The Goukou Nursery Chronicles.

We’re going to build a Nursery we said…
What a wonderful idea…right…?
Little did we know…

Our very own Kezia portrays a visual journey of the development of the Goukou Rehabilitation Nursery.

Kezia is the Research and Rehabilitation Co-Ordinator and Nursery Manager for the Goukou Resilient River Project

Goukou Resilient River Logo

The Goukou Resilient River Project is tasked to halt the biodiversity loss and rehabilitate wetland areas within the Goukou River Catchment.

The project was actively initialised in 2019 in the Riversdale district but planning started in 2018. It is currently in its research and development phase.
The Goukou River forms part of the Gouritz River Catchment which was identified as an area of priority by various Conservation Agencies.
There are many factors that drive the current instabilities and degeneration of our rivers and the challenge is to address these factors in an ever-changing socio-economical, environmental and political environment. It is vital to the success of such a project to establish an effective long-term rehabilitation plan with dedicated role players who will educate, mediate, implement and maintain the necessary changes.

Some of Our Challenges

  • Ignorance
  • Monoculture and Chemical Farming
  • Decline of self-sustainable living

For those who are interested in learning more about the important issues
Some key concepts with a few references:

Soil regeneration (Dr Elaine Ingham – Soil Microbes, John D. Liu – Loess Plateau in China)
Regenerative Agriculture (USA’s Gabe Brown, Dr Vandana Shiva)
Carbon Draw Down Initiative –
Netflix – Kiss the Ground movie
Reap versus cultivate (a term I use from observing current farming practices)


  1. Use the project as a platform for Scientific Research and Education.
  2. Initialise the halt of biodiversity loss in the upper catchment area of the Goukou River
  3. Establish sustainable methods of river and wetland rehabilitation
  4. Create awareness with farmers and other role players on issues like soil regeneration and regenerative farming methods and encourage them to get involved in a long-term rehabilitation effort
  5. Create jobs and supply training to members of the local community
  6. Build up a team with diverse knowledge and experience to ultimately become a service provider for future change 

The Goukou Rehabilitation Nursery forms part of this research and development phase and strives to address some or all of the project’s objectives. It is situated within the upper catchment of the Goukou River where trials will be conducted to initialise the process.

The Nursery will serve a dual purpose:

  1. To provide specific indigenous plant species to the trial sites at the Klein Rivier Research Project and to other projects within the GCBR.
  2. To serve as a skills development facility.

The trial sites will be just big enough to establish the viability and efficacy of our planned rehabilitation and Alien Plant Management methods and to use the experience gained for bigger projects in the future.



First, we had to find a location for the Nursery within our project area but it also needed a house for me to live in. Yah right … I’d been looking for a place since January 2019.



Riversdale is your typical small town … in these small communities there is nothing more dangerous than an outsider! We are called “inkommers/ incomers” (and after 20 years of living here you will still be an “incomer”).


A Piece Of Land

So finding a piece of land with a house to rent proved to be near impossible but after a year of searching, many disappointments and crazy frustration, things fell into place and on the 2nd of November 2019 we found the perfect location and a weird “house” aka a revamped stable. Well, I was just too happy about it to see all the cracks, wet foundation and uneven floors … The land was right next to one of the rivers that flow into the beautiful Broomvlei wetland and also close to the rehabilitation sites.

Goukou Nursery Chronicles


Nursery Site

Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation

The new site

Rough & Littered

The new site was rough and littered with all kinds of stuff. We had to get rid of huge Eucalyptus stumps which were left over from a previous clearing operation of the Landowner. He applied for a burn permit and got rid of the giant old stumps … a bit sad in a way. The wattle was cleared away and an excavator made the area a bit more level.
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A bit of a


There was a bit of a conundrum … we will need strong enough plants to establish in the rehabilitation areas and we need them within the next year and a half but we are only just starting to build the Nursery. Fortunately, I’ve been collecting seed all over the Upper Catchment since 2019 and I started sowing some of the species we will need the most of. My own nursery was small but we squeezed seed trays into every available space.
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Nothing quite like watching the germination process! It makes me feel really humble and also makes me do a wild dance … to the amusement of the newbies. Nature’s reward for your caring patience. And then we sowed again in February 2020. I had seed trays everywhere but the excitement was wonderful!
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North West Wind


