Work hard, Play hard!

So the last post was a catch up one of what you missed last week, this weeks been a busy one also farm wise as we really got the help we needed to speed up our farming expansion before the rainy season comes.
Last post I mentioned the donations we managed to gather for the some struggling villages in our community, this week some of the people from these villages have come to give us a hand with out farming! Isn’t that amazing, people were kind enough to give us a helping hand as we did to them only the other week.
A team of 20 volunteers from the village have been here for a few weeks and we’ve certainly been putting them to work, check out how we’re getting on!

All the beds have been plowed and are ready for planting once we start getting some more rain. Amazing all the work they have been doing!

We are currently at that compost stage, making lots of lovely soil so our plants grow big and strong, the new nursery is over flowing with baby plants.

Our farm is still producing though and check out these cashew fruits that Pablo picked. The cashew nut that we all know and love is actually attached to a fruit, the nut itself needs to go through a drying process before it becomes edible but the fruit or apple as its sometimes called is delicious. Imagine a slightly starchy very juicy peach.

Interesting fact, cashew is actually a seed not a nut. It’s not classed as a nut due to the fact that it doesn’t have a hard outer shell. Instead the cashew stores this toxic stuff in the lining around the seed, which makes cashews very difficult to process. They are usually roasted to release the fluid, which is collected for other uses, such as varnish. After that, the hardened lining must be removed by hand.

Even weirder fact is the Cashew fruit is technically a false fruit, say what now?!

A fruit that’s not a fruit because by definition a fruit is a sweet fleshy product that contains a seed, the Cashew seed is on the outside of the fruit not within so its classed as false fruit.

Holy Piña!

Not only are we getting cashews but our pineapples are producing like crazy! we managed to harvest 35 so far but are predicting to harvest 500! by the end of the season. So if nothing else with our skills in coconut milk making we can certainly make some Piña Coladas to get us through this crisis.

Thanks a bunch for reading!

That’s all happening at T.R.E.E.S for the minute but stay tuned for our night walk adventure coming soon.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned

Who Let The Frogs Out?!

Orchard Under Siege

Welcome back, so the last few days have been a world wind of trial and error experiments, mistakes and some enlightening discoveries.

First let’s discuss our hard backed scaly creature who shuffles noisily in the orchards undergrowth digging up poor unsuspecting sweet potatoes. Yep! it’s our armadillo vigilante I’m talking about.

Unfortunately our mastermind is just too cleaver to be caught on camera and turns out he likes a bit of spice in his life since our cayenne pepper trick was a dud so instead I give to you a picture of one taken awhile ago on previous camera trap footage.

The Armadillo name is actually one derived from Spanish meaning “little armored one”. They are a New World Family with their closest relatives being Sloths and Anteaters, Only found in the Americas, Armadillos first appeared in South America before moving up and dispersing where today they can be found as far up as some places in the United States. Here in Central America we only have two species, the Nine Banded Armadillo (image above) and the much rarer and smaller Snake Tailed Armadillo (Cabassous centralis). They spend there days mostly sleeping in burrows and occasionally foraging but when night falls all the fun happens. Unusually active and sometimes quick for such a bulky mammal, these guys spend their nights nosily scurrying though leaf litter, digging up soil with their sensitive snout and long claws looking for tasty worms, beetles, grubs, ants and even termites. Mainly insectivores but opportunistic to eating amphibians, small reptiles and bird eggs too. It’s main predators include wolves, wild cats such as Jaguar and Puma and birds of prey like the Harpy Eagle, when in danger it runs with surprising speed for such little stout legs and on the off chance it doesn’t escape a predator quickly digs a shallow hole around itself leaving just it’s hard plated carapace exposed to attack. Contrary to belief they don’t roll up into a ball like hedgehog’s or Pangolin’s (Manidae) but in fact there are only two species of Armadillo capable of that act, the Southern Three-Banded (Tolypeutes matacus) and the Brazillian Three- Banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) the genus they belong to Tolypeutinae, also includes the Giant Armadillo which as its name suggests is the largest of the Armadillo species and can reach a length of 100 cm and weigh a whopping 33 Kg but is sadly listed as Appendix 1 on CITIES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) meaning it is vulnerable to extinction.

