Do you have an interest in agriculture, but don’t feel that you have enough knowledge or skill to start growing your own crops?
Shekeema Boatswain Frederick wants to assure you that agriculture isn’t as challenging or scary as you think.
At the beginning of 2020, Boatswain Frederick didn't know much about growing crops but by the end of the year she had opened Agape Greens, a thriving small agribusiness. Through online orders and a stall in La Brea, Boatswain Frederick, 26, provides customers with fresh greens and vegetable.
Now she wants to encourage others to start planting, even if they don't intend to turn it into a business. In an interview with Business Day, she shared tips on how anyone can start their agri journey, regardless of availability of space.
Boatswain Frederick has an undergraduate degree from UWI St Augustine with a double major in geography and environmental and natural resource management, but she also had an interest in agriculture.
As she spent more time at home last year owing to covid19, she used the extra time to do some research, and grew crops in her yard. This would be the start of Agape Greens, the business she co-founded with her friend Seantelle Noel.
Boatswain Frederick’s goal was simple: maximise her crop harvest using what resources she had on hand with limited growing space.
She advised people to speak to experts or do online research to see which growing methods will be effect for the specific crops they plant.
“In speaking to other farmers, some would tell you the crops would taste different if you grew it with hydroponics versus if you grew it in the ground.”
She considered hydroponics, but it was too costly. She decided to grow her crops in the ground using raised garden beds, which would allow her to maximise growing space.
Prepare a growing space
To get any garden going, preparing your growing space is important.
Boatswain Frederick used bricks to organise raised growing beds; she also used buckets to increase the space.
“I used concrete bricks not only to maximise growing space but also to organise the bigger garden space. To get more crops, I also grew other crops in the holes of the concrete bricks.”
Preparing the right soil is also important. She used a mixture of sharp sand, topsoil she got from an empty lot of land, and potting mix to prepare her soil.
“At the time when I started money was somewhat accessible, so I used Pro Mix, which is the same as potting mix. You can buy these things from agri shops, and from what I remember, it was only $20. They would bag it out for you.”
When it comes to fertilisers, Boatswain Frederick took a natural approach, using manure from chickens, horses, and goats.
She also learnt simple tricks to give her crops nutrients, like putting banana skin in water, which can be a good source of potassium for plants, and putting crushed eggshells in the soil.
“I don’t throw away my eggshells. I wash them, crush them up and put in the soil, or I’ll do a compost heap.
“For pesticides, you can use neem oil, or you can also plant chive between your crops, because the chive sometimes drives away certain pests.
“Those are some of the things I did when I started my home garden.”
Boatswain Frederick began by growing simple leafy greens like bronze mignonette lettuce. She said short-term crops like lettuce are great for beginners.
“You can either buy seedlings or you can buy the seeds, like I did. I also bought the trays, did the soil mix and basically set everything for myself from scratch.”
An inexpensive way to start growing crops is to also use those you already have in your kitchen, like peppers.
Other crops which can produce high yields are those which can be propagated by division like potatoes, garlic, onions, and ginger. For example, Boatswain Frederick said a small piece of ginger can produce a pound of ginger, depending on how it's grown.
She suggested that people plant crops they're used to eating, as they may be more encouraging to grow. That way, they are also more aware of the food they are eating and what goes into growing it.
As with everything else, research is important before growing any crop.
“People must do research on when they are growing certain things. For example, tomatoes are something that’s affected by the weather, so it’s best to plant tomatoes in April. Pay attention to seasonal crops.”
Before planting, Boatswain Frederick didn’t pay much mind as to how farmers produced or priced their goods, but she has now become more aware.
She said it was only after getting into agriculture that she started to appreciate more what farmers do.
“I started to understand how difficult it is to harvest a crop and how much work goes into it.”
This country’s high dependence on food imports may lead to a disconnect between those growing the food and those consuming it.
So growing one’s own food can be a good way to understand the work needed to grow food and where one’s food comes from.
This can also have positive effects like changing perceptions towards food, which can lead to a reduction in food waste, for example.
For Boatswain Frederick, seeing her crops grow overtime provided a sense of fulfilment.
Starting to plant was "a stress reliever, especially in terms of covid.
“It was a way to get away, because I had a hobby and had something to do.
“Gardening is an exciting hobby. It will obviously take time if you are now started getting into it…but is rewarding.”
Check out Boatswain Frederick’s business on Facebook at AgapeGreens.co or on Instagram @agapegreens.co