Water Systems

As holistic farm we focus on treating all resources efficiently. Even more Water.

Did you know that water is vital for all known forms of life, even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Water is the one of the 4 elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire). Humans are born of water from our mother’s womb. Our bodies are made up of 70% water. The Earth’s surface is covered by 70% water. Most plant life is 90% water. Humans need to consume water in order to survive. It is a crucial resource here on Earth.

Gravity Fed Water System at PermaTree

Water System Gravity Fed PermaTree
Water Fed Gravity System At PermaTree

We at PermaTree collect water from small springs (1) high up in the property. Then the water is funneled in black water pipes to several tanks which break the water pressure into a big 5000L main tank (3) about 80 meters above the main house (4). From this main tank water pipes go to the different locations. Between the main house and the tank is the natural swimming pond (5) and backup water tank in case of drought. The water not used in the house goes into the natural swimming pool. The runoff of the swimming pool goes 50 meter lower into another smaller 1500L tank which is used for the tree nursery (6). The runoff of that tank goes finally back into the creek. Before first passing 100 meters of Vetiver Grass run off natural filtering. Our entire water system runs off gravity, no electric pumps are needed.

Spring Water

Here we harvest the crystal clear water. Gravity fed pressurized spring water which goes to the homestead

The water which is not used goes directly as run off into the natural swimming pond. After that, into another smaller tank which is used for our plant nursery. We additionally do collect partially rainwater into another tank. Compared to urban treated water, we have super clean water, because below the springs the mountains stops and there is no further neighbor.

So when you take a shower at PermaTree keep in mind its gravity-fed system no electric pump needed at all.

Berkey Filter for our Drinking Water

The Berkey Filter

Now tapping the crystal clear spring water and using it for showering and our crops is one thing. For our drinkable water we use a extra gravity-fed water filter system. The Berkey water filter system is a water purification which removes remove micro size particles (nanometer = .024 micron), viruses, protozoa and bacterium.

In addition, this gravity filter removes the micro plastic particles which are found in our environment, oceans, rivers and urban tap water. Micro plastic particles can also carry pathogens and have a reported size of approximately 2.5 micron.

So as you see for us at PermaTree clean natural spring water is a very high priority. This because from our very own experiences exploring many different countries in Latin America we have been fighting diseases that have come through water. 

Black Water, Grey Water, Run Off?

Well as you can see now we produce no black water (sewage) because our toilet is dry. We do produce gray-water from the sink washing the dishes and taking showers. This water will flow down about 145 meters in a open canal bordering the access road to the house. Here you can often observe chickens picking rice hulks oder other edible bits which have been washed down. Before reentering the natural creek we have a 15meter long final run off with vetiver grass which again helps to break down the gray-water.

Infographic: Water Footprint of Humanity

PermaTree composting toilet

Composting toilet

The PermaTree compost toilet system explained

For our toilet system we do not use any water at all, because we have build a so called “compost toilet” which are water free. For most visitors at the farm, using a composting toilet is a first-time experience. This system which treats human waste by composting to produce a usable end-product that is a valuable soil organic material.

Opportunity

So instead of creating something called “waste” – we create something called a resource – organic material – a valuable and much needed soil fertilizer. You may not know but most soils in our region are very acidic and lack of organic matter. Adding fertilizer is the best option to increase production.

Also from another point of view – human feces are not a waste to be flushed away. Most importantly, because they are a valuable, nutrient-rich product when composted. Meanwhile, a typical water flush toilet system, the “waste” will decompose as sewage anaerobically. Thus releasing both methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now composting toilets offset carbon emissions because they decompose aerobically – meaning with oxygen. 

It turns human excreta into compost over a process of decomposition of organic matter. Made possibly by microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) under so called controlled aerobic conditions.

This compost toilet will only need dry material such as sawdust after each use. Both urine and feces are mostly water, but also high in nitrogen. For every one part of nitrogen to compost, it needs 30 parts of carbon; therefore a lot of dry material. The sawdust creates air pockets in the human excreta to promote aerobic decomposition. Additionally it  improves the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and reduces potential bad odor. 

Inside the composting toilet tank, the material naturally heats up similarly to a garden compost pile. The heat kills off bacteria and the pile reduces in size, producing an odorless dry humus fertilizer.

Before using the compost, we keep the compost for a period of 12 month parked. To enable pathogen die-off. During this time we use the other compost toilet. And thats why we have two separate compost toilets with separate compost tanks.

And yes toilet paper is typically placed in the toilet. Therefore, the toilet paper will be visible long after the solid matter has broken down. Because paper does not decompose as quickly as solid wastes.

History of composting toilet

While basic water-based flushing toilets have been around since Roman times, waterless toilets are actually much older. As with many things, the origin of the earliest waterless toilets – composting toilets – come from China.

One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries—long and well nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China… The storage of such waste in China is largely in stoneware receptacles … which are hard-burned, glazed terracotta urns, having capacities ranging from 500 to 1000 pounds.

F.H. King (American soil scientist), Farmers of Forty Centuries, 1911

One unusual feature of traditional Chinese agriculture, almost unbelievable to early visitors from the West, was the Chinese use of human waste as fertilizer for their agriculture. They were “fanatical recyclers”, recovering virtually all waste materials in their society. After an initial cultural shock at the idea, Westerners who heard of the practice would dismiss the concept as medically dangerous and probably resulting in serious chronic disease problems. Yet there is little historical evidence to support that conclusion, and in fact more than 40 centuries of evidence that suggests the practice was successful and sustainable. In light of the many other elegant inventions and methods of living that the Chinese gradually perfected, it is likely that the Chinese system of “night-soil” management was done in a way that largely protected public health.

The Chinese peasants use almost exclusively night-soil for manuring their fields. It is stored in large earthenware pots, either standing free or sunk in the ground up to their edges. In the latter case, privies are built over them. These, open to the public gaze, are not used by women. For the convenience of the latter a wooden bucket with cover is kept in the house, which is emptied into the free-standing earthenware pots out-side the house.

