03 December 2010

GMO Maize Weirdness

I went yesterday to buy a bag (50kg) of crushed mielies (corn, maize) for chicken feed, and was a bit peeved to see that the price has risen quite a bit since last month. This is in the face of a bumper maize crop in South Africa.

We're seeing headlines like, "S.Africa harvests biggest maize crop in 30 years" at the same time as reports that the USEuropean and Australian corn (and other grain) harvests have been smaller than normal. Should be good for SA farmers, no? Explains why the price is a little higher, no?

No! The trouble is that over 50% of maize planted in SA is one or other GMO variety, and Europe and Japan won't touch any South African maize as a result. Legislation in SA does not require separate handling or labelling for GMO varieties, so some of our biggest markets won't touch our glut of maize.

Simultaneously, and much related, we read that as many as 30% of SA's maize farmers face bankruptcy, as they struggle to find ready markets for all that GMO maize. As a result, "price of maize has fallen precipitously in the last 12 months". Really? Not seeing that, here...

The talking heads expect a significant backlash against GMO varieties from farmers. I hope so! Our government is so deep in Monsanto's pocket that mere mortals stand no chance of getting GMO varieties labelled, sorted or outlawed here. We must simply wait and rely on what goes around coming around, and in the present weirdness it seems it has.

But will farmers' memories stretch so far back come planting time?

02 December 2010

Plant Breeding Ideas

Plant breeding projects I'm interested in tackling...


I am interested in a wider, more interesting range of Carrots. More colours, more flavours. I am particularly interested in one or more varieties that are specifically grown for juicing. They would need to be juicy and somewhat sweet; colour would not matter very much, but a touch of anthocyanin would be a good thing for its nutritional advantages. On the other hand, people might be put off by a "Carrot Juice" that is not orange... (People are funny that way.)


I'd love to see a purple-leaved Savoy or conical Cabbage. Its flavour should be sweeter than most Cabbages, somewhat along the lines of Red Russian Kale, and I'd like it to have a tender, succulent texture. More of a salad Cabbage than a cooking variety. Size should preferably be a bit small so that we don't have to keep chunks of partly-consumed Cabbage hanging about in the back of the fridge because they're way too large to use all at once. This variety would definitely be a "use fresh" type. Heat tolerance while growing would be a big advantage, because Summer is when we would want these, though I guess it might be good in Winter soups, too.


Just interested in working with them, since there don't seem to be too many varieties available (at least locally.) Only "Hollow Crown", in fact.


I'd like to once again taste the Jalapeno x Habanero type I accidentally got a few years ago. Had the size and general shape of a Jalapeno, with the dimples characteristic of Habanero, and a flavour that was a fantastic blend of the two. If all goes well with our weather and water I'll be trying that cross this year.

Then, too, I'd love to see whether C. Baccatum "Amarillo" (Aji Amarillo) will cross with anything else. It's a pretty wide cross, so likely nothing will come of it. Crossing C anuum, chinense and frutescens at least stand a chance; according to my books they share a common ancestral gene complex that allows some of the crosses to work. I'll probably be shooting for crosses between (at least) Purple Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Sweet Banana and Amarillo.

Another accidental cross some years back resulted in a Chile I called Hot Banana: Sweet Banana with something warmer crossed into it, probably Serrano, but maybe Jalapeno. I'd like to try and stabilise something like that. The heat was not very great, perhaps about 4/10, but the Sweet Banana flavour really worked very nicely with a touch of heat.

I'd really like some thin-skinned drying varieties, but with better and more interesting flavours than the commonly-available Long Thin Cayenne. Then, too, ALL varieties could do with better UV-tolerance and drought-resistance than I have seen to date. Another interesting direction could be for better Wintering: most varieties that I have were sourced from the US, frequently from higher latitudes, and they have mostly had their cold-tolerance destroyed or diminished - mostly, I suspect, through it being unattainable under any circumstances in those climates - and I'd like to get it back in. There's no reason for Chiles to be anything but perennial here, since we have no Winter frost at all.


I'd like to see more varieties, and more specialised varieties than the generic "potato" varieties available locally - fryers, boilers, mashing potatoes, salad types,... Greater disease resistance is always of interest, particularly in our climate and soil. Would also be interesting whether one could breed a good-tasting and nutritious Porcupine-resistant variety. :-O

Mostly this means growing from true seed, and few of the commercially available varieties set seed. Challenging...

