Surviving the heat of spring

Now that our maximum temperatures are exceeding the 30 degree mark it feels like spring has pretty much come to an end. It’s been great to see the seeds we planted in August come to life and start to fruit. At the same time my anxiety about the plants surviving the heat of summer is increasing.

I’ve definitely started to watch the weather patterns more closely. We’re starting to get some of those gorgeous summer 3D cloud formations (I’m sure there is a more scientific name for them) that are a major feature of Joburg summer landscapes.

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Clouds over Nelson Mandela Bridge on Friday afternoon
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A beautiful unfulfilled promise of rain over Hillbrow

Despite the daily late afternoon spectacular cloud showcase on most days there’s no opening of the clouds and gift of water from the skies. We’ve only had a couple of thunderstorms so far. Perhaps they’re still on their way but at this point I’m seriously considering getting a rain chart.

It feels like spring is a lot warmer this year compared to last year, but maybe I just feel like that every year because I’m always following the NASA temperature analysis reports which warn every month that it’s just getting hotter.

According to a report by Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

“July 2017 was statistically tied with July 2016 as the warmest July in the 137 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).”

I guess I’m hyper aware of the impact of warming on my little courtyard garden. Most mornings when I get a chance to inspect for pests I find my self sticking my fingers into the soil at random places to check if I need to water. More often than not I need to turn on the taps.

There’s been a lot happening in the garden since my Spring is here blog post back in September. As always I feel like there is a lot more to do but for now I think it’s important to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far.

The heirloom zucchini plants have given us some tasty veggies to eat. The first seeds I planted in pots on Women’s day in August have all flowered but haven’t given as many zucchini as the ones I planted in the ground in September.

I think this is because I planted more than one seed in each pot and it’s been a little too crowded.

The blueberry plants that we thought had died through winter and almost threw out will give us about four berries this spring. This is very little I know but sometimes knowing that you kept a plant alive for more than a year when you didn’t really know what you were doing is still feels like an achievement.

Ironically, the most generous plant in the courtyard garden has been the artichoke. We have feasted on about three artichokes already and there are at least another four on the way.

This plant I bought by chance at the beginning of the year. I had no idea how to care for it or how large it would grow. It’s become the centre piece of the main bed in the courtyard garden and it’s gotten so heavy that we needed to put a mini-tripod on the side to keep it upright.

I doubt the health benefits of an artichoke are the same as spinach and kale, especially when we tend to use the leaves as a spoon for lemon butter. Despite this, they are really pretty and it’s been a treat to enjoy. We usually just boil the artichoke until the leaves are soft enough to pick off one by one, until we get to the soft hearts.

More than anything, the playful process of eating the artichoke has been a fun and playful experience for my husband John and I to enjoy on a Friday night after a hectic week at work.

The yarrow has produced the prettiest little white flowers. I’ve been using the leaves in tea with chamomile flowers.

This is a great tea to help you sleep easy at night. I’ve also read that the flowers and leaves can be dried and used as mulch. They are apparently a great addition to the soil as they leaves are full of nutrients. I will definitely be trying this.

New additions

We’ve finally landscaped the smaller, corner bed in the courtyard. For a long time I tried to grow a granadilla plant but it just didn’t survive. Then we used the bed to grow soil in the winter and just added a lot of organic matter to it to keep it alive.

The bed borders our neighbour’s garden and along the wall we planted some red amaranth, which I know grows pretty tall. Next to this I’ve added some baby leaf spinach, marigolds, heirloom zucchini and I plan to add a tomato plant as well.

We also added a new granadilla plant that I got from the Bryanston Organic Market. Luckily the roots hadn’t circled too much in the bag and there was very little transplant shock. It’s really flourishing and growing taller every day.

Around the granadilla I planted some wild garlic, marigolds and lavender. We raised this bed slightly and separated it from the other growing area with a branch from the bottlebrush tree we trimmed back. We added a few old train sleepers to we don’t stand on the soil where things are growing.

Balcony garden

The balcony garden has been less of a success story. I’ve seen what I learnt about the role of insects in the food garden at a workshop with Ashleigh Machete from Jozi Food Farmer in practice.

The pots in the corner of the balcony have been plagued by spider mites – they really seem to love corners. The same thing happened to a mint plant I had there a few months back. We had to remove it completely as there was a lot of leaf damage.

The dill and curry bush plants have both attracted aphids. The dill plant gets yellow aphids and the curry bush gets the normal black ones. I just watch it closely and remove the stems that have been infested.

I have introduced some violas and marigolds and hope that they will attract some bees and other beneficial insects to encourage our tomato plants to flower.

In the meantime we are planting leafy greens every few weeks so that we have lettuce, mustard leaf, rocket and baby leaf spinach all season long.

Bring on those summer salads! And a bit more rain please universe!

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