How to create healthy soils

What is healthy soil and how can you create it for your garden?

The real secret behind being a good organic gardener lies beneath the surface of the earth. At the heart of any productive vegetable garden is well cared for and nurtured soil. Healthy soil is defined by its physical, chemical and biological properties. To be a good organic gardener, one must continually aim to improve the soil’s structure, composition and biodiversity.

If you want to learn how to improve your soil health, it’s helpful to understand a little more about the three main areas of soil fertility.

The physical properties of soil affect soil fertility by influencing how water, nutrients and roots move through it. Soil structure, texture and water repellence are three characteristics that define soil health, whereas water infiltration, waterlogging and soil erosion are all physical processes which influence soil fertility. The biggest factor influencing your soil’s physical characteristics is its mineral healthy-soil2-930x325and organic content. Soil chemistry influences the availability of elements for plant growth as well as the presence of elements or chemical compounds that may be harm plants and soil organisms. The ability of plants to access nutrients is influenced by the presence of the nutrients in the soil, the pH of the soil, the life found to be living in the soil, and its physical characteristics.

Biodiversity in soil is important for a variety of reasons including transforming ‘parent rock’ to soils, improving the cycling of nutrients, transforming nutrients from one form to another, minimizing diseases in plants and assisting or preventing water from entering the soil. Bacteria, fungi, arthropods, earthworms, insects and nematodes all have their role to play in the biological health of soil.

So, to create healthy soil, you should focus on improving the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the soil.

Here are 3 important steps in achieving this:

  1. Know your soil

By testing your soil, you can identify what it needs to become more fully balanced. Doing a soil test from your garden is quick and easy and will give you insight into the physical properties of your soil and how best to treat it into the future. Add soil and water to a clear jar, shake it until all the clumps have broken up, and allow it to settle overnight. This will allow you to see what percentage sand (large particles) silt (smaller particles) and clay (very small particles) your soil is composed of.  Take note of how much organic matter is floating in the water or at the surface. If there is hardly any organic matter, more should be added over time. You can also buy cheap DIY soil tests to get a basic understanding of your soil’s chemistry, or send your soil into a local soil laboratory to get very precise results.



  1. Improve your soil’s physical structure:

If your soil is sandy (more than 90-100% sand) work 12-15cm of compost into the top layer of soil and mulch around your plants with leaves, wood chips, bark, hay or straw to prevent water and nutrient loss. Growing nitrogen-fixing cover crops like Lucerne, Alfalfa or Clover will also help create better soil structure and add nitrogen to the soil.If your soil is clayey (40-100% clay) work 6-10 cm of compost into the top layer of soil, and consider creating raised beds to allow roots more freedom to grow and absorb nutrients. Clayey soils pack together very tightly and can become sticky and unworkable so your beds will need to be topped up regularly with potting soil and compost to eventually become workable and productive.If your soil is silty (30-50% silt) you can improve it by adding 3cm of compost a year, avoiding compacting the surface by not walking on beds, and considering constructing raised beds if the earth tends to be compacted or difficult to work.


  1. Balance your soil’s pH

The pH of your soil indicates if it’s acidic or alkaline. Most plant nutrients are available to plant s when the soil’s pH is between 6.5 and 6.8. To improve your soil’s health, it’s important to balance your pH by adding amendments over one or two growing seasons. Buy a cheap pH test from your local garden center to test your soil’s pH. Once you’ve established your soil’s pH, you can adjust it slowly over time to try and reach optimum pH levels. To raise your pH you can add powdered limestone to the soil, and to lower the soil’s pH (make it more acidic) you can add ground sulphur or naturally acidic organic materials like pine needles, sawdust and oak leaves. Be careful to do so slowly and to not expect instant changes. The essence of a healthy vegetable is in the health of the soil it grew in, so take your time in creating healthy soils and it will pay off in the long run for your garden!

In our next issue, we’ll take a close look at three ways to create nutrient rich food for your soil and garden!

