I am back to my usual seat in the library, where I sat majority of last year when completing my thesis for my undergrad. I am swapping between here and the lab in Arus de Brun where I am working with three Vietnamese students who came to Ireland as part of the VIBE program. We are working together to see if any of our results are significant enough to produce a publishable paper. My blood is 80% coffee and the weather at home hasn’t been great so its perfect thesis writing settings. I’m missing the university life in Vietnam which often consisted of breaks with my colleagues Cian and Chris to drink smoothies and sugar cane juice in the sun but I feel like I’m finally settling back into life in Galway.
When I submitted my thesis last year I promised myself that I’d never do that again but here I am drafting another thesis, this time for a masters degree. One thing I learned last year was don’t leave everything to the last minute so I’ve been consistently working away at all the different parts of my thesis. Working with the Vietnamese students to draft a paper has helped greatly and there are lots of great ideas floating around, it’s just a matter of getting all these ideas down on into a word doc to see what angle we will take. With only a month to until my thesis is due its heads down and get typing and hopefully I will have my draft results by next week.
Hen gặp lại is the Vietnamese for ”see you again”. A phrase I heard often during my time in Vietnam. It is also a phrase I believe to be true because even though my time in Vietnam has come to an end I have a strong feeling I will be back to explore more of the country. I’ve been back home in Ireland for a week now and I’ve been thinking about how I could possibly sum up my experience in Vietnam and what ”life lessons” I have taken from it. My first post on this blog I explain how I wanted to have a life experience and learn some new things and that has definitely been accomplished.
Anyone who has been to Vietnam will agree with me when I say that life is both fast-paced and laid back its a difficult one to explain but the day starts early here (around 5am) and while there is a constant rush of traffic, mainly motor bikes coming and going you will also notice all the locals taking time out of this hustle and bustle to drink tea by the lake, play board games or to simply just chill out and sleep in the shade on their bikes. Life here is very different to the typical 9-5 Monday to Friday working week we see in the western world and I was lucky enough to get to experience both life in the city and life in the country which in themselves are very different from each other.
I felt so greedy sometimes especially when talking to my colleagues about the cost of living over in Vietnam in comparison to the western world. I had the luxury of being able to afford to eat out for all my meals for the last three months. Something I definitely couldn’t afford in Galway. Then the guilt would hit me and I would wonder how anyone can make a living selling sandwiches that cost the equivalent of 30c or smoothies that cost 15c. When I stop to take a moment to think I realize that almost everyone I have met during my time in Vietnam has been so happy, from the lady selling fruit on the street to the man selling Banh Mi outside his home the people here are always in great form. While life here may seem difficult to an outsider once you are fully submerged in their way of life you realize it is definitely more laid back and relaxed. I didn’t have any of my usual stresses while living here despite fact that I had research to carry out and a thesis to write I was more calm than I would be had I been at home because I quickly adapted to my surroundings.
I will definitely miss Vietnam. I’ll miss the food and the fresh fruit, the atmosphere the constant beeping of horns. I’ll miss people asking me for a photo because I’m so tall/broad/white and the people shouting ”Hello” at me all the time. I’ll miss the locals shouting ”tây” whenever I walked into a shop or a restaurant as if to announce to everyone that there is a westerner here come look! Most of all I’ll miss the people, their kindness, their friendlies and they fact that none of them take life too seriously. Many people say that travelling ”changed their life” and while I still believe most people are exaggerating when they say this I can now understand where they are coming from. My life hasn’t change much, I’m still me but what this experience has thought me is don’t sweat the small stuff, try not to get too caught up in life, find some time for yourself everyday and just be true to yourself because life is too short.
I think its time to talk about mites. The Tetranychus species are commonly referred to as red spider mites. The different species are difficult to tell apart as they are all a rusty red in colour. The red spider mites have a world wide distribution but are most common in the tropics and subtropics. There any many crops that are hosts to the spider mites, these include: okra, papaya, sweet potato, tomato, eggplant, beans, taro, cucumber, squash and of course cassava which is the host crop I am studying.
