Welcome Rufaro's mum! It is a pleasure to welcome you to this site!
I fully understand the pressures you are under in the village, indeed you are right that change happens slowly. We will send ideas from our ecosystems but ultimately it has to work in your ecosystem, so try those ideas you find useful and do not worry too much. I understand that the margins for error are slim and ultimately you are the expert on what is going to work. You are fortunate to have such a committed daughter who learns fast and is working to cover expenses while you make the change over. I found my biggest expense as a farmer - even though my mother was a farmer and her mother before her - was making mistakes and learning from them. It is paying off now but it was touch and go at times :)
Yes, unfortunately it looks like drought this year. You will be better off with the drip irrigation and the mulch than many of your neighbours, but the outlook looks bad for the whole of southern Africa. At least the upside to this is that any maize you can bring to harvest will get good prices. Keep on doing what you are doing, no one can predict what climate change will do. The bottom line is that we are likely to have more droughts more frequently so keep on building up organic matter in the field through mulches and compost heaps. Your soil is going to have to do more with less and the only way to do that is to nurse the soil.
The pumpkin was a great idea. Other ideas for diversifying would be sunflowers (your chickens will eat them as well) and pigeon pea. You will find that as your soil organic matter increases you will be able to plant quite thickly around the edges of your field (especially where you have water run off) without affecting your main crop. In fact this will help the maize by protecting it from wind and evaporation.
Climate change is affecting Africa the worst. The research for South Africa shows that we are warming about twice as fast as the average for the planet, that is, if nothing is done we will reach 3 degrees Celsius warming by 2070. It is small farmers like us who are going to make the difference by storing more carbon in the soil. In the meantime create as much shade as you can! It is wonderful that you are planting tree in your fields, it has the advantage that as you grow your crop you nurse them well.
I wonder if you have heard of Faidherbia Albida? It is a wonder tree that draws nitrogen to the soil and loses its leaves in summer when your crops need sun. It has made all the difference in north-western Africa's arid regions and should be tried in Southern Africa's summer rainfall areas. I am about to get seed for the family farm in Namibia, and will keep you posted on developments.
The maize stem borer is increasing in Limpopo, it is a consequence of warming temperatures apparently. If it is not too late, try planting chillies in your vegetable patch. On harvest you can soak them in oil, mix the oil with water and a drop of soap, and use as a pest spray which you don't have to pay for. You may also have local plants which work, we have a form of garlic here which is much stronger than the European species, I plant it around all my vegetable beds and am never troubled with pests. We also burn impephu for the mosquitoes, perhaps there is a Zimbabwean cousin which people use? In general, any plant with strong smelling leaves will help to confuse the pests so gradually using your edges for such plantings is a win-win-win.
Best wishes for your work. Your work is building a future for your children and they will be grateful one day.
Thank you all for the encouraging words. I find it hard to believe that I am actually talking to people all over the world.
It has always been my late husband’s, as well as my dream to make things easier for our children as well as extended family the best way we can and I hope to make that dream happen. I greatly appreciate the encouraging words.
A lot has changed between now and the time I grew up, and I can say, permaculture from what I am learning has so many similarities with some of the, hey day practices. The changes back and forth makes some of the things a little confusing, but as was mentioned it is one step at a time.
I am keen on knowing natural pest control measures and it is nice to know about chilli as an ingredient for pest control spray. It will be interesting to not use harmful chemicals in our field. I once tried tomato leaves, but it did not work well, I suspect we might not have prepared it properly. The tomato plants are also usually attacked by red spider-mite and it is a huge problem. Growing chilli is an added item on my to do list, I do have the seeds already.
I have greatly appreciated moisture retention through mulching for it has very visible results. We were fortunate to have a neighbor who has grass, so we will take as much as permissible.
Apart from the maize field and the vegetable, I have chickens and ducks and these are the main projects I am running. The chickens seem to be doing good.
An area I am working to improve is where the chickens lay eggs. My chickens and ducks, have grown in number, it is becoming more and more difficult to manage the eggs and I have lost a lot aready. What I am satisfied with though is the housing and the free range area for the birds. My goal is never to lose an egg, if I can help it, as a result of inadequate laying and breeding points.
Ears have started coming out on some stalks, the rain came right on time. The temperatures have been around 30 degrees in the past weeks. I really think this year I have appreciated water so much more. The sound of the droplets on the roof is so good. It is showering for a long time which is giving it enough time to soak right into the ground.
