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Worm Castings
Vermicast is probably the best fertiliser you can add to your garden to get the best results. It doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have, by adding vermicast, you can’t go wrong. It is the elite of the elite when it comes to soil conditioning and we will tell you all about it with references to scientific research if that tickles your fancy. Unicorn Cafe is all about the science of how things work and if we cannot explain why then we don’t promote 😉

There is also a case study at the end of this article proving how one farmer benefitted from using vermicast.

Consider the following; Vermicast has been around since the start of time, it is not manmade and it occurs naturally in healthy soil ecosystems. If you dig into the forest floor in the Knysna indigenous forests, you will find earthworms processing the fallen organic material. Consider the health and size of the centuries old trees around you that thrive there without any fertiliser or irrigation from man.

Vermicast is a thick black natural compound produced by earthworms. It is a fundamental part of natures soil building process. Vermicast harbours all the components  necessary to build and develop soil into a physically, chemically and biologically healthy growing medium for plants to thrive.

Vermicast repairs soil structure to significantly reduce irrigation requirements & associated costs. This means that when using vermicast, you will need less water. It stabilises moisture levels within soil so that the water doesn’t completely run through in sandy soils or become waterlogged and rot roots or seeds in clay soils. With stabile moisture levels in the soil, moisture is always available consistantly to the roots which reduces plant stress.

Vermicast reseeds plant beneficial bacteria, which is the crucial gateway between soil and plant roots. This means that vermicast helps roots absorb what they need from the soil.  Worm castings release minerals held within mineral sand for plant availability and repair the  structure of soil, reducing soil erosion risks. When you have worm castings in your soil, the microbes in the castings ensure efficicient uptake of fertiliser additions.

Increased plant beneficial bacteria cultures increase the effective uptake and stabilisation within the soil of  added organic fertiliser. Peaks and troughs in availability leads to plant stress. This means that when plants are exposed to dips and highs of nutrient and moisture availability, they can become more stressed as opposed to a more constant and flatlined availability.
Reduced plant stress means stronger, healthier, more pest resistant plants, producing greater yields.

Vermicast boosts the pest resistant enzyme production in plants repelling insect attack and fungal infection.  Plant growth stimulants and hormones in vermicast encourage both the top growth above the soil, containing the leaf, stem and flower, and the root growth beneath the ground.

Vermicast is particularly effective during seed germination and reduces transplant shock. Vermicast’s beneficial microbes triggers the development of a healthy natural soil-food-web. It seeds and attracts earthworms and other good life into the soil; in turn aerating and conveying microbes and other plant beneficial hormones and plant growth stimulants.

Vermicast also increases the cationic exchange rate. This is the rate at which the cationic soil trace elements can attach themselves to vermicast. Everything in nature has an electrical charge. Some charges are positive (cations) and some are negative (anions). Organic vegetative matter is anionic and, as vermicast is highly concentrated  vegetative matter, it is strongly anionic. Most trace elements are cationic, and thus attracted to vermicast. In simple terms this means that trace elements are attracted to vermicast and readily bond to it in the same way that opposite poles of a magnet attract each other. Plants have a stronger pull than the vermicast and therefore draw the trace elements away from the vermicast and into their roots in a natural exchange system.

You can buy worm castings from us or you can make your own worm farm and harvest your very own worm castings. We published a DIY worm farm last year in October and you can find the article here to make your very own worm farm that you can keep in kitchen.

Various scientific trials & studies by a number of Universities (Cornell, Griffith &
Stellenbosch) on a variety of crops have resulted in the same base conclusion; vermicast (worm castings) are highly beneficial to plant growth, health and yield. Vermicast is a totally natural and organic product created by earthworms.

Joshi and Kelkar (1952) reported that earthworm casts contained greater percentage of finer fractions like silt and clay than in the surrounding soils. This change in mechanical composition of soil was probably due to the grinding action of earthworm gizzard. The chemical analysis of Vermicasts revealed that they were richer in soluble salts, neutral or alkaline in reaction and had higher percentage of exchangeable Na, K and Mg but a lower exchangeable Ca than in corresponding soil.

