The Bahamas is a young country in geological terms. Its soil is thin and weak, very different from our much older neighbours such as Cuba and Jamaica. Traditional home gardeners compensate by augmenting their resources with soil from the US. Others use one of two extremes: hydroponic culture or organic gardening. Marsh Harbour accountant Glenn Koepp has chosen the latter path using resources from the sea and from local businesses.
Glenn and his wife Maureen (the noted dog trainer) live on high ground in Pelican Shores overlooking the Sea of Abaco and Man-O-War Cay. Maureen tends orchids while Glenn raises vegetables in an area a few hundred feet from the house. The garden is in two sections, the lower one receiving more protection from northerly winds and spindrift.
Glenn’s main source of nutrition for his plants is seaweed which he gathers, washes off the salt, and allows to compost for several months before adding it to the garden. Seaweed has long been an important fertilizer in The Bahamas and the famed onions of Exuma used to be grown almost exclusively from sand and seaweed. Glenn also uses shredded paper as a mulch, the product of business shredders. Newsprint breaks down far faster than business stationery but the job gets done in the end.
In the upper garden Glenn grows bok choi, arugula, loose leaf lettuce, beets, radishes, broccoli and cabbage to provide lots of healthy chemical-free greenery. The choice of loose-leaf lettuce as the everyday salad provider is excellent because it has a longer season than most lettuces and resists turning bitter as conditions get warmer. The beets, of course, provide nutritious greens as a bonus, while bok choi can be a salad component when young.
Glenn also grows sweet peppers (and a single jalapeno hot pepper plant) as well as tomatoes, carrots, and Blue Lake green beans. I was particularly impressed with the carrots Glenn pulled, Chantenays that came out clean and easy from the friable soil.
Glenn said he has very little insect activity in the garden and this is probably due to a combination of the shredded paper mulch and spindrift. Too much salt spray could ruin a vegetable garden but a small amount can act as an insect deterrent. The best safeguard against insect predation and disease is healthy plants; weak plants or damaged fruits encourage insect attacks and the invasion of diseases.
Most of the seeds Glenn uses come from Yates, a New Zealand company that markets its seeds in airtight packages that keep them viable for an extended period. Glenn’s cabbages were of the drumhead type and were firm and meaty. I was given two to carry home so I can testify they were tasty as well.
The one crop that Glenn was not happy with was his dozen or so pineapples growing in the lower garden. He has made up his mind to transfer the plants to individual containers and has obtained a good quantity of red laterite soil that is excellent for growing pineapples. That combined with a potting mix would be a good growing medium for his acid-loving plants. I suggested the addition of flowers of sulphur which I believe is allowable as an organic supplement because sulphur is a pure element and becomes effective only when broken down into sulphuric acid by microbial action in the soil.
Pineapples obtain most of their nutrients through specially adapted central leaves. Non-organic gardeners use Miracid as a regular nutritional diet but that is not permitted in organic gardening. I suggested that a ‘tea’ made from composted seaweed could be applied on a weekly basis.
In the meantime Glenn and Maureen have plenty of healthy vegetables to enjoy every day and that is what home gardening is all about.