Where to from here

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Since this blog I dove deep into the food system socio-political context.  The more I find out the more I see the issues of the world are systemic but also within each of us.  I have tried to unpack, understand and live the idea of sovereignty within my food system but also recognising that the food system is so inherently linked with every other system.  And so I unpack my consumption within the economical ecological reality.  My work is very broad and I have begun to slowly put it together on an online platform at digdeepconcept.com – it is loose and not really coherent but I’m figuring out.  It’s mostly so I can begin to understand what it is I do, or at least affirm it on a regular basis.  If you’re interested please follow the link and perhaps help me understand what it is I do.  I know that I’m looking for tangible solutions to reform the inequalities we face and I know that it is at the cultural level that we see the greatest change.

Thank you, Shukran, Gangans, Dankie,

Zayaan Khan

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I have been spending some time this year getting to know mushrooms a little better, figuring out the foraging and how to treat them post-harvest.  Lots of experimentation, some failure, mostly success.  Take the mushroom hunt I did a few weeks ago in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve hosted by Mushroom Academy, it was pouring with rain the night before so we were sure to find mushrooms popping up all over the place.  We were quite a big group and so many different species were found.

An absolute troop of mushrooms

We were taught how to identify the various kinds and which ones to be aware of.  Mushroom identification is not as simple as plant identification – mushrooms look different in different environments and at different stages of their life cycle.  Take the genus Amanita (the toadstool mushroom, Fly Agaric), it is generally found in many different shades of beige to orange to bright red, easy to spot.  The warts (the white spots on the cap) easily wash off in the rain especially in a heavy downpour (as we had) so identification gets a bit tricky.

Amanita can be toxic, must be handled with care and respect as it is hallucinogenic and will cause toxicity in young children and if the wrong dose is taken.  We were also told that it is best to stay clear as a common side effect is stuttering which has been known to be indefinite.

It must be said that most mushrooms found in the Cape are not in fact poisonous but rather just inedible.  The most common edible variety found is the Pine Ring, Lactarius deliciosus, characterised by its orange watery sap, it has gills and will turn a greenish hue as it ages or where it is bruised.  This picture is of a mature one.

Lactarius deliciosus

Because of the rain, the mushrooms we foraged were soaked.  Mushrooms already have such a high water content and so it would have been better to wait for a drier day.

Soggy mushrooms

But this I realised in hindsight.  I took my basket of Pine Rings and tried my hand at processing them.  I sliced them up and divided them into two groups.  The first I laid on rice as desiccant to air dry them a bit quicker, the second I oven dried at 50°C.

Pine Rings sliced and drying

This took a few hours, the rice even longer.  So I turned up the oven and poured more rice over the slices and left them.  The end of the next day Trichoderma had set into the air dried slices and I had to give up that experiment but noticed that the water content was just too high due to that heavy rain.  The oven dried slices, however turned out great and is an easy way to preserve them if you don’t have a dehydrator and it is in the heart of winter.  An alternative in summer is to slice them up and put them on a baking rack on a tray on the dashboard of the car parked in the sun.  Quick sticks.

Oven-dried Pine Rings

We also found some Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, a bracket fungi found worldwide commonly named for resembling the tail of a turkey.

Trametes versicolor

I have taken some of this Turkey Tail, dried it and ground it up for easier storage and administration.  It is one of the worlds most highly prized medicinal mushroom varieties, especially in immune system support.  A comprehensive article about them by Paul Stamets (Fungi virtuoso and founder of Fungi Perfecti) can be found here.

We were advised that the very delicious Boletus edulis can be found on a warm day after a rain, but you have to be quick because mushroom hunters will get up at the crack of dawn to find them.  The dedication is worth it, mushrooms are nutritious, some species being very high in protein and so must be cooked before consuming.
Mushroom Academy also run gourmet mushroom courses as well as courses on how to grow your own.


