"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

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Clay floor tiles, kitchen counter and lime render

During the time that we were unable to get to the farm we kept ourselves busy with preparation at our house in Cape Town. I purchase two bedside tables from a roadside vendor - these tables are made with off-cuts of wood and woven grass basket drawers. I also ordered 6 slightly bigger extra drawers, to use in my kitchen island for storing foodstuffs etc. These I sanded and varnished (with Swartland Maxicare) at our home in Cape Town - a very good idea as on the farm there is always a breeze of some sort blowing building sand about - not ideal for wet varnish!

Due too business commitments RMan went to the farm on his own for 11 days in early October. We needed to get the flooring in and sealed, to give it time to dry before the family visit in December.

On the internet I found Overberg Tile and Clay - a company in Swellendam who made clay floor tiles and who were able to install them as well.


Given that the actual factory is based in Swellendam, and we didn't have to add to their eco footprint by schlepping heavy clay tiles 256 kms all the way from Cape Town, I bowed to RMan's preference for clay floor tiles in place of the oxide screed on the floor.

The installed and sealed 'seconds' tiles on this page look more amazing than the pictures show! The only difference between the normal and 'seconds' tiles are that the 'seconds' can be a little uneven, and / or have a small crack - we love them - we feel it adds real farmhouse character to the room.

RMan used the opportunity to get the plasterer's back to compelte the plastering of the external walls and do the finishing round the windows and doorways. True to form it rained! That caused the plaster to fall off the walls during the night, which meant they had to be re-done the following day. It's amazing, though, what plastering the building has done - it is starting to look more and more like a house and less like a building site.

RMan got a reality check - when he lifted a piece of the gunplas (black plastic) which was covering the plaster sand he met his first Cape Cobra face to face. He said that he's never leap so far so quickly - clearing what he explained as 3 mtrs in one leap! Unfortunately the plasterers decided to throw sand at it which caused it to rise up and show it's hood. They were not happy about it, and RMan, being in a state of shock, didn't realise until too late that a couple of the plasterers had picked up planks which were lying around and with which they proceeded to kill the cobra. Sad and totally unnecessary - there is place for everything on this planet and a bit of patience would've allowed the cobra to go on it's way. Nevermind interrupting the food chain - cobra's eat mice and rats - and personally I'd rather have cobra's on the plot than rats and mice, of which there must be plenty in the area, as many of the surrounding fields are sown with grain.

He also got the digger/loader back - we know have 180 holes ready for the pomegranate trees which we will be purchasing in January 2010. The trenches we dug for the mains water, grey water and septic tank pipes have now been closed and the reed bed has had a berm placed on the uphill side to prevent rain water from flooding and overflowing the reed bed before it's had time to filter the grey water.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to seal the floor tiles on RMan's previous visit, so we both went up to the farm at the end of November to get that finished and to ensure that the house is as complete as posssible before we go up with our kids / grandchild later in December. I never realised how much stuff we had accumulated in the caravan - no wonder it felt cramped and claustrophobic. Transferring it all and sorting it out in the house took me all of three hours and at least a dozen trips from the caravan to the house.

We fitted castors to the kitchen counter / island and I proceeded to fill every inch of it. When I consider the cost (the unit cost R1200.00 at Builders Warehouse, the six baskets R600.00 and the castors R240.00) a total of R2040.00 - a company which specialises in kitchen cuboards would charge a heck of lot more than that for a 1.5mtr long kitchen island. It is also 1.05mtrs high - 15cms more than the normal kitchen counter - it feels so much more comfortable to prepare food on.

Ronnie was an absolute star and moved the caravan stove to the house too - easy-peasy thing for a man to do!!

He also knocked me up some temporary kitchen counters / draining board round the butlers sink / stove - the butlers sink is absolutely brilliant! In order not to waste water when doing the daily washing up I use a bucket which fits into the sink - naturally, when the demand arises I will utilize the entire sink.

