The best time to plant a tree

I don’t know anything about planting trees. I know how to show someone how to dig a fish pond, and I know how to peg-roll the cuffs of my chinos, and my girlfriend would be only too happy to tell you that I know how to turn a switch in my ears so that they conveniently stop working when she asks me something, but I don’t know anything about planting trees. In my head, it looks kind of like this:

1. You put a seed in the ground
2. You water it
3. It grows into a tree overnight, like magic

I like magic. But I digress. We’re starting a new venture here in Nshinda and I’m cautiously excited about it. Moringa is a tree that has small oval leaves which pack a pretty powerful amount of protein when eaten, and they taste pretty good to boot. It’s an underrated quality of a food source that can be easily grown in my area where meat is scarce and expensive and child malnutrition is rampant. Last week I got my grubby hands on some moringa seeds, leaves, and one cute little seedling gifted to me by the Mansa provincial house’s awesome gardener, Ba Francis, so now it’s time to see what we can do with them.


Drying moringa leaves in order to pound them into a powder that can be added to tea and other foods

Yesterday was Step 1: community sensitization. I plopped my new seedling outside on the front porch and got to work cutting old plastic soda bottles in half to create makeshift pots for the new seedlings. Everyone who passed by took a moment to stare appreciatively. Now you know just how infrequent of an occurrence it is to see Matt actually doing any work. Soon a group of the regular gang of loiterers little boys who frequent my house had assembled and I watched, amused, as they vociferously debated amongst themselves about what the crazy muzungu was up to now. I cheerfully explained to them that I was going to become a farmer and plant trees. They cheerfully assured me that no, no, I would never be able to plant trees. I ignored them and told them to fetch me some dirt. They grinned and refused.

Then I craftily changed tactics and told them that the trees weren’t for me, they were for them. Ah, now I was talking. I gave each of them their own bottle, showed them how to add dirt and some of my leftover compost water, and then had them carefully push dried moringa seeds into the moist soil. After the seedling grows, I told them, you’ll plant it at your house and it’ll be your tree. In a Hail Mary desperation toss to keep the kids from screwing around with the nursery flash of inspiration, I decided to label each of the bottles with a different boy’s name using duct tape and a Sharpie. I swear, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them more excited. By the end of the morning I had a small flock of dirty old plastic bottles nesting on my front porch and a slightly larger but just as dirty crowd of little boys hovering over their new charges, proud as peacocks.


Posing with their own personal seeds

For the entire rest of the day, kids came up to me with old plastic bottles asking me to give them a seed to plant. I had a hard time keeping a stupid grin off my face as I told them to come back tomorrow for the next planting session. I still don’t know anything about planting trees, but we’re going to go ahead and try anyway. After all, I’m reminded of the most literal of meanings of my favorite old Chinese proverb:

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.


There's some quote out there about the crucial importance and empowering properties of validating a person's name, but I can't remember it at the moment


3 thoughts on “The best time to plant a tree

  1. That’s so cool of you Matt. I have some Moringa Body Butter from The Body Shop that I love the smell of. It’s got Moringa seed oil in it. I hope they got it from Zambia…

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