Feed body, mind and soul
In in her column, ‘Soil for Life’, PAT FEATHERSTONE writes about how to create a landscape to feed body, mind and soul.
- Make up your mind at the outset that this exercise is going to be fun and don’t get despondent when you realise it will take time and effort to create an edible masterpiece.
- • Get to know your space. An edible landscape is an investment in your future good health and well-being, so sit down with a pencil and paper. Here are some guidelines for a thoughtful planning process before the garden layout is designed:
- • Vegetables and fruit trees need at least six hours of full sun every day, preferably in the early morning. Where does the sun rise and set? How much sun does each part of your garden get during the day? Remember that buildings, trees and hedges cast shadows and that shadows are longer in winter.
- • What type of soil do you have? Will drainage be a problem in the rainy season?
- • Where do you live? What type of climate do you have – winter rain, summer drought, or the other way around? Do you have frost in winter? Are you near the coast where humidity is high? What plants have you seen in your neighbourhood that are doing well? Talk to your friends and neighbours about their food-growing successes and failures. They will fill you in on local challenges and give you ideas on what plants will thrive.
- • Identify the prevailing winds for your area. For example, in the Cape, summer brings the howling south-easter and winter is characterised by a north-westerly wind, often hot and drying. Both are damaging to plants. Using a one-metre length of toilet paper, walk around your garden when the wind is blowing to find out which direction it is coming from and which areas of your garden experience the greatest turbulence and, therefore, potential plant damage. This exercise will enable you determine where to place or plant wind breaks.
- • If your garden is on a slope, you will have to either terrace it or build swales to slow down the run-off of water and sink it into the ground without losing your precious topsoil.
- • How much space do you have? Is your garden large enough to accommodate fruit trees, climbing vines and vegetables?
- • Is your garden walled, fenced or neither? Are dogs, cats, porcupines, baboons, chickens, geese and guinea fowl going to damage your plants or share your crop? What about other lurking intruders?
- • Where are your water points?
- • Decide on what special features you are going to incorporate in your garden. Compost heaps or bins, earthworm farms, a chicken coop, a pond, bird bath, herb garden, an orchard, a nursery in which you can raise your own seedlings and plants, a bench on which you can rest and contemplate your creation in partnership with nature and where you can listen to the birds and the bees, and the frogs and the trees. You may need to build, or plant, windbreaks and create trellised walkways for vines.
- Once you have deliberated on all these points, draw up a list of all the features you need to include in your garden. Then draw up a plan on a piece of graph paper and work out where you want to place things in relation to each other. Imagine yourself to be a bird flying overhead and looking down on what you have in mind. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting a new garden, revamping an existing garden or changing your gardening habits and going the organic route, this is an extremely valuable exercise and will probably take a fair amount of time. Draw things to scale so your plan is realistic.
- • Don’t be afraid to exercise your creative skills and never doubt your innate ability to turn a bare piece of land into a beautiful, bountiful place to feed body, mind and soul.
- • And while you have your thinking and planning caps on, set up a hanging garden near your kitchen door and get your food-growing endeavours going quickly. It’s always a good thing to start small, enjoy the successes and gradually expand your activities a patch at a time.
Use wall space to create a vertical garden: A simple construction of wooden planks and rope hung up on a north-facing wall provides vertical space for growing a variety of plants which will add essential nutrients to your diet.
Here are some examples of what you can grow:
- • some carrots in an old milk box or bag;
- • a parsley plant in an old chamber pot;
- • chives and spring onions in a plant pot; and
- dhanya (coriander) seeds germinated in a variety of shallow plastic trays will give loads of seedlings which can be snipped off when you need them. Dhanya has a very high Vitamin A content and makes an interesting addition to meals. It is also an excellent way of ridding your body of heavy metals like mercury, lead and cadmium. Growing your own food is the simplest way to good health.
Pat Featherstone runs Soil for Life, a Cape Town-based NGO that teaches people how to grow their own good, safe food. For more information about Soil for Life membership, and organic methods for growing vegetables, herbs and fruit,phone Pat on (021) 794 4982 or take a look at www.soilforlife.co.za