So, finally on the 1 December 2009, a year and a half after purchasing our plot, we "moved in" - yes, we still have to paint the walls, put the vermiculite ceiling boards in and sort out more kitchen shelving, but the basics are there. And we had our first home cooked meal even if it was only spaghetti bolognaise - we didn't cook in the caravan because of food smells, grease, etc. And what a pleasure to be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to peer all round for night adders as one walks to the "bathroom"!! Those simple luxuries that one takes for granted assume on a whole new meaning. I can tell you all that the resin roof tiles in the double volume room together with the double glazed windows work brilliantly! Hot as hell outside and very comfortable inside. The addition of lime to the render (8 parts sand, 1 bags cement and 2 bag lime) has created walls which could withstand a hurricane easily - it took RMan three hours to knock a 20cm hole through the west facing wall for the dover stove chimney - he couldn't believe the strength of the walls. Even the howling sou'easter is bearable when one is within a sheltered structure - especially one that doesn't sway in the wind as the caravan did! Admittedly the sisalation which was fitted (again in a howling sou'eater) is not as secure as it should be in a couple of places, but when we fit the vermiculite ceiling boards, we will be able to do any minor adjustments that are necessary.

Perhaps next year we will be equipped enough to spend Christmas on the farm with the whole family. I can't wait to see their reaction - so much for "elderly" parents - I reckon we've done a sterling job thus far. And we're not that old any way :-) In fact - our lives have just begun, but don't tell our kids that.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Resinrooftile goes on

10th September 2009: After hiring a 2 1/2 ton trailer and collecting the Resin Roof Tiles, and scaffolding, RMan and RSon, together with 4 other guys (one a supposed carpenter and the other a "brickie") and braving -2C° INSIDE the caravan when they woke in the morning.


It took them 8 days - in driving rain, strong winds and snow on the mountain! Not too shabby for 6 guys who have never heard of hurricane clips nor beam filling, and who have never put a roof on before. The tiles went on easier than the sisalation (which tends to fly about in the wind) but Resin Roof Tiles forgot to give RMan the adhesive weatherproofing strips for the apex of the roof so those will tiles have to come off again so that we can lay that adhesive.


When RMan returned from town where he was buying more materials, he found that the "carpenter" had hung the front happy doors inside out, and put the handle on the wrong door. When that installation was queried the carpenter replied that they are correct. After demonstrating to the carpenter how incorrect they were he then re-hung them correctly, and put the handle on the correct door - all of which means that we'll probably have to buy new ones - chipping out the door and frame to hang doors twice doesn't leave a pretty picture - neither does a door handle hole without a handle appeal!


We also got the plumber round to install the bathroom basin, and check that the loo was correctly installed - and discovered that plumbers charge R300.00 per tap! Ah, well, guess we do have a working toilet and basin now! And at least the plumber knew what he was doing.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Lime render, 220 / 12volts and Double glazing

At the beginning of October 2009 RMan and I decided to try and get the plastering started, as we want to take our kids there for a few days before Christmas, and need the inside of the house to be available as living space. Having been given the name of a "reputable" plasterer, whom we had spoken to over the phone, we left Cape Town on Sunday 4th October. We organised to meet him at the local Coastal Equipment Hire branch in Swellendam at 8.45 Monday 5th October. Naturally the plasterer was late. But, as it turns out, that was a blessing in disguise. His tardiness gave us the time to chat to the owner of Coastal Hire, Jannie, who knows all the local builders very well. When he found out who we were waiting for, he warned us: "if it is the chap I think it is, don't use him. He's untrustworthy and he owes me money!" It was "that" person. It turns out he had also been in prision! Not quite the kind of person we wanted to work on our house, even if he had done his time and paid his bill to society, after all our little house is vulnerable when we're not there. So much for that "recommendation

We then asked Jannie if he knew of anyone who could plaster for us during the 4 days we planned on being there. After a couple of phone calls he gave us the name of a guy who could start straight away, so off we went to meet with him. His quote was acceptable and the plastering began.  Mother Nature tried to intervene by dropping 100mm of rain within 36 hours, but thankfully we had decided to begin by plastering the internal walls, so that was able to proceed. But, in place of the 4 days quoted for plastering, it took 6 - apparently the walls weren't straight, and thus, in some cases, needed three coats of plaster. And, in addition, the rain poured in through the brickwork on the one wall and flooded one end of the floor. Our brilliant builder again!