Earthworm casts also contained greater amounts of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). The Vermicasts contained higher amounts of nitrate nitrogen and possessed a greater nitrifying power than the corresponding soils. Vermicast also contained Mg, Ca, Fe, B, Mo and Zn in addition to some of the plant growth promoters and beneficial microflora. Several valuable compounds were also produced through the earthworm – microfloral interaction, which included vitamins such as B12 and plant growth hormones such as gibberellins.

This important concept, that Vermicompost includes plant-growth regulators which increase growth and yield, has been cited and is being further investigated by several researchers (Canellas et al, 2002). Earthworms increase the amount of mineralised nitrogen from organic matter in soil.
The microbial composition changes qualitatively and quantitatively during passage through the earthworm intestine (Pedersen & Hendriksen, 1993)
Vermicast is coated with mucopolysaccharides and enriched with nutrients. The cellulolytic, nitrifying and nitrogen fixing microbes are found established in the worm cast (Kale et al., 1988). Earthworms directly cycle the nitrogen by excretion in the casts, urine and mucoprotein and through the turnover of earthworm tissues (Lee, 1985) Barois et al., (1987) observed an activation of N mineralization, with the casts having 270 percent more ammonia than the bulk soil. Within a year of application of vermiculture technology to the saline soil, 37 percent more N, 67 percent more P2O5 and 10 percent more K2O were recorded as compared to chemical fertilizer (Phule, 1993).
Plant Growth Stimulants
Atiyeh at al (2002) conducted an extensive review. The authors stated that: “These investigations have demonstrated consistently that vermicomposted organic wastes have beneficial effects on plant growth independent of nutritional transformations and availability. Whether they are used as soil additives or as components of horticultural soil less media, vermicomposts have consistently improved seed germination, enhanced seedling growth and development, and increased plant productivity much more than would be possible from the mere conversion of mineral nutrients into more  plantavailable forms.”

Atiyeh et al. (2000) found that compost was higher in ammonium, while  Vermicompost tended to be higher in nitrates, which is the more plant- available form of nitrogen. Vermicast’s are excellent media for harbouring N-fixing bacteria (Bhole, 1992).
Earthworms have multiple, interactive effects on rates and patterns of  nitrogen mineralization and immobilisation in natural and managed ecosystems (Edwards and Lofty, 1977; Lee, 1983; Lavelle and Martin, 1992; Blair et al., 1995).

