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Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners
VOLUNTEERS: Lucia Bertram-Albrecht Arlen E. Albrecht July 15-29, 2001

Dates of Travel:

The purpose of this assignment was two fold: 1. To review existing square foot demonstration gardens planted by this volunteer in February 2001 and those by Greg and Carolyn Lamb in March. We were to provide trouble-shooting advice, review successful vegetable varieties, and review the “second generation plantings”---those gardens produced by the students of the first set of trainees. 2. To design four new demonstration sights and teach square foot garden techniques to participants of the Women’s Learning Centers, UNA and INTA. Chepita’s Neighborhood


We reviewed the demonstration garden created by Greg and Carolyn Lamb in March. This garden was four months old. Produce was growing nicely, and they had already harvested two corps of radishes, and lettuce. The instructional compost pile was completed and the students incorporated it two new gardens that were planted two weeks prior and were sprouting. Fifteen women from the Learning Center attended the “refresher class” where we reviewed: 1. The importance of compost and how to make good compost 2. Philosophy of why and how to do square foot gardens 3. Review of what grew and what didn’t and why, and our general observations on plant health 4. An additional compost pile and garden were made to reinforce the “Experiential Learning/Teaching Cycle This course was team taught by us to demonstrate how men and women are equal in work, that gardens can be both male and female work, and it was a fun/lively way of teaching. After participants left, we reviewed six additional gardens (students of Greg and Carolyn). These gardens were planted 2 weeks prior (when the compost was ready). It appeared that proper depths guidelines were not followed. We helped replant at proper depths. They may also have rushed the compost---it may not have been totally “cooked” and could have heated and damaged the seeds. We also installed a tin smoke stack for Chepita’s mother during our spare time.

The home stay experience was wonderful. Our son Aaron age 12 was exposed to a very different life style and unique foods and fruits. He also learned different ways of communicating, as he does not speak Spanish. He made two good friends. Day 2—July 17 We were taken to Buenos Aires to the home of Mayra Mendoza and family. We quickly reviewed the garden planted in February and subsequent ones the family created (five additional square meters), and a completed compost pile for more gardens. OBSERVTIONS: warm weather plants and varieties were doing great—well developed and maturing. Cool weather plants (cabbage, broccoli were stunted or dead. Kohlrabi and rutabaga were doing well however. The carrots had great foliage but a very short stubby root fruit. They also need to pick the radishes earlier. Seventeen men and women from two additional communities were present for the workshop. These 17 participants were engaged in a three-hour course on composting and square foot gardens. We talked about trouble-shooting for insect control and the “fear that the PH in the compost was too hot or “acidic”. A future volunteer should test this. A simple ph/litmus test should verify the balance of the completed compost. We must also emphisize that time (6 weeks) should not be the only factor in a complete compost—but rather the texture, consistency of the finished product and the fact it doesn’t re-heat. And the fact that it is cool—or at least does not heat up anymore. Wisconsin Volunteers also need to sort seed varieties for hot areas and cooler mountain areas and make suggestions to Leonor and the Learning Centers. It has been demonstrated through my 4 volunteer assignments on gardening, that people aren’t excited about making compost. They would prefer to get a donated 100-pound bag of chemical fertilizer, they are hesitant to collect manure (cow, pig, horse, and chicken) and find it disgusting. As volunteers, we need to demonstrate that it will not harm a person so long as you wash your hands after the compost pile is complete. They find it interesting that a Gringo will not drink their water but is not afraid to handle manure. As volunteers we need to emphasis the benefits of compost—both economically, environmentally, and plant nutrient wise. We found out that a 50pound bag of compost sold for $80 Cordovas at a roadside stand. This proves that compost has economic value and could also be a small business venture. We also are suggesting to the host agencies to require participants to have their compost made and garden site prepared before the seeds are distributed to them. This will require a site visit by the agency, but will also provide more instruction to the clients. The late afternoon was dedicated to installing a gas powered (5.5 horse power Red Lion) water pump for a demonstration drip irrigation system. Arlen purchased all materials needed for a basic drip irrigation system ($400 of the $550 was contributed by the Mendoza family). It was shipped with the Wis/Nica Partners container shipment. The system was reassembled at the Mendoza farm. The tubing and tank system design should be sufficient to irrigate a 2.5-acre plot. It can be added to in the future through the purchase of more tubes and 55-gallon tanks.

