In lock-down on March 26th 2020, the world changed. As we all sat closeted in our homes, wondering what the future of the world would be, I watched on social media how people amused themselves in their vegetable gardens and the Green Monster of Envy stalked me daily. I have gardened before, almost always getting distracted by other things, forgetting to water, and being overcome by weeds. I was the quintessential “Black Fingers” person. I had given up on gardening, despairing of ever having my viable vegetable garden and resolving to leave it to the experts. Over the next chilly months, as the social media communities bragged and displayed their gorgeous garden fare in delicious gourmet meals, I resolved to get a garden together and make it succeed. Lockdown stretched before us like a prison sentence with no promise of parole, and I had a staff of thirteen people to feed! When I noticed my grooms salivating whilst casting glances at our Nguni cow herd, I decided we were going to either grow food and eat from our garden or starve!
Monique Minaar, our fabulous receptionist, and reservations consultant later told me that the garden had saved the sanity of the team. She recalls, “Our activities were paused. We all experienced a sense of purposelessness. I felt myself sinking into depression. I didn’t realise until Lockdown when I couldn’t do my job, how much the contribution I made to the business and indirectly to other people’s lives by helping them plan their special, hard-earned romantic getaways, had become part of my sense of self-worth. I realised that we are here as humans to serve and help each other and that is what gives us purpose and satisfaction. I was rudderless and in an uncomfortable sense of limbo when the economy shut down and my job activities were suspended. The garden project involved us all and as a team, we had a new and important purpose. We pulled together for a common cause. As we planted in our lines we bonded in a new and entirely different way. There was such a sense of the importance of each of our roles. No one was more important than the next person. If I didn’t bury the seed just right, it wouldn’t sprout and the whole team would suffer. When I saw the little green buds sprout I felt like we had given collective birth to new life. It gave me hope. It was the best team build ever!”
Steve Carver, CEO of U Can Grow, races around South Africa helping micro farmers succeed in growing and supplying their produce to markets. He worked at the Falkenberg Mental Hospital assisting in the prisoners’ gardens. After a few months, the head warden reported to him that the mental health of the prisoners had improved dramatically. They benefited significantly from being in the garden, developing a calmer and happier demeanour.
Food security has become a buzzword. Creating food security is like the fire insurance cover we don’t take out and pray we won’t ever need while watching fires burn all around us. My excuse was congenital “Black Fingers”. I live on 150 acres of land with a river running through it and no vegetable garden. I was inspired by gardeners with a mere few square metres to work with and I was awed and amazed by the volume they were able to produce in the cold months of winter.
Determined to succeed, I asked around our community and was blessed to discover Shadrack, a certified organic gardener. Now, this was super sexy! Organic veggies – those misshapen, pockmarked, greens that cost nearly double than the normal, poison laden fare. This seemed to be a good business, and cheaper too to maintain. No need to spend money on all the recommended pricey pesticides.
The most pressing problem were the gazelle, porcupines and hares in the reserve, not to mention our Nguni herd and our horses. Fortunately, we had an area that had already been fenced off to afford Delilah, our tame Nyala, a safe haven at night. Delilah had passed on after she broke her leg and died on the operating table at Ondersterpoort Veterinary Hospital. She left all of us bereft, and this area was to be the perfect shrine to her delightful, joyful character. A celebration of everything she would have delightedly munched, had she been alive.
The area I identified ran next to the road and so was fenced and protected on both sides. We worked out an area from the remaining available space, and I was astonished to discover that the space between the fences, the trees and other natural obstacles, was 30 meters by thirty metres. The area was nine hundred square meters with a central square of three by three metres square, making a nine-metre square central point one arrived at by following the lines of the labyrinth. This was an astonishing, serendipitous event! I have always been curious about the power of numbers, convinced that they each have significant meaning. Nine, for me, is ‘the magic number’, (also used by card sharks as when you add a number to nine and add the product, you get back to the number you added to nine. When you multiply a number by nine and add the product, you get nine!) so, and when the space reduced to nine, I took this as a sign from God, an endorsement by the Angels, an absolutely positive omen! Remember this was May 2020. Lodges, hotels, restaurants and most businesses were still closed with not a cent coming in and no promise of the lockdown lifting. I was already through our winter savings and dipping deep into the bond. There was no guarantee that this garden would work, or even be workable. Thanks to the serendipitous ‘nine’, I soldiered on and completed the project.
