Statia:: January Report

January 2014, fourth month

Pigs have landed

P1030397During January the issue of controlling pigs came to a head and (tentatively) to a conclusion.
The last remaining smaller piglets still able to get through the fence appeared to be in bad health and distinctly malnourished. A group of four of them was visiting the area around the house daily, getting closer and more intrusive. Raiding the cat food and drinking water, digging up the food forest and veggie patch routinely. After consulting with Steve Piontek I was given permission to take decisive action including killing the piglets if possible. Just before New Year’s an opportunity arose to get a clean kill of the first piglet. The raids continued into the first three weeks of January. I managed to get two more piglets into a clean -single fatal stroke to the neck- kill situation. The fourth and -to date- the last piglet was shot by LVV. LVV vet Sylvia Strik inspected the animal on site and concluded that it was ill, with distortions in its proportions indicating malnourishment and stunted development. All four piglets have landed a place of respect and honour in the vegetable garden fertilizing the place they ravaged so often, bringing new growth after a life of increasing disease and hunger.

It appears the farmer has taken decisive action as well. As of that last week of January, no pigs have been sighted in or near the garden.
When the infrastructure projects in the garden have evolved a bit further, I hope to be in a position to contribute to more food plants for roaming animals – now that our capacity of propagating plants seems a bit more secure. I’m thinking e.g. of moringa trees in substantial numbers (a thousand at least).

Food forest & vegetable garden

In January we enjoyed more rain. At some point I’d love to get exact data on rainfall, wind speed and direction, sunshine but for now it is just an impression.
Plants that have been doing well despite the daily visits by the pigs are: basil, lemon grass, moringa (established trees only), pineapple. I even discovered a single surviving sweet potato. Trees that were planted out as a reasonable size slip also did well: French nut (I discovered that this is more commonly known elsewhere as French Peanut – and many other names, scientific name Pachira aquatica); mango, avocado.

A raised bed around the Visitor Centre (VC) is taking shape with mostly herbs and salad greens – to serve as tea and salad garden for visitors once the new VC is operational.

The beds in the vegetable garden are gradually being enriched with compost from the garden itself. The compost bins have been reorganised, sorted according to state of composting. Later bins for different types of materials like sand, gravel, clay etc could be added. A sieve is set up to sift the last stage of composting, taking out stones, big seeds and pieces of wood. The organic fraction can go back to the rough composting heap for further digestion. The resulting compost is excellent in quality, full of beneficial microorganisms but may still contain some seeds. The last is an issue we may need to address at some point. The production of compost from the garden off-setts the need to buy compost @ $10 per 20ltr bag. So far we’ve processed about 1000ltr of compost, with more waiting to be sifted. A savings of $500 so far.

Neither the food forest nor the vegetable garden have produced edible produce except a good amount of basil and lemon grass. Pineapples in the fruit garden that were about ready to harvest, have probably found their way to a satisfied visitor. Other pineapple plants in the vegetable garden and taste arbor have started flowering during the last week of January.

The coming month we will be mapping the food forest and vegetable garden, mark out contours for paths and planting beds. Then build terraces and topsoil.

Irrigation system Phase II & III gardens

This project is awaiting resources and essential infrastructure like the installation of solar power and irrigation pipes. Connecting cisterns depends on finishing these systems.

Soil improvement

Some results of soil improvement are visible in the vegetable garden, in particular in the test plot just across the Service Pavilion (SP). Lemon grass, basil, moringa and pineapples are doing quite well. Small terraces collect both organic matter and water. They are fed by chop & drop pruning of surrounding tantans and of course the ubiquitous corelita. cow manure collected from time to time is added either as a solid or liquid fertilizer. Passiflora foetida fluminensis planted there is doing much better then those planted in another, non-enriched, former tent site.
I aim to achieve a minimum depth of topsoil in the vegetable garden and food forest of 20cm this year. Goals for 2015 and 2016 are to increase that depth to 40 and 60cm respectively.

Roaming livestock management

See first section on pigs above. In addition I’m developing a design for defensive planting, electrified fence and improved layout of the perimeter zone. The perimeter fence needs urgent attention, repair and renovation. Both the hardware of the fence posts and wire as well as the defensive planting need an upgrade. By the end of January tourists reported two goats inside the fence at the top of the garden property. I was unable to verify the sighting at that time.
Large groups of cattle and goats are seen on daily migrations back and fourth past the garden front. Goats are heard on all sides of the garden daily.

