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Posts Tagged ‘Compost’

Women in three communities of Huimilpan, Querétaro – Piedras Lisas, Capula, and El Sauz Norte were trained in the mosaic method of gardening two years ago – long before Peace Corps volunteers arrived to their pueblito. They planted their cilantro and broccoli in haphazard beds, explored flowers for seeds, and experimented with growing leafy greens. They improvised and learned with their hands in the soil. When my compañera and I conducted interviews upon our arrival, the women spoke of their gardens enthusiastically, but with a tinge of defeat. After a few interviews, we began to see a common theme of lingering questions. What vegetables do I seed for the winter? What can I do to get rid of the worm in the col? What do I do with all this swiss chard?

Since the women of these communities saw the benefits of growing food for their families, and were driven to continue advancing, another volunteer and I collaborated together to write a SPA grant. In partnership with the organization, CIASPE, we started a four session gardening course to share the  biointensive gardening method – a method that produces more in less space, uses less water, and takes care to regenerate the soil. It is a method that will allow the women to seguir adelante.

Since the first and most important step in starting a biointensive garden is the elaboration of a compost pile, a large part of Session 1 was dedicated to compost. As humans, what we put inside of us is reflected on the outside. Similarly the soil quality, or the nutrients that are available to the plant’s roots, is reflected in the leaves, stems, vigor of the plant, etc. Also, many of the plagues that we encounter in the garden are a symptom of the larger problem of poor soil quality. Rather than focusing on recipes to expel plagues, we must think about addressing the root of the problem, the poor soil quality. This can be treated with compost piles, or the production of nutrient-rich soil.

Compost Pile

One of the things that I love about the biointensive method is the focus on using what is available at hand. Surveying the land in each community, we used different materials for the “green” and “brown” matter in the compost piles. In Piedras Lisas, we used vines of a harvested chayote plant and elotes. In Capula, we used grass and straw. In El Sauz, we used recently harvested corn stalks and dried grass. Each pile was adapted to what the women had in their community.

Here are some fun facts about compost:

*Compost improves soil structure by breaking up clay and clods. It also bonds sandy soils together.

*Compost creates soil with a good organic matter content, which holds much more water  and thus preventing erosion and nutrient run-off.

*Compost dissolves soil minerals, making them available to plants.

*Compost allows us to recycles nutrients back into the soil that we have taken nutrients from.

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The next part of the day’s lesson was to seed in transplanting boxes. Most of the women were accustomed to seeding directly in the soil, so this was a very new concept to them. Stressing the importance of using what is already on hand, we used milk boxes as our almácigos. Seeding in almácigo has the benefit of using a lot less water. Instead of watering the whole garden bed, you only have to water the small box. Also, you are able to give the seeds the best soil possible (your compost soil) and since the boxes are easy to move, you can better protect the seedlings from extreme temperatures.

Session 1 ended with homework of course. Each woman was assigned to go home and repeat what we had done during the day: Compost piles, seed boxes. Let’s see if they are good students…

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out the biointensive gardening bible here.

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I am working with a nonprofit in Mexico that is joined with the Mexican government, and then joined with the DIF of Huimilpan. Complicated for me to understand, I can imagine how you feel. Anyway we are working on a 10-month project to implement 160 family gardens in the communities of Huimilpan. In order to kick start this whole project, the organization, na ya’ax, held a training/application weekend, during which, a group of 50 of us learned about biointensive gardening, composting, and the social impacts of this type of work. Everyday, we completed a test in order for the organization to weed out potential applicants in search of the elected trainers for each municipality.

With all that out of the way, now we are in the process of getting out to the communities, explaining the benefits of the family garden, and signing up interested campesinos. Presenting the idea and the project to community members is admittedly a challenge. However my passion and faith in people regaining ownership and the right to produce their own food is my driving force. You see, in these smaller towns, they only have access to the small “corner store.” And what is in these corner stores? Of course all types of soft drinks, potato chips, cookies – everything that has expiration dates at least 5 years into the future. Much like the food deserts of the US.

No, there are not any fresh veggies. In order to get vegetables, the women have to walk into Huimilpan, the municipality’s center, take a taxi, or their own car if they have one. Unfortunately, you can’t stock up on veggies, they spoil. So these communities, most of which have moderate or high levels of marginalization, don’t view many benefits in buying vegetables. They view it as a waste of time, a waste of money. From their perspectives, I’d agree, but there is hope in this initiative. The motive of this project is to make the vegetables accessible to the community members. So accessible, that they would only need to step out to their patio for some fresh cilantro and tomatoes right off the vine to make their salsa.

Each house would have their own vegetable beds, with compost to provide the nutrient-rich soil for these beds. The community members will receive free training, and free seeds to get them started. The community members will be encouraged to look around for available resources in order to start the garden. There will be not be any input costs other than open-mindedness, creativity, and getting their hands dirty. At the end of the day, they will have an array of fresh, organic vegetables, grown without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and black water.

If only it was that easy. There are many factors that can affect the success of this project. Such factors as serious as a lack of water to water the gardens, a lack of the green materials needed to start compost (hopefully the approaching rainy season can help with this), and most importantly, a lack of morale and buy-in. The Mexican government itself will admit that it has played a role in making the people accustomed to putting their hands out, waiting for help, waiting for money. For example, the DIF is also starting a program, Bécate,  in which the people will receive training for free on such topics as carpentry and baking. Great deal, huh, free classes? It gets better, they people get paid to attend the classes.

So when I come along and say, “we are going to start family gardens!” The first question I am asked is, “Well, what do we get out of it?” My response of training, seeds, knowledge, empowerment and fresh vegetables usually doesn’t elicit an enthused reaction. Some people will flat out just leave the meeting upon hearing that news. But those who remain, yes those who remain until the very end, signing their names on the attendance sheet, asking me questions, yes those are the hope. Those are the ones who will begin to change their fellow community members’ opinions about the benefits of the family garden, those are the ones who will feed their children a snack of celery rather than papas fritas. Those are the ones that I will be holding onto.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out my rant about nutrition in Mexico.

The Start of Compost in Capula. We asked a local flower shop for the scraps they didn't want in order to provide the needed "green material."

The Start of Compost in Capula. We asked a local flower shop for the scraps they didn’t want in order to provide the needed “green material.”

A Sunset Caught on the Way Back from a Meeting in a Community

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Guiltily, I have never had my own compost system. I have always lived in apartments with roommates and family members who were never too keen on the idea. However, now that I have my wonderful apartment in Mexico, one of my first priorities is to get a red-worm compost system started and see how it all works. I live in an apartment in the town center of Huimilpan, so although I escaped the concrete jungle of New York City, I still don’t have a green patch to call my own. And so, with the help of Nicole Salgado, a friend of the Peace Corps here in Mexico, I am constructing a compost system for city/apartment dwellers.

The basic concept is a system of two stacked buckets. The stacked bucket will have holes in the bottom to allow the worm liquid or “worm juice” to escape into the second bucket. This liquid can be used for compost tea or as a natural pest repellent.  The stacked bucket will also house the worms, bedding, and of course the food and resulting worm castings.

Here are the steps I have taken thus far:

1. I purchased two large paint bucket-type containers.

2. I drilled many small holes into one of the buckets

3. I asked a community member for a gift of some worms, which I will receive tomorrow.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: I will keep posting as more developments arise and I have the finished product. UPDATE Worm Compost: Part II

PPS: Check out this article about Worm Compost on a huge scale in a US airport.

Worm compost bucket with small holes drilled in

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