Award-winning entry shows how a large-scale kitchen garden can be achieved with minimal use of water
The leaves of various herbs are well known for their medicinal and culinary qualities, but did you know that a number of herbs has edible flowers rich in flavour and fragrance? Chives, basil, dill and fennel flowers are being used by celebrity chefs for salad, garnish and even to brew tea.
The Constas family grow their own produce on a smallholding in Kyalami, just outside Joburg. They are achieving an amazing crop yield using basic principles of water-wise gardening. This amazing kitchen garden includes a wealth of fruit and nut trees, vegetables and herbs, of which they use leaves and flowers.
The garden designed by Mia Marsay of Over the Garden Wall received the Rand Water Floating Trophy for the Best Water-Wise entry at the 2018 annual South African Landscapers Institute (Sali) Awards of Excellence held earlier this year.
Last year the criteria for the awards were modified to include a water-wise element in five of the six categories. Projects entered in these categories are now automatically reviewed against the principles of water-wise best practice. Receiving the overall water-wise award is a prestigious achievement.
Exploring the garden
The edible garden, comprising 16 raised beds which are zoned according to their water requirements, is encircled by a landscaped water-wise garden, with an arbour walkway covered with grape vines. Vegetables and herbs are planted throughout the space.
“Too often a water-wise garden is reflected as having only aloes and succulents,” said Sali national judge Morné Faulhammer at the awards ceremony. “The well-placed and designed vegetable garden together with the grape vines on the trellising shows that a large-scale kitchen garden can be achieved with minimal use of water.”
An abundance of fruit and nut trees has been planted in the garden, including plums, peaches, pears, figs, olives, almond and pecan nut trees. Berry bushes include gooseberries, goji berries, blackberries and blueberries, and kiwi and granadilla grow along the fence. Last season, over 50kg of plums were harvested.
“We used a principle called hugelkultur to construct the beds,” says Mia Marsay, designer of the garden.
“Crushed stone for drainage was placed at the base, followed by logs of wood and then a 400mm layer of soil, a mix of top soil, compost and river sand was added.”
Mulch, an important aspect of water-wise gardening, was put down after planting and is continually replenished. The owners produce their own compost, with a chipper on site, to provide mulch.
One of the main benefits of hugelkultur is the decomposition at the heart of the bed, which releases nutrients into the soil as the logs break down.
A delightful dam with water plants and tilapia fish is in the centre of the garden. Water is reticulated into holding tanks and all grey water from the house goes through a filtration system before being reused.
Are you interested in growing your own produce?
“Just start,” says Marsay. “So often we see a large garden and think that our own spaces are too small, but you don’t need a big space. Start with one square metre and plant something easy like lettuce or radishes and you’ll get a good reward for your efforts.”
What seeds can you sow now in Gauteng? Dwarf and runner beans, basil, beetroot, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, parley, peas, peppers, pumpkin, hubbard squash, radishes, rosemary, sage, spinach strawberries (plant seedlings), sweet corn, Swiss chard, tomatoes, thyme and watermelons.
Prepare your bed. “You need good drainage,” says Marsay. “Mix in good compost and organic fertiliser before planting.”
Choose a spot in full sun. Few crops do well in semi-shade.
Mulch. This is a vital water-wise practice. Use compost, dry grass cuttings, leaves, bark chips or any other organic matter.
Don’t throw out egg shells. Add them to your composter or dig them into the soil. They are a good source of calcium.
Harvest leaves (veg and herbs) early in the morning.
Tips for Cape Town
Gilda Galvad of Sought After Seedlings, suppliers of heirloom Franchi Sementi seeds, says September temperatures are climbing in the Mother City, but the wind-chill factor must be taken into account.
“It’s definitely time for germinating your summer seeds, but if you are in a cold region, plant in trays in a shed, on a sheltered balcony/patio, or on your kitchen window sill,” she says.
What seeds can you sow now in Cape Town? Zucchini, beetroot, Swiss chard, carrots, lettuce, radishes, beans, pumpkin, basil, tomatoes, fennel, cucumber, granadilla, strawberries and watermelon. Add nasturtiums and marigolds around your patch to keep bugs away.
Deflect wind tunnels to protect your vegetables and prevent the soil from drying out.
“Plant your seedlings and place a recycled plastic 2-litre colourless bottle with top and bottom cut off, over them, pushed into the ground,” says Galvad. “This will keep them warm at night and protect them from snails and slugs.”
If allowed, consider drip irrigation. “This provides underground water directly to the roots.”