Last year was disastrous in terms of vegetable seed sowing. I managed to raise a couple of courgette plants a few french beans and four cucumbers which shriveled up and died. I think my grand total harvest was three beans and a courgette. The problem was a combination of my method and my dedication. Everything just got lost in the dust and I lost heart. I should have waited for the rains to plant them out because my enthusiasm couldn’t sustain watering them daily so most of them had died by the time the rains came. Those that hadn’t were sufficiently weakened to be suffocated by the forest of weeds which then sprung up.
This year everything is different. Although it’s slow progress I am getting things done and I’m determined to stick to my resolutions.
I have been planting the seedlings in my paper pots. It’s such a simple way of doing it, as they’ll just degrade into the soil when I plant them. I have even planted some carrots in them as the ones I sowed straight into the beds got eaten by chickens. These were sown on August 22, I even labeled them, so far the peas and carrots have come up as well as the pumpkin seeds I saved from one I bought at the Bryanston Organic Market. The only downside is they don’t stand up so well to an excited puppy stepping on them.
Gardening needs a combination of time and money. The less time you have the more money you need and the less money you have the more time you need. You can buy almost instant gardens that take as much time as it does to swipe your credit card and plant everything out. Even hedges can be bought ready grown in rectangular blocks that can be put in the ground and watered in. But all this comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
If you lean more towards the no money end of the spectrum your cheapest option is to grow plants yourself. Drunk with success from my lavender and geraniums I’ve set up a propagation unit, in essence a mini greenhouse, to try and propagate on a larger scale. It’s very amateur, I made it out of the polystyrene casing of my fridge (I knew it would come in handy one day) and some polythene bags. I’ve covered it with a layer of shade netting; otherwise I think everything would get scorched.
Of course no sooner had I set it up than my cat decided to jump on it and broke one of the arms. I’m trying not to think he did it because he’s angry with me about the dog. I had just stuck another lot of rose cuttings in too and they all got knocked out.
I put them back and re-assembled, replacing the broken arm with a long stick which actually gives me better access. Hopefully he got enough of a fright not to do it again.
Yesterday Davis and I moved the eight surviving roses from the rose garden to the bed we dug out in the cutting garden. It turned out to be filled with rubble so that was a bigger job than expected. We back filled the beds with the sand, sieving it through braai grill to avoid the smaller pieces of rubble and added loads of compost. I delayed the transplanting for a week because I was waiting for my mychorrizial fungi to arrive. I felt we were very prepared for the job.
Lots of minor stresses in the process but by mid day I was basking in the satisfaction of a job well done. Until this morning when I went out to turn the compost and it struck me that the bed doesn’t get much sun. With a sinking heart I realised that in winter the sun never quite reaches the bottom.
Even worse, my favourite (it’s okay to have favourite plants) was right at that end. I let it all percolate as turned the compost heaps and decided quick action was better than no actions and quickly moved the two roses at the bottom to a higher position. They still only get about an hour of sun in winter but by summer they should get their full six hours. To be honest I don’t know if they’ll survive all this excitement. (On the plus side I didn’t plant them in the bed next door which gets no sun at all in winter.)
I should have planned better of course but I’m learning to live with my mistakes. After all it’s just a garden. I’m also learning to be ruthless in fixing things that niggle at me, even if it’s my fault they’re wrong. A garden is not a place to pay penance daily for your sins. Only time will tell if these roses will live and bloom and if they don’t time will take care of that too. As e. e. cummings wrote, ‘in time’s a noble mercy of proportion/ with generosities beyond believing’. So has the garden mercy and generosity and puts into perspective our petty grudges. A garden adapts, forgives and moves on; a lesson we do well to learn.
N.B. Although the garden as a whole is forgiving, individual plants are not necessarily so.
We all know the most important aspect of any garden is the soil. Mine is dreadful; stoney, sandy and nutrient poor. Organic and permaculture principles tell us to feed the soil not the plant. If I’m going to turn my garden around the first thing I need is compost.
Good compost is pretty expensive, roughly R400 to R600 a cubic metre depending on how much you buy. This is very good value for what it does, there’s no point in buying a beautiful rose for R100 and putting it into poor soil, (I have done this and speak from experience) but I’m going to need a shitload (haha see what I did there) so I’ve got to make it. Previous experience is restricted to cold composting, piling everything up and leaving it for months and months and months. If I want compost fast I need to make hot compost. I found some great posts, here and here, on how to do it in under a month.
There is a stable down the road which gives away manure to whoever will take it. They leave it ready packed into old feedbags and only ask that you return the bags. I can fit about seven in my little ford fiesta
We cleared out an old compost heap resulting in five massive bags of mulch (and another hand trowel) and built our new one. I’m not entirely sure about the ratios, so we’ll see how long it takes. Hopefully in a months time I’ll be able to tell you all about my fantastic compost.
I love dahlias, they’re one of the flowers that I instantly fell in love with. We don’t have to lift ours in winter so they tend to stay where they are, coming up each year exploding with flowers. This week I decided I would move some.
When I lifted these massive clumps of tubers out of the ground I realised they were overdue for dividing. It was now a massively difficult task, not helped by the fact that our soil can dry to the consistency of concrete. I managed to divide them into seventeen plants with tubers and but now I see the RHS says it’s better to divide them in spring when they’ve started shooting. Probably should have read that first.
Anyway this was cool. I assume these were the original tubers I planted. Now hollow, they broke apart beautifully.
It’s always exciting to see seedlings come up. Especially if you feel a bit guilty for sowing them late (well when exactly does autumn end anyway) and are not entirely certain it will work. Despite the late sowing and sudden drop in temperatures my foxgloves have appeared as sprinklings of green in the plugs. So have the snapdragons which I’ll be planting out for cut flowers. I’m a little miffed to say there is no sign of the pansies which I wasn’t even worried about.
June is harvest time for sweet potatoes, my favourite crop! They are delicious, nutritious and fantastically easy to grow. Obviously this depends where you live but in my poor sandy soil they have been extremely generous. Perhaps that’s why, like an indulgent mother I’ve let them run rampant. It’s so much easier to assure people that the bottom garden, once a lawn and successive years the site of my veg garden attempts, is full of sweet potatoes even if you can’t see them for the black jacks. Like any child overly indulged they are starting to take over and pushing boundaries so I’m taking them in hand. In the future they’ll grow only where they’re told.
I’m sure other gardeners out there must also find that if you lose something you’re sure to find it when you’re sifting the compost. In the past I’ve found a veg peeler, a pair of secateurs and yesterday a small garden fork.
We’ve been digging out compost heaps to improve our poor sandy soil and also so I can make a new home for my chickens. I think this will be house number 5 but they get better with each try.
I’ve also planted out more garlic, I think i must have about a hundred garlic plants but you can never have too much right. Peas are just coming up, so exciting as well as broccoli, cauliflower, red onions and red lettuce that i planted into trays.
The expected frost came with a vengeance, 4mm thick ice on the water bowls, so I’m putting the seedling trays to bed at night and bringing them into the sun every morning.