Today was my first slightly melancholy day since I arrived in Cuba. It started off badly as the tiredness of the day before meant I had fallen asleep on my bed the night before and not woken up until about 3am, fully clothed, on top of my bed. I was more than tempted to stay where I was until morning but instead I dragged myself up to get undressed and put myself to bed properly.
The next problem was that when I got up properly in the morning I knew at once that I didn’t have my Spanish head on. Things just felt fuzzy on that front, which was frustrating, as I had done so well with the language the day before.
After breakfast the first session of the day was with Marisol who had been so kind to me in my first couple of days at INIFAT. The theme of her seminar was the agro-ecological management of soil. This was a particular challenge as there was a great deal of terminology that was well outside my existing scope of knowledge of the Spanish language, as well as being outside the scope of my little dictionary!
Marisol explained that for agriculture to have a foundation in ecology it needed to be founded on a basis of animal health, human health and environmental protection. Soil came into this as a key principle component of an ecosystem alongside climate and fauna / vegetation. So what do we mean when we talk about soil?
- A structure with its own system.
- Biological, living and dynamic.
- Complete and open.
- That has fertility.
Soil has harmonic equilibrium that exists in its physical state, and the produces environment that permits the development of a plant ecosystem. On this basis all sustainability needs a fundamental basis within the fertility of soil with soil managed in a variety of different ways from the application of organic fertilisers to crop rotation.
After lunch was a practical workshop with Daniel Balmaseda developing some of Marisol’s ideas further and looking at the production of organic fertilisers and substrates. We learnt about compost and its production, which is very different to the systems that we use in the UK due to a much higher air temperature. Interestingly we also learnt about the vermiculture techniques that have been an absolute backbone in the development of Urban Agriculture in Cuba. This technique combines composting action alongside the action of worms and microorganisms to transform organic residues, derived from farming of all types, into two different products of high quality and low cost:
For this reason you will find an area for worm composting on every urban growing site that you visit in Cuba. And the rules of where they are situated are that they need clean water, to be close to source material, to be well drained, shaded and in an area that isn’t likely to be flooded or to be overwhelmed by heavy rain.
So that is what I managed to get through, though the language was pretty intense! By teatime I felt worn out meaning that after dinner when most of the group headed into Havana with Daniel as their guide I decided to give it a miss. On one hand because I didn’t relish the prospect of a 1.5 hour bus journey, but also because the day had made me tired and I wanted to recharge my batteries so I could get as much out of the next day as possible. On that Tuesday I slept very, very well in my cosy little room in Santiago de las Vegas!