Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ruby the puppy

The newborns
Ruby has been the reason for very few blog posts
over the past few months. Talk about having a baby
at the age of 60! Sleepless nights, disrupted days, being confined to the house - all these elements defined the arrival of this newcomer. The tranquility of the home was gone. My two other pointers were terribly put out, and are only now, four months later, starting to accept her. Rocco who doesn't like other dogs, was a big worry, but he has stoically put up with the ear pulling and biting inflicted mercilessly upon him, much to my relief. I have to referee these sessions as Ruby's energy knows no bounds. Her exuberance is delightful and exasperating at the same time.

Lila is the old girl, and has not tolerated any of this. Frankly I'm often grateful for her intervention with her angry growl being instantly obeyed by Ruby, whereas my hysterics have little effect.
At six weeks
"Silence is your best tool", says Cesar Milan. OK, so I'll practice silence and only use "shhh" to reprimand, I think as I set off on a walk. Thankfully as she is now older, the frantic pulling (which looked more like swimming), is under control most of the time. But I've had my legs excrutiatingly strangled in the chain, been pulled over onto my face, and had my hands and fingers pulled out of joint and made enough noise to alarm the residents of my suburb that a maniac woman is on the loose. When I get home I rate myself on a scale of naught to ten and usually get naught.
One of the worst aspects of having her, has been my disappointment in myself. I believed that I am now a calm and mature being who could handle anything with patience and dignity. Ha! All my adolescent emotions returned with a vengeance, as this scamp did all the usual things that puppies do - but that I didn't want her to do. "You must be calm and assertive to create a balanced dog" says Cesar. And here I am creating a delinquent in 10 easy steps! 

Taking a nap on my office chair
On the plus side, if it wasn't for Cesar she wouldn't have developed so well. When I was calm, I implemented his rules very nicely, and she is slowly turning into a quite obedient adolescent. She has wonderful spirit which needs nurturing rather than crushing, so I've learned to be reasonably tolerant.......

Eight weeks
Nothing is safe from her, from my underwear to the veggies I've prepared to cook that mysteriously disappear off the kitchen counter. I have never had a puppy that is so over enthusiastic about absolutely everything I do, from digging a hole to plant something, to watering the plants, her nose is right in there too. She's eaten six apples at a time, a whole packet of salted roasted broadbeans, and very strong ginger sweets. A whole bulb of garlic and a red chilli were also taken, but not eaten. In the garden she'll take a nibble of spring onion with relish. When she discovers a nest of eggs, I can forget about an egg for breakfast until the hen decides to find a new place. This obviously has to be a closely guarded secret.
Terrorising Rocco
Fitting in with the new family
I can't do anything without at least ten interruptions. Forget about a peaceful cup of coffee to read a magazine. She'll bring a ball, steal my biscuit, start a biting session with Rocco, steal something from the kitchen, chase the chickens, start chewing a hole in the carpet - you name it, she'll do it. There are a few holes in my lounge suite, in my carpet, in my clothes and my socks. There are quite a few holes in the garden, and the potatoes got dug out of the grow bags. She digs in her drinking water, food bowl, bedding and the carpet. In the garden she "helps me" by carrying sticks, trying to relieve me of a load of weeds, standing right next to the spade, broom or rake where I want to use it, and helping me dig the hole for the plant. Luckily she hasn't removed the plant once planted.This is one type of dog that needs people. If you leave a German pointer alone all day with no regular exercise, there will be major damage!
Luckily I am there to consistently correct her and there really is minimal damage. And in all fairness, she is so intelligent that she learns very quickly - it's her intelligence that makes her so curious and inquisitive.
At the end of the day when she snuggles up with me making her little grunting noises of contentment, I realise how worth it, all the effort is. She has so often made me laugh and  is utterly adorable.

On a walk
5 months old

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spring at last!

I'm not the only person who has been saying that this was a long and hard winter. Even my sister-in-law in New Zealand says the same. We are truly grateful that spring has finally arrived! This must seem very weird for those of you in the northern hemisphere who are now hunkering down for winter! But it does seem that global warming is causing chaos with our seasons, with extreme temperatures on either side of the world.

