Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Reflections

We have now been here for exactly 2 months to the day, and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how we have coped and what we have achieved thus far.
The closer one is to water, the clearer the
background comes into focus
We rapidly confirmed that we did not have enough power.  Not with our damaged 4 X 130Ah batteries, 3 X 135 and 3 X 75 watt solar panels.  No where near enough power to do what I need to do on a daily, or nightly basis.  Lights, run the PC and / or laptop, a decent sized fridge, TV, MNet (subscription channels - well, RMan wants his sport LOL), charge phones, light (and torches batteries)...  Nothing fancy - no iron (thankfully LOL), no kettle, no heaters, no air-con, no hairdryer (not easy on a winters morning - thank God for the genny).  We just need enough power for the simple stuff.

Frustration.  Work could only take place once the sun was shining and the batteries were thus being recharged for the nights' use (the small fridge).

Lights - well, if the torch batteries were flat, we had our trusty standby paraffin (kerosene) lamps, but that didn't prevent my tripping over Scallyway, who, when lying on the floor at night, due to his identically coloured coat, blended in perfectly with his background :)  (Paraffin light seems to blind and reflect very easily off the glasses I am now, due to my slowly advancing years, forced to wear.)

Plus our genny broke.  The brushless genny RMan was sold turned out to have brushes.  Try buying one of those down the road.  No - they needed to come from Johannesburg (i.e. a 2 week wait).  We have a 2nd genny (which RMan scored from the auction he went to), but that has no AVR (automatic volt regulator) so it is useless for running a PC, charging a laptop, powering a TV or MNet decoder.  But - it could be used for the cement mixer, power tools, etc...

The Dover stove - well, you've already heard of our trials and tribulations.

But, it has been the cold that has affected us (well, definitely me) most.  Cold - all the time.  I normally have the internal temperature of a simmering kettle.  My feet have always stuck out of the bed covers every night of the year - in order to regulate my temperature.   But, when you wake up in the morning to anything from 5 - 10oC (inside) and go to bed with the same temperature, your perspective changes.  Feet exposed actually ache from the cold.  Even though I love snow, the unusual snowfalls that we have already had (four separate ones this year so far) have probably not helped in that respect -  :)

Imagine, in the dead of winter, you are without electricity for an extended period of time - really, really think about the consequences of that inconvenience, especially those of you who live in the colder Northern hemisphere.  Would you be able to cope?

For I have discovered that when you are cold -  bone-chilling cold - everything feels hopeless.  The cold gets inside and clouds everything - every judgement you make, every thought that flashes through your head, everything.  You somehow lose the inclination for any physical movement - "Please, just let me stay curled up in a foetal position, with my hands, for warmth, wrapped round yet another piping hot cup of tea / coffee / hot chocolate .  I really don't need to weed the beds or prepare a seedling mix to plant my seeds right now.  Really I don't.  But I should..."

Each and every breath condensed into mist as we exhaled - whether we were inside the building or braving the cold outside to check on the builders / building progress.  And, as for going to the bathroom with it's tin roof - I had to <shiver> mentally prepare myself for that every time LOL

And, RMan and I both have warm down-filled jackets.  We have literally lived in them for the past two months. If their waterproof outer layers didn't make so much noise, I would probably have gone to bed in mine LOL

I have also discovered a very deep compassion and respect for those who live in the informal townships scattered around our country.  And for those who call the street their home.

The fact that those township dwellers who are employed, get up in the crispy, cold early morning and go to work, that they manage to keep their families together and put some kind of meal on the table daily, and that they have children which have the sweetest smiles and largest inquisitive eyes, and the least expectation of life, can face each day hopeful - I take my hat off to them.  To some degree I also understand the temptation (and availability) of drugs and alcohol that causes the abuse of those substances under those circumstances.  Anything to "take them away" from their dire circumstances - be that the bitter cold of winter or the oppressive heat of summer.

The builders, and their mess - not good.  The lack of privacy of living on a building site, the constant noise of building / demolition or from the genny and the cement mixer, the dust, the streams of muddy water from hoses left running...

