cannery cowpea

Pliny the elder began his voluminous encyclopaedia with advice on agriculture and husbandry: crop rotation and the like. He realised that the state needed the solid foundation of dependable food supply. White River in the 1950s did not yet have the big agricultural estates that lay further afield, around Nelspruit and Karino, where farms like Crocodile Estate were moving in the direction of large-scale efficiency. H.L. Hall and Sons had a number of big farms with managers, a factory and a cannery. They were run like businesses, and although Pliny would no doubt have been fascinated, he would have found many of the details alien and unfamiliar. Not so Luitingh’s Guest Farm, where only the engines, tractors and motor-cars that have taken the place of oxen and slaves as sources of energy would have startled that bulky Roman. Everything else, from the cement foundations to the thatch peaks of the rondavels would have seemed familiar, even primitive. He would have been shocked by the profligate use of iron, though – for everything from sheds to beds. The labour relations would not have surprised him – after all, he died ‘supported by two small slaves’. The sheds where cattle were milked by hand into a pail, the sties where the fat porkers wallowed in muddy kitchen refuse, the chickens pecking and scratching: all these would have been familiar, but he would have known none of the crops or trees.

There was no agricultural tradition in the Luitingh family, so the successive Anton Luitinghs had to invent farming as they went along, or rely on advice from salesmen or the latest fads in Farmers Weekly. So although the farm had water and soil that could be made to behave as if fertile, farming was haphazard.

A short while after we had installed ourselves at Luitingh’s Guest Farm, my father Jack, under a state banning order, with-drew from Cape Town to manage the family farm near Mooi River, Natal. He too read Farmers Weekly and experimented with plants like vetch, cowpea and alfalfa. These could be used for fodder, while also having a beneficial effect on the soil, which had lost its productive edge after a century of farming. He was a rational farmer, and old Pliny would have approved, but he was not a good farmer. His heart was not in it. He wanted to be a writer and to live the bohemian life. As soon as it could be arranged, he handed the farm over to his younger brother Dave.


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