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#500879 - 02/09/15 09:23 PM The Soils of Belize by District/Region
Marty Online   happy

Belize is a very varied geophysical entity. It was formed from uplifting movements of the earth’s crust, acted upon by pressure and temperature, the motion of water and wind occurring over a very long period of time. Those processes and events are known as weathering. Soils are formed from the products of the breakdown of rocks made of silica and iron into smaller and smaller units until they become sand which is further broken down to clay particles, the ultimately small physical units. Another type of rock is called limestone which is derived from the skeleton of marine animals that created reefs. Soils are not monolithic but represent different combinations and admixtures with diverse characteristics ranging from sandy to heavy clay, from fertile to infertile and water-holding to well-drained. There are several types of soils located throughout Belize and these soils are classified according to certain characteristics relating to physical and chemical properties. This article and subsequent articles in this series of articles will communicate information about soils in the country starting in the northern regions, and later describing the central regions and the southern regions. Soils do not correspond to geopolitical boundaries but may influence their boundaries.

The Northern Regions

There are three distinct types of soils located in the northern sub-regions. Soils are all derived from limestone from the Hondo to the New River flood plains. The area is generally flat and is part of the drainage platform of the Belize River Valley. The coastal areas are swampy with many areas of peaty or mucky, saline water saturated soils. Mangrove forests make up a substantial portion along the coast and in most areas brackish water is responsible for the high sea salt (sodium chloride) salinity. Salt water tolerant and colonizing species predominate. Palms, pines and fibrous grasses as well as a few broad leaf species occur with mangrove being the best examples. These soils are not contiguous except along the coast and are referred to as being sodic or severely under the effects of salt water. These soils do not support most crops although high in organic matter. A few areas, if high enough, develop into arable areas such as found on the road to Sarteneja and south to Chunox and Progresso Lagoon. As we move inland in a direction of due west, we start to encounter more elevated soils that are subjected to spillovers from river floods and thus are considered to be young alluvial or flood plain soils. The soils of the Sarteneja Plain, Chunox, Progresso, Little Belize, Caledonia and Copper Bank are loose soils with good capacity for being cultivated to varying degrees.

The most northern part, the Hondo River flood plain and in areas like Patchakan, Xaibe to the border have given rise to soils formed over limestone that range from somewhat to moderately fertile although highly alkaline. Some of these soils have good physical qualities and are classified as entisols, or soils not having highly developed horizons or layers occurring in a flood plain or inceptisols, if of older alluvial materials with some development of horizons.

As we move in a southerly direction in the Corozal District, we encounter soils that become shallow and indistinguishable from the limestone from which they were formed. These soils have very shallow top soils and are highly alkaline since they sit on top of limestone. These soils can be cultivated and in fact are a combination of limestone rocky out-croppings with interstitial areas that can grow grass, family crops such as sugar cane, pasture grasses, or other short rooted species. Tree crops that are not tolerant of high limestone also grow but have comparatively short life spans as they are prone to lime-induced chlorosis. Chlorosis is the result of blocking and crowding out of nutrients and so as the stage of growth changes from juvenile to mature, the plant foliage changes from green to yellow, adult leaves are small and fruiting is of poor quality/quantity. Citrus trees are especially prone but fruiting trees such as papaya and some vegetable crops such as onions and others of the allium family do reasonably well under heavy fertilization combined with eater/corrosion management. Fertilization of these areas should always use acidic residue fertilizers such as ammonium sulphate or other highly soluble forms. Application of heavier doses of phosphates are required, especially the highly soluble forms of phosphates such as mono-ammonium phosphate. Irrigation waters are typically high in dissolved solids and can be a problem with the rapid build up of precipitated salts. Rain-fed crops typically predominate. Organic mulching also assists these soils in development. Next article will discuss the western, south central and southernmost parts of the northern region, that includes most of the Orange Walk District.

