Field Report #1
Planet Drum Foundation
This year three new revegetation sites have been created and are ready to plant with trees raised at the greenhouse. Trails were cleared with machetes and holes dug in anticipation of the rainy season which began, as it typically does, right around the beginning of January. Once the rains moistened up the soil, trees were delivered to the various sites and we started planting. One site (with 274 trees) is in the El Toro watershed, a large area with severe erosion problems.
Another site for this year is a continuation of the site from 2011 at a property owned by Dr. Parra. He has chicken coops for egg production in the flat areas of his land, but is concerned about the lack of vegetation on the hillsides and wants to plant trees there in order to prevent mudslides. This year we continue to cover the hills on his land with 260 more native trees.
The third revegetation site for 2012 is at ‘El Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas’ (‘The Forest amidst the Ruins’) an inner city green area/park where Planet Drum has been planting trees for 10 years. This site, with 260 trees, is located in a section of the park that is still mostly devoid of large vegetation. Preparation for this site was started several months ago when we made trails and dug holes. Since then, some of the holes filled up with soil, so we spent a morning cleaning up the site again before delivering trees.
Trees that are planted at our revegetation sites, as opposed to those given away, are marked with bamboo stakes so that we can locate and identify them, for example when we water them during the dry season.
Long time friends and Planet Drum collaborators Jaeson and Gina Schultz organized a trip for James Haim of Cob Together, based out of Oregon, to visit Bahia and experiment with Cob construction in South America. They built a bench at their house in Bahia and an outdoor oven for the Bellavista community. Of course, Planet Drum got involved to learn about cob construction and help in the labor intensive work.
The 13th Anniversary Celebration of Bahia being declared an Eco-city was unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, small. Lack of support and organization on the part of the local government in recent times has given a feeling of emptiness to the Eco-city movement. The only visible signs of Eco-city activity are from individual organizations that do ecological work, such as Planet Drum and Cerro Seco nature reserve; the triciclos (eco-taxis) which are independently organized; and the half-hearted city effort to resuscitate the garbage separation program, which is currently underway. The Eco-city is suffering from a lack of initiative from local authorities, and Planet Drum is currently evaluating plans to inject some renewed spirit in the Eco-city movement through new urban-based bioregional projects.
Despite all of this, Planet Drum showed up at the Anniversary Celebration with two truckloads of trees to give away. We also hung banners and signs and had a strong group of volunteers. Pedestrians passing by the municipal building flocked to our stand to receive a free tree. Fruit trees have been by far the most popular. We have large quantities (six hundred to fifteen hundred) of three varieties of native fruit producing trees: Chirimoya, Pechiche, and Guayaba.
This past year we produced more trees at the greenhouse than ever before, over 5,000. However, due to a variety of factors, including low volunteer participation in October and November, we only were able to prepare sites for a small fraction of those trees. As a result, we needed to find new ways to distribute the remaining trees to more people and communities. Typically most of the trees at the greenhouse are reserved for the revegetation sites that we create.
I called up Ivan Aguirre, a good friend of Planet Drum, nature lover and one of the few level-headed politicians around. He agreed to help us deliver trees in his truck to communities beyond Bahia and Kilometer 8, all the way to Kilometer 20. In the past, Planet Drum has only worked with one of the numerous communities in the area to Kilometer 8. This year, with the help of Ivan, we have been able to give away trees in six different communities, including two repeat trips to communities that requested large numbers of trees. Residents were eager to receive them and promised to take care of the trees they were given. On the last trip we made, as we were arriving, three children walking down the road recognized us from a distance and held up their hands, signaling that they each wanted a tree. We stopped and handed them three trees to take to their houses.
Aside from the obvious need for restoring native vegetation in the area (there has been massive devegetation), there is clearly a large demand among the population for tree planting in the areas surrounding Bahia to Kilometer 8. Hopefully we will be able to continue and expand revegetation efforts in these new regions.
Talking with community members has also been helpful in identifying trees that are the most desired by the people. Among the most popular trees that were requested, that we didn’t have this year are: Mango, Limon, Guayacan, Cedro, and Balsamo. We will try our best to augment production of these species in the future.
