To Build a Garden (and entertain a village)

Putting in a garden can be a challenging and rewarding endeavor. Not only does it give you something to do with your copious spare time, it also provides you with fresh vegetables and your neighbors with hours of entertainment. Follow this step-by-step guide and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits of your very own garden.

Step 1: Get some land
This is likely to be the most time-consuming part of starting your garden, so be patient and start early!  Remember that most of the land in Zambia is controlled by traditional leaders, so you may be making a visit to your headman with your request. There is plenty of free space to go around, but it can take time and persistence to be allowed use of an actual plot, rather than enthusiastic but vague promises of land. If you are very lucky, your fish farming counterpart will have more land that he can use, and he’ll happily give you some. And after months of gentle reminders (“After we stake your pond today, maybe we can find a spot for my garden!”) you will finally be shown exactly where you can start digging.

Step 2: Planning Your Garden
This step is very quick, but will completely mystify your neighbors. Mark out where you plan to put your garden beds using pegs and string. Make sure you think about how to efficiently arrange beds, and try for a certain amount of right-angleness in your corners. Be sure to cheerfully answer questions from passers-by about WHY you might want to plan ahead, rather than just jumping straight to the digging. Also be sure to get help from the bands of roaming children: they’ll be thrilled to help you with your measuring tape, especially if you let them reel it in.

Step 3: Digging Your Beds
This step is hard work, and will cause even more confusion in the people around you. First you must hoe all of the weeds out of your bed. This will take an entire day. You should expect a young man or two to slouch over, just to watch. Don’t worry: this is completely normal! They are just surprised that a white person can do physical work. When you go home, people will ask if you have planted. “Not yet: I was digging my bed.”
The next day you will loosen all of the topsoil in your bed, again with a hoe. Try not to feel silly straddling the bed, swinging a hoe and trying to not re-compact your soil. The group of young girls watching will be happy to let you practice your Tonga on them, as long as you don’t mind the giggles. When you go home, people will ask if you have planted. “Not yet: I was digging my bed.”
The next day you will manage to double-dig half of your bed, and you will notice an improvement in your hoe technique. To double dig, remove a small area of topsoil from the bed. Loosen the exposed subsoil and mix in manure. Then move topsoil from the next small area onto your loosened subsoil. Loosen that exposed subsoil and mix in manure. Do this until your arms fall off, and you’ll be done for the day. Take short breaks and talk to the boys herding cattle. Ask them not to walk on your nice, fluffy soil. Have them ignore you. When you go home, people will ask if you have planted. “Not yet: I was digging my bed.”
The next day you should double-dig the other half of your bed. This is a great day to chat with a neighbor in her nearby garden. Talk about what you’re going to plant, and then try to explain a what a cantaloupe is. Saying that it’s like a watermelon, but orange and tastes more like a papaya or mango will only earn you a very puzzled look. Promise to give her one to try if you can get them to grow. When you go home, people will ask if you have planted. “Not yet: I was digging my bed.”

Step 4: Planting Your Garden
This is the last step before simply watering, watching, and waiting. Make sure to do this step on the rainiest day available: every accomplishment is more impressive in the rain. First, loosen your topsoil one more time, mixing manure in and shaping the surface of your bed. The manure is best when completely soggy and full of biting ants. Finally (!) you are ready to plant. Enjoy digging in your beautiful, aerated soil as you plant your poor sprouting potatoes and ginger. Talk to another neighbor as you sprinkle seeds in neat rows, trying to explain what basil tastes like. And when you get home, people won’t ask if you’ve planted: they’ve been inside their dry house all day and didn’t even see you leave.