"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 31 March 2012

Welcome to "Life Through The Cracks"

Continuing the introduction of new friends to old friends, please won't you join me in welcoming Ruth who lives "near deep in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia in Canada".
Ruth's blog is Life through the Cracks.  When she's not busy running her homestead she spends her time making exquisite jewellery. 

Please visit her site and give her a friendly welcome to this gathering of like-minded souls.

Ruth, I reply to all comments (even those placed on old postings), but given the size of this wonderful planet, and the different time zones, it may not be today by your time, but will certainly be by tomorrow.  And, if I am on the farm it may take a little longer...LOL

Friday 30 March 2012

I'll try this...

I have Googled what to do about the ant problem we have on the farm.

I, preferably, do not want to kill the ants, as I believe that they are part of the necessary eco-system.  But they cannot continue to create the havoc that their actions are resulting in.

I can do very well without ants (and the resulting scale) on my corn and lemon trees.
Ants and scale on
my corn plant
I can do even better without their attacks as I enter and try and work in my veggie patch.

I am more than happy to share the 2 Ha of land we occupy together.

But they have to know their boundaries LOL

I have read that Diatomaceous earth works wonders:

 - and that will be my final solution.

So - before I take that step, the other solution I found on the Net is to sprinkle coffee grounds where you want to deter critters - ants, snails and slugs do not like crossing a surface sprinkled with coffee grounds, and ants do not appreciate the caffeine and aroma of the coffee LOL  Apparently coffee grounds in the ground will also deter carrot fly :)  and add nitrogen to the soil. I will also be adding some lime to the coffee grounds to counteract the acidity.

All well and good - but for heavens sake - how much coffee can RMan drink in a year?  Not enough.  Not nearly enough.

But, you know who would go through that quantity?  A local restaurant :) Hey, Hey, Hey!  And I'll be preventing those coffee grounds from going to landfill!

So, on Wednesday, I toddled off to the closest restaurant and in my most polite, pleading and persuasive voice, asked them if they would be prepared to "store" their used coffee grounds for me and I would collect them in a weeks' time.

"What!  A week?" D, the owner replied.

I trembled.  "I guess I could come every day", I replied quickly, tentatively excited that he was even considering it, and eager not to upset him and jeopardize my chances.

"How about right now?" was the response?  "I have 7 crates full!"

Oh! Boy!  I hit jackpot!
Used coffee grounds - just sitting in their
crates and waiting for me to request them :)
H-e-a-v-y crates - at 15-odd kgs each they were too heavy for me to lift into the back of RMan's car, so D got his workers to help.  
Dried 1-cup portions of coffee grounds
Naturally, I enthusiastically got busy with the contents of one crate - sprinkling it round my newly emerging broad (fava) beans, peas, lettuce, beetroot and garlic seedlings.  That should hopefully sort out the snail / slug problem I have in my town garden :)
Broad bean protection
Pea seedling protection
The contents of the balance of the crates have all been transferred into bags and loaded into the trailer. Now - all I have to do is get to the farm on the Easter weekend, enter the shadecloth tunnel veggie patch and start sprinkling! And ditto action for the soil around my lemon trees.

Ants (scale, snails and slugs) be gone!

Whoop! Whoop!  I hope it works!  If it doesn't - ah, well, it'll add something extra to the soil.

As always, I'll let you know the outcome :)

A final word - apparently coffee grounds mixed with water make a wonderful wood stain.  We're going to try and mix it with raw linseed oil instead - and then strain and use it to preserve our wood...

Thursday 29 March 2012

Saturday 31st March...

... at 8.30 p.m. is Earth Hour once again.  Earth Hour in our home means that everything connected to grid power gets turned off.   Pity it's not going to be the following weekend - we're going to spend the Easter weekend on the farm, and grid power doesn't even know we exist there LOL

So, we'll use our solar light and candles for lighting.  And RMan better hum - I can't sing for toffee!  Or perhaps we can just listen to the rain drops splashing down - very welcome rain is predicted for Friday and Saturday.  18 - 20oC temperature - so it won't be cold - that's a blessing.

And, apart from the rain, ours is a south facing town house and garden (in the Southern Hemisphere) so I am unable to use my solar oven.  I will have to scratch my head and decide what I can cook, without using any power, this year.

Last year I made RMan and RSon Moroccan Beef in my hay box.

