Forces of Nature

Millet - L'Angelus

Millet – L’Angelus, 1860 (praying for a better crop, originally painted as praying over their son who died in famine)

When one is working with the earth, sometimes the earth chooses to remind them who is in charge.

I grew up with a few people working in organic agriculture. My uncle has a farm of his own. My mom worked for years as a grant writer for non-profits, as well as writing articles about climate, environment, and food sustainability. I have seen a few times how quickly a crop can find itself in trouble. All it takes is the wrong bug, a little too much water, not enough water, too much frost. All it takes is a small change to ruin everything.

This week is the first week I found myself confronted by nature’s obstacles for the first time. Now, the primary and founding belief of permaculture is that the problem is the solution. It’s easy to say that, but implementing it is a real puzzle.

My first obstacle was Bismark’s twenty-some chickens. The planting beds I made last week will be eternally in danger of being rooted up by the girls and their main man. Chickens can potentially be great for a garden. They eat pest insects and their feces are high in nitrogen, making them an excellent fertilizer. But how to allow them close enough to the plants without allowing them to dig them up is a puzzle.

There is also the issue of the price of chicken wire and whether or not it will be effective. As with all things manufactured and imported, it runs more than it should, about $25 for 30m. An old friend donated some cash to the cause, but I had not yet found out the price of the wire, and so it will either cover seeds, or wire, but not both. There is also the problem that the young chickens will be able to jump it unless it’s so tall as to make access to the garden difficult. So, out of my intrinsic inclination toward frugality and a desire to find a solution that farmers here can implement on their own, I did an awful lot of research.

I’ve decided to try a bunch of rocks. Apparently chickens don’t like the feel under their feet. It just requires a little maintenance in the way of moving them out from the sprout as it grows.

The next obstacle has been ants. Nicaragua has the meanest ants on the face of the planet. I don’t think I’ve ever known such an aggressive insect in all my life. They’re in our yard and at least once a day one manages to bite me and leave an itchy welt. They need no provocation. They eat the plant’s produce and, to make ants even worse and even more fascinating, they cultivate aphids in their nests, which of course spread to the plants.

ant aphid cultivation

To my dismay, I uncovered a huge ant nest where I was making one of the beds. Right about this time I was watching a chicken chow down on a series of chilies. Either they’re real tough or they can’t feel spiciness. I waited and hoped that she’d do me the favor of getting in and rustling up some ants, but after one try she left them alone. They’re mean I tell you.

ant hill

what looks unassuming on the surface is seething underneath

I’m not sure what the best solution to the ants will be. Boiling water with chili might be necessary, but that seems like it would also kill good things in the soil. Still looking into other solutions.

The rainy season is also hard on us, and my biopores, while helping, are not nearly enough.

So nature’s final blow has been a round of fever. Maybe a bit of heat exhaustion, it was hot last Wednesday when I was riding out to Mozonte, I’m not sure. Anyway, I won’t complain, these things happen.

And that’s the moral of the story – set backs happen, especially when working with the earth in all it’s grandness and power. It serves well to be reminded from time to time that I must work within the earth’s rules and guidelines; that I can’t push against her but must find ways to work with her. One can’t grow anything without a little luck and a little favor on the part of the land that grows it.