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

October Vegetable Calendar

September has come and gone, Spring is officially here. It’s the season of re-birth and the hardest season of them all for the plants and animals and the people who tend them. Pushing out blossoms, fruit, seeds, and babies takes the living organisms’ last remaining energy after Winter. Then it’s a waiting game for the rains, to not only come, but to stay and replenish the food chain.

What I’m picking

 

This is just to encourage you to get going on this project. South Africa is officially in another recession (personally I haven’t seen much of an upturn in our economy from 2008) For the first time in 50 years, we are considered as a third-world country by the rest of the world. So wake up and start doing something positive about the situation. 

You will find that a vegetable garden saves money and also forces you to eat healthier - something we can all do with. It is also physical activity and good soul food. When the going gets tough, the wise go gardening. When you have a garden, you cease to be a victim of circumstance. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor; growing your own food empowers you. Stop expecting the farmers and supermarkets to care about your health, they’re watching the bottom line just like everyone else - which means they will use pesticides and genetic engineering and a whole lot of other stuff that is not good for you.

I’m picking baby spinach, which mixed with butter lettuce, makes a lovely, tender summer salad.

The winter pea crop is ready for shelling, as are the broad beans. When I hear that advert by a well known, frozen vegetable company: “You don’t have the time to shell a pea”, my reaction is: “Shame, how very sad”.

My Chinese cabbage is seeding, though I can still use the leaves in my stir-frys. Daisy the sheep is enjoying the blown ones and I’m leaving one to seed.

The rape I planted directly is now good for salads. You find that the more you pick, the more it grows. Rape falls into the category of “morogo” (green vegetables eaten with pap), others in this category are cabbage, spinach and a variety of wild cultivars. Like with other morogo, you fry onions in butter or oil, add the morogo, salt & pepper and cook for about seven minutes. You can add tomatoes, potato, garlic and herbs.

Red and white cabbages have to be picked as they are starting to split. I make a pickle out of the red and cook it as above to go with chicken dishes.

Spinach is lovely and I mix it with my New Zealand spinach to make creamed spinach or a morogo. To make creamed spinach, you make a basic cheese sauce and blend.

The wild rocket I direct sowed is good for salads and on toast with Bovril. The normal one is going to seed and I’ve just put more seedlings in. The same with my coriander, which I like to keep a constant supply of. On seed packets it says it needs full sun, but mine does very well in a shaded area. Not so with beans, mine never produced. So you live and learn. Dill is another herb I grew in shade with great success. I use this in sauces.

My beetroots are ready for picking. I use the leaves throughout the growing period in salads. Beetroot is very good if you suffer from constipation.

Spring onions have done very well and can stay in the ground to be used for a long time. My chives I cut at their base with a knife and they just grow back stronger than before. I’m enjoying leeks in soup and as a vegetable with cheese sauce.

I’ve had a lettuce every day and have just replaced stock with seedlings, not forgetting to put my rings around them, plant them in mud and put a tsp of fertiliser in a hole next to them.

The tomatoes came on very well and then, just as they started ripening the birds got them. I’m thinking of putting clear plastic bags around the ripening ones to stop this because I do not want to enclose the garden.

The green peppers and brinjals I planted in Winter did not cope with the frost. I got miniature green peppers and the brinjals died.

Jealous yet?

As you can see from this, you win some and lose some but you never stop learning.

Compost pit

 Ideally your compost should be layered dry, wet, dry, wet. ie: leaves, kitchen scraps, leaves, kraal manure… However, we do not live in an ideal world. If you have the time to be pedantic it will save work at a later stage, but, if it’s a “chuck in what you have when you have it” situation, it’s not the end of the civilised world as we know it! As long as you water it regularly and LAN it occasionally (not essential), it will turn out all right.

The idea behind having two holes or bins is that you fill one and leave it to mature (6 months to a year, depending on materials and water), and then start on the other. This should guarantee you a steady supply going forward. If you have used the hit-and-miss method like me then turning the compost to mix the contents thoroughly is essential. The perfectionists among you will just have to slice into the compost to get a bit of everything.

What to plant

 Seeds: Peppers, chillies, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, spring onions, lettuces, brinjals, and Chinese vegetables.

Seedlings: Lettuces, brinjals, green peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, spring onions, spinach, leeks, chives, rocket, coriander, dill, fennel, asparagus, water cress and strawberries.

Direct sowing: Rape, carrots, mustard spinach, summer peas, baby spinach, basil, wild rocket, mixed baby lettuce, radishes, pumpkins, butternuts, gems, melons and courgettes.

Tip of the month:  I drove myself crazy building a complex web of string for my peas to climb up which landed up collapsing anyway. A friend of mine, Ebba, told me to plant multi-stemmed, dead tree branches as a support for the peas. Peas grow well in shade and you must look out for the Winter and Summer varieties as well as the ones for stir-fry and salads or the ones for shelling. The former are sugar snap and are a totally different variety. Peas for shelling are tough, even in the early stages of development.

Watering: Start watering in the late afternoon/evening during the hottest days. After planting seedlings, give them an hour of water in the early morning for the first three days.

Quote of the month: Your mind is like a garden, your thoughts its seed, so do yourself a favour, plant vegetables not weeds!

As always, any tips will be most welcome.

Next month: The social side of vegetable gardening.

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