organic gardening in fiji

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  • 7/29/2019 Organic Gardening in Fiji


    By Brian SmithersIllustrations by Matthew Roy

  • 7/29/2019 Organic Gardening in Fiji



    If you are holding this book in your hand, it is either because someone is forcingyou, or you have found yourself in Fiji with a desire to eat fresh vegetables, a

    gardening spade, and a bit of confusion. Here in Fiji, we are attempting to growfoods that we enjoy from places like Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the USand often, it is not going very well. It turns out that there are reasons for this.(Keep reading.)

    This book has come out of my experience in gardening in Fiji after falling in lovewith gardening in temperate Oregon. Who am I? I am glad you asked. Myname is Brian Smithers and I am a garden lover, moonlighting as a Peace Corps

    Volunteer. I am also a facultative vegetarian (not always an option) and prefer toeat my veggies local and organic. This can be quite difficult in Fiji since thetraditional foods are not long on the vegetables I am used to, making gardening amust. The good news is that I love it.

    When I set about digging and planting, I ran into plenty of problems that I wasnot used to in Oregon and went looking for resources on gardening in Fiji. WhatI found were scant. The Ministry of Agriculture used to put out a guide called

    Fiji Crop Farmers Guide, but that has been out of print for a few yearsawaiting the updated version. It is a very useful guide for specific crops but asfar as garden practices go, it is silent. I am actively holding my breath for thenewer version. You should not.

    The second resource that I found is a book called Growing Vegetables in Fijiby Kirk Dahlgren, a former Country Director of Peace Corps Fiji. This book waswritten in 1981, and most recently issued in 1989 by ECHO after they found it

    buried in the Peace Corps library and re-released it. Dahlgrens book iswonderful, and there is very little in the book you are now holding that doesntowe a debt of gratitude to his, but having been written in 1981, it is outdated.While many of the gardening practices are sound, in a sign of the times, thesolution to pests and nutrient deficiency in his book is to spray it with apetrochemical. Now that we know what we know about the dangers to theenvironment of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, especially when itcomes to destroying coral reef, I am sure that even Dahlgren would agree thatgardening practices have changed and that an upgrade to his book is in order.

    There are many new varieties of vegetables that have been developed since 1981that do much better in the tropics and have been included in this book. With

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    these updates, this book picks up where Dahlgren left off. To be clear, this is nota replacement for Dahlgrens book. This book is void of many of Dahlgrenscharts and numbers loses its usefulness in planting on a commercial scale. Forthose who seek more technical advice, you may still need to find a copy ofGrowing Vegetables in Fiji. Backyard gardener and small farmer, read on.

    Last but not least, you are reading version 1.0 of this book, and as all books gothat are written under a deadline, it is sure to be rife with errors and inadequate inmultitudinous ways. Please forgive those inadequacies and rest in the knowledgethat work continues to make version 2.0 even better. Better yet, let me know ifyou there is something that will make the next version even better. I wont be

    mad at you. Happy digging!

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    Chapter 1: Gardening in Fiji for Dummies 4

    Chapter 2: Soil and its Gifts 7Chapter 3: The Fijian Climate 11Chapter 4: Fertilizer, Pesticides, and Herbicide, oh my! 14Chapter 5: Pests, Disease, and Certain Death 16Chapter 6: Lets Get Started 20Chapter 7: Sowing the Seeds of Love 25Chapter 8: Trellising 30Chapter 9: Crop Rotation: Damned if you dont 34Chapter 10: Group 1 Crops: Crops Susceptible to

    Bacterial Wilt 37Chapter 11: Group 2 Crops: Crops Susceptible to

    Cabbage Moth 45Chapter 12: Group 3 Crops: Cucumber Family 53Chapter 13: Group 4 Crops: Legumes 58Chapter 14: Group 5 Crops: Everything Else 66

    Chapter 15: Spices 80Chapter 16: Other Fruits 94Chapter 17: Aromatics as Pesticide 99Chapter 18: Composting and Mulching 101Chapter 19: Hot Season Farming 106Chapter 20: Conclusion 110Appendix 1: Pesticides: Giving Up on Organic Gardening? 111

    Appendix 2: Fijian and Hindi Vocabulary 115Bibliography 116

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    Chapter One

    Thinking about Fiji conjures up immediate images of a tropical paradisea landflowing with fruity cocktails and coconut trees. With copious sunshine and, inmost parts, rain, it would seem that just about anything ought to grow here, and itdoes. However, if you have stayed for any length of time in Fiji, you will findyourself eating an artists palette of starch: taro, cassava, yam, sweet potato, and

    breadfruit. This book is being written for one purpose: to tell you that you dont

    have to take it anymore. You dont have to subsist only on glorified potatoes

    (although root crops can be a delicious and nutritious part of your diet). Fiji is ahome-gardeners paradise and there are too many wonderful things that you cangrow and eat to continue wasting life eating things that you dont enjoy.

    Why Bother?

    This is the first question of gardening that you will either ask yourself, or if youare attempting to talk others into growing vegetables, that they will ask you.

    People grow vegetables for many different reasons, but here are some of the mainreasons that people in Fijiof European and South Pacific Islander descentalikeuse:

    1.It Saves Money: There is a minor investment in material upfront whengardening in the purchase of supplies, seeds, etc, but over time, there is aconsiderable cost savings between buying a tomato and growing oneyourself. This becomes an even larger cost difference if you find yourselftraveling some distance to the closest vegetable market to buy that tomato.And if you find yourself on a more remote island, you may have to buy anexpensive ferry ticket to get to Suva and pay for a weeks hotel room and

    meals (plus, you are probably going to have some beer and see a moviewhile you are there) to get to your nearest tomato. That tomato becomesreally expensive. You get the idea.

    2.It is a local, organic food source: A very significant cause of greenhousegas emissions is the world-wide transport of food from one place to another.As long as North Americans require year-round bananas, this trans-oceanicfood travel is going to continue, but you can do your own part here.Anytime you or your food has to travel to get to your table, you are adding

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    to this problem. When your food is next to your house, your gardenbecomes a net absorber of carbon dioxide. You win! In addition, youknow exactly what is going into your soil and on your plants. When youbuy it in the market, you have no idea what has been added to the soil andsprayed in order to grow that red tomato. Chances are you dont want it inyour belly.

    3.It provides a balanced diet: The South Pacific diet is notoriously high instarch and low in many vitamins and minerals that help one to live ahealthy life. Sure, someone could eat taro and taro leaves in coconut milkevery day of their life and live, but they will not do so healthily. There aremany basic vitamins and minerals lacking in the traditional Fijian diet thatcan only be found in vegetables.

    4.It reduces waste: Increasingly, many of the foods that we eat come insome sort of packaged form. This is not as big of a problem in adeveloping nation like Fiji as it is in the western world, but waste is aserious problem on these small, isolated islands. Cans, jars, plasticcontainers, bottles, and plastic bags are a scourge on Fiji and there is nointegrated plan to deal with this waste. Even buying from the marketresults in walking away with 5 plastic bags. Those who sell vegetables inthe market generate an enormous amount of waste in packaging and

    transport to the market that we dont even see. While there are many waysto reduce waste, growing food locally is quite possibly the best way.

    5.It can be a source of income: This may not be much of a motivator to akaivulagi in Fiji, but it may be the primary incentive for many Fijians.Depending on where you are, organic vegetables can be a great source ofincome. In addition to the markets in the towns and cities, many resorts arewilling to pay top dollar for locally grown, organic vegetables. In areas that

    have no market, such as on isolated islands, there is even more demand, andone person who just grows, say, cucumbers or capsicum, can earnsignificant extra money for his/her family. Finally, in a culture that is notlong on opportunities for womens financial contributions, gardening is agreat alternative livelihood.

    6.Its the only way: I have never seen a strawberry in a market in Fiji. Isuppose that you can find them in the major supermarkets from time to time

    but I would cringe to see the price. I have eaten them from my garden inFiji and they are delicious. For some specialty items, it may be that theonly way to eat it is to grow it. In my village, most villagers who saw my

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    garden had never seen things like strawberry, broccoli, arugula, radish,parsley, oregano, and thyme. If I want to eat them, I have to grow them.

    Whats so special about Fiji?

    The Soil

    Whenever you eat a fruit or vegetable, you are really eating dirt. It is dirt that hasbeen turned into something delicious by the wonders of photosynthesis, but it isdirt. Your garden is only as good as the soil you are planting in and Fiji happensto be blessed in that regard. The vast majority of the Fiji Islands were formed byvolcanoes. Luckily for us, they are not still active, but the rich volcanic soil thatthose volcanoes left behind is. Because magma is a literal melting pot of all ofthe elements in the earth, when that spews forth onto the earth as lava, the earthgets a nice coating of rock that contains all of those trace elements that are

    required for healthy plants. A couple of million years later, that rock is erodedaway and when enough plants die and get mixed in with that eroded rock, theresulting soil black gold, ready for your veggies.

