2013 Reports


2013 Index of Reports
Report 1: February – March
Report 2: April – June
Report 3: June – August
Report 4: August – November


Field Report #1

Clay Plager-Unger
Ecuador Program Director
February-March 2013

Volunteer Simon cuts trails through tall grass at the Punta Gorda nature reserve in order to plant trees at a remote revegetation site.
A visiting volunteer from Colombia helps to plant native Planet Drum trees with the Global Student Embassy group at Punta Gorda.
Global Student Embassy’s Director Lucas’ father joins in the action.
A view of the revegetation site shows limited amounts of existing growth and lots of grasses. This area is an excellent site for practicing “forest conservation” where slow growing species can thrive in an area that is well-protected for preservation purposes.
At the greenhouse, Orlando ops for the hands-on approach to digging up Tierramonte seedlings for transplanting.
Vaughn, who spent six months living in Bahia and volunteering with Planet Drum, and Cassie, a Patagonia employee who choose Planet Drum for her company required volunteer time, organize recently transplanted Guachepeli trees at the greenhouse.
A stack of the Planet Drum “Dry Tropical Forest Revegetation Manual” (in Spanish) ready to be distributed to local residents. The manual explains revegetation techniques in detail in addition to promoting broader bioregional perspectives.
Orlando, Planet Drum’s skilled Field Foreman, doing what he does best – and enjoys the most… Macheteing. Here he is macheteing clear a trail at the Universidad Catolica revegetation site.
In preparation for Bahia Ecological City’s 14th Anniversary, the local newspaper promoted upcoming events, including coverage of Planet Drum’s annual native tree give-away. A photo from the previous year’s celebration shows Planet Drum staff and volunteers with local residents and of course, reutilized plastic soda bottles with native trees.
Residents of the KM 19 neighborhood arrive to receive native fruit trees for planting on their farms and at their houses. Last year’s campaign was so successful that residents requested more trees than we could provide. This year, they recognized Ivan Aguirre’s green pick-up truck from a distance and came running to get more trees.
Front, City Councilman Ivan Aguirre proudly providing community service to the residents of KM 19. Orlando sits in the back ready to pass out trees to interested parties. In the background to the left, clear cut hillsides are used for mono-culture agriculture, most likely corn. On the right side, mangrove devastating shrimp farm ponds produce shrimp for export and local consumption.
One resident takes a sampling of native fruit trees including Chirimoya, Pechiche and Mango.
Pechiche trees ready to be planted at their new homes.
The Planet Drum tree campaign rolls through KM 20.
Children show off their trees.
Traffic is momentarily blocked as passing vehicles stop to load up with trees.
A local farmer receives a copy of the Revegetation Manual as well as an arm full of Chirimoya trees. He requested more trees, including Guachepeli, which will be delivered on a future trip.
Back in Bahia, at the Eco-city Open House, Planet Drum trees are scooped up by the crateful and taken away by an eco-taxi.
Orlando does his second-favorite task, which is passing out trees while talking about their characteristics and benefits. Bahians who may have been simply strolling down the sidewalk, show up for a free tree and a chance to talk about local ecology.
The open house gets setup while on the left-hand side Orlando hands out trees to passersby.
Another triciclo load of trees is transported off to be planted on the neighborhood hillsides surrounding Bahia.
Orlando gets into conversation while passing out trees.
Ecological taxi, native fruit trees, and a copy of the Revegetation Manual.
Local residents get into a discussion about tree planting.
Orlando passes out trees as more people arrive.
More residents show up as the amount of trees dwindles.
The local, home-made coconut ice cream maker shows off two Pechiche trees with his ice cream cart.
Out in the field, Dewey, who has returned to Bahia for his third visit in six years, helps dig holes at a new revegetation site in the Bellavista community. Dewey spends his summers working for the Forest Service in King’s Canyon so getting into the woods comes naturally.
Ecuador Program Director, Clay puts the finishing touches on planting a Pechiche tree at the Bellavista revegetation site.
Volunteers Kate and Lizzy from Canada and the United States respectively plant trees in a gully in Bellavista.
On a drizzly morning, Kate, Travis, Taylor, and Vaughn transplant Tamarindo trees at the greenhouse.
Volunteers help with a major, late-rainy season greenhouse cleanup. Overgrown weeds, dead leaves, and random pieces of greenhouse materials are organized and disposed of as necessary.
Ben, Andrew and Taylor cut bottles while Adam and Kate rake leaves.
Kate and Adam rake leaves. The remaining trees from 2012 will soon be moved out of the greenhouse to make room for 2013 production.
Orlando inspects recently collected Pechiche seeds that are set out to dry to avoid damage from insects. The seeds will be planted in the greenhouse in the coming weeks.
A view of the revegetation site in Bellavista is in the foreground. Volunteers Meredith and Vaughn machete clear trails for tree planting. The existing vegetation is limited to season weeds and scattered shrubs. Trees will provide much greater erosion protection on the steep hillside. In the distance bamboo and government subsidized houses are visible as well as some of the beautiful hillsides that surround Bahia.
Vaughn takes a moment to catch his breathe while clearing a trail.
Adam and Kate work on connecting a trail on a particularly steep section of hill.
Towards the bottom of the site, Orlando begins digging holes for an area that will be planted with fruit trees.
This is the view of the revegetation site in Bellavista. The brilliantly green seasonal vegetation masks the lack large trees whose roots are necessary to prevent imminent erosion risk.
Volunteers at the greenhouse, including Vaughn’s mother who came to visit, help fill cut soda bottles with freshly mix soil for transplanting trees.
Travis mixes another pile of soil.
Meredith and Kate poke holes in the soil filled bottles to prepare them for transplanting.
A large batch of freshly dug up Tamarindo seedlings are ready for transplanting.
The volunteers are hard at work filling bottles and transplanting trees.
There is always a little bit more to do at the greenhouse.
When a local resident, Gilmer, requested trees for a community planting project that seeks to revegetate the river banks in the Jama region, located to the north approximately an hour away, it was difficult to say no. Once again, Ivan Aguirre provided a huge assistance by lending his truck to deliver the trees.
Vigua, a small community near Jama, residents come out to help unload trees and pose next to a makeshift greenhouse that they are assembling with whatever materials they can find. The government provided them with plastic bags to fill with soil for plants. Now they are looking for seeds to collect to plant in them.
While I was there, a passerby stopped to ask what we were doing and took a lime tree with them to plant at their farm.
Back at the greenhouse, a class of students studying tourism in Calcetta came to visit our project and lend a hand transplanting trees. Bottles were cut, soil mixed, and over 300 trees transplanted in less than two hours.
Tourism students from Calcetta help cut bottles at the Planet Drum greenhouse.
Massive piles of soil were mixed for all of the bottles.
With all of the help, moving trees around the greenhouse was a cinch.
Students make quick work of transplanting Chirimoya trees.
With all of the help we were able to transplant Chirimoyas, Tamarindos and Guachepeli trees, over 300 in total.

