Gardens and Water… Making Progress

We haven’t provided much information lately about our two most popular blogging topics:  the garden project and the well project.  We’ve been intentionally trying to diversify the topics a little.  But since there has been exciting progress in both of these projects, I guess it’s time for an update.

The Garden Project

I (Nathan) and the kids have been enjoying the garden project.  We’ve had a good wet spring since the beginning of April.  We have lots of garlic and red onions growing, plus some carrots, potatoes, green beans, peas and lettuce.  Richelle and I have been enjoying a few green beans and some lettuce already (by buying them off the kids who grew them).  We hope that the kids can be harvesting their first round of garlic and red onions in about a month, then turn around and get a second planting in so they can harvest again in October or so.

We’ve learned a few things along the way.  For you gardening experts out there, these may be obvious lessons, but they’ve been new to us:

Number one: garlic likes a good chilling.  A gardener can spur-on the growth of garlic if the bulbs are chilled for a while before “cracking” and planting.  This is why in North America, most people plant garlic in the fall.  The winter cold, followed by the warming soil of the spring, helps initiate growth within the clove, so that long before the ground is warm enough to work and plant other vegetables, the gardener can already see garlic shoots above the ground.  We don’t have a cold winter season here in Ethiopia… but we do have mountaintop villages where the nighttime temperatures dip consistently down into the 40’s.  That’s why the locals in the market all suggested, if we’re purchasing for planting, that we seek out the ladies selling garlic from the top of Mt. Damota (the mountain just north of Soddo, which rises to about 10,000 ft).  Unintentionally, we did a little experiment.  We bought our first round of garlic from the ladies from Damota.  The ladies even opened up some cloves to show us how the shoot was already beginning to develop within the clove.  Once planted, we had shoots above the ground within a week.  When we ran out of the first round of garlic and the kids still wanted to plant more, we went to the market again but couldn’t find any ladies from Damota, so we just purchased some random garlic.  It took over a month for the second round to show shoots above the ground.  We had almost given up, but just recently, shoots are popping up.

Number two: when you use compost on your gardens, you get the added excitement of seeing what random things grow from the compost.  We have maize, tomato and potato plants growing in the most random of places… places where they were never planted.

Number three: buying small red onions from the local open market and using them as onion sets can result in some ugly onion “clumps.”  Without access to prepared onion sets, we just selected out small onions (1” diameter or less) in the market and planted them as sets.  It seems, though, that some of these “sets” that we planted were either already “split” (harvested from an onion plant that had already bolted) or for some reason, once planted, they split immediately.  Instead of nice single-bulb onions, we have these weird clumps of 2-4 onions growing from the same “set.”  We’re going to experiment with a couple of clumps, try digging them up, separating them and re-planting.  We may also try letting some go to seed and try planting some from seed next time around.

Finally, number four: given the incredibly powerful rainstorms that sometimes hit Ethiopia when rain does come, we have learned that terracing a side-hill is not enough to prevent erosion.  We have spent many hours digging ditches to control rain run-off.

The Well Project

We are still moving forward with our deep borehole well project.  We have already begun the process of installing 3-phase electric power to our compound (needed to run the submersible pump that we’ll eventually have).  We hired some workers the other day to level out a path next to our football field so that an electrical utility truck can get in to install the transformer.  We hope to begin installation of the high voltage line and transformer within the next couple of weeks.  We have chosen to work with Water is Life as our partner for the drilling and casing stage.  Water is Life is a U.S. registered non-profit that operates out of Hawassa, Ethiopia and works on well and water projects throughout southern Ethiopia (check them out at  We are planning on drilling in Oct. after the ground dries out a little from rainy season.

After drilling and casing, we’ll be purchasing a submersible pump, installing the pump and setting up the water system from the well to our current system.  We hope to have the whole thing up and running by the end of 2012.  Of course, Aerie Africa has also been working on fundraising for this project.  Because of the depth that we must drill to hit quality, consistent, year-round water, the whole project will likely cost between $70 and $80 thousand.  We’ve already raised over half that amount (if you’re interested in contributing, please feel free to email us or go to

As always, we’re very interested in feedback (and gardening advice or contributions to the well project).  Please feel free to reply to this post, email us or post to our facebook page at


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.

Garden Project Update (2)

Thanks to our friend Kim and a group of her friends, our garden project is reaching its final stages.  All of the terraces are dug, leveled, etc. (3600 square feet of new garden space in 6 terraces).  Pipes have been laid and buried from house rain gutters to upper pasture fence.  Four barrels have been placed at the ends of the pipes.  These barrels have 1-inch outlets at the bottom to which are connected 1-inch black plastic pipe that runs downhill underground to the terraces.  At the terraces, blue irrigation tubing has been attached to the 1 inch black plastic pipe.  This irrigation tubing runs throughout the gardens.

