Kathryn Eybers and Ross Dwyer have remodeled a degraded ostrich farm into an economically viable, vibrant wholesome ecosystem
In 2004, when Kathryn Eybers and Ross Dwyer purchased Numbi Valley, close to De Rust within the Klein Karoo, the soil was so depleted they have been advised they might by no means be capable to farm something there.
Nonetheless, they believed they might remodel the land by utilizing permaculture design, and have since turned the farm right into a viable operation, working in concord with nature.
To grasp how, we have to perceive Eybers and Dwyer’s background. The couple met throughout a soil science class whereas finding out BSc Agric at Natal College. Neither got here from a farming background, however each had a imaginative and prescient for restoration work.
After majoring in grassland science and entomology they have been left with extra questions than solutions. “Our love for nature made us query typical agricultural methods. Nearly every thing was targeted on manufacturing and hardly something on ecology or the care of the land,” Eybers says.
After college, in round 1991, they began a small natural vegetable farm close to Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.
“Rising natural greens was straightforward due to Nelspruit’s fertile soil, however the operation didn’t work out. I feel we have been forward of our time. Shoppers didn’t actually know a lot about natural manufacturing again then,” Eybers explains.
“Now we have come to date since then. Nearly everyone understands what natural means today, which provides me numerous hope for the longer term.”
Enterprise into permaculture
In 2002 they did a three-week permaculture growth course with Ewald Viljoen in Zululand, and located themselves resonating with all facets of the course.
“At college you study details, however right here the main focus was on design and manufacturing in concord with nature.”
Eybers says permaculture design is based on three ethics. The primary, earth care, pertains to the restoration and regeneration of depleted and polluted land, water programs and ecosystems, and the rebuilding of nature’s capital.
The second, individuals care, pertains to caring for your self and serving to others, corresponding to your employees, neighbours and group, as an alternative of trampling on others to develop into profitable. The third is fair proportion.
From an agricultural perspective, fair proportion pertains to how a lot farmers take from the land for themselves. As an alternative of getting as a lot as they will from the land, it implies that one thing is left for nature and surpluses shared.
Eybers and Dwyer, for example, solely produce crops on 1,5ha of their 70ha farm. The remainder is reserved for the wildlife. “If you take care of nature, you should have a a lot more healthy ecosystem, and nature in flip, will take care of you.”
She doesn’t like the concept of exporting your finest to different international locations: “In my thoughts the most effective ought to be made accessible to individuals in your group and the remaining exported. Now we have at all times bought domestically; most of our produce is bought at markets, eating places or as bins round De Rust, which implies the gross sales are direct to the shopper. Now we have additionally bought produce in Oudtshoorn once we had surpluses.”
Permaculture for Eybers embraces natural, regenerative and biodynamic farming: “Permaculture takes facets from all of those farming approaches, however is greater than these as a result of its essential focus is on the design of methods to attain constructive outcomes in concord with nature.”
When their natural farm enterprise failed, Eybers and Dwyer labored for 15 years as bush guides and lodge managers at upmarket lodges throughout Southern and East Africa. They’d few bills throughout this time and managed to avoid wasting as much as purchase property.
They needed to purchase a farm on the Backyard Route, however may solely afford a 4ha plot for the cash they have been in a position to pay.
“We needed to pay money and never go into debt. Having solely 4ha of land didn’t attraction to us after so a few years within the open veld, as you could possibly hear the actions on the neighbouring farms,” Eybers says.
The gross sales agent then took them over the Outeniqua Mountain to Numbi Valley farm. That nigh, they slept on the farm, subsequent to the Olifants River, and the subsequent day determined to purchase it.
The farm had little or no on it, aside from the ruins of an previous farmhouse.
They rebuilt it and turned it right into a visitor home that’s rented out to vacationers. Then they constructed their very own home from cob, a combination of clay, sand and straw.
“We attended a cob-building workshop 14 years in the past in McGregor with Jill Hogan. She taught us the fundamentals in a weekend. We got here dwelling and constructed our pizza oven, which nonetheless makes pizzas 14 years later, and this was expertise to organize us for designing and constructing our cob home. Ross provides cob programs on the farm to share the information.”
However how did permaculture assist to revive the soil? Eybers explains that they began out by rebuilding soil carbon ranges: “From varsity days, we knew that placing carbon, nitrogen and water collectively would deliver again life to the soil. So, we received chaff, as our carbon supply, from a neighborhood lucerne seed producer, and manure, as our nitrogen supply, from a neighborhood dairy producer.”
They collected indigenous earthworms from the river that runs via their farm, and mycelium, which is a sort of fungus, from the leaf litter of a close-by acacia forest.
“We have been assured that the mixture of those elements would restore fertility to the soil. The elements ought to be sourced from as close to as doable to the farm, because the purpose is to create an ecosystem that might naturally happen in your farm.”
Throughout their first yr of planting greens, every thing received sick or eaten up, aside from the spinach. The soil began to settle after a yr, they usually have been in a position to produce disease-free crops after two years.
