Traffic is moving at a snail’s pace as we leave Nairobi’s central business district to Muthaiga North. Ordinarily, without traffic, it takes 10 minutes to reach Wonder Farm, located in Muthaiga North, one of the leafy suburbs of the city.
Some 30 minutes later, we arrive on the farm and a team made up of father and son is glad to meet us. Dennis Mureithi, together with his father Daniel Gitau, and a host of workers, are busy putting final touches to some 500 multistorey gardens for their clients.
The conical-shaped gardens are made from ultraviolet treated polythene materials of 0.5mm thickness. The materials are cut then fastened together.
“We make the base wider for stability and reduce the size of the gardens as we move up so that we end up with a pyramid,” says Mureithi.
The gardens are then filled with well-drained loam or red soil, mixed with goat manure, which is part of value addition on their part.
“I came up with the idea of urban gardening in 2013 as a solution to shrinking land sizes in both urban and rural areas,” says Mureithi, whose interest in the business started when he was 18 after seeing his father do it. The interest made the 24-year-old to study for a Diploma in Agriculture at the Thika Technical Institute.
“Most land is now taken up by houses but people still need food. These gardens are part of the solution to urban gardening and improved food security because you can grow sukuma wiki, tomatoes, spinach, managu, kunde, minji, onions and strawberries here.”
The storey garden rises six layers from the ground, with the farmer using each terrace to grow different crops.
“The gardens utilise water and manure well, especially in areas with inadequate water, as they can consume between 20-30 litres of water per week,” he observes. The duo make the gardens on their farm and transport them to their clients.
“There, the first thing is to identify a site for installation, where the ground is levelled. Thereafter, soil mixed with manure is filled in the garden and thereafter, seedlings or seeds are planted on top of the soil, and watered regularly with 20 litres a day on daily basis.”
Mureithi says crops grown in storey gardens do not face stiff competition for nutrients with weeds.
UTILISE THE LITTLE SPACE AVAILABLE
“Weeds are deprived sunlight by the shadow formed by the six-layer structure standing tall hence they cannot thrive and they can easily be picked by hand making husbandry easier.”
He says an average garden occupies a space of 4 square feet, where one grows up to 130 plants, and each has access to water, manure and sunlight.
“The normal garden can only accommodate 65 plants on the same space. These gardens can also be used inside greenhouses. A standard greenhouse measuring 8m by 15m can accommodate up to 30 storey gardens.”
And on half-an-acre piece of land, one is able to accommodate more than 500 multistorey gardens.
“An acre of land can hold 40,000 sukuma wiki plants, but using multi storey gardens, you will end up with some 200,000 plants,” says Mureithi, who sells each garden at Sh2,500.
The father and son, who employ eight people, also make hanging gardens from wood and pellets, which are then fixed to the wall.
Gitau says each garden has a planter filled with soil where the seeds are placed to sprout.
“A single pellet measuring three by five feet costs Sh5,000. The gardens are mostly used to beautify balconies or walls.”
They sell the gardens to urban farmers and ranchers in Kiambu, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi.
Evans Nyabaro, a farmer in Kericho County, says there is need to utilise the little available space to feed the growing population.
“I came across the storey gardening technology at the ASK showground in Nairobi. I use it to grow tomatoes, spinach and sukuma wiki. It saves on labour, manure and conserves soil,” he adds.
Brian Sakwa, crops expert from Kalro, Njoro in Nakuru County, says that because of limited space in urban cities, the gardens offer long-term solutions to food shortages.
According to him, urban agriculture is one way of reflecting development in economic and social status.
“The idea can be used to supplement food production in towns and cities without relying on scarce land,” he says.
However, he notes that while more people use urban gardens to produce should, it should be improved to cater for agroforestry and other sectors.
Benefits of having an urban garden
Spinach, sukuma wiki, onions, tomatoes, peas, basil, parsley, capsicum, herbs, chilies, mint, strawberries and indigenous vegetables are some of the crops that can be grown in the urban gardens.
Hanging garden helps one to take advantage of small spaces around the home to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Growing crops on the gardens minimises challenges associated with diseases.
Since the crops are not grown on the ground, this minimises chances of pest attacks.