Dawdling through Dargle

It is the first day of a Meandering the Midlands cycle tour (organised by Spekboom Cycle Tours) and thankfully the Dargle mist and mizzle has faded and we are greeted with clear blue skies and gorgeous wintery light. Perfect for exploring the Dargle Valley.

Christiano and Simone, our German visitors, stand gingerly beside handsome Friesian horses (instead of their bicycles). The Midlands is fast being discovered as a place offering cycle tourists not just trips focused purely on the bike and the end destination, but rather journeys filled with unique cultural and natural experiences. One of these forms the start to our trip – a Horse Play session masterfully facilitated by well-known horse guru, Carlene Bronner. Unlike the simple react and response mechanisms of a bike, our guests will spend the next hour discovering the art of  horse communication using subtle body gestures as a cue for gentle persuasion. Although the couple confess that they were not familiar with handling horses, it was amazing how, with new found respect and understanding, they quickly eased into the experience and had their horses eating out of their hands (admittedly the tufts of green grass may have helped).

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After a hearty farm-cooked breakfast, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the Nelson Mandela Capture Site using quiet country back roads. As a local South African, who has pored through each page of the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Julia felt well versed in the life and times of our Tata Madiba and was rather surprised that the museum tour at the capture site offered many more fascinating insights into the life of our great statesman. Brilliantly guided by the enthusiastic Ayanda.  Under no circumstances were we allowed to ride down the path to the impressive sculpture of Mandela’s face. “After all” quipped Ayanda, “it’s not called a long walk for nothing”.

cyclist at mandela capture site

We then made our way through a network of forest paths to the Caversham Mill restaurant overlooking the Lions River. Tucking into a well-deserved signature trout dish, we marvelled at the thought that once this great valley was a royal Zulu hunting ground abundant with lions and elephant. On shooting the last lion of the region, this river was ironically named Lions River.

Later after climbing up through the hills of Lidgetton, we enjoyed panoramic views of the Dargle valley. Authentic Italian wood-fired pizza washed down with Lions River craft beer at everyone’s favourtie Il Postino Pizzeria was a fitting end to our day. Bellisimo!

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On our final day we welcomed the opportunity to gently warm up tired legs with a stroll through the Dargle mist-belt forest lead by its passionate and knowledgeable custodian, Barend Booysen. With Barend’s charming stories of Zulu myths, local legends, and impressive botanical knowledge of these indigenous trees, the secrets of the forest were revealed. It is inspiring to hear how a group of Dargle landowners had taken stewardship into their own hands through the formation of Dargle nature Reserve under the Biodeiversity Stewardshipo Programme. Short term gains in destructive cattle farming and other agricultural practices needed to be sacrificed for the long term survival of these rich and biodiverse forest and grasslands.

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“For me the highlight of the walk was spotting the Samango monkeys playing in the Cape Chesnut trees”, beamed Simone. Samango Monkeys are the only true arboreal monkeys left in South Africa. Unable to adjust their lives to the rapidly changing world. If we lose these precious pockets of Afro-Montane forest, the Samangos could disappear with them too.

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Leaving Dargle behind, we headed across the hills to the cycling mecca of the Karkloof Valley – a network of world class trails. We selected the well-marked 15km Falls loop that swept us through the plantation on immaculately sculpted paths to the iconic Karkloof waterfalls. The beautiful falls in full flow provided the perfect backdrop to our final picnic spread of local Midland’s cheese, cured meats, artisan bread and cold beer.

“When we signed up for a bike tour, we did not know what to expect” remarked a satisfied Christiano. With all the cultural, ecological and historical diversity the Midlands has to offer, as the Spekboom Tour’s logo says, “expect the unexpected”.  In Dargle, that is certainly true.

Spekboom Cycle Tours is a member of the Dargle Conservancy and donates part of profits from these tours to Conservancy Project. Why not join one?  Find out more here.

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Foraged Fashion

People across the planet cleaned up beaches in celebration of World Oceans Day in early June, but there are no beaches in the Midlands.

The least we could do was prevent more plastic from entering our rivers, and ultimately oceans, by turning foraged finds into fabulous trash-fashion!

On the banks of the uMngeni River, the Howick Agricultural Hall exploded with colour and catcalls as 120 learners strutted their spectacular stuff.  Everyone was astonished at their creativity and imagination – each outfit was unique and used a vast array of foraged materials – coke cans, feed bags, paper cups, onion sacks, discarded CDs, old newspapers and juice cartons.

r Trashion Show by Des van TonderErica Brown, who has attended all the events, since the small beginnings at Corrie Lynn School in Dargle a few years ago, commented, “I thought the first one with just 15 kids was fantastic, but it gets bigger, better and more amazing each time. A sensational show!”

audiencePart of the waste extravaganza was a musical wall built from rubbish. Cleverly constructed by Kings School teacher, Charlene Russell and friends, from discarded bicycle wheels, coffee cans, repurposed plastic pipes and cake tins.  This was a great hit with the kids and kept them entertained as more and more taxis rolled up filled with creative and enthusiastic children.

r rubbish music - photo by Des van TonderThere was a parade of wire cars with prizes awarded for the best delivery van, the best woman driver and the best wheels. The country kids from took the top honours with Abahle Zuma from uBunye in Impendle being awarded best driver for his wire car, while Thabiso Ngcobo of Corrie Lynn took the prize for best steering.  The award for the best Box Car went to Nhlakanipho Duma of Jabula Primary in Lidgetton.

wire car wheelsInnovative technology lessons facilitated by the MMEP in local schools, use waste materials to teach this subject.   Learners proudly showed off their 3D models of houses with water tanks, furniture, cars and model laptops.

18922517_10154442178527117_8148491108822798722_oShea O’Connor Combined School from Nottingham Road stunned us with their inspired creations and took home many of the prizes. Siphesihle and Akhona Mchunu made great use of multiple types of waste to create their original outfits.

r Spesihle Mchunu and Akhona Mchunu from Shea OConnor school by Des van TonderThe teams of judges had a challenging task, but thoroughly enjoyed chatting to the learners about their creations and admiring the details up close.

judging accessories by Des van TonderNoluthando Mnguni looked splendid in her traditional isixolo (hat) made of waste card, while Mpo Chinowe’s sunglasses and earrings caught the judges eye. Asanda Malinga’s Nike branded outfit attracted a lot of attention as did Nonkanyiso Dladla’s bridal gown.

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Grade 11 learner Nombulelo Ndabezitha designed many of the outfits and looked particularly stylish in discarded poly-propolene packaging with red bottle top accents.  One simply never knows what treasures you will find at the recycling centre (or in the gutter).

Nombulelo Ndabazitha from Shea OConnor by Nikki Brighton

From Misty Meadows School,  Dineo Ziqubu created a froth from old newspapers for her ballerina skirt, Gina Rayner wore a clever coke can combo and Yaelah Sharpley got a special prize for her outfit as a character from the movie Frozen.

r H Mthabiseng Zikhubu of Misty Meadows School by Lynne Garbutt Zandile Sikhakhane, who accompanied learners from Impendle, says the were so surprised to see the ‘out of this world’ outfits created by other schools.  On their way home, they started planning their 2018 creations! One parent commented afterwards that she thought waste was meant to burnt, but now she has changed her mind.

trashion hat by Des van tonderThembilihle kids, who put a lot of effort into their costumes, had a great time despite feeling a little overwhelmed by the vibrant occasion.  Siyabonga Nyawuza’s outfit with cardboard hat got a special mention and Zaziwe Sibaya’s ensemble was declared ‘Wow’!

Zaziwe Sibiya from Thembilihle by Lynne GarbuttHannah Zunckel of Laddsworth delighted everyone with her pirate costume complete with cutlass made from an HTH bottle and cardboard..

Hannah Zunckel - the pirate by Des van TonderTo keep energy levels up there was fresh popcorn to snack on (in folded newspaper cups) and in-season oranges, while everyone mingled and admired the displays. Singakwenza showcased their trash toys and clever ideas for early childhood development tools using waste. iPhepha Beads displayed beautiful paper bead jewelry made from discarded calendars.  A Gogo from Bruntville, inspired by her grandson’s trashion creations last year started her own business crocheting bags from waste plastic and brought along her wares to show off.

handbag and popcorn by Des van Tonder

Children from Khazimula in Lidgetton entertained the crowd with energetic traditional dancing which encouraged everyone in the audience to get on their feet for a final twirl to Brenda Fassie’s hit song Vulindlela.

18813974_10154442184857117_1699982416700682985_nNikki Brighton of Dargle Conservancy pointed out that every minute one big rubbish truck of plastic waste is dumped into our oceans – so there is a lot of plastic floating about, entangling wildlife, being eaten by mistake by fish and birds and breaking down to form an invisible toxic plastic soup.  Scientists estimate that in 30 years’ time, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.  “We are celebrating creativity today, by not only using new materials, but by scavenging waste – keeping it out of our rivers and giving it a new life. Thank you everyone for caring about the planet we share with so many other creatures,” she said.

r trashion sistasThandolwethu Khanyile couldn’t wait to get home to tell her mom she was a Trashion Star. “When I am older, I will open a fashion shop with my own brand of clothing made of trash and encourage everyone to take care of the environment,” she said.  Vice-principal of Shea O’Connor School and proud teacher of these eco-conscious kids, Antonia Mkhabela, added “I wish all schools would do trashion because this is where environmental education becomes real. It develops creativity, critical thinking and new skills.”

antonia and Shea OC teachersThis year the Trashion Show was a collaboration between Dargle Conservancy, Mpophomeni Conservation Group and Midlands Meander Education Project.  Upcycled, earth friendly prizes were sponsored by E’Yako Green, Singakwenza, Pink Menstrual Products, Meriel Mitchell and Mark Liptrot.  Many thanks to everyone for contributing to the success of the day.

