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Teen's gardening invention blooms into 'planting revolution'

By Jessica Ellis and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN
updated 10:11 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
Claire Reid is the creator of Gardening Reel, a gardening solution she's invented to simplify food growing. Claire Reid is the creator of Gardening Reel, a gardening solution she's invented to simplify food growing.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Claire Reid is the founder of the Johannesburg-based startup Reel Gardening
  • It produces a biodegradable tape that encases organic seed and fertilizer
  • Reid says the strips use 80% less water than traditional gardening methods

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) -- Have you always wanted to have your own garden and grow fresh, healthy food but didn't know quite where to start? Which vegetable varieties to go for, how far from one another to place the seeds and how much water to use?

That's also how Claire Reid felt back in 2002, at 16, when her father asked her to plant a garden during her school holidays.

"I was overwhelmed by the amount of seed I had to buy, the amount of fertilizer, the wastage," recalls Reid.

Reid quickly realized that gardening was not made easy for beginners. She was frustrated that she had to measure manually the correct distance between the seeds, as well as to pay a small fortune to buy what she needed, since everything came in bulk -- not to mention the badly written instructions. So Reid then decided to put her young mind to work.

"I wanted to come up with an idea that if I only wanted to plant a meter of spinach, I only needed to buy a meter of spinach," recalls Reid.

"We are passionate about starting a planting revolution.
Claire Reid, Reel Gardening

After giving it some thought, Reid used baking flour and liquid feritlizer to stick seeds, in calculated intervals, onto newspaper strips. She then went on to plant the strips in furrows. The experiment worked and Reid was encouraged by a school teacher to present her idea into an expo for young South African scientists -- Reid's project won the gold medal.

"I was a 16 year old girl that was barely passing science in school and the concept of me becoming a businesswoman was quite absurd," says Reid.

Yet, that high school idea has grown today to become Reel Gardening, an award-winning patented invention aiming to simplify food gardening and make it more effective.

Launched in 2010, Reid's Johannesburg-based startup produces a paper strip that that comes pre-packaged with seeds and organic fertilizers. These are spaced at the right depth and distance apart so they can be easily planted and maintained. The tapes, which are sold in reels, are packed by hand and cost $1 per meter.

Law graduate turns bananas into flour

"We are passionate about starting a planting revolution," says Reid, whose packaged seed strips grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. "So we enable anyone to be able to grow vegetables -- with little space, little education and little water."

Reid says her biodegradable strips use 80% less water than traditional gardening methods, because they require water only at the exact location of each seed. And that's one reason why she shares her product with people in urban slums where water is less available. So far, more than 120 community and school gardens have sprouted up with Reid's help.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa so the young entrepreneur uses simple pictures on the products' packaging to overcome language and literacy obstacles.

"It tells you exactly where to water, all the nutrition is already in there," says Reid, who sells her planting strips throughout South Africa. "Birds can't eat the seeds out of the soil; water can't move the seed; and you only need to plant as much as you have space for."

Looking ahead, Reid is determined to see Reel Gardening grow, even outside South Africa.

"We are hoping to be live in the UK, selling on the 1st of May," she says.

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