How would you design a Nursery’s structure if the farmers in the area have this nervous look on their faces when they say to you “yah the North-West wind is hectic” (as if they’re not quite sure how to prepare you)? We needed a tunnel, an area covered with shade net, secure storage, work space under a roof and staff facilities. All of that was going to cost loads of money and a logistical nightmare to get it here and set up … so I thought why not put all of that into one structure and build it with poles … for the North-West wind …

February 2020

Building started

Finding a “capable” builder in our little town was the next challenge but we found a brave soul and we began the project at the beginning of February 2020. We got a digger to take more soil out of the hill so we could fit the Nursery into the available area.
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A Soil Stabiliser and Erosion Prohibitor

Vetiver grass

One of our research trials is the efficacy of Vetiver grass as a soil stabiliser and erosion prohibitor. They use it all over the world and there are even a few projects in South Africa. Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape are some of the bigger projects that I knew of but getting slips from them was going to be expensive due to transport… I was lucky enough to know someone who had Vetiver growing on his farm which he brought down from Northern KwaZulu-Natal 18 years ago, the plants were in desperate need of attention and lucky for them they were to be relocated to my veggie patch with ample compost and manure. The trough was a good idea! I got it to mix compost in and to process all the aquatic plants we plan to use in the river beds. Vetiver grows in clumps, like a typical perennial clump grass but ours were badly neglected and there were parts that were dead and rotten. We sorted through them and split the living parts up into single, rooted slips.

The slightest

Signs of life

The roots that showed the slightest signs of life were kept in water to see if they wanted to live and we actually did have a few that survived. We planted them on the 14th February 2020, about 139 shoots. After about two months we had 132 that rooted and they were loving it in the veggie patch.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation Vetiver Grass



By the end of May 2020 they surpassed my wildest expectations. From one shoot we should be able to harvest an average of eight new shoots.


Vetiver zizaniodes

There are various species of this perennial grass. Most of them are sterile and do not produce a viable seed. One way to propagate them is by splitting the clump into single root slips. Plants produced from tissue culture is a method used by commercial producers. The number of applications for Vetiver is mind boggling! Not only for the repair of erosion on steep terrain and river banks but for water flow control and water filtration. It is possible to create mobile or permanent water filtration systems for cleaning up natural water bodies and to process certain agricultural waste. It is used as building material and aromatic fly screens in some parts of the world. The essential oil extracted from the roots has aromatic, sedative and antiseptic therapeutic properties and is also used in perfume making, hair care, soaps and cosmetics. The roots are used in India to make khus essence which is used in flavouring food and fruit drinks. This plant also has potential for creating additional income for the progressive farmers practicing Regenerative Agriculture!
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The road to

The Nursery

We had to do something about the road to the Nursery … just a light rain shower made it inaccessible so we had a mountain of wood shavings delivered from a timber yard. The truck was too long for the entrance and he had to dump it at another location about 1 km away. It was quite a task to move the mountain to where we wanted it. Load after load after load … ….we had a road and delivery of building materials and water got much easier.
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The newbies

Training Dwayne, Janine & Kevin. I really wanted to give the local farm people the opportunity to work and learn at the Nursery. Some had a little experience working in vegetable gardens but there were a lot of aspects of Nursery work for them to learn! Sowing and planting techniques, making and growing cuttings, caring for plants, working with recipes, making compost, tool maintenance to mention a few …

Starting with

The basics

I started with the basics – Zantedeschia aethiopica was excellent for training material. They grow easily from seed, are not too sensitive to the transplanting process and get plenty of big fat worms to teach the newbies about worm spotting. The seedlings, ready to be transplanted.
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In the meantime construction progressed very well. And on the 11th of March 2020 the roof started appearing. On the 25th of March we had a completed roof.
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A global


And then the COVID-19 lock-down happened … everything came to a stop and we had to wait it out. Luckily, I had the plants to keep me occupied and they were growing like mad! I had to start planting them into bigger containers and space was limited, we had to be able to move them when necessary so I packed them into every available crate and wire basket I had. As the saying goes “this was not my first rodeo”. I’ve always had plants and I have moved many times … sometimes I had more plants to move than furniture!
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A plan

Gary and his team played an integral role in the construction project. His enthusiasm is contagious and he always has a plan! Pipe works for the facilities.



