Thursday, December 10, 2009


Organic farming in Western Belize

Farming in Belize is difficult. The soils are mostly clay of one type or another. In order to farm well, you need to do a lot of soil preparation. Most farmers only use the soil to hold the plant roots. They then add fertilizer.
For the last year and a half, we have had a CUBAN organic farming expert on the pay roll of the FAO of the United Nations. She has been showing us how to make our own fertilizer using worm farms. I've been trying it without success. I think my problem is I'm using fruit almost exclusively to make compost. I will have to go back to Central Farm and find out how to make it the way they are doing it by the expert.
We have had some successful hydroponic, all year round growing, greenhouse type operations using the ebb and flow method. You can mix your own plant food here, from fertilizer bags, with some local additives that have been proven to work. Hydroponic vegetable and herb production have worked for the better part of seven years locally by different private sector operators. I tried it and it worked, then eventually switched to shaded plants grown in bags. Some flowers and mostly vegetables. We still use this system all year round and supply water from the garden hose when they need it. We have two rainy seasons a year. Now we feed the family from this substantially. Cuts our food bill.
The big problem with tropical plant growing is that the insects and diseases are never ending. They don't have the cold dormant seasons like in Northern temperate zones.
The FAO has made some GRANTS for demonstration and experimental greenhouse production of vegetables. These are still in their first year in late 2009.
Because we grow in 5 lb plastic bags, we can easily supply fertilizer to our plants. We do this using chicken manure and compost tea, which is a liquified compost made in five gallon buckets.
ORGANIC FARMING is very productive. The drawbacks are the insects and diseases. Experiments are under way with total greenhouse operations. The results are not in on that yet. Besides the soil, if you are going to grow in rows in dirt inside a greenhouse, you need to consider insects and diseases. I've had a lot of trouble with tomatoes. Some organic growers are now experimenting with interspersing their crops with rows with pyrethrum. The whole idea of organic growing is to avoid insecticides and other chemicals.
One hard lesson learned was 3 acres of squash and watermelons, that withered away due to fungus attacks. The solution was to add corn meal to the soil. Pretty near everything you want to grow, other than native normal two season type vegetables, you have to make sure your soil is correctly prepared. Most milpa farmers of the past and many of the present are still not doing that.
Chinch bugs ate up my tomatoes one crop. Another crop, tomato leaf curl virus and also mosaic virus ruined my tomato crop. There are resistant varieties of tomatoes. We don't really get much information on what seeds are best for different conditions. There are a lot of independent growers trying different things, but locally we have no communication with each other, on what has failed, or succeeded. The new Ag. Report a private sector news type thingy is helping a bit here. At least we hope so?
The big thing with organic farming is trial and error experimentation. Building the soil and then planting to keep bugs away are paramount in a tropical environment. The last and third problem is choosing the best variety and hopefully developing our own to sell the seeds at the local agro farm stores. We still have a long way to go.
Probably the single most difficult problem is dissemination of knowledge of scattered farmers who have had successes, or failures and communicating that knowledge on a national scale to everybody. Nobody is doing that yet!
One real ORGANIC producer is Sol Farms Ltd. at Mile 52.1 in Teakettle. Teakettle is a beautiful area, with rolling hills, pocket valleys and the Belize river. You can contact them at: They are already USDA organic certified. They produce organic zucchini squash, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, yellow squash, cucumbers, sweet corn, French green beans, peanuts of two types, Moringa, Stevia and Chia. They had trouble with powdery mildew and fungus and learned an expensive lesson in the need to add corn meal to the soils and now produce great squash and melons.
The editor of the AG REPORT publication for ORGANIC STUFF IS Greg Clark. His email is:


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AmericanEquineResearch said...

Actually, I am trying to leave a helpful comment to Beach Bum retires to Belize and his problems raising earthworms. I am a master gardener from Texas. Worms need dirt and leaf litter, maybe a little shredded newspapaper for bedding. Feeding them nothing but fruit is too acid and will kill most of your worms. They like veggie shavings and cornmeal. Mostly cornmeal. maybe some peat moss. A little horse manure, plenty of rabbit or goat manure will help. Chicken manure is too rich and burns. No rotten meat or eggs. That will kill them, too. Hope this helps. Blessings.