27 April 2007


As researchers examine the Amazon more carefully, it appears that huge areas contain not only wild plants, but have been stocked with people-friendly cultivars of useful species. More and more, it looks as if the Amazon, like much of the Americas, was a carefully cultivated garden before the Europeans showed up and abused it into a thicketed wilderness. It appears that our idea of wilderness—black forest so dense you can barely walk, where people "take only photographs and leave only footprints"—is a notion burned into our psyches during an anomalous blip: the first two centuries following the Mayflower, in which the gardeners who had tended the Americas for millennia were exterminated, leaving the hemisphere to descend into an neglected tangle of "primeval forest." It's likely that this so-called intact forest had never existed before, since humans arrived here as soon as the glaciers receded and began tending the entire landmass with fire and digging stick.
We've known for some time that it's time to kick things up a notch in terms of extending, enriching and diversifying our permaculture efforts at Braamekraal, but its been harrd going in terms of deciding how to proceed. The basic plan we figured out a decade ago still holds good, by and large, but the details need filling-in. What pioneer tree species? Understory varieties? And time, too, to apply the hard-won lessons of the past ten years. What edible varieties will the Mouse Birds leave alone? What fruit trees are bound to attract the Baboons? Ten years ago we didn't even know that Mouse Birds existed! The devil is always in the details!

Reading Toby Hemenway's fascinating write-up of the pre-Columbian Americas has set ideas detonating like fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night. His insights and accounts also resonate strongly with some very puzzling things about the South- and Meso-American natives.
Here's a small, green berry. Its a bit poisonous, so if you eat it, you'll almost certainly get a severe tummy-ache. It's an annual that grows all over, seeding itself pretty freely, but nobody in their right mind would want to actually eat it!
What vision, what insight, possesses a gardener, inspring them to expend years, perhaps generations, of effort to selectively breed this semi-nasty little berry into the beautiful Tomatoes we love so much?

24 April 2007

Wine; and Destroying the Cape Fynbos

We love wine, particularly the very fine reds that the Southwestern Cape produces.  Unfortunately, where we live the climate is totally unsuitable for vine growing, so I guess we'll never be self-sufficient in wine.

Lately we have discovered a store that makes a speciality out of obtaining end-of-run export wines -- wines originally destined for the foreign (mostly European) markets and up-market stores, but which doesn't make it there for one reason or another.  They sell these off really cheaply, so we've been buying some really great red wines for under R20/bottle (around EUR2!) Tonight's little surprise -- Mountain Shadows 2005 Pinotage is a bit of a disappointment, but, at the price, who's complaining?

The label on the back of the bottle:
"Nestled in the shadows of the majestic mountains of the Cape, flourish some of the last and rarest of the botanical species Mimetes.  Endemic to this region, the last bastions of this most beautiful and endangered species weather the timeless onslaught  of nature and man.  In the shadows of these same mountains, grow the vineyards,..."
The fucking gall of these people!  The vineyards are the precise bloody reason the fynbos is being wiped out!  The Aghulas Plain -- last remaining bastion of all five types of Fynbos -- is rapidly being covered in vineyards, completely wiping out the richest and smallest floral kingdom in the world.  Table Mountain, despite its being in the very heart of a major city, is home to more plant species than the entire island of Great Britain!

It's one thing if a wine-maker is shamelessly unapologetic about wiping out incredible areas of land, many of them the home to beautiful plants found nowhere else -- not even elsewhere in the Cape!  -- well, there's an honesty to that, though of a pretty disagreeable sort.  But to lament the loss of these plants, whilst simultaneously extolling the virtues of their vineyards...  Words fail me!

I bought the bottle in ignorance.  Please don't repeat my mistake. Its pretty crap wine anyway.

20 April 2007

New Family Member

"Myah" (pronounced "Maya") really belongs to Number One Son and his fiancée who are away for a few weeks, staying with her parents in PiEmBurg while organising wedding dress and such. They have been renting the cottageon our property for the past few months.  In the meantime, J and I have become foster-parents and de facto trainers.

Actually, it helps lots to have an older dog around the place!  OB plays a valuable role in teaching the puppy -- now almost 12 weeks old -- that chasing the chickens is strictly verboten.

Myah is pure-bred Labrador retriever (though she's an Animal Welfare case, so without all the certificates,) highly intelligent, and very keen to please, so quite easy to teach.  She chews on stuff all the time, but around here that means plenty of sticks, pine cones, chew toys, so no problems to date with her chewing shoes or furniture.  She also loves to dig!  Sooner or later she's bound to try and help in the veggie garden, and then we'll have a lesson in store, but, with so much "garden" space I really don't mind the odd little hole in the ground.