The BELIZE AG REPORT


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#503916 - 05/03/15 11:01 AM Re: The Soils of Belize by District/Region [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

(Click map for larger version)

Northern Regions-continued

The Xaibe Plain land system extends across the southern border of the Corozal District into the Orange Walk District. The recent alluvium soils of the western Corozal District and contiguous northwestern Orange Walk District contain some swampy areas due to limited drainage across the Bravo Hills that originates from the land region. The dominant drainage course is in the Rio Bravo into the Rio Hondo. The only alluvium found is in large solution basins in the north, the Neustadt Swamps. This area is an open savannah plain and low marsh forest plain based on recent alluvium. Wetness, low nutrient availability, severe workability and root room limitations as well as anaerobic conditions preclude development and these soils are marginal to moderate in suitability for rice. Most of the better lands have been taken up by sugar cane production. Another feature of this area is the occurrence every few years of severe flooding which can last for weeks in some areas.

Moving west by southwest takes us deeper into the Orange Walk district where better soils that have arisen from recent and old alluvial deposits occur. These alluvial deposits lie on top of older limestone deposits that are not as exposed as those soils further north. The soils tend to have better drainage as they form the Rio Bravo basin. There are areas of broken ridge mixed with broadleaf forest which is a transition zone to the pine ridge areas occurring further south as is found in August Pine Ridge. To the northwest we have a ridge of low hills and an upper plateau that extends to the border with Guatemala. The Mennonites of Blue Creek produce flooded rice on the flatlands whereas upland rice and corn are produced in the upper areas. The soils located in the area traversed by the main highway leading to San Felipe are typically based on limestone deposits which are soft and indicate a low magnesium content. Leaving west from Orange Walk Town, we see that the villages along the road all have shallow soils. Only a few areas that have metamorphosed into vertisols or heavy black clay soils have a reasonable-to-good fertility but are mechanically difficult to cultivate and poor in phosphorous. Although cattle farming is commonly observed in the area, it is not necessarily an indicator of the condition of the land. Cattle forage diets in this area typically need trace mineral licks. Sugar cane is grown in almost all areas.

As we go further south, the soils start to improve and we treat the areas west of Shipyard and south of Neustadt as some of the most productive soils in the district. A number of areas have fine red loamy soils which are currently being used to produce corn and papayas. There are occasional outcroppings of limestone which have to be picked and cleared of these stones for mechanized production. A number of areas starting from San Felipe going south are being developed all the way into Lamanai and Indian Church. These areas are recipients of recent alluvium and can be classified as inceptisols and entisols. The dense vegetation of these areas does not necessarily indicate deep soils although many better and deeper soils can be found as well as along the southern course of the New River Lagoon.

The Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area takes up a significant acreage of the Orange Walk District but is ignored in this report as it is likely to remain outside the realm of cultivable lands.

Next issue we take a look at the peaty bogs and flooded soils as well as the pine ridge areas on the eastern side of the district.

Eastern OW District, Northern Belize District

My last article addressed the western/south western portion of the Orange Walk district. This article looks at the eastern portion of the district and its association with the northern part of the Belize District. The major agents of the formation of these soils are the two rivers – The New River in the north and the Belize River in the south that form these two associated drainage basins further south. The principal geophysical feature is the flat land intersperses with many large and small water bodies such as lagoons, lakes and ponds. These watersheds have substantial areas of marsh lands and swamps (peat) as well as areas that are old leached alluvial pine ridge soils as well as younger soils lying on top of limestone and further south lying on top of clay hard pans. Drainage is usually a problem causing anaerobic soil conditions.

Anyone who has travelled the course of the New River readily appreciates the estuarine nature of the main course of the river as it passes east and then north into the Corozal District. The occasional top gallon floods expose the nature of the flood plains. The youngest soils near the permanent water courses are entisols or inceptisols with significant water regimes and so are called aquaent or aquaept. There are significant areas of shallow soils sitting on top of clay that have become compressed and although of the same two classification, exhibit behaviours that make them spodosols or podzolic soils. As one drives south along the Phillip Goldson highway one witnesses elevated areas that have substantial oak, palmetto, calabash and other colonizing plants and trees (broken ridges)but also other areas that have broadleaf forest. The sand is siliceous or mostly derived from quartz and comes from the water movement over many eons of time. These areas extend south into the Crooked Tree system of drainage lagoons and slow moving creeks. These soils are generally poor in nutrients and nitrogen is most deficient. These soils are also acidic and should use basic residual fertilizers as well as liming materials if cultivated in the few areas available.

