When people were rushing to the supermarket to stock pile after the first announcement of Covid-19 in the country, Suraj Shah, instead planted over 100 edible plants in his garden that weekend.
Why did he do this? “It was the most practical thing to do” He says.
“Like everyone else, I don’t know when this crisis will end. Therefore, I planted food with this uncertain future in mind.”
Suraj, Chief Executive Gardener at Herbivore Garden Centre, is a man passionate about gardening. Not just gardening for beauty but gardening for sustenance. He believes that everyone should have a food garden, no matter how small it is. It doesn’t have to be grand and elaborate but it does have to be practical, healthy and productive. Having your own food is one the greatest ways to keep food anxiety at bay.
Suraj, has been gardening all his life. “My grandmother had a greenhouse back in the 60’s where she grew exotic flowers, herbs and vegetables.” he says. “I remember the time I cut all her flowers with my scissors. I didn’t know what they were. They just looked beautiful. She was so upset. Thankfully, she was also patient.” He recalls nostalgically.
Today, he has a garden of his own having inherited the love of gardening from his grandmother. “Most of my evenings and weekends are spent in the garden not worrying about anything else.” The fresh air plus seeing his plants grow from a tender, young seedling into a beautiful, majestic flower or a plant with a bountiful produce gives him a rush. His work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Every time people would come home, they’d spend so much time in the garden amazed at what I’d put together. Many wished for an edible garden themselves but said they couldn’t make one.” He soon discovered that the reason most of them didn’t grow their own food was because they didn’t know where to start.
As a Permaculture Designer with over ten years’ experience, he knew that with his knowledge and skills he could find a solution. In 2019, he founded the Herbivore Garden Centre: a company that provides turn-key solutions for designing, installing and maintaining edible and regenerative gardens for residential and commercial properties.
“The purpose of opening the Herbivore Garden Centre was to help people grow their own food by providing them with the means to do so.” The accounting and finance graduate states. “We do this by providing seedlings, organic inputs and information that people need to grow food at home.” Shah incorporates permaculture in all his designs because he believes that in order for man to keep drawing benefits from nature, he has to keep nature healthy and thriving.
One of their products is the Herbivore StayAtHome Gardening Kit. A timely invention for at a time like this. “We have been selling herbs and vegetables since we began. However, we knew that with Covid-19, food security was going to be a sensitive matter. This kit is a response to this. When people are food secure, they’ll be less anxious thus we can flatten the curve.”
The Herbivore StayAtHome Gardening Kit is geared to new gardeners who have zero experience and those who want to be food secure. For Sh5,000, you get a mix of 30 herb and vegetable seedlings which are ready for transplant into your garden or pots, organic compost and easy to follow instructions.
Some of the herbs can be harvested three days after transplanting, while the vegetables can be harvested in 60 to 90 days. The vegetables seedlings include tomato, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and lettuce while the herbs are lavender, rosemary and thyme among others.
The seedlings have been purposefully selected. Herbivore practises companion planting. This is a planting strategy that enables one to maximize their plants efficiency. It puts together plants which grow well together and benefit each other either through repelling certain pests, attracting pollinators, increasing soil nutrients or even providing shade.
“Diversity in planting is encouraged which is why we have provided such a diverse range of edible plants.” He notes. For example, basil and tomatoes should be planted together but lettuce and parsley shouldn’t. The kit also contains worms for Vermiculture to encourage composting of food scraps.
With the kids at home, gardening is an amazing activity to keep them engaged. It connects them to nature, encourages responsibility and healthy eating during this time. Children are more likely to eat vegetables they’ve grown, and an hour spent in the garden every day will calm them for days to come. So, go ahead and get gardening. It’s essential for your security and sanity.