Rudolph P. Hommel, China At Work, 1939
Soil analysis

Analyzing fruit & plant pest in unbalanced environment

The challenges of growing food in a tropical climate, in a unconventional region (mining) and on a area with more than 15 years of cattle farming history. Are that the existing environment is unbalanced. Consequently we face more than just a few plagues and pest. Which we believe is important sharing this challenging process with you, so that you get a better understanding of organic agriculture in a tropical climate. Keep in mind that it does vary a lot depending of the exact micro climate. Within the PermaTree farm we have more than a dozen of different microclimates. Microclimatic conditions depend on such factors as temperature, humidity, wind and turbulence, dew, frost (non-existent in our region), heat balance, and evaporation. The effect of soil type on microclimates is considerable.

Some people believe that tropical farming is this romantic thing … where you throw around a few seeds and lie around in the hammock for a few weeks and can start harvesting. Nothing could be further from reality. 🙂

Definition of the word: Pest

A pest is an animal or plant detrimental to humans or human concerns including crops, livestock, and forestry. The term is also used of organisms that cause a nuisance, such as in the home. An older usage is of a deadly epidemic disease, specifically plague. In its broadest sense, a pest is a competitor of humanity.

Wikipedia

The morning of the 5th December 2018 we had two Engineers: Willam and Mauricio visiting us from the Agrocalidad BPA (Buenas Praticas Agricolas) within the MAG (Ministerio de Agricultura de Zamora Chinchipe) at the farm. Which are helping to identify which are the main roots of the issues we have with some of the tropical fruits we are growing.
The following crops have been investigated: (1) Theobroma cacao (2) Soursop (3) Papaya (4) Pineapple (5) Rollina Deliciosa (6) Banana (7) Chonta duro palm/ palmito (8) Coco palm (9) Avocados and (10) Tobacco. After 15 days we received the laboratory analysis from Loja…

This blog article will be edited when information is available to share. We cannot share the learnings yet because we are still in the process of learning which are the most successful solutions. As usual. Stay tuned.

Overview of the Fruit Analysis

01. Cacao (Theobroma Cacao)

  • Moniliophthora roreriFrosty Pod Rot is considered the main pathogenic factor affecting the cocoa crops in Colombia and in other Central and South America countries.
  • PhytophthoraCocoa black pod caused by several species of Phytophthora is one of the most serious diseases affecting cocoa (Theobroma cacao) production. Disease occurs in all cocoa growing areas; P. megakarya is most destructive in Central and West Africa whereas P. capsici is most common in Central and South America
  • Moniliophthora perniciosa“escoba de bruja” witches’ broom disease in flower cushions of Theobroma Cacao branches. One of the most devastating cocoa diseases in South America; disease is widespread throughout South America, the Caribbean and Panama; spread of disease greatly influenced by humidity with emergence favored by high temperature and high humidity (>80%).
  • “Conga” Giant AntThey ants just dig a hole into the Cocoa pod and eat it empty and use it as shelter.

02. Soursop (Annona Muricata)

  • Leaf Analisys: Colletatrichum sp and Sephaleuros sp.
  • Soursop Insect Analysis: Lepidoptera Coccidae Ceroplastes sp.
  • Escama (insecto chupador)
  • SOLUTION: One of the best solutions has been so far – fermentation of any available spices. We used local available pepper, garlic and chili. All in the blender and then let it ferment in a glass jar for 14 days.
Soursop Leaf Analysis: Colletatrichum sp
Soursop Leaf Analysis: Sephaleuros sp.
Soursop Insect Analysis: Lepidoptera Coccidae Ceroplastes sp.

03. Papaya (Carica papaya)

  • Asperosporium (black spots)The disease is characterized by small, black colored, well-isolated spots on the lower surface of leaves of the lower half of the crown, the intensity of the disease was high in the more mature leaves. The disease was severe during wet weather and the diseased plants fully recovered during prolonged dry spells. The disease appears to be of considerable importance as it reduces photosynthesis area of the leaf affecting the vigor, yield etc. and results in premature fruit drop when young fruits are infected.
  • Black rot (Phoma sp.)Phoma species are phytopathogens that are widely distributed in the environment, most commonly found in aquatic systems and soil. Phoma spp. have the potential to be pathogenic in plants, animals and humans; the latter is a rare occurrence. However, as our immunocompromised population increases, so do the reports of these infections. Medical advances have allowed for the increase in solid organ transplantation; chemotherapies to treat malignancies; and the use of other immunosuppressive agents, which have resulted in a greater population at risk when exposed to diverse fungi including Phoma spp. These fungi have been isolated from water sources, food, and crops; thus acting as opportunistic pathogens when the right host is exposed. Phoma spp. contaminates common food sources such as potatoes and maize, a common species isolated being Phoma sorghina. Though there is potential for causing infection via consumption of contaminated foods, there is insufficient data detailing what levels of organism can lead to an infection, and a regulated process for detecting the organism. The spectrum of disease is wide, depending on the host, ranging from cutaneous infections to invasive diseases. Mortality, however, remains low.
  • AnthracnoseThe most common and important post-harvest disease is Anthracnose which occurs as brown sunken spots on the surface of fruit which can enlarge into unsightly water-soaked areas. It can also occur as multiple small spots often referred to as ‘chocolate spot’. Anthracnose infections occur when the fruit is young and immature but the rot only becomes evident as the fruit ripens.
  • SOLUTION: LECHE solo al fruto cada 15dias
Papaya Leaf Analysis: Phoma sp.

04. Pineapple (Ananas comosus)

  • Fusarium guttiforme & Penicillium funiculosum (Fruitlet core rot – green eye)This is an internal fruit disease. Smooth Cayenne fruits do not usually show any external symptoms. However the fruit of the rough-leaf (Mauritius) may produce fruitlets that fail to color – a condition often referred to as „green eye‟. Severely affected fruitlets may become brown and sunken as the fruit ripens. Internal symptoms consist of a browning of the centre of the fruitlets starting below the floral cavity and sometimes extending to the core. The browning, which remains quite firm, varies in size from a speck to complete discoloration of one or more fruitlets.
  • Phytophthora (heart rot) – Is a Fungal disease. The disease affects a range of economic groups, such as food crops such as avocado and pineapple and can cause root rot and dieback on Fraser firs, shortleaf pines, loblolly pines, azaleas, camellia, boxwood, and many other trees and woody ornamentals.

