Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our little patch of Earth

This time of the year is such an in between time where we have vegetables finishing off their turn in the beds and new ones starting out. There are beds that appear empty but under the soil little seeds are casting off their jackets and sending out their roots and radicles. Other beds are full of growth, rich and green. Here is a quick overview of what is growing on our little patch of Earth.

Left hand side, coriander. Front lettuce and courgette underground

Tiny corn plants under the "cat traps" to stop them digging up the seedlings.

My youngest's magical square foot garden, it is plentiful and pretty with all the different leaves

Potatoes in the foreground, broad beans behind

Gorgeous broad beans, loved by adults, hated by kids!
Spinach bed - all the bright lights!
What is growing in your "in-between" garden?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Container vegetable gardening

I have been getting my containers ready for our summer vegetables and as I am going about it I have had some thoughts. Here are my container vegetable growing hints. If you have any, please add them in the comments section below!

Using containers is all about growing the right vegetables in the right container in the right season. Containers are a whole lot less work than large vegetable beds and if you are new to gardening it is the best way to start.

Containers you can use:

Normal concrete garden pots in all shapes and sizes
Wine barrels sawn in half
Hanging baskets
Half moon baskets
2 liter cool drink bottles
5 liter buckets
Black plastic bins (BPA free)
Grow bags
Potato sacks

While I have grown potatoes in tyres, I never got the promised yield and have read that there is leeching of potentially harmful toxins into the soil thus into the spuds.

**guttering can only be used for shallow rooted vegetables and should not be in all day sun. It is normally mounted against a wall and sunburn on the leaves or fruits in the case of  strawberries can be a huge problem.

Strawberries around the outside and new cucumber seedlings to grow up

What can you grow in various containers?

Strawberries grow very well in hanging baskets as the fruit can be trained to drape over the sides and not lie on the soil. However in hanging baskets we have found that the berries are attacked by birdies more and you will need to have some sort of deterrent. An old CD tied in the middle of the basket is a good choice! The half moon baskets dry out very quickly and need to be watered twice a day in summer.

Wine barrels are like mini beds and you can grow a variety of things in them. In my barrels I have permanent plants like the blueberries or asparagus and around the base I have quick growing plants like spring onions, coriander and spinach. I also grow climbing vegetables like cucumber and beans in the centre of the barrel and then other quick growing plants around the outside.

Yes...these are my blueberries :)
Normal pots are great for cut and come again herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay and many others. These herbs grow all year here in the Western Cape so they can stay in the pots for many years.

Salads grow well in troughs that are about 25cm deep. Watch for slugs and snails if they are on the ground. Salad leaves picked from the outside edges will keep the inside producing for a long time. At the end of the season, or when they start to bolt in hot weather, I like to tip the whole contents, solid and all, into the chicken coup. It keeps our chickens busy for ages scratching through the soil and eating the bugs and worms.

There was a trend a while back to grow tomatoes upside down in 5 liter buckets suspended from a structure. We never tried this so if you are keen do take a look here.

Barrels and drums can be used as you would for a mini garden bed. I have used mine for two of our 8 asparagus plants and two blueberry plants. It is nice to maximise the root growing area by planting something tall in the centre (cucumbers, beans, blueberries or asparagus) and then something quick and love growing around the edges. As the barrels are quite deep you can do this quite easily without crowding roots or leaves.

As you can see in this photo below, my asparagus is sharing with strawberries and borage. The borage was self seeded via compost but borage is a great companion for strawberries and the asparagus seems to be doing fine.

I have not used grow bags or potato sacks but a friend has and you can read her in depth post here on growing potatoes in sacks.

How to prepare containers

Bay tree in square pot, empty strawberry frames waiting for lining, the herb tower now in sun waiting for plants 
Think water and nutrients and then you are fine.

Water = do not let them dry out and provide adequate drainage. At the bottom of each pot I put gravel or broken pots. As for watering, we water daily in summer, baskets in morning and evening if it has been particularly hot. In the baskets we add a water retainer which you buy in a sachet at any garden store.

