WeedingOn March 8, the United Nations Special Rappoteur on humans’ right to food, Dr. Olivier De Schutter, released a report arguing that “the use of small scale polyculture farming methods can double agricultural productions in poverty stricken areas.” This report captured my attention because many Kenyan families who are small-scale farm owners struggle to feed themselves.   In this report, I will describe how growing a kitchen garden using organic farming methods can be a means of tackling hunger and can provide a household with substantial income. A kitchen garden exists in a separate space from the rest of a residential garden where vegetables and other crops are grown for home consumption and to earn income. Kitchen gardens can be built in any available space, but should be in an accessible location near to the kitchen for easier harvest.  Many types of vegetables and crops, herbs, fruits, and indigenous vegetables can be produced in a kitchen garden depending on your area. It should have an all-year, visual appeal, and permanent perennials can be planted also. In this way, a kitchen garden provides a family/household with an opportunity to grow, and enjoy eating from their garden.  

Starting a kitchen garden can require intensive work and labor; however, starting small is a key and you will reap the results later. The first requirement is digging up land through either normal cultivation or designed beds. There are many designs you can choose from: square foot gardening, long beds, raised beds, double-dug beds, vertical gardening and container gardening. The design is dependent on the availability of space and the preference of the gardener. A gardener can also try to be inventive and create his/her own designs for beds. I have experimented with a design called strip gardening, which I use on crops like carrots, coriander, kale, spider herb, black night shade, and other indigenous vegetables. In my opinion, strip gardening is more suitable, efficient, and easy to work on. The size of a plot is dependent on the size of the family.  It is generally believed that a 200 square meter plot can sustain a family of 6 (Gardening tips).

Once you have prepared your beds, it is time to apply manure or compost.  Have some prepared compost or manures ready. With fresh manures, you can dig them down earlier for good decomposition.  Because composting may take a little while, I usually get fresh animal manure from my neighbor in exchange for seedlings and consultation on growing organically. For a start-up, animal manures can be used and mostly encourage the germination of vegetation.

The gardener can decide which vegetables s/he wants to grow.  I would advise that a gardener plant a well-balanced garden, taking into account the nutritional value of the vegetables grown.  This way, vegetables and crops rich in vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates can be obtained directly from the kitchen garden.

compost teaFor the vegetables to grow well, you need to apply compost or manure tea regularly and make sure that the soils are fertile enough for better production.  Compost/manure tea can be utilized as a booster, thereby allowing the plants to grow healthily. Compost tea, in particular, enhances plant growth by providing quick nutrients to the plant and the soil.  In addition, using compost tea increases the activity of beneficial micro-organisms, which will help suppress and repel insect pests and manage disease.  Liquid tea, a key ingredient in organic farming, can also be used.  This is a liquid solution made by soaking cow waste or compost in a container for 7 days.  After this, mix 2 gallons of water with 1 gallon of brewed liquid tea. Spray as foliar (i.e. on leaves) or apply to the soils. When using liquid teas, farmers will notice instant, positive change in their vegetables.  For example, kale leaves will suddenly be broad, fleshy, tender, healthier, and will display a darker green color.  Therefore, while compost is a beneficial ingredient to the soils and helps our kitchen gardens grow better, liquid tea serves to boost foliar fertilizer for the plant.

Unfortunately, as crops are growing, weeds will grow as well. This can be a real challenge to the gardener and to the other crops growing in the garden. Weeds create competition for nutrients and encourage pests. Not long ago, I posed a question to the internationally respected global expert on sustainable agriculture, Mr. Roland Bunch, on the significance of weed growth in my kitchen garden.  According to Mr. Bunch, “these weeds cannot only be used as compost, but can also act as green manures, especially leguminous and non-leguminous weeds like Tithonia diversfolia. Furthermore, controlling weeds through weeding, mulching or hand pulling can keep the gardener busy and active when working the kitchen garden.

Pests and diseases can be a problem as well. However, a gardener can use organic methods of destroying and controlling them, which are friendly, cheap, and easy to use. Unlike industrial chemicals that are expensive and carry warnings such as “Poison” and “Harmful to your Health”, organic gardening is safe and inexpensive. It is as simple as growing healthy soils and healthy seeds/seedlings, which minimize one’s chances of contracting pests and disease. Simple pesticides can also be made from available plants in your area and can be utilized as a spray.

A kitchen garden is an economic tool for a household to overcome hunger.  It enables a family to maintain a sufficient food supply that is high in nutritional value.  In addition, families can generate income by selling the surplus.  Kitchen gardens also promote family interaction, as gardening can be a family recreational activity that keeps family members active and fit.  On the individual level, having a kitchen garden can increase a gardener’s well-being, while simultaneously enhancing his or her attachment to the environment.  For all these reasons, I feel that having a kitchen garden builds character and promotes future personal and agricultural development.

Let’s GROW.