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January 26, 2012

The Jackfruit Manifesto

Jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus, is one of the most successful and strangest plants at Project Bona Fide. Jackfruit is the archetypal Permaculture Rock Star - a term I once overheard Chris using on a tour. Permaculture Rock Stars are multi-purpose crops that meet a wide range of human needs, are resilient, require minimal maintenance and provide environmental services. Jackfruit typifies this: it is a tree crop while a thousand uses, makes it through five month dry season, grows and produces rapidly, and helps out the overall system.

There has been an incredible amount of research, experimentation, and learning that has been done at the Finca over the past 10 years, but much of it only remains available to people that visit the site. This series of blogs is an attempt to rectify that - to share the best, most productive plants and trees we have found with all of you, for others farming in Nicaragua, for people farming in similar climates around the globe, or just for inspiration. Since I spend most my time at the Finca these days climbing, harvesting, processing, and getting covered in jackfruit, and having been named Jackfruit Jim, I figure it’s a good tree to start with.


The Tree

Jackfruit is a weird tree. I don’t know what evolutionary process or Hindu god dreamt it up, but it really shouldn’t exist. The fruit looks weird: it’s a large oval up to three feet long with a thick, green or yellow skin covered in small spikes. These fruits can weigh up to 110 lbs, making it the world’s largest tree fruit. The tree bears fruit on its stems, so you’ll often see two or three feet long fruit hanging directly off of a tree’s trunk.

Jackfruit tastes weird: its flavor was the original taste base for Juicyfruit. People either love it or hate it. But it can do an amazing variety of things. Its flesh, seeds, leaves, and flowers are all edible and used in a thousand different ways. Animals love all parts of it. The wood is prized for musical instruments in the Phillipines, and also produces a dye that gives Buddhist monks’ robes their distinctive orange color.

Originating the rainforests of Malaysia and India, jackfruit trees are medium-sized trees, 25 to 85 feet in height. They can be grafted, and many specific cultivars are, but ours are all grown from seed. All of ours are grown incredibly fast from seed - up to 2 meters per year - and incredibly easily from seed: planted in bags in our nursery, jackfruit seedlings are nurtured and watered for one year before outplanting. After that, we sort of ignore it and let it do its thing.

Liz with Jackfruit

We have a 5 month dry season here on Isla Ometepe. This is our biggest limiting factor in plant growth and species selection. Lacking water pressure for an extensive irrigation system, we need trees that do not need much water for five month periods, that are supremely drought-tolerant. Jackfruit is this to the extreme. We outplant seedlings at the start of the wet season, and give them a few buckets of water over the following dry season to help them establish. After that, we never irrigate them. Even in their second year in the ground, they can make through the 5 month dry season without damage. In fact, they seem to thrive with it.

And while they need to be weeded monthly for the first year or three, jackfruit trees, within 5 years, get big enough and drop enough leaf litter to shade out and suppress surrounding weeds. Thus, we don’t really need to weed or mulch the trees - they do it themselves. Intercropping jackfruit with nitrogen-fixing trees that are regularly pruned and mulched supplies the tree with all the nutrients it needs.

Right now, the only labor necessary in our 6 year old jackfruit orchard is harvesting and processing. We have to climb trees and find ripe fruits before the hurrakas do. And then we have to process them - separating good flesh, bad flesh, seeds, skin and core from each other, and boiling and peeling the seeds before using fruit and seed in an infinite array of manners. Its a labor intensive process, but we get lessons from the best:

The Thousand Uses of Jackfruit

For something that requires such little labor, jackfruit gives us a lot. Jackfruit trees provide pretty much every type of food imaginable. The fruit, ripe and unripe, seeds, leaves, and flowers are all edible. You could make a delicious three course meal using only jackfruit. Seriously - you start with jackfruit seed hummus or falafel, or maybe young leaf and grated jackfruit flower salad. The main course could be either unripe fruit and seed curry, a staple in southern India, or an American might want barbecue unripe jackfruit, as it has a texture resembling meat, with a side of mashed jackfruit, which is incredibly similar to mashed potatoes. And for dessert a cake made of jackfruit seed flour and jackfruit flavor, with a scoop of jackfruit ice cream. After dinner you can take home a jar of jackfruit jam, jelly, or chutney. Maybe dried and candied jackfruit, or a jar of jackfruit seed hummus. At Indian Jackfruit festivals, people share hundreds of different uses and value-added products for jackfruit.


Jackfruit seed hummus and jackfruit seed patties


Unripe jackfruit w/ mole sauce and jackfruit seed falafel

Just look at what the giant fruit can become. It can be a green vegetable or fresh fruit. The seeds can be roasted or turned into a variety of value-added products like hummus. The fresh fruit can become jam and jelly - and because the fruit itself is super sweet and its shell has a large amount of pectin, you can make the entire jam with no other additives. We add some cinnamon and ginger - both of which we grow on the farm.

