"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 24 September 2016

Recycling milk bottles in the garden

I long for the days when one could get milk in glass bottles.  But, I long in vain.  All we have available is plastic sachets or plastic bottles.   Grrr!

All the plastic that enters this house is taken to the recycling place in Swellendam.

Being spring here, it is time to get my seedlings going.  But, I needed some way of getting my seedlings going as all my old seedling pots are perishing after 5 years use, so they have been tossed in the recycling bin.

But, I do not want to be buying any unnecessary plastic.

So, I have found a use for the plastic milk bottles I am forced to buy.

There are two different types of milk bottles in SA - this one:
Milk bottle with handle
And this one:
Milk bottle without handle
I prefer buying my milk in this bottle without the handle because I can turn it into a self-watering seedling tray.

Without rinsing the bottles (the slight milk residue adds calcium to the potting soil) I start by cutting the bottle in half.

 With a sharp pair of scissors, cutting the bottle in half takes no time at all :)
 With the two halves separated I then remove the lid...
 ...and invert the top (neck) half into the lower square base.
 If you cut it at the right point in the bottle (the third line from the bottom)...
 ... then the top half slots inside the lower half with approximately 8 - 10 mm of space between the inverted bottle top opening, and the base, thus creating a perfect little dam :)
Self-watering milk bottle seedling pot
After placing the inverted top half into the bottompiece and filling it with a potting soil / alpaca poo mix, you're ready to plant. (In the tomato "seedling pots" I first placed a banana skin at the bottom - underneath all the potting soil mix.  It also adds beneficial calcium to the soil.)

These tomato seeds were planted in the milk seedling pots at the end of August.  As you can see some of them are almost ready to be transplanted.

In those places where I have severe cut worm infestation I'm going to try an experiment and plant some mature seedlings (lettuce / rocket / beans / etc) in situ together with the top half of the bottle - sort of like growing seeds in a soil filled empty loo roll and allowing part of the loo roll to protrude above the soil when the seedlings are transplanted into beds.  The bottle neck hole in the soil will be more than wide enough to allow for the roots of the plants to go through into the proper veggie bed.  Adding a good layer of crushed egg shells to the top soil surface within the "seedling pot" will, hopefully, ensure that at least this year I should have some lettuce growing success :)

When these recycled "pots" perish, it's off to the recycling depot with them :D

Sunday 18 September 2016

Restricted, but still working

This was a strange winter.  I didn't put on my warm jacket once.
But, surprisingly, we had snow on the mountains which are visible from our smallholding - not once, not twice, but three times!!
It's a pity the snow doesn;t come lower,
but I guess it is better than nothing :)
Normally if that happens only once a winter we are lucky, but three times???

Given our topsy-turvy weather, I have this niggly feeling that this summer is going to be an extra-ordinarily hot one.

So I have to make plans now.

The chickens have had free access to the entire property ever since they arrived here.  Not that you'd know it - they tend to hang as close to the house as they possibly can - trying to wheedle food out of us every time they see us.

And, the new rooster, Tweedle dee's now grown up chick, has decided that RMan will be the target of his displeasure when he feels that the (easy) food distribution is taking too long.
Existing chicken range
The problem with allowing the chickens total free reign is two-fold.

1  They are casting aside whatever mulch we place round fruit trees, grape vines, veggie patches and berry bushes.

2  We run our Cape Town based business from home, and, the rooster has no remorse crowing right by the back and front doors whenever he feels like it.  What our potential, or existing customers think about that noise as background to their telephone conversations I have no idea, and there is no additional charge for the sounds effects, but it is not an ideal situation.

3 Stepping out either the front or back door became an obstacle course - trying to avoid their "parcels".

Plus, I have one chicken who refuses to lay with the others - look what I found under the  bay tree...
As you can tell, I have been searching for her
 eggs for 13 days...
So, we have made a plan.

We decided to restrict their free ranging to the back area - in our lemon orchard.
New chicken range
Being, on average, 38mtrs X 30 mtrs in extent (or 1140mtr2), and considering that they are given a generous amount of chicken feed / laying pellets twice every day (good morning and goodnight) I am not concerned that they are going to suffer.  (Note: Althought the 24/7 feed bucket worked very well, and was hung high enough in the coop to prevent the mice from accessing it, I had to remove it from the coop as the wild birds found it.  Perhaps I will introduce it again next winter...)

