Happy November! It’s always hard to believe how time flies, especially as the year draws to a close. This year has certainly been full of a lot of agricultural adventures, and it’s not over yet! Last month, from 3-5 October, I had the pleasure of working with Mpilonhle’s Home-Based Carers and facilitating a garden training on an introduction to permaculture and organic gardening methods. In putting together the curriculum for the training, I used a mix of information that I had obtained from trainings with both the Peace Corps and the locally-based African Conservation Trust office and Manukelana Art and Nursery in Khula Village, who hosted our last training with the Field Assistants in May. The training took place over the course of three days up at La Colline, the Mpilonhle guest house, and consisted of one day of theory training and presentations and two days of practical work/study. The first day, we covered a wide range of topics, from planting bed construction and the benefits of compost to strategies for water conservation and companion planting and the importance of bees! During the second two days, we filled and planted two trench beds, dug, filled and planted two pit beds, made a gorgeous compost pile and practiced digging some holes and swales for water retention.
Everyone lends a helping hand to fill the bed
Mpilonhle Social Worker Andile Zulu deftly wields the watering can
Time to plant!
Carer Veronica Dube helps prep the ground for a compost pile
The enthusiasm and brilliant spirit of these amazing women was infectious, and their openness, wonderfully encouraging. With equal amounts of laughter and learning, it was a great three days, and I am very excited to continue to work with the carers as they take their new knowledge back to their communities and help their clients develop home and community gardens to fight poverty and hunger.
It's a good life!
Nkodibe High School is no stranger to permaculture, as they were one of the schools that Rebecca Ford, a previous Peace Corps Volunteer with Mpilonhle, worked with to start the food garden program last year. Together with Mrs. Dludla, an agricultural science educator at Nkodibe, Rebecca and some of the learners started a permaculture garden with double-dug beds and swales, using tools and fencing provided through a Peace Corps VAST Grant. Now with the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF), which currently funds the activities of Mpilonhle’s food garden project, I returned to Nkodibe last week and this week to help expand the garden and introduce the trench bed planting method, as well as providing some additional tools and seeds/seedlings. Mrs. Dludla has been doing an excellent job with the upkeep of the garden despite very dry conditions, and she continues to be supportive of the project and rounded up some learners who were also very excited to learn more about permaculture and get their hands dirty. Despite stifling temperatures last Friday and a limited supply of water, everyone worked very hard to successfully dig two beds, one of which we completely filled and planted. Armed with determination and their new knowledge (and hopefully a Jojo in the near future), the gardeners at Nkodibe are a force to be reckoned with!
The existing garden at Nkodibe
Clearing some space in poorer soil outside the current garden to enrich with trench beds
Filling the bed
The group shot!
Last week on Wednesday and Friday I headed out to Madwaleni High School to help them get started on their food garden, bringing the usual tools, seedlings, and enthusiasm for permaculture and food security! Madwaleni is one of the schools chosen to implement the Home Field Advantage program, an initiative of Mpilonhle made possible by CTAOP (Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project), and so we were blessed with a large space for the garden and a ready supply of water. Because of these resources and the support of the administration and staff of the school, it was possible to construct a food tunnel on the grounds, with thanks to the support and knowledge of African Conservation Trust (ACT) and coordination by Beni Williams.
Food tunnel at Madwaleni
Madwaleni also has a wonderful and involved group of Agricultural Sciences (AS) educators, one of whom, Mrs. Siphiwe Ntshangase, attended the May training along with one of the field assistants, Mr. Bethuel Buthelezi. Even before I got to the school on Wednesday, the AS educators, learners, and field assistants were hard at work inside the tent, digging trenches for beds and collecting grass and manure for the layers. Some of the boys digging the trenches sang along to their work and I enjoyed perfectly harmonized (of course) renditions of songs from ‘Shosholoza’ to more modern selections by Professor. I was happy to step back as Mrs. Ntshangase and Mr. Nene, another educator, coordinated the efforts and explained the methods and benefits of key permaculture and organic gardening principles. Mr. Nene was helpful in reminding learners that one pays quite a bit of money for organically-grown products at Woolworths, yet they have all of the materials and now the knowledge to create this system in school and at home for much less! The group of learners chosen to receive some of the initial training will now be responsible for passing on the knowledge to their classmates. As with the other schools, all of the food from the tunnel will go toward supporting learners who are in need of nutritional support. As the project expands, we also hope to see a community garden built around the tunnel and will hopefully also get some fruit trees donated for the creation of a small orchard.
Measuring the depth of the pit bed to 50cm
Mrs. Ntshangase instructing the learners
Mr. Buthelezi and learners planting seedlings
Many thanks to the gardening team at Madwaleni for your hard work and inspiring ownership of this project. They are a model school and are in the process of creating something very beautiful. Green thumbs up!
Lastly, for those looking for a little more inspiration to try these methods for yourself, check out the amazing produce from the Nhliziyo garden, which we planted back in June…
Now that's what I call lettuce!
Cabbage, spinach and green pepper
On Wednesday, 3 August, I went up to Inkosibonga High School near Hlabisa to help them expand their already beautiful garden and transfer some knowledge about permaculture and organic gardening to a group of learners, teachers, and community members. As part of Mpilonhle’s food security program, we also donated tools, seeds, and seedlings to help the school build its garden and provide more nutritious food for learners. I worked with Mr. Mkhwanazi, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic field assistant who attended the training with ACT, as well as the equally enthusiastic Agricultural Sciences teacher Ms. Mpanza, to help train a group of over 20 learners in permaculture methods including the creation of trench beds and intercropping. The principal of Inkosibonga, Mr. Xaba, was so supportive that he drove his bakkie to a neighboring house and filled the whole back with kraal manure to help us enrich the soil in the garden! It was once again such a pleasure to work with the high school on this great project. Keep up the great growing!
The principal, Mr. Xaba, showing learners how it's done!
Diligently taking notes on the construction of trench beds
Laying the initial layer of cardboard in the bed, which serves both to recycle the material and hold in water to keep the bed moist
Planting in the new trench bed
Inkosibonga garden team
From 8-10 June, Mpilonhle volunteers visited Nhliziyo High School and worked with field assistants and 20 learners to help the school expand its current garden using the permaculture and organic gardening techniques learned during the May training with African Conservation Trust. Mpilonhle’s food security program donated gardening equipment and seedlings to help start and maintain the garden, the food from which will go to assisting learners in need of nutritional support. Nhliziyo’s principal, Mrs. Poppy Ntombela, came out in enthusiastic support for the project. Mrs. Mkhwanazi, the field assistant who attended the May training, led the learners in starting compost piles, digging and filling trench beds, and planting the seedlings. The energetic learners were very excited to learn and get their hands dirty and were happy to pose for pictures as they did! Many thanks to the administration, staff and learners at Nhliziyo for their commitment and passion for this project. We can’t wait to see all of the wonderful things they grow!
Garden team at Nhliziyo High School
Three cheers for organic compost!
Planting seedlings in the newly made trench bed
See you after the holidays as we green our thumbs at the other 11 schools!