Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Hate to complain~

It seems horrible to complain about the heat when so much of the U.S. is suffering from such a long, miserable winter, but we're still in the throws of a very long hot spell. Today was the most miserable yet with a temp of over 100 a good share of the day. What makes it almost intolerable is that the farmers think that they HAVE to burn their milpa at this time. The humid, horribly hot air is also so smoky you can hardly breath. Thank goodness we're on the top of a ridge where we usually get a lovely breeze. It's been over two months of dry with about 10 minutes of rain a week ago.

It's hard to get up the energy to do a lot but tend to our new nursery. We've had some success and a big failure, but that's to be expected. The 41 bags we planted directly from a pod are doing great. Right now we have 38 plants up. Hoping the 3 pop up too. The frustrating thing is that the 107 seeds we bo't from the south aren't sprouting. We're not sure if it's the seeds or something we did wrong in the planting. Seems strange that we don't even have one plant showing. We planted them the day after the 41.

We've ordered 400 more seeds and Rene is putting up a shade palapa for the new nursery area. He came back from the south with ideas for an improved growing area. Marco came up on Saturday, looked at our six grafted plants and was very pleased with their growth. We're hand carrying water to them and giving them lots of love and attention. They're our hope for good budwood stock in the future. We're shooting for 500 to 600 grafted plants in the ground by the end of 2011. Go Dreamer Farm!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rene's trip

I picked Rene up at the bus stop in San Ignacio yesterday (Wednesday). He was tired, but seemed pleased about his trip and what he'd learned. The trip sounded difficult as it's long, without breaks. Rene, Javier and Henry took the bus from S.I. to Belmopan at 7am. It was a one hour trip. They had to wait until 11am for a bus south as there is now a rule that no one can stand up on a bus, so the full buses passed them by. It was then a 5 hour trip, without a stop to PG (Punta Gorda). They went to the Cacao office where they were waiting for them. They had a quick trip to the chocolate factory and then were driven to the farm in San Jose, getting there at 7pm. What a long day. Coming back they got up at 3:30am to catch a bus from San Jose to PG, but all were full. After two hours they had to pay someone to drive them to catch a bus back. I'm sure Rene's calmness helped them make it back.

I was pleased that Rene could travel with Beth's fellows as he's been all over Belize, is very friendly and not afraid to ask questions. He thinks that neither of the other fellows had done any traveling and were a little unsure what to do. Rene is a gem. On the way back to Bullet Tree he told me a little about the trip, sounding quite excited about what he'd learned. He decided to rest up Thursday and come to our farm on friday to pick up the Trooper and we'll sit down and discuss our project. We're moving forward.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cacao-grafted plants

Marco is enthusiastic about finding growers in Cayo, so isn't letting any grass grow under his feet. Another friend of ours contacted the Toledo Growers about cacao and Marco is assisted her to get started. She has some old trees, but we've found that they aren't of the preferred variety, so she'll be starting fresh too. She has lots of good land along the river, so some of her issues will be different from ours. It's nice to feel we can work together, learning as we go. Yesterday we met again at Marco's place where he had some grafted plants for each of us. We're buying all our stock, but as members of TCGA the costs are certainly reasonable. Once again, we dashed home to get our very special little plants in the ground. These 6 are each a different variety, so we'll label, give them special attention and track their growth and performance. These will eventually furnish our budwood for grafting. (see I'm learning new terms already).

We've been sharing our discussions with Rene and he seems excited about this too. Marco has arranged for us to send Rene and our friend Beth to send two fellows to the Toledo District to learn more about cacao, pruning and grafting. Because of the hot weather and schedules we decided to do this right away, so they will travel tomorrow by bus to Punta Gorda and then to a farm in San Jose. It's a long trip, but the only way we/they can get the training.

Friday, April 15, 2011


We've jumped in with both feet in raising cacao. There's quite a learning curve, as with all new things, but is interesting and hopefully will be rewarding. We met with Marco a week ago, toured his place here and picked up the seeds he bro't up from Punta Gorda. He had a few pods on his trees, but the woodpeckers had destroyed all but one. He broke that one open to show us the seeds and then gave it to us to bring home and plant. The problem was that it's still very hot out and the minute the pod was broken open the seeds start to ferment, which will kill them. We stopped for a few minutes at the Saturday market in San Ignacio for some veggies and then headed home. By the time we got here we could already smell the fermentation. We had bags and got 41 seeds from the pod, which we planted immediately. We bo't seeds from P.G. and planted that 100 the next day. We now have a little nursery in the shade with our 140 seeds. It doesn't look like much, but hey, it's a start. Chocolate in our future! Yum!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Our log home in Oregon

I'm taking this time to digress from the farm to share a little of our distress and upset about our previous home in Bend, Oregon. It's actually a couple of miles outside the resort area of Sunriver, Oregon. The area draws folks because of the Deschutes River, lots of lakes, golf courses galore and less than a 1/2 hour drive to the Mt. Bachelor ski area.