Jackfruit trees also provide much, much more than food. The leaves and fruit make great livestock, pig, and poultry fodder. The timber is prized for construction, furniture, and musical instruments. The latex can used be used for gum - and the ripe fruit’s flavor is the original basis of Juicyfruit gum, meaning you can make your own Juicyfruit gum just from a jackfruit tree. The wood can also be chipped to produce a orange dye that was used in southeast Asia to give Buddhist monks’ robes their distinctive orange colors. We plan on experimenting with this in our sewing workshop at Mano Amiga.


Jackfruit trees provides many environmental services, increasing the overall health and productivity of a site while providing its diverse yield, if placed properly. With a thick, spreading root system and heavy leaf litter, jackfruit trees can help reduce erosion and run-off, especially on steep slopes. They also make a great windbreak - they can stand up to hurricane force winds with little damage, and because they bear fruit on their stems and not their crowns, they are one of the only fruit trees that can withstand heavy winds without production suffering. This makes one of the only food producing crops that can be used effectively as a windbreak, which is very important for smallholders whose crops suffer wind damage but don’t have the space to grow non-food plants.


Jackfruit Business

As more and more sections of our jackfruit orchard begin to come on line, we are beginning to start a jackfruit microbusiness. The seeds, which need to be boiled and peeled, have a texture and taste similar to chickpeas, and are delicious in hummus, falafel, and curries. We recently launched a jackfruit microbusiness at the Finca]] selling jackfruit seeds to restaurants around Nicaragua. We are experimenting with and perfecting other value-added products: jackfruit jams, curries, chutneys, and dried, candied jackfruit. As we begin large-scale processing at both the Finca and Proyecto Mano Amiga’s commercial kitchen, we can begin streamlining this process and bringing local community members into it.

Jackfruit seed hummus

Right now, we are working on a program to supply trees with value-added processing potential - mango, jackfruit, guava, etc - to local families, who will then sell the fruits directly to Mano Amiga’s processing kitchen. Jackfruit is ideal for this. It requires minimal maintenance and water, making it easy for families to grow, especially since many plots lack water access. The seeds and the fruit, both of which the tree produces abundantly, have high economic potential in value-added products, meaning nothing will go to waste.


Sciency Things


Jackfrut is a tropical and subtropical lowland fruit. It’s found all over the world - ubiquitous in many parts of southeast Asia, it’s also grown extensively in parts of Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, Florida, and Australia, with some found in Mexico. It thrives in areas below 1000 m high, with 1000-3000 mm of annual rainfall, on a wide variety of soils, as long as they don’t become waterlogged. It can even take a light frost (0 C), and can survive extended drought, especially if given some irrigation to help it establish for the first year.


Jackfruit is a medium sized tree, generally 8-25 m tall, and can grow over 1.5 m/year for its first 5 years. As an open-pollinated species, trees grown from seed are very variable in size, shape, and fruit quality. However, many different cultivated varieties exist, and there are generally two main types: one with a thin, mushy, sweet pulp, and another with thick, firm, crisp and less sweet pulp.


Jackfruit trees usually take four to fourteen years to bear fruit, and can keep producing for over one hundred, or even three hundred years. They generally yield between 150 and 250 pounds per tree per year, making it an ideal fruit for subsistence plots. Jackfruit trees are evergreen and respond very well to cutting and pruning. You may need to prune the bottom branches as the tree grows, but besides that, it needs very little labor inputs.


Jackfruit Systems

Jackfruit is used in many different ways at Finca Bona Fide. Our main jackfruit orchard is a developing food forest centered around the fruit. It is intercropped with a variety of other fruit trees, including mangoes, citrus, and bread of life, all of which will form the main canopy layer. In narrow spaces between jackfruit tree crowns, coconut, peach, and thatch palms are planted, so that their narrow crowns will eventually shoot past the jackfruit canopy, receiving all of the sunlight they need while providing little sun competition with the jackfruit trees.

In the more open spaces between trees, shade-tolerant plants, including cacao and kandis, begin to fill in the understory, taking advantage of the shade cast by the jackfruit trees. As the system grows, the bottom layer will be filled with roots including taro, ginger, and tumeric. In order to define paths and utilize the sunlit edges they create, all of paths running throughout the orchard are lined with pitanga bushes, a deliciously sour berry. Fertility for the orchard is supplied on site through a nitrogen-fixing tree coppice system that fills the open spaces between trees, palms and shrubs. While the system is young and still developing, it is on its way to become a functional food forest that can provide dietary staples, fresh fruit, value-added products, and an infinite diversity of other uses.

