"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

Friday 24 July 2015


RMan and I have been watching the series "Alone" on the History Channel.

For those who haven't seen it, it is a series documenting how 10 individuals handle being alone for the summer - having to fend for themselves on Vancouver Island with only the 10 survival items they are allowed to take with them apart from a change of clothing.

The one who stays out in the wilderness the longest will receive $500 000.

The latest episode we watched here was # 4 and the 10 guys are now down to 5.

To me it has been fascinating to watch their initial reactions when being placed alone at their different sites on Vancouver Island.

Unanimously, they all immediately tried to provide very basic shelter and then set about organizing heat and warmth for themselves.

Some were more successful than others.  Some didn't succeed at all.  Those that didn't left the show in the first and second episodes.

The next hurdle they tried to overcome was their fresh water requirement.  Most of them resorted to boiling water collected from nearby streams at low tide, or "straining" water through sorghum (sphagnum?) moss.

I was fascinated, whilst simultaneously irritated, that not one of them thought to use their tents for rain water collection.  It seems to have rained in every episode so far.  As it's not falling from a residential, tiled roof area and down into gutters, whilst collecting bird poop along the way, but directly from the heavens, momentarily onto their tent / shelter roof, they wouldn't even need to boil it, for goodness sake!

In the last episode we watched one of the contestants finally provided food for himself (how have the others survived for 6 days with nothing to eat - apart from the one guy eating seaweed and a couple of small crustaceans?)  Mitch managed to snare a fish in his net on the 5th day, and clean it and cook it.  The commentary was that high tide only happens at night thus that was the only time that he could inspect his net and collect whatever it had trapped?!?  Surely the tide rises and recedes twice a day?  It does where I live.

Also, why does Mitch collect the fish from the net at night, when predators prowl?  And cook it at night - thereby attracting predators (cougars) with the smell?


And these are survivalists?

I'm not, but even I know better than that.

Surely they should've done some research prior to taking part in this competition?  That would've made them more methodical, prepared and able to face the hardship which they suddenly experienced  e.g. what plants can be eaten?  How can they trap small animals / marine life?  How will they handle their shelter to protect them from the elements / predators?  And, shouldn't they (couldn't they?) have taken a large chunk of biltong (jerky) as one of their 10 items - which would've provided them with an all important source of protein / energy / nourishment whilst they orientated themselves in their unfamiliar surroundings / situation.

Don't get me wrong.  Hats off to them for being brave enough to take part.  I could not imagine being alone anywhere at night - on my own - unless it was inside my house.  I also don't envy them their "exposure" to bears, wolves or cougars.  I do understand the psychological impact of suddenly being completely on your own.  I have no problem being on my own - I enjoy my own company, and will always try and keep myself busy.  But they all knew that they were going to be on their own, and would have to survive on their own when they entered the competition.

Didn't they?

Given my (mostly mild, but at times intense) irritation, watching the series has been interesting as it has highlighted man's immediate need when out of their comfort zone / lost in the wilderness / in an unfamiliar situation for whatever reason.

Man's immediate requirements are:

1  Shelter and warmth / heat / fire (comfort / food preparation / protection from the elements and wild animals)
2  Water (to prevent dehydration)
3  Food (to feed their bodies / encourage / uplift their spirits)
4  Purpose (to keep the mind occupied and busy)

To my inexperienced mind, if they had concentrated on building themselves a strong, secure as possible shelter using the wood / tree trunks in the forest (which was evident around each and every one of them) together with the tents they took with them - and they completed that on their first day, they would've been better off when they started their 2nd day - searching for food.  I'm presuming here that they would've allowed for their tents to catch their drinking water - which they didn't.

