Monday, December 30, 2013

Flowers in my Garden

I love colour in the garden. Flowers always bring a smile to my heart. Lately I have been pondering how to pretty up the garden, yet keep to my Elastic Mom principles. Most of the flowers in this garden, like these agapanthus, were already here when we moved in two years ago.  Perennials are the backbone of a garden. I hope to learn the art of taking cuttings so that I can enlarge the flower beds without major expense.

These hollyhocks I planted from seedlings that I bought at the monthly farmer's market. They were a lot cheaper than the nursery seedlings. I try to buy a few punnets of annual flowers each month from the proceeds of my cheese sales. Hollyhocks are perennial, dying back in Winter and then shooting up again after the frosts are gone. This makes them a once off purchase that continues to bring delight.

Hollyhocks and Day Lilies are apparently edible, not that I've tried yet.  The Day Lilies keep on blooming for many months of the year and are so rewarding. They too were already here before us. Like the agapanthus flowers, they can be divided and propagated without further expense.

I sowed many, many sweet pea and poppy seeds in early Spring. They have brought wonderful splashes of colour to the garden. I am saving their seeds again for next year. I hope to swap some of my pink sweet pea seeds for my friend's purple seeds so that we can have more variety of colour next year.

I  tried growing fox gloves from seed. A few of them are flowering, but I have a long way to go in getting the best from my seed packets. 

I think the best thing for me to do is to collect seeds from the flowers that do the best in the garden, and continue to sow them until I can learn which plants are best suited to this climate. I want to create a garden that brings delight all year round. I have been cutting out helpful articles from old gardening magazines and jotting down notes in my gardening file. One of the best colour combinations in this year's Summer garden has been the red poppies next to blue cornflowers. I adore the depth of blue in the cornflowers. There are some planted outside my study window and I often catch myself just sitting and gazing at them. I have also started keeping a record of what is flowering each month so that I can plant complementary flowers to enhance what is already here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Come and Take a Tour Through our Tunnel

We are blessed with a net and plastic covered tunnel where we grow most of our vegetables. Being very green at gardening when we moved here, and not at all in the green-fingered way, I turned to the advice of some wiser and more experienced gardeners as I plotted and planned the planting of the tunnel. At the beginning of almost every month I consult John Seymour's Self-sufficient Gardener, Jane's Delicious Garden by Jane Griffiths, and the wonderful online Jane's Delicious Garden Planner where I have our whole tunnel planned outOver the last two years these guides have helped me to create a system that works for me. I say 'me' because I am the planner and the rest of my family lend a hand with the digging, picking and planting. We also have the Marvellous Molly who helps us in the garden and with the care of our animals. 

Our tunnel is divided into 6 main sections. This is to enable me to practice crop rotation to prevent a build up of pests and diseases... Perennials, Potatoes, Legumes, Mixed Veg, Roots and The Rabble. Leeks and Brassicas squeeze in between the rotations. 

As we walk in the gate we are greeted by the perennials. I like these on the edges of the garden so that they do not interfere with the bed rotation. Next to the bench there is a row of rhubarb which we transplanted from the centre of the tunnel. The rhubarb enjoy their new position where there used to be a compost heap. I also planted a few stray potatoes under the bench rather than throw them away. 

The first row of beds consists mainly of strawberries, the 100m sprinters of the garden that produce madly in October and fizzle out quickly and rest for most of the year. They take up a lot of space, but I wouldn't lose them for anything. At the end of the row we have strawberry popcorn which looks very happy.  We also have a seed bed in this row, hiding between the maize and strawberries, as it is near the tap for easy watering. I have a few Romanesco Cauliflower and Sicilian Violet Cauliflower seedlings just coming up there now. The broccoli seeds didn't germinate. I am hoping to sow a whole lot more brassica seeds this weekend. 

Now, let's take a walk to the opposite end of the tunnel, the very top. This is where our gardening year which runs from June to July, starts with the heavy Winter mucking of the beds to prepare them for POTATOES. We bring in barrow-loads of manure-rich compost. The potatoes are currently under plastic which is unnecessary but that's just the way it worked out. We have three beds of Mondial potatoes which I grew from a bag from the grocery store. Then we have one bed of heirloom BP1 potatoes which have pretty purple flowers. There is also an experimental bed of sweet potatoes. 