Elsewhere on the farm, jackfruit is used as a windbreak. A line of jackfruit, neem, and native fruit trees protect emerging ojoche (Brosimium alicastrum) orchard, and a triple line of jackfruit protects a young multi-species nut orchard. Jackfruit is also scattered throughout this other property - it’s the perfect tree here because we have no water access, and the trees need little water.

Jackfruit and Food Security

Jackfruit, with its diversity of edible yields, resilience, and self-maintenance, has incredible potential for building local food security in the tropics. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in jackfruit in Kerala, India, where it was once a dietary staple. While the tree has recently declined in popularity there, a number of farmers, NGOs, and government agencies are beginning to come back to the fruit. At yearly jackfruit festivals, people gather to celebrate the diverse uses and cultural heritage of jackfruit, to preserve its diverse genetics, and to eat, spread, and popularize the fruit. K R Jayan spends his time traveling around southern India on a three-wheeler planting jackfruit trees - the Johnny Appleseed of jackfruit.

While Jayan is having great success, and knows that the trees he plants will eventually be used, our situation in Nicaragua is different. No one’s ever eaten or seen jackfruit on Ometepe, save one farmer near Merida. As a weird-looking, strange-tasting, unique fruit, we need to introduce it to people first and see whether or not they like the taste (and/or economic potential) of the tree before we attempt to spread it too much, or we’ll end up with another noni - planted everywhere, used nowhere, rots on the ground and smells awful.

Luckily, people are starting to enjoy jackfruit. Every time I harvest and process a fruit, our local staff come over to take a piece of the flesh. The last time I started processing, Clemencia ran over, grabbed a piece, and stuffed another in her daughter’s mouth. “Es rico!” she managed to say between bites. People are asking for and planting jackfruit seedlings in their gardens and on their farms. Because jackfruit grows columnarly and produces here within 6 years, it doesn’t compete with growing space of other plants too much until it begins producing. In fact, if jackfruit is used properly - as a windbreak or to stabilize a slope, it can actually increase the production of other crops despite taking up space.


A bowl of fresh jackfruit

People are also interested in it for its economic potential. We are getting a very good price for the seeds, and are beginning to develop our jackfruit jams. As the community commercial kitchen approaches completion, we plan on moving large-scale processing there - jamming and canning different products from the Finca and from town for sale throughout Nicaragua. At the same time, we are recruiting local farmers who have a little extra land and supplying them with seedlings of jackfruit and other tree crops, the products of which they will sell directly to Mano Amiga’s commercial kitchen. The kitchen will then process the ripe fruit into hummus, jams, chutneys, and other deliciousness to sell throughout Ometepe and Nicaragua. Thus begins the Ometepe Jackfruit Revolution, lead through Mano Amiga’s community kitchen.

The kitchen also hosts our other main method of spreading the Revolution. We plan to start using jackfruit - the fruit and seed products - in Cafe Enfantil, our children’s nutritional programs run out of Proyecto Mano Amiga. You know, get em while their young. Get em hooked on this takes-like-juicy fruit, chickpea-and-meat-substitute, Buddhist-robe-making, easy to grow wonder tree. Most kids that try it at the farm like it already, now we just need to get it into more hungry young mouths. Then their families can plant it, knowing full well that their growing child’s belly will be overflowing with food in five years time.


Silvana likes jackfruit

Maybe one day we’ll have our own Jackfruit Festival in Balgue. Or, rather, we’ll have our jackfruit quinciera, a jackfruit coming-of-age party. We’ll feature that full three-course meal made of jackfruit and spend the rest of the day jamming, peeling, drying, processing jackfruit into a diversity of forms. As night comes we’ll have a dance party fueled by jackfruit wine, and spend the next morning recovering with jackfruit - the pulp and seeds are used to cure hangovers in Chinese medicine.

As lots of people in India are beginning to understand, jackfruit is an incredibly important tree for community food security. Jayan, explaining why he‘s planting jackfruit en masse around Kerala, says that “If it wasn’t for jackfruit many villages in Kerala would’ve starved in the days before Gulf remittances started flowing into the state.” As we enter a time of global economic and climatic uncertainty, coupled with the economic, environmental, and political issues that already exist in Nicaragua and much of the world, we need the most resilient, the most useful, the most solid, the most easy-to-grow food crops we can find. Jackfruit is an archetype of this. A true permaculture rock star, a tree for Saving Planets.

The more we can spread it through Ometepe, through Nicaragua, through Central America, the more de-facto food and economic security we can introduce, and that’s really what it’s all about.

