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New homestead project. The conversion of dreams to reality.

Posts: 33
Location: Wilderness, South Africa
forest garden building
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Hi all,

In June my partner and I closed on 3 hectares (about 8 acres) of vacant land in a beautiful part of the world called the Garden Route in South Africa. It is a temperate climate, we receive a healthy amount of rainfall spread throughout the year although the last few years have been drought stricken. I am in the process of doing a soil test but I can tell you that in parts it is very compacted despite the dense vegetation growing. The previous owner 'kept the land clean' which means he cut everything down besides the aliens. Before that it housed some horses and stables. The land slopes towards the west, gently at first before it drops into a deeply wooded ravine. We have good northern exposure (the sunny exposure in the southern hemisphere. We have finally managed to put a month aside for the first round of work on the land. It is currently very overgrown with a mix of alien and native vegetation. The first order of business is getting the aliens in check (I am not looking to have a pine or black wattle monoculture). We have also been planting stands of fast growing and pioneering natives to dominate the clearings.

The long term goal is to live in an off-grid strawbale/post and beam/rammed earth hybrid structure, grow a large percentage of our own food and have one or two small guesthouses.

I am not looking to have all the land being highly productive. Over half of the property will be returned to native flora and fauna and will be reforested into the Afromontane forest typical of the area. The land is on the fringes of one of the few forests in the world that is actually growing (in area as well as height) so we feel a responsibility to do our part in the matter. Fauna that we will be welcoming will include a plethora of birds, various species of deer, baboons, cute but mischievous vervet monkeys, bushpig, various species of wild feline and we could only hope to be included in the territory of the elusive Cape Leopard. All the other regular critters, from no legged to many legged, are expected as well. We are very excited to convert our dreams to reality and I wanted to share it with the permies forum as I have been creeping in the shadows of these forums for some time now. The hardest part will be leaving in a month when we both have to go back to the money making part of our lives.

Any thoughts, comments, suggestions, questions are welcome!

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First draft site layout.
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Looking north
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Looking south
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Wooded ravine
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Vervet monkeys
Mike Harris
Posts: 33
Location: Wilderness, South Africa
forest garden building
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Another day for learning in what we have nicknamed "The Heights" while we feel the land out and come up with a proper distinguisher.

The steep ravine is in the early stages of an invasive wattle choke out. It appears that previously (up to 100 years ago) the land was clear cut of indigenous afro-montane forest for Her timber, and then planted with faster growing exotic wattle and pine. The owner before us kept the flatter, higher portions mown. And thats about as much as I know for now. We are here to return a large portion of this land to the forest. This is an area of incredible bio-diversity and beauty and there is a real emphasis, from government and locals alike, to maintain the pristine natural beauty and restore the areas scarred by the ruthless timber industry. It is sensitive wildlife habitat and we are all passionate about stopping the fat cats from turning this paradise into a goldmine and we are definitely succeeding. So after that bit of context, here's what we're up to.

We are working in what will eventually be zone 5. We're getting this work in early so that it has more time to establish and develop for the joy of all. We have managed to open up a section of what was quickly becoming a black wattle plantation. We cut down all the ones of manageable size and stacked the trunks and branches for later use. We left all the leaf litter and other arbitrary detritus to do what it does. The larger wattles we ring barked in the hopes that they will die slowly in place before they topple over. This will keep the wildlife habitat somewhat intact and prevent that horrid scar of clear cut land. We also planted some vigorous and indigenous climbers (canary creeper) at the base of some of the larger ring-barked wattles so that they will hopefully climb the dying tree and cover it in a brilliant show of yellow flowers in due course. The last hoorah!

We then planted just three indigenous trees as the day was dragging on and our muscles are not yet used to this type of work. The beautiful broom cluster fig, the potential ancient Outeniqua Yellowwood and the unknown-to-us Cape Ash. We gave them our best wishes and talked them through the transplant, as is becoming our custom, and made sure they were settled with plenty of mulch, worm juice and water.

We called it a day as far as hard labour goes and sauntered off to a local pub that we had just discovered to relax for a bit. And as life goes we took our time and chatted and ate and drank and deliberated. At the time I did not realise the impact that those small moments were having on what was about to unfold.

After several bouts of indecisiveness and funny coincidences and detours we eventually decided to have a sundowner on a beach that is not at all conducive to sundowners. It was gorgeous none the less watching the twelve foot waves storm down the rocky point. It soon became apparent that a young, and very drunk, fellow was in a spot of bother in water deeper than he was comfortable in, in sea conditions that should be avoided by all but the experienced. In over his head, so to speak (sorry). A local surfer on his way in from his session spotted the chap and started helping him. Very suddenly they were both getting dragged further out at a rate of knots as the drunk guy was losing consciousness and all the surfer could do was try to keep him a float. I am very grateful that I am a strong swimmer and was a professional lifeguard in one of my previous lives. I rushed out to them and together with the surfer we spent about 15 minutes fighting the rip current and ducking under twelve foot sets to get the drunk guy to shallow water and to safety.

It got me thinking about all the random coincidences and occurrences that led to me being there at that exact time. I am not much of a believer in fate but every now and then I notice markers in my journey that let me know that I am right where I need to be. I spent the day being open to the universe and it led me to a point where I could be of help. Suddenly doesn't seem so coincidental.

Life can sometimes feel like a series of random coincidences. Until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
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What was once a wattle choke hold.
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Cape Ash looking settled. Felled wattle in the background.
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Canary creeper, set to climb.
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