January planting guidelines

January in South Africa is the time when things have not only heated up, but being the hottest time of the year  it is when most plants will struggle to grow as the planting guidelinesoverwhelming heat stifles their ability to blossom. It is also a bit of a conundrum as there is heavy rainfall in some areas such as the Highveld, while this time of the year is when the Cape is experiencing its dry season.  However certain fruits and root vegetables grow particularly quickly as a result of the heat. This is the time to invest in some short term growth as the heat will ensure that these plants ripen sooner than expected.

You can harvest tomatoes daily as they ripen, as well as cucumbers, courgettes and potatoes. Transplant cabbage, cauliflower, beets and spinach into the ground and sow beetroots, broccoli, carrots, onions and lettuces directly into the soil.


REACTIVE: Greenpeace denounces dodgy nuclear deal


In response the “strategic” partnership South Africa has been signed into with Russia on nuclear energy Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace has said:

“Nuclear power is nothing more than a dead-end: it takes far too long to deliver and will cost much more than South Africans can afford. South Africa needs electricity now – not in ten years’ time and with a trillion rand price tag. This latest deal is taking us one step closer to the construction of new nuclear reactors, but Russia’s ability to deliver on the deals it offers remains untested and its ability to provide finance to markets like South Africa is in serious doubt. We absolutely should not be taking the risk of betting on dangerous nuclear power, it is not the answer to our current electricity crisis, and new nuclear investments put all South Africans at risk.”

Solar power is a potential game-changer for more than 50 percent of Africa’s 1.1billion people who have no access to electricity and may re-position Africa at the forefront of global energy sustainability. This would mean access to medical care technology, clean water, refrigeration to preserve food and digital media for education and greater participation in the information age.”

This is the opposite side of the story as voiced by Gregor Küpper the managing director of Solar World – a company that has been generating solar power in Africa for over 30 years.



One to watch: Unearthed

By Melissa Baird

Fracking has been most recently banned in New York state in the USA as more and more cases of contaminated ground water as a result of fracking are brought into the public domain. South Africa however has approved the prospecting for shale gas in the Karoo with the first wells likely being sunk in 2015.karoo

Unearthed, is an independent South African feature documentary, that investigates fracking in the United States – the technology’s place of origin – in order to understand what this new method of gas extraction could mean for the semi-arid Karoo and other countries who are looking to this source of energy as a long term solution to energy supply.

Karoo born director, Jolynn Minnaar, undertook month s of research conducted over 400 interviews; traversed South Africa, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom;
battling gag orders and no trespassing zones; losing cameras to extreme heat and subzero temperatures and suffering first hand chemical exposure from drilling sites – to get to the bottom of the controversial topic.

The film toured across the UK at the end of 2014 and has left a lasting impression ( In South Africa it won the audience award and the director Jolyn Minnaar was made woman of the year in 2014 in the Change Agent category)amidst the proganda surrounding the benefits of shale gas extraction without fully uncovering the tremendous risks that we can ill afford to take when renewable energy can offer the answer for wide spread, efficient and cost effective energy supply to communities still needing to connect to the grid. We have solutions to hand but legislative delays are causing severe pressure to be put on the wind and solar technology manufacturers who are not only in a position to create lasting jobs but also boost our country’s much needed energy levels.

View the trailer and request a screening here

Footsteps in the sand

By Melissa Baird

Taking a leisurely hike along the bays that make up the route of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve’s Five Bay Trail is like sipping a rich, salty tonic that rejuvenates the soul and inspires imagination. After walking 28 kilometres along unexplored nooks and crannies of unique coastal biodiversity my legs were up to speed with how ‘hard’ soft sand can be and in the surprising flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shores was an empty bottle that made me wonder: was this the one with the genie in it and if so, what would my wish be?

038 The Cape west coast is renowned for its harsh natural beauty, fishing villages, crayfish, birds and magnificent surf. It is also home to the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station and the Saldanha Bay iron ore facility and a wind farm initi ative on the outskirts of Darling. These two conjoining sentences clearly illustrates the paradoxical relationship between development; both industrial and tourism related, and the need to preserve a fragile social and natural environment that makes this coastline utterly unique in the world.