But first we need to show people, to get them to like it, to plant it. Sharing the fruit with anyone interested helps. Exposing it to the younger generation helps. Maximizing the economic potential of jackfruit helps. Hopefully rambling about jackfruit as long as I have helps.

If you made it through all this babbling about a weird tree, maybe you agree with me that this is the most hopeful photo I’ve ever taken:




If that wasn't enough,

here's more information on jackfruit:

Fruits of Warm Climates Jackfruit Chapter

Agforestry.net Plant Profile - ridiculously in depth

January 1, 2012

Microbusinesses emerge at the Finca

For the past ten years, we have been planting trees, experimenting with different crops, growing organic food, and cultivating connections in our local community of Balgue and throughout Nicaragua. As Project Bona Fide grows, as we build more solar, social and intellectual capital, as more and more trees begin producing, the potential for business ventures begin to emerge. Over the past few years, we have begun processing our plethora of mangoes into jams and chutneys for sale. This year, right now, we are launching two new sustainable micro-businesses: selling salad greens and jackfruit seeds and hummus to restaurants around Ometepe and Nicaragua.


These will help bring more revenue to the farm, which will be reinvested in new infrastructure and projects, as well as giving us the ability to expand our staff. As always, our goal is larger, focused on community: once we find a product that tastes great, that sells, that is profitable, we will start integrating the project into Balgue, processing the products at Mano Amiga’s new kitchen, and, eventually, form a local co-operative to grow, process, and distribute products from the farm and town. In this way, we can begin to make an income from farm products, expand local economic opportunities, and provide people with delicious, organic food at the same time.

The Greens Business

For the past couple years, Nevis, Nolbert, and Erwin have been expertly managing the volunteer kitchen’s vegetable gardens, producing hundreds of pounds of organic greens every year. They’ve traveled around Nicaragua teaching organic gardening to different communities. They know how to grow delicious food. This year, we decided to turn this knowledge into opportunity, and launched an organic salad greens business.


Nevis, Nolbert, and Erwin are managing, harvesting, and delivering an organic salad green mix to different hotels and restaurants around Ometepe and Nicaragua. So far, they’ve delivered over 50 lbs of greens to Aqua Wellness Resort, Totoco Eco-Lodge, and Finca Magdelena. It’s a big project with a lot of work, but the greens business is flourishing.


Right now we have planted indian lettuce, vegetable leaf amaranth, katuk, Okinawa spinach, arrugula, basil, mustard greens, malabar spinach, and a variety of other salad greens. As the business grows, we hope to much of the island’s foreigner driven demand for organic greens.


The guys are thrilled about this project - they’re taking it on as their own business, working overtime, and producing an awesome product. And congratulations to Nevis, who recently became a father!

Jackfruit Seeds; Jackfruit Hummus

Jackfruit is one of the weirdest and most productive trees at the Finca. The world’s largest tree fruit, each tree produces hundreds of pounds of yellow, spiny, oval fruit that can weight up to 70 pounds (!). Jackfruit is an incredibly low maintenance tree - jackfruit trees need no irrigation throughout our 5 month dry season, and after a few years, their dense canopy and leaf litter mean that they require no weeding. The fruit and leaves make good animal fodder, the timber is excellent, the wood produces an orange dye that was traditionally used to given Buddhist monks robes their unique color. And it provides environmental services - jackfruit makes a great windbreak and helps reduce erosion. Jackfruit is a permaculture rock star. After extensive plantings in the past 8 years, we now have a jackfruit orchard fully on line.



The question now is, What do we do with all this jackfruit? We use the super-sweet, yellow flesh - which was the original taste base for Juicyfruit gum - in curries, and are experimenting with making jams and wines. The fruit can be cooked underripe as a green vegetable. Oftentimes, the urracas get to the fruit first, and it then becomes pig food.

What makes jackfruit a true permaculture rock star, though, and a potential tree crop, are its seeds. So far this season, we’ve found that each large fruit may contain between .5 and 3 lbs of the large, oval, starchy seeds, rich in vitamins B1 and B2. They need to be boiled or roasted before eating, but afterwards can be added to a variety of dishes, or ground and eaten like mashed potatoes. Their texture when ground is reminiscent of a chickpea, and we’ve been using them in hummus and falafel.

We recently found buyers for our jackfruit seeds - Aqua Wellness Resort has offered to buy all of our seeds to use in their hummus and falafel dishes. While they are labor-intensive to process, this presents an excellent business opportunity, especially because jackfruit tree require almost no labor to maintain. Thus, this year marks the beginning of our jackfruit seed business, and, hopefully, as we refine the process, we can start selling our own, farm-made hummus.


