How to make your home a private oasis

Photo credit: Press Banner

The Mountain Gardener: Screen your neighbor with Low Water Use Plants

by Jan Nelson

We all enjoy privacy around our homes. Even if you’re best friends with your neighbor you don’t always want to wave at them each morning in your robe.

Whether you have a property tucked way back in the forest with a next door neighbor that looks right down on your deck or a postage stamp size lot that could be an jewel if you just had a screen between you and the next property, there are techniques designers use to make your home a private oasis.

Narrow spaces can be challenging when you need to screen the house next door. There’s not room for a big, evergreen tree or hedge to solve the problem. One way is to use plants that can be espaliered against a fence or trellis.

Some plants like Azara microphylla naturally grow flat without much coaxing on your part. This small dainty tree is fast growing and reaches 15 to 25-feet tall. The yellow flower clusters will fill your garden with the scent of white chocolate in late winter. They are ideal between structures. I’ve used the variegated version to screen a shower and it’s working great.

Another small tree, the compact Carolina cherry laurel can be espaliered also in a narrow space if needed. It grows 10-feet tall, but that may be all you need to screen the neighbor. They are drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, and the perfect host for birds, bees, and butterflies. The leaves smell like cherries when crushed, which gives this plant it’s common name.

A dwarf tree that also works nicely in this situation is a Southern magnolia called little gem. Naturally a very compact narrow tree it grows 20 to 30-feet tall, but only 10 to 15-feet wide. It can be trained as an espalier against a wall or fence, and the sweetly scented flowers will fill your garden with fragrance.

Other small trees that make a good screen are purple hopseed and dark shadows leptospermum. Both have beautiful burgundy foliage.

California natives that can be espaliered against a fence include Santa Cruz island ironwood, Western redbud, mountain mahogany, toyon, pink flowering currant, Oregon grape, and spicebush.

Read the full article: Press Banner

UN AND PARTNERS SEEK $34 MILLION TO ASSIST DROUGHT-STRICKEN GUATEMALANS (UNNews)

Read at : UNNews

UN AND PARTNERS SEEK $34 MILLION TO ASSIST DROUGHT-STRICKEN GUATEMALANS

New York, Mar  5 2010  2:05PM

The United Nations, together with the Guatemalan Government and aid partners, today launched a $34 million appeal to counter food shortages affecting 2.7 million people living in the Central American country’s so-called ‘dry corridor,’ which even before last year’s drought had one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (<“http://ochaonline.un.org/”>OCHA) said today’s appeal will complement national relief efforts and provide support for food, health, nutrition, agriculture and early recovery, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene projects for six months for some 680,000 people living in departments in the eastern section of the country, including the dry corridor – Jutiapa, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Baja Verapaz – and the neighbouring Izabal and Quiché. Global acute malnutrition among children under the age of five in the dry corridor and the two neighbouring provinces is at 11 per cent, and at 13 per cent among women of child-bearing age. Both figures are above the emergency threshold of 10 per cent.  The dry corridor had faced annual food shortages before, but this year, the situation is exacerbated by a combination of bad weather and bad economics.

El Niño-affected rainfall patterns in the country lead to high losses in hillside and subsistence agricultural production.

Meanwhile, rising food prices brought on by the global economic crisis, a decrease in remittances, cost increases for agricultural inputs and a decrease in employment opportunities for unqualified labour has led poorer people suffering from decreased capacities to access food and basic services.

The situation of Guatemala’s food shortages has received increased international attention. The World Food Programme (<“http://www.wfp.org/countries/guatemala”>WFP) recently held a video competition about the 1 billion people hungry in the world and the two aspiring filmmakers who won the grand prize are heading to Guatemala to highlight the plight of the drought-ridden country’s people.
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For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news

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JUST AN IDEA (Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Best practices to counter food shortages in dry regions, where child malnutrition is one of the main problems. Besides “national relief efforts and provide support for food, health, nutrition, agriculture and early recovery, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene projects for six months”(short-term relief), long-term solutions can be found in small-scale farming and gardening (BAN KI-MOON).  “Global acute malnutrition among children under the age of five” can be alleviated with small kitchen gardens in which container gardening contributes to saving water.

Even if “rising food prices brought on by the global economic crisis, a decrease in remittances, cost increases for agricultural inputs and a decrease in employment opportunities for unqualified labour has led poorer people suffering from decreased capacities to access food and basic services.”, low-budget investment in construction of family gardens and container gardening would lead to long-term and sustainable improvement in the living standards of the people in dry regions.

