News and knowhow for farmers

Uni student helps family save on daily vegetable costs with 8 x 6 garden

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By George Munene

On an 8 x 6 slice of land ad­ja­cent to her home in Embu, Maur­een Mwaniki, a 22-year-old stu­dent at the Nyandarua In­sti­tute of Sci­ence and Tech­no­logy has set up her own kit­chen garden stocked with ve­get­ables— from sukuma wiki, man­agu, ter­ere and cab­bages. She also grows onions and to­ma­toes and has even worked out how to propag­ate herbs such as gar­lic and ginger.

The dis­tance to mar­kets and scarcity caused by the sea­son­al­ity of every­day es­sen­tials she says gave her the im­petus to start the pro­ject. Being in school, she did not have the time to prop­erly tend to the farm but the stop­page in learn­ing oc­ca­sioned by the Corona virus has given her time to cul­tiv­ate into her back­yard garden.

Her garden is fenced off with a worn-out mos­quito net which acts as a shade net that keeps off in­vas­ive in­sects such as white­flies. This has in turn sig­ni­fic­antly re­duced her need to use pesti­cides.

Re­lated News: In­nov­ator: farmer fills ce­ment bags to cre­ate a moun­tain of food

Stud­ies also show that crop yield in shade nets is up to six times more than those grown in an open field and that they save farm­ers up to 30 per cent of har­vestable yield losses. Nets also trap heat for the crops which sub­stan­tially re­duces their ma­tur­ity period.

She grows her crops in ce­ment bags and de­crepit buck­ets, basins and plates which she fills with sifted out top­soil and ma­nure. “Farm­ers mix in sand into bags to help in water pen­et­ra­tion, however, be­sides being nu­tri­tious to the soil, ma­nure also in­creases its ca­pa­city for water ab­sorp­tion and pen­et­ra­tion as well as the soil’s wa­ter-hold­ing ca­pa­city,” says Maur­een. Con­crete bags used for grow­ing should be well per­for­ated to allow for air cir­cu­la­tion and avoid build-up of ex­cess water which rots ve­get­at­ive ma­ter­ial.

Whilst the idea of grow­ing ve­get­ables in bags is no longer a nov­elty, Maur­een also propag­ates gar­lic. She grows four cloves in one bag, this she says en­sures they have ad­equate grow­ing room; each clove will sprout into its own bulb and if they are too many in one bag they will have too much com­pet­i­tion for re­sources and will grow-out too small. She meas­ures the depth of plant­ing by sink­ing her thumb into the soil whilst the dis­tance from each clove is. She then cov­ers the bulbs with ma­nured soil and wa­ters. The neck serves as a shoot, while the base of the gar­lic will form the root­ing sys­tem. Big­ger cloves make sim­il­arly big­ger and health­ier bulbs. On the per­for­ated side of bags used to grow gar­lic, you can also grow other ve­get­ables like suku­mawiki.

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Re­lated News: How to set a simple ver­mi­cul­ture sys­tem for your kit­chen garden

Gar­lics usu­ally come in two vari­et­ies; hard­necked—char­ac­ter­ised by a stiff neck and soft­necked. Soft­neck gar­lic does well in hot areas while the hard­necked gar­lic does bet­ter in colder cli­mates. Hard­neck vari­et­ies also do not store as well. They usu­ally start to shrivel and de­teri­or­ate post-har­vest after four to six months while soft­necks keep for nine to twelve months under ideal stor­age con­di­tions.

While the pro­duce from her farm is meant for sub­sist­ence con­sump­tion, she usu­ally has ex­cess Suku­mawiki which she sells or gives out for free to neigh­bours and vis­it­ors.

Maur­een has even set up her own You­tube chan­nel which she hopes to use to en­cour­age more people to get into back­yard farm­ing: “I would like to em­power other people and have them learn that they do not need to buy every food item. If you could keep that 10 or 20 bob you use every day to buy sukuma or onions, over the course of a year that is a lot of money saved.”

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