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Alan Kirk
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I tried to edit my previous post to include a link to a photo that more folks should be able to view but wasn't able to, so I will post the link here:

https://twitter.com/981thebull/status/680075923127963649
 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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I went seed shopping yesterday, and spent a lot more money than I was supposed to.

Usually I experiment with a couple new things each season (and I am lucky to have three seasons in a year).  This season I had already decided on lentils.  I couldn't find seed for planting, so I bought a half kg bag meant for eating from the grocery store.

I also went around to the old ladies at the market and got some more maize (corn) seed.  My mother in law's pigs decimated my maize last year, and I got very little seed harvested.  Although I hate spending the money, I figure throwing some fresh genetics in there can't hurt.  I got a white variety, a yellow-orange, and a white-purple.  I mix them and plant them all together.  There is a very specific all red variety that I have been trying to get seed for, but still no luck.  The ladies tell me that the folks who have it, hoard it, and don't sell it. 

I also broke down and bought more tsimbande (bambura ground nut) as my seed supply only planted half the area I allotted for it.  Husband says I am planting it too close.  I am ignoring the husband.

Then I got a little obsessive thinking about non-starchy vegetables that would be diabetic friendly.  So I went a little crazy on "experimental" seeds - sweet peppers, okra, lettuce, zucchini, cucumber.  Regular seeds, not organic, not heirloom, not open pollinated.  Oops.  Some of these I have tried and failed with before... But you know... Never say die!
 
Maureen Atsali
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Woot! I put in about four hours in the garden today.  I'll pay for that later, but I didn't want to squash all that productive energy

Planted 5 rows of bambura ground nut, and weeded 3.  They germinated and are looking awesome.  I don't think I have ever had such a uniform and healthy looking start from my bambura before.  I need to take pictures, but its a bit embarrassing because the grass is as tall as the nuts!  I have no shame, I'll post it later.

And I started putting in zucchini.  I was so excited to find zucchini seeds that I never looked closely at the package when I bought it.  First off, no planting directions.  No biggie for me, I know zucchinis very well, but what about other Kenyan farmers who might want something new?  Second, little sticker with the packing date.  2012.  Shoot.  Anybody know the viability shelf life of zuk seeds?  Guess we'll find out!

The zuks are going in an area where I have really put a lot of work into the soil.  Lots of manure - mostly rabbit, lots of compost, lots of weed mulch.  For the first time I am noticing some color change in the soil.  Its darker, and more brownish, as opposed to the kind of strawberry blond gravel/clay I started with.  Progress, I hope.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Photos as promised...
Here is the close up of the bambura ground nut.  It seems pretty happy considering the poor dirt.  Don't know if you can see it, but the dirt is a mix of clay and gravel.
IMG_20170316_172421.jpg
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Maureen Atsali
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Here is a view of the whole plot, which I am still in the process of planting.
IMG_20170316_172421_1.jpg
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Tyler Ludens
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Looking good! 
 
Maureen Atsali
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A photo to compare with the "before" shot earlier in this thread.  Tsimbande hiding in the grass.
IMG_20170316_172447.jpg
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Dave de Basque
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Maureen Atsali wrote:Reevaluating my goals...

From the start my main objective with the farm was to be as self sufficient as possible.  Basically I wanted to feed my family.  Last year, we pretty much achieved that goal, eating almost exclusively from what we raised on the farm.  I was still buying tea, honey, salt and cooking fat.  (If I was really motivated, I could keep bees, plant oil palms, and grow tea... Then all we would really need is salt.). Occasionally the mono diet would make me nuts and I would splurge for store bought stuff... White rice, a loaf of bread, chocolate!  We had lots of animals, but since that's my main source of farm income, we were selling them rather than eating them... So my diet had become unintentionally almost vegan.

A little back story here: I have been obese most of my adult life.  I was over 300 lbs and a hardcore diabetic when I came to Africa.  Within weeks of arrival my blood sugar stabilized, and I was able to go off all medications, and over the course of a year I lost about 120 lbs, effortlessly.  I kept it off for 5 years and through two pregnancies.

But last year, I started to gain weight again.  And while I am out of strips to test, I think the diabetes is also back. (Ants in the pee bucket probably means sugar in the urine!). I was kind of mystified... I am working harder, physically, than I ever have in my life.  Most people would say I have an uber healthy diet. 

Then I had the lightbulb moment back before Christmas.  The farm diet is extremely high in carbs.  Sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, starchy banana and maize make up the bulk of our calories... And I think my insulin resistant body just can't process all that sugar.