I (Jim) think, probably with a little exaggeration, of this as the start of the Ometepe jackfruit revolution. If the business model proves profitable - sale price outweighs processing time - we will start moving jackfruit processing to the community kitchen at Mano Amiga. People from Balgue have already started asking for and planting jackfruit, and if we can show that it is a profitable tree, hopefully more will be planted. It seems like a business that can scale up easily - the western appetite for hummus and mashed potatoes appears to be endless.

If this works, it not only builds local economic opportunities, but also increases food security and resilience in town, which, as always, is the long-term goal. Jackfruit is very durable tree, supplies many environmental services, and can be used in a variety of ways - a great addition to local homegardens and farms.

* * *

So that’s the start, the beginning of many soon-to-emerge microbusiness experiments at Project Bona Fide. And if experiments succeed, they’ll expand into Balgue. We’re trying different methods, different combinations, different buyers. Growing markets for organic food in Nicaragua; growing food; growing businesses; growing communities.

December 28, 2011

The Finca Expands: Animals! and Infrastructure Developments


The past year has seen many new developments at Project Bona Fide. As the volunteer, service learning, and international educational programs have grown rapidly, we have added a lot of new infrastructure to keep up. With more people, we need more and better spaces for people to live, sleep, eat, play, shower, and, occasionally, have dance parties. In the past year, we have built or are in the process of completing a revamped kitchen, two new volunteer houses, showers, a freezer, and a well with a solar pump. We’ve also begun integrating animals into the systems here, and now have pigs, chickens, and pelibuey. The animals and increased infrastructure help expand our capacity both as a learning environment for Nicaraguans and international students and travelers, and our attempt to model sustainable, local permaculture systems.


New piglet

Infrastructure

We completely revamped the Bona Fide kitchen. The old stove was knocked out, which created a huge amount of space, and we built a rocket stove in the corner. The super efficient rocket stove will save us lots of firewood, and with a chimney, it eliminates smoke inhalation for the cooks.


Jan building the rocket stove

Video of the kitchen redesign

We stoned the floor of both the kitchen and added a roof and stone floor on the adjacent area, doubling the size of the kitchen and living area. We built a new tables, benches and lockers out of local wood to utilize the expanded space. The extra size came just in time - with our volunteer program full with 20 people in January, and over 35 people signed up for the permaculture course, we may have 60 people eating lunch at Bona Fide in February.

The floor being stoned

To keep with the ever-growing popularity of the volunteer program, we added two new volunteer housing spaces. The Casa del Sol is a traditional thatch structure, built out of wood, bamboo, and stone harvested from on site, and roofed with local grass. Lower down on the property, we built a six-person dormitory from our own stone, wood, and bamboo, nestled in the middle of our oil production plot. These combine to give us 10 more housing spots for future volunteers. We are finishing construction on a new, larger, more private shower as well.

The casa del sol

The new dorm, under construction

As the farm continues expanding, with ever growing orchards, gardens, and food forests, our water requirements keep increasing. This is somewhat offset by taking trees and bamboo clumps off irrigation as they mature, but, still, we need a lot of water. All our water currently comes from the same small pipe like every other household in Balgue, and, as anyone who’s been to the farm knows, water in the dry season in a big issue. To fix this, we recently dug a 5 m deep well at the bottom of the property, and installed a solar-powered pump that sends water up to the water tank in front of Chris’ house. This has multiplying benefits - not only do we have more access to water, we have multiple sources of water, increasing the farm’s water resiliency, and we will use much less water from the community water system, which is already stressed.


Well, solar panel, and pump

The other new construction projects are for the newest additions to Finca - domestic animals. Over the past year we have begun integrating pigs, pelibuey (short-haired tropical sheep), and chickens into our permaculture systems. These animals will play a very important role on the farm, recycling wastes, building fertility, weeding, and providing an abundance of products like meat, eggs, and milk.


Pigs

The pigs were the first animals to arrive at the farm, and live in an enclosed stone pig pen with a wallowing pit. We started with a pair of piglet siblings, eventually slaughtered the mature male, and replaced him with another male piglet as our now gigantic female goes on a series of romantic dates with pigs from town in an attempt to get pregnant. With a steady diet of fish bones, grains, leftovers, jackfruit, and mangoes, our pigs are pretty happy.

Pigs are perfect permaculture animals for us. They are great recyclers - converting food and crop waste into high-quality meat and fertilizer. Besides a small amount of sorghum, everything they eat comes from the farm. They give us a lot of meat - the pig we slaughtered produced over 100 pounds of pork, and we had pork roasts on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and for Clemencia’s birthday.

