Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Better late than...


Sorry about the silence on my blog - it was an up-and-down week last week, and then yesterday I had to have a (back) tooth extracted, which left me feeling sorry for myself for most of the day...


I have come to the conclusion that I have been over confident.  I thought our house would sell quite quickly.  Guess I didn't work the effect of the recession enough into the equation.  Only two viewings in three months - looks like we could be in it for the long haul...  Even the property over the road, which is also for sale, has only had two viewings in three months.


And, because of the potential sale of our home, I have not given much thought to my town veggie garden this year.  I wasn't terribly inclined to put my heart and soul into it - in fact, honestly, I barely gave it a thought - all my energies have been channeled into planning on getting the farm one up and running.  The truck loads of compost (and some topsoil) which will have to be delivered and mixed in with the clay, the purchase of the poles for the "shelter", the purchase of the shadecloth, and to run, and connect, the irrigation from the timer - well, someone has to water it when we're not there. LOL
A much smaller version of the shade cloth
shelter that I anticipate having on the farm..
However, given that we could be here in town for far longer than thought, I now need to do some serious work on getting my seeds prepared and planted for the coming summer.

So in the past week I have sown four different types of tomatoes, a whole bunch of capsicum, mixed lettuce seeds, radish, beans and I have ordered some seeds from my heirloom seed suppliers up country.

I already have some parsnips, carrots, swiss chard, beetroot, garlic and onions,  growing - although they need more sun than they are currently getting.

That also is a major problem with my town garden.  Definitely not enough sun in the winter months.


What am I complaining about, I hear you thinking, for you in the colder northern hemisphere, who are restricted to growing your vegetables in the spring / summer only.


But my winter vegetables need sun!  Just like my solar oven... 


LOL  In fact, talking about capsicum - I found this one hidden in a corner and still growing from last season - it is still bearing a pepper - in perfect condition.  I'm going to leave it, and see if it bears any more, for the top of the plant has new shoots...
Last season's capsicum - the plant looks bedraggled
but there is new growth at the top
Ah well, I guess having my seeds planted into trays, pots, loo rolls and empty egg shells and lined up like a marching column of soldiers in the thin sliver of sun that I have in my "nursery" area, will have to do - for now.
My nursery area - with
some of my seed sowing -
in the thin sliver of sun I have available.
Note that the loo rolls
are only filled 3/4 full - to allow some
loo roll to protect the tender seedling
above ground against cutworm
when it is planted into the bed.
At least this season I am also equipped with new pest control ideas to hopefully combat the snails and cutworm.

I'm sure, between the loo rolls...

...the copper scouring pads...
...the egg shell halves...


...and the diatomaceous earth...

...I should be able to thwart most of their nasty advances.

This is a work in progress - and I WILL let you know which methods are successful and which aren't - after all, sharing is caring LOL

By the way, I also found this somewhere on the Net.  If you have a surplus of CD covers, (or your children / grandchildren do) this looks like a nifty way of putting them to good recycled use...

Whatever works - and doesn't involve chemicals in any form, and is fulfilling a recycled purpose - is definitely a plus in my book.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Eggcellent

Another eco-friendly form of pest control?


Break open an egg shell...
Try and break it as close as possible to the top of the shell - I didn't this time...
Fill the egg shell with some seedling mix, add your seed (tomato in this instance) and cover with some more seedling mix.  Water well.
As it grows I will naturally make a hole / smash a crack in the base of the shell, so that the roots can spread into the larger container it will then be housed in.  Using the egg shell as a seedling "pot" should ensure that it also gets a dose of calcium as it's growing :)


But I'm thinking - this may also be eggcellent cutworm deterrent.  I'll just have to ensure I break the shell nearer the top of the egg, and that I have at least 1 cm (1/2 ") of the egg shell sticking above ground when it comes time to plant the seedling in the veggie patch.


Happy days :) 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Signs of Spring

After our last cold snap, it seems that my town garden is bursting at the seams to show off the first sings of Spring.  Literally, in the last week all hell has broken loose - if you don't believe me, here's proof...

