Thursday, February 24, 2011

You really CAN find anything on the internet!

This morning we found maggots in one of our worm compost buckets. Lots of maggots. Up 'til now things have been working out great with our worms, as they quietly turn our kitchen scraps into compost . . . but the addition of maggots didn't seem like a good thing, so I quickly pulled up a search engine (I like to use and typed in the words "worms" and "maggots."

About the sixth entry down the page of matches was a blog post answering someone's question as to what to do about an explosion of maggots in their worm bin!

In case you ever have this particular problem - and who really knows what the future holds - here's the page with the info: The page also has - ahem - some lovely pictures, too (cough, cough, cough).

So now you know - you really can find anything on the internet!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Traffic jam at my house today . . .

We had an ox cart come to deliver sacks of manure.

Then, while that cart was still unloading, we had another ox cart come to deliver more manure. It was an ox cart traffic jam!

The arrival of the third oxcart a few hours later didn't seem newsworthy enough for a photo, but the fourth oxcart was so heavily loaded that we (Gus and I) thought you'd want to see it, so Gus got a picture of the cart. The entire family came along with this cart, walking on the way here, because they couldn't possibly have gotten on, and probably riding back home again. They told us that they're building a house, and they were delighted for the opportunity to earn some cash from just picking up and hauling manure. They sure were motivated!

I have to admit, though, I think the neighborhood now officially thinks we're nuts. Oh well, they would've figured that out eventually.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Growing a lawn - and cornering the manure market!

Things are moving along, steadily, on improving our property. When we first leveled the top piece of land, where we've located our buildings, we were left with a desert of dirt and rocks - not very appealing. Here are pictures of the bodega and the team house, during construction, where you can see what we had to work with, in the way of "yard."

Last year, just before the rainy season, we spread dirt in front of the two buildings, and seeded them both with grass. Now we have grass established in those two areas, and we're extending our "lawn." We want to have much of this work done (and grass growing) before the rainy season, because the heavy rains during that time of year would wash the loose dirt and seed right down the hill.

The area we've tackled this year is larger than the two areas from last year, and it's very sloped. To fight the inevitable erosion, we're getting sod from our neighbor, who was clearing a field for planting. We have to pay a laborer to cut it up, but the sod itself is free. Maybe not the nicest sod you ever saw, but we're not that picky, and it seems to be perking up when we get it in place and start watering it.

Gus and Cruz (our current worker) have been laying the sod in lines across the slope of the hill, to keep down erosion.

In the picture above, you can see the nice green grass from last year, in front of the team house. Between the lines of sod, you can see some brown dirt and some black. The black is actually a mixture of dirt and manure.

We only have a few cows, and we've already used most of the manure from them to fertilize the garden. So, we put out the word in the nearby town of Catulaca that we were willing to pay for sacks of manure.

This morning, Allen made three trips to Catulaca, and people came running out to meet him, with sacks full of manure. We got phone calls from people, telling us where families and neighbors had lots of sacks all collected together. In one spot, there were 50 sacks of manure. Below is a picture of our manure pile, but this picture was taken early in the day. The pile is much, much bigger now!

In addition to filling the trailer with sacks . . . even the inside of the Land Cruiser was full!

After our final trip into town, we had people show up on horses, and one family with an ox cart, all bringing more manure. Plus, we know more people are coming tomorrow.

I think we've cornered the manure market!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?

I don't blog for the purpose of getting lots of comments, as my regular readers can probably tell, since I'm so bad about answering comments. But, even though getting lots of comments isn't my goal, I still like getting them . . . and so would Allen. Recently, however, when I've written about what Allen has been doing, we haven't been getting any comments!

For example, recently I blogged about:

my homesteader-style ways - 5 comments
harvesting beets from my garden - 5 comments
recent miscellaneous good news we've gotten - 5 comments
pictures of our new puppy - 3 comments
a general update about the garden - 4 comments

but . . .

a school construction project - 0 comments
2 church construction projects - 0 comments for either one
a bridge construction project - 0 comments

I wonder if it's because, when I'm writing about the construction projects, I'm not writing as personally as when I write about the garden and life at home. At any rate, I think Allen's gonna get a complex if somebody doesn't say something, soon, about his projects. (LOL - like anything could give Allen a complex!) Anyone care to send Allen a kind and encouraging word? Thanks!

El Mongual Bridge Construction Project - part 2

Last week I started writing about the bridge we are helping to build in the city of El Mongual. I'm a bit behind on these postings, as they've been working on this bridge since mid-December. Allen and Russell are working there today, in fact.

In this post, I'll be showing you pictures of the second beam being poured. I think it's kind of interesting to see how this work is done without the help of any machines.

Here's the empty form, into which the concrete will be poured. The form is 43' long.

Here you can see down the form from the top. There is a framework of rebar inside, and much more rebar will be added as the process continues.

More long pieces of rebar are added to the form.

Here comes some more heavy rebar.

Rebar is threaded into place from the open end.

While the rebar is being pushed into place, four teams of men are mixing concrete. The concrete is poured into the form, starting at the closed end.

