More Maize December 2016
  A lot of hard work weeding and digging furrows manually and our second section of ground was ready for planting more mealies.

We've already learned a lot from last year's mistakes. Last year we just planted on flat ground. Watering was not very efficient as we lost lots of water due to runoff and evaporation. This year
  we planted the seeds in furrows so that we only need to water the furrows. A lot more efficient in water usage and the plants seem to be doing much better, although it is a bit difficult to measure as this season we've had much better rainfall as well.

We also planted a field of sunflowers next to the mealie field. Lost two trays of seeds to the birds when we left them out to soak in water in the sun to get germination going quicker. Third time we put a net over the trays to protect them and as soon as the shells softened and started opening up we planted them into the ground.


      A little flock of Guinea Fowl in the new fruit tree orchard.
      Just got to make sure they don't get into mealie and
      sunflower fields until the plants are a bit bigger.
 
Nice deep furrows in new section of the mealie plantation, old section in the background doing well

  Cutting the Tortoise Enclosure Grass
  The grass is now growing vigorously and we were starting to have difficulty finding the tortoises in their enclosure - yep, they have to be found and brought to the feeding area for breakfast! So one morning Martie got her weedeater going and I watched over the tortoises while she cut the
 
grass in the enclosure area.

And did those tortoises give me a hard time! They're so inquisitive, wanting to continually get to Martie to see what was making all that noise. Or maybe it was the smell of the freshly cut grass?

And don't ever believe that tortoises are slow! With six of them now, they had me running around in circles a few times to keep them out of her way.


  Annual Visit to Che's Apricot Orchard
  Martie wanted to make some apricot jam so we took a drive over to Che's farm to pick some apricots. But looks like we were about a week too late!
 
Tranquil scene with gorge running down to dam in the foreground and the apricot orchard trees behind it
  All the apricots had either been picked or eaten by someone or something. A few birds were still pecking at the remaining overripe ones high on the tops of the trees and the ground squirrels were collecting all the apricot pips that were laying around on the ground for their winter larder.

Nothing for it but to sit for a while and take in the tranquility of the valley watching the cute little ground squirrel community at work in and out of their now extensive burrow system around the apricot trees.


  Grass, Grass and More Grass
  With a cool afternoon before one of our now regular evening thundershowers I took the opportunity to make a big dent in the grass cutting task. The grass is growing faster than what we can cope with at this point with the area in front of the garage block and the new orchard area that I cut mid-last month again almost as long as they were before I cut them!
 
Just below the big crop area joining on to the new orchard in front of the growing tunnels
 
Area above the pumphouse looking neat      

As we're doing so much work on the large crop side of the farm I decided to start off there and in one late afternoon cut the whole section from our "path" from the garage block up to the pumphouse across to Kallie's fence, and all around the large crop area.

Next day it was so nice being able to walk up to the pumphouse and even all the way up to the log fence in the mowed area without being contantly tripped up by the long grass. Next job: gathering it all up to add to our already big heap.

 
From the top log fence all the way down to the pumphouse. Long uncut grass in the background.

  Clearing under the Pumphouse Black Wattle Trees
  Clearing up under black wattle trees now just seems to never end. We decided to make a start on the little forest next to the pumphouse near the game fence between us and Kallie's farm
  so that we could start planting trees that we would like to grow along the fence line there.

And again Mandla got stuck in and did a fantastic job. He started off trimming the low branches from all the trees. He then cut up all the thicker parts of the branches into shorter lengths for firewood logs, put the smaller branches with leaves in another pile and then scraped all the debris from the ground surface into another pile.

The wood logs were added to the firewood pile at the braai area, the smaller branches to the "rubbish heap" (which is getting rather large now and we prabably have some good decomposition taking place in the first few layers already) and the "ground scrapings" were loaded onto the bakkie and dumped in the main black wattle forest where there were quite large indented areas that had been dug out for some unknown reason many years ago.


