Gardening in February 2018

Gardening in February

How do you even begin to write a gardening column when all that is on everyone’s lips is “Day Zero”? The day when the taps will run dry. People will have to queue for water. Under tight security. There is already talk of bringing the military in. 25L per person per day. What about the sewage? What about those without transport? The old? The sick? What about industry and business? All these doomsday scenarios are being played out – fuelled by opportunistic politicians and over-eager journalists. Currently the date has been set at the 12th of April. I wonder how they calculate that with such certainty.

Here in Franschhoek it is hard to believe that we are in the midst of “the worst drought in 100 years”. Everything still seems so green. The Berg River Dam is fuller than last year this time. The vineyards and orchards are lush and full of fruit – there is even talk of a decent harvest; at least on par with recent years. But we must face the reality – we are all in priority catchment areas. Our actions have a wide-ranging influence and can affect hundreds and thousands of water users down stream from us. Traditional water rights mean nothing now – they are seen as a privilege that can be taken away at any moment. Most farmers further down the Berg River has already being cut to 30% of their allocation. So, what can we, as gardeners, do to help?

I have in recent months shared loads of water saving tips; I am not going to go into that now. I know that it is important to keep our precious plants alive; do whatever you can to use grey water and black water and rain water and whatever drops of water you can find to keep your garden going. I have long ago given up on watering anything but edible and medicinal plants. But now is the time to plan. Stop watering the garden and make notes of what survives or even flourishes in the micro climate that is your garden. Those are the plants that you are going to make space for in winter. You cannot go wrong with planting more trees this coming season – they not only provide cooling shade, but there are also plenty of research pointing to forested areas “creating” their own rainfall. The biggest water saving act is probably to grow your own food. Even though it might seem to take a lot of water, homegrown is the most water efficient way to produce food. And then we are not even thinking of the other environmental benefits through the savings in transport, pesticides and packaging.

While you are not actually out in the garden it is a good time to broaden your horizons by reading a good book on alternative farming and gardening methods. I find plenty of value in permaculture and love to read about (and eventually implement) the concepts so brilliantly thought out by the late Bill Mollison. His teachings on water seem years ahead of his time, but are built on ancient concepts and practices. These principles were written with agriculture in mind, but applies brilliantly to home scale gardening. The same goes for Biodynamics and Holistic Management. We need to shake up our beliefs and have some new conversations. Equip yourself for the future – this might just be the new normal.

February is harvest time for me – the sweetest of Hanepoot grapes, late plums and peaches, the first figs, blackberries and raspberries providing nature’s candy. It sure is difficult following a low carb lifestyle at this time of year! I have committed myself to experimenting with a few new ideas in preserving the abundance we are looking forward to. Of course, there will also be the bin or two of bootleg bubbling away in the garage…