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On good kitchen economy

Or:  The communal season of abundance

Or:  The culture of food culture

Stumbling across this webisode via Wool Wood & Whiskey, it drove home an issue I’ve been dealing with a lot lately – that separation that a lot of us have with our food and the huge disconnect between killing the animal and preparing it for market, how the consumer mostly cannot stomach that vital stage of the process.  This video describes the art of the harvest (it’s graphic but done beautifully so look!)…

Farmstead Meatsmith: WebsiteFacebook

While this video is not a very halaal example (sorry, Mom), it exemplifies what our meat industry should be.  Simple charcuterie, what ever happened to it?  I mean, apart from refrigeration and industrialised agriculture.  Also extending this to not only pork (even though charcuterie is mostly about pork)… and on the mass scale, is all that excess afval going to pet food production and wors… really?

The beauty of it though, that slow food commitment – one can do nothing but appreciate it.  The sense of community and the connection with the food, the tradition.  Just beautiful.

The closest we get is tongue on special occasions, Pens en Pootjies – what we as kids called “Sticky Food” (sheep trotters and tripe in sweet tomato bredie), curried chicken livers, kidney pie, chicken nekkies (necks – the best!), yeah things like brains don’t go to waste, fish eyeballs… but a lot of other things we just don’t eat.  And here I’m speaking of my family.  Being halaal means no blood anything, so that goes unused.  The general South African public eat a lot of afval, lots of wors but not a lot of charcuterie (not like that).

Perhaps it’s culture, perhaps it really does have something to do with our commercialised meat industry, the model that has called to the pet food industry to absorb all the excess waste.  Still, it is good to see the artisan comeback, evident in local markets and farmstalls (even though it is still mostly various kinds of sausages).  Slow, but definite and thankfully, supported.

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But what do you mean, indigenous agriculture?

I have been working with agroecology for a few months now and have begun to understand the true strength of the concept.  Agroecology is agriculture within ecological principles, focussing on food and natural systems and based upon traditional knowledge of growing and preparing traditional varieties of food.  Perhaps one can describe it as a means of farming before agriculture was industrialised or commercialised.  It is known as an alternative to the current agricultural model and does not rely on any industry to sustain itself, it needs no commercial seed or fertiliser, no chemical anything and definitely no poisons.  It finds solutions to any hardships within the system, it is about community involvement, producing locally, buying locally, eating locally.

As is the case around most of the world, here in the south of Africa a LOT of our traditional varieties have been lost and we eat foreign food.  The more research I do into the issue, looking back to what the land supplied before it was industrialised, the more I realise we actually have many indigenous varieties, plants and animals alike.  It also begs the question of “What is indigenous?” because in these instances we mean not specifically local to South Africa.  Often these are animals that have been bred from local species originally from higher up the continent that were brought down in the years before colonisation.

So as we know, farming and the basic domestication of certain plants and animals is centuries old, as the local populations moved around the Sub-Saharan areas of the continent, so too did these varieties.

Take the humble chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), much like the potato, chickens have been domesticated the world over.  Originally from the South Asian subcontinent, the chicken was first bred from Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), a very elegant fowl from the Pheasant family.

Red Junglefowl Male

Red Junglefowl Female

[Photo’s:  Sohnjoo’s Photography]

Thus indigenous African breeds of chicken are

  • Ovambo (originating from the north of Namibia) which is a feisty breed.  They are more aggressive than other breeds in that they can stand their ground against mongoose and are able to catch and kill rats and mice.  They roost in trees and it’s a good idea to put their nests up high (even though it will be more work for you) as they have been known to nest in owl boxes.  They are also darker in colour which may help in camouflage against raptors.

    Ovambo Male

    [Photo:  WickedFoodEarth]

  • Vendaare more localised to South Africa, their colouring is more speckled with black and white being dominant colours.  Their combs are bright rose-red and they are also known to have five toes.  These burly chickens are bred mostly for egg-laying.

