Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Big Move

I have delayed writing anything new here as I did not really know what was to happen next. We have however, managed to arrange funds for a very small farm of our own and so will be moving at the end of September.

We have loved living here and do not actually want to leave this magical place but the time has come to start earning an income and looking out for Max's social development needs too.

It will be fun and games for the next -oh say, 2 years as there are no buildings and no Eskom power on the new farm. We will be living in a caravan and shipping container until we can build our own natural off-grid house. We'll use a steel frame and fill in with straw bales and cover with a lime render. Most of the work will be done with our 4 hands so do drop in here for a laugh!

Transmission to resume around the end of September.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

New chicks

Amazing things are happening this early part of winter on the farm. 4 of our hens have been sitting on eggs and our first new chicks have hatched! Now, I am up to my elbows in little chicks.

Sadly, the daddy of these chicks is no longer with us. The most gentlemanly rooster I have met so far, had a tennis ball sized cancerous growth on his neck and so we had to say goodbye. After the previous week's attack and the loss of my most beautiful, fattest, double-yolk egg laying hen- Hope- to a hawk, the loss of Rocky was a severe blow.
2 of the chicks also did not make it. When a chick hatches, it has 3 days until it must eat and drink water and if not, death is very swift. The stores from the egg will last those 3 days. It seems, this new mother would not leave her nest of another 9 eggs (communal nesting is a problem!), to sort out these early hatchlings. She would essentially have had to abandon the other eggs to raise the 2 babies. She was not willing and in my inexperience, I did not help the 2 chicks, putting their beaks into the water bowl and showing them how to peck for food, while mom was still busy. I did better on the next one!
 Blanche and 3 of her chicks.

Wonderful news though, the hen who had had no eggs hatch yet ( a white hen appropriately named Blanche Devereaux), has 4 chicks! Actually, she stole 1 chick from another mom who was still on the nest. What a wonderful, first-hand education my child is getting. We had almost given up on the viability of the rest of the eggs but now there are a total of 8 chicks wandering around cheeping their heads off. Just like Max.
Chicken's salad. From left to right: L'il Momma, Blanche Devereaux, Jessica Simpson, chick number 1.

This picture at first glance looks lovely. Max certainly likes this spot. When you realise that this is erosion from the neighbour's farm now working its way into ours, it's most alarming. It will require some major- and very expensive -work to halt this fall away of precious topsoil. It would be much worse if there were no wattles and palmiet holding it in place for the time being. The farmhouse is in the distance above.
It seems we aren't the only ones trying to stay warm. This beautiful (and rather large) puff adder was under the sewing machine table where Granny & I sew almost every day. Granny found it after I told her there was a mouse or something in her fabric boxes. tee hee!
There have been many puff adders this autumn and we have been happy to see so many babies around. Wary but happy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

more feeding of the hungry

The soup today was a hit. As was dinner with a salad of cos lettuce and cucumber, topped with chickpea salad amongst other stuff. The salad was made of chickpeas, cumin, sesame & sunflower seed and chickweed. This amazing weed is cursed by gardeners and thrown away when it should be eaten by the ton.
It is full of vitamins and minerals and has a clean, green taste. This was an example for the volunteers of foraged food as we had not planted the chickweed- it too is a volunteer!

So tomorrow we will all try blanched stinging nettles as a side veg to lentil curry. Sounds yum to me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Feeding volunteers

Today we collected another volunteer from town to join the 3 already here. It is the most we have had at one time and will be a test for me to see if I can maintain my sanity.
These helpers (so far) work hard and need a good helping of food. It's the trade for work agreed upon when joining the various organisations who promote volunteering. It can put a serious dent in your wallet if you don't plan ahead and explain the way things work ahead of time. A bottle of jam or chutney can be polished off in 1 sitting if you aren't careful.

We make soup often and so always make extra and freeze it. This is our lunch every day with bread and sometimes some cheese or pickles. (For dinners, since we rarely eat meat, there are our usual fare of curries, stews, roasted veggies etc.)

