Rural Brazil – With Spring comes lots of planting

Remember last months post where I told you all about the dirt road to get up to my farm? Well, this month I will tell you what is at the end of this road when you get to my farm. Although my husband and I do not have the typical lifestyle of people in rural Brazil, I really want to share a little bit about what happens during our daily lives working in the beautiful Brazilian countryside of Minas Gerais. Of course I could continue last months post and tell you all about the dirt road adventures we had this month, but I will leave that topic for now by just saying that on one trip up to our farm our beautiful white truck arrived completely orange from the mud and before retrieving anything from the back we needed to hose it down!

Now let’s talk about farming.

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On the 22nd of September we welcomed spring here in Brazil, most of you in the northern hemisphere welcomed autumn and the shortening of days, here we have been welcoming warmer and longer days. With spring has come lots of rain and the grass has turned from yellowish-brown to a beautiful green. Yes, spring has come and with it an abundance of work, seeding, planting, weeding, and soon lots of wonderfully tasty vegetables to be harvested.

Although spring for us means a quick kick into a higher gear – more work – our growing season does not stop throughout the calendar year. We can grow vegetables throughout the whole year and even during the winter we can be found working outside in t-shirts sweating away. The difference between winter and summer for us is that during winter there are fewer vegetables we can safely grow; frost is common at night. So, with spring in full swing we are planting many more vegetables. Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, potatoes, and melons are among some of the vegetables that we only grow during the spring and summer months.

The month of October brought with it a lot of planting on the farm. It seemed that from one day to the next we had a giant pile of vegetables that needed to be seeded into the ground and it doesn’t really feel like we have stopped planting since. The farm has gone from looking bare of vegetables to vegetables growing everywhere. Our planting streak started with potatoes. Oh potatoes how I love to plant thee in the ground. One of my favorite things to plant, by far, are potatoes and definitely a wonderful way to begin a busy planting season. Why? Probably because it seeding is pretty fast and easy (my husband will get a good laugh from that), but also because right before the potatoes are going to be covered with soil they look so beautiful sitting in their nice straight rows.

Planting somewhat goes the same for almost all vegetables. We first need to make the beds, this often takes the longest as it means setting up strings to make sure that we make the beds straight (I have the tendency to be lazy and often can’t be bothered to use strings which leaves me with beds looking like snakes). Next we need to come a long with a large hoe and dig a path on either side of the bed. Next it is time to put some lime dust on the beds to help the soil and plants grow (our farm is organic so there is always a lot of extra things that we need to build-up the soil). Once all the extra good stuff is on the bed we rake it flat. At this point the beds always look beautiful and I never want to mess up the tidiness of them. Next, depending on what we are growing we either dig holes for the plants or make a trench for the plants. Once holes are dug they are filled with dark yummy smelling compost. At this point the bed is completely ready for the plants to be planted and the fun part of putting the small seedlings into the earth begins. Once everything is planted we need to give them some water to help them get off to a good life of growing tall, big, and healthy.

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Making beds, spreading organic fertilizers, spreading compost, and planting is always a daily happening around the farm, but these last weeks have definitely been more busy than usually. We got potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers in the ground. We managed to plant zucchini, beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, chinese cabbage, carrots, eggplant and lots more. The fields are getting full and slowly all of the plants are growing. Hopefully soon we will be harvesting all of these beautiful vegetables.

Now, planting may sound easy from what I have described above, but when you are the only female with two men on the farm it can be pretty tough. I do my best to carry weight and show that I can dig paths between beds, carry compost, and prepare a bed all on my own, but I don’t think I have quite managed to prove to my husband and our employee that I am able to do everything on the farm without their help. Ok, so I am not going to be carrying heavy bags of compost or potatoes, but really, I can make a bed without any help. I think my husband is starting to have more faith in my farming skills and ability to do heavy work and I hope that with my potato planting and onion planting I am beginning to prove to our employee that I can do the heavy work too (but, when I scream at a rat and our employee needs to help me load wood into the wheelbarrow I am not doing a good job of showing my abilities to manage all aspects of farm life). But, with time and more planting I will show the men on this farm that I can do everything that they can….well almost everything, they can still carry the really heavy loads!

Rural Brazil – Let me introduce you to the DIRT ROADS

The road when it is all chewed up...and it gets worse than this!!!

The road when it is all chewed up…and it gets worse than this!!!

Today I am going to write about something a little bit different and I hope to continue this as a little aside from all of my cooking.. At the end of each month I will share with you a little bit about my life in rural Brazil.

My husband and I have an organic vegetable farm high in the Serra da Mantiqueira, a mountain chain in the southeastern part of Brazil that stretches for approximately 320 km (200 mi) through the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and Sao Paulo and reaches a height of 2,798 m (9,180 ft). Our farm is perched high in the mountains overlooking beautiful mountain views. The air is always fresh and the sun strong. Working in the fields is always a joy as there is always a beautiful view to appreciate. But rural life isn’t all about the views, there is a lot of work that goes into living rurally and country life takes on a very different tone in Brazil.