    Venda Poultry

    [Photo: South Africa’s Indigenous Breeds]

  • The Potchefstroom Koekoekchickens have been bred locally from the Black Australorp (an Australian breed) and the White Leghorn (or “Livorno”, an Italian breed laying white eggs) from the 1960’s to be more suitable to the Southern African environment.

    Koekoek Male

    [Photo:  WickedFoodEarth]

  • Mike Bosch runs Boschveld Farm where he is host to the indigenous Boschveldchicken crossed from Matabele, Ovambo and Venda breeds.

    Boschveld Chicken

In his interview with Louise van der Merwe (the South African Representative for Compassion in World Farming), Mike describes his farming practises and interestingly how he started with these chickens, “Well, it all started about 10 years ago when the price of dip went up and I decided to try and replace dip to a large extent by breeding a chicken that would eat the ticks off my cattle at the water points. I experimented and eventually came up with the Boschveld Chicken which is an all-African indigenous cross-breed. The Boschveld Chicken has reduced the need for dipping from 26 times a year to 14 and because of this, there are fewer chemicals in the environment. I now have noticed that ox-peckers have returned to the farm too.”  You can find out more about his truly free-range chickens [and the photo credit] at www.boschveldeggs.co.za

The idea of using indigenous breeds in our farming practice are, amongst other reasons, because they are naturally adapted to this environment and if allowed to live naturally, the need for all the commercial ‘necessities’ (things like antibiotics and hormones) fall away.  Chickens naturally feed on certain plants, insects in all forms (grubs and maggots, larvae basically, being a delicacy), they’ll eat small rodents, frogs and even snakes.  Their diets are wide and varied and domesticated chickens are often fed certain table scraps.  When we inhibit their freedom of movement and habitat and begin to feed them controlled diets of grains day in and out, their health deteriorates and there is greater need for antibiotics, hormones and other stimulants.

http://www.indigenousbreeds.co.za/home speaks about the indigenous breeds of farmed animals in South Africa.

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Green Roof article

Kim Grové of House and Leisure did a piece on green roofs for their online magazine, a Q & A with me that simplifies what a green roof system is, and how simple it is to do for yourself.  Well simple if you’re dedicated and have the will.  But still, very doable.

Here’s the article, very cool!  Thank you Kim.


Green Roofs H+L



Some of the photographs in the article were by Tom Gray of some of his designs and installations.  Tom’s company, Good Hope Gardens Landscaping (affiliated with Good Hope Gardens Nursery) installs green roofs and landscapes with indigenous plants specific to each area and thus supports the creation and maintenance of ecosystems.  Tom knows what he’s doing, and he does it well.  Good Hope’s blog here  .


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Babiest of baby bats

I spent November of 2011 on Frégate Island working with turtle conservation and being immersed in an environment where I was a member of the smallest population on the island.  Literally more giant millipedes, more Seychelles Magpie Robins (endangered, endemic to the region) and more bats than people.  Also, the only mammals on the island are bats and the humans.  The bats, or Flying Foxes, are known as megabats because of their scientific classification.  They are fruit bats and do not use echolocation to navigate but rather their keen sense of smell and having large eyes means their eyesight is sharper.  They are magnificent, watching them in flight is arresting with their seemingly effortless mobility.  Seeing the bats everyday in all their diurnal and mega glory made me realise I was going to miss them when I returned and it was only two weeks later that I’d have my first close encounter.

While away for work in Malmesbury, we spotted a squirming ball of dust or dried leaf or beetle that had seemingly fallen from the very high ceiling, this tiny, tiny thing that was not there a minute before.  Kneeling down to get a better look (which took a while to figure out what it could possibly have been) the first thing I noticed was that it was moving  similarly to a newborn baby human, kicking its legs and scrunching fists and crying, mouth open, head back.  Recognising that it was a bat only came afterwards and I scooped it up and cupped my hands over it to provide some kind of warmth and protection.  This past December gave us some proper winter weather though and cold hands weren’t doing much so inside my bra it went where immediately it hung upside down and nestled up against my skin.  Tiny, tiiiny it was, so tiny, so little.  I assume it to be Neoromicia capensis, Cape Serotine Bat, these bats generally are birthed late November so this little one was just a few weeks old, if that.

