The Launch of the Garden Project

Banchiwosen working the soil to prepare for planting.

Some of you have graciously followed the development of our Garden Project over the past few months (Richelle keeps telling me how boring some of the blog posts are… thanks for reading anyway).  It started as a pretty simple idea (and remains so, really), but it’s been some work…

The initial idea… dig up some new garden spaces in the unused portion of our pasture, divide up those garden spaces, and distribute them out to our kids.  Through the planting, growing, harvesting and selling of their crop, the kids can learn some great skills – both gardening skills, and some small money management and business skills (whatever money they can make off of their plot of land is theirs).  Naturally, the implementation of this simple idea has been hard work.

Hand-tools only.  We have no tractor, motorized tiller, nor even an ox and plow.  So we had to do all the work of pulling up sod and tilling up soil with hand-tools only… a shovel, pick-ax and hoe (we now have 3,600 square feet of new garden space).

Slope.  The unused portion of the pasture slopes downhill into a gully at about a 45 – 60 degree angle.  It’s a nightmare for erosion during the monsoon rainy season of July & Aug.  So, not only did we have to pull up sod and till the soil, we had to terrace the plots.  We used the pulled-up sod to build a wall on the lower end of each plot, then dug out the dirt on the upper end and threw it down and up against the sod wall until the plots were essentially level… again by shovel, pick-ax and hoe.


Water.  We have none, then we have too much; unfortunately, that’s the way it works in Ethiopia.  There is so little rain from Oct. through May and then there is more rain than the soil can handle in July and Aug.  So for the dry times, we developed and set up a drip irrigation system that allows us to irrigate the gardens with grey-water (wash water, shower water, etc.) and run-off water from the buildings (for when we do get some small rains during the drier months).  This system also allows for direct watering when we have some excess water available on our compound (which is rare).  It’s a system of pipes connected to the end of water gutters, which run to barrels, to which are attached pipe and perforated tubing.  For the rainy season, we’re currently developing an appropriate system of ditches and trenches to control excess run-off and help avoid erosion.

Soil.  It’s a clay-like, red-dirt soil that gets rock-hard during dry season.  We’ve been composting like crazy since last fall to fertilize and supplement the soil.

Education.  We’ve been learning everything we can about local seed and gardening knowledge (I’ve even driven 15km out of town to a small countryside Thursday market because it’s there that one is suppose to find the best garlic for planting this time of year), and supplementing it with all the expertise we can glean from online and from some garden experts back home.  We’ve been holding bi-weekly meetings with the older kids for the past couple of months to educate them and prepare them for planting.

Making use of the irrigation system.

Finally… today we launched the project officially.

We’ve still not received any of the spring rains that are always hoped for in Ethiopia.  We had one good rain about three weeks ago and not a drop since then.  We’ve had a couple of late afternoons or mornings of cloud, but they haven’t produced a drop for us.

(It’s concerning, actually.  It’s these small spring rains that annually make or break many regions of Ethiopia.  Many regions of the country are unable to produce enough food during the rainy season (Jul. – early Sep. with Sep. – Oct. harvest) to last all the way through a full year until the next post-rainy season harvest.  If they get enough of the small spring rains to plant a small crop during Mar. – Jun., they’ll be okay, but if the small spring rains don’t come, many regions will suffer food shortages before fall… see earlier blog post for more info. about this cycle and the problem of drought and food shortages in Ethiopia:

Even our 4-year-olds were out digging

But, despite the lack of rain, we’ve decided to do a small planting anyway.  We’re only planting a portion of the garden plots for now – just what we can sustain using our irrigation.  We decided that if we can plant even a small crop using irrigation and bring it to market around Jun., we could fetch a decent price on our crops during a time of scarcity.

So this morning, we had about 20 kids working in their respective plots (and more were working in the evening).  They were hoeing, tilling, spreading compost, watering and planting.  Most are interested in planting garlic and red onions because of the popularity of these vegetables in Ethiopian cooking (and in the Home kitchen).  Some are also planting potatoes and we have a few “farenge” (foreign) vegetables to plant:  green beans, peas and cucumber.  It has been fun today to watch many of the kids work very hard, learn and experiment with the irrigation system, and get excited talking about what they’re going to plant.

Little Eyayu... the "baby" of the Home

We’ve had some money donated already for this project (thank you Argosy University Student Government for you $500).  Expenses for the project have so far totaled about $600.  The project is now completely functional and operating, but there are a few further components that we’d love to do to maximize the project.  If you’re still interested in contributing specifically to this project, here’s what a small amount of money could help us add to the project:

  • $18 USD – some additional local gardening tools, which would include 3-4 additional two-prong hand-hoes and 1 additional larger 3-prong hoe
  • $15 USD – some more plastic tube to attach to outdoor water facet to water the garden when we have excess water on the compound
  • $90 USD – some additional ¾” poly-pipe to attach to a grey-water collection barrel on south end of our compound (because of distance from the gardens, we have not yet connected the grey-water from our clothes washing station to the irrigation system; we’d really like to do this because we could greatly increase the amount of grey-water we’re able to capture and use for irrigation)
  • $18 USD – 1 large, 200 liter water barrel for collecting grey-water from clothes washing area (the final grey-water point on our compound to be connected to the system)
  • $40 USD – 1 wheel-barrow for hauling compost from our compost site to the gardens
  • $20 USD – necessary fittings to set up in-line shut-off for last irrigation point, and some minor repairs to current drains pipes to maximize capture of grey-water from clothes washing area and hand-washing area outside cafeteria

So an additional $300 would cover the remaining expenses that we’ve already incurred and help us make sure there are enough tools for the kids to use and help us make sure that we’re maximizing our use of the compound’s grey-water.