05. Rollina Deliciosa (Rollinia deliciosa)

  • Insecto ataca la fruta
  • Trampas caseras mediante melaza 250ml, 25gr borax, 750ml agua =1L remedio cazero. 1 ventana en la botella 3x3cm,  1/4 lleno de liquido.
  • Trampas para mosca de la fruta. 1 por hectárea. En 2019.

06. Guineo Ceda / Banana (Musa × paradisiaca)

  • Mycosphaerella / Black Sigatoka / Pan-tropical Black leaf streak disease (BLSD) Caused by the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis, formerly known as Mycosphaerella fijiensis. The disease does not immediately kill banana plants, but by interfering with photosynthesis it can negatively impact bunch weight. Under favorable conditions for the fungus, and without chemical control, no functional leaf might be left at harvest and as a result yields can be reduced by 35 to 50%. BLSD also shortens the fruit’s green life, the time between harvest and ripening. Fruits harvested from heavily infected plants ripen prematurely and unevenly, and as a result become unsuitable for export. The need to control the fungus to a level that does not affect the export of the fruit makes it the most economically important leaf disease of banana. High levels of BLSD severity have also been shown to increase susceptibility to crown rot disease
  • Cordana sp. – The Cordana leaf spot is a disease of banana that, even though it is common worlwide, has generally little impact on production. It is caused by two Neocordana fungi that are often found as secondary invaders of leaf lesions caused by other fungi.
  • SOLUTION: Podas limar todas hojas viejas . Dejas 6 plus ojalá bandera. Hijuelas (dejar 3 hijuelos)
Banana Leaf Analysis: Cordana sp.

07. Chontaduro / Palmito (Bactris gasipaes)

  • Insect: plaga “picudo” de palmito – rinchonpuros palmero
  • Termites build their house vertically on the palm
  • Possible solucion: “Coronar las matas”

08. Coco (Cocos nucifera)

  • Oryctes rhinoceros / Coconut rhinoceros beetleV-shaped cuts in palm fronds or holes in leaf midribs caused by beetles boring into crown to feed; adult insect is a large black beetle with a curved spine on its head; larvae are creamy white grubs with brown heads and 3 sets of prolegs at the anterior (head) end.
  • Root wilt disease (RWD) caused by phytoplasma is one of the most devasting diseases of coconut palms. The major symptoms of the disease in leaves are wilting and drooping and flaccidity; ribbing, paling/yellowing and necrosis of leaflets are typical symptoms of foliar diseases. Unopened pale yellow leaflets of spindle leaves are more susceptible to leaf rot disease, which is caused by Exerohilum rostratum and Colletotrichum gloeosporioides. RWD is caused by phytoplasmas, the cell wall-less prokaryotes that are bounded by a ‘‘unit’’ membrane. In ultrathin sections, they appear as a complex multi-branched, beaded, filamentous or spheroidal pleomorphic bodies. The disease was transmitted by plant hoppers (Proutista moesta) and lace wing bug (Stephanitis typica). Phytoplasmas are generally present in the phloem sieve tubes and in the salivary glands of these insect vectors.
  • Solution: “avispas parasitarias” en catamyo ingenio monterey (azucarera)

09. Avocado (Persea americana)

  • Twig girdler beetlesAs the names suggests, these insect pests chew the bark around small branches.
  • “Moroja” Partamona, ApidaeEndemic stingless bees seem to be sucking up the sugar of the avocado…
  • Caterpillars (larvae) All sorts of caterpillars eating the avocado leafs

10. Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica)

  • Leafcutter Ants devouring the tabacco leafs

Soil Analysis Results (2018)

Soil analysis tells us that our soil very hight in iron. And the soil is acidic like moist soil in the region.

  • Main soil type – Ultisol – red clay with high mineral content
  • Some areas containing higher OM than others
  • Historically used as pasture land for over 10 years

Most of the soil sampling points have pH figures of slightly acidic to acidic (lower than pH 7). Which are in accordance with those found in the agronomic studies of those soils. Turning to edaphological characteristics of soils, the predominant type in the area is Typic Dystrundepts which is found to have texture profiles from loam to silty loam, with high water retention capacity. Consequently poor in available nutrients. In addition, as mentioned above, the soils are generally acid. Therefore, they have a low level of natural fertility, which limits their use in farming. Additionally, most of the prospected soils have low permeability.

This category is associated with feasible use (F); normally on the terraces of the Zamora River and areas difficult to access, steep slope areas, such as the high hills that contain natural vegetation with minimal disturbance.

Soil analysis
pH is a measurement acidic_basic water quality (29-03-2018) permatree
Water PH analysis

Visual Status Update 2019

As you can see yourself from the photos below, the visible transformation is massive at the PermaTree operation. It is clearly visible how the Soursop fruit trees have successfully grown. Actually we have pruned them else they would be even grown taller. And of course the Bamboo which is the fastest growing plant on the planet. However there is plenty of work left on site. As a result its a real boost to see how things grow from such a perspective.

The year 2019 started with heavy tropical rains – more than in the past years. Which is like everything, good and lets say also a additional challenge 🙂 When we started with PermaTree back in 2016 all of the farm was a cattle farm with pasture grass. Not only one pasture grass but something like 4 different types. We published a blog post not so long ago about Clearing zone-G for additional Fruit Tree PolyCultures.

Holistic Value Chain

Now that the Raw Material(s) are growing, we are starting to focus on the next steps in our holistic value chain … A holistic value chain integrates all actors into a transparent sequence from farmer to retail, consumer, balancing supply & demand and sharing profits fairly amongst all in proportion to their business risk.
Let us know if you want to be part of this!

