Planting is for the birds and the bees

By Matthew Koehorst

As the weather in South Africa warms and winter passes into spring, spare a moment for the unsung heros of your garden that make sure you’re beautiful decorative and edible plants are pollinated and reproducing. Birds, butterflies and bees and other pollinators are vital components to any healthy ecosystem and your garden is no exception.

Pollinators aren’t just important for your garden’s health- they also play a vital role in our international food system, and studies have shown that these often overlooked animals are responsible for 1 out of every 3 bites you eat. However, pollinators are under international threat from a variety of angles including suffering from pests and diseases, pollution, loss of habitat and a scarcity of forage resources.

Honeybees are responsible for the pollination of deciduous fruit, vegetables and oilseed crops and often rely on naturally occurring vegetation or landscaped areas to access pollen during times of drought and season change. They require a diverse diet to stay healthy and are increasingly put under pressure by urban spread, loss of natural vegetation and large-scale monoculture agriculture.

Different bee species prefer different plant species. Some bees prefer simple flowers with easily accessible pollen, while others, like bumble bees, tend to prefer larger and more complicated flowers.

Hummingbirds and sugarbirds rely on nectar from flowers for their survival and often have very short ranges, requiring regular access to appropriate flowering plants that can give them enough energy to move onto the next plant. Flowers appropriate for hummingbirds and sugarbirds have evolved long tubular shapes, perfectly suited for pollination by bird’s elongated beak.

Butterflies prefer composite flowers with small tubular flowers surrounded by petals, like a daisy or other similar flowering plant. The petals allow for a safe place for the butterflies to land on while they feed and the small tubular flowers enable the butterfly to reach the pollen with it’s long proboscis.



Plant a pollinator friendly garden this spring

Planting a pollinator friendly garden is a great way to support local wildlife while adding beauty and diversity to your garden at the same time. Spring is a great time to get started with your pollinator garden, and you can have a beautiful and supportive ‘island’ of pollinator plants, regardless of the space available to you. Even balcony gardens can offer a small but important space for pollinators to feed and rest before continuing with their journey through the urban landscape.

When planning your pollinator friendly garden follow these 10 basic steps:

– Plant a diversity of plants suited for a range of different pollinators. Make sure to plant several of one type of plant in an area to maximize on the number of similar flowers in that space.

– If planting with limited space, plant blue, yellow or purple flowers to attract bees.

– Plant to provide a continuously flowering garden- Plan to have one group of flowers blooming as another group dies off. Plant both perennial and annual flowers to ensure short term and longer term blooms.

– Plant garden herbs, such as basil, rosemary and lavender, which provide good nectar sources for pollinators, but also provide yourself with herbs to use.

– Plant indigenous plants to attract local birds, bees and butterflies. Useful indigenous plants include trees such as Sweet Thorn, Wit Karee, River Bush


aloe-plant-1338750-1920x1440Willows, Weeping Wattle and Tree Fuchsia. Colourful indigenous plants include agapanthus, aloes, asparagus fern, Cape violets, clivia, euryops daisy, butterfly bush, Cape honeysuckle and vygies.

– Plant species that have different heights and growth characteristics to increase your gardens diversity.

– Provide bird baths for birds, and shallow dishes of water for bees and beetles.

– Include plants that attract beneficial insects that prey on pests

– Plant night blooming flowers like Jasmine to attract nocturnal pollinators like moths and beetles

– Plant flowering plants in your vegetable garden to attract pollinators and improve your fruit set later in the spring season.

As spring arrives in your garden this year, put a bit of time into providing habitat and food for your local pollinators and you’ll reap the rewards of their presence in your garden.

Growing vegetables in small spaces:

By Matthew Koehorst

If you live in an urban center, chances are you don’t have too much space available for gardening. However, there is still a lot of potential to keep your fingers green and produce a supplementary amount of vegetables to support your fresh vegetable requirements. To garden successfully on a balcony or small space it is important to start with good quality compost and potting soil and to not over-water your plants. Overwatering will wash the nutrients out of the soil, leaving it infertile and ineffective. However, too little water can be very dangerous for your container plants, as their roots are reliant on what water you provide to keep the plant happy.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood plants for balcony production:

Potatoes, Tomatoes, Spinach, Carrots, beans, lettuces, and a huge variety of herbs can all be fantastic for growing in containers. Make sure to provide enough soil for root vegetables though, and keep tomatoes out of areas that are very windy.

Easy to propagate vegetables from cuttings:

Next time you have some kitchen scraps, think twice before throwing them away- many vegetables can regrow from the discarded ends, saving you time and money and illustrating the beauty of life in the process!

