Celebrating the Joy of Springtime . . .

March 31st, 2013 § 7 comments § permalink

tiny-birds-nest-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden.com_ Rebirth & Renewal: A Tiny Nest Amongst Hemlock Boughs

Wishing You Joy During this Season of Celebration. Happy Easter, Happy Passover and Happy Spring!

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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First Hints of a Changing Season . . .

March 30th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenersedenApril’s Promise: Beloved Blossoms on My Bodnant Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’). Read More About this Beauty in My Previous Post Here

The first hints of a changing season: warm breezes from the south and silvery pussy willow catkins, soft against the skin, flirty pink buds on my favorite viburnum and the taste of sweet new maple syrup in a springtime cocktail.

Finally, as the snowbanks reluctantly recede, Spring has decided to make her fashionably late arrival. Of course we all smile in eager anticipation —watching her seductively saunter up the garden path— even if she always makes us a bit impatient in our wait. Hello gorgeous, we sure have missed you . . .

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' Blossoms in Snow ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Sweetness to Melt the Snow: The Golden Blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ Sparkle Like Drops of Honey, Begin to Open in the Late Afternoon Sunlight (Read More About this Lovely Witch Hazel Here)

Pussy Willow Bundles ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comjpg Harvesting Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), Branches by the Armful. (Read More About this Delightful Native Here)

Shall we make a toast to Spring and all of her irresistible charms. Here’s looking at you, kid . . .

Sugar-Moon-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden  My Annual, Frost-Melting Treat: Sugar Moon Cocktail (Click Here for Recipe)

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Aerial Alchemy: Earth’s Golden Hour . . .

March 29th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Above the Golden Keys ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Golden Keys (Above the Florida Keys, USA)

Explorers sailed to the New World seeking it. Chemists have spent centuries chasing it. Far above the earth, at the golden hour —while gazing out a jetliner window— I found what they’ve all been searching for. Aerial alchemy.

And I think to myself, as Louis Armstrong once sang, what a wonderful world . . .

Golden Lakes Above Hondurus ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Liquid Gold Lakes & Rose-Platinum Smoke (Above Honduras)

Golden River, Run to the Sea ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Golden River, Run to the Sea (Above Honduras)

Liquid Gold Above Central America ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Shimmering Rivers (Above Honduras)

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Beauty to Behold: The Sap Moon Rising

March 27th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

Sap Moon Rising ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Sap Moon Rising Above Paper Birch and Snow-Covered Hills in Vermont

Be sure to look for the full, Sap Moon (aka the Worm Moon), when it rises tonight at 7:50pm ET. The moon was full at exactly 5:27am ET this morning, as it began to set on the western horizon here in Vermont. With ghostly paper birch reflecting her glow, the show sure was beautiful last night on my hilltop. Find more astronomical news, including full moon facts and lore, at The Farmer’s Almanac here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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A Trio of Central American Beauties: Hot House Queens from the Tropics . . .

March 26th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Heliconia vellerigera 'She Kong' ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com JPGNative to the tropical Americas, Heliconia vellerigera’s (cultivar pictured: H. vellerigera ‘She Kong’), yellow blossoms are accented by  fuzzy, red bracts that remind me of the glamorous, fluffy shrugs worn by Hollywood starlets. An important food-source for hummingbirds, the Heliconias require constant moisture, warmth, partial to full sunlight and rich soil.

Flower gardening in the Great White North is a seasonal affair. Unless you have your own greenhouse or access to a large-scale conservatory, there are few flowers to be enjoyed in New England during the months of winter and very early spring. For a hortimaniac, it’s hard to live life without flowers. Like many northern gardeners, I suffer from zone envy and I often spend my snowy evenings fantasizing about a heated glasshouse and dreaming of all the exotic beauties I’d invite to my housewarming party.

