All posts by johnm

Heirloom seeds – the debate continues

The definition and use of the word heirloom to describe plants is fiercely debated.

One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945, which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies. Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant could have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties. It was in the 1970s that hybrid seeds began to proliferate in the commercial seed trade. Some heirloom varieties are much older; some are apparently pre-historic.

Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word heirloom in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.

Additionally, there is another category of cultivars that could be classified as “commercial heirlooms”: cultivars that were introduced many generations ago and were of such merit that they have been saved, maintained and handed down – even if the seed company has gone out of business or otherwise dropped the line. Additionally, many old commercial releases have actually been family heirlooms that a seed company obtained and introduced.

Regardless of a person’s specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open-pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution. Most, if not all, hybrid plants, if regrown, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant, thus ensuring the dependency on seed distributors for future crops.

21st May 2017

Regenerative agriculture

“Regenerative agriculture” has its origins thousands of years ago, when all agriculture was performed in more ecological ways. “Restorative Agriculture” is about restoring the life and nutrients to the soil by applying diverse ecological systems to bring the balance of life to the farm, without harmful chemicals. Our focus is to provide nutrient dense fresh foods in a natural and organic way.

At ‘The Well Farm’  we prefer to work with nature in  our approach to farming and we apply methods such as no tilling practices, crop rotation, biodiversity enhancement, ‘building’ soil through composting and mulching, cover crops and green manure techniques.

If you want to know more about our approach to farming and food gardens at The Well,  please contact us or pay us a visit. We enjoy sharing and exchanging views.
Open source Permaculture

Farmer John Organic Standards



1. For uncompromised nutritional value all crops must be grown in fertile soil attached to the earth and nourished by the natural biological activities of that soil. There are so many vital aspects of soil processes that we could not replace even if we wanted to, because we are still unaware of how they all work.
2. Soil fertility should be maintained principally with farm-derived organic matter and mineral particles from ground rock. Why take the chance of bringing in polluted material from industrial sources when fertility can be created and maintained internally?
3. Green manures and cover crops must be included within broadly based crop rotations to enhance biological diversity. The greater the variety of plants and animals on the farm, the more stable the system.
4. A “plant positive” rather than a “pest negative” philosophy is vital. We focus on correcting the cause of problems by strengthening the plant through optimum growing conditions to prevent pests, rather than merely treating symptoms by trying to kill the pests that prey on weak plants. Extensive scientific evidence is available today on the mechanisms by which a biologically active fertile soil creates induced resistance in the crops.
5. Livestock must be raised outdoors on grass-based pasture systems to the fullest extent possible. Farm animals are an integral factor in the symbiosis of soil fertility on the small mixed farm.
The goal of these five precepts is vigorous, healthy crops and livestock endowed with their inherent powers of vitality and resistance.

At DV we recognize successful organic farming is a result of a guiding principle namely:
“The vital role of a biologically active fertile soil as the basis for producing the highest quality food.”

18th May 2017

Food Forests – the abundant life

Food Forests are wonderfully productive ecosystems, small or large in scale. Food forests are designed to meet needs of the particular family or community – as well as to produce habitat, be of benefit to wildlife, increase ecological resilience and create abundance.

Food forests mimic the architecture and beneficial relationships between plants and animals found in a natural forest or other natural ecosystem. Food forests are not “natural”, but are designed and managed ecosystems (typically, complex perennial polyculture plantings) that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.

Sustainable living – the simple life

Sustainable living means a lifestyle that uses as few resources as possible and causes the least amount of environmental damage for future generations to deal with.  Permaculture is an aid to those individuals who strive towards a self sustaining, off the grid lifestyle.

“We see a system of exchange based on abundance instead of encumbrance, equality instead of competition, opportunity instead of obligation, gratitude instead of greed. We see all peoples everywhere, enjoying equal access to all good things, and with this comes a blossoming of the soul of humanity such as has never been seen throughout the whole of time. – Author Unknown.”

