In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, til thou return unto the ground– Genesis 3:19 KJV
Maybe He decided to cut the indigenous folk here some slack. Last Saurday I was talking to Victor, an Ecuadorian with Saraguro roots, who wears his long, glossy black hair in a thick braid. He and his wife run an organic vegetable store by the bus station. They have a big farm up on a mountain near Sacapo where it is a lot wetter and cooler than it is in Santorum, so their cabbages are amazing.
“Here we don’t have this tradition of conserving food the way you do. We can just go eat what is growing. My father used to keep some dry beans and corn for the rainy season but that was all we did for conserving.” He picks up a handful of fresh beans to shell, mottled pink and yellow pods, and continues.
“Before the Spanish came we didn’t really have to plow. We didn’t have wheat, or chickens, or pigs. Before the Incas we didn’t even have corn. We ate what was on the trees.” I imagine Victor and his wife as Adam and Eve, Gauguin style, wandering through the pre-Colombian forest, an eternal food forest in the Garden of Eden.
As someone who back in the US kept about three years worth of home canned tomatoes in stock, I am flabbergasted, and a little outdone. No canning? What do you actually DO all summer? Tomatoes without labor? There are actually tree tomatoes here- tomates de arbol. Of course, tree tomatoes are actually not real tomatoes, but are known in the rest of the world as tamarillos. Tomatoes themselves are a little tricky here, although they are perennial, because they are so attractive to pests and pathogens.
I walk through the property with a small pot of maracuya seeds and a short length of rebar. Maracuya is passion fruit, a hollow fruit the size and color of a large lemon, with a delicious, fragrant, sour, seedy pulp inside it that makes an incredible juice, jam, or glaze. If you like sour, you can just slurp it up. If you don’t, try its cousin the granadilla, which is even easier to eat because it cracks open with a push of a finger. These are so easy to plant. I just twist up some wet seeds on the tip of the rebar and grind a hole in the earth at the base of a tree. A few weeks later I come back and thin the weaker seedlings away. The big glossy leaved vines race up the trees and create a perennial canopy of the famously intricate flowers the missionaries used to explain Christ’s wounds and His passion, followed by the delicious fruits.
Today I walked around making holes in the soft ground and dropping in papaya seedlings. I am told they don’t like being transplanted because they have a taproot, but I felt bad for the seedlings I was thinning. After cutting up a papaya for fruit salad, I scooped the round, peppery seeds, which are a good vermifuge, into a jar and threw it in my market basket. Later I dropped them in a trench in a garden bed. It is usually better to direct seed these short-lived trees, but I was in a hurry as rain was coming. So we will have to see. Drop some seeds on the ground after you eat the fruit, and in less than a year you have a tree with fruit on it.
A year ago I planted seeds for avocadoes, cherimoyas, guanabanas, and mangoes. A few weeks ago I planted white sapotes, regular orange sapotes, and jackfruit. My friend Liz has guanabanas in her garden she planted from seed five years ago that are bearing fruit. Mangoes and avocadoes take longer. So if you are in a really big hurry you can graft a bud chip onto the ones you grow from seeds, and then it will be 2 years more. Tops. Last week I admired a tiny guanabana fruit growing on a three month old graft in the garden of Don Vincente, who cuts keys and putters in his garden down by the Chamba river.
Our friend Curtis, who lives on the same mountaintop as Victor, surrounded by giant dahlia trees, and complains about Victor’s cows coming into his garden, taught me how to graft. You just get a seedling about as thick around as your little finger, and cut a twig about the same thickness off the tree that you want to get fruit from. You find a fat bud on the bud stick; not really a bud, but the swelling place on the twig where the leaf attaches and a future twig would sprout, and cut that out in a curving slice about an inch long. You go back to the seedling and cut a T shaped cut into the bark, and, using the corners of the cutr knife tip, lift the bark away from the wood carefully. Then you slide the bud down into the cut, trim off whatever is sticking out the top, and wrap it tightly with grafting tape. Or in Ecuador, a torn off strip of flimsy plastic from a sandwich bag. I am going to check my cherimoyas next week and see if the grafts have taken. They feel plump. If they have taken, I will unwrap them and wait for the bud to break dormancy, watering if it doesn’t rain. After the bud becomes a shoot I will remove the top of the original seedling so all the strength goes to making the grafted shoot the new top. Some plants exhibit what is called apical dominance. I noticed that my avocado shoot wasn’t growing much so I cut off the rest of the original seedling, which was higher than the graft, and it took off.
I await the return of Alan from Japan, as he has the weirdest and most magical collection of fruit trees in his garden, icluding the incredibly sweet jackfruit tree, the fruit of which weighs 10-12 pounds, which requires the tree to be cabled together, or it will tear apart. It is a brown, spiky monster about the size of a baby, and if one falls on your head, you’re a goner.
However, right now I want to ask him for a piece of budwood from his Pomelo. This is a giant citrus fruit from Thailand that looks like a grapefruit only twice as big. The one he gave us was green inside, like a lime, but had grapefruit flavor, only sweeter than an orange, and has absolutely no seeds. When one of my orange trees lost a graft, I knew just what I would graft on in its place! I am growing out some kumquat seeds he gave me as well.
As for bread, and the sweat of my brow, well, we do have some plantain trees growing, and those make nice tortas, especially with a little cheese mixed in, but I think I will just go buy some wheat flour. And then, if we ever do follow through and get our friend from Tuscany to build us a brick oven outdoors, I will do my face sweating then.