This part of the project is basically our beginning and it has been a very rewarding experience.
The goals of our reforestation efforts are:
1. To establish & create our food forest, improve & maintain the quality of the land. Initiate our overall farm permaculture design.
2. Create conditions for increased biodiversity in both flora & fauna. By providing habitat for birds and other wildlife, as well as re-establishing depleted native species.
3. Increase biomass. Do our part in mitigating global warming. All reforestation is an important part of the global carbon cycle because trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide.
In accomplishing our reforestation goals, we are stacking functions. This is an important principal, as nothing in nature has only one function. This is how nature is amazingly efficient. We are ultimately working with nature in designing our farm to mimic a natural ecological food and habitat producing forest.
Myself, a friend from the states, my brother, mom and my mom's amazing garden helper along with a few men from the local indigenous community planted all these trees (see pictures below). I am very appreciative of everyone's work in actually doing something significant and special as planting trees.
Ecuador's deforestation rate, particularly in the Andes has been devastating. Many trees in both the highlands & the Amazon have gone extinct or are endangered.
Information on Ecuador's current deforestation & reforestation initiative can be found on our Reforestation page.
Hence, the initiative of the Government of Ecuador to give land owners trees (free). They initially come to your land and assess it for size, species & requirements before they deliver the young trees. For a poor country, I find this governmental initiative admirable.
Working with the government of Ecuador's department of agriculture has also been a big help as well as uplifting since 3,000 of our trees came from them. The initial request of the trees was a fairly straightforward process. We wrote to the department of agriculture's local office in the nearest big city which is Riobamba, an hour and a half away. Our request was written in December 2011 and the trees were delivered to our farm in late February. Initially, 2,700 trees delivered, 40 of the endangered Spanish Cedar's we purchased by us, and planted in July 2011. The remaining 280 were delivered in March 2012, after placing a new request in late February.
The timing was perfect as I planned a last minute trip to Ecuador for mid-March and thankfully, it was still rainy season, perfect for planting!
Our request was for trees to serve as a wind barrier & hedge. To my surprise, all 4 species delivered are soil builders. These trees will serve as nutrition pumps for the soil they use and for the food forest we are creating; they all fit beautifully into our permaculture design plan. We planted; Acacia (Robinia Pseudoacacia), Aliso (Alnus acuminata), Lupina (tarwi, L. mutabilis), and Alamo (Populus deltoides) all nitrogen fixers. We were happy to receive whatever trees gifted to us and would have worked any type of tree into the design somehow, whether they were soil building or not. In Permaculture, we look at functional relationships 1st, so as an example, this was perfect for our overall design. Functional relationships are also indicators of sustainability, which is always our big picture - whole thinking goal...
We planted our new trees around the full perimeter of the 9 hectares of the farm. They will serve as timber eventually, nitrogen fixing/ nutrient accumulators, habitat for increased bio-diverse flora & fauna, wind barrier and shade. Planting them around the perimeter also serves as our zone 5 food forest. Zones in permaculture are a system where the location of an element in a design is determined by:
1. How often we use the element
2. How often we are required to service the element
This is a basic logical + practical principle, whereby the things you use most often & require the most attention, are placed closest to the house in the design (i.e. zone 0-2). Consequently, the things that are used the least often, or that require little or no attention, are placed furthest away in the design, and things that fall somewhere in between are placed accordingly (zone 3-5).
For example, you would place your kitchen & herb garden right outside your door so that you can maintain it (easy access) and also you'd be using it often, so its proximity is practical and efficient use of your time & energy.
Zones are abstract conceptual boundaries around the home which help us to work with distance to plan efficient energy use. Zones do not have any hard/structural boundaries and they can blend into one another. They are always in flux, and are also not necessarily round per the diagram illustrated below.
