27 May 2007

African Rat Trap

Tempted to title this post "Oh Rats!" or "Getting Ratted"...

A Rat Plague of Near Biblical Proportion has descended upon us.  It happens most years around this time; I guess that all the Rat babies born in Spring or Summer are now fully-grown, leaving their parents burrow to set up home for themselves for the first time.  And, of course, the Veggie Garden is the local Rat Supermarket.

I have heard it said that, "Where a Human Being is, there is a Rat within 20ft."  I believe it.  Certainly the first thing I saw upon landing in Boston was a Rat.  And likewise for Johannesburg, London or pretty-much anywhere else I've been (except Switzerland1) just so you know I'm not picking on anybody.

The first few years I tried conventional Rat traps -- the kind that go SNAP -- but freely confess that they scare me shitless.  For days after setting one of those things I harbour nightmares of my fingers getting SNAPped, worry about The Dog getting her pretty (though excessively long) snout SNAPped.  They're humane, though, the SNAP traps.  The real downside is that they get at most one Rat and then need resetting and re-baiting.  Quite often, too, the Rats would make a Clean Getaway with The Cheese.

I once tried poison -- the kind that comes in waxy blocks -- well tucked away from Dogs and Small Children in a scrap of irrigation pipe.  The label claimed that it was "safe" in not causing secondary poisoning of any unsuspecting creature that might eat a Rat carcass. I have my doubts.  Anyway, the stuff disappeared within a couple of days and didn't seem to have any effect.

Hole in the ground

Bucket in hole, trap baited and ready for action.
Then I read how to construct an African Rat Trap.

Read and Learn:

First dig a hole in the ground, of a size and shape to bury a large-ish bucket to its brim.  Place said bucket in the hole, and fill the bucket a quarter or a third full with water.  Place a piece of wire across the centre of the bucket, suitably baited with something Yummy To Rats.  I believe that people in Zimbabwe use Peanut Butter.  It certainly worked well for me, but I seem to have Vegan Rats who far prefer a chunk of Carrot.  Empty the bucket periodically of drowned Rats.

See, the Rats stretch along the wire, trying to get the food, but not being trained for the High Wire, they lose their balance and fall into the water.  Frequently they actually do get a nibble, so at least they don't die hungry!  I've had such a trap deal with as many as eight Rats in one night.

Seems a tad cruel, yes, but very effective. And we're talking about Bubonic Plague and stuff, so Rats are the one thing I won't abide.  Then, too, the presence of a plentiful Rat supply will inevitably be followed by a Plague of Snakes, and pretty dangerous ones, too.  The Rats also eat the bark off numerous trees, including our fruit trees.  We've already lost a 2-year-old Avocado tree this year.  Not to mention that they're playing merry hell with my Nantes Carrots that I'm supposedly growing up for seed (barely visible in the pics due to having had their tops eaten off.)

Cue Monty Python: Has it got any Rat in it?

[1]  I believe that Rats are strictly Verboten in Switzerland unless properly Licenced and Taxes Paid, and that they get a severe Talking To and Finger-Wagging if they wiggle their snouts inappropriately.  Local Canton rules may apply, though.

20 May 2007

When Wishes Come True

Seems like I get my wish: 36mm of rain so far, and it looks like settling in for the night.  Hooray!

Just went out to feed the Chickens (and check the rain gauge) and the ground is only just starting to get squishy-wet, so more rain will be very welcome.  Looking back in my Garden Book, the last decent rain was on 5 March -- 2½ months ago!  Too long.

Update 21 May 2007 16:43: Its bitterly cold and still bucketting down; rain should continue until tomorrow morning, and dams are starting to look a bit healthier. 

12 May 2007

New Webside Story

Finally finished the first in a series (well, that's what I'm aiming for...) on the website: The Great Fly Swatting of '05.  The title keeps meandering all over the map...  Hope you enjoy!

