Pachamama, why you messing with me?

*Pachamama is the Quechua word for mother nature – being Peruvian, and having spent time in Peru, I learned a bit of Quechua, one of the many native languages in Peru. I love the term Pachamama, and I’m happy to have had the occasion to teach it to you 🙂 *

At the beginning of this week, I was feeling really energized – I had a perfect plan of attack, and it was looking like my pollination and trapping schedules were fitting together like puzzle pieces…now at the end of this week, I’m scrambling to catch up with everything! Such is field work! You can’t really plan things ahead of time, and you have to be quick on your feet to come up with a new plan, otherwise you’re screwed.

Ok, rewind to the beginning of the week. My wonderful husband, Adam, got a call from me at 11:30pm, when I was freaking out about whether or not I’d be able to really tell the difference between the bee population/distribution in sun and shade coffee plantations. The reason being that my sun coffee plantations are not perfectly “sun coffee”. When starting their farm, some farmers lefts some mature shade trees which were already growing on the land, resulting in some of my sun coffee farms having a 20-30 year old shade tree here and there. So, although most of the plantation is sun with just minimal presence of shade trees, there are still some shade trees in a few of my sun plantations! So I was worried about those few shade trees affecting my data, and consequently the interpretation of my data. i.e. would I really be able to tell what’s going on in the sun coffee plantations if there are some shade trees there? Well, thankfully Adam, who is a Climate Scientist, has a PhD in Geography, and who is smart and wise ( 🙂 ) reminded me that this is what an ecological study is like. Nothing is ‘clean’, and so the only solution is to increase the amount of data I have, to try and extract a commonality among all sites. Having done my Master’s degree studying pests in greenhouses, I’m not really used to having such a messy system, so it’s quite a shock…and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get used to it! But, anyways, in short, I knew he was right, and I decided that in order to get a good idea of how shade/sun agricultural practices affect bees, I’d have to add more transects. So, we collected the traps we had set out last week, and identified a second set of transects withing my sun coffee farms. Things were looking good!

While we were working on our sun coffee plantations, I started noticing that some of my Arabica (C. arabica) coffee was flowering! My sun coffee plantations are in Maricao, and I think Maricao is warmer than my other sites, and the fact that the coffee is grown in sun can speed up the flowering process, but flowers in early February are kind of unheard of! Normally the Arabica flowers in March. Last year, it flowered the first week of March, in Maricao. So, this got me worried about my Robusta (C. canephora) flowering schedule! Robusta flowers earlier than Arabica, so if Arabica was flowering, that meant that my Robusta could be flowering too! Unfortunately, the remainder of my Robusta coffee was in Utuado (2.5 hrs away), so driving there to just check on the flowering wasn’t really a good option. So, we called the farmers and got an answer from one who has Robusta growing in shade, and she said it was just starting to flower! So, all of a sudden, I went from having a wonderful staggered flowering schedule (Robusta in Maricao –> Robusta in Utuado –> Arabica in Maricao –> Arabica in Utuado) to having everything flowering all at once! Even the farmers are shocked by this! Adam thinks it must be a combination of El nino and climate change…crazy times!

Magda Ramirez (peacock) (7).jpg

So, the next day we hit the road, and went to Utuado to pollinate my Robusta. We got to my sun Robusta plantation, and the tree had already flowered..probably 2 days prior, and so all the flowers were just about dead. Demoralized, we drove to the shade Robusta (the farm we had called) and thankfully those flowers were prime! Our second shade Robusta was also fantastic. But, oddly, our third shade Robusta farm wasn’t even budding! So, Pachamama is clearly messing with me. She’s keeping me on top of my game. Friday, we drove to my two other shade Robusta farms which are only 1.5 hrs away (in Adjuntas), and they were just starting to bud…such is the unpredictable nature of field work! So, we took advantage of our location to find more sun Robusta farms, in the area, hoping that if the shade ones weren’t flowering, that the sun ones would have the same or roughly the same timing.

We drove around a lot, and got two “Hmmmmm, nooooo, sorry, you can’t use my farm” from two growers, but then we met three wonderful farmers who were more than happy to help us! These farms were in Lares, just a bit north of Adjuntas, and these farms had TONS of Robusta! So, even if a few trees were flowering, I’m sure we’d be able to find 5 for my hand pollination study 🙂

In the end, things kind of worked out, but next week is going to be insane! I’m going to be trapping bees (since I want to see how the coffee flowering affects the bee population – will there be more coming to the farm now that there are flowers? will there be the same amount, etc) along two transects per farm, AND hand-pollinating Arabica AND Robusta. So, it’s going to be really intense, but I’m hoping it’ll be like ripping off a band-aid…quick and sort of painless. I’m happy to say I’ve got a great technician who, even though we sometimes work 12 hr days, starting at sunrise, and ending at sunset, is still energetic and positive. It makes work a lot more pleasant.

Wish me luck for next week! I’ll let you know how it goes, next weekend. Have a great week, everyone!

About saraguitiprado

I'm a Tropical Ecologist, Researcher, and Mother
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