Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

11 May, 2008

San Ramón: Organic Farming


Planting the Seeds
The first step in creating an herb garden is planting the seeds. Because they are so vulnerable for the first few weeks after sprouting, we didn’t plant the seeds directly into the garden outside. We filled the black containers you see here with organic fertilizer and seeds. They will live in the greenhouse for a few weeks until the seeds germinate and sprout. In the greenhouse they are protected from elements like harsh rain and wind that could potentially prevent the herbs from making it through the crucial early stages of growth. Once they are mature enough, they’ll be transplanted outside in the field.

Planting Seedlings
Juan Luis grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs on the farm. During the week that we helped plant seeds and seedlings, we put a host of different herbs and vegetables into the ground. One of his main products is cilantro, which grows from seed to harvest in a couple of weeks. We also planted red beans, which form pods with seeds for harvesting in about three weeks. Among the other plants we planted were lettuce, scallions, cabbage, basil, and tomatos. All of these products are brought to the farmer´s market in San Ramon for sale at the booth that hosts all of the available certified organic produce.

Weeding by Hand
Almost every day at the farm, our first task was to weed the herb garden. Because there are a variety of herbs planted within close proximity of each other, it was difficult at first to differentiate between weeds and newly sprouted herbs. After working for a while though, the differences became more and more obvious and by the end I wondered how I was ever able to confuse the two. Although very time-consuming and tedious, manual weeding is a crucial step of the organic growth process. Conventional farms can use fast and easy chemical methods to eliminate weeds that compete for nutrients, sunlight, and root-space. Because most weeds tend to be heartier and more resilient than other plants, it’s critical to remove them, and on an organic farm this means pulling them out individually, by hand.

Zeke Shoveling Organic Fertilizer
Applying fertilizer is an important step in the growing of seeds or seedlings. The fertilizer is made of composted material, which in this case was originally sugar cane. The unwanted sugar cane is taken from a nearby processing plant and placed under tarps to be decomposed naturally, creating a nutrient-rich soil. Throughout the week, we planted hundreds of seeds and seedlings and covered them with the natural fertilizer. Synthetic fertilizer can be harmful to the land, seeping into water sources and allowing the exploiting of soil, and also to the human consumer´s health. Natural fertilizer takes an organic product that would be discarded into the land
anyway and utilizes it.

Wash Station on Juan Luis’ Farm
This is the wash station on Juan Luis’ farm (above, left). Every Friday (the day of the big Feria in San Ramon) we worked on the farm we would help Juan Luis pick and wash the vegetables for market. The most commonly picked vegetables included different varieties of lettuce, boc-choy, cilantro, onions, spinach, and mustard greens. Most vegetables were rinsed and bunched before being placed in plastic tubs to carry back to Juan Luis’ house and then to the Feria (shown below, right). But the lettuce was put in plastic mesh sleeves either at the wash station or back at
Juan Luis’ house.

Organic Growers Association: Tierra Fértil
The organic growers association Tierra Fértil was started in 2004 after a failed attempt in 2000. The association sells at the Feria in San Ramón (stall shown here, above, left) and in Palmares. The association was founded by seven families, including the three shown here (from the left: Doña Ana, Don Juan Luis, and Don Toño). The organization sells fruits and vegetables as well as herbs (both fresh and dried) and compost. Members must commit to grow only organically and to help out with selling of produce. Both Doña Ana and Don Toño started growing organically because of personal experiences with poisoning from standard farming chemicals. All three individuals emphasized the importance of growing organically for personal reasons (bottom-up) rather than because someone else tells you to (top-down). Also shown in this picture (right to left) are Kelly Wassell & Danielle Sunde (program participants),
as well as Dr. Miguel Karian (program Director and interview translator).

Author: Sami Nichols & Esequiel Zylberberg

08 May, 2008

San Ramón: Orchid Garden Construction

Collecting Orchids
We collected various species of orchids throughout the nature reserve surrounding the biological field station. Along the trails, many of the orchids collected were found in fallen trees or on the ground. Here, Hugo, a university manager of the reserve, is collecting a unique species of orchid found higher up on a tree trunk. The orchids were put into large plastic garbage bags to transport back to the orchid garden. During the collection of the orchids, decomposing tree trunks surrounded by numerous dead vines were chopped up with a machete to be used as mounting material for the collected orchids.

Setting up the wire grid system
The first step in setting up the orchid garden was to select a viable area between 4 trees and to clear the area of brush and decomposing vegetation. The area selected was beside a trail in between the field station and the micro-hydro power plant. Once cleared, the area was ready to set up a wire grid system which would be used to hang orchids collected from the rainforest. The wires were hung between 4 large trees at 120cm above ground level. Once the main wire framing was completed, wire rows were placed every 60cm. This provided adequate space to walk through the rows and for the continued collection of newly found orchid species.

Orchid Garden
After the collection of the different species of orchids, they were sorted by species type. Once sorted, the orchids were tied to the mounting material with hemp rope by Tanya Almada. The mounting material can be seen in the lower section of the picture. The same metal wire used for the construction of the orchid grid system was cut up and stuck through the mounting material in order to hang the orchids. The orchids were hung strategically so that each row contained the same species, or similar species of orchids. This way, the biologists visiting the field site will be able to have organized access to the various species of orchids.

