Stay frosty

I read an article once about the “frost line” which is apparently a date-line drawn by the expected date of first frost.

We were just moving to Bashewa at the time, and I really wanted to prepare myself for the highveld garden. For the two decades we stayed in Pretoria proper (townies/ stadsjapies), I were intrigued when my annuals turned into perennials. Next to Waterkloof we had a day or two of frost every three years!

And then I saw that the first expected frost in Bashewa was 15 April, whilst in Pretoria it was 15 May. Wow. A whole month difference? No, I said to myself. Impossible.



But it turned out to be right. Here we are on the 25th and we have already had three nights of frost.

As I battled through last winter, amazed at the disappearance of my veggie seedlings (roughly at the same time of the appearance of strange rabbit-like footprints :)), intrigued by the sudden death of my summer plants, I learned to respect the frost.

But then, munching my first apple from my tree this year, I thought of the beneficial effect of the very same frost on some trees.

As I love growing berry plants, I know that they also love frost.

So, as we slice through the escarpment mist-banks driving towards town, we are blessed with the crisp frost scenes of early morning. As it dwindles away the closer we get to Pretoria, we no longer reminisce about warmer days lost. Now we look forward to plump berries and succulent apples.

But this weekend I have some work to do – start removing the frostbitten vegetation of the last week! To the compost heap, of course!

Herbie sprays again

How about a herbal spray that REALLY controls those nasty aphids. Yes, even the wooly Australian ones!

Three little herbs (not so well known, but if you ask your local nursery, not too difficult to obtain:




Rue (Ruta graveolens) is no longer commonly used in cooking, but is an attractive and interesting addition to the herb garden. If you like authentic Ethioppian and Grecian cooking flavours, you may find that rue is the secret ingredient. However, one should be careful, as exposure to rue can cause severe blistering of the skin when exposed to the sun, a condition called phytophotodermatitis.




Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has a very characteristic odour and is well-known in its use as an insect repellent  It is used to repel fleas and moths indoors, and repels larvae of many pests when planted in the garden. Very recent studies (2012) (see reference below) links this wonderful herb to the possibilities of an alternative treatment for breast cancer.





Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is an interesting herb that smells like camphor with a hint of rosemary. It is a strong insect repellent with specific effectiveness in repelling worms. In ages past it was used in embalming processes. In England it is used in windowsills to repel flies.

Now, to bubble bubble toil and trouble:

1 handful of rue

1 handful of wormwood

1 handful of tansy

250ml pure soap powder

2 liters of boiling water

Boil the herbs in a little bit of the water for about 5 minutes, then add it to the pot of boiling water.

Add the soap powder.

Strain and use undiluted to spray plants infested with aphids.

This not only kills the ones you see, but also repels the ones carried around by the industrious farmer ants.




Shafi et al., Artemisia absinthium (AA): a novel potential complementary and alternative medicine for breast cancer. Molecular Biology Reports. 2012, 39, 7, 7373-7379


Leaves oh Glorious Leaves!

Some people look at the autumn trees and get irritated.


Cleaning the pool every day, raking the leaves, messy, messy.

Yet, the leaves are just the most wonderful bounty in the garden. Soon, spring arrives, and everyone rushes out to go and buy those bags of compost to kick-start the garden. And are totally oblivious of the rich (expensive to replace) opportunity they raked away, and even (oh, no!) burned up.

The leaves make the most excellent mulch (which is why the trees throw it to the ground in the first place), the most wonderful soil enricher and the most energetic earthworm encourager around. And its FREE!

What you need to to is to 1. either leave the leaves in the beds to be a mulch for the dry season or 2. rake them into a hole or a corner and let them be.

The mulching is my personal favourite, as it protects those spring bulbs, keeps the soil moisture intact, which in turn keeps the soil structure beautiful. And these days its all about soil structure. No mulch and the soil dries out, the worms abandon ship and the garden becomes a labour camp in spring. Also, I found that through mulching, those seeds that escaped your diligent fingers when you harvested them, lie in nice warm beds and wait for the spring growth. You will have a glorious boon of free seedlings when it becomes warmer, which is wonderful if you have an English Cottage garden like I do.

So many benefits, so little fuss.

So, leave the leaves! They will love you and give you back so much in spring!