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Blue Ribbon uMngeni

The uMngeni was one of the first three rivers to be stocked with trout in May of 1890 (the others being the Bushmans River and the Mooi River).

Four generations of the Fowler family have grown up on the banks of the uMngeni and Andrew Fowler has fished it since the 1980s.  Since 2013, Andrew has lead the Natal Fly Fishers Club doing exceptional work clearing invasive plants along the banks of the uMngeni in Upper Dargle, contributing to improved water resources for millions of downstream users.  On Saturday, a group of river enthusiasts  joined him for a seven kilometre walk along the banks to celebrate his passion for this river and the improvement to the riparian zone.

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The river rises in uMngeni Vlei on a plateau between Fort Nottingham and Impendle and ambles just a few kilometres before plunging down a wooded kloof. Where it exits that kloof, it runs under a public road, and from there on down for just 17 kms, it is a viable trout stream.  Where it runs under the bridge on the Dargle Impendle road, just moments before plunging over the Dargle Falls, marks the lower end of the trout water.   11km of that 17km stretch, is accessible to the public through the Natal Fly Fisher’s Club (NFFC).  Over the past 30 years, club members have experienced insidious environmental degradation.  Andrew’s mission is to reverse that.

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Andrew tells us “As fly-fishermen, our interest in clearing the river is driven by a desire for a river which is less prone to siltation, more diverse in its aquatic and terrestrial insect population, and is therefore more suited to healthy fish populations. We desire well grassed banks, devoid of exotic invasive species that shade and denude, and better water flows.  Easier going and casting are very much secondary benefits and are not the main aim at all.  We are therefore supportive of clearing all the tributaries, and land in the catchment, and desire a restored grassland landscape with a healthy biodiversity, in which we are more likely to encounter wildlife and birdlife.  The #BRU (Blue Ribbon uMngeni) initiative hopes to extend beyond just the farms to which the fishermen have access, in the interests of the entire catchment and river, and is intended to endure for the long run.  It is our intention to hold annual clearing days in which follow up work is done to control wattle regrowth. Promoting the uMngeni as a great trout fishery, to ensure that it attracts future guardians, is also key to the long term success of our endeavours.”

ra andrew explainingWhile the trout fishermen have their own reasons for making this effort, the result is improved water for 6 million downstream users.  The uMngeni catchment is not very big and huge demands are made on this river for farming, industrial and household use.

A synopsis of NFFC efforts so far:

The volunteer days in 2013 and 2014 saw relatively light work take place with members using their own chainsaws and spraying equipment, removing alien plants from the South bank of the Umgeni, starting on Brigadoon (owned by Russell Watson) and working upstream.

In 2015 about half a km above where the Furth stream enters the Umgeni, NFFC sponsored a team of contractors and Russell Watson provided tractors, staff and TLB, while volunteers joined in the effort to clear 1.5 kms. On a follow up day, volunteers sprayed bramble on about 3kms of river bank.

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In 2016, two more volunteer days were held, where work was continued upstream onto the adjoining farm Furth. On one of those days there were only volunteers, on another a donation enabled a hired team of eight chainsaw operators. These days achieved clearing around 1.2 kms of water, again largely on the South bank.

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In April of 2016, two days were held where a large team of contractors were joined by a DUCT team and Russell Watson’s tractors, TLB and staff. This was funded by the proceeds of Andrew Fowler’s book, Stippled Beauties and Anton and Alison Smith. Over two days, both banks were completely cleared of wattle, and all trees were dragged out of the river channel, leaving a stretch of about a km completely transformed.

In May, schoolboys from Michaelhouse and St Johns College (JHB) were hosted on Chris Howie’s and William Griffin’s properties, where wattle regrowth and bug weed were cleared. Saws, pangas and gloves were sponsored by the NFFC and TWK in Howick, and DUCT supplied chemicals to stop regrowth.

MHS and St JohnsTwo days of clearing with contractors and casual labour took place in late August along the South bank – made possible by a R10 000 donation from the Natal Fly Fishers Club. In October 2016 a volunteer day sprayed bramble for 2 kms along the banks.

BRU clearing on uMngeni summer 2016

Andrew engages riverside landowners as much as possible. He has been very impressed with the work Don McHardy has done clearing the banks of properties near the road bridge across the uMngeni.  He is in discussion with landowners to clear areas on Rathmines and Ross Poultry properties.

