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.

Update on the Power Situation in Soddo

The short version is that we remain without power here in Soddo…

The longer version…

Still no one really seems able to predict how long it will be. Our director thinks we could be back up and running with electricity within two weeks, so we’ve decided to share in his optimism and take it two weeks at a time.

We’ve put together a little analysis of the extra costs that will be accrued to run the children’s home over the next two weeks without any electrical power. Here’s the breakdown:

Gasoline for the office generator

Four liters of gas / day will run the little office generator enough to keep computers charged and the office running. Because none of the fuel stations in town are operating (fuel pumps require electricity), fuel is being brought in by jerry can from out of town by middlemen. This has resulted in increased fuel costs to 26 ETB / liter ($1.51 USD / liter). Thus we will need an extra $85 USD to cover fuel costs for the next two weeks.


Without the electric oven in the kitchen, which is typically used to baking bread daily, the kitchen will require extra firewood. We expect to buy an extra 300 ETB worth of firewood over the next two weeks ($18 USD).

Donkey Water

Because of increased water scarcity and donkey water demand, the cost of donkey water has doubled this weeks from 8 ETB / donkey to 15 ETB. Because we’re now completely reliant on donkey water for all cleaning, cooking, washing and drinking, we’ll need about 14 donkeys worth of water / day. That’s 2,940 ETB for 2 weeks ($171 USD).

A couple of one-time extra expenses

Because its difficult to stagger the arrival of donkey water throughout the day, we’ll need to purchase a couple more large water barrels to hold the water when the donkeys arrive… 500 ETB ($29 USD).

Because the donkey water is now all coming from small streams and surface springs, we’re extra concerned about water quality for drinking. We need to buy a couple more water filters to ensure that the kids are drinking filtered water… 500 ETB ($29 USD).

So the children’s home will need about $330 (USD) extra to cover these unexpected costs for the next 2 weeks. If this problem persists beyond the next 2 weeks, we’ll be updating the blog regarding our on-going needs. If you’re interested in helping with these costs, you can send a check to Aerie Africa at the address below or you can go online and donate at Either way, if you include the note “Power” with your donation, Aerie will ensure that it gets used to help cover these extra costs. If you have further questions, please feel free to email us ( or

On a related note, this week has further enforced our need for a long-term water solution for the children’s home. We’re still awaiting the hydrologist report before we can create a more accurate estimate of total costs, but if you’re interested in donating or helping us to raise funds for this project, please let us know. It is going to require a significant fund-raising effort and we’ll need all the help we can get.

Aerie Africa, Inc.

c/o Robin Browning

2234 South Abbey Loop

New Braunfels, TX 78130