The Humble Cosmos

At this time of the year, don’t you just love driving down Garstfontein Rd, with all these little fellows bowing their heads at you?
Cosmos bipinnatus
Perhaps you did not know, but the humble cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is a visitor to our country, even our continent. These days people are making a big fuss about the purple fields of the incredibly invasive pom-pom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum), without realising that the nice docile little cosmos is as un-South African a visitor.

But then, my dad told me, a weed is any plant not growing where you want it to.

You can buy Cosmos seeds at your local nursery, and add a wonderful autumn display to your waning late-summer garden. However, learn this from nature – the leave structure of the cosmos is made to interlock when they are growing in fields. Otherwise the plant is top-heavy and prone to lie down. So, plant them in a close enough grouping, the larger the grouping the better, and the group will support itself.

Cosmos is also wonderful butterfly and bee attractor.

For those “stop-and-smell-the-roses” types, you can stop next to the road and pick some for the vase, as they make good cut flowers. If you feed them with a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of Jik per liter of water, they will give you at least a week plus two days. Not bad, at the price of flowers these days!

Time to prepare for winter (cough, cough)

Yes, it’s that time of the year. And as winter arrives suddenly in Bashewa (I always look for autumn but seem to miss it, other than the cosmos in Garstfontein Road and the Golden Amber trees changing colour), we need to prepare ourselves very quickly for the colds and flu’s.
What better way to do this than with nature’s medicine chest?

There are two plants in my garden that has a lot of power in this regard: My humble garlic (Allium Sativum) and my Cone Flower (Echinacea pupurea).

garlic1. Garlic
Even Louis Pasteur documented the anti-bacterial properties of garlic in 1858.
Garlic has been used in many cultures to treat diarrhea, coughs and colds and heart conditions.
(It does have some side effects, though, as those among us with sensitive noses may agree).
Garlic has been proven to be very effective in preventing colds and coughs.
How to use:
As it is a delicious culinary herb, the best way too take it is in food.
As cooking does lessen the effect of the garlic severely, the best way to take it is like a capsule, popping a whole clove in your mouth and swallowing it.
for the less adventurous, crushing it in olive oil and adding lemon and using as a salad dressing is the better way.
Remember, the effects of the fat bulbs of “Chinese garlic” (Allium Tuberosum) are not the same as Allium Sativum. (Especially if you want to pop one in your mouth and swallow it – you could choke to death!)
Then you also get
echinacea2. Echinacea (Cone flower) Russian garlic or Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) which is actually a family member of leeks. Delicious, if you can find it, but not really garlic at all.

Other than being a very attractive feature plant in my herb garden, this is a giant amongst medicinal herbs. It is one of the most studied herbs in science. Interestingly, the studies do not prove that echinacea can prevent you from getting a cold. It is curative, and can cut the effect of the cold down as well as the duration of the cold.
How to use:
Steep 1 or 2 teaspoons of echinacea leaves or flowers in 1 cup of boiling water.
Alternatively boil one teaspoon of root 1 one or two cups of water for 10 minutes.
Sweeten with honey and enjoy!

Organic Insect Sprays

As the weather cools down (a lot faster than in Pretoria, just down the road), I am wrapping up the summer garden, gathering seeds and cleaning up. Which reminded me to post a note on the very effective ways I battled the chompy chewies this year.
Returning from a trip to Malawi, I found that the knowledge gained is quite portable and needed by avid gardeners everywhere!
Well, here goes:

insect-sprayHome made garlic soap spray (Got this from JG Simpson’s excellent book Food from Your Garden):
(The secret here is using oil-based soaps and not detergents. I use Bingo Blue soap bars.)

3 large heads of garlic (85-100g)
6 tbsp medicinal paraffin oil
1 tbsp grated oil-based soap
500ml hot water

Roughly chop the garlic, put into a blender with the paraffin and pulp. Scrape into a bowl, cover it and leave for about 2 days.
Take the hot water (I use an old plastic jug for this), grate in the soap and stir until dissolved.
Stir this warm mixture into the garlic paraffin pulp.
When cooled down, scoop into old jam jars (Screw top) and refrigerate it.

To use: take two tbsp of this and mix into 2 liters of water.
Spray the plants, especially under the leaves if you have nasties like mealie bugs.

To add some oomph, you can add some chillies to the garlic mixture and blend it in.
(Just don’t confuse this jar with your others if you love making Indian food like I do, and have some garlic paste and chilli paste that you home-made!)

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