We have started monitoring our sales for vegetables (chomolia) and our target is to at least raise enough money to pay the guy who helps out. Eventually we want all the expenses for the plot to be taken care of, by the produce from the plot.
This week, we have had good sales of some of the products we are producing, (chomolia, tomatoes and eggs). Things have been rising in prices and we had a discussion with my daughter on how we should price our things, while we figure out the accounting side of the running of our homestead, in order to cost everything properly and sell our commodities at a profit. The first thing is, we want the plot to pay for the help we get in terms of labor, so everything we sell has to give us an amount above that which we use for getting assistance. Currently I have been adding some of my money onto what we would make from the plot. If we manage this, we can then look into the next expense until everything can be sustained by plot produce.
We feel that prices of all things are going up to beyond ethical levels, so we want to have slightly lower prices, until we can justify each product's selling figure. An example is chomolia, which used to have bundles starting from as low as 50c but now a bundle that can barely feed 1 family of 6 is going for 75c. Eggs, used to be $1 for 6 eggs and now they have gone up and a dollar can buy only 3 eggs. We will continue to improve the efficiency in producing of all items and just maybe, we can manage to maintain a stable price even when things around are unstable. The image below shows the common most affordable dish that is prepared daily in most homes, where maize and chomolia are used.
Maybe this could help you lengthen your timeframe to sell tomatoes, if you have excess when prices are too low?
Experimenting and growing on my small acre in SW USA; Fruit & Nut trees w/ annuals, Chickens&pigs, hope to get, rabbits, lamb, and in-laws onto property soon.
Long term goal - chairmaker, luthier, and Stay-at-home farm dad.
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Our sales so far, have been consistent for the month of February, with a target of at least $10 from daily sales. With this target we can cover our helper’s salary and cover other needs (electricity bills and stock feeds). Selling our vegetables at a price slightly lower than the market prices has also helped gain more clients and a sense of satisfaction. We started selling some of the cocks from the chicken project to leave the recommended ratio of cocks to hens. We have not found a market for ducks yet. My aim of self-sustenance by retirement might be turning into reality.
We were fortunate to receive a substantial amount of rain during the weekend. It has brought so much life to our field as well as those around.
Dishonesty is increasing of late, and people are taking advantage of every opportunity, to make money. I see a lot of things that were a taboo in my youthful days, people used to have so much respect for each other and any property that belonged to the other. There was no need for tight security and there were very rare cases of stealing.
I remember when one would get hungry whilst they were on a journey and far from home, they would eat from any nearby field without any guilt and the owners would not be bothered. One would eat just enough to fill up and continue, they would leave evidence in the field to show that someone passed through, for example, the outside part of a water melon, if they ate one. There is a lot of convenience that has come with the modern life, but I greatly miss the warmth that filled the hearts of people in our community then.
We are working on the best way to work hand in hand with our helper in order to reduce loopholes. Like reducing items to be sold at the plot, we have started looking around for a market away from the plot, now recording daily produce that can be accounted for consistently.
I have had a number of challenges with various helpers whom I have worked with at the plot. The problems include missing of items, incompetence and handing over part of the sales money and not all of it.
Recently, a number of poles (droppers) which support the fence were pulled out. I am in the process of replacing them and it is an unnecessary drawback.
We gave money to a guy who stays close by for a puppy, which we never got as he had sold it to multiple people, as a result we lost the money and the puppy.
Frustrating to suffer losses and set backs due to the dishonesty of others.
This is an issue all over the world.
It is wise to have sales done away from the plot , and not be handled by the field workers.
Customers are always looking for a better deal right from the source.
Another hard lesson is not to pay anyone in advance for anything. If they are serious they will bring the item and then get paid .
We have to watch our investments but also remember the problem is with the attitude of others that they feel "entitled" to get something from someone who has more than them, but they are overlooking the fact that the other person has worked hard for those things !
I hope this situation gets under control so that you can reap the rewards of all your hard work without it being carried away.
Its a shame , as you point out, that one needs to spend energy on safeguarding things/products but that's just reality.
I deal in stone. Most people think stone has no value . For that reason they think they can just help themselves to my stone piles. I have had to keep them out of sight as the stone is my livelihood and others would quickly take it all if given the chance.
I read through this post and a few things occurred to me. First, could you use a post hole digger for the zai pits? A post hole digger has two blades that are used to dig and lift soil out. With a design you might be able to get someone to make one for you.
The attached picture is similar to the one I have, just so you have an idea. You pound the two blades down into the soil with the handles together, then pull the two handles apart to put the blades together to lift the soil out of the hole.
