Shoes and bags as planters

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Durban – No space? No problem. Many use the excuse of limited room to shy away from growing their own vegetables.

But, say experts, most spaces – as small as they are – can be transformed with a little know-how – and lots of creativity.

You don’t need to have a farm to grow your own food. And this, said Sylvia Burger, site manager of the City’s Priority Zone in Durban – which houses a rooftop vegetable and flower garden – in Monty Naicker (Pine) Street, was what stopped many people from even trying to grow vegetables.

“Soil preparation and composting is key. Choosing the right plant for the time of year is also important. The plants we grow only need a tyre depth of soil or at most, two tyres,” she explained, referring to the old tyres that are used as planters in the 1 300m2 garden.

“Not many have this much space, but you don’t need all that much.” If you had a small space in either a house or flat, make sure every plant served a purpose.

“We practice ‘companion planting’. Some flowers and chilli plants, for example: deter pests. The other flowers we grow attract birds, butterflies and bees which we need to keep the garden healthy.”

The vegetables grown are donated to old-age homes.

“It’s difficult to say how much we produce, but it’s a lot. We have cabbage, sweet potatoes, mealies, fennel and spring onions, among other vegetables.”

Feeding the soil by composting and adding fertiliser was also important.

“When you plant spinach, for example, it takes certain nutrients from the soil. Cabbage might take something different. Eventually the soil will be depleted.”

Plants needed to be inspected periodically for pests.

“Always start small and elevate the vegetable beds for better drainage.”

Items normally discarded – such as soft drink bottles, paint cans and even handbags and shoes – can become interesting focal points in the garden.

“You don’t need expensive pots and garden equipment; you just need to think out of the box.”

Beetroot, rocket, cauliflower, lettuce and radish can all be grown in January and February.

Dianne Olejniczak of The Plant and Flowers Nursery and Garden Centre in Botha’s Hill said the best success for gardening was the correct preparation of the soil.

“Clear the area of rubble and weeds. Dig lots and lots of good quality compost into the soil. Don’t skimp. Buy the best you can afford and don’t be shy: you can never have enough compost.

She suggested adding handfuls of bone meal or superphosphate to the soil to encourage good, strong roots on your plants.

“If you are a novice gardener, try seedlings instead of seeds. Most veggies and herbs need full sun most of the day. They also need to get watered regularly, so make sure you build your veggie patch close to a water supply.

Lastly, only buy what you will eat. If your family hates cabbage, it is really not a good idea to buy trays of cabbage.”

Olejniczak advised on planting twice a month so that your supply of produce was always augmented.

“Planting marigolds between the veggies acts as a natural pest deterrent.”

She said “mulching” (which is covering the ground to reduce water loss by evaporation) around the vegetable plants also inhibited the growth of weeds.

“Rooibos mulch is excellent and smells great too. Use a mixture of water, Sunlight liquid and crushed garlic to spray on the plants to discourage pests. A saucer of beer also works for the snails.”

Summer salads were great to make and eat when the temperatures were high.

“How much better would they be if you could just pick the amount of lettuce leaves you needed for the salad directly from your own garden. There would be no more wastage of rotten lettuce in your fridge.

There were also many varieties available so you could really bring out the gourmet chef in you.

“There is nothing like a fresh red tomato picked right off our bush. Nothing will beat the taste.”

She said hanging baskets and boxes made of old pallets could also help make the most of limited space.

Kamcilla Pillay, The Mercury

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