"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, 26 April 2014

Sowing his oats

RMan has been a busy bee over the past weeks.  As we certainly have the space (roughly 1 - 1.5 hA of unused area) we have decided to use the winter rain which we experience here to grow some oats for the alpacas.

But, our land was heavily overgrazed when we bought it in 2008, and, in order for it to recover, we have let it lie since then.  So, that meant a lot of work had to be done on the land in order to prepare it for the oat crop.

RMan has gone all eco on me - he didn't even consider using any chemicals to assist him with the momentous task...
The start of the prep work - slashing the thick
renosterbos bush
RMan had the tractor, and a slasher.  So a-slashing he went.
You can get some idea of the state of the land -
and this is after the renosterbos has been removed.
Then, he bought a 2 blade plough, and a-ploughing he went (the tractor isn't strong enough to handle more than a 2 - 3 blade plough).

Finally, he borrowed a five tooth ripper and a-ripping he went.
I don't know what this grass is called.  In
Spring it puts on an amazing show - long
whispy fronds, caught in the early morning
sunshine, wave in the gentlest of breezes.  But
they have a hidden agenda - their incredible
root systems
But, we have a clump of grass which grows here, and it has a wicked root system.  It almost resisted all his attempts to remove it - especially with the ground being pretty dry and hard.
Those grass clumps still remain, and would take
years to break down.  So, hand removal is the
only option
So he concocted a contraption whereby he fixed a wooden "plank" to the 5 tooth ripper, drilled and added threadbar "teeth" (which were set much closer together than the ripper's teeth) to the plank and took that for a spin around the field - a.k.a. a Boer maak a plan (trans. a farmer makes a plan).
RMan added his homemade threadbar
attachment, and that finally sorted out
the last of those pesky grass clumps

It was, finally, only with some help from a couple of local labourers, who, heroically together with RMan, forged ahead with the hand removal of the now totally exposed grass clumps (with exposed) root systems, that we ended up with some clean land on which to sow the oats.

When RMan was happy, he then pulled in the assistance of my quad bike. Fixing an old very heavy steel fence section to the back of the quaddie, he drove up and down the field gathering any large remaining clumps of bush or large rocks within the fence structure.
RMan on my quaddie - dragging a heavy piece of
unused steel fence behind the tractor
over the newly
sown seed to try and cover the seed slightly with
sand in order to hide it from the birds flying overhead.
Then, purchasing 150kgs of oat seed from the silo's in town, as well as bags and bags of lime, planting proceeded.  Labouriously walking up and down, up and down, up and down first the lime was added and then the seed was "drizzled" from old ice cream tubs.

RMan repeated the quaddie / heavy steel fence exercise after the seed was sown - to try and cover the seed with a bit of soil.  Lucky he did - the birds flying overhead are zooming in and making merry with the balance of the exposed seed.  "Hey, guys, 10 per cent is all we can spare - the rest s for the alpacas!"

We finished literally two days before we had 14mm of rain.
The wonder of rain - visible signs of oats
growing literally 2 -3 days after the rain
RMan's reward - visible signs of oats growing in the prepared field.

He's tickled pink, and suddenly, personally, understands my joy at harvesting home grown vegetables.  The visible reward is addictive :)

A job very well done - by a complete novice!  I'm proud of you RMan :)

Now, all we have to do is find some way of harvesting the oats when they are ready.  Big expensive machinery we don't have, no do we have access to any, so I reckon a couple of pairs of feet, and pairs of hands and an old fashioned sickle or two will have to suffice.

In the meantime, I am also trying to provide some sustenance for the alpacas - but more on that in another posting...

Organic evidence...?

We all know how much processed food there is in the stores these days.  And we all know the effects this chemical-laden, processed food is having on our increasingly (and unsurprisingly) fragile digestive systems.

Even that well known staple of a fresh, crisp loaf of bread is no longer what it used to be.  For example chip butties and a BLT are firm favourites world wide.  Even hamburgers or a toasted cheese and tomato.

Isn't it funny - bread has always featured high on the human diet.  And it is now that bread which is making us ill.  Why????

It would appear that Monsanto is probably responsible for the dramatic increase in gluten intolerance worldwide.
Check out this article and make up your own mind...

... hmmm, another good petition to sign here :)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Quaking...

Warning: Soap box moment...

There are finally results of an investigation into the effects on Mother Earth of the wilful fracking that is taking place all over this beautiful planet.
There is absolutely nothing beautiful about this
scene - nothing!
This is the link...

