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Raw Honey Harvesting at Taino Organic Farm

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Everyone has heard the term “busy as a bee” but did you know it takes bees roughly 10 million foraging trips to make the equivalent of one jar of honey? (International Bee Research Association).  Honey bees play a vital role both in our tropical ecosystem and in the world as a whole. They also produce what we consider at Taino Organic Farm to be a form of liquid gold: fresh, raw honey.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

At Taino Organic Farm, we harvest honey from our bees three times a year. I was lucky enough to be present for our January harvest.

How is honey harvested? When dusk fell on Tuesday, Taino Organic Farm’s apiarists Victor and Nao went out in full gear to retrieve slides from our ten hives. When harvesting honey, there are two main tools used to avoid upsetting the bees. The first is smoke, which is used to lull them into a more dormant state. The second is clothing. It is best to wear white colored clothing, as wearing colors close to their natural predators (such as a bear) triggers a defensive response.

After the honey slides have been retrieved from the hives, they are carefully opened using a knife and placed into an extractor. The extractor is hand cranked and spins the raw honey from the comb. It is then poured from the extractor through a cloth filter and into storage container. Voila! We have honey and the remaining honey and comb goes back to our happy sleepy bees.

 

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Though the process seems simple, it takes bees the equivalent of traveling three times around the world to produce one jar of honey (International Bee Research Association). Most of the honey we buy in supermarkets is actually dyed fructose syrup, in fact US melissopalynologist Vaughn Bryant found that 75{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} of honey on US supermarket shelves contained no pollen at all having been through an ultra-filtration technique perfected by Chinese producers. (Bryant). The other 25{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} is made primarily by commercial honey producers that feed their bees artificial sweeteners and process their honey with heat, taking away many of the incredible benefits such as it’s anti viral, fungal, bacterial and carcinogenic properties. You can find a full list of the benefits and differences of raw honey and pasteurized honey here. Though it is cheaper this way, honey is also vitally important to bee’s immune systems and helps them defend themselves from pesticides. There is a major shortage of raw honey in the world due to colony collapse disorder, which is caused largely by commercial farming and pesticide use. This is a major problem as honey is essential to bees and bees are essential to human life. Albert Einstein one said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live”. Which brings us back to the importance of organic farming and tropical permaculture! Genetically modified crops, pesticides and diseases (that spread rapidly due to bees with weakened immune systems) are killing off our bees and if we do not look out for them through sustainable farming, we will soon be without our best pollinators and a very valuable resource: raw honey.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey has endless benefits, it is great for dietary and external use for humans as well as an amazing resource to perpetuate all of the environmental benefits bees provide. Taino Organic Farm has a limited amount of raw honey available for sale, if you would like to buy a bottle you can contact the farm through our Facebook page, buy from us directly on a farm tour or through eXtreme hotel or Lynsey Wyatt at 849-343-6041. Prices range from $300-$500rd.

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Permaculture Principle Number One in Practice

At Taino Organic Farm, the biggest portion of our learning is through doing, which just so happens to coincide perfectly with permaculture principle number one: observe and interact. Instead of our usual classroom style permaculture lesson on Tuesday, the whole team decided to put permaculture principle number one into practice by going on a field trip into the mountains. All of the volunteers as well as our permaculture designer and teacher Charlie Durrant and our farm manager and guide Victor hopped on moto conchos towards Sabaneta.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch riding over a bridge into the mountains.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch into the mountains.

After the bridge, we cut left and went up a dirt road (or maybe I should say rock road, it was a bumpy ride) and after about ten minutes, got to a path we could walk.We thanked our moto drivers and began our meander through the forest jungle. As we walked, we observed and interacted with our surroundings, stopping often along the way to discuss different plants/wildlife and their purposes. We picked a couple of guanabana (also known as sour sop) fruits to eat and replant.

 

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

 

Eventually we reached the top of a mountain that overlooks the whole island. To the left in the distance we could see the ocean and below us the Yassica River that we swim in everyday, as well as the dirt road we live on. It was a truly incredible view and allowed us all to step back and realize how incredible it is that we live in a place where we are able to cultivate such diversity.

Piñon trees flowering pink dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

Flowering piñon trees dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

On our way back to the farm, we stopped and chopped some branches off a large piñon tree to plant back at the farm and diversify our area. Unlike many other trees, piñon branches (as well as moringa) can be planted directly into the ground to become a new tree. They are the most commonly used fence post in the Dominican Republic because you can “chop and drop” them once they grow large enough and feed them to the cattle. Fence posts into food in just a few months!

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

 

The longer I am here, the more I appreciate not only the world around me, but also all of the pieces that allow it to function. We see the permaculture principles in action all around us. The community at Taino farm experienced permaculture principle number one by observing our environment and interacting with each other to learn about what I consider the most important subject of all: the interaction of life in nature.

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Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles

Continuing our introduction to permaculture, this week we discussed permaculture ethics and design principles.

The three permaculture ethics are:

  1. Earth care
  2. People care
  3. Fair share

The twelve permaculture design principles are:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10.  Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Full descriptions of the permaculture ethics and design principles can be found here.

We also went over David Holgren’s permaculture flower, which outlines specific fields, design systems and solutions that aim to create a sustainable culture. A downloadable version can be found here in both English and Spanish.

Charlie explaining the seven areas of the permaculture flower.

The group discussed in English and Spanish ways we are helping to create a sustainable culture.

