13 October, 2010

Baby forest and earthworms at Org de Rac wine estate

For five years we have driven past Org-de-Rac, and wondered, what does that mean? Organic from the shelf – explains the owner.

Org de Rac - organic wine estate

www.bwi.co.za Biodiversity in Wine Initiative grew out of the fact that our vineyards are often laid out where fynbos used to grow. Conserving endangered plants and animals and producing wine sustainably. Org de Rac is planting trees, returning game animals, and rehabilitating the farm land.

Formal rose garden, mulched with straw from those distant wheat fields

We came with the Garden Club. The landscaper at Org de Rac is Corne Pretorius from the Nursery in Riebeeck West. First they sold the palms to a golf course, so they could buy cycads. Then they removed lots of lawn. Gathered the roses into a huge formal garden. A wheel in four quadrants, with a rim of lavender. Lavender and rosemary planted in fields to harvest the organic oils.

Lavender field
Rosemary field

Indigenous, with 5% exotic. A few palms were kept for history. Which trees used to grow here? Why is there a lonely oak or date palm as you travel across our countryside? The farmers coming thru with their cattle, would plant a date pit and an acorn. From far away the next farmer could see – Here Be Water! Jan van Riebeeck found forest at Swellendam, larger than the surviving indigenous remnant at Knysna. And at Piketberg too, there WAS forest.

The dream is that one day, this house will stand in a forest again. Wild plum Harpephyllum, milkwood, white stinkwood, white pear, pompom tree - Dais, wild olive, assegaaibos, waterberry Syzygium, Rhus/Searsia. And one for our own garden Wish List – forest elder Nuxia – supports caterpillars for the Cape Robins, when they have chicks to feed. The Gardener put in about three thousand trees. Summer, December-January-February in the Swartland, is brutal for a young tree that has not yet made its own shade and microclimate. So the Farmer still has about two thousand trees living around the house and along the valleys – where once were trees.

Modern house with traditional Cape Dutch gable
In the distance Piketberg, from which our neighbouring town gets its name
Up front the Nuxia I want 

GREED, Greed and ignorance says the fynbos and renosterveld are hot, no shade, no trees, so they plant alien trees, and whine when nature conservation removes invasive aliens. How wonderful to see a farmer with the courage of his organic and biodiversity convictions going against the flow, and putting something back!

A drift of Dietes

And how comfortable to hear someone else singing my garden tune! Don’t dig, or hoe, or till. Leave the soil in peace. Mulch mulch mulch. Newspaper and/or straw. Beware of the glare off fresh straw in high summer intensifying the heat for young plants, which do not yet cast their own shade. Smother kikuyu (that is highly invasive lawn …) with newspaper and straw. No Roundup. Pull weeds by hand. Rain gardening on a grand/farm scale. Dry river bed and a holding pond for the winter when the heavens open. Lined with plastic, then packed with a layer of stones, so children, and dogs (and wildlife) can get out again.

Dry river bed down to mid-distance holding pond
Cycad fronds and the COLOUR is succulent vygies

But I also learnt – lavender. You know how we wail, I pruned my lavender and now it is vrek dead! Grey leaves don’t have much chlorophyll (you can see that …) so plants need all the leaves they have got. Prune half the bush, wait three weeks, then do the other half. If you have a hedge of lavender, cut the top, 3 weeks, then the first side, 3 weeks, finally the last side.

And I learnt to wait five years before you prune trees. Let the tree show you what it is going to look like. It is a baby. It NEEDS all its branches and leaves to grow, big and strong.
The earthworms. Red wrigglers come from Europe. One generation might survive in the ground here, then they are dead. Eggs will die. Different species which cannot interbreed with our wild worms. Got an old bathtub? Ideal for a worm farm, and to capture the verjuice! Compost is the worm casts. Verjuice just one teaspoon per grape vine every six months. The earthworms, like oysters with pearls, encapsulate the toxins in the soil so they are no longer water-soluble, not available to the plant’s roots.

The earthworms who work for ...
... the vineyards of Org de Rac on the N7 from Cape Town to Piketberg

Wine in stainless steel casks. To get that woody undertone. A mat of wooden strips. Or a ‘tea-bag’ filled with oak chips. I don’t drink wine, but I am amused to see a Google search – where can I buy Goats-Do-Roam-wine in Dallas? – coming back to my Fairview post!

Were you with us in August Weaving-dreamcatchers?

Pictures and words by Diana of Elephant's Eye 


  1. Very interesting - and some very beautiful pictures too. I'm being thick on one score though - I don't understand the dry river bed. Was there once a river which has now been filled with stones . . . or is it a deep stone path where water drips through to create a river or . . . ? ?

    I keep looking at the cycad and vygies picture.


    Oh - and that's a helpful hint about the lavender.

  2. Lucy - that is rain gardening. In the summer the clay soil bakes hard. In winter the heavens open and the slopes erode to deep 'dongas'. One solution is gabions, wire cages, filled with stones. This is another. Channeling the runoff down to the holding pond, and protecting the planting.

  3. Quite an education! I love the image of the cattle herder coming through with the acorn and date pit. The landscape is so different there- if I were travelling, this is the place I'd love to visit, so thanks for taking me there!

  4. How encouraging! I'm so happy these people are trying to do the right thing for the land, just for once. You know, you could always buy some of their wine and give it away as gifts...

  5. Interesting reading as always - but now I'm more sort of waiting for the famous October desert bloom boom. Is it there already?

  6. Peter - if you skim my archives, the desert blooms in August and September.

  7. Outstanding! I love the picture of the rosemary field, and what you say about lavender makes so much sense! I'm going to spread the word on that one. I love how you've documented this worthy project, and love the writing, too...

  8. I had to laugh when I read the "translation" of Org-de-Rac. It sounds like a fascinating place. Would you recommend a visit there?

    I generally agree with your advice on mulching rather than tilling - but I just read an article blaming the huge slug invasion here partly on that. Back when gardeners did the traditional hoeing and spading and didn't mulch, slugs found it much harder to survive. Now they can easily hide under the mulch and their eggs are left undisturbed. Turning over the earth in late fall exposes the eggs and they freeze.

  9. Barbara - visit Org de Rac? Yes, it is still developing. We were at a wine tasting. Might need an appointment, I would phone ahead and check. There is a restaurant, but not yet open to the general public. Soon as they open it, we will go and try lunch, and see how the garden is progressing!

    Slugs and snails tucked under the mulch, in our garden have to contend with the tabakrolletjie snakes - who EAT SNAILS! So it all balances out.


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My Canon PowerShot A490

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