The pomegranate in our back garden - it's 4 years old this year - so hopefully it will bear some fruit...?  The nursery that I originally purchased it from didn't know which species it was, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see what fruit it produces.
The Mission Olive tree is budding - but the wretched south easter always seems to blow off any fruit that forms
A very confused Aubergine plant - it's from last season...
The peach tree is in blossom... 
My first geranium flower - I reckon it's a stunning, striking colour.
This Jasmine plant has always struggled, but it seems to be flowering beautifully this year.
Our Yellowood tree is bursting out its' whorls of new leaves...
Podocarpus falcatus
My first nasturtium flower of the season...
And finally, I have just purchased some catnip, and before I could even plant it in the ground, it would appear that one of the neighbours cats has sampled it... :)
We have a major cold front due to hit us tomorrow - hopefully it doesn't cause too much damage.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Will the snails cop(per) it this season?

I read in the gardening book that RMan bought me for my birthday that one can use copper pot scourers to deter snails.  I have tried coffee grounds, crushed egg shells and empty loo roll holders - with varying degrees of success - they have to be replenished / replaced every time you have a good downpour, or the watering is too severe - and how many eggs do you / can you eat in a week...?.


But I thought - "Why not try this?"  So I purchased some scourers and stretched them open...
... and I placed them over my seedling trays.  I spied a snail nearby, so I thought, "I wonder what will happen..."?


When he made contact with the copper, he slithered about 2 cms (1 ") before...
... he beat a hasty path for the safety of the potting soil mix.
Reaching the other side, he had no option but to go up and onto the copper again...
...it took him ages to get round to the stick - he looked pretty uncomfortable travelling on the copper.  I could almost hear him sigh with relief when he found the marker stick...
I can almost hear him thinking, "Do I really have to go back down there...?"
No, he didn't.  I got tired of him taking so long to make up his mind so I swiped him off the stick, plopped him on to the paving, and, yes, my foot accidentally squashed him...


Ah well, I have to wait and see if any of my seedlings get munched.  I'll let you know.


Reckon it could be another good eco-friendly form of pest control :)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Off grid

It was pretty cold when we were at the farm last week.  Naturally, I had the Dover stove merrily burning away - well, it kept the kettle permanently hot and also created a lovely warmth within the house.

I spoke about heating bean bags on a previous posting, but I have always heated them in a microwave before.  I will not be having a micro on the farm so I was determined to see if I could heat the bean bags using my Dover stove.

So I placed some pearl barley in a tray...
Empty homemade beanbag waiting for hot barley...
And placed that tray in the oven section of the Dover stove, and left it there until the pearl barley felt hot to touch... (roughly an hour - the oven reached 140oC / 284oF)
Oops - I had forgotten to organise myself a funnel, so, as they say in South Africa, "A boer maak a plan" (a farmer makes a plan)...
"A boer maak a plan"
... the chimney from one of my paraffin lamps worked beautifully though LOL  You have to work quickly - the pearl barley is pretty hot...


I placed the warm bean bag in RMan's bed, so that when he climbed into bed, his feet could be nice and toasty.  It worked a treat!


Hooray - another electrical appliance I know I don't need again!


And, talking about electrical appliances, as you know we have a chest freezer on the farm.  And in winter, when there is less sun, I have been worried that our solar power battery storage may not be adequate for 24 hour operation of the freezer.  So I purchased a timer.
Appliance timer
- to save solar battery power
I have set the timer to switch off at 8.30p.m. and switch on again at 8.00a.m. the following morning.  (The sun only rises at about 7.45a.m. on the farm at the moment) We don't have much in the freezer (only the food we need whilst we are there) because one of it's main purposes at the moment, is to freeze 5lt bottles for use in a cooler box - to create a fridge.  Oh, okay, RMan beers also need chilling in the freezer...  So there is nothing that can "go off" - whatever food is in there is covered with the 'spare' frozen water bottles and it all stays good and frozen overnight.


So that also works a treat - I love it when a plan comes together :)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Local suppliers

Our priorities with our plot were the development of the house and garden, but our last visit was different.  I told RMan that I wanted to explore the area a little, so that's just what we did :)

I had heard of Eureka Mills, but had not had the time to seek them out. 

