Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let's get planting!

Yesterday the weather was very obliging and we got a lot of planting done. We planted about 50 corn plants, 15 courgette plants, 6 butternut plants, one bed of potatoes and we repotted strawberry plants and transplanted the tomato seedlings into their new temporary homes. Our chillies, like all chillies, are taking the long slow lazy route to growing and will sit tight for a few more weeks until they are big enough to be planted out.

So here's the low down on planting out your seedlings...

If you started them indoors like we did you need to acclimatise them to the outdoor life for a week or so before settling them into the ground. We did this by putting our trays outside during fine weather and bringing them indoors overnight.

While you were waiting for the seeds to grow, you should have prepared your garden beds with compost, bone meal and volcanic rock dust or something similar. Remove any weeds and dig them over well. I know there are those out there that use a no dig method - I don't.

Seedlings should never dry out so even once you have planted them, do not let them go thirsty but don't  overwater either. I like to give them a good drink of worm tea just before I plant them and then water every second day.

The experts say that seedlings should be planted out in the evening when it is cool, but this does not work for me as my energy levels are too low at that time so it is early morning and a good watering to get them through the day.

New seedlings need protection too. In our home its from cutworm, slugs, snails and cats! If you are still concerned about frost you can collect up 2 litre plastic cool drink bottles and cut the bottoms off. Place the top portion over the plant. This is good for most smaller plants.

Our courgettes were too big for this treatment so I used small metal climbing frames that I had lying around which will stop the cats digging them up.

The corn we planted just had old trellises put over the beds which is sufficient protection for them. Every morning and evening I go snail collecting in the garden and feed them to the chickens so that is how we handle those critters [evil grin]!

Planting out tomatoes are an exception to the rule. Once you have a "true" leaf on each of your seedlings, which can take about 1 month, you need to repot them into a slightly larger pot slightly deeper than before. This causes the stem to be thicker and stronger and a bigger root system to develop. You should do this 3 or 4 times before their final planting out.

Potatoes are sown in the valleys of ridged ground and as the green shoots rise above ground level you "bank" up the potatoes which simply means cover the shoots  until just the top two leaves are showing. This causes tubers to form as the potatoes are banked up every few weeks.

So that's it...the biggest thing I appreciate on planting day is helping hands so I like to warn the family a couple of days ahead so that every one is in the right frame of mind. :)

In a couple of weeks time I will post some things that I have learnt about organic pest control and how to give ongoing care to your babies so that when they are big and grown they will give you some delightful harvests.

How are your spring gardens coming?

Friday, September 27, 2013

When motivation is lacking!

We gardeners all know that it is not only fun and games and delicious harvests...growing vegetables is really hard work! There are times when we would rather lie in bed until late in spring and summer but the garden and it's duties call us from our slumber.

There are other times when the harvests are demanding and then the processing of said harvest, and you would rather go and do something fun, like watch a movie, but you have to find ways to process, store or cook the vegetables that were yielded up by the earth.

And then sometimes, you make the long long list of things to be done in the garden and when you look inside your soul, it's all empty of the goodies that make up this thing called "motivation"! I was here a few weeks ago...long list but very low on motivation. What's a girl to do?

Thank goodness for the written word in the form of books, blogs and of course the old standby - Youtube!

So snuggled up in bed at night I have been devouring the pages of Animal Vegetable Miracle and enjoying yet again this diary of their year of eating local, their poultry raising endeavours, the huge amounts of harvest and dreaming of my upcoming ones.

I have gone back and read favourite vegetable garden posts on Down to Earth and watched with keen interest as friends of mine who are also veggie growers have revved up their gardening engines over the last while.

And I have been enjoying Tales from River Cottage on Youtube - even Superman has watched some with me!

All of these things seem to wake me up from my winter slumber to the spring the weather just needs to settle down so that we can plant all the seedlings that are spreading their roots right out of the containers they were started in.

The beds are all ready having been weeded and composted with our own gorgeous brew, the chickens have picked through them to get rid of the cut worms...and now we wait! All fueled up with motivation, willingness AND eagerness.

