Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunshine soap and seeds in the sun

While I know the weather could change tomorrow and remind me that we live in Cape Town (who changes her weather on a moments notice) these last few days have held the promise of spring. Mornings and evenings are chilly - enough to warrant a fire at night - but the days are warming and it is enough to make me feel the stirrings of garden activity in my fingers.

This week we got the majority of our seeds planted. The children made the newspaper pots, Superman fetched beer boxes from the store, my eldest filled the pots with soil and then it was my time. Sitting outside yesterday afternoon, determined to be ORGANISED this time I devised a little system.

I have a simple garden plan now that we only have the two areas which means that it is a limited number of seeds that I actually need, but I always plant about 10 more seeds than is needed according to the plan. This is because some seeds do not germinate or my over eager waterer waters the seeds away and by sowing extra I will have enough seedlings for the garden, any extras I give away.

On the garden planner I have it shows when to sow the seeds (but I do know this already), the number I need and expected harvest times. I quickly cross referenced this to the seed pack and made up markers with the details on them...

The marker shows the plant, the date of sowing, the first circle indicates the germination time and the second shows the days to harvest. I also recorded it on the planner.

Yesterday we sowed:

Cucumber - Bushcrop
Tomatoes - Roma, Beefsteak, Cherry
Courgettes (Zucchini) - Golden, Italian striped and Black Beauty
Peppers - Hungarian Hot Wax, Orange Sweet, Sante Fe and Red Cherry

Next week we will prepare more pots to sow about 100 corn seeds.

I placed the boxes on a bench on the sun and as I watch them soaking up the rays from the sun and the nutrition from the soil, I can't help but feel a bubble of expectation rise again.

I am also sadly behind in soap making. Before the renovation I made two big batches to see us through until about now...and considering that soap needs 5 weeks to cure, I should have done this at least 3 weeks ago. Our soap store should see us through for another 2 weeks but it was enough to make me put a move on.

I decided to try a new recipe which has yielded a very soft soap, this means that we will go through it too quickly and I will have to make more this week, I will choose a harder soap recipe. This is what I did:

340g coconut oil
340g rice bran oil
227g palm oil
149g caustic soda
404g spring water
1t turmeric
1 cup dried calendula petals - saved from last summer
5ml wheat germ oil

Add the water to the caustic soda outdoors and gently stir.

Add oils to pot and melt.

Check temperatures to match at 54 Deg C.

Add water solution to the oils and stir until trace. Add Turmeric and petals and wheat germ oil. continue to stir vigorously until firm trace is reached. Pour into moulds and cover overnight with towels. In the morning I popped them out of the moulds and place them into a sealed container to mature for 5 weeks.

I had hoped that the soap would retain this bright yellow, but it didn't and rather mellowed to the pale colour below. It is still pretty and I am sure we will enjoy the soap just as well.

 Do you also feel the change of season where you live?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Compost and garden tools

Now that your plan has been made and you have bought your seeds, and even perhaps started them in seed trays, it’s time to do a stock check on your tools.

These are the top ten for me…

Large garden spade

Large garden fork

Metal tooth rake

Small hand fork

Small hand spade

Dibber (makes holes for seedlings)

Green garden wire (tying things up, together0

Ice lolly sticks (to label where you plant what!)

Watering can with sprinkler rose (soft shower for new seedlings)

And seeing that I cannot make a whole post about these, I am going to talk about COMPOST!

When I started my first garden in 1992 in our first home as newlyweds my mom told me to just add compost for the first while before planting anything. But I didn’t listen and put in just a little and then planted plants. We weren’t growing veggies at this stage, it was just a herbaceous border. Needless to say…I should have listened to mom!

Our next gardens faired no better, in fact our third was pure beach sand. I so desperately wanted to grow good plants and have a lovely garden but I also wanted to cut corners. In this garden we did have compost bins but I was busy caring for 3 small children 4yrs and down and didn’t have the time to care for it properly. I never watered the heap and therefore it didn’t breakdown properly.

