Ecuador EMG Adventure – Still Going Strong – Sort Of!!




Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener volunteers are tough!  We are on day 5 and still going very strong.  We had an exciting day today that started with our bus ride up the mountain with the sole purpose of gathering Alnus alcuminata  or Andean  alder seedlings to replace ALL of the 2000 Oreopanax ecuadoriensis (Puma’s Paw) seedlings that we moved yesterday.  We went up to about 10,000 feet high and worked our way down the mountain alongside the road.  Matias showed us the size he wanted, about finger size, and how to gently tease the roots out of the soil.  We used empty water bottles cut in half to collect the seedlings.


Matias shows us how to collect the seedlings
Matias shows us how to collect the seedlings

Getting Up Close to Native Plants of Ecuador

This was certainly a highlight for me as we really got up close and personal with the native plants of Ecuador.  We saw many familiar plants but didn’t necessarily know the species.

Some of the plants we recognized were cleome, hydrangea, fuschia, many ferns, wandering jew, persicaria, rhododendron, salvia, bromilead, a plant that looked like pokeweed, and much more.  We also saw some really cool mosses and lichens and some saw hummingbirds.  The views were spectacular.  We had fun taking our time moving down the hillside finding alder trees and the seedlings nearby.  It was a bit of a challenge at first  as we had to get our eyes adjusted to what we were hunting for.  It was sort of like hunting for mushrooms – once you saw one, you found a bunch!

Collecting seedlings of the Andean alder
Collecting seedlings of the Andean alder

The altitude kind of got to many today.  We have normally been at about 7,000 feet and most have gotten used to this.  It was a little harder to go up the hill at the higher altitude without a shortness of breath.  We were really glad the bus came down the hill to pick us up.  The weather all morning was sunny and very comfortable. As we headed down the hil the clouds started rolling in and the views were even more beautiful with the cotton candy clouds.

views from 10,000 feet up
Views from 10,000 feet up


After this, we came back to the hotel, which is called the La Posade del Quinde (the house of the hummingbird) and had a great picnic lunch on the terrace.  The hotel  is quite lovely and the courtyard is nicely landscaped.

Labeling Hotel Courtyard Plants to Teach Visitors About Local Plants

One of our projects this week was to identify and label the plants in the courtyard in order to teach visitors about the local plants.  One of the plants in the courtyard was  Solanum betaceum or tree tomato.  The fruit of this plant is used quite a bit in juices and sauces.  The plants can get around 8′ tall and have somewhat large, fuzzy sliver-green leaves that have a purple cast when they emerge.  We saw quite a few vegetable plots around town that included the tree tomatoes.  One of the plants that the EMGs were especially interested in was the New Guinea impatiens or Impatiens hawkerii.  Of course, down here, these plants are about 3-4′ tall and have stems that are about 2″ in diameter.

This is the first day that the sun was out fully and it was quite warm.  At this high altitude, you burn pretty quickly.  We have all been wearing sunscreen and hats all week but it’s been overcast.  Once the sun came out we commented that it’s a good thing it’s been overcast.


We headed to the town of Cotacachi in order to visit an ethnobotany garden that was  started by students as a community project.  The purpose of the garden is to teach people about native medicinal, fruit, and vegetable plants.  The garden is somewhat overrun at this point and in need of some work.   Our EMGs spent a little time weeding the pathways and then it started raining.  So, we headed into town for more SHOPPING!  Cotacachi is know for it’s leather goods and there were quite a few places to visit.  The “feel” of the town was very different from Otavalo.  There are a lot of expatriates (someone living in this country that is not a citizen) and apparently, this is a retirement area for Americans.  some of the shops seemed a little more modern and even had clothes with name brands from the US.  Dinner was in Cotacachi and then back  home for some much-needed rest.

church in the Cotacachi town square
Church in the Cotacachi town square

Tomorrow is our last day at the vivero (nursery) and we will be potting up the seedlings and finishing up some odd jobs.  Three of us started to repair a drainage ditch on Tuesday and will finish this as well.