Pásalo bien,
Clay


Field Report #2

Clay Plager-Unger
Ecuador Program Director
April-June 2013

During the beginning of April, planting the 2013 Bellavista revegetation site with children from the community was completed. While delivering trees to the site, fruit trees were also given directly to community members for planting at their houses.This is the last Planet Drum (PD) revegetation site to be planted this year since the rainy season has wrapped up and the dry season is setting in. 

Orlando and Planet Drum volunteers Malte and Jeannette pass out fruit trees to members of the Bellavista community.
Bellavista community members gather to receive free fruit trees for planting at their houses.
Bellavista children who participated in a morning of tree planting at the revegetation site take trees back to their homes as well.
Orlando gives an introduction to the tree planting work about to be undertaken by a group of children in the Bellavista community.
Children participating in tree planting (Dormilón).
Malte oversees a Bellavista kid as he plants a Tierramonte tree.
Children walking home after a morning of tree planting.
Kids enthusiastically help plant trees. They spent the morning running up and down the hillside with trees.
A young Bellavista girl plants a Jaboncillo tree.
The group poses in front of the hillside where the trees were planted.

Cooler, more overcast days with minimal to non-existent precipitation are expected until December. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting El Niño Southern-Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions for the upcoming months (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/ensodisc.html) so it should be a usual dry season. This cooler and more overcast weather has been excellent for field work. Additionally, it brings a much welcomed drop in the number of mosquitoes, so much so that using a net for sleeping has become optional.