2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCD PROJECT : Successful container gardening in a family garden, providing fresh food in  a drought-stricken area with a minimum of irrigation water.
2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCDA PROJECT : Simple and inexpensive preparation of a family garden
2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCDA PROJECT : Low-budget initiative with high return on investment
2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCDA PROJECT : Child malnutrition alleviated with long-term fresh food production (vitamins, mineral elements).
2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCDA PROJECT : With a small part of the financial support for food aid, transporting food to the affected areas, a sufficient number of kitchen gardens and school gardens can be installed.
2008 – INDIA/TAMIL NADU/SCDA PROJECT : SCAD’s women selfhelp groups feel extremely happy with the small agricultural inputs for their home garden. A challenge for all aid programmes.

The role of urban gardens, family gardens and school gardens (Willem Van Cotthem / IRIN / FAO)

For years we have been promoting family gardens (kitchen gardens) and school gardens, not to mention hospital gardens, in the debate on alleviation of hunger and poverty.  We have always insisted on the fact that development aid should concentrate on initiatives to boost food security through family gardens instead of food aid on which the recipients remain dependent. Since the nineties we have shown that community gardens in rural villages, family gardens in refugee camps and school gardens, where people and children grow their own produce, are better off than those who received food from aid organizations at regular intervals.

2007 – Family garden in Smara refugee camp (S.W. Algeria, Sahara desert), where people never before got local fresh food to eat

Locally produced fresh vegetables and fruits play a tremendously important role in the daily diet of all those hungry people in the drylands.  Take for instance the possibility of having a daily portion of vitamins within hand reach.  Imagine the effect of fresh food on malnutrition of the children.  Imagine the feelings of all those women having their own kitchen garden close to the house, with some classical vegetables and a couple of fruit trees.

No wonder that hundreds of publications indicate the success of allotment gardens in periods of food crisis.  See what happened during World War I and II, when so many  families were obliged to produce some food on a piece of land somewhere to stay alive.  In those difficult days allotment gardens were THE solution.  They still exist and become more and more appealing in times of food crisis.

2008-10-25 – Allotment gardens Slotenkouter (Ghent City, Belgium) at the end of the growing season

There was no surprise at all to read, since a few years that is, about a new movement in the cities : guerilla gardening.  Sure, different factors intervene in these urban initiatives, be it environmental factors (embellishing open spaces full of weeds in town) or social ones (poor people growing vegetables on small pieces of barren land in the cities).

Today, some delightful news was published by IRIN :”Liberia: Urban gardens to boost food security” :

“MONROVIA, 19 January 2010 (IRIN) – Farmers are turning to urban gardens as a way to boost food security in Liberia’s Montserrado County, where just one percent of residents grow their own produce today compared to 70 percent before the war.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is targeting 5,000 urban residents of Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Bong and Margibi counties, to encourage them to start market gardens or increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they grow on their farms. Participants had to have access to tools and some land.  The aim is to improve food security and nutritional status while boosting incomes, said project coordinator Albert Kpassawah. Participants told IRIN they plant hot peppers, cabbage, calla, tomatoes, onions, beans and ground nuts. Health and nutrition experts in Liberia say increasing fruit, vegetables and protein in people’s diets is vital to reducing chronic malnutrition, which currently affects 45 percent of under-fives nationwide.

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FAO assists primarily by providing seeds and training in techniques such as conserving rainwater and composting. The organization does not provide fertilizer, insecticides or tools – a concern to some participants. “You cannot grow cabbage without insecticide. It doesn’t work,” Anthony Nackers told IRIN.  Vermin, insects and poor storage destroy 60 percent of Liberia’s annual harvest, according to FAO.  And many of the most vulnerable city-dwellers – those with no access to land – cannot participate at all, FAO’s Kpassawah pointed out. But he said he hopes the project’s benefits will spread beyond immediate participants, since all who take part are encouraged to pass on their training to relatives, neighbours and friends.  And there is ample scope to expand techniques learned from cities to rural areas, he pointed out. Just one-third of Liberia’s 660,000 fertile hectares are being cultivated, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

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Let us express our sincere hopes that FAO will soon be able to show to all aid organizations that sufficient food production can be secured by the population of any developing country.  What is possible in urban areas of Liberia can be duplicated in any other country.  What can be achieved in urban gardens, can also be done in rural family gardens.  Why should we continue to discuss the alarming problem of those vulnerable children suffering or even starving from chronic malnutrition, if  school gardens can be a good copy of the successful urban gardens in Liberia?

Don’t we underestimate the role container gardening can play in food production (see https://containergardening.wordpress.com) and the pleasure children can find in growing fruit trees and vegetables in plastic bottles.  Pure educational reality !

We count on FAO to take the lead : instead of spending billions on “permanent” food aid, year after year, it would be an unlimited return on investment if only a smaller part would be reserved to immediate needs in times of hunger catastrophes, but the major part spent at the world-wide creation of urban and rural family gardens.

We remain in FAO’s save hands. We wonder what keeps United Nations to envisage a “Global Programme for Food Security” based on the creation of kitchen gardens for the one billion daily hungry people who know that we have this solution in hand.  Let us spend more available resources on “Defense”, the one against hunger and poverty!

