Conservancy Covid-19 Response

The vision of the Dargle Conservancy is to strengthen its effectiveness as an independent organisation, and in coalition with other like-minded people and bodies, to work proactively to achieve a greater Midlands area that is wisely managed by all to ensure long term environmental sustainability.

The recent Covid-19 Crisis has demanded that Dargle Conservancy expand its activities to include assistance for vulnerable communities affected by Lockdown and loss of income.   For over a decade, Dargle Conservancy has supported initiatives in local schools and communities which aim to increase awareness of the importance of caring for the natural environment and the creation of vegetable gardens.  There can be no doubt that when communities are stressed and hungry, there will be a negative impact on wildlife and nature.

Zuzokuhle (Zu) is situated beside the road between Dargle and Howick. Tucked between the motorway and the railway line in Tweedie, it is a small settlement of dwellings creatively built from scrap wood from the local pallet factory. While there are advantages to living close to the town of Howick, life without basic services is pretty challenging at the best of times.  Convid-19 and the Lockdown, meant that many sources of employment dried up and vulnerable people became even more desperate.  Through local networks it become clear that many people had suddenly lost their income generating opportunities (from recycling, car guarding) and needed help.

Dargle Conservancy set about supporting this community by providing basic provisions and toiletries. Local farmers have contributed too. Manny Salgado delivering cabbages and butternuts and dozens of eggs from Kevin Barnsley. Gugu Mungwe, a young woman passionate about her community, who has lived at Zuzokuhle her entire life, is the connection to ensure that the food aid is distributed to those who need it most.

Along the Petrusstroom Road in Dargle, residents of Nxamalala Village have also been affected. Many homeowners here rely on casual employment, hawking snacks at the local school or seasonal work on farms. For lots of children, the meal provided by the school feeding scheme, is their main one of the day, so with schools closed, they are hungry.  Dargle Conservancy committee member Gugu Zuma says things are hard and people are starting to panic. “Shops are so far away, even if you have money it is a challenge to get groceries now. Luckily, some of us have food gardens which are helping, and we are sharing our groceries with those who need it.”

The Dargle Conservancy Covid-19 fund is also supporting vulnerable families in neighbouring Impendle, where many depend on social grants supplemented by occasional work, and hundreds of children rely on the meal they receive at school. “With no way of earning even a small amount of money, families are desperately waiting for their child grants to come in May,” says Impendle resident Zandile Sikhakane, “Thank you to all members of Dargle for supporting these families. I was so touched by the words of Miss Thembi Ndlela. She said ‘I don’t have the words to say thank you for the food. Me and my children we were going to drink water and sleep with only water if this organization didn’t save us. Please pass my thanks to them. I cry when my children say they are hungry.’

 In the Hlelolusha area, Nomvula Mnikathi is extremely concerned about all the children who are not getting a meal while the schools are closed. These two women are helping identify families in need and distribute food parcels with assistance from the Dargle community.

Plenty of pledges from members of the Conservancy, and a generous donation of R20 000 from the St Andrews Dargle Community Church to the relief project, has meant that more families (over 80 so far) are receiving some help. Thank you.

Lynne Garbutt (treasurer of the Dargle Conservancy) has never been involved in anything like this before but is using her corporate skills to get organised rapidly, raising funds as needed and making sure the produce gets to the right people. “Much to my surprise, I am really enjoying this and meeting such interesting people,” she says.

Should you wish to support this community particularly, contact Lynne Garbutt 082 457 2583, or make a donation directly to: Dargle Conservancy, First National Bank, Howick Branch code: 220725, Acc : 622 1187 9236, Ref: Covid19

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.

r group

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.

r IMG_6358

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.

flowers umngeni river oct 2015 248

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.

IMG-20160313-WA0004

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.”

BRU 2016 (9 of 36)

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.

r cleared wattle

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.”

ra cows

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.

r log jam

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

r grassland to inhlosane

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.

r reed buck

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!

r drink break

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.

r pearl and penny rock

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.

reflection on river

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. 

r IMG_6396

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.

ra-lawrence-with-banana

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.

ra-cavalo-nero

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.

ra-onions-drying

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.

ra-pigs

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.”

ra-chicken-foraging-boxes

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.

a-bananas

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

ra-waterblommetjies

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.

r game count night fracktaviasta 035

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.

r game count night fracktaviasta 020

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.

r game count night fracktaviasta 018

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.

frack free foto booth dargle 037

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.

r game count night fracktaviasta 040

“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.

track scat walk

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.

scat

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.

recycle

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.

trashionistas

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.

Trashion Show-1-33

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.