The Global Student Embassy (GSE) visited  the greenhouse with two more groups  for revegetation workshops. The students learned about the PD Revegetation Project and assisted in transplanting hundreds of baby trees into reutilized plastic soda bottles.

Students from the Global Student Embassy help cut plastic bottles at the Planet Drum greenhouse.
GSE students prepare bottles with soil for transplanting trees.
GSE students transplant Chirimoya trees.
Inside the greenhouse, GSE students transplant Guachapeli trees.
Large groups of volunteers help transplant hundreds of trees in a single morning.
GSE students cutting bottles for transplanting.
GSE students fill bottles with soil.
The group of students from GSE fill bottles with soil as part of the transplanting process.
Planet Drum volunteers (left to right) Zoey, Malte, Jeannette, and Emily philosophize on compost.
With so many hands, moving trees around is a breeze.
Orlando digs up baby Guachapeli trees for transplanting with Zoey and Emily.
GSE students enthusiastically participating in the Revegetation Project.

For the second half of April and the beginning of May, I took a vacation with my family to the United States, specifically San Francisco, CA. While there I had the opportunity to check in with the PD headquarters and participated in a staff lunch with other members of the PD team. It was great to see everyone in person. The house and office in Bahia were closed for that time, but Orlando kept the greenhouse running and made sure the trees stayed healthy during my absence.

Shortly after my return, a new group of volunteers began showing up. Currently there are two community engagement interns who will each be spending 3 months  developing increased community interaction as part of their PD projects. Eric, from Ohio, is a grad student studying International Development, and Becky, from New York, is working towards a Masters in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development and International Affairs. We’re excited to have them onboard and look forward to strengthening communities ties through their work. Additionally, Joffrey from France, a professional in GIS work, is helping to GPS map all of the revegetation sites that PD has planted since 2007 (and some from before then as well). Plus we have the revegetation volunteer crew, headed up by Itxaso from Germany. It includes a group of students from Sage Educators (who often volunteer in summer) for a two week visit and more volunteers are expected soon and in July. This solid work force is completing the regular workload, along with some interesting additional projects.  

Joffrey takes a GPS point at the 2009 Universidad Catolica revegetation site.
A similar view from 3.5 years ago
Clay stands next to an Algarrobo (from 2009) at the revegetation site while recording GPS data.  Photo by Joffrey Iboud.
Joffrey pulls weeds from the Guachapeli seedbed.
Itxaso and Orlando tend to the compost pile.
Eric machetes bamboo stakes for marking trees that were planted this year.
Members of the electric company CNEL visit the greenhouse to discuss collaboration efforts. CNEL is committed to planting a native tree for every $5,000 invested in electrical infrastructure.
Volunteers collect Grosella seeds and dig up baby Grosella plants that have germinated in the crowded (with plants) patio of Don Luis Otero, a friend of Planet Drum.
Orlando and Itxaso transplant Pechiche trees that we salvaged from a local’s backyard.
Eric, Itxaso, Joffrey and Orlando help organize bottles that have been collected by students at the Montufar school.
Orlando admires the work on a composting toilet that he helped construct at his house with help from the Peace Corps. The toilet is a model that may be replicated at up to 40 other households in the Bellavista neighborhood that has historically suffered the most from lack of water in Bahía. As far as I know, it is the only other composting toilet in the region outside of the Rio Muchacho organic farm.
Eric puts his long arms to good use pulling Laurel seeds directly from the tree.
A close-up of a bunch of Laurel flowers.
Orlando poses with a Papaya tree in Bellavista that was part of a campaign to plant Papayas around the neighborhood by Molly, the first Bioregional Sustainability Institute student. Two years later, the trees are still giving fruit.

Currently, seeds are germinating at the greenhouse. Seedbeds of Tamarindo, Guayaba, Caoba, Laurel, Tierramonte, Chirimoya, Guachepeli, Grosella, and Pechiche were prepared and are in the process of germinating, and more will be planted soon. Shortly after germinating, the trees need to be transplanted to individual plastic bottles. This is a labor intensive project since bottles need to be cut, soil mixed and filled in the bottles, plus the actual transplanting of the trees.

