02 December 2011

Tear Gas Will Solve the World's Problems?

Unbelievable! Offered without further comment.
US export industry alive and well: Egypt imports 21 tons of tear gas from the US

04 November 2011

Spring Update

Just as suddenly as it started, Busy Season is over. At least until harvest time. All the veggie beds that needed preparing are prepared, most of them already occupied by healthy young plants, and just a few gaps waiting for seed-tray occupants to demand their permanent home.

16 October 2011

Dear DuPont, You're Not Welcome, Here.

In some slightly good news... South Africa's Competition Commission has blocked the purchase of local seed company Pannar by Pioneer Hi-Bred, a division of the US-based chemical giant, DuPont. Thank goodness for small mercies. The Competition Commission has said that they're release their full report soon, but that the deal was turned down because it would effectively reduce the number of large-scale Maize seed suppliers from 3 to 2.

Not that Pannar is any kind of beneficent angel. They're a large seed company in their own right – the largest in Africa, and as equally enchanted with the idea of controlling seed supplies as any of their US and European compatriots in crime.

Remember that Maize is SA's staple crop, so the Competition Commission's reasoning looks like sound to me. Looks like they're one of the few parts of the kakistocracy actually doing the job they're supposed to be doing, and doing it comptently!

It would be good would be to have an even wider range of suppliers in this country, but the laws around seed-sales are complicated, convoluted, restrictive and blatantly favour the entrenched big players.

02 October 2011

Everything's Springing

A Spring Update

Some weeks ago, I suddenly woke up to the fact that it's Spring planting time, and I'd already missed my first-planting window by a week. Time to get busy!

Seed benches in their new home in the old Banana circle.
Closer to hand means better managed.
Much sowing of seed in seed-trays ensued. Honesty compels me to confess that I think this is the best Spring germination I've seen – at least in many years! Perhaps being a week late wasn't such a bad thing, after all. Tomatoes and Chiles are mostly up, and some of them – notably Brandywine, Purple Russian and Black Cherry – are almost ready for transplanting into their permanent homes already. Purple Russian and Black Cherry were substantially drought-hardy and very prolific for me on their first trial-run last year, so I'm looking forward to them. Lime Green Salad were doing well until a snail got into the seed-tray, so I've replanted them. I ran some germination tests on my Lettuce seed collection, and, sadly, most varieties are toast. I'm down to about 6 or 8 varieties which I've made sowings of and will grow up for seed.

This tray's for Dan, to wish him strength in his time of trial.
All varieties in the tray were sent to me by Dan and Val.
The major challenge has been getting beds prepared in time. With 3 seasons of drought behind us, the veggie garden has been sorely neglected. Last year, particularly, I found it just too depressing to even venture out into the wasteland that was supposed to be a good part of our food supply. That means that the weeds and Kikuyu had just about taken over completely, and clearing beds has been quite a Herculean task. Then, too, the lack of water until May means that I have almost no compost prepared. Luckily, our good neighbour D'vorah came to the rescue with half a dozen bags of horse-shit (in varying stages of decomposition and quality.) I've reserved the manure for those beds that needed it most – mainly the Tomato, Chile and Cabbage beds. The legumes can get by with just the bit of very old compost I did have - clearly not much in the way of nutrients, but still useful for the organic content.

Despite a few months of good rains, September has been even drier than usual, though it is, by my records, our lowest-rainfall month through the year. The few miserable dribbles of rain were little showers of 1 and 2 millimetres that really do more harm than good. At least we go into the season with full dams, so, even if the usual October/November deluges fail to materialise, we should still be OK for water until about Jan/Feb.

We have several new Tomato varieties to trial this year - varieties that have not survived the trials of years past. Along with them are several new Bean varieties:

Greek "Big Beans" (brought back from Greece by my parents from their trip there last year) I don't know anything about them - not even their growth habit, though I've guessed they're a bush variety. They're a lovely tasting, large, white bean. Excellent eating! (And I eat a hell of a lot of beans!)

Purple Podded Pole Bean (from Baker Creek seeds.) In general I am finding that pole beans are so much more productive per unit-area than bush types, that, if I can spare the poles and the energy to attend to them, I prefer them.

