Agronomist, David Bynoe, explaining some of the benefits of limited space gardening while McGill students Emily Fretts (at left partially hidden), Lea Ravensbergen-Hodgins, Ashley Galagusz and Casey Harris listen attentively. (A.Skeete/BGIS)??

With Barbadians facing rising food costs with an ever increasing food import bill of hundreds of millions of dollars, a local agronomist believes now is the time for homeowners to start growing their own produce.

This is the view of David Bynoe of the Food Crop Research Section of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management who said the cultivation of organic home gardens could not only save Barbadians valuable money but provide other health and nutritional benefits.

"There are a lot of cost savings to be had when we don’t have to buy these vegetables from the supermarket. Additionally, there will be health benefits because everything that you use from the garden will be natural or organic and homemade; so, homeowners will know what they are eating and that it is healthy," he remarked.

Mr. Bynoe was speaking to the Barbados Government Information Service recently during the presentation of a project entitled ???Gardening in a Limited Space’.

A collaborative effort between the Bellairs Research Institute at Folkestone, St. James, and the Ministry of Agriculture, the project sought to demonstrate ways in which homeowners could grow fresh organic produce in a small space.

For some three months, four students from McGill University, Canada were involved in the project – constructing the garden structures and the planting and maintenance of the crops, among other duties.

Mr. Bynoe added: "There is also an exercise component [to cultivating gardens]. I would have asked the students to look at the calories that you can burn and how much exercise you can get from doing this garden project at home. [The research] showed that you could burn significant calories from being involved in such a project."

The goal of a limited garden is to grow the maximum amount of produce in the space allotted. This can be done by carefully choosing what crops to plant and the type of structures to house the crops. ??For example, according to the Bellairs Research Institute, a hanging basket can make up to BDS $175 a year in just 1 square foot.

It is estimated that one can recoup the set-up costs of a garden within a year, and by the second year, the garden can produce over BDS $1 000 worth of vegetables.

Research by Bellairs has also indicated that a three square foot hanging basket with herbs and tomatoes could produce BDS $76 every year; a 13 square foot pyramid structure planted with bok choy (Chinese cabbage), tomatoes and peppers produces BDS $386 every year, and a 12 square foot garden planted with okra, tomatoes and peppers produces about BDS $348 yearly.

Backyard gardening is very affordable, with basic supplies, including materials for structures; soil, fertilisers and compost; pest removal systems; and seeds or seedlings.

To save money, homeowners can also use recycled materials to build the garden structures, including PVC piping, old tyres, buckets, recycled wood, wire and netting.

Mr. Bynoe said the fascinating aspect of the project was that it illustrated how many simple items ???in and around’ a home could be used in the construction of a garden help protect against pest and for use as compost to fertilise plants.

"These students… basically taking on organic home gardening and show that you can produce practically everything that you need, that is, the inputs, at home. So, most of the structures were built from materials you can find around the house or maybe some waste materials as well. The fertilisers and pesticides were also all homemade," he said.

In addition, he pointed out that to set up the garden was quite inexpensive. "They probably would have spent around $500. The savings in a year could be well over $1, 000 with the space that they have and you can increase the space. [Even] if they had to buy every single thing, which the homeowner is certainly not going to have to do, it would probably have cost about $1 000 for initial input, but it would payback for itself within one year," he noted.

Mr. Bynoe described some of the garden structures which the students built for the project, noting that these varied depending on the crop or space.

"The first one was the pyramid and this is a concept that I would have designed after seeing similar things in Costa Rica and some other travels…I said this can work for a Barbadian setting, so I modified it in terms of design and it is a structure that, within a small space, you can grow things at multiple layers. This means you are utilising vertical space and you are growing much more vegetables within that limited space.

"In addition to that, we have the square foot garden, a concept that originated in America. This allows a novice to grow things pretty easily. We also have the traditional garden beds and something that is not so traditional in Barbados, the hanging basket or garden. It is ideal for tomatoes and peppers and similar crops," the agricultural official pointed out.

Some plants such as tomatoes and peppers can grow very tall and need support.?? They can be grown in a pyramid or square foot structure, while smaller crops such as lettuce, cabbage and bok choy can be planted a few inches apart in garden beds.?? Herbs can be grown in a very small area, such as in a hanging basket, while creeping plants like cucumbers or spinach can be grown on lattice-like structures.

The project has illustrated that space is no longer an issue when setting up a garden. Homeowners, who may not have an area where they can cultivate a traditional backyard plot, can now do so with limited space.

In addition, the production of crops using organic methods is a healthy alternative at a time when so many consumers are concerned about the chemicals being used in crop production.

Homeowners also do not necessarily have to be expert gardeners and can receive advice on home gardening in limited spaces by contacting the Ministry of Agriculture, Graeme Hall, Christ Church, at 434-5000; by visiting its website at www.agriculture.gov.bb or by calling the Bellairs Research Institute, Folkestone, St. James, at 422-2087.

Setting up a limited space organic garden is a venture which all Barbadians could undertake. It could make a substantial impact on a high monthly food bill and what we save, as escalating food prices continue to pose serious challenges for many consumers.


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