In a series of fortuitous events that benefits both PD and Bahía, one of the local schools, whose students previously attended PD bioregional education classes and who have been  helping collect plastic bottles recently, expressed interest in having students participate in educational workshops at the greenhouse. With an abundance of trees needing transplanting at the greenhouse and a desire to educate Bahía youth about their environment, PD jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the Montúfar school. The result has been a series of revegetation workshops where we educate the students about the Dry Tropical Forest, the threats facing this delicate ecosystem and PD’s efforts to reverse damaging human impacts. After giving an interactive lecture and a tour of the greenhouse including composting methods, the students are instructed how to transplant the trees and they participate in the process. Large groups of students are able to transplant hundreds (200-300) trees in an hour or so.

Clay gives an introduction of Planet Drum and the Revegetation Project to a group of students from the Montufar school.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
Clay gives a tour of the greenhouse to the visiting Montufar students.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
School director Miguel Delgado oversees the work of the Montufar students as they fill bottles with soil.
Montufar students fill bottles with soil as part of the revegetation workshop.
Montufar students transplant Algarrobo trees.
The students thoroughly enjoyed spending the morning learning in the outdoors compared with in the classroom.
Montufar students transplanting trees.

After taking the first group to the greenhouse, other students at the school were begging to be taken on a similar tour. Once PD had enough bottles collected at the greenhouse, we took a second group of students to the greenhouse for a morning. For the moment, we are well caught up with transplanting, and will wait a couple of weeks until more trees grow enough to be transplanted and then PD will host more groups for revegetation workshops.

Clay welcomes the second group of Montufar students to the greenhouse.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
Before getting to work we discuss ecology with the inquisitive students.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
Montufar students learn about compost by getting a little dirty.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
Clay answers questions from the students inside the greenhouse.  Photo by Eric Ahearn.
The students ask interesting questions about the project.
Montufar students help cut bottles.
One of the groups of students at work.
The students filling up bottles with soil.
Orlando shows the students how to carefully dig up the baby trees for transplanting.
Students and teachers participate in the work.

Additionally, more and more local groups (individuals, communities, government officials) are expressing interest in receiving trees for planting, particularly fruit trees. The beauty of this method of revegetating is that locals are helping produce the trees in the greenhouse to be delivered to other locals who assist in planting and caring for the trees. Demand for fruit trees currently appears to be insatiable since people are especially interested in trees that will directly benefit them in the future by producing fruit. Planet Drum’s role in this revegetation becomes more about facilitating the process by providing the infrastructure and expertise to grow the trees and less about doing all of the labor ourselves. This is an extremely important distinction because people are far more likely to care for a tree that they take the time to plant compared with a tree planted by a stranger. And of course it is always exciting to see locals approach us with interest in being involved in the project.

Pásalo bien,
Clay


Field Report #3

Clay Plager-Unger
Ecuador Program Director
June 21- August 19, 2013

The view of the interior of the greenhouse. Seedbeds with germinating seedlings are ready to be transplanted, while seedlinges grow in bottles for donation and field planting towards the end of the year.

Summer (verano) has set in and the days tend to be cooler and overcast with a nice breeze blowing through. When the sun comes out it’s still hot, but not like during winter (el invierno). This will likely be the typical weather pattern until late December. It’s been a busy summer so far with lots of volunteers and several visiting groups, which has been great and we’ve been accomplishing a lot on multiple fronts.

Jay, Ted, Trent, William, Itxaso, and Joffrey mix soil at the greenhouse.
Eric prepares a corral for storing trees inside the greenhouse.

Revegetation project work has been divided between the greenhouse and watering at the three field sites that we planted earlier in the year (Universidad Católica, El Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas, and Bellavista). At the greenhouse, hundreds and hundreds of baby trees are growing until later in the year when they will be donated or planted in the field. Seedbeds of Caoba, Chirimoya, Pechiche, Guachepeli, Guayaba, Tierramonte, and Algarrobo are bursting with seedlings that need transplanting. This is where having large groups of visitors is crucial, since transplanting the trees is very labor intensive. Soil is mixed, bottles cut and filled with soil, and then each tree is carefully moved from the seedbed to its individual container.

Volunteers mix compost.
Ian and Clay at the municipal garbage separation facility pick plastic bottles from a large pile of waste.