On the outer fringes, the soils are too low in elevation or are sitting just a few feet above sea level and in contact with the saline groundwater. This area adjacent to the sea does not have a true coastline and in fact is a settling area for the mud that is transported during the flood times. These soils in these areas can be said to be in formation. There is almost no commercial value from an agriculture point of view and aquaculture has been attempted with limited benefit.

There are a few large lagoons such as the Honey Camp lagoon system and other smaller drainage reservoirs or ponds. Mangrove swamps predominate with occasional outcrops of limestone rocks. Coming south at the Carmelita junction on the old Belize Highway, one travels in a east by southeast direction and the sandy pine ridge and broken ridge gives way to more broadleaf species and the human settlements/villages of St. Margaret, Bomba, Maskall, Corozalito and Boston utilize these lands for truck farming. These soils have a bit more nutrients and are much higher in elevation and organic matter. This better nutrient status explains why the ancient Maya established themselves at Althun Ha.

Pasture is the primary land use in almost all these areas but due to the nutrient status and the fibrous types of grasses that predominate, the stocking rate can be as high as 3 or 4 animals to the acre. There are a few sugar cane farms with the biggest one located at Caribe Farms (mile 40 or thereabouts). The effectives and yields have not been properly documented for sugar cane. Coconuts and some fruit trees such as craboo, mango and cashew do well in some areas. There are no large plantations of these crops.

Send comments and questions to: hmvernon@yahoo.com

Belize Ag Report


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#507833 - 09/28/15 06:04 AM Re: The Soils of Belize by District/Region [Re: Marty]
cristinakj Offline
hi Marty

This is really really interesting information.

I don't see any clear cut info about the Toledo district (probably because I don't understand the full geography of the area).

Do you know anything about the soil make-up in that area? I know there's a lot of jungle down there, but also ocean so as a foreigner, it's hard to conceptualize what type of soil is there.

The reason I ask is because I plan to live there (in the Toledo district) eventually but I want to use as little as possible as far as natural resources and really want to contribute to the integrity of the land so we're looking at alternative house building - something besides brick and mortar.
_________________________
Take only what you need; return more than you take.

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#511428 - 02/06/16 12:32 PM Re: The Soils of Belize by District/Region [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

The Belize District – East To West

My last article introduced the soils of the Belize District along and from the sea coast. This article is a further exploration of these soils extending westwards into the Cayo District as these soils are related to the course of the main agents of formation, the southern Belize and Sibun Rivers. We go from swamps to elevations of about 200 ft that have been formed by the Belize River in the north and the Sibun River, including the Caves Branch tributary, in the south. A major characteristic is the presence of relatively large and minor lagoons, creeks and streams. As the elevation rises the containing lowland pine ridge gives way to broken ridges interspersed with areas of broadleaf forest on undulating lands going to the west. Phosphorous is generally deficient.

These soils of the lower Belize River Valley, on the eastern seaboard, are mangrove swamps and do not have a true coastline. The soils are mucky and in many areas are impacted by a high water table that has saline intrusions. The lowest lying areas can be considered to be the Belizean lake district due to the presence of many water bodies, with the largest lagoons and lagoon systems (Crooked Tree Lagoon/Black Water Creek, and Northern/Manatee/ Western Lagoons) occurring here. The associated soils are mostly leached of granitic origin located on top of old alluvium that has compacted into hard pans (spodosols). The few good cultivable soils (inceptisols and entisols) occur in thin parcels along the river courses with high flooding a principal feature necessary to supply nutrients. Rice has been the historical crop in flooded areas with vegetables and fruits grown in the more arable soils.

