16 December 2016

Aerodrone Season

It is Aircraft Season.

What is it about this town? Most of the year things are pretty peaceful around here. Skies are clear and free of noise aside from the occasional commercial aircraft flying in over the mountains from Parts North, settling in for final approach to George Airfield. As they pass over our heads they'll be just at that stage after, "Please ensure that your tray-tables are stowed, your window-blinds are fully open, and your seat-back is in the locked, upright position for landing." The stewardess has is making her way up the aisle checking that everyone is in full compliance with the safety regulations, and is on her way to her little fold-down seat to strap herself in for the landing. The plane is still so high in the sky that we seldom hear them. The only sign that they're passing is the straight, white contrail they leave across the deep blue.

No, the commercial flights are not a problem aside from the normal concerns one might have around petrochemical pollution and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. The problem planes are the small, private aircraft.

The problem is noise. For the main part of the year, we get an occasionally light plane passing by, or, once in a while, a helicopter. The really noisy helicopter is one that the National Parks people use once or twice a year for training exercises for the Fire Fighting teams. That thing is awesomely noisy. A hard, hammering sound slaps down out of the sky like something out of a Vietnam War movie, and you'd be easily excused for thinking you were in a war-zone when you hear it coming as much as ten minutes before it lumbers into view. But that only happens a couple of times a year.

Then there are the microlights. A neighbouring farmer has a small, informal airstrip on his farm, built when he owned his own microlight. Nowadays he flies a motorised glider, so the only noise it makes is a quite inoffensive murmur as he gets it into the air. He does occasionally allow touring microlight enthusiasts to use his strip, but he is very good about asking them to avoid flying over our neighbourhood, having received complaints in years gone by from residents who enjoy suntanning naked in their backyards and get a bit miffed at the sudden appearance of low-flying aircraft.

But for some reason at this time of year, the Holiday Time Of Year, Peak Tourism Season, we get invaded by an infestation of noisy aeroplanes, clouds of buzzing midges with nothing better to do than drone about. Small planes whose pilots love nothing better than to wheel aimlessly overhead for a couple of hours, round and round and up and down and round and round again. They're not even good enough flyers to pull off any interesting aerobatics. Round and round and up and down, droning and moaning and generally wrecking the peace and quiet with a blissful disregard for anybody else.

Then there's Jet Propelled Guy. He hasn't arrived yet. It's still a little early in the tourist season. He (maybe its "she", though, generalising wildly here, women are usually a bit more considerate, and it seems to me more likely a testosterone-amped Alpa Male type) generally comes to town closer to Christmas, and flies about in a little jet-propelled plane, insanely noisy. Also an up and down and round and round artiste, but now with added roaring. The ego-riddled selfishness is quite beyond my comprehension. What sort of metastasised sense of self-entitlement, what corroded set of social values, enables this one person to destroy the quiet enjoyment of the thousands below on the Earth who are forced, unasked and unwilling, to pay the price of the solipsist solo flyer's self-indulgence?

There are also any number of Helicopter types. They fly those tiny, mosquito-looking things that make a hell of a racket out of all proportion to their size. We had one of them living just down the road a few years ago. He (really "he" in this case), of a Sunday afternoon, would flit from his "farm" to one of the upmarket golf-estates for a round of golf. In and out and roundabout he'd go, to do the shopping, to fly to some Important Meeting in George, down to Cape Town for drinkies at Camps Bay,... sometimes several times a day. The noise was awful. He was completely arrogant about it. I'd say "unsympathetic" to our concerns, but no, "sympathy" was not a concept that entered into his world. He was Big Important Asshole, and we little people ought to consider ourselves privileged to put up with the result of his ego-rot, his non-existent grasp of ethical consideration for other peoples' rights. Eventually we got him shut down by legal means, though it did come close to proclaiming Open Goose Hunting Season.

No, it's mainly this time of year when aircraft become a plague in the sky. The time of year when rich, over-entitled idiots take to the skies. I suppose it is the price we are expected to live with in exchange for the content of their wallets, off which the local economy feeds for the remainder of the year.

12 December 2016

Tomato Supports

Supporting Tomato plants has long been a headache. This year I decided to try out a different approach. I've simply "mulched" the Tomato beds using masses of twiggy branches from trees I've been weeding out. (Coming attraction: "Dances with Chainsaws")

So far it seems to be working well. As the Tomato bushes grow tall enough to poke through the canopy of twigs and branches I add another layer, while the tangle beneath supports the Tomato bushes leaves and side shoots, and should (hopefully) support the Tomatoes that eventuate. Most of the bushes have started flowering...

