There will be no watering today! The rains have finally come to this little corner of the Gambia. During the last week we had two false starts with a few small raindrops, but not even enough to settle the dust, but I was woken around 2am by the sound of steady rainfall on the mango trees around my house. After a while the wind increased and we had short spells of heavier rain with lightning, but it has now settled back to a steady persistent downpour which has cooled everything down. The change is a welcome relief after the last couple of weeks as the heat had become quite oppressive and the vegetation looks clean and green as the plants soak up the welcome moisture. Meanwhile I am told that in some communities up country cattle are dying from drought as they have to walk miles to the nearest water source.
So far not all our staff have arrived for work. The rain makes access more difficult as the dusty red roads leading to the highway quickly turn to a sticky mud. Fortunately the farm vehicle, an old Toyota jeep, has just been serviced ready for the rainy season, and the drive shaft to the front axle (which for some reason had previously been removed) has now been refitted so we should have 4WD to get in and out. If not it will be a case for rolling up your trouser legs and pushing!
The regular task of picking fallen mangos continues. Each morning the first job for everyone is to gather the fruit which have dropped during the night. Usually there are about three wheelbarrow loads – too many to be used and in any case some are overripe, damaged by the impact as they hit the grounds, or half eaten by the fruit bats which flap about between the trees at dusk and chatter noisily over the fruits hanging in the mango trees above my house as I lie in bed. These fruit are just dumped to rot either on a large heap in the orchard, or in a plastic water tank from which the juice is collected for recycling through the biogas plant, and then back onto the garden.
Earlier in the season the surplus were fed to the pigs, but now even they are sick of mangos! The female is pregnant and due to farrow shortly so perhaps I will see a litter of piglets before I leave next week. The male meanwhile, having been castrated after he had done his duty is being fattened up ready for sale. What a life!
Fruit and moringa processing continues although we need the sun to operate the solar driers and at present there is no sign of that today. The sky is a dull grey sheet of unbroken cloud and it is still raining steadily but it will hopefully clear out before midday and if the sun comes out the garden will soon dry.
The current crops in the garden are nearly finished – most of the tomatoes and pumpkins have been pulled up and about half the cabbages have now been sold although the smaller ones still remain. The garden eggs (aubergines) cropped badly and were heavily infested by mealy bugs so have been cut back but should regenerate during the rainy season. There are still a few lettuces and some “cucha” (local greens). A new crop of pumpkins has been sown but germination was poor, and the garden egg seedlings sown in pots about the same time have been attacked by insects and look sickly. The next main crops will be ground nuts, beans and wonjo (sorrel) and the advent of rain has made the soil soft so it can be easily turned ready for sowing. Babucarr has been sent to market to buy seeds and three of the boys are now busy with spades digging the empty beds. Once these crops have been established the main tasks for rainy season will be regular weeding to keep the crops clean and the daily African ritual of raking and sweeping to keep the farm tidy.
……… the rains ceased mid morning but without any sign of the sun so mango drying was postponed until another day. I spent most of the day sorting onions into three heaps – those that are rotten and unusable, those that can be re-bagged and will keep a while longer, and those are beginning to go bad but can still be used in the farm kitchen provided we do so without delay. These onions were lifted before I arrived and left to dry on mesh screens, and I had assumed that in Gambia they would dry easily and keep well but it appears this isn’t so.
Back home onions would be left in the ground without watering for a while to dry before being lifted, but here it seems they are vulnerable to attack by termites once watering ceases. After lifting and drying for several weeks they were bagged for storage in expectation of a market price increase but already quite a lot are showing signs of rotting, some from the centre, some from the outside. Sorting is a slow job as each onion bulb has to be inspected and then many of them then have the outer layers carefully removed until clean dry tissue is reached. It is also a smelly job and hands and fingernails need scrubbing well afterwards to get rid of the black slime and smell of rotten onions!
We had an interesting visitor last week when Kelly opened the back door of the duck house and found herself facing a spitting cobra in the nest box. He had presumably come looking for a meal of duck eggs and was not very pleased to be interrupted.
It was the first time I had seen a snake on the farm although I had been told a cobra had been seen near the pig pens one evening, and at first we didn’t know what to do. Should we chase it out of the duck house, or keep it closed in where we knew its location? Fortunately there is a reptile farm in the Gambia, run by a Frenchman and we were able to track him down by phone, finding he was in fact at Sukuta, only a couple of miles away though without transport or snake catching equipment. A vehicle was sent to collect him and he duly caught and bagged the snake using a lasso made from electrical cable and some plastic water pipe. When Kelly offered to return him to a nearby junction on the route for catching a van back to his farm at Kartong he declined saying he was at Sukuta for three days and was apparently quite happy to keep his captive with him for the duration!
We have also seen the sudden appearance of several monitor lizards, again presumably brought out by the prospect of food.
This little chap was resting on top of a fence and seemed quite undisturbed by my presence. Two larger ones (about 60cm) foraging in the next field were very wary and kept well away from the camera. I managed to take one picture before my battery went flat, and of course when I returned five minutes later with a new battery the lizards were nowhere to be seen.