Hello all! This is Stephanie, the current volunteer coordinator at La Hesperia. Over the past few months a lot has taken place here at La Hesperia. We have had the pleasure of working with wonderful, passionate, and energetic people from various places around the world such as Canada, the USA, the UK, Germany, Norway, Denmark and of course, Ecuador. Amongst our volunteers, we have had enthusiastic people with a multitude of interest and experience in areas such as eco-construction with materials like bamboo and cob, organic farming with concepts of companion planting and composting, reforestation and conservation of our forest, environmental education and field research, and renewable energy such as our projects with a bio-digester and solar energy through plastic bottle panels. Without the desires and dedication to learn about the work being done here in the Cloud Forest of La Hesperia, so much of what we do here could not be possible.
The work within the veggie garden in order to understand organic farming within the Cloud Forest of Ecuador has definitely continued. We have continued to grow the crops which we know grow well such as radishes, Swiss chard, lettuce, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, turnips, and carrots. At the moment we are trying to get the eggplants, squash, and zucchini to survive in the veggie garden once they have been transplanted from the seedling nursery. We continue to practice mulching which is a technique for preventing weeds around crops and maintaining moisture in the soil – essential this time of year which is the dry season. The ideas of crop rotation and companion planting are still important concepts for maximizing the potential of the soil which holds nutrients from previous crops and utilizes some crops’ ability to ward off the pests of other crops by planting them together. Currently we are not planting seeds directly into the beds unless they are root vegetables because birds seem to be eating the seeds once planted. So, we have continued with previous actions of planting in the seedling nursery and then transplanting in the veggie garden once germination has taken place. We are also waiting for recently planted sunflowers to bloom so they can help attract useful insects to the veggie garden.
It has been a true pleasure learning about all that goes into the production of so many different types of foods which we all enjoy and may take for granted back in our home countries. Although coffee-harvesting season seemingly ended about a month ago and volunteers cannot currently learn about the harvesting of coffee beans, several volunteers got to enjoy that experience for about two and a half months, and we are still enjoying our morning coffee from those already roasted beans. In addition, volunteers and tourists have been able to learn about and have an active role in the production of chocolate from start to finish – from beans to a creamy, spreadable delight to go on top of sweet biscuits or inside crêpes. We have also had the fabulous opportunity of making cheese from our freshly produced milk and enjoyed a lasagna from pasta made from scratch. Of course none of this is meant to overshadow the delicious, homemade bread baked two to three times a week and enjoyed daily for breakfast.
As previous volunteers know, there is a constant need for ongoing projects in order to maintain a level of efficiency here at La Hesperia. Some recently completed projects have included the expansion of the compost area (this was created due to the large amounts of compostable waste produced at La Hesperia, especially from yard clippings), repairs to the two current chicken coops due to the need to prepare for the new chicks once they can be moved from their current, incubated area, and the creation of another bridge in the Laguna Trail which will make the exploration of one of our beloved nature trails more enjoyable without the fear of sinking into almost a meter of mud. Some current projects include the reparation of our fences which surround cow pastures and the veggie garden. For anyone who has worked on a farm before knows that fences need upkeep in order to prevent the livestock from taking over;) Also, we are still clearing, cleaning, and preparing our laguna for our tilapia in order to make it their home and a natural ecosystem for other creatures.
La Hesperia is always involved in conservation projects all over the reserve. Reforestation is a very important aspect of La Hesperia due to the fact that this area was found, upon purchase several decades ago, heavily deforested. Therefore, we are constantly planting trees in hopes to bring back the forest which was lost. However, it is currently the dry season here in Ecuador which means it is not the season for planting trees. But because many trees have been recently planted and weeds grow faster than the trees, we have had to, like always, go into the forest where young trees have been planted and clear the areas around the trees so they are able to receive sufficient sunlight and not the weeds around them. However, the transplanting of trees and plants does not always result in their successful growth. Therefore, when doing this tree-care maintenance, some trees, which did not survive their transplantation, need to be replaced with live baby trees from the nursery. In the last two months we have planted approximately 75 additional trees in our forest. In addition, we have planted approximately 25 heliconias and 20 ginger plants. The plants are very important for our ecosystem because they provide the needed energy (a natural sugar) for hummingbirds so they can pollinate numerous plants in La Hesperia. Heliconias, gingers and Carludovica palmata (another plant recently transplanted in an area which does not receive a lot of sunlight however, they do not need a lot of sunlight for their growth) are very interesting because they constantly sprout baby plants either near or in their leaves which when removed can be transplanted and grow into a tall plant of their own.
Since the 1980s, La Hesperia has been a place for research. Karen Kirk, executive director of the Tangaré Foundation, has been conducting research on dung beetles in the Cloud Forest of La Hesperia for awhile now. Dung beetles like several amphibians such as frogs, are excellent bio-indicators. Due to their sensitivity to slight changes in the environment, they can give us insights into things such as climate change. At the moment, Karen has over 4000 dung beetles in a laboratory being examined and identified. So far Karen has discovered two new species of dung beetles. Just a month ago, Karen returned to the forest with several volunteers to educate and demonstrate how she conducts her field research for volunteers interested in entering similar fields of research in the future.
It is equally important for our volunteers to view the beauty of La Hesperia’s Cloud Forest while obtaining its knowledge. Therefore, it is essential that volunteers hike areas of the forest while they are here – volunteers go on an extensive hike at least every other Friday. In the last few months, volunteers have hiked the trail to our second campsite (approximately 3 hours from the main working area of the reserve). Here tarantulas the size of i-phones can be found, a variety of orchids native to Ecuador can be spotted and the sap of the Sangre de Drago can be rubbed onto the skin for dermatological benefits. We have also hiked to one of many cascades which lies within the parameters of La Hesperia and enjoyed the fun of sliding down it. In addition to the Sangre de Drago, after only a thirty minute hike into the forest, several volunteers have had the pleasure of rubbing a red clay on their skin which also has dermatological benefits. Moreover, a recent volunteer spent over eight hours hiking the parameter of La Hesperia where he was able to see the primary forest of La Hesperia and observe the three different levels of vegetation.
I am definitely looking forward to what is still to come… :)