Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day of small beginnings

A friend mentioned to me this week that she wished she could do more in her garden. That she is frustrated about the small patch they have as the rest of her garden is in shade.

I have been thinking about this and the thing is that we all have to start with something. When we first moved into this house we had two door sized beds to grow bits and pieces in.

Even nature starts small and sometimes growth is slow. Above are my grapes - tiny and green. This vine is 15 months old.

Our berries are still small and green, but there are lots of them and they will ripen in summer. I noticed too that the plant is sending up shoots along the fence too. So while I saw only little growth on the plant it was busy growing where I couldn't see anything.

My first courgettes are tiny, but the glorious flowers are showing up every day.

And here hangs our first granadilla...a promise of things to come.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jack and the bean stalk

It's so great to watch our veggies growing. Sometimes I catch myself having a "moment" when I just stand at watch...well, I can't actually see them growing but each day there is something new to see.

This is our loosely designed area where all my squash are growing. Right in the top bed we have some chilli varieties with pumpkins on the trellis behind. The next bed holds my "Moon & Stars" watermelon. Behind it we have some beans.

Then I have two beds of courgettes in different stages of maturity. The closer ones already have flowers and marrows growing. In the foreground we have our last cabbage and cauliflowers and some Swiss Chard that is still going strong. Against the wall we have 2 trellises of Ashley Cucumbers. There is one trellis left which is out of the photo which we plan to grow loofahs on.

Our beans on the A-frames are growing so well. Even though the frames are 1m+ high, I think they will grow over that.

These ones in the picture above are my Boreltti Fire Tongue beans...can't wait!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Make way for the herbs.....

One of the easiest things to grow in a small garden are herbs. Even if you live in a townhouse or flat, you can still grow herbs on balconies and on your kitchen windowsill.

Wherever I can, I grow herbs. I have written about my love for borage before and even thought we don't consider some other herbs part of our diet, I grow many for their foliage, flowers or future uses.

Take bloody sorrel for instance...I have only recently discovered the beautiful red veined leaves can be used in salads when young, cooked like spinach when bigger or used as a meat tenderizer - and I was using it purely for color!

Then as a lover of all Italian food, we grow a lot of "Italian" herbs which are suited to pots - Basil, Rosemary, Sage, Majoram, Oregano....

My mom always had a pot or patch of mint growing under a tap in all the homes we lived in as I grew up...I have tended to copy her. As mint is an invasive herb it is better to keep it confined to a container.

I also try to grow at least 6 fennel plants each year. We use the bulbs in our delicious fennel soup and the fronds we dry and store or freeze in ice cubes.

My secret (well, not so secret now!) addiction is coriander (dhania or cilantro), which I grow wherever I can and I can grow it almost year round.

The two basic rules of growing herbs - they don't like wet feet (i.e. don't over water them and make sure the pot has good drainage) and plant them in full sun.

Happy herb gardening!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A quick chicken tutorial

Over the last week two friends have asked some questions about keeping urban chickens. The first question is pretty simple - "Are we allowed to keep chickens in the city?"

Answer: "Check with your municipality!" We are allowed to keep chickens in our neighbourhood, but not a Rooster.

The other question is more in depth so here is a quick tut on setting a coop up and the care of them for beginners.


When we got our girls in June 2008, we planned on getting just two. We built a very simple coop for them which we could lift up to let them out. It was easily portable so we planned to move it over half of a raised bed each week in a rotational way. It was about 2.5m X 2.5m.

However, we came home with 4 chickens (I mean, how can I not get each child a chicken?!?) and the coop sufficed for a few months while the chooks were small.

We added a pole across the width under the sheltered part for them to roost on at night. We also made a little area for them to lay and sit with straw in one corner.

We did let them out daily for a couple of hours while the dogs were locked up, but I still felt that the coop was too small. Superman didn't want to make anything permanent until we new we were keeping the girls...he was a bit hesitant to have chickens in the gardern.

The second coop was built in April 2009. This is a permanent feature at the end of the initial veggie garden. It is +/- 5m x 2 m. The back half has a wood roof and sides. In winter with all our rain we cover it with builder's plastic as it is not waterproof. The front half is meshed inside what used to be the veggie garden fence as the support. It has a loose lid on the meshed side to lift off so that "Robyn" can clean it weekly.

In the back are two roosting poles and two tyres for them to lay in. The straw is replaced weekly. The old straw goes to the compost heap. While there are two tyres, they tend to prefer the one that is in the darker corner.

This coop has a sand floor which they still scratch in and sandbath. When we added our two new girls we found that they have ample space. Half is in the shade and half in the sun. Beside a sand bath, they love to sunbathe.


We buy 25kg's of chicken feed every 3 months. We give them one large cup twice a day. I mix it up with more sunflower seeds and laying pellets. Although sometimes we go without the laying pellets and it doesn't seem to affect their laying.

They also get lots and lots of greens. All my vegetable leaves that are too holey go to them, all the outer leaves of things like cabbage and broccoli, as well as apple cores, tomato ends that we don't cook with...well you get the idea. Oh, and they LOVE cucumber.

