Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa
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Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa

Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa

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Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa Document Transcript

  • Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa Winning Strategies to Improve Your Food Garden and Your Planet
  • SharingThis is a free publication. You are welcome to share it with others in the same spirit. Or simply tellthem to get their own copy at www.GoFoodGardening.com or at www.MasterHerbGardening.comIf you’ve paid for this publication, or if you received it as a bonus with a paid product, please report tosaha.admin@gmail.comCopyrightFirst Edition: October 2008Second Edition: January 2009Third Edition: July 2010Copyright © All Rights Reserved SA Herb AcademyAcknowledgmentsThe Go Food Gardening Approach was originally developed by Di-Di Hoffman and it has since beenupdated, expanded and improved with his help and the help of passionate food gardeners and foodgardening professionals from all over South Africa. A green initiative co-founded by BOUQUET GARNI HERBS and the SA HERB ACADEMY PO Box 15873 Lynn East, 0039 Pretoria South Africa E-mail: saha.admin@gmail.com Website: www.gofoodgardening.com
  • ContentsIntroduction 1 Food Gardens Defined .............................................................................................2 Why Food Gardening? .............................................................................................2 What Do You Need To Start A Food Garden? ........................................................4 Your Two Biggest Obstacles ...................................................................................4 Steps to Start Your Own Food Garden ....................................................................5 About Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa....................................................6The Success Principles 7 Go Organic...............................................................................................................7 Make the Soil Your Passion.....................................................................................9 Don’t Be a Purist....................................................................................................10 Study Intensive Gardening.....................................................................................10 Use Efficient Bed Layouts .....................................................................................11 Master Succession Planting ...................................................................................12 Practice Good Workflow Design ...........................................................................12 Make Ends Meet ....................................................................................................13 Choose Your Crops Carefully................................................................................13 Set Targets .............................................................................................................14 Expand Your Toolbox............................................................................................15 Become a Recycler ................................................................................................15 Lunatic Gardening .................................................................................................16 Pay It Forward........................................................................................................16 Keep a Journal........................................................................................................17 Test Advanced Strategies.......................................................................................17The Key Food Gardening Activities 19 Planning .................................................................................................................19 Bed Preparation......................................................................................................21 Planting ..................................................................................................................22 Watering.................................................................................................................23 Feeding...................................................................................................................23 Weeding .................................................................................................................24 Pruning...................................................................................................................24 General and Crop Specific Tasks...........................................................................24 Insect and Disease Management ............................................................................25 Harvesting ..............................................................................................................25 Storage and Preservation........................................................................................25 Celebrating Abundance..........................................................................................25 A Sample Monthly Food Gardening Activity List ................................................26Appendix 29 Resources.........................................................................................................................29 Home Study Courses..............................................................................................29
  • Web Pages and Newsletters ...................................................................................30Online Communities ..............................................................................................30Books .....................................................................................................................30E-Books and Manuals ............................................................................................31
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningIntroduction “In a healthy town every family can grow vegetables for itself. The time is past to think of this as a hobby for enthusiasts; it is a fundamental part of human life.” – Christopher Alexander Dear Reader, Welcome to this primer on Go Food Gardening in South Africa. More and more South Africans are using the concepts and ideas in this document to turn their balconies, city gardens, small holdings and farms into productive food, flavour and health sources. Some are motivated by passion, others by principle and still others by pragmatism. I trust that whatever your reasons are, they are good ones too. Growing herbs and edible crops is a full time passion for me and it has brought a huge amount of joy, friendship and satisfaction into my life. I don’t believe in one-shoe-fits-all food gardening approaches. I firmly believe everybody gardens in a different and unique way. What makes one a successful food gardener is simply applying natural laws and a few key success principles consistently well. In this primer I’ll introduce you to how appreciation of these, combined with a little experimentation to find which are most suitable to your temperament, preferences and garden, allows you to garden more successfully and expressively. Your immediate rewards will be herbs that burst with flavour, great tasting nutritious vegetables and fruits, shorter food miles and lower food bills. Growing your own edible plants is a way of life I would recommend to everyone! Happy food gardening. 1
