Gorgeous Green House

The Renovation Journey of a 1940’s ‘Traditional’ to 2015 ‘Contemporary, Green & Gorgeous’


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Last Three Beetroot of the Season

DSC07888As I pull out the last three enormous and beautiful beetroot in the veggie garden I have pause to reflect on our first winter in the Gorgeous Green House. Spring is now upon us and it time to take stock of what has been fairly experimental but also haphazard time in the veggie garden.

The beetroot have obviously been a huge success but I didn’t plant anywhere near enough! Most of the carrots were planted outside the monkey cage as our cheekiest neighbors raid the obviously fruiting things like tomatoes and aubergine.  Not so, I came home one day to find 80% dug up and eaten (very messily too).  The survivors were transplanted inside the veggie cage.  They are very sweet and the funny shapes are very appealing. Know now for next time.

This bright and beautiful collection of organically grown produce is more than just a delicious supper.  The process of nurturing tiny seeds into this abundance brings such joy.  If you already grow food you know what I’m talking about!  If you don’t why not give it a try? Even if you don’t have a garden you could grow some herbs, lettuces or chilies in a pot for a sunny windowsill. I promise you, the potential for getting hooked is quite high.

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Photo Update (part 2)

Pond at front door in.  This is a vitally important element  as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Pond at front door in. This is a vitally important element as it will be stocked with Tilapia fish whose waste will feed the plants on the vertical garden behind.

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

Master bathroom mosaic/tiling done in double shower. Very happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in.  It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap - perfect!

The original outbuilding (now demolished) had huge concrete sink outside, presumable for doing laundry in. It is now re-invented as the mint planter under the tap – perfect!

 

Solar geyser in!  Fantastic.  This is such an easy energy/money saver  (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round.  Please visi

Solar geyser in! Fantastic. This is such an easy energy/money saver (minimum 40% on your electricity bills) so a win all round. Please visit this post to see why we didn’t go the heat pump route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Induction geyser  in!  Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

Induction geyser in! Visit this post if you are curious as to why and induction geyser when we have also installed a solar geyser.

 

My first Knipfophia of Autumn.  Will it turn into a red hot poker?  Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

My first Knipfophia of Autumn. Will it turn into a red hot poker? Time will tell as I have no idea which one it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found:  Agrolubioum tomentosum.

And finally, another yellow beauty, not commonly found: Agrolubioum tomentosum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system.  This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own.  Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build.  Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property.  Watch this space!

And finally, our enormous pit that will house the water harvesting system. This HUGE project is so exciting and the technology so amazing it will get a post all of its own. Suffice to say its 9m X 3m X 2.5m deep and has taken weeks to build. Happy to report that not a grain off soil went off site, its it the roof garden and being spread around the property. Watch this space!


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Vermiculture: gardener’s gold

I have developed quite an emotional attachment to my worms.  For good reason, they are truly amazing and greatly underappreciated creatures.

Gardeners Gold.  the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

Gardeners Gold. the result of vermiculture is the Rolls Royce of compost

If you haven’t yet discovered the joy of worm farming I urge you to give it a go. For the yet to be initiated:

Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Wikipedia

Earthworms aerate, till and fertilize the soil, breaking down organic waste into plant-available forms, improving the soil structure and nutrient and water-holding qualities of soil.  darwin quoteCurrent farming practices that use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and over-tillage of the soil kills earthworms and other beneficial organisms, leading to poor soil fertility, loss of soil structure and soil erosion. At the same time, rotting organic waste dumped in landfills is polluting our underground water supply and releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

Earthworms eat organic waste and give us healthy soil and organic fertilizer in return. The knock on effect is healthy plant growth and food that is significantly more nutritious and delicious.  Farming/gardening without man-made chemicals enables us to avoid poisoning our soil, environment and bodies. This perfect partnership is easy and fun to develop on a smaller scale at home.

There are numerous commercial systems available but you really don’t need a hi-tech operation to get started so go with what your budget allows or make your own.  My

Worm Farm. Simple design.  Effective.