If you have the opportunity, please - sign each and every petition against fracking that there you can find on line.  It is not only the harm that the oil companies are doing to the earth's mantle - it is also the poisoning of the ground water which is going to hectically impact our futures, our children's futures, and our children's childrens' futures...

No water, no life!

Never mind fracking - once they earnestly start harvesting the frozen methane from the ocean bed, this planet could be in even more trouble.  Any methane "accident" that occurs will add 25 times more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does.  It is time that we all stop being sheep, blindly following the leader, and voice our objections.

No-one is too insignificant, nor too great, not to sign a petition against this heinous activity.  Everyone, working together, can make a difference.  You only have to care enough to make a difference.  I recently added my name to another petition, and the result of over 20 000 people caring enough, meant that whale meat aboard a ship would not be allowed to find a berth at a port in this country.  I don't sign each and every petition - only those which I feel 100% against.

Even Mr Nelson Mandela signed a petition.

Let your voice be added to the voices of others - care enough to stand up and be counted.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Stocked up for winter...

... I mean, next winter...

We have just had, what I think is the last of our l'ete indien, and the lovely crisp mornings we waken to each day hold promise of the much welcome change in temperatures ahead.
Our Nordica Rosa - a.k.a. Rosie :)
Apart from the double glazing assisting in retaining heat inside the house, our sole source of warmth is from the Rosie - we don't use electric bar heaters, elelctric air-conditioning set on high heat, nor LP gas heaters.  Only the Nordica Rosie stove. The fact that it provides cooking facilities as well, is the added bonus. Well, truthfully, it was pointless just buying a wood burning stove for heating alone - if both requirements can be provided by the same unit, then surely that is the most cost effective solution.

There are plenty of alien Black Wattles in our area, which are slowly being "removed" by the WFW gang.  Last September we purchased two loads of chopped alien Black Wattle wood which the locals provide to anyone who needs wood for the upcoming winter, or their summer braai's.  Everyone knows, because of the dangers of resin accumulatingin your chimney's, that you can't use newly harvested damp wood in your stoves / fireplaces.  So, we try and source our wood early enough that we are confident that it has had sufficient time to dry before we need it.
Black Wattle logs - stacked last year in
September for use this winter
The hefty piles sort of sink into the ground as they dry.  They are also ideal place for mice and snakes to take refuge, so we site ours well away from the house / vegetable patches.  And very carefully select our wood when it's needed each day.

This winter we will have a mixture of Black Wattle and Bluegum with which to fire up the Rosie.  Bluegum is one of the hardwoods recommended by Nordica and it will be interesting to see the difference between the wattle and the bluegum - will it burn hotter and for longer?  Being much harder than wattle, it should.
The pile is growing and growing - time to
start a row in front.
It's always a mission collecting the firewood - getting to the invariably inaccessible spot where the trees have been chopped down, loading the wood onto the trailer, driving slowly back to our smallholding, and then...
1000 pieces of wattle on the right this time,
and the last of the 1000 pieces of bluegum
being off-loaded on the left
... off-loading it once we get there.  It takes about an hour to load it, and 3/4 of an hour to offload.

The cost - that has gone up since we got here.  It was ZAR200.00 / 1000 pieces in 2012, and is now ZAR300.00 / 1000 pieces  ($30-ish / €20-ish).  
But - that is still MUCH cheaper than we would pay in town.  There they sell a small bag of wood (roughly 12 - 15 pieces) for ZAR50.00 +  So - it is definitely the cheapest form of heating available.  We use about 20 - 25 pieces if we're having the Rosie burning from morning till night - so that would mean we could burn the Rosie all day, every day for roughly 80 days.  But, it's never that cold here that consistently, and we have good warm jersey's and jackets that we can put on if the need should arise.  Daytime burning of the Rosie is left for those rain-drenched, snow-capped mountain winter days and nights when we feel a need for the gem├╝tlichkeit of a visible log burning fire to warm and lighten the dreary outside view.  2000 pieces should be more than enough to see to our needs for this winter.

Who needs to go to gym - even on a lovely crisp morning loading and off-loading that wood is exercise enough to get the blood flowing, and a small trickle of sweat to slide down between the shoulder blades :)

Thank goodness we don't have to chop down the trees as well :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Mouse hunter


Our neighbours up the road called us very excitedly one day a few weeks ago.

The local labourer, John, had been walking home one night and saw something white and odd in the long grass.  So he stopped to inspect it further.

What he saw caused him to pick it up and take it to the nearest house.

The inhabitants were ecstatic.

