Growing and maintaining a vegetable garden always seemed beyond me until recently — thanks to a book called One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein.
Houbein, who witnessed the devastation of famine in Holland during the second world war, has made food security education a top priority. She lived through a time when 24 000 people starved to death in an area about as big as Gauteng in South Africa. She witnessed all the beautiful trees being chopped down for firewood and all the birds, animals and fish in her home town being killed and used for food. This thick little square book is a gift for survival and is especially encouraging to those who’ve never planted a vegetable garden before.
After reading the first few paragraphs my boyfriend and I were heading off to the hardware store to buy some seedlings, compost and a spade. These are the words that inspired: ‘To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out in the garden and select a spot in the sun. Dig over one square metre with a garden fork and remove all the weeds by hand.’
Houbein doesn’t allow for analysis paralysis —she encourages the wanna-be-gardener to go out immediately and buy some seeds or seedlings, some blood meal and bone meal ‘since you don’t yet have compost and composted manure’. It’s easy to go ahead with your garden once you have these items: sprinkle and rake a few handfuls of the meals into the soil and then loosen it to a depth of 15cm before watering it. You can then read up on the vegetables you’ve bought before the seeds or seedlings are planted and watered. That’s it, to begin with.
We simply dug some compost and bone meal into the earth before planting the seedlings. And that was that… a few weeks later we were eating beautiful fresh rocket, parsley, chives and watercress from our one square metre garden.
We’ve been dreaming of expanding the vegetable garden so that every spare metre of the property is covered with home-grown edibles. So far we’ve only been able to add another square metre, besides a few pots… been slowed down somewhat by our puppy who just loves getting her paws (and everything else) dirty! But then, as Houbein says, ‘most food gardening failures occur through starting too big.’ She recommends extending the garden by one square metre each season. By doing so, the pleasure is not lost ‘even as your self-sufficiency increases’.
Here’s a photo of our miniature vege garden three months later (with emergency dog-proof fence).
Click here for a review of the book.