My 10 survival items would've been:

1   Waterproof tent / tarpaulin
2   Waterproof sleeping bag
3   Knife - and a substantial one at that
4   Firestarter
5   Cooking pot - for heating water / cooking and eating whatever I managed to forage for / catch
6   A (preferably) large coil of nylon rope (30 - 50 mtrs?)  It doesn't weigh that much, and would just be bulky)
7   Ax or saw (not sure which one would be more useful, but, after some thought, my choice would probably be an axe)
8   Bright LED torch - for sparing use in emergency situations only in order to prolong it's battery life
9   Collapsible spade / shovel to dig for roots / holes / or fixed on the end of a piece of wood with some of the nylon rope as an additional form of defense against predators.  (Ditto the (substantial) knife could also be used as a harpoon / spear / weapon)
10  This will probably be a controversial one - a big slab of biltong (jerky), or a 5kg mixture of flour and dehydrated or powdered eggs (with which I could make some sort of flapjack / biscuit and which would provide me with protein and carbohydrates whilst I settled in to my new surroundings.)  If that was not allowed according to the "game rules" then I would probably replace that with a notebook and pencil - to record experiences I want to remember / internal feelings that occur on the spur of the moment and are then lost after that moment has passed.  How else can one learn from the experience? 

Alone provides a good lesson in preparedness for all of us I guess - be that for calamitous natural disasters, substantial unrest or a complete collapse of the grid.  The "predators" may be different, but the threat and emergency situation, especially in towns, would be enormous.  Town dwellers would face a completely different set of challenges, wouldn't they?!

In the event that life as you knew it was thrown to the wind, would you know what to grab in a life and death situation to help you fend for yourself for an potentially extended period of time?

What would you do, and how / what would you prepare or take along?  Have you taken any steps already to ensure your continued existence in the case of a major natural disaster, substantial unrest or complete collapse of the grid?

Thought provoking - no?

We have episode 6 to watch tonight...

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Naturally storing

I saw this a few years ago, and thought it an excellent idea.  And, typical, with the move from town to the farm, completely forgot about it. 

Jihyun Ryou: a Korean artist about her storage
 solution for vegetables
The link in the pic above an excerpt from the file "Taste the Waste"  by Valentin Thurn from 2012.  (It's very frustrating - I understand that making films / documentaries costs money, so I totally understand that the movie was offered for sale.  But, c'mon - that was in 2010??  Surely the message would get to a far larger audience if it was now offered for general viewing?  And surely that is the motivation of the movie - to educate people?)

Anyway, soapbox moment over...

Then I saw the excerpt again a few days ago.

OK - so I figure that someone's trying to tell me something.

So, I decided that I was going to try it...

Why not - in summer the more space you have in a fridge, the better :)

But, I'm being a good scientist - I'm using controls :)  (if only my old science teacher could see me now lol)
Carrots in damp sand, and control carrot on
the side
So, into a large-ish vase went some carrots and some damp sand.  With a "bare" control carrot lying on the side.
Carrots in bag in veggie drawer of the fridge
Half of the bunch of carrots harvested went into a bag the fridge...
Carrot on the shelf in the fridge
 ... and the fridge control one was left exposed on a fridge shelf.

Yes, I could leave the carrots in the ground, but with the hectic heat (and lack of rain) that we have here in summer, they tend to bolt quite quickly.  In addition, I have discovered that the moles have a penchant for carrots.  Nothing worse than planning to have carrots for dinner, and going out to harvest some, only to find that the leaves and a very small amount of the actual carrot remains in the ground.

Then - the apples and potatoes...

I am so tired of potatoes going "mushy" - even when I store them in the dark cupboard under the stairs.  I mean, I can't even plant sprouting tatties - 'cos they don't sprout.  They just go squishy and soft and revolting.  The only place that is good enough for that is the compost heap.  What a waste!
Potatoes below apples in the veggie rack
So, I have this small kitchen unit and on the upper shelf I have placed some granny smith apples, whilst below is the  "basket" of potatoes.
A "paper wall" blocks the light
from hitting the potatoes
I have covered the front of the wire basket with paper to prevent the potatoes being exposed to the sunlight which shines straight in on the unit in the afternoon.

Two weeks later :

Whooop!  Whooop!  Wow!!!
Now that is a carrot that even the alpacas
would probably refuse
This is the control carrot left on the kitchen counter next to the sand filled container.  As you can see it is pretty unappetizing - and wrinkled and soft.  Not even good enough to feed to the alpacas.
The carrots in the damp sand are still firm and
perky.  In fact...
These are the carrots in the sand.
... they are sprouting new leaves
 And - a distant shot of the carrots in sand.  But, if you look carefully at them you can see something that blew me away.
The carrots in the damp sand are even sprouting
new roots!
 They are so loving being out of the fridge, and still alive, that they have started producing new leaves... 