My celery plants were almost completely eaten by birds so I bought celery today for a little different soup. And a bit of food recycling!
Granny cooked a gammon (ich!) given to us at christmas, for dinner and then sandwiches tomorrow. It gets boiled but the water wasn't wasted, it is in the soup!
And I made pickled onions with the last smalls from last years' crop. The salt used to draw the onion juice out, gets spread out on a plastic tray and dried into onion salt. Some of it also went in the soup.
Some broccoli stalks and leaves, some stinging nettles and a large bunch of herbs finish this into a delicious green soup packed with nutrients and bound to warm up the volunteers tomorrow.

May melt some parmesan crusts onto stale bread as croutons to float on top too.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't be fooled by an organic label- read the ingredients

And if there is no ingredient list. Ask why and call the manufacturer to task on what they are falsely advertising.
Please read this article below from an excellent paint chemist who produces real natural paint as he explains how a big paint manufacturer is lying to the public.
In my mind, when you buy a processed item of food which is labelled "organic"- like jam, you expect the ingredients to be grown organically. How is it any different in paint?
Organic Paints –
Greenwashing of the Worst Kind or How to mislead your clients by Bernhard Lembeck, ProNature

ProNature feels very much obliged to respond to the sudden occurrence of so called “organic” and “natural” paints in the market place.

When calling something organic or natural the general public expects to receive materials which are derived from a non-toxic, sustainable and eco-friendly managed source. This source must be managed by organic or at least bio-dynamic principles which do refrain from the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilisers or additives and which are not genetically modified. The definition “organic” is hence predominantly used when talking about foodstuffs.

So ProNature finds it very peculiar that a prominent South African paint company managed to evolve a paint system which is advertised amongst other things (lead free, solvent free, zero VOC) to be of organic and natural origin. When enquiring with the technical directorate of this paint company we were very surprised to be introduced to a new definition of organic and natural.

To our enquiry the company responded as follows:
  1. We define the organic content of our paint based on the natural content of raw materials (i.e. classification of % natural (= non petrochemical) of each raw materials).Examples are water, as well as carbonates, etc, etc that are extracted from natural stone/earth.
  1. For example: if a paint is made out 50%wt of water, 20%wt polymer (at 50% natural content) and 10% calcium carbonate; then the organic content is 70% of natural content.
  1. The other proposition ,i.e. 30%, is not harmful (e.g. it is APEO free, Lead free, zero VOC, solvent free, waterbased dispersions),but we do not classify it  as organic.
Let’s try to understand what is actually said here:

….despite the fact that non-environmentally concerned chemists would argue that in principle nothing is wrong with above definition.

1. Chemistry, and this includes paint chemistry, can broadly be divided into two groups: Organics (see definition No.7) and Inorganics. Instead of reinventing a definition for these terms we took the liberty of using some online excerpts defining organic and inorganic chemistry:

Organic chemistry is a chemistry subdiscipline involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, and reactions of organic compounds and organic materials, i.e., matter in its various forms that contain carbon atoms.

The objects of study in organic chemistry include hydrocarbons, compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen, as well as compositions based on carbon but containing other elements.

Organic chemistry overlaps with many areas including medicinal chemistry, biochemistry, organometallic chemistry, and polymer chemistry, as well as many aspects of materials science.

Organic compounds form the basis of all earthly life. They are structurally diverse. The range of application of organic compounds is enormous. They either form the basis of, or are important constituents of, many products including plastics, drugs, petrochemicals, food, explosive material, and paints.

Inorganic chemistry is the study of the synthesis and behavior of inorganic and organometallic compounds. This field covers all chemical compounds except the myriad organic compounds (carbon based compounds, usually containing C-H bonds), which are the subjects of organic chemistry. The distinction between the two disciplines is far from absolute, and there is much overlap, most importantly in the sub-discipline of organo-metallic chemistry. It has applications in every aspect of the chemical industry–including catalysis, materials science, pigments, surfactants, coatings, medicine, fuel, and agriculture

2. If one were to classify paints on above definitions virtually all paints could be called organic even those that are solvent based and full of organic toxins.

3. Since a great number of paint raw materials are derived from naturally occurring resources (which could be carbonates, iron oxide pigments, water and crude oil) it would be very easy to achieve a 70% natural content. What this definition does not reveal is how wasteful, energy intensive and unsustainable it is to derive some of these raw materials in a useable form.

