"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Preparation paid off

How many of you remember me telling you about some raised beds we made back in February last year?

For those who are new readers I'll  give you a quick recap:
Granite tile crates
We got some crates which had been used to pack / transport granite tiles from the local tile shop and placed them in our shadecloth veggie patch.
Once in position, the crate base was lined with stones - to keep
moles out, and to allow for adequate drainage / prevent compaction
 at the base
 The base of the crate was lined with rocks - to allow for drainage.
one of the layers of alpaca poo
  Then we lined the sides with plastic to prevent the soil washing out, and to retain water.
Lined and layered - it was allowed to settle for a month
Then we layered straw, alpaca poo, soil, straw, alpaca poo, soil, etc (plus some bone meal) until it was full.  it was watered and allowed to "sit" (a.k.a. sink / settle) for a month, after which it was topped up again.

I have always had difficulty growing ginger, turmeric and carrots in our stony, clay beds.  So, I throught I'd try growing them in the raised beds and see if I had more success...

Those turmeric leaves are +/- 4 feet high
Well, I'm please to say the attempt was successful.  The pic above is the turmeric.  Actually, I planted the corms in the wrong season, and forgot about them.  Lo, and behold! one day I spotted growth, and thinking back, I recalled that turmeric had been placed there.
I always think of alpaca's when I see carrot tops
 - they l-o-v-e them ;D
The carrots - they did bloody marvellous mate :D  with no distortion of the carrot due to stones ('cos there were no stones in the bed lol).
My finger gives you something to compared the carrot top to
 I didn't succession plant them (yet) - I wanted to see how they would do.
Matchbox for size indication, and scale weight as proof
 To give you an idea, one carrot weighed 540 gms (19 oz).
Proof that the 540gm carrot was not an isolated thing -
 there are others still in the bed of a similar size.
And there are more like that...  Lots more :D
Yummy, home-made coleslaw
How did it taste?

Absolutely bloody delicious :D  Juicy and sweet.

Half of the 540 gm carrot immediately went into a coleslaw, the rest will make some yummy carrots in honey butter.  And the tops were wolfed down by the alpaca's.

No waste here lol

All that alpaca poo, soil and straw layering definitely paid off.  I'm very happy with the results and will now allocate one of the three raised (crate) beds / year to carrots - rotating each crop between the three.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Biblical fruit

We planted our pomegranate trees 6-odd years ago.  I had read that they are hardy, drought-resistant fruit trees that can handle slightly brackish soil - which is just what we needed πŸ˜†  

However, I did them a dis-service by incorrectly pruning them for the first 2 years so our harvest has previously been disappointing.  So disappointing that RMan and I were discussing where it was worth continuing to give them some of our increasingly precious water supply.

Notwithstanding the drought conditions we are currently experiencing, the trees managed to grow 3 dozen-odd fruit between them.  I wonder how much the mulch helped??

I waited until the fruit showed a small crack on the skin and I harvested them at that point - before the birds could eat their fill.  The crack is a result of the seeds expanding within and overcrowding the confined space.  They are said to be at their best at that point.
Pomegranates hanging on the tree
Naturally, we couldn't wait to harvest them.  

It wasn't as difficult to harvest the kernels - I had read various reports on the complexity of doing so but we found it a breeze.
Apparently there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate
A couple were used in salads.
It was quite quick and simple to extract the seeds -
 certainly not as difficult as I had been led to believe it was
 And the rest were blitzed in order to harvest the juice.
The seeds were blitzed to access the juice
The inner "kernel" is a pest, but I discovered that the chickens will eat them - well, some of them.  Perhaps they were given too big a portion for their first taste πŸ˜‚
The remaining "kernels" were drained in a sieve,
 to get every precious drop.  The chickens were then served
 the remains ;)
After they were blitzed I drained the resulting pulp in the sieve...
5 pomegranates produced 900 ml of pure pomegranate juice
 ...and retained the juice in a jug.

Chilling the jugful overnight in the fridge, we drank it's deliciousness the next morning with our breakfast.

How did it taste?

In a word - absolutely amazing!!

Is is slightly reminiscent of cranberry juice - with a slight tannin aftertaste - but it is amazing and naturally sweet.  Not overpoweringly, but pleasantly so.

I said to RMan, if I was lost in a desert and came across a single pomegranate tree - just one fruit would quench my thirst and give me enough energy to continue on my dry journey.