Stay tuned 🙂

View: Bottom to Bamboo house 2017 – 2019

Comparision: 1 Apr 2017 vs 14 Feb 2019 = 22.5 month of time difference

Birdview: Bamboo House 2018 – 2019

Comparision: 8 Feb 2018 vs 14 Feb 2019 =~ 360 days 1 year of time difference

Additional Birdview Status

Stingless bees (Apidae, Meliponini)

Just a few days ago (14. January 2019) we have been gifted with a box of endemic “Catana” (Scaptotrigona ederi Schwarz) also known as Meliponini or “stingless bees”. They are twice the size as the “Angelitas” (Tetragonisca angustula) Meliponini stingless bees which are all-ready on the farm since over 2 years now. When we first started the bee hives we got the classic Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) which have been introduced in Ecuador by europeans. So currently we have a total of 3 species on the farm. The Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) which have built their bee hive in two old wooden trunks. One Angelitas hive (Tetragonisca angustula) and now another Catana hive (Scaptotrigona ederi Schwarz). Our bet is on with the Meliponini as you can asume from a holistic point of view. The next years experience will teach us to see how they will impact our fruit trees and on which flowers they will thrive.

The Africanized honey bee was first introduced to Brazil in 1956 in an effort to increase honey production, but 26 swarms escaped quarantine in 1957. Since then, the species has spread throughout South America and arrived in North America in 1985.

Melipona

There are about aproximately 500 species of stingless bees belong to the Meliponini tribe, and these live in tropical and subtropical regions. These bees store honey in cerumen pots, therefore the term “pot-honey” was coined to differentiate them from honey produced in beeswax combs by Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera) and other Apis spp. In Latin America stingless bee keeping is known as meliponiculture, the origin of the term is uncertain, and could be linked to the Melipona genus or to the subfamily Meliponini. The traditional stingless bee keeping or meliponiculture should be protected to prevent its extinction, and paradoxically, stingless bees should be protected from stingless bee keepers for a sustainable instead of predatory practice. Again more holistic worldview also for the Meliponini would really help. The decline of forest and plant species diversity, increase competition for food in large Melipona, and reduce pot-honey yields. Therefore, the traditional practice needs input from current knowledge on stingless bee keeping and environmental protection, to pinpoint an ultimate philosophy “caring gentle bees to protect forests”. As an indicator of the great biodiversity of stingles bees, 89 species of Meliponini are reported in the Southern region of Ecuador.

The temperature of 19 to 30 C, and altitudes between 80 and 900 m.o.s.l. are good for stingless bee life, indeed few species are currently kept. Stingless bees (Hymenoptera; Apidae; Meliponini) are a tropical group with more than 500 known species, and perhaps 100 more to be named. This great biodiversity is mostly represented by Neotropical Meliponini with almost 400 species group.

Stinglessbee (Tetragonisca, Melipona)
Close-up photo: Stinglessbee (Tetragonisca, Melipona)

Catana (dark Scaptotrigona ederi) Meliponini

The dark Scaptotrigona ederi has variable defensive behavior, generally entangles in the hair and bites, therefore the use of the veil is advised for harvesting. But this behavior compared to the Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera) is not a big deal. The Africanized bees tend to be extremely aggressive in our tropical climate and additionally tend to have issues with local natural flora food source. Most likely because they are not endemic to the continent and the flora. What bee keepers tend to do in the region of Zamora-Chinchipe is to keep them alive with a transparent plastic filled with sugar and water or sugarcane so that they can feed on that for energy. With the sugar those bees tend to be even more aggressive. Similar human-hack with the hummingbirds in touristic operations they tend to serve water with sugar to attract hummingbirds. Very few seem to think about the implications and the difference between sugar water and natural nectar… But logically the quality of the Africanized honey bees cannot be compared to the one of other colder climates where the bee can thrive on the surrounding flora. We have no own experience yet with the Catana (dark Scaptotrigona ederi) but all tends to show that the Meliponini have been around in the americas for much longer than the Africanized bees and thus the edndemic Meliponini can adapt and survive much better in our climate.

Although the oldest fossil of a bee in our planet is a stingless bee , and Precolumbian honey was produced only by stingless bees; pot-honey is not included in the national Ecuatorian honey regulations, as of 2019, because they are currently devoted to Apis mellifera which was a species introduced after the discovery of America.

Health Benefits of Meliponini honey

Ecuadorian stingless bees (Apidae, Meliponini) have ethnomedicinal interest because their products are used in healing. Diverse remedies consist on pot-honey alone or mixed with infusions. This set of medicinal uses were informed in El Oro province by Ecuadorian stingless bee keepers -known as meliponicultors in Latin America: Bruises, tumors, ocular cataracts, pterygium, inflammation, infections, varicose veins, cleaning blood after childbirth, kidney diseases, tumor, wound healing, and soothing balm before sleeping.

Medicinal Uses of Melipona Stingless Bees

Pot-honey is widely used alone or mixed with medicinal plants to treat tumors, eyes (ocular cataracts, pterygium), inflammation, sour throat infections, blood (bruises, varicose veins, purifying blood, cleaning blood after childbirth), kidney diseases, wound healing, and soothing balm before sleeping. The most frequent medicinal use was related to blood in 27% of the reported uses.

However, whole body extracts of bees are used as anticancer and antibacterial agents, namely for their antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) (Ratcliffe et al., 2011).

Antibacterial and antioxidant activity of honey vary according to the botanical and entomological (Rodríguez-Malavaer et al., 2007) origin. The bioactive properties of honey are ascribed to specific factors such as the synergistic action of sugar and hydrogen peroxide for wound healing (Kwakman et al., 2010).

Further ongoing studies are of interest to identify the megabiodiversity of stingless bees in Ecuador, the traditional meliponiculture, and medicinal uses of pothoney as ancestral knowledge. Although these pot-honeys were produced and used before Columbus, they are not yet considered in the honey regulations (Vit, 2008). This joint effort besides the characterization of pot-honeys, and its inclusion in the honey standards of the INEN 1572 regulation (Vit et al., unpublished), using the Melipona favosa pot-honey model (Vit, 2013), would increase its current value in the market up to USD 27/kg, promote the study of its medicinal properties and praise the activity of meliponicultors. The role of honey is perceived therapeutic in 90% of multispecies medicinal recipes.

The ecological contribution of stingless bees as organisms is encapsulated in their pollinating service to about 50% of flowering plant species in the Neotropics (Biesmeijer, 1997) and Australia (Heard, 1999). The role of honey is perceived as therapeutic in 90% of multispecies medicinal recipes from Misiones, Argentina (Kujawsca, 2012).

