My garden Her vegetable garden in the city reminds this reader of her childhood days in the platteland
In Pretoria, an accountant and tax practitioner with a love of cooking has created a vegetable garden that not only takes her back to her platteland roots but also feeds her family, friends and neighbours.
TEXT AND PHOTOS RIËTTE MOUTON
Igrew up in the platteland, in Rustenburg in North West, and always kept myself occupied playing in the garden. My parents and grandparents were keen vegetable gardeners and I vividly remember pulling up bright, juicy, tasty orange carrots from my Oupa’s veggie garden in Bronkhorstspruit. My mom kept chickens in our garden, and many memories come to mind of roosters chasing me as a little girl.
Today, I am an accountant and tax practitioner with a master’s degree in taxation. I have been consulting in accounting, tax and business services for the past 24 years alongside my life and business partner, Kobus. Our practice is at our home in Waterkloof, Pretoria. Our children left the nest a few years ago, and we now live happily with our two dogs, Mika (a Labrador) and Snowy (a Maltese poodle cross). Our children share my passion for cooking, baking and gardening – recipe and seed exchanges are a norm among the members of our family. ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO, I embarked on a journey to Rawsonville in the Western Cape – initially to learn about pastamaking with Jaco Brand at Picardi Place, but then also digging into a day course in permaculture farming and compostmaking with Kobus Kritzinger.
This was the day my life changed. My trip back home was filled with beautiful reflections and lots of new ideas.
What we eat (and how) is directly connected to how we make use of our environment, and what will become of our world. An adequate supply of healthy and nutritious food is essential to the survival of the human race. However, because of the degradation of the environment, climate change, urban development, increasing demand versus supply, and our reliance on imported produce, our supply is under threat. We need to reduce our dependency on established foodproduction systems. By creating our own sustainable urban and suburban agricultural systems, we can do our bit for the environment while taking back control of what we eat and, ultimately, of our health. With all these concerns on my mind, I started my own urban organic vegetable garden during the summer of 2013. (At the same time as
Platteland was born. – Eds.)
Our home of 13 years in Waterkloof is on a 2 500 m² stand surrounded by beautiful big jacaranda trees. We are fortunate enough to have a borehole, so we can water the garden as needed.
My first vegetable patch had raised beds spanning 40 m², and Kobus built and installed the irrigation system.
Many more organic vegetable gardening courses followed, and soon I realised I had too many seedlings and not enough raised beds. We cleared the area around our pool and built more vegetable beds using concrete terrace blocks. Currently, my vegetable garden covers an area of about 150 m². I AM A FIRM BELIEVER in organic farming versus conventional farming, because the environment is not degraded and soil health is not >
depleted in the long run. From the very start of my vegetable garden, I never used any toxic pesticides. Instead, I rotate my crops and plant edible flowers and herbs as companions to my vegetables to maintain a healthy, beautiful garden – I absolutely adore all the bees and beneficial insects attracted to the flowers and the flowering vegetables and herbs. Echinacea, marigolds, roses, lavender, violet, nasturtium, borage and edible chrysanthemum are all flowering in-between my vegetables.
Regular composting is essential to a healthy vegetable garden – I prefer to do this every four to five weeks, and definitely after every harvest. We make use of a zero-waste principle in our household: all uncooked kitchen waste is composted, and single-use plastic bags, containers and bottles are a no-no. Newspapers, paper bags, garden clippings, cut grass and brown leaves are all added to the compost heap in equal amounts of green and brown, followed by lots of water and daily sunshine. After six weeks, the compost is sifted and stored under cover, ready to be used in the vegetable beds.
I use only organic heirloom seeds to grow my seedlings. I sow a variety of vegetable, herb and flower seeds in planting trays in a mixture of top soil, vermiculite and earthworm castings. Once they have been hardened in the sun, the young seedlings are replanted in the garden when the weather permits. (Few things are more disheartening than spending weeks in the sun feeding and watering the little seedlings only to watch them wilt and dry out in the garden beds once they have been planted!)