Earthworms not only disperse microorganisms important in food production but also associated with mycorrhizae and other root symbionts, biocontrol  agents and microbial antagonists of plant pathogens as well as microorganisms that act as pests (Edwards and Bohlen, 1996).
Several researchers have demonstrated the ability of earthworms to promote the dispersal of beneficial soil microorganisms through castings, including pseudomonads, rhizobia and mycorrhizal fungi (Edwards and Bohlen, 1996; Buckalew et al., 1982; Doube et al., 1994a; Doube et al., 1994b; Madsen and Alexander, 1982; Reddell and Spain, 1991; Rouelle, 1983; Stephens et al., 1994).
Earthworm casts are enriched in terms of available nutrients and microbial numbers and biomass, relative to the surrounding soil (Shaw and Pawluk, 1986; Lavelle and Martin, 1992)
Soil Benevolent Biota
Earthworms reject significant amounts of nutrients in their casts. In part these losses result from the intense microbial activity in their gut, and from their own metabolic activity. E.g. The elimination of N due to fast turnover of this element in microbial biomass. A significant proportion of C assimilated by earthworms is secreted as intestinal and cutaneous mucus with greater C:N ratios than those of the resource used (Lavelle et al., 1983; Cortez and Bouche, 1987).
Kale (1991) has attributed the improved growth in pastures and in other crops like rye and barley to the chemical exudates of the worms and the microbes associated with them.
Tomati et al., (1983) related the beneficial influence of worm cast to the biological factors like gibberellins, cytokinins and auxins released due to metabolic activity of the microbes harboured in the cast.
It has also been indicated that the chemical exudates of worms and those of microbes in the cast, influence the rooting or shoots of layers. In a field trial Kale and Bano (1986) observed that the seedling growth of rice in nursery increased significantly due to Vermicompost application, and transplanting of seedlings could be made one or two days earlier than the usual practice. After transplanting the growth of seedlings in the main field was more favourably influenced by worm castings than chemical fertilisers This was attributed to higher availability of nitrogen for plant growth. The improved growth was also attributed to the release of plant growth promoting compounds from vermicast, which in their opinion could easily replace the chemical fertilizers at nursery level.
Similarly, work at NSAC by Hammermeister et al. (2004) indicated that “Vermicomposted manure has higher N availability than conventionally composted manure on a weight basis”. The latter study also showed that the supply rate of several nutrients, including P, K, S and Mg, were increased by vermicomposting as compared with conventional composting.  These results are typical of what other researchers have found (Short et al., 1999; Saradha, 1997, Sudha and Kapoor, 2000).
It appears that the process of vermicomposting tends to result in higher levels of plant-availability of most nutrients than does the conventional composting process. The literature has less information on this subject than on nutrient availability, yet it is widely believed that vermicast greatly exceeds conventional compost with respect to the levels of beneficial microbial activity. Much of the work on this subject has been done at Ohio State University, led by Dr. Clive Edwards (Subler et al., 1998).
In an interview (Edwards, 1999), he stated that Vermicompost may be as much as 1000 times as microbially active as conventional compost, although that figure is not always achieved. Regulators which are relatively transient may become adsorbed on to humates and act in conjunction with them to influence plant growth”.  Moreover, he went on to say that “…these are microbes which are much better at transforming nutrients into forms readily taken up by plants than you find in compost – because we’re talking about thermophillic microbes in compost – so that the microbial spectrum is quite different and also much more beneficial in a vermicompost. I mean, I will stick by what I have said a number of times that a vermicompost is much, much preferable to a compost if you’re going in for a plant-growth medium.”
Many researchers have found that vermicast stimulates further plant growth even when the plants are already receiving optimal nutrition.
Atiyeh et al further speculate that the growth responses observed may be due to hormone-like activity associated with the high levels of humic acids and humates in vermicast: “…there seems a strong possibility that …plant-growth regulators which are relatively transient may become adsorbed on to humates and act in conjunction with them to influence plant growth”.
There has been considerable anecdotal evidence in recent years regarding the ability of vermicast to protect plants against various diseases. The theory is that the high levels of beneficial microorganisms in vermicast protect plants by out-competing pathogens for available resources (starving them, so to speak), while also blocking their access to plant roots by occupying all the available sites. This analysis is based on the concept of the “soil foodweb”, a soil-ecology-based approach pioneered by Dr. Elaine Ingham of Corvallis, Oregon (see her website at for more details).
Work on this attribute of vermicast is still in its infancy, but research by both Dr. Ingham’s labs and the Ohio State Soil Ecology Laboratory are very promising. Soil Benevolent Biota At the Ohio State Soil Ecology Lab, Edwards and Arancon (2004) report that “…we have researched the effects of relatively small applications of commercially-produced vermicomposts, on attacks by Pythium on cucumbers, Rhizoctonia on radishes in the greenhouse, and by Verticillium on strawberries and Phomopsis and Sphaerotheca fulginae on grapes in the field.
In all of these experiments, the Vermicompost applications suppressed the incidence of the disease significantly.” The authors go on to say that the pathogen suppression disappeared when the vermicast was sterilized, indicating that the mechanism involved was microbial antagonism. In addition, Edwards and Arancon (2004) report statistically significant decreases in arthropod (aphid, mealy bug, spider mite) populations, and subsequent reductions in plant damage, in tomato, pepper, and cabbage trials with 20% and 40% Vermicompost additions to Metro Mix 360 (the control).
They also found statistically  significant suppression of plant-parasitic nematodes in field trials with peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and grapes. Moreover, the authors go on to state a finding that others have also reported (e.g., Arancon, 2004), that maximum benefit from vermicast is obtained when it constitutes between 10% and 40% of the growing medium. Further research is required, however, before vermicast can be considered as an alternative to pesticides or an alternative, non-toxic method of pest control, but these initial studies are highly encouraging.

