Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trying Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening has always intrigued me, but I never took up the idea as it seemed to fiddly and also I must admit to being a traditional kinda gal. About 3 weeks ago my youngest son asked if he could be given a bed to grow his own vegetables.

This boy is a very picky eater. He eats lots of what he likes and gags down tiny amounts of what is necessary for his health. I thought it would be a good idea for him to grow his food choices, with a little direction from me :)

I know that looking at an empty bed and deciding what should go into it can sometimes be a little daunting for the new veggie gardener so I was looking for some options and remembered square foot gardening. I sent him some links and videos to watch and it was a hit!

Youngest sat down and planned out his bed using the SFG mode on the planner and then we headed out to buy his seeds, compost and seedlings. I have wanted to take him to the amazing Soil for Life garden for a long time, and now I am glad we waited as it was a wonderland for him.

The sign says: "Pedal me to water our garden"
The bike is connected to the rain water tank and a pump which waters the closer beds. Being a kid engineer he was fascinated!

This hosepipe holder was interesting to was planted up with yarrow and the pipe wound around the outside of the tyre. Amazing repurposing idea.

A compost teepee which when full can have creeping veg planted in it.

The nursery where he chatted with the workers and chose his seedlings
After purchasing his seedlings and the seeds from the lovely Sarah in the shop we headed home.

We do not have exact square foot beds as we are using our existing raised beds but he measured off his blocks and used twine to mark them.

Then following his plan he planted out his seeds and seedlings. He included some companion plants like dill and spring onions around the carrots and other flowers to attract pollinators.

A square foot bed of small beginnings. While it looks empty as a lot was planted as seeds we hope for some good growth over the next weeks which will keep his interest up.

I am not sure I would go for SFG as a complete system, although there are many attractive elements to it. On many levels this is a try out for me and a healthy project for him, we will see where it leads us for the next season.

I must have a chuckle as I have already done my summer plan on my normal system, so if this bed produces what everyone promises, then I will be back at the drawing board.

Do you SFG? How do you find your yields?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The breakfast of champions!

My cousin said to me the other day when I shared how much we "cheat" on Paleo: "100% Paleo, 80% of the time" and this does describe how we are at the moment. I do love fresh homemade bread, delicious pasta dripping in traditional sauces, sticky puddings...but these are eaten only intermittently now.

My Superman's breakfast of choice ever since he was knee high to a grasshopper is a piece of white toast smeared with marmite. Topped with two slices of tomato, a doorstep slice of cheese, a slice of ham (bacon will do) and two fried eggs. This makes him a happy man. I treat him with this every now and again, but have had to find other ways to serve eggs at breakfast time with a low carb diet that he must follow.

This one is my favourite:

Our bacon is free range, our eggs organic either from our own birds or from Funky Chickens and the kale (or spinach) from the garden. The onions were bought from bees in boots.

Get your bacon frying and remove once done. Keep warm and retain the bacon fat in the pan.

Add one chopped onion, 4 peeled chopped garlic cloves and some chilli flakes. Fry until soft.

Add your washed chopped kale to the onion and fry until slightly softened and darker in colour. Make four holes and crack an egg into each. Place a lid on the pan for 2 minutes for soft eggs and 3 for hard.

Warm the bacon again and serve with a scoop of eggs and spinach. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Get planning....

It has just passed the Winter Solstice and from now on the days will get longer and longer. Currently we are on our 3rd day of unseasonably warm weather. It's a fools paradise though as from tomorrow our temperatures will begin to drop again and the rain will hit.

While our thoughts are still on fires, sticky puddings, thick duvets, rain and soups spring is actually just around the corner when there is so much to do in a vegetable garden to get ready. Our time is also shortened as this year I am taking my two daughters to the UK for 2.5 weeks in October and this is normally a very busy planting time.

This weekend I grabbed some time to think through my late winter garden as a lot of what I had planted in autumn is already eaten and in a few weeks I will have empty beds if I don't get some seeds started soon-soon.

I have a friend who is meticulous in her planning and the implementing of the plan and she is a real inspiration. I am however a little too random to stick to my plans fastidiously, but I am trying to at least keep some sort record of when~what~where.

I used to plan on paper, but then I would loose the papers and I couldn't remember from one season to the next what had been in the bed before and it was anyones guess if I had planted tomatoes in the same place last season. This is a real no-no when it comes to sustainability in the home veggie garden.

