By Nontobeko Sibisi and Babongile Zulu
Fancy yourself a gardener? Whether it is to save money on food or purely for the love of gardening, vegetable patches have been springing up around the backyards of Rhodes oppidans. These ecological treasures are helping students save money on their food expenses.
Lara Bengis, a second-year student, grows vegetables and herbs, using the herbs especially for tea. She enjoys working in the garden, “learning about plants and watching them grow,” and the idea of being self-sufficient appeals to her. Bengis knows that unlike vegetables sold by chain supermarkets such as Pick ‘n Pay or Checkers, she is guaranteed organcally grown vegetables by planting them herself. The vegetables sold in supermarkets, she feels, have travelled too great a distance to be considered fresh.
Some of the more popular vegetables grown by Rhodes oppies are the basics – tomatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce and mielies. However, the more adventurous oppidan gardeners grow things such as strawberries, butternut and pumpkin, as well as maintaining fruit trees. Other students prefer to have herb gardens which prove useful when cooking.
While some have established their gardens, the ones with intentions to start should also be acknowledged. Honours student Alexis de Coning, has gone as far as to plot out the patch which she intends to turn into her vegetable garden. She had a heavy workload during first term so she put it off until after the winter months.
For those of you who suddenly feel the urge to go out and get your fingers green, slow it down to a crawl. Many young crops will take a chill in the winter and may die. However, once it’s warmed up, there are a few basic steps to follow when starting your own vegetable or herb garden. Firstly – start small. If you’re new to gardening, a big veggie patch may prove tricky and daunting. Find a nice sunny spot, pull out all the weeds and grass and clear a plot. Remember, weeds reappear like a bad rash, so keep an eye on them and pull them out before they get too big. Turn over the soil with a spade or gardening fork, and mix in some organic compost (available from nurseries). Water before you plant. Select plants or seeds and plant them in neat rows so you know which goes where. Choose plants suitable to the area, and don’t be disappointed if some of them die. Finally, water your new money-saving patch of earth and enjoy.
If gardening seems too tedious, there are other, simpler methods to save money on food and essentials. Many students put money together and buy food and groceries for their digs in bulk at the beginning of the month. Leftovers are frozen and defrosted at a later stage for lunch or a small meal, instead of being thrown away or left in the fridge to form a unique ecosystem. Also, many students are conscientious about switching off appliances when they’re not being used in order to save electricity. To save on huge electrical bills at the end of the month, switch off your geyser during the day and overnight when it’s not being used.
Next to “I will give up smoking”, maybe you should consider adding “I will start growing my own veggies”. It is never too late for mid-year resolutions. Think of all the extra cash you could save.