I had been told that they were somewhere between Buffeljags and Heidelberg - but where?  That's a stretch of roughly 40 odd kms...

So RMan and I took a drive.  Thanks to the directions given by some guys on the side of the road, we finally ended up at Eureka Mills - where they stone grind wheat into flour, which contains no additives, preservatives nor chemicals.
At Eureka Mills they are very proud of the fact that they use wheat which has been grown according to a no-till system.  The soil it is grown in is used as a biological system in order to produce healthy crops which contain high density nutrients which are essential for man and livestock.  Healthy crops also reduce the spraying of pesticides, herbicide and fungicides.

To quote Eureka Mills, "In the Southern Cape, farmers include legume pastures in their rotation of wheat, canola, oats and barley.  These pastures contribute to higher organic matter which is the energy source for the micro-fauna in the soil.  Complementary to the pastures, good tillage practices like no-tilling complies with the healthy nutrition of people".
Stone ground flour grinding wheels
Damnation - the mills were closed - we visited on a Monday, and the Tuesday was a public holiday - guess the millers wanted a long weekend.  Never mind, at least I know where they are now, and on our next trip to the farm, I am definitely going to pay them a (probably expensive LOL) visit.  I can't wait to make bread with their wheat and rye flour.


Monday was obviously our day for discovering new useful contacts.  As we were leaving the sand road to find Eureka Mills, I noticed that a building which had stood empty for ages, seemed to be a bustle of activity.  Intrigued (a.k.a. being nosy LOL), I asked RMan if we could stop there on our way back from Eureka Mills.
What did we find?  A saw mill / lumber yard had sprung up in our midst.


This is a yard where the owners purchase local trees (pine, bluegum and black wattle mainly) which they cut up into various lengths and thicknesses to order.  They even make roof trusses on the premises - they were busy making some for a new barn which is being erected down the road.  And they supply the off-cuts as fire wood - and a second supplier is always a good thing to have...:)


I'm not sure that I would purchase roof trusses from them, as their timber is still very wet.  But, with that said, I held a piece of newly sawn wood and, in place of splinters, I felt this wonderfully, malleable  silky substance.  Obviously the splinters occur as the wood dries - but, boy, I cannot describe what the virgin wood felt like - too amazing for words.


I said to RMan that I would like to make a headboard for our bed with thin strips of the wood - for it is so malleable that it could easily be woven into a stunning headboard - strengthening and stiffening as the wood dries.


But, I will purchase their wood for plant stakes, and wood shavings and sawdust...!  Now that I can use :)  (When I add the sawdust / shavings to the soil or compost I will add bone meal to replace the nitrogen which the wood shavings / sawdust will draw out of the soil.)


And, I will also be able to make mulch pathways - there are so many possibilities - I am so excited :)


I could even use their wood to make raised veggie beds - I can be 100% confident that their wood is chemical free :)  And, finally, I am sure that they will be able to supply me with the poles I am going to require to make my shade cloth enclosure for my veggie patch.
This is my small shade cloth veggie patch in town,
the farm one will be much, much bigger... LOL
I have even sourced a farm close by which will supply me with manure - and compost - until my compost heap is up and running...


How fortuitous - to find local suppliers who have just what you need...!

Friday, 12 August 2011

A hard days work

The Western Cape (the Cape Floral Kingdom) is home to three types of vegetation - Fynbos, Strandveld and Renosterveld.  Our area, the Overberg, is home to renosterveld.  It is not known how renosterveld got its' name, but there is general consensus that it was named after the Black Rhinoceros which used to live in this habitat, and which was the only animal that would eat this bush.

Renosterveld is apparently on the endangered list, due to agricultural development.  There is not much remaining renosterveld on our plot as it was firstly, planted with wheat years ago, and secondly, it was completely overgrazed by the locals animals prior to our buying the land.  (The locals feel no shame in cutting fences in order to let their animals graze on another persons land LOL)

Whatever - our plot is covered in renosterbos (rhinoceros bush)- a hardy, not particularly pretty bush.  In fact not even the livestock will eat it.  The conservation status of renosterbos itself is not threatened due to its weedy nature. It is widespread and abundant on road verges and reaches high densities on disturbed or overgrazed lands.
It is also the perfect place for ticks to lay in wait for their next meal, or for a snake to shelter beneath on those hot summer days...  And the latter causes me some concern - especially when our grandson visits, as, being 7 years old, he is not as aware as we are.  