Trashion Show-1-51

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.

Trashion Show-1-26

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

sweet papers

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.

Trashion Show-1-48

“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.

13331063_10153515594227117_1274496924345755882_n

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!

Trashion Show-1-27

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

13394186_10153515595697117_444492491030066605_n

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.”

Trashion Show-1-20

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.”

Trashion Show-1-52

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.

Trashion Show-1-30

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.

Trashion Show-1-40

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

parasol

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.”

Trashion Show-1-69

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.

r trashion 2016 dlamini

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!

r trashion 2016 nhlanhla

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.

kwandokuhle and car

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.

wire car kids

An actual recycled husband was spotted in the audience!

detail trashion 2016 163

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.

Trashion Show-1-55

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.

Trashion Show-1-66

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.”

Trashion Show-2

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.”

detail trashion 2016 137

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.

r aloma and oyster mushrooms

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.

r growing oyster mushrooms 008

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.

r picking oyster mushrooms 013

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

Big River Little River

We all know where the Dargle River begins – in the grassland slopes below the road to Fort Nottingham, of which Will Griffin is custodian.

source of dargle river

Where the Nile starts, is another story. Jethro Bronner is at the Nile right now, having driven his little blue Alfa Guilietta all the way from our Dargle River to the Longest River in the World.

jethro baobab

The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself. The Blue Nile, however, is the source of most of the water and silt. The White Nile is longer and rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source still undetermined but located in either Rwanda or Burundi. It flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where Jethro is.

The northern section of the river flows north almost entirely through the Sudanese desert to Egypt, then ends in a large delta and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Egyptian civilization and Sudanese kingdoms have depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along riverbanks.

jethro alfa on the nile

The Dargle River was named by Irish settlers who arrived in the valley in 1840 and felt the area looked much like the Dargle, County Wicklow near Dublin.

Inhlosane taken by Jethro Bronner

Although some of its journey is through beautiful original grassland, much of the riparian zone is degraded – often with plants like wattle, bramble and bamboo, which transform the natural landscape and overrun riparian zone biodiversity. For grassland streams, like the Dargle, these invasives shade the water, change the temperature and the aquatic biodiversity, and prevent animals accessing the water. When this ecosystem is weakened water quality is affected. As the Dargle is a tributary of the uMngeni River, which provides 6 million people with water, this is cause for concern.

Jethro’s Journey supports our river bank rehabilitation programme.

jethro dargle car sticker

You too can help protect our water sources and ensure there is delicious Dargle water for all. Water is everywhere; in coffee, pizza, cabbages and strawberries.  Did you know that making just one pair of jeans uses of 10 000 litres of water?

sp coffee 1

Six million people live downstream of the water catchment in Dargle, relying on correct management of this natural resource to provide their daily water. Water does not come from a tap – it comes from the hills and wetlands – the ‘water factories’ – of the Midlands.

kilgobbin stream crop

This campaign aims to protect our water sources by encouraging everyone to make a donation to restore the rivers flowing through Dargle (and eventually to Blue Lagoon in Durban). Dargle Conservancy has a programme to clear the riparian zone of the Dargle and uMngeni rivers. R100 clears a metre of the river and keeps it clear of invasive plants. How many metres would you like to protect? How many glasses of fresh, cold water will you drink this week?

There are two options to make donations:

  • SMS ‘DONATE DARGLE’ to 40580. SMS costs R20 per sms on all SA Networks – free minutes do not apply.
  • Or go to the Dargle Rivers webpage and you can make a quick, easy, more substantial  donation through GivenGain.

Invest in your water supplies by making a donation to restoring this ecosystem. Probably the most important thing you will ever do.  Giving generously to show your support for Jethro’s epic drive to the Dargle River in Ireland after which our Dargle is named would be pretty good too.  Follow his progress: www.dargletodargle.com  or http://www.facebook.com/jethro.bronner

r dargle river winter july 2015 035

Chris Slater of Croft farm

When Chris moved from the city to a defunct chicken farm in Dargle he didn’t intend to become a farmer. However, there were barns, fields, staff and a processing room, so he thought he’d see what he could do with the resources at hand.  Within a few years he was producing such delicious chicken under the Croft Farm label that he won the coveted Best Producer in the Free Range category at the Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards.

r chris slater of croft farm chickens

Now there are two week old bundles of fluff huddled under the heating lamps on a chilly day and a couple of hundred adult chicks pecking at the earth in the sunshine nearby.  Chris has learnt what works best by trial and error. “Lots of the big commercial producers laugh at me trying out new ideas – like growing mealworms, or letting the chickens roam freely.  I remember being told that chickens don’t like to go outside – that’s nonsense!  They are originally forest creatures, so dislike the blazing sun, preferring the shade of the barn on really hot days.”

