Sunday, July 28, 2013

Setting up your garden plan

If you are anything like me you want to get right in there and just plant some seeds! But I have learnt I do actually have to plan even if it’s just the basics of knowing what goes where.

I am not by nature a detailed person and I find it very hard to stick to the plan that I make…but over the last 4 years, while I have kept it flexible, I have known where to sow what seeds, when to get them started and how to care for them until harvesting.

Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when making your garden plan:

1. How much space do I have to devote to vegetables?

When I first grew veggies I had a small area of about 5 X 3m some 17 years ago. It was not successful as it was partly shady due to a towering oak tree. It became snail food for the most part! In a later house I had a larger area but the soil was very poor and there was a guava tree that sapped most of the nutrition from the ground.

When moving to Johannesburg in 1999 we created raised beds on a concrete patio which was in full sun and we had our first taste of real homegrown vegetables.

Whether you have loads of space to set up raised beds, only space for one bed or simply just room for a container veggie garden, grow something! I always get a little thrill knowing that the herbs that are flavouring my stews are from the garden, that the lettuce leaves in the salad are grown by our soil or even that the bowl of broad beans are ours.

I think many of us what to have a plate full of food all homegrown, but sometimes it is just not possible with the space that we have at the moment.

2. How much sun does this area get?

This is really the defining issue with a garden plan. Vegetables need full sun for a good few hours each day. They can handle all day full sun providing they have rich moist soil to grow in.

Salad leaves can tend to want a little shade so you can take this into account for areas that only get a couple of hours.

3. What do we like to eat?

This is another consideration because the temptation is to grow a whole lot of things and then realize that your family doesn’t actually like turnips in everything :(

Make a list of the veggies and herbs you find yourself buying most of the time and using in your recipes. Then look at where you can grow them.  

We don’t like runner beans that much but I have a handful of recipes that use them and I will plan less space for these and more space for tomatoes which we eat at almost every meal.

4. Give yourself a little instant gratification!

Plan some fast growing veggies too so that you don’t get despondent waiting 90 days for your first corn! Radishes, watercress, coriander, spinach and lettuce tend to come in quicker than the veggies that have to develop big heads like broccoli and cabbage or ears like corn.

Once those basics are down you can also consider what style of garden you want. There are so many types of veggie gardeners now, each with their benefits, but you have to like the look and have the money to set it up.

A friend of mine had a gorgeous permaculture garden with her chook domes over round beds and her volumes of produce were amazing. However they lived on a small hilltop farm, had a full time gardener and loads of space for the round beds.

Another friend has a large tunnel on her farm and they grow and eat all their own produce.

The inspirational Woodwind Circle community garden, run by other friends, used the deep dig method for their garden. Then there are those who love the idea of square foot gardening and all the benefits that it has with companion planting and growing large varieties of veggies.

I based our original garden on a simpleraised bed system. We tried to include many permaculture ideas into the planning. My inspiration came from the Pasadena Urban Homestead where their plot was full of raised beds, intensively composted and planted. We have a long way to go to achieve anywhere near their volumes as our space is smaller and we are not full time gardeners.

However, the point simply is to do the best that you can in the space that you have, the funds you have available and the time you can give to this endeavor.

So once you know where you are going to plant, what you are going to plant and which system you are going to use you can do one of two things:

1.     Grab a piece of paper, roughly plot out the area and write what you will grow where….OR….

2.     You can use an online planning system like this garden planner (which I use) that makes it nice and simple, but there is a little learning curve to get over.

You can go an read a bit more on my oldwebsite (now sold) where I put much more information about different ways to grow vegetables.

If you have a couple of hours, I suggest that you watch some of the videos on Grow Veg channel at Youtube. While the point is to sell you their garden planner, the videos are loaded with great planning, planting and growing tips and whenever I am low on inspiration I always make a point of watching their practical tips.

In a couple of days I will put up a post about the most important things to take note of when you choose seeds and how to get them started.

Happy Planning!!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting ready for spring blog series

When its cold and raining and we are all still bundled up with jackets and scarves and getting up in the morning is really hard to do [because its better to stay snuggly warm under the duvet]’s hard to cast my mind to the coming spring which is 1 month away!

While chatting to a friend the other day on the phone she was talking about her newspaper pots she was preparing and I had a little wake up call that >>>>ITS TIME!

There are so many things to do that it's easier for my abstract sequential personality to break it down into manageable chunks so that I am not overwhelmed before I even begin.

So as a way to stay accountable to myself  [because it really doesn’t feel like spring is coming anytime soon] and as a way to encourage other home gardeners (or even wannabes) I am going to do a “Getting Ready For Spring” garden challenge.

Here’s what I hope to cover over the next month as I get my own plan together for the next season:

Garden plan

Buying seeds

Checking tools

Buying or making compost

Starting your seeds

Caring for your seeds

Transplanting your seeds

Watch and grow

Maybe mid season I will do another about ongoing care, harvesting, using and storing the fruits of your labor.
On the weekend I will put up the first post and then take it from there.

Who is game? 

Will you join me for this challenge to plant something this spring? 

Whether it be a fully fledged vegetable garden, some pots on a patio, some herbs on a windowsill…let me know in the comment box.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meal Planning - My Way!

I know that there are 1,000,000 sites out there with meal plan help but I thought I would put this out there amongst them, and maybe someone may be helped with my system that I have fallen into.

"Fallen into" because I too am a conglomerate of all I have learnt and read over the last 23 years of homemaking. There are also seasons when I haven’t planned meals because I have not wanted the structure or have just been too lazy to get my act together.

But each time I return to meal planning – from super structured to generalized – I always feel better knowing what we will eat for the next 7 days 3x a day and that the right groceries are in the house.

