Homemade Health – Fermented Food

The frequent use antibiotics and antibacterial soaps results in a depleted supply of “good bacteria” in our gut which we need to effectively get nutrients from our food. Fermented food helps to restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal system while being tasty and interesting food full of nutrition.

We hear about probiotics and buy expensive tablets to counteract the effects of taking antibiotics. Lacto-fermented food is an easy, inexpensive way to prepare foods like sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers which will provide the same benefits as purchased probiotics. Fermentation is a good way to preserve foods, increase nutritional value and improve the taste of foods without spending a lot of money. There was a workshop on Fermenting Foods at the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge in January 2014. Instructors were expert artisan cheese makers from Vermont, Larry & Linda Faillace who also periodically teach courses in cheese making at Caves Branch Jungle Lodge.

The method is as simple as storing food in an acid, controlled environment for prolonged periods of time until the food is ready for consumption. Humans have been fermenting food for thousands of years as evidenced by seven-thousand-year old jars containing wine found in the Zagros Mountains of Iran and similar findings in the Caucasus area of Georgia. Over time, fermentation has been gradually replaced by canning pickles in vinegar. Vinegar pickles are delicious but they don’t provide the nutritional benefits. You can find fermented pickles in some deli stores but they can easily be made at home for only a few dollars.

In addition to sauerkraut and lacto-fermented pickles made of cucumbers or other vegetables, other fermented foods are cheese, yoghurt, and Kimchee, a favorite Korean recipe which is a spicier version of sauerkraut. You can try using the brine to preserve lemons and oranges, green mangos or papayas.

Fermentation helps pre-digest food before we consume it. Foods that are difficult to digest are more easily broken down after fermentation. In some cases there are micronutrients are synthesized during the fermentation process. For example, cabbage that has been fermented has known cancer fighting compounds. These foods are rich in enzymes which are needed to digest, absorb, and utilize the nutrients in your food. They helps us to absorb the nutrients we’re consuming. Fermenting food is inexpensive.

Fermenting food is a safe way to preserve food. Lactic acid inhibits the growth of all known food pathogens. Properly lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables are inherently safe. One of the most feared pathogens associated with food preservation is Clostridium botulinum. It is virtually unheard of in vegetable and fruit ferments.

Equipment needed: Sharp knives or a mandolin or food processor. Good quality crocks or glass jars which are meticulously clean and free of cracks or blemishes. During the fermentation process, you will need to keep oxygen away from the vegetables. You can find specialized pickling crocks or you can use ziplock bags filled with sufficient brine solution (1.5 tablespoons to one quart water), to be placed on top of the vegetable solution to keep them submerged in the brine, keeping oxygen out.

Fresh produce, rinsed thoroughly to remove contamination by pesticides if they are not organically grown. Vegetables need to be as fresh as possible. Cucumbers need to be picked less than 24 hours prior to preserving for the best results.


Brine: 1.5 tablespoons non-iodized salt to one quart of water. Pickling salt works best as it contains no additives which cause cloudiness.



5 pounds cabbage. For every 5 pounds of cabbage, you need 5 tablespoons of un-iodized salt.

Core the cabbage and slice into very thin slices. In a large mixing bowl or large crock, mix the cabbage and salt well, bruising the cabbage by kneading it and mashing it. Pack the cabbage mixture into the jar or crock you plan to use, using your hands or a potato masher to pack it very tightly. When all the cabbage is packed into the vessel and there are no visible bubbles, protect it from air with a plate or brine-filled food quality ziplock. You can use a clean cabbage leaf or cheese cloth between the plate and the cabbage mixture. Leave overnight. If there is not enough brine to immerse the cabbage thoroughly, add more brine (1.5 tablespoon to 1 quart water) to make sure the cabbage is completely under water. Place the jars/crock in a place where the temperature is no more than 75 degrees F and no less than 60 degrees minimum. At 75 degrees, the kraut will take 2-4 weeks to develop. Check the kraut every day or two. if you find scum on the surface of the brine, remove it with a spoon. When the bubbling ceases, and the cabbage has turned golden, the sauerkraut is ready. At this point, place the kraut in at the refrigerator for storage. Other ingredients can be added according to task, such as caraway or dill seeds. Russian methods add grated carrot, thinly sliced apples and or whole cranberries or raisins along with caraway seeds. You can experiment with tropical ingredients such as shredded green mango, fresh pineapple or green papaya.


