"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

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Recycling milk bottles in the garden

I long for the days when one could get milk in glass bottles.  But, I long in vain.  All we have available is plastic sachets or plastic bottles.   Grrr!

All the plastic that enters this house is taken to the recycling place in Swellendam.

Being spring here, it is time to get my seedlings going.  But, I needed some way of getting my seedlings going as all my old seedling pots are perishing after 5 years use, so they have been tossed in the recycling bin.

But, I do not want to be buying any unnecessary plastic.

So, I have found a use for the plastic milk bottles I am forced to buy.

There are two different types of milk bottles in SA - this one:
Milk bottle with handle
And this one:
Milk bottle without handle
I prefer buying my milk in this bottle without the handle because I can turn it into a self-watering seedling tray.

Without rinsing the bottles (the slight milk residue adds calcium to the potting soil) I start by cutting the bottle in half.

 With a sharp pair of scissors, cutting the bottle in half takes no time at all :)
 With the two halves separated I then remove the lid...
 ...and invert the top (neck) half into the lower square base.
 If you cut it at the right point in the bottle (the third line from the bottom)...
 ... then the top half slots inside the lower half with approximately 8 - 10 mm of space between the inverted bottle top opening, and the base, thus creating a perfect little dam :)
Self-watering milk bottle seedling pot
After placing the inverted top half into the bottompiece and filling it with a potting soil / alpaca poo mix, you're ready to plant. (In the tomato "seedling pots" I first placed a banana skin at the bottom - underneath all the potting soil mix.  It also adds beneficial calcium to the soil.)

These tomato seeds were planted in the milk seedling pots at the end of August.  As you can see some of them are almost ready to be transplanted.

In those places where I have severe cut worm infestation I'm going to try an experiment and plant some mature seedlings (lettuce / rocket / beans / etc) in situ together with the top half of the bottle - sort of like growing seeds in a soil filled empty loo roll and allowing part of the loo roll to protrude above the soil when the seedlings are transplanted into beds.  The bottle neck hole in the soil will be more than wide enough to allow for the roots of the plants to go through into the proper veggie bed.  Adding a good layer of crushed egg shells to the top soil surface within the "seedling pot" will, hopefully, ensure that at least this year I should have some lettuce growing success :)

When these recycled "pots" perish, it's off to the recycling depot with them :D

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Restricted, but still working

This was a strange winter.  I didn't put on my warm jacket once.
But, surprisingly, we had snow on the mountains which are visible from our smallholding - not once, not twice, but three times!!
It's a pity the snow doesn;t come lower,
but I guess it is better than nothing :)
Normally if that happens only once a winter we are lucky, but three times???

Given our topsy-turvy weather, I have this niggly feeling that this summer is going to be an extra-ordinarily hot one.

So I have to make plans now.

The chickens have had free access to the entire property ever since they arrived here.  Not that you'd know it - they tend to hang as close to the house as they possibly can - trying to wheedle food out of us every time they see us.

And, the new rooster, Tweedle dee's now grown up chick, has decided that RMan will be the target of his displeasure when he feels that the (easy) food distribution is taking too long.
Existing chicken range
The problem with allowing the chickens total free reign is two-fold.

1  They are casting aside whatever mulch we place round fruit trees, grape vines, veggie patches and berry bushes.

2  We run our Cape Town based business from home, and, the rooster has no remorse crowing right by the back and front doors whenever he feels like it.  What our potential, or existing customers think about that noise as background to their telephone conversations I have no idea, and there is no additional charge for the sounds effects, but it is not an ideal situation.

3 Stepping out either the front or back door became an obstacle course - trying to avoid their "parcels".

Plus, I have one chicken who refuses to lay with the others - look what I found under the  bay tree...
As you can tell, I have been searching for her
 eggs for 13 days...
So, we have made a plan.