2 years ago I started used this online garden planner and it is a great help for taking my thoughts and plans and storing them somewhere they won't get lost or forgotten. My plans for my late winter garden are published to the website.

This is our kitchen garden as it stands minus the potatoes which will go into the ground in the next two weeks.

The second plan is the bigger area which we created in 2010.

From these plans I have created our spring planting. They seem very samey each year but I now grow lots of what we enjoy eating or what often comes up in the recipes we choose. I also do not plant purple carrots and black corn (as excited as some get about these variations, they simply do not do it for me!)

I have also given up my dreams of growing enough onions and garlic for our annual use. I have tried 3 years in a row and always get a disappointing yield. We use so much of these two vegetables that I would have to give over such a large amount of space to give us what we need and they are slow growing crops which means that I cannot get as much use out of my beds with higher yielding faster growing veg.

Here are the same areas for spring.

Spring kitchen garden

Pond Garden

Here are two great videos I watched this week about organising your seed and about getting higher yields from your garden space.

Happy planning!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mushrooming...a family tradition perhaps?

Leaving one sleepyhead to snooze, seeing another off on a instagramming trip around Cape Town I hauled Superman and the youngest two kiddies off to Tokai forest to collect the annual treat of Pine Rings. It's the first time Gavin has joined us, he is always skeptical about eating from the wild. The first time (6yrs ago) I served pine rings, he could not handle the thought and his body rejected the mushrooms...YKWIM?

Last year he ate them in a delicious wild mushroom risotto, which we will be making tonight again. This is real comfort food, warm, creamy and hugely satisfying and will probably mark the end of our carbohydrate spree we have been on recently. The chicken stock is cooking away on the stove and filling the house with rich fragrant aromas hinting at the meal to come tonight.

Come for a photographic walk with us while we go mushroom picking...

So much rain has made rivulets through the forest

Gorgeous green

We have to cross this...

The way across?

Little waterfalls all over the place

Arrived in the plantation

Superman's cache

Gorgeous freshly grown (no green)

And now to get back over

Sarah and I waded through the icy stream barefoot


Friday, June 13, 2014

6 years of Urban Homestead South Africa

I thought I had miscalculated this…6 years! Surely not. But yes, June 2008 we started growing vegetables on a decent scale. While the blog started in April of that year with this simple entry it was not that we even had open ground to plant in. We just used pots and containers to get some salad going.

What a 6 years it has been. We have watched the garden change and produce so much over the years that I almost wish I was more of a record keeper and could report the tons of food we have grown over the years, but that’s not my style. If Superman were running the garden then it would be a totally different story – each pea pod would have been accounted for!

The past 6 years have seen a rollercoaster of activity, types of vegetables, and quantities from gluts to complete failures, but all through this we have been learning and growing and finding what works for us.

Expanding too fast was a detrimental thing for us all. It killed my children’s joy for the garden. We gave up all fun and free time to maintain it and while we got daily meals from the garden we were unhappy. Reducing the garden by 1/3 was a good move in 2013. We were left with two main growing areas that are now manageable and with the addition of Sam, my Friday helper, we get to do all the fun things. Perhaps some pure-ists will think that it’s cheating to just do the planning and planting but not the digging, composting and weeding, but we are happy and settled this way.

Our growing repertoire has also developed where I felt I wanted to do all the interesting heirlooms. To be honest, I don’t like purple carrots and black corn. I like orange carrots and yellow corn and luckily I can still get these in heirlooms. I grow a lot of what we like, and nothing that we don’t like. It makes the garden-planting list a bit samey, but that’s ok.

Summer we have our tall corn, blushing tomatoes, hidden potatoes, sprawling squashed and climbing beans. Autumn sees the shorter rounder vegetables of cauliflower and broccoli. I still battle to get cabbages to full size. As winter hits our peas appear and the lofty broad beans. And then spring comes around with the almost empty beds and the mad rush to get seedlings started again.

It’s a lovely simple cycle knowing now all these years later to clear out, add compost, dig, sow, plant out, harvest and begin again.