I am a very tired Pam Bennett but still thoroughly enjoying Ecuador (EMG State Coordinator, Ohio State University Extension)


More on the Ohio EMGs Outreach Trip to Ecuador

Our group of 19 EMGs didn’t think it could get much better after working at the vivero (nursery) on Sunday but we were completely wrong.  We got up early this morning (Monday) and headed back on the bus and up the hill (not quite so high this time) to the Quichinche school to work with 7th graders (10-11 years) to plant trees.

First of all, you have to realize that the kids are out of school this week because it’s Carnaval which is similar to Mardi Gras.  However, the staff from the Tandana foundation worked out a deal that the teacher, Alfredo Flores couldn’t pass  up.  The deal was that we would help plant trees and do a plant science lesson if he could get the kids to come to the school to meet us on their day off.   He absolutely loved the idea and had 47 kids show up.

Everyone who planted trees
Everyone who helped plant trees



The school yard and ground (approximately 5 acres) had very few trees on the grounds.  They are very focused on planting trees to protect the soil and for the environment.  The trees came from Matias and the vivero and were small seedlings.  If you know EMGS, and many readers of the eXtension EMG blog do, we knocked  this project out in no time.  Twenty-one adults, 47 kids and 200 trees!   It was hard work as we had to dodge pigs, cows, chickens, cow patties, and holes in the pasture but I  can’t tell you how much fun we had.  We went around almost the entire perimeter of the school yard in a little over an hour and a half.  The kids really enjoyed taking pictures with our cameras.  They also loved our soil knives but of course, we had to have an adult monitor with them!  The adults and kids alike had a blast but I can tell you this, the adults were overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm for these kids and the project.

EMG and her Andean partner planting a tree - job well done!


After the tree planting we went into the classrooms to teach. We had divided up into 4 groups and each group prepared a plant-based lesson.  The kids were really pretty sharp and understood the value of trees.   The EMGs were totally blown away by how good the kids were and how excited they were to learn.   I heard nothing but positive comments.

Young man learning how to use a hand lens - cool!


The trip is set up for us to work in the morning and tour and learn the culture in the afternoon.  We took the bus to a master weaver, Miguel, who is the last remaining weaver who does textiles by hand in Ecuador.  Everyone else does it with machines.  He is hoping to start a school in order to teach his craft, otherwise, 4 generations of art will be lost.

We had a lesson in weaving that started with the dirty sheared wool, to washing with agave sap made into a soap, to carving, to spinning and finally to weaving the intricate designs.  Wow, the merchandise was beautiful and of course, we spent some money here!

Pam Bennett and Miguel Andrango


Our final trip of the day was to the Condor Parque to see the 2 Andean condors and other raptors, including a bald eagle.  The park was developed to take in any raptors that are hurt or damaged and help them heal.   Most of the raptors are released but some cannot be released into the wild.  Once they get used  to used to humans, they see them as an easy food source.  Therefore, they would go into cities and near people, searching for this easy food source.   The most incredible site at the raptor park, next to the view, is a pair of Andean condors held  in captivity.  These birds are the largest flying raptors and have a wingspan of about 10′.  It is suspected that there are about 50 remaining in the wild in Ecuador; and the species is endangered.  They hope that these 2 might mate in order to perpetuate the species.   The view from the park was spectacular as well.

Oh yes, early this morning we got up and were able to see Mount Cotacachi with snow on top.  We had quite a bit of rain last night and high in the mountain tops there was snow.  However, it quickly melts during the day and most of the time, it’s behind the clouds.


Mount Cotacachi with snow on top

Tomorrow, it’s back to the vivero for more work and then to Lake Cuicocha.

I am Pam Bennett, OSU Extension State EMG Coordinator and STILL having a wonderful time in Otavalo, Ecuador with 19 EMGs from Ohio!


Ohio State University Extension EMGs Volunteer Vacation to Ecuador

Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) from Ohio State University Extension are spending this week in Otavalo Ecuador assisting 23 communities protect their water supply by collecting seedlings and seeds, planting trees, weeding and other gardening activities.  We are working with the Tandana Foundation (more on them later in the week) to help the communities grow trees for planting in order to prevent erosion and therefore protecting their water supply.  The staff at the foundation has worked diligently over the last several years  to develop relationships in this area and to work with the communities to develop projects that will help to improve the quality of life for the indigenous Andean people.

