Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The WC

People often ask me about our toilet situation. They ask as we are big on managing all our waste and saving water. Imagine!
Water is scarce here especially in summer. There is never enough compost on a farm either. Now why would we waste such a precious resource to flush away a valuable commodity just because we are too squeemish to deal with it ourselves? Doesn't make sense.

We went from an existing basic septic tank system to a sawdust toilet. (Actually we had to change as the acid water had killed all the good bacteria which processes the faeces in the tank). We have 2 buckets- 1 for solids and 1 for liquids. The liquids smell quickly and need to be changed after a couple of days. It's easy to process as it leaves the body sterile so we dump it on the first compost heap. That's about a 3 month processing time to usable compost with all the other stuff from the farm.

The solids smell less over time but need to be managed and processed a bit longer to ensure any bad bugs have been nuked. So far we have been digging holes for trees and emptying the solids bucket in the bottom. That's about every 3 days. I still have lots of trees to plant so I think we can keep going with this system for the next 6 months. Obviously this will come to an end and we will have to make a new plan. We intend a new long term compost heap. It will go for about a year. After 6 months through a summer, I will check the compost heap's temperature for several days. This heap will be used for trees and shrubs not for leafy or seasonal veg. It seems a bit over cautious but I would like to test it before it is used just anywhere.

There are several great books which cover the subject with all the science attached. The Humanure book is the most comprehensive and very educational.

I must say that while I like not wasting water and it has been very clean and un-smelly, emptying the buckets is a chore. We try to keep up the hole digging but with everything else we must do, it just takes too long. If we just had to tip it out that would be easier. The sawdust is readily available from a local woodwork shop so that's no big deal. We will leave it in place in our camp site and volunteer area as that doesn't have daily traffic every day of the year.
In our house we will revert to a septic tank of sorts. I must still find the details but it has 2 processing chambers and the runoff remains underground and will feed the nut orchard. Still not wasted but a lot less work.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Our chicken tractor

I am so excited to finally have a chicken tractor! Since I began this season with 13 chicks and only have 5 left, I am very happy. Thanks to the birds of prey and the neighbour's cat.
In case you don't know, this chicken tractor allows the animals to be safe while being moved daily to a new spot. They are still locked into a fortress at night in case of genets or mongoose who may come visiting but during the day they can walk around and scratch, eat grass and weeds and what ever is in the soil. They dust bath, sunbathe and do chicken stuff. They can lay eggs in the nesting boxes instead of all over the farm where I can't find them. Wiley tarts!

Another benefit is that I have 2 beautiful cockerels and they have begun fighting for dominance and the ladies attentions.  I have split my flock so each rooster has his own harem in a separate home. Zoro has the 5 older ladies and Chip has 4 young hens with the 5 chicks in the tractor. The birds in the tractor seem very happy although Zoro is a bit put out to have so few ladies! When I move the tractor further from the other flock, things will be more peaceful. I am always surprised what short memories chickens seem to have.

And so I have had several people who have never had birds say its a bad idea and that they should be free-ranging. This had always been my view until we moved to a farm and came to realise that everything likes chicken for breakfast lunch and dinner! I love my hens and this is my best option for keeping them safe. I don't want to loose any more of my family.

We made it of all bits and pieces we could find- all recycled or reclaimed stuff. IBR sheeting off-cuts for the roof, steel sheets and timber for the house, scrap timber from building our volunteers' cabin, chicken wire for the sides and the bottom of the house and of course the bicycle wheels. We are not sure if the wheels will be strong enough to carry the house all over the farm but so far so good.
We treated all the timber with EnviroTouch wood finishes- our left-over bits and linseed oil. All safe for chickens.

The nesting box roof hinges open to collect the eggs.
Note that the reclaimed bicycle wheels are off the ground when it is in its place leaving no gap for anything to crawl in and attack the birds.
The plank is fixed with a bolt and is raised and locked in place so the tractor can be easily moved. 4 wheels were used as the tractor is very heavy.

When the girls aren't in the house, I will post another photo of their bedroom.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Watch out volunteers, Granny is back!

So my 74 year old mum left Cape town this morning at 3.15 am and this picture shows her at 6pm still going strong. Just doing some weeding.  8 year old Max says she's a machine! I agree.  So try to keep up volunteers. ;)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Building: the next stage

So after the hiccup was temporarily ironed out, we had the steel manufactured in Riversdale. So bizarre that it was cheaper to manufacture and ship to us that to produce locally. By a large amount. And ironic that it came from the area where we used to live.

