Organic farming is not for sissies. If your city neighbour doesn’t bulldoze your carefully planted cervitude road into oblivion, then too much work for one set of hands can challenge a strong woman even in this idyllic setting.
We offer you another installment by Sue Vingerhoets, farmer at Foxglove, to illustrate what she has to deal with during this very hot month of January and how her resilient spirit and hard working personality succeed in conjuring successes in spite of difficulties.
Not enough hours or hands
January finds me up to my elbows in frustration – a rotten place to be. It seems I can never get enough done when I want it done. Perhaps an impatience carried over from life in a city. I just want things done now! Not enough hours in the day and not enough hands to do it.
Finances are -um- frustrating when your market for anything you produce is miles away. Sadly, mostly our dorp is not looking for organic food, heirloom seeds, indigenous trees, etc. With interesting finances comes having to do all the work yourself, which means there are just not enough hours in the day. We have not had any volunteers since early in December and it shows in how much I can complete in a day.
Another frustration: one of our so-called nature-loving neighbours, who lives in Cape Town, has decided he needs a wider road to bring big trucks into his piece of paradise. I shudder to imagine what for. He decided our “infestation of wattles” needed to be cleared.
The bulldozers not only scraped out the wattles but also 2 years of small plants we had been planting as we clear land elsewhere. They cut a 40m swathe through a cobbled waterway, ferns, glads, tree fuchsias, horsetail and various other plants taking root there.
When even a 5 year old knows better
They did not notice that all small wattles had been painstakingly removed with roots, and only the large ones were left to afford shade to the small plants trying to establish themselves. I got a taste of what it must be like to walk through the Amazon and come across a cleared piece of forest you once knew. My 5 year old Max burst into tears when they drove around the corner and came across this punch in the stomach. Even he knows better!
Less frustrating was the lovely seed crop of Congo Blue, Pink Fir, Lady Rosetta, Highland Burgundy potatoes I have just harvested. Also some unknown white variety gone to seed from a shop bought one. They will dry and chit (sprout) while I prepare their special soil. Better be quick so they can be harvested before the frosts. Potatoes are gross feeders, meaning they take everything out of the soil and need a lot to start with. A small bed of potatoes grew so well in almost straight compost that I will aim to get this sort of soil ready for the special ones.
Adzuki beans with their lovely yellow flowers will follow the potatoes as they will enrich the soil. I may throw in a few handfuls of stinging nettle and clover too. Root veggies follow these since we pulled the last of carrots too.
Used tyres for food or not?
I emptied all my towers of tyres and got a good harvest of blue potatoes from those. This soil is being dug over by the hens right now. I will add some horse manure and use it to plant out the White Stinkwood trees into bigger bags (so hard to find). There is some debate going on around using tyres to grow food crops. One school of thought says tyres are inert, which is why they are so difficult to do anything with, once discarded as tyres. Others feel there are too many chemicals in tyres, which can leach into the soil. I have not found any conclusive studies on either opinion, so for now I will use them again with completely new soil, so as not to carry over any pests or diseases to new crops.
The Indian rainbow and black popcorn are drying on their stalks, so it’s time to watch the birds. I still have time to put in 2 more varieties of corn before the cold. Interestingly, a test patch of wheat planted in spring did very well too. Perhaps next spring I should plant a larger sample – maybe a hectare?
I am getting soil ready for seedling trays so I can grow the brassica seedlings a bit earlier this year. I have found that our clay mixed with a little sieved compost seems to work well as a seed tray mix. I have quite a diversity of brassicas to put in this and will have to be careful about what can cross-pollinate.
Ten more hens spell fun
Our chicken tractor is almost done. I am due to collect around 10 more hens from a friend next week and then the fun will begin. It is a large house and will have a large yard around it. I am considering parking it in the existing veggie garden over winter and into spring. I won’t be able to plant any of the tomato family there next year and that rules out a lot of what we eat and sell. That area may serve us better if we move the chickens in to clean up for a while. They will demolish anything I leave in there so are a great cleanup crew.
I may think about changing my long beds to a permaculture keyhole design after that. Anything to reduce weeding and carting compost! How I’d love a “bucket” for the front of our tractor. And if we could just get rid of the Kikuyu, my frustrating mowing days would be vastly reduced.
Organic farmer Sue regularly writes for us on farm activities and challenges.