Growing your own organic vegetables may seem like an unusual idea for many city dwellers, but it’s not that difficult, mysterious or time consuming. Just a few simple steps will yield enormous benefits for you and your family.
You don’t have to have a huge garden – you can easily grow herbs and leafy vegetables to supplement your diet and boost your health on a tiny piece of land. Prue Searle, a very successful organic farmer who sells her produce at the Maasdorp and Amanzi markets, estimates that 100 m2 of land is sufficient to provide year-round herbs and vegetables for a family of four. Searle says it is best to plant a little quite often and rotate crops like legumes (beans and peas), root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot), and brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, rape).
Searle also recommends that you grow herbs together with your vegetables to provide good nutrients for your crop and avoid chemical fertilizers. Comfrey, yarrow, stinging nettles, tarragon and borage are all good plant food. Not only can these plants be used as composting material, they can also be made into a kind of plant food tea by suspending a sack in a drum of water and using the water as a leafy plant feed.
As with any successful project, you need to start off with a good plan. Decide what you want to grow – vegetables, herbs or fruit – and why – for fun, to supplement your diet, to save money or to make money. Walk around your garden or just sit and observe. Check out which areas have full or partial sun, consider the soil, the slope of the land and your nearest water points.
Consider issues like whether you are planning for winter or summer or all-year-round crops, and also consider how you can rotate your crops. Then, start to prepare your beds and the pathways in between. Anna Brazier, editor of online magazine Naturally Zimbabwean, advises that you avoid digging too deeply unless the soil is very compacted. If possible, use a garden fork to aerate the soil.
You will need to establish a good supply of compost as this is the foundation of all organic growing. Buy seeds or seedlings that are appropriate for the time of year and adhere to the instructions regarding the seasons, the spacing of the plants and other advice usually noted on the seed pack. Keep your plants well-watered, well-mulched and well-nourished. Practice natural pest and disease control, but if your plants are healthy and well-fed, they will be less susceptible to problems. Remember that indigenous fruits and vegetables are best suited to our climate and are more resistant to drought and pests.
Searle offers a few methods of organic pest control. For aphids, try soapy water mixed with a solution of chilli and garlic, or black jacks soaked in hot water for 24 hours, or pawpaw leaves soaked in hot water. For fungal or viral diseases, use a mixture of 1 litre of milk in 10 litres of water. For slugs and snails, crushed eggshells and coarse salt act as a barrier around plants – but don’t use too much salt near roots.
For more information about organic suppliers as well as training and certification, contact the Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Promoters Association (ZOPPA) or visit their website www.zoppa.org.zw. For free range chickens and eggs contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Growing your own organic veggies is healthier and will save you money.