    The Sun

    If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you came from somewherethat has warmer summers and cooler winters, a.k.a the temperate zone. If you arelike me, you came from somewhere that freezes over in the winter, making

    gardening impossible without a significant investment in greenhouses or growinglights for a good portion of the year. Fiji sits within the tropical zone making itplenty warm year-round to plant. Unfortunately, the climate has some costsassociated with it in regard to pests, but mostly it is a good thing for gardeners.There is much less of a defined planting and harvesting time in the tropics somany crops are able to be planted and harvested throughout the year. It is warmyear round which means that crops grow fast, much faster than in manytemperate places.

    The Water

    The final ingredient in the holy trinity of gardening is water and in most of Fiji,there is plenty of it (most of the time). On the eastern sides of the major islands,there will be very little to no need to irrigate. In most of the rest of Fiji, bypaying attention to the cycles of wet and dry seasons and planting accordingly,there will also be no need to irrigate. In some of the western and northern partsof the larger Fijian islands, you may have to do some watering, but there are no

    places in Fiji where it is too dry to grow vegetables.

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    Chapter Two

    As I mentioned above, a garden or farm is only as good as the soil that it isgrown in. All over the world, farmers and agricultural scientists have joinedforces with chemists to overcome this minor obstacle by dumping loads ofchemical fertilizers on marginal soil to trick plants into thinking that it is goodsoil. In Fiji, that is not necessary. Of course a farmer can increase yield, even inFiji, by using fertilizers. However, it is absolutely not necessary and now that weknow what kind of long term effects these chemicals have on the soil and thesurrounding environment, the costs far outweigh the marginal benefits.

    Now that I have you hooked into gardening by my spell-binding introduction, thesoil situation is not all roses and sunshine in Fiji. Because Fiji is an area thatreceives a lot of rainfall, the soil fertility is tenuous. The soil is very rich, butbecause of the constant rainfall, this soil can be very quickly eroded away.Before humans showed up in Fiji a few thousand years ago, the vast majority ofFiji was covered by tropical forest. These forests have a notoriously thin layer ofhealthy soil that, when the trees are removed, washes away to clay or bedrockrapidly. Without the leaves of the trees slowing down the rain, without the leaflitter, and without the absorption and anchoring properties of the roots, that toplayer of soil can be washed away in short order.

    A drive west from Suva will take you through areas where land has been clear-cut and then planted with no regard to soil conservation. Now, you can see largeareas where the topsoil is gone and in its place is the red parent rock material.

    Without proper management, your topsoil can be gone in just a few wet seasons.But dont worry, keeping your soil around isnt difficult and this book will giveyou plenty of ways to not only conserve your soil but make it better than it waswhen you started.

    Soil can be divided up into three major types. The first is sandy soil. Just like itsounds, sandy soil is made up of larger sediment particles. It is well-draining butdries very easily. Some vegetables, like carrots, thrive in sandy soils, but most

    dont like it. The second type is clay soil. This is made up of fine minerals andis very heavy. When it rains, clay soils tend to become waterlogged easily,suffocating your vegetables. The third type is not so much a type on its own but

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    is a mixture of the two. Loam is a mix of sand, clay, and silt and is usually theideal soil for gardening. If your soil is overly sandy or clayey, you may need toadd one or the other to your soil in order to make it more hospitable to gardencrops.

    In addition to the soil consistency, there is a set of elements that are vital togrowing good vegetables. In the agricultural world, we talk about the 13elements that the soil needs to grow food. While there are numerous sillymnemonics to remember them, I will spare you those. (There are actually 16elements needed for healthy plant growth but three of them, oxygen, hydrogen,and carbon, come from water and air as opposed to the soil.) Many of the 13elements are naturally occurring in almost all soils and are needed in only traceamounts. Of the 13, six are needed in larger amounts by plants and are elementsthat your garden may find in short supply:

    1.Nitrogen is usually the most limiting of the elements for plant growth andis the major constituent of chemical fertilizers. It is soluble in water whichmeans that rain washes it away. That is a problem in rainy Fiji. Shortagesin Nitrogen lead to yellowing of older leaves, stunted growth, and smallfruits. Luckily, there are many ways to add nitrogen to your soil such asthrough animal wastes, crop rotation with legumes (more on that later), andadding compost.

    2.Phosphorus is used by plants in a variety of ways for growth. While plantsdont require a lot of Phosphorus, they have to have it for growth and if it

    isnt in the soil, you have to put it there. Symptoms of a lack of Phosphorusare slow growth, a slender stem, and slow maturity. Adding bone meal,manure, or compost will meet your Phosphorus needs.

    3.Potassium makes stems rigid in plants, allowing for taller growth, amongother metabolic uses. Some of the symptoms of Potassium deficiency arebrowning of leaf margins, slow growth, and fruits not being solid inside.Wood ash, manure, and compost are all good sources of Potassium.

    4.Calcium is important for cell growth, making it especially needed atgrowth tips in plants. It is easily lost due to leeching, and its deficiency is adead giveaway in tomatoes. When a tomato is grown in Calcium-deficientsoil, it results in a condition called blossom-end rot that is exactly like it

    sounds. While the side of the tomato attached to the plant looks healthy,the other end rots away. This is very common in tomatoes and in someother vegetables. Adding lime or dolomite to the soil can solve this

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    although once your tomatoes fruit, it is too late for that particular plant.One way to pre-empt this is to add a little lime or even egg shells to the soilwhere you plant the seed or transplant the seedling. Compost is alsousually rich in Calcium.

    5.Magnesium leeches out of the soil easily like Calcium but some plants,like broccoli and cauliflower, have an especially high Magnesium need.Symptoms of deficiency include brown spots on the margins and tips ofleaves or yellowing of the entire leaf. Dolomite, Epsom salts, and compostare good sources of magnesium.

    6.Boronis the last of the big six, and is the winner in its ability to be leechedfrom the soil. Boron deficiency leads to the death of the growing tip,spelling doom for your veggies. In broccoli and cauliflower, Boron

    deficiency will lead to browning and death of the flower head just beforeyou want to pick and eat it. Borax is the best way to get Boron into the soilat the rate of about 1-2g per square meter.

    Soil additives such as dolomite, lime, and borax are naturally occurringsubstances that add only your target elements. They are also readily available atmost stores that sell farming or gardening supplies. The best way to know theelemental make-up of your soil is to have a soil sample analyzed at a lab. This is

    expensive in the US, but luckily for us, in Fiji it is free. The Fiji AgriculturalLaboratory, based outside of Suva, will analyze your soil from samples deliveredto them in about a month. (Contact the Koronivia Research Station for detailedinstructions at 347-7044).

    One way to do a quick visual test is to see what is growing there before you clearit. Thick grass is a good indicator. It may be very tempting to start diggingwhere there is less vegetation, but dont do it! Your laziness will only get the

    best of you.

    If you noticed the common theme of adding compost to maintain proper amountsof these major elements, give yourself a point. You can forget all about this listof elements and their symptoms of deficiency if you are practicing goodcomposting and crop rotation, both of which will be covered in a later section,with perhaps the exception of boron. Keep some Borax around.

    The final bit on soil has to do with pH, the measure of how acidic or alkalineyour soil is. Soils with low pH are said to be acidic. This can happen where soilhas been heavily leeched by rainfall or near pine forests. This has become a

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    bigger issue since Caribbean pine plantations were introduced into Fiji. You canraise pH, making it less acidic, by adding lime; your plants will like the extraCalcium anyway.

    Soils with a high pH are alkaline. This happens in dry soils and/or where saltwater has found itself. This is a little harder to deal with as adding acid to soil isnever a great idea. You may want to find another place to plant. If you areinsistent on giving it a go in that location, adding large amounts of compost willdo you a lot of good.

    There is an entire section on composting toward the end of this book, so I wont

    give that away except to say that with proper composting, soil deficiency willlargely be a thing of the past. In short, do it. Get started on your compost pileearly and play with it often.

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    Chapter Three

    When planting a garden in Fiji, one of the best ways to start is to go native.While it (hopefully) will not be the extent of your gardening, planting what thepeople around you are planting is a good way to get the hang of having yourhands in the soil. Many of the traditional Fijian crops are easy to plant andchances are there is a lot of knowledge how to do so. In addition, many of thesecrops take a long time (9 months) to mature so they can be doing their thingwhile you are working on your vegetables that will take much less time to mature.

    Before Europeans, Indians, and Asians showed up on the scene, the Fijian dietconsisted mainly of root crops, a few leafy greens, and what they could pull fromthe sea. Being an isolated group of islands, before human occupation 2,0003,000 years ago, Fiji had very little in the way of vegetation that could support acivilization.

    Most of the foods that Fijians ate by the time Europeans first came to Fiji werebrought with them while they were settling the Melanesian and Polynesianislands. In Fiji, we are talking about taro (dalo). It is the king of all crops in Fijiand many people subsist mainly on the root, the leaves, and coconut milk. A fewother crops that can be considered native to Fiji are cassava, yam, sugar cane,Fijian spinach (bele), and the sweet potato (kumala) although none but bele areactually native to the South Pacific.