Pigs gorging themselves

A pig forage area is currently developing - a mixed fruit and nut orchard with a madero negro (Gliricida sepium) living fence border. The bottom layer will be filled out with taro, providing grass, fruit waste, and tuber forage. A movable electric fence system will also allow them to be pastured in different areas with abundant food depending on the season - during jackfruit season, they will be rotated through our jackfruit orchard, and during mango season, through our mangoes. Once we begin rotating them, they will become literal pig tractors - rooting, tilling and fertilizing land that we can then plant directly into.

Pelibuey

We also have two pelibuey - hairy sheep from tropical Africa that can withstand the intense heat here. They are rotated through pasture with a solar-powered electrical fence system at the bottom of the property. During the wet season, a month or two into the dry season, there is plenty of ground cover for them to eat. However, pasturing animals here is difficult here because for the final three months of the dry season, there is no groundcover. No pasture. To prepare for this, we have planted large forage banks of Taiwan grass and created an alley pasture system lined with ojoche (Brosimium alicastrum) and moringa trees. This system will take a while to mature, but in the short term we have plenty of leguminous trees and Taiwan grass as dry season animal fodder.




The peliguey require little maintenance in the wet season - watering twice a day and rotating once a week. However, once the dry season hits, they time required to feed them twice a day begins to add up, and we are starting the think that the pelibuey outputs (meat) do not outweigh the labor and space needed to help them thrive. So, we are thinking about getting a cow and calf at the start of the next wet season. They’ll require the same amount of labor, and more food in the dry season, but give us fresh milk daily and a huge amount of long-term meat. As they rotate through the pasture fields, and through our rice, corn, and sorghum fields after grains are harvested, they constantly fertilize the soil. Short rotation animal grazing is one of the most proven and productive methods of building soil fertility, which would not only help our annual fields regenerate more rapidly, it would also provide a model of regenerative cattle rotations to the local area.

Chickens

Chickens are a brand-new addition to Finca Bona Fide, with 11 arriving in the past two weeks. We should have over 20 laying hens in the next few weeks, which will provide eggs for the kitchen, fertilizer for the garden beds, and can be utilized in our chicken tractors for garden bed preparation and weeding.

The chickens will spend most their time in our new chicken coop, built with materials from on site. We are currently finishing building their cob nest boxes. As our animals mature and are slaughtered, we are going to have a plethora of meat here. While we plan on experimenting with different drying and preserving methods, we are also building a a new structure at the bottom of the property to house a meat storage freezer.

Our new chicken coop and chicken tractor

The introduction of animals at the Finca has been a lot of experimentation and a lot of work. As our understanding and talent with animals keeps developing, the Finca will be that much closer to meeting its goals of modeling sustainable, local food systems, minimizing off-farm inputs, creating high quality food, and developing potential sustainable business options for both the farm and local community.

December 22, 2011

2011 Plantings



We had a very productive planting season at Finca Bona Fide. We planted over 5,000 trees, shrubs, grasses and tubers since the beginning of June. These continued to fill out emerging systems and began developing new ones. The plantings filled in the understory and empty spaces between trees in our establishing orchards, began developing 1) an animal forage system, 2) a native nut orchard connecting two patches of remnant forest, 3) a small citrus orchard, 4) a native fruit tree orchard, 5) a "show and tell" banana plantation that will transition into a native fruit orchard, as well as starting a greens business, planting windbreaks, and scattering hundreds of nitrogen-fixing trees to continue building fertility on site.


Overall, the numbers are:

  • 350 coffee shrubs (Coffea Arabica)
  • 150 chocolate trees (Theobroma cacao)
  • 145 coconut palms (Cocos nucifera)
  • 125 native fruit trees (Pouteria campechiana, Chrysophyllum cainito, Pouteria hypoglauca, Annona reticulata, Pouteria sapota, and Spondias purpurea)
  • 300 ojoche/Mayan breadnut trees (Brosimum alicastrum)
  • 250 Okra tree/Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
  • 1100 nitrogen-fixing trees (Delonix regia, Senna siamea, Leaucaena leucocephala, and Acacia mangium)
  • 800 bananas and plantains (Musa sp.)
  • Hundreds of pigeon pea/gondul (Cajanus cajan)
  • 400 pounds of taro (Colocasia esculenta)
  • 200 katuk shrubs (Citrus sp.)
  • 100 jackfruit trees (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
  • over 100 Surinam Cherry/Pitanga shrubs (Eugenia uniflora)
  • 600-700 plugs of Vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides)
  • hundreds of clumps of Taiwan grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
  • 20 plus Ackee trees (Blighia sapida)
  • 150 Neem trees (Azadirachta indica)
  • 15 plus Guava trees (Psidium sp. (4) species)


Filling in our Food Forests


As many of the orchards planted in past years at the Finca begin to mature, we start to see spaces between the crowns of trees that let sunlight in. We went through these spaces and planted understory trees and shrubs that are either need or tolerate shade, and coconut palms that will eventually rise above the crown of our fruit trees. In the understory spaces we planted 350 coffee shrubs, 150 chocolate/cacao trees, and a handful of kandis/gamboge trees (Garcinia xanthochymus) and salak palms (Salacca zalacca), matching the available light and space with the characteristics of each species. In the very narrow spaces between emerging crowns, we planted 145 coconut palms, as their narrow trunk and relatively narrow crown creates little light competition with the fruit trees as the palms mature.

