From chop-shop sup­plier to kitchen gar­dener

go! Platteland - - HYDROPONICS -

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....

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