    The sweet potato is an interesting one because it is not native to Fiji but was

    already found throughout the Pacific region when Europeans first came. Unlikeall of the other crops that the Pacific Islanders brought with them from SoutheastAsia, the sweet potato is native to South America. How the sweet potato madeits way from South America to the Pacific Islands is a pretty strong argument thatthe people of the Pacific Islands and the people of South America have had somecontact at some point in history. How and where is anyones guess.

    There are some other crops that have made their way into the Fijian mainstream

    that arrived when the Europeans and Asians did. From the Americas camepineapple, guava, papaya, cassava, many vegetables, and the sweet potato (whichwas already here). From Asia came the banana, mango and many spices, and

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    from Europe came many of the vegetables. From India came many of the spicesthat are in use today such as curry in addition to the important staple, rice.

    The food crops that Fijians tend to grow have one thing in common; they areextremely easy to plant. A brief look above will show that the majority of thesecrops are planted by either pushing a stick in the ground, planting a shoot, or theygrow so readily from seed that they dont need any help from people. Mostly,Fijian agriculture is accomplished through vegetative propagation. This is theprocess of growing new plants from parent plant material as opposed to growingfrom a seed.

    The simplest example of vegetative propagation is taking a cutting of a tree orplant and sticking it in the ground. In the tropics, that cutting will often take rootand you have yourself a new plant. The plant is genetically identical to its parent

    plant so what you have really done is cloned the parent. Do not try that withsomeones arm. I did once; it was messy an ultimately not successful.

    It would be easy to call Fijian reliance on vegetative propagation proof of theirnot understanding farming in that it is clearly easier to plant this way. But thereality of the situation is that in the tropics, many plant reproduce this way. Thereasons for this have to do with the absence of winter. In temperate regions,many plants have to find a way to outlast the winter. If they are unable to

    withstand a freeze itself, the next best thing is to package up their DNA in a littlepod that can fend off the cold and then grow from that when it thaws. This is aseed.

    In the tropics, there is little need for this survival strategy. It is plenty warmyear-round allowing for plants to be a little more creative in its reproductivestrategies. Many tropical plants produce what are called suckers right from theroot stock. These are clones of the parent that grow by vegetative propagation.

    Bananas, taro, and pineapple are great examples of this. Planting new plots ofthese crops are as easy as digging up the sucker and planting it somewhere else.If planting were that easy in the temperate regions, I guarantee we wouldnt

    bother with seeds either.

    For plants which spent their evolutionary years in temperate regions (most of thewestern vegetables), growing in the tropics is a mixed blessing. Because there isno winter to kill off the plant, many veggies keep on giving. The growing season

    is much longer and, for many crops, it is year-round. Being temperate in origin,most vegetable crops do best at temperatures between about 24-30C. It isfrequently hotter than this in Fiji during the hot season. In addition, Fiji receives

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    about twice the average rainfall of most temperate regions. Hotter temperaturesand too much rain can quickly lead to plant diseases if not managed.

    Photoperiodism is another issue. In the temperate regions, day length changesdrastically between winter and summer and many vegetables have evolved to useday length as a clue to change behavior. Many temperate vegetables uselengthening day length to concentrate on vegetative growth and when the daylength starts shortening, signaling upcoming winter, the plants switch to flowerand fruit production.

    Fiji is at 18S latitude which means there is very little difference in day lengthbetween short and long day periods. This can confuse vegetables that haveevolved in the temperate region. To deal with this, some vegetable varieties havebeen selected to grow in the tropics that dont pay as much attention to day

    length. These varieties have also been selected for an ability to better handle thehigher temperatures and rainfall as well the host of pests that come in the tropics.

    Knowing what we now know, with enough effort almost anything that is grownin the temperate regions can be grown in the tropics. However, there are acouple of things that just wont work. The first are some of the fruit trees like

    apples and pears. These trees require a good, cold winter to kill off pests andwithout it, the fruit just rots. That is why all of the apples in Fiji are imported

    from New Zealand. The stone fruit trees dont do well in Fiji for similar reasons.Celery is one thing that is real pain to get started in Fiji. It is notoriously difficultto get to germinate in the best of circumstances, and the tropics are not the best ofcircumstances.

    Finally, garlic is one of the saddest absentees. The problem with garlic isnt that

    it wont growit willit just wont bulb. If you are satisfied with garlic greens,plant away, but because garlic bulbing is a function of day length, in the tropics,

    garlic never gets the message from the sun to form a bulb. So, that comes fromNew Zealand too. This nay-saying aside, by all means give it a try. The onlyreason that any of the temperate crops now grow in the tropics is becausesomeone figured out a way to make that happen. You could be the one to bringthe non-photoperiod sensitive garlic to the world!

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    Chapter Four

    Larger scale vegetable farmers in Fiji have had a very difficult time successfullyfarming without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The reasons forthis have more to do with how they plant than whether they actually need to usethem. When gardening near the home on more home-sized scale, the need to use

    these chemicals largely disappears. It used to be that the only way to farm orgarden was to first spray herbicide to kill all of the plants you didnt want, andthen spray fertilizer to make your crops grow fast, and then spray on pesticides tokeep the critters off. This was great while it lasted but we now know that thesechemicals that keep our crops growing and pest-free have a much greater impacton our environment than wed hoped.

    It turns out the same things that kill weeds do the same to the zooxanthellae in

    coral reef. While you might spray it very judiciously only on your plot in theappropriate amount, when the rains come, they arent so careful. The herbicideleeches directly into the river and out to the sea.

    Fertilizers also contribute directly the death of coral reef. Leeching to the sea thesame way herbicides do, there the added phosphates and nitrogen fertilize thealgae living on the reef. This causes algal blooms which can overtake coral in avariety of ways. Even worse for the gardener, fertilizers overload the soil with

    nitrogen and often kill off the very critters that break down organic matter, theprocess that produces nitrogen naturally. This vicious cycle makes your soildependent on artificial fertilizers since use of them killed off the soils ability tomake its own.

    Pesticides are a local problem as well. Since these tend to stick around for awhile after spraying, they dont just kill off your problem bugs; they may alsokill off your pollinators. And of course, anything that kills a living thing cant be

    good for you. Fruit and vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides needto be washed very thoroughly.

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    So, what do we do? There are some very simple practices that we can follow tokeep our garden fertile and pest-free without chemicals. One is how we buyseeds. Buying seeds that are selected for the tropics is one way. Growingvarieties that have been selected for the tropics means that their genes betterenable them to thrive in hot, wet, tropical conditions. Healthy vegetables aremuch better able to fend off pests as well.

    Another non-chemical thing that we can do is to compost. Properly making andusing compost and mulch is the best way to add nutrients to our soil that willmake fertilizer unnecessary. Practicing good crop rotation is probably the mostimportant thing that we can do for our garden. These practices will be discussedin detail in sections ahead, but they are important to keep in mind at the verybeginning because these practices play a fairly important role in the design of thegarden.

    Finally, there is no substitute for herbicides that doesnt involve the gardenergetting his or her hands dirty. I call it mechanical herbicide, a fancy way ofsaying weeding. Weeding gets a bum wrap in gardening. We talk about it like itis a dreaded chore, and sure, it isnt particularly fun. It is, however, anindispensable part of gardening. Weeding gets you down to the ground, diggingin the dirt, right along with your crops. It forces you to spend time with yourcrops and while you dont need to talk about your day with your eggplant (you

    can if you want), knowing your crops intimately will pay great rewards. Whenweeding around your plants, you see how they are growing, where the problemsare. You can see if any pests or diseases are getting a foothold and can deal withit before they take over. Singing to your plants may not make your tomatoessweeter, but spending time with your hands in the dirt will certainly help you tounderstand the needs of your crops.

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    Chapter Five

    Pests can be the death of your gardenliterally. A single pest infestation ordisease will wipe out your hard work, so understanding how these happen andwhat you can do to minimize their impacts are very important.

    When we talk about pests, we are usually talking about insects, although pestsreally include anything that tries to eat your veggies or the plants they grow on.(I guess you can also include humans with sticky fingers in this category. I do.)It isnt particularly important to know what all of the pests are for each plant asmuch as it is important to know how to get rid of them and, even better, how toprevent them from coming at all. I will not be going species by species todiscuss methods of dealing with pests as there are some practices that you canuse to deal with almost all pests. Besides, that would be boring and we arealready too far down that road.

    The first has to do with what and how you plant. For example, planting largeareas ofBrassica like broccoli and cauliflower, long bean, eggplant, or cucumberis inviting disaster. These crops are particularly attractive to things like aphidsand large areas of these crops in monospecific stands are easily sought out byhungry bugs. Intercropping these crops with non-susceptible crops, especiallyintercropping with fragrant herbs like basil or marigold can significantly lowerincidence of infestation. Aphids also love the warm season so trying to grow

    aphid magnets like broccoli during the summer is inviting disaster. Wait untilMarch or so to plant your broccoli. (There will be much more on this later.)

