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Thursday, 13 December 2018

Why Permaculture?

When the Free Range Hooligan idea first started, I was hooked on "Homesteading", the concept of living a "pioneer lifestyle" somewhere off-grid and living a totally isolated life. I wasn't very impressed with society at the time and getting away from everything and everyone was extremely appealing.

Then a friend told me to Google Geoff Lawton and the concept of Permaculture. I had never heard of either of those two. But I trusted the friend and between Google and YouTube I literally got sucked down the rabbit hole and into a whole new world of possibility.

You see, I have always thought of Permaculture as just another fashion phrase for organic gardening. And gardening was the one thing I couldn't see myself doing. Green things died near me. That said, I had no interest in learning how to make them NOT die before that time, either. To my utter amazement, I found that putting plants in the ground and helping them grow only forms a small part of the total concept of Permaculture.

Permaculture transcends cultures, religions, political views, eating habits, borders and burocracies. It doesn't care whether you are black, white, yellow or green, male, female, old or young. It doesn't care whether you are filthy rich or own very little. Yes, it does require a measure of intelligence, and some training, but it can be applied by school children and university professors alike.

Permaculture is not as much a method as it is a MINDSET. When someone asks, I usually roughly define it as "what happens when a hippie and an engineer decide to go farming together", but the 3 ethics and 12 principles of Permaculture can be applied almost everywhere and to every situation. Permaculture is as organic as you can imagine, but it is also highly systemised to the point of where once certain zones have been properly established, very little is required in the way of human interference.

Yes, this sounds weird. Ethics, Principles and Zones are not things commercial farmers and businesspeople are known for. In fact, they are more concerned with "Yield per acre", "Profit" and "Input Costs".

Ethics are WHAT Permaculturalists do, principles regulate HOW they do it, and zones are WHERE they do it. The twist is that Permaculture farmsteads can still be immensely profitable and fulfilling, but without the stress and pressure that other farms are under to perform to a certain "money standard".

What I want from my own farmstead is to produce enough food to feed myself and my immediate family without putting any pressure on the environment or cause any unnecessary health issues. Any surplus will either be processed for later use, sold at farmers' markets or be redistributed to those less fortunate than we are. That immediately covers all three of the ethics without me having to make a serious conscious decision.

The exact "hows" may change over time. What works in one situation may not work in another. Not all my projects may produce a measurable yield in any given season, but - God willing - there will always be a yield produced from somewhere to sustain the big picture and I will not go hungry.

I'll go over the ethics, principles and zones in other posts over the next few weeks. Sharper minds have devoted whole books to the topic and I'll refer a lot to the giants who have gone before me and on whose shoulders I plan to stand. There will also be some links to other resources. Please bear in mind that I may receive some reward from any links that you follow. I promise, however, that I won't post links to products and services that I haven't used myself and like.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

All the green stuff

My delivery from Mountain Herb Estate arrived this morning. I was extremely skeptical about having plants couriered, but they all arrived in excellent condition. Yes, I took them out of their box immediately, and arranged them tastefully (!!!) on the front steps of my little library. Shall take them home tonight and to my mom's over the weekend. Some of them will have to be potted immediately, while others can stand a while until they are ready to be put into the ground.

This is what I bought. Clockwise, from the back left, they are:

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Black Mulberry (Morus nigra)

Aloe Vera (Aloe vera)

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita)

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Now, if anyone told me about 25 years ago that I shall not only know the binomial names (the Latin ones) of all the plants that I plant in my garden, but that I shall often refer to the plant by it's scientific name alone, I would have asked them the name and number of their dealer. (Obviously, they had access to potent stuff!)

I have since learnt that it is easier to refer to the botanical names, especially if there is a specific plant that I need. It also makes it easier to look up on the Internet, as the plant that I have is the exact plant that I shall find information about, without the ambiguity caused by common names.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Measuring up! The first step in planning my food garden

My mom was gracious enough to allow me a corner of her property to use as an experiment in food gardening. However, the stipulation was that I am not allowed to remove any of the existing trees from that corner. So... That means I have to include quite a number of (indigenous) trees in my planning.

