“Wanna-Be” Farmer

Confession! That’s me. Oh yes. I did manage to plant and reap some bounty. Mostly, it happened by accident but when it did we sure did enjoy the harvest.

I had an old trailer body so I filled it with good soil, mixed with “you know what”, planted the seed and kept it watered. The sun warmed the soil; the seeds germinated and sprouts appeared – then leaves; then a yellow/orange root showed. And the carrot harvest was plentiful that year.

Furlough was a time of enjoying good old sweet corn. Not the tough field corn the Africans grew but that tender ear, smothered with “butter” and salt. A trip to a farm in NY gave me a hankering to grow some when we got back to the field, So I got some seed to take back and with anticipation planted it. Soon stalks began growing but, as time went on, no ears of corn were visible. Not even the tell-tale silk!

Guess what? Up where the tassel was, kernels of corn started to appear. After a period of time it even took the shape of a cob. We didn’t even try to eat it. The kernels were hard as rock, well-baked by the sun since there was no shuck to protect them as they grew.

So, besides a cotton shamba (garden), which I plowed with my Land Rover (the sale of the cotton to help finance the building of the church), I decided to plant about a quarter-acre of “maliwa” (cassava; manioc). After all, that is a staple, fresh or dried and when peeled, thinly sliced and dried in the sun can even be eaten without cooking. But DON’T eat too much of it. And the tender leaves could produce “mboligo” – a delicious spinach-like sauce (when cooked with milk, tomatoes, chopped peanuts, maybe onions) for dipping “ugali” (a stiff corn-meal mush) into. Also, manioc could be left in the ground to grow until needed, even for several years. Among the WaSukuma it was a major famine crop.

Manioc is a root crop. Planting is done by inserting cut sections of manioc branches (maybe 6″ long each) into the prepared ground. One of my African neighbors gave me some of the branches cut off his growing plants and I cut them, preparing for my planting. All things being equal – sun and rain – those sections should begin to grow, put out leaves and, underground, grow what I hoped would be bountiful roots.

I planted; the rains were good; the sun not too hot. But my garden? Those inserted sections started to shrivel up. One or two, here and there, seemed to be growing good. What was up? I called the neighbor to come look. One walk through the garden, pulling up some of the planted sections, showed the problem. He told me, went home and I am sure my farming “skills” became public knowledge.

“Wanna-Be” Farmer (me) had inserted most of those sections into the ground upside down. Anyone (not me, it seems!) should know that! I learned real quickly – and had no manioc harvest. Nor did I repeat the effort. When we moved and lived near Lake Victoria I did, however, have a banana patch and about a half-acre of pineapples. YUM – when I could get them before the neighborhood kids did to keep them from picking them!

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