This is my 15th article from the Mercury Food and Wine supplement.
It’s the time of the year on the farm when we gather our wits after a busy and hectic year-end and start looking forward to and preparing for the year ahead. Last weeks heat was no help, as all we could think of was preserving our crops. The temperature touched 40C and hovered at about 35C for the rest of the week with not a drop of rain to bring relief. It was impossible to do any work on the fields. However, such is farming.
It is difficult to farm efficiently when the weather does not play ball. Unpredictability of the weather is a large factor in our forward planning. The rain does not fall when expected and the temperature varies by a large margin. All it takes is a day like last week to cause all the lettuce to bolt and create a large supply headache. Bolted lettuce is bitter and cannot be sold. This is just one of the challenges we have to face as a farm in the future. We have to find a way to meet a myriad of environmental and economic problems.
The answer is to focus on resilience as opposed to efficiency. Resiliency is a feature of a well-balanced ecosystem. The more diverse an ecosystem the more resilient it is. An organic farm should mimic a diverse and balanced ecosystem. To achieve this, the farm needs to increase its diversity in crops and animals, and in diverse income steams.
This is not easy to achieve, but if successful will enable the farm to survive and prosper on a planet with a changing climate and in a human economy with very uncertain prospects. This will not be easy as our current economic system favours efficiency and specialisation, which makes it difficult to integrate a resilient and diverse farming model.
A resilient organic farm should be well-balanced between cash crops such as vegetables and perennial crops such as fruit trees and herbs. The crops in turn should be balanced with livestock. Amongst the livestock there must be balance between different species all of which fulfil different roles within the farm ecosystem. The crops and livestock in turn need to be balanced with the wild flora and fauna from the largest such as trees and antelope to the smallest such as the soil microbes. It is ambitious to try to mimic the complexity of a natural ecosystem but on Broadleaze Farm we will try our best.
We will be looking to grow more varieties of vegetables in order to cater for different seasonal requirements, and to enable us to rotate crops and to companion plant more effectively. Suitable fruit and nut trees will be planted as well as perennial shrubs such as rosemary and lavender. I will be experimenting with establishing hedgerows based on the English technique, but using indigenous plants. These hedges will replace fences and will also provide food and refuge to animals and birds.
Bee hives have been brought onto the farm to aid pollination and hopefully be the start to honey production.Our flocks of chickens, ducks and geese will be expanded but only to levels that are sustainable.
This year we will be establishing a herd of rare Zulu sheep. This will be the start of a program to introduce other farm animals such as cattle, pigs, horses and donkeys. All these species will play their part in the holistic functioning of the farm.
I would like to think that if we can carry this off with some measure of success we can encourage others, whether they are commercial farmers or home gardeners, to follow suit. I will document our journey in future articles and on my blog during the course of this year. I hope as a result of this plan we can enrich the organic experience for all those who love real good food.