Companion Planting

The question that most people ask is “What is companion planting?” or “How does companion planting work?”

OK, here’s my take on companion planting, think of it as a friend or friends with a bad case of Halitosis or Stinky feet, you want to stay well away from this person…….. Cool, you can speak to them and they are a good people, but just keep your distance. Or on the flip side, Companion planting can be like a homely kitchen with the smell of baking biscuits and warm vanilla. You either want to be real close for a taste or far away enough to appreciate but not partake.

Now, not all plants in the ‘Halitosis’ category are bad for other plants, they are just bad for insects and other pests, the plants don’t seem to mind the ‘smell’ where as for others the halitosis is overwhelming. Now where does this come from?

Companion planting is using the plants allelopathic ability to create or produce an environment that will allow for either beneficial growth, pest or disease resistance or on the opposite scale repelling effects. If you are a gardener you have experience the effects of allelopathy in your own garden, some just did not know what it was.

Here is a good example, have you ever tried to grow something under a Pine or Bluegum tree? Not much grows under these trees specifically because of the ‘exudations’ of the plant gives off, either via the roots into the soil or the fact that it drops leaves/needles that taint the soil. There is also some very interesting research that there are chemicals that are airborne and are released into the air that can affect other plants nearby (Of the same or different species).

On the other side, companion planting can extend into occult practices and are subject to very blurred interpretation where people start speaking about the vibrations and rhythms that these plants give off. Very dubious interpretation in my opinion.

In addition, certain plants will produce an abundance of macro and micro nutrients into the soil that can then be taken-up by other plants. Everyone knows that legumes will add nitrogen into the soil, this is one blatant example of companion planting (Not everything needs to be planted at the same time to be classified as companion planting) I have seen it this year with wheat that was planted into beds that had beans in over the summer, the wheat is doing far better in the beads that had beans in, and well (but not as well) in the other beds.

We have all heard the age old advice of planting garlic with your roses, to keep aphids away, does it work? Yes of course. But this is only the start of companion planting. There are many ways that you can improve your crops in the vegetable garden using companion planting. Some quick examples are Asparagus and Parsley, one protects the other and improves the flavor of the asparagus. Next don’t plant melons near corn, I learnt this the hard way this year and if you have a look at the photo you can clearly see what looks like succession planting, is actually corn that grows better the further they are away from the melons. One of the companion ‘teams’  that are more obscure are cabbage and mint, the mint protects the cabbage patch, I’ve never had the nerve to let mint grow rampant in my garden but I do move pots of mint close to the cabbages. The only problem is in winter when the mint dies down.  Also for those of you that are planting both potatoes and tomatoes in your garden this spring, keep them on opposite ends of the garden…. Unless you like glassy ‘taters and small hard tomatoes.

Mielies planted next to melons (on the right) pumpkins are coming out of the mielie patch.
Mielies planted next to melons (on the right) pumpkins are coming out of the mielie patch.

One of the most famous companion planting techniques is the Three Sisters Technique that was pioneered by the North American Native Indians where they planted Corn, pole beans (Runner beans) and pumpkins in the same patch, the corn gave support to the beans and the big leaves of the pumpkin helped with moisture conservation in the plot. While the beans provided nitrogen for both of the other crops.

I find that a lot of the companion planting advice on the net is conflicting and is dubious at best. I have found only one site that I think is really worthwhile,  but if you would like an in-depth look at companion planting, or if you are like me and you love books, do yourself a favor and get a good book that specifically concentrates on companion planting. There are two that I can recommend.

Either one of these books will give you a good grounding on how to use companion planting to your best advantage, and increase your yield or reduce your need to spray pesticides.

What’s in my Garden?

We have broken the back of winter (Winter solstice) and every sunrise from now on is one day closer to spring. YeeeHaa roll on spring!!!

Our winter here on the Highveld has been very mild so far , but we are expecting a big cold front to hit tomorrow morning. This evening I was running around and getting some of my more tender plants undercover and making sure that nothing will get lost with the mornings frost.

Asparagus cut back, and two types of parsley on the left.
Asparagus cut back, and two types of parsley on the left.

Most of the cleaning up has been done, the gooseberry’s and asparagus bushes have been cut back and they are waiting for a nice thick compost dressing, A lot of my beds are now empty and have been receiving their winter cloak of compost and are waiting for next seasons seed and seedlings. All that’s left growing are cabbages, carrots, beetroot, onions, garlic, spinach and some lettuce, oh and the wheat of course.