Papa de Rola (also from Baker Creek.) Their picture just looks so awesome I had to try them!

Cannelini Beans acquired from the local Fruit & Veg store, so I'm just trusting and hoping that they haven't been irradiated or anything stupid like that. Still to be planted, since I must get off by duff and clear another couple of beds.

But that doesn't mean I neglect some of my old, bulk-quantity standbys...

A prettier sight you've seldom seen...
Hopi Black beans emerging just 5 days after sowing.
Hopi Black Beans are my main staple bean crop. They are tasty, fast cooking, prolific and trouble-free, producing a good crop even in total drought. I basically stick the seed into the ground – usually the poorest bed I have, perhaps with a dusting of lime and bonemeal, trusting them to just get on with things – and then neglect them completely until they've dried out and are ready to be threshed. And they always do just Get On With It! Even last year, when they received not a single drop of irrigation water – not even after sowing – they produced a reasonable crop. This year I watered them exactly once, a couple of days after sowing, and they were showing their heads after less than a week. The only bare patches in the bed are two spots where the Chickens decided to make dust baths.

Rattlesnake are a fine, dual-purpose, pole bean, given to me by my good friend Franz. They're a brilliantly prolific and flavoursome green-bean, quite stringless when young, and make a fine dried bean if they get too big.

If there's time I'll also have to make space for Dragon's Lingerie - another of my staples, but, to be honest, I'm not sure where I'll find space, since I do like to grow at least a whole bed-full.

I didn't have time to prepare a bed specially for Squashes, but Inspiration struck! I had a good pile of garden-slash that needed burning - dead Banana leaves, rotten support sticks, old bits of wooden ladder long since fallen into ruin, tree prunings from the fruit trees... so I piled it all up amidst the worst of the Kikuyu and set it all alight. A roaring great bonfire, and I was left with a well-ashed, clear patch of Kikuyu-free ground. Dug it up, turned the ash in along with several shovels-full of composted manure, and made a nice Squashie mound. In the middle I've put some Lemon Cucumber together with Sunflowers (labelled "Parrot Food" at the local agri) in the hopes that the Sunflowers will provide good-enough stakes for the Cucumbers to climb. Around the edges of the mound I've put Table Queen (a favourite of mine) squash, a couple of Japanese pumpkin varieties that I found at the local Fruit & Veg store some years back (I'm hoping, possibly in vain, that the seed is still viable, since it's pretty old by now), and Waltham – a Butternut variety. I know it sounds like a lot, but it's quite a big mound, and I'll thin the plants to one or two of each in the unlikely event that too many of them germinate. Though the way this Spring is going so far, they will all come up!

I'm also planning another Squashie/Pumpkin mound. Maybe this afternoon, since there's rain forecast for tonight and tomorrow.

And I haven't even mentioned the Beets, saladings, Snow Peas, Endives, Swiss Chard, Giant Garlic, Golden Beet seed setup, Dill, Fennels,...

It's been a really busy Spring, and I'm really happy to be back in the garden.

28 September 2011

Life and Death Update

A happy surprise, this morning: As I went to let our Two Chicken Flock out of their house this morning, I was greeted by another little blonde hen! Evidently she's been sleeping rough somewhere, and escaped the Ratel's attention.

When there were four roosters she was getting a really hard time from them. Roosters at the teenager stage are - just like their human counterparts - randy little wosnames, and with too many in the flock, they keep trying to prove their manliness... errr... male-chickenness... to one another, and the hens suffer from what might best be termed Overattention. So this little hen probably went off to sleep in a convenient bush to escape all the bonking, and has been sleeping there ever since. Perhaps she'll rejoin the other two, now that the pressure's off.

Nice... A 50% increase in the flock for no effort!

23 September 2011

Life and Death

Warning: Graphic images ahead. Squeamish people should leave now.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.
A visit by a neighbourhood Ratel (a.k.a. Honey Badger, though they're not related to Badgers at all) has dealt a severe blow to our status as Chicken growers and breeders. It's been quite a long while since the last time a Ratel managed to get in to the Chickens, but the recent visit from our other wild visitor - a Caracal - should have given me ample warning that our chook-house security needed attention. I am a bad and neglectful human person.

