Thursday, December 18, 2014

Urban Homestead Open Morning

For those of you in Cape Town I am hosting an open morning where you can come and walk around our humble patch of earth and see how we grow our vegetables.

This is no a professional talk, and you will see the bugs and bare spaces too, but it will be real and I will happily share what I know with anyone who would like to grow their own veggies on whatever scale you can manage.

There is a cover fee of R50 per family which will go to our feral cat sanctuary in Franskraal.

Email me at should you need directions and address details.

See you then!

Figs...just in :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The sad story of my asparagus and a delicious recipe

Asparagus season is here. I love asparagus. I don't care that it has an after odour (nudge nudge wink wink). It is a fabulous health giving little plant.

One of the first things I planted back in 2008 were 12 asparagus seeds. I nurtured them year in and year out until they were big enough to be planted into their final place in 2010. 4 years after the seeds were sown (2012) we were able to start harvesting the spears.

Oh the sweet sweet taste of those first few we cut. The joy of seeing them sticking their tops out of the soil. The delight as each year the harvest grew...until this year.

It was my fault.

I should have told him.

I really needed to explain better.

Sam weeded the asparagus bed for me in August, but he used a fork and I believe he damaged most of the crowns.

We have had a dismal harvest of asparagus with very few spears. So sad, so sad. I will feed them, love them and see what happens next year.

But, never a girl to be kept down long...when I did my grocery shopping yesterday I saw the most magnificent spears and couldn't resist.

Today I made them into a heavenly soup...Superman said so, so we believe him :)

Here is what I did:

2 freshly picked onions
4 cloves of garlic
Zest of the last lemon on our tree

Slowly sizzled in some butter.


Remove the tips of two bunches of asparagus and set aside. Chop the spears into chunks and add to the onion. Add in some dry thyme and 400ml chicken stock.

Slowly simmer for 20 minutes then use a hand blender to make smooth.

Return the the heat and add 100ml cream, salt and pepper and the tips. Reheat.

I am sure it would be superb just on its own, but on Saturday I picked up some bacon from CURE and I fried up some bits until crisp and added this as a finish.

Nom Nom Nom!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Slice of Farm Life

Fresh butter...lambs bread...milk squirting into a bucket....a rooster before grown and cooked from born calves and foals...

5 ½ years ago a dear friend moved away from the city and made a new life for her family on a farm on the border of Lesotho.  It has taken me this long to get to visit them...way too long. A 5 day oasis at the end of a busy year full of surprises and changes. A special treat was that this was a trip for just Superman and I this time and the kids were champions to keep the home and businesses running.

Serious onion envy
 Experiencing a slice of their lives was wonderful. Every part of it, from the eager rooster crowing before dawn to the curveballs this lifestyle tends to throw was exciting and inspiring.

But that's just the thing - I can come home to my contained little world and not have to carry the deeper stress of isolated farm living.

Either way as I watched my friend go through her days I was inspired yet again to keep on pushing into this homesteading lifestyle.

Whether she was planning her menus for a three day market, ministering to her servants and their families, giving deep loving care to her animals or serving up a ploughman lunch she inspired me to do better with what I have got here.

Cows enjoying discarded peas collected from the neighbouring farm

They have 5 cows. Two are in milk at the moment and from this milk she makes the most delicious cheeses. Chabrie, feta, gouda, hard cheese, labnah, cream cheese - all super scrumptious. Most of these are sold at local farmers markets but we had plenty everyday.

The cows graze around their beautiful stone cottage along with the pigs and lamb, with the ridgebacks as their protection.

The welcoming or farewell committee when coming and going to take staff, go for a farm drive or off to church has a new meaning. With 5 cows, 2 pigs, 1 lamb, 2 cats and 4 dogs to meet and greet makes my two barking dogs pale in significance. Lucy the lamb was hand raised when her mum rejected her. I enjoyed giving her one of her last bottles as she was weaned this weekend. Superman gave her her last bottle. She is really "Mary's" lamb calling for attention, following people or other animals around and generally being a sweetheart. She will be a breeding sheep in time.