The greens and herbs are produced in circular-shaped rising areas, every measuring 13m2. These circles are organized over the land to type a mandala, purely for aesthetic functions.
Eybers factors out that the resilience related to permaculture lies in range, so that they don’t do companion planting, however advanced planting. Therefore, a big range of crops is planted in every of the expansion areas.
“The extra range you could have, the more healthy the ecosystem. With a wholesome ecosystem, crops are naturally extra resilient, however you even have fewer losses due to downside bugs or ailments, as a result of these are stored beneath management by useful organisms. After I see a plant with a illness or pest, I don’t take away it however depart it to draw extra useful organisms,” she explains.
Having such a big range can be good from a meals safety perspective. Eybers explains that she may lose one or two crops in a single mattress if there was a illness or pest outbreak, however the particular crop might need survived in different beds.
And, if all these crops have been destroyed in all of the beds, which is the worst-case situation, she would nonetheless have an entire combination of different crops left. This is able to not have been the case in a monoculture system.
Compost and hen mobiles
Her greens are planted straight into compost. “We produce our compost in static heaps, which signifies that it doesn’t want turning throughout the decomposition course of. To realize this, we construct our heaps in a ratio of one-third dry materials, one-third manure and one-third greens from the backyard. We put pipes of 80mm diameter which have holes drilled in, all the best way down into the compost to enhance the aeration,” Eybers explains.
Fruit and greens are exchanged for cow or horse dung to make use of within the compost. She prefers utilizing horse dung as a result of it’s larger in carbon than cow dung. Chaff is sourced from the lucerne producer, and all their meals waste is added to the compost.
Australorp and a cross between Leghorn and Rhode Island Crimson hens are sourced at level of lay, from a close-by farm, to assist hold the soil fertile.
“I favor these chickens as a result of they’re hardy and good layers. A few of them are six years previous and nonetheless producing a lot of eggs,” she says.
They don’t hold any roosters, as these are inclined to harass hens when stored in confinement.
The chickens are stored in two completely different cellular cages, measuring 13m² every to suit over the plant beds.
The mobiles are moved to a distinct mattress each two weeks. This fashion the chickens fertilise the soil and do away with minimize worms, mole crickets and different potential pests.
“The chickens thrive beneath this method as they’ve entry to contemporary soil each two weeks, they take a lot of mud baths when moved to contemporary soil, which helps to manage lice and we don’t have to wash out a hen coop.”
She says the hen are true gardeners: “One thing occurs while you put animals on the soil. It isn’t similar to including manure. They activate the soil with their actions.”
The couple produces a big number of greens, herbs, and fruit and have 1ha beneath olive timber. The olives are harvested and pressed by De Rustica, after which they bottle it. Their harvest over the previous few years has been small due to the drought situations within the Little Karoo.
Eybers says they used to develop greens within the olive orchards whereas the olive timber have been nonetheless younger, however stopped the observe when the timber grew giant as they out-competed the greens for daylight, vitamins and water.
She tried to supply as many heirloom seeds as doable when she began the vegetable backyard and has since began rising her personal seed. The seed is used for cultivating seedlings for brand spanking new plantings and among the seed and seedlings are bought as a part of the farm earnings.
“I choose seedlings to plant and hold primarily based on their progress within the nursery. I additionally monitor their progress behavior, illness resistance and flavour because the crops mature. This fashion I purpose to strengthen the genetics of the crops which can be grown on the farm and the seed I make accessible to the general public.”
Planting is ruled by the phases of the moon, as a result of the gravitational pull of the moon impacts soil moisture and plant progress, in accordance with Eybers. She explains that leafy crops, corresponding to spinach, basil, parsley and celery, are planted throughout new moon to first quarter, as plant saps, water and power are then pulling upwards.
The power is centred on the center of the plant throughout first quarter, so seeded greens, corresponding to tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and pumpkins, are planted throughout this section, whereas the planting of root greens and fruit timber is reserved for when the power pulls down – the week following full moon.
The soil is taken into account barren over the past seven days of the waning moon cycle, which is why this time is allotted to upkeep and duties aside from planting.
Planting by the moon brings construction to her farming actions, she says: “I do know what I ought to plant throughout every section and know that failure to plant would lead to me not having that crop later. On this method we get hold of a relentless yield all year long, and have sufficient to maintain us and to promote.”
She provides that she spends a mean of two hours gardening every day: “Typically I spend an entire day within the backyard, after which depart it for a couple of days earlier than working it once more. All of it will depend on what must be executed. On the entire, nonetheless, the backyard and the chickens do many of the work.”
However the query stays whether or not this sort of farming could be financially viable. Based on Eybers, it positively is for them: “We’re completely self-sustaining by way of meals, and earn sufficient to deal with all our wants by promoting surpluses and doing eco-tourism, massages, permaculture farm excursions, yoga, cob-building workshops and the sale of natural vegetable and herb seed.”
She provides that their kind of farming most likely represents essentially the most environment friendly method of utilizing the land: “We produce meals all yr spherical, all season.
E-mail Kathryn Eybers at [email protected]