The bulb that changed our bed time...

As you all know there is not electricity where we live so we tend to live our days around the sun.  This means everyone heading to their homes around 6:30 pm when the sun is down, candle-lit dinners, using flashlights, and falling asleep around 8pm.  A few adults would stay up to an hour in our home after dark to visit from time to time, but it was not very common since it was by candle light.  We then awake around 5:30 am with the sun to start our day again.  We do very well on 9 hrs. of sleep we have found.  On the nights for church service we meet from 4-5:30pm to take advantage of daylight. 

The bulb that made a difference...

Well, our neighbors had the only solar panel in the neighborhood and one Aug. evening decided to extend a cable from their home to ours and instal one light bulb in our living room/kitchen area.  They have given us the gift of light in our home.  They turn it on at dusk and turn it off when we go to bed, since it must be controlled from their home.  This has brought many changes to our home.  After 6:30 pm we can cook without flashlights and candles and the house has become the hangout for many neighborhood kids/teenagers.  The kids that come are our closest neighbors and because the parents can see them playing in our home through our windows now that there is a bright light inside, they allow them to be there after dark.  The younger ones have now learned to play the card game "Uno" (thanks Dan and Vivian for leaving it with us) and come almost every night asking if they can play a round.  They sing songs, read story books, and some hang around long enough that they fall asleep. 

Teenage guys hang out playing games, discussing life issues, or just joking around.  All of this change of course has shifted our bed time.  We now have to kick them out when we want to have some family time and go to sleep.  They are always very respectful and leave right away saying thank you.  Instead of 8pm, it's much closer to 10 or 10:30pm when we fall asleep.  We see this as a very good thing, giving them a safe and healthy place to be in the evenings. 

Four bulbs that made a difference...
In late June a team from Mississippi, who came through the ministry Salt and Light, installed a solar panel and four light bulbs at the local church.  Erick was able to then move the services to 6pm and fortunately more people are able to attend because they now have the time to get home from work, clean up, eat, and arrive.  This has also allowed the teenage guys group to meet at 6pm on Wednesdays, stay after to work on their choreography, and meet again on Sat. nights at 6pm to work on choreography.  A teenage guys group would have been very hard before because of their return time from work and lack of lights to meet.  This also is a very good thing giving these guys a safe and healthy option for two evenings of the week.  Many of them are tempted from a young age to walk down to the next town with electricity and drink on Sat. nights.

We're sure these very development changes happened in your city, just perhaps long ago.  Imagine your current life after dark without electricity.  Adding something like electricity to a community, even in two small places can drastically change ways of life and begin holistic development.  Please be in continual prayer for the potential electricity project for the entire village of Las Lomitas, electricity can bring many good and bad changes to a culture.  Begin to pray for wisdom and balance in the life of the leaders and parents of the community as they may soon be learning how to manage electricity in their homes and village. 


Mini Project

Well, as it turns out, Hondurans love their radishes. Which worked out well for the gringo that has five or six hundred radishes that he (nor his wife) cares for. So, we have now sent the neighbor kids out to sell them around town with them keeping half the profit. We're only talking a few dollars here, but as a result, more neighbor kids are arriving to check out the garden and are interested in selling the product. From here, I'm going to work to interest them in growing at their own home to have something to sell to help out their family and have a little extra cash. If the gringo can do it, they certainly can. In addition, people in the community are gaining access to clean, organic vegetables and stopping by to see what else may be arriving at their door over the coming months.

Easy does it. I don't send her out to work.
Let's pray that some of the parents here see the opportunity to grow veggies at home to feed their kids and to make an extra dollar or two. The neighbors are loving the lettuce as well, and we're seeing folks eating fresh greens that have probably never eaten them in their life. The possibilities are great.

Our First Salad eaten in early September


Great Big Garden Update

Using the steam generated in writing the big blog on rain collection. We continued into writing the other big missing blog, the garden. Sorry if it's boring, but it's an important part of our life and time here, and we'd love to share it with those interested.

There have been a few people interested in checking out the status of the garden. We've been dedicating time to it as possible over the past couple of months, and I feel like it is really coming along well. Getting this garden started was one of our priorities for this first year here. The goal of this garden is to demonstrate that it is possible to cheaply produce food in a small area as well as the importance of erosion control. In the future, we'll be incorporating more vertical space, intercropping, and other space efficient methods. So, here's a basic rundown of what's going on in our front yard.

1. Erosion Control
As we mentioned in the post on rainwater collection, we receive nearly 100 inches of rain here annually. As a result, controlling runoff and splash erosion are crucial objectives for preserving the quality of the soil here. Intending to keep this technology cheap and simple, we're using a combination of contour lines and cover crops.

