Sunday, March 22, 2015

Growing rosemary from cuttings

When I had the open day a while back one of the things I spoke about was how to make more plants from what you already have. I mentioned seed saving - although I am not a big seed saver as I find it too fiddly for my time constraints. But one of the easiest ways to propagate new plants is by taking hard wood cuttings.

Being the kind of person I am I don't overthink it too much and follow exact instructions but apply the general principle of hardwood cuttings to gain more herbs like rosemary, lavender and sage. Below follows how to do it using Rosemary as an example.

This is mother rosemary. It is a huge plant that stands under my bathroom window and has been growing for about 7 years in this spot. In summer it has delicate purple-blue flowers that attract the bees. While we use rosemary in cooking a few times a week, and don't really need another plant, I have wanted to have a bank of rosemary buses at the pond garden for bees and beauty so have been making baby plants from this one.

Every time I use rosemary, I simply cut the length I need from the plant and strip off the lower leaves to use in my recipes. The remaining stalk gets added to a glass of water with others and stands on the kitchen windowsill. I refresh the water when needed - a couple times a week, generally.

After a few weeks these new roots begin to appear. I wait until the majority of the stem is covered with them before planting them into a smallish pot containing a rich compost potting soil mixture with some added coco-peat.

This baby rosemary bush was planted in November and has set itself nicely to the job of growing up. I will transplant it, and its siblings, in a few weeks around the pond.

As we often need sage for soap, cooking (it's superb with pork) and for the chicken liver pate that my daughter makes and sells, I have started propagating that delicious herb too. Lavender is also useful for attracting bees, making soap and for the sublime honey and lavender ice-cream I have made before. Lavender is also just for aroma therapy when walking through the garden.

Do you propagate herbs and plants from cuttings? Tell me about it! I love to learn from your comments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Using what we have - a recipe

As I am looking forward to the next seasons crops, I am planning my meals around what is in my pantry and in the garden. This means that it eases up the grocery budget a bit as well and we are "forced" to eat some things that may be a little unusual in their combinations or not firm old favourites. I think it is quite fun to do this 3 or 4 times a year and for those of you, who like me, have chest freezers, its an opportunity to get them empty and cleaned.

In October last year I had the awesome privilege of taking a 5 day trip with my Superman to a long standing friend's farm. It was such a joy to see how she lives with her animals, garden and community. What she does epitomises what I think farm life should be like.

One of the most delicious meals she made for us was her leek tarts. The leeks she grew, the cream she got from her cow, the eggs from her chickens and the cheese from the milk. I have begged her for the recipe, but being busy with her life I haven't received it yet. But that's ok, she's my buddy and all's forgiven :)

Back on the home front my leeks need to be used and yesterday was the day to use some of them. Not having her recipe I came up with my own, but these were more like mini quiches than her creamy mouthwatering tarts.

Each one who munched these down gave them 10/10 so I thought I would she the recipe with you.

I milled 200g of organic spelt, mixed it with a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil and enough water to bind it.

I divided it into 12 balls and pushed them each into a muffin tin space after greasing it well. I have two oversized muffin tins, which have 6 to a pan, not 12.

I used about 10 medium leeks which I softened in a blob of butter with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a bowl I mixed 6 eggs, 250ml cream, 250ml mixed grated cheese (I had Emmental, Parmesan and Cheddar), then I added the leeks to this.

I had a little ham left from the weekend which I chopped and added to the raw pasty shells then spooned equal amounts of the egg mixture on top.

These I baked for 15 - 20 minutes at 180 degrees

While I waited for them to bake I used our last cherry tomatoes to make a delicious salad.

I quartered the tomatoes, sprinkled with a little dried chilli flakes, some olive oil and basaltic vinegar. I then used about 20 basil leaves sliced into ribbons to give it a delicious fresh tang.

It was truly a lunch to be repeated.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Getting better yields from a vegetable garden

With the change in the morning and evening temperatures signalling autumn, my mind is once again turned to planning for the new season’s crops.

To be totally honest, summer harvests have been disappointing and because of my lack of time I certainly have not made the most of what we did get from the garden.