Case Study

Apple Farming at Clan Leslie, Harrismith, Free State
Farmers Weekly 21 October 2010 – Hayden Green
By incorporating vermicomposting and worm-casting tea in its apple production system, Clan Leslie Estate has improved its fruit quality, reduced input costs and improved the soil and tree health in its orchards. Hayden Green visited Mike Leslie to find out more. Mike Leslie farms in partnership with his father Nick and brother Graham on the Clan Leslie Estate near Harrismith in the Free State. Mike’s farming philosophy is to keep things simple, but pay attention to detail. He’s passionate about apple production  and about where sustainability is taking the enterprise. He combines technology with applicable management and biological farming techniques to produce fruit that looks good, is healthy and nutritious, and exceeds export quality requirements. To achieve quality and production goals, Mike also partners with nature’s prime recycler – the humble earthworm.
Vermiculture – earthworm farming To branch out into exports, Clan Leslie established its apple production division in 1996. Five years ago, they decided to integrate vermiculture into the operation because of changing export regulations, specifically for chemical residue levels. “Our list of suitable chemicals was and still is shrinking due to global regulations and the green
movement,” Mike says. “Consumers are looking for residue-free fruit, and we had to find a different way of doing things.” Fruit destined for export is batch-tested five days before picking, and Mike felt that moving to natural pest and disease control in the form of “worm tea” would minimise the risk of residue on the fruit, increase its nutritional value, and reduce chemical use and withholding periods. He contacted private consultant Hennie Eksteen for advice on vermiculture, and partnered with vermiculture specialist Poerie Coetzee to manage it. This left Mike himself free to concentrate on orchard management.

“I was initially concerned that salmonella and E. coli contamination from feedlot manure and chicken litter we used as compost base came through in  the testing,” he admits. “But we tried the worm tea in selected apple blocks and the results were perfect. The earthworms destroyed all pathogens in the manure, giving us the confidence to freely use compost tea.”
Foliar and soil-feed teas “Foliar-feed tea requires an anaerobic process,” explains Mike. “We mix the earthworm castings with water, molasses, ground Lucerne and fishmeal, and brew the mixture in 1 000â vats for three weeks. When it’s ready, we dilute the tea with water and use it as a foliar feed, sprayed at 80â/ha.” Likewise, converting the solid material in worm castings into a liquid enables a practical, accurate and uniform application of soil-feed
tea throughout the orchard. Soil-feed tea is made aerobically by pumping a large volume of air through it for up to 24 hours. Once the correct microbe population is reached (established by microscopic examination), the tea must be applied undiluted at 200â/ha within a few hours before the aerobic bacteria die from a lack of oxygen. Follow-up irrigation further washes the tea into the soil. The total cost of foliar and soil-feed tea production and application is around R12 625/ha per season. This will decline in time as the orchard health improves and less spraying is needed. Mulching – retaining a natural balance
“In nature, fruiting trees are part of a complicated ecological system, existing in symbiotic relationships with the fauna and other flora to sustain a healthy fruiting cycle,” says Mike. He’s concerned about the consequences and economic sustainability of a system of constant harvesting, with synthetic chemicals as the only inputs. So, mimicking nature, he scatters tree pruning clippings and other plant residue around the base of the trees to eventually decompose and form mulch. “We use nine 1,5mdiameter round bales of wheat residue to every 200m of tree row,” he explains. “This equates to 104 bales, or 26t of dry plant material, per hectare, and lasts for three to four years. Nothing is wasted.” The mulch, besides retaining moisture, feeds the bacterial processes stimulated by the soil-feed worm tea. Mike points to the contrast between mineral soil and the rich organic matter resulting from earthworm activity. “The earthworms manage the environment for me,” he says. “The soil is moving towards a natural state of balance (homeostasis) without chemical fertiliser.” He estimates that this production system needs one-third less irrigation water. “The savings are significant.” Mike was astonished when he first saw the increase in root growth as a result of the mulch and soil feed. “This increased nutrient uptake has resulted in healthier, stronger apple trees.” A competitive advantage “Quality counts. The market is prepared to pay for an apple that tastes better and, more importantly, lasts longer,” says Mike. Mulching with worm tea had precisely this effect, increasing demand for Clan Leslie apples from clients in Africa, where the cold supply chain isn’t as advanced as other export markets. “The local informal market is massive, and is prepared to pay premium prices for quality fruit that will last,” he explains. Although being situated in the south-eastern Free State gives Clan Leslie a three-week harvesting advantage over its Cape competitors, the unseasonal heavy frosts are a problem. Mike warns that worm tea is no silver bullet, and that balancing the soil is a slow process. Over the last five years, he has recorded an average increase from 8 Brix to 12 Brix in his plants, correlating directly to frost resilience. An SMS early warning system notifies him to irrigate when air temperature drops below 5°C.
Incorporating earthworms has increased yields from 50t/ha to 75t/ha in Pink Lady apples, and by 15t/ha in other varieties. The path towards more sustainable production on the 66ha apple orchard constantly challenges Mike. “In the future I would define myself increasingly as a carbon farmer who produces apples,” he says. Based on the success of the worm tea in the  orchards, he aims to produce low-carbon-footprint apples with a superior nutritional value. Worm tea has been so successful in the apple orchards that he intends to expand it to the other Clan Leslie enterprises.
Contact Mike Leslie on 082 770 0306 or e-mail

