How to get vegetables straight from the garden

 If you want to grow your own vegetables in Cayman it’s a good idea to get some advice from the experts because as Henrik Lindhardt, owner of Flower Power garden nursery points out, it is quite hard to find vegetable growing books specific to the Caribbean, most refer to growing zones in Florida.

The first stage of course is to buy seeds and Lindhart says there is a bit of trial and error involved here, as some varieties are better geared for the Caribbean than others.

The other thing is Cayman is not as rich in topsoil as other parts of the Caribbean, so you might have to order some in and then once you have compost going, continue to enrich it from your compost pile. Joel Walton has just under two acres of garden under cultivation at his home, Plantation House. He’s become an expert on growing produce and ornamental plants in an ecologically friendly way. He thinks many people shy away from composting because it sounds complicated. His advice is to keep it simple.

“Forget activators, green/brown ratios, turning, wetting, covering, store bought gadgets, etcetera,” he says.

He recommends making a wooden compost bin by screwing four un-treated wood pallets together (hardware store dumpsters are filled with these), to create a bin.

Lindhart uses an even simpler method, forming black, small holed mesh into a circle that can then be lined with breathable material or just left as it is.

Both gardeners recommend having two or three compost heaps going at the same time.

Lindhart advises, “Once you have one heap going, don’t add to it, start another one.”

A compost heap needs to be hot to break things down. “It should be over 100 degrees inside a heap; if you put your hand in the middle it should be warm.” Lindhart says that basically you can put anything on the heap other that woody type of stuff that does not break down.

He also recommends feeding your compost heap with organic fertiliser every 4 weeks. He sells a product called Rescue, originating in Jamaica that is composed of chicken manure, banana and sugar cane. ‘It’s a bit on the smelly side but it works!”He says you can also add things like sugar water or tea to speed things up. He has even heard of people putting raw steak in it to make it break down faster!

Lindhart reckons that if you look after a compost heap it should be ready in two to three months and otherwise about four months.

Walton estimates an initial compost heap might take little longer than that. “Composting time will be in excess of a year but once you have three bins or more going all at the same time, you can reap mature compost every four months or so,” he says.

Lindhart says once you start using your compost take it from the bottom first (this is where the mesh circle comes in handy because you can just lift it up and rake out from the bottom) you can fork it over after doing this to aerate it.

What to grow when?
One of the best ways to grow vegetables here is to build wooden frames and make a raised garden.

The size of the frame is up to you but it should be roughly to a depth of two feet.

You then fill it with top soil and mix in compost.

Lindhart says if you don’t have space for a raised bed do not be put off; you can still grow a few vegetables in pots and containers.

What to plant
So now you are ready to plant in your brand new garden.

Joel Walton says , “At the moment we are in the middle of transitioning from cooler season crops to warm season crops,” the following is Walton’s recommendation for what to plant in the different seasons.

Cooler season crops:

Beet

Carrot

Tomato

florence fennel

Kohlrabi

Radish

Warm season crops:

Cucumber,

Courgette,

Pumpkin,

Watermelon,

Okra

Corn.

Year-round plants:

Lemon grass

Rosemary

Basil

Bay

Pimento

Parsley

Pest control
Some of the main pests you will come across are white fly, leaf minor weevils, mildew, moths and caterpillars.

Walton suggests keeping pests at bay with complementary plant combinations such as marigold and tomato, rosemary and spring onion, and basil and aubergine that work together as natural pest deterrents.

“The combinations are endless.  However, in home gardens like mine where the full use of crop rotation techniques are limited (for many reasons),  the key is to create a garden of diversity in plant types and heights, leaf size and textures, scents, and so on,” says Walton.

Lindhart advises trying to make your crops as healthy as possible so they will be more resistant to disease but if they do become infected he sprays with a product called Organocide which is 93 percent fish oils and three percent sesame oils.

Walton says sometimes as an organic gardener you just have to be philosophical

“Also, accept that some of your crops will be lost to pests, animals and diseases and make allowances for this in your plantings.”

Happy gardening.

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