I will had always wondered how I would extract the juice.  Now I know how, I will be tending these trees more carefully next year.  The more delicious pomegranate juice we can harvest and drink the more RMan and I will love it πŸ˜†

T'is a pity I can't dehydrate the juicy pomegranate seeds.  As I hate to waste anything, I think I'm going to investigate drying the juiced kernel remnants and, if I can find a press, I am going to try and extract the oil that resides therein.  I reckon that would be amazing to add to my homemade soap.  Lots of if's - let's see what happens......

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Mid-to-end April 2017

Bearing in mind that we are supposed to be in mid-winter in just over 2 months time, I have absolutely no comment to make about this...

Mid-April 2017 predicted temperatures
... apart from the fact that this is not usual.  Not usual at all...

Add to that these rainfall figures, and you know exactly what is happening here...
The rainfall figures so far this year are very, very worrying...

All that will help is prayers.  Lots and lots and lots of prayers.  Please.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Winter propagation

I'm going to try something I've never tried before.

Propagating during the winter months to give me an early start next spring.
So sad looking - but also a source of future seeds
Yup - I confess, I am someone who prepares for tomorrow, today.  I don't live for tomorrow, but just try and plan ahead whenever I can.  Something done today frees up time tomorrow I believe.

I'm not going to propagate anything fancy - there are just two plants that I want to try and get going early.
The basil plant in my shadecloth veggie patch
 still has some leaves below the flowers
Firstly, I have basil plants in my veggie patch that are all rapidly going to flower.
Propagating basil cuttings in water
I cut some of the basil "flower heads" slightly longer and then removed the flowers.  These were shoved in a pot of water on my kitchen windowsill and, 10 days later, they already have a healthy bunch of roots.  I reckon that as they grow, if I keep cutting off the tops and shoving them in water then maybe - just maybe - I can keep them going through the winter whilst still also "harvesting" from the growing cutting for culinary use...?
Just a touch of (useful) greenery on my kitchen window sill
My second winter propagation plant is going to be my gorgeous yellow heirloom tomatoes.

I have kept loads of seeds from this summer's harvest, so if this doesn't work I'll just do the normal seed sowing come next late-August / early September.

But I have read up that shoving a tomato cutting into water will also cause the cutting to grow roots.  Let's see.

One vegetable that I constantly propagate is onions.
New onions sprouting from small sections of the bulb.
 Top left and top right will grow three new onions when planted.
 The onion top centre will grow two new onions.
Leaving the last 1 - 1.5cm of onion on the root side of the bulb, I place that portion of the bulb in a shallow bowl of water and just let the roots and leaves grow.  Once the roots are long enough I then plant the onion in the ground.   I also take some of the newly sprouting onion leaves and use them like spring onions in a salad.

I have discovered that for every "set" of leaves that sprout on a rooting onion segment I get a whole new onion i.e. 3 sets of newly sprouting leaves on a segment grow 3 new onions - per bulb section.  I never have to plant onion seeds - why should I when the old (mother) bulb remnant does it for me naturally :D
On the left are Jewel sweet potato slips,
 in the middle are my basil cuttings
 and on the right are the ends of onions rooting / sprouting
My kitchen window sill is my go to spot when it comes to rooting plants - it's close by, it gets the autumn / winter afternoon sun, and, being just above the re-purposed two plate caravan stove and next to the kitchen sink, I'm always reminded to check the water level.

Just something to keep me busy during the cold, Rosie-filled, hopefully rainy, winter months... πŸ˜‚


By the by, for those of us who celebrate it, Happy Easter.  If you're driving on the roads, please - be care out there...

Saturday, 8 April 2017

What a week...

...or two it has been!!
Our President stated that his political party - the ANC - comes before
 the country.   Nope -SOUTH AFRICA COMES FIRST JACOB!!!
Our government - or more specifically our President - threw his toys out of the cot, and removed two of the most hard-working, excellent and ethical ministers from their top positions in Cabinet (namely the Minister and Deputy Minister of Finance) for what is generally seen as: 

1) a way of installing unaffordable nuclear power for the benefit of his cronies who own uranium mines;
2) earning the "cut" the Russians have apparently promised;
3) plunging this country into a debt so large that it will take until 2100 to start recovering from;

- basically, the firing of Mr Gordan and Mr Jonas is a blatant act of capturing the next helping of illicit income he can take from the people of this country.

This willful, illogical action has resulted in South Africa being downgraded by two ratings agencies (Standard & Poor and Fitch - with Moody's reserving judgment - for now) - to JUNK status.  Good job, Jacob!!!

