Tuesday, March 12, 2013


A Garden in Guatemala

Edgar Anderson (1897-1969), Plants, Man, and Life (Boston: Little Brown, 1952), pp. 140-141 (on a garden in Santa Lucia, Guatemala):
Though at first sight there seemed little order, as soon as we started mapping the garden, we realized that it was planted in fairly definite crosswise rows. There were fruit trees, native and European in great variety: annonas, cheromoyas, avocados, peaches, quinces, plums, a fig, and a few coffeebushes. There were giant cacti grown for their fruit. There was a large plant of rosemary, a plant of rue, some poinsettias, and a fine semiclimbing tea rose. There was a whole row of the native domesticated hawthorn, whose fruits like yellow, doll-sized apples, make a delicious conserve. There were two varieties of corn, one well past bearing and now serving as a trellis for climbing string beans which were just coming into season, the other, a much taller sort, which was tasseling out. There were specimens of a little banana with smooth wide leaves which are the local substitute for wrapping paper, and are also used instead of cornhusks in cooking the native variant of hot tamales. Over it all clambered the luxuriant vines of various cucurbits. Chayote, when finally mature, has a large nutritious root weighing several pounds. At one point there was a depression the size of a small bathtub where a chayote root had recently been excavated; this served as a dump heap and compost for waste from the house. At one end of the garden was a small beehive made from boxes and tin cans. In terms of our American and European equivalents, the garden was a vegetable garden, an orchard, a medicinal garden, a dump heap, a compost heap, and a beeyard. There was no problem of erosion though it was at the top of a steep slope; the soil surface was practically all covered and apparently would be during most of the year. Humidity would be kept up during the dry season and plants of the same sort were so isolated from one another by intervening vegetation that pests and diseases could not readily spread from plant to plant. The fertility was being conserved; in addition to the waste from the house, mature plants were being buried in between the rows when their usefulness was over.

It is frequently said by Europeans and European Americans that time means nothing to an Indian. This garden seemed to me to be a good example of how the Indian, when we look more than superficially into his activities, is budgeting his time more efficiently than we do. The garden was in continuous production but was taking only a little effort at any one time: a few weeds pulled when one came down to pick the squashes, corn and bean plants dug in between the rows when the last of the climbing beans was picked, and a new crop of something else planted above them a few weeks later.

I was so impressed by the apparent efficiency of the garden that I have since tried out several of its basic principles on my own vegetable plots with considerable success. Instead of putting my sweet potatoes all neatly in one little bed down at the far end of the garden I plant them one row at a time in different places. They now grow vigorously across the garden by late summer; they keep the ground moist during the dry days of August; and they help keep out weeds. I also plant a few cornfield beans in among the corn plants after they are pretty well up and have a good extra crop of string beans after the sweet-corn season is over. From these experiences I suspect that if one were to make a careful time study of such an Indian garden, one would find it more productive than ours in terms of pounds of vegetables and fruit per man-hour per square foot of ground. Far from saying that time means nothing to an Indian, I would suggest that it means so much more to him that he does not wish to waste it in profitless effort as we do.

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