Runoff water is always a problem in a nursery so I had to think of a way to manage it. The plan is to spread wattle chips throughout the Nursery in the beginning and later lay down a layer of plastic underneath the plant containers (this will save money on the initial layout cost for other more important things). Gary and his team dug trenches around the structure, lined them with damp core and filled them with rocks. This should prevent irrigation water from causing a muddy mess inside the Nursery. We connected them at an angle to take the water out of the Nursery and into a little “pond” where it can soak away. I think Lemongrass (used in insect deterrents) will work well around the pond.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation



The wattle came in handy again when we had to use something to close up parts of the structure. The clearing teams were busy clearing sections with young wattle on them and Gary and his team stripped the bark off.

Preparation of the Open

In-Situ Propagation Area

The preparation of the open, in-situ propagation area started by mowing the weeds and small black wattle and covering it with a thick layer of oats straw. This method is quite effective on this scale. The dead weed layer underneath the straw decomposes and enriches the soil. All we still have to do now is get the irrigation going and then in September/ October 2020 we can plant the Vetiver into a hole dug in the straw. We used wattle chips on the paths and around the blocks, covering any exposed soil. This method not only adds nutrients and carbon to the soil, it also keeps moisture in the soil and helps to suppress weed and wattle germination. I just hope we have enough space to multiply the Vetiver to get the quantities we need for the Rehabilitation trial!
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation

27 June 2020

The first storm

We were just getting back on track after the lock down ended when the Nursery had its first wind test … yah … it didn’t keep all its bits together … The experts say it was because the shade net wasn’t put up yet to help keep the wind from getting underneath the IBR sheets but it was still heart breaking to see the roof sheets blowing away in the wind! Even the locals called it “a bad wind” but now I know where I needed to make improvements for future wind storms. Working with a tight budget is like confronting a pofadder … it is very likely to bite you just when you think you’re ok. It is tricky to know which items you should try to save money on. The roof structure is not something you want to save money on and I will now have to add more timber to fix the roof sheets onto.

But the structure

Is sound!

It took Gary and his team a few days to take the broken materials down but I thought we had better get it off before there was an accident. We can use most of it again in different parts of the Nursery and won’t waste it all. But now we had to wait out the stormy season until later in August 2020. We are waiting anyway for the shade net supplier to get its factory running again.
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We have plenty of work to go on with and started cleaning up around the Nursery. The steep hill next to the Nursery where we had to move the dead eucalyptus stumps is rough and has loose soil which we still have to stabilise and plant. Gary and his team dragged all the dead bio-mass off the slope and chipped it and then took out all the invasive weeds leaving the Leonotis, Bitou, dandelion, rib wort plantain and a few indigenous groundcover species. I still have to find Carpobrotus and Helichrysum to plant there, it covers a slope like this within a few seasons … wonderful groundcover!

Photo of 5 March 2020

The Embankment Before we Started Cleaning Up

Zeus’s wrath (the wood chipper)… chipping wattle. We had bio-mass from the initial site clearing which was in our way so we used the chips for a small composting trial and the rest was used to cover some of the surface areas in the Nursery. Zeus was procured to form part of the alien plant clearing project. There is a lot of bio-mass that such an operation produces. It made sense to utilise it in a way that will assist in suppressing the germination of the wattle seed and to protect and rejuvenate open soil. The chipper can be moved into the blocks and the chips are then spread as a mulch.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation

12 July 2020

The second storm

Nothing like I’ve ever experienced before! There were gusts of 160km per hour…It was EPIC! It started the Sunday afternoon and just got stronger and stronger. By around 10pm that night the Eskom power went out … as if it wasn’t enough that the roof sheets of my house were getting dangerously close to lifting off and the wind sounding like deranged screaming … flying tree branches hitting the roof … I had to have complete darkness around me to add to my hysterical nervous system too. During the next few days, we found out that the Eskom cables were severed in four places. A few big Eucalyptus trees were up-rooted on top of the cable, on another farm the cable ended up in a dam and further along the line it was twisted around more fallen down trees … it was like walking into The Twilight Zone when I came out of my house after the storm … devastation everywhere … many houses and quite a few farm sheds were either without roofs or blown away completely. It took Eskom six days to get the cable fixed and even longer for the farms further down the line.

And still

The structure is strong

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Picking up

The pieces

We had to continue with the construction project, time was running out and the growing season was approaching fast. So, we picked up the pieces (literally) and we made it stronger.

Wind and water


We used the damaged IBR sheets to clad the store room, making it more wind and water tight.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation

Garage doors

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I found second hand garage doors and got them fixed up to close up the entrances. Rita (Project Manager for the Goukou Project), doing a site visit.

