Statia :: November Report

second month of PinR @ botan programme

courtesy of Susanne BollingerKing’s Visit @ museum garden

The botanical garden provided seeds, plants and labour for the (belated) construction of a provisioning garden at the museum’s reconstruction of the slave village to be opened by King Willem Alexander during his visit on 15 November. As we only got involved four weeks before the arrival of the King, the garden was obviously quite immature. Most successful were the peanuts and jute, but even they were still very small since planting only two weeks before the King’s visit. Mr. Hazel was kind enough to provide cuttings of sweet potato, cassava and corn seeds. LVV provided bags of animal manure which contributed to vigorous growth – but less then three weeks is just too short a time to bring any kind of vegetable garden to maturity.

Pigs

November brought rains and we saw the usual spectacular growth of biomass. After filling the pond (coincidence?) pig presence in the garden increased dramatically with (observed) raiding parties ranging between 1 and 7 pigs (including piglets) at a time. Pigs generally appear in the evening and are gone within an hour after sunrise. LVV advised to give them a call and they would come and deal with the pigs. Of course once we had the phone operational, the pigs took a day off 😉
The pigs have been causing extensive damage to beds, pathways and retaining walls. Including the veggie patch behind the service pavilion – where they also ate some of the last remaining vegetables (after having survived rats, chicken and doves. In the lookout garden the pigs did some useful work digging up lots of Corellita tubers and roots between the lookout garden edge and the fence. They look quite efficient at that, finding something edible all the time. Perhaps there is potential to use pigs in confined spaces to eradicate the invasive Corellita or loosening soil and removing any insect pests in it before planting. Obviously robust measures would need to be in place to control where the pigs can go or not. The pig farmer passes by the garden every day (or at least most days) with feed and water in the back of his truck. Still, the pigs seem to prefer roaming around and frequenting the botanical garden.

Family Friday

Our single volunteer, Mats from Denmark, helped out a couple of days this month, as did trails intern Catherine. Last Friday of the month Family Friday was at the botanical garden, attended by Sven, Heleen, Catherine, Susanne and Leo. In a change from the usual clearing and maintenance backlog chores for family friday we planted lots of trees in the tent site area. Gingers, Lady in Boat, Heliconia’s and others were planted in the vacant areas near the entrance of the garden. Finally we plugged a hole in our fence where pigs frequently enter/leave.

Transportation

Despite several close calls we still don’t have a truck available at the garden. Steve has been very helpful and kind providing taxi service in his truck but this seems hardly a sustainable solution for more then a few days. Using the bicycle has been useful for personal transport but is quite inadequate for transportation of tools, materials (like essential water supplies) or groups of people. The fact that the problem now persists for more then a month seems to indicate that the resource management system has reached breaking point, where single points of failure cascade in free-fall till all resources are totally exhausted. Part of the solution lies in less dependency on external funding and further developing self-generated resources of materials, services and cash money.

Renovation of Visitor Centre

We are slowly progressing with the rebuilding of the service pavilion. Discovering just how bent, crooked and distorted the concrete pad and timbers are. Progress is limited by the lack of 110V power and building materials. However the advantage is that progressive insight has a chance to mature before irreversible actions are taken. E.g. while visiting some friends we found a different way to improve ventilation of the roof by arranging the beams slightly differently.

The VC needs additional ventilation at the top of the building to remove the hot air that remains there all day and night. Steve has proposed a system with shutters that can be closed in case of storm or heavy rain.

Water/power

We had plenty of rain in November. The cistern under the Visitor’s pavilion is full to the brim. The cistern under the Visitor Center however is less then a quarter full. Possibly due to persisting leaks in the gutters and insufficient materials/tools to fix the problem. We swapped the 24V pump in the former kitchen with one of the new 12V pumps – the second pump still missing in action. Using the 12V pump now to pump water directly from the cistern to water the plants around the house, pavilion and veggie patch. The shade house is watered from the Visitor’s Pavilion by gravity. This cistern also is used to water Phase One, including topping up the pond.
Steve showed us how to use the petrol driven pump to top up the header tank. The water in the tank lasts a lot longer now that plant watering is done directly from the cistern.

Drinking water is carried up to the garden when transport is available, about 5 gallons per week.

