VEGETABLE NEWS FOR JANUARY 2007 IN THE CAYO DISTRICT
by Ray Auxillou
Rains for the first three weeks of January hurt vegetable farmers in the Cayo District. My tomatoes came down with brown leaf mold caused by too much water. I was advised to pull them up and sterilize the soil by local experts, but what we did was prune the leaves. The weather started to dry up the last week in January and we are hoping for more sun in February. A visiting USDA retiree came to visit and gave us some good advice. He said, to get a small amount of copper sulfate and put a couple of crystals in a hand spray bottle of water and spray the tomato plants. That will cure them. We haven't tried it yet, and not sure if the farmacias, or fertilizer feed stores sell copper sulfate, but will give it an experimental try, soon as we can. Celina's hardware store in San Ignacio has hand spray plastic bottles and we bought a couple, though they turned out to be no good after five minutes working.
We were given a lecture on making compost for our agriculture experiments by the visiting US Department of Agriculture retiree and his advice was to make a chicken wire cage, with quarter inch mesh on the bottom, used locally for sifting sand by concrete masons preparing to plaster, on the bottom of the compost cage. Place a piece of beaverboard underneath to catch dust and decomposed materials for feeding plants as the aerobic decomposition takes place. Inside the cage, line the bottom with banana plant leaves and then place kitchen and garden organic scraps, alternated with sand and chicken manure and let the rains and sun do the work, by aerobic bacterial action. Banana skins are good for potassium . Chicken manure while excellent fertilizer cannot be applied directly to plants as it will burn and kill them. Our hydroponics research vegetable nursery was advised to supply liquid fertilizer plant feed to the outside of the chlorax plastic container pot, ( they don't produce or sell cheap blow molded plant pots fo plastic in Cayo ), to seek the searching root ends, which suck up the feeding plant food. As a rule of thumb, we were told not to make the amateur mistake of feeding plant food too close to the plant stem, as only fine root ends take up the food and they will be found spreading out, usually on a vertical straight line down from the leaves and outer branch ends.
We have had success with our ICE lettuce, but were advised that Romain and Boston head lettuce is better and richer in minerals and vitamins. Unfortunately none of these seeds are available in the Cayo District vegetable feed store places. We had asked at the Taiwanese Mission for Mr. Li, as he had some very good head lettuce, of two different types in recent plantings. But Mr. Li has gone back to Taiwan and has been replaced by a Mr. Lin who did not know what kind of lettuce seeds the previous Mr. Li had used, or where to get them? People from Taiwan are named either Li, Lin, or Chen it seems like? It seems if you wish to preserve fresh lettuce leaves, you need one of those vacuum packing plastic bag machines found here and there, in the Cayo District and currently used for fried plantain sales. Lettuce placed in vacuum packed plastic bags can have a shelf life if placed in the refrigerator for two weeks. Once the bag is opened though, the lettuce will start to spoil within two days. Lettuce producers should take note, though currently the market for lettuce is limited to Chinese, the restaurants for tourists and ex-pat snow birds down here for the winter season. Local Maya, Mestizo and Creole populations have not had the cultural use of salads as part of their diet growing up. In the past, vegetable growing was limited to traditional coastal tropical vegetables grown only twice a year dependent on the natural rainy seasons. This of course is now changing, as vegetable growing experiments show with the application of water you can grow many varieties of vegetables all year round in Belize.
The USDA retiree showed us how to find worms and worm casings in our soil. There are oodles of them and I didn't know. Supposed to be good for the compost? We will try it.
The retiree USDA man advised us to get some of that DOLOMITE lime being produced in Punta Gorda and feed it to our tomatos. He said it will do wonders for the plants.
For bananas which require a lot of nitrogen, we were advised to get a bottle of cheap ammonia from the store and mix it with five gallons of water to put around the base of the bananas. This will make them really bloom and bear fruit with the extra supply of nitrogen it makes.
Any yellow leaves in our hydroponics nursery was to be treated with Epsom Salts from any store and placed in a ring around the plants. This will make them grown greener.
Students at the UB Central Farm Agriculture College in those good ole days of field work that ended around 2002 - 2004, had reported the most success with organic pest protection, to be dish washer detergent mixed and applied with a small hand sprayer to the plant. Detergent spray will remove all kinds of aphids and other pesky critters. The USDA man confirmed this was the best method! Chrysanthemum flowers are a natural organic pesticide protection if you plant them next to your vegetable crops. Unfortunately you cannot buy flower seeds in the Cayo District yet. One day perhaps Agro Pro stores locally will cater to vegetable and flower growers as well as feed supplies?
Our remaining two lentils of the five we planted seem to be doing well the USDA man said.
There has been no reply from the Cuban Embassy about seeing, or getting information from Havana on their successful urban vegetable system used in their cities to feed the populace and cut the costs of food transportation from the countryside.
Belize Development Trust Volunteer HYDROPONIC URBAN POVERTY VEGETABLE RESEARCH PROJECT found in Hillview on the third floor of the new construction going on at FALCONVIEW TOURIST BACKPACKERS ADVENTURE HOSTEL on the slope of Green Parrot Valley in Santa Elena Town, Cayo District. Visitors are welcome! We are growing organic vegetables experimentally. The volunteers are total amateurs. It is trial and error!