Saturday, August 28, 2010

10 easy foods to grow in small spaces

Today I was meant to be in the garden enjoying a full day of gardening while my precious ones were away for the weekend visiting Granny...however rain has forced me inside. I am not going to waste the time though! I have to plan our new veggie area and do some reading on more ways to grow nutritious food for my family.

A couple of months ago I bought a book called Fresh Food From Small Spaces which I enjoyed reading. While many of the things he recommended we had already implemented there were other ideas that we hadn't thought of. A few of the following suggestions come from this book, others are from what we have learnt along the way.

1. Salads in container troughs - these can be used outside on balconies, in courtyards or even on sunny window sills.

2. Carrots in deep buckets - large round buckets with drainage holes in the bottom are a great way to grow carrots. Again balconies, courtyards or sunny spots in your home. Just remember to use a tray to catch the overflow! Don't want stained carpets.

3. Hanging baskets for strawberries - even though these are seasonal treats, the health benefits of fresh berries are fantastic.

4. Sprouts - buy a sprouting system and make a variety of fresh sprouts for salads and sandwiches. This takes up such a little space on your kitchen counter.

5. Herbs in containers or hanging baskets - used for flavour or medicinal purpose, herbs are a must have in ever kitchen garden.

6. Miniture fruit trees or berry plants in pots - balconies or courtyards are great for this.

7. Making your own yoghurt or kefir which is full of good intestinal flora is simple to do in small spaces.

8. Growing mushrooms in a dark area! This is from the book and is a novel idea, one I will try someday as I love mushrooms.

9. Using wall space with trellises for beans, peas or vine. Beans and peas can be planted in large diameter pots against a wall with a trellis behind.

10. Wheat or barley grass is an easy power food to grow on your windowsill and can be used in smoothies and vegetable juices.

So there you go, some interesting ways to get whole food from your small spaces.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Growing Broad Beans ~ Winter Delicacy.

We have had our second meal with broad beans as a side serving. These have to be one of the most delicious vegetables to hit our plates yet.

The first time I tasted broad beans was at the local bistro last winter and knew that I had to grow my own. I was delighted to find them at the end of summer at our garden shop.

Broad beans can only be grown in winter in our Mediterranean climate. They take three to four months to start yielding and thereafter should be picked regularly.

Something that I learnt in my son's botany studies this year is that all plants primary goal is to make seed so that it can continue its type. Therefore if we pick the beans, the plant will make more flowers to make more seed (which we will again pick.)

The plants can grow to 1.5 m tall and can be staked individually or as a bunch like I did. I used 6 stakes and then tied a thick plastic rope around them to give some stability. The winds here can snap the stalk easily.

The flowers are gorgeous aren't they? My gardening book says the pollen (and the beans) can be fatal to people of Southern European Descent due to an inherited disorder called Favism!! Goodness! So if that's you, don't sniff them :-)

The pods can be eaten when very young, but the beans are best fully grown to the size of a R2 coin. Slit them open on one side, push the beans out into a pot with your thumb and steam lightly. Eat just like that. They taste like a soft-sweet-pea-cross-green bean, really intriguing.

As they are part of the legume family they are really good to plant after the heavy feeding crops of summer so that they can fix nitrogen in the soil.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Finding "green" in unexpected places

Today we took a group of 26 homeschooled teens and parents to an outing where they could learn about the hotel industry.

We were treated to pastries and coffee, a short screen show and then taken on a tour of the hotel, back and front office. This is the largest hotel in Cape Town with 536 rooms. After the tour we were enjoyed a finger lunch with some of the executives.

At the kitchen area our guide told us they were "very proud of their waste area", which we couldn't really understand until we went in and saw their operation.

All appropriate waste food is processed through a worm farm. Two large baths are set up in their refuse section (which I must add was spic and span). The worm juice is used in the hotel gardens or given to their staff to use in their home gardens.

All recycled materials are sorted and collected weekly.

As well as these obvious things was something that is even more noteworthy - once used soaps and shampoos/conditioners are donated to an organization that works with street children.

All towels or bedding that is not perfect is sent to homeless shelters.

I know we went for so much more - to open the world of work to our children - but this has left an lasting impression on me.

Well done to this hotel who in a year has gone from nothing to dealing with 60% of their waste! This is the highest benchmark for a city based hotel on our continent!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creating a herb spiral

Please forgive me for using my blog as an extension of my discoveries and education, but I thought that others may also benefit from my learning journey. So today I have been sitting making a plan for our garden so that Superman and kids can do a lot of the work while I am in the UK next month. (They offered!)

We have decided that the circular beds which I like so much will not work for our space so we will have to go with more rectangular shapes but will build a chook box to fit over the beds for them to clean out when the time is right.

