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!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Slice of Farm Life

Fresh butter...lambs bread...milk squirting into a bucket....a rooster before grown and cooked from born calves and foals...

5 ½ years ago a dear friend moved away from the city and made a new life for her family on a farm on the border of Lesotho.  It has taken me this long to get to visit them...way too long. A 5 day oasis at the end of a busy year full of surprises and changes. A special treat was that this was a trip for just Superman and I this time and the kids were champions to keep the home and businesses running.

Serious onion envy
 Experiencing a slice of their lives was wonderful. Every part of it, from the eager rooster crowing before dawn to the curveballs this lifestyle tends to throw was exciting and inspiring.

But that's just the thing - I can come home to my contained little world and not have to carry the deeper stress of isolated farm living.

Either way as I watched my friend go through her days I was inspired yet again to keep on pushing into this homesteading lifestyle.

Whether she was planning her menus for a three day market, ministering to her servants and their families, giving deep loving care to her animals or serving up a ploughman lunch she inspired me to do better with what I have got here.

Cows enjoying discarded peas collected from the neighbouring farm

They have 5 cows. Two are in milk at the moment and from this milk she makes the most delicious cheeses. Chabrie, feta, gouda, hard cheese, labnah, cream cheese - all super scrumptious. Most of these are sold at local farmers markets but we had plenty everyday.

The cows graze around their beautiful stone cottage along with the pigs and lamb, with the ridgebacks as their protection.

The welcoming or farewell committee when coming and going to take staff, go for a farm drive or off to church has a new meaning. With 5 cows, 2 pigs, 1 lamb, 2 cats and 4 dogs to meet and greet makes my two barking dogs pale in significance. Lucy the lamb was hand raised when her mum rejected her. I enjoyed giving her one of her last bottles as she was weaned this weekend. Superman gave her her last bottle. She is really "Mary's" lamb calling for attention, following people or other animals around and generally being a sweetheart. She will be a breeding sheep in time.

Just one of the many braids
As they truly grow what they eat, only eating what they can get seasonally, the vegetables grown in the tunnel and around the garden are used fresh, preserved, bottled and dried. Plaiting her enviable onion and garlic harvest was one of the first things we did together. 

In true Elastic Mom style simple food combinations are used to make wonderful mouthwatering meals. 

Delicious homegrown homemade ploughman's platter
 Friday night Marlboro Man (a.k.a) Mr Elastic Mom takes over and makes dinner. I suppose nothing remarkable about pizza except that his dough takes days to nurture and the cheese is homemade and the bacon, well that's from a wild pig he hunted and cured.

Home cured bacon
A Sunday morning treat - freshly homemade croissants

Apricot hunting
 Close friends live on the next farm and they have orchards of cherry, apricot, peach and apple trees where picking is allowed.

While we spent some time looking for ripe fruit we were a few weeks to early to get more that a few apricots.

In fruit season jars of jam, chutney and preserves are made to keep going for the whole year.

The same is for the fields of marrows, corn, brassica and other vegetables. This is not an organic farm, but fresh from the earth on to the table you cannot get better unless grown at home.
Corn fields looking over into Lesotho

Large herds of cattle and sheep graze the land and we were treated to a moving herd the day we left with hundreds of moms and babes, and a few bulls, were ushered down to the barn for attention by the herders.

Mimicking mom
Day old foal

While we were there a new foal was welcomed onto the farm and we went to visit mom and little one as well as another recently born foal. Standing on their knobbly legs they were precious to admire.

Then all too soon it was time to come home. Being with my own children, in my own space and with my own animals is wonderful. I find myself looking at my home and little urban farm with new eyes and thinking and planning how to import a little slice of all this amazing woman does into my home is giving me many fruitful thoughts.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Flowers in my garden

I mentioned a while back that I was going to include more flowers in my garden this season as I want to attract more insects to the vegetable garden. This may seem a little counterproductive to pest control but I hope it will indeed do just that - control pests.

The other reasons are to promote pollination by giving the bees and butterflies lots of good food and for beauty. I may be strange but I do find vegetable and herb flowers beautiful. Not a well tended rose garden beautiful, but as I walk through all the green foliage I see little bursts of colour here and there as some of the herbs begin to flower I marvel at the different colours, shapes and purposes.