This wild mess makes weeding a bit difficult, but I mulched heavily between the plants with grass clippings, so the weeds are not getting out of hand too badly. The scheme has so far also had the unforeseen benefit of deterring the ravenous Bushbuck who want to eat the Tomato leaves and shoots. It is also a lot less time-consuming than the traditional stakes-and-string method I've used in the past.

30 November 2016

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

Garden trash accumulates. Old, dead branches that are too misshapen to use as fuelwood, fat trunkwood too gnarly to split, rotten with wild fungi and infested borer-beatle, Old planks of untreated wood used as garden benches and now falling to bits. Everything must go!

It's better to burn out
Than it is to rust
Ashes to ashes and
Dust to dust...

17 November 2016

Baboon Vandals

Lots of Baboons about. The day before yesterday the dogs took off after a couple of them and disappeared for several hours. It's a big worry--the dogs can easily be severely injured by the Baboons. Eventually Keira returned, completely exhausted by her adventure. She could barely walk up the hill, let alone run from a Baboon turning on her, and her breathing was extremely ragged from exertion and stress. We were hoping that this would discourage the Baboons a bit and keep them at bay for a couple of weeks, but no such luck. One of them was around a couple of minutes ago. Luckily I was alerted by Scyla and I could chase him off. If it was just a case of them stealing fruit, that would be one problem, but
...and thirty minutes later, having chased off another of the bastards who has broken a large branch off our 20-year-old Apple Tree, Scyla Dog has taken off across the farmlands and, by the sounds of things, chased him up a tree where she will no doubt keep him trapped for some hours.

In the twenty years we've been here, we have never had this much trouble with Baboons.

Update 20 min. later: Scyla has returned, thankfully unharmed, from far across the farmland. We have to do something about these thieves -- it's us or them. I am at a loss just what, though...

11 November 2016

Strange Dreams

I had a dream, last night, that a Bushbuck came and ate the tops off my Tomato plants.

Woke up this morning, and went out to empty the rain gauge (5mm), to find

Strange, and slightly scary, to have such powerful dreams!

05 November 2016

Loving Spring

Love this time of year, despite the pressure to get seeds sown, seedlings transplanted, beds prepared, weeds weeded...

Lime-green Salad Tomatoes. Transplanted into their bed just a couple of days ago. Perfect transplanting weather, followed by a couple of days of light (and much needed) rain means that they've coped with the move perfectly.

Pakistani Maroon Beans are just emerging. They're a pole bean, grown for the dry beans. Suits me well, since I should get a higher yield per area than bush varieties. This is a new variety to me, so we're evaluating the variety as well as growing up a larger seed-supply for next year. Lots of pressure to get more bean varieties planted...

The climbing structure for the Pakistani Maroons. We should have a plant at the bottom of each of the hanging poles. Dog keeps an eye out for greedy moles wanting to eat my beanlings.

16 August 2016

Chickens 2.0

It started out a beautiful, sunny morning. Warm for late-winter, to be sure, but not warm enough to work up a sweat wielding a chainsaw. I swear it was all brought on by that egg I ate for breakfast. As I try to restrict my intake of eggs to two a week. A result of being born into a family with histories of heart disease on both sides of the hereditary divide, and a presumed genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels. So an egg breakfast is always a special one to begin with.

I start with melting a modest bit of butter -- I know, I should probably use something else, but I am deeply suspicious of margarine, it being just a couple of processing steps short of being plastic, and eggs fried in olive oil,... well, they just don't taste right. Into the hot butter go a couple of Jalapeno Chiles, thickly sliced. There's a critical bit of timing here, and the heat of the butter has to be just right, otherwise you're liable to overdo the chiles and they acquire a nasty, bitter, burned flavour. The moment you start coughing -- possibly sneezing, too-- from the capsaicin fumes wafting from the pan (it should be a heavy, cast-iron pan, for preference) it's time to flip the chile slices over and crack your egg directly onto the chiles, which should be clustered together so that the molten butter is drawn close between them. One the egg-white has solidified at the bottom, though not all the way through, clap a lid over the pan, sealing the aromas in, and infusing the steam with those potent fumes. The timing of this step takes a little practise, and depends to some degree, I suppose, on how you like your fried eggs done. Me, I like them cooked through, but still tender and soft. All gods curse the days when I am distracted from the complications of this task at just the wrong time and end up with the yolk all rubbery and pale and tasting like eggy library paste. For me the yolk should definitely be completely runny, but there should be no trace of ungelled white, the whole infused with the divine pungency of the chiles. Other varieties than Jalapeno are also okay if the season is wrong or you prefer some other strain of peppers. Serranos work well if you're looking for something a little hotter. Sweet peppers are not to be entertained, for what would be the point of this twice weekly treat without the heat?

