Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hats Off to TJ Ranch Guests

I’ve been thinking about how much our guesthouse and guests mean to me. I usually do this kind of refection around Thanksgiving, but I’m thinking about it now because I realize how important it is for my psychological well being.

I’ve lived twenty-five years in the “boondocks” of Arecibo. The first four years were spent in a physical quest planting our farm, tiling the house and making a life in my jungle home. Then came children and I spent the next eighteen years shuttling the kids up and down the hill or if not physically taking them around then mentally focusing on their well being.

But things are different now. Our youngest is driving and independent. So here I am…spending more time at home with never ending chores to occupy my body, but what of my mind? The guests at TJ Ranch have been my life line to the outside world. I hear about things going on and meet people I probably would never have met, even living in a metropolitan area.

How would I have known about “Green Gas” if I hadn’t met Efrain? Please check out his website at www.greengasllc ....it’s important stuff. Or where would I have met Allison, the Mormon mother of seven, traveling with her eldest son for a week before going back to Augusta to home school her brood. Hey, Rick..thanks for telling me about your father’s 40 acre almond farm and the “shaker” which shakes the trees to harvest the almonds. How come they haven’t tried something like that for coffee? Daniel, the Frenchman who studied in Spain…oolala what an accent! Thanks for fixing our telescope…guess aeronautic engineering has some hands on applications. I just wrote to Steve, the firefighter from Arizona, to see if he went to California to fight this year’s fires…not this year wrote his wife, Nikki…although he’d like to… Don’t let me forget the Boricuas, traveling from other parts of the island. The trip for Carlos and Waleska from Naguabo probably took as long as a flight from Florida to come see us. They had a relaxing weekend celebrating his recent return from Honduras. And good luck to Clarys who needs to make some hard decisions in order to deal with her debilitating lupus condition. I hope the days at TJ Ranch gave her the rest and fortitude to persevere.

And so…keep on coming TJ Ranch guests. Not only do we need you to survive economically, but I need you in order not to go brain dead. Each of you is truly unique and has made my life in the mountains as rich and diverse as that of any city dweller.

(photos included have nothing to do with our guests...just some of the TJ Ranch family)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rethinking Coffee

In 1989 we planted 3000 coffee trees, spacing them according to the government’s instructions, only to find out that they were too close together and we had to remove about 700 trees.

In 1990 Hurricane Hugo flattened our crop, but they were so young that we could stake them up and they were fine.
In 1999 we removed more trees to build our guesthouse, but we maintained two major areas devoted to coffee.

We enjoy being farmers. We are city folk transplanted in the country, learning by trial and error…Green Acres revisited. We followed the coffee process from start to finish. We picked, skinned, dried, shelled and roasted our beans, although usually we picked the coffee and sold it “uva” to the local cooperative which would then sell it to the various processors. We’d gather a crew together during harvest and pick coffee from early morning until we could load the sacks in the pick up and take them off to some remote location to sell. We were coffee farmers and although we never made much money, our hearts were in it.
Now it’s twenty years later; our coffees are old and so are we. Broca, a world wide coffee plague has come to our area, diminishing the quality and price of coffee and requiring more attention and money. So it’s time to rethink our coffee. Just as we’re approaching a new age in our lives, so must our farm.

There’s no such thing as fallow land here. The jungle has its own life and takes over all in its path. Our cottages would soon disappear, covered by vines of ├▒ame if we were to leave things alone. And so we’re thinking…without investing a lot of money we’re trying to come up with a plan for the future. I’ve heard that the government has reforestation programs, encouraging people to plant trees and leave them for ten years, but it involves government loans and lots of paperwork.

We’ve come up with a preliminary plan. In the past year or so we’ve interspersed some plantains in our coffee plantation. We also have various kinds of citrus trees ready to plant. I even have a fig tree started in a pot. We have a row of asparagus and a row of papayas planted among the coffee. So I think we’re going to continue our various plantings… label them so that our guest can walk around and see….space them so that we can cut the grass with the mower or the tractor and perhaps at some point the trees would provide some shade that would inhibit undergrowth.

So that’s our idea…keep some coffee for “show and tell” but try converting the area to a variety of trees…maybe some ‘exotics’ (vanilla? Venus fly traps???) so that we can maintain our groves, eat from the trees and wander through paradise. Anyone want to trade some bulldozer time for a couple of nights in Eden?