Andrew discusses his preferred methods of working.  “A team of labourers with a few chainsaws will be able to do a lot, but will not be able to fell and drag big trees.  Also, those big trees are often best dragged out on the flatter side of the river, even if they were felled on the other side – for this e need tractors and a TLB. We believe it is very important not to fell trees into the river and leave them there to create logjams.  We prefer to drag them free of the floodplain, and if there is a bare steep slope nearby, we lay them across the slope (on the contour) to assist erosion prevention.  In Spring we plan to plant a seed mix of Teff and eragrostis or veld mix in places that have bare ground as a result of felling, to prevent erosion and provide a ground cover that will limit regrowth of wattles.”

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Everyone who joined Andrew to explore the area was most impressed. Penny Rees, who had walked this section with her DUCT River Walk team exactly five years ago, was thrilled at the improvements.  “We couldn’t actually walk on the bank here because it was so thick with wattle,” she enthused.

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This is a dairy and beef farm, so there was much discussion about the effect on the water quality of nutrification from cattle manure and fertilizer used to grow grass.  Pearl Gola observed “If the riparian buffer zones were wider (the legal requirement is 32m) many of the excess nutrients would be filtered out by the natural vegetation before entering the river.” Judy Bell added “By bringing the fences back from the edge of the river, one would also create corridors for the movement of wildlife.”

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There were plenty of log jams created by fallen wattle trees.  It was very clear how these slowed down the flow and caused siltation upstream.  While in rivers in America indigenous beavers actually build such barriers, here in KZN the streams never had trees along them – simply meandering through grassland, so these piles of alien branches in the river have no positive function.

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All morning, Inhlosane towered above us, enticing us along the banks through rye grass paddocks and grassland.

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Besides all the interesting discussion about trout and water and river health, we were thrilled to observe Jackal Buzzards right overhead, a Bushbuck emerging from the Ouhout thicket and a number of Reedbuck watching us from the top of a hill.

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We were delighted when Andrew lead us towards some rapids and a cooler box filled with ice cold drinks, taking the opportunity to kick of our shoes and paddle in the cold water so loved by trout. Someone even spotted one!

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The citizen scientists among us were unable to resist the opportunity to explore the riverbed rocks for invertebrates (which give an indication of the health of the river).  We turned over stones and found minute prongills and caddisfly larvae.

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Chair of Dargle Conservancy, Nikki Brighton, thanked Andrew for his efforts on behalf of the well-being of the wider community and biodiversity.  “Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands – the ‘water factories’ – of the Midlands. Much of the original grassland riparian zone is degraded – most often with invasive plants like wattle, bramble and bamboo, which transform the natural landscape and overrun the original biodiversity.  The plants shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and dense stands prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. Six million people live downstream of the water catchment in Dargle, relying on correct management of this natural resource to provide their daily water. Andrew’s passion for the river has a positive impact way beyond Dargle.”

The Dargle Conservancy have made Andrew an Honorary Life Member of the organisation and presented him with a Dargle Dassie Certificate thanking him for his contribution to conservation.

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Andrew concludes “I am truly excited by what we have been able to achieve on some short stretches of river. The results are fantastic, but we have to be realistic and realise that the stream’s biodiversity will take time to recover fully.  Added to the conservation efforts of WWF in the area, Working for Water’s programme, the Dargle Conservancy clearing along the Dargle River, the River Walk team lead by Penny Rees and the sterling work of DUCT further downstream, there is a real groundswell of support for this river.  This is true conservation, not just banners and bumper stickers. The enthusiasm has been infectious, and many members of the NFFC have displayed commitment and passion.  Having been part of these days, I can personally attest to the camaraderie and drive as the guys get stuck in, dragging logs and cutting branches until their backs ache. I am proud to be part of it.”

Progress can be tracked on the Blue Ribbon Umgeni blog site. 

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Bananas Don’t Grow in Dargle

Well not usually.

However, when uber-gardener Lawrence Qholloi decides to grow bananas (and coffee, mango and casava) – they do! “I am a bit obsessed with tropical fruit at the moment,”  he laughs, plucking an almost ripe papaya from the tree inside his tunnel beside the mist-belt forest.

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Clearly, the forest inspires him.  “It is a perfect system, constantly recycling nutrients, generating huge biomass, and thriving with no inputs besides sunlight and water.”  This resilient natural system is what he aims to replicate through permaculture by creating a food forest.

The trees provide much needed shade for crops that don’t like the heat – so his harvest of black kale has been extended considerably and lettuce can grow even in summer.

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Naturally, beans twine up the four varieties of heirloom maize he has planted and squash covers the ground. Cleverly, each maize variety has been planted six weeks apart to ensure that cross pollination does not take place, and keep the seed pure.  “Lots grows happily in the shade, especially brassicas”, he says, “so one should not be put off food gardening if you don’t have full sun like the seed packets say.”  The biggest challenge in the tunnel has been soil building. Green manure cover crops help, as does the addition of organic matter from the farmyard. Lawrence has also added Beneficial Micro-Organisms (BIM) to help the food forest start building its own soil. To create BIM, Lawrence puts a cup of rice in an old nylon stocking and buries it for a month near natural, old growth forest.  After 30 days, the rice ball has been colonised by mould and other organisms and is placed in a brew of 75% water and 25% molasses for a further 30 days, before being diluted 1:10 parts of water and spread around the garden. Mulch is added constantly to keep the soil covered and allow micro-organisms to work.

