28 November 2013

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The big news on the farm is that Austin started harvesting his first crop of cashews, he has maybe 100 in all, and the nuts will mostly be used for planting.   You can see the black shell over the nut at the top, and the fleshy fruit underneath.   The shell itself is toxic and has to be carefully removed before the nut is eaten.  Most fruits have their seeds on the inside, a few like strawberries have their seeds on the outside – but cashews are the only ones I know with the seeds on top.
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Akka roasted a few of the nuts and they tasted more like chestnuts than cashews, maybe because they had not been dried.  A guest here told us that in parts of Africa they make a nice beverage of cashew fruit, so we tried eating the fruit, too.  All I can say is those Africans must really like kissing, because the fruit, though sweet, is really astringent, like persimmons.  Just eat some cashew fruit and pucker up, Darling!
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FIRST SIGHTING
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I saw my first green skink at the farm.  Green skinks were the most common lizard I remember from growing up in the NC mountains.  Almost all the skinks here are brown and striped, many have blue tails.   Below is a brown skink that Akka caught on camera a few years ago.
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Skinks run along the ground and can climb trees, but the do not have sticky pad toes and do not climb walls and ceilings like geckos do.  We didn’t have geckos in North Carolina.  They were a big surprise to me when we moved to the tropics.
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VIEW FROM THE KiTCHEN
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I thought you might like a before and after of some burn marks.  The new grass comes in so green, and the line of the burn will be apparent for many years.   If it were not for the burning, the grassy hills would all be wooded hills.
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INTRODUCING ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY
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This is a photo of the terraces Austin had made on our hill back in August 2011.  So many hills around here and nobody had done terracing before.   We were thrilled that the drainage worked so well on them through many rainstorms.  We’ve grown ginger and chillies on them.  We may put papayas on them next.
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These are the terraces today.   You can see a few small lemon trees growing.  Austin is so proud of his terraces.  He says that they will still be discernible for hundreds of years – and with maintenance, they can be productive for a thousand years or more.
 
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KIND NEIGHBOR
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Awhile back I was walking on a path across my neighbor’s land and I saw wild amaranth (local name moca – “motha”). I wondered if he would mind me picking some since it is just an edible weed here and I was really hungry for green vegetables.   This is the kind of thing I think of but don’t do anything about – and I didn’t say anything to anybody.   An hour later when I was walking home along the same path, my neighbor came out to greet me with this…
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… a big bag of Chinese cabbage from his garden.   What a kind neighbor.  I love living here.
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NOTE:  I had computer trouble this week and could not read the card to my camera.  Except for cashews, all the photos are from earlier weeks.  The little green skink was borrowed from Google Images.   With luck I’ll be back to current photos next week.
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21 November 2013

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21 NOVEMBER 2013  
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This is masi – cloth made from the local masi bush – and this particular piece of masi was given by one of my local friends to one of our very dear visiting friends this week.  It is one of the prettiest pieces of masi I’ve seen.  Masi cloth has a nice texture, and it is used for things like traditional wedding attire, wall hangings, book covers and grave dressing.
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Traditionally the patterns all have meanings.  The black is produced from lamp soot, the brown is produced either from mud or from mangrove stain (I forget).   I feel I can put this masi in my weekly update because we actually have the masi plant growing here.  And we have friends with the expertise to make some beautiful masi cloth from it someday.  (By the way, this is called tapa cloth in some other places.)
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We also have a mulberry growing near the cottage here this week.    There is a connection.   The masi plant and the mulberry bush are floral first cousins.
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MORE WILD FOOD
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These are fiddle head ferns – called “ota” here.   We don’t have them at the farm, but we buy them from the market. They are not cultivated.  Folks just go in the woods and get them..
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 We eat the leaves and the tender part of the stem – which is only the distal 3-4 inches or so.  They are yummy when lightly cooked and served with raw coconut cream, lemon juice, onion, and chilli (all this together is called “miti”).   The yummiest part is the little fiddlehead.
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DR. DISASTER
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Austin is predicting another big hurricane.  One suggestive detail is that a wasp built its nest low in one of our closets. That also happened last year.  Another suggestive detail is that our breadfruit tree has a huge number of baby breadfruits.  That also “also happened” last year.  The breadfruit tree got totally creamed by cyclone Evan, and I’m really surprised to see all these fruits this year.    So if we do get clobbered in the next few months – remember this prognostication when my blog doesn’t come out for 4 weeks due to a power outage…..
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I wonder if the insane profusion of angel trumpet flowers is also a sign?  We’ve never seen so many on the bush at one time
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THE BIG DRAMA I MISSED
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There was a massive swarm of wild bees while I was in Suva last weekend.   Akka got some photos of the swarm on the tree.
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He didn’t get photos of Austin in the bee suit, smoking them to sleep, gathering them up somehow – he says they were the size of two large American footballs (rugby balls) – and getting them into a bee box.
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The hive is now on a wheelbarrow, sitting on the terrace where the orchid house is to go.   Austin moves the hive about a meter a night – has to move it that slowly to get it to its final destination, or the bees will get disoriented and angry.
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For now they are happy.
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TEDDY BEAR TREE
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I took my camera with me to Suva just so I could get a shot of this tree.  I fell in love with it when I saw it on my last trip.  I’ve seen lots of trees with plants growing on them, but never one so totally covered.  It reminds me of a teddy bear – and if my little granddaughter who adopted my teddy bear can come to visit, I will take her to see the teddy bear tree.
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SPIFFING UP
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Akka and Monica have been working hard to get the Teitei ready for guests.   This is the path to the cottage…. white stones to help folks aim themselves in the right direction at night.
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14 November 2013

