20 March, 2017

Cape Town's drought and spekboom

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

As we count down the days to empty dams, Dozen for Diana in March is tough enough to survive elephants. Spekboom or porkbush. Portulacaria afra. The elephants are right, the tiny leaves are edible. Lemony flavour in salad.

Spekboom in Porterville

Completing my False Bay choice in Dozen for Diana

Water restrictions encourage us to use grey water in the garden. I miss the grey water system we installed in Porterville when we built the house.

Grey water system
November 2009 Porterville

The spekboom in this False Bay garden comes from cuttings of the Porterville plants. There summer temperatures reach 40C. In desperation we built a shade 'house' for our poor compost bins. Those spekboom reached about 3 metres high.

At the back spekboom hedge to shade compost bins
2013 Porterville 

Grey water harvesting. The Ungardener tweaked the drainpipe from the bath so we can leave the bathwater in overnight. The washing machine drains into basins (pictured is two loads, about 100 litres). We have a grey water sign in the window, as our neighbours mostly have borehole signs. In the distance smoke from a fire at Hout Bay.

Know Your Water (Thundafund) - 3 Stellenbosch students are currently circling the country taking samples from boreholes. Analysing tritium will tell them how old (in which year did it fall as rain) each underground sample is. Then we will know something about recharge rates for the offended borehole users who when challenged whine - but I'm a good guy, saving the drinking water in the dam!

Grey water in False Bay

Spekboom in the wild at Addo builds thickets dense and tall enough to hide herds of elephants. It is a good plant for carbon capture, able to grow in a challenging environment. Its fallen leaves build up better soil.

Elephants eating spekboom
Addo in March 2010

Hedgelet below the kitchen window prevents the Ungardener shortcutting off the steep side of the steps. Another screens the compost bin and our plastic watering cans for the four-legged grey water system.

Spekboom hedgelets

The fresh growth coming thru as we head into autumn coolth is a golden apple green. The older leaves a deep jade green, with hints of blue. For Pam @ Digging in Austin, Texas and Her Foliage Followup.

Portulacaria afra leaves
young and old

Our tallest spekboom hedge is this view from the kitchen window, which we watch as it makes its way up to the trellis. Bookended by granadilla and Senecio climber.

Spekboom from the kitchen

Spekboom hedge on the East Patio
with Septemberbossie left

On Facebook is Watershedding Western Cape. False Bay's tap water comes from Theewaterskloof dam which is down to 25% with the last 10% not accessible.

(I am too guilty to bath, unless extreme gardening leaves me creaking). We shower standing in a baby bath to catch the water. That supplies the toilet cistern (which we have also adjusted to use half the volume of water). I am disappointed that my Bosch washing machine only has a 15 minute programme to avoid the second rinse.

The city has a target aiming to reduce consumption from 800 to 700, but we stick at 750 Ml/d. Mains pressure is being reduced and we turned down the pressure to our house. Harvest rainwater; recycle used water, water catchment in landscape and NIMBY.

Marijke Honig designed the Biodiversity Garden at the Green Point Urban Park.

'Water-wise gardening - it is predicted that as a consequence of climate change, rainfall will be more erratic and less sharply seasonal. This summer in Cape Town seems to be a case in point: we received a big rainfall event in December and another downpour a month later – very unusual for January'

Despite the drought our garden got 39mm in December 2016 (2015 17mm, 2014 11?mm) and 17mm in January 2017 (2016 07mm, 2015 06mm). A rain water tank in our future??

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Pictures by Jürg and Diana Studer
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