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Cuban Vegetable Growing Practices can Benefit your Allotments

Some differences between Cuban and British allotments

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe who have grown vegetables for a combined 120 years since the age of five including on mini plots, school vegetable gardens, allotment size vegetable gardens and eventually a 800 square metre allotment in Spain where they have lived for twenty years.

Cuban Vegetable Growing Allotment

Cuban Farmer

About five years ago they visited the island of Cuba where the collapse of the Soviet Union and US sanctions have forced the country into thinking outside of the conventional in their agriculture.

Background to a visit to Cuba

Dick started to grow vegetables by helping grandparents with their allotments in Leicester and Pirton and parents in West London during the second world war. He has therefore always recognised the important role of allotments in maintaining healthy diets in times of food shortages. Likewise Clodagh born after the war years.

So when they met up in Spain many decades later it was natural to started a productive allotment as described in their other articles on this site. Always on the alert for best practices they visited Cuba a few years ago to find out how the country had changed from importing most of its food to being self sufficient within a decade after the break up of their major supplier, the USSR.

They visited allotments outside villages, alongside factories, at schools and on roadsides as well as the equivalents in the courtyards of blocks of flats and on rooftops. This article presents some of their findings relevant to UK allotment holders .

Things that could to be done or done better

The most relevant ideas are summarised below.

  • See the allotment as the source of healthy food , not just food. Grow edible culinary/medicinal herbs and flowers as well as vegetables and soft fruits without chemical residues. Grow vegetables with high vitamin contents and other healthy benefits..
  • Grow ecologically, avoiding inorganic chemical products – fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides for which there are now good natural alternatives.
  • Avoid major insect and fungal problems by growing at more natural rates by reducing the amount of supplementary feeds and extent of watering. To achieve this feed the soil and not the plants .
  • Compost all vegetable and fruit waste from the kitchen , allotment and house garden in a compost heap and in a supplementary wormery. Worm compost is excellent for enriching raised beds as well as regular vegetable beds. Cuba had become the vermiculture experts of the world.
  • Collect as much horse, sheep, goat, cow, pigeon, rabbit , guinea pig , budgerigar and healthy chicken manure as you can and add some into the compost heap as an accelerator and to improve its nutrient content. Your own chickens and rabbits can produce an amazing amount of natural fertilizer as well as healthy meat and eggs. Some Cubans fed catfish in ponds alongside their rabbits with rabbit droppings but we have not done the same to our goldfish!
  • Aim towards a 25% to 40% percent of added composts to the top 30 centimetres of your soils to lighten it and improve it’s fertility. Raised beds help achieve this most rapidly.
  • To avoid having to compost gluts once the deep freeze is full start to dry and bottle vegetables as well as fruit. We use a Dorrex tray dryer several nights a week through out the year for vegetables, fruit and herbs.
  • Every village in Cuba had a trained agronomist to help increase productivity and encourage children to start to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit in local school gardens. Why not do likewise by supporting your local school’s gardening club and perhaps offering practical apprenticeships on your allotment? Under close guidance of course!

Have a look yourself if visiting CUBA

If you visit Cuba on holiday try and get away from the main stream tourist centres and activities – which we avoided during our month long visit – for a few hours or days and see some of the innovative local vegetable growing for your self.

Throughout our 1000 plus kilometre journey we found Cubans very approachable and friendly. Photographs of our garden and allotment were perfect visiting cards.

One lasting impression we have is that Cuba was avoiding becoming dependent on fast foods by aiming to sustain a good diet and health from home grown local produce and minimising the food miles from growing site to homes.

We have now written six books re gardening in Spain including the best seller Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain – ISBN 978-84-89954-53-3 and have a regular radio programme on Spanish radio. If you are interested in growing vegetables in the Mediterranean climate or more ideas for growing in a globally warmed southern England the book can be obtained most easily in the UK from Amazon

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe May 2008.

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