Which brings me, somewhat meanderingly, back to my point...

Despite us having purchased good quality, free-range, organic eggs, I find them to be pale, lacklustre and lacking in flavour when compared with my memories of eggs from our own hens. The texture of the yolk is all thin and runny, too, nothing like the thick, almost syrupy consistency and strong, almost meaty flavour of pasture-fed homegrown.

Time, I think, and, if I'm slightly honest, well past time, to get our own flock again.

This time, though, they'll be housed far from the road so the neighbourhood dogs can't get to them. Besides, the old chicken-run's fences are way past their use-by date. Trees have grown up through the wire mesh in places, complicating a the potential repair job beyond contemplation, and the entire run has become infested with woody weeds. The fences there always were a hopeless cause, because the one end of the run contains a very large and old Oak Tree. During Acorn Season, the local bushpig family, lacking all respect for wire fences, simply lift the mesh with their strong snouts and tusks to gain access to the delicious acornage. And once the fences were broken, all the other local predators would come for their favoured provender -- our chooks. It was a battle I was never going to win. So the chicken run has to move.

Too, the old chicken house was never very satisfactory, the original design having been based upon book-learning and then heavily modified as we rapidly learned what all was wrong with that. Another story for another day, though. Suffice to observe that it was difficult to clean -- so cleaning got delayed and generally neglected -- resulting in problems with mites, dust and smells. We really need a new chook-house, too. All-in-all a start-from-scratch-again sort of a deal.

When we did have happy and healthy chickens, I had always wanted to reduce the amount of feed we bought in for them. Pasture-fed as close to 100% is my aim, though I realise that we will probably need to supplement the food a little in the slow-growth times of the year.

Having considered a number of options, I have picked a spot, not too far from the house, yet not too near, reasonably flat, though quite overgrown with rank grass and weeds. My plan is to build a bomb-proof (or, more precisely, Ratel-proof) enclosure perhaps 5x5m in extent. (I'll go into the design details another time -- this missive has run on far too long already!) and today's job was to start clearing the designated spot, starting with some trees and branches that intrude and generally make it difficult to see the ground well enough for the detailed marking out and planning that's needed before we know just how much fencing material to acquire, so out came the (recently serviced) chainsaw (so running beautifully smoothly and reliably) and I went to work... on an egg.

02 March 2016

Truckalorry Time

There's that grumbling thunder in the distance again, the grunting roar of another truck rumbling downhill, picking up the speed to make it up the next hill, gears grinding as the driver changes up and up again to goad his vehicle, burdened by its load of clay and soil, up over the crest of the hill and down the next trough of our rollercoaster road. It is just past eight in the morning, and already at least five or six loads have passed by, shaking the house, rattling the windows and filling the air with dust and the stench of diesel. I have lost count, by now. Lost count of how long it's been going on. Weeks, at least. Sometimes it feels like it will never come to an end.
But it will, of course. Even if it is a mountain they're flattening, it must eventually come to an end, mustn't it? I have to wonder, though, what failure of imagination causes an architect or town planner to decide that a hill must be removed. I suppose it is harder work to come up with a prettier and more interesting place to build, a place that lives around the hill, that celebrates its heights and valleys and takes advantage of its slopes and curves. But here it has been decreed: the hill must go. And so it has to go somewhere, and, between the local farmer who owns a piece of land that he little loves, a piece of land too inconveniently remote for him to properly care for and learn the value and meaning of, between him and the town planners, they're moving the hill into a little gulley that runs through his land. What paucity of imagination, what poverty of mind wants to flatten the world in this way? Raze that hill, smooth out that valley, fill in the gaps that wrinkle the world, that give the land its texture and character and meaning, its niches and crannies, that keep it a wonder of hidden mysteries discoverable only when you walk their way, leaving your human mind behind to enter the lively universe.

Another truck rumbles past, engine whining with strain to top the rise, brakes groaning and exhaust chuffing and coughing as the truck slows to take the corner. Then down through the gear changes for the long straight track sloping gently down to the valley where the spoil is being dumped. Sometimes it feels like they're rumbling right through the house as they grumble by every five minutes or so. What happened to the quiet country lane we used to live in, the clean, sweet, pure air breathed out by the forest's trees? Did some maniac look at it and decide, "Those people enjoy more than their fair share of peace and quiet. We must give them a taste of what other people live with day in and day out, a taste of how the real world really is. They must get their fair helping of noise and stink and dusty air like the rest of us. It isn't fair, otherwise." And so, another truck rumbles past, carrying its wedge of hillside down into the sweet, wooded valley.