Symptoms & Life Cycle
Spider mites are common plant pests. They have needle-like mouthparts and use them to suck juice from the leaves. This destroys the cells, and the leaves show a characteristic white to pale yellow speckling, often along the sides of the main veins When infestations are severe, the speckling is seen all over the leaf. Some species of red spider mite such as the two-spotted mites make webs (like spiders) on the under and on the upper surface during an infestation as the infestation advances, the leaves turn yellow and die prematurely. The eggs are round and relatively large in comparison to the size of the adult; they are laid in the webbing near the veins, on the underside of leaves. The webs allow the mites to travel from infested to non-infested leaves; also, the webs are caught by the wind and help the mites to disperse by this method also. The eggs hatch 3 days after being laid producing larvae that have six legs and are colourless. From these, nymphs develop, which have eight legs; they moult once and within a few days become adult. The adults are about 0.5 mm long, with males smaller than females, and narrower towards the back end. Each female lays about 100 eggs. Under tropical conditions the life cycle takes only 7-10 days depending on temperatures. Populations develop rapidly, especially during periods of drought when damage can be considerable. The adults live for 2-4 weeks.
The extent of the damage caused by mites often depends on rainfall. When rainfall is low, mite populations are high and reduce crop yields. On cassava, for instance, yellowing of the leaves and early maturity of plants occurs and the size of the root tuber is reduced. The overall crop yield is also reduced. Damage is particularly severe during droughts and it is thought that outbreaks will increase with climate change.
There are different ways to manage mites:
A regular spaying of leaves with water can keep spider mites in check.
Check that cuttings, “tops”, and other kinds of planting materials are free from mites infestation before planting in a new garden.
Weed: remove plants that are common hosts of spider mites, e.g., wild Amaranthus
The problem with cultural control is that it is very time consuming especially if you are managing a large area of land or many different fields which is the case where I am carrying out my research.
Pesticides can be used but they should be applied carefully, rotating between different chemical groups, to prevent resistance developing to any one of them.
Not all insecticides kill mites, and those that do may not kill all the stages. Eggs are particularly resistant to pesticides and so, too, are larvae and nymphs, especially when moulting, as they do not feed. More than one application is needed at 5-10 days apart.
Aside from the difficulties associated with pesticide applications there is also a health concern. Many people in Vietnam, especially where I am based, have fears surrounding pesticides and their potential
NATURAL ENEMIES Predatory mites keep populations of spider mites in check, as do ladybirds, beetles and lacewing larvae. Managing mites requires preserving natural enemies; in most cases this means doing nothing to harm them, which means not using pesticides. The Project I am involved in is interested in using predatory mites as a biological control which if successful could eventually lead to farmers being taught how to raise predatory mites for release into their fields to control red spider mite numbers.
I don’t know if you ever played the board game ”hungry hungry hippos” as a child but it was one of my favorites to play during free time in primary school and I was reminded of that during my research this week. The object of the games is to get your hippo to eat more marbles than anyone else. This week I have been mainly focused on my leaf dish experiments where I place eggs of the red spider mites on a leaf, placed on a sponge soaked in water. I have a leaf with 5, 10, 15, 20,25 and 30 eggs and I repeat these 5 times and once I have them all set up with the correct number of eggs I place one adult female predatory mite on each. Now this is where ”hungry hungry hippos” comes in. The predatory mites have been starved for 24 hours and once placed on the dish they begin to feast. My field supervisor here speaks very little English and our main forms of communication are hand gestures, sound effects and google translate. So earlier in the week during our first round of this experiment he pointed at his stomach, pointed at the dish and said ”hungry hungry”. I couldn’t help but think of the board game I loved so much when I was younger, watching the mites scurry around the dishes eating as many eggs as they can. I nearly find myself rooting for predatory mites as I watch under the microscope I am already looking forward to repeating this experiment with different life stages of the red spider mites.
Just a quick update about where I am at with my research. I am still based out in the field and I will probably be here for the next two weeks. I have 5 rounds of my sampling done and only one left to do next week. so I have collected and looked at 3000 leaves to date and with some leaves having 50-60 mites I can’t even begin to estimate how many mites I’ve counted. At each site I record the temperature, humidity and soil moisture to see if there is a difference in these between mono-crop and inter-crop fields. I am yet to sit down and take a proper look at my results to see if there is anything interesting happening and I am looking forward to being back in the lab in Hanoi with some time set aside for statistical analysis.