The night before last I was woken at about 10:30 by a tremendous bumping and banging, squawking and flapping from the chicken-house. Leapt out of bed, grabbed a light and rushed out to find a full-grown Ratel sitting in the midst of the flock. I opened the door and Ratel leapt out and vanished into the night, chased by an overenthusiastic Keira dog.

It was mayhem in there. Dead chickens all over the floor. Still, not much I could do in the dark, so I shut all up and went back to bed, only to be roused again half an hour later! Sure enough, the Ratel was back in the chook house, and, obviously spooked by the strong light destroying its night-vision, spitting and hissing at me. These animals are not to be trifled with, so I kept a wide berth as I opened the door to let it out. Utter chaos inside.

Next morning revealed the full extent of the damage.

Over the past several months we have lost quite a few chickens to neighbourhood dogs. It seems that non-permanent residents are incompetent to take responsibility for controlling their dogs in a farming area where livestock of all sorts abound.  Stock loss to dogs - including feral dogs - is a significant problem for all the farmers in the area, and many of them have a zero-tolerance, shoot-on-sight policy for unknown dogs on their land. As a result, our flock numbers were way down to only 4 hens and 4 roosters.

Our prized young rooster, horribly mutilated
by the Ratel's attack. I dispatched him quickly
and cleanly. He is tonight's supper.
Now we're down to 2 chickens. Just one rooster and a hen. Very sadly, the one young rooster, who we had earmarked as breeding stock, was severely damaged by the Ratel, and I had no option but to put him out of his pain. The Ratel had ripped the entire front of his face off, including his beak.

The other young rooster seemed, at first, to have some chance of recovery, but on closer examination I found that he was unable to breathe properly, could not drink water, and his mouth was filled with dried blood. I suspect that his tongue was gone.

Another hen I found alive, but with both eyes scratched out. Later inspection showed that her body had been badly torn in places, too.

This poor dear had had both eyes scratched
out, so there's no chance of her surviving.
I had the unpleasant responsibility, yesterday morning, of killing them all. Another rooster and a hen are simply... gone. I presume and hope that at least the Ratel ate them. What I cannot comprehend is the wanton destructiveness of Ratels. I can easily understand - and sympathise with - animals taking our livestock for food, but the sheer killing of everything that moves is beyond me. Perhaps an animal behaviourist could explain it to me.

The remaining rooster is reasonably hale and well, with only slight damage to his comb. He's looking a bit lost, though, wondering where the hell all his hens have got to.

I spent the rest of yesterday fixing the floor of the chicken house so that nothing can get in (that way) again. Until the next time...

15 September 2011

Weeds in Pathways

Patrick has written an interesting post about keeping gravel pathways clear of weeds by using a weed-burner. I think this is an excellent idea! I use a small blowtorch for periodic debugging of the Chook House, preferring to scorch the inside surfaces and roosts rather than use noxious poisons. I confess it has never occurred to me to use it to get rid of weeds. I'm slow, I know...

And weeds, in the veggie-garden paths, have been a perennial bugbear forever.

A year or so ago I had an inspiration for "dealing" with the pathway weeds. A method that differs quite radically from Patrick's strategy, approaching the problem from an entirely different angle. But, in fairness, our circumstances and constraints are completely different. I am not working in a community garden, so I don't have to deal with common pathways, nor with rules about how I may run my garden! Nobody comes to give me dirty looks if I neglect the weeding of pathways!

Nor are my pathways gravelled. I shudder at the thought, since I am wont to wander about the place in my bare feet (and, frequently, barefoot in my head, too) and gravel is  - along with stone chips - one of the nastiest, most barefoot-unfriendly things you can do to the world. Don't.

I freely admit that I had not thought much of my solution to the weed-in-path problem, until Patrick's post made me re-look at it and realise that, perhaps, it is quite a novel idea for some people.

For years I fought the weeds. Sans gravel, this was mostly achieved with a conventional push-hoe, and took me about 15 minutes per pathway. But sometimes it got neglected, and then it ended up taking a bit longer. Especially in Winter, when the Winter grasses take hold with their strong, tough, bushy roots. Then it takes quite a lot more energy. Until my epiphany...

