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.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seed soup or trying something new!

Mmmh, ok, so not the most catchy title for a blog post but I honestly don't know what else to call this.
A few weeks ago I had an open morning when about 20 people came to visit our garden and see how we grow veggies in the heart of the suburb. While chatting a friend mentioned someone who says the most natural way to grow vegetables is the way nature grows when left undisturbed.

I have been thinking about this idea and wondering how I can implement it in the garden. I know nature has been disturbed to the point where the balance in the ecosystems needed to copy nature. I also will never be able to truly replicate the food forest movement that I so admire.

Anyone who grows vegetables also know that a lot of what we do in the veggie garden, is not planting and harvesting, but keeping the bugs and disease and weeds away from prospective food until you can reap the benefits of your hard work.

So the basic idea from nature is that birds and other animals come along and eat the fruit and as they fly they drop seeds through their poop. There is no form to this, they just move from one fruit bearing plant to the other, eat and move on. Of the seeds that are dropped the fittest will survive to full production. Some may be eaten off as shoot by another critter, others will die but in nature there is enough left to sustain the next level of life. Alongside them will grow other flower producing plants and "weeds".

The simplest thing I could come up with was a seed soup kind of idea and am going to do a little experiment. I currently have two bed empty and have not decided what to plant in them because I didn't follow my very good garden plan. (I think I am about to give up on planning like this, it never happens in real life like it says on paper!)

Here is how I proceeded with my seed soup:

Choose your seed mix - I have lettuce, tomatoes, radish and coriander to start.
Cosmos was sown next to the bed.

Put them in a bucket with a bit of compost 

Mix it all together well.

Sprinkle it all over the prepared area as evenly as you can, then gently rake back and forth with your fingers.

Water well and wait to see what happens.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Urban Homestead Open Morning

For those of you in Cape Town I am hosting an open morning where you can come and walk around our humble patch of earth and see how we grow our vegetables.

This is no a professional talk, and you will see the bugs and bare spaces too, but it will be real and I will happily share what I know with anyone who would like to grow their own veggies on whatever scale you can manage.

There is a cover fee of R50 per family which will go to our feral cat sanctuary in Franskraal.

Email me at should you need directions and address details.

See you then!

Figs...just in :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The sad story of my asparagus and a delicious recipe

Asparagus season is here. I love asparagus. I don't care that it has an after odour (nudge nudge wink wink). It is a fabulous health giving little plant.

One of the first things I planted back in 2008 were 12 asparagus seeds. I nurtured them year in and year out until they were big enough to be planted into their final place in 2010. 4 years after the seeds were sown (2012) we were able to start harvesting the spears.

Oh the sweet sweet taste of those first few we cut. The joy of seeing them sticking their tops out of the soil. The delight as each year the harvest grew...until this year.

It was my fault.

I should have told him.

I really needed to explain better.

Sam weeded the asparagus bed for me in August, but he used a fork and I believe he damaged most of the crowns.

We have had a dismal harvest of asparagus with very few spears. So sad, so sad. I will feed them, love them and see what happens next year.

But, never a girl to be kept down long...when I did my grocery shopping yesterday I saw the most magnificent spears and couldn't resist.

Today I made them into a heavenly soup...Superman said so, so we believe him :)

Here is what I did:

2 freshly picked onions
4 cloves of garlic
Zest of the last lemon on our tree

Slowly sizzled in some butter.


Remove the tips of two bunches of asparagus and set aside. Chop the spears into chunks and add to the onion. Add in some dry thyme and 400ml chicken stock.

Slowly simmer for 20 minutes then use a hand blender to make smooth.

Return the the heat and add 100ml cream, salt and pepper and the tips. Reheat.

I am sure it would be superb just on its own, but on Saturday I picked up some bacon from CURE and I fried up some bits until crisp and added this as a finish.

Nom Nom Nom!