4. When looking further at the examples given by the paint manufacturer we do come to realize that a portion of this paint recipe is based on fossil fuels or rather petro chemicals, a raw materials source which is clearly not sustainable.

5. As CEPE (The voice of paint, printing ink and artist’s colour in Europe) states in their “Guidance on Self-Declared Environmental Product Claims”:

An environmental claim like “does not contain substance X” for a particular DIY decorative paint does not reflect any benefit to the environment when this substance X is forbidden and the ‘non-containing’ is just a matter of compliance with the law. In that case the claim would not be meaningful and could even be misleading to consumers, making them believe that other paints do contain substance X.”

We are aware that such guidance for the South African paint industry is not in existence but nevertheless feel very much the same about the subject. A lack of such guidance should, however, not allow manufacturers in South Africa to take the mickey out of their clients.

In conclusion ProNature believes that calling a paint 70% organic and natural just because it contains 50% water and some carbonates is really taking the concerned client for a fool feeding them with inappropriate and misleading information.
Such companies should at least make an effort declaring their ingredients so that clients can judge for themselves if a product is Organic and Natural.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Distractions from the work at hand

 Our new neighbours who have been on their farm for a month, lit a fire to burn some sticks and it got out of control almost instantly. Our mountain neighbour could see it and called to see if we were helping so off we went. 4 hours later and very dirty, the fire was under control and we were back home. Fire is not to be trifled with! We watched a fire whirlwind jump over their game fence in a second.
 And this poor soul was hiding in our house. I think it was a juvenile and our delinquent cat caught it in the grape vines and brought it in.
After a couple of hours it was fine and released.
And this shows the last of the grapes harvested and Granny sorting the mountain. It is now all in the freezer waiting for rainy days to be made into jelly. It was a really good crop this year. Shows that good pruning and dressing with compost does work to encourage growth and lots of fruit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why being self-sustaining is a necessity

For South Africans, this is something you should read and really consider how your existing life would change when all these things are no longer in your control. I know that even for me out here in the sticks, a lot would change quite drastically.
Please read this article and consider what it says

And it is not all doom and gloom as there are many ways to escape these problems of lack of personal freedom. You must choose to take responsibility for yourself though, and most people would rather say "ahh shucks! That's for the government/ Greenpeace/ church (pick something you have heard) to do"

I promise the next post will be farm stuff again!

Stop large corporates owning our right to grow our own food

Monsanto alone owns 36% of all tomato, 32% of sweet pepper and 49% of cauliflower varieties registered in the EU.

Who knows if our signing this petition will make a difference but not doing anything will certainly not help change. Please click and sign it. Your food security is in every farmers ability to be independent.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Soggy Easter Weekend

So the poor tourists to the Southern Cape have had a terrible weekend. I am so grateful to be home with a warm fire, wonderful family and great food.

We have had SO much rain that our driveway is now impassable except by 4x4. We had a "visit from the bunny"- well Max did and I find that extremely unfair. Granny bought hot cross buns for breakfast too.

And to keep us busy, we have played with lego, read stories, had great pasta with sauce made of our garden veggies and now I am listening to Simply Red and cooking the last of the pears- for tarts and as pear & date chutney. The house smells great.

I have happy dogs lying by the fire, happy cats lying cuddled in warm blankets and happy chickens tucked up in a warm tractor (after one was attacked by a hawk and lost all her tail feathers in the incident).

Tomorrow we will be moving Granny (eish in the rain!), baking rusks and bread and more of the above. Except it will be fig jam and making aprons.

I am so grateful for the abundance we have in our lives- from the love of my family, to the huge amount of veggies we get from a small garden, to the 3 eggs the hens laid today. I hope you will find some things to be grateful for too- however small they may be.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chicken Tractor at work

We have already moved the chicken yard (but not the tractor) to a position beside it's first space. We found that even though we had clipped the hen's wings, they were still athletic enough to make it over the yard fence. We raised the sides and checked their wings.
We found the ramp which husband had made too steep for hen feet and claws so I added a longer, rougher plank propped up by the tyre.

I also, found the hens do not like being in the sun as much as I had thought. I had to put up several extra pieces of shade cloth or they would all crowd under the tractor in the shade. When we move them again- this time to fallow beds in the field- I will put up some small sheets of corrugated sheeting over the thick grassy areas I want them to mow. The shade will mean they will be happy to do so.