The contour lines are created by determining a level line at every one meter of elevation change. The resulting lines are then dug out to a depth of 18 inches. The dirt from each ditch is shoveled upslope to create a mound that stretches the length of the ditch. This mound forms a physical barrier to water flowing downhill. Because the mound follows a level path, the water does not flow to either side, but instead is retained in order for it to saturate into the ground. Over time, the soil from uphill slides downhill and is stopped along the ridge. Once the ground along the ridge is filled, the plant species planted along the ridge grab the soil as it moves downhill and allows the water to continue through, thus creating a terrace from natural materials, anchored by deep roots. Along these lines are planted the three species we've chosen to help with erosion: Leucana, Vetiver grass, and ornamental peanut.

  • Leucana is a fast-growing, leguminous tree with an exceptionally deep tap root. The leaves can be used to create excellent, nitrogen rich organic fertilizer and the wood makes outstanding firewood.
  • Vetiver Grass throws a thick bundle of fibrous roots up to thirty feet down into the ground. The cut grass makes a good mulch.
  • Ornamental peanut (an arachis species) is a leguminous cover crop that spreads and covers rapidly with fairly little root penetration. It will be used to cover the entire growing areas in order to retain moisture and prevent splash erosion. It also makes great compost.

Leucana seedlings.
We're also doing some more basic control using crude cut pine boards. Both methods are working very well.


 2. Food

We currently have a variety of food growing. Since we have no reliable way of testing the soil for nutrient content/pH etc. we've decided to try a variety of crops to see which fair well. We currently have garlic, cantaloupe, green beans, lettuce, peas, cabbage, beets, radishes, cucumbers, papaya, and tomato.

Radishes, cucumbers, and cantaloupes.
In addition, we have a few trees with edible leaves growing along the fenceline, including chaya and moringa. In the future, we'll begin incorporating these dried leaves into tortillas, rice, etc. These particular plants are extremely high in protein, which is really lacking from the local diet.

All of the beds have been prepared by double-digging each bed and mixing in composted chicken manure (Readily available in the area by 100 lb bag. At 40 cents, it's a deal).

We're also fertilizing with a chicken manure tea, which is the nastiest substance I have ever dealt with. The smell is enough to wrinkle even the hardened nose of the Hondurans. We make it by submerging a 20lb sack of manure in a 35 gallon barrel of water and then let it sink for a week. From there we use it to water the plants once a week. Thus far, were seeing great results.

3. Education

A lot of the community kids have been involved with the preparation and maintenance of the garden. I've been focusing on the importance of protecting and improving the soil we have. A few of the kids are getting it, some are definitely not. However, the older ones that are more likely to actually use it seem to appreciate and understand it to an applicable degree. Let's hope it stays that way.

In addition, some of the men from the community are starting to stop by, seeing a little success. Some of them are starting to ask how they can apply some of these ideas to their crops. This, to me, is a huge success. Stay in prayer that a few of the crops continue succeeding enough to keep interest high. We'll start teaching some of these principles to the folks in town over the coming months.

Damos gracias a Dios por: una buena ciembra y el conocimiento para protejer y mejorar la tierra que nos ha dado Dios. (We give thanks to God for: a good crop and the knowledge to protect and improve the soil that he has given us.)


Your Address Needed

We hit the one year mark in Honduras this Monday and are sending out an update letter as well as updating our mailing list.  If you have never received letters/postcards from us in the mail or your address has changed this year, please send us an email with your current mailing address and we'll send you our letter next week.  Thanks so much for your love and support that has helped us get through this first year.


Rainwater Harvesting in Honduras

FYI: This is a very lengthy post created for those interested in our rainwater catchment system and as a resource for other folks working around the world that may be looking for ideas. Many of the ideas that we used in our system came from outside, undocumented sources (to which I am very thankful ) and some are original ideas. Whatever the case, we hope this information can be to use to those interested in utilizing the amazing resource that God has given us in rain. Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions, we’d welcome your feedback.

A storm rolling into Las Lomitas.

I started thinking about harvesting rainwater before we actually came to Honduras. I had done some research into the climate here and realized that there would likely be sufficient rainfall for our personal needs. As we’ve experienced thus far and from investigating with the locals, the climate here has a “dry” season from late February until early May in which a storm only passes once every 2-3 weeks. May experience above average rainfall as a miniature “spring.” From June through October, precipitation becomes very regular, with rainfall starting around 5-6PM and ending around 10PM. Among these regular rainfalls, at least one strong storm passes per week. Then, in November, the “wet” season starts and runs through early January. During this time, the temperature drops and it is common for rain to go days without stopping.

The most precipitation we’ve seen out of a storm, since we began measuring in May, was 6+ inches in 5 hours (the rain gauge maxed out in this time, so who knows how much we actually received.) With a metal roof, it seemed that the apocalypse was upon us.

