Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Life's ticking along

It has been an absolute age since I last posted on this blog but here I sit and think what can I say? While little has been posted about our lives on this patch of earth we call home, lots has been going on.


Planning and planting and harvesting seems to be such a part of my life that I find its hard to write something new for blog readers...but on Saturday I met one of you and my heart soared as I learnt of the success story because of taking a chance with soap making which you read about on my blog...you know who you are :)

Who would have thought that what inspired you has inspired me to write again...!? I realised that not everyone is 8 years down the garden path...some are just thinking about how to grow veggies, cook from scratch or make soap.

Spring strawberry show
So to you beginners I will write and encourage you to try just a few seeds, a few plants and few steps and you will never know where it will take you. My first seeds were sown in a 1m x 1m patch of ground in 2008 and then it became our whole garden.

Today as I stand and look out at this space I delight in its almost wild style - even though we have raised beds. It is a mature garden and many things self seed themselves like coriander, fennel, tomatoes and more.

New season peas in wood chip
But it didn't start like this...it was an idea I got based on a video I saw that took root in my thinking. The success story I heard on Saturday about a soap making business happened because this reader gave soap making a try using my recipe and then went on to develop her own beautiful soaps. Her business now employs her husband and is known country wide. How amazing is that!

So don't be afraid...just try one thing...and let it grow!

So what's been happening in our home and garden?

Our chicken coop ready for new hens
Well, we are down to just two chickens. Our last original girl from 2008 passed on and we are now eagerly awaiting 4 new chickens which we will collect on Saturday.

We also laid down a wood chip layer on all our beds and it has taken some adjusting for me to learn to plant into them. The chips were still green and it made planting difficult but through winter we grew herbs, onions, spinach, peas, broad beans and harvested loads of granadillas.

Bowls and bowls collected, swapped, eaten and given away
Our bees have survived and we eagerly await our first harvest in December.

New fig leaves
Our pavement garden is flourishing and our fig tree putting out leaves. It was joined by a banana tree and a pomegranate tree recently. Under plantings of medical herbs and edible flowers make it look really pretty.

What's going on in your vegetable gardens?

Inside our home we have continued to enjoy good food...du-uh...entertaining others around our table has become a special part of our week. Whether it be a good old fashioned braai (BBQ) or making pizza's in our pizza oven or home cooked goodness around our table it is a joy to cook for others.

Ramen - a standard winter lunch

Curry and sambals anyone?

On a personal note, those who followed the story of our feral cat that we rescued in 2014, we very sadly had to put him to sleep two weeks ago. Buster had FIV and his condition was deteriorating...so with heavy hearts we made the decision. He has been laid to rest in his favourite spot next the pond below the avocado tree. His presence is sorely missed.

Beautiful Buster - you are missed
Well, now that I have broken this long silence, I do hope to be posting often...and look forward to hearing what you are doing in your gardens.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Urban bee keeping adventures...

Back in December 2015 I had one of my long standing urban homesteading dreams realised as we became the proud caretakers of 4 empty hives. You can read about our reasons and aspirations here:

The bee-ginning of our urban bee adventure

And then we waited...for only 2 weeks and on January 1st our backyard was filled with the very loud buzzing of bees and in came the swarm.


We were sooooo happy that they had found their way to our home.

A few weeks later our friendly beekeeper popped in to add another layer to their hive so that they had a double story!

Our bees made themselves comfortable through the summer and went about their business visiting our flowers and making honey. We did notice that there were about 20 bees a day lying around dead in our back yard and were quite concerned, but then were told that the average lifespan for bees is 14 days and it is normal to see dead bees need hives. A mass of them dead at the entrance to the hive indicates disease and there was none of that.


Then just 2 weeks ago a second swarm moved into another hive while we were out hiking. This is quite late in the season for bees to be moving, but in they came as on our pavement we have a Brazilian Pepper tree which is an excellent food source for them in autumn.


When our beekeeper popped in this week he said the drought has caused many hives to starve to death and that most keepers are reporting 60% less honey than last year. This is tragic on many levels as it indicates there is simply not enough food for the bees. So as farmers struggle with water issues, so do the smallest part in the nature cycle of seed to food.