This has never been more needed than in the last 9 weeks as we have been going through the kitchen renovations (this is a link to the Pinterest board I have created showing all the stages) and I have been very limited in the cooking apparatus.

I have allocated each child to cook one meal a week on their own (my youngest still gets my help), one night is a slow cooker meal for me and I cook the other meals in whole or part. I choose meals (all 3 daily) according to our schedule, as there are 3 nights in the week that I am out with one or two of the kids until 6. The “left behinds” then have to cook the dinner. The one night that no one is available is the slow cooker night.

So here is what I do…on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings.

Take a peek into the garden, fridge and freezer and make a mental note of what I have to use in my home.

Sign into Cozi. It’s free to use, but I bought a years membership, as I needed a few of the additional functions for my older children.

Go to Meals. It will open up the 7 days ahead of you.

On another tab I open my favorite recipe blogs or recipes I have bookmarked. I also have a few standard meals that we do once or twice a week and I always have the same breakfasts and lunches on a weekly basis.

My current favourite food blogs are: BudgetBytes and Amazing Paleo.

Then I simple plug in the meals I want each week night based on what I have in the freezer, fridge and garden first. I also keep my iPhone Cozi App open while doing this on the shopping list page. I add to the list whatever I need to buy when going to the shop on Monday or Tuesday.

If I choose a new recipe, then I immediately print it. I assemble all the recipes in a flip file and leave that on the shelf for the kids to have available to them when they need to cook.

I find being out of the home a great way for the kids to learn to problem solve, rely on their own skill, or lack thereof, and while they know I am available to them on the phone if they are really stuck, I am encouraging them to do this completely on their own. I only tell them when they should start the process so that we can eat between 6 and 6.30pm.

Well, that’s it…hope it helps someone, I find that the 20 minutes it takes to do this all is paid back over and over when there are so many curve balls that can happen in mum's lives J

Friday, July 12, 2013

Around the Urban Homestead

We have had some unseasonably warm days this week with temperatures in the middle 20's. It was the perfect excuse to give some loving attention to my neglected garden. The problem was that the seedlings I had started about 6 weeks ago had been munched by garden critters and what survived were covered in builder's dust.

Time for a visit to the nursery for some instant gardening delight. I haven't done this for such a long time as it seems to be such a waste of money to buy punets of 6 seedlings for the same price as a packet of seeds which can give me 100's of plants...but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Loaded up with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, red onions and carrots I trundled my way hope to my eager and waiting gardeners...not! Mmh the kids have been on holiday far too long and motivation to work in the garden runs at an all time low.

However, we did get the planting done and providing the cats don't dig them up and the garden critters don't chomp them we enjoyed the instant gardening days.

Here are some pics:

Red onions

Spinach and Cavolo Nero - these were grown from seed
Broad Beans in their winter glory - also grown from seed
Tiffany, garden companion and sun lover
This is the Stagshorn fern that I have just inherited from my mom. My folks have moved into a smaller retirement village and there were many garden pots, water features and more that my lovely mum handed on to me.

The Stagshorn take the prize though and it is a true garden family heirloom as I have watched it grow from the early 80's and move around the country with them.

It is the most delightful plant and such a welcome addition to our home.

On the renovation front, my pantry is done and I am so delighted with it! The cupboard carcasses are in and next week the doors (which are being hand painted) arrive as do the granite and wood counters.

We bargain on another 2 weeks before we can say the kitchen is operational again.

Pantry all ready for stock piling...can't wait!
My Superman has overseen every detail with the builders to make sure that what I wanted was done just right. My mind muddles with the mm's and finishes, heights and widths that were needed...but what I visualised is now coming to pass. Such a man he is!

I took this last photo because I am so pleased with our choice for the wood counter. This is an African wood called "Kiaat" and I particularly liked the white blaze in it but it seems that may be lost with the final cutting.

Friday, July 5, 2013

And along came love...

A very special friend warmed this family's hearts with a beautifully cooked meal this week to just give us a breather from the chaos...with wine, pudding, candle and centrepiece we were so blessed by this gift.

Another close friend is having us for lasagne tomorrow and allowed my daughter, who was having baking withdrawal symptoms to bake in her oven. This same friend made me roast chicken a few weeks ago.

Sometime when we feel we are battling along alone we forget there is always a loving hand willing to step up and make things just a little easier.

Thank you, both of you. XX

My new SMEG going in...can't wait to cook on it!
On a kitchen note...this week they started installing the cupboard carcasses. Next weeks sees the finish of this, the installation of the granite and wood surfaces, the cupboard doors and painting thereof and we should be done in two weeks time...yeeehaaa! 7 weeks of no kitchen and 2 to go...we can do this!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mommy comfort soup

I suppose we all have those days when life is just too much and we need to run away...well, I had a minor mommy meltdown late last week and went off to a local restaurant for lunch all on my lonesome to sort my head out.

They were offering a latte and a bowl of soup for R45 and it seemed like just the thing to help me along :) The soup turned out to be the most delicious creamy chicken delight and I just had to recreate it at home.
From lounge to unfitted kitchen
Home is half the problem with the building renovations going over budget and over time but we are moving on and it shouldn't be much more than two more weeks until the kitchen is operational again.

Today my little camp stove made me glad by producing an almost duplicate of the's what I did:

-Brown 4 chicken thighs in a little olive oil
-Add 3 chopped shallots, 4 sticks of finely chopped celery, 3 grated carrots, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic and brown.
-Add 1 litre of chicken stock

Leave to simmer until chicken cooked through. (30 - 40 mins)

-Remove chicken and take the meat off the bones and put the meat back in the pot.
-Add 250ml cream and 250ml milk. Mix in 2 heaped tablespoons of flour into the milk first.

Allow to come to a boil and thicken slightly, add salt and pepper.

Just delicious!