Another fondue?  It doesn't seem right to have a fondue for two people only (RMan and I) - and Sunday is another show day for the house, so that cuts out having people round the night before - they make too much mess and will probably destroy my spring cleaning (in autumn, I hear you think - spring cleaning in autumn can therefore only be for a show day LOL) efforts, and our favourite guest generally stays until after 3.00 a.m. - we'll be knackered on Sunday if we invite him. LOL

Perhaps I should cook a wholesome soup in my hay box, and serve it with fresh rolls?  I can always heat it up in the fondue pot prior to eating...?

Yes - I reckon a good pot of pea soup - it's RMan's favourite, and it can simmer away in the haybox all day.  And, in addition it get's a hefty dose of (concealed) veggies into his meat eating body - peas, carrots and potatoes :)  Perfect - nothing nicer than delving into a steaming pot of soup when it's raining!

What are your plans for Earth Hour?

Monday 26 March 2012

Stone Ground Flour

A couple of weeks ago I finally made it to Eureka Mills during their working hours.  Being roughly 20 kms from the farm, I am delighted at the convenience of their mill.  They are the only flour millers in South Africa who grind their flour in the traditional manner using stone wheels.  And they do not add anything to their flour by way of preservatives or chemicals.
As they state on their webpage:

"Who would farm with old methods of crop rotation and gentle aerating of the soil?  Who would start a slower grinding stone mill.  Who would bake in a stone oven to make bread in the slow time honoured manner to extract maximum benefit out of the efforts of mother nature?  Who would buy these products even if they seem so much more expensive and somethimes "inconvenient"?

The answer is enlightened farmers, millers and consumers."

As you enter their mill there are huge bags of waste lining the side of their forecourt.  This "waste" is sold to farmers to feed their livestock.
Bags of chaff and bran, destined for the
local farmers livestock
Inside the mill it is understandably dusty, and very noisy - the friendly workers are employed 5 days a week, so every minute of those days the mill is pumping out flour.
The two grinding wheels are situated behind
the safety guard
Can you see the two wheels on the machine?  It's hard to believe that they are able to produce the quantity of flour that they do, merely by grinding grain between tow stones...
Detail of the two stone wheels in action
This is a close-up of one of the wheels they no longer use - they have made a garden feature out of it - clever appropriate recycling :)
I came away with enough flour to bake my own bread, give to DD and also as a gift forour town neighbour for looking after our house whilst we were away.
They even gave me a brochure that I could scan so that you, too, could read all about them :)
Front and back detail of the Eureka Mills flyer

For those readers who do not live near Swellendam, but who would like to purchase the best flour available in this country, they have a list on their website detailing the retail outlets where you should be able to find Eureka Mills flour.  For those who who do not reside in this country and are unable to purchase preservative and chemical free flour, Eureka Mills are even able to offer export of their flour overseas.

In addition, on their website they also provide a couple of recipes using their flour - how neat is that :)  Now - all I need are some sunny days so I can use their flour to make a loaf or two or more of my Ultimate Solar Oven Bread :)

Friendly, helpful millers who make a visit to their mill an occasion and a pleasure - just like visiting your corner store in the old days.  S'funny how much the personal touch can influence one, and encourage one to buy more LOL

Friday 23 March 2012

Do we have any time left at all...?

I read Peter Wills posting on James Lovelock's "The Vanishing Face of Gaia - A Final Warning" and it gave me the chills.

Have a read, watch the video with the link I have provided below, and tell me what you think...
The Vanishing Face of Gaia - A Final Warning 
What a nice, friendly, pleasant gentleman Mr Lovelock appears to be - in both demeanour, manner and appearance.  It's hard to believe that he is 90 years old!

I have already ordered the book and can't wait until the 17th April until it arrives.  RMan has "booked" it after me LOL

If you're as blown away as I am by the article and the You Tube clip (never mind the book) please - won't you share the info on your blogs.  For, as Mr Lovelock says, "One procedure could turn back the clock on global warming.  And that is burying carbon.  All you have to do is to get every farmer everywhere to make a profit by turning all of his ag waste into char and burying it or dropping it into the sea - it doesn't matter which.  Because char is not only resistant to atmospheric oxidation, it's non-bio-degradable too.  So, it'll just stay there."