    How you harvest is also very important. Typically, a healthy plant is able to fendoff pests in small amounts. As crops mature and ripen the plant sort of gives upon that part and it becomes susceptible to infestation. Harvesting promptly notonly assures you the most delicious, ripe vegetables; it also helps you beat backthe beasts. When something is ripe, pick it, eat it, or give it away. With this in

    mind, removing crop waste promptly is also important. When leaves fall off orwhen a plant is done fruiting, remove the vegetation from your garden right away

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    and take it to the compost. Do not use your garden waste as mulch as this willserve as a site for pests.

    For pests that have made their way to your plants, despite your best efforts, thereare a couple of ways to control them without chemicals. Making a solution ofsoapy water and chili pepper (see Magic Aphid Spray recipe below) andspraying with a simple spray bottle does a pretty good job of killing and wardingoff aphids. Just be sure to re-apply after rain as it will wash right off. Anotherorganic pest control product is called neem oil, which you can spray onto yourcrops as well. Also, be very sure to remove all dead and dying leaves and fruitfrom your garden. Sick or dead plant parts are an easy way for the pests to get in.

    In places with more developed organic farming industries, there are a host of newchemicals that meet organic standards. I dont recommend many of these any

    more than petrochemicals, as in many cases it is just replacing one chemical withanother. Just because the chemical is derived from a living plant or a naturalproduct does not mean that it doesnt harm the environment less than one derivedfrom dead plants (petrochemicals). The organic label often only concerns itselfwith how long the plant has been dead from where the chemical comes.


    One of the best clues that you have aphids is the presence of large numbers ofants. Often when a gardener looks at a sad-looking plant, they will see antsrunning around all over. Naturally, the gardener assumes that the plant is beingeaten by the ants and that is why it is so sad. But, as one of the central tenants ofEcology states, correlation is not causation. Ants dont eat your plants (usually,leaf-cutter ants excluded); these ants are just farming aphids.

    Aphids are smallish yet visible insects that make their presence known by

    infecting the leaf-stem junctions and under the leaf. Where they have infected, itlooks like a white powdery substance, along with a dirty buildup around leafjunctions. The ants are there to keep the aphids in line and to provide someprotection. For their trouble the aphids give a little squirt of sugar to the antsfrom time to time. Everyone winsexcept you.

    Aphids can really be destructive if they are let go, so getting to them early isimportant. They infect tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash, cucumber,

    and all of the cabbage family of plants (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) readily so besure to check these plants regularly. Getting rid of aphids entirely wont happenorganically, but you can easily keep them from affecting your crops. The first

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    way is through brute force. If you have means of a hose, a good hard spray willget rid of that round of aphids for a couple of weeks. Repeat as needed and besure to check on the underside of leaves. Ladybeetles (aka ladybugs) arevoracious aphid eaters and can be purchased in the US. Not surprisingly, theyare not readily found in Fiji, but if you see them hanging around, let them be!They are on your side.

    Finally, you can spray a simple concoction onto your leaf junctions and under theleaf. The following mixture is quite effective in killing aphids and keeping themoff for a week or so:

    Magic Aphid Spray

    1 cup vegetable oil2 cups water

    2 tsp soap*optional: 4-5 finely chopped chili peppers.

    Mix all of these ingredients and let it sit for an hour or so. If you used thepeppers, strain with a fine strainer. If there are any pepper pieces in the pot,

    they will plug the plunger on the sprayer, ending its life. Mix the solution andpour it into a spray bottle. Spray onto your affected plants once over 2-5 days

    until they are gone. Repeat this if you see them again.

    Usually, a combination of the hose spray every week or so along with Magic

    Aphid Spray will do quite well to keep aphids away. If your spray is too potent,it may burn the leaves. If that happens, be sure to rinse off your plants 1 hourafter spraying.


    Nematodes are another scourge of gardening, especially in the tropics. Thesecritters are very small and while unrelated, resemble worms in the soil. They are

    parasites that live on the roots of plants and form knots on the roots called galls.They go after a broad range of crops so their avoidance is difficult. Luckily,there are many species of nematode and many nematode species affect onlyspecific crops. That means that proper crop rotation can keep nematodes at bay.

    Nematodes are most severe in sandy soils and are a problem for bele, cassava,Chinese cabbage, dalo, eggplant, kumala, okra, passion fruit, sweet peppers, rice,sugarcane, sweet corn, tomato, and watermelon. In the most extreme cases of

    nematode infestation, leaving a plot fallow, or empty of crops, for 6 months to 1year may be the only option. Some weeds are even nematode hosts, so if you

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    have to leave a plot fallow for nematodes, you should keep it clean of weeds aswell.

    Finally, for reasons not quite understood, using compost in garden soil has beenshown to lower incidence of nematodes. This is a theme. COMPOST! For moreinformation on composting, skip ahead to the chapter on Composting andMulching.

    Plant diseases are basically just pest infestations that you cant see. Diseases of

    plants include infection by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Once again, there arespecific diseases for specific crops, but practicing some good crop rotation andcomposting can minimize almost all of them. Using resistant varieties selectedfor the tropics is a good way to prevent diseases.

    Prompt disposal of crop waste is very important as leaving that waste in thegarden provides a wonderful breeding ground for disease. Pulling sick-lookingplants quickly is also good practice to head off the disease before it can spread toother plants. Since pests are often carriers of disease, keeping your crops pest-free is another way to keep your crops disease-free. And for the 20th time,practicing crop rotation will keep your garden one step ahead of diseases.

    Finally, if the pests are getting the better of you, and you are about to quit, it may

    be worthwhile to read Appendix 2 on non-organic pesticides.

    Making a fence of bush poles or, better yet, a living fence of corn or bele will

    do a great job of keeping out grazers, human and otherwise.

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    Chapter Six


    OK, now it is almost time to start planning your garden and getting things intothe ground. Before doing so, you will need some basic tools and a few otherodds and ends, some of which are more important than others. The things thatyou cant really do without are the following:

    1.Spade: This is really just a shovel but it is usually long and skinny.Perfectly serviceable spades can be as inexpensive as $15 and as much as$100. You get what you pay for at a hardware store.

    2.Small Garden Shovel: These are those little garden shovels that look likea trowel. You will use this all of the time for weeding and planting. Youcan spend $5 on one that you will have to replace in a month or two or youcan spend $15 on one that will outlive you. Err towards the upper end ofthese and you will be much happier.

    3.Bucket(s): Good for moving dirt, compost, or water, these are a goodfriend. More importantly, the small plastic ones can be found for as little as$2. Get a few.

    4.Starter pots: The small, collapsible, plastic pots are just fine and verycheap. The smallest cost about 10 each and the larger ones not much more.You can get these in packs at any store that sells gardening supplies.Alternatively you can poke holes in the bottom of just about anything, likeold cans or cups, and use it as a starter.

    There are a couple of things that will really help you out and provide someefficiency but are certainly not mandatory:

    1.Digging Fork: Most Fijians will tell you that this is mandatory, but youcan do just about anything with a spade. That being said, they are reallyhelpful in turning and loosening soil and in turning compost. In places

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    where the soil is hard, a digging fork will need to move up to the list ofthings you cant do without.

    2.Hose: You wouldnt think that you would need a hose in Fiji, but droughtshappen and anything more than a few days without rain necessitateswatering. A hose can really help, but one can make do with a bucket and acan with holes in the bottom as well. A hose with an adjustable nozzle canalso be a great pest-fighting device. If aphids are a problem, a sharp streamfrom the hose is a great way to keep them in check.


    Not all seeds area created equal, lets be clear about that up front. The cheapestseeds are those that come in little, colorful packages such as Yates brand that you

    can find in many hardware stores and supermarkets. These seeds are cultivatedin Australia and New Zealand and, as a rule, are really meant for more temperateclimates than you find in Fiji. Planting these in Fiji is a bit of a roll of the dice;some will work out just fine, many will not. I would recommend using theseseeds as experiments to see if you can get your favorite variety from home togrow here. If something is unavailable in a local cultivar that you want, give it ago and let me know if it works!

    The best seeds to plant in Fiji are those that have been cultivated for tropicalclimates. The Ministry of Agriculture offices often have the more common seedslike cabbage, tomatoes, and eggplant available in its regional offices. This is hitand miss as they are more often out of what you may be looking for, but sincethey are free, it is at least worth asking.

    The Ministry recommends, as do I, that you get your seeds from Hop Tiy in Suva.While I dont like to recommend one particular vendor, in this case, there is only

    one. Hop Tiy has cornered the market on seeds and many gardening supplies inFiji and you will do yourself a favor by heading straight there for most of yourgardening needs. The seeds that are specifically bred for tropical climates ingeneraland sometimes Fiji specificallyare kept in the back behind thecounter. The seeds packets have more seeds than you will need unless you areplanting a very large area so it is best to share. These are a little more expensivethan the cheap seeds packets, but you get what you pay for.

