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Hello, I’m Rob from Cape Town and I’ve just joined Permies...

Robert Isted

Joined: Apr 28, 2012
Posts: 12
Hi, I’m new to this forum and thought I should start with an introduction and share my story...

I’ve been lurking here for about a year, and this is why: About a year ago I met up with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in about a decade. He told me how he and his family and another family were planning to move from the city to start a permaculture farm in the country. They had spent most of their free time since I last saw them planning what they would do and searching for a suitable farm. I had never heard of permaculture so I borrowed a copy of that incredibly inspiring geoff lawton video. Well about two weeks after that they found their perfect patch of land, and I joined them as an equal partner!

Our farm is about two hours drive from Cape Town (where I live). It is 50 hectares (about 140 acres) which is quite small by local standards and had no buildings. About a third of it is not very good pasture, about a third is a thicket of invasive alien tree-weeds and the remaining third is very special fynbos wilderness. Fynbos (pronounced fain-bourse) is a kind of scrub vegetation consisting of an incredibly species rich variety of low shrubs and flowers, many of which are extremely rare. Our district is believed to have more CITES listed red data plants than anywhere else on earth of similar area. So zone 5 is really the most important part of our farm!

Eventually all of us (4 children & 6 adults) will live there permanently, but so far only one family can really call the farm “home". It’s also home to a dozen sheep and a few chickens and four colonies of bees. A couple of goats and a donkey are coming soon. We’ve been really busy establishing housing and food and power and water and sanitation for people and animals. There’s a big machine on site right now digging swales and a few small dams.

It’s a very beautiful and special place that we’ve got, and the project is full of promise and opportunities and it’s all great fun.

Ken Peavey

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2353
Location: FL
Welcome Aboard!
Got pics?

Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3956
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Welcome, Robert
I'm really curious about your climate and geography. What sort of rainfalll? Topography?
I've met people from around that area (Cape Elizabeth) and it seemed the place was pretty amazing.
Robert Isted

Joined: Apr 28, 2012
Posts: 12
Thanks for the welcomes ...

There’s a few pics here:


The ground is gently sloping down to a river that flows only in the rainy season. We get about 750mm annually, almost all falling in Winter. The climate is quite mild, quite similar to Southern California and South Western Australia. Temperatures are normally 15C to 25C but extremes are about -2C to 40C. Soils are terribly infertile and quite acid. Nearby commercial farms produce mostly wheat or wine.
Morgan Morrigan

Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
Fabulous !

Your succulents do great here in central Arizona too.

If you want to try some plants from our desert, try the seed search.


Most of ours are made for alkaline, but worth mixing in some beans, might work well, without competing with the local plants.

Thought i saw a special on tv about them clearing the non natives out on the hills above you, to try and get the water flowing again.

Have fun out there !
Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3956
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Robert, are you familiar with Allan Savory's work? He's doing some great farming stuff in Africa.
Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 4228
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
My friend is from South Africa. He has talked of returning and buying a big chunk of land far from the city, and would like some partners. I was interested until he described the level of fortification and firepower that he considers appropriate to protect such an enterprise. How important and expensive is it to secure such a property in your area.

When I questioned my friend on the possibility of relying on the local authorities for some help in the event of a violent confrontation, he laughed and said, "That's not likely,my boy. It's the wild west over there. Every farm is an island and must have its own little military."

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Robert Isted

Joined: Apr 28, 2012
Posts: 12

I am aware of Allan Savory’s work, and so are more and more South African farmers. Many are having a lot of success by applying the principle of managing grasslands by allowing very intense but short duration grazing with long recovery periods. But these ideas are more relevant to the extensive savanna and natural grassland ranches well North of here. But its great to see how ideas that were considered radical, like so much of permaculture, is slowly being accepted into mainstream farming.

I’m in the South-Western corner of Africa that gets winter rain. The remaining natural vegetation in this area is too valuable from a nature conservation point of view to be used for grazing, and besides the soils are too nutrient poor for sheep and cattle to survive on the stuff that grows around here. The more fertile lands have all been plowed and are quite intensely farmed, mostly wheat and wine.

We’re planning to turn a patch of ex-wheatlands into a permanent pasture for sheep and maybe pastured poultry, a classic Permaculture zone three strategy. Many farmers here simply plow annually and plant a monocrop of something like oats or barley for grazing and fertilise heavily. For planning what to grow and how to manage this pasture I have found that the most useful information comes from Australia. The area around Perth I think is very similar to here. I don’t think we could do this without the Internet.

In wet temperate zones, like where you are in NZ, pastures are mostly White Clover and Ryegrass and are quite easy to establish. But in areas with lower rainfall and seasonal droughts and weak soils it gets much more complicated. Pasture management and especially the selection of suitable blends of plant species becomes quite an advanced science. I am struck by how much of what get published by Australian agri academics sounds like Permaculture. Much of what they are doing is simply looking for suitable guilds, though they don’t use that word.

Just a couple of weeks ago we planted 20kg of seeds of four different types of pasture legumes. The seeds all come from Australia, but the species originate from all over the world. And instead of using a $64000 no-till planter, we made seedballs!

Robert Isted

Joined: Apr 28, 2012
Posts: 12

Talking of useful succulents, a thorn-free variety of Cactus Pear is getting a lot of local interest lately:


This is a South African derived variety of a plant originally introduced here from America in the 1700‘s.

Robert Isted

Joined: Apr 28, 2012
Posts: 12
Fortunately, I am in an area where farms are quite small and close together and also political and racial tensions are not particularly bad here and so personal safety is not really an issue. We have no security at all.

But in much of South Africa being a farmer is a very risky business. I believe it is rated as the most dangerous profession in the world outside of a war zone. More deaths per capita than Mexican policemen. Only war reporters and soldiers on combat duty get killed more often. Your friend was not exaggerating. Farm security systems are impressive and necessary.

If you are coming from Canada and want cheap land and a novel experience farming in Africa you are probably better off going to one of the countries North of here like Mozambique or Zambia or Malawi. I have too many family and social ties to Cape Town and am not up for all that comes with emigrating to another country.

subject: Hello, I’m Rob from Cape Town and I’ve just joined Permies...
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