So, basically I think we need to rethink our strategy for stopping this particular worm munching machine.

On other news our aubergines are under attack now as well, we just can’t seem to catch a break! but this time not by a mammalian friend but by Stink Bugs, these guys came is swift Like Nazis decimating our poor Aubergine beds.

Interesting enough is that before this type showed up we had green stink bugs (Chinavia hilaris) and turquoise and orange ones (Edessa rufomarginata), all true bugs from the Genus Halyomorpha feed in similar ways, using a proboscis as its mouth parts that is pierced into the plant or fruit, a small bit of its saliva is injected as it feeds. The saliva is toxic to the cells of the plant and so slowly kills it as it feeds. The interesting part is that although we had the Chinavia and Edessa feeding on our plants they were much more resilient to the attack then Sagotylus confluenso (above image), but I wonder why that is, could it be the enzymes in Sagotylus saliva is just much stronger or could they be extracting a different substance from the plant, and why is it that only in the last week Sagotylus has shown up. Is it due to breeding season? but where have our Edessa and Chinavia gone? when is there breeding and why can’t they seem to compete with Sagotylus? So many questions! So little answers, We need to commence a Stink Bug investigation. You’ll just have to stay tuned to fine out.

Pablo showing the probiscus of Sagotylus

T.R.E.E.S Delivery To Your Door

We’ve also made a head start in setting up our product line to provide to the community and have decided on a selection of greens for our baskets as well as vegetables on rotation to availability, dried coconut, fresh desiccated coconut, dried turmeric and ginger, homemade hot pepper and dried hibiscus for teas and juices. Because we love our community and the people in it and want to support the small businesses surrounding us that are also suffering in these times we’ve decided to include products made by other local businesses in our delivery at no extra charge- how noble of us! With an online catalog sent out each week to anyone whose interested, showing what we have available. The link will be available for everyone to see once it’s up and running! Even if your not in Belize, take a look, it might give you ideas ???? on ways you can become more self sustainable at home.

Our first delivery was a slightly special one, delivered to our lovely neighbor Christine down the road who runs a herbal medicine and soap business called Body Belize Apothecary –

She needed the usual greens and some malanga but we also included a collection of medicinal plants for use in her immune booster products.

It’s was actually very exciting harvesting the necessary leaves for her and discovering the health properties of plants right in our back yard!

Jackass Bitters (Neurolaena lobata)

Jackass Bitters is a well-respected plant that has been used widely in traditional Central American medicine. It gets it’s name from the bitter-tasting leaves which contain a potent anti-parasitic agent (sesquiterpene dialdehyde) that is active against amoebas, candida, giardia and intestinal parasites. Traditionally, the herb is taken as a tea or a wine or used topically to bath wounds and infections, or even to wash your hair to get rid of lice.

Polly Red Head (Hamelia)

This plant has many names, one of them is a special Maya name after the Goddess of the Forest and Healer , Ix-canan probably due to it’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, it can be used to treat everything from sores, ulcers, fungus, rashes, burns, insect bites and bee stings. It is prepared by boiling a double handful of leaves, stems and flowers in 2 gallons of water for 10 minutes. After it cools, it’s applied liberally to the affected area. It can also be drunk as a tea to relieve stomach pain, you can even use its stems to make iodine! versatility should really be its name.

Trumpet Tree (Cecropia)

The leaves of the trumpet tree are used to treat calluses, skin warts, and reduce inflammation when applied as a poultice. In addition, the leaves are used to treat respiratory infections when boiled in a tea. . . not gonna lie if I was you I’d be checking my backyard for this leafy green stuff, can’t do any harm to have this bad boy in your arsenal with a respiratory virus floating about. It’s also used for high blood pressure, dropsy, and diabetes.

