Organic farming done right!
A showcase organic farm is being established in KZN, and we can’t wait to see it grow from strength to strength.
Dale Grobler is a passionate, energetic organic farmer. We’ve featured him before, with his Farm to Forks business that supplies top-notch fresh and organic produce to some of the best restaurants in the country. And now Dale is spreading is wings. As with anyone involved in the restaurant business, Dale has had a tough year or two, with restaurants not able to take the produce that he grew for them. He managed to pivot his business to a degree, with pick-your-own foraging days on his farm, but times have been tough. You can’t keep a guy like Dale down though, and there is a beaming light on the horizon, a light that will become one of the most impressive organic farm gardens in KwaZulu-Natal, and probably the country. “It’s going to be a beautiful show garden, but also a functional farm,” says Dale. “This is going to be nothing like KZN has seen before!” And as luck would have it, this organic masterpiece is going to be just up the road from the Grow to Eat offices, at Stoneford Country Estate in Botha’s Hill. It’s a very structured layout, inspired by other formal gardens found in South Africa, so it has to be neat, with not a weed and nothing out of place. There will be chicken and ducks roaming around taking care of snails and other pests. “Ultimately what we want to do is show people that organic farming is achievable – it’s realistic. We want people to see that you can grow restaurant quality, healthy, nutrient-dense food without chemicals, by being responsible and ethical. We want to highlight what it means to eat local, to support local farmers and producers, to get what you can without plastic and the negative effects of transport.” It’s early days, but earth has been broken and Dale has shared his plan with us. We’ll follow his journey, and the farm’s, with interest and share it on these pages. In the meantime, here are some organic growing tips and a recipe from Dale.
Dale’s Tips on how to start an Organic Garden
Dale Grobler from Farm to Forks has shared his top tips on getting a veggie garden started organically.
Prepare the soil
To get the best results with your organic garden, you need to ensure that the soil is properly conditioned. Healthy soil helps build up healthy plants. Chemically treated soil can seep into your food as well as harm the beneficial bacteria, worms and microbes in your soil. Mix in compost, leaf and grass clippings, and manure. Manure should be composted first.
Make good compost
All gardens benefit from compost. Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds and keeps waste out of landfills!
Choosing the right plants
It really pays to choose plants that will thrive in your specific conditions, plants that will adjust well in terms of light, moisture, drainage and soil quality. The happier your plants are, the more resistant they’ll be. If you’re buying seedlings, look for plants grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Choose plants that are indigenous to your area. It’s better to buy seedlings with few blooms and root systems that are not overcrowded.
Vegetables or cutting flowers should be grouped tightly in beds that you don’t walk on. Raised beds also work well. Grouping reduces weeding and water waste, and also helps target compost and nutrients. Ample space between rows helps promote air circulation, which decreases the risk of fungal diseases. If you have limited space and time, I would plant chillies, Swiss chard or spinach, radishes, beetroot and carrots.
The best time to water is in the mornings; it tends to be cooler with less wind, so the amount of water lost to evaporation is reduced. If you water in the evening, plants stay damp overnight, making them more likely to be damaged by fungal and bacterial diseases. You should water the roots of the plant, not the greenery, which is easily damaged. To avoid shocking tender leaves, try to use water near air temperature; collected rainwater is best.
Reduce weeds by applying mulch, which also helps protect the soil. You can use straw, lawn cuttings or wood chips.
Protecting plants without pesticides
If you have pests, it may be a sign of other problems, so make sure your plants are getting enough light, nutrients and moisture. It’s good to have natural predators in your garden, such as frogs, lizards and birds. Beneficial insects can be your friends, especially ladybirds.
Don’t forget to harvest the fruits of your labour! Generally, the more you harvest, the more your plants will produce. It’s best to cut produce off with a sharp knife or scissors rather than harvesting with your fingers, which can cause damage to plant tissue.
If you notice unhealthy plants, ensure you pull up the entire plant. Don’t forget to rake up underneath the plant as diseased leaves can create future problems.
Dale’s quick beetroot pickles
These are great for the summer table, and the recipe can also be used for radishes, courgettes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, peppers and chillies.
- 500g beetroot
- 750ml vinegar
- 750ml water
- 2 heaped tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves sliced garlic
- Handful of thyme
- A 3-litre glass jar
Slice your beetroot evenly, then add the beetroot slices to the glass jar. Add the vinegar and water to a pot, add salt and spices, and bring to a simmer. Pour the mixture into the glass jar, covering the beetroot. Let it cool for about 12 hours before refrigerating. Your pickles will be ready to eat in 48 hours and will last for 3 – 4 weeks in the fridge.