Flags and Tables

This year we are trying to be more organized and systematic with our tree planting and seedling production. We enjoy buying trees and seeds a lot and hope to do better at taking care of and keeping track of all the things we’ve bought and planted.

There’s an excellent guide to reforestation called “How to Plant a Forest: The Principles and Practice of Restoring Tropical Forests” by Forest Restoration Research Unit of Chiang Mai University. We hope to incorporate many of the practices mentioned in that guide at our project. The guidebook used to be available on their website as a free download. Their website doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so I’ve put a downloadable copy here!

This was available as a free download from the FORRU website, but I can’t find the link anymore. Click on the link above to download.

According to the guidebook, these are essential features of a tree nursery:

  • shaded area with benches for seed germination, protected from seed predators by wire mesh
  • shaded area for potted seedlings, with removable shade for hardening
  • work area for seed preparation
  • reliable water supply
  • lockable storage for materials and tools
  • fence to keep out stray animals
  • shelter and toilet for staff and visitors

We converted an old unused piggery that the previous land owners built into a new nursery.

On the right side is the lockable area for tools and equipment, the left side is the work area and storage area of potting mix materials
The tables are incredibly heavy!

The tables are a great improvement! The seedlings are now easy to see and organize. In our old nursery, the seedling bags were on bare ground. The roots of some seedlings would go through the bag and into the ground! It is hard to extricate the seedlings from the ground once this happens.

There are a lot of nursery practices described in the book that we want to incorporate into our nursery. Things like keeping better records, how to harden off the seedlings before planting them, and using root trainers.

According to the guide, these are the basic steps in tree planting:

  • Stake out the area where you will plant the seedlings. Mark the spots with a 50 cm stake. Space the seedlings randomly or 1.8 meters apart.
  • Distribute the seedlings among the people planting. Use baskets to carry the seedlings.
  • Dig the planting hole using a hoe. The hole should be 2x the volume of the container. Clear the weeds in a 50 to 100 cm diameter circle around the planting hole.
  • Remove the seedling from the bag making sure to keep the root ball intact. Slash the bag if necessary.
  • Plant the seedling. Make sure the root collar is level witht he soil surface. Fill in with loose soil. Press down with the palm of the hand to make it firm.
  • Add fertilizer.
  • Cover with mulch.
  • Water the seedling.
  • Replace the stake.
  • Clean up the site and remove the plastic bags.
Bamboo stake and flag made of and old blanket and yarn.
Using vermicast as fertilizer. Forgot to put the wood chip mulch on top!

The bamboo stakes and flags make it much easier to see where the seedlings are planted. This will help a lot in keeping track of the newly planted seedlings. Another option to making flags is to paint stripes on the stakes.

These simple improvements have made something that was already fun even better!

Worm Composting Update. Now Even Easier.

If you have horse poop, then you have a great opportunity to make a LOT of worm compost or vermicast. Vermicast is the poop of worms, usually a particular type of worm that lends itself well to composting. With worms, the end material is greater than the sum of the parts that were put into it! Through their digestion, the worms convert the horse poop into an excellent, all natural, complete fertilizer that improves the structure of the soil and makes it hold more water.

I wrote about worm composting in this earlier post https://sylviatramos.blog/2018/01/23/easy-vermicomposting-with-african-night-crawlers/

I was sort of forced to simplify my technique when the wood barrels I was using failed. During the summer, I did not realize that the gaps in the barrels had sealed up and my worms got overheated. It got steamy inside the barrels. Sad to say, some of the worms melted! I moved the worms to a raised bed for vegetables that wasn’t being used. They’ve stayed there since summer because they’re doing better than ever on the ground! All the things I thought I knew about worm care previously has been turned on its head!

the worm bed under shade netting



What I learned from the worms

I didn’t think they would do well on the ground, but it now makes sense! I think their current environment is more natural. I kept them in containers before because I was worried about them either crawling away or being eaten by ants. I think some of the birds are able to get into the worm bin, but on the whole the worms seem to be doing much better than in the barrels. I don’t think any of them have run away!

