Onion Harvest

Onions have turned out to be the most complicated of all my crops this season. It took many questions and a handy book from my farmer friend (and now boyfriend ūüôā )

Finally after 8 long months of growing, I have harvested my onions.  I did pick and eat quite a few through the season as onions can be eaten at any time during their growing cycle.

One has to wait for 70% of your crops leaves to fall over, then bend over the remaining leaves and leave the bulbs in place in the soil for 7-10 days to go dormant.  During these 7-10 days you may not water them and it must not rain (ha Рtry explaining that to my weather). You then pull them and leave them in full sun for one day and then outside in a warm, shaded, dry area for another week or so.  Then you can plait them and store them in a dark dry area for many months.

It seems some of mine have gone dormant well but those with thick stems have not dried out yet.  I think they might end up getting chopped and frozen.

I must say that I have been very impressed with the size of some of them.


Heads up

Some of you may remember that I was rather stressed about my brassicas not performing in the vegetable bed.  They were growing very well but not making heads.  Around that time I made a new friend who is a veggie farmer who kept on urging me to just wait.  I read up about them and decided that I would have to pull them all up and start again.  I was again urged to just wait.

My new friend came to visit me recently, and walked into my veggie garden and yanked a complete broccoli plant out of the ground.  I nearly hit him over the head!

He showed me where I had J-rooted the plant but kindly (and probably because he saw my face) replanted the plant in the same spot.  I did not hold out much hope for it though.

Well today I can announce that my brassicas all have heads and I will be getting some cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbage.  Yay!

Some pictures from the beds

As you can see – I am loving my new camera. ¬†So many new things in my life right now. ¬†This is good. ūüôā


A dream coming true.

Since I moved to my farm one of my priorities has been to become as self-sustainable as possible. Last winter I attempted growing some vegetables. I only had one bed and although I got some rocket, tomatoes and a few leeks I fought an ongoing battle with heat, hippos, buck and a zillion creepy crawlies (and my cat who thought it was his giant litter box).

In our climate it is ideal to have a cool or shaded house to grow veggies.  I have been lucky enough to have been able to trade some old fence poles and fencing with a local farmer and friend Alf. He is building me a shade-cloth house.  The work began on Saturday and should be finished in the next week or two.  Just in time for me to start as our main growing season which starts in February, going right through our winter and into spring. Not much grows between November and January when we have our hottest months.

Here are a few pictures of the veggie house going up.  90% of the resources used to build it are recycled which fits into my plans perfectly.  Now I just have to find 50 old broken plastic crates as I will be using them as beds. I have to line them with old shade cloth too so I am also searching for bits and pieces from local farmers.

As you can see, it looks like a big cloth tent.  It is stitched onto the frame.  We just need to get the sides up and the gate put in and it will be ready for service.  At last I can begin growing my food in earnest.

Patio – part 2

If you did not read my first post about my patio you may be a little lost. You can read it here.

Yesterday we completed the structure to grow the creepers on and today we dug and built the foundation for the small retaining wall that will be necessary to level the floor. ¬†This is my first building project so everything is a bit of an experiment. ¬†I must thank Warren and the Bean’s boyfriend (who I am now going to call Bushboy) for all their help on this project so far.

Spring on the mountain

Each time I go up the mountains here, I am totally floored by the amazing plants in bloom.  Besides the flora being totally different to that of the surrounding lowveld, there are new things to see in every nook and cranny all year round.

It’s the first time I have been up when there has been a significant amount of cloud cover and also my first time in early spring.

Our national flower, the protea, is in full bloom.

Sue enjoying the view midst small protea plants.

Transvaal bottlebrush

other little bits of colourThis little plant was growing in a crack in a rockSome kind of wild cucumber type vineClivias growing in the fork of a tree

Coral tree bloom (we have these all over the place right now – not just on the mountain)

It was super having Rose with us as she could tell us just about every Latin name for each and every plant – I want to be able to do that one day – she’s awesome.

I can’t wait to go up the mountains again, yet I know they will look so very different again. ¬†We noticed that there were hundreds and hundreds of clivias in the forests on the slopes of the mountain – I want to go up when they are in flower – what an awesome sight that will be. Now I just need to find out when they flower here.


Crown of thorns

The first spring colours in my untamed bushy garden are from these red and yellow “Crown of Thorns“. (euphorbia milii) ¬†The bright red and yellow flowers arriving before the leaves even start to bud. ¬†I originally thought these plants were Kudu lilies, but on closer investigation the flowers were all wrong. ¬†Now that I have identified them, I have found out that they are not indigenous to the area but originate from Madagascar.

