Statia:: December Report

Better late then never…

December 2013, third month, first quarter

Pigs are flying!

feral pigsDecember brought a turbulent end to 2013 and the first quarter of the Permanaut in Residence programme in the Botanical Garden. It was marked by lots of rain and wind – great for lush corelita growth, and daily pig invasions – not so great for the garden.
Having experienced this much pig activity 24/7 up close and personal its hard not to conclude that the roaming pigs of the neighboring farmer is the single most threatening issue that the garden and its users face. It is a life-threatening issue in the sense that the purpose of the PinR programme is to provide a substantial contribution to the primary needs and livelihoods of the PinR and other STENAPA stakeholders: staff, interns, volunteers, board members and their respective dependent family members. You could say that the purpose of the programme is to emancipate the STENAPA community from the dependency on external funding and resources. That sense and practical application of freedom and independent self-reliance is severely and potentially fatally threatened by the routine incursions of the neighbor’s feral livestock.
BTW other rooming animals like the cattle, sheep and goats are easily deterred by the current fencing, while the chickens are only a minor annoyance. It’s specifically the pigs that are a persistent and substantial problem.

The effects of the regular pig invasions are both direct and indirect. Direct effects are e.g.: destruction of the perimeter fence (and we have about 1870 feet or 570 meters of it); destruction of garden paths, planting beds and retaining walls; destruction of plants, especially juicy succulent plants are favorite; destruction of the vegetable garden and food forest in the garden’s service area; damage to the pond liner; stealing of water from pond and house; stealing of pet food from the house. Indirect effects are e.g.: the garden has become less attractive to visitors who are less willing to express their appreciation with generous donations; visitors feel less secure and safe with pigs rummaging around and leaving their droppings everywhere; the costs of fixing the fence, pathways, retaining walls and plantbeds and replacing plants prevents urgently needed further development of the garden and its facilities; by continuously destroying seeds and plant material in the vegetable garden and food forest the harvest of fruits, vegetable and herbs is lost for anywhere between the next weeks to the next 30 years. The PinR is most directly threatened by starvation being the principal user of the garden’s produce with little alternative sources of livelihood, But others in the STENAPA family would feel the pinch if they would realize the difference between enjoying the fruits of the garden and working for money to buy imported foods and other items.

Pig damage in $$

An estimate, in terms of harvest lost after three months of planting.
Prices based on replacement cost at local stores.
Giant pumpkin: 20 plants @ 50kg each = 1000kg @ $5/kg = $5000
Giant courgette: 20 plants @ 30kg each = 600kg @ $5/kg = $3000
Melons: 20 plants @ 30kg each = 600kg @ $5/kg = $3000
Peppers (sweet): 20 plants @ 5 kg each = 100kg @ $5/kg = $0500
Sweet potatoes: 20 plants @ 10kg each = 200kg @ $5/kg = $1000
Lettuce: 200 plants @ $1 each = $0200
Tomatoes: 20 plants @ 10kg each = 200 kg @ $3/kg = $0600
Cabbage: 60 plants @ $1 each = $0060
Replacement seed and tubers: $0120
Total estimated damage for the first quarter: $13,480
This doesn’t include any labour cost or the cost of any other direct and indirect effects of the pigs rampaging through the garden.

Persistent Pigs

Reflecting on the pig issue of the past quarter I recall that the “pig issue” has existed for at least 7 years. At least three different Parks Managers were unsuccessful in resolving the issue. The roaming animals and the damage they do to private and public resources appear to be accepted in the wider community of Statia – in fact according to some a matter of pride in local tradition and culture.
Several “solutions” have been proposed and tried by STENAPA management and staff. The cost of these actions are likely to have been substantial in terms of time and resources (money) spent. All efforts to date have proven ineffective. Perhaps time for some serious out-of-the-box thinking? A few radical and different suggestions are already floating around.
These are mostly practical symptomatic ‘work floor’ solutions. Lacking are solutions that address the systemic root issues of public acceptance of unsustainable farming practices that externalize the cost of free range farming on Statia – practices that are illegal and widely unacceptable in the rest of The Netherlands.