    A third option will save you money and ensure that you are planting varieties thatwill succeed in Fiji. It involves getting your own seeds from locally producedvegetables. Here is how it works:

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    1. Go to your local vegetable market and buy ripe fruit and veggies that youwant to plant.

    2.When using these for cooking, remove the seeds.3.Put the seeds in a bowl of water. Compost those that float. Those that sink

    are more likely viable seeds.

    4.Wash the viable seeds and dry them in the sun on some newspaper.5.Plant away!

    I like this option because if you are eating the fruit or vegetable, it means thatyou know it is a successful variety. It comes with a guarantee of success, youcant beat the price, and you get to eat before you plant. The only problem withthis is if the vegetable was a hybrid. In that case, the seeds will be sterile andnothing will happen when you plant them. If that is the case, try something else!

    Where to Plant

    For backyard gardening, how you plan your garden is often a matter of puttingyour beds together jigsaw-style in and among the existing landscaping. Taking

    a few minutes to plan out your gardening beds will go a long ways towardmaking sure that you are not wasting your time.

    The first thing to look at is your soil. If you managed to read Chapter 2, you arean expert on soil types now. The problem is that the soil by your house is what itis and at the beginning, you just want to plant in it. The best indicator of healthysoil without getting too dirty is to see where the grass and weeds are growing thehealthiest. It may be tempting to start your garden in that lonely spot where there

    isnt anything growing thinking that will be much easier. Think about itthereis a reason that nothing is growing there. Dont, for a minute, think that you are

    smarter than a blade of grass when it comes to soil health. Almost any soil canbe helped with additions of compost, ash, and/or sand or soil brought in fromother areas so even if your soil isnt great now, you can make it great. That beingsaid, starting with healthy soil will save you some sweat.

    In seeking the place for your perfect plot, look for a flat area, preferably close to

    your house. If you have to plant on a slope, plan to place the beds across theslope, not up and down to reduce the effects of erosion. It is always a good idea

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    to plant your garden in an area where you can see it, the better to chase away pigs,chickens, dogs, and a certain species of primate with sticky fingers.

    You will want to plant on the north side of your house or other large structure,for reasons that arent automatically apparent. Since Fiji is south of the equator,the sun shines from a more northerly direction, as it moves from east to west forthe majority of the season. Since almost all of the garden crops require or at leasttolerate full sun, planting on the north side in the southern hemisphere is the bestbet. (In the warmer months, the sun passes over head and for a few monthscomes at Fiji from the south, but in those months, you will be doing your best tolessen the sun exposure on your crops.)

    If you plant on the south side, at least some of your garden will lie in the shade.Take a day to watch the sun and shade on your yard to see where the shade is, but

    remember that the shade will be longest around the months of May-July when thesun is at its furthest north.

    Planting on the south side of a house or large structure (in the Southern

    Hemisphere) will mean that your garden is in the shade. Try to plant the

    majority of your garden on the northern side. This is reversed in the

    Northern Hemisphere where planting on the south side is best.

    Raised Beds: No longer just for those possessed

    The idea behind a raised bed is that you create a permanent plot of loose soilwhere you will never walk and only plant. In this way, you can concentrate your

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    weeding efforts and compost placement only where your veggies will mostbenefit. It also minimizes the compaction of the soil since you will never walkon it, keeping the soil aerated. Finally, by elevating it slightly, you allow the plotroom to drain so that if something is going to get waterlogged, it will be thelower areas around your plot.

    In order to raise a bed in the US, usually one goes to Home Depot and buys a lotof pressure treated timber, galvanized screws, weed excluder, and soil. There arereasons for doing this in a cooler climate having to do with faster heating of thebeds, but lack of heat isnt an issue here. Here is a secret: in Fiji, you dont needto buy anything to make your beds.

    Beds should be approximately 1.5 meters wide and as long as you need. Thereason for the specific width is that you want your plot to be no wider than you

    can reach halfway across. This will allow you to reach that weed in the middleof the plot from one side or the other without having to step on your wonderfullyloosened soil. Plan on separating your plots by a path wide enough for you tokneel in and work comfortably, usually something like 0.5m. For reasons whichwill be explained more fully later concerning crop rotation, plan on making atleast 5 separate plots of 1.5m wide and 1.510m long.

    In order to raise your bed, you need only a shovel and a digging fork if youve

    got one. Once you have identified where you will plant, plan where each of yourplots and paths will go, being sure that each plot is fully surrounded by pathways.I like to stake this out at the outset so that I can get a visual as to whereeverything will be, adjusting it when I realize that I have blocked a door to myhouse or that there is a laundry line running through one of my plots.

    Then it is time to dig. Turn the soil in the entire area, both where the plots andthe paths will be, using the digging fork or shovel. Be sure to break up all of the

    large clumps and the grass roots. Getting as many of the grass roots as you canget out of the soil at this point will pay large dividends in not having futureweeds. That being said, however much you sweat at this task, you will not getthem allits OK, you will need something to do later.

    Once you have loosened and turned all of the soil in your plot(s), shovel thetopsoil from your paths and put that soil onto your plot. This will both lower thepath and raise the plot. Voila! You now have a raised bed. Be sure not to

    overdo this. Your bed should be about 10-15cm higher than the path at this point.As you walk on the path, it will pack out and end up being lower. If your plot

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    ends up being much higher than your path, erosion will fix the problem for youwhen it rains.

    Walk the path a few times to pack it down and then cover the path with a deeplayer of any dried plant material you can find such as grass clippings or leaves.This will keep the weeds at bay in your paths. If you will be adding compost,sand, or other soil to your plot, do so now and then flatten the plot with the backof your shovel or your hands (but do not pack down the soil)

    You will be happy when this part is over since it is the bulk of the manual labor.But now you can take a step back and enjoy the skeleton of what will be yourgarden.

    Two beds surrounded by paths make sure that there is easy access to your

    beds and keep weeds at by. A thick layer of mulch in the pathways will go

    far in keeping weeds out.

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    Chapter Seven

    Is this the worst song ever? Perhaps, but I like the idea.

    In gardening, there are basically three ways in which you can get somethinggrowing: vegetative propagation, direct sowing, or transplanting. The first,vegetative propagation is the most common in traditional Fijian agriculturemaking use of cuttings. The other two, direct sowing and transplanting use seedsand are more common in European vegetables. It means that Fijians will beexperts in the former and stand around scratching their heads, wondering whatthe crazy kaivulagi is doing when you break out the seeds.

    Vegetative Propagation:

    This fancy phrase simply means planting by use of cutting (reproduction bymeans of the vegetable material, not the seed). It is essentially cloning since theoffspring will be genetically identical to the parent from which you take thecutting. This is how the vast majority of Fijian agriculture is accomplished: taro,cassava, bele, bananas, and most ornamental plants are all grown vegetatively.

    The method is simple. In the case of bele or cassava, cut a piece of stem about50cm long and stick it in the ground about 20cm deep with the bottom end down.For bele, it is best to cut the growing tip since it will grow the fastest, but anypart of the stem will work. In the case of cassava, planting sections from the baseof the long stem will give the best results. These will look like they are dead

    when you plant them but after 1-2 weeks, small leaves will start to grow. Ifnothing is happening after 2 weeks, you might want to try again.

    Plants like taro and bananas propagate by producing suckers, or clones from theroot stock. When the suckers grow from the base, you can just remove those bypulling or digging and then plant them in another area. It is best to cut off anyleaves at this point since they will most likely die anyway. When planting taro,dig a hole deep enough to bury at least half of the stem. For bananas, just make

    sure that all of the roots are covered.

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    Direct Sowing:

    Sowing directly is simply putting the seed into the ground and watching it grow.It isnt immediately obvious which plants do best by sowing directly and whichshould be started in pots or seedbeds and transplanted. I have a rule of thumbthat works pretty well. If a plant is something that is planted and then harvestedin full, I like to sow it directly. This includes things like Chinese cabbage (bokchoy), radish, lettuce, dhania (cilantro), carrot. Exceptions to this are membersof the cucumber family, which produce many fruit but which should be sowndirectly as well.

    For these veggies, each seed produces one vegetable that will be harvested bypulling the entire plant out. There are some plants, such as carrot, that do verypoorly when transplanted and should only be sown directly. I also sow directly

    beans and okra since they are easy to grow, even though they produce many fruitper plant. In following chapters, there are details about how to sow each of these.

    1. Prepare your plot by mixing in a good amount of compost if you have it.2.After mixing in your compost, flatten the plot, cover it with mulch, and

    soak for about a week.3.When you are ready to plant, remove the mulch and dig a shallow line

    according to the depth requirements of that vegetable with a stick across the

    plot. (You can find those requirements later in this book in the sections oneach vegetable or on the back of some seed packs.) It may be a good ideato mark this line at the end of the row with an upright stick so that youknow where your row is before the seeds sprout.

