In the beginning
When I first started growing vegetables, I used a patch of land that is part of the backyard of my Joburg home, where I was based at the time.It seemed like a natural place to grow my veges, as it was at the back, close to the kitchen.
Unfortunately, my crops didn't thrive. I think the soil is not very healthy there. And somehow, everytime it rained, the top soil would be swept away, along with anything else that I tried planting.
So I decided to remove the old lawn which was part of my front garden. Most of the time the lawn was ugly. It was real old, with weeds. And what was the point of spending money to keep a lawn tidy, when it served no purpose except being pretty? I certainly couldn't eat it!
The following year I planted my first crop on the land. I grew cabbage, pumpkin, squash, spinach, beetroot, carrots, green beans, chilli, rocket, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.Many thanks to Baba Jerome for the tomato plantings, and to Priscilla for the chilli bushes. They were a nice addition to my crops.
The garden worked so wonderfully I've decided to do it again, and this time, learn from some of the mistakes I made ( like, don't grow pumpkin there, because it spreads all over and is not the most judicious use of the land).
|One of my summer 2010 harvests|
The big move
I was just about to settle in as a sometime urban farmer when in January 2012, my mother, who lived in Phokeng, a village 150 km outside Johannesburg, had a stroke. Her diabetes was also out of control; her blood pressure sky-high.
Initially I went home to see how she was doing and find out what I could do to help. The prognosis was not good, so I stayed there, mostly expecting to nurse her through her final days.
Turned out that with a lot of care, the old girl still has some life in her and slowly, she got better. She still has some rough days/weeks but overall, she has an OK quality of life. However, she needs close monitoring and care, so I rented my house to a friend and moved to Phokeng permanently.
Thankfully, moy move didn't mean death for my Joburg garden- my friend is taking very good care of of it, and it in turn, is keeping her well supplied with salads, herbs, pumpkin etc. A nice legacy, no?
My new rural garden
So there I was, living 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 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.
|Yet to be weeded patch of yard behind||my SIL's chicken coops|
As for the patch designated for the vegetable garden, 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.
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.
By the beginning of summer 2012 (October 2012), a large portion of the 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.
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.
|We have harvested and dried lots of basil and thyme, and more is growing. We also grow sage and rosemary.|
|I plan to plant sweet potatoes on the small patch behind the cottage. 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|
|Lawn is such a waste of space!|
|The shrubs in this part of the garden need trimming and the beds need more colour|
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.