The chicken run with a large compost heap is behind the tunnel, and I have lined the fence with some raspberry bushes. Raspberries and potatoes are bad companions, according to Margaret Roberts, so I planted a few tansy plants to separate the two. The tansy leaves are said to be wonderful insect deterrents. 

The potatoes are not ready yet, but a little grabbling has revealed some promising beauties. As the potatoes are harvested some of their their beds will be planted up with LEEKS to see us through the Winter months. The rest will be covered in a green manure that we can also use for chicken greens, like oat grass and lucerne. I left a few of last Winter's leeks to go to seed. Their purple pompom heads are so pretty.  They are back down in the bottom row of beds next to the strawberries where last season's potatoes were. The rest of the leeks have already been succeeded by beans. 

The beds are treated with a little lime, wood ash and compost after the leeks to prepare them for the LEGUME family of plants. Broad beans go in first in Autumn, followed by mange tout peas. The broad beans have developed the dreaded chocolate spot, but I am leaving them in a little longer so that I can harvest the last of their pods. We dug in the early-planting, depleted mange touts yesterday.  They will feed the soil for the brassica seedlings that will follow. There is also a row of oak leaf lettuce that is very happy in the pea bed. 

Further along the legume beds we have sown Spring seeds for all sorts of beans, and a few amongst the strawberry popcorn. We have dried beans plants: Cannellini, Spanish Black, Adzuki and Christmas Lima.  Then we have french beans: Yellow Dwarf, Roquefort and Star 2000. There are also runner beans: Scarlet Runner, Chinese Noodle, Kentucky Wonder and Lazy Housewife. Some have germinated well and others have only given me a few plants from a whole packet of seeds. I hope to collect plenty of newly dried seeds for next year. Here and there I have sown seeds of the beans' friends, Giant Marigolds. I did a later planting of mange touts so we could keep enjoying them for a little longer. They are not producing all that much at present. I am hoping for a new flush of peas. Mmm, looking at these pics, I can see I need to mulch the legumes. I tend to leave the clover to do its thing. 

At the end of Summer, all the legumes will have been replaced by our Winter BRASSICAS. We had a big problem with beetle and caterpillar damage last season, so I'll have to find a way around that. I think we have two moth-eaten cabbages and one very sad brussels sprout plant left. Before and after the brassicas the beds were very well composted. This next row is my MISCELLANEOUS row of beds. Here we have tomatoes, brinjal, loofah, cucumbers, gem squash, courgettes and peppers. In between this glorious chaos we have California Poppies, too many weeds, and a bed of asparagus that are sending up their feathery fronds as they prepare to rest for the year. I would prefer the asparagus to be on the edges of the tunnel along with the other perennials, but that project can wait for another year. 

We have planted more varieties of tomatoes than I care to count, although careful record is kept of the position of each type. They are flanked with borage flowers to attract bees, and basil to deter pests. Here and there are some butter lettuces too. All the old heirloom lettuce seeds have gone on strike, refusing to give me the smallest leaf of hope, no matter whether sown in seed trays or directly. I think the seeds were just too old. 

These nasturtiums are an excellent trap crop, keeping the slugs off the green peppers and cucumbers. I have ineffectively sown cornflowers alongside the tomatoes too. The seeds are lying dormant in the soil. Maybe there's still hope.

Last season's Mixed Veg beds were followed by the ROOT family. Carrots and parsnips don't like manure-rich compost, so they merrily succeed the hungry tomatoes and co. We have a crosswise bed of Crimson Globe beets, Paris Market Carrots and Matador Spinach. I like to make the most of the growing season, so I have already started planting seedlings from the onion family into the gaps as I harvest the roots. 

I love the beauty of the heirloom veggies. The Paris Market carrot is round like a beet, and the colour of the Chioggia beet is striking. 