r croft farm 037

Chris is certain that a better life means there is less mortality (lost profit) and better tasting chicken too.  He mixes the feed himself and to cope with the congestion the birds sometimes get, puts Eucalyptus oil in their drinking water. When the inevitable slaughter day arrives, Chris prefers to use small scale abattoirs that use old school manual methods.

r croft farm chick 020

“I’m an internet farmer, I learn and try new things all the time,” he says. This is an advantage in a rapidly changing world where methods passed down through generations don’t necessarily work anymore.  Chris was recently given some big spotted pigs – Duroc cross Hampshire – so he is giving pig farming a go.  “They are real escape artists, especially when the acorns are falling,” he laughs, so he is sturdily fencing four areas with a central shelter for them to live happily, grubbing about without disturbing the neighbours. He turned a couple into sausages recently, they were a real hit.

r croft farm pig 004

He also produces delicious eggs under the Fresh Start label. While Chris enjoys spending time with his chicks, he is always eager to try new things and has begun brewing craft beer with a likeminded entrepreneurial friend, Pete Foulis, in a converted chicken shed!

If you get up with the birds, you can find Chris’ produce at the Karkloof Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. http://www.croftfarm.co.za

Quietly. Kindly. Respectfully.

“I was swinging on the vines, the flowers were lovely and the air was nice. I miss Papa Ben, I wish to go back.” Olwethu Nzimande

In the past couple of months, we have hosted a number of different groups in the Kilgobbin forest, over and above the monthly walks which Barend Booysen guides. Without exception, everyone has left refreshed, delighted and inspired.  We may get a little used to the wonders of wandering in our forests, but guests are always amazed.

thembilihle kid

The Thembelihle Junior Eco Club had a life changing experience.  Entering the forest the children were astonished at the variety of trees and plants. They rustled about searching for the distinctive black stinkwood trees leaves, ran their hands along the moss covered rocks and recognised yellowwoods (they had planted one at school before heading to the forest).

r yellowwood tree

Sitting quietly in the forest they breathed in the scents, listened for bird calls and drank the delicious water before having a storytelling session about ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss. On the way back through the forest some lucky learners spotted a green boomslang who soon slipped away into the trees. Rafiki (Barend’s Samango monkey friend) was lolling in the trees and the children were utterly transfixed by the monkey’s beautiful coat. One little boy  whispered ‘This is the best outing EVER’

10516774_690865444331471_6356562775543386229_n

Dargle Primary School Grade 6 and 7 classes were very excited about their trip to the Dargle Nature Reserve, but first decided on a few rules.

  • To be quiet in the forest
  • To be kind and helpful to each other
  • To respect the forest and its inhabitants.

Barend greeted the group warmly and explained how he and Helen look after the forest and why we need to leave only footprints. Eidin Griffin and Gugu Zuma of MMAEP report on the day:

barend and dargle kids

As we walked along the sun dappled paths, Barend pointed out interesting trees including wonderful yellowwoods in different stages of life from 20 years to 1000 years old and showed us how to differentiate between the various leaves. Everyone was thrilled to spot some Samango monkeys browsing on new leaves in the trees. We sat for some quiet time, breathing in and breathing out all our cares. Mlungisi was amazed at the old trees saying “Wow, you will never find a person that is 200 years old.”

r Mlungisi in forest

Barend had the children really intrigued when he took out his cellphone, played bird sounds and then the birds came to visit! The children recognised different bird sounds and were lucky enough to see two African Harrier Hawks skimming above the canopy.  They got to swing on a liana and investigate mosses and lichen.

r swinginging on liana forest

Eidin said “We had an utterly magic day.” Gugu added enthusiastically “We had so much fun and learnt so much. What a wonderful place. I would like to bring the kids from my Zenzane and Nxamalala Enviro Clubs here too.” The children LOVED their adventure in the forest with ‘Papa Ben’ and have started writing stories and drawing pictures about their experience. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for giving these children such an incredible experience. Big hugs to Barend for his generosity of time and spirit – the children were especially impressed when he challenged them to catch him and raced off across the hayfields! It would not have been possible to get all the children back and forth without the help of Carl Bronner and Dennis Sokhela.

r kids top of kilgobbin hill

Eugene Moll lead a two day Forest Ecology  and Tree ID Course in October. Eugene, who lives in Cape Town now, loved spending time in the forests he remembers so fondly from his student days and relaxing on the veranda of Crowned Eagle Cottage listening to tree dassies call at night.