As a fellow gardener pointed out on the Urban Homestead Facebook page: "I hadn't considered beekeeping as I'm not a big honey fan (and felt a bit daunted by the idea). But it makes sense to provide hives if only to do our bit for the earth's dwindling bee population.... which forms such a crucial part of our food chain ito pollination."

So perhaps you have a corner in your garden that you too could give some bees shelter?


Friday, March 25, 2016

Dear little neglected blog

Dear Little Neglected Blog,

While I haven't been spending much time with you lately, I just want to know that I think of you often. I am so glad our history of gardening delights is captured here for everyone to see and that your memory is long.

Even though I haven't been hanging around with you for a while, I just want to say that I have been busy homeschooling my children...and helping my son settle into college...


Taking lots of hikes and walks....






Processing lots and lots and lots of tomatoes...





Taking joy in the first avocados of our tree...



 Making lots and lots of pizzas in our new little pizza oven....


 Picking and enjoying lots of granadillas...




I have planted seeds of salads, peas, spinach and more...




Spending loads of time in the water soon my body board...



But summer is done and the rain will soon come {praying} and I hope to hang out with you some more then.



Monday, January 11, 2016

10 quick water saving tips

Around the country we are watching the horror of living in a drought. We have friends who farm in the Free State whose water supply is nearly done. On Facebook we are seeing pleas from people in Colesberg and Aliwal who have no water - imagine that - turning on a tap for a drink and having NOTHING come out...Groups are springing up asking for water and money donations for stricken farmers...it is very sad.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit friends who live on the edge of the dam that brings Cape Town its water and I was shocked to see how low it is.

Theewaterskloof Dam
Some may blame global warming, others El Nino, others the sin of the government or whatever else...but the facts are simple: WE HAVE A DROUGHT PEOPLE and what are YOU going to do about it?

Driving back from this weekend away I was on high alert...I saw school fields being watered with sprinklers in gale force winds - most of the water blowing away. I saw sports grounds watering at 12 o'clock in the day...I even saw neighbouring houses using automated sprinklers where the one was shooting water onto the tar, not even the grass verge. And then there are the folk who say "I have a borehole/well point, so I'm ok!" Um...No!

I think many people suffer from the complex that they can get away with unscrupulous watering methods because everyone else will be watching their usage...thats just wrong thinking! Everyone should be doing what they can...I know I need to do more. 

So here are 10 things we already do (10th point in progress) that can help you if you are uncertain what to do to save a bit of water. 

1. Collect water from your shower in buckets and use this water on your non-edible plants. 

2. Buy plastic containers which fit into your washing basin and do all your rinsing catching the rinse water in this container which you can then put onto potted plants. Do the same when rinsing vegetables - save the water and give it back to the garden. I do assume with this that you are using natural soaps...

Basin within a basin
3. Make sure the last bits of water in water bottles from school; gym or outings are emptied into plants not down the drain. This also goes for dog water bowls – but choose non-edible plants for this water.

4. Mulch with a layer of compost then a layer of wood chip, newspaper (although this blows around and is perhaps better under the compost), straw or well rotted manure. Do not clear up leaves that fall – use them as mulch.


5. Water deeply less often.

6. Do not use a sprinkler especially on windy days. We installed drip irrigation but now need to connect it to the borehole system...when we have the money...so for now its buckets or bust.

7. Water first thing in the morning or last thing after the days heat. With the exception of squashes which tend to get powdery mildew if the soil is wet at night.

8. Collect tea in the kitchen from your left over bits in your pot and use that on all acid loving plants like berries, hydrangeas and camellias.

9. When planting new seedlings, keep the ground wet until they have germinated and then slowly taper off watering unless they are wilting. This forces the roots to go deep and you will eventually not need to water more than once a week if you have mulched.

Despite being watered once a week these heirloom tomatoes are doing very well.