So I have been thinking about how to change the farm so that I can still eat... Without overloading on carbs.  The answer I came up with is to focus more on livestock.  Still grow the starchy veggies, but let the animals convert it into energy I can safely consume.  The problem is keeping more animals means we need more infrastructure.  Another problem is that we sold off almost all of our animals to pay for Alex's surgery.  I have a handful of chickens and ducks left, a couple of goats, one rabbit and one cow.  So I feel like I am starting from scratch.  When we moved from my mother in laws compound to our own last year we had to leave behind the big chicken coop, the goat house, the pigsty, and the rabbit hutches.  So we have to build all those structures.  (Currently the chickens and ducks sleep in the chicken tractor, the cow and the goats sleep in the unfinished bathroom!)

Money, money money!


Hi Maureen,

First, congrats on this thread and your accomplishments (the real ones come from failures!). Not to mention your great and laid-back observations of cross-cultural issues that are not always easy to deal with! You've got nothing but my admiration.

Anyway, I think you're quite right about the starchy foods. Vegan diets, whether voluntary or enforced by circumstances, can get very high in non-fibrous carbs if you're not very careful. I gained a LOT of weight in my first 6-month stint of veganism. So I'm pretty sympathetic to your plight.

After a bit of researching, my own light bulb came on and I realized that besides fibrous vegetables, nuts and seeds are possibly the best focus, as they can offer a good bit of protein and low carbs. So I looked up tropical nuts and seeds and after a bunch of less useful websites I found this one:

Edible Nuts and Seeds that Grow in the Tropics

I don't know how many of those things you could get seeds or seedlings of, so I thought I'd send you to the original page. Are the biological controls in Kenya strict? And does the postal system work well? I ask because you might be able to contact these and other tropical permaculturalists around the world and they might be willing to just send you some seeds in the mail.

Another page had an analysis of protein per calorie of tropical nuts and seeds and found that pumpkin and squash seeds came out at the top of the heap. And since you grow them already... I don't know what the ages of your "day campers" are, but maybe some of them are old enough to shell nuts and seeds for you?

Just an idea or two. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to hearing about your ongoing experiments! All the best to you.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Dave, thanks for your comment, and for the link on nuts and seeds.  It was interesting to read about the drainage issue for macademias.  I bet that is why they are grown on the coast (sand) and not here (heavy clay).  Gives me some idea on how I might get some to work here, if I can ever get my hands on seeds or seedlings.  We make a trip to the coast once a year, usually in October, and my plan is to try and bring back some cashew, macademia, and coconut seedlings.  We do have a neighbor who has managed to grow a coconut palm, so it can be done!

Biological controls are non existant here.  I can ship in just about anything in small quantities.  Shipping is expensive, and I have to pay a massive 50% tax on the value of the item, but I have shipped in many seeds over the years.
 
Maureen Atsali
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This is my zuk planting.  Seeds are in the naked spots, with piles of weed mulch in between.  I'll mulch nicely once the plants are established.  (If the 5 year old commercial seed actually germinates).

What I wanted to point out was the color of the dirt, as compared to the dirt in the tsimbande close up.  Its darker. Less sticky.  Lots of bits of organic matter in there.  And where did all the pea sized gravel go?  It was very dry (2 weeks no rain) and hot when I worked this piece yesterday, so no worms to count.  By good luck it rained in the afternoon before I took this photo, and rained all night last night  ( hopefully the seeds didn't wash out.)
IMG_20170316_172447_1.jpg
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Steven Kovacs
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Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Maureen,

Thank you for sharing all of your adventures!  It's fascinating even (maybe even especially) to those of us in very different climates.  I particularly appreciate your matter-of-fact tone about what has and hasn't worked.  It's inspiring to see you roll with the punches and keep working!
 
Maureen Atsali
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This may be the silliest experimental crop ever.  Head lettuce.  Who grows head lettuce in the tropics?? Well somebody must, because I found this packet of seeds at a local agrovet, and it is packaged by safari seeds out of Nairobi!  I am so tired of eating salads made with shredded cabbage, and I lost my leaf lettuce seeds to a cow, so I am going to try.  I picked the coolest, shadiest spot on the property.  The soil hasn't been improved, but it is directly under a big, old, leaning banana... and bananas are kind of self mulching.  So the soil is not as bad as it could be. 

That tall grassy stuff in the back ground is sugarcane.
IMG_20170317_151627.jpg
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Maureen Atsali
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While I was at the market yesterday, I found what I think are tree collard cuttings for sale.  I have never grown them, and nobody knew it's English name.  Every kale and collard is "sukuma wiki", regardless.  They were so cheap, so I bought 100 pieces rather impulsively.  The long standing problem I have had with collards and kales is that they are a particular favorite of every farm animal, especially chickens.  The only place that doesn't get a lot of chicken traffic is still so infertile, nothing will grow nicely there.  So we took a chance and planted them between the rows of bambura.  By now they are all looking too sad to photograph. 
 
