Many of the stories about the HIC feature public outreach endeavors and service programs, but some efforts have also gone toward making the HIC more self-sufficient internally while at the same time providing education. This spring a portion of the backyard was converted to a raised bed garden for growing organic spices and vegetables for use in the residential and staff kitchen. Residents and HIC staff worked together to build the garden frames, haul dirt and manure, and plant the beds with local and imported seeds. The first planting included a variety of lettuces, onions, garlic, carrots, hot and green peppers, cucumber, watermelon, heirloom tomatoes and green spices such as cilantro, thyme, rosemary and dill.
In addition to providing HIC residents and staff with a variety of delicious and interesting herbs and vegetables to supplement what is locally available, the garden also serves as a good demonstration in organic gardening principles. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are in heavy use in Cameroon, a practice that degrades soil quality and consumes a large percentage of the average family’s earnings. Most farmers plant the same crops each season, so the garden also suggests some methods for using crop rotation and companion planting to benefit the whole farm ecosystem.
The raised bed concept, also known as the French Intensive Method, is based on the efficient use of space and resources to meet the needs of plants without requiring a large amount of inputs. This style of gardening is particularly advantageous to gardeners with limited space, as the added depth of the bed enables plants to flourish at a greater density than in traditional gardening: roots have room to grow straight down to access soil nutrients, rather than spreading out. The soil in the raised bed is less compact, allowing for increased oxygen availability to roots and improved drainage, an important benefit in Cameroon where plants like tomatoes suffer from blight during the heavy rains of the wet season. During the dry season, the close proximity of the plants helps to shade the soil, keeping the surface temperature lower and reducing evaporation.
The beds were filled with a base layer of dirt collected from piles along the roadsides that were recently turned up by road grading machinery. The upper part of the beds were filled with a mixture of cow manure and fertile compost from the compost pile.
The beds were designed with a consideration for the principle of companion planting—grouping plants that are beneficial to each other. A large planting of garlic will hopefully provide some deterrent to insects, and intercropping with onions will enhance the flavor of the onions. A border of hot peppers will discourage pests from attacking the carrots. Further pest treatment that may be required will be carried out organically, using homemade sprays from honey soap, garlic and hot peppers.
Over time, the crops planted in each bed will continuously be rotated and replaced, alternating between crops that deplete the soil and crops that nourish the soil and early-harvest crops with late-harvest crops.
As the garden continues to provide for the HIC kitchen, it will also serve as a teaching tool for the local community.