There are seven areas to consider:

1. Land and Nature Stewardship (such as organic agriculture, keyline water harvesting and integrated aquaculture)

2. Building (Passive solar design, eco-housing, natural construction materials)

3. Tools and Technology (reuse and creative recycling, efficient and low pollution wood stoves, energy storage)

4. Education and Culture (Home schooling, transition culture, Waldorf education)

5. Health and Spiritual Well-being (home birth & breast feeding, holistic medicine, yoga)

6. Finances and Economics (WWOOFing, Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture)

7. Land Tenure and Community Governance (cooperatives, ecovillages, consensus decision making)

While many of us consciously cultivate these areas of our lives, the permaculture flower helps us to focus on making our way of being more practical and sustainable.

Taino farm volunteers Karin and Honza taking notes on the permaculture flower.

Taino farm volunteers Karin and Honza taking notes on the permaculture flower and coloring their own.

We also watched a video in which Geoff Lawton gives an overview of all of the Zones found in a permaculture design. You can find information about Zone 1 in my last blog post.

-Zone 2 is the area where you will find main crops as well as small animals that need regular attention (such as poultry or rabbits). It can contain food forests that are frequently visited.

-Zone 3 is typically used for self-fed animals (such as cattle) as well as other farm forestry.

-Zone 4 often is where wood fuel comes from and where mushrooms are cultivated.

-Zone 5 is wilderness. Though it may be used for foraging and hunting, it is mainly left untouched and is used for contrast and inspiration.

Fresh green beans, eggs, kale, tomatoes and avocado for lunch at the farm.

We packed a lot into the lesson and still had time to enjoy a fantastic farm fresh organic lunch together!

 

 

 

 

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Zone 1 Design in Permaculture

Stilted eco-hut at Taino Farm

Huts at Taino Farm are an example of sustainable housing in the tropics.

This week at Taino Farm, Charlie Durrant (our permaculture designer and educator) gave us a lesson on the main differences in Zone 1 Design in Permaculture in tropical, dry and temperate climate zones. In permaculture practice, Zone 1 consists of the main building and the area nearest to it. It is the most controlled as well as the most frequently visited area. Alongside the main building you will often find herb gardens, a nursery or small animals in Zone 1.

A chicken tractor in a tropical farm

Chicken tractors are an example of small animals in Zone 1

In Zone 1 of tropical permaculture gardens, it is especially important to have multiple layers of growth to decrease the intensity of the sun and slow down the leaching effect that heavy rainfall can have. When building in tropical climates, the main goals are to maximize airflow and minimize the sun’s exposure to thermal mass (such as walls and roofs).  Houses in the tropics are often stilted and have large windows to increase airflow.

In dry climates when building sustainable eco-housing, the emphasis is on insulation. Though the climate is similar to the tropics in that it is often extremely hot, seasonally and at night it can become quite cold. Solar chimneys are often implemented for use in the summer. You can find an explanation of Solar Chimneys here. Permaculture gardens in dry climates are usually sunken beds and use the wicking bed system to prevent evaporation during watering.

Temperate climates are in many ways more complex, as you have more factors to consider in environments that experience all four seasons. However, Charlie explained that there are also incredible benefits to growing in temperate areas. The soil is often much richer and the growing season is productive because daylight hours are longer. He also pointed out the benefit of growing deciduous trees around a living space: It can help reduce the potential for the sun to heat the thermal mass (walls etc.) in the summer yet because they lose their leaves, still allow sunlight onto and into the building in the winter.

Permaculture Education in The Tropics

Charlie Durrant teaching us about the benefits of Temperate Climates

While all of this is valuable information, the prominent lesson this week was bigger than just Zone 1. Charlie’s lesson showed us that learning about permaculture is practical and interesting no matter where you are from. When we return home, whether that be to the Czech Republic, Haiti, the U.S. or right down the road, we are all sure to come away knowing principles that can help us maintain a more sustainable lifestyle.

Volunteers from the Czech Republic and Haiti

Volunteers from the Czech Republic and Haiti learning about Zone 1 planting

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Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity is an extraordinarily important aspect of tropical permaculture and creating a sustainable organic farm. This week at Taino, Charlie (our permaculture designer) and Victor (our maestro farmer) took us on a meander through Los Brazos to collect native seeds.

finding seeds

Victor’s daughter, Nicole and her friend collecting seeds.

 

Increasing biodiversity by planting a variety of native flowers and legumes is beneficial in many ways, not only do they attract native wildlife like birds and lizards, they also help to create a resilient ecosystem. For example, there are thirty varieties of the Moringa tree, if we were to have only one kind, a disease could come along and wipe out one of our most important crops. Biodiversity also helps to provide us with a more reliable/sustainable yield of organic food because different species and varieties of plants produce at different times. We may have an avocado tree that produces fruit from September to October and another variety that goes from October to November. In doing this we both maximize our yield and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

native seeds in the dominican

A cup full of guandule and other native seeds

Flowers and plants like Sunhemp are beneficial because they are short lived, aerate the soil and fix nitrogen for the other plants (and they feed our bees!). Part of Charlie’s permaculture lesson this week was on companion planting. In the tropics, there is no shortage of pests so strategies like companion planting help us to deter them without having to use harmful chemicals. Whether it means planting a tall plant next to one that likes shade or a plant with a strong odor like basil next to one that is susceptible to pests like tomatoes, we want to plant crops together that will be mutually beneficial.

Blue flower from the dominican republic

Caption: These blue flowers are beautiful and edible!

nitrogen fixing roots

Charlie showing us how to identify nitrogen fixing roots.

We are blessed to be in an area where plants and people thrive and benefit from each other’s existence. Many of the seeds we collected were from Victor’s Mother’s house and at the end of the day we were invited to share a cup of coffee and meet the whole family. Four generations are living in their lovely home, including a two year old boy and his 104 year old great grandmother! We were all touched by their kindness and I left feeling so grateful to be planting seeds that were given and will be planted with love.

dominican farming family

Charlie with Victor and his family