Spring is in the air so whether you are in Borrowdale or Budiriro, Avondale or Arcadia, it is time to put your gumboots on and start preparing for the summer planting season. As long as you have a reliable water source, this is an excellent time of year for urban gardening. With the warmer temps, a wide range of vegetables can be planted. Pest and disease attack is still relatively low at this time and plants which do not like humid air, such as tomatoes, spinach and members of the pumpkin family will thrive now.
Even if you only have a small plot or live in a flat, you can still grow vegetables to supplement your diet and ease the strain on your wallet. Container gardens are growing in popularity in Harare and many people take advantage of unused open spaces around the city to plant their summer crops. City Council has become more accommodating of this in the last few years but urban farmers must take note of the regulations which prohibit cultivation on stream banks and wetlands. The Council urges all urban growers who want to cultivate on disused land to contact their local municipal offices for advice and permission.
It is important to consider the season when choosing what to plant. Beans thrive at this time of year and are an important, nutritious addition to the diet. Being legumes, they also help increase nitrogen levels in the soil, thus benefitting other plants in the garden. The bean family has diverse members from dwarf bush varieties such as Contender, to climbing perennials including Madagascar and Lablab beans. Groundnuts, roundnuts and cowpeas are also important local types which when harvested dry provide an important source of protein. Beans will do best planted direct into rich, well drained soil which has been limed. Bush beans can be inter-planted with other vegetables such as tomatoes or leaf crops.
Members of the pumpkin family can also be planted now. These include pumpkins, squash, courgettes, cucumbers, melons and loofah. These crops take up quite a lot of space so if you have a small area, try to encourage them to grow up a tree, trellis or wall so that they don’t smother or out-shade other plants. This vertical growing will improve their yield and reduce pest and disease attack. These crops need very well drained soil so do best when grown on raised beds or mounds enriched with well rotted compost or manure. When flowers begin to develop on the plants make fruit fly traps to reduce pest attack and apply liquid fertiliser once a week.
Tomatoes, peppers, chillies and brinjals are also warm season crops and can be sown in seedling containers and then transplanted into beds or larger containers when they are 10-15cm high. This family is highly prone to pests and diseases so a strict crop rotation plan must be used for these plants. Intercropping with strong smelling herbs such as basil, marjoram or spring onions may help reduce attack. Feed the plants with liquid fertiliser once the flowers begin to form and give tomato plants trellises to increase production.
Root crops which prefer this time of year include sweet potatoes, cassava and madhumbe (yams). Other vegetables which will do well now include spinach, carrots, lettuce, spring onions and leeks.
If you are unsure about the best time of year to plant vegetables, information is usually given on the back of seed packets. Garden centres which sell seedlings will also give out information. The City of Harare has eight Agritex officers allocated to different suburbs who can also give advice. NGOs such as Environment Africa are very helpful. The Municipal Development Partnership (MDP) has produced a guide to urban agriculture which can be downloaded here. You can also telephone MDP on 774385 for more information on their Cities Farming for the Future programme.