Sunday, November 29, 2009

That's it! I am officially done.

Today I officially planted my last seeds - 4 watermelon seeds and 18 corn. We have no more garden space to plant. Thus far we have 6 beds of corn, 5 of potatoes, 1 of runner beans in the main garden. We also have 3 granadilla vines, lots of strawberries and sunflowers growing there.

Outside my kitchen door are my herbs, lettuces and chillies. The grapevine trails along the fence and we have all our hanging baskets with strawberries.

In the other vegetable garden we have cucumbers, gem squash, courgettes, butternut, tomatoes, spinach, berries, beans (4 types), cucumbers, loofahs, azec corn and watermelons.

Growing in the compost are the Ghostrider pumpkins which are doing well after 2 weeks. We have the 6 stacks of tyres at the compost area with more potatoes.

In the newest area which is visible from the gate are sweet potatoes, more mature chilli plants, rhubarb, tomatoes, cape gooseberries and two transplanted Ghostrider pumpkin seedlings taken from the compost.

We are well and truly "full up" and now we have to continue with the watering and feeding routine as well as banking up of potatoes as they grow.

I am already thinking ahead to next year winter when we will convert the last remaining area to incorporate fruit trees and a raised bed for my asparagus.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A second try

When we started growing our own food in June 2008 one of the first things I tried was growing potatoes in tyres. The goal was to create more space and leave the raised beds for other vegetables.

While we recieved a medium success with tyres we really did not get the yield that was expected. We then started growing potatoes in the main beds and had great success.

This year I have used up all my available ground space with corn, potatoes, beans, squash, tomatoes but still had some seed potatoes left over.

We have started off 6 stacks of tyres again for the remaining potatoes. I think when we first grew them I was in a rush and did not let the foliage die back before harvesting, so this time I will be more patient and give them a little more time before harvesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morning visitors

I love going into my garden early in the morning. I am normally up from 5.30 for my excercise session and there is still dew and that fresh crispness in the air even though summer is threatening to burst into full swing.

I see all the squash flowers at their best - wide open waiting for a visitor...

Earlier in the year we were looking into getting a hive. I contacted the Honey Bee Association and bought their book to read. I am allergic to bees so wanted to think it through very carefully before getting a hive.

Not even two chapters in we realized that having a hive would not be an option for our home. We simple don't have enough space. They recommend that a hive not be within 100 m of your home and we just don't have that ground space.

So we went to plan B! Lots of flowers and hanging baskets. Superman took care of this for us with his surprise a few months ago and we planted borage wherever we could.

So even though we don't get the honey, these little morning visitors come to pollinate my flowers and we eat the product of their work.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sharing what we know

My husband and I often talk about community and about making a difference around us. At different stages of our lives this has meant different things to us. The most relevent topic to this blog is how do we share and encourage others to make a difference in their sphere of influence?

Obviously the first area we influence is our direct family. Husbands, wives and children are the ones who will see our lifestyles and our choices first hand. Last night when we had some friends over for a BBQ they asked me if I did this all myself i.e. the food garden makeover. Of course I could never have achieved this on my had to be a team effort with Superman and the other Incredibles helping. A question that followed that one was "Don't they grumble when they have to work?" Of course they do - some more than others and sometimes only one child instead of all.

It is hard work to grow your own food, conserve water, cook from scratch etc. But when children see that this IS what you are going to pursue as a family, it somehow makes it easier for them. Of course making sure that kids have sufficient down time is also important so we limit garden work to 1 hour a day on weekdays and only one morning a weekend. When everyone pulls their weight it is amazing how much you can get done.

I don't like to formalise everything my children learn, living life alongside them is a marvellous teacher. But we do have a few young girls who are keen to bake, sew and learn some homesteading skills. On Friday 4 little girls gathered in my kitchen to learn to make soap. They turned out some perfectly decent bars of lemon grass scented soap.

The next sphere of influence is our extended family. Parents, in-laws and cousins. Christmas 2008 saw us hosting the family for the day and our food garden was in full bloom. We also ordered organic meat for the day and everyone was amazed at the difference in quality for a slightly higher price. My mom in law and cousin-in-law (is there such a thing?) now both have container veggie gardens and have started recycling!

Our next sphere that we influence are friends and neighbours. Again last night at the BBQ we had friends walking around the garden commenting on this and that and asking questions. I feel so good to be able to share my limited knowledge with them so that they too can take some baby steps towards a healthier lifetstyle and producing their own food.

We have also had neighbours coming to see our gardens and to meet our chickens. Two have been inspired to get going on their own gardens and get some chickens.

I often smile when I hear my husband on the phone with clients and somehow the topic gets around to my profession. The conversation the gets onto our food's wonderful to see Superman sharing like this too.

Then in the broadest sphere is this blog, my green website and the forums I belong too. Here I can share with friends in cyberspace and you can take what you want to apply for now and leave the rest for another time. I think it is so important for us all, this worldwide community, to share what we know that can help build up one another, guide others onto a healthier path or just encourage others to take one step forward to improve their lifestyles.