Progress in the refurbishment of the power systems halted in November. After a promising initiative to create a temporary system for pumping water from the brim-full Visitor’s Pavilion cistern, nothing more has happened other then carrying one of the batteries to the pavilion. Again an example of a hick-up and failure in one system leads to other systems to stall and fail without well maintained backups and redundancies.
Other temporary measures to provide 110V from the existing solar panels and borrowed batteries also failed in short order. We went through three UPS (power backup devices) in about one week’s time. A UPS is designed to provide emergency power to a computer system to facilitate a graceful shutdown and backup of data in case of a failure of main power. Usually such an operation takes no more then a couple of minutes. During that time the UPS functions as an inverter, transforming 12V DC into 110V AC to drive the computer equipment. By running a UPS continuously as an inverter it overheats and causes random failures in the electronics of the device. The first device simply quit after a couple of days – a heroic effort and a credit to the model’s design specs. The second went into permanent Overload shutdown after a day. The last device gave up a few hours of operation, making insistent beeping noises, with a Low Voltage Disconnect warning (beeping four times every 30 seconds).

What remains is the Aardwerk 240V inverter, which is fan cooled. This has been functioning just fine for the past two months. However it only provides 240V/300W and is not suitable for the lights in the house, shed and pavilion. As a result we are in the dark at night, using lots of batteries from 6pm.
Prognosis for December is unclear.

Food

Well the birds, chicken, mice and pigs seem to be happy 😉 As are the cats, who have settled in quite nicely. Greeting visitors with friendly curiosity. The odd dog is repelled with vigour. Cat trophies so fare include a rat, a couple of mice, small lizards, large grasshoppers and banana spiders. For people the pickings are very slim indeed.

Attempts to grow cucumbers, luffa’s, pumpkins and melons all seem to stall shortly after germination. Typically they germinate vigorously, then develop very slowly some leaves, quickly followed by -to small- flowers and then dying off or barely hanging on as a stunted plant.

Moringa seeds fare much better. Just seed in place and the quickly grow with vigorous green foliage. So far they also seem to be ignored by our garden pests.
Propagating lemon grass is quite successful. The handful of lemon grass plants that we propagated in February of this year have now been multiplied to 30-40 daughter plants around the house, veggie patch and former tent site.
The former tent sites have also been planted with French Nut (aka French Peanut, Malabar Peanut or Money Tree – Pachira aquatica or Pachira glabra), Avocado and Mango trees with plenty of Moringa trees as ‘nurse trees’ in between them.
One former tent site is dedicated as a passion fruit garden. Direct seeded plants are germinating.
Germination of passion fruit species in the shade house has been very disappointing (Sorry: Vreeken’s Zaden). However some species are doing reasonably OK and resulted in healthy looking seedlings: P. edulis (4 seedlings from 45 seeds so far), P. capsularis (6 seedlings, 100% germination not from Vreeken) and P. foetida fluminensis (9 seedlings from 15 seeds). None of the other 10 species germinated.

Herb seeds sourced from Dutch Plumbing are doing great so far: Oregano, Thyme and Rosemary. Spanish thyme is propagated from plants in the fruit garden.
Peppers, sourced from Duggins are germinating very well. Seedlings planted are struggling, as are seedlings from a couple of tomato species.
The basil plants, already established in the veggie patch are doing very well since the rains started. We already sold a few bags of freshly picked basil leaves at the Meat Sale. Customers were impressed with the rich aroma.

Fruits from the garden have run out. Except the odd lime, most fruit trees have finished producing or are only just now setting fruit. We have a couple of pineapples on the way bat it will take a couple of months before they are ready for harvest.

Our papaya plants around the house have all died and are now serving as excellent mulch. Replacements are underway, red papaya’s sourced from the museum garden. About 20 seedlings growing in the shade house.

We’ve expanded the experiment with the Carob seeds, collected and brought over in October from Barcelona. 12 seedlings (almost 100% germination) in the shade house and one planted out in the former tent site. Still one seed pod left. Other experiments: lychee & sweet tamarind – both not germinated yet.

Shared with the interns at the Intern House: a couple of pots with lettuce, basil and carrots. To be planted out later.