And currently only one outside tap - which serves both the builders and my washing machine.  They just don't understand that if the hose pipe is connected to another pipe, they can't just disconnect it.  Well, they can and they did - more times than I could count.  I don't know what it's done to the washing machine programme - I guess I'll only find that out once they leave the site, whenever that is... LOL

Our internet connection has not been ideal, and although we have had the technician out, he has told us that we cannot expect to have a better one due to our location.  So my dongle has to suffice.  Even though the connection is erratic.  And that is with a 5 mtr usb cable in order to give the little dongle a bit more of an aerial.  I have also had to be aware of the state of charge of our damaged (solar) batteries and that has been incredibly restrictive.  Basically, it was only when the sun was shining brightly that I could venture anywhere near the computer in order to work, which took precedence, or browse blogs or travel the world wide web - when my connection behaved itself :)  And then, "If I only had enough megabytes..."

Hopefully, the affordable 2 year contract we signed has sorted all that, and the new power set-up is going to address the power shortfall.
Yin and yang - true and false - what you think
you see is not necessarily what is actual :)
Finally, I would recommend to everyone who reads this blog post - whether you are planning to move and live off-grid, or whatever your plans are for that "one day if something unexpected and dire occurs" - be that a full-on financial depression à la the 1930's, a natural disaster, an unexpected lengthy break in your grid power, a terrorist attack or a war in your country which affects your power supply, etc - first and foremost, consider that your preparation should include warm clothing - and then, at minimum, double it.  For, if those warm items get wet, and you don't have the wherewithall to dry them quickly, you're up the creek.  Literally.

Protection from the elements and warmth.  Those two things are imperative.

Then, sufficient light to see in the darkest hours after the (sometimes evasive) sun has disappeared over the horizon.  Some manner of replenishing the batteries in your torch - like a solar charger, or, if you're able, invest in a small, very basic mobile solar system for lighting only.  Or, if you're fortunate, invest in a small petrol-powered generator - but bear in mind that means that you have to have some quantity of petrol in storage.

Storage and cleansing of water - even rainwater - which can, and must, be strained and boiled (for a minimum of 10 minutes) in order to be suitable for human consumption for dust, seeds, bird droppings, etc - they all contaminate the water collected from our roofs.

Some non-grid method of cooking / warming food.  Solar oven, wood fired barbecue or pizza oven, or a rocket stove.  And plenty of dried storage ingredients.  I've surprised even myself with what food I can prepare from a limited selection of dried / home preserved goods (the rest of my foodstuff is still in our storage facility in Swellendam...).  And, of those home preserved goods, tomatoes came out tops!  Our tiny, tiny bar fridge provided only limited space for those items / leftovers which needed cold storage.  Harvesting produce from our shadecloth veggie patch this winter was a Godsend.  Lettuce, swiss chard, radish, rocket, beetroot, broadbeans, peas - each was gratefully harvested when it was needed, and, together with my jars of home preserved tomatoes and stock of pearl barley, dried split peas and dried beans, was added to soups and stews to make a delicious, nourishing meal.  And, as an unexpected bonus, the shadecloth structure also protected the growing plants from frost, which we are unused to, and of which we've had plenty.  Our second shade cloth structure is in progress as I write... :)

Plan for the very worst case scenario, and you'll be better off than you would've thought you could be.  Just so long as you make allowance for warmth, water, basic off-grid power, of whatever kind, and dried foodstuffs.  And basic medicines.  Those items will allow you to feel human.  And allow you to effectively function on a day-to-day basis.

Looking at the positives, we have been able to have a hot (LPG powered) shower every evening,  We have enjoyed our hot meal every night, thankfully cooked initially on our wood-fired Dover stove, but more so lately on the 2-plate small old recycled caravan (LPG) stove, and, once we even had enough sun to use the solar oven.  We have slept in a warm bed each night.  And our albeit drafty four walls have afforded us protection from the wind and biting cold outside.
Mirror images - much like life - and how much can
we learn from them?
But, given all the above, would I change a thing?  Am I hankering for town life with all it's mod cons?  Not a chance!  Nada.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Yes, the building process has taken longer than I imagined, and that was due to the inclement weather and it's knock on effect (boggy and consequential deep rutted, and, at times, impassable roads).  And the delay has stretched my patience (and my temper on occasion), caused discomfort and inconvenience.  But, the building work will be finished - sooner rather than later... :)

Life on the farm is brilliant.