When we started growing veggies in 2008 I forced myself to spend the money – an investment if you like – in compost. We had not started a heap when the first beds were ready to be planted up so we bought in a truck load from Master Organics.

For the most part now we only use our own compost and manure from a friends farm, but every now and again we have to buy in. When buying in compost it is best to by sterilized compost. This was you do not get weed seeds which will germinate along with your seeds that you plant. I use either Reliance or Master Organics, it just depends who has specials on.

The best of course is the homemade kind. You get to use up your kitchen waste, garden refuse and paper waste to make something good for your garden. If you add in manure – from your own chickens or from a horse stables – you have an even better product.

So here is how you make compost:

You can either buy a compost bin if your needs are small or you can make a loose standing heap or you can contain it like we do. Either way the principal is the same…layers!

We prefer a structure that allows worms and other garden bugs to get in and out of the heap so that they can aid in the breakdown of the organic matter.

First layer – small branches and twigs, torn newspaper, shredded cardboard boxes. Wet it well.
Second layer – a good layer of kitchen peelings or other green plant matter.
Third layer – Horse or chicken manure or compost activator.
Fourth layer – some grass clippings.

Wet this all well and then cover with a layer of soil. We cover ours in summer with cardboard boxes that we keep wet. This encourages the worms to move to the top and then down again.

Ideally you need two piles or bins. One that is cooking/being used and the other that is being built up.

After a month or so, give your compost a good turn and cover again. If it is too dry then increase your watering of it. You can add natural activators like Borage – before the flowers come. If you add it after the flowers have been pollinated you will find that you will be growing borage all over your garden.

Your compost heap should never stink. There should be a good earthy smell to it. Never add cooked food, potato peels or animal feces.

Compost is really the foundation for good vegetables, so learn a lesson from me - start the right way, put the compost in by the wheelbarrow load, do not scrimp on this stage of preparing your beds. The fruit of it will be in your harvest a few months from now.

If you do not have space for a heap, then consider a wormery.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Food over the last while

We are so happy that our kitchen renovation is now done. We all love being in there and with the new entrance and the fireplace being right there it is a warm welcoming part of the home. We realised pretty soon after we had the majority done, that the rest of the home needed a facelift so we have all worked like Trojans unpacking each room, de-cluttering, painting, repacking and decorating. We feel like we are living in a brand new home.

Main bedroom
 We have used colour in each room, something Superman was hesitant to do for many years but the gorgeous oranges, browns, golds, blues and reds have made this little cottage vibrant and cozy. We have managed to get rid of boxes and boxes of things we "thought" we needed but haven't used in years. It has been a hard, but fabulous that it is over.

We had a funny little passage that we could never figure out how to incorporate into the home effectively until a very clever designer friend suggested splitting it and making one half the pantry and the other a store room.

This storeroom now holds all the sports equipment, hobbies (air rifles, sewing, scrapbooking, Ninco and Technic Lego) as well as my overflow school books. It's so great to have this stuff contained instead of spilling out around the home.
Entrance hall

Store room
My hero

Everyone is finding that now the kitchen has been planned and the pantry right next to the cooking area we can use the space much more effectively.

With the Cape winter hitting us hard I am delighted that the laundry is now indoors. I used to have to make mad dashes in the rain across the back courtyard to the laundry.

Even Superman got into the kitchen this morning and made me a yummy omelette. Buy here are some other things that went on in our kitchen...

Broad bean, potato and carrot curry.
Yes, broad beans are being harvested.
Spinach is now being snuck into everything too!

Lovely sourdough bread made by eldest son

Kefir flapjacks made by youngest

Scones made by younger daughter
Warm porridge with apples, walnuts and honey

Even my Mum made us sago pudding with farm peaches.
So loving the kitchen.....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Starting seedlings

So the garden plan is done, the seeds bought you need to get them started...

Seeds are generally planted in the following ways:

Big seeds and root crops planted directly outdoors in the correct season.

Small seeds and ones that yield above ground started in some form of container.

Let's start with direct sowing...