Visitors

126 people visited the garden this month.
Visitors praise the tranquility of the garden but almost all tend to complain about the deplorable condition of the access road.
Claire installed a new guestbook.

Plant-sitting

In November we had two requests from plant owners to temporarily house and maintain plants for them. One batch of plants has arrived and is now housed in the shade house and pavilion.

Plant Sale

We started a new season of selling plants at the slaughterhouse on Fridays every fortnight. The first time we sold one plant and 8 bags of herbs (4 White Cinnamon and 4 Basil) – which was not bad for a market with around 15 to 20 customers in total. A modest start with some good learning points, like: people come to buy food, not ornamental plants. Smelling and tasting the merchandise convinces people. We got a couple of requests for herb plants like mint, thyme, oregano and rosemary – which we just happened to have started propagating.

Maintenance Plan

A start was made creating a list of maintenance tasks in the garden, with planning for frequency and resource use.
Having a botanical garden implies that the garden has a greater diversity of habitats and ecosystems then would normally occur at that particular location (our 5 ha of easterly volcano slope). This means going against what nature would create and evolve there by default. Permaculture design should be able to contribute to minimising the maintenance burden of the botanical garden. Still, developing the required infrastructure for several different habitats is likely to take substantial resources and time. After nearly 15 years since being established the garden has developed its own character, where some plants are thriving in certain locations while suffering in others. Some habitats seem successfully established, while others need major overhaul. Particular attention needs to be payed to soil conditions, ground cover, sun & wind exposure. Some habitats are overdue for adjusting, like the areas catering to drought tolerant plants like cacti and succulent are probably too wet and the soil too rich, while many places in the garden have a rather ambiguous definition, where plants make do with an environment that is less then optimal. We have plenty of information about the different vegetation zones on the island, but this is only minimally reflected in how the garden is set up. In general the garden is set up according to functions like: sense experience, entertainment for children, historical interest (planned), fruit, culinary and medicinal herbs. Its very hard to recognise the different vegetation zones that exist on the island, like elfin forest, deciduous forest, dry evergreen forest etc. These vegetation zones should be leading in further development of the garden as a botanical garden to serve its function of safeguarding (and if possible: develop) biodiversity and informing and educating the public about conserving and managing natural resources.

The maintenance plan can be used to identify the tasks needed and plan the deployment of labour and other resources. It can be used to derive budgets and financial planning. Development of the maintenance plan will be an ongoing project, welcoming input from all stakeholders.

Interns & PinR

One candidate intern, Sheila de Leeuw 3rd year student Tropische Bosbouw at Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein in Velp is still keen to come early February 2014 and stay till July. She can provide a smooth transition to the PinR period from April till September 2014.
Other candidate interns apply regularly.
We have a permie couple who have applied for the position of PinR for a limited time: Martin Gianinni and his partner form Ireland/Poland. This couple of permanauts would be a great asset to the garden. We are in negotiation about all the ins and outs of the position. Meanwhile we are actively recruiting both in The Netherlands and in Europe.

Courses and workshops

It’s very quiet at the moment on the education front. We’d love to organise some courses for overseas participants in the region. Both agricultural organisations and a newly formed Caribbean Botanical Garden Network have shown interest. However given the deluge of crisis and failing infrastructure issues to be solved first we didn’t get around to this particular task. Any organisational volunteers are most welcome to contact me.
In the course of volunteers and interns coming to the garden to work we do attempt to insert a bit of permaculture education. E.g. learning how to survey the landscape and mark out contours to be used as the basis for planting, ditches (swales) or pathways. Or learning about companion planting (moringa and passion fruit) or sheet mulching.
We started work on designing a couple of displays explaining the PinR program and the renovation of the visitor center.

Busy Bees

When we had a chat with Gregory Pieters of Dutch Plumbing it turned out he is a beekeeper and has a property ‘next door’ with an existing beehive. He is interested in looking after bees in the botanical gardens. A first job has already appeared, when it turned out that we have a small group of bees living in one of the car tyres in the Children’s Garden. The garden needs bees, but the bees need to be well maintained. Mr Pieters may be able to provide an essential service in this field.

Finally

The saddest news in November was that Ira Walker passed away. Liberated from a long and hard struggle with his health. His experience and wisdom will be missed in the garden.

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