Stuff going on at Braamekraal:
  • Embarked on a soil-remineralisation program, after reading loads of stuff about William Albrecht's methods of soil analysis.  Must write about this soon.
  • Beds dug for Peas, Broadbeans interplanted with Lentils so that the Lentils can climb up the Broadbean "poles".
  • Compost bins rearranged to accomodate the ever-increasing girth of the Banana clump.  Dead Banana trunks chopped out.  More work than you might think!
  • Good progress on the seed-saving website software; probably about 50% of the way "there".  I'll write more in a few weeks/months when its closer to being unleashed.
  • Still no money. Still laughing about it.
  • Still haven't brewed :-(  Lazy bugger!
  • Still enjoying the Peace And Quiet of Just The Two Of Us.  Son#1 and fiancee expected back at the end of the month.
What a beautiful day today.  Far to magical to spend time with the PC...

10 May 2007

Vegetable Garden in Autumn

Finally: a little rain!  After weeks without a drop, we finally got 8mm of rain yesterday.  Not nearly enough, and things are looking a bit grim.  We have not had "decent" rain since March -- only a few half-arsed showers in AprilTo my mind, anything less than 15mm does more harm than good, and a rain only really qualifies as "decent" when it hits 25mm or more.

The dam that provides irrigation water is nearly empty, and, unless we getgood rains soon -- at least 30 or 40mm -- I shall have to investigate ways to pump water from the Big Dam at the bottom of the farm.  Renting a pump isvery expensive; local equipment-hire places demand R300 and up for a day's pump-hire.  You can buy the damn thing for around R1200!

On the upside, the year's Garlic (pictured left, though the plants are barely visible) is doing really well, and I managed to get a full bed of Onions transplanted before the rain, so they're all looking good, and starting to stand upright again after their move.  Broad beans and Lentils haven't shown-up yet (no surprise there, though), but Turnips (Golden Globe), Carrots, Beets and Mangels have!  I've never grown giant Beets before, and am mainly doing so now to get experience with them, and to save some seed as a bit of "future-proofing" insurance.  Broccoli (Early Purple) and Cauliflower also got transplanted just before the rain, so they're also quite happy.  All of these are Winter crops around here, as are Peas (still to be planted.)  Lettuce is an ever-ongoing story, here; the only time of year we have trouble with Lettuce is in December and January when temperatures get high enough to inhibit germination of Lettuce seed, though shade-cloth over the flats does help a bit.

I've also put in a few Potatoes.  People around here give me funny looks for planting Winter Potatoes, but they have been reasonably successful (if not terribly prolific) on the few occasions I've done so in the past.  It means that come Springtime, we're eating homegrown new Potatoes at a time of year when the shops are charging more for them than their weight in gold.  If I can free-up a bit more space -- and I think I can -- I can perhaps get another 1/2-dozen plants in.  All good provided the Porcupine doesn't find them!

All we need now is a lot more rain!

06 May 2007

Our Reptilian Overlords

tortoiseA couple of unusual visitors in the past week.  First was the Tortoise.  We first met her (or him -- it's hard to tell with a Tortoise) when we got back from our brief trip to Cape Town a few weeks ago. There she was, asleep beneath the staircase.  We thought that Wayne (who'd been looking after the house and Chooks)  had put her there, though we could not imagine why.  I put her out in the garden, in a safe place.
tortoise escaping
Tortoises are becoming quite rare around here.  Too much habitat loss.  Too many squashed by careless drivers.  They always seem so old and wise, to me; I wonder what they could teach us, could we but understand them.  No wonder we call them Taught Us.

Next day she was back inside the house.  We live with the doors open, mostly, and in she came, bold as brass.  Crawled under the Throne (a huge wooden chair) and got herself stuck.  To the rescue again,  I put her in a different place.  One where she is safe from lawn-mowers and weed-eaters, close to food (the veggie garden) and water.  And I thought we'd seen the last of her, because Tortoises are normally very shy and retiring.

Nope!  A couple of days ago she was back, scrabbling about on the stoep,looking for a way back into the house.  Perhaps she's looking for a place to hibernate for the Winter.  Do Tortoises hibernate?  I fished her out from behind OB's kennel, and off she went across the lawn into the long grass.  Only problem now is I'm planning to burn the grass off soon in order to get some trees and understory plants established.

