I must have been nine, when I first did it. It was just one bean, but I couldn’t resist. To see those leguminaceous leaves unfurl…well, that was me, hooked. But one wasn’t enough; it never is. You know the score – all the other kids are making a racket on the playground, and you’re…in the bushes, planting mielies.
Hi, my name is Travis and I’m an addict. I’ve kept it tidy for a long time but lately it’s become a real problem. I’ve started sneaking out behind my wife’s back. Disappearing for hours on end. It’s got so bad I’ve even started staying in on Friday nights just so I can get my fix on Saturday morning. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is, to share my story with you. Fellow urban greenfingers, meet my garden.
Once a neglected corner rank with a thorny vine, long grass and weeds, now a daily delight and regular source of fresh produce, my food garden is the latest saga in a long-standing love affair I have with plants. My wife and I rent in a shareblock with six units which, when we moved in, was surrounded by a narrow strip of garden that was fairly choked with exotic species. Nevertheless it made no sense to me that land was going unused, so over the past year I’ve progressively taken over larger portions of the garden, starting with the north-facing strip that became our food garden.
I initially cleared a patch of about 6 x 3m that was rank with an exotic vine, weeds and long grass. I laid down some gum poles (which had been left on the property by Telkom) as borders, dug some compost into the beds and mulched with anything I could find lying around in my area. As our block doesn’t provide much in the way of mulch, in summer we get grass from parks after it’s been cut and in winter collect fallen leaves from roadsides (conveniently raked and left in bags by the Parks Department), but anything organic will do. Being north-facing, the veggie patch gets quite a bit of sun, so mulching is a necessity, not only to keep weeds at bay and reintroduce organic matter to the soil but also to prevent it drying out, particularly adjacent to a brick wall which gets damn hot in midsummer and conducts heat down into the soil.
I started off with a tomato that I trailed along a fence, and have continued adding more veggies and herbs. I chose to position the tomato opposite the brick wall as it casts shadow and thus offers some relief to the rest of the veggies. That one tomato plant grew to about 6 metres in length and produced so many fruit that for 4 months last summer my wife and I had no reason to buy any. These, in combination with sweet basil, dhania (which does very well in my patch, and is now self-seeding its way into a second season) and two large rocket plants, have provided loads of salad ingredients. The tomatoes are once again making good progress as summer approaches.
At present, and in preparation for summer I have beetroot, spinach, lettuce (3 varieties), cabbage, coriander (2 varieties), lemon grass, a pawpaw tree, large and cherry tomato, jalapenos, paprika, green pepper, yarrow, tansy, rosemary, sweet and perennial basil, comfrey, strawberries, garlic, spring onion, rocket, mint and a baby naartjie tree. I use no chemicals, and so far have had no problems with pests or diseases (apart from birds nailing my strawberries), and on the whole everything seems to grow well, providing us with a constant source of fresh food.
What I’ve realised through my garden is that just because you don’t own the land you live on doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used. You can’t put a price on how much money we’ve saved by eating from our garden, on the pleasure I get from tending and harvesting, or the nutritional value of freshly-picked fruit and veg. It’s high time those of us who live in the city start seeing unused land as an opportunity – in this day and age when fresh produce is expensive and is often tainted with herbicides and pesticides, growing your own food isn’t just sensible, it’s essential.
I’ll be posting updates on how things progress as summer kicks in. I can’t imagine that it’ll all be plain sailing, but we’re looking forward to lots of fresh food. Onward to summer!