Meanwhile, it became apparent that this is an especially wet rainy season. It has been raining multiple times per week since early January, mostly at night, but occasionally during the day as well. Sometimes, the rain comes down quite hard.
As of March, local residents are calling this the wettest rainy season since the El Niño year in 1998. Several towns inland from Bahia are completely flooded, and thousands of farms have lost their crops due to floods. In areas that aren’t susceptible to flooding, the rains have resulted in incredible plant growth, including crops, trees, and weeds. At the greenhouse we have led several weeding campaigns inside and outside to prevent the weeds from overgrowing the place.
We will continue to work on the revegetation project, as the rainy season progresses. Sites that have been planted will need to be weeded and soon we will begin to produce new trees for next year.
If you are interested in volunteering, please see http://www.planetdrum.org/volunteerbahia.htm on this website and get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org , there are still volunteer opportunities available for the summer months and beyond.
Field Report #2
Planet Drum Foundation
It’s been the rainiest wet season that I’ve seen in my five years in Bahia. This has been fine for Bahia and the immediately surrounding areas, but other wetter regions (inland and to the north) have suffered greatly in the past few months from extreme excesses of water. Bear in mind that Bahia is part of Dry Tropical Forest and the “rainy season” is a relative term, which distinguishes this time of year from the dry season. But this year it did actually rain with regular frequency (multiple times a week), mostly during the nights, for a solid three months (January through March). April has seen less water and it appears as though we are now in transition into the dry season at this point. Fortunately, the ground still retains significant moisture that should last well into the dry season, particularly if we get a few drizzles here and there.
There was a large force of volunteers who stayed with Planet Drum during the past few months. Following the rains, they have petered out and now we are waiting for the summer months (June) for new arrivals to come. Thanks to Elizabeth, Ryan, Alicia, Sam, Aaron, Chris, Claire, Karolina, Jerome, and Nina for all of your hard work. It’s been one of the most productive rainy seasons we’ve had.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, mostly related to a crippling water crisis at the Univeristy from August through December, a large portion of the trees planted at the University Catolica site from last year didn’t survive, so this year we replanted with new trees.
At the greenhouse, nearly all of the 5,000 trees that were produced in 2011 were planted and distributed. We have been cleaning up and organizing in order to produce new trees this year. Planting has started with a bang since Orlando found a couple of locations where baby Pechiches have sprouted on the ground below other larger trees. There are already about 500 little Pechiches growing nicely at the greenhouse, as well as a seed bed full of germinating Pechiche seeds. Additional seedbeds with other species will be planted in the coming weeks and months.
Field Report #3
Planet Drum Foundation
The rainy season has all but wrapped up, aside from a stray drizzle or light shower here and there. Windier weather, more over-cast days and less humidity are setting in, which is great for reducing the number of mosquitoes and makes for nicer temperatures at work. Yet the sun still comes out in force on occasion mid-day and reminds us that we are on the equator. I read that there was more rainfall during the rainy season this year than in 1998 which was the year of the El Niño phenomenon when there were massive mudslides. I also have a feeling that since it was a particularly wet rainy-season, we might be in for a moist dry-season and there’s a chance that we will continue to see a light drizzle or rain now and again. These weather patterns make for great revegetation.
In May, we had an absence of volunteers so I took the opportunity to do some major cleaning and minor repairs around the apartment. Each room was completely vacated, swept from ceiling to floor (multiple times) and I even stained the floors. Repairs to the metal on a couple of the balconies were done and the metal on all of the balconies got a fresh coat of rust-resistant paint. Needless to say, the house is looking better than ever before, relatively speaking that is, since there’s always more work to do. But the difference is significant.
During this time Orlando held down the fort at the greenhouse, making sure that the beds with seedlings stayed healthy and that the few trees that we have so far this year were watered. He also took a week’s vacation.