The drip irrigation system will allow for continuous vegetable production for market in this semi arid region. Continued contact with the Mendoza’s through the Companeros office will provide evaluation of the system and help make decisions for its replication to neighboring areas. July 18 Managua Went with Ronald Blandon to the National Agricultural University and met with the faculty involved with the FDR-TISMA project. (Volunteer Marty Havlovic worked on this). We discussed the next phase of the project, which is to bring two faculty members to Wisconsin for meetings with the University of Wisconsin Extension Administration. We also went to the USAID office in Managua with Jerry Nolte and Tony Jelick (FTF volunteers) and Sherin Bowen, Director of Wis/Nica Partners. We met with Paul Crawford- (an old Peace Corps Friend of mine). We discussed present and future Wis/Nica partners and FTF projects. We received word that the $130,000 grant was just released for the milk cooling tank project (written by Ronald Blandon, Robert Albrecht and I) although it changed considerably when turned over to WINROCK and PRODEGA. July 19: Juigalpa Our trip was delayed due to the Companeros Jeep breaking down—we swapped vehicles with Sherin Bowen. I rode in the back of the pickup and got soaked. It rained the entire trip. The heavy rain prohibited us from reviewing any gardens at this site (Feb planting) However we set up chairs on the veranda and talked about gardening for 2.5 hours with 20 men and women from the neighborhood. We discussed varieties, planting, insect control and compost making. Future volunteers should verify the methods to control sampopos (large defoliating ants). Local methods include; 1. Irrigating the ant hills with fresh cow manure solution (mixed with water) 2. Bring in dirt from another ant hill and put it on and around the troublesome ant hill In both methods the ants are supposed to move away? It could be a good organic cure to a very serious problem facing gardeners in Nicaragua. Also the night’s home stay with Juanita and family was very nice. Our son experienced another family and how they celebrated life. He gained confidence and presented his card and string magic tricks. His only dislike is the Nicaraguan costume of the hug and kiss on the cheek. He doesn’t like girls yet---wait until he turns 16! July 20 Juigalpa Reviewed two gardens before we arrived at the training site. The tomatoes were planted two close together and were suffering from some form of blight. Most of the tomatoes looked pretty bad in the commercial field close bye. The other corps were growing nicely.

Provided a four hour complete training on compost and square foot gardening and were able to do a hands on construction of a compost pile and build a garden. Local resources (farmstead asset mapping) provided information for all organic matter, manure and discarded bricks for the garden frame. The audience was a mixture of 27 youth, men, and women from the city of Juigalpa. The youth were involved in a project to “help their grandparents”. Fortunately Lucia is an elementary teacher and was able to really engage the youth in learning. Our son contributed some educational toys to the cause and they were rewarded to the young participants. We will communicate via e-mail with Elvia Francis and monitor the progress of each garden. Seeds were left at each training site. There are sufficient seeds and varieties to plant over 100 meters of gardens at each training community. With proper care (dry and cool) the seeds should last at least a year and retain good germination. We will be sending down more small plastic sealable bags to re-distribute the seeds in appropriate volumes to each family. July 23 Managua & travel to Jinotega The morning entailed meeting with UNA faculty. Our energies focused on helping the planning process for the new Animal Science/Veterinarian curriculum. Jerry Nolte led this discussion and we translated and provided facilitation skills. We left for Jinotega and arrived at 5:30 pm. July 24—Jinotega---Jinohealth We left at 8:00 am to tour various conventional gardens (some that are now 2 years old from Arlen’s first project work) and also new square foot gardens developed since February’s workshops. In general, the Jinohealth Promoters are doing excellent work in teaching the importance of vegetable gardens to improve family nutritional health. There are an estimated 600 gardens (both square foot and traditional) in cultivation under their guidance. They provide instruction on planting, compost making, how to harvest, prepare and eat the sometimes-new vegetables. Okra, rutabaga and kohlrabi were new introductions to their diets and are very popular now. We toured 6 conventional gardens. They were well kept---not a weed in the garden, some were designed in a very decorative fashion adorning the house patio (and not out in the “cultivo”). It was obvious that the owners took great pride in their new gardening skills, as all plants were healthy and watered. We were also able to observe one the Jinohealth Promoters (Max?) instruct a group of 20 women and children how to make compost. He was very effective and provided a great environment for learning. Every one was engaged, encouraged to ask questions, and participate. His technical content was right on target—(he learned from Arlen in February) and was very able to explain the process of composting. At these sites there were a few gardeners who need to provide appropriate spacing for broccoli. We also noticed the same early blight on the tomatoes. This may be epidemic throughout Nicaragua as we saw it in Buenos Aires, Juigalpa, Jinotega, and Matagalpa. As volunteers we also need to emphasize the need to stage planting times: not to plant all the seeds the same day or week so as to have continued harvest not 100 plants ripe the same day. By timing the plantings