Only one family member has her nose severely out of joint over the puppy...

Actually she's come around quite well after the first week or so.  Its just that OB (PhD) has never been very good at "playing" with other dogs.  She's wired for "very serious protector of the pack."

Many permaculture practitioners believe that there is no justifiable reason for keeping Dogs and Cats. They are wrong. I cannot count the number of times we would have lost entire crops or the flock of chickens, had we been without OB guarding our interests at night, and I am sure that Myah will be just as good a protector!

16 April 2007

Chook Chore

Dear Mike,
Thank you for cleaning out our Chook-house today.  It really was getting a bit fragrant in there at night, and things should smell a lot better now that you've cleaned and aired the house and put in clean wood-shavings.
We're especially grateful that you didn't leave the job too long.  When you do neglect our bird-brained needs, the mite population starts to build up to quite alarming proportions.  As you know they suck our blood, and can make us quite anemic.  Our young chicks, especially, are vulnerable to those menaces.  Also, you then have a much longer, harder job of cleaning, since the best way to rid the house of mites is to flame the interior thoroughly with your blowtorch.  Thank you, though, for finding a way to deal with bugs that does not involve poisons on our roosts and laying boxes.  We think it is much more effective, too.
You really ought to get around to making some changes to the Chook-house to make your life easier.  Replace that stupid little flap on the side with something you can open right up -- have the entire side of the house open so that its easier for you to get in for cleaning.
We were not best pleased with your last modification, though, where you blocked us from roosting atop the nesting boxes, though we do confess it keeps the nesting boxes much cleaner.  Its made things just a bit crowded in the house at night, with fewer roosting places to go around, and we really hate roosting close to the door.  We get very frightened when the Ratel comes sniffing around at night.  But really, we're not too badly off, so we're not complaining -- we still have much more space at night than any of our poor imprisoned battery-raised cousins -- plus we get to roam about all day, enjoying dust-baths in the shade of the Big Oak Tree on hot afternoons and Banana Snacks are most welcome around mid-morning.
We do think that one of the Young Lads roosting in the trees got taken by a Lynx early this morning, but we're not too sure.  Let's see there were 1,... errr... 1,... errr... 1,... (ooh I'm getting dizzy; now what was I doing?)
Crapulaciously Yours,
The Flock.

Now if only the little buggers Feathered Ladies will start laying decently again... Thanks always due to the guys at Tsitsikamma Furniture for the endless supply of poison-free wood-shavings.

15 April 2007

Pump Action

We have two water pumps around the place: one providing irrigation water from the small Earth-dam next to the house, the other pumping our household water from the main storage tanks to a header-tank in the roof of the house.  Having installed our own plumbing, and water being a bit important, keeps us very tuned to the behaviour of the machinery we rely upon.  Let the water pump cycle even a fraction of a second too short, and I am instantly aware that there's a problem.

Over several weeks the house-pump has been cycling in ever shortening durations, and I'm well familiar with what that means...

Digression: The Inner Life of Pumps and Pressure Switches

The pump is controlled by a pressure-switch, which in turn relies on a rubber-bladder inside the pressure-dome. I've also heard it called a surge tank.  The rubber bladder gets filled with water, compressing the bubble of air between the bladder and pressure-dome, until there is sufficient back-pressure to overcome the spring in the pressure switch.  There are more modern electronic versions of pressure switches that do away with the need for pressure-domes, and I am told they're very reliable, but they were not around when we built and plumbed our house, and I see no real need for another expense to replace a perfectly serviceable setup.

Every so often, though, the bladder wears out and develops a pucture, and water seeps through to the wrong side of the bladder.  This means that there's less air to make everything work, and the pump trends towards switching in ever-shorter cycles, which, if neglected, will have the pump destroy itself.  So everything has to come apart, as pictured here, the bladder replaced, then put back together again.  Only this time, I was feeling a bit miffed at a bladder that has lasted a bare 18 months.  I should check inside the pressure-dome and check that there's not a rough spot sandpapering through the rubber.  The bladders are also getting quite expensive!

Invent Another Way

Out came an old bicycle puncture-repair kit.  Puncture located. Patch applied.  Whan, bang and we're back in action.  If it works.

After all, the whole thing is under about 4 bar of pressure.  And being flexed and bent all the time.  Neither of which is normal for a bicycle tube.

Only way to find out is to put it all back together; suck it and see.