Since we receive one hour of low-pressure water, three days a week, it seemed insane to not harvest this water in some capacity. Using the system described below, we have water 24/7 in the taps of the house: two sinks, toilet, shower, and outdoor tap.


The System

Rain Collection

Our collection system collects water from the aluminum/zinc roof over our house  (including our porch, this is ~600 sq.ft. of floor space).  The water from the roof falls into PVC gutters that in turn empty into 3” drainage pipes that run toward the cistern. Between the roof and the cistern, we have included a plastic barrel that acts as a barrier to capture the first 55 gallon wash from the roof. According to a few studies I’ve read, this should effectively capture 85 percent of the contaminants on the roof. Here’s how the barrel works. 

The first water from the roof falls straight down the pipe past the “Y” and passes into a 2” pipe that passes into the barrel. Once inside the barrel, the 2” pipe passes through a reducer into a 4” pipe, from that 4” pipe, it passes through another reducer into a 6” pipe and out the holes cut into the bottom of that pipe. Within this pipe is a Styrofoam ball. As the water level rises within the barrel, so does the ball. The water continues to pass the ball until the ball arrives at the 2” reducer, at which point the pressure that the barrel exerts on the ball effectively closes off the barrel to additional rainfall. The water that continues to fall can now not pass the ball and begins to back up the tube until it falls through the “Y” and into pipe that continues to the cistern. The dirty water remains sealed in the barrel for later use (accessed through a faucet we installed at the bottom). The important part to remember is to always empty this barrel after each storm. If not emptied, the next first wash will fall directly into the cistern. However, the barrel can be set to “self-drain” by leaving the faucet part open. However, we normally use this water throughout the day for the garden, etc.

Once the water passes the barrel, it passes through the 3” drainage pipe underground and enters the 6000 liter cistern.  The only notable feature in this stage is the outlet into the cistern. The outlet pipe passes to the bottom of the cistern and then angle’s ninety degrees straight up. The pipe is positioned like this so that incoming water flow up and does not disturb any sediment that may have collected on the bottom.
Once the cistern fills, any excess fall into an overflow pipe positioned 2” below the ceiling of the cistern. From there, it runs into the home’s central drainage pipe and off towards the road it goes.

 Water Extraction


From the cistern, water is collected through a 1.5” pipe and pumped into a plastic storage tank positioned on the roof above the shed (this a 5’x10’ section of 4” thick reinforced concrete). This water is collected 6” below the surface, since theoretically, this is the cleanest water. The idea is that the dirtiest water is below, since most contaminants settle to the bottom. However, some contaminants also float, so you don’t want to collect the water directly from the surface. So, in order to make this collection pipe float, we made a hole in the end of the pipe and connected a standard plumbing float with a 6” arm. In order to create a joint that allows the pipe to raise and lower with water level, we made an elbow using a double layer of rubber bike inner-tubes stretched over the ends of the pipes with PVC “ribs” in the middle cut and sanded from the same 1.5” tube to prevent inner-tube collapse between the two pipes. The inner-tubes are held in place using brass exhaust clamps (brass to avoid rust). 

The water arrives on the roof using a very simple, hand-operated (no electricity here) deep-well pump that is positioned on the platform with the tank. 30 minutes of pumping fills the 750 liter tank.When the cistern is full, the water travels vertically about 12' and horizontally about 15'.

 Water Distribution

From the tank, the water is lowered through a 1” tube to the house’s 0.5” distribution line. If we don’t need the water for the garden, we last ~10 days on one plastic tank of water.  Using the tank to liberally water the garden, it lasts about three days. 

This system has worked alarmingly well. When we “opened” the system in May, the cistern filled in less than 2 hours. We were astounded. We expected weeks! Needless to say, it was an exciting moment when water started flowing in. As a result, the cistern is nearly constantly full to the brim, with all the excess (including floating contaminants)being shuttled 150 feet away to the main road’s drainage ditch. Having running water available in the house has totally changed our lives. No more bucket showers in the shed. No more need to use purified water for teeth brushing. No panic if the community water doesn’t come one day. No more bucket sitting next to the toilet for flushing. 

The water purity is somewhat questionable since there is no actual filtering taking place. However, two weeks after the system was “opened” we had a water text performed, and its result was free of fecal coliforms and several other popular nasties. I occasionally drink the water if I’m feeling impatient, but for the most part we stick with purchased purified water (at one dollar per 5 gallon jub, it’s hard not to).  We plan to add a couple levels of simple gravel and sand filtration over the coming months, but as of now, we’re very happy with what we have. 

The Cistern Construction Process.