We decided to restrict their free ranging to the back area - in our lemon orchard.
New chicken range
Being, on average, 38mtrs X 30 mtrs in extent (or 1140mtr2), and considering that they are given a generous amount of chicken feed / laying pellets twice every day (good morning and goodnight) I am not concerned that they are going to suffer.  (Note: Althought the 24/7 feed bucket worked very well, and was hung high enough in the coop to prevent the mice from accessing it, I had to remove it from the coop as the wild birds found it.  Perhaps I will introduce it again next winter...)

The chickens noses are a tad put out of joint, but they'll get used to it ;)  The occasional one has found her way over the new fence, but that generally happens round about the evening feed time, so getting her back into the orchard area is quick and easy - she follows me because I'm holding the chicken feed bucket.
The separation involved running a chicken wire fence down next to the berry area.
New gate to access the lemon trees and the
 chicken coop.
We have placed a gate right next to the coop...
New tractor access gate
... and RMan has made a stonking gate next to the boys paddock so that he can still get his tractor out of the area.

The only problem is we keep our alpaca pool pile in that new chicken area.

We covered it up with heavy black plastic for the winter - to prevent any potential heavy downfalls of rain from "washing the goodness away" and to encourage the pile to heat up and kill any weed seeds.   That also meant that the chickens didn't have access to it - they were tending to scatter it's contents to the wind...
Seems like a small pile of alpaca poo, but we have
already started feeding the plants with a dose of it's
 goodness in anticipation of their bearing fruit / veggies
However, as they will now be restricted to the area where the poo pile is located so that doesn't seem all that clever.

On re-potting a pot plant on our patio last weekend, I also noticed that the soil inside the pot was full of cutworm - which must've come from the alpaca poo pile.

So, exposing the poo pile to the chickens is win-win - they get additional insect protein whilst they're turning over our poo "compost" :D

Oh yes - look what we've got access to...!
Actually, they get (got) more than insects.  As we lifted the black plastic, we spotted a fair sized frog (which they totally ignored) and a mouse - which crouched transfixed at the sudden sunlight / sight of us and the chickens.
One mouse - it had just seconds to
realise what was happening...
It didn't last long though.  One of the chickens spotted it, grabbed it, ran away from the other chickens and, in one gulp, swallowed it.
She is doing that chickens are meant to do -
find the insects in the poo pile - but, in so doing,
 she is scattering the alpaca poo far and wide...
But, what to do about their scattering the gorgeous compost material everywhere?

For that solution, you'll have to wait until it is complete and I can share it with you all... :D

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Plum tree leaf problems

For the last couple of years my plum tree leaves have been quite off - to say the least.
Can anyone tell me why they are distorting like this,..
...and how do I treat it / hep the trees?

I have tried picking off the affected leaves (l-o-n-g job) and burning them, and thought that last year I had sorted out the problem, but obviously not.

It didn't seem to affect the harvest last summer, but it is obviously not right.

Larger res pics - absolutely no sign of aphids...?!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Finally - culinary success

Kymber is forever posting about fermented veggies and kimchi.

And, although I have tried making sauerkraut a number of times, it has alway managed to "achieve an aroma" which put me off, and has caused RMan to throw it away.

I have finally succeeded this winter though.  And I now know why my previous attempts have been a failure.
Fermented cabbage - success at last!
In tryng to make sauerkraut in summer, the ambient room temperature has been too hot.
Home made salad dressing to splash on the
(95% home grown) salad
(our avo trees are still to young to produce),
and homemade fermented cabbage -
easy summer veggies to serve at the drop
 of a hat :)
It was the winter 2016 issue of the go! Platteland magazine that spurred me on to try again this year - with these two recipes.
Fermented cabbage & kimchi recipe
(Recipe courtesy of go! Platteland Winter 2016 issue)
So, with the success of my first trial batch, I got clever.  Not only have I got fermented white cabbage, but I have got fermented red cabbage too ;)  Success, of course, made me giddy - and I know have 6 jars of white and red sauerkraut in the fridge.  Loving ginger as I do, I added about 2.5 cms of peeled, chopped ginger to two of the sauerkraut jars.  I haven't tasted those yet though...