As I do a mental tally of what we have eaten or stored from the vegetable garden it really is not boast-able.

We had a poor marrow crop this year compared to last, our first two plantings of corn failed, our tomatoes yielded some fresh for salads but most had to be roasted for pasta sauce and that quantity was only about 4x 1 liter bags. Herbs we have had a plenty and chilies too…but a girl & her Superman can only eat so many chilies!

Salad leaves have kept us in good supply while we had hardly any asparagus due to a slight misunderstanding. Not one cucumber showed up for the party, which is simply rude! We had two – yes TWO – butternuts come out to play and no pumpkins.

In my experiment beds all the carrots and turnips came up, but it was too early for turnips so they went to seed. So all in all, I am a bit frustrated and saddened but I can truly lay the blame at my door.

Please see this as a personal therapy post…I need to vent a little. (At myself mostly!)

I am however one of those people who do not beat themselves up for long – just a good tongue lashing in the mirror and then its time to move on. I have therefore been doing some research – which is partly to get my mind in the right mode and partly to increase my knowledge – on how to get the vegetable garden to yield more.

Here follows my decisions….


Yup – the first thing to deal with is my own motivation. Even though we cut back on much superfluous stuff over the last few months, I am still a busy woman. But there are times when I could go out to the veggie garden or make newspaper pots for new seedling, but I don’t. I ignore that and do something else – also good, also worthwhile but not what will feed into the greater goal of growing more vegetables. 

So I need to deal with me. 

I’ll go and do that then...


I have noticed for a while now that my beans and corn have a yellow tinge to them, especially the ones in our newer section of the garden. This means that there is not enough nitrogen for them to stay nice and green. Growing vegetables organically means that I need to continually add manure, worm casing or blood meal. I have struggled to find blood meal in SA and I would only want it from an organic source anyway. So it is horse manure from a friend’s stable and our own worm casings and tea.

I also need to add topsoil as some of my beds have sunk way below the raised bed level. I have sourced topsoil, into which we will add our own compost and horse manure.

Because the winter vegetables, like broccoli, that I will be putting in shortly need a dose of fishmeal too into those beds. Later in the season I will add some Bounce Back pellets to all beds.

The soil is the starting place for all good vegetables. I have learned that you cannot save on compost hoping to get good yields. My compost is a bit slow to turn over at the moment because we haven’t had rain for a while, and I have forgotten to water the heap, but just yesterday we emptied the cages and added it back in layers alternating with leaves, manure and existing compost from the heap. A good watering once a week and covering it should have it ready by the end of March.

As the Stinkwood tree, which dominates our front garden, starts to drop it's leaves I am going to get Sam to make leaf mould. This will be a great mulch for summer days next year.


With the quality of the soil boosted I am going to plant my plants much closer together. I have always tried to follow the given instruction but most of the time those spacing guidelines are for the absolute maximum size of the ready to harvest veg. We tend to eat our vegetables smaller than larger so I am going to halve the spacing requirements when I sow the seed and see how it goes.


In addition to closer spacing I am going to keep experimenting with vertical growing. Unfortunately all the climbing and running veg come to an end in summer, except for peas. The peas will use the cucumber frame that we built last year and I will probably make another one for elsewhere in the garden.

I have a large expanse of wall that I am quiet keen on using as the backdrop to an espalier apple tree. I will be doing some research on this and then seeing what comes of it.


Watering may be a challenge in summer because of adding more plants to the beds than before. Here in winter we have plenty of rain and I generally do not need to water at all.

I really really really (Hey Superman do you get the hint) want to get an irrigation system installed. It doesn’t need to be on a timer, it needs to just have a simple black piping around the edge of the beds with some low sprinkler heads that I can plug the hose from the borehole into instead of dragging the hose and the sprinkler around for two days to water the whole garden.

I think it will also waste less and help with the water pressure issues we have.


We have two apple trees, two avocado trees, a bramble for berries, a prolific fig tree, two lemon trees and two orange trees, two grape vines and loads of Cape Gooseberry plants. Our strawberries are grown in baskets and are now sending out their runners. Despite this we only had enough strawberries this year for one batch of jam and some fresh each day for breakfast. 

