We are a middle-aged couple running a small-scale, organic, Heirloom/Heritage seed farm and business, where we grow a large range of Heirloom vegetables and herbs out for seed. We then extract, clean, dry and test the seed before counting & packing it for sale, through our website, to home gardeners across South Africa. Our farm is 6Ha of largely shale rock & clay soils on the banks of a major river in the North-West Kwazulu Natal region. The farm was unused when we moved in three years ago and was very overgrown with brush, weeds and pioneer grasses. We do almost all the farm work with hand tools (spades, forks, picks, rakes, machetes, axes etc) as we have no tractors or other large machinery with which to work the land. Also, only having a permanent labour force of two people means that, while we have made a little headway with regards to creating a kitchen garden, getting in small livestock and building just over thirty raised beds for growing seed, we are still left with quite a bit of unused and overgrown land that needs to be worked in order to expand both our seed growing and homesteading capabilities.
As a family homestead we try to be as self-sufficient as possible, especially with regards to food, and we grow/raise, process and preserve as much of our own food as we can. We have no children except for two large and excitable dogs (Rhodesian Ridgebacks) and five cats (maybe more by the time you get here ;-) that have the run of the house, as well as a family of barn owls that live in our roof.
We raise chickens and quail that provide us with meat, eggs and manure/fertiliser. We also have five potbellied pigs for manure/fertiliser and, maybe one day, meat. We are looking at getting a few goats for land-clearing and possibly for some milk, but we will need to build better fences first.
Our workday is flexible and varies greatly depending on the season, weather and workload but a typical day might start with getting out of bed at sunrise (around 5:30am in summer or 7am in winter) to release the chickens from their coops, feed and water them and also to feed the pigs, which takes around 15-20 min. Working hours will typically be 5 hours a day, 5 days a week but the workday may be split into two sessions - In mid-summer when the days are really hot then we sometimes just have a quick cup of coffee/tea so that we can start work straight away and get as much done during the cooler early morning hours before taking a long break during the heat of the day and return to work for a couple of hours in the late afternoon/evening.
We would prefer to host workawayers who have either a keen interest in learning about seed production or are interested in what it takes to live a self-sufficient lifestyle and who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Having said that, and if we do not have any workawayers who are serious about learning about seed production scheduled for the time that you are available, we would be happy to host anyone who just wants to experience an interesting farmstay and doesn't mind pitching in with the general daily farm tasks. We are fairly remote so good company is also always appreciated and when we have visitors it is not uncommon for us to sit around the fire after a braai (BBQ) and just chat until the wee hours.
DIY and building projects
Creating/ Cooking family meals
Workawayers will have the opportunity to learn all about the production and marketing of heirloom vegetable and herb seeds, while being immersed in a self-sufficient lifestyle. The seed industry is a critical component of agriculture and having the skills and knowledge to produce pure, healthy and valuable open-pollinated seed, even if it is just for ones own garden, is an opportunity not to be missed.
Although we grow and process seed throughout the year, late winter into early summer (Aug-Nov) is our busiest period for seeding and planting. Late summer (Feb-Apr) is the busiest for the seed processing (harvesting, extraction, cleaning, drying and sorting) and the colder winter months are best for bed preparations, composting etc. Mid to end summer (Dec-Apr) is when the bulk of our homestead food processing and preserving is done. We recommend a minimum stay of at least a month (preferably longer) if you want to get hands-on practical experience with all of the the aspects of seed production.
POSSIBLE TASKS & LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES INCLUDE:
Opening & closing coops and pens at sunrise and sunset
Feeding and watering chickens, quail, pigs and goats
Checking on the health and welfare of all animals a couple of times during the day
Cleaning coops & pens
Building & repairing coops, pens etc
Building and repairing fences
Slaughtering & processing chickens & quail
Kitchen Garden & Seed Production:
Watering fruit trees
Digging, weeding, watering and pest control in vegetable garden & seed grow beds
Installing and repairing small scale irrigation systems
Building gum-pole & shade-cloth structures
Building/installing low tunnels & plant protection covers
Mixing various seedling and potting soil mixes
Sowing seeds (both direct and in seedling trays)
Harvesting, both for food and for seed
Seed counting/weighing, packing & storage
Clearing brush/bush, alien vegetation etc
Building & turning compost heaps
Building & feeding/maintaining a worm farm
Building and experimenting, on a small scale, with various growing systems (from micro-greens to hydroponics) and with compost teas & natural pesticides.