Maureen Atsali
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Well let's see.
My employee quit the job with no notice on Monday.   Her work was really poor anyway, but I was tolerating it because a) she's a single mom with 4 kids and b) finding a replacement and training them is such a hassle.  But, she took the decision out of my hands.  Every employee we have hired usually quits around the 6 month mark.  I am beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with us as employers, or if this is some kind of cultural issue I am not understanding.  If anyone has advice on handling hired workers, I would be glad to hear it!  I am so exhausted after just two days of trying to do it all myself.  Thankfully the husband found a temp to fill in.  A very nice lady who has often worked for us as a day laborer on odd jobs.  And Friday someone is supposed to come interview for the regular position.  The chaos this causes really messes with me.

The weather is also stressing me, as the rains are not behaving.  It has me thinking about threads like the year without a summer and what will happen if there is a massive collapse. I am so not ready!

I just keep on working, putting the seeds in the ground so they are ready and waiting when the rains come.  I put in 5 more rows of bambura groundnut.  I am almost done with that, maybe two more days.  I am bored with that project and ready to move on.  I did some cleaning in the vegetable garden - dug my 1 year old pineapples out of the weeds.  I have pineapples plopped down all over the property.  These ones have been neglected, chopped, stepped on, and accidentally uprooted, but they are the happiest and healthiest of the whole place.  I found four squash that I planted during the dry season.  I didn't think any had survived!  And I put in a row of cilantro.  There is no action yet in any of the new plantings, but its been dry.  Oh, and the maybe tree collards all appear to have died.  Too hot, too dry, and no mulch.  I work barefoot most of the time, and stepping on the bare dirt was scorching my feet today!  So how about those poor plants!?

 
Maureen Atsali
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The 3 sisters saga...

Every once in awhile, my husband, the non-farmer, jumps into the farm with great energy and enthusiasm.  And while I want to encourage him to be more active and involved, I also cringe inside, because our techniques are not compatible.  I am OCD and he is ADHD.  I am about doing it "right" to rebuild and restore, he is all about doing it faster.

Ho hum.  So picture this.  He wanted to help me in my 3 sisters plot.  Normally I have a system which has given me good results.  I dig lines approximately on contour, really shallow trenches or mini swales to maximize rain catchment and minimize erosion.  Then I plant each line with the 3 sisters in appropriate spacing.  Then I sprinkle in some half composted rabbit poo.  The husband ignored the contour and stubbornly insisted, "there is no erosion here.". I gave him a 2 foot stick to measure between the lines.  " too short", so he cut a longer stick.  And instead of measuring from the place he stuck the guideline in, he measured from the place he dug.  Thus my lines are now 4 to 5 feet apart, and they aren't lines. Digging lines "takes too long".  I got individual divets spaced for maize.  The 3 sisters idea apparently escaped his brain. I am looking at this trying to figure out how to make this work for me, without undoing his work.  I decided to plant just the maize and squash, by dropping a squash seed in every 4th divet with the maize. I'll have to go back later and figure out how to stick the beans in there.  Husband actually asked me why I was putting squash in the maize, but I was too frustrated to explain something that I have explained every planting season for the last 5 years.  Now what the heck am I going to do with these massive aisles between the rows?  I am thinking about using lentils as more of a cover crop rather than worrying about whether or not I actually get to harvest lentils.   If the squash run them over? No problem.  But it kinda burns my butt that so much space was wasted.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Some other progress this week:
1. Made a nursery bed over the old compost site.  Planted with commercial sweet pepper seeds I bought locally.  Covered the nursery bed with an old tattered mosquito net.  Works great at keeping poultry out, filtering harsh sun, and protecting from heavy rains and hail.  I have failed with peppers twice before.  Third time is a charm, right?

2.  Finished planting trees in the yard. Added a neem tree, an indigenous fruit I don't know an English name for, plus some bamboo and 8 papayas.  I will keep adding smaller stuff like papaya and pineapples, but we are officially out of space for big trees.

3.  Finished the bambura groundnut planting.  Yahoo!  Cross that off the goal list!  Now comes weeding and mulching... This project was supposed to take a couple weeks, ended up taking over a month.

4.  Hired a new house help to replace the one that quit on Monday.  This lady helps me with the manual domestic work that is too much for me, like hand washing laundry and carrying water from the spring.  She frees me up so I can spend my time and energy on the farm rather than mundane house chores.  I already caught this one dumping the trash in the garden... They all do it, no matter how hard I try to explain our trash disposal system.

5.  Have perhaps come up with a solution to the invading pigs, although it is not a kind one.  I am thinking of putting salt licks in basins and scattering them around my plots.  The locals believe that salt is a poison for pigs... I don't know if its its true, but they believe it, so maybe it will motivate them to contain their pigs.  And if some unfortunate pig salts his bacon?  Meh, one less pig to eat my crops.

