There are almost 180 different indigenous species growing in the Spier nursery. Wilton and his team of 23 staff collect cuttings and seeds from Spier farm as well as nearby. Cuttings are nurtured in the cuttings tunnel which is protected from the fierce summer heat by water misters and a wet wall.
In the germinating tunnel, seeds are propagated in trays. There are 10 000 plants growing there. Each species is different; some take a long time to germinate; others require more water or shade. Due to its susceptibility to fungal diseases, the Protea family is the most challenging to propagate and therefore need special care.
Outside, three different soil mixes are created, using varying quantities of bark, sand and compost. The compost is made on the farm, using wood chips (from alien-clearing), grape pips and nutrient-rich organic waste. Different plants require different mixes. Fynbos, for example, just uses bark and sand – they like poor, not fertile, soil.
In the potting shed, the mixed soil is placed in potting bags where the seedlings can be planted. The seedlings are then placed in one of two greenhouses. Containing a total of 30,000 plants, both have 50% shade cover to protect the plants from too much sun while they’re young. Once they’re big enough, they’re placed outside for a few months for hardening. Bulbs don’t undergo hardening – they’re normally planted immediately.
Planting happens throughout the year, but particularly in autumn as the onset of winter’s rains help the plants to grow and limits the need for irrigation.
Wilton studies the ecology, distribution and habitat of each plant species that he propagates, so he knows which plants should grow where. Spier farm has a variety of different habitats – including its river network and wetlands where bulbs are planted. On sandy, drier patches a variety of fynbos species and trees are planted.
There are many areas across Spier where thirsty alien vegetation has been cleared so that water-wise indigenous species can be planted in their place.
The cleared alien vegetation is chipped or stacked and then used for composting, as firewood or mulching to preserve water.
The newly planted “nature strips” create diversity surrounding the vineyards and pastures. Combined with the pre-existing patches of Renosterveld, these protected zones will ultimately form one continuous conservation corridor across the farm. This increases the viability of fauna and flora populations by enabling them (or their genes) to flow from one area to another. The larger and more diverse a population, the better that species is able to adapt to environmental stresses over time. This will minimise the potential localised extinction of species and ensure that the maximum biological diversity is conserved at the site.