Last update: April 11, 2012 08:09:55 AM E-mail Print


Reclamation of an Eroded Farm

The Achievement of a Karoo Farmer

M. C. H. Rode


ONE of the oldest farms in the Middelburg district is Olyvenboom, which lies in a valley at the foot of the 7,000 feet high Wapadsberg. Blessed with a strongly running spring and beautiful "vleis", and sheltered against cold winds, Olyvenboom was ideally situated for the cultivation of extensive lands and the construction of a water mill: Favoured by the fortunate position of the farm, industrious farmers became wealthy there. Not only did the crops harvested on the farm provide the mill with work but thousands of bags of wheat were brought from the surrounding district for milling.

Upon the arrival of the railway, however, and the construction of a new main road, the farm lost much of its importance and only the wheat from the nearest farms was sent to the Olyvenboom mill. In consequence of the loss of these additional sources of income, the owners of the farm were compelled to rely exclusively upon the soil of Olyvenboom for their livelihood. The arable lands in the valleys and against the slopes of the mountains were extended and consequently the grazing veld had to carry more than the maximum number of stock.

As a result of this the soil soon began to erode along the mountain slopes, which had been denuded by stock. The fertile soil of the sloping, ploughed lands was washed away, everywhere sluits were formed, the soil became exhausted and the spring practically dried up, with the result that even the old water mill fell into disuse and a state of disrepair. Year after year things grew worse and worse, and while the owners were vainly seeking for the causes of the trouble and for possible solutions, Olyvenboom had reached a state of extreme neglect and degeneration.


Reclamation of the Farm

Fortunately, however, the present owner began the reclamation of the farm with determination, industriousness and perseverance.

In the accompanying sketch (Fig. 1) the farm is shown as it was at its worst. Sluits intersected and drained the most valuable portions. On the Iande the wheat grew sparsely and seldom reached a height of more than 18 inches. The "vleis" had become altogether silted up with sand and rubble from the hillsides and the grass which grew there was choked with weeds. All these things were gradually improved, however, until the struggle was won. The various efforts made to reclaim the farm are briefly described below.



The first step in this work of reclamation was to close up the side sluits. Embankments and stone-in-wire aprons were constructed and poplar trees planted in the worst of these. In addition, only one channel was left for floodwater by blocking up the others with stone breastworks. With the assistance granted under the Soil Erosion Scheme numerous sluits above the spring were blocked up with embankments so that rainwater was conserved in every donga.

The immediate result of these measures was that the sluits began to silt up and vegetation increased. The spring ran strongly again and became permanent. Then the irrigation dam No.1 (Fig. II) near the homestead was repaired and enlarged. The dam wall was planted with Kikuyu grass. A new garden could be laid out and even the old mill resumed its former function.

In the main sluit below the spring a weir was constructed with connecting furrows so that dam No.2 was built and could be filled with flood Or spring water. As a result of this, lands lying below this dam were ploughed along the contours and irrigated. The sluits which formerly existed here disappeared and were levelled.

Poplar trees were planted along the sluit and in time formed a dense stand, resulting in partial silting up of the deep sluits. The sloping banks were then further protected by planting aloes.

Finally, the large sluit was fenced in and here the most important part of the repair-work was undertaken. The grass and shrubs among the aloes could thus form a thick carpet and prevent erosion of the banks from taking place. The dense poplar stand also regulated the water so effectively that the possibility of erosion lower down was considerably reduced and with the aid of ordinary reeds was completely eliminated.

At the lower end of the "vIei" advantage was taken of a favourably situated rock-bed in the sluit on which to build a weir, thereby enabling a new water conservation dam to be gained. What is more, a pump and a reservoir with drinking troughs were erected at this weir in order to prevent the banks and plant growth from being damaged by stock. The abundance of water here immediately suggested new plans and so dam No. 3 was built in that vicinity. With good rains the dam could be filled with water from the kloof only, but now this can also be done with the aid of the strong pump.

The laying out of new lands was then considered, but as the old road intersected the whole area, a considerable change was necessary here. Consequently, a new road was constructed along the mountain slope and where the old road had been, lucerne lands were laid out on terraces which could be irrigated from the dam. The owners then went one step further. In order to save the pump as much wear and tear as possible, dams No.2 and 3 were connected with a furrow so that superfluous floodwater could be conducted from dam No. 2 to dam No.3. The furrow was constructed along the foot of the mountain and where it intersected two mountain channels it was provided with overflow walls which prevent floodwater from damaging the furrow.

The old lands below the homestead were also altered because the old road now falls away and the lands are ploughed along the contour. Fertilizers now applied are no longer washed away.



In Fig. II all these improvements are shown. Mention can also be made of the fact that the improvement of the veld and mountain slopes during the process of reclamation was borne in mind; the veld became re-established after the adoption of a regular system of fencing and grazing.

Soil erosion reclamation works, backed by energy and determination, have in this case restored a semi-devastated farm and given it a new lease of life while the owner has been richly rewarded for his far-sighted industry. His example should serve as an encouragement to others who are confronted with the same problem.



Farming in South Africa 16