Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Our home...


I can barely see to type through the tears coursing down from my eyes - and I am not normally an emotional person.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU
Everything on this planet is linked.  One thing provides something which the other depends on, without which it cannot survive.  Upon which it depends that the other treat it fairly, consciously and unselfishly.


We have forgotten how to take only that which we need.  To take and to not leave a scar on this planet.  A scar which indicates our greed.  Which indicates our brief time spent on this beautiful planet.


This movie (1 hour, 33 minutes and 18 seconds long), taken from the air, illustrates how minuscule humankind really is in the grand scheme of things.


How dare we damage this world the way we are doing?


20% of the worlds population consumes 80% of it's resources.  2% of the world's population holds 80% of it's wealth.  No matter how much the wealthy "donate" to charity / build a school, the damage they have done to the poorest can never be justified.  And the poorest, in most instances, have been working to make the rich richer, and to just barely survive themselves.


What has mankind become.  Generally, I would say, a monster.


The scars we leave behind will be the legacy - of eating of that apple in the Garden of Eden.  For we haven't just eaten, we have gorged ourselves.


I'm crying for this planet.  This wonderful, amazing, beautiful life-giving planet.


What are we waiting for - what will finally be the impetus that makes us change, and remember where we come from and who we are?


We are all linked - we have to help - not just each other, but this planet.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Life continues...

After the Blogger debacle this past week, I have finally decided, and installed, Google Chrome.  This came about due to a comment from a follower, Diana, who told me that she used GC and had experienced no commenting problems.    RSon says that having both on my little world wide communications box ('puter) wont cause a conflict - hope he's right...  And I think I will devote GC to Blogger only - posting / commenting and reading others blogs.  As IE is covered by my Zone Alarm programme, that will be reserved for banking and other browsing.


What I have noticed immediately with Google Chrome, my spelling, or should that be, incorrect spelling, is immediately high lighted, as though I am typing in Word, and my chosen font remains - I don't have to keep refreshing it after I have posted a photo.


But back to life in Cape Town, it's been an upside down kinda week.  RMan had to go in for a dental op - he looked like he been kicked in the jaw for a couple of days, but he's on the mend, and enjoying rugby (with a beer) at the moment...


My camera decided that it had been dropped often enough and now wanted to rest permanently, so I am resorting to using my cell phone for photo's - when RSon leaves the necessary cable at home LOL (we have the same phone).


Me - well, I had a chat with RMan and we have made some momentous decisions this week - mainly eco-friendly and financial - which I will tell you more about that in the weeks to come, as progress happens.


These decisions have been brought about through watching Sky News and CNN - and all the closing of companies (120-odd Focus DIY stores in the UK) and retrenchments which large corporations are still instituting.  Scary stuff.  And how it would appear from these news items that the recession is definitely not as over as it would seem...


And, I have also decided that whenever I enter a grocery store, and they have dry goods items for sale at reduced prices, I am going to purchase a couple extra, and put them in my pantry.  Who knows when they might come in handy...  And it will certainly be cheaper / more affordable than a b-i-g shop when the thought occurs.  Money being spent in small amounts always does seem more affordable, doesn't it :-)


Here in Cape Town we have had a week of very welcome rain, which that means that garden activity is limited.  So I have been cleaning out cupboards / de-cluttering, and keeping an eye on my house plants - that is the only place where I am prepared to have flowering plants - my garden is for edibles only - apart from the hibiscus trees or large flowering bushes which were already in the garden when we purchased the house in the early 1990's :-)


Bromelaid "Bidularium innocenti"
For the first time in literally years my Bromelaid "Nidularium" is flowering - guess I have finally found the right spot for it.  I was so excited when I saw the orangey red flower developing - apparently the mature flower turns cream coloured.  It would also appear that it only flowers on new growth.  Interesting.


Then, my most favourite flower ever, after daffodils, and one which they add to flower arrangements, Anthuriums:




The waxy appearance and feel of Anthuriums fascinates me.


And finally, because I am missing my veggie garden, I decided to grow some onions on my kitchen windowsill, in Hyacinth vases.




It has been fascinating to watch the root development, which normally occurs underground, happen in front of my very eyes.  Soon I'll be able to harvest some onion greens to add to my salads and meals.  These roots and shoots took 3 weeks to get to this stage.  No, I'm not fertilizing the water, just refreshing it every 4 - 5 days or so.  Seems to be working, and if necessary I have an organic fertilizer which I can add if and when it appears the plants need some boosting.  S'funny how the red onion has progressed so much better than the white / brown one.


