Our Watermelon Harvest
Report written by International Intern, Brianna Stoyle
Every Friday, about 25 students from Kileva Primary School, which shares a plot of land with the Elephants and Bees Research Center, gather together for a weekly Farm Club. In April of this year, the permaculture garden at Kileva Primary School underwent an exciting renovation, featuring a new design, outdoor classroom, and new pilot crops, consistent with principles of Conservation Agriculture and permaculture. Finally, on July 21st, the Kileva Farm Club enjoyed some of the fruits of their labor!
The new crops in the Kileva garden were all selected for very specific reasons. Under the principles of Conservation Agriculture and permaculture, limited resources are used with the climate and soil composition of an area in mind to produce as much yield as possible, both efficiently and sustainably. In our area of Sagalla, we believe that by organically planting crops that have high nutritional benefits, are drought resistant, are unpalatable to elephants and attractive to bees, and by taking good care of these crops, both hunger and food insecurity can be addressed simultaneously. At the Kileva permaculture garden, the food grown goes toward boosting the nutrition of school lunches, which currently consist largely of maize and beans.
At Kileva, in order to produce an elephant-friendly, sustainable model of conservation agriculture, we aimed to plant crops that were unpalatable to elephants, palatable to bees, and had a high nutritional yield, while being appropriate for the soil type and arid climate. Among the crops selected were sukuma (kale), spinach, cowpeas, and sugar watermelons.
Watermelons were chosen in particular for their tolerance of both the high temperatures and constant sunshine in the area and the fairly acidic soil that dominates the Kileva garden. Their deep roots are useful in drawing moisture and nutrients up to crops with more shallow roots, and their large leaves act as a cover crop to protect the surrounding soil from direct sun and weed growth. Watermelons are also excellent bee fodder, attracting pollinators to the garden. In addition to all of this, watermelons are also high in numerous vitamins, including vitmin A, C, and B6, as well as finer, antioxidants, lycopene, and beta-carotene. With all of these benefits, it was a no-brainer for our garden!
At our weekly Farm Club session, students learn gardening techniques such as how to make compost, the benefits planting alternative, unpalatable and diversified crops, the nutritional benefits of these crops, and the importance of conservation agriculture as a practice. The students have participated in the planting, watering, weeding, and maintenance of their crops, and have enthusiastically taken real ownership over their garden. About three months after planting, nurtured with the love and care of the students as well as our dedicated garden caretakers, Jacinta and resident permaculture expert Paul, our watermelons were finally ready to harvest! Children gathered in the garden on a beautiful, sunny Friday to pick, slice, and share the fruit. While it was a modest haul, the refreshing treat was enjoyed by all!
All of us at the Kileva Farm Club look towards improving our practices further to produce more successful harvests that will suplement the nutrition of the students’ lunches while modeling a sustainable, organic, elephant-friendly, bee-friendly way of farming.