Beets & Chard:

Interested in where they can go - wild crosses. I'd like to get back to some Sugar Beets, Fodder Beets, Fodder Chard, as well as new, interesting eating varieties. Chard in more colours. Chard grown primarily for its stem, which would need to be flavoursome and stringless. Worthwhile, since Chard lasts so well in the ground, and just keeps on coming while we harvest leaves. Nicely< trouble-free under my growing conditions, too.


Maybe not so much a breeding project as maintaining some of the older
varieties. Modern agribusiness grains are very monopurpose - grain only - and terribly vulnerable in the face of anything but the Full Monty of fertilisers, supplements, and drug cocktails. Not at all suited to permaculture, organic or self-sufficiency setups. Older varieties tended to be more multi-purpose; straw was used for animal bedding, mulch, roofing material, chaff for mulch and composting, sometimes feedstock, fuel. Not to mention that there's a genetic heterogeneity there that's worth preserving, propagating and playing around with in its own right.

That's probably enough to be getting on with for a while... Anybody who can help source genetic material that might be interesting for these, please get in touch with me!

22 October 2010

Kill the Witness FTW

For all other metalheads out there... Pretty proud of Dale and his KtW buddies. Great to see all the Rhodies ;-) Sound is a bid dodgy for the first bit, but it gets better as it goes along. We might have a singer in the family after all... well, a growler, anyway!

Go Dale!

Music Video: Kill the Witness - As Crumbs Tumble

15 October 2010

Water Tank Disaster

Well, we'd had a lovely bit of rain - over 35mm in the course of a day-and-a-half - and I just said to my wife, "That rain is good enough for Jehovah!" when, stone the crows, but I discover that the water tank that provides a supplementary backup feed to the bathroom is empty. Empty!

When last I checked the water levels of all the tanks - no more than 10 days or so ago - it was full. So clearly we have a leak somewhere. With a little luck it's just the pipeline between the water-tank and the bathroom that's been nicked by the lawnmower or something. (My guess. My fault for never burying the pipe properly.) Without luck it could be the tank itself or the pipework that supports the stopcock. Still, it couldn't come at a worse time. Spring. What looks like being another dry Summer - the third in a row. Just starting to transplant Tomatoes and Chiles, Beans and Squashes just emerging from the ground. Mind you, I did think the dam looked unjustifiably full, this morning, too full even for all this lovely, wonderful rain.

It's a funny thing... went into town for a bit of a change of scenery today, and all the locals are soooo cheerful and happy and friendly... and all because we've had a bit of decent rain. The first in 3 months, and more than we had in August and September put together.

Oh well... I guess the 5000litres is not totally lost; we'll use it in the veggie garden. And besides, all our other water tanks are full, fuller, fullest.

06 October 2010

Blogroll Housekeeping Note

I've temporarily taken down my blogroll listing. It was being served by blogrolling.com, and google evidently think that blogrolling.com is hosting malware, so, rather than put y'all at any risk or cause any consternation, I've taken the blogroll off the blog completely. I've had the Good Intent to switch my blogroll to something better for some time anyway, since blogrolling.com is dreadfully slow and unreliable at the best of times. Right now I'm pretty busy earning some money, so it will be a little while before a replacement blogroll takes its place.

Please be patient; your links will return!

06 September 2010

New Family Member

A new arrival: Keira the puppy arrived on Saturday. J and kids drove all the way to Jeffrey's Bay to fetch her (about 2.5 hours drive each way.)

She arrived here a very frightened and timid little thing, petrified of human contact, eyes constantly watching our hands in case we moved to strike her. I believe that she and her siblings have suffered a neglect that borders on abuse. Not that we knew this up front... For the first several hours here she refused to leave the car. If anybody tried to approach she growled very fiercely, baring her teeth in self-defence. Eventually J managed to lift her out of the car, but we clearly had a significantly unsocialised doggie on our hands.

Fortunately we understand dogs, and particularly the Belgian Shepherd breed, quite well. We simply gave her space and time, lots of gentleness, and a good number of dog-biscuits as a means to coax her closer to us until she would take them from our hands - scampering for safety as soon as she could.