Besides the nutritional, organoleptic and sanitary values of a medicinal food like honey, an enterprising concept on the quality of the agri-food systems –as reviewed by Monastra and Crisponi (2013), considers animal welfare and defence of the ecosystem, as practiced by stingless bee keepers in modern days.

Chemical Composition of Ecuadorian Commercial Pot-Honeys

Pot-honey produced by Trigona is the most different from Apis mellifera with free acidity some 12-20 times higher than the maximum of 40 meq/kg, double water content of the maximum 20 g/100 g, and a third of the minimum 65 g/100 g of reducing sugars. Pot-honey produced by Melipona and Scaptotrigona may fulfill Apis mellifera standards, with a slightly higher moisture up to 27.88 g/100 g and free acidity up to 76.77 g/100 g, but lower contents of reducing sugars (50.75-63.38) g/100 g. Sucrose content of pot-honey produced by Trigona, Melipona and Scaptotrigona is lower than 5 g/100 g in the Apis mellifera honey standards. Smell and aroma were more “floral” for Melipona, “citrusy” for Trigona and “pollen” for Scaptotrigona pot-honey.

Conclusion

Pot-honeys produced by Ecuadorian Trigona fuscipennis “abeja de tierra”, Melipona mimetica “bermejo” and Scaptotrigona ederi “catiana” where characterized, and suggested chemical quality standards were compared with those of Apis mellifera honey. Sensory analysis was useful to describe the diversity of entomological origin and also to assess the acceptance of pot-honey. Further data is needed to reduce the HMF standard, as is the case for the Melipona honey standard of the State of Bahia, Brazil, with a lower HMF limit, up to 10 mg/kg.

Bee fauna of some tropical and exotic fruits: potential pollinators and their conservation. Read full publication here

Fauna: Polinator and Heliconia

Best Tropical Flowering Plants

So from a holistic perspective it makes sense to have flowers. The question is then obviously which flowers are endemic to our tropical climate (Excessive rain and sun) and which flowers have which uses. The more uses-cases a flower has, the better. Thats core permaculture philosophy.

One uses-case was, is the flower edible – can humans eat it? Is it medicinal? Does it attract special insects or birds? If yes how does this fauna interact with its environment? Depending on the flower color it will attract different fauna. Also depending on the scent of each flower this will also be attracting different fauna.

According to literature white flowers which have no scent are less attractive to overall fauna. We know in the case of the soursop tropical fruit flower that because of the flower being white and having no scent we would get only about 10% pollination naturally if we do not pollinate the flower manually or research for fauna which may help such as the endemic Melipona (stingless honey bees endemic to South America)…

Is it medicinal? Does it attract special insects or birds? If yes how does this fauna interact with its environment? Depending on the flower color it will attract different fauna. Also depending on the scent of each flower this will also be attracting different fauna. According to literature white flowers which have no scent are less attractive to overall fauna. We know in the case of the soursop tropical fruit flower that because of the flower being white and having no scent we would get only about 10% pollination naturally if we do not pollinate the flower manually or research for fauna which may help such as the endemic melipona (stingless honey bees endemic to South America)…

Interestingly many flowers or shrubs we knew from Europe in dwarf size grow really tall in the tropical region of Ecuador. Makes sense, being endemic to the tropical climate 🙂 Logically any life will thrive in its natural habitat.

So a general recommendation before choosing flowers you may want to have or plant in your garden is to research about the endemic flowers in your environment (Your region, your surroundings). (1) Research about your climate or in the USA your USDA Hardiness Zones (11 separate planting zones exist). (2) Plant seeds or divide existing plants and replanting the cutting. (3) Take care of your flowering plants.

Speaking of our biggest challenge at the PermaTree farm here in Ecuador was to get the seeds… Mission Impossible. Lots of local people like to focus on exotic flowers and trees here. Exotic in this case meaning non-tropical like for example Rose flowers and pine trees… Or the Eucaliptus tree which was introduced to Ecuador in the late 1800’s from the swamp regions of Australia. Nowadays its the dominant tree in the Loja and Sierra region of Ecuador and it can be invasive, taking over large tracts of land. It grows back like a weed from the same stump and seeds itself very easily. Eucalyptus leaves are highly acidic; damaging soils around their base for years after the tree is gone. They also have long shallow roots that suck up all the water surrounding the tree. So back to the seeds, we where able to find a few heliconias within the farm and a few neighboring farms but comparing to the Orchids very little people care about the Heliconias.

Now the below list is according to our own priorities and likings but from a holistic approach:

Heliconia (Heliconia spp.)

Heliconia
Heliconia

Heliconias are attractive tropical plants with banana-like leaves and beautiful, long lasting inflorescences composed of showy bracts which contain the true flowers. There is only one genus in this family (Heliconia), and between 200 and 250 species, native mostly to the Americas, but a few species are found in the South Pacific. They range from 0.5 to nearly 4.5 meters tall depending on the species. They also come in brilliant colors that last all year long; pink, red, yellow, green, white and orange. Now it is quite a popular trend among people that grow Heliconias to cut them and use them in a vase as decoration. If you choose to do this, remember to check their water level daily. Also you may need to cut their stems every two or three days, just to ensure effective water uptake.  Heliconias are an important food source for forest hummingbirds, especially the hermits (Phathornithinae), some of which – such as the rufous-breasted hermit (Glaucis hirsuta) – also use the plant for nesting. Although Heliconia are almost exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds, some bat pollination has been found to occur. Hummingbirds are the main pollinators of heliconia flowers in many locations. The concurrent diversification of hummingbird-pollinated taxa in the order Zingiberales and the hummingbird family (Trochilidae: Phaethorninae) starting 18 million years ago supports the idea that these radiations have influenced one another through evolutionary time. Specific species of Heliconia were found to have specific hummingbird pollinators. These hummingbirds can be organized into two different groups: hermits and non-hermits. Hermits are the subfamily Phaethornithinae, consisting of the genera Anopetia, Eutoxeres, Glaucis, Phaethornis, Ramphodon, and Threnetes. Non-hermits are a catch-all group of other hummingbirds that often visit heliconias, comprising several clades (McGuire 2008). Hermits are generally traplining foragers; that is, individuals visit a repeated circuit of high-reward flowers instead of holding fixed territories Non-hermits are territorial over their Heliconia clumps, causing greater self-pollination. Hermits tend to have long curved bills while non-hermits tend to possess short straight bills, a morphological difference that likely spurred the divergence of these groups in the Miocene era. Characteristics of Heliconia flowers that select for either hermit or non-hermit pollinator specificity are degree of self-compatibility, flowering phenology, nectar production, color, and shape of flower. The hummingbird itself will choose the plants its feeds from on the basis of its beak shape, its perch on the plant, and its territory choice. Hummingbird visits to the Heliconia flower do not affect its production of nectar. This may account for the flowers not having a consistent amount of nectar produced from flower to flower. Different Heliconia species have different flowering seasons. This suggests that the species compete for pollinators. Many species of Heliconia, even the newly colonized species, are visited by many different pollinators.

Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)

Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)
Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia)

This flower is called bird of paradise flower, because of a resemblance of its flowers to birds-of-paradise. Propagation: They are pollinated by sunbirds, which use the spathe as a perch when visiting the flowers. The weight of the bird when standing on the spathe opens it to release the pollen onto the bird’s feet, which is then deposited on the next flower it visits. Strelitzia lack natural insect pollinators; in areas without sunbirds, plants in this genus generally need hand pollination in order to successfully set seed. By using birds rather than smaller insects to do the pollinating it means as the plant ages and gets bigger rather than the plant producing ever increasing numbers of the same sized flowers, as you find in many other houseplants, what you’ll notice is the blooms themselves tend to also get larger and larger. The flowers attract bees, which are important members of any garden. Sunbirds are known to drink the nectar out of the flowers. Propagation Very mature Bird of Paradise plants will produce offsets which can be cut free and potted up, although this can be difficult. Bird of Paradise seeds with a tuff of orange hair. A more convenient method is to try and grow new plants from seeds. Like the flowers in which they are created, they are quite something with their largish seeds that have a tuff of orange hair. Pull off the hair, pot up in soil and place in a warm place. Germination is often erratic and unreliable but you can increase your chances by nicking the outer seed coat a tiny bit. This will allow water to move deep into the seed to trigger the germination.

Hibiscus

Red Hibiscus
Red Hibiscus

The name of this flower is derived from the Greek name (hibiskos). A tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is known for its red color, tart flavor, and vitamin C content. Dried hibiscus is edible, and it is often a delicacy in Mexico. It can also be candied and used as a garnish, usually for desserts. Hibiscus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some lepidopteran species, including Chionodes hibiscella, Hypercompe hambletoni, the nutmeg moth, and the turnip moth. Although some types of hibiscus are hardy in northern climates, the most commonly grown are natives of tropical Asia (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). Glossy, dark green leaves shine behind 6-inch flowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, coral, pink, blue-purple, and white. To keep hibiscus blooming, provide high light. Several hours of direct sun per day is best. Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet. Hibiscus flowers on new wood, so don’t prune or you will lose flower buds. To keep the plant more compact and attractive, prune it back in late winter. At the same time, root-prune and repot it in fresh soil. Hibiscus will shed its leaves when conditions change, but will quickly regenerate leaves on old stems. Plumeria species may be propagated easily by cutting leafless stem tips.

Plumeria (Plumeria sp.)

Plumeria rubra White
Plumeria rubra White

This flower is named after French botanist Charles Plumier, who explored New World tropics. The Plumeria is a flowering plant, most species are shrubs or small trees. The species variously are indigenous to Mexico, Central America, Hawaii and the Caribbean, and as far south as Brazil. Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers yield no nectar, however, and simply trick their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar. Insects or human pollination can help create new varieties of plumeria. Plumeria trees from cross pollinated seeds may show characteristics of the mother tree or their flowers might just have a totally new look. Plumeria do best in full sun with at least a half day’s sun exposure to bloom properly.

Bromelia

Bromelia
Bromelia in tree branch

Some Bromelia grow on the ground, but most species are epiphytes living in trees. As often the leaves of Bromeliads wrap around their stems they may form small pools of rainwater. Some species can hold several gallons of water inaccessible to fishes. These tiny little pools provide safe conditions for aquatic fauna such as tadpoles of frogs and larvae of insects. Other critters include snails, beetles, mosquito larvae, etc. When they die, their bodies decay and function as fertilizers to the host plants. As Bromeliads are often colorful, they’re becoming more and more popular as ornamental plants. The most economically significant plant in the family Bromeliaceae is the pineapple. The Ananas comosus is a tropical plant with an edible multiple fruit consisting of coalesced berries, also called pineapple.

Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia and Datura selections)

Angel's trumpet
Angel’s trumpet

Brugmansia selections offer trumpet-shape white, pink, peach, or yellow blooms that dangle downward. In a warm climate, angel’s trumpet can quickly grow several feet in just one season. Every part of the angel trumpet is highly poisonous, including the leaves, flowers, seeds and roots. All contain the toxic alkaloids scopolamine, atropine and hyoscyamine, which are widely synthesized into modern medicinal compounds but are deadly poisonous if used outside a doctor’s supervision. And if the plant has a fair amount of sun, it will produce blooms all summer long. Blooms are fragrant at night when its pollinators are active. Many Datura selections offer trumpet-shape, upward-facing flowers. Outdoors, grow both types in moist, well-drained soil in bright, indirect light. The plants are heavy feeders, so fertilize them regularly in spring and summer with a general-purpose fertilizer. Reduce water and fertilizer during fall and winter months. Beware: All parts are poisonous. The Angels trumpet is a plant we do see a lot in all of South America. During our exploration we have seen it in Samaipata, Bolivia as well as in Medellin, Colombia and its all over Ecuador. Angel trumpets attract many skipper moths, bees, and the scent even draws in butterflies.

Bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea spp.)

Bougainvilleas
Bougainvilleas

Are the warriors of the tropical flower group. They are strong and it seems like the harsher the conditions the more they flourish. This is why they can be seen growing wild in many places. Bougainvillea can be a variety of colors including red, pink, yellow, orange and lilac. Bougainvillea is actually a vine with very thick branches and they make beautiful decoration for inside the home and even on balconies. Bougainvillea plants grow a lot in the urban and villages of the local people in South Amazonas region of Ecuador. Although bougainvillea flowers contain both male and female components, they are not self-fertile, and need cross-pollination from other bougainvillea plants to produce seeds. The flower’s nectar is kept in a structure called a nectary, which is a swollen area at the base of the tubular flower. Colorful bougainvillea flower do attract Birds and Butterflies too. Generally speaking white, pink, purple, red, yellow and orange flowers attract the most butterflies.

