Sunday, December 6, 2015

Back to Eden - is it the answer?

Back in March of this year Superman, a friend and I spent a day at Babylonstoren. I was such an inspirational day for me at the time as I was lagging in motivation and needed some fresh ideas.

After the visit I made this list:

-Under planting every tree or tall vegetable with a herb, indigenous medicinal plant or ground cover that attracts bees.
-Use up spaces and build the structures I need
-Don't be afraid to experiment
-Plant closer together
-Use my walls for fruit or as a food wall
-Plant vegetables that take a long time to yield in pots not in the beds
-Plant crops that turn over well into the beds
-Don't be afraid to use natural pesticides if all else has failed
-Get my bees
-Turn my pavement into a food garden too with fruit trees and medicinal plants.
-Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.

There have been a few items on the list that we can say are done and dusted...In particular the way I changed from a traditional bed per plant to a compact veggie gardening system. It worked very well in winter and while there were a few teething problems trying to eat up the winter veg quickly enough to make space for the summer veg we have made a transition quite well to carry on this system for summer.

The decision to add a herb/medicinal garden to our pavement  (see 2nd last point on the above list) has been quite an adventure. The area was so sterile and the sand the traditional Cape Flats sand where the water just lies on top as though the soil is oily and does not get to the roots of the plants. This photo showed what it looked like after barrow loads of compost, manure and bounce back was turned in and a few plants added.

We transplanted two fig trees, a rosemary plant and a tea tree bush. The rest I bought from Bridget Kitley. I bought Echinacea, Elder trees, comfrey, pelargoniums, Aloe, Chamomile, Chervil, lemon verbena, sorrel and honey suckle. I also planted calendula and borage seeds. Later when too many tomatoes sprouted for the garden I added loads of them to the pavement. We also added some Artichokes and Yarrow transplants a few weeks ago.

But watering was a huge problem and the winter rains we had hoped for left us a little concerned, not just for the pavement but for the whole garden. Our borehole also seems to have dried up thus making us dependent on municipal water. With the water restrictions that have now been put in place we simply cannot afford the rates that they have to charge AND ultimately we don't want to take more water than is just to water our vegetables.

So it was back to the drawing board to see what we could do to save water.  I revisited these principles I wrote about when I learned how my mom and dad were handling the drought in the Garden Route some years back. But it isn't enough...

Then I remembered a friend mentioning the Back to Eden film and watched it a few weeks ago and again this week. I think this is the answer - and it won't harm to try. I was on the phone in a hurry to local tree felling companies and asked them to deliver freshly chipped tree limbs with leaves included and contacted Master Organics for 2 cubes of compost.

This arrived on Friday and faithful Sam spent the day adding compost to even veggie bed and to the pavement in a thick layer after we watered deeply. On the pavement he added a thick layer of chipped plant material. This is what it looks like today...the plants have grown a lot since being planted, everything looks healthy and green still but I am hoping that the water is trapped below this blanket of compost and chip.

So while I have been able to cross off a few items on the list, there is still more I need to do. To grow espalier fruit trees I think I will ask the experts...and becoming a bee keeper is in the pipeline (quite close) we keep on keeping on with learning in the urban farm of ours.

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