      Just starting the clearing operation - sorting the branches

      Dumping the ground scrapings into the holes in the forest
 
The area now cleared and looking very clean. Some of the smaller black wattle trees to still come out.

  More Trees Fall Over
  The continual wave of thunderstorms coming through are taking their toll on our trees. Another black wattle came down next to our log fence in the driveway and two smallish eucalyptus trees came down in the forest to block our forest path to the front of the property. I'm sure we lost a few more deeper in the forest as well.
 
Driveway closed again. Big black wattle came down   
next to the log fence. Mandla cleared it up quickly.   
   That black wattle next to the log fence in the
   driveway had five trunks! Four down, one to go.
 
Medium sized eucalyptus down - trunk rot!   
   The other eucalyptus down - base burn damage
 
Eucalyptus with burn damage base fell fairly close to new forest shelter structure

  The Eland Saga
  Further to my "Over the Hills" post in the second half of September, one morning we heard the helicopter flying around the hilltops again. Looking closer we saw that the neighbouring game farmer had arranged a big game capture boma sail to be set up and was trying to capture eland for relocation or probable sale.
 
  So this looks like a case of nasty game farm politics at it's worst. Remember in September there was a break in the fence between the two farms and quite a few eland and some other game moved out from our game farm into the neighbouring game farm. And that's why we haven't seen many eland come through to our corner of the game farm since then. Jack and Hans, our game owner and his manager planned to leave the fence open hoping that the animals would return to their "home". Well, that didn't happen and before they knew it the fence had been fixed by the neighbour.

As you can imagine, our South African game ownership laws can get pretty complicated. But basically, common law principles are that all "wild animals" enjoy a state of natural freedom and are considered to belong to no one (and because they belong to no one, they can be captured by any person and their capture does not amount to theft). But if certain requirements are met, wild animals can be "owned", the requirements being that the wild animal must be ownerless, physical control must be exercised over the animal and the captor must have the intention to become the owner of the animal. And once a wild animal is captured, it remains the property of its captor as long as he retains sufficient control over it. Exactly what degree of ongoing control is sufficient to retain ownership of a wild animal is a question of fact that depends on the circumstances of each case.

But as soon as control over a wild animal is lost, it reverts to its state of natural freedom, ceases to be owned and is capable of being acquired again by a new owner. So, as soon as a wild animal emerges from its place of detention, it can be acquired by the first person who has the acquisitive instinct and the means to implement it.

But things can get further complicated by property rights of private land owners which includes the right to possess, use and enjoy natural resources occurring on the land. And then gets even more complicated with the introduction of the Game Theft Act, which attempts to regulate the ownership of game where game farms need to be certified and stuff like "adequate enclosure", "proving ownership of an escaped animal", "reasonable steps necessary to retrieve the escaped animal", etc are introduced.

But whether he has consulted his lawyers or just working to the common law principles, it looks like our neighbour has claimed the eland as his and was rounding them up and selling them off - and very suspiciously on our side of the hill well out of sight of the homesteads of Jack and Hans.

We were able to watch the first failed attempt on the slopes of the hill. Eland just don't herd easily. We try often. With careful planning and a slow approach from the right direction, after much out-staring and out-intimidating the herd alpha male every few hundred meters you can get them heading slowly in kind of the right direction. But sooner or later one will panic and dash off in a different direction and then they'll all stampede after it. In this case they managed to chase the eland to the top of the hill with the helicopter - but as soon as the eland saw the boma they bolted off in a different direction. That poor helicopter tried all day long!

The next day the boma was dismantled and they must have set it up somewhere else because the day after that we heard the helicopter again for a few hours over the hill. Not sure if they were successful in capturing those eland or not but even if they weren't successful, I don't think we'll be seeing big herd of eland coming out our way for a while. And a good thing anyway as we're planning to start our black wattle perimeter tree replacement program and plant our fruit tree orchard this season.


  Voodoo Lily has Babies
  Now that the Voodoo Lily's smelly flower has wilted away, it's massive leaf stalk is starting to shoot out from the bulb. And this year there are two more small leaves shooting from the other
 
Voodoo Lily's beautiful single leaf fully opened      
side of the black bag. Our Voodoo Lily has had babies!

Out of interest, on my next trip to our Joburg house I enthusiastically went down to the spot in the garden where we originally planted the Voodoo Lily and was very pleased to find quite a few new little leaves shooting out of the ground there as well. It's not really the right season for replanting the bulbs, but I carefully lifted out as many as I could, keeping the soil around them intact, and carefully replanted them all into a small pot. I then took them out to the farm to join their mommy.

I also decided to move the main plant out at the farm, still in it's original black bag, from it's original position next to the aviary as it was a bit vulnerable to a duck attack there, and put it higher up on the table of the seedling station. So this year I was able to watch the big leaf stalk shoot out and the unusually shaped leaf fold open. The picture on the left is the leaf completely opened and the three pictures below, the progress day by day.

 
Day 1 - stalk shooting
Day 2 - leaf emerging from stalk
Day 3 - leaf unfolding

  Kitchen Garden Progress
  Martie's been very busy up at the kitchen side of the house on her kitchen garden.

Quite a big area to populate with plants and she's getting a good collection going up there. We're leaving the logs from the old fallen tree there for now, but lots of hard work starting a garden from scratch. This will eventually be the view from her kitchen one day and we should be able to protect it from the builders when they get going on the second level of the house.


  Number Seven
  Martie's now also working odd jobs for the vet that treated our dogs and came across a tortoise brought in after being mauled by a dog. The vet was reluctant to return it to it's original owners as she was sure the dog would maul it again at the first opportunity it got, so she convinced the owners to leave it with her.

The tortoise's shell had been chewed around the head area and the shell pierced down to flesh by a sharp tooth just above the left back leg. Once the vet was happy with the progress of the treatment she gave it to Martie with a bag of muti and a few rounds of injections and Martie finished off the treatment at the farm. It needed to be medicated and bandaged initially to
 
Number 7 named "Doppies" (bandaged) meeting with one of our six      
prevent flies and infections from getting into the wound and the bandage needed to be changed every day. A few days later we replaced the bandage with a gauze held in place with plaster strips so the wound could dry out and have it's own natural protective scab develop.

It's a different species from the six we presently have and the present creep wasn't too happy with it joining the family. But that's not a problem for now as we will be keeping it isolated until it has recovered completely anyway.

 
"Mini enclosure" for new tortoise to recover comfortably from it's dog attack trauma

  Magic Light
  We had a very wet first half of December with rain just about every day for the first two weeks. No destructive cloudbursts, just good regular afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Sometimes we'd get the main storm, sometimes just the edge, and sometimes they'd just pass us by - but just over 50mm in two weeks with some rain almost every day is perfect rainfall for us. And being out in the open on the farm we see the best of our highveld thunderstorms - every one uniquely spectacular.
 
This storm system passed us by one late afternoon and gave us the most amazing light show
 

If the storm passes by and there's still time for the sun to come out again, I always try and take a walk into the forest where one can walk quietly without twigs and leaves crackling underfoot to see the birds come out to dry off and grab a quick dinner before settling in for the night. And after the rain the late afternoon sunlight through the trees is always worth a photograph.

 
With the warm light of the sunset in the background, the dark black wattle forest has it's own beauty
with almost nothing growing on the forest floor beneath it and all the bare tree trunks reaching
high into the air to get what little foliage each tree has into the light.

  Out in the Vegetable Gardens
  What a difference from last year! With our really good rains (we've had almost double that of last year) we're having a bumper crop of vegetables - and if we knew the rainfall was going to be this good, we could easily have planted much more of everything. Plants that were just surviving last year and we managed to nurse through winter are now flourishing.

The herb tunnel is doing exceptionally well with organum, fennel and all the mints: liquorish, blackpepper, basil, peppermint, penny royal and melissa (lemon balm). Pride of the tunnel is our pineapple sage bush, the leaves with just a touch of pineapple taste and the little flowers with
  their very sweet and juicy pineapple taste.

