This man is standing in front of a “canche”
Have you heard how many villages are now without a source of fresh produce? In Yucatan every household used to have a home garden. But now, they are not as common as you would think, and I wonder how people could be encouraged to grow more vegetables and herbs; this would add so much nutrition, fibre and flavour to their diet. Of course I know that “gardening” in Yucatan takes a Hurculean effort. There are so many hurdles to overcome, especially for those without any money. Some of them are:
1. nutrient-poor soil
2. too much sun, and scorching temperatures
3. insects and other critters that devour the little plants
4. the cost of seed
5. mold and “rot” that easily set into pots if they are not properly drained.
So, I have thought up an “experiment”. I am going to try and grow garden veggies and herbs, without purchasing seed, special soil or pots.
I’ve decided to try a variation of the millennia-old method used by the Maya. To grow small quantities of produce, they used a “canche” (a raised growing bed built from poles lashed together with vines) Since I have neither poles nor vines, I am going to try suspending my “planters” from my orange tree.
I am starting this project with a couple of hardy varieties: Roma tomatoes and local green peppers.
1. I have saved the seeds from a few tomatoes and peppers (leaving some of the membranes around them) I have placed them on a paper towel, and they are drying on a table in my laundry room (a place where I have never seen ants). When they look dry (in 2-3 days, I estimate) I will throw away the dried membranes, and separate the seeds.
2. To germinate the seeds, I will use 2 cardboard egg cartons. I plan to perforate the bottoms and sprinkle some dry earth in each of the little “cups”. I’ll get the earth damp by sprinkling water (not soaking), then spread a few seeds in each cup, and set them back on the same counter. (a place that is well-ventilated, warm but not sunny all day) I’ll keep them moist, and I hope they will sprout in a few days.
3. When the sprouts look a sturdy (I calculate about a week) I will plant them in four tin cans I have saved. Soon to be transformed into “planters”… Here’s how I plan to prepare the cans:
With my ice pick, I will liberally perforate the bottoms of the cans, and I will also make 3 holes around the upper rim of the cans, about an inch from the top. I’ll attach a length of wire through the three top holes, secure them, and then bring the 3 wires together and make a loop (so I can hang the “planter”) Next I’ll prepare the soil.
On the bottom of the cans (now called, “planters”) I will place a single layer of little stones for drainage. On top of the stones, for added filtering, I’ll put about an inch of dry sticks that I’ve broken into short pieces On top of that I will lay about 2 inches of torn-up dry leaves that I trust will break down and add nutrients to my soil. And finally I’ll scoop in 6 inches of dry dirt. (this will not be “nursery planting soil”, but just regular dirt that I’ll scrape up from around the plants in my own side garden. If it is too rocky, I will sift it with an old kitchen strainer)
I’ll then carefully plant the hardiest seedlings, adding a bit of water at a time.
I’ll hang 4 hammock “S-es” from the lowest branches of my orange tree, and from them, I will suspend the planters… and we’ll see what happens.
I am not so worried about large varmints eating the plants, but I do have some concerns about leaf-cutter ants. I have thought about maybe affixing a plastic cup of water between the “S” and the loop, but have not quite worked out how to do this. Any ideas?
I could use my nice big hose to water “my crop” but I know that in the villages, not all people have hoses, so I will use a bucket and a small dipping cup. I think I will need to water at least twice a day, being careful not to get the pots too soggy (which I know will not be good either)
After I cull out the best seedlings, I will have a lot of left-overs. I am going to plant these amongst my garden plants and give them water but no fertilizer or other special care… and we’ll see if any of them mature.
Does anyone have experience with this kind of “vegetable gardening”. Do you see any flaws in my plans? Let me know because the seeds are drying as you read…
If my experiment is successful, maybe I will try some larger “planters”. Maybe I will write and illustrate a children’s book that demonstrates this traditional gardening method.
I don’t know what the outcome of my experiment will be, but I do know that the COVID 19 pandemic has fully convinced me of one thing… we as a society need to find alternatives to “just going to the store” to get what we need. Because as all of us have learned… especially those over 60… going to the store is not always possible.
I don’t advocate ditching all the comforts and conveniences of our society, but I do believe we need to be just-a-little-less dependent. We need to develop strategies and adopt good habits that will see us better prepared for the unexpected.