... and roots :)  I'm blown away.
Another sad looking carrot - this is the one that was
left exposed on the fridge shelf.
The carrot left open on the shelf in the fridge - t'is also looking worse for the wear.  Not quite as sad looking as the control one from the kitchen counter, but not as good as the ones in the packet in the fridge, and definitely not as good as the carrots in the damp sand.

Naturally - the carrots in the bag in the fridge are fine - except they aren't growing leaves nor roots lol

Pretty successful I reckon!!

Just for the fun of it I'm going to leave one carrot in the damp sand, and see what happens to it over the next few months.  Will it grow another / more carrots, will it go to seed?  What will it do?

I never thought I'd be displaying vegetables in my house like a pot plant lol

Thursday 16 July 2015

Food - at last

We had our first visit this year from Jack Frost yesterday morning.  And again this morning.  Never mind the hollows in the ground looking like it had a t-h-i-n covering of snow - the cars were so iced over it appeared as though their paintwork was suddenly metallic - with the ice being about 3 mm thick.
Frost on the ground outside yesterday
We've woken up to a chilly 1oC outside on both mornings.

Have I mentioned lately that I love winter lol

We tried to grow fodder for the alpacas last year, with no success.  The cause was a mixture of soil amendment required, and lack of rain.  But, it was very disheartening for newbie farmers.
Adding 2 tons of lime to the fields acre
But this year, armed with our soil analysis, and 2 tons of lime which RMan added to the soil, we tried again.

The lime got added to the ground in mid-December - we were told to let it lie for 60 - 90 days before planting.

In mid-March RMan sowed the oat seed with the help of John, our local labourer.
This is what 153 mm of rain does to an almost empty dam

Admittedly, it was not only the lime, and the soil prep which contributed to the successful oat harvest - we had enough rain too.  The 158mm which mostly fell in early June was a Godsend.  Not only did it fill up the rainwater tanks, and the dam, but it also soaked deeply into the ground.Which was just what the oats, which had been planted in March needed.
The oats are gorgeous and green, and about a
foot high (isn't it funny how some imperial
measurements stay fixed in your brain)
In mid-June the oats were certainly looking 100 per cent better than last year's crop...
End of June this year - the oats are almost at
the top of the fence level and the fence is about
a metre high
... and were almost a foot tall.  Now, in mid-July they are nearly as high as the 1.0 mtr high fence.

RMan has been toddling out and harvesting an armful for the alpacas every second day.  Giving them a taster, so to speak.

But, it wasn't only the alpaca's who are enjoying the crop...
The birds - mainly weavers - enjoying their
early morning breakfast
... the birds too are have a field day bwahahahaha
Some birds you can see - and there are birds
further down that aren't  visible.
I'm amazed that the oat stalks are strong enough to hold up a bird, or two or three.  We don't begrudge them their seed meals - there is more than enough to go around.
Temporary dry storage for the small amount of
 oats that were harvested by sickle yesterday
We were told that the ideal time to harvest the oats for fodder is when the seeds give off a milky substance when they are crushed, as that is when the nutrition is at it's highest.  That time is now.  So, yesterday, with the assistance of a sickle, the start of the oat harvest proceeded.

Methinks we will need to sort out some sort of "barn" to store the oats in until next winter.  RMan and I have a couple of inexpensive ideas - more on that as it transpires.

There is great excitement all round.  Certainly for the next year the alpaca's oats fodder is sorted.  It feels so incredibly good to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient in that regard.

Saturday 11 July 2015


... now I feel bad about laying water traps for all the field mice...

Tuesday 7 July 2015


How many of the readers of this  blog have heard about Nkandla?  Our presidents (and his family's) retirement plan?

I also don't know how many people overseas have heard about the load shedding (enforced blackouts) taking place in this country as a result of our power utility (Escom) not having the foresight / planning to anticipate demand in future years, and not maintaining their existing resources.

It's hectic.  Power has been going off for 2 hours once a day, twice a day or even three times a day - depending on the strain on the power system, and their collective power generating capabilities.

It even affects us - as our ISP's radio towers go down. (Thankfully, we still have our smartphones so we're not totally disconnected...)  We're very grateful though, that we don't experience the complete blackouts that the majority of the country has to suffer through.  Thank goodness for being off grid.

