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Our experiment in Gurabo began late, but better than never

¡Tenemos una versión en español aquí!

The tension from our last post is over. Now I can share the chronicles of what happened in the Gurabo experimental station. In the previous edition of this blog, we managed to harvest our crops in Juana Diaz and we were riding high. Optimistic. Ready to repeat our experiment in Gurabo. But maybe, just like it might happen in any project we take on and not just in the scientific ones, nothing goes to plan. In Gurabo I learned from some unexpected challenges, mainly that my plants kept dying over and over again.

First, our plants died in the greenhouse because the automatic watering system didn't work properly and we couldn't physically get to them due to some atmospheric events.

Do you remember tropical storm Karen?

The first round of plant deaths occurred in the greenhouse because of a failure in the watering system.

I promptly went back to the seedling producers to order 500 plants of each of the crops we wanted to grow. Two weeks later, I picked them up and we were ready to start planting them.

Putting on the final touches to the mesh fences used in our experiment.

With the help of a team of workers from the research station, we repeated the process of starting the experiment. We put up the fences, labeled each treatment and began planting our crops. We planted 450 lettuce and 450 cucumber seedlings .

Satisfied with our work, I left the farm and went back two days later to begin taking data, just as I had done in Juana Diaz. To my surprise, I found a vastly different result. Over 300 of our lettuce plants had died, and at least 100 of our cucumbers had found the same fate. Why did they die? Well I have some ideas:

1. It could have been the holes that were made were too deep for the plants.

2. The soil might have been too dry ( me had some issues with the watering system here too).

3. The insects had a party with all the salad we planted.

4. Entropy and Murphy's law took a stroll together that day.

So how did I solve this second round of deaths? Well, luckily we had enough extra cucumber plants that we could re-plant them without issue. With regards to the lettuce, we had the same issue as always, NO ONE ON THE ISLAND HAD LETTUCE PLANTS AVAILABLE! I called every single plant producer on Puerto Rico and not one had a single lettuce plant available.

Fortunately, I knew a farmer who grew lettuce albeit a hydroponic farm. I called and told him about the mass mortality of plants and he agreed to help me. I went to Hidropónicos Erans in Ponce, and he saved me. He gave me (FOR FREE!) over 400 lettuce plants.

Hidroponic lettuce
The generosity of Hidroponicos Erans saved my experiment

I took my new plants, almost moved to tears, to the Gurabo experimental to acclimate to our site. Under the instructions of Efraín, another graduate student with A LOT MORE EXPERIENCE than me planting lettuce, I allowed my plants root system to "harden" so that they would be ready to take in the shock of transplantation.

This time we treated our plants like queens, and made sure they had their water.

A week later, with hardened plants, and itching to put my plants in the ground I was able to take our new seedling to their final home in the experimental site.

I repeated the process of planting our seedlings, this time hoping for better results

During this round of planting I treated each plant with even more love and care, remembering everything that had occured the previous week and working to avoid any more mishaps. I almost read each plant a bedtime story. And can you guess the results?

Well of course, over 50% of the lettuce died. The universe did not want the Gurabo lettuce to grow. I decided that it would make no sense to keep using our time trying to plant, since the experiment was already taking place. I decided to keep moving forward. In my next post, I will tell you how the green iguanas affected (or didn't) our crops. I promise that the post about that, will be next week.

Talk to you soon!

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