Meijer’s Rust Restoration

ReStory narrator: Andrew Ardington & Barry Meijer

In 2010, Barry Meijer returned from the United States where he had lived for the last 35 years. He’d had great memories of his time in the army at Oudtshoorn so he decided to buy a farm there. Barry had grown up on a farm near Eshowe and, while running his garden services business in California, he had done some sideline farming of oats and barley, so he knew a little about farming. When he started farming at Meijer’s Rust in Meiringspoort near the town of De Rust he continued what had been done there before and if he needed any advice, he asked the neighbours.

The majority of the farm was wild mountainous Karoo country but the arable parts had been ploughed and used as ostrich paddocks for decades. The ground was bare, depleted and sun baked, but with the help of synthetic fertilisers and water from the mountains captured in dams, Barry was able to get a crop of oats and barley off the fields each year. For his roaming herd of Bonsmara cattle, the hills and mountains were their source of food, primarily spekboom.

After a number of years of doing this, Barry felt frustrated by the volume of precious water that ran off the soil when he irrigated the crops. He could see that he was getting very little “effective rain” as both the rain and irrigated water did not infiltrate the depleted soils. It literally repelled the water.

Totally depleted, water repellent soil

Barry thought that there must be a chemical available on the market to deal with this, we had after all invented a technical “fix” for most of this type of problem. So in the evening Barry took to the internet. He did not find this chemical – remarkably no one has invented a poison that claims it can do this. Fortunately, he did come across a YouTube conversation between Buz Kloot (a South African doing great regenerative work in the US) and the now-famous Ray Archuleta. And there Barry started his process of learning how it is the organic matter and carbon in the soil that opens up the pores in the soil which allows the water to infiltrate and be stored.

So Barry set about turning his dead soils into living soils, his dirt to soil. He started irrigating the bare earth until something started to grow. What came to the rescue was Cynodon dactylon (kweek gras, couch grass), which, like other “weeds” has the remarkable ability to grow without the assistance of mycorrhizal fungi (although it performs better once the fungi returns). When there was a good spread of kweek gras over the field Barry planted his multi-species mix straight into the kweek. And the mix (including legumes and brassicas) started to grow.

Kweek gras starting to cover the land

The Bonsmara cattle now enter the restoration story. It must have been something of a shock to them to be herded onto this lush carpet for the first time. The cows are moved three times a day, grazing their way across the new pastures. With three daily moves the cattle are able to be packed tightly together and this leads to non-selective grazing and lots of trampling and hoof impact. Barry also plans his moves so that each area of grass gets at least 40 days rest before it gets grazed again allowing the plants to regrow, build up root strength and sequester carbon before the next defoliation. The next thing Barry added to the mix was the inoculation of the seeds with his homemade compost tea just before planting so that the plants start off life with a biological boost.

Four years later, without the application of any synthetic fertiliser, Barry has verdant pastures where once he had dirt, kikuyu grass has introduced itself (from where it is not known) and when he irrigates his fields none of his precious Karoo water runs off his soil.

Knee high multi-species pasture with clover and self-introduced kikuyu dominating
Barry Meijer with a very appreciative herd of wild eland on his lush pastures

One thought on “Meijer’s Rust Restoration

  • April 8, 2021 at 7:45 pm
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    I WORKED HAND IN HAND WITH BARRY MEIJER IN THE UNITED STATES FOR SEVERAL YEARS. HE THINKS “OUTSIDE THE BOX”, AS FEW PEOPLE DO ! I WORKED FOR THE DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION IN CALIFORNIA. I HELD THE POSITION OF LANDSCAPE SPECIALIST & AREA SUPT. FOR THE FREEWAY SYSTEM IN LOS ANGELES AREA. BARRY AND I BECAME FRIENDS & WE BECAME A TEAM. JUST BY CHANCE WE TALKED ABOUT WHAT WE CALLED PLANTS IN AMERICA & HE WOULD TELL ME WHAT IT WAS CALLED IN SOUTH AFRICA. THRU THAT EXCHANGE WE WORKED OUT A PLAN TO TAKE WASTE MATERIAL FROM A TRASH SERVICE COMPANY THAT HAD CONTAMINATED GREEN WASTE WITH BROKEN GLASS. HE WOULD GET PAID (BY THE TRASH COMPANY) FOR TAKING THAT MATERIAL. THEY HAD NO ONE WILLING TO TAKE IT EXCEPT BARRY. AT THE TIME THE CALIFORNIA FREEWAY SYSTEM WAS PAYING $36.00 DOLLARS A CUBIC YARD TO HAVE MULCH BLOWN IN PLACE AS A WEED PREVENTER. I MADE A PLAN WITH BARRY THAT HE WOULD DUMP & SPREAD HIS MATERIAL ON FREEWAY RIGHT OF WAY AND SPREAD IT OUT FOR FREE. HE GOT MORE MONEY THAN HE NEEDED TO DO THE JOB & THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAVED TONS OF MONEY. WIN / WIN ! ONLY BARRY COULD DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT !

    THIS MATERIAL WAS 90% GRASS CLIPPINGS AND 10% GLASS THAT HAD BEEN TUMBLED, SO NO SHARP PIECES. SMALL PIECES OF GLASS THAT NO ONE WANTED IN THEIR MULCH. THE TRASH CO WAS UNDER ORDERS TO GET RID OF THIS HUGE AMOUNT OF WASTE ANY WAY THEY COULD. ONLY BARRY COULD MAKE THAT WORK. THIS MATERIAL WOULD NOT CATCH FIRE WHERE WE PLACED IT IN THE FREEWAY AREAS. OTHER MULCH WOULD CAUSE A FIRE WHERE SOMEONE WOULD THROW THEIR CIG OUT THE CAR WINDOW WHILE DRIVING. IT WOULD SLOWLY SMOLDER FOR DAYS WHICH WOULD ALLOW US TO SEE THERE WAS A PROBLEM. IT WOULD START AS A RING AND JUST BECOME A LARGER RING. IT WORKED TO STOP MOST WEEDS FROM GROWING ALONG THE FREEWAY.
    ONLY BARRY COULD FIND MORE WAYS TO USE MATERIAL THAT NOBODY ELSE WANTED.
    AGAIN HE STARTED A WORM FARM USING THAT MATERIAL AS THE BASE PRODUCT FORTHE WORMS TO LIVE IN AND THRIVE. HIS LAND FOR THE WORM FARM WAS AN OLD DAIRY PROPERTY ON A STREET THAT HAD WASTE WATER FROM A WORKING DAIRY JUST DOWN THE STREET PASSING HIS LAND EVERYDAY. HE DUG A LARGE PIT TO CAPTURE THE RUNOFF WATER DAILY. THEN PUMPED IT ONTO THE WORM MATERIAL TO MAINTAIN TO WORMS.
    WORM CASTINGS ARE WORTH MORE MONEY & IF YOU ARE GETTING PAID TO TAKE THE MATERIAL THEY LIVE IN AND GETTING FREE RUNOFF WATER TO KEEP THEM MOIST, JUST ANOTHER WIN/WIN !
    ONLY BARRY COULD FIGURE THESE THINGS OUT ! I HAVE BEEN TO HIS FARM MANY TIMES & THINK HE REALLY DOES THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. THE FARM REALLY SHOWS THAT FACT.
    WAY MORE TO SAY ABOUT BARRY MEIJER, BUT THAT IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBURG FOR NOW !!!

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