The coastal soils give way to savannah grasslands that typically occur on lowland pineridges. These pineridges extend all the way to Belmopan although there are areas that are associated with the high limestone present in the areas in and around Belmopan. We also see the first introduction of heavily forested areas on heavier soils similar to mollisols (high organic matter with clear layers) and also somewhat like the heavy, black clay soils known as the vertisols. Limestone or other calcitic materials are mainly responsible for the nutrient status which can range from poor to modest.

Going further west in the low hill country, undulating terrain is present with larger, cultivable spreads especially on the north side of the Belize River including terraces such as in the areas now being used for sugar cane but were traditionally cleared and used as pasture. Some areas are now being used for crops such as corn, sorghum and beans (red, black-eye and soya) along with some rice and other minor crops. Most of the country’s vegetables are produced on the better quality soils, i.e., having better textures and structures.

Two more types of soils occur but these are in the uplands of the Cayo District, known generally as the Pineridge and the North Chiquibul. Most of the northern uplands contain highly leached soils known as oxisols with highly oxidized red color of the native iron, or,in the extreme, known as ultisols that are friendly only to pine trees, low shrubs and colonizing species. The southern portions contain some fertile mollisols in small areas of plateaus but are located mostly in reserves and so are unavailable for agriculture.


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#513029 - 04/12/16 08:44 PM Re: The Soils of Belize by District/Region [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
The Southern Cayo and Stann Creek Districts

My last article left us on the limestone foothills of the Cayo District with its lower alluvial areas created by the Belize River. The southern flank of the George Price Highway is a karst (limestone based) landscape with many limestone hills starting to give way to granitic hills and mountains further south. Further east, to the coast, we begin to see deposits of granitic sand and the first occurrence of a true coastline with sandy beaches that extend down to the Placencia Peninsula.

My last article left us on the limestone foothills of the Cayo District with its lower alluvial areas created by the Belize River. The southern flank of the George Price Highway is a karst (limestone based) landscape with many limestone hills starting to give way to granitic hills and mountains further south. Further east, to the coast, we begin to see deposits of granitic sand and the first occurrence of a true coastline with sandy beaches that extend down to the Placencia Peninsula.

The soils inland from the coast are a mixture of lowland pine ridge with the introduction of highly oxidized acidic soils containing iron and manganese. These soils are a mixture of oxisols (oxidized soils) on the flood plains and inceptisols (recent alluvium) near the river courses. An elevated flood plain occurs in the middle reaches of the Caves Branch/Sibun floodplain. These reasonably fertile soils have a few but not very expansive areas, due to admixture of limestone but eventually give way to red, highly oxidized soils. The area is currently used for citrus production, following trials with cacao, and proceeds south along the Hummingbird Highway on the way to Middlesex, the beginning of the Stann Creek Valley. Ancient limestone hills form the eastern rim of the valley and the soils on the east of these hills, running along the Coastal Highway, are mostly broken ridge and true lowland pineridge, with clay hardpans prevailing in some areas. These areas are subject to flooding as it is part of the watershed of the Sibun Hills with low elevation.

The soils of the Stann Creek Valley are undulating with some areas steeply carved from the rushing waters of the many rivers, creeks and streams coming out of the hills. Citrus now dominates after the destruction of the banana plantations in the earlier part of the last century. There have been recent trials of corn/red beans in lower Middlesex but the soils may need liming. The soils of northern Stann Creek, such as the Melinda flood plain, are a mixture of recent alluvial material mixed with old flood plain granitic sand and curves south on the way to the banana plantations. Some of these areas have high growth of broadleaf forest and coconuts but citrus predominate. Most of the rest is fairly infertile and the floodplain occurring south of Hopkins/Kendall/Sittee, have been recently cut down for pasture. Due to the infertility of the area, there are mixed/poor results with pasture grasses and stocking rates are very high. A number of areas, especially in the Sittee area, used to produce citrus, pineapples and rice, an indication of soils that have acidic pH. The alluvial areas along the rivers, such as the South Stann Creek River, are currently being used to produce bananas. A few areas on the western side of the Southern Highway are heavily forested but these soils, although fine textured, have a fragile structure and are shallow in some places and deep in others.

