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.

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.