In Galeshewe in Kimberley, Moss Mahumapelo is a well-loved man. While he is known for the fried snoek and tripe pizza served at his restaurant, his vegetable garden outshines his culinary gifts to the township.
Mahumapelo, the owner of Fusion Gardens, is proof that you do not need loads of space to grow food that you can eat. He started growing his own produce when he needed to cut down on food waste and input costs.
“I am very conscious of some of the ingredients that I use. I realised that buying these small batches of herbs was more expensive and you would also have the added risk of them going to waste,” he tells Health For Mzansi.
Work with what you have
Building an urban garden in the heart of a township, space was limited. “I started planting in wooden pallets but realised that wood and water was a bit of a bad combination. It was a mess. Wood goes to waste when it is exposed to too much moisture.”
Just two months ago, Mahumapelo began cleverly utilising old conveyor belts he collects from mines on the outskirts of the city. “I needed a moveable garden so I started to make boxes out of that thick rubber from mining conveyor belts. I make them into different sizes depending on what I am growing.”
His technique has raised some eyebrows in his community. “People are sceptical. To minimise the looks and mistrust for the conveyor, I line my boxes with PVC or vinyl because it is water resistant.”
He has tried tires but says he felt limited due to the predetermined sizes of tires.
Setting up your tiny garden
You may think that this is an impossible dream, but you might be surprised by the variety of edibles you can grow in containers, says a Western Cape expert gardener, Gaye Boshoff.
Even if you live in a small apartment, you should be able to grow some plants. In addition to typical house plants, certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables can even thrive in an apartment garden.
All you need is sunlight. “You cannot plant if you have no sun,” she says.
“If you have a balcony and you are living in an apartment, planting in containers is a wonderful way to go.”
Choose your containers
Boshoff says that most containers are suitable. In fact, the world is your oyster: “You can use anything. I have this one friend who runs a shelter, and she uses those old spring bed bases to plant all her beans.”
You don’t really need a big garden to grow vegetables that meet your nutritional demands. “You can mostly plant leafy greens, like lettuce, spinach and all your herbs and things like that. You can also plant tomatoes or even sweet peppers.”
Meanwhile, Loraine Ginns, an avid gardener from Johannesburg, tells Health For Mzansi that she struck gold when a neighbour had tossed their old cupboards out on the street. She saw an opportunity and started growing produce.
“I used old drawers someone threw away – along with some buckets. I bought one bag of compost to start, mixed it with soil and crushed egg-shells and started planting,” she says.
Tips for what to grow in your tiny food garden
Got a small city apartment?
Try planting herbs and fast-growing greens such as “soft herbs.” This includes basil, chives, and coriander, and greens like lettuce, rocket, spinach, and chard.
Absolutely avoid root veg, says Boshoff. “You also can’t do any perennials; you just have to stick to mostly annuals. You can plant your rosemary and things like that in a pot.”
Rosemary can be tricky for indoors planting and easily susceptible to root rot from overwatering, she warns.
Got a balcony? Or small backyard?
Beyond the balcony’s sun exposure, weather conditions and rules and regulations of your building, you are also going to need to consider the size of your balcony says Boshoff.
Space-wise, many people enjoy variety, so they tend to cram plants in their pots and raised beds and end up overcrowding their plants. “Factors such as access to sunlight and the sheer weight of your containers, need to be taken into consideration.”
Note this: Be sure to understand that crops mature in different sizes when figuring out your space situation, she says.
To grow, is to love
Before you get growing, know that planting your own food is a labour of love, says Mahumapelo.
To grow a garden you need to love the process, from planting a seed, to seeing your first sprout and harvesting. “You need to enjoy what you are doing,” he says.
What I have realised is that planting is a game of energy. You have to love doing what you do. It is about contribution, you don’t want your contribution to be added to food wastage.”
To prevent produce form going to waste, Mahumapelo dehydrates herbs that are left over from the season.