Pennyroyal clumps planted into newly-weeded
pathway. Clumps derive from the bits weeded
out of veggie beds. The whole process is a little
slow to start with, but that's the nature of all
exponential growth systems!
I realised that, outside of metalling the pathways - a concept I dislike - weeds were always going to infest the paths! Given that something always wants to grow in the bare-soil paths, perhaps I'd be better off planting something more manageable and less rampant than the usual motley collection of weeds.

So, for the past year or so, I've been planting and expanding Pennyroyal as my preferred Pathway Plant Of Choice. It mostly keeps the weeds out once established. It grows fairly slowly and is shallow-rooted, so the bits that do grow into the veggie beds themselves are easily sliced out with the spade. It smells great as you walk around the garden, and it's kind to bare feet!

The only downside of Pennyroyal Pathways that I've come across is that, when the Pennyroyal wants to flower, it grows loads of long tendrilly flower-stalks, and the leaf-mat tends to become a bit sparse and thin. This is not a big deal for me, since the rest of the year it presents a dense, and above all weed-resistant, pathway covering.

All win!

02 July 2011

Mushroom Culture Step 2

Shiitake mycelium in a culture
jar, cloned from a mushroom.
Our Mushroom-growing experiment progresses well, if a little slower than expected. In the first step we cloned some Shiitake cells into several Malt-nutrified agar vessels. Not unexpectedly, given the crude nature of our lab setup, some of those became infected with other, unwanted organisms and had to be tossed out. There remained two jars of clean, healthy mycelium - the "root" structure of fungi. The next stage in growing Mushrooms is to bulk these up into much larger volumes.

This is their story.

26 June 2011

What is Self-Sufficiency

Self-sufficiency turns out to be a profoundly political choice.

What is self-sufficiency?

Nailing down a coherent answer to this question is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. In some ways it is easier to describe some things that self-sufficiency is not. It is not, really, truly, the arduous work of keeping yourself fed, watered and shod all by yourself. The term is loaded and deceptive.

09 June 2011

My Dams Runneth Over

After a record May rainfall230% above average for May in the time I've been keeping records – we were really happy to see water in our dams after years of seeing nothing but sun-baked mud. The song of Frogs returned to lull us to sleep.

Even though its hopelessly too late in the season, I optimistically sowed some of the veggie beds with Carrots, Swiss Chard, Garlic, some Barley,... Funny how a little water affects one's emotions.

House dam. Overflow foreground right.

Whenever the district council get around to sending a grader to maintain our little road, we know that rain is on its way. It's the surest rain dance we know, and infinitely more reliable a predictor than the weather forecast experts. On Monday the road got graded. On Tuesday evening it started to rain at about 6p.m. And didn't stop a steady, solid downpour, until 6 the next morning. 74mm  overnight! Both our dams are overflowing gently – a thing we've not seen in perhaps 5 years, and the rainfall already exceeds the average for June (though not the mean) despite being less than one third of the way through the month.

Bottom dam (and Keira, a bit mystified by all this water.)

The first question everybody asks is, "So does this mean the drought is broken, then?" And the answer is a predictable, "Maybe."

The rain we've experience over the past month is still way off normal. The point is not "drought or not drought". The point is not "too little water vs. plenty of water vs. too much water".

The point is "abnormal weather patterns" – unpredictability. The most reliable prediction climate scientists can make is that, as we humans stress the climate further, we can expect to experience a greater number of extreme weather events, more extreme weather of greater severity. I think that our own experiences seems to bear this out. Even though the recent rain does not really count as a "severe" weather event it is certainly poking its head well up above the "norms"1.

Even as I write the rain is falling so hard that we can barely hear ourselves shout, as it beats down on our metal roof... and we're very happy to have the water visiting again.

[1] Whatever "norm" means in relation to weather. The very notion of climate is, itself, no more than a mathematical fiction.

08 June 2011

What's In A Name

You've probably already noticed that, not only has the blog look and platform changed, but now its name has changed, too!

