Lessons from Cuba for Mediterranean Gardens

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
This article follows on from our last one titled The Cuban Gardening Revolution.

We came back from Cuba with the following list of ideas and important reminders of things that many gardeners don’t do sufficiently or frequently enough especially to maximise the flavour, bite and yield of vegetable and fruit gardens.

  1. Compost all vegetable and fruit waste from the kitchen or garden in a compost heap or via vermiculture in a wormery.
  2. .Likewise compost all weeds, prunings and shredded cuttings, especially during the major winter cleanup.
  3. Collect as much horse, sheep, goat, cow, pigeon, rabbit , guinea pig and some chicken manure as you can and compost it well before use .
  4. Establish a self built or proprietary wormery such as those available from WigglyWigglers in the UK .
  5. Keep a few chickens and rabbits for organic meat, eggs and a daily source fertilizer. Rabbit droppings are also an excellent accelerator for the compost heap.
  6. Build raised beds for growing vegetables, culinary/medicinal herbs and flowers for cutting for the house – especially if you have shallow soil – and reduce the effort of gardening as you age. Even a two metre long by 50 centimetres wide by 30 centimetre deep bed would be a good start in the vegetable garden or in a convenient sunny spot in the flower garden.. Extend the size of raised beds annually as you have compost and composted manures available. If you do so on a major scale construct them 50 to 70 centimetres wide for ease of working and watering. Aim at high yields from day one and fill the new beds with a 30/70% to50/50% mix of manure/compost to soil. Enrich the soil every other year by mixing in plenty of well rotted manure.
  7. Start to grow a few choice salad vegetables in containers even on an apartment terrace to add variety to the basic lettuce, tomato and onion salad. Go for co-planting by mixing a variety of seeds before planting. The shallow and deep rooted, the fast and slow growing will compliment each other and allow diversity in a small space and ease harvesting as all will be in one place. Part Two of our books Growing healthy fruit in Spain and Growing healthy vegetables in Spain tell you how to do so in areas as small as one square metre.
  8. Shade emergent seedlings from the hot sun with a canopy of palm branches. Its easier and less expensive than woven plastic shading . Spray with a weak foliar feed, especially in hot weather and don’t only water the root systems.
  9. Increase the number and variety of fruit trees and bushes in the garden. It is relatively easy to pick fresh fruit 365 days a year with our climate and even try growing some tropical exotics with winter protection. Our book Growing healthy fruit in Spain describes how to grow some 70 fruits in Spain.
  10. Support continuing local producers of vegetables by buying from local markets , village shops and direct from small local producers. Recognise how much we now pay for the transport, packaging, and supermarket display of pre-packed vegetables often in quantities above what we need. So often shoppers , even gardeners compensate by buying less varieties of fresh vegetables and increase their intake of food supplements.
  11. Instill an interest in gardening including the growing of fruit and vegetables to eat at a young age at home and through school gardens.
  12. Interest town and village councils in the establishment of allotment areas in new town plans with the priority of use by young and old people. It has happened in places like Bunol in Valencia and Villamartin in Andulucia but these are rare initiatives in country where more and more land cultivated for a up to a millennium or more is abandoned annually.

Have a look yourself if visiting Cuba

If you visit Cuba on holiday try and get away from the main tourist centres and activities for a few hours or days and see some of the innovative local vegetable growing. Throughout our 1000 plus kilometre journey we found Cubans very approachable and friendly. Photographs of our garden and a copy of one of our books were perfect visiting cards.

One lasting impression we have is that sustaining a good diet and health are at least as important as raising the level of personal income to western levels. Whatever the negatives of the Castro regime Cuba has proved that organic agriculture is viable affordable and sustainable on a national scale. Perhaps an important lesson when the level and price of home produced food in Spain is under threat from the conversion of agricultural land into urbanisations, agricultural waste lands and bio-fuel crop production.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe May 2008
(Adaptation of a previous 2004 article)