Collecting seeds of dragonfruit and tree tomato for development projects (Willem Van Cotthem)


Dragonfruits and tree tomatoes can be bought in supermarkets or fruit shops.

Dragonfruit is grown on the cactus Hylocereus :

  • Hylocereus undatus (Red Pitaya) has red-skinned fruit with white flesh, the most common “dragon fruit”.
  • Hylocereus costaricensis (Costa Rica Pitaya, often called H. polyrhizus) has red-skinned fruit with red flesh
  • Hylocereus megalanthus (Yellow Pitaya, formerly in Selenicereus) has yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh.

The fruit contains hundreds of black, shiny little seeds sitting in the pulp.  One can wash out the tender pulp in a fine sieve and dry the seeds on a plate (not on paper).  They usually germinate around two weeks after shallow planting.  Dry seeds can be sent to us (Beeweg 36 – BE9080 ZAFFELARE (Belgium).  We offer free seeds to different development projects in the drylands, thus enabling hungry people to grow fresh fruits in a sustainable way.

Dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus) growing on climbing cacti - * Dragonfruit plantation - Photo Evariza Farms - 423871_101260033362712_1701936709_n.jpg
Dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus) growing on climbing cacti – * Dragonfruit plantation – Photo Evariza Farms – 423871_101260033362712_1701936709_n.jpg
Dragonfruit - Photo WVC P1030067
Dragonfruit – Photo WVC P1030067
Cross section of dragonfruit with black seeds in white pulp - Photo WVC P1030059
Cross section of dragonfruit with black seeds in white pulp – Photo WVC P1030059
Dragonfruit's shiny black seeds in rests of whitish pulp - Photo WVC - P1030111
Dragonfruit’s shiny black seeds in rests of whitish pulp – Photo WVC – P1030111
Germination of dragonfruit seeds - Photo WVC - P1030133
Germination of dragonfruit seeds – Photo WVC – P1030133
Dragonfruit seedlings on household paper - Photo WVC - P1030129
Dragonfruit seedlings on household paper – Photo WVC – P1030129

The tree tomato grows on a Cyphomandra betacea tree.

Oval fruits only look like tomatoes.  The juicy orange pulp with purply red seeds can be washed out in a fine sieve by squeezing the pulp under running tap water.  The dark colour of the seeds (anthocyanins) disappears gradually until they are brownish.  Seeds can be dried on a plate (not on a paper).  Seedlings develop quite easily in humid potting soil.

Dry seeds sent to us (see address above) are offered for free to development projects in the drylands, where these tree tomatoes bring fresh food full of vitamins to the local people.  Thus, anyone can contribute to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in this world.

Tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea), an interesting fruit to be grown at the largest scale in the drylands. The tree should be incorporated in reforestation programs. - 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA BETACEA Photo WVC - P1030139.jpg
Tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea), an interesting fruit to be grown at the largest scale in the drylands. The tree should be incorporated in reforestation programs. – 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA BETACEA Photo WVC – P1030139.jpg
Cross-section of tree tomato with orange flesh (juicy pulp) and dark red seeds - 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA P1030143
Cross-section of tree tomato with orange flesh (juicy pulp) and dark red seeds – 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA Photo WVC – P1030143
Seeds of tree tomato sit on their small stalk - 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA P1030147
Seeds of tree tomato sit on their small stalk – 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA Photo WVC – P1030147
When purplish red anthocyanins are washed out the seeds turn brownish - 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA P1030151
When purplish red anthocyanins are washed out the seeds turn brownish – 2009-12-30 CYPHOMANDRA Photo WVC – P1030151
All contributions of dragonfruit seeds and tree tomato seeds are most welcome.  In the name of all the people affected by drought and desertification, suffering from malnutrition, hunger and poverty : Sincere thanks !

Container gardening in Malawi (Patrick DIMUSA)

Read this personal message of Patrick DIMUSA :

“Dear Professor Willem,

I hope your wife is better now after that terrible brain stroke in October 2008.

I lost my job last month and I am back in my village.

After I learned about the significance of container gardening for rural people in the drylands from you,  Professor Willem, my life has changed for the better, because in otherwise useless plastic bottles and plastic bags I can now grow vegetables for offering fresh food to my family, as well as for beautifying my home with flowers.  At the same time I am keeping the environment around my house totally clean (no more littered bottles or bags).

My fellow villagers in Piyasani village in the outskirts of Lilongwe city are flocking around my house to learn about this new initiative.  In November, I started collecting tree seeds from the surrounding remaining forest. Now that the rain has started I am planning to set up a community nursery of tree seedlings using the container gardening method.  I hope to be able with this plan to donate  tree seedlings to one school, so that they are able to plant a school woodlot.  At the same time, this will motivate other schools to start the same initiative as it is one of the cheapest kinds of agriculture and afforestation methods for the poorest countries in Africa, as no financial resources are needed since you can do this prioject around your home with empty plastic bottles and plastic bags.