On paths throughout the Finca we planted hundreds of Surinam Cherry/Pitanga shrubs (Eugenia uniflora), taking advantage of the sunlight and edges created by the paths. This delicious snack fruit produces fruit multiple times a year, so planting them on paths ensures that we know when they are fruiting.

Throughout all of our orchards, bananas and pigeon pea/gondul were planted. They were often planted as part of an establishment guild near 1st year fruit and nut trees to provide shade, mulch, wind protection and a yield of bananas and gondul's edible pea. Gondul is an excellent plant in an establishment guild: it fixes nitrogen, rapidly provides shade to protect tender 1st year fruit and nut trees, produces edible peas in about 8-9 months, and is extremely drought tolerant. While gondul shrubs/trees can live for many years, at the Finca they are generally blown over by wind after one or two years.

Finally, nitrogen-fixing trees were scattered in open spaces throughout the farm. Nitrogen-fixing trees are the essential to maintaining productivity and fertility on the farmthey fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, making it available to other plants, and, after 2-7 years, can be routinely pruned to supply biomass and nitrogen-rich mulch. They also cast a layer of shade, which preserves soil moisture, extending the growing season of plants and lessening the effects of our 5 month dry season.


Native Nut Orchard



On the western edge of the property below coconut alley, patches of forest have been left alone to regenerate themselves and are now beginning to develop. To connect these two forest patches, over the past 3 years we have been planting an orchard of ojoche/Mayan breadnut (Brosimium alicastrum). This orchard will create a habitat for wild animals, forage for domestic animals, and a low-maintenance zone 3/4 tree-crop orchard of the highly nutritious ojoche nut.


To protect and aid these young trees in their development, we planted hundreds of nitrogen-fixing trees around them as an establishment guild to provide nitrogen-rich mulch, biomass, shade, and wind protection. Chris has noticed in over the past few years that even 7 year old ojoche trees were susceptible to falling over as the intense December trade winds pound the farm from the northeast. To mitigate this, we planted a multi-species windbreak that protects the developing ojoches. Directly north-east of the orchard, there is a line of fast-growing Taiwan grass as a short term windbreak and animal forage bank, followed by a row of wind-resistant native fruit trees, a densely planted line of the incredibly resilient neem tree (Azadirachta indica), whose leaves and fruits make an organic pesticide (and spermicide!) and will eventually provide quality timber, finally followed by a line of jackfruit until our annual grain fields begin.


Rotational Grazing System




Near the bottom of the property, below our annual fields, there is an area that had been left to regenerate itself for the past 10 years. However, there has not been much regrowth taking place, and the forest is struggling to reclaim the area. As this past year has seen the birth of integrating animals into the Finca, we decided to turn this space into a rotational grazing system.


Rotational grazing here is difficult: for the final three months of the dry season, the ground is patched and all groundcovers have died. So in our system, we planted alternating lines of ojoche, moringa trees (Moringa oleifera) and melinche/flame of the forest (Delonix regia), creating pasture alleys between the lines. All three species have evergreen, high protein leaves that make great livestock fodder, and moringa leaves have been shown to boost animal milk production. As the system evolves, they will be pollarded above cow and sheep browsing height, and will serve as our animal fodder bank for the end of the dry season.

We currently have a electric fence rigged up to a battery and mini solar panel. Two and a half peliguey - the female is pregnant - live in this area and are rotated weekly by volunteers. Future plans may involve cows. At the edges between the pasture field and the forest, we have planted lines of native fruit trees canistel (Pouteria campechiana), nispero (Manilkara zapota) and caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito).


Taro: Underground Food Storage


After years of experimenting with taro (Colocasia esculenta), a shade-tolerant understory tuber, we are serious about using this crop for its ability to store more or less infinitely underground. This year we planted 400 pounds of the starchy tuber, which will multiply itself underground to over 1,000 pounds. Much of it will be left in th ground as a "survival bank" - emergency food in the case of natural (or man-made) disaster, and will also be used in our kitchen to replace potatoes. Taro, plantains and cassava will now provide all of the starch for the volunteer kitchen from on site.

Taro reproduces many new baby plants from its corm and is very easy to propagate. We plan on covering much of the understory layer of the farm with taro - to supply tremendous amounts of food, fill in the understory of our orchards, and use taro's large leaves to act as a living mulch, protecting soil and retaining moisture.


