"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Friday, 20 May 2016

Hydroponics vs ground 1

Following my posting on the basic hydroponic system we set up, I thought I'd give you all an update.

But first, I omitted to share with you the analysis of the alpaca poo we had done.

Alapaca poo analysis
The gentleman we saw told us that the alpaca poo results were fantastic.  Even asked us if we want to market it lol  Perhaps if we had 50 alpacas, but with only 4 - they just don't poo enough to make it viable...
Results of grape waste (pomace) analysis
For comparison, I am also giving the sample results of grape waste that he gave us.  As you can see, the alpaca poo is far more nutrient rich than the grape waste.

Of the various experiments I am trying out, I planted some cabbage seedlings in the gravity fed hydroponic system, and some in the ground below the hydroponics.  [One of my brothers reckons that cabbage needs a firm footing (in the ground) and he is doubtful that growing them hydroponically will work.  I'm not looking to grow champion sized cabbages, so let's see ;) ]

But, and for update on the cabbages I planted only three weeks ago:

This is the cabbage in the ground.  Not much change there, is there.  They were planted with some additional alpaca poo.
The control "ground planted" cabbage -
 not much change from when it was planted
 out from the seedling tray
And the hydroponic one...
The hydroponically growing cabbage - almost
double the size and far sturdier looking
 leaves and plant, and more abundant growth
As you can see there is quite a substantial change.

Water catchment tank specifications
The only feeding that the hydroponic system gets is some Seagrow (seaweed extract) and a knee high stocking which has been half filled with ground alpaca poo, and which is suspended in the receiving tank so that the nutrients can leach out into the water as it fills the tank.

Very encouraging.

I will update as the two plants progress - until one of them reaches cabbage head stage... :)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Home (cluck) home

You recall back in August last year we borrowed - which became ownership - of two chickens ~ Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (the rooster).  We sorely missed our ducks which went walkabout so RMan wasn't that keen on the idea of having chickens.
The old water tank which became a
 lucerne holder and a chicken coop
Rushing around trying to sort out a temporary coop for the chickens we resorted to adapting the frame of a 1000lt water tank.

In the meantime, RMan has come to appreciate the really fresh eggs Tweedle Dee was laying and which we were scoffing.  We had never expienced eggs that fresh before - you know what I mean? When you crack open the shell of a fresh egg the white and yolk land in the frying pan as a tight mass of deliciousness, as opposed to what we had experienced before with shop bought eggs where the white spread itself all over the pan.  Judging in the very apparent difference, I shudder to think how old the "fresh" shop eggs were by the time we purchased them.

RMan has also come to see the chickens according to the various characters that they have.  And always grins at their loping, side-to-side run when they spot us and think that a handful of food is in the offing...
Two chickens fitted in fine - but 6...?!
When Tweedle Dee became broody, and 4 chicks were hatched on 1 November last year, it was time for another coop.  Together with the "frame coop", we fashioned another one out of pallets - complete with egg laying / nesting box on the side.  Thus the "pallet coop" was born.
Wooden pallets converted to a chicken coop
The two coops sat side by side and worked well.  But, when the chicks were still small, they needed a protected spot to run around before they met Tweedle Dum.
The two coops before...
A temporary barrier of chicken netting sufficed - but only as a temporary measure.
From left to right:
Cluck's larger, Tweedle Dees two medium, and at the
 top Shelly's smaller egg
One of the now-grown-up chicks, Shelly (so called because her feathers remind me of a sea shell pattern) has also started laying.  So now we are getting 3 eggs most days.

In addition, Tweedle Dee has been broody 3 times since the beginning of the year, and, as the rooster, Tweedle Dum, was returned to Eddie because of his aggressive behaviour, which meant that all her eggs are thus infertile until her one male chick 'becomes of age', the necessity of having somewhere to lock her up until she came to her senses became imperative.  Locking her, and the others, out of the pallet coop (with it's laying boxes) meant that Cluck and Shelly didn't know where to lay their eggs.  Thus encouraging them to lay willy-nilly elsewhere on the property was not in my (egg hunting) benefit.

Plus, I wasn't happy that they were adequately protected from the (winter) elements.  How can I lay warm and snug in my bed at night knowing that they could be shivering and uncomfortable in their tiny coop?
Concrete foundations were thrown to prevent predators
 digging their way into the new enlarged coop
So, a chicken coop overhaul became imperative.

Firstly, we separated the two coops to either side of the new enlarged area.  and fixed in three roof support poles in the two outer corners and midway.  The back "wall" of the coop is the shade cloth covered veggie patch.  Then, to prevent the rooikat (or other predators) from accessing the coop, a concrete foundation was poured round the perimeter of the new coop area.

