Gardening in October

Gardening in October

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We are in the third year of what might be the worst drought the Western Cape has ever experienced. Cape Town has just implemented level 5 water restrictions – limiting households to under 87 litres per person per day. Irrigation farmers are not sure what percentage of their water allocation they will be allowed this year, some might not be able to irrigate at all this summer. The entire Franschhoek Valley is a priority catchment area for the Berg River System. This puts even the use of private boreholes and historic rights like “leibeurte” in jeopardy. Desperate times indeed.

Farmers in the Ceres and Citrusdal areas are sacrificing this season’s crops to save their trees – there simply won’t be enough water to ripen the fruit. Some citrus farmers are even cutting down their trees – allowing them to re-sprout in the next two to three years. Buying time for an uncertain future. This might be the new normal. What desperate measures are you taking to save water AND save your garden?
Here are some of my more radical tips to save water. Shower, and do so briefly. I you must bath share that bath with the entire family. If that grosses you out skip a day or two. Buy a twin tub washing machine and stash the fuzzy logic water guzzler for better days.

Wear cotton and wool – much more resistant to body odour than lycra. Use waterless hand cleaners. Use well-seasoned cast iron in the kitchen. Give everyone in the house his own plate and cutlery – you’ll do a lot less washing up. And if you do please do not use the dishwasher. Your pool is a reservoir. Cover it, swim when you really feel like it, but do what you can to save the water that is in there. Let your trees grow – the shade will save you and your garden. Don’t even think about the lawn. Mulch and mulch again. Plant tough groundcovers – I am a big fan of sour fig. They grow easily from cuttings and will provide an instant green cover over almost any type of soil.

Succulents, bulbs, fibrous perennials and Renosterveld type plants will survive even the driest conditions. Most of them will thrive on a little bit of water, even grey water. Fynbos have become a huge trend in gardening, and rightly so. But most of the popular nursery species are mountainous types or hybrids; and they all need more water than what we have now. If you want to establish a new garden now you will be much better off planting a Renosterveld garden and adding the proteas, pincushions, restios and soft ericas at a later stage when conditions improve.

The water you do have at your disposal should be used to grow food. And that is where you should spend your energy in October – in the vegetable patch. Plant, sow, split, harvest, spray, feed and do what needs to be done to make sure your table is laden with the healthiest, tastiest and most vibrant energy rich food from your own garden. Plan you Christmas lunch now and try to grow as much as possible yourself. The satisfaction you get from that will be worth all the effort. I have often entertained with meals that were 100% from the garden; bar a few spices and condiments. Even got it down to the wine, beverages and dessert. And the chicken.

Spring time is asparagus time. Unfortunately, mine were removed by an overzealous colleague earlier in the season. So, I had to rely on fresh peas as my spring treat. Don’t ever be too busy to peal a pea. Served with smoked ham, pulled pork or as a side with butter; few veggies beat it.