Taking cuttings.  Planting seeds.  Harvesting, and eating, home grown crops.  

Taking in the view that greets us each day.  The sight of the blue cranes, fallow deer, and even springbok, on the nearby fields, and the hares which regularly come out in the early evening as they have taken a liking to a particular spot on our piece of land (which, thankfully, is far enough away from my veggie patch).

Enjoying the space, and the quiet.  And the lack of electronic hum, which is replaced with the crystal clear sound of birdsong, the bullfrogs, the neighbours cows and sheep...

There is nothing on this planet to beat what we are experiencing each and every day.  I, for one, feel completely and utterly blessed.

Humbled.

And grateful.  So very, very grateful.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Mellow yellow

We love in an area which grows a lot of canola - for it's oil, not for it's bio fuel properties.

The town closest to us, Swellendam, has a canola oil processing facility and, as a way of celebrating the revenue generated for the locals by this important crop, they hold an annual Canola Fair at the beginning of August.  Everyone who has a business in the town enters into the spirit of the occasion.

Trees, bare of leaves in the heart of town get a colourful face lift via empty coca cola bottles which have been recycled and filled with yellow paint, and shop fronts are draped with yellow ribbons.
Recycled coke bottles adorn a grove of trees in
the town centre
The views driving to and from the town are a sight to behold.  Yellow canola fields interspersed with both green wheat and uncultivated fields.
Canola fields along the N2 highway
I found the following sight a contradiction.  Water-wise aloes, normally found in the Karoo, or on remote hilltops, majestically standing guard over the canola crop.
Aloes and canola flowers - to magnificent to behold
The bright yellow colour of the canola flower is very uplifting - especially in the middle of winter :)

Between the locally produced persimmons, naartjies (mandarins), honey, wheat and the canola oil, not to mention the sheep and cows for those that eat meant - the local farmers amply provide for the grateful local inhabitants :)  Yay - low food mile produce just on our doorstep.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Good things are coming...

Forgive my whinging of the past few blog postings.  My spirits have been lifted by a sign from the heavens :)

We've had hectic gale force winds, snow, hail and rain.  And then some more.  And then even more.  This is a pic of our rain gauge after just one night's gift.
A full rain gauge - what a pleasure :)
Our farm roads have been washed away.  Even good sized stones have been pushed along the road with the force of the water.
The power of water...
Great  "donga's" (ditches) have been carved in the "road", and those with 4 X 4's have been the luckiest, for they can comfortably continue to use the "roads".
Hmmm... slap bang
in the middle of the
track
I made RMan drive - I wasn't prepared to risk slipping into any of these holes...
Not easy negotiating these newly-formed
ditches
But, at the end of the day, Mother Nature does her best to uplift spirits - views like this can banish even the most despondent feelings.  And explain exactly why the cold and wet was necessary :)
The beauty of where we live
And, just to confirm Gaia's intention, this was waiting for us when we came back home after a shopping trip...
View from the gate...
Whichever side the view was taken, the rainbow landed firmly on the house / garage in progress :)
View from the (sodden) driveway
A sign from above?  I like to think so :)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hidden gems... in winter?

Squishing round the garden in my Wayne's Wellies to see the damage that the recent inclement weather had wreaked on my veggies, I was in for a surprise.

Bearing in mind that we are in mid-winter...

...I spied something odd...
Can you see what I saw...?
Can you see it in the picture above?

Hidden beneath my broad beans was one partially eaten, one green and two red capsicum :)
Capsicum - in winter...?
The plant had been protected from the weather by the broad beans in front.  I had left the capsicum plant in situ as it had a couple of fruit which were produced at the end of the season.  "Nothing lost, nothing gained" I figured at the time...

Then, in my hunt for peas for RMan (he eats them like peanuts :) and any veg that I can get in him, I reckon, is a win), I found something I wasn't looking for.  For the capsicum wasn't all that was lurking in the undergrowth...
Strawberries - they are only due to appear in
a couple of months time
Strawberries!