In the meantime, there’s always travel. And over the past few weeks, I’ve been meeting some of my favorite, hot house beauty queens up close and personal, in their natural, tropical habitat at the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue and Botanical Garden in Cahuita, Costa Rica (learn more about this special place in upcoming posts). Here are three of my favorite, hotties from the tropics; brilliantly colored plants I adore, and regularly visit in my dreams. But although they can be enjoyed outside during New England’s growing year, these tender lovelies must have a warm, moist  habitat year round. Large conservatories can grow large tropical plants without trouble, however most average, cold-climate homes can host only one or two. I can’t make a proper home for Heliconia or Etlingera , but the Crimson Passionflower Vine (Passiflora vitifolia), having long ago twined her way ’round my heart, will once again find a home at my front door this summer . . .

Pink Tulip Ginger (Nicolaia elatior) ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comjpg Native to Java, but cultivated throughout the tropics, Etlingera elatior or Nicolaia elatior (Pink Tulip Ginger) reminds me of the magical wands carried by good witches in fairytales. The torch gingers are large plants (up to 20′ tall) and require  ample space, moisture and sunlight.

Passiflora vitifolia (Crimson Passionflower Vine) ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Native to Central America and Northwestern South America, Passiflora vitifolia (Crimson Passionflower Vine) is a hummingbird favorite that blooms on and off throughout the growing year. A great choice for vertical garden spaces, this vine can grow 20′ or more and requires ample sun, moisture and a trellis, pergola or arbor for support. Northern gardeners can grow this beauty as a tender perennial in protected spaces, and bring her inside to a bright, warm, sunny room to overwinter. This may be the perfect tropical companion for tropical lovers in the great white north.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Late March Musings: Welcoming Spring

March 25th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Springtime in the Secret Garden ⓒ 2012 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden My Secret Garden Path, Fragrant with Woodland Phlox (P. divaricata), in April of Last Year

Somewhere, beneath the melting snow, the garden is stirring; restless to feel the sweet kiss of springtime sunshine . . .

Have only just returned from my travels  —busy downloading photos and editing stories to share— but wanted to pause for a moment to say hello and welcome the fresh new season. Welcome Spring. Won’t you drop your cold shoulder and show us a little tenderness?

Spring Along the Secret Garden Path ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comSecret Garden Steps in Springtime

Garden Design and Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Deep Forest: Exploring the Heart of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica . . .

March 20th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Eyelash Viper, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThis Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), is a mostly arboreal/nocturnal resident of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. Though its venom is highly toxic, this snake is non-aggressive and its bite is rarely fatal to humans. Still, I observed the colorful beauty from a distance and zoomed in with my camera for a close-up look. Learn more about this gorgeous snake at The Encyclopedia of Life, online here.

Happy Spring! We passed through the Vernal Equinox at precisely 7:02 A.M. (EDT) March 20, 2013 in the Northern Hemisphere today, but I’m celebrating the change of seasons in beautiful Costa Rica (on CST). This week’s adventures included a hike through Cahuita National Park, in the far southeastern corner of this Central American country. Located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica’s climate is tropical. With stable temperatures year round, the seasons here are defined by rainfall. Currently, Costa Rica is in its dry season, however with many microclimates —defined mainly by geographic region and elevation— there are plenty of cool, moist rain forests to explore throughout the year. Having spent time in the northwestern part of Costa Rica last winter —see my previous posts here— this time we focused on the wildlife-rich, Caribbean side of the country.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its biodiversity and environmental awareness. Twenty-five percent of Costa Rican land is held by the national park system, which is where I’ve been spending most of my days. Although comparatively small, I found Cahuita National Park to be remarkably diverse. Snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, birds, monkeys, coati, sloth and a wide variety of other animals are easy to spot in the early morning hours, even without the valuable assistance of a guide. Take a peek at just a few of the colorful, curious inhabitants I observed in Cahuita National Park!

Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThe Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), perhaps the most famous resident of the Costa Rican rainforest, may look fierce but is non-venomous and completely harmless. Mostly nocturnal, this little fella startles would-be predators by flashing its bright red eyes and exposing its colorful toes. Learn more on National Geographic’s website here.

