Category Archives: Urban agriculture

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

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. speaks about the indigenous breeds of farmed animals in South Africa.


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Filed under Agriculture, Agro-ecology, Urban agriculture

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

1.2 Problem Statement

The City of Cape Town’s Urban Agricultural Policy currently runs as a reactive organisation, and not a proactive one purely because of the size of the staff and newness of the policy.  This means that the scope for growth is only as far as those utilising the policy are willing to take it.  The policy currently covers urban agriculture in Phillipi, Nyanga, Khayelitsha and various areas on the Cape Flats.

Ma Chaba & Ma Phillipina in their garden next to Phillipi Municipal Building, Cape Town. Via City Farmer News, image by konsciousimages

There is as yet no coverage for the inner city of Cape Town.  With so much produce demand in the inner city because of all the restaurants, cafés, cafeterias (in schools, colleges, businesses, court, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities etc) and residents, applying horticultural agriculture in the area would be ideal.  Hey, I’d be willing to keep chickens and run aquaculture too.  And bees, definitely bees.  But now we sit with a situation of lack of space and premiums on land in the city, it is too expensive to use the land agriculturally.  So a solution to this spatial limitation would be to utilise the unused roofscapes of the city, no?  Of course!

And there we go, job creation, food supply (don’t get me started on the ‘Food Crisis’), green roof systems (and all the benefits they have), and the way it will be designed is to produce healthy, heirloom mostly, organic (ugh, hate that word these days, but it is what it is), sustainable and accessible produce.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

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Filed under Research, Urban agriculture

Beta beets to beat

Beat beets

The beets, the beets!

So, we are in week 13 of Beets-on-a-Green-Roof and they are mostly quite sizeable.  Remember I am working with soil depths of about 5cm to 20cm, this beet sits at about 8cm soil depth but is breaching, most likely as it hits the surface of the roof.

Beta vulgaris in 8cm depth

Still, going to watch and wait, see what happens.  This is not the biggest, just the only one that’s bolted up.  Keep in mind it is winter in the Cape, averaging at around 7°C min temp since they were sown so it’s very slow growing.  If this was solely about leaf production I would be cooking in results!

Beet leaves and mushrooms and mustardseed and garlic

Speaking of leaf production, like I said, beet leaves are much like chard and spinach (since 2003 they have all been classified in the same family Amaranthaceae, although it is still disputed and the subfamily Chenopodioideae is also accepted), high in vitamins and nutrients and they last a long time post-harvest as long as you keep them cool and dry.  Tossed with a little bit of olive oil and garlic they are delicious, and this way they keep their colour.


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

Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle

Take these gentlemen, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Verez, from an idea in the classroom to national suppliers of Gourmet Mushroom Kits, they did it all with collaboration.  It is a story that translates to any language, any place and any culture.  The story of symbiosis and co-action:

In a city, a country, a continent with such high coffee consumption, this is something that could easily be a useable marketable idea.  But as I am learning, it takes full-time focus (of which most of us have little to spare) but there is much scope for it to begin at least.


Local suppliers of home grown gourmet mushroom kits on facebook.

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Filed under Mycology, Urban agriculture

Spectacular Annie

Annie Novak inspiration:

Annie Novak on Eagle Street Rooftop Farm

Lots and lots of vegetables.

Beekeeping on the roof!

[All photographs from The Selby, check out the full spread.]

Unfortunately the bees did not make it through the freezing winter they had, they are now importing a Russian-variety which cope better.  I don’t know how I feel about that, surely feral bees would hive in a well-insulated area, the hives they have seem quite exposed.  But so it is.

The location is Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, where Annie is co-founder and farmer.  She is also founder and director of Growing Chefs, a field-to-fork education program, as well as many other organistaions.  Read her blog to find out a bit more.


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Filed under Insecta, Rooftop farms, Urban agriculture

Not too late to thin!

Not too late at all, the beets were divided 7 days ago and they are strong and healthy and growing.  Granted the sun has been out in full force and I removed the limp outer leaves and at the moment there is 100% success!

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