This is a photo of our tree-planting squad: Armando, Armando Jose, Danny and, making his first appearance, little Byron. We waited until more reliable rainy weather to plant the Cenizaro trees out in pastureland, where they will have one good growing season before the next dry season puts their survival to the test. These trees will join many dozens of hardwood trees already planted over the last several years and growing well. We already have numerous mature Guayaquil trees growing throughout the forest but, after years of searching, realized that El Tigre hosted absolutely no Cenizaro trees at all! So, we decided to remedy this with the kids today!
Here is a shot of Byron and me after planting his Cenizaro tree, which will soon tower over both of us. We showed the kids how to tell the difference between Cenizaro and Guayaquil trees, as even experts get them confused. It’s easy to identify them while in flower, however: Cenizaro has pink flowers and Guayaquil has creamy yellow flowers. When not in flower, it’s much more difficult. We showed the kids that the Guayaquil has a gland in the middle of the petiole, which is absent in the Cenizaro. As with all Mimosas, both trees have alternate, bipinnate leaves with stipules, but we have found that other differences in the bark and leaflets can vary hugely out in the field, so are not always reliable indicators. The key to distinguishing between Guayaquil and Cenizaro is noting that gland in the center of the petiole= Guayaquil (Albizia guachapele,syn. Pseudosamanea guachapele, F. Fabaceae-Mim.); no gland = Cenizaro (Albizia saman, syn. Samanea saman, F.Fabaceae-Mim.).
This is a shot of Danny and Byron with the dogs. Byron learned quickly during this outing that you need to watch where you stand! If you stand on an anthill, the ants will soon climb up under your socks and bite you! So, we had to clean the ants off him and sooth his bites with a cooling herbal lotion. However, soon he was distracted playing with the dogs and enjoying the scene again. Lesson learned. And, with no further mishap, we planted all five Cenizaros in different types of soil and locations in the pastureland. The kids will now measure the differences in the growth of the trees over the years, as yet another ongoing experiment.
This shot shows Armando and Armando Jose with one of the newly planted Cenizaro trees. They will join many others in the Mimosa sub-family of Fabaceae growing nearby – Guanacaste blanco (A. niopoides), Gavilancillo (A. adinocephala), Guanacaste, Acacia species, Cojoba arborea, Ingas, Lysilomas, and Sotacaballo (Zygia longifolia). The kids planted this particular tree in rich, forest humus in full sun, and my bet is on this one for the fastest, healthiest growth. However, Nature has thrown curve balls many, many times in the past, and we can only wait and see – observe and document. Thus, we teach the kids the scientific method – hypothesize, and then experiment to test the hypothesis. And, if the experiment does not confirm the hypothesis, as often happens, we learn from that too. Every trip out in the field, we like to check on trees planted years back and see how the forest changes, as fast-growing trees shade out the lower growth. Where we once saw lots of Chan and Tuete plants, we now see faster growing trees towering above them.
And the fastest growing tree of them all, Robin and I agree, is Cecropia. Here’s a silhouette of a Cecropia growing just below the house, which volunteered itself by seed less than five years ago. Yet already it towers above everything else. If you want fast-growing trees for secondary growth besides species of Cecropia, choose Balsa, Cupania, Luehea, Miconia, Psidiums, Sapiums, Vismia, Guazuma, Guachepelin, Tecoma stans, Trichilias, and many legumes, like Madero negro, Cojoba, Sennas and others. However, keep in mind that some legumes grow very, very slowly – e.g. Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), Cristobal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and Nazareno (Peltogyne purpurea) amongst others. As a general rule for trees: the harder the wood, the slower the growth. However, both types of trees are important for the ecosystem: the fast-growing, abundant-seeding but short-lived softwood trees provide humus for the slower-growing trees nearby. But don’t forget that all these trees that I’ve been mentioning are forest trees or, at least, for very large gardens. If you have a small garden, choose fruit trees, and blend them with ornamental and edible plants. It’s so much more fun to wander about the garden, if you can pick berries, fruits and herbs along the way. As organic gardeners, we need to mix it all together anyway to confuse the plant-chomping pests but it doesn’t have to look chaotic if you design it carefully. I normally don’t design anything but, after allowing Nature time to do her thing, the groupings all start to blend and harmonize together, with a minimal effort of selecting out. There is a good reason for allowing ‘weeds’ to join the groupings too: to attract pests away from the other plants. Tuete (Vernonia patens) is an excellent cover plant, which attracts and tolerates pests, thereby keeping them away from other nearby plants. Also, Tuete has well-known coagulant properties, which we use occasionally for first-aid with the animals.
Here is a shot of a huge Granadilla, next to a red bell pepper for perspective. Currently from our gardens here, we’re bringing in our first big harvests of avocados, mangas, sour citrus, Moras (thank you Hugo), Bolsas de Amor, and Chaya; and this new bounty now joins the basketfuls of greens and vegetables that Armando has been bringing in weekly from the more established plantings. And, what joy, down in our experimental garden in the horse pasture, we have finally begun harvesting asparagus, after waiting three years for the plants to mature! Soon we will feast on this succulent vegetable, even though it does impart a noticeable odor to one’s urine…Village news: After waiting nearly four years for the road between Ciudad Colon and El Rodeo to be fixed after the last devastating landslide, it finally began last week. However, last night, part of the works collapsed, and now the road is completely closed for at least a week, as it is too dangerous to pass! This means that we are marooned here unless we take the very long route through Piedras Negras, Jaris, etc. almost to Puriscal…
Meanwhile, construction on the new village Salon Comunal began several months ago, despite the perilous road, and work will begin soon on the new elementary school designed by the famous architect, Piano. At least, that was the plan until last night!What’s more, fundraising is now underway for the design and construction of a new village Catholic Church. Yes, we all love the current picturesque church of El Rodeo, but many residents would prefer a new church in the center of the village, rather than make the long trek to the current one. Nevertheless, we all hope that the existing, charming little church shall always grace the winding road to El Rodeo.