Forest gardening has unexpected rewards.  My other strawberries, which are in the open, are a tad frost damaged.  Now I know what to do to protect them next autumn / winter.

And, I had, in order to "feed" the beans and peas, and hopefully also deter slugs, sprinkled wood ash from the Dover stove beneath the beans and peas, only realizing afterwards that the strawberries might suffer.  Looks like I unwittingly did them some good...!

I am so excited about the lessons I am going to be taught by my large veggie garden, for there is nothing better than first hand experience to  "clock" something into the grey matter residing above my shoulders.  One can read, and read, but getting first hand experience - nothing better :)

Friday, 10 August 2012

The garage build - part 2

Ah - how little inconveniences add together to make major ones.

The builder was delayed on another site for a few days.  Little did we know that would impact our build.  For those "few days" were perfect weather days. By the time they returned to our site, we had had our first snowfall.  And rain - lots of rain...

And when one needs 20mtr3 of fill for the slab, wet, muddy roads are not conducive for truck travel.  Which naturally means...
Material - dumped at the gate again...
... more material is deposited at the gate - for RMan to schlep up to the house in his trailer.  You think I'm kidding?  Well here is a pic of the pounding our entrance has taken.
The state of our entrance after two cold fronts
and too many heavy trucks
But, finally, the fill ended up where it was meant to be, the waterproofing (gunplas) was laid and the re-enforcing was placed on top.  Now they could start with the floor slab.
Fill in, waterproofing in place,
re-enforcing laid - and, notice
behind the guy on the left.
On the outer edge is where the steps are to be built...
Finally, the slab!  Happy days.  Now all they have to do, in between snowfalls, rain showers and gale force winds is build the ruddy walls.
The slab!
As I mentioned in the caption of the 2nd pic above the space where the steps are to be built.  Well, between the steps and the courtyard wall there was enough space to lay some lintels.  Under those lintels we are going to store the washing machine, and the two generators we have.  It's a perfect size for the three.  And the generator has to run the washing machine, so having them next to each other - ideal!  Above the lintels we are going to install a very, very small loo, basin and shower.  Very cramped, but completely necessary, as we will have to move into the back of the garage once the builder starts phase two of our house - the bedrooms.  Yeah, it meant the architect had to submit a rider to the plans department - so that meant a trip to town to see the architect.  
My idea - use the space between the garage steps
and the courtyard wall above and below
As you can see in the pic below, we are going to be siting the new power room on the back right hand side.  The left hand side will be a small office, (and temporary bedroom) and small bathroom.  Phase two means that the zinc roof above the current bathroom will have to be removed in order to compete the walls / gables / etc.  Which means we would've been bathroom-less... :)  Adding the lintels and providing space for the small bathroom, and having the office to move our bed into means that we (I LOL) will not have to go out in the dark and cold of the night to get to the loo.
Doors positioned
So - Day 1 was doors in place, and lintels positioned.
Wall progress
Day 2 - a good portion of the walls were built.  Our excitement was palpable...
Internal walls go in
Day 3 - internal walls start...
Lintel level
Day 4 - up to lintel level - but there was a delay whilst we waited for more sand, and a couple of missing lintels...
Taking shape
Day 5 - a bit more progress
Garage roof trusses
Day 7 - roof trusses arrive and are off loaded and gable walls are built...
All hands on deck help off-load
...whilst the rest of the team carry on with the gable walls

Trusses are placed on bricks to elevate them off
the damp ground which could cause them to distort.
Day 9 - roof trusses are installed...
So close, and yet so far... But, looking good
... and there it stopped.  Why?
Well, it appears that Resin Roof Tiles, the recycled car bumper / monitor roof tiles company went bang.  And we spent 2 full days trying to source any left over tiles.  We eventually discovered a guy in Johannesburg had purchased the machinery, and the molds, but he will only be setting up the factory in the next month.  And then it will be another 2 week wait.  Which is fine for Phase 2.  But we need roof tiles for the garage now - so that we can install the solar panels, and get the power room installed.  So we had to compromise and order normal roof tiles - for the garage only.  And through doing that, we also had to get the roofing company to modify and supply the extra support beams for the trusses as the normal tiles are heavier than the Resin Tiles.