BTW - these photos don't have much to do with this topic, but are just snapshots I have taken over the last while - 1. courgettes in waiting.
2. The girls soap in bags with labels. 3. Bird feeders 4. Freshly picked strawberries this morning for breakfast 5. Half barrel with herbs

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mundane Jobs

There are some very mundane jobs that have to happen in the garden. The first is dealing with the garden shed. Another is tidying we get really strong winds at this time of year and besides for being quite draining on energy supplies, they make a lot of mess.

On Sunday I decided to revamp and clean up the area outside my kitchen door. After the weeks storms it was much needed. This is where I grow my chillies and herbs. It is also where I start my seedlings.

I also had a pot with a huge rhubarb plant that needed to be transplanted and a Cape Gooseberry that was casting shade on the roots of my vine.

The other thing that needed attention was the spent annuals. We planted these in small troughs all along the veggie fence and they were now done for the year.

The vine bed had the fennel removed and made into a yummy soup when my mom was here a week ago. This left space for my rhubarb (which had a hair cut and ended up being pudding last night with custard) and for some little gooseberry plants.

The big Gooseberry in the pot was also trimmed and moved.

And all the seedlings that could be transplanted were settled into new beds, troughs planted up with lettuce and more chillies and the whole area swept.

In the grand scheme of making a food garden, this doesn't seem like much, but we all feel a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when we look out our kitchen door and see a neat area with new things growing and older plants thriving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Squash flowers

All my squashes (butternut, gem, pumpkin and courgette) are flowering so nicely. I have seen a cooking program where you stuff and fry squash flowers and always wanted to give it a try. I just tried a few to see if we like them...

First you need to determine the gender of the flower as you only use the male flowers.

The female always has a swollen fruit developing and in my garden they are much bigger than the male.

The male flower is smaller and has no fruit and drops off very easily.

Gently rinse the flowers and dry them...

Prepare a bowl with beaten egg and drop the flowers in there. Mix together some flour, paprika, salt and pepper in another bowl and then put the egg dipped flowers into the dflour til coated.

Fry and serve with sweet chilli sauce.

They were so yummy that next time I am going to try to stuff them with ricotta and then fry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cooking compost

Today I hit the garden at 6.30am to escape the heat. I did lots and lots of things but will put that in seperate of the big things I did today was bring order to the two compost heaps.

The past week my mom chopped down our now tatty borage plants and added that to the pile and I added the straw and manure from the coop. These all act as accelerators. On Thursday my garden helper added a huge pile of leaves and everything got beautifully soaked by the constant rain that we have had.

So today I filled the caged compost to the top from the loose heap next to it. As I dug the steam and heat rose off it so much that we could feel the heat radiating a good few cm's above. This means that the microbes are doing their thing and we should have some excellent compost in a few months time. On my green site I explain how to layer your compost for the best results.

A special friend of mine, who sadly moved away for a year or so, once mentioned to me in passing that she had read that you should always have 3 heaps in rotation. This makes sense as you will be drawing compost from one heap, waiting on the second and building the third. We haven't figured out where to put a third yet so we just have two.

The other thing she mentioned was the the heap in waiting could also be used to grow pumpkins. I decided to give this a go. I do have pumpkins growing up an A-frame but my mom gave me some organic Ghostrider seeds and I need a place to grow this. They look like those typical Jack-O-Lantern type pumpkins.

I dug a hole in the heap and cut the bottom of a small garden pot out. I then filled the pot with some rich soil and added two seeds. They then get pushed down about 10cm and covered over, then place in the compost hole.

Why two seeds? On the back of most squash packets it says that you will let both germinate but then let only the strong one grow to maturity. These pumpkins need to be 1.2m apart so we place one pot with 2 seeds in the front corner and one pot with 2 seeds in the back corner of the cage.

Now I must just remember to keep them watered and hopefully we will be able to have some great pumpkins come autumn.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Out with the old - in with the new

We have had rain for a week. It put all my planting and garden work on hold but it was good for the earth. My cabbages are finally done so this area was freed up this week and I have been chomping at the bit to plant it up.

It's a nice size area and with the A-frames I can maximize the space. I had to remove a shrub first, seeing that Superman and Robyn are away for the weekend, the job fell to me. After some serious digging and heaving and moaning and digging I was able to get it out and preserve the root ball. This shrub is now replanted elsewhere - hope it survives.

I have divided the area as follows: The A-frame at the back will have loofahs growing as my first batch died... :-( so I planted those seeds today. The A-frame to the left has my second planting of cucumbers. They should show themselves in a few days.

The back section, closest to the loofahs is for some Black Aztec Corn. Apparently one can eat it while young like sweetcorn, but when it dries it goes blue/black. This is then ground into a polenta. Sounds interesting, but this is really a favour for someone as he needs some dried cobs back for his seed collection.