By far, the biggest challenge of the project was designing and constructing the cistern. We decided that we wanted to place the cistern below ground in order to save space above ground for the garden. For the same space-saving reason, we decided to place the cistern below the porch.
Using a very comprehensive calculator we found online HERE, we decided to aim for a storage capacity of  6000 liters. As a result, we dug (with pick and shovel) a big, big hole:  10’ long x 5’ wide x 6.5’ deep. It took us about 3 days to dig the hole, and it was pretty delightful work for those that may be wondering.
And fantastic for trapping curious children.
Once the hole was finished, we dug a 6”deep ditch within the hole around the perimeter to make the foundation for the cinder block walls. We filled this ditch with rocks and concrete, with 3/8” rebar pointing up every 2’.

From this point, we layed the 4” blocks, filling in each hole in the block and placing rebar between every two lines horizontally. In order to have enough room to work, it is necessary to leave at least 6” of space outside of each wall.  At every two lines, we also backfilled the space left outside the wall with the dirt we had removed earlier. We also left a hole to pass the three tubes entering the cistern.

Once the block walls were complete, we plastered them with a mix of fine sand and concrete. Once the plaster was dry, we put on a final smooth coat of pure cement paste. 
Once the smooth coat was dry, we poured a 3” thick concrete floor. After a couple days of allowing all of the concrete to cure (always maintaining it wet to cure well). We began the process placing the roof.  We wanted the porch to be one continuous piece of concrete, so in order to accomplish this. We created a rebar cage that sits two inches below the level of the final floor, sitting on the porch and house foundation. Tied into this rebar cage is a metal access hatch we had custom-made for the cistern.

Before the pour and placement of the cage, we created a form for the roof using 2x10 planks cut to the size of the final product.

The side walls were nailed into the concrete with concrete nails and the top planks were supported with 2x4s placed within the cistern. Having cut a hole for the access hatch and placing the rebar cage above it, we were ready to pour.

We poured the porch/ceiling with 2" above and 2" below the rebar. We then left the supports in place for 48 hours to allow all to cure well. We then entered the cistern and began to remove the forms through the tiny access hole. Thank God, all of it fit and was removed fairly trouble free.

We then cleaned the cistern and applied a final double coat of water-proof liner commonly used here for drinking water tanks and pools. After two more days of drying, we were content with our set-up and we opened up the pipes to allow the water to come in. With the setup we have here, we don’t seem to be losing a drop of water, so I can recommend it for now.


Back to School

September already.  We’re sure you are all in “Back to School” mode or at least wrapping up summer and looking forward to fall.  Life is different here.  The school year runs from February to December, we’re still in school mode and there never is fall here.  We’ll continue with hot/dry days and cooler rainy evenings until December when it starts to rain all the time.  Please enjoy the beauty of the four seasons back home for us.  This Sept. 15th will mark one year since we arrived in Honduras.  We moved out of our apartment in Centerville, OH in July, 2011, spent two months with family, and then moved here in September.  We began construction on our home in Feb. 2012 and moved into Las Lomitas March 25th.  As all of you know our commitment was for one year.  That will be coming up in just a week.  We wanted to give it a trial run to see whether we thought this was the place God has for us.  O we of little faith.
 We never want to pretend we know for a second what tomorrow may bring, so we truly try to live one day at a time and do what God has placed in our laps and in our paths that day.  At the same time people have started to ask the “big” question, “So how long are you guys going to stay down there?”  The answer is we really don’t know and we will continue to take life as it comes and God leads.  For now, we have planned to stay until the end of Nov. this year when we will come to the States to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends.  We will then come back to our humble abode in Las Lomitas and finish a full year living in Las Lomitas, which will be until end of March 2013.  We feel called to at least complete a full year living and working in the community to be able to see if we’ll be here longer.   Please be in prayer for us as we are in serious prayer about our future and “where” God wants that to be.  To be honest, we love it here and it feels like home, in addition, we’re seeing the community take huge strides towards development.  We feel like we’re doing what we were made to do and living in a way we were made to live.
Yes, it is hard every day in more ways than one and sometimes we don’t know if we can make it another day.  Without a washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, power tools, electric outlets and everything you plug into them, etc. daily life can be rough.  Sure, we’d prefer to live in a house with smooth, painted walls, sofas, chairs, carpet, and tile.  But are those things really necessities?  We’d challenge you to answer that question as well.   We make up for this knowing that we have the best jobs in the world and based on how God made us we are in a place where we are most effect for His Kingdom.  Is that not truly the ONE necessity?  So as you are “back to school” or “fall clothes” shopping, challenge yourself and your family with the question of “what truly is necessary?”  Could you go against our culture and downsize or simplify to bring God glory?  Could you make the sacrifice to truly get into the job/place that God made you for?  Do you even know what that is?  Maybe start praying for God to place you where you can be most effective for Him, because none of us really know “the day or the hour” when this life as we know it will be over.
We are assembling a “one year in review” letter that we will be mailing out.  If you have never received anything in the mail from us and would like to, please email us your address and we’ll make sure you receive it.  There are some of you who are donors and we don’t have you on our mailing list, please let us know who you are.