We discovered a log home being dismantled near Seattle in 1999. After a year of assessing and planning we bro't the logs down to Oregon and started rebuilding the home. We had to put the huge logs back in the same way they came apart, which was no mean feat. The original house was 2-story, but the top floor was covered by the roof with dormers. We wanted the view of Mt. Bachelor and more light, so we built an exposed 2nd story. We attempted to use as many salvaged products as possible. We were lucky to find oak kitchen cabinets that had been torn from a vacation home. They were like new. We installed an antique door at the side with most of it's original thumb print glass. When we located a party tearing out two, like new, clawfoot tubs, we couldn't make up our minds between the short or long one, so bo't them both. A really difficult task was accumulating downed poles and posts from neighboring woodlots for our loft and stair railings. Doing all the cleaning & shaping by hand made it a real struggle, but we did it. I spent one winter, carving a cougar on the outside of the front door. We were often visited by deer, so I carved two does on the inside of the door. There are lots of handcarved accents thruout the house.

Our crazy project was written about in "Log & Timber Style" magazine and later we were given a huge writeup in the Bend Bulletin. I'm only sharing all of this to give some insight into the anguish and sadness that we're going thru right now. We've tried to sell the house since first deciding that we wanted to make our home in Belize, but have been haunted by the rapid downturn in the housing market. We've supported the house for a long time, but now that must come to an end. I'm traveling back to Oregon in May to sell all the furnishings, salvaging as much from it as I can and then we'll let the house go. This horrible decision is coupled with some extreme family problems that are tearing us apart.

We'd placed both the Oregon house and Dreamer Farm on the market for sale, but, at least for now, Dreamer has truly become our refuge. It's so peaceful and beautiful and is giving us a positive direction for the future. We're going to stay here, grow cacao and renew our efforts to create a refuge for family & friends here in Belize.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A new direction

The weather here continues to be very hot. We woke this am to lots of morning mist, but by 8:30 it was rising and the sun started beating down. Rene came at sunrise so that he could work before it got really hot. He's become obsessed by a hole he is digging in the back, where he's sure we'll hit water. Things have slowed down their growing and the hole is in the shade in the morning so we told him to go ahead. This starter hole is only about 4' across so I stayed with him to help by hauling up the bucket of dirt and to sure that he's ok. He's mostly into a sticky grey clay which is very wet. He finally stopped at about 8' deep today. We were both hot and tired, but he hates to stop. I hope we'll be able to get him some help to make the hole bigger and deeper.

Now for the really interesting part. You know when you get an idea it wanders around in your head and you can't even remember where it came from? That happened to me with cacao. Maybe it was the article in the Belize Ag Report, I'm not sure. I knew that chocolate came from a bean, but always got cacao and coca mixed up. I google cacao and wow, what a cool plant. Most cacao is grown in Africa, Central and South America, fairly close to the equator. Here in Belize it's in the Toledo District. I sent an email to the Toledo Cacao Grower's Assoc. TCGA for information and got an almost immediate reply. Their consultant lives in San Ignacio and could visit our place on Monday. That's definitely not "Belize Time."

Early monday morning Marco Figueroa came up. What a great guy. He's extremely knowledgeable about growing cacao and was pleased about our interest. He's anxious to get growers here in Cayo, but interest has been minimal. Rene was here so helped by digging test holes and we included him in the discussions. We found that cacao needs to grow in shade and doesn't like marl. In places here the white marl is fairly close to the surface here, but behind and below the buildings would be great areas. It's possible to grow plants from seeds in bags and then plant the seedlings in the ground. This will take about 5 years and then, the cacao plants are notoriously unreliable and many won't bear fruit. Bummer!

Thank goodness Marco had an alternative. We can plant the seeds in bags. At three months we buy buds from proven plants and graft them onto the seedlings. After four more months we plant them. Grafted plants usually produce in about 2 1/2 years. That's sounds much better and more reliable. Wow, we were starting to get really excited. We can send Rene to Punta Gorda to learn more about growing and grafting. He's excited about the project too. Art may decide to go down too. We feel if we can get started, Dreamer Farm will not only be a real farm, but could be an information and education site for local farmers.

The beauty of cacao in Belize is that the TCGA has a contract to furnish organic product to a very large company. Currently they can't begin to supply the desired quantity. The local farmers have been promised so much in the past. If they grow a certain crop, there'll be a market, which never materializes. By growing cacao, working to maintaining the plants (watering, composting, pruning & growing new plants) a couple of acres of cacao should be able to support a family here.

We're meeting Marco in San Ignacio on Saturday to visit his little place to see plants, to get grow bags and to join the TCGA. We'll be on our way. As we progress (I hope) I'll keep you posted. These old dogs are having fun learning new tricks.