In the past couple of blog posts, I have talked about getting our home gardens ready for planting. We fixed fences and fought termites, put in strong doors, and implemented a water management plan. The next step is enriching the soil.
The soil in this region is generally pretty good for growing, but to enrich it even further we are using organic fertilizer, aka manure. Many of my Partners own goats (and a couple have cows), and this readily available manure is great for the gardens. The Partners with livestock shared their manure with Partners who do not, and pretty soon everyone had enough fertilizer to cover their gardens. This fertilizer was then mixed with the soil, and is ready to grow some large, healthy, delicious vegetables.
Another way we are ensuring the health and quality of the soil is through crop rotation. If you are not familiar with crop rotation, here is a basic rundown:
All vegetables are divided into four main families: roots (carrots, onions, garlic, etc.), fruits (tomatoes, okra, eggplant, etc.), leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, etc.), and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.). To keep the soil healthy, crop rotation calls for rotating these families. For instance, if you plant a field of cucumbers and harvest them, you should not immediately plant peppers because they are both in the fruit family. Each family takes different nutrients from the soil, so planting the same family back to back like that would deplete the soil. Ideally, you should plant a leafy green, fruit, root, legume, and then leafy green again, which is where the rotation part comes in. Unlike the other families, legumes are actually grown specifically to enrich the soil. Nutrients such as nitrogen are replenished by the legumes, and if you harvest the legumes and use them as green fertilizer (by crushing the beans and leaves and mixing them back into the soil) it is even better for soil health.
For us, each garden is divided into 4 sections and everyone is going to be growing 1 root, 1 fruit, a small variety of leafy greens (I’ll explain why in a moment), and 1 legume. For the root and fruit, we are growing onions and okra to sell in local markets. The Partners have experience growing both of these vegetables, and not only do they grow well, they sell well. Onions are a staple in local cuisine, and okra is a HUGE local favorite. Onions especially sell for high prices year-round, and when Partners have grown and sold okra in the past it has sold very quickly. For the legume, we are growing cow peas, which are readily available. As we will be using the peas as fertilizer, we simply wanted something that would be good for soil health. The leafy greens are a special situation.
Instead of growing 1 kind of leafy green, each garden is going to be growing 2 or 3. The reason for this is we are going to dry these greens using a solar dryer before selling them (for more information about our solar drying plans, stay tuned to a future blog post!). Leafy greens take up only a small amount of space, so we are able to grow a larger variety without sacrificing crop volume. As solar drying is a new endeavor, we want to grow a variety of leafy greens to see which dry best. Also, this gives us an opportunity to make a leafy green mix, which can be more appealing to potential buyers.
So, this is where we are with the gardens. The fences are sturdy, the water is there, the soil is enriched, and the gardens are divided for crop rotation. Right now, each Partner is busy making garden beds. Planting seeds is not far behind.