I have always wanted to cultivate my land to make it productive and useful. But I’m also aware that the land has a very poor soil quality, and bananas or any vegetables or root crops would not grow healthy. I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I remember how we cultivated on poor soil areas by digging up trenches and filling them up with lots of decayed materials.
Making the four plant beds (50 feet long by 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep) was a real challenge since the area was rocky and of limestone in nature. Filling up the plant beds with sludge and other organic materials was definitely a back-breaking operation. I actually operated the small backhoe to dump sludge in the plant beds. It took 4 long months to prepare the plant beds and make it ready for planting.
Bananas of different varieties were planted, including tissue cultures of “saba “variety from the University of Guam. Taro, tapioca and sweet potatoes were also planted.
The growing phase of the plants was also a challenge by itself since I started planting in January, approaching the summer months. By the month of April, there was barely rain. I had to do innovative ways of watering the bananas by “bucket type of irrigation” system. Weed control was another challenge.
The growth and production of the banana plants was most impressive among the crops planted. The bananas matured early. Some of the plants bore fruits at 5-6 months old with an average of 6 to 8 hands per bunch. I was hoping for two bunches per tree but it didn’t happen. The banana trees produced more tubers per mother plant. There were at least 5–6 tubers growing per mother plant.
The tapioca crops were also growing healthy and well. Unfortunately, one day before the scheduled visit by conference participants, the plants were uprooted with no root crops.
The major objective of the project was how to transform idle land areas of poor soil quality (mostly limestone composition) to productive lands, since most of the agricultural lands in Northern Guam are of limestone in soil composition.
The other goal of this grant was to adopt century-old production practices and combine these practices with current best management practices.
Overall, I was satisfied with the efforts I put in the project. Finding the workers, from the backhoe operator to maintaining the field was a challenge. During the growing months of the banana plants (March to June 2007), there was no rain at all. I have to place a 5-gallon bucket per banana plant and fill up the bucket with water. A ½ inch nail size hole was punched at the lowest end at one side of the bucket for slow drip irrigation.
None of the banana plants that bore fruit had two bunches per plant but my observation was the bananas plants produced in a shorter period of time. The first plants produced in about 5 months after planting, with an average of 6 to 8 hands per bunch.
The root crops planted in between the plant beds were also very productive.
The Agriculture Experiment Station Soils Laboratory has been on and off in their operations due to equipment breakdown and failure. This prevented the analysis of nutrients from the sludge and soil components.
Benefits on Agriculture:
The results of the project demonstrate how poor soil quality lands can be converted to productive lands with proper land preparations and use of composted organic materials to enrich the soil. The availability of compost materials as soil conditioners and soil enrichment resources is very critical in land with poor soil. You can prepare the land in many ways but enriching the soil with commercial fertilizer will not be sustainable.
I have finished the area with the initial funds that I received, and the additional plant beds I will add on with the final payment will surely increase my family income with the sales I will get from bananas, taro, tapioca and sweet potatoes.
I will increase the productivity of my land by at least 30% when I get all the plant beds in place.
Since the project is only a year old in existence, I don’t know yet how many had actually adopted the practice.
A Guam vegetable farmer will submit a Farmer/Rancher grant application adopting a similar concept of making plant beds for swamp cabbage production.
Based on the results of this project, land preparation similar to what was demonstrated in this grant should be well adopted by islands or atolls of poor soil quality in Micronesia.
Reaction from Producers:
Land areas of poor soil quality can be converted to productive lands if given the proper land preparation. Visitors observed how the surrounding areas of the project site are overgrown with useless weeds and plants while banana trees and the root crops were growing around them.
Recommendation or New Hypothesis:
The plant beds can be made shallower and narrower. Instead of 5 feet deep, it can be made to 3 feet deep and from 6 feet wide to 4 feet.
It is useful to apply mulch around plants to control weeds and to retain moisture in the ground.
This grant was one of the poster presentations during the Western SARE Sub-regional conference held at the Guam Hilton Resort and Spa October 17-18, 2007. There were at least 100 people at the conference. The site was also visited by the conference participants, around 30 of them, who represented islands from Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.
The project site has been open to the community since the project started. It has been visited by agricultural professionals and staff from local (Univ. of Guam and Guam Dept. of Agriculture) and federal (NRCS) agricultural agencies. A total of at least 25 individuals, of which 7 are from the government agencies, made several visits to the site.
Educational or Information Materials Produced:
Ron Daines, Western SARE communications specialist, made a fact sheet of the project that was distributed during the Western SARE conference. Copies of the fact sheet are now displayed and distributed at the Agriculture and Natural Resources office at the Cooperative Extension Service.
Dr. Manuel Duguies, my technical advisor, made a PowerPoint file that we presented during the SARE-PDP regional workshop held at the University of Guam on October 15-16, 2007. We will continue to present the project at any given opportunity (farmers meetings, local agricultural workshops and annual farmers farm tours. The PowerPoint file will be included in the sustainable website run by University of Guam Cooperative Extension Service.