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!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book review - Omnivore Dilemma

This year I included a few books in our children's read alouds that aren't quite classics for homeschoolers, but I felt were important to be read by them. While my children are not as passionate as I am about organic living, they do understand through what I have shared with them and because of their business about why it is important to eat organically.

I began to feel that they needed a deeper knowledge of food and its origins  amongst other things, so that they can stand on their own convictions about what is morally right or wrong to eat and because of that, this book by Michael Pollan, ended up on our reading list: Omnivore's Dilemma

Divided into 4 sections based on meals that he would follow from source to plate, the book shares his adventure in eating the typical fast food meal (McDonalds) in his car with his family was a first stop. This is what he terms the industrial meal and we are introduced to Steer 457 who he buys as a small animal and watches it's progress through the feedlot to a MacDonald patty. 

He covers the broiler chickens, chemical food and all the horrendous food like substances that marketing passes off as something that is good for you. 

The overarching theme of this first section is how this world of food is driven by corn and soy and the decline of family based farms with mega industrial farms with their hazardous fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides taking over the majority of farm land in the USA.

Next he visits the industrial organic meal which is based on a simple illustration of a salad pack and "free range" hens. The salad farm started out with a. Couple who had a vision about prewashed salads which w are so familiar with. Their business expanded to meet demand and soon they were mechanizing and using organic pesticides to supply the customers needs. Pollan clearly outlines why this is still not the best option for people, plants, animals and the earth.

Then comes my favorite. We are introduced to Joel Salatin at Polyface farms. I have known about Joel for about two years and have watched his videos on YouTube when I find them. I have also had his books on my wish list for quite a while. I eventually swallowed the price and ordered his one on family farms which I am expecting any day now. After Michael has spent a week working on the farm in its different sections he ends up in the slaughter shed on the Friday to help with the weekly slaughtering of the chickens for client orders. This is handled honestly and openly and will leave anyone who is an meat eater understanding why city abattoirs as so incredibly wrong!

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms
Doing it the Polyface way means that an animal has a happy healthy life as it is meant to it's natural environment and then it is dead. There is not transporting, stress, pain or misses. It is clean, quick and part of the life cycle.

While this was the chapter that was the best for me, it was also the worst as Pollan also shares exactly what happens in a slaughter house, which is completely inhumane and should be known to everyone who eats meat. As long as industrial animal farms are supported by the public this cruelty will not end.

The farmer who grows our animals for us does not make use of a abattoir, but has a license and the correct paperwork and checks to slaughter on her farm. These animals are raised in a very close manner to Polyface and we eat and enjoy them with a  clear conscience.

Then we get to his hunter, gatherer, forager meal as the last section of Pollan's journey which is a delightful exploit of finding mushrooms he is convinced will kill him, getting cherries from his sisters neighbors tree and hunting for wild boar. This meal is served to the friends who were his guides and partners in finding the food for the table.

At the end of the book he gives his reasoning around why he did not become vegetarian even after his discoveries and how he and his family have transformed their eating habits. He also gives a brief overview of his "food rules" which have now been made into a full book. (The link above takes you to an entertaining and educating Youtube video of Michael Pollan talking about food rules.)

As this was not the only book we were reading it took us a few weeks to work through but was definitely worth it. What I learnt reinforced my passion for eating low human intervention foods, close to natural and beyond organic. For my children they now understand more of my motivation to never feed them or support their buying of what we call "empty calories" and "harmful" foodstuffs. 

Whether they will always make the right choices is not for me to enforce nor control, but we all know that we were set on the right path 12 yrs ago and will continue eating real food, learning how to do it in a sustainable way and encourage others to do likewise.

Go buy the book, read's worth it! It is also available in the young readers addition for under 15's

Sunday, August 10, 2014

She's back!

Having walked the dogs early this morning in a warm and moist forest I could feel the longing to get into the garden when I got home. It has been months since I have done any big work in the vegetable patch as I have been delegating the work to Sam, our Friday gardener.

A combination of the wet cold weather, worrying about putting my back out again and a very busy Saturday each week has left little time to just enjoy working with the earth, plants and seeds. But today that stirring was within me to feel the soil on my hands and get back in touch with where the garden is at.

Tiffany sitting right where I want to sow seed and cover with compost
Like with any living thing, a garden thrives when it gets attention. When the gardener keeps an eye on what is going on, what is struggling, where the weeds and pests are choking out life. This is the connection that I have lost.

Newspaper pots filled with homemade potting soil waiting for seeds
I started with sowing the first batch of seeds for spring...25 each of broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peppers, Roma tomatoes, Beefsteak tomatoes and cucumbers. This week more newspaper pots will need to be made for next weeks seeds.

Sam has turned our compost heaps and had some bags of compost ready for me and a large wheelbarrow full of the most delightful, black, earthy. I used some bucket loads on my lovingly nurtured asparagus plants. I started these from seed in 2008 and they deliver up loads and loads of spears now in the spring.

Toby and Teddy playing in the asparagus beds
I spread the compost around the crowns which was quite difficult because it seemed to be the best place for kitty cats to play.

As I was working there I saw some new spears peeping through! Already!

First spear of the season
I also want to have lots of flowers in the garden this season to aid in pollination by attracting bees, so I planted some sweet peas and calendula in odd spaces. I will also put in my traditional sunflowers by the end of the month.

Within this month I continue to sow seeds of peas, onions, carrots, more tomatoes, squash, butternut (in the compost heap), melons, salads, sweet corn and chillies.

What are you planning for your spring garden?