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Farmer Neil shares the spring secrets of our Food Garden

With the arrival of spring, our Werf Food Garden is building up its reserves for the frenzied growing of the summer season. Days are becoming longer and sunnier and the soil temperatures are starting to rise. This is good news for our summer crops as they’re dependent on long daylight hours and warmer soil temperature for them to be healthy and happy.

Sun-loving produce that make a flower and then fruit – such as tomato, eggplant, baby marrow, butternuts and watermelons – have all been waiting for the spring so that they can make the most of the longer daylight hours. We also continue to sow all our root and leaf crops throughout the new season: basil is intercropped with tomatoes and eggplants, while spring onions is with lettuces. We find that mixing our pea crops with carrots results in the sweetest baby carrots! We sow our seeds with a seedling mix consisting of sieved worm casting (worm fertiliser from our worm farm) compost with vermiculite and bone meal. 
We sow calendula and marigold to bring a splash of colour to the garden. These plants also deter summer pests and attract beneficial predators and pollinating insects. Leaving the winter coriander and fennel to seed gives us yummy green seeds to caper; their flowers also attract plenty of insects. 

Spring is the time to give our fruiting trees a good dose of compost and wood chips and sucker any water shoots coming up from the roots.  
We focus on weeding every two weeks to ensure that the new spring weeds are kept under control. As with so much of organic gardening, our approach has a light touch. We use a tool to kill all the tiny weed seeds as they germinate. This is because yanking large weeds out the ground disturbs the soil structure and allows space for new weeds to germinate.
As snails love spring, this is the time to use beer traps or an organic snail bait such as ferramol. We tackle caterpillars with Kirchhoff's Margaret Roberts (Dipel) Biological Caterpillar Insecticide – a bacteria that only affects the caterpillar, leaving all our beneficial insects in peace.
Plants are only being attacked by pests if their immune system is weak, so good worm compost and weekly foliar sprays really help to boost nutrients that might be missing from the soil. We use Biogrow’s extensive range (https://biogrow.co.za).

Meet our gardeners
Head down to the Werf Food Garden and you’re likely to encounter Johannes Salukazana and Alford Zwavahera hard at work. 
Hailing from Zimbabwe, Alford lives in Makhaza, Khayelitsha – which he runs to work from, daily! It’s little wonder that he recently completed his first marathon in four hours. 
Johannes, from Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape, has worked at Spier for many years. A Kayamandi resident, he cycles to work.
With the greenest of fingers, these two experienced and friendly gentlemen are always only too happy to offer you advice and recommendations about earth-friendly ways of growing nutritious food at home.

Growing food at home
Before you begin planting figure out your garden’s soil type and what it might need for optimum growing conditions. Sandy soils usually will warm up quicker in the spring than heavy and cold clay soils; this gives growing a head start. However, it tends to be lacking nutrients – so add plenty of thoroughly broken-down compost and a clay like bentonite to boost its ecology. Heavy clay soils, on the other hand, might need deep forking. Adding compost and gypsum will free up the clay colloids and invigorate soil health.
If you have limited space then stay away from growing crops like maize and butternuts that need heaps of room to be happy. Container gardening is very rewarding and companion planting can see you really making the most out of a small space. Plant tomatoes on a trellis with delicious butterhead lettuce at the base to give you a double crop from a pot. The lettuce will mature within eight weeks, covering the soil and protecting the tomato crop roots from the sun. The tomato will grow upwards – it won’t interfere with the lettuces. Remember to prune your tomatoes on a weekly basis as they grow so you don’t end up with a huge, gangly tomato bush.

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