ROWS of spinach and beetroot are among the crops flourishing in the vegetable garden at the shelter on Sylvester Ntuli Road in Durban. The garden was planted by members of the homeless community who were housed in tents at the shelter during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The shelter continues to offer a home to some of Durban’s homeless, and the vegetable garden is supplying some local supermarkets and restaurants with organic vegetables.
ALSO READ: Women’s Month: sustainable gardening serves community
Permaculture consultant Gabriel Mngoma is working as a mentor to some of the men working in the garden. Berea Mail sat down to chat to Mngoma to find out more about the practice of permaculture. According to Mngoma, permaculture is a method of farming that centres around sustainability, efficiency and manual labor.
“In permaculture, we plough by hand; we don’t use machinery, only manual labour. We don’t till the soil; we just loosen the soil. We don’t use chemical fertiliser, only organic fertiliser, ” he said.
With this natural approach to farming, beans are planted in amongst other crops to improve the yield. According to Ngoma, leafy crops which grow above the ground, such as spinach, benefit from higher nitrogen levels in the soil, and planting legumes, such as beans, next to a spinach crop will help to up these levels.
“Legumes deposit nitrogen into the soil. Lupin is a type of bean that attracts nitrogen from the atmosphere and puts it into the soil. We call this a green manual,” he said.
ALSO READ: Ex-hemp-lary academy offers employment
Mngoma is sharing this knowledge and skill with the men who tend the vegetable garden at the shelter. “I teach them how to cultivate their own seeds, how to transplant crops and how to look after plants in the garden. Most of the crops grown here are grown from seed, not seedlings,” he said.
Mngoma was hired by Bioregional SA, an environmental NPO that promotes sustainability. “We use a framework of ten principles of sustainability known as One Planet Living. We have been supporting the homeless men’s food garden in downtown Durban for the last eight months by employing a permaculture mentor, Gabriel Mngoma, one day a week, to train those interested in food-growing. We also support the food-growers on site by gaining access to markets,” said Sarah Alsen of Bioregional SA.