    4.Plant each row according to spacing requirements, and then cover the seedswith soil.

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    A garden shovel is great for digging a trench to direct sow but a stick can be

    just as useful. Be sure to check the ideal seed depth on the seed packet or in

    this book in the chapters on specific crops.

    After watering thoroughly, it is a good idea to cover the plot with coconut orbanana leaves until the seeds emerge to protect from sunshine or heavy rain.Remove the leaves as soon as the sprouts emerge, usually between 2 days and 2weeks. Adding mulch between the rows will also do a nice job of reducingerosion and adding nutrients to the soil.


    As opposed to direct sowing, in transplanting, the seed will be sown either in apot or a seedbed and then later transplanted when they are hardened to your plot.The rule of thumb here is to transplant vegetables that will produce many fruitover the course of its life. This would include tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum(bell pepper). (Cucumbers would fall into this category but do not do well after

    transplanting so should be sown directly.)

    To be clear, none of these require that they be started and then transplanted. Allcan be directly sown. It is just that starting these in seedbeds or in plots givesyou a little more control over the germination, watering, and sun of these plantsthat you do not have if they are sown directly. In this way, you can baby themalong a little while they grow a thicker skin. Once they have a decent rootstructure and enough leaves to survive, they can be transplanted into the plot.

    Since these starts can take up to a month before they are ready to transplant,getting these started is the first thing that I do when starting a new garden. They

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    can be growing while I am preparing my plots, which can take some time. Themethod is simple enough. Fill small starter pots (or any container that has smallholes in the bottom for drainage) with the best soil that you can find. Youshould also try to use soil that isnt full of weed seeds. Compost is the best, butat the outset, you may not have that option. If you are able to purchase a bag ofpotting soil, that is great. Otherwise, there is plenty of good soil around. Undertrees is the best since there are relatively few weed seeds there.

    Plant the seeds according to their appropriate seed depth and keep them wateredso that the soil is moist. I like to plant 3-4 seeds per pot and then thin to 1-2plants later. Place the starts in a place that gets some sun and some shade so thatthey dont get baked by the sun. It is also nice to put all of your starts on amoveable tray that you can move in and out of the sun or rain as you desire.

    Starts can be put into just about anything but plastic bag starter pots

    work great, are readily available, and are cheap. Using old tin cans is even

    cheaper and saves you from figuring out what to do with a used tin can.

    Knowing when to transplant the starts to your plot is a little like reading thestarsa very inexact science. It is best to transplant when the stem has become abit more rigid and the plant has 3-4 true leaves. This can be in as short as a fewweeks and as long as a month.

    1. First, prepare the plot by mixing in compost and flattening the soil.2.About an hour before transplanting, water the start thoroughly and let it sit.3.Try to pack the soil of the start as much as possible.4.Dig a hole where the start will go.5. In a motion that can only be learned by experience, upend the start so that

    the start and the soil come out as one piece and deftly place all of the soil in

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    the hole without damaging the plant or allowing the soil to crumble. It isbest not to try to separate plants that were grown in the same pot as theirroots will have intertwined. Plant the entire pot and then thin as needed.

    6.Fill in the hole with soil and then water thoroughly.7.Placing mulch around the base of the new plant will do wonders for water

    retention in the soil.

    An alternative to using starter pots is to use a seedbed which can either be mobileor not. The idea of a seedbed is to make a miniature plot where the seeds will beplanted much more closely together than they will be at maturity. A portableseedbed made of wood about 50cm square and a few inches deep is nice in that itcan be moved in and out of the sun and can be covered with clear plastic in therainy season.

    A seedbed can also just be a small section of your garden that isnt in directsunlight. Transplant according to the same instructions above, only withseedbeds, you will need to carefully dig up and remove each seedling. You dontneed to move any soil with the seedling but take extra care to not damage theroots. This is done by loosening the soil below the seedlings with a stick orgarden shovel and then lightly pulling the seedling out. Plant the seedling so thatthe first leaf node is above the soil. This method works much better if you planto plant large areas of a vegetable like capsicum, tomato, or eggplant. Making a

    little shade structure for your seedbed is a will keep the sun and hard rain fromkilling your seedlings.

    A shade structure made of bamboo supports cut to a point or bush timber

    with a trimmed Y branch cradle the horizontal poles and covered with

    coconut or banana leaves keeps out sun and hard rain.

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    Gardening in the tropics has its blessings, and one of those is water. Sometimesit is too much water, but usually, it is the perfect amount. For that reason,irrigation is not nearly as important as it would be in more temperate areas. I amincluding irrigation here because it is during the early stages of development ofplants that they are the most sensitive to heat and drought. As plants mature,their root systems are advanced enough to find water even if it has not rained insome time, but at the beginning, your seedlings may need some help. Duringgermination and initial growth, the soil should always be slightly damp. If ithasnt rained in a few days, some help may be required. This can be from a hose

    or for small jobs, a bucket of water and an old can with holes poked in the bottomworks great.

    A bucket, such as an old breakfast cracker bucket, and a tin can make a

    great irrigation duo. Poke a number of holes in the bottom of the tin can,

    dip it into a bucket full of water and there you have a gentle spray nozzle.Used cans are cheap so you can experiment with the number of holes and

    the size of them.

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    Chapter Eight

    A trellis is something that provides a climbing surface for your garden. This canbe a ready made trellis, something you make or even the side of your house.Basically, trellising adds a third dimension to your garden by allowing yourvegetables to grow up, while also adding an artsy touch to your garden area.

    The reasons for trellising your vegetables are numerous. Primarily, there aresome plants that will grow much better with a trellis. Climbing and pole beans

    will yield much more if provided the right climbing surface. The same goes forcucumbers and tomatoes.

    An equally important reason for trellising is limited space. Some plants likecucumber and some beans will do fine running around on the ground, but theytake up a lot of space to do so. Having them climb straight up will both increaseyield and free up that space on the ground to plant even more densely.

    Another benefit of a good trellis is that it gets the fruit and leaves off of theground, where pests and leaf diseases are more common. In the case of tomatoes,leaving the fruit to ripen on the ground will cause it to rot quickly on the vine.

    In order to know what kind of trellis is best for your plants, it is important toknow how that plant climbs. There are two ways that your vegetables will climb:either it will climb with growing tip and wrap the entire stem around the surface,or it will climb with the use of a tendril. In the first case, we refer to them as pole

    climbers as they will climb anything that is 15cm around or less. Pole beans arethe prime example in this case.

    In the second case, plants climb by use of a tendril. This is a small shoot that aclimbing plant throws off of its stem with the sole purpose of finding somethingto grab onto and attaching the vine to it. Cucumbers, some squashes, snap peasand some other beans climb this way. The major difference is that these climbersneed something 1cm around or less to grab onto. They will not climb up larger

    sticks or poles.

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    Most of the materials that you will need for trellising can be found locally suchas bamboo or other sticks or old hurricane mesh. A couple of other things likestring and nails are inexpensive and readily available but also come in handy.

    The simplest trellis is a 3- or 4-pole teepee, used for pole beans like pinto, black,or long bean. In this case, simply cut 2-3m long pieces of branch no more than15cm in diameter. Make a teepee out of them, tying the tops together with stringor wire. You can grow up to three plants per pole so planting four or five beansper pole and thinning later will guarantee three per pole.

    Once they start climbing, you can help them along by training them to the pole.This part is cool; in the Northern Hemisphere, you would do this by wrapping thebean clockwise, but thanks the Coriolus Effect, when south of the equator you dothis counterclockwise. It isnt just toilets and cyclones that follow the laws ofphysics anymore! As the plants grow, trimming the side shoots will cause theplant to concentrate its growing on the part that is trained onto the pole and willincrease yields.

    A 3-pole teepee-type of trellis works great for pole climbers.

    Making a string or wire trellis is another great way to grow vertically. These canbe used for any climbing plant, pole climbers or tendril growers. You can do thisby building a frame out of bush timber with poles 3-4m high that will sink into

    the soil on either side of the plot. Connecting the poles, attach a pole near thebottom of the poles perpendicular and one near the top. Then tie strings betweenthe two horizontal poles, spacing the strings according to your crop.

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    With pole beans, you can plant the beans every 4-5cm and place the strings every13cm, tying three plants per string. With cucumbers and tomatoes, it is best toplant one per string, 16-20cm apart. Once any of these start throwing side shoots,or suckers in the case of tomatoes, it is always a good idea to trim them off,always being sure to keep at least 1 growing tip.

    A pole and string or wire trellis works great for pole or tendril climbers.

    Using waste construction materials is always an option. Old hurricane mesh orchicken wire can be used by making an A-frame from two pieces leaning on eachother. Then simply plant beans or cucumbers at the base at the right spacing and


    Old hurricane mesh makes a great trellis for just about anything.

    Tomatoes are a little different. They certainly can be trained onto poles ortrellises, and in many ways will grow better that way, although that takes morework. At the very least, tomatoes need some sort of the support.

