Right now the Occidente of Nicaragua is flush with flowers.  This year the rainy season was particularly heavy, and the remaining moisture in the ground – unusual for early February – is reflected in the abundance and quality of fruits and flowers.  The jocote fruits and mangos in the market are earlier and larger than usual, and the veranera, or bougonvilla, is particularly spectacular.  The forests along the highways where I travel regularly have changed from thick green vegatation to multicolored landscapes, as the madero negro, poroporo, laurel, roble, sacuanjoche, and sardonilla trees, among others, are all blossoming at the same time.  Trees are much easier to identify when they are flowering, when they stand out from their neighbors and can be seen from a distance.  For example, I’ve always known that Madero Negro is an abundant and common tree, but now I really understand as a pass by  whole hillsides shrouded in its pale pink blossoms how abundant it really is.

Madero Negro and Laurel are two of the types of trees that one of the producer in SosteNica’s Reforestation Project has chosen to plant on his farm because of their abundant flowers and attractiveness to bees.  Edgar Cisnero has 20 bee hives and plans to expand, and one of the reasons he has joined the project – besides investing in the family farm he and his four sibling are jointly running – is to increase the number of flowering trees and improve the quantity and quality of honey.  Last week when we visited he helped us to measure the growth of the pochote trees he planted in June.

After we finished measuring and marking the trees Edgard showed us a pila, or trough, that he keeps filled to the brim for the bees to drink from.  The edges of the rectangular concrete trough were lined with bees, and there were sticks floating in the water as well for bees to perch on and drink.  We walked right up to the pila to watch them; they were much more intent on drinking than paying attention to us.

We got so close we could see their tongues.  Look at the bee on the left.

In the middle of the dry season the sun beats hard, all day, and many of the trees like madero negro and the pochote trees we measured drop their leaves.  No shade and hot sun means that Edgard needs to pay careful attention to keeping this pila filled level with the brim and not let it evaporate.  If the bees fall in they will most likely drown.  Right next to the bee – pila, another larger pila was filled with water, but not all the way up.  This was the pool, for humans to enjoy.  And as long as they keep it free of floating sticks, the bees don’t go near it.  There is also a 5 meter tall water tower to provide irrigation for Edgard’s agricultural fields.  From the top, I could see all the way across to Momotombo and a geothermal electrical plant at the base.  The view inspired my new photo heading.

Three days later I attended the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa.  The cooperative’s principal focus is sesame, and they have a processing plant to press unrefined sesame oil.  This past year, however, they have encouraged their farmers to diversify, offering their farmers technical assistants and special loans to invest in one new crop on each farm.  The farmers have a menu of choices – fruit trees, vegetables, coffee, rice, grains, or bees.  In all cases the technical assistants are trained in organic production methods, but only the coffee and honey is required to be certified.  Why?  Because now that the cooperative is exporting one product, they may be able to export coffee and honey, and both of those products receive a much higher price on the market if they are certified. The farmers at the celebrations displayed some live combs and sold bottles of their clear, incredibly flowery honey.

Increasing the production of honey in Nicaragua can only be good.  Not only is it healthy for all of us to consume more honey and less refined sugar (not to mention the terrible labor and environmental practices of sugar production), but honey farmers, who are of course also beans and corn and sorghum farmers, cannot spray pesticides on any of their crops or they will endanger their valuable bee hives.  And where the farms are smaller, they may have to convince their neighbors to take up bees and lay off the pesticides as well in order to protect their hives.  It seems that here, where is no national market for organic produce but honey is both popular and expensive, the possibility of producing honey may be one of the strongest incentives for sustainable farming.