Saturday, December 9, 2017

Organic Seeds: Christmas Came In Very Early For Me

Aren't they just pretty!! Lots and lots of varieties in this box.
Today it's a lovely day in Johannesburg. Sunny, but not too hot after the endless rains. I missed the rains in Gauteng province after the arid climate of the North West province where my home in Phokeng is.

Now I can grow vegetables without worrying about how I will keep them watered, especially with drought conditions in other parts of the country like the Western Cape, where the City of Cape Town is frantically trying to plan for Day Zero, when the municipality could potentially run out of water to supply the city. Honestly, reading the articles makes me think of apocalyse-type novels.

It's also surreal for me, because while there are plenty of writing(creative) jobs in Cape Town, I have refused to move to that city because I didn't like it. Ja, ja, I know it's pretty and cosmopolitan and has a beach and the work would be plentiful for me there, but back when I worked for a non-profit organisation in the early 2000s, I used to spend a week a month there and I was miserable because it rained so much then.

I remember one July, sitting in my hotel room, sobbing like a five-year old and just wanting to come back to Johannesburg because it was so wet there. I vowed there and then that I would avoid that city whenever I could, and when my employer later moved the head office to Cape Town along with my job, I opted for retrenchment. Oddly enough, the endless wet in Johannesburg does not bug me. It makes me happy instead. Go figure!

But I digress: today I walked to my friend Christelle's house - she lives just round the corner and up the block from me - and she had plenty of goodies for me, which included baked goods and a whole bunch of organic/ heritage seeds. There are a lot of veggies in there:
  • Aurbegine (Egg plant)
  • Squash (hubbard, gem)
  • Butternut
  • Pumpkin (Japanese)
  • Tomatoes( moneymaker, floradale, Mixed T)
  • Cabbage ( Chinese, drumhead)
  • Tatsoi
  • Pakchoi
  • White maize
  • Spinach (rainbow)
  • Lima beans (Madagascan)
  • Brown onion (Australian)
  • Cumcumber (Poona kheera)
  • Cape gooseberry
  • Carrots (scarlet nantes)
  • Lettuce (Lollo rossa, Great Lakes, Red Salad Bowl) 
So now I can happily expand gardening venture in the city. Happy days!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Started Doing Some Planting

The grape bush that came with the house
I under-estimated how much I didn't like the area where I was sharing a cottage, but I never did manage to settle comfortably there, despite the fact that the place had a wonderful gardening space. So on the hunt I went until I found a wonderful house I could be comfortable in, in a different suburb of Johannesburg.

The place is old and the rooms are of a larger-proportion variety. Best of all, I have ample space for a home -office and a veggie/herb/flower garden. I'm now happily settled in there and have started to periodically plant some veggie seeds. Part of the front garden was just dry and neglected. That's where most of my garden will be situated, though there are some portions of the yard at the back where I can also plant something. So far I've planted corn and cabbages. I will expand my range in due course.

I have also started a compost heap. There are a lot of trees and bushes in the yard, I've been collecting the leaves as they fall and throwing them into the heap. The container is not going to make sufficient compost for my garden, but it's a good starting point.
The great news is that, it has been raining so much in Johannesburg that I doubt drought will be a problem like it was in Phokeng. Also, this is a different climate region, not semi-arid like Phokeng.
I'm looking forward to this new adventure.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

In This New Phase of My Life, I've Become An Urban Gardener

Lunch today was a mix of veggies from local market and our garden
I have great news. At the beginning of June, I moved into a cottage to share with a business associate. It's a suburb that I'm not so familar with, as I would never have thought I could afford to live here. But the rent was surprisingly affordable.

At first, I questioned whether I could fit in here, because I'm surrounded by mansions in massive yards, and it's a gated community with security guards around. Seriously larney and not exactly what my poor hippie self is used to.

But the place met most of needs and wants: my housemate has a medium-sized urban garden behind the kitchen and a courtyard, growing vegetables, fruit and herbs. She invited me to share the space with her, and I'm free to contribute to the garden and grow what I like there. So, moving to the city does not mean I have to give up my gardening. Yaay!

The garden is well-cared for, with rich soil packed full of leaves and other organic matter. She has an established habit of saving all the vegetable and fruit peels from the kitchen and feeding them to the garden. She is also talking about establishing a worm farm.

Everyday we pick stuff from the garden - rocket, cherry tomatoes, collard greens, mint and other herbs to use in our meal preparation. Yesterday I planted more collard greens and cherry tomatoes in the garden.