The older kids (ages 12 and up, boys and girls) have been divided into partners and given a plot of garden (about 275 square feet per pair).  Just this weekend, they have begun to till up the soil and spread compost on their gardens to prepare to do some planting in the next few weeks (as soon as we get some rain… the “small rains” usually come in March here in Wolaita; with our irrigation set up, we hope that these rains will be sufficient for us to plant).  This past Friday, we went to market and bought some garden tools for the kids to use.

We have a few little loose ends to complete, such as straightening out and perforating the irrigation tubing, cleaning out the rain gutters, pouring a little cement at the head of the pipes where they connect with the rain gutters, etc., but we’re nearly finished.  In the next week, kids will be deciding what they want to plant and we’ll be purchasing seed.

Below are some pictures of the current set up.

Here is the new spill-water catch basin at the base of our hand-pump well.  With this basin, we can capture extra water from the well and direct it to the pipes and run it to our gardens.

One of the pipes running from the house rain gutters.

Up through the banana trees you can see the green barrel.  There is 1 inch black plastic pipe connected to a spout at the base of the barrel (buried under ground).  At the end of the black plastic pipe we’ve attached the blue irrigation tubing.

View of several of our new garden terraces with the blue irrigation tubing spread out.

View of 2 of the 4 water collection barrels.  Water that comes down the pipes from the house rain gutters empty into these barrels and then exists through a 1 inch spout buried at the base, which is

One of four points at which water coming through house water gutters enters piping on its way to the garden.

Garden Project Update

A blog post from a couple of weeks ago ( introduced the “Garden Project” that we are working on here at the Children’s home.  Some have expressed interested in knowing more and learning about how they might support the project.  Thus, here’s an update with some more information.

Below is a cost breakdown of what will be needed to make the project fully happen.  At this point, the project has simply involved labor to prepare all the garden terraces.  We did set up one irrigation system as a test case.  We were able to set that one up primarily with spare materials (pipe, etc.) around the compound.  Going forward, however, we’ll need to purchase some materials.  The below cost breakdown is bare minimum.  With additional funds we could buy more water barrels for rain collection, more pipe for more ditches, more garden tools for the kids and more seed.  So really this project needs between $600 and $1000 USD.

Garden Project Costs


Ethio. Birr


120 meters of plastic pipe for irrigation ditches (180 / 12 meters pipe) 1800 104
5 large (80 liter) water barrels (160 ETB each) 800 46
300 meters of 1 inch plastic irrigation tubing 6000 348
clamps, spouts, and fittings to set up pipe and tubing 200 12
new garden tools (100 ETB / shovel, 30 ETB / hand-hoe) 500 29
seed 1000 58
Total 10,300 $597

Below is an outline of our schedule to launch this project by March (which is when we expect to start getting a little rain, which, together with our irrigation system, should be enough water to start and sustain the gardens.

  1. Jan. 16 – 27 – finish digging and leveling terraces (4 down, 2-3 more to go)
  2. Jan. 19 – 23 – price needed supplies and blog an update with price breakdown
  3. Jan. 30 – Feb. 3 – dig out remaining irrigation ditches
  4. Feb. 3 – hold first meeting with kids to prepare them for planting
  5. Feb. 6 – 8 – set up irrigation pipes and barrels
  6. Feb. 9 – 13 – make trip to Addis; purchase irrigation tubing
  7. Feb. 14 – 17 – spread compost and till up gardens
  8. Feb. 17 – meeting with kids
  9. Feb. 20 – 24 – perforate and set up irrigation tubing
  10. Feb. 24 – meeting with kids
  11. Feb. 27 – Mar. 2 – purchase seed and set up some extra rain collection barrels
  12. Mar. 2 – meeting with kids
  13. March – plant after a couple of good rains

Below are a few updated pictures of our progress.

Looking down on our first 2 completed terraces... now all leveled and ready for irrigation set-up. You can see our 3rd terrace in the background, below it is another that we're working on, and beyond the 3rd one is another completed one and space for at least one more to be made.

Looking up from below on the first 1 completed terraces.

A third completed terrace ready for irrigation set-up... we've intentionally left a slight slope with all the terraces to help with gravity irrigation.

Looking up from below... directly in front is a 5th terrace that we're currently working on... above it, you can see the 3rd terrace from the previous picture.

This is our 4th terrace... there will be at least one more below this one.

