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Five Pillars: Seeds, Earth, Water, Air and Light

Updated: May 23

Let our ancestors and Mother Nature be your guide

The magic of edible gardening involves finding the elemental balance of Mother Nature - (1) seeds/seedlings (2) earth for nutrients, (3) water for moisture, (4) air for oxygen and (5) light for the natural power of photosynthesis to grow leaves, fruit and roots. All must be available and harnessed for your plants to thrive.

Five Pillars in balance: (1) seeds/seedlings; (2) earth;   (3) water;  (4) air and (5) light
Five Pillars: seeds/seedlings; earth; water; air and light.

At Gardening While Black, we will periodically review the basics. But, more importantly, we will provide links to some of the best resources for the detailed advice that will get you started and evolve into the best gardener possible.

In these pages, we want to use the strength of seeds, earth, water, air and light as a connection to our ancestors from Africa and the diaspora throughout the Americas and Caribbean. How? Through the plants grown for sustenance in West Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas - years ago, in the Middle Passage and now - while considering what works for your climate.

All of the five pillars work together to create the best garden to fit your needs. But you can’t go anywhere without sitting down and creating a plan - what do you like to eat; what is the length of your growing season; how much do you need to grow to meet your needs; and where are you going create this gardening magic.



Decide what you will eat and grow it. Don’t afraid of errors, but keep trying. One of the most important decisions in a small garden, Afro-centric or not, is how many plants to grow. The key is deciding on how much space you have, then get enough plants or start enough seeds so that one meal won’t decimate your garden. We are collecting an inventory of Afro-centric plant choices - including plants currently grown in West Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. Based on your growing season and water availability (and your preferences), you may need to adjust your choices.


Don’t scrimp on soil. If your soil is rocky and difficult to manage, consider raised beds, pots or whiskey barrels and any landscape features in your growing area. I’m currently using all of the above - blueberries and a lime tree in separate whisky barrels on wheels; four raised beds for greens, onions, peas and malabar spinach; and a rock garden for herbs, basil, rosemary and tomatoes. Oh, almost forgot about the pots of mint, chamomile and echinacea.


More about your soil. It’s the foundation for your plant’s growth. Find the best soil you can afford (such as E.B. Stone or Recipe 420) and supplement it with compost, worms or worm castings and other organic matter. This year, I added organic garden straw to mulch the plants. Besides helping conserve water, the degrading straw will provide additional fuel and nutrients to your plants.

As your garden knowledge expand, you will want to make sure the PH levels in your garden match your plants. My blueberry barrel is finally at the PH level, and everything else currently falls in the range for the peas, tomatoes, peppers, onions and leafy vegetables (kale, collard, mustard, chard and other greens).



Consider mulch or straw to reduce evaporation of precious water. Water when the soil feels dry, though some plants may not need as much care in watering. Hand watering is always the best since it helps with avoiding over watering. For example, tomatoes will not need a lot of water as the fruit is ripening and pots may need more attention to their moisture needs because they can dry out faster than in-ground gardens and raised beds.

Air and Light


Your garden will thrive on good air flow and plenty of sunlight. Sunlight is essential to your plant’s growth. Light is the fuel source, for the plans convert light to energy through the photosynthesis process. Insufficient light means struggle. If there is not enough light, your plants will be a bit anemic.

Supporting cast

Pollinators. Bees, ladybugs and flies can be essential to a health garden. If bees don’t stop by your property, you might consider a pot or two of bee pollinator plants (Hudson Valley has a very nice Pollinator Garden Seed Collection - featuring Borage, Midnight Garden Mix to attract evening pollinators, Pollinator Petal Patch - including Aster, Coreopsis, Penstemon, Evening Primrose and Wild Bergamot; Anise Hyssop and Gift Zinnia.)

Food. Novice gardeners always need to know how often to fertilize. The best advice I’ve heard is treat your plans like your own stomach. They need regular fertilizer/food to grow. Once a month is a good benchmark. Also, consider a starter compost bin or area to recapture leaves and kitchen scraps (egg shells, too, but skip meat, bones or fats) to help fortify your garden.

Most quality nurseries have pre-packaged fertilizers with easy to follow instructions. More advanced gardeners may want to give a try at assembling your own brew. Jimmy Williams’ From Seed to Skillet has published a handy soil amendment/natural fertilizer mix (Hayground Mix) that is a good all purpose plant and soil tonic with alfalfa meal, green sand, lime, bat guano and other goodies for your plants.


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