Saturday, October 1, 2016

September: Coffee, Ducky Duck, froglings, snakes, and working on the house

Eug's mom and brother are visiting for a month, so I expect the October update will be full of all kinds of adventures. Hopefully we'll make them feel comfortable on our farm (as compared to a high rise apartment in Seoul). For now... here are some things we were up to in September.

This month I managed to find coffee plants for the first time in Cape Town. I've gotten green beans to germinate, but they never survived. We need 15-20 mature, happy, plants to be self-sufficient in coffee, so we'll not get there any time soon. Still, it's a fun experiment. Until we have a greenhouse (shadecloth, not glass, given our climate), we're limited by what will fit in our house. So far thats 2 small Arabica trees, and one Robusta. Robusta are probably better suited to our climate, but Arabica is supposedly a lot tastier. So maybe we'll do a mix of the two. The Robusta plants are also a lot cheaper...My faithful neighbourhood nursery has 1m trees for just R30 ($2) whereas the Arabicas, at another nursery, cost R90 each for much tinier plants ($6). I'm hoping to have 8 trees by the end of the year, but don't tell Eug that I'm planning to turn our tiny house into a coffee forest.

This month we had a lot of baby frogs in our reservoir, as well as lots of new growth and .... ducklings! I'm so excited about the ducklings-- just watching them run around is quite addictive (for Hana also), though it's clear we have a lot of learning to do: 

So, onto our ducklings...
Our first batch of ducklings included eight that the mother kept, as well as one egg that she abandoned. Mommy duck just brought the egg out from her nest and dumped it near our house, where we witnessed it hatching about 36 hours before all the others. The abandoned duckling immediately imprinted on us and became a full time job, with a tiny duck following us everywhere. This is an important moment to note that we don't have dogs or cats because we're not really sure we can handle the responsibility. Eli said "you and daddy can take care of Hana, Noah and me will take care of Ducky." Eug tried various things to get our duckling adopted by another adult duck, but no luck, the duckling was certain it is human. Eug drew the line when it desperately wanted to sleep on our pillow, nuzzled into my neck. The good news was that it ate a fair number of the flies in the kitchen/living room. [What we learned: we need to make a brooder so that if we have abandoned ducks, we have somewhere to put them straightaway.]

And then when I was out with the kids and Eug was working outside with Ducky with him, the mother came and throttled the duckling. Enough to really injure her, though we were hopeful and kept her close and held her a lot. She died in the night in Noah's bed, at just one week old. There was this clear moment when s/he crossed from farm animal to something else. It was somewhere between catching flies for her and her taking baths with the kids and squeaking if she couldn't see one of us. Then she was gone and it was weird because she was just a little one-week-old duckling, whose brothers and sisters we're still planning on eating (that's a contradiction for another day). And we are really, really sad. Noah especially. He wanted her to come back, and I wanted to tell him that it would be ok, but death is not like that. All that seemed to be left was an opportunity to be changed by that week of life and by the strange ways that family grows and is shaped unexpectedly. 

Our second batch of eggs included 10 babies that hatched, plus 3 unhatched eggs. There was some confusion on the part of the ducklings about where they belonged, which almost led to some duckling murders by first-time-mothers who didn't want to end up with ducklings that weren't theirs. For now, it seems ok. We hope.

The third batch included 17 eggs! They'll hatch out in a couple of weeks. We are ultimately going to eat these ducks as our primary source of meat, fully aware of the gravity and pain of doing so, and also fairly convicted that its appropriate. It's definitely easier to buy meat at the shops!

Protests for free education
In other news: Like last year, there are student protests (joined by some faculty) at UCT over fees and the call for free education. Like last year, I did not physically join in as I do not know how or when. For what it's worth, I stand beside the protestors in spirit and agree that there are many kinds of violence; that it is violence to be born poor in South Africa, and that there is absolutely nothing romantic or simple about it. And yet. Possibility and potential shouldn't be defined or reliant on government decisions, by state education. It is and so I stand beside the protestors in spirit, even as I wonder how to restore the centrality of farming...and generally learning to take care of a lot of menial tasks ourselves... convinced that rural life is legitimate and potentially wonderful.  

We've lived on our smallholding a year now and we're not doing a good job yet of sharing with others. Mainly, living next to a township is overwhelming-- in a way that it may not be for someone who isn't from this country-- where my privilege seems to swell directly from the experiences of my neighbours. Farming is really hard, and it would be a whole lot harder if we were depending on it for our livelihood. But it's also a way of gradually opting out of a lot of exploitative industries, and embracing the fact that life is always hard, always hard work, (perhaps always complicated). The bit that changes is the nature of the hard work. I don't have a good plan except to try to give away more, and to figure out how to do well with less, and pray/be open for insights and ideas as the days go by. 

Here are some pictures from the month!