Worm Farm. Simple design. Effective.

son has designed this ingenious system which enables us to maintain the health of the farm and easily harvest the ‘gardener’s gold’.  These simple re-cycled plastic boxes are divided by a section that has holes cut into it.  One side of the box is filled with food until full.  At this point we begin filling the other side leaving the first side to break down further.  As the food disappears the worms will move into the food rich section leaving behind the easy to harvest worm castings which contain up to 100-million microbes per gram – up to 20 times more than ordinary soil!  Added to your garden, these microbes continue to break down organic matter into plant-available forms, thereby enabling plant roots to take up nutrients that would otherwise have stayed bound in the soil. These beneficial organisms also suppress the growth of pathogens, which means healthy soil and healthy plants.  In addition to harvesting the castings we catch the worm wee (leachate) which drips through a hole in the base. It makes a wonderfully nutritious tea when mixed with water.  Tea for plants that is :-).

Rat nibbled aeration patch

Rat nibbled aeration patch

My farms, however, we getting a bit to much attention from other wildlife in the garden.  I realised that the aeration patches had been gnawed through and at least one rat was feasting on my red wrigglers.  I’m all for ‘the cycle of life’ etc. but realised my population was taking to much of a knock.  It was time for some maintenance and harvesting anyway so I got stuck in.  The old aeration patches

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

Air vent repaired with rat proof metal mesh

were replaced with wired mesh, the harvestable sides were harvested, the worm filled sides set aside and the whole box was given a good clean.  Worms were returned with a note on top to advise other family members to now only feed on the one side (yes it is necessary in my family!). Worms are now safe from predators and I have buckets of gold to mix into my veggies boxes.

repaired and restored

repaired and restored

P.S.  I know many of you are very anxious to see images of the incredible vertical garden.  I ask you to bear with me a little longer.  The scaffolding will be coming down soon and then you will get a much better sense of this exciting project.  If you can’t wait to get started on your own VG but need some help, get hold of the plant wizard James Halle on james@halle.co.za.  

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil

Beautiful organic harvest grown in gardeners gold fed soil


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Photo Update

The build seems to have accelerated, or maybe its just because we are starting to get to the best bits.  The most exciting installation, so far, is the vertical garden.  I’m going to be really mean though, and not show you a single picture yet because it is so magnificent, and the landscape artist James Halle is so talented, it has to have its very own post with lots of elaboration.  Watch this space!

Floating staircase

Floating staircase

The shuttering has come off the ‘floating’ staircase, and although this is not a green aspect of the build it is so beautiful I just need to show it off!

The interior painting has commenced.  There are loads of eco-friendly paints on the market these days.  They are much lower in volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which basically means toxic stuff our bodies don’t like.  Confirm this with your paint supplier though because you won’t automatically get a low

Low VOC paint primer

Low VOC paint primer

VOC paint as there are still mixed perceptions about its efficacy.  Rest assured, they are equally effective and no more expensive than traditional.

veggie box

Mesh lining veggie box

The veggie garden now has 3/5 veggie boxes installed.  We are using a plastic timber product. These recycled planks are now widely available.  They are 100% recycled plastic so get great green points.  We lined the base with chicken mesh too keep out the moles.  Galvanized rods secure the sides from bowing out. This stuff will last forever, looks attractive, is easy to install and cheaper than recycled brick options which we had considered

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

3/5 Veggies Boxes Installed

Trichocladus crinatus

Trichocladus crinatus

I was really excited to see my Trichocladus crinitus (Black Witch-hazel) in flower. This small indigenous tree is quite rare and the petal form delicate and unusual.

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Insualation Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

There are lots of eco-friendly options for insulation these days.  We’ve gone with a product made from recycled plastic bottles.  The recycled newspaper product was a close contender.  The team on site report that the green stuff is really great to work with as it doesn’t shed prickly bits like the more traditional pink products.

 

Off Shutter Concrete

Off Shutter Concrete

The off-shutter concrete wall has had its first of two buffs and polishes.  It looks fabulous. I love the industrial /contemporary aesthetic and the honesty of the material.  Its a great ‘hard’ contrast to the green abundance of the garden.  Very happy with how its turned out.

Erythrina humeana

Erythrina humeana

The Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral Tree) are exquisite at the moment.  A really showy splash of red at the bottom of the garden.    

