The Adventure Continues

I have had a successful year with the vegetable-growing adventures. My family gave me the boxes as a birthday/ retirement gift in June 2016 and it’s been the wonderful gift that just keeps on giving.  There is always something to eat in our garden.

 

We have had lots of tomatoes even though it is the end of winter.  Most of the tomato plants have been self-seeded from the Summer crop and now we are reaping the benefit. We also have chilis and shallots so I have been able to make a spicy Mexican Tomato soup. So delicious!

A new venture was to try strawberries in a smaller box in a very warm spot in the front garden. This has been successful and we’re now enjoying those fruits too.

It gives me such pleasure to harvest our own produce.

Of course, what would a vegetable garden be without feeding?  The composting corner gets all our organic kitchen waste – in the green bin. To that, we add grass clippings and leaves. We eat a lot of eggs and I grind the shells in my food processor and add that to the green bin too along with coffee grounds.  Our worm farm is still producing worm tea – although at a slower rate during the cold months. The garden really loves this liquid manure diluted 1:10.  We have friends who keep horses and occasionally I beg some horse manure off them. I add this to my compost pile in the corner and that also helps build up the soil.  We are going to need every bit of it to top up the boxes soon as the soil has settled over the past 15 months.

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On the advice of my teacher friend in New Brighton, I planted some Borage. The leaves are very good for adding to the compost and the pretty blue flowers attract bees. Another bonus.

So, as we enter our second season we are blessed by our food garden.  Spinach, tomatoes, carrots, celery, lettuce, beans, red cabbage, chilis, peppers, squash, shallots, and lots of herbs. Our water tanks are full after the recent coastal rains and everything is looking healthy.  Pests have not been such a problem over the winter.  Now I just have to deal with those weeds!

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Abundance in a time of drought

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Tomatoes! I am delighted with the dozens of tomatoes that we are about to harvest.  I planted Beefsteak GMO-free tomatoes and they have come up well.  They have been relatively pest-free and we have been harvesting a few at a time. Our biggest problem is keeping the birds off them.

On Christmas day I was able to use some of our own tomatoes in our salad, along with our own lettuce and some young carrots. I now anticipate dealing with a glut of ripe tomatoes in the near future.  I am planning tomato sauce and some puree for recipes.  Of course we will be enjoying them fresh with every meal too.

Our boxes are full.  We have carrots, beetroot, spring onions, leeks, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, celery and of course tomatoes.  We even have a butternut vine creeping out of one of the boxes and bearing fruit.  I’ve planted another crop of cucumber and I’m hoping they won’t wilt or get attacked by aphids. I also have some rhubarb and I’m plucking up courage to make a rhubarb dessert.  I haven’t had rhubarb since my granny used to grow it and make a crumble served with custard.

I remember once hearing a quote at an IT conference that went like this: “Whatever you do today prepares you for something better tomorrow.”  That has been true for many aspects of my life since I first heard it in 2000 and it’s true for my garden today.  About eight years ago hubby installed our first rain harvest tank. A few years later he decided we need another one so that was installed in the front garden. It was a bit of an eyesore until a creeper covered it.

Earlier this year he decided we need an even bigger tank! That has also been installed in the front garden and it has yet to pull on a disguise in the form of a creeper so it looks rather naked and ugly.  Having three tanks has meant that we have been able to keep the vegetables going during this crippling drought that has affected the whole country.  Our main municipal supply dam is very low and households have been asked to limit daily usage to 400 litres.  We have been able to supplement the household water with tank water and we are managing to keep our consumption down by catching shower water and carting buckets around.  Anyone in the rain harvesting tank business is doing great business right now – but of course until it rains there will be no filling of the tanks so we are very aware of every drop.

This is some of my rhubarb.  Most of it died of dehydration because it was in the full sun all day and the temperatures have been very high.  I also have a good crop of lettuces growing in a gutter.

So, yes we are in a crisis as far as water supply goes. The grass is brown and starting to turn to a dust bowl, the days are hot, the wind is relentless but thanks to hubby’s planning ahead we are able to eat our own affordable vegetables for now.  We pray there will be some good rainfall soon and until then our tanks will hold out.

Water is precious. Save every drop.

Alien Aphid Invasion

In a post on 25 September I had a picture of a ladybird on a bean leaf.  Just below that is a photo of a luxuriant nasturtium plant with red flowers blazing.  That nasturtium was still blooming two days ago.  img_9334

This afternoon I went out on my usual daily inspection and to my horror I found that the aliens had landed on the nasturtium plant.  The photo below is what it looks like now. If you look very carefully you will see thousands of the dreaded aliens had killed it off, overnight.  What a sad state it is in.  I pulled the whole thing up and took it out to the garden refuse bin outside.  I then threw some diatomaceous earth over the area.  I later went out and threw some bicarbonate of soda over the area.  The aphids are becoming my daily nightmare.