Nutrients = I don't use pure potting soil but rather after the gravel I add in garden sand and compost from our own heap and then a layer of potting soil on the top. Then plant up.

Ongoing care of vegetables grown in containers

Besides for watering daily in summer (and as you need in winter) for perennial veg you need only feed it with liquid seaweed or worm tea every three months. For those permanent plants, like Bay trees or herbs, you may need to repot them every year if you want them to grow bigger. If not, then you can just continue to feed in the pot with liquid feeds or a well watered in layer of bounce back.

Hope this is helpful and inspiring. I have a large backyard pool area which is almost completely paved where I have my containers. I hope over time to add more and more so that this too will be a highly productive area that will produce food for my family. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How to grow an avocado tree

In our home we have a slight avocado addiction. We love Avo on toast with salt, black pepper and lemon juice. We love Avo out of its shell with the same dressing. We love Avo in guacamole with Mexican meals. We love Avo in green smoothies. We love Avo on salads. We love Avo cubed on top of chilli or spaghetti. We love Avo sliced on pizza. WE LOVE AVO...

Way back in 2008 when we started growing vegetables, one of the first things I did with the children was start an avocado pip growing. I am sure you all know how, but for those who don't, its a great science project for adults and kids alike.

Our avocado tree grown from a pip 
How to grow an avocado from a pip: save a large avo pip from a healthy creamy Avo. Be selective. With the pointed side up insert 4 toothpicks or matches into the sides of the pip evenly spaced around the widest part of the pip's circumference. The toothpicks will be the holders for the pip which you now suspend across the mouth of a jar. Fill the jar until the water touches the bottom of the pip - the pointed part is up! Keep it like this for as long as you need to on a windowsill and keep the water level constant.

When you have a nice set of roots and a stem shoot you can plant it into a pot. When it is too big for the pot, transplant again and again until you have a few branch beginnings. Replant the Avo tree into a well prepared hole which is dug out twice as wide as the last pot it was in. Cover with a mix of soil, well rotted manure and compost.

Stem graft

Avocados grown from seed can produce fruit, contrary to popular belief, however the yields are quite small compared what you can get from a grafted tree. Our avocado tree pictured above is now 6.5 years old and has not produced fruit.

The experts tell me 7-9 years until the first fruit comes. They also told me that I would need to have another avocado tree in our neighbourhood for cross pollination and that as avocado trees are single gender I need to buy a grafted tree to make sure I have a male and a female.

On researching I have not found this to be confirmed, however I did buy a grafted tree about 3 years ago. This tree is pictured below. The shape is completely different and will probably be easier to pick one day. This tree should begin producing fruit in this next season. We'll see.

Avocado blossoms
Long term care of an avocado tree is quite simple for the home organic garden but there are two things to make note of of your garden calendar:

1. During spring and summer they need a good nitrogen feed. I use worm tea or bounce back or pure organic chicken manure. (Nobody likes the last one so I do it once a year only!)

2. Do not apply any feed 6 weeks before blooms appear or 6 weeks after.

Grafted avo tree
So now we wait for our first homegrown avocados. We anticipate their rich creamy protein packed fruit with much excitement!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The case of the confused tomato (or is it the gardener?)

While there is something humbly satisfying and nourishing about growing winter veg I always feel a stir in my soul when it comes to sowing my seeds for summer crops. Tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, beans...tall and sprawling.

At the end of last summer I decided I would not grow more than two tomato varieties - one for salads and the other for sauces. But I am afraid to say I did not stick to agreement...who can when you read names like:

Ailsa Craig

Green zebra striped tomato

Amish salad tomato

Aunt Ginny's purple tomato

Beefsteak tomato

Roma tomato

Amish paste tomato

Black cherry

Yellow pear

How is a girl to choose?

This gardening girl has to choose as my garden is not big enough to host all these wonderful names. I have chose 5 varieties and will be staggering their planting so that they do not have flowers at the same time to prevent cross pollination.

As I also needed a system to stop me confusing all the seedlings I turned to the boxes we have collected because of buying juicing vegetables for our daily juices.

