Tag Archives: gardening

Sowing our First Seeds in the Ground & Making Raised Beds

4 Jan


Just before we left for NY for the holidays, Renzo and I decided to plant some of the more “easy to germinate” seeds directly in the ground.  We carved out a small space at the land that had been cleared before our experiment.  During the process, Christian (one of the neighborhood kids who lives nearby) showed up and wanted to help.  The three of us found a nice rhythm; Renzo would break up the soil with the shovel, Christian would make a small hole for the seeds, and I would place the seeds in the hole and lightly cover them back up with the soil.  We worked like this for about an hour, and used stones, string, and plant labels to demarcate the areas where we’d planted different herbs.

Planting seeds.

Renzo & Christian.

Burning mounds of dry leaves.

We used stones, string, and plant markers to partition the areas where we planted our herbs.

Taty showed up later to give us a ride home and we all pitched in to pick guandules to bring home.  Guandules, also known as “pigeon peas” in English, are a staple of the Dominican diet.  I will have to post a guandule recipe up soon!

Taty picking guandules.

Guandules! Mmmmmm!


One of the first tasks we set out to tackle after the holidays was to begin making raised beds on the land.  Raised beds are created by mounding up soil thereby creating small walkways from which to garden.  This is helpful from a few practical perspectives.  It helps to organize the garden, avoids people stepping on plants by giving them a marked place to walk, and aerates the soil while diminishing the chances the soil will become too compacted for plants to thrive.

Though I had come down with something and wasn’t feeling too hot, we decided the seize the opportunity afforded by a streak of nice weather here and decided  Renzo would forge ahead without me, but with the help of Nelson and his friend Jose.  Our little friend Christian showed up again wanting to help, and despite repeated attempts by the guys to “shoo” him away so they could get back to work, he didn’t take the hint, LOL, so finally the guys gave up, handed him a machete and put him to work.  Ultimately I think they were glad to have two extra hands.  This kind of work definitely requires lots of energy, muscle, and gusto!

Here are a couple of pics:

nelson, christian, & jose digging the raised beds

Nelson, Christian, & Jose digging the raised beds.

Two finished beds! (We chose not to use frames.)

The guys worked really hard digging the beds…now we are waiting for the next sunny day to head over and start transplanting some of the herbs there!  While Renzo was there digging he also had a chance to check up on the seedlings we had planted with Christian.  Some of them were sprouting…so exciting!

One of our seedlings sprouting!

Renzo in action, pulling up lechosa! (Not easy, those roots are strong.)

So, or shall I say “sow”, you can see there is lots of activity at the moment.  We are still germinating more seeds and waiting for the plants that have sprouted to grow large enough to be transplanted.  We are also figuring out which seeds we feel confident can be grown directly from seed into the ground.  We are learning just how much of a waiting game it is…in the meantime the germinating seedlings need lots of TLC every day.

I’ll be posting again soon, after our next art class…this week we are planning to make puppets!  After 2 weeks off for the holidays I am hoping the children are excited to work on a new project!

Trabajando La Tierra (Working the Land)

5 Dec

And finally…we are working the land!

Last week we had a chance to test some soil sites and from the looks of things Taty’s land seems to be the most thriving and healthy place for us to grow our garden.  At first we were concerned there wouldn’t be space for us to grow much because the land, despite having excellent soil, was overgrown with lots of plants, leaves, vines, and other debris.  To be honest, it was hard to tell what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t.  It was a little bit of a hodgepodge crazy mess of stuff.   Kind of reminded me of how my studio gets when I’m in the middle of an intense art project.  Stuff everywhere, the beginnings of ideas either coming to life or long since abandoned…and while it may look like utter chaos to anyone else, I know exactly where everything is and how to navigate through that space.  I guess Taty’s land is kind of like Nelson’s art studio.  His methods of planting may not look very organized to an outsider, but he knows every inch of the soil like the back of his hand…and at the end of the day the fruits (and veggies) of his labor are quite tasty!

We linked up with Nelson last week to show him our seedlings and see about the possibility of getting some space to grow things.  He showed us around a bit, taught us how to pull up the yuca roots, and sent us home with a giant bunch of green bananas (guineito).  Then he said told us “Volveremos manana. Los vamos poner bonito.”  (Come back tomorrow.  We’ll make it pretty.)

Me pulling up some yuca...mmmm.

Here’s a short video of Nelson cutting down some green bananas:

We showed up the next morning around 9:30am (late) with rakes, gloves, a few bags of beans, and a shovel.  When we arrived, Nelson and his son Elia had already begun clearing some of the land with machetes and had a few piles of dried leaves burning.

This is what the land looked like when we arrived.

Renzo and I got to work quickly, raking dried leaves into large piles and pulling green weeds and old calabaza (squash) vines.  It felt great to finally dig in and get to work. Seeing the landscape transform before our eyes so quickly…turning chaos into order…was so very satisfying!

I'm happy & I'm raking, what can I say?

Renzo raking the leaves. He got the big rake.

After a couple of hours of all of us working pretty hard, Nelson asked us if we wanted some refrescos and headed off on his bike to the colmado.  He returned with the all-time breakfast of champions- cherry soda & hot dog buns.

Soda-n-buns. Don't knock it till ya try it.

I’m joking, but in all honesty we were very grateful for the provisions this humble man had provided us.  When someone offers the gift of food, you eat.  We were happy to have some sustenance, and enjoyed our meal thoroughly.  Renzo even found a bitter orange on the ground and squeezed it into our cherry sodas.  Excellent move!

After another hour or two in and Renzo and I began to understand why Nelson was covered head to toe in clothing.  Something about the calabaza vines was making our arms really irritated and itchy.  At one point my feet got attacked by fire ants (ouch!) which hurt, so I had to make a few runs to the water tap to deal with the situation.  I’m sure I looked really funny because it was that kind of running where the person is going, “Ow, ow, aye, ow!” LOL

Pretty soon we were all kinda losing steam, but looking around there was good reason. You could really see the results of our hard work!  We had cleared almost a third of the land. Check out these before and afters:



Before we left Nelson and Renzo thought we should plant some beans since we’d cleared so much space and I agreed.  Nelson showed us how he uses a stick to punch the holes in the earth and then he put a few beans inside each one.  Before we left Nelson said a prayer and we agreed to meet on Monday at the same time (unless it rains).  We woke up this morning to gray skies and by the time we got to the land the light drizzle had turned into full-on rain.  Nelson wasn’t there and the land was soaked.  We took a few steps in, and had to turn back because our shoes were stuck full of mud, plus we didn’t want to compact the soil too much with the impact of our footsteps.

We are eager to continue our work, but the soil probably needs a good full day of sun to dry up first.  At some point this week we’ll find Nelson (he doesn’t have a phone) around the campo and make a plan.