I have one peach tree in the orchard (a De Wet) that is bursting forth in blossom for what reason… I don’t know. But I fear that it is going to get properly whacked by the frost in the next few days. I don’t think I’ll put my hopes up on a good harvest from that tree. For the rest, the apple trees have still not lost all of their leaves, but I’ll be pruning them this weekend come what may.

The edible quote.

The first three men in the world were a gardener, a ploughman, and a grazier; and if any man object that the second of these was a murderer, I desire he would consider that as soon as he was so, he quitted our profession and turned builder.
– Abraham Cowley


Seed Saving and GMO

Seed saving is possibly one of the oldest gardening pastimes. Before industrialization took over the world, farmers the world over would plant a crop, lovingly tend this crop and harvest it. A portion of the harvest was always set aside for the following years planting. In doing this year after year, plant varieties would adapt to the specific microclimate that it was planted in. This process created unique and robust varieties that were able to withstand the environmental and pest pressures that were annually exerted on them.

With the advent of modern agriculture (Post 1950) what has happened is that factory farms, and large scale monoculture has lead to a decrease in the abundant food crop varieties that used to be planted. Now, where there used to be hundreds of smaller family run farms, planting hundreds if not thousands of different crop varieties. Factory farms literally plant only one or at most a few varieties of a single crop. The devastation to the environment is apparent with large scale soil erosion and reduction in topsoil as well as the loss of critical soil biodiversity.

With the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMO), the plight of the farmer has gotten even worse. Now farmers will need to sign a contract with seed houses promising not to save seed and replant it. Even worse, a ‘Terminator’ gene has been developed that will ensure that harvested seed has no genetic viability. What does that say for the health ‘benefits’ of supposedly superior GMO varieties? Living food is the healthiest food.

One of the side effects of GMO is a problem called pollen drift. In mielie (corn) fields pollen drift can take pollen from a GMO variety onto a traditional open pollinated variety and thus ‘infect’ the traditional variety with GMO genes. What then happens (and it has) is that the GMO Seed House can then take the owner of the traditional variety to court for infringing on their patent rights. The same can apply to any crop where insects, or wind pollination can easily transfer pollen from GMO to traditional open pollinated crop varieties. What happens is that the seed saving farmer is prejudiced by the large GMO seed house, as he is no longer able to save a portion of his crop for the following years planting. He now has to go and buy new seed, but guess what? Traditional varieties are no longer stocked by the seeds houses, he can only buy hybrid and GMO varieties.

An additional problem with GMO in South Africa is that there is no transparency that gives you the consumer prior knowledge of what food stuffs are contaminated with GMO. A very good wager that can be taken is that every person in South Africa consumes a GMO derived food group on at least a weekly basis, for some it is literally a daily occurrence. We as South Africans are not being given a choice as to what we would like to eat.

Whats in my Garden?

This week we have had some lovely rain, what a blessing. Last sunday a neighbour helps us to cut firebreaks on our property and on tuesday we found that the tractor had broken the tap off the gate-valve that switches the water flow from the water tank (for household water) to the big vegetable patch. Fortunately it was broken in the open to the tank position. However, we were unable to water the big garden, until the rain came. YES!!!

This weekend I’ll fix the tap, but at least the wheat has had a good watering.

As for the rest of the garden, we are slowly clearing out the finished veggies, and the pigs are getting them. We added a whole lot of heirloom tomato seeds to our collection this week from a heirloom veggie growing friend in Somerset West, as well as some stunning Blue Inca Corn from another friend in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Most of the varieties will only be available for the 2010 growing season, however there are enough seeds of some of the varieties for this coming season.

The Edible Quote

The seed waits for its garden or ground where it will be sown.

Zulu Proverb



Makin’ Compost

I have a love affair with compost heaps, don’t laugh I’m serious. I’ve been known to wait at our local municipal dump on Saturday mornings in early spring with a high-side trailer and getting the locals to dump their spring clean-up matter into the trailer. This then goes home to start a few compost heaps for my summer requirements.

The manufacture of compost is a task that can approximate alchemy if you so desire. There are so many complex formulas and combinations that many people fear the process of starting a heap. Unlike what many would have you believe, composting is not rocket science. It’s a simple, natural process that starts off by itself anyway. All you need to do is give it the best environment to do its work. For me composting is a pleasure, mainly as I have found a foolproof method that works. This method is one that I picked up from the Jacksons of Wensleydale. Up until that point I just threw everything into a heap and once a year passed the heap through a sieve to filter out the larger chunks, which went pack into the heap. The sifted compost was added to my beds. This was a long process and did not yield the required amount of compost. Now we use the chimney stack method and I have found an increased production, shorter composting time, higher /faster breakdown and better quality compost.

