It’s the time of year for planting strawberries, and we’ve decided to try it out inside the glasshouse. To avoid the disappointment of picking a juicy strawberry, only to find it tunnelled into by a slug or songololo, we’ve built straw bale pyramids for our strawberries.
Straw has traditionally been used to cover and protect young plants from snow and frost in colder climates, and to keep fruit from rotting on the ground. Growing strawberries hydroponically is becoming popular again because it keeps the fruit from from the goggas on the ground. Hydroponics often relies on chemical feed, but we prefer to do things organically, which is why we have soaked the straw with EM (Effective Micro-organisms) to prevent fungus and release the nutrients to the plants. Our straw pyramids act as a holding medium through which the organic fertiliser is watered.
We have also tucked soil within the bales and included a fair amount of our earthworm compost to feed the plants. We’ll also use a kelp-based foliar feed once a week, and hope that all of this will result in masses of dingly-dangly fruit in a few months’ time.
In recent years, a neighbouring farm has grown strawberries in hanging baskets to prevent slug damage, and we’ll also be potting up some hanging baskets with strawberries shortly. For those of you living in small city places, this is something to consider for your balcony or stoep.
Today we have a post from one of our much-beloved gardeners, Gundula Deutschlander, all about Hibiscus:
My interest in Hibiscus was pricked when we noticed Zimbabwean ladies picking leaves from suburban shrubs flowering on the sidewalks, and using them for cooking. We were given seed from the hibiscus family by one of our Zimbabwean security guards, and also watched his okra seed grow to produce those strange lady’s fingers, and the swelling buds of his cotton bursting open to present their downy fluff. However it’s the hibiscus that I have grown in the glasshouse that has really tantalised my tastebuds.
The Hibiscus Roselle (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) originates from Sudan, where they call it “karkade”, and the plant was domesticated around 4 000 BC. It is true famine food, as it is very drought tolerant. In famine stricken areas the seeds are actually ground to use as a coffee substitute or as flour to be used in soup or for making patties. Even though it is somewhat bitter, it is a good source of protein.
Hibiscus spread around the globe, as slaves took seeds with them, weaving hibiscus into the local cuisine from Jamaica – where it is drunk with ginger and rum – to Lebanon – they drink it with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts – and even in Burma, where it is a sweet preserve.
Most often, Hibiscus Roselle is grown as an annual, with the first two harvests cropped for their leaves – edible raw or cooked. Only as the summer days shorten do the Hibiscus plants begin to flower. The calix around the flower swells as the flower fades and turns into a ruby red jewel, and it’s this fleshy calix that I have begun to harvest to drink as a refreshing tea.
The tea is equally good when made with a fresh or dried calix, seeds cut out, infusing hot water with a rosy glow and the perfect astringent pitch. It’s good to help soothe hypertension and colds, to clear mucus, to act as a diuretic, help with urinary tract infections and to aid digestion. If anyone would like to sample it, I am happy to cut a calix as part of our collection of fresh herbal teas.
I also have plans to make a jar of sweet preserve with some of the calixes, and for that I will leave some seeds inside to provide the pectin. They say it’s a treat to drop one sweet roselle into a glass of champagne for a theatrical effect!
If you are interested in planting this yourselves, you’ll need a warm spot, in order to grow large and provide generously. I bought seed from Shannon at The Gravel Garden.
When the Hammam opened in our garden spa earlier this year, they had a real need for good olive oil soap that makes lots of bubbles. Since we have our own olive oil, pressed from the trees in the garden, we decided to try our hand at soap making.
Making our soap wasn’t as easy as we’d thought, and took a few “test-runs” to get it perfect.This is how we went about our soap-making:
First we had to make a wooden version of exactly how we wanted the soap to look. We sanded it very smoothly, as our silicone mould would pick up any roughness.
When we were happy with the ‘mock soap’ we made a box around it into which the silicon was poured, and a vibration sander helped get rid of any trapped air that might create bubbles in the mould. After setting for 24 hours, we removed the wooden bar, and our mould was ready to use
We make our soap using coconut oil, palm kernel oil and olive oil, heated with water and with lye added. The mixture is blended until thick, then poured into the mould and left overnight in a cool, dry place to set.
Once hard, the soap is removed from the mould, then left for four more days to neutralise the lye, and then it is ready for use.
Helpful tips when making soap:
- The oil and the lye must be the same temperature when mixing together.
- Always your safety gear when working with lye. Keep vinegar close by in case the lye comes into contact with skin.
- There are different types of lye on the market. One is used for cleaning drains and the other for this type of products
- When adding colour to the soap mixture, remember that the colour becomes darker as it hardens, so be careful not to overdo it.
The sweet autumn fruit of this beautiful tree Diospyros kaki is known by many names around the world, variously called kaki, oriental persimmon, star fruit and sharon fruit. Locally, it’s known as snotappel in Afrikaans, making reference to the old-fashioned astringent varieties that turn soft and slimy when ripe.
At Babylonstoren we have five non-astringent Japanese varieties of Diospyros kaki, all of which remain firm when ripe, and can be sliced like an apple, namely: Surugu, Izu, MW Fuyu, NZ Fuyu, and I Jiro.
If you visit in the next few weeks you will be able to enjoy the last fruits ripening to a deep orange between the leaves, as they change to a copper-red. It really is a special autumn sight.
And another treat would be to enjoy them at Babel, simply chilled with Amaretto.