The city has officially resumed garbage separation and recycling in the downtown area. This includes organic and inorganic waste separation and plastic, metal, and cardboard recycling. They have inaugurated the newly renovated waste management facility which includes the compost processing area and a new recycling separator machine (don’t ask me how that works). Friends close to the Mayor have informed me that the Mayor has requested that the facility be named after Peter Berg. The city even had a small tree planting campaign around the facility and Planet Drum donated a truckload of trees to the cause. Let’s hope that citizens jump on board to help separate their waste, though the schedule for collection is painfully complicated.
Also, I got a call from an acquaintance that has a chicken coup. He offered to give us 50-60 sacks of chicken poop with saw dust already mixed in if we were willing to pick it up. I rented a large truck and drove over to collect it. We consolidated old compost in a second compost trench to make room for it all and then dumped it in. The compost was piled high (over a meter) and has been condensing noticeably since. Orlando discovered a trick where a machete is stuck completely into the pile and used as a thermometer to check if the compost is heating up. After a month of composting, the machete comes out scalding hot. Is there anything for which a machete can’t be used?
In early June a fresh batch of volunteers arrived and got straight to work. They cleaned up weeds and fallen leaves at the greenhouse as well as macheted around the perimeter. Three seeds beds were exploding with hundreds of seedlings (Pechiche, Guachepeli, and Ebano) that were ready to be transplanted. Fortunately, we had a stock pile of already cut bottles and premixed soil. Bottles were filled with soil and trees were transplanted. But the stock pile quickly ran out, so more bottles were cut, more soil mixed and even more trees transplanted. Close to a thousand trees have been put into bottles where they will grow until they are ready for planting next rainy season.
More seedbeds have been prepared and we planted two large beds with Chirimoyas, which are one of our most popular native fruit bearing trees.
The volunteers also went out to do some seed collecting and they gathered a bucket-load of Cascol seeds and Algarrobo. The Cascol seeds need to be removed from their shells, a labor intensive task that will take a little while before they can be soaked in water and then planted in the beds.
The volunteers continue to keep the greenhouse running full steam and will also begin checking the revegetation sites that we planted this past year to make sure that the trees aren’t being overgrown with weeds and hopefully thriving. If they need water, we might have to do some watering in the field.
In other news, Orlando has gotten very involved with the triciclo (eco-taxi) associations and is helping them bring their paperwork up to date so they avoid hassles from authorities. I’ve been brainstorming how to help the triciclo operators and have been talking with friends related to the municipality on their behalf in an attempt to foment more support. This can be a painstaking task, but in the meantime I helped Orlando layout new ID cards for the drivers on my computer. The triciclos are a brilliant example of bioregional transportation and have never received any official support from the city, despite being one of the few eco-city features that has always been present. I’d love to see the city show some small measure of support for them, but unless you present a large-scale project and happen to find funding for it, it can be hard to get their attention.
Field Report #4
Field Projects Manager
Planet Drum Foundation
The dry season weather has set in solidly during the past month. Temperatures have dipped a tad, it’s a little windier and there tends to be more overcast days. The weather is very comfortable for working outdoors – even though when the sun comes out around midday it still scorches. And one of the best parts: the drier, cooler weather means fewer mosquitoes!
Since more definitive computer model predictions were released in early July, local media outlets have been publicizing that this year might see a return of El Niño. Current NOAA and other NINO34 computer models are predicting moderate El Niño conditions, even though it’s still a little early to know for sure. These computer models have difficulty predicting with high degrees of accuracy beyond three months. El Niño effects usually begin around December, hence the name (El Niño – the child – i.e. Jesus).
In 1998, Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) anomalies (changes in ocean temperature in degrees Celsius) for the NINO34 region reached 2.69 (actually in December 1997). In 1982, the El Niño phenomenon previous to 1998 that caused major damage in the region, SST anomalies for NINO34 reached 2.79. [http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/indices/sstoi.indices]
What the local media fails to realize is that nearly every year SST anomalies reach levels that scientists define as either El Niño (0.5ºC above average) or La Niña (0.5ºC below average) conditions. The mean SST anomalies for an ensemble of computer models for now (July 2012) through March 2013 hover around 0.8ºC above average. [http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/poama2.4/poama.shtml#indiceTitle]
In summary, SST anomalies are predicted to remain solidly in El Niño territory from now through at least next March and we will be experiencing El Niño related weather patterns.