Just one of the many braids
As they truly grow what they eat, only eating what they can get seasonally, the vegetables grown in the tunnel and around the garden are used fresh, preserved, bottled and dried. Plaiting her enviable onion and garlic harvest was one of the first things we did together. 

In true Elastic Mom style simple food combinations are used to make wonderful mouthwatering meals. 

Delicious homegrown homemade ploughman's platter
 Friday night Marlboro Man (a.k.a) Mr Elastic Mom takes over and makes dinner. I suppose nothing remarkable about pizza except that his dough takes days to nurture and the cheese is homemade and the bacon, well that's from a wild pig he hunted and cured.

Home cured bacon
A Sunday morning treat - freshly homemade croissants

Apricot hunting
 Close friends live on the next farm and they have orchards of cherry, apricot, peach and apple trees where picking is allowed.

While we spent some time looking for ripe fruit we were a few weeks to early to get more that a few apricots.

In fruit season jars of jam, chutney and preserves are made to keep going for the whole year.

The same is for the fields of marrows, corn, brassica and other vegetables. This is not an organic farm, but fresh from the earth on to the table you cannot get better unless grown at home.
Corn fields looking over into Lesotho

Large herds of cattle and sheep graze the land and we were treated to a moving herd the day we left with hundreds of moms and babes, and a few bulls, were ushered down to the barn for attention by the herders.

Mimicking mom
Day old foal

While we were there a new foal was welcomed onto the farm and we went to visit mom and little one as well as another recently born foal. Standing on their knobbly legs they were precious to admire.

Then all too soon it was time to come home. Being with my own children, in my own space and with my own animals is wonderful. I find myself looking at my home and little urban farm with new eyes and thinking and planning how to import a little slice of all this amazing woman does into my home is giving me many fruitful thoughts.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Flowers in my garden

I mentioned a while back that I was going to include more flowers in my garden this season as I want to attract more insects to the vegetable garden. This may seem a little counterproductive to pest control but I hope it will indeed do just that - control pests.

The other reasons are to promote pollination by giving the bees and butterflies lots of good food and for beauty. I may be strange but I do find vegetable and herb flowers beautiful. Not a well tended rose garden beautiful, but as I walk through all the green foliage I see little bursts of colour here and there as some of the herbs begin to flower I marvel at the different colours, shapes and purposes.

Calendula, seen above, is such a gorgeous flower that I have planted for the last few years. They are edible flowers, bees love the dark center landing pad and I collect the petals for my soap making. I have normally planted a ring of them around the pond, but this year I gave them the circular bed at the pool below the fig tree. They have grown prolifically here and are a huge burst of colour in our rather drab back yard.

Most of my borage has died down now and has been added to the compost heap. It will self seed all over the garden, I even see some leaves popping up from the last addition of compost to the beds. Most of it I pull out quite small, a few will be left to grow to flower stage. The flowers can be eaten in salads or on cheesecakes and they have a light cucumber taste. I have been told that you can also scrape the prickles of the leaves and slice them into fritters, but have not tried that yet!

I have a few Bulbinella plants around the place. The bees love this plant and so do I when something makes me itch when working in the garden. Its also cooling and soothing for sunburn, cooking burns and animal stings.

A lot of the flowers around the garden are simply because they have been left to go to seed. My coriander is about to do that and I will soon have the delicate white flowers to enjoy and eventually seeds for sowing and cooking.

It is the same with the dill below. We use very limited amounts of fresh dill in our cooking. But I love the blooms and we can save the seeds for recipes later in the year. Dill has the most beautiful delicate leaves which we chop finely into yoghurt when eating Greek dishes. We don't eat much fish due to our boys being allergic, but when we do having fresh dill is a winner.

Nasturtiums seed themselves all over the garden in late winter and he flower has always been one of my favourite. I normally have a few small vases of them scattered around the home. They are also a spicy addition to salads and the leaves are used in juices every now and again. We have little black beetles that like to bury themselves head down into their narrow throats and gulp up the nectar.

Nasturtiums are a wonderful way to protect brassicas from the white cabbage moth as these girls will lay their eggs on the undersides of the nasturtium leaves and their little caterpillars will munch away happily.