The level of concrete is rising at the one end.

Russell is working with the trowel, smoothing the top of the concrete as the work progresses.

A look from above, which might give some idea of how much rebar is packed inside this concrete beam!

Here's how all the wet concrete gets into the beam.

And more, and more, and more buckets of concrete.

The guys keep smoothing the top, as the form fills with concrete.

When the entire beam is poured and smoothed, the empty paper sacks which previously held concrete are put on top, to protect the beam from drying out too quickly.

Men in the community continue to pour water on the paper sacks for several days, as the beam dries slowly from the inside.

With the big beams finished, the workers turned to pouring the concrete walls which will hold up the beams at each end. You can look forward to those pictures sometime in the near future.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My homestead-y life

Everyone who knows us knows that Allen is really the missionary, and I'm just a support person. This was actually a bit different when we lived on Guanaja and ran a community center - there I led worship music, taught lots of Bible lessons, and did other missionary-type stuff. Now that we work in Lempira, my contributions to the ministry mostly involve office work.

I've been quite content with the support person job (plus, with 6 kids, there's been plenty to keep me busy), and Allen has always done enough work for any three or four missionaries, so I figure it all balances out in the end.

Now that we're living out in the country, I've been gradually adding new activities into my life. Still not missionary activities, though. More like homesteader activities. I don't think we're actually going to consider ourselves "homesteaders" - I'm not exactly sure when one crosses that line. But we're definitely more homestead-y than we've ever been before.

Some examples:

- We now raise cattle. We have a bull, two cows, and a calf.

- I have a vegetable garden which is actually producing food that we are eating. This is huge for me. When my family talks about what each person in the family has as a special skill, my unanimously agreed upon skill is killing plants. So, the fact that I am able to keep the garden going is amazing!

- I make homemade laundry soap. This has been a major financial savings, even though we have to import the ingredients. When we get our annual container shipment I make sure to have enough supplies on there for a year of laundry.

- We have been canning food for a few months now, and we're really enjoying it.

- I bought and use cast iron pans. I'm not sure why this feels like a homestead thing, but it has been a new skill for Rachel and I to learn.

- We've been keeping chickens, for the eggs. We're currently chicken-less, however, until we get a new coop built.

What's in our future?

- Well, I didn't get to milk our cow, after she gave birth at Christmas. Things have just been too busy, and we don't have things set up for milking yet. I feel kind of guilty about this - seems like a waste to own a milk cow and not milk her. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to take this on.

- Once the cooler, rainy season starts, I'm hoping to start some berry bushes. I don't know how successful this will be, but that's just another experiment, like the vegetable garden. Fortunately, seeds are pretty cheap.

- I'm also thinking that we need some fruit trees - local fruits, like citrus and mangoes, at least at first.

I'm sure there's more on the horizon. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

El Mongual Bridge Construction Project - part 1

I'll admit, I'm in over my head, when it comes to blogging about some of our construction projects - especially the bridges. There's engineering involved, and surveying; various stages of construction, loads and stresses and things I just don't really know anything about. In spite of my ignorance, here's my attempt to give you some idea of how our current bridge construction project is going. Perhaps most of you don't know much more than I do about all of this, and then my simplistic explanations will be right on your level. For those of you with more advanced knowledge, I apologize for writing on a topic I know so little about.

The picture above shows the location of the new bridge, in El Mongual, not far from the city of Gracias. You can see, on the ground, the foundations for the walls which will hold up the ends of the bridge on each side of the river. It is currently the dry season, so the river is low and easily forded. When the rainy season starts, however, this is frequently a swollen and raging river, and without a bridge a large number of people are unable to ford the river to get out of their communities during that time.

Up on the hill beyond the river you can see our front end loader. This machine was donated a few years back by Gainesville Presbyterian Church in Virginia. We've found lots of work for the machine to do over the years, but it's on mostly light duty now, as it needs to have the tracks replaced, and that's an expense of about $8000 - not exactly in the budget just now.

The first picture below shows one of the two beams which will support the bridge. The beams are 43 feet long, and they each weigh 20 tons. It's hard to see how long they are in these pictures. You are, of course, looking down the beam from one end. In the next photo you can see that same beam, and the form sitting ready for the pouring of the second beam. In the third photo below, you are looking into the form, and seeing some of the pieces of rebar used to strengthen the beams.

The photos below show some of the men working on the project. Because all of the concrete is mixed by hand, this is a very labor-intensive project. The workers are mostly volunteers from the communities which will be served by the bridge.

This post is long enough already, so I'll continue with more info and pictures a bit later.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

From the garden - BEETS!

Well, I've had my first, teensy-tiny harvest from the new garden. Okay, I'm not counting the fact that I've already cut and used some of the leaf lettuce. But I'm really excited about my first batch of beets!

Maybe you can tell what a true novice I am, by how pleased I've gotten over such a little bit of produce.

Since this is my experimental garden, I'll tell you what I've learned.