Babiest Bat

I called a nature conservationist friend who suggested the options one has when finding a distressed baby bat (a pup).  Baby bats, like every animal, have controlled feeding and having such small stomachs and bladders it is important to not over-feed.  Mother bat will also stimulate her offspring into releasing urine and faeces before feeding by licking or nuzzling their lower bellies.

Possibly Neoromicia capensis

Generally rescue baby bats are weaned on goat’s milk (warmed a little) every hour for 12 hours.  Being mammals, they need to be kept warm and a method of achieving this is by putting some raw rice in a cotton sock or bag or material and warming it up in the microwave.  Flaxseed may also be used if you have it longer as it is smoother and thus makes a softer cushioning and it also stays warmer for longer.

I did not have access to any of these and understanding the nature of things and the necessity to not ‘interfere’ with every situation when I’m out of urban areas, I simply put baba up in the afdakkie wrapped in cotton (which I had) and sent many telepathic messages to mamma bat to hear and fetch baba bat.


Incidentally, 2011 – 2012 has been declared the Year of the Bat by the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS), which basically aims to promote “bat conservation and celebration around the globe”, as stated on Bat Conservation International‘s website.

This all came about because of the alarming rate at which bat species have dwindled in recent years and has garnered much support in research and awareness.  Bat’s seem to have a bad reputation throughout history, in folklore and legend, and there are numerous myths surrounding bats that are generally unwarranted.

For example, bats carrying rabies is one of these myths.  This is not true in the sense that if a bat contracts rabies it will eventually die of it, much like humans do, they do not carry rabies unaffected.  It is not a good idea to handle a bat if it is grounded in any case as bats, like most animals, are sensitive to humans and may react in self-defence if provoked. Bats play a vital role in our ecological and economic spheres and the threat to them is ultimately a threat to humans.

[All photo’s courtesy of Sam Carter]

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Green Building Council of South Africa

In a few days time, the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) will be holding their 4th annual GBCSA Convention and Exhibition.  It must be said that since the inception of the GBCSA, the building industry has changed its standards to incorporate “green building” (which is “a building which is energy-efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible – it incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and occupants”, as the council’s website puts it). 

This convention is especially interesting as there will be speakers and courses to attend, from topics like “Climatically appropriate design”, to “Biomimicry” and “Greening existing buildings”.  Of particular interest to me, is the Green Roofs course which I was hoping to attend, well also the talk about Food Security and absolutely the Introduction to Biomimicry.  I have issues with wanting to know everything which doesn’t always work out.

I will be speaking on Thursday, October 27th, (very few days time) with Sidonie Carpenter at the Green Roofs talk as part of the convention’s programme.  I am very honoured to be slotted in with Sidonie, her scope, work and knowledge of the industry globally is admirable.  I am feeling a little bit out of my league to be amongst such industry giants truthfully but I figured, probably as much as the council has figured, I have a lot to say and the years and sweat and toil of research and work deserves to be broadcast.  It is of the utmost importance that green roofing needs to happen, by anyone and everyone who can, it cannot be exclusive, and I will push that fact. 

Finally, it’s funny how this post  follows the one before, I mean even my skype name has “green” in it.  I suppose I don’t like the hype that’s attached itself to these words, some of it has become hysteria even.  We should all calm down.  Too much green in the environment means an influx of water anyways, green in the Karoo = good in winter, green on the golf course = bad always. 

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I’m not a fan of that term (“green”), or many of the other similarly sexy marketable words , (“environmental”, “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “organic”, “sustainable”) but I understand the need for them.  There needs to be that attachment or connection to the things we produce, things we buy into, how we use, how we dispose.