Could someone please tell the weatherman that its meant to be Spring! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 reasons to grow broad beans

Last weekend I was enjoying a long telephone conversation with my precious sister and she remarked that broad beans were "Yucky!" I have tasted them in their late season yucky stage and their sweet "pea" stage, so I do understand what she means...yet they are always an integral part of my winter veggie garden.

My sister is an amazing woman, a dedicated wife and mom, a brilliant beekeeper, vegetable gardener and a stupendous cook! But, well, I don't agree that Broad Beans are yucky ;) ... here's why we will always grow & eat them:

5 reasons to grow broad beans (and two bonus reasons which have nothing to do with their health or gardening benefits!)

1. Broad beans (fava beans, faba beans) are part of the legume family so they fix nitrogen in the soil. So here's my version of nitrogen fixing for the layman...nitrogen occurs in the atmosphere but for it to be of any use to plant, animal or human it has to be converted into ammonia in the soil which is the building block of all plants. This is done through their roots system. Once it is fixed in the soil, it is in a form now available for the next plants to use to grow healthy and strong. As runner and bush beans do not grow in winter here, broad beans are a good way to prepare the soil for the heavy feeding summer crops of tomatoes, corn and squash.

2. Broad beans are prolific food producers. The seed hints at the size of the plant and some of ours grow taller than myself. The flowers start appearing mid winter with the first pods ready to eat by late winter. By spring they begin to get rather starchy, particularly the ones you miss amongst all the foliage. By this time (September) we have hauled in basket loads from just two beds of beans.

3. Because of their massive yield they encourage the inner cook to find interesting ways to use them. I only cook with the tender ones now. They find themselves into soup, stews, shepherd pie and even good old Mac 'n Cheese like today. The tougher older pods are dried out and the seeds kept for next years planting.

4. Broad beans, being part of the legume family, are very high in protein. This makes them a great way for you to get protein in meatless meals. They do also have large amounts of tannin in their skins...the nutritionist advise that once shelled from the pod, they should be boiled quickly to remove the bean skin and just the inside eaten. Since we eat them young before they get to this hard bitter stage, I have never bothered with that.

5. The pods of the beans are fantastic for wormeries or counter  based composting systems as they break down very quickly. The stalks are soft and fleshy and provide lots of bulk for compost heaps. We do not have any grass to mow and add to our heaps so these stalks are a massive contributor to our composting collection.

2 bonus personal reasons:

1. Our rather skittish rescue kitten loves playing jungle cat in the tall broad beans. In fact, today when we were uprooting the now spent vegetables he was sitting in the centre of the patch rather indignant that we were taking away his playground!

2. The broad bean patch attracts snails. This is good on two levels. One, it keeps these critters away from other more delicate plants like my lettuce and, two, the snails are a great treat for my chickens who will munch a couple a day.

Snail factory

"Oh, alright then, I'll play in the spinach!"

Happy chickens cleaning up after plant removal

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Catching up or making hay while the sun shines!

On Thursday Spring beckoned me outside to work in my garden. We have had so much rain and such low temperatures so far in September that I took the gap of a free afternoon, rolled up my sleeves, donned my garden takkies and headed out for the jungle.

My asparagus plants have been overgrown by the nasturtiums that are growing around the pond and some self seeded tomatoes (from compost) had also encroached on these lovingly nurtured asparagus plants.

The pea bed, which stood in a state of neglect for winter also needed attention.

It was a toss up between the two as I knew my back could not handle a whole day in the garden so I went for the asparagus. I am also two children short as my elder two are enjoying a two week long holiday on a farm in the Free State with close friends.

So the buck stopped with me as the younger two were down with colds.

It was so wonderful to feel the warm sunshine on my skin and I could just see the plants soaking up the rays too. Spring is such a mild season t be in the garden, not like Autumn here which is so windy.

But Spring was just bluffing because the next day we had snow on high lying places like Sir Lowry's Pass and Table Mountain and with the freezing cold there was only one thing to do - make hot chocolate, a fire and play Monopoly!

The rain finally stopped on Saturday afternoon and the seedlings that I have been nurturing indoors have been carried back outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. The squash are ready to be planted out, so this week we will remove the last broad beans and add some compost to the beds and plant out the three types of courgettes I started a month ago. (Providing we don't have more rain and the soils can dry a little)

Sweetcorn needs another week or two which gives me time to eat loads of spinach and lettuce to clean out those beds before adding compost there and planting the corn out.

