Except for 4 years in a small town in England, I’ve spent all my life in cities of varying sizes, in several different countries. Only 2 of the homes I’ve lived in had gardens and in neither had I attempted more than some experimental flower and vegetable plantings. Neither had perfect climate or soil, so I simply didn’t bother.
But then we moved onto our rock and bought/built a house with 8,300 square feet of grounds. Granted, this was not much more than what locals call “bush” – i.e. an untamed mess of vegetation and volcanic boulders of varying sizes. On top of that, the land – like so many pieces of land on our particular volcanic rock – is quite steep in parts. But the lure of growing things was stronger here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Between the climate and the speed with which things grow in the tropics, my hubby and I decided that we simply had to have an island garden.
It started shortly after construction on our new home was finished. Island friends gave us “things.” They were incredibly generous and before long, we had hundreds of ornamental plant cuttings and tree saplings. We had tried to grow fruit trees, ginger, and herbs from seeds while we were still renting, so we had those to start with too. Then the experiments began…
Some things grow well in almost any soil, any spot, though most do not. I planted tomatoes in a shady spot and they bolted up to a scrawny 5 feet with absolutely no flowers, let alone fruit. Peppers just don’t like me; they grew to measly 1 foot stumpy things and then died. Beans, on the other hand, went nuts and we couldn’t give enough away.
Sharing our crop with critters of all varieties became a challenge too. We experimented with all sorts of critter control, mostly unsuccessfully. Ah, well. We figure they have to eat too, so we have learned to not get too upset if we find holes in the tomatoes, papayas with ½ the fruit eaten, and a variety of other insults.
But we are learning, gradually becoming more successful at our island gardening venture, and nothing beats the delight of just picking whatever you feel like eating on a given day – herbs, vegetables, fruits, even sugarcane.
So, if you, too, are inclined to garden on your rock, here are some notes I can share based on my experience thus far:
WHEN TO PLANT
Though most people think there are no seasons in the tropics, this is not true. We have a rainy season and a dry season, which alternate. Some plants tolerate the dry, some the wet. As the seasons change, so does the course of the sun over our terrain. Some plants are shade tolerant, others not, some in-between. It’s important to consider these factors when arranging your garden.
As any farmer knows, plants take nutrients out of the soil, so for maximum productivity and healthy crops, one should change the location of newly planted seedlings each growing season.
Fertilizing and adding better soil to some of the poorer soil is essential on a rock. We don’t ever use chemicals, so what is best? As is true for many things, there are as many answers as the number of people asked. Trial and error has led us to experiment, a process still ongoing. We’ve used compost, sawdust, and seaweed among other things so far.
Again, as we will not use chemicals, we are trying a variety of plant-derived pesticides. Some of these grow in our garden. Baking soda and vinegar have also been suggested, as well as used tea bags, coffee grounds, and planting clumps of lemongrass near vegetable beds.
PLANNING YOUR PLANTINGS
We’re still figuring out how often to re-plant. As everything grows and matures at different rates, this will take some time to master. Often, we have produce far in excess of what we can eat and then we have none. The custom of giving things to friends and neighbors is great, as we give away what we can’t eat and in return receive some things we don’t grow. This has now been carried to the point of funny. I’ve even sold produce (very cheaply) to my favorite island market vendor.
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When people ask what I do with my days in island retirement and I tell them part of my time is taken up with gardening, few realize what’s involved in that. So, I tell them of my conversion from city gal to a small-scale island farmer.
At this point, I’ve figured out that while I love doing this, hiring a gardener who comes from a farming family here on the rock will greatly enhance this experience. It will allow us to improve our island gardening skills to learn from someone who understands the environment and at the same time, will give someone a source of income. A win-win situation all around.
Have you tried gardening on your rock? Do you have any valuable tips/tricks from the tropics to share?