Sunday morning started with her in much the same stressed-out state, though she was showing signs of improvement almost minute-by-minute. Kate, a local friend and dog breeder in her own right, came to visit late in the morning, and immediately Keira snapped back into growley-defensive mode. Once again it was a case of simply giving Keira space and time. Kate and J sat outside where the dog could see them, while I remained inside. Exhausted and emotionally spent, Keira fell asleep on the floor beside me. At that point in her frightened existence I represented the safest person to be around.

She slept for about an hour.  Upon awakening, a near-miraculous transformation had taken place. Something in her little puppy brain had decided that we were safe to be around, that we were not going to hit her, and that being touched and petted was actually quite nice! She walked up to both of us and - although a little hesitant at first - actually welcomed our attention, stroking and petting.

Today we have a much more relaxed and happy little dog. Her inquisitive and intelligent nature shines through, and I'm sure that she will settle in to being a well-behaved, hard-working and lovable member of the family.

Welcome, Keira!

Keira is a Celtic name meaning "Raven Haired" (or so I am told.)

08 August 2010

First of the Season's Sowing

First sowing for the coming Summer. We've been experiencing a very early warm spell, so, despite, a day or two of cold and (hopefully) wet forecast, I've taken a chance on an extra-early sowing of Chillis and Eggplants. Since I'll be in Cape Town for two weeks starting next week, I'll miss my usual Chilli/Eggplant/Tomato sowing window (3rd week in Aug.) With a bit of luck the weather will stay warm enough to get this batch going.

In any case I'll sow again in about 3 weeks' time when I return. For this sowing I've taken no risks, and only sown varieties that I have plenty of seed stock. Others - Rocoto Amarillo, Tobascos, Corno di Toro, Aji Dulce and a few more - where I only have a very few seeds have been held back for later planting in warmer weather.

Every year I swear that I will build a greenhouse, but it hasn't happened yet.

Tomato sowing next...

30 July 2010

Early Planning for Summer

Time for me to get busy preparing for the coming Summer. Yes, I do know that it's still the middle of Winter.

I have some contract (software) architecture & design work over the next few months which will see me spending quite a bit of time in Cape Town, starting in mid-August, so if I don't get off my duff and start preparing veggie beds now, I'm going to be hopelessly behind schedule by the time October comes around. The only real problem I face is a huge shortage of compost! There simply hasn't been the water for making compost from the stable-sweepings I usually use.

As it is I'm going to run a week or so late with seed-sowing, but it shouldn't do any real harm. As ever we'll be optimistic over rain this coming Summer, but I really must try and concentrate my efforts on fewer varieties of Chillis and Tomatoes, and on increasing the sheer volumes. Still, it's so great to be getting my hands back into the ground! I can't believe how much I've been missing the dirt under my nails.

Need I say that the veggie garden has been badly neglected, so it is a jungle of weeds. I wish the rotovator was working, then I'd make short work of clearing the beds. Perhaps we'll be able to spare enough money for a new rotovator motor if things go well. The old one bent something vital in the engine, and, given that the motor is a foreign make with no local agents, the cost of repair is up there in the same region as an entirely new motor. When we visited the Barley Breeding Institute, I noticed that they use the same make of rotovator as I have (BCS), and asked them where they source parts. The chap there laughed and said, "Oh no! We replace the motors as soon as we get the machine. The motors they come with are useless. Fine machines otherwise, though!" I can't help but agree.

We're also planning on acquiring a couple of Piggies. Brother-in-law has a mild-tempered boar who has been quite (cough) busy... and they receive a piglet from each litter he's responsible for. They've offered to let us have some, and I am very keen. I just don't know that keeping only two sows justifies the keeping of a boar of our own...

Busy times!

12 July 2010

Rain and Snow

Just a short update, as there's not much to tell... Brilliant rain for the month of June. Hooray! We got a wonderful 71mm - fully 65% above the mean for June. This meant that there was sufficient water in the dam to warrant re-priming the pump. Before the rain the inlet pipe was high and dry.

Now here we are only 1/3rd into July, and a rainfall of 45mm over the past couple of days means that we're already reaching the mean rainfall for July. It's plenty cold, so there's been quite heavy snow on the surrounding mountains. We first saw the snow while returning from a trip to Cape Town for the past week, and, although snow on the local mountains is not unusual for Winters, I doubt we have ever seen snow so low down the slopes! Of course it mostly melted in last-night's rains and today's follow-up sunny and warm weather, but it's still pretty early for snow around here. Small surprise for our many (many!) foreign visitors who thought of Africa as The Hot Continent!

