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We will be posting updates about PISCES progress


PISCES Mini-Lesson #5: Plants

Photo #1: One of our beloved “Néré” trees, which enrich the soil, provide shade, and produce sweet edible flour.

Photos #2-3: “Peacock flower” and Vetiver can be used for fencing, water retention, perfume-making, and aesthetics

Photos #4-5: Corn and sweet potatoes allow us to eat nutritious food.

Photo #6: “Barki” grow long, tough, and straight fibers which can be used to make rope.

Photo #7: Many different species of flowering plants provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Photo #8: We plant pigeon peas extensively throughout our fields for their soil retention and nitrogen-fixing capabilities.

Photos #9-10: Castor Oil Plant. While the seeds of this plant are highly poisonous, it provides useful coverage during the dry season to protect baby chicks from hawks.

What do plants do for us? Actually, a better question might be, what don't they do for us? Throughout the millennia of human life on this planet they have provided us with food, shelter, furniture, firewood for heating, cooking, and fuel, boats to travel and trade, and railroad ties for trains. They cover the earth, cool the land, create micro-climates, generate their own rainfall, and provide us with medicines, rope, and paints. Perhaps you could say that they can't sing or dance, but anyone's who has ever been in a pine forest on a windy day might beg to differ. Like so many things in the natural world, the more we learn about them, the more amazing they become. Recent research show that trees in forests work together to create an environment that is conducive to many different species and have complicated mechanisms for communicating through scent molecules and electrical impulses.

At PISCES, we try to learn as much as possible from our beloved plant friends and work with them to create an environment that we all can enjoy. While we are still working on our botanical garden, we know that we have at least 35 different tree species, 20 different food crops, and 15 other plants used for a range of purposes from fencing to rope and roof making to traditional medicines (including one plant that can help treat venomous snake bites). We will be talking about plants a lot more in future posts so stay tuned!

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PISCES Mini-Lesson, Day 4: Earth, Soil, and Dirt

Photo 1: Drawing of a humus molecule by @caylalockwood based on image by Soil Secrets LLC.

Photo 2 and 3: Dirt versus soil in soil tests. The soil on the right is from our fields. It is healthier, darker, and smells better.

Photo 4 to 6: Hold the soil, smell the soil!

Earth: the stuff beneath our feet. It gets under our fingernails and stains our clothes. We put lots of resources into paving it over to make streets, parking lots, and sidewalks and then go to garden centers to buy expensive bags of it for our lawns and gardens. But what exactly is it? Believe it or not, but there's actually a difference between dirt and soil; dirt is dead and soil is alive. Both are composed of the same materials: sand, silt, and clay, but soil is teeming with plants, animals, and micro-organisms that drastically change how it behaves. A healthy soil will retain water, cycle nutrients, and provide spaces for roots to grow, all of which are super important to grow abundant, healthy food. The difference between dirt and soil is oftentimes rather stark; the former is often reddish and compact whereas the latter is dark brown or black and smells earthy.

So what makes this big difference then? A large part of it is something called Soil Organic Matter (SOM), or all of the stuff that's alive or was previously alive and is now in various states of decomposition. All of the dead leaves, twigs, and insect exoskeletons on the forest floor eventually break down and, as they are incorporated into the soil, become SOM. One very important component of SOM is humus, not to be confused with it's two “m” counterpart hummus which is a delicious snack. Humus (one “m”) is the dark crumbly stuff that you can find under the leaf litter in a forest or in a healthy garden. It is composed of large, complex, and somewhat chaotic molecules made up predominately of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. It has been theorized that, like snowflakes, no two humus molecules are the same and they come together to form messy aggregates full of nooks and crannies. It is within these little pockets that nutrients are captured, water is retained, and bacteria live, thus allowing the soil to sustain plentiful life!

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PISCES Mini-Lesson, Day 3: Water!

Videos #1 and 2: When it rains, it pours! A rainy day at PISCES.

Photo #3: Rain water between planting beds after a large rain. Soon the water will be absorbed by the soil.

Water's great, but also rather strange. We need it to live, but too much of it will kill you. It covers 71 percent of the world but we can only use one percent of it to drink, water our lawns, and grow crops. It can dissolve everything from salts to clays to gases to allow metabolism and respiration to occur. Its solid form is less dense than its liquid form, which is why ice floats in a glass of water. Without this weird chemical quirk, lakes and rivers would likely freeze solid and life on earth as we know it would be impossible.

As we are unable to irrigate our crops, we at PISCES are reliant on rainfall to water our crops. If the rain doesn't come soon or often enough, there will be a drought and our crops will fail. Conversely, if there's too much rain, our fields will flood and many of our plants would likely die. So of course we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with water, because there's either too much or too little of it! At PISCES however, we use a range of techniques to retain and manage water. This allows us to trap the rain when it is scarce and prevents flooding when there is excessive rain. More on all of this later!

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