The prolonged cold and wet caused many repercussions for me. Firstly because our winters here in the Cape are very rainy, it meant that I spent half the winter mopping the floors. 12 muddy paw prints, morning, noon and night kept me very busy indeed. No need to go to gym, when you also have to take three dogs for a good long walk every day. The normally lush and gorgeous herb garden was a muddy, bare space for much longer than usual. Only stinging nettle provided verdant greenery. I didn't manage to prune all the trees, so now the olive trees are wildly waving about in the wind, full of flowers and minus the possibility of a bird flying through the middle without its wings touching any leaves, as they say it should be. The plum tree, and apple tree were only half pruned. It would be very funny if they had the best fruit ever! Usually the harvest from either tree is wretched - one or two plums and a dozen or so wormy apples.

Melissa in the vegetable garden jungle
Now that we have had a few really warm days all the plants have responded with alacrity and have burst into leaf and flower. I have never seen Melissa (lemon balm) with such big leaves, the nasturtium leaves are the size of side plates, Chelidoniums are at shoulder height, together with rocket plants in flower and the odd poppy, which makes for a lovely wilderness in my veggie patch! I had a francolin with a chick hiding in this lush jungle for a while, so to give them a safe haven, I avoided weeding for quite some time.
Needless to say I have been harvesting herbs to make tinctures from the fresh plants. From the soil to the alcohol takes less than an hour, and we herbalists believe that making fresh tinctures like this, captures the essence of the plant when it is at its peak. The results speak for themselves. For example, fresh tincture of Melissa is a superb remedy for those pesky cold sores that make us look terrible and feel even worse. Within minutes of application the burning and tingling are gone and the blister starts to fade.
Another herb I tinctured fresh was St John's Wort. Strangely enough I had reason to use it fairly soon and was astonished at what a powerful anti-inflammatory effect it had - relieving an agonising pain with minutes. (I don't keep pain killers in the house and resorted to taking this tincture out of desperation.) Tincturing this herb is like magic. The minute you add the alcohol to the fresh green leaves, blood red colour starts oozing out, and the final tincture is red.

I made many batches of my delicious nasturtium pesto. It freezes so well, that even six months later you would never guess it had been frozen. Have a look for the recipe in this blog if you'd like to try it. As I said the nasturtium leaves were huge this year....

I wasn't fibbing when I said how large my nasturtium leaves were.

Finally Spring was heralded by a swarm of bees that decided to make their home in the owl box that my neighbour Andy Vermeulen made for me and put up high on the wall of my house. Here they are with the swarm getting bigger by the day. I'm not too sure what to do about them and have been asking people for their advice. I believe that bees like a calm environment, and today the garden help must have made a noise dragging a garden chair around just under the bees, and he got stung by very angry bees.

Any advice will be appreciated. Happy spring everyone!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Herbs to beat colds and flu this winter.

Temperatures have plunged overnight, and thoughts of winter miseries are beginning to surface. As I am writing this, I have to "touch wood" all over, because I seldom get a cold, and haven't had a full blown flu in 30 years. My secret? Well, I have a few. Number one is, I don't wait for the flu, I take preventive action. I keep my diet quite simple (not too much stodgy food), and at the slightest hint of change in myself (loss of appetite, headache, scratchy throat), I take a herbal formula which I've developed. It knocks the bugs immediately, and doesn't give the flu a chance.

There are several herbs which can act prophylactically, to prevent the virus taking hold. But first you have to do a little work at not allowing a pleasant environment for invasion and occupation of viruses and bacteria. Keep your diet fresh, with plenty of leafy greens, vegetables and herbs in your cooking, like garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric, sage and rosemary. In a nutshell, keep your diet savoury. Sweets, chocolates, puddings and cakes are going to make you a perfect target for a regular flu and colds. 

Herbs have different roles to play in the defence of your body. Not only do you need antibacterials, but also liver cleansers and kidney boosters. One of the secrets to good health is good nutrition and effective filtering of the blood by the liver and the kidneys. Soups are a great way of providing preventative care, because you can put so many good herbs in a soup - herbs that nurture the kidneys and liver like celery, parsley, nettle, turmeric, garlic and sage.