The pool has a new rectangular shape and fits snugly into the space of the old.  The reed beds are almost complete. It’s going to be great fun planting them up.  I’ll be sharing much more information on how to install an eco pool.  Suffice to say at this stage that the plants will do all the filtering of the water and no harsh chemicals will be required.  The plants and water provide the foundation for the wetland eco-system and we look forward to the

New Rectangular shape to pool

New Rectangular shape to pool

Reed beds constructed

Reed beds constructed

bird, amphibian and insect life we will be attracting.

Next to the veggie garden we have two of the Baunia’s in flower at the same time.  Gorgeous!

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia natalensis

Bauhinia tomentosa

Bauhinia tomentosa

The whirly gigs are on site. Prith and Eamonn are finding them quite amusing.  Definitely a first for them as they are usually found in industrial builds.  We are putting them in to draw and pull up the cool air that will pass over the pond outside and into the hallway.  The best way to reduce the need for air conditioning in this space.

Whirly gig

Whirly gig

So overall fantastic progress!  And still so many of the best bits to come:

  • Vertical Garden (as promised)
  • Roof Garden
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Eco Pool
  • Veggie garden
  • Chickens
  • Bees
  • Worm farming
  • Grey water recycling
  • Solar system
  • Induction geysers
  • plus…plus… plus


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Designer Compost Bays

Many think the subject of compost is about as exciting as watching grass grow. I’ve long been teased about my obsession with the stuff but noting the 1,397 books available on Amazon I know there is a community out there that are as passionate about  it  as I am.  For example, this is what Bette Midler has to say:

My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent,magical experience that let’s you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.

I’ve struggled with compost ‘heaps’ in awkward spaces, then upgraded to bays in rickety fencing (now collapsing) so I’ve been determined to put in a more user-friendly system at the Gorgeous Green House. On the design wish list:

  • at least 3 bays for good rotation
  • sturdy construction
  • opening/gate front for easy turning over and removal

We have a lot of old paving to re-cycle on site so I asked my builder for a quote to build them with the bricks.  Phew, quite a lot more than expected.  Plan B was to ask a fencing company for a quote.  Also quite a lot more than anticipated. This led us tho thinking ‘how hard could it be to dig in a few poles and fence them in’.  We checked out the material costs (a fraction of the fencing company quote) and were further delighted to see the company makes gates that are super easy to install. The result is spectacular. I am thrilled as they will be really easy to use. I’ve had piles of leaves and weeds building up all over the garden so its been wonderful to get them into the correct place awaiting their final home in the veggie garden. Here is our  process:

Fencing stapled around the fram

Fencing stapled around the frame

Poles cemented in and the ready made gates attached

Poles cemented in and the ready made gates attached

Sticks into the bottom (for aeration)

Sticks into the bottom (for aeration)

Layers of 'brown' and 'green'.

Layers of ‘brown’ and ‘green’.

 When presented with the concept of resilience in relation to garden practices words like sustainable, hard-wearing (as in strong) and healthy came to mind.  All of these words describe any vibrant eco-system.  The opportunity for the gardener is then to take our lessons from nature if we want gardens that will thrive without too much intervention.  It is no coincidence that nature just goes about her business (if not interfered with) in a sustainable and resilient way. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned on my gardening journey:

SOIL HEALTH Easy to make Leaf cage

During autumn nature provides her most important harvest:  fallen leaves.  This is the perfect cycle of replenishment to the soil and the provision of nourishment for all life in the ecosystem; yet we sweep up this abundant gift into plastic bags and send it off to land fill.  Come spring we drive to the garden center and buy compost in more plastic bags.  Mulching is vital for soil health and the quality of store-bought compost is not the same as that of its natural counterpart.  Worse still is the application of chemical fertilizer.  Over time it throws out the natural balance of minerals and nutrients and impacts on microbial and other life.  So get mulching and with all your excess leaves, lawn clippings etc. then start composting to improve your soil health. Next investigate the fascinating world of vermiculture (worm farming).  These little creatures can take your soil health even further.

