Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Plagas Department

We’ve started our rotation in the Plagas department, where we are learning how to fight pesticides using natural predators. Norma and Roxana head this small department of four. Two men also work in the department and are responsible for spraying the plants with natural pest repellents, but I have yet to meet them. Also working closely with us is Nelly. Nelly is in charge of a natural protected area close to the organopónico so she sets up office with the women in the Plagas department. I haven’t gotten a chance yet to ask her exactly what she does but I will soon!
Norma and Nelly are pictured below (Roxana was away for the day)

Nelly on the left, and Norma on the Right
Our days in the plagas department start with an hour of caracol (snail) hunting back out in the fields with Alexi, Pedro, Marie Sol and all the guys in the Hortilizas department. Most days we're joined by Elsa and Mabel from the casa de posturas and it's always nice to talk with them again. It’s amazing all the tiny bugs you can find in the top inch of soil in the garden beds. Yes, there are hundreds of snails, but there are also crickets, ants, millipedes, potato bugs and spiders (thankfully they are fairly small). 
After this, we have been shadowing Norma around the farm. Norma is the most enthusiastic teacher I have encountered yet on the farm. She seems genuinely excited to try and cram as much information about her department into our heads over the few weeks she has us. She’s already begun to plan out activities for us so we can better understand the processes they use to control the pests. She adamantly expressed however, the changing nature of their job. One year the pests might ‘magically’ be gone, or present at such a low level that they’re not a worry. Other times, like this summer with the snails, the pest levels can be so high that entire crops are destroyed days after they are planted. She also added that they never want to completely eradicate a pest since without a pest present in the fields, there won’t be any natural predators either. In short, the good bugs go where the bad bugs are, so to have the good you have to have the bad as well.

The small office for this department is filled with natural extracts from many different plants including tobacco plants, and nim trees which can be watered down and used as natural pesticides, and on the far wall there are books on medicinal plants, toxic plants and of course insects. A poster on the wall shows pests and their corresponding predators, and beneath it on a small table are two microscopes that Norma and Roxana use to identify the various insects they collect from the field.

Today, unfortunately as Kat wasn’t feeling well I went to work alone, but I was quickly joined by three other students. Together, Cecilia from Colombia, Pamela from Mexico and Mateo from France, Roxana and I went around the farm collecting ladybugs and as many aphids as we could from the mint and green bean plants. Ladybugs eat 100 aphids a day, and their larvae can eat between 200 and 300 a day, so in order to sustain our captured ladybugs we had to find a lot of aphids. We then placed the ladybugs and aphids in the department’s containers, and I assume soon we’ll be refilling these containers with new aphids.

This department is going to be quite information intensive, so over the next two weeks or so I’m going to take it all in before posting again. Below are some of the photos I’ve got from the department so far.

The entrance to the department. Roughly translates to: Laboratory for breeding beneficial insects.

Norma shows us how the corn stalks surrounding the fields attract pests away from the crops.
A container used to breed natural pests
In other news, this past week my family came to visit! It was incredible to get to see them for a while, to take advantage of the buffet breakfasts at the hotel, and to play tour guide for a week. I miss them already!

Here are my beautiful parents in Viñales. Mary on the left, Bill on the right. Happy early anniversary!!
Daniel and I in Viñales

A little unrelated, but this is a gorgeous sunset we saw from the Malecon
Daniel, Mom & Dad in Viñales
My Cuban Family (missing Dacio) and my Canadian Family
From left to right: Chino, Bill, Lily, Mary, Daniel

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