From chop-shop supplier to kitchen gardener
Ken Bond of Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal has been using hydroponic systems for 20 years. It started out as a hobby when he retired but then it became his job: while they lived in Benoni in Gauteng, he and his wife, Eileen, worked hard seven days a week to supply hydroponic vegetables to the Johannesburg “chop shops” – suppliers of processed fresh vegetables to companies that produce bulk food for airlines and hotels.
Eventually they decided it was time to scale down and they moved to Mtunzini. But Ken quickly became bored, and now he manages a small system outside his kitchen. Every Saturday the townsfolk flock to the nursery he manages to get their hands on the herbs, salad and kale he grows. The couple also enjoy their own harvest at home.
Ken’s is a flood-and-drain system. It is about 11m long, with two “beds”, each about a metre wide. He uses an old swimming-pool pump to get the water to his beds and says he only switches it on once a day for about five minutes. The water slowly drains back to the pump, which he has hidden at the bottom of the garden. “On very hot days, if it gets to 40ºC or more, I pump twice.”
Ken prefers gravel but struggles to get his hands on it; therefore, he uses the coarsest river sand he can find. He only adds nutrients to the pump in the water tank once a month, unless it rains a lot. “I just look at the plants – when they start to turn yellow, I’ll add nutrients.”
Ken says he sometimes battles with algae, but he suspects it is when the water level rises above the river sand and is exposed to the sun. “It rains a lot here, which sometimes makes it difficult to control the water level.
“I prefer this kind of vegetable garden because it gives me more control. You need much less water and manpower. The pump is controlled by a button, and you only do that when the plants need it – no water is lost.”
Eileen, in turn, is particularly fond of the system because she can use it to propagate her flowers from cuttings.
Ken and Eileen Bond’s system is positioned outside their kitchen door. It is connected to a pump hidden at the bottom of the garden. In these two “beds” they grow enough vegetables for own use as well as a tableful of produce to sell every Saturday....