Golden Silk Spider, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhen I first spotted the web of the Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes), above my head in Cahuita National Park, I thought the gold color of the silk was merely sunlight playing on the delicate threads. Imagine my surprise when I leaned in for a closer look! Not only is her web gorgeous, the artist is a real stunner as well! Although the spider will bite if threatened, it is completely harmless. I find arachnids fascinating and this one, with a golden web, is especially beautiful. Learn more about the Golden Silk Spider here.

Sara Longwing Butterfly, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Sara Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius sara) has two sides. The moment I happened to snap this photo, the wings opened, appearing blue, black and white. When closed, the wings are red, black and white. For more information, and a photo of the closed wings, click here.

Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Famous for its toxic skin —long used by native Central and South Americans to create lethal arrows— the Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) is harmless to humans, unless touched. Learn more about this beautiful amphibian on the Michigan Museum of Zoology Website here.

White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Highly social and undeniably entertaining, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), groom one another as they greet park visitors near the beach. Learn more about the White-Faced Monkey here.

White Nosed Coati Nasua narica Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a raccoon-like carnivore. Intelligent and opportunistic, these clever mammals are quick to snatch and run off with an inattentive and unsuspecting hiker’s lunch! Learn more about this mischievous resident of Costa Rica, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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A Return to Costa Rica’s Pura Vida: Field Notes from a Tropical Paradise . . .

March 18th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Above Costa Rica ll ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comColor-Saturated Beauty: Costa Rica from Above

Above Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comDescending Over Fields and Farmland Northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica

There’s talk of a snowstorm to greet the first day of spring back home in New England. Cruel, and yet, it seems so far away, now that I’ve shed my snowshoes and winter wool in favor of flip flops and a bikini. How wondrous, to be lifted far above the chilly clouds and, in a few short hours, to peek down upon a tropical paradise. I’m absorbing the beauty with all five senses: tasting, smelling, touching, listening and above all seeing all that this place has to offer. It’s pura vida. . . And I am living the good life in Costa Rica, once again . . .

Above Costa Rica Vl ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Above the Mountain Roads & Hilltowns: Alajuela Province, Costa Rica

Above Costa Rica lll ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comA Peek Between the Clouds, Above Alajuela

Currently exploring the Caribbean Coast and south-central mountains of Costa Rica along the Panama border, I will attempt to post more glimpses of this Central American paradise whenever an internet connection allows. Hasta luego!  

Above Costa Rica lV ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Glimpses of Rain Forest and Farmland: Above Costa Rica

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Caramel-Drizzled, Spiced Coffee Cake, Daylight Savings & Winter’s Last Hurrah

March 9th, 2013 § 5 comments § permalink

Caramel Drizzled Coffee Cake ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com Caramel-Drizzled Coffee Cake Takes the Edge Off a Winter Storm

Late winter snow storms are real heart-breakers. And it seems that, no matter how many times we’re hit by an early March ‘weather event’, I’m always caught by surprise. Songbirds are returning, buds are swelling on trees, and clocks are about to spring forward to daylight savings time (p.s. Don’t forget to move clocks ahead an hour before you turn in tonight, as DST starts 3/10/13).

It’s just starting to feel like a new season, and then. . .  It hits. A wet, heavy snowstorm. Doesn’t seem quite fair!

At times like these, I usually feel the need to bake something to lift my weary spirits and give me energy to dig out; something warm and golden and just a little bit gooey. What to do? I scanned the kitchen and my eyes focused in on my Finca Rosa Blanca coffee beans, sitting on the countertop. Mmmm. That’s it! Something like . . .