Next stage for our food forest is zone 1; as typically you work from the inner zone out and can have multiple zone 1's as we will since we will have different living structures. We ultimately will be planting a variety of fruit and nut trees as well as more nutrient accumulator shrubs, plants and nitrogen fixing bushes producing legumes etc. When done with the planting in zones, we will have a 7 layer deep food forest planted in succession (see diagram below, next to zone diagram). Succession planting is following one crop with another, is the most important tool for maximizing a yield. A smart succession plan means fresh food from spring until winter, the harvest keeps coming...
So as the overall food forest is established & evolves, the food chain will extend. It will also continue to attract and increase the diversity of flora and fauna in the area.
Increasing Bio-mass & the many other magical roles of trees:
Our trees are building soil for us, right now, they serve as "pioneers" and ultimately help decrease the workload of mulching. What are nitrogen fixers & soil nutrient accumulators? Nitrogen fixing plants & trees harbor bacteria or fungi in their roots that extract nitrogen from the air and convert it to plant available form in the soil. This is a huge benefit. Nature builds soil from the top down. When pruned or when their leaves fall, they provide a rich stock for mulch or compost. All these trees are obvious players in our ecological food forest because they keep nutrients cycling within the soil and reduce the requirement for purchasing fertilizer. All their debris quickly composts into rich organic humus, which we & Mother Earth welcome.
Trees are veritable chemical, alchemical magic. From just the example above on how they convert their leaves and roosts into soil & food for the many living micro-organisms, worms and creatures underground. Trees are vital to our living eco-system called Earth.
Trees are excellent water purifiers. Thru their leaves, they transpire, pulling water up from their roots. All water exists (exhaled) pure thru the pores in their leaves, originally polluted or not. A full grown tree can transpire 2,000 gallons of water on a hot, dry day. The moisture returns as rain, up to 1/2 of the rainfall over forested land comes from trees themselves. Cut the trees down & the rainfall disappears. They also help keep any nearby water flowing, for example, you take away trees near a creek, and the creek will disappear.
Trees remove CO2 from the air & produce O2. This is how trees help reduce the levels of green house gases on the planet.
Air is also purified & humidified when passing thru a tree. Half of clouds are created by trees! Trees act as cloud seeders as well, to bring rain. They help keep us at livable levels of temperature & weather, helping maintain our ecosystem in homeostasis. Trees help create cooling winds above them; they create convection currents and breezes.
Trees block the wind, making them excellent windbreaks.
Trees provide timber, for homes, heating, furniture, paper goods, energy source & medicine.
Trees leaf litter & roots help hold soil in place (as well as build nutrients & prepares its own fertilizer, as mentioned above). They are erosion-control systems.
Trees have also been shown to be sentient. A tree's roots thread with nearby trees and fuse with them. Research has shown, that their roots can graft with those nearby, exchanging nutrients and even notifying each other of insect attack. Chemical signals released by an infested tree prompt its neighbors to secrete protective compounds that will repel the potential bug invaders. Trees in a forest are more like branches from 1 single subterranean tree than a group of individuals, as they are interconnected and communicate with each other.
In summary, trees are deeply connected to their surroundings, both living & non-living. Trees are dynamic, reacting to their environment and to each other. They transform wind & sunlight into a variety of microclimates, daily & seasonally. Trees harvest nutrients, build soil, pump & purify air and water, create and concentrate rain, shelter and feed wildlife and microbes. For people, they can serve as a barrier; they provide food, medicine, shelter, shade, energy source, flowers & beauty.
Thank you for reading,
“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.” ~ Lord Orrery, 1749
Seed saving is a tradition and ritual that spans millions of years, it's as old as civilization.
For over 10,000 years, individual gardeners and farmers created and sustained our rich agricultural genetic heritage.
Our ability to grow food is the culmination of countless generations of sowing and harvesting seeds and those seeds are the continuation of an unbroken line from our ancestors to us and to our children and grandchildren. Our ancestors developed a relationship with plants that allowed their cultivation for food and medicine and this has been a central element of culture and human evolution and survival for millennia in regions throughout the world.