 If after all your healthy eating and including herbs in your diet, you still succumb to the flu, all is not lost. There are many herbs to help fight it, and reduce the severity. Flu often causes hot and cold shivers, so you want to raise the body temperature quickly to kill the bugs. Elderflower tea with a good dollop of ginger, (either fresh or dried) will help with this. Echinacea is an excellent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Your phytotherapist will have a good formula with Echinacea and possibly some anti-viral herbs to really attack the problem. If the cold spreads to the lungs, many Phytotherapists have herbal syrups and cough medicine which will help the cough clear up quickly. I make a syrup with horehound which I grow myself. It gets picked and cooked with thyme and aniseed to make a wonderful effective and safe syrup.

Each season presents its own challenges. But having some knowledge of the herbs around us, can help with most of the common seasonal illnesses. And if you MUST have caffeine with your medicine, just make a good strong cup of coffee. It is also a herb and has its benefits too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autumn bliss

I love autumn. The first rains of the season have soaked into the parched earth, and the sun is no longer so searingly and viciously hot. I was delighted to find a source of horse manure and got 20 huge bags which I spread over the entire garden. There was quite a bit of straw mixed in, which adds to the good effect. The chickens did a good job of distributing the heaps that I left in the beds, working it in nicely by their vigorous scratching . Already I can see many plants looking much invigorated.

I'm a dangerous person at this time of year. Always armed with secateurs and pruning shears, I'm on the lookout for plants that are taking over or past their prime and just about everything gets trimmed. Perennial basil has been cut back and the leaves are drying for a delicious addition to winter meals. The Verbena officinalis gets trimmed to ground level and already new leaves are forming. It is such a good herb for nerves and the liver. From one lonely self-seeded plant, I now have many, as I was careful to leave them in place and just cut them back. They have quite tough roots, so also help stabilise the soil. My first harvest of Hyssopus has been cut, and I hope it sprouts back nicely next year. I lost one bush, due to it being a favourite pee spot for my dog.

Hypericum is growing everywhere, but I simply can't have too much, so I allow it to self seed liberally. It also helps keep the soil in place - my beds are always under attack from the chickens. I made the most beautiful tincture of Hypericum this year, and would like to have enough for the practice each year. It is so much better than what I can buy!
The Echinaceas are now topped with dried seed heads, and these I leave on for self seeding. My Echinacea bed is getting bigger each year, but I still haven't got enough to harvest yet.
Pride of place goes to the Hawthorne tree, which is loaded with ripening berries. This will be a bumper crop!! But those pesky thorns........

Autumn is a very busy time in the garden, the preparation which is done now, will be rewarded in the spring. The cooler weather means more energy too. I find it a good time to take cuttings now. Quite a few plants produce side shoots at this time of year, so I nip them off and put them into pots for free extra plants. They are less likely to die from heat and drought. Most of my garden spaces are filled up with self propagated plants.

And when my bones are weary and the straggly garden has been neatened up, it's so nice to sit somewhere with a cup of tea, surveying a job well done!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tomato tales

Once upon a time in Pretoria when I was a young bride (heh heh), my husband planted tomatoes. If I remember correctly they grew without fuss and we had so many tomatoes that they filled a wash basket - huge, gorgeous, luscious healthy tomatoes! Oxheart I think.
Since I have been gardening here in Cape Town, I have tried year after year to emulate that achievement, with plenty of disappointment and frustration. I have been told that it is very difficult to grow tomatoes out of doors these days and that one has more success in tunnels.

This year was the worst ever. The seedlings which I raised myself last September, were ready to go into the ground by early November. Again they were Oxheart. They grew vigorously and I had high hopes of achieving that dreamed of bumper crop. The plants looked fabulous and were full of flowers. They were fed and watered with devotion, using chicken manure from my own bantams. Then overnight it seemed, they became pale and covered in a fine reddish web that smothered them like some stealthy, creepy organism out of a horror movie. The deep green of the leaves was replaced by a ghostly white - I have NEVER seen such sickly tomatoes. The few fruits that were on there looked terrible. I was not just disappointed, I was deeply ashamed! The whole lot got yanked out and thrown in the dustbin. UGH!

In the first week of January I was at the nursery and thinking that it was far too late to plant tomatoes, I only looked at the seedlings out of curiosity. Oxheart and Rosa. Then I thought, bugger this I'll try again, and into the trolly they went. I bought Reliance organic compost and soon they were flourishing in their new beds.
Rosa seedlings after three weeks

No one could have been more determined than me to get it right this time. Their position was very pleasant, morning sun and slightly shaded in the afternoon. No water touched their leaves and they were fed and watered very regularly. My pride was at stake here after all.

I decided to be proactive regarding blight, red spider mite, fungal, viral,or any other horror disease. I sprayed them once or twice with milk against fungal disease. My main weapon was very experimental, namely Echinacea. Being a phytotherapist it made sense to me that Echinacea might have a preventative effect on the plants similar to humans. So I mixed 25 ml Echinacea tincture in 500ml water and sprayed them every week. They grew so fast and vigorously that I could hardly believe my eyes. It was as if the Echinacea was a tonic. However, I didn't do a control batch to see whether they would have  thrived anyway - because of the soil, compost or feeding with chicken manure. So next year I'll have to do a proper experiment.

Now it is almost 2 months to the day that I planted the seedlings. The Oxheart got some leaf curl disease and I pulled them all out. I don't think I'll try them again. Rosa did develop blight on the lower leaves, but I cut those leaves off and continue to spray the growing tips every week. This week I increased the amount of Echinacea to 30ml per 500ml water. One thing I can say with certainty, the Echinacea didn't harm the plants in any way.

Rosa after two months.

The Echinacea that I have is very strong 1:4 compared to the 1:10 that you can buy commercially. I think it helped prolong the health of the leaves, without entirely preventing blight. Most of the tomatoes look very healthy, but here and there, on otherwise very healthy bushes, there is the odd tomato with blossom end rot. The rest of the tomatoes on the same bush are fine. Very strange.

Hopefully I'll be able to post a picture of the harvest! Hold thumbs for me!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Decadent and VERY easy ice cream.

To complement the rhubarb compote, nothing beats a creamy, smooth ice cream. The one I make takes a few minutes, and is dead easy. It is a little pricy, but worth every cent.

You need:
250ml fresh cream
250g mascarpone
1/4 cup olive oil (optional)
100g organic sugar
2 tablespoons natural vanilla

METHOD: Whisk together the mascarpone, sugar, olive oil and vanilla at high speed. When well mixed, pour the fresh cream in a thin stream into the mix while whisking at a moderately fast speed until nice and thick.

I make my own vanilla extract using alcohol. I fill a jar with vanilla pods and cover with 60% alcohol. I leave this in a cool dark place for months and pour off the amount of vanilla extract I need, as I need it. The alcohol in the vanilla extract is great for preventing the ice cream from crystalising.

Once the ice cream mix is lovely and thick, pour it into a container for freezing. Lick the whisk , bowl and spatula very clean! You can taste the olive oil in this ice cream, and I think it's very nice. But you can leave it out if the idea doesn't appeal.

Final result ready for the freezer!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rhubarb: From garden to compote

Despite the fact that the spot where my rhubarb lives is rather dry I had some very nice stalks this year and wrote on my "to do" list: make rhubarb compote! If you leave it too late, the rhubarb can get a bit woody. So I harvested it and got cracking to make a delicious compote.

