Sue found this idea a while ago on another charity’s website and decided to try it out in Malawi. It works really well – so thank you to whoever had this idea! A friend added to the original design.
Sue sewed 4 maize sacks together so that the sides of the “garden” are double material. The big (10cm long) needles and cord used to sew up tobacco sacks were ideal for the job. The 15 cm base and the central core are filled with 2cm stone chippings. This filters dirty water and acts as a water reservoir when the sack sits 20 cms deep in the ground. Good, composted soil was used to fill the sacks to within 10 cms of the top.
A variety of seeds were sewn – beans, cucumbers, herbs, cabbages and beetroot – and a “roof” of reed grass (quite thick – about 5 cms) was placed loosely over the seeds to protect then from the fierce sun. The “roof” was thinned out as the seedlings grew, at least until they had their secondary leaves. The cabbages sprouted in 24 hours, beans in 48 hours, beetroot and cucumber in about 4 days and the herbs a bit slower, sprouting in about 5 days.
After about 2 weeks, the beans looked a bit yellow and the gardeners, who were taking on the project after we left, decided to apply some general purpose fertiliser – they wanted good results and know the needs of the local soil – more natural methods perhaps for another day!
There was plenty of interest in this experiment – some ideas included, using the sack gardens as nursery beds until the plants are big enough to transplant to open ground, herb gardens near kitchen areas, small gardens in urban/shanty housing areas or placed at the end of well run-offs to prevent erosion and use waste water, perhaps planted up with antiseptic herbs to be used to clean out buckets instead of the usual practice of using contaminated stones from around the well head.
Some results – problems, quantities harvested, etc should be known by the end of October 2013, but the most results will come next year when we see if these “gardens” are viable through the dry season.