Notwithstanding this great rain, we're still far from confident that the drought has broken. Optimistic, yes. Hopeful, always. But the fact remains that the rainfalls we're seeing still represent "abnormal" weather patterns: Winter is "usually" our dry season.

Oh, well. In hope and optimism I've planted some Swiss Chard, Carrots, Shallots and Salad Greens (Lettuce, Red Mustard and Rocket, semi-mixed-up.) All are up except the salad stuff which still needs a few more days.It's far too late for Cabbage tribe, Broad Beans or grains, so we've mostly missed out on the Winter growing season. Just holding thumbs for Spring. I guess that means I should get busy preparing Spring beds and making compost.

PS: Hard luck, Netherlands! I was rooting for you guys. Spain played brilliantly, though!

08 June 2010

Bread and Stercus

With the Soccer World Cup about to explode upon us, I was just wondering: Does anybody know what is the Carbon Footprint of the World Cup about to explode on us poor dumb wogs collonials?

I mean, our local(ish) airport is now open 24-hours a day, instead of the sleepy 7-to-7 operating hours they normally keep, and I have certainly noticed a huge increase in the amount of air-traffic overhead in recent days (and nights.)

Knysna - our closest town - is hosting two international teams (Denmark and uuuuhhh... France?) their managers, masseurs, trainers, tranquilizers, hookers and hangers-on. Plus another 4 teams in other towns in the immediate region. All of whom need to use the same airport. I wonder where they're parking all those charter aircraft...

But seriously: If any of you know of someone who has figured out the Carbon Footprint of this boondoggle (and, as much as I enjoy a game of Soccer, this is just pure Bread and Circusses) please drop me a line and let me know!

Oh well,
Stercus accidit.

28 May 2010

Efficiency, Water Logic, Permaculture and Chainsaws.

The first icy blast of Winter-to-come has hit. Happily it's brought a little rain - 7mm last night, and a bit more (3mm?) through the day. And a good lump of what passes for cold in these parts. Cold enough to want a fire, anyway, and we've had one burning all day.

The design of the house makes it difficult - verging on impossible - to make the house Toasty Warm, but the fire does at least keep it livable. Really this is not a problem; we optimised the house design for passive cooling rather than heating, the former being a more serious problem in our climate.

The firewood is all harvested from our own land. We have many Australian Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) on the property, and they keep us well supplied with kagelhout (firewood; as opposed to braai wood forbarbequeue barbacue BBQ. Blackwood doesn't make really good coals for cooking.)

In general I try my best to avoid messing with petrol motors. They're smelly, noisy and dirty things that need endless maintenance and care. Really, I can't understand the attraction these things have for petrolheads.

But I will confess that, reasonably well looked after, my chainsaw is a Great Boon. I would not relish the idea of having to cut firewood by hand (even if it would warm me twice.) 30 Minutes with the chainsaw will saw up enough wood for a good number of fires and braais, and keeps us warm for many, many hours. I'll get my twice-warming from splitting the logs, anyway!

And this brings me to the subject of efficiency.

Many times I've heard and read about the terrible efficiency of small petrol engines such as power our (currently defunct) weed-eater and chainsaw. This may be (and probably is) true in the very narrow sense that the measure of work coming out of the machine, as a ratio of the energy going in (mostly in the form of refined hydrocarbons) is probably very low. But this view - being typical of linear, bounded design thinking - hides a deeper truth. A truth about Water Logic. Water Logic asks us to consider "and then what?" Water Logic demands that we think about consequences.

Just like sustainable design does. Just like Permaculture does.

So consider that a few hours with my chainsaw produces enough fuel to warm us for... pretty much an entire Winter! And consumes... perhaps 2 or 3 litres of petrol in the process. (To be honest I lack the stamina to cut more than 2 petrol-tankfuls of wood in one session. The chainsaw tank only holds about 250ml.) So 2 or 3 litres of petrol produces a full Winter's house-heating fuel.

I happen to think that's pretty efficient.

The fuel - at current prices - costs me (say) R25. About €2.5 (2.65865 at today's rates, if you care!) For a Winter's worth of Warm.

I'd call that a bargain.