– Romain Lettuce will regrow from the cut stem of the lettuce, just add it to a small container of water with the top exposed to the air and watch it grow

– Basil grows easily from cuttings and is a great way to increase your basil quantities- just cut a stem 4-5cm below the top and add it to water to watch it grow. Remove all but a third of the leaves on the cutting.

– Garlic sprouts can be grown from cloves of garlic by submerging them in water

– Lemongrass and spring onions can regrow from discarded roots by placing them in water.

– Sweet potatoes can sprout and produce vines that will in time produces more potatoes.

Simply place the potato with 1/3rd submerged and wait for the vinelike leaves to emerge before planting.


flower-pots-1423707-1919x1275 (1)Finding homes for your urban plants:

Urban farmers who lack access to the soil have come up with many different solutions for containers for their plants. From stacked discarded tyres to toilet bowls, from gutters to beautiful wooden planter boxes, the options are relatively limitless. When looking for containers for your plants make sure to include drainage holes to prevent root rot and generally look for something at least 10cm deep to house your plants.

Creating a green space in your urban environment is easy, rewarding and a great way to spend time in a mini oasis in the concrete jungle and to stretch your green fingers. Enjoy the process!

Hemp, hemp hooray…

Does this simple plant that has over 50 000 uses have the solutions to resource depletion, low housing, fuel, food security and nutrition?

It was just 80 years ago that hemp was hijacked out of its role as an abundant, multi faceted resource and in its place the world turned to timber, fossil fuels and chemical products to serve the building, agricultural and mobility needs of mankind. Synthetic housing, food, medication, plastics and clothing became the norm and anything ‘alternative’ was viewed with scepticism as if natural solutions were somehow inferior to the manufactured chemicals.

Today this once demonised plant is making a resurgence and for good reason.

Tony Budden - South Africa's hemp hero shows what a hempcrete brick looks like.

Tony Budden – South Africa’s hemp hero shows what a hempcrete brick looks like.

Over-consumption, resource depletion, food security; the adverse nutritional impacts of poverty and the depletion and pollution of fresh water sources are critical issues facing the world today. At the end of this year world leaders will meet for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris to negotiate a new climate change deal and discuss how to set in place plans for a global agreement that will enable the world to rebalance itself and adapt to climate change. As part of this monumental event the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) will be launched by the United Nation’s Foundation to bring the world to a focal point and ask all citizens, corporations and governments to make a stand once and for all to eradicate the global social, environmental and economic problems.

The SDG’s have been developed after world-wide surveys asked ordinary people what they believed to be the most critical issues facing humanity. The goals are geared towards interventions that will eradicate poverty, improve education, access to water and food, health and well being; preservation of biodiversity and the creation of safer living environments that are inclusive and energy secure.

In South Africa lack of access to water has led to massive unrest and in poverty stricken areas crime, malnutrition and gender inequality prevent social upliftment and effective education. The global conversation that the SDG’s will initiate will be an interesting one because there are solutions to many of the problems; they are however being hampered by outdated legislation, slow political movement to address change and big agricultural, pharmaceutical and fossil fuel interests are still calling the shots.

It is time to acknowledge the ‘alternatives’ that can provide solutions and hemp is one of them. This plant offers humans a plethora of resources that are sustainable and renewable and its extraordinary benefits could provide a very interesting, profitable opportunity for South African agriculture, social development, food security, nutrition, health care and job creation.

Hemp has been in agricultural history for over 5900 years. The once entirely sustainable, pesticide free and low water use plant was outlawed in the 1930’s after a nefarious PR campaign hijacked the discourse and turned the non psychoactive hemp plant into a drug that was likely to cause the dissolution of society. In fact there are no cannabinoids in industrial hemp and therefore not a chance you will get high. But it wasn’t about drugs; it was about protecting the interests of the investors in oil, timber (paper), petrochemicals and plastics. These were the new industries and the misappropriation of public interest and health and wellbeing of the environment began.

Hemp has a myriad benefits for the needs of a growing population. The fibre makes excellent building materials; the seeds provide nutrition and oils that are some of the most nutritious forms of plant protein on the planet. It grows fast (crop within four months) and can be easily harvested and processed into the various forms human beings need the most. It provides building materials that create safe, warm homes with walls that ‘breathe’ and are entirely fire proof.

hemp-yarn-1471139-1920x1440Hemp can also be used to make fuel, fabrics, clothing, furniture, medicine, paper and bio-plastics. It is a more effective carbon soak than pine trees (used to make paper) and is pest, drought and weed resistant. You don’t need oceans of pesticides and chemicals or modified seeds. The plant takes care of itself and produces high yields that beneficiate the land.

Crops like corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soy use more water and require more chemical interventions which damages the soil, biodiversity of the land and impacts the nutritional value of the food. The surge in food and chemical allergies are being blamed on the use of these chemicals and the synthetic manipulation of the food chain. More and more research is proving the links between lack of nutritious food and the ability to learn which has long term implications for childhood development.