Late edit: After six years I have finally figured out the English name of my mystery indigenous fruit.  It is waterberry - syzygium cumini.  I also found out the fruits are medicinal, and are used to treat diabetes!  Jackpot!
 
Maureen Atsali
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I am having a hard time attaching images tonight.  My connection must be slow.

This photo is of the mosquito net covered nursery bed.
IMG_20170325_164213.jpg
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Maureen Atsali
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And this is the before picture of the 3 sisters massacre!  I have come up with a plan to fix it, somewhat, but need to wait for the maize to germinate so I can see what I am working with.
IMG_20170325_164213_1.jpg
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Tyler Ludens
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That looks like very difficult soil.

 
Maureen Atsali
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The dirt is a bucket of fun.  Sticky clay.  As you can see it's still in clumps from the boy who plowed it by hand with a jembe.  What you can't see in the photos is the invasive grass.  I don't know the name of it, nor do I know if its found all over the world, or only here in east Africa.  It grows a long root horizontally under the soil, branching about 5 feet in every direction, and sends up a clump of grass every six inches or so.  If you just pull the grass from the surface, it breaks off, and the root remains, and it will send up new shoots overnight.  The root for itself is like a steel wire, and it will choke out everything if you don't remove it.  And the grass is useless because the animals won't eat it either.  The locals just chop it as they plow and till it under, but that's like cutting the head off a dragon so it can grow two more.  All the pieces left in the soil continue to sprout and spread, so now you have 10 invasive roots systems instead of one.

And this plot is full of that grass.  Usually as I work in lines with my forked jembe, I snag them and pull them out, throwing them on the surface so the sun can bake them dead.  I also break up those clumps as I go..  But its slow work, and the husband wanted to finish getting seeds in "faster".  But I will work on it when I put in the beans and start to weed.  In the places where I have done this consistently for a few seasons I have mostly eradicated the nasty invasive grass, and friendlier weeds have moved in.
 
Maureen Atsali
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My 5 year old zucchini seeds did not germinate.  Just in case it was the weather and not the seeds, I replanted what was left in the packet.

The okra germinated, but poorly.  Maybe 50%.  Again I don't know if it was the weather, the seed, or maybe a soil problem.  I replanted in the gaps, and added another row, which got mixed with cilantro, thanks to my 2 year old garden helper. 

The head lettuce experiment appears to be a complete flop.  Nothing has germinated except the weeds.  Its too shady to plant anything else there.

Put in my first experimental line of cucumber.  I have a lot of cucumber seeds! 

For the first time ever my cowpeas have made exceptional seed pods.  About 8 inches long and healthy.  In all seasons past the pods were pathetic, sickly and buggy.  We never eat the peas, because there are never enough, we eat the  leaves.

I have been weeding the bambura ground nut. That is an exercise in frustration.  Its full of invasive grass.  Much of the cassava I planted between the rows appears to be diseased.  (Hmm, free canes from the neighbor, and they are all diseased?). The good news is the tree collards I thought were dead are not all dead.  Some of it has survived. 

I am exhausted, and sunburned and getting kind of burn out.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I sure identify with the burn out.  I wonder if the tree collards might like it in the shade where you tried the lettuce?
 
Dave de Basque
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Maureen Atsali wrote:The dirt is a bucket of fun.  Sticky clay.  As you can see it's still in clumps from the boy who plowed it by hand with a jembe.  What you can't see in the photos is the invasive grass.  I don't know the name of it, nor do I know if its found all over the world, or only here in east Africa.  It grows a long root horizontally under the soil, branching about 5 feet in every direction, and sends up a clump of grass every six inches or so.  If you just pull the grass from the surface, it breaks off, and the root remains, and it will send up new shoots overnight.  The root for itself is like a steel wire, and it will choke out everything if you don't remove it.  And the grass is useless because the animals won't eat it either.  The locals just chop it as they plow and till it under, but that's like cutting the head off a dragon so it can grow two more.  All the pieces left in the soil continue to sprout and spread, so now you have 10 invasive roots systems instead of one.

And this plot is full of that grass.  Usually as I work in lines with my forked jembe, I snag them and pull them out, throwing them on the surface so the sun can bake them dead.  I also break up those clumps as I go..  But its slow work, and the husband wanted to finish getting seeds in "faster".  But I will work on it when I put in the beans and start to weed.  In the places where I have done this consistently for a few seasons I have mostly eradicated the nasty invasive grass, and friendlier weeds have moved in.


