Heather in Senegal

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Alexis, her boyfriend Al, who is visiting for the summer, and I have been creating a new demo-garden in Kolda. Alexis's host father owns the land. It is completely fenced in, and it is very close to Alexis's house, making it ideal. Jenny and I worked this land last winter, but the children in her compound were supposed to water, and they didn't do it often enough. Jenny was by then in the process of leaving the country, and it was the dry season, so we decided to put the garden on hold until Alexis took over the site.

It has been so much fun transforming the empty lot into a garden. Aside from the natural work of digging beds and turning soil, we have had to do a lot of hunting for supplies. We made three trips to the field where I get cow paddies and biked back to the garden with sacks of it on our bikes. Alexis and Al were initially squeemish about touching the cow fecies, but after the first day they threw away their gloves and dug in like champions. Peace Corps recommends lining beds with plastic to hold water and discourage burrowing animals. Plastic can be expensive, so we decided to try the process using rice sacks. Boutiques occasionally sell the sacks, but they will rarely have more than one avaialable at a time. We solved this problem by going through garbage heaps and jumping down into sewers to find the sacks. Alexis made contact with a peanut seller who now sells us her peanut shells, which are great for the nursery stage of seeds. We wanted mulch and were considering going to carpenters and asking for their shavings, but then we noticed the sudden abundance of straw piles beside houses. The rainy season had just begun, and many people were fixing their roofs. We got permission from a nearby hut-owner and then carried his pile to the garden. We had asked the kids in Alexis's compound to help us, and soon about twenty more kids joined us. The mob of kids and we three toubobs walked in a loop from the pile to the garden and back, in one direction hugging to our chests as much straw as we each could carry, and in the other directin covered in dirt and straw specks. Al got the idea of making the garden look nicer by lining the beds with red stones and creating a path to the well, so he led children in hunting for rocks in the land near the garden. A local organization that grows trees in sacks gave us Nebedie trees and a Neem tree. The Nebedie are small now, but they seem to grow visibly every day, and within a few months they should be able to be the foundation for a new fence at the garden to replace the current one that is crumbling behind them. The kids from Alexis' compound and some neighboring children come to the children to work with us almost every day.

Back when Jenny and I were working in the garden I purchased four meters of chicken wire, and we made three cylinders for compost, as recommended by Peace Corps. Shortly afterwards, the garden went on hold, so it wasn't until much later that Alexis and I began using these compost bins. The idea behind them is that they are very well aerated and they are insulated from grazing animals. You should keep the compost in the first container for three weeks before moving it to the next. In that process you turn it. Fill the first container again, and at three weeks move the compost from the second container to the third, and the first to the second. In another three weeks the third container should have lovely usable compost. In training we saw how quickly the decomposing process worked in these conditions. We were only at training for a few weeks after we started using these containers, so I don't know what happened to them later. In our garden, the old vegetables and branches did start to decompose nicely, but as the material moved the chicken wire bent around it. Soon our nice cylinders were crumpled into balls around the compost. Trying to extract the muck from one crumpled meter of chicken wire and put it in another was a headache. Alexis came up with the idea of using rice sacks instead. Chicken wire is expensive, so even had it worked beautifully, it could only have encouraged locals on the principle of composting; they would have had to do it by another method.

Yesterday we set up Alexis's composting idea. We cut three sacks so they were open at top and bottom, and then we hemmed both ends to prevent fraying. We went hunting through town until we found old bamboo poles, and we cut twelve of them to shoulder hight. We sewed four to each sack so they could work as support for the form and as legs, and we hammered the ends of the poles into the ground, creating three square containers. Then came the unpleasant part. By now we had matter composting in the three chicken wire balls, and we had to move them to our new containers. Everything had turned to a brown slimy mush, with only the occasional recognizable bit of mango or onion. We found a few avocado pits that were alive, and we planted them in the garden. Our shovel is in pretty bad shape, so we soon resigned ourselves to moving the mass handful by handful.

It is a pleasure to have a garden where we can do as we wish. I have gotten so frustrated with Seck disagreeing with or sabotaging my projects at our garden. At Alexis's garden we can plant trees, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, doexperiments with container planting, composting, manure, etcetera, and teach visitors however we like. Alexis has already given a lesson to adults on bean planting and the kids working there are learning as they go.

This evening I went to the garden after working at Seck's and planted flowers between the Nebedie trees until the sun set.


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