For more info check out these two links: 


And, if like me, you're possibly confused as to how you're going to make your own biochar - take a look at this link.  It would seem that all you need is a couple of 44 gallon drums :)  I've got at least one of those already.  The only thing I am going to do differently, is I'm going to place a lid on the drum, to prevent oxygen fueling the fire.  Because, the way I understand it, biochar is produced in an oxygen deprived environment, in order to retain the carbon within the char and not release it into the atmosphere.  Similar to what is described on this or this link.  Or for other ideas this is the link.
Now I know what to do with all that terrible renosterbos!  And I reckon that using grey water, instead of drinking water, to quench the fire, will be a good use of that waste product too :)  Not to mention the other waste liquid produced by humans too - that apparently provides extra nutrients - just be careful not to burn yourself LOL

Thursday 22 March 2012

"The long and winding road...

... that leads to your door..." (part lyrics from "The Long and Winding Road" courtesy of The Beatles "Let it Be" album circa 1970)

It's unbelievable!  It's incredible!  It's amazing!

You all know that DD and WGuy were looking for some land to buy, for the purpose of simplifying their lives, becoming self-sustainable and reducing their ecological impact on this planet.

Well, they found something they liked, they submitted their offer, and it was accepted yesterday morning.  I'm going to give you two guesses where that land is...

Our plot is # 527, their plot is # 512 :)
Yes - it is across a field from our farm :)  Mkid said to me: "Nana I'll be able to walk across the field to your house :)"

How absolutely outstanding is that!

There are 60-odd olive trees already on the plot and there is also a small wooden hut / cabin, as well as a separate bathroom / storeroom hut, which houses a shower and composting loo.  They are both sturdy and well built, and will provide them the necessary temporary protection from the elements. The owner of the plot had erected the only wind turbine in our area, but it is faulty and has been returned to the suppliers.  However, he is prepared to include all the equipment (charge controller, inverter, batteries, wiring) which is already installed, and WGuy is going to try and utilize it for some solar power, power LOL

They will initially use the small existing cabin, and our caravan whilst they build their new home.  They would like to erect a more permanent wooden home - on stilts - similar to this style.  The wood used in the buildings is Pinus Radiata and it is grown just down the coast in Knysna - so it's transport footprint is minimal.  Apparently, you can purchase this home in kit form and WGuy is then going to erect it.
They are determined to remain off grid, utilize their grey water, install plenty of rain water storage tanks and grow their own veggies - amongst other things :)

There is even the option of two local schools for MKid to attend - the closer one will entail his mastering the Afrikaans language (in anticipation of their move, and the school language restrictions in the area, he's already been taking extra lessons, and kids don't normally find language a problem, so I'm confident that he is smart enough to overcome this hurdle).  Alternatively, there is a small private school 24-odd kms away - a bit of driving schlep, not to mention expense.  Let's just wait and see what happens :)

Oh, boy! - I'm completely blown away!  In fact, I'm completely speechless and unable to put into words the myriad of emotions which are flashing, at breakneck speed, though my brain.  Suffice it to say, I'm wildly excited for them :)  And I will be there for any advice, assistance, physical labour and anything else that they may require.  Oh, boy!

Monday 19 March 2012

Pesky pests

Hmmm - I thought that protecting my vegetables by growing them inside a shadecloth structure would keep the pests to a minimum.  I obviously thought wrong.

The ants were having a field day on the mealies (corn).  And they had deposited aphids all over the corn stalks.  There were ants Everywhere  - in the beds, on the weedguard path, up the plants.  Nasty, biting ants.

Harvesting anything inside was a "quick, grab, load up the container, stamp! stamp!  get out and brush off, and forge back in again - quickly" over and over happening.
Ants and aphids on the corn
I seriously need to do something radical with the ants!  I did try sprinkling cornmeal - but the ants ignored the food I left for them.  Ditto with the borax and sugar mixture.  I have re-Googled the problem - and the best advice seems to be either diatomaceous earth or ground cinnamon.   Given the infestation of my vegetable hut I going to try both - I have to sort this out!  

They are so bad that MKid even found them attacking the plug at the end of the small portable solar panel which charges the light we use to help our visitors get to their cars at nighttime.
Fried rice - does anyone want some fried ants?
I guess they enjoyed the jolt?  Seriously, they are literally eating and destroying the tip of the plug.  And being killed in the process.  The dead ants are then carted away by the living ones.
They are in the process of destroying the tip of the plug
But - as always with Mother Nature - she taps me on the shoulder, and reminds me she is in charge...