  • Introduction “Having a successful vegetable garden takes time, effort and commitment. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you watch the seeds sprout and then turn into fabulous-tasting food is one of the great pleasures in life. Start out small, grow what you love to eat, have fun, relax, and enjoy healthy food on your table.” – Catherine Abbot Food Gardens Defined My definition of a food garden is simply any space devoted to growing edible crops with the intention of consuming them. It can be a single jar of sprouts on a kitchen sink, a few herbs on a windowsill, a tray of baby greens, a single lemon tree in a decorative pot, a small herb garden or veggie patch, or an extensive herb/vegetable/fruit garden. Why Food Gardening? A few years ago, only passionate hobbyists and those with “green fingers” had food gardens. This has changed dramatically. Today individuals and organizations from all walks of life grow their own herbs, vegetables and fruit. In The Organic Gardeners Handbook author Frank Tozer lists several benefits of a food garden. Here’s my slightly expanded version of Tozer’s list:  It’s a great pastime Food gardening is the most popular ‘specialist’ gardening hobby in the world. To quote Frank Tozer, “It’s been said that ‘Gardening is the natural activity of man’ and that pretty much sums it up. It is one of the most gratifying and fulfilling activities a person can encage in.” Children especially love to garden.  Fresh cuisine All food gardeners are familiar with the superior flavour of their homegrown crops. In fact, this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of growing your own: eating the best food that can be obtained anywhere.  Health It has been proved beyond doubt that crops grown with eco- friendly practices, fresh from your own food garden, is the most nutritious you can get and that it can improve your health significantly. What’s more, gardening is both a pleasant way to relax and one of the best forms of exercise, with benefits far greater than the simple burning of calories would suggest.  Green Connection “In the twentieth century, industrialization and greater affluence broke the old bonds with the land. People moved to the cities and suburbs and the self-sufficient home vegetable garden became a 2
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening thing of the past. To most people food is now just another commercial product, like shampoo or detergent. It is available year round, ready packaged from the supermarket. It is no longer our most vital link to the earth and as a result our view of nature has become distorted. We now see ourselves as so separate from nature that the health of the economy seems more important than the health of the planet.” – Frank Tozer Financial A couple of years ago few people thought of saving money as a big reason to have a food garden. This has changed and many South African food gardeners now depend on their food gardens to keep them well fed and they would be considerably poorer without them. Spiritual “Working with the earth to fulfill the basic need for food is a fundamentally benevolent activity that can help you to reconnect with nature. It can bring you back to the reality that we are totally and absolutely dependent on the earth for our well being, and that we should look after it more carefully.” – Frank Tozer “In themselves the feelings of well-being and happiness, fulfillment and self-worth created by working in harmony with nature, and of experiencing the richness and tranquility of your garden, are profoundly spiritual. Being with nature is releasing, uplifting and healing.” – Pat Featherstone But there is more to this spiritual benefit than just feelings of wellbeing and self-worth. Our food gardens also allow us to experience, firsthand, the wisdom found in Scripture. Just one example that immediately comes to mind is that you’ll reap what you’ve sown. Our food gardens also enable us to clarify, reconnect and live our values such as: fun, creativity, adventure, risk taking, growth, abundance, nurturing, vitality, perseverance, patience, collaboration and community to mention a few. “My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. That is what I had with my first compost heap”. – Bette Midler 3
  • Introduction What Do You Need To Start A Food Garden? The most important things are free says Pat Featherstone in her book Grow to Live. Here’s a slightly adapted version of Featherstone’s list…  Intent and a well defined reason(s).  Lots of sunshine, water and fresh air.  Some basic information, the size of a seed. Water it, and it swells; nurture it and it grows.  Lots of enthusiasm, with a little hard work in the beginning.  A pair of eyes, with hands attached.  Curiosity. About nature, the weather, insects, etc.  A small designated area. Don’t let the absence of any of the above dampen your enthusiasm though... “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” - Henry Van Dyke. Your Two Biggest Obstacles A successful food garden takes time, effort and commitment. If you already have a very tight schedule then time will be your biggest obstacle. The amount of time you’ll need will depend on your level of experience and the size of your garden. Don’t think that you’ll just squeeze your food gardening in somewhere. It seldom works. To be successful, plan and schedule your food gardening time. Even if it is just 5 minutes 5 times a week. The next obstacle you face is the get-skills-quick mentality that abounds nowadays. Everybody wants to go to a one-day workshop and then come out magically transformed into a seasoned food gardener. It doesn’t work that way. Reading books won’t make you a seasoned food gardener either. Beyond what Pat Featherstone mentions above and the information you’ll find in this primer, the things you’ll need most to be a successful food gardener are: 1. The heart of a gardener. Great thing is we all have one. Sad thing is we all (even experienced gardeners at times) fail to follow it. 4
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening 2. A sound food gardening knowledge base. 3. Lots of practice. 4. Interaction with other food gardeners. Preferably from your immediate area. But ultimately, everything comes back to your heart. If you discover, nurture and follow your heart, you can make every possible gardening mistake and still have a rewarding and fulfilling experience. My prayer for you is that this short primer makes you hungry to discover and passionately live the lifestyle of a food gardener.Steps to Start Your Own Food Garden Step 1: Define Your Motivation Be clear about why you want to have a food garden. Ask yourself:”What motivates me?” Complete the following sentences: Fear of… Love/caring/concern for… Inspiration from… Self reliant in… Add any other reasons you can think of. Step 2: Get Inspired Find bountiful food gardens. Walk or bike around your neighbourhood, ask around and find out about other food gardening enthusiasts in your locality. Visit and talk to them. Go to Google Images and Google “vegetable gardens”. “food gardens”, “kitchen gardens” and “herb gardens”. Step 3: Start Small Start small... regardless if you rent or own your property, if it is big or small. Use Go Food Gardening’s educational resources to help you and/or get the support of a “Go Food Gardening Coach” (if that system operates in your area) – or adopt one by approaching a gardener you admire. Step 4: Swing into Action 1. Get your soil fertility pumping. Start a small worm farm in your 5
  • Introduction kitchen or on the patio and/or a small compost heap in the garden. 2. Prepare two or three container gardens and plant seedlings into them. 3. Find out where the local sources of (non-toxic) composting materials are and start stockpiling. 4. Lay down a sheet mulch/no dig bed to get ready for planting. 5. Start raising your own seedlings. Set up a simple mini- propagation area near a north-facing window in your house. Learn how to raise seedlings, take cuttings and do root divisions. You can begin with commercial potting mix and graduate to making your own. Step 5: Link Up Link up with friends and/or neighbours and help each other out. On a regular basis (e.g. monthly), do a project in a garden. Keep building up your bonding through gardening together and add in others as you go. Do a seasonal food gardening calendar together for planting, tending and harvesting in your locality. Start planning how to provide for the food you are unable to produce. About Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa The Go Food Gardening initiative was co-founded by Bouquet Garni Herbs and the SA Herb Academy to equip and inspire South Africans to make our beloved country a greener, tastier, healthier place... one food garden and one crop at a time. This special report is an overview of the natural laws, success principles and key food gardening activities one needs to be a successful food gardener. Adapting these to one’s own garden, preferences and temperament, anyone can consistently improve their harvests. For a more detailed discussion and application of the subject matter please see the Resources at the end this publication. 6
