Friday, September 11, 2020

Change of Season: Spring is Here!

For a long time Old Man Winter refused to loosen his iron grip on us. But Spring is finally here and I feel like my body has been let out of the ice prison. The ground no longer looks a dull brown too. We went from this.....

Phokeng in winter (August 2020)

to these two scenes....

Spring in Johannesburg (small hill near my city home)

Spring in Johannesburg (look at that sky!)

So what does this mean for my food gardening adventures?

I'm going to create the opportunity to do some transplanting of seedlings I managed to nurse through the cold winter weeks ( spinach, kale, Chinese cabbage, carrots and onions). I also want to start planting from seed - I managed to buy some seeds at the local supermarket, and a good friend of mine has also offered to send me seeds. 


I got plenty of onion scapes from replanting onion scraps

This was also an opportunity for me to harvest scapes from the onion bottom scraps I planted when our Level 5 Lockdown started at the beginning of April and supermarkets were only allowed to sell essentials and seeds were not included in the essentials list. I'm looking forward to my first bite of Spring.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Winter Is Here

The cold has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere, and I have decided to no longer plant new seeds until I can plant my Spring garden.

I'm using the time rake up falling leaves from the trees to feed the soil and to chop and drop overgrown grasses and trees. This move should keep my soil fed and ready for aggressive planting come Spring.

I've also been reading up ( and watching videos) on using produce to grow food. Initial verdict is that it's not a good way to start a garden, as there is a question of whether the produce will even sprout and grow. So far, most of mine have sprouted. And while I recognise the wisdom of what the experts are saying, I'm under hard lockdown and will use anything and everything I can that will benefit my food production.

I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen learning how to can, ferment and pickle some of my produce. I am also learning how to make pita bread. So far, the pita bread experiment is not succeeding well ( my dough didn't form air-pockets and rise enough), but it was still edible, and went well with a spinach and lettuce salad and my homemade yoghurt. I'll keep trying.

Why am I growing my food right now?

So where am I going with all this food growing thing? Do I believe our food system will be disrupted? To be honest, I don't. South Africa was a net producer of basic foods in the 2019/2020 financial year, government says. That means that we produced enough to feed the whole country well and to export to other countries. And judging by the rains this year, the weather promises to be kinder on the farmers this coming year too.

But, it soothes me to know that I can develop my own food supply, right in my yard. Also, I'm always cautious about having to leave home to do my food shopping - having things growing at home means less exposure to the outside world. Third, my budget is limited, and growing my own food gives me access to a variety of foods at a lower price. I just have to be willing to pay with hard work and sweat. And lastly, it's a great physical activity for me to do this during lockdown- boredom is the least of my problems, and working in the garden is great exercise too.

Client work is also going okay. I find that I'm enjoying the teaching much more than I expected. I also hope this situation will inspire me to write more.

I hope that you are all staying safe and healthy!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

My Gardening Progress Despite A Very Hard Lockdown

Sprouting the tops of my beetroot produce
My sprouting adventures continue and things are going well. As you can see from the picture here, my beets are growing very well.

Hopefully, soon the roots will have grown enough for me to be able to transfer them to the soil containers.

I've also been busy weeding portions of the garden and sweeping the paved portions of the yard for fallen leaves. I'm using the leaves to prepare as many containers as I can get my hands on.

It also feels good to see a start of my beet preserves, as we like them very much. It was a hard starting point, with no garden, under a strong lockdown where I couldn't even buy seeds and seedlings. But with the regulations easing up a little bit, I will be able to scale up my operation. I'm not going to preach, but this adventure shows that even with hard limits imposed on a household, we can still do something for provide for ourselves.

I also added chunks of onions, which we like in beetroot
My lentil sprouts are coming along well

Meanwhile, government announced that we will begin Level 4 lockdown on the 1 May, at which time I will also be able to buy seeds and seedlings.

In general, even in the city, I live like a hermit, seeing mostly family and close friends on a regular basis. But I'm starting to feel the cabin fever, mostly because I can't go for my regular runs or go out to buy whatever gardening things I need when I need them. But that will hopefully change.

Lockdown gave us all an opportunity to reboot, and my version of rebooting is focus as much as I can on being able to provide for myself and my family. It doesn't mean the writing work takes a backseat - I have also been busy with that, and my schedule from today until the 8th May actually looks hideous. But I said yes to the client because in this era where paying work is inaccessible for many, I am fortunate enough to still be able to do mine.

I hope that your gardening adventures are also progressing in your corner of the world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Learning about Volunteer Plants & Weeds

This is a photo of one of the corners of my garden, taken over by a volunteer plant that I know I never planted in the garden.

I looked the plant up online and learned that the plant is called a Marigold Tree (Tithonia diversifolia). Instead of being a nuisance, the plant is apparently very beneficial for my garden in addition to adding some colour to it.