BUT, even if you're an avid fermented cabbage fan, please, make yourself a batch of their sweet and sour pickled cabbage.  It is just too devine :D
Sweet & Sour pickled cabbage recipe
(Recipe courtesy of go! Platteland Winter 2016 issue)
I added some of my preserved piquante peppers to
 this as well as the chillies - yummy...
I am completely hooked on it - and would even eat it with boiled eggs if I could ;)

Very cool!!

I will try and see if I can grow cabbage in my shadelcoth veggie patch this summer and, if I am successful, from now on before I make any cabbage for RMan and I, and before the chickens demolish the outer leaves and the alpaca's wolf down their share of thinly sliced cabbage, I am definitely making more pickled cabbage this summer.  Saukerkraut and kimchi - when my fridge stock is finished I will just have to wait until next winter when the temperature is once again suitable for fermenting vegetables... 

P.S.  Don't fret if you can't find the Winter 2016 issue in the store anymore - go! Platteland have additional copies which can be back ordered

Saturday, 27 August 2016

What an ecological catastrophe

Have you seen these images?

Sarajevo ski jump 1984 winter games

Baseball venue at Hellenikon Olympic complex in Athens

Beach volleyball venue 2008 Beijing Olympics

Swimming pool Olympic Village Athens

(All images above from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3730579/As-Rio-Olympics-kicks-eerie-photographs-reveal-derelict-sites-past-games.html)

I was aghast!!  What an ecological tragedy, an unmitigated waste of money, concrete, resources and an absolute affront to this planet.

I have never done anything like this before, but I couldn't help myself.

I established the contact details for the Chairman of the IOC and sent him a letter.

"16 August 2016

Attention:  Mr Thomas Bach
Route de Vidy 9
1007 Lausanne

Dear Mr Bach

“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” (source:  https://www.olympic.org/the-ioc/promote-olympism)

I viewed all the images, and read the following article, with absolute horror:

What an ecological / recycling / financial nightmare – all in the name of the Olympics.  Surely, one of the aims of the Olympics should be for it to be more globally sustainable, and with the minimum of negative impact on our fragile planet / global ecosystem?

With that in mind, perhaps something positive can come from this disaster because what immediately sprang to my mind was the following question.

Why on earth hasn’t the IOC adapted to modern times?

How could this be achieved?

Re-use, re-purpose.

There are winter games, and summer games – so the Olympics are already “fragmented”.

Plus, with all previous 26 individual Olympic hosts (see appendix 1), not everyone was able to accommodate all the disciplines e.g. I understand that golf has only 3 venues
Appendix 1
If the larger summer games were segmented according to weather and sport classification /discipline and each “group” (see appendix 2) was hosted in different countries, instead of just one country, then the immense logistic and financial load could be shared amongst those countries.  Adopting such an Olympics Games allocation would then allow for that diminished financial outlay / burden to be allocated more proactively within the hosting country e.g. given the financial situation worldwide, and especially with the number of poor and starving in Rio, it could not actually afford to build the stadiums it did.  But because it wanted to expose the country to a larger (future tourist) audience it applied to host the games.  How much more could have been done for that country’s benefit and the long term benefit its inhabitants, without that immense expense of hosting the entire Olympics? 
Appendix 2
Furthermore, this would prevent scenes like those in the link above from occurring, as the combined existing 26 various Olympic venues would be in more regular use.

Instead of the single host country building a plethora of brand new Olympic stadiums – for a once-off 16-odd day use – why couldn’t the various events be allocated to those countries who have already built those enormous facilities?

That wouldn’t prevent new hosts from entering the future Olympic hosting scene.  In fact, knowing that they will not have that enormous logistic burden and capital outlay, it would probably encourage new hosts to apply for the privilege of hosting a single Olympic “group”.