Towards the back of the root section I have three more long beds. There are celeriac, Purple Dragon carrots, Chantenay Karoo carrots, Detroit Dark Red beets, Chioggia beets and parsnips. There's also a too tall celery that is taking forever to go to seed. The black salsify disappointed for the second year in a row. I had to sow the carrots and parsnips twice, as the first sowing dried out. We solved the problem  at the second sowing with sacks over the beds until they germinated. Now I am behind my planned schedule, as I need those beds for onions. We have already harvested and eaten one bed of red onions and the brown onions are almost ready. I didn't allow enough space for onions, and they are such a staple for us. 


The onion bed off to the side of the tunnel will be sown with more beets. There is also a bed of Swiss Chard at the side of the tunnel. We added these side beds to enlarge the garden so that I don't have to buy veggies for most of the year. We live off what we grow and if the crop fails, then we eat whatever else there is. I did succumb and buy my first bag of onions this year though. 

Alongside the plastic section of the tunnel, fenced but not covered, we have an array of RABBLE veggies that wouldn't fit anywhere else. I followed the Native American idea of planting Scarlet Runner Beans with Black Aztec Maize and Atlantic Giant pumpkins. The beans are outgrowing the corn which they are supposed to hold onto. I can't use the fence for support either, or the cows will eat them. We have another huge bed of sprawling Flat White pumpkins. There are some watermelons, more gem squash and I have sown seeds for Transkei Flint corn. I offset the maize sowings by at least two weeks so that they don't cross pollinate in the wind. 

Well, that's the tunnel. But then I had some precious heirloom potatoes left, so we planted them in sacks under the kitchen window.  It's been fun raising the sides of the sacks as they grow. 

Last, not least, nor in the tunnel, but very exciting for me, we have planted berries along the back fence next to the herb wheel and strawberry spiral. There are blackberries, youngberries, gooseberries, raspberries, red currants and black currants. I just need to figure out how to keep them from the birds. 

If you have made it this far and read to the end of this very long post, then I admire your perseverance. I wrote this post mainly as a record to help me for future planning. I love looking back and seeing the progress in the garden. Even the change over the past two months has been astounding. 


We are anticipating some pork later next year. My sister and her husband are raising two piggies called Hamlet and Bacon. We were going to raise our own and feed them all the whey from the cheese making, like parma ham, but have decided to wait until next Spring to get piglets.

In the meantime, we are educating ourselves in all things pig. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a very educational dvd called Pig in a Day, which covers everything from caring for pigs, to butchering the meat and processing it. After watching it Decadent Dad decided to try his hand at making bacon. This is something he has wanted to try for a long time.

He salted some pork belly for most of last week. The only ingredients added to the meat were slat, bay leaves and some spice. Then, being an all-or-nothing kind of guy, he built an ingenious cold smoker. The smoker funnels the wood smoke from wet wood chips that are heated by a gas burner, into a sealed wooden box where the meat and cheese are hung.

 For two days he smoked the meat along with one of my freshly made gouda cheeses, an onion, a beetroot and some halloumi. He used just-chipped cherry wood which imparts a mild, sweet flavour.

It was a great success. The bacon is very salty, not really breakfast rashers, but rather the kind that you would hang in a cool place and then one would cut off a slice or two for flavouring stews and soups. The flavour is remarkable. The meat loses weight during this natural process, rather than commercial bacon which is often injected with water and chemicals for flavour and volume.

Once hung for a few months more, the meat will become more like a panchetta. In the meantime, it still needs cooking before eating. 

Once the cheese had been smoked, I waxed  fragrantly smoked gouda and it will need to mature for a good four months before we try it. 

I made a superb grilled peach, smoked bacon and halloumi salad for supper last night. Inspiration for the salad came from Jamie Oliver's "Grilled Peach Salad with Bresaola and a Creamy Dressing".

It was really simple. Just a bed of mixed lettuce leaves topped with grilled peaches, crisply grilled bacon, golden smoked halloumi and some grilled smoked onion. I drizzled over a dressing of vinaigrette whisked up with yoghurt and some tarragon.