This is a change I've made with some trepidation and fear. After all, quite a lot of people find it by searching for Plan Be. On the other hand a hell of a lot of those people are looking for abortion drugs. The name "Plan Be" was intended to inspire an aura of Zen – our plan to "just be". It never worked particularly well, I feel.

So, heart in mouth, it's changed. Hopefully the new name reflects better the agenda I'm trying to advance through the farm website and this blog.

06 June 2011

Blog Update

Well, I have finally finished transferring (almost) all of the articles from my old blogging platform to this new, Blogger-hosted, incarnation. I had to copy the articles by hand – a tedious exercise. The old blog platform lacked any way to automatically export and translate the content – just one of the many deficiencies that drove me away from the Blojsom platform, no matter the pain and tedium involved in getting rid of it. This means that I also had to translate internal links – links from one Plan Be article to others – so I may easily have missed some. I'd appreciate help from you all on this: Please let me know if you come across any broken links, links to the old (http://mikro2nd.net/blog/planb/) blog setup, missing pictures, misformatting, or just plain anything that looks wrong to you.

Unfortunately, due to this "lack of export" functionality, I was not able to transfer blog comments over intact. This is a sadness to me, since so many of you have contributed insightful and helpful comments over the years that have helped shape my writing and move it forward. I do have all that content backed up, so it's not lost forever, and, if I ever do find a way to get those into Blogger – properly attributed – I can and will do so.

Finally I'm looking forward to writing, once again. And there is certainly plenty we have to get caught-up on. I have to let you know how the Mushroom-cloning experiment is going -- we're about to take the next big step tomorrow. There's brews to write up, and even some drought news (we've had a bunch of great rain, and the dams even have water again!) so there's gardening happening, even though it's probably too late in the season to hope for much success.

And finally lots of plans to get deeper into the whole Self-Sufficiency thing... the why's and wherefore's, and hopefully some more of the How-To's, too.

27 May 2011

Mushroom Cloning Update

The mushroom culturing experiment is going well, though not as well as I had hoped. Still, lessons learned...

I had to chuck out three of the culture jars, as they were infected. Two of them were a sadness, because the mushroom fragments implanted in them had taken hold really well, and the mycelium was growing nicely. Alongside a green and a black mold, respectively. So out they went!

Of the remaining five jars, one has failed to do anything. No infections, but no signs of growth, either. I suspect I may have poked the bit of mushroom too deep into the agar medium. The other four have mycelium growing, with varying degrees of vigour. Obviously I will favour the most vigorous grower when it comes time (in a week or so) to expand them up into grain growing media. The mycelia are beautiful, and exactly as described in my reference. More updates as they develop...

24 May 2011

Brewery Mods - Part 1

First steps in altering to the design of the brewery...

I want to move to a system of mostly hard-pipes between the brewing vessels. I find the plastic pipes, even though of food grade, are a pain to keep sanitary. A hard-pipe system will, I feel, also make it easier to streamline my brewing days, allowing me to brew a little more hands-off than the current setup. Right now I have to hand-sparge, and, as I gain more experience, I find I am wanting longer sparges, longer recirculations, longer mashes,... well, you get the idea. It seems to me that good beer wants an unhurried approach, gentle and considerate handling. And standing holding a hose over a hurricane-strength flame is not conducive to a meditational brewing mind.

Out with the old... In with the new! New plumbing in situ.
Another long-standing source of irritation to me has been the amount of wort that the system "holds on to" and is lost to fermentation as a result. The old setup has a lot of dead space. Pipework below the vessels where liquid simply sits, and that my puny little pump cannot remove (because it cannot self-prime nor pump air.)

The deal-maker is those horrible galvanised bits of pipework I used in the original design. After more than a year of use, they're getting pretty manky inside, and, even though this is the hot-side of the brewery (meaning that sanitation is not an overwhelming concern, because the wort gets boiled for at least an hour after all the nastiness, ensuring that any nasty bugs that might be in the wort at that stage get killed) I would still like everything a bit more sanitary. And I worry about Zinc and Iron disolving into my wort.

So all that nastiness is solved by replacing the inlet side of the pump, this time using Copper fittings. (Click through the pictures for larger images and more photos.)

