Our green building restaurant may look fragile, but it passed October 2010’s Hurricane Richard test. Hurricane Richard made a direct hit on the Orchid Garden Eco-Village (s) and caused (a) great damage,
However, before the hurricane came, we were most concerned about what would happen to our green building. The results came as a surprise: it was well preserved; the hurricane blew in through the bamboo windows and left through them as well. It did no damage at all, either to the building or to its contents. It was as if Richard had not noticed there was a building in his path.
Natural solar light
The green building uses natural sunlight, which shines into the building through the surrounded bamboo windows and the central skylight. It floods into most of the indoor area, so that we do not need to use lighting during the day time.
We also use natural air conditioning: the building has bamboo windows on three sides. There are of five to six inches of space between the lengths of bamboo. Therefore, in more than five thousand square feet of space, only one tenth of the space needs air-conditioning. For the majority of the time, air-conditioning is not necessary anywhere in the building. Most of the time, even the fans are not needed.
All indoor plants use natural sky water for irrigation. The flowers and plants are placed near the bamboo window, or planted in the mini-rainforest area in the open-sky atrium: so that the plants there are irrigated by rain. We only need to water them manually if there is no rain for days.
We have two roofs to collect rainwater. The ten thousand gallon reservoir is used to to irrigate the vegetables we plant, or pumped to the storage tanks and used in the kitchen for cleaning.
We also have a system for collecting clean rainwater, which after boiling we use as drinking water. This is one of the reasons our tea or coffee taste particularly good – there is no chlorine or lime in the water.
Humans watching birds or birds watching humans.
The green building is surrounded by green shrubs outside the bamboo window. At any time of day we have different birds peering in curiously. Guests interested in bird watching do not need to leave the building. The birds seem to enjoy watching people inside the bamboo cage, and we enjoy watching the birds outside it.
Water Falls and Symphony
The courtyard garden is a small tropical rain forest. We see waterfalls when it rains heavily. When heavy rain hits the steel panel roof tiles, it sounds like war drums. It certainly creates an impressive symphony of sound.
Tropical rain forest treasure
Next, I will introduce you to a few Tropical Belize Treasures which are used in this green building.
The Mayan tree of life
The ancient Maya regarded the Cohune as the “tree of life ". Whenever they cleared a patch of forest to plant corn, they left the Cohune palms standing because every part of the tree was useful to them. They used the leaves for thatching and for insulation (as we do ourselves). In our green building we needed only 400 leaves to insulate the roof, and found that it also created a feeling of being in a natural space – as if we were under the trees themselves!
The cohune palm can grow to a hundred feet. Its leaves can be as much as thirty five feet long. The Maya used its trunk to build their houses. The nuts produce oil which is used for frying, or as a lubricant, for soap, or for lighting lamps. The top center of the trunk is also edible, and is known locally as a cohune cabbage (You may know it as the heart of palm). It is as delicious as bamboo shoots. Because of its wide range of uses, it was and is the most important tree in Mayan life, which is why people have called it the Mayan tree of life.
The Tree that changed the history of Belize
This tree is also arguably the reason for Belize being the only English-speaking country in Central America.
In our green building,nineteenof the thirty posts supporting the roof are made from the trunk of this tree.
Because the British found this dyewood in Belize in the early 1600s, they came to cut it and ship it back to England to dye fabric. The value, at that time, of 50 tons of this dyewood was higher than a ship’s normal freight for a whole year.
The British called it Logwood. It grows in swamp areas and is very heavy - it sinks in water and is too hard to nail.
The price of dyewood gradual declined because of the invention of artificial dyes, and eventually the cutting of logwood was no longer sustainable. However Belize had become a British colony by that time.
Belize's national tree
The third treasure of the Belize rainforest is the national tree of Belize, “mahogany”.
The tables in this restaurant are made of mahogany that was more than 50 years old when it was harvested. The chairs are made of younger mahogany, which is why they are a lighter colour.
The slices of mahogany were taken from the trunks of trees that had already been felled. The loggers are only interested in the straight trunk, and leave the lower portion of the tree – where it begins to spread its roots – in the ground, where it does not grow again. We took slices before the trunks rotted, brought them back, polished them and made them into the tables you eat your breakfast on.
Mahogany is one of the tallest trees in the tropical rain forest. If you are above the canopy of the tropical rain forest, you may well see some trees towering 30 feet above the canopy. Those tall trees are likely to be mahogany.