If this is a taste of things to come, then let's get smoking' again.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Road Less Travelled

We are taking another big step in our journey towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle. So far we have relied on home grown veggies, dairy produce, eggs and chickens for our food. Now we are heading towards our own home grown meat. As far as I am concerned, it is more heartless to blindly put a pre-packaged piece of meat into your shopping trolley with no thought as to the suffering and abuse the animal went through as it was fattened up for your table, than to lovingly and responsibly raise an animal for the table. In this way we can be sure of its humane treatment at every stage of its life as well as ensuring that it has a healthy diet. The only other ethical alternative, in my opinion, is to become a vegetarian.

How many chickens have to die to provide a package of chicken breasts or thighs? Have you ever seen cattle in a feedlot? Do you know what chemicals are in your bacon?

When we eat one of our own chickens, every bit is used up, and it feeds us for days. The only waste is bones and feathers which we bury at the bottom of the compost heap. Most important, is that we value the life that was taken so that we can be nourished. Never in my past did I consider the animals that had to die so that I could eat meat. In fact, I only ate filleted meat so that I did not have to face the reality of what I was eating. That does not make it any easier to eat the animal we've raised. There's a profound, humbling sense of gratefulness that accompanies home grown meals, but also a realistic acceptance of the responsibility that we have to give the animal the best life that we can for as long as it lives.

This brings me to our own meat. Our lambs are soon to be slaughtered. Our bull calf, once he has grown a whole lot more, will also be slaughtered for beef. Our choices are either to sell him to a feedlot or abattoir , or raise him in a caring environment until he's slaughtered. That, sadly, is the end of almost all bull calves, and male lambs unless they become stud animals. Our farm animals are not pets. We do not eat our pets, but that doesn't stop us from showing our farm animals care and affection as they grow. I named our calf Thorn partly because his mother is Rose and his Father, Bramble, but also because of the thorny irony of his future.

We live in an area where a neighbouring farmer will donate a whole lamb for a spitbraai between a few people, where the men prefer to eat chops and wors than salads and cheese, where meat is eaten at almost every main meal. We, on the other hand, eat meat as a treat. We seldom buy it, rather choosing to mostly eat our own veggies, eggs and dairy produce. A while back we were given a whole lot of mutton. We are eating it sparingly and use it for special occasions. It is treated as something valuable, not commonplace, not taken for granted. How much more will we value our own home grown meat?

If I have to choose between sentimentality about our animals and responsibility, I choose the tough road of responsibility. I would rather we managed every step of their short lives, than handed them over to an uncertain future. Living on a farm has challenged and changed me in many areas of my life, and this is one of them. Organic, free range meat is expensive, and mostly out of our budget. Raising our own organic free range meat helps us to eat locally, ethically and frugally.

Apricot Season

The thing about harvest time is that ripe fruit or vegetables wait for no man, or woman busy about her business and trying to be on holiday. The strawberries came and went. Asparagus season is over, and now we have apricots and peaches.

I have already made pots and pots of apricot jam….
… standard apricot jam, 25 litres, sadly one 10 litre pot burned a little, but it's still edible.
… apricot and ginger jam, 10 litre pot
… vanilla apricot jam with 1kg apricots
… apricot and lavender jam with 1kg apricots

The last two jams were experiments, hence the small quantities. I was trying recipes from my lovely new Salt Sugar Smoke book by Dianne Henry. I am pleased to say they are both delicious.

I've also made a double batch of apricot chutney using the old Kook en Geniet recipe and some very ripe apricots. Delicious.

Then, keen to try more apricot recipes, I went trawling through my recipe books. I found my Aunty Leslie's Lamb and Apricot Stew recipe which made a fantastic slow cooked meal. I made Fresh Apricot Ice-cream from David Lebowitz's, The Perfect Scoop. I have the makings of his Apricot Sorbet chilling in the fridge. I also sold Vanilla Panna Cotta with Apricot Coulis at the food market. It was a great success.

Today I started the making of Apricot Schnapps and Apricot Liqueur, both recipes from Salt Sugar Smoke. 

Then I made an apricot cheesecake from my Eating for Sustained Living recipe book by Liesbet Delport and Gabi Steenkamp. I have two friends coming for tea this afternoon. They are both diabetic, so hopefully this low GI treat is not too decadent for them.

