Thursday, 15 August 2013

Casa de Cultivo Protegido

This week, we've been learning about the "Casa de cultivo protegido" or the protected houses at the organopónico. There are four covered houses that are cared for and worked in by Emil, and David (Pictured below). Emil has been working at the organopónico for 13 years, and David for 6. These two friendly guys can talk for ages. Today in one conversation we talked about plane and bus crashes (lovely), life in Cuba, the environment, the economy in Cuba vs the economy in the US, immigration and emigration, apartheid, extensively about Canadian weather, and of course about agriculture. 
Emil on the left and David on the right, standing outside one of the smaller houses. (Tomatoes inside)

The houses are protected by a special nylon that keeps out both harmful sun rays and water, effectively protecting the plants completely. It is important to note however that simply because the nylon drastically reduces the strength of the sun it does not mean that these houses are by any means cool. They are in fact sweltering. Emil and David have to be careful when they turn on the irrigation system as if it were turned on in the heat of the day, the water would simply evaporate and cause the house to become far too humid for the plants. The irrigation is therefore turned on only once a day, either early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. The nylon also protects the plants from the wind and pests, however this means that if you're working inside you won't be cooled down by any lovely summer breezes.
The largest of the four houses where they are currently growing lettuce.
In these hot houses, Emil and David can grow plants in the summer, which would ordinarily wilt in the summer sun. Tomatoes for instance, which can grow in Cuba in the winter, whither if they're exposed directly to the Cuban summer sun. Two of the smaller houses are being used at the moment to grow Tomatoes. Since they are out of season during the summer, the organopónico can sell them for 10 pesos per pound instead of the 8 pesos per pound that they are normally sold for in the winter. The third, and largest house is currently being used to grow lettuce. Lettuce is often grown in the houses between batches of cucumber or peppers to clean the soil of nematodes. Certain nematodes, as I believe I mentioned before, enter the roots of a plant and block the plant from receiving sufficient nutrients. Emil and David use a crop of lettuce to draw the nematodes out of the soil, and once the lettuce is harvested and removed from the casa, the nematodes are removed as well.

One of the other houses, which was recently growing peppers, is now being cleaned out after being harvested. Every six months, the houses are cleaned out entirely and the soil is replenished with fresh compost from the Abonos department. The photo below shows David cleaning out one of the houses. Which must be absolutely exhausting since just standing in one of the houses is sweaty work.
David cleaning out one of the houses.

Another advantage the houses provide the plants is protection from pests. This advantage unfortunately is short lived if any pest does mange to find it's way in. This can happen a number of ways. Pests can enter on the clothes of a worker, sneak in while the door's open, or find a small crack near the door. Once inside, a pest can thrive. That's why a small container of "cal" or calcium powder is kept at the door of the big house. The powder is used as a disinfectant by those who enter the house. Calcium powder is used in various places on the organopónico including in the hortilizas department where it coats the outside of the raised garden beds as a natural pesticide. 
Calcium powder in the entrance of the big house. Not sure why the spoon is there.

Other photos:
Lettuce in the big house & irrigation tubes
Rows of tomato plants

An old photo of a worker harvesting cucumbers in the big house.
It's about time for me to describe the incredible family that Katherine and I have been living with since January. Lily, Chino and Dacio live in a wonderful home in Centro Havana that they open up to students and tourists alike. Since January Katherine and I have lived with many amazing people in this house, as at full capacity it can house 8 travelers. Right now however, we are only three; Katherine, myself and Muro who is here studying Spanish. Katherine and I are living in the upstairs room that could hold three, but right now my suitcase/mess occupies the top bunk of the bunk bed. Muro lives in one of the single rooms, while two other single rooms and one double room are at the moment unoccupied. It still feels strange to walk by Alicia's old room on the way to breakfast, or to see Jen and Amber's room empty. Life in this house has been nothing short of beautiful and I can't imagine Cuba without Lily, Chino and Dacio. Pictured below are the three of them together. Leaving them will be heartbreaking, especially since it's impossible to keep from crying once Lily starts to cry, but I know we'll see them again.

I cannot recommend staying here enough. They welcome you into their home like family, after a while you really do become family, and of course, the food is beyond compare. 

Here's their contact info:
website: (I've been having trouble getting this to load on my computer, but that may just be the Cuban internet)
From left to right: Chino, Lily, and Dacio

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