The third year (2007)
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Most of the plans of the previous year were delayed and scheduled for this year.
The higher education level of the new staff absolutely improved the seedling quality dramatically.
Survival rate of seedlings improved dramatically.
But the leaf cutting ants were still very problematic. Ants are almost human. They don't look ahead. They don't wait for better results (more food next year), they eat everything now. The traditional solution is using a bait (dog food or pieces of oranges) with poison on it (easily degradable selective, definitely *not* Myrex). The bait must be put in boxes so other animals cannot get to it. The ants take it to their nest and are decimated (after some days). Regularly (daily) inundating their tunnels with water has the same effect and is better if you can find/reach their tunnels. And if you have sufficient hose length and water available. The nest can be huge, and several cubic meters of water may be necessary. The increased humidity seems to be detrimental for their fungus.
You actually don't want to kill the ants; you just want them to eat less of your seedlings. You want to keep them, because their tunnels allow fresh air (oxygen) entering the soil. They also bring lots of organic material (our seedlings) into the soil. Everyone must have seen the anecdotal evidence of their benefit to trees. Sometimes a less tasty tree is on top of an ants nest. It grows noticeably faster than its neighbors.
In the beginning of the third year administrative overhead appeared to be under control. But new issues kept arriving1:08 AM 6/27/2008 every month. It looked as if administrative overhead would cost three to four month of work per year. Besides that it always comes at an unpredictable, the most inconvenient, moment. DevCon has limited resources (time) for this work. So the permanent establishment was stopped/deregistered. The price was another month of bureaucratic work and half a calendar year. But there was a dim light at the end of this dark tunnel.
There is no more permanently employed staff that takes care of the greenhouse.
The greenhouse is empty.
But we did find some quality seedlings at a cultivator close by.
We planted 1 ha production trees.
The soil was very degraded, a seriously commercial tree is required (must pay) for the soil improvement (pH 4.5 and no nutrients, as a result of 50 years subsistence farming).
For the time being we will use seedlings from others and study (experiment with) degraded site preparation.
When we first started on the lowest terrain with the greenhouse, we had serious erosion problems.
We have sown grass.
We knew it would be competition for the seedlings, but you have to choose: having the seedlings being washed away or having fierce competition.
The idea was to cut the gras regularly so it would have less leaf area and be less competition.
Add extra water and fertilizer.
Once the trees get above the grass, the grass is outcompeted because of a lack of light.
Pioneer trees are ideal for this purpose, because their canopies close rapidly.
Pruning the pioneers gives the successor trees some light.
It also helps in reducing soil temperature fluctuations, which helps the soil fauna.
It worked, but cutting the grass regularly is too expensive. Use low grass, then you don't have to cut it. Others in the area just use (a minimal amount of) fertilizer when they want weeds that stop soil erosion.