Monday, November 29, 2010

Irrigating the garden

For a while now I have been wanting to try another way of irrigating the garden. We have borehole water but I have to schlep the hosepipe around and the sprinkler we use does not only cover the beds, but the pathways too.

I have tried a variety of sprinklers over the years and have not yet found anything that is direct enough. I have thought of an Olla but it would cost too much to buy them, or make them. I also thought of drip irrigation but the pressure from the borehole is too high and it would not work either. Superman (did I mention that all homes need one of Them) has been trying to think of a way to do it for me at the lowest cost and effort. We have one big problem here in Cape Town - WIND WIND and more WIND.

Last night we rigged up an idea to see if it could work and as the wind was blowing hard it was a good time to test it. Unfortunetly, while this will simplify my watering time dramatically, the wind makes it only good for windstill days.

We used a simple frame with irrigation piping attached to it with cable ties (that one is for you Sean - I know how you like your cable ties!) and then had 2 360 deg and 2 180 deg sprinklers attached to it. Two beds are connected and all I have to do is plug in the hose from the pump and turn it on. On windy days we will need another plan...

I also just need to share what the Smallest Super Hero did today...when we cut down the trees he was devastated. He was rehousing nests and chameleons left right and centre. He then asked about a pond and we got that in. As he was filling it (see post below) he had tears in his little eyes and said: "I am so happy I could cry". Then he asked how else we could get birds back...and the feeding station came to life in his mind. This is what he made all on his own today:

The apple and pine cone feeder are stuck onto nails he hammered through from the bottom and he is making suet blocks for the other two nails. We already had the little green seed feeder and my father in law had bought the nectar feeder for us a while back. It is filled with a sugar water solution, a dab of marmite and some red coloring. The White Eyes love it.

And this evening we were rewarded with a dragon fly sitting on our asparagus. Nature will return....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Superman did - a good news story.

Yesterday was a huge garden day. Superman and kids pulled out all the stops. We also hired two young men again to help with the digging. Here is what we did....

This is what the garden looked like at 7.30am when we started.

We set to clearing everything out so we had a blank slate. We have lots of wood chopped for winter, leaves and twigs for the compost, the rest will go to a centre where they make compost from garden refuse.

We started preparing the holes for the fruit trees. We dug out twice the diameter of the pot they are in. Filled it with compost leaves and manure. Then a layer of soil and filled the holes with water.
The avo tree was so pot bound we had to loosen the roots. In it went and a layer of compost and manure was put around it - not touching the stem. Lucky decided it was the perfect place to lie - I guess she is missing the trees too.

Then Superman and Son set to making the frames for the raised beds. We have made them the same dimesions as our first beds so that when we make the movable chook pen the pen will fit over all of the equally.

Into each raised bed we added 3 bags of manure, 2 of compost and other leaf matter.

Look at all the wormies...bring back life to the soil.

Then we wet the beds and sprinkled lucerne seeds over the surface and a fine layer of sand. We will let this grow a few inches then dig it in as a green manure.

Superman is my HERO! He has made a home for my asparagus. This is the first of 2 and each hold 4 plants.

My littlest one came up with an idea of having a wildlife pond. I am so excited about this...I should have thought of it - du-uh! And Superman grabbed this idea with both hands and by the end of yesterday the pond was dug, lined and stones laid around half the edge.

I will plant herbs and indigenous plants around it, get some tadpoles and we hope that it will become a thriving ecosystem. We will put the bird feeding station nearby too. The edges slope very gently so that wildlife can come and visit it and get in and out easily.

By the end of yesterday (4pm) we had planted two trees, made a pond (3/4 of the way), made and filled 3 raised beds, made an saparagus planter, planted 4 asparagus plants and created a new compost heap.

Like I said - Superman and kids are my heroes!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Warning, what follows is quite depressing!

Back at the beginning of 2008 when I happened onto the Dervaes urban homestead I knew we would do a similar thing with our garden. The first 3 areas have been easy...well, easy-ish. There weren't that many trees in those areas and they were not being used for anything else besides floral borders.

This last area that we have been working on clearing for the last 4 weeks has been a real slog. The root mat and root balls that need to be taken out have sometimes taken days to deal with.

We decided to get in two young men to work for this last week and they have done a great job clearing out everything. So now we have a stripped bare area. My son and his friend, along with Superman's supervision, built all the fences on Sunday.

We have been relocating nests and chameleons. But the saddest thing happened this week when I noticed we were not being woken by the normal choruses of birds. They don't care that the trees are not indigenous, they were quite happy with anything!

So this week I have had a very heavy heart when I walk through my garden. At the same time I know the area will become a hive of critters again and be a healthy ecosystem, but for right now it's a sad empty place.

The soil is dead, not one thing exists worms or bugs, its dry sand and water does not even penetrate...we certainly have our work cut out for us. This weekend will see us planting the 4 fruit trees, making raised beds and special planters for our asparagus.

