Grow what you eat

I began speaking about how and what we eat in the blog “Plant Based Life” and maybe you’ve noticed we seem to be all about our connection to nature to it’s only natural that we had planned to start growing some of our own food. It was our plan from the beginning that we would take on some organic gardening and farming for the sake of creating a homestead of sorts. I mean we never intended to become ‘farmers’ per se but I suppose that eventually we will be cultivating and harvesting crops to supply our household and business with a sustainable source of fresh & seasonal fruits and veggies. We had maintained various herbs and plants on our apartment balconies in smog choked cities that rained down more acid and chemicals than water, but had never really taken on growing anything edible other than those herbs. So what better time to start trying and learning than now!
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Β (just after transplanting the cilantro, basil – and one sage plant into their glass jars)

Well I had been reading up, hunting down methods for growing in the tropics with our violent wind, heavy rain, harsh sun and humidity and coming up with a plan to start small, gain confidence and branch out accordingly. This plan was still in effect when we moved into our rental in Dominica. We have a huge outdoor space safe from larger ground critters, with metered sunlight, as well as areas will full sun all day and speckled light / reflected light all day. We purchased some potting soil from a local agriculture store and got to work with the sprouting pods and containers we had on hand. Of course we had our seeds that got a quick start then died after sprouting, but instead of going back and trying again on some of those, we nurtured what was working. Still growing from our first rounds of sprouting & transplanting are a container of basil, container of cilantro, 1 sage, 4 tomato plants (although we are unsure of which variety/varieties survived!), 1 red leaf lettuce, 4 pak choi and our humungous green zucchini & yellow squash plants! (update the red leaf lettuce was eaten by Pierre – our black cat)

 

grow-what-you-eat-06The zucchini / squash were transplanted into the baby tub we picked up and used as a cat litter box when we first arrived. Of course we cleaned it out filled it with soil and even without the addition of any fertilizer (yet) we are proud with the natural growth we’ve seen and the blossoms and squash are just starting to bud which is very exciting! The huge leaves are also providing shade for some more tender greens which I will transplant once they are big enough. It’s really looking healthy and beautiful although I did have two scares. The first being some splitting near where the plant meets the soil, I quickly learned this could be remedied and it was probably from the wind stressing it.

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You might notice some of the zucchini leaves have silver grey on the veins and in splotches, this was my second ‘scare’. I can assure you they don’t go all the way through the leaf and are not mold or mildew. It is shiny like the leaf and not powdery and doesn’t budge when rubbed. After much hunting on the internet I found that some varieties seem to have these wild looking leaves naturally, although I also heard it could be due to lacking nutrients. Well if it changes after I add fertilizer / compost tea I will let you know, but I have a feeling that everything is fine and this is just a surprise variety of summer squash! I can’t wait to see what comes of it! The silver grey color is only appearing on one plant and hasn’t seemed to be ‘spreading’ or anything which is another reason I think it could just be the variety.

The other stand outs are the basil and cilantro which are very hard to find here and when they are available the basil isn’t quite the basil we are accustomed to in the states. The seeds I planted most definitely have familiar plush, deep green leaves and emit an aroma that makes me salivate! The cilantro is growing and seems to be doing well despite Pierre’s attempts to eat it up. I try to keep it cool since I would hate for it to bolt on me before I can enjoy it! I tried to remove the single sage since it’s watering requirements differ from the basil, but its roots were set and didn’t want to budge, so I left it, hoping she keeps thriving since sage is definitely something I’ve never seen in stores here.

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We just hardened off the tomatoes and they are loving the full sun, the wind and rain, even though one of their first days outside they almost flooded in the heavier than average rains. Luckily they are growing in a bag we can move so they can be brought under an awning for protection. I also tried a technique I had learned about online for planting tomato slices to see if that would work, and I now have several more tomato sprouts! Once they grow a little bigger I will transplant each of these to a proper container that will be the right size through their growth and not just as sprouts and small plants.

To the left are the sprouts a few weeks ago, and after they were transplanted into the bag.

Below are what they look like now, they still have a long way to go & really need that fertilizer!

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I love the container gardening we are doing, even though we plan on using raised beds on our land in Toucari. We’ve been able to reuse various containers to suit our needs, diminishing our waste and creating a garden we can adjust to meet the needs of each individual plant! Although we haven’t officially eaten anything we’ve grown yet, we are enjoying the process which will get us there. We are patient, we are learning, and every day we are reading up, watching videos and speaking to locals about growing and farming practices. I’m sure there will be epic failures, crops gone rotten, eaten by animals or insects or all kinds ofΒ  ‘oops’ moments, and some that make us wonder why we spent so much time on something just for it to die / be eaten but hey, thats nature right? You’ve got to start somewhere and we’ve seen, heard and read a lot about accidental farmers, or new homesteaders going through some of the same hands on education, successes and failures and we are just proud to be joining their ranks, hoping to learn from anyone who has experience to for us to glean from.
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(zucchini blossoms forming)

We have a barrel arriving in a week and a half and I couldn’t be more excited since it has a lot of gardening tools inside. It has some compost tea (since we have started composting but obviously don’t have any usable compost yet), organic fertilizer, acidity & moisture meters, as well as soft bag style containers of various sizes so I can thin out my zucchini, pak choi, and other veggies and fruits as I start germinating more seeds. The barrel will also contain some hydration picks which should help me do some deep root nutrient injections and hydration!

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(canopy of HUGE zucchini / summer squash leaves)

In the meantime I sowed a few varieties of greens into a small container which have just started to sprout, and I hope I can protect them from my cats because having fresh greens of my own is high on my list of important crops to grow. Not to mention I was definitely saddened by Pierre’s meal of red leaf lettuce!Β  And while I wait for these greens to show themselves, I will continue to tend to the plants we’ve got, and contemplate the next to germinate and sprout in anticipation of the arrival of so many different containers!

Do you garden ? Farm ? Have a homestead, allotment, keep an herb garden or grow anything you eat? I would love to hear your stories of successes and blunders as well as any tips especially anyone farming in humid, hot, rainy & windy conditions without a greenhouse! Feel free to reply in the comments.

Stay Salty,
Kayla

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