To my mind holding water (swimming / diving / waterpolo) segment of the Olympics in cold places like Russia / Stockholm / Antwerp / Helsinki to name a few is crazy.  Rather, why not allow places which have the appropriate hot weather - like Saudi Arabia / Los Angeles / Barcelona / Brazil / Australia / South Africa - to be the revolving hosts of that particular discipline?  The additional strain on athletes to perform in unsuitable weather is surely not what the Olympics is all about and can’t allow them to perform at their full potential.  The additional handicap of having to run a marathon / 10 000 mtr race in weather that is too hot, or swim in freezing cold water, is surely detrimental to the athletes health – and, I feel, to the broader sport appeal.

And ball sports – all those countries who have hosted the Rugby World Cup, or the Football World Cup – they already have the venues – which, again, are seldom used, but the venues still have to be maintained and income derived from their existence / inherent and on-going costs.  Places, again, like Saudi Arabia / Los Angeles / Barcelona / Brazil / Australia / South Africa would be ideal as an Olympic Rugby 7’s / Football venues – because we (South Africa) have already hosted the Rugby and Football World Cups and thus already have the facilities to be Olympic hosts without having to incur the additional costs in order to host the numerous other Olympic disciplines.

This adaption by the IOC would reduce the total travelling footprint of the athletes and organisers / the international media / and the spectators, and would allow for a much larger, more varied and discipline specific spectator attendance.  How many people can afford to travel the world in order to watch the Olympics in the one host country?  However, if some of the games are held in their own country (or a close neighbouring country) you are more likely to have a greater (physical) audience.

And that doesn’t include the audience who watch the Olympics electronically either.

We are more fortunate than those who hosted the Olympics prior to 1980 as we now have the technology to allow anyone in the world to watch the Olympics via their TV’s or computers.

I believe that the Olympics has the potential to reach an even greater audience than ever before – if you can adapt to the times?

Consider also allocating a week to each discipline “group” – e.g. as per appendix 2, that would be 10 disciplines or a 10 week period – where the events within each group would not run concurrently with any of the other “groups”.  Have you thought of how many additional events that would enable the electronic viewers to watch?  How much additional “broadcasting” income could be derived from the extended TV coverage licences?  How many additional young viewers you could expose to the various disciplines, and who could thus be encouraged to become future sportsmen and women – future Olympians?

Spread the Olympics worldwide – in smaller “groups” of disciplines.  Allow each host country to benefit financially, instead of incurring a debt it takes years for that country to recover from, invariably to the detriment of that country’s inhabitants.

Surely all of the above is the more in line with the spirit and ethos of the Olympics?"

I couldn't sit back and do nothing.  I was too offended.

Obviously there would be various details to work around, but to me it makes total sense.  What do you think?

Update:  Strange how things happen, isn't it?  Complete synchronicity :)  This article was published on Green Times website on Wednesday this week.  Seems to make my suggestion even more appropriate...

Monday, 22 August 2016

Wintry day

Woke up this morning to these wintry views : 
Snow on the mountains behind Swelledam...
It's about bloody time - I've waited ALL winter for these views!  Quite a bit of snow - more than usual - has fallen in South Africa this winter, but this is the first time this winter that it has settled on "our" mountains.  Not a heavy fall, but better than nothing :)
...and snow on the mountains behind Suurbraak
The only thing a day like this calls for is...

... a mug of hot chocolate... (or if I'm honest, a few mugs of hot choccie)

 ... and the Rosie - at full burn :)

Life is good :D

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Hydroponics vs ground 2

Time for an update on the vegetables which I am trialling in our basic hydroponic system.

Once again, I was let down / felt great disappointment with the manufactures of seedlings.

Last year (autumn / winter 2015) I purchased some cabbage seedlings, and they grew wonderfully - only problem was is that they were cauliflower seedlings :(  This year what was labelled as cabbages turned out to be broccoli.
Broccoli not cabbages grrrrrr!
Finding this out at the end of the growing season does not please me!!  The alpacas love cabbage, and they had to go without home grown cabbage yet again.
The soil grown broccoli is still not producing
 and, 3 weeks ago, was roughly half the size
 of the ones in the hydroponic pots
What I have found with the hydroponic vs soil grown plants was that the cabbage broccoli went to seed very quickly in the hydroponic container, but, as can be seen from the pics above and below, the soil grown cabbage is performing much better.