But in my searching around for information on how to make this area a buzzing ecosystem instead of just a vegetable garden I came across these two videos on creating a herb spiral. It makes so much sense to make a herb garden like this and I will definately incorporate this into our plan.

No need to watch the first video all the way to the end (and the music is rather irratating!) but using straw as a bedding material is a great idea...the second video shows a mature herb spiral...just wonderful!

Have any of my readers incorporated a spiral in their gardens? Please let me know!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Urban Permaculture

For those with tiiiiny gardens spend 15 minutes watching these two videos and be my searching for information I happened onto these two videos at Youtube on Urban Permaculture Gardening.

This couple has 75 sq m available to grow vegetables and manages to grow 250kg of food per year which is much more intensive than agricultural land. Taking into account that they are in the UK and can only grow food from May - Oct this is a huge achievement. They use a combination of permaculture techniques, forest gardening and companion planting.

It's when I see something like this that I am even more inspired to use the space that I have available for growing food more effectively.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Herein lies the rub...permaculture possibility?

Superman and I have been talking about our last piece of garden. This is an area of lawn with a border of trees. It is the part of the garden where Big White Dog romps widly as he chases cars that come around our corner (even if he can't see them, silly thing!)

We have tried very hard to get lawn to grow here, even buying two sets of roll on lawn over 2 years. Last year we sowed a special type of lawn seed which was doing OK until BWD flattened it and compacted the soil.

This is looking at the area towards the gate.

It is in full sun in Winter until about 3pm when the house shadows it. In summer it is half in shade from the towering Stinkwood in the front yard.

This is the area from the gate to where the previous photo was taken.

Superman wants to pull up the lawn and plant corn and potatoes. I had another plan in mind. I thought of building a raised bed around the wall where I could plant my fruit trees. I would then plant the asparagus in between the trees.

But my brain has been working over this area for quite sometime and I am wondering whether a circular "permaculture" garden wouldn't be better. I am thinking that the fence which you can see on the left of BWD could be completely closed off with a gate and we could make a chook dome and circular beds for our veggies.

This way I can have the raised bed along the wall and we can have more harmonious round pathways wandering through the garden.

The only other problem I have is my clinging to this silly colonial "must-have-lawn" thing in my head. My children are bigger now and don't really play in the garden and the dogs (and children) have ample place to run on the paths and with walks out.

So, here I am thinking aloud....if any of the readers on my little blog have experience with permaculture gardens, then please leave me your comments.

So far I have found these two resources to read through:

Small Farm Permaculture

Permaculture Principals

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Caring for perennial Vegetables

I have spent some time this week reading up on how to care for my perennial vegetables, fruit vines and berry canes. My gardening books all talk about adding 2:3:2 and 3:1:5 but as we have successfully managed, for the most part, to grow and feed our veggies organically, I needed to "read between the lines" and see what I could find from natural sources.

These are my perennials that need some TLC at the moment, photos were form last season.

Grape Vine ~ Strawberries ~ Blue Berry ~ Black Berry ~ Lemon and Orange Tree ~ Olive Tree ~ Granadilla Vine ~ Rhubarb ~ Asparagus

I started with the simplest - rhubarb. Our chickens have enjoyed eating all the winter leaves off my humble rhubarb. So yesterday we decided to uproot the 4 plants and put them into a side patch in the fenced garden so that they can yield again in summer. These just needed some compost and water and a replanting.

My asparagus is still in the trailer park and Superman and I are debating their permanent position. Yesterday we trimmed off all the dead fronds and fed them some worm juice. More on worm juice in a moment. In the next two months we need to have them planted in their permanent position.

Our grape vine is still bare, new leaves should appear in about 3 - 4 weeks time. It's time to start watering it with a slow trickle of a hose. It will also enjoy a nitrogen feed about now.

The granadilla vine needs nitrogen now too, as well as some epsom salts. A natural source of potassium like wood ash, or volcanic ash is also a good feed right now. Tomorrow Superman and son are going to make upside down L-shaped brackets so that we can train the vine to grow forwards and the fruit can hand down. At the moment it is trying to lace itself into our electric fence which cause the poor thing to get fried!

For my black berry plant, I was told to feed it a banana smoothie as the flowers start to show. Bananas are high in potassium so when you have over ripe bananas, blend them up, skin and all, and place it around the base of the plant.

Blueberries need an acidic soil and peat moss is the best source for this, unfortunely using peat does not = green gardening. Peat beds are being dug up at a rate faster than it can replesnish istself, so it is best to stear clear of using it in your garden. A great organic substitute is Rooibos mulch or going for a walk in a pine forest and collected some needles. These can just be used around the base of the plant and the acidic residue will leech through to the roots.