Dig your bed over, remove weeds and add compost. Simply plant your chosen seeds in the correct spacing either in rows or if you have chosen the square foot system in your blocks. Seeds that like to be sown directly are:

Beans incl Broad Beans
Carrots - Just remember to plant carrots in beds that have a high sand content and one that HAS NOT had any compost added for at least one growing season.
Spinach (can also start early in seedling trays)
Squashes and pumpkins

For sowing other seeds, what we do is start them in newspaper pots. We have tried other methods but this works well enough IF you do not leave them too long before planting out. Reading that post hyperlinked above has other tips for starting seedlings.

Large seeds take longer to germinate than small seeds so you need to be patient and mark where you have planted what...remember my corn tragedy?

Plants that like to be started in pots are:

Tomatoes (these like to be repotted slightly deeper about 3 times before going into the beds)
Asparagus (be prepared to wait 4 yrs!)

Plants that need to be started now for spring are (Western Cape):

Asian greens
Sweet Potato

My friend Elastic Mom has a great post on starting seeds...and this video below also has some handy tips.

How are you doing with your spring planning?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Choosing vegetable seeds - GMO, hybrid, open pollinated or heirloom.

There was a time when this was a simple task of going to the nursery and buying the seeds you wanted from what was on the racks.
I suppose if you are older than me you may remember a time when friends would share seeds over the garden fence or you could take seeds from the grocery bought vegetables and plant those and they would produce a vegetable just like the one they came from.

Nowadays you hear people saying are these non-GMO or certified organic seeds? Are these seeds hybrids or heirloom?

I asked myself this when I started growing veggies from seed in 2008 and have finally settled on organic heirloom seeds. I have found that there are some drawbacks to this pure type of seed, but in my opinion the negatives of hybrids and non-GMO seeds outweigh them.

Most hybrid vegetable seeds are specifically bred for resistance to disease and for pest as well as aesthetic appeal. Nutritional value of the end product vegetable is not on the agenda with hybrid seed companies. While the original plant seeds used in this cross breeding is done extensively to keep the most desirable finished product, there are not the same nasty effects that you find in research done on foods grown from GM seeds.

The problem with hybrid seeds when used in the home garden is that you cannot grow the same crop from the seeds next year…so you have to buy again and again as the vegetables that come from any self seeding hybrids will be a deformed one from the parent.

Genetically modified seeds on the other hand should never be used and you should not consume foods that come from GM sources. Genetic seed engineering companies are able to patent their “new creations”. Initially it started out as a high tech form of hybridization where plant genes were crossed with one another and a new mutation was created. 

Currently these companies are using animal genes in their fiddling with seeds DNA that has got to the extent that plants can create their own “pesticide” which the consumer ends up eating. Studies have been done on pig’s livers that have eaten GM corn and soy and the degradation of one of the most important organs in a creature is horrendous.

So that’s the bad news…but there is good news!

Wise people before us, seeing the way things were heading, have been collecting seeds that are untampered with and will produce crop after crop from the original parent plant. These seeds are called Heirloom Seeds…after the way they have been handed down generation to generation.

Heirloom seeds are also generally open pollinated but not necessarily so. Open pollinated means the way God created it to happen – with wind, birds and insects moving from flower to flower and mingling the pollen. This creates a wide gene pool of DNA.

Where to buy heirloom open pollinated seeds?

Thank goodness for people like my friend Sean and his family who run Living Seeds and how he has created a storehouse for people wanting heirloom open pollinated seeds. 90% of the seeds that they sell are grown on their own property in Gauteng and the rest bartered from around the world.

Then there is The Gravel Garden here in the Western Cape who has a delightful selection of seeds for sale.

You can also buy non GM non hybrid seeds from some international sites still as customs do not yet stop seeds coming in.

Mike the Gardener  is a new favorite as his seeds are of a massive variety and the prices reasonable with the current soaring exchange rate. If you live in the States you should consider his seed of the month club, which looks great! I bought loads of seeds from him this year.

Once you have planned your veggie garden and you know which seeds to grow you are all set to get to the exciting part…starting your little seeds. This post has run on so I think I will put that into a seperate post soon