Large toadThen, yesterday, composting the Brassica beds, I met this fellow who had made a home in the warm compost heap.  The picture doesn't really give a good sense of how large he (she?) is, and he was too flighty to put something familiar into the pic; he's about the size of a man's hand!  I was really careful not to hurt him with my shovel, but I'm afraid he's going to have to find a new home for a while, until I can build a new compost heap in that particular bin.

It's a bit surprising, really, how well frogs and toads thrive in my veggie patch.  I'm forever disturbing little pale tree-frogs nestling in the base of Leeks or on Cabbage leaves.  They're very welcome, though, and a good indicator of how healthy the soil and plants are.  The surprising thing is that they thrive despite the presence of at least two Herald Snakes which mostly eat frogs!

Spent the rest of the afternoon trundling my wheelbarrow back and forth with this tune going round and round and round in my head:  "Mr Froggie went a courtin' and he did ride, aaaahummmm..."

(Apologies, once again, about the crap quality of the pics.  It's just the limitations of the shite little camera we have, and no funds for a better one.)

03 May 2007

Black Futsu Squash

Not only is it that Quite Busy Autumn Planting Time, but time, also, to harvest the Black Futsu Squash that survived the predations of Pumpkin Fly.  The variety really is very susceptible to being stung!

Its the first time we've ever tried growing Black Futsu; its an unknown here, and some seed "just happened to come my way, Officer, really, I swear!"  Midway through the growing seaon I was unsure whether it would be worth the bother... they take a lot of space, rambling about all over the show and generally
getting underfoot.  At one stage I considered that they were only useful as a live mulch:  I planted them between the Red Hat Chillis, which last for several years and grow to a height of 1.5m and better; the Black Futsu plants made a very useful groundcover.  "But not much else," I thought.  At least they didn't seem to be particularly disease-prone;  mildews and fungus are always a challenge in our reasonably-humid Summers, and the Black Futsu resisted those as well as anything else.

Taste tests of the young squashes were disappointing, and I thought to myself, "If that's the flavour, then they're really not worth the bother." I guess it didn't help that I had been reading reports about Black Futsu that ranged from wildly enthusiastic, to downright negative.  Many reviews likened their flavour and texture to Butternut, and several strains of Butternut squash are very freely available locally, and widely grown commercially.  Butternuts are sold so cheaply, here, that they're frankly not really worth the bother of growing!

Then I tasted a mature Black Futsu.  Suffice to say we will definitely be growing them again.  They look like they'll store well, too – the skin is so tough that even the rats have given up on them.

02 May 2007

Garden Update: Autumn Planting

At last I've got the Garlic into the ground, and it's up and looking healthy after only a few days.  I managed to get about 180 cloves planted; if I find more bed-space after everything else is in I'll try for another 200 cloves or so.  We use a hell of a lot of Garlic :-)

Recently sown: Carrots in succession, Turnips, Beets.  Lettuce, Red Mustard and Rocket are ongoing.  Onions -- I've kept it down to four varieties this year -- are all showing-up in their seed-trays and will want planting out in a few weeks, along with Cabbages and Broccoli.  Thinks: I must get more Kohlrabi in -- we really, really like them, plus I must also put in a patch of them for seed.  Kohlrabi seed is almost unobtainable here, so I'm quite lucky to have a nice Purple Kohlrabi, and I really have to save seed or lose it.

Still to do: Broad Beans.  What the hell am I doing leaving it so late?  Peas!  I never manage plant enough of them.  And this year I would like to try growing Lentils.  We use lots of them for Lentil-burgers, in Curries and Chilli-Bean dishes.  Leaks -- I have a tray of them approaching transplanting, but really need to get more of them going.

The Great Winter Chilli Experiment seems to be working so far... Chillis have germinated well (except, for some mysterious reason, the Cherry Peppers, which are among my favourites) and are looking great.  They should be decent-sized little plants before everything stops growing in mid-Winter -- Late July and August.  As long as I put them into beds or pots by then, they should get off to a flying start when the weather starts warming-up again.

Hmmm... Mustn't forget Parsley (I prefer the flat-leaf kind) and Dill.  And more Broccoli.  And more Asian greens.  Damn!  It's nearly as busy as Springtime!

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