I love to farm. I love to put a single seed in the ground that in time grows and multiplies into numerous other seeds. To me, it's magic. Only that this time it's real and not just a clever trick. It's beautiful!
I do love to spend time on my small farm. It's very therapeutic. Early in the morning, birds are usually singing, bees buzz around gathering nectar and you can spot a few butterflies flapping their colourful wings. It's breezy, cool, green, and calm. In the evening, crickets chirp as they hop around as fireflies flash. Once in a while, you might catch a squirrel gnawing and quickly running away. It's breathtaking. I do encounter snakes and chameleons from time to time. I let them be even though they freak me out. I am not a fan of reptiles.
Watching plants that you planted grow and multiply is very fulfilling too. Even though I don't have one yet so I don't know for sure, seeing constant progress in your plants is like watching your baby grow. Pure bliss. Only this time it's many at the same time. It's a very happy feeling when you go a week after planting and find that your seeds have sprouted. You jump for joy. A few days later they develop some leaves, then flowers, and more. And the joy inside you keeps building. It's a wonderful escape.
I have grown several plants on my farm in the past. Sorghum, sunflower, beans, mangoes, macadamia, avocado, grapes, jackfruit, sweet potatoes, cassava, maize, etc. As some of them are long-term crops, they are still growing as we speak.
About a year ago, I started a new project. Bananas.
I love bananas. I have them every single day. I have always wanted to grow sweet and unique varieties for personal consumption. After the pandemic hit, I noticed that even though many businesses came to a standstill, the business of food didn't. Grocery stores and farmers' markets were listed as essential services. People must eat! Come rain come high water.
I also noticed that bananas were selling quickly. They are usually ready to eat fruits that come packed with nutrients. They also possess serotonin which improves a person's mood and helps fight depression. In such a bad and depressing year as 2020, they were helping keep people happy myself included. Bananas are also a multiplying plant. Once you plant them, you never have to plant them again. They keep shooting for decades and with good management, they are evergreen.
Bananas can be consumed in so many different ways. You can deep fry them, roast them, bake them, boil them, mash them, eat them when ripe, make jam, blend them into a shake, have them in a salad etc. They are also affordable and anyone that would want to enjoy them is not locked out because of the price.
I believe in doing a project that brings joy, fulfilment, and contentment to your life. I also believe in ensuring that the project also benefits you financially. After all, any personal project requires some significant investment in the forms of time and finances to see it through. Sometimes the constant pumping into it can feel really draining. It would be fair if it also contributed to improving your quality of life and by putting something back into your pockets. With my banana project, I planned on selling the surplus.
I love to work and play with the soil. I am also a strong believer in learning to work with your hands. Gardening, sewing, knitting, pottery, drawing, painting, decorating, etc are trades and crafts we should all pursue. Everything has been so mechanised in our times that vital skills have been lost along the way. Before I started working on my farm, I realised I no longer nurtured myself to enjoy the processes of creating and building with my hands. I felt I had become too impatient to learn and to create with my hands. I had been constantly leaning towards instant gratification. We as a society have also gotten too detached from what we build preferring products made by and processes done by machines over those by human hands. Everything is just similar nowadays. It also lacks the human touch, the spirit, and the uniqueness that comes with it. It can get redundant and it's very unexciting.
Getting to work
I had been saving for months for this project. Even before the pandemic struck, I had been making some sacrifices and putting some money aside to channel to the project while researching the best way to go about it.
After I had saved a significant amount to start with, and the lockdown was eased, I embarked on the project by purchasing quality seedlings and by hiring some workers to help me dig large holes that would help hold water when irrigating or during the rainy season.
(Ready for work)
(Newly planted seedlings)
I then added some well-decomposed manure before picking each seedling and carefully placing it in the soil. I used my hands to cover them with some more soil and mulch to preserve moisture. Gently pressing the cover soil with both hands helped release air from the holes and ensured that the young roots could reach the soil easily and quickly when they began to spread. I then watered them. The sun was scorching and it was very tiring but it was worth it. The seedlings required watering once per week for the roots to develop and firmly attach themselves to the soil. After about a week, they started showing signs of life.
(Progress on the young plants)
To save on water especially during the dry season, I installed some drip lines. I became creative and created some large extra holes to ensure my bananas received enough water at their bases. To ensure that water was not lost on the other outlets that didn't rest on the banana stems, I bought some strong greenhouse tape and sealed them in an attempt to prevent water wastage. This was very stressful as there were hundreds of holes. The whole process took two days. I didn't have a pair of scissors and I had to use my teeth to cut the tape. I didn't enjoy this. The tape would constantly stick to my lips and teeth. It was very uncomfortable and it reduced its effectiveness due to the tampered adhesive. Also, the uneven shapes as a result of using my teeth weren't very effective in blocking the holes so I had to be very creative again and decided to plant beans in the spaces where water was still escaping. Water is precious. Every drop counts.
To fix other emitters in the future, I armed myself with a pair of scissors. I had learnt my lesson. The next time I had to do it, it went more smoothly because of the speed, accuracy and even shapes. This time round, as taxing as it was, it was even enjoyable.
(Tape on the extra drip line outlets)
(Beans along the drip lines)
Issues along the way
My banana project's journey hasn't been all rainbows and butterflies. Theft has been a major issue. Some lazy persons whom I am yet to identify have been coming from time to time to uproot some of my young plants. As recently as last week, I found some gaping holes. This has been very frustrating. It leaves me feeling very defeated.
