Monday, May 8, 2017

The dry season begins

May 2017

The dry season has arrived in central Brazil and the good news is that in our area the rainfall for the rainy season (October 2016-April 2017) surpassed each of the last three years according to Guy’s approximate measurements: 
2013/14 - ? millimeters (I'll fill this in as soon as I can.)
2014/15 – 1272 ml 
2015/16 – 1057 ml 
2016/17 – 1500 ml 
However we’re learning that the depletion of the water table in this area has been going on for many years -decades - and that one good year won’t have much of an impact as more land is cleared and more water used to supply growing populations and to irrigate increasing monocultures of soy, corn, sugarcane and other crops.

The pump is dangling by black hose in the deepest water hole, just down from our house.
We’ve installed a pump (electric) to draw water from the creek that flows by our property. The water isn’t as clean as the water that comes half a mile from the spring above my son’s house whose water system we tap into. But our own water supply will work for irrigation and for emergencies if the other system gets low. We’re also planning to build a cistern to collect rain water, and a pond that will hold water in all but the driest years.

What way will this region go as climate change progresses? Wetter, drier, mixed? Experts are telling us that if forests are protected and replanted it will rain more, but agro-business, promoted by the government, is taking us in the opposite direction. And the small effort I agreed to initiate with a local friend, an organization that would protect the local waterheads, is proving difficult to get off the ground. People are too busy, their personal lives too compelling – justifiably or not – to attend meetings, organize events, actually plan the reconstruction of a spring that’s been degraded. (Sound familiar?) I haven’t given up so stay tuned.

Our young male goat, next to his dam.
As for our personal projects here on the farm, the big news is that we butchered our first young goat, a six-month-old wether. We raised this cabrito with kindness, in a nice pen large enough for him to run and play with other goats. We had him castrated by a neighbor who is our stand-in for veterinarian counsel and action due to his long experience with animals, especially the sheep that he cares for for his boss.

Roast leg of goat - very tasty.
Now a roast, two legs and two racks of ribs fill our small freezer, after we roasted the first hind leg when my daughter and her partner came to visit from the US. I had to learn how to marinate it so that it would be tender and flavorful, and it was a wonderful success. And we gave one of the front legs to our friends in town. We find that most people around here are loathe to try food they’re not used to, like goat milk and meat, but a few people are curious or have traveled and welcome the opportunity to experiment.

We raise goats partly to explore the advantages they represent over the prevailing and growing beef consumption. Around the world people have learned to equate prosperity with having abundant meat on their table. Cattle raising means hundreds of acres of land cleared for pasture, both here in the cerrado (our richly bio-diverse savannah) and in the Amazon.

Permaculture teaches us to think small and efficient, focusing on the resources of the land under our feet and the vegetation that surrounds us. Goats can be raised on small farms and even in large backyards, providing milk and meat in exchange for corn, hay and the prunings of bushes and trees.

We don’t try to keep a male goat to impregnate our does. Instead we transport our pretty ladies to a neighboring farm where a herd of goats roam a fairly large area of grass and woods. Male goats are difficult in close quarters due to their ornerish personalities and a distinctive and very unpleasant odor. Our place is too small.  

This variety of banana is called 'nanica,' which means 'small.'

The two bunches on these trees are 'banana prata.' We also have 'banana maçã' and 'banana marmelo.'

The banana plants we put in two years ago (May 2015) are finally producing bananas, which look like they’ll all ripen – it takes months – at approximately the same time, hopefully when my son and grandsons visit in July. 

Our eight hens are laying four or five eggs a day, fewer than a month ago due to the shorter days – supposedly hens require fourteen hours of daylight to produce an egg. Right now the sun rises at about 6 am and sets at 6 pm. The mama hen doesn’t lay eggs while she cares for her brood, but eventually she’ll start up again and her little pullets should start laying in September.

Mama hen and chicks enjoy a dust bath.
And here's a look at the latest stage of the cob house, outside and in. Notice that the walls are finished all the way up to the roof. Next steps include new layers on the floors, ceilings in the bedrooms, and some cob furniture - seats along the walls, an alcove, and a bookcase.

I look forward to hearing from you. Leave a comment if you please.