  • Housing: Sustainable homes are built in such a way that they use few nonrenewable resources, do not require much energy to run, and cause little or no damage to the surrounding environment. A sustainable home should be constructed from materials that have been produced in an environmentally friendly manner. For example, a house might be built from straw bales, adobe, or reclaimed stone or brick. Many homeowners pursue sustainable living by making their homes as low energy as possible, either by making sure that they have very high energy efficiency or by producing their own power from the sun or wind.
  • Sustainable energy: The energy sources used must be renewable rather than limited in quantity. Energy sources such as fossil fuels cannot readily be renewed, so instead of these, sustainable living requires using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water, or geothermal energy. The energy must also be captured and used in an environmentally friendly way that does not damage the environment for future generations. For sustainable living, a person must leave as little impact on the world as possible.
  • Diet: The diet of someone who is focused on sustainable living should focus on foods that are at the base of the food chain. A vegetarian lifestyle is best suited to sustainable living (but not essential provided animal rights are respected) because it requires the fewest resources to produce and causes the least amount of environmental damage and degradation. The food should also be grown organically without the use of chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides that can pollute the environment and cause health problems for other animals or humans. It is best to eat food that has been grown locally to reduce the problems caused by transporting food over long distances. Many people try to grow their own produce in their yard or in a community garden near their home. A Permaculture food garden is best suited for this purpose.

Essentially, sustainable living involves living as lightly on the Earth as possible. Someone who succeeds at living a sustainable lifestyle will use very few resources and will leave the environment as untouched as possible so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same high quality of life that people do today.

Herbs in the kitchen

If your spice cabinet or garden contains only a minimum of herbs, you are missing out on some of the delightful culinary experiences of life. Once you begin to use fresh herbs in your favourite recipes, you’ll never want go back to using just dried herbs again. You will be hooked for life.
Herbs are one of nature’s little surprise packages that contain a lot of flavour. A little goes a long way. You do not need much to make an extraordinary impact in your cooking.

Fantastic cuisine can be very simply prepared, but add a few fresh herbs and you have created a masterpiece. As you master the art of seasoning with fresh herbs, you will astound family and guests with your remarkable culinary talents.

It’s easy to grow a container herb garden with kitchen herbs that you frequently use. But to be successful, you must know the basics of what herbs need to thrive. If you cook with herbs, there is nothing better than having fresh live herbs on hand whenever you need them. Purchasing fresh cut herbs in the store can be expensive, requires planning ahead, and often leaves you with more herb than you need for the recipe. Growing your own provides a constant supply of fresh cut herbs on demand, and it is easier than you may think.

Herbs and Sunlight

Depending on the amount of light that you have inside your home, you may not actually be able to have your “kitchen” herb garden in the kitchen or even indoors at all. Herbs are tough plants that can withstand drought, heat, sub-optimal nutrient levels and many types of horticultural abuses. But they cannot thrive without very high light levels. Bottom line…herbs require sun, and a lot of it

If you have an area inside your home that receives unfiltered, direct sun for much of the day, you can probably grow your herbs indoors. If not, it’s fine to grow them outdoors, just try to have your container herb garden in a location convenient to your kitchen, such as a patio or balcony. The farther your herbs are from the kitchen, the more difficult they’ll be to access, and you’ll be less likely to use them.

Herbs and Water

Most herbs are drought resistant. They require regular watering, but will weather dry periods better than they’ll tolerate being soggy and over-watered. The aroma and flavour of many herbs actually improves when the plants are exposed to drier conditions.

It is important to provide herbs with good soil drainage. Be sure to use a pot that has holes in the bottom and place some type of material in the base of the pot that will improve drainage, such as stones or packing peanuts.

Herbs and Soil

Use a good quality potting soil that drains well, but also holds moisture, so that the herbs will not be exposed to large variations in moisture level.

Harvesting Herbs

Allow the plants to develop several sets of leaves before you begin harvesting. Herbs will be more robust and bushy if you regularly pinch off the tops at a point just above where the stem branches. Prune in this way even when you don’t need to use any of the herb, to encourage bushy growth. The small amounts harvested can be dried for later use.

As the plants get larger, you can harvest more frequently, and in larger amounts, but always leave a few sets of leaves so that the plant can regrow.

