Introduction: How to Grow Flowers on a Military Base in Iraq

I came to Iraq about 4 months ago to work as an Environmental Technician. I really have enjoyed my work, even if it is dangerous. I have almost all the confronts of home here thanks to KBR, however I was missing one thing, GREEN. I came here from Pennsylvania (Just PA for you from there) and missed seeing all the green. In PA we have more trees, grass, and flowers then we know what to do with.

I began to miss the foliage so much that I decided to try and start a little flower garden. Unfortunately I came into more then a few problems being here in Iraq, on a military base.

1. The dirt here is super fine and free of any organic matter, therefore, very very very dense when wet. It has the consistency of baby power when dry, you can only imagine when it is wet. Ridiculously hard to get seeds to start in.

2. I had no seeds, and I couldn't have them mailed to me.

3. It is hella dry here, unless you have a constant flow of water to wherever you trying to grow, the plants dry out.

So, I set out and used my limited resources to figure out a way to bring some of the PA green to Iraq.

Step 1: Step One, Materials

So I first started off with Finding everything I needed to build My little setup. I wanted a flower box style garden for my flowers for outside of my hooch (home for you non-military base people). So my first place was the Scrap wood pile here. And boy do we have a big one. It covers about 2 acres and is stacked 6' high. Some digging found me the perfect box. It once held some kind of 4' valve assembly.

I next got the things I needed to tackle my watering system. It isn't a new idea probably, I took some ideas from two inscrutables and combined them to fix my dryness problem. First, I got some 1 liter water bottles which can be found everywhere here on base and got some 550 cord (parachute cord) from one of the air force people I know. Apparently they had some old Parachutes they were getting rid of. I'll show you what I will do with that in a later step.

Since the Iraqi dirt is to dense when wet for growing efficiently I remeberd that one of the tools at my disposal to soaking up Hazmat spills on base is peat moss! Which made for an awesome growing material. I also did one better. I went down to the STP Plant (poopie plant) and got some of the "dried solids" (poopie) and mixed two parts of that to ten parts peat moss. It makes for excellent soil to grow things in!!!

Finally, I talked to one of the Iraqi guys that works on base filling sandbags. He lives off base and comes into base during the day to work (16 bucks a day makes him a rich man). I had him sneak in some seeds from outside the wire. I wasn't sure what he was going to bring me, but to my surprise they were in packets just like home.

Step 2: Putting It Together

So now that I had all the materials I needed it was time to start putting it together. I put holes big enough to squeeze the parachute cord in the bottles along the top. I then shoved around 4 feet of cord into each hole and ran it to the bottom of the bottle and left the rest hang out the hole.

Then I buried these up to the cap in the box with my super-duper-pooper soil. I made sure the cords were in various depths so to irrigate the roots at all levels.

Finally I planted the seeds, and filled the bottles up!

Step 3: The Waiting Game

You probably know how it works already. The cord soaks up the water from the bottles and takes it to the drier dirt. So.... thought the day there is a constant supply of water to my plants!

This has been working better then I could ever think and now I have some green here in Iraq. Hot darn!

And one of the coolest parts is the ferns move when you touch them, they close up!

Comments

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244+Jake made it!(author)2012-04-26

I live in Saudi Arabia, I too miss the green. Grapes do well in semi shade, if you have the camo netting, that works too.

Great to see others feel the need for green also....


Big Jake

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nsanders1 made it!(author)2011-08-11

On my last deployment, I got water melon and grape seeds from the fruit at the chow hall and germinated them until they sprouted, then planted them in the dirt next to the A/C units next to the shop on the edge of the puddles that formed there. They grew well, but had to be well sheltered to keep the birds from eating the plants. I never saw any fruit production, but it did give me something to do to pass the time!

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mpeters2 made it!(author)2011-04-22

Hi Andrew (and other military gardeners out there) I'm a producer on a radio show and we'd really like to talk you about this for a show we're doing on victory gardens. Any chance you could get in touch? marijke.peters@rnw.nl
Thanks!
Marijke

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sockless made it!(author)2009-12-17

You should grow some veges to supplement your diet. If your guys diet is anything like the New Zealand Army's diet, then you don't even need any supplementing. I guess you get good food when civvies cook it for you. By any chance do you guys get Government subsidised beer?

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2009-12-17

Sadly no beer, and they fed us pretty good over there, no complaints! 

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myfriendshane made it!(author)2011-03-19

Stay safe brother !!

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cfuse made it!(author)2010-12-16

It is certainly possible that the waste has been treated to a point where it is ok for food crops, but I doubt the risk is worth it.