Then, we had our third snowfall in 5 weeks, as well as over 100mm rain in two days...  I have to get those gutters up so that we can catch some of this precious rain water...

The last time the builders were on site was Friday, 3rd August.  Another significant cold front is hitting at mid-night tonight, bring over 50mm rain and significant snow.  So I can't see the builders pitching before Tuesday or Wednesday...  And, without sun, and with our damaged old batteries, I may not have the power to connect to the internet this weekend.  Let's see...

But - I have to say.  4 snowfalls in 7 weeks - in South Africa?  Unheard of!  Add to that the droughts in America.  And one can plainly hear, and see, the anguish of Mother Earth.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Welcome

Please join me in welcoming Andre Muller from Cape Town.
I managed to find out that he has two blogs, http://adoptive-family.blogspot.com/ and http://mountainbike-update.blogspot.com/.

The first one is about how, and when, Andre, and his wife, Nix, adopted two adorable little girls.  This is the image from that blog:
Your little one's look too gorgeous :)  and you look like one very special family.

The other blog concerns Andre's passion for mountain biking.

Andre, thank you - for hitting the follow button.  I always reply to comments, and try to do so on the same day.

Regarding the question you asked me, I can't find an e-mail address for you, so could I ask you to please e-mail me at : dani @ ecofootprintsa dot blogspot dot com (leave out the spaces and enter the dots LOL) and I'd be happy to send you the details you asked for.  Please - also check out the following blog posting: http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com/2011/04/hopefully-i-can-now-fly-with-sun.html

Monday, 6 August 2012

The garage build begins...

We now have an internet contract, so blogging should get back to normal.  Well, more normal than it has been this past month - getting our final solar power installed will be the cherry on top and relieve the pressure of needing full sun to charge our damaged batteries :)


MKid was still here in June when the builder started by squaring off the foundations which had been dug by the digger loader.
Having the garage is critical to our plans.  Once it is finished we can remove all the goods from storage in Swellendam.  Plus, the biggest bonus means that we can purchase, and install our new solar panels on the roof and place the new batteries in their new power room position - a small (but bigger than the old) room behind the garage on the cooler southern side.  But, what about the old power room?  Well, that is so lovely and cool all year round that it's going to become my cold room / larder.  Yeehah!
Once they were square, the builders could start mixing, and pouring the foundations.

But, just as a watched pot takes forever to boil, the build wasn't helped by my constant checking on progress.
They took so long (in my opinion) that once the foundations were finished I thought we could almost throw a party.
Foundations - lovely, lovely foundations...
However, my excitement was short lived.  For no sooner were the foundations finished than the winter weather hit.  Bad enough for the poor builders, but even worse for the delivery trucks.  Snow and rain.  And more snow and rain.  In fact snow fell on the mountains again last night - the third time this winter.  Unheard of!
Unnavigational
All that liquid caused our entrance to became a quagmire - and 6 and 10 ton trucks were unable to navigate the hurdle.  So, that did the drivers do?  Well, they just dumped the fill and stone where they got stuck.  Which meant that when the ground dried enough for other trucks to deliver, they wouldn't be able to, because the stone was blocking the way.  The grass on either side of the driveway was even more mushy - not compacted like the driveway and completely useless as an alternative route to the house.
RMan and the trailer to the rescue
Thankfully, RMan used his head.  We have a 1.8 ton trailer.  And we had our helper, John, and MKids assistance :)
MKid doing what kids do best - get stuck in helping
Bless him - MKid moved a fair portion of the stone.  And then hopped on the back of the trailer for a ride back to the building site.  He loved it :)
Stone - just dumped on our driveway
To give you some idea of where the stone was dumped check out the circle in the pic below.  Close, but no cigar...:)
The circle shows the spot
Naturally, 5000 bricks weighs even more, so the driver initially offloaded a pile of 500 bricks onto RMan's trailer, but, after only loading 1 500, I guess he got tired of waiting whilst they were being offloaded by hand  So, whilst RMan and the trailer were delivering the third load to the builders, the driver just dumped the balance inside the gate - and left!  And, not having a forklift on the truck meant that they had to be manually loaded and offloaded...
RMan and his trailer - collecting the bricks from the gate
So - although this caused quite a delay, we were lucky for at least we had the wherewithall (a.k.a. the trailer and the builders hands) to get the material where we needed it.