Arrival Begins with an Earthquake!

I am going to share our adventure with you this week as we will be here until Friday Feb. 15th.  Nineteen of us left Ohio on Friday and arrived in  Quito, Ecuador at 11:30 pm.  After the 2 hour bus ride, and check in at the La Posada Del Quinde in Otavalo, it was about 3:00 am before we got in bed.  At 6:00 am the rooster crowed, dogs barked and our day began!  And boy did it begin with a rumble – we experienced the 6.9 earthquake that hit in Columbia, about 3 hours north of us.  It was quite an experience to be eating breakfast and feel the floor roll and watch the hanging pots shake.  It lasted for about 7-8 minutes and then subsided.  We heard reports that no one was hurt, thank goodness!

Next, Visiting the Largest Market in Ecudor

EMGs in Ecudor market
EMGS at Market Day in Otavalo (Click photo to enlarge)

Saturday was an easy day before the work began.  We had a chance to experience the largest market in Ecuador and savor all of the colors and sights.  It was almost overwhelming at first but don’t worry, we got the hang of spending money and had a blast doing so!  The colors in the market are brilliant and can be found in clothing (the children’s outfits were absolutely adorable), scarves, alpaca wraps, hats, and so much more.  Before dinner we had a quick Spanish lesson to help us learn a few necessary phrases.  I used my favorite at the market several times – quanto valle, how much is it worth?????  After that, well, I had to get out the note pad and write the price!  We had dinner and almost all were in bed by 9:00 pm.

Up the Mountain to Work and Learn at the Vivero (Nursery)

On Sunday, we got up early, had a great breakfast (food is plentiful and good) and got on our bus to go up the mountain to the vivero (nursery).  This nursery was developed by all of the communities and Tandana volunteers to grow the trees.  Matias is the proud manager of the nursery and couldn’t wait until we got there.

After receiving an overview of the nursery and the purpose, 19  EMGs went to work.The foundation kind of thought that maybe we would be bored with our work and it wouldn’t meet our expectations.  What they learned was that  EMGs don’t mind a little weeding – in fact, we love to weed and work outside.  For us, it was such a pleasure to work in the “garden,” something we haven’t done in  few months.  After our morning work session we had a picnic and headed back to the bus.

Matias (red jacket) and Aaron (green, staff) teach about the trees they have planted
Matias (red jacket) and Aaron (green, staff) teach about the trees they have planted (Click photo to enlarge)

EMGs weeding planting bed (Click photo to enlarge)

When one volunteer asked Matias what he thought about our work, she said she didn’t need an intrepreter!  He said gracias so many times and smiled the entire walk up the hill.  What we did in 2 hours would have taken him more than 2-3 days.   In addition we brought along one of our favorite tools, the soil knife.  The staff and Matias loved these!  We are leaving these, gloves, kneeling pads, and some other supplies for the nursery.

One of my highlights of the day was teaching Matias how to use a hand lens.  When he brought a large grub up to his lens and saw the mouthparts he was estatic.  We practiced with a few more insects until he got the hang of it and when I gave him the lens to keep, once again, he was so very grateful.  The EMGs loved weeding, digging a few holes to plant a windbreak, cleaning out the side of the  hill and the general camaraderie of many hands making fast work.

After Work, Some Fun in San Antonio, and Preparing for a School Trip Tomorrow

After this we went to San Antonio, a town known for it’s wood carvings.  They were having an International Chain Saw competition in the square along with a festival and parade.  This week is carnaval which is similar to Mardi Gras.  The kids go around the town spraying everyone with a foamy soap that looks kind of like shaving cream.  Several of us got it!

Tomorrow it’s off to school where we will be teaching 6th graders about plants and then planting 80 trees with the kids.  Then we will go to the Condor Park and to see a master weaver.  Later in the week we will be working again in the nursery and taking a cooking lesson.  I’ll  be posting periodically this week and sharing our adventure with you.

–I am Pam Bennett, State EMG Coordinator for OSU Extension and having an incredible time in Otavalo, Ecuador!