Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stocking up for winter

Stocking up for winter?

Winter only hits here at the end of June / beginning of July and lasts until round about September.

But, even though I prefer winter, I have unfond memories of the cold last year.  Was it due to the house build being incomplete,?  Was it due to the exposed, rural setting we are now living in?  Was it due to the wonderful snow on the mountains?  I can't honestly tell you - yet.  This winter will be the deciding one.


But with those memories, I am still trying to convince RMan that a Nordica stove, specifically a Nordica Sovrana or Nordica Mamy, will solve all our smoky  heating / cooking problems this coming winter.

Nordica Sovrana
Judging from the specs, the Sovrana should be able to heat our +/- 200mtr3 double volume kitchen / lounge / dining / mezzanine area's.
Nordica Sovrana specs

I have spent hours, and hours on the Net trying to source affordable wood-burning kitchen stoves, and the cheapest I have found is the Nordica range, which is imported by Fire and Gas in Somerset West.  Stoves from the USA, Australia, the UK, Sweden, Norway - they are all hectically priced given our pathetic exchange rate(which, today, is ZAR9.03857 to US$1.00) and that is without factoring in the transport to South Africa.  And - I would have to go through all the import hassles again...!

But, whether we stick with the Dover stove or go for a larnier model, we have to get our firewood in, and allow it to dry before we use it.  So RMan and I went to the local woodcutters a couple of weeks ago to collect next year's wood.
The WFW (Working for Water) guys do a
wonderful job of  cutting down the alien
invasive Australian Black Wattles.  I
wouldn't say they making any headway in eradicating
them because when they chop them down, they
don't kill off the stump so it just grows from the bottom
again. If they kill off th
e stump they will eventually
have no wattles to fell = no work.  They're clever LOL
These guys are amazing.  They harvest the alien Australian Black Wattle, chop it up into usable sizes and load it for you.
Thank goodness for our trailer.
I feel warmer just knowing that we have
next year's firewood on hand
1000 pieces for ZAR250.00 - and yet they sell 10 - 12 bagged pieces in town for ZAR30.00 - that's quite a mark-up!
The wood we will use this year is on the left of
the pile.  The new wood, on the right, needs
to dry for a year so that it doesn't
layer our chimney with resin - potentially
causing a fire in the future.
So, now we have our wood, all I need is my Nordica, RMan... ;)

Friday, 25 January 2013

Squirming red wrigglers

I cannot throw my kitchen scraps anywhere near the bin.  Haven't for the past 7 -8 years.
Total tomato harvest this season...
5 measly cocktail tomatoes!

This is all I have harvested in tomatoes this season - as you all know the mice have enjoyed a right royal feast on my behalf.  But, it would appear that I have been stupidly aiding and abetting their crimes.  My kitchen waste compost bin has holes on the side which are perfectly sized for a mouse to enter through, in order to partake of each days scraps.  And I had the compost bin situated too near to my shadecloth veggie house.

After giving a lot of thought to the mouse debacle, I decided the time was ripe - after all what is the point of giving the field mice an extra source food in the compost heap?

Time was right?

For what?

A Worm Farm :)

And I have been wanting a worm farm for ages.

But the prices of the worm farms online is scandalous!  Anything from R600.00 - R995.00 - for plastic containers?!?  And excluding transport / delivery of anything from R200.00 - R350.00

Why a worm farm?  Well, I have read and heard that worm castings are excellent for the garden and "are the result when compost or organic matter has been digested and worked by worms." In other words vermicompost.  And worm tea is basically a potent compost tea.  A worm farm is virtually odourless and all it requires is protection from the elements - sun, wind, frost, snow and rain.

So, it was time to get myself into gear.

Plan # 1:
The recycled bath would've made a perfect - large
- worm farm
So, having schlepped it along with us when we moved, I tried using the bath we removed during our bathroom renovation.  I thought I'd sink it in the ground so that it would stay cooler.  I even created a drainage bed from left over building stone for it to lie on - I was willing to forgo the worm tea and only harvest the worm castings.  
I allowed for drainage of rain water underneath
by layering stone below the bath
Only problem with it being below ground was that is I placed it at ideal mouse level.  Nothing more frightening than to lift the lid in order to deposit some kitchen scraps only to find a nice fat mouse - that actually jumped at me!  Shriek!!!!  Needless to say I fell backwards on my derrier in the sand... LOL

Plan # 2:

So, with RMan's help I decided to make my own worm farm.

