Under African Skies – Part 1: Zambia

img_0348

Ngonye Falls, Zambia

Realising that it has been so many years since my stay in southern Africa I am astonished that many memories have remained as fresh as if they had occurred last week. Often I dreamily think back of being awoken by a snorting hippopotamus or a troop of baboons raiding our bins and sometimes it can take me a couple of hours to find back to reality again. Being aware of the substantial impact this continent has had on me I am finally attempting to put my experiences into words.

In 2013 I spend half a year in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia participating in the KAZA TFCA project. During that time I lived in Sioma (western Zambia) right at the Ngonye Falls, I joined the Wildlife Patrols at Mudumu National Park in the Caprivi Region of Namibia and I travelled almost the entire length of Namibia as well as helping out on local farms.

img_0342

My first real task was to be accomplished at the Ngonye Falls National park in Zambia, where the thunder of the falls would be my closest companion for the next 6 weeks. There I spend my days living on the front porch of a small hut, cooking at the fire and leisurely strolling around the countryside. On behalf of the national park I also established a Tree ID Guide for Tourists and did various other admin tasks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Often I would go and join the people of Sioma on their daily tasks, such as fishing, farming or foraging. I particularly enjoyed the early hours of the day, when the sun was just about to rise and we would go and bring in the nightly fish harvest, which would often be enough to provide me with a daily local source of fish as well.

While I was stocked with plenty of non-perishable foods, there was certainly a lack of any refrigerated ones, simply due to the absence of electricity. That I didn’t expect a conventional bakery out here shouldn’t come as a surprise either. One day I thus I came up with a method, not knowing then it was already a well established one, of lighting a fire below as well as on top of a Dutch oven in order to create reasonably well distributed heat in the interior of the pot, necessary to bake bread properly. The results were astonishingly tasty !

img_0469

Strychnos spinos or Monkey Orange is a delicious fruit !

After I had decided to scrap my malaria provision, I consequently also got rid of the associated photo-sensitivity, which subsequently allowed for longer foraging strolls without the risk of incredibly painful sunburns at minimal sun exposure. One of our leisurely walks even lead to a Monkey Orange tree and to this day I believe that the fruit may have been one of the tastiest I have eaten in my life.

img_0471

One of the interesting features of every single inhabitation in the area are the well raked buffer zones surrounding the tall fences of each property. These may be raked several times a week and act as a warning systems and thus protection against animals, particularly snakes, as their tracks can be easily identified and the house evacuated until the snake has been killed or scared away.

One of the hobbies I enjoyed most was fishing, which would certainly not have come to my mind if it wasn’t for George, who I met in Sioma one day and who had been incredibly helpful throughout my stay in Zambia. I purchased a fishing rod just across the border in Namibia and thereafter spend many evenings along the riverbank enjoying the solitude while being on continuous lookout for approaching crocodiles, which thanks to the rather rapid flow of water, was limited to only a few occasions.

img_0474

Hippopotamus tracks

I still remember the moment clearly when I got up in the early hours only to discover these incredibly huge footprints that almost seemed to resemble some sort of humongous hand. Curiously I followed the tracks up to one of the meadows, where they would eventually hit a fence and then returned to the river. The faces the rangers pulled after I gave them a rather detailed description of my newly made discovery were priceless and will certainly remain in my memory as another jewel of Africa. Naive as I was I had never even considered studying Hippo footprints to that day.

img_0352

The wreck of a mokoro

Another memory, still very present in my mind, is one of my small Mokoro adventures. I was challenged to paddle a Mokoro (a boat carved out of a single wooden log), while standing up right, which I immediately accepted. After wobbling my way out onto the Zambezi for a wee bit and back again, I was subsequently told that this part of the river in particular is crowded with crocodiles, due to calm and murky conditions. I certainly agree that there a few better ways of finding the motivation to improve your paddling skills than having crocodiles lurking all around you.