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Unicorn Cafe Business Update for May 2018


Hello Unicorns!

I am back from annual leave and settling into living in what some call ‘The Default World’ If you haven’t figured it out already, I went to Afrikaburn for seven days. This was my 8th attendance to the annual event and I write all about the lessons, this dynamic and experimental event have taught me in the article below.

I am sending this newsletter out on the 1st of May. If you are a pagan in the Southern Hemisphere, you will know that it is Samhain. In the Northern Hemisphere, pagans will be celebrating Beltane.

Samhain is Irish Gaelic for “summer’s end.” The standard Irish pronunciation is “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow.” Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include “sow-een” “shahvin” “sowin” (with “ow” like in “glow”). The Scots Gaelic spelling is “Samhuin” or “Samhuinn.”

Unicorn Cafe respects people from all walks of life and cultures, however we have a particular interest in paganism purely because it puts mother nature first. The shortened version of their creed is  “An ye harm none, do what ye will” which means that one can do whatever he or she likes provided that no harm is caused to others. This law rings true to our values and beliefs that no harm should be caused in our daily lives. This is why we source things like biodegradable earbuds, toothbrushes and sell products for regenerative living.

We also find a particular interest in wicca or paganism because of the ancient rites and rituals which move in harmony with the seasons. They seem to remind us when to plant, when to be thankful and move with the flow of nature. We at Unicorn Cafe believe the real magic is in our pure intentions and in nature which we are part of. From the largest land fungi and mammals to the smallest microscopic life. There is a curious wonder to all these things that work together in the great force of life.

So what is so special about the pagan Samhain? It is a time to honour the dead and also to celebrate the second harvest. Today we are celebrating by harvesting vegetables from the garden and cooking them, on a fire, in a South Africa cauldron which many of you fondly know as a potjie pot.

The Northern Hemisphere have commercialised this festival and called it Halloween. It seems strange to celebrate this ancient holiday in the middle of spring here in South Africa so like nature, we flow with the seasons. We have chosen to honour a handful of people of our own choosing being:

– World renowned British physicist professor Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76 on March the 14th, 2018.

– Larry Harvey, whose whimsical decision to erect a giant wooden figure and then burn it to the ground led to the popular, long-running counterculture celebration known as “Burning Man,” died April 28, 2018. Afrikaburn is a regional event of Burining Man.

