Author: Kara Bonsack

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 8

Saturday, 8/24/2013

This week has gone by so fast; it’s my last day in Colombia. It has been an awesome opportunity, where I have learned about myself, the Colombian government, culture, nutrition views, entrepreneurship, and where partnerships can begin.

I made my last trip to the University of San Buenaventura. Today, the outreach office offered a gardening workshop to the members of the San Jorge community.

Professor Luis Alberto Gonzalez gave a presentation to the group about the importance of gardening. He demonstrated different techniques used in urban areas, where space and nutrient rich soils are limited.

The professor had been working with his class on growing different crops on raised gardens on campus. The students were all ready to give their presentations and provide details on how to care for the plants that were going to be given to the community members.

At the end of the presentation, the youths were able to select a plant to take home, care for, and use in dishes.

It was a great way to end the day on a subject I am so passionate about. The youths were excited to get home and plant. I was able share information on nutrients that were found in the plants they had selected.  As soon as I walked away, I could hear them sharing the information with other peers who had gotten a different plant.  It was an amazing feeling!

Learning Sustainability with Extension Forestry Program

Tom Worthley of UConn Extension’s Forestry Program spent Tuesday, October 1st at Crescent Lake in Southington teaching agricultural education students from Southington High School about forestry management. Crescent Lake has experienced problems with the invasive insect emerald ash borer. Worthley felled a damaged ash tree on Tuesday and used a portable sawmill to make lumber.

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Worthley speaking to students.

Students from Southington’s Agricultural Education program learned about sustainability and environmental factors. Additionally, they saw how a professional forester takes down a dead or damaged tree. The students will be using the lumber in their classes to put value back into the community, and have discussed building bat boxes. They will have about 500 board feet of lumber from the tree.

Worthley notes that taking down dead or damaged ash trees will promote the growth of maple trees.  The Ash was in bad shape from storms and was going to be lost anyway – felling the tree now gives the value of the lumber back to the community.

For more information on the UConn Extension Forestry program, please visit us online or call 860-345-5232.

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 6 & 7

Thursday, 8/22/2013

Today I got to visit la Universidad de San Buenaventura Cali, where Ginna received her degree.  I could see Ginna’s pride while she gave me the tour, along with a colleague. The campus was environmentally friendly; it was surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes.

I had the opportunity to present to a group of 30 Agro-Industrial Engineering students. I spoke about the University of Connecticut, its outreach programs, and 4-H. Many students expressed interest in starting 4-H in Colombia and the positive impact it would have on the youth.

I also met with Claudia Gutierrez, the director of the Agro-Industrial Engineering program.  Claudia gave me an introduction to the department and its outreach programs in indigenous areas. She expressed great interest in collaboration with UConn Extension.

Friday, 8/23/2013

I got to go to San Jorge, today, using public transportation. It was very exhilarating; you felt every shift on the transmission of the 15-passenger truck. There was a driver and a spotter; the spotter looked to make sure you were totally off the bus before telling the driver to keep on moving, and the bus never really stopped. I had never jumped off a moving vehicle before—if my mom could only see me now.

Johnnie was waiting for us at the bus stop to give Ginna and me a detailed tour of the community. He showed me where the brick company was working and where they were still excavating. There were many brick companies in the community, which have now gone, since there is limited nutrient rich soil left.

Families have constructed their homes in this community. Most homes are made of bricks with wood roofs, while others are made of wood and tin roofs.

Doña Nelly and Erminia are working with the other women to produce more of the bracelets. They have chosen patterns and colors to work on as a group. For the ladies that need training, they learn by doing and little instruction, I was awestruck with the rapidness with which they worked and got the patterns down.  I enjoyed the conversations I had with the ladies; listening to their stories and seeing their positive attitudes towards life made me have a moment of reflection.

Praying Mantis

As summer winds down, pay close attention to your garden and other areas of woods and open space – you might see a Praying Mantis. We have had several of these at the Tolland County Extension Center lately.