The next ting I noticed was the amount of water being lost as your tanks filled. Perhaps that water could be directed to your orchard area, or to a sunken swale where you can plant trees whose fruit will be either another crop or will feed your chickens.
I'm not sure from your descriptions whether your neighbors are using their planting debris at all, or if it's just being burned to clear the land for the next crop. If they're just burning it, ask them to dump it near your fields. More mulch you don't have to buy.
And the last is that I use a combination of hot peppers, garlic and onion in vinegar as a pest deterrent. It doesn't have to be the good onions or garlic--if you have part of your crop that you can neither use nor sell, grind it up and make a slurry. Let it sit for a few days in water, then strain off the water and use that as your spray. Something to try, anyway.
New location. Zone 6b, acid soil, 30+ inches of water per year.
Monkeys are also appreciating things it seems, one ear was removed and checked. They were a lot of them and Nenyasha the child whose, at our plot was fascinated by the monkeys and kept on shouting "mum there are dogs in the field", she had never seen monkeys. So it is now a race between humans and monkeys and we have to beat them to harvesting, at least the monkeys do not eat at night. There are only two other fields, with maize that has ears, so far.
There are now so many earthworms in the vegetable gardens. We also found a new way of replanting our chomolia without waiting for suckers and we can still harvest leaves from the plants (shown in the images below). A neighbor offered us more mulch, some grass which they wanted to burn. One of the neighbors who gave us the most mulching material, this farming season, now has his own composting area.
We do have a fence, but monkeys are what I call natural acrobats, they are very good climbers and they do it with such ease. The sales are amazing, our tomatoes are actually being bought green because they are still affordable and our customers fear if they wait for them to ripen others will get them before them. Tomatoes are now $1 for only 4, my cousin got groceries for school and his $50 shopping had a packet of biscuits, 1 bar of soap, 4l of drink and 400ml floor polish. Things have gone way out of hand, where the general monthly salary for the lucky employed ones is around $400-$500.
I can never be grateful enough for knowing about sustainability, it has made things a lot easier for us as a family and it does bring a lot of hope, that with the right number of people who have real influence, we can develop really fast and fix things. I would be concerned, because from the media, they would say, what we needed for my country to stabilize, economically and to an extent politically, was good foreign investment. But the catch is, for investors to want to invest they need a stable environment, in other words it is a catch 22 situation.
Using resources readily available, and managing to reduce costs of production (at a family level) even when there is very high inflation, proves we can stabilize at least enough to allow for investments in other complicated fields that require huge capital. My mum's friend who has been seeing progress at our plot wants me to work with her on her place also so that we can make it productive. Currently she sends money from her salary to pay the people who watch over her place, and with her place, we are talking about hectares of land! Maybe working on one or two places, will lure even more people and it might result in the need for a proper consulting company or something. I think working with my mum's friend is something I need to be very cautious about, as this is one of the most important steps in sending a message and marketing regenerative agriculture (Her place is out of Gweru).
This is Rufaro, I will just be mixing my mum's posts and mine until she is ready to have her own thread.
Dear Rufaro and mom, I am so happy to hear things are going well for you! Welcome to the life of the farmer, where you work so hard for a good crop and then you have to work even harder to protect it from everybody who wants a share without doing the work!Jealousy can be a terrible thing.
The only way I know with monkeys is to keep a man with airgun (or a catapult) on duty in the very early morning. Hit one or two monkeys (not fatally of course) and the rest tend to stay away. I used to have the same problem with crows on my almonds but animals learn quickly and go seek easier pastures.
In a way it is such a pity that your neighbours are discovering the virtues of mulch, but in another way it shows that your methods work. Congratulations! It is also bound to assist you in the long run, since your ecosystem will benefit from a healthy ecosystem next door. Here where I live we are smallholders (one hectare each) but my neighbours when they saw how well my olive trees were doing they decided to plant olives too. So now i am surrounded by groves to the south and west, in different guilds of course, but I can see how as an area we are managing to reforest and hopefully dong our bit to attract rain.
I had the same problem with horse manure, when the stable owners realized how well I was doing off their manure (which previously they had to pay to cart to the dump) they almost always thought they could start planting vegetables themselves. By the grace of Godde horse people tend not to be gardeners and so after a few months I would go back and start hauling free manure again :) So be patient and think of the ways in which your ecosystem will benefit from permaculture neighbours.