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningThe Success Principles “If there is no gardener there is no garden.” – Stephen Covey Books and new ideas about food gardening abound. And that is how it should be. There is organic gardening, chemical gardening, intensive gardening, square foot gardening, no-dig gardening, biodynamics and permaculture to mention just a few. Each of them has their pros and cons; good features and bad features; and I might add their disciples and opponents. The latter sometimes fiercely so. It all goes to prove that everybody gardens in a different and unique way. Yet underlying this diversity is a consistency of natural laws and key success principles that apply to every food garden and every food gardener. Appreciation of these, combined with a little experimentation to find which are most suitable to your temperament, preferences and garden, allows you to garden more successfully and expressively. What follows is a short discussion of the key concepts, ideas and natural laws that one can use to form their own Go Food Gardening Approach. As the word “GO” in Go Food Gardening indicates it is first and foremost an active hands-on approach. So get out a pen and circle those that you would like to make part of your own Go Food Gardening approach.Go Organic Why go organic? “This commonly asked question is easy to answer. The primary reason to embrace the organic approach is health. This means the well-being of the individual as well as the health of the environment. Many pesticides can accumulate over time, both in our bodies and in the wider environment, a poisonous legacy that can persist for decades. Organic gardening seeks to redress this damage by working with and encouraging nature. It is a long term investment in the health and wellbeing of us all.” – Christine and Michael Lavelle There’s an awful lot of hype around organic, and if you are starting your own food garden, it’s something you need to consider seriously. What does it mean to go organic? That’s actually quite a complex question, which is not as easy to answer as why you need to go organic. Some say that it means not using any 7
  • The Success Principles chemical pesticides or fertilizers because they can damage the environment. You can only use natural stuff. Others say it means reducing your carbon footprint or reducing food miles. That’s all true, but there’s a sting in the tail. There are also some natural remedies, like tobacco dust, that can be toxic. And some organic formulations claim to be safe to use, but when used in excess these same formulations can wreak havoc in your garden. We encourage you to think about organic gardening in the positive sense. It’s about using your common sense, and working with nature. It is about employing environmentally friendly products and environmentally friendly cultural practices. Organic gardening isn’t very different from conventional gardening. You still need to plant at the right time, prune, control pests and pull out the weeds. The difference lies in your approach. It’s how you understand, and value, the interrelationship between all the elements in your garden. It’s how you understand the ecosystem of your garden. Source: http://permaculture.org.au About a hundred years before the term “ecosystem” was coined, John Muir said simply, “Everything is connected to everything else”:  The micro-organisms that create humus in the soil.  The pollinating bees and butterflies.  The natural pest controllers like lady birds and their prey.  The synergies between plants (companion planting).  The natural rhythms of nature (day, night, seasons).  And the cycle of life and decay. In other words, organic gardening is a philosophy of gardening. It’s not a style or a design. 8
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningMake the Soil Your Passion Organic gardening starts with the soil in your garden. Make that your passion and almost everything else will follow. “Vegetarians may be appalled, but much of gardening is actually raising animals: the tiny ones under the earth’s surface” – Toby Hemenway “One of the most basic principles of organic gardening is that you encourage the life in the soil. It’s a mistake to think of soil organisms as of no consequence, or as pests and diseases to be ‘fought’. They are all important and the more diverse and abundant the soil life, the less problems you will have.” – Frank Tozer In food gardens we encourage the following organic practices, all aimed at improving the life in your soil:  Improving and conditioning your soil by using the correct cultivation methods.  Amending the soil with well-rotted manure and/or compost – it encourages soil biodiversity and the more organic matter in the soil, the more water it can hold, and the more nutrients it will have.  Mulching the beds with coarse organic material (pine needles, bark chips, peanut shells, etc). It keeps the roots cool, suppresses weeds and helps retain water.  Rotating your annual crops to restore the balance in the soil. Some plants deplete, while others, like legumes add nitrogen to the soil. It also prevents pests and diseases building up in the soil.  Companion planting, intercropping, poly-cultures, etc – combine herbs and vegetables that stimulate each other’s growth, or act as pest repellents. For instance marigolds repel eelworm.  Avoiding soil compaction. Keep all traffic off the beds, including wheelbarrows, children, dogs and hands. You really have no excuse for walking in the beds. It is one of the worst things you can do for the soil structure.  Avoiding excessive cultivation. The soil doesn’t like to be dug. This especially applies to vigorous cultivation with machinery which tends to cause a plow pan in heavy soils.  Making your own compost. It is the best amendment there is and it is the best way to recycle all your garden waste. Or start a worm farm if composting is not for you.  Collecting rainwater, especially in winter rainfall areas for summer use. 9
  • The Success Principles  Following an integrated pest management approach which means always using the least damaging method of pest control at your disposal. Don’t Be a Purist In Go Food Gardening there is a big emphasis on gardening with nature and using natural laws. And rightly so. One should however keep in mind that in the sense that a food garden occurs nowhere in nature, it is not natural. For example, No-Dig Gardening’s claim to fame is that it is the most natural of all gardening methods. Nature don’t dig. But to make it work in a food garden the no-diggers have to compost heavily. Or should one say ‘unnaturally’. “It is a paradox that organic vegetables, grown the ‘natural way’, still require somewhat unnatural conditions. Nature does not do vegetable gardens, and permaculturists have made brave attempts to balance this by clearing small plots at different times, growing plants that can tolerate congested soil, and making full use of perennial vegetables. These are difficult skills to use exclusively, so we have to acknowledge that the bare soil we need is rarely found in nature and tends to re-cover itself with weeds. Regularly cropped soil that is having plants removed from it will deteriorate unless humus is applied regularly.” – Charles Dowding The take-home-point here is that to be a really successful food gardener one cannot be too much of a purist. Being a South African surely helps in this regard. With our huge cultural diversity we are used to listening to other points of view and trying out new and different ideas – keeping only those that serve us best. Practice Intensive Gardening “If you look at food production per acre (or in relation to the amount of energy, water and other inputs), home gardens are the most productive way of growing food that humans have ever devised. It is possible to produce a significant proportion of your own fruits and vegetables in the average backyard.” – Frank Tozer With resources such as space, water, energy and time at a premium, and given our sometimes very harsh climate, the gardening approach that will serve you best, irrespective of the size of your garden, is intensive gardening. Intensive planting techniques maximize the yields of your garden over the growing season. Besides increasing the yield of your garden it also save time, space, energy, fertilizer and water.10
