A volunteer’s perspective

by admin / Friday, 04 December 2015 / Published in Uncategorized

Stepping off the bus in Polokwane I was greeted by Ken who quite proudly introduced me to his ex-wife, Heather. They both run a fine line between quirky & eccentric, and completely nuts but i loved it, they were hilarious and made me feel so comfortable as we made the 40 minute drive back to farm, chatting and munching on grapes. The next morning Ken took me for a tour around the property and we talked and talked and talked about the history of the farm, permaculture, and ideas for regenerating and transforming the farm. Ken has COPD which is a disease of the lungs, towards the end of last year he was bed-ridden and things weren’t looking so ripe but he’s bounced back and is up & about again. He’s now investing all his remaining time, energy and money into creating a healthy future for his Grandchildren and the planet by transforming the farm into a thriving Permaculture Education Centre. The farm is looking a bit sad after being neglected for the past 25 years but has infinite potential.. with the right design and team this farm will grow into something special! I couldn’t be happier to have found Ken and the crew and be a part of the journey. Things are rolling along already, a Permaculture Design Consultant has come to the farm to do a site analysis, he’s now back home drawing up and finalizing the design which will be presented around the start of May – I’ll post a link to the design when it’s available so people can draw ideas and inspiration. I’m going to head down to East London this week to link up with Jacques – the Permaculture Consultant and take his PDC. It’ll be my second Permaculture Design Course in a matter of months but I feel it’ll be so valuable to learn from a teacher with a totally different skill set. His farm is called Hope Permaculture Farm.. worth a look! For the past month I’ve been busy on my own design, transforming an area where a vegetable garden was attempted.. I’ve poured my energy into it and am so incredibly stoked at how it’s progressing! I can’t wait to share the design with you.. and please feel free to share ideas and encouragement or criticisms or whatever you like, a bit of outside perspective is so valuable! Sometimes I’m blinded by my own excitement.

April 21, 2015 – Eden’s Garden

This Design project is named after Ken’s Granddaughter, Eden. Such an intelligent and compassionate little soul, she’s not yet reached double digits and ken’s already grooming her to be the next steward of this land. All in due time though, between starting second grade and teaching her chicken manners she has a pretty hectic schedule!

This is for you Eden. Can’t wait to see what the space looks like in years to come!

On the morning I arrived on the farm, Ken and I were talking and throwing around ideas.. there was obviously a lot of work to be done so we started to prioritise things and build a game plan. There were two main issues.. the first being a real lack of water harvesting systems, and the other being poorly designed gardens and food systems. With Jacques – the Design Consultant and water harvesting guru – due to arrive in a week or so we decided to wait for his input on the water and instead tackle the gardens.

We chose this space to grow our garden primarily because it gets almost a full day of sunshine, with a few oak trees just shading out the first morning rays – easily fixed with a quick hair cut- and also because of its close proximity to both the chickens, geese and the Kraal (cattle yard) which has proven vital for transporting manure to build compost and improve the soil. There were also small patches of sad vegetables growing which could now receive regular love and still produce a yield. It’s a funny piece of land which has been terraced many moons ago by the old people, but the terraces are certainly not on contour and actually drop over 1 metre in elevation from South to North.

We divided the land up into zones 1, 2 and 3. This phase of the design will mainly be focusing on Zone 1.

There were two small constraints we identified for this space, the first being the free range chickens who must of skipped Eden’s manners class when she was discussing proper garden etiquette, and the other being a light westerly breeze that blows most afternoons. The chickens were put at bay both by erecting a fence and filling gaps, and also creating a space outside of the garden to scratch around in the form of a lazy compost pile. The minute issue of the westerly wind was already minimalized by the existing crop of squash and baby marrows which provided a wind break, but we enhanced it by transplanting a row of lemongrass to make a more structured wind break. This area was also planted out with comfrey and borage to enrich the soil, and wild garlic as a natural pest repellent. Later down the track we plan to plant Vetiver Grass along this eroded embankment to provide a more sturdy wind break, hold the soil together and halt erosion, and also to use as thatch for some of the building roofs we plan to construct.

