One day in March last year when Mary Ngunu was watching 9pm news on a local TV station, she saw a farmer explaining how urban spinach farming is practised.
She took contacts of the company, Real Impact IPM, which trains people on urban spinach farming.
“Since I had been nurturing a desire to do farming, I called them, booked an appointment and I was directed to Reverend Francis Ndolo in Thika, who trains farmers at his home,” recalls Ms Ngunu, a secretary at Mirera High School in Naivasha Sub-county, Nakuru County.
She attended the training for three hours a day and today, she is a proud spinach farmer. She grows spinach in sacks on her 50 by 100 feet plot, in Mirera, less than 10km from Naivasha town.
“I was taught how to mix soil and manure in the ratio of 1:1 among other lessons,” says Ngunu, who now has 10 bags of spinach that she harvests once a week and 30 new ones ready to be planted.
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She sells her spinach to neighbours and a retailer who then sells it to the nearby Mirera trading centre.
Ngunu sells 15 leaves at Sh10, making about Sh800 to Sh1,000 a week. She says because she has a few sacks, she has not bothered to look for market in Naivasha town, lest she get huge demand and fail to meet the supply.
“I, however, have plans to look for market in the town groceries when I start harvesting the 40 sacks thrice per week. I know I will earn about Sh3,000 a week” says the single mother of one girl.
She advises that before one starts urban spinach farming, they first need to be trained by professionals.
Mr Ndolo has himself taken upon the task to train interested farmers at a fee of Sh1,000 at his demo farm in Thika.
“After interacting with Real Impact IPM, I decided to train Kenyans on this new technology. We have no other training centres in the country, but after training someone properly like I did Mary, she can be a trainer in Naivasha and start imparting the knowledge to other interested farmers,” he says.
After training, one is registered for more training and other benefits in future. However, one has to buy sacks through Mr Ndolo, who sells at Sh1,100 each.
One is allowed to buy not less than 10 sacks, but you can buy up to 100. You have to send courier and procurement fees of Sh1,400 and the package will be sent to you.
Ngunu says, “You need a small space, half of the 50 by 100 plot size can do as you live on the other half. Manure and soil, knapsack sprayer, water pipe and enough water supply are a must-have.”
“The sack is supposed stand straight vertically without tilting. Fold it and fill it will soil mixed with manure up to one foot high.”
Insert a one-inch-tall hollow water pipe in the middle of the sack and put soil around it to the brim of the sack. In the pipe, put ballast stones to the top then remove the pipe.
It is through this ballast that you will later water the sack, as it acts as the water way to the sack. After completely watering the sack, one can then plant the spinach seedlings.
Each sack comes with 80 holes around it and the farmer has to dig 20 holes on top of the soil. This means a sack must not carry more than 100 seedlings.
“During planting, ensure that the roots of the seedlings are pushed into the holes directly and avoid folding or bending, which could lead to stunted growth,” advises Ngunu. No seedling is planted at the centre of the sack where there is ballast.
While preparing the seedlings after planting, you must cover the top of the sack with dry grass, which maintains moisture and protect sprouting seedlings from direct sunlight.
After planting, the plants must be watered once a week with five litres of water for each sack. Ngunuadvises that you have to avoid over watering, which can lead to water logging and rotting of the plants.
When the spinach are ready for harvest, spray the liquid fertiliser to make them remain healthy and maintain the green foliage.
“You can also add some manure to give your crops enough nitrogen, which prevents the leaves from changing colour from green to yellowish or having spots,” Ngunu says.
Also, spray with pesticides once in two weeks. After spraying, give them at least three days before harvesting to avoid consuming the chemical.
Remember to pluck the dried or bad leaves to give space for new ones to sprout, advises Ngunu. You are also advised to harvest only three to four leaves per stem and leave three to four leaves.
If you also keep animals such as chicken, you need to fence the space under the sacks to protect the plants.
One of the advantages of urban spinach farming is that no weeding is needed. One only needs to remove small foreign plants that may grow in the sack.
This type of farming also minimises pace.
“Imagine 40 sacks have taken only half of my plot. If I was to plant on land, I may have used at least an acre,” Ngunu says.
Another advantage is that you can farm and do other side hustle or continue with your full time job.
“I am a school secretary, I live alone, but still able to tend to my spinach after work. It does not deny me time to do my job at school,” Ngunu says. The technology can also allow growing of other vegetables such as sukuma wiki and amaranth.
Ngunu says with at least Sh50,000, one can start urban spinach farming. She adds that has has so far spent Sh74,000. She has spent the money on buying sacks, training in Thika, buying seeds, farm implements, soil, manure and for labour.
She advises those with plots and live in town to take advantage of this farming to minimise their budgets.
“Spinach can be eaten with any kind of food as a vegetable. It is good to have an extra source of income apart,” says Ngunu.