The walls were clad with chicken wire and, with the assistance of RSon's battery operated Skil saw which he lent to RMan, and RMan's table saw, some additional wooden offcut strips we got from the local sawmill were added for extra strength / protection / hindrance.  IBR sheets (corrugated iron) installed on battens made up the roof.
The two coops after...:)
RMan cleverly fashioned an entrance door out of a pallet.
Strong and sturdy door to the coop
 which RMan made from a pallet
Some concrete foundations, p-l-e-n-t-y of screws, and wire staples and three full days labour later - what was the chickens reaction to their new home?
Home cluck home... :)
They love it :)

No sooner had we cleared off from the "building site" than they had to come and inspect their new quarters.  Happily and without hesitation, they all trouped into the coop to inspect our handiwork.

I can now rest confidentially at night knowing that they are fully protected from the winter weather ahead, and that they are safe and secure, and, finally, they have the freedom to wake up in the mornings and have a wander round their enlarged coop until I am ready to let them out to free range.

That relieves a lot of the pressure - especially on those cold mornings - of having to get up when I hear them fussing round because they want out of the tiny cramped coops that they were previously locked up in every night.

Ain't it good to have a handyman around :)  Thanks once again RMan :D

Monday, 2 May 2016

Growing mung beans

I always buy dried mung beans in order to sprout them during winter.  Just having those to munch on prevents withdrawals of crispy fresh produce during the colder months of the year.

This year I wanted to grow some more chick peas.

But, I accidentally grabbed a handful of Mung beans from the pantry.  My brain was obviously elsewhere - thank goodness I went to the right cupboard though lol

It was only once I had chucked them in the ground of the one raised bed, and had just covered them with soil, that I realized I had sown the wrong crop lol

Never mind.  I thought I'd let them grow and see what happened.

What a stroke of fortune.
A fortuitous, accidental crop of mung beans is
growing in one of my raised veggie beds
The mung bean plant is roughly 40 - 50cms (15 - 20") high and wide.  Given it's compact shape and size, it would be an ideal plant to grow in pots on a balcony too.  Perfect for using as a companion plant with next summers chard, eggplant, raddish and tomatoes, it will also provide some important shade for the ground at the base of those pants.

It is quite a bushy and compact plant.  I planted these quite late in the season, and the plants didn't send out runners and therefore didn't require bean supports and just got on with what they do best - grow mung beans.
Fresh mung beans in a pod
The pods are about 7 - 8cms long and 3 - 4 mm wide.  

Inside, the fresh mung beans sit snugly in their pod.  They are roughly twice the size of a dried mung bean.

And the taste...?

Almost ethereal lol  They are very delicate tasting and different to rehydrated / sprouted beans.
Fresh mung beans compared to dried beans
Honestly, it is quite fiddly to remove the beans from the small, tight green pod, but is well worth the effort.  The dry, dark brown pods 'crack' open quite easily though.

The beauty is, each mung bean plant grown from a single seed will provide 30 - 40 pods per plant or roughly 150 - 250 individual fresh, or future dried mung beans.  The pods form 4 pods together on the plant.  The mung bean plant can hold both fresh green pods, and dark brown pods (which encase the dried mung bean).

(Don't forget to freeze the shelled, harvested dried beans for 24 hours before storing in an air tight jar in your pantry. This helps to prevent weevils infesting your dried beans.)

Apart from providing that necessary crunch factor, mung beans are good for you too.  Check out their health benefits here.

One less thing to cross off my future shopping lists :)

Saturday, 23 April 2016

New project revealed

Warning: a long, and picture heavy posting...

Today the new project RMan and I have just completed is revealed.

Last summer was an eye opener - the daytime temperatures soared to new record levels.  We experienced such heat that even RMan, who is definitely a summer person, was wilting.  We even talked about possibly covering (!?) our fruit trees in a shade cloth structure in future.  Thank goodness for our double glazing and double vaulted ceiling - the temperatures inside the house were comfortable and non-restricting.

However, my plants still suffered.  Even though we had taken the precaution of laying down plenty of mulch, the ambient temperature was too high for the leaves.

As for my veggies - too many of them bolted and formed early seed heads, and those that did managed to produce didn't produce their normal quantity.  Obviously they were under too much stress...  Except for the pumpkins in the tyres filled with alpaca poo.  They were the absolute stars of the garden :)

But, given that global warming / climate change is not going to "go away" I had to try and overcome this latest problem proactively.  And I had to overcome it in such a way that I could ensure guaranteed growing of our veggies (whilst still remaining aware of our water availability) going forward.