I'm still wary of digging in the plot because I'm not quite sure what seeds she may have stuck in there, but once I get to know the garden, I'm going to have fun preparing the soil for Spring planting. For now, we are growing spinach, sweet potatoes, spring onions, carrots, tomatoes, a lime tree, rocket, collard greens growing in there. We also have numerous pots full of herbs, trees and shrubs and ornamental plants in a sunny courtyard.

My housemate is vegan ( and trying to introduce me to that eating lifestyle). I'm not quite convinced I want to go that route as I love eggs and milk and meat and trully, I don't know if I want to live without bacon.  But I'm not fighting her too hard and still get my animal products when I need to. So it's not a major issue.

So, I'm going to have a lot of fun planting vegetables I like/ that I can't easily get from the market there. To start with, I know I'm going to grow chilli, egg plant, lots of spinach, Chinese cabbage, carrots, onions, leeks, basil, spring onions, cucumber and butternut. I'm also going to attempt growing strawberries again. Oh, I'm sooo excited, because unlike the semi-desert that is Phokeng, the weather in Johannesburg is very kind to growers, with plenty of rain. Just thinking about what I'm going to plant makes me restless, wishing the time was here and I could start already.

Anyhoo, I'm grateful that you have been very patient following my erratic postings and I hope you will stay and follow my new adventure. I expect to learn a lot from this, and will share my experiences as I go along.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Changing Things Up To Live and Grow My Food In The City

My food garden in Johannesburg years ago
This year is bringing lots of changes; one of the big ones being my plan to move back to Johannesburg. I didn't see the big move coming, but now that it's here, I'm excited about it.

Basically, the move was forced on me: in August last year I fell sick with what I thought was bad case of flu, but it turned out to be a major lung infection. My doctor began an aggressive six-month treatment that includes antibiotics and steroids. Unfortunately, my body fought back and the side-effects were massive, including some kidney damage.

I won't give too many details here, but I ended up stuck in bed, needing the assistance of family and a care-giver. It took me months to recover, and even now I'm not 100% yet. The consequence of this is, of course, that I could barely take care of myself, never mind a garden.

And it hit my confidence in my ability to live in a rural area. I realised that our property is too big and needs too much work and energy to care for and use effectively; something that I was no longer sure I was capable of doing. I felt that I needed a smaller space, which I could easily take care of myself even when I grow much older and feeble. I also wanted to be closer to my younger sister and my writing business clients in the event things went pear-shaped in the future. So I'm moving back to Johannesburg. As I type this post, I'm staying with my sister as I rebuild my strength and work to reclaim my lifestyle.

This move was a hard decision to make and I feel like I ran away. My younger sister has no shame about that. "It's time to get out of Dodge," she insists. I also know I made a good decision for me and my future, and will adjust my food growing initiatives to suit my new life. I had a lush, productive garden long before I moved to Phokeng to take care of Mma, and I know Johannesburg will provide me with the opportunity to do so again.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Feeling Very Optimistic About 2017

Happy New Year to you. It's been a very hot Summer here in Phokeng, though it also rained very regularly. My family is enjoying a bunch of pomegranates from a neighbour's garden.

My own garden looks like a jungle because I haven't been able to take care of it properly since winter, so this fruit is also consolation.

I'm looking to seeing 2017 progress and hope that it brings you good health, many blessings and prosperity.

Enjoy the new year.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Water Shortage Forces Local Food Garden Project For The Elderly To Give Me Their Seedlings. It Sucks!

Seedlings in my storage, ready for transplanting
Last week the leader of Tshufi Hill Project For The Aged, a food gardening project run by retired women at a nearby village, called to offer me seedlings from their garden as they are unable to care for them until maturity due to water shortages in the area.

Unfortunately they don't have large water tanks to harvest rain water and/to store.

On Friday I went with one of my nephews to pick them up. I was happy that they offered me the seedlings, but also very sad that their food source is being decimated.

In the absence of a full garden crop, they will have to buy most of their produce. Unfortunately, with the rising food costs, they'll have to scale down on what they can buy.

Here are some of the photos I took from their garden:

Their garden is as large as mine, which is about the size of small suburban plot. The garden soil is cared for and they do feed it, but it's very sandy and dry. It needs a lot of more compost and mulching to help it retain water.

This space is around a third of their garden.

   Their seedlings are beautiful and long overdue for transplanting.

Digging out cabbage seedlings with one of the project members

This is the kind of water tank that they need.

