Growing vegetables is not always as easy as planting a few seeds and harvesting your crops a few weeks or months later. I get a lot of telephone calls and messages from people who are inspired by our work at Naledi Farm, and some of them even want to start their own vegetable gardens. People send me photos of seeds, plants and complete gardening kits that they have bought, but they are too intimidated to begin. Others are so discouraged by their failed gardens, that they think they are completely hopeless at growing anything and never want to touch soil again.
They say things like: “I cannot grow anything, everything I touch dies. I even kill fake plants!” and “Oh Manti! I could never do what you do. I do not have green fingers.”
Sometimes I wonder if these attitudes are excuses to get as far away from growing anything as possible. In other words, we love the look of a garden, but have no intention of working in the garden. Or is it that we genuinely believe that some people are born with the natural ability to make plants grow?
Come to think of it, taking a piano and placing it in front of you will not turn you into a pianist. Although you may have a passion for it, passion alone will not turn you into a great pianist. It takes years of practice and dedication. Gardening is the same. As much as gardening is about passion and art, it is also about practice. In other words, you must get out there and do the work.
Observation is the best teacher
As you spend time in your garden you will notice that vegetables, especially fruiting vegetables, need at least eight hours of sunlight to thrive. No sun equals no growth. Tomatoes planted in a shady spot will struggle to reach their full potential because their leaves will become yellow and small. You will also discover that some plants need more water than others and some need less.
Getting a feel for your garden is very easy if you just observe. You must learn to ‘read’ the soil. Is the ground dry to the touch a day after watering? This indicates that the plant needs plenty of water. Does the soil stay wet for days? Well, then it does not need watering quite so often. You will also begin to appreciate the importance of healthy soil, because healthy plants cannot grow in poor soil.
Also, if you are patient and continue to do the work, you will soon discover that you cannot grow tomatoes, pumpkins and eggplants during winter. These are warm weather plants that cannot tolerate frost and freezing temperatures.
Do you now see what you need to do to develop ‘green fingers’?
Plant of the month: Viola
Winter gardens do not have to be dull and boring. Add a pop of colour to your winter vegetable garden with violas. These plants are remarkably generous and easy to grow. They are generally more winter-hardy than pansies – their larger-flowered cousins. Did you know that they are edible and medicinal too? They are rich in vitamins A and C, and will make a colourful addition to your salads.
Plant them in your vegetable garden now until spring. Plant them in full sun, in rich, fertile soil. Water generously, but allow the soil to dry before the next watering. Feed them regularly throughout their blooming period. Remember to deadhead (remove dead flowers) regularly to ensure the plants focus their energy on flowering and not seeding. – Manti Mafaidi, Naledi Farm