Hello friends of Bona Fide,
This rainy season is seeing lots of growth (very literally!) on the farm, as we continue to develop our plant, animal, social, and various structural systems. I’ve had the incredible opportunity of learning about these reticulated systems through hands-on work, observation, and research in the months since I took the permaculture design course on the farm this past February. As I’ve spent the past five months working primarily in the annual and perennial kitchen gardens, I’d love to give everyone an update on what we’ve been working on in these gardens.
When I first arrived on the farm in early February, we were beginning to redesign the three-terrace gardens located right next to our kitchen, and to think about expanding some of the perennial areas behind the medicinal garden. Though the three terraces thrive in the wet season, in the dry season these areas are exposed to brutal heat and strong winds that sweep up the side of the mountain. The garden location is ideal in it’s accessibility from the kitchen, but these other factors led us to discuss the possibility of moving the kitchen gardens completely. After hours of mapping the areas (making use of skills mastered in the permaculture course!) and debating, we came up with a design. We decided to keep the first two terraces in production, using shade structures on each level for protection from dry season desiccation, and to use the least protected third terrace for our new clothesline area, along with our 3-pile compost system and our most drought tolerant, resilient annual crops. We redesigned the beds on the second level, making better use of space, improving accessibility, and making plans for constructing semi-permanent beds. At the same time, we made plans to expand in the more protected perennial garden areas.
My first couple months of work primarily involved construction—of the clotheslines on the third terrace, and the beds on the second terrace. Hector and I worked with any volunteers willing to wield the pickax, constructing beds with brick and cement at first, and then making use of scrap materials to put together semi-permanent beds. We ended up using old roofing tiles, a big improvement on the previous wooden beds which were breaking down in no time!
In April we hired the help of Juan, a local experienced in organic agriculture, who had been volunteering his time to work on the gardens at the Mano Amiga community center. It was great to be able to learn from Juan and to ask him my questions every day, instead of constantly making notes of plants to research, or running around the farm looking for Mitch. Juan continues to work mornings at the finca, and volunteer at the Mano Amiga gardens in the afternoons. Working with Juan, and often with help from the many student groups we have passing through, we constructed a bamboo arbor over four beds on the second terrace, and set up trellises running up from the second to the first level. These structures allow us to make optimal use of vertical space, and the arbor will provide some shade and wind protection for the coming dry season.
The rains first started sporadically in mid-May and suddenly the farm was a jungle of radiant color and buzzing swarms of new insects. Everyone who has experienced this change in season on the farm knows how incredible this transformation is, and we no longer had to stand around watering the gardens for over an hour! We began planting like crazy, both in the kitchen gardens and all over the finca, and also started looking into implementing plans for expansion in the perennial area. Not an insignificant part of this task was simply clearing out the area; once the rain begins paths become overgrown in a matter of days, and accessibility to garden areas is very important as we want to encourage everyone to explore and harvest food. Mo, an agriculture student who worked with us for two months, led the perennial garden project, making adjustments to the original design as we ran into some problems (hitting the underground water pipes). She built new beds, prepped and planted existing beds, and put together a stone bench in what had become a relaxing butterfly garden.
Of course, the best part of working in the garden is harvesting food! We make an effort to use the abundance of fruits, veggies, and herbs we grow for food and medicinal use, and to educate incoming volunteers on what they can use, where to find it, and how it can be prepared. We currently have a large variety growing in the gardens, including many different types of asian greens, arugula, various leaf lettuces, indian lettuce, okinawa and malibar spinach, collard greens, kale, beets, cucumbers, squash, watermelon, several types of beans including mung and yardlong, basil, okra, cilantro, dill, fennel, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and amaranth growing in our annual garden beds. These crops, in addition to all the incredible fruit and perennial vegetables found on the farm, leave us nearly unlimited possibilities for creating fresh, nutritious meals.
Thank you all for your interest and support, it is greatly appreciated.