The onset of the drought last year put paid to Gillian Milne’s dream of growing tomatoes. “Obviously, once the spring stopped flowing, I couldn’t empty the dam watering heirloom tomatoes when the farmer had sheep to look after.” Ever resourceful, Gilliam switched crops to chillies instead which only need about a third of the water that tomatoes do.
Water tanks on every corner of her home collect 10 000l from just 25mm of rain, providing plenty of fresh water for the chilli bushes bursting with colour in her green house. Black Pimenta de neyra (seriously hot), yellow Adji lemon, mild red Brandleka, the famous Habanero, and the world’s hottest chilli Dorset Nyaga, are among the 18 varieties she grows now. Interestingly, the hotter the chilli, the higher the germination temperature – they need a minimum of 18 degrees soil temperature to germinate, but the warmer the better. She has plans to expand to 50 varieties next summer, and hopefully, rain permitting, include some interesting tomatoes too.
Gillian’s vegetable garden and nursery burst with unusual crops of peppermint celery, Japanese cucumbers, Russian kale and a wide variety of lettuce. “I love the exotic veggies” she says nibbling a just plucked purple bean, “especially heritage varieties. This winter I plan to grow all sorts of cauliflowers.”
Gillian and her husband Bruce have relocated to Currys Post, after living for 25 years in East Africa. There she grew vegetables that were not readily available in the local markets for the embassies, lodges and ex-pat communities. “I’d pack 100l crates, write the name of the customer on the top, include a frozen bottle of water to keep things cool and load them onto a passing bus which would drop them off at the bus stop near the lodges.” Gillian is passionate about preserves and pickles too, ensuring none of her excess produce is wasted – skills she learnt from her grandmother who ran a large, diverse farm in the Eastern Cape. After tasting her gooseberry jam, the President of Uganda insisted that he be served this for breakfast every day!
Gillian dreams of fields filled with rhubarb, strawberries, spinach and fruit trees. In the meanwhile, she is making the most of the space she has, introducing the Midlands to unusual vegetables, making new friends at the Barter Market in Lidgetton, supplying local Spars with her colourful chilli packs and growing gorgeous dahlias.
Contact Gillian on 083 303 8878