China is the world’s biggest cultivator of hemp with no less than thirty other countries that produce the crop as well. In Canada and Australia there is a thriving hemp industry supporting hundreds of farmers and product developers. Growing hemp is good for the soil, air and water and its by products provides abundant, sustainable solutions for building, health care and employment. In South Africa, Tony Budden is the hemp hero who is working with government on research to show how effective this resource can be on a social, economic and environmental scale.

Growing hemp in South Africa is still illegal but a ground breaking constitutional case against the outmoded legislation will be tabled in March 2016 that could be the final lobby to encourage policy makers to enable hemp to be grown on as wide a scale as possible.

Although the plant can’t be grown here there are many products available to consumers who seek essentials for their home and body care and want to be healthy and chemical free. You will be using a product that is good for the earth and for you and supporting a new wave of farmers who have seen the future and it is green.

Did you know:

A hectare of Hemp, which reaches maturity in 90 days, captures approximately ten times as much CO2 as a hectare of Pine trees which take 20 years to reach maturity.

1 acre of hemp produces 400 percent more fibre than Genetically Modified Cotton, saves 200 mega litres of water and is able to provide essential amino acids and protein for nutrition. No pesticides or herbicides or fertiliser is required.


Help Eradicate Mass Poverty

Some interesting facts about hemp:

-Hemp features in 4000 year old hieroglyphics

-In ancient China it was used for fibre, medicine and paper

-The Guttenberg bible ( the first printed bible) was printed on hemp paper which is why pristine copies still exist today

-The first three American presidents were hemp farmers and the American declaration of Independence was hand written on hemp paper

-Henry Ford built a hemp car that was 20 percent lighter than its steel counterpart and ran on hemp fuel

-Hemp powder is pure protein power and is used in ice-cream, snack bars and super foods.

-1533 King Henry 8th issued a royal proclamation which imposed a fine on any farmer that did not use some of his land for growing hemp to supply the King’s Navy.

Benefits of building with Hemp:

-Hempcrete is non – toxic and filters toxins from the air because the walls literally ‘breathe’

-Hempcrete is made with the wood-like part of the plant that’s combined with lime and water. The hempcrete brick is an excellent insulator, is flexible and because it adapts to temperature creates homes of superior comfort and quality no matter the size.

-Completely recyclable, sustainable resource

-Fast growing Hemp absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere enabling it to be a carbon neutral building method

-Hemp oil based wood treatments outperform chemical products

-Hempcrete can be built around wooden frames.

-Fireproof – consider the implications for saving on monthly household insurance and as a material that could transform informal settlements housing

Products available in South Africa

Know IT: The beginners guide to biodiversity…

Bio what? You may hear words that are used to describe things that you sort of ‘get’ but if asked may perhaps not be able to truly reflect back what it means to you. ‘Biodiversity’ is one such a word you are going to see more and more of but what does it really mean?

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology. Not the other way around”. So said Gaylord Nelson – the founder of Earth Day – in 1970. Since then there have been international conferences on climate change and business and world leaders – including the Pope himself – are stating that the natural world is struggling as a result of the extractive, agricultural and fossil fuel industries rampaging their way through the planet’s resources.

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the entire collection of plant and animal species on the planet and to describe specific regional natural complexity. As individuals we are part of the human race which is in itself full of diversity and we all live within the earth’s biosphere; it is an enclosed system and all the water we have on the planet is all the water we have ever had on the planet. All the air is continually recycled through various earth ‘lungs” including wetlands and forests. Trees are our filters and the life lived amongst them our legacy. All the living creatures we could ever imagine are part of this biosphere and the eco systems that connect are the communities that the living world gives to us. This is ‘biodiversity’ on a grand scale.

Perspectives are changing about how the natural world is being affected by humans and there is an increased awareness of the connections linking people to each other and to the natural world that supports them. Those lucky enough to live in a place of beauty – celebrate it. Those that are next to and caught up in environmental degradation feel it in all aspects of their lives, often at great harm.

So if you still think that just because deforestation and species loss is happening somewhere else on the planet ( it’s happening everywhere) and you won’t be affected you may find this opinion will be reformed as more and more information comes to light showing the contrary. The biodiversity loss we are seeing is massive and what is being lost represents a loss of something fundamental to our well-being as part of healthy, balanced eco-system.

In South Africa certain wine and barley farmers have pledged to preserve biodiversity corridors on large scale farms which gives endemic wildlife a better chance of success; bringing the whole ecology closer to balance.