17th of August 2020

A nef roof

The new roof was finished on the 17th of August 2020. Then we waited for the shade net.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation


After the storm

The open propagation beds were in a disarray after the storm. We had to get the beds and irrigation ready as soon as possible to catch the growing season for the vetiver grass.


Root System

They’ve been growing in my veggie garden since February 2020 when we planted about 139 slips. They formed strong clumps and if we re-plant them now and then again in February 2021, we will have a good supply of slips to use on the river’s erosion repair project. I was amazed to see the strong root systems the plants grew in such a short time and some of the plants made about 18 new “slips”.
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Spitting & Trimming


The process of splitting and trimming was another training opportunity for the newbies. We had about 700 slips at the end. We tied them up in bundles of 10 and kept them in water until we could plant them into the prepared beds.

1 month later

Looking Good

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When we started work on the embankment again it was lush with all sorts of vegetation as it was the garden waste dump (at least we can make compost with all the “weeds”). The girls got stuck into the landscaping and smoothed it out a little.



And then at last the shade net arrived … after waiting for the factory to get started again after lock down and then a strike which lead to a halt in production for a while. After finishing the hill the girls started digging the trench to secure the net after attaching it to the poles. We have amazing women in our teams!
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation


The shade net

Gary and his team attaching the shade net to the pole structure. Bottom ends buried and tidied up.



I had to make a plan with the open soil. The slope was steep and was just waiting for a good rain shower to deliver all the loose soil to the bottom and I didn’t want that to happen after all the hard work. We used erosion repair materials to secure the soil and created a beautiful “hill” which was ideal to plant trees and shrubs on. This was good experience for this group of people as the technique we used here is similar to what will be used in the trial blocks. The guys sharpened wattle “droppers” and we hammered them into the ground to secure the erosion “worms” – worked like a charm! We shortened the “droppers” and made sure they were well secured. We had a heap of old pine bark and used that to mulch in between the “worms”.
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation

Things were getting


I had quite a few indigenous trees and shrubs in my own nursery which I donated to the Goukou Nursery and the hill was the ideal spot to plant them. The irrigation was installed and the newbies were trained to plant trees. Things were getting crazy! With all the time wasted during the lock down the growing season was here but the Nursery was far from finished and I could not use it yet. I started sowing again at my own nursery but the seedlings I sowed in February 2020 were more than ready to be planted out into bigger containers. Rita got the teams together and we all put effort into finishing up.

Creating a

Cover layer

We still had to create a cover layer on the surface inside and in front of the Nursery otherwise the weeds and grass were going to become a problem. The teams cleared young wattle from an area close to the Nursery and Zeus was put to work again. We needed a mountain of chips to cover the whole area. The idea was again to make use of the wattle (ample supply).
Goukou Rehab Nursery Conservation



The wattle was chipped onto the vehicles and then offloaded and spread open.



We started with the irrigation while the chips were being spread, hopefully we can soon move the plants in.



The seedlings were bursting out of their trays, we were so close to moving! These are a few of the species we have grown so far: The plants we transplanted earlier in the year had done very well through the stormy winter and were ready to be moved to the Nursery.



These are all species which grow in this area. The shrubs have a wide spreading form to cover a bigger area of soil than say a tree and they form a thicket (woven into each other). The trees are locally indigenous and well adapted to the local conditions. Our trial areas are riparian zones and river banks so we still have to propagate the water plants like Cyperus textilis and Wachendorfia thyrsiflora to name a few.
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The timber we used for the tray tables were going to get water every day and they would not last very long. We used old oil to paint the timber and made sure the oil didn’t get in contact with the soil.

12 October 2020

At last

The Goukou Rehabilitation Nursery
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It took a few trips to get all the plants down to the Nursery but the crates and wire baskets made it much easier. I cannot describe the feeling when I opened the irrigation to water the neatly packed plants for the first time!!! 8 months felt like 8 years … 2020 has been quite a challenge…


The growing medium

The newbies immediately got stuck into preparing the growing medium, aka potting soil and started transplanting all the seedlings. We will be collecting seeds again soon and also start with the cuttings and the transplanting of the next batch of seedlings busy growing in the nursery at my house.
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But first

We Have A Food Garden Project

…to keep us busy until then.
Kezia Botes - Board - Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve

Compiled by & photos courtesy of

Kezia Botes

Research & Rehabilitation Co-Ordinator and Nursery Manager Goukou Resilient River Project