How Does Your Garden Grow?
by Mari Pintkowski (March 2013)
Robert demonstrated how the gardens are constructed so that water flows into the lower quarter region, and since the soil above is very porous (a mixture of purchased peat moss and potting soil) the roots are able to wick down through the loosely compacted soil to the water source. We were beginning to see the big difference in the rooftop gardens we have at La Selva Mariposa.
We were able to also see how he can grow vegetables all year long and we, on the other hand, give ourselves a break during the rainy, hot season of July, Aug, and Sept. because the soil is either too dry from the intense sun overhead, or becomes extremely compacted and overrun with weeds from the seasonal storms. He had no shade cover over the beds, and we have found that our 22 solar panels, installed after we had a thriving garden, do provide a good amount of advantageous shade.
Since we are over 66 years old ourselves and feeling the effects of creeping age, we loved how his beds were waist high as opposed to ours, that are only two feet high. He and Lou discussed how this could be changed easily during our garden's off-season, while a similar irrigation system could be added at that time.
The soil mixture he uses makes his garden almost maintenance free and does not have to be reworked and recomposted every year as ours does. We are wondering if we revamp the beds this year and add more of the water-filtering materials like peat moss to our beloved composted mixture, will we have more viable growing conditions for our vegetables as well? We can live with the weeds. We are committed to maintaining an organic garden, and the Kimseys strive for a fast and tender harvest in low-maintenance beds. They also use commercial fertilizers to enhance the growth.
We start our seeds directly in the garden and Robert has had success by starting them in seed flats and then transplanting them when they are a bit stronger. I can see the advantage of this as well. I always have volunteers sprouting up from the compost, like tomatoes and papaya, along with the vegetable seeds I have planted and sometimes am overwhelmed with deciding which sprouts to weed out and which to leave.
Robert's watering system is ingenious and his plants are truly smiling with the amount of water they receive. We originally had an automatic watering system in the garden, but the sprinkler heads got so clogged with lime and other minerals in the water that we eventually abandoned this idea and now water with a hose. The water does leave a white film on the leaves at times so the herbs are not as pretty as they could be. Mr. Kimsey did say he hand-waters his young plants until their roots get established and are able to benefit from the water that flows into the lower third of the beds.
He showed us how he and Tonia hand-pollinate the sweet corn because Mérida does not have an abundant bee population to do this naturally. We have planted flowers like marigold and coreopsis in our kitchen garden and because Macario Gomez is one of the major honey producing areas in the world, the plants are pollinated naturally.
We left the house of our new friends who are true artists, engineers and inventors at heart. They have not stopped with these amazing gardens, but continue to perfect the system and have a few secrets up their sleeve that we will be reading more about on Yucatan Living in the very near future. And yes, I was anxious to head back home to Macario and "remove the suckers from the tomato plants" as Robert insisted upon.
When we arrived back home to La Selva Mariposa, I remembered that in my latest book, Shifting Gears, A Journey of Reinvention, I had written a chapter that involved plans for our gardens and reflected on my earlier thoughts: Note to Self: "Mix flowers with vegetables in your garden."
This is a natural process for the Maya farmers. José adds marigolds, baby mums, sunflowers and some wildflowers to the vegetable gardens along the drive. He also plants some alongside the vegetables in the rooftop garden. The baby plants are slow to germinate because of the intense heat, but by early November, the long-awaited rains start and there are many downpours which flood our baby sprouts and make it difficult for them to take hold. The strong ones survive; some even love the abundance of water.
I am thrilled to have a rich kitchen garden all winter. I am very proud to announce, with each dish we serve our guests, that it includes homegrown tomatoes, herbs, etc. Lou's famous tours of the property, a highlight for our visitors to La Selva Mariposa, always ends with a visit to the rooftop gardens. We often get tips from guests who are seasoned gardeners such as: Don't get discouraged if something does not grow well; try again next year. Advice taken! This is just what we plan to do. That little piece of advice goes a long way when you are dealing with Mother Nature. As you can see, we are always learning and trying to make things better in our little oasis, La Selva Mariposa, in the Maya jungle.
When I began to put Robert's ideas down on paper, I had more questions on the soil mixture which he kindly clarified for me. Because he is so experienced in this area, I am going to quote my new-found friend:
"We do not use soil as soil won't perk. Organic material is the answer. The first 5 cm is pure peat moss, moistened and packed to wick the water to the potting soil. The potting soil continues to wick the moisture through the rest of the 18 to 20 cm. The soil is moist, not wet, so the roots are able to have the necessary air to breathe. The maximum depth of peat moss and soil is about 22 cm. We use a hose sprinkler to dampen the potting soil from the top to get seeds started."
As I was finishing up the article, Lou walked past me and mentioned that he was going out to check to see if the "silver bells and cockle shells" had sprouted yet in the garden. I smiled broadly and let him know that I so appreciate his sense of humor.
One of the most beautiful things about living in the Yucatán Peninsula is meeting and sharing ideas with such interesting, resourceful people, even if they are not your next door neighbors. Don't hesitate to reach out beyond the Internet and look for answers first hand.
Mari and her husband, Louis, live and operate the #1 B&B in Tulum, La Selva Mariposa. To read more of Mari's articles go to the www.sac-be.com archives or order her inspiring books on www.amazon.com.