Caramel-Drizzled Coffee Cake

(ingredients for one 10-inch tube cake or two smaller cakes)

1/2 lb (2 sticks) of butter at room temperature

1 cup of granulated sugar

3 eggs at room temperature

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup sour cream or plain, Greek yogurt (full fat or 2%)

1/4 cup espresso or very strongly brewed French roast coffee, cooled*

5 teaspoons vanilla extract (or rum for a twist)

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Caramel Topping

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

This is a very simple cake, but first, make yourself some espresso or some very strong French roast coffee to wake yourself up. Then, set aside 1/4 cup of espresso/coffee to cool and preheat your oven to 350° fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 10″ tube or Bundt pan (you can also use other shapes and types of pans of similar size, or make two cakes in 8″ spring-form pans, as I did for the photo). Now go gather your ingredients.

In a large bowl, blend the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together with a fork. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream or Greek yogurt with the espresso (or coffee) and 5 teaspoons of vanilla, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl (I use a stand mixer), beat the butter for a few seconds, add in the sugar and beat a minute or two. Add in three eggs at room temperature and beat until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Very slowly, combine the dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl, and beat until smooth. Add in the sour cream or yogurt/coffee/vanilla mix and beat the mixture a bit longer.

Pour the cake batter into the buttered/floured pan, stick it into the oven and set your timer to bake for 45-50 minutes. It’s done when the top is golden colored and a stick pulls out clean from the center of the cake. When done, let rest for 5 or 10 minutes and then remove the cake form/invert to cool. Flip the cake onto a serving platter. Now, at this point, I like to prick little holes in the cake with a stick or fork so that some of the caramel drizzle gets inside. That’s up to you.

To make the caramel drizzle: combine the brown sugar, yogurt and vanilla in a small bowl and stir well until blended. Set aside until cake is cooled and then drizzle over to your heart’s content (and set some aside for sinfully delicious dipping).

*If you’d rather not add coffee (even decaf?), you can omit this ingredient and instead use one full cup of yogurt or sour cream in the main cake.

Snow-Covered Nest ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com

Now, if you’re like me, you hate waiting, so you go outside to shovel while your cake bakes. This gives you the heart to clear snow from the roof, which has slid down and piled atop the already snow-covered terrace and drifted into the walkways. Finish that off, then come in, drizzle the coffee cake, have a thick slice, and then go back out to clear the pathways, cars, truck, tractor and utility areas. Meanwhile, your partner-in-crime plows and pushes back snowbanks, while troubleshooting a stalling engine on the ’86 Chevy. Winter sure is a lot of work!

I recently read that shoveling snow by hand burns something like 400 calories (or more) per hour. Of course, the heavier the snow  the harder you work, and the more calories you burn. Oh, and don’t worry, this probably won’t be the last work out you get before spring. Keep that shovel ready. You’re gonna need a LOT of coffee cake to clear the nest!

Snowy, Sunlit Viburnum trilobum ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenersedenFrosted Viburnum trilobum Along the Sunlit Walkway

Lavender Hills ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com To the Southwest: Warm, Lavender Hills

March Sunset in the Garden After the Storm ⓒ 2013 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.com Sunset in the Northwest Gardens, After the Storm

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Cool Beans: Stroll Through Costa Rica’s Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Glimpse the Beauty of Harvest Season. . .

March 6th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Permaculture at Finca Rosa Blanca's Organic Coffee Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Late Afternoon Sunlight Streams Through Banana Leaves at Beautiful Finca Rosa Blanca, A Certified Organic Coffee Plantation in Costa Rica

Coffee Bean Harvest - Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Freshly Harvested Coffee Berries at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation, Costa Rica

Coffee Beans - Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Ripe, red Caffea arabica berries signal the beginning of harvest season at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation. Coffee berries, or “cherries”, are picked during the dry season in Costa Rica. Coffee harvest spans early November through the end of February.

