Thursday, 8 August 2013

Back in Frutales!

Before I get to talking about what we've been up to on the organopónico this week, I need to say Happy birthday Dad!! I'm sorry I'm not home to celebrate with you, but I'll see you soon! (Also you should be proud, I fought off a giant spider and two small scorpions today - details to follow)
Dad and I in Viñales
This week, Kat and I have returned to the Frutales department where we've been working with Jesús (who was on vacation last time we were in Frutales). Jesús, who has worked at the organopónico for 8 years after a 33-year career working in the Cuban rice industry, now works in the frutales department and has been teaching us all about the different methods they use to reproduce the trees at faster rates. Naturally, a mango tree or avacado tree would take 5 to 6 years before it would begin to produce fruit. At the organopónico, two different methods are used to produce fruit bearing trees in half the time. The first method uses esquejes or clippings which are small sections of the plants cut from the patrón or father plant then planted directly in the ground where roots develop. Different plants do this easier than others however, and some not at all. Mangoes and avocados for example have to be reproduced though the other process that Jesús called "cuña injerto" or wedge grafting. Seeds are sewn and after about three months when the seedlings are large enough, a cutting from a mature tree is placed into a "V" cut into the seedling, or attached to an open cut on the side of the stem (see photos below). The cuttings are then bound and kept water tight. This process effectively halves the time it takes the plant to begin to produce fruit. What I found most intriguing however, was when Jesús told us that not only is it better to do the grafting in the colder months of the year, but that there are also phases of the moon which are more conducive to plant growth. During the full moon and waning moon, water and nutrients flow easier through the plants and the grafts have higher success rates. I knew the effect the moon had on tides, but had never considered it would also affect plant growth.

A "V" cut into the seedling, and in Jesús's hand is the clipping from the older plant.
The clipping is placed in the V and secured in place with plastic.
An example of a finished graft
Here you can easily see the different between the two plants, and the old "V" cut.
Jesús and his plants
Today was especially interesting as while Katherine and I were emptying used soil from old bags and refilling them with nutrient rich soil; we encountered two unnecessarily large spiders, and two unbelievably tiny scorpions. I didn’t get photos of either of the spiders as I chased them away with a very large stick (It’s amazing how much safer you feel with a good stick), but I did manage to get a picture of the first scorpion (see below). Jesús killed both of the scorpions after I poked them out into the open with the wonderful stick. He told us that 12 years ago he was stung by a scorpion on the inside of his upper arm and has never forgotten how painful it was. Thankfully, the scorpions on the farm aren’t capable of killing you with their sting. They are however capable of causing excruciating pain so hopefully we don't encounter too many more. 

Here is the somewhat blurry photo of the little scorpion hanging out right where I would normally grab the bag.
In other news, two representatives from the Canadian embassy came by the organopónico on Wednesday and were joined by workers from the Cuban ministry of agriculture and a few representatives from ACTAF (Asociación Cubana de Técnicos Agrícolas y Forestales - Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians). Katherine and I sat in on their meeting with the head of the organopónico, Manuel Salcines as they talked about a recycling program that the Canadian government and ACTAF have helped to implement at the organopónico. As I understand it, the program aims to take in organic waste from the surrounding community, and use it in their creation of compost and organic fertilizers.  The blurry photo below shows everyone gathered at the beginning of the day before it started pouring rain. We ended the day with an amazing lunch together, and as a nice reprieve from the crowded bus, Kat and I caught a ride home with the Canadians. It's certainly been an interesting week.

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