Maybe it's nutgrass? Someone on another forum was just complaining about it ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyperus_rotundus
 
Maureen Atsali
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Thanks for the link Dave, but I don't think that's it.  I'll have to go out tomorrow and pull one out for a pic.  There are no tubers or nuts or bulby things... Just roots that choke out everything.

You know how they say there us no monoculture in nature?  Well where you find this grass, its pretty darn close, as even other weeds can't compete.  I noticed that weeding today.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I was admiring my newly sprouted maize when I came across this:

IMG_20170331_184723.jpg
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Maize?
 
Maureen Atsali
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I am grounded this week by health problems.  Very frustrating when there is so much to do, and I am already behind.  But that's the reality of my life.

However it is so dry that I can't do half of what needs doing anyway.  Where are the rains?  And why do I seem to be the only farmer who has noticed that the rains aren't what they should be?  By now we should be getting pounded almost daily with rather violent storms.  I should be complaining about mud and the impassable roads.  But its still hot and dry.  Rain events have happened, but they are few and far between.  Am I being paranoid?

Well paranoia or not, the clay dirt has been baked back into a solid brick.  Weeding is futile.  I can't get the roots out of the brick.  I started putting beans in the three sisters, but that requires workable soil.  I was doing 4 jobs at once - removing weeds and invasive roots, breaking up the clumps, planting beans in lines on either side of each row of maize, as close as possible.  And heaping up the dirt into mini berms between the beans in hopes of creating some water catchment... Don't know how that will work out, since nothing is on contour this time.

By the way, the pepper nursery failed.  Not a single seed in the whole pack germinated.  The husband says its time to give up on sweet peppers, as this is my third failure.  I still think I got bad seeds... Along with the lettuce and zucchini that failed to germinate.  Still waiting for a good rain to see what the cukes will do.  Okra and cilantro sprouted at least.

My indigenous crops are doing great.  The bambura ground nut is totally unphased by the dry conditions.  It is getting all tangled up in the invasive grass though, and as I am pulling out grass roots, I am pulling up a lot of my nuts.  My fault for not getting the grass out faster.  New cowpeas are working away.  My self seeded veggie-weeds are happy and prolific.  I made a delicious pot of sautéed greens entirely from "weeds" I pulled while planting my cukes.  That tasted like victory!

Its gonna be a long week... But maybe the forced rest will reinvigorate me.  I am a bit tired and frustrated and overwhelmed by things this season.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I am seriously on the verge of throwing in the towel here.  Last night my husband dropped a tree on my garden. 

This tree sat up on the rim of the toilet bowl, leaning over it slightly.  It was a beautiful old tree, and I was against selling it or cutting it, even though it doesn't really produce anything useful.  I also knew there was no way of dropping that tree without it falling directly in my bambura groundnut/bananas.  But husband was broke, so he sold the tree.  The tree was supposed to be cut before I put in my seeds.  But the guy who bought the tree delayed.  I offered to refund the guys money, but the husband felt that it would make him look bad.  Husband assured me he would tell the buyer that he now had to wait until I harvested before he felled the tree.  But. For whatever reason, he didn't.  Instead they tried to tell me they would use ropes and the tree would not go in the garden.  I argued.  My dad and both my grandfathers did logging, and anyone with a lick of sense could see where that tree was going to fall, and 20 men on a rope weren't going to stop it.  But I was just a silly bitchy woman disturbing their work.  Tree fell exactly as I said, smack in the middle of everything, smashing down four bananas and all their suckers, and squishing a huge section of groundnuts.  They did a quick clean up job, cutting it up and removing everything off to the side... But I am not sure why they bothered.  Did they think I would not notice the damage?

I am tired.  There have been a couple of threads on permies lately about unsupportive spouses.  And what a hypocrite I am, trying to post encouraging thoughts when I am sitting in the exact same  barrel  of crap. 

The guy who bought the tree apparently felt a little bad. He offered to come help me weed what is left when he finishes hauling off his chunks of tree. 
 
Maureen Atsali
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I had promised to post a picture of my nasty grass with the invasive roots.  So here it is.  This one was fairly shallow.  Often times they run about a foot under the surface of the soil.  In terms of weeds on the farm, this one is definitely the worst thing I deal with.  Can any one identify it?  If I have enough credit I might post this over in the plants forum to see if I can get an ID.

I am back to work today.  I was/am a bit demoralized by the tree falling in my garden, so I did not go into the toilet bowl, and worked on some topside projects.

I planted black nightshade over the sight where my husband burned charcoal last week.  There is lots of small bits and charcoal dust there, and I have been dumping the pee bucket there for the last week.  I call this the lazy gardener's attempt at biochar.  I might stick some squash seeds in there too.

