My dear fellow amateur gardeners
Like many other South Africans, my husband and I decided to start a vegetable garden during lockdown.
The idea had been floating around in our consciousness for a while but like many of you, work, the stresses of everyday life and kids in various stages of education placed any plans for a vegetable patch of our own firmly on the back burner.
Life was just too busy. And then lockdown came. In the first month, we took lockdown on the chin, like most of us. We cheerfully stayed indoors, caught up on movies, learnt to bake bread, make apple cider and video-chatted with friends and family.
Then lockdown was extended and we realised something else – we were in it for the long haul. This was our new normal for now. We had time on our hands – time we’d never had before.
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A dear friend who lives on a homestead in Northern Cape had sent me a photo of a mound of lush, orange butternut squash which she had harvested that week. I shared it with my husband after a really excited phone conversation with her, knowing his love for growing vegetables, inspired by school holidays on his grandfather’s farm in Abbotsdale.
Without my knowing, he popped a few butternut seeds into soil in an ice cream container and within a week, we had six seedlings, to our excitement and amazement. It became an exciting project and journey and we could see, on the horizon, the possibilities of a life that is so different to how we’ve been living up to this point.
We had a fairly neglected back garden, covered with lawn, and I happily sacrificed half of it to our new mission. Hubby dusted off his high school woodworking skills to build a dig-proof fence to curb our two dogs.
Garden-building materials were a non-essential item in early lockdown, so we scrounged whatever scraps of hardware we could find: old jungle gym timbers, fascia boards, wooden pallets, old netting and,bricks. We saved the seeds from most of our veggies and planted them in cut-off cooldrink bottles.
Our enthusiasm grew as the first butternut and tomato seeds started to sprout. There is something magical in watching life grow from a seed. Like anxious parents we noted each baby plant’s birth date, each milestone in their growth.
The excavation of the garden was hard work. It was a labour of love and a journey of exploration. We had an overall plan but we tackled it section by section as we could access more resources. There is plenty of information available online which we devoured.
We were approaching winter and learnt the hard way not to plant seeds out of season. We also planted far too many seeds, until we learnt about succession planting. We were learning to plant not just for the lark of it but to embrace the idea of growing our own food.
We harvested the first produce. What a moment. I’d never tasted fresh peas, only frozen. Lettuce straight out of the ground. The sweetest baby carrots. I know we still have much to learn, as we grow with our garden.
I’ve learnt where to set up a garden – in a sunny spot and one easily accessible. Consider the available space – if you don’t have much, plant in containers. Label and date what you plant and keep a notebook so that you can track when your veggies are ready to be harvested.
Plant what you and your family eat. We planted what we thought would have real impact on our grocery budget. Don’t be afraid of getting your hands and knees dirty. And have fun!