Calendula, seen above, is such a gorgeous flower that I have planted for the last few years. They are edible flowers, bees love the dark center landing pad and I collect the petals for my soap making. I have normally planted a ring of them around the pond, but this year I gave them the circular bed at the pool below the fig tree. They have grown prolifically here and are a huge burst of colour in our rather drab back yard.

Most of my borage has died down now and has been added to the compost heap. It will self seed all over the garden, I even see some leaves popping up from the last addition of compost to the beds. Most of it I pull out quite small, a few will be left to grow to flower stage. The flowers can be eaten in salads or on cheesecakes and they have a light cucumber taste. I have been told that you can also scrape the prickles of the leaves and slice them into fritters, but have not tried that yet!

I have a few Bulbinella plants around the place. The bees love this plant and so do I when something makes me itch when working in the garden. Its also cooling and soothing for sunburn, cooking burns and animal stings.

A lot of the flowers around the garden are simply because they have been left to go to seed. My coriander is about to do that and I will soon have the delicate white flowers to enjoy and eventually seeds for sowing and cooking.

It is the same with the dill below. We use very limited amounts of fresh dill in our cooking. But I love the blooms and we can save the seeds for recipes later in the year. Dill has the most beautiful delicate leaves which we chop finely into yoghurt when eating Greek dishes. We don't eat much fish due to our boys being allergic, but when we do having fresh dill is a winner.

Nasturtiums seed themselves all over the garden in late winter and he flower has always been one of my favourite. I normally have a few small vases of them scattered around the home. They are also a spicy addition to salads and the leaves are used in juices every now and again. We have little black beetles that like to bury themselves head down into their narrow throats and gulp up the nectar.

Nasturtiums are a wonderful way to protect brassicas from the white cabbage moth as these girls will lay their eggs on the undersides of the nasturtium leaves and their little caterpillars will munch away happily.

I also have loads of sage growing in a few places. The flowers are not the most astounding but sage leaves are superb with pork. Sage is also a great companion to carrots so my son planted some with his carrots in his square foot garden.

I also collect the sage leaves and use it in a sage and lemon grass soap which is one of my favourite bars.

Besides for the herb flowers I have also planted sunflowers around the pond. Its a little later than normal, but each year these tall beauties reach up around the pond and show off their faces to the sun. This is what the will look like in summer:

Do you grow flowers specifically in your garden?

Friday, October 31, 2014

DIY Cucumber frame

This post should be called the engineering design challenged mom's guide to building a cucumber frame! But will go with DIY cucumber frame for sake of simplicity.

There are climbing cucumbers and bush cucumbers - I have grown both. I do however prefer climbing ones for two simple reasons being that the bush cucumbers tend to be smaller and the fruit has a tendency to hang on the ground.

Cucumbers are on of those foods that we eat a lot of, but cannot store well. It's always a toss up with how many plants to plant and whether we will actually be able to use them all before they are spoiled by pests, hot weather or neglect.

I normally plant an early crop in a tub and choose the round lemon cucumbers and then around about now plant some into the vegetable garden. Last year I attempted to make a horrid farm for them to climb over and planted spinach under the frame hoping the cucumber growth would shade up the delicate spinach leaves, but this caused failure of two crops.

This year I thought I would try a more traditional way and have made a spiffing new frame from recycled wood and a bit of garden mesh. So here's how and engineering design challenged mom made a cucumber trellis.

You will need:

-3 1.5m long wooden poles of about 7-10cm diameter with one sharp end
-A length of plastic garden mesh
-Staple gun
-A well appreciated and handy Sam!

The dimensions of the poles are based on my bed which is 3.10m in length. If your bed is smaller you may only need two poles, but the middle one gives good rigidity.

Unroll the mesh and staple it firmly to one pole aligning the top of the mesh with the flat end of the pole. Halfway down the length of mesh staple your next pole and then again at the end of the mesh length.

Dig a hole for each pole in your bed and use a hammer to bang the sharp edge of the pole into the soil compacting it around the pole when filing up the hole again. I ran my climbing frame down the center of the bed. On the sunny side I will plant tomatoes in front of the cucumber and on the shady side I will plant lettuce. This allows me to grow three vegetables in one bed making use of vertical space.

I also left about a 20cm gap between the soil level and the mesh as a cucumber vine can support itself for this little bit and having the higher mesh allows it to grow higher and create more flowers.

I then planted up the bed and hopefully in a few weeks will have a positive report to give you all.

Are you growing cucumbers this year?