My broad beans are sprouting pods, and the peas winding up the supports, even tomatoes are still appearing on my two remaining plants - wonder of wonders!  And, naturally, my onions and garlic, beetroot and sweet potatoes are merrily doing their thing.


All in all it's been a topsy-turvy week and quite a major one in our household.  But, at the end of it, I think it's been a good one...


But at least I am happily back in Blogdom thanks to Google Chrome LOL




P.S.  I can open both IE and GC simultaneously - so alls well that ends well...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

All sorted

Following Blogger's hiccup last week, I discovered that quite a few of the photo's on my blog postings were missing.
So I have just spent the past hour, finding out which posts were incomplete, and which photo's needed re-inserting...

Nothing worse than hitting a blog page, and all you see is a big white, empty square with a little red cross in it.

If anyone finds a posting on my blog with that - pleeeease let me know :-)

Thank you.

Post script: I am unable to comment on anyone's blog.  I keep getting the message that I am not logged in, and even if I (re)log in, I am still only able to try and comment as "Anonymous".  But even that isn't accepted by Blogger - keeps booting me to the sign in page...

Frustration!

P.P.S. 9.08 p.m. LOL  Ain't the title of this posting hysterical - can't even comment on my own blog..............

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Off grid carbonated water and other ideas...

I'm always on the look out for eco-information on how to continue my lifestyle as though I had all the mod cons, available products and as though we were living on the grid.

I have just found this fantastic site full of such snippets of information - in fact they have some absolute gems!

The different sections which are covered on this site are: Food, Living, Outside, Play, Technology and Workshop

For instance, if, like me, you enjoy a spritzer (wine and soda) of an evening, then this may appeal to you:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/780462/carbonation_the_cheap_and_easy_way/
I always have vinegar and bicarbonate in my house (for cleaning, cooking, preverving and baking, so this is just up my street.  Soda (pop) bottles - I use them for homemade ginger beer, so that's a breeze LOL  Carbonated water at a fraction of the cost!


For a simple room spray, that uses an old spray / perfume spray bottle, and a few  of your home grown lemons / oranges / limes and some (of your precious?) vodka go to: http://www.instructables.com/id/Super-Citrusy-Room-and-Linen-Spray/

This site even has 30 Uses for Aluminium Foil - some are good, some are downright ridiculous LOL

http://www.instructables.com/id/Thirty-Unusual-Uses-for-Aluminum-Foil/

And, if you should want to build an aquaponic strawberry tower, this looks like quite a cool idea:


http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Build-Your-Own-Strawberry-Tower/

Or, if you have access to empty milk / bottle crates (I'm thinking those in Terlingua might be able to use this idea):


http://www.instructables.com/id/Milk-Crate-Air-Pot-Square-Foot-Urban-Container-G/

Or finally, how about this idea:


http://www.instructables.com/id/Natural-Wood-Raised-Garden/

A perfect way to use all those thin branches when you don't have a wood fired stove or barbecue :-)  I can see this working brilliantly with the wood from the black wattle trees which are abundant in our area.

There are literally thousand of pages / ideas on this site, and could fill many happy hours of web browsing, when you have the time.  Would love to know what ideas you come across that appeal to you... (and a hint - when you've had enough browsing for one day, but aren't finished the section yet, save that particular page to Google favourites - that way you won't have to go through pages and pages to find out where you left off, like I did...!)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Progress

As an interim measure we had installed the batteries, charge controller and the inverter in the roof area of our hose.

But, we have to move the inverter / charge controller / batteries out of the roof area - firstly, the fumes given off by the batteries is not good, and secondly, the inverter makes these beeping noises every time it starts up - which is every 15minutes with the freezer...  As we are sleeping below it, that is not condusive to a good nights' sleep, nor healthy...

RMan had cast the foundations last time we were there.  So, last Friday lunchtime he hopped into the van and drove off to the farm in order to get the construction of the walls of our power room started.

He was meant to be back on Sunday... today is Tuesday...

He just got so carried away with what he was doing he couldn't leave.  Guess it was a case of so close...

Day 2: one wall is complete


Day 2: all walls are complete, now it's time for the roof


Day 3: roof is on and door frame is in situ


Day 4: Plaster is complete and the door is hung.


This little power room has been re-inforced with all sorts of things, so they can huff, and they can puff, they will never blow it down / break in!

Our off-grid power room is finished, next time we will transfer all the contents from the roof to the room, and get it wired into the distribution board which is just inside the wall of the house behind the power room.

RMan even found time to start on the framing for the patio "roof".


We haven't quite decided what we are going to use as a roofing material, as we don't want to permanently darken the inside of the house just because there is a solid roof above the patio.  We have been thinking along the lines of something which is "removable" - either wind up, or take down.