You can use a 5 gallon bucket or large jar for making Jewish Deli-style pickles. The key is to use the freshest cucumbers possible. Make sure they are washed well, dried, and kept cold until use.

Half sour pickles are very crisp and halfway between a fresh cucumber and a pickle. Make sufficient 3% brine to cover the cucumbers (1.5 tablespoons to 1 Quart water. Ferment for one week at 65 to 75 degrees F. If any scum forms, remove it. When the fermentation is complete, place the cucumbers and brine in jars and refrigerate. They will last weeks or even months if refrigerated.

Full sour pickles still have a crisp texture but are quite sour and the color is completely transformed. Use a 6% brine (3 tablespoons to 1 quart water) and ferment from two to four weeks at 65 – 75 degrees F. After two weeks, taste every two days until they have fermented to your taste. Once complete, place pickles and brine in jars in the refrigerator. Once refrigerated fermentation stops.

Other ingredients which can be added according to taste are garlic coriander seed, mustard seed, hot chiles (sparingly), bay leaf or even an allspice leaf, whole peppercorns and dill are favorites. Dill and chile amounts should be kept small.

There are many other recipes for fermented food, Kimchee, pickled lemons, and jalapenos. A simple search on the Internet will yield a great deal of information. If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works out. Email marguerite@pobox.com.

Disclaimer: The information here is not intended to substitute for medical care or advice. Please see a doctor or nurse if you are ill.


The Chiquibul Forest Reserve – Ours to Lose

The Scarlet Macaw is an important indicator species for the biodiversity of rainforest. The current population is estimated to be about 200 birds, which is not a good number. The macaws in our country are genetically distinct and geographically separated from other populations in Guatemala and Mexico. Despite the destruction of habitat due to the hydroelectric dams that were installed in the macaw territory, they do continue to exist. Partly due to the efforts of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) the Scarlet Six Monitoring Team (Scarlet Six) the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic (BWRC) and many others, some new chicks are fledging safely. But, recently the monitoring team returned with news that two macaw nests were poached this season due to their distant locations.

The plight of the Scarlet Macaws should serve as a giant red flag to all Belizeans because it indicates our rainforest is in trouble. Indeed, the Chiquibul Forest is under siege by poachers taking hardwoods, Xate, Scarlet Macaws, wildlife, and anything else they can possibly take to sell. There are farmers planting milpa, people basically acting as if the forest belongs to them.

Recently, a team crossed the Maya Divide from the Cockscomb Basin into the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. They were searching for Scarlet Macaws in order to discover more about their habitat, nesting areas and life patterns. On the Cockscomb side of the Divide, the hardy explorers found untouched pristine areas. One magical place had dozens of Violet Sabrewings; others had hundreds of Morphos, White, Brown and Blue. It was a treacherous and difficult climb to get to the top and excitement built as they anticipated entering the upper branches of the Raspaculo River, known macaw nesting areas. But excitement turned to dismay as they traveled toward the “Raspa.” Sign after sign of incursion: trash and campsites. The poachers have made the Chiquibul their home. Belize has already been invaded. A quick look at the border on Google Earth will show increased milpa clearing in our “protected areas.” Unfortunately, it is very difficult to monitor and control this invasion.

Groups like FCD and Scarlet Six have spent their time taking turns monitoring known nests. It seems that simply the presence of people is a deterrent for poaching. Volunteers are welcome to camp and help protect the Scarlet Macaws, which means they are helping to protect the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Start planning now to go next year, April through August, so you can help protect the Scarlet Macaw nests, just by being there.