On the food front our eating remains as whole as possible. We eat from all food groups, we don’t carry the labels around that many do “gluten free, dairy free…”. I love an interesting varied diet and when we eat our vegetables and breads and meats we try to keep it from the most natural source I can find. Of course we live by the 80/20 rule because the kids enjoy treats now and then and I will not say no to a night out for a special dinner with my man on account of the food having some wrong additions. I think some can get so fixated on every little thing that passes their lips that they walk around looking like they are sucking lemons.

On the “greening” front we still recycle. In fact when we redid our kitchen last year I made sure we accounted for two pull out bins one for wet waste that cannot be composted or fed to the chickens and the other for our recycling items. This means no cluttered counters or unseemly piles outside the back door.

I also realized back in 2010 that I do not serve Mother Earth. I serve a Living God who will appoint the end of all days. He will bring the earth to an end and then create a new heaven and new earth for those who are His children. Serving Mother Earth is a big burden and a heavy yoke as it comes down to what I can do to save the planet. What freedom knowing that it’s not up to me to do this, as the earth is undergoing atrophy continually.

Our goal as Bible believing Christians is to wisely steward our portion of earth. To care for it as we would any other thing placed under our authority. So I cannot change the plastic island in the Pacific, the chopping down of trees in the rainforests, nor the poor cows being raised in feedlots, but I can make a difference right here in my own family, on our 900sqm of earth.

For those readers who have been following our journey since the beginning, I do hope to read more comments from you all and would love you to write a similar post about your gardening adventures and feel free to leave a link in the comment box which I will add to the end of this post as you do.

Here’s to the next growing, gardening, eating year!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vegetable curry in speedy homemade rooti...

There are different types of comfort foods for winter days...soup is a big attraction at lunch time. Slow herby stews simmering through the afternoon for dinner. Lovely chicken or lamb pies. Fruit crumbles with custard...yes, these all do it for me!

Yesterday we had a curry craving and made up a quick vegetable curry at lunch time...

Chop two onions peel and chop two carrots and 2 potatoes, grate 2cm piece of ginger, chop one red chilli, press 4 cloves of garlic and fry gently in some olive oil.

Add 1 tablespoon each of coriander and cumin powder, 1 heaped teaspoon of fennel seeds, 4 cardamon pods, 2 sticks of cinnamon and fry.

Add two chopped green peppers, two chopped fresh tomatoes along with a can of drained chick peas.

Allow this to simmer slowly.

I like to make my own rooti, but didn't have time for the three stage process, so I quickly made some wraps with freshly ground spelt.

I used our mill to grind up some whole organic spelt, but you could buy it ready ground at the health store. The spelt gives these rooti's such a nutty crunchy flavour.

600g spelt
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of water or a little more.

Blitz this all in a food processor until it makes a ball. Put it on a flour surface and cut it into 12 equal portions.

Roll each portion until its roughly circular and then fry in a medium hot pan on both sides.

Top with the vegetable curry and fresh coriander....

Sitting at the fire munching these we didn't feel the cold, real comfort food.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Winter in the Veggie Garden

Carrots ready for harvesting
Here in the Western Cape we have wild wet winters and while the temperatures don't drop below 10 most days, the weather can still make veggie gardening a little less attractive to even the hardened gardener.

 We are very fortunate not to have frost here and can grow a large variety of vegetables in even the deepest of winter months. Timing the garden work to midday can help with the chills, wearing gloves can stop fingers from freezing when planting and watching the weather forecast for rainy days so that the soil is not to muddy for planting all ease the inconvenience of winter.

Winter here is a time for all the brassica's which tend to flower quickly in the summer months, lettuces which tend to bolt, the cabbages which enjoy the cooler weather and peas which can handle the rain. Swiss Chard is also a winner at this time of year and will go on producing up until December.

Carrots and potatoes also do well in winter, as do beetroots and onions and turnips providing I get them in the ground before the read cold hits in May.

Butter Lettuce
Herbs can also continue to grow in full sun and we use so many of them in our meals, sometimes as often as 3x a day depending on the meal plan. Rosemary is a perennial herb as are the other Italian herbs like marjoram, thyme and oregano. I have a few basil plants still hanging in here bravely but I don't suspect they will handle the rain for much longer. Coriander (cilantro) is another herb I try to grow all year round, but it does prefer the Autumn weather where it is very in between hot and cold.