Firstly, a memory of a duck who thought he was human:

Ducky ducks favourite place to sit. (You can also see the seating that Eug built this month, also in preparation for visitors from Korea)

homeschooling with guinea pig in drawer.

snake attacks bug.
tiny tadpole-frog
praying mantis lays eggs in car seat... mmmm....
Eug and Hana prep bathroom for his family visiting from Korea
Eggeater snake stealing eggs. You should see how big its mouth has to get to swallow one.
8 baby ducks having their first swim. The black one on the right was drowned by another female yesterday (also at one week of age), so now we're keeping the ducklings with their mom in a small A frame coop.
Mommy duck. Instincts are horrible and awesome.
Random stuff:
If you want to read about food, check out the weekly roundup of the Society of Food Anthropology, where I alternate with David Beriss on sharing food stories from around the web.

Lastly, if you're in South Africa and want to save seeds, check out this seed savers activist guide! Write to me if you live nearby and would like to save and exchange seeds!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Homeschool (with a 6 year old, 4 year old, and 11 month old).

Ok, so first of all, lets be honest. I'm only posting this because I've accumulated some photos, and I'm finally feeling like I'm doing more stuff with the kids. That's insecurity speaking. Nevertheless, I've been enjoying hanging out with the kids and feeling a bit less frantic. I'm afraid to sound too confident, lest we be launched into the trenches again. 

There's a few useful tools that are helping us do well at home at the moment. First, the library. We get 20 books every Monday: picture books, chapter books, 3 or 4 encyclopedia like books about topics that Noah and Eli are into. The boys do not read, though we have dabbled in teaching them it felt forced, so we just continue to read to them a lot, so long as Hana doesn't start ripping up books.... As far as younger children ripping up books: I've tried the decoy book strategy, where I get old books that were picked up free from somewhere... you know those books that are either racist, about 1990 computers, written in German. Those ones. She sometimes obliges, but often it's all about getting attention, and her lack thereof.

The animals and the farm form a part of our learning. We watch them and cuddle them and care for them quite a bit. Hopefully next week our first set of ducklings will be born. I hope so!

Then, Eug has been doing various things that the boys love: including a story game with complicated characters that have evolved over a year, X-Wing (a table-top game), and electronics. They look forward to Hana's naps when they can do stuff like this.

We've also been using a Spielgaben set quite a bit, which we got a little under a year ago. It's meant for toddlers through middle school, and the boys are getting to an age where they really enjoy doing a couple of lessons a day. I generally am not drawn in by toys that claim to make your kids smarter, but I guess we got pulled into this one. I like it because it's open ended, but there are also a ton of lessons-- enough that I can always find one that the boys would really enjoy, based on whatever they're interested in. My weakness is that I don't really let the kids continue to play with stuff over multiple days. There's not a lot of free play, because when I tried free play there were tiny pieces everywhere and I found it very, very hard not to freak out. We clean up every night, and right now my sanity is the main reason. I think the time will come when I'll be a lot more flexible, and the kids will be able to follow their interests over many days. 

And of course, the mainstays: LaQ blocks, legos, and train tracks...

Dude traced Africa for Eli.

A case for goats...

Hana learns that baby rabbits are extremely fluffy.

Friday, September 2, 2016

August: Ducks on eggs, lots of toads, legos and bees

I don't know how it came to be the end of August, but it is so here's me writing to tell you (tell myself) how it's been. 

At the beginning of August, my dad came over to check if our hive was full of honey yet. It wasn't, but it was still fun to know where we are at, and that in a while we will have honey. I'm very much hoping this spring/summer we can get our second and third hives set up and stable. In related news, the municipality (City of Cape Town) has been spending August spraying Roundup in our area, on verges and public spaces, which is a herbicide that seems to affect the foraging behaviour of bees (and definitely affects what they can forage, as one of the main sources of nectar at the moment is wood sorrel. Though I try not to be too alarmist, using a poison in order to make things look neat is counterproductive at best.  Our ward councillor has taken up the case. 

 Hana will be eleven months old in September, so we're heading out of the drowning that is the first year, and into the (hopefully) treading water that is the second. This winter there was a lot of  lego...

Noah at the clay cafe. He broke his bowl over a year ago, so it was awesome that he was able to paint a new one!

Naughty chicken. Our chickens are constantly trying to figure out get food from us. We must be easy foraging.

Baby girl started walking.

Electronics: proof that we're actually doing stuff with the boys, occasionally.

Our reservoir is more than half full. We don't really have a plan at this point, but we have a lot of toads and tadpoles, which we catch and release multiple times a day (to no apparent ill effect).

Some of our ducks are sitting on eggs (others, we suspect, will be sitting soon). They hide their eggs rather craftily-- one is sitting well under the container and has completely concealed their nest.

Big time climber
Noah's first fully independent baking attempt, macaroons.
In a dark twist, we've been collecting masses of snails from around and about for chicken/duck snacks. Enough to reduce our feed costs.