This method is without a doubt the best way to make compost and does not rely on specific mixes of ingredients like some people would tend to advocate. I have never built a heap that uses calculated amounts of anything, I don’t have the time, nor the inclination. Also, one never has the same ‘compost inputs’ available anyway, so each one has a slightly different composition. Trying to get the composition ‘right’ is just too finicky for me, we use what we have and have never had a flop. The worst that can go wrong with this method is that the heap wont heat-up. No worries there, just turn again and add some manure. Chicken is best, but cow, sheep, horse and pig will also do, basically in that order of preference. I personally try not to use horse manure as I find it too full of weed seed, but your experience may differ.

We use 3 poles and a frame to lift the heap off the ground.
We use 3 poles and a frame to lift the heap off the ground.

Start with a base that is raised off the ground. You can use branches, wooden pallets or basically anything that will allow air to gain access into the base of the heap. (I’m using an old metal frame resting on 3 wooden fence posts.) The initial layer should be made up of some coarse material. I prefer to use long veld grass or thin branch trimmings. The heap is then built in layers with whatever is available, lawn mower clippings, stable sweepings, pig and chicken sweepings, and generally anything left around that is organic. You can use you kitchen scraps (ours go to the pigs) just leave out fats and animal proteins. Basically a safe rule is this: If it once grew in the ground it’s safe to add to the compost heap. This includes, egg cartons, newspaper and natural fibers. Each layer must be thoroughly wetted as you build. Don’t try to wet the whole heap once it’s finished, as you will have dry spots that won’t break down, or slow down the process as they are not contributing heat.

As you build your heap, have two or more fence posts (or similar) inserted so that you create two chimneys. Our heaps start out at about 1,6 m high and over a week or two they reduce in height as the insides start to break down and compact. You can check the heat of your heap by inserting your hand into the chimney hole and feel how the heat is doing. As the heap cools down you will need to start planning to turn it. Make a similar base or frame set-up and transfer the heap, top down onto the next platform. Using the same format of watering and again creating two chimneys to assist the aerobic breakdown to take place. Once you have turned your heap 2 or 3 times the compost is ready. This can be seen by the composition of what’s left, if it has a dark brown or black look, smells earthy and is moist and crumbly it’s ready. Just take that as is and spread it over the top of your beds and let the little critters take it into the soil.

Turing compost is a great way to warm-up on a winters day
Turing compost is a great way to warm-up on a winters day

We find that to outsides tend to be slower at breaking down than the insides, but that’s no issue. The outsides get transferred into the center at each turning and whatever has not broken down gets added to the next heap. The nice thing about this is that the new heap gets seeded with bacteria and other goggas from the old heap to help it on its way. No need to buy a compost starter. With this method of composting there is no risk of anaerobic decomposition taking place, there is no smell and best of all it just works.

2 days later, the pile is steaming at sunrise.
2 days later, the pile is steaming at sunrise.

We also find it beneficial to water the heap once a week from the top while it’s in the heating process, as the breakdown and heat escaping will draw a fair amount of moisture from you heap.

That’s it for compost making. Enjoy.


Vegetable Gardens Hints, Tips and Suggestions

How does one get the best out of a vegetable garden? Every person has their own ideas on how to get the most production from a specific patch of garden. Some people use Bio-dynamic’s, others plant by moon phases, some swear by compost teas or companion planting, still others like to garden using specific scientific methodologies. For every method you will have any number of variations that people use in their particular set up. Some people take from various gardening disciplines and mix and match to give them what they require in cultivation techniques. There is no way that I could cover every aspect or methodology that is out there, nor would I like you to think that I’m in any way knowledgeable about every method out there.

What I would like to do is give you some hints, tips and suggestions on how to improve your production. This is a collection of advice that a) makes sense b) is easy to implement c) is cost effective . Not all of the advice is my own, in-fact none of it is. This is info that I have taken and used in my own gardens from gardeners that are far more knowledgeable than myself.

The first is organic matter. You can never have enough organic matter in your garden. The easiest way is to make your own. It’s cheaper, you know what’s in there and when you need some you can just wheel your barrow over to you heap and take what you need. I’ll post an article on how we make our compost soon. But you can’t go wrong with a compost heap. Doing a search on the net will show you 101 different ways of making compost, from the small compost bins (which I hate) all the way through to commercial compost operations.

