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…..



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.


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.


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.

Obstacles and Disappointments

Ok, so the cucumbers have bacterial wilt disease.  When I went to see if there was one or two ready for picking earlier this week I found two that had turned yellow and gone mushy.  I did a google on diseases and found this video that explains my vine’s symptoms. So sad and frustrating.  After all the excitement of watching the vine grow and nurturing it it’s all come to nothing.  I have now followed the recommended suggestion for spraying the vine with soapy water and bicarbonate of soda in the hope that I may still rescue some of the yet to mature cucumbers, but I’m not holding my breath.  It’s all a learning curve.

2016-04-30 15.05.52 I made sure to spray my second vine with the same mixture and hopefully I will have more success with this one. It’s growing on the other side of the garden and hopefully it hasn’t been contaminated by the nasty little creatures that attacked the first vine.

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I love the constantly changing garden as things grow and mature and others are planted.  I planted out the first of my seedlings grown from the Living Seeds I bought.  I also planted a row of beans directly into the soil and they are looking healthy.  There is Swiss Chard, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, butternut and zucchini doing very nicely and establishing themselves this week.  We had some very heavy rain overnight with a sharp drop in temperature.  I was able to gather enough plastic and glass bottles to cover each seedling before the rain fell so they weren’t drowned by the downpours.  The tanks are full to overflowing and everything is looking very happy.

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I have become very focussed on finding other spaces to plant crops.  Our garden isn’t big and with two dogs that enjoy tearing around I have to be sensitive to their need for some space.  This week I found a source for good sized wooden vegetable garden boxes at a reasonable price.  I have ordered four of them and when they are available I will then have to hire a trailer to collect them.  The beauty of using boxes is that they can be moved during the different seasons, depending on the amount of sun required.

2016-04-30 15.06.50These are some of the recycled pots with some happy herbs growing and I have turnips, carrots and celery growing in bags.  They are looking very healthy and we anticipate some good harvests there.

Our red wrigglers are chomping their way through our kitchen scraps and the compost bin is almost ready to be emptied from the bottom.

Winter is officially upon us.  Our area is on the edge of the winter rainfall part of South Africa.  We do get some summer rain but most of it blows in with each successive cold front and can it blow!  Last night we lit our first fire of the season.  Let’s see what next week brings in Gogo’s Growing garden.

Learning and Growing

Growing food is a daily learning curve for this backyard farmer.  I am so grateful for all the people who post and share their own experiences as well as answering questions.  Facebook pages like, Urban Homestead,  Port Elizabeth Urban Agriculture and  Nature’s Way  are a valuable resource for information.

A lovely gift was from friends from our church who gave us a bucket of their red wrigglers to supplement those we bought.  We now have a happy bunch of wriggly worms chomping their way through our kitchen waste.  Thank you Mike and Glyn.

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The first batch of seedlings was ready for planting this weekend.  I was able to plant out some tomatoes, broccoli, Swiss chard, beans and carrots.  Space in my patch is limited so I have resorted to using cheap bags from the hardware store to plant squash, turnips and some more carrots.

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The water in our first tank is getting low now but we still have a full 5000 litre tank at the front of the house.  What a relief to have a source of rainwater.  My biggest concern is pests.  I still see the occasional cut worm and the cucumber vine has some wilting leaves which could be ominous.  The cucumbers are looking good and should be ready to start harvesting within 2 weeks.

Growing food is so good for the soul.  It keeps one out in the fresh air, active and absorbed in the cycle of nature.  It’s definitely worth the trouble.