The weather has also been very unforgiving too. Climate change has made it really unpredictable. Sometimes the sun has been shining like crazy and sometimes when it rains, it pours. Too much sun scars and dries my plants. And too much rain floods them.
(Effects of changes in weather and gaping holes)
When taking care of my scarred plants, I have to cut the scorched, dead, and dying leaves. As I do not have a pair of special scissors yet, I make do with a machete. This is not recommended. It leaves bigger scars that take time to heal which takes the plant's focus away from growing to healing. This delays its maturity period. Severe scars not only stunt their growth but can also kill them. That's why a good pair of special scissors will be a saviour.
As regular pruning is recommended to facilitate their good growth. A good pair of scissors will come in handy.
Plans for the future
To deter thieves from stealing, I am planning to fence my land in the next few months. A pair of strong scissors will come in handy too as I will have to cut the fence in various places so that it can fit the shape of my farm. A pair of strong scissors, pliers and other tools will help me hold, bend and cut the pieces of metal that I will use as hooks to firmly hold the fence to the posts. I have even been scouting the Fiskars website to see what other tools they may have that could help me in my fencing project and to better take care of my plants in the future.
When my plants are all grown and matured with enough shoots, I plan to share the extra shoots with my neighbours and any other person who would be interested. Normally it is recommended that you destroy the extra shoots to avoid competition for nutrients but I'd rather share them instead.
It will help me spread my joy. It would be nice to have a community of people with a shared interest. We can gather sometimes and discuss our beautiful plants, the joy they bring us, and how they have improved our lives. Who knows, another person might figure out a better way of taking care of them and that could be beneficial to all of us. Also, with more produce, we can organise ourselves for a better market. We can even attract retailer companies and even exporters to purchase the produce from us right from the comfort of our farms. There is power in unity. I have also received some tremendous help from time to time in nurturing and taking care of my plants and I plan to spread that kindness.
Sharing the plants will also help me spread the risk of theft. If I am not the only one growing them, the thieves will not come to my place only. They could even be caught going to someone else's farm and that might solve that. Also, by being indiscriminate about who I share the young plants with, I could even share some with these unknown thieves which could help keep them away from my farm. I believe in killing them with kindness.
With the banana barks, I am planning on creating some crafts. I have been thinking about and have researched on it. For inspiration and to be well informed, I have even visited curio shops where they make coin boxes, stuffed toys, earring holders, ornaments, picture frames, dream catchers, art pieces, baskets, ropes and even coffee tables with them. Once the plants mature, instead of throwing away the bark, I will arm myself with my pair of scissors, some thread and glue, and will teach myself a new creative skill. I love to work with my hands.
(Beautiful raindrops on the leaves)
You won't make it
Sharing the details of the project with some of my family and friends has not been helpful especially in the beginning. The responses were very unenthusiastic and unsupportive. Some even told me to quit when I mentioned the constant thefts and other issues.
"It won't be successful. Focus on something better. Something posher. Something cleaner. Something easier. Something girly. Something digital." They said.
I didn't hold it against them though. They just don't understand the tenacity and zeal in a craft or project you enjoy. I also didn't let their hurtful words get through to me. I would never allow them to kill my spirit. I am here for the long haul.With the project going well so far, I have received messages from the same friends and family seeking a share and taste of the first fruits. People!
Hopes and dreams
Of course, I have been fantasising about winning this challenge haha. With the winnings, I could purchase a strong second-hand car that will help me transport my banana produce to the market. This will help me fetch a better price for them. With the rest, I could set up some beehives on my small banana farm. The bees will harvest nectar from the banana flowers. Bees are also currently under the threat of extinction. As a vital element in plant pollination, decreased bee populations would greatly affect the global supply of food. By setting up some homes with a regular supply of nectar for them, I could make my contribution, however little, to help save them. I could enjoy fresh honey which will be healthier as it will keep me away from sugar. Selling the surplus honey will also help meet some of my financial obligations which will improve my life in general. With the wax, I could start another craft of making scented candles. I could even channel some of the winnings to a stronger fence to help protect the hives from theft.
To manifest the win, I am going to go for a refresher driving course. It will be fun and helpful for me whether I win or not. I am actually super grateful for this challenge because it has allowed me to organise my thoughts on what I have been feeling about my banana project for the past year. Sometimes along the way, it has gotten pretty overwhelming which has almost killed my spirit a few times. And because as time goes by I might forget the finer details of the journey, the challenge has helped me think introspectively about it. It has helped me process it, find the words to express my feelings, pen some of them down, immortalise them and share them with those that would be interested in it.
This is a project for a lifetime. When I take my future children to our small farm, as they chase butterflies and watch the bees buzz, I will pull this story out and share it with them. Hopefully, it will help them understand the journey better. It might make them take some interest in the project and make them want to nurture the bananas too. After all, the project might be the one that will pay for their favourite movie, buy them some toys, a pair of colourful scissors for their crafts, or even put some food on the table. Not forgetting furnishing their systems with the potassium needed for them to run properly.
Gardens and farms are beautiful to see and to experience. They are also very healing. And gardeners and growers are artists. We create live art. Instead of sitting with a canvas and paintbrushes and painting landscapes, by growing plants from seeds and seedlings, we create living masterpieces that people interact with every day. The art changes shape with the passage of time and changes in the environment and as we navigate through possible risks, care is given to ensure that the art is still enjoyable in every stage of the process. And that brings a lot of joy and fulfilment.
I have been going bananas. And I am loving it!