To entice them back into the coop after their walk-about, we crumble two old crusts from our bread. Then it is like a feeding frenzy!

We used to have a lot of snails, but they sorted that population out in a blitz. So now I embaress my family and on a Sunday go for a walk around our block and collect snails off my neigbours walls. This caught the attention of a family down the road...and they are now thinking of getting chickens too! They eat the shells too which is necesary for their digestion.

The girls also love digging in the compost heap for any creepy crawlies...especially earthworms! That's a bit of a catch-22 as I want the worms in my garden and they want them in their tummies! They suck them up like spaghetti!!

And we also give them left over oat porridge if we make it for breakfast and then I scramble 2 eggs a week for them and they gobble that up with relish. I also crush their eggs shells every now and again and give it to them with their grain.

This picture above shows two eggs from different chickens. As we got to know our chickens we were able to identify whose egg was whose. The larger one had a double yolk which is a faily common occurence.


We bought them a water feeder which we refresh daily. It is a large plastic dome that trickles into a plate to automatically replace what is drunk. Water in important for chickens as they actually do get thirsty.

I think this is about all I can think of....oh, safety!

We have dogs which haven't been trained to share their space so we always lock them inside with us while the girls roam. A friend has managed to train her dog to cohabit well, we just haven't done it yet.

Cats can also get into unsecure coops, so do make sure they are safe.

Another bother we had were the rats (eek!) but we have managed to successfully get rid of all of them.

Hope this encourages those "sitting on the fence" to take the leap and get some of your own chickens.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chickens in heaven

Incredible Hulk and Superman worked hard all morning on our latest project. They had to put up a temporary fence around the area we cleared and bordered. We hope when plants are growing in there that it will soften the hard edges of the fence, but it is really a necessary evil. Many people, like me, believe that there are no straight lines in nature...but we have to do what we have to do!

The need for this is to keep big white dog out and hopefully be a deterant to the chickens who, before the fence was finished, thought they were in heaven. As we added 15 bags of manure to the soil they decided to de-worm the ground for us. It was terrible to watch all those lovely earthworms be slurped up like spaghetti...but they were having such a feast I didn't want to stop them.

Oh...and Superman rewarded himself with a new toy....

While they were busy we banked up potatoes, planted more, weeded both gardens, watered all the baskets, picked spinach, planted spinach, picked strawberries, fed the lemon tree and granadilla's some Epsom salts (they were looking yellow).

We planted cucumbers and chillies, sorted out the seedlings waiting to be planted to get the strongest ones to grow and turfed the rest.

All in all a productive day! Now I need to watch the new area to get to know the sun and the length that it shines on certain parts before we plant it up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In the words of ABBA....

Here I go my!

In April 2008 we started on our first area. This remains the main all year round production garden with planned raised beds and gravel pathways. This is also where we house our 6 chickens.

That same December we cleared another area down the side of our house which is a summer patch as in winter it gets very little sun.

This past week we started working on the 3rd area. Below is a picture of what our front garden looked like when we started the first area...but as the White Stinkwood grew to more lofty heights, this towering giant of a tree and the shade it casts gradually killed the lawn. Add to that "big white dog" and children with their bikes it started to turn into more of a desert.

Superman and I have been pondering this problem for a while. How to make sure that our front garden looks neat but where we can have some flowers as well as use it for more food production.

The result is more raised beds for flowers with veggies planted in between.

We will plant our permanent vegetables like rhubarb and asparagus here too.

So Superman, Robin and the Incredible Hulk got stuck in on Monday with digging up the root mat, loosening the soil, sieving all the earth, making wooden borders and creating gravel pathways. We did get a labourer friend in to help us too.

Now we need to add lots of manure, compost and topsoil to make it a viable option.

Thereafter we have one last job to tackle...removing of the non-indigenous trees along the wall of our property and replacing them with fruit trees.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nurturing my cabbages

After a season of nurturing my cabbages we are starting to eat them daily. I had to hand pick off many many white cabbage moth caterpillars to allow the cabbages to grow without well as spray them with my vinegar mix.

But the hard work was worth it. Here are my 3 most easiest cabbage recipes.

For small cabbages, peel off outer leaves, cut in half, boil in a little water with a teaspoon of beefstock and when done sprinkle with grated paremezan.

For large red cabbage, wash and shred finely. Fry some onion in butter and then add cabbage. Peel and chop 1 apple and add. Add 1 tablespoon of baslamic vinegar then reduce heat and allow to gently cook in its own juices.

My simple coleslaw which is great on crusty bread....

Wash and shred your cabbage, add a good dollop of home made mayonnaise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My new toy

I have wanted a vacuum sealer for a long time. I was hoping to buy one towards the end of summer to use for my corn and beans that I hope to freeze.

Then Superman came home with 7kgs of tuna...and that was a good enough excuse.

Once it was all trimmed we made the bags with the seal function.

Sealed them up and put them in the freezer, bar for a steak for each of us which once cooked slightly we eat with my fresh salsa. Simply chop 2 tomatoes, a bunch of coriander, 1 onion and 1 red pepper and mix. I serve the chili seperately for tender mouths!