I also have loads of sage growing in a few places. The flowers are not the most astounding but sage leaves are superb with pork. Sage is also a great companion to carrots so my son planted some with his carrots in his square foot garden.

I also collect the sage leaves and use it in a sage and lemon grass soap which is one of my favourite bars.

Besides for the herb flowers I have also planted sunflowers around the pond. Its a little later than normal, but each year these tall beauties reach up around the pond and show off their faces to the sun. This is what the will look like in summer:

Do you grow flowers specifically in your garden?

Friday, October 31, 2014

DIY Cucumber frame

This post should be called the engineering design challenged mom's guide to building a cucumber frame! But will go with DIY cucumber frame for sake of simplicity.

There are climbing cucumbers and bush cucumbers - I have grown both. I do however prefer climbing ones for two simple reasons being that the bush cucumbers tend to be smaller and the fruit has a tendency to hang on the ground.

Cucumbers are on of those foods that we eat a lot of, but cannot store well. It's always a toss up with how many plants to plant and whether we will actually be able to use them all before they are spoiled by pests, hot weather or neglect.

I normally plant an early crop in a tub and choose the round lemon cucumbers and then around about now plant some into the vegetable garden. Last year I attempted to make a horrid farm for them to climb over and planted spinach under the frame hoping the cucumber growth would shade up the delicate spinach leaves, but this caused failure of two crops.

This year I thought I would try a more traditional way and have made a spiffing new frame from recycled wood and a bit of garden mesh. So here's how and engineering design challenged mom made a cucumber trellis.

You will need:

-3 1.5m long wooden poles of about 7-10cm diameter with one sharp end
-A length of plastic garden mesh
-Staple gun
-A well appreciated and handy Sam!

The dimensions of the poles are based on my bed which is 3.10m in length. If your bed is smaller you may only need two poles, but the middle one gives good rigidity.

Unroll the mesh and staple it firmly to one pole aligning the top of the mesh with the flat end of the pole. Halfway down the length of mesh staple your next pole and then again at the end of the mesh length.

Dig a hole for each pole in your bed and use a hammer to bang the sharp edge of the pole into the soil compacting it around the pole when filing up the hole again. I ran my climbing frame down the center of the bed. On the sunny side I will plant tomatoes in front of the cucumber and on the shady side I will plant lettuce. This allows me to grow three vegetables in one bed making use of vertical space.

I also left about a 20cm gap between the soil level and the mesh as a cucumber vine can support itself for this little bit and having the higher mesh allows it to grow higher and create more flowers.

I then planted up the bed and hopefully in a few weeks will have a positive report to give you all.

Are you growing cucumbers this year?

Friday, October 24, 2014

5 reasons why people don't grow vegetables

Having just returned from the UK on a lovely visit with my sister and her family we returned to find our garden into the full swing of spring.

One of the gardens yesterday
The tiny seedlings that were planted before I left are knee high, spinach has bolted, potatoes are ready to be dug out, tomatoes putting out their first flowers and cucumbers climbing up their trellis.

What a joy to know that from now on we will be eating daily from the garden. There is a huge amount of satisfaction in walking through the garden and seeing food for today, some for tomorrow and others for later in the month growing there.

It is pesticide and fertiliser free attested to the fact that bees and butterflies are visiting, snails and slugs hide under the lettuces and caterpillars munch away at the leaves of the brassicas.

Cucumbers in a barrel
It got me to thinking about why people wouldn't want to grow some of their own vegetables and I came up with a few thoughts based on what people have said over the years. I hope my thoughts on each of these will help you climb over your obstacles and embrace a little bit of veggie growing.


While this may seem like a big problem it is actually only relative to what you want to grow. Even on our 300 m2 of arable land there are things I would love to grow but can't due to my space constraints. You simply need to grow what you can in the space that you have. Herbs can grow in containers on sunny windowsills, pots on balconies or like I do in pots on our paved area near the pool.

Making use of vertical space means that you can make a door sized bed and grow something climbing (beans, cucumbers, peas) in the centre of the bed, then grow something hip height around the outskirts of those plants like tomatoes and then right around the side of the bed you can grow herbs like basil or coriander.

Strawberry baskets dot all our walls
If you don't have a garden you can use a balcony to grow any of the plants mentioned above with some clever planning using pots and some form of climbing frame.


