Fabio, a friend visiting from Italy is doing some voluntary work in SA for 3 months. He’s based at St Catherine’s Catholic Church in Eldorado Park, Soweto. As he’s Italian they’ve put him to work in the kitchen at a nearby pre-primary school. Fortunately he can cook.
We laughed when aghast he said: “They don’t even have any garlic or mozzarella.”
Some of the children at the school, there’s about 100 or so, mostly only have one meal a day and that’s at lunchtime at school. Sad.
Fabio asked for some advice about creating a vegetable garden at the school. I said I’d come and have a look. Nothing altruistic on my part I just felt like a drive and Eldorado Park seemed like an unfamiliar coat I’d like to wear for the morning.
Small neat houses with green grass and lonely trees shoved right up against grimy houses worse the wear for paint. Shanty shops selling airtime and Sprite on every corner. Grassy, neglected fields filled with litter are surrounded by street-side entrepreneurs peddling everything from chappies bubble gum to tyres. The school at the end of a cul de sac sits next to a massive rundown block of flats that I’d forbid my nieces to walk past - some of the children live there.
What made me care?
Sometimes things happen that make you feel unexpectedly different. My cynical veneer was peeled back by these children with their caramel skins and Bambi eyes. Maybe it’s because they look like the kid I could never have. Or maybe it’s their big white smiles. They charge around yelling their heads off, they laugh. But there is a tangible despondency about them.
We didn’t just want to rush into planting the garden as Dan and I believe soil is everything. Plants live long healthy lives if their habitat is good (kind of like people). I spoke to SA Vermiculite and they donated 10 huge bags of vermiculite. This is an expensive product (lucky us) – the soil will be cooler for it and it will retain water better.
We brought in our enviable mixture of organic soil, peat moss and compost and crushed stones to make the pathway, and with the help of Fabio and the ou oom (old man in Afrikaans) Moses, who usually opens and closes the school gate, we weeded the dry patch and then laid the soil foundation. It was hot, thirsty work – the nuns who run the joint brought us cokes – as I gulped each one down it felt unbelievably refreshing. I know. It’s bad and fattening. But, it does the trick.
Doonholm Wholesale Nursery donated 150 herbs and Starke Ayers gave us thousands of seeds – which will see the school through way into next year. We sowed, we planted and we laughed. The kids helped us carry, weed and asked us hundreds of questions. A happy day.
We also set up two worm farms that were donated by Andy Carr – the kitchen staff is all abuzz that they will be able to make their own liquid fertiliser out of food scraps. We put 3 Southernwood plants in the kitchen – the leaves’ pungent camphor smell helps to repel flies. I’m not sure though that Southernwood has ever had to face a cloud of flies like this before.
Starting to take 'crooked' shape
Staking the tomatoes and eggplant
The garden has a way to go. But it feels good.
Potager used rustic Willow baskets to decorate a sidewalk in Parkhurst. The baskets are planted with a multitude of vegetables and herbs and the community is invited to take what they want.
When you grow your own produce you always have a surplus so I think its a good idea to share. Take a basket filled with lettuce leaves, rocket and pok choi as a gift when you're going to a friends house for dinner. Or better yet, let the community share in your bounty.
We planted some standards like beans, snap sugar peas, spinach and a variety of lettuces, but we also added in a few unusual vegetables and herbs like Pak Choi (Chinese cabbage) - the flowers are also edible, bloody sorrel, Rose scented geranium - to keep the bugs away, and German Chamomile tea. The radishes sadly didn't survive. I think it wasn't sunny enough and the cold weather didn't help.
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