I have not had as many eggs as I thought I'd get (6 is the most from 11 layers and 4 is average each day) and after some research I decided I needed to up their feed. As I said before, they come out of their yard in the afternoons to free-range all over and the yard is around 12m x 3m. I really thought that would be big enough to keep them busy but it seems my hens are greedy for more! I bought in some layers' mash but also soaked some white beans, chopped them in the food processor and left them to dry. They did not like them until they were dry. In future, I will be growing enough beans, lentils & chickpeas for their needs and ours.

I also discovered that it is cheaper to buy mash and crushed maize for feed than to grow your own. Since almost all our maize in SA is GM, this is not going to be an option for me anyway. More mielies to plant! I think I will need 3 plantings of about 1/2 a hectare each to ensure enough quality maize for all to eat and for seed. Such a great crop to grow with so many uses. I think it will be a mix of Indian rainbow corn, Stowell's evergreen and a sweetcorn ( variety TBD).

And how about these for nice harvests. We think this is a small Lesotho Charlie but will never know since the seeds were handed down via several people. It was yummy though.

 And as for these sweet potatoes! This was the first of 2 this size along with around 10kgs of various others. We thought the big ones would be floury inside but they were lovely. Made the best roasted wedges.

Other than these we have had great lettuce, swiss chard, basil, Blue Peter beans,  Crimean Black tomatoes, yellow pear cocktail tomatoes and a bunch more. Such a wonderful thing to work with nature to grow your own food. I really believe everyone must try it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why meat with every dinner? Or why not.

I had a chat with an Afrikaans friend of mine yesterday and it was a reminder that not everyone thinks about food like me (ha ha).
People don't know where the Afrikaans tradition of meat with every meal comes from and not everyone knows why they shouldn't eat meat every day anymore.

We associate "Afrikaans" with "boer" and that probably comes from our country's history of most farmers being Afrikaans speaking. Most farms were mixed with many crops and animals as the product of the farm. Families were to a large degree, self-sustaining and you ate what you had. They had meat and so meat came up with every meal. My mother-in-law talks about breakfast on a Free State farm being an all meat affair- sausages, kidneys, bacon, steaks- and that is just breakfast!

So now a braai has come to mean only meat cooked on an open fire.
My friend said she had just thought about me not eating meat and couldn't imagine a meal without it as she always started with meat when planning her meals.

It got me thinking. Oh no, you cry! Well, think about it for yourself. We are no longer all farmers with all our food in our back garden so, it costs a lot in money terms to have meat with every dinner (let's not assume every meal).
It costs a lot in health terms too since most of the meat consumed is from a feed lot where the animals are pumped full of hormones, anti-biotics and other poisons. The animals live in such appalling and unnatural conditions that it is impossible to do it any other way. And that brings me to another point of my conscience. If you saw how these chops and steaks were treated before they arrive on your plate, your humanity would balk. If you can find free-range meat, it is more expensive than the feed lot stuff but worth it from many angles. "I can't afford it" you cry. Eat less, better quality meat, I say.

Then there is the use of water. I can't remember the exact number but I think it was about 20L of water is used to slaughter and process 1 chicken. Consider how many chickens your family eats in a year. Our conservative family eats a maximum of 24. That means 480L of water just for our family. How many do you eat? And your neighbour, and their neighbour? That's a lot of water in an arid country. And that is only chicken.

I could go forever on this topic and it is a very emotive subject and for an apparently intelligent species we do like to tell ourselves "real lies". So here is what I think. The world should eat a lot less meat. How about every second day for starters? And I can't believe that we are so lazy or non-creative that we can't come up with alternatives which our families will love. Try butternut and chickpea Thai curry or what about Jamie Oliver's caponata or a grand pizza with roasted veggies and pesto.

And do have a look at this link. It is eye-opening for the person who actually cares about their footprint on the planet. Please pass it on to those who are beginning to question their over-consumption too.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ringworm cure and other parasite solutions

With all the animals on the farm, there is always someone who needs doctoring.