The European praying mantis is found throughout the state and is also the state insect. They are green or brown and eat aphids, flies, grasshoppers, caterpillars and moths. Praying mantis are a beneficial insect for farmers and are seen as an important symbol of the natural environment.

The name for the praying mantis comes from the position they take while hunting. Mantis’ stand motionless with their special front legs raised in a position that looks like meditation. In Greek, Mantis means prophet or diviner.

Be on the lookout for this special insect while you enjoy the outdoors, and make sure to protect them from harm when possible.



Buy Local


Senator Richard Blumenthal  learns the 10% pledge at the Live Green Connecticut family festival in Norwalk on Sunday, September 15th. The Buy 10% campaign asks residents to spend 10% of their food and gardening dollars to locally grown produce. Find out more and take the pledge at – a partnership between UConn Extension and Cityseed.

Fall Soil Testing

soilFall is the best time of year for testing your garden or lawn soil. Limestone and organic amendments can be mixed into the soil now, as they need time to breakdown and be incorporated into the soil. Come spring, only a planting fertilizer will be needed and you will have the recommendations in hand. Plus, the lab is not at busy in the fall as in the springtime so your results will be sent to you quicker. Interested? To find out more, go to

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 5

Wednesday 8/21/2013

Ginna works as mentor to entrepreneur students at ICESI University. Every year ICESI hosts a competition for entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses’ plans. The winner has the opportunity to showcase his or her business at the national level. The presentations I viewed were very impressive; all of the business plans and concepts were exciting and new to Colombia.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Central Cafeteria at ICESI.  A private company is contracted by ICESI University to be in charge of the cafeteria. The company employs 25 men and women who serve more than 600 plates in two shifts. Their workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. It was impressive to see the small size of the working space versus the amount of dishes produced.

After being in the kitchen, Ginna and I walked over to the Health Department, where I met with Ruby Casteñano, a nutritionist. Space was used very wisely in this office; there was a section for oral health, nutrition, sexually transmitted disease, and maternity, to name a few.

During this visit, I wanted to focus on the challenges being faced by the country and the types of nutrition education being offered to the public. I learned that there is a 23% rate of obesity in infancy, 10% low birth weight, and 89% of malnutrition. It was interesting to hear about the different initiatives in schools, food safety, and healthy lifestyles.

“El Tren de los Alimentos” (food train), is the tool used to educate the public on the food groups, as well as the amount of foods that should be consumed from each group, and it shows variety.

As we walked to our next destination we spotted a Chontaduro street vender. I have never seen such fruit, so I decided to have a taste. The skin was peeled; salt and honey were added. I did not know what to expect, but it was really good! It was a combination of the texture of sweet potato and yellow potato. I can actually have it as a snack anytime of day.

Where are the Monarchs?

Photo: Pamm Cooper

By Pamm Cooper

Most people who are butterfly aficionados have noticed that the Monarchs are few and far between this year. I have only seen two all year, and I am always out and about on power lines, in meadows, and walking trails where there is plenty of milkweed for the caterpillars to eat and native nectar source plants for the adults. The second monarch butterfly I saw was just this weekend at the Hebron Fair. It was all over the Spotted Joe- Pye weed outside the Better Living building. Hopefully, we will begin to see more as they begin their journey to Mexico where they spend the winter.

Any butterflies that emerge in late summer and early fall in the Northeastern United States will migrate to Angangueo, Mexico, where they rest hanging on Oyamel fir trees. As long as there is not a period of wet followed by a freeze, the monarchs are able to survive even a snowstorm, as long as snow is not prolonged. The monarchs that survive the winter will leave their overwintering site and travel back up to the Eastern U.S., laying eggs on milkweed as they go. As these early caterpillars hatch and complete their lifecycle, they will also begin travelling north, laying eggs until milkweed sources run out. Monarch butterflies from this second generation are the ones that will migrate to Mexico, having never been there before.