So, cabbage broccoli won't be hydroponic-ed again.
The red cabbages I planted - as you can see
 the soil grown ones are leaps and bounds
 ahead of the hydroponic ones
The peas, on the other hand are working well.
My hydroponic peas - 3 weeks ago
4 weeks ago they looked like the image above...
The hydroponic pea plants today
 ... and today the plants are twice the size / height - at roughly 1.4 mtrs tall.
There are loads of pea pods on the
 hydroponically grown pea plants
Happily, the plants are laden with pea pods too :)

The comparison between the soil grown pea plants and those grown hydroponically?  The land grown ones were planted roughly 5 - 6 weeks before the hydroponic ones so it's not that easy to demonstrate with pics, but I reckon that the hydroponic pea plants have more pods on them.

Do I need to grow them hydroponically?

Nope - they  normally do well in the ground, but I was so excited about the hydroponic system we had set up that I wanted to grow something - anything - to trial it before the coming summer, and peas were all I had to hand at the time.

But, I am satisfied that the system is working.

I will be growing tomatoes and peppers hydroponically this coming summer - as well as in the ground.  Apart from the piquanté peppers, I do not seem to be that successful with normal red / green / yellow / orange capsicum - the plants are permanently in a state of "wilt" no matter how much water I give them, and the peppers themselves seem to be susceptible to rotting on the plant very quickly.

So again, with this experiment, let's see which produces more and which plants do better?

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Mulch rescue

The one thing about having totally free range chickens is that they can play havoc to your best laid plans.
Mulch mess - thanks chickens!!
Take the mulching that we're doing to try and preserve water / assist the plants / veggies / fruit trees to thrive in adverse heat (global warming) conditions and be productive.  The chickens delight in scattering that mulch as far and as wide as they can.

Nope - that doesn't suit me at all!

So, I asked RMan if he could build me a mulch protector.

First things first though, in tidying up the mulch mess, and removing some weeds / grass, around the beds we came across this little fellow.
About 1.5 - 2 feet long - with quite a scary "V"
marking on it's head.  A brown house snake.
Initially, we were a tad concerned, because the single row of scales underneath of the snake seemed to imply that it was poisonous, but it was confirmed as a non-poisonous brown house snake - that delights in eating frogs and mice!
We were told that a single row of scales
below a snake indicates that it is poisonous.
Thank goodness that proved to be an
incorrect theory ;)
It's a pity it was dispatched before we could find out that it wasn't a threat to us, but was, in fact, a very helpful fellow.  But, too late to cry over spilt milk / a deceased snake lol
Thank goodness for the table saw
 that RMan scored from the auction back in 2011
But, I digress - to get back to the mulch protector.

My request to RMan involved him pulling out his table saw which he scored from that auction all those years ago.  I have to say it certainly has come in handy round the property :)
RMan chopping up the 3.0mtr long droppers
Then we grabbed a whole bunch of spare "droppers" (3.0 mtr long lengths of alien vegetation a.k.a. Black Wattle branches / young trunks) which we had in storage for just such an occasion.

With a cut here, and a cut there, plus a whole bunch more, we ended up with this...
Literally within 15 minutes of completing these
 mulch protectors, the chickens arrived to
 confirm that it would work :)
... a mulch protector :)

It involved thumping one middle and two end "posts" into the ground in order to use them as supports for the horizontal cross posts - of which there are two at the front and two at the back.
All it took to make was 10 - 12 X 3mtr long
 "droppers", 3 X support posts,  4 X cross posts,
 umpteen  short vertical posts, and exactly 6 screws
Between the horizontal cross posts we inserted a whole bunch of 300mm high vertical posts which will act as the mulch protector "fence". 
It looks quite cute - and goes with all the other
 wood we have requisitioned for whatever use
Not quite a white picket fence (which we didn't want) but it certainly does the trick!

As for the fruit trees - as they are part of our "food" production, they are going to get some extra special treatment.  More on that in September when it happens...