Rent a plot of land and grow your own veggies

2014-05-26 00:00

A GAGGLE of guinea fowl tumble down a bank, blesbok and impala graze the sloping hillside while down in the dam Egyptian geese are jousting.

An autumn day on a farm near Assagay, adjacent to the Madwala Nature Reserve in the Shongweni Valley. This idyllic setting is the home of Go ’n Grow, an allotment garden project for city dwellers with frustrated green fingers started by Steve Haskins.

“I live in a flat in the La Lucia area but I’ve always liked growing things. Plus I like cooking and I’m vegetarian,” says Haskins, an American who has been living in Durban since 1976 and runs a textile business. “I’ve grown vege­tables wherever I have lived — on balconies or wherever there was a bit of ground. But monkeys are a big problem in town. They rip everything out.”

Haskins began thinking about renting some land for himself but when a friend told him about Britain’s allotment system — “there the municipality rents out spare land” — he came up with the idea of a growers’ club.

Haskins’s personal motivation comes from concerns around environmental issues and the desire to move towards a self-sustaining lifestyle. “Today there is an increasing emphasis on growing food at home,” he said. “Plus people are now more health conscious than ever and eating is one of the most important parts of being healthy.”

So Haskins began to look for some land. “I was after something that was pretty and park-like and close to Durban so it was not a schlep to get to.”

He found a sympathetic and like-minded farmer in the Shongweni valley, rented some land, and Go ’n Grow was born just over a year ago and now has around a dozen members. “We don’t want to fill a rugby stadium, just make it a self-sustainable club.”

Plots are rented on a monthly basis. One hundred square metres goes for R400 per month — R500 if split between two people — and 50 square metres for R250, or R300 if shared. “We supply tools and we water,” said Haskins.

“The size of plot you want depends on your time and enthusiasm,” said Haskins.

“And what you grow is yours to do with as you please.”

There members of Go ’n Grow range from a trainee nurse and an IT expert, to a retired accountant. Their plots sport healthy stands of broccoli, peas, carrots, beetroot, radish, spinach — “we can grow that all year round” — peppers and fava beans.

Haskins is currently experimenting with tomatoes. “This is a bad area for blight and red tomatoes are particularly susceptible, but I’ve found that green zebra tomatoes, plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are doing better.”

And monkeys? “They don’t like open areas and there are Crowned eagles around that take their young,” said Haskins.

“And I occasionally fly a kite from a pole that imitates an eagle as an added deterrent. Our biggest problem is Egyptian geese as they can fly in. They are very territorial and they defend their patch aggressively. So I’ve been defending my territory too. They got the message and have learnt to respect our boundaries.”

• Check or call Steve 082 296 3692.

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