So, this last weekend, I started removing it from our future orchard area.  This bush can only be pulled out of the ground after the rains - and even then it's no easy task on some of the larger bushes.  In summer, when the ground is baked hard, you have no chance!


RMan came to help, but even so it took us a full day to clear a small corner of our land.
What a difference it makes!  I am well pleased with our efforts :)
It's beginning to look like a meadow / orchard now.  I can't wait to see which new (renosterveld) plants grow now that the renosterbos has been removed.  And all the rain water that will now be available to the plants / lemon trees, or just able to soak down to the water table...


I can't tell you how many (new) muscles I discovered I had in my body - after spending roughly 10 hours bent over double, and straining as I pulled out the bushes, I felt the protest of each and every one :)  But, I reckon it was worth it!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Farm animals

RSon was away on site, and naturally we couldn't leave Scamp (a.k.a. Scallywag) alone in Cape Town whilst we went to the farm, so he came along with us.


He seemed to take the (extended) trip OK - we stopped just outside Caledon for him to have a run around and a drink of water.


As we got near the farm, he shoved his nose out of the window and began to sniff.  Oh boy!  Did Scamp ever have a rush around with nose glued to the ground when we got to the farm.  But, he didn't stray too far from RMan...


We left him alone to do his own thing / acclimatize when suddenly we noticed that he was nowhere to be seen.  A mad dash around ensued, with both of us calling his name.  Nada.  No response.


Then I found him...
We had left a car door open after unloading, and Scamp had jumped back into the car - reckon this townie dog wasn't too impressed with the farm - especially after having come face to face with a cow - which was much bigger than him.
It took us about half-an-hour to cajole him back out of the car.  And naturally, when we lit the fire for the afternoon barbecue, he settled down.


A couple of days later, he felt confident enough to wander off exploring, but only if we were in the general area of the property that he wanted to investigate.
He was happy to get home on Tuesday though...


As we were leaving the farm I spied an ewe and her lamb in the field next to our gate.  What was different about this lamb was...
...the lambs umbilical cord was still hanging down and, in fact, was still dripping.  This precious little lamb had just been born.


But, my question to RMan was: "How can this tiny little lamb make it through the nights"?


The temperature whilst we were there this time went down to 3oC (37oF).  And more snow is expected this weekend...
But, the lamb was just too precious for words...  How privileged I felt to have seen Mother Nature doing her thing...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Forgotten, but not forsaken



On July 13th I wrote about harvesting lemons from my tree - and I posted this photo of all the pips I got from those lemons.  Well I popped them into the fridge, and, with everything else I've been doing, I promptly forgot about them.
Dried out lemon shells
Yesterday I had a fridge clean out, and what did I spy lurking at the bottom of the back of the fridge, but all those half lemon skins with the pips inside.  Sad, dried out and forgotten.
Dried out lemon pips
But not for long.


Are they viable?


I popped them, guiltily and hastily, into a bit of water, left them for a couple of hours, and VoilĂ  - plumped up lemon pips!
Re-hydrated lemon pips?
They have now been planted in some soil - and - quite honestly, if any pop their heads above ground I will be ecstatic - and, if the majority of them do so - "Captain, I think we may have a problem here"... for I don't have enough pots LOL


I'll let you know...


But, have you noticed - when one buys oranges or naartjies (tangerines) these days, they often don't have any pips in them whatsoever.  Is that because the farmers don't want us propagating our own orange / naartjie trees?


'Cos I know how LOL

Friday, 5 August 2011

A short visit

On Saturday afternoon, we are nipping off to the farm for a short visit.


Why?  Well, we've purchase two more 130Ah deep cycle batteries and we want to install them onto our solar panel system in our Green Power room.  We left the freezer connected to the two batteries we currently have installed.  I have a feeling that they may not have been enough...


