We are so excited about our new biohuerto projects in the LLI Women’s Program! What is a biohuerto? A biohuerto is a garden that is cultivated without pesticides and often in areas where a bit of creativity is required to make things grow, such as the urban desert in Huaycan, or other cities where arable land is hard to find. I know you’ve seen the photos of Huaycan – these dry, sandy hills aren’t easy to cultivate, but we’re confident that with some education and TLC, that the gardens will grow and be useful for the communities in Zones S and Z. We spent the month of April really kick-starting the program, which means we lugged around lots of heavy compost, did a bit of building, and got our hands really dirty. Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up and where we’re going from here.
Our very first meetings were to establish objectives for the gardens and those desired outcomes shaped how we’ve structured the programs. While the women in Zones S and Z have different hopes for their gardens, there are some similarities in how they want to use the space and the produce. Both groups would like the spaces to be educational, for both them and their children; both groups are concerned about having nutritious, high quality produce; and both groups are interested in the enterprise potential of the gardens. The women in Zone Z, however, have placed a greater importance on the educational aspect of the community garden and would like to have it as a living classroom and host for workshops that they can then take and apply to their personal gardens. Women in Zone S, having recently constructed a comedor (community kitchen) on the same site as the community garden, want to primarily use the produce there. LLI will facilitate continued education on growing food and also be able to combine the gardens with business programs, cooking classes, and nutrition workshops.
Gardens don’t grow over night. We’ve spent the past month having weekly workshops on topics such as planting and caring for seeds, composting, and soil preparation. On the first meeting, we planted seeds in small boxes, which the women took home to tend to until they were ready to be transplanted to either to the community garden or their personal gardens. LLI volunteers led some of the workshops as did some savvy gardeners in Huaycán. So far, plants are growing and the compost pit is quickly making nutrient rich soil.
Water has been one of our biggest hurdles. In addition not having necessary nutrients, sand also doesn’t retain moisture like soil does. That combined with the hot sun and dry air, making sure the vegetables get their required water every week is a substantial hurdle that we must surmount if the gardens are to be successful. The first step that we’ve taken towards this is we’ve built shade structures over half of the gardens. Plants such as tomatoes and grapes that can’t get enough sun will go outside the shade, but our herbs and other veggies will be happier in a bit of shade. Keeping the temperature down a bit will help control rate of evaporation after watering as well. Our next step was getting the soil ready. We’ve lined the garden floors with holed plastic to retain more moisture instead of letting the water run away in the sandy bed. We then covered that with a mixture of organic fertilizer and compost soil. Women in Zone Z chose to plant new seeds in the community garden space while the women in Zone S transplanted the seeds they had been growing in their homes. The kids were involved by making garden decorations in their art classes and coming to the workshops with their moms.
The past month has been a lot of work and a lot of fun. We’re looking forward to a bountiful harvest of fresh herbs and veggies in the months ahead!