You can be a biodiversity steward in your back yard (or balcony) by planting plants that feed pollinators like bees and birds. Rather than planting lawn, consider a wild flower and succulent garden that is water wise and encourages plants of your region to thrive.


cape-white-eye-sunbird-1360335Some facts about Cape Town’s unique biodiversity:

– 70% of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s 9 600 plant species are found nowhere else on earth.

– Cape Town itself is home to about 3 000 indigenous plant species, 190 are endemic (only found in that place), 318 are considered threatened and 13 are extinct or extinct in the wild.

– 83 mammal species remain in Cape Town, 24 Red Data listed and three recently extinct.

– 361 bird species live in Cape Town – ten are endangered, 22 are Red Data listed and at least three species have become extinct in recent years.

– There are numerous invertebrate species in Cape Town, approximately 111 of them are only found in the Cape Peninsula Mountain Chain.

– There are 27 amphibian species in Cape Town of which ten are listed as Red Data species.

– Many globally important horticultural plants originate in Cape Town and the Cape Floral Kingdom in general. These include geraniums, gladioli, freesias, ixias, pincushions and gazanias.

You can experience the beauty of our diverse environmental kingdom by visiting a national park – see here for details: 

For a useful list of contacts:

Croc E Moses – Driftword

driftwood (1)The flame series imprint was created in order to give place to “cutting-edge, ground breaking works of high merit and originality which move beyond the scope of the traditional.” Driftword ticks all those boxes and then some, as this book is given added life by a CD of the spoken words and music that Hendrik Brand – aka- croc E Moses creates. His subject is South Africa, wild emotions, observations and insights into our community and hearts posing the question “Which way to what?”

ISBN 978-1-86888-788-0 UNISA flame series




Croc E Moses – Rosemary


Croc E Moses – Rythm is our mother tongue



Sugar Free

sugar cover (1)Sugar Free 8 Weeks to Freedom from Sugar and Carb Addiction – Karen Thomson & Kerry
Hammerton with Dietician Tamzyn Campbell – Foreword by Professor Tim Noakes

I was very keen to get my hands on this book because I have realised what a sugar nut I am. Hot on the heels of the Banting diet revolution that proved that good fat is good for you – is research proving that sugar is absolutely not. Sugar is added to 99% of processed food products and most of us are addicted to it. With that awareness I needed a way out of this sugar hole and this book is the ultimate guide and counsellor. Written by a dietician and life coach this is more than just a recipe book; it is a journey through the what, why and how to give up sugar and carbs. In essence a recipe for glowing health.

ISBN: 978-1-920289-82-9 Sunbird Publishers

Reviewed by Melissa Baird


The Bushman Winter Has Come

bushamn winter has come (1)The Bushman Winter has come – Paul John Myburgh

The True Story of The Last Band of /Gwikwe Bushmen on the Great Sand Face

The author spent seven years with the “People of the Great Sand Face” spiritually and physically immersed in their way of living; observing as he did the community dynamics, the simple yet profound roles of hunter gatherers, their mythology of the world’s creation and deep knowledge and reverence for the animals they hunted. “Are your eyes nicely open” is a /Gwikwe’s morning greeting that captured the imagination and attention of the author and throughout the story of this last band of ancient people he questions indeed how open are our eyes are to the world we inhabit as city dwellers and ‘civilised people’? Myburgh is an anthropologist and multiple award winning documentary film –maker. His extraordinary tale is a must for soul adventurers, travellers and anyone who loves a profound story. Without doubt the modern world has robbed humanity of their connections to the sacred nature of themselves and their connection to the natural world. But as in all evolutionary paths there is hope that the human race will remember those ancestral connections and that will indeed enable our response to the question to be: “Yes.”

ISBN: 978-0-14-353066-4 Penguin Non Fiction

Reviewed by Melissa Baird

James Lovelock – A Rough Ride to the Future

james lovelock (1)“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it.”
–Edward P. Morgan

Unconventional from the very beginning James Lovelock has been responsible for the significant Gaia theory that had him ridiculed for decades. But that sort of treatment did not stop Galileo so why should it have prevented him from writing the next most significant perspective on what’s next for this world. This book is not about climate change but climate change is a big part of it. It is also about developmental history. The invention of the steam engine by a blacksmith called Thomas Newcomen in 1712 was the beginning of the industrial revolution and the excess in production and consumption as a result has brought the world to the tipping point we face today. Lovelock writes in a way ever person can understand; shares facts and insights that are astonishing. As he aptly notes – all of us are scientifically illiterate and do not question how the world works around us. In just 169 pages he helps you see what is going on out there and look ahead to a future full of intelligent machines.

ISBN: 978-0-241-96141-4 Penguin Random House

Reviewed by Melissa Baird


Baby Elephant Throws a Tantrum

This baby elephant might just be playing around or having a scratch, but it is way funnier to think it’s throwing a tantrum in front of mom! Watch the adorable scene unfold below.