Our world of herbs

The unique, wonderfully fragrant aroma of food being prepared with aromatic herbs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme, are just some of those delicious memories that can be stored quietly at the back of our nasal sensory organs to be reminded about out when the mood takes us. Not only do herbs smell and taste great, some of them also have remarkable and effective healing properties.
Making tea and extracts from herbs is a simple procedure. Take a handful of fresh, organically grown herbs and let them steep in a cup of boiling water for five minutes. Strain and sip slowly. Lemon and honey can be added for taste. Most herbs have excellent medicinal qualities in addition to their culinary uses.

In South Africa we have no less than 3,000 known traditional medicinal herbs.  More readily known herbs include the beautiful, mineral rich herb Borage which is a natural diuretic, an anti-rheumatic and an expectorant, rich in vitamin C and calcium. Mint, of which there are many species, is a superb digestive that relieves heartburn, cramps and nausea. A cup of mint tea after a heavy meal will help with digestion and leave you full of energy! Another familiar herb, parsley, is an excellent diuretic and is one of the best herbs for rheumatism, gout, arthritis and for flushing toxins from the body.

A guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use three times as much as you would use of a dried herb. Fresh herbs are usually more successful in a dish and should be purchased close to the time you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden the ideal time to pick them is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.

Permaculture – an ethical system

“Permaculture is a movement concerned with sustainable, environmentally sound land use and the building of stable communities, through the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth.

Permaculture Ethics:

Care of the Earth”  includes all living and non-living things, such as animals, plants, land, water, and air.

Care of People”  promotes self-reliance and community responsibility.

Give Away Surplus”  pass on anything surplus to our needs (labor, money, information) for the above aims.

Implicit in the above is the “Life Ethic”:  all living organisms are not only means but ends. In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth.

Permaculture is an ethical system, stressing positivism and cooperation.

Nurseryman Internship opportunities at Deo Volente

Duration: 9 months whilst living and working on the farm and learning hands-on.

Our Nurseryman internship is aimed at equipping those individuals that have a keen interest in plants and in practical environmentally conscious horticulture. This experiential training program is suitable for people who wish to make horticulture and organic food growing their career. Interns will be involved in research, develop and maintenance of our nursery, herb and edible plant farm. You will also learn about permaculture and urban greening techniques whilst part of a team whose mission is reconnecting people to planet earth.

Course Facilitator

Yvette Mulder

Yvette Mulder (BSc Botany and Zoology) is an enthusiast of indigenous wild foods and herbs, and is self trained in herbalism and Ethno-botany. She is a nursery woman, garden consultant and involved in the development of urban food farms, small subsistence farms and experienced in various food garden initiatives in the greater Gauteng region.


Topics ( course outline): 

  1. Planting mediums and fertilizers
  2. Soil:
    The nature of soil.
    Soil in the nursery: germination mix, potting mix and seedling mix.
    Organic vs. inorganic fertilisers.
    Other growth enhancers
  3. E.M. (Effective Micro Organisms)
  4. Compost making
  5. What plants need to grow
  6. Biology and life cycle overview, photosynthesis, respiration, general physiology
  7. Intervention like heated beds, greenhouses, UV lights etc. Pros and cons
  8. Propagation of plants
  9. Sowing, Division, Cuttings, Layering and Grafting
  10. Types of plants in the nursery
  11. Form and nature: Trees, Shrubs, groundcovers, succulents, annuals, perennials, grasses
  12. Function: Food, Medicine, Screen, Fiber, dye, Nitrogen fixer, Shade, Nurse, Wood, Companion, etc.
  13. Vocabulary: Indigenous, Exotic, Invasive, Endemic, Naturalised, Permaculture overstorey, understorey etc.
  14. Problems in a nursery and creative solutions
  15. Weeds, disease and pests
  16. Water
  17. Types of irrigation and benefits
  18. Lay-out
  19. The season’s jobs
  20. Nursery business sense
  21. Costing of end product,
  22. Marketing

Contact for costs, more information and requirements to attend this program.