One of our black beauty brinjal bushes from last year survived the winter and started shooting new leaves, and then to our surprise started blooming. Martie gave it a bit of extra pampering and it is producing good fruit again. Our attempt at germinating brinjal seeds was unsuccessful (they need specific temperatures, etc) so we just went out and bought some seedlings from the nursery. Not sure what variety they were but they are producing a different shape brinjal - and more than double the size of the standard black beauties!

    In tunnel #2 our pineapple sage bush now flowering (red flowers).
    Yellow flowers on the right are from the bullbenella next to it.
 
Survivor from last season still producing good   
brinjals (pineapple sage bush in the background)   
   New brinjal crop - this year we planted seedlings
    from the nursery that are producing our giants
 
Daily broadbean harvest.   
Not great to eat raw but fine for cooking.   
And more than enough for our dinner.   
   Standard black beauty brinjal and huge
   Livingseeds Boston Pickling cucumber in the bowl
   and the first of our giant brinjals on the table

  Farm Layout Planning
  Now that the fruit tree orchard has been layed out I decided to define and straighten out the large crop growing area. Still a lot of very long grass to be removed there but I made a start by running a line from the top to the bottom parallel with the end of the fruit tree orchard and dug out a meter wide path out of the long grass. An hour or so of backbreaking work for a few days and it was done.

We're not going to cut that grass there as removing it is easier when it's long - you've got something to grab hold of to pull out the clumps.

 
The large crop area edged and looking very "neat". Now just a lot of long grass still to be removed.

  Almond Trees at the Pumphouse
  We didn't want to plant our nut trees with all the soft fruits in the fruit orchard, so where do we plant them? We're planning to plant some walnut trees as well so decided to make the almond trees "functional feature" trees and plant them higher up around the pumphouse area. The two little almond trees were planted one each side in front of the pumphouse and will "frame" the pumphouse nicely when they get bigger. And being on the south side, they won't interfere with the solar power. The big holes were dug, some compost mixed in with the filler soil and then the little trees were planted and watered.
    Little almond tree in front of the pumphouse. The other one
     just visible in the distance on the other side of the pumphouse.

  Five New Bantam Chicks
  Lovely surprise one morning we woke to new cheep-cheep sounds from our number 4 growing tunnel where we were keeping our breeding pair of bantams. The hen had been sitting seven eggs for a while now and five of them had hatched. She had them out for walkies and showing them off already so there wasn't much chance of the other two eggs hatching.

The father was a good young bantam rooster so it looks like these are all going to be cute little white bantams.


  Working on the Driveway
  The holiday season has begun. Not much happens after the 16th of December business-wise and we were expecting our kids and other visitors to visit during the holidays, so we decided to do some work on the driveway.
 

We gathered together all our spare clivia plants still in growing bags and found a few "mother-in-law's tongue" plants we had dug up from our Joburg house and planted them in the semi-shade garden at the end of the driveway. Then Mandla set about clearing one of the trees that were making the driveway a bit too narrow. He dug around the base of the trunk, chopped through all the lateral roots and into the tap root, threw a rope up as high as he could into the branches and just pulled it over into the driveway clearing. He's good, this Mandla. He then cleaned off all the branches which we dumped on our branch dump and he filled in the hole neatly.

Semi-shade garden at the end of the driveway under big eucalyptus trees. Just look how many branches fall continually from the trees.
      Mandla filling in the hole. The tree
      trunk still laying in the driveway


  Storms to the East
  After an early afternoon thunderstorm bringing us 4mm of rain had moved off northwards we had a lovely fresh late afternoon. Late evening we were able to watch a spectacularly big thunderstorm develop to the east, the setting sun lighting up the massive cloud formations beautifully. And into the evening giving us the most amazing lightning show. There's just nothing like the power of our Highveld thunderstorms to get you to appreciate and respect nature.
 
  Three days later the storm below came in from the east and brought us 23mm of rain. The lightning and thunder show was a lot closer this time.
 

  Grandkids Feeding the Animals
  Both our grandchildren were able to come out to the farm to visit us over the holidays. They just loved feeding time for the ducks and chickens. Below left, Amber getting her hand pecked by the ducks and the black mother hen. Below right, Mia being mobbed by the white part of our "teenager" flock (and the black mother hen again).
 

  More Trimming at the Lapa Black Wattle Tree
  That black wattle tree at the lapa had a few branches still hanging too low for our liking.

So Johan and Marcelle were invited over one morning for breakfast and Johan brought along his trusty chainsaw. Unfortunately those offending branches were pretty big and quite high up. We
 
High ladders at the lapa tree      
set up the long ladders and he got going on trimming them away slowly branch by branch from the outer ends into the trunk. The last few pieces he kept as big as possible as he wanted to use them for his woodwork projects.

He's set up a cutting jig with his chainsaw so he can rip logs length-wise and is producing the most beautiful planks. While he cut we cleared the branches from the ground into a big pile. Later in the day he came by with Marcelle's dad and we loaded the big usable logs onto his bakkie.

Loading logs onto Johan's bakkie, Marcelle's dad looks on


  Back at the Dam
  None of dams on Che's farm are sealed so the water seeps away quite quickly (hopefully helping to raise the water table) so they all need constant filling to keep their levels up. With the recent good rains the dams are holding their levels quite well.

We take the dogs up to the dam closest to us fairly regularly. They just love it and the puppies are becoming really good swimmers. We're now teaching them to fetch sticks that we throw into the water for them.

    Charlie teaching the kids to fetch the stick
 
Martie with all five of our dogs on west bank of the dam

  Pigeon
  As Mandla doesn't work for Che any more (he now shares his working week between Brenda's Montesorri school and our farm) she has "chucked him out" of his accomodation there and he has moved out into the township across town. And as there's no place in the township for pets, he donated his pet pigeon to our farm. We put it into the big aviary with the quails and so far they all seem to be getting along fine.

  Taking Free Range Beyond it's Limits!
  Just check these guys out. I came down from my upstairs workshop hearing odd noises down in the kitchen and found the cross-breed flock taking over the place!

They're getting big now and discovered they can easily fly-hop over the plywood sheet barrier we put across the sliding door to keep the dogs in. And they're now not shy to come in and explore the place and check for any scraps lying around. They do help by eating a few of our pesky kitchen flies, but they also poop all over the place. So out they go!

 
Here's the white bantam flock trying their luck at the door, but they'll have to get past little Eva first

  Brinjal Giants
  Our brinjals crop this year is amazing. The giants just keep coming and when we have more than we can eat, Martie makes and bottles a salsa. We've also had to give some away. Below left, another healthy monster meal of some runner beans, a few leaves of spinach (swiss chard) and two beautiful shiny giant brinjals.
 



And on the left, here's something a little different. We've got enough brinjals for just about every meal (lucky that we love brinjals) and here we cut some thick slices, soaked them for a few minutes in olive oil and braaied them with our meat. Delicious.

  Christmas Lunch
  This year we had a lovely quiet Christmas lunch with friends and family over at Che's "Saloon". Everyone prepared and brought a dish and it all just came together to make a feast fit for kings. A few bottles of wine and we were set to go.

The weather was very cool for December - in fact it rained all day - so there weren't too many flies about either. That's normally the biggest problem for lunches over at Che's farm.

And even our dogs had a Christmas feast. During our late afternoon walk through our forest after the rain, Charlie found an eland leg bone from the eland that died in there a few years ago. And looks like it's still got some tasty stuff in it as well. Here she's sharing it with with her puppy, Eva.




  Crop Spraying
  I didn't think they did that around here any more. Early one morning I spotted a crop sprayer working a small maize farm across the other side of the old Durban road. I was able to sit for about half an hour or so and watch the superb precision flying of the crop sprayer dispersing it's insecticide onto the crops (and I'm sure, a bit into the air!).
 
