green at heart: boschendal's visionary food garden
At Boschendal Estate’s bio-friendly food garden, chard flourishes alongside cornflowers, and celery with African marigolds that chase away soil nematodes.
With eight hectares of organically grown fruit, vegetables, herbs, cut flowers and more than 40 species of edible flowers, it's exactly what Boschendal envisaged in 2013 when it began turning the farm into a socially and environmentally conscious producer of food.
Today, wine grapes are just a fraction of its produce, which includes Black Angus beef and free-range pork from brown Duroc pigs that run in the forest behind the food garden.
Originally a wine farm established by French Huguenots in 1685, and later one of mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes' fruit farms, Boschendal in 2018 is a diverse agrilandscape. 'Every plant has a reason for being here,' says food garden manager Megan McCarthy.
The garden's construction began early in 2015 on the site of an old pear orchard. Hard landscaping was done by Jan Blok, and the design based on a heritage-style potager. Beds were laid out between ornamental obelisks of viburnum trees and a central rill, now a paddling spot favoured by children. That July, perennials, hedges and herbs were planted. 'All over the farm, teams cleared swathes of invasive alien trees, particularly wattle.
Some of the ponds hadn't had water in them for years – and almost overnight, the water came back. It was very exciting,' recalls Megan. 'Good old organic’ farming methods are combined with elements of permaculture and biodynamic farming. (Snails and slugs were virtually absent from the garden last winter, thanks to a flock of Indian runner ducks.) Everything possible is done to improve soil quality: planting cover crops to boost natural compost production; using a bio char that turns alien biomatter into a soil enhancer; composting on a grand scale; and using mobile chicken units. 'Hens work like a bomb,' says Megan.
'They loosen and fertilise the soil, and eat all the bugs and weeds. After they've been there, you can plant immediately.' The food garden is a hive of activity, employing 14 permanent staff and a few casuals. 'If you eat every week, you've got to harvest every week, and plant every week,' says Megan, who oversees vegetable production.
The food garden supplies the estate's seven catering concerns, its picnics, Boschendal at Oude Bank eatery in Stellenbosch, as well as other online organic stores, restaurants and events companies.