Gardeners tend to be morning people, and like most morning people, I have a routine to begin my day. Topping my list of favorite, daily rituals is a piping hot cup of freshly ground, organically grown coffee, swirled with farm-fresh cream. Delicious! I can’t imagine starting my day without a cup of joe, but despite my passion for and longtime career in horticulture, I actually knew very little about how coffee is grown and harvested. I decided to change that last fall, during one of my recent visits to beautiful Costa Rica (see previous posts here). This past December, I spent a half day touring Finca Rosa Blanca’s organic coffee plantation with Coffea expert Leo Vergnani, a java-loving, Italian native with a world of coffee growing knowledge to share.

Leo Vergnani at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.com Leo Vergnani, coffee growing expert and tour guide at Finca Rosa Blanca’s organic coffee plantation

Leo began the tour of Finca Rosa Blanca plantation at the coffee roasting house, giving us an overview of the world’s major species of coffee plants —70% Arabica (Coffea arabica), 30Robusta (Coffea canephora)— growing conditions/locations and the various types of processes used to harvest, dry and roast coffee. Though the species of coffee grown in Costa Rica, Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), originated in Ethiopia, the plant is believed to have been first cultivated in its namesake region, Saudi Arabia. Although a variety of coffee plants grow at altitudes ranging from 300-6,000′ above sea level (ASL) —cheaper Robusta coffee (C. canephora), for example, is grown between sea level and 3,000′—- most of the world’s high quality, Arabica coffee is grown in the “coffee belt”, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Mountainous, subtropical regions (16-24°, at altitudes of 1,800-4,200′), and similar, equatorial regions (latitudes lower than 10°, at altitudes of 3,600-6,300′), provide ideal conditions for coffee growing. The perfect climate for a coffee plantation should have distinct rainy and dry seasons, and stable, year-round temperatures between 65° – 85° F (20° C). In addition, coffee plants require fast-draining, loose, porous, mineral-rich soil. This makes Costa Rica’s volcanic earth and subtropical climate the perfect geographical region for growing some of the finest coffee in the world.

Trail Through the Coffee Plantation at Finca Rosa Blanca, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation follows the natural contours of the land. This growing method —and the use of companion plants; including Marantaceae, Iris and Poaceae— helps to control erosion and hold minerals and nutrients in the soil. Sustainable, organic growing practices —including ancient permaculture methods— ensure that the local flora, fauna and environment remain protected.

With the stunning Costa Rican landscape as a backdrop, a tour of Finca Rosa Blanca is an extraordinary experience for all five senses. The coffee plantation follows the winding contours of Costa Rica’s mountainous landscape, with trails leading through a misty canopy of trees. The songs of birds and tree frogs echo above us and the scent of sweet flowers fills the air. As we skip across stony brooks, I catch glimpses of breathtaking waterfalls and familiar, tropical plants —including Maranta and Calathea— as well as wild iris, ferns, lilies and orchids. The dense, fibrous root systems of the many plants and trees growing along the steep slopes help to control erosion here during the rainy season, and a consciously diverse ecosystem controls pests and diseases within in the plantation.

Marantaceae ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comjpg Along my tour, I encountered a wide variety of familiar and favorite tropical “houseplants” growing in their native environments; including members of the Prayer Plant (Marantaceae) family

Iris planted to lessen erosion at FRB Coffee Plantation, Costa Rica The diverse population of flora and fauna makes Finca Rosa Blanca a beautiful coffee plantation to explore at every sensory level. Iris and other companion plants help to control soil erosion during the rainy period.

Coffee Beans in the Afternoon Mist - Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenersedenThe misty tree canopy above the coffee plants protects the leaves from the scorching sun, and slows the ripening process, helping to produce sweet, bright red berries; ideal fruit for the perfect bean!

Caffea arabica plants take and average of 7-8 years to reach maturity. Plants begin flowering and producing berries 2-3 years after planting, and are pruned to prevent over-flowering and increase quality fruit production. The coffee harvest cycle in Costa Rica follows a one year cycle. The fragrant, blossoming period begins in March and lasts 2 or 3 days, with a second wave of bloom following 3-4 weeks later. Because of the staggered flowering time, coffee berries do not form, nor do they mature at once. This makes hand picking necessary, so that only the ripe, red fruit is harvested during the winter season (November through February). Each coffee berry (ripe berries are called coffee “cherries”), holds two seeds (and sometimes a third, called a peaberry). It is these seeds, or “beans”, which are collected from the fruits during processing, dried and roasted to become the familiar, dark brown coffee beans with which the world is so enamored.