Looking down the road a little, for those really interested in our little experiment with grey-water, there are a couple of larger projects for the compound that would further help us capture grey-water and run-off water and further conserve our scarce water resources.

  1. With a little re-plumbing in our bathroom / shower areas, we could separate the drainpipes for the shower rooms from those of the toilets rooms.  Currently, all the drains exit the house in one drainpipe that goes to our septic system.  Because of the way our bathroom / shower areas are designed, some fairly simple re-plumbing could drain the showers into our water gutters, thus allowing us to capture that grey-water in our irrigation system.
  2. Both the main house and the cafeteria / kitchen house were build with decent rain gutters and drainpipes from the roof to the water gutters that surround the houses.  After a number of years, however, some of these gutters and pipes could use

    Merdekyos was the first out there at 7am

    some repairs and replacements.  We could capture even more rainwater when it does rain if we did some maintenance to these gutters and pipes.

If these slightly larger projects interest you, please let us know and we could gather some price estimates and provide more information.

If you’re interested in contributing to this garden project at any amount, the easiest way is to go to the Aerie Africa website ( and follow the “Donate” links.  At the point in the paypal process where you can leave a note with your contribution, just enter “for garden project” and your funds will be designated appropriately.  Of course, if you have any questions, email us at or

To go back and read about the development of the project, follow these links:


Here’s a few additional pictures of the day of planting:


Three Updates and Motorbike

Update 1:  The Garden Project,

All of the terraced gardens are fully set up and divided out to the kids.  Kids have been working this past week to till up the soil, spread and mix in compost, etc.  We’ve been preparing some seed this week (onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes as local vegetables and some green beans, peas and cucumbers as “farenge” – foreign – vegetables).  The irrigation system is all set up and working well, though with only one legitimate rain in the past week, the irrigation by itself hasn’t yet been sufficient to start planting.  We hope to be planting soon.  We are trying to gather all gardening tips and knowledge, both local here as otherwise.  If you have tips for growing any of the above vegetables, we’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to email, reply to this post, or message us on facebook (,

Update 2: Water and a Well,

With the town back up on the electric grid, we’re back to getting water from the town a couple of days / week.  With our storage tanks, that means water from taps for portions of four days / week.  Our hand-pump well is still dry, so that still means donkey water the other days each week.  As for the deep well, we’ve been working hard behind the scene and making progress.  We’ve been reviewing our hydro-geology report, collecting official cost bids from drillers, and we’ve been in communication with one well-drilling NGO regarding collaboration.  We’ve also been working towards some grants and have recently been very encouraged in that area.  We’ll very soon have our official cost estimates and some arrangements with a driller.  Once we have the official cost estimates from the driller, we’ll put out some information about needed funds, fund-raising, etc.

Update 3:  Our Home-going,

While this is a still a far way out, we’ve become forward-looking in a farther-out sort of way then we ever were.  We purchased our tickets for a visit back to the U.S. this past week.  We’ll be state-side from the Aug. 7 through to the Sep. 17.  Our calendar for that visit is surprisingly busy already.  We’re looking forward to re-connecting with family and friends.

… and a Motorbike

Recently we acquired the use of an older motorcycle.  Motorbikes, or “motors,” are very much the way to get around in smaller towns in Ethiopia.  They’re much cheaper than cars, good for riding on bad roads, easier to maintain and cheap on fuel.  Most of the motorcycles around town are small Indian-made Bajaj bikes with whopping 100cc motors (great on fuel, weak on power).  The bike that we recently got access to is a “Red Fox.”  It’s not ours… it’s an organization bike that has long been in the garage under-going a pretty significant re-build.  It finally got operational and we have use of it.   It’s a bit of a beat-up, but is running well now and gets us around town.  Contrary to the Bajaj bikes, we’re riding around with 250ccs (though the body says 175, I’m told that it’s actually 250 and the bike we took the body pieces from was a 175), which is a fun amount of power to ride three us up our big hill into town with no effort.  The outer body was busted up, so we replaced it with some body parts from another bike that don’t quite fit right.  It’s loud and ugly, but a lot of fun.  Titay loves it and has decided she needs to have a motorbike when she grows up (she also decided this week, after a “Bubba School” history lesson, that she wanted to be like Dr. Martin Luther King when she grows up… the image of those two future goals combined struck me as kind of funny).

Enjoy the photos of our “new” motor.