First 1 up. Such cheesy grins. And Max taking the pictures.
The first row took Jan and I a few hours since these were the smallest beams and easy enough to lift. They got heavier.

We had 2 German volunteers join us- Lena and Martin. They were great. They were game to do anything and even though it was dangerous work, they jumped in to the building as well.
We hired a gunda gunda to help lift the very heavy beams into place. Its dangerous because they are swinging around, you're walking over humps and pits and there's noise to interfere with warning shouts.

We got the uprights in and then put a mezzanine beam in thinking it would be easier to put purlins between 2 mezzanine beams to make a platform to stand on and raise the roof girders. Here comes the first roof piece. it came in 2 pieces and we bolted them together. Meccano on steroids!
Another hiccup. The gunda could not raise the girders above the beams.
oh bother.
So then we thought we'd put the rest of the mezzanine floor in so we'd have that platform, then use winches and pulleys to get the girders on.

There you go. As much as we could do. We were rushing too as you pay for the gunda by the hour. BTW, on the left is the house side. we got those roof joists up by standing on ladders and scaffolding. Not too difficult. Thank you so much to Lena and Martin for the help on this. You'll see them again on planting posts.

Wait wait wait. think think think. plot plan scheme and try lots of things. As it happened, putting the mezzanine beams in was not a good thing to do. They were in the way to use almost all other equipment. And then we managed to find a local guy with a crane truck for hire by the hour. Save save save and call him in. And then Ali and Dave joined us as volunteers. Hooray! Between Dave and Jan who are not good with heights, the crane truck, driver and helper, we got those puppies up.

That's the last 1. Phew. Now how the hell will we get the roof sheets up??

Friday, October 2, 2015

Roasting coffee

For the last few years we have been roasting our own coffee. Yes you are right,  we are coffee snobs. There is logic in it though. Since I can't drink a lot of coffee for health reasons,  we only have 2 cups a day.  They had better be good cups!
We buy green beans which store indefinitely. This is a good thing on a farm where storage without bug infiltration can be an issue. Even bugs know coffee is better roasted.
I roast the beans in a big pot on the braai.  It's a very smoky business so is best done outside anyway. It requires a hot fire so I feed it constantly with small logs. It also requires constant stirring or the beans will burn on 1 side and not roast.
The beans go through 2 "cracks " where you can hear the beans popping.  We like our coffee full roasted and nice and dark. Lots of smoke as it comes to the end.
Then the beans must be cooled quickly - rather like pasta. I allow them to cool completely before grinding. And I only grind enough for a day. It makes a huge difference to the taste. So much is lost in flavour over days.
So you can do it too. It's worth it for those lovely cups of coffee.
Btw, roasting leaves black oil inside your pot. I clean mine with dish soap and lemon and sand or coarse salt. Works like a bomb.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Our new life and the building

So I think it has been almost a year since I last  posted. Many reasons why but the main reason has been a lack of power at a time when I can post. That means no sun, no blog. So not blogging at night when I have a minute to write.
I won't bore you with all the gory details - and they are gory- but show you a bit of the journey instead.  A real rollercoaster.  Character forming is what I think people have said. People who want to die fast!
The first photo shows the barn site cleared  of brush and the foundations dug and pads in.  All by hand. We had  a helper for a few days but found we could do more in a shorter  time and just finished it ourselves.  I had to see a chiropractor  after they were dug as when I looked up , I would fall over. Funky feeling!
After that we had a ready mix concrete  truck bring in 6.5 cubic meters of concrete to throw the pad foundations.  Did you you know that is around 15 tons?  And it was the 2 of us hauling bum to tamp out the air bubbles and level it off in an hour and 15 minutes.  Shattered .
Sorry no pics. Too busy aching.
Then you can see Jan building the concrete block squares to act as formwork for the holding down bolts. These hollow blocks were  filled.
We had the reinforcing  steel bent to the engineer's  specs and manufactured the cages on site. It was fiddly and we ended up forming a production line. I clamped and jan welded them. It was just quicker and stronger to set them in the foundations. We made small concrete blocks to rest the cages on and mixed and poured each fill by hand setting the bolts as we went. It's a very important step as the bolts must be precisely  in  place or setting  the steel  will be a mission.
At this point we hit a financial hiccup. It lasted a long time. Besides, so much happened concurrently so while it seems it all happened quickly, it was over a year from plan submission to this point. But more on the building's progress and other stuff when I have charged  up this phone.