Ripe Coffee Berries at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Coffee plants bloom and fruit over a period of time, making hand-picking (ideally, only the ripe, red fruit is selected), necessary.

In order to prolong the berry ripening process —and produce the sweetest, most flavorful coffee— C. arabica requires cool, shady growing conditions. To provide this micro-climate, Finca Rosa Blanca grows coffee plants beneath the shade of a variety of native and regional trees; including the Coral Tree (Erythrina poeppigiana) —a nitrogen-fixing member of the legume family— which not only builds the soil through nitrogen-rich leaf litter, but also provides a delicate screen from the hot sun. Leaves, bark and seeds of the Coral Tree also repel many insect pests, providing natural protection to the soil surrounding the coffee plants. With the help of the Costa Rican environmental protection agency and volunteers, including local school children, Finca Rosa Blanca has planted more than 5,000 native trees to help provide natural nitrogen and shade for coffee growing, and to improve the local environment for birds, pollinating insects and other wildlife.

Leo Vergnani points out a small tree seedling planted by local school children ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Leo Vergnani points out a protected, native tree seedling planted by local school children. Together with their help, and the help of Costa Rica’s environmental protection agency, Finca Rosa Blanca has added more than 5,000 native trees to their coffee plantations.

In addition to providing optimal growing conditions —which reduce stress on the coffee plants, helping to prevent disease and insect infestations from occurring— Finca Rosa Blanca also practices integrated pest management (IPM) and age-old methods of working with the earth’s natural resources and systems to keep diseases and pests in check and provide the necessary nutrients for coffee plants without using chemical insecticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Coffee is an extremely valuable commodity , with both high demand and price. Because of this, growers are under enormous market pressure and not all coffee plantations adhere to the same sustainable and organic growing practices as Finca Rosa Blanca. However, with increasing environmental awareness, small farms and plantations are becoming popular eco-tourism destinations. Experiencing the natural beauty of Costa Rica, and seeing first hand how ecologically sound agriculture works, helps to educate consumers about the importance of purchasing coffee grown at sustainable, ecologically sound plantations, like Finca Rosa Blanca.

Phermone Trap for White Coffee Borer Beetle ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Leo explains the purpose of these white cups, seen hanging from coffee plants throughout the plantation. Pheromones are used to attract and trap coffee borer beetles, common pests in plantations. Finca Rosa Blanca is an organic plantation, and uses no chemical pesticides or herbicides.

Because I visited Finca Rosa Blanca in early December, I was fortunate to observe the start of harvest season. As we rounded the trail to the berry processing facility, laughter and light-hearted joking could be heard between the rows of coffee plants. Coffee pickers —many migrant workers from neighboring Nicaragua and Panama— were gathering bags of freshly-harvested berries, and tossing them onto the bed of a pickup truck. It was the end of a long, hard day and yet smiles abounded. Individual crew members are paid by the number of ripe units picked, which seems to make for happy and unhurried work. Surrounded by the calming beauty of nature, Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation is clearly a great place to spend your days . . .

Joy of Life - Picking Coffee Beans at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Coffee Harvest Season at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation, Costa Rica

The Harvest Crew at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenersedenThe Crew at Harvest: Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation, Costa Rica 

Bagged Beans - Finca Rosa Blanca ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Measuring a day’s work: coffee pickers are paid by measured units

Processing Coffee Beans - Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Ripe coffee berries, called “cherries”, pass through a machine which removes the seeds, or “beans” from the fruit. The seeds are soaked overnight in bathwater and rinsed before air drying and resting the beans prior to roasting

Coffee Berry Processing at Finca Rosa Blanca, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Extracted seeds from coffee berries pass along a chute, down into an overnight bath

After harvest, coffee berries are processed through a micro-milling station to extract the seeds, or “beans”, for drying. After the fruit has been scraped and washed away, the seeds are sorted and spread out for air-drying and held for a resting period of 1 1/2 – 3 months before they are ready for roasting.