Participants were enchanted by his enthusiasm and knowledge and couldn’t believe their luck at having such an expert on hand for a few days.   One thing we all learned was to QUESTION things. To think about what makes a peach a peach, for instance. If we understand the basic characteristics of familiar plants we find in our gardens, we will have a much easier time trying to identify new trees. Everyone was keen to try our they plant id skills using the Keys in various Guide books. Just to confuse everyone Eugene included two samples of Kiggelaria Africana (Wild Peach) – one branch from a mature tree and a twig from a little sapling. They were COMPLETELY different and had everyone puzzled for ages.

r Brian Barend David

Most of the course we spent outdoors under the forest canopy. Each tree has a little space around it if viewed from the air, we learnt. The tree tops brush against one another and keep each tree separate. Eugene prefers to call Podocarpus (Yellowwoods), Afrocarpus, which he feels is a more accurate description. We hugged some really big ones and had heated discussions about ‘the twisted petiole’ of P. henkelii! He also feels pretty certain that none of the trees in the forest are over 500 years old.

r hugging tree

We learnt how specimens of Clausena anisata (perdepis) probably got mixed up with specimens of Hippobromus by the early collectors. The scientific name Hippobromus means ‘smell of horse’, but when the dried specimens were finally described, the smell had gone from the leaves, so there was no way of telling which was which! We felt the stickiness of Protamophila prehensilis and the velvety leaves of Quisqualis parviflora admired Briophytes and Epiphytes, tasted Asparagus stalks and smelt Lemonwood leaves. Naturally, we got down on our knees to find interesting things in the stream, including nematodes and damselfly larvae.

r barend and penz

Kathy Milford won’t forget the course in a hurry. “The most memorable thing for me was the crazy expert peering through his treasured old magnifying glass with a chipped frame, at a little leaf and his saying ‘this must be a Diosypyros whyteana, look at those orange hairs on the edge of the leaf’. That was a special moment, and when I looked through the magnifying glass there were the most beautiful little orange hairs that became larger than life. I felt like Alice in Wonderland! He showed us the most amazing little details on the leaves and trees which would normally have escaped my attention! Wonderful”

r moss

We learnt so many fascinating facts like: Insects are the biggest herbivores and that woody plants (C3) utilise higher levels of carbon dioxide. Eugene demonstrated how to make rope from the bark of Dais cotonifolia (Grewia occidentalis also used for the is purpose), and we learned the vines of Dalbergia obovata  are used to make fishing baskets.  Sarah Ellis “I found Eugene fascinating, with such a huge passion and depth of knowledge. How fortunate we are to have spent time with a man of this calibre. I also enjoyed meeting and chatting to some of the other like-minded people on the course.”

r looking up

Oriah and Kei Ellis used the opportunity for some outdoor learning.  “The tree ecology course was a great experience – learning about the different shapes of leaves, learning through the interactions with others, and how to simply identify trees.  I also enjoyed taking a walk through Barend’s forest, eating cookies and making new friends! ” said Oriah afterwards.

r kei oriah sam

Jenny Fly commented “I enjoyed every minute of it. Eugene is such a nice man, so knowledgable with his trees and so happy to help us mere mortals along the way. I certainly learnt a lot and need to get into the forest far more often to get really familiar with all of them.”

Julie and Richard Braby, who live in Underberg, enjoyed their time with other people as passionate about plants as they are. “We felt we were in another world for those two days and were sad to get home. The venue was fantastic. The talk and very good food at Tanglewood in the evening in the company of Dargle Conservancy members, was wonderful.”  Barend Booysen, who is custodian of the section of forest we spent time in, had a marvellous time. “I really thought I knew this forest backwards. I have been humbled by all the things I have never noticed before and my head is spinning with all the new information. I learnt so much. What a delightful man.”

r lets look that up

N3Toll Concession, who fund many projects in the Midlands, including in a number of Conservancies, have visited twice this Spring too.  First, we showed off some the Midlands treasures to a film crew and members of the media who visited our special part of the planet.  In the Cairn of Old Kilgobbin they enjoyed a country style lunch prepared by Nicky Farqhuarson of Tanglewood, and then a walk in the Kilgobbin forest.   There is nothing quite like drinking water straight from the stream, listening to Knysna Turacos call and watching Samango monkeys swish through the tree tops, when you usually spend your days dodging traffic in the city.

