Urban food gardening, Vegetable Gardening

Edible garden by the seaside

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The courtyard vegetable garden is blossoming in every way! I’m happy with the final layout  — hard to believe that all these plants fit into such a small space.

Fruits: Passion fruit, gooseberries (with gorgeous hanging lanterns intact), melon (no fruit as yet), blackberries and rasberries (growing well but no flowers as yet), baby avo tree (grown by my sister), forest of tomato plants (around 2m high in places with flowers and green fruit), baby grapefruit tree (grapefruit flowers smell incredible but unfortunately every one of the tiny fruits that developed dropped off — why, I have yet to find out), strawberries

Vegetables & herbs: Broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, rocket (Italian and wild), watercress, lettuce, carrots, radish, potatoes, celery, brussel sprouts, spinach, mint (three kinds but especially loving the spearmint), lavender, basil… self-seeded nasturtiums… and a couple of unidentified plants

The front garden is also pulsing with life. It pretty much looks like a jungle though with blueberries, leeks, broccoli, tomatoes, basil, spinach and almond trees all doing their thing. Everything has grown incredibly well except for the pak choi which was constantly nibbled at. Oh, and the poor baby lemon tree which gets all the wind (it has produced two flowers and one fruit).

Nothing other than water (and some salt from the sea-breeze) has touched these plants… not a single drop of pesticide, organic or otherwise.

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Urban food gardening

Starting a vegetable garden (with one square metre of land)

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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.

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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).

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Click here for a review of the book.