Monday 28 March 2022

Orange is not the only . . . compost

🍊 Dan Janzen is now one of the grand old men of ecological science. He first loomed over my horizon shortly after I rocked up to graduate school in Boston. That same year Janzen published a paper in the Ann Rev Ecol & Syst entitled How to be a Fig. My attention was probably drawn to this overview of Ficus ecology by Pete August who was then completing his PhD with Tom "Batman" Kunz on How to be a fruitbat. Every fig that you eat is filled with egg-cases and a dead female wasp who has parasitized the fruit to lay her eggs and propagate her species. Without her pollinating invasion, no fruit. Without bats to eat the ripe figs - and shit out the seeds on the branches of a distant tree, there would be few new fig trees. And don't forget that the tree which hosts the fig-seedling will eventually get strangled in place soon after the fig roots have reached the ground and no longer need support. [bloboprev] It was stories like that which blew my sheltered European Ivory Tower mind: the diversity and inter-connectedness of the natural world were almost too complicated to comprehend.

🍊 Dan Janzen coursed over my horizon again in the middle of last week when my correspondent and independent researcher G [multiprev] flagged up a more recent research project which Janzen had started at the end  of the last century. With his wife Winnie Hallwachs, Janzen had been instrumental in creating the  Area de Conservación Guanacaste ACG in Costa Rica where they had been doing much of their field work. The ACG was an almost pathetic too little too late project to save a fragment of the old growth tropical forest which used to cover swathes of Central America. Stout Cortez and his conquistadors started the destruction of the alternative reality which was the New World in their rapacious looting for gold and god. Colonialism and capital had finished the job. 

🍊 The thing is that tropical forests are abundant but nutrient depleted. If a single tree falls, its resources are captured and recycled back to the community by an active army of beetles, termites and fungi. If an entrepreneur clear fells the trees to supply the market for hardwood cabinets for Japanese salarymen, then the recyclers are coincidentally done to death and the biomass is shipped abroad. There is little carbon left to sustain regrowth. In one sense, the timber is typically a windfall once-off bonus payment for the new owners of the land who plan to grow beef for hamburger or citrus for the morning OJ of the plain people of America.

🍊Janzen and the ACG struck an unlikely deal with Del Oro, one of the fruit-growing megacorps which had been responsible for replacing a great tract of mind-bogglingly diverse old growth forest with a neat monoculture of orange trees for the juice market. In exchange for a tract of still-a-forest which they owned, Del Oro would be permitted to dump their waste skin and squeeze-dried pith in part of the degraded once-upon-a-forest. Del Oro accountants considered that the exchange would be a nett gain for their share-holders, the papers were signed, and truckloads of bright orange garbage were shipped to the designated area. But within a year of the start, the scheme was brought up all standing by a spiteful law-suit by a rival juice company. TicoFruit fought their case, that Del Oro had "defiled a national park", up to the Supreme Court of Costa Rica; and won.The last truckload of 12,000 tonnes of skins was shipped before the cease-and-desist order was applied; and Del Oro and ACG walked away from the project.

🍊Fast forward 15 years. Tim Treuer, a graduate student from Princeton, had completed “It was so completely overgrown with trees and vines that I couldn’t even see the 7-foot-long sign with bright yellow lettering marking the site that was only a few feet from the road,is course work but needed a project on which to attach his thesis. He fell to talking with Janzen, who had a faculty position in the school, and it was agreed that the pile of orange skins in Costa Rica could bare looking at again. Treuer went South to scope the situation and couldn't even find the site. “It was so completely overgrown with trees and vines that I couldn’t even see the 7-foot-long sign with bright yellow lettering marking the site that was only a few feet from the road". They upped a drone to capture the bird's eye view [L]. The side of the road which had been buried in orange skins was clearly different - and "better" - from the unremediated forest which had gotten only a whiff of decaying orange . . . and a blizzard to fruit-flies and fungal spores. The back of my envelope indicates that ½ a tonne of peel waste was deposited on every sq.m. Treuer et al. did plenty of science: measuring the height and girth of trees; counting species; comparing transects. But the picture is the executive summary.

🌳 In 15 years our 0.4 hectare forestette, with scarcely a single orange peel, has done well for carbon uptake and up-growth. Several of the trees, especially larch Larix europeaus, are now taller than our 2 storey home and as thick in the butt as my thigh. We've been talking with Sean the Forester [not the same as Seán the tree-surgeon!] about thinning in the tail end of this winter.

N🍊pe! It is not okay for you to take your organic-rich old mattress and drop it into a secluded culvert up in the hills: to increase the biodiversity and recycle nutrients, like.

No comments:

Post a Comment