February 2018

For the purposes of Finca Bayano, Google Earth is not really useful for aerial photography. On the one hand the photos are taken from extreme heights and in the last update of March 2017 a cloud hangs over our land. If you want to look at your future property on Google Earth without clouds, you have to go back to February 2016. Since the photo taken at that time was possibly already half a year old when it was put online, one looks at an almost three year old picture if it is supposed to be cloudless. In the last two years, however, Finca Bayano has developed very well, because it rained above-average, and in 2018, there might be no dry season. Normally, the dry season starts at the beginning of January, but as I write, at the end of January, it is still raining. For this reason, current aerial photographs are very useful, as they document the progress of planting very well.

In connection with the registration of the plots, a topographic map was made in December 2017. The surveyor who took the photos for this purpose, kindly put them at my disposal. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy on the day the photos were taken and unfortunately only a few of them were of good quality. In addition, wide-angle photographs can only be used to a limited extent. Nevertheless, the six aerial photos I publish in this newsletter convey very well how the Finca Bayano has developed. Aerial video recordings of August 2016 can be found in this German video from NDR.

This newsletter has the following concept: First comes an aerial photo, followed by three direct shots. If the general structure of the finca can be seen better from the air, close-ups show the “subtleties”. The direct shots are marked on the aerial photograph with numbered arrows. Unlike the surveyors, I chose a sunny day to take pictures.

Click on the photos for a larger view.

The first aerial photograph shows the main entrance of Finca Bayano, facing north. The way it looks today at our neighbor in the southwest, is how our property looked like in 2010. The farmer from whom I bought the land was able to keep only 15 cows on the then fenced area of 30 hectares. That’s a mere two animals per hectare. At times my neighbor doesn’t even keep cows on this land, because hardly anything grows anymore. And the little grass that grows must be shared with millions of leaf-cutting ants…

When I take my visitors to Finca Bayano, I always bring my neighbor’s finca to their attention. “Like this,”I always say, “Finca Bayano looked like seven years ago.” Most of the time, the visitors do not notice this statement because they have travelled thousands of kilometers to see Finca Bayano. Therefore, after leaving Finca Bayano I always remind my visitors of what I said concerning my neighbor’s land: Cattle breeding has almost made his land a desert – it’s only the sand that is missing. Then they understand what I mean…

 

The property A20 has developed well. It has hardly any inclination and is therefore less affected by erosion. In the meantime, there are almost no more leaf-cutting ants, because in the now better soil more worms thrive and prevent the expansion of the ants digging though the ants’ houses. The drying up of the earth on cattle farms has led to the fact that in many places there are no more worms and thus, the ants no longer have any natural enemies. Only ants can handle dry soils. As the desiccation progresses, worms have to dig deeper into the earth until they reach stone where they die.

This palm tree carries the first coconuts. Approximately 200 coconut trees have been planted at Finca Bayano, but the others will take a while more to bear fruits. Because they come from the coast originally, where the soil near the sea has a certain salt content, we salt our palms once a year. Small palm trees get about 100 grams of salt, larger trees receive one kilogram. Coconuts have a similar advantage to Yuca: they don’t have to be harvested directly when they are ripe. One palm tree is enough for a small family all year round.

The blue line represents the course of the stream, which is not visible behind trees and bushes.  In this area there are the best plots of Finca Bayano. On the one hand, the creek supplies the plots with water and on the other hand, the ever-expanding trees and other vegetation contribute more and more to the storage of water. In addition to our main source, several small springs have been created to supply the area with water. 

According to the law, trees may not be felled along rivers and creeks at a distance of ten meters from the water. If this law were enforced, there would be significantly more trees in Panama. Theoretically, these areas may not be fenced in, but it is permitted to use them in an environmentally friendly way. The water of the creek, with a temperature of about 28°C, is excellent for bathing. Just lay yourself in it and put a glass of red wine on the next stone that sticks out of the water.

