Growing, selling and buying food locally - rather than importing it from other parts of the world - is climate smart and beneficial for health and the local economy. RVA is part of starting up home gardens with families across the island, and the target is 200 such gardens by 2021.
Fifty home gardens have been completed in North Leeward and the next ten garden will be made in the village of Fancy.
The Pass-It-On sustainable model garden's knock-on effect in the community is enormous: many Vincentians continually ask if and when they will get help to build a home garden in their backyard, and the beneficiaries, along with other local farmers, have got together to create an organic farmers’ cooperative with the aim to establish an organic farmers’ market and hold broader community events.
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The model gardens are established on the basis of 800 square feet of land or a plot measuring 20 x 40 feet. The Agro-ecological Intensification approach being taken in the design of these model gardens requires the system to have perennial support species, which can be harvested periodically to provide on site organic matter.
The fences are established using approximately 28-32 Glyricidia posts spaced 4 feet apart with two lines of barbed wire encircling the garden area. Please refer to map of proposed model garden design for visual location of elements.
These multi functional glyricidia trees are an excellent source of organic material, which is high in nitrogen, and can be chopped and dropped to mulch fruit trees or added to compost. They can also be used to support climbing species such as passion fruit, lima beans, or christophene. In addition to the glyricidia the design has two leaucena trees which can be allowed to grow during the dry/ hot times of the year to provide a dispersed shade system and coppiced during wetter more humid times of the year for additional organic matter.
The third main type of support species is vetiver grass, which can be used interchangeably with the cullinery applicable lemon grass variety. Either of these grasses provide excellent and abundant mulch for the intensive annual garden. Thus providing all the benefits of mulch including improved soil structure, reduced evaporation of critical soil moisture and very importantly reduced weeding.
There is a 600 gallon water tank placed on a 4 x 4 x 4 foot concrete block foundation that collects water from the house roof to water the intensive vegetable garden beds. Of this 48 square feet will be for annual crops that need trellis support such as climbing beans, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. The long (yard) bean is long lasting and combines well on the trellises with either cucumber or cherry tomatoes.
The long-term trellis support will be achieved using 7 foot half inch steel rods that cross and allow for a biodegradable mesh support for climbing species.
The manure from the chicken layer/ rabbit component will be fed into the compost along with kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, coppiced glyricidia and leaucena, as well as other organic matter from diverse perennial sources. To get an idea of potential yield we can estimate that the two intensive vegetable garden beds can give us approximately 130 head of lettuce every 2 months along with 36 roots of chives (soon after). Okra, eggplant and hot peppers are other recommended potential plantings on these beds.
Depending on the household and their preference the animal component will consist of a coup for raising rabbits or few layer chickens. The coup will measure 4 x4 feet and will be raised off the ground for better aeration and easy collection of manure from underneath. Rabbits can be raised to supply a meat supplement for the household along with invaluable high fertility manure.
An important feature of the design are the two contour hedgerows / swale systems, depending on the need of the particular site, that are located at the head of the land and at the mid-way point of the garden. These systems are critical in controlling erosion and water flow through the land. Swales in particular allow water to be harvested passively, where it counts most, in the soil. They simultaneously provide additional water for the long-term perennial plantings that are critical in mitigating against climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide.
These perennial plantings include important species such as coconut, avocado and cocoa that provide important vegetable oil and protein sources for the chosen households. Papaya and Banana roots provide a consistent year round harvest of the important fruit element. Underneath and around these important perennials will be a diversity of useful species such as aloes, turmeric, tania, pineapple, pigeon peas (also perennials). As well as flowering annual/biannual species such as cow peas, dill, basil and marigolds amongst other possibilities.
The area designated for staple production is approximately 124 square feet, which will diminish by approximately 24 square feet as the larger perennials take there allotted space over time. This area can be planted to sweet cassava intercropped with sweet potato possibly rotated with other root crops such as carrots or eddoes and pigeon peas in their turn (which build soil as they provide important support species functions such as nitrogen fixation). Alternatively it can be planted to pineapple or plantain roots as a more perennial form of the system requiring less management whilst providing important yield potential.
The system as outlined above is intended to improve the household diet by providing a diverse year round supply of nutritionally rich fruits and vegetables, along with an animal protein supplement. In addition to a healthier diet the household can significantly reduce costs associated with their weekly food budget. The proposed design is intended to increase organic matter production and hence fertility whilst protecting and stabilizing the soil.
The design, being based on diverse, multi-functional species also helps reduce problems associated with pests and diseases. The intensive nature of the design also means there is less room for weeds and more potential mulch for the very important function of protecting the soil from heavy rains, and the effects of intense heat which damages the living soil, as organic matter is ‘burnt off’ rapidly under the intense tropical sun.
Increased organic matter can provide a buffer both against extreme rain as against extreme dry/heat conditions. Hence the systems both adapt to changing climatic conditions as well as mitigate these conditions by sequestering carbon dioxide.