"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Rain water harvesting installation

I am a member of two facebook groups which try to assist people in the Western Cape, as well as the rest of South Africa, with regards to drought solutions - namely Water Shedding SA and Water Shortage South Africa.  I know that most of this will be of interest to South African readers, but, perhaps everyone should be aware of, and will benefit from how to help themselves to become more self-sufficient with regards to their water - and it's storage - especially rain water.  Water is our most precious comodity - more valuable than gold, diamonds, oil or anything else considered precious by mankind.

In those groups I have read so many posts from people asking who can install their rain water tanks. I think the "lack of knowledge" and cost implication (of firstly purchasing the tank, and then the additional cost of getting a company to come and do the installation / gutter link up) may be preventing people from installing a rain water tank. So I thought I would share the simplicity of it.
For those of you are new readers of my blog, here is some background: we live on a 2 Ha smallholding and we have installed 9 X 5 000lt tanks over the past 7 - 8 years.
Our potable water is directed from our mains pipe into the top of
 the potable water storage tank
 As our "mains" water supply is erratic (either Overberg Water has "pump" / Escom power supply problems or farmers accidentally plough up the main line - this happens quite frequently) so we have dedicated one X 5 000 lt tank to potable water. Given the aforementioned causes of possible breaks in our potable water supply, water independence / security is therefore imperative for us - especially in the heat of summer.
Details of water connection from pump to the house, and our
 power source to the pump
Of the remaining 8 X tanks, 3 X tanks are positioned at the end of gutters and collect rainwater and the balance of 5 X tanks are postioned on the higher parts of the land in order to irrigate via gravity and / or pump.
A secure base is vital for a water storage tank
Please ensure that you either position your tank on a (smooth) concrete slab, a square of level pavers, or a good 10cm thick bed of gravel (please ensure that there are NO SHARP GRAVEL POINTS sticking up or they could puncture the tank).
Our tank / pump connection
1 000lt (filled weight is 1 ton), 2000 lt (filled weight is 2 tons) or 5 000lt (filled weight is 5 ton) tanks are heavy when they are full, and when the ground beneath them is wet from (hopefully good 😀👍👍 ) rains, the risk of the tank falling sideways / collapsing is a possibility IF the tank isn't sitting level. This definitely applies to a clay soil - as clay is "volatile" when very wet.

Two pics showing one of the two types of valves we used - in these pictures the image on the left with the handle pointing upwards, the valve is closed and in the image on the right showing the handle lying parallel to the valve, the the valve is open.

When you purchase your tank(s) ask the supplier for the specific water tank fitting requirements. Then, either get them to supply those parts, or get the tank supplier to write them down and take that list to your local hardware store. Don't forget the plumbers tape - to seal ALL the connection threads 😀  The majority of tank fittings are 40mm - both the inlet and outlet points. If you want to reduce that outlet size in order to connect a normal garden hosepipe, then your hardware store will know, and supply you with those fittings as long as you know the diameter of garden hose that you use. From tank outlet fitting size of 40mm to 1/2 inch garden hose = 12mm fittings, or 3/4 inch garden hose are 19mm fittings.
You will see two different valves in the pics - a plastic one and a metal one. Either valve can be used quite easily and is only dependent on what your hardware store stocks.
Cutting the water tank lid in order to insert the gutter downpipe can be achieved with the use of a utility / Stanley knife. Mark out the gutter profile on the lid, drill a "start" hole and cut away...
Shadecloth filter catching debris from our roof and preventing it
 from entering the tank
We use a piece of 80% shadecloth as our debris fiter and it works well. Hooking it over the water tank lid securing pin "protrusions" ensures that it is held in place.
It's easy to cut a hole in the top of the tank lid with a utility or
 Stanley knife
Also, when the lid is in position the "close fit" adds to that shadecloth filter position securiity. Ours have not moved in 7 - 8 years. Emptying the debris is as simple as lifting off the piece of shadecloth, shaking off the debris, and replacing the shadelcoth over the tank securing pin protrusions.
The lid helps to keep the shadecloth in position
First flushes are also easy to install and, if you go that route, I would recommend that you have a large mouthed valve at the end of the first flush pipe in order to facilitate easy expulsion / removal of the debris. Please remember to use a PVC weld if you are joining fittings with no thread. This is also obtainable from your hardware store.
Open source diagram of a first flush system
Another first flush diagram
If you want / need to connect your tank to your house you will need a pump and the knowledge of how to do this. If you do not know how to do this, ONLY then you would need to call on the services of a plumber.
I recommend a wide mouthed valve at the end of your first flush
 pipe to enable easy cleaning of the debris within
I know this seems to be a lot of info to absorb, but most of it is commonsense if you logically think about what you are doing.

