Updated: Jul 6
With the end of the rainy season approaching it's a good time to get started on the crop of vegetables in your garden. Here are a few tips on how to get started if its your first time setting up a garden. The Grow your own series on the Greenspace Zambia Youtube channel may give you more ideas on growing your own vegetables.
Planning your garden
It's important to choose a sunny spot will good well drained soil. Ideally, it should be close the the house that you can monitor it every day and close enough to a water source to allow regular watering of the plants.
Choosing the right seeds and plants
In many parts of Zambia we are lucky that the climate allows us to grow food all year around. However, do some research and by seeds that are suited to our climate. Companies such as SeedCo provide hybrid seeds for plants that are well-suited to Zambian growing conditions, including those that are heat- and drought-tolerant. You will have to look a bit harder to find suppliers of organic non-hybrid seeds. Greens and Grains in Lusaka promotes organic farmers and may be a good place to start when looking for organic seed and produce in Lusaka.
For a small home garden it's much easier to just buy seedlings and there are many seedling suppliers on Facebook. In Lusaka, we buy the nursery in the showgrounds where they sell a range of vegetable seedlings all year round. The advantage is you can buy individual seedlings, just as many as we need for that period. Generally it will take 6 weeks for seeds to grow to a size that can be transplanted, and a further six week before you will see the first fruits. With the 3 month growth period you do have to plan well in advance.
Preparing the soil
Healthy soil is the secret to a good yield. This means well draining soil, rich with organic matter and microorganisms. Take time to prepare the soil for planting, including adding compost in order to improve soil structure. Adding compost to the soil several weeks beforehand helps rebuild the soil Adding this organic matter allows for better drainage, allows aeration, as well as provides nutrients that will benefit the plants.
Another option is to just add mulch on top of the soil to protect the soil. This could be describes as nature's blanket, a natural protective layer that protects the soil from the sun and helps retain moisture. In the long run this too will decompose in the same way that compost does and further enrich the soil.
If you can't make compost on a large scale, Ecobiz sells compost making kits which allow you to make compost from your own garden scraps. They also provide mulch and compost.
You are now ready to transplant your seedlings into the soil. Water the bed the day before transplanting so the plants do not get too much shock after the move. They may wilt slightly in the first two day but they should bounce back within a few days if the conditions are suitable.
Care and maintenance
Most seedlings will require watering after two or three days and possibly less once they grow a bit older. It does depend on the weather so do monitor them carefully, being careful not to over-water or underwater as both will negatively affect your plants.
Pro Tip: Mulch
Mulch is another way to protect the soil and your plants. In winter, this blanket will keep the soil warmer, and in summer helps cool the soil and retain moisture and the plant undergoes less stress. Any dry matter in you garden can be used as mulch including dry grass cuttings, dry leaves and wood shavings. Avoid having any bare soil anywhere in your garden as in these areas you will see more soil erosion, soil compaction and eventually poor fertility.
Create a routine
It goes without saying that you do need to set up a routine for your garden. Plants are like children in that they need to see you everyday otherwise they sulk. A few days of neglect can lead to major problems in the garden, so do try spend a few minutes everyday checking on your plants.
Once your vegetables are growing, you do have to check regularly for signs of insect infestation. Healthy plants are less susceptible to insects and infection so keeping them strong will be your first line of defence.
Now, not all insects are bad. Some, like bees and some moths, are useful for pollination. Some, like the lady-bug, actually provide protection against other pests. So you should not rush to spray with chemicals as you may kill the beneficial insects too. You can actually kill off aphids by hand or remove diseased leaves, if you find these problem spots early. Be sure to burn any leaves that have been infected by fungus as these will continue to spread even if removed.
Otherwise practice good hygiene around the plants, companion planting and crop rotation can all help strengthen the plant. Homemade natural insectisides are an affordable and easy option if you feel you do need to kill off the bugs en masse.
If you would like to learn more detailed information, some useful vegetable gardening guides are available on the Zambia Agribusiness Society website. Seed companies also produce their own vegetable planting guides so depending on the brand you choose to plant you may find additional information online.