14 March 2017

Planning the Winter Field

This will be the third season of cover-/smother-cropping the Top Field -- the third pass at trying to smother out the grass (mostly Buffalo, some Kikuyu) and "weeds" that are growing there, but mostly aimed at creating bulk organic matter to compost in place as soil improver. And it's working! Already we see big improvements in water retention, soil texture and organic matter, nutrition, and species diversity.

The ultimate goal for the Top Field system is to build a permanent pasture system for rotation-feeding Chickens in an avenue-cropping scheme, with fruit trees and edible/fruiting shrub, herb, subterranean and climbing layers on contour. The entire field area is about 90x30m (on average), and so far I have only been working on reviving the 20x20m block closest to the house, so it's going to take some time. Part of the reason for starting so "small and slow" is to gain practical experience with different cover-crop mixes and with planting timing and sequencing, but now it's time to start expanding our efforts a bit.

The basic sequence is to broadcast a mix of season-appropriate seeds -- the greater the variety, the better! -- directly into the tall (knee-high) standing grasses and "weeds", and then to follow up by slashing down all the tall growth to cover the seed and compost in place. This has been a bit hit-and-miss. Some plant varieties have performed quite well, while others clearly expect some gentler TLC and have failed to live up to our hopes.(Reminder to self: A good topic for another blog-post sometime...)

For each season, I want a mix of plants that includes at least:

  • a legume or two for nitrogen-fixing
  • a root crop capable of opening-up the upper layers of the soil and
  • a deep-rooted variety that will create channels for water and nutrients all the way down to the underlying clay base, and will also dredge up nutrients from those deeper layers
  • tall, leafy crops that will shade out the grass and eventually create a great bulk of organic mulch when I cut them down

If some of these are edibles, so much the better, but at this stage it's not a priority.

So, for the coming Winter, I have this list so far:

  • White Mustard -- soil fumigant, good leaf bulk, bird forage and has done well in the field in the past.
  • Oats -- a tall variety for shading and straw-bulk. Grains generally have done quite well, though by themselves they cannot produce enough shade.
  • Sweet Lupin -- N-fixer, legume, strong taproot and well suited to our heavy soil.
  • Rape or a large Kale -- leafy, quick to decompose and good through Winter around here.
  • Fodder Radish/Turnip/Beet -- for those big roots to drill open the soil!
  • Grazing Vetch/Purple Vetch -- Grazing Vetch is my first choice for its creeping growth habit which, I am hoping, will form a good live cover beneath the other crops, helping to smother grasses. Purple Vetch has a more upright growth habit, but is in there as a fallback option.
  • Wheat/Rye/Barley/Barley-Wheat/Triticale -- any grain, really, mainly to feed the wildlife and Chickens if we get around to building the infrastructure we need in time.
  • Cowpeas -- because legumes! Also, I have a bag handy that needs to be used before the seed gets too old.

The larger-seeded varieties will probably have to be drilled in after I have slashed down the Summer growth, so that's quite a lot of work, but the others should be quite quick and easy.

08 January 2017

Baboon Assault Troops

What happens when a Doggie tangles too closely with a Baboon...
Scyla, just returned from the vet's. Many thanks to Mark at Knysna Veterinary Clinic for fixing her -- sorry we had to spoil your Sunday!

16 December 2016

Aerodrone Season

It is Aircraft Season.

What is it about this town? Most of the year things are pretty peaceful around here. Skies are clear and free of noise aside from the occasional commercial aircraft flying in over the mountains from Parts North, settling in for final approach to George Airfield. As they pass over our heads they'll be just at that stage after, "Please ensure that your tray-tables are stowed, your window-blinds are fully open, and your seat-back is in the locked, upright position for landing." The stewardess has is making her way up the aisle checking that everyone is in full compliance with the safety regulations, and is on her way to her little fold-down seat to strap herself in for the landing. The plane is still so high in the sky that we seldom hear them. The only sign that they're passing is the straight, white contrail they leave across the deep blue.

No, the commercial flights are not a problem aside from the normal concerns one might have around petrochemical pollution and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. The problem planes are the small, private aircraft.

The problem is noise. For the main part of the year, we get an occasionally light plane passing by, or, once in a while, a helicopter. The really noisy helicopter is one that the National Parks people use once or twice a year for training exercises for the Fire Fighting teams. That thing is awesomely noisy. A hard, hammering sound slaps down out of the sky like something out of a Vietnam War movie, and you'd be easily excused for thinking you were in a war-zone when you hear it coming as much as ten minutes before it lumbers into view. But that only happens a couple of times a year.

Then there are the microlights. A neighbouring farmer has a small, informal airstrip on his farm, built when he owned his own microlight. Nowadays he flies a motorised glider, so the only noise it makes is a quite inoffensive murmur as he gets it into the air. He does occasionally allow touring microlight enthusiasts to use his strip, but he is very good about asking them to avoid flying over our neighbourhood, having received complaints in years gone by from residents who enjoy suntanning naked in their backyards and get a bit miffed at the sudden appearance of low-flying aircraft.

