Tierhoek and Spaarkloof Farms are in an ideal position for organic fruit farming as they are enclosed by the majestic Laangeberg to the north-east and lower hills to the south. Our valley is physically protected from invasive bugs or un-welcome chemical spray drift, making it an excellent environment for natural bees and insect life.
Organic farming has many dimensions and we focus on four main areas:-
It is the quality of the soil which makes a tree physically strong and enables it to naturally resist many diseases.
Compost - Soil quality is enhanced by adding compost to each planting hole and then further additions of compost during the early growing years. The best source is Guano, harvested from sustainable platforms off the West Coast. As a certified organic farm we are unable to use chicken manure compost as the genetically modified corn fed to the chickens does not breakdown enough when composted. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) cannot in anyway or from be part of organic farming. It is against nature.
Compost tea – a liquid mixture made with compost, kelp and fish emulsion, which is rich in beneficial soil micro-organisms. This is sprayed on the leaves to form a competition barrier for fungi and diseases and put through the water lines to give nutrients to the soil.
Mulch – straw, cut grass and wood chips are put down around each tree to keep the soil moist and make a healthy environment for earth-worm activity and to help with weed control.
Weeds - they cover the soil keeping it cool and moist. We have not sprayed weed killer on this farm since 2002, so weeds are a part of our orchards. They are cut 2 to 3 times each year adding their own nutrients back into the soil.
Worms – The guys who really do the work! There are not nearly enough in the Cape soils so we are developing our own wormery, which will produce excellent, natural plant nutrients that we can add to the soil through the irrigation. Worms and trees are only really happy when both work together so we want to encourage them as much as possible!
Good quality water, along with irrigation scheduling, is vital to the successful growth of trees and plants. We have a natural water source from the Laangeberg and from several boreholes. Our annual rainfall is only 400mm so careful planning goes into the use of water. Applying mulch under the trees and using shorter, but more frequent irrigation cycles, helps maintain soil moisture. This allows for the hair-roots of the tree to ‘drink' sufficiently to keep the tree happy and productive, as well as ensure good, flavourful fruit.
Many of the problems encountered with pests and diseases are brought about by weather variations. We have found that the best way to counter-act infection is to make the tree as healthy and physically strong as possible through good soil health. For fruit fly and false coddling moth problems we hang mating disruption stations in the orchards, which give off pheromones, confusing the male moths and preventing reproduction. If we encounter an infestation of unfriendly bugs or fungi/bacteria there are natural products that you can spray to help the tree such as garlic, chilli, neem oil, citronella oil, natural expellers and small measured quantities of copper or sulphur. We put chicken wire around young orchards, as well as spraying them with a chilli mixture, to keep buck and porcupines from eating the new young shoots. Hungry baboons are scared back into the mountains by regular foot patrols.
Organic farming does not mean you do not spray. What it does mean is that you do not spray synthetic or petro-chemical pesticides or herbicides into your orchards, both of which are indiscriminate in their destruction of nature and who knows what they are doing to us?
Healthy trees and pesticide-free farming techniques ensures the natural balance of insects and wildlife is maintained.
Bees- these are also one of the most important workers on the farm. During pollination in spring time we are extremely lucky to have a vast source of wild bees living in the fynbos around the orchards. Without these guys nothing happens!!
The mating disruption techniques keep fruit fly and false-coddling moth at bay (both of which are not natural to the Cape ). Also, when infestations do occur, the trees natural defence mechanisms can ward off any major threats.