So, RMan and I responded to the call to action and took part in a nationwide (peaceful) protest yesterday.

The government states only 60 000 people took part, but those who called the protest place the number who took part above 220 000.  The fear of violence kept many people away, I reckon.  Thankfully there were only 4 - 5 incidents of intimidation in the entire country - and those incidents were nothing major.  it could've been much, much worse!

From the sounds of it, there'll be more action next week - and I'm THERE!!!  And, hopefully, now that the "fear" of intimidation/ counter reaction has been removed, more people will respond to the call to action.



But, back to more mundane matters...

The mulch we put down certainly helped in the veggie patches.

Harvesting and preserving has been going on at a steady pace.
 PiquantΓ© Peppers are bountiful this year and have been both pickled and dried in the Foothills DryAway.
The dried ones have been turned into PiquantΓ© Pepper powder - for sprinkling on top of scrambled eggs, omelettes, roast chickens, pizza's, etc.
Jars of pickled peppers for RSon, Natasha and us.  The next
 batch will be for gifts...
Tomatoes, also, were brilliant.  They were coming out of my ears at one stage ;)

I love heirloom tomatoes :D

Again, some tomatoes were dehydrated and I now have sun-dried tomatoes residing in my fridge for those grey winter's days when one needs sight and reminder of brighter days.
Homegrown heirloom tomatoes - drying in the
 Foothills DryAway
Although tomatoes take more time to dry than other vegetables, the end product is well worth the effort.
Perfectly dried sundried tomatoes
  The majority, though, were boiled / simmered in their own juice until they...
Sweat the entire (skins, seeds and flesh) tomatoes slowly
 until they produce enough  liquid to simmer in order to reduce
 the mixture down before  blitzing
 ... reduced down to become...
Blitz the reduced tomato mixture (skins, seeds and all) until
 you have a smooth tomato mush which is slowly reduced
 until thick enough.
...containers and ice trays full of tomato concentrate.  Plain tomato concentrate with not a single chemical additive.  These are also waiting in my freezer.
Finally, to help counter the cost of keeping them, I also managed to successfully grow sunflowers this year.
The easiest way to remove the sunflowers seeds is with the
 assistance of a fork.  Much kinder on the hands ;)
Getting the seeds out of the flowerhead isn't the easiest, but when you see the amount you've harvested it's well worth the effort.
Gorgeous sunflower seeds - for the chickens and for us :D
The chickens will love them over the winter months.
It's a messy business removing the sunflower
 seeds from the dried flowerhead
Be warned though, getting the sunflower seeds from the flower heads is a messy job, and best done outside :)




For info on how you can obtain your own Foothills DryAway solar / wind food dehydrator please click the link.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Squeak to the rescue


My solar oven and Foothills DryAway are stored on our front patio near the front doors - for quick and easy access  ;)
Can you see Squeak enthralled with my solar oven?
Squeak was acting very strangely the other day.  She was crouching in front of my covered solar dryer - just staring at it.

Me - even though I try and "gather" the remaining loose bit of the cover under the solar oven, gaps sometimes remain.  So I'm used to frogs skulking in the bottom of the cover - so, even if I'd seen it, I probably would've not given it another thought.

But RMan is more alert than me.

He gently opened the patio door to see what she was staring at.

And saw a head.  A head too big to be a frog.
Something is peeping out from under the solar
oven cover...
He quickly closed the patio door again.  Very quickly.. And said "... "(I can't repeat it I'm afraid - my grandson reads this blog πŸ˜‚) but I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.
...and when it moves it goes on, and on, and on...
I ran to the bedroom window that overlooks the patio.  And saw something moving in the cover.

And moving.

And moving.

There was no end to the movement...

This was no frog!

Locking Stellar inside (she would definitely have seen it as something for her amusement) and calling on the assistance of our neighbour, J, and some workers he had there, between RMan and the 5 of them they managed to get "it" out from under the cover.  My personal Foothills DryAway was destroyed in the attempt to prevent it from escaping.
RMan's DIY catcher
Then RMan came forward with his hastily manufactured catcher.

What did he catch? 
I.8 mtrs of Cape Cobra
A bloody 1.8 mtr long Cape Cobra.

On our front patio.

Right next to our front patio doors.

And we leave those doors open for at least 15 - 16 hours of every bloody day.

And have tea / coffee on our patio most every morning.

And sun downers there in the evening.

Sitting at a table less than 1.5 - 2.0 mtrs from it.

