28 October 2008

That Good Ol' Inundation Time

That time of year. The Inundation -- not so much the water, though happily the dams and soil are looking much improved from the good rains we've had so far this month -- but the inundation of work in the garden. It's been keeping me pretty busy, I can tell you. I've managed to dig one new bed, bringing the total to 14, and with a little luck I may even get another one dug. Be aware that "digging a bed" for me means heavy composting and double-digging in a heavy clay soil to prepare a deep-bed, so it's a significant investment of energy. And then some people wonder when I am quite... pointed... about visitors to the veggie garden not treading on the beds, but sticking to the paths.  There's also been a lot of rehab work on paths and existing beds, after their 9-month neglect while I worked on a programming contract.

All the plants are terribly slow this year. Spring has been cold, windy and wet, and it's only really in the last week or two that most plants have shown real signs of waking-up. This year's Spring Disaster (isn't there always one?) has been seedling-mix. Usually I use my own compost for seed trays, but it tends to be a bit dense, retaining water a lot, and thus restricting oxygen to the plant roots and slowing plant development. So this year, feeling flush from the effects of the Sojourn In The Desert1, I splashed out on "professional" seedling mix. What a lot of rubbish. It fails to hold water in any adequate way. It forms a lovely cement-like crust over the top, and just generally is worse than my own compost. Chillis planted into it have still failed to show-up. Chillis planted a month later in my own mix are looking much better. Sadly I risked a number of varieties of Chillis, Tomatoes and Lettuces where my seed-stocks were at their end, and I've now lost those lines. Grrrrrrr... That'll be the last time I buy that rubbish. Rather focus on finding ways to lighten-up my own seed mix.

On the bright side, both the Globe Artichokes and the Jerusalem Artichokes are doing really well, as are a bunch of relocated Tomato volunteers. Squashes and Cukes not so good -- too much cold for them -- but we'll keep trying. Beans (for drying) are doing well, though I still lack a really good Pinto bean, and am struggling to source a decent (large-size) Butter Bean. I like Beans.

I've become a lot more focussed on trying to get real staple crops going, so there's been much more work on the simple stuff -- Beans, Potatoes. Leafy crops are all very tasty, vitaminicious and the like, but what we monkeys really want are Carbohydrates. (Bananas are filling the gap, but there's a limit...) As soon as I get all the right factors in the right place at the right time, I'll be burning the rank grass off the top fields and putting them under grains and oilcrops. Fire is frightening stuff, though, no matter how powerful a tool for clearing land! Between the money-world "disasters"2, the increasingly obvious climate changes, and the ever-pressing oil prices my thinking is that anybody who grows food is going to do OK over the next few years!

[1] The Programming Contract. It may only have been 9 months, but there were times when it felt like 40 years...

[2] I find it difficult to take that whole catastrophe too seriously. I mean, really, it's all too "We deluded ourselves into believing that Some Crap was a real value and... It all turned out to be Crap!" No sympathy, me. Of course its had the inevitable effect3 on our Developing Nation Crap Currency, which means that the veggie-breeding book I want (Carol Deppe's book) was R260, but is now R330!

[3] Of course we shouldn't neglect the effect of the Idiot Who Would Be KingPresident and his fuckwit minions...4

[4] OK, OK! I know I made a promise to myself that this blog wouldn't cross into politics, but really... we're in for a Kakistocracy5 worse than the US'ians have suffered these last 8 years.

[5] The word "Kak" is a common South African term for "shit". It actually derives from the Greek word "kakistos", meaning "the worst".

13 October 2008

A Bee, See?

Third time's the charm. (We hope, after the last swarm of Bees buggered offabsconded in the cold weather whilst I was away in Cape Town.)

Last Thursday evening our neighbour Tziporah (not her real name -- but my private nickname for her) called us up. "There's a swarm of Bees hanging under the eaves outside my bedroom. Do you want to come and get them?"

Being a total n00b at this bee business, I was not at all sure how I was going to "get them". I just took a catch-box -- a half-sized hive that takes only five frames -- and placed it a couple of metres away from the swarm at about chest-height. And hoped for the best. Tziporah and I called up a local beekeeper friend who advised us that "the best swarms are those that just move into the box by themselves. Failing that you can try sweeping them into the box with a soft brush."

The "normal" technique when a swarm lands in a tree is to shake the branch suddenly, and the swarm usually drops off -- plop -- into a strategically-placed box. Or you can cut the branch off. Having imbibed of a wee Golden Beverage prior to Tziporah's call, I was a bit apprehensive... So we just left the nucleus-hive conveniently located and hoped for the best.