Do local Bahia (and Ecuador) residents need to fear a repeat of the disasters that resulted due to the heavy rains in 1982 and March 1998? It may still be too early to tell, but current computer models suggest that an intense El Niño phenomenon is unlikely. Regardless, El Niño and La Niña are cyclical weather patterns and it is only a matter of time before peaks in these cycles result in extreme weather.
Also interesting to note, which I mentioned in my previous report, is that this past rainy season (January through April) saw more precipitation in the region than during the 1998 El Niño phenomenon. Additionally, the mudslides that devastated the region in 1998 occurred after only two weeks of torrential rains! Visible records of this devastation (mostly in the form of erosion) are abundant in and around Bahia. The effect on the psyche of the population is visible through the nervousness in which local residents absorb the recent news about the potential another El Niño this year.
Now, what is one of the best methods for controlling erosion and limiting extreme weather patterns in the long term? That’s right, revegetation!
This past month, we’ve been working intensely at the greenhouse. Several seedbeds were bursting with seedlings that needed transplanting. Hundreds of Ebano, Guachepeli and Pechiche were transplanted from the beds into plastic bottles.
In preparation for the upcoming rainy/planting season, we’ve been collecting, prepping and planting more seeds. Tierramonte seeds were collected, as were Algarrobo and Dormilon. Beds for these seeds were created at the greenhouse and the seeds were planted for germinating.
Also, we’ve begun working on what will be a major renovation of the greenhouse structure, which has served us well for over six years, but has been in an increasing state of disrepair. As such, nearly all of the bamboo will be replaced. The roof will be raised a bit to avoid the frequent head bumps that plagued the old greenhouse. Also, the roof material (previously green plastic) will be replaced with much more natural palm fronds.
This is a good time to be working on the greenhouse, because it is entirely empty, except for the seed beds. Once construction is completed we will be able to start filling it up with new trees.
So far, two truckloads of bamboo have been delivered and we have dismantled one half of the greenhouse. We are trying to keep the walls intact, where the green mesh still has a bit more life in it and won’t be replaced. Nearly all of the bamboo will be replaced. Some of the most damaged pieces of bamboo were already replaced last year.
We have also been doing major cleaning up of the grounds around the greenhouse, including burning some brush and weeds, which grow too quickly and compost too slowly and all the while create habitat for critters we aren’t interested in having around the greenhouse, such as snakes.
We also had our first (at least in the five plus years that I’ve been with Planet Drum) Ecuadorian volunteer who stayed at the house—as opposed to day volunteers, of whom we’ve had many, of course. His name is Shubert, from Manta, and he spent three weeks, so far, working with us. One of Shubert’s motivations for volunteering with Planet Drum in Bahía was to be able to connect with the Bellavista neighborhood so that he can possibly set up a project with them related to healthcare through a local university system. Shubert helps us with our ecological projects in the mornings and during the afternoons develops his project with Bellavista. The necessary contacts were made and we are waiting to see if we will be able to take the next step, which is to introduce all of the parties involved and see if it will be possible to proceed with the project. More information on this as it develops.
One last piece of work that we’ve done during the past month has been the commencement of watering the revegetation sites that were planted this past rainy season. We watered the site at El Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas. The trees are looking very healthy, but they clearly were happy to get a drink. I would estimate a survival rate of over 80%, which is great. Three other sites, at El Toro, Universidad Catolica and Dr. Parra, will all also need water in the coming weeks.
Field Report #5
Planet Drum Foundation
August – October, 2012
Note: Click on photos for larger picture.
In August, Planet Drum received a grant from Landcare Australia for greenhouse reconstruction. We immediately began purchasing new materials (mostly bamboo) to overhaul the entire greenhouse structure, which was in dire need of repairs. The old, green, plastic roof had completely deteriorated in areas and the bamboo supports were on their last legs.