We also have a splendid granadilla vine which really comes in this year as our winner producer. It makes me smile every time I walk in from the carport as it trails its way over the gate.

Our figs were used in jam, preserves and ice cream, our apple and orange trees are new, but our lemon trees give is a few lemons each season. Our avocados trees gave us their first few fruits this year after being in the ground for 6 and 4 years.

Companion planting

I dabble with this all the time and what I actually enjoy most is the variety and colors that companion planting gives to the vegetable beds. It is also a way for me to bring flowers into the garden, which the pollinators need. It may not directly increase the yields but companion planting does keep the bugs down (…down – not gone – as this utopia I have not yet found!)


I recently connected again with a friend’s brother who is an urban beekeeper. This movement of homing bees on top of garage roves is taking the world by storm and its hitting South Africa too.

Slight problem…

I am very allergic. Mmmh.

But this beekeeper will install two hives here for me and maintain them, collect the honey and everything for me.

This means that our garden will have more bees, which I have battled to attract for all the years we have grown veggies.

I have tasted his honey too and it’s like toffee…supremely delicious. I guess you can tell which way I am leaning.

All that I am waiting for is to get municipal confirmation that we are indeed able to be part of this movement. 


So there is the big plan. Looks so good and simple on the page, but there is a Rands and Cents as well as time cost to calculate.

I think I had better go and make myself a Red Latte and contemplate the future here on our little patch of Earth and how we can implement all my plans.

Thanks for reading and I do hope you are inspired to increase your garden yields this year too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The slog and the blessing of a vegetable garden

One of the reasons why I love hearing comments from new veggie growers is that it inspires me to keep going. Everyone who has tried to grow vegetables on a large scale for home use knows that its 90% labour and 10% pleasure - that is until you put your first salad on the table.

Strawberry popcorn

 We put our first plant in the ground in June 2008 on this property and it was so exciting! The excitement continued for 2 years as we claimed more and more ground for vegetables and fruit. Even though we spent most weekends either directly in the garden, processing the pickings or sowing seeds, there was a huge measure of joy. At least there was for me! I think Superman and the kids may have felt a little differently, but in my effervescence I *may* just not have felt their reticence.

At the end of 2010 my back was so sore from the lifting and carrying, the digging and bending, that I had to pull right back and focus on repairing my back, resting and becoming pain free again. It was a sad year for me watching the weeds take over, having to buy almost all of our vegetables again and making very little progress towards our self producing goals.

Healthy granadilla vine
We bounced back a little in 2013 and 2014 and of course, having Sam here each Friday is a HUGE blessing as he takes care of the slog part of vegetable gardening. He does the lifting and the carrying, turns the compost, digs it in, prepares beds and more. We couldn't continue to do what we are doing here without Sam.

New lemons
As I look into 2015 I hope that we will get up to full production again. I see it now as a Sam and I journey as my children all have other goals they are pursuing at the moment. Life really does change quickly...Back in 2008 we were all working together, but now with two homeschool grads, one who is engaged to be married, another pursuing a career option which has taken us all happily by surprise and both of them working in Funky Chickens there is little time for them to get involved beyond watering and picking the harvests. The younger two are still busy with homeschooling doing Gr 10 and Gr 7 (more or less - you never know with us homeschoolers which grade they are actually in!) and following their passions in different ways, are more involved in food preparation than gardening.

So it is a Sam and I thing.

In all vegetable gardens there are those slog chores - weeding, feeding plants, composting, watering, raking and others. But there are also those fun chores like planning, sowing seed, watching things grow (it still amazes me every time!) and harvesting...oh! and of course rolling the delicious foods around your mouth as you savour home grown goodness!

Cavelo Nero - Kale

It is the anticipation of the foods that makes gardening a blessing when it takes time from other pursuits, or when you have to drag a hosepipe around the garden, or when its hot and you have just one last patch to plant...I think about the crisp fresh salad on my plate or like tonight a slow cooked bolognaise using a thick fragrant roasted tomato sauce from our tomatoes, or strawberries hot from the sun into your mouth. Nom!