Putting the bladder and pressure-dome back together, bolting the baseplate on securely, and threading the whole thing back onto the 4-way joint that ties everything together without causing any leaks is only part of the story, though.  The pressure-dome still needs to have air pumped into it through a tyre-valve on the top.  Normally about 1.5 to 2 bar of air pressure is plenty -- this is all about just having the air in place, rather than creating any tremendous pressure.  I have tried using a small 12-volt pressure pump such as you might carry in the pickup for emergency tyre pumping, but, to be honest, it takes so long to fill the pressure-dome that I'm better off using an ordinary handraulic tyre-pump.

There's Always Another Job Along the Way

Out comes the tyre-pump, only to find that the hose has perished and broken.  It's Saturday afternoon, and the hardware shops are all closed for the weekend.  Close examination reveals that most of the length of hose is still OK -- only one end was badly perished.  So, a little action with knife and a hose-clamp, and we're back in action.

Now we know why the shed is filled with a rich and varied assortment of plumbing bits, glues, wire, spare parts and piping of various descriptions.

Happily my patch-job seems to be holding well, though it remains to be seen how long it will last.  The saving of a couple of hundred bucks was a good win, but more importantly, the feeling that comes of having dealt with the problem, having refused to accept defeat in the face of niggling problems and difficulties -- that's the big win.

Post Script

I do plan to install a hand- or wind-driven backup pump for the house water.  That's partly the reason that the plumbing system was designed as a gravity-feed setup in the first place.  Right now we have water sufficient for about 3 or 4 days without power to pump water up to refill the header tank.  And it has happened a couple of times that we've been without power for that long as a result of storm damage.  In these situations we're still able to use inside water, bath, etc. where our much more modern and clever neighbours are forced to do without.

The catch is that I expressly do not want a manufactured pump, but something I can totally build myself from scratch, so that I am not at all reliant on any factory-engineered bits and pieces that would instantly become unobtainable should "everything go Pear-shaped."

10 April 2007

On the Nature of Research Gardening

Days are beginning to draw in; night comes a little too early, and Summer's really over. Winter crops – onions, garlic, cabbage tribe and a few other odds and ends – are coming up in seed trays, and I've finally made a start on clearing and composting the (ex-)Tomato beds.

Somewhere sleeting through the Universe for æons, minding its own tiny business, comes an Idea Particle...

A couple of years ago I stopped treating Chillis1 as Annuals, although that's how most people grow them. "After all," I thought, "they're true Perennials, and since we don't get any frost here, why am I ripping them out fo the ground each Autumn, and starting new plants every Spring?" Sure enough, it works brilliantly. It means I get Chillis as much as six weeks earlier than new-season plants, and its well worth it, even though the fruit gets a bit smaller each season, and the plants produce somewhat less. One Jalapeño bush is reaching the end of its third season, and still prolific enough to be worth hanging onto. So now I have Chillis on a 3-year rotation, but...

Still not satisfied. I generally sow Chillis in September, placing the seed-trays atop a warm compost heap. Chillis like a bit of bottom heat to get going, but I have on occasion cooked the seeds with my over-enthusiastic hot compost. With September sowing (I've tried August, but its a bit too early for them) I generally start harvesting around the end of January or mid-Feb. What would happen, though if I sow Chillis now -- in April!

In theory the weather is still warm enough for them to germinate and put in a bit of growth before they shut down for Winter in about mid-June. Without frost they should be fine until the weather warms up (and plants can tell these things much, much better than we!) Then they should get off to a flying start and be fruiting by early December, but with all the advantage of being "new-season" plants.

So we'll see... Remind me to report back in October or November (unless some other disaster strikes.) Today I planted a couple of dozen each of Jalapeño, Habanero, Serrano and Cherry Peppers -- all favourites of mine.

Parting Shot

One shot good quality Vodka, well chilled in the freezer.
One Serrano pepper, quartered lengthwise, but not all-the-way.

Drop the Serrano into the Vodka. Leave alone for 3 to 5 minutes if you can. Sip.

But slowly!

[1] I know that lots of people spell it "Chile" or some other baroque monstrosity, but I can't get the hang of that.

05 April 2007

Aaaand... We're Back!

Back from a trip down to Gansbaai (lit.: Goose Bay) -- formerly a whaling village on the Aghulas Plain, now a tourist destination for possibly the best whale-viewing in the world.  (Whales usually arrive around June and stick around until about Oct./Nov. to calf.)  The occassion was a sister-in-law's 30'th Birthday Bash.

Then on to Cape Town for a family get-together for First-night Pesach and visiting good friends.  Best part was that I got some brewing yeast from Franz, so I'll be able to get back into homebrewing after a lapse of several years.

Hmmm....  surely if I put together an unhopped wort... then ferment... then distill...  isn't that a simple Single Malt Scotch?  Any experts out there?

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...