But for some reason at this time of year, the Holiday Time Of Year, Peak Tourism Season, we get invaded by an infestation of noisy aeroplanes, clouds of buzzing midges with nothing better to do than drone about. Small planes whose pilots love nothing better than to wheel aimlessly overhead for a couple of hours, round and round and up and down and round and round again. They're not even good enough flyers to pull off any interesting aerobatics. Round and round and up and down, droning and moaning and generally wrecking the peace and quiet with a blissful disregard for anybody else.

Then there's Jet Propelled Guy. He hasn't arrived yet. It's still a little early in the tourist season. He (maybe its "she", though, generalising wildly here, women are usually a bit more considerate, and it seems to me more likely a testosterone-amped Alpa Male type) generally comes to town closer to Christmas, and flies about in a little jet-propelled plane, insanely noisy. Also an up and down and round and round artiste, but now with added roaring. The ego-riddled selfishness is quite beyond my comprehension. What sort of metastasised sense of self-entitlement, what corroded set of social values, enables this one person to destroy the quiet enjoyment of the thousands below on the Earth who are forced, unasked and unwilling, to pay the price of the solipsist solo flyer's self-indulgence?

There are also any number of Helicopter types. They fly those tiny, mosquito-looking things that make a hell of a racket out of all proportion to their size. We had one of them living just down the road a few years ago. He (really "he" in this case), of a Sunday afternoon, would flit from his "farm" to one of the upmarket golf-estates for a round of golf. In and out and roundabout he'd go, to do the shopping, to fly to some Important Meeting in George, down to Cape Town for drinkies at Camps Bay,... sometimes several times a day. The noise was awful. He was completely arrogant about it. I'd say "unsympathetic" to our concerns, but no, "sympathy" was not a concept that entered into his world. He was Big Important Asshole, and we little people ought to consider ourselves privileged to put up with the result of his ego-rot, his non-existent grasp of ethical consideration for other peoples' rights. Eventually we got him shut down by legal means, though it did come close to proclaiming Open Goose Hunting Season.

No, it's mainly this time of year when aircraft become a plague in the sky. The time of year when rich, over-entitled idiots take to the skies. I suppose it is the price we are expected to live with in exchange for the content of their wallets, off which the local economy feeds for the remainder of the year.

12 December 2016

Tomato Supports

Supporting Tomato plants has long been a headache. This year I decided to try out a different approach. I've simply "mulched" the Tomato beds using masses of twiggy branches from trees I've been weeding out. (Coming attraction: "Dances with Chainsaws")

So far it seems to be working well. As the Tomato bushes grow tall enough to poke through the canopy of twigs and branches I add another layer, while the tangle beneath supports the Tomato bushes leaves and side shoots, and should (hopefully) support the Tomatoes that eventuate. Most of the bushes have started flowering...

This wild mess makes weeding a bit difficult, but I mulched heavily between the plants with grass clippings, so the weeds are not getting out of hand too badly. The scheme has so far also had the unforeseen benefit of deterring the ravenous Bushbuck who want to eat the Tomato leaves and shoots. It is also a lot less time-consuming than the traditional stakes-and-string method I've used in the past.

30 November 2016

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

Garden trash accumulates. Old, dead branches that are too misshapen to use as fuelwood, fat trunkwood too gnarly to split, rotten with wild fungi and infested borer-beatle, Old planks of untreated wood used as garden benches and now falling to bits. Everything must go!

It's better to burn out
Than it is to rust
Ashes to ashes and
Dust to dust...

17 November 2016

Baboon Vandals

Lots of Baboons about. The day before yesterday the dogs took off after a couple of them and disappeared for several hours. It's a big worry--the dogs can easily be severely injured by the Baboons. Eventually Keira returned, completely exhausted by her adventure. She could barely walk up the hill, let alone run from a Baboon turning on her, and her breathing was extremely ragged from exertion and stress. We were hoping that this would discourage the Baboons a bit and keep them at bay for a couple of weeks, but no such luck. One of them was around a couple of minutes ago. Luckily I was alerted by Scyla and I could chase him off. If it was just a case of them stealing fruit, that would be one problem, but
...and thirty minutes later, having chased off another of the bastards who has broken a large branch off our 20-year-old Apple Tree, Scyla Dog has taken off across the farmlands and, by the sounds of things, chased him up a tree where she will no doubt keep him trapped for some hours.

In the twenty years we've been here, we have never had this much trouble with Baboons.

Update 20 min. later: Scyla has returned, thankfully unharmed, from far across the farmland. We have to do something about these thieves -- it's us or them. I am at a loss just what, though...

11 November 2016

Strange Dreams

I had a dream, last night, that a Bushbuck came and ate the tops off my Tomato plants.

Woke up this morning, and went out to empty the rain gauge (5mm), to find

Strange, and slightly scary, to have such powerful dreams!

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