Friday, May 15, 2015

Tiny incremental progress, in pictures


We're in a state of limbo, but life continues and we adjust to new ways of doing things. We have the use of my parents' car, which has been more or less indispensable in this time in the suburbs. We use it to run errands for the farm, for me to get to campus, to visit friends. You know, normal stuff. The kids keep growing and learning new stuff (most recently, Eli has taken to calling everyone "penis". It's awkward). 

In a state of limbo it's sometimes hard to commit to things outside ourselves, things that seem difficult, that relate to justice or sustainability or anything beyond the next week or two. So we try to double down on the tangible bits-- the cooking, bits of work, the caring for kids-- of the next week or two, tiny increments of progress, but mostly just regular life. 

I found an old rusted cast iron tub on gumtree, and Eug de-rusted re-enameled it into a really beautiful tub. Then Eli insisted on bathing outside. So we have a bath tub for our house, if not an actual house.
The latest picture of our house. We're still waiting on council approval to begin to build. The trees on the right of the picture are our neighbours', and this picture faces north (the orientation of our house will also be north, which makes the most sense here in the southern hemisphere). The foundation has gradually been leveled and prepared, and we're still putting a tree or shrub in the ground every weekend.

Noah had a two-day birthday celebration. On day 1, we went to Kirstenbosch with our friend Caitlin, her son Sebu, and my sister. This is their beautiful forest canopy walk, with Noah running ahead.


Kirstenbosch is a beautiful, huge garden and forest at the base of Table Mountain. But basically, the kids wanted to come to climb this tree: an old wild almond, and the perfect climbing tree.
The second part of Noah's birthday celebration involved the Clay Room in Hout Bay, where you get to paint pottery which is then fired up. It's a wonderful place- the outdoor net is just a bonus. Can you spot the kids in this picture? 
Tree-climbing...  


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Beginner Farming

One pretty cool thing about moving out of Observatory is that, in the moving process we bought a refurbished 6m shipping container. It's now on the plot. With all our stuff inside. So if someone wanted to, I guess they could just take it all. Hopefully not. A truck with this little crane dropped the container off about 15m into the plot, then the truck promptly got stuck in the sand. They used their crane to dig into the ground and free the wheels as they reversed, leaving holes about 1m deep in the sand. We're hoping to convert the container into a guest cottage in the next couple of years, as we come across materials and time.

This past summer we didn't have a water source, so planting trees was more of an experiment than anything else. There was a lot of manual labour involved- mostly my dad and I lugging water around in bottles, digging holes through very stony, sandy soil, and bringing bags of leaves from wherever we could find them, to provide mulch.

This is what's on the plot right now:

3 lemon trees
1 tiny apricot seedling, which somehow survived a summer without water- these seedlings are surprisingly hardy!)
lots of moringa trees
7 acacia trees, for nitrogen fixing and security (various South African acacias, not Australian wattle, though we have a lot of that, too, because it is so prolific on degraded soil!)
1 peach tree
1 pomegranate tree
24 pineapples
some little sweet potato vines, trying to get started
6 grape vines
4 avocado seedlings
1 mango seedling
1 macadamia nut tree
1 granadilla vine.

The great news is that most of our trees survived the summer though they didn't grow much, they got acclimated to the plot. We're desperately need to get a borehole/wellpoint in place to provide a source of water in the months where there is no rain. Our long-term goal is to channel winter rainwater as well as our household greywater through mulch-filled ditches, so that we don't need to water the trees at all. But it will take several years for the trees to get well established (and for us to dig ditches by hand!), and if we don't irrigate in summer in the meantime, we're in danger of losing a lot of trees. So we'll use a wellpoint after the rain ends (September October), then dig trenches to allow water to flow around trees and encourage root spread.

We keep on finding more interesting and beautiful things on the plot. By no attentiveness of our own, and with no irrigation and a super hot dry summer, one of our olive trees bore plenty of olives this year. A friend brought over an oil press we ordered on Amazon (thank you Mardi! Thank you Amazon!), so we'll be ready to try our hand at olive oil... next year. This year, we'll let the birds enjoy them. With any luck (mulching, irrigating, adding vermicompost), I think we can get at least one of the other olive trees to fruit next year. We also found 6 eggs, which we had for breakfast. Next time we'll try incubating them instead. Pretty sure they were hens eggs. Most of our neighbours have chickens, and our plot has been vacant for long enough that random chickens and guinea fowl think they own the place.

