Aloe Ridge

With a wonderful view of Miracle Mountain across the uMngeni river flood plain, you would expect special things to be happening at Aloe Ridge, and they are. Kathy Herrington and Wayne Lourens are focussing lots of energy on working towards eco-sustainability.

While building a seedling house is not the most expensive thing to do, they have instead opted to recycle the old sheep shed, building counters for the germination trays and seedlings from alien wattle and gum poles, felled on the farm. The seedling trays, which commercial trees came in, are used over and over again and used plastic milk bottles make the perfect containers for transplanting germinated seedlings into. Kathy, an internationally-qualified aromatherapist with a long-standing interest in herbs and natural healing, is learning all about these alternative growing systems whilst helping Wayne, quips “I spent all day on Saturday cutting up plastic bottles for re-useable pots and labelling the latest planting” – very satisfying work. When the seedlings are planted out into the growing areas, the plastic bottles also form a neat shelter for the first few days, protecting the new plants from insect pests and wind.

I’m fascinated by the whirring half-dozen plastic cold drink bottles on wire rods dotted about the garden – apparently a very effective mole deterrent – the turning action sets the wire vibrating which repels the moles from the immediate area. Wayne uses the “permaculture” system of planting in ‘guilds’ – these are communities of plants which work well together, complementing one another by repelling insects, fixing nitrogen, and other symbiotic interactions. The growing areas under the established fruit trees in the orchard are all circular. Each growing circle is planted and harvested 4 times a year, with the chicken tractors arriving twice a year, between planting cycles, to “till” the soil, add manure, and gobble up insect pests and plant seeds from previous plantings as well as invading species. It goes without saying that no artificial fertilizers (along with no other chemical inputs) are used in the garden. The farm’s animals provide manure which is composted. I’m particularly taken with the beautiful Damara sheep with long fat tails and patchy coats which rush over inquisitively when we wander down to the fence. There is a herd of Nguni cattle out on the hillsides and horses in the paddock below. Besides scratching, pest removal, manuring and pH balancing, the chickens provide plenty of eggs. Obviously, during Autumn when the chicken “go into moult”, laying slows down and there are fewer eggs. This is the natural way, no special food or artificial lights to fool them into believing it’s spring again. There are plans to possibly introduce some pigs into the mix in the future and, of course, to start some worm farms for vermi-compost and vermi-liquid. There are tiny speckled quails too, producing tiny speckled eggs, which taste wonderful in salad I am told, but produce little manure, I would guess.

I mention to Wayne that my seed potatoes have arrived and I plan to plant them in the next couple of days (according to my moon planting guide). He advises me that the last quarter begins at 15h39 that afternoon and I really should get them in before then. I take a quick tour around Kathy’s culinary and medicinal garden and head off hastily so as not to miss my lunar deadline!

Wayne and Kathy are happy to share their experiences of developing practical sustainability projects, and a community workshop is set for 12 November at Aloe Ridge. Learn about their plans to use the growing systems, companion planting, water harvesting, alternate energy, and eco-building to make Aloe Ridge as self-sustainable as possible. Call Wayne or Kathy on 072 288 0314 / 072 156 1631 or email aloeridge138@iuncapped.co.za. They would also be very pleased to recycle used white 2l milk bottles if you are discarding any.

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