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening Make it your business to study and practice intensive gardening techniques. Here’s a report to get you started. Report: Small Plot and Intensive Gardening A great introductory report on the subject by Rosie Lerner and Michael N. Dana from Purdue. To download visit http://www.hort.purdue.edu/hort/ext/Pubs/HO/HO_124.pdf ReadingUse Efficient Bed Layouts A prominent feature of intensive methods is using beds of a fixed width and length for planting crops. This simplifies the layout of the garden as well as most of the key tasks in a food garden. Crops should be within easy reach. A common mistake in food gardens is beds that are too narrow and paths that are too wide. Your food crops should be within a comfortable arms length. Preferably the arm of the person who will do most of the gardening. For beds with access from both sides about 60cm to 120cm wide will suit most arms. Don’t waste growing space on paths. Intensive gardening utilize rectangular beds which measure between 30 cm to 120 cm wide, and that are from 2 m to 9 m long. A versatile standard bed size is 60 cm wide by 9 m long. The advantage of this size is that the beds can be easily straddled with the legs for fast and efficient planting, weeding and harvesting. It also simplifies and 11
  • The Success Principles standardizes other activities such as watering, fertilizing, setting targets and measuring yields. The beds are then laid out in blocks containing 10 beds each with paths of 30 cm to 40cm between them. In smaller gardens 9 m long beds are not always practical. A more manageable size is often 3 m long beds. Where space is really at a premium you can make door size beds. These beds are1 m wide by 2 m long. Or you can resort to growing in containers. If rectangular is not your style you can go for a spiral garden, key-hole beds, or a mandala garden. Master Succession Planting One of the most powerful intensive gardening strategies to add to your Go Food Gardening Approach is succession sowing and planting. This also prevents the feast or famine syndrome so common to conventional food gardens. The idea behind succession planting is to phase your annual crops so that you have a continuous harvest and not a series of sudden gluts. For most crops this means that you’ll plant a third of the row or bed allocated to the crop, wait two or four weeks and plant another third, and finally the last section two or four weeks later still. The result is that you’ll be able to harvest the crop for a couple of months instead of just two or three weeks. There may, of course, be times when you do not want to spread the harvesting. For example, if you prefer making and freezing your pesto for winter use in one go, it’s easier if all your basil is ready for harvest at the same time. Planting a spring-, summer-, and fall garden is another form of succession planting. Cool-season crops (broccoli, lettuce, peas) are followed by warm-season crops (beans, tomatoes, peppers), and where possible, these may be followed by more cool season plants, or even a fall/winter crop. Practice Good Workflow Design There are 12 key activities (discussed in the following chapter) that need to be done in any food garden. And unlike modern farms that employ large work crews and expensive machinery, food gardeners must do most of the work themselves. Now if your food garden is small then creating a regimented and balanced work schedule is not that critical at all. But as your food garden expands this changes.12
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening During the course of a growing season all tasks need to be coordinated to ensure that no single task becomes overwhelming, that they all get the attention they deserve and they all flow smoothly together. Spending too much time on the tasks you enjoy might mean crops are lost to weeds or they might die due to lack of watering, etc. Learn to create a balance in the overall workflow of your food garden. Where possible, aim to use a 5 day work week to perform the bulk of the weekly activities and only attend to watering on the 6th and 7th days if needed. In a small to medium food garden this will translate to spending about 30 minutes a day for five days of the week and then just checking watering needs on weekends. This is contrary to conventional food gardeners who need to find large blocks of time just about every weekend.Make Ends Meet Always ensure that there is a healthy balance between the inputs and the outputs of your food garden. The easiest way to do this is to put a value on your crops. Even if it is just a subjective health or nutritional value. Then use that value to estimate what your weekly harvests are worth. Knowing that your food garden produced so many packets of produce worth “X” amount is very rewarding and highly motivating. Your Harvests Are Valuable Refrain from giving your produce away for free. That is apart from the first tenth of the harvest that goes to those in need; the occasional gift basket to show your appreciation or to cheer someone up; and the tasting Tip samples. Treat your produce like the valuable commodity it is. Sell it, even if it is just to cover seed cost. Or set up barter deals. Some gardeners let family and friends perform some of the more enjoyable gardening tasks, such as harvesting, in return for some produce. And most people just love the opportunity to be involved in getting a crop from the garden to the table.Choose Your Crops Carefully Irrespective of whether you are growing produce for your own family, a farmers market, or restaurant, you need to make sure that there is sufficient demand for your produce. Nothing is more disheartening than growing a crop only to find out that nobody wants it when it is ready for harvest. Or worse, not knowing how to prepare and cook it. 13
  • The Success Principles You also need to balance the demand with your expertise. In practice this means that you will include crops for no reason other than to gain the experience needed to grow more difficult crops later. Base your crop selection on the following criteria: 1. Ease of growing. 2. Yield per square meter. 3. Maturity – the length in time from sowing to harvesting. 4. General hardiness to adverse weather conditions and pests and disease. 5. Short shelf-life (meaning store bought produce is generally of very low quality). 6. Tasteless market varieties. 7. Nutrient density and phyto-chemical density. 8. Popularity or demand. 9. ‘Prototype’ crops that builds growing experience. Crops that score high on all the above criteria are High-Value Crops and they should get the lion’s share of your available growing space. Your Go Food Gardening Coach (if that system operates in your area) will be able to help you with a ranked list tailored to your area. Set Targets If you try to be everything for everybody you end up being nothing to nobody. That’s why it is better to focus on a crop (or three at the most) until you are able to consistently meet and exceed your targets for those crops. Then focus on new crops to master. Slowly but surely you’ll expand your product range and production in manageable units. “The biggest cause of failure amongst novice gardeners is that they attempt to start too big or with too many crops. Or they expand too quickly.” Once you’ve decided on the crops you want to grow set some specific targets. It goes without saying that a novice gardener cannot expect to get the same results as an experienced food gardener with 10 years + growing experience. But that does not mean that a novice gardener should not set any targets at all. The easiest target to set is the number of harvest weeks. In South Africa you can aim to harvest over three growing seasons - spring, summer and autumn. Depending on your location this translates to between 20 and 40 harvest weeks. In frost free areas you can also set winter harvest targets.14