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Outside the tunnel, he is transforming an old orchard into a polyculture system.  Pigs have been at work, getting rid of invasive kikuyu grass and now chickens forage amongst the fruit trees, eating insects and leaving manure.

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In small boxes with chicken wire tops, Lawrence has planted quick growing pioneers like buckwheat, lucern and chia that the chickens can snack on without digging up the plants. Chickens will also spend time inside the tunnel beneath the trees clearing out old beds and preparing the soil. “Chickens are originally a forest species, so feel safe in this habitat.  I keep the groups small (less than 12) as they get really stressed in large groups.”

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How does he manage to keep the banana happy during the frosty midlands winter?  The large, leafy top is chopped off and left around the base of the plant.  Next to the trunk a big drum filled with water acts as a solar energy store, warming during the day and slowly releasing the heat at night.  Decomposing compost heaps nearby also help raise the temperature. Clever.

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Lawrence has created permaculture gardens all over the globe, is passionate about turning scarcity into abundance and improving food security through holistic land management.  Should you want advice on your project, that may or may not include bananas, he is just the consultant you need.  qholloi@gmail.com

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Spirit of the Midlands

Ultimate Frisbee – The Beautiful Game

Twice a week a motley crew of Midlanders gather to play Ultimate Frisbee on the fields at Lions River Club in Dargle.  As the sun sets, artists, architects, photographers, farmers, shoemakers, students and IT-types aged between 16 and 56 dash across the 100m field, deftly flicking Frisbees.   Sure, things get competitive sometimes, but never at the expense of fair play, respect between players, adherence to the rules and the joy of playing.

While Ultimate Frisbee might not be a sport that you are familiar with, it is growing fast and may be included at the 2020 Olympics. The game is non-contact, combines speed and grace and at least three women must be included in any team of seven.

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Dedicated player Ryjin van Wyk “The culture of Frisbee is a beautiful thing. It appeals to those who have not played competitive sport before, are not keen on being battered.  The spirit of the game is what counts most, so it brings out the best in people.”   Ryjin was a pro-footballer for a while and remembers how, no matter how good the game was, the moment the whistle blew the teams separated and headed for the change room. In Frisbee, once the game is over, the teams form a tight circle with arms linked and discuss the game.  “Here we tell the opposing team what they excelled at, and the winning team will share tips on how to do better. Then we unanimously choose a man of the match.”

Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt - Lions Ultimate Frisbee - by Louis Bolton
Rjyin van Wyk and Gerrit Blyleveldt – Lions Ultimate Frisbee – by Louis Bolton

Self-refereeing? The rules are simple – contact with another player constitutes a foul. There is a 30 second window for those involved to discuss who gets the advantage, and then play continues. No one cheats – even at the top level where there is plenty of money involved.  Once a catch is completed within the ‘end zone’, that is a goal. The first team to reach 15 wins the game.

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Last year, the Midlanders headed for Johannesburg for the Rocktober Frisbee Festival.  ‘We had cotton t-shirts printed with Love Lions and random shorts, but soon realised for a rag-tag farming crew we were pretty good!” remembers Ryjin. Since then, they have attended and organised several tournaments, with sixteen-year-old Lindo Mpangese from Curry’s Post being voted Player of the Tournament three times in a row!  Encouraging youngsters is an important part of the Lions philosophy.  Ryjin coaches a group of 7 to 12 year olds once a week, who are sure to take their place in the competitive team soon.

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The Lions started eight years ago, with stalwarts James Jordan, Nick Crookes, Dael Lithgow and Kim Goodwin as the core. They fondly remember how Justin McCarthy (now deceased) tore his achilles tendon playing his first ever game!  Little doubt that Justin would be thrilled to see how the barefoot team has grown, with over 30 people playing twice a week and teams from across the country eager to come to Midlands tournaments where the fields are beautiful and the people are genuinely good.

Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Kim Goodwin plays Frisbee by Louis Bolton

In collaboration with the Pietermaritzburg based team The Long Donkeys, they have successfully secured the 2017 Ultimate Frisbee SA Nationals to be held in the Midlands.

Joburg based player, Sally Crompton joined in the fun at the MadHatlands tournament hosted by Lions River and the Long Donkeys recently and thought it was amazing (particularly the local, homegrown, homemade organic, vegetarian feast at lunchtime). “The Lions team has grown so much since the first time I saw them and is one of the few clubs in South Africa with a diverse range of players.  Some talented young players were pulling off the most incredible throws, jumps and layouts this past weekend – Lindo and Sbu have pure natural talent which deserves to be nurtured and Josh, Alex and Michael have a lot of potential. The club has a refreshing creative spirit – one that is both focused on Spirit of the Game, but also on the high-paced talent of their members.  I believe that the Lions and Long Donkeys will pull off something great in a green hills of the Midlands in May 2017.”