"We are on the verge of losing in one generation, much of the agricultural diversity it took humankind 10,000 years to create. As late as 1900, food for the planet's hungry was provided by as many as 1,500 different plants, each further represented by thousands of different cultivated varieties. Today over 90% of the world's nutrition is provided by 30 different plants and only four (wheat, rice, corn and soybeans) provide 75% of the calories consumed by man. Where once diverse strains strengthened each local ecosystem, currently, a handful of "green revolution", super-hybrid varieties are "mono-cropping" farms and gardens worldwide." - International Seed Saving Institute
Today, gardeners and farmers can continue to play an important role by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems. This will assure diversity in the same the way that diversity was promoted and protected instinctively throughout the history of agriculture.
I was initially intimidated in "the honor of seed saving". However, just like anything else, one you just go ahead and do it, it's a lot of fun and a very rewarding experience!
What to Harvest?
There are a few basic tips for success:
Start with the simple things; lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, many types of flower seeds. Some plants like squash and corn require special isolation practices because they cross-pollinate so easily. Others are biennials like carrots, parsnips and cabbage and won’t set seed the first year. These are best tackled when you have more experience. Many perennials once established set seed every year and are good candidates for seed saving.
**Be sure that the seeds you want to save do not come from hybrid seeds. Hybrids may have many desirable characteristics but they are not good for seed saving because they revert back to their parent stock in the second generation. This means you may get something interesting but it won’t be the same as the plant from which you are collecting. Save seeds only from open-pollinated seeds.**
Once you have decided which type of seeds you are going to collect, choose the healthiest plants from which to gather the seed. Select the plants based on the desirable characteristic which you want to preserve: Good flavor, size ,hardiness, early maturity, color, etc. Be sure to collect the seeds from more than one parent plant if possible. This ensures a broader genetic diversity for your seed collection.
Read seed savers exchange's blog post, for a better understanding of: "The difference between open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid seeds":
This is the easy part:
The only challenge here is to not leave the open seeds on the plant too long or you will find yourself with lettuce volunteering in every available space next year. This just takes a little practice and can best be mastered by regular visits to the seed plant to run your thumb against the seed heads. If the seeds are near the “point of departure “ it’s time to collect them. Another option is to remove seed heads once they are drying and let them finish drying in a partially shaded area.
For open seeds, a cookie sheet, paper bag, sack etc. will work fine. For many seeds you can simply collect a whole seed head and separate the seeds later. (Don’t neglect this separation step, because proper drying ensures seed viability.) Once the seeds are collected and separated spread them out in a cool dry place and let them complete their drying.
For seeds inside a fruit carefully cut the fruit open and squeeze out the seeds. If the seeds are basically dry like a pepper simply separate the seeds and allow them to air dry as above. For tomatoes and other ‘slimy’ seeds a special process to remove the gelatinous, sprout-inhibiting coating is necessary but very simple:
Put the seeds with pulp in a glass and add just enough water to get them floating. Set it on a windowsill for several days until a moldy scum starts to form. Remove the scum and any floating seeds, drain and rinse the seeds and spread out on a screen or glass or plastic plate for several days to dry. Don’t leave them for long after the scum forms or they will begin to sprout in the water!
After harvesting the seeds, we like to use a regular sack. We put the entire stem of the plant with flowers/seeds on them & hang them upside down in the sack. The seeds simply fall to the bottom for collection.
Seed Vitality - Viability
Generally speaking, with seeds big and fat is good! The larger and plumper a seed (relative to other seeds of its type), the greater the viability. When separating seeds with the wet method the seeds that float can be discarded as they will not be as strong as the seeds which sink. For seeds of peppers, eggplant, etc. which don’t require fermenting you can assess potential viability by placing in water for 24-36 hours and, as before, saving those that float, discarding those that don’t.
Storing your seeds...
Sore in a COOL and DRY space. Apart from the original quality of the seed you save this is probably the most critical factor in successful seed saving. Keeping your seeds dry and cool plays a major role in assuring their long term viability.
Thank you for reading & happy seeding!