Back To The Future: Learning From Africa – Send a Cow’s show garden
Garden designer John Marshall
John Marshall, from Cambridgeshire, founded the ‘Small Gardens’ business 14 years ago after a successful career as a financial adviser. This is his first garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show.
For more information about the gardening techniques described above, please see our Natural Gardening leaflet at http://www.sendacow.org.uk/images/SAC_Organic_Gardening_leaflet.pdf
Ecoshelter is a combined social enterprise and global charitable initiative developing and deploying sustainable living solutions for communities in need. See www.ecoshelter.org for more information.
Sustainable techniques from Africa to try in your garden
About 70% of Africans depend for survival on the food they can produce from their land. Yet average plot sizes are getting smaller, and soil quality is deteriorating.
Timothy Njakasi, Agricultural Extension Officer, Send a Cow Uganda.
Compost improves the structure and water-holding capacity of the soil, and adds nutrients to it. It recycles household and farmyard by-products – especially manure – and saves impoverished families the expense of commercial fertiliser.
UK, make sure you keep it well covered to stop it becoming waterlogged.
Patrick Fedrick Wangao, Tanzania.
1. Mark out an area 2m x 0.5m in a shady
2. Hammer 1.5m tall posts firmly into the
ground at each corner.
3. Dig the earth about 8cm down, then till.
4. Layer the following:
• Dry matter: to add carbon and improve soil structure
• Urine or water: to help the heap rot
• Ash: to add potassium and aid breakdown
• Animal droppings (fresh or dry): to add nutrients and improve structure
• Top soil: to introduce insects and worms
• Green plant materials: for nutrients
5. Keep layering until the heap is 1m high – the best height to achieve the perfect composting temperature of 60°C.
6. Insert a long stick (a ‘stickometer’!) diagonally through the heap, so it goes through all layers.
7. Cover the heap so that important gases and nutrients do not escape.
8. After seven days, pull out the stick. If there is any white on the stick, this is fungus. Make a hole in the heap at the corresponding point, and pour in water.
9. After 14 days, turn the heap. You no longer need to keep it in layers.
10. Cover it again, and leave it until it looks like soil. The time needed depends on the material you have used and the climate.
Unlocking the secrets
Mpho Makara with Keyhole Garden
Keyhole (or kitchen) gardens are heaps of soil based around a compost basket that continually feeds the garden as it grows.
2. Attach string to a wooden peg, and place the peg where you want the centre of your garden to be.
3. Use the string to mark out two circles: an inner one with a 0.5 metre radius, and an outer one with a 1.5 metre radius.
4. Put posts approx 1.5m high in the ground around the inner circle and secure them with string – this is your compost basket.
5. Mark out the outer circle with large rocks – this is the border of your keyhole garden. Add more layers of rocks to raise the garden (good for older people or those with disabilities).
6. Leave a ‘v’ shaped path approx. 0.5m wide for access to the compost basket.
7. Fill the basket with a 1m high pile of compost.
8. Mix one part compost to two parts top soil, and heap around the basket so it slopes down in a dome shape towards the border.
9. Plant up one section at a time to give yourself a continuous supply of vegetables.
10. Add kitchen waste to the compost basket, and water regularly when dry.
How to make a bag garden:
2. Pack a mixture of soil and compost (two parts soil: one part compost) around the tin, then remove it.
3. Move the tin up, and repeat stages one and two until your sack is filled with a central column of stones surrounded by a soil-compost mix.
4. Support your bag with two sturdy sticks either side to prevent it slumping.
5. Cut holes in the sides of the sack.
6. Plant your seeds or seedlings in the holes and on the top.
7. Water your garden regularly from the top, directly onto the column of stones. This filters water throughout the bag garden.
8. Harvest a regular supply of vegetables!
Plant tea makes crops more resistant to disease is easy to make – and it’s free! Natural pesticides mean fewer crops for pests, and more for the family.
1. Chop up a mix of soft, hairy and leguminous leaves (eg docks, comfrey and clover).
2. Put into a bucket until the bucket is three-quarters full.
3. Cover leaves with a mixture of one part animal urine to two parts water (or just water).
4. Add a pinch of ash, and stir.
5. Cover and leave for three days.
6. On Days 4-6, stir once per day.
7. On Day 7, remove the leaves and put on your compost heap.
8. Cover the liquid, and leave in the shade for 14 days.
9. Dilute the tea (one part tea to two parts water), and pour one cup onto plant roots.
(Ingredients vary depending on the pest.)
• Seven cups of marigold leaves (to kill ants, caterpillars, and nematodes) or
• One cup of chilli (to kill ants, aphids, caterpillars, and beetles) or
• Seven bulbs or onions or garlic (to kill ants, aphids, and caterpillars) or
• Six cups of tomato leaves (to kill caterpillars).
2. Add five litres of water.
3. Add three spoons of baking powder, a few spoons of paraffin (optional), a piece of biodegradeable soap, and wood ash for sucking insects (such as aphids and whitefly).
4. Leave it for four days to soak. If you want it more quickly, boil everything up, and leave it for a day.
Views differ about which gardening practices are ‘organic’. We take a pragmatic approach, and encourage farmers in Africa to use locally available resources rather than spend money on commercial pesticides. Many farmers find a small amount of paraffin makes pesticides more effective – but leave it out if you are concerned.
Top 10 water saving tips
1. Use compost in keyhole gardens, double dug trenches (see over), or just dug into your soil.
2. Use rainwater by creating a vegetable bed directly underneath an overhanging roof (if you don’t have a gutter), or by collecting it in a water butt.
3. Mulch your plants with a layer of dried grasses or leaves to stop the water evaporating.
4. Set up a drip irrigation system by suspending plastic bottles or bags over thirsty plants. Make tiny holes in the bottom so they release water gradually, letting it seep into the soil rather than evaporate.
5. Dig trenches along the contours of sloping land. This traps rainfall to prevent it flowing away and eroding the soil.
6. Use ‘grey’ water, such as washing-up or bath water.
7. Make a bag garden or a mandala garden, which consists of double dug vegetable beds in a ring around a central pit, with a trench to channel in rainwater.
8. Plant crops which need little water – such as carrots and beetroot.
9. Shade your seedlings – by intercropping them with taller plants, or by making a covered seed nursery.
10. Make hollows around larger, perennial plants to trap rainwater.
• Book a speaker for your gardening club, horticultural show or any other group meeting or event by contacting our Ambassadors Secretary at [email protected] or by calling: 01531 821 751.
• Grow a bag garden or keyhole garden with your children or grandchildren – there’s loads more information at:
• Call us to order our Cabbages and Cowpats DVD for use in primary schools.
• Visit www.sendacow.org.uk for lots more information about our work.
• Make a donation by visiting our website or calling us. Tel: 0845 660 4670
Here are a few of the other sustainable farming methods that rural families in Africa learn in their Send a Cow training. Some may be familiar.
Fill a bag with droppings and leave to soak in a container of water for a week to create a tea. Dilute the tea (two parts water: one part tea) before use.
Bath BA2 9BR. Registered charity number 299717