The fact that her garden in Mpophomeni is really tiny, does not limit her in the least. Every square inch is productive and green, with beans climbing the fences and flowers among the cabbages. When she first moved to the township she visited Mrs Ndlovu along the road to help in her garden and was soon bitten by the gardening bug herself. After doing a course in care work, she realised the importance of fresh, healthy food and began to garden in earnest. Her family of six enjoy just picked greens every day and there is usually extra to sell to the neighbours or help those in need. Over the weekends, local kids come to help her do the watering and other chores in return for a big bunch of greens to take home. Saturday is their favourite day for helping because this is the day Ntombenhle makes vetkoek! Definitely the best vetkoek in the township.
Ntombenhle believes gardens are not just about work so often sits under the peach tree, on the bench which her brother made her, to admire the bees and butterflies and fruits of her labour.
Her enthusiasm is infectious, now five homes in Chris Hani Road have thriving food gardens and she has plans to take over the vacant plot at the end of the road (which is just a dumping ground now) and turn it into a food forest! She can imagine it already, and waits impatiently for the Municipality to give her permission to start. She has a dream that all the dumping sites in Mpophomeni will one day be fruitful, peaceful food gardens.
In the meanwhile, she works in four Mpophomeni School food gardens, inspiring young people to grow food and medicine and become more self sufficient. She preaches a permaculture message and certainly puts this into practice. “There is no waste in this garden”, she declares as she tips some spent mustard flowers and a paper packet into her compost heap. Weeds that aren’t composted either become weed tea fertilizer or are used as mulch. “Mulch, mulch, mulch” she sings as she covers any bare spots of earth with straw. “Mulching is essential to keep the soil cool and moist in summer and warm in winter”.
Ntombenhle bottled chillies from the huge crop she harvested last winter which sell well at the local Spaza Shop. Her carrot, chilli and onion preserve and tomato relish are popular too. Over a cup of tea in the sunshine, she tells me she plans to plant fennel this year after trying it for the first time at my birthday party and finding it delicious. I leave with an enormous armful of imifino, spring onions and a song in my heart.