Monday, July 1, 2013

The Garden

This is something that I've waited a while to write about. Even before we came to Tonga, I knew that I wanted to do some gardening. And when we arrived at our house, I was pleased with the amount of space that the school grounds provided. A community vegetable garden was even something that the people expressed interest in. Most "crops" grown by Tongans are the standard root crops (cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, taro). Some healthy vegetables are available in the town market, but they are usually considered by most to be too expensive by most to buy regularly.

Most of my research for our garden came from a great little book that a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji wrote a few years back. It offers tons of good advice, but the thing that stood out most to me was instructions about how to make your own seeds. I've come to learn that many Tongans want to grow vegetables, but they think that vegetable seeds are too expensive and hard to find. So, a big motivator for me as I made our own garden this year was experimenting in making my own seeds, simply by drying seeds from vegetables from the market. These hopes have made gardening not only a plan for a cheap and healthy food source for us, but a potentially cool side project for our work here. I feel like if I can have success with self-made seeds, people in the village might be more motivated to try growing their own vegetables.

I started small, doing some transplants of lemongrass and ginger behind our house. I then tried my hand at growing some tomatoes, cucumbers, and long beans from self-made seeds. They did ok in a seed bed, but when I transplanted them, they did not do well. My best guess is that the spot was too shady and that it was still to hot to start. Yet, my original plan was to do our main garden in a nice, rectangular plot behind the school room. So one day, I borrowed some hoes and recruited some neighbor boys to help with the laborious task of leveling the grass and tilling up the soil. We tilled about half the plot, in which I planned to do my direct sowing. I also tilled in some animal manure I collected in the village and covered the section with banana leaves to get the soil ready. During this time, I also started some tomato, bell pepper, eggplant, and spicy pepper seedlings.

Before I did the serious planting, the first major hurtle was protecting the space from pigs, which I already discovered wreak havoc on all growing things. It took a while to put the plan into action, but I eventually convinced a helpful neighbor to help me build a little fence on either side of the plot, as I am not much of a handyman. Most Tongan men are amazingly skilled with their hands, so it took no time.

Then, after a pretty good rain, the time for direct sowing came. I used some self-made seeds and a few packets that I brought from America. The bok choy, beans, and cucumbers are doing the best, and there are a few carrots and onions coming up as well. Here are some pictures, after about a month of growth.

Bok choy (chinese cabbage)

Green beans

Long beans and cucumbers

After about a month of the seedlings growing, I was finally able to transplant the other veggies.

Tomatoes and basil

Tomatoes and bell peppers

Spicy pepper


From here, I'm trying some packets of salad greens in some seed beds, since we are finally in to the cool season here. For the garden, it's just a matter of weeding, praying for rain, and facing the challenge of finding water to water the plants, since the cool season also means the drying up of the town's water tanks. I think it would be great to expand and do a bigger, community garden next year, but we are waiting to see how this year goes. More on our garden, hopefully, to come!


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