"The Beauty Above Comes From The Science Below"

Building Soils and Relationships in LaGonave Part II

Mark and I recently went to the Haitian island, LaGonave.  We got down and dirty in the island’s agriculture with the help of a mission group called Starfysh (http://starfysh.org/). 

The goal for working with the people on LaGonave is three-fold:

  1. To help improve their potting soil composition for seedling transplants by initially mixing VITAL Blend soil amendment into the soil mix they use. The original mix was very wet & heavy (clayey) and was literally suffocating the roots.  VITAL Blend will create air pockets in the soil and reduce the compaction caused by the high clay content.
  2. To demonstrate that improved soil preparation at planting time will create better crop survival and yield.  VITAL Blend soil amendment will reduce transplant shock and increase microbial populations in the soil around the root area (rhizosphere).
  3. To initiate improved composting and create more compost production sites for healthier soils.

We were there for two and a half days (not long enough!!).  On the first day, Mark & I visited the “sea-level” garden, inspected the seedling area and saw a compost pit.  Then we planted over 32 seedlings including mango, coconut palm, pineapple, banana, key lime, and papaya. During transplanting, we noticed the seedling roots were not well developed because the soil used in the pots was very wet and clayey. Most of the new plantings received a range of 80-92 oz. VITAL Blend soil amendment, which will help condition the soil and provide more pore space.

We travelled up to the “mountain” garden on the second day.  The soil was different up in the mountain, so we reduced the volume of soil amendment used to a smaller range of 32–80 oz.  We modified the volume of soil amendment used because the soil “appeared” to be of higher quality (no soil tests were available). With the help from more islanders, we transplanted over 100 plants.

“…will take ownership of this project…”

Mark & I hope the island people will take ownership of this project, ensuring it will grow (pun intended). Two things happened on the second day that made my heart squeeze and reminded us that all this belongs to LaGonave. The first occurred in the late morning after we had planted the first 33 plants, when an island gentlemen came up to show me his hand-drawn plans to create a watering system that would connect the two rain-cisterns alongside the plants. It was beautifully detailed and he was very excited to share it with me, adding that he was a “plumber” by trade.

The second was when another islander politely disagreed with how the Mango plantings were organized. He felt strongly that the way we were organizing the rows (very American – very straight lines) would not benefit the Mangoes. He suggested we plant them along the edge of the field. Of course, we immediately changed the “planting design” to his specifications.

The third day brought us back to the “sea level” garden and we planted figs. We set up trials; mixing VITAL Blend with green waste compost into the soil with the fig plantings. The compost pit got a renovation; dead plant material (green waste) had been collected before our arrival and was breaking down nicely – but Mark had other plans. He placed our biochar (NAKED Char) with the plant material and donkey manure into layers to a create better compost. The goal is to have the improved compost be used on future transplants and already established plants.

We will be going back to LaGonave in early spring of 2019, in hopes of creating more compost pits, planting more seedlings, changing the potting soil composition, and collecting the data from the recent plantings at both sites.

Reference:  Agricultural Projects, Project #3, Biochar: Restoring Haiti’s Damaged Soil, http://starfysh.org/our-work/agriculture-projects/