08 May 2010

Climate Change and Science

Just a quick shoutout to Climate Change and the Integrity of Science - a short read, so you've no excuse. Go on, click the link!
We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act ... But delay must not be an option.
Update: Only one small nit to pick with that article: "For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet." Sorry, but that's just not terribly realistic, in my ever-so-humble opinion. The planet, and much of the life on it, will roll right on without noticing much. It's just us, and probably quite a lot of the larger life-forms, that will be vanished. And they will soon be replaced by other, newer species. (For some value of the term "species".) Explosive post-catastrophe respeciation has happened enough times before.

21 April 2010

Cows Week

Yes, I'm afraid we have Cows.

Eight of them, to be precise. These poor cattle -- a weird mix of cows, heifers, bulls, tollies and even a month-old calf -- have been wandering around the neighbourhood, up and down the roads, for several days, now.

Not only are they a Hazard To Navigation, but they tend to wander into our garden (and, I suppose, everybody else's, too) and trample small trees, wander into the septic tank causing spectacular damage, nibble at fruit trees, and generally do Cow Stuff. Gods alone know where they've been getting water. We are 99.873% certain that they belong to the folk who live in the Forestry Houses, most of whom work for the local forestry company, MTO. Up to now the Forestry Folk have been allowed to graze their cattle in the firebreak between our smallholdings and the forest. But recently they were warned that, as part of a Fynbos rehab project, all the fences surrounding the firebreak were being removed. So it looks a lot like another case of people going, "Oh, it'll never happen." Only it has.

I decided to put these poor cattle -- and they really are in very poor condition -- to work. Not serious work, but work they'll benefit from and enjoy. I want them to eat off the long Kikuyu grass that infests what we refer to as the "Top Field" -- an area of around 25000m2 (about 30x90, but it varies) along our North border. The Top Field is relatively flat, though the topsoil is very thin, and I've long harboured ambitions of turning it over to field-scale crops -- grains, legumes, chiles on a larger scale -- in some sort of animal tractor/rotation system. Perhaps a Fukuoka style of thing. Not too fussed about the details.

So I ran the electric fence around the Field. Happily the cattle decided that they liked the look of the grass there while I was busy, so, by the time I had cleared tall grasses and branches from the path of the electric fence, planted a decent Earth pole, and set the whole thing up, they were all in the right place. And they've learned the Delights Of Electric Fencing pretty quickly.

I've informed locals so that if someone starts looking for their cattle they'll quickly find out where their cattle are being sheltered. I hardly want to be charged with Cattle Theft! The problem is that I really don't have a good supply of water for them. Right now we're managing by carrying buckets of (precious) house-water to a large bucket in their enclosure, but things cannot go on that way for too long. Then, too, these beasts really are in a very sad, parasite-infested and neglected state, and I would not like to leave them in that condition for too long, either. So that means I'll have to spend money on dips and such. Money I don't have... I guess I'm going to have to call Animal Welfare for some help if someone doesn't come and fetch them back in a day or two...

Still, I am enjoying having a bunch of Cows wandering about the place being useful. And once the grass is mowed shorter, I can, perhaps, invest in a couple of Pigs to root out the rest of the Kikuyu. Just a thought...

Sorry no pics. We left the camera with No.2 Son on the theory that it is better invested helping him earn his Honours degree than shooting happy snaps of the farm and sunsets.

Be Disturbed

With thanks to Gavin for this.

He warns that "some viewers may find this video disturbing". I'd comment that anybody who fails to find it disturbing probably needs serious professional help.

20 April 2010

Catch Up

There's a pretty good reason for the very slow rate at which I've been blogging here lately: It gets dull and tedious repeating the same litany of woe. I mean, what more can I say?

"Still no rain." 

"It's not raining."

"Things are still very dry."

No. It's boring! And demotivating. It means that there's absolutely no point in busting my butt out in the garden trying to prepare the desert-condition beds for plantings that cannot possibly survive.

Actually, truth to tell, we have had a little rain over the past 10 days or so - enough that I might start to believe that the drought may actually be coming to a (slow) end. Enough to convince me to get off my duff and start clearing the jungle of weeds from pathways, and to stick a few peas and beans into the ground in the optimistic hope that more rain will eventuate.

The Summer past has been a total write-off. Not a single Tomato. Perhaps a grand-total of 6 chiles. If the Bushbuck will leave the plants alone for a bit. The Perennial Rye I was growing -- through the kind offices of Patrick -- eventually died. The dam I use for irrigating seed-trays is (still) so dry that the pump will have to be primed once again before I can use it. When, one day, there's sufficient water in the dam to bother. (Soon! says the optimist in me.) The F2 generation Tomato experiment will have to wait for a second attempt next year.