The quality of the soil can be read off very well from bananas. If the soil is good, the plants bear fruit after one year and a “good mother” gets up to ten offshoots in the same time. If the soil is not good enough, the plant remains as small as it was planted. In the meantime, more than 10,000 banana plants are growing on Finca Bayano, but it will still take at least another year before significant quantities of these fruits can be harvested. 

About half of the area of Finca Bayano is covered with false sunflowers and king grass, which I have planted to improve the soil and for mulching. I hope to be able to finish the large-scale cultivation with another 100,000 mulch plants by September 2018. The aim is to have mulch plants in addition to all crops, so that organic fertilizers can be used at any time and without long transport routes. 

Third aerial view: I had often thought about buying a drone, but the price for such a toy is far too high. A usable instrument costs about $2,000 in Panama. This expenditure is of course not justifiable for occasional aerial photography. Apart from that, additional equipment is required for surveying purposes which easily would require expenses in the five-digit range. Since the Finca Bayano has to be measured only once, we leave this work to the specialists.

This tree’s on lot A11. It’s not that high, but it’s a real jungle tree. As a non-expert, I can’t judge how many other species grow on it. I would simply say: many! The tree was spared from felling by the previous owner of the land to make sure that the cows had shadow. If you look at the tree, you can imagine what kind of vegetation used to be found at Finca Bayano in earlier times. Of course, we won’t plant a jungle, but once all the bread trees, coconut palms and others are big, it will look almost like the jungle.

Between the Farm Lands A15 and A11 there is currently the only passable crossing over the creek. As soon as time and economic means allow it, I will build a dam here as well. The cost of the project will be approximately $10,000. Additional passable dams being built between the Farm Lands A6 and A9 and between Building Plots B6 and B39. All in all, about 20 dams can be built at Finca Bayano, behind each of which approximately 1,000 cubic metres of water can be stowed. About the same amount of fish will be abble to live in each reservoir.

The agricultural property A11 has not only the advantage of being situated by the creek. There are several secondary wells that ensure that the land is relatively humid even during the dry season. It was one of the first Farm Lands that I planted and is therefore more advanced. This is also where the largest bread tree grows, which after seven years has already reached a height of 15 meters and bears many fruits. The property is almost 5,000 square meters in size and has about 1,000 banana plants growing on it.

Fourth aerial photograph: In the eyes of a drone, it almost looks as if nothing is growing at Finca Bayano – at least from the higher altitude, almost like Google Earth. In reality, however, there is quite a lot growing. That’s how I got the idea to create this newsletter. Admittedly, the land in this area of Finca Bayano is not yet as good as that at the creek, but it has improved enormously over the last seven years. In two years, at the latest, the soil should also be very good here.

In this place, we have planted a pineapple field with several hundred plants. In order to be able to mulch them better, they stand at a minimum distance of slightly more than one meter from each other. In more recent fields, however, the plants have be set at even greater distances to avoid the disadvantages of monoculture. Of course, these small plants are not visible from a height of 50 meters and more, and also the Yuca plants are still much too small to be seen by a drone.

This palm tree was one of the first I planted at Finca Bayano in 2011. Meanwhile it is about six meters high, but on the aerial photograph it is hardly visible. Yuca grows around the tree. 

During the first few years there was the problem at Finca Bayano that the spring almost dried up during the dry months from the beginning of January to the end of April. The little water left came from this small secondary forest on this photo. It provided us with water during the first few years, so to speak. Meanwhile, there is a lush vegetation at Finca Bayano above the spring, but it needs to be further developed to ensure that we can always get drinking water from our spring and sell it in our organic shops later on.

Fifth aerial photo: The distance from the point where the creek enters Finca Bayano in the south to the waterfall is 900 meters. Because of the twists and turns that the creek makes, a length of 1,500 meters comes together. The creek eners Finca Bayano at an altitude of 470 meters and leaves at an altitude of 410 meters. This is an altitude difference of 60 meters or a gradient of four percent. Therefore, a total of 20 dams can be built at Finca Bayano, each with a height of three meters.

Roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa is not widely known even in Panama. To make juice, the red leaves are removed and cooked. In this regard, I will publish a newsletter in March. It’s a mystery to me why Roselle is praised as a Christmas flavor , because the fruit does not ripen until the beginning of February. Without sugar we freeze about 200 liters of this juice and have a supply for the whole year. This product is likely to be a hit in our future organic food stores.

We have planted 1,800 pineapple plants on the A5, A29 and A30 Farm Lands. Unfortunately, there are problems with opossums. They are omnivores and feed on insects, small vertebrates and carrion as well as plant material such as fruits and grains. But second to none: They love to eat our pineapples. We prevent this by placing metal baskets around ripe fruits. I’ll be releasing a video on this soon. While the small banana in the foreground needs another year to bear fruit, the pineapple will be ripe in about two months.

A27 is one of the Farm Lands that have suffered most over the past decades. It is above average steep, so that the erosion caused a lot of damage to the land. At various places I had to add soil with the excavator. We have done a lot over the last two years on this property, but it will probably take another two years before bananas can be planted here. Until then, a growing number of false sunflowers and reeds will be planted here as well. 

Sixth aerial photograph: Since the soil in the north of Finca Bayano is not as good as in the southern area, I decided during my planning 2010 that our houses will be built there. Since there are some future residents who have only bought a Building Plot and no Farm Land, I am also working on improving the soil there. After all, a property of 1,000 square meters is sufficient to feed a family vegetarian. But, of course, only if the soil is sufficiently good. 

The waterfall is something very special and deserves its own newsletter at a later date. If low precipitation falls – and especially during the dry season – the waterfall is as gentle as in this photo. If large amounts of rain fall, however, it becomes a monster. A conversation in the neighborhood becomes a scream. When dividing up the village, 7.5% of the total area of Finca Bayano must be declared as a green area. The area around the waterfall will take centre stage.

This photograph was taken in our primeval forest, west of the B8, B9 and B10 plots, and is the biggest attraction next to the waterfall, representing the largest part of the green area of Finca Bayano, covering approximately one hectare. Flora and fauna were not destroyed by the previous owner because of the big incline of the area, as it was simply too steep for his cows. When we have “no more work” at Finca Bayano, we will build a staircase that leads to the lowest point of the waterfall.

In this photo you can see the plots B8, B9 and B10. Many false sunflowers and a lot of king grass grow here in particular. The future inhabitants of these plots of land have it not far to the “local recreation area jungle” and to the waterfall, but they were informed by me also about the fact that it can become quite noisy around the waterfall.

 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter, upon going to Finca Bayano together I always explain to my visitors that seven years ago our land looked like my neighbor’s finca still looks today. When I ask the guests upon leaving Finca Bayano to look to the right again, I sometimes get unbelieving glances. But that’s the truth: my neighbor’s land is like Finca Bayano was seven years ago. Fortunately there are still these two old videos from 2010: Video 1  and Video 2.

I hope to have given an interesting overview of Finca Bayano with this newsletter, and I also, I hope that the opinion of some observers that is going to change. You simply cannot say “there is nothing happening here” if you are looking Google Earth photos. With a little luck, the next published Google photo doesn’t have any clouds hanging over our land and there is a little bit more to see of Finca Bayano. But even then, Finca Bayano videos and newsletters will always show more than Google Earth.

Eventually, one of the next videos is about building the first house – we will start it in March 2018. Many times I was asked how many houses we have built already and how many people are living here. Just as often I had to answer that there is no house yet and nobody living here. Unfortunately, most people want to lie down in a made bed and don’t want to contribute to making it. Building the first house, this is now changing and will help Finca Bayano to make a decisive leap forward. 

Greetings from Panama

Stefan