Tomatoes with their first blooms
I understand time constraints well. 4 children, homeschooling, home business, sports and cultural events, cooking from scratch, a menagerie of animals doesn't leave much time to twiddle my thumbs.

And, yes, I will admit that in the beginning it took time to establish a veggie garden and there are crunch times when you have to get plants into the ground or harvests processed but in general I do not spend more than 2 hours a week directly involved in the garden.

You need to simply decide what time you do have available and decide if you want to spend any or all of it in the garden. If you don't, then I wonder why you are reading this blog... :) :) :)

I also have Sam now to help me on a Friday which is has taken a huge load off my shoulders trying to keep up with the weeds, heavy garden work and general maintenance. We used to do this all until recently but with the current levels of work and study for my children I simply can't take up a whole day to work.

Sam has been a Godsend to us and has brought back the enjoyment of being able to do the nice things like sowing seed, planting out, tending too and harvesting.

Globe Artichoke


If you are like my Superman you want to know all the ins and outs before taking the first step. If you are like me, you will jump in with both feet when the idea grabs you. Together Superman and I make a good team balancing the need for knowledge with the ability to "just do it".

There are those out there who want to know all about soil ph and what to feed to which plant when, I honestly couldn't be bothered. I do know enough about what a plant likes - for instance our Blueberries need an annual dose of pine needles or Rooibos mulch - but I have gardened simply for a long time now making sure we feed the soil lots of compost, worm tea, Bounce Back, bone meal and making sure that I plant a legume in a cycle throughout the beds in a year. I believe the plants take what they need from the soil and as we replenish with each new planting they will be fine.

There is a vast amount of information to get started on the internet and in print. These books all pretty much say the same thing so getting one good book on growing vegetables is all you need. Troubleshooting is nice to do on the web as its quick to see what the plant needs, Youtube is a stellar place to go for gardening inspiration and you are welcome to join our little FaceBook group here to ask your questions.


Potatoes harvested yesterday
One of the things I needed to overcome was if after putting money into establishing raised beds we would face a crop failure and waste all the money. Well we have had lots of crop failures, but it wasn't money that I was worried about as I watched tomatoes die of blight, potato crops not come to pass, corn form weird kernels after waiting for them for 3 months...I was sad because of wasted time and then the loss of money.

Other people have told me they fear getting started and the commitment, others who worry about what people will say or not having the know how (see above). When we started we had a lot of people joke about our farm, neighbours who told us our compost heap would attract rats (we got cats to silence that) and our children would tell their friends they lived in a cottage plonked in the middle of a vegetable garden. I really do not worry about what other people have to say about our choice and we make sure our animals (read:chickens) don't bother them.

Perhaps fear of failure is something in your life, but I guarantee it manifests in other areas and is not directly related to veggie gardening, go on...give it a try...grow some tomatoes in a pot and you will soon overcome your fear.


Well, we all struggle with this in one way or another, don't we? There are so many things that pull at us in this age that we live in, not just living life but cyberspace can gulp up loads of time. Then we have a moment to ourselves and what we choose to do with it is between you and yourself. If you don't want to grow veggies because you are lazy, then so be it.

I would challenge you though that when you put the first lettuce in a bowl, peel your first carrot or dig up your first potato, this act will become more enticing than the couch, TV or FaceBook. But like I said, its between you and yourself.

I am sure there are other reasons people don't grow vegetables, but these were the ones I thought about today while enjoying beautiful spinach, broad beans, onions and potatoes during the day's meals.

Voted the Beauty of the day

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our little patch of Earth

This time of the year is such an in between time where we have vegetables finishing off their turn in the beds and new ones starting out. There are beds that appear empty but under the soil little seeds are casting off their jackets and sending out their roots and radicles. Other beds are full of growth, rich and green. Here is a quick overview of what is growing on our little patch of Earth.

Left hand side, coriander. Front lettuce and courgette underground

Tiny corn plants under the "cat traps" to stop them digging up the seedlings.

