By Deanne Converse This article may not be copied or transferred in any way in whole or part without the permission of the author.
We run our family farm in the Columbia River Gorge…But this winter we took on another farm project in Honduras as a volunteer mission. While part of the family headed for warmer weather (sweat, bugs and bad water), one of our family stayed behind to keep the farm on the USA chugging along in winter-mode.
Greetings from Central America in Honduras near the Guatemala border! Winter time in the tropics! Escape the PNW mountain weather and the hours of shoveling snow, hiking supplies down a snow-blocked driveway, and thawing out frozen livestock watering containers. Or so we thought. We “got out of Dodge” and came to WWH2H Children’s Village, only to find out we’d escaped the warmest most mild winter ‘at home’ on record….
So here we are (Jan 2015 – June 2015) at the Children’s Village working on the large aquaponics system we installed that will supply the 60+ kiddos living here with veggies, and fish..But what if we could move on to be able to supply these children with a completely renovated nutritious diet supplied on their own sustainable farm? As an Agricultural Management Team, that is our mission here…In a 5 year Sustainable Agriculture Management Plan we designed specially for the Children’s Village….
A four day cycle of : Daily fresh fruits and veggies and eggs grown here and rotation of:
Day 1: Chicken meat
Day 2: Pork
Day 3 : Fish
Day 4: beans (not grown on site)
The beginning of March, a group of adventurous young adults arrived, known as The Fellows, to knock out some amazing pieces of this puzzle for us in just 5 short days!
A Chicken coop that houses 80 -100 laying hens, and also meat birds at the other end of the coop. Due to our location, we installed a rainwater harvesting system on the roof in order to avoid having to haul drinking water for so many chickens. We started out with about 30 young hens just about read to begin laying eggs. We also started out 50 week old poults, which we brooded in our quarters. At this time the Village is getting 24+ eggs a day, and soon they will be getting about 80 a day. This will be enough for the daily needs of the Village, the teen houses and some to sell. Our mission was to also begin the growth of feed for the chickens: Moringa Oleifra, Black Soldier fly larva and excess fish fry, and later – Mulato II grass (forage fodder crop).
The coop was started in March, by Miguel who is employed at the Village along with a local crew. It was mostly finished by a Fellows missions crew that came and poured their lives and love into this project. The Converse’s finished the installment of the rainwater collection system for the chickens drinking water.
After those at the Village can keep up with the flock of laying hens, it is in the plan to move in to raising meat chickens.
Planted Moringa Oleifera Seeds:
The Fellows group acquired over a thousand moringa seeds for us! They sterilized the soil (due to heavy local fungal and bacterial and insect loads) in a newly build Fire Pit, and planted lots of these seeds. The newly planted trees are grown as the understory in a plantain grove at the Children’s Village, and will be managed as a short greens crop. These ‘greens’ will be harvested, on row each day in a 35 day rotation, and supply food for the children, the fish, chickens and pigs.
The seeds the Fellows had started, grew to small seedlings and where planted by the Converse’s out as an understory in the Plantain Grove. And we continued with planting more trees daily ( thousands will be needed to complete this part of the project) The Moringa trees are planted in close spacing, in groups of 4 long rows. These will be managed as a ‘short green”. This means that after we have 35 groups of 4 long rows, harvesting will begin. Each day one group will be shorn off. Each tree will have its green leafy growth removed. In 35 days it will have regrown. The leaves of the moringa will be used to feed the children, the chickens, fish and pigs. They are a nutritional powerhouse!
Also in the Sustainable Agricultural Plan we designed for the Village, there will be a plot for growing Moringa Oleifera Trees to normal height. These will provide seeds. The seed of the moringa plant can be used to purify water. This is a valuable commodity in countries where clean and safe drinking water is not available to everyone. The seed harvest can be use in the Heart To Heart outreach ministry, when they go out to minister to the poorest of the villages in the mountains. These seeds can easily grow in poor soil and survive in drought conditions, meaning any family can grow a tree that will help the health of their family. The oil pressed from the seeds of the highest quality and a valuable commodity, which can bring in income.
Installed Fencing: For natural bug control???
In March 215 the Fellows crew installed a 5 strand barbed wire fence around the plantain grove where the moringa will be planted. This area is ‘blessed’ with a high population of leaf cutter ants, which seem to favor Moringa Leaves….So we are also bringing in a flock of young guinea keats to help manage the ant population, and the rodent population around here. SO anyone who knows anything about Guinea Fowl are probably thinking we are a few tools short on our shed..Barbed wire will not corral Guinea fowl..The fence is to keep the local dogs out, so that the guineas will have an area they can ‘forage’ without disturbance. The Fellows also built a frame for a Guinea house which they moved to the fenced area. The red letters for this topic is in honor of the crew braving working with barbed fencing…ouch!
We finished the fencing project. Tim gets full marks for bravery, putting the fence through the one area that had a concentrated ant colony. While there are guinea hens throughout Honduras and in our local area, no one seemed to know how to locate keats. We needed to start with keats ( guinea babies) so they would be imprinted on the area. Older ones would just fly off. Curiously the local seemed to act like keats do not exist…kind of like how no one here in the USA sees pigeon babies..and everyone was willing to sell adults (which would leave as soon as we turned them loose). SO the quest continues to find someone willing to admit they have keats and willing to sell them.
Boxes to grow gross larva : Okay, so John the Baptist ate locusts, so what’s the big deal here? Any way you look at it, a writhing mass of maggots illicits a shudder…but they are nutritious.
The Fellows group is so on-board with this sustainable farming goal, they build BSFL propagation boxes with pride! Black Soldier FLy Larva, pounds of these maggots, will self-harvested daily to feed the chickens, the pigs and the fish. We already had one box in the greenhouse for our aquaponics system, so they used that as the template, and made two more – one for the chicken coop and one for the pig pen.
The BSLF Boxes are a success. We did not install the end screens in the BSFL boxes that were indoors, including the one we put in the chicken coop. The screen was to keep rodents and the like out. This would not be a problem in the coop, since the hens would make a meal out of any rodent….All we needed to do was wait for the BSFL population to establish itself and begin to pour out as they pupated and feed the chickens…Funny thing…we did not expect the hens to figure the box out… one hen established herself in the BSFL Box and began laying eggs inside and eating the BSLF smorgasbord at the tip of her beak! Tim discovered her set-up, and moved her out….up go the screens.
Fish The aquaponics system in the greenhouse has a 4500 gallon capacity fish raceway and holds a plethora of red Tilapia. These fish create the effluent that feeds the plants in the growbeds. Eventually the fish will reproduce enough to be able have a fish harvest, and keep the population up enough to support plant growth. We are growing vegetables in the greenhouse, to feed the kiddos at the village. In the future there will be enough food grown to sell for an income stream, as well as to feed the children.
The pigs at WWH2H are in serious need of well-informed management. We have a component in the Sustainable agriculture Management plan for the pigs. It was accepted whole heardly by the WWH2H administration…But in practice it is another matter. The decision was made to go the route they have been on with the pigs. There is no excuse for pigs to be walking skeletons, or to allow them to breed indesciminately , especially when there is not enough feed to suppoort the ones there already. None of the boars are fixed which can be done on-farm easily. All this is fixable if the H2H admin decides to follow the plan. All the resources are available. Change does not come easily, even for the best of intentioned organizations.
Mulato II Grass to be grown as a forage fodder crop. To be harvested in strips and brought to the pigs daily. Also food for the chickens. His grass is a high protein grass suited for growing in Honduras as a forage crop. The management plan calls for the Mulato II grass to be grown in the same area as the moringa trees grown for seed production.