And - they guy who sold us the batteries confirmed what I had read when I was researching connecting solar panels, charge controller, batteries and inverters.  Yeeha!  I LOVE it when that happens.


When one is connecting the charge controller to the batteries, the positive wire enters at one end of the battery bank, and the negative enters at the other.  This is to prevent the first battery from being charged and discharged more than the others - the second battery, in this first diagram, which I wrote about here, is in danger of being a "dump" battery - i.e. neither fully charged nor discharged.
Incorrect way
The following diagram is the correct way to wire up the batteries (to solar panels), if you are running them in parallel, in order to increase the storage capacity:

I hope the diagram is clear enough to understand...?  
Correct battery connection in parallel - for increased
storage capacity.  If you want increased voltage,
then you should connect the batteries in series.
But, again, please check with your local expert before taking my word for it.


It's a bit of a b*gger - Tuesday is a public holiday here (Women's Day) and Wednesday is my birthday LOL  Such a pity we can't stay on the farm until then and, by taking Monday and Wednesday off, have an extra long weekend... but I guess I mustn't be greedy - I did have my birthday there last year :)  So, either we'll be back on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday evening...


And they're predicting very cold weather with heavy rain, and snow on the mountains this weekend - so I will be able to see how effective the new ceiling is whilst I have the Dover stove merrily keeping the kettle permanently on the boil / heating up the room / cooking our food.  As I'm anticipating that the sun will be in short supply I plan to bake a loaf of my "Ultimate Solar Bread" or a loaf of Beer Bread, in the Dover stove, and I also plan to try out a (Dover oven) "Snuggy" bean bag using pearl barley :)


Whatever is successful, or isn't - you'll have to wait until I return to find out :)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Treasure your glass jars...

As passionate as I am on the subject, I am aware that not everyone shares this fury, so this will be the last posting on fracking.  I think you all know by now how I feel on the subject, and, hopefully, you all share my abhorrence. 

Treasure your glass jars and windows.  They may well be in short supply in the future...

There is another blight on the landscape thanks to the oil companies fracking for gas.  And there is more precious water usage / wastage in the processing of this product.  And it has caused one more farmer to stop producing food - for a completely different reason.

And all in the name of ... money.

Yes, these mines may provide employment, which enable families to survive in these hard times.  But what of the greater picture?  What of this planet?  Could those new employees not have helped the farmer to produce crops?  Should governments not be making the growing of crops the more imperative employment and action, as opposed to sinking ruddy great holes into the earth and filling those holes with chemicals / leaving vast empty caverns of nothingness - accidents / sinkholes / vulnerable weaknesses just waiting to add to earthquake results.  How is damage to the planet, and, more importantly, to the crop fields / potential crop fields, going to help in the future when food is in short supply?  Just so that oil companies could extract oil and gas for massive profits (BP has just declared a profit of $5.6 million for the period 1 January to 30 June) and banks / governments could pocket the fees / taxes to pay their (exorbitant) salaries, bonuses (!?!) and line their nest eggs with bribes!

Thanks to Clive for sending me this link.  And thanks Kathleen, for writing the article.


Natural Gas Extraction Creates A Boom For Sand
by Kathleen Masterson
August 3, 2011
 
