Growing for the kitchen
Cape Town - Producing food is part of Farouk Cassim’s plan to live sustainably, and while his prolific garden provides amply for the kitchen, he has a problem.
Cassim is on a quest for ladybirds to use as a natural pest control, and so far the quest, including adverts in Farmer’s Weekly and on Gumtree, has been fruitless. Try as he might, growing all the plants that attract ladybirds, they stay away. Can anyone help?
His garden is thriving, despite the ladybirds’ absence. I’m awed by the diversity of what grows here and the innovation that has turned a small space into a larder for fresh produce. I’m also delighted by the new vegetables I discover.
Growing conditions are difficult in the Century View garden, in a densely developed area, with large buildings behind the house. The garden area is not large, about 100m2, with a largish back section and a small front one dedicated to flowers. Along the one side he has a water tank, and worm compost farms.
Cassim and his wife Rabiya moved here in 1997 from KwaZulu-Natal, and he had no idea about gardening in the Cape.
“My father was a keen gardener, but I was more interested in cricket than gardening. I had a 10-acre farm in Stanger, where I grew sub-tropical fruit. When I came to Cape Town as an MP, I sold the farm.
But he was not able to enjoy the kind of foods he knew, so when looking for a home he chose an erf that had maximum sun hours to grow food. “I settled on this one as it gets some morning sun, some afternoon sun. Initially I bought in 10 tons of compost – but it didn’t help. This was marshland, and water would not drain away. I did a lot to improve the soil.”
But the garden didn’t thrive. “I paid six years of school fees before I began to understand what to do in the Cape. Kwazulu-Natal was a breeze; here you have to be astute.”
Cassim experimented with pots – he used paint cans at first.
“I started getting good results, and now have many friends interested in gardening.”
This was the solution, and most of his garden now grows in containers of one kind or another. Large polysterene containers, used for fish and then thrown away, make perfect pots.
I count 44 edible plants, and may easily have missed a few.
Apart from the usual vegetables, I discover many unusual ones. The mottled pink and white Lima bean grows easily, says Cassim, and he also has “tiny beans” (Cyamopsis tetragonolobus). No self-respecting Indian gardener would not grow these, he says.
I’m in for a treat as Rabiya generously serves me a snack feast that includes tiny beans, patta, made from the leaves of colocasia esculenta, also growing in the garden. All are served with garden chilli sauce – Cassim has 20 pots of chillis.
He also grows the drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera), still a small plant with fine leaves, which bears a succulent fruit 30 to 40cm long. This is chopped and cooked, absorbing the spices. “It’s priceless in Indian cuisine,” says Cassim. It is also nutritious and has medicinal uses.
He grows fenugreek, for its leaves, and papdi or papri beans (dolichos lablab) a flat bean that is cooked like green beans but is much tastier. His okra plants are healthy, a vegetable not easily available.
“My next challenge is to grow bitter gourd (karela) which looks like a little crocodile, and is used to ease arthritis and joint aches,” he says.
Trees include apple and pear, his fig trees are bearing, and he has a paw paw tree. Huge bunches of grapes are ripening.
To maximise space in a small garden, he has developed a trellis system, which he makes himself using low-cost plastic piping to which he attaches plastic mesh.
Cassim believes we have to live more sustainably and has set up a photovoltaic energy system, using solar panels, which takes care of most of the household’s energy needs, along with a solar geyser.
Food security is a big challenge in South Africa.
“I have been in politics and know the serious crisis of food security in our country. The government needs to look at ways to provide people with ready planted pots.”
Food gardening doesn’t need a lot of space: “I would like to see this space relocated,” he says. “We can sustain ourselves.”
This is a constantly rewarding garden.
Now to find those ladybirds…
Cassim’s useful gardening tips
* Want to germinate seeds quickly? Put them on top of fridge or freezer – it’s warmer there.
* Drainage is important.
* Look for areas of optimal sunlight.
* Make sure you use compost and bonemeal.
* For magnesium use Epsom salts.
* New soil is used in pots each time a new plant is planted, and you don’t need crop rotation
* Plant plants to attract friendly creatures.
* Hand remove pests such as snails.
* Plan your garden according to your taste – it is important to grow what you like to eat.
Favourite part of the garden
“In the early morning it’s a pleasure to be in the back garden, the sun is coming out and the first light strikes the melons. It’s suffused in light.
“In the late afternoon, I love the flower side. After a day’s work, stress evaporates and dissipates if you understand the therapeutic effects of flowers.”- Cape Argus