According to Wikipedia, the plant "has shown great potential in raising the soil fertility in soils depleted in nutrients." The text says research has shown the plant's potential in benefiting poor African farmers. "This plant is a weed that grows quickly and has become an option as an affordable alternative to expensive synthetic fertilizers. It has shown to increase plant yields and the soil nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium," it says.

Well, lucky me - it volunteered its services in my garden. I suspect someone in the village who works as a gardener brought it home, and the seeds were washed through my garden during the rainy season ( our property is on the downward slope of the village).

The other good news is that my onions sprouts are happily growing. The picture on the left is the picture of the same sprout whose picture I published on the 6th April ( 8 days ago). If all the onion sprouts to grow like this, then I might have a bumper onion crop come Spring.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

So, Mulberry Leaves Are Edible?

This week I learned that mulberry leaves are edible. I have 3 mulberry trees, so I was very curious about whether I would want to include mulberry leaves in my regular diet, especially because they are supposed to offer some nutritional benefits.

I'm not sure what's based on scientific study and what is old wives' tales, but one entry online said, "mulberry leaves are deemed useful for dispelling wind-heat, moistening the lungs, soothing the liver, and for brightening the eyes. The herb would be prescribed for treating cold and flu symptoms caused by wind-heat, and for dry coughing due to hot lungs, as well as other problems such as headache, dizziness, blurred vision and skin rashes."

I checked YouTube for a couple of recipes for cooking with them, and once I felt confident, I decided to test them. Many of the recipes recommended using the leaves as rice pocket wraps, much like we can use grape leaves.

The raw leaves were a bit hard, so I soaked them in warm water for a couple of hours. Then I crushed a handful of chickpeas, mixed in with raw mince and cooked rice and chopped onion, garlic, seasoned with salt, a drop of soy sauce, cayenne pepper in a bowl and wrapped small rice balls with the leaves and put them in a pot.

One recipe recommended steaming them, another one broiling the balls. I decided to broil. I left the balls on medium heat for around 30 minutes. Then I dished them up for lunch. I expected them to have a strong flavour, so I included a side of runny eggs.

My verdict: The flavour was blander than I expected. The leaves were also still tough and chewy in texture. It was an interesting combination with rice, chickpeas and rice mix. The balls tasted better being dipped into peri-peri sauce before eating, though I had to wait until I could run to the shops to get it.

Overall, I'd say it was an okay meal. I'm not going wake up one morning and think, I'm in the mood for mulberry leaf rice pockets. But in a pinch, I know the leaves are an option.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Sprouting Roots From My Food Produce

Aren't these roots beautiful?
With the "lockdown" directive in place in South Africa, I decided to use the remains of my fresh produce when I cook to sprout seedlings for my garden.

I've been doing that with my onions and potato peels and things are coming along rather nicely.

Sprouting the onions turned out to be easier than I expected: all I had to do was to put the onion end into a cup half full of water with the bottom end down on a window sill. Every time I use an onion, that's where the bottom end ends up.

I change the water every other day. I'm going to allow the onion roots to continue to grow until the bulbs are ready for transplanting.

Yesterday I also started to plant my potato crop in a big metal half-tank. I used to compost scraps and bits of grass in the tank back in the day, which I never got to use in the garden.

So now I have very rich soil for the beginning of the potato tank. Wish me luck! I've never successfully grown potatoes.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Preserving Lemons, Limes & Spinach....and There's Lots of Rain

I began the day by picking lemons and limes from my trees. Some were starting to fall off onto the ground, to rot there. So this was also a rescue operation for my citruses.

Over the weekend, I was going to put some of  the lemons aside to use fresh, lacto-ferment some with salt to use as seasoning, make marmalade and lemon syrup and also dry some to use as tea. I'm also going to use the lemons to make cleaning material and anti-bug salves.

But during one of my mid-day breaks from client work, I decided to just start the job. And while I was at it, I  also decided to dry some of the excess spinach that I got during my last produce run to the store.
I'm making small, incremental progress with my drive to hunker down in this property through the winter. The weather is cooperating - it's been raining steadily for the past couple of days. And yesterday while I was weeding my old mint patch, I found a group of spinach seedlings happily growing there. Also, my chickpea sprouts are coming along well. The seeds are now fat and have stubby little tails and some green patches, indicating their intention to start growing.

As my nephew Lesedi Motshumi repeated a meme, "this lockdown is going to force us to start hunting our own food and I don't know where where Doritos live!" (The little joke in there is that his surname Motshumi means Hunter).

So my little venture may be of no use in the hunt and capture of Doritos, or even pizza, but it will certainly make a contribution to my soup pots this winter. So if my blog inspires you to do something in a way of raising your own food, however small, do it. Every little bit helps, especially if it means that you don't have to go to the store to get it.

Stay healthy and safe!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Garden 2.0: Kickstarting My Food Garden With Containers

Hello everyone

It's been many years since I consistently blogged here. I apologise for ending things abruptly, but my excuse is that it could not be helped. I don't know if I mentioned it, but after Mma passed away, I fell sick with a lung condition that was serious enough for my family to fear for my life. By the time I got better, my freelance writing and gardening efforts were in shambles.