We decided to discard the green plastic in favor of a more natural materials, so the new roof was made from palm fronds. The walls will be made of smaller bamboo pieces, which will help keep out critters, stray chickens and dogs. Multiple truckloads of bamboo were transported to the greenhouse. Volunteers learned how to split and cut the bamboo into the pieces necessary for construction. The construction will take up to four months because we are working on other aspects of the Revegetation Project at the same time.
Since it is the dry season (May-December), we have been watering at four revegetation sites which were planted during the past rainy season (Dr. Parra, Universidad Catolica, El Toro, and Bosque en medio de las Ruinas). Sites are watered at least once a month, preferably even more, but watering is very labor intensive and thus our ability to do so on a regular basis depends on the number of hands we have at any given moment. So far the trees at the sites from this year are looking really good and survival rates are high.
At the greenhouse there are several seedbeds (Algarrobo, Guachapeli, Cascol, and Guayaba) with a total of approximately one thousand or more seedlings that need to be transplanted. All of these seedlings need both plastic bottles and pre-mixed soil to be transplanted. There is a lot of work to do at the greenhouse.
For three weeks in August-September, a group of fourteen University of Oregon students along with a professor from the Planning, Public Policy, and Management Department traveled to Bahía to participate in a 3-week, study-abroad program called ‘Building Bioregional Communities.’ The course was a collaboration with Planet Drum staff and the students participated in Planet Drum projects, learned about Bioregionalism and studied Bahia’s bioregion.
Along with field-trips and class discussions, the group got their hands dirty by assisting Planet Drum with field projects. Students learned about the greenhouse and the revegetation process by visiting and working at several sites where we have planted trees.
At the greenhouse they helped turn compost, mix soil, cut bottles, transplant hundreds of trees, water and weed. Out in the field, they macheted clear trails and trees at the revegetation sites. They also helped water three of the four sites from this past year. I would estimate that during seven days of working with Planet Drum, the group completed between one and two months’ worth of work due to their high levels of motivation and the sheer number of students.
The course was a big success and all of the students had a fantastic time. Plans are already being put into place for another course next year and we are exploring possibilities for expanding to other universities to participate.
Since the student group left, normal volunteer work has resumed. We continue to water sites, repair the greenhouse, and prepare more materials for transplanting trees. We are currently in the process of organizing two (or more?) different groups of adolescents who will visit the greenhouse and help us transplant seedlings. In preparation, we are collecting bottles, cutting them, and mixing soil. Hopefully this trend can be sustained—groups of students, locals, and others visiting the greenhouse and help transplant. That way, we will be able to increase production at the greenhouse from its current level of approximately 4-5,000 trees annually.
There has been a significant increase in requests for trees from local communities, organizations, and institutions, and the current goal is to match these requests with increased greenhouse production and to lead revegetation workshops when distributing the trees to teach local residents revegetation (and bioregional) practices.
Planet Drum’s first official intern, Hari Khalsa (one of the students who participated in the UO study-abroad program), is working hard on a ‘Dry Tropical Forest Revegetation Manual’ which will be an easily accessible instruction manual for how to revegetate Dry Tropical Forests with native species. The guide will explain how to make a low cost greenhouse, compost, collect and propagate seeds, select sites and plant trees. It will also contain useful information about bioregionalism that is directly applicable to communities and the region. Our plan is to create more strategic alliances with other ecologically minded people/organizations and assist them and the environment by helping revegetate the Dry Tropical Forest and spreading Planet Drum’s bioregional vision at the same time. The Revegetation Project is evolving to another level of productivity and it is exciting to see.
Hari is also helping to create three new internship positions: volunteer coordinator, bioregional community outreach leader, and field researcher. Keep an eye out for more information about these positions.