As well as collecting leaves I am also carrying out leaf dish experiments to check the predation capacity of predatory mites on red spider mites. The Adult female predator mites are starved for 24 hours and one is transferred onto a leaf with 5 red spider mites, one to a leaf with 10 red spider mites and so on increasing in 5s until a maximum of 30 mites is reached. This is repeated 5 times to get an accurate idea of what the predation capacity is. So far I have looked at the predation capacity of the adult female predator mites on spider mite eggs and I will probably repeat this experiment using a different life stage of the red spider mites to get a clearer idea of the predation capacity. In the lab I keep leaves that I have collected in water, these leaves contain my red spider mites. I also have a single leaf dish set up that contains the predatory mites as these have to be isolated to be starved in order for the predation experiment to work.
I have also finished carrying out my soil infiltration experiments that I talked about in a previous post. The last thing left to do is to start collecting mites to bring back home to the lab in NUI Galway for DNA analysis. So it really is all go go go here trying to get everything done in the next 4 weeks or so. After a brief plateau I feel refreshed and ready to get all this work completed.
This post is a little more personal and not so much related to my research but related to our MScCCAFS as whole. During my time in the field I eat lunch and dinner in a local farmers house with his family and my lab is set up in the back of his house. It is here where I feel most at home. The farmer and his wife have 5 adult children who all live close by and their 9 grandchildren are always coming and going similar to my family, especially my younger cousins at home. I feel like they have accepted me into their family and they include me in everything despite the language barrier. Every day around 11am I finish my first round in the field and I return to their house where I am welcomed with the fruit of the day. The farmers wife puts a plate down in front of me and tells me in Vietnamese what is is. So far I have had dứa (pineapple), xoài (mango), vải thiều (lychee) đu đủ (paypaya) and so many other exotic fruits I don’t even know the English for. My breakfast each morning is a chuối (banana) that I pick off a tree in their garden and I can snack on whatever I can climb up to reach. Their love and appreciation of fruit is something to be admired, everything is eaten there is no such thing as ”ugly fruit” it’s fresh and picked before the birds or ants have a chance to get to them. There is no use of pesticides, herbicides or even fertilizers on the trees here.
I didn’t grow up on a farm so I have no real experience of farm life but spending so much time here has really opened my eyes to all the work and effort that goes into food. I have witnessed my first slaughter, and many others after that but I have also seen the love and care that goes into the livestock, the chickens are so ”free range” that I have no idea how they decipher which ones belongs to them or their neighbours. Every time a fish is caught or a chicken is slaughtered you can hear them say thank you. I don’t know if they are thanking the animals or some divinity but it for sure makes me stop and think for a minute. At dinner you can have anything from liver to lung and kidney to heart as well as chicken feet as nothing goes to waste, they place equal value on all cuts of meat and all types of animals. This again reminds me of how far removed we are from our food in the western world.
They are currently in the middle of a rice harvest and I can see the farmers in the surrounding fields cutting everything by hand, the following day you see the buffalo in the fields eating whatever was left behind as they clear the field for planting again. When the grains are separated from the main stalk they are laid out on the ground every morning to dry and then packed up every evening in case of rain. This is repeated for 5-7 days. When the rice is laid out to dry is it turned every hour by foot, one of my favorite jobs to do as it feels like warm sand on my feet. Every evening when I help pack up the rice I cant help but think how we don’t appreciate our food enough. We can go to our local supermarket and buy a kilo of rice for as little as €1.50 and never really appreciate or understand all the work that went in to producing that kilo.