So I moved to Johannesburg to kickstart my working life again. But it turns out I was not fully recovered and fell ill again. That episode took more than a year for me to recover somewhat. However, I am better now - at least, well enough to make another attempt at an independent life here in Phokeng. The timing is, of course, horrific, what with COVID-19 sweeping through the world. And lucky me, I fall in with the vulnerable category!

But I am more fortunate than most, and am painfully aware of that fact. I have plenty of space to be able to effect social distancing.  Living here in Phokeng and taking care of Mma taught me how to raise a garden-full of fresh produce. I also have plenty of space to walk around and grow some of my produce. For now, I'm settling back in the house, cleaning what needs to be cleaned and unpacking what I had taken with me to Johannesburg.  It's a slow job.

The good news is that it's almost winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so it's the perfect time for me  to start planting spinach, Chinese cabbage, brassicas and many other foods that I lover. The bad news is that my garden was neglected in my absence and most of it is now overrun by weeds. So I'm starting small, with containers.

Yesterday I started sprouting a batch of chickpeas for my salads and sandwiches. I also started fermenting yoghurt, and am drying some seeds from the fresh produce I brought with me ( tomatoes, butternut and  green peppers). This morning I started potato slips to sprout roots so I can start a small potato crop.

I know that every little thing helps, and once I start reclaiming my garden, there will be plenty of volunteer crops. Hopefully, that will happen around Spring.

Anyhoo, I am grateful for this chance to  reconnect with you.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Organic Seeds: Christmas Came In Very Early For Me

Aren't they just pretty!! Lots and lots of varieties in this box.
Today it's a lovely day in Johannesburg. Sunny, but not too hot after the endless rains. I missed the rains in Gauteng province after the arid climate of the North West province where my home in Phokeng is.

Now I can grow vegetables without worrying about how I will keep them watered, especially with drought conditions in other parts of the country like the Western Cape, where the City of Cape Town is frantically trying to plan for Day Zero, when the municipality could potentially run out of water to supply the city. Honestly, reading the articles makes me think of apocalyse-type novels.

It's also surreal for me, because while there are plenty of writing(creative) jobs in Cape Town, I have refused to move to that city because I didn't like it. Ja, ja, I know it's pretty and cosmopolitan and has a beach and the work would be plentiful for me there, but back when I worked for a non-profit organisation in the early 2000s, I used to spend a week a month there and I was miserable because it rained so much then.

I remember one July, sitting in my hotel room, sobbing like a five-year old and just wanting to come back to Johannesburg because it was so wet there. I vowed there and then that I would avoid that city whenever I could, and when my employer later moved the head office to Cape Town along with my job, I opted for retrenchment. Oddly enough, the endless wet in Johannesburg does not bug me. It makes me happy instead. Go figure!

But I digress: today I walked to my friend Christelle's house - she lives just round the corner and up the block from me - and she had plenty of goodies for me, which included baked goods and a whole bunch of organic/ heritage seeds. There are a lot of veggies in there:
  • Aurbegine (Egg plant)
  • Squash (hubbard, gem)
  • Butternut
  • Pumpkin (Japanese)
  • Tomatoes( moneymaker, floradale, Mixed T)
  • Cabbage ( Chinese, drumhead)
  • Tatsoi
  • Pakchoi
  • White maize
  • Spinach (rainbow)
  • Lima beans (Madagascan)
  • Brown onion (Australian)
  • Cumcumber (Poona kheera)
  • Cape gooseberry
  • Carrots (scarlet nantes)
  • Lettuce (Lollo rossa, Great Lakes, Red Salad Bowl) 
So now I can happily expand gardening venture in the city. Happy days!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Started Doing Some Planting

The grape bush that came with the house
I under-estimated how much I didn't like the area where I was sharing a cottage, but I never did manage to settle comfortably there, despite the fact that the place had a wonderful gardening space. So on the hunt I went until I found a wonderful house I could be comfortable in, in a different suburb of Johannesburg.

The place is old and the rooms are of a larger-proportion variety. Best of all, I have ample space for a home -office and a veggie/herb/flower garden. I'm now happily settled in there and have started to periodically plant some veggie seeds. Part of the front garden was just dry and neglected. That's where most of my garden will be situated, though there are some portions of the yard at the back where I can also plant something. So far I've planted corn and cabbages. I will expand my range in due course.

I have also started a compost heap. There are a lot of trees and bushes in the yard, I've been collecting the leaves as they fall and throwing them into the heap. The container is not going to make sufficient compost for my garden, but it's a good starting point.
The great news is that, it has been raining so much in Johannesburg that I doubt drought will be a problem like it was in Phokeng. Also, this is a different climate region, not semi-arid like Phokeng.
I'm looking forward to this new adventure.