Gardening mysteries unraveling in March winds

My left thumb has been itchy lately. I’ve been yanking up scratchy thistle, and I got a bee sting there a couple days ago. Clearly (or dirtily) the left is the green thumb for gardening, following the rhyming logic that my right is for writing. After translating resources with clear instructions for sustainable agriculture with tropical crops like coffee and cacao, I walk into the wild unknown of my own subtropical kitchen garden.

Exploring gardening in Texas, during my first growing season here, is mostly a joyous experience of marveling at nature’s mysteries.

Just like in Manizales, seasons are thrown with gusto to the wind. It can feel like spring at dawn, summer all day long, and fall right before dusk…during a November winter.

Faithful to the start of the adage on March storms, tornado winds this week shredded my milk-jug-encased tomatoes straight down the middle of the stem, yet didn’t even tussle four-foot-tall arugula. The garlic in the middle of still-straight cilantro simply folded over because it’s time to ripen, tornado or not.

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Flowering arugula smells sweet like jasmine, as the leaves get ever more peanut-buttery potent. It’s an exhilaratingly sensorial confusion to nibble and sniff at the same time. Coffee flowers similarly remind me of jasmine, but peanut butter was the one American treat I always missed in coffee-growing countries. Arugula strangely straddles that rift in cultural cuisines.

This particular plant came out of a mystery pack of jumbled seeds from a garage sale, was the only one to bolt from two beds, and chose to do so right on the edge of the patio.

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Clover seeded last summer luckily flowered for St. Patrick’s Day and started to attract pollinating bees, but I got a bee sting all the way downtown at a Keep Denton Beautiful (beauty-full of flowering Redbuds) event. I hung up a birdhouse only for a wasp to make its nest.

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There’s no rhyme or reason to when roses appear, whether tended or ignored. Mint comes back with a vengeance if mowed over, but dies when gingerly transplanted. Tropical ginger couldn’t hack the dry Texas heat, but the coffee hasn’t given up.

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We were charged with babysitting someone’s special organic jalapeño seedlings potted in black gold soil compared to our backyard’s clay bricks, and each one died. Just regular seeds out of fruits from the Mexican market gave us 99% germination on bell peppers and habaneros that overwintered wonderfully. In Colombia we danced salsa; in Texas we grow salsa!

IMG_7454The greatest mystery lately has been what’s sprouting from the unfinished compost I spread over the beds when spring planting time arrived months earlier than expected. The compost from last fall’s garden held the remains of a couple of successfully sweet cantaloupes, several smashed pumpkins from the neighbors that go overboard for Halloween, a boatload of unripe watermelon from an early winter snap, and umpteen vine-borer-infested butternut squash.

Today I moved a mound of leaf bags and squashed underneath I found seedlings with seeds attached: they’re watermelon. But I firmly believe that some others are undefeated squash.

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As Masanobu Fukuoka expressed in The One-Straw Revolution, seemingly random growth is not wrong; it’s entirely natural.

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Lil’ D limericks

If the Irish get kisses for wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, what would happen if everyone acted green the rest of the year? The earth will kiss us back and provide a home to sustain us for more years to come.

In celebration of sustainability, and in honor of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (I won’t, ’til the end) I have created my reader’s challenge of limericks for Denton, Texas on this St. Patrick’s Day.

May the Irish luck be with ye.

 

Even in Ireland they can hear Big Ben,

Tick-tick stick to schedule in London.

But this town’s downtown tower

doesn’t show the correct hour,

for life moves at a southern pace in ________.

 

Folks here are creative, always inventin’.

Raise backyard chickens, just keep ’em penned in.

Get your craft on at SCRAP.

Stand up, sing, dance, or rap.

Be original, stay ___________.

 

Two universities bring in the brains,

Metroplex growth with construction cranes.

A pity, given the proximity,

bad public transit to the city;

Yet at all hour we hear loud honking ________.

 

On second-hand loving Denton is keen.

Recycled gives books another chance to be seen.

Twice As Nice is a fab thrift store.

Habitat has paint, wood, and more.

Not just the Irish are proud to be _________.

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If you too love just about everything about living in Lil’ D, especially its freethinkin’ folks, but wish there were even more environmental initiatives, then send in your limerick answers* and sustainable suggestions in the comment box below.

Or submit your own limericks in homage to your hometown or adapted city!