Mature Mahogany is a hardwood, too hard to be food of termite or worms. The color is a very beautiful red. Compared to other hardwoods, mahogany is much lighter in weight, so it is one of the most popular woods with cabinet makers.
Once the value of logwood declined, the British switched to mahogany. Before Belizean independence, logging was Belize’s staple industry. The mahogany tree forms part of Belize's Coat of Arms. The motto "Sub Umbra Floreo" means: Under the shade of the mahogany tree, I flourish.
The most precious carving wood in Belize
The wood most prized by woodcarvers is Ziricote;
In the courtyard center of this building, you see a natural carving art work. In fact, it is a root of the Ziricote tree, sitting upside down.
Ziricote is one of the most dramatic members of Belizean hardwoods. The heartwood is dull brown with irregular dark brown and black strips, and the sapwood is creamy white to light golden tan. Its texture is easily worked with machine and hand tools, making it most popular in the gift-shops in Belize.
The treasure local people do not know about
Very few Belizeans use bamboo for buildings. Most people do not know Belize also grows a lot of bamboo.
All of the bamboo used at The Orchid Garden has been harvested from the banks of the second largest river in Belize; The Sibun. Some of the lengths were cut sixteen years ago, and are still in good shape.
Bamboo is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials. It only needs a few years to grow back after harvesting,
The most species in the plant kingdoms
Belize is one very small country out of two hundred countries in the world. There is only one Belizean for every twenty-four thousand people worldwide. However, for every hundred varieties of orchids in the world, one grows in Belize. Orchids are a tropical rain forest treasure.
Belize has over three hundred varieties of wild orchids. The Orchid Garden Eco-village has a collection of more than one hundred species. In the interior of this green building and along the trail, almost every tree has a different orchid growing on it.
There are more than 30 thousand varieties of wild Orchids that have been identified. The Orchid is one of the biggest families in the plant kingdom.
Over ninety percent of the orchids grow on trees in Belize, and many people think that this is because the orchids are maximizing their access to sunlight. In fact, it is an adaptation that protects them from being washed away in the rainy season, when the ground floods easily throughout Belize.
The plant that came from outer space
The Orchid is one of the major epiphytic plants in the rainforest and the number one in varieties but not the number one in quantity. Another epiphytic plant - the Bromeliad – exceeds it in number.
The folktale is that the Bromeliad came from outer space and refused to settle their roots on the ground, because of the pollution in it. They did not trust the nutrients the ground provides, and so they made their own.
The bromeliad does not absorb nutrients from their roots; they use them only to anchor themselves. They have their own way of producing and storing nutrients.
Bromeliads have a pond in the center. The pond attracts different kinds of insects and amphibians, which come to them. Some animal species spend their lives generation after generation in this water side property, and their bodies provide the nutrients for the plants.
You will find some large or small bromeliads attached to almost every tree in the rain forest. There are only a few thousand varieties of Bromeliads. The Pineapple is one of the very few members of the Bromeliad family that does root itself in ground. It produces a fruit much valued by human beings. Maybe that is another reason for most bromeliads not to come down out of the trees!
The next plant to introduce to you is “The palm that is not a palm”
There are many sculptures from nature on our walls and posts. Almost noone outside Belize knows what they are, or which plant they came from. In fact they are flowers from a tree known as the Travelers’ Palm. It is not a palm at all, but a herbaceous flowering plant from the bird of paradise family. Some older classifications include these plants in the banana family.
From the Western bamboo window of our green building you can see a row of Travelers’ Palms just outside of the window. The lower part of its fibrous leaf stem fills with the rainwater that drains off its huge leaves. The water is pure and can be tapped by travelers if they are in the wild and need water. Its huge flowers are shaped like sailing boats.
All the decorations in this green building are the work of Mother Nature, The flowers of the Travelers’ palm are probably her most dramatic artistic creation.
All the pottery in this building is provided by Mother Nature. It will not break if dropped, as dried coconut shells are very hard.
The coconut palm is the most common sub-tropical palm, and is probably the most well known, and the most useful palm, in the world. For many people the coconut palm angled across a white sand beach provides them with the most evocative image of a tropical or sub-tropical paradise.
The life cycle of the coconut is similar in certain respects to that of human beings: the nuts take almost a year to mature, and the trees commonly live between 80 and 90 years.