Well, we used to leave the doors open.  Not any more.

I understand why it was there - it's a very handy spot to nab a frog or two or three.
And just the day before I had been watering the plants on the patio - and even some seedlings which were in a tray on top of the solar oven.

Talk about luck...!

It was obviously not my time to go.

But, thanks to alert Squeak, who normally spends all day, every day sleeping on our bed.  Without her alerting us to the danger who knows what might have happened to either RMan, Stellar or me...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Upgraded

It's Earth Hour again tonight, and I think a solar posting is therefore appropriate.
RSon convinced RMan to reconfigure the solar panels - to allow for
additional panels to be added in future - IF they were required.
In June 2014 we removed, re-wired / adjusted and re-installed / re-configured our 8 X 145 watt solar panels in parallel (amps) instead of the original series (volts) and the voltage spiking we had been experiencing during the coldest time of the morning (sunrise) was solved.  The 80 Amp Outback charge controller remained, but we also upgraded our Cotek inverter from 1000 watts to 2000 watts.


The system has served us well and has kept the house running for just under 5 years.

But, our initial mistake in 2012, was to install a 12 volt system.  Our (uneducated and, in hindsight, illogical) reasoning at the time was that camping stuff is mainly 12 volt (to run off car batteries) and therefore those off grid appliances available to us would be in 12 volt.  Plus - honestly - it was what we could afford at the time.

However, appliances that are now being manufactured are far more solar power friendly - using less watts to perform the same duty, if not more, as the limited older make appliances.

But our major power guzzler is our fridge.

We purchased an A+ fridge / freezer combo in December 2014 which only uses 132 watts / day (or 484 kWh / year).  But - a fridge works 24 hours a day - during the daylight hours it draws it's power from the batteries which are concurrently being charged by the panels, and it continues draining the batteries during the night - when no charge is happening.  In itself, that would work brilliantly, but add to that all the other household gadgets (TV, decoder, wi-fi, phones, laptop and printer [9 hours a day for our business], once a week vacuum cleaner (the broom suffices on the other days), lights, bread maker every other day, etc and our batteries were taking a bit of strain.

One of our 6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries failed over December - when the solar suppliers were shutdown for the Christmas season.  Isn't that always the case!?!  One of our neighbours, who had just experienced a break-in, and theft of his 3 X 240 watt panels, charge controller, inverter and 1 of his 5 X lead crystal batteries, kindly lent us his remaining 4 batteries which the thieves had found were too heavy to make a quick getaway with.  That act of kindness also ensured that his remaining batteries were not left in situ / vulnerable for the thieves to return and collect the balance of his system.

RMan was very impressed with the performance of the lead crystal batteries.  They have the ability of being able to be "drained" pretty low without retaining a memory of that drain - as is the case with the majority of other solar batteries.

So, RMan decided that an upgrade of our system would be in order.

We ordered another 2 volt lead acid battery to enable us to continue with our original 6 X 2 volt (12 volt) system.

In addition, we ordered 3 X 300 watt solar panels, 4 X 12 volt 200 Ah lead crystal batteries and a 5 kva 48 volt Replus charge controller and pure sine inverter combined.  The beauty of the Replus is that it is one unit, instead of two, and, providing enough power is being produced by the new panels, it enables power to be drawn straight from the panels whilst the panels are simultaneously charging the batteries.

The new 4 X 200Ah 12 volt lead crystal batteries are wired in series to provide 48 volts and do not produce any fumes - unlike the old 6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries.
With the roof space that the reconfiguration provided, there
was more than enough space to add 3 X 300 watt panels
Naturally, RSon to the rescue once again - climbing round the roof to install the new panels...  even though the 300 watt panels were much heavier than the 145 watt ones, at least he had the lower roof to stand on, which made getting them up on the roof and installing them much easier.

We have the two systems wired separately.  And - after RMan did a fiddle here and there, and installed a new power source to the house - they supply power to two different parts of the house. 
The old system :
6 X 2 volt lead acid batteries
 Outback charge controller and
2000 watt Cotek inverter
The old system powers the bedrooms / lounge / garage (minimal drain from there - just power tools every now and then).

The new system powers only the kitchen i.e. fridge plus 2 plugs (1 for my "Audi lights" and the other for my blender stick / mixer and bread making machine).

With 3 X 300 watt panels, wired in parallel, feeding 4 X 200Ah lead crystal batteries, power generation / provision to the kitchen is brilliant and, most importantly, less demanding on the system.
4 X 200 Ah lead crystal batteries
 and the Replus charge controller
 and inverter combined.