Author: Tanya Almada

07 May, 2008

San Ramón: Greenhouse Construction

Pour that Concrete!
One of our tasks on the farm was to help Juan Luis with the early stages of constructing a cover for his herb garden. Similar to the benefits of germinating the seeds in a greenhouse, this cover will protect seedlings from dying as a result of harsh weather once they’ve been transplanted outdoors. Because the cover will be transparent, it will also magnify the sunlight, facilitating photosynthesis and therefore speeding growth. The support beams for the structure were a mix of metal pipes and pieces of lumber. We dug several holes for the beams, making sure they were the appropriate depth, and then filled them with cement to fix the beams in place.

Painting the Greenhouse Beams
Here we are helping paint metal beams for the construction of the greenhouse. The beams were sanded and then painted, increasing their durability through the rainy season. The process of scraping the rust off of the metal and applying two layers of paint to thirty metal bars four meters in length was a fairly time-consuming and dirty one. However, the greenhouse will serve as a shelter to the products during the downpours of the harsh rainy season, in which it rains just about every day for months on end. It will also prevent erosion and allow more precise control of watering through drip irrigation harnessed from a nearby stream.

Author: Sami Nichols & Esequiel Zylberberg

06 May, 2008

Palmares: Butterfly Garden

The ¨Mariposario¨ is the butterfly garden and it serves to increase and protect the butterfly population of the area, and for the education and enjoyment of the public. Along with the bathroom next to the center and the graffiti around the property, the Mariposario was subject to the main form of vandalism. The mesh covering the center was slashed six months prior to our arrival. Without the butterflies, the center has been in a state of abandonment. When we arrived the center was completely overgrown with weeds. We spent two days pulling out the weeds in the center and clearing the walking path. The last step was to repair the mesh netting, which we were told would be
taken care of soon after our departure.

'Our Only Home is Planet Earth:
We Take Care of It'
This sign is near the Mariposario where we worked, and close to the entrance of Madre Verde. It states the philosophy of the reserve. The main purpose of Madre Verde is to conserve the land because it is one of the main watersheds of the region for the town of Palmares. Community members come to share in the natural beauty of the area and learn about the conservation tactics of Madre Verde and how every aspect of the ecosystem plays a role in it. The sign has been vandalized along with the bathrooms and butterfly garden, possibly reflecting different viewpoints over conservation of land in the reserve.

Author: Lisa Rogers

05 May, 2008

Palmares: Building Repair

Restoring the Bathroom
Near the butterfly garden at Madre Verde Reserve, situated midway down the hill, are the bathrooms where vandalism has occurred. The public restroom that serves the Mariposario (butterfly garden) and the larvae hatching center were in horrible shape when we arrived at Madre Verde. The doors were falling off and, as seen in the photo, the roof siding had been bashed in and broken. Madre Verde is frequented by community members who visit to hike or have a picnic. In addition, with the improvements at the Mariposario, more visitors will be enjoying this area of the land. As part of our volunteer service, we cleaned and painted the public restroom. This was a major contribution because when visitors arrive to Madre Verde and make their way to the conservation and restoration areas, they must first pass the Mariposario and this restroom building. With a fresh coat of paint and new roof siding, visitors have a much more welcoming view as they climb the hill toward the rest of the land.

Author: Michelle Krieg

04 May, 2008

Palmares: Conservation & Environmental Education

 Seedlings for Restoration
One main aspect of the restoration process at Madre Verde is the seedling nursery. The baby trees are cared for until they grow large enough to survive as part of the developing forest. Donations are accepted for visiting the reserve and/or planting trees. Frequent contibutors such as local and international organizations, schools and churches sponsor an area and can then be responsible for reforesting it. This form of public involvement connects the community to the ecosystem and the purposes underlying the reserve. This allows for a greater respect and appreciation of the flora and fauna of the area and also generates a small amount of revenue for the project. The tropical pre-montane climate consists of 6 months of rainy and 6 months of dry seasons. Seedlings must adapt to the drastic moisture fluctuations. In addition, invasive weeds are competition for and threaten the survival of the small trees. We spent some time weeding around each of the small trees in the nursery and in the restoration areas. This gives them a greater chance of survival.

Perspectives in Conservation
As part of the education aspect at Madre Verde, signs are posted to mark the sponsors of different areas of restoration. Groups can follow the trail up the hillside and view areas where rows of seedlings have been planted by schools, churches and other organizations. During our time at Madre Verde, one assignment was putting up these signs. This work ended up being a lesson in the differing perspectives of restoration. In order to place a sign, the head caretaker of the land cut down a medium sized tree. This and other such activities led to much discussion among us regarding conservation, restoration and natural processes of succession.

Signage for Education
On our second day, we hiked up the mountain with armloads of newly made signs. These signs mark the areas of restoration that are sponsored by schools, churches and other organizations. As part of community participation and education, the signs demonstrate the involvement of local and international organizations in the preservation of this important watershed property. Children are brought to Madre Verde to gain an understanding of the importance of forested landscapes to their water supply. This land was previously used for commercial farming and the runoff caused pollution in the watershed area. In addition, the town of Palmares has a water shortage and is buying water from neighboring San Ramon. When hiking on the trails at Madre Verde, we were shown a creek that still had a trickle of water at the end of the dry season. In the past we were told, the creek has stopped running even during the rainy season. Now, as the forest regenerates, the children and community members alike can witness how trees retain water and see first hand that intact forest is important to prevent drought conditions.

Author: Michelle Krieg