After I ripped out the remaining mealie stalks, I decided to add some fresh compost to that bed - quickly LOL

Collecting compost from the hole in the ground which is earmarked for our future cellar I was horrified to find cutworm - not small cutworm, not "squishable with the foot" cutworm, but h-u-g-e juicy morsels of destruction. I know they couldn't wait to land into the newly planted bed and munch all those tasty roots..
Look at the size of this mother!
i shouted: "RMan - come and see!" (a.k.a. I need your big heavy boot as opposed to my thin soled croc.)

Lucky I did that for RMan had a brilliant idea.  If the ants were so interested in our legs, arms and what was inside our clothing - would they - could they - possibly be interested in freshly exposed, warm and wriggling cutworm?
Oh Boy - could they ever!  "Ants secrete the formic acid for attack and defense purposes".  I reckon that is why their bites hurt as much as they do.  And what they did to those cutworms was amazing!
This is what the cutworm looked like 15
seconds after being deposited on the ground
Four cutworm being eradicated in
an eco-friendly way
In no time at all the ants had reduced the cutworm to no more than bird food - well, for those birds which were quick enough, and I'm happy to report that quite a few were.  Those that weren't - well, the ants dragged bits and pieces of the lifeless cutworms down into their nests.  Now, that I what I call an eco-friendly pest solution...!

I have no problem with the ants inhabiting the rest of the 2 Ha - but my lemon trees and my shadecloth veggie patch - I think not! 

Then I need a bit of advice from anyone who can help with my next question. Not exactly a pest, but  a really strange occurrence.  And it is occurring with my mealie plants from my heirloom (heritage) seed supplier.

And it is happening both in my town garden and in the veggie hut on the farm.

The mealies kernels are forming on the top of the plant where the tassle is normally situated.  This is on one of the popcorn plants on the farm...
Confused popcorn?
... and this is on one of the normal mealies in my town garden.
Normal corn acting strangely...
I have never seen anything like this - has anyone else?  Is this a mutant mealie?  Does one get mutant heirloom mealies?

Finally, our neighbour, CGuy, permanently has a guy living on his plot to prevent theft of his equipment and materials and wanton destruction of his "house in progress", and to look after his chickens.  This chap very kindly keeps an eye on our house as well.  As we gave him our excess food prior to leaving the farm at the end of our last weekend visit, he informed RMan that on 13th February, 2012 we had 33 baboons on our property!  33?!?!?!  That's hectic.  He managed to scare them off - thankfully. And I don't know if they got anywhere near the veggie patch...
Baboons on our neighbour's roof in March last year.
I am amazed - for it must be at least 12 kms to their natural habitat in the mountains.  And I'm not that keen on them making a habit of visiting our neck of the woods.  In fact, it is exactly a year ago that I wrote about them gamboling around on our other neighbour, Tom's roof.  Hmm, as I typed that - I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the farmers fields have all been harvested, and they are now on the scrounge for other food...?  Blockhead doesn't seem to be making the most of his position of authority - it may, therefore, be time to increase the size of his family :)  Well, he can only remain a bachelor for so long, especially being away from the bright city lights and all those attractive females.  I'm sure one of them wants a farmer for a husband, even if he has got a big head...

Thursday 15 March 2012

Last of the harvesting

Another veritable feast awaited our arrival on the farm.

I had, in desperation to harvest however many that grew, planted some mealie (corn) seeds both outside and inside the veggie hut - I had no other option, as I didn't have an irrigated spot outside where I could sow the seeds.  So - I was pleasantly surprised to score roughly 14 mealie and 24 popcorn husks.
Wonder upon wonder, mealies actually grew inside
the veggie patch
(FYI, the mealies I planted outside didn't handle the heat... and drought. And, they were planted too late, methinks.  So I'm very pleased that I planted some inside.)