Once it was time to leave Sioma I made my way back to Sesheke in order to cross over to Namibia where my next project would be waiting. I have kept wondering about the future of this magical place ever since, a place that has had the privilege of still being reasonably isolated from western expansion. While in the past the only access to this area was maintained via a mucky single-laned bush track accessible only by 4X4, I witnessed how massive working camps run by the Chinese started to appear over the landscape, eagerly building a new highway right into heart of Western Zambia. While the first impression could have easily fooled me to be a positive one, such as thinking about “progress”, I immediately came to realise that the potential consequences could also be disastrous. When hitch-hiking into Sesheke, I would almost always be accompanied by fellow hitch-hikers carrying a rather conspicuous cooling box, whose content I unfortunately was all too familiar with. Being able to witness bush meat expansion at first hand has been truly frightening, as much as the sad irony that the local population owns very few bicycles, let alone cars and will not nearly benefit as much from this road as logging trucks, which will probably become even more numerous over the next years. Realising, that this might have been the last time that I have seen Sioma as a sleepy wee village, where the noise of the wild is still ubiquitous, makes this memory even more precious for me.

Advertisements

Hydroponics at UH Hilo in Hawaii

P1050042

The university owned hydroponics greenhouse, full of tools and equipments that enabled students to set up hydroponic systems

Hydroponics by definition encompasses the growing of plants in any medium other than soil but, with supplemented nutrients. Learning how to do exactly this was part of one of my modules while being at UH Hilo in Hawaii. Although I still struggle to find a relevant utilisation for this method that actually meets my personal sustainable standards (i.e. no inorganic phosphorus), I nevertheless appreciated the diverse experiences as well as all the fresh and pesticide free vegetables during my semester in Hawaii, which contributed to my personal culinary experience.

P1050266

Before being sold at the market or given away privately, all produce received these stickers with associated information

Most knowledgeable were the weekly practical sessions that lasted for about three to five hours. During the first weeks of the semester these were mainly concerned with work of a more  physical nature such as cutting PVC pipes and finding the right fittings that would ultimately  reduce the chance of leaking any of the precious fertilizer solution. Although this was a rather non-academical activity, it was nevertheless fun and really interesting.

As soon as the systems were set up, it was time to germinate all the seeds that we wanted to grow during this semester. Previously we had gathered in groups and decided on a variety of heritage species with up to three of four different varieties. This allowed us to evaluate the effect of hydroponical growing on different vegetable varieties.

We also had to distinguish between plants that took all semester to mature and were only planted once and those plants, which were restocked throughout the semester such as various lettuce, pak choi and kale varieties. This allowed for continuous supply for customers which was was another main focus of this module. For example, lettuce has a growing cycle of about five weeks and replanting 20 heads every week guarantees a fresh supply of vegetable every single week throughout the semester (apart from the occasional disastrous student experiment, which might have ruined the weekly produce …)

Most of the weekly seminars were used to discuss about different fertilizer solution and the appropriate application. Every vegetable, due to its different genetic nature, had certain pronounced growing periods, in which it needed more nutrients than usual. A purposefully induced lack of nutrients could also be used to force earlier fruiting in, bu plants but nutrients always had to be kept adequately high to avoid symptoms, such as tip burn in lettuce plants.

tip-burn-lettuce

Tip Burn in lettuce is a typical symptom of persistent calcium deficiency

Choosing the right nutrient solution or fertilizer did not just depend on simple calculations of NPK (Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus) ratios, but also on the right method of application. It was highly important to apply calcium separately from any sulphates, as otherwise the formation of calcium sulphate or gypsum would have prevented the dissolution of these nutrient in water, which is essential for plants in order to take it up through the roots. Consequently, most applied fertilizer is separated into these two major groups (see picture), which are applied at different stages.