Part of the roaming animal issue is the lack of feedback from the environment on the farmers responsible for the roaming animals. The numbers of animals appear to be increasing – an unverified impression I have since my first visit to the island in 2011. There is insufficient fresh water available on site – no open water anywhere. A well with drinking basins outside the garden perimeter might alleviate that situation. Corelita is stimulated by the constant disturbance of the soil by roaming animals. The corelita is not eaten by any of the animals but does suffocate anything that is on the menu. A situation that can lead only to one result: catastrophic famine and death of the roaming animal population as well as the broad scale destruction of native flora.

What the botanical garden could contribute is propagation (seeds and expertise) of feedstock plants, in particular moringa trees. These trees would then need to be planted out on a large and well managed property, harvested regularly or opened up for browsing animals in a rotation that would allow the regrowth of the trees naturally. The garden could also play a role in propagating and introducing other feedstock plants. Both obviously in close consultation with LVV and other stakeholders.

At the moment we have one moringa tree near the VC that produces a constant stream of seed pods. Both the vegetable garden and food forest have been planted with moringa trees. They are of different ages, the oldest about 10 months now, the youngest about 1 month. We expect this new generation of trees to start flowering and producing more pods within two months. At the moment we could probably harvest 100-200 seeds from the one tree we have flowering now.

Other Projects
Power

Still awaiting the availability of batteries.
I’ve installed my own single solar panel with its own charge controller and hooked it up to the existing solar panel assembly and borrowed batteries. This has increased the total capacity quite surprisingly to a quite acceptable level. We now have sufficient power for lights all through the night, running of the 12V pump at the VC and even some power for the cinema system – for a limited time. The voltage level now varies between 12.3V and 11.7V day/night with several lights, chargers and sound system on for several hours each day.

Water

Dependent and waiting on upgrade of the power system.

Visitor Center

Depends on renovation and repurposing of the tool shed to kitchen.

Kitchen

Depends on the renovation of the Service Pavilion and relocation of the tool shed contents.

Service Pavilion

The first three weeks of January were dedicated to clearing the VC of inner walls in view of creating a reception area for the Ira Walker remembrance and celebration event.
Resources were diverted during this period. Since then the rebuilding of the first section of the SP roof has been progressing steadily. By the end of January we were approaching the moment where the removed VC walls can be reused as roofing sheets. Once that is done – some time early in February – we will have a substantial area that is protected from rain and sun. It’s about the same area as the current toolshed. The next phase requires new materials – waiting on the arrival of EZ funding.

Groen & Doen: permaculture education in conservation and management of public natural spaces

Preparations for the start of training STENAPA “family” were concluded in January. At the meeting with the board the last week of January the first assignment was presented. Later the rest of staff, interns and volunteers were asked to create and submit a poster of their vision for the botanical garden. Submissions to be presented 19 February.
19 February will also be the start of a brief winter school season with 12 design exercises, applying permaculture design philosophy to different aspects of the botanical garden and its role in conservation and the management of public natural spaces.

Garden Maintenance Plan

A project awaiting further development.

Plant Sale

Last month I reported the calculated damage to expected harvest by pigs in the first quarter. Should the food forest and vegetable garden perform as expected this year potential savings in the purchase of food for the STENAPA family could run into the 50k$/year ballpark. This is a sharp contrast to the expected sales at the Meat Sale – last quarter we grossed about $50. It looks like it is more effective to propagate for our own consumption (and to serve to visitors of the garden at a later stage) then it is to sell plants at the Meat Sale. Statia is a very small market, that is quickly saturated with trees and other perennial plants – the ones we offer. Selling ready-to-eat products may be a direction we could explore.

Passion of Statia

There are few surviving seedlings and cuttings. They are struggling, though improving. Growth is slow, except in the case of P. foetida fluminensis as reported above.
Developing better soil condition in more of the former tent sites should improve the growth rate in the next quarter.

Visitors

I recorded 178 regular visitors in January. Some days I wasn’t in the garden and nobody kept records. So this is an indication only.
In addition on Friday 17 January we hosted a celebration event for the late Ira Walker. More then 30 people attended the event. There was a great atmosphere with many stories about Ira, his relation with Statia and the garden. Ira would have appreciated the appearance of a group of piglets at the barbecue.

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