The Eye of the Drone

May 21st, 2015

Recently David Skok from Lincoln, USA, sent the first drone flying at Babylonstoren. Kindly he let us have the pictures.

This robotic tech of the future then revealed the wisdom of the past: when the main Babylonstoren werf was designed in the early 1800’s, it wasn’t just improvising boer maak ’n plan stuff. The owner was Cornelis Ponty, a medical man of some refinement and taste. Note the classical design principles. For example, those two barns in front don’t run parallel: they flare slightly to create an optical illusion of depth and scale.


Later the French architect Patrice Taravella designed the kitchen garden, evoking the original Company Gardens in Cape Town. The drone beautifully shows up his Cartesian discipline. Once the structure is sound, it’s easy to paint a garden in colours.

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Remarkably the werf is more than two centuries old, the kitchen garden barely 5 years. By 2210 the fruit trees over there should have filled out nicely, one would think.


Celebrating Citrus in May

May 12th, 2015

Lemons, limes, oranges, naartjies, grapefruits and kumquats are all ripening in the garden. On the farm we are picking the soft skinned easy-peeler naartjies – Satsumas and Nules. In the cellar the winemakers are getting ready for our upcoming distilling workshop on 20 May. Juice of pressed naartjies are in the process of fermenting before it will be fired through the copper pot kettle to make mampoer.

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For a variation on the tussie mussies (or scented posies), Constance gathers lemon pelargoniums, lemon thyme, lemon grass, lemon verbena and citrus scented confetti bush (Coleonema album).

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In the wooden fruit boxes for our hotel guests, the fresh Vitamin C rich citrus fruits are combined with sweet guavas, fragrant grenadillas and tangy tree tomatoes.

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After the daily 10 o’clock garden tour, visitors can refresh at the Greenhouse with Gundula’s special flu fighting tea (see recipe below).

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 Flu Fighting Citrus Tea

  • Big handful of lemon thyme
  • 1 twig lemon verbena
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
  • 3cm piece of ginger, peeled & chopped
  • Honey to sweeten


  • 1 lime or lemon, thinly sliced
  • calendula flowers
  • 1 lemongrass stem


  1. Combine all the ingredients
  2. Pour 2 litres of boiling water over the aromatics.
  3. Steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain, and add the lime/lemon, calendula and lemongrass to decorate.
  5. Serve hot or cold.


The Farm

Rice Rice Baby

April 23rd, 2015

At Babylonstoren almost anything grows.  Our guests love risotto and the artists of Babel make it so yummy. Could we grow it ourselves? Lunatically we now tried our hands at planting Carnaroli – a risotto traditionally cultivated in the north of Italy, regions Piedmont and Lombardy. Carnaroli is considered “the caviar of rice”. But rice needs lotsa-lotsa water, and in South Africa it has never really been cultivated successfully.  So we dug a paddy and this is how it developed:

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We started building the rice paddy in January 2014. Contractors dug a small dam just below the existing vlei. Then the floor of the paddy had to be levelled, but with a slight slant sideways where narrow channels provide drainage.

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With help from his friend Attilio Dilpiaz, an Italian agronomist, our farm manager Hannes tackled his first rice harvest.  The seeds were planted last October, then the soil was thoroughly irrigated, mornings and late afternoons, until the seeds germinated. Once the plant had grown to about 30 cm high with four leaves, we flooded the paddy with water from the vlei. Rice grows in water about 30 – 40cm deep and the paddy is filled up as the plant grows. As the risotto starts to ripen, the paddy is left to dry before the harvest starts, some 150 days after planting.  (And the frogs then scramble back to the vlei next door.)

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We faced quite a number of challenges in this first go.  How to get rid of reeds, how to regulate water temperature and (once the ears of rice starts to ripen) how to keep away birds – but the words “can’t be done” are not employed at Babylonstoren.

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We can’t tell you yet about the harvest festival (see in the June issue of Taste magazine). But we’re waiting for a Zanotti Rice Mill to arrive from Italy. This thingy will remove the husk and polish the grain.  Then we’ll test what the artists of Babel can cook up.  As they say, the proof of the pudding …

Food & Drink

Dark Chocolate Terrine of Black Olives & Walnuts

April 7th, 2015

We grow quite a number of olive cultivars, some we use for pickling, and the rest we use to make our extra virgin olive oil. In the garden we have Mission, Delicata and Frantoio olives, and on the farm Hannes also grows Leccino, Don Carlo, FS17 and Coratina – all cultivars best suited for pressing olive oilBlack Calamata and green Nocellara olives are ideal for table use, and we pickle them in the cellar for almost a year before they are ready.