MKids favourite vegetable - and so he had one on his first night there. Actually, they are the first ever home-grown mealies he's ever eaten.  And, slathered in butter, it went down in a flash.
MKid with his favourite vegetable
The red popcorn generally produced 3 - 4 husks at each point.  The husk is much smaller than normal mealies - just under half the size I estimate.  The kernel is also much rounder than a normal mealie which, I find, tends to distort and "wither" when it dries.
Red popcorn kernels
So most will be shucked, popped and eaten on a cold miserable night this winter - to remind us that spring always follows winter.  And a couple of husks will be saved for their seeds next year.  
Red popcorn husks - 3 or 4 at a point
The spinach performed as always - actually - thanks to Julianne, and the investigation she encourage me to undertake, I now know that they are swiss chard plants - I bought them in a seedling tray.  But they provided me with another 8 blanched 250gm bags in my freezer.
Swiss chard and a rouge tomato - who
knows where that came from...
Then, of course, the trusty tomatoes had been producing en masse.  I know of some neighbours who had helped themselves, but there were more than enough to go around - and to ground.  I probably have a nightmare start next season with all the tomato seedlings which are going to pop their heads above ground LOL.
I can't remember planting these tomatoes - they
are red and have a green stripe. They also have
quite a tough skin.
Small "plum" tomatoes
Medium sized plum tomatoes
Golden yellow tomatoes - slightly larger
than cocktail size
Cocktail tomtoes
And, hidden away were a couple of heirloom (heritage, I think they're called in the US of A) tomatoes.  Gorgeous deep red specimens, fleshy and juicy. Definitely my favourite tomato.  And I'm fascinated at how much deeper the red of these tomatoes are, compared to the others.
Heirloom tomatoes
I think that those were also the favourite tomatoes as far as all my neighbours were concerned, as there weren't many ripe ones in the veggie hut.
35lts of tomatoes - I don't have a scale to weigh them
I spent Monday and Tuesday preserving this 35lt container full of tomatoes.  I should have more than enough for winter.  Sun dried, tomato soup, whole preserved cocktail tomatoes, tomato pulp for adding to stews and casseroles - busy, busy, busy...  I loved it :)
Finding space in the car to bring these back wasn't
easy - but I couldn't leave them behind.
I couldn't leave my one and only, first pumpkin behind either.  It's not the biggest, but I'm very proud of it LOL
1st ever pumpkin!
The eggplants are chock-a-block with flowers - if only half of them still set some fruit, then I'll be more than happy.
At least 22 flowers on these two bushes...
And one yellow eggplant which I left in situ and which has hidden itself underneath the bush - it will be perfect for using for seed next year.  And, if it disappears, then I have another one "going to seed" in my town garden.
Eggplant going to seed.
Finally, the only two of the three fruit bushes survived - a gooseberry and a raspberry.  I have left the fruit on for this year.  I'm amazed that they grew any fruit - they have only been in the ground for just over a month.
Gooseberry bush with fruit pods
Raspberry bush - only 5 berries this time
- but next year will be better...
All in all I really can't complain about the amount that grew on the plot and which I was able to harvest, especially given that it had to fend for itself whilst I was away in town, with only the porous pipe to babysit!  More on their trials and tribulations in my next posting...

And I hope the sight of all these yummy veggies is giving all those in the northern hemisphere encouragement to go out and plant those seeds... :)

Tuesday 13 March 2012

New life

We had a wonderful surprise when we arrived at the farm last Friday.  Certainly the surprise made MKid's day :)  Who am I kidding - it made all of our day :)

There is something infinitely precious about seeing a child holding a new born animal for the first time.  In this instance, CGuy's chickens have been sitting on their eggs - the one hen had produced 7 chicks the day before - and one was actually breaking through the shell as we watched.
MKid holding his first ever baby chicken
Gently, gently - this rough-and-tumble little guy knew exactly how to hold this fragile, tender baby chick.

Even DD had a go...
DD had also never seen a newly hatched chicken
before either
I reckon that MKid could've sat there for hours, just holding and watching the baby chick.
The lap was the best place to hold the baby
chick - warm, secure and perfect viewing
distance from the eyes
The hassle to be born is, I reckon, comparable to that of a human baby - with the chick having to peck at the shell from the confined space inside.  Apparently they peck upwards - I would've thought that pecking down would be easier.

It was quite a windy day, so Mama Hen was protecting her chicks in a corner of an outside room, sheltering them from the wind.
Proud Mama Hen still covering unborn chicks,
as well as one which was still damp from the shell.
The others - well, they just wanted to investigate :)
Isn't it strange - when one sees new life like this, does anyone else wonder how come there is so much strife in the world today, or was that only my reaction?

CGuy will have a sale of four chicks in the future - once we have our coop sorted :)