Our makeshift shower (including the sheep trough which we used as a shower pan) beats showering in the cold early morning

On the positive side, RMan completed the conduits which will run the 5mm heavy core cable for our 220 / 12 volt electrical requirements. And, as all the internal plastering is now complete, and as soon as we get our floor in, we can basically move out of the caravan into some "lebensraum" (living space). Ronnie is fighting me - he wants to lay clay terracotta tiles as opposed to the lime / oxide tinted screed that I am keen on. One of the positives for the clay tiles is that they are produced in Swellendam, so the transport footprint is dramatically reduced. The costs are exhorbitant, so we are going to check out their "seconds" next time we go up. We have also discovered that the double glazing is absolutely amazing and worth every cent - even with the damp plaster on the walls it was noticably warmer inside the house at night and very much cooler during the heat of the day. Wish it was possible to replace all the windows of our house in Cape Town! At night it is so warm in the house that Ronnie has scrapped his idea of using the Dover Stove to heat the water for underfloor heating - it just won't be necessary.

Also, we have now found a brilliant builder / plasterer and, all things being equal, it should be plain sailing from here on, not only for completion of phase 1, but for phase 2 hopefully sometime next year!

The 100mm of rain managed to fill half our dam - hopefully it doesn't seep away again - we have been told that it takes approximately 2 years for a dam to hold water - and we're heading for our 2nd year!

The rain, inconvenient as it was, was worth it, for we had the most incredible sunrise the morning after the rain - it was absolutely stunning!

Thursday 11 February 2010

Recycling, solar oven, wind turbines and hotboxes

A new year...

We all went to the farm for 3 days in mid-December. Our kids couldn't believe what we have done on the plot - they say the pictures don't do it justice. Our grandson was absolutely thrilled - clutching one of the walkie talkies and following his granddad "Danda" everywhere - checking in every now and then with his Nana (who had the other walkie talkie.) He was torn between the adventure of sleeping in the caravan with his mum and staying in the 'new' house - so he did a bit of both. The comment was passed that the atmosphere in the house is completely different to other houses - very calm, peaceful and "gemutlich"(comfortable, snug cosy). Don't know how much of that is due to the high celing / double glazed windows or clay floor tiles - perhaps a bit of all.

We ate each evening in the dining area, lit by candle light / paraffin lamps whilst we listened to our CD's playing softly in the backgound, on the 12volt LG car radio that I had purchased for RMan on his birthday last year. Very, very nice. For our grandson's sake I left a paraffin lamp burning low in the bathroom - whenever he needed the toilet we didn't have to accompany him to the bathroom to give him some light - the lamp cast a beautiful glow in the bathroom which was visible from the (camping) dining table. All in all a very relaxing few days - thoroughly enjoyed by all.

So, what does 2010 hold.... collecting and planting our pomegranates, purchasing and installing the 1kW wind turbine, building a secure outside storeroom (for all those tools one accumulates during the building process) and getting my veggie garden started to mention just a few things which immediately spring to mind. Never mind purchasing, installing and experiencing the dover stove next winter. Will it be as useful as I hope? A source of internal heat in winter whilst simultaneously cooking all those things I want to try, like baking my own bread, preserving tomatoes (from my future veggie patch) and roast chickens with a difference?

By the way, I have ordered a solar oven, which is manufactured in Portugal - it is more versatile that the solar cooker I purchased from the Sunstove Organisation - their one works more as a slow cooker than an oven - although it produces delicious food which is melt-in-the-mouth tender, it does not get hot enough to bake bread.

The solar oven can bake biscuits, bread - whatever a normal oven cooks! In order to retain heat when the sun dips too low I will be using that solar cooker in conjunction with a 'hotbox' (or haybox as it is also known. In place of hay I am using all the shredded paper from my office, but one could also use blankets/duvets/shredded newspaper.) I have been using it for cooking for both my family and the homeless once a week and the 'hotbox' really works!!!! All I did was take my son's old wooden toy box - sanded it and covered it with a non-poisonous wood sealer - stuffed it full of shredded paper - enough to surround whatever size pot I'm using - and an old pillowcase which is used to cover the pot and which is also stuffed full of shredded paper.