Now that we only have 4 horses left on the farm, we will be learning how to best take care of them. The vet came over and gelded the yearling and I am so glad it is done.
He darted the most skittish horse with her anti-tick/worm etc muti so we wouldn't have to stress her by catching or sedating her. It was probably like a wasp sting. Beautiful Isabella let me put a halter on her and let Douglas inject her. What a trooper.
As for 6 week old Anastasia, we had to sedate her so we could clean her ears and give her a shot. I really hate what drugs to to creatures but already her ears look better and she seems to have fewer ticks too.
Thanks to Douglas Taylor from Riversdale Vet- how nice to work with such a professional with such a love for animals. Even horses.

Then Toby the rescue pup has warts on his lips. Yuch- they are really ugly! I have added vitamin c and b to his food, tissue salt combin 12 and fed him a little extra of the food I cook for the dogs (meat, rice and veggies). I tried rubbing a tiny amount of eucalyptus oil on the one furtherest on the outside of his lip but he obviously hated it and it made him froth horribly. Sorry Toby but that one has shrunk the fastest. They seem to be shrinking on their own though and the vet says they are nothing to worry about. and come from low immunity.

This weekend I'll be doctoring the hens and rooster as they all have the runs. Not sure if they have worms or they ate too many grapes today from the leftovers when we were harvesting for jelly. Some apple cider vinegar in their water, DE in their food and feathers and watch to see if it gets better by Sunday.

And on a more personal note, caring for animals can give humans parasites too. We de-worm ourselves twice each year with a homeopathic capsule. Bloody horrible if you had to chew it.
And then I got ringworm on my arm. Eish. I hunted the net and discovered it is a fungal thing not a worm after all. I searched for natural cures and eventually found an obscure reference for a small trial using tea tree or garlic. These I can do! So I crushed up a large garlic clove, put it on a plaster and stuck it over the ringworm. It burnt a little and must have burnt the fungus because it went funny, then a scab formed. I put a drop of tea tree oil on twice and it has vanished within 3 days. The scab fell off and now I am doctoring the small scar with rosehip oil. Wow! Aren't plants amazing? And we think we have all the answers for medicine. We know so little.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chicken tractor is planted

Fabulous news (and especially for Gramps), our chicken tractor is finally finished and in place.
Jan made it from an old cart base, sheets of corrugated sheeting, reclaimed square metal tubing and other bits and pieces from our pile of treasure. For the floor, we bought thin ply and made a strong support structure below. It is sealed with EnviroTouch's wood sealer. The roosting poles are wattle lathes spaced out from the walls by square metal tubing.
The nesting boxes are a very thick carboard box (double corrugated) which we painted with water-based enamel paint to be able to clean easily. Jan used bottle tops to raise it just slightly off the ground so ants did not find it a good place to live.
Above, Jan used Gunda to pull the tractor into place. The area we have chosen for the chickens to work over, is part of a slope we are busy reclaiming. We had our Italian friend help us dig it over and we set tyres in place in mini-terraces and this part is the left over piece we did not finish at the time.

The right pic is the tractor levelled with tyres below at the back and above on the front so I can climb in to clean.

We added a yard on the front and more pics will follow with the new hens and rooster in place. The yard will be moved around so they can clear new ground for us.

With regards to our old ladies (3 of them- Hope, Mimi & Jessica Simpson), they were not happy to move from their cushy but tiny home next to the house. It took them 3 days to decide it was ok and we kept having to take them back when we let them "free-range". When the others arrived a few days later (caught at dusk from a friends huge flock), there was bedlam in the morning. The old ladies attacked the juniors (and still do sometimes) and even the rooster took a week to crow. I am pleased to say that they have all settled in ok. Today was our first day of 3 eggs again and hopefully one of the new ladies will start laying regularly too (she did lay an egg the first day they arrived but nothing since then).

more to follow...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Mowing Grass

I have said before that mowing grass is a harvest to be used for mulch and compost but I don't know that I said how long it takes to get it done. Our front "yard" is a fair size of around 75 x45 or so metres. With the mower on the tractor it will take about 2 hours of mowing. It will then take at least another 5 hours to trim the rest with a trimmer. Raking up takes a day and loading up onto the tractor trailer takes about 2 hours. You haven't even used it yet and that's 2 full days work. Better be a harvest or it would be such a waste of time!
4 Sheep and a ride on mower is my answer.

BTW Pink Fir seed potatoes. Just great salad potatoes.