Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winter...what can you do?

After a few days of delicious sunshine we are back to the typical weather of a Cape Town winter. Fingertips are cold, layers are on and fires lit.

My garden has been drenched in the torrential rain that has come down since early morning before the sparrows were up. There are puddles everywhere and the taller veggies, like broad beans, have bowed their heads to carry the weight of water droplets.

It makes it hard to write about veggie gardening in winter let alone to get into the veggie garden to do anything productive there. So I will be philosophical about it and say that when winter is wet and cold it means we must hibernate, stay warm, plan and rest.

There are some things that can be done on fine days when the sun is out and the fingertips aren't cold. Here in the Western Cape we do not get frost and snow does not reach us on the Cape Flats which means that we can still plants quite a few crops: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, broad beans, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, herbs, kale, beets and carrots.

They grow quite slowly and its best to get them in the ground before the true cold of June and July hit. A second planting of these same veggies can be planted in early August which will mean harvesting just in time to get your spring veggies in.

We loose a chunk of our growing space in the winter due to shadows from the house but we have 7 raised beds that still receive enough sun. The other beds are left fallow for this time, then composted in early spring an planted up.

I have a plan for these beds after seeing the compost heaps at Soil 4 Life the other day and I think it will work. I want to use some old vertical climbing frames that Superman made back in 2009 and turn them into something like this.

While the shade is still over these areas I am going to fill them with composting materials and then in September/October I want to plant creeping veg directly into them to see if I can capitalise on vertical growing space. So winter is a time for planning and dreaming of crops to come.

Living Seeds has just made a print catalogue of their seeds and gardening products which is a good excuse to sit down with a steaming cuppa of your favourite brew and browse through their product range and make your planned purchases.

I should be knitting, cooking warm foods, making soap, reading homesteading type books and increasing my skills, but right now its a fire, cup of tea and blogging.

How is your winter garden coming along?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Slow living 2014 ~ June

After a crispy cold walk with my buddy and our dogs while dodging rain drops, bundled up like the abominable snow man I thought I would reflect on what was for the month of June. I checked in with Christine at Slow Living Essentials this week to see how she was doing and I think, like all of us, she is busy juggling life with homestead, children, winter and learning skills. I am not sure if she will do a link up this week, but I find that looking over my previous month brings a sense of achievement in a small way when most of my time consists, rightly so, of the things that are not easily measured in life.

With that in mind, and with cold numbing my fingers, here was my month of June.


June is the month of mushrooming for us. A few meals were made from the forest offerings of pine rings. I used up my last of our autumn butternuts in a few meals from Save with Jamie. Every time I had to have the oven on for a slow roast I popped one of our butternuts alongside in a dish. Roasted butternut can be turned into a few things like butternut fritters with sage, butternut pasta with gorgonzola cheese, butternut humous on crispy ciabatta and even spicy butternut muffins for breakfast.

The garden has slowed down immensely with the cold weather, but we still have lettuce, spring onions, carrots and spinach to use sparingly.

I try to keep either beef, lamb or chicken stock prepared all through winter. Keeping about 4 one litre jars in the fridge a week is about right for Bolognaise, stews and especially warming soups for lunch. Whether it is chicken carcasses I use or beef bones or the chicken necks my children sell, there is generally enough stock to use for our meals. Stocks are a wonderful easy way to add nutrition to meals and health to your body. The biggest thing for me is the glycosaminoglycans which aids in keeping my spine from deteriorating any more and while I do still supplement with this same pill, stock is just a much more homey way to do it! You can read about other benefits here and how to make it here.

Waste nothing has been high on my agenda this month. I have tried to use up the left over bits of soup in other sauces, wilting veg in bakes or stock, fruit in crumbles (using almond flour as a topping) and even readdressing the food waste hierarchy. Here is an interesting article on this concept and one we implement in our home.


Not that we did any thing much in this area specifically, but my son and I went to visit Soil 4 Life this month when he was busy setting up his square foot bed and we were inspired in a variety of ways for our own garden.

Being "green" can become a religion to some and cause a skewed perspective of what it means to live as a wise steward of the Earth than God has given to us to live out our years on.

At Soil 4 Life we just enjoyed seeing some ideas on making do with what we have and I see where we could have saved money by using existing resources in our home before going and buying new ones.

With this in mind I have to repurpose some items we have lying around for our summer garden. I will have to get Sam busy on this soon as spring will be on us in no time...

My youngest set up a square foot garden bed planting carrots, spring onions, spinach, kale, broccoli and herbs.

I have put in our next broad bean bed, spring onions and coriander this month.