The CCC Garden Project

One of our primary goals for our time here at the Children’s Home is to develop ways to help the children transition to independent adulthood when they reach that point in their lives.  Obviously, one aspect of the transition to independent adulthood has to do with making a livelihood.

Like many developing countries, the unemployment rate in Ethiopia is ridiculous; it’s probably in the range of 60% of the population.  That statistic is rather deceiving, however, because unlike people in the US, a huge percentage of the population here exists off of small sustenance farming or some form of home-based small business.  These sources of income are usually not captured in official employment statistics.  Also, many Ethiopians supplement their livelihood with support of some extended family member who happens to have employment; it is shocking how many people can scrape out an existence off of support from one employed extended family member.

Because the kids living here at the Children’s Home have neither family financial support, nor a family plot of land to fall back on if they can’t find a job of their own, making a livelihood in the future is a significant obstacle for our children.  Richelle and I are looking hard at how to help our kids develop a set of skills that will equip them to make a living and survive independently in the future.  As an organization, we’re focusing significant resources into education, hoping that will position some of our children with good jobs in the future, but the reality is that there just aren’t enough jobs available in this country.

One project that we’ve been working on we’re simply calling the “The Garden Project.”  The concept is incredibly simple:  give each of the older kids their own garden plot.  They will each be given a plot of land, some seed, and some support.  They will plant and grow some produce, which they can then sell.  They get to keep whatever money they make.  Kids will get to learn some basic gardening skills, as well as some very simple business and money-management skills.  While the concept is simple, the implementation is a little more complex.

Here on the Children’s Home compound, there is a decent amount of land and the soil is pretty good for growing.  There are a few obstacles, however.  First, the whole compound is on a side-hill sloping on at a 45-degree angle.  Second, during the rainy season (July through early Sept.), the rains are often so strong that the surface water run-off can cause some very bad erosion, thus further complicating planting and growing on a 45-degree slope.  Third, outside of the rainy season there is only sporadic precipitation at all, thus making it difficult to grow much of anything from about Oct. through May without some sort of irrigation.  Irrigation is difficult, however, because the water system from the town only provides piped water two days per week.

So we’ve been working hard.  With the help of some of the guys here at the Children’s Home, we have pulled up the sod and leveled a number of large terraced-garden areas.  We have then set up one example irrigation ditch, through which we can run grey-water and rain run-off from the main children’s house down to the garden area.  At the end of the irrigation ditch, we’ve connected a barrel and then some 1-inch plastic tubing coming out of the barrel.  After perforating the tubing, we can run the tubing throughout the garden and distribute the irrigation water more evenly throughout the garden area.  We’ve also been composting like crazy for the past 6 months.

The plan is to dig out and level several more terraced-garden areas, dig out several more irrigation ditches from the houses, and set up the irrigation tubing so that the gardens are ready for planting by March, which is when we hope to start receiving a little rain.  During February, we’ll be assigning plots to the children and getting them set up for planting.

Most of the investment in getting this project up and running has been in labor.  There will be some expenses, however, to purchase the pipe, the tubing and the barrels for the irrigation system, as well as the seed and some extra tools for the actual gardening.  If you have an interest in helping out with this project, please respond to this post or email me at  We’re always looking for people with expert advice.  In this case, if you have expert advice or experience with terraced-gardening, irrigation systems, or using grey-water for irrigation, please reach out.  We’d love to tap your expertise.  Also, if you have some interest in donating some funds directly to this project, we can give you specifics on how much is needed and how you can donate.  A little money (especially USD) could make this project happen and benefit our kids in a big way.

This is an example of the rainwater gutters that run around the Children’s Home and the Kitchen / Cafeteria building.  Because the Children’s Home is built on a slope, all water runs downhill towards the gardens.

We’ve connected pipe at the end of one rainwater gutter, through which water runs down to the gardens.  In this way, we can transport rainwater run-off that collects in the gutters after running off the house.  We can also transport grey-water (water used for cleaning, doing dishes, taking bucket-bathes, etc.) by simply emptying the buckets into the gutters.  The plan is to dig a ditch and run pipe from the end of each of the rain gutters.  We will also run pipe from the hand-pump well to capture spill-water from the well.

When the water comes down the pipe, it empties into a bucket and then flows out through the perforated plastic tubing.  At this point we’ve discovered the bucket in this picture to create a choke point.  The plan is to use a better barrel and move the barrel-point further up the hill.  There would then be greater gravity force through the tube to more effectively distribute the water through the tubing.

This is a view of two terraces with irrigation tubing set up in one part as an example and test site.

This is the view of one of our completed terraces.

This is our hand-pump well.  The plan is to build a catch basin with cement, and run pipe from here so that we can capture spill-water from the pump and run it to the gardens.