It’s possible that you are inadvertently downing more critters than you realise, especially if you buy organic leafy greens or grow your own at home and pick these to eat at your table. Insects have a way of attaching to organically grown produce, and I recently found a tiny, bright green mite, still alive and attached to a curled leaf of a head of lettuce after several days in the fridge. I returned it to a sheltered spot in my garden and wished it a happy life. Even after rinsing- that’s all you need to prepare organically grown greens- I’m aware that I may miss a few, and they may be going down the hatch- MY hatch!- along with a mouthful of salad. This is not much of a concern for me. There are worse things in life! It seems that currently there is a high level of interest in the viability of insect protein as we try and explore more creative ways of feeding the millions who occupy the planet. There is plenty on the web about the nutritious properties of insects and grubs, including other pertinent food awareness issues, such as why we all need to get over ‘ugly food’ and learn to eat weeds and certain foods that we, especially Westerners, typically consider unthinkable.
Most of the bloggers that I follow are based in the global North where winter season is round about now making its entrance. Here in the South, we are welcoming in our summer with that distinct lift to the spirits that accompanies this time of year, where you can feel yourself stepping out of the cold and into the light. We too have had our Covid related challenges: South Africa at one point this year was carrying the third or fourth highest infection rate globally, but thankfully that has changed dramatically for the better (not to take anything for granted here). Right now there is plenty of fresh green growth abounding- we have had one or two of the afternoon thunderstorms that are so typical of the Johannesburg Highveld, with some light hailstones- so cooling to the earth as they soak the soil with their nourishing nitrates following a dry and dusty September. This week we find ourselves in the midst of a bit of a heat wave, and yesterday I was in the garden before 8am in bare feet and a sundress, and by mid afternoon the temperature peaked at around 33 degrees celsius on our south facing slope.
I haven’t blogged about my garden in a while, and there is no time like the present as here in the global South we move steadily into Summer with temperatures in Johannesburg heading into the upper 20’s, and the first of our wonderful seasonal thunderstorms making an appearance. For me there is nothing that shouts Summer like those lovely soothing Highveld rains, bringing moisture and nourishment to our thirsty gardens, and that unmistakable fresh earthy tang to the air. One of the tasks that I set myself as we go into our summertime here, is to try not to let anything go to waste, although our home grown compost heaps take care of any surplus anyway. Nevertheless, I like to make full use of all that we grow, so that it ends up on our plates as far as possible, and not on the compost heap. I grow a lot of Asian Greens here in our garden in the winter time. They grow beautifully here, in the relatively protected area under the branches of the almond and the apple trees, safe from the harshest of the cold and the threat of overnight winter frost. But come the first weeks of the warmer weather, typically from late August and beyond, the greens will rapidly go to seed, with little yellow flowers appearing on long stems which suddenly ‘bolt’ almost overnight in the warm, dry weather before the rains come. Continue reading
Outside the window to my left there is a nest in our mulberry tree. Both parents are back and forth constantly, carrying wormy morsels for consumption by two tiny, hungry baby birds. I have been watching this beautiful process for about three weeks now, starting when I noticed the two adults putting the final touches to their compact little nest, right in front of the glass doors at one entrance to our house. If I wanted to I could clear the distance between the entrance and the tree in two or three strides, stand on the bench just beneath it, and reach up and touch the nest. At first I thought I was surely mistaken: why would they build so close by? Had they not noticed that there are people living here, using this very entrance several times a day? Not to mention our cat (okay, he’s elderly and has never climbed that tree, but he’s often in the area), and that all things considered they had best find another spot? Continue reading
My garden has breathed a sigh of relief, following some impressive afternoon thunderstorms, so typical of Johannesburg at this time of the year. Many a seedling wilted and died last month, after weeks of unrelenting, frustratingly rain-less heat which rendered even the toughest of our garden plants (aloes and crassulas) gasping for relief. January 2019 has offered some rainy respite, bringing with it a sense of fresh renewal and the garden has responded accordingly. Not that we haven’t had some failures: seeds lovingly planted have mysteriously not produced (I have learnt to accept that this sometimes is just so), seedlings have shriveled and expired in the heat, and our lovely lettuce was set upon by some bug or worm with a very large appetite. In this case I have been determined not to use chemical insect repellents, and thankfully our preferred organic alternatives are slowly making an impact.
Please enjoy the pictures to follow. Each one snapped by me earlier today:
When I spied this poisonous Brown Button spider and her eggs clinging to the underside of a piece of garden furniture, I felt a strong pull of sympathy and fascination and less of the horror and alarm that some might expect. I even felt a bit guilty for not having noticed her when I initially pulled the chair away from it’s normal shady spot two days ago, and placed it on the lawn in the baking hot sun where it has been ever since. Waiting to be scrubbed clean along with some other pieces of garden equipment. (We will get round to that). I felt a distinct sense of kinship with this spider mother who was after all, just trying to give her kids a home and fighting chance in a harsh world, and here I come along and spoil the whole plan by exposing them, belly side up, to the blazing summer sun and the possibility of predators, such as certain birds.
I have come across venomous spiders before in Johannesburg gardens, and I knew by sight that this one was not severely venomous. It’s the Black Button (Widow) that you’ve really got to be careful of: typically a bite from one of those results in a hospital admission and having your vital signs measured for about 24 hours. A bite from the Brown Button is less severe and more localised, and symptoms in a healthy adult will normally clear up within a few days. Button Spiders will only attack if threatened; not exactly the vicious predators they are sometimes made out to be.
Well anyway, there we were: myself, the spider and her little brood of two, with me wondering what to do next. A nice photograph of the little family seemed appropriate, so I leaned in slowly with my phone and clicked. She immediately darted into her nest, which you can clearly see in the above pic: it’s the pocket shaped mass to the right of the photo, with her balancing at the mouth. Pleased with my nicely detailed close-up, and feeling somewhat bonded with this little trio, I felt inclined to offer them some shelter, so I lifted the chair (easy enough; its made of a light plastic) and moved the whole lot into a shady spot on the patio.
And that’s where we are now. But the harder part comes later, because clearly a decision will have to be made. We are encouraged to ‘get rid’ of poisonous creatures from our homes and gardens, and that can mean different things to different people. So when my husband gets home later from an undoubtedly long and hard day, we will still have a little date with Mother Nature to attend to.
For more on spiders and snakes in South Africa:
“….Everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”— May Sarton.
Autumn 2018 in the Southern Hemisphere will begin on Tuesday 20 March. I am in awe of the splendour of my garden as we reach the last few days of our glorious summer weather here in Johannesburg. I am grateful for the hail and rains that have fed my garden; the breathtaking lightning and thunderstorms so typical of our Highveld weather. I am grateful for the sunshine that has helped bring out the best of what the garden has to offer: herbs and veggies in abundance, flowers on their best display, insects, spiders, frogs and lizards, birds and birdsong. I am grateful for our hard work and patience (yes, we have had to help our garden along over time, helped it to recover from the years of neglect, built up the impoverished soil that we inherited when we took this property on just over four years ago). And nature is a marvel, because it will come back. The joy and abundance that I experience as I look out from my back door makes every moment of hard grind feel worth it.
I trust you enjoy the pictures below. Each one snapped by me today or yesterday 🙂