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening Having worked out the number of weeks (seasons) you’ll be gardening, the next target to set is the yield you expect. This is normally expressed in weight or bunches per square meter. The yield will depend on various climatic factors as well as your experience. You can also express your yield targets as the number of servings per crop. You can also opt for income targets. This is usually expressed as income per standard bed as well as income per harvest week. Novice gardeners normally don’t bother with this in their first season or two.Expand Your Toolbox You don’t need any expensive power equipment to start with. Ordinary hand tools such as a spade, rake, watering can and a hose with fittings is all that’s needed. A wheelbarrow is always handy, as are harvesting buckets. A great addition to your toolbox is a variety of “planting-markers” to ease planting and transplanting. These can be made at home from inexpensive materials. It is a myth that you need expensive growing structures. Where additional protection from adverse weather conditions or wildlife is needed you can use inexpensive frames that can be covered in whatever protective material is called for. These can be made from inexpensive materials and if you use standard beds your frames will be very flexible in their use. 2 Must Have Tools Two must have tools are knowledge and experience. The most important knowledge you need is data relating to the crops you want to Tip grow as well as knowledge of the best practices to follow. Then you need experience in planning and executing crop strategies. How you acquire knowledge and experience is up to you. Some people believe in the school of hard knocks. They go it alone. Surfing the web for free information or perhaps borrowing a book from a friend. Others like to invest in a good food gardening workshop or a short course where they can get help and support from fellow participants and experienced facilitators. This drastically shortens their learning curve, and their initial investment is earned back many times over in lower food bills and increased production.Become a Recycler There is a common misconception that you need lots of money to be a food gardener. Fact is you can be very successful on a shoestring budget. And as discussed earlier one should focus on making ends meet in the food garden. 15
  • The Success Principles Part of this, and part of being ‘green’, is that one should become more focused on recycling. This can be as simple as using old yoghurt cups to cut plant labels from, or as involved as properly recycling all the household waste. It also entails making one’s own compost and/or starting a worm farm. Become a Lunatic Gardener “The lunar planting calendar, whether by coincidence or cosmic design, is a wonderfully comfortable schedule for gardeners. It is almost like a dream boss – one that rewards you when you meet a deadline, knows there will be a next time when you don’t, hangs silently on the wall and looks decorative.” Linda Woodrow Also known as “planting by the moon”, Linda Woodrow, author of The Permaculture Home Garden mentions three functions of the lunar calendar: 1. It is a time management tool; an externally imposed schedule that reduces the complete anarchic time flexibility to a manageable level. 2. It is an organizational tool. It allows a bewildering list of jobs with comparable priority to be reduced to short weekly or even daily lists that can be ticked off. Nothing is neglected. 3. It actually does increase the vitality and taste of plants. To this we can add a fourth function: Your food garden reconnects you with nature and planet earth. The lunar planting calendar reconnects you with the cosmos. It reminds us that we are just tiny specs in a much bigger Creation. Pay It Forward The greatest food gardening gift you can give anyone is to teach them to replicate your success. Start with your own children or grand children. Then teach others in the family and finally reach out to your neigbours and friends. Join the local Go Food Gardening community to share ideas and success stories. If none exists, start your own. Simply send an email to saha.admin@gmail.com for ideas, help and support. Join the Go Food Gardening Facebook community to get inspiration and advice from all over South Africa. Become a certified Go Food Gardening Coach. Lastly, since we are giving the Let’s Go Food Gardening in South Africa primer away, we do not have the funds to spread the word via the normal paid marketing channels. So we must depend on your word of mouth to help spread the word. Please take a few moments to tell your family, friends and colleagues about this primer and how it can make a difference to their food garden and our planet.16
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening Either forward them a copy of your primer or let them download their own copy at www.masterherbgardening.com/newsletter.htmlKeep a Journal If there is one thing that characterizes successful food gardeners it is that they keep meticulous records of everything they do. Granted, it is easier to recommend record keeping than to practice it. It’s often the first thing to be neglected when you are tired or pressed for time. But keep at it, with time your journal will become an invaluable aid. Make your journal an everyday record of all that happens in your food garden. You can also use a few simple worksheets to make this task as easy as possible: 1. Crop Data Detailed information about each crop: best sow dates, spacing, succession plantings, maturity; yield, etc. 2. Garden Layout A simple ‘blueprint’ of the beds and their position. 3. Crop Plan Used to record and plan when to sow which crop in which bed and when to start harvesting. You can also keep: harvest records, pest control records, fertilization records, irrigation records, weather records and income & expense records.Test Advanced Strategies The following strategies will contribute handsomely to the success of your food garden. They all however require a fair amount of knowledge and experience. So don’t lose any sleep over them if you are new to food gardening. Crop rotation Crop rotation has been practiced for generations by vegetable gardeners as a simple and effective precaution against pest and disease. The basic idea is that if you grow the same type of plant on the same patch of ground year after year, the soil will harbor pest and disease from one season to the next. If you move the crop to another piece of ground the pests and diseases will lose their host and will die out. Crop rotation, although it is admirable in theory, is not that important in the small food garden. When pressed for space one does not have the 17
