Black gold in the Maluti Mountains

Carol-Ann Heller, worm farmer and educator

.The rugged Maluti Mountains rise as a picturesque backdrop to ploughed fields and vegetable patches cultivated by members of the commune where I originally found my spiritual home in 2005.   Fresh icy winds invigorate during winter; welcome splashes in the river cool off in the hot summer.  Horses gallop free in the veld surrounding the homesteads.  The pot-holed road to Ficksburg indicates our Lesotho border and is a veritable obstacle course during the rainy season. 

My name is Carol-Ann Heller, divorced single mother to two caring adult children and doting grandmother to a 7-year-old adorable grand-daughter.  Since early motherhood I had an inborn instinct to search for natural products that would cure my small children of their various childhood ailments.  Guided by a wonderful homeopath we steered through the minefield of coughs and aches and rashes that attacked with every change of season.  Household cleanliness was maintained with alcohol-and-poison free products, and I must have been one of the first customers in supermarkets to search the list of ingredients in products, ensuring that poison by another name was not included. 

I spent many of my early working years in various types of self-employment looking for fulfilment where the subject matter dealt with natural body development.  I longed to study but those avenues were closed to me.  Divorced and independent I embarked on my own paths.  I taught ballet; toured nursery schools with my home-made puppets dealing with natural needs and development; gave lectures to older children on the need to care for and perpetuate our natural environment; and went on educational road shows to schools lecturing on nutrition and hygiene; But always I had a nagging feeling that this work did not offer the satisfaction or solutions that I was looking for

 I was truly blessed when my searching led me to Rustlers Valley on the Lesotho border where I found a supportive community, a suitable patch of land and an answer to the challenges I had been looking for.  That answer came from worm farming – Permaculture – which is the production of Black Gold.  This is a 100% naturally pure fertilizer, the results of processing manure from the natural excretions of earthworms.  It is physical work, requires constant supervision and organisation keeping the worm beds clean and active, and requires regular harvesting, feeding and watering. 

 For many years I have stayed in the Eastern Free State area close to Ficksburg learning and working with the various earth-worm farms that I have set up over time, experimenting with methods to refine and speed up the process of producing a top quality earthworm compost. My knowledge and techniques have improved immensely over the last 16 years as I have gained much needed experience in my field of work. I have since moved on with my needs to establish this single but vital boon to the agricultural sector.  My work has also moved on and I am more involved now with educating established farmers in the merits of worm farming and composting on their own farms.  

I recently took on a business partner who is of great benefit to the direction the worm farming is taking. Ewald is well experienced and has a diploma in agriculture (cedara), is a SAQA accredited facilitator specializing in Regenerative agriculture and natural building.

Together we are in touch with farmers in Lesotho and are encouraging the Lesotho government to practice “Regenerative Agriculture” which would include worm farming. Likewise in Zimbabwe.  At present we are working on a project to establish a 300 cubic metre worm farm and composting operation which could produce 75 tons of Vermicompost a month.  What a boon this could be for South African farmers!! My head buzzes with ideas and opportunities to inform and establish this great asset in our agricultural community.  

John

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