The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. The food sector hasn’t been left behind. Prior to this, urban food systems were already being weighed down by climate change, and urban gardening seen as a way to ease this pressure. With limited movement today, we are reminded of the importance of investing in a personal urban garden.
For the past twelve years, Matthew Njoroge, has been growing food for his family in his home in Nairobi South. Covid-19 just served to validate his decision. “When I bought this property, it was imperative that I find a place I can put up a small kitchen garden.” He says. Imperative is a big word, I tell him. “I know. That’s how important growing your own food is.”
Njoroge farms for health, wealth and peace of mind. “When I realised that I couldn’t trust the vegetables I bought for my family to eat, I started gardening.” Besides that, gardening helps him stay healthy and saves him money. “When I come out here for an hour or two, I’ve worked out so no need to go to the gym, and the money I’d have spent on vegetables for my family of six, I use it on other necessities.” Njoroge is lucky to have a traditional gardening space.
What if you do not have space?
Silke Bollmohr, an organic urban gardener, has been helping urban residents become self-sufficient and independent, through sack gardening. For three and a half years, the mother of two has been growing her own food, sustaining her family with healthy and nutritious foods. It’s this knowledge that she shares through her organization, Hamana and their YouTube channel Hamana: Regenerative Living and wellbeing.
“Sack and container gardens are attractive to urban dwellers because they address the issue of limited space common in urban areas. They’re also quite easy to put together because the materials used are locally available and they require a lot less maintaining than traditional gardens.” For the working urban dweller, this is music to their ears. So how do you go about creating one?
To start, you’ll need sacks of various sizes (small, medium, large), sand/ballast, earthworms, a tube, soil and compost. First, choose the right location. A place with at least three hours of morning sunlight is perfect.
“If you find a shady area, you can still grow vegetables. Just focus on shade loving plants like salad leaves and sweet potatoes.” Next, prepare the soil by mixing a third of soil, sand and compost. “You need compost to loosen and enrich your soil with organic matter. This ensures your soil doesn’t harden thus holding more water and nutrients, and giving space for root growth.” Silke explains.
Fill up the soil until it’s two-thirds full. At this point, build the worm tower. Make small holes in the tube and put it in the middle of the sack. Put the earthworms inside the tube and continue filling it up. Once full, it’s ready for use! “I always incorporate the worm tower as it’s where I put my kitchen waste. The worms eat this waste, producing worm juice which is an excellent fertilizer.” To improve drainage in the sack, integrate stones into the soil mixture. You can also use used sisal bags instead of sacks.
What can you plant in them? “Anything you plan on eating. That’s why we’re building this, right? We need to enjoy the fruits of our labour.” She says laughing. Start by planting some beans or peas at the top. On the sides, make tiny holes for transplanting. Here, plant some fruit carrying plants (tomato and eggplants); green leaves (spinach and sukuma wiki), and bulb plants (onions, carrots and beetroot). Add some flowers too. “Flowers are important to attract natural predators. The marigold attracts lady birds, which eat the aphid.” Lastly, plant some herbs. Their smell repels certain pests. “For example, basil repels white flies and aphids.”
A small sack can hold forty plants, and a big one, a hundred plants. “How many plants can you grow on a square meter on the ground?“ Silke asks. Sacks are low maintenance because weeds find no home in them. “Between the densely growing plants and the mulch, which you should put to avoid evaporation, there’s hardly any space for weeds.” she adds.
If you have an insect problem, “natural pesticides like the chilli or garlic spray help.” To avoid fungi, make sure the leaves are not too dense especially during rainy season. Silke advises that it’s important to act fast when a pest problem develops.
There you have it! Safe, affordable, available and accessible food all in a sack.
As we conclude, Silke says thoughtfully, “You can have all the non-perishable foods at home but without stew/vegetables, how will you enjoy them?”