How to Grow Flowers on a Military Base in Iraq




About: 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 some projects up here soon.

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!



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    103 Discussions


    1 year ago

    htpp:// Flowers in Lithuania are grown the same way like here. The difference is the climate.Our climate is quite cold so normally we have three months to grow flowers.But ofcourse, we have so many different species like mentioned in the text.

    244 Jake

    7 years ago on Introduction

    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


    7 years ago on Step 3

    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!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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?


    9 years ago on Step 3

    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?

    3 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Step 3

    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


    9 years ago on Step 3

    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!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    9 years ago on Step 1

    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!


    10 years ago on Step 3

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

    2 replies

    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!

    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!