The other problem with that particular corner is that the soil is clayey and compacted and as hard as concrete. That means that most of my plantings would have to happen in raised beds and containers if I don't want to rent a pneumatic drill to break ground. As it is, I shall probably have to struggle to dig a few holes, anyway, to set fence posts and to plant the odd fruit tree that I don't want to keep in a pot. That all needs to be planned out well in advance as I do not want to struggle unnecessarily later on.

To give me some idea of where to start, I spent some time on Google yesterday, and came across a really informative blog, Daily Harvest Designs. It is run by Rachel, a rare breed of person who has both formal horticultural and Permaculture qualifications, but who also has a heart for helping other people succeed in their own Permaculture endeavors.

With Monday the 17th being a public holiday here in South Africa, I shall drive over to my mom's place with a clipboard, pen, paper and tape measure and take careful triangular measurements of every existing tree's placement on that bit of garden. I'll borrow an old tent peg as well, to mark off the exact area where I shall be working.

I'll also take some altimeter readings. It being my mom's place and considering the hard soil, I doubt that I'll be digging swales, BUT then that's pretty much a part of Permaculture so that's also something to plan for.

In the meantime, I'll do some research on tree canopy sizes, to see how and where to put my raised beds and vertical garden structures and if there would be a good space to place an aquaponic system and a small greenhouse.

I am also waiting with bated breath for my Amazon orders to arrive. My late dad always said that if one could read, there isn't much that one couldn't do. None of these books will replace the practical knowledge that I plan to pick up on my journey, but it will be good to learn from the mistakes of people who have done what I am planning to do. Some mistakes can be expensive and I don't have money to throw away needlessly. And tips and tricks are always welcome.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Seed, Glorious Seed...

I have received my seed order from Livingseeds this morning! They sell heirloom seeds and seedlings from all over the world, as well as everything you need to grow them.

It was a big order, and I have included a variety of herb and vegetable packs, as well as packs of 30 mm Jiffy plugs. The plugs will help a lot in getting the tomatoes and peppers started before I transplant them into their final beds at my mom's place.

Yes, my mom graciously lent me a piece of her garden for what she calls my "Permaculture Experiment". I'll probably plant some tomatoes and kale and cucumbers in other parts of her garden as well. Serious guerrilla, me... ;-)

Which brings me to another bugbear...

Rustenburg was one of the host cities for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup Final Tournament. At the time, the local council really went all out to beautify the town/city. Eight years later, the decay is shocking to behold, and no-one seems to want to take responsibility.

I have more vegetable seeds than I'll ever be able to use for myself. So... What yours charmingly'll be doing is to create seedlings and surreptitiously plant them all over town... Some catnip, perhaps... or maybe a pumpkin or two... or some tomatoes...

I'll think about it...

Ps. I am also ordering more fruit seed and trees from Mountain Herb Estate today, to plant in that garden patch. I'm not much of a green-fingered person - and the first to admit that - but the key to becoming one is by learning and doing and starting. Between you and me and the lamppost, I have a sneaky suspicion that it's more a matter of never really being interested in gardening before than it is one of an inability to keep plants alive.

It's that time of the year again!

Gifts are NOT my Love Language. To me, the time spent MAKING them is much more precious than the gift itself. It is all about the thoughts and energy and maybe a bit of aura that go into the creation of something that you hope the other person will find useful and pretty.

This year, my Other Half and I have decided to decorate coffee mugs and fill them with home-made goodies for our immediate families. The men will get shaving bars and the ladies bars of bath soap. The three short people will get candy, as I don't think soap will be very attractive to anyone under the age of 10.