In the upcoming months we will be working hard to wrap up the greenhouse reconstruction, plant more seeds, transplant seedlings, and also begin preparations on new revegetation sites. The volunteer situation, which has been a little slow over the past few months, appears to be picking up and even though the house is filling up, we are always looking for more willing hands. If you’d like to participate in the projects, please visit http://www.planetdrum.org/volunteerbahia.htm
Field Report #6
Planet Drum Foundation
November 2012 – January 2013
There have been a number of developments related to the Planet Drum projects here in Bahía in the past few months. In November, we received a visit from Judy, Planet Drum Director, her daughter Ocean, and grandchildren Florence and Stellie. While they were here, Bahía unveiled a plaque honoring Peter Berg and the work that he was done here with Planet Drum. There was also a beautiful ceremony where the Mayor and Patricio Tamariz spoke about the impact that Peter created by working for so many years in Bahia. It was a moving morning where the fruits of Peter’s labor were celebrated by the city of Bahia. The plaque has been installed at the entrance of city hall and was unveiled by his daughter and grandchildren.
Also in November, Orlando’s daughter, Nicole, who was a Planet Drum Bioregionalista, was chosen to be profiled for a national television program that follows young Ecuadorians lives and their interests. Nicole decided that she wanted to shoot a segment for the program at the greenhouse, so we spent an afternoon there rehearsing lines and filming parts of the greenhouse work that Nicole found most interesting.
In the office, a second Rufford Small Grants Foundation donation will help us advance the Revegetation Project. We’ve committed to producing at least 8,000 native trees in the greenhouse for 2013 and will be working more directly with regional communities, organizations, and international groups. PD’s goal is to become the headquarters for Dry Tropical Forest revegetation in the province.
A Revegetation Manual has been created with extensive help from Hari Khalsa, an intern during the Fall 2012. The Manual has 24 pages, is in English and Spanish and has numerous illustrations. It explains in detail the entire revegetation process, from seed collecting, to greenhouse construction, to site selection, planting and maintenance. It also provides an introduction to bioregional perspectives, including examples of sustainable, local business ideas and practical methods to put bioregional theories into practice. We will be able to include copies of the Revegetation Manual with the trees we distribute thanks to support from the Rufford. Digital copies will also be available on the website. As much as possible, we will accompany tree distribution with workshops about tree planting, bioregional ideas, and revegetation techniques. 2013 looks to be an exciting year for Planet Drum’s Revegetation Project!
In field work, volunteers were watering and maintaining revegetation sites from last year as the dry season gave way to the rainy season in early January. Also, there has been lots of work at the greenhouse to keep tree production up. Bottles were collected and cut. Seeds were collected and prepared. We have a huge collection of Tamarind seeds, which is always a very popular tree. We are also gathering a large collection of Guachapeli seeds, which has a fantastic survival rate. Orlando says that this year lots of people are asking for Algarrobo trees, so we will have to boost production at the greenhouse.
As the seasons change, so does our work schedule. We no longer have to water in the field and can focus energy on the greenhouse and planting trees in the field. Planet Drum donated a large number of trees to the Global Student Embassy (GSE) group which is headed this year by long time Planet Drum partner Ramon and his GSE counterpart, Lucas. They are leading a tree-planting campaign on Ramon’s family land at Punta Gorda.
Planet Drum accompanied GSE on one of their tree planting work days. We helped make trails, dig holes and plant trees in the heart of Dry Tropical Forest. Since GSE was unable to plant all of the trees that were delivered to the site, Planet Drum will be paying them a second visit to ensure that the trees are properly planted there.
As is typically the case, the rains began in early January. They have been light rains, mostly in during the night, with an occasional drizzly day here and there. We’ve yet to have a hard rain yet, which is actually a good thing, since the lighter rains allow for better penetration into the soil. On cue, Guayacan trees have flowered with their beautiful yellow flowers, Ceibo trees are sprouting bright green leaves, and the red flowers of the Acacia tree have come out. Everywhere, patches of brown are turning into green.
Community members from Bellavista and acquaintances of Planet Drum have been requesting trees from Orlando, who has been distributing them as necessary. Now that we have the Revegetation Manuals, we will schedule tree-planting workshops in the areas that will receive trees.
It’s an exciting time of year and we have a solid group of volunteers who are helping enormously with the Revegetation Project. The greenhouse is in spectacular shape and we are excited to be distributing trees to the region.