Yesterday we repotted our strawberry plants that we grew from the parent plants. We have another 10 or so plants now for this coming season. All fruit plants benefit from SEAGRO or LIQUI-nure. This is where the worm juice comes in. Worm juice is very high in nitrogen and other nutrients. I dilute mine 1 to 10 and feed to my hanging baskets at least once a month. But in the height of summer we don't get enough juice so I do buy liquid feed.

I am toying with the idea of making some KELP TEA as this also is full of wonderful nutrients for my garden.

My olive and citrus tree need to be replanted. They are in big wine barrels at the moment and as soon as we have done our big clear out in the last part of the garden, we will transplant them there.

In my reading I saw that BAT GUANO is brilliant for promoting flowers on fruit trees, so I am going to have to source some of it somewhere....mmmh!?!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Winter Garden

I know we are very fortunate to be able to grow veggies all year round. Last winter I wasn't too equipped with winter veggie growing and had lots of bare patches. This season only one bed has stood empty.

We finished school up early today and headed into the garden. We are having unseasonal weather with long hot dry spells and none of the wild wet days normally experienced at this time of year.

We dug up some sweet potatoes. Tomorrow I am going to make baked sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping!

Here are some views of the garden...

My broad beans are delighting me...first time I am growing them and they stand as tall as me. We staked them today by using 6 stakes and tying some chord around them. At the base of the stems, the first ones are almost ready.

We also have carrots a plenty, cabbage, spinach and turnips all ready to eat. A much more successful winter this season.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gooseberry Hunt

Our Cape Gooseberries are ripening. We have about 8 plants scattered through the yard. Some were planted intentionally, others are just blooming where they self seeded.

We don't have enough ripening at once to make anything like jams or tarts, but we do enjoy their sour taste as we hunt for them among the stems. There is always enough for each of us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When Old Fashioned Becomes In Fashion

My children and I are planning a fun 80's party for ourselves and some other families. We are dressing 80's, listening 80's, dancing 80's and eating 80's in a couple of weeks time.

The 80's were a tough time for me, but there are some great recipes I remember from the 80's that my mamma used to make. I think that these puddings will never go out of fashion in my home.

Like so many things "old fashioned" there are some really good things there and alot of things that are coming back in. The whole retro look in decor, clothing and the slow cooking movement, are all things that we discarded in favor of new, up to date and fast food.

You know, my mom still uses the same grater and chopping boards that she used when I was a kid. They still work, so why should they be thrown away? Same with comfort food. Well, these puddings of hers still work.

A favorite memory of mine is vinegar pudding.

500 ml water
400 g white sugar
125 ml brown vinegar
30 ml butter
125 ml brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
180 g cake flour
5 ml bicarbonate of soda
10 ml ground ginger
2 ml freshly grated nutmeg
2 ml salt
30 ml smooth apricot jam

First make the syrup. Boil the water, sugar and vinegar for 5 minutes, then set aside to cool.

To make the pudding, cream the butter and brown sugar together, then add the eggs, beating constantly.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, nutmeg and salt into the egg mixture and mix well. Blend in the jam.

Pour the cooled syrup into a baking or ovenproof dish and spoon in the batter.
Bake the pudding at 180 C for 40 minutes.
Serve warm with custard.

Talking about slow food, as a kid I clearly remember my mom asking me "for a finger" to hold the string while she sealed the pudding bowl for steamed pudding.

I had made some fresh strawberry jam (see below) and used that instead of the more traditional apricot jam.

I emailed my mamma and she sent me the recipe:

To make a perfect steamed pudding.
1) The water must be boiling when the pudding goes on to cook.
2) Water must be kept boiling fairly rapidly for the first hour.
3)Use either margerine, whipped up cooking fats (shortenings) or butter.
4) Some modern Margerines and fats cream very quickly so if in a hurry use these.
(Told you this is a very old book)
5) Watch the water under the pudding to be sure it is boiling.
When filling up the water level always use boiling water.
6) Cover the top of the pudding very well.Use either foil or paper covered with pudding cloth cut to shape of bowl plus a little wider for overlap. Tie on with thin string.

Steamed jam pudding. (cooking time one and half hours)

3 oz Margerine or butter
2 Eggs
1 Tbl spoon milk
3oz Castor sugar
4 oz flour (with plain flour use 1 level tsp baking powder)
2 level Tbs jam

Place all ingredients (except the jam) into mixing bowl.
Beat well for 2 minutes.
Grease bowl very well.
Place jam at bottom and pudding mixture on top.
Cover tightly.
Put into pot of rapidly boiling water.
Cover and steam for 1 and half hours.
Turn onto hot dish and serve immediately.
Can be served with extra jam sauce.
This makes 4 good servings.
For two people use half quantity and steam for 1 hour in smaller bowl.