Yesterday I turned some of the burned jam into a none-the-wiser jam tart which was gobbled down with great gusto.

I still want to make David Lebowitz's honey roasted apricots, and my mum's apricot cake.

Oh yes, I bottled some perfect apricots, 4 litres, but got distracted while they were cooking and overdid them until they were squishy. I froze 12 bags of whole apricots and dried 2 trays worth. In between I nibbled a few fresh ones.

You know what I always say, USE-IT-DON'T-LOSE-IT. So if I didn't make the most of the apricots now, then we would lose out for the rest of the year.

I still want to dry a whole heap of them, and make some cordial. I also plan to turn the apricot syrup leftover from bottling into a refreshing iced tea.

As far as the peaches go, we've had them chopped onto breakfast oats, in a curried lentil salad and mostly just eaten them in their unadulterated fuzzy, juicy glory.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Slow Living in November

November has been even more beautiful than October. The magnificent early Summer landscape has helped me to stop... and breathe... and slow down… and give thanks… as we hurtle towards the end of the year. Join me, along with Slow Living Essentials as I remember, remember the month of November. 

Beetroot has surfaced in our tunnel and added it's paradoxical earthy vibrancy to our meals. We are harvesting two heirloom beetroots: Chioggia which, with their pretty concentric rings, are just big enough to pick, and Detroit Dark Red. We also have commercial Crimson Globes. The Detroits have grown big and round. Their colour is truly deep red, their taste more earthy and sweet with a softer cooked texture than the Crimson Globes. The Globes are brighter in colour, firmer with faint concentric rings, but a slightly sharper flavour. Votes are even as to which beet is better.
Forget pickled beets. I decided to experiment with this exciting vegetable. We have enjoyed it tossed in apple cider, tansy and olive oil then roasted and served as a side dish. I have added it into salads, grated raw and in cooked chunks. The Asian salad pictured below was spectacular.
Most unusual, but a definite must-make-again, were the roast root vegetable, bacon and rosemary mini quiches that I made for the market. Along with the beets I roasted a few red onions, little round Paris Market Carrots and freshly dug garlic. 

There's something comfortingly rustic about plaits of garlic and red onions drying in the kitchen. The onions didn't last very long though. I used them up faster than they could dry. All the November cream from Rosie and Joy was turned into many kilograms of butter for croissants, except for a few cups of cream that became peanut butter and chocolate ice-cream for a certain birthday boy. Almost all of their milk became cheese. Most of this preparation was for a market, sadly not my rather empty freezer or pantry. After the market, at the end of the month, when I was about to put my feet up, the apricots arrived, all golden and luscious and needing urgent attention. Now we're jamming…

"We're jammin: I wanna jam it wid you. We're jammin, jammin, And I hope you like jammin too." (Bob Marley)

Reusing, recycling and reducing is everything Elastic Mom is about. A tear through Decadent Dad's T-shirt shelf left him a few shirts less and his workshop a pile of wipe-it-all-up rags more.
Tomato sauce bottles line up in our storeroom, waiting for homegrown tomato sauce to fill them, but then I found these adorable stickers. I am head-over-heels in love with my cute Free State farm milk bottles. I have a set of four stickers but, being Elastic Mom, I'll have to wait until our existing milk bottles break before I can line up my pretty new bottles in the fridge. Considering the current breakage rate, I won't have long to wait.
Just when I thought that was it for new ideas, I noticed a pile of paper bags waiting for recycling. All our November market baking left us with strong flour and sugar bags. Simple. Use-It-Don't-Lose-It. Fold in the top. Punch holes. Tie string and there we have carrier bags for our market customers. They look trendy too, you know, African Chic and all that.

Our broad beans were looking wistful, so we watered them with a little epsom salts. While we were at it, we fed the roses and poured it around some pesky ant holes. A few weeks later we were rewarded with a new crop of beans, a flush of roses and fewer ants.


