Monday, March 30, 2015

Visiting Babylonstoren - motivation for the weary vegetable grower

Yesterday was a day that did this to me....M-O-T-I-V-A-T-I-O-N...with a capital....M

I have been wanting to visit Babylonstoren between Stellenbosch and Paarl for more than two years now but life has simply not allowed me to get there. Now that I have been once I feel I must return to spend a day there every few months and move slowly through each of the garden areas and watch the garden over the seasons. Whether this dream will be realised I cannot say, but there would be value in it.

I have also been needing to order bulk frozen and fresh berries from Hillcrest as my other supplier has dried up and have wanted to get more berry plants into our garden. So having the perfect excuse - a day out with my Superman and long standing friend who was visiting, we headed out at 8.30am to Helshoogte for the berry farm.

This was truly a whistle stop visit to hastily grab the 10kgs of frozen berries and 5 plants which were waiting for me. A quick look out on the patio at this incredible view and a brief glimpse at the menu was all we needed to decide that it would be good to return - but Superman says only on his new motorbike for a breakfast run...okey dokey - will take some time to prepare myself to go up Helshoogte on the back of a bike.

Babylonstoren does daily garden tours at 10am with the remarkable Gundula whose love and passion for gardening, plants, food, natural medicines and animals shines through all she says. A wealth of knowledge and expertise, she took us through the brief history of the farm, what their goals are and how they have structured the space.

Superman feeds the Tilapia - an excellent food source

African blooming water lily
The most remarkable thing is that in this little organic oasis every plant, flower, ground cover, tree, herb and vegetable has something to offer a hungry world for food and medicinal needs and to attract bees, birds and other pollinators to this garden in an farm area that is predominantly farmed using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The knowledge that they have they share freely and as we walked she reiterated that it is a eating tour - to help ourselves to a fruit here and there, to crush and sniff a leaf.

Everything is admirable - whether it is the 70 year old guava trees which were transplanted from a neighbouring farm and which are thriving in this paradise or the olive trees that are dripping with fruits. I am really not a guava fan but seeing them sitting there on the branches promising me something new I had to eat one....we all had to eat one.

Unspotted, unblemished promise of sweetness 

I ate it - and enjoyed it for the first time ever.

Each garden revealed more delights, more inspiration and more knowledge and ideas to me for how I can begin to make very part of my little patch of earth count towards growing food for my family and others...I can grow fruit trees along my green garden walls, I can add Elderflowers to my pavement instead of these horrid Brazilian Peppers we have care of the municipality. 

Their citrus fruits are ripening all over the farm, the naartjies warm and delicious from the hot sun that we found ourselves under. It was about now that 8 of the tour group left the remaining 6 of us perhaps sensing that we were simply going to ask too many questions through the tour and they were not interested in that depth of info. I think it was around about now that the "official" tour speech evaded Gundula and we were directed to the more intimate things of the garden.

While my tomatoes are over, they still have many growing almost as a wind break up this trellis

Quince trees are grown upright here but form an extensive hedge around some of the gardens. I remember my grandma making stuffed baked quince pudding served with custard and of course quince jelly.

It was soon hereafter that Superman started getting really excited as we hit the garden where all the peppers and chillies are grown. Being heirloom plants he was given enthusiastic permission to taste test the chillies and take seeds of ones he would like me to grow. My handbag was not prepared for this and by the end of the day this is what it looked like - and our hands held a few other treasures too.

One of the more impressive garden structures was this huge cage where they have grown all sorts of vine based plants - pumpkins, butternuts and calabash.

A few other highlights amongst the walkways were the cactus garden where they grow a variety of prickly pear that has very few prickles (although Superman didn't believe there were still some and got prickled!) Apparently they need a licence to grow these plants as the seed from them, which would be dropped by birds eating the fruit, will revert back to the prickly variety. There is a wild beauty about these plants that is hard to describe.

I was also intrigued by the number of different variety of Aubergines that they grow. They give over a whole garden to the different varieties. We have about 8 plants at home with their dark purple black fruits waiting to be picked. I think I am going to plan some of these for next season.

Another surprise was the Chamomile carpet planted right towards the end of the tour where we all had to have a sit down, a roll, a scuffle of the feet to enjoy the "calming" effect. Gundula says its a favourite spot for moms to bring unruly or tired kiddos to calm down :)

Heading on to the Greenhouse for lunch we walked through areas where the beds were lying in wait of the next plants, this was quite encouraging to me as I also have about 6 of my 12 beds lying empty waiting for the seedlings to come of age. 

I also love the garden structures and have made some notes of what I can do in our comparatively tiny space here at home.

Lunch at the Greenhouse was a treat, the gorgeous Lemon Verbena iced tea perfect for hot thirsty excited gardeners. There is always a waiting list so you do need to be patient. We luckily only had a 15 minute wait, others 40 minutes to an hour.

A gorgeous lunch with two of my most favourite people was a perfect ending to this day.

Take home value is actually what this day was all about. It's wonderful to stand and look at this vast food garden but I have to apply what I have learned to our small 900 square meter erf. Here are some of my thoughts so far:

-Under planting every tree or tall vegetable with a herb, indigenous medicinal plant or ground cover that attracts bees.
-Use up spaces and build the structures I need
-Don't be afraid to experiment
-Plant closer together
-Use my walls for fruit or as a food wall
-Plant vegetables that take a long time to yield in pots not in the beds
-Plant crops that turn over well into the beds
-Don't be afraid to use natural pesticides if all else has failed
-Get my bees
-Turn my pavement into a food garden too with fruit trees and medicinal plants.
-Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.

I do hope you have enjoyed this report, and that you get the chance to go out there sometime and enjoy the tour. Let me know when you are going - perhaps I will join you!?!

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