And I reworked 2 rows in the 3 sisters mess.  Essentially I am replowing between the lines to break up the massive clumps and remove as much of the invasive roots as I can, then I go back and plant the beans.

I tried to use my new planting stick, but it just kept plugging up.  So I went back to my old method of digging lines.

This evening when there is some shade I hope to go down and weed a row or two in the bambura.  We had a nice soaking rain last night, so the soil is soft and workable again.

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Maureen Atsali
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I forgot!

Good news!  Cucumbers have germinated.  There is hope for something new and interesting this season.  And I still have more seeds.

I planted a new moringa in the yard.  And 10 more papayas.  The husband says that's too many.  I say, you can never have too many.  I also transplanted 4 pineapples in from a location that the husband wants to put eucalyptus in.  I wanted to plant the entire fence line of the yard in pineapples... A nice edible deterrent.  These pineapples have nasty little red thorns, I was picking them out of my hands and arms all night after transplanting them.  Mulched them with rabbit manure as they were really starving in their old location.
 
Su Ba
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Oh Maureen, your grass looks like Bermuda grass. It's real popular for livestock. And it's my number one most hated weed problem on my farm!

My farm was originally pasture for cattle, so Bermuda grass was intentionally introduced. Now, without using herbacides, I can't get rid of it. The best I can do it control it and slowly eradicate it inch by inch. But have heart because I have managed to eliminate it in many of my garden beds. In others I've managed to control it 90% with hopes of total eradication in the next few growing cycles. Of course, other beds are new and full of tangled roots, so it will be yet another battle.

My method has been simple brutal repeated warfare, take no survivors! I initially dig a small section, say a meter by a meter in size. I dig down and remove every visible root. Then I put a very short season crop in, or something I'm willing to sacrifice in 60-90 days. .....Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, daikon, beet greens, kale, or some other greens crop. I also have a potato that produces tubers in 80 days so I can use that. While the crop is growing, each week I will use a knife or scissors and cut off below the ground surface any regrowth of the Bermuda grass as it resprouts. I don't wish it to grow and regain strength. Then when the crop is harvested I will redig that area and again remove any Bermuda roots. After two times of doing this there are only a few roots left, usually the deeper ones. Of course this means that I'm only growing short season crops there.

Once the little bed is pretty much root free I can go for a longer season crop, but have to watch for roots sneaking in from around the bed. In my case, it's from my garden aisles. As soon as a new shot breaks the soil I use a knife, or shovel to cut deeply to slice the root then pull out the shoot.

It's a slow method but I've managed to create 45 garden beds that are one meter wide and 6 meters long. It has taken me years, I agree. But it feels great to have garden beds that can actually grow crops. That dang Bermuda grass can cause most veggie crops to fail. I still have to watch for new shoots, but I'm now slowly removing the Bermuda roots from the aisleways.

I've tried smothering the Bermuda grass using old plywood, tarps, 6 inches of cardboard, 1 foot of newspaper, and super heavy duty black plastic. Each time I removed the sunblock material, there were lots of roots on the soil surface, which I remove. But the Bermuda grass comes back...even after a year of the sun blocking material being on it!!! It's one tough root to kill. It just resprouts from buried roots and from new shoots being sent in from meters away.

Don't be discouraged. You just need patience and perseverance to deal with it.

By the way, I love hearing about your farm. I'm one person who is cheering you on.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Su Ba, I googled Bermuda grass, and I think you might be right.  Yuck.  The thing is my livestock don't like it!  Its a forage of last resort, they won't eat it unless there is nothing else, and they are very hungry.

The only method I have found effective is just to keep pulling it out by the roots (I guess its really a rhizome, not a root) every time I work the soil.  And let the roots bake dry on the surface.    After about 3 consecutive seasons, its significantly reduced, but never eliminated.  It means I have to deeply disturb the soil every time I plant/weed, which kind of stinks.  I read in my google search that the root can survive underground for years waiting for the next opportunity to send up a shoot!

 
Maureen Atsali
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I haven't updated my project thread in forever.  I have been so busy, and when I have a few minutes its much more fun to read what other people are doing, rather than write about my own stuff.

So.  The the rains are raining.  I still think they are late and less than they should be.  But regardless there has been an absolute explosion of growth of biomass, and I can't keep up.  I kid you not the weeds in some places are already over my head. 

I am still systematically weeding out the bambura ground nut from the bad grass.  It has done really well in the poor dirt, and has even bounced back from the tree falling on it.  It has been much harder and much more time consuming to untangle it from the invasive roots than I anticipated.  Note to self:  do NOT interplant cassavas in bambura next time.  Tree collards are okay.  The bambura is flowering and beginning peg formation.

