In 1993, Swaziland’s Chris Vickery was growing turmeric. While on a trip to the USA to see the latest in drying technology for his herbs, he came across The Seedling Nursery, which had developed the polystyrene “speedling tray”. He returned to Swaziland and decided to plant a tray of lettuce using this method.
The result was very encouraging, and when he sold the seedlings to farmers, the demand in Swaziland quickly grew, as up until then vegetable farmers had either planted direct or had their own seedling beds.
In 1994/5, buyers of turmeric in South Africa began to source cheaper product from Asia and suddenly it was no longer a viable crop. By this time, Vickery had built a small shade structure for his seedlings (which is still utilised today), but as the demand for them continued to grow, year-on-year, the area under shade had to be increased constantly.
STARKE AYRES was one of the preferred seed suppliers to Vickery Seedlings, and the collaboration has continued to grow from strength to strength since those early days. By the year 2000 Vickery needed help in the nursery and Mike Cox joined the company. The demand for their seedlings kept rising, until 2008/2009, when Vickery Seedlings was producing about 19 million seedlings a year for a population of just one million people.
But then the growth in seedling sales began to stagnate, so the company diversified by building a retail outlet and diversifying into producing compost, growing instant lawn and garden plants, and retailing all of the various products needed by gardeners and farmers.
This boosted Vickery Seedlings’ growth considerably, and in 2014, a coffee shop was built to further add to the atmosphere of the nursery, which is now both a retail and wholesale outlet. At that stage, Wendy Vickery joined the company to oversee the garden plant nursery and coffee shop.
Today, there are 80 employees in distribution outlets countrywide, with weekly deliveries to those centres.
In 2020, with lockdown and people staying at home with nothing to do, the demand for seedlings and garden products increased dramatically.
The nursery’s challenge since inception has been that most vegetable growers have small areas and little or no irrigation so that crop planning becomes difficult as orders are not placed for seedlings well ahead of planting time. Plantings are therefore speculative both for the farmer and nursery such that the nursery does not know how many seedlings to plant. Often the nursery has too few or too many seedlings as a result of this. The outlet centres help in planning for the demand and to move seedlings.
The partnership between STARKE AYRES and Vickery Seedlings is one of our great successes in Swaziland and we hope to keep this going for many years to come.