We purchased three black storage boxes with lids.
Cool - even the box is made of recycled material,
or is 100% recyclable
The top two boxes were drilled with a row of 6mm holes, 50cms apart, right round the top rim.
RMan drilled a border of ventilation holes
around the top of the top two containers
The same was done on the base of the top two boxes - to allow for harvesting of the worm casings and worm tea.
Ventilation holes on the base, as well as the
means to collect their castings in the lower
container
A hole was drilled in the very lowest box to accommodate the tap, which will allow me to harvest the worm tea.  The complete worm farm was then placed on top of 4 bricks, in a permanently shady spot just outside the kitchen door - worms in black boxes do not like direct sunlight...!
We added a tap to allow us to drain off the worm tea
The lid was left as it was - no holes.  Don't want to cause a flood inside if rain should fall on it.

Finally, I shredded our weekly newspaper, soaked it in water, and then layered the bottom of the middle bucket / box with that.
Shredded damp newspaper - perfect
bedding for the worms
To keep the worms happy I template cut pieces of cardboard and soaked them too.  They will lie on top of the soaked newspapers - worms like damp, dark environments
A cardboard bed cover - apparently worms
LOVE cardboard
Then all I had to do was order worms...
Wizzard Worms in KwaZulu Natal sent
the worms all wrapped up in shredded paper
and safely ensconsed inside this cardboard
box.  After removing the label and tape, I added

the box to the worms inside the worm farm
...add them to the damp shredded newspaper, place the cardboard on top, and voilĂ !  I have a worm farm!
More than 1000 worms have found a new home
You place the worms on a layer of bedding in the top container, add your kitchen waste (excluding onions, citrus, tomato or cooked food), and a wad of damp newspaper or cardboard to cover them.  The second container (below) will collect the worm castings and the worm tea.  Then the worm tea drips down to the third (bottom) container where it can be siphoned off via the tap.  The worm tea should be diluted 1 / 10 prior to being applied directly to the plant - either on the soil or directly onto the leaves.

Total cost of producing the worm farm unit:

3 X R99.89 = ZAR299.67 being the cost of the three black boxes from the Co-Op - and they threw in the tap for free :)

Happy days :)

And - the added bonus - the local field mice have been thwarted from enjoying my kitchen scraps.


Disclaimer:  Wizzard Worms were not aware that I was going to feature them on this blog posting.  I ordered, and paid for, my worms using their order page.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Farm safety

RMan and I spoilt each other at Christmas.  Something that would allow us to roam the land LOL in safety.

Of all the wildlife visitors we've had, I not scared of African Duckbills, or Blue Cranes, or Hoopoes, or Sunbirds.  Nor am I scared of hares, fallow deer or...
Mandy spotted this small tortoise crawling through
the grass from about 25mtrs away
... tortoises.  Mice - they give me the heebies - literally goosebumps everywhere.

But, I am v-e-r-y cautious regarding these guys...
Can you see what we saw?  At the top of the wood...?
Can you see her?

Hiding on top of the wood?

I had specifically lent the wood against the house so that it would not be a hiding spot for anything dangerous.  I didn't think of something that would slither it's way up it...
No longer dangerous
 This is apparently an adult female boomslang.
I don't feel that guilty - after all the Book describes
Serpents as non-desirables
Roughly 180 cms in length.

Now, if you add this to the cape cobra which we discovered in December 2011, you'll understand why I am not keen to go traipsing round our property.  Yes, we have invaded their territory, and yes, it is a good mouse catcher.  But I'd rather have owls and bullfrogs perform that chore.  Fussy, aren't I?  :)

I reckoned that we should've moved it down to near the stream, but our labourer said, "nope -they move too fast", and we had nothing to catch it with.  So he dispatched it to the next life - down below.

With that in mind, we bought ourselves these for Christmas...
WGuy and MKid trying mine out for size
 ... quaddies :)

Now we can safely move around the property without fear of becoming something's victim :)  And MKid is in kid heaven - all he wants to do now is grow up quicker so that he can ride one on his own...

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Protecting my solar oven from any welcome rain

I love my solar oven - I reckon you all know that :)

But, RMan and I aren't necessarily getting younger, and having recently discovered that I have an early touch of arthritis in my right hand, shoulder and knee, I am finding it more and more difficult to move heavy things.

And, at 13kgs (22 1/2 lbs), picking up the solar oven from where it sits at ground level in order to bring it indoors is not the most comfortable experience.  In addition, having it cluttering up the floor in our open plan lounge / dining room has been irritating - and dangerous at night.

Now, the instructions told me that my SunCook solar oven is not waterproof and should not be left outside in the rain.
The cover closes onto the inner lip
 This is because the cover closes onto an inner lip...
The inner lip slopes down towards the glass oven lid
 The inner lip slopes down slightly to the glass lid / oven door...
And below the glass oven door is the heat seal
which is loosely glued to the interior reflecting
walls of the oven and the inner lip which the lid
closes onto
And the glass lid / oven door sits on the heat seal below the glass.  The heat seal is not fixed in a waterproof kind of way, so any liquid (in this case rainwater) will seep into the insulating lining of the oven.