Next, never turn your soil over. Maybe the first time you clear the ground and form your beds., is OK, but after that don’t disturb the soil unless you are lifting produce. Put you organic matter on top of the soil, and let it lie there. Let the worms, insects, fungi and bacteria do the rest. No-Till is the best way to go. You will find that you have stronger plants, fewer weeds, less disease and more time to do more important stuff. Each time you turn the soil over you will be killing hundreds of thousands of beneficial organisms. In addition, each time you disturb the soil the ratio of good vs bad organisms gets disturbed. They will need to fight it out between themselves to re-establish their populations. In the mean time the good bacteria are not doing what they should be doing, Breaking down organic matter, making humus, releasing minerals into the soil and feeding your plants. You will be amazed at how fast the organic matter lying on the soil surface gets broken down and taken into the soil.

Next, pesticides. Never use them. Rather allow your plants to fight it out. Very often you may find that one or two plants in a row will get attacked by a pest. Leave them, what you will find is that as the pest population builds, beneficial insects that prey on the pests soon appear and start to wipe out the population. A balance gets established and you will find that you have a generally low pest load in your garden, and the beneficial insects keep them in check. What most people do wrong is they see the pests and then go out and find an insecticide to take care of the problem. The only thing is that generally, they only pick up the problem once the beneficial insects have just started to arrive in the garden and are slowly building up their population. They apply the poison killing both pest and predator. And then simply get more pests coming over from next door. The beneficial insects are then always on the back foot.

Watering, try to water in the mornings, avoid watering during midday or late afternoons. Midday is a double problem, as the water can aggravate sunburn on the plants, and water is wasted by evaporation. Late afternoon watering also leaves plants with water on their foliage. This can cause an accelerated attack of fungal and mould diseases. In addition, if you have a slug or snail problem this can give them the perfect moist environment to attack your veggies.

Planting heights. Plant your tall growing veggies on the South side of your vegetable patch. Tallest stuff at the back, and shorter veggies in front. Things like Corn, and Runner Beans should be right at the back so that they don’t shade out your lower growing veggies.

Space conservation. In smaller gardens space can be at a premium. Using companion planting is often a great space saver. Underplant corn with pumpkins and beans, these three are a traditional North American Indian planting trio. Asparagus and parsley are great companions, both helping each other out and improving flavor. Get a good book on companion planting to help you on your way. Don’t plant melons near corn as the melons retard the growth of the corn.

Succession or sequential planting is a great way to have a continued harvest of veggies. Depending on your families consumption you can plant rows a few weeks apart. This gives you an extended harvest instead of a single flush of abundance that you need to eat, process or give away in a rush.

Weed continuously. Don’t leave your weeding for a week-end, if you are walking through your garden and see a weed, lift it and throw it onto the bed. The weed will become part of the mulch and feed your garden. If you leave the weeding for the weekends, it can get ahead of you.

Water deeply, don’t give your garden a light watering. Always water deeply and less often. A twice weekly watering that is a good soaking, is infinitely better than a daily light watering. The water penetrates deeply and encourages the roots to grow down. A light watering encourages the roots to grow near the surface where the plant can be easily water-stressed if you forget or cant water for a few days.

Well that’s a start on veggie tips, if there are any other tips that you think might be a good addition to this please do not hesitate to mail me and I’ll be glad to add them.

What’s in my Garden?

I got home early on Friday afternoon and had a quick walk through the big veggie patch (we have three). I took a look at the Brussel Sprouts and it looks like we are going to get a desent harvest  this year. Which will be a first for me. I’ve tried to grow broccoli in quantity for about 4 or 5 years now. What’s the secret? I dunno. But I did add a lot of compost to their bed, more than usual. I see the aphids are having a go at them, but there are scores of parasitic wasps in attendance so that will sort that issue out. The Broccoli is busy setting seed and I can see the little pods developing quite nicely. Charlie our gardener has just completed adding another 6 beds to the garden (Each one is 30m long) and I’m going to have to move the fence soon so that we can continue expanding. These beds will lie the whole winter with compost on the surface and will be ready for planting in September. If you are going to start a veggie patch, start now and prepare the beds.

We have lifted the Zulu potatoes, this will be a first for me. These little bulbs are not a potatoe but are actually the bulbs of a semi-succulent plant (When I find out what the scientific name I’ll let you know) We will try eating them this weekend, and I’ll also let you know how they taste. We also lifted the Pondoland potatoes, which are real potaoes, but I only started with a single potato, so we will only be able to eat them in a year or two, as we are growing them to supply your guys. Let’s hope they taste nice. This week end we will be cleaning a lot of seed to prepare for packaging.

The Edible Quote

“urban means a place where you can’t grow any of your own food. Suburban means you can have a garden but not food animals like chickens, pigs or goats. Real country living means really having the right and opportunity to grow both food plants and animals”

Carla Emery from the Encyclopedia of Country Living Pg 3


The Silent Bomb and Monsanto’s Mistake

In 2008 a Silent Bomb struck South Africa, the massive fallout and shockwaves ran unnoticed throughout our society. People may have complained about the rising prices in shops, and wondered why the government has not fixed the problem. However they have no idea what caused the problem, they just sit around and wonder at the rising cost of food.

The bomb that struck is significant to every person in this country and will have far reaching ramifications for neighboring countries that used to rely on our food production. 2008 was the first year in over 70 years of agricultural production that we became a NET FOOD IMPORTER! Up to this point South Africa was a NET FOOD EXPORTER, what this means is simple, but tragic. We are no longer able to produce enough food to satisfy our own needs, we now have to import food to feed the people of this country. The ramifications of this are far reaching and it will strike every person in this country. However it’s the middle and lower classes that will be hit the hardest. The rich may just downgrade slightly and not feel the effects. They generally have a wider financial buffer before their lifestyles are negatively affected. The poor and middle class very often have a thin or no buffer to keep the wolf of hunger away from the door.

The very first thing that will happen, and this we have seen over the last year is that food prices will continue to increase. Guys, let’s be realistic. Once you start importing food there are additional charges and fees (transport, duties, margins, commissions etc) that need to be added onto the basic cost of the product. This will all get passed onto us, they will not take the knock. So be ready for prices to keep going up.

With more and more of South Africa’s basic requirements being imported, very soon you will see our trade deficit start to grow to proportions that are unmanageable and it will start to impact on the broader lives and lifestyles in South Africa. We used to earn foreign currency every year with our food exports, now we have to purchase foreign currency (running up a trade deficit at the same time) to be able to buy food to feed our country, a country that just 2 years ago was self-sufficient, on the food side at least.

Next, the carbon footprint of South Africa goes out the window, and no amount of fancy carbon accounting will fix the problem. But here’s the wake-up call. The man in the street that is living on the breadline, does not give a fig about the carbon foot-print of any company. He wants food at a price that he can afford. Carbon footprints, Green energy, Eco-responsibility and all of those wonderful and commendable things mean nothing when a nation cannot feed its own.

The fastest way you as an individual can start getting some food security, is to grow your own. If you cannot take possession of your own food security, you will always be dependent on another. Be it your job, your local supermarket, your neighbor, your friends or family, local government or the State. If you are reliant on anyone they have a hold over you. Or on the flip side if they cannot get supplies, no matter how much money you have, you will not be able to purchase anything.

Look at our recent elections for example. The ANC used food vouchers to secure votes. I witnessed this firsthand where the ANC was handing out food vouchers for a local shop to ‘supporters’ that had to hand their ID books to ANC officials. They were then told that they would be able to check if they did not vote ANC. (Please note that these were ordinary people that approached the ANC on the street, and not people on bona fide State support) This is a typical example of using food for political ends. And it’s not a new practice, ZANU-PF is doing the same in Zimbabwe and many other countries have used the same tactic. Even the UN will use food to control people. As is evidenced in one of my favorite quotes:  “Food is power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize.” Catherine Bertini, UN World Food Program Executive Director. The question is, do you want to be reliant on another for your family’s welfare? Or is it wise to leave your families welfare and food security in the hands of another. Personally I don’t think so. It is your duty as a parent to be able to support your own family and if possible to have enough to share charitably or otherwise.

Please do not think of this as a scare tactic, this is reality. Trying to ignore it does nothing for your own food security. Take a look at the breadbasket and previous poster child of Africa, Zimbabwe. Not one of the expats or refugees that are leaving that country in droves, thought that they would have to find employment elsewhere to be able to feed their families. Simply put, all that happened was that Mugabe took the productive farms away from the people that were feeding the country (and the rest of the world).

I’d like you to have a look at this book (Downloadable Free). This is a chilling account of what is happening to South Africa’s productive farms. It’s happening quietly and with State backing to ensure that they keep their promises to the voting masses. In my mind it looks like they have not given any thought to the long-term consequences of their actions. All they want is to remain in power and not disillusion the masses. If food prices go up, so what. We can always import more from elsewhere. Our situation as a new Net Food Importer means drastic action needs to be taken.

The only problem we have is that a couple of other countries have also recently become net importers of food. Amongst them are The USA, China, India, Malaysia, the UK and Japan. Every one of these countries is on the offensive and they have, or are in the process of setting up long-term forward contracts for food supply with the few countries worldwide that are still net exporters. There is only a finite amount of ‘excess’ food in the world. Where is South Africa in this race you may ask? Well our guys have not even woken up yet to the fact that we are up a creek and there isn’t even a mielie cob around to help us row.

We have not even discussed the threat of GMO foods that have been forced onto the South African public without any public participation. The large GMO producers have successfully made South Africa a GMO laboratory where Heirloom, Traditional and Open Pollinated varieties have been infected with GMO pollen. ‘All the evidence’ shows that GMO is the best thing since sliced bread, however the problem we have is that all of the evidence is slanted and prepared by a) GMO houses b) Scientists that have their research grants supplied by GMO houses or c) Universities that are sponsored by GMO houses. All impartial evidence is wiped sorry forced sorry explained away and serious anecdotal evidence is discredited as not having any scientifically credible weight, as it’s not…… scientific. However here is some anecdotal evidence that is pretty indisputable.

What is scary for me is how little information is out there on this specific GM crop failure (or any others for that matter).  My question on this issue is twofold. First, the farmers have been gagged from speaking out about what happened. Why? This is a free country, or is it only free if you toe the line? What threats were made to these farmers? And who was in on the threats? Second, the farmers got paid out for their losses. However they have also lost an entire growing season. The food that they tried to grow cannot be replaced by money, as the cash value of the payout is far lower than what the food value of the expected crop was. Also we will have to import additional maize to make-up the shortfall of the Monsanto Mistake. What happens in a world where every crop is a GMO and there is a colossal Monsanto Mistake? Will they feed us with paper bills? In this mistake 200 000 hectares was lost, working at a conservative harvest of 4 tons per hectare that’s 800 000 tons of food. The retail value of that food is R 2 400 000 000.00 (working on R 3,00 per kg of maize meal) In English it’s over 2.4 Billion rand that’s been lost to our economy, and I’m being conservative.

People, You need to wake-up and look at taking control of your own personal food security. You can do this by planting your own veggie garden, plant a few fruit trees and one or two nut trees, you will not regret the small investment that you make in your food security, especially when prices start to go through the roof. When looking at food security you need to take into account the sustainability of what you are planting. The very first step is to look at the seed you are planting. Can you take the seed from the fruits of you labor and re-plant them? If you are planting hybrids and GMO seeds there is no way that you will be able to re-use the seed. Hybrids will not breed true to type and GMO’s in my opinion are a massive risk, health wise and possibly will not be able to reproduce anyway (they have been engineered that way). Or if you do re-use GMO seeds you may wind up like this farmer, who never even purchased  GMO seed.

Every single seed that you can purchase on this site WILL breed true to type, we have a growing (‘scuze the pun) selection of seed that will give you the ability to reuse the seed from your harvests, year after year without the need to rely on any third party to provide you with specialized Hybrid or GMO seed at exorbitant costs and conditions.  Our seeds have historical, production, taste, history and self-sustainability as the foundation of what we supply. When God made these seeds, he made them perfect for our needs. Man has never been able to improve on the original design by genetic manipulation. Help keep it that way by growing Traditional and Heirloom seeds.

What’s in my Garden?

With winter now firmly entrenched, what’s left is to clean-up from the last harvests of summer. We picked our Gooseberry bushes over and had cooked oats for breakfast with the last of the Gooseberries. Nicola has kept a whole lot aside for jam and I have a whole lot washed and drying for seed. Our stocks of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower continue to be reduced, by ourselves, the pig’s and Lacy our Dexter cow. We still have peas, carrots and beetroot that we can pull fresh over winter but I’m afraid we did not plant smart enough with the rest. Well, hindsight is an exact science. At least we have the stored harvests that we ‘put by’.

