It takes a lot of trees to turn an old pasture into a forest. Over the past week I’ve been visiting a bunch of sites where trees like the ones above have been planted. These are all native tree species of the region and you can’t just step into the local nursery to pick up several thousand of these seedlings. You have to grow them yourself. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 10 years.
Not only do they have to grow the seedlings, they have to find the seeds — collecting them from remnant forest fragments — and germinate each one. Much of the credit is due to a guy named Lorenzo, and he’s done an amazing job. There are no directions for how to germinate the seeds, so he has figured out what to do to coax them along. Some of the seeds just sprout and grow without a lot of work. Others take some effort. Some he hasn’t figured out how to germinate yet.
After the seeds germinate, he takes care of them over the weeks and months until they are ready to plant. These old fields and pastures have no source of water and there’s not an easy way to get water to them. So the seedlings are planted at the beginning of the rainy season, which starts in May and extends through December (more or less). A lot of the seedlings have been planted during the month of June or July by groups of students who want to spend a few days working on a worthwhile project.
Last year, well over a thousand trees were planted across one very large abandoned pasture:
Each white tube is next to a seedling that was planted last year. Now that the seedlings are almost one year old, a team of us are going out to visit each one to see which of them survived and how much they grew. The first year is a harsh one. The shock that goes along with transplanting these young trees from a relatively pampered life in the nursery to the reality of sun, wind, and rain is harsh. Once the rainy season is over (around January), the seedlings have to make it through the dry season, which we’re in the middle of right now. If they survive until the rains come, it’s much more likely that they will survive.
And if they make it, the pasture will soon look a lot different. Five years ago, a similar set of trees were planted in a smaller pasture nearby and now it looks like this: