Last week, the Permaculture research group began to explain their research and findings in and out of the classroom. To recap, this semester we are on a quest to understand the food systems at play on Eleuthera, throughout the Bahamian archipelago, and worldwide. This week, the Permaculture team focused on soil amendments, or additives that help soil to become more productive.
Generally speaking, the soils on Eleuthera and throughout The Bahamas are rated as “agriculturally poor” and devoid of many nutrients. These limitations, coupled with a dearth of open spaces (less than 5% of all land in The Bahamas is arable), make farming extremely challenging. Interestingly enough, central and northern Eleuthera is home to a more nutrient-rich and oxidized soil (a.k.a. Bahamian red soil) that originates from West African nations. South Eleuthera, where we are growing our vegetables has very poor soil mainly due to the massive amounts of limestone found on the Cape.
In the classroom this week, the team learned about the soil texture triangle as well as the criteria and demands necessary for producing crops on marginal lands. Time in the field was spent investigating and practicing some methods that can successfully increase the structure, value, and mineral composition of the soil. For example, bio-char is the thermal decomposition of organic material in a high-heat, low oxygen environment, resulting in charcoal that then serves as a long-term house for nutrients in the soil. Anything from tree bark to coconut husks can be used to create bio-char.
Using casuarina wood (an invasive tree to The Bahamas) to create biochar
Additionally, the team continued with seeding rejuvenated beds, spent some time on top of the Early Learning Center (ELC) roof aerating the soil, and prepared the area for planting. The students really valued this time working outside. As Nora Verdier put it, “It’s really interesting practicing sustainable agriculture and how we are not just reading about it in a textbook but making bio-char or aerating the soil. It feels like we’re doing things for a larger goal.”