FCD, together with the Forest Department, have been co-managing the Chiquibul National Park and documenting illegal activities since 2007. From the FCD website: “FCD’s goal has been an ongoing struggle to reclaim the integrity of the Chiquibul National Park. Yet, the threats including poaching of spectacular wildlife such as the Scarlet Macaws, Great Curassows, Brockett deer and peccaries are ongoing. Extraction of non-timber forest produce and primary hardwoods such as Belize’s national tree, the Mahogany is being illegally smuggled across Belize’s western border. Looting for Maya artifacts is extensive and incursions as a result of the agricultural expansion are dramatic. The loss is in the millions and the problem is rapidly impoverishing the ecological processes and the stability of the Maya forest. The Chiquibul National Park is part of the tri-national bioregion forming the largest remaining contiguous block of tropical forest north of the Amazon. Saving this tropical broadleaf forest is not only crucial to the survival of wildlife species, but also vital to human populations from both Belize and Guatemala that depend on the environmental services and goods derived from this exuberant forest. You can be a part of this ongoing struggle by supporting our programs.”

Led by Rafael Manzanero, these guys have been fighting the good fight for years and for the most part they are making progress but they need our help. The ultimate goal is to gain World Heritage status for the Chiquibul Cave System and Nohoch Chen (Holec) and Puente Natural. The Government of Belize has assigned squads of Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers permanently along the Chiquibul border. Funding is needed for high tech drones, tracking devices and cameras. With these tools and with the help of the BDF along the border, the tide can be stemmed.

You can help by donating time or money, equipment or supplies. Roni Martinez of Scarlet Six says: “More Rangers are needed to cover the large area and further population management strategies for next season. Funding campaigns for future efforts will be announced soon. Scarlet Six and FCD are two separate entities working together for the mutual goal of maintaining a healthy and productive Chiquibul ecosystem. Both entities need your help. Also please consider a donation to the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic. Please think about how you can help save the Chiquibul and the Scarlet Macaw.

http://www.gofundme.com/9p649k Scarlet Macaw Protection Belize by Roni Martinez

Friends for Conservation and Development fcd@btl.net.

Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic www.belizewildlifeclinic.org

We must not let the Chiquibul National Forest, the largest protected area in Belize, be destroyed or stolen. This is Our Jewel. It is ours to lose.


Migratory birds are arriving daily from the North.  You can use e-Bird (Bird Log) to enter the birds you see.  This information is uploaded to the Cornell University Ornithology Lab.  The data becomes available to birders all around the globe.  With more and more people using this global database, scientists are learning more about migratory patterns and about the abundance or decline of individual species. There is a “world” version as well as a “Central America” version, BirdLog CA. You don’t need both, if you are a world traveler, choose the world version, otherwise, the Central America version is fine.

If you are curious about when the warblers arrive, there is a terrific companion app called BirdsEye CA. There you can browse birds, look up a particular species and learn quite a bit about it.  You can also select the pin icon for a look at all the recent sightings and their locations.  There is a link to “notable sightings” on the home page where you will find unusual or rare species.  You will be able to see when and where they were seen.  Once you have signed in to BirdsEye CA with the same user name you use for Bird Log CA, you will be able to also see your own lists and even find out how you stand among the top 100 Birders of Belize.

iBird Pro is a superior application for studying birds, listening to their songs, looking at photos, range maps and getting good descriptions.  However, the app only covers birds of North America. It is still a great resource for studying migratory birds. There are lots of features. You can flip through photos and listen to the songs. This app is not tied into the e-Bird network so does not show current locations of birds. In fact their maps do not even show Belize. They are developing an app called iBird Journal. It seems it will function similarly to BirdLog, but again, only migratory birds of Belize are included. iTunes App Store or you can go to BirdsEye.com for download links for other operating systems.

There is a mailing list for Belize birders on yahoogroups.com where local birders exchange information, share interesting sightings, or they might post pictures of mystery birds to get help identifying them. One of the members posted an interesting article from “Science News,” September 21, 2013 (www.sciencenews.org) entitled “Collision Course,” addressing the issue of making windows safer for birds. You can read it yourself but here are some take home points. Birds can’t see glass. Reflections in windows can attract birds. Window screens can help prevent bird collisions. Washable tempura paints provide a simple warning and can be easily changed. Most birds won’t fly through a space less than 4 inches wide between vertical stripes or 2 inches high between. Stripes or dots on the outside of the window can break up reflections, vertical lines should be spaced no more than 4 inches apart, horizontal lines, 2 inches or less. Single decals such are not helpful. Bird feeders placed closer to windows resulted in fewer bird collisions than those placed further away. Glass companies are working to develop glass that reflects only UV waves, which birds can see.
An update on hummingbird feeders, I have had good success with the hummingbird feeders simply by keeping them filled with clean water (1 cup sugar to 4 cups water), changing them daily.  There are times when I’ve had to refill my three feeders twice a day.  Then I was gone for three days and by the time I returned, the rush was over.  There are still several visiting daily, but nowhere near the numbers we were getting in August and September. The lesson is: be faithful.