Here’s a recipe from our cookbook, Babel, for a decadent dark chocolate terrine using pitted black olives.

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LAYER 1: CAKE: In a double boiler melt 250g white chocolate. Remove from heat. Whisk 200g soft butter into the chocolate. Cream 160g eggs and 210g caster sugar. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture. Fold in 100g of sifted flour. Spread on a baking tray lined with greased baking paper and bake for 10 minutes at 180° C. Allow to cool. Line a bread tin with cling film and cut the cake to fit the base of the tin. Place in freezer.

LAYER 2: DARK CHOCOLATE AND WALNUT GANACHE In a double boiler melt 250g dark chocolate and 125g unsalted butter. Combine
and remove from heat. Add 60g cream and 200g toasted walnuts. Allow to cool and spread over the cake layer and place bread
tin back into freezer.

LAYER 3: WHITE CHOCOLATE AND OLIVE GANACHE In a double boiler melt 250g white chocolate and 125g unsalted butter. Combine
and remove from heat. Add 60g cream and 200g pitted black olives. Spread onto dark chocolate ganache and place bread tin
back into freezer.

LAYER 4: DARK CHOCOLATE In a double boiler, melt 175g chocolate and 110g unsalted butter, combine and remove from heat. Whisk in 4 egg yolks. In a separate bowl whisk 2 egg whites and 15ml sugar. Fold into egg mixture and dust in 150ml icing sugar and 40ml cocoa powder. Add 70ml double cream. Spread over white chocolate and cover with clingfilm. Place tin back into the freezer. ◗ When ready to use take the tin out of the freezer and remove terrine from tin. Take off the cling film. Using a warm, clean knife, slice a 1cm slice and place on serving platter. Allow to thaw for 10 minutes before serving topped with toasted walnuts and a shot of espresso. Cut as many slices as you need. Wrap the remaining chocolate terrine with clingfilm and place back into the tin to freeze again until needed.

The fruit from the wild olive tree, or Olienhout olives, make a beautiful edible garnish. They have a sweet or sour taste.


We Dig the No-Dig Method

April 2nd, 2015

We are trialling the no-dig method in our garden’s veggie block. It all started with a visit from organic veggie producer, Tia Cusden, who grows a variety of delicious salad leaves in Somerset, England.

Tia explains: “Although it might seem counterintuitive to many gardeners, not digging echoes nature, where the soil structure is left undisturbed. New organic matter, like fallen leaves and dead plants, are left on the surface of the soil – this is then pulled down into the soil by earthworms, aerating as they go.

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There’s science behind this madness, as most microbial activity takes place in the top layer of soil, where a delicate network of mycorrhizea convey nutrients to plants over considerable distances. To interfere in this process with man made spades and ploughs knocks the wellbeing of the soil, which then needs time to recover its balance”.

Provided that you start with clean soil, the advantages of using a no-dig method includes less weeding, less maintenance and better water retention.

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Here’s how we did it:

  1. To get rid of as many weed seeds possible, we removed the top layer of soil (about 15cm) from our old vegetable bed.
  2. The bed was then dug over only once, to create good drainage. This step is only required if the soil structure is poor, or if the soil has been compacted by machinery, as was the case with ours.
  3. A plan of the block was marked out on the ground, dividing the large area into smaller beds, and leaving footpaths of about 50cm wide for access. The beds are no wider than 120cm, which makes them easy to work without stepping into and in the process compacting the soil.
  4. The beds were then filled 15-20cm high with a mixture of loamy topsoil and well matured compost, creating raised beds.
  5. Summer plantings followed with different combinations to allow future rotation. Our no-dig veggie patch includes these companions : chilli with parsley, eggplant with basil, sunflowers with okra, beetroot with beans, cabbages with leeks, as well as a variety of salad leaves and peanuts. Winter combinations include parsnips with leeks; kale, celery, fennel with calendula flowers; fava beans with turnips and peas with radishes


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After this initial soil preparation, the no-dig beds will never be dug over again. We’ll simply add organic matter on top of the beds annually, or as required – leaving it to our earthworm friends to do the digging.

Tia will visit us again this November to host a Summer Salad workshopFor bookings phone 084 275 1243 or email