Day 2, Friday: The weather turned out miserable. Pissing with rain (welcome), Windy (not) and Cold (ugh! It's supposed to be  Spring!) Not a good day for Bees to move about, nor a good day to try sweeping them about. We're informed (with the emotional emphasis of One Who Has Been There) that trying to brush them into a box rainy weather is definitely A Bad Idea. Their wings get wet, and you just end-up killing a whole lot. And this is not a very large swarm to start with!

So now what? We don't want them to get too well oriented to where they are; our houses are about 500 metres apart -- not really far enough for a serious Bee move. If you're moving bees (according to the Slightly Odd Belgian gent in Cape Town who advised me) you should either move them quite slowly -- about a metre a day -- or more than 2 km all at once. Less than 2km and they're likely to make their way back to their previous home. What to do, what to do?  I opted to leave them be for the day.

Day 3, Saturday: A morning call from T... "They've moved in." Hooray!

We left them alone for the day to settle into their new house. Presumably they get the furniture arranges just where they want it, make sure that no Peas have been hidden under Her Highness's Bed,... whatever it is that Bees do when moving house. At dusk I popped over with Ye Rusty Bucket1, taped a cover over the hive entrance, looped a bungge-cord around the box and lid, and drove the hive home where we had prepared an old drum as a hive stand. You must, please, remember that we're in the Land of the Honey Badger, here, and hives cannot be left near the ground lest they get destroyed in short order. The drum is filled with water so that it can't (we hope) be pushed over, either.

Happily we had very fine Spring weather on Sunday, allowing the swarm to really settle in, forage for nectar, and really settle in and get their bearings. Certainly I noticed a lot of Bees in the veggie garden, especially on the Borage and Lavender.

Today (Monday) the Bees are still around, though the weather has turned cooler (and the forecast for the remainder of the week looks like More Of The Same.) But the Bees seem to be quite happy. Soooooo.... hold thumbs that they stick around this time!

06 October 2008

Hopi Black

Hooray!  The Hopi Black Beans are finally up.  It's certainly been a long wait... I'd almost given them up as a write-off.

In truth, though, it has been a late, cold Spring so far. Nights are still cold, and that also means that Chilli germination is exceedingly slow. So slow that I am worried that seeds may be rotting in their trays.  So worried that I replanted a new batch of the Most Wanted Chillis last weekend.

The only chillis that are actually Jumping Up in their trays are the Habaneros. Far more than I can reasonably cope with. The other  Big Surprise is the Hot Bananas -- a random cross between Sweet Banana and something hotter -- probably Jalapeno or Serrano. So what I have are the F1 children and we shall certainly have some surprises in store.

So here's an idea: Take a bunch of fresh Habaneros and chop their stem-ends off so that they're pretty-well opened up. Drown them in a jar of Honey. Leave alone for a few weeks.  Hot Habanero Honey, anyone?

05 October 2008

Feeding the Dinosaurs

Hedgewizard speaks to a very important problem in "The Second Famine Year" -- the price of animal feed, and Chicken feed in particular.

Locally prices have gone up by over 50% in the past 6 or 8 months, so I've been focussing on growing lots more greens specifically for the chickens. They love Endive, which is great, since it is so quick and easy to grow, and equally easy to produce masses of seed. The Ladies also get all the older lettuces as they come out of the ground, and I've just sowed a row of grain-sorghum to give that a try as another feed source.

Another plan I must soon get around to implementing1 is to build a Kale-Ark in the chicken-run. The idea is to plant a bed of Kale (and the Chooks love all of the Cabbage tribe!) and protect it with a wire-mesh tent. Then, as the plants grown bigger, the Chooks will be able to peck at the leaves that poke through the mesh without destroying the plants. At least that's the Theory2...

At least Hedgewizard has the option of buying organic feed!  No such luck around here, so our chooks are fed on non-organic crushed maize for their staple diet.  I've checked and the supplier assures me that it is GM-free, thankfully, since so many SA farmers have swallowed the GM hype, as have the geniuses in the Dept. of Agriculture. :-(

Interestingly, there seem to be a strong correlation between the amount of greens they get and the number of eggs we get, so the sooner we can ween ourselves off bought-in Chicken food, the better!

[1] As soon as I finish painting the house, digging new beds, fixing the chainsaw, making more compost, port the blog to a new platform, cut firewood for Summer, deconstruct the broken shade-house, construct a greenhouse in its place,...

[2] "In theory, theory and practise are the same, but in practise they never are."

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