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!

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.

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.


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.


Containers and fertilizer

I sit here with an aching back and a happy smile.  It’s been a good day in the garden today.  It started off when I went to look for some wooden boxes at a company that buys and sells pallets and the like.  I thought if I can’t get ready made boxes I’ll buy some lumber and prevail upon son or hubby to help me make them up.  They had great boxes for just R80! They’re the boxes that car parts come in and once they are discarded they are sold off.  I was really happy to find such a bargain.  But then came the hard part.  How to get them home?  I don’t have access to a trailer and neither do I have a tow hitch so a trailer is no good to me.  One of the helpers came over and after making the back seats of my little hatchback lie absolutely flat we discovered that by removing two slats from the base of the box we could just get it over the lip of the back door.  Quite a squeeze but it worked.


Even the guys were impressed with the price of the ready made box – I think they are grateful to be spared the task  of making it up.  Once home I lined the box with black plastic and made some holes in it for drainage. Next came the task of filling the box.  This is where the sore back comes in.  The box is deeper than it needs to be so I had to use a lot of organic stuff as the first layer.  Leaves, branches, sticks – all the stuff that goes on the first stage composting pile.  As this matter breaks down and sinks I will have to top up the soil but it’s better than using rocks.  IMG_1058

Once the box was full of a mixture of soil, manure and compost we were ready to plant.  I have some of my lettuce seeds ready for planting out so they are the first to go in.  I have used recycled bottles to cover them for the first few day to help them get established.  The bottles also keep off the chill at night.

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I will be using the box for quick growing leafy vegetables for now.  The joy of it is I don’t have to bend over or crouch, both of which cause my left knee to lock and I struggle to straighten up again.  I will certainly be investing in more of these boxes.  I’m not sure how long the wood will last but for now they serve the purpose.  2016-05-14 15.38.46

We are between crops at the moment.  The baby tomato vines have died off and I’m waiting for the new plants to grow and bear fruit.  We do have turnips, some lettuce, spinach, carrots, a cauliflower and brinjals ready.  Everything else needs a few more weeks.  We do have lots of herbs like rosemary, parsley, basel and lemon grass which are a great for flavour in the cooking.

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The other exciting event today was that I was able to tap off about 1.4 litres of “worm wee” from our worm farm.  This is the first time and I am delighted that the whole system is working.  Once again, well done hubby.  So after a frustrating time doing battle with aphids and cutworm I am feeling more upbeat and encouraged.

Red Wrigglers and Vermicast

I have been thinking about a worm farm for a while but it all seemed like it would be a huge problem to set up.  I am a big fan of researching on the Internet so I went to YouTube and did a search.  This Australian gardener gave a practical and informative description of how to make and maintain a worm farm.  I showed the video to hubby and the next day he came home with all the materials and a few hours later we had the structure for our worm farm.  I am so impressed.


We placed  it under a pin oak in the corner of the garden where it will be in the shade all year around – it’s important to keep the worms cool.  Oh worms!  We have a worm farm but where will I get worms in this city?

I went back to the Internet and came across this site. Wow! The business is situated just a few kilometers from home and Charne was able to supply me with 500 red wrigglers today. I love it when a plan comes together.  So begins the next stage of our “backyard farm” development.

One of the things I’m discovering is that there is less and less waste in our home.  We’ve been recycling for quite a few years but now I find we are using a lot more of the materials we would usually send to the recyclers – like containers, cool drink bottles and cans.  This gardening thing is really producing huge benefits.  The best thing is popping out the back door and picking enough salad greens and baby tomatoes to make a salad for supper.  Today has been an exceptionally hot day here.  It’s Autumn but the temperature at one point was 37deg C.  I hope it’s followed by some drenching rain soon.