What is not well known amongst South Africans is the fact that a large section of the Cape west coast is designated as a biosphere reserve under the RAMSAR convention which gives it certain gravitas as a major landmark of ‘worth preserving’ ecology.

So what if there was an opportunity to create a model for sustainable tourism that could demonstrate the ‘value’ of natural heritage? This is exactly what the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve’s Trails Project aims to achieve and with a choice that includes The Darling Stagger; Eve’s Trail; Wheels of Time (for cyclists), Berg River Canooze (yes you guessed it) and The Five Bay trail they are varied enough to tempt itinerant urban adventurers.

The fact that the trails needed to be appealing to both the South African and international tourist goes without saying and I bet anyone who ventures forth on The Five Bay Trail to not leave buoyed by the sheer exhilaration of a walk on the wild-side that is peaceful, expansive and invigorating.

Our party arrived late on Friday afternoon and enjoyed the first gentle walk along the beach in Paternoster. During the journey036 there I had already seen three rainbows and the remnant dark grey rain clouds made for a powerful backdrop to the intense orange of the setting sun. The tangerine infused light washed over the fishing cottages and remarkable white domed public library bringing us all to silence.

As we stood on the beach Morgan – our guide – showed us how the old fisherwomen used to ‘fish’ for white mussels with their feet. Removing his shoes and socks he put his feet into the wet sand and started to do the twist, laughing as he rocked and rolled his legs into the sand hoping to find what his ancestors had found on a regular basis; fat white mussels that would form the base of a hearty soup.

The next morning was icy cold but clear and as I stepped outside of Klein Paternoster; the charming and welcoming guesthouse that was our home for two days, I saw two blurry shapes on a branch of massive gum tree outside. On closer inspection the two blurs registered as eagle owls dozing in the dawn, surrounded by sparrows and starlings singing their joyful dawn ch orus.

We set off soon after breakfast and walked through Paternoster heading south towards Tittiesbaai. The quaint houses and community buildings are fantastically photogenic; as are the upturned fishing boats lining the shore. The massive graffitied rock could have been better reading; its roll call of names of people we will never know seem idle in a place where there is so much more to be said.

023The first day’s hike ends at Treekoskraal and the at-first rocky shoreline slowly wound its way into long swathes of white sand and damp, sandy cliffs. As a passionate sea and shore lover I always take a bag to pick up the plastic litter I find along the way but it was with some consternation that my fellow guests watched me slowly but surely fill to the brim one large black garbage bag of flotsam and jetsam along the way.

Each piece of plastic be it a bottle, bottle top, piece of fishing wire, remnant of rope, abandoned crate, a hard hat, old sunglasses, a shoe or various sized containers, all had a beginning somewhere and now had ended up on these shores of the Cape west coast. We hear of the Japanese Tsunami debris floating it way along the sea currents toward the east cost of America and of the plastic island in the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas. How lucky is this coast-line to be relatively free of pollution; but it is going to require vigilance to keep it that way.

The sea was like a turquoise sheath hugging the white sands and the succulents were in flower; in particular one I had never seen before – ‘Bobbejaan’s bybel’ that looks like a land based anemone.

Our enthusiastic guide was full of stories about the locals and the history of the area. As the trails are new, so is he to being a guide, but is approach is the timeless sociable, warmth of a west coast local.

He told me that at Tittiesbaai each March there is a Jazz on The Rocks festival. Apparently at one of these soirees Hugh Masekela greeted the dawn from the stage on the rocks037 and all the campers woke to the sound of his trumpet. I looked at the empty rocks with the ‘Jesus birds’ (cormorants) drying their wings in the sun and imagined the maestro in full swing, his music punctuated by the smell of braai smoke and the rumble of dancing feet.