Good luck 😀

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Hydroponic update

You'll remember last year back in April I started a small hydroponic system.

This is a report back and a change of plan.
My newly installed small hydroponic ssystem
The lettuce still found the direct sunlight too strong and went to seed.  I will have to grow them in the shade next summer, with light being provided by bouncing it off a north facing wall.
The cabbages grown in the ground, without question, performed
 better than the hydroponic ones
 The cabbages - nope, not successful.
The hydroponic peas did well, and also didn't display any signs
 of "mildew" on their leaves
The peas?  They did beautifully 😄

And the tomatoes - they produced nicely - though not as well as those that were planted in the ground.

So, not a great result.  Not a "Yeeeha, Eureka!!" moment.

Perhaps it was my "feeding" of the water.  Being out in the sticks, and not wanting to incur costs buying and transporting hydroponic plant "food" I only used a seaweed concentrate in the pump tank.

But, I am not discouraged.

So, I have drawn inspriation from this pic I saw a while ago...
This image inspired me to plant strawberries in gutters which
hang on either side of my raised beds
As you know I hung gutters on the side edges of my raised beds and planted strawberries in them.
The current situation / progress of my gutter strawberries
(nope, they aren't battling weeds, but rather self-seeded
 rocket seedlings.  I love rocket, so I'm letting them stay
where they fell)
They are doing well, and this seasons strawberries are beginning to form and hang down the sides of the gutter.    So, I have decided to use the hydroponic pipe to grow strawberries and I will leave the exisiting  strawbwerry plants in the gutter for comparison.

Yes.  I can grow strawberries in the ground, and they have been successful, but the slugs have been just as successful in their quest to devour portions of every strawberry that happened to touch the soil.
The reserve / return reservoir which collects the pumped water back
 to the pumping tank via gravity.
I have suspended a stocking filled with organic fertiliser beneath
 the pipe's overflow outlet.
In place of the seaweed concentrate, I have added a measured portion of organic fertilizer to a stocking which hangs into the return water reservoir.  Everytime the pump switches on, the water falling into the reservoir falls onto the stocking (and it's contents) thereby "disturbing" it and releasing the nutrients.
The organic fertilizer RMan uses for our fruit trees
I planted the hydroponic strawberry runners about 3 weeks ago, and already the roots are beginning to grow out of the bottom of the yoghurt containers I use as hydroponic plant pots. 
New strawberry runners planted three weeks ago are already
 producing roots outside of the tub.  The strawberries were planted
 in a palm peat / vermiculite mixture.
I have the pump on a timer which switches on for 15 minutes every hour from 7.00a.m. to 7.00 p.m.  After that the water which remains in the pipe must suffice until the pump circulates the water again.
A shallow "bowl" of water permanently remains in the base of the
 pipe for access by the plants when required.  It doesn't fill the
 pipe completely and thereby provides air to the roots as well.
The new strawberry plants seem happy and are beginning to grow new leaves.
That, to me is a happy looking strawberry plant 😃
Let's see if I can get it right this time...

I am determined to be successful, as, given climate change / global warming / predicted global water shortages, I believe that hydroponics will figure massively in the future with regards to feeding the masses.  Being inquisitive, I would like to understand the process / problems in using this growing method.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Wake up call

I seem to be quite negative in my postings lately - my apologies.  But I think when life hands you lemons you still need to gather the lemons together in order to make lemonade.
Image source: Digital Globe
Images collected on June 14th show the devastation from
 the unprecedented wildfires in Knysna, South Africa. The before
 and after comparison show near-infrared images displaying
 healthy vegetation in red, and burned areas in black/gray.
The recent catastrophes (storms and fires) in the Western Cape have been horrific to experience / watch.  300 kms of the picturesque Garden Route was completely obliterated.  Hundreds of thousands of people lost everything.  11 people are known to have perished in that fire, and who knows how many animals.  Thankfully, in anticipation of the storm, the provincial government closed schools on Wednesday 7th June.  Thankfully, because 135 schools were damaged...

 RMan and I are now hyper aware of how vulnerable we all are, and will, where possible, take measures to prevent a major calamity of this type from negatively impacting us - as far as we possibly can.

