Regenerating, Banana & Plantain

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Following yesterday’s theme, but switching to another example, today I will say a few words more about the pitch. The last time I spent time thinking about bananas as much as I am now, it was in the context of creating an edible landscape. Amie and other team members wrote plenty on this topic when we were based in Kerala.

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Now that I am prepping for regeneration I am watching these banana and plantain plantings grow day to day, week to week as I remove the grasses surrounding them. Continue reading

Regenerating, Early Steps

Ornamentals

In the early stages of regenerating this erstwhile coffee farm, moving decades-old ornamentals to the periphery has been an important activity. But some ornamentals stay put. The purple flowers center-left in the image above are a favorite of both hummingbirds and butterflies, so that bush, planted only one year ago, was a no-go. And behind it, a bougainvillea that was planted in 2001 remains because it has become a favorite place for hens to bring their chicks to hide under the foliage from a grey hawk that has taken up residence above in the poro trees.

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In this image above, in the background is a sibling of the bougainvillea planted in 2001, and this one was already closer to the periphery so did not need moving. But in the foreground is an example of another ornamental that has a completely different purpose. It is, frankly, an ugly ornamental as these things go. It does not produce flowers, instead putting its energy and other resources underground to create a strong, deep root system. It is planted for soil retention. And this stalk was cut from a mature version of the same, as seen below. Continue reading

Tending The Pitch

Quad

In previous posts I have pointed my lens to this area, but from another angle and with limited scope. In the photo above, in the distant upper right you san see a small light object which is the top of the bee colony. With this view you can make out where the curvy berms lead and if you squint you can see the long quadrangle. A few months prior to our departure to live in Croatia in August, 2006 I decided that this stretch of relatively flat land would make a good football pitch for our boys and their friends. It was a mess of bramble and brush at the time so I cleared it and removed the big rocks and let it be. We would be gone for one year, and when we came back I would finish the pitch.

Plans change. We did not return to live in Costa Rica for another dozen years. This week, as we move to Plan B I took a snapshot of how that pitch looks right now. I am one quarter of the way through removing all the grasses that invaded the land while we were away. Under their blanket is all the rich soil that earthworms produce when left alone for awhile. That pitch, which now has 30 banana and plantain trees, and hundreds of bean plants as well as beets, will next get watermelon where the land is already cleared. These all will help the soil, and prepare the shade needed, in advance of coffee planting next year.

Planting Coffee, Plan B

TriunfoSeedlings

VTriunfoFIf you have been following these pages for at least a few months, you know that we kept the coffee beans from our last harvest to use as seeds for replanting land that was coffee farm for most of the last century. For better or worse, the photo above is not the result of those coffee beans. It is normal for seeds like our to germinate in 6-8 weeks. As of today we have precisely zero germination. Plan A, complete. Not a failure, just a lesson in the vagaries of agriculture. Plan B has been growing on me since creating the new labels for our coffee. Specifically one of the single estates that we offer, which is produced at Villa Triunfo in the Western Valley of Costa Rica. These specifications, which I received last year during our cupping sessions, were my guide to rewriting the text for the label on the back of the bag:

VTBackThis farm is unique in that it has Starmaya and Marsellesa cultivars which were both developed as a joint venture between ECOM and CIRAD (agricultural development in France). This lot of coffee displays how when Marsellesa, a Sarchimor type varietal is properly cared for, harvested and processed it can rival some of the most desirable varietals in the region. This coffee was produced in the Red Honey method which leaves some residual mucilage on the seed prior to drying. After drying, the parchment coffee appears red in color resulting in the “Red Honey” distinction. With this process, a bit of the coffee fruit flavors make their way into the cup as well.

Today, I will put in motion Plan B, one part of which is the acquisition and planting of seedlings from these hybrid beans (those in the photo at the top) that our friends at Villa Triunfo have been having great success with.

Curvy Berms, Seedlings & Fertile Earth

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Curvy berm

What looks like an elongated haystack curving downslope in this photo we call a berm. No hay there, just a mix of cut grass covering branches, logs, and such. The purpose of a berm, diagonally traversing this hill, is explained better by others. When we prune trees and bushes, cut grass, and find old logs on the land their biomass help build this berm. Recently we trimmed all our vetiver grass, a soil retention ally that grows waist-high in rows throughout our hills. We cut it back twice a year, and added it to the  top of the curvy berm.

PoroSeedlings

Poro seedlings

To the left of that berm are re-plantings of a type of palm that we had growing on the property already, which birds love for the orange fruit it provides and for nesting. Those 20 palms join the 30 banana and plantain trees on the flat area below, and the dozen or so citrus trees recently planted. The shade-providing and nitrogen-fixing tree called poro will be planted during the next waning moon cycle.

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Poro trees, parents of the seedlings, with vetiver grass downslope

We have collected hundreds of seedlings from the poro trees originally planted when this land was part of a coffee farm.

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This rainbow reminded me to document the work on the land where the bees are, and where the coffee will be. For now, just a quick note. On the lower left of the photo above you can see where I have been using a pickax to loosen soil, dark and rich and teeming with earthworms, for planting in between the rows of bananas. I last cleared this space before we moved to Croatia in 2006. The grasses and vines that occupied this space for the intervening years until recent months, now our enemy for growing plants we favor, have performed an amazing ecosystem service. The earthworms and smell of the soil tell me that.

