5 February 2013

Kenya: Farming Initiative - a New Use for Old Tyres

Most times when your car tyres get old, the first thought is usually to throw them away. However farmers have found a new innovative way to turn worn out tyres into a mobile vegetable garden.

Just as people plant vegetables in sacks, old tyres can also be recycled and used to plant kales, onions or crops that do not have tubers due to limited space.

The tyre-vegetable-gardens are a solution to city homes or the informal settlements to help cut the cost of buying everyday vegetables and also improve the family diet.

Ben Momanyi, a technician at the Institute for Biotechnology Research, organic section at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology says you save on time and energy as you do not have to till land or even a garden to grow your vegetables.

"By doing so, you also minimise on space because anybody can grow vegetables in tyres and put them in a veranda, corridor or balcony. All you need is a small spot to put the tyre and you are ready to do gardening," Momanyi says.

He attests that small spaces can be well utilised using simple skills and people in towns and villages can also practice organic farming right at their door steps. It also allows you to grow a variety of crops in one tyre.

"With a tyre, another advantage is that it is portable and in case you are moving houses, you can carry it with you," he explains.

Research has shown that there is no appreciable risk in using recycled tires in the vegetable garden. While it is a fact that rubber tires do contain minute amounts of certain heavy metals, the compounds are tightly bonded within the actual rubber compound and do not leach into the soil. One of the ingredients in the rubber recipe is zinc. Zinc, in fact, is an essential plant element.

Also the black rubber of the tyres will absorb warmth from the sun during the day, and will hold the heat, keeping plants warm into the evening hours.

In Kenya, majority of the daily budget goes towards purchasing food especially in the urban households where most of the population earns less than two dollars a day.

According to the Food Agricultural Organisation, home gardens have a great potential to improve food security at the household level and alleviate micronutrients deficiencies. Further stating that when access to land and water is not a major limitation, a well-developed home garden has the potential to supply most of the daily non-staple food a family needs and hence save of food bill.

How to make your own easy and economical mobile vegetable process.

First of all lay the tire at the spot where you want it. Then you can use a knife to cut the sidewall completely out of the upper side of the tyre. This helps to nearly double the planting area available.

Then prepare compost from well decomposed materials, and spread a plastic bag at the base of the tyre. You need to ensure the bag is strong enough as this will form the foundation of the tyre-vegetable-garden.

"Mix your compost manure thoroughly with soil. This is a crucial part as the soil feeds the plant so it must be well prepared. Then put the mixture in the well-established foundation and add water ensuring it is evenly distributed. As the water settles, get your ready seedlings and plant them. Avoid using regular garden soil, which will become hard and compacted once it's placed in the tire, and can also contain weed seeds and insects," Momanyi explains.

You can plant kales, spinach, green (non-bulb forming) onions or the black night shade; however it is not advisable to plant tubers such as potatoes and carrots because of the depth of the tubers.

Indigenous vegetables are best for this kind of farming as a farmer can harvest them for as long as one year before planting again. Hybrid on the other hand have a lifespan of between five to six months but either way they both give the end produce and help in saving time and money.

"You can do finishing touches by mulching which helps the soil in retaining moisture and prevents weeds from growing. From then on you only need to keep watering your crops," said Momanyi.

For safety measures, you can put the tire-vegetable-garden in a raised platform to protect the plants from birds especially chicken.

If your tire garden is placed on concrete, raise the tyre slightly by placing it on boards, cement blocks or bricks to allow air flow under the tyre.

Momanyi says they train farmers once a month and encourage them to train others on these simple but useful skills. He advises farmers to embrace organic farming which is readily available and is often free from many pests and diseases.

"We encourage people to intercrop and this is one of the principles of organic farming so that if one crop fails there is another one that will survive. Some crops also help each other in fighting pests for instance onions help scare off some pests," he said.

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