The rise of fracking as a method for extracting natural gas from shale rock has triggered demand for a key ingredient in the process: silica sand. In parts of the upper Midwest, there's been a rush to mine this increasingly valuable product.
In northeast Iowa, a mine recently reopened to profit from the new demand. It's owned by the Pattison family, who have run a grain business for decades. They had been storing the grain in the old, unused mine tunnels carved into the cliffs and then loading it onto barges to ship downriver. They pretty much ignored the sandstone all around them.
But then one day owner Kyle Pattison got a phone call.
"We decided to open the mine because of being requested by a fracking company to," Pattison says. "They asked us to supply sand, for frack."
So with a nudge from the natural gas industry, Pattison sold his grain business and opened up Pattison Sand Co. 
And he's not the only one to jump into the business. Sandstone deposits are plentiful and accessible across the upper Midwest and in Texas and Oklahoma. Dozens of companies are ramping up production and expanding their mines and quarries to meet the huge demand. But why can't the natural gas industry get enough of this sand?
"This sand happens to have lot of properties that they covet. So they're descending on all these areas to provide their sand for their shale gas fracking operations," says Iowa State University geologist Bill Simpkins.
Photo source: Kathleen Masterson for NPR
He says the industry is using silica sand because of its unique spherical shape and incredible toughness. To extract natural gas bound up in shale rock, energy companies drill thousands of feet down and then blast pressurized water and chemicals into the shale to fracture it.
"And the role of the sand is to keep the fractures open," Simpkins says.
Other materials can do the same job, but sand is the cheapest. According to U.S. Geological Survey data, production of frack sand has more than quadrupled since 2000.
Tom Dolley of the U.S. Geological Survey says he's not sure just how many frack sand mines there are across the country, but he says the industry is growing. "It's happening so quickly it makes my head spin sometimes," Dolley says.
One region that's seen huge growth is in Wisconsin, which is already the nation's second-largest industrial sand mining state after Illinois. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources official Tom Portle likened the surge to the gold rush.
"There's been other counties where there's been frack sand mines for many, many years, and they've just kind of been sleepy deals, kind of under the radar, steady business, but not explosive like we're seeing now," Portle says.
Back at the Pattison Sand Co. in Iowa, business has been booming. Over the past 6 months, the company has hired 50 workers.

To enter the mine, you have to drive a diesel truck — because gasoline is too combustible — down a switchback road that winds its way to the bottom of the 300-foot bluff to an opening carved into the cliff's side.  After the sand has been excavated, it's sent to a processing unit at the base of the bluff where it's washed with water and sorted. The Pattison Sand Co. processing facility runs year round.
After decades of using the mines just to store grain, sand is flying out the door. Pattison ships as many as 45 rail cars full of sand each day. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that could bring in more than $100,000 a day.
Dolley says this sand fetches a much higher price when used for fracking than for construction or even making glass bottles.
"There's considerable variation in price, but yeah, frack is gonna be over double what you would see for glass container price," he says.
In Iowa alone, the Pattison mine could easily have enough sandstone to last 10 years. That's a lot considering that to meet fracking demand, it's running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long.  After the sand has been excavated, it's sent to a processing unit at the base of the bluff where it's washed with water and sorted. The Pattison Sand Co. processing facility runs year round.



Sad, sad, sad.  Our world has gone seriously wonky...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

More recycling info

My attempts at recycling are really pathetic...
Milk bottles into plant containers...
Cereal packets into seed storage...
Milk containers into mini greenhouses...
... when compared to...


this work of art...
Photo source:
http://store.mothercitycraftcollective.co.za/ranges/recycled
or these...
Photo source: http://webecoist/2011/02/28
booze-it-up-13-rad-recycled-bottle-craft-projects/

Photo source: http://webecoist/2011/02/28
booze-it-up-13-rad-recycled-bottle-craft-projects/
I don't know if I could ever collect enough bottles, or if I would have the patience to build a bottle house, and what could possibly end up lurking inside the (open) bottles...  But light it would be - I can't see the need for anyone to switch on a light during the day. LOL

I do so wish I had an imaginative brain, and could think up really useful ways of recycling our packaging waste.  So I use newspapers and cardboard in my compost / garden, and plastic milk bottles to propagate my plants, and recycle glass jars to store foodstuffs and RMan's nails / screws / bits and bobs.  But to figure out a way to really recycle, attractively...

Last night we watched the Plastiki on National Geographic - I almost fell out of my chair when David de Rothschild said that the US of A discards 2.1 million plastic containers / hour!

And the fact that where the currents meet, there is a thick "soup" of tiny broken bits of plastic - which is going nowhere... ever.  And that the number of fish they saw / caught, compared to the Contiki expedition, was horrifically low...  It's all telling us a story - we've got to listen.

I reckon that the Plastiki was a very good idea, but I would've covered the exposed bottles on the sides with the recycled plastic "cloth" / "board" that they made.  I reckon that would've given it a far greater stability.

But - the above is all a start - one person at a time, making a difference...