Cooking, baking bread, making jams/chutneys/sauces etc
Processing & preserving (canning, dehydrating, freezing etc)
Food storage (root cellar & deep pantry)
If you have any experience with earth building then we would also love your help in expanding our infrastructure and facilities (we are looking to build a variety of rock and/or adobe earth structures, from retaining walls to fire-pits/ovens and even storage sheds, livestock enclosures and a camping kitchen and composting toilet).
This may seem like a long list of exhausting work that needs to be done, and truth be told there is a lot more that goes into running a small-scale organic farm/homestead like ours, but of course we will not be asking you to perform all of these tasks, the list is just to show some of the range of tasks available. We are pretty relaxed and very flexible and we prefer to give tasks that the workawayer would be interested in and comfortable with. Previous work experience is less important to us than having a positive attitude and a willingness to help out wherever you can.
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Accommodation is a large bedroom, (a double bed and a single or a bunk bed) with en-suite bathroom (shower, no bath) in the main house. Best suited to a couple or 2-3 singles. A kettle with cups/glasses, coffee, tea, milk and sugar is supplied in the room and we can add a two-plate hotplate with a few pots & pans, cutlery & crockery should this be required. Alternatively the workawayers are welcome to make use of the main kitchen to prepare meals as long as they clean/wash up after themselves.
Oats, maize-meal or cereal, along with home-baked bread or toast and eggs are provided for breakfast and bread with a variety of toppings or sandwich fillings is available for lunch and tea-times, all of which the workawayers would be expected to prepare for themselves. Dinner is usually a communal affair except for when workawayers would prefer some quiet time or to cook for themselves. We do eat meat ourselves but we can also easily cater for and/or supply ingredients for those with vegetarian requirements.
The farm is pretty remote as far as social activities go. We are only two km's from the nearest small rural town but there is not much left in the town apart from a few very basic shops and a struggling sports club with a pub, bowling greens and a swimming pool. The next sizeable town for supplies is around 30km's away and we usually make the trip there at least once a week. Further away, about 1-2 hours drive, there are a number of Northern Drakensberg lodges and resorts that offer a much larger range of activities like horse riding, hiking, climbing, quad biking, ziplines etc (warning: these places cater mainly to the tourist trade so some of the activities can be a bit pricey by South African standards). Local public transport is virtually non-existent so a day trip or two to some of these spots can be arranged.
Alternatively, arrangements can also be negotiated for the workawayer to have a few days off (up to a week at a time) to allow them to travel further afield and see more of our beautiful province on their own, before returning to their stay on our farm (especially if the workawayer wants to stay with us for a couple of months or longer).
Cellphone reception on the farm can be a bit spotty at times but we do offer good 'fair-use' WiFi internet in the main house.
Due to the farms rural location and the lack of local public transport we will help you organise transport (by bus) to our nearest big town and then pick you up from there.
Our climate has only two real seasons (Winter is Apr-Sep & Summer is Oct-Mar) and can be quite harsh at times. Our summer temperatures often reach 38°C-40°C and can drop to around -2°C or -3°C on a cold winters morning. We get a number of very high-wind storms throughout the year and, especially during the late summer, some spectacular thunderstorms.
We are a typical South African rural farm and as such we also share our living and working spaces with a fair selection of snakes, spiders, ticks, flies, mosquitoes, frogs & toads, beetles, moths, butterflies, bees, hornets as well as a large selection of bird life and the occasional porcupine, buck or warthog wandering through.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
We have no problem with our volunteers working via remote from here. Obviously we also have our fair share of load-shedding and it's only when my wife has critical work to do during the day (she also works via remote) that we switch the generator on for the 2 hours of load-shedding (or when I am incubating quail eggs) - so when we don't run the generator then no power and no internet for those 2 hours. Our internet is an uncapped 4Mbps connection (wireless via dish to a local tower which is connected to fibre), which is generally very good but as in any rural area in SA these days, we can occasionally go for up to a day (our longest period has been two days) when the coverage towers are down due to maintenance or storms or battery theft & vandalism.
Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week
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