Keen for some fresh air and good fun?  Check out their Facebook page Lions River Ultimate or contact ryang.vanwyk@gmail.com

Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton
Lions Ultimate Frisbee by Louis Bolton

Celebrating a Creative Community

In Dargle, beside everyone’s favourite pizzeria, il Postino have opened an Art Lounge.

This unique venue offers artists an opportunity to display their works and, according to curator, Kim Goodwin, is long overdue. “Although the Midlands is home to many artists, much of this creativity is not showcased locally,” he told us at the Opening on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Louis Bolton of Bolton Inc took the photographs. kim

The Art Lounge, rather than being run by a gallery owner, is a collaboration of passionate and supportive people working as a team to promote local art.

Chris Darroll, owner of il Postino adds “The art lounge is a long-time dream. Michael Mawsdley and I spent many nights conceptualizing this space where visitors can interact with the art. We have always had artworks for sale on the restaurant walls, now we have a dedicated gallery for both two and three-dimensional art from around the country”.  Michael, who designs under the well-known name of Viva Voce, has a workshop on-site, displaying his smaller pieces in baroque style glass cases while his bronze sculptures are featured around the gallery and restaurant.

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For the summer of 2016/2017, the Art Lounge will feature bespoke art by Miranda Crooks, Elizabeth Balcomb and Grace Kotze.  Miranda will exhibit works derived from a combination of printmaking techniques including linocut, collagraph, screen print, etching and collage. Elizabeth is a self-taught South African artist known for her haunting figurative sculptures that explore and expose aspects of human nature. Durban based, Grace, loves the versatile nature of oil paint that offers never-ending possibilities of exploration.

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Kim hopes that there will be opportunities to offer artists space to work and live in the Midlands too, to integrate and share in the creative culture of the area.  Featured artists would in turn attract collectors from further afield.  Miranda Crooks concludes “The il Postino Art Lounge has all the ingredients necessary to be a great success. Kim Goodwin is an avid art collector and supporter of local artists and with his input as curator I am really excited about seeing the artwork that will be flowing through the gallery from the many wonderful artists in our community.”  kim-miranda-michael

Jayne Darroll envisages the space will be also used for intimate dinners, art auctions and un-plugged sessions with musicians and poets. This is a special and unusual space, where everyone will feel welcome.

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Dargle by Numbers

The Annual Game Count was resurrected in our valleys and hills in late June this year.  This time of year was recommended by Ezemvelo because much wildlife congregates on the pastures that farmers have planted (and perhaps irrigated) so they are easier to spot.  We didn’t realise that it would clash with a rugby match or that many people prefer to watch wild men on TV to wildlife on their farms!  Next year, we will host it on a Friday instead.

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Between 5pm and 7pm, Dargle, Lidgetton and Lion’s River residents wrapped up warmly and headed onto their properties to see who shares it.  Some sat quietly in the forest with a flask in hand, while others packed the kids in the car and drove along farm roads with eyes peeled. Afterwards, many people came down to the Lions River Club where EKZNW Honorary Officers, Alan Jack and Caroline Leslie were collating all the exciting sightings and Jeremy Barlow was serving scrummy soup and sherry.

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25 properties participated. Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Oribi, Duiker were the main sightings, with most people concluding that numbers were lower than usual.  Some lucky observers spotted a mongoose, a serval and a genet. Only 5 jackal, 4 porcupine, 2 rabbits and 11 bushpig were seen – we hope there are many more out there.

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At a presentation on Saturday morning, Neville van Lelyveld pointed out the three types of poaching that occur in our area Subsistence, Commercial and Syndicate and explained the differences.

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Brian Jones of SA CAN updated us on their work with anti-poaching and gave everyone who attended a free three month trial of SA CAN services.  Remember to call them with any incident of poaching – they cannot respond to all of them, however it is important to build up a record and if they observe a lot of activity in Dargle, they will focus their attention here.  083 799 1916.  You do not have to give your name.

The Stock Theft Unit of SAPS is now dealing with poaching and wildlife crime, so a really good idea to report to them as well: Warrant Officer DN Kay 083 778 0864.  Save these numbers in your phone now.

Later, on a chilly, moonless evening, Jenny Goddard was part of a small but intrepid group who joined Neville and Hayley van Leyleveld on a 2 hour guided game walk on the Sinclair farm.

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“Unfortunately the wildlife decided not to play ball, and other than hearing a group of reedbuck calling to each other in the dark, our only “sighting” was a stray cow that gave us a massive fright when she appeared in our midst from no-where!  Neville’s interesting anecdotes, the information he gave us on poaching, and his immense knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Dargle kept us intrigued during the walk. We certainly came away very much the wiser.”

