Permagardening: Climate-smart, nutrition-focused agriculture
One of the things I love most about the Peace Corps are the amazing learning opportunities we get for free. At a recent technical training, environmental Volunteers learned things like rabbit raising, applying for grants and how to design projects that empower people in the community rather than simply giving them something.
The first part of our technical training was about permagardening and we got to spend every day outside learning some really cool gardening techniques.
Permagardening means making a garden that will provide all year long. In Benin, this is very difficult as the garden gets pummeled with rain during the three-month rainy season and then thirsts the rest of the extremely dry year. So, the point of permagardening is to design garden features that will help capture and store rain from the rainy season so that it can be used all year long.
To help us achieve our goal of making a garden that will last all year long, we were shown techniques on a demonstration garden that we built at the training site. These techniques include:
- Double digging: Digging the soil in a very specific way to mix up the layers and dig very deeply. This adds air to the soil, which allows space for more water.
- Adding things: We added compost, charcoal, egg shells, poop and ashes into the soil. These things either provide nutrition or help store water.
- Garden site selection: If you make a garden next to a roof, the water from the roof will fall on it and you won’t have to water as much.
- Triangle spacing of seedlings: We learned how to plant things using triangle spacing, which allows you to plant multiple things together (like beans and corn) because it economizes the space. It also gives more room for the plants to grow bigger. Peter Jensen, our trainer, said that this method increases yield by 700 percent.
- Protective berms: The design of our garden had a protective berm parallel to the roof where water would fall off. This berm has holes next to it as well. The idea is that water will fall off the roof, hit the berm and spread out to infiltrate the garden slowly, rather than pummeling it all at once.
Permagardens address many aspects of food security, but especially access. Many women and families know that they are supposed to eat vegetables and fruits for their health but vegetables and fruits are extremely expensive, if they can even be found, during the dry season, which lasts for most of the year. Intelligent use of water can help a garden produce nutritious things all year long. I am excited to implement this at my post!