Each tomato variety is started as per usual in a newspaper pot and the filled pots are placed into a beer box.

When they have their first leaves, I transplant them into bigger pots and then place them in a labelled fruit box.

In a few weeks they will be transplanted once more, slightly deeper, into bigger pots and then labelled with a marker cut from an old milk container.

I have started two varieties already - Roma and Beefsteak - which will be the first in the ground. About 2 weeks later I will do the next batch and so on.

I am hoping that I will be able to see all 5 varieties to the table. Last year we lost most of our tomatoes to blight which was quite disheartening.

One way to avoid it again is to plant in a different area than that year. It was also seed that I had brought in from the USA which would have been acclimatised to that climate, not ours.

This year I am using South African seed and won't import again, now that I am a bit wiser.

Talking about seed varieties, I picked up my seed potatoes and other seed packs from Living Seeds and I was delighted to see their new print catalogue.  Take a look at this fantastic gardening help, so much more than a seed catalogue!

You can buy a catalogue here for R20 or you can get one for free when you place your order of a certain value with Living Seeds.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pork meatballs in rich vegetable sauce

My children recently received some gorgeous pork mince in from the farmer who supplies their business with TRUE free-range pork and chickens. I adjusted a recipe from Save with Jamie to make these delicious meatballs. You can serve them over linguine, spaghetti or taglietelle or make vegetable “pasta” with a spiralizer.  Either way it is filling, aromatic and tasty.

Meatball ingredients:

2x 500g packs of Funky Chickens free range pork mince
2 rounds of feta cheese
2 free range eggs
Black pepper

Mix together and shape into balls. Fry gently in a little olive or coconut oil until brown.

Sauce ingredients:

2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed
4 carrots, grated
4 celery sticks, chopped
1 jar passata
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon mixed herbs

Brown the onions and garlic gently, then add the other veg and herbs. Simmer until soft. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the meatballs are cooked, add them to the saucepan and then let them settle into the sauce for about 10 mins while you prepare your pasta or vegetable spirals.

Serve the meatballs on top of the pasta/spirals with a generous helping of grated parmesan.

If you do not eat pork, chicken or beef or lamb mince will work well too.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Drifting through the seasons

Today I looked back to August 2013 and 2012 on my blog to see what I was doing around this same time and it struck me how the flow of planning, buying, sowing, planting is a natural part of my life now.

When I started out I devoured every blog post, website, video and book about how to do this thing. I needed the information to get started and equipped for what turned out to be a huge amount of work and effort in converting our garden into a mini urban farm.

A lot of what I do not in the garden is internalized, as I know what has to happen when for the most part. I know that from August to September I need to get the seeds that are not sown directly into beds my ready in newspaper pots. I know that from October onwards we have the busiest time planting and staking on through December.

Summer brings another burst of work as we fight off pests and disease on the plants. Harvests start coming in as the corn ripens, the tomatoes blush and the peppers swell. I love the tallness of the corn stalks, the creeping of the squashes, the smell of tomato plants in the sun.

Then it comes to clearing out again and adding compost and autumn is upon us once more. For instance I know that it takes about 4-5 months for the compost to be ready as I have watched the heap change month by month over the last 6 years and have smelled the change in the contents until it turns into gorgeous black gold to feed our vegetables.

Having done this for so long now I no longer feel anxious or worried about the garden and the growing of food. It has a gentle flow of its own as we care for it, plan it and work in it.

I also went all out into the bread baking, stock making, canning and preserving thing that filled both days on the weekend back in the first years. I am exhausted just thinking back to the frenzied activity of those first days.

I have calmed down a lot since then, thank goodness. I am not sure who my taskmaster was in those days, why I felt so driven and what I was trying to prove to myself, but while they were certainly productive days making soap, bread, herbal remedies, jams and cakes, I don’t hanker after it at all.

Now when we have lots of strawberries, I will make some jam or we will eat them fresh. If we want bread we’ll make it. If I need stock, I will set it to cook slowly all day. 5 weeks before we run out of soap, I make some more. It’s now also just part of the flow of our home.