I am also considering a wetland/pond area to attract other wildlife and my littlest one will make a bird feeding station.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why I let my marrows grow BIG!

Most people like to harvest baby marrows - in fact a friend of mine whose Dad supplies the retailers with baby marrows, has to pick through the night sometimes because a true "baby marrow" is under a certain size.

I feel that once the flower is pollinated (often I do it by hand when I don't see bees) then it makes sense to allow it to grow full size for my hungry family. I check the skin when it gets to about my forearm length and if my nail can lightly scratch the skin, then its time to pick.

This was one of last years ones, this year I will let them get a bit bigger.

We get about 4 a week of full size, and yes Cath, this is when we have to come up with 101 ways to eat marrow! Here are my 3 most favourite ways:

Marrow, butternut and potato bake:

1 Large or 2 medium butternuts
An equal amount of potatoes
1 large marrows
3 Slices of feta cheese with herbs
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
Fresh or dried chives and parsley (1/2 cup)
1 Tbsp mustard
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil
Preheat oven at 180 degrees C
Peel and cut butternut in cubes
Place in large oven tray on 3 tbsp oil
Sprinkle herbal or garlic salt lavishly all over
Put in oven
Peel and cur potatoes in cubes and cook
Prepare baby marrows, cut in 2 mm slices
Sprinkle baby marrows on butternut and add some more salt
Bake together for 10 to 15 min
Put sunflower seeds in shallow bowl or lid of glass bowl and put on one corner of oven tray with butternut and baby marrows, leave in oven till golden brown
In large bowl mix:
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp mustard
Chopped chives and parsley
Crumbled feta cheese
Juice of one lemon
Add slightly cooled sunflower seeds
Stir and leave to stand
Add baked butternut and cooked potatoes and stir

Zucchini Fritters
Made with flour, egg, seasonings and grated marrow. Served with sweet chilli sauce and coriander.

Battered marrow rings:
Slice the marrow into thickish rings. Dip in beaten egg and season flour and fry gently in olive oil.
And toward the end of the season when we feel we just can't eat any more, I grate them and freeze them in bags to use in stews, soups and pasta sauces (or fritters) over winter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yummy first harvest

I am counting what we picked yesterday as our first harvest for spring. We have been eating from the garden all through winter, but when the first beans and marrows appear, it's harvest.

Broccoli, caulifower, 4 big marrows, and a colander of beans. There are also strawberries ripening by the dozen each day...soon it will be time for jam!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Training the troops

As I have not much news to share about our homestead - everything is growing along - I thought I would share about something that is close to my heart - children and work.

Often people ask if my children willingly work in the garden and why I feel they need to work in the garden if it's "my hobby".

First I do not see myself as a hobby gardener. I think we are busy with something much bigger over here and whilst not being sure of the ultimate goal, we are working together towards learning a skills set which has been lost in the passage of time for most 21st century dwellers.

I am in no way a doomsday prophet like some of the survival types I bump into on the web, and while I respect their viewpoint, my faith is in a loving Father God who will care for me and mine. However, along with this faith I believe I need to read the times and what I see is alot of food related illnesses, GM foods, feedlot beef as the new normal, rising food costs and plenty of behaviour based issues in children with links to preservatives and colorants.

This led us to trying to grow some of our own vegetables back in 2008. When we started on that journey the children were excited to help. My then 11yr son was a keen helper with the woodwork - building the vegetable bed frames, fences and a hot of other things.

My elder daughter (then 13) loved planting the seedlings and getting new vegetables started. Our then 9 year old would lovingly water and care for the plants...our then 6 year old was the chief harvester.

As the years wore on and we added two new areas, lots of containers and baskets, we found that their interest wained and it became necessary to set aside family gardening time which happened to be Sunday mornings. After breakfast we would work for a few solid hours until the job list was done for the day and then after lunch their time was their own.

Some of the children would grumble and groan more than others but as I know that what we are doing is for the good of all, we insisted on the work being done. From small my children have been actively involved in the running of this household. It's a busy one with both Superman and myself having home businesses, homeschooling, animals and cooking from scratch, and I had to admit to myself early on that I cannot do it all alone.

While my husband jokingly calls our foursome "the slave labor", we actually believe that learning to work hard is a priviledge that they have - to be actively involved in building a strong team, caring for our environment and learning skills like growing food, preserving and canning, cooking from basic ingredients, conserving energy, living frugally and more.

Here are some ways that our children serve in our home -
Daily chores
Feeding animals
Cleaning up after animals
Preparing meals (each child has one evening a week to cook)
Making lunches
Sowing seed
Watering pots and containers
Making fences
Chopping down/pruning trees
Turning compost

Lots of things to keep them busy!

Recently we decided that the load was too heavy on a Sunday when we found ourselves working past lunch time. We had a rethink and a family chat and they asked to have more daily garden chores assigned to them so that they could work less on a Sunday.

Summer is here now, so there are the gorgeous windstill early mornings to look forward to where we can picnic, go to the beach or have breakfast at a local dam. Therefore we changed things around to accomodate the children's desire and our need for downtime on a weekend.