At one point we began having trouble with bees.  Bees would swarm to the feeders and drain them in short measure.  I noticed the bees were going to one of the two kinds of feeders.  They loved Perky-Pet feeders and left the other feeders alone.  I tried several remedies.  The one that worked best was something I call “Bee Gone.,” basically use a small amount of dish-soap with water, add a few drops of orange essential oil mixed together in a spray bottle.  Spray directly on the feeders.  The birds don’t seem to mind.   It helped with the stingless bees and the honey bees but not for long.  Eventually, I decided to remove the Perky-Pet feeders completely.  Suddenly the bees were gone.  Eventually I put them up again and had no more problems. They need to stay up because the Orioles prefer them. The feeders that the birds love and bees do not prefer are made by a company called First Nature and are available on the web for about US $11 plus shipping at FirstNature.net and other locations.

During the months the Flamboyant trees are blooming, hummingbirds flock to the feeders. After that the larger numbers will stick around as long as you keep the feeders filled with clean fresh sugar-water. It also helps to have lots of other blooming flowers in your yard.

The most common hummingbird is the Rufous-tail, but during migration, you may have Ruby-throated and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. If you live in urban areas, put up a hummingbird feeder. Many migrants are already trained to go to feeders in the North so will readily find yours. Eventually, the residents will notice those foreign birds enjoying the strange-looking flowers and they’ll check it out. Depending on where you live, you might attract any number of resident species.

Next article will be an update on the Scarlet Macaw, their status, what is being done, and how you can help. Please send a message to marguerite@pobox.com if you have any interesting birding news or comments.


More than 500 bird species can be seen in Belize. Some are tropical residents and others migrate back and forth from North and South America. People living in Belize who love to watch birds can do a few simple things in their own backyard to provide hours of bird-watching pleasure.

Basically birds need food, water and shelter. Shrubbery and trees planted in the landscape provide shelter and nesting areas. Trees and shrubs produce food naturally but one can also place food strategically to bring the birds to your favorite spot for viewing. Choose a place that you can see easily from inside, one with cover nearby. Placing several feeding stations around the yard will increase the numbers of birds. It may take time for the birds to find your feeders but be patient; with time your efforts will be rewarded.

Papaya is a favorite food for toucans, orioles, tanagers, honeycreepers and other colorful tropical birds. Papayas are found in the market but one way to assure a plentiful supply is to plant papayas around your yard in places you can easily see. You can also use bananas, pieces of watermelon and oranges sliced in quarters. You can make a simple “orange tree” out of a sturdy limb with several branches, which are trimmed and sharpened to hold orange halves, favored by orioles and euphonias. Sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet can be used to attract doves, seedeaters and finches.

Bird feeders range from elaborate ones found in stores to homemade ones of hardware cloth and wood. A simple platform feeder can be made with a 1-square-foot rectangle of hardware cloth framed with wood and hung with 3 equal length pieces of wire or chain. Feeders don’t have to be expensive, just fill them with fresh clean food.

Hummingbirds are easily attracted to household gardens. Feeders can be found in most agriculture stores and some high-end supermarkets. Make a solution of 20% sugar using 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups water. The water can be boiled depending on the water quality or just heated to dissolve the sugar easily. It’s a good idea to filter the sugar water to remove bits of cane. Hummingbird feeders should be changed daily. Place the hummingbird feeder in the location you wish the birds to come. From your favorite indoor chair, find the best site for your feeders. They can be hung from trees or suspended close to windows under the eaves of your house. It is a good idea to place more than one hummingbird feeder because the males become very territorial and will drive away all newcomers. Try to place the feeders on opposite sides of the house so the birds can only guard one at a time.