In late June, William and a group of four students from Sage Educators in California visited for a couple of weeks. While they were here we paid a visit to the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm and Ecological School. We delivered a batch of trees and had a revegetation workshop with the students and teachers at this alternative school. We planted trees at the school and on nearby properties. The students even took trees home to their houses to plant with their families as homework.

Nicola from the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm welcomes us to the Ecological School.
Orlando teaches a group of students from the Ecological School about tree planting.
The students watch as Orlando plants a Pechiche tree at their school.
Dario, with his child, students from the Ecological School and Planet Drum volunteers plant trees around the school.

In early July, the Children of Ecuador Foundation from Spruce Grove in Alberta, Canada came to volunteer at a variety of projects in and around Bahia. Children of Ecuador has been a partner organization with Planet Drum since 2007 and this year they came with a group of twenty-plus volunteers. They spent several days over the course of two weeks working with Planet Drum. In addition to helping us water all three revegetation sites from 2013, they assisted in greenhouse tasks. In a single morning they transplanted 825 baby Caoba trees!

Volunteers from the Children of Ecuador Foundation (CoE) carry water to trees at the revegetation site in El Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas.
At the greenhouse, CoE volunteers tackle an enormous pile of plastic bottles that need to be cut.
CoE helped us transplant 825 Caoba seedlings in a single morning!
CoE volunteers transplating Caoba trees.

Their group brought passion and motivation to the work and we even took on a couple of social side-projects. The projects consisted of replacing and expanding the roof over the communal cob oven in Bellavista. Also, with guidance from Orlando, we decided to help one of the most disadvantaged families in Bellavista by completely rebuilding part of their house that was collapsing. An elderly couple lives in the house with their daughter and the mother is blind. The entire kitchen, one whole side of the house, was rotten and very dangerous. In an incredibly generous act, the Children of Ecuador Foundation provided the materials and much of the labor in order to replace a this huge portion of their house. Planet Drum, Bahía, and the residents of Bellavista extend their gratitude to the continued support from this pro-active foundation and we look forward to continuing to collaborate in the future!

CoE analyzes the situation at Papito’s house, where an entire side of the house that was collapsing was reconstructed with new materials.
Papito admires his brand new kitchen.

In other news, the Coorporación Nacional de Electricidad (CNEL) has partnered with Planet Drum to deliver one tree per $500 invested in electrical infrastructure by the Ecuadorian Government. This is an excellent opportunity for Planet Drum to impact the larger Dry Tropical Forest region since CNEL has been assisting with transporting and delivering our trees to communities outside of Bahía. Each community representative gets a batch of trees that they distribute to individual households, so each household receives one or two trees. We are working closely with CNEL and the communities to deliver trees that are the most sought after and will have the highest likelihood of being properly planted and cared for. Note: normally, trees are distributed closer to the rainy season, but we need to work with CNEL’s schedule in this case and since trees are being distributed to individual households, presumably, each house has enough water to be able to properly plant and water the trees they receive.

Becky, Ana, Eric, Itxaso, and Isa help unload trees for residents in Crucita.

CNEL invited us to accompany them one day while delivering trees. We traveled with them to the Crucita area (45 minutes south of Bahía) to hand out trees to community leaders. While distributing trees we had an opportunity to talk directly with the recipients of the trees and discuss various ecological topics. We also gave them copies of the Revegetation Manual and offered pointers to planting and tending to the trees. All of the residents were very eager to receive trees and were pleased with the species, mostly native fruit producers, that we were distributing. The community president expressed interest in collaborating on a larger scale project in the future and we will remain in contact with her about this.

Students from the Montufar school visit the PD greenhouse.
Clay gives an introduction to bioregionalism, ecology, and revegetation to Montufar students at the greenhouse.

We held another Revegetation Workshop with students from the Montufar school at the greenhouse. A large group of students and two teachers came to the greenhouse to learn about the Planet Drum Revegetation Project and assist in transplanting seedlings. It was a fun and high intensity morning and the students were full of energy! At the end, many of them were asking when they could come back to help out more. Almost all of the students requested trees to take home and plant. We are planning to do more collaboration with the students, including tree donations, in the coming months.

After introducing PD revegetation methods, the Montufar students dive into the hands-on work: transplanting seedlings.
Orlando instructs students how to delicately handle the seedlings.
Eric helps Montufar students dig up Pechiche seedlings from the seedbed.

