Spider What?

If you haven’t talked to me recently, you may be wondering what I’m actually doing these days. My main focus of the past 7 months has been conducting field research and writing my thesis for the MSc. Agronomy program at the University of Nairobi where I’m enrolled. In a less glamorous description, this means I have been sweating and getting blisters while cultivating my research crop (spider plant) under the scorching Kenyan sun, spending hours on public transportation and walking miles to get to my field, watching the clouds and praying for rain (but not too much!), devoting countless hours measuring plant height and counting the number leaves on a plant, problem solving irrigation challenges for the umpteenth time (“You mean, there’s no water again today?”), going google-eyed while turning number-filled Excel sheets into a meaningful conclusion, and writing my thesis, then changing it then changing it again…and again.

Field work was by far the hardest and most enjoyable part (and the most photogenic), so here’s a quick photo journal:

We measured and dug raised begs,


planted, and waited for the plants…

They came! And grew quite well.


All was not fun and games… especially on rainy days, but I had a good team working with me.

And Simon even came to help occasionally!


In the end, the experiments  gave us good data, and now it is on to data analysis and writing!

If you’re satisfied with this explanation of the project, you have completed your reading. Congratulations! You may now stop. If you still have questions, keep reading.


BONUS: Here are a few details about my project for fellow researchers, science nerds or curious non-scientists. I’m researching an indigenous vegetable, Cleome gynandra. Its English name is spider plant or cat’s whiskers, but it has no relation to the American house plant called spider plant. Spider plant along with many other local vegetables are more nutritious than introduced vegetables such as cabbage, kales, and broccoli. This one has many medicinal values, but as a food, its leaves are cooked then eaten (don’t eat them raw). Indigenous vegetables are becoming popular again with the middle- and upper-class Kenyans after a period when they were viewed as “poor man’s” food. At the same time, these vegetables are receiving increased research attention, and efforts to improve their production potential are under way. My project examined the effects of plant density and shoot tip or flower removal on the growth and yield of spider plant, in order to determine whether production of spider plant could be profitable for small-scale commercial production under certain management techniques.

Although results are yet to be published, you can probably guess some of the outcomes by looking at the following photos (clue: yellowing, sparse foliage is not a desirable trait for human consumption):

Season 1, 12 weeks after planting: On the left flowers were removed, while on the right, plants were left to grow undisturbed (i.e. no flower removal).

ssn 1, flowers removed 12 wap   ssn 1, no flower removal 12 wap

Season 2, 14 weeks after planting: On the left flowers were removed, while on the right, plants were left to grow undisturbed (i.e. no flower removal).

ssn 2, flower removal 14 wap   ssn 2, no flower removal 14 wap

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, you have finished the whole post! If you still have questions, you should probably contact me directly.


Posted on October 15, 2014, in Agriculture, Kenya, University of Nairobi. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Magnificent work, Emily! We knew you would be growing something excellently for small-scale profitability. The visual results are astounding. On a more personal note, John Port and I always found digging in the dirt together to be a satisfying marital experience =) God’s best to you and Simon: God’s peace, Jesus’ love, and the Spirit’s joy!

  2. Thanks, Margy. Always so full of encouragement, enthusiasm and wisdom. :) Hope you are both doing well!

  3. I really enjoyed seeing what you and Simon have been up to! I’m glad the project was a success. Praying for you :)

  4. I so enjoyed reading your findings on the Spider plant. I was so glad you continued your research comments on “What IS a spider plant?” I was afraid you were experimenting on a ‘house plant’ which would have no food benefit for the people. Job well done, enjoyed the pics. Annie & Laura always ‘liked’ to do picture reports in home schooling. Thanks and God’s blessings on you and Simon. xoxo

  5. I do remember when Annie lived in Uganda and wanted to garden, she was advised NOT to dig in the dirt herself….until she was there for a time. As she would not be immune to the (?) in the soil…… just as a Ugandan would not have been immune to our (?) in our soil. The same was advised for the water in the wells.

  6. Emily, this was a very interesting and enjoyable post and I’m very glad that you included the second part. I thought that was extremely interesting information and photos and am wondering whether I should be more diligent about picking off the flowers (the mostly dead ones) of our decorative plants here, too. I think so. In any case, thank you for the post. It’s always wonderful to hear from you, and I keep you and Simon in my prayers.

  7. thanks for sharing, Emily! It’s neat that you’re doing a “real” science project! – much more interesting than most theses I’ve heard of. Good luck writing your results!

  8. lkf514@comcast.net

    Hi Emily,   Uncle Rex would like to try to plant the “spider plant”  here.  Could you send some seeds to him?  He loves to try new things like that.  We are good and trusting God to lead and provide as we go thru the retirement process.  Pray for us in this.  We are almost finished fixing the house in Zimbabwe so we can sell it.  We pray the house will be ready to go on the market by November.  Keep well and we pray the Lord is supplying your needs.   Love and prayers,  Aunt Loraine

    • Hi Aunt Loraine, I’ll see what I can do about seeds. Regulations could make it difficult, but I’ll check about that. We’ll be praying for you and the house sale.

  9. Hi Emily, so great to hear from you. I have some pictures for you, where can I send them?
    God bless,
    Frank Wilson

  10. Great job, glad you all are doing well and the Lord is blessing you!!

  11. Jenny Kim, friend of Jonathan

    Will you be setting up a non-profit based on this? It seems so promising!

  12. Thanks everyone for you comments, kind wishes and prayers. They are greatly appreciated!

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