S'funny - you would think that a couple of low wattage lights, a TV, decoder and wi-fi (+/- 40, 35 and 30 watts respectively or +/- 120 watts together) would be easy for a system to handle.  But, over the course of an evening (4 - 5 or more hours) that equates to 600 + watts.  Add that to the fridge which runs for 12 minutes every 8 (on for 12 minutes off for 8 minutes ) and power consumption at night was generally working out to be higher than the entire house during the daylight hours.  We were consuming +/- 2 - 2.5kWh at night - when no power was coming into the batteries and the 6 X 2 volt batteries (when it was overcast for extended periods) were sometimes battling to handle it on their own.

Now that the load is shared - I am even able to use my 1200 watt hair dryer for 8 - 10 minutes (once a week) - providing that I use it during daylight hours - and have allowed the batteries to have a bit of charge before I place such a high demand on them.  So, until about 9.30 - 10.00 a.m. my hair drips dry.  Thereafter I am able to give it some semblance of a style.

Definitely no more power worries in this house anymore.

Cost?

For a stronger, more powerful system it was approx. 50 -55% of the total cost of our original solar set-up.

Sometimes I get giddy at the amount of power I now have at my fingertips... :D

Our old system, which is 5 years old, has paid for itself.  5 years of powering our home / business "head office" - if we has used grid power we would have paid more than the original system cost us - for the rural levy only (+/- R680.00 / month)!!!  The cost of the KWh we used would've been added to that.  Our old system is still going.  And now it's life is extended because it has "help" :D

We will not have to switch off our lights for Earth Hour tonight because we, personally, don't need to protest against our power being supplied by coal fired nor nuclear powered power stations - notwithstanding the power required to produce the various components - for only the sun is providing the power for us to use.

However, for the sake of this planet - long term - and for the sake of romance, we will be using only candle light tonight... :D


Disclaimer:  Products mentioned on this blog posting are products we have purchased for our purpose.  That does not imply they will be sufficient for your requirements / purpose.  No supplier is aware, nor has paid us, for mentioning their products.





For info on how you can obtain your own Foothills DryAway solar / wind food dehydrator please click the link.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Penalties

There are plenty of those in life, aren't there.

And they crop up in the most unexpected way too.

Just as we are adjusting to having the cutest, brightest little (well, actually - not so little anymore) puppy in our lives, Stellar has presented us with a whole set of restrictions which we have had to put in place.

Sadly, wielding a rolled up newspaper and emitting a sharp "No!" is taking it's time to have it's desired effect, and accompanying positive adjustment in her behaviour.

Pushing the boundaries is what's it all about...

For instance - the couch - now that is quite the bet place for a puppy to stretch out and catch her beauty sleep.
What a sight - climber netting covering the couches
Not on my watch, it isn't. 

I prefer dog hairless couches when I settle down to relax of an evening.  So, that involved spending just a little bit of money - on a preventative measure.  We opted for a garden rigid-ish climber netting that rolls up when not required, but is uncomfortable enough not to allow for canine snoozes.  As soon as she gets the message, the garden netting will assume it's intended purpose in my garden - perhaps even in time for the peas to wind their way up...?

Then, the relationship between Stellar and Squeak is - to put it politely, not good.  Squeak therefore prefers to spend her days in our bedroom, with her access to outside restricted to night times (through the bedroom window) whilst Stellar is getting her beauty  sleep.  And all Stellar wants to do is play... (sigh)
The make-shift barrier to prevent broken puppy legs
And, staircases - being wooden, and pretty slippery for dogs to climb, means that in order to prevent broken legs, we have had to come up with a hurriedly thrown together gate made out of chicken fencing and our good old Black Wattle poles...

When Stellar is not requiring attention / stimulation (we must get another puppy as a companion I reckon) we can breath a sigh of relief. 
A bolster made our of RMan's old jeans
Stellar has decided that the recycled doggy bed we made her - and blanket and a pair of RMan's old jeans which had their leg "opening's" sewn shut after being filled with wadding - is perfect for snuggling into at night, and during the day...
Her favourite 40 winks spot - under
 my writing desk - and under my feet...
...whilst she can still fit - when she needs 40 winks - climbing into the space below my writing desk is her preferred spot.  Which means I have to sit at the writing desk with my legs crossed otherwise I will constantly be kicking her.

The joys of owing a puppy.

You get the picture?  πŸ˜‚