By the way...we do not pay our children for garden chores unless we would have to pay a professional to do the job anyway. For instance, we have had to remove large amounts of trees and root stumps and as my elder son has embraced this job which we would have had to pay someone to do, we are paying him. Funnily enough he often does not always want money but rather another currency - computer time, so we do an 1hr in the garden for 1 hr on the PC like a charm!

I do hope that you all encourage your family to be part of your homesteads in whatever way you can!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Protecting my breakfast!

Our strawberries are ripening daily and are deliciously sweet. I use them for snacks, on flapjacks, waffles and pancakes but also for quick fruit salads on hot mornings.

The birds also think they are yummy for snacks so we have had to come up with a way to protect the berries so that they are not ruined with one peck before totally ripe.

My younger daughter has lots of CD's that she no longer needs and is rigging up these deterrents on all our hanging baskets. So far it's working.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's happening in my little homestead...

Here is an update on our late spring has finally warmed and the pool is in use! Watering has also increased and the children have to water pots and baskets everyday before school starts and the gardens get a deep soaking every second day.

Let's go from worst to best shall we? Remember that wasteland I mentioned? Well, we are still busy with cutting down trees (makes my heart ache!) and clearing bushes. I had hoped to be done by now, but we can only work on it on Sundays. My son spends at least 1hr a day hacking away to remove the one root's his goal for this week. Here is what the left front garden looks like...sad, sad, sad.

Then my herb tower has spiralled out of control...

We use something from here every night.

Chickens are doing well, but we are not getting more than 3 eggs a day, that means 2 are laying on alternate days.

Our first veggie garden is growing corn, tomatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce and strawberries (on the wall). We have rhubarb in the back with some cauli and broccoli.

Our second veggie garden is producing stunning marrows, carrots and spinach...soon will be cucumbers and pumpkins. I just planted some brinjal and chillies out here too.

Then the last area is growing strawberries and self seeded borage. Luckily they do well together.

Underneath my washline and outside the bathroom window we have made a narrow bed which I am using to grow runner beans and tomatoes. Today we found a Cape Chameleon there. This is an encouraging sign.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last stop - visiting Sally

Sally is a homeschool mum, like me but she has been working as well over the last few months. Her hubby is a wonderful support and took over some of the schooling while she had to work. Her family works like a team and after a busy day we enjoyed a braai (BBQ) prepared by Dave and salads from the garden prepared by her daughter.

I think that what spoke to me most about their lives is the community they have around them. Having her parents and brother's family on the farm next door seems like such an enviable blessing. Her mom gives her peaches and eggs, she supplies them with milk...and so the sharing continues.

But the other thing I loved was their home veggie garden - organized and productive. The orange clayey soil of Gauteng is so different to our loamy sand of the Western Cape but it is producing wonderful vegetables. Let the pictures speak for themselves...

Youngberries which went from the plant to my mouth.
Strawberries...rows and rows of them.

Pumpkins and marrows planted straight into holes in the veld grass.

Oh, for a potato field like this!

Gorgeous onions and HUGE sweet carrots.

Dave raises milk cows and they currently have two little calves which happened naturally (no AI necessary!) between mamma cow and his fabulous Nguni bull. The little hefer is destined to be their food but will have a happy peaceful life until then.

The evening finished with a lovely sunset over the farm....bliss.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Next stop - Granny's farm

Right, now that I have unpacked and planted my Living Seeds I can tell you about the next farm. Let's call it "Granny's Farm" as my hostess for the weekend lives on a farm with her parents and brother's farms adjoining hers.

These three families are "lifestyle farmers" because they have chosen to leave the hustle and bustle of JHB behind and move out to the country to enjoy all that it can offer without having to be dependent on a farm for income.

Granny just loves her fowl and her farm and garden are flocking with different farmyard fowl.

Her turkeys breed naturally which according to her is normal practice! According to Barbara Kingsolver in her book: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" it is not so normal as turkeys are so overbred that all female turkeys have to be AI for them to raise successful clutches because the gents have forgotten how to do it! Well not on Granny's farm! She has had five clutches (is that the right collective noun, I wonder?) already this year.

Here is a sitting turkey who decided the warm compost heap was just the place to sit!

Above is the last group of babies that hatched and they already respond to Granny's call.

Chickens flock around the place or are sitting on their eggs in the cleanest neatest coops I have seen! But there is one special mamma chicken called Lucy who is a Silkie and is their champion broode hen and wonderful mother. Lucy has one problem though - she likes to lay her eggs (and sit on them) on a cupboard inside the house!

Ducks and geese are also all over the place and so very very happy.

Granny's daughter in law, who lives next door, has bottle raised a little lamb and when we arrived home with Debbie (d-i-l) this sweet lamb greeted "mommy" like a pet dog who has missed her owner. Very special!

Tomorrow I will take you on a tour of my hostess's farm. See you then!