Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Blessings of Mother Nature

It's hard to know where to begin when we're describing our new home to folks - especially those who are probably shivering cold right now in temperate climates way up in the northern hemisphere. This place is so unlike anywhere I've ever lived, in every way. If we're talking physical geography, one of the best things about living here is the plethora of edible vegetation that surround us at all times. Fruit trees and local vegetables are a vital part of daily life here. They make up most of everyone's diet and really do dictate the changing seasons much more than a hot/cold or dry/wet season. So, I thought it would be a neat introduction to the landscape of our home to take you on a little tour and show you some of the growing goodies that are located right here where we live, inside the school grounds.

One of the most plentiful fruits in the whole country is the banana. Inside the school grounds alone, there are probably 30 banana trees, though they all bear fruit at different times. There are a few different types as well, my favorite being the "pata" - a short, fat banana that tastes like a perfect mix of a banana and an apple. This nearly-ripe bunch is pretty close to our front porch.

Bananas are so bountiful, that when someone gives you some, you usually get an entire stalk off a tree. We got this one from a neighbor in exchange for a band-aid.

The papaya is the other fruit that is generally available for the whole year. They've been hit or miss for me in the states, but I've really enjoyed them here. They are especially good paired with some grated coconut or some lime juice. This little tree is also right off of our porch.

PS - I think my first project plan for the summer break next week is to try and convert that little shack above into a chicken coop.

As is typical in most tropical climates, palm trees with coconuts are everywhere. You can, of course, eat the fruit, and use the palm branches for weaving and basket making. The coconuts on shorter trees are usually picked when green, so one can enjoy the delicious, slightly carbonated coconut water. The coconuts on the tall trees ripen until they fall, and are then used to grate and make into coconut milk. These brown, fallen coconuts are so plentiful that they are also used to feed all the pigs.

I know we've mentioned that "root crops" are the Tongan staple starch. But one of the most common of these starchy, usually boiled foods is the "breadfruit", which, as the name suggests, grows on a tree and not in the ground. They are hard to describe...kind of like a mix between a potato and..well, bread. The leaves also make great fans for especially hot days. We've got a few that are almost ripe on this tree.

We are going to wait a few months until the end of the hurricane seasons to start planting some traditional American vegetables. But, the first on our list of native crops to plant very soon is called "pele". Many people call it "tropical spinach" - it's a cooking green, similar to chard or collard greens, that grows tall like a bush. Apparently, all you need to do to plant some is take a few stalks off of a mature plant and just stick them in the ground. We've got one plant now in the corner behind our house.

And finally, by far my favorite growing thing in our yard is our very own lime tree! Right now, there are dozens of slowly ripening limes on it that are making me really excited. Now if only I had some mint leaves and rum...

So there you have it. Really, the only major things we're missing are a mango tree and some pineapple plants. But, when they're in season, they are very easy to get our hands on. I'm still continually amazed at how the Tongans use all of these natural resources in daily life. Even the flowers are picked every week and used to decorate churches, and many other plants still unknown to me are still used to make traditional medicinal remedies and woven handicrafts. It's a neat place to make our home in.

Here's a bonus picture of our flowerbed by our porch. The school has done a great job keeping it looking great. I've tried planting some ginger in those containers on the porch.

'Ofa Atu,


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