Over the years we’ve had to do quite a lot of burning. We’ve never liked to do it but the farm was such a mess that we had no option. I avoided some burning by stacking pieces of shattered wood in circles and we compost a lot of the small stuff in compost rings made of wire and shadecloth.

Lately we have had the services of a chipper – we rent it for the day (or two, depending on how much brush we have stockpiled) and we use the wood chips as mulch on the ridges that the vines are planted on. It is a great way of avoiding burning and as a mulch it lasts for several seasons and helps spread the earthworm population.

Burning is always dangerous and I always do it when it is raining. Even if you isolate the pile you are burning, you are not safe – the real danger is embers caught in the updraft which can swirl away and start uncontrolled blazes. In rainy or drizzly weather you take this threat out of play but it is always a worry lurking at the back of your mind. It bears remembering that the fynbos is designed to burn every fifteen years or so – the seeds need fire to germinate.

It is a constant delight to see the land healing and closing over after clearing, trellising and planting. The invasive species (Black Wattle, Pine, Blackwoods, Bluegum, and Hakkea ) and fynbos do not allow grass or groundcover to grow beneath them. They leach and acidify the soil so that nothing else will grow there.

Once they are gone though, the land becomes greener and more moist. You will never find an earthworm under a pine or bluegum and I’ve never found one when I’ve worked in fynbos. Now, almost anywhere on the farm, if you turn the soil over you will find earthworms. And with the earthworms come the moles. They keep the topsoil loose and porous so when it rains the land absorbs almost all of the water, whereas previously, the bulk of the rain would run off the bare, compacted earth and into the gorge.

The lanes between the vines have become lush, soft strips of vegetation, full of yellow and purple flowers in the spring and bring the birds and the bees in numbers.