Leo Vergnani walks us through the coffee bean drying process at Finca Rosa Blanca ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Leo Virgnani explains how coffee is air dried to reduce moisture content

Drying Coffee Beans - Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation - Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Coffee seeds are raked out and air dried on screens. Moisture content is regularly measured with hand-held hydrometers until the beans are considered dry.

La Casa Del Cafe - Finca Rosa Blanca - ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden After a resting period of 1 1/2-3 months, air-dried coffee beans are sold and processed through micro-roasters or by Finca Rosa Blanca. The plantation’s coffee is offered for sale to guests, hotels/restaurants, and sold/shipped worldwide through Cafe Milagro’s website.

At the end of our tour, Leo Virgnani invited us to take part in the traditional coffee tasting ritual known as “cupping”. This delightful experience has forever altered how I evaluate my morning cup of joe. Have you ever participated in a traditional coffee tasting? Many coffee plantations and micro roasters offer “cupping” as part of a facilities tour. If you have the chance, take it! You will experience flavors ranging from sweet molasses to dark chocolate, with earthy tones and bright notes and even hints of citrus and tobacco. Who knew coffee could be this complex!

Coffee cupping at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation- Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Coffee “cupping” reveals the subtle flavors of my favorite morning drink; including hints of citrus, earth, dark chocolate, molasses and even tobacco 

Gate at Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenersedenFinca Rosa Blanca Plantation and Inn, at Sunset 

I would like to extend a special note of gratitude to Leo Vergnani for making our visit to Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation both an educational and beautifully memorable experience! Thank you, Leo!

For more information about Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn, or to Purchase Coffee, Please Visit their Website.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Forward, March . . .

March 1st, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida' ⓒ 2012 Michaela Medina  - thegardenerseden.com Not just yet, but in a matter of weeks, the Witch Hazels will begin to bloom (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ in March of 2012). Read more about spring blooming Witch Hazels in my previous post, here.

Although March belongs, in large part, to Winter, this never seems to stop Spring from sending flirtatious hints our way. Just step outside, and already you will hear her sweet song in the treetops. Beneath the snow, below the cool, naked branches and icy stone, sap is running and life is stirring . . .

Sugaring-Season-Deer-Ridge-Farm-ⓒ-michaela-at-thegardenerseden Sugar Maple sap is running, and the local shacks are busy boiling (Click Here to Read About Maple Sugaring at Deer Ridge Farm, Guilford, Vermont)

Hamamelis-vernalis-in-the-Garden-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden.com_ The buds of native, Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) wait patiently for a warm sunny day, to release their honey-sweet scent into the breeze. Read about the Vernal Witch Hazel here.

Hamamelis-vernalis-Forced-Branches-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden For now, this northern gardener must be satisfied with an armful of forced branches for her Eden indoors. Read more about how to force branches by clicking back to my previous post, here.

So when March snow falls softly, coating trees and obscuring the view, I remind myself that these are the last few weeks of Winter. Soon, her icy beauty will vanish and we’ll be saying hello again to coquettish Spring . . .

Black-Capped Chickadee ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina  - thegardenerseden.com Ever-wary of predators, a Black-Capped Chickadee surveys the feeding stations for safety before swooping in for a snack . . .

The Hills of Southern Vermont in Late Winter with Snow- Covered Trees ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina - thegardenerseden.com

Ermine (Stoat or Short-Tailed Weasel ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina  - thegardenerseden.comPerhaps the Ermine (aka Stoat or Short-Tailed Weasel) is hunting today? Read more about this fierce, tiny hunter in my previous post on the white-cloaked ermine, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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