Most of the trees in the orchard have lost all of their leaves, it’s only the apple and pear trees that are stubbornly keeping their greenery. Everything else has died back. Most evenings I’ll go out and have a look at where the pruning cuts will need to be made in mid July. I love pruning, and watching the response the following season.

Our wheat is coming on nicely and I can’t wait to harvest our fresh wheat in spring. As for the rest of the garden we have added in a few extra beds so that we can expand our main garden for better planting of required crops. Now it’s a case of maximizing the manufacture of compost for the spring season. I’m fortunate in the fact that I have a friendly neighbor that often drops a few cubes of kraal manure off for me. This compliments the pigs, sheep, chicken and our two cows additions to the compost heaps.

The Edible Quote

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it’s liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

Thomas Jefferson 1785




Johannesburg, 3 June 2009

Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs today handed down judgment in the Biowatch case.  Calling the case “a matter of great interest to the legal profession, the general public, and bodies concerned with public interest litigation”, Justice Sachs set aside the costs order awarded against Biowatch in favour of Monsanto and further awarded legal costs in the High Court hearings in favour of Biowatch and against the state. The bench of eleven judges was unanimous in its decision.

Biowatch is a small South African non-governmental organisation campaigning in the public interest for sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, biosafety and farmers’ rights. For many years it has been opposing the rapid spread of genetically modified (GM) crops in South African agriculture. It argues that there are health and environmental risks resulting from this technology, and that it diminishes food security and food sovereignty.

The judgement in the Constitutional Court was the culmination of a nine-year legal battle. In 2000, the state had consistently refused to provide Biowatch with requested official information about the planting of GM crops in South Africa. Biowatch was forced to take legal action to exercise its constitutional right to this information. In the High Court Biowatch won the right to 8 out of 11 categories of requested information. The acting judge, however, felt that Monsanto – a giant multinational pushing GM crops onto the South African market – had been forced to join the case and that Biowatch should therefore pay its legal costs. This anomaly seemed to fly in the face of justice, but even so, Biowatch lost its appeal in the same court to set aside this costs order. Biowatch was also refused leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. Exercising the costs order would have weakened if not destroyed Biowatch as an organisation, something which Monsanto seemed bent on doing.

The Constitutional Court was able to hear the appeal, as the case involved constitutional rights.  Justice Sachs stated that the High Court had “misdirected itself in the whole matter of costs” through failing to consider the constitutional implications.  This enabled the Constitutional Court to pronounce on costs matters in the High Court in cases of constitutional import. Normally High Court judges assume full discretion in the matter of costs awards. Justice Sachs said that the High Court’s decision was “demonstrably inappropriate on the facts, and unduly chilling to constitutional litigation in its consequences.”

The case has important implications for South African justice. It means that  organisations acting in the public interest will be able to litigate to gain their rights without necessarily expecting the “chilling effect” of costs orders against them. This bodes well for public confidence in the South African legal system.

The case clarifies for the legal profession that constitutional rights need to be taken into account when costs orders are made.  The Biowatch case is already being discussed widely in legal circles.

“This verdict is a victory for Biowatch but also sets an important precedent for all those promoting the public interest”, said Rose Williams, Biowatch’s director. “Biowatch activities can now continue without the threat of Monsanto putting an end to them. We wish to thank the many hundreds of individuals and organisations who have supported us during the course of the case, as well as the Legal Resources Centre for representing us so ably.”

Please see the Biowatch website for further background at

For further information on the case, telephone Biowatch director Rose Williams on +27 82 4355812


Starting a Veggie Patch

Veggie Patch 101

So Winter is officially here, with the whole world looking brown and grey, not much is growing. If you are lucky enough to have an existing veggie patch, all your planting is now done. You are slowly enjoying the harvests of winter veggies. However, in just 3 months time Spring will be on it’s way. If you are thinking of planting a veggie patch, now is the time to plan one. You might have one or more of many reasons for starting a veggie patch.

You may be looking to save some money on your monthly expenses. You may want to eat healthier foods, where you know what’s gone into the ground and on the plants. You might be looking at upping the local content of your diet and cutting out food miles in your diet. Or you just like the idea of growing your own food. Whether you are in a flat, complex or your own house, or if you are really lucky you might even live on a smallholding or farm. Growing your own vegetables is entirely possible.