We are currently rectifying the damage that was done to our house by the gale force winds which we experienced - barge boards ripped off / destroyed and roof tiles blown off.  To say that the winds were scary is an understatement.  Add to that runaway fires...  We did have a fire spring up in the nearby village during last Saturday's gale force wind, but thankfully the fire department managed to sort that out - only God knows how they did it.  That fire damaged our Internet tower and we were without a connection for 5 days whilst the tower, wiring and the equipment was replaced.

My heart bleeds for those affected in the garden route - the 1 000's of homes and lifetime memories lost, the lives lost...  Just too terrible.

In our area we all received the Overberg Water Drought letter with our water accounts recently. Drought restrictions and penalties are now in force.

A link to Duivenhoks Dam which supplies us with water 
shows that the dam is still reflecting 62% (as of 2/6/2017) so personally, I have not been too perturbed.

However, on looking at my rainfall records, a different picture emerges. (see image below).
Rainfall records from Nov 2013 to June 2017
What this means for our summer season time will tell...

For those of us that grow our own vegetables / fruit bearing trees a tip I'd like to share is that Sutherland Sawmills in Swellendam sells wood mulch (fine and coarse) for +/- R50.00 a trailer load. We did this last summer and have found that placing a thick layer round our veggie beds / base of our trees helped them to conserve water during the hotter months thereby assisting in ensuring their survival and their intended function i.e. food production. As wood mulch apparently temporarily ties up nitrogen in the surface of soil against with which it has contact, ways of replenishing that nitrogen is through the addition of an organic nitrogen supplement e.g. alpaca, horse, cow, chicken manure and even human urine - even (non-seeding) weeds will fulfil this function for as they break down they return to the soil what they have taken from it in order to grow.  I know that very few of my readers live in our area, but I'm sure if you Google you'll find a sawmill or bulk mulch supplier close to you.

Helping each other helps all of us enjoy our individual patches of heaven 😀

Anyone have any other water saving / disaster avoiding tips that they'd care to share?

Note to Sol if you read this post:  Permission to view your blog is denied to me ;)  Maybe you need to send me another invite?  

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Cape of storms...

2 days from hell.

140km / hour winds.

Some rain has fallen - but much more is needed to ease the drought.

Snow covering most of the mountains of the Western Cape.

And a runaway gale-force wind fuelled fire which has almost destroyed a town of 77 000 people - Kynsna, Western Cape (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/live-knysna-evacuation-underway-20170607 and http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/gallery-cape-wildfires-20170608)

Terrible.  Terrible.  Terrible 😭

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Raised bed with a difference

Why a raised bed with a difference?

Because this raised bed is not for growing vegetables.

Oh no!!  But, with that said, this has just as important a purpose, but is for indoors.

You see, I have noticed that the latest addition to our family loves - just loves - climbing on anything and  everything in order to take a nap.  By anything I mean things like on top of the patio table, a pile of mulch, patio chairs - anything.

Now, we made her a comfy bed oh the floor for nighttime snoozes, but, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, the bed isn't good enough.  Our couches are the preferred beds...

I have nothing against animals - especially dogs - but I do object to doggy smell on my furniture.  And I object especially after said dog has had a roll in a pile of alpaca poo...

'Nuff said.

So, we covered the couches in shower curtains.

Nope - that didn't deter her either.  Stellar merely plonked herself on top of the shower curtain.

That is when the "raised bed" connection finally sank into my brain.
Stellar on her blankets on the floor, with her old pair
 of jeans bolsterer to snuggle up to
It didn't matter how comfy we made her bed on the floor, Stellar wanted to sleep with a view.

So I googled raised dog beds.

And found these:


R900 - R1100.00  ($70 - 86 or 62 - 76 or £54 - 66.00)  That's bloody insane!!

But I really would like to give her some protection from the cold floor and the floor level draughts - if, and when, winter finally hits...  😕  I don't feel bad in summer - the cool floor is just what is needed for those hot, summer nights.  But, winter - that's something totally different.

Especially if she's unwell.

Last Monday we noticed that she was not her usual bouncy self - just lethargically lying round, and not eating much.  She didn't even try to pinch the stray black cat's food - the stray (whom we've called Blackie - original I know) has adopted us, and, even though we have de-wormed it, and given it flea and tick prevention, we are trying to keep it outside, as opposed to Squeak who is an inside cat.

A trip to the vet revealed that Stellar had early stages of tick bite fever - biliary.  How is this possible - she was still protected by her Bravecto tablet, and at the end of the previous week we had fitted her with a Seretso collar...???