Anita Heyl commented: “Oh, my goodness what a special piece of paradise. If I was Winnie-the-Pooh this would most definitely have been my part of the forest.”

forest walk Penz

TV journalist Blain Herman captured the midlands magic in the short video that aired on SABC recently. Watch our 15 seconds of fame here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3yIKpWoRxs

forest walk Barend

Then, on a magical, misty day, shareholders of the N3TC Board arrived in anticipation of a picnic in the forest!  Con Roux Commercial Manager of N3TC said “The mist made it all the more special. We were fortunate that it wasn’t pouring with rain.”

N3TC Board forest walk 024

After an interesting stroll along the old logging path, we all returned to the Booysen’s verandah and fireside for lunch. We didn’t think that the urbanites would really enjoy sitting on a damp log with trees dripping all about them! Lunch was all handmade local Dargle produce and went own well.  Chantal Wood of Future Growth commented “I had such wonderful time and have been raving about your lunch. What a great bunch of people.” Bothwell Hlaba of PIC also had a good time “Many thanks for hosting us and showing us the great work that you are doing conserving our forests and the ecosystems. I really enjoyed the forest walk and the picnic.”

N3TC Board forest walk 100

Thanks to the N3TC for supporting these important environmental projects and the ecosystems on which humans rely, we hope you’ll be back to wander in the forest again soon.

In the great African tradition of auspicious rain for special occasions, the Midlands Summer Celebration in early November was suitably wet.  The Cairn of Old Kilgobbin Farm is right in the mist-belt, beside the forest, a wonderful venue whatever the weather. The drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of those who headed off on a forest walk. The rain hardly penetrates the canopy, so there was no rush to get back.

r IMG_3849

A gentle afternoon spent smelling Clausena anisata leaves, collecting yellowwood seeds, hugging the really big trees and puzzling over some species.  Dineo Dibakwane of SANBI commented: “I enjoyed the walk, Barend is the best! It was nice meeting other people who share the same objectives regarding conserving our planet.” Tshepiso Mafole, also from SANBI added  “It was great to be part of the inspiring and refreshing world of conservationists.” Tutu Zuma of Mpophomeni Conservation Group thought that the best part of the afternoon was the walk in the forest.

r dineo tutu tshisepo

Then they emerged through the mist, and were welcomed warmly.  The red wine went down particularly well, but there was also plenty of Notties beer and homemade lemon and mint cordial too.

r mcf celebration 2014 jiba

Many Midlands Conservancies were represented at the gathering and lots of local environmental organisations too.  Janet Snow of Environmental Learning and Teaching observed: “It was inspirational to see the projects conducted with such enthusiasm. It is a true indication of the community of practice in the area – something to be proud of.”  Caroline Leslie, Honorary Officer for Ezemvelo “Thank you so much for the lovely time shared by fellow enthusiasts.  The wine was splendid, the food was outstanding, the venue was breath taking but most of all was special times spent with special people.”

r mcf celebration 2014 eidin crystelle greg pam

Everyone tucked into yummy food that Jennifer Pretorius of The Farmer’s Daughter had made – split pea and asparagus salad, roasted sweet potatoes and butternut in balsamic reduction; and tomatoes, pesto and cream cheese.  There were hand made relishes, a selection of just baked breads, fresh organic greens, local cheeses and fruit too. Kevan, Karen and Hannah Zunckel thoroughly enjoyed themselves “What a wonderful afternoon with a lot of special people.”  

r food and crowd

Then Judy Bell, Chair of MCF thanked everyone for coming and especially, for all the work that volunteers do to protect the Midlands ‘water factories’ – the ecosystems on which we all rely.  Judy acknowledged Barend Booysen’s incredible contribution to inspiring, motivating and challenging so many people with his walks and insightful discussions along the way and presented him with a Mad About Chameleons certificate to thank him.

r mcf celebration 2014 judy eidin

Eidin Griffin of the MMAEP also thanked Barend for his kindness and generosity in leading school groups recently and introducing them to the Kilgobbin Forest magic, saying “The children  wrote about their experiences and all of them had an amazing and inspiring time.”  She read a few of the children’s delightful comments from the Eco-Schools portfolio they have compiled.

r mcf celebration 2014 barendJPG

Judy concluded “It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to people, to hear their tribulations and successes and, especially nice to be able to welcome the newly formed Rosetta Nottingham Road Conservancy. Everyone works so hard, so it is good to have an opportunity to just relax and celebrate our efforts. Thanks to Dargle Conservancy for sponsoring the food to go with our drinks and everyone for participating with such enthusiasm.”  Long may the Summer Rains last.

Dargle Conservancy thanks Barend Booysen for passionately sharing his time and knowledge to inspire others to care about our forests, and Carl Bronner for generously offering her gorgeous venue for all our functions.