A “staying-safe-at-home” Project

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.

Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include spending time with freinds, reading, painting, cooking and travel.

12 thoughts on “A “staying-safe-at-home” Project

  1. Hi Joanna,

    As I know you to be a coffee lover, don’t forget to add some coffee grinds to the soil. I have found that it enriches the soil and propagates rapid, and healthy, growth….especially for my tomato’s. Here’s a quote from a web search on the topic. “Coffee grounds add organic material to the soil, which improves drainage, water retention and aeration in the soil. The used coffee grounds will also help microorganisms beneficial to plant growth thrive” Also, I might suggest that you let your saved seeds dry for more than 2-3 days. I find that a full month, then planting, produces a healthy crop. I do this every year with great success. Best of luck and thank you for another helpful post!

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    1. Thanks Allan. I have been depositing my used coffee grounds in an old yoghurt container… waiting to mix in with my soil. Someone else mentioned dried eggshells are also useful. Lots of good info from all over… How are you and your mom doing? And all my other friends in NB? I surely do miss the days when we could actually travel to see one another… one day… and when that day does arrive, we have to go back to Chiapas. We have seen the past while that it is not a good idea to put off important moments.

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      1. All is well here Joanna and thanks for asking. I will be sure to pass on greetings from you as I engage friends and colleagues…….by phone and email or strict social distancing…sigh. Today’s Telegraph Journal front page headline reads “NB Reaches Full Recovery Rate” which simply means that we have not had any new infections for fifteen days straight and all those who had the virus have now fully recovered. Each day is a ‘wait and see’ what the chief medical officer reports….at 2PM each day……..fingers crossed. I look forward to the day when I can return to my beloved Mexico and celebrate ‘freedom’ with great friends like you! All the best Joanna.

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  2. Excellent project! A community being able to feed itself is of the utmost importance in times like this.

    To discourage the ants, try wrapping a piece of rag around the wires below the hook, and if possible, fix some sort of washer around the wires – try wood, metal, a tin can lid, foil, or what have you. Dad used to wrap a long piece of rag around the trunks of fruit trees and then smear everything with tractor grease.Very effective, but you do need to keep an eye on the grease, remove corpses, and add more grease as necessary. You won’t have tractor grease, but maybe lard or bacon fat. Use lots of rag, so that the grease soaks in well. Some of the trees in the orchard on the farm at Maple Bay, planted before 1860, are still bearing fruit!

    125 years ago, Salt Spring Island fed itself and exported considerable produce to Victoria. As we drove around today, so many of those farms which used to be highly productive, are just lying fallow. They are no longer owned by families who want to farm. This needs to change!

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    1. Thank you Auntie Alice. Good advice as always. Isn’t it a shame that communities that could be productive,no longer are. Yucatan is the same. Decades ago so much was produced here that trains ran several times a day taking goods to several different marketplaces. What has happened to all that? BTW, we heard from Ben and Ross this weekend. They are still in Spain and cannot come back home because flights are not yet established again… when will this all end?

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  3. Joanna,
    You probably already know this but other people reading your post may not. Peppers must be ripe before you plant the seeds. Which means they can’t be green. Green bells are the immature version of red, orange, or other colored bells. The same for chiles.
    Have fun in your garden.

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    1. Theresa… I miss you! No, I did not remember that green peppers and chilies are unripe versions of the red ones. When you mentioned this in your comment, I realised I had heard it before, but did not store that info in the “currently-in-use” section of my brain. Thanks for saving me the frustration of not seeing germination. And how are you? Drop a line when you can.

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  4. Bravo, Joanna! Once again, in your blog we learn by example. I have been doing a few little experiments in “mini-farming”, too. I will let you know how it all turns out.

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  5. I cut in a quarter acre of new garden the other day. When other prudent people were ordering face masks in February, I put in an order for 5 pounds of assorted vegetable seeds. My prudent friends have supplied me with masks, they will get vegetables this summer.

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    1. That sounds like agret arrangement… I wish our politicians could see that sharing and FAIRLY distributing the goods and services is a way saner approach than the unending bickering and posturing we see every day. Like I say all the time, we need a re-play…

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