We possibly walked faster than usual on the first day because we were excited and invigorated by the sheer expanse of coast line. My legs were not quite jelly when we arrived at the infamous ‘Panty Bar” at the Paternoster hotel but the cosy establishment had a chair waiting for me. When I left outside the hotel was a little boy who had crafted two hearts out of wire and sea-shells and I bought them because I thought them a fitting token to remind me of the love I have for the west coast. At once stark and uncompromising; full of paradox and yet always offering warmth and life viewed from a different perspective so that the times there live in your memory always.

The final day of the hike begins at Treekoskraal and ends at Jacosbaai and the Weskusplek for a hearty lunch. Thereafter you are driven back to Paternoster to pick up where you left off and return to your point of origin. Returning home I mused on the empty bottle that had become a kind of mascot to our group and the probability of there being a genie in it. We all agreed that in the current economic conditions perhaps he would be offering only one wish as opposed to the requisite three, a sort of ‘wish crunch’. Having just one to make gives pause for thought and as I am still considering mine, (and yes I do still have the bottle) it was enough to enjoy the fact that time happens differently on the west coast and simple things matter most; like where you are going to place your next step.

016For more information:

For a quick roundup of all the remarkable facts about this region read here:

Transfers between Treekoskraal, Jacosbaai and Paternoster by the Green Cab:


Images courtesy of the author

Natural shampoo to make your hair shine

By: Jess Handley

When seeing advertisements on TV for various shampoos and their specific benefits for “dry, tired hair” or “weak hair that breaks easily,” it becomes quite taxing to suppress an eyeball-roll or a snigger at the ridiculous claims made by certain brands who have quite clearly conjured up some pseudo-science nonsense about particular proteins or minerals that can transform drab hair into bicarblooking fabulous.

If one were to examine the back of most bottles of shampoos at the supermarket, not only are the majority of the ingredients unpronounceable, but likely very toxic as well. What is more laughable is the price that comes with a number of these products, as supposedly price is an indication of quality, and although some brands may use a smidgen of more expensive ingredients that are slightly less toxic, it does not negate the fact that the rest of their ingredients represent something that was possibly conjured up out of an industrial distillery barrel.

If any of the above resonates, why not try and make your own shampoo at home? This recipe requires only two ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp baking soda (Baking soda is also referred to as sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydrogen carbonate.)
  • 1 cup water, tap or bottled if you prefer.

Simply mix together and store in a standard bottle or container of your choice. This shampoo is completely safe for all hair types and will not strip your hair of its natural oils, unlike most commercial shampoo. This may seem like a crazy idea, but try it, as it will be very inexpensive to do so.

Original recipe from:

Funky furniture

By Jess Handley

The ocean is an abundance of natural wonders: coral that one could liken to diamonds (they are so hard), volcanic rock activity rumbling deep beneath the water, a kaleidoscope of fascinating marine life, and of course the ocean’s own garden: seaweed. There are over 9000 species of seaweed that span across the world’s oceans; some of which are edible, while others are used for herbal medicine or fertilizer compost for landscaping. Similar to hemp, the uses of this underrated, durable plant are extensive; going beyond a facemask or the wrapping of sushi, something which two 3040959-slide-s-7-this-furniture-is-made-from-seaweed-and-paperDanish designers fully embraced when they created a unique collection of chic furniture that is made from nothing more than seaweed and paper.

The project began as an investigation into using local materials, as designers Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt,  (both masters holders from Royal Dan ish Academy of Fine arts) wanted their objects to reflect the essence of the Danish landscape, most of which is dominated by seas making Denmark almost completely surrounded by water. The North Sea, the Skagerrak, the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea all enclose the various coastlines of Denmark, while one of its most iconic landmarks includes the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen.

