by Steve McNutt
[Reader’s Note: Please understand the following. This two-part blog post has (a) been written by someone other than The Inadvertent Gardener and (b) compiled under significant duress with serious threats of recrimination, specifically the withholding of birthday gifts — yes, I’m serious. The writer of this post volunteered to write a guest column some time back after returning from a month in Gabon, Central Africa. Here we go…]
This blog post is about a new and different and wackily exciting way that you, and I, and the world, might water our gardens.
The new technique: holes.
I’ll explain this shortly.
First, a little background. From 2000-2002, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa, where I saw a lot of other people grow things, which makes me sort of an expert in telling people what to do based on stuff I’ve seen other people do. I don’t know how to do it. But I do know how to talk about it. This makes me a consultant. Anyway, for a month, this past summer, I returned to Gabon to do some research on a project that is complicated and very screwy and requires no mention here.
Agriculturally-speaking, Gabon is not exactly at the top of the international heap. I’m not sure who is at the top of the heap, but it’s not Gabon. (If you count Forestry and Fishing, China and Japan are way up there, as is the United States. Gabon, rest assured, is nowhere near the top.) Unlike their neighbor to the north, Cameroon, Gabon imports way more food than it exports. This is pretty standard in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cameroon is one of the few countries on the continent that exports more food than it imports. Go Cameroon! Gabon does not. Some food is actually cheaper in Libreville (the coastal capital) than in the interior. Very messed up. (More on Gabon: very small. 1.5 million people. Lots of forest. Gorillas. Rampant government corruption. Fun times.)
Anyway. Where was I? (Again, we’ll get to the watering technique in a minute. I promise.) Most of the crop-growing is on a subsistence level. Major crops include: manioc (also known as cassava), habanero peppers, various tubercules, eggplants, moderate tomato-growing (tricky) as well as bananas and mangoes and breadfruit, to name just a few. Oh. and the African oil palm (Elaesis guineensis). There are a variety of palm trees, but the oil palm kind is squat and fairly scrubby — not as aesthetically pleasing as your frond-waving beach variety, but much more productive in terms of food stuffs.
Oil palms can be tapped (much like you tap for maple syrup) and drained of juice that ferments to make palm wine. It ferments even faster if a specific piece of wood is placed in it. You generally drink this (a milky white substance) out of a shared jug along the side of the road or, in my most recent case, a muddy parking lot with a manager from the telephone company who, for some reason, was able to get shnockered at 2 p.m. on a work day. It’s warm and bitter. The bitterness level rises with fermentation. Definitely an acquired taste.
Up Side: helpful if you feel like laying down in the middle of the jungle and hiccuping.
Down Side: you end up laying down in the middle of the jungle and hiccuping. Then ants show up and bite through your pants.
On Wednesday…learn more about palm nuts, Gabonese soil and, really and truly, African watering techniques! Stay tuned…
Photo credit: Steve McNutt