Almost 900g! But by the time I peeled it (lightly) I reckon about 850g. The right proportion of rhubarb to sugar is 1 part sugar to three parts Rhubarb, so I added 200g of organic sugar and two tablespoons of wonderful natural fynbos honey. There is no need to add any water. As it is gently heated, the rhubarb sweats juice which dissolves the sugar and the honey helps to provide liquid too. I prefer to simmer gently, but the phone rang and when I came back into the kitchen the compote was bubbling furiously, luckily not burned!! I added two tablespoons of chopped crystallised ginger to the compote, which gives a nice surprise here and there when you eat it, without giving the compote an overpowering ginger flavour. One can add vanilla or orange zest, it all depends what you are in the mood for!!!
Final result!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Garden vistas

On Sunday I browsed through the book, "1000 Garden Ideas" by Stafford Cliff, which I bought at the Exclusive Book Sale the day before. The book is very inspiring and I just love being transported into beautiful gardens. It also made me see my own garden in a different light, so I went around with my camera and took some pictures. Here they are:

For reflection

This is an area I developed for reflection and quiet. The pond provides the sound of running water. It is a lovely shady place to sit with a cup of tea.

A formal design
The crunch of gravel past the Helichrysum hedge I am trying to cultivate, lends texture to this spot. From above on the deck one can see the shape of the bed filled with miniature Agapanthus and Tulbachia (Wild garlic) A lovely Thuja graces the side of the gate on the right.

Another view
The garden is broken up by the position of the house on the plot, situated very centrally. This allows for the concept of many smaller gardens all around the house. The herb garden is at the back leading to the enclosed vegetable garden.

The herb garden

Enclosing the vegetable garden was the best thing I did last year. It allows for a space protected from the chickens and dogs, as well as sheltering the vegetables from the very harsh rays of the sun.
From the herb garden and down a few steps is a patio area under a fig tree, and further down is my bee garden with the Echinacea bed and a few olive trees where I also try to grow some vegetables and herbs.

The bee garden and Echinacea bed

So that's a little tour minus the front garden which is under reconstruction, so needs to get established before being photographed. All in all the garden is not that big, about 1000 sq m, but by European standards quite large I suppose.

Thank you for taking a stroll in my garden. I hope you enjoyed it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's a new year......

It's interesting how the new year brings new issues and events, that can either challenge you or make you wonder what else is lurking to make the year horrible? In the garden, my tomatoes which started off so well last year in October, by December I had pulled them all out. They had the most dreadful attack of red spider mite and blight combined, that I have ever seen. I've been reading up on plant diseases in The Garden Guardian's guide to environmentally responsible garden care, by Johan Gerber and luckily there is a good section of photographs showing what the various plant diseases look like. It's a bit like the medical textbooks which show the absolute worst cases of skin diseases you could imagine. It's extremely useful, because it doesn't help to treat a plant that has a fungal disease with a remedy for a bacterial disease. This book also shows the insect pests, but fortunately these are not really an issue for me, because the bantam hens have eradicated most pests by eating their larvae and eggs which are often in the soil. I manage to keep pests off broccoli by growing them under special netting.
I recently discovered that one can treat plants which have fungal diseases with milk. One part organic milk to 10 parts water, sprayed on all parts of the plant, will prevent disease like powdery mildew. I also discovered that bicarbonate of soda is great for preventing fungal diseases. You use two teaspoons of bicarb in a litre of water with a drop of detergent and a drop of vegetable oil. You need to spray preventatively, so I'm spraying once a week with one or other mixture. I am also experimenting with Echinacea spray against bacterial blight. I've been spraying once a week with a mixture of  Echinacea tincture and water. Time will tell if this is going to work, because blight seems to attack the plant as it gets older. After the loss of the first lot of tomato plants, I decided to plant a new batch of seedlings, and with all the fussing over them, and lots of compost, they are looking very healthy so far!! Fingers crossed.

I was very sad to lose one of my two old hens about a week ago. She appeared to have had a stroke and rapidly declined, dying within a day. I kept her comfortable giving her sips of water and placed her in a safe spot away from the other chooks. She was about ten years old and I had a very heavy heart for at least two days after she had gone. Now one of the young lot is sitting on five fertile eggs from my neighbour up the road. The other two bantams are sitting on unfertile eggs, together in a basket in the garden hut. I'm tempted to share the eggs between the three hens, so that they all get a chance at motherhood.
Sitting in vain, bless them. Should I give them two of the fertile eggs?