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    One method is to make tomato cages out of laundry wire or some other sturdywire. These cages use three concentric rings with increasing sizes as you moveup. The smallest ring will be closest to the soil. Connect these with three longpieces of wire running up and down, leaving 0.5m of pointed end on the bottomto sink into the ground. Place the cage so that the plant is in the middle and willgrow through the smallest ring first, then ultimately through the largest ring,which will support the plant as it fruits.

    For a larger area of tomatoes, building a frame out of bush timber will save youtime and resources. On the corners of the bed, drive timber supports into the soilwith a fork at the top. Run poles along the tops of these at 0.5-1 meter above theground. Run poles across as well, essentially caging in each tomato.

    These cages and frames can be used for a variety of vegetables if there is need to

    keep the fruit off the soil. Capsicum and eggplant can be helped by these if thebranches start to sink due to the weight of the fruit. You can do this on the cheapusing 3 sticks for the vertical supports and string for the concentric circles,although expect some maintenance on these.

    Trellising tomatoes, however, can result in higher yields as one is able to plant ata higher density. Plant the tomatoes to climb, one per string, every 16-20cmacross the bed. This is quite a bit closer than you can plant if one is not trellising.

    Trellising reduces the yield of each plant, but since it allows for increased density,the overall yield is higher. As the tomatoes grow, train them onto the trelliscounter-clockwise and trim off suckers as they form to concentrate the resourceson the one growing tip. Just be sure to always keep one growing tip on thetomato.

    Hanging Pots

    While hanging pots are not technically a trellis, many plants do very well in one.This has the all of the benefits of trellising with the added benefit of growingveggies where there is no soil at all. Tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum workvery well as do many others. There are many designs out there for how to do this,but the simple description is to put a hole in the bottom of the bucket or bucketsized bag, anchor the transplant so that it is growing out of the hole and upsidedown, then fill the bucket or bag with soil. Many plants can be surprisinglyproductive while defying gravity.

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    Chapter Nine

    If you have read this book straight through, you are now a gardening scholar andcan get your garden started. In the following chapters, you will find morespecific information about each of the vegetables that you may want to plant.

    But before we can do that and so that we can organize the crop types in a waythat can be very useful to crop planning, we need to discuss the concepts of croprotation as these concepts will be very important in how you plan your plots andwhat you plant where.

    Crop rotation is the practice of changing what you plant in a given spot in a wayto limit the needs for artificial fertilizers and herbicides. It was one of the centraltenants of the growing field of permaculture. Each crop type has a unique set of

    needs that it takes from the soil and a unique set of pests that attack it. In thecase of legumes (beans), rotating them onto a plot actually adds much-needednitrogen to the soil through the activities of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteriathat live in the root nodes of beans.

    For example, if you plant tomatoes on a plot, the first crop will most likely bequite healthy, the second, healthy enough and in subsequent planting, the yieldwill continue to decline, eventually succumbing to disease and pests. The

    reasons are that tomatoes require specific nutrients from the soil and withoutresting the soil, the soil will become exhausted. The second reason is that assoon as the tomato is in the ground, pests start attacking. It takes awhile for themto get a foothold and by the time that they do, you may be finishing off the last ofthe crop for gazpacho and salsa. Replanting tomatoes in that plot will be likemanna from heaven for those pests, which are now well-established. Now yourtomatoes have the double-whammy of a lack of nutrients and a lot of pests.

    The solution is to rotate a new crop with a different set of needs and pests on thatplot after the first crop. If you remember from Chapter 6, you read that youshould plan on planting five plots when planning your garden. Well, crop

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    rotation is the reason. There are five groups of plants that share the same basicsoil nutrient requirements and pests and can be treated as the same crop as far ascrop rotation goes. These groups are:

    Group 1: Crops susceptible to bacterial wilt (tomatoes, eggplant, etc)Group 2: Crops susceptible to cabbage moth (Bok choy, radish, etc)Group 3: Cucurbits (Squash, pumpkin, cucumber, etc)Group 4: Legumes (beans)Group 5: Everything else (root crops, bele, okra, carrot, etc)

    Therefore, when planting in your plots, you should be sure to plant only membersof the same group in the same plot, or if you mix it up in one plot, be sure to notplant anything from any of those groups in the next cycle. I will go into moredetail as to what crops are in what groups in later sections. For now, take a look

    at the example of a garden of 5 plots. In the plots you are growing:

    Plot 1: tomatoes and eggplant (Group 1)

    Plot 2: bok choy and broccoli (Group 2)

    Plot 3: cucumber and pumpkin (Group 3)

    Plot 4: pole beans (Group 4)

    Plot 5: carrots and cassava (Group 5)

    Once you have harvested your crop from this growing cycle, simply rotate whatyou grow on each plot. So, the next growing cycle will look something like this:

    Plot 1: carrots and cassava (Group 5)

    Plot 2: tomatoes and eggplant (Group 1)

    Plot 3: bok choy and broccoli (Group 2)

    Plot 4: cucumber and pumpkin (Group 3)

    Plot 5: pole beans (Group 4)

    It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security after ones first growing cycle.Typically, you have cleared an area that was not used for cultivation so the firstcrop will be a wonderful, pest-free crop. The logical thinking would gosomething like, Well, the cabbage did so well in this spot last year; Ill just do

    that again. Do not be fooled. Plant the same thing again at your crops peril.

    The bugs will thank you.

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    These are the major garden crops and their rotation groups. Plant all of

    your crops in the same group in the same plot. After that cycle, rotate which

    group you plant in which plot. Planting tomatoes after beans is the best

    thing that you can do for your tomatoes.

    Group 1

    Bacterial Wilt

    Group 2

    Cabbage Moth

    Group 3


    Group 4


    Group 5

    OthersTomatoEggplantCapsicumChili pepperPotatoPeanutCowpea

    Chinese cabbageEnglish cabbageTurnipBroccoliCauliflowerRadishBeets

    CucumberWatermelonPumpkinSquashRock melon

    Common beanMexican beansFrench beanPeasLong beanPigeon peaWinged bean


    OnionLettuceMaizeYamCassavaSweet Potato

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    Chapter Ten

    Tomato EggplantCapsicum Chili pepperPotato Peanut

    CowpeaGroup 1 largely includes the crops of the Solanaceous family in addition topeanuts and black-eyed peas. Members of the Solanaceous family are also callednightshades and include tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers. These arenotorious gobblers of nitrogen in the soil so planting after nitrogen-fixinglegumes is always a good idea and will increase yield.

    The biggest pests in this group are bacteria that go by the name ofPseudomonassolanacearum. This little bacterium alone wiped out the potato industry of theSigatoka Valley in the 1960s and has caused more localized damage to capsicumand tomato crops. It lives in the soil where it can enter the plant through the rootsystem causing a disease called bacterial wilt. This is made much easier if theroots are damaged during transplanting, making it very important to take extracare when transplanting members of this group.

    Once in the plant, the bacteria attack the leaves and stem and cause the leaves towilt and eventually die. One good way to check if your dead plant was infectedis to cut a section of lower stem and place it in the water. Infected plants willooze a creamy fluid. This bacterium is much more active in the hot, wet seasonand can be minimized through pulling infected plants immediately, plantingresistant varieties and always rotating crops.

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    Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)Fijian: tomata Hindi: tomatar

    Lets be honestthe whole reason many would be planting a garden is to havehome-grown tomatoes. What the world did without tomatoes is a mystery to me.Originally from South America, it wasnt cultivated there possibly due to its

    similarity to poisonous wild tomatoes. Taken to what is now Mexico, it waswidely cultivated there. In the early colonial period, it was mostly just used as atable decoration in and around Florence in Italy. I would like to shake the handof whoever accidentally knocked the decorations onto the pasta. It was Thomas

    Jefferson who, after creating a country, tasted tomatoes in Paris and then broughtthem back to the US. He was truly a visionary.

    Nutritional Value: Source of Potassium, Calcium, Sodium, fiber and proteinRecommended varieties: F-1 Hybrid Tomato Raising Sun No. 1 is a good anyseason. Commercial varieties like Moneymaker and Beefsteak can work in-season but are not really selected for tropics.Recommended season: Perform best in the cool season from MayOctober

    but can be grown year round with some attention.Cultivation: Start in seedbeds or small starter pots. Transplant 30-40 days aftersowing when the stem hardens.Planting depth: 5mmGermination time: 6-10 daysSpacing: Transplant into rows 60cm apart, 50 cm between plantsHarvest: 10-12 weeks after transplanting, 5 weeks of pickingProblems: Blossom-end rot is a result of a lack of calcium. Head this off by

    adding a small amount of lime or crushed up eggshells when you plant. Fruitcracking is a result of too much water. In the wet season, it may be necessary tocove with clear plastic. Sunscald can result from exposure of the fruit to sun. Itcauses light-colored soft spots and can be reduced by not trimming vegetation toallow fruit to mature in the shade of it leaves.