Even more difficult to deal with is that, by now, I should already have all my Winter crops in the ground, but, with insufficient water for seed-bed care, it looks like we're going to largely miss the Winter season, too. Some things I have plenty of seed -- Cabbage, Onions, Snow Peas, Broad Beans -- that I can take the chance with them and don't mind too much if I plant them and they fail. But there are some -- Kabuli Black Chickpeas, for example -- that I just cannot afford to take chances with. And that means that they have to wait another year before I can bulk up the seed supplies.

Which reminds me... I must plant some Lettuce. It's been very tedious having to buy such basics as Lettuce and Swiss Chard, especially since I've been on a (weight loss) diet where leafy veg features largely. (Lost about 8kg so far! and feeling much improved.)

Last weekend we joined a small neighbourhood gathering at the historic Bibbey's Hoek Hotel. No longer a hotel, it is the home of our new neighbour, Sue. She has recently completed a Permaculture Design course, and is determined to remodel the old hotel in a permaculture mould. Perhaps to even start some sort of permaculture centre.This is great news!

Despite the fact that quite a number of us in the Bibbey's Hoek neighbourhood are practising some form of permaculture design, up to now we seem to proceeded in blissful isolation. I do believe that Sue might serve as a catalyst for us working in closer cooperation. Certainly the gathering at her home last Saturday was characterised by an easy neighbourliness and friendliness. Nobody on a ego trip or an agenda. Yay! Maybe we stand some tiny chance of developing a more integrated and sustainable community?

07 April 2010

A Small Journey Eastwards

We're off to the Wilds of the Eastern Cape tomorrow for a few days sojourn in Grahamstown to attend Dale's graduation ceremony at Rhodes U. Quite an occasion, and, since (still) nothing's happening in the garden, a welcome diversion.

Rhodes seems to make a much bigger fuss of graduation than my old uni: we've received invitations from both departments that awarded Dale his major subjects. Cheese and Wine with the Zoology department, and Breakfast with the Geography dept. We're especially looking forward to the Zoology do as we'll get a chance to meet some of the Profs and lecturers that Dale's dealing with this year - he's reading for his Honours degree in African Biodiversity this year.

And while we're talking academics, a big Thank You to the Zoology department for a scholarship awarded to Dale. Certainly takes some strain off our finances!

03 March 2010

New writeups: Bread Self-Sufficiency and Starting a Sourdough Starter

Taking a short break from hacking a software project, I've managed to produce two new articles for the Farm Website:

How to get Self-Sufficient in Bread. Not "How to Bake Bread", but an attempt to tackle all the steps necessary to become truly self-sufficient in providing your own bread - that staple pillar of our diet. Really, without self-sufficiency in bread, one cannot be much self-sufficient at all.

Care and Feeding a Sourdough Starter. How to get started developing your own sourdough starter, and how to keep it.

In truth the latter article is a light edit of a blog-post from October 2006. But having it on the wiki will make it much more searchable and accessible. Sadly this blog software and its crappy templates make it difficult verging on impossible for y'all to retrieve earlier articles; one of the prime reasons for wanting to move onto a better blogging platform. Right now I just don't have enough hours in the day. (In a good way!)

The Bread Self Sufficiency article is a bit ironic, since I'm currently on a weight-loss diet that means I've been eating no bread for the past month...

And here I was planning to focus more on the "Why To..." of self-sufficiency, and ended-up writing a couple of "How To"s... Oh well, more will come in time.

If there's anything in particular that you'd like me to write about, please drop me a line. (Contact details on the farm site.)

01 March 2010

Long Blog, No Time

It's true. Really, really true. The Earth does go around the Sun! Night falls noticeably earlier. By 7 of an evening we want lights to read by, and suddenly we know it's Autumn. And suddenly we realise that the Summer past has been a complete disaster for our self-sufficiency efforts.

Sign that Bushbuck came to dinner...February was shaping up to be a particularly bad month. What the drought had not yet killed, the Bushbuck came and ate. And what little they left was pulled out by Baboons.