The eastern side of Southern Highway consists of coastal beaches and lowland pineridge that is underlain by bleached granitic sand and a clay hardpan. Drainage is a problem in these areas and palmetto, calabash and pine trees are the native vegetation; however the shrimp farms have been able to exploit the area. The soils of these areas, called ultisols (very leached in the extreme), extend all the way past Independence into the Toledo District. The western side of the highway is now being opened up to pineapple production as the citrus disease takes a toll and alternative crops are needed. The most extreme soils also have wood tree plantations, mainly pine.

One irony of this area is that the poor soils are associated with the best water quality to be found in Belize and it also has good enough rainfall for replenishment

The soils inland from the coast are a mixture of lowland pine ridge with the introduction of highly oxidized acidic soils containing iron and manganese. These soils are a mixture of oxisols (oxidized soils) on the flood plains and inceptisols (recent alluvium) near the river courses. An elevated flood plain occurs in the middle reaches of the Caves Branch/Sibun floodplain. These reasonably fertile soils have a few but not very expansive areas, due to admixture of limestone but eventually give way to red, highly oxidized soils. The area is currently used for citrus production, following trials with cacao, and proceeds south along the Hummingbird Highway on the way to Middlesex, the beginning of the Stann Creek Valley. Ancient limestone hills form the eastern rim of the valley and the soils on the east of these hills, running along the Coastal Highway, are mostly broken ridge and true lowland pineridge, with clay hardpans prevailing in some areas. These areas are subject to flooding as it is part of the watershed of the Sibun Hills with low elevation.

The soils of the Stann Creek Valley are undulating with some areas steeply carved from the rushing waters of the many rivers, creeks and streams coming out of the hills. Citrus now dominates after the destruction of the banana plantations in the earlier part of the last century. There have been recent trials of corn/red beans in lower Middlesex but the soils may need liming. The soils of northern Stann Creek, such as the Melinda flood plain, are a mixture of recent alluvial material mixed with old flood plain granitic sand and curves south on the way to the banana plantations. Some of these areas have high growth of broadleaf forest and coconuts but citrus predominate. Most of the rest is fairly infertile and the floodplain occurring south of Hopkins/Kendall/Sittee, have been recently cut down for pasture. Due to the infertility of the area, there are mixed/poor results with pasture grasses and stocking rates are very high. A number of areas, especially in the Sittee area, used to produce citrus, pineapples and rice, an indication of soils that have acidic pH. The alluvial areas along the rivers, such as the South Stann Creek River, are currently being used to produce bananas. A few areas on the western side of the Southern Highway are heavily forested but these soils, although fine textured, have a fragile structure and are shallow in some places and deep in others.

The eastern side of Southern Highway consists of coastal beaches and lowland pineridge that is underlain by bleached granitic sand and a clay hardpan. Drainage is a problem in these areas and palmetto, calabash and pine trees are the native vegetation; however the shrimp farms have been able to exploit the area. The soils of these areas, called ultisols (very leached in the extreme), extend all the way past Independence into the Toledo District. The western side of the highway is now being opened up to pineapple production as the citrus disease takes a toll and alternative crops are needed. The most extreme soils also have wood tree plantations, mainly pine.

One irony of this area is that the poor soils are associated with the best water quality to be found in Belize and it also has good enough rainfall for replenishment.

Belize Ag Report

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#513704 - 05/12/16 07:05 PM Re: The Soils of Belize by District/Region [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

The Toledo District


(Click map for larger version)

The Toledo District

My last article left us at the northern boundary of the Toledo District. The soils of the Toledo District have all been formed under conditions of higher temperatures and higher rainfall. The dominant landform is the Maya Mountains and associated foothills that create the largest number of drainage courses of the 7 watersheds. This district has the largest number of rivers that are relatively fast moving and are broken up into many sub-units or tributaries. The mountains form a barrier that collects moisture from the coast and create conditions of condensation as rain and serious flooding. The floodplains of the Monkey River, Deep River and Golden Steam constitute the Northern Coastal Plain while the Rio Grande, Moho, Temash and Sarstoon constitute the Southern Coastal Plain. Using the rock types as reference parent materials, these plains are very diversified and are classified as hillsides, upland soils, northern/southern coastal plain soils and alluvium deposited. Limestone is widely dispersed, although highly weathered, containing rocks in many places. The soils of the Maya Mountains are inaccessible and are not considered in this article.