I love the gentle ebb and flow of the seasons now, I don’t measure them any longer by children’s growth and activities, but rather by what is growing in the garden and what food is on our plate. 

Summer corn freshly picked and steamed served with butter and salt…slow roast tomatoes in the over for pasta sauce….beautiful new potatoes with parsley and butter….and my absolute favorite – just cut asparagus quickly steamed and eaten with Hollandaise sauce.

So here I am loving the end of winter and eagerly anticipating spring.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

28 days on juice!

28 days on juice, only, well almost! Got to be crazy right? In winter, definitely crazy!

So here's the thing...I do things without thinking too much when it comes to an idea that grabs me in the health line. There are other things I think waaaaay to deeply on and get myself all tied up in knots.

We have juiced for 12 years on and off, in the beginning it was just carrot, orange and celery, every day for 2 years at breakfast time along with other food during the day. We had a decidedly orange tinge to our hands in those days!

When our children have been ill we have made sure that juices are stepped up with some beet and ginger too.

However over the last year or so we haven't been juicing as much and recently with our move to eating more low carb meals and watching my husbands blood sugar we haven't juiced much at all.

Then something popped up on Facebook called SUPER JUICE ME and it just made sense to give it a go. There are lots of little health niggles in my body and I thought to just give my body a good detox and see how things go thereafter.

That weekend our whole family watched the Super Juice Me movie which was showing for free on Youtube at the time and they all decided to give it a try with me.

A boot full of veg!
We did 7 days of only juice. This is not the kind of fruit juice that you buy in a shop, these are freshly extracted fruit and veggie juices in a laid out plan to clean out and support your body. They flood your body with nutrients and are carriers to get rid of the junk. We had to compromise on not using organic veg as with 6 of us juicing we couldn't afford it, so Foodlovers it was! Much to the amusement of the employees at the market we pushed out two trolleys each week which filled our huge boot! Storing the fresh stuff was also a bit of a hassle.

The folk in the video were all starting off on a much worse footing that us. None of us are on chronic meds, nor are we ill with disease and while Superman and I have a few kgs we would like to loose the focus was really a detox. As such I didn't expect the amazing testimonies that the participants in the experiment experienced but we were hoping for a feel good experience.

Day One was AWFUL! I had booked and paid for a day trip by bus around Cape Town and a ride up the cable car with my children and a friend, that was the good part. Bad bad bad timing! It should have been a quiet slow day at home, juicing and resting. The result was a migraine and hanging around the toilet bowl vomitting that evening. I could say it was a coffee detox or because of the juicing, but I don't think so.

Breakfast anyone?
Day Two to Seven was great! By day 3 the hunger pangs had gone, coffee cravings vanished, the juice was filling and leaving me with a clean fresh mouth, lots of energy to continue my daily walks and 3 swims/gym sessions. On the evening of day 7 we ate a should have started the next morning, but we succumbed and had a small Paleo meal.

After that meal we all felt sleepy and not as good as after a juice. Ah well, live and learn.

For the remaining days we stayed on juices for breakfast and lunch but ate dinners. My younger 3 children had breakfast juices and then cooked their own lunches and in between snacks.

So what were the results?

Another breakfast selection 
My blood pressure stayed the same (normal) through out. I had my cholesterol checked when we started and it was at 6.88 which they tell me is high. Can't tell you the split of the two. My weight at beginning was 64kgs. (Told you I needed to loose some!)

After 28 days my cholesterol was at 5.52, my weight at 60.5kgs, my skin clear, my brain fog gone, my sleep better and I felt great.

I plan to do another 7 days on just juice at the end of September before I head to the UK. I know that we will be eating at Pizza Hut (sssshh!) and other places for some of the time and thoroughly enjoying my sisters incredible cooking, so I am going to go feeling fit and strong and detox before!

We are still juicing for breakfast everyday, and will probably continue this way from now on. At least I don't have to explain to the Foodlover's employees why I am buying 48 cucumbers and 30 packets of apples anymore!