Thursday, 4 July 2013


We've moved into "el campo" (the field) or the department of Hortalizas (vegetables) where we'll be working for two weeks. Hortalizas is by far the largest department and is where all the seedlings from the casa de postures go to be planted in the long "canteros" (raised garden beds). To give an idea of their size, 1000 plants can be planted in one cantero. The size of this department demands for more workers. Thirteen men and one woman keep this department moving. They rotate between planting the seedlings, and harvesting them when they're ready to be bundled and sold. Alexi (who I found out today is married to Luisa who works in Agroindustria) and Pedro pictured together below have largely taken Kat and I under their wing. The two often sing together while working and are by far the most talkative of the group. 

Alexi and Pedro (Pedro's holding the strips of fabric used to tie up bundles of lettuce/chard)
The past couple days we've been planting lettuce seedlings. They spend a month in the casa de postures before coming out to the field to be planted where they mature for another month. The bundles of chard and lettuce pictured below both sell for 4 cuban pesos a piece. 

Bundles of Chard - 4 Cuban pesos a piece
Lettuce before being tied - also 4 Cuban pesos a piece
In this department the irrigation system is controlled locally. Each cantero has its own control located in the ground in front of it (pictured below). Despite the fact that Cuba gets a fair amount of rain in July the irrigation system is quite necessary and is turned on twice a day; once in the morning, once in the afternoon for an hour each time. 

An irrigation control panel. They're pretty easy to trip over if you're not paying attention.
Irrigation tubing running down a relatively empty bed (onions along sides)
The major problem this department has to contend with are the "plagas" or pests which can destroy hundreds of young seedlings before they've developed. From what I've heard, the major perpetrators are snails (caracols) and the caterpillars (gusanos) of the white butterflies that flutter around the farm. Pictured below is a chard plant covered in gusanos and gusano eggs. 

One method they use to try and preserve crops are "cortinas anti plagas". These are lines of plants which are sacrificed to the pests in order to guard the desired crops. For example, in the photo below two lines of corn surround the field of beans in order to ensure the survival of the beans. Katherine and I will soon spend a week in the Plagas department where we'll learn how the organopónico cultivates natural enemies for pests so that pesticides remain unnecessary. 

The corn on the left is eaten by pests, while the bean plants on the right remain largely untouched. 
Speaking of pests, anyone who knows me will know I really can't stand spiders. I've grown to be able to deal with them when I find them in the house but nonetheless I still squirm when I see one. One of the men came up to me today holding the spider pictured below. Generally when people show me something on the farm it's an interesting medicinal plant, a flower, or some fruit, which is what I expected when he held out his hand. It's safe to say I was surprised. (I'm pretty sure he's still holding the spider in the group picture below as well).

I know it looks a little small but keep in mind Rodolfo has very large hands.
All smiles (and the spider is still in Rodolfo's hand)
From left to right: Rodolfo (Spiderman), Chino, Me, Marie Sol, and Pedro.
Chino, Me, Alexi, and Pedro
Today the workers in Hortalizas held their monthly meeting where together they discussed problems facing their department and how they plan to fix whatever they can. Every month there is a meeting with all the workers of the organopónico, but since the Hortalizas department is so large, they have a second meeting of their own. As the organopónico is a cooperative, each employee is also an owner so through these meetings they are able to discuss problems and possible changes as necessary.

This week Katherine's Mom, Sue and brother Chris are visiting so I think we're going to go adventuring in Viñales this weekend, and next week my parents Mary and Bill and brother Daniel will be visiting. It's going to be tiring but excellent week!  

Below are a couple general photos of the department:
 Chino (that's not his name but everyone calls him Chino) and Marie Sol planting lettuce.
Little lettuce seedlings
Lettuce ready to be picked

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