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Category Archives: Urban Garden

Chances are you’ve come across this inconspicuous delicate succulent, but dismissed it as a weed.

A weed it is in the sense that it thrives even in challenging environments, but there is much more to this sturdy miracle plant as some hail it.

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In comparison to Purslane: Spekboom #UrbanGardening

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Portulacaria Afra is known by many names:
Porkbush, Elephant’s Food (English); Spekboom. Olifantskos (Afrikaans); iNtelezi, isiDondwane, isAmbilane, iNdibili, isiCococo (isiZulu); iGqwanitsha (isiXhosa).

And many nicknames: elephant bush, dwarf jade, miniature jade or small leaf jade.

It is a species of the Portulacaceae, a family of flowering plants, also known as the purslane family.

 

5 surprising benefits of Portulacaria Afra

 

Superfood

The Southern African cuisine uses Spekboom in salads, soups, and stews to add a sour or tart flavour. Apparently a small sprig of Porkbush steamed with a tomato stew imparts a delicious flavour.

Elephant Bush contains a good amount of minerals: manganese, cobalt and magnesium. It also contains iodine and selenium in large quantities.

 

Healing

The Elephant Plant was traditionally used medicinally for a variety of minor ailments:

Traditional uses also include the increasing of breast milk by lactating mothers. The leaves are used to quench thirst, sucking a leaf is used to treat exhaustion, dehydration and heat stroke. Crushed leaves can be rubbed on blisters and corns on the feet to provide relief. The leaves are chewed as a treatment for sore throat and mouth infections while the astringent juice is used for soothing ailments of the skin such as pimples, rashes and insect stings. The juice is also used as an antiseptic and as a treatment for sunburn.

 

Repairing

Porkbush is being used beneficially in rehabilitating and restoring semi-arid and thicket habitats.

Due to its unique photosynthetic procedures, Spekboom can thrive in desserts just as well as it would in rain forests. This means that it can be planted anywhere in the world to help clean the environment and restore lands that are considered destroyed.

 

Restoring

Spekboom has become the poster plant for climate change because of its ability to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than most other plants.

Its credentials are confirmed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, with a stand of Porkbush having “the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest” – like, for instance, the Amazon rain forest.

A Spekboom can remove up to 100 times more carbon from the atmosphere than a pine tree of similar size can do.

 

Very low maintenance

Elephant Bush has the ability to raise water to the surface near other plants. The plant can thrive in harsh conditions, hence its ability to withstand certain environmental hurdles. Spekboom is of great help in low maintenance gardens. It is highly drought-resistant and can survive on just +-350mm of water per year, making it the ideal choice for waterwise and eco-conscious gardeners.

Large plants survive the winter frosts by growing dense enough to provide their own natural cover. Drought-tolerant and fire-resistant, Spekboom will endure desert sun and heat, and can help fireproofing a garden. Cuttings root very easily in most potting media.

 

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The weather in Cape Town is fantastic.

 

After the drought crisis, we’re even happy when it rains.

Rainfall can be extreme, every now and then it rains so much in such a short time, water flows in streams down the roads.

 

And into our garden, which gets flooded.

The terrace, the walls, the plants are being sprayed clean from dusts.

All the woodchips start floating and get a good wash.

The sand in the dog’s running track gets leveled out and settles perfectly.

 

The next day is like a fresh start, as if nature spring-cleaned, or well winter-cleaned, all outdoors.

 

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After the #rain: Everything is washed clean. #LoveCapeTown

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#LoveCapeTown

 

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After the Cape’s drought crisis, rain is always a welcome sight.

 

Even when we get too much of it!

 

It can rain like out of buckets, with thick heavy raindrops pelting down like the clouds ripped open. The pouring rain blurs your vision like a waterfall curtain and everything is instantly soaked wet.

All the water from the roof and the terrace flows into the garden.

 

 

Our backyard is all clay ground and apparently we did a really good job with our raised flowerbed wall.

So the water drains very slowly, too slow for the water masses building up in minutes. And our garden gets flooded.

 

Luckily the rain stopped just in time for the woodchippings not to float over the poll and into the dogs’ running track.

Because I had just laboured away a day at getting that sorted and neat.

 

All in preparation for the bad weather to come.

As that’s just one of the wonderful effects of heavy rain: Everything gets washed clean.

 

#LoveCapeTown

 

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When your tomato plant looks like this... - ...it probably got eaten by your dogs...

When your tomato plant looks like this… – …it probably got eaten by your dogs…

 

The joys of having puppies! Yes, we love them, but they can be up to some mischief!

 

When this tomato plant fell (or got dragged?) off the window sill, it was a matter of minutes for it to be destroyed.

 

Our dogs love munching on greens, but be aware that not all plants are good for them:

 

Tomato plants are poisonous for dogs!

 

No, not the actual tomato: Tomatoes should be fine and even tomato sauce should pose no risk for your dog to ingest in moderation.

 

But if you are an avid gardener, chances are you have some tomatoes growing in a pot or in a vegetable patch.

