A garden is basically a small scale farm. At Mama Roja it provides the main ingredients for each meal. This works well when one´s diet consists of mostly vegetables; however, others can use the garden as a basis for a meal. Why spend money on chemically treated produce that you can grow organically? Lunch and dinner on the farm begin with harvesting a combination of vegetables and herbs, such as carrots, beets, lettuce, squash, sweet potatoes, mandioca, and parsley. This might seem random but following a simple recipe can help one understand what ingredients taste well together. Some people can come up with recipes without the use of a book or even measuring utensils but it takes practice. Lunch consists of a salad and a hardy main dish. It is actually the largest meal of the day. A good example is homemade gnocci and beans. For dinner, a soup is prepared during lunch and heated up around seven. This is served with bread and a side. Dinner is prepared at lunch is because since the oven runs on wood it is wasteful to make two separate fires. I can honestly say that I am happy being a temporary vegetarian because the meals are delicious. The only occasion I crave meat is in town because empanadas are everywhere.
Besides harvesting and consuming from a garden there needs to be one! Luckily, at Mama Roja the large garden is full of ready -to-eat vegetables but this will only sustain so long. Staggering planting times allows for veggies to be available at various times. For example, if you plant all your carrot seeds at once in a few weeks you will have way too many carrots to consume and none for later.
During the first few weeks we spent a large amount of time maintaining the garden including weeding, planting seedlings, and creating more beds for additional planting outside of the main garden. The first was a regular bed with wooden sides. The ground had been plowed two years prior so the ground was softer and ready for action. Once an initial plowing is done it is not necessary to do it again because it is important to conserved microorganisms. The location of the bed is key. First, observe to see where the sunlight is coming from, areas of water, and slope. Next, the type of bed can be decided. In Misiones, a ground bed with sides will provide enough protection and rainwater retention. Raised beds work especially well in saturated area while drought climates like sunken beds to hold more water. Once a space is decided, the earth is removed with a hoe and stored on the side for later use. Then, a fork is use to aerate the soil. A layer of compost from the garden and humanure is added to the top. The next step is to plant and then return the top soil to provide protection and return the nutrients.
Another bed we made was in the shape of a mandala, in which paths intersect a round bed leading to a center bed. In one of the outer beds we planted the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash. These three plants work together in mending the soil and the land. Corn will grow tall, the beans will climb the corn, and the squash provides a ground cover. The other planting bed contains solely amaranth. In general, the frames of all the beds are made of down woody debris, which is wood pieces found around the property.
However, not all beds need to have sides. The same process takes place for bed preparation minus finding wood. This allows for some flexibility regarding the shape. For example, we made a peanut shape bed for planting peanuts. Let your creativity flow, yo!
An herb spiral is a fun way to grow herbs near a kitchen if you don´t want to plant then in a regular garden bed or window box. We constructed one out of rocks, soil, compost, leaves, and wood. Some side will have more sun than others so plant accordingly. When you step away and look at it form a distance it is more than just a functional herb garden, it is an art piece.
Mama Roja´s first hugel culture was constructed as an experiment to see how it works. The idea is to create a bed with decomposing matter and plant within the matter, such as logs, leaves, grasses, and straw. Planting on top and within these components allows the planting to absorb nutrients throughout time because the matter will be continuing to decompose and depositing nutrients. It mimics what happens in nature. A general rule of thumb for all garden beds is to make them arms length on each side so that the width is as far as you can reach.