Flowering maple (Abutilon selections)

Flowering maple
Flowering maple

Named because of their delicate leaf shape, are native to tropical regions of the world. Their bell-shape flowers, in yellow, orange, pink, or red, open wide and dangle slightly from slim stems. Some types have variegated foliage. Abutilons, nicknamed parlor maples, are easy to grow and bloom all spring and summer. Grow them in medium to bright light. Keep the soil extremely moist but avoid letting the plant stand in water. The Butterflies and hummingbirds do love the nectar of the Abutilons so there is definitely a great use case for this flower.

Orchids (Orchidaceae)

Orchid
Orchid

In the Amazon region more than 25,000 species have been described, most of which being Epiphytes. Orchids have many different shapes and some have exuberant colors, while others are green. Ecuador has 4,032 classified species with an additional 400 species in the process of being classified. Of the 4,032 species, 1,714 are endemic to Ecuador. A consistent climate gives orchids an ideal environment to grow, and these striking flowers are found in three regions of Ecuador (1) the mountain range (home to 66% of Ecuador’s orchids) (2) Amazon basin (3) and the coast. Some popular orchid species include Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda and Oncidium. Orchids can be considered a little high maintenance as there are specific watering, fertilizing and sunlight guidelines, and these guidelines tend to be species specific.  Orchids are highly commercial. Alone Ecuador exports more than 8000 varieties of orchids! Its crazy and from a holistic point of view does not really make sense because Orchid belong to their specific endemic region. And most likely a sold orchid in Europe will spent the rest of its days in a apartment or a building and not in a natural habitat. This is why Orchids should be watered every 5-12 days, anything over this can actually kill your orchid. At PermaTree we have found Orchids all over the farm bust mostly in the forest jungle part which is wilder and and more humid because of all the vegetation. Orchids that offer nectar or mimic food can attract a wide variety of food-seeking pollinators — bees, wasps, flies, ants and so on. But sexual displays are only attractive to the males of a single species — a flower that looks like a female wasp is only going to attract male wasps, not other insects.

Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)

Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)
Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)

The plant produces orange, apricot or white flowers in clusters and the hairy flowers a resemble lion’s ears, hence the name (lion colored). The flowers produce nectar which attracts birds, bees and butterflies. The fruits are 2 mm nutlets. All the plant parts have a strong mint smell similar to other Lamiaceae species. At PermaTree we can see daily how the Hummingbirds visit the Klip Dagga orange flowers to get some fresh nectar. Klip Dagga flowers thrive in our tropical humid climate but especially in microclimates underneath roofs where its less humid and the soil is drier. They also tent to grow after the rainy season when its less humid. So this is something to keep in mind. We got seeds from a field in the region of Vilcabamba near Loja in Ecuador.

Flowers that attract birds

From a holistic and practical approach we want to know what plants with flowers attract which birds or insects to increase the diversity on site. The birds are mostly attracted to the seeds or and the nectar or the flower as source of energy. Below you find a good overview of what hues attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies and Bees. Of course those are not endemic for tropical climate but it gives you a fair idea on how you can design your surroundings.

Basic rules of coexistence

Since we work with volunteers all over the world at PermaTree we have learned that its key to be as clear as possible with everything. Starting from the volunteer information pack to how to co-exist. And to not expect anything from anybody. In the best case we will be positively surprised else no big deal either. Expect from some basic social norms which we want to share with you here and now. Those social norms seem obsolete nowadays but believe me when I tell you that its not clear to every PermaTree visitor / volunteer …

Once all the participants are aware of the basic social norms – communication is a level simpler. Its really a great tool within any organization IMHO.

The rules of coexistence are a set of social norms that are as important to follow for everyone, as teaching a child the alphabet or eating with cutlery … They are the norms that assure us to live in peace and harmony, avoiding discord. Good coexistence is based on teaching to understand and respect the rights of others and accept that there are obligations to fulfill, because without them, each would do what seemed most appropriate and we would fall into disharmony and respect for others.

  • If you arrive – Greet
  • If you are leaving – Say goodbye
  • If you don’t understand? – Ask
  • If someone speaks to you – Answer
  • If you get a favor – Thank for it
  • If you made a promise – Comply
  • If you offend – Apologize
  • If you have – Share
  • If you don’t have – Do not envy
  • If you make a mess – Clean
  • If you think different – Respect
  • If you love – Show it
  • If you don’t want to help – Don’t hinder
  • If you break something – Repair it
  • If you borrow – Give it back
  • If you turn something on – Turn it off
  • If you open – Close

Core Philosophy

Additionally to the above mentioned Basic Rules of Coexistence we have the PermaTree Core Philosophy – about the Holistic Eco-Centric approach which is based upon healthiness on the micro level, empathy and tolerance on the cultural level, and holistic cultivation and interconnectedness on the macro level. On the contrary a person who is not yet on a eco centric approach is much more focused on itself. It has the self for its center, the individual. And therefore is not yet having the mindset which enables think holistically. The ego-centric perspective is immature and adolescent, suffering from a plethora of insecurities, anxieties, and neurosis. Unfortunately, our society is grossly egocentric. Read more about Ego-centric VS Eco-centric

Last but not least we have defined the Three Key Pillars of PermaTree

  • 1. Appreciation (It means showing respect and understanding as well as gratitude. Organizations thrive on appreciation.)
  • 2. Commitment (Is the feeling of responsibility that a person has towards the mission and goals of an organization)
  • 3. Sociable (Willing to interact by exchanging experiences, ideas, brainstorming, asking questions, voicing your issues clearly)

Giant Bamboo (Dendrocalamus Asper) clearing out thinning of culms

Bamboo clearing out or thinning of culms

We just finalized the clearing out or thinning of culms from our 2 years ago planted, over 400 bamboo plants. Bamboo is unconventional part of our tropical food forest at the PermaTree farm.