  • The Success Principles luxury of having four or five beds in rotation. It’s also essentially a tool for annual crops. Not that I’m saying crop rotation is unimportant. But if yours is a new food garden, or a very small garden, don’t lose any sleep over it. Inter-planting Few gardeners have enough space to grow everything they wish. Every available piece of soil needs to be used effectively. One way of achieving this is with inter-planting. This simply means that you plant quick growing crops amongst the slower growing ones. You are then able to harvest the quick-growing ones before their slower bedfellows can fill their space. Intercropping can also be done purely for the decorative value. A simple example is to intercrop red-leaved lettuce with green ones or with chervil. Or planting quick growing chives around a slower growing rosemary bush. Another example is to mix onions, carrots and lettuce in the same bed. They have different leaf forms, light requirements and rooting depths. Companion Planting When inter-planting is practiced for reasons other than space saving and decorative value, it is called companion planting. “Plants are conscious of the company they keep. Some help other plants to grow, while other repels insects or even other plants. And there is no accounting for tastes – plants prefer some strange bedfellows…” - Pamela Allardice Although you may think of companion planting as a relatively new concept, it has, in fact, been practiced for centuries. The ancient Roman agriculturist, Varro, declared: “Large walnut trees close by make the border of the farm sterile.” Nearly two thousand years later, Canadians in Ontario reached the same conclusion. Companion planting can become quite mysterious, entering the realm of folklore with claims that cannot be proven. So, unless you are considering experimenting a lot and keeping meticulous records, don’t lose any sleep over companion planting. Roses are red, Lavender’s blue; Peas say to garlic: ‘Oh, how I hate you!’18
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningThe Key Food Gardening Activities In any food garden there are twelve key activities that you need to perform consistently well to ensure success. To get you started I’ve given you a brief overview of each below. For a more detailed account see the Go Food Gardening e-Learning Program in the Resources.Planning The biggest reason for failure in food gardens is lack of planning. As the saying goes: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Your planning can be divided into four categories: 1. Garden Layout 2. Pre-season Planning 3. Post-season Planning 4. Seasonal Activity Planning Here’s a short discussion of your Garden Layout and Pre-season Planning. Start by selecting the best possible site you can to grow your crops. A great site will have full exposure to the sun, great soil, and good drainage. It will also be easy to access from the house and near a water source. With your spot chosen decide on the overall size of the food garden. Avoid the mistake of starting with too big a garden. A food garden takes time and effort, so start smaller than your inclination. As you gain confidence you can gradually increase the size of the garden. If you are a novice do not start bigger than 10 square meters (about 100 square feet) Next plan your bed layouts. Use a standard rectangular bed layout of beds which are 60 cm (2 feet) wide and 3 m (10 feet) long. Make the paths between the beds 30 cm to 40 cm wide. A garden with 3 to 4 such beds will not supply all your food needs but it will be the best teacher you can get. And if you cultivate your heart you’ll be able to expand within a growing season or two. If you are more experienced and have more space available you can easily manage a 6 m (20 feet) x 6 m (20 feet) area. You’ll be able to fit 7 standard 6 m long beds into this area. A garden this big will easily supply most of your fresh herb and veggie needs. 19
  • The Key Food Gardening Activities Next, decide on the crops you want to grow using the criteria in the previous chapter. (see Supplying a Demand). Spend some time going through seed catalogs and talk to seedsmen to ensure that you grow the best possible varieties of each crop. With the crops and varieties selected, plan when to plant each crop and also plan your succession plantings. Based on these you can then estimate your seed and seedling needs. To plan when to plant one can use the information on seed packets or crops sowing guides like the ones you can find on the internet or in books. These regional guides are a good start but they have their limitations. Rather learn to plan your crops based on the first and last frost dates for your area. Let’s recap: 1. Select the best site. 2. Decide on overall size. 3. Plan bed layouts. 4. Select crops and varieties. 5. Allocate bed space. 6. Plan when to sow/plant, including succession crops. 7. Estimate seed and seedling needs. As you can see this is a rather comprehensive planning approach that leaves nothing to chance and ensures the best possible harvest from the available growing space. Start With a Few Crops Only Most novice gardeners make the mistake of trying to grow as many crops as they possibly can. Because they cannot manage the diverse crop Tip requirements, they battle to get them to harvest readiness and soon give up food gardening. Start with a handful of crops and master them before you expand your crop selection. The leafy green crops are a good group first up and if you add one or two root crops, a legume, and some herbs you will be on your way to success. Here’s a Proven Small Garden Blueprint from the Go Food Gardening Learning Program. This blueprint makes the most of a small growing space and it helps you gain experience in a variety of planning tasks and growing activities such as succession planting.20
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening It consists of three beds, each about 3 meters long. In spring or early summer it can be planted as follows:  Bed # 1: Two thirds planted in perennial herbs. 10 to 12 herbs. 2 plants each.  Bed #1: One third planted in chard or spinach. Crop cleared out and re-sown in autumn.  Bed #2: Planted with annual herbs (parsley, dill, basil, cilantro) and leafy greens (arugula, garden cress or mustard greens). Bed divided equally between crops selected.  Bed #3: One third leaf lettuce. 3 Plantings 4 weeks apart. The first can be planted as soon as frost is over.  Bed #3: One third bush beans (not runner beans). 3 Plantings 2 weeks apart. Followed by peas in fall and winter.  Bed #3: One third beets. 2 plantings 4 weeks apart.  Beds #2 and #3 – areas laying fallow awaiting succession crops planted in radishes which matures quickly.Bed Preparation When preparing beds for the first time you really need to put your back into it. Double dig the beds and add generous amounts of organic material. Following this strategy you only need to re-dig the beds every fourth year. Bed Preparation for Novices To the novice food gardener starting with a good soil is highly desirable, but don’t despair if you don’t know what constitutes a good soil. Tip Clean the area. Then measure out the beds. Take the topsoil (about 5 cm) from the paths and add them to the beds. Add liberal amounts of compost, kraal manure or any other good organic material, and a good pre-plant fertilizer. Make sure the pre-plant fertilizer is safe to use in organic food gardens. Then dig the beds over. This will result in raised beds. There is no need to support the sides. Do not step into your beds after digging. It will compact the soil and damage your soil structure. Try to get your beds as level as possible and give them a small (about 10cm or 4 inch) ridge on the edges. Make sure the center area of the bed is flat and level. This is where the planting will be done. 21