On Sunday morning, Katie Robinson hosted a Track, Scat and Snare walk on Lemonwood.

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Due to recent logging activity there was not much animal movement so the group proceeded through the boundary fence onto Iain Sinclair’s property.  First we came across Jackal scat that contained scrub hare and vlei rat fur enabling us to see clearly its natural diet. To everyone’s excitement we found Great Spotted Genet tracks and scat and later, a print in the mud from a Marsh Mongoose – two creatures not often observed.  We also found Bushbuck, Reedbuck and Spurwing Goose tracks during our walk on a really lovely sunny day.

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Many thanks to Neville and Hayley van Lelyveld for their enthusiastic efforts to make our Game Count weekend a

 

 

 

Trashionistas Unite to Save the Planet

Recycling is not really going to save us from extinction,

but at least it demonstrates that one is conscious of the unnecessary waste we all produce.  Re-using rubbish may seem quaint now, but there is little doubt that with natural resources already over extracted, mining dumpsites will be the norm in future.  Midlands youngsters are already set to make the most of discarded treasure.

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Nearly 50 learners gathered for the Glam Green Occasion of the Season – the annual Dargle Trashion Show – last weekend.  There were coffee cup ball gowns and feed bag suits, plastic packet shorts,  and dog food frocks.   The creativity was nothing short of astounding and everyone had a fabulous time.

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Vice Prinipal, Antonia Mkhabela of Shea O’Connor Combined, was startled when she asked her learners to register for the Trashion Show and 63 put their names down!  This school has an impressive environmental ethic and we were thrilled to host the 28 learners whose outfits had impressed Antonia the most.

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Louis Bolton, Celebrity Photographer, had everyone pose before the show began – many of these photos are taken by him. Other photos by Lynne Garbutt and Nikki Brighton.

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Girls and boys strutted their stuff on the ramp, created from farmyard fencing and bunting made from discarded magazines, on the lawn of Lion’s River Club.

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Compere, Eidin Griffin drew attention the tiny details – the earrings, shoes, handbags and trims which may have gone unnoticed in the swirl of colour.

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Maningi Duma (Grade 1 and Kings Primary) stole the show with her exhuberant pasta packet hat and sunny personality.

Celebrity Judges Trayci Tompkins, Andrea Abbot and Caro Richter were entranced and created lots categories to ensure that everyone was rewarded for their ingenuity.

r celebrity judges Trayci Tompkins ZULU LULU, Caro Richter Meander Chronicle,  Andrea Abbott Journalist Country Life

There were The Dapper Lads, The Beautiful Babes and Junior Trash. Prizes were sponsored by Eyakho Green – who give new life to waste, turning advertising banners into bags and shoes and satchels.  Meriel Mitchell made lots of pencil cases and shopping bags from fabric scraps too.

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“What a wonderful event you created. I’m so glad I was there! I met wildly talented and just plain nice people and fell in  love all over again with the creative and inventive creatures scattered around the Midlands,” enthused Caro Richter of the Meander Chronicle.

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Mr Recycle, Spesihle Mchunu  (Grade 10 Shea O’Connor School), was their choice for a special prize of a solar lantern for his exceptional costume, topped off with some impromptu dancing!

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Ted Rayner and Sisi Mlalazi (Misty Meadows School) made a dashing couple.

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Principal of Misty Meadows, Cassie Janisch said “We had an absolute ball at the Dargle Trashion Show.  I think the effort made by all the participants was fantastic! We are already looking forward to next year… My boys have got some ideas for wire cars from watching the experts this morning.”

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Zandile Sihkahane who facilitates the Sustainable School Programme in Impendle (supported by Dargle Conservancy) was completely inspired. “I wish to do the same thing in Impendle. I have shown the children how to make many things, like wallets, from rubbish, but getting them all together for a competition is a very good idea. We will be here next year.”

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The joint Best Outfits in the Beautiful Babes category was worn by Ashley Nkosana (Grade 8) who had spent hours cutting old plastic bags into strips and weaving them into cloth, and Silindile Zigubu (Grade 11) who wore a tailored dress made of white sacks, decorated with fabric flowers retrieved from the rubbish bin, with bag and shoes to match.

Thandolethu Khanyile’s bottle top detail on her blouse and impressive hat earned her a couple of prizes in the accessories category.

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Sbongile Ndlovu (Grade 12 at Shea O’Connor) works part time in the local tuck shop so collect all the discarded chip packets to turn into her frothy frock.

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Akhona Mchunu had made a delicate parasol (that opened and closed) with discarded sticks and plastic. Really impressive.

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Thenjiwe Ngcobo, Principal of Corrie Lynn Primary,  said her children had enjoyed the gathering and had learnt a lot from seeing and hearing what the others had done. “Sharing ideas and skills encourages us all because everyone does things differently.”