But we will be using some Working for Water black wattle poles to string along the inside.

There is no rush to make a decision - we have a good few months before we have to worry about the heat again.

All in all RMan, I'm impressed.  Well done!!

We're moving forward... :-)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Oh brother, this is brilliant!

I was reading a blog posting by Mama Crow about straw bales.  Now, MC has spoken before about them, and I always assumed that she was going to build a straw bale home.

But she isn't!

Well.... actually, she is...

But, she is also going to plant herself up a straw bale garden!

Photo source: http://www.growandmake.com/straw_bale_garden
That is absolutely perfect for our clay / rock hard soil.  And, it is a raised bed vegetable patch at the same time!

Photo source:
http://www.growandmake.com/straw_bale_garden
This is the inital layout I am planning:


Straw bale vegetable garden plan 

As you can see, being in the southern hemisphere, I have orientated the planting with the northern sunlight in mind.  I reckon planting the lettuce behind the peppers will provide enough dappled light - time will tell.  I may also alternate tomatoes and peppers bales in a row.

I am going to try both methods of laying the bales down - one bale will be with the twine side horizontal to the ground, and the alternative bale will be with the twine vertical.

The advice for successfully growing in straw bales is as follows:

• Days 1–3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them wet.

• Days 4–6: Sprinkle the bales with 1/2 cup of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) per bale per day, and water it well into the bales. I didn’t have any trouble finding ammonium nitrate from my local ag-supply store. They sold it in 40-pound bags. I have heard, however, that some people have had difficulty finding it in more urban settings. Ask around. (Apparently, ammonium nitrate is used in bombs - that may explain the difficulty in obtaining it.)

• Days 7–9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of ammonium nitrate per bale per day and continue to water it in well.

• Day 10: No more ammonium nitrate, but do add 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale and water it in well.

• Day 11: Transplant your plants into the bales. I used a spatula to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Place the plant down to its first leaf and close the crack back together as best you can.
(Info source: http://www.carolinacountry.com/cgardens/thismonth/march06guide/straw.html#intro)

And, apparently, when growing squash / watermelons / pumpkins in straw bales, the crop yield is terrific.

And at the end of a years' growing, when the bales are looking really sad and sorry for themselves, simply open them up, spread the straw around, and add another straw bale on top and start all over again...

They can even be used for growing flowers in...

Googling straw bale gardening or info and images brings up a wealth of info / idea's!

I had been trying to visualize mixing clay and compost for my vegetable patch on a grand scale without a tractor / rototiller.  Now I have one more problem solved - thanks MC!

I reckon this might even work for those over there in Terlingua - their ground is even harder... J

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Grid-free toasted sandwiches

I purchased this little gadget last year - we mainly use it on our barbecue.  It is another manual kitchen gadget :-)

But, being winter, it's not really barbecue-ing weather.  Also, I refuse to use an electric snackwich / toasted sandwich machine.  And why should I - this works better than either of them, and I don't have the grease filled machine to clean out afterwards.


Firstly, cut your bread, cheese and tomato as you would for any toasted sandwich.  But, butter the outside of the bread.


Pop the sandwich in a little silicone pocket - I use a silicone pocket as the toasting gadget is made out of aluminum.  Preferably, I would advise against  using aluminium in food preparation - there is circumstantial evidence that using aluminium aggravates the possibility of developing Alzheimer's in later life.  The heat generated by the cooking utensil apparently leeches aluminium into your food.  My late mother-in-law had Alzheimer's, and that is an ending that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  The same goes for all those cool drinks in aluminium cans - sure, the inner surface is lined, but the outer surface, where you place your lips, isn't!  It just isn't worth the risk.

(I understand that aluminium is essential for the transfer of heat in cooking utensils, and I do, wherever possible, purchase items which have a stainless steel outer / cooking surface.  Where that is not possible, I use, as mentioned, a silicone barrier of some sort.)


Place the pocket on the one side of the toaster, close the other side over, and secure it with the little catch.


Pop the sandwich filled toaster onto your heat source, and turning frequently...


... in about 3 - 4 minutes you have a delicious ooooozy cheese, piping hot tomato, toasted treat!

Cleaning couldn't be easier - simply wash the pocket in soapy water or pop it into your dishwasher.

This could also be used to cook steak, chicken fillets even eggplant Parmesan LOL

But the best thing is the grid power consumption = NIL!

Fellow South Africans who don't know this, or haven't seen it, can find this little gadget at their local Co-Op, Dassiesfontein and even some hardware stores stock it.  Also try a camping store.

