Three sustainable ways we run our shamba
24th Feb 2020 - Written by Carmichael McKelvey
The shamba at Brackenhurst is an ongoing project to source vegetables and herbs directly on campus. This way, we will get a source of great food at our cafe with essentially zero food miles. Our shamba is still very small, and most of what we can’t grow we buy locally. Nicola and Jono from Brackenology are both trained in permaculture and support the shamba with their expertise. Sustainability is very important to us at Brackenhurst, so here are three sustainable ways we run our on campus shamba:
To contribute to the ecosystem and reduce the need for pesticides, we do something called companion planting in our shamba. Companion planting is when different crops are planted in close proximity to conserve space, repel insects, and make the soil more healthy. For example, our greenhouse tomatoes are planted next to peppers and marigolds, which keep away white flies and other insects. In our herb garden, we planted a tree tomato tree right next to a group of sweet potatoes. This set up increases the garden’s overall resistance to diseases by promoting biodiversity. We also scatter bean plants throughout our shamba because they are good at nitrogen fixing, which is the process converting nitrogen from the air into useful compounds for the soil.
Organic Fertilizers and Pesticides:
Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil and fill the produce with unhealthy chemicals. At our shamba, we use organic methods to fertilize our plants and keep away bugs. Along with strategic companion planting to guard our plants from insects, we create our own insecticide spray from garlic powder and marigolds. Bugs don’t like this combination , so this does a good job of keeping our plants safe. We create fertilizer by feeding food waste from the cafe and restaurant to worms, who in turn create ‘worm juice,’ a substance that can be sprayed onto plants to supply them with vital nutrients. Along with this, we compost leftover food to create ‘compost manure,’ which gives newly planted seeds a nutrition boost.
Composting is the process of allowing waste to decompose into a substance that is healthy for the soil. The food that is not eaten at the Muna Tree Cafe or Brackenhurst dining hall is transported to the shamba. Much of the waste is added to the worm farm, where it is digested and converted to fertilizer. Another portion of the leftover fruit and vegetables is left to decompose into the previously mentioned ‘compost manure.’ This group includes all citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons, because these fruits are too acidic for the worms to eat.
So there you have it. Three ways that we provide delicious vegetables and herbs to customers, while still making a positive impact on the environment. Visitors to Brackenhurst are able to come see our shamba, so please feel welcome!