Sunday, December 20, 2015

I've got a bottle full of sunshine

To my great surprise I have found myself on the saddle of a mountain bike again after many years. Prior to 2010 mountain biking was a big thing in our lives and I would cycle with the kids 2 or 3 times a week. Then my back seized and that was a closed chapter in our lives.

My youngest son has been mucking around at the local jump track over the last year and was keen to get cycling again but with the devastating fire that burned through most of our mountain in March this year, all cycling tracks on the mountain were closed to allow the ecosystem to rehabilitate.

Avid mountain bikers are now carving out other little tracks around the greenbelts in Constantia, Tokai and surrounds which meant that we could give it a try again. So for the last few weeks Superman, my son and I have been out riding on a Sunday morning, about 13 - 16kms and its been great. The back so far ok :)

The foodie in me cannot help but notice the food around me in the greenbelt as I ride. Having dabbled in foraging in the past I am always interested to see what can be collected around this urban area.

There are lots of dandelions for salads or infusing into honey. Of course the bramble berries are all over the place, although coming to an end now. There are nasturtiums to eat and even a huge cactus with lots of prickly pears to pick.

The squirrels may not share, but there are loads of pinecones for pine nuts - if you are willing to do the hardwork of getting them out of the cone.

And then there is this find...Eldertrees. Lots of elder trees. I have been eyeing them out now for a few weeks waiting for the flowers to be in full bloom so that I can harvest some for cordial. John Seymour recommends harvesting on a hot day - I suppose it makes the flowers scent more pungent??

And today was the day!

So we came home with our treasure today and I followed this recipe for elderflower cordial....Soon my trees will be big enough for me to harvest our own.

Foraged treasure

In a few weeks I will check the trees again on the greenbelt to see if I can harvest some elder berries to infuse into vinegar or syrup.

One of the two bottles of sunshine!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The bee-ginning of our urban bee adventure

We love honey. And without the Cape honey bee we would have a problem in our garden. We have heard scary reports over the years of bees dying in droves due to chemical farming and cell phones! We all know that bees and other pollinators make most of our vegetables.  Without bees there would be a whole lot less variety of fruits and veggies on our plates. So we need bees...and right now bees need us.

Honey on spelt, blueberry and banana breakfast pancakes
More recently there was a news article about honey being imported into South Africa that may not be honey at all actually! Most shop bought honey is ultra filtered and heated which leaves you with none of the pollen and natural healthy honey properties. Asian honey was dumped into the South African market a couple of years back too, and this Chinese honey contained lead, antibiotics and other toxins. There has also been a recent scare just over the mountain of AFB (American Foulbrood) which is extremely contagious and the only cure is destroying the hive and all beekeeping equipment. AFB is also said to be in our country due to imported honey.

Garden fresh berries on this muesli with honey to sweeten
So it has taken some convincing of Superman, but we are getting bees. Urban beekeeping is a growing industry with many folk choosing to keep their own hives in their yards and harvest honey for their families. There are others who keep loads of hives (I know a chap who has 7) and sell their honey to their neighbourhood.

Then there are people like my new friend Lian who is a first generation beekeeper and is building his swarms around Cape Town using people like me to help him. See, I am allergic to bees. Badly. But I garden next to them all the time and am not afraid of these guys as they go about their business. I just don't make them feel threatened at all. But I cannot risk working directly with the hives...and this is where Lian comes in.

He puts two hives in your garden - one is yours and one is his. He will tend them, monitor, feed (if necessary) and collect honey from them for you for an initial set up cost of R1 000.00. When its time to take honey, he gives you honey from your hive and he takes the honey from the other. This honey he sells at the Tokai Forest Market on Saturdays along with his other farm sources.

Last week he came by to see where he could put down some hives and settled on a cool out of the way area behind our garage. I had wanted the hives in the veggie garden but as it is full of people and pet traffic he felt it would be better out of the way. Today he returned with 4 hives.

The alley behind our garage freshly cleaned out

He explained that bees should naturally find their way to the hives he has put out. There are 4 here now, only two will stay in the long term. We have bees visiting the trees around us (Japanese Pepper and Eugenia) already and they love the rocket, coriander and celery flowers in the garden too, so perhaps some little scout bee will come and find these hives and tell his buddies that there is a nice new home waiting for them!?!
Ready and waiting for inhabitants

And because I am running low on honey at the moment I asked Lian to bring me some of his varieties and I was  astounded by the differences in colour between the honeys. Even the viscosity was different. Teaspoons were on the ready to try them all out.

(Left to right) Orange Blossom Honey, West Coast Fynbos, local Fynbos and Eucalyptus honey.

So here we step out into an urban beekeeping adventure...quite exciting actually :)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Back to Eden - is it the answer?

Back in March of this year Superman, a friend and I spent a day at Babylonstoren. I was such an inspirational day for me at the time as I was lagging in motivation and needed some fresh ideas.

After the visit I made this list:

-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.

There have been a few items on the list that we can say are done and dusted...In particular the way I changed from a traditional bed per plant to a compact veggie gardening system. It worked very well in winter and while there were a few teething problems trying to eat up the winter veg quickly enough to make space for the summer veg we have made a transition quite well to carry on this system for summer.

The decision to add a herb/medicinal garden to our pavement  (see 2nd last point on the above list) has been quite an adventure. The area was so sterile and the sand the traditional Cape Flats sand where the water just lies on top as though the soil is oily and does not get to the roots of the plants. This photo showed what it looked like after barrow loads of compost, manure and bounce back was turned in and a few plants added.

We transplanted two fig trees, a rosemary plant and a tea tree bush. The rest I bought from Bridget Kitley. I bought Echinacea, Elder trees, comfrey, pelargoniums, Aloe, Chamomile, Chervil, lemon verbena, sorrel and honey suckle. I also planted calendula and borage seeds. Later when too many tomatoes sprouted for the garden I added loads of them to the pavement. We also added some Artichokes and Yarrow transplants a few weeks ago.

But watering was a huge problem and the winter rains we had hoped for left us a little concerned, not just for the pavement but for the whole garden. Our borehole also seems to have dried up thus making us dependent on municipal water. With the water restrictions that have now been put in place we simply cannot afford the rates that they have to charge AND ultimately we don't want to take more water than is just to water our vegetables.

So it was back to the drawing board to see what we could do to save water.  I revisited these principles I wrote about when I learned how my mom and dad were handling the drought in the Garden Route some years back. But it isn't enough...

Then I remembered a friend mentioning the Back to Eden film and watched it a few weeks ago and again this week. I think this is the answer - and it won't harm to try. I was on the phone in a hurry to local tree felling companies and asked them to deliver freshly chipped tree limbs with leaves included and contacted Master Organics for 2 cubes of compost.

This arrived on Friday and faithful Sam spent the day adding compost to even veggie bed and to the pavement in a thick layer after we watered deeply. On the pavement he added a thick layer of chipped plant material. This is what it looks like today...the plants have grown a lot since being planted, everything looks healthy and green still but I am hoping that the water is trapped below this blanket of compost and chip.

So while I have been able to cross off a few items on the list, there is still more I need to do. To grow espalier fruit trees I think I will ask the experts...and becoming a bee keeper is in the pipeline (quite close) we keep on keeping on with learning in the urban farm of ours.