To get thoughts rolling before pitching Big Ideas for Denton at Stoke next Monday, here’s a short list of my ideas for a greener Denton:

Alternative transportation

  • More commuter trains (A-train on weeknights, connection to Ft. Worth) and less frightfully noisy freight trains (plant more trees along the tracks as a sound barrier?)
  • Bicycle racks in front of stores. Some places (SCRAP, Ravelin Bakery) have let us bring our bikes inside, apologizing that the city doesn’t allow bikes to be parked outside.
  • Bike-awareness as a component of driver’s education and driver’s license renewal. Some drivers act openly aggressive toward cyclists, some only look for other cars before turning, and others are too busy on their phone to notice a bike until it’s too late.

Waste reduction

  • Weight sensors on the garbage trucks to charge each household by the amount of trash they generate each week. Water, electricity, and natural gas are based on consumption. It seems unfair to charge a flat rate to two houses, when one has an overflowing oversized garbage bin every week and another puts out a small bin every two weeks.
  • Biodegradable, green-tinted bags for yard waste to be composted, not landfilled. Neighborhood composters looking for leaves don’t know if the curbside stack of black garbage bags contains future soil or plastic trash.
  • Ban on leafblowers. Texas is windy, y’all. After an hour blowing the leaves to the other side of the street, the wind blows them right back. It’s pointless, loud, and wasteful. A rake does the job silently, efficiently, and using human power.

Food production

  • Farmers’ markets in northern and southern neighborhoods, just like banks have branches distributed across the city.
  • Incentives for homesteading similar to the programs in Kansas, to encourage organic farmers unable to afford the higher prices for smaller acreages.
  • Combat invasive weeds like Johnson grass with ground cover like clover (my white clover patch had perfect timing flowering today). Shamrocks for the win! ♣

Share your ideas, and we might all be lucky enough to have the city implement them.

*Are you one of those people who scatter Cheerios all over the breakfast table trying to look at the upside down answers to the word scramble on the back of the cereal box?

Please don’t spill my blog.

uǝǝɹƃ ‘suᴉɐɹʇ ‘ʇuǝpuǝdǝpuᴉ ‘uoʇuǝp :sɹǝʍsu∀

Putting the green in holiday greenery, with a pop of red

There is a lot of greenery in holiday decorations, but not a lot of green.

  • Our neighbors have left their Christmas lights on all night long since before December.
  • UPS has been bringing a package to the neighbors nearly every day since Black Friday. Inefficient deliveries means online shopping isn’t more environmentally friendly than driving once to the mall. (How about a discount if you opt to lump all your household’s purchases spread out over several weeks into a single monthly delivery?)
  • Single-serve aluminum baking pans and disposable champagne glasses are designed for holiday office parties or hosts who can’t bother to cook and then wash dishes afterwards too.
  • After the flurry of unwrapping, the mounds of paper, ribbons, bows, and probably a little kid’s already lost new toy, are whisked up in a pile for the garbage.
  • Unwanted gifts, notably the ugly-on-purpose white elephants, are given for a chuckle, then tossed.
  • The everyone-must-have-it-and-so-shall-I item is purchased at all cost, only to be relegated to the back of a closet stuffed with last season’s trends. A lady paid $300 for a Hatchimal in an online auction! That much money can buy a whole chicken coop set-up with a flock that will lay edible eggs every day all through next Christmas.

This year, our first living in the United States, we wanted to make at least a two-person dent in America’s Christmas-time consumption. We went for a hike in the forest while everyone was stuffing themselves silly at Thanksgiving, and the next day picked up free pecans straight from the trees while everyone was shopping on Black Friday, purportedly to help bring businesses out of the red. For the greenery, I didn’t need to spend green; I just had to look outside.

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Navidad 2011 in Jardín, Colombia. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

I hadn’t had a proper backyard garden since we lived in Jardín, Colombia, where every vividly painted balcony had a little old lady stooped over with a watering can. It didn’t matter if the pot was an empty pop bottle, as long as you grew pretty flowers in it. And everyone did. Gardening in Jardín was effortless: year-round mild temperatures, fertile soil, abundant water.

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Growing corn on either side of a mandarin orange tree in our backyard in Jardín. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Texas is a whole different beast. It’s like riding a bronco. I really, really, wanted to see at least one bright red tomato popping out of that tangle of green branches, like Rudolph’s nose if he ran into a pine tree, and so I hung on as big ol’ Texas weather bucked with all it’s got: a drought in June, 100-degree days in July, a rainstorm-a-day that brought fungus in August, aphids in September, daily tickling sessions to help pollinate in October, nightly tucking the plant to sleep under sheets for frost just at fruit-set in early November, and numbly stripping the branches of any tomato bigger than my pinky fingernail before the hard frost in the teens in December.

