You can grow your own food. And we can help!

A South African Perspective

Oct 13, 2010

I have been asked for some info on SA gardening.  Here is a start.

As far as I can see from gardening mags, TV etc. SA gardening is much the same as  anywhere else.  There seems to be this misconception that all of Africa is either a desert or a jungle, with wild animals roaming the streets.  Not so.  In South Africa we have well developed metropolitan areas, with supporting infrastructure.  I need to drive about 300 kilometers to the nearest game reserve to view wild animals.  You may have seen  TV shots of the Soccer World Cup 2010, the largest worldwide sporting event that we have just hosted.

In and around my area (Johannesburg/Pretoria) we have millions of people living in much the same conditions as anywhere else.  We have large, beautiful houses with gardens to match, and then we have the "middle class" homes with smaller gardens.  Obviously also the poorer communities with no gardens, and many "informal developments" sprouting up all over.  So it's a mixture.  The upper and middle class gardens are well-kept and there is a strong Garden Centre industry supplying plants, seed, seedlings and hardware countrywide.

Johannesburg is on the "highveld" of SA, with summer rainfall (October to April).  First frost about the 12th of May, last frost about 12th August.  So our serious planting season for summer plants has just started.  Temperature drops to about minus 5 Celsius on cold nights in winter, and summer temps reach 30 to 35 degrees Celsius (ave. about 25 - 27), with summer nights between 10 and 15 degrees. I must add that these are my own observations and not "official" dates and temperatures.

Obviously we have also been affected by the worldwide economic problems.  The garden industry reached a peak a couple of years ago, and since then it's been a battle to survive.  Many garden centers have closed down or downsized over the last five years.  In our area we have seen an improvement in sales over the last couple of months, and perhaps the end of the recession is in sight.  The effect of a tighter budget has been that customers are much more selective and are looking for good value for money.  The trend is also towards smaller gardens, or smaller areas within a bigger garden being planted and maintained.


We have noticed the following trends in gardening:

- Smaller gardens / less money available for big gardens.

- Labour becoming expensive and less knowledgeable.

- Owners want gardens but do not want to be gardeners.

- People want "instant solutions" to gardening problems.

- More plant sales by chain stores/large stores but less service (advice) available.

- "Old generation" gardeners retiring, no "young generation" gardeners interested in getting their hands dirty (but they want beautiful gardens).

- Quality of gardening tools declining (not durable).

- Increase in School and Community food gardening projects.


But the major trends are:

Going Green (Eco-friendly)

Home vegetable gardening, cooking, eating.  (Our sale of veggie and herb seed and seedlings have increased steeply)

There is a big need and demand for training and support in these areas, but not enough is being offered.  The Government is allocating land for these projects without follow-up advice and support.  We have tried supporting some of these projects with mixed results.

The biggest veggie sellers are tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, chillies, green peppers, onions, spinach (swiss chard), egg plants (brinjals), celery, beans, radishes, cucumber, pumpkin and squashes, carrots, and all kinds of herbs.

At our garden centre we grow most of our own plants from seed or cuttings, sourcing the balance from plant growers and wholesalers mostly situated in the frost-free areas to the north of Johannesburg.

South Africa is a very interesting place to live at the moment, with lots of challenges and opportunities in the "Rainbow Nation".  The gardening industry is no exception, and the challenge is to keep up with a fast-changing customer base, and the requirements of a younger generation "eco-friendly" gardeners that want to have and enjoy gardens without too much work or knowledge of gardening.


for this report which I'll excerpt in the next KGI newsletter. It's always interesting to see how things are the same, yet different in different places. Let me and the rest of us on the KGI site know how we can help you. And, while I'm at it, let me know what role a global gardening network like KGI can and should play, if you have any suggestions of ideas. Thanks again for being involved.
Thanks for the offer. Although I am involved in the Gardening Industry, I basically joined the site because of personal interests - growing, eating, preserving my own produce. I have become involved in some community and school projects because I can see the need, but at this stage I do not feel strong enough to even try to fix all the problems.
Thanks for such a nice blog. Your observation about changing trends in gardening is very interesting. This trend seems to be world wide ,as rising food prices are forcing people to to opt for a more rewarding kitchen garden then a beautiful garden .
Thanks Salma. Yes, the rising food prices are a global issue. But I think more important and exactly because of the increased prices, producers are pushing more and more food onto the market without caring about the quality. Fruit and vegetables are being harvested before being fully ripe and ready, kept in cold storage for months or treated with chemicals to prolong storage until the price is right. The big producers are manipulating the market in order to make more money. Consumers are price sensitive, so they buy the cheapest goods, accepting a decline in quality. At the moment the quality of water used for irrigation by producers is a hot issue in SA, but the demand for cheap food is more pressing from a consumer point of view. So people are buying and eating stuff that they should not/would not normally do. The only answer - grow your own!
It's the same in Texas and the rest of the U.S. My small kitchen garden is for pleasure, the taste and health benefits of fresh naturally grown food. Even " organic" foods in the supermarkets are shipped for many miles? and kept under cold storage for long periods of time. I buy from local farmers when possible, but there aren't many remaining in our urban setting. A former student of mine lives in your area and loves S.A. Stay natural, David
I also try to support the local farmers and the family-owned stores as far as possible. We had many local producers of vegetables about 10 years ago, but since then they have all disappeared. I think the cost of land and municipal taxes just became too much to make a living. Big shame! We should be subsidising them and support them to create local jobs, apart from the quality issue. But then there's also the thing about the younger housewifes not wanting to touch unprocessed veggies. They all run to (a major chain store) and pay high prices to get peeled and washed veggies. You won't believe, but I've tried to give some of my veggies away, and the housewife is quite honest to say: "I have never done this. I don't know where to start preparing veggies like this"! The local producers must be brought back into the urban areas. It makes a lot of sense from an economical and environmental point of view. That's why I'm very interested in the concept of SPIN Farming (Small Plot Intensive Farming for those of you who don't know - search SPIN Farming). The problem is to get the ball rolling. Once people realize how much can be produced in a small area everybody will participate. If anybody has production figures from their own gardens I would very much like to see and share the info (e.g. Lbs / Kilos of tomatoes produced per plant, Kilos of beans per row etc.)
Faan, I am the co-author of SPIN-Farming and SPIN-Gardening and would be glad to work with you to promote urban food production in your area. If you would like to pursue this please contact me at
Thanks Roxanne. Will follow up.
We started keeping track of our harvest this year. We bought the scale in mid-june (early summer here), after we had already harvested 3 or 4 gigantic heads of broccoli - probably at least 2 pounds each. If I recall, the spreadsheet stood at over 200 pounds of produce near the end of August, from approximately 200 square feet of garden space in two areas. Since we do winter harvesting, to be fair we will probably have to continue keeping track until June of next year to accurately record it. As far as per-plant tomato harvest, we managed to put up 12 quarts of canned tomatoes from 4 Mariana tomato plants and are freezing the last few as they ripen since they are coming too slowly to put in the same pot (we lost 3 or 4 to rot as they were waiting for friends before we thought of this). It will probably add up to one more quart. We also put up 2 quarts of roasted cherry tomato sauce and about 8 cups of dried cherry tomatoes for salads - and that doesn't count those that went straight on salads or didn't even make it out of the garden.
Thanks for the info. Impressive! How do you dry the cherry tomatoes? Please tell me more about the roasted cherry tomato sauce. Our season has just started and I've planted more tomatoes than usual - my feeling is that this will be a good year for tomatoes. I sundried tomatoes last year, but my wife was not impressed with the results.

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