I'll document the process, in a revised post, later, as I think this might be a useful idea.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Counting blessings - my 7-point checklist

In my line of work, I deal with people from all parts of society. Some come from money, some not. Some have GREAT circumstances and some barely survive. What gets my goat, however, are what I call the "fatties & moanies", the ones that incessantly complain about EVERYTHING!

Before I dare complain about my life, I go through a 7-point check list:

  • Do I have food in my tummy?

Have I had at least one warm meal today? Or a decent bowl of food?

  • Do I have clean clothes on my back?

Is the clothes that I am wearing whole and clean? Is it warm enough?

  • Do I have a roof over my head at night?

This can be my own place, a friend's couch or even a bus stop!

  • Do I have a means to earn an income?

Note that this is not a formal "job". I mean exactly what I have written here. If the means is to pick up enough recyclables to hand in for some bread money every day, then that be it!

  • Can I get to where I need to be?

Can I drive, take public transport or hitch or borrow a ride? Can I walk?

  • Am I healthy?

That's at least half the battle won.

  • Do I have at least one person who cares about me?

One has to be really evil to not have anyone care about you.
ANYTHING else is a God-given bonus.

Never underestimate people's generosity to someone who is genuinely in need. However, if that generosity is not met with gratitude, it will not be extended again. With gratitude, I don't mean money. I've been without money enough myself to know that it is not the end of the world. Gratitude can be expressed by helping around the house of wherever you are staying without having to be asked. Gratitude can be expressed by getting sober and doing something special for society. And gratitude can be expressed by the simple act of paying it forward and blessing someone else.

Back to my project...

I have only realized it now, but Agterplaas Boerdery (Backyard Farm) IS a way for me to pay forward all the gifts that I have received in the past. It is not just a way for me to earn some cash by growing and selling all kinds of interesting fruit and vegetables, but it will ultimately be a place from where I can educate others to live sustainably on an extremely small budget by using recyclables and by harvesting seed from a previous season's crop to plant a new batch. I not only want to hand out produce, but also seed and knowledge, so that a next generation of backyard farmers is able to feed themselves, their family and maybe one or two others besides.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Getting rid of the "Beggar Mentality"

In his book Capitalist Nigger, Chika Onyeani outlines the biggest problem with Africa today. The continent is the richest one on earth, with vast mineral deposits and oil fields all around its coastline, but the people living on it have a "begging mentality", expecting the "West" to provide instead of getting up and going about creating their own wealth and independence.

I've seen it happen in my home town, where the townsfolk are so dependent on the mines that the smallest hiccup in the mining economy sends everyone scurrying about like so many rats. And if there should be a serious calamity (such as the mine strike a few years ago), the food parcel queues go on for miles!

My personal problem with all this is that people don't think of providing their own food and sustenance the way their ancestors (even as close as their parents and grandparents) did. Instead, it seems to be easier to adopt a "poor me" attitude and go begging.

The mine strike of 2014 was the start of my mission. I was fortunate in that the strike did not affect my job or my income, but I saw businesses close down and people queue on community lots and at churches for their daily meals and vegetable packs. It begged the question:


Could those queues be shortened or eliminated altogether if someone just decided at the beginning of the strike (or even when the rumors of the strike started) to buy a few packs of vegetable seeds and grow a pot or two of tomatoes? And maybe their neighbor would grow pumpkin... or cucumbers... and another neighbor grew salad greens and carrots and peas and beans... and a few stalks of corn...?

And then I wondered what would happen if we ALL grew something somewhere... What if we supplied in our own basic food needs, so that we aren't as dependent on the mines and the other industries around town for our everyday sustenance? And we could literally give our "first fruits" to wherever we choose to worship? What if we could teach the next generation to do the same? What if we could go on guerilla gardening sprees and plant fruit trees in public parks? What if I could (literally) sow the seed to a better future for everyone in my community?

So I guess this is what I am passionate about - getting people to DO things for themselves and not to simply wait around for whoever to provide.

After all, I am an AfriCAN!