I went through a lot of anguish to name this blog, the Bioagogee bit, none of those eco-anything words please.  I’m just fascinated with life in its infinite forms, literally stand amazed when I learn about something new, like glass frogs

Glass Frog


or diablos rojos (or anything from the sea actually)

aka Humboldt Squid


or monkey beetles (or any insects actually)  

Scelophysa trimeni


or when I come across something as off-centre as Synsepalum dulcificum, “Miracle Fruit”, which contains an active glycoprotein molecule called miraculin that binds to taste buds causing bitter and sour foods to taste sweet (the sugar industry in the States did not like this one bit in the ’70’s, much like cotton producers don’t like the hemp industry).

Synsepalum dulcificum


Or when I stand face to face with something, like two mongooses (not “mongeese”) within four hours of each other in two separate areas. 

Galerella pulverulenta


So I may be a hypocrite naming the green roofing company Green Sky Landscapes, but I’ll let that one slide.

Special mention must be made to Mr Terome McNally who sat and listened and reasoned and came up with ideas and shut down ideas and lit up more ideas and then I suppose just carried on doing what he was doing downstairs while Skype was still on upstairs.

Disclaimer:  All photographs were sourced online at the sites linked above.  Wait.  Except for the diablos rojos picture which was sourced at this tabloid article.  Ugh.  ]


Filed under Horticulture, Insecta

Oh my, harvest!

I harvested finally, finally, I think the whole neighbourhood exhaled when that happened.  130 days it took!  One-hundred-and-thirty, normally it takes about 68 to 110 days depending on the conditions (this is for Beta vulgaris ‘Crimson Globe’, a quicker variety) but due to various factors mine took longer.  Oh, much longer.  I could speculate that this is due to it being the height of winter and even though winter was mild we did have very cold nights.  Also the soil depth and the type of substrate must have impacted on the growth rate, and very possibly wind exposure could have stunted them too.  They turned out alright though, considering?  Deeper soil, summertime, no pressures of a research deadline… next time it’ll be in and out!

First Beet

I could have harvested a lot sooner but I needed to line up all the necessary statistical methodology for the research, as well as methodology for sampling and analysing the samples for the lab.

An interesting point about them is that they didn’t really develop a taproot but rather the roots developed adventitiously, I speculate it could be from the loose, humid, nutrient-rich substrate and the fact that the soil was at an average of 75mm depth.

Adventitious Root System

What did happen though was that the roots developed along an axis and not centrally, and one has to think about the whole process of vegetable production:  post-production, cleaning, storage etc.  It would be interesting to see how the root waste of beets such as these compare to conventionally grown beets.  The total waste off this harvest was 572g out of a total yield of 11kg.

Root Development

The point is that it works, growing vegetables in an extensive green roof system has its advantages.  Most definitely Round 2 will see deeper substrate (I was governed by student budget) and not monoculture.

The bulk of the stock went to Lola’s Restaurant on Long Street to be turned into deliciousness such as borscht, juices, salad with award-winning gorgonzola, and the leaves will be utilised too, most likely for crisps (either in the oven or in shallow oil in the pan).

I have the rest of the leaves which I will dice and freeze and will go into caramelised onion, feta and beetroot leaf quiche and quiche and quiche (easy to freeze)!

Et voila!


Filed under Green roof systems, Horticulture, Recipe, Urban agriculture

Cracked-shell Tortoises

I never knew tortoises could survive broken shells.  This is not the best photograph but it was the best I could manage as I was running around the nursery.  So apparently the story goes that this tortoise was picked up by an eagle one day and was not dropped from a high enough height (as the eagle should have) so the shell was cracked but not enough for the eagle to feast.  Who knows why the eagle didn’t go for a second round, point is this tortoise is now resident at Good Hope Gardens, cracked shell and all, survived for a few years just as it is.

Cracked-shell Chersina angulata

Turns out crows also do this, especially the white-necked raven. As Mark D. Anderson explains, “[they] regard padlopers as a delicacy”.  Of course there are many animals that prey on tortoise but not many birds who pick them up and drop them at height.  Tactics.

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