Ground was broken this week on the first Healthy Harvest community garden and many more could follow throughout the Island as Greenrock uses the project to revive interest in local food production and consumption.
The garden was created on the grounds of The Sunshine League. Greenrock’s aim was to establish a lasting programme aimed at building, planting and maintaining community gardens. “We’re hoping to get the entire Island involved, with emphasis on the younger people because they are the ones who need this skillset so they can be creative with it as they get older,” said Healthy Harvest project director Omari Dill, a sustainable agriculture and edible landscaping consultant. “It’s really about encouraging the sustainable mind frame from the basis of our necessities, which is food, and simultaneously producing community gardens and bringing everybody together.”
Volunteers and prisoners will help man the project the Prison Farm has had its own garden for many years.
“I’m in a unique position where, apart from being director of this initiative, I also teach agriculture at the Prison Farm,” Mr Dill said. “It’s beneficial for them because, as we do our daily labours they are learning. We hold our courses in the garden so by the time they [start gardening] they will know what to do.”
Bermuda’s climate allows for many different fruits and vegetables, he added.
“In Bermuda we have four seasons so we can grow anything, anywhere, all year round,” he stressed. “Our focus is to make sure we have the produce that is relevant to that season.
“The message to get out there which is important to understand is that civilisations, communities, societies and countries were formed around agriculture. The major benefit of growing local is the crop can complete its cycle. When you import, it is picked green, immature, and brought over so that it doesn’t spoil and can then ripen artificially here. It is still lacking a whole pile of nutrients and a good deal of taste.”
The community garden at The Sunshine League is intended to serve as a teaching and engagement tool. A portion of the garden’s yields will also be donated to foster children and food-aid programmes. Greenrock is seeking donations from local businesses and individuals to supply soil, gardening tools and other equipment for the project.
“We are delighted that The Sunshine League has provided their land as an in-kind donation to help us start our first community garden. It is Greenrock’s hope that this step will spark more interest in community gardens among Bermuda residents to get involved in planting and growing their own food,” said Greenrock president Judith Landsberg.
“We are extremely grateful for the level of support that Catlin, our lead sponsor, is willing to provide as we look to gain some traction on Greenrock’s Healthy Harvest initiative. They played a key role in introducing us to The Sunshine League and paving the way for this progress to be made, which further demonstrates their level of support and the power of community partnerships.”
Sunshine League president Zakiya Johnson Lord is also excited about the project.
“On behalf of The Sunshine League board, we are excited to support Greenrock’s Healthy Harvest initiative. This project has been in the works for quite some time and after careful planning and consideration, we are pleased to be able to launch this initiative in our community.
“Catlin has been a source of constant support for The Sunshine League over the years and we are pleased to be a part of this collaborative effort with Catlin and Healthy Harvest. We are also pleased to offer our space, which will serve in the long term as an educational and awareness vehicle to young people on the importance of growing and eating local fruits and vegetables.”
Community gardens are increasing in popularity around the world.
According to the American Community Gardens’ Association, there are some 18,000 community gardens across North America. Similarly, the UK-based Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens represent over 1,000 community gardens. In urban spaces such as New York City, there are reportedly over 600 community gardens registered across all five boroughs.
The Healthy Harvest programme was created in 2009 as a concept to introduce the benefits of eating locally-grown produce. A pocket-sized guide showcasing the types of seasonal foods that can be grown or found in Bermuda was distributed to plant nurseries, schools and businesses.
Greenrock intends to build and maintain a series of community gardens and orchards across the Island over the next five years using available arable land on private and public properties, schools and parks.
Members of the community interested in assisting should contact Greenrock: info[AT]greenrock.org or 747-7625 (747-ROCK).
Useful website: www.greenrock.org.
For those interested in planting vegetables but lacking yard space, pots and a square-foot garden provide an excellent alternative.
The Island’s nurseries are a great source of information and advice when considering planting a home garden.
Toby Trott of Aberfeldy Nurseries offers some tips on how to have a garden at home in limited space and still be able to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.
First, clear the area with a hoe and add organic nursery mix like Black Kow or Black Hen, Mr Trott advises.
“With Black Kow you can put the vegetables in right away, but with Black Hen you have to let it sit for three weeks to a month,” he said. “If the soil is not good you can buy soil.”
Next, consider what vegetables you want to plant depending on the season. Watermelon, cucumber, peppers and corn are great summer crops; broccoli, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, kale and strawberries are best for winter. The nurseries can best advise on when to plant. Onions, carrots and beets require six-inch spacing while broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage need an eight-inch space.
“We section it off in squares so you can get about 16 different types of plants in here. You definitely have to have it in the sun, if not the plants are not going to grow,” said Mr Trott.
“The plants want to have more sun than shade. And as long as you have holes in the bottom of the square-foot garden and pots, the water can drain out. If you just use regular soil it is going to be very heavy, will hold in moisture and will rot the plywood very fast.”
Mr Trott advises those just starting out to seek advice from the nurseries for their specific needs.
“Just learn from the growers and come to the seminars when we have seminars,” he stated. “At the same time they get to know the plant and see how it grows.”
Herbs and flowers can also be planted in a square-foot garden.
Ché Smith, who advises on making square-foot gardens at Aberfeldy, enjoys teaching children during tours of the nursery.
“You’d be surprised how many kids don’t know where vegetables come from,” said Mr Smith, who also builds the gardens for a nominal fee.
“I went to the seniors’ home in Somerset and built one up there for a lady who was 91 but she still loved to garden.
“Some people will ask about the compost at the dump, but I wouldn’t fill my whole box with that. If you do get it, get the well-sifted stuff and sift it again and maybe put six inches at the bottom and still put the good soil on the top. Plant what you like and think about how plants do grow. Some will take up a good bit of room. And remember to feed your plants.”
Dos and Don’ts when building a square-foot garden:
l Use a 4ft sq piece of plywood as the base with holes for drainage
l The four sides should be 1ft deep
l Building it off the ground on concrete blocks is ideal
l Have a trellis at the back to support certain plants like tomatoes
l Coat the inside of the plywood with black pruning paint to seal it and protect the wood
l Have drainage holes in the bottom
l Make sure the garden is positioned to get at least six or seven hours of sun
l Use nursery mix and Black Cow rather than regular garden soil which will get too heavy.