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.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Choosing The Right Season To Plant: It Looks Like Winter Is My Best Food Growing Season

I knew that a region's climate is very important when gardening. But at the back of my mind, there was also this conventional wisdom that said my bumper crops would come from Spring and Summer plantings. I've been chasing that rainbow for too long.

Looking back at my gardening experiences and output over the years, I can see that the garden performed best in Winter. Most days range from teens to mid-twenties, except when we have the periodic cold snaps, the soil retains water better and is soft and rich and my seedlings' growth reflect this happiness with their environment.

The seedlings don't grow as fast as they would, theoretically, in Spring. But they are not in danger of drying out or burning to a crisp due to the scorching Summer heat either. This is major lesson for me and my garden planning.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My February Gardening News

Beautiful  summer garden

  • It rained quite a bit this February. Enough to make my garden a bit jungle-like. The morning glory is doing beautifully. 
  • Some of my vegetables and herbs survived the hot summer months. I have plenty of spinach and kale to see me into late Autumn. On Saturday  I was able to pick enough basil to make a huge bottle of pesto. I'm freezing some of it and the rest will go into almost every meal I make this month.
  • Moringa seeds germinated very quickly. I can now see the tiny shoots coming out. It's exciting.
  • My chickens are producing enough eggs for a daily supply for four people. My family are still unsure if they want to eat the eggs, as we have a rooster and the eggs are fertilized and would result in a chick if not picked. The thing is, when I make omelets and quiche and other eggs dishes, they can't tell the difference with store-bought eggs. So I just don't talk about using them, though I don't hide it (they know why I have chickens).
  • The garden has lots of floral corners and conversation areas dotten around her large yard
  • One of my cousins has a beautiful ornamental garden. We visited her for a family luncheon this month. The lady is much older - hard to tell, but late 60s to 70s maybe, and she takes care of the garden herself. I have a lot to learn from her garden design and plant choices, especially as she largely chooses hardy, ever-green plants that survive the winter cold and summer heat waves.
  •  We're preparing the soil for a new seed planting for the season. During the day I let the chickens out to roam in the space,  allowing them to forage there. Daily I can see the progress as their scratching softens the soil. 
  • Friday, February 26, 2016

    My End of February Garden Is Still A Mess

    Pic of our typical lunch I'm using as background for the blog
    But I'm happy with things so far. It's been raining periodically; enough to gain confidence that we can do a major planting in April.

    Produce prices at my local retailers have also dropped slightly.

    Meanwhile, someone gave me a hydrangea and two nut saplings. I'll transfer them into the soil mid-to-late March.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Growing Moringa Trees

    My friend Sharon, who is from the Limpopo province in South Africa, passed through Phokeng en route to Mafikeng. So she stopped for a night at my house.

    She was my younger sister's roommate at varsity, so she's like a little sister to me and her visits are basically a home-coming and for years, she'd come to visit my parents even when neither my sister nor I were home. Her biological family farms vegetable produce - peppadews for the international market and other veggies for a number of retailers, so we always have a lot to talk about regarding my garden.

    She also knows a lot about indigenous herbs and plants and has taught me quite a bit about what "weeds" I can use for medicinal purposes. [There was the weed I struggled to kill for several seasons and when I eventually asked for her advice, she said how I needed to cultivate it because it was a multipurpose herb. A strong one necessary for every household, as it turned out. ]Anyhoo, that is how she also introduced me to moringa tea.

    Usually, when she visits she brings me moringa tea leaves, but we decided that was not a sustainable thing, as we never know when she'll be back in my neck of woods, considering she lives more than 700km from Phokeng ( I think, but could be further). So she brought me moringa seeds along with my fresh supply of tea when she was passing through.

    Yesterday we spent some time in the garden planting the trees. We put around 30 seeds into the soil. We'll see how many seedlings that will result in. I may end up transplanting some of the saplings into the rest of the yard, or maybe even giving away some of them.

    So What Is Moringa?

