The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. –Alfred Austin
Most of our modern and industrialized food chains give us very little control over where our food comes from and what goes into growing it. Having a kitchen garden is therefore becoming very popular nowadays. This is mainly in the urban and semi-urban areas where land is scarce. Kitchen gardens have been proven to be one of the easiest and fastest ways through which households can ensure inexpensive, regular and handy supply of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. In the same breath, evidence shows that most of the vegetables consumed by households (especially in Nairobi) are grown along polluted rivers and streams using wastewater. The deadly water contains heavy metals and other toxic chemicals thereby endangering lives and causing diseases.
Many individuals start a kitchen garden with an aim of growing fresh vegetables all year round. It is a more practical garden with a hedge or stone walls to contain it. Kitchen gardening is something all of us can do to make our cities greener.
Francis Karanja, a resident of Ruiru which is a semi-urban town in the outskirts of Nairobi city loves kitchen gardens. He resides in an area that is fast developing and heavily populated which means that most people do not own huge chunks of land. This informed Karanja’s decision to start a kitchen garden last year. “Since you can never be sure of where the vegetables that you purchase from the market come from, I found it prudent to develop a kitchen garden,” he says.
A kitchen garden is unique because it’s typically smaller, tended more often and designed to connect more aesthetically with the design and architecture of the home. Kitchen gardens are usually designed spaces, with symmetrical beds organized and planted in an aesthetically pleasing way. They also support the call to support healthy eating in order to avoid the occurrence of life threatening diseases like cancer.
According to Karanja, his journey in this venture has been fulfilling and beneficial since he has cut down on expenses that he previously incurred while purchasing vegetables from the market. “For the last one year, I have really cut down on my kitchen budget since I have planted a variety of vegetables in my kitchen garden,” he says. “My food is also healthy since I practice organic farming,” he adds.
His small but well-tended kitchen garden supplies his family with fresh fruits and vegetables with high nutritional value and free from toxic chemicals. Apart from vegetables, Karanja has also planted oranges in his kitchen garden. Unfortunately according to him, oranges are sometimes infested by pests and diseases. To address that challenge, he sprays them with chemicals.
In his one year journey of kitchen gardening, he has not experienced many challenges. He attributes this to the fact that he has been using organic manure as opposed to fertilizer. Nevertheless, he has to occasionally keep birds away from destroying his vegetables.
Karanja advises households that would wish to start kitchen gardening that they should begin by planting one to two vegetables and closely monitor their growth. “It is good to practise this type of farming as you are sure where your vegetables are coming from. Always remember to use manure as opposed to fertilizer and within a matter of time, you shall start reaping the benefits,” he observes.
To maximize on space, Karanja advises farmers that they should consider growing dwarf vegetables whenever possible. “ For instance, Instead of growing a tomato that will grow six to eight feet tall, choose a vegetable that will not grow beyond two feet,” he says. “There are dwarf and compact versions of nearly every vegetable you can grow. These selections have been bred to stay smaller, and as a result, they take up less room in the kitchen garden,” he adds.
Since space for kitchen gardens is usually limited , compact vegetable varieties are a smart idea, whenever possible. It is also advisable to plant new crops as soon as others are harvested. It’s a practice known as succession planting. Karanja’s long-term plan is to engage in commercial farming so that he can supply other households.