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End of day, sunset time, back on the terrace of our home, an unexpected spectacle. In the photo below, which is looking due east, the sun is coming from the west, hitting Irazu volcano and lighting it up in such a way that it almost looks like golden lava is flowing down its cone. I’ll take that view, with thanks to whatever caused it.

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Sunset-illuminated Irazu volcano in the distance

Re-Opening, Regeneration & Restoration

BeesAmie

Friday, one of the hotels where we operate Authentica re-opened. With not much exaggeration I can say that for hotel staff, for Amie and me, and for the Costa Rican guests we interacted with, seeing tourism start up again after three months felt emotionally kind of like this, only with serious social distancing.

Yesterday, day 2 of this experiment in moving forward, before going to greet guests at the shops we began on the land. Above is the first of what we expect to be a larger set of honey bee colonies that will pollinate our coffee and fruit trees. Amie is in beekeeping tutorial mode and after a few weeks in place it seems to my untrained eye that the bees are happy with her progress. The land surrounding the hive, and other parts of the property, have been planted with beans common to the Costa Rica diet–mostly black and red–and some special varieties that we favor, such as white and butter varieties. Those we planted first, as you can see below, are already sprouting.

BeansSprouting

While we look forward to their eventual edible state, the primary purpose of these legumes is to fix nitrogen in the soil in advance of planting when our coffee seedlings are ready. Regeneration of the nutrients will allow the soil to host the coffee we are preparing for the microlot restoration project, planned long before current crises and to bear fruit some time after we have figured out how to move on with life. For now, seeing guests again, having beans sprout and bees buzzing is good enough.

Organikos Coffee

OrganikosNewLabelAmistadSince mentioning the new Organikos labeling and upcoming delivery of coffee in the USA we have progressed enough to predict that by sometime in August we will be shipping. The label to the left is mostly the same as three weeks ago, but now highlights the two general categories of coffee we offer. We knew one year ago that we would be featuring single estate and single region coffees from Costa Rica, but our labels did not focus attention on that as clearly as we now will. Organic, as well as Fair Trade and Decaffeinated were treated as their own categories, even though our organic is at least as special because it is a single estate. The same can be said for the two single region coffees–special for that reason but also due to their fair trade practices and decaffeination processing–so we decided to simplify the format as you see here, and can also see in the example below.

OrganikosNewLabelWhile we wait for our coffee to germinate, and for our graphic designer to complete the remaining sketches that accompany the twelve coffees, we are also finishing the structure of the e-commerce platform where the coffee can be purchased.

We started receiving requests last year from people who had bought our coffee while in Costa Rica about how to buy more and have it delivered to them. Not all of those queries were from the USA but under current circumstances it happens that fulfilling the requests in the USA is most feasible. So, we will be roasting weekly and coffee will arrive to those who order it within a few days.

If you are in the USA and you are interested in learning more about this option, please leave a message in the comment section here, or send an email to me at crist@organikos.com

13,832 Seeds To Germinate

CoffeeClean5Time to see what our coffee is capable of. After cleaning the last parchment off, hundreds of beans unsuitable for planting were removed. For germination we took the path with a ratio of lowest cost to highest probability of success. On the spectrum of possibilities is no seedlings in August, or more than the few thousand we expect. The area in this photo, normally with no chicken wire or covering, has for two decades served no other purpose than for our dogs to run along the ivy-covered fence line on the right, chasing the occasional passing horse or cow or car. All that running has packed the earth pretty well so we built up a base of compost and potting soil, about two feet wide and thirty feet long. Diagonally above it all is agricultural mesh, to shade the seeds and to keep the rain from washing the seeds away.

Here Is Where We Are, With Birds & Coffee

BOTDCrist

Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world…here is where we are.

BOTD2CristAmie and I are following local rules in place over the Semana Santa holiday week, which ends today. Starting tomorrow there will be more freedom of movement. Most of our friends in Costa Rica feel confident in their country’s leadership during this time, and we have respected the rules and appreciated the clarity of their communication.

BOTD3CristWe are at home, and I took the photo at the top yesterday with a book we keep next to the binoculars. We have been seeing two different species of bird coming to that window, and I did my best to capture the more colorful pair. I was hoping to get the male and female at the same time on the rail, with their entry in the book clearly in view in the lower right of the frame. I took what I could get. The entry for this pair is on a page with the header Plate 47: Larger Red or Yellow Tanagers which then specifies:

Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata), p433. Streaked back and wing-bars. (a) [male] orange-red. (b) [female]: yellowish-olive.

BOTD4CristPositive id. During the setup for that shot, looking out our family room window Amie noticed that one of our coffee trees still has blossoms on it. The white flowers to the right, slightly droopy, signal the beginning of the fruit production cycle that will culminate in December with the ripe red cherries we have been harvesting for 20 years now. Just a few days ago the beans from the most recent harvest were ready, and I placed them in a sack after they had been sundried and the husks removed. We call them beans but they are really seeds, and unlike the previous 20 years when this coffee has been roasted and consumed, this year I will germinate them to fulfill the commitment made one year ago. There is plenty to be concerned about today versus 363 days ago, but there is also, still, inspiration.

BOTD5Crist

 

Organikos & Coffee Restoration

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The image above shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last two centuries that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. And the value of coffee that is as world class as what Seth planted at Xandari and also resistant to the challenges brought on by climate change is even greater. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in August, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.