They already have a number of sheep and lambs, a male and female Springbok (plus a baby whose sex is yet unknown and which was born 2 days ago), a single male peacock called Pretty Boy, a gaggle of geese, a flock of chickens and their chicks.

And, like everyone else around here, a plethora of field mice.

So what John found was welcomed with open arms...

... it was a pair of owlets.

Their mother was no where to be found, so it fell to the Mrs of the house to feed them - with an eye dropper - until they were big enough.  Unfortunately, the one didn't survive, but the other one did.

And, Ollie the owl thoroughly loved being indoors and spoilt.

Until it grew larger and it's poop started becoming a problem.  Then it was relegated to the car port outside.

We waited a couple of weeks until Mike joined us then we all trooped off to see the owlet.
It may be a baby still, but look at those claws!
Mike was absolutely delighted :)
From the smile on Mike's face you can
acurately deduct his emotions
Mike couldn't get enough of it - even when the owls claws started digging into his arm.
The owl has the most amazing colour and
patterned wings
It was not so happy about being kicked out of the house at nighttime - so at dusk it apparently claws at the front door to be let inside.  Once inside, it sits on the back of a chair and watches TV with them...
...after having partaken of it's evening meal.  Mr very thoughtfully source fresh field mice which Mr kills (shudder - I couldn't do that LOL) and Mrs cuts up into owl size bite portions (I couldn't do that either). 
The re-purposed dog kennel - just the ideal
owl box
None the less, Ollie, the owl has made itself a very comfortable home in the carport
Hopefully soon it will learn to catch it's own supper...

Instant eco-friendly pest control - how cool is that :)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sun drying...

I have spent absolutely ages researching solar dehydrator designs so that I am able to dehydrate my excess garden produce for use later in the year.

I even went so far as to purchase plans so that RMan could make me one.

That presumed that RMan would (1) want to tackle the task and (2) would be able to.  The answer to both was nada - he didn't feel his woodworking skills were up to it.

So, when the kitchen shelves received doors and the flyscreens were installed I grabbed the opportunity and asked the carpenter if he would be interested.

Turns out he was... :)

So, after agreeing on his labour quote and ordering some 6mm marine plywood, plus 32 X 32mm wood, and sundry other items, the dehydrator started to become an actuality.

It took him two weeks, and finally I received the call I had been waiting for.

We collected the dehydrator from him, took it home, established the exact size of the toughened safety glass top (a definite necessity as I didn't want to chance the glass shattering into very dangerous shards if something unforeseen happened), ordered and then waited for the toughened safety glass to be delivered to a collection point in our nearby town.

A week later the glass arrived. 

(A side note - the carpenter didn't follow the copy of the written instructions he was given, and the unit wasn't square :(  Not easy to order and install glass on an unsquare unit... <sigh> )

A week earlier I had contacted a local wood preservative manufacturing company and the lady I spoke to assured me that once the product was dry it was safe to use with food.  I took her at her word and we coated the dehydrator inside and out with their product.

So, the unit was "workable".

Workable in that it was complete, even if it lacked the bottom absorber plate and the shelves.  I am still trying to souce affordable non-toxic shelving to go inside, but, I couldn't wait to try it out.  So I grabbed my cake / biscuit cooling rack from the kitchen and, balancing it on wooden dowel rods, created a drying shelf.
You can clearly see the wooden dowel rods
supporting the cooling rack
The very last of my tomato harvest went onto this rack, and the wait began.

It easily reached a temperature of 45 - 50°C (113 - 122°F).

I was ecstatic :)  Yeeeeeeeeha!  Solar dehydrating had just become a fact of life in my kitchen.

But, something kept niggling at the back of my brain.  And that kind of niggling keeps me up at night.  And, being up at night, means that if I want to research anything I need to Google via my smart phone.  Not the easiest as the screen is too small for my aging eyes (even with specs) and my fingers too big for the tiny keyboard, but I don't want to switch on the laptop in the middle of the night - that would inevitably mean that I wouldn't get to bed until the sun came up - I can get very carried away once I start investigating...

But, what I discovered gave me serious pause for thought - which I re-investigated, and confirmed the following day when I woke up.

The instructions I purchased stated that I should use plywood.  But, after contacting our local co-op and getting a certificate on the plywood I had purchased from them (it is imported from Malaysia!!!) I discovered that there is no plywood in this country that does not contain formaldehyde!  Good grief!  I'm going to poison us...

Much, much, much research later has unearthed the fact that it seems that all wood in this country has been pressure treated against beetle, mould, worm, etc by using formaldehyde or boron or arsenic, etc.