  • The Key Food Gardening Activities Mulch the paths with any organic material. Grass clippings are great. Planting Gardeners often suffer heavy losses due to imperfect germination. What’s more, incorrect planting depth, either too deep or too shallow, accounts for most of the erratic germination rates and seedling losses. If you are a novice, start with seedlings or small plants instead of sowing directly into the beds. This gives you a head start because the seedlings were started earlier in the season. It can also help extend your growing season. Some crops however do not like to be transplanted and need to be directly sown where they will grow. That’s why it’s important to research each crop in detail and why you need to keep meticulous crop records. In intensive gardening we use narrower plant spacing and we place the plants in the beds with precision using special markers. The planting depth as mentioned above is very important. Read up, or follow the directions on the seed packet. Once the seeds or seedlings are planted give them a thorough watering. Start Wisely Start your crops as suggested below: Tip  Perennial herbs – buy young potted plants. Do not try to grow them from seed as most are best grown from cuttings. Meaning you need a ‘mother plant’ to start with.  Annual herbs – these you can easily grow from seed. But if you’ve never tried growing from seed, rather buy seedlings or young potted plants in your first growing season or two.  Leafy Veggies – some are difficult to germinate without experience. So get seedlings for your first crop or two. Then start growing your own from seed.  Root Veggies – both beetroot and radish is easily grown from seed. Sow them directly in rows in the bed. Follow the instructions on the seed packet regarding sowing depth and seed spacing precisely. Soak the beetroot seed for 12 hours in lukewarm water to speed up their germination.  Beans (or peas in winter) – these are best sown directly in the beds. Follow the seed packet instructions.22
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningWatering Conventional food gardeners tend to waste precious time and water when they water their gardens. Because they rely on one garden hose and a sprinkler attachment they often battle to distribute the water evenly, and timely, which result in inferior crop quality and crop losses. What’s more, watering with traditional overhead sprinklers can lead to disease problems and because one third or more of a growing area is usually paths it means one third or more of the water go to waste. Learn to water your plants with precision. More specifically, water only the roots of the plants and use a combination of methods such as low cost soaker hoses and hand-watering hoses. More expensive drip (not micro) irrigation is a sensible investment when you have big growing areas. Where possible, automate your watering to some degree to save time. Be aware that the moment a plant wilts it has stopped growing, and this means that production has stopped. So check your crops daily. Only water when plants need it. Water early in the morning. This helps conserve water and it discourages a lot of diseases. Never Let Your Plants Wilt Especially seedlings. You also need to ensure that the seeds you’ve sown never dry out until they germinate. During warm dry spells you may need Tip to water them twice a day. But be careful of over-watering seedlings and young plants. This could lead to disease problems and crop losses.Feeding Just like humans plants need feeding too. Many food gardeners either don’t feed at all or they over feed their plants completely. They also use a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding their crops. These practices result in inferior crops and a plethora of pest and disease problems. In a productive food garden, where the plants take a lot of nutrients from the soil, you need to give them supplemental feeding to ensure a quality crop. The time you spend to devise a regular and precise feeding schedule for each crop (with a fertilizer safe for use in organic food gardens) will pay 23
  • The Key Food Gardening Activities for itself a thousand fold. A Proven Feeding Schedule for Novices Start by feeding your crops at regular 2 to 4 week intervals with a good organic fertilizer at half the recommended strength. Tip As your experience and knowledge of growing specific crops grows you can start developing individual schedules for each crop. Weeding In conventional food gardens weeding is one of the most hated activities. I follow a structured approach that makes weeding a breeze. The principle is not to let any annual weeds go to seed and to destroy perennial weeds with a vengeance. The first tactic is to weed the paths using a weeding hoe or even a flat blade spade. This can be done in minutes. Then the beds are straddled and the weeds within the beds are removed by hand. If this is done on a weekly basis, while the weeds are still small, weeds never present a problem. The second tactic is to mulch as many areas as is possible to limit weed growth. This practice also conserves water and buffers the crops roots against extreme temperature. It also adds to the biodiversity in the soil. Pruning Most fruit trees need precision pruning and it is a critical part of their cultivation. Careful pruning of herb crops, and even some veggies, can drastically increase yields. Remove growing tips to encourage bushy growth. Prune out uncessary leaves and flowers to increase your yields and prune back your perennial crops on a regular schedule. General and Crop Specific Tasks The above activities cover most of what you’ll do in your food garden at any given time. But there are also some essential activities that apply to specific seasons and specific crops. These include activities such as cleaning up, making compost, staking crops, earthing up, etc. You’ll learn and master these along the way.24
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningInsect and Disease Management Take the time to observe your plants. You will be able to spot any problems early on, which will make it easier to prevent or control the problem. When considering pesticides (even home-made ones) research them properly, it will save you time, energy and money. Give bugs the personal attention they deserve by removing them by hand whenever possible. Use companion planting and row covers with susceptible crops such as the brassicas. If all the above fails, employ harmless home-made insect repellent sprays. Only as a last resort employ a pesticide labeled as safe for use in organic food gardens.Harvesting In conventional food gardens one crop is grown per year and at the end of the growing season the old crop is digged in to decompose and build up the soil during the winter. In Go Food Gardening the aim is two or three (sometimes more) crops each year by using seedlings, balanced fertilizers and precision spacing. Make it your business to know exactly when a crop is ready to harvest, and once that happens do it without delay to ensure that the crop is at its best. This ensures a final product of outstanding quality and it also prolongs the keeping properties of the crops.Storage and Preservation When you have more of a crop than you can use (or give away) at any given moment, you need to know how to store or preserve it for winter use or for a time when none is available in the garden. Some crops, like onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes can be stored for months if done correctly. Others can be frozen and/or made into preserves. The latter makes sought after gifts, and often we grow crops purely to fill the orders for a heirloom preserve, sauce, jam or vinegar. The combination of home-grown and home-made is unbeatable.Celebrating Abundance In the end this is what it all boils down to. We grow crops to enjoy them on the plate. And our food gardens are living proof that food that is 25
  • The Key Food Gardening Activities healthy and food that gives pleasure are not mutually exclusive. It’s no use having a garden full of crispy fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit and you don’t have the foggiest idea of how to showcase their best qualities in the kitchen. Make it a habit to try at least one new recipe with each of the crops from your food garden every week. A Sample Monthly Food Gardening Activity List In practice, all the above results in a series of tasks that need to be done in any given month of the year. To give you an idea, here’s an activity list for late autumn (May). Use it to help brainstorm your own list. Planning  For winter colour think about Calendula’s, Californian Poppies, and Viola’s. To get a head start get seedlings from your garden centre.  Where heavy frosts are experienced buy frost protection. Don’t wait till the first frost hit.  Keep weekly food gardening diary and records up to date. Compare actual results and actions with plans and make notes for next year where necessary.  Start thinking about your spring crops and perhaps expanding your existing food garden. Bed Preparation  Finish digging beds, adding generous amounts of compost, in preparation for spring. Wait for a dry spell. The frost will make the soil crumbly and workable, ready to sow and plant the seedlings when the weather warms up. After digging roughly level beds off with a rake.  Mulch beds. Especially perennial herbs, fruit trees and berries to protect roots against cold.  In winter rainfall areas consider mulching paths as well, it’ll keep your feet clean and it adds to the biodiversity of your garden. Planting  Thin out seedlings to desired distances.  Last month to take cuttings of lavender, lemon balm, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme.  All potted herbs available from garden centres can still be planted.  Last month to plant strawberries in warmer areas.26
