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Month-by-month information on how to grow your vegetable garden in South Africa.

December Vegetable Calendar

Weeds

The rain is here at last - but so are the weeds. I cannot give you any better advice than try to spend a half hour a day clearing weeds. I have a container that I fill when I’m done. Get a good two-pronged weeder - it makes all the difference. At the cost of about R45 it’s a good investment. If you do nothing else, prevent the weeds from seeding.

Social

I have made numerous social contacts through gardening. We swop ideas, plants, seeds, ideas and recipes.
Living in a farming community, I’ve got to know a lot of subsistence farmers and we trade all the time. The five kilometres down our dirt road consists of various stop-off points with ice-cream containers filled with seedlings, slips and bean seeds. The evening return run has me picking up a bunch of beetroot here, some onion seedlings at the furrow plot and a return ice-cream container filled with mixed herbs from the local computer expert.

Herbs

Botanically, herbs are non-woody annual and perennial plants that die back each year after blossoming. Another definition, and the one I like, describes them as herbaceous plants valued for their flavour, fragrance or medicinal properties.

The Herbs Of today

Most fall into three categories. The mint family includes: basil, lavender, marjoram, the mints, rosemary, sage, and thyme. The family Compositae consists of: ornamental daisies, artemisias, chamomile, tansy and yarrows. Members of the Umbelliferae, or carrot family are: anise, angelica, caraway, chervil, sweet cicily, coriander, dill, fennel, lovage and parsley. They are characterised by finely-cut and divided foliage and tap roots.

Where To Grow Versatile Herbs

Herbs do not have to be limited to a vegetable or herb garden, thus versatility. They can be used in the main garden as basic landscape items. The rosemaries, lavenders and marjorams will grow larger and more attractive each year and add fragrance and colour to the garden. Thyme and oregano are useful ground covers.

They can be raised like vegetables in rows and plots. You can grow herbs in containers both outdoors and indoors. Aggressive or persistent herbs such as lemon balm, the mints and sweet woodruff are better planted this way as they require heavy cutting back so as not to overwhelm other plants.
If you are more ambitious and want to be traditional, you can plan the kind of formal herb garden, which originated in the Middle Ages.

Sowing

The best way to start and to stay enthusiastic, is to get plants from your local nursery or from your social network. As perennials grow larger, you can increase your stock by division, stem cuttings or layering. The latter is when you put stems into contact with the ground so that they put out separate roots from the parent plant.

If you wish to sow seeds, sow the slow-germinating ones in the autumn, followed by your annuals in the spring. It’s best to have separate spaces for them and when they are established, you can transplant where the fancy takes you.

If you have too many herbs in the vegetable garden, start transplanting them into the main garden or into pots for fragrance and beauty on verandahs or in the house.

Next month, we will look at individual herbs and their uses in healing, cooking, fragrance or ornamentation.

 

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