Jambo from Kenya!

One of my summer projects here in Nairobi has been to get a vegetable garden going at home. Before leaving Providence I did something rather questionable and took a lot of seeds that we’d had leftover from the Spring and packed them into little newspaper packets. Ideally it would be best to use local seeds from Kenya, but we just had so many, that I thought it might be fine to use them this year. And for next year I have been doing some research on where to get good local seeds.

It took me several days to get motivated enough to start the garden because it has just been chilly and overcast here (which wouldn’t be fun for me or the little seeds trying to germinate I reasoned). However I eventually got going. The area we assigned for the garden is behind out kitchen. Before digging it all up, there were some unsuccessful sweet potatoes growing there. I thought that maybe they might grow into proper sweet potatoes eventually and we should try somewhere else, but everyone assured me that it was fine and not a waste to pull them up.

Once we’d pulled them up we found that the soil was very dry and clumpy, as nothing had really been done with it in a very long time.

So we set to work raking it and digging it up. We also mixed in some compost that we had from elsewhere in the garden. I’d suggested that we should double dig and layer in the compost, but Joseph, who I was working with, said he didn’t see a need for that. Well, its good to try different methods! Joseph has done all his gardening in a traditional Kenyan way, so this may be interesting to see how people do things differently.

After raking the soil to get rid of all the hard clumps we watered it with a hose. This is where we are lucky and different to most Kenyan farms I guess. Most people would time the preparation of the soil for just before the rainy season and then pray for good rains. What a luxury to have a hose.

The size of the garden is pretty big, about three times the size of our plot in the Foxpoint community garden. We planted:

Brown berry tomatoes, pak choi, spinach, arugala, lettuces, kale (local and american), basil and tomatoes (together!), peas, beets, carrots and onions. I’d suggested to Joseph that we should start some of the things like the tomatoes in old milk cartons inside first, but he said that wasn’t something he normally did either, so we direct seeded everything. (we did agree on soaking the peas first though!)

So now, since then we have been watering the garden in the evenings and waiting to see what will come up. It’s pretty chilly in Nairobi at the moment (lows of 50 F at night) but it gets pretty warm some days (mid 80’s).

Aside from this garden I have also been trying to embark on some agricultural research here in Kenya. The main problem with this has been my lack of detailed information on the subject and therefore struggling to focus on a specific topic. However the research has taken me to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) where I spent several hours in their library. I’m not sure if you could find such interesting titles at Brown, from the WTO’s effects on the global south to instructions on farming the best mangoes, avocadoes, drought-resistant maize… It was great. What was less wonderful was all of the literature published by KARI itself on how to bring Africa its ‘green revolution’, how to rejuvenate Kenyan agriculture by increasing the use of pesticides, etc. Its the biggest and most influential of 28 agricultural research institutes here, and its definitely not organic.

More on all the research as soon as anything happens!



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