For my American followers: following a comment I made on another blog, Jacob Bromwell has been in contact with me, and I suggested to them that perhaps they should add this to their range... if you want it, hassle them :-) (I even sent them a photo or two so that they could "see" what I was talking about). Guess it all depends on whether they want to have a new product item in their range and add something new and completely usable to the selection of off-grid products they offer.  There's nothing like innovation to keep a company at the forefront of their rivals... :-)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Simply put

I subscribe to a blog which had the following posting yesterday:

It is about a passionate, simple man - there is nothing fancy about him, and he has no larney academic qualifications, and no-one he has to impress...



...he is just passionate about the land he walks upon.If I compare him to the wealthiest / most infuential people in the Western World, I would rather meet, and spend time, with this man anyday.

To me, Oom (Uncle) Koos epitomises who we should be / should strive to be.

How far has man strayed from the genuine path he was set upon this earth to walk?  We have come to worship money instead of life, at the expense of...?

How sad.  How very, very sad.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Back in my day...

In the line at the store, the cashier told the lady that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The lady with a bit of grey hair apologized to the cashier and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day..."

The cashier responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."

She was right, that generation didn't have the green thing in its day...


Back then, they returned their milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn't have the green thing back in that customer's day...


In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go a few hundred yards.

But she was right. They didn't have the green thing in her day...


Back then, they washed the baby's nappies because they didn't have the throw-away kind.

They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts - wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.  And if the weather was inclement, they hung the washing up elsewhere in the house, until it was dry.


Use any available space to dry or air clothing,
instead of immediately using electricity to
dry your clothes.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new and "I gotta have (designer labels)" clothing.

But that lady with a bit of grey hair is right, they didn't have the green thing back in her day...


Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of Wales.

In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electric machines to do everything for you.


It may take that little bit longer, but the satisfaction
of doing it by hand is immense.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power.

They exercised by working in their homes and gardens themselves, in place of employing servants to do those chores for them, so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. 

But she's right, they didn't have the green thing back then...



They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water.

They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new plastic pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got blunt.

But they didn't have the green thing back then...


And they grew their own vegetables and ate only what was in season, instead of eating the latest imported goods available from the supermaket.


But she's right, they didn't have the green thing back then...


Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service.

They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest Pizza Express.


But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have the green thing back then...?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Autumn... or winter?

Wow - the 'flu really hit RMan and I hard.  This past week has been a complete washout.  And that made me think about all the overseas blogs I have read in the past 6 months - no - one has mentioned a cold / cough or flu?!  Did no-one get ill?  Or did everyone just keep it to themselves?

I didn't even have the inclination on some days in the past week to ten days, to read, never mind post a comment, on any blogs...  But, thankfully, we are finally on the mend - although, it has meant antibiotics on my part to reach this happy state - bronchitis was my final reward for getting ill.

So, on Friday I finally made it back into my garden with some enthusiasm.

I was amazed to find that my very first tomato plant (now I'm talking about a plant which has been providing our kitchen with its' bounty since the beginning of summer 2010!) is still in bloom - this is one of the side shoots which started growing about 8 weeks ago, just as I was about to rip out the mother plant...


Can you see the tomato laden branches -
and the flowers still blooming at the top...!

And I finally got round to lifting the strawberry plants off their hooks and planting the runners / offshoots...


Ten new sources of strawberries
- in the summer of 2012... and this is
one of three plants :-)

The peas...


and broad beans that MKid helped me plant at the end of March are coming along beautifully...


Broad beans - growing the the recycled bath

I've had to support the broad beans - the summer South Easter is confused and is still howling round our neck of the woods - and then when that is finally tired, the winter North Wester comes into play.

I am so grateful for my garden - not only is it a great source of pleasure and inspiration, but it will also take care of itself, now and then, when I am incapable.

And the plants that I am now concentrating on growing provide me with a year round source of nutrients - flowers are beautiful, but fruit and vegetables are more important for my / our needs.  And fruit and vegetables have a beauty all of their own...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Our solar power installation details

During our trip to the farm for the long weekend we took a walk and met the parents of the neighbour who has installed a wind turbine on his property.  A very nice couple - can't wait to meet their son and his wife - apparently they are due back in the Cape in October this year.

They are having endless problems with the installation / installers of the wind turbine!  The guy ropes keep slacking (that's because there are no lock nuts installed at the shackles), and not only are the batteries not charging properly, but the installation company apparently left absolutely no manuals for the charge controller nor the inverter - never mind the details on care and maintenance of the wind turbine itself.

It would appear that companies have jumped on the eco bandwagon, without the expertise to complete the job adequately / competently. Typical.  RMan has spoken to a number of solar panel installers regarding the correct way to connect the solar panels we have been loaned and they all came back with different versions / solutions.

