Question: I’ve always wanted to become a fruit and vegetable producer, but my circumstances are less-than-ideal. Do you have any tips on starting out?
The Siyakhana Food Garden project in Bezuidenhout Valley Park was established on a one-hectare piece of land that was once a dumping site. The land, allocated by Johannesburg City Parks, was rocky and arid. It had a steep gradient and poor soil quality.
These were challenging conditions for horticulture, but the land has been transformed since the start of the project. It is now home to an orchard of fruit and nut trees, an abundance of vegetables and a large herb garden.
STEP 1: GO ORGANIC
- Permaculture is a more sustainable way of farming and, as far as possible, it replicates natural ecosystems.
- The system uses organic farming principles, such as companion planting and natural pest control.
- The right combination of vegetables and beneficial plants has to be planted together.
- Companion plants, as well as beneficial insects, are a farmer’s best biological pest control.
- Most vegetables have distinctive shapes that harmful pests can identify.
- To overcome this problem, grow “shape-shifting” plants to disguise vegetables and confuse pests. For example, cabbages planted next to nasturtiums.
- All Siyakhana’s fruit, herbs and vegetables are cultivated organically and don’t have a problem with pests because the garden is so diverse.
- That is because there is a greater population of beneficial insects and organisms that help to keep pests at bay.
Organic farming: A viable option for small-scale farmers
Vegetable production: Beat pests with crop rotation and companion planting
Solve pest problems by using your farm ecosystem
STEP 2: LOOK AFTER THE SOIL
- Practise crop rotation to avoid soil-borne diseases and nutrient depletion.
- For example, start with radishes and follow with tomatoes, then spinach.
- Replenish the soil by planting “soil fixers” such as beans and pumpkins. Both nourish and fix nitrogen in the soil.
- Cover the soil with wood mulch as it creates a humid environment in the soil, preserves water and increases the presence of micro-organisms.
- Plant herbaceous groundcovers such as comfrey, mullein and yarrow to condition the soil, because their roots aerate it and keep it moist.
- This helps to improve humus content, drainage, water penetration and soil life.
- Adding compost also nourishes the soil.
- It is important, if your land slopes, to prevent topsoil washing away.
- The shape of your crop beds can make all the difference.
- Wedge-shaped row beds, instead of straight ones, help to prevent soil erosion.
Manage your soil fertility
Maintaining soil health – make your own compost
STEP 3: ENCOURAGE FRUIT BEARING
The orchard has a variety of fruit trees, all of which have started bearing fruit earlier than expected. The secret is to, when spring is over, spread a lot of ordinary table salt around the base of the tree and keep the area well-watered.
Dig a trench around the tree so that the roots don’t have to search far for nutrients. The trick is to keep the salt moist so that it retains a liquid form.
STEP 4: HARVEST SEED
You can leave a third of your crop to go to seed.
Also read: Fresh produce: Guidelines for planting seeds and seedlings
STEP 5: SET UP A NURSERY
- Set up a small nursery structure to propagate plants and grow seedlings.
- Materials used will depend on the farmer’s budget.
- Siyakhana has a small structure made from poles and shade netting.
- The nursery environment protects young plants from harsh weather, while allowing access to light and ventilation.
- Farmers can propagate seedlings, and earn additional income.
STEP 6: COLLECT RUN-OFF FOR IRRIGATION
Don’t rely on municipal or borehole water alone. If you have the space, build a dam to collect run-off.
Also read: Watering vegetables: Use water wisely
STEP 7: ADD VALUE
Farmers should find more ways to increase their profits through adding value. No part of the crop should go to waste.
Also read: Drying methods for vegetables and fruit – getting more from your produce
- This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.