And then the rains came. Not enough to believe that the drought is over yet, but enough to bring this February's rainfall up to the average I've recorded over the past 8-or-so years. The average, mind! And we're ecstatic to have it. The Tomatoes - all 34-odd varieties - are gone. I think I've lost the last of the OSU Blue. Fortunately I still have some seed of all the wonderful new varieties sent by kind people all over the world, but now I'm going to have to wait until next year to discover what they look like, taste like,... their preferences and peculiarities. Gone, too, the 2-dozen or so Chile varieties... A small handful - perhaps 8 plants in total - have survived the drought only to get munched by the Bushbuck. At this stage, if I still had a doggie to feed (I don't eat red meat, myself) I'd be sorely tempted to fill the freezer with Fillet of Bushbuck!

Bottom dam before the rainsBottom dam after the rainsDespite the reasonably good rains, dams are still pretty-much empty. The soil was so dry that every drop was absorbed and very little runoff water made it into the dams. Pictures here are of the bottom dam; on the left is the dam before the rains, on the right is after. As you can see, very little change in the water level. The only change is a mysterious Red Tide floating on the water's surface. No doubt it'll be gone quite quickly. If you click through to the full-size image on the right, you'll see J standing at the water's edge, and Myah the Bumpy Dog swimming; at the point J is standing, she would be up to her armpits in the water if the dam was full!

The Forest, breathing coolly after rainAt least the Forest gets to breathe again! And, as though they've been waiting forever for the rains, mushrooms have burst out of... everywhere! The lawn is a mass of yummy Agaricus campestris. We found a well distributed cache of Boletus aestivalis - a close relative of the well-known Porcini (B. edulis), just smaller and with a thin stem - a short way away in the Pine Plantation Down The Road. So, in some fashion, life goes on. I do think a lot, though, about how our Winter prospects would look if we were truly dependent on only our own produce. It's a frightening picture, because we would certainly be facing severe hunger, if not outright starvation. As it is we're near the end of our money reserves, and having to buy in dreadful bought lettuce... We haven't had to buy veggies for probably 8 or 10 years, now... It's a blow, I can tell you!

Mmmmm.... Portland Porter!

But life goes on...

09 February 2010

Tempocalyspe Now

Fires raging on all sides. Not close enough to worry us... yet... but still too close for comfort. A forest fire to the north that started in (I hear) Kerkbos, raging out of control, fires down the Phantom Pass - two helicopters with water buckets working there. Fires out at Harkerville. Redlands fire fortunately under control. Seven fires out of control in the broader South Cape region; extra firefighters flown in from other parts of the country.

And it's still a heatwave. Thankfully the wind has dropped.

Still no signs of rain. The drought rages on. Everything is terribly dry. The veggie garden is essentially dead. Dams are empty. What little vegetation was left in the veggie garden got eaten by a Bushbuck a few days ago. Bastard.

The local Baboon troop has been causing havoc, too, ripping into rubbish bins and refuse bags, taking fruit off the trees (and breaking branches in the process.) With help from friends we have found out that the behaviour we're seeing form the younger males is typical and role driven. So the usual dingbat ideas of "Shoot the buggers" or trying to scare them with (illegal) fireworks simply won't work. Why do people always fall back on the same stupid ideas that they know don't work? We consider ourselves the intelligent species, yet we're consistently outmanoeuvered by the Baboons.

If the blog stops abruptly it will be because we have to evacuate. We're already thinking about what essential possessions we would take. Passports, birth certificates, the computers (or at least their hard-drives), family photos, my seed collection,... I really don't think it will get that far (though it has for some of our neighbours down the Rheenendal Road) but it's best to be prepared - mentally at least.

Not a very happy situation, but we soldier on. It's really hard to imagine yourself being self-sufficient in the face of this drought. Be pessimistic about the future for the human species, given that we wont get out of the fucking Hummers and Prados.

Too many topics for one short blogpost, I know... it all jumbles together...

01 February 2010

Mysterious Mr Mofokeng

This post is clearly not much about self-sufficiency, homesteading, gardening or anything related, but I have to get it off my chest. Regular readers (yes, both of you) might want to give this one a miss...

It must be the first of the month. My cellphone hasn't stopped ringing. Just like every first of the month.

None of the calls are for me, though, and most of them show up on the screen as "Number Withheld". The calls are all for a Mr. Mofokeng. I don't know his first name, though. Or, rather, at last count I've been asked for around fifteen different first names. Albert Mofokeng, Charles Mofokeng, Sidney Mofokeng, Mbazima Mofokeng, Jonathan Mofokeng, September Mofokeng, November Mofokeng... I think he started running out of names... The best I can establish is that Mr. Mofokeng is a small-time conman who opens accounts with various stores, banks, phone companies, buys some stuff on tick, and then skips on payments, leaving the creditors with myphone number.

