Garden salad. Seriously.

p1010465Two types of lettuce, spring onions, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. Hard to believe this salad came utterly and completely from my garden. There is no more satisfying feeling in the entire world ever!

The best part is that these are all really easy things to grow. The other best part is that it’s virtually free (once you’ve paid off the trays of seedlings, which you usually do with your first salad). But the real, bestest best part is that it’s totally organic and literally cannot get any fresher. Goodness in a basket. Amen.

R15 well spent

I try to spend special time with each of the kids whenever I can. Today my younger son and I had a”date”. It was a glorious day, so I took him to the local nursery and let him choose a tray of seedlings to plant. I was kind of hoping to kill two birds with one stone and use the opportunity to supplement my veggie patch, which needs major attention. But Little Mr marched straight past the vegetables and stood in front of the flowering seedlings, contemplating earnestly. He settled on a tray of pretty pink and white numbers, which won’t provide any nourishment for my family, but that’s what he chose, so that’s what we bought.

We came home and spent a beautiful hour digging, weeding, planting and watering. And I realised that, while you can’t eat flowers (at least I don’t think these ones), this tray of seedlings was nourishing our souls, not to mention our relationship. And every time I walk past them, I’ll be filled with warm fuzzies. And that’s just great 🙂

Isn’t this worth the cost of a coffee?

 

So long, summer hols!

Well, we’re all back to school and back to work and the long, lazy days in the pool and garden are already starting to feel like a distant memory…

There’s a particular type of weed that sprouts up every summer in our garden when the lawnmower (and the nice man who comes to run it) goes on its annual holiday. These tickley tendrils have become a symbol of summer holidays for me. Their presence means no-one is rushing around, nagging clients are off somewhere else sipping on long cocktails, and there are no school bags and lunches needing to be packed. As the sprigs get taller, so we get more relaxed. By the time they reach mid-calf, we’re rested enough that we’re almost ready to go back to the excitement of real life. Another way in which the garden becomes a metaphor for life in all it’s seasonal, growing glory.

So this week, when the grass and the boys get their back-to-school haircuts, I’ll be getting back into the swing of things.

Watch this space for exciting posts about green lunch boxes, veggie baby food, and more!

 

 

Every garden has a silver lining

I love my garden. You wouldn’t think it to look at it. It’s in a total state at the moment. The cabbages are droopy, the basil is scraggly, and the mint has taken over the joint like a horticultural maffia. The lettuce has grown nearly a metre tall (I’m not sure it’s supposed to do that) and the parsley is an unhealthy shade of yellow.

I was standing this morning, contemplating this sorry sight, and berating myself for having let it get so bad. Veggietot Mom is supposed to have a gorgeous blooming garden, providing hours of wholesome recreation for her whole family and oodles of organic produce for her sodium-free stockpot. No?

Well.

Yes, that would be rather nice. But it’s not always achievable. Or should I say, it’s not always achievable at the same time as raising three kids aged five and under, meeting my work deadlines and getting the laundry done. When I look at the year our family’s had, I guess I’m not surprised that something had to give. I guess better the garden than the children, eh?

But then I adjusted my focus. Set haphazardly in between the dejected veggies are some red petunias and some brightly coloured numbers whose name I don’t know that my eldest picked out at the nursery. We planted these together, my kids and I, on an afternoon when the TV was off and the sun was shining.

I guess this is a case of every tired veggie patch has a silver lining – or a very colourful one.

And that, dear readers, is what I really love about my garden. It’s a wonderful metaphor for my life: messy, multihued, needing attention in many areas but always growing. Nothing – save the ceramic gnome – is set in stone, and there’s always the potential for new shoots to spring forth in unexpected directions. I may look at it with vague disappointment on one day, but the very next day I can tidy it up and plant something new and wonderful. I can make it whatever I want it to be.

And until then, I’ll just focus on the flowers.

 

The Dummy’s Guide to Building a Compost Heap

Re-inspired, I decided to start from scratch with a compost heap under our lemon tree, where little else grows in the shade anyway. To contain the naturally unsightly contents, I decided to build a sort of walled-off compartment. Nothing too Bob-the-Builderish. I just dug a small trench and balanced some spare pavers inside, then “sealed” them in with more soil.

Three-year-old was very interested in the process, though more interested in jumping in the trench than actually digging it.

The construction team convenes.

My landscaper nearly had a heart attack when he saw what I’d done (“wasting precious space for rubbish”, I believe he called it).

