Herstories and How-To’s: Wangari Muta Maathai

This month, on Herstories and How-Tos, in the spirit of optimism, and in preparation for the spring which is Definitely Coming Soon, guys, I want to introduce you to one of my new favorite ladies, Wangari Muta Maathai


Wangari Maathai (b.1940 – d.2011) was a Kenyan environmental and political activist who, in 2004, became the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wangari was born in 1940 and raised in Kenya. In 1966, After earning a couple of science degrees in the United States, she secured a research assistant position at the University College of Nairobi (later, the University of Nairobi). When she returned to take the position, however, she found it had been given away- she believed due to gender and tribal bias. Not one to mope, she used the opportunity to go to Germany for a bit of post-doc study, take up microanatomy, get married, start a business, start a family, oh, and become the first Eastern African woman to earn a Ph.D. from the same college that gave away her assistantship 5 years earlier. By 1975, she had become the senior lecturer in anatomy for said university (MIC DROP.)
The next 5 years (and really, the rest of her life) were truly incredible. Wangari casually acquired a whole slew of positions never before held by a woman in Nairobi, worked her ass off to improve women’s rights within the university and became involved in a number of socially engaged volunteer positions. (Seriously, do your brain and heart a favor and read about it all, because it’s all awesome). During this time, she came to believe that many if not most of Kenya’s problems can be traced back to environmental degradation. In 1977, Wangari combined this belief with a lifetime of championing for women’s rights to create the Green Belt Movement. The Green Belt Movement, which seeks to “…strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement…” among communities (particularly women) “…using tree-planting as an entry point.” You know what I love? Elegant solutions to multiple, interconnected problems. Nothing makes my heart soar like seeing words like ‘community empowerment’ next to ‘plant trees.’ *SWOON* In honor of her lasting impression as a leader in the ecofeminist movement, and in hopeful preparation for Spring, this month’s how-to is,
How to Plant a Seed: 

Every plant (and therefore, every seed) is slightly different and needs slightly different things. In general, however, sprouting seeds is a fairly straightforward affair. Remember, life wants to survive and has spent many, many millennia working on creating mechanisms to do so as effectively as possible. All you have to do is set up conditions to flip a few of those mechanisms ‘on’ to start the process of growing.
You will need:
the seed you want to plant.
-something to plant it in (seed starting mix, soil, coir, etc)
-something with a porous bottom to hold the something you plant the seed in (t.p. tubes are perfect and cheap-o)
-Something to go under the something you’re using to hold the something you plant the seed in. A shallow dish or deep plate works great) 

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 6.13.40 AM
    1. Fill your container with your seed starting mix. You’ll want to make sure the bottom is packed fairly tight so that it creates a little sponge to draw up water. Whether you buy fancy ‘sterile’ mix, or get a cheap dehydrated brick of seed starting medium, the key thing here is that there’s not too much in the way of plant food/chemicals/organic matter. Plants carry all the nutrients they need for the first few weeks in their cotyledon leaves (like egg yokes!) and until those shrivel up and ‘true leaves’ emerge, giving them extra nutrients is, in the words of gardener Gayla Trail, like giving sugar to ten-year-olds.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 6.17.55 AM(cotyledon leaves left and right, the first true leaves (!) in the center)

  • Make a hole, roughly twice as deep as your seed is thick. Stick the seed in there and cover it back up.
  • Place the whole thing on a plate or in a shallow tray. Add a bit of water to the tray, wait, then check the top. Keep doing so until the top of the dirt is just barely damp. How often you water depends on how dry or warm your house is, but always always water from the bottom and err on the side of not enough water. (Plants can almost always bounce back from being thirsty. They never come back from being drowned.)

And that’s it! There are other tips and tricks depending on what you’re growing and where, but with the embarrassment of riches that is the internet and your smart brain, I know you (and your new seedlings) will thrive.




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