P1040996

Separate application of these fertilizer prevents the formation of gypsum

The last couple of weeks of my semester in Hilo turned out to be a true feast with ample of vegetables and fruits that could be harvested on an almost daily basis. It was great to see so many different plants mature during the semester, but also learning about their individual traits which were often strongly influenced by the hydroponical system. The glorious harvest, as can partially be seen in the pictures below, should be an indication enough of how much I enjoyed this module. Where else does a student get a chance to be feed healthy food from a university module. This may even help to inspire the typical Scottish student diet, which is rather disturbing…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Living in Hawaii part 3: The culinary experience comes to an end

The sheer amount of foraging and cooking in Hawaii really deserves a third blog entry regarding the culinary experience. Having spent a significant amount of time in Hawaii by now, I would like to emphasize again, that dimensions of foraging can not even closely be compared to my Scottish expeditions. A bag of hazelnuts, a load of apples or even some sloes and wild garlic can truly get me excited. Here however, I can have a steady supply of 100+ avocados weekly as well as endless bananas. Bananas are, to my surprise, a true weed here and especially within the eucalyptus plantations north of Hilo, they tend to cluster along the roadsides, as well as in stream ditches and consequently there is always a bunch ready out there. As if that is not enough, the Arboretum in Hilo offers all residents free fruit picking from nearly every choice of fruit thinkable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Especially harvesting jabuticabas (Plinia cauliflora) was a great experience. First, we registered with the forestry and wildlife department, who manage the arboretum in Hilo. By now, the arboretum is well over 100 years old and hosts a unique variety of fruit trees with the sole purpose to serve the people of Hilo. Fruit picking therefore does not cost anything, but some sweat. Furthermore, a written key is handed out to visitors that can help to identify individual trees that are numbered throughout the park. Jabuticabas surprisingly grow on the very stem of the tree as can be seen in the picture below and are just another remarkable reminder that nature will never stop to fascinate me withthese  endless possibilities of life. What a great metaphor !

Another experiment, that was overdue, was the brewing of kombucha. In our flat I stumbled across an abandoned kombucha shelf with several dried up scoby carcasses. Nevertheless, I took the only good remaining kombucha and started my own batch. I furthermore increased the fermentation period to reduce sugar content as well as increase the probiotic content and potency of the drink, for which I appreciate it so much.

But don’t let yourselves be fooled, not all is about fruit, although there is more than plenty. As if that would not be enough, we also had a uncontrollable high amount of feral chickens in our garden, as well as domestic ones. Because chickens are generally forbidden in residential areas in Hawaii, due to their noise (Welcome to the 21st century…) we had to somehow find means to quiet our feral rooster and its 5am crowing habit to avoid having the police at our door. I therefore turned this into a win-win situation and after a quick and professional slaughter at home, the roast was ready for the oven the very same night. It was delicious, but it also had some distinct gamy character to it. It also went well with our home made Hawaiian Chilli Sauce, which we harvested from our garden, too.

Noni juice (Morinda citrifolia). Trust me, one does not believe how disgusting the taste is until the very first zip. I think it is somewhere between rancid Gorgonzola and stomach acid leaning towards vomit but opinions vary. But hey, it is also one of the most medicinal plants in the world, survives in simply volcanic rock without the need for soil !?! and does not mind being watered with salt water from the sea. I love nature, but I also love this fruit. I have had the privilege to be cured several times from an approaching cold while being in Hawaii. Juicing noni, too, is a rather simple matter. After several weeks the Noni will have juiced itself, so all that is required is hygienic conditions to avoid mould and a lot of patience. But plenty of these fruits can be found along most coastal roadsides on the pacific islands. When considering that I paid 23 Euro for a single litre back in Germany, it must have been a privilege having had so much Noni all around me for free.

Living in Hawaii part 2: The Culinary Journey continues

For me, Hawai’i really is all about food. The abundance of food, not available to us in Europe, opens up a completely new field of culinary experimentation, more than I have ever dared before. Fantastic! Furthermore, a scheduled community meal twice a week has helped me to enjoy other exotic food creations, as well as to try my own.

Most meals did not need a recipe, such as this beautiful dessert which I prepared for us at a community dinner. Previously, I had asked the security officers on campus, whether the foraging of wild fruits would be allowed and was told that students are actually even encouraged to harvest fruits on campus, since this is our campus after all. Consequently, plenty of Polynesian breadfruits (Artocarpus altilis) were harvested at full ripeness and quickly processed afterwards. The beautiful thing about breadfruit is that, once mashed and fried, it really tastes like apple pancakes and that is with neither sugar nor flour. Even better: topped with star fruit and local eucalyptus honey.

