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PDC Blog: Day 11

Jump to: Seed propogation practical, Transplanting seedlings, Community design practical, Visiting Evert's farm, Beekeeping, The honey debate, and Designing our community project

After a breakfast of fruit salad and toast we started playing our daily game with the beanbags.

Avice explained that at the start of the day, a farmer brings everyone together and assigns the day’s tasks. So, playing a game in the morning is an effective way of encouraging team spirit before starting the day’s work.

Practical: Verme compost

We then went straight to Hazel’s veggie garden, and got to know the gardener’s best friend, the humble earthworm. Hazel poured some verme compost onto a white plastic table.

Verme compost

Exposed to light, the earthworms immediately tried to burrow under the soil and our task was to separate them from the soil, placing them back in the earthworm bin. The soil was lovely - rich, dark, moist, colloidal soil, clearly testifying to the power of earthworms!

Verme compost - full of colloids

Practical: Seed propogation

We then learnt how to prepare seed trays. Firstly we took some old cow manure and sieved it, using our hands to filter it through the mesh (no room for the squeamish here!).

Sieving manure for seed trays

Then we took river sand and placed an equal amount of our sieved cow manure and sand in a wheelbarrow, mixing the two together.

River sand for seed trays

Mixing river sand with sieved manure for seed trays

This will form the mixture for our seed trays, which will last for at least a year, Hazel informs us. We’re also told never to take a shortcut when preparing this as having lumps of manure makes transplanting impossible – the hairline roots make a beeline for any lumps and are then difficult to separate.

Filling seed trays with river sand and manure mix

We then water the trays well.

Watering our seed trays

Now it’s time to plant, placing a variety of seeds in the trays to ensure diversity (and less trips to the shade house). We cover the seeds with twice their diameter of our mixture, and then label our trays using ice cream sticks and a waterproof pen.

Planting seeds in our seed trays

Planting seeds in seed trays

Labelling seed trays

The trays go in Hazel’s shade house, where they get morning sun and afternoon shade. As they get stronger, they are rotated to sunnier areas, to acclimatise them to the sun before they’re transplanted outdoors.

Transplanting seedlings

Hazel tells us that seeds should be transplanted as soon as they get their second pair of leaves. A mixture of 30% (sieved) soil from the keynote, 30% worm casings and 30% river sand is used to fill the plastic cups.

Sieved soil for transplanting into plastic cups

Irshaad brings the plastic containers which we'll fill with our mixture.

Plastic containers for planting seedlings

With the memory of the previous cutworm still fresh in our minds, we take the time to search our trays for any nasty surprises.

We then use a bonsai spade to carefully prick out the seedling. Making a whole in the cup with the handle end, we use the sharp spade end to gently lift out the seedlings, which are then placed into our plastic or paper cups.

Transplanting seedlings into containers

Transplating seedlings with great care

We learn that when the seedling is 15cm high it is strong enough to be planted in your veggie bed. Taking the whole tray to the bed, we separate the mulch and put the whole cup in the hole. The cup makes a windbreak for the plant as well as a barrier to pests.

As we’d already planted our veggie bed, it was our job to gently remove the seedlings from their plastic covers (an obsolete task if you use newspaper!). This ensures the roots are not disturbed which can put the plant in shock, which retards growth or causes bitterness.

Removing plastic containers

Practical: Community Project Design

Time for a field trip. We drove from the farm to visit the site of Hazel and Avice’s first community project in Stillbay called Melkhout Fontein. Our task was to take paper and a pen, and individually map out our proposed design, taking into account the existing structures, and the needs of the community. A successful nursery was already established in the community and we’d decide whether to incorporate it in our design.

Community permaculture project

Layout of the land

We wandered around, chatting to the local community, and jotting down ideas. Once that was accomplished, we left for our field trip to Evert’s farm. Having worked with Evert on mapping his farm already, the excursion was doubly enjoyable for me, being able to see the possibilities in reality.

Visiting Evert’s farm

We saw Evert's organic potato crops (we'd been eating his potatoes and they were delicious), and he showed us how rich with colloids his soil was.

