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Book Review: The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen July 22, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Environment, Gardening, Organic Food, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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This is a very accessible book for anyone who wants to start to be more self-sufficient in their home. It’s inspirational and covers a lot of ground from growing and preserving your own food, cleaning your house, saving water and electricity and more, all in an environmentally sustainable way, without going into too much detail, which makes it a good starting point for beginners like myself.

urban_homestead_250

The book is not particularly well edited – typos et al abound – but makes up for it by providing a lot of useful information and a very nice resource section at the end. The authors’ approach is largely DIY with an emphasis on keeping things cheap and simple. A great little book.

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Basil, coriander, rocket and parsely June 10, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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The herbs I started growing from seed in my recycled seedling containers a while ago have grown up! Of course they have been re-planted into larger pots…

Basil

Basil

Coriander

Coriander

Rocket

Rocket

Parsely

Parsely

I’ve also grown quite a few tomato plants, but I suspect I left it too late in the season for them to still bear fruit before it gets too cold.

Book Review: Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores June 4, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Environment, Gardening, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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Here’s one of the books that have been inspirational to me in trying to get my own modest urban agriculture project going.

98This book is full of practical ideas and projects, but as the subtitle suggests it’s much more than just a gardening book. H.C. Flores takes a holistic approach to growing organic produce in an urban setting while also addressing broader environmental and lifestyle issues and making practical suggestions about how to change your neighbourhood as well as your back yard.

While she can be a little bit preachy at times, her activist and anarchist background make her a particularly engaging author (to me at least ;-)). The title of the book is of course derived from Food Not Bombs with whom Flores was involved previously. There’s a growing number of Food Not Lawns chapters in the US and Canada.

A definite must for the urban agriculture activist!

Recycled seedling containers June 2, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Gardening, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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If you’re throwing away loads of plastic containers and bottles like these…

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… you should probably have a serious look at your consumption habits – *gulp* – and definitely recycle as many of them as you can. Alternatively, why not turn some of them into little planting pots to raise veggie and herb seeds in?

First, clean them out with water and cut off the bottles:

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Then punch holes into the bottoms for drainage:

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Now just add soil, seeds and water:

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Cat-proofing veggie beds May 21, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Gardening, Life, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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I built a couple of raised beds for growing veggies in a small corner behind our house some time ago. The main problem with them has been that our cat, Perry, has been using them as her toilet. Not good for growing food and really smelly, too! She has her own “facilities” right next to the beds, but I guess she finds them less convenient, so I set about trying to cat-proof the beds.

I cleaned up the beds and installed shade netting to keep Perry out of them. Here's the culprit inspecting my handiwork

I cleaned up the beds and installed shade netting to keep Perry out of them. Here's the culprit inspecting my handiwork

Veggie garden in cat exclusion mode! Of course in summer the shade netting will also help to keep out the scalding sun.

Veggie garden in cat exclusion mode! Of course in summer the shade netting will also help to keep out the scalding sun.

My efforts seem to have been reasonably successful, although keeping the cat out of the beds completely is never going to happen. I did sow some stuff in the beds and we’ve already harvested some beans.

Success!

Success!

Some suburban farming principles May 7, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, Life, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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Nothing complicated here, just a couple of principles I’d like to follow as I start getting into this urban agriculture thing in our garden. It’s all a bit daunting at the moment as we head into winter and the whole garden goes into hibernation. Here goes:

DIY – I’d like to do as much of my gardening myself and don’t want “experts” to do the job for me. I’m very open to advice, suggestions and help, of course đŸ˜‰

Organic – no synthetic fertilisers or chemicals in this garden! I’m hoping to broadly follow the principles of permaculture in my approach.

Sustainable – In our climate that means being particularly mindful of water requirements, but also of other inputs such as compost. I also want our garden to be fairly low-maintenance… I’ve got a job, you know.

Cheap – I’d like to use as many cheap and free resources as possible and am hoping that Freecycle and the Cape Town Talent Exchange (a local alternative currency system) will help achieve that goal.

Beautiful and functional – I’d like our garden to be a place that the whole family enjoys spending time in, while at the same time offering habitats for wildlife (I’m talking mostly birds, reptiles and insects here, not antelope and such…) and providing us with a steady supply of healthy, organic and fresh fruit and vegetables.

That’s about it for the moment. Will add more if I can think of any…

I wanna be a suburban farmer! April 30, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, Life, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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After my visit to Harvest of Hope I was really inspired to start getting our own garden into some sort of shape. I have long been fascinated by the idea of urban agriculture and the promise of a degree of food self-sufficiency and although I have spent some time in the past trying to apply what I’ve learned about these things in books and online in our home, our garden has fallen into a state of what I’d suggest is benevolent neglect.

My somewhat neglected attempt at a miniature food forest

My somewhat neglected attempt at a miniature food forest

That’s all going to change. One of the motivations for quitting my regular job a year ago was to start growing more of our own food and although my parenting and job commitments will keep me busy, I’m planning to do just that. Slowly, one baby-step at a time. I’ll keep you up to date with my progress.

Expanses of water-thirsty but unproductive lawn...

Expanses of water-thirsty, unproductive lawn...

Just for the record, here are some more pics of our garden from January 2009. Hopefully I’ll be able to report on gradual improvements as time goes by.

Harvest of Hope March 16, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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At the end of last year I got a chance to visit a new organic box scheme called Harvest of Hope here in Cape Town. The organisation which was started by Abalimi Bezkhaya, one of my favourite local NGOs, delivers affordable weekly boxes of fresh, seasonal, organic vegetables to a number of schools in the Southern Suburbs.

A box of organic veggies ready for delivery

A box of organic veggies ready for delivery

What makes Harvest of Hope really different from other box schemes is that the produce is grown by local, poor city farmers in communal gardens. They and their families consume some of what they grow and they sell the rest of it to Harvest of Hope.

An urban organic farmer in action.

An urban organic farmer in action

The program is still relatively small – at the time of our visit they were shipping out just over a hundred boxes a week – but they’re planning to steadily increase production as time goes on.

The Harvest of Hope packing shed

The Harvest of Hope packing shed

You can find the other pics I took during our tour here. I found the visit truly inspirational. I’m now totally recommitted to growing more fruit and veggies in our own suburban garden.