I wonder what will become of the stream that once flowed down that gulley when it rained. Where will that water go now? Will it find a new path and wend its way twistilly down to the river, or will the farmers and gardeners downstream, ignorant of the valley's demise, wrongly complain, in years to come, that Global Warming must have dried up the rain, that the river never used to run so empty. Or it may not. It may decide to follow the same path down to the sea as it's done for thousands of years. For water is strong stuff, more wily and headstrong than people like to think, so it may just decide to take their stinking and sullen clay along with it, downstream to the river, all the way to the sea. And perhaps the farmers and gardeners will complain amongst themselves that the water is muddy and cloudy and foul, and they'll wonder what happened to the clear, sweet stream of years past.

It looks like we might get some rain next week, and very welcome it will be. If we're lucky it will be the end of this dry spell. Even though it is quite normal, at this time of year, for the weather to run hot and dry, we're anxious to get our Winter crops into the ground and off to a good start before they slow down for their cold, deep, midwinter sleep.

I sowed Barley in the Top Field a few days ago. I hadn't planned to. I bought the Barley for malting, to make beer from it, but some Weevils got in to the bag. I found the little buggers before things got too bad, so most of the grain was still whole, though not good enough to malt any more, so I cast it into the field, in amongst the tall grasses and weeds growing there to grow as a Winter cover crop that will add its bulk to the soil come Springtime. Right now I need to cut all that tall weedy growth down so that it covers the seed, mulching it beneath a protective blanket, sheltering it from the wind and sun and thieving birds, turning slow through the Autumn days into compost to enrich and restore the soil. It would be best if I can get that done before the rains come next week.

This is the third season I've been doing this, reviving the compacted and abused land that I call the Top Field. Sullen, sticky mud during wet times, and hard, grey and hostile in the dry, the field was in very poor shape. Conventional thinking would have me go in there with poisons to kill the weeds, plough and rotary cultivator to break up the soil and store-bought fertilizers to inject some instant nutrition, and I would probably have reaped a crop almost immediately, in that very first season of planting. Then I'd have to repeat all that work and expense again the next season if I were to hope for any sort of crop again. And I would be fighting the weeds and the bugs and the parasites and diseases every step of the way as my crop struggled to grow up on the instant-breakfast diet I'd be feeding it. Instead I opted to live with the wrinkles in the land, its peaks and valleys and slopes and curves, its weaknesses and strengths. I planted a varied and complex mix of pioneers directly into the rank and weedy grasses that were there, then slashed the tall growth down as a mulch, as an in-place compost. And then did it again the next season. Let the roots of the plants open up the soil. Let them burrow their way deep into the ground, creating channels and pathways anew for water and nutrients to follow, hollows and crevices for fungi and bacteria to homestead.

And the land responds. The soil comes back to life as the soil-dwellers return, fed by the organic matter, by the fungi breaking down the plants. It regains a texture and a structure that feeds and supports all the living things that it takes to become a healthy, thriving ecosystem underground. The soil is regaining its spongy texture, the small round crumbs clumping together in a dense, fluffy crumble, reconstituting itself from the sullen, sticky clay smear it was, once again becoming able to absorb and hold water vastly within its depths, safe, away from the thieving Sun and wind. With a little luck I should at last be able to get some useful crops growing there next Spring, and I can begin to expand the area, to bring more of the Top Field back to life.

So we bend and flex with the opportunities, we see the chance of rain on its way and we pounce, taking advantage of its blessing. We twist with the curves, sail with the wind, coast down the slopes of chance and flowing water, and up the next hill, trying at each step to bring life, to bring energy, to nutrify and build up the variety and richness that is thriving nature, to begin to learn how to work with, and not against, the advantages of complexity, the self-healing networks of energy and chemistry that spontaneously erupt into being, feeding, supporting and enhancing one another to foster life, abundant and fecund and healthful. To learn the technologies of life, evolution, resilience and adaptability.

Another truck thunders past, bringing its load of dead and spoiled earth. Brakes wheeze as it turns the corner, and I wonder what sort of wasteland will be left behind where the hill once rose, what sort of gardens will people struggle to make where the living soil, the slopes and the valleys and twisty curves have been bulldozed flat and carted away. Every five minutes or so they come, grinding and farting and roaring down our narrow rollercoaster road. The road is quite broken by now from all those heavy-laden trucks rumbling over it. Steel bangs and clanks against steel as the truck bounces over the holes they've made, holes big enough to swallow a small car or a cow. I wonder if the town planners have any thoughts of rebuilding it when they're done. I doubt it. No hills to flatten, here. No valleys to fill. No fun at all. None of that power drug, no stamp of manly authority over the inanimate and silent Earth. Every five minutes or so for at least three weeks and more, and no sign of an end, though an end must come, sooner or later. An end to the madness.

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