April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Thursday, June 5, 2008

School Garden - First steps

We (Kevin, myself, and the committee called Padres del Familia) started work on a school garden this week. There is an area of wild pland growth (but not old growth despite what the pictures seem to show- it just grows darn fast) within the school fence that used to be a garden.

Below you can see what the school garden looked like at the start of the day...a little intimidating to those of us who are new in life to the art of using a machete (like me).

But two hours (and some stinging bugs) later, it started to look like this:

A bit later they were working (with much sweat and jokes at Kevin´s expence) on digging a double dig garden bed. Why / what is a double dig bed? A double dig garden bed is where you dig down deep...as deep as two feet sometimes and add organic materials and compost to the soil. A double dig bed is not recommended for all areas or all soils. It is most often done when the soil is compacted or low nutrients as the process loosens the soil and adds in future nutrients. However, it is a ton of work and also disturbs the soil ecology in a big way. We chose to do it because:

  1. The soil was heavy clay just below the surface and we wanted it loose for kids
  2. We wanted to boost the chances of sucessful plants by adding organic nutrients to the soil...want the kids to have good sucesses with thier plants so they enjoy the work
  3. We were looking to control weeds by placing the upper weed layer so deep that it can´t grow back. Weeds are a seriously fast threat to gardens here. Weed control is usually a factor in why they burn. If we can control weeds without burning it will be a great example to everyone of what is possible.

After digging the soil out the bed was put together in layers from deepest to swallow:

  1. weeds and plants from before
  2. soil
  3. nutrient rich organic matter (banana trees, rice husks, and such)
  4. soil
  5. finished compost from the compost class that we did a couple of weeks ago with them
  6. soil

All of those additives will put air, space, and nutirients into the soil. When done right in Panama a double dig bed mounds higher than the original soil. This allows for settling and improves drainage away from plants as too much rain can be an issue here.

In the photo above you can see that the soil quickly turned reddish and clay heavy. We got the whole area cleared and got two of the four garden beds dug up in about 5 hours. All the guys were tired at the end (see Carlos resting below). Other school fathers will take a turn at digging the other two beds this coming Sunday...which is cool because we will be gone so another community member learned enough to lead the group on Sunday. That is it´s own sucess.

And what where the women doing during this process? Well, Panama is still fairly defined in gender roles...so the women were working up a big meal of beef soup and rice to serve at lunch time. Don´t worry, we do get them out of the kitchen and into other types of work occasionally...they pitch right in when asked to.

Next steps? Well, the 21 kids of the school will be split into 4 teams, each with thier own garden bed to tend. Next week we will teach the kids about the work thier Dads did for them and why stepping in the beds is bad (soil compaction). Together we will plant a ground cover plant hoping for future weed control. We will also plant the first seeds in a seed starting bed. Should be fun. Any time kids are learning and getting a bit dirty at the same it is fun.

Stay tuned for updates because when plants are happy here they can grow pretty fast!

No comments: