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.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016

What a month it has been, huh?

I think homesteading can get insular and isolated instead of expansive and connecting, but the point of what we're doing is not to have outrageously tasty or healthy food (I have the tastebuds and culinary discretion of a rock), but to find ways towards justice that start in the home, and even with my appetite-- my appetite for leisure and what constitutes a good life, and also my appetite for actual food. I dream about finding ways to go about our daily life that seem abundant rather than impoverishing or austere, yet are not dependent on vast supplies of money or natural resources. There are many problems with the world, of course, and our job is not to fix all of them, but it does seem important right now not to be complacent. Which is to say, homesteading is not some kind of advanced lifestyle design for us. I don't think it really makes us happier. It is not inherently easier, or even more satisfying, than focusing on other stuff. I still think it is quite an important way forward for people in our privileged (ie pretty rich) demographic. Sometimes it feels like we work towards equality just enough to stay super privileged, which annoys me no end because then we (to be clear, here I'm talking about me, not you) get to feel self-righteous AND privileged.

I read somewhere vaguely reputable that people tend to be kinder and less prejudiced in abundant communities, and that's been an important insight for me. When there's scarcity of resources (or perceived scarcity), we become more racist and more violent. This is not to give prejudice a free pass, but to say that my need for a fancy computer is not completely separate from someone's experience of violence in the township next to me. When I was 16, attending an international school, I learned deeply that we were all the same-- princes and refugee kids-- and that belief has stayed with me. Still, when I'm in settings with people who are different from me, now, it's harder to be innocent and open. So I'm trying to get back to open and humble when faced with really different perspectives on the world.

This month, we got a tiny rabbit, a baby guinea pig, and had a new set of ducks. 3 of our ducklings were killed by a ghenet-- horribly, 1 from a hole in the head, and two, seemingly from sheer fright. We have to balance the ducklings' freedom to roam with trying to protect the ducks from predation. At around 8 weeks, they're free ranging most of the day, and shut away at dusk and dawn, when it seems the predation is the worst. Losing ducklings creates a bit of a tension. It bothers me when we lose ducks. At the same time I feel more concretely that these ducks would be eaten by predators if not by us-- what we are engaged in is inherently different from nature, even as we try to give the ducks "natural" "free-ranging" abundant life. Still, when we hone in on our food needs-- on the calories best provided by animals given the constraints of time, money, land-- eating ducks makes sense. It makes sense differently over time. That is, as our farm provides more calories and I have more time to focus on growing vegetables, and the fruit and nut trees begin to bear, we may look at the few thousand calories provided by ducks every month as less justifiable (or we may be more comfortable with the process by then). I don't know.

Drip Irrigation

We are in Level 3 water restrictions this year. We're in year 2 of a pretty bad drought. It's very serious, and no use of hoses is allowed. So we were faced with difficult choices about our trees. I've invested a lot of time and energy into planting trees, and though we've lost a couple to mole rats, in general this is the year where the trees could really grow and get established.

Our overall water use is not very high, but the labour required to keep the trees watered this year was getting too much for me... add to that the water restrictions and it was time to prioritize drip irrigation. I've been hesitant about drip irrigation... scared about the unknown I guess. But when Eug said it was time, I went to the agricultural supply store in Phillippi (where many of our Cape Town vegetables come from) and got 100m of irrigation pipe, and then 100m more, plus 140m of narrow pipes to feed the individual trees. It has been a big job, but not as expensive as I'd expect (100m of pipe costs about R290, or $21), and the whole job came in under R1000. As with everything, it was a lot of work. I really hope it's worth it.

In permaculture a lot of people seem to be all about water harvesting and mulching, and my experience so far is that mulching is wonderful, and water harvesting can be helpful (ditches and contour and that) but in a dry climate, having a plan to help trees to get some sort of growth is critical, as they're pretty vulnerable when they're little. The port jackson is great as a wind break, but still, water is much more important than I initially thought. So if you're starting out in a climate like ours, think carefully about water! Even if some trees can survive, fruit trees are a lot of effort and cost to plant and hope that a few are tough enough to survive.

They don't get to go in the reservoir very often, but love it when they do!!

pet snail. very loved until Eli slipped it into my bag for me to carry, and i later reached in, snd... crunch...

Rescue bunny-- we got a rescue bunny from drama class. 

Each evening 2 lucky ducklings get to go on the hunt in our house. We tried bringing in all ten but then it was just a mess of poop and ducklings. So we've settled on 2. Ducklings are really good at catching flies. As they get bigger they get a bit slower, and gradually lazier...

Noah learned to ride like a pro this month, with his new-to-him bike

A rain spider tried to get into our house. Huge but not venomous.

a visit to the wonderful shark museum in Kalk Bay included a stop for ice cream. We got a personalised tour, so I felt too self-conscious to take pictures inside. Although it is just a converted house, the attention the kids received from a shark conservationist was remarkable and valued. And it's free and open to the public from 2-4pm.
The kids have done a couple of pottery lessons with a local teacher in Faerie Knowe. 

Noah has gotten really great at lighting fires...

Ducklings are on the move, and have grown really large. Not large enough to eat, but getting there.

This is the new strategy for helping young plants survive the ducks and moles. This is a dragonfruit...

Made a cuddle swing by tying some stretchy fabric around a table. The kids (well, the boys) haven't been doing great emotionally, so we're trying to help them and not go crazy ourselves. That's the short version.

9 brand new baby ducks at a few hours old... So far our new strategy for keeping the ducks alive is working, and all nine are still alive two weeks later. We have two enclosures-- one small A-frame enclosure for newborn ducklings and their mom; then a much larger enclosure for slightly older ducklings. Basically ducklings stay in there until they are forced out by a new round of babies. We are trying to have hatchlings every month or so, allowing us to sell the females and eat about one male duck every week. From a trying-to-break-even perspective, this approach ends up making our meat calories "free". If you don't count the costs of our own labor, or building cages and such... so not really free but maybe affordable after a year or two.

The boys love the Imhoff Snake Park. I find it a little expensive, but I guess it's pretty expensive to keep so many snakes alive...Here's a mole snake. I like knowing kinds of snakes a lot better than a year ago, thanks to Noah. I feel confident that if we meet a venomous snake on the property (there are just 3 kinds) I'll recognize it and be able to stay calm. Last time I met a huge mole snake (non-venomous, but very very large) I yelped and ran screaming away.

By the end of the month, fuzzy the bunny was much bigger and it was time for a new meet and greet (we're removing the baby rabbit soon-- rabbits and guinea pigs can't live together safely long term)

Here's who joined us yesterday: Little One. The thing that helps the kids calm down the most is watching guinea pig videos: people training guinea pigs, giving guinea pigs treats, grooming them, and so on. I'm so happy that Golden has a friend again.

Friday, October 28, 2016

October: Family visit, duck and guinea pig deaths, theft, a birthday and our tortoise returns

Eug's mom and brother were visiting for October, so we were poised to show them how awesome homesteading is. Except.

The university protests got more intense, and university more or less closed for the year (I'm still working). Totally unrelatedly, some crows started picking off our ducklings, one by one. We went from 17 to 13 ducklings in about 24 hours, at which time we realised what was happening and put away all the ducklings (8 in our house, 5 with their mom in a small chicken coop). Eug had to quickly build a greenhouse especially for ducklings. There are thirteen ducklings sleeping in our bathroom as I write this. Then one of our guinea pigs died. Our other guinea pig is lonely, and we found ourselves on the lookout for a female friend for her.

We also had to give up on 17 unhatched eggs that a duck has been sitting on for over 40 days (muscovies sit for 33-35 days). The mother duck was sad and furious, and we were sad with her-- it seems the eggs got too hot and all stopped developing at around day 28-- so close. Duck raising business can be hard, not only because of the economics of it (2 months of food for mama duck!). Because the ducks seem to have real, intense mothering instincts and so we share their pain in some small way. We had to take the eggs away, because the mother was getting weak and we knew that it was too late for the eggs to hatch. The sorrow of some ducks can seem beside the point when universities are falling apart, when politicians are leaning towards fear and control... but to me ducks are not a distraction. Farming speaks to universals; what we're doing doesn't have all the answers, but trying to provide our own food somehow occupies us, and seems to provide us with new windows into our world.

In the middle of the month, we also had someone/some people come onto our property in the night (They were trying to get into our house, also) and steal a bunch of stuff from our verandah and car-- Eug's cell phone, my hat, Eug and my shoes, our fancy U.S.-metal-containers-and-bottles-from-when-I-had-more-energy-to-avoid-plastic, our ladder, our electrical extension cords, our hammer, our wire cutters. Enough stuff to add up to more than we feel comfortable running to a shop to replace. Which seems totally stupid, especially if you're reading this from the U.S., where between thrift stores and Amazon you could replace the stolen stuff pretty cheaply. The police kept promising to come but nobody ever did. It was the relatively precious stuff we use every day, which is why it was easily accessible I suppose. If we add all the stuff we've had stolen in the past 5 years, it ends up amounting to about one year of our regular expenses. Which somehow does (since I'm writing about it at length) and doesn't matter, because we have all needs met and a whole lot of luxuries. Anyway, we've bought a simple motion sensor alarm -- walking the line between being overly fearful and being responsible parents to our kids. And once we have some more fencing set up, we're going to get a couple of ferocious.... geese. I'm the South African, so a lot of times I feel responsible for our family being safe here, and guilty when I can't make that happen.

Oddly, at these kinds of junctures, I like to imagine I'm in one of these missionary autobiographies, where the barefoot doctor was almost running out of food or something equally terrible was happening, and then things turned around through prayer. I'm not that kind of prayerful person just yet, and some of those stories seem a little monochromatic and colonial now. Still, these were (surprisingly) stories of extraordinarily strong women, and what I get from memories of these stories was the possibility of being someone who doesn't freak out about stuff, and who can see a bigger picture. There's something supernaturally powerful to remaining hopeful and excited when there are opportunities for cynicism and anger to creep in-- something captured in the joyful, intentional naïveté of those old missionaries.

So here's to the hopeful growth this Spring, and to gratitude for another good month:
New duckling enclosure, to protect them from crows. A bit annoying because they're not learning to forage properly, but better than being eaten by crows...
Some of the almost-fully developed ducklings (skip the next picture if you're squeamish...-- Noah and I went through a couple of the eggs to make sure there was really no hope (and for Noah to have a sense of the process of growth and development), before taking them all away from their mama.
The angulate tortoise spends 5 minutes on our verandah before returning to the farm. We cross paths a couple of times a year-- I think the tortoise likes it that way. (well, ok, he'd probably be happy if we never crossed paths at all...)
Tortoise got royal treatment before being sent out for another year on the farm.
We decided to buy a sunstove (a solar oven)-- the one I made with the kids last year was fairly useless. This one came from a non-profit interested in giving durable, simple cooking solutions. It gets pretty hot! So far I made terrible bread and a lot of slow-cooked scraps for our ducks and chickens. Watch this space-- it'll get better once we learn how to integrate it into our daily lives.
Noah was able to cross the monkey bars for the first time this month. As some of you know, transitions can be tough for him and so we celebrated him coping with the change of schedule and lifestyle that came with the family visit.
Cold rainy day means ducklings drying off and pooping in the bath... Don't say anything about the condition of the bath.
The boys are all about snakes, all the time. Can you spot us? The teacher is not just texting-- she's playing the noise a puff adder makes to warn you. Terrifying but helpful.

Young chameleon!
Pregnant chameleon-- learned that Cape Dwarf Chameleons keep the eggs inside them until they're ready to hatch.  I'm really hoping to see tiny chameleons with the kids. Chameleons are one of many reasons I hope our neighbourhood stays a bit overgrown and wild-- chameleons can't survive crossing areas that are heavily manicured, and certainly can't cross roads. (that may be a passive aggressive reference to our being passively aggressively asked to clean up our weeds... hehe)
Hana considers her options at Camps Bay tidal pool.
Infinite rides on the wheelbarrow
Don't try to tell Hana you're tired of giving wheelbarrow rides...
Lonely guinea pig seeks friend. In the meantime gets a lot of love from Eli.
camps bay... 
The first year where we can let the boys swim alone...sortof.  
swinging high.
Onwards and upwards!