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hendew made it!(author)2010-06-11

I was at JBB, Iraq for the summer of 2008. I had the wife send me seed packets, and one of those starter kits from Wally World, I to am from the Great State or PA and wanted a little green in my new home away from home. Unfortunatly, I was not a inginuative at you. But i sure as heck will be remembering this for my next time, which will happen. i am sure. Have fun

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Shiftlock made it!(author)2010-03-19

This is ingenius, and it looks like the materials existed for scaling it up.  What else are they going to do with all that poop?  If I were over there, I would try to get a bunch of guys to help me make a large-scale version of this.  Maybe 20' x 20'.  Big enough for a paths to run through, with a bench in the middle.  Perhaps a trellis with vines growing up and over the path, and vegetation so thick, the desert isn't visible from the middle of the garden.  I think having a little magic garden spot to wander through and sit in would be good for the spirit in a place like that.  I bet it would be stay cooler in the hot days, as well.

Anyway, great idea!

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inchman made it!(author)2010-01-24

I’m not sure, but were you on Bucca in Southern Iraq?  That is where I was when you posted this.  I felt the same way about missing plants, but I found a different route to take to make things grow.  Everyone’s pod has an A/C unit.  ALL of these units leak water as it condenses the refrigerant.  I just routed the dripping water flow from mine and my neighbors A/Cs to a central location.  Then I placed pallets for people to walk on between the pods (this prevented them from walking on my plants.)It took about 6 months, but I had plants growing in the unmodified soil.  When I left Bucca in June, they were still there.Life is a funny thing.  If it is given even the slightest change to survive, it will!  Thanks for posting this!

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sockless made it!(author)2009-12-17

Good thing you didn't take the 550 from one of the 'chutes in use :)
And I guess there's nothing like the locals for helping you out!

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plantergirl made it!(author)2008-11-23

Please come home safe. Your kind of ingenuity and creativeness is needed back in this country and the global community at large....plus I'm waiting for more instructable.com ideas from you. Our prayers are with you and the troops.

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porcupinemamma made it!(author)2009-12-12

plantergirl says it all!!! {{{{{}}}}} from a Canadian

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-24

Thanks for you comment everyone, I will be sure to put up some new instuctables here soon. Trying to think of Ideas, if anyone has any let me know! www.spf400.blogspot.com

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Rock+Soldier made it!(author)2009-12-01

lol.

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freecycleo made it!(author)2009-10-24

Nice one! A really cool idea  :)

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StillGetCarded made it!(author)2009-08-26

Is that Tallil?

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2009-08-28

Balad My friend.

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tortoisemaninstruct made it!(author)2009-02-16

I would like to hear more about your work in Iraq. I have been working as a biologist and environmental planner with some desert and mountain experience in southern California and Nevada. Just wondering how it is to work over there. Also, having been a small child in NY and having visited the East Coast, I can relate to being in the desert for a long time and wishing for green and shade and the sound a babbling brook!

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Brown89 made it!(author)2009-03-21

i don't think the desert in the US and here in Iraq are quit the same bro. it sucks here more than the desert i've been in back in the states.

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crickle321 made it!(author)2009-01-26

Your ingenuity is impressive. Is the people-poo refined like Malorganite or is it just processed and 'cleaned'? Stay Safe!

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nerdmom920 made it!(author)2008-12-29

What an excellent idea! I knew I was saving all those plastic bottles for something. I'll be incorporating this into my garden at home.

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wCrow made it!(author)2008-11-30

Although I could voice my opinions on you and what you're doing, and the world at large, Plantergirl already has. Coming from another densely green area, I wonder about my friends who are over in the sandbox.

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pwnz32 made it!(author)2008-11-23

never seen the whole string thing before sounds like a good idea... hmm...

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Watanabe made it!(author)2008-11-21

What a wonderful bubble of life you have created in a place of death. I applaude you!

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incognito123 made it!(author)2008-11-20

dude you can bring peace to iraq by planting some pot. or have you?

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raisinland made it!(author)2008-11-20

What a great idea! I'll try this here in sunny Southern California. I too hope you are safe and have a nice Thanksgiving so far from home. :)

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-20

Glad you like it dude. This will be my first Thanksgiving, and Christmas away from home, but I am handling it well so far! Gotta figure out what I can do for a small Christmas tree.

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lawrence760 made it!(author)2008-11-14

Are you writing this from Iraq,or after you got back from a deployment?

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-14

Naa dude, still here at JBB. I'm headed home in June 09. Looking forward to it. Next R&R; is in March, going to Costa Rica to get my green in!

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Hadassah08 made it!(author)2008-11-14

I am from Virginia and I also am in the Middle East and right now am missing Fall foliage :-). I admire your ingenuity! Hopefully you won't be there much longer. Thanks for all you are doing.... watch your back :-)

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chtinico made it!(author)2008-11-12

I like the idea of bringing life instead of death in that messy war. Keep speaking to locals but take care of you. God may be with you and with all good people whatever nationality, religion or colour of skin.