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening  Last month to lift and divide perennial herbs such as yarrow in warmer areas.Watering  Containers: check daily and give a thorough watering if needed.  Beds: check weekly and give a thorough watering if needed.  Fruit trees: give a thorough watering (if needed) every three to four weeks depending on your soil.  Do not water mangoes. They need to be kept on the dry side till the end of July.Feeding  All crops: foliar feed once with a seaweed or kelp product.  Containers: give a diluted feeding once a week.  Beds: give a diluted feeding once every two to three weeks as needed.  Fruit trees: feed sub-tropical fruit like granadillas and papayas once.  Stop feeding brassicas as soon as they begin forming heads.  Beware of over feeding your worm farm. As the days get shorter and temperatures drop their activity also slows.Weeding  Keep up your weed control. Don’t give weeds a chance to flower and seed.General and Crop Specific Tasks  Start pruning fruit trees. Remember to seal large cuts with a proper tree sealer.  Shape perennial herbs as necessary.  Remove tendrils and side shoots from sweet peas so that nutrients are not wasted on unnecessary growth.  Support peas as needed.  Cover cauliflower heads.  Pull up all spent summer herbs and vegetables. Add to compost heap or use as mulch elsewhere in the garden.  Add fallen leaves from deciduous trees to the compost heap or use as mulch elsewhere in the garden. Now is also a good time to see who in the neighbourhood dispose of their leaves. Offer to recycle it for them free of charge. Use it to build the soil in your garden. 27
  • The Key Food Gardening Activities  Dispose of any insect or disease infested plant material. Integrated Pest Management  If you have fruit trees put out bait for fruit fly. The last generation overwinters in the garden and they come out on fine days to feed.  Be on the lookout for snails and slugs, aphids, red spider mite and the odd caterpillar or two.  Protect seedlings and leaf crops against birds and other wild life. Note the occurrence of pests and disease, the measures taken (if any), and results. Harvesting  Continue harvesting seed.  Continue harvesting crops as required for the table.  In winter rainfall areas lift sweet potatoes before the rain season starts. Storage and Preservation  Continue making herb oils and vinegars.  Make pesto with excess basil. Do not add cheese and nuts if you want to freeze the pesto. Celebrating Abundance  Try a new recipe once a week with one of the crops from your food garden as the main ingredient.28
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningAppendixResourcesHome Study Courses Go Food Gardening e-Learning Program For some people, starting a food garden from scratch or improving the results from an existing garden, can be intimidating. There seems to be so much you need to know. To help you formulate your own Go Food Gardening Approach this practical hands-on learning program guides you through each of the key food gardening activities. Whether you are a gardening novice who wants to start your first food garden or an experienced gardener who just want to enhance it, this learning program offer the know-how and guidance you need to make it a success. Your vegetable garden can be as small as a few pots on a windowsill or as large as a small farm, or any size in between. You’ll develop an approach based on natural laws and proven strategies tailored to your garden and preferences. To decide if this learning program is for you answer the questions below. Do you want to:  Produce a substantial quantity of edible crops in a small area?  Grow healthy, nutritious and flavoursome crops?  Harvest two, three, or more crops from the same area each year?  Start with easy-to-grow, high value crops and slowly progress to more difficult crops as your experience and knowledge grows?  Minimize your gardening time and effort?  Conserve water and minimize weeding time?  Garden with simple inexpensive gardening tools?  Get a complete blueprint for a small garden that you can use as is or adapt to your needs and available space? If you’ve answered “Yes” to any of the above then the Go Food Gardening e-Learning Program is for you. 29
  • Appendix The program is available in a standard version and a deluxe version. The standard version includes:  Program manual in Adobe .pdf format.  Sixteen weeks access to the Go Food Gardening online learning centre.  A complete food garden blueprint which you can adapt to your own needs, install and then cultivate using the key Go Food Gardening activities.  An online forum where you can interact with and get help from experienced food gardeners and fellow participants.  A complimentary electronic copy of The South African Herb Growers Guide. The deluxe version includes everything in the standard version plus:  One-on-one coaching with the initial planning of your food garden. Get an experienced eye looking over your plans and guiding you in making the most of your food garden.  One-on-one feedback. Each of the lessons has an "assignment" to complete. You can submit this assignment for feedback which tells you how you are doing and if you are on the right track. To join either of these versions Click here! Web Pages and Newsletters Go Food Gardening – www.gofoodgardening.com & www.masterherbgardening.com Bouquet Garni Herbs – www.herb.co.za The SA Herb Academy – www.herbclass.com Online Communities Go Food Gardening Facebook Community - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Go-Food-Gardening/363723207110 Books Bird R. Growing Fruit and Vegetables. London: Hermes House; 2003. Brookes J. Room Outside. Southampton: Thames and Hudson; 1979.30
  • Let’s Go Food Gardening Brookes J. The Small Garden. London: Marshall Cavendish; 1982. Dowding C. Organic Gardening the Natural No-Dig Way. Green Books; 2007. Featherstone P. Grow to Live. Jacana; 2009. Griffiths J. Jane’s Delicious Garden. Sunbird Publishers, 2009. Hadfied H. Die A-Z van die Groentetuin in Suid Afrika. Capetown: C Struik; 1985. Also available in English. Hemenway T. Gaia’s Garden A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 2000. Hoffman D. The South African Herb Growers Guide. Pretoria: SA Herb Academy; 2008. Knox G. Vegetables and Herbs You Can Grow. Iowa: Meredith; 1978. Lavelle C, Lavelle M. The Organic Garden. London: Hermes House; 2003. Seddon G, Radecka H. Your Kitchen Garden. London: Mitchell Beazley Publishers; 1980. Tozer F. The Organic Gardeners Handbook. Green Man Publishing; 2008. Wright H. Biodynamic Gardening. London: Octopus Publishing; 2003.E-Books and Manuals The South African Herb Growers Guide As the word ‘guide’ suggests, this is a practical, step by step approach to planting your own herb garden and harvesting the fruits of your labour. Because herbs are grown for cooking or for health, or both, how the herbs are grown is very important. This guide is also your ideas bank – with loads of suggestions on where and how to grow herbs, herb garden designs, companion planting advice, how to make your own organic pesticides and how to get herbs for free (legally and not holding up the local garden centre!). Get more details and order online. Click here! 31
  • Let’s Go Food GardeningNotes 33