Many english speakers are not familiar with the concept of a Huerto so I thought I’d start to showcase some of the fantastic Huertos that I have seen here in Chile.
In Spanish, a Huerto is a site of Horticultural cultivation. The term can encompass vegetable gardens at home, school gardens and even market garden scale operations. Infact, unlike in Australia, most farms here have a defined, large Huerto with a fence around it to exclude animals and a great mix of broad bed crops (corn, beans, potatos, Tomatos) and picking bed crops (lettuce, onions, strawberries, basil). In addition to these invaluable vegetable crops many of these Huertas include flowers and fruit trees.
In Australia, I have rarely seen the cultivation of fruit trees and vegetables in the same area except in a permaculture setting. The interesting thing here is that the mixing of the two, and the cultivation of flowers and herbs amongst it, is very commonplace and is done via commonsense. There is a risk that the fruit trees will overshade the vegetables and this could happen if the trees are not pruned or are poorly placed. However, given the fruit trees are deciduous there is ample light in the winter and the shade can be used as a benefit during the summer provided water levels are kept up.
Last week we had the pleasure of visiting the Huerto of Javiera, a local producer from Vero’s home town Hualqui. He grows veggies, herbs, flowers and fruit for sale at market and has been involved with the local council building greenhouses in local schools. He is a third generation grower of veggies for Hualqui.
The great thing about this system is that the needs of the fruit trees can be met by the associated flowers and herbs and returns can be generated by the grower from flower and veggie sales while the fruit trees are maturing. Flowers have a much higher prominence culturally here compared with Australia due to the role flowers play in catholic worship. Irish catholics just seem to grow roses in Australia.
By stacking cash crops in amongst the fruit trees the system become economically sustainable much earlier on. I have sceen this done really well in Australia by a former student of John Champagne in Brogo. Amongst the irrigated fruit trees were pumpkins, chard, tomatos, lettuce and beans. Javiera’s family is able to sell flowers, dried herbs, veggies, fresh herbs and fruit on about a 1/4 acre which includes a greenhouse.
What I love about the Chilean Huerto is it in productive in both the short and long term. Most people here are connected with one and they are the go to place for fresh veggies which outstrip anything on offer at the supermarkets. There is “Organic” branded agriculture in Chile but ironically it is largely run by foreigners growing obscene monoculture crops of something like blueberries to export to the USA or Europe. To give you an idea of the scale of this, keep in mind that during the winter of the northern hemisphere, 50% of the imported summer crops come from Chile. Horticultural production here is huge but it is not always benefiting the local population. Javi’s work maintaining his families Huerta and working with local schools is ensuring that this tradition stays strong.
To learn more about Forest Gardening and growing your own fruit and nuts, come along to one of our courses.