It does raise the matter that you need to think of cover crops for winter, which you can cut at flower (leaving a tiny patch for next year's seed) and leave to rot in the field. Basically what you are doing is that you are using plants to harvest solar energy which you can store for summer. I am very fortunate in the western Cape where winter is our rainy season so all my summer beds get planted up to duff peas or fava beans and I do no more to that plot until cutting time. What I am saying is that there be may be a month or two in late winter or early spring where you can squeeze in a cover crop. But also in the spirit of making the most of global warming i am trying to plant summer crops earlier and earlier so that they can catch the last of the winter rains. It does mean that my cover crops have to be cut earlier, and I make up for that by planting in a guild. Pumpkin is a big help as it covers the soil between the mealies and if there is a drought the pumpkin will die off first and its leaves will provide a mulch when it is most needed. Since winter is rainy season my soil collects its nitrogen from the air then, that is, the cover crops will be of peas and bean species, but if I were growing in summer rainfall I would try cow pea or marama bean between the rows. This last one (Tylosemma esculenta) is a great one which grows wild on the family farm in the Namibian semi-desert and forms a central part of my heritage. It is being trialed for agriculture in both Botswana and Texas and really deserves to be planted more because you can eat every part of the plant. The seeds and roots make great human food and you can feed the leaves to your chickens: https://www.daff.gov.za/daffweb3/Portals/0/Brochures%20and%20Production%20guidelines/marama%20bean%20production%20guideline.pdf
This system is called the Three Sister system and was invented by native Americans where the mealie and the pumpkin we eat today came from. It only works with traditional varieties, though, the modern hybrid green mealies have large leaves which tend to take up to much space and sunlight. Your field looks so wonderful that i am sure you are planting a very robust variety.
There may be other local species of bean that I don't know about, but I am sure Rufaro's mom can think of plants that used to be grown when she was young that are not grown any more. The thing you have to remember when considering this is that intercropping is a great way to get more harvest from the same area but it does mean a drastic change to the way you grow. Principally it means more work, it is hard to hoe the mealies with plants growing between them and you will find yourself doing much more hand weeding. On the other hand by mid-season everything is up and running and you will find your crop needing less water because the ground is shaded. Plus you harvest more food per square metre, what you don't eat is for the chickens.
Also what I do is save all my ashes from the kitchen fire and spread that on the ground of my guilds, squeezing in more plants in the same area does require that you keep your fertility in tiptop shape. If it is in small quantities it won't hurt the plants and water well afterwards. But perhaps you are doing that already?
I am so impressed by your tree! Well done! Ultimately trees are your solution in terms of cooling the air, attracting rain, shading the ground, and providing biomass for mulch, so each one is a victory. It will get easier as you go along.
With the consulting of course charge! Your knowledge is something you have worked hard for and taken all the risks by being a leader and showing how things must be done. It is worth money. I get at least one inquiry a week, especially now that black people are getting more land and starting to become smallholders. So I charge, it has taken me many years to get to where I am and should i hit a life crisis or a bad harvest it is good to have a safety net. If the people who want to work with you don't have a lot of money then suggest taking a portion of your fees in a share of the crop for the first couple of harvests, that shows that you are confident of your abilities to grow more and better. I make a sharp distinction between business and philantropy, I make sure the business end pays and then end of the month and end of the year I decide how much I can afford to give away to people who are working hard and just need a leg up. Confusing the two is bound to get you into trouble. So rather charge people what you are worth and then decide on a person or NGO who can get a free course, as you are able.
Well, those are my local approaches. I have no idea how these would translate in Zimbabwe but am sharing the general principle in the hope that you will find a local solution. I look forward to hearing how it goes.
Thanks for sharing the photos , the health of those plants tells all !.
I was thinking to myself, fences are probably not much of a challenge to a monkey anyway. Hopefully you don't have elephants coming through, I was watching a program on TV about them totally destroying some fields where people are moving into their traditional grounds.
Natasha is right about charging something for consulting. No matter what all people try to get info for free. That is afterall what the internet is based on , but we have to watch out for being left with next to nothing for all our efforts.
How to match that with what sounds like spiralling inflation in your country now.
The government may hope for foreign investment but they might want to start with themselves and not burden the economy with bad economic decisions .
The prices you talk about for eggs and produce are actually higher than here in Canada where the average salary is much higher but we do have a high level of competition at the retail level and industrial style production of food which is probably not that great in other ways..
Very serious matter this business of prices going through the roof and incomes not keeping up. We all deserve stable , safe conditions to live under , hopefully things will improve soon !
Let the land inspire you!
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