Thursday, December 31, 2009

One of those awful New Year's posts :-)

All over I see the call for New Year's resolutions and I am asking myself - "Do I need to do that too?"

I have come back to myself and said a hearty "No!" The rebel in me refuses to resolve myself to anything...but I have got some goals. The ones that relate to this blog and my readers are the following:

~Continue to learn about canning my produce
~Work towards a "four season harvest"
~Replace more of my shop bought items with homemade/homegrown equivelents
~Implement a no spend month (or two if we manage one)
~Begin the conversion of our last area to grow fruit trees.
~Learn to knit.

Then some other frugal green goals are:

~Stop using shampoo....if this conjures up yucky images then you can read more about it here.
~Start stockpiling of basics

I am sure that as our year progresses there will be other goals that pop up but for now I think this is a good start. Please feel free to list you goals in the comments as it is always inspiring to hear what others have planned.

So for now may I wish my readers a wonderful, exciting, challenging and blessed 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A hammock for my pumpkin

These are lazy days compared to what has been over the last few months. The sun beats down, I water, I help climbers to find the right direction, I water, I pick some food...lazy days. None of that back breaking (but lovely) work of Spring anymore.

The first pumpkins I planted were heirloom seeds from called Austrian Oil Pumpkin. They are doing well and escaping the confines of the veggie garden by climbing into neighbouring trees.

The largest pumpkin is hanging on the fence and the stem was being cut by the one seeing I am having lazy days, I figured that my pumpkin could have a hammock to take the pressure of the stem....doesn't it look sweet?

Monday, December 28, 2009

"There are FLOWERS in my salad!"

Those were superman words when this was presented to him last night.

I am happy that it was all homegrown - our first sweet cucumber, some baby carrots, yellow pear and red cherry tomatoes...very yummy.

The borage flowers taste fresh and cucumber-ish...and the nasturtium's sharp flavour is one I love. Superman left those aside :-)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It makes it all worthwhile!

As my post below talk about harvesting all the gems from my mildew infected plants I thought I needed a good news story for my today I harvested a whole lot makes all the months of hard work worthwhile when we start to eat our own produce.

We know this is free from pesticides, bursting with goodness and fresh fresh fresh! An added bonus is that our food miles for this meal are literaly foot miles...right outside our back door.

I harvested 12 gems, 5 marrows, 1 medium butternut and 1 cucumber.

Then I went to my first bed of potatoes that were planted at the end of Oct and pulled up 3 plants...this was a gorgeous yield from 3 plants. Now here is some maths - I have 4 beds of potatoes each with 20 plants in....I think we are going to have a bumper crop!

And the 1 cucumber is so exciting for me because last year I didn't get any from my plants so I am sure you will allow me to be super excited!

Mildew - aaargh

About a week ago I noticed that some of my squash plants had the white telltale spots of milddew. I started spraying them with copper soap (last year I tried milk and vinegar)and it seemed to have retarded the spread of this invasion.

However it is still spreading....

This morning I had to face facts that if I do not remove the diseased plants it will spread all the more rapidly. This meant harvest all the ready gem squash and then pulling up the plant.

Afterward all my marrow, pumpkin and gem plants that remained were given a good does of copper soap.

The diseased plants cannot be put into the compost as the spores will just lie dormant in the organic material and when used in the garden will continue to spread. So there is only one place for them - the bin. I suppose if you have a large property you can burn them carefully...but I am too nervous to work with a fire in my urban setting.

If you have other pests in your garden here are some ways to control them in an eco-friendly way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A homemade Christmas

We are done with our preparation for tomorrow. We have always kept Christmas low key when it comes to presents but the children like to give something to family. This year we planned to give everyone useful eco-friendly gifts - right down to the wrapping paper.

We have 21 people to bless with a gift and almost all of them are getting one or the other gift:

Ladies get a basket with homemade blueberry jam, homemade soap with rose-geranium fragrance, homemade Greek shortbread cookies and a packet of organic vegetable seeds.

Gents get a basket with homemade hot chocolate, homemade soap with Ylang-Ylang fragrance, a pkt of Greek shortbread and some organic droewors.

So to all my readers of this humble little blog - may the peace of the Lord Jesus rest on you all tomorrow as you know that He came to set your free.


