Vegetable farmer reaps benefits from storey gardens

Justus Maina, Tisdec farm manager,  explains
Justus Maina, Tisdec farm manager, explains how to maintain a multi-storeyed nutritional garden. PHOTO | COURTESY 

From a distance, the three small green circular pillars resemble a well-maintained family car park. Well, it is not.

The pillars are nutritional gardens at Ms Susan Kiura’s compound in Ruiru.  They call them multi-storeyed rounded nutritional gardens, each occupies an area measuring one metre squared.

This is a method where a farmer plants about 100 vegetable plants in a one-metre squared area and produces enough for family consumption and surplus for the market.

Vegetables like kales, spinach, amaranth, and African nightshade are the most ideal for such a garden.

Inter-cropping vegetables is highly recommended to minimise the cost of production and add nutrients to the soil.

“It was just a trial but I am extremely happy. The gardens are cheaper to maintain,” said Ms Kiura. “Each garden gives me about Sh1,000 per week.” She earns about Sh500 more from traditional vegetables such as amaranth and the African nightshade due to their higher demand.

She learned the skills from The Institute for Sustainable Development and Crime Prevention Centre (Tisdec ), an organisation that promotes organic farming as a way of income generation and crime prevention.

When plating in a normal garden, a square metre piece of land accommodates an average of nine vegetable plants, according to agronomist Reuben Mwangi.

The multi-story garden is cheaper to start, more durable, easier to manage and sustain with higher yields in a much smaller area. The gardens are an upgrade from bag gardens. The recommended spacing is 15 inches between plants. It is mandatory to have a ratio of 1:1 of soil to manure.

The Tisdec plot of land, measuring 15 by 13 metres, has 54 multi-story gardens arranged in a zigzag pattern in order to maximise space utilisation. 

Justus Maina, the Tisdec agronomist in-charge of the farm, said multi-storey gardens require less water compared to bag gardens. They are easier to irrigate. Watering is done directly to minimise water usage and time.  

A garden takes a maximum of 20 litres of water once or twice a week, depending on the weather. The average height of each garden is two metres, but Mr Maina says a farmer can make it higher depending on the radius of the bottom row.

“The gardens are not labour intensive as no major weed control is required,” says Mr Maina. He advises farmers to inter-crop a variety of vegetables as a way of pest and insect control.

Different types of crops repel different species of pests. Farmers can plant different types of vegetables on each staircase, while onions and coriander are good pest repellents.

Farmers planting more than one garden can have different crops in every garden, Mr Maina added.  For faster growth, farmers are advised to apply organic folia feeds after every harvest.