My youngest's magical square foot garden, it is plentiful and pretty with all the different leaves

Potatoes in the foreground, broad beans behind

Gorgeous broad beans, loved by adults, hated by kids!
Spinach bed - all the bright lights!
What is growing in your "in-between" garden?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Container vegetable gardening

I have been getting my containers ready for our summer vegetables and as I am going about it I have had some thoughts. Here are my container vegetable growing hints. If you have any, please add them in the comments section below!

Using containers is all about growing the right vegetables in the right container in the right season. Containers are a whole lot less work than large vegetable beds and if you are new to gardening it is the best way to start.

Containers you can use:

Normal concrete garden pots in all shapes and sizes
Wine barrels sawn in half
Hanging baskets
Half moon baskets
2 liter cool drink bottles
5 liter buckets
Black plastic bins (BPA free)
Grow bags
Potato sacks

While I have grown potatoes in tyres, I never got the promised yield and have read that there is leeching of potentially harmful toxins into the soil thus into the spuds.

**guttering can only be used for shallow rooted vegetables and should not be in all day sun. It is normally mounted against a wall and sunburn on the leaves or fruits in the case of  strawberries can be a huge problem.

Strawberries around the outside and new cucumber seedlings to grow up

What can you grow in various containers?

Strawberries grow very well in hanging baskets as the fruit can be trained to drape over the sides and not lie on the soil. However in hanging baskets we have found that the berries are attacked by birdies more and you will need to have some sort of deterrent. An old CD tied in the middle of the basket is a good choice! The half moon baskets dry out very quickly and need to be watered twice a day in summer.

Wine barrels are like mini beds and you can grow a variety of things in them. In my barrels I have permanent plants like the blueberries or asparagus and around the base I have quick growing plants like spring onions, coriander and spinach. I also grow climbing vegetables like cucumber and beans in the centre of the barrel and then other quick growing plants around the outside.

Yes...these are my blueberries :)
Normal pots are great for cut and come again herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay and many others. These herbs grow all year here in the Western Cape so they can stay in the pots for many years.

Salads grow well in troughs that are about 25cm deep. Watch for slugs and snails if they are on the ground. Salad leaves picked from the outside edges will keep the inside producing for a long time. At the end of the season, or when they start to bolt in hot weather, I like to tip the whole contents, solid and all, into the chicken coup. It keeps our chickens busy for ages scratching through the soil and eating the bugs and worms.

There was a trend a while back to grow tomatoes upside down in 5 liter buckets suspended from a structure. We never tried this so if you are keen do take a look here.

Barrels and drums can be used as you would for a mini garden bed. I have used mine for two of our 8 asparagus plants and two blueberry plants. It is nice to maximise the root growing area by planting something tall in the centre (cucumbers, beans, blueberries or asparagus) and then something quick and love growing around the edges. As the barrels are quite deep you can do this quite easily without crowding roots or leaves.

As you can see in this photo below, my asparagus is sharing with strawberries and borage. The borage was self seeded via compost but borage is a great companion for strawberries and the asparagus seems to be doing fine.

I have not used grow bags or potato sacks but a friend has and you can read her in depth post here on growing potatoes in sacks.

How to prepare containers

Bay tree in square pot, empty strawberry frames waiting for lining, the herb tower now in sun waiting for plants 
Think water and nutrients and then you are fine.

Water = do not let them dry out and provide adequate drainage. At the bottom of each pot I put gravel or broken pots. As for watering, we water daily in summer, baskets in morning and evening if it has been particularly hot. In the baskets we add a water retainer which you buy in a sachet at any garden store.

Nutrients = I don't use pure potting soil but rather after the gravel I add in garden sand and compost from our own heap and then a layer of potting soil on the top. Then plant up.

Ongoing care of vegetables grown in containers

Besides for watering daily in summer (and as you need in winter) for perennial veg you need only feed it with liquid seaweed or worm tea every three months. For those permanent plants, like Bay trees or herbs, you may need to repot them every year if you want them to grow bigger. If not, then you can just continue to feed in the pot with liquid feeds or a well watered in layer of bounce back.

Hope this is helpful and inspiring. I have a large backyard pool area which is almost completely paved where I have my containers. I hope over time to add more and more so that this too will be a highly productive area that will produce food for my family.