Category Archives: permaculture

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

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.

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.



Volunteers at Deo Volente

As a volunteer you will live alongside us at Deo Volente helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer. We subscribe to WWOOF, a worldwide movement that links volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences and thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community.

To apply please send us a mail with your details and aspirations to

Volunteers will have the opportunity to explore and experience the Western Cape in their free time.


Food facts

A few interesting facts around food diversity from a report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

  • There are around 30,000 edible plants growing on the planet today, however humans on average only eat about a dozen.
  • As humans we require between fifty and hundred different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. Only a very small percentage can be found in animal products with the vast majority to be found within the roots, shoots and leaves of the thousands of consumable plants that grow around the world. A diet that disregards diversity does so at the detriment of our health.
  • Only around fifty crops deliver 90% of the world’s calories whereas less than a century ago several thousand plants would have done so. Today the emphasis by commercial agricultural is on the big four – wheat, corn, soybean and sunflower which is cheap and easily reformulated, packaged and often sold for profit with scant regard for our health and wellbeing.

Mono Culture – definition

Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed in a field or farming system at a time. Polyculture and/or Permaculture (“Permanent agriculture”) where more than one crop is grown in the same space at the same time, is the alternative to monoculture.

Continuous monoculture, or monocropping, where the same species is grown year after year, can lead to the quicker build-up of pests and diseases, and then rapid spread where a uniform crop is susceptible to a pathogen. The practice has increasingly come under fire for its environmental effects and for putting the food supply chain at risk. Diversity can be added both in time, as with a crop rotation or sequence, or in space, with a Polyculture.