Growing organic produce with Jane’s Delicious Garden

October is World Hunger Month and what better way to encourage food sustainability than to grow your own fruit and vegetables. I started growing herbs and vegetables just over a year ago and while there has been quite a transformation in our garden, there is still so much to learn.

When I heard that expert Joburg based backyard food grower Jane Griffiths was speaking at the Keith Kirsten Garden Centre at Waterfall Wilds I signed up immediately.

Jane is the author of the best-selling book, Jane’s Delicious Garden and several other titles. She began her journey about 20 years ago when she started to grow exotic, colourful chilies in her backyard after a trip to California.

Since then she’s dug up more lawn in her backyard to grow food and hasn’t looked back. I’m so glad I attended the talk last week Wednesday as I learnt so much.

Here’s five bits of advice from Jane herself:

The green fingers myth

Jane says that the whole idea of some people being better gardeners than others, the idea that some of us have been blessed with “green fingers” is a myth.

“The most essential tool in growing your own food is knowledge,” says Jane.

This knowledge can be obtained by observing your garden every day and the more you know about your environment, the better off your garden will be.

“People ask me if I talk to my plants, sometimes I do, but mostly I listen,” she says.

I love the idea of observing the garden as a way of listening to plants speak about or show what they need to survive. This brings me to her next point.

The Keith Kirsten Garden Centre at Waterfall Wilds

Plants are co-conspirators

“Plants don’t want to die, they want to grow. You need to create an environment where they can flourish,” says Jane.

Part of creating this environment is choosing a place that gets good sun and making sure that you have healthy soil.

Jane spoke a lot about the importance of humus in healthy soil.

Humus is not something you can order online from the garden centre and have it delivered, she says. It has to be created by doing a number of things, like not digging up your garden beds.

According to Jane, a bit of surface-level soil turning when planting new seedlings is okay, however there is no need to dig up an entire bed when starting a food garden.

“Digging deep into a bed is detrimental. As you turn the soil over you lose the moisture coming out of it,” she says.

Jane says that no dig gardening is also better for earthworms, which clean the soil and leave it much richer afterwards.

Other tips for healthy soil from Jane include designing a bed to make sure that you don’t stand on the soil where your vegetables are growing.

Organic produce growing in modified pallet crates at the Keith Kirsten Garden Centre

Don’t panic when you see aphids

Jane shared a story with us of how one day she woke up and noticed a lot of aphids on one of her plants. She immediately felt the instinct to remove them by spraying the plant with water but then decided to leave them because she needed shots of the “bad guys” for a new book.

The next day she woke up and noticed a ladybird laying eggs. The ladybirds soon appeared and proceeded to make a feast of the aphids.

“Sometimes you need to let things be.”

“Don’t panic, give nature a chance to redress the balance between the good guys and the bad guys,” says Jane.

More organic produce growing at Waterfall Wilds

Diversity and variety

Jane says its good to create as much diversity and variety in a food garden as possible. Not only will this confuse pests but it will also create a kind of firebreak to stop diseases from spreading.

When planning a bed, Jane says instead of planting in rows, plant a lot of different things together, to form a kind of umbrella, “so you retain moisture.”

Such a fun sign at the Keith Kirsten Garden Centre

Organic all the way

Jane practices organic gardening and spoke at length about the dangers of chemical fertilizers. She says chemical fertilizers reduces nutrients in the soil.

When removing plants from the soil, you need to replace the nutrients with organic fertilizer and compost explains Jane.

There is nothing better than a tomato from the garden, even with a few bug bites, it still tastes like summer, says Jane.

My first tomatoes have already fruited but they’re still green and already bug bites have appeared on a few but I’m looking forward to eating them anyway, when the time is right.

My first tomatoes of the season will hopefully start turning red soon

Besides the valuable lessons for growing food that Jane shared with us, what I loved most about her talk were the personal anecdotes.

What surprised me is when she told us that her garden and books are actually a side project, and that her “day job” is in fact something else entirely.

I’m a big fan of side projects – like this little blog of mine. Listening to Jane speak about how she started 20 years ago and seeing how wise and knowledgeable she is today, it gave me hope that maybe this blog could turn into something special one day.


If you want to hear from from Jane, follow her Facebook page – Jane’s Delicious Garden. It’s full of inspiration.

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