I am not new to country living. I grew up in the countryside and have spent most of my life as a country gal. I have lived the “rural” life and have always loved to be away from the noise and rush of big cities. But, when I first visited rural Brazil in 2005  it was a completely different type of rural than I was used to. On my first ascent to our farm I arrived rather shell-shocked and needed a little bit of time to acclimate myself to this new rural existence.

Growing up in a rural community in England I knew that things were far away and that it would usually take 20 to 30 minutes to reach a medium sized town. Moving to rural New York State, USA, when I was fourteen, was not such a big change from the country life I knew in England. Maybe the biggest change was that everything was bigger and we needed to drive further.

So, when I first came to Brazil in 2005 I figured that “this rural life won’t be that much different from what I am used to.” But, oh man was I wrong! Rural life in Brazil is nothing compared to that of England and the USA. The first thing that pops to mind when thinking about rural Brazil is DIRT ROADS. Yes, I had seen dirt roads in the USA, in fact to reach my parents house you need to take a dirt road that stretches for about half a mile. But, in Brazil dirt roads are a completely different story: they are horrible bumpy, not well-maintained, and stretch for miles and miles. An intricate network of dirt roads exists!

To reach our farm we need to take a dirt road that stretches for 23 km (14 mi) from the closest town. We all know that 23 km (14 mi) on well maintained roads is not far. That’s not the case in Brazil. Dirt roads can be everything from well-maintained to almost impassable. Generally, dirt roads lean more towards the impassable than the well-maintained and you always need to plan for a trip to take twice as long than it would if the roads were well-maintained. The dirt road to reach our farm is definitely far from well-maintained. Instead of a 20 minute trip up the road it takes us almost an hour to reach our farm. We are able to reach a record speed of 60 km/hr (37 mi/hr) in only a few stretches that probably total 2-3 km (1-2 mi). On average we keep a speed of 25km/hr to 35km/hr (15-20 m/hr) and the whole trip feels like one big roller coaster, especially when my husband decides he wants to try to get to town or home a little bit faster than usual!. Getting onto our road you need to be prepared to be thrown all over the car. If you have hyper-sensitive seatbelts, like my husbands truck has, then be prepared to not be able to move your upper body while your lower body jumps everywhere. I have given-up on seat belts on the dirt road as the belt seems to get progressively tighter as the road gets more bumpy. I now prefer to be tossed around!

Our road goes through various stages throughout the year. In winter we get to experience the best maintained road. That is to say, there is no rain and trucks that drive on the road have an easier time passing, therefore not ripping up the road. The road is not wet and muddy and therefore going up hills becomes much easier for large trucks carrying tons of wood. Instead of mud flying everywhere in the winter we have extreme amounts of dust. Cleaning your car is completely pointless as it will just turn orange after a 5 minute trip. Summer is a completely different situation for us. Heavy rains cause the road to become muddy, trucks can’t get up hills and as a consequence create massive ruts in the road, spit mud everywhere, and leave a muddy disaster for the rest of us to try and pass through. Summer is not fun to drive on the road and trips can become much longer.

What always causes jokes (and frustration) for my husband and I is when the town decides to try and fix the road. They get their big machinery up the road, scrape the top to make it flat and leave it. The next rain always results in the newly fixed area turning into a mud bath and only 4 x 4 vehicles being able to pass through. Fixing the road? Forget about it!

Doesn't look that bad, but trust me it is bumpy!

Doesn’t look that bad, but trust me it is bumpy!

So what is different about living in rural Brazil? Well, getting around becomes much more of a challenge. Knowing that a trip to town is going to take you an hour to get there affects how often you will go to town during the week. Suddenly, 23 km (14 mi) becomes much further and you try to avoid eating anything before taking the bumpy drive to run all of your errands. Getting anywhere means taking a long trip on VERY bumpy dirt roads.

Emergencies from where we live need to be avoided at all costs as we are not reaching a town for about 1 hour. When we do reach the closest town there is not much of a town at all. The closest town has a population of approximately 21,000 but the largest supermarket doesn’t carry half of the items you want or need at home and most of the brands are ones you probably want to avoid if possible. There are small clothes stores, but you are not going to do clothes shopping there, only if you need something for working outside on the land. The closest town for us where we can do a big grocery shopping and find nicer stores is an hour and a half from our farm (one hour on dirt road and half and hour on the highway). Do we get to go to the real town often? Absolutely not.

Living in rural Brazil I prefer to stay on our farm and work in the fields seeding, transplanting, and harvesting. The dirt road trip is only for when I really have to go somewhere (and unfortunately cannot be avoided)!