But I’m pretty chuffed with myself. I have:

a) proven beyond all reasonable doubt that I am superwoman, able to dig a trench without breaking any bones and then build something useful;

b) found a home for all the trimmings and pulling-uppings I’ve been gathering during my heavy garden labour this last week;

c) (hopefully) ensured a free and readily-accessible supply of organic compost for myself in the near future;

d) spent time in the fresh air with my boys, connecting with the earth and learning all about soil, slugs and worms;

e) not vomitted when I touched both a slug and a worm.

Hearty achievements, I say!

Dig, dig, dig.

Build, build, build.


*A special thank you to Veggietot Dad who got involved and took the pictures (that’s all he did, I feel is worth noting).

The Worm Murderer

Today I tried to turn my compost heap. For the first time in three years. Eish.

 

I gave up after only about five minutes because I felt a bit useless. Firstly, it’s hard physical work and I’m not particularly buff. Secondly, I didn’t really know what I was doing, or what it was supposed to look like. The pile is softish at the bottom, but it seems that roots have grown all the way through – I’m not sure that’s supposed to happen??

 

Okay, so here’s the story:

 

Like many couples, we idiotically decided to move from a flat to a house in my third trimester of pregnancy (“for the baby, so s/he’ll have space to run around” – will someone please tell young mothers that children don’t run around for at least two years, and then that’s what the park is for??).

 

All gung ho about my new house and garden, I decided to start a worm farm. I bought one of those professional numbers with the various tiers and a jug at the bottom to collect the precious worm wee. It wasn’t exactly complicated, but I did need to monitor the quantities of waste and make sure there was always enough damp newspaper on top. I had to watch that harsh ingredients like garlic or citrus peels didn’t make their way into the container (these are not popular with worms, apparently). But I took on the project with all the zeal of a severely hormonal pregnant woman.

 

Then baby was born and my attention was redirected to feeding, changing and winding him 24 hours a day. I couldn’t cope with both, so the worms went (I am still – unfairly I think – known as the worm murderer among certain friends).

 

Although the worm farm shriveled into a useless dry heap, I still didn’t want to dispose of our organic waste in the garbage bin, as it would simply be shipped off (at an unnecessary carbon cost) to a faraway landfill, where it would have a tough time degrading in amongst all the other, non-biodegradable, waste that ends up there.

 

On average, we go through 3-4 tubs of organic waste a week (peels, pips and off-cuts; also includes teabags and egg shells, and expiring flowers from vases). That’s a lot of waste that doesn’t need to enter the carbon cycle.

 

 

So I started to chuck it behind the pool filter where no-one ever ventured. It never smelled bad, and although there were usually a few fruit flies around it, they stuck within a metre or so of the heap and never bothered us in the garden. The pile naturally compacted down on itself and in three years has grown no more than a few inches high.

 

But now that I want to use the compost that ostensibly should be waiting for me underneath, I have a problem. I have no idea what to do – how to turn it or how to tell whether it’s ready. And now I’m all sweaty and frustrated. I need a smoothie.

The transformation continues

Yes, dear readers, this is the SELFSAME patch of earth that, mere days ago, looked like a scene from The Oregano That Took Over The World. (Click here for the “before” shot.)

The interactive bit

Right, who’s up for a game of “spot-the-plant”? Here’s a close-up shot to help you along (use the slider below to view the whole patch):

I couldn’t get the blog programme to turn the answers upside-down like in magazines, so here they are:

Sweet basil, coriander, fennel, various lettuces and some marigolds.

Human helpers

I’d like to thank my extremely supportive sons, without whom this monumental project would not have been possible. Three-year-old for helping with his plastic tools (and occasionally hijacking mine), and One-point-five-year-old for not trampling on the plants, and waiting so patiently for his snack. And for being a very good sport when Three-year-old ran at him with the metal spade (I intervened just in time).

Wriggly helpers

Whilst digging, we found a couple of earthworms, which are a sure sign of soil health. I was very pleased. Three-year-old was torn between fascination and disgust. I believe the term he used was, “Waaaaaah!”

it’s sweaty work, this gardening

My landscaper has cut me a deal: he’ll humour all my natural, organic nonsense if I’ll get involved in the gardening itself. Yikes, here we go!

So there I was this morning, at a quarter-past sparrow’s fart, digging my fingernails black in the mass of oregano that seems intent on taking over the whole garden if given half a chance. Don’t get me wrong, I like oregano, but we only need so much, and I’ve grand plans for the space beneath it.

The oreg-gone-mad bed before the blitz

First, I pulled up all the excess plants (and saved some for freezing and/or drying for homemade sauces).