10. If you have the financial ability, plan to install water tanks on your downpipes during the next rainy season. If you can’t, a cheaper alternative is what my mom did during their drought a few years ago which was to use big black bins with lids, cut out the lid for the downpipe to fit into, cut out a circle for a tap to fit on the bottom and put it on bricks under the downpipes. She was able to even collect dew this way for her garden.

I hope this gets you kick started - please feel free to add any more ideas in the comment section. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I've got a bottle full of sunshine

To my great surprise I have found myself on the saddle of a mountain bike again after many years. Prior to 2010 mountain biking was a big thing in our lives and I would cycle with the kids 2 or 3 times a week. Then my back seized and that was a closed chapter in our lives.

My youngest son has been mucking around at the local jump track over the last year and was keen to get cycling again but with the devastating fire that burned through most of our mountain in March this year, all cycling tracks on the mountain were closed to allow the ecosystem to rehabilitate.

Avid mountain bikers are now carving out other little tracks around the greenbelts in Constantia, Tokai and surrounds which meant that we could give it a try again. So for the last few weeks Superman, my son and I have been out riding on a Sunday morning, about 13 - 16kms and its been great. The back so far ok :)


The foodie in me cannot help but notice the food around me in the greenbelt as I ride. Having dabbled in foraging in the past I am always interested to see what can be collected around this urban area.

There are lots of dandelions for salads or infusing into honey. Of course the bramble berries are all over the place, although coming to an end now. There are nasturtiums to eat and even a huge cactus with lots of prickly pears to pick.



The squirrels may not share, but there are loads of pinecones for pine nuts - if you are willing to do the hardwork of getting them out of the cone.

And then there is this find...Eldertrees. Lots of elder trees. I have been eyeing them out now for a few weeks waiting for the flowers to be in full bloom so that I can harvest some for cordial. John Seymour recommends harvesting on a hot day - I suppose it makes the flowers scent more pungent??

And today was the day!


So we came home with our treasure today and I followed this recipe for elderflower cordial....Soon my trees will be big enough for me to harvest our own.

Foraged treasure

In a few weeks I will check the trees again on the greenbelt to see if I can harvest some elder berries to infuse into vinegar or syrup.

One of the two bottles of sunshine!





Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The bee-ginning of our urban bee adventure


We love honey. And without the Cape honey bee we would have a problem in our garden. We have heard scary reports over the years of bees dying in droves due to chemical farming and cell phones! We all know that bees and other pollinators make most of our vegetables.  Without bees there would be a whole lot less variety of fruits and veggies on our plates. So we need bees...and right now bees need us.

Honey on spelt, blueberry and banana breakfast pancakes
More recently there was a news article about honey being imported into South Africa that may not be honey at all actually! Most shop bought honey is ultra filtered and heated which leaves you with none of the pollen and natural healthy honey properties. Asian honey was dumped into the South African market a couple of years back too, and this Chinese honey contained lead, antibiotics and other toxins. There has also been a recent scare just over the mountain of AFB (American Foulbrood) which is extremely contagious and the only cure is destroying the hive and all beekeeping equipment. AFB is also said to be in our country due to imported honey.

Garden fresh berries on this muesli with honey to sweeten
So it has taken some convincing of Superman, but we are getting bees. Urban beekeeping is a growing industry with many folk choosing to keep their own hives in their yards and harvest honey for their families. There are others who keep loads of hives (I know a chap who has 7) and sell their honey to their neighbourhood.

Then there are people like my new friend Lian who is a first generation beekeeper and is building his swarms around Cape Town using people like me to help him. See, I am allergic to bees. Badly. But I garden next to them all the time and am not afraid of these guys as they go about their business. I just don't make them feel threatened at all. But I cannot risk working directly with the hives...and this is where Lian comes in.

He puts two hives in your garden - one is yours and one is his. He will tend them, monitor, feed (if necessary) and collect honey from them for you for an initial set up cost of R1 000.00. When its time to take honey, he gives you honey from your hive and he takes the honey from the other. This honey he sells at the Tokai Forest Market on Saturdays along with his other farm sources.

