Sunday, April 20, 2014

Q Is For Questions

I don't grow quinoa or quince and have no plans to do so in the foreseeable future, so it was hard to decide what this post should be about.

In the end, I decided to use this opportunity to consolidate some of the questions that I've been asked since I started growing our food in Phokeng.

Q: You seem to know quite a lot about growing vegetables. How did you become so knowledgeable?

A: Let's annihilate that myth immediately:  I'm learning as I go along and spend hours reading up on vegetables and fruit I want to grow. I've also made big mistakes that cost me a whole season's harvest of the affected vegetable (e.g. a whole season of lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower that bolted in 2012 because I'd just moved back here after more than 25 years away and hadn't realised how hot it could get. And yes, the seed pack said I could plant them during that period!).

However, I've found that if you take care of your soil and keep your plants well-hydrated, they are much kinder to you. So yeah, some of them thrive despite my attempts to kill them out of ignorance. Except for sage, poor thing.

Q: How do you decide which vegetables and herbs to grow?

A: I started out growing vegetables that were familiar with me and  whose seeds I could find in the supermarkets: cabbage, onion, spinach, beetroot, tomatoes, pumpkin etc. Some were harder to grow than others (e.g cabbage), others started out well and then I killed them with care (e.g. sage), others delivered bumper crops at the beginning and but now plants seem prone to disease (e.g tomato) while others are reliable producers (spinach and beetroot).

The problems I encountered encouraged me to learn more about growing vegetables and herbs in my region, and the information I learnt made me reconsider my planting strategy. Now I grow my vegetables based on these considerations:

1. Plant what we eat, eat what we grow - Introducing new-to-us vegetables is a good thing, but I also need to provide a solid supply of vegetables and herbs that we like. This ensures that we have a reliable food supply that is guaranteed to be consumed.

2. Focus on perennial and self-seeders - I'm increasing my ratio of these types of plants because it means that we will have consistent produce with less work and expense buying seeds.

3. Grow drought and disease tolerant plants- This is a semi-arid region with baking hot summers and I need plants that can survive that.  I also need plants that can provide shade for the more sensitive crops.

Then there are the plants that we eat often and in large quantities, but the problem is that they are prone to disease (e.g. cabbage and tomatoes). Right now they remain my indulgence crops, just in case we succeed in getting a good harvest. But they have been relegated to foods I prefer to get in large quantities from local suppliers. I then process and freeze them, with fresh tomatoes from the garden just being served as salads.

Q: What proportion of your food is from the garden at this stage?

A: I don't know. I get all my herbs from the garden. On Saturday I harvested enough sweet potatoes to last our family 3-4 months and most of our meals have at least three vegetables from the garden. But I still buy more vegetables than I like.

I hope that this post answers some of your questions, but if you have more, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or by emailing me.


  1. Wow !! This is a beautiful compilation. I guess this will also go with the e-book on vegetables...I also wrote on Q for Questioning but from a different perspective...

    1. Yes, the Q and A will help, but the information will be elaborated on and divided into different sections. For example, choosing what to grow is a chapter all on its own.

  2. Sometimes I wonder how the farmers who lived out here before it became suburbia managed to grow anything with all the four-legged creatures that devour anything that grows. My emerging daylilies have already had their tops chewed off.

    1. Ouch! I'm lucky that I only have to worry about the birds. There's a lot of them and they can do damage, but it's not on the scale can be done by four-legged critters. Sorry.

  3. Hi Damaria .. what you're doing makes perfect sense .. and a great Q post .. cheers Hilary

  4. I used to mulch my garden too and that cut down on weeds, watering and work.

    1. Yes, mulching helps. It took me a while to start doing it. Heaven knows why I was so resistant to the idea.