Since there is so much going on in the world that does the opposite of delight and inspire, here is something soothing to think about...
Gardens. What is it about gardens and gardening that soothes the soul? Gardening requires physical activity, resilience and patience. It takes you outdoors, it slows your pace necessarily and removes all elements of technology and speed. Understand how to plan and prepare a garden is only part of it, most of the pleasure comes from seeing the slow but steady progress, watching children sow seeds, watch plants grow, learn to harvest and then get into a kitchen to cook.
We have a large organic 'shamba' up at the farm HQ on the conservancy, over the past 10 years we have used this area as our main growing environment, we depend almost completely for our menus.
Everything we cook here is fresh, farm to fork and hearty. We want our guests to feel as connected to the land as we are and this translates to way in which we cook, the ingredients we use and the fun, colourful and unfussy aesthetic we create at our table. Think long, happy tables full of bowls and platters, dipping sauces and breads, salads galore...it's all about the gathering moment of the day after a game drive or an adrenaline pumping walk out with the rangers. We connect over a meal, enjoy mother nature's fruits and then take a nice little siesta by the river...ahhhh!
The shamba was historically an old fruit orchard, which produced paw paws/papaya, little sweet succulent fingerling bananas, pomegranates, apples, peaches and very small sweet mangoes for the homestead. My husband grew up playing in the shamba as a little boy and tells our children of the hours he spent floating little boats made out of seed pods down every small, meandering channel made for feeding water from each bed.
Over the next generation we have created more of a vegetable growing environment in the garden because of the demands of the lodge and home, but we have managed to keep some of the oldest fruit trees growing despite many droughts, locust invasions and pressure from our friends the Vervet Monkeys!
The shamba is completely fenced inside HQ but at intervals the monkeys, being highly intelligent individuals, work out a weak spot in the system and begin to exploit it. This month I lost 2 beds of carrots in their early stages of infancy thanks to these marauding monkeys....
Check out this video from our cameras to see how clever they can be!
Our altitude here is fairly signifiant to our growing, we lie in the foothills on Mount Kenya on the edge of a lava plateau. Not only does our high altitude, we sit just below 2000m here, affect what fruit in particular we can grow, but our two soil types makes gardening really exciting and productive.
The sandy loam soil makes growing mediterranean herbs productive and the black cotton soil and fertile soil elements, mixed in with the manure from both cows and sheep - we have fresh slurry available from the small calf-friendly dairy and dried manure from the "bomas' - outdoor corrals- available for use in making better soil for growing.
We also have a smaller homestead garden right next to the lodge and our home, that we developed recently for our family, so that we have the pleasure of going out to look after our veggies and harvest direct to our home kitchen. We love to grow, learn and experiment and with all the many challenges in an African growing environment sun is never a problem!
Our shamba is fed with stored water and we metre each department of our eco lodge daily so that we can control how much we use. We have a form of drip irrigation and also a slurry channel that runs directly from the small dairy and biogas system into the larger garden to help feed the soil. In the rains, as we have them now, we don't need to water at all, but we do need to weed, so we are always busy, building up the new beds, harvesting and cataloguing seeds and preparing 3 months ahead on our planning diary.
Our lodge sources one hundred percent of its salads, herbs, green veggies, edible flowers and some fruit from the shmabas. The only things we buy may be specialists items or items that guests consume in large amounts, for example onions, potatoes and tomatoes - we consume so many through the lodge that we could not possibly plant the amount we needed, so we have to supplement by buying from our neighbours or local suppliers. Local procurement is crucial to our ethos as we believe by supporting small, sustainable producers in our locality we can genuinely spread the benefits of what we do here well beyond the boundaries of the conservancy. If you're interested in how Local Procurement can make a different contact us to receive our impact document.
And finally, how does this fit into our activities? Well much like everything else at El Karama Lodge, shamba life becomes integrated into safari life. We love to share the garden project with our guests and so take them on little interactive visits to pick the veggies for the next meal, learn to plant seeds, identify trees and nibble as they go. On retreats I always grab a moment with the yogis under the banana trees and encourage them to stand under the leaves and listen to the wind blowing in amongst them. There is something completely relaxing about standing in their shade, listening to the rustle of the fronds in the breeze.
We now hold little demos on gardening, Tisane making, mooring and edible flowers up in the shamba and hope in the future painting and cooking classes may eventually be able to take place up there!
So a word of encouragement to all those lock down gardeners out there. If all you have is a sunny window sill, then grab a paper cup, fill it with some fertile soil and plant a garlic clove. Watch it sprout and see if you can tend it until it reaches a full bulb! If all your have is a shallow tray from a meat purchase. Pierce it with holes, fill it with soil and sprinkle some lettuce seeds or alfalfa. Let it grow for a week or two until you have a little lawn of green leaves and trim into your salad allowing them to keep growing as you go...micro greens. You don't necessarily need an allotment or a large garden to grow for pleasure. Sometimes a happy, light window sill and some old containers is all you need...