Friday, May 29, 2009

Here's an article for the upcoming edition of Share Earth magazine:

Follow Tanya Factor and her family’s off-the-grid journey as they learn about food security in baboon territory…

After a year and half of county living we have eventually settled onto our land – in the form of a solar-powered photographic and printing studio. Construction ended up being a timber and corrugated iron structure built around 2 converted shipping containers. A rather interesting looking building with a host of insulation, ventilation and water-proofing challenges which we are discovering as the seasons change.

The next phase will involve the construction of a bath house and somewhere warm and dry to sleep and then we’ll make the big move to actually living on the land.

Being avid gardeners and keen to grow our own food, we were not going to have our green fingers inhibited by the fact that we were not yet living on our farm. We initially set up a temporary greenhouse in an old shed, in which we lovingly planted trays of wheatgrass. We soon experienced the brute force and general rudeness of the resident baboons when they ripped the roof off the shed, destroyed the wheatgrass crop and defalcated in our newly erected water tank! Then they did it again. They meant serious business.

So we decided to bring the crop closer to home, but with no greenhouse our wheatgrass was quickly tackled by birds. I covered the trays with clear plastic which encouraged the healthy growth of fungus. Piercing holes big enough for sufficient airflow meant that the birds were back in the game. After much deliberation I spent an entire afternoon concocting a temporary greenhouse from recycled water bottles, flowerpots and polycarbonate sheeting only to have the trays attacked by rats! We have since decided to abandon the wheatgrass project temporarily and focus our attention elsewhere. Like the 100 tomato seedlings we ended up with just before winter after I sowed a packet of seeds at the wrong time of the year…

I managed to nurture 4 tomato plants through the frosty period in the indoor nursery/plant hospital I set up in my bedroom. I was utterly delighted when I spotted the first firm little green fruits of my care. The largest and healthiest tomato plant found a lovely sunny little spot in the garden of our rented farmhouse and on a warm day in early October we had some visitors…contrary to their previous brutish behaviour, the baboons gently plucked each small tomato off without any damage to the plant. Needless to say, I’m still buying all my tomatoes from the Pick and Pay.

We have learned that cows and horses can also not be trusted in the quest for food security. My initial herb and succulent garden was completely demolished by cows and the horses got most of my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings. Ironically, we ate more fresh produce from our garden in Sandton than we do from our farm yard!

In the spring we excavated a small swimming dam and fenced the area from the grazing cows. Finally, I could start planting on the farm. For a passionate gardener who had only ever read about “well-rotted cow manure” in gardening books, having a hectare of land littered with cow dung was liking striking gold. In my enthusiasm I completely overfed my poor young plants, burning their roots and sending them into a state of shock. The extreme drought we’ve experienced throughout the summer season also didn’t help.

But our food production soap opera is not all tragic. I am deeply heartened by the recovery of my Moringa trees. I ordered 5 small trees from a nearby town after reading about their nutritive properties. They arrived yellowing in a box after being neglected by the couriers, and then lost most of their leaves after which they were hit by frost. Despite looking completely dead, I nurtured them in my bedroom for a few months. My 5 year old daughter sang to them and my mom placed crystals and Reiki symbols around them…and with the advent of spring, they miraculously all returned to life. One of them was subsequently eaten by a horse, but the others are starting to supply us with their wonderfully delicious leaves.

However, sprouts have so far been the greatest success story on our path to food security and self-sufficiency. Ironically, we grow them all on the window sill in the kitchen! We have large helpings of alfalfa, broccoli, onion, radish and bean sprouts while we contemplate whether or not to erect an electric fence and dream of our geodesic growing dome…


One of the great discoveries of my life has been the Anastasia books, which I have been reading avidly for the last year. One of her many wonderful suggestions is the planting of a family tree.

This has now become a matter of priority as my mother passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Her ashes will be planted under the family tree on our new homestead where I trust our young family will find its roots.