Food, lots of food.

Just a pin to share...


School holidays are upon us and with 3 delicious weeks there will be a few special things to enjoy. Last week it was a visit to Kirstenbosch and the new tree top canopy walk way.

The weather makes things a bit tricky planning outside activities so we settle into the winter rhythm and play scrabble around the fire, cuddle cats and kitten, enjoy fellowship with friends, lie in bed and read...lovely winter things to do when the world outside is dripping wet and cold.

How was your June?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My big fat pantry challenge

Every now and again I have to stop buying groceries and use up what I have and I have decided that now is as good a time as any.

Pantry beginnings
I consider my freezer, fridge, garden and physical pantry all part of this challenge. I didn't have a pantry until August last year, before that my groceries were in a normal cupboard. When we did our renovations we decided on taking a small awkward passage way and turning it into a pantry and a "cloakroom" where we keep sports equipment, homeschool resources, sewing and scrapbooking stuff. These two rooms are separate from one another but used up this dead space so well.

My pantry is a real pleasure...except when it comes to keeping it tidy. Superman says "entropy" (movement towards degradation!) is something that takes place all the time in the universe, so I will spend each holiday giving a cupboard a good cleaning and sorting out, only to find out that within a week stuff is in the wrong place, mixed up, untidy and messy...almost as if it happened on its own :(

Trying to keep order

So yesterday I got stuck into the pantry for a deep clean. Every basket was unpacked, cleaned and repacked in an orderly fashion, shelves wiped down, jars and plastics without lids sent to recycling, and lids without jars too!

I also check expiry dates on whatever I put back into the pantry and fridge. If you keep medicines in your fridge, now is a good time to check those too.

This left me with a clear idea of what I have as basic ingredients with which to create meals.

The garden has some peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce and herbs for me at the moment. Then this morning my freezer was subjected to a stock take.

Tidy pantry
My freezer holds grass fed boerewors, mince, pork hocks, chicken necks (for stock), chicken livers, raw cat and dog food.

My fridge holds eggs, cheese, milk and some odds.

I am truly glad we are having a break from schooling at the moment so that I can be creative with our meals. When I am doing a pantry challenge like this (generally not more than twice a year) I do not plan meals...I take each day as it comes. I figure that besides for milk we should be eating quite well for the next few weeks.

Last night I made a delicious lamb and lentil pie with left over roast leg of lamb. On the side were the last peas and cabbage.

This morning for breakfast was almond and banana pancakes with yoghurt and honey and bacon.

Lunch was sweet potato and sweet pepper soup.

Tonight will be chilli con carne meatballs on bulgar wheat...nom nom, can't wait! Oh...and a peach almond crumble with homemade custard. (We have guests coming!)

Are you up for a pantry challenge?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trying Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening has always intrigued me, but I never took up the idea as it seemed to fiddly and also I must admit to being a traditional kinda gal. About 3 weeks ago my youngest son asked if he could be given a bed to grow his own vegetables.

This boy is a very picky eater. He eats lots of what he likes and gags down tiny amounts of what is necessary for his health. I thought it would be a good idea for him to grow his food choices, with a little direction from me :)

I know that looking at an empty bed and deciding what should go into it can sometimes be a little daunting for the new veggie gardener so I was looking for some options and remembered square foot gardening. I sent him some links and videos to watch and it was a hit!

Youngest sat down and planned out his bed using the SFG mode on the planner and then we headed out to buy his seeds, compost and seedlings. I have wanted to take him to the amazing Soil for Life garden for a long time, and now I am glad we waited as it was a wonderland for him.

The sign says: "Pedal me to water our garden"
The bike is connected to the rain water tank and a pump which waters the closer beds. Being a kid engineer he was fascinated!

This hosepipe holder was interesting to was planted up with yarrow and the pipe wound around the outside of the tyre. Amazing repurposing idea.

A compost teepee which when full can have creeping veg planted in it.

The nursery where he chatted with the workers and chose his seedlings
After purchasing his seedlings and the seeds from the lovely Sarah in the shop we headed home.

We do not have exact square foot beds as we are using our existing raised beds but he measured off his blocks and used twine to mark them.

Then following his plan he planted out his seeds and seedlings. He included some companion plants like dill and spring onions around the carrots and other flowers to attract pollinators.

A square foot bed of small beginnings. While it looks empty as a lot was planted as seeds we hope for some good growth over the next weeks which will keep his interest up.

I am not sure I would go for SFG as a complete system, although there are many attractive elements to it. On many levels this is a try out for me and a healthy project for him, we will see where it leads us for the next season.