Mulching is essential to protect the young seedlings, but is also necessary to conserve the moisture in the soil and limit the growth of weeds. I add bark mulch to my vegetable beds once the seedlings are stronger and have settled in the beds.
I experiment with different varieties of vegetables and herbs. Purple potatoes, black nebula carrots, multicoloured beetroots and Swiss chard – a rainbow of colours and flavours end up in my kitchen, where I love to prepare interesting new dishes as well as familiar, well-loved ones. MY JOURNEY WITH FOOD started at a very young age. I have always been inquisitive about flavours, textures and colours. I baked my first cake at the age of five for our local church fair, after which many chocolate and sponge cakes followed for friends and family. Combining my love of growing my own vegetables and herbs with my passion for cooking is an absolute dream come true for me.
Nothing beats the joy of walking in your garden, noticing the vegetables that are healthy and ready to be picked, and then summoning them to the kitchen to be further treasured in a meal.
Artichokes and other root vegetables are brought together in phyllo pastry, then topped with home-made feta for a lunch or light dinner. Everyday carrots are substituted with black >
“A garden is a place where people come together for mutual benefit; to enjoy the beauty and to indulge in the fruit of your labour.”
nebula carrots in a mouth-watering carrot cake with rich cream-cheese frosting. Young leeks are braised in a reduction of white wine, tomatoes and French tarragon until tender.
Juicy, dark-red tamarillos are roasted in the oven for a few minutes and then transformed into a delectable sweet chilli chutney. Rhubarb from my winter garden makes for an old English-style crumble with clotted cream. Italian tomatoes are slow-roasted in the oven with garlic, onions and thyme until soft and syrupy, then blitzed in a food processor to create a lovely pasta sauce. Bright-orange fresh turmeric is added to an Indian curry dish to create a mouth-watering experience.
The latest addition to my vegetable garden is Jerusalem artichokes, which will be ready for harvesting in four to five months.
Lately, I have been experimenting with fermented foods. Every week
I bake sourdough loaves using my own wild yeast starter and stone-ground flour – it’s exciting to combine different flavours, especially by adding vegetables from my garden. I bake flavourful bread with slow-roasted pumpkin or roasted sweet potato with cardamom.
Kombucha, a fermented black tea drink, is made by blending a scoby, tea bags, sugar and fruit such as berries from the garden – a good source of natural probiotics, which do wonders for healing an unhappy gut. Surplus cabbage, carrots and beetroot end up in fermented, unsalted sauerkraut.
I love to share fresh vegetables, sourdough bread, kombucha and other home-made treasures from the garden with my circle of friends, family and neighbours. I BELIEVE IN SUSTAINABLE LIVING. This means using only as much of the earth’s resources as is needed so that we can reduce our carbon footprint and minimise environmental damage. By engaging in the process of sharing we can limit waste; by rethinking our ways of living, how we buy and what we consume, we can be more actively involved in understanding the nutrition our bodies need. As more and more people are moving to live in urban and suburban areas, the cities are becoming culture hubs with dense populations, which means that resources can be reused and shared easily and effectively.
City dwellers can take a leaf from people living in the platteland and in rural or suburban areas. It is not unusual in the platteland to receive a crate filled to the brim with lovely sweet peaches, to be shared in the community and returned as a jar of jam or preserve. Excesses are distributed and zero-waste principles are a way of life.
I believe that by creating my own organic vegetable garden, cooking from my garden, composting kitchen waste
and honouring zero-waste principles I am living the urban dream.
A garden is a place where people come together for mutual benefit, to enjoy the beauty and to indulge in the fruit of your labour. In difficult times, my garden and my kitchen are my comfort and my security.
I hope to return to the platteland one day – to cultivate the land, share in fresh produce and live a full and happy life balanced between work and play.