Is your garden in tune with nature?

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Cape Town – Conservation initiatives introduced into the Cape Winelands over the last 10 years have proved a big success.

More excitingly, these initiatives offer a window into a range of conservation ideas that can be introduced to local gardens.

 

Working with nature

In 2004, the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI), a collaboration between the South African wine industry and the conservation sector, was launched. Its aim was to support responsible farming practices and prevent further loss of conservation-worthy habitat and endangered species in an area that includes the Cape Floral Kingdom and the Succulent Karoo.

A decade later, nearly 90 percent of wine producers in the country are firmly committed to responsible environmental practices in their operations and a third of all producers have committed land to conservation. Almost 95 percent of the country’s grapes for wine production are grown in the Cape winelands, and vines, various crops and local biodiversity now compete for space in a balanced co-existence.

“It is very encouraging to see farmers making decisions based on good ecological principals,” says Joan Isham of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), South Africa. “While a great benefit to the environment, the programme has also opened other doors for the farmers,” says Isham. “Some farms are now offering eco-tourism activities, with others starting indigenous nurseries and creating jobs.”

The inspiring stories of these conservation champions are to be found in a full-colour coffee table book titled The Wine Kingdom: Celebrating Conservation in the Cape Winelands, published by WWF. The book also contains maps of where the BWI farms are located and conservation highlights of estates of such as Spier, Graham Beck, Vergelegen, Lourensford and Paul Cluver. Consider the conservation initiatives from three estates:

* Vergelegen Wine Estate: Over 2 000 hectares of invasive alien vegetation have been cleared from this Somerset West wine estate, which was awarded the first BWI Champion status in 2005. Vergelegen has also implemented an environmental management programme that collectively allows indigenous plant and animal species to return to vast tracts of land.

* Bartinney Estate: Situated on the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch, Bartinney Estate has removed invasive blue gums and black wattles from the steep mountain slopes. Within three weeks after the last giant tree was removed, the farm’s original natural spring began flowing again.

Over 7 000 indigenous fynbos plants have been introduced and the farm is carbon neutral, further reducing their carbon footprint with the introduction of solar power. Bartinney believes in sustainability and finding the balance between the best farming practices and enhancing the environment. Cape leopard, honey badger and caracal have now been spotted on the farm.

* Waterkloof Estate: A 149 hectare wine farm on the slopes of the Schapenberg, off Old Sir Lowry’s Pass Road, this estate has set aside over 75 hectares to conserve the endangered Boland Granite Fynbos.

Waterkloof has practised biodynamic farming since 2008. Percheron draft horses are used in place of tractors, minimising damage to the soil and the vines and reducing carbon emissions. Chemical fertilisers have been replaced with sprays made from natural ingredients, including “tea” from their earthworm farms.

Free-range chickens feed on insect pests and their manure provides nitrogen for the soil. Dorper sheep control weeds in the vineyards and cow dung is composted.

 

In tune with nature

“Many of the lessons learned in the Winelands conservation programme can be applied in a city garden,” says Isham. “We should all consider planting more fynbos, not only to reduce water usage but also to create a diverse habitat to encourage birds and beneficial insects to the garden,” she says.

How can we apply these and other conservation principals in our gardens? Consider these ideas for your garden:

* Remove invasive plants: Invasive plants threaten biodiversity and use up precious water resources. The National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act Alien and Invasive Species list includes 383 plants.

Familiarise yourself with invasive plants lists and remove any Category 1 plants you find in your garden. Permits are required for Category 2 plants. Learn more about invasives at www.capetowninvasives.org.za or www.invasives.org.za.

* Choose indigenous and water-wise plants: Select plants for your garden that are indigenous to your area. Not only are they able to withstand the conditions, they will also cope better during drought periods. Create low zones in your garden to limit overall water usage. These can be filled with beautiful water-wise vygies, aloes and other succulents.

* Make your own compost: In addition to nourishing plants, compost aerates the soil and improves its water holding capacity. Start a compost heap in a corner of your garden. Moisture, good air flow and heat are required for the decomposing process.

Begin with a layer of twigs, then alternate between green material like leaves, weeds, vegetable peels, egg shells, flowers, and brown material like dry leaves, dry grass clippings, straw or bark chips. You can also add garden soil between the layers. Using vegetable peelings to make compost reduces the amount of waste you place in your municipal trash.

If you want to start a wormery, choose red wriggler earthworms. They cannot live in regular garden soil but thrive in the waste matter in the compost bin. Provide the worms with vegetable peelings, bits of cardboard, newspaper, crushed egg shells, tea bags and coffee grinds but avoid onions, pineapple, meat and dairy products.

* Welcome insect predators and embrace biocontrol: The use of pesticides provides a quick solution to an insect problem but it is unlikely to be a long-lasting one and often leads to an increase of other insects.

By choosing biological control methods you will notice a host of insects, birds and reptiles returning to your garden. They feed on unwanted pests, creating a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

* The Wine Kingdom: Celebrating Conservation in the Cape Winelands is available online at http://shop.wwfsa.org.za or email [email protected]

Kay Montgomery, Independent HOME

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