My current on the ground set up has better drainage and ventilation than the old set up. Before when I would harvest the vermicast, I would classify it as Grade A, B, or C. Now all of my harvest is Grade A!

vermicast
when the worms are done, it all looks like this!


I also found just the right gadget for sifting the vermicast. It’s a big and flexible Tubtrug colander. I carefully sift the compost to make sure the worms don’t get mixed into the harvest and also to remove all the uncomposted bits. When I’m sifting, it feels like I’m returning a lot of it back into the worm bed. But when I’m done, my yield is much more than before! I’m now getting a lot more vermicast for the same amount of horse poop compost. I am able to harvest so much vermicast that I was able to give out big bags of it to close friends and relatives during the holidays!

I water the worms with water that has been left out to sit for at least 24 hours. This is to make sure that the chlorine in the water evaporates.

This is what it looks like when the horse poop compost is freshly applied.

horse poop compost

And this is what if looks like after 21 days.

Let There Be Ponds!

We are harnessing the power of water to restore, rehabilitate, and rejuvenate our property and make it more attractive to wildlife. One way to do this is to make a lot of ponds! The ponds catch and store rainwater so it can be used by plants and animals instead of just running off the land. We don’t use pond liners so that the water can eventually sink into the water table to recharge it.

We are making all sorts of ponds and trying different pond building techniques.

Our very first pond was built in February 2015. It’s our biggest and deepest pond. It was build by hand by 6 people.  We wanted Pond No. 1 to be deep so it would hold more water for a longer time The deepest section is two meters deep.

The workers also built two smaller ponds near Pond No. 1. We learned from these smaller ponds that even smaller ponds can hold water for a long time. It’s not that necessary to make the ponds very deep.

In 2016 Tonji decided that he wanted to build the ponds himself. We bought a small backhoe. He built Pond #4 in March 2016. This pond has a small island in the center. It was very popular with the ducks last year! This pond was later renamed Secret Pond.

In 2017 we didn’t build any ponds. Tonji did some pond maintenance and enlarged Pond No. 3.

This year Tonji completed two ponds and is working on a third! It took him 9 days to build Pond No. 5. This pond has a back “wall” made up of mounded dirt that is supposed to hold water and add depth to the pond. At the other end it tapers out to a shallow overflow area. Tonji thinks his backhoe is equivalent to 4 men digging. This pond was finished quickly with the help of workers to move the dirt out and finish the sides by hand. This pond was later renamed Owl Pond.

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First he clears the grass with the grass cutter
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Oops, stop digging while Barkely inspects the work!
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Momo’s turn to inspect the work
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Pond No. 5 after one day of rain

Pond No. 6 took only two days to build! It is a small pond that Tonji hopes will provide water for the trees growing by the side. This pond was later renamed Picnic Pond.

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start of Pond No. 6
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Pond No. 6 or Picnic Pond almost finished, will be tapered by hand

Pond No. 7 is still under construction. Tonji says this is going to be a big pond. This pond was later renamed Faraway Pond.

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Day one of Pond No. 7 or Faraway Pond
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Tonji’s companion while digging for 3 days! 

Pond Stats:

Pond No. 1
built from 25 Feb 2015 to 27 March 2015
current dimension: 17m x 8 m

Pond No. 2
built 2015
did not measure

Pond No. 3 (in 2019 Tonji said he doesn’t really count this as a pond)
built 2015
current dimension: 7m x 4m

Pond No. 4 (now called Secret Pond)
built March 2016
did not measure

Pond No. 5 (now called Owl Pond)
built February 2018  in 9 days
current dimension: 7m x 10m

Pond No. 6 (now called Picnic Pond)
built March 2018 in 2 days
current dimension: 6m x 5m

Pond No. 7 (now called Faraway Pond)
started March 2018
still under construction

note: in 2019 we renamed the ponds. We retained the names of Pond #1 and Pond #2. The rest were renamed because I could not keep track of which pond was which!