Chatelaine Cullinan – Food Hero

An absolute riot is one way to describe Chatelaine Cullinan’s micro-farm in suburban Howick. Sunflowers reach for the stars, purple zinnias are a buzz with bees, brown cucumbers twirl along fences, butternuts climb the walls and chickens cluck contentedly. Riot might conjure up images of disorder, but this is incorrect – Chatelaine knows exactly what she is doing – patterns and colour are what she loves most.

It is a bit of a surprise to find an unkempt meadow lurking behind an ordinary pre-cast wall, where neighbours have mown lawn. “We need fodder for the chickens,” Chatelaine tells me “why waste energy mowing lawn when butterflies and birds far prefer a meadow?”

When she moved into this garden (not that long ago) it was a green desert. Her partner Dave is a farmer, but more of a monoculturalist. Hooking up with a woman passionate about permaculture must have taken a little getting used too! “I don’t actually do all the work digging up the lawn,” she says, “the chickens do it for me.” Chicken ‘tractors’ move about getting rid of the grass, working and manuring the soil. A compost heap is built on the spot and once that is ready to use, the earth underneath is just begging to be planted. “When I discovered permaculture, I was so pleased because I realised I was already a permaculturalist, not just unusual!” she laughs. “Now I am converting Dave.”

Chatelaine is an avid seed-collector and from her previous gardens she has brought some wonderful seeds. The mielies are ten feet tall, there are crystal apple cucumbers, giant granadillas, ugati gati (traditional coloured maize), jalapenos, and of course, the brown cucumbers, native to Malawi. Making a backyard food garden is not that difficult, she believes. “People don’t always think creatively – there are vertical spaces to use, simple ways to harvest rainwater and really, it is very easy to grow seeds, despite the seed companies making it sound hard.”

Chatelaine is so happy to be back in Howick. “All my life I have looked out for NR cars, and felt homesick. I remember coming into town in my Dad’s Oldsmobile to a lovely shop which had big sacks of beans with the sides rolled down. I used to dip my hands deep into the sacks and spill the beans through my fingers.”

Chatelaine is happy to help inspire your own riot by holding a basic permaculture course in your own garden. Give her a ring 079 376 1514.


Chatelaine Cullinan