I must have a chuckle as I have already done my summer plan on my normal system, so if this bed produces what everyone promises, then I will be back at the drawing board.

Do you SFG? How do you find your yields?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The breakfast of champions!

My cousin said to me the other day when I shared how much we "cheat" on Paleo: "100% Paleo, 80% of the time" and this does describe how we are at the moment. I do love fresh homemade bread, delicious pasta dripping in traditional sauces, sticky puddings...but these are eaten only intermittently now.

My Superman's breakfast of choice ever since he was knee high to a grasshopper is a piece of white toast smeared with marmite. Topped with two slices of tomato, a doorstep slice of cheese, a slice of ham (bacon will do) and two fried eggs. This makes him a happy man. I treat him with this every now and again, but have had to find other ways to serve eggs at breakfast time with a low carb diet that he must follow.

This one is my favourite:

Our bacon is free range, our eggs organic either from our own birds or from Funky Chickens and the kale (or spinach) from the garden. The onions were bought from bees in boots.

Get your bacon frying and remove once done. Keep warm and retain the bacon fat in the pan.

Add one chopped onion, 4 peeled chopped garlic cloves and some chilli flakes. Fry until soft.

Add your washed chopped kale to the onion and fry until slightly softened and darker in colour. Make four holes and crack an egg into each. Place a lid on the pan for 2 minutes for soft eggs and 3 for hard.

Warm the bacon again and serve with a scoop of eggs and spinach. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Get planning....

It has just passed the Winter Solstice and from now on the days will get longer and longer. Currently we are on our 3rd day of unseasonably warm weather. It's a fools paradise though as from tomorrow our temperatures will begin to drop again and the rain will hit.

While our thoughts are still on fires, sticky puddings, thick duvets, rain and soups spring is actually just around the corner when there is so much to do in a vegetable garden to get ready. Our time is also shortened as this year I am taking my two daughters to the UK for 2.5 weeks in October and this is normally a very busy planting time.

This weekend I grabbed some time to think through my late winter garden as a lot of what I had planted in autumn is already eaten and in a few weeks I will have empty beds if I don't get some seeds started soon-soon.

I have a friend who is meticulous in her planning and the implementing of the plan and she is a real inspiration. I am however a little too random to stick to my plans fastidiously, but I am trying to at least keep some sort record of when~what~where.

I used to plan on paper, but then I would loose the papers and I couldn't remember from one season to the next what had been in the bed before and it was anyones guess if I had planted tomatoes in the same place last season. This is a real no-no when it comes to sustainability in the home veggie garden.

2 years ago I started used this online garden planner and it is a great help for taking my thoughts and plans and storing them somewhere they won't get lost or forgotten. My plans for my late winter garden are published to the website.

This is our kitchen garden as it stands minus the potatoes which will go into the ground in the next two weeks.

The second plan is the bigger area which we created in 2010.

From these plans I have created our spring planting. They seem very samey each year but I now grow lots of what we enjoy eating or what often comes up in the recipes we choose. I also do not plant purple carrots and black corn (as excited as some get about these variations, they simply do not do it for me!)

I have also given up my dreams of growing enough onions and garlic for our annual use. I have tried 3 years in a row and always get a disappointing yield. We use so much of these two vegetables that I would have to give over such a large amount of space to give us what we need and they are slow growing crops which means that I cannot get as much use out of my beds with higher yielding faster growing veg.

Here are the same areas for spring.

Spring kitchen garden

Pond Garden

Here are two great videos I watched this week about organising your seed and about getting higher yields from your garden space.

Happy planning!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mushrooming...a family tradition perhaps?

Leaving one sleepyhead to snooze, seeing another off on a instagramming trip around Cape Town I hauled Superman and the youngest two kiddies off to Tokai forest to collect the annual treat of Pine Rings. It's the first time Gavin has joined us, he is always skeptical about eating from the wild. The first time (6yrs ago) I served pine rings, he could not handle the thought and his body rejected the mushrooms...YKWIM?

Last year he ate them in a delicious wild mushroom risotto, which we will be making tonight again. This is real comfort food, warm, creamy and hugely satisfying and will probably mark the end of our carbohydrate spree we have been on recently. The chicken stock is cooking away on the stove and filling the house with rich fragrant aromas hinting at the meal to come tonight.

Come for a photographic walk with us while we go mushroom picking...

So much rain has made rivulets through the forest

Gorgeous green

We have to cross this...

The way across?

Little waterfalls all over the place

Arrived in the plantation

Superman's cache

Gorgeous freshly grown (no green)

And now to get back over

Sarah and I waded through the icy stream barefoot