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-12

I appreciate the comment! Thanks, I will stay as safe as possible.

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zomfibame made it!(author)2008-11-07

that is a great idea; green can definitely make one happier. I recently had ta' move back down south because i just couldn't stand winter up north... to dark n' gray.... no color, just black n' white, and gray. I'm sure it has to be a wonderful thing to see some green peeking up out of that box.

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ael_ecurai made it!(author)2008-11-04

As a fellow PA-ian, I can see how that landscape would give you the crazies after a while. I can't even stand being in NYC for more than a day! Great instructable (and blog)!

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XI3 made it!(author)2008-11-04

lol. im sending a link to my cousin (hes in iraq) lets see if he really does this lol.

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gloflyer made it!(author)2008-11-04

What a beautiful idea. Your instructable is inspiring. Instead of saying I can't its impossible you figured how to do it. Even in the middle of a barren desert, you caused beauty and green to appear.

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la-main made it!(author)2008-11-04

great idea

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animes25 made it!(author)2008-11-03

sorry I dont like your point of view, is like when you go and put some killer bees in brasil then let them out, the same if you get flowers that SHOULDNT exist in a desert, you think is cute or good but in fact you are doing wrong with the enviroment, and this is a contructive comment, so I hope you dont take it personal

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la-main made it!(author)2008-11-04

dude be nice this is an exelent instructable. If you dont like it dont post.

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-04

First of all animes25, I am an environmentalist, working to help the environment of Iraq and wouldn't do a thing to damage it. I would be doing the opposite of what my job entails. Second, If you read my Instuctable you would see that the seeds I bought were from and Iraqi who bought them outside the wire. Thus, the seed are local, or at the least, already incorporated into the local ecology. Iraq has one of the strictest rules when it comes to foreign contamination of seeds, fruit, and plants. In fact, I can't even mail home rock or soil samples because of this. So... These should exist in the desert, and they do. I am doing nothing wrong, in fact, the complete opposite of that.

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Calorie made it!(author)2008-11-04

Well...the whole of human agriculture deals with the migration of plant and animal species from various places. You are speaking about invasive species. The thing that makes a species invasive is when it grows uncontrollably. It's pretty safe to say that none of his plants will leave the confines of the little life box considering the requirements of their growth.

You may like to know more from:

http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/

And as a constructive comment...please use a spell checker when you criticize someone else. It kind of degrades your argument.

Some common items that people consume across the planet that migrated with humanity.

Wheat, corn, various legumes, potatoes (no they are not Irish), tomatoes, bananas, rice-the list goes on.

Cattle, lamb, goat, horse, camels, chickens, dogs, cats, all sort of poultry, fish, pork. I think you get the idea.

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Kathybear made it!(author)2008-11-03

That is so cool! Did you think about trying the Instructable on a credit card planter? I hear that it's dangerous over there, even (especially, maybe) for civilians. Take care and you have my prayers for a safe return!

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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-03

Thanks buddy! It does get sketchy, but I'll do mu best to stay safe!

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Foxtrot70 made it!(author)2008-11-03

Andrew, it's amazing that the cradle of civilization is between the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers and yet the soil beyond the river banks is so poor. Great job on showing how the desert anywhere can be made to bloom.

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mattymoo made it!(author)2008-11-02

the Fern does look like a baby Mimosa - Depending on where you are from in PA you might have seen the full grown tree, yes it's actually a tree, before. I'm across the river in New Jersey and they grow here and there, sometimes on their own. When fully mature they have little pink pom-pom flowers that have a scent that brings me directly back to being 6 years old! If it is indeed a mimosa (looks like one and yes, they do "close up" hen touched - its a defense thing against powerful rainstorms) maybe you could find a place to plant it permanently so it could make it to full maturity someday and give someone else aroma based flashbacks to a happier time. :)

Mimosa_Tree.jpg
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AndrewPBentley made it!(author)2008-11-02

Hey dude, thanks for the tip. Once these things get a little stronger I will try and find a safe spot in the ground for them. I would have never thought it was a tree! I probably have about 12 plants growing well. I wouldn't leaving a little of me behind when I leave this place!! Thanks!

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A+good+name made it!(author)2008-11-02

I see you used Kiteman's scrooge bottle.

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mothflavour2 made it!(author)2008-10-31

What a great idea! To be honest, I was surprised at how well this appears to have turned out. The flowers look like they're thriving, and they hide the water bottles really well. The water bottle/parachute cord idea is just genius. Really low maintenance system. I might try this here in rainy Vancouver :P

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joey2542667 made it!(author)2008-11-02

hey! I live in portland too!

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Bio: I am working as an Environmental Tech in Iraq looking for a few things to do in my little spare time. I hope to have ... More »
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