Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gardening in the Gobi...

..and other foolish ventures..Thus continues the story of my gardening in Mongolia, year two.  Last year, here in Arvaikheer. I had the plan to make a garden out of some hardscrabble weed strewn land (consisting of sand and gravel and weeds) ,though fenced in areas in front of the school dormitory.  This was a mutual goal and part of my work plan between myself and my school director and man was I excited!!!

Gardening for me has been a sanity saving well loved pastime of mine for many years.  From starting plants from seed in a makeshift set up in my basement to enjoying the fruits/vegetables of my labor.  The feel of the earth in my hands, the meditative calming effect of gardening is an integral part of who I am.  The joys of watching little seeds turn into tiny plants, then produce lovely flowers and food... priceless.  The habit of taking food scraps and building a compost bin which then turns into beautiful soil which helps enrich the earth, feed the plants and use what many people consider garbage, a deeply ingrained habit.  My gardening has been more a passion of mine than a pastime. I've even seriously considered trying to earn a living from it in the future.

Back to last years' gardening....I worked on this in my usual slow, meditative relaxing pace.... Meaning it took me  month of work to get things planted with the help of my all girl English Garden Club.  This was after some assistance of dorm students and staff, helping me throw out rocks, and dig out weeds and grass, a very big undertaking....  I had also worked with the Eco Green Club at my school and set up compost bins in the yard.  It was gonna be a great gardening season!!!  Having found a carpenter where I could get free sawdust to dig into the sand was another plus.  The sandy rocky weedy patch needed all the help it could get!

I also planted in the big blue planters in front of the school.....Two large metal urn type planters painted a very bright blue which were mostly sporting trash and acted as large cigarette ash trays.  Those took a long time for the seedlings to germinate, and it was a constant battle with birds pecking in them for the seeds and moisture and kids throwing trash in them, adults throwing cigarette butts there.... heavy sigh.  Eventually the planters yielded some nice salad fixins' which I enjoyed:)

The garden itself provided me with lots of fresh peas, which I froze and just finished eating, as well as some green beans and great quantities of fresh lettuce, spinach and other salad ingredients which wa,s savored by myself and my site mates.

Unfortunately, only one side of the garden was planted after I tripped on a tent line in early June and bruised my ribs..... gardening was minimal to say the least....It takes a good six weeks for ribs to heal up nicely enough to return to business as usual.  Ow.

On the down side, the garden was not the thing of beauty which I envisioned..  I did have other challenges along the way, including a helpful school worker who took all the dried animal dung the Eco Green Club and I had collected and put in the beds and threw it in the trash, never to be seen again.  Talk about cultural differences.... I have to laugh about it even though I was livid at the time. I believe there is an old blog called, Who took my Sh*t.....Gardening is not a very popular hobby here and I finally got the workers to understand that if there was animal dung in the garden it was because I intentionally put it there....... Actually a plastic greenhouse is pretty much the concept of gardening here, and a wise idea with all the erratic weather, and the extremely windy conditions, even in summer.  No greenhouse for me; I'm doing it old school.

The dozens of tomato plants which I lovingly started in my apartment, hardened off in the windy out of doors and planted did not thrive.  By September most of them had fruits which promptly died in a frost September 10th... Ugh...

This year has provided it's own unique challenges....  By late fall, I realized my compost bins (made of wire fencing and secured by bricks) were gone, vanished, disappeared.  I took my small bucket of compost to throw it in and it was gone.  I never did find out who took the compost, where the bins went, etc.  I can only hope someone actually used it to help grow plants but I suspect not.

Many of my little flower seedlings were blighted by aphids/plant lice and I'm not sure that was quite worth my efforts this year.  I hope to salvage some of them for transplanting outdoors, but just not too sure.

The month of May has been mostly warm, so I decided  to start the planters about two weeks ago.  I lovingly mixed together many flower seed packets and threw in some seeds I'd collected from last years flowers, mixing in a little sand.  I took a bag of goat poo I'd collected in the winter and mixed it into the planters, wet them well, sprinkled seed then covered it all, adding a little more water.  On top I placed my own little plastic greenhouse cover, consisting of at least a dozen small plastic bags, cut and taped together.  The plastic was then secured down on top of the planter with large rocks along the sides.  I was very pleased with myself, knowing I'd figured how to keep trash, birds, kids and cigarette butts out, and the flowers would start growing much quicker and better than ever.  Gardening here in Mongolia has caused me to question my gardening skills and spite of my highly successful, productive and beautiful gardens of the past.

Well, it wasn't two days later that I could be heard yelling Who took my freakin' plastic?! to my English speaking counterpart on the phone...Not one of my finer moments......I then asked her to pass the word to the workers that I put it there to hold in moisture and heat and keep out kids and birds.... Several days later I made other plastic covers which have now remained for three days.  Oh happy day....maybe these flowers will eventually grow!!!

Two days ago noticing the many weeds that had recently sprung up in the garden, I decided I'd better get out there and start weeding.  Friday was my lucky day as I lazily began weeding, my amazing c/p Altai, the dorm teacher asked me if I needed students help.  Yes, please I said and for the next three hours a couple dozen dorm kids came and went, digging, weeding and throwing out rocks.
boys shoveling the dirt

the process of carrying the bags of soil, dumping and digging/spreading was lots of hard work!

this looks so much better than the rocky sand!

are we done yet?
So after hours of me squatting in the gardening, heaving the shovel and demonstrating the easiest way to dig, plus the smoothing of the soil, man did I ever work out muscles that have long been forgotten this winter.... In fact, I've been more sedentary this winter than last and have found some of that weight I lost my first year here.

So Altai c/p to the rescue again... She asked if I needed help again on Saturday and I said yes, at 11 we need to spread and work in the soil/dung brought from the countryside.  Go figure, I was sore and grouchy and a real slave driver that day....  Hoisting the bags of stuff was not the boys idea of fun, but they did it, and did a great job of it too!!!!  Thank goodness because this would've taken me weeks to complete at my leisurely pace.  Mind you, back in Ohio I would've been out there working on the garden plot early in April and would be enjoying peas and salad by now.

So tired as I was, I was not very patient on Saturday.   I think I was wearing my Mean Teacher Face as I tried to show students what to do, and answer a million questions.....  Most then wanted to plant something.....seeds on the big side, and potato tubers on the other. and they did!.....It was interesting and aggravating to me to continually tell kids not to stomp all over everywhere.  With so many students coming and going, they didn't realize where things were planted....  Really, I need to focus on their enthusiasm and willingness to take part; a great sign they may be interested in gardening after I leave

 I started contemplating what gardening is to me - a solitary hobby that I enjoy when done by myself and at a very leisurely pace.  No wonder I didn't garner my usual enjoyment from this weekends' garden experience, though I really need to cultivate my attitude of gratitude .. for all the work and participation added by the kids.  During this ah-ha moment, I realized I need to share this and not be so selfish about gardening.  Later that afternoon I put white yarn as row markers (hopefully the wind won't blow it all away) and will hope that if the garden is in bloom when the kids return to school September 1st (I'll be long gone by about 5 weeks by then) that they will be motivated to garden more.  After all, this is supposed to be their garden.

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