As we proceed south from the junction of Independence access road and the Southern Highway, we see a continuance of pine forested areas interspersed with swampy patches featuring palmetto and scrub grasses that are highly fibrous with low nutrition content. Extremely leached soils or Ultisols that have the underlying hardpan or compacted clay predominate on the right. These areas are complemented on the left side by sandy soils deposited by floods that extend all the way to the sea coast. The old mango farm was established on these sandy soils as mangoes are tolerant of these conditions. Banana farms have been established on the recent alluvial terraces of the Trio and Bladen branches with mixed results. These acid soils slowly give way to soils that are formed by old and new alluvial deposits including limestone and thus have a more favorable pH. The vegetation changes to an admixture of broadleaf in forested areas that have higher densities of large trees. The main soil types are Alfisols* that occur and are bordered by alluvial soils such as Entisols (old alluvium) and Inceptisols (new alluvium) on the river terraces and flood plains. Alfisols form in semiarid to humid areas, typically under a hardwood forest cover which results in organic matter and relatively high native fertility on the surface. However, most are shallow as they have clay-enriched subsoil and hard pans. The Alfisols, in addition to some calcium from the limestone, have aluminum (Al) and iron (Fe) that make the soil neutral to acidic, especially in the lower horizons.

Interestingly, the coastal area known as Port Honduras has large spans of swamps with peat bogs and muddy inlets, rocky outcrops in the sea and long stretches of granitic sand beaches. Many of the swamps and flooded areas are impacted by sea water and are saline. The Paine’s Creek National Park is a good example of one of these areas.

As we go further south, we encounter limestone hills and soils in association with the karst (limestone hills) on the upper and lower portions of the coastal plains. Many of these hills have parcels of land that are fairly arable in the areas that have flowing rivers nearby but can be subject to flooding and high water retention. The Deep River flood plain initiates the transition to the Southern Coastal Plain and land form is mildly undulating on the coastal side with higher hills occurring on the western side. Citrus and rice have been grown in flatter areas and upland rice, corn, beans and now cacao on the higher and sloping elevations. Significant areas have been utilized for pasture with native grasses the predominant vegetation. Due to the constraining factors of high rainfall, tree crops are mostly recommended although significant milpa farming occurs with virgin land increasingly becoming scarce. Coconuts are to be found everywhere.

The Rio Grande and Moho Rivers terraces and flood plains constitute the areas with the largest cultivable spreads but the landscape is punctuated by rivers and streams and limestone hills; many of the soils have stones that allow only hand cultivation and are hostile to mechanical cultivation. Native vegetation is cohune and broadleaf forest including valuable hardwoods. The lower reaches of the Moho have a few areas that are suitable for a number of crops but are currently used for corn, beans and rice. Flooding is a persistent enemy and in the lower reaches can last for weeks in some areas as water comes down from the hills in surface and subterranean channels. The soils are easily saturated and swamps are the dominant feature of the Temash and Sarstoon flood plains. Rice in these areas suffers from lack of water control infrastructure, especially drainage.

Author’s Note: This article is the last in the series and the information provided by technical observations of the author and was adapted from the separate publications published – “Resource Surveys of Northern Belize, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts” published by Natural Resources Institute, Kent, UK and available in print only. *Alfisols: a soil order in USDA soil taxonomy. Alfisols form in semiarid to humid areas, typically under a hardwood forest cover. They have a clay-enriched subsoil and relatively high native fertility. “Alf” refers to aluminium (Al) and iron (Fe).

Belize Ag Report


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