Some of the people who call are quite polite and see the humour in the situation when they understand that Mofokeng has dished out a fake phone number. Others are quite a lot less polite. Yes, Virgin Mobile; I'm looking at you! Isn't it peculiar that a phone service provider can be fooled with the wrong phone number? Don't they consult their own database?

Even odder is that this thing has been going on for years. Surely this guy has long since been listed with the various credit agencies and blacklists? Don't credit-grantors actually check any of the information an applicant gives them? I mean, really, if I were sitting with some person in front of me asking for a line of credit, clutching their freshly lettered application form, and the form gives their cellphone number, why not just pick up the phone on your desk and call the damn number! If it rings in the applicant's pocket, all's well and good. If not... well, would you grant them credit? So I have little to no sympathy for the idiot companies that get taken in by this guy. If their vetting process is so badly broken, they deserve all the woe they bring upon themselves and should stop wingeing.

But I do wish that Mr Mofokeng would give out somebody else's number for a change. Or perhaps he does!

25 January 2010

An Offer of Marriage

New neighbourhood story up on the farm website: An Offer of Marriage. Hope you enjoy it! (This one is almost 100% a True Story - or as true as memory will allow after an interval of about a decade.)

22 January 2010

Braamekraal Webstuff Changes

Wiki URLS Have Changed

I've changed the way that URLs are handled in the wiki that handles thefarm website content so that they're more human-readable. This means that some of you (and it seems that I have quite a few regular readers - Thank You!) may have bookmarks in the old style. From my testing these should still work fine, but if they don't, please re-bookmark. Drop me a line if you're stuck...

Blog Changes Soon

In similar vein I am planning to replace the blog software I've been using forever. The old system is just too clunky and ugly to continue using, so I'll be replacing it as soon as I can make time to hack up some nice templates for the new software. The big trouble is all my old content... (Indeed, the poor access to old content is one of thr motivating factors for moving to newer, better software!)

Moving the content from the old system to the new will take a whole lot of time, and I can't seem to find an easy way to automate it. So I may end up losing old comments, and it may take quite some time to move the older posts. In any event, my planbe blog link is highly likely to change...

Advertising? What Do You Think?

I've resisted running ads on the farm website and blog up to now. It is not a commercial site, and I hate the idea of cheapening it. Then, too, I strongly hold the stance that The Whole World Is Not Your Billboard. Not everything is for advertising. Not everything is for sale. (I've been known to remove random real-estate boards from fences in prominent public eye where they're clearly just taking a chance.)

But! Times are (very) tough and money is tight. I'm not sure that the site drives enough traffic to earn even a little bit of money from running ads, but the idea of some small revenue (however minor) is sounding increasingly attractive.

So: I'm asking you - my regular readers and friends - what you think. Pleasecontact me directly or leave a comment. Is it worth risking the integrity of the site? Or am I blowing the risk aspect up too large in my mind? How do you feel about ads on the Braamekraal site and planbe blog?

12 January 2010

Snakes Alive

Myah the little doggie alerted us to something mysterious under the carport...

At first we could not see it, but it is snake season, and pretty hot, humid weather, so they're the first thing we generally think of if we don't see anything obvious. A bit of cautious looking about by me - in my bare feet and shorts, so quite careful - and I located the snake under the bushes just behind the carport.

A quick call to my friend next door, Brett, and he popped round with his snake-catching device and bucket. Brett is well known locally as a Snake Guy, and has caught a couple of snakes around our place in the past.

Had the snake been a Boomslang (lit. "Tree Snake") we would probably have just left it alone, since Boomslang are very shy and basically non-aggressive, despite their deadly venom. Puffadders, on the other hand are very aggressive, so not a good idea to leave lurking with the dog around.

I freely confess that I am terrified of snakes. Something in my Lizzard Brain that just freaks out in the presence of a snake. So I'm very grateful to Brett for dealing with the snake for me! He releases them in remote locations where they will thrive, far away from where they're caught, since Puffadders will travel up to 5km back to the place they were.

Still, they're at least more honest about what they're about than some human snakes I've come across.

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...