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Vegetable Garden Club

I have recently been thinking of changing Erdwurmboer’s slogan to “Saving the planet one square meter at a time.” The main reason for this is described in another post. Since then, I’ve been thinking about this slogan more and more. I have only 20 000 square meters (2 ha) under my direct supervision. How can I want to save the planet? After I spoke to Martelize Brink on RSG about earthworm farming some time ago (I’m not good with unprepared oral presentations, and my nerves were shattered), an answer started crystallising in my thinking. The answer is not in response to something Martelize said or asked, but rather the reaction I saw after the interview, especially on my social media platforms. Here, then, is a brave answer to how I think it is possible to save the plant and its population one square meter at a time.

First the bad news:

Currently you are one of approximately 7 billion people on earth. The world population passed the 1 billion mark in the early 1800s. In 1960, it passed 3 billion. Today the global population is growing by 1 billion every 11 years. At the current growth rate, the earth’s population should double to 14 billion people by 2074 (http://‌www‌.sustainablescale‌.org‌/areasofconcern‌/population‌/populationandscale‌/quickfacts‌.aspx).

To provide the growing population of planet earth with food, we need land. Only a small portion of the earth’s surface is actually suitable for the production of food (http://‌www‌.youtube‌.com‌/watch‌?v=J9cg7dxD5E). The amount of available land is reducing at a frightening speed due to a variety of factors (http://‌www‌.globalchange‌.umich‌.edu‌/globalchange2‌/current‌/lectures‌/land‌_deg‌/land‌_deg‌.html). Here are some soil facts:

In South Africa, 300–400 million tonnes of soil are lost annually. That is equivalent to 3 tonnes of soil per hectare per year.

For every tonne of grain produced, 20 tonnes of topsoil are lost.

5–7 million hectares of productive ground worldwide are lost to erosion each year.

Over against this, soil is formed at a meager 0.0001 to 0.5mm per year!

We are facing a serious problem: We need more food to feed more people but at the same time we have less and less land on which to produce that food. No land, no food!

Can I change this trend? Can I save the planet and its population?

Now, the good news.

According to Mel Bartholomew, author of All New Square Foot Gardening, 1 m2 can produce enough to give an adult person salad every day. 2 m2 will provide that person with vegetables too, and 3 m2 will allow the person to produce more than they need, causing them to find a way to preserve the excess vegetables, or share it with others. Bartholomew’s assertion is not just a theoretical projection. For the last few seasons, my wife and I have followed the Square Foot Gardening method and it worked. In the few square meters (at a stage we had 6 m2 planted) we produced more than we could eat.

Although Bartholomew lays out his vegetable garden with “raised beds” and then uses a mixture of compost, peat moss and vermiculite as growth medium, we have found that our plants grow better in soil.

Then we started experimenting with ways in which we could fortify the soil, so that we could get the same advantages from our soil as Bartholomew derived from his raised beds. The single most important factor we discovered was the implementation of “no-till,” or minimal cultivation, practices in our vegetable gardens. This means that the ground is not tilled or turned over—yes, that’s right, no ploughing or tilling. The ground is covered with a mulching layer, consisting of wood chips, grass, leaves, pecan nut shells, even newspaper or anything organic we could lay our hands on. This last winter, I started experimenting with cover crops. At planting time, a hole is simply made in the covering layer and the seed or plant inserted. The mulch or ground cover helps prohibit the establishment of weeds and to conserve soil moisture. Furthermore, not disturbing the soil also helps prevent the seeds of weeds from germinating. In this way, the soil is preserved and built up. Earthworms starting making your patch of soil their home (more about this in a following post).

The challenge:

The current population of South Africa is about 50 million people. To give 50 million people a daily portion of vegetables, we need, according to Bartholomew, 150 million square meters of vegetable garden. That is roughly equivalent to 15 000 ha. I am certain that every home owner can find 3 m2 on their yard for each inhabitant of their home—3 m2 in which to plant vegetables! Thus if you have a family of 5, you need 15 m2—the equivalent of a 15 m x 1 m bedding. But let me not get ahead of myself. I want to challenge you to start conserving just one square meter at your home with no tilling methods. In the next few weeks, I will give you step-by-step instructions as to how you should go about building up your soil.

This post is, then, first and foremost an invitation, or rather, a challenge, to you and every South African to raise their hand and to say: I will make a difference to my garden or my agricultural ground so as to save the earth and its population one square meter at a time! If you want to raise your hand, then join the Erdwurmboer Vegetable Garden Club. The “entrance fee” is that you commit to using at least one square meter of your farm/garden/stoep/balcony to grow vegetables! Your annual membership fee is your feedback about your successes and failures, and that you eat what you produce, and whatever is left, give to someone in need.

(This page was translated by Jacques Raubenheimer. On his website: http://insight.trueinsight.za.com/ you will find all you want to know about MS-Word and MS- Excel.)