The Enduring Art of Home Gardening
By Nurain Oladeji
Keeping a small garden around the home stands to be of immense benefit to home dwellers. In a world where awareness of the potential toxicity of farm inputs (such as fertilizers and pesticides) is at an all-time high, it is a refreshing potential to have some control, however little, over one’s nutrition. A home garden, is an area carved out around one’s residence for the purpose of cultivating food and ornamental crops for the primary aim of direct consumption or beautification of other reasons. Careful attention should be paid to the production process in a home garden to ensure a sustainable, safe production and output.
Amongst other things, a home garden serves to be an effective leisure activity for the family. Excess produce can be sold at the local market and extra income is generated. Nurseries can be raised for tree crops and ornamental plants can be cultivated and sold or used for beautification of the premises. It is also a beneficial exercise for a rich childhood experience for children. Home gardening can also provide a kind of food security, as many raw food needs of the family can be easily sourced from the garden.
To start a home garden, a few things must be considered. Materials that make gardening effective and easier include hand trowel, shovel, wheelbarrow, cutlass, hoe, rubber gloves and secateurs. Materials such as nets, wire mesh may be occasionally required for protection against pests. Trays may be used at times for raising seeds in a nursery, as well as polythene bags.
The space available could determine the types and range of crops that can be cultivated. People with relatively large areas of land at, say, their backyards can be more expressive and elaborate in their garden ambition. They may cultivate multiple crops. People, especially, in urban areas, who have access to limited spare spaces for a garden, however, need not be discouraged. There are types of gardening that could suit their needs.
These are raised structures used mainly for the production of vegetables. It is advisable to plant vegetables that, once mature, one can continue harvesting over a longer period of time, e.g. leafy vegetables and onions. For more productivity, ensure that the soil is thoroughly mixed with manure before being placed in the food tower. Regular manuring should be done to maintain soil fertility.
Examples of food towers used for growing various vegetables
These can be made in various sizes by doubling or tripling polythene or sack layers. To make a bigger sack garden, one can sew different sacks together horizontally and at the edges. Plants can be planted on the sides of the sack. Good soil fertility and drainage should also be ensured. Space your sacks in the garden for easy movement when watering your garden. That space also allows the crops on the sides to get enough light for healthy growth.
Vegetables grown in sacks, both on top and on the sides
Various containers can support vegetable growth e.g. buckets, wooden boxes, pots and woven baskets. They can be of different shapes and sizes, depending on one’s preference and space available. For plastic containers, such as buckets or jerry cans, holes can be punched at the bottom prior to planting to improve drainage and prevent water logging. For wooden box gardens, bottomless boxes can be made. An inner lining of polythene should be put before adding soil to maintain moisture within the box while at the same time preventing the wood from easily getting rotten. The box can be a depth of about 1 metre or more.
Examples of wooden boxes and plastic bucket used in growing garden crops
This refers to gardens that are suspended in the air or that are not directly supported by the ground. This method allows for cultivating vegetables, e.g. tomatoes, without reducing much on an already limited space. It is usually practiced by those with very limited spaces to grow vegetables but are interested in home gardening. Different containers, e.g. baskets, bottles and buckets can be used.
Examples of hanging gardens
Home gardening can also be done on ridges and in flower beds. Ridges are raised beds that are made by heaping soil (10-20 cm) above the ground level. Although making ridges is quite laborious, it has some advantages like better drainage because runoff water easily flows off between the ridges. Ridges also favour vegetable growth because the soil is usually more friable. Also, other crops aside vegetables can be grown this way.
Plants grown on ridges
A green house is a transparent (usually glass) structure used for growing tender plants (e.g. vegetables) both in and out of season. When grown in a green house, plants are protected from harsh conditions for instance very high temperatures. Pests and diseases are also controlled. The amount of water received by plants within the green house is also usually controlled because the plants are watered.
Especially in case of limited resources, a screen house may suffice for a home garden. With an understanding that the idea is to protect the crops from (especially) pests, one can make do with available resources. Materials such as bamboo and nets alone may be sufficient, especially when it is intended to be of a small size. Electricity may be provided to allow working at night.
Examples of greenhouse and screen house
There are a few other things to give close attention in home gardening. Soil fertility must be properly managed to ensure sustained productivity of the soil over many years. Organic fertilizers such as compost and animal waste should be added to the soil periodically to improve the organic matter content and other soil conditions. Good soil porosity should be ensured to facilitate proper drainage and aeration. It is usually much easier if a perennial source of water is available as irrigation is often essential. Soil erosion should be checked and prevented, especially where land has a sharp topography.
Choice of crops to cultivate would be determined by the needs and ambition of the farmer and household. It usually always includes several of the crops whose produce can be consumed by the household. Crops such as vegetables (tomato, pepper, Corchorus, amaranth, telfairia, cabbage, etc.), maize, cassava, etc. are often planted in modest quantities. If the farmer wishes to make additional income with the home gardening, more crops can be cultivated. Seedlings should be carefully selected based on nutritional and economic value, resistance to pests and disease, maturity age and suitability to local conditions.
The philosophy of a home garden should be that of health and conservation of the environment. This philosophy can guide the activities of the garden towards practicing, even though on a small scale, sustainable agriculture. The soil should be treated with kindness to sustain its productivity. Use of chemicals should be minimal. A home garden should not be given the lofty responsibility of an outright farm which might predispose it to urgent and sometimes harsh conditions and intervention for the purpose of profit-making. The fundamental purpose is usually of health, of recreation, of sustainability, and of kindness to the environment.