I thought I would ask the wood preserving company if they would put their "non-toxic" product safety in writing.  It turns out it is not rated food safe.

But - they were kind enough to give me a link to a site which detailed food safe techniques.

As soon as I discovered that the unit was unsafe for food, I whipped the tomatoes out of it, and shoved them into the solar oven to dehydrate.  The solar oven works OK, but, even with the lid propped open 5cms, it still attains too high a temperature, which has led to my incinerating a couple of loads of tomatoes this summer...

So - back to the drawing board I go.  Ah well, I've got at least 5 - 6 months before I will need a solar dehydrator.

But, for all those (and there are many of them out there) who make a solar dehydrator out of scraps and left over bits of wood - be warned.  Your wood may contain harmful chemicals...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Personal solar power zenith


Friday, 15th March 2014 it was a cool day - full sunshine, but the air was cool. Those are ideal conditions for solar panels.

When solar panels overheat their efficiency drops.  Which is completely opposite to what one expects.  Certainly what I thought.  I figured the sunnier / hotter the day, the more the solar panels would generate charge to our batteries.

But, when there is a cool breeze blowing, the panels are able to perform at optimum, and the 28th March was just such a day :)
This is the Outback remote control unit which
is located inside our house, and which
keeps us updated as to the wattage which is
being generated by our solar panels and gives
 us a total kWH produced at any given moment
And we had a record kWH harvest.  5.7 kWH / 430 AH to be precise!
The Owl electricity monitor showing our current
(with or without the pun LOL) kWH draw of 290 watts,
our daily draw from the batteries (2.97kWH) and
the temperature inside at that time 20.5°
At 18.42p.m. that day we had only used 2.97 kWH so that means we had a surplus of 2.73kWH!!!

We were happy, happy puppies that day :)

By the way, you can tell from our energy consumption on the photo of the Owl electricity monitor that we were drawing 290 watts - that equates to our fridge (180 watts), TV and satellite box (103 watts), and 1 X 7watt light.

Now, not to confuse you, the Outback remote is showing a total charge of 12.3volts.  That is because we were drawing 290 watts at that precise moment.  The batteries were at a full charge of 12.5 volts.  But that shows you how any power consumption affects the battery charge.

Once the fridge timer clocked in and switched off the fridge for an hour, the draw fell to 187 watts the CC value rose accordingly.

We always remember to turn off lights when we leave a room... ;)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Scorpion identification


We have seen a few scorpions inside our farmhouse since we moved here.

But, with our grandson Mike striding round bare foot most of the time (even though we have told him to always wear shoes of some sort), and with granddaughter Baby HJG's future crawling / toddling in mind, I decided to acquaint myself with what scorpions were life threatening, and which weren't.
Quick reference scorpion picture
This simple photo that I found was such an informative picture I thought that it would be helpful to someone else if I shared it.  That way they can save it to their desktop, then print it out, and place it where it will always be a quick source of reference.

Thankfully, the scorpions we have seen all have a thin to medium tail - so, at worst a bee sting type pain, and an irritation.  And not life threatening...

Forewarned is forearmed :)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Simple tomato supper


At the end of a long, hot, productive day in the garden, a simple but tasty and nutritious meal is called for.

As long as it has meat of some kind RMan is happy.  So he had bacon rashers added to his plate.
Yummy heirloom tomatoes - so much more
substantial than the commercial varieties
which are so widely available
Then, with my bountiful garden produce I made the following dinner.

All it took was the following :

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried coriander seeds
2 - 3 "large" whole tomatoes (skin, seeds and all - finely chopped)
1 teaspoon caster sugar
4 eggs (I scored half a dozen completely free range eggs from a generous neighbour :)  )
handful of fresh basil leaves
1 red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped) Optional
grated cheese Optional
100% free range eggs poached in a homemade
tomato sauce
Heat the oil in a frying pan that has a lid, then soften the chopped onions, garlic, crushed coriander seeds, and chilli (if using) for 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar, then bubble for 8-10 mins until thick (at this stage the the mixture can be cooled, and then frozen for a couple fo months).

Using the back of a large spoon, make 4 "holes" in the sauce, then crack an egg into each one. Put a lid on the pan and cook over a low heat for 4 - 5 minutes, until the eggs are done to your liking. If your adding grated cheese, sprinkle it over the top now, scatter with the sweet basil leaves and serve with a fresh baked crusty breadloaf or rolls.

Yum :)

Minimal cooking and cost and maximum goodness :)