Part of the La Cumplida farm diversification involves growing crops apart from coffee. I’ve already mentioned the tree cultivation and bananas, and here I can go into more detail about the wood production and other harvests.
Ferns cover many of the hills in the upper ranges of the finca. Sheltered under black netting to block out the sun, these billions of fronds are handpicked and bundled in different sizes. The vast majority is sent to Netherlands, but other European countries and the United States receive the ornamental plants as well. Why is Netherlands the main customer? Because the country holds the largest flower market in the world at Aalsmeer, has long been the production hub for the European flower industry, and is a major international floral supplier. Many bouquets contain not only blossoms but ornamental leaves as well, and these ferns work well in many arrangements.
Wilfredo led us through the fern fields and told us a bit about its cultivation. One of the problems they have while growing the ferns is fungal disease, which turns them yellow and brown as they die; fungicide and physical culling are necessary to control the spread. About every two months they have new fully matured fronds that can be harvested, bundled up, washed, and bundled again under bags. Then they are boxed and sent under refrigeration to their destination (if I remember correctly, at 7 degrees Celsius). Below is a short and simple video that includes some of this explanation and process.
La Cumplida also has a small medicinal garden full of plants such as stevia, aloe vera, vanilla, lemongrass, sinfito or suelda con suelda (used to treat diabetic cataracts), allspice (lemongrass in the background), and others that I didn’t know nor saw a label for. Some of these species are cultivated for use in the French perfume industry, but most are on the small scale of La Cumplida consumption in teas and food. We tried some stevia fresh of the plant and were amazed at how sweet an unprocessed leaf could be.
There are roughly 70,000 hardwood trees planted in La Cumplida—this is only half the number of coffee bushes—and more are being planted every day. Of course, many are also being cut down for both culling and harvesting. Laurel, cedar, granadillo (not the fruit, also known as macacauba), various types of mahogany, teak, and countless other species of tree are planted in the hills with coffee, absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen into the atmosphere more than your average farm crop. Elián, one of the forestry engineers at La Cumplida, showed us around one of the plots currently under culling and explained the process to us, as well as that of tree development. In a plot where many trees are over 30cm in diameter, trees that aren’t more than 15-20cm in diameter are underdeveloped and therefore cut down. Of these felled trees, any portions over a meter in length and 10cm in diameter are sent to Simplemente Madera to be processed, while the rest of the small wood is left in the coffee hills to provide compost for the plants.
Elián and his small culling team made a quick demonstration of what to do (as well as what not to do) when cutting a tree. When trimming branches, for example, one must always cut from the base of the tree and parallel to the trunk. Any nub longer than a few inches jutting out of the trunk will start to grow fungus and rot into the tree itself. One thing to avoid when cutting a whole tree is bringing the chainsaw too far through the wood, so that the weight of the tree pressed down on the blade and kept it stuck there until the chainsaw operator’s machete-wielding partner came to push on the tree and release the pressure on the machine. As Elián pointed out, that sort of maneuver could not really be done on a big tree, so workers need to be careful not to go too far into the wood with the chainsaw. After making a horizontal slice, the chainsaw-operator cut down diagonally from above, making a boca, or “mouth” in the tree trunk, so that it would fall more slowly when a final cut was made horizontally on the opposite side of the mouth. For a tree this size, the technique isn’t necessary unless there are plenty of important coffee bushes around.
Using a cross-section from this tree, Elián mimed how foresters could use a tool known as a dendrochronology drill (in Nicaragua this seems to be called a “Presley apparatus”) to extract a core sample of the tree’s growth rings without cutting down the tree. The following video, which includes material from the last two paragraphs, closes with Elián’s identification of the wood as pacific mahogany, known in Spanish as caoba del pacífico.