Organic Box Gardening

In the second of our series, Stephan Meyer, ONE’s expert gardener who is responsible for setting up the Box Garden in the Big Brother Africa house, explains how we can grow and thrive organically.

As the green revolution is fast spreading, and people are becoming more conscious of sustainable living and development, you too can do your bit with organic gardening and growing.

What does growing plants organically mean? It does not mean, leaving your garden to its own devices and allowing it to be ruined by weeds and pests.  Instead it means not using synthetic products, including pesticides and fertilisers.

A farmer in Zanzibar, Tanzania

So how do you do it?

Step 1- feeding your soil and feeding your plants.

Ideally all natural nutrients taken out of the soil must be replaced. Unfortunately this is actually easier said than done; therefore the key is perseverance rather than skill.

  • Compost: Feeding your soil decomposed organic matter can add beneficial nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure, thus creating an ideal habitat for beneficial microbes and organisms like earthworms.
  • Nitrogen fixing crops: Rotate your crops by planting nitrogen fixing species from the legume family such as alfalfa or clover grass, peas, beans, lentils or peanuts. This is done in order to replenish nitrogen levels in an area that has been depleted of nitrates by heavy feeders like vegetables.
  • Organic Fertiliser:  The above mentioned factors will help you to create an ideal growing medium, but all plants will need some extra nutrients. This can be done by adding organic fertiliser; examples include natural dry deposits like rock phosphate, and/ or plant products such as sea weed and wood ash. Alternatively liquid concentrates of organic fertilisers that contain most of the essential nutrients are available from all garden centres and can be used instead of the dry fertilisers.Synthetic fertilisers will shorten the time between planting and harvest. It is for that reason alone, that the Big Brother House mates are using it, instead of organic fertiliser as duration of the show is obviously limited. For the rest of us however, we can  put in the extra time and effect to produce a more natural, sustainable and responsible end product.

Step 2- Pest management “The Friendly Way”

  • Organic Pesticides: these products are extracted or harvested from natural sources, and are in most cases not harmful to the environment.   The breaking down of pesticides into a simpler and less effect form happens much quicker when using organic pesticides. It is therefore important to apply the pesticide more frequently in order to have a lasting effect. The most readily available products on the markets are Extract of Neem, Diatomaceous earth and Beauveria bassiana.These products are also being used by the Big Brother house mates with great success.
  • Companion planting: In nature there are thousands of different plants and animals at work. When people plant species they tend to only choose those that are preferred for their fruit, colour or scent, and not those that support beneficial insects. A long term strategy for keeping pests at bay is companion planting, this is an approach were by you create diversity i.e. an alternative habitat, shelter and food source for beneficial inserts to establish in your garden.  These predators (beneficial insects) will feed on the pests (non-beneficial insects) in your garden, thus eliminating your pest problem. In order to do this, you will need to find out what pests you are most likely to get, and then choose plants based on their ability to support the predators and /or repel pests with their un-attractive smell, taste or colour.The Big Brother house mates planted onions that repel plant-eating insects like aphids, ants and Flea beetles. It is unknown if it is the odour that repels pests or masks the scent of plants that the pests seek!
  • Trap planting: A trap crop is a plant that you will plant in your garden to attract the pests away from the crop you want to harvest and eat. Just like humans, insects have a preference to what they want to eat.  By planting rows or patches of a trap crop near your desired vegetable crop the pests will be more attracted to the trap crop, thus your vegetable crop will in most cases be safe from attack.  Nothing will be harvested from the trap crop as it is only there to keep your main crop “safe” from the pests.Some plants can act either as a companion or a trap crop where as others can be both. This is why it is critical to do research on the crops you want to grow i.e. pests and diseases the crop attracts before deciding on the companion/trap crop you want to plant. There is a vast amount of choices, from flowering plants, fruits and veg, to trees, grasses and herbs.

Check out the ONE Africa blog for more tips from Stephan next week.



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