"Show and Tell" Transitional Plantain Orchard



Near the bottom of property, very close to the road where many villagers pass daily, we planted a "show and tell" demonstration orchard. Over 800 plantains were planted in a field, resembling a normal plantain monoculture, but with a variety of native fruit trees as well. The idea is to model how to transition from a plantain monoculture to a diverse plantain-fruit tree polyculture over time. As the fruit trees mature, the bananas will be thinned and mulched until, over a decade, the system transitions fully into an orchard.


Small Citrus Orchard


Every year we plant a small orchard of about 25 citrus trees (Citrus sp.) to test new varieties and seedlings. These are organized in small blocks of 20-25 trees in order to isolate and mitigate pest and bird issues. In this way, we are hoping to develop more resilient varieties of citrus for Ometepe.


The Other Land


Finca Bona Fide's property is broken up into two plots - our main 26 acre property, and then an 19 acre property to the east, with our neighbors Ben and Sarah in between. Because the other land has no water access and is a bit far to carry buckets of water, we are experimenting with resilient and drought tolerant varieties of trees. This year we planted a range of native fruit trees canistel(Pouteria campechiana), caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito), cinnamon apple (Pouteria hypoglauca), custard apple (Annona reticulata), sapote rojo (Pouteria sapota), and jocote (Spondias purpurea), jackfruit, ackee and moringa trees to test their drought tolerance. We also cut a handful of neem trees and used the timber in our construction projects, which has opened sunlight for many young trees to grow and thrive.



Other various plantings:

  • We planted a triple line of jackfruit below and east of coconut alley to serve as a windbreak to protect and emerging nut orchard. Jackfruit is an excellent windbreak tree, and because it bears fruit on its stems, fruit production is not strongly affected by winds. The jackfruit also provides and animal forage, pig food, long-term timber, and potentially an orange dye that can be used in a sewing co-operative that is developing at Mano Amiga.
  • Over a thousand nitrogen-fixing trees (Delonix regia, Senna siamea, Leaucaena leucocephala, and Acacia mangium) have been planted to build edges with fast growing species, create shade edges as a rain stretching technique, and fill in open areas in our agro-forests as the overstory matures which will provide nitrogen and biomass for mulch in years 2-7.
  • A line of ojoche was planted on the banks of our cebrada, or seasonal stream, to build a riparian buffer strip and reduce erosion, while extending a wild-life corrider as well.
  • Hundreds of cutting of Taiwan grass were planted as both windbreaks and dry season animal fodder, and over 500 plugs of vetiver grass were planted in areas we noticed water runoff and soil erosion taking place. Vetiver, an amazing grass, has an incredibly dense and deep root system which can limit runoff and erosion by more than 70 percent.


We had a great planting season and achieved all of our main goals. Now, as the dry season comes on, we are turning our attention to watering, gardening, and harvesting.

November 2, 2011

The Bona Fide Blog Rebirth


Hello everyone.

I'm Jim. I'm interning at Project Bona Fide and will be updating this blog for the next couple of months.

Although this blog hasn't shown it, Project Bona Fide has been humming with activity over the past 13 months. There have been two Permaculture Design Courses, one at the Finca and one at Rancho Mastatal in Costa Rica; an undergraduate University of Vermont course taught at the Finca; and student groups from West Vancouver High School, Corpus Christi College, the University of Guelph, and Where There Be Dragons came and worked at the Finca and Mano Amiga. Buildings have been constructed, animals raised, rotated, escaped, and eaten, thousands of trees planted, businesses planned, fruits harvested, eaten, and jammed, and a countless supply of volunteers working alongside our local to develop the farm.

Over the next week, we'll show you what's new: new buildings, new plants and systems, new community projects at Mano Amiga, and, for the first time, animals at the Finca!

But first, a thank you: without the amazing support fund-raising from West Vancouver High School and Corpus Christi College, much of the development of Project Bona Fide you'll see below and in upcoming posts could not have taken place. Thanks guys!

And thanks to all the volunteers, interns, service-learning and university groups who have visited, worked, sweat, laughed; thanks to everyone who helps keep PFB going and growing!

Now, some pictures

Building new garden beds


Stoning the kitchen floor


New Cob Oven at Mano Amiga

Kitchen Redesign gets underway


New piglet at the Finca



Chris, Mitch, UVM students and Osa



Pitanga


Silvana, Clemencia's daughter, writes in
the kitchen during a day off from school


Learning about patterns during our PDC


Clemencia starts off our kitchen redesign with a sledgehammer


Volunteers making mango jam


Building our chicken coop


Araza fruit