Now that our minor plant security issues were taken care of it was time to build some much needed compost, I built 6 piles of 18 day compost but was a bit too generous with the manure and as a result the piles shrunk quite dramatically. 18 day compost should be at least 1m2 in size so it can maintain it’s heat, so as they shrunk I combined them together and after 3 weeks we were left with two small creatures and three piles of rich organic matter.

compost monsters!!
compost monsters!!

The next task was to design our garden beds. Because of the sloping terrace we were working with it was vital that our beds were on contour to retain as much water as possible. For this we built an A-frame level.. every Permaculture farm’s most prized toy. We started at the South East corner of the land and worked our way downwards, once we had pegged our contour line we measured a meter off each peg and placed another peg, this was now our garden bed – 1m is a perfect width to be able to reach from each side without stepping or kneeling on the bed and compacting the soil. From the outside of the second line of pegs we then measured two spade widths which works out to be 500mm – just the right size for a wheelbarrow to squeeze down – and this was our path. We continued this system throughout zone 1 until our beds and paths were pegged out. Because of the rocky and compacted soil we were working with we decided to raise the beds, to help with this we dug out the paths and heaped the soil onto the beds. This now started to create contoured terraces. To stop the beds eroding into the paths and thus minimizing the space for growing food we decided to construct an edge for the beds. There are an infinite amount of materials you could use for this from bricks, railway sleepers, bottles or rocks.. the most common sense option is to go for whatever you have lying around or locally. Just down the road from us is a sawmill which sells a bakkie load of scrap timber for 200R, Ken had bought a few loads years ago knowing it would come in use someday. Today was that day. This was the most time consuming task of the whole design as there was over 200m of edges to make and lots of dodgy timber to sift through. Well worth the mission though, not only has it provided structure to the beds but I think it’s created a beautiful rustic look and we’ve got a valuable use out of recycled goods that will last for years to come.

Now that the beds were taking shape and had some structure it was time to build some soil. The Kraal (cattle yard) was built well over 100 years ago by the old people and has been accumulating manure and organic matter ever since. A few thousand shovels later and the bakkie was loaded up with beautiful soil ready to be transported the short distance to the beds. The crème de la crème came with the last few inches of top soil being loaded with the freshly brewed compost. To minimize weeds sprouting in the paths we added wood shavings which Ken had taken off a locals hands for free. Although the paths won’t be a space for growing food, the added wood shavings will eventually break down, adding organic matter and creating an environment for essential soil microbes to thrive in – thus adding value to the whole eco-system of Eden’s garden.
•A little side note about the Kraal. A beautiful symbiotic relationship exists between the chickens and the cattle, every morning when the chickens are let out they make a main line for the cattle in the Kraal and munch juicy ticks for breakfast. This saves using expensive and toxic potions to rid the cattle of ticks and gives the chickens a reason to spring out of bed in the morning!

We now begin the mission of installing our irrigation system. We chose to go with Drip Irrigation, as this both minimizes water loss and is also the most direct way to hydrate plants. I’ve never had any experience with irrigation systems or plumbing so I was stoked to be learning something new. Ken had already purchased a large reel of drip tape, a filter and main line plugs. What we now needed was a design and a list of parts we would need. We headed into Polokwane to see a friend of Ken’s who also happened to work for an irrigation company and was a drip irrigation guru. Simon made this potentially confusing mission really informative and an awesome experience.. we sat down and shared our design, played with it, and then left with a bakkie full of goodies and buzzing to install our system. With a bit of adjusting and adapting, the system was in and ready for it’s first test drip. The water was turned on and as expected there were a few problems with leaking but these will be ironed out tomorrow and tried again.

Fiddling with fittings.

Drip tape is laid..

..Everything is tightened ready for a test drip…

The last touches for the first phase of design will be finished by tomorrow. A few small leaking issues need to be fixed and then it’s time for planting! It’s been a long, exhausting, fun and sometimes frustrating mission and i can’t wait to get some food in the ground!