Brilliant red poppies, along with Hunter our young Rhodesian Ridgeback,  have cheerily greeted visitors entering the gate. Poppies on either side and Hunter in the middle. Quite formidable. No sneaking in quietly around here.The poppy seeds I sprinkled in the flower beds last Autumn burst into bloom after the late Spring rains came. I adore their joyful shout of red, especially when blue cornflowers, columbines or purple campenula are their bedfellows. They have made a striking display, enhancing our view. (Can you spot our cows enjoying the grazing?)

Our vegetables are also flourishing. The potatoes are big and bushy and we haven't been able to resist a little grabbling here and there. Lovely word, grabbling. It's exactly what we do under the roots when we sneak a few for supper.  The runner beans are racing up their stakes. The strawberry popcorn is looking healthy and strong. Our tunnel is such a pleasure, I think our vegetable garden and all it has to offer warrants its own blog post. (Our Joy cow seems to be in the picture quite a lot lately.)

While Elastic Mom and Decadent Dad have been busy baking and making all things market related, our competent kids have continued the creativity. His hand blisters were proudly displayed after this hand-carved bow was completed. Strings of stars decorated our Christmas-themed market stall, bringing their own blisters on her scissor-tired hands.
My heart was delighted to walk into my daughter's bedroom and hear music playing, and see her stringing beaded bracelets. Peaceful creativity. Unhurried. Just because.
Halfway through the month she completed her 365 day self-portrait challenge. It has been a pleasure to see her photography skills develop as her project progressed. Every so often I snuck in a behind-the-scenes pic of my own. Take a LOOK at the portrait she produced from the scene below. Her brother's role was just to spray her. She set up the scene, the camera, and took the photo herself.
How does one pose when being sprayed by a high pressure hose?

Her blog is well worth a visit. All of her 365 Self Portraits are on display. Take the time to read her last post. Slow Living on this farm has given her the time and freedom to discover her passion.

I am a late-comer to the entertainment and education of watching River Cottage and all things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Although rather extreme, his fascinating Cook on the Wild Side series amused us in November. I share a moderated version of his "passion for food integrity and consumption of local, seasonal produce", and have indulged in a little foraging of my own this year.

The big community event of our month was our three day market stall at the local Cabin Cherry Capers. It was exhausting but worth it. Our whole family pitched in to make it a success. Our little business, Rosewood Country Kitchen, was exposed to more local, appreciative customers. There's nothing like a buttery croissant-tasting or cheese-tasting to draw people in. I love meeting different people at these markets. We live near the border of the tiny country, Lesotho, so this seemingly remote Eastern Free State farmer's market attracted a cosmopolitan range of customers. My stall was visited by leather-clad motor-bikers, burly conservative Afrikaans farmers with their poppies, elegantly dressed Basotho couples, Chinese factory managers,  missionaries, travellers passing through, vegetarian humanitarian workers, transient engineers, barefoot little boys and foreign diplomats. I met someone who worked with my Uncle on the Katse Dam many years ago, someone else whose godson is attending the faraway college we are sending our daughter to next year and even managed to find a home for a farm kitten with the new grocery store manager in town.

Our precious son turned fifteen this month. We celebrated his birthday with a picnic in the Peter Pan forest beside the barn. Friends joined us for a feast under the poplar trees.We set up chairs and tables. The adults sat in the shade. Happy voices rang out as children of various ages enjoyed the day. The boys made a base. The girls posed for photographs and wandered chatting arm-in-arm in the dappled forest light.
Our poor birthday boy was recovering from tonsillitis which left him tired but happy nonetheless.
Bed time for babies: Our daughter bringing in Hope and Thorn for the night.
 Fifteen years ago we cancelled the application for our little daughter to attend preschool and decided to educate her at home. Our journey, starting as play dough on the kitchen table, stories with a little blonde toddler on my lap, counting with blocks, and learning shapes and colours, has come a long way. Together we studied the stars, battled over trigonometry, discussed the difference between Roman civil law and natural law, shared poetry teas, and generally filled our days with rich learning. 

November marked the end of her homeschool journey, the day she closed her last book and completed Grade Twelve. Words fail me at the gamut of emotion tumbling through my heart, everything from pride and joy to an aching emptiness now that our school days are over. 

Next year she is off to explore new horizons.