As an aside, I have much more significant changes in store for the brewery, including the addition of a proper sparge-arm, and plumbing so that I can recirculate the mash through the kettle, thus enabling more sophisticated multi-step mashes. It has proven to be quite a challenge to design the changes in small steps that build upon one another, hopefully without throwing away too many bits and pieces. Copper pipe and brass couplings are hellishly expensive!

I believe I have managed successfully for Step 1, at least. The first step was putting together the new inlet system so that the existing mashtun and hot-liquor tank can continue to be used unchanged.

As you can see from the photo, much less dead space below the pump. I have also shifted the pump so that it is placed much closer to the bottom of the mashtun. The limitation, here, is that the outlet of the pump has to be below the lowest water level, as the pump is prone to airlocks and is unable to expell the air by itself. Liquid must fully prime the pump otherwise it just doesn't work.

Needless to say, given my superlative plumbing skills, I had a leak on one side of the elbow... So the whole caboodle had to come off the pump again, and the cause of the trouble diagnosed. The lip of one of the pipes was ever-so-slightly buckled, so no snug fit inside the elbow. PTFE tape to the rescue. One of my Life Mottos: There are no problems that cannot be solved using sufficient Plumbing Tape.

The final picture shows the newly-plumbed pump in place between the mashtun supports. (Picture is looking straight down from above – a "brewer's eye view".) Inlet from the HLT coming in from the right, outlet to the left, and inlet from the Mashtun from "above". A safety shroud has been fitted over the electrical terminals – that little red dot on the upper-left corner of the pump. I've tested, and everything seems to be working again, just in time for a brew-day tomorrow. I'll be having a go at a Belgian Dubbel, I believe...

22 May 2011

Happy International Biodiversity Day

In which we embark on a new venture in Mycology
Shiitake mycelium, Day 2.
Funny thing is, the mainstream western press seems to have missed IBD completely. I guess the UN's announcement that today1(22 May) is International Biological Diversity Day was lost in the noise of all those species extinctions directly resulting from man-made global climate change. (Deny it all you like, the evidence is pretty compelling: we are the cause of global climate change.)

Serendipitously we started a new project last Thursday that can only help – in its own tiny way – to bolster our local ecosystems' robustness. We have started a Mushroom growing project.

Buoyed on by my success in culturing brewing yeasts (despite the significant limitiations of my "lab" setup) I decided to have a go at tissue culturing Mushrooms. The result you can see for yourself... the little grey smudge in the middle of the jar is (hopefully) the mycelium of Shiitake mushrooms-to-be. The other smaller greyish smudges towards the right of the jar are really dings in the agar medium where I cooled the knife prior to excising a tiny bit of flesh from a reasonably fresh mushroom prior to placing it on the agar substrate.

See, it's all part of a bigger permaculture-ish picture... three threads coming together...

Thread One: I've read, watched and heard quite a lot about "Hugelkultur" lately, mostly as evangelised by Paul Wheaton over at permies.com. I like the way that Sepp Holtzer, the guy who has been practising and working on this technique, refuses to get pigeonholed as "doing permaculture", thereby dodging all the Permaculture Dogma that tends to go along with Permaculture True Acolytes. I like his style so well that I think I'm going to steal it... The hugelkulture idea seems reasonable to me, especially since I daily observe decaying tree trunks and logs in the forests and plantations that surround our home, and it is blatantly obvious that the decaying wood serves as an effective water and nutrient reservoir. Then, too, I have long noticed that veggie beds that host a vigorous and healthy fungal life also host the healthiest and quickest-growing veggies.

Thread Two: Reading Paul Stamets' ideas for myco-permaculture, I've been researching mushroom varieties that would (hopefully!) work well in guilds and successions. Based on my reading in Stamet's excellent "Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms", I chose Shiitake for my first mushroom-cloning attempt. Shiitake should grow easily on the growth media most available to us – Pine logs, chips and shavings. The Shiitakes will play their part in decomposing the wood substrate, which should (if my understanding of the theory is not too broken) then be quite well suited, with the addition of compost and soil, to growing other mushroom varieties – probably Portobello (button) mushrooms, but maybe some other variety between them and the Shiitake. After that I should be able to grow veggies in the remaining bed.