Finally, the suggestions from the company which supplied our Cotek inverter, made sense, and RMan's installation was as follows, and in this specific order: 

Diagram Source: http://www.sinetech.co.za
 

1  Firstly, we trickle charged our new deep cycle batteries in order to ensure that they are at maximum charge before placing any load on the batteries.  (Preferably charge them through normal grid power.)  Apparently if one uses a deep cycle battery which is only initially carrying a charge of say 70% of it's capacity, then that memory remains and the battery will never recharge greater than that original 70%.

2 Then, we connected the batteries.  This can be done in either parallel or series, depending on whether we wanted to increase the capacity (amp hours) or whether we wanted to increase the voltage respectively.

3  Then, and only then, using a multi-strand cable (to reduce resistance) we established a connection between the charge controller (regulator) and the batteries. That was done in order for the charge controller (regulator) to identify exactly what it is dealing with i.e. 12,  24 or 48v.

4 Then we placed an in-line fuse on our solar panels positive cable to the charge controller (regulator) and we connected the panels to the controller (regulator).  Again, we connected the solar panels in parallel (or this can be done in series) to increase the capacity or to increase the volts.

5  Finally we connected the inverter to the batteries - using a b-i-g "quick blow" in-line DC fuse on the positive cable - a 150 amp was recommended for our system.

6  Ensure that you store your batteries on a wooden surface. Contact between cement / concrete and the batteries will cause a reaction and will kill the batteries.  This could be as simple as placing a plank of wood on two bricks and placing your batteries on top of the piece of wood.

7  Check, and double check, that all your connections are good and tight - loose connections will cause overheating of the cables.

8  Store your batteries in a well ventilated and dry area.

The more ideal the conditions for your batteries, the longer they will last.

A lot of the above is basic knowledge, but silly little bits of info, like trickle charging the new deep cycle batteries and firstly connecting the charge controller / regulator to the batteries, and placing the batteries on a wooden surface are not well known.  And perhaps it suits battery distributors to keep that information as much to themselves as possible...

As with all things technical, please, if you have an expert available, consult him / her to confirm the above prior to installing your own solar power system.  This detail is what was recommended for our system.


Important: I have posted an update on the solar panel wiring diagram here and the battery wiring diagram here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Tomboy tools - a two-in-one gadget

We popped in at the local Co-Op on our way to the farm last weekend.

Walking through the doors I suddenly realised that I am a completely abnormal female.  My lungs start taking quick excited breaths, my heart beats faster and, apparently, even my cheeks become flushed with anticipation.

This is not occuring because I am headed for a full body massage / manicure / session with the hairdresser or trip to the jewellery store.  This is happening because I am walking into a hardware store.

I can spend hours and hours searching for the perfect shifting spanner, the ideal chain with which to support our counter top shelves, a paintbrush which is not likely to shed all it's hairs before I have completed the varnishing I am purchasing it for, or thingymijigs to prevent doors from destroying the plaster work as a door is whipped out of my hands by the wind, to name but a few of the recent items I've purchased.  I go into slow-motion planned four-wheeled drive mode as I walk through those doors - nothing must get in my way and my antipated enjoyment.  And, invariably, RMan has to drag me, protesting, from the store when he's finished his purchases...

And the Co-Op also has a small kitchware section at the entrance to the store.  By kitchenware, I mean 12 volt appliances, gas stove top kettles, etc.

And this happened to catch my eyes...


This was a two pack of knives - but not just any knives.  They are knives which fit inside a sharpening sheath - every time you slide the knife into the holder it is sharpened.

Two actions happening at the same time - storing the knife safely whilst simultaneously sharpening it.  Brilliant - because I am forever trying to slit my wrists when I use this sharpener:



You would not believe how sharp these knives are - and they will permanently be sharp - whenever I need them :-)  The are also a perfect weight - and are nicely balanced in the hand.


Can you see how thinly that cheese has been sliced?

The larger knife has vertical indentations on it - to prevent onion / tomato slices, etc sticking to the knife as you are slicing them.


The knives are made by Wiltshire and are designed in Australia.  The sheath has a locking mechansim built-in to prevent children from pulling out the extremely sharp knife and accidentally injuring themselves.

Now I realize that not everyone can make a trip to my local Co-Op so I have found online sources for these knives - go to : Want It All (local) or Amazon (international).  So you can chuck out your electric knife sharpener - you won't need it anymore LOL

And no - I did not pay that much for them...  The cost at my local Co-Op was about 15% what these two places are asking for them.

But I would pay that for them - for they are the kind of knives that my children or even MKid could / will inherit one day.