Greenhouse pipe dream yields unexpected returns

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September 5, 2017, Nairobi. In a typical urban setting, residents use land for building houses and in more spacious areas parts are put under gardening and lawns.

In Ridgeway’s, a high-end residential urban area in kiambu county near Nairobi, Jean Thairu, is adding a different luster to the magnificent palatial homes that dot the leafy suburb.

Ms Thairu was raised in a farm and developed a passion for the soil. When she later joined city life the interest waned, but she had a quarter piece of land, which she thought of putting into farming to supplement her income. But, she was in a dilemma on selecting which crop would give the highest produce in that size of land.

In January 2015, she got an impulse when Anek greens came calling and introduced her o urban farming. Three greenhouses were set up in her small piece of land. One is covered with a polythene sheet while the other two are covered with shade nets.

Inside one of the greenhouses measuring 15×8 metres she has planted capsicums that were a month old after transplanting when HortiNews visited her. The shade net covered greenhouses are what took our breath away. The sheer numbers of plants it is holding gives farming a whole new meaning. Four shelves each holding two pipes running from one end to the other, each with different types of vegetables and herbs created a unique crop cover. Spinach, courgette, red cabbage, cucumbers, dill, basil, celery, mint and parsley are growing under one roof.

Why grow different crops in one greenhouse? “My idea was to supplement income through high demand-high profitable rare crops” she said.

In the third greenhouse, also covered with a shade net and locked was an evenly flattened bend covered with polythene paper. At the corner near the door was a 2×3 metre piece that stood pipes punched with holes where healthy strawberries hang.

“There are 450 seedlings that are barely four months and I have already harvested 5kgs”, she said.

In the far end were shelves lying horizontal pipes carrying healthy looking lettuce. The shelves had four levels each holding two six metre pipes carrying 26 plants per pipe. “From outside you can see one greenhouse but from the inside they are actually four because of the shelves that increase the number of plant and produce” she said.

In all the greenhouses Thairu uses pumice media instead of soil. “I decided to use pumice as it is free from soil borne pests and diseases, free from weed seeds and is easy to manage,” she said.

She has a borehole for irrigation. “Water is plenty here and we use a little amount as pumice has high retention. A return pipe takes back excess water into storage tank,” she said.

Her crops are visibly healthy which she attributes to organic farming. She keeps about 250 hybrid rabbits and collects 18litres of urine daily. The urine is taken to the laboratory to ensure it has all nutrient requirements of a plant.” I use a ratio of 12litres of liquid organic fertilizer and mix with 3000 litre of water,” she explained.

The rabbits are fed on a balanced diet to produce healthy urine -Rhodes grass, rabbit pellets and grains. She sells the excess urine at Ksh.100 per litre. In her farm nothing goes to waste as plants remains are eaten by the rabbits.

Why use shade nets in a greenhouse instead of polythene sheet? Mr. Ephantus Kareithi of Anek Greens had this to say, “Shade nets are used in greenhouses that do not require high temperatures, helps to reduce the rate of evaporation increasing humidity in the greenhouse, nets also keeps off pests.”

Ms Thairu has not experienced any problems in her greenhouse and attributes this to the well setup by annex Greens.

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