The Great Gandul Harvest
Given that Finca Bona Fide exists in a state of constant motion, it’s hard to understand sometimes how infrequently this blog gets updated. I’m sure it’s been said before, I’m sure we’ll say it again, but from here on out we’re going to try to keep you, our readers and followers, in on what we’re doing here on a regular basis.
Along with processing a ton of jackfruit and working on preparing the materials for a natural building project on one of our dorms, we also harvested our gandul this last friday, or as it’s known in English, pigeon pea. Pigeon pea is a pretty special grain, full in protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients that make it what we’d call a ‘staff’ food, something that people can rely on to support them nutritionally. Here at Bona Fide our goal is to increase food security in the area and throughout Central America in areas with climates analogous to that of Ometepe. This means finding reliable ways for farmers to at once improve soil quality and build up a range of ‘staff’ foods, creating the assurance that if one fails others will continue to support them. Gandul is a fast growing perennial legume with a high resistance to drought. It’s an ideal candidate as an innovative staple food for tropical and subtropical regions given to intense rainy seasons followed by long dry stretches, a pattern which grows more pronounced as climate change progresses.
Gandul is also a nitrogen fixer, meaning that its roots attract microorganisms which draw nitrogen from the air into the soil. When the plants are harvested or cut back, the roots die off and release the nitrogen for other plants to use in their own growth. Even better, after harvesting, the plant stalks can be used to make mulch, helping plants to better hold water along with slowly proportioning nutrients as they decompose.
Our gandul crop is one of a few being used in our on-contour alley cropping experiments; planting staple crops in between alleys of larger nitrogen fixers which serve as wind break, and smaller nitrogen fixing grasses like vetiver, which help prevent erosion. During the rainy season, the same field we’ve used to cultivate gandul will flood and become our rice patty, and it will have been made especially fertile by the nitrogen collected from the gandul. Success in these crops not only provides our volunteers with an excellent source of food, but also serves as proof that these models function in this region and are something we will be able to disseminate within the community through education. In fact, we’ve already had 30lbs of our harvest requested as seed source by the a branch of the Nicaraguan government.
So last Friday we all got into the harvest spirit. It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of day, with many daily chores suspended in order to be able to rapidly and efficiently carry out the harvest. First we cut the branches with dry beans from the plants, then beat the beans off the branches. What didn’t come loose with a beating we picked off by hand. There was plenty of pica-pica and chimbre, a couple nasty rash inducing vines not unlike nettles up north, but volunteers held strong and we finished before the sun got too strong. You can see right here with just a little piece of land we got a considerable yield.