And, as I discovered when I accidentally left the oven outside one rainy day a few weeks ago, sodden insulation does not encourage maximum heat within the oven, because it seems as though that sodden wetness affects the temperature one can achieve within the oven...

Follow instructions, Dani.  You know that... :)

Ahem - I didn't!

So, after managing to successfully drain out the excess water, I had to come up with a solution as schlepping the oven indoors after every use is completely unnecessary...
57cm Weber braai cover
The SunCook's footprint is 59(l) X 56(w) X 29cms (h).  And the Weber braai cover is to fit a 57cm braai.  Obviously, I deduced, it will be slightly larger than the braai.  So I purchased a cover at our local Co-Op, rushed it home, and tried it on for size.
My waterproof solar oven :)

A perfect fit :)  Slightly baggy, but rather that than too tight.

I'm not too sure if the seam of the cover is that waterproof, so I am angling it away from that vulnerable part of the oven, and tucking the excess bit of the cover under the oven so that it can't blow away.

Now - I can happily leave my oven outside on the patio where I use it.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

"Mr Golden Sun, please shine down on me..."

(The above title above is taken from the lyrics of the Barney & Friends song "Mr Sun")

I've been feeling under the weather for the past couple of weeks.  Dunno what it is, but I am constantly tired.  So tired, all I want to do is sleep.  Me - sleeping during daylight hours????  I've given it some thought and come to the conclusion that perhaps it is just my body spewing out what it had to absorb last year.  What with the financial strain we experienced, then the sale of our home of 18 years, and the packing up, and the living on a building site for 4 months, part of which was during winter, and then the unpacking, plus preparing for, and hosting, house guests over Christmas, I guess it feels it has cause to protest.  So, in the past couple of weeks I've given in to it when it required.  No point in pushing it beyond it's limits - it's the only body I have LOL

But - one less strain I can share is this.
Sun drying tomatoes in my SunOK solar
oven
My SunOK solar ovens have finally arrived.  No thanks to DHL nor SA Customs, but that is a l-o-n-g story of ineptitude, and inefficient and totally unprofessional service and I won't bore you with it.   Suffice it to say that they are finally here, and I can now take a deep breath :)

I am so excited to be able to share the experience of cooking with the power of the sun.  And nothing but the sun.  Cooking in an oven in which food cannot burn.  Where the food prepared in it is full of the goodness of that food, and has not evaporated in the excessive steam of normal cooking procedures.

After filling the orders which were placed last year I have a limited number of units left from this consignment.  I have imported both the Tropical model which looks like the pic below...


... and the Premium model.
Premium model
Both can be used in South Africa.  However, with the added side mirror and the little sundial on the Premium model, one is able to capture more of the sun's power, and also pre-position the oven thereby doing away with the need to re-position it during the cooking process.

If you are interested in becoming less reliant on Escom, of preparing healthier meals for your family, and reducing your eco-footprint on this planet, then a solar oven is just what you need.  Not one kilowatt hour will be used, nor charged for, whilst you are cooking in a solar oven.  There is sometimes a small amount of stove top preparation, but compared to the energy guzzling electric or gas stove, it is minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

Please - contact me on : dani at ecofootprint dot co dot za and I'll be more than happy to let you have the details of how you can acquire one by return e-mail.

And then soon perhaps you'll also be discovering the joy of making solar cooked bread, and biscuits, and cakes, and soups, roast chickens, lamb, beef and hams, vegetables and desserts.  Even sun-drying excess produce from your garden.  It's so easy in a solar oven.

Mouth-wateringly tender, tasty and healthier food.  I kid you not.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Lady of the Flies

We have a neighbouring smallholder, who, on 2.5 Ha has 1 cow, 22 sheep, an undetermined large number of chickens and pigs.  Which, for those of you who have animals know, can only mean one thing.

Flies.

Hundreds and thousands of them...!  Crawling everywhere.  On kitchen surfaces, clinging to light globes, falling into full tea / coffee cups and glasses of wine.  Food - I've got fly covers for that so that's OK.  But everywhere else - no thanks!  They have even been crawling all over us whilst we sleep.  Repulsive, disease spreading flies.

So, searching the Net I came across an eco-friendly recipe which I was assured would attract flies.
Ingredients for an eco-friendly fly trap
Basically, one takes 1/2 cup each of sugar and vinegar mixed with a cup of water.
All mixed together and covered with
a pierced aluminium foil lid
After placing it in a jar, pierce the lid.  I decided instead of sacrificing a lid, I would make one out of silver foil, and pierce that.
I made about 8 - 9 holes in the lid
 It worked - to a point.
Not a great success - 5 flies and a small moth
As you can see I only caught five flies and a small moth - over a period of five days.