I planted the beets on December 5th, using the directions for spacing in the book Square Foot Gardening. I planted two squares of beets, each 1' X 1', with 16 beets in each square. I wondered about having them so close together, as I'm used to seeing beets in Honduras which are about 4" in diameter, and clearly planting so many in such a small space was going to produce smaller beets. The author of the book suggests that intentionally harvesting smaller produce results in tastier and more tender veggies. I decided to go with these directions for this first batch, and make adjustments, as needed, on the next batch.

The book recommends harvesting the beets 8 weeks after planting, when they are about the size of ping-pong balls. Today is 9 weeks from planting. My beets along the edges of the squares were larger than ping-pong balls, but the interior plants have much smaller beets. As you can see in the photo, I only pulled the larger beets, and there were only 5 of those. I'm leaving the others to continue growing. That's not a problem, except that I'll need to plant more beets at one time, if I'm going to have enough full grown beets, all at the same time, for a family meal.

We had extremely little rain during the time these beets were growing. I was watering regularly, but I could tell that the plants perked up after a rain, and they looked happier on overcast days than on sunny days. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to continue to grow beets through the rainy season, but that will be an experiment for later in the year.

The temperatures this year have been warmer than the same time last year, and it has been much sunnier this year. Since I've only lived here on the property one year, I don't know if last year or this year was more typical. So, I guess I'll still be learning for a while.

This small batch of beets I boiled and used to make pickled eggs and beets. Oh, the beet leaves are edible too, but we're not fond of them, so we've been using them for bunny food.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

There's . . . something . . . out there . . .

Last night, fairly early (say, maybe 9pm) I heard sounds coming from the woods. The rest of the family was in our other building watching a movie, and none of them heard anything. I had heard these same sounds once before, about a year ago.

At first, it sounded like a pack of small dogs, all yapping at one another. The sounds seemed to call and reply, but also to overlap. Not like a whole bunch of dogs barking frantically, but like dogs in a group, calling back and forth.

This lasted long enough for me to realize that the sounds didn't quite sound like dogs, exactly. My second thought was that perhaps my husband and kids were outside playing, and were making these sounds. I remembered that I'd gone through the same series of thoughts when I heard these calls last year - thinking they were dogs, then thinking they were . . . something else. Something I couldn't identify.

My dogs, who were all in the house when I heard the sounds, went crazy with desire to find the source of the noise, so I opened the door and they shot away in the direction of the sounds - but they were back in a few moments, apparently not having found anything close enough to home for them to chase off.

The family has discussed the possibility of these sounds coming from birds (but at night? - that seems odd), coyotes (which we have around here, but aren't they more likely to howl than to bark?), and monkeys (which we do have locally, on a nearby mountain which is a national park, but we've not ever seen any of them). In the end though, we're left with only the knowledge that there's something out there . . .

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Several long-awaited events have come to pass in the last few days.

Our container shipment from MD, which arrived in port in Honduras in mid-December, finally got through customs and arrived at our house this past weekend. Hurrah!

The big new batteries, for our solar power system arrived in the shipment. Allen is busy working on a bridge project right now, but as soon as he has a free day - probably this weekend - he's planning to install the new system and we should be back to having enough power for our daily lives, without having to suppliment with the expensive running of the generator! Hurrah!

We just got word this morning that the final, on-paper notification, regarding the dismissal of our tax audit, arrived from the IRS. So, we have officially gotten beyond this tax audit, without having to pay anything additional to the IRS. Hurrah!

This all calls for a celebration, and a big Praise God! - don't you think?

Garden Update - February 1, 2011

There's a lot of activity in our little garden these days. Gus has been working exceptionally hard on the construction of new garden areas. David is great at cleaning up our dirt (shoveling it through a screen to remove rocks) and filling buckets with dirt to carry to the garden. Rachel turns out to be a fine planter. I'm the one who plans, waters and harvests. Boo pitches in where needed, which is a great help to everyone.

This past week, Allen, Rachel and Gus built a small screened shelter for use in the garden. It won't help with crawling or burrowing pests, but we're having quite a time with grasshoppers eating the cabbage plants (though ignoring plants right next to the cabbages), and we're hopeful that the screened area will help with that problem.

Everyone pitched in to sort out the worms from the wonderfully composted dirt they created for us, in big plastic bins behind our kitchen. We collected several buckets of good, rich compost. This was added to certain sections of the garden, where we'll place plants which don't appreciate manure as an addition to the soil. The worms are definitely thriving, and it was a big job to collect the dirt without losing worms in the process. Turns out, however, that our worm population is so high that we won't be missing the few worms that ended up in the garden.

We've added radishes and corn to our list of plants we're growing. Tomatoes and green peppers will be planted once we get a free moment. Everything is still experimental, so I'm keeping records of when each item is planted, how they thrive (or fail), and when we can harvest food from them.

The weather has been good. We actually got some cloudy days and some rainy nights recently, which the plants appreciated. Even in January, with cooler air temperatures, the sun can be challengingly bright and hot for the plants.

If you click on the picture below, you can see the view I get to look at as I work in the garden. I really do appreciate the views we enjoy up here!