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Maureen Mabizela, Principal of Dargle Primary “There was such excitement at school on Monday with everyone sharing their stories. Thank you for inviting us to be part of such an adventurous educational brain development activity!”.  One of the Dargle parents who attended, Thenjiwe Dangazela, said she was sorry that she had not participate before – we will certainly see her at the 2017 event!

Mr Dlamini a teacher at Shea O’Connor was delighted that his his kids were able to put classroom learning into action “The real way to learn!” he quipped. He couldn’t help doing an impromptu dance with little Thandolethu in Grade 3 in her winning outfit.

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Dargle pupil, Nhlanhla Zuma, was very striking in his yellow ensemble. He had made a wire car too which had the ‘best steering’- earning him two prizes!

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Winner of the most colourful AND fastest wire car was Kwandokuhle Ndlovu. Kwandokuhle was the uber cool designer behind many of the glamorous outfits too.

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Judges Barry Downard and Iain Meyer decided that Brandon Chatilsa’s car was the most powerful 4×4.  Jas and Lily Goodwin won the best economy class, Ayanda Mhlongo took the prize for the most technical and Lusanda Zuma got a special mention for his rear cooler box while Syamthanda Mkhize’s car had the best detail.

The Dargle Drag Race was a speedy affair! With Jesse Chantunya entering a Kings classmate, Wandisa’s, car as he couldn’t make it.

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An actual recycled husband was spotted in the audience!

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Iona and Luncinda Bate made masses of popcorn and oranges for all the participants to snack on. Iona commented “Huge congratulations, a huge success and such a great turn out. The outfits were amazing and it was gorgeous to see all the girls so proud in their dresses!” Pat Draper suggested to Shea O’Connor Principal, Nicholas Nxumalo, that he encourage everyone to wear Trashion to the Matric Dance rather than spending a fortune of buying an outfit.

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When Antonia Mkhabela got home, her phone kept ringing with parents calling to thank her for organising the excursion for their children who had arrived home with huge smiles and lovely prizes “The parents were so excited, saying they did not think that trash could make such a huge impact. They told me that this has changed their perception about rubbish.” she reported with a grin.

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Gerhard le Roux was pleased he had come along. “I my eyes they were all winners! They were really proud of their creations.It was great to see the excitement. What a fantastic project.”

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Stylish Trayci Tompkins had great fun participating as a judge “The Trashion Show sure is bringing out the creativity in all! Loved seeing the different interpretations and use of recycled ‘waste’.  This is an event that is growing into something quite special.”

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Andrea Abbott, who wrote the Country Life article about last years show and really got the kids inspired when they saw their pictures published, has the last say “I enjoy myself immensely. The children are  wonderful; so confident and creative yet not for a moment holding high opinions of themselves. I wonder if they have any notion of how good they are? To see their designs and talents is to be inspired. Looking forward to Trashion Show 2017!”

As much as 2700 litres of water is used to make a cotton t-shirt and  even more to grow and manufacture a pair of jeans. With water becoming a scarce commodity,  we should all be rethinking our wardrobes – before you toss a packet, cup, bag, roll, hanger or can.

 

 

Aloma’s Mushrooms

After spending 15 years in England, Aloma and Gordon Fleet settled in Dargle, built a solar powered home and looked around for a way of earning an income. “Our 12 hectares is a bit small for keeping cattle,” says Gordon, “So we were pleased to find a mushroom growing opportunity in the Midlands that fitted our farming needs neatly, although we didn’t have a clue about them to start.” All they had to do was build a wooden cabin to create the right humid environment, learn fast and get going.

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Racks hold hundreds of bags of straw inoculated with mycelium and the spores of oyster mushrooms.  After about a week they start to ‘pin’ (sprout). Although the temperature is controlled and humidifiers keep the room damp, the outside weather does affect their growth. When it is too hot they can dry quickly and are sprayed with extra water, or have frozen 2l bottles join them on the shelves to keep the air coming in cool and, when it is cloudy, rainy and misty (very common in Dargle) they grow like crazy.

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Aloma tends the needs of the mushrooms. “They are like art, just marvellous to observe. I really love it when they start pinning and the tiny mushrooms poke their heads through the slits in the plastic bags, looking like Mohawk hairdos!” Every morning, afternoon and evening she checks the racks and chooses the best clusters to pick, before they go wavy around the edges and begin to scatter their spores. Oyster mushrooms cannot be picked individually, or the cluster will die. Each cluster has 8 – 40 mushrooms, some of which ‘die’ off to give space to others. Each bag should produces up to 1kg of mushrooms over 10 weeks, which means she spends a lot of time in her grey gumboots, blue gloves and funky mask amongst the mushrooms. Once the inoculated bags have finished producing, the straw is tossed on the compost heap.

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The Fleet’s sell their organic mushrooms to a central distributor and are also regulars at the Dargle Local Market where their just picked and utterly delicious mushrooms are very popular.

Contact Aloma on 061 099 4037