Organic potato crops

Rich, colloidal soil

On the way to his nursery, we were eyed out by a distinctly threatening bull, and walked through the natural forest surrounding his family’s farm.

Threatening bull

A natural forest

Evert's nursery was filled with trees of all varieties, which he collected for his future food forest.

Thriving nursery and shade house

Fruit trees

Somehow, even in the nursery, Leon managed to find a mushroom.

Finding a mushroom

Passing by Evert’s gigantic swales (he's already implementing what he's been learning on the course), it was then time for our lesson in beekeeping.


Evert explained how he uses wooden boxes, which he smokes out with burning newspaper, which bees are attracted to.

The box can be built upwards, as bees make honey according to space.

It’s also more ethical as when he takes out the honey he leaves more than enough for the bees.

Then it was the moment I’d been waiting for, getting dressed in the bee suit.

Covered from head to foot, like astronauts, Paul and I accompanied Evert to harvest some honey.

Preparation before harvesting honey

Paul manned the smoke gun, which blew smoke at the bees so they become disorientated, while reducing their aggression. My job was to hold the bowl which would contain the honey. After we’d harvested the honey, everyone (barring me that is) ate the honey with evident enjoyment.

Harvesting honey


The honey debate

I felt myself getting a bit upset by the whole process. I’d read an article where the author related taking honey to stealing, as the bees have to be subdued by smoke otherwise they’d die to protect the honey. As a vegan, I do not eat animal products (including honey) but wasn’t really sure why honey is not vegan if it's farmed ethically (and this is a topic for debate even amongst vegans). Personally I just eat date honey, which is fantastic and made purely from dates.

Evert did not hurt or harm the bees in any way, and in fact seemed to have formed a relationship with them as they didn't sting him, even though his hands were uncovered. Someone also raised the point that in the wild beavers steal honey from the bees, so what’s the issue if its ethically farmed? I decided to do some further research.

I came across an essay written by Noah Lewis which is widely referred to, about why honey is not vegan. The author’s contention is that if bees (in nature) make a surplus they simply divide into two colonies, thus increasing the population of bees, which is good for crop pollination. She maintains that if humans grabbed honey in the wild and took the natural repercussions like being stung like crazy it might be a different story. But do read it for a more complete perspective.

We then went for a picnic on the beach, stopping off at the shops to buy fish and chips, while I stocked up on banana’s and dates.

Stillbay beach Picnic overlooking Stillbay beach

Returning to the farm, it was time to our community project.

Group exercise: Designing our community project

Split into two groups, we had to design our project using coloured paper and pens. I was teamed up with my mom, Hazel (as overseer), Sharon and Leon.

A permaculture design project

A permaculture design for a community

We designed an education and training centre like no other! The entrance would have an information centre, a massive dome made from berry vines (to attract tourists who would be charged for entry) and a snake trail going through the plot of land with inter-connected swales, which would have signboards and information explaining each permaculture aspect.

The area would be split into two sections, one which was community based and the other which forms our education and training centre. The community section would have a walkway with mini-gyms along the side, jogging and cycling tracks, to ensure the health of the community, a merry-go-round for the children (which would power borehole water extraction).

We’d also have a climbing wall, with a graffiti side on the back, to appeal to the community’s teenagers.

Meanwhile, our education and training area would feature multiple Mandala’s, providing enough food and a source of income for the community, who would all be involved in their upkeep.

Permaculture training/skills development would be offered free to the community, and charged to others as an additional source of income. The cost of this would be borne by local businesses who would sponsor a Mandala and in return receive a sign for their advertising, and the support and goodwill of the wider community.

We’d also feature a medical research centre and medicinal herb spiral, showcase a Permaculture house design (eco-home) built by the community,a worm farm, chicken tractors and nursery, while our energy requirements would be supplemented with a windmill and solar power.

The other group also had some fantastic ideas.

PDC group design project

After a short rest it was time for dinner, a delicious meal of brown and wild rice (I had potato), a tasty Napolitano-style tomato sauce and an avocado salad, while everyone enjoyed a glass of Hazel’s homemade Lemon Martini-style cocktail.

PDC group dinner

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