Shared meals in our community are often inspiring and resourceful, combining numerous exotic cooking skills of all the people. Also. they are a lot of fun! After all, this is one of the reasons, that has made me dedicate my life to sustainable food production -> To enjoy this very moment.

Apart from cooked meals, I have furthermore developed my own personal smoothie recipes that tend to vary with the availability of fruits on the island. Smoothies are easy to make, convenient to eat (drink?) and don’t cost to much energy digesting, which means they can easily be consumed before sports or other activities. If I can not find certain fruits in the wild, I am sure to find them at the Hilo Farmers market, which is open every single day including Sundays. In the picture below, my smoothie consisted of flaxseeds, oats, spirulina, kale, avocado, passion fruit, papaya, banana, carrots, turmeric and ginger, which may sounds like a bit of an overkill, but was surprisingly healthy and also made efficient use of the abundance of fruits.

The possible combination for ingredients in smoothies are endless and, by simply adding coconut for example, completely new dimensions can be achieved in the art of smoothie-making. Furthermore, coconuts could not be more abundant on this island with many people giving them away for free. Tip: It’s best, unlike shown in the picture, to remove the woody husk around the flesh, as this avoids itching in your throat while drinking.

Another amazing dish, that is literally becoming a stable meal in my diet, is guacamole. While doing some landscaping work, my flat mates and I came across an abandoned avocado tree and decided to harvest it from now on. It will hopefully supply us with around 600+ avocados, of which each one has about twice the size of the usual European supermarket avocado. Harvesting avocados however, is no easy job as each one has to be picked individually with a picker, which can be up to 6 metres long and has a basket attached to the end. Over time, this will certainly work you upper body.

And finally, I thought it was worthwhile sharing that even in Hawaii I continue baking bread. I was especially encouraged to do so by the ridiculously high prices for bread, which literally taste dreadful. To give you some sort of an idea of how expensive bread is: A simple white loaf of bread will start at around $4. Where this would leave me if I were to buy wholegrain organic sourdough bread I better not mention. Right now, a self-baked loaf costs me under a dollar, which is certainly acceptable.

P1050326

Living in Hawaii part 1: Culinary Plant Life

0

P1040929

Finally I have arrived in Hilo, a town with around 40,000 inhabitants located on the Big Island or the island of Hawai’i. I will study environmental science at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo for the next 6 month and will also be living in a small permaculture community that is closely associated with the vibrant student community in town.

P1040940

Phelsuma laticauda or Gold Dust Day Gecko, which is one of many species that was introduced in recent times and now coins the general picture of this island.

As part of this Permaculture Community I have access and the responsibility over an extensive garden, that is mainly comprised of perennials which continuously yield the most delicious foods for a healthy diet. For example, it has become my daily routine to enjoy several passion fruits a day in my daily breakfast smoothie, as the big vines in our garden drop on average 5-10 fruits a day. This is plenty, especially when considering that the absence of pronounced seasons (tropics) means fruit yield are on average persistent throughout the year.

P1040937

Passion fruit vines full of fruit which can grow up trees up to 10 metres here.

Of course, bananas are my favourite and the amount of bananas that grow here is astonishing. Most interestingly, bananas are considered to be berries, and hence the common opinion that there is a lack of tasty berries in the tropics should be rethought 🙂 What really impresses me though, is the fact, that bananas are considered a weed here and many people never get around to harvesting them, which is a lucrative concept if one makes an effort and is hence rewarded with beautiful banana smoothies.

 

banana harvest with ned 2

A machete is used to fell the banana stalk (Musa acuminata x Musa balbisana), which although it can be several metres tall, is considered a herb and certainly the biggest herb I know. Although banana plants can be thick and strong, their main component is water, which makes it possible to use machetes rather than axes.