{My eldest children arrive home tomorrow afternoon...hope they are ready to work ;)}

On Wednesday evening before the cold front hit we headed out to Kommetjie to have some fish and chips as the sun went down. It was such a lovely interlude in an otherwise difficult week with sick kiddos.

Some other things that have been happening around here are making sourdough bread along with a "change of seasons" minestrone soup using up a huge batch of broad beans. 

...another batch of soap. This time is the simple soap from Down to Earth blog which is a never fail recipe.

And the pea bed will just have to wait for next week...lets hope that the weather is sunny and we have some time to dry out...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Guess what book" seed giveaway!

I have just finished reading one of my favourite books to my youngest. This is not a huge event as we read loads together, but as I read the second last chapter I thought I would see if any of my blog readers can guess which book it comes from...and then I will reward you with some seeds from Mike the Gardener.

So here are the paragraphs that stir in me all the feelings that I have when I watch my seeds grow:

"One evening Pa came from the field before sunset and he helped Ma set out the cabbage plants and the sweet potato plants. Ma had sowed the cabbage seed in a flat box and kept it in the house. She watered it carefully, and carried it every day from the morning sunshine to the afternoon sunshine that came through the windows. And she had saved one of the Christmas sweet potatoes, and planted it in another box. The cabbage seeds were now little grey-green plants and the sweet potato had sent up a stem and green leaves from every one of its eyes.

Pa and Ma took each tiny plant very carefully and settled its roots comfortably in holes made for them. They watered the roots and pressed earth upon them firmly. It was dark before the last plant was in its place and Pa and Ma were tired. But they were glad, too, because this year they would have cabbages and sweet potatoes."

Leave your answer in the comment box with a way that I can contact you if you guess right and I will send you a packet of seed. Unfortunately due to postage cost, this is only open to South African gardeners :)

I have 5 gift packs to give away...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Garden walkabout

We had lovely rain last night and it has left a cool drippy kind of day today. I took a walkabout today to peep under leaves, pull a weed, cut some food and have a stock take on how the spring garden is going. 

Come walk with's a bit of a jungle here, but little surprises await.

Asparagus making its appearance

Carrots ready to harvest

Cauliflower in waiting

Healthy green leaves of cauliflower

Chickens have started laying again and are let out daily to clean up the bugs

Garlic looks a little spindly

Globe Artichoke

Cavalo Nero - loads of it!

Kumquats - tree inherited from mom

My favourite flower

Red onions

Broad bean harvest again.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Seedlings - the promise of things to come

We have been busy.

We have been sick.

We have been replacing the floors in our home.

We have been surviving...just.

But our little seeds that we planted on the 25th August are doing so well. For most of their first week I had to keep them indoors on a table under a sunny window - although the sun hid for a lot! There was too much rain and the rain would have washed the soil away. So we tenderly nurtured then for a week and a bit then on Thursday I set them up outside again where they can get sun for about 3/4 of the day.

There is nothing like watching their little stems and leaves push up out of the soil. There is a promise that seems to come with that saying: "I will produce food!"

Once the seeds are sown, the care of them is pretty simple. Make sure the soil stays moist until the shoot, then water as needed - do not let the soil dry out. Make sure they have sufficient sun everyday and are protected from cats (read this post :) and dogs, little hands, too much water (as in rain) or drying out.

When the first pair of true leaves show up, you can prepare your garden beds where they will be transplanted, but for tomatoes you will want to repot them in a larger pot, putting the stem just a little deeper than before.

This will need to happen for tomatoes 2 or 3 times and it makes the plant form a strong stem and root ball. Only then will you plant them out. I will cover planting out in the next post.

And around our little farm in the city here are some other happenings...

Broad beans harvested by the basket!

Seed potatoes ready to be planted
Cavalo Nero (Kale) in soups and quiche

Spring sprung and the figs are here!

1 of the 2 beautiful lemons we have :)

Worm compost ready for use
That's all folks! How things going with your spring garden preparation?