Thread Three: I've been doing some work on modifying the brewery2 (described here, here, here and here), not to mention brewing up a storm. So I am ending up with lots of spent grain remains from brew sessions. A 40litre batch of beer produces around 25 or 30kg (wet weight) of bran containing some weak sugars in solution, cooked grain kernels, and a bit of starch left unmodified by the brewing process. Ideal stuff for growing mycelium! Then, too, yeast is just another fungus, and has, indeed, been used in experimental trials for sterilising/pasteurising mushroom growing media. A win all ways!


So I thought to myself, "Why wait for several years for a hugelkultur bed to gain a natural mycosystem? Why not hurry things along?" And thus was born my mycosphere garden-bed idea... (or is that a "Mike-o-sphere"?)

I plan to build some beds using pine logs, wood chips, shavings,... whatever I can lay my hands on cheap (read: free) and in abundance. These beds will be innoculated with (initially) Shiitake mycelium, and hopefully we will, in the fullness of time, harvest mushrooms. The Shiitake will be followed by further mushrooms in some sort of yet-to-be-determined sequence, thereby rendering the woody core of the bed quite well decomposed. After that I will convert the bed to conventional veggie production. The mushroom growing plays along extremely well with the brewery, and both endeavours demand a small amount of lab culturing, which has been fun to learn about. And, if the Mike-o-sphere beds work out anything like conventional Hugelkultur beds, I should be able to reduce the brittleness of our water-dependence in the garden, because, although the Offialdom Of The Kakistocracy no longer consider us to be a drought area, and. although we have experienced over 50% above average rainfall for May, we are none too convinced that the drought is truly over.

The Garden Route truly is a canary in the coalmine for global climate change...

We simply have to Adapt Or Dye.

[1] I guess the UN must have missed noticing that they were scheduling IBD day for the day after The Rapture. Oops.
[2] I'll write about the brewery redesign soon.

19 May 2011

Russian Circles

Loving a new discovery, a Chicago-based band (according to Wikipedia) called Russian Circles. Very prog-rock instrumental (no vocals) at times has me thinking of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, other times of early Pink Floyd, occasional flashes of Vangelis in grandeur, a certain amount of Prog Metal feel, but mainly a sound very much their own.

Would love to see Russian Circles live!

16 May 2011

Welcome to the reincarnated "plan be"

The plan is to be a little less absent from blogging...

I've been really unhappy with the old blogging platform for several years, now, but, in the absence of any good, automated way to convert all my old posts (and your many comments, dear readers) to the format of Blogger I've not been able to work up the psychic energy for the task of moving the data by hand. However my antipathy for Blojsom (the old blog software) grew and grew and eventually became a significant factor in me avoiding blogging altogether. And that's Not Good!

The old "plan be" blog is now officially retired. I'll keep it running until I finish migrating the old content over (which may never happen – be warned!)
So I decided to simply stop blogging on the old blog, and just get on with it, blogging on the new platform. Welcome! You've probably noticed that the blog is now under a new URL, and so are the RSS/Atom feeds. Update your bookmarks and feed-readers!

I may,... eventually,... someday... get around to handraulically moving the historical content over to here and shutting down the old blog platform, but don't put money on it happening soon.

17 March 2011

Yay, Rain!

At last... just when we thought the drought was coming back.
Now I'd best get on with Winter plantings of Garlic, Onions and Cabbage...

10 February 2011

Hell, No I Won't RICA

Note to non-South Africans: RICA is The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act – a piece of particularly stupid, egregious and unneccesary piece of legislation that requires (among many other idiocies) that all cellphone SIM cards be registered by their owner along with proof-of-residence. This is supposed to make it easier for Police and National Intelligence (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) to track down criminals.

I won't be registering for RICA.

I don't care if my service provider cuts my cellular service after 30 June. It just means that I'll have some extra money to spend on other goodies each month.

I am an honest, law-abiding citizen. And I am tired to death of being spied-on, nannied, harassed, followed and tracked by my own government. FICA documentation at the banks. Highway banditry against my company from CIPRO. Proof of residence required at the Post Office. Now spy-vs-spy nonsense in the form of RICA. Well, I've had enough!

