Seed sellers around the world saw a spike in demand and sales during these past two pandemic years, says an article first published in the Guardian. Many sellers initially struggled to keep up with demand as people around the world turned their backyards into mini farms. It was the same for many living in South Africa.
Livingseeds, a local heirloom seed company, used a recent newsletter to note that they saw an explosion of orders over the last two years. The company could barely keep up with demand. And not only that, but the brand’s Facebook community page also grew astronomically over this time as South Africans turned to one another for growing advice, tips and tricks.
Food security has always been a concern in South Africa- a concern which deepened when the country went into lockdown and people lost jobs and revenue streams. It is no surprise then that many South Africans started growing their own food as a way to support themselves and their families and put food on the table.
And it’s not just summer that yields great harvests here. Unlike many other parts of the world, most of South Africa doesn’t get snow or frost in the winter time, so it’s still relatively easy to grow vegetables during the colder months. You can’t, of course, just grow anything. You need to focus on vegetables that do well in the colder months. We chatted to Chef Norman Heath of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront to see what his winter vegetable recommendations are as well as some tips on how to get the garden into shape.
- Plant only what you eat and use
“This is an important one,” notes Chef Norman. “If you don’t eat beetroot, don’t grow it. You will find that you let a lot of it go to waste if you grow things you don’t like.”
This is the season for hearty soups and stews so look into vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, beetroot and spinach. Autumn and winter are also great planting seasons for garlic if you want an abundant summer harvest.
- Plant in full sun
“Most vegetable gardens need full sun or at least six full hours of sunlight per day. And in winter when the ground stays moist and wet for longer, you are going to want that sunshine so that your ground isn’t kept too soggy or cold,” explains Chef Norman.
Sun, of course, is also good for photosynthesis, which all plants need. If you can’t plant in full sun, look into getting grow lights, which will mimic sunlight and fool your plants into thinking they are in the sun.
- Use mulch
Chef Norman explains: “Mulching is when you cover your garden beds with dry leaves, wood chips or even dry grass. Mulching in winter is important and has a number of key benefits.”
Winter can be harsh with its rain, storms and more. With mulching, you are protecting your garden from soil damage, preventing frost as the soil under the mulch is unlikely to freeze and it helps prevent soil erosion in harsh weather conditions.
- Keep a hand on your garden
“Pests thrive in the damp and wet conditions of winter,” warns Chef Noman. “Be sure to check on your garden regularly and do regular maintenance and upkeep.
If you don’t have the time or capacity to do this yourself, you can look into using outside help. SweepSouth, for example, has an outdoor service that offers gardening services. With the help of SweepSouth, you can ensure that your winter garden is neat and pest-free. Alen Ribic of SweepSouth recommends that you use this service regularly and notes that you can book the same person for each visit. This helps in that it means that only one person will take care of your garden and will know where the problem areas are.
- Don’t be afraid to fail
“Even in the kitchen I sometimes fail,” says Chef Norman. “So, I don’t let it get me down when I also have failures in the garden. I look at it as a learning experience for next time.”
There are many websites and resources that come in handy should you need more advice on how to make a success out of home gardening this winter. YouTube is a good place to start, but you’ll also want to read websites and gardening media which are specifically aimed at South Africa and its specific growing conditions.