You would think soil in Nairobi is very cheap until you get a quote from a landscaper or a gardener. Soil is one of the items that push up the cost of landscaping, especially if a homeowner wants a big, lush garden.
On the chaotic Ngong Road in Nairobi, traders have piled soil that they sell to homeowners looking to grow vegetables on their backyards or do landscaping.
Margret Nyambura, one of the roadside soil sellers stocks red loam, which is on high demand.
“I ventured into this business 23 years ago,” Margaret says.
For landscaping or growing vegetables in a city home, she says she mixes the red loam with cow or goat manure to ensure healthy growth.
“For example, we mix three sacks of red soil with one sack of manure. For manure, a seven-tonne lorry costs about Sh24,000 while red soil costs around Sh9,000 per seven-tonne lorry,” she says.
She sources her red soil from construction sites and also buys from forests.
The highest amount of money that Margaret has earned from soil at once is Sh200,000.
“The client was building three houses. He came to buy soil mixed with manure to be used in landscaping,” she notes.
However, Benson Oruko, a landscaper at Garden Consultancy Services says one can get cheaper red loam. Benson gets the soil from Dagoretti, Ngong and Kiambu.
“We mix 18 tonnes of red soil with seven tonnes of manure. This is the recommended measurement,” the landscaper says.
For a quarter an acre of a land, Benson says one can use up to 18 tonnes of red soil which translates to about Sh16,200, minus transport cost.
For an eighth of an acre, most homeowners use three lorries of soil and manure for landscaping.
Besides red loam, some homeowners opt to use black cotton soil. But Benson says cotton soil is less fertile and porous, while red soil is fertile and it does not need a lot of water.
Some trees and flowers do not do well with black cotton soil, therefore one has to replace it or water the plants constantly.
Margret says red soil mixes well with manure hence gardens, farms and landscapes thrive better.
“If you plant trees and flowers on other types of soil, they are likely to fail,” she says.
Most of the soil traders sell the red loam to people who use it as top soil to cover the ground, to create new beds, borders or to provide a base for turf laying or sowing grass seed.
“It can also be used to raise beds for growing many plants and vegetables, which is a good thing,” she adds.
For those buying for small patches of land, one sack of red soil weighing 70 kilogramme costs Sh200 while manure of the same quantity goes for Sh500.
Through the soil business, Margaret has been to create employment to other three people. She also sells plants.
“In good seasons the business earns me as much as Sh5,000 a day. But sometimes business is low and I get Sh3,000. The business performs better during the months of April to May and October to November,” she says.
She adds that the business has also enabled her to buy land and build her home, which she says she is proud of considering that she does not have to pay rent.
“Were it not for this business maybe I would have been paying rent on a monthly basis and that could have made my life harder,” she says.
Just like any business, she faces setbacks like lacking water for the plants.
She adds that visibility was also a challenge and most customers could not see her soil and plants as the land in which her business sits on is steep.