Jam sauce

4 good Tbs jam
Juice of 1 lemon (to taste)
2Tbs Water

Boil until jam melted (about 4 minutes)

The the last pudding we made recently was from Jamie At Home on BBC Food. What a delightful program. I love his garden and this pud had us all salivating!

Jamie Oliver's creamy rice pudding with warm strawberry jam and meringues. I know you can't see the rice in the picture, but it is there, promise. (BTW, I used risotto rice and it worked great!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Always have a plan B!

Today I had planned to do some potting of strawberry plants. But rain started around 4am and didn't let up. I am happy to have the rain as we have had a very dry winter so far.

Luckily I had a plan B which was kitchen based work. So today the kiddos and I got stuck in and made the following:

Canned 4 jars of pears in a light syrup.

Our olives are ready so we rinsed them and put them into a red wine vinegar, olive oil and water solution.

Canned 2 jars of guavas.

And made 4 jars of passionfruit butter.

This recipe is from my favorite book "Living the Good Life" by Linda Cockburn. We tripled it as we had so many fruits to use.

1 cup passion fruit pulp
50g butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar

Melt the butter and sugar in a double boiler. Add the pulp. Then add the beaten eggs and stir until thickened. Pour into sterilized jars.

We eat it on toast, flapjacks or on ice cream. (And if no one is looking, I steal a spoon of it every now and again :-))

Saturday, August 7, 2010

With a goose to welcome us!

Today's outing was everything I had hoped for. A little bit of homeschool networking, lots of beauty and a bit of real life learning for myself.

The canola fields on the way out to Malmesbury are in bloom.

And the blanket on the bench outside the studio reminded me of my Grandma.

I learnt the difference between wool and yarn. Below is a picture of the gorgeous 100% banana leaf yarn. Carle also sells Sari Silk Yarn which comes with a heartbreaking but happy ending story. Both yarns I need to wait for until my skills develop, I think.

Two woman arrived with their portable spinning wheels and sat admidst the shoppers spinning.

There is also unspun wool waiting for someone to create something beautiful.

I came home with 3 skeins of "Spaghetti Aran" which is Merino Silk Kid Mohair, according to the label. I also bought balls of sock wool. I am setting a new goal of learning how to knit socks by next winter.

This is "self striping" wool which fascinates me...I have to try it to believe it. But need to get my sock knitting skills in place.

I am assured by both Carle and her friend Terry that knitting gets easier the more you "play" with it. Both ladies make up patterns as they go along and amazingly things turn out as planned. I feel happy with my made up recipes, but will wait a while for the making up of knitting patterns.

The last thing that I must mention is that Carle's wool is HAND PAINTED. Still trying to figure this one out...but this means that each skein/ball is unique to you. This makes me understand the "nuturing" part of the business name so well.

And then this photo is just because who can resist a calf?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nuturing Fibres

I wish Saturday would hurry up and come....! Why?

How does this sound? All naturally dyed yarns, personally selected wool and hand spun at home! Yip, thats where I am going...

If you live in Cape Town you can come too...

Carle invites everyone to come to the opening of Nuturing Fibres Studio.

"We are excited to invite you to join us for the opening of our farm fibre studio on the 7th August. We will be officially opening at 10h30 and will be celebrating for the duration of the day.

We will be serving tea, coffee, and other lovely goodies, so come on over!

The trading hours for the studio will be 10h30-17h00, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays."

Contact Carle for directions on her blog.

I wish I could knit like that!

Don't live in Cape Town but want some of these yarns? You can purchase her yarns at her Etsy Shop

Sunday, August 1, 2010

1067m Above Sea Level

That's where we went this morning. Top of Table Mountain in the cable car. The last time I was up there was 22 yrs ago with Superman when we were just engaged to be married.

We unfortunetly had a horrific end to that trip 22yrs ago when we missed the last cable car down and had to WALK down the mountain after consuming a bottle of "Chatty Little Red", olives and cheese while watching the sunset over the ocean.

Taking our children up there was a delightful outing and a departure from the norm for our Sundays when we normally just rest at home. But there was a special on where two children go free for every paying adult and as it would normally cost us close to R800 to take our family up, this was a bargain!

I was all ready for the see I finished my rolled beanie and fingerless mittens this week. I just loved this wool and the bright colors! Sadly, by the time we had walked a bit around on the top of the mountain, we were peeling off the layers and there was no need for the woolies!

I don't normally share photos of us here, just of the garden, but here we are today at the top of one of the most famous mountains in the world! Sorry about the sunglasses and squinting but we were looking into the sun!

At 10a.m. we were above the "clouds" which was ultra-cool for our little guy!

As the sun burned the fog below away we could see Green Point Stadium...not sure if its an eyesore now or not.

Either way, if you can get away from the crowds of tourists, it is a wonderful outing and was full of memories for us.