Monday, March 6, 2017

February 2017: Chicks, Kitten & Budgie love, trees surviving drought, upcoming visits to Toronto and Boston

It is hot and dry here, and we're still going to the beach and dam a lot. We still seem to be getting more animals, though we're trying not to. The farm is making very slow and steady progress, and we had the first market day of our food buying club (co-op type thing). So... we're pretty tired. Happy and tired. 

In other news, we made the decision to travel as a family to the U.S. and Canada this summer. I have a conference, and it seemed to be a good idea  (it's also a time when my dad can care for our many animals) despite our real desire not to travel for a while. If you are in Boston, please let us know if we can see you!

If you have a moment, check out Eug's youtube channel and if you like it, subscribe! He has a new Little Mouse story coming out on Wednesday, and Noah's story will come out the following Wednesday. It's a good way to hear about our farm life from another perspective. 

rock pooling...

kids are really into examining poop and animal footprints on hikes in Cape Point...

Note to brave souls: the Ship wreck trail is a really long walk if you have a 4yo. Prepare accordingly...

ship wrecks

one of three chicks... We may be getting some more, soon. 

Noah's budgie-- spends a lot of time on his shoulder...
Our newest addition. We'd been thinking of getting a cat (hopefully to help with our rat problem) for almost a year. TEARS, our local shelter, was getting more desperate for homes as the season progressed so we decided to adopt. She's lovely. I've never been a cat person, but now I certainly am...
And lastly, Eli's armadillo story, where, even after prehistoric armageddon , shopping malls persist.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 2017: Penguins, secondhand legos, farm calories, co-ops

In the immensity of global politics, my sense is that we must press on, with the hopes that many small actions over many years (as well as special actions and special resistance), will be right and helpful, while owning up to our inevitable complicity in causing harm. So in that spirit, our monthly update:

This month got our first family Wild Card, which allows us entry to most National Parks in the area. This is a big deal because now we actually live near to a lot of national parks: Silvermine, Cape Point, Boulders. For non-South African readers, this means we can swim with the penguins all year round, which is basically our homeschooling curriculum this year. You have Sonlight or whatever, we have Penguin-Swimming. All of this hinges on the assumption that one cannot but be learning when surrounded by penguins.


Noah's perspective on the acquarium

Noah's perspective of Cape Point

Wild ostriches

With much of the infrastructure of the farm in a good place, this year I'd like to do something as close to the ConPact of The Non-Consumer Advocate as possible. No new stuff. But we'd also like to follow the kids interests where they lead. Which has led me to think anew about how one navigates trying to be non-consumerist and support the kids learning, when one often needs to go in unexpected directions based on their interest.

Fuzzy got big, likes legos.
I discovered that there is a really strong second hand market for legos in Cape Town, which means we could still get legos for the kids without buying new stuff. So not just penguin-schooling. Penguin + Lego schooling. We also were able to find a body board and flippers second-hand-- which constitutes a second-hand curriculum because of the whole Penguin-swimming thing. On the other hand, Noah is currently really into X-Wing, a Star Wars tabletop game we found ourselves with last year. In South Africa, X-wing expansion packs aren't available at all, and we'll almost certainly buy one or two new if we eventually visit N. America.

The first month of the year brought with it our first ducks for eating. Eating our first ducks was hard, but it brings into focus what we're trying to do and allows us to think through our options (veganism? probably not yet). Out of 10 ducks (4 months and older) ready for eating, we sold/bartered three. We have 13 younger ducks that will be of age as we process the older ones (2 at a time, every two weeks.) So unlike people who raise chickens for meat and do one huge batch at a time, we'll do two every two weeks for now. This works for us because we don't have consistent refrigeration, being largely off-grid. Eating our first ducks... a bit small... kindof tough.... probably a way to gradually wean ourselves off meat and think more carefully about food. Less River Cottage, more Bear Grylls or whoever. We're at this stage financially where up to now we have forked out for very expensive, free range/organic meat, and though we only eat meat once a week, I'm struck by all that bit of meat involved, just for me to eat it in a few minutes. That is, I think eating a nice bit of sustainably raised meat once a week might well not be at all sustainable. Perhaps it's just because we're amateurs, but it seems like it might be better to eat more duck eggs or fewer ducks. Though these things are not nearly as black and white as vegans and vegetarians might hope.