I like my new toy, I am sure it will come in handy in Autumn too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lazy Homesteader

After a long MTB ride this morning my energy levels were low so while I needed to dig and weed, I chose to take the lazy route....

I picked 200g of strawberries....

I picked 400g of spinach....

I picked 1 head of cabbage and 1 cauliflower....

Then Incredible Hulk and I planted his sunflowers...

Followed by feeding all the strawberry baskets and granadillas with Kelpak.

I also drained a bucket of worm juice off the wormery and fed it to my orange and lemon trees.

Then we called it a day :-))

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I wish I had....

I have said this a few times over my veggie gardening year. The first time was that last summer I said: "I wish I had planted more corn", in winter I said: "I wish I had planted more cauliflower and cabbage" and now I am saying: "I wish I had planted more peas."

Last evening I took the last pods off our plants. They have only a few flowers left. We never planted enough to freeze for Summer, but mainly ate them as undeveloped pods in salads.

One of the mistakes I made last year was to try to grow all sorts of vegetables, but this year I have changed my approach to grow LOTS of what we eat and like. So while I do have a few brinjals, and beets and other smaller crops, we are rather going to be focussing on the "big ticket" crops.

Next winter I will aim to plant at least the front half of all 6 beds up with peas. This spring we are planting all the back beds with corn in 2 - 3 week spaces between planting, and all the front beds with potatoes with the same time intervals.

After the potatoes and corn are harvested at the end of winter and autumn we will sow the peas. I will have to feed the soil where the corn grew and plant my broccoli , cauli and cabbages there.

A much more simple plan, but I think one that will yield the most for our freezer.

Friday, October 9, 2009

They didn't last long

Remember those strawberries that were hanging yesterday? Well, they are gone gone gone!

We had about 15 strawberries of various sizes that ripened and ended up in our tummies!

We had them as a topping with our breakfast oatmeal waffles...a great alternative to the unhealthy normal ones.

Here's how to make them:

Grind up enough oats to make 3 cups of oat flour
Mix with 2 teaspoons of baking powder

Seperate two eggs, beat the whites til stiff,

Mix 2 cups of milk with 2 tablespoons melted butter and the egg yolks.

Mix the milk mixture with the oats, then genlty stir in the egg whites.

Cook in waffle machine. Serve with freshly plucked strawberries, homemade yoghurt and maple syrup. Yum!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trying to restrain myself...

But its so hard!


is staring at me all day. I am waiting for a few more to ripen and then we can have them on waffles or flapjacks with breakfast!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm so happy, oh so happy!

When my children were very little (3 and 1) we moved into a small home so that I could stay at home with them and not worry about high overheads from mortgages and other payments.

The house we moved into had a guava tree and a granadilla vine. My earliest memories of my son as a toddler was him sitting under the vine and biting the tops of the granadilla's off, sucking out the inside and then discarding the shell.

When I planned this garden in June 2008 one of the first things I did was make sure there was space for the vines. We planted 4 in between the raised beds.

The first two died, and were replaced this year. However the ones at the end have now filled the trellis and are climbing the top one.

Yesterday when I was watering the strawberry baskets, I found this peeping out at me....

Obviously I then searched the vine for evidence of more of the passion flowers and lo and behold did the happy dance because there must be at least 30 of them.

According to my veggie book, I need to increase the watering until the fruit is set to make sure they don't drop off...but either way...I am happy, oh so happy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Memories of my grandma

One of the things I regret most in life is that I never got to know my Grandma more than I did. She was always there in my memories but I think being the child I was I kept her at arms length.

However as mom with my own children now I think of her more and more. Little things will remind me of her. How she used to make toffee with me, how she used to grow geraniums and her lemon curd.

Yesterday we had an over abundance of eggs as our new girls are laying aswell and 6 a day is more than we eat. So I decided to make my grandma's lemon curd. It's such a simple recipe, maybe a bit fattening and has too much sugar, but it is truly delicious! The nice thing with this recipe is that it uses the whole egg not just the yolks.

You need:

The juice and rind of 1 orange and 6 lemons
3 and a half cups of sugar
8 eggs well beaten
500 g of butter cut into blocks

Melt all of this in a double boiler until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Pour into sterilized bottles.

We ate some on our toast for breakfast, I sneak a spoon of it here and there, or you can use it as a filling for lemon meringue pie.

Like I said: "Delicious".

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beautiful Borage

Around my garden I have lots of borage growing. There were a few reasons for planting so much of it. The first is that bees love borage flowers...and the second is that I think they produce the most beautiful flowers.

The other reason is that the borage leaves, when spent, are a great accelerator for compost heaps.

And yet another reason is that they are one of the best companion herbs for strawberries.

Yesterday my daughter made cheese cake from some of my cream cheese and we decorated each slice with borage flowers.

They are completely edible as are the leaves, well, if you can get past the spikes! They can be cut finely and added to cream cheese to go onto crackers or even batterred and deep fried. We haven't tried that yet!

Either way I love having their beautiful dancing flowers in my garden.