Chicken casserole has never tasted as good - all I did was add (defrosted) chicken pieces, a chicken stock cube, herbs and spices and a tin of whole tomatoes in tomato sauce to a pot - bring it to the boil on the stove, and boil hard for 10 - 15 minutes, give a stir, cover and then immediately pop it in the 'hotbox', ensuring that it is covered all round with shredded paper. 8-odd hours later, remove from the hotbox (be careful, the pot is still very hot underneath), re-heat (bring to the boil) on the stove for 10 minutes and enjoy! (I did not add any extra liquid apart from the tomato sauce - it is not necessary for the chicken creates it's own - there really is more than enough sauce when it has finished cooking.) Rice turns out beautifully - not glutenous and stuck together, lentils - perfect, even a spaghetti bolognaise meat sauce mixture is brilliant! And what a saving on electricity! Not to mention time spent hovering over the stove.

We have decided to tile the wall behind the shower after all - we have chosen to use a thinner clay floor tile leaving the grout a cement colour - that will echo the effect on the floor, and, hopefully, not have the mouldy grout problem that normal bathroom tiling seems to encourage. But before we can do any of that we need to give the walls their first undercoat layer of paint. Walls which have lime render benefit from long drying periods - absorbing all that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they do so. Also, the undecoat, which we are going to apply (manufactured by Harlequin Paints in Cape Town), requires a moisture level of no more than 5%.

We managed to slip away from Cape Town for 2 days at the end of January. I really can't explain the sense of calm that comes over one as you enter the Rietkuil area. Restorative, renewing and invigorating. We immediately got to work applying the undercoat to the bathroom - between the two of us it took 5 hours - the time consuming bit is always the edges - where the wall meets the floor, roof / ceiling and windows. But at least that is done. We also gave all the woodwork (doors and window frames) another coat of wood preservative.

And RMan has another woman in his life. She's called Baabara. On Saturday, in the late afternoon, when the heat of the day was waning, he was outside giving the weaker looking plants some extra water when he heard a stamping noise behind him. He turned round and found our neighbours ewe and her lamb at the fence. He walked over and aimed the water at the ground by the ewe's feet. She sucked up the water as quickly as it came out of the pipe - until she'd had enough. Then she turned tail and trotted off. But she came back the next day - just standing at the fence until one of us noticed her - for another top-up. Amazing - I didn't think that sheep were that bright. The lamb wasn't interested in water - not yet. It is a new born, with it's tail still undocked.

I was very chuffed - we had a ceramic side light from the 80's which I hated - and I decided to try and make it more appropriate for use on the farm (part of the re-cycling I'm implementing in all aspects of our life).

The first photo is of how it used to look and the second is of how it looks now. We connected it to the deep cycle battery together with the car radio, and after inserting the 12volt energy saver globe which I purchased from my local light shop, we ate by normal light that night, whilst Luther Van Dross played softly in the background.

I have been putting used tea bags into my compost pot for months and I decided to dry some of them - keeping the bag and the tea leaves. I glued (with podge) the clean dry bags onto the corners of the lamp and scattered the tea leaves over the rest of the base - applying a layer of podge to the entire surface once it was dry to seal it. The light shade was damaged (and which I subsequently fixed) so the shop owner allowed me to take it in exchange for a R25.00 donation to one of the charity boxes next to his till. What a bargain! It looks stunning - and very appropriate for the setting. I do love it when a plan comes together! Oh, and I purchased a solar light (Multi Purpose Solar Flood Light ref. SKU SEFL) from The Green Shop in Cape Town as a Christmas gift for Ronnie. It is brilliant! The light is more than bright enough to light up the entire room (we gave it a test run inside on the first night - putting the solar panel outside the window during the day to charge the deepcycle battery, and then, hey, presto! it switched itself on in the evening when the light faded) and outside it works perfectly too, lighting up the area so that one doesn't stumble over anything. Slowly, slowly we are getting more civilized and the farmhouse is beginning to feel more homely...