Thankfully, catching it early meant that the injection worked fairly quickly and by this last Friday morning she was back to her mischievous, energetic, bouncy self.

So, w.r.t the raised bed it was thinking cap time.

And I came up with this... 

An upside down view of the raised bed that RMan and I threw
 together.  We joined the Coolaroo clips with ski rope so that
 if we have to re-tension them in future it'll be a breeze.
 Also, criss-crossing the ski rope  below the shadecloth creates
 an additional support too.
Using left over shadecloth and Coolaroo butterfly clips from our patio awning, some ski rope from the garage...
The sum total spent on purchasing components
 to make Stellar's raised bed
... and the parts we purchased from the Co-Op, all it ended up costing us was the enormous sum of R270.88  ($21.16 or 18.75 or £16.41)  What a win  😁
Can Stellar get much comfier...?
This will also get her off the cold floor and away from draughts.

Best of all...?
There is space for her to grow into as well... 😊
Stellar l-o-v-e-s it 😂  And has made absolutely no attempt to get on the couches since receiving her raised bed 😂

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bear with me...

... whilst I recover from a second (nasty) bout of bronchitis this year (courtesy of a 3 year old grandchild's playschool).

I have some stunning news, but can only share it once I receive what I am waiting for.

In the meantime, here is a teaser of sorts... 😉

Sunday, 21 May 2017

If there's something strange in your neighborhood...

...who you gonna call...

You all know how that song continues, but they're not going to help in this situation.

You, me, your neighbour, your family, strangers - they're the only ones who can pull the trick out of the hat.

Snakes - we - or more correctly Stellar - found a puff adder in the alpaca feed shelter last Friday.  RMan noticed that Stellar was behaving weirdly so called her inside whilst he went to investigate.

Yup, a roll of shadecloth in one of the (un)used bins was moving.

Thankfully, John, the odd-job guy who helps us was there on that day and between RMan and John it was  dispatched.

He then spoke to one of our neighbours who told him that the caretaker of our neighbours property found 4 Cape Cobra's and 2 puff adders - in the last week!!!  That is scary stuff...

Snakes should be hibernating at this time of year.

For goodness sake - we're exactly a month away from mid-winter!
This Paulowina tree should only be flowering in September -
 not now...
Then, this morning we noticed that our Paulowina tree is flowering - that shouldn't be happening yet - historically it should only happen in September.  The seasons are definitely wonky.  And, as much as I can handle what is happening, can the farmers?

Our weather has even made international new weather reports:

CNN Cape Town weather

Finally, have you read the latest about the moss growing in Antarctica?

If we don't all change our ways and consider Mother Earth, and the harm we are collectively doing to her, then she will reject us.

Are you more ready for that rejection than doing your bit now...?

It's our choice.  

Friday, 19 May 2017

I see skies of blue...

...red roses too...

(I love Sir David Attenborough - he never fails to lift me up, and give me hope...)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Fire trap

This last March we had hectic wild fires in our area.  We have had them before - in our little valley - those damn Black Wattles burn like hell!!
A tiny puff of smoke was the first sign,,,
But this time it was started with a lightning strike on our drought parched mountainside - 20kms away over the mountain to the north of us - the mountain that we face.

Our first inkling was a little puff of smoke - as in the pic above.  The fire had come over the mountain.
The wind changed direct and the smoke increased
Soon, our entire mountain was engulfed...
Dusk - and the fire is creeping down the mountainside
We are roughly 7 - 8 kms as the crow flies from those mountains - not terribly far when a wild fire is burning.
This pic was sent to me by a resident in Suurbraak
Dusk - and the flames become more apparent
Seeing a fire during the day is one thing, but watching it at night one's depth of vision is impaired - leading to many, many sleepless nights.  Has it jumped to the farmlands?  How close is it now?  Which way is the wind blowing - our way...?

Lots of things go through your mind at night.  And very few of them positive.
Smoke so thick it almost blocked out the sun
Thankfully the wind kept the worst of the fire from endangering us.  It took 5 days for that fire to completely burn out / get sorted by the local farmers / firemen.
A second fire a few weeks later - this time it was on our
side - on the farmlands
But, the lesson was there.

If - if - we should be in danger of a fire sweeping through our area, we do not have sufficient water for our (small) fire brigade to make any significant difference.   Plus, it would take them +/- 45 minutes just to get here.  Historically, they pitch up with a small +/- 1 000lt trailer load of water, and then break Black Wattle branches from the trees and everyone climbs in helping to beat the fire with the branches.  That is not terribly effective.  The fire department cannot bring their big fire engine as the area, in most places, is too rough for it to traverse.