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Gardenias in bloom – heavenly perfume in the air.
And a ripe strawberry – 8 grams of strawberry – from right below the kitchen sink outside.
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Here are our modest strawberry plants growing in paint cans.  And I got a good look at a strawberry flower for the first time in my life.  It also had an ant on it for perspective.
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Another something new for me….
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Akka took me to see this plant.    “Guess what!”

I had no idea.
“C’mon, Mom – you know what this is.”
No, I didn’t.  So finally he told me.
It is STEVIA.
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Sister-in-law brought us seeds six months ago, and we’ve been sucking on the leaves for a few months.  Sweet.
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(Some people are going wild for stevia as a natural artificial sweetener in the States.  Naturally artificial – ha ha)
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Akka also called my attention this this brown orchid, growing right below my clothes line.  What a spray!  I’ve never seen flowers this color before.
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OLD MYSTERY OF THE WEEK – SOLVED !
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Austin has been busy in his office for much of the week, but did manage to escape his desk a bit and he found this during one of his treks somewhere on the farm.
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Dog tags for our dog Chewy.   We thought the tags might have been stolen when they first went missing – and then we forgot all about them, especially since Chewy died not long after and didn’t need them any more.   She was a sweet dog from the city – and she really loved the freedom to run out here.   So she managed to get out of her collar in tall grass, and then a grass fire exposed the chain and almost destroyed the whole tag.   One little mystery – solved.
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SYLVESTER
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Akka drilled holed in the top of the white bucket when we were making pickles a couple of years ago.  For the last month it has served as the Snake Temporary Holding Facility.   He is building a proper cage – on Fiji time.   Vina used to have nightmares that the snake was going to get out of the biscuit bucket but he never does.
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Meanwhile, i have made friends with him.  We don’t know for sure it is a “him” – but we’ve named him Sylvester.  I’ve taken to telling the neighbors about the snakes that lived around my childhood home in the mountains of North Carolina – 2 venomous species and 3 not poisonous species.  We needed to know the difference: avoid the poison ones, and keep the non-poison ones safe. King snakes were not only harmless – they also could take out the copperheads and rattlers (poisonous ones).
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People give themselves a lot of needless grief freaking out over the harmless ones.  I’m surprised how many people here think all snakes have venom!   The pacific boa (Sylvester) does not.
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I was about to write that the only poisonous snake in Fiji is the banded krait – a sea snake that has to be severely provoked in order to strike (this is true) – when I decided to check google.   Strike me with lightning – Fiji DOES have a venomous land snake!  Good God almighty!   http://www.ryanphotographic.com/bolo.htm
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On reflection, I am comforted by the fact that the weakling-cobra-cousin is extremely difficult to find, and the few specimens that were found could not be induced to strike no matter how provoked they were – and also that we live a long way from Namosi..
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7 November 2013

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The rain is back, and life is beautiful.
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BEAUTY IN MINIATURE
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I was smitten this week with tiny flowers.
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This is the only tiny flower that I notice while standing – it is about 3 times the size of the others.   The others I have to crouch down to see.
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Teeny tiny purple ones – you can use the blade of grass for perspective.
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This tiny yellow one.  I noticed that the yellow ones all tend to fall apart once they fully bloom.
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This impossibly small white flower – sitting on what looks like its own little cactus pad.
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You need to know they might be there – then you can look and see them.
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Now, looking UP….
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I WAS WRONG – BUT NOT REALLY
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A few months ago I said the mangoes never set fruit on Valley Road.   Well, our mango set fruit – 3 of them – undoubtedly because of the intense dry season this year.   One mango is in the photo above.   One is in the photo below if you look closely.
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The other mango?  I am taking Junia’s word that there was a third one.
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Now for fauna….
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NEW CRITTER
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This a Polynesian rat, the first we have ever seen at the farm.  Austin and I both kind of liked it because of its rounded ears and soft fur.    It got into the mongoose trap and Austin was just playing taxidermist here.
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A final note about the rain.  Looking to the west the other afternoon, the rain was so beautiful – almost 3-D as we saw big drops in the foreground, medium drops farther off and mist in the distance.  The camera couldn’t pick that up, but the picture was a beauty shot nonetheless.
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