I saw this somewhere recently and thought it particularly apt...

N'candle - a play on Nklandla.

That's basically the situation.  Candle power rules for all those who don't have an alternative source of power.

Btw, on googling various images of Nkandla, I notice the "retirement dwelling" has no visible solar panels...  That was shortsighted of the architect.

Saturday 4 July 2015

'N Boer maak 'n plan...

(translation of the title of this post : a farmer makes a plan)

There are roughly 40 lemon trees in our orchard - 98% grown from pips, and the balance from cuttings.

Yeah, I know - what are you going to do with the fruit from 40 lemon trees?

I have a couple of idea's.  But I will have to wait until they actually start producing fruit in quantity (and hopefully quality lol).

So far I am getting flowers, and a couple of really small baby lemons, but 99.9% of those are falling off.  Why?  I have no idea.  We are feeding the soil, adding the ashes from the Rosie, keeping them watered, and have even put up more of the privacy wattle fence to protect them from the hectic south easterly winds which blow in summer.

My worm farm is also due an empty out - which means worm casings and worm tea.  And I intend using some of that worm tea on the lemon trees.

Which means I need a sprayer :)

I tried using a 10 lts spray bottle (which has to be pumped in order to create the pressure to use) slung over my shoulder, but found that it took 3 - 4 hours of back-breaking walking, and spraying, and refilling in order to complete the task.

We needed something more hard-core :)
I spotted this beauty (in the pics above) for sale, which would work with my quad bike.  But, at over ZAR10 000 (without the trailer in the far right pic) it's a bit more than we were prepared to pay.

So, RMan set to making one :)

We purchase a pump.  And a 100 lt water container.  And some tubing.  And some straight tube joins and t-joins.  And hose clamps.  And spray heads.  And a hand held sprayer.  And a couple of in-line taps.  And an electrical isolator switch.  And a ratchet tie (to secure the tank to the quaddie).  Electrical wires and cable ties we already had.

The pump and the container were the most expensive parts - the pump was + / - R900, and so was the container.

But, a bit of fiddling here, and a bit of fiddling there, and this is what we ended up with...
1  the outlet hose from the tank to the pump
2  the water pipe to the handheld pump
3  the water pipe to the back spray heads
4  the in-line tap "valve" to prevent water being sent
 to the spray heads when it is not required
5  an in-line filter from the water tank
 to the water pump
6  a return pipe from the pump to the tank with
 in-line  tap "valve" - to regulate the water pressure
 and redirect excess water back to the tank.
Note : I took these pics shortly after RMan had
 completed his construction and whilst he was on
 his first trial run.  He has since secured those
 wires leading to the battery with more than
Now we are able fill the tank with the organic "muti" (translation : medicine - which in this case = nutrition), hop on the quaddie, start it up, and take a slow drive whilst we smell the scent of lemon blossoms:)
The pipe labelled 3 in the first pic leads to the 3 X
 spray heads (1) at the back of the quaddie in the
 pic above.  When the red in-line tap valve
 (below the tank and in the middle of the pic above)
to the the spray heads is closed, then the water
is pumped to the hand held sprayer only (2).
But, that tap also allows us to regulate the
flow of water to the spray heads and the hand held
 sprayer simultaneously - which means we can spray
from the top / middle, and down on the bottom
 branches at the same time when necessary
We can fill the tank with worm tea from the worm farm, or with tea from alpaca poo.  Being 100 ltrs the contents of the tank last ages - we have to fill it at least twice in order to do the lemon orchard.

That is soooo much easier than walking round with a shoulder strapped 10 lt spray bottle which entails having to keep stopping, removing, pumping (to increase the pressure) before re-hoisting it onto my shoulder again in order to continue spraying before the next re-fill - which always came too quickly lol.
The pump is powered from the quaddie battery.
When the pump is not in use, the isolator switch
1 is in the off / disconnected position.
2 shows you the in-line tap "valve" to the back
3 shows you the in-line tap "valve" on the
return pipe to the tank
And, by closing the in-line tap to the back sprayers completely, we can, if we so desire, feed the ground / root area only of the lemon trees, fruit trees, grape vines and my veggie patches by means of the hand held sprayer.

Clever RMan :)

The cost?  Just over a 1/4 of the cost of purchasing the "real McCoy" :)