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While organic food fetches a high price for farmers, many Berea residents don’t realise they could be harvesting their own organic produce from their own gardens. In a four-part series, Glenmore resident, Deon Braun will share his tips for growing fresh produce at home. This week Braun shares his tips for converting a garden into a food forest.
“I would recommend growing what you love, especially if you can grow from plant cuttings,” he said.
“If I offered you an apple that was six months old or one that I just harvested, which one would you want to eat. Instead of going into a store and buying a few sprigs of something that has been wrapped in plastic and left in cold storage, why don’t you go into your garden and pick something that is absolutely fresh?”
By mimicking the natural environment, gardeners can grow a large amount of fruit and vegetables in a small space.
Also read: Durban NPO donates 120 food parcels to Umbilo families
Granadilla fruit is found in the fourth level of the food forest.
“Stand in one of our magnificent wild forests, and you’ll notice that plants occupy different heights or layers, and have very different forms. Mature forests can be divided into six layers. We can mimic this in a food forest to provide a range of nutritious food, consisting of edible and medicinal plants and fungi,” said Braun.
Above ground, there are four layers in a forest, each with its own set of plant species.
“The canopy trees are the most obvious when we look from a distance. In a food forest here in Durban, these could be moringa trees (providing edible leaves and seed pods), avocado, jackfruit, mango and litchi trees, breadfruit, or tropical nut trees like the Malabar chestnut. The second layer below them is the understorey tree layer. Here you could grow citrus, tree tomatoes, macadamia, pawpaw, banana, coffee, breadfruit, cassava, and Mexican tree spinach. Growing beneath them, or on the borders where there is ample sunshine, are herbaceous (non-woody) plants like herb plants. These include tomatoes, peppers, brinjals, and other nightshade family members. This also includes leaf crops such as spinach and kale, basil and other herbs, Plectranthus amboinicus, pineapples, and a large variety of others. In the fourth layer, and growing up onto the three vertical layers mentioned above are the creepers and vines. You can grow different species of granadilla, cucumber, climbing beans, yams (which produce tubers), black pepper, vanilla, and many more,” said Braun.
A vibrant granadilla flower blooms in Braun’s garden.
Below the ground, there are two more layers.
Also read: Welcome to Botanic Garden’s gaggle of geese
“Below these four layers are the ground covers. They keep the soil protected from the sun’s UV rays, help keep moisture in the ground, and prevent soil erosion during heavy rains. You can grow plants like sweet potato, chickweed, creeping foxglove (Asystasia gangetica). Finally, in the sixth layer there are plants like sweet potato and yams. Although their foliage may grow well clear of the ground and be seen in the upper layers, these are classified in the sixth layer, the root and tuber plants,” he said.
A Tamarillo plant growing in Braun’s garden.
Braun encouraged gardeners to select a few layers to incorporate into their garden.
“As you’ll see from the above, some trees may occupy two levels. It depends entirely on you, the astute gardener, to prune and plan your garden so that trees do not become too tall to access fruit or leaves. Keep recycling leaves and branches back into the soil, to nourish the fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and other micro-organisms that help maintain a healthy balance,” he said.
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