Presents!

Of course December is the festive season with Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This year Santa/Sinterklaas brought a new truck to the garden! Garden intern Susanne and I found some great new bamboo cuttings and planted them in the garden. Another potential resource for food and timber.
Another ‘gift’ was the growing interest we got at the LVV meat sale. We participated twice in December and doubled our turnover each time. From very humble beginnings in November ($18) to more substantial amounts in December.

We have the Power!

Well… almost any day now 😉 The power upgrade has come closer to being realized during December, although it still hasn’t happened! It did become clear -yet again- that solar power is a viable option, but does require better resources then we currently have. The sad state of the current setup seems to hang on neglecting to set up a fund for regular replacement and updates of the system. The system also seems to be insufficient in capacity for the needs of the garden regarding irrigation, lighting, refrigeration, kitchen and ICT equipment for the planned and updated visitor center and development of all public services and areas in the garden. The upgrade from 4 (currently: 2, borrowed) batteries to 10 at the visitor center and additional solar panels and batteries at the Children’s Pavilion should bring the long awaited relief. We try again in January.

Passion of Statia

A minor project to develop a unique new feature and possible opportunity for self-supporting livelihood is the establishment of a Passiflora collection in the garden. After the radical pruning of the few passionfruit plants in 2013 only one cutting remained. Even planted out in the taste arbor it didn’t do very well. We’ve been experimenting with growing 12 different species and varieties of Passiflora since October. Only three species have germinated: P. edulis (mixed varieties: yellow, red and purple), P. capsularis and P. foetida fluminensis. They are now all planted out in former tent sites and doing quite well, thanks to the generous rainfall in December. Practicing companion planting we planted them with nitrogen fixing trees like Leucaena leucocephala (local name: tan-tan) and Moringa oleifera, both providing something to climb into as well as a nitrogen rich soil.

Visitors

The garden enjoyed a good number of visitors in December: 66. Pigs: 60.
There was a peak in the number of visitors between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Appreciative comments in the guest book.

Other Projects

Groen & Doen volunteer permaculture training programme was awarded a voucher to assist in funding training events in February and March 2014.
Food forest is progressing. More French Peanut, mango and avocado trees were planted in the former tent area. Corelitta remains a persistent problem, which we attempt to resolve with extending the area of cardboard and newspaper based sheet mulching and planting understory plants like lemon grass, pineapple, pumpkins, sweet potato, peanuts and others. However the pigs keep eating whatever we plant, frustrating the development of the food forest considerably.
Vegetable garden is suffering the same issues with pigs. Papayas are doing well. Moringa trees, as a nurse plant, are doing extremely well. As they are fast growers we can soon expect positive effects on microclimate and soil fertility. Garlic is doing quite well – as long as they are left alone by the pigs. Carrots develop OK. Beans were not a success and are lingering at a very under developed stage. Luffa: the same: tiny plant, still flowering and producing tiny fruit.
Visitor Center removal of inner walls took priority over construction of the service pavilion with an eye to hosting a celebration of Ira Walker. Building should resume in the new year.
Service Pavilion building halted but we managed to put up a sample corner wall and roof. The roof still needs to be finished with weather proof corrugated steel sheets but the construction itself has so far successfully weathered strong winds and heavy rain without any visible damage.
Plant Sale as part of an economic model of self-reliant livelihood took off in an upward direction with revenues improving over the two sales events at the LVV meat sale. We’re propagating herbs and fruit trees to sell at future events.
Garden Maintenance Plan Being distracted by daily frustrations and trouble shooting, the plan to design a comprehensive garden maintenance plan based on permaculture principles has stalled.
Habitats On discovering the original plans for the garden (October 1999) I noted that a representation or recreation of the different habitats and vegetation types on Statia are missing. As a botanical garden with the mission to conserve, preserve and educate this seems like an obvious omission. From a permaculture design point of view it would make a lot of sense to base at least some of the garden areas on soil types representative of the different regions of the island. That would e.g.; also simplify maintenance.

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