Ndaba Ndlovu is making ends meet by growing and selling veggies in a Kirstenhof garden and showing us that there’s a wealth of possibility to be found in the humblest of backyards.
Having succeeded in coaxing a green bounty from what was previously barren soil, he now hopes to acquire more land to grow a wider range of veggies and to employ others who have a love of gardening or who want to learn how to make a living from it. “The potential is there,” he says.
Aged 54, this semi-skilled boilermaker and artisan welder, who gets odd jobs now and then, was born in Newcastle.
He moved to Fish Hoek in 2009 to serve the Connection Church. Six years later, he moved to a town north of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, but with Covid-19 making life more difficult in Zimbabwe, he returned to Cape Town early this year.
With no money, no prospects and nowhere to live, this father of three needed to find a way to support his wife, his youngest child who still lives at home and his grandchild.
Through his contacts at the Joshua Generation church in Muizenberg, he met Siegfried Ngubane, regional director of the Serving In Mission (SIM) in southern Africa, an international, interdenominational evangelical Christian mission organisation established in 1893.
SIM found accommodation for Mr Ndlovu in a cottage in a garden in Kirstenhof and said he could start a veggie garden.
“Wow!” says Mr Ngubane, recalling what happened next. “Ndaba has transformed that garden to produce fresh, nutritious food. If he had a bigger space, imagine what amazing things he could do.”
The garden in Milton Road started as a 1m² experiment. Now it is a lush, green yard of kale, coriander, turnips, spinach and two types of lettuce. He has sold out of beetroot.
Mr Ndlovu says the soil was sandy and dead, but not having money for fertiliser he cut the lawn and made a pile of grass cuttings in the corner of the garden. He turns it regularly and now feeds the soil with it. Watering is minimal and is done using a borehole.
He would also like to have some chickens to produce free-range eggs and manure that can be used to feed the soil.
Customers ask him about snails – the nemesis of most would-be food gardeners.
“A gardener has to be there, to examine the plants,” he smiles, turning spinach leaves and finding two tiny snails.
Meanwhile he is selling his crops, using word-of-mouth as advertising.
“The garden does not stop producing due to his magical green fingers and respect for organic, natural processes,” says local resident Carolynne Franklin. “Ndaba will pick for you as you order and fresher than that you just can’t ask for. Our immune systems can do with a boost.”
When he is not planting late into the night, Mr Ndaba studies crop rotation and pest control, collects seeds and dreams of bigger things.