Well my first Peace Corps project is off the ground. It is now the dry season which is supposed to be the best for growing veggies. There wasn't enough time before the dry season to compost organic matter, so I am using a technique called Double Dig Beds. I'd never heard of it before coming to Panama. Basically you dig down 18 inches into the soil. Then you throw three different layers of organic matter down, half the soil you dug out and then three more layers of organic matter. Top it all off with the remaining soil and your done. The three organic layers are balo, platano and horse manure.
Balo is a legumonous tree, so its leaves are full of nitrogen. As an added bonus it has a natural insecticide in its sap. You only use the leaves because the whole branch would just root into the ground and start growing a new tree.
The platano is basically a banana plant. The whole tree - trunk, leaves and all is machettied up into little pieces to make the second ingredient. This adds some nice potasium to the soil. Most of what you are seeing in this picture is pieces of the thick stem. It breaks apart like layers of an onion.
The last organic level is horse manure. It a great sourse of nitrogen, but it is smoother than say cow manure. (I don't have a picture of this one. I didn't want to touch my camera after messing with the horse poo.) All these things will compost in the soil to make a nutrient rich food source for the vegetable plants.
Here's the finished bed, it lookes a lot like it did before I started. You´d never know all that good stuff is under the soil.
It took me a week to do the bed in front of my house. I was lazy and generally only worked a couple hours a day, or not at all. However, I got to talk about the different stuff that goes into it with the neighbors and they could see it develop. After I finished it, I had two different women tell me they would like a garden of their own. So on Decemeber 27th, Jeff and I helped Jorge and Jeni make a huge double dig bed near their house. It has all been planted with tomatos. I'm really curious how well double digging will work, as I've never seen one in action before. Hopefully, it works well because I've got plans with another woman and a care taker at Earth Train to make double dig beds with them. It will be a grand old time.
Here's my bed a week later with lettuce seedlings and tomatos coming up. The squash has not come up, I think I got some dud seeds. The bright yellow things are oil containers cut in half to make a funnel. I stick the funnel into the ground and fill it with water so the water seeps out. The water goes more deeply into the soil, so it all just doesn't run off.