Maroon beans!

We often talk about one day when the children are grown and moved out as to whether we will sell this home...while at the moment it seems small as we are 6 people with big personalities living together, working together, learning together...but it may be just too big for Superman and I when we are alone one day.


Who knows?

So we keep on planting and learning about growing food. I try to find a new place each year for fruit to grow (this year it was two apple trees, a lemon tree and two granadilla vines) or plants to combine in a small space or how to make the large are of paved ground still be productive...and one day if someone want this little urban farm, then it would be their choice to carry on what we have started or convert it back to a normal tailored garden.

Sunflowers at my pond

But even now after counting the cost in many ways for starting on this adventure, I think we will soldier on for the reward of some, not all, our vegetables, salads and fruits grown at home.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The perfect spot

Every year for the last 12 our family climbs off the hamster wheel of life and disappears to a little chalet on a nature reserve where there is only good reception on the top of the hill looking down upon this....

We first started coming here when I wanted to go away to celebrate my birthday and wedding anniversary which are two days apart and since then it has become a tradition. This year was slightly bitter sweet as we left our elder two children at home to run the businesses and care for our menagerie of animals. So now I am 45 years old and have been married for 24 of those years and this week away has become one of the highlights of our year.

Days are spent fishing in the river mouth, swimming, sleeping, reading and taking long walks down to the beach. Meandering walks stopping next to flamingoes as they feed and walk on, examining the tiny to large bait fish swimming in the water in front of us and climbing the huge dunes next to the ocean.

It was exciting fishing this year when our youngest caught us a gorgeous Cob for dinner. Standing at "his" spot at sunset with perfect conditions and the yell comes...."I've got one, I've got one!" 

Superman prefers to fish on fly and he caught a little Leervis which he released. But the hours casting his line bring him back to the chalet with a peaceful content face just in time to light the fire for a braai.

All our cooking is done on a fire which means we can sit and laugh and talk and tease with one another and keep our hand on the 5 day long Monopoly game we start on the first day. When Monopoly gets too much it games of Scrabble and Blokus.

The best part of this holiday is that we are alone in the back of beyond with just a few reserve workers around in the day time but for the rest it is us, the tortoises, francolins, field mice and hares which come to see what daily pickings we have put out for them. Tortoises gorge themselves silly on watermelon staggering away drunk, the timid mouse birds pick the pawpaw skins clean and the francolins love our bread crusts.

Then it is time to pack up and head home, climb back onto the hamster wheel and keep going with this life that is ours.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

We won!

Interrupting this media fast with an important announcement :)

In a moment during November 2014 I entered Urban Homestead South Africa in the SA Blog awards "Best Environmental Blog" category. I then forgot about it with the busyness of the year end and trying to shift my focus from online to in house.

Yesterday I received and email to say that this humble little blog had won the category! Oh my excited!!!

So to celebrate here are some photos of food from the garden and the meals they went into...

Tomatoes, basil and Jalapeno

Into a tomato and mozzarella salad with basil ribbons

Cream cheese in mild chillies, soon followed by the REAL thing - chilli poppers!

Figs made into jam and ice-cream
And the lady in waiting - going to roasted and made into a variety of meals, along with her siblings.

And our granadilla vine is heavy with fruit promises...
So there is a little catch up - there are loads of other things growing on our little patch of Earth - but due to the honour this blog has been given, I thought it worth a little peek into the current harvests.

Thank you to all who voted for me and for the judges decision. Doing the happy dance here!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Taking a break

First of all, may all my readers have a fabulous and fulfilling 2015. May you get loads of produce from your garden and be inspired to share what you are doing with your neighbour.

As 2015 dawns I have to assess where I am in my life and the goals that I have in our family. I also have to steer my last two children through their high school homeschool journey, get back in touch with my home, garden, food and more.

So this blog is going to be put on hold indefinitely as I pursue those things with 100% of my attention and effort.

So, I will see you...when I see you.