Yesterday, I visited friends who live along the Dargle Valley – on the other side of Inhlosane beside the uMngeni river. They are officially the “Dargle Hippies”, because they live simply, wear tie dyed clothes and have unruly hair, I guess. They are also very nice and I like them a lot. I had never visited Zuvuya, as their community is known, despite many invitations. My friend Katie and I bumped along the dirt road, led by happy hand-painted signs until we came across their collection of dwellings in the valley.
“There are plenty of examples of what not to do here” says Shine Murphy by way of introduction to the Rainbow Homestead. “We just keep on learning and once we have learnt, we like to share our knowledge” adds Sam Rose.
They are certainly doing plenty right, however. Living ‘off the grid’ for the past few years, generating all the energy they need from a couple of solar panels, fireplaces and a parabolic sunstove, is pretty impressive.
They have a flourishing food garden which supplies their community of ten with fresh greens and vegetables. Situated on a sunny slope, deep swales catch all the water which falls, rather than allowing it to drain away into the valley. Nitrogen fixing acacias, and fruit trees, are planted on the ridges, providing some shade and shelter from hail as well as biomass when they are felled (‘chop and drop’ is what Shine calls it) into the swales.
Compost heaps are everywhere around the garden. “This soil is quite dreadful” says Shine, “In the beginning I couldn’t even bear to plant little seedlings into it – I felt so sorry for them.” Much effort is put into building the soil. Comfrey, which mines minerals from deep in the ground, is planted everywhere and used to make comfrey tea – an extremely good fertilizer and also added to the compost heaps. There is a small worm farm to create vermi-compost and worm tea, and the composting toilets the family use provide lots of good organic matter which is worked into the garden beds. Very little is taken off site – everything goes back into the soil.
A bee hive is close by as the importance of bees in a garden cannot be over emphasised. The first harvest of Rainbow honey was gathered recently and Katie was thrilled to recieve a golden jar. Lots of fragrant Buddleja shrubs are planted as wind breaks, which along with Ouhout, Polygala myrtifolia and Halleria lucida provide nectar for the bees and birds. “I am starting a food forest, which will eventually look after itself and create soil all on it’s own” Shine says.
Rainbow Homestead is very welcoming to anyone who would like to learn about sustainability and permaculture while they work. There is an overwhelming sense of abundance here, underpinned by the philosophy of “Live Simply so that others may Simply Live”. I’ll certainly be back.
Read about some of my other food hero friends in the Midlands here: http://www.foodwithastory.co.za/Blog/541/So-much-more-than-great-food—the-Midlands