Yesterday, Dargle Conservancy members visited Rainbow Homestead, a co-operative community living in upper Dargle, between Nhlosane and the Mngeni River.
“There are plenty of examples of what not to do here” says Shine Murphy by way of introduction to their Rainbow Homestead. “We just keep on learning and once we have learnt, we like to share our knowledge” adds Sam Rose. They are certainly doing plenty right, however.
Living ‘off the grid’ for the past few years, generating all the energy they need from a couple of solar panels, fireplaces and a parabolic sunstove, is pretty impressive.
They also have a food garden which supplies their community of ten with fresh greens and vegetables. Situated on a sunny slope, deep swales catch all the water which falls, rather than allowing it to drain away into the valley. Nitrogen fixing acacias and fruit trees are planted on the ridges, providing some shade and shelter from hail as well as biomass when they are felled (‘chop and drop’ is what Shine calls it) into the swales.
Compost heaps are everywhere around the garden. “This soil is quite dreadful” says Shine, “In the beginning I couldn’t even bear to plant little seedlings into it – I felt so sorry for them.” Much effort is put into building the soil. Comfrey, which mines minerals from deep in the ground, is planted everywhere and used to make comfrey tea – an extremely good fertilizer and added to the compost heaps. There is a small worm farm to create vermicompost and worm tea, and the composting toilets the family use provide lots of good compost which is worked into the garden beds. Very little is taken off site – everything goes back into the soil.
A bee hive is close by as the importance of bees in a garden cannot be over emphasised. Shine proudly brings out a golden jar of their first harvest of honey.
Lots of fragrant Buddleja are planted as wind breaks, which along with Ouhout, Polygala myrtifolia and Halleria lucida provide nectar for the bees and birds. “I am starting a food forest, which will eventually look after itself and create soil on it’s own” Shine says.
Neighbour, Jo, is passionate about her medicinal plant garden and provides all the basic needs to nurture health in their community. Thyme and Cotelydon are two of her favourite healing herbs. “Health encompasses the community and the environment too, not just the individual. Prevention is always better than cure. With fresh air, fresh water and fresh food, we hardly get ill anyway.”
Sam started living here in 2006, inspired to put her values about sustainable living and the interconnectedness of all things into practice. She realised that most people do work unrelated to their needs, for example working in an office to get the money to buy food and electricity, rather than working to grow food and generate energy. “This means you are tied into a system which you might not agree with” she adds. “I felt I couldn’t protest against the system, while still benefitting from it.”
Rainbow Homestead is very welcoming to anyone who would like to learn about sustainability while they work. There is an overwhelming sense of abundance here, underpinned by the philosophy of “Live Simply so that others may Simply Live”.