For the past three months, three interns have been working on a variety of side-projects to complement the Revegetation Project. Eric, a community engagement intern from the George Washington University graduate International Development program, has focused his work on investigating composting toilets and composed a guide to building and properly using and maintaining composting toilets in this climate. Orlando has a brand new composting toilet at his house and there are talks of a Peace Corps project that would build more in of them in the Bellavista community. Eric jumped on this opportunity to educate residents about the benefits of composting toilets. The 10-page guide has been completed and will soon be published on the Planet Drum website in addition to distributing hard copies to residents who have limited computer access.

Becky, a Masters candidate at American University School of International Affairs, has also been involved in a community engagement internship and is producing educational materials of her own. She has compiled a comprehensive introduction to Bioregionalism and has inspired us to do some research on alternatives to chemical pest controls. Sadly, conventional agriculture is the norm around Bahía and the province of Manabí. In Crucita, residents complained of excessive chemical usage and simultaneous insect plagues, suggesting improper and ineffective chemical usage. There is a huge potential for promoting organic pest controls and agricultural practices. Fortunately, there are many plants that grow wildly in the area that are effective at controlling insect pests, such as hot peppers and tobacco. Planet Drum is currently experimenting  on the plants at the greenhouse with organic pesticide recipes and will be perfecting them to promote to the greater public.

Joffrey taking GPS points at the Vientimilles revegetation site from 2008.
Clay stands next to a Guachapeli tree at the Vientimilles revegetation site. This tree is 5 years old, and despite the arid conditions at the hillside, it is already over 5 meters tall.

Joffrey, a professional in GIS and GPS mapping from France, visited Bahia with his family for over three months and has been assisting in a revegetation site mapping project. With his help we revisited all of the past planting sites from the past 10 years of Planet Drum work. We mapped 50 of them covering over 30 hectares of land! Joffrey also acquired GPS maps from the local Bahía city government offices and the Military Geographical Institute in Quito to provide satellite overlays to the maps. The map is a crucial stepping stone for researching future aspects of the Revegetation Project and studying the work that we have already done. It is also the first time that there has been a comprehensive visual representation of the years of work that we have done on revegetation and erosion control. An image of the map with be generated and published soon.
 

 A Dry Tropical Forest cactus.

A solid group of volunteers, including a volunteer coordinator intern, are already signed up for the coming months, but there is always more work to do. We are accepting interns and volunteers on a rolling basis. If you are interested in helping with Planet Drum’s ecological work in Bahía de Caráquez, please contact me at planetdrumecuador@yahoo.com.

Pásalo bien,
Clay


Field Report #4

Clay Plager-Unger
Ecuador Program Director
August 20, 2013 – November 5, 2013

The view of Bahia de Caraquez from across the mouth of the estuary on August 23, 2013.
Clay stands among a grove of trees at a revegetation site from 2010.
While taking GPS coordinates Joffrey stops to admire a birds nest in the branch of a Ceibo tree that Planet Drum planted in 2010.

In late August, a GPS site map of the revegetation sites from 2005-2013 was completed with the initiative taken by field research intern Joffrey Iboud. After several months of plotting GPS coordinates at all of the sites, the data was entered into a computer with maps that were acquired from the city government. The result is a comprehensive view of the past eight years of Planet Drum’s revegetation work in and around Bahia de Caraquez. Although in some cases survival rates of certain sites were low, each site that we visited has some signs of significant vegetation growth from trees that were planted. Quite a few of the sites had trees that were from a few to several meters tall, as well as certain sites that had excellent survival rates (over 75%). The map makes visible years of hard work dedicated to native plant revegetation. Many thanks to Joffrey for providing the motivation and expertise to make this happen!

Map of the Planet Drum Revegetation Sites planted between 2005 and 2013 in the greater Bahia de Caraquez region.
A Praying Mantis snacks on the leaves of a healthy Dormilon tree planted at the Universidad Catolica revegetation site.
Guarango seeds mature on a tree in Bellavista and are ready for harvesting.