Our garden today

Last December I took my readers on a virtual tour of each section - granted, at that stage there were only two areas in production. This year we have 4. So here goes:

Area 1 is the oldest and most established in terms of being more organised as we used raised beds and gravel pathways here. We have 4 beds with potatoes, 4 with corn, 1 with beans and lots of wall baskets with strawberries. We also have 4 granadilla vines, but only 2 are doing well. Down the side are more baskets with strawberries hanging from the pergola and all my herbs. The grapevine trails along the fence. Right in the back corner are sunflowers which Incredible Hulk has planted. They stand taller than our corn.

Area 2 was started about 6 months after area one. This year we mounded up sections and place boards in between the beds. Here I have beans, gems, pumpkin, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, loofahs and baby marrows growing.

Area 3 was started this year in a desperate attempt to reclaim our garden from Big White Dog who was running a rut to the front gate. He now has his run on a gravel pathway. Here I have borage, rhubarb, chillies, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes have been dug up so many times by the chickens that I hope they will recover.

Round at our driveway we have our compost area which now houses two good looking pumpkin plants but I think I may have planted them a little late...ah well, one has to try. We also have 4 stacks of potatoes in tyres (one not pictured) which need to be filled up with more soil.

That's pretty much year we want to sort out the last area which will mean taking out non-indigenous trees and building up beds for fruit trees and of course a permanent spot for my 18 asparagus plants.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Permacutlture at Hilltop Farm

While away I connected with a friend who moved to this area about 18 months ago to live on a rented farm. What a pleasure to see their lifestyles and how they are doing.

I had to do some soul searching about what I saw as it has long been my dream to live on a farm close to the city, but honestly can say that as wonderful this farm they have is, I am perfectly content with where I find myself.

However, always learning my friend shared how they have planned their garden around the permaculture principles. I have read a bit about it but have found with my limited space we had to take another route...hey, but it's all good!

The view from the top of the hill.

Her sons look after the 8 goats. They make the most yummy goats milk cheese and sell the milk at the health shop in town.

They have 3 hives set up which they are still baiting, so far no-one has taken up residence.

Their chickens are housed in domes which are moved around. They start and finish off the veggie beds - first by digging over and manuring the beds and then when the harvest is done they get to eat what remains.

She also makes up salad packs for the shop from the lettuce as they have an abundance of leaves.

We picked some vegetables for lunch...doesn't this look just perfect?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Learning from Grandma

No matter where I go I always like to learn and find a better way to live. We have just got back from a wonderful peaceful time with my mom and dad and we have learnt alot.

Where they live on the Garden Route they have been plagued by a severe water shortage for the last 18 months. The dam that serves their town is only 23% full. There have been a variety of water by laws passed to make people more water concious.

Even so, people continue to flush at will, wash cars and paving with hoses and waste water in general. Not my mom who is a hero for the environment!

As her garden is small she has no place for a big water butt, so has resorted to using black bins at her downpipes to catch any moisture - even dew! It is estimated that overnight dew will eventually fill a bin which can be used in the garden. She had the hardware store cut a hole and insert a tap.

My parents live on the forest line in the Outeniqua mountains, the picture above is from their front steps.

We enjoyed walking int this forest even in the dry heat as there was still lots to see.

Most of us are dependent on water from a dam, I will share with you another visit we made while away where this family "milks the clouds" in another post, but as I watched my mom going through her routine of collecting water each day from showers and baths in buckets and in a basins at sinks and in the kitchen I realised how much more I can do in my own home, even though we are not in a drought situation.

Each household in her area is allowed 15 000 litres of municipal water per month and my mom manages to run her household on 1 000 litres...that's a feat to be awarded. Well done Mom!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A bit of R & R

Superman is my hero! While the children and I take a break and visit my parents for the next 5 days, he will be the No 1 gardener, dog carer, chicken entertainer, waterer, cook and general labourer around the home.

In about 1 hour I am leaving for a short break, having left Superman a list a mile long of all the things that have to happen...and he is doing it with a smile! Aint he great?

Just a short exciting note....When buying coconut oil at the health shop a week or so ago, the store manager asked what we used it for. When I told her about our soap she got so excited that she has placed a small trial order.

I don't have the time to take on this enterprise but Lava Girl does and she will be making and selling soap to them....we are so happy for her to have found a little business to earn some cash.

She has made two batches so far - one with Ylang Ylang and the other with Rose Geranium.

See you all in 5 days time!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A promise of things to come

I was always told not to count my chickens before they hatch, but when I walk around my garden in the morning there is so much to look forward too...