– John Sulston, a Nobel Prize-winning British scientist who helped decode the human genome, died March 6, 2018

– Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a former wife of Nelson Mandela, and an anti-apartheid activist in her own right whose reputation was sullied by scandal, died April 2, 2018.

We hope that you enjoy May and make the best of this time and we look forward to touching base with you in June.

Through the darkness
The Unicorn Cafe Team

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Gardening Tips for April

April is the time to plant :

– Angelica seeds
– Basil seeds 
– Broad Beans 
– Beetroot seeds
– Cabbage seeds
– Carrot seeds
– Cauliflower seeds
– Celeriac seeds
– Celery seeds 
– Chili/Hot Peppers seeds
– Chinese Cabbage seeds
– Chives seeds
– Collards seeds 
– Dill seeds
 – Endive seeds
– French Tarragon seeds
– Garlic
– Horseradish seeds
-Kale seeds
– Kohlrabi seeds
– Leek seeds
– Lettuce seeds
– Mint seeds
– Mizuna seeds
– Mustard Greens seeds
– Onion seeds
– Pak Choy seeds
– Parsley seeds
– Parsnip seeds
– Potatoes
– Radish seeds
– Rocket seeds
– Shallot seedlings
– Spinach seeds
– Spring Onion seeds
– Sunflower seedlings
– Swedes/Rutabagas seeds
– Sweet Marjoram seeds
– Swiss Chard seeds
– Thyme seeds
– Turnip seeds

You may still have seeds to harvest. Gather, clean and save them for their next growing season. Label them carefully and store away from light and moisture. It is a good idea to store the seeds in paper first so that they are protected from any condensation that may form.
Leaves make great mulch when stored for a year to make leaf mould so now is the perfect time to collect all leaves and store for a year.  You can also simply leave them on the floor to protect the soil and decompose naturally.

If you haven’t prepared beds yet, it is a good time to mix in compost for winter vegetable planting. Mound up celeries and leeks. Harvest pumpkins and dry before storing.   

Slugs, snails, aphids and white flies will be busy so be on the lookout and protect the plants that need protecting.

Fertilise fruit trees with compost tea or worm tea or a natural and organic fertilsier.  Now is the time to mulch. Top up mulch everywhere so that the soil is protected from the winter cold, retains moisture and suppresses weeds.

Autumn is also the season for bulbs so ensure your beds are well fed with plenty of nutrients.  If you are a sweet pea fan like I am, now is the time to set up stakes and plant those magical seeds that bring colour and aroma to the garden. Daisies, poppies and Namaqualand daisies can be planted.

As the temperatures drop, there will be more moisture in the soil so watering less creates more time for other tasks. Take note of the weather and adapt to the changing climate.

Plant a tree. With the current drought upon us, one of the best ways to do our part is to plant an indigenous tree so that when it rains, there is vegetation to act as a sponge and store the water, shade the soil and provide future mulch and nutrients. Plant a fruit tree or any tree that will bring you joy and is suitable for your garden, lifestyle so long as it does not cause harm to your neighbours or environment. A little bit of research goes a long way. Autumn is not a good time to prune in general as your plants will be shifting their focus to root growth rather than top growth and thus will not heal easily from pruning. 

The A – Z of Vegetable Gardening in South Africa by Jack Hadfield

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Zero Waste Tip of the Month



I battle to throw things ‘away’ now because I have realised that there is no ‘away’. It’s just a matter of geography. The trash is still trash but somewhere else and someone else’s problem and unfortunaltely Mother Earth is the one that suffers as a result. I have developed a deep respect for the force of life, ecocologies and this Mother Earth that I write of. I contemplate my daily activities and how they affect her. It is from her, that I am here. She is my home and when I die, I will return to her.

Pill bottles are quite hard to cut up as the plastic is thick so pushing them into an eco-brick seems like a huge effort. What do I do with them?

Here are some ideas:

Use them to store an extra key in and bury it. Mark the spot with a rock or something natural that looks like its not out of place.

They can also hold candles, organise makeup applicators, piping tips.  They are great for storing jewelry, buttons, safety pins, sewing pins, coins, earphones, seeds, travel sized toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, liquid soap and earbuds.

