Remember when I said I like shopping for food more than I do eating it? Well, there’s one other thing I like more than that. Growing things.

I grew up having a mother who always grew things for the heck of it. Edible or ornamental, it didn’t matter much so long as it was green. She has magic green fingers. I guess I picked it up from her to some extent (my fingers aren’t always magic). I remember the thrill of having my first garden. I went out and bought seeds like the world was coming to an end at 6 o’clock. It wasn’t perfectly ordered, all the plants didn’t come through but it was a trip to actually grow things.

Unfortunately, it only lasted for one season as I picked up and moved thousands of miles but I now had my mother’s patch to infringe on. Calling it a patch is being generous. It’s a flowerbed she took over at the house and uses to grow vegetables. The first few months were glorious! I had all the lettuce, some broccoli (the dogs got it before I could get a harvest), peppers, and sweet corn.

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I’m also a big fan of growing things from produce I’ve bought. If it has seeds or bits of root still attached, you bet I’ll attempt growing it. I’ve done everything from golden honeydew melons, water melon, pineapple, mint, chilli, tomatoes, lemongrass, celery, spring onions and pomegranate (not successful but I live in hope!).

Garden tomatoes.

Garden tomatoes.

Garden tomatoes, beans, kale.

Garden tomatoes, beans, kale.

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Resprouting spring onions.

Five years down the line, and after a long hiatus, I am slowly trying to get back in the swing of things.

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Who knew bitterleaf could look so good?

Just the other day, I was listening to the radio on my way in to work when I heard a report about the Governor’s speech at the just concluded World Food Day events in relation to increasing food security. It brought to mind the allotment/community garden culture that is pervasive elsewhere and made me wonder why more people don’t grow their food in the Nigerian urban space.

On the one hand, I understand that there are time constraints and cheap alternatives but despite the initial effort that goes into establishing a garden, it is possible to have a low maintenance situation that only requires a few hours of attention a week.

One of the reasons I enjoy growing things is that it sometimes simplifies meal times for me. There are times when I’ve been unable to get to the market for fresh produce but I can have a banging pot of vegetable soup on the table in no time because I have ugu and waterleaf a few steps away and dried protein sources (dried fish and stockfish) in the pantry.

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Waterleaf and basil from the garden.

You can get some of the action by following this step by step plan:

  1. Get friendly with your neighbourhood nursery: You know those guys that sell plants along the road, you can often buy soil and manure for them at reasonable rates. It goes without saying that you need this to get started right?
  2. Assess your space: How big is the space available to you? Do you have a flower bed like me or a balcony or a backyard? It doesn’t matter if your backyard is concreted over, that’s where container gardening comes in. How much light will the plants get? How easy will it be to water the plants in that location?
  3. Decide what to grow: While I mostly like to talk about food, you could be in it for the aesthetics. Bear in mind that whatever you select will get bigger with time so you have to consider the space available to you. Some plants like direct sun and others don’t, this should also factor in your decision making process. You can get seeds locally from the markets, get your nurseryman to source some for you or save seeds from produce that you buy. Alternatively, you could look in Shoprite for vegetable seeds that are not easily sourced locally.
  4. Containers? At this point, we have our growing medium, a place to grow our plants and we’ve decided on what we’ll grow. For the urban gardener with limited space, container gardens are the way forward. There are any number of options available to you. You could get plant pots or recycle paint buckets, plastic buckets and bowls that may have broken and are no longer useful for holding water, plastic bottles, and takeaway containers. The possibilities are endless. The chief consideration here is drainage. You should make holes in the bottom of the containers to allow the free flow of water to avoid rotting the roots of your plant. If you are using larger containers like paint buckets, it also helps to add rocks in the bottom to reduce the amount of soil you’ll need.

Just like that, you’re good to go!

It’s impossible to go into a detailed breakdown of the dos and don’ts so I’ve listed some of my favourite gardening resources for tips on creating the right garden for you:

The Urban Organic Gardener extols the virtues of self-watering containers . (I should note here that UOG has since sold his site to an aggregator but his old posts are still on the site. It’s still a great source of information so have at it!)

The lovely ‘Loba puts us through our concrete garden paces here. (I’ve written something for her in the past. If you are interested in my backstory, you can read more here.

A new favourite of mine is the 17Apart blog where Mary and Tim write about their life. They have a page documenting their gardening adventures which I’ve really enjoyed reading.

I’ve found YouTube to be a useful learning tool in diverse areas. One of my favourite gardening channels is The Horticultural Channel. I feel like I’m right there with Sean and the gang. I know I’ve picked up a few tips from watching them.

Tropical Permaculture is another good resource I used for figuring out how to grow thing is our environment. He gives a list of vegetables that do well in a tropical setting and give alternatives for certain other vegetables.

If you’re more of a book reader, here are a few resources for you:

The Vegetable Garden in the Tropics by Hank Waaijenberg. I vaguely remember seeing this book in my mum’s room when I was little so it was a pleasure to discover a copy of it online. It’s a 72 page document that details all the aspects of growing vegetables in the tropics. It also gives a list of common vegetables and the difficulty level of growing them. It reads a bit like a textbook but is a great resource nonetheless.

The Kitchen Buttefly  recently reviewed a trio of books written about the lost crop of Africa. I’ve been reading them in the last few days and find them to be interesting. You can find out more about them here.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on “growing your own”. Is it something you would do?

C.

Written by Nik-Nak