Some veggie-growing advice for central hochland namibia

Gosh, what started off as a response to a brief query has turned into a thesis:-); soringo. I do hope it helps.

If the vegetable beds (well-mulched!) are sheltered from prevailing wind and hot afternoon sun (some kind of not-quite upright netting, not more than 40% shade), giving them plenty of sun in the morning through noon, you can grow most any veggies, herbs and edible flowers.  I don’t seal the gardens because I need birds, reptiles and amphibians to manage the summer insect and slug loads.

We’ve concentrated our gardens on the NW facing sides of our house.  Very close so that they are always in our face:-)  Frost is managed for my favourite plants – curry leaf, makrut lime and bayleaf bushes – in pots – as well as sensitive annual herbs like dahnia and diverse basils, by draping ‘frost-cloth’ strategically.  And by watching out for early Kobus Botha warnings of nasty cold fronts from June through September, you can even get out the old verandah gas heater and place it strategically just before dawn – yes, I know, eek!

Space for planting is the biggest issue – I plant most things densely in deep (50 – 75  cm), excessively composted soil,  and where I sow seeds directly I’ll yank/prick young seedlings out to give enough space to the remaining plants to grow comfortably.  I also use an organic liquid fertilizer on hungry, fast growing plants – mints, horse radish, artichokes, and everything in a pot.

There are fair numbers of earthworms in the beds, but I don’t actively pursue vermiculture.  I just really enjoy finding earthworms – sign of a healthy vegetable bed!

[our compost is now entirely home-made, after some 5+ years of gathering, shredding, watering and turning, and is probably a 50:50 mix of shredded garden & kitchen discards:mature horse manure, with very little, sifted local ‘soil’ (mica dust:-) in the mix]

I mostly focus on planting leafy stuff and fresh herbs/flowers which you can’t always get in veg shops.  I don’t bother to do high volume starches, onions, ginger and garlic, simply because of space and water.

multi-coloured silverbeet, swiss chard, dash spinach, chickory, comphrey, rocket, and mustard greens are all very easy to cultivate, directly or by seedling*, and produce volumes of mulch and green manure. All year round, but best done early summer.  Oversupply can also be pickled or given away!

Flowers – borage, nasturtium, calendula, climbing rose, alfafa, dahnia (coriander), sunflowers and always a few bolting greens – I allow a couple of plants to produce flowers and seed for next gen planting.  And they attract loads of happy bees.  We use/consume flowers with wild abandon in all our salads.   Many are self propagating in my garden, but now’s the time to put out seedlings or sow seed directly in well-watered beds.

I do bush/climbing beans around the edges, training them against the walls, fences and shade net, especially on the hot side.   Ditto for cucumbers and other climbing plants like indian long gourd (doodhi).   All of these should be going into the ground as seeds or seedlings* now.

While I love artichokes, rhubarb, all squashes and brinjals, they tend to require loads of space and food!  I plant squashes on the edges, and you can force most of them to grow away from the veg patch.
Without porcupines (I wish:-)), you can expect excellent crops by Xmas:-), if you put seedlings* in the ground early  (directly after last frosts, but not later than September, early October).  As soon as the fruit flies show up shortly after the first rains, I generally give up on any further planting attempts till the first frosts.  Artichokes are two-year plants, so plant anytime it’s warm, and expect to wait a while…

Current squashes – candy-roaster, rogossa, sicilian snake (cucuzza), courget, petitpan, lady godiva, greek, gem, gherkin. Also indian long gourd, and lemon cucumber.  Sprout and plant now.

Successive basils (regular, cinnamon, lime, lemon, kaprao, opal, thai),  dahnia all year round.  I try to do dahnia seedlings every 4-5 weeks, to ensure a steady crop – there’s always a square metre of it growing somewhere – Liz and I have a thing about food with vast volumes of chives, ginger, garlic, chilli, dahnia, makrut, and mint.

There’s self-propagating rocket, fennel, dill and horse radish come up almost everywhere in the garden these days, and I control them where they try to overwhelm.  Try to get organic seed stock – the regular commercial stuff has mostly been genetically engineered to not produce viable seed.

We have a lot of ‘pots and spots’ with other herbs – celery, lovage, lemon grass, buckshorn, sage, salad burnet, lemon balm, several mints, mexican mint, stevia, origanum, thyme, sorrel, chives, garlic chives.   Most of these were originally started as potplants – seed or cuttings in spring.

All peas, oriental greens ( bokchoi, etc.), diverse brassicas and lettuces I put out to grow in our winter months, with broccoli and cauliflower in full sunlight as early as possible after the heat and insect load have gone.  Mustard greens are prone to aphid infestations, so they are also best done in winter, spilling over to early summer.   If you sprout them monthly, you’re guaranteed a fantastic batch of salad greens all the time.

companion plants – mostly on the periphery – feverfew, southerwood/wormwood (artemesias), tansy, catmint, rue, bay, rosemary and pennyroyal.   almost all (except tansy and catmint) from cuttings in spring.

fruiting plants – mulberries, gooseberries, lime, rosella (hibiscus), cassabanana creeper, strawberries. One rhubarb plant – they get huge!  Mostly all from cuttings in spring.

root crops – there’s always a patch of turnips, beets, radishes and carrots going somewhere. Successive direct sowing all year round.   I do try to keep a few ginger plants, spring onions and garlic more for leafy flavour than for volume use.

Finally – diverse tomatoes, brinjals, green, purple and diverse chilli peppers.  This group I plant out now – seedlings*,  5 – 10 cm tall.  And manage with canes, frames and vigorous training, pruning and insect gleaning for rest of the summer and autumn (through May).

As you’ve guessed we don’t use any insecticides – it’s not always easy, but I don’t mind sharing, except for porcupines, fruit flies and slugs for which I have bright yellow traps – filled with a mixture of yeast, vinegar and (namibian) beer.

Check with me for seedlings* every now and then – I’ve always got something growing in a tray;  indoors or outdoors –

* I usually soak overnight, then keep damp, for the while it takes for about 20% of veggie seeds to sprout in unbleached paper coffee filters – in a jar or plastic container; indoors room temp or a bit higher; in winter I use a cooler box for insulation.  As soon as 20% sprout, I transfer all seed to seedling trays or pots, cover very lightly with fine sifted compost and keep warm and moist indoors or out, depending on season, until they are large enough to handle by hand.  This is how I cheat those last nasty frosts of August… I plant out to beds or bigger pots depending on needs.

Let me know if there’s any particular kind of seed you’re looking for;  I may have some or know where to get.


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Posted in compost, herbs, mulch, namibia sustainable living, narrec, organic, vegetables

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