The front section is allocated for half my carbon tomatoes, also a "black" vegetable. Apparently it is the best tasting tomato "in the world". They have been carefully nurtured from seed. We orginally planned to grow them upside down, but they are a large fruit so into the ground they go!

In the front of this are some Swiss Chard plants that are still bearing - I will let them run their course until I feed and turn that bed. I am thinking of planting another watermelon plant there...but these days I change my mind like the weather. I guess I am allowed to do that!?!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Budding photographer

I know this is a little OT, but my daughter took these two photos and I want to share them...

My organic beans from the UK are flowering...

The latch to our veggie garden....

Thank goodness for bulbinella

Yesterday while there was a break in the constant rain that has been falling since Saturday I got stuck in and weeded my waist high corn.

We had added lots of manure to this bed a few weeks back and the problem with that is that all the weed seeds eaten by the horses tend to germinate.

There was one weed/nettle that had sprung up and when I grabbed it, it was like fire in my fingers. The burning was so painful I went to look for a local antihistamine...but I had none.

Then I remembered my Bulbinella plant which I always grow near my kitchen. It is an indigenous plant to SA and is useful for any wound, burn or sting. You simply break a leaf off and squeeze out the sticky sap and rub it on the sore area. Within a few minutes all burning had subsided.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Guavas...guavas...and more guavas!

I mentioned that my mom bought 3 boxes of guavas from the farm. We have given away 1 box to friends and the other two we processed today. There are a few things you need for this:

A mom (you will need companionship)
Wooden spoons
Lots of big pots
Consol jars and lids
Place 2 clean saucers in your fridge (yes really!)

The nice thing with this recipe is that there are no specific kg's that are needed. Just follow the ratio and it works out well. Sterlize your bottles in boiling water or the oven and then leave them in the oven until you need them.

Choose green and just ripe guavas for this as the green skins have a high percentage of pectin that you need for setting. Wash them well and top and tail them.

We peeled half for stewed guavas which are so nice in my oatmeal pie and just with custard. The first part of this blog is this recipe.

Place your peeled guavas in a pot with 2 cups water and 1/2 cup sugar. Steam until just soft.

Place them with some of the syrup in the sterilized jars and then seal.

For guava jam, use unpeeled top-and-tailed guavas and boil them in a little water until just soft.

Then place them in a sieve and press them through until you just have the peels and pips left. This is a tedious job and I would have broken out in tears if I didn't have my mom to keep me company and alternate with!

Keep the pulp in a seperate pot but make sure to keep count of the number of cups you press through. We got 23 cups of pulp from all our guavas.

When you have all the pulp you need to add 1/2 the amount of sugar. In fact I did 1 cup of pulp to 3/4 cup of sugar.

Heat the pot of pulp and sugar to a gentle simmer, stirring all the time so that it doesn't catch. Another tedious part. It will start to thicken and darken after 20 minutes.

You can check whether it is setting by taking a little and dropping it onto a saucer. If it gels a little when you push it with your finger it is done.

Bottle up and seal. You can water bath them but I didn't.

We have enough jam now for many months, and it is so delicous we may even eat it on our oatmeal tomorrow.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blueberry pie - simply divine!

My mom arrived on Thursday with a load of fruit. She bought about 20kg's of guavas and 1 kg of blueberries. The guavas are going to be processed into jam and guava butter, but the blueberries went into a pie. There is nothing like a pie for dessert to conjure up warm homely feelings.

I used this recipe for my pie. It called for 6 cups of blueberries. The hint of lemon zest added the most amazing taste to the pie. We had a dinner guest this night and even he, who is a very cool calm and collected teen, licked his chops and said "Wow" - high praise from him indeed!

With the one cup left over, I made a delicious smoothie with our strawberries and a banana and yoghurt.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The asparagus problem

I have a big gardening problem...I am running out of space - fast!

I have only two more beds to plan up and have to use those for annual crops not permanent ones.

Here's an indulgent confession - I love asparagus. Not like your normal "Oh look there is some asapragus to eat" more like a "Gimme gimme gimme MORE!" love!

So this winter we started 18 asparagus plants in our hotbox and they are ready for transplanting - but they have no where to go!

The ones above are the more mature plants from April this year. I have some others which are still only showing one frond that were planted in August.

Asparagus need about 1m square per plant to spread and grow over the 3 years before harvesting. I just do not have that kind of space to hand over permanently. We do have the new flower bed that Superman just created but that would mean that in winter when we cut the plant down we would have a bare patch.

The great thing is my mom arrives today for the weekend and I know she will help me find a solution...cause I gotta gotta gotta have my asparagus. Even if I have to wait 3 years for it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All things green...

This morning in the early sun I was so pleased by the color in my vegetables.

Pumpkins growing up the trellis...

The first potatoes planted in September waving hello...

My courgettes, all the way from the UK...

And my knee high Indian Rainbow Corn.