day     Pro-Organic Belize and Earth Day logos.  (credits: Pro-Organic Belize/Earth Reminder)



Pro-Organic Belize celebrates 10th anniversary with Earth Day presentation on 'wormiculture' to build soil productivity

By Michael Richardson

Charles Darwin's last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, was about the importance of worms.  Taking a page out of Darwin's book, Pro-Organic Belize invited self-described worm farmer Graham Herbert to talk on Earth Day about his 100% organic fertilizer, made in Belize, worm castings.  The 'wormiculture' expert explained that use of worms to build up soil is properly called vermiculture. 

The Earth Day worm presentation was the highlight of the Pro-Organic Belize tenth anniversary annual meeting.  POB Chair Mary Loan reminded the gathering of the organization goals.  “The mission of Pro-Organic Belize is to educate, inspire and encourage farmers regarding the benefits and opportunities of a sustainable pro-organic system of agriculture that regenerates the soil and to educate consumers of the benefits of pesticide-free produce.”

Loan told of a shared vision to grow cleaner, healthier produce and to support climate adaptation techniques for horticulture while improving soil plant production.  “Organic farming is better for plants and wildlife.  It improves water quality and is safer for farmers and their families.  Growing organic supports the economy, is more nutritious and protects the climate.”

Worm farmer Herbert talked the group through the process.  “You can buy worms at Central Farm; however, be careful to watch the scale and buy only worms, not a bunch of worm medium”  Herbert has lost count of his worms at 150,000, although that is only an estimate, an actual worm census is impossible.

Herbert delicately calls his organic fertilizer “worm castings” rather than worm excrement or some other descriptive phrase.  He explained that juvenile worms do not produce much waste, they are too busy growing.  At two to three months the earthworms are ready to go work, eating and discharging decayed fruit and vegetables around the clock.  Harvest comes in about four months so each new worm generation takes about six months to deliver the goods.  Herbert uses large worm bins (think 55-gallon barrels) to make his fertilizer.  He starts with a layer of mulch on the bottom then adds a layer of worms followed by a layer of food (decaying fruits and vegetables mixed with biochar).  The worms gobble up   the rotting food and discharge their castings.  After four months the worms are at the top of the bin and everything below is ready for the garden or field.

Herbert ships his worm castings all over Belize but says they are most popular on the islands, where there is a lot of sand but very little fertile soil. 

Being Earth Day and the tenth anniversary, POB decided to add a second lecture to the annual meeting.    Oscar Moralez, head of the Western Belize Coconut Association, took time from his farm to talk about his favorite tree, ramon.  The ramon, or breadnut tree grows from central Mexico south to the Amazon basin.

Large stands of the tree, brosimum alicastrum,  can be found in moist lowland, tropical forests.  Described as a Mayan super food, the seed is rich in vitamins and minerals.  The sap makes a delicious and nutritious beverage.  Moralez believes the ramon tree is vastly under appreciated and under utilized by the modern world and that the demands of climate change call for renewed interest in the historic health food.

POB Secretary Dottie Feucht gave a Year in Review report that highlighted the group's activities in 2023.  Subscribers to the Facebook page now number over two thousand.  Monthly canning instructions and tropical grow guides are published via the internet.  Feucht also reviewed speakers who gave online presentations.

John Arana spoke about a revival of smallholder farms and home gardens.  Dawn Dean, author of Gardening in Southern Belize talked about gardens and how to grow them.  Dean also spoke of ongoing research on vanilla production in Belize.  Philip Mai gave a talk on seed selection and saving and homemade fertilizers.  Stephen Hochstetler spoke of organic farming in Spanish Lookout.  Moralez, the ramon advocate, also spoke about organic coconut farming.  Laurie Skinner, from the United States, took time from her vacation to Belize tell how to make growing boxes out of rain gutters.

The POB Tropical Grow Guides for 2023 featured: cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cocoyams, basil, cassava, red kidney beans, purslane, hibiscus, lentils, chives, lettuce, and plantains.  Canning instructions, available on the POB website, covered: carrots, celery, beets, corn (cold pack) and corn (hot pack), mangoes, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, gumbo limbo tea, blackberry syrup, blackberry jam, and canning without a canner (Mayan style).

Long-time POB supporters Rick Smallwood and his wife Ana told of the demand for Ana's artisan bread.  The couple uses everything organic they can find in their specialty bread and are swamped with customers for their baked goods.  Like worm farmer Herbert, much of their demand comes from the islands.  Smallwood explained they take the bread straight from the oven to the airport where Tropic Air flies the fresh bread to upper crust eaters on the islands.  Ana says she has little spare time these days but they thought it important to support POB's efforts and took a day away from the oven.

Table talk centered around the problem of labeling food organic in the stores and marketplaces.  Consensus of those in attendance was strong for the elimination of glyphosate in Belize.  Although more and more countries are banning the popular poison each year, Belize keeps getting dumped with more glyphosate and is actually increasing its usage while is being phased out elsewhere.

A September special event at Central Farm was a combination lecture and cooking class called “Sourcing and Eating Healthy Foods” that was well received by the three-dozen registrants.

The Earth Day celebration ended with door prizes.  POB Treasurer Karin Westdyk donated a copy of her new children's ecology book Flidgywumper Saves the Seas. Gardening tools, other books, several trees and a bag of worm castings went home with happy attendees.