The vegetable garden is working nicely.  This is the most improved plot on the property.  As I was working I kept coming across this nasty looking white grubby thing.  Where I used to find only one or two, I am finding 50 or more in the vegetable garden, and I was really alarmed.  I thought I was being invaded by a nasty parasite.  I showed my husband, and he said, no.  This one is a sign of good soil fertility.  He says it eats decaying plants and it often found in straw thatched houses.  Given the heaps of weed mulch I have piled on this garden, I guess its no surprise its happy and prolific.  And I will halt my plans to feed the grubby things to the chickens.  We have pineapples, pumpkins, cowpeas, okra, cucumbers and cleome growing.  We've already harvested a couple meals of cowpeas and pumpkin leaves.  As I clean out more weeds, I'll keep putting in more seeds.  There is also an abundance of amaranth, sun hemp and Jews mallow which has self seeded.  The sugarcanes I accidentally scorched last year have come back with a vengeance, and are once again being stolen by neighbors.

The upper banana forest has been planted.  I can scratch that project off.  Needs more compost.

The messed up 3 sisters remains messed up.  The beans for planting got eaten, so only a few rows got beans.  Maybe we can call it 2.25 sisters.

The lentil project also got eaten by my hungry children.  That one is kind of understandable.  After all my seeds were just a supermarket bag of lentils like we usually buy to cook.  So the plot that was meant for lentils became the leftover seeds sort of sisters plot.  Maize, a few squash, cucumbers, beans, cowpeas and sunhemp.  This is a really poor dirt plot so I don't expect much, but I didn't want to leave it bare.

The taro roots are doing their thing.  I harvested a row this week from an area I planted last July.  Good sized tubers and lots of babies which I put in a makeshift nursery bed.  We also harvested a nice sweet banana off some bananas that were on the property when we inherited it.

We had our first real harvest of pigeon peas.  I was skeptical about these.  I nibbled a raw pod, and it was horrible and poisonous tasting.  And my husband insisted nobody likes to eat it, that's why nobody grows it.  But low and behold the cooked green peas were quite tasty, and liked by all.  Funny enough, the husband REALLY liked them.  I still have lots of seeds and will be looking for more poor marginal places to stick them.  They care not about the crappy dead soil I stuck them in, and are all well over 10 ft tall at present.

My nursery bed in the charcoal burning spot has done well.  Should have lots of black nightshade to transplant by next week. 

One of our avocadoes is fruiting.  I think its awesome that the trees come into fruit at random times.  So we have more avocadoes than anyone wants to eat.

The husband wants to plant watermelons in the charcoal nursery bed.  I have warned him that all my attempts at melons failed because of melon fruit flies.  He thinks he'll find an insecticide.  Its really hard having a spouse that is not turned on to organic farming.  He also wants to expand his sweet potato monoculture.

So that's it.  At this point I spend most of my time weeding and cutting mulch.  A friend sent some seeds for trial, and I am currently waiting on some seeds I ordered from China.  Once I have some cleared spaces, I'll start putting those in.

Happy Growing
Maureen
 
Maureen Atsali
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I posted this in the critters forum, but I figure I should report it here as well:  we have been invaded by armyworms.  (A moth-catapillar, not related to the grubs I mentioned in my last post.)   All of Kenya has been inundated, its been in the newspapers.  Scientists speculate that our unusual weather patterns have caused this population explosion.  My maize is being systematically stripped down.  My op, chemical free maize is apparently more tastey than all the Monsanto maize of my surrounding neighbors (or perhaps they already used the government subsidized insecticides?). I have searched the internet, and asked here on permies for organic solutions... But the best ones - predatory wasps and beneficial nematodes, are not available to me here in rural Kenya.  So, what I have been doing is to wake up early and go hand pick the catapillars off the plants. Its easy to identify which plants have the worm by looking for the fresh worm poo.  I usually find the worm hiding in the center whorl of leaves. I pick it out, throw it in a basin of water,and when I am finished I give the basins to the ducks, who have a helluva good time bobbing for armyworms.  Am I actually doing any good by "harvesting" the worms by hand?  Probably not!  I am sure I hardly put a dent in their exploding population.  But its more satisfying than doing nothing.  And the ducks sure are pleased with my work.
 
Su Ba
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Maureen, you mentioned in another discussion thread about eating okra leaves as a vegetable. That really perked my ears up because I hadn't heard about that before. And I'm always interested in learning about new ways to use what I grow.

Would I be correct to assume that I should pick the youngest leaves? Do they need anything special done to them, such as soaking or brining? What sort of recipes would you suggest? I'm really interested in giving them a try.

I'll be starting okra seeds in the next week it two, so I don't have any leaves available right now. But I'd like to learn about using them as a food source.

Thanks!
 
Maureen Atsali
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Hi Su Ba.  What I do is cut the leaves up kinda in shreds or strips.  Then I sauté some onions in a bit of oil until they start to brown, add in chopped tomato and cook until soft.  Add in the okra leaves and sauté until tender and cooked down a bit.  Salt and season to taste.  Add some water as needed during cooking to keep it from scorching.  The end result is a mild okra flavored green, which I find really delicious. Like the pods, it can be a bit slimey, but not as much.

I am still not getting good results with my okra here.  It has flowered at knee high again.  Boo!  This is my third attempt, same results.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I just had a tooth pulled yesterday, so I'm not feeling so great today.  But I did go out, clean up my nursery bed (after the sweet peppers failed to germinate) and replanted with some wacky experimental seeds:  cauliflower, strawberries, and something described as a "giant hot pepper".  Cubanelle (sp?) Maybe.

I found a source of seeds... From China.  It seems to be China's version of amazon actually, catering to many sellers.  The seeds are super cheap and shipping is FREE!  I suspect that a lot of these seeds will be duds. But at 15 cents, for 100 seeds, why not try?

I found seeds for a lot of tropical stuff I haven't been able to source.  Like soursop and dragon fruit.  It seems to take about a month for stuff to arrive, but FREE shipping!!!  I think it cost me about 30 dollars the last time I shipped seeds from the USA.  Just shipping.  That doesn't include the cost of the actual seeds.

I am super excited at the possibilities for new varieties.
 
Alan Kirk
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Just found this resource at the PRI Kenya website.  There are two others like it, plus other interesting info.


http://pri-kenya.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Lost-Crops-of-Africa-Fruits.pdf

Let me know if this is the sort of thing you are looking for, and I will keep my eye out for more.
 
Maureen Atsali
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I haven't been on here in forever... not for lack of trying, but because my little 3G fake "smart phone," could not open anything.  I have downloaded a new browser - and this is an experiment to see if I can post a photo.
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Maureen Atsali
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Now that I can post again... some updates.  Geez its been so long I don't know where to begin...

One of my last permies posts was a plea for help in time and energy management.  I wasn't doing very well keeping up with the workload.  It did not escape my husbands notice, and led to some big ugly arguments, and the involuntary reduction of my garden area. 

But after the initial anger and offence, I decided a smaller area was quite okay, as I was better able to manage it and manage it well.  So currently I manage the toilet bowl (a ravine that probably covers 1/2 an acre), the upper banana forest (Maybe 1/16th of an acre) and the yard (maybe 1/8th of an acre).  And  the husband leased out about an acre, and has his projects in the remaining.  Of course one of the leasees is planting maize with chemical fertilizers, but that is beyond my control at this point.

Anyway, I'm okay with this arrangement, and I think I'll keep it this way, and refuse to take on any more space, even if its offered back to me.  I sat down, replanned everything so that I still get everything I want, albeit squeezed in smaller space.  In fact since I am doing so much better in managing the smaller area, I don't think the actual quantity of production will be adversely affected.

I have been working at it faithfully.  I terraced the hillside going down into the ravine, creating additional growing space, which will be mostly for perennial vegetables and cassavas.  I have a 3 sisters plot, a couple rows of sweet potatoes, a plot of peanuts, a plot of bambura ground nuts, and my standard veggie garden.  Scattered inside all the plots are bananas, taro, sugarcane, Napier grass, pineapples, papayas, pigeon pea, and tropical fruit trees... I'm probably forgetting some stuff.

I have also added some to our animal production since my last report. 4 new ducklings were hatched, and 5 chicks (which will be four soon, as one is dying).  I sold and/or ate most of the young roosters from the previous hatch.  (9 chicks hatched, only 1 hen and 8 roosters!). I used the profits to buy 2 new hens - and add some much needed fresh genetics to my little flock.  (One if them is the naked-neck variety.).

I had one lonely old rabbit who has lived alone for a couple years because the rabbit hutch at our old house was in terrible condition.  I finally designed and started building a new hutch at our new house for a new rabbit project.  It will have five large cages: one for the breeding buck, one for does, one maternity ward, one for weanlings, and one for sale/eating stock.  I have finished two cages (doing one a month) and have added my poor lonely male two lovely wives.  The first if which has already given us 5 beautiful kits.  I LOVE baby rabbits second only to baby ducks.

I have also rented a shop which has on-grid electricity power with the plan of running my incubator again.  I hope to raise Poultry for sale as well as rebuild my own flocks.

Well, that's a good overview of what's growing on here.  Are we making progress or going backward?  I hope we are making progress!
 
Anderson gave himself the promotion. So I gave myself this tiny ad:
The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book by Mike Oehler - digital download
https://permies.com/wiki/23444/digital-market/digital-market/Earth-Sheltered-Solar-Greenhouse-Book
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