Establishing zone 3 will be the next mission and the design will be fairly similar with more contoured terrace gardens planned.. we have 8 happy pigs fenced in there now doing most of the hard work of weeding, tilling and fertilizing the soil. We’re still unsure on what zone 2 will become.. At the moment we’re tossing around the idea of planting it out with more comfrey, borage, marigolds, and any perennials that are going to enrich the garden, and then simply let it run a bit wild! Or planting some dwarf fruit trees with the option of establishing a micro food forest down the track. I’d love to hear any ideas?! Also ideas or thoughts on what we’ve already completed would really be appreciated.. anything you would of done differently…

I couldn’t dream of a better learning experience than what I’m getting on this farm! I get to dream, scheme and design, pitch it to Ken and then go out and try it.. and fail.. and try it again. For anyone interested in walking the Permaculture path i really encourage you to get on Helpx and find yourself a Ken.

Stage 1 of Eden’s Garden is complete.. So incredibly happy with how it’s turned out! Tomorrow we plant!

May 9, 2015 – Permaculture, Puppies and Bad Titles

Just like the Western world was dragged into the consumerism vortex a century or so ago, many of the isolated and indigenous people have now joined us on the path to un-fulfilment and potential destruction. Farming was once just as important to human life as breathing clean air, now the growing perception towards this integral part of life is ‘primitive’, and rural people are migrating to the cities en mass in search of shiny symbols of success. We then lose our connection with the land, with natural medicine, with the animals which also share this world, and finally ourselves. What is left is a dis empowered and desperate version of what could of been, relying on hand outs and the ‘expertise’ of others to tell us how to live our lives, what we did wrong, and how we can cure these mistakes, while all along this knowledge was alive in all of us. It’s not all doom and gloom however, not everybody fails in this epic quest, there will be those who make it, the 2% who keep the game going and the dream alive for the ones left in the dust.

There seems to be a common consensus among us that we’re not treating the Earth as we should, or could, and that we may be on a path to destruction – the severity and time frame of this destruction however is still up for debate. Some people are frantically buying up baked beans in bulk and digging holes in the ground. Some are on a strict diet of lettuce and oxygen to try slow the suffering of life. There’s some who realize but just don’t care, they’re turning a blind eye and living out their days in obnoxious luxury. There’s those who blatantly disagree with this and label all this commotion unpatriotic. There’s those who put their faith in the technical brilliance of man & woman and believe we will invent ourselves out of this pickle. Then there’s those who are designing and sharing a way of life that is in harmony with nature and provides all the necessities, and some of the superfluous luxuries that we desire. This system isn’t solely focused on technical brilliance or scientific reduction ism, nor is it encouraging people to burn their money and find a bus in Alaska to die in. It is instead promoting appropriate technology, common sense, acknowledgement and respect of diversity, and careful observation and interaction – firstly of oneself, and then our surroundings. This system cares for people, cares for animals, and shares the surplus. Nothing and nobody is left in the dust.

But maybe it’s all just a cycle.. The earth organism is born and grows into an abundant life force, full of diversity and simple complexity. Then over the years humans begin to develop a sense of superiority, and a coup is plotted to end the Gain regime, abolish diversity, and split from the life force that birthed us. A war is waged and after many millennium humans think they have the upper hand, the war is all but won. Then just as things are looking up for the humans, the inevitable happens. For the continuation of life to be possible, the earth organism must rid herself of the parasitic humans, and unfortunately almost all other life will be swept up in this necessary destruction.

And so the process begins again. Maybe the next cycle of humans will choose symbiosis over self-sabotage. Maybe next time it will be the puppies that temporarily rule the word. Maybe this was the one and only chance, and we royally messed it up. I’m not blindly optimistic, what we’re attempting is of epic proportions. Maybe we can still contribute positively to the future of this world, maybe it’s too late. Maybe we never had a chance. All we know is that at the end of our individual paths, we will die. So let’s collaborate, share, and rejoice in life. Light the path for those to follow, and for our own collective fulfilment. Instead of judging others and telling people what they shouldn’t be doing, do something positive, positive for yourself, positive for the people around you, positive for all life on this planet, and if you have more than what you need to live a healthy and happy life, share with someone that is struggling a little bit. An exuberant German Buddhist monk living in Thailand (you know the type) once said ‘Don’t complain about the darkness, light a candle’.

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