I’m going to concentrate on starting a conventional vegetable garden, as that is where I have the most experience. If there is anyone out there that can give advice on small scale gardening please feel free to email me and I’ll be glad to post your input. (or Questions for that matter)

So where do you start? Logically, first you would choose the site for your veggie patch. The best place would be a north facing piece of ground that gets at least 6 or more hours of full sunlight per day. In order of preference, the garden aspects are as follows. North, West, East and finally South. Every property will have differing circumstances, which you need to capitalize to your best advantage. For example, a bit of lateral thinking can greatly improve the productivity of a garden that is tucked away behind a south facing double story. Firstly paint the southern wall of the house stark white, and then do the same for the opposite wall (north facing). This will introduce a lot of light to your garden that would otherwise be a very poor gardening area, and turn a mediocre at best garden into worthwhile endeavor.

Now getting onto planning your garden. First you would remove any grass or other surface covering (paving, gravel etc) that may be in the way of your plans. (One friend of mine in the Cape, Wendy Young has turned her entire garden into a veggie patch) Lay out your beds preferably in an east-west configuration to allow for the best sun exposure on all of the beds. Plan your beds with the ideal spacing for yourself. I personally use minimal spacing of about 30cm between beds, but I know of a lot of gardeners that use a wider spacing to allow for easy kneeling or equipment traffic. The best person to decide this is yourself. As for the width of the individual beds, I find that about 1 meter or slightly less is ideal, this will allow you to step over the beds without damaging any of the plants in the bed.

Now, we come to the idea of how to fertilize your beds. I’ll explain how I improve my vegetable gardens, and I’ll leave any other options open for your own investigation. Personally I do not use any synthetic fertilizers on my property. If it’s a new bed, then it gets formed and planted with seed almost immediately. We do not dig the vegetable garden over, we just form the edges of the bed. Then seed gets planted almost immediately. Once the seeds have germinated a layer of compost is added onto the surface, we keep adding compost throughout the growing season as the surface compost is broken down or taken in by earthworms. What you will find with this method is that over a period of years the humus content of your soil will dramatically increase. This in-turn improves the moisture holding content of your soil, gives the plants a much higher level of health and reduces and even eliminates the need to use pesticides in your garden. I recently visited a friends extensive operation where he has used No-Till for a number of years and you can clearly see the difference in the no till beds and the soil that surrounds his garden. The beds have a deep friable rich black soil, that you can plunge your hand into and lift a big handful of sweet smelling soil. Next to the beds you find the typical red soil found in Gauteng, hard and difficult to penetrate.

My best advice, and advice that I have seen work in my garden and in others is never to dig your beds over. (have a look at No Till farming for more information) Always add your compost, mulch or organic matter to the top of your beds, and let God’s amazing creatures go to work improving your soil the natural way.

If you are looking for a great book to help you plan and grow your first successful vegetable garden have a look at this book. Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) Although this book provides full coverage on every aspect of gardening that many well established gardeners will find useful. It also provides extensive information on starting a veggie patch for newcomers to the art of vegetable gardening. It is a very worthwhile addition for your library on self-sustainability.

Once you have started your veggie patch your will need to decide on what you are going to plant. This all depends on the amount of space you have available and what you families requirements are. There are many vegetable varieties available, have a look through our catalogue and order a few heirloom seeds for your garden, you will not regret tasting real vegetables that were growing and sustaining families before your grandparents were born.

Whats in my Garden?

This evening as a write this my kids are in the lounge shelling peas. We have just come in from picking peas, a job that will get done every 3 or 4 days from now on. We will get about 4 kgs of peas every week for the next 4-6 weeks. I must admit that I’m very happy with the pea plants. They are lush and dark green. One thing that I have noticed is that the pods are looking a bit frost damaged, but the plants are not showing any ill effects. Once shelled, the peas are perfect. Yum those will go straight into the freezer and will be used later in the winter as a sweet side to one of my wife’s dishes.

The Cauliflower is also looking good, we have been eating 2 or 3 heads a week for the last month and now only have about 12 plants left. I should have planted more!!! The Broccoli is basically done, we are pulling up the remaining plants for the pigs on a daily basis. We are also keeping a few plants aside that are for seed. The cabbages are also doing great, we pick a head every other day and my kids love to eat it raw, so it never lasts longer than a day. My only perpetual irritation are Brussel Sprouts, I planted about 60 plants out this year and I’m hoping for a respectable harvest, I’ve never had a good harvest so I’m waiting in anticipation. I’ll let you know.

The Edible Quote

This is a quote that scares me. Try to imagine the ramifications of the thinking behind this statement?

“Food is power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize.”

Catherine Bertini, UN World Food Program Executive Director. 1997