So, the big guns had to be called in.  They may not be pretty, but heck, if they work, I'm not complaining, and neither is RMan.
An ugly fly strip - but look at the success!
These flies on the fly strip were trapped in only a 7 hour period.  And the fly strip is eco-friendly - as the sticky trap is made by applying resin rubber and mineral oil to a paper strip.
Eco-friendly fly catcher
No baiting, non-toxic, no odours and no mess.  Not pretty.  But it WORKS!

So - that is the lounge, kitchen and bathroom sorted.  In the bedroom I decided to go a little more upmarket.  As I could only get a double bed sized net DD and I sewed two mosquito nets together and suspended both above the bed.  Why two - well, I cannot handle anything "trapping" me when I sleep - LOL even my feet are outside the bed cover whilst I sleep - winter and summer.  The only thing which can be "trapped" by the bed covers is the bod - a draught up the back in winter is not my cup of tea.
DD and I joined two mosquito nets together
and draped that over our bed
Due to the size of our closest town, a double bed mosquito net is the largest they have.  I am trying to get hold of a king-sized mosquito net - for aesthetic reasons also - and then the "joined" net will be relocated to MKids room.  
I DO NOT take flies crawling all over me in the early morning.  EVER!  So the mozzie net stays!  Anyway, I always loved the idea of a four-poster bed, and this looks similar... :)

Now - I have a h-u-g-e field mouse problem - to the extent that I have NOT harvested a single tomato yet this year.  Does anyone know of an eco-friendly deterrent?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

Yeah, yeah, I know - I've been MIA for a couple of weeks.  The thing is with all the sun that has been shining down on our patch of the planet and with the accompanying heatwave of a measured 45oC (in the shade), plus 5 extra people to feed and water, the excess power produced by our solar panels was not available to use for blogging.  You see it was rather urgently needed to run a freezer in order to make ice to drop into any liquid which was splashed into a glass.  I could barely even read your blogs - had to try and catch an occasional glimpse via RMans iFone - and even managed to comment on one once too LOL

The four dogs (Scallywag and DD's three) also found it hard to handle the heat - but DD and WGuy had anticipated that and had purchased a small paddling pool for the dogs to lie in when required.  LOL it didn't just keep the dogs paws cool either...
Cooling down hot, swollen feet - move over dogs,
it's the humans turn now...
In addition the mains water pipe which supplies our area, developed a leak, and we were all without water for 3 - 4 days.  Did I ever bless our rain water tanks and the 8mtr3 they contained in total.  Not for the garden though.  Not this time.  There are definitely going to be more rain water tanks which will find a home in this garden in the very near future!

Rather, the water from them...

flushed our loo...
Rainwater to flush the loo...
 ...and washed us, and our dishes.
...to boil to wash us humans and the dishes.
Thankfully, RMan makes a point of ensuring that we always have a 25lt container of potable water, so that saw us through.  Well, some of us.  RMan, RSon and WGuy found that an amber coloured liquid which comes in a glass bottle suited their needs better.  It was a case of whatever can hydrate you...
25lts of potable water to hydrate
our overheating bodies
But DD, WGuy & MKid, three dogs and a cat, have returned to Jo'burg, RSon & Dr A to Cape Town, and now we have some surplus power and I can continue blogging :)

I hope that y'all had a wonderful New Year and are enjoying the start of 2013?

2012 was a strange year - chaotic and stressful on a number of fronts - financially to begin with, then the packing of our family home, the move to the farm and the building of and moving into our new home.

The weather of the last 10 days of the year mimicked all that.

We had gale force winds, a heatwave and an (enforced) drought.  And then there was the fire...

At the southern end of the area where we live - roughly 3 kms from our house- a fire sprang up one of the windy days.  Even though RMan valiantly joined the volunteer ranks (of 5 people) to bushwack the fire, and with assistance of the fire brigade (with their tiny fire engine) it continued to burn for three days.  Then we had some very welcome rain.  Not much, not enough to add any water to our dam, but enough to cool things down again. But not enough to finally quench the persistantly smoldering cow paddies.  The fire flared up a final time, before it was finally quenched. 

Prior to the rain we had a stunning sunset.  Unfortunately, my little camera is not up to scenery shots, but I hope you can get some idea of what it was like from the pic below.
This sunset was a prelude to a storm
 After the rain we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow - one that stretched all the way from behind our dam...
God's gift to man - the beauty of a rainbow

My camera wasn't able to take a landscape pic
big enough to incorporate the entire rainbow in

one picture

... to the other side near our caravan.  Actually, the pic with the dam had a double rainbow, but that didn't come out in the photo.

On a final positive note, apart from my lettuce plants, and a swiss chard plant which went to seed, all the other vegetables in the shade cloth tunnel survived the heat wave.  Guess the porous pipe assisted in that too?!  The "shaded" ground must have been adequately watered to the extent that it could maintain enough water until the leak was fixed.  Another good reason to install a porous pipe shade cloth vegetable patch in your garden perhaps...? :)