"Urban greening"

Public Association 'Arysh'

Bert Cramer and Maamatkul Aidaraliev

May 5, 2015

Today Arysh conducted a site visit to their urban gardening site in the Ak Ordo novostroiki. At this site, Bayshen and Jigde tend to several gardens and numerous fruit trees amidst the wild poppies that grow everywhere. 280 fruit trees (200 cherry, 80 plum) have been planted along the Sadur Ake street corridor with financial supporting of Institute for Sustainable Development Strategy PF, Bishkek. Though they are only in their first season, most have already established themselves and are beginning to thrive. The gardens that the couple attends to are also in their first season, but with the attentive care of Jigde and Bayshen, they are already well underway to producing a hearty harvest.

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Photo: Looking down Sadur Ake street from street's municipal water pump, installed just two years ago.

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Photo: Looking west on Sadur Ake street at some of the newly established cherry trees.

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Photo: Bayshen and Jigde explain to Maamatkul the difficulty they have with retaining moisture in the soil; this garden and the one in the background we water just prior to Arysh's arrival. Bayshen and Jigde must water their gardens several times a day to deal with the dry, hot climate and poor water retention of the soil.

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Photo: Bayshen explains how they try to collect run-off rain water from the gutter (see hand-made plastic funnel device in gutter) but the little rain they receive is not sufficient to keep their gardens adequately watered. Water must be collected by hand and stored in the 50 gal. drums shown here. Bayshen and Jigde would like to establish a more efficient and effective irrigation system.

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Photo: Jigde with one of the gardens they maintain in the neighborhood. Jigde explains how all the food they grow is for consumption. In addition to her gardening duties, she runs a meeting group with young women aged 15-30 where she teaches traditional cooking methods to the young women so that they can provide their families with  healthy and locally sourced foods.

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Photo: Jigde points out how each of their gardens must be watered by hand. In addition to growing vegetables for fresh consumption, Jigde explains how several of the crops are used to make 'wintersalads' that will be hand-canned to ensure access to vegetables even in the winter months when fresh vegetables bought in the market can be prohibitively expensive.

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Photo: One of several gardens the couple maintains. Not only do they garden on their own plot of land, but they also use nearby vacant or unclaimed plots to grow crops. Jigde and Bayshen grow mostly potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and red beets. However, they also have a small amount of cabbage and various herbs. In the future they hope to grow more fruit crops as well, especially the local specialty of tiny but very sweet strawberries.

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Photo: Bayshen and Jigde with some of the fruit saplings they care for.

While Jigde and Bayshen have grown productive gardens before in a rural setting, this is their first time growing an urban garden. Growing in an urban setting presents some novel challenges for these experienced gardeners. Foremost among these challenges is water, a problem that is echoed on both national and regional levels. However, Bayshen and Jigde recognize their hurdle is much easier to overcome. Specifically, they need to simultaneously decrease the amount of water they directly apply to their crops while also ensuring the water they deliver is taken up by the plant and not lost to evaporation or leakage. To this end they discussed with Arysh DIY drip irrigation methods using discarded plastic bottles modified to provide a slow, steady and focused supply of water to each plant. The merits of different approaches were examined and they agreed to experiment to find the exact approach that will be most effective for their situation. Also discussed was mulching which can have the triple benefit of water retention, weed suppression, and soil enrichment. Grass-based hay is readily available, but has been rejected as it causes the growth of too many weeds. Arysh has agreed to work with the couple to find a more appropriate and locally sourced alternative to better assist their efforts in making healthy and productive urban gardens.