I am not someone who just reacts, and then sits and bewails my fate.  Rather, I prefer to take a proactive approach to whatever problem has presented itself ;)

So, to give you a quick reminder of the hints I've given you:

So, what did we do with all of this, and what has this to do with growing crops in the face of evident global warming / climate change?

Taaaa Daaaaa!
We mounted the drilled 110mm pipe to the
sides of the shadecloth veggie patch walls.
 I have left the holes in the 110mm pipe which
do not yet contain plants / pots covered so
that they do not permit light into the pipe and
cause algae to grow
Along the inside of the outer "walls" the original shadecloth veggie patch we have installed a hydroponic system for those plants which are water hungry.  Lettuce, raddish, peppers, possibly eggplant and even, I'm hoping, tomatoes :)  And this winter I'm also going to try growing some cabbage and broccoli normally in the ground, as a control, and also growing it hydroponically.  Let's see if there's a difference.

Once we had all the components, it took a day to set up, and all indications are that the plants I have growing in it now are loving it.

Being a closed ebb and flow system means that daylight should not cause algae to grow in the water in the pipe / tanks.
Do you remember when RMan went to
 an auction - many moons ago?
Well, the electrical boxes he got there

 finally came in handy :)  It is
housing the power socket and timer
 for the water pump.  The power is from

 a plu in the garage which is 5 mtrs away
The pump is on a timer, and it is currently programmed to switch on every 3-odd hours (during autumn / winter) during the daylight hours for 15 minutes.  (During summer I will set the timer to switch on every 1 - 1.5 hours or  1.5 - 2 hours - the results will guide me.)

The pump is a 28 watt pump, with an adjustable maximum flow rate of 2 200ltrs / hour.  At 28watts and with the timer set to switch on 6 X / day for 15 minutes or 1.5 hours in total) the power consumption should be 42 watts per day.  Our solar system won't even notice it lol

The water is pumped from the pump tank via a 12mm irrigation pipe up into the 110mm pipe and floods the 110mm pipe and thus the plant pots containing the seedlings, coconut coir and vermiculite mix.   The small stones I placed at the base of the pots is to prevent the coconut coir / vermiculite mix from being washed out during the flooding.
Detail of the water flow out of the 100mm
 pipe into the "feeding" tankbefore being
gravity fed back to the pump tank.  When the
water lands in this tank, it splashes, causing air
to be mixed in with the water.  If I should find this
 isn't  sufficient, I will add a 2 watt airstone which
 I  already have to the pump tank.
The overflow / drainage from the flooded pipe is directed to a filtering / feeding tank (to which a dose of seaweed extract and an alpaca poo half-filled stocking has been added and which will be replaced weekly) which then drains back to the tank containing the water pump via gravity.
Tank containing the 28 watt water pump
Round and round and round - well, life is a circle isn't it :)

Given that potatoes are now costing anywhere from ZAR73.00++ / 5kgs, the veggie beds, which housed the plants which are now going to be grown in the hydroponic system, can now grow potatoes instead :)  (we eat l-o-t-s of potatoes lol  Mashed, baked, roast, plain boiled and served with a dollop of parsley butter, pomme frites, potato salad, pommes dauphinoise, gratin, etc.)
Las summer pumpkins grown in alpaca filled tyres
 and the shoots were suspended along the fence
 of the uncovered veggie patch.
Pumpkins - they worked so well that they'll still be grown in alpaca poo filled tyres next summer...
Raised veggie bed during construction
... garlic, ginger, swiss chard and carrots will be grown in my raised veggie beds, and as for beans - they may end up in the raised beds and / or the hydroponic system too.  Maybe, like the cabbage and broccoli, I'll try both methods of growing beans - just for comparison...?

Beetroot and onions grow well in my shadecloth veggie bed ground, so that's where they'll stay.

I reckon the shadecloth veggie patch is going to look very forest garden-y next summer :)

And that covers all the veggies I normally grow.

Saving water, helping vegetable plants grow, and working on continuing to provide food in the face of global warming / climate change.  I hope our hydroponic system works as anticipated...


All the little tiny side shoots are new and
 have developed since I placed this lettuce seedling
 in the hydroponic system.
Postscript since writing this earlier this week:  The small lettuce plants which I removed from the soil about 10 days ago, washed the soil off the roots, and placed in the vermiculite and coconut coir filled pots in the hydroponic system have already grown new roots!!  :)
I chucked a couple of pea seeds into three pots -
 they are just beginning to peep out.  I also have
 peas growing in the ground (which were planted a
month or so ago) - let's see which do better /
are more prolific providers...
Also,some pea seeds have just peeked above ground (or should that be coconut coir).  Welcome, little guys :)