And, for us, not having any way to evacuate the alpaca's in the event of a fire, we were nervous and RMan wasn't happy - he felt powerless and vulnerable.

So I climbed on Google and Gumtree.
Fire fighting water trailer
I managed to find what he was looking for -  a fire fighting water trailer. But they were in Johannesburg.  Ah well, couriers deliver...

We sent off an enquiry, got the necessary feedback, and placed our order and paid (in full - what was wrong with me, I know better!!).

One week delivery, became two, became three.  Asking for references (yeah, a bit late, but we were thinking that we had thrown away what was - for us - a fairly substantial amount of money) we contacted them.  Unanimously they all described waiting for ages, but that they did eventually get what they ordered.  So, fear allayed - a little bit...

After one and a half months enough was enough.  The excuses were becoming repetitive and our patience had run out weeks ago.

RMan requested his money back.

Two weeks after that he got 50% refunded.  And more excuses - the trailer will still be sent on Monday evening the next week, etc.

A further two weeks down the line he finally got the balance that was due to him.

Why - oh, why - did I pay them in full???  That is totally out of character for me.

Anyway, the company had use of a fairly substantial amount of money for 2-odd months.

But, we still didn't have any means of effectively beating a fire.  So Google again...
Thick rubber fire fighting beaters
 I found two companies who manufactured rubber mat fire beaters.
Premat fire beaters
 I contacted everyone in our little valley and asked if anyone wanted one - we were going to order.
Safequip fire beaters
Most of the other inhabitants also wanted so one or two, so armed with an order of 30-odd units, I asked if there was any chance of a discount on quantity.

Yup - quite a nice discount in fact.  Thanks Safequip ;)  That was greatly appreciated!

So, at least we are all now equipped with some basic means of protecting ourselves against a fire in our area.

I am still keeping my eye out for another water trailer manufacturer who can supply us a unit within our budget though... ;)

Disclaimer:  No discount was asked for nor given for sharing the info above.  It is shared here merely to assist anyone else who might be interested in having some sort of fire fighting equipment.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Preparation paid off

How many of you remember me telling you about some raised beds we made back in February last year?

For those who are new readers I'll  give you a quick recap:
Granite tile crates
We got some crates which had been used to pack / transport granite tiles from the local tile shop and placed them in our shadecloth veggie patch.
Once in position, the crate base was lined with stones - to keep
moles out, and to allow for adequate drainage / prevent compaction
 at the base
 The base of the crate was lined with rocks - to allow for drainage.
one of the layers of alpaca poo
  Then we lined the sides with plastic to prevent the soil washing out, and to retain water.
Lined and layered - it was allowed to settle for a month
Then we layered straw, alpaca poo, soil, straw, alpaca poo, soil, etc (plus some bone meal) until it was full.  it was watered and allowed to "sit" (a.k.a. sink / settle) for a month, after which it was topped up again.

I have always had difficulty growing ginger, turmeric and carrots in our stony, clay beds.  So, I throught I'd try growing them in the raised beds and see if I had more success...

Those turmeric leaves are +/- 4 feet high
Well, I'm please to say the attempt was successful.  The pic above is the turmeric.  Actually, I planted the corms in the wrong season, and forgot about them.  Lo, and behold! one day I spotted growth, and thinking back, I recalled that turmeric had been placed there.
I always think of alpaca's when I see carrot tops
 - they l-o-v-e them ;D
The carrots - they did bloody marvellous mate :D  with no distortion of the carrot due to stones ('cos there were no stones in the bed lol).
My finger gives you something to compared the carrot top to
 I didn't succession plant them (yet) - I wanted to see how they would do.
Matchbox for size indication, and scale weight as proof
 To give you an idea, one carrot weighed 540 gms (19 oz).
Proof that the 540gm carrot was not an isolated thing -
 there are others still in the bed of a similar size.
And there are more like that...  Lots more :D
Yummy, home-made coleslaw
How did it taste?

Absolutely bloody delicious :D  Juicy and sweet.

Half of the 540 gm carrot immediately went into a coleslaw, the rest will make some yummy carrots in honey butter.  And the tops were wolfed down by the alpaca's.

No waste here lol

All that alpaca poo, soil and straw layering definitely paid off.  I'm very happy with the results and will now allocate one of the three raised (crate) beds / year to carrots - rotating each crop between the three.