Today, we’ve taken a trip to the city of Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela (“shay-la”). It’s an amazing place to visit, with tons of culture, amazing food, amazing markets, and lots of cool permaculture stuff going on. We’re going to catch up with my friend Juan Pablo, who has a market garden here in Xela, we’ll make some ginger beer, and I’ll review Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
So normally I’d start by harvesting something, but since no food is growing right here I’ll harvest some tasty snacks from the nearby open-air market! (Scenes of the Xela market)
Shad: Now I’m at Los Jardineros, the urban market garden run by my friend Juan Pablo and his partner Martin, here in Xela. It’s a true oasis right in the heart of the city!
(checking out a mulberry tree)
Shad: This is blowing up! How do you take are of this mulberry tree?
Juan Pablo: We’ve actually done very little with it. We planted it over a year and a half ago. It struggled a little bit during the cold season, but since then it’s just blown up. We’ve had mulberries all year-round.
Shad: Xela’s at a higher altitude than where we are in Tzununa, Lake Atitlan, so colder weather plants can thrive here. Mulberries grow all over the world, but they really like it here in Xela–especially in the Los Jardineros garden!
Juan Pablo: (walking through the garden) So these are some of the things we grow. We grow a lot os greens for salads, a lot of cooking greens, some colorful yellow chard, kale, a lot of arugula. . . We grow beet, some nice fig trees, lots of radish and different varieties of herbs. Most of the stuff we grow is sold to restaurants around Xela, and we also go to 2 organic markets per month. Today I’m harvesting a bit of basil for one of our restaurants. In this same corner we also have cranberry hibiscus growing.
Shad: So here’s a great example of stacking functions: Juan Pablo’s got a small loquat tree growing here. But it’s not very big yet so there’s still a lot of sun in the area, and to take advantage of this he has tomatoes vining up the branches of the loquat.
Shad: (in a new garden bed) So what do we have here?
Juan Pablo: I actually brought the first cuttings of these from your farm. They’re called sweet cucumber or melon cucumber. It is a really beautiful fruit that grows on a bush. If you eat them green, they’re kind of reminiscent of a cucumber, but if you let them mature and get orange they become sweeter and more melon-y. It’ll blow your mind!
Shad: I like to eat them green like this. To me they taste like an apple-cucumber. What’s nice about this plant is that it never gets too big. Stays low to the ground and is a good ground cover. It also produces fruit pretty much year-round.
Juan Pablo: They’re also very easy to propagate
Shad: You can grow it just by sticking a little piece in the ground. [Check out our sweet cucumber propagation tutorial!]
Juan Pablo: We’ve just about maxed out the available land in this plot, so to produce more we started to grow lettuce in these sacks. We grow about 50 lettuce seedlings per sack, and then plant onions on top.
Shad: These are a great solution for urban settings where yo don’t have a lot of space. If you don’t have land you can do this on top of concrete. Just find any sort of container to recycle into a planter. One thing I love abut gardeners is that they reuse all kinds of stuff. Someone else thinks an old cracked bucket is nothing but a piece of trash, and the gardener comes along and is like “yo, can I take that dude?!” “For real? Why do you want that?” “Because I’m gonna use it in my garden!”
Shad: Well, as admirable as it is, we didn’t come all the way to Xela just ot admire your garden.
Juan Pablo: No we did not. Let’s make ginger beer!
Shad: (at the Bambu Guest House) So I just got back from Xela. Sad to leave Juan Pablo’s but super happy to be back at the lake. And this brings us to the book review:
I’ve got one of the best books here, it’s kind of like the Bible of fermentation. It’s called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It’s a super sweet book. There are several other highly recommended books out there, but this is probably my favorite fermentation book. It’s small, but don’t let that trick you! It’s full of a ton of recipes: ginger beer, kombucha, sourdough bread, dairy ferments, all kinds of stuff. It inspires people to get into the kitchen and start doing it. Here’s a quote:
“This book is my song of praise and devotion to fermentation. For me, fermentation is a health regime, a gourmet art, a multicultural adventure, a form of activism, and a spiritual path, all rolled into one.”
I think that says it all. Fermentation fits perfectly into permaculture, and into the whole new story that we are trying to weave together here. Check out Wild Fermentation if you wanna know how to get some live foods into your belly!
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