Tomatoes, full and green....


My second attempt at loofahs

My African corn...

It's hard not to anticipate the juicy sweetness of a sun ripened tomato, the first squeaky munch of some corn on the cob, cucumbers bursting with juice, pumpkin to eat with cinnamon and sugar....mmmh...I know what the sages say, but I can't help doing it all the same!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mean, mean mom and her strawberry jam!

This week I have been a mean mean mom! I always allow the children to pick & eat strawberries right off the plant as they ripen as we have had so many in the past. But this week I placed a ban on this activity :-) I had other plans for those strawberries.

We managed to collect just under 1.6kgs in the week which I stored in the fridge until yesterday so that I could make some jam.

I thought of buying organic unrefined sugar for the jam making, but the price was ridiculous so I went with normal sugar. You need 1.3kg's strawberries, juice of 3 lemons and 1.3kg's sugar (I used less and my jam was still sweet and set well).

Clean and hull berries and place in a pot with the lemon juice. cook for about 10 minutes until the berries are soft. Add the sugar and then stir on a lowish heat.

Sterilize your jars by washing them in soapy water and placing in the hot oven for about 5 minutes.

Test the jam after about20 minutes for setting by placing a dollop on a cooled side plate and then placing in the fridge. Remove after about 2 minutes and push it with your finger to see if the skin on the jam wrinkles. If it does, it is ready.

Allow to cool slightly and then use a funnel to pour into your jars. I have a hunger for croissants, butter and jam for breakfast!

My daughter made some lemon curd at the same time for Christmas gifts...I think I may steal a bottle for us!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A wheelbarrow full - almost

It's so good to be able to take from the garden after all we have put into it over the last few months.

Today when I got home from gym I decided to head straight into the gardens to do some maintenance work. I banked potatoes, staked tomatoes and planted some corn where I pulled up spent spinach.

I then collected all produce ready for harvest and this was the result...

I made spinach quiche for supper using the good non-holey spinach and the more tattered ones were washed and cooked for the dogs in their food. One large courgette went to a friend and the other into dog food and the last was made into yummy courgette and almond muffins for an end of year function.

The strawberries are almost at 1.6kg's for the week and tomorrow I plan on making some strawberry jam for us. Can't wait!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Water, weed and feed me!

Now that the major planting work has finished it is time to maintain this garden of ours. The temperatures are climbing steadily everyday and the vegetables are needing much more water.

Because we do all we can to save water in our household, I really lavish water on my garden now. We luckily have a wellpoint so we use this most of the time to water as far as the pipe will reach.

I also have three different kinds on sprinklers as we have all these pathways and each sprinkler can water a section most efficiently with minimal amounts of water being wasted on paving or gravel. I water the gardens every second day for a long time in each spot so that if I dig down about 10 cm the soil is damp.

It is also at this time of the season when weeds are growing as much as our plants. Each weekend, one of my children's early morning chores is to produce a bucket of weeds from the gardens. These are hastily picked through by our chickens as they enjoy most of the weeds that we offer them.

Then I also focus on feeding our gardens, pots and baskets. I will add a good sprinkling of Bounce Back once a month and water it in well. But I also use our wonderful worm juice.

We drain off about 1 bucket a week which is then diluted half-half with water and this is fed to the vine and granadilla plants. I use SeaGrow or Liquifeed for my baskets and pots which is given to them every two weeks.
If I am more adventurous, one day I will try to make some manure tea!

I know this may seem extreme but I believe that the yields are better when we care properly for the growing plants. For example, we are picking about 200g of strawberries a day at the moment!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hey! Mom...come look at this!

My children work hard in the garden and while the major push of planting and compost adding is done for the season there is alot of weeding and watering still happening.

Just becase I am not super human (we only have one of those in our family :-)) I need their help with watering the hanging baskets daily. Sometimes they grumble but generally work with happy hearts along with me.

It was a delightful voice that called to me this morning as my son was doing the watering of the baskets as he spied this amongst the vine....

He says when he is surprised by our garden like this he feels that all his hard work is worth it.

Our grape vine is 18 months old and has been through one pruning. This is the first year that it is showing a promise of fruit. We have about 20 bunches on it and it spans the fence for about 2 metres.

We water it deeply daily with a trickle hose at its roots and then weekly with a rich feed like worm juice.

Can't wait to try them in a couple of months time!