    The full name is Moringa oleifera, andit is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that many people call a "miracle tree" or a "tree of life" because of the huge amounts of nutrients it carries. It is used in nutrition-programmes in countries like India and Ghana, and and a lot of people say how it has multiple times the amount of nutrients you can find in traditional food sources. For example, here is a comparison for some nutrients from fresh leaves with common foods (Values per 100gm. edible portion (source: Trees for Life International)



    Other Foods

    Vitamin A   6780 mcg   Carrots: 1890 mcg
    Vitamin C   220 mg   Oranges: 30 mg
    Calcium   440 mg   Cow's milk: 120 mg
    Potassium   259 mg   Bananas: 88 mg
    Protein   6.7 gm   Cow's milk: 3.2 gm

    Basically, the leaves can be used as food flavorant or tea.  They can also be dried and stored for future use.
    Once the plant has grown enough to flower, they will produce green pods, which you can cook up pretty much like you do green beans. You can also put them in curries. When the pods dry, take out the seeds, which you can then eat as snacks. Oils pressed from the seeds is also used in making cosmetics.

    Sharon warned me against eating the roots. She said they have too high a concentration of nutrients and the body may not react comfortably to the influx. I also came across this video, which recommends that we only stick to the leaves. The rest of the plant could cause some side-effects, they said.

    So basically, the usual disclaimers apply: talk to your doctor and/nutritionist before you use this plant in a big way. 

    As For The Taste Of It? 

    I like the tea. Allowed to seep in boiling water, I then bottle it and put it out to be drunk all day as an iced tea. Palates vary obviously but sugar made my tea taste truly ghastly.

    The seeds have a very strong taste. Too sweet for me, with an after-taste like I ate an odd flavour of licorice. I have, however, eaten food products flavoured with moringa.

    My sister's mother-in-law is also a director in a company that produces moringa products commercially, and over the years, she has tested some moringa-flavoured food products on me, including biscuits. Overall, it was a new flavour to me, and something I needed to get used to, but good.

    Growing Moringa In Your Garden

    That was the easy part. We chose a boundary fence area, so the tree can grow out of the way from most of the gardens. So the trees will serve as additional boundary for us. There soil there was very good though, despite the drought, with some live worms in it. We softened it, created several small "plates" where each tree would grow, watered them and once the water had seeped in, planted the seeds. The seeds were planted in the morning, so by late afternoon, I watered the patch again. I'll keep watering it daily until the seedlings show.

    Meanwhile, I still have around 500g of more seeds, some of which we'll snack on. I'll also keep cadging some from Sharon until mine grow enough to provide a continuous supply. Sharon loves chilli and I made enough chilli sauces from my fresh chilli to last me until Spring. So I have something to bribe her with:)

    Anyhoo, I'm happy to mail you some seeds if you live in South Africa and want to grow the plant. Email me if you're keen

    Monday, January 18, 2016

    Hope For Autumn Garden

    Found this guy running through my office at night. Eeeek!!!
    There are many joys to be had for living close to nature. The problem with living close to nature though, is that sometimes you are too damn close to nature! As evidenced by this guy on the ground, who ran a marathon past my desk chair in my office, at night. Luckily I was in the office and he was making so much noise I noticed him.

    Of course I screamed bloody murder. And Nephew1, came running and squashed him with one of my running shoes. My hero!!

    I read up on the scorpion and based on the Google picture search, I think this is a Parabuthus Transvaalicus, which Wikipedia says is a species of venomous scorpion found in dry parts of Southern Africa. Hard to say I'll be careful next time, because as previously mentioned, I do live near a river on the edge of a small forest. Add the fact that someone has been authorized to mine near the mountains nearby and they are scaring the wildlife into the village.

    So far, there has been this snake (killed by my cats), a monkey that walked into my yard from the back gate and out through the front entrance (it didn't look panicked, so I thought it was familiar enough with the village and left it alone), a wild pig some guys in the village chased through my yard (and yes, they killed and took it home for meat) and plenty of squirrels that are being a nuisance. My formerly feral cats keep harassing the squirrels though, so hopefully they won't stay. So ja, a bit of unexpected interaction between man and nature has been happening around here lately.

    Other than that, very little is happening on the gardening front. Temperatures were as high as ever. It rained a couple of nights. Enough to give me hope that my Autumn crops might do well. I'm still holding off planting, mostly because I'm rethinking the way I grow food to optimise for drought and scorching temperatures in summer.

    I also got a quotation to replace all the gutters on the house and to install a rain harvesting system. So far it looks doable, especially if I also use some resources I already have. We might do the job in February, giving me enough time to still capture some Autumn rainfall if it happens.

    So ja, gardening may resume this Autumn. If it doesn't, it will only mean I wait until I have most of my anti-drought systems in place before I begin growing again.