I have kind of a biggish space to work with in the current house we are renting. I have had more and I have had less space, including one rental where about 90% of the outside space had been cemented over to avoid mud. Different mentality than mine.
There are four or five things that I think I have learned from my context.
Tire gardens are incredible for a number of reasons, but I think the big one is that we can create the very best soil in small units, 6-8" deep, rather than trying to improve the top 2-3" over a large space. Also, since we have lived in three different rentals in three years, tire gardens are nice because I can move my food.
Everywhere I have lived I have had access to African red worms. They rock. They help me create micro-ecological systems in the tires and in the sometimes limited yard soil I have. Among other things, they help keep me focused on moving my kitchen waste into the system. I have rarely had much animal manure to feed them. However, feeding them kitchen waste directly does not work. I rot the kitchen waste mixed with sawdust and tree leaves, and, even more importantly, banana waste.
That leads me to my third love in tropical gardening. Bananas and plantains of all varieties. My understanding is that they do not fix nitrogen. Nevertheless, given enough moisture, bananas produce so much extra biomass, that it seems like they can renew soils on their own. Just a few of them seem to be able to provide all of the mulch we need for the vegetable tires and to keep the African redworms chilled out in their tires.
So, vegetable tires, African redworms and bananas, for one heck of multiple productive mini-ecosystems.
Now for the disclaimer. Most of the people with whom I have worked in Haiti have two major limitations in terms of yard gardens that I don’t have, but which are likely to exist in a context of a refugee camp in addition to many many rural and urban settings.
One, people rarely have abundant sources of water. So one thing I would love to find out from you, Matt, is the best possible vegetable tire system that maximizes every drop of water, without requiring any input except what someone in urban or rural Haiti could find for free.
The other limitation is social rather than technical, I believe. I have never worked with any family doing yard gardening that did not have problems with their own or their neighbors’ animals, and the chickens in particular. A refugee camp seems like it would present the epitome of having little or no control over your neighbor’s impact on your space. You probably cannot figure that out on your own in ECHO, Matt, but keep it in mind as you communicate with people. How can a family that wants to garden protect their plants without getting into disputes with their neighbors who are accustomed to free-ranging their chickens and other critical domestic animals?
Many blessings and I look forward to hearing about everything that you learn!!!