In hindsight, there were several factors that I now realise ensured the success of the project. I have listed these points below for you to take into consideration when planning your amazing organic vegetable garden.
- If you have “Black Finger” syndrome, find what you do have a talent for or love, and start there. For example, do you love decorative spaces, or do you love entertaining? Find your available space and imagine a party set up between the vegetable beds and design the space around that. This is how you inspire yourself to make the space and get cracking with your organic garden!
- Make it Critter proof. Can birds get to it? If yes, shade net the top. Can your dog, the neighbours pet pangolin, bunnies, and other small animals get it in? If yes, fence it appropriately. The setup is the most important thing. If you start and find your garden has been invaded and reduced to shredded cabbage, you will lose heart and give up. Set yourself up to succeed from the start.
- Start with flat beds, but make sure your beds can be adjusted to raised beds by building frames around them which can be converted to raised beds by filling them in. This way you create a neat, inviting space. Delineate the areas you want to fill with plants. This will help you later when you start planning your crop rotation. When water is scarce, keep your beds on the same level as the earth. This practice conserves water. When you get lots of water, raise your beds by adding compost to help the excess water run away. With this set up you can have whichever you prefer and what is right for the water at the time.
- Green-fingered Gardeners recommend bed widths at ideally one metre two hundred centimetres wide. This is called the double reach system. If your arithmetic is as horrible as mine and you are making a pattern out of your beds in your party area, rather stick to a metre wide. This width is also ideal for harvesting out vegetables in your high heels and finery. The less you have to stretch, the easier you can avoid muddy patches on your silk pants.
- Prepare your ground by adding nutrient-rich compost, then mulch it with raked grass cuttings or leaves. This way you can get away with watering sparingly.
- Take the time it takes. This garden will give you joy for many years. Spend time sitting in your garden space to get a feel for how the sun moves and what the angles of light are through the course of the day. Delilah’s Deli is a medicine wheel. This was pointed out to me by a guest who is one of South Africa’s top designers. He frequented us for his regular spiritual ceremonial retreat sessions, and I herded him into the garden to get his advice. He explained that a medicine wheel relies on the right tilt of the earth and the balance of seasonal light. Delilah’s deli faces north and slopes downward to the west, gaining the advantage of the full afternoon light and sun with the right slope for water drainage. You want to check the amount of light your space gets throughout the day. You will need to plant in the vegetable beds accordingly. Always follow ‘The Light’.
Light and Love are the answer to all earthly problems.
When I started the garden, I enlisted the support and advice of an agronomist named Lehlogono from a nearby seed company. His name means “Blessing”, and he lived up to it in every way. We purchased our NON genetically modified seeds, (GMO seeds are the norm as many seeds contain glyphosate resistant genes so Roundup doesn’t kill them with the weeds) and they flourished! Proud to show him what we had achieved, I invited him for a visit. He was blown away by the garden. Thanks to Shadreck’s deep experience and know-how in creating nutrient rich soil, our soil was well composted and regenerated so that the plants looked and tasted amazing. Lehlogonolo was astounded at how healthy the vegetables all looked without any pesticides having been used. He commented on how other farmers were struggling to stop various pest infestations and suggested that we run a workshop explaining how we achieved our growth with no pesticides and simply through correct soil regeneration.
The seed was planted, and we ran our first Organic workshop on the 1st of May 2021. The course ran from 9 am to 12 pm.
What did we cover in our vegetable garden workshop?
- Soil Preparation
- Seasonal planting
- Water evaporation
- Natural pesticides
- Effective Microorganisms and worms
- Wall gardens
- Surprising and unexpected health benefits of working in an organic vegetable garden.
We had two guest speakers. One spoke on the subjects of Bokashi, the Japanese method of rapidly composting meat, cheese and other foods in a matter of weeks that normally take up to ten months to decompose into nutritious material for the soil. The other spoke on the benefits of fermenting and the evils of our western fast food diet and how to counteract many of the intolerances that arise from incorrect nutrition and how to remedy them in the gut.
We finished with a delicious vegetarian lunch made with ingredients picked from the garden that morning.
The morning was a roaring success, but don’t take my word for it. Please read the reviews below! We cannot wait to run the next one. Please email us at info@LethaboEstate.com if you want us to include you.