tile roof, we want to build the house ourselves, with the earth components we have in abundance on site – clay, sand, water, straw (perhaps some cow patties mixed in), stone, and bamboo. We’re considering cob, a material that even a small seventy-year-old woman can wield, and we‘ll build only one or two rooms to start out, since it’s easy to add on. The hand-sculpted house: a philosophical and practical guide to building a cob cottage, by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, and Michael Smith, is the main resource for our planning, so far.

Clearing the area, just above (west) the current house, where we will build our cob house.

Ipê tree stripped by ants - just a thin stem left.
Pocã tree stripped by ants.

The two last nights red cutter-ants (formiga saúva) have decimated two of our young trees, stripping them down to bare branches. One was a volunteer native plant, an ipê, that I was thinking of sacrificing anyway since it was too near the path and didn’t fit into my orchard scheme. But the other was a pocã, a large loose skinned tangerine, that planted last year. I think it will survive but I suspect we’ve lost a year of fruit from it. Tonight we’re prepared, with ant bait to lay by the side of their path. They should ‘discover’ it and carry it back to their lair instead of the targeted leaves – and it will destroy them. We’d avoid the carnage if they weren’t such a menace to our orchard, but all our sources tell us that we must get rid of them. Fortunately the ant bait is organic so we don’t have to use a chemical pesticide.

Cut leaves left by ants who work mainly at night.
This little ant is finishing up during the day.
The entrance to the ant house we hope to de-activate tonight.

Loufa gourds.

Babaçu trees.

Guy and his carrot - destined for a stir-fry tonight.

Avocados, lemons cherry tomatoes, red bode peppers, bishop hat pepper, carrot ...