Contributor: Text and photographs Sharon Campbell.
Having lived along the Rheenendal Road area for the past 9 years, I’ve noticed the marked drop in rainfall, apart from 2015, over 1000 mls which was a bumper year. Local smallholding dams have got lower and some have just dried up completely.
For the water that persists, the remaining dams have brought more nocturnal bushbuck and small duiker to drink, coming up from the valley, through an old Pine forest on one side and a fire break on the other. This, along with the inevitable rowdy baboon troops, which have increased in size considerably…as often happens when humans interfere. (The Bredell Cull, has rid our Kommanassie Mountains of many free roaming leopards, our main baboon predator), that should’ve kept them, the baboon population, in balance with Nature. Consequently, smallhold ‘farmers’, trying to create ‘family’ and ‘extended community’ food self-sufficiency, are thwarted. I realised that only a tunnel or possibly electric fencing would make food production viable.
Terrapins are travelling more…dam to dam, porcupine are raiding my wild watsonia bulbs more. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Cape Eagle Owl eggs laid at the base of a fallen Blackwood and hatched owlets, albeit coping with foraging baboons, along the trail they use to escape my husband’s alpha baboon howls, down into the subsidiary river bed and valley below.
Since the 2017 fires, we’ve seen far less puffadders, Rhombic nightadders and boomslangs than ever before. New to the block though are Egyptian geese and flocks of European Starlings. This is a little concerning as they tend to chase the indigenous birds away. With an on going plan of planting over 150 Yellowwoods, of which about 40 have been found a spot, the Knysna Turacos (we still call them Loeries..)Forest Buzzards and Long crested Eagle pairs will hopefully still soar overhead for years to come. The iconic Garden Route trees – False Olive, Black Ironwood, Hard Pear, Cape Chestnut, and Forest Alders, and others, all give shelter, food, shade and aesthetic beauty to our surrounding environment. Allowing pockets in our gardens to be wild, unweeded, or less manicured, encourages wildlife to explore, dropping seeds, manure, and creating compost, enriching our biodiversity.
Walking out towards the ridge of my property I come across some really stunning and abundant ericas, the kolkol, buchu and white protea bushes still abound. Some of the proteas are dead, the remains of a previous fire I presume. Tall, up to 2.5 meters and still holding the bottom husks of the dead flowers which have been stripped by baboons of nutty seeds. In the wild Heather I spy the Spurfowl rummaging through the undergrowth and Thick-knees doing the odd ‘roadrunner’ impersonation. As the sunset rays hit the front lawn, these birds move like lightning and both have such distinctive calls.
Keeping bees has been a learning curve for me out here in ‘the sticks’ as we say. From the preferred bee flowers and plants to providing all year round ‘bee food’, which relates into planting flowers for all seasons.
That is a challenge – ‘all indigenous’ gardens are ‘party time’ in Summer, but like deserts for bees in Winter. (The queen is starved, she lays less, the workers die off, the colony gets weaker, the wax moth gets in and the empire collapses….in a nutshell)
So, she’s asks for Aloes, Red Hot Pokers, Flowering Gums (Corymbias), Weeping Bottlebrush, flowering herbs like Rosemary and Thyme, even some flowering grasses and many more.
Right now, Spring has brought the Lavenders, Osteospurnums, Peach, Orange blossom, Cape May, even Oak flower (totally insignificant but humming with bees) into full flower. Pollen and nectar are abundant! The female worker bees are all out and about, frantically harvesting and pollinating, while the male drones guard the hives and their Queen. The Drongos are setting up their ambush spots to flick down and nab a worker bee as she staggers into the hive with her sweet load!
So our gardens are havens, larders and sources of inspiration!
And Life goes on… Bee a part of it, not apart from it.