If tending to hummingbird feeders daily doesn’t appeal to you, you can plant shrubs, trees and flowers that will attract them naturally, both for food and for places to hide while they wait for their turn at the feeder. Bananas are beautiful and birds love them if you can resist picking the fruit. Schefflera, or Umbrella Plant, a common houseplant, will flower after two or three years if planted outside. The fruit, beloved by toucans, resemble a cluster of small orange grapes. Other plants that attract birds and grow easily in Belize are Flamboyant trees, common Fire Bush, hibiscus, heliconia, various plum trees, Sapote, Chico Sapote, Bay-leaf Palm, and Royal Palm. Birds even enjoy the fruit from the Poisonwood tree. The list is almost endless.

The last essential ingredient for developing a backyard that will attract birds is to provide a source of fresh clean water; ideally, a creek, or pond, but otherwise, use store-bought birdbaths or just use shallow pans. Dripping water is irresistible to birds so any dripping faucets are probably already bringing birds in to your yard. Place a shallow pan below the faucet and you have the perfect bird spa.

Finally, get a good bird book like “Birds of Belize” by H. Lee Jones & Dana Gardner, available on Kindle and in many stores. Get up early, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy.


Landscaping your yard to attract butterflies is as simple as providing food, water and shelter for all stages of the butterfly life cycle. Adult butterflies feed on nectar while caterpillars and larvae eat the leaves of specific plants, their “host plants.” You can improve your chances of attracting butterflies to your garden by implementing a few principles into your landscape and planting shrubs and flowers butterflies love.

Butterflies are attracted to masses of colorful flowers in sunny locations and they need shady cool-down areas when it is hot for protection. Plant a variety of flowering annuals and perennials for mass color. Belize has a number of butterfly-friendly native plants that grow very easily. Some might be considered weeds they are so prevalent. But once you know the beneficial ones, you can keep them in your yard, pruning and taming them to fit your landscape.

One common plant countrywide is “Red Head” or “Firebush”, Hamelia patens. This plant grows everywhere land has been cleared. It can become gangly and unsightly if left to itself, but carefully pruned it is a beautiful landscape specimen providing flowers and fruit simultaneously. It responds well to pruning becoming thicker and lush. Learn to identify young plants growing in your yard and let them grow. Before you know it, you will have constantly flowering shrubs or small tree attracting birds and butterflies.

Passionflowers should be considered because they attract the Heliconai or Passionflower butterfly for laying eggs. There are at least 23 species of Passionflowers in Belize, most of which need a specific habitat to thrive. If you are lucky enough to find them growing as a vine in your yard, let them grow. You can build a simple trellis or structure to give it room to grow. Some species will reward you with gorgeous flowers and delicious fruit, and you’ll be encouraging more butterflies to visit your yard.

Other flowering plants to consider adding to your garden are Cosmos, Pentas, and Kalanchoes. Cosmos grow wild in some areas of Belize. They like extreme heat, poor soil and dry conditions and good drainage. They are annuals but will re-seed themselves in the right conditions. Kalanchoes bloom in the late fall and early winter. Flowers are long lasting and can be grown in the garden or in pots.

Another beautiful, constantly blooming plant is called Pentas, named for the small bright star-shaped groups of flowers. At a distance, the clusters appear to be one larger flower. Pentas come in red and pink and white. Once you have a healthy plant, they are easily spread. Bring in some cuttings to enjoy inside and after a few days, plant them, water and feed them, and before long you’ll have more to spread. Butterflies love mass plantings of colorful flowers and this is a great choice.

There are other things you can do in your backyard to encourage butterflies. Choose a spot for a shallow watering area. Butterflies get water and minerals from the moist soil around mud puddles often grouping together in what is called “Puddle clubs.” Examples of these spectacular displays with large numbers of butterflies seemingly drinking together can be found on muddy trails and back roads.

Use pesticides in your yard cautiously. Pesticides kill butterflies and caterpillars. Try using soap on aphids and other pests or completely removing infected plants.

Attract butterflies to a focal point from your house by placing over-ripe fruit, melons, papaya, mangoes, bananas, etc., on a tray or feeding station. Butterflies are not shy and will land at stations placed close to your windows.

If you are interested in finding out more about butterfly gardening, visit Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanical Gardens. You will see most of these plants and more growing and they have the largest butterfly house in the country. You can find photos and information online at: http://biological-diversity.info/