Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own

 For some time now the Jamaican Government has been encouraging its citizens to plant a garden in their yard to help compensate for the world’s economic crisis affecting all of us.  This sounded like a pretty good idea to me.  My very first job at the tender age of eight was on a carrot and parsnip farm near my home.  I enjoyed being outside in the fresh air but my farming career was short-lived when I developed small watery eruptions on my fingers which turned out to be an allergy to the parsnips.  However, I didn’t let that slight setback keep me out of the garden for long.  Over the years I have had some pretty impressive gardens, if I do say so myself.

Now that I am living in nature’s greenhouse I thought I would get back into farming on a small scale.  Farming in Jamaica is much different than farming in New England; for one thing the soil is completely different.  I thought if I prepared the ground properly I could produce bumper crops of anything I wanted.  It was not to be.  I began by removing rocks by sifting them through a milk crate to a depth of 2 feet in a 180 square foot area that looked like the ideal spot for a garden.  I returned the clean soil along with rotted mature cow manure, dried chicken manure, and rotted compost.  I was sure the soil would produce a bountiful array of veggies.  I was so disappointed.  The first planting was a variety of vegetables including string beans, zucchini, and cucumbers.  They were given the best care I knew how but very few of the seeds sprouted and those that did died shortly thereafter.  I was stumped.  My neighbor asked me if I used ant powder when I planted the seeds.  It seems instead of feeding me I was feeding all the ants.  That was something new to me but I decided to give it a try anyway.  It did help somewhat but the only thing I harvested was a few beans.  The other vegetables looked hardy but never produced anything.  The largest zucchini wasn’t any bigger than my middle finger.  I was very discouraged and disappointed to the point I decided to quit trying anymore.

The farming bug was still in me but what to do about it.  Someone else suggested planting vegetables more suited to the tropics such as callaloo, scotch bonnet peppers, and pumpkin.  Wow!  That must be the answer!  The peppers produced enough to keep my friends and neighbors well supplied.  The callaloo produced even more than the peppers.  While the pumpkin vines nearly took over the back yard, not one pumpkin appeared even though there were an abundance of blossoms.  Could it be the honey bees preferred my flowers rather than my pumpkin?  At least now I was having some success.

Another neighbor convinced me to plant pumpkin in the backyard of the vacant house next door to me.  With his help and his seed, we planted twenty two hills in the ¼ acre treeless yard.  Once again, I took care of each hill.  Before long I had 61 plants thriving on the water and fertilizer I was giving them.  As time went by and the vines almost covered the whole back yard producing so many blossoms the yard was full of big yellow blossoms begging the bees to taste their nectar.  But alas, when the vines had all withered all I could find were three scrawny little pumpkins for all my effort.  Their total weight was 12 pounds.  Perhaps I should find something different to plant.

Yams!  That’s it!  I have seen them growing everywhere!  With the planting season upon us, I picked up two varieties of seed from the produce market.  These tubers need a lot of deep loose ground to grow in.  It was hard work preparing a bed for these Jamaican staples but I knew it would be worth the effort and it was.  They are so easy to grow.  All they need is something for the vines to climb on.  That’s it.  You will notice in the picture the vines are growing everywhere including on the banana plant.  It’s no wonder they produce such nice big yams because I didn’t have to touch them through the whole nine months to maturity.
The picture of the small bush with the orange peppers is one of my scotch bonnet plants.  It has a long period of production with little help from me other than occasional watering.  One plant has more than enough peppers for my needs and thus the neighbors love me.  Also included with the pictures is that of my callaloo.  Can you see the tassel on the top?  That’s what contains all the seeds that continue to give me an endless supply.  My favorite way to cook them is to sauté them in garlic with a little olive oil.

You can also see the picture of my nearly ripe bananas.  The last picture is some newly planted pumpkin.  Even though I haven’t had much success with the pumpkin I guess I’ll always keep trying.

Between all the fruits and vegetables I grow, I’m sure I save some money.  However, most of them don’t grow continuously year round, especially some of the fruits are seasonal, which means I still have to pay out money if I want to continue to eat those varieties year round.  I may not be able to save enough money to take a world cruise but I am getting plenty of exercise and sun and that’s the part of retirement I enjoy best.  Later….




About the author

John Casey