The Dry Times

The southern provinces of South Africa, namely Western and Eastern Cape, have been experiencing a prolonged drought that is having a devastating effect on agriculture and rural and urban life. Sadly, my garden has not escaped the effect of this drought. We have not had significant showers for the past couple of months and our three tanks are dropping fast. I have had to take the difficult decision to stop watering my vegetable boxes and save the little water we have left for emergencies.

We are left with some prolific chili bushes, a few straggly beans which I am going to dig back into the soil to add nitrogen and a couple of undersized eggplants that may not reach maturity. I am trying to keep the herbs going.

But all is not lost. There is always a positive side to any sad story. My silver lining lies in my compost production over the years. We are in the process of digging up the compost in our pile and using it to top up the boxes. This compost has been mixed with horse manure from time to time so it’s a lovely rich mixture that’s going to produce wonderful crops in the future. Of course, the worm farm is still being maintained and that will also be used to feed the crops.


This scruffy looking corner is my hope for the recovery of the vegetable garden when the rains eventually come – and I believe the rains will come. So here’s to the recovery of my garden in God’s time.


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.


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!

Abundance in a time of drought


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…..


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.


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. . .


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.

Big Changes and Growth

It’s been a while but I’ve been keeping busy.  After my first two boxes were installed and filled I then had the opportunity to buy and plant two more.  Access to worm tea from our worm farm is a big bonus.  The plants flourish and grow with this fertilizer boost.  I have been able to tap off a considerable amount of liquid fertilizer and it’s about time to harvest the second lot of worm cast manure.  The plants just love it.

I also use natural pest control by making a solution of bicarbonate of  soda and dish soap to keep aphids off my plants.


One of the significant changes is the installation of another tank for harvesting rainwater.  Hubby and his assistants worked very hard to get the new tank installed.


We now have a 2500 litre, a 5000 litre and a 10 000 litre tank.  They have all benefitted hugely from the recent rains.  I think there will be enough to get us through the dry times.  Now we need to do the tidy up in the area.

We then went off on holiday for three weeks.  I missed my garden and worried about it surviving whilst I was gone in spite of having friends and family who looked after the care and watering.  I returned today to get a big surprise.  I recently had a birthday and retired from my job.  As a gift from my family to mark the occasion they bought ten more big boxes and my kind son even lined them with black plastic in preparation for filling.  Wow!  I was bowled over.  Now my  “farm” can really sustain us.


The guys installed the new boxes where I used to have a vegetable bed so I lost some of my half grown crops but the benefits of these new boxes are going to more than make up for the loss.  I’m very excited and look forward to filling and planting in the next few days.  My family also gave me the gift of a voucher to buy heritage seeds and so I am well stocked and ready to let the fun begin.  Thank you to my husband and children for the awesome gift.  It’s all going to keep me off the streets and out of mischief for a while.