There have been multiple opportunities for seed collection during the past couple months and seeds of Algarrobo, Aguacate, Ceibo, Bototillo, Guachapeli, Guarango, Mandarina, Naranja, and Pomarosa were collected. During our daily activities we are constantly on the look out for seed sources, whether they may be friends who help us collect them or trees that are ready to be harvested. In most cases, the seeds are dried and stored away, though some are tossed into seedbeds for germination. Multiple seedbeds at the greenhouse are bursting with seedlings in various stages of readyness to be transplanted. Production at the greenhouse continues to be excellent and we are on course to surpass 8,000 trees for 2013.

Becky and Orlando sprinkle Guachapeli seeds into a seedbed at the greenhouse for germination.
Becky, Sofia, Orlando, Clay, Katy, and Itxaso during an excursion to friend of the foundation Afranio’s farm near San Isidro where we had to opportunity to harvest Cacao, Bananas, Oranges, Mandarines, and Fruta del Pan.

Since this is the dry season, precipitation has been non-existent and we’ve been watering at the three revegetation sites that were planted this year: Bellavista, Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas, and Universidad Catolica. In order to ensure a high survival rate, the sites are watered at least once a month. Since we selected only the most drought resistant trees to plant at these erosion control sites, the survival rates have been very good (>80%).

Danny waters a Guachapeli tree atop the Universidad Catolica revegetation site.

The most significant development recently has been the progression of the revegetation workshops that are held at the greenhouse. In addition to the Montufar School, which has been sending groups of students since early June, students from the Sathya Sai School have been collaborating with the project as well. The model that is being developed for combining education and field practice is turning into a reincarnation of the Bioregional Education Program (BEP), which operated from 2005-2011. Due to a variety of factors (including funding and logistics), that program was suspended after 2011, and we’ve been looking for new opportunities to do ecological education work with local children ever since. The current revegetation workshops are exactly that. In many ways, the workshops combine the successes of the old BEP, while avoiding many of the hurdles that the BEP faced.

Students from the Montufar school learn about soil preparation before filling reutilized plastic bottles.
After filling bottles, the students help transplant seedlings out of the seedbeds.

During the workshops, students participate in an interactive lecture and tour of the greenhouse where they learn about native flora and fauna, bioregional principles and ecological restoration techniques. Afterwards they directly assist the Revegetation Project by transplanting baby trees from the seedbeds to bottles, which they help cut and fill with soil.

Students from the Sathya Sai School participate in an interactive lecture about bioregionalism and revegetation.
During a tour of the greenhouse, students learn about the process of producing compost.
The student split into groups to fill plastic bottles with prepared soil.

In a single session, the students have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom setting and participate in hands-on activities. The transplanting work that the students do is obviously hugely beneficial to the revegetation project since a large quantity of trees are transplanted at once. By collaborating with a handful of education institutions, it could be possible to further increase production at the greenhouse, while simultaneously increasing the exposure of the project to local students.

During a water break, students take the opportunity to chat with volunteers Rachel and Danny.
Inside the greenhouse, Clay explains about germination of seeds.
Students use scissors to cut the tops off of bottles to prepare them for reutilization as containers for the trees.

The greatest success of this model of ecosystem restoration and environmental education is that the local population becomes fully integrated into the process. The locals are the ones who help produce the trees that will then be donated back to the people. Along the way, they learn about revegetation techniques and the importance of the Dry Tropical Forest ecosystem.

Clay explains the process of tree propagation to a group of students.

Working with the students is exciting and it is fun to hear their input and perspectives of their environments. Many of the students have a surprisingly extensive knowledge of native plants and animals. They speak with enthusiasm about gardening or working with plants. Others are already somewhat familiar with producing compost. Part of the tour includes a short walk into the forest behind the greenhouse through a revegetation site. Many of the students have never set foot into the woods before, and some of them even believe that goblins or spirits inhabit the forest. It is special to be able to expose them to new experiences. Nearly all of the students at some point during the morning ask when they will be able to return to continue collaboration.

Students from the Sathya Sai school, accompanied by their teacher, assist in transplanting Chirimoya and Guayaba seedlings from the seedbeds to the bottles.
After learning how to carefully dig up the trees from the seedbed, the students are able to do so on their own.
Orlando instructs students as they transplant seedlings to the plastic bottles.

I look forward to developing this aspect of the project in the coming months and for 2014. Response from the students and teachers thus far has been very positive, which bodes well for expansion.

Pásalo bien,
Clay

Posted in