Last week he came by to see where he could put down some hives and settled on a cool out of the way area behind our garage. I had wanted the hives in the veggie garden but as it is full of people and pet traffic he felt it would be better out of the way. Today he returned with 4 hives.

The alley behind our garage freshly cleaned out

He explained that bees should naturally find their way to the hives he has put out. There are 4 here now, only two will stay in the long term. We have bees visiting the trees around us (Japanese Pepper and Eugenia) already and they love the rocket, coriander and celery flowers in the garden too, so perhaps some little scout bee will come and find these hives and tell his buddies that there is a nice new home waiting for them!?!
Ready and waiting for inhabitants

And because I am running low on honey at the moment I asked Lian to bring me some of his varieties and I was  astounded by the differences in colour between the honeys. Even the viscosity was different. Teaspoons were on the ready to try them all out.

(Left to right) Orange Blossom Honey, West Coast Fynbos, local Fynbos and Eucalyptus honey.

So here we step out into an urban beekeeping adventure...quite exciting actually :)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Back to Eden - is it the answer?

Back in March of this year Superman, a friend and I spent a day at Babylonstoren. I was such an inspirational day for me at the time as I was lagging in motivation and needed some fresh ideas.

After the visit I made this list:

-Under planting every tree or tall vegetable with a herb, indigenous medicinal plant or ground cover that attracts bees.
-Use up spaces and build the structures I need
-Don't be afraid to experiment
-Plant closer together
-Use my walls for fruit or as a food wall
-Plant vegetables that take a long time to yield in pots not in the beds
-Plant crops that turn over well into the beds
-Don't be afraid to use natural pesticides if all else has failed
-Get my bees
-Turn my pavement into a food garden too with fruit trees and medicinal plants.
-Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.

There have been a few items on the list that we can say are done and dusted...In particular the way I changed from a traditional bed per plant to a compact veggie gardening system. It worked very well in winter and while there were a few teething problems trying to eat up the winter veg quickly enough to make space for the summer veg we have made a transition quite well to carry on this system for summer.

The decision to add a herb/medicinal garden to our pavement  (see 2nd last point on the above list) has been quite an adventure. The area was so sterile and the sand the traditional Cape Flats sand where the water just lies on top as though the soil is oily and does not get to the roots of the plants. This photo showed what it looked like after barrow loads of compost, manure and bounce back was turned in and a few plants added.


We transplanted two fig trees, a rosemary plant and a tea tree bush. The rest I bought from Bridget Kitley. I bought Echinacea, Elder trees, comfrey, pelargoniums, Aloe, Chamomile, Chervil, lemon verbena, sorrel and honey suckle. I also planted calendula and borage seeds. Later when too many tomatoes sprouted for the garden I added loads of them to the pavement. We also added some Artichokes and Yarrow transplants a few weeks ago.

But watering was a huge problem and the winter rains we had hoped for left us a little concerned, not just for the pavement but for the whole garden. Our borehole also seems to have dried up thus making us dependent on municipal water. With the water restrictions that have now been put in place we simply cannot afford the rates that they have to charge AND ultimately we don't want to take more water than is just to water our vegetables.

So it was back to the drawing board to see what we could do to save water.  I revisited these principles I wrote about when I learned how my mom and dad were handling the drought in the Garden Route some years back. But it isn't enough...

Then I remembered a friend mentioning the Back to Eden film and watched it a few weeks ago and again this week. I think this is the answer - and it won't harm to try. I was on the phone in a hurry to local tree felling companies and asked them to deliver freshly chipped tree limbs with leaves included and contacted Master Organics for 2 cubes of compost.


This arrived on Friday and faithful Sam spent the day adding compost to even veggie bed and to the pavement in a thick layer after we watered deeply. On the pavement he added a thick layer of chipped plant material. This is what it looks like today...the plants have grown a lot since being planted, everything looks healthy and green still but I am hoping that the water is trapped below this blanket of compost and chip.







So while I have been able to cross off a few items on the list, there is still more I need to do. To grow espalier fruit trees I think I will ask the experts...and becoming a bee keeper is in the pipeline (quite close)...so we keep on keeping on with learning in the urban farm of ours.