Sunday, October 18, 2015

Am I an "excellent" gardener?

Well spring has sprung...the bees are out in full force amongst the veggies and flowers and herbs gone to seed. The garden is taking off with the increased temperatures and the shadows that fall around our garden have changed.

Coriander going to seed. The bees love it and I get the dry seeds to plant and grind for cooking

The other day someone passed a compliment to me on Facebook that I am an "excellent gardener" which I thoughtfully have considered. As I walk around the garden I do see lots of food ready to eat or in the process of growing. It warms me inside with a funny fuzzy feeling knowing that after all these years I seem to be getting it right now more than wrong.

But as the days have gone on since the compliment, I am wondering if I do indeed have green thumbs or if there is something else that's happened you want to explore this with me?

Strawberries, I love thee

I was raised by a mom who loved gardening. Even though she never allowed it, I do believe she could have been featured in Garden and Home for her incredible skill in creating a beautiful outside space. Our childhood garden was filled with nooks and crannies for us to play all sorts of magical games in. There was a weeping willow that we could hide inside where my mom had put sawn up tree trunks for us to use as a table and chairs and many happy Marie biscuit and Oros days were enjoyed there.

Other spaces had railway sleepers stepping down on a gentle flowing grassy hill with gorgeous flower beds on both sides...another were the tall trees that hid the neighbours walls which we climbed in to get to each others homes for peanut butter sandwiches and milk.

Rocket, tender stem broccoli and spring onions

And in all the time that she was gardening, I was doing what?....being a typical child - self centred and self absorbed and even as a teen, I did not care one iota about all the knowledge she held and had learned, which she would willingly have shared with me. Even though it was always an option to join her, to learn from her, I didn't for a very long time.

Around the back of the house was an area with plum trees and it was here that my mom, once I was already married, set up her first real vegetable garden which was a site to behold. Once I had a new baby some 20 yrs ago was the first time I took notice of real food and what my mom was doing, and it inspired me.

I planted out a veggie patch in our then Pinelands (1995) garden which was eaten by snails before the day was out. The next time I tried we were living in Meadowridge (1997) with the typical Cape Flats "oily" soil. The water lay in pools on the sand and then any compost we added blew away in the wind. In this garden there were 3 well established fruits - a lemon tree, a guava tree and a granadilla vine. I managed to kill the guava tree but the lemons and granadillas survived me.

Thereafter we had a stint in Johannesburg (2000 - 2002) and there we built raised beds on a concrete surface where we grew herbs and salads. This was reasonably successful. From there we came back to Cape Town and well...the rest is documented on this blog of how we started to grow vegetables in 2008.

Bright lights spinach adds beautiful colour to the veggie garden

Every time I failed to grow food I know it was because I didn't follow my mom's advise. She told me to not plant ANYTHING for a long time but use any spare cent to add compost and manure to the ground. It was only in 2008 that I started to believe her after having had all those failures along the way. We have added bags and bags and bags of manure, loads of compost, bags of bounce back, bone meal, volcanic rock dust and even green manures over the years and always for a good few months initially before planting anything in a new bed.  We also let the chickens roam the garden for many years as they dealt with the snails, snail eggs and slug problems.

Simply by following that principle I believe we created the right foundation for the plants to grow and produce food. We are still adding manure once a year and compost between each planting.

The other thing that brings the rewards in the food garden is time. Growing food is a time consuming process. The amount of time you put in is almost directly proportionate to what you will get out. Time on planning, time on sowing, time on nurturing, time on harvesting, time on pest control, time on tending, time on watering....time....time...time.

[However, sometimes things happen - those curve balls - that will affect the year I bought heirloom corn and it never formed ears even though I had given it much love :( ]

In 2010 I really cooked my spasm and if I am not careful I still end up in pain. This put an end to the long Saturdays bending, digging, carrying etc. I was paying out so much money in physio that any savings we made from the vegetables harvested was going straight to the treatments. After slowing down completely we eventually gave the garden an almost rest for the year 2013/4 and then Sam entered out lives.

Sam puts into the garden the love and attention and heavy lifting and digging that I can't. My role is now one of planning, buying, sowing and harvesting. He does all the rest when he comes every Friday.

He is growing in his knowledge of growing food and when he went back to Malawi last year he brought me one treasured ear of corn which he proudly told me he wants a patch to grow this food from his country. This he has done.

He even tells me of remedies for white cabbage moth and how he prepare the leaves of broccoli or squash plants he takes from the garden for his family. Sam is my secret gardening weapon at the moment and because of him I am able to take great joy in my garden again.

So while I would love to be hailed as an excellent garden (thank you VERY much :) ) I know its more than me...and it can be something everyone can do should they be willing. Of course there are times when disaster strikes - mildew in summer, fruit flies, aphids, moles....all these things...but just keep on keeping on...

So here's to all YOU excellent gardeners, and thank you for coming along with me for this adventure in growing your own food.

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