 

Tomatoes are nightshades or Solanaceae. The stem and leaves of tomato plants contain a high dose of tomatine.

Tomatine is toxic to dogs, cats and horses. For humans a moderate amount of tomatine seems to be ok, as the popular consumption of ‘fried green tomatoes‘ shows.

 

So obviously when we found the shredded tomato plant, we got quite a fright of tomato poisoning.

But dont’ worry:

 

No dog or plant was harmed in the production of this post.

 

If you catch your pet eating the green parts of the tomato plant, the first step of aid is to induce vomiting.

So I took our puppies to the dog park where they all happily chomped away on some fresh grass.

Gigi turned out to be the culprit: She did not throw up, but pooped out the tomato leaves whole and in one go. Lucky us, as when the tomato leaves are expelled, so is the risk of poisoning.

 

However, if your pet ingested a large quantity of tomato greens and it has entered the digestive tract, consult your vet.

 

Fortunately the tomato plant too has recovered and is sprouting lots of new leaves everywhere. So no harm done.

But a big lesson learned:

 

Restrict access to tomato plants for your pets.

 

If you grow your tomato plant in a pot, make sure it is out of reach for the dogs. Especially when you leave your dog or cat alone, you might want to keep your tomato plants in a different room and keep it locked.

 

If you grow your tomato plants outside, keep them fenced off or put up a screen that your pet can’t jump over or push aside.

 

Offer alternative greens to your pets.

 

If your dogs like to snack on some fresh greens, offer them a healthy alternative and grow some safe plants, for example fresh grass, in an accessible place for them.

 

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Building with concrete: What effect does it have on the surrounding soil?

Building with concrete: What effect does it have on the surrounding soil?

 

We’re building raised flower beds and fitting to the industrial raw look of our house we want to use concrete blocks.

Concrete blocks are flexible to use, inviting to play Giant Lego, so we might even turn some of the top row on the side, functioniong as additional planters.

 

Our garden is square, surrounded by boundary walls. The idea is for the flower beds to run along two of the walls, in an L-shape.

All we need to do for that is build a parallel smaller wall next to the two higher boundary walls. Doing a proper job, we need a concrete foundation for this wall.

 

So we have concrete blocks and a fresh concrete foundation holding up the raised flower beds in which we want to grow our vegetables. The question is:

 

Is concrete bad for your garden?

 

Concrete is the mixture of sand, gravel, cement and water.

 

Premanufactured concrete such as concrete blocks can contain fly ash, which is toxic.

 

Cement contains a variety of materials, such as limestone, shells, chalk, shale, clay, slate, blast furnace slag, silica sand, iron ore, some of which are harmful.

The main hazardous effect of cement is that it is highly alkaline. Wet cement is strongly corrosive (pH = 13.5) and can easily cause severe skin burns.

Even when the cement is dry, lime leaches into the soil which raises its pH levels. Plants usually like a slightly acidic to neutral soil, in the 6.0 to 7.0 pH range.

 

Protect soil from the effects of adjacent concrete

 

If you’re concerned unwanted substances might be leaching from concrete into soil, you can protect your soil:

–   Seal concrete blocks with concrete sealant and polymer paint.

–   Line the concrete blocks with plastic sheeting.

 

If you just want to deal with the altered pH level, you can treat your soil:

–   Use sulphur to lower the soil’s pH level.

–   Any acidic substance can help reduce the pH level, as long as it’s not too much acid for the plants. Funny enough, dog wee could be beneficial.

–   As a quick fix, water affected plants with a white vinegar solution.

–   Plant greens that prefer a more alkaline soil, for example Clematis, Asparagus, Ferns.

 

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What a buzz!

Some new visitors decided to make a stop in our garden: Bees!

Bees are settling in our garden.

Bees are settling in our garden.

Every now and then a bee colony runs out of space. Part of the bees pack up and decide to find a new place: They swarm.

On their way they stopped in our garden. Unfortunately they didn’t stay. Maybe not yet enough plants around for them to make it an attractive spot.

But a nice inspiration for what could be: Some homemade honey sounds very appetising.

Maybe next time they’ll settle for good. 🙂

 

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Your dirty dishwater could kill some of those creepy bugs.

Your dirty dishwater could kill some creepy bugs.

 

My urban gardening guerrilla tomatoes (guerrilla because they kind of have the tendency to grow themselves) were all of a sudden not faring so well. A close inspection revealed they were under attack: Red Spider Mites!

 

When I researched How to Get Rid of Red Spider Mites Organically I was surprised to read a simple recipe for bug spray listed:

 

Easy recipe for bug spray

1 litre water

+  2 tablespoons cooking oil

+  2 tablespoons soap

 

That’s basically my dirty dishwater!

 

If you brush your dishes free from food leftovers and wash them with biodegradable dishwashing liquid, you can use the dirty dishwater on your plants as a bug repellent. You might need to add oil or soap, or just want to use it as a preventative in a mild mixture.

 

Vinegar, lemon juice, hot sauce, essential oils are also great bug repellents. So if you have any of these left over, don’t waste them down the drain, but spritz them on your plants instead.

 

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