My tank also serves as a water source for some community members.
One of my friends has offered to start knocking doors asking for someone to donate a 10 000 water tank or the money to buy one. So ja, I'm asking: if you can help them in any way to buy the Jojo tank, the irrigation tools would really help keep them fed and make a difference in their lives.

Also note that registered no-profit organisation, Tshufi Hill are vetted by the Department of Social Development and the Royal Bafokeng NGO Forum, a local umbrella body with almost 90 member organisations. So there are governance structures in place.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Carp. Lots of Fresh Carp

I'm so glad my friend Sharon has moved here! She loves finding alternative sources of food, much like I do. And she recently found a young man who fishes at Kanana Dam (also called Vaalkop Dam.) who agreed to supply us with carp. The dam is in Phokeng, but several villages over from where I live. We'll get the fish on a weekly basis at a very reasonable price.

We tried the first catch and there is such a vast difference between freshly caught fish and what I usually buy from the supermarket. It practically melted in my mouth.

The family decided that Wednesday is our fresh fish day. Each week we are going to try out a new recipe.  So yesterday we had a fish braai for dinner. It was a public holiday (local/municipal elections) and so we went to vote and then hung out with family and friends.
The fish is very large.. more than 2kg each, I think

We marinated the fish with sauce made up of:

  • Fresh herbs from the garden
  • Lemon juice
  • Peri-peri spice
  • Worcester sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Slowly Ripening a Large Bag of Avocados

My friend Sharon is from Limpopo province, where they are known for growing avocados for the export market. So this weekend when she came back from visiting her family, she brought me back a large bag of avocados.

I don't want them to all ripen at the same time, so I'm phasing the process: most of the batch went into the fridge so they could stay unripe longer, and then I wrapped the ones I wanted to use to ripen them.

I did a cursory search on Google just to see how other people ripen their avocados. There were a lot of posts about ripening an avocado in 10 minutes by putting it in an oven.

When they are in season, avocados are staple in our our meals: we use them instead of butter/margarine on bread, as part of sandwich fillings, salads and dips. I've never ripened them in an oven though, probably because when you grow your food, you get used to being patient and eating what's available when it's ready. Also, it's probably out of ignorance, but I'm a bit wary about whether using heat like that affects the quality of the fruit. So I decided to go with the process I'm used to:

Step 1: Line a basket with newspaper or cloth and then put the first layer of avocados in the basket.

Step 2: Cover your avocados with newspaper/cloth and then put in the second layer of avocados on top

Step 3: Cover the basket to make sure your avocados are in a warm, dark and cozy place.

Step 4: Put the basket in a cupboard (I usually put on a pantry shelf) until they are ready to use. 
It usually takes 1-3 days for the avocados to ripen depending on their state when I received them (were they already in the process of ripening) and daily temperatures in my area at the time. So I check daily, take out the ones which are ready and leave the rest to continue the process.

The South African Avocado Growers Association also gives some advice on ripening and storing avocados. 

They say: "To ripen avocados at home, keep them at room temperature until they are ripe.  To accelerate the ripening process, place avocados in the fruit bowl with other fruit (especially bananas),  or better still, pop them into a brown paper bag with the bananas."

I'll try that next time I have bananas and avocados at the same time.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Peach Trees Are Blooming

It rained last week and the weather is still very cold, as it's still winter, and daily temperatures range from 3-18 degrees Celcius in my area.

However, since mid-July the peach trees have been blooming really nicely. Last year my harvest from the trees was tiny and I hope that this year we'll get enough fruit to eat, make jam and some preserves.

The rest of the vegetable crops are also doing well. We have spinach, Chinese cabbage, kale, different types of onions, leeks, peas, beetroot, carrots, lettuce and herbs growing well.

The soil is also prepared to plant more seeds and to transplant seedlings. So unless something drastic happens, we are going to have a bumper crop this Spring. I'm happy, because it puts me on the path to provide a greater percentage of our food - something that was heavily disrupted by the drought last year.

This year I'm also planning to grow tomatoes and cabbages; crops that I have previous struggled with in the past. During the years/seasons when I've gotten the crop right, we have enjoyed huge harvests that lasted us for months on end.  Unfortunately there have been years where the tomatoes were damaged by blight or the environment was too dry to allow cabbage to do well. I'm optimistic this will not be the case this year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My first sweet potato harvest for 2016

This is my first sweet potato harvest this year. We picked them today.

This batch is in a 10-litre metal bowl. It's around a fifth of the full harvest, we think.

The harvest is not as big as the 2015 one, but it's good enough. I'm planning to store most of it for the rest of the year.