Self-sufficiency is the goal of many sea cruisers that sail the world's oceans, generating their own water and energy, writes Erin Carey.
With limited space and the obvious problems of salt, wind and traffic, many will never want to grow their own food.
However, it is possible: we spoke with successful cruiser gardeners to find out more about the possibilities of growing fresh herbs and vegetables on the yacht.
Scurvy, a disease that has historically plagued sailors, is caused by a lack of vitamin C, traditionally associated with long voyages to the sea without fruits and vegetables.
Fortunately, seafarers these days do not need to worry about scurvy, but fresh herbs only last a few days in most boat coolers, often suffering from impacts on container rigs as they move.
But with a garden on board, no matter how small, fresh basil pasta or crunchy salad is no longer limited to products bought onshore.
Many herbs are also known to have health benefits as they are rich in vitamins and have anti-inflammatory properties.
One day, planning to sail across the Pacific Ocean, experienced cruiser Rick Moore and his first assistant Maddie, the chef, decided that an onboard garden was necessary for their Jeanneau 52 Sophisticated Lady.
“Recently highlighted the importance of self-sufficiency on a yacht, not only in terms of energy and water, but in all forms: energy, food and health,” explains Rick. “The decision to start building a small organic vegetable garden seemed to us the smartest decision for our boat.”
Growing a garden on a boat requires some planning and dedication, as well as an awareness of the uniqueness of life afloat.
“In the initial stages, the seedlings must be protected from sea water as much as possible. For this reason, we try to grow shade-loving plants such as aloe, oregano, garlic, tomatoes, chili and mint under the Dodger, where they are protected from the weather, sea spray and less exposed to the sun, ”explains Moore.
Your location will also determine what will flourish and what will perish, and you will have to go through some trial and error as a result.
Sending a few plants to their watery grave, especially in the early days, will be common.
Life on a boat takes patience, and so does gardening. It takes time.
However, according to Moore, your dedication will pay off in a few short months.
He recommends starting with cheap seedlings from the local market or seeds from the supermarket.
“They're cheap and perfect for experimentation. You can even grow the seeds in trays that feed the meat and replant them as soon as they sprout, ”he adds.
“Using rectangular pots with a low center of gravity and less soil than usual will reduce the likelihood of the pot toppling over and creates less mess if it does tip over.
Also consider choosing plants that do well in the same pot, such as thyme, oregano, and rosemary, which prefer very well-drained soil, or mint, coriander, and lemon balm, which prefer more moisture.
This way you make the most of the space and increase the variety. "
Long rectangular flower boxes are often ideal, especially if they fit neatly under the dodger.
While some plants require well-drained soil, Moore tends to use pots with no holes in the bottom or fill them with disposable fiber simply because saucers of muddy water on a moving boat aren't quite the right thing.
If your plants are exposed to sea spray, rinsing with a freshwater spray bottle will help them recover from a long transition.
It is also important to train the plants, that is, to prune them to stimulate shorter but wider growth.
Tall, heavy-topped plants are less likely to remain upright.
Of course, the biggest challenge comes when you decide to sail, especially if you live on a 45 ° monohull.
“One solution we found was to wrap the pots with aluminum foil, leaving only the plants exposed. This helps prevent the soil from drying out, ”Moore said.
“Another option is to store the pots in wooden boxes that you can put in a safe place downstairs.
When you are faced with an unexpected storm or rough seas, the last thing you need to deal with is a dirt-covered interior, ”he added. Other solutions to protect your plants while working include elastic cords, blu-tacs or strong Velcro, depending on the size of the pot.
Fed and watered
All Rick and Maddy plants are fertilized with home compost made from organic food waste such as vegetable peels, coffee and tea leftovers, eggshells, and trimmings.
They also treat their garden with natural insecticides to avoid contaminating food with chemicals.
The irrigation system is carried out directly from seawater desalinated on board.
Although post-desalination water can usually be used, it is recommended that you test with a small pH kit (similar to that used for testing swimming pools) to ensure it is the correct acidity for your plants.
This may indicate the need to add a small dose of white vinegar to balance the acidity.
Another option is to collect rainwater, which is often quite easy to do by collecting runoff from areas such as bimini and solar panels.
If you are in a remote area and buying land from the supermarket is not an option, you can simply ask the locals for some fertile soil from their garden.
Most people will be happy to help, but remember that you should not introduce a population of new critters into your boat.
If possible, one solution is to freeze the soil for a few days to kill any insects it contains.
Boat gardening can be a fun but challenging hobby.
The easiest and fastest plants to grow were basil, oregano, and chili, according to Moore.
But he also grows a range of flowering shrubs and tropical plants, as well as aloe vera, which can be used to treat sunburn and insect bites.
“I enjoy my plants so much that I often give them names.
They add a sense of calmness to our home, are aesthetic and purify the air.
They also give me a sense of achieving my goal, and since they have been traveling with us for many years, I feel that they have become part of my family. "
Kyle Brereton and Haley Cook live on the Australian-built Chasing Eden catamaran.
In addition to growing succulents and evergreen tropical plants on board, they set up a hydroponic garden under their boat's davits.
“What led us to the hydraulic system was that it was light, clean and yielded much faster yields.
Everything has to be flexible and productive to live on a boat, ”explains Brereton. “We first tried growing our vegetable patch in soil, but we ended up with tiny shriveled plants that took up the entire space on our aft deck.”
The couple experimented with a hydroponic system and found that it was possible to easily deliver essential nutrients directly to the plants, allowing them to grow healthy and strong much faster.
Pollination was one of the problems. “We soon realized there weren't many bees who wanted to visit our boat in the middle of the ocean,” Cook recalls.
Gardening websites have tips on how to self-pollinate plants with a small brush.
Sally McAdam of Clearwater Cruising also installed a hydroponic system on her boat.
“We use hydroponic nutrients to grow basil, cabbage, garlic and amaranth.
This was because it was very difficult to find good potting soil (in our case, coconuts) in sandy atolls and in island communities.
“We made hanging gardens out of plastic bottles that act as gimbals on our transitions.
They hang from the davits, but in the big sea we bring them down. "
about the author
Erin Carey and her family traveled the Caribbean for two years before crossing the Atlantic aboard their Moody 47 Roam.
Erin is currently involved in PR at Roam Generation, working with sailors and adventurers.
First published in the November 2020 issue of Yachting World.
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