I missed my Rudolph moment, but green ripened into red in the dark cabinets and exploded with homegrown flavor. After that first juicy bite of lost summer, I made my peace with winter’s closure of the growing season and yanked off the tomato cage. I guess I wasn’t entirely at peace looking at unopened flowers and still had the bronco-buckin’ grip that can snap metal. That broken cage released my creativity, and with a little redneck ingenuity (duct tape) the upturned trellis became an upcycled tree.

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Coffee capsule/tomato cage 2016 Christmas tree. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Tinto in two forms helped with the rest of the decorations.

1.) Tinto as black coffee: Empty espresso capsules became dangly bells that let out a dainty ring against the sides of the tomato cage. This is our fifth year of hanging the same Nespresso capsules (and hanging the same hand-sewn stockings) on a miniature Christmas tree, which back in Colombia was made out of fresh bamboo branches each year. We rescued the capsules from the trash bin of an office that worked with and drank a lot of Nespresso.

2.) Tinto as red wine: Empty bottles will spell out J-O-Y to my visiting nephews and nieces learning to read (it’s my middle name too). The letters were cut out from the cardboard of a cracker box. The twine had held up pole beans in the backyard. The red marker and gold ribbon were discarded by previous tenants. Three evergreen clippings came from branches that overhung a nearby walking path and were due for a trim. The wine came at a cost, but we’re happy to be still celebrating monthly anniversaries.

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Joy in a bottle. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Thank you to the coffee and wine growers for contributing to our year-round enjoyment of these beverages and our year-end holiday decoration.

Thank you to the tomato growers who will sustain us until next summer’s crop.

Thank you to those who also choose to find peace and beauty in the simplicity of a more sustainable seasonal celebration.

Thank you to my readers and fellow writers for nourishing my mind with your inspiring ideas and encouraging words.

Now bring on the holiday desserts! (Thank you to the cocoa growers, the vanilla growers, the almond growers…)

Seasonal greetings from Tinto Tinta Translations!

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¡Feliz navidad! Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Tinto Tinta arrives in Texas

A month and a half ago, I got up before dawn and started a long drive out of the Medellín valley. We were enshrouded in a fog that clung to the cold mountains at three o’clock in the morning, a frighteningly solitary hour. I feared that up there, all alone, the car wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of our suitcases crammed with a ridiculous number of my dictionaries, enough coffee to last us at least three months, and all the basic tools to start a new life, minus the machete—not because it wasn’t essential, but due to oversize restrictions.

Montañas de humo Colombia Rionegro Antioquia

We arrived at the airport intact, took a deep breath once all the luggage was checked in, and ordered some strong coffee at Pergamino.

How else would we bid farewell to Colombia?

In June 2016, with my Colombian husband and his shiny new immigrant visa, we began our next chapter of life in the United States.

Sufficient reason to forgive the marked absence on this blog lately, I hope.

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Discover Denton rodeo

We arrived smack in the middle of summer to the flat plains of Texas. We came from a tropical country that enjoys equatorial heat year round. We didn’t have a clue about what was in store for us. I’m from Minnesota, where summer is like a hiccup that comes unexpectedly between opening and shutting the freezer door.

It’s so hot that I only drink coffee once a day, at six in the morning, when a cool breeze comes in and it’s only 84 Fahrenheit inside, which is the average high in Medellín. By 10 am it’s hit 92 degrees. Would you like a mid-morning coffee? No thanks.

But I love the new place and how we’re transforming it into a home.

I really want to plant some corn and beans in the backyard and grow a truly Colombian garden, or at least a replica of what we had in the beautiful village of Jardín (translates to Garden), Colombia.

We are now in the city of Denton (sounds like “dentudo”=long-toothed), where folks like their food. Not so much the grass that toothy rabbits eat. More like cowboys with their steak.

Unfortunately we could not feed any rabbits, or even goats, the tall sea of grass in the backyard. We sweat it out mowing manually (where is that darn machete now?), fertilizing the soil along the way with our good intentions to cultivate the land.

For now we have to wait until the heat of summer passes.

¡Sexy Cold Brew! //📷@elisacrisc

A post shared by Pergamino Café (@pergaminocafe) on

Meanwhile, how about some iced coffee? Yes please. Or just ice cream…