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Photo: Jim Loring/Tearfund

From: Household agriculture – Footsteps 54

Ideas for making the most of available land and other agricultural resources

Many homes, particularly in urban areas, have little room for growing crops or vegetables. However, outside nearly every house is an area of bare ground. The soil may be hard or infertile and people often do not consider using it for growing vegetables. But here is one way of using this unused space for a tiny garden.

The system works best if a number of families agree to work together, building one garden each week. The idea may also be useful in refugee camps.


  • Mark out a space the size of a door (about 1m x 2m). Dig out the soil until it is nearly knee deep. If the soil is very hard this will not be easy! Lots of people working together will help. Be careful to keep the top soil (darker colour) in a separate heap from the subsoil (lighter colour and more stones).
  • Line the hole with grass and other organic material. Encourage all the families to bring their organic household waste for that day and tip it into the hole – vegetable peelings, waste paper and egg shells. If you can find any animal manure, add this.


  • When the pit is half full, pour on water to soak the waste. Then add the subsoil, followed by the topsoil. 
  • Plant rows of vegetable seeds and herbs. Useful plants which will add flavour and vitamins to the household diet include tomatoes, spinach, traditional leafy vegetables, peppers, beans, carrots, onions and all kinds of herbs. Try to plant taller plants such as tomatoes and climbing beans in the middle. Cover with a mulch – a thin layer of grass, straw, rice husks or similar – and water well. Household wastewater is ideal if not too soapy. 
  • If possible, find an old broken basket and sink this into the centre of the plot. Over several weeks, fill this with vegetable waste and weeds. Water mainly through this basket once the young plants are established. This will wash more plant nutrients into the soil. 
  • Now decide whose home will have the next door-sized garden. If there is space you may be able to build several of these. 

ACAT in South Africa have used this idea in KwaZulu-Natal with great success. Many people have been amazed at how easy it is to produce their own vegetables. One lady said she thought she could only grow traditional crops like maize. But now she can grow cabbages, spinach and onions. Her husband is very impressed! 

ACAT (Africa Cooperative Action Trust) is a long standing Tearfund partner working in KwaZulu-Natal. PO Box 943, Howick 3290, South Africa.

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