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Monday, October 17, 2011

Update on the MoM Garden

The last update on the MoM garden saw our mud hut going up and our wind turbine coming down. However, since then, we’ve experienced again the adventures of living in a rural area while watching the mud hut coming down and the wind turbine going up! It’s true that in Africa, if it’s not one adventure, it’s another!

This year, we planted a variety of items in the garden, including maize, several vegetables and a few herbs. Success has been seen at differing extents: some have done exceedingly well, while others have been more of a learning exercise.
The area we ploughed for the maize field was formerly a corral for cattle, thus it was well fertilized and as a result, the maize was some of the best I have seen! Our maize crop grew fantastically and we were quite excited for our recent harvest which utilized a new machine I had bought in rural France. This machine is designed to remove the seeds, a method quite different from the local labor-intensive technique which requires harvesters to put the cobs in a bag, thresh it with a stick to separate the corn from the husk, and finally physically separate the corn from the chaff and husks that remain. Despite the perks of the new machine, the verdict is still out regarding which is quicker! In addition to being a bit tricky to use, it only threshes one cob at a time. I remain optimistic though that additional experience will prove this to be a valuable asset as the cobs remain whole after harvesting, providing alternate uses such as fuel and (scratchy) toilet paper. The harvest resulted in a complete yield of roughly one 60kg bag of maize, which is encouraging to see from such a small plot!

Not all the vegetables in the garden had such bounteous harvests as the maize, but we learned a great deal from the experience and anticipate a better result next planting season! Although the cucumbers and peppers grew well as expected, the squash and tomatoes had some trouble with bugs due to a lack of pesticides available. There is a very effective local pesticide I tend to prefer which is made from the oil of the Neem tree. The trees are readily available, but after approaching some of the Fulani women about making some of the Neem oil, I learned that it can be a tedious process and is much easier to make if a machine is present.

Our herb garden is still a work in process and we were able to grow some anti-malarial herbs such as Artemisia and lemongrass. Artemisia is often used to treat malaria and is actually the base for many modern anti-malarial drugs. Lemongrass, often made into a tea, is an excellent fever reducer! We will need to find a better growing environment for the basil, rosemary and mint before we will see a usable harvest from these herbs. During rainy season, we are especially busy as the grass grows so fast we have to cut it once a week on the aircraft maneuvering areas, so it is easy for these small herbs to overgrow when they are young, thus risking their demise.

Our adventure building the mud hut has taught us several valuable lessons regarding local resources and sustainability of materials! A lack of funds left us unable to roof and plaster the building once we had put up the walls. Thus exposed to the elements with no protection, the mud walls literally melted away within a few weeks. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, as we realized during the building process that there were some design flaws. The local men contracted to build the mud hut did so the traditional way, while in the process failing to utilize levels, lines or measurement which resulted in an unstable structure. While MoM does encourage communities to construct sustainable buildings in the ways they know best, we want to promote mutual learning. This was an excellent learning experience which provided us insight into the local resources and methods for building structures, which then enables us to analyze the process and attempt to develop sustainable innovations to improve structural integrity without compromising the local “flavour”. However, I think I have discovered now why mud huts are typically built in the dry season!

Our most recent volunteer (Fred) was invaluable to getting the wind turbine back up! We had hoped to see two things accomplished during his stay: the wind turbine and the welding of a trailer. Although the turbine turned out to be a much more complex and time-consuming task than originally anticipated, it was a top priority as it had been down for some time. Thanks to Fred’s hard work, the turbine is up and running again and several main parts welded on the trailer!

Getting the wind turbine up and running has been a challenge recently, so we have been doing some critical thinking to determine how to best move forward. It has faced structural challenges as well as environmental ones, both of which require adaptation to overcome. Recently, the turbine had blown down during strong winds of up to 90kts. However, prior to its fall, the turbine had not been turning very well with what wind it was getting. Our intended solution was to build it slightly higher and tie guy lines to it in order to increase wind-flow and stability, but unfortunately, there were some concerns with the manner in which the galvanised water pipes fit together after. As a result, we stayed with our original design which uses one 6-meter water pipe. Although galvanised water pipes may not sound particularly strong, our research indicated that it is commonly used within this context. Once we were able to connect the battery, a new challenge presented itself in the inability of the turbine to capture enough wind to facilitate charging the battery as it was intended. To address this issue, we may attempt to trim additional trees around in order to provide more wind. We are also considering the materials used so far and assessing whether plastic blades from the water drums might be as efficient as the aluminium ones on the original turbine. The turbine is 250W and will be able to charge one 20AmH battery that one would then run off. The amount of wind we get here on the airfield is quite reliable and we look forward to harnessing it in order to do something productive!

In the coming weeks, we look forward to planting again in the MoM garden as we have already ploughed the area in preparation. It is always busy here at the airfield, but we hope to get some new seeds in the soil before the dry season arrives. Any volunteers who would like to help us in the garden would be more than welcome! Our goal in the MoM garden is to focus on growing plants that are useful, particularly medicinal plants. In addition, we would like to develop a technique for drying products using a solar dryer in order to preserve them.


  1. Bravo ! Le basilic pousse bien au Ghana pour le romarin cela va être plus compliqué, c'est une plante qui aime les climats secs...

  2. Oui, le basilic pousse vraiment bien ici!