In other news, we've realised we will need a car on the farm, ultimately to be shared with my parents when they move onto the farm with us. I remember Wendell Berry once wrote he could not get around the need for a car if one lives in a rural area, and at the time I thought we could find a way (the Amish certainly do, after all) but as we're figuring this out and trying for community, it feels like we'll need to use a car.

So there's are the hopes and dreams related to living on a farm, then there's figuring out the day-to-day. I don't really know what the day looks like yet, but if it's anything like the past couple of months, there's a lot of labour involved. Which is quite ok for Eug and I. What is challenging for me is how slowly things grow. I want to see massive change overnight, but really we're just seeing small, incremental changes to the plot. It's slow work. As winter approaches, things will grow even more slowly, but there will be more water, so who knows... we may see unexpected growth spurts.

We also have many trees and shrubs ready to go into the soil, and whenever we visit the plot we add a few more. The main difficulty this year has been waiting for rain. The rain came very late this year- last week. So we're ready to scavenge leaves for mulch and get trees in. Basically, getting ready for spring before winter has really started...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scheduled Unschooling

The kids love our plot at the moment- we now have a closed container with all our stuff, but building still hasn't begun...
The last couple of months I've written about what we're doing for school. This month our main goal was to give our kids (and us) a sense of security and rhythm. As we move (twice), we wanted the kids to know what to expect each day... or something.. so that while the environment changes, their basic day stays pretty predictable. Despite lots of changes, the kids are resilient and seem to be thriving.

With times to cook, times to clean, the tasks of the day don't take forever but they're in there. Basically, the schedule has time for the kids to play by themselves (at times when they're most likely to do so), for reading with one of us (and learning to read, speech therapy), for running around somewhere, and for the harder stuff: more complicated crafts, science experiments, cooking together etc- in there, but staggered so we don't have a whole day of high-attention stuff. It doesn't take much to make the day a success. Peace pretty much does it.

The first two meals of the day have also become entirely predicable and safe (oatmeal, yoghurt, toast, fruit, familiar raw vegetables), and this seems to be something that the kids have responded to positively. Dinner varies, but we seem to have finally got the timing down so that when we sit down to dinner (at, like, 4pm), the kids are hungry. Sortof.

making newspaper logs for winter- basically soaking and wacking newspaper into pulp, then rolling them. 


 We had tried "How to teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons" with Noah earlier in the year, and he responded positively only for as long as it felt like "special time" with me. Then he didn't want to do it anymore, and so we stopped after about 10 lessons, thinking we'd pick it up another time, when Noah was a bit older. In the meantime, we've tried "learn to read" and Noah has responded with a lot of excitement. In another unexpected strewing success, he's carrying the Eyewitness guide "My First Book of Time", which has a clock at the back, and is trying to figure out the time of day. He's also carrying a calendar around. So I guess interest led learning feels like a win when we're ticking off boxes like these, that are probably on some kind of curriculum somewhere, but actually he was learning all kinds of things all along.

With autumn, Noah is still swimming when we find ourselves near a sunny pool, but it's not really swimming time anymore. So we had this other goal for the year: Teach Noah (and Eli) to ride a bike. Which started when we took a family trip to a farm cottage out in Tulbagh for a couple of days. We haven't been on such a trip since... well, for a long time... and I wondered if families went on holiday just so that they could all fall in love again when their kids were in a stressless vacuum. That's what it felt like.


At the farm, the kids could run beyond our sights, Noah on the balance bike, Eli with a borrowed trailer. They found plenty of guava and quince on the ground nearby, and we fed ourselves pretty well. I um "rescued" the last 4 ripe pomegranates of the season from certain consumption by birds. So despite only having brought a bag of apples with us for fruit, we ended up feasting on lots of fruit, and returning with enough quince to cook for ages. It seemed that even though guava and quince had been planted, nobody was eating the fruit, as it was just on the floor, being converted into compost. Here's to good foraging.
good food on the road...

waking up early for lamb feeding time...

dry but beautiful

Noah's collection of treasures from the farm... Yes that's a sheep skull...

porcupine quills and guavas.

birthday train...
dragon or puppy...



more birthday celebration...

dominoes!