    Tomato fruitworm (Halicoverpa zea) can attack mature fruit in its caterpillarstage. This can be controlled with trap crops like corn or lima beans, which the

    moth prefers to lay on. Sprays of soap, chili pepper, and water can also beeffective. Spinosad is a natural bacterial spray withthat will organically kill thecaterpillar, however it is not readily available in Fiji.

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    Eggplant (Aubergine) (Solanum melongena)Fijian: baigani Hindi: baigan

    Eggplant is native to south and Southeast Asia. Unlike most garden crops,eggplant has the benefit of having evolved in the tropics, which means that itdoes much better in Fijian gardens than many crops and can be grown year round.It also means that there are many varieties to choose from. Interestingly enough,eggplant has the highest concentration of nicotine but, before you try to smoke aneggplant, with a concentration of 0.01mg, it is a fraction of what is found in

    tobacco or even from what you get from second-hand smoke. Many varieties ofeggplant will survive the wet season and can yield for multiple years if trimmedproperly.

    Nutritional Value: Vitamin C, fiberRecommended varieties: Chahat, Sigatoka Beauty, Black Beauty (less resistant),local long purple (resistant to everything)Recommended season: Year round but does best planted December-March

    Cultivation: Start in seedbeds or starter pots, transplant after 28-32 daysPlanting depth: 6mmGermination time: 6-10 daysSpacing: Transplant into rows 50cm apart, 50cm between plantsHarvest: 60-90 days after planting, continues for 6 months2 years. Prune to height after 6 months for continual crop. Remove when diseased.Problems: Control bacterial wilt with crop rotation; remove at sign of infectionby nematodes.

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    Capsicum (Bell pepper) (Capsicum annum)Fijian: Boro Hindi: Mirchaa

    Originally native to the Americas and found nowhere else, it became widely usedquickly after being discovered by Europeans in the 16th century. What makespeppers spicy is a compound called capsaicin, but bell peppers dont actually

    have any if it in them, making them sweet. They will produce fruit year roundbut it is very difficult to get them established in the hot and wet season.

    Nutritional Value: Very high in Vitamin C

    Recommended varieties: Yolo Wonder B, Hybrid Ace, Summer Bell, Blue StarRecommended season: Best planted April - SeptemberCultivation: Sow in seedbeds or starter pots, transplant after 6 weeksPlanting depth: 5mmGermination time: 6-10 daysSpacing: Transplant into rows 45cm apart, 45cm between plantsHarvest: 8-10 weeks after planting, harvest before fruit turns red to avoid birdtheft. Cut with scissors or a knife to avoid damaging plant at harvest

    Problems: Bacterial wilt avoided through crop rotation. Remove diseased plantsimmediately.

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    Chili Pepper (Capsicum sp.)Fijian: rokete Hindi: Mirchaa

    The word chili is a Nahuatl word, indicating Aztec origins. Spiciness in a chili iscaused by the compound capsaicin which is concentrated in the seed. Morecapsaicin makes for a hotter chili. The hottest chili pepper is the Naga Jolokiafrom northeastern India, at over 1,000,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). Jalapeosmeasure about 4,000 SHU and Habaeros at 300,000 SHU. Birds, amazingly,have no capsaicin receptors so are unaffected by the heat and happily munchaway at even the hottest chili peppers.

    This compound is different then piperine, which gives pepper spice its heat.Pepper spray is actually concentrated capsaicin. To give it a try, cut up somechilies and then rub your eyes. The chili pepper is actually a number of differentspecies including:

    Capsicum annum: Many common varieties such as Bell peppers, Wax, Cayenne,Jalapeos, and the Chiltepin

    Capsicum frutescens: Tabasco and Thai peppersCapsicum chinense: Naga, Habaero, Datil and Scotch bonnet (hottest peppers)Capsicum pubescens: South American Rocoto peppersCapsicum baccatum: South American Aji peppers

    These can be planted year round but, somewhat uniquely, perform best in the hot,wet season.

    Nutritional Value:High in fiber, source of Vitamin A and C, Riboflavin, andNiacin

    Recommended varieties: AnyRecommended season: Any time but best to plant September - FebruaryCultivation: Sow in seedbeds or starter pots, transplant after 6 weeksPlanting depth: 5mmGermination time: 5-8 daysSpacing: Transplant into rows 1m apart, 30cm between plantsHarvest: Fruits appear 3-4 months after planting for 1 yearProblems: Stem Rot can be controlled by pulling diseased plants immediatelyand good crop rotation

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    Potato (Solanum tuberosum)Fijian: patata, vatata Hindi: alu

    Like most of the crops in this section, the potato comes from the Americas, mostspecifically from South America. The potato is native to Peru and there arethousands of varieties that are still grown throughout the Andes. A singlehousehold often grows as many as a dozen varieties and like maize in NorthAmerica and wheat in Asia, the potato provided the energy to create the Incancivilization. A single acre of potato and the milk from 1 cow was enough to feedan entire Irish family an extremely monotonous but adequate diet.

    The potato got a bad rap for causing blindness in moonshine operations, but toput that to rest, the problem was using old automotive radiators as condensers,not the potato. The Sigatoka Valley used to be a major center for potatocultivation in Fiji but after a bacterial wilt epidemic, the crop is no longer grownin large amounts.

    Nutritional Value: High in Fiber, Potassium, Vitamins C, A, and B12.Recommended varieties: Sequoia, Domoni, Red Pontiac, Serrana, Dalisay,SebagoRecommended season: Plant MayJune as does best in the cool seasonCultivation: Cut potato into sections with 2-4 eyes per piece. Dry the cut piecesor dust with wood ash and plant directly.Planting depth: 20-30cm deepGermination time: 10 days after sowingSpacing: Plant in rows 25cm apart, 25cm between plantsHarvest: Three months after plantingProblems: Bacterial wilt avoided by crop rotation

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    Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea)Fijian: pinati Hindi: Mungphali

    The peanut is native to South and Central America and is known by many namesaround the world such as earthnuts, groundnuts, goober peas, monkey nuts,pygmy nuts, and pig nuts. Whatever you call them, no baseball game listened toonline with a shabby internet connection is complete without them! A number offamine relief agencies use a high-protein, high-energy peanut-based paste calledPlumpy Nut or Medika Mamba as a therapeutic food aid in disaster relief and formalnourished children the world over.

    There is a lot of energy packed in a peanut, which is why Rudolf Diesel ran hisfirst engine that still bears his name on peanut oil. George Washington Carverreportedly invented 300 uses for peanuts and amazingly, one of them was notpeanut butter (but did include roasted, salted peanuts most likely for baseballgames). Peanuts have a unique growing pattern in that after pollination of theflower, the flower stalk elongates and dives into the soil where the peanut fruitdevelops.

    Nutritional Value: Source of B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, Iron, Zinc, andCalcium.Recommended varieties: Local Spanish, Vishaal, VolasigaRecommended season: Best planted February - OctoberCultivation: Raw, unboiled peanuts can be purchased from the markets. Shellthe peanut but leave the reddish seed coat. Sow directly.Planting depth: 30mm deepGermination time: 6-7 daysSpacing: Sow directly into rows 30cm apart, 8cm between plantsHarvest: After flowers are fertilized, build up sandy soil on either side of the

    plant. Harvest 15-18 weeks after sowing.Problems: Leaf spot and bacterial wilt can both be avoided by planting cleanseeds and following crop rotation practices.

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    Cowpea (Black-eyed pea) (Vigna unguiculata)Fijian: Bini Hindi: Boraa

    The cowpea is originally native to India, making it the only crop in Group 1 notnative to the Americas. Dating back to the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, eatingblack-eyed peas, along with gourd, leeks, spinach, beets, and dates on NewYears is said to bring good luck. However, this appears to be a mistranslation of

    the Hebrew word for fenugreek, rubiya, with the Arabic word for black-eyedpeas, lubiya, the error clearly accounting for a few thousand years of Jewish badluck. In addition to using the beans in soups and dhal, the leaves can be used as a

    green, and the immature seeds in curries.

    Nutritional Value: Source of B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, Iron, Zinc, andCalciumRecommended varieties: Mana, Rachna, Shikar, IvoryRecommended season: Plant year roundCultivation: Sow 2 seeds directly using dry seeds from the market. Trainclimbers onto stakes or poles 1.5-2m high.

    Planting depth: 25mmGermination time: 4-6 days after sowingSpacing: Plant in rows 65cm apart, 20cm between plants or 3 per pole on ateepee pole trellis.Harvest: Remove green pod 55-70 days or dry seed 80-90 days after plantingProblems: Cercospora leaf spot and bacterial wilt can be controlled by usingclean seed and proper crop rotation.

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    Chapter Eleven

    Chinese cabbageEnglish cabbage



    Crops in Group 2 are mostly members of the Brassica family and are categorizedby their sensitivity to infestation by cabbage moth. The cabbage moth larvae arethe culprit and a caterpillar infestation can happen very quickly. Planting Group

    2 crops more