Frogtastic Habitat

Some of you may know that we’re a little bit frog crazy here, especially Vanessa who did a lot of her studies based on amphibian breeding. In fact we love them so much we built a wetland just for them and to support breeding habitats, but the last few weeks we noticed the Mexican Blue Spotted Tree Frogs (Smilisca cyanosticta) were breading in the duck pond! Not very smart of them really, the poor tadpoles are becoming duck food. So in an attempt to encourage them to keep breeding but in a safer environment we made a new frog breeding location out of good old buckets! Cheap and easy, we did this by digging holes in ground to hold the buckets solid, we then filled them with the nutrient rich pond water and put floats and debris inside to make it easier for the adults to get in and out.

The mexician Blue Spotted Tree frogs, not to be confused with Asia’s Blue Spotted Poison Dart frogs are a widespread species in the family Hylidae. They are mostly found on the Atlantic slopes of southeastern Mexico but also in Belize and Guatemala. Its natural habitats are humid mid-altitude established forests, and it can also occur in secondary forest. Breeding takes place in temporary pools and streams and in depressions in logs that fill up with water as they prefer still water to moving. Although listed as Near threatened just below Least Concern, on IUCN, It is threatened by habitat loss and potentially chyridiomycosis.

Hopefully these silly critters will get the memo that there’s much nicer and safer tadpole nurseries only a few feet away and start to use our frogtastic habitat instead.

Thanks for reading and check out next weeks post where we’ll be demonstrating how to make coconut milk from scratch!

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned!

Trees Survival Team

Farm to Table – Oh It’s So Irrigating!

Today’s been an exhausting one, but we’ve got a lot done!
We’ve been a very productive equipo de sobrevivencia (Survival team) and have organised a schedule for basic maintenance, new expansions and constructions and individual projects like my harp trap that’s still in construction – but almost ready, only 5 more strings to attach!

I have also neglected to inform you about our newest temporary team member who’s also the woman behind the camera, Agnes. She was a volunteer with us for a few weeks nearly 5 months ago before leaving to travel Guatemala and Mexico. She recently settled in Belize City, working as a Volunteer Speech Therapist at “The Inspiration Center”, a project that offers low cost therapy to families with children with disabilities, something that is sorely lacking in Central American countries. The Inspiration Center helps diagnose and treat people from different communities around the country, doing active travel to get to harder to reach villages and also help remote communities. As The Inspiration Center Is dependent on volunteers and international students, the organisation has unfortunately closed due to travel restrictions and the danger of exposing the virus to unaffected areas and vulnerable populations. So instead we have graciously received her into our resilient T. R.E.E.S team.

Most of you know here at T.R.E.E.S we have our own organic farm that we use to supplement our produce when we have groups and visitors. We try as much as possible to source from our farm and since we have the time are giving it abit of extra TLC. We are planning to plant more in hope as the month progresses we can set up a community food delivery service- kind of how companies like ‘Farm Fresh To You’ or ‘Sun Basket Work’, delivering fresh organic vegetables to your door. We want to help our community as much as possible during this crisis and are lucky enough to have facilities to do so. At the moment we are able to provide fresh greens such as Bok Choi, lettuce, various types of Spinach, Kale, Arugula, and Cállalo and hopefully soon vegetables such as a Sweet Potatoes, Malanga, Aubergine, Cucumber, Cassava and Tomatoes (yes I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit but still it will remain in our vegetable basket!). We will also be giving out eggs, since we have a never ending supply from these pretty ladies.

But first we need to plant! To get ready for the new selection in our beds we have finally decided to put in an irrigation system. I know finally right- how we have managed so long without one its amazing but today the pipes went in.
The type of system we are using is a drip irrigation system which is a type of micro- irrigation that involves long tubes placed within the bed of plants. It’s a system used mostly in places like Israel and India but actually originated in ancient China were techniques were being practised (albite in a very primitive way) since the first century BCE. It works by allowing water to slowly drip through small holes in the tube placed near the roots of the plants essentially minimizing water use, wastage and evaporation. The water flow is controlled by a valve attached to the main water pipe.

As you can see at times it was an irrigating and frustrating event.
Agnes and Pablo trying to untangle the tubing.

