Organic Container Gardening: First season Failure and Success

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So I have been gardening for about a year and a half.  It all started in 2016: We were still living in Rietondale, Pretoria, in a lovely old house with parquet floors and enormous rooms with high ceilings, and… a non-existent garden. We were renting the house, and when one rents, one does not want to spend too much money on the garden.

We did try a small vegetable patch when we just moved in, but the ground was so poor and the tomatoes that grew were awful and couldn’t be eaten. I didn’t have any knowledge of anything ‘garden’ at all then. My husband is a keen gardener and has green fingers, but he was really busy at the time, so he wasn’t really able to spend much time in the garden either.

Then, one hot summer day, I was looking at the small ‘courtyard’ garden through the burglar barred window of our room, and thought, no more. I shall plant, and  I shall plant now.  The only thing growing in the garden at the time was lavender. We decided to plant lavender everywhere as it was the only thing loving the sandy soil (that was not retaining any moisture whatsoever), that didn’t need a lot of watering.

So, on this specific day, I was looking at one of the lavender bushes in one of the beds that had died. I grabbed a spade and fork and dug it out. Lots of sweat and blistered hands followed but I was determined. One does not simply dig out a lavender bush that has been established for some years.

The following day I took photos of my garden beds (which were now empty) and drove to a nearby nursery, which specialises in exotic plants. The lady was eager to help me plan my garden, but the moment she saw what my ground looked like, she sent me away with four bags of chicken manure. She refused to sell me any plants, as she said they would only die due to my poor ground condition. And so started my relationship with ground. I followed her instructions and had to wait three weeks for the manure to do it’s job. But it was so worth it. I planted clivias, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, a geranium and a hydrangea. I then pulled out Jane’s Delicious Garden, which I had received as a gift but up until then it had only served as a pretty coffee table book. From the the first chapter, I was hooked. I started reading the book from beginning to end, underlining and researching.

I started a compost heap in the corner of the garden and attempted growing my first vegetables. Well, you can’t really call them vegetables. They were leafy things, like herbs, spinach, kale and lettuce. But they grew beautifully.

And then, I found the first one: AN EARTHWORM.  Now, before, I thought earthworms were mainly used for fishing purposes. But the moment I found the first earthworm in my garden bed, I knew I was doing something right. Because I had learned that: Earthworms = beautiful nutritious soil = healthy delicious leaves.

I planted 2l bottles in the ground as a DIY irrigation system. We are away a lot and it didn’t rain often. I mulched and weeded and loved the feeling of my hands in the soil.

And then we decided to move. Three months after I started my garden. It felt like I was giving up a pet I had come to love so much. But we are not city people and we couldn’t stand the city any longer. So we moved and I had I had to leave it as it was. Without ever seeing my clivias bloom, hoping that the people to follow would love gardening even more than I did. They didn’t… but no matter.

As we are also renting on the farm, we are not really able (or allowed) to create a vegetable garden in the actual ground. So I went to the Silverton Farmer’s Market and bought five wooden crates. We moved during the winter so they stood empty until August. I couldn’t wait to fill them with earth and seed. So when the months became warmer, I lined them, got lovely ground and compost from my mother in law, and planted. We also covered the containers with a mini DIY tunnel. It looks so rad!

I had never planted actual vegetable vegetables, and I wanted to start from scratch so I bought easy growing veggie seed, like beetroot, carrot, tomatoes, kale en aubergines. At first I struggled to get the seeds to germinate, and the one’s that became seedlings wouldn’t grow taller. So I decided to stick them in the ground as small as they were, even though they were too small. And now they are tall and strong are bearing fruit.

We had a lot of  rain, and I mean a lot. So with all the nitrogen the plants shot up. My black heirloom tomato plant is taller than I am. This is not helpful. The tomatoes became too heavy, even though I supported the plant, and the plant bent over. I did stalk it up again and I am hoping for the best.

My yellow pepper flowers keep falling off. I have had no success with that one. So I’ve replanted it elsewhere but still no success.

My chilli is booming! Really!? How many chillies can one use!? I have used some to make an organic insecticide, which was helpful (onion, garlic, chilli and sunlight liquid = stinky).

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My beetroot has been in the ground for almost 5 months now. The leaves are beautiful. I was convinced they had to be enormous by now. So I pulled one out, only to find, well, nothing. I thin little root. It didn’t even look like beetroot. So I stuck it back. And I’ll continue waiting. Although I have no idea why this is happening.

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The kale is high, but not very leafy. It’s healthy though.

Half of my carrot crop was eaten by some little monster in the middle of the night. And the carrots that are left are growing sideways not down. It’s probably the ground.

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My Aubergine has lots of flowers, it has thrown one off. But I’ve started hand pollinating. So I’m really hoping for fruit! I love Aubergine!!

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The herbs are lovely and I can’t live without them. I have thyme, mint, rosemary, basil, italian parsley and oregano. My coriander, which is my absolute favourite, is struggling. But I am determined. I have had one successful coriander bush and it was fantastic.

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My cocktail tomato plant is bearing fruit.

I also have two self sown tomato plants, probably from seed in the compost. They are also flowering and bearing fruit. Little rascals. But I’m glad. The more tomato’s the pastier.

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I have two hanging baskets with strawberries which are finally delivering strawberries, and the birds aren’t eating them!

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And I have lovely nasturtiums and marigolds that are flowering! I would plant nasturtiums just to look at their leaves though.

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So all in all. Gardening is a mixture of ecstasy and devastation. I’m devastated when I lose another carrot, or when my Aubergine flower falls off (see how I write Aubergine in capital letters). But I’m over the moon when I can pick a ripe strawberry or when I can pick fresh organic herbs from my garden and cook with them moments after picking them.

One of the things I love doing most, is opening my backdoor first thing in the morning, making myself a cup of coffee and sitting on the backdoor steps, simply staring at my garden.

I think I must have green fingers (and a green heart) after all, but I’ll tell you secret, I think most people do…

 

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