Then I yanked out all the weeds that had gotten mixed up in there.

Then I dug out the roots (eish, that’s when the sweating started).

Then I turned the soil. Well, I’ve heard the pro’s use this term so I take it it’s something you’ve got to do. I sort of stirred it around and then tossed it like so much big, brown salad. Am I on the right track, anyone?

Then I gathered up the debris and decided to make a compost heap for it (more on that later).

I was very chuffed with myself when I eventually stepped back and surveyed the results:

After two hours under the sweat and toil of the incredible Veggietot Mom (yes, there was a thyme bush cowering somewhere in there)

Right, now I feel I’ve certainly earned a reward and it’s got to be my new favourite smoothie of all time (yes, the health kick is still going strong). If you, too, want to feel like summer relaxing on a cloud of health, follow the instructions below:

Happy Energy Kicker Breakfast Smoothie (as it shall now be known)

Why it’s good for you:

  • Bananas are low GI and full of energy
  • Strawberries loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants
  • Sunflower seeds are protein-packed and “nature’s antidepressant
  • Linseeds offer essential omega-3 fatty acids
  • Man, it tastes so good!

Want one?

Ingredients:

2 bananas

Large handful of strawberries

Small handful of sunflower seeds and linseeds (preferably pre-ground, though not essential)

Filtered water (about half a cup, depends how you like it)

 

Method:

Blitz.

Alternative:

Also works brilliantly with 2-3 peaches instead of the strawbs (or both!)

The kids also love this one :-)

Wishing you all a fabulous weekend!

i have a weed problem

No, not that kind of weed problem!

But I do have green things that are not grass growing on my lawn (see above). After my triumph yesterday at getting the garden treated with organic fertilizer, my darling (conventional) landscaper now wants to “zap” my weeds. He wants to use a systemic herbicidal poison like RoundUp. RoundUp is the world’s best-selling herbicide, but there’s growing evidence that it isn’t due to its health benefits.

Manufacturers Monsanto claim it to be as “safe as table salt”, but sources like Nature’s Country Store http://www.naturescountrystore.com/roundup/ cite a 1996 lawsuit in which Monsanto agreed to stop using these terms in advertising the product in the state of New York. Whilst not actually admitting to any wrongdoing, Monsanto “paid the state of New York $250,000 in settlement of this suit,” the source continues. “When Monsanto violated the first settlement agreement by advertising within New York that RoundUp is “safe,” a second agreement was negotiated.”

 

In 2009, a French court confirmed that Monsanto had been convicted of false advertising) as its main ingredient, glyphosate, has been classified by the European Union as “dangerous for the environment”, as well as “toxic for aquatic organisms”. Do I want to support a company with these values?

 

Further studies suggest worse, however. One quoted on Scientific American found that ingredients in RoundUp – particularly the animal-based surfactant polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA – can damage or kill human human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells. Do I want this in my garden?

 

In August this year, Reuters ran a story on how repeated use of the herbicide can cause soil and plant damage, and may even “be linked to cancer, miscarriage and other health problems in people and livestock.” (Read the report here.) Is this even going to help my garden?

The threats are not restricted to RoundUp, mind. This recent article from Care2.com warns that Atrazine (the second most widely-used herbicide in the United States, now banned in Europe) may cause reproductive anomalies in animals and humans, even when the levels are below the currently recommended “safe” level.

 

Chemical herbicides are poisons. Poisons are not good for people (I keep imagining the kid’s voice from the Oreo ad – “Mom says poison’s not good for dawgs…”).

When he saw the look on my face, my landscaper offered to let me pull them all up one by one instead. But come on – I have a job, a blog, two kids and a house to look after. I seriously do not have time for that.

So now I know that I don’t want to use chemical herbicides to sort out my weed problem.

But what DO I do?

Eek.

the show must go on – and so must the fertilizer

And so it begins.

The soil has been treated with organic fertilizer (Vita Veg 6:3:4(16) by Talborne Organics), and this week the goal is to make room for new seedlings by cutting back on the things that have completely taken over, i.e. mint, oregano, sage.

Rather than waste huge baskets-full of good herbs, my aim is to wash and either freeze or dry them. When is all this industrious harvesting going to take place? Good question! Perhaps I should capitalize on that early morning slot that parents of small children are lumped with every day. A very nice time to be out in the garden, after all!

One thing I’ll say for this product – it doesn’t make my whole garden and home stink like a cesspot. It don’t exactly smell like roses, but it’s mild and mostly inoffensive. 

Close up of the Vita Veg 6:3:4(16)