Make portable sewing kits for yourself or as gifts. Another great gift idea is to fill them with sweets and write a little love prescription on them for friends and family.

Use it as a handbag trash can for reciepts, candy wrappers, stompies and other bits and bobs. I usually keep an eco brick in the car but a hand bag trash can is very useful.

Attach a magnet and it could instantly be a little vase for flowers on your fridge or metal made furniture.

Make a handbag size survival kit with multi-purpose items like string, paper money, safety clips, alcohol swabs, earbuds etc.

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Stuff this, Stuff that by Mandy Carpenter

Stuff this, Stuff that by Mandy Carpenter

The word stuff, according to the Cambridge Dictionary[i] means “substance, especially when you do not know or say exactly what it is” or “someone’s possessions or things that they take with them” and interestingly “one of the most common nouns in speaking”. This signifies a slightly negative connotation. It is applied as a collective noun (I’ve got stuff to do this afternoon), stuff this, I’m going to have a weekend, or I have so much stuff (possessions). I refer to this as stuffocation. The fact that you do not know how to phrase the stuff that you have to do means that you are already tired of it in your subconscious mind, and you are willingly permitting these things to stress you out.

Science has proven that daily we can only make a certain amount of willing decisions[ii]. If you get dressed in the morning and you are uncertain what to wear, you are taking from the stockpile of your daily decisions. You are running a little late because of this and now you have to sit in the traffic. You forgot to pack lunch and Facebook reminds you that you missed a friend’s birthday. While you think about these things you hear a shampoo ad on the radio, and a taxi pushes past you and nearly runs your bumper off. By the time you get to work, you are already exhausted, as you have already spent a lot of your decisions on doing stuff that could have been simplified by making better decisions. This is known as decision fatigue.


It is nothing to be ashamed about: we now have more decisions and options, product and life-wise than ever before. Just look around you – every thing is branded: your work laptop, your phone, your diary, the clothes you wear and even the coffee you drink. You are a breathing billboard, a product – free advertising for a company, label or idea. You did not ask for this – or did you? Some people select brands because they like the look and feel of it, the sense of belonging that it promises or brings.  It made me feel cheap, used, and highly frustrated.

Through this frustration, I decided to take on the war against stuff. I did not know where to start – we are taught to consume, not to reduce. The sheer amount of packaging things comes in, for “safety purposes” are really upsetting. In South Africa, I have found that we have somewhat of a hoarder’s mentality: “Ag! I can use this still”. We have relatively more space available to us to keep and store things, compared to small European countries. Despite being a third-world country, poverty is also a very serious and scary reality, which makes us feel guilty and somehow not allowed to throw away things – broken or not. This includes pills, food, spices, tattered clothing, toys, books and electronics (because it cost so much). Our homes become mausoleums to broken TVS, lidless Tupperwares, dated 1980’s curtains and overgrown (or dead) delicious monsters. This mantra is ingrained into us by our parents and grandparents, who lived in a pre-1994 South Africa where things were scarce because of trade bans and political instabilities.

I certainly felt very rebellious for throwing away unused and expired things, and also felt very ashamed when I realised the amount of unused/expired stuff I had. I chose to channel this shame into creativity and ‘adult’ and own up. I would still buy things, but I will be more conscious of the quantities I buy them in, as well as to how I buy them (like taking my own plastic bags to the shop).

I realised that if I did not have chocolate in the house, I could not see it, and I did not impulsively want it. This is the very trick that marketing companies and advertisers sadly use: they make you think you want it a product, or they remind you about the experience that you (can) have when using this product, they make you feel like an individual if you use a certain product (perfume, holiday). Personification and nostalgia are used to make you feel like a successful individual. But you’re not. You’re a victim, because they are defining success for you. For instance, my shampoo bottle has a picture of a waterfall on it, which I guess must make me feel calm. I did not ask for a waterfall! It was a faded, ugly, plastically labelled artificial decision that was forced on me – but I empowered this idea by willingly buying this product.