 

‘;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another big life saver for me has been turmeric, as I had to fight a cold for the first week of my arrival. This is probably is due to the recently high vog (volcanic smog) levels in Hilo, which comes from the adjacent active volcano if weather conditions permit it.

Last Week, we harvested 2 full buckets of Turmeric, which is an incredible amount and most will end up on our little “Free Food Stall” at the side of the road, where people not only take food but also started to leave foods behind, such as a box of oranges the other day. My tip: Turmeric in a smoothie does not only look amazing but is is also super healthy and helped me to recover quickly from my cold.

 

A lot of other edible greens can be found in our garden as well, such as edible Hibiscus, which has beautifully tasty leaves, but also some sort of spinach, that has invaded most of the garden, ensuring a life long spinach supply. Unfortunately though, there is one down side to it : Angiostrongylus cantonensis or simply rat lung worm disease. This is a parasitic nematode, that will do very nasty things to your brain if you let him and he can be found wherever rats can live, which literally is almost everywhere. Also, slugs that eat rat faeces are known to spread it over leaf surfaces most plants through slime residue, which essentially means, that any non-shelled fruit or plant needs a minimum of 2 minutes of boiling to ensure safe consumption. How inconvenient!

And then of course, there are the more obvious plants that grow so numerous here. Papaya is one of them and although I did not get around to count all the papaya plants yet, I can ensure you there are several, which is good from my perspective. Also, pineapples are accommodated in our garden and one, which was incredibly delicious, already had the pleasure to be consumed by us. Tip: Cut of top of pineapple to be replanted – Very simple.

 

Another bonus point was the recent honey harvest, which has done an incredible job to sweeten up my daily turmeric and ginger tea during my recovery period. Together with bees, there is really a lot of variety in this beautiful garden and I am excited to see it change throughout the next 6 months in which I have the privilege to live here. So many things I took for granted back in Europe, such as Basil Tulsi, grow here and have since then taught me more about this and other plants that I have been drinking in teas for several years without ever reading up on them.

P1040952

Fresh raw honey is beautiful !

After all I can only conclude that if a place such as paradise may exist, it must come pretty close to this place. Continuous nutritious food supply throughout the year with minimal work load due to the perennial nature turn this place into a lush and bountiful home that even enables me to eat tropical fruits without having to worry about food miles.

P1040955

Our recent banana harvest. I enjoy foraging here and the yields are slightly different from Scotland somehow.

P1040909

banana herb in our garden being more than ready for harvest

Plant & Wildlife in the Flowcountry

Cathy beach

The Flow Country in the North of Scotland not only has a beautiful and large-scale blanket bogs to offer but also beautiful wildlife and plants. As well as working on my research project, I went out to discover the local environment. I was particularly impressed by the calcium rich habitats and the resulting diversity of plant life, that existed around several of the beaches in the area.

Orchids like this spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, can be found throughout the bog and are stunningly beautiful !

lesser spotted heath orchid

I was fortunate enough to experience one of the Scottish Puffin Colonies. Considering the recent decline in Puffin populations, this was an even more important and inspiring encounter for me.

puffin 7

Germander speedwell veronica chamaedrys, one of  plants that occurs throughout Scotland, looked exceptionally beautiful due to the composition with its companion plants on this calcium rich soil at one of the beaches in the Sutherland.

Veronica chamaedrys 2

And many more encounters that have enlightened me 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On yurt making: The places starting a sourdough bakery will take you

our website has moved

Yurt making and sourdough bakery? A strange combination indeed, but it is exactly these unpredictable and spontaneous coincidences that make life such a great roller-coaster of an adventure. So what is this about a sourdough bakery and how on Earth does it tie in with yurt making? Let me give you a little bit of background info and hopefully you’re a bit less clueless about what is happening by the end of this post.

To get to the adventure part and the whole point of this article: Yurt Making! A few weeks ago, Théo and I participated in an event for young entrepreneurs (as obnoxious as that sounds) during the Stirling business week where we listened to a few people who have started their own businesses and also gave a little talk about our bakery project. First of the presentations was Poporopo, the first gourmet popcorn company in Scotland started…

View original post 1,836 more words