The purist in me says that I should only have indigenous plants on my farm, not only indigenous to South Africa, but indigenous to my area of South Africa.  If I were to follow that rule, I would have to uproot 3 big leopard trees, 3 bougainvillea, 4 crown of thorns, and  4 pachypodia (halfmens) as well as the new green leafy bed that my parents and I planted recently below the window of the guest cottage. Also, how do I then justify my veggie patch?

I have decided that I will keep my non-indigenous plants in beds and keep an eye on them, and when the leopard trees die, replace them with indigenous trees. ¬†The bush around the cottages will remain natural indigenous bush. ¬†I know it’s a bit of a compromise, but life is like that sometimes.

Planting season

Many South Africans are uniting on a single day to plant an organic vegetable in their home or office. On March 21st, 2011 we will take a giant leap to becoming self-sufficient. To add your name to the list and learn the basics of organic gardening from some of the top experts in the country click on the banner in my sidebar ——>

You can also join the Planting Season facebook group for inspiration.

Getting ready to grow.

About 20 meters behind our main cottage is a strange-looking circular  structure built out of stone.  It looks like a round cottage without windows or a roof.  This is what is commonly called a boma here in South Africa.

A boma used to be built as an enclosure for livestock to keep them safe from the wild animals.¬† Traditionally it was built out of branches of thorn trees.¬† Nowadays, most homes in our area have bomas for a completely different purpose – it is an entertainment and braai (BBQ) area closed off from the bush for safety (in area’s with dangerous animals) and protection from the wind.¬† Our boma is built-in a really peculiar place – its way out behind the house where all my braaing and the pool and entertainment area is in front of the main cottage.¬† I decided that I would convert it into something else. My first thought was to put a roof on it and use it as a store-room or a cheese factory, however, I have finally decided to use it as an enclosure to protect my veggie garden.

If I planted my veggies in the open they would all be eaten up over night by buck, porcupines, warthogs and baboons, so I need to enclose the patch.¬† Also, because of the heat here, it’s better to cover your veggie patch with some shade cloth.¬† Plans are now afoot to get my veggie patch going and the next step is to erect a cage and shade cloth over the roof area

and then lay out and prepare raised beds ready for winter when I will grow most of my veggies.

I am playing around with different layouts right now and have the assistance of a real life veggie farmer who will be helping me.

I have traded a whole pile of old fence posts with this farmer for his help.

Calling orchid experts……

I have this orchid (or what I assume to be an orchid) growing in the fork of one of my feature marula trees around the pool.

We saw similar ones when I did my field guiding course and was told that they are leopard orchids (ansellia africana). I have looked them up on the internet and I think this might not be one Рif the article on the net is correct?  Leopard orchids flower in the dry winter months and have more purple markings.  The flowers also seem to grow upwards whereas mine hang down like this

The plant is an epiphyte, so it does not have roots in the ground – it just sits quite happily in the fork of two branches and sends little roots into the bark of the marula tree. ( The marula tree does not seem to mind.)

Anyone have any resources that could help confirm identification?

The snuff box tree

The snuff-box tree (oncoba spinosa) is a really pretty tree to have in your garden.¬† I have two in the area between the cottages and they are about to get their summer foliage.¬† What brought the tree to my attention is it’s unusual hard-shelled fruit¬† which are traditionally used to make little snuff boxes by cutting off the point at the top and scraping out the fruit pulp.¬† My dad made me a little snuff-box when he visited recently.¬† A small stick is then carved to use as a plug to close the snuff-box.¬† I just don’t have any snuff and I don’t intend to start using it so I must find another use for it.¬† The husks also lend themselves to craft work, being painted or engraved.

The snuff-box tree grows up to 5 m, but may sometimes reach a height of 8 m. The bark of this plant is mottled grey and rather smooth. The leaves are dark, glossy green in colour and somewhat leathery and hairless. The margins are coarsely toothed. It bears large (90 mm wide) showy, sweet-scented, white flowers with masses of yellow, overlapping stamens in the centre . Flowers somewhat resemble a fried egg and in Zimbabwe it is called the fried-egg flower.

This tree occurs in the northeastern part of South Africa, primarily in Mpumalanga and further north.

The pulp of the fruit is edible, but is seldom used for that purpose. In African medicine the roots are used in the treatment of dysentery and bladder complaints.

Large yellow fruit, to 9cm in diameter, have a flavour very similar to almond meal. The tree is a source of chaulmoogra oil, valued for its medicinal properties and was used to treat leprosy around the world in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

If the fruit are left to dry with the seeds inside they it make amusing rattles for children and are also used as anklets and armlets for dancers to add rhythm when performing.

It is a protected tree in South Africa.

I have so many interesting trees on my farm – maybe I should start selling their seeds?

Fruiting Oncoba spinosa. Taken at the Universi...

Image via Wikipedia