It has been found that the more you touch an object, the more you want it[iii](your willpower becomes less and you rationalise buying the item). This is why you’ll find  demo models of products in stores (usually high-end items like computers, cell phones and electronics), display stands with freebies for you to try out (especially foods) and random products like razor blades, hair bands and batteries at the end of aisles near the shopping tills which will likely results in impulse buys. In clothing stores you can try on vast amounts of ill-fitted, cheap and mass produced products usually on “sale”, which you will most likely buy because you feel like you have scored a bargain, or dump because you are feeling pressurised by sales assistants that wish to either “help” you or wish to get rid of you (hereby creating a sense of urgency). After the purchase, this leads us to feel guilty, ashamed and regretful, hereby increasing the chances of not returning the item or just stuffing it into the back of our closets.

Life is boring and short enough.  When I buy something, I want value for money – not a cheap, predictable experience. So I started celebrating my separation of stuff by personifying my life MY WAY. It was no easy task – “who am I really?” is a question that normally drives me to the self-help section of the bookstore. I decided to make a list of things that I am without things or stuff.

It felt like I failed a spelling test and had to write out my mistakes. But this is what it was: admitting to my needs. I then realised the following:

  • I am a human – not a cat (though I love sleeping).


  • I have to eat – skipping meals and eating takeout/junk/comfort food is not only expensive, it is bad for my skin and my body. It leads to feelings of guilt and shame, which I wish to avoid.


  • I have to clean (myself and my surroundings). Tidying is not something they teach you at school, and may be a way for job creation (char) but cleanliness is godliness. A shower makes me feel better, and I like to have a nice product to clean myself with. Did you know that 70% of all cleaning products basically consist only of water, colorant and a foaming agent?


  • I have to be warm/cold. This means having access to suitable clothing, blankets or costumes.


  • I have to able/express what I am feeling. Emoticons and gifs can do that for me, but I want to draw or write about what I feel. This means I need supplies to help me write and craft.


  • I have needs. I am not a solitary creature, and want to spend my time and celebrate with my friends. I love experiences and going out with them.


  • I have to work. This means that I contribute to others and society, and get recognised/paid for my efforts.


  • I have to relax. I can’t be angry forever with that taxi driver or car guard. This means that I can unwind with a book or a movie.


  • I hate shopping and unnecessary spending. This means that I am being paid for my efforts, and wasting it is not an option.


  • I need Wi-Fi. This means that running out of airtime is a reality, so if I buy a bigger data bundle and turn on an ad blocker, I am saving myself a lot of time and effort.


  • I like celebrating life. I will not skimp on cereal and will always have ingredients for a cocoa drink at hand.

This exercise helped me to feel valued and also led me to identify the things in life that make me happy. Instead of doing a Facebook quiz to determine which Kardashian you are most likely to be, I challenge you to make a list like this. Take 10 minutes and a piece of paper and write down what and who you are without things or stuff.  Stick it somewhere where you can see it every day. It may seem stupid, and that these items aren’t life-changing or mind-blowing things, but it made me stop giving and buying (a) stuff and start living a life.

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Chilli and Beans Recipe

Chilli and Beans
Adapted from the amazing recipe book: 500 Vegan Dishes by Deborah Gray
Comfort food for those passing through

Serves 6 – 8

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large onions chopped
4 carrots chopped
2 green peppers seeded and chopped
4 cloves of garlic crushed
4 tbsp of chilli powder
1.5 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 1/2 cups kidney beans precooked
1 1/2 cups black beans precooked
2 400g tins of tomatoes chopped
3 – 8 chillies depending on the heat you want and the strength of the chillies
100g of tomatoe puree
1 pannet of mushrooms, quatered
1 tin of sweetcorn
1 tbsp of dried oreganum
2 1/12 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
750 ml of vegetable stock
2 tsp of sugar
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until the onion is soft but not brown.

Add the carrots, peppers, and garlic and cook for 4 minutes.
Add the chilli powder, smoked paprika and cumin and cook for another minute.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.