So where am I going with this? Well during my masters I have learned a lot about food security and also food waste. I think that food is such a cultural thing in the west and is associated with every occasion but that there is definitely a disassociation about not only where our food comes from but the time and effort that went into producing it. Food is a lot less of a luxury and a lot more of a necessity here and their love of food is entirely different to ours. Our global population expected to rise to 10 billion people by 2050, that’s a lot of mouths to feed and could become increasingly difficult to do so due to food security problems associated with climate change, drought, and land use change. Spending time here I cant help but think that we can be so greedy about our food. We want the juiciest fruit, the crunchiest veg the most prime cuts of meet. Our need for aesthetically pleasing fruit and veg leads to not only ”ugly foods” being discarded causing food waste but an increase in fertilizers and pesticides which can also have an effect on climate change. Our need to eat meet with every meal has led to deforestation, not to mention the land use change that is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals we eat. I think the western world needs to take a step back and learn to appreciate food again, realize how much food is wasted and how we consume too much of it. Even with a population of 95 million people the Vietnamese still have such a passion and appreciation for their food, how it is produced and where it comes from and there is lessons to be learned in that.
I am back in the field this week continuing to collect leaves and count the number of mites. I cannot get over how quickly the cassava grew. Two weeks ago during the first round of sampling the crops were the height of my knee and now they are the height of my shoulders. I’m 169 cm tall so that at should give you an idea of how tall they have grown and my filed supervisor tells me that they will get even taller, I will get some photos this week and upload them here.
As well as collecting the leaves I am now testing for soil moisture at every site to see if there is a difference in the soil moisture levels between mono-crop and inter crop fields. This is done using the the EXTECH soil moisture meter a video explaining how to use this device is available here. Along with testing the soil moisture levels I am also testing the soil permeability in each field. This is done using a double ring soil infiltration test and a video explaining how this is done is available here .
It will be interesting to see if there is a difference in the soil between the cassava mono-crop fields and the cassava cowpea inter-cropped fields.
I am now located in the Văn Yên District in the Yên Bái province of Vietnam. This is where I will conduct all of my field research for my thesis. I have 8 research sites in total 4 of which are cassava mono-crops and the other 4 are cassava cowpea inter-crops. The sites are located on varying degrees of slopes on the hill. I collect 75 leaves from each site and bring them back to the lab to be viewed under the microscope. When viewing under the microscope I count the number of both red spider mites and associated predatory mites and record them in an excel file.
I was not prepared for the number of mites on the leaves and it took some time to get used to counting them as the tend to move about on the leaves but I am improving every time. By the end of my sampling periods I will have collected and viewed 3600-4200 leaves under the microscope (that’s a lot of mites) so I am hoping the speed that I collect the leaves at will improve with time.
Today the team here were invited to the Irish embassy in Hanoi. I had never been to any embassy let alone an Irish one so it was another day of firsts for me. We met with the ambassador and the head of development to discuss our individual projects and the VIBE program as a whole. The Vietnam Ireland Bilateral Education Exchange program (VIBE) was developed as a catalyst to encourage and deepen third-level education linkages between Vietnamese and Irish institutes which will contribute to Vietnam’s socio-economic development. Ireland has been supporting Vietnam’s socio-economic development plans since 2005 and has also supported education and research here so the VIBE program is essentially a collaboration of the two. We discussed the VIBE program in the embassy, the research we will be conduction during our time here and the importance of these projects for rural Vietnam. We also talked about potentially having another meeting when we are finished our research to discuss further the relevance and importance of the VIBE program and what we have observed whilst conducting our research.
Now that I am all settled in it’s time to get down to business and switch off ”holiday mode” and remind myself of the fact that I am here to conduct my research for my masters thesis. The masters I am studying is MScCCAFS in NUI Galway and during my time here I will work closely with the Vietnam University of Agriculture (VNUA). The project I am working on is called the VIBE project and I will be mainly involved in is called ”sub project 2”. I will be studying red spider mites on the Cassava crop in Văn Yên District in the Yên Bái province of Vietnam.
The cassava here is mainly grown to be use as an animal feed and is not consumed by the local people. The red spider mites lay eggs on the leaves and when the larvae hatch they feed on the leaves. This can cause the leaves to fall off and can reduce the crop yield. There is however another species of mite, referred to as a ”predatory mite” which feasts solely on the red spider mites. One objective of my thesis is to observe how many spider mites and predator mites are present on cassava leaves and to also look at the predation capacity of the predator mites on the red spider mites. There is potential to use the predator mites as a biological control agent which could greatly help the farmers here. I am looking forward to getting started in the field this week.