"Agriculture is the Backbone of our Nation"

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The new year brings new growth

... and new strength. Both Ras Ng’angsh and Ras Innocent, who are residing in Nairobi, travelled out to the farm in early January to offer some strength to the volunteers there. At the farm they found Ras Rukundu, Ital Wandatutu, Ras Maruri and Ras Githaka. Their help was much appreciated as new land needed to be broken using the large jembes. New sunken beds have now been prepared for both the cowpeas and the beans. Sunken bed farming is used because water and manure can better be conserved as run off is significantly reduced. Each sunken bed is about 1.5 feet wide by 2 meters long. This is a convenient method of farming as you have easy access on both sides of the bed and can weed or irrigate without crushing any of the young crops.

The crops have grown a lot since the last post. We have now harvested the beans, though they were not without their challenges. Due to the higher incidence of rainfall, the bean harvest was lower than expected. When the bean flowers (the bean producing part of the plant) gets rained on, the flower falls off. Therefore, the harvest was at about 50% of what was expected. This learning experience has prompted us to irrigate our newly planted beans before the rains. This is possible by the availability of ground water in our area. Our farm is located in the valley, referred to as ‘Kianda’ in the local language, where crops such as arrowroots do best.

By planting the above legumes at this time we target to have them ready before the onset of the April rains. The climatic condition of this area is quite favourable for legumes and this gives us confidence in these crops. Legumes are the primary source of proteins for most farmers around this area. Additionally, legumes help in the process of fixing Nitrogen into the soil as they have Nitrogen fixing nodes on their roots.

Early January also brought about a fresh harvest of cowpeas. We have kept some of the cowpeas seeds for re-planting, while the rest can be used for consumption. We currently have 3 beds of cowpeas, and this resulted in approximately 5 kg of cowpeas.

In addition, we have weeded around the trees (that we have planted along our properties' fenceline) and are happy to report that the avocados, the croton, and the passion fruit trees are coming along very well. The maize and groundnuts are also looking very good and will be ready to harvest in late February. We have sampled and roasted some of the maize, however, they are still young and not yet fully mature. Also, the soya crops are at the harvesting and drying stage, but unfortunately, did not grow to full maturity. Nonetheless, we harvested what was available for both seeds and consumption.

The pigeon peas, banana trees, sugarcane. arrow roots, tomatoes and pumpkin all look very good. The pumpkin seedlings have been spread around the whole farm alongside Ethiopian beans. The vines from the Ethiopian beans are climbing quickly and need more support to continue to grow and spread. We plan to build a permanent structure to support these fast growing vines. An added benefit of the Ethiopian beans is that they continue to grow without needing to be replanted. Each branch continues to branch off to more and more vines and branches, and the older the plant, the more beans will grow.

2012 also brought about the learning of new lessons. We have found that we planted the carrots too close together. The leaves are turning dark as they not getting enough nutrients. We have now learned that one is supposed to mix the seeds with soil in a container which can then be transferred into the ground.

We have been blessed with a generous donation from an overseas volunteer, Sister Christie, who resides in Canada. We have used this donation to purchase materials for building our own well. To ensure water security in the farm we plan to reinforce our well with concrete construction that will provide a guaranteed source of water for farming, nurturing tree seedlings and for domestic use. So far we have been able to gather grit and blocks and have purchased sand, cement and crushed stones for the foundation. Construction should commence at any time.

The community continues to show its heart of love. They are learning from us and we are leaning from them. Some of the farmers are even beginning to implement some of the methods we have been practicing. Our nearby neighbor has now begun to plant sweet potatoes the same way that we have demonstrated. The next vision we have is to introduce the drying and grinding of sweet potatoes into a flour. Thus, it is easier to preserve this food for future use. To grow sweet potatoes is less demanding in terms of inputs and labour compared to other crops. The crop can also withstand less rainfall in this era of erratic weather. We hope that our farming methods will continue to be absorbed and utilized by the community.

Throughout the December holidays, school youth have been visiting our farm in remarkable numbers. In return of the assortment of gifts the youth have been bringing, most of them have learned how to make necklaces. Some of the necklaces the youth have made, have been on display at the weekly market in Maragua town. They are also gaining spiritual upliftment as we pass on the love, knowledge and wisdom we have learned through the Ras Tafari teachings.

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