Thursday, September 18, 2008

Training Vanilla Orchid Vines to Improve Flowering

Pods of the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia) are used to make vanilla flavoring. Pictured here are vanilla orchid plants trained onto living posts (Gliricidia sepium). Apparently, the resulting curves in the vanilla orchid vines stimulates flowering to occur. We have observed that when allowed to grow vertically, up into an oak tree for example, the vines rarely flower. This is a small observation plot in the rainforest. We're also trying it with black pepper (Piper nigrum) in the same plot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Deep Planted and Mulched Bananas for Dry Areas

One does not normally think of bananas as a crop for arid regions. It is quite common, though, to see bananas being grown in monsoon climates where there is a pronounced dry season. These plantings often suffer during the dry season where water for irrigation is scarce. By planting in deep holes and using significant amounts of mulch, however, growth and production of banana plants can be improved. Pictured below are banana trees that were established as follows:

1) A 2.5 ft hole was dug
2) 18 inches of compost was placed in the hole
3) Banana plantlets (pups) were planted at or near the top of the compost (15 to 18 inches up from the bottom of the hole
4) 1 ft of mulch was placed around the plantlet

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mixed Legume Groundcover

Planting mixed legumes has proven to be an effective way to obtain a vegetative ground cover in our demonstration gardens. For example, the fallowed rice plot below contains a mixture of cowpea and lima beans. These species were seeded in an alternating pattern within each row. The photo on the bottom shows a cowpea plant on the left and a lima on the right.

The advantage of this approach is that if one species fails another will likely succeed. We have also seen that a given species may either become dominant or decline depending on seasonal growing conditions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Worm Composting

Three new, concrete composting bins have been constructed on the farm. They illustrate similar designs being used successfully in places such as Nicaragua. In this system, worms are utilized to process organic inputs comprised of manure or vegetative waste (e.g. weeds/kitchen scraps).
Each bin has a cement bottom to prevent incursion of roots. They are also slightly sloped to allow drainage. No soil is used. A rubber mat covers the organic material, providing protection from heavy rainfall. We are using banana leaves, placed on top of the rubber mat, to keep the material from overheating on sunny days.

Illustrated in the photos below is the drainage system (jug in a hole covered with a wooden lid shown above) as well as unprocessed organic matter (fruits and egg shells) compared to material that has been processed by the worms. As worms digest bacteria in the compost, the nutrients trapped in the bacteria are converted to a plant-available form in the resulting worm castings. Both the castings and the liquid in the jug can be used as fertilizer.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It's FREEZING cold!!

If you would have been at ECHO on the morning of Jan 1, 2008, this is what you would have seen: LOTS of ice (top photo).

Our interns and farm staff worked most of the night running the sprinkler system used to protect the plants. Most of our plants survived, although there was some damage- probably more so than in recent years because of the wind that accompanied the cold.

Most of the damage (remaining photos taken Jan 14) was due to branches breaking from the weight of the ice. A coating of ice on the leaves provides

a bit of protection, as long as the sprinklers are not turned off before temperatures go above freezing. Leaves of some tree species, however, are more sensitive to ice than others. Notice the photo at the bottom right of the jackfruit tree. The leaves reached by the sprinklers were damaged whereas the upper canopy was not.

Quite a few of our papaya and banana trees were damaged. Many of our trees lost a lot of leaves but have buds that are already sprouting to form new growth!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Idea for Growing Herbs

Pictured are cement blocks used for steps along a path. Note that the blocks on the sides are being utilized as containers for growing various herbs. One would not need cement blocks to grow herbs, but it illustrates the concept of using whatever space is available to grow food plants....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Agriculture and Nutrition for HIV/AIDS Orphans in Africa

Kathryn Barrera, from the Mothers' Welfare Group, opened the second day of ECHO’s 2007 Agricultural Conference with a presentation on her group’s agriculture and nutrition programs for orphans affected by HIV/AIDS in rural Nigeria.

Some of the children in her program lost one or both parents to the virus and 70% are themselves infected with HIV/AIDS.

Barrera discussed the importance of nutrition in any program targeting individuals with HIV/AIDS. Initially, she said, the group focused on delivering antiretroviral medication to infected children and ensuring that the medicine was taken properly. They soon realized, however, that without proper nutrition, the pills were doing more harm than good.

The group began focusing on agriculture and nutrition, growing soya and peanuts in a community garden run by the children at the orphanage. From their crops, the children roast and process peanut butter, an excellent source of nutrition.

Mothers' Welfare Group also emphasizes reforestation, growing a variety of indigenous trees and plants, many from ECHO seeds. Barrera, originally from Washington State, talks about her love for trees – beyond their practical uses – and tries to instill this feeling in the children at the orphanage. The younger generations, she said, have begun to develop an appreciation for forests and plant fruit trees and shade trees in an effort to halt the desertification rampant in that part of Nigeria.

Barrera concluded her presentation by emphasizing the importance of working on a small scale, using local products and knowledge, and focusing on low input, high yield programs. She finished by highlighting the significance of HIV/AIDS in the third world. “If you’re in the developing world, HIV will affect everything you do.”