- You’d be forgiven if you thought that this vegetable garden full of fresh, organic produce is in a remote location from the bustling, fast-paced, heavily polluted and sprawling city of Nairobi.
- According to Ms. Shah, the majority of city dwellers who approach Harvesting for Good East Africa want to grow their food but don’t know where to start due to limited space.
If Reshma Khan wants to make her favorite dish – Thai curry or anything Thai – all she has to do is arm herself with a basket of food and stroll in her garden outside. his colonial-style house.
By the time she returns, her basket is filled with everything she needs to whip up not only Thai dishes, but also Indian curries, salads, and even authentic guacamole.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that this vegetable garden full of fresh, organic produce is in a remote location from the bustling, fast-paced, heavily polluted and sprawling city of Nairobi. He’s right in the heart of it. In the Westlands.
“Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I bought herbs and vegetables in a supermarket or a food market. I bought an avocado recently, but only because a visiting friend wanted to eat guacamole and our avocados weren’t ready yet, ”Khan said, pointing to two well-endowed avocado trees.
From where I stand, the green fruits which grow, by the hundreds, weigh on their host.
Mrs. Khan’s vegetable garden is always generous, but it is not huge. Our mid-morning walk begins in their “portable little garden”. Planted in 20 liter plastic water bottles (because Mrs Khan and her family are environmentally conscious) are a wide variety of herbs and vegetables, among them different types of lime – Florida, Thai and the rare and expensive Australian finger.
Several types of mints and thyme as well as brightly colored goji berries, marjoram, sorrel, gooseberries, purple jalapeño, rosemary, Japanese mitsuba parsley are also among the foods grown here. I taste it as I go.
Many moons ago, through this portable herb garden there was a slope with green grass. Wanting to grow her food, Ms. Khan was appalled at the lack of space. Its vast garden adorned with trees and essential African lilies, thanks to their spectacular purple flowers, did not receive enough sun. But there was room. All she needed were a pair of knowledgeable eyes.
Meet the experts
She found them at Sheena Shah and Daniel Kathendu, permaculture experts at Harvesting for Good East Africa, who work to transform seemingly unproductive spaces in urban areas into food orchards through permaculture design and principles.
According to Ms. Shah, the majority of city dwellers who approach Harvesting for Good East Africa want to grow their food but don’t know where to start due to limited space.
“People are amazed when they find out that any piece of bare land or space left exposed where you can see the ground can be used. Applying permaculture principles can help transform middle yards and small urban spaces like Reshma’s, into functional areas that are also appealing to the eye, ”said Ms. Shah, Founder of Harvesting for Good EA.
These principles include the promotion of biodiversity, where everything planted is one in nature; to observe and interact is to grow plants specifically for the landscape and those that repel pests and obtain a yield, it is to ensure an abundant harvest, among other things.
“If we use some of these principles, we’ll see a lot more fruitful spaces appear,” she adds.
How do they go about transforming the average, bare plots of people into permacultural bliss like Ms. Khan’s? I ask.
“We are doing a customer site visit not only to assess the site, but also to find out what they hope to achieve,” shares the lead permaculture educator.
Some want more food than flowers, others more flowers than food. This means that no design is the same. With this information, they create a garden design and implement it with the client.
Knowing where direct sunlight and light falls is a fundamental aspect. Once you figure that out, it’s all about choosing the right plants and working the soil with compost to keep it alive. The selection of annuals and perennials keeps the space productive and dynamic all year round, not to mention adequate watering and mulching, the keys to a successful harvest.
“Finally, we train garden owners and their staff in how to manage it before handing it over to them to start harvesting. We encourage starting small and steadily so you can observe the growth and then start adding more plants along the way rather than adding too many varieties in the field, ”said Kathendu.
20+ varieties of plants
Ms. Khan’s vegetable garden was created using a permaculture technique known as leaf mulching. This is a no-dig gardening method used to prevent grass from growing back. The technique was chosen because the ground had already been dug too much.
“We put cardboard on the grass, added a good layer of mixed compost, manure and soil and made a raised garden. We then planted the crops, ”explains Ms. Shah.
They also created channels where water is retained and gradually filtered through the plants, which allows for better water retention and absorption.
In the field, they have planted more than 20 varieties of plants, including Peruvian chili, lemongrass, holy basil, fragrant geranium and fruit trees, namely orange and mango, having already harvested cabbages and tree tomatoes.
It is also a place of serenity. Ms. Khan works as a full-time leadership coach in the social impact sector. At the heart of the pandemic, the garden was a source of refuge and comfort. Spending time in the garden and eating everything from it was probably what saved her sanity, she says.
Is it expensive to develop a permaculture haven? Ms. Shah says it depends on the work required.
“But in the end, the return on investment is innumerable. The health benefits and memories created are worth any costs involved, ”said Ms. Khan.