Our neighbours were having trouble with their geese eating their trees, so we swapped three youngsters and one adult female muscovy for 2 large Emden geese.
Very big, beautiful geese. Please don't think about ring-barking our fruit trees, geese! Check out Eug's fence building skills...
The hope-- which I know I keep repeating so bear with me-- is that the more diverse a farm is, the more productive it can be without becoming unsustainable. At some level, it also means more labour. It seems like we have just enough capacity for us to keep ducks happy free-ranging when eating about one duck a week-- which means about 25-30 ducks at any one time. Free-ranging ducks means the ducks-- taken alone-- are not nearly as efficient at feed conversion etc. as they might be in a factory operation, or even a large scale organic operation where they harvest at 70-80 days (Ours are over 120 days). In terms of efficiency and feed costs, 5 chickens seem to be better (27 eggs or 2000 or so calories a week for 4 hens), as compared to 4 ducks (1 duck for eating, or 1200 calories a week), but this is probably related to how we're managing them.

All these eggs and meat? Currently only about 7% of our total calories (not even counting the calories brought onto the farm as feed). Add honey, and we're up to about 10% of our calories. This year I'm hoping to experiment with different ways of decreasing the amount of grain consumed by our chickens and ducks. Right now the ducks (30 or so) and chickens (6) consume about 45kg of mixed grain every month, which is much less than their total calorie needs, but still quite a lot of grain. I tried sprouting barley but I couldn't keep it going, there were too many other chores.

As our annual garden gets up and running this winter (or whenever the rains come), we'll hopefully start to get significant calories from the vegetables grown in our annual garden. We're eating quite a lot of moringa (yet this amounts to only 400 calories, or less than 1% of our calories). All to say, one year in and our calories are still mainly from outside the farm. Our farm is set up to provide a LOT of fruit calories in the long term. We'll also eat a few geese every year- who seem to have the best feed conversion of all because they just walk around eating grass.

Of course, it's not all about calories. It's also about micro-nutrients, living close to the land, raising our kids, etc. It's just that we're still highly dependent on much largee farms to stay fed. I don't think it's appropriate to live close to the land just for the enjoyment of it, it has to also be for sustenance, or else one is just exporting your food production elsewhere.

These calculations are motivation for me to focus more on vegetable production this year. We've made the beds, prepared the soil, and this winter it'll hopefully be time to focus on planting veggies. The garden beds have also benefitted from our first round of humanure.

Next month, we're holding the first market day of a Good Food Club (basically a once a month co-op) we've started here in the Deep South. It wasn't our idea: we've been part of another group over the mountain for a few years. But we agreed to start one on this side of the mountain because of the election of he-who-shall-not-be-named, as a way of building bridges rather than walls. Bridges between different people in our community, and more direct lines between farmers and customers, supporting small farmers. It felt right for us, especially during this time when we're not producing very much of our own food. Lets hope it's a good move for our community and for us-- Please pray with us that it goes well.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December updates: Tenth anniversary, Christmas, cherries, yet more animals...

Eug and I celebrated our tenth anniversary this month. We didn't exactly do anything to celebrate, but neither of us minded. When we were just married a year or two it mattered a lot to me that we celebrated in some kind of fancy way, but now there are a million daily actions, and the memories of so many more, built up over the years, as reminders of grace.

We visited a cherry farm a couple of hours' drive away for a couple of days at the beginning of December. It was an experiment to remind us that travel right now is an awful business. We went to Butterfly World on the way there, and to Eagle Encounters on the way back. In between Hana screaming. The boys really loved both places. Of course, the real reason I ever want to drive anywhere north is to stop by Tulbagh nursery. It's totally not the right time to be planting but I heard bananas were R25 ($1.75) at the moment, and who can resist the lure of growing more bananas. Certainly not I. The boys hate it when we drive into the nursery parking lot, because they know there are likely going to be trees around their ears when we drive out. Oh well. I'm already planning our April purchases, this time with a more empty car...

Noah saw an old leaking canoe and wanted to try it out... by himself. I was scared but Noah can swim, and we were nearby, so it felt like an opportunity for him. After finding himself in the middle of the pond, he was briefly scared then managed to navigate back to shore. The next couple of days he spent hours paddling.
returning safely to shore. Eli really liked pulling the boat back to shore, but didn't want to go in the canoe- he knows his own limits pretty well.
getting a ride.

Picking cherries. Our climate is not cold enough for cherries, so going to pick elsewhere is part of my cherry master plan. We picked enough for quite a bit of jam and a lot of eating.
yet another pet snail.
On the way home from Ceres, we stopped by Spier, which hosts Eagle Encounters. Eagle Encounters was perfect for the kids. During tourist season, I think it would usually be too overwhelming for them, but we just missed the tour group, which meant we got amazing one-on-one attention and learned about all their rescue animals. This is a bearded lizard, Eli's favourite.