PESTICIDES

Applying chemical pesticides is at best a short-term solution.  It might kill the insect that you believe is destroying your plant but which has, in fact, been providing an important service.   I’ve seen Cussonia spicata and Erythrina lysistemon infested with the most fascinating caterpillars, devouring every available leaf  and yet the plant emerges stronger and more beautiful than before. (Don’t forget that a caterpillar is also a moth or a butterfly and who doesn’t want those lovelies in their garden!).  Bear in mind that a poisoned insect often poisons other wildlife who feed on it and so on up the food chain. If you are desperate to remove insects, do some research on organic alternatives.

COPY NATURE’S ECO-SYSTEMS

Caterpillars and ants also belong

Caterpillars and ants also belong

The most fun I’ve had gardening is copying what occurs naturally.  I’ve done this on a largish scale at my conservancy (converting sugar cane into four biospheres) and on a tiny scale in my 1 500sq my town garden.  What I have learned is that bio-diversity = healthy.  Monoculture requires a lot more maintenance (intervention) and is therefore less resilient. Even surrounded with neighbours paved yards one is able to create, even in the tiniest garden a beautiful haven filled with birds, butterflies, gorgeous colour, cool tranquil spaces, movement, energy, sound and joy. I would recommend developing your garden with these plant groupings in order of priority:

Tranquility under the trees

Tranquility under the trees

Woodland section:  Trees enhance even very small gardens giving us somewhere cool to escape the heat of summer and our homes are more comfortable without excessive direct light.  When researching species, look for trees/shrubs that don’t grow to great heights and give you great ROI.  By that I mean look for trees that attract birds and butterflies and have an appearance that you like i.e. great value in one plant!  Don’t worry about planting them close together, in the forest they have to compete for light so they will make their own way.  Think about which side of the garden you want the shade and plant accordingly.  Bear in mind that some trees are deciduous (good for leaves) but you may lose the shade you want on your veranda in winter.  Most importantly though, if resilience is what you are after, plant locally indigenous as they will need no attention once they are established.  Once you’ve got your trees in think about your understory.  These plants will need to change over time as the shade area increases.  Once again, take a walk through your closest nature reserve and see what is growing happily.  If it is attractive looking there is a very good chance it will be available to buy.

Alternative plants to lawn

Alternative plants to lawn

Grassland section:  Large expanses of lawn are much overrated. The argument for soccer and cricket falls short in most urban gardens as they are generally too small.  Lawn requires more water, fertilizer, weed and insect treatment (and labour) than other parts of the garden. Grass is also mono culture and as far as attracting wildlife to your garden it has little to redeem it.  Why not create a natural grassland habitat?  There are so many gorgeous grasses that attract seed eating birds and an abundance of flowers, aloes, bulbs, small shrubs etc that are a visual delight and will provide hours of entertainment because of the wildlife they attract.

Tiny pond attracts mega wildlife

Tiny pond attracts mega wildlife

Wetland Section:  Ok, the term Wetland may be pushing it for a small garden, but even the tiniest of gardens can support a small pond. They bring a wonderful element to a garden and require very little work.  Even a large plastic tub filled with some water plants (e.g. Cyperus prolifer, Nymphaea nouchali, Nymphoides indica, Zantedeschia aethiopica) works.  My pond is about 1.5 X 1 M and attracts multitudes of dragonflies, and birds including Woolly necked storks!  If you’ve got plants in the water you don’t need to fuss with pumps and the like, the plants keep the water clean for you.  You can even add some fish.  My indigenous tilapia have been going for years in my tiny pond.  

Veggie garden:  On a macro environmental scale, agriculture (monoculture) presents a huge threat to the

Plant some veggies for the planet and your own resilience

Plant some veggies for the planet and your own resilience

environment and therefore the capacity for resilience of all life.  If we all carved out a small space (even if it’s just a sunny windowsill) to grow some food we would be making a contribution to the resilience of the planet as a whole!

Happy Gardening!


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Make Compost with Grass (only). Who Knew?

Conventional composting wisdom dictates that the best compost is a mixture of brown (leaves, twigs etc) and green (lawn weeds etc).

Leaves will also break down into wonderful compost though a bit more slowly.  I shared my leaf ‘cage’ idea in the post of 10 June but check out this guy and his ‘cage’ with grass only: