Forest Edge was featured in the April 2018 edition of Sawubona – SAA’s in-flight magazine. Forest Edge boasts multi-award-winning, eco friendly accommodation on the Garden Route, with self-catering cottages on the edge of the ancient Knysna forest. Herewith a transcript of the interview they did with the owner, Danie Jansen van Vuuren.
How are you saving water in our drought-challenged country?
In 2017 it became apparent to us that the drought in the Western Cape is here to stay and that we would need to Adapt or Die.
Being a typical South African owned business, living in one of the most beautiful regions in the world, we decided to rather ADAPT.
We used approximately 90 000 litres of water per month, that equates roughly to around 250L per person per day. That was just excessive for eco friendly accommodation on the Garden Route, and we set ourselves a savings target of 50%, getting it closer to 125L pppd. After a lot of brainstorming and research, these were the initiatives that we identified and that we implemented:
- We installed a Grey Water Recycling Plant, where we recycled all the shower, bath and washing machine water and used it to flush the toilets and run the washing machines. This has created an average saving of 75L pppd.
- We replaced all the shower heads with water efficient ones, saving on average 48L pppd.
- We upgraded our 9Kg top loader washing machine to a 16Kg washing machine, exclusively to save water and due to fact that it has double the capacity and uses 20% less water per wash, we were able to save roughly 24L pppd.
- We also added inside showers (in addition to the outside showers) to 2 of the 5 cottages to reduce bath water wastage. This created a saving of around 15L pppd.
In total we were able to save roughly 162L pppd and bring our water usage down to around 88L pppd – a 65% saving in TOTAL, something we can be proud of as eco friendly accommodation on the Garden Route.
Apart from current water-wise measures at your establishment, are you planning any future water-conservation projects to raise the bar?
We have to continue improving, the improvements we made were relatively “low hanging fruits”, the next steps will be a bit more time and capital intensive:
- Increase our rain water storage capacity (double it) in order to decrease our dependency on ground water (borehole) / municipal water (water tankers to bridge the gap during extended periods of drought) – we plan to have this done by the end of 2018.
- Convert our Grey water into potable water – 2018/19
- Install Inside Showers in all the cottages – next 3 years
What is the biggest lesson Forest Edge has learnt about saving water as South Africa becomes one of the driest countries in the world?
Although we were not nearly hit as hard by the drought as other parts of the Western & Eastern Cape, it has forced us to STOP and RETHINK about the way that we and our guests consume our natural resources. Gone are the days of limitless resources, lavish is sinful and frugal is the new normal for eco friendly accommodation on the Garden Route.
Finally, can you provide us with any other information on what makes Forest Edge eco-friendly?
- Rain water harvesting – Did you know that only 1% of Planet Earth’s water is fit for human consumption? At Forest Edge we catch, store, filter, treat and pump rain water since Forest Edge receives NO municipal water and we have had to learn to respect and treat this resource like gold. We are proud that our guests have never had to do without water, even when the town of Sedgefield ran completely out of water in the La Nina drought in Dec 2008. We have had to implement changes (e.g. considering the kind of paint used on roofs, keeping our non-asbestos gutters squeaky clean, changing to water-efficient shower heads and minimising any water loss. We have one large reservoir, 4 large storage tanks and several smaller tanks at the cottages; plus 2 ponds and an earthen dam – the latter for irrigation and our Tilapia fish. Our water is naturally soft and lab tests have always come back with clean results.
- Alien eradication – we remove alien trees where possible and process the wood for guests’ use and re-forest where funds allow.
- Recycling – most of our organic waste is fed to our donkeys, chickens, worms or directly into the compost heap; remaining garbage we have to cart away ourselves; glass goes to the recycling depot.
- Organic vegetable and fruit Food Forest – since 2012 we grow fruit and vegetables, loosely based on permaculture, no-dig beds, heirloom seed saving, companion planting, and vermiculture principles. We mulch, rotate our crops and make our own organic fertiliser using donkey droppings and comfrey. Earthworm “wee” makes a nutritious booster for plants. We make our own eco-friendly pesticides and encourage natural pest control by attracting pest predators into our garden. Diversity is key and we mix up our crops where possible, we compost and use green cover crops in winter, and, yes, we try to plant according to moon cycles too. Bees help us to pollinate our crops. We sometimes have surplus harvests to share with guests or to trade at the local weekly barter market.
- Locavores – we try to purchase most of what we consume from producers as close to home as possible; supporting one’s own community is a common-sense approach, so few modern consumers follow; we believe one should think globally but act locally
- Composting – the manure from our donkeys and chickens are used in several compost heaps. Composting saves money and mimics a natural process: it adds nutrients to the soil, helps aerate clay soils, helps with correct water retention for better conditioned soil, grows stronger, pest-resistant plants and reduces the need to fertilise. It is also a simple, fun way to get your children attuned to recycling as they can see and use the results themselves.
- Vermiculture – our worm farm breaks down some organic waste and produces ‘vermicompost’ and ‘worm tea’ to fertilise the gardens. Our earth worms mix soil better than any amount of digging and they help to break down heavy soils. They help bring deep micronutrients back to the topsoil and they produce hormones and enzymes to help increase plants’ immunity to disease. Our red wriggler earthworms require special care as they enjoy a dark, cool, quiet home and should be watered and fed suitable kitchen scraps regularly. We do not feed our worms citrus, onions, garlic, pine-apple, meat, dairy or strong spices. Whenever we plant anything, we add comfrey leaves to the bottom of the hole or bed, and add a handful of earthworms to bless our efforts : – )
- Free range Chickens – our pet chickens provide pest-control, poop, soil prep, eggs, and meditative value (sit with them a while and be astounded how relaxing it is!) They require special care: a protected well-ventilated but not draughty coop; having a wing clipped to stop them from escaping, cover against raptors, proper bird fencing against Genets, a large area to free-range in, plenty sun, a sandy patch for a dust bath, clean water and, of course, some kitchen scraps to supplement their diet. They need to be treated for lice and we also line their nests with Wormwood to help us in this regard. There is nothing like a thick-shelled organic free-range egg with dark yellow yolk fresh from the nest – yum!
- Pet Donkeys – Our famous and well-loved donkeys, Hansel and Gretel, eat grass and organic scraps and provide wonderful manure in turn. They do require loads of special care though! We supplement their feed with lucerne and cube-feed, we have to administer horse-sickness shots and the farrier has to visit regularly to do their “pedicure”. They have to be brushed regularly to guard against ticks and to help keep them tame and clean. We have to protect them from fly infestations and provide an area shielded from rain and wind. They were rescued from someone overworking them for carting, so we do not allow them to be ridden or used for pulling anything. We used to allow them free range of the entire property, but it became impossible to try and settle a beautiful garden, so they now live in the western camp where there is shelter and water and they are seldom alone. Guests like to feed them carrots and apples and the kids enjoy brushing them to. Parents, supervision around large animals is always recommended: teach your children to never stand behind a horse or donkey or to hit, make sudden movements or threaten them with sticks etc.