Goodbye Alberta… hello Switzerland, then Africa…

Snow, minus 17C and a nasty wind blasted us in Edmonton after a wonderful week of warm sun, green palm trees and the deep blue ocean of the Mexican Mayan Riviera. Welcome home to Alberta!

Reality check: Welcome back to Alberta! (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Reality check: Welcome back to Alberta! (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

But not for long: on Sunday, December 13, we leave again, this time for six months. Our annual trip overseas is beginning early this year. In Switzerland we’ll celebrate Christmas together as a family for the first time in six years.

Somewhere towards the end of January we’ll fly on to Kenya, then Zambia – back to our work with small farmers there. Pastor Jessy sent an email this week: When are you coming? Soon, Pastor Jessy.

I spoke with Geoff Doell this week; an agronomist with GROWTH Agri-Coaching Inc. Geoff told me corn grows best on its own stubble, citing one farmer in Iowa who has grown corn on the same plot for over hundred years. (Well, probably not the same farmer!). And we keep telling our farmers in Zambia they need to rotate crops.

Corn is a heavy feeder. Zambian small scale farmers rarely have the nutrients available for a consistent good corn crop, especially if they can’t buy high priced fertilizer. They have very little livestock, and that roams around freely. One reason even commercial farmers rotate corn with soybeans is to replenish the soil with nitrogen. Soybeans also build up the fragile tropical soils, which leach nutrients during the heavy rains.

Most small farmers burn the stubble right after harvest in May. So the soil lies exposed and bakes in the hot sun until they plant again in November, at the beginning of the rainy season. This destroys many microorganisms near the surface of the soil.

Masaiiti Farm Institute has done much research with available nutrients to small scale farmers, including ashes. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Masaiiti Farm Institute has done much research with available nutrients to small scale farmers, including ashes. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

I was especially interested to hear that Geoff’s clients are using wood ash in their fertility programs. Ash brings up the PH of the soil, but also contains potash and many important micronutrients. Our small farmers all cook with charcoal and ashes are a waste product for them. But ash is a good liming agent. Zambian farmers are strongly encouraged to use lime when planting their fields, as most land is very low in PH.

We will definitely be encouraging farmers to add a small amount of ash to their planting holes, at least in some rows to see if it makes a difference. Geoff is a big fan of using what resources are available to northwest Canadian farmers. It’s even more important in Zambia, where commercial resources are expensive and difficult to come by.

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