In order to create these objects, the designers used fucus seaweed, a type of algae they harvested by hand from the Danish coastline, to create the Terroir chair and lamps. Fucus seaweed is the brown seaweed that is often found washed up on beaches around the world. In Scotland and Norway, up until the mid 19th century, this seaweed was harvested, dried, burned to ash, and further processed to become “kelp,” which was a type of soda ash that was less costly in Britain than the barilla imported from Spain. It also contains alginate; a naturally occurring polymer which when dried and mixed with a bit of glue can be incredibly durable. Additionally, despite what wet seaweed may smell like on this beach the high level of salt in focus acts as a natural preservative, ensuring that the furniture doesn’t have a sell by date.

Original information sourced from:

Tasty turmeric tea

By Jess Handley

Last year we uploaded a recipe for a delicious turmeric smoothie, but if this summer has meant the overdoing of smoothies of all kinds, why not try this recipe for sweet turmeric tea? When brewed, this tea smells heavenly and is a great drink either first thing in the morning or as a treat at the end of a long day. Turmeric boasts an endless list of health benefits, and it will come as no surprise that is was one of the most sought after spices by the Dutch when trade first opened up with India over four-hundred years ago. Here are just a few of the health benefits that turmeric has to offer:

  1. It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.
  2. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer.tumeric tea
  3. Prevented breast cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice.
  4. May prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to commit suicide.
  5. Reduces the risk of childhood leukemia.
  6. Is a natural liver detoxifier.
  7. May prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.
  8. May prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer.
  9. It is a potent natural anti-inflammatory that works as well as many anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.
  10. Has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis in mice.

Enjoy this tasty recipe, as well as the short snippet we included about other health benefits of turmeric.


  1. 1 cup Coconut Milk (or almond)
  2. ½ tspn Cinnamon
  3. ½ tspn Turmeric
  4. 1/8 tspn Nutmeg
  5. Dash of Cayenne Pepper
  6. Raw honey to taste


Put coconut milk, spices and honey in a sauce pan heat up slowly on low heat. If you put it on high heat the coconut milk will get too thick. Pour and enjoy.

Original recipe courtesy of:

Get it all this morning (vegan style)

By:  Jess Handley

When someone who is promoting or talking about breakfast and uses the phrase “it is the most important meal of the day” as a selling point, this phrase alone is enough to make anyone switch off, and if one is vegan it is often even worse as breakfast usually includes some kind of egg and bacon combination or other items that involve animal products. If you’re looking for something tasty that doesn’t require the effort that may come with breakfast preparation, try this delicious breakfast sandwich recipe that is not only a smorgasbord of different flavours, but takes under 10 minutes to prepare.


  • 1 English muf breakfast-sandwich-vegan-12fin
  • 2 Tbsp soy vegan sausage, pressed into a round patty (Fry’s food is always a good choice)
  • 3 thin slices of bell pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegan shredded cheese,
  • 1 tsp harissa or hot sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vegan butter
  • 1 tsp maple syrup or jam (berry is best!)
  • pinch of black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil for coating patty
  • Other optional toppings: greens like spinach, sliced mushrooms…



  1. Grab all you ingredients out of the fridge. Stick your English muffin in the oven for 45 seconds while you arrange your ingredients.
  2. Slice off 2 Tbsp of the vegan sausage and hand-press a nice patty. If you are feeling really adventurous, you can even press some diced onion into the patty as well.
  3. Rub the patty in a very light amount of olive oil and place it on the heated grill. Remove your English muffins. You want it to cool through in just under 2 minutes. Thinner patties cook in a flash.
  4. Slice open your English muffin and place the open faced ends back on the grill while you prep your veggies. Rub some sliced pepper in a bit of olive oil and place it on the grill as well.
  5. Allow the vegan sausage, peppers and bread to grill for another minute in the oven. After a minute. Pull anything that looks very done.
  6. Grab your cheese and sprinkle it right over top the patties while they are still in the oven. Then place the sizzling hot peppers right on top of the cheese.
  7. Grab your English Muffin and spread 1 tsp oil or butter replacement spread on one side – the maple syrup and/or jam on the other. Start building your sandwich: Muffin, patty (with cheese and peppers), layer your fresh spinach on top of that (and optional harissa) then close with top half of muffin.


Original recipe courtesy of: