Maureen Atsali

+ Follow
since Feb 06, 2015
Western Kenya
Apples and Likes
Total received
In last 30 days
Total given
Total received
Received in last 30 days
Total given
Given in last 30 days
Forums and Threads
Scavenger Hunt
expand Pollinator Scavenger Hunt
expand Pioneer Scavenger Hunt

Recent posts by Maureen Atsali

The process of legally importing plant matter into the USA is crazy hard and expensive.  I am in Africa but have never heard of any 3 month cultivar.  My variety, which I just got from local villagers, takes a full year.  If you wrangle up more info, I'd be really interested.  I think I remember reading that there was an improved variety developed here for the coast which grows faster and more prolifically than our Western province variety, but I think it still takes 6-9 months.
3 days ago
Oh this is a favorite pet peeve of mine, having lived in rural western Kenya for almost 8 years now.  Most folks here have ditched their indigenous diets for a Western one.  Maize has become the staple food, even though it is not particularly well suited to the conditions.  I came here with an expensive selection of heirloom american fruit and vegetable seeds... And my first garden was an epic failure.  So I started researching indigenous foods. I experimented with eating and growing.  I sourced seeds from old ladies in the village... And no surprise, the native crops were easy to grow and well adapted.  Example: The local squash is not susceptible to fruitflies or powdery mildew, but every variety of summer or winter squash I imported was destroyed.  I also started researching the wild edibles: mushrooms, greens, fruits.  I was so excited because my eyes were open to the huge abundance.  There was absolutely no reason for locals to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.  But when presented with these nutritious foods, locals scorned them.  Guavas for example grow in wild abundance along many back roads and hedges.  But that's "kids food".  Other things were scorned as " grandmothers' food."  Or "poor peoples food.". (As if they weren't poor people!). The cultural attitude is that modern sophisticated people eat western foods, and only backwards ignorant people ate indigenous foods.  In 5 years time I had built up a farm that was able to meet all the caloric and nutritional needs for a family of six and a part time employee, and a half dozen hungry kids that were always hanging around.  I bought sugar, cooking fat and salt from the supermarket.  But if I'd been ambitious enough to render animal fats and or plant oil palms, if I had the press for sugarcane or a few top bar hives...the only thing I couldnt produce was salt.  I knew nobody wanted to listen to a know-it-all american, but I thought in time if they saw abundance demonstrated, they might be interested.  But nope.  Because my garden was green during the annual drought I was accused of witchcraft.  And those same people would show up at my gate begging for food or money during famine months. 

Like another mentioned, I can't hire workers, because they flat out refuse to follow directions.  They pull out edibles as weeds (like amaranth), they sweep away mulch because its "making the soil dirty.", and they plow under anything they dont recognize as valuable.  They stubbornly refuse to consider new (or very old) ideas.  They want modern chemical agriculture and store bought white bread.

I have been playing with the idea of community dinners built around indigenous foods, in a gradual subtle way.  Unfamiliar veggies mixed in familiar ones.  Bambura groundnut mixed in the beans.  Sweet potatoes in the mandazi and millet, sorghum and casava mixed in the maize for ugali.  Bananas cooked in savory meat dishes and taro cut with Irish potatoes.  None of these foods are " new", they've just fallen out of fashion for two generations.  I would love to introduce young people to the tasty possibilities.

Most of these foods were unknown to ME, but I came at them with an open mind and an adventurous palette, and I have learned to like and appreciate almost everything, except termites and omena (tiny dried fish.) I have tried termites, and they do taste rather nice, like buttered popcorn.  But I can't get past my cultural conditioning against the idea of eating bugs.  And I have never liked any fish EXCEPT little dried minnows with shiny eyes looking at me...nope.  I could eat any of them if I was hungry and desperate, but they will never be a part of my regular diet.  So does that make me as stubborn and narrow minded as I perceive my neighbors to be?  😝 probably!
3 days ago
Great subject, and thanks to everyone who has shared so far.

  This is kind of a lifelong frustration for me.  I have ideas and ambitions along side a long list of boring but necessary chores... and a body that just can't keep up.  I have autoimmune issues which cause me pain and fatigue, migraines, insomnia. I have some mental health issues that get in my way...depression, anxiety, OCD...and each issue feeds the others.  Geez when I write it out, I'm always shocked at what a mess I am.  If I dont get things done, I get anxious.  When I'm anxious i dont sleep, no sleep can cause a flare of pain/fatigue/weakness which means I get less done, which maybe leads to some OCD crackdown and overworking obsessively on some project, which leads to more pain, more depression, and a 2 day migraine.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a habit forming app. But a little wary as well.  With my obsessive personality another app just means another excuse to have the phone glued to my face.  I have used an old fashioned journal for years, writing out my to-do list, roughly in order.  I am mindful of the most important tasks, those things I MUST do no matter how shitty I feel.  The kids and the animals must get care.  Some wise soul once advised me to do the hardest most hated chore first.  For me, that's washing laundry by hand.  And I have to say by sheer force of will I have simply FORCED myself to complete that one vile task first thing every morning... And it has indeed become a habit.  After that I simply peck away at my daily list.  I get that nice hit of dopamine whenever I actually finish something and I get to scratch it off the list.  I havent actually FINISHED a daily list in years, but I still find that I get more done with it than without it.  I also play games and make deals with myself.  If I finish a chore I reward myself with a rest and a YouTube video.  I also do what Jocelyn already mentioned - I play audio books or listen to inspirational content during mindless tasks. 

But for me it feels like I'm juggling flaming swords.  To be productive without overworking.  To accept my physical disability and limitations without hating myself.  To make healthy choices without becoming obsessive.  To stay in the present and stay positive.  To try and make sure a bad day doesn't become a bad week, month, year.  To find those things that give me joy and satisfaction.  To have big dreams and ambitions, but break them up into reasonable pieces, bite size daily tasks.  Immediate achievable goals.  I can't replant the whole garden, but maybe I can do one row (and that works out better anyway - staggered harvest).  I can't clean the whole kitchen, but I can wash the dishes.  Some days I am so incapacitated I can't get off the bed.  Then I need to surrender, and not do battle with myself for being "lazy", " useless" , "stupid", and "worthless".  I always remind myself that each task I complete is one more thing than I did yesterday.  My mantra of late is, " safe, sane and serene. "
4 days ago
Here in Kenya people LIKE tough meat and tend to shun softer meat.  If you go in a restaurant you will generally find broiler chicken (soft, tasteless) listed separately and at a lower price than kienyeji. Kienyeji is the local, indigenous chicken (almost feral). It is hard, chewy, lean, and actually tastes like a chicken.  Boil it long, low and slow before cooking it in your preferred method, which here usually means pan frying with tomato and onions.  The locals also make a kind of marinade which contains (I think?) The ash from bean plants, which (I think?) acts like baking soda and has a tenderizing effect.  The tough old chicken really does have so much more flavor than supermarket variety broilers, but so hard on my teeth!  We also make a chicken and dumplings, but boiled on the stove top, not baked, my grandmother's recipe from the depression, definitely NOT Kenyan.  This thread is making me hungry!
4 days ago
Fantastic and inspiring photos, as always Joseph.  I was thinking about trying to paint one of your plum photos, but I dont think I will ever be able to recreate that amazing purple hue.  Its one of those God-colors that no paint can replicate.  This is one of my favorite all time threads!
OK last one for today, I promise.  My phone can only handle one upload at a time.  These are the little gardens that spring up behind the chicken tractor.  Keep in mind he first patch has been picked and pruned at least a dozen times.  Also, I dont weed.  I just throw on the seed and let them duke it out.  Many thanks to Tyler Ludens who turned me on to this method.
4 days ago
The kenbos.  "Hello mama, where is the food bucket?". Do you see the little one outside?  He got out when I was tossing in the food scraps and is just waiting to be let in.  Foraging? No way.  Also that particular chick is a genetic anomaly.  He is small, and his color is off.
4 days ago
I'm on a photo binge today.  Mystery chicks in the brooder.  Is there a special name for the throw away rooster chicks in a layer operation??? I need to google that.

Note how long the wing feathers are.  In my 8 years experience of hatching and brooding chicks, I've come to see this as a BAD sign.  If the wing feathers outgrow the body (extend past the butt end) the chick usually dies.  But I bought them anyway, about $6 USD for 21 of them...small gamble.
4 days ago
Some squash from last seasons garden. Squash take a really long time to fruit and might actually be perennial if the dry season doesn't kill them.  (At the old farm I had vines still flowering and fruiting after more than a year.). These bad boys took about 7 months, and some weren't fully ripe.  But they were being stolen, so I brought them in.  Plus I wanted that space for something else.

I've been plugging away at planting.  I generally clean a short 20ft row and replant it each day.  I am putting in tomato, cabbage and collard transplants, and direct seeding Swiss chard and 7 or 8 varieties of local green leafy veggies.  My giant chile peppers have become chile trees, and the tree collards are about 4 feet tall.

I've had a problem with mulching, because the chickens won't leave the mulch alone.  There must be good life under there because they insist on scratching it up, and end up ripping up my plants in their enthusiasm.  I dont like any bare soil, but im waiting to put down mulch cover until my plants are well established.

Every month i slide the chicken tractor-composter over to fresh grass, and, gee how did that garden get there?  I go over the bare spot with a fork to remove as much of the invasive grass root that I can, and then I plant into it and scatter seed.  Wow.  These little lazy-woman gardens produce more veggies than my two large gardens combined.  The chickens and the compost leave behind a fertility bomb.  The greens growing here are huge, with leaves 3x as big, and they even seem to taste better.

Chickens.  My kenbros are down to only 14.  According to the advertising, this patented breed is supposed to be hardy and self-sufficient.  Not so, says I.  They are as dumb as they come, terrible scavengers, ridiculously tame, no scratching and no instincts.  If I let them out, they just follow me around, waiting to be fed.  They won't dig on the compost, and if it rains and they can't get back in the tractor, they dont have enough brain to seek shelter in the bushes or under the eves.  They are easy pickings for predators and human thieves because they are so slow and docile.  On the other end of the spectrum I have 3 kienyeji hens, 1 mature rooster, and 2 young roosters.  These are almost wild chickens, super efficient scavengers, mad scratchers, fast as hell, able to fly short distances, predator saavy, impossible to catch, insanely broody and very slow to mature.  These guys are my compost workers, but they hate being confined in the tractor.  They make a break for it every time I open it for feeding and watering.  A few days ago I added 20 mystery chicks to my brooder.  I suspect they are the throw-away roosters from a layer hen nursery.  (The seller tried to cheat me that they were kari improved, but I'm sure they are NOT.). They sell these throw away male chicks for 30 cents each, and I figured I would try raising a few just for meat while I'm waiting for my other chickens to start laying.
4 days ago
My landlady, in an act that seems a bit passive-aggressive, gave the other 3/4ths of my rental's plot to these ladies to grow their crop in the present rainy season, for free.  Nothing against these ladies, but I pay rent here and only get to use a quarter of what I guess is a third of an acre.  She told me I couldn't use the other part because she was using it for her own household crops.  Last season they grew little more than weeds.  And these lovely ladies have planted only a quarter of the area with sweet potatoes, collards and cowpea.  I'm watching weeds grow up in the plowed but unused portions.  Unfortunately, because these ladies planted collards, I can't allow my chickens to free range. Well, I could, but I believe in being a good neighbor.  Actually I wanted to post this photo so people could see the tool - a sort of oversized hoe with a short handle, called a jembe.  This all purpose goodie is used for plowing, planting, weeding, and all general digging work. Many of my neighbors back in the village plow multiple acres by hand with jembes.
4 days ago