That took 2 1/2 weeks to complete the foundations and build the foundation walls.  Next - we needed fill before we could throw the floor slab.  And that meant another 10 ton truck had to deliver...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

My first (and only) pumpkin thus far...

When DD was here for 4 - 5 days in June she spied my one-and-only home grown pumpkin, which I hadn't cooked yet.


And she had a brilliant recipe for it.


Basically, you carefully cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin (where the balance of the stem remains).  Then you scoop out the pip area, plus a bit of the flesh.  Reserve both - the pips - for planting next season - and the flesh, which will go back into the hollow with the other vegetables.
After you have peeled and chopped up a selection of vegetables, add a bit of grated cheese (feta, cheddar, whatever) and a knob or two of butter, season, and stuff into the cavity you have created.   Then pop the "lid" back on top.
We used chopped zuccini, yellow and red peppers,
cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes to
stuff the pumpkin
Place the stuffed pumpkin into a casserole dish (to catch any juices) and pop in the oven.  Allow the pumpkin to cook until it is tender when you insert a knife (which in the Dover took about 3 1/2 - 4 hours).
We cooked the stuffed pumpkin in the Dover stove,
which is heated from the top - thus the "burnt"
appearance round the opening
We ate it with a pot of fresh macaroni cheese - yummy - it didn't last long. :)
Now - all I need is to grow more pumpkins this year - many, many more.  Eating home grown vegetables is completely addictive.  I really feel for those who don't have the space or the confidence to do so.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Final Dover Stove posting


As you can see from the above graphic, Dover Stoves have been the search phrase which brought the majority of visitors to my blog.


Because of that I need to make a final Dover stove posting.  It concerns the smoke which is emitted from the stove.  Both from round the top plates, and around the sides.


Being a cast iron stove whose parts are produced separately and which are then screwed together in order to construct the stove, these joints are not sealed.  And it is through these "gaps" that smoke may be released when the fire is lit, or even whilst it is burning.


I found the following "putty" at Dassiesfontein.
I have included both the English...
... and Afrikaans instructions, as well as the contact details for the company which manufactures it.
As we were slowly being asphyxiated by the smoke, we decided to try it out - but before we could do that, we first had to clean off all the rust which had been caused by a leaking chimney.  Fine wire wool and sandpaper took off the worst of the rust.
You can see the gaps in the stove plates in the above picture.
Oh, my poor oven - it does look a mess, doesn't it.  But it soon cleaned up and even the inside side wall joints were sealed.  In fact, I sealed every joint that I could find LOL
Both RMan and I tackled the oven...
RMan then set about applying the putty.
You don't have to be too careful when you're applying it - for as the oven heats up the "putty" sets, and the excess just peels off.
Here she is - all ready to go.  And, what a difference the "putty" made.  Smoke was a thing of the past...


...until we noticed that the ruddy inside chimney had now "come apart" and that was leaking smoke into the room.


So, I have made a decision.  As we have to get this chimney properly installed, I am going to remove the Dover from inside our house, and in it's place I am going to get a Nordica stove installed.  It is a proper enameled wood-burning stove, with a glass see-through fire pit door and see-through oven door - which even has an attached thermometer.


Having lived in this house at temperatures of maximum 13 - 14oC for the past month, our comfort and health take precedence - and a proper stove is what is going to provide that for our benefit.  I need to know that when the weather is cold I can created smokeless warmth, with no risk to our health, and without having to open all the doors in order to allow the smoke to dissipate and fresh air to come in.  And I won't have to wear my down jacket inside in order to be warm anymore... :)


The Dover stove will still be used - outside, next to RMan's barbecue.  I am going to make a pizza oven out of it - for those long, hot summer evenings when the last thing I want is a wood-burning stove heating up the inside our our house.


I'll post a pic of the new oven when it arrives... :)