Nowadays, organic vegetables are becoming more and more popular for their virtues and amazing flavors. Unfortunately, eating organic is very expensive! The solution: grow your own crops in your garden. Even if you are not green-fingered, it is possible! Dive into the universe of organic gardening with Laurent Fontanaud-Fontaine, Director of Ecole Paysanne in Reunion and member of the NGO Terra Habilis Océan Indien, who is going to unfold the mystery of the subject.

Laurent Fontanaud-Fontaine from the ONG Terra Habilis Océan Indien by the side of Angel Angoh from Carpe Diem.

How to set up an organic garden at home?

1. Choose the right area
First, you have to choose an ideal area in your garden. Note that the area needs to receive at least 50% of natural light and be wooded and enclosed. Thus, it can’t be placed completely in a shadowy area nor in direct sunlight which can burn the soil and the plants. It also needs to be protected by the wind to prevent the soil from blowing away. Additionally, the garden cannot be exposed to heavy rain since too much water will wash away nutritional elements. Hence, it would be better to cover the soil with hay or leaves.

2. Prepare the soil
Next, the soil needs to be prepared, the substrate that will be used to support the plants. The soil must be able to drain water but not too much as it also needs to retain some, and be ventilated. Take some normal soil and if it is too sticky when it is humid, mix it well with salt-free sand (1/3 sand – soil). For dry areas, make a ridge in the soil so it can retain some water. For humid areas, make small knolls in the soil to drain the excess of water.

Dubreuil, Curepipe.

3. Make your compost
The compost provides nutrients to plants and beneficial organisms to the soil. Make your compost in an area dedicated for recycling organic wastes, in the shade. Avoid covering the garden with plastic or metal sheet, instead, use groundcover. The system is like a multi-layered cake: a layer of green manures, a layer of dry leaves, a layer of manure, and repeat. Don’t forget to damp the layers occasionally to maintain the moisture, just the right amount like a wrung out sponge. Turn over the layers every 10 days. Ferment your compost for 30-40 days. It needs to be cold in temperature when using it, which means the fermentation must have stopped by then.

4. Choose your seeds
The secret to a successful organic garden are the local seeds suitable for our tropical climate. Salads, for example, grow in a mild climate and their seeding are often hybrid, which means that during the second seeding the reap decreases by 30% and so on, without excluding its high price. Thus, it is more difficult to find these seeds since they are not originally from Mauritius.

Therefore, choose the vegetables that we traditionally use in our Mauritian cooking. Laurent Fontanaud Fontaine proposes the following list of plants that grow easily on the island:

  •        Herbs: coriandre, basil, thym, chives, parsley, sage, rosemary
  •        Mixed greens: Leafy greens e.g cauliflower, spinach, cabbage
  •        Roots: radish, sweet potato, arrow roots, cassava, conflore
  •        Fruits: cucumber, chilli, banana, bread fruit, bitter gourd, calabash, squash, pumpkin, green beans
  •        Cereal: corn…

5.   The seeding

Ho to grow herbs:
Make several holes of 0.5cm into fine soil using a small wooden stick, and leave a 20cm space between each hole. Put two seeds by hole. Using your hand, recover the soil but avoid pressing on it.

How to grow radish:
To grow radish, use row planting method.  It is more organized and gives enough space amid alleys. Draw a line 0.5cm deep in the planting bed using a stick, and leave a space of 20 cm amid each lines. Place the seeds and cover the soil using your hands, similar to the herbs.

How to grow corn and beans:
For these vegetables, the best method is intercropping. Make some holes of 10 cm diameter, 5 cm deep and keep a space of 20 cm. Place two corn seeds and two bean seeds per hole. Cover using the same method.

6. Watering
Use a watering can which has small holes for light watering. Water 1-2 times per week, especially the 10 first days. It is preferable to use room temperature water. Rain water, for example, is perfect. Collect rainwater for watering, it is an excellent way to moderate water usage at home.

Pro tips: Do not water past 4pm, it can encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi.

7. Create an ecosystem
It is important to create an environment similar to a micro-ecosystem in your garden. It could be in the form of a small basin or a messy pile of hay. Leave some leaves and stones on the floor for insects. The idea is to provide as much space as possible to nature in your garden. Do not chase away frogs, toads, lizards and ladybirds; they can get rid of pests.

How to protect your crops without using chemical products?
Before thinking about protecting your crops against pests, we need to think about methods of prevention first. It is better to be safe than sorry! Grow your vegetables at the right time.  A seasonal vegetable is a strong one. Know that there are natural methods to eliminate crop pests: during winter, they are less active, hence we can better fight them. To eliminate fruit and vegetable flies which cause damages, pick up the rotten ones to prevent flies to hatch eggs. Before getting rid of pests, make sure they are really pests. Do not confuse a ladybird larvae with an aphid. Trust the “good” insects to help you. Nature provides its own remedies, let it do its job!

Text: Caroline Maurer