Noah and a python.  

The boys take a drama class at one of our neighbours', and this month there was an end of year celebration. Wow, it was overwhelming. SO MANY CHILDREN. But they got medals.

Coffee first fruits. Our first harvest is enough for about 1 cup of coffee... so we're a ways away from self-sufficiency. 

We caught this very sweet wild rabbit to get it sterilized and out of our annual vegetable garden. We now have 2 small rescue bunnies who sleep in our house and spend the day outside. 
One of ducks emerged from sitting on eggs (unsuccessfully) completely covered in fleas. Apparently fleas attack when ducks are sitting. These spread to our chickens. Noah has been completely committed when it comes to screening and removing fleas with tweezers and dusting the animals with diatomaceous earth (DE). DE actually works, which I find amazing. It seems to also have worked with a major aphid infestation on one of our citrus trees.

Everyone (every single animal we own) likes to eat banana leaves. In other news, our first set of young ducks are ready for eating in January.

Our lovely neighbours suggested that we join them in the evening at our nearby beach (just near Kommetjie lighthouse) for some stand-up paddleboarding. Their 10yo helped take the boys around the bay. Noah got to paddle around by himself a bit, too.

My dad and I tried to help a lady remove a swarm of bees. It was tough going: a huge swarm in a network of ivy...

cutting away the swarm... Can you find the queen? We couldn't.

In the end we removed the swarm but couldn't attract it to our box so the bulk of the swarm moved on. Disaster, but good bee experience...
Our version of homeschool. Ha! Just kidding. This is the one hour of the month when the legos were put away and Eli was not threatening Hana with violence. It is not representative but it's beautiful so I'm just going to look at it and remain hopeful. If you're in this place alongside me, ask someone to send you some 3 D dinosaurs. They'll do the trick.

We harvested our first honey from our own hive this month-- 5 frames...

Christmas binoculars
Adopted a new guinea pig: Perry. Perry's friend at her old house died so she came to join us.  Little One and Golden love her-- she's a little bigger than they are.

Christmas swimming

And the duck will live with the guinea pig... (sortof, Fluffy tries to peck but Little One is way too fast).

Little one (left) thinks the new enclosure is more of a guideline. She can fit through the mesh and spends much of the day running around-- but she goes back by herself and so far no snakes have decided to eat her.
We kept our water use under the 6kL free municipal water mark for the first very hot billing cycle of summer (mid Nov-mid Dec). This is testament to having a low-pressure solar geyser and a bucket/composting toilet. We irrigated over 70 trees and shrubs, and kept 25 ducks, 9 chickens, 3 guinea pigs, 2 rabbits, and five humans in water with the same amount of water that our household previously used for just flushing a toilet. Our greywater watered an additional 10 trees and a couple of rows of sugar cane. We'll pay for some water the next three cycles, and there's still a lot of work to be done to make better use of our rainwater. Our trees are largely a ways away from bearing significant amounts of fruit, but next year we should start to see more fruit.

We've been at the farm for a bit over one year (it should be noted we have 3 small kids so your progress could likely be much faster) and our eggs and meat needs are now covered by the farm, as well as our honey/sweetener needs (though I think I'll still use sugar for jam for one more year). Although we had some unirrigated tomatoes and we're eating moringa, we didn't make heavy use of the hugelkultur beds yet, because of the drought. Of course, meat, eggs and honey are not really primary dietary needs, and we'll grapple with how the kids deal with the first round of ducks for eating in January. Although everyone says that kids under 10 intuitively understand the process, we don't eat much meat so I'm not sure Noah sees the need for it. We will figure it out together-- I am certainly a little conflicted about processing the ducks, which doesn't help. We have a five year plan for some staple crops, some olive oil, and all dairy, vegetables, nuts, and fruit to come from the farm, but our diet-- particularly our use of staples like rice, wheat flour and oats-- will have to change quite a bit before we're eating most of our calories off the farm. It's slow going, and we have to have a lot of margin-- space for mistakes not to completely derail us-- but it also gets a lot easier as time passes.

And today I'm picking up a trial quail from a neighbour (an extra male that was getting fighty) to see if our duckling enclosure could also hold some quail. Ok, the male is kindof bait to see if he'll escape and get eaten, or something will come in and find him tasty. Hopefully he'll make it and we can add 6 or 8 females in there. Quail and goats have been my longtime dream, so this is the beginning of a dream come true, so watch this space... quail central here we come.