Broad Beans

Another favourite winter vegetable is the old fashioned broad bean. We have been growing these since 2008 and while they are not my children's favourite vegetable we do enjoy hot buttered dishes of them with stews many nights in winter.

Because of the fleshy soft stems broad beans cannot be individually staked. Every year I wait to long to build a scaffold around the plants and then it's a massive job. Having Sam to help on Fridays is a real winner and this week he constructed the first level for me. As the plants grow they will fill the quads made by the cross bars and then we will add another horizontal layer of sticks.

Globe Artichoke

I have 4 globe artichoke plants now and this should be fine for a treat now and then as it is just the woman folk in this home who eat them - the men folk call it "dishonest food"!

For the most part winter is a much easier time in the veggie garden as the weeds are not as prolific neither are the pests - unless you count our 4 cats digging up our seeds as pests :) 

Buster - a Lion King moment

How is your winter garden coming along?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Slow Living Month 5 - May

Winter has set in with the cold temperatures and wild storms. I am always in two minds about the rain…I love it for my garden, our rivers and streams but it is inconvenient unless bundled up inside next to a warm fire. But all seasons have the good and bad things. Another good thing about winter is warm comfort food – pies, soups, stews. Nom. 

Here is the summary of our month via Christine at Slow Living Essentials

Superb roast pork shoulder - made 5 meals!
I wrote about our current eating style here. Enjoying pasture reared chicken, lamb and pork roasts and then having two or three meals made from the leftovers is a real winner for me.

We are enjoying “spring” onions and broccoli from the garden and we have loads of lettuce still that no one really wants to eat when its cold, but we do. We also have herbs – thyme, rosemary, basil (coming to an end), parsley and coriander – to use to flavor our meals. 

Nothing to prepare at the moment, but we are enjoying the pickles and jams we prepared in summer. I have just harvested the last of the green tomatoes and plan to make a green tomato relish very soon.

A long overdue job was tackled by my husband and a friend, which pleased me no end. They sorted out our backyard workshop area. There was piles of wooden stakes, gardening equipment, machinery and more cluttering up this area. Desmond who was working with Superman rigged up a wood holder from existing wood that we had. Now the wood that we use for all sorts of things found a permanent holding place until we are ready to use it.

We very soon needed the wood as Sam who works in my garden on Fridays saw that the edging around our fig tree and around our pond had rotted. He used some of the wood we had to make a lovely new edging.

We sowed the following seeds in newspaper pots: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions and spinach. Unfortunately some snails or slugs got to most of them before I could plant them and I have 1/3 left. We will have to try again.

Potatoes were planted out and broad beans and peas sown into beds. Last year I planted three beds of broad beans and my children were not happy campers when they appeared on their plates night after night, so this time it’s just one bed now and another later in winter. I will do another bed of peas and potatoes then too once we have eaten our way through what is waiting for harvesting.

I always feel a bit down in this space. I used to love to knit back in 2009 but honestly it does not rank highly, neither does sewing or anything artsy. I do have an appointment with a scrapbook as each year that one of my children turn 13 I give them a Creative Memories scrapbook covering their 13 years when we do their blessing. So this has to start happening NOW as I have less than a year to complete it.

I love looking at how my children have grown and matured and remember with deep weepy fondness those baby years.

Can’t believe I am writing “nothing” here as I am sure I must have discovered something….mmmh!

Buster - sunning it up on his window seat
Our ongoing project is working with Marie who lives with the Franskraal Ferals and this month we were doubly blessed to be able to pay for 100kg of dry food via donations and we received a donation of 2.6 tonnes of canned pilchards for them. Yes, you did read TONNES! It is so wonderful to be on the receiving end of this as I have always been one to give to worthwhile charities and help the poor in their need. It's great to see others care as much.

Enjoy ~ 10 things that I have enjoyed in no particular order:

~Connecting with long “lost” friends on Facebook

~Seeing my children’s business take on a new market & growth

~Kitty cuddles

~My son’s growing cooking skills

~Buster, the rescued feral, becoming more of a house cat
~Hot brownies from the oven

~Walks with friends in the forest and rekindling friendships

~Warm cuddly chats with my children

~Sunday swimming at the gym with my Superman and the odd brunch out thereafter.

~Booking my plane ticket to the UK for my two daughters and I to visit my beloved Sister. So happy!

 How was your month?