When Vuna Agri-Shop began in 2019, we only had a few customers who were mostly small-scale vegetable growers dotted around KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Vuna Agri-Shop used to sell vegetable seedlings (for better or worse we no longer sell seedlings!) and one of our first, regular customers was a gentleman by the name of Forget who is based in the Marianhill area of KZN. Forget produced vegetables on a small-scale (less than 1 hectare). Some of the challenges he had included: a lack of funding to expand, limited production knowledge related to vegetables, a market that bought irregularly and a small and cramped production area. When we discussed a biological approach to growing and its (particularly) long-term benefits, I could tell that Forget was interested in finding out more.
From our first batch of biologically grown carrots, beetroot, cauliflower and lettuce, we discussed how increasing the microbial activity in the soil made sure that the growing vegetables could access much-needed nutrients. Importantly, Forget began to see results for himself - the most obvious results could be seen in lettuce that was firm, crispy and had a longer shelf-life than what could be found on the shelves of most retailers. During one of our many discussions on the business aspects of vegetable production, I mentioned an important phrase which has stuck with Forget ever since, 'If you can't sell it, don't produce it'.
It's now roughly a year later and Forget is producing vegetables on just over 2 hectares of land, putting our discussion into action. Forget has recently been awarded a vegetable supply contract with a major retailer in the Pinetown area, not far from where he grows his crops in Marianhill. Importantly, he is using a biological approach to production and his customer's customer is noticing. Feedback he has received from the retailer is that his produce seems fresher, crispier and tastier than produce sourced from either the fresh produce market and/or other growers.
Forget produces and supplies spinach, mustard, kale, cabbage and broccoli - so what biologicals does he use? One of the strengths of the programme Forget uses is that things are kept simple:
- At planting, vegetable seedlings are drenched with a starter 'bio-cocktail' consisting of Rhizovital; Eco-T and V12 Initiate;
- Typically a 2:3:4 (30) fertiliser is used at planting to provide basal N, P and K;
- GROBEST organic fertiliser is used weekly as a soil and plant booster. GROBEST is a fish hydrosylate fertiliser that provides nutrition to both plant and soil;
- Agrisil K50 (potassium silicate) is applied weekly to improve the resistance of crops to pests and to improve plant tolerance to stress from excessively hot and cold periods; and
- Neem oil is applied as a bio-insecticide when required.
Recently we've been discussing improvements that could be made to his programme - for example using a different fertiliser type, better and more efficient farm and production planning and more accurate, simpler record-keeping.
I have no doubt that Forget has a future firmly in South Africa's agricultural sector. From a small plot of less than a hectare to over 2 hectares under production and a supply contract, Forget is an example of how hard work translates directly into measurable and meaningful results. The biologicals he is using are working and working well and we are proud and grateful to have him as a loyal Vuna Agri-Shop customer.