Friday, March 3, 2017

Ants and dirt! Observations from the Brethren Volunteer Service Volunteer, Tibby Miller.

Photo: Women from Comunidad Romero work together with a Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer (me) and volunteers from York University preparing newspaper cones for seeding. Right: Margarita worked on a coffee plantation and had years of practice doing similar work seeding coffee.

Women from the SEW project Comunidad Romero this past week came together to prepare the soil for their indigo nursery. Last year they attended weekly workshops on organic agriculture including how to make “cones” from newspaper, which serves to recycle and use an easily accessible resource. The cones are filled with a mixture of soil and bocashi (a kind of compost) and then will be planted with indigo seeds. The seeds themselves are tiny, and must be planted carefully, not too deep or they won’t sprout, and not too shallow or the ants or birds will carry them off.

Speaking of ants! Farming in El Salvador, you encounter a problem you would never think of. Carpenter ants! The giant ants love cutting poor, tender, new sprouts and carrying them off in pieces to their lair. It would be funny if it wasn’t so destructive. The women in Romero planted approximately 500 cones and the indigo seedlings were doing nicely. After about 2 weeks they needed more sun than they could receive under the awning of their shed. So we moved the seedlings to an area nearby with more sun. As we were moving them I noticed a single ant carrying his prize: a yellow flower. It was only a couple days after Valentine's Day, and I thought, “How cute! He’s late, but he’s bringing flowers to his lady friend!”

That night, all 500 seedlings disappeared and the cones were left completely bare.

Not to be deterred, the ladies in the Comunidad Romero project working with organic indigo, replanted the next day and are planting several thousand more cones with seedlings. Finding organic methods to control problems like carpenter ants can be a huge challenge in tropical countries. Options include using uncooked rice or finding another carpenter ant burrow and sprinkling some of the material on the area you want to protect. Apparently ant colonies steer clear from one another and respect each other’s territory, a characteristic that can be exploited.

Learning to coexist with potential damaging plants, animals, and microorganisms is a fundamental part of the agroecology movement. On the other hand, the tendency in El Salvador is to use quick-fixes to solve problems that involve the heavy use of pesticides, burning brush and weeds, and chemical fertilizers. The effects certainly have a large role in the widespread contamination of rivers and freshwater sources, erosion of soils, and declining soil fertility, to name a few.

Written by: Elisabeth Anne Miller