Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Now that the dust has settled somewhat and I can place my focus on areas other than the twins tummies and rear ends, I have started indulging my fantasy of being a farmer - on a very small scale that is.
I come from a long line of farmers: my maternal great-grandfather owned an enormous sugar cane and cattle farm in the north of the country, which was passed onto my grandfather. But after the Apartheid Government set up the Homeland system, forcing ethic groups to leave their homes and live within designated areas, my grandfather lost his workforce - two tribes that shared his land in return for seasonal work - and he decided to sell the farm. He then moved to the coast and bought an Aberdeen Angus cattle stud farm which my father managed. My paternal grandfather also returned to the country in his later years to farm chickens and dairy cows.
As a child I would accompany my dad on his morning farm rounds, checking fences and newly-birthed calves. I loved it and couldn't wait for the school holidays so that I could immerse myself in the daily farm activities. It always bugged me that we only had cattle and horses as I wanted all types of animals around me. So it was from this early age that the feeling of striding out into the dewey morning with one's gumboots on began to appeal to me.
But what I didn't observe as a young aspiring farmer was that farming is actually quite a lot of hard work and, costly. In those days farming was subsidised and labour cheap - a far cry from the reality of living off the land now. Albeit in my typical Airies nature I threw myself at this new vocation with blind enthusiasm, only to be stopped abrubtly in my tracks by the dull reality of time - lets not forget about the kids - money and management.
Growing food, which I always thought of as a quaint and grounding experience, is actually quite a lot of, often thankless, work - especially if you try do it organically. Once you have finally found the time between school runs, playdates, grocery shopping and cooking dinner to get the seeds into the ground you would think that at least half the job is done and very soon you will be reaping the rewards of fresh, nutritious vegtables. Not so. If half the seedlings survive the snail onslaught it is good going, and if the rest survive worms, aphids, blight or powdery mildew you are really doing well. It is a never ending fight from beginning to end to get a worthwhile yield and I now understand why certain farmers use chemicals. But I won't - my ideals are stronger than my convictions. Instead I set up little traps of honey and yeast to drown the snails which is really cruel and mostly doesn't work. Or I use Margarate Roberts organic insecticide. Finally after a shakey and disappointing start I have decided to go small and leave the large crops to my husband, who knows a whole lot more than I do.
   Chickens - another quaint farmy must-have - poo everywhere, frequently under the kitchen table. They also have the potential to destroy neatly tended gardens in minutes. Not only this but they have intricate family feuds where hens banish bands of chicks to the cold, leaving their human mothers sleepless with worry. And a classic 3am worry attack: do we eat the nasty hen? But she's laying two eggs a day - aaargh, decisions!  
Complaints aside, my chickens have so far been my most successful farming enterprise. I started with six, three survived and now I have ten chickens and one handsome rooster. We also have had a great supply of eggs. So I am moving forward with this venture and investing in a bigger hen house. Perhaps this is where my fortunes lie, eggs.
As grounding and enriching as it all can be at times, I cannot deny that my most rewarding farm activity of all, still remains to ride my horse across the lands without a care in the world - for that moment at least.