or continual planting, the compesina women would have continual harvest and not the feastfamine results of one time planting --- one-time harvest. We reviewed 4 square foot garden plots. These plots were usually one meter by three meters or three separate beds , as they say “if we’re going to garden, lets get serious”. All were in germination stage in good compost. One gardener thought that the compost was too hot/strong and burned the young seedlings shortly after they germinated. As mentioned earlier, this needs to be tested for PH. This particular compost was made under Arlen’s instruction in February and contained a large portion of coffee pulp. This could be very acidic and needs to be tested. It could also mean that the compost pile was still “working” and heated up. She also used black plastic as a fence around the garden to keep chickens out. The black plastic could have absorbed more of the intense tropical sun and heated the area too much. Our recommendation was not to use black plastic, and be sure the compost was done cooking before use in a garden plot. The promoter was conduction a demonstration plot at one site. This involved three square meter beds. One with just dirt, one with composted coffee pulp and one with compost. This will provide visual results for the community to observe—plant health, production and needed care. As volunteer educators (Extensionistas) this was the ultimate positive evaluation. That people— promoters and compesinos are taking the information and proving to themselves or adapting the technology to meet the Nicaraguan reality. They are experimenting!!! July 25---Matagalpa We worked with Alejandro Blandon from the Regional 5 INTA office in Matagalpa. Alejandro attended the Square Foot Garden workshop in Miami with Arlen in February. The three of us team taught the curriculum of square Foot gardens (philosophy, composting, technique, compost pile demo and demonstration garden) to a group of 30 agency people. INTA, Jinohealth, Care, two schools teachers, MARENA, POSAF and a church were the organizations present. Alejandro Blandon is an excellent teacher; we wish his presentations could be taped for redistribution! His teaching skills and working knowledge of Square Foot Gardens demonstrates that the SFG Foundations plan of training Central Americans along with the FTF volunteer is sound and should continue. July 27—Managua- UNA CAMPUS First thing in the morning, Ronald (Nicaraguan FTF Coordinator) and Arlen (Wisconsin FTF Coordinator) met with the President (Rector) of the University. The purpose of this meeting was to solidify the relationship between Ronald’s work as a Veterinary Professor in conjunction with FTF Coordination. We discussed the number and qualifications of volunteers brought into the country. It was agreed that Ronald could conduct FTF work through the University, and that our Partners Chapter may have the opportunity to build its new office, training center and warehouse on UNA land. At least he was willing to explore the idea. At 10:00 we conducted a Square foot garden workshop with 25 participants coming from: UNA Students and Faculty, Women’s Learning Centers, members from the Nicaragua/Wisconsin

Companeros board of directors, two church leaders, and Jinohealth. The session was like the others, philosophy, composting, technique, compost pile demo and demonstration garden. The finished garden was given to the woman who runs kiosk on campus, she watched the planting and was very interested and volunteered to tend it---water, weed and harvest. In conclusion we feel we had great impact on the future of Square Foot Gardens in Nicaragua. We trained 159 participants, personally viewed 25 gardens in production, created five new demonstration sites, provided advice to avoid insect and disease problems, helped Nicaraguans adapt the SFG technique to the Nicaraguan reality, witnessed compesinos experimenting and creating new techniques, installed a simplified drip irrigation system, and demonstrated that a husband and wife team (with a little help from our son) can be effective ambassadors for FTF and POA.

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