While we were down there setting up the system, we decided to harvest our already growing crop. For plants like Bok Choi and lettuce we do this by clipping the lower older leaves at the base of the plant leaving the new leaves to grow and make more. Look how much we got!

Bananas taken off the tree to ripen.
Aubergine almost ready for the dinner plate

As I sat clipping the leaves for our harvest and pruning the old dying leaves I couldn’t help but notice how much life there is in our garden. We know our garden has many beetles and bugs. But very little research has been done in the tropics to show the interactions of different insect species on organic agriculture. Would be a very interesting study to see what insects are most harmful or helpful in the growing of biodiverse systems like ours.. . . Do you think you could be that person?
The system of growing we use is organic, sustainable and a mixture of different permaculture practices and the opposite of mono-culture – which is what most large agriculture systems use, growing only one species of plant in an area. We grow different species of plants in the same bed, working out how different plants use different levels of nutrients from the soil creating a balance so the soil stays healthy and can replenish easier after use.

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Agnes Harvesting Lechuga (Lettuce)

Farm visitors

Check out some of the inhabitants of the orchard we saw while gardening.

Stink Bug (Nezara)
Eight Spotted Flea Beetle (Omophoita cyanipennis)

There are many species in the stink bug family with wide variations in color. So pretty, but they get their name from the pungent odor they emit as a defense mechanism.

Central American Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps)
Lynx spider (araneomorph) on a Bok Choi leaf

Lynx spiders (above right), unlike most spiders, don’t really use webs though they still have ability to form them, they instead spend most of their time hunting on plant leaves. A real help at battling the constant attack of leave eating insects this little guy is a natural pesticide. The Central American Gulf Coast Toad (above left) is native to Mexico and Central America as far down as Costa Rica.

Unexpected Guests

Also a night visitor that’s been making its presence know is a greedy 9 banded armadillo (we think!). Whose been digging up all the tasty worms from our beds and in the process man-handling our baby sweet potatoes! ???? Vanessa has very cunningly devised a beware armadillo cayenne pepper spray- NOT TO BE SPRAYED ON THE ARMADILLO! But around the area of its digging in hope it deters him. But we need to figure out what we’re dealing with here, this afternoon Pablo has set his camera trap hopefully in the perfect positioning to catch our mysterious vigilante. Keep posted for the pics and updates on our little hot pepper experiment.

T.R.E.E.S is the place to be. . . and not just in the orchard but we also happened to have some night time in house guests! Quite a productive evening we had, but as we all said goodnight and settled down to get ready for bed, we found we all had a little visitor in our rooms! (Or the pantry as one guest was)

Peanut headed moth chilling on Vanessa’s pillow!

Peanut headed bug or moths (Fulgora laternaria), as they’re commonly called is actually not a moth, but a plant hopper belonging to the order Hemiptera – true bugs. This little guy with his strange protruding peanut shaped head is actually not so little, they tend to be between 80-90 mm in length. The weird peanut head is actually a false head and hollow inside, the actual function of this is not yet properly understood, but it is believed the head is supposed to imitate that of a lizard. In combination with raising its wings – which have red and black spotting under-wing that resemble eyes – scare its predators away (I really don’t see the lizard thing but it looks pretty weird). It has a folded proboscis as its mouth parts and feeds off the sap of tree species like Hymenaea courbaril, which is a common species in the Carribean and Central and South American countries. Its also believed that it uses that ginormous head as a mating display drumming against the bark to attract a mate, laying its eggs between cracks in the bark and coating it for protection in the sticky sap.

When you just weren’t born with the right equipment to open jars- Praying Mantis (Stagmomantinae)
Scorpion (Centruroides gracilis) on the wall above Agnes’s bed!

At the end of a busy but fruitful day, we reaped the rewards of all our hard work and sat down to feast!

Pablo proudly displaying the bread I made!
Carving a chicken humanely killed on our farm

Feel free to leave comments and questions as always, take care until next time, lovely followers!

As always, stay safe, stay healthy and stay tuned!

T.R.E.E.S Survival Team