The chickens noses are a tad put out of joint, but they'll get used to it ;)  The occasional one has found her way over the new fence, but that generally happens round about the evening feed time, so getting her back into the orchard area is quick and easy - she follows me because I'm holding the chicken feed bucket.
The separation involved running a chicken wire fence down next to the berry area.
New gate to access the lemon trees and the
 chicken coop.
We have placed a gate right next to the coop...
New tractor access gate
... and RMan has made a stonking gate next to the boys paddock so that he can still get his tractor out of the area.

The only problem is we keep our alpaca pool pile in that new chicken area.

We covered it up with heavy black plastic for the winter - to prevent any potential heavy downfalls of rain from "washing the goodness away" and to encourage the pile to heat up and kill any weed seeds.   That also meant that the chickens didn't have access to it - they were tending to scatter it's contents to the wind...
Seems like a small pile of alpaca poo, but we have
already started feeding the plants with a dose of it's
 goodness in anticipation of their bearing fruit / veggies
However, as they will now be restricted to the area where the poo pile is located so that doesn't seem all that clever.

On re-potting a pot plant on our patio last weekend, I also noticed that the soil inside the pot was full of cutworm - which must've come from the alpaca poo pile.

So, exposing the poo pile to the chickens is win-win - they get additional insect protein whilst they're turning over our poo "compost" :D

Oh yes - look what we've got access to...!
Actually, they get (got) more than insects.  As we lifted the black plastic, we spotted a fair sized frog (which they totally ignored) and a mouse - which crouched transfixed at the sudden sunlight / sight of us and the chickens.
One mouse - it had just seconds to
realise what was happening...
It didn't last long though.  One of the chickens spotted it, grabbed it, ran away from the other chickens and, in one gulp, swallowed it.
She is doing that chickens are meant to do -
find the insects in the poo pile - but, in so doing,
 she is scattering the alpaca poo far and wide...
But, what to do about their scattering the gorgeous compost material everywhere?

For that solution, you'll have to wait until it is complete and I can share it with you all... :D

Sunday 11 September 2016

Plum tree leaf problems

For the last couple of years my plum tree leaves have been quite off - to say the least.
Can anyone tell me why they are distorting like this,..
...and how do I treat it / hep the trees?

I have tried picking off the affected leaves (l-o-n-g job) and burning them, and thought that last year I had sorted out the problem, but obviously not.

It didn't seem to affect the harvest last summer, but it is obviously not right.

Larger res pics - absolutely no sign of aphids...?!

Saturday 3 September 2016

Finally - culinary success

Kymber is forever posting about fermented veggies and kimchi.

And, although I have tried making sauerkraut a number of times, it has alway managed to "achieve an aroma" which put me off, and has caused RMan to throw it away.

I have finally succeeded this winter though.  And I now know why my previous attempts have been a failure.
Fermented cabbage - success at last!
In tryng to make sauerkraut in summer, the ambient room temperature has been too hot.
Home made salad dressing to splash on the
(95% home grown) salad
(our avo trees are still to young to produce),
and homemade fermented cabbage -
easy summer veggies to serve at the drop
 of a hat :)
It was the winter 2016 issue of the go! Platteland magazine that spurred me on to try again this year - with these two recipes.
Fermented cabbage & kimchi recipe
(Recipe courtesy of go! Platteland Winter 2016 issue)
So, with the success of my first trial batch, I got clever.  Not only have I got fermented white cabbage, but I have got fermented red cabbage too ;)  Success, of course, made me giddy - and I know have 6 jars of white and red sauerkraut in the fridge.  Loving ginger as I do, I added about 2.5 cms of peeled, chopped ginger to two of the sauerkraut jars.  I haven't tasted those yet though...

BUT, even if you're an avid fermented cabbage fan, please, make yourself a batch of their sweet and sour pickled cabbage.  It is just too devine :D
Sweet & Sour pickled cabbage recipe
(Recipe courtesy of go! Platteland Winter 2016 issue)
I added some of my preserved piquante peppers to
 this as well as the chillies - yummy...
I am completely hooked on it - and would even eat it with boiled eggs if I could ;)

Very cool!!

I will try and see if I can grow cabbage in my shadelcoth veggie patch this summer and, if I am successful, from now on before I make any cabbage for RMan and I, and before the chickens demolish the outer leaves and the alpaca's wolf down their share of thinly sliced cabbage, I am definitely making more pickled cabbage this summer.  Saukerkraut and kimchi - when my fridge stock is finished I will just have to wait until next winter when the temperature is once again suitable for fermenting vegetables... 

P.S.  Don't fret if you can't find the Winter 2016 issue in the store anymore - go! Platteland have additional copies which can be back ordered