   

Remember the old days when crop spraying was portrayed - probably as a result of the movies of the day - as a career for the adventurous. Men living on the edge in their highly maneuverable flying machines, taking off and landing on short farm runways and able to use their skills to challenge all the farm field obstacles to get their job done.

Well, in reality, no matter what their skills, in those days they were just spreading poison all over the place eradicating all insect life on the crops - and surrounding areas!

But modern crop spraying is a sophisticated and professional industry very different from the ways of the past. And being a crop sprayer pilot is by no means a dying art. The pilots now require an "ag-pilot" licence and there is continual research into new technologies and new spraying techniques. Modern chemicals and very low level flying assisted with accurate GPS equipment nowadays makes the aerial application of insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers a lot safer. In some parts of the world they even spray at night as the farm workers are in the fields all day and also to save any honeybees that could be out working on the crops during the day!

 

 

  Scorpions
  In all our years working out on the farm and now living there for over a year, we hadn't ever come across any scorpions. Now, within a month we've come across three. First one was under one of the rocks up at the rock pile while we were collecting rocks to fix the driveway, then I
  came across one just walking around on the concrete section in front of the pumphouse one day while I was waiting for the water tanks to fill, and then the third while Mandla was clearing branches under the lapa tree.

They were all about the same size and although they're not one of our more dangerous South African species, I'm sure if he managed to get his little stinger into your finger it would spoil your day (or week).

Very informative website on SA scorpions at Scorpions Alive.


 

  Cleaning Up
  Cleaning up under the black wattle trees up at the pumphouse has been ongoing. Sometimes Mandla spent his entire day and sometimes a few hours of his day, but it's now almost all done.
 
Mandla cutting branches into firewood. Area cleaned nicely.     

Our woodpile is growing nicely . . .      

. . . and our "small branch dump" is now getting rather big      
And he's doing a great job there. In fact too good a job as he's been scraping all the ground cover away down to the bare sand. We've actually had to ask him to ease off a bit and leave some leaves and small twigs so that the bare sand is still covered to prevent soil erosion and the weeds from taking over.

As a result of his neat working ethic, our woodpile is growing bigger every day. And we're bringing bakkie loads of small stick and branch rubble down to our dumping area daily, so that is also growing fast. The plan was to use the small sticks and branches for our braai fires but looking at the pile of rubble (and the size of our fire pit), it's going to take years for us to use it all up. I've also noticed the pile "sinking" continually, so there's obviously some decomposition happening deep down under. We're going to leave it for a while (but continue using the sticks and pieces of bark off the top for our fire) and see what happens there.

Then about 100 meters over our log fence to the east, Johan has decided to do something about the black wattle trees invading the area around (and on) the old railway bridge.

  He spent a few hours there with his chain saw and cut down all the nasty invader trees. There wasn't much wood there that he could use so he's just left the downed trees there for now to dry out and then we'll have to go and load them up and remove them. And dig out the stumps - because black wattles just grow from the old stumps again!
 
Johan's handiwork on the old railway bridge. Black wattle trees were taking over and we could hardly
see the bridge any more. We were also worried that the roots would start breaking the structure.

  The Common Toad
  Due to their noisy evening nature, frogs are normally a real problem to live with. Thankfully we don't have many of them around, although we certainly hear them just after the rains around the farm dams quite far off downstream from us. But we do have toads. These are our "gentlemen"
  of the amphibians, not always pretty but always smart and curteous. Coming down the driveway after dark after a thunderstorm I often have to stop two or three times to move them out of the way. And we've never heard them making a big noise at night.

We've got a few that hang around outside wherever there's a light on (around the growing tunnels near the water tank and outside our "kitchen") so that they can eat any insects attracted by the light. Now and again one decides to come in and look around inside the kitchen but on the whole they're just great to have around. We've even found where some of them hang out during the day and just stay away and try and keep the dogs and chickens away from those areas.