With every passing year in Jamaica I always plan to grow a few vegetables so that I can enjoy fresh pickings when I want them and be in control of how many chemicals have been used in their growth cycle. Plus, I am a huge fan of farming for myself, the whole ‘Grow What You Eat, Eat What You Grow’ Campaign really appeals to me. However, these plans have been pretty ‘fruitless’ (if you’ll excuse the pun) so far and I haven’t grown or harvested a thing. When I moved into a new apartment with a small veranda and tiny front lawn I decided to start with some flowers, including some ferns and palms which I grew in containers. When these started to catch in the collection of recycled soda bottles, tin cans and old paint buckets, I bought some plastic flower pots to use for the bigger plants. Coupled with a bag or two of compost and potting soil I went about potting-up some more plant cuttings that I got from here and there, before I knew it I had a handsome collection filling up the front of the veranda.
Introduction to Organic and Sustainable Farming
As I have aspirations of having a ‘permaculture’ garden and a ‘Food Forest’ when I have my own piece of land, I thought about fruits I like to eat too. So I tried my luck with a few fruit tree seeds, with the plan of planting them in the ground when I am living somewhere more permanent. Orange pips were planted in baked beans cans, Ackee seeds in a 2 litre soda bottle and a Pear (Avocado) seed was dropped in the bottom of a bucket housing 2 small Almond tree suckers. All these seeds were taken from fruits that I had eaten with no other preparations made in their planting except pushing them into the dirt and watering them frequently. I have been fortunate in that all of these seeds have caught and are growing very well, the Pear (Avocado) tree is particularly beautiful and is growing at a rate of knots. A couple of Stringy Mango, Guinep and Mint suckers completed the collection on the veranda. I plan to grow all my crops and trees without the use of chemical pesticides and enhancements, only using organic fertilisers.
When researching online I found some information stating that when a tree is not grown from a commercially produced seed, or grafted root stock, that the fruit the tree will later bear will sometimes be inferior in taste to the fruit that it has come from. However, I feel that in the natural environment seeds will germinate and grow from fallen fruit and if left will grow into leafy green food havens. Therefore, I can only hope that my trees will have excellent tasting fruits when the time comes for it to bear fruits and if not, it was a fun and valuable lesson watching them grow in the meantime.
With the excitement of my (literally) growing collection of plants and young fruit tree saplings, the thoughts of growing vegetables crossed my mind again. However the veranda space was limited and the dirt under the ‘lawn’ (a few scraps of grass here and there) was definitely not suitable for growing crops. I thought back to my allotment in London that had kept me (and many others) over flowing with fresh, organically grown crops the three years prior to me moving to Jamaica. The pangs to grow things again, no matter how limited the space came back to me as one of my neighbours who was emigrating gifted me a large concrete trough shaped planter.
Introduction to Container Gardening
The gifted planter became the first container that I filled with potting soil, I planted neat rows of Garden Peas at one end, with Cucumber seeds in the middle, French / String beans at the other end, with a small section in the front that I placed a few Tomato seeds. I planned to see how everything got on before planting out the Tomato and perhaps the Cucumber, once it had grown to a size. The planter will eventually need to have a trellis fitted for the vines to grow up and I also plan to backfill it with more soil. The finished soil level will reach about an inch or two below the rim of the planter, giving the beans and peas more space to stretch their roots and grow. After one week of sowing the seeds they have successfully hatched and are growing beautifully.
Spurred on by this success, I collected together every container I could find, empty soda bottles large and small, plant pots, egg boxes and a large 15 litre container that was once filled with cooking oil. I placed them in water with a mild soap solution and rinsed out the bottles and caps, before allowing them to dry naturally. I then set about cutting the vessels to make containers in which to plant seeds in and added plenty of drainage holes bored into the bottom. After the vessels where cut to shape I filled the bottom with some dead leaves and then set about filling them up with the potting soil and planted the seeds in a controlled manner. Beetroot was planted in the 15 litre oil bottle, Okra in the 10” plant pot, two different types of Lettuce, one in each of the 2 litre soda bottles, Pepper in the egg boxes, and Tomato in the small soda bottles. The peppers will be a bit of a lucky dip, as I saved some seeds from both hot and sweet peppers and they got mixed up when drying out before planting out! After I planted the seeds I gave them a light watering and sprinkled dried crushed egg shells all over the soil. The egg shell not only is a natural way to deter slugs and snails it also breaks down into the soil and adds nutrients.
Recycling Plastic Soda Bottles
If you have plastic soda bottles you can recycle them to make self-watering pots. Cut off the top of the bottle just above the label to make a ‘cone’ shape. Make some holes, or cut ‘X’s’ around the side and the cap, to allow drainage of the soil. Turn the cone upside down and push it into the bottom of the bottle; if it is tight you can cut some extra 1” deep slashes from the edge of the rim to allow the cone some ‘give’ when being pushed into the bottle. Fill with potting soil and gently push in one or two seeds at the most in the smaller bottles.
A larger 1.5, 2 or 3 litre soda bottle can be recycled into a container garden in a different way. Lay the bottle on its side and carefully cut out a rectangle shape on the side of the bottle, do not cut away the bottle neck or bottle base area. Turn the bottle over and carefully make some drainage holes in the base. Fill with potting soil and gently push in some Lettuce, or Pak Choy seeds; when full grown the bottle will not hold more than one large Lettuce head, or two to three Pak Choy. Thinning’s can be eaten as they grow leaving the strongest one(s) to mature to a full head.
Think about what you are going to grow in the container before cutting it to shape, as some crops are better suited to deep containers whilst over work well in shallow wide containers. You will be surprised at what can grow in a limited space, so get inventive and recycle everything you can to use in your container garden.
Recycling other Containers
In most circumstance, you can safely recycle any vessel that has been used to hold food to grow crops. These containers will be made of some kind of ‘food grade’ plastic, metal or other material, which will not ‘leech’ into the soil and the crops grown within.
‘Grow What You Eat, Eat What You Grow’
Each week I will write up another post to update the growth (or not) of my seeds, hopefully by the time I write next week there will be some seedlings hatching. I will also explore other methods of container growing including some interesting vertical planting systems that I have seen online. I really hope that this venture into container farming will be productive for me. Not only in terms of providing a fresh and readily available food source, but also in terms of showing a few established and bemused local farmers what you can produced by integrating these unusual farming practices!
Oxford Dictionary (online) Definition
of three of my favourite words used in this Post:
Line breaks: re|cycle
1) Convert (waste) into reusable material:
car hulks were recycled into new steel (as noun recycling)
a call for the recycling of all paper
Line breaks: perma|cul¦ture
- The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient: his forest garden is one of Britain’s best models of permaculture
Origin: 1970s: blend of permanent and agriculture.
Line breaks: or|gan¦ic
1) A food produced by organic farming
1) Relating to or derived from living matter: organic soils
2) (Of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals: organic farming, organic meat
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