Our first planting of our organic test plot is flourishing! Clark, our summer intern, and ULAB professor Shafiqul Islam designed our planting plan: first, we plant a round of legumes (beans and peas) to enrich the soil with nitrogen. Second, members of the brassicaceae (mustard and cabbage) family are planted; these include: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and brussels sprouts. Next, nightshade vegetables are planted; these include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. Finally, roots and alliums are planted; these include: garlic, onion, leek, turnip, celery, carrot, beets, etc. Planting in this order restores the nutrients in the soil and creates the ideal growing conditions for our crops.
As our organic garden is a demonstration project for both our villagers and our guests, we decided to separate our garden into four different sections where each of the four types of vegetables would be grown. This means that after four growing seasons plot #1 will be fully organic and will have gone through all of the cycles, but it the other three plots will take a few more seasons to get the nutrients in the right order. We have not used any chemicals on our land since we purchased it in 2010-11, so the soil is safe and fertile. (This is one of the key reasons that we did the test field at Panigram instead of in one of our village volunteers’ fields; we want to show the local farmers what an organic field can look like after the chemicals have disappeared and the soil is revitalized.)
Laying out the plots in the proper way is a key component to running a healthy organic farm. First, a border that is at least 2.5 feet wide is planted around the entire outside of the plot. (Our border is a bit wider as we planted it on a slope going up to the riverside bungalows.) Border plants include:
These plants attract the good insects and repel the bad ones. Directly inside the protective border we created a drainage ditch that is 1.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep. Beside that we created a 1.5 foot wide walking path and then the planting beds which are 4 feet wide. Because we are a spa resort, we decided to get a bit fancy with our layout and make it a walking labyrinth as well.
In addition to the layout, we also dug down 1.5 feet in the ground to loosen our soil for the roots to grow deep and raised our beds 6-9 inches off of the ground by mounding the earth. Deeper roots mean larger, healthier vegetables…
Before we planted, with the help of some Panigram Apprenticeship Experience guests (see “Guest Blog: Ecotourism at Panigram Provides a New Perspective on Bangladesh”), we prepared the fields with quick compost. After planting, we monitored the plants and regularly watered and weeded them.
We did have an issue with ants in the beginning, but after consulting Shafiqul we mixed fresh chili peppers with water and sprayed them on the affected plants. (Apparently the chilis burn the ants’ feet and they stay away!) It seemed to work, as we have not had an ant problem since! In fact, we have started using this magic ant repellent on other parts of the resort where we find ants.
In the end, our organic plot seems to be doing well, and we are now enjoying eating the fresh, organically grown vegetables!