When there is a hard winter that is followed by a hard spring/ summer, Monarchs may have a difficult time surviving the journey northward. That is what happened in the winter of 2012- 2013 and the spring and summer this year. The spring was cold and dry in the southern portion of their migration, and flowers for nectar and milkweed for larvae were not as abundant as usual. June here in New England was unseasonably cold and wet and may have slowed monarchs on their way up here.

Photo: Pamm Cooper

According to  “ Monarch Butterfly News ‘, the number of butterflies that migrated to Mexico to overwinter in 2012 was 80% less than normal- 60 million vs. 350 million. The reason was attributed to low reproduction due to excessive heat and drought during the summer of 2012. So far this year, numbers of both caterpillars and butterflies in New England seem to be very low.  It may take a few favorable years to return populations to previous numbers.

Some people that have butterfly gardens containing milkweed wonder why they never find a chrysalis on the plant even though there was a caterpillar on it. Many caterpillars, including the monarch, leave the host plant and may travel quite a distance before climbing up a plant to pupate. The monarch below I found on a giant foxtail on a rainy September day. The butterfly is resting  right beside the chrysalis shell from which it has just eclosed. This butterfly would have begun its journey  to Mexico  after muscling up on some nectar.

As a final note, sometimes people get worried when they see milkweed tussock moth caterpillars on the same milkweed plant as a monarch caterpillar. They think they will be fighting it out for the same food, when in fact, the tussock prefers the older bottom leaves and the monarch the upper, newer, green leaves. So one minor “ problem “ solved!


8 More Tips for the September Gardener

garden grass

1. Now is the time to de-thatch and aerate lawns to promote root growth if necessary.

2. Remove and compost spent annuals and fallen leaves.

3. If frost threatens, bring houseplants indoors. Keep in mind that Sept. 16- 22 is National Indoor Plant Week!

4. Pot up or propagate herbs to bring indoors for winter use.

5. Continue to turn and moisten compost piles to speed decomposition.

6. Plant peonies now, but make sure the crowns are buried only one and a half to two inches below ground level. Planting them deeper than two inches may keep them from blooming.

7. If pesky seedlings of woody plants, such as maple, elm or hackberry are found growing in your yard, remove them as soon as possible so they won’t take over gardens and other landscape plantings.

8. September is a great time to seed or overseed lawns.

Rineicha Otero in Colombia – Day 4

Tuesday 8/20/2013

Today I visited Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali, where I met with the director of the university’s social responsibility office.  During this meeting, I learned about current programs established to target social issues in different communities throughout Cali.

A two-week program has been created in collaboration with Gonzaga University (Washington) to focus on production of agriculture and to create an association that will promote farming to youth.

Fe y Alegria (Faith and Happiness) was established in Venezuela, but its model has been used for many years in Colombia. It is a learning center dedicated to inclusive learning (meaning people with disabilities and different ethnic groups). Over 6,000 youth have been reached. Programs are geared to visual communication, psychology, sociology, and art in communications, among many.  Fe y Alegria also targets adults who want to learn some technical skills. One of the amazing aspects of this center is the peer-to-peer education. It provides leadership opportunities to members of the community.

Comuna 18 focuses on communication and politics related to students. Visual communication is used to express the personal experience (what they see and feel) of students throughout Cali.

The director had interest in what I did back home. I explained the different programs in extension, including 4-H. She showed great interest in possible collaborations in the future.

After lunch, I met with one of the board members of San Jorge, Johnnie. Johnnie is originally from a city called Neiba, a middle class community that was surrounded by a displaced community. During his time in Neiba, he learned about the challenges faced by these families. Johnnie decided he wanted to influence a positive social impact. At the time, his business was declining and he was looking for different options. Johnnie ended up moving to Cali, to help a friend, and when asked to help the San Jorge community, he did not hesitate. He has become one of the leaders in the community.

Johnnie lives in the community center, where he opens the doors for youth to come throughout the day to read, learn math, and draw. “They absolutely love to draw,” said Johnnie.

Johnnie also stated “I have never been so happy and never laughed as much, as I have in the past three years; we are strong and look out for each other.”

His passion for this community is very evident. His respect, solidarity, and generosity reflect the community’s principles.