From Tree Nursery to Tree Planting: Part 2

Sometimes I work at the town landfill. And in actuality, it is often rather fun because apart from disposing of lots of trash, they also make a lot of compost, have over 20 vermiculture beds, and have an old, unkempt tree nursery. This is the story of my fun times at the landfill, and how we launched an impromptu reforestation project.

This post is the second of a series that will cover one of my larger projects here in Caraz; building a tree nursery & consequently planting the trees grown. I will be publishing one post in this blog series/week over the next month or so. This series will cover all aspects of the project, starting with planning, the actual creation of the nursery infrastructure, the plant production, and finally the most rewarding component: tree planting. I hope you enjoy the series, and be sure to check out the first installment before reading this latest in this great tree-venture.


Once we had the basic infrastructure up to snuff, it was time to move onto phase two of the “reactivation”; substrate preparation. You see, most tree production in Perú is done in black, polyethylene bags that are filled with potting substrate (a variable mix of organic material, sand, and soil that you prepare). There is no Miracle Gro Potting Mix here in Perú!

An example of the black, polyethylene tree germination bags

With the workers at the landfill, we spent one morning carefully mixing our potting substrate. Preparing a proper potting substrate is essential; the sand provides proper drainage, the organic material helps to retain humidity, and the soil provides nutrients as well as substance to the mixture. Every plant species requires a slightly different mixture according to its growth, ideal habitat, etc., and so the proper ratio is important. Too much sand, and the substrate could dry out quickly, too little sand, and the poor drainage could promote the growth of fungi. It took us a little while to find a mixture that seemed suitable, but in the end, I think our mixture consisted of a fairly even mixture of soil, humus (worm-produced organic material), and sand. Once the substrate was prepared, we had to disinfect it; a sterile potting mix is important so as to minimize the spread of disease and growth of fungi in the tree nursery. There are many methods to sterilizing potting mix, including roasting it in an over or cleansing it with boiling water, but due to the inaccessibility of those techniques, we settled for disinfection with an extremely mild bleach solution. Not the best, but not the worst either.

Sand on the left, soil/humus on the right
Mixing the soil, humus, and sand, and adding a bit of water
More mixing


Disinfecting the substrate with the bleach solution

With the substrate all prepared, I worked with the Club Verde to begin filling germination bags and it was VERY SLOW. I think we managed to fill about 100-150 over 2-3 hours (some dogs later knocked over all of bags we had filled, so our toiling had been meaningless). Something needed to change. In the following days, we struck gold! A local business that produces blueberries threw out a few thousand black plastic germination containers that we could use to instead of germination bags. We were able to fill several hundred of these containers in the time it took us to fill only 100 germination bags. In total, we ended up filling about 1300 containers with substrate, which would equate to 1300 trees assuming all the seeds germinated and grew.

The containers and bags filled with substrate- they erected a temporary “fence” to keep animals out
Leveling out the germination beds

So now, poco a poco, we were advancing. Over the subsequent weeks, we continued to fill more containers with potting substrate and began to plant seeds. Additionally, the workers at the landfill managed to obtain some mesh, which we used to enshroud the tree nursery, turning it into a type of greenhouse. Now, when stepping inside the tree nursery, one noted a significant change in humidity and warmth compared to the outside environment. This humid, warmer environment was essential for promoting growth of the trees we desired to produce.

Filling the germination containers in the newly enshrouded tree nursery. The white substance is cal (lime), which is used to control diseases/smells/flies.

Now, I would like to make clear that reactivating this tree nursery was not planned. It was not a project proposed at the beginning of the year that had a designated budget or anything. This project was somewhat spur of the moment, and was completed with essentially no operating budget. Due to the somewhat spontaneous nature, we decided to just produce whatever seeds we had available. We settled on two native tree species: tara (Caesalpinia spinosa) and molle (Molle shinus). Check out the next two posts for some more deets on these two native tree species.

Until next time,



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