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Yesterday I found tiny white creatures on my tomato plant. It’s a beefsteak tomato and it is setting some very healthy looking fruit. It would be a great disappointment to lose it at this stage.  Some of the lower leaves have already turned brown.  I made up a solution with liquid soap, bicarb and some oil.  I then sprayed it on the plant, on top and underneath the leaves.  I then still had to manually remove all the aphids from the leaves.  I really hope it will survive.  The nasty little beasts have also affected my bean plants but I think they will survive.  We are getting so many beans at the moment.

I have some gooseberries growing in the full sun in the front of the garden.  They are full of fruit and we expect a good harvest from them soon.  I’m not sure about gooseberries for myself.  I haven’t had one since I was five years old.  My Dad and a friend of his took a bunch of children out for a treat at a roadhouse on the Mmgeni River in Durban, called The Doll’s House.  I had a gooseberry tart. Within a very short time I was violently sick all over the car on the way home and I have never had a gooseberry since.  Hopefully if I still have an aversion to them my family will enjoy them.

We are still having lots of wind which is affecting my corn.  Most of the time it’s leaning over at a precarious angle.  We need less wind, more heat now.

 

Worm Farm Maintenance

Today is worm farm maintenance day.  There is very little wind after two weeks of solid blowing.  What a relief.

The top left shows the worm farm boxes.  They are kept cool in the shade of the tree.  The top box has a damp towelling cover over the worms. They like to keep cool. This is where the fresh stuff gets put.The material is then munched down and sinks through small holes in each level.  The third layer is the worm casts which form a rich compost and the bottom layer is where the worm tea or liquid fertilizer collects.  This is the stuff my plants love.

The photo top right shows a bottle with this morning’s worm tea harvest.  I collect about a litre a week.  It is mixed 1:10 with water and that is poured on my vegetables.  They are looking good.

The other photos show the successive layers.  The hardest part is separating worms out of the bottom layers. I have overcome my squeamishness but I do wear gloves. I am amazed how quickly they have multiplied and I am now at a stage where I can share some of my worms with a friend who is just starting out.

A worm farm is such a painless way of recycling organic waste and benefitting the garden at the same time. This is the model my husband copied to make ours.

We are eating our carrots, beans, kale, lettuce and herbs.  The radishes are finished and they were delicious.  I have lots more planted and now we wait for them to be ready to harvest.  Very satisfying and very therapeutic.

Edible weeds, what?

Not long after I started on my backyard farm adventure I discovered this book on urban gardening.  It has been a great source of information about sustainable gardening, seeds, crop rotation, soil and lots more.  It’s one of the best books I’ve bought.  It is informative, inspiring and encouraging.

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I have recently become interested in permaculture principles and I have followed a local group on Facebook.  Last night I attended a short presentation by a member of the group on the topic of edible weeds.  This was fascinating as I realised I don’t have to aggressively pull every weed I see – especially those nasty nettles.  Instead I can use them as a tea, which is good for blood purifying, as an expectorant and to help expel kidney stones (if I had them!) It is also used as a remedy for anaemia, sciatica, arthritis and infertility (really?)

I also discovered whilst reading Margaret Roberts’  “The Book of Herbs”, that the leaves can be eaten as spinach, and nettles have one of the highest concentrations of vitamins and minerals. And to think all this time I’ve thought of nettles as just another inconvenient, prickly nuisance – but I shall treat them with more respect in future.

img_1469An example of the humble nettle.

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This weed has been growing in my garlic box.  My instinct was to pull it out, but because it has such pretty yellow flowers I left it hoping it would attract bees. I discovered this morning that it’s called buttercup.  It has been used in folk medicine for a long time.  It’s not really edible but the leaves may be used as a poultice.

 

There are many other edible weeds.  The Tree Hugger site gives a list of the main ones and their uses. I am mostly interested in nutrient-rich leaves one can add to a salad or stir fry.

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This little corner is what I call my “bee corner”.  The basil flowers, nasturtiums, pelargoniums and plumbago encourage bees to visit the garden.  On a warm morning I hear the gentle buzz of the industrious little creatures and I smile. Of course that’s a good thing for pollination.

I wrote in my last post about the ladybugs that are starting to appear.  The ladybugs are first attracted to the nasturtiums.  Ladybugs love aphids so by attracting them to the garden they then go on to eat aphids. Aphids are a proper pest in a vegetable patch as they suck the sap from leaves and stems. I have had to do some serious battle with them. A solution of Bicarbonate of Soda and liquid soap sprayed on the leaves discourages them but after the next rain they are back.

One thing leads to another.  Growing our food has helped me appreciate the simple things in life. There’s nothing like that fresh raw carrot, or a sweet juicy green bean eaten straight off the stalk.  We haven’t had to buy much in the way of green vegetables this year.

Since reading about non-toxic options for pest control, such as Bicarbonate of Soda and vinegar, I have discovered that these two products can also be substituted for some of the expensive chemical cleaning products we use in our homes.

I now use Bicarb to clean the bath and I make a paste to clean mildew off grout in the bathroom and shower. One can use vinegar to clean the toilet bowl and once a week I wash the floors with a vinegar solution to discourage fleas. I find I visit less and less of the aisles in the supermarket that sell processed food and household products.  Eggs and some vegetables come from a local farmers’ market.  I also buy packs of free range chicken and some meat at the market.  Butter, cheese and maas come from a dairy outlet in town.  The maas is great for making cottage cheese at less than half the price.  Every little step leads to another and so life becomes simpler…..

 

Harvests and Maintenance

The hard work and preparation is beginning to pay off.  I recently found this photo of our garden taken six years ago.  Pretty empty and dull.  img-20101019-00009Here is a photo taken this week.  What a contrast!  I’m loving this new farming lifestyle.

img_9321Today while preparing lunch I stepped outside and picked some lettuce, celery, mint leaves and pulled some young carrots and a lovely radish to make a salad.  It’s really such a satisfying experience to be able to eat from your own backyard farm.

Pests continue to be a problem. I lost my cucumbers and this week I had to pull out a row of beans.  Some of the kale has been chewed up by worms and the squash have a problem. This in spite of spraying with a mixture of bicarb, soap and oil.  I do not use commercial chemical products although there are a few organic products I would like to buy.

img_9311But all is not lost.  I spotted a few of these delightful ladybirds last week.  Apparently they are the “good guys” and eat up the aphids.  I hope they invite many of their cousins to visit my garden and clear those “bad guys” out.  The trick is to have a variety of crops, pick off any pests one sees and plant flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds that help keep pests away.

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I regularly walk around peering at the boxes, checking for snails or aphids.  I love hearing the sound of bees humming around the flowers, especially the basil in the picture below.  It means that things are happening here.

img_9310Our water tanks are full.  We have had just enough rain to top them up but we are still in drought mode in the Eastern Cape and the municipality has introduced water restrictions . This means there is no using hose pipes connected to the water mains.  I am so grateful that hubby connected up a pump to the tanks and we are able to water regularly.  As you can see the garden is flourishing – even the lawn, although I never water it.  The adage is, “Grow food, not lawns.”  Well, our lawn is taking care of itself in spite of neglect.

I am very grateful to have a helper, Mdange, who comes regularly to cut grass, leaving me to concentrate on the other chores.  Our worm farm is flourishing and supplying a regular dose of worm tea for the vegetables. They are doing so well I have even been able to give some worms to a friend who is just starting out with his worm farm.

We are getting a regular supply of kale, Swiss Chard, lettuce, carrots, radishes, celery and herbs.  Soon we will have some tomatoes, red kale, cauliflower, baby marrows, red cabbage, peas and some non-gmo corn.  Oh and we also have four different kinds of beans growing.  I am managing to grow just enough of each to keep us fed without having a glut of anything.  I’m loving the height of the boxes and being able to tend the plants without bending down on my creaky knees is a huge bonus.

So we keep growing and producing. Until next time, happy farming.

 

Re-boot Progress

In my last post I wrote about the gift of wooden boxes I received from my family.  The boxes were installed over the patch where I previously had my vegetables growing in the ground. These boxes will revolutionise my gardening because I am able to work at a standing height and I have more control over soil conditions.

The next step was to fill the boxes with soil.  I ordered a load of soil/ compost/ manure mixture and proceeded to start filling.  Unfortunately the soil had to be offloaded on the front lawn because the truck was too wide for our driveway. IMG_1293

It’s not a great photo but one can see the tight squeeze it would be.  So, the big trek began.  I managed to fill one and a half boxes on my own before hubby came home and helped top up the second box before it was too dark.  The trick is to have two people so that the wheelbarrow can be lifted and the soil tipped into the box.  When our helper, Mdange, came on the following Saturday we worked as a team and had the other eight boxes filled in no time – in spite of the wind and light rain.  What a relief! We finished the day muddy and tired but happy to have the job done.

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Now comes the planting.  I have a small nursery area on the front porch for growing seedlings. It’s warm and sunny but protected from wind and heavy rain.  The perfect spot. I have a number of seeds germinating and growing and the boxes are waiting. . .

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The first boxes I bought and planted are doing so well and we are enjoying kale, spinach, carrots, lettuce, leeks and herbs.  I’m looking forward to seeing the other boxes brimming with delicious vegetables too.

Urban vegetable growing is the way to go.  It’s therapeutic, relaxing and of course the benefit is growing one’s own food.  Prices are rising and as commercial farms in this country are taken over food will become more scarce and more expensive.  We are blessed to have a good supply of rain water from our tanks.

It’s been expensive setting up my backyard “farm”,  but the long-term benefits will make it a worthwhile exercise.  Who knows? Perhaps in time I will have a vegetable padstal on the verge outside our house to sell our excess produce.  Wouldn’t that be fun!

The pink bag in the picture above is full of wood chips to be used as mulch.  A property across the road is being developed.  A tree felling company was removing a large tree and chipping the logs to be removed.  I went over and asked for a couple of bags of the chips and the owner was more than happy for me to take them.  What a blessing.  Now I have enough chips to cover the boxes once I’ve planted my first crops.

Now we wait for the next batch of seedlings to be ready to transplant.  It’s a never ending cycle.