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Rugare grows just fine in Southend

The story of a successful garden share in Southend on Sea:

We have lived in central Southend for over twenty years.  Our garden is quite big and we don’t use all of it which is a shame as there was a lovely orchard here many years ago. So we were interested when some friends from Zimbabwe asked if they could use part of the garden to plant ‘Zimbabwean’ vegetables.  They explained that they were having difficulty buying suitable maize and greens locally.  The maize in the shops was almost exclusively ‘sweetcorn’, which was not the same as the savoury white or yellow maize Africans like so much.  This maize can be roasted and eaten on the cob, or ground into a powder as an accompaniment to meat or fish.  It is called variously sadza in Zimbabwe, nsima or nshima in Malawi and Zambia or ugali elsewhere in East Africa.   The closest European equivalent is polenta. You can also get maize bread in some European countries.

The green-leaf vegetable my friends wanted to grow is another African speciality.  The plants grow about four feet tall and the leaves look like collard or kale, called rugare in Zimbabwe.  There are many similar green leaf-vegetables in East Africa such as sukuma wiki in Kenya, which means ‘push the week’ and refers to the energy-giving nature of the nutritious green leaves.

Soon enough the vegetable beds were dug over, edged with bricks, planted, watered and fertilised.  Over the next few weeks the rugare grew luxuriantly, though the maize was not so successful.  The beds needed regular attention to keep down the weeds, slugs, snails and other pests, and watering became essential as, unusually for England, very little rain fell.  Some spring onions were also planted, and grew really well.

Over the harvesting season the rugare received a succession of satisfied visitors who came and collected leaves directly off the stem.  It was fascinating to hear their stories of gardening in Africa, where the large majority of people are accustomed to growing a wide variety of vegetables.  “We are farmers” they would say.  This is backed up by David Mwanaka, (Big stores queue up for David’s farm crops (From Echo)) originally from Zimbabwe, who farms near Enfield in north London and has satisfied customers for his white maize and green-leaf vegetables from the length and breadth of the country.  He also found growing maize successfully in the UK climate a challenge, but persisted over the years and has now succeeded.

The main benefits to us have been meeting the interesting people who come to collect their vegetables.  We have been introduced to interesting and tasty green-leaf and onions, and it is good to see the ground being used so well.  The only limiting factor is the time and effort needed for the digging, planting, watering and weeding.  If you have an un-used garden, but are happy for it to be used to grow vegetables, the visitors will do all the work and you will have the pleasure of meeting them and tasting the food as your reward.  You will meet a wide variety of interesting people who you may not otherwise encounter, and these inter-personal contacts are among the lasting benefits of letting a bit of your garden go (and grow).

My friends have plans to expand the amount of crops they grow.  The rugare is especially in demand, shared with friends and family. If you are in doubt, all I would say is, give it a go; it’s a super idea, promotes community cohesion and allows people to indulge in their passion for gardening who don’t have a garden and may not be able to obtain an allotment.

Thanks to the Southend resident for this story. Send in your stories and if you want to join the Share your Garden movement try the website www.landshare.net or read more about it here: Landshare – find land, growers, helpers and inspiration

4 Responses

  1. That was very interesting to read.

  2. Where can I get seed for rugare?

    • I tried to google it but did not find any obvious suppliers. You might need to get in touch with your local Zimbabwean community and maybe see if someone is going for holidays and can bring some back. Locally to Southend my contact would be – Chair of Southend Zimbabwe Network (SZN), washingtonali@hotmail.com, Tel: 07786646071

    • If any one want seeds or shoots of rugare please contact me on 07981295136 Prince Pindu Chaviri, I have grown rugare and Maize successfully to feed my family all year round ( by freezing the harvest of cause)

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