It's not as though RICA is actually going to achieve anything useful, anyway. If I were of criminal intent I would simply take the following simple steps:

  1. Acquire one or more false identify documents (I am told that a bribe of around R100 at Home Affairs does the trick. I am certain that cheaper bulk-rates can be negotiated.)
  2. Forge one or more fake electricity/phone/rates bills. Simple job with a laser printer. You need not even own the printer - just go to a local print-shop or internet cafe.
  3. Blithely register many, many SIM-cards for RICA under a variety of false identities and addresses.
  4. Sell said SIM cards.
  5. Profit!
So I won't be going along with yet another useless, ill-conceived, dung-headed piece of invasive, expensive and useless legislative boondoggle written by the control-freaks who are one short step away from demanding, "Papers, citizen!"

Look for #hellnoiwontrica on Twitter.

04 February 2011

A Tale of Hoe

Several and a half years ago, we had an old man come to work for us once a week as a "gardener." In most developing countries this means "day labourer with few particular skills." Pieter is an old local who grew up in the area, and told us many interesting tales of years gone by. He attended school in the building that is now Kate's house; Archie and Veronica's house was a small shop in his youth. Pieter is now in his mid-60's and foreman of an alien-clearance team. Very tough manual work, and I know that I wouldn't stand a chance of keeping up with the sheer physicality of it.
Pieter stands all of about 5ft tall. At one time, when he was still working for us, he took to bringing his own Hoe to work. He explained to me that he was used to working with it, a push-Hoe, rather than the rather heavy draw-Hoe I had supplied. After a while he left it here permanently, and asked me to accept it as a gift. And what a gift it was! Ignoramus that I am, I had never worked with a push-hoe before, but it quickly became one of my Indispensables – a tool I simply won't be without. I took to using it for all sorts of tasks beyond its intended design. It is one of my Vital Implements for drawing drills for direct sowing. An essential necessity when cleaning out the Chicken House, and a staunch ally when ring-barking young Blackwoods. Not to mention its design purpose – chopping weeds off from their roots.
Its antique, hand-crafted charm was a seduction in its own right. The hoe head itself is nothing special – a bit of sharp, steel blade fastened to a tapering hollow receptacle for the shaft. The shaft, however, was something special. A gnarly, uneven piece of some local wood – I suspect Iron Wood – cracked in places along its length, worn smooth by decades of hands and seasoned against all decay by the salty sweat of those hands. I love that Hoe.
The other day the handle broke.
Right down inside the metal bit, where a screw keeps the head from parting ways with the staff. I've been expecting this for some time, really, but still, it was quite a blow when it came!
So, off to the co-op for a new staff. An ordinary rake- or broom-handle won't do. Too skinny to take the tough work of hacking through weed roots. A new Hoe is not to be thought of. The only ones available have a heavy, clunky steel blade welded to a thin, cold steel shaft that sits uncharitable and sullen in the hand. I found a suitable staff, advertised as a "Haying Fork Handle". About 3cm in diameter, and 1.8m long, made of some very dense, heavy wood, probably Kari Gum. Well, OK, then! A bit of grinding work to taper the end of the shaft, and it fitted beautifully into the business-end of my Hoe.
What a Joy!
Little had I suspected how hard Pieter's Hoe was working me! Having been crafted for a man much shorter than I, the handle of the Hoe was correspondingly too short for me, though I hadn't realised this previously.
There's a lesson in here about making sure that tools are properly adjusted and sized for your physique. I know that the Scythe people recommend that you make your own snath (the "handle") for just this reason. So why don't people tell you that this is important for tools like Hoes and Spades, too?
Not only, that, but the new handle is heavy. And this makes hoeing pathways clear of weeds and absolute doddle! You get the thing moving, and it sheers its way through the most tenacious roots and stems without pause or strain. With Pieter's original handle I was pushing and shoving like mad, ending up with blisters on the palm of my pushing-hand from shoving the end of that pole. No more! 
Then too, the generous diameter of the new shaft means that hands never tire from trying to keep a firm grip on a too-thin handle. Just this morning I cleared two pathways in half the time it would previously have taken me to do just one!
Moral of the story? Make sure your tools are properly sized to your own dimensions and physique.

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