I have a lot of photos of this project to be send to you, Professor Willem, so that other people can see the importance of container gardening for a poor country like Malawi.

Apart from container gardening,  I am also doing vegetable farming at a small scale for sale and for feeding my family with nutritious meals.

However, I am looking for well-wishers and donors who can come forward and assist me in buying a piece of land, which shall become an education centre for container gardening in Malawi. Any one who is interested can either e-mail me at patdimusa@yahoo.co.uk or call me on +2659028290.

May God bless you, Professor Willem, for introducing this container gardening method to the people of Africa.

Food security – an unavoidable solution (W. Van Cotthem)

I was reading with great interest the content of the former postings on my blog http://desertification.wordpress.com

FOOD SECURITY MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR WORLD’S POOREST, BAN TELLS US STUDENTS

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a gathering at an American university that the daily reality for one third of the world’s population who live on less than $2 a day include decisions such as which of their children gets to eat.

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Mr. Ban noted that one billion people around the world, known as the “bottom billion,” live on less than $1 a day and two billion live on less than $2 a day, and many if not most are children suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

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Some families ended up eating one meal a day instead of two, explained Mr. Ban, with some family members going without food.  “Sometimes parents have to choose among their children as to who gets to eat, and who doesn’t.

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He pointed out that families who spend more on food have less for health and education, beginning a social spiral which the whole society goes down.

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The challenge of food security must be addressed immediately, said Mr. Ban. “We need to strengthen agricultural infrastructure, increase productivity and do away with unfair terms of trade.”

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So far, so good for some parts of Mr. BAN’s speech at St. Louis University in Missouri last Friday.

Today, I can’t avoid dreaming, eyes wide open, of a world within which every family has its own allotment, its own kitchen garden (and not only the Queen at Buckingham Palace !).

Let’s dream  together, eyes still wide open : all the international organisations, nowadays carrying responsibilities for food programmes (WFP, FAO, UNICEF for the children’s health and education,  the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.), working together to ban malnutrition, hunger, famine, starvation from this world, could start up a worldwide programme to construct family gardens or kitchen gardens and school gardensfor one third of the world’s population who live on less than $2 a day include decisions such as which of their children gets to eat”.  They would certainly find the necessary donors for such a global programme, because the survival of our whole human society is at stake.

Together with Mr. BAN I notice that “one billion people around the world, known as the “bottom billion,” live on less than $1 a day and two billion live on less than $2 a day, and many if not most are children suffering from hunger and malnutrition“.  So, why don’t we construct school gardens for these kids, not to make them richer, but to learn them  how to produce vegetables in the school yard for at least one decent meal with fresh food, vitamins and minerals per day ?

If it is true “that families who spend more on food have less for health and education, beginning a social spiral which the whole society goes down“, why don’t we stop that sliding down of the whole society simply by teaching the world poorest people how to grow their own vegetables and offer them their own small kitchen garden.

Don’t give them a fish, but teach them how to fish” or in this case “Don’t send them food, but teach them how to grow it“, for even in the most difficult situations of poverty, drought and desertification, we have already the most appropriate ways of soil conditioning, water harvesting and food crop production. Methods and techniques are well known; they have shown their cost-effectiveness.

If Queen Elizabeth felt the need to have an organic vegetable patch at Buckingham Palace of about 10 yards by eight yards in size, why do the poorest families of this world don’t get a similar patch for their own welfare , close to their humble home? (see my posting at https://containergardening.wordpress.com).

Impossible, you say ?  Just have a look at my former postings about the family gardens in the refugee camps in S.W. Algeria on this blog (a former UNICEF-project !).

Have a look at the picture below and judge for yourself : if such a kitchen garden is possible in the Sahara desert, why not everywhere else. Even a much smaller one would do, don’t you think ?

2006-05 Kitchen garden in Aussert camp (S.W. Algeria)
2006-05 Children in a kitchen garden in the Sahara desert, close to the hospital near Aussert camp (S.W. Algeria)

I strongly believe that family (kitchen) gardens and school gardens are an unavoidable solution for the hunger and health problems of this world.

It suffices to believe in it to find ways and means for the realization of such a programme, full of beauty and supreme human feelings.  Isn’t that one of the the main goals of the United Nations and of many of the aid organizations ?  It’s not a dream anymore, for reality knocks at our doors.  Why would we keep our doors locked for such an idea, such a fantastic solution (that’s what the people, having already a small kitchen garden, told us) ?

So, who takes the lead ?  The winner takes all the honours !

Just wait and see ?  No, don’t wait anymore, let’s do it together, tomorrow or the day after.