Pruning or trimming back bamboo can be used as a means for encouraging even more rapid growth.

The world record for the fastest growing plant belongs to certain species of the 45 genera of bamboo, which have been found to grow at up to 91 cm (35 in) per day or at a rate of 0.00003 km/h (0.00002 mph) (!)

Bamboo PermaTree Ecuador Dec 2018 - Giant Bamboo / Dendrocalamus Asper Bamboo PermaTree Ecuador Dec 2018 - Dendrocalmaus Asper / Giant Bamboo

All the bamboo plant needs to do, is fill the cell with (mostly) water, which bamboos, as members of the grass family, are very efficient at doing. The strategy of growth by elongation is common among grasses. Typically the roots don’t grow anymore than 50cm below the surface of the ground. Older, more established plants, usually at least 3 years in the ground, will grow faster than newly planted ones.

There are 2 methods for trimming clumping bamboo in order to encourage growth. The first is an annual trimming of older and dead culms, which allows the plant to conserve more energy for producing new shoots. Second, many bamboos require an annual pruning in order to look its best, which also serves the purpose of diverting the plant’s energy into producing more root growth and new shoots.

Bambusa vulgaris Vittarta - PermaTree clearing out thinning of culms Bambusa vulgaris Vittarta - PermaTree clearing out thinning of culms

1) Lifecycle of the culm: As each individual culm goes through a 5– to 7-year lifecycle, culms are ideally allowed to reach this level of maturity prior to full capacity harvesting. The clearing out or thinning of culms, particularly older decaying culms, helps to ensure adequate light and resources for new growth. Well-maintained clumps may have a productivity three to four times that of an unharvested wild clump. Consistent with the lifecycle described above, bamboo is harvested from two to three years through to five to seven years, depending on the species.

2) Annual cycle: As all growth of new bamboo occurs during the wet season, disturbing the clump during this phase will potentially damage the upcoming crop. Also during this high-rainfall period, sap levels are at their highest, and then diminish towards the dry season. Picking immediately prior to the wet/growth season may also damage new shoots. Hence, harvesting is best a few months prior to the start of the wet season.

3) Daily cycle: During the height of the day, photosynthesis is at its peak, producing the highest levels of sugar in sap, making this the least ideal time of day to harvest. Many traditional practitioners believe the best time to harvest is at dawn or dusk on a waning moon.

 

Permaculture presentation in Spanish

For our Spanish speaking visitors we have published a presentation about what Permaculture is. Maybe ill find some time to translate it to English … one day 🙂

¿Qué es Permacultura?
Mesa medio ambiente, Valle de las luciernagas, Zamora Chinchipe, Amazonas, Ecuador

Introducción a la Permacultura

¿Salvar el planeta tierra?

La permacultura es un sistema holístico con principios y técnicas para conseguir la sostenibles a largo plazo, sin explotar recursos o contaminar.

Cultura + Permanente = Permacultura Masanobu Fukuoka, Japon (Asia) 1913 – 2008 David Holmgren, Australia 1955 – hoy Sepp Holzer, Austria (Europa) 1942 – Hoy Bill Mollison, Australia 1928 -2016 Técnicas ancestrales (10’000 años) cultura globales

La bioingeniería, la sostenibilidad medioambiental, la gestión de los recursos o la arquitectura sostenible y su integración dentro de una comunidad a través de un sistema económico y político son algunos de los aspectos que forman parte de la permacultura.
La permacultura es la filosofía de trabajar con, y no en contra de la naturaleza; de observación prolongada y reflexiva, en lugar de labores prolongadas e inconscientes; de entender a las plantas y los animales en todas sus funciones, en lugar de tratar a la áreas como sistemas mono-productivos.

“Concienciar a la gente de la necesidad ya no solo de que sean productores de sus propios alimentos sino de que se den cuenta de dónde proceden los alimentos que se consumen en general”.

De que se trata entonces la Permacultura?

Mejor Herramienta?
Hamaca!

Basura?
Principio Nr.6 de permacultura: No hay tal cosa como basura, solo recursos desperdiciados.

Principio Nr.1 de permacultura: Observa e interactúa

Oportunidades con la permacultura

  • Vivir más sanamente – mejor salud
  • No gastar en agroquímicos
  • La productividad de las tierras se mejoran Menos plagas – mas equilibrado
  • Turismo educativo – Viajar para aprender
  • Turismo para jóvenes universitarios, Estudiantes de Erasmus, Seminarios y ponencias y extranjeros jubilados de tercera edad (Cuenca y Quito).
  • Ecoturismo Actividades turísticas en el cual se privilegia la sostenibilidad, la preservación, la apreciación del medio (tanto natural como cultural) que acoge y sensibiliza a los viajantes. Ojo – el Turismo de aventura, sol y playa, acampar, pesca o cualquier actividad turística de convivencia con la naturaleza no es ecoturismo.

Experiment: Bamboo Vegetative Method Reproduction

Experiment: Bamboo Vegetative Method Reproduction

Bamboos can be propagated either by reproductive method or vegetative method. Reproductive method involves the production of new bamboo plants through seeds while the vegetative method makes use of vegetative parts such as rhizomes, culms and branches.

Giant bamboo = Dendrocalamus giganteus, also known as dragon bamboo or one of several species called giant bamboo, is a giant tropical and subtropical, dense-clumping species native to Southeast Asia. It is one of the largest bamboo species in the world. 

5 days later. Successful experiment with giant bamboo.

As you can see the seedling was a adult culm (15cm width) with roots. Now the son has already surpassed it in height! This is the so called vegetative method which makes use of vegetative parts such as rhizomes, culms and branches.

Generally just before and during the wet season are the best times of the year to propagate bamboo, if water is available, it can be done at any time.

Important: We did several test and the one which worked well was the culm which still had some branches left. So it seems that to thrive the bamboo culm needs some roots 1-2cm and also a few branches with leaves to adapt and grow. Its kind of tricky.

Update 6 month later the same giant bamboo looks like this with a total of 3 new culms

Giant Bamboo Leafs

Giant Bamboo Leafs Close-up

 

Giant Bamboo Leaf can reach up to 20cm in size