I was invited by a friend to accompany her to a site where the owners want to transition into a more extensive, self-sustaining permaculture practice. This required re-envisioning their space.
The first thing I noticed were pine trees. These were the happiest pines I had ever seen. Usually their leaves are dark, sombre, and so I am not naturally drawn to them. These pines, however, were soft, cheerful greens in the midst of other trees gone to sleep. And plentiful, with young ones springing up all over the place.
Delightful and delighted they seemed to me. Fortunate too to be growing in organic soil – butterflies are a good sign of this and I saw one which satisfied me. Pines are exotics and strictly speaking don’t belong in our landscape. Yet I am a sangoma with a particular connection to trees and to forests and these trees had called me there to be their advocate.
I did not know this when I left, for I was accompanying a friend, Nici Richter, to view the property to see what potential it had to become a more productive site. We have found over the last few years that we work well together, for the earth, speaks to me and her intuitive connection with water speaks to her. In addition, her extensive permaculture training transforms the intuitive into permaculture speak, into science-ese.
The trees wanted the property owners to know that their desire is to live, for some chopping down had already happened. “Let them know how useful we are,” they with me pleaded.
And Nici Richter listed all the ways in which value they could add. These pines are the type that produce pine nuts which fetch a good price if one were to sell them, she said. By the time we left she had made many suggestions that transformed the property owners’ perspective from viewing their pine trees as invasive pests to that of useful, productive trees.
Until I visited this place, I was still an eco-fascist; I believed that all new tree planting should be indigenous. I had been working on releasing this tendency in me for a few years, yet realised that nature wasn’t satisfied with the progress I had made. I now believe that wherever trees are doing well they should be retained; to chop down a tree unnecessarily is a sin against climate change resilience, a sin against sustainability.
I was so absorbed with the trees and with what the earth was calling for that I forget to take photos so have used the internet for these. None is as beautiful as the pines on that property in Midrand.
I have planted up some more spekboom and donated what I did not have space for.
The first donation went to Bunny Hop Haven, located at Sylvia’s Market, at the top of Sylvia’s Pass. In addition to taking in bunnies, which may be adopted at R200 each, they have ducks, chickens, turkeys, pigs and goats. They offer interactive activities for children and could do with more support.
It was the goats I was interested in for spekbboom is a great fodder plant for them. Some will be grown outside their enclosure and in time will grow through the fence enabling the goats to chew on them without completely destroying the plants.
The second donation went to Siyakhana Food Garden, a cooperative based in Bez Park. Spekboom makes a great hedge and the man I gave it to recognised its ‘medicinal’ value immediately.
In my travels around the city I have noticed that spekboom is growing in many places, is readily available in nurseries, yet these are small and will take years to grow to their full potential. And many will be pruned… Removed even, if unfashionable they become.
It is important to be practical: Spekboom is a survival plant for us; it is a necessity, not a luxury.
Heritage trees and resilience
Yet on its own spekboom will not make us a resilient city. I have started posting pictures of saplings planted around the city to encourage more people to take this vital step. Yet I have decided to add pictures of heritage trees as well, including exotics for my encounter with the pines woke me up from my eco-fascist slumber. I realised that if spekboom grows air, heritage trees amongst many benefits, stabilise soil, offer shade beneath great canopies and assist us in maintaining a minimum 40% tree cover.
We have to be practical: Our heritage trees are like our elderly folk, stabilisers and wisdom holders in an otherwise anxious world. In ordinary-ese, without our existing tree canopy we are toast – literally, for spekboom does not protect us from the rays of the sun.
The workshop on PSHB Fungicide technology I attended at Random Harvest Nursery reassured me that it is meant to be used on foliage, not applied to soil. I feel confident in promoting its use for this purpose. I remain troubled by the lack of registration for use in South Africa and have been thinking that since it has been registered for use in the EU (I overheard this) then surely we can use it for the EU is stringent in its assessments.
The legal defense could be based on the principles arrived at at the Nuremberg Trails, for I see the failure to declare the PSHB infestation a potential disaster unless addressed timeously and effectively, as a crime against humanity. Yet I am no lawyer and I could be wrong.