Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gardening News: An Update Covering Spring and Summer 2012

When I first moved to Phokeng, I had so many good intentions about updating this blog. Unfortunately, my nature is to cocoon and not communicate much when life is a bit rough. Very frustrating for friends and family, but after so many years, they work around me when I turn tortoise to make sure I don't get lost in my head.

However, while I was extremely quiet (online too), I was working hard to settle in my new home and create gardens that are both productive and visually appealing. The physical labour also helped me get rid of some of the stress I was under.

I'm now able to communicate again, and can share with you some of my gardening news (what I've been up to in the past year).

To start with, the Phokeng garden is big, as we live in a village on approximately 2 thousand square metres of land. My grandfather and father had previously raised  food in the garden, but years of neglect after their death ( Pappa in 2002) had taken their toll on the land.

The trees surrounding the property were overgrown, the shrubs and flowers being choked by runner weeds climbing the fences and up into the trees. So restarting the vegetable garden was a very tough proposition, though I welcomed the challenge.

As for the patch designated for the main vegetable garden (around a third of the overall yard), it had weeds that were over 2m tall. I'm convinced that there was a very big population of snakes hidden in the mess, waiting for the right moment to take over the rest of the property. For my own sanity, I had to try to make the place habitable again. I also needed a relaxing pasttime away from the sickroom, a way to exercise without paying gym fees and a source of fresh food in an environment where the cost of living was getting too high and I was scaling down on my writing ventures. 

Yet to be weeded patch of yard behind my SIL's chicken coops(Patch 6)

By Spring of 2012, we had a small crop growing. At this stage, I was still learning the soil and climate, as i hadn't l lived fulltime in the area in more than 25 years and the North West region, where the village is based has a different climate than  Gauteng, where I previously lived.

This small patch  (Patch 5) was next to the house and not in the main garden.

By the beginning of summer 2012 (October 2012), a large portion of the main garden had some structure ( beds) and we did a big planting session). Some of the crops went to provide a bumper harvest, allowing me to feed my own family of 4 and also share with 3 of my siblings.

We also managed to provide our workers with veges twice a week (SIL runs chicken business with 4 coops accomodating 400 chickens in each, and also buys ready to slaughter specialty chickens, employing 1  fulltime and 5 part-time people and I have part-time gardener helping with heavy lifting ) and sell left-over tomatoes and spinach to the villagers to make some seed money.

The section in view is about a fifth of the main veggie garden
Since then, the garden has grown. We are still sorting out the largest portion of the yard, restructuring for greater productivity, clearing out previously neglected corners and improving the productive capacity of each bed. I've also decided to go with the potager theme for the garden, planting herbs, fruit and flowers among the vegetables. So far, I've planted two peach trees ( we already had four), one apricot tree and one avocado tree. I also plan to plant a couple of mango, orange, naartjie , lemon and some berries ( have only strawberry bush so far)

We have harvested and dried lots of basil and thyme, and more is growing. We also grow sage and rosemary.
There is a still a lot of work to do: to create more gardens in the unused patches of land and make the frontyard more cosmetically appealing.

I plan to plant sweet potatoes on the small patch behind the cottage (Patch 2). The roots of sweet potatoes are too invasive for the rest of the garden, and this patch has lain mostly fallow, so I can let them do what they like here
Patch 3: Lawn is such a waste of space!

Front yard (Cosmetic garden) :The shrubs in this part of the garden need trimming and the beds need more colour

Down the line, I also plan to create another cosmetic garden in the space facing the kitchen (Patch 7) and start a container garden in one of the courtyards (Patch 8).

And although we have a borehole, we're not really water-wise and I'd like to start harvesting rain water and grey water. But that will take time (we've only been operational for two seasons really) and money I don't have at present.

Autumn Garden

We're also planting for Autumn and Winter.  So far we've planted  lettuce, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower,  beans nastatuims (sick), onions, spinach, peas and plan to plant more.

Overall, Autumn is turning out to be my most favourite time for gardening. The sun is no longer scotching, so I no longer have to work through debilitating heat to get things done. The plants also look happier in cooler weather, we use less water and somehow it all just feels right.

Lessons learnt

There has been so many! And most of them have been painful.

1.  My real garden can never be as perfect as the garden in my head and I need to get over that fact and just do what I can and enjoy what I have. You'd think that I would have learnt that lesson earlier as a writer, as the stories in my head have always read way better than the ones I manage to publish. It's the nature of fantasty life versus reality. However,  while fantasy life is more perfect, the reality is more rewarding.

2. Gardening is working with the existing landscape.  I'm not sure if this is a universal truth, or if it's because I live near a dam with a wide variety of wildlife and indigenous plants regularly try to retake the land. But I've discovered that I have to work with the existing landscape, rather than trying to tame it. It does involve a heck of a lot of weeding.

3. Stick to what you believe in as long as you are sure of your facts.  I've found that everyone is an expert. Even non-gardeners know what you should be doing. That one was very hard to swallow. Mine is a very basic organic garden. I use a lot of chicken and cow manure to fertilise the garden, and some natural home-made remedies and plants to attempt pest control ( haven't used any pesticides so far, even organic ones, because honestly, i can't afford them) And I can't tell you how many times people walking past my house have stopped to give me advice on what i need to do, the pesticides I need to buy to keep my crops healthy. I choose not to argue with them - it's futile - so I smile and thank them for their advice and then carry on with whatever I was doing.

4. Planning is fun - at the beginning, all I wanted was to get some things growing so that there was tangible proof that I was doing something ( it motivated me).  Now that that has been accomplished, I have the luxury of being able to plan my Winter and Spring 2013 gardens, and it's so much fun to sit at the kitchen table with my seed packets spread out, trying to determine where they would be the most appropriate.

5. Gardening can teach you a lot of life lessons - I'm finding that the garden is a small ecosystem reflecting real life. Through it, I have learnt to be (a bit more patient) with myself  and to recognise thatsmall improvements eventually result in bigger changes. And if this season's crop is a disaster, the next season will come, and I can try again. So bad things happening no longer define my life moment, because I know another opportunity to do things differently will come.

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