Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's cooking....?

 An unexpectedly cold day arrived and we were confined to the four walls of our little farmhouse today, but happily so, as we desperately needed the rain that our fellow country men have been getting in the Cape. On the itinary for the day was baking bread, making jam and getting a soap order together. Above, is a picture of myself grinding our own wheat to make our own bread. Once you start to eat your own bread from freshly ground flour, you will never enjoy shop bought bread again. This process is as simple as buying a grinder and buying a 50 kg sack of wheat (if you dont have your own homegrown wheat). A 50kg sack goes a long way on for an average family of four. You can also grind mealies and have your own polenta or mielie meal and this combined with produce out of your veggie patch, makes for a very healthy and self-sufficient lifestyle.
 Above is the dough, ready to rise. After a bit of practise, this bread only takes 15 to 20 min of preparation, about 2 hours of rising time and you will have fantastic wholesome bread. Not to mention the lovely aroma eminating through the house, while it's baking in the oven. The smell of bread baking, is one of the aroma's that every family member and friends will remember, whenever they think of homemade bread. If you are in the vicinity when our bread comes out the oven, Rae always makes sure that you get a nice chunky piece with a fat spread of butter,  to stave off the hunger that the oven smells have brought on. If you don't get any and try to steal.... there are serious repercussions!


Our beautiful wrapped soap, ready to go off to a customer. In the background you will see a big block of soap that has just come out of the mould, that I am still going to cut up.

Rae has the apricots simmering on the dover stove, 2kg of apricots ( from our own trees) gives us three huge mayonnaise jars and one little jar of jam. Just a word of advice, it seems that you can't do more than 3.5kg at a time, as the jam then seems to go dark brown, or even black.

More simmering. Its the perfect day for the stove to be going.

"T-bone" the dog, taking advantage of the lovely warm stove. As a matter of fact, this is his permanent spot  throughout winter. He had a hard time staking his claim on this crate, as we have now have nine dogs, compared to the three we arrived here with.

Yummy, yummy apricot jam simmering, whohoooo.

Our "Fynbos" soap and the "Olive & Coconut" soap, all nicely cut up and ready to go off to the curing room for 4 weeks.

Rainy weather outside with fruit trees and the beehive being buffeted by the rain

My dog "Bullet", alias,"Bully" or "Mister B". Bullet and T-Bone are brothers.

The Jacaranda tree is also taking a beating, can you see the carpet of fallen flowers.

Bread's out and I must say, they look like a pair of hot buns. Below we have the loaves along with the apricot jam. Right now, it's just getting dark and we are all holed up inside, in the kitchen with all the dogs, all nice and cosy with the little black belly Dover Stove, our supper on top and everyone nice and warm, with the falling rain outside.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Back to school for some

Something that I have omitted to blog about, when it all happened, is the decision of both my daughters to go back to school. I have three daughter’s, my eldest had already finished school by completing her last year at home on the Cambridge system. The other two both did 3 years of home schooling which consisted of starting with a year of Clonard, a South African system, followed by 2 years of borrowing school text books that were relevant to each of their grades. The reason for the last 2 years of their home schooling being so relaxed and basically done at their own pace, was that we couldn’t find a curriculim that was both affordable and satisfactory to us. When you search the internet, you find all kinds of home schooling systems beckoning you with fancy websites and impressive curriculims,.but when you investigating a little deeper, you find out that they are not what they promise, or sometimes it just takes going as far as trying to contact them and you get no joy, well, enough said!          
So, for the 2 years of home schooling, our daughters did all sorts of things which included, spending copious amounts of time riding their horses, being taught art in return for horse riding lessons, taking off into the mountains on some adventures of note, learning to do basic book keeping, baking and selling their successes at the local market, learning to play guitar and sing, planting and growing vegetables, attending and taking part in a local musical concert, etc and also keeping to their own schedule of actual school work.

Suddenly, as 2010 drew closer both Alex 17 and Rain 13 both decided that should the opportunity arise, they would like to go back to school. In some ways I was absolutely mortified, because the whole reason for them doing home school is that I always felt that the public school system seemed to be a bit of a farce, like leading the lambs to the slaughter, churning out little robots with no imagination and no ambition to follow their hearts but rather what society and the mass media pump into them. Making them fear being different and not conforming to the masses, but that’s just me!

So… with Gods grace and our love, it all fell into place.

It was Alex that decided that should she be able to go straight into Gr.12, she would go for it. She had left public school in Gr.7 and thereafter had written no exams except tests that we had set for her. This we felt was a tall order but to cut another long story short, we managed to get her into Gr.11 at Camps Bay High School in Cape Town, where she is flourishing and doing very well. She lives with my wife’s sister’s family, who very generously offered to open their home to her. Her cousins are also at Camps Bay High with her. The reason for her going to Cape town to finish her schooling is because only option then, locally, is an Afrikaans high school. This obviously meant that her whole curriculim would be in Afrikaans.

No sooner had we set this in motion, we then got approached by our local Domini to tell us that because of the insurgence of English speaking people into the area, the local high school had decided to accommodate English speakers by supplying them with English text books and the teachers would also make the effort of explaining when asked, in English. This all tied in with our next door neighbours moving back to their family farm after ten years and offering to take Rain into school every day. So it was a done deal and Rain went off to school!

I can’t help thinking how this whole school thing came together, for both our daughters, with very little effort on our parts, just as if it was all just meant to be. So I put my faith in God and decided to go with the flow…

Incidently, putting your faith in God does not always mean things will go smoothly, in other words, according to the way you think it should go. If you remember to look for God in every avenue of your life, be it in the good and the bad, the light and the dark and the night and the day, you will be sure to find Him.

So after the first term of school for Alex in Cape Town, she was back for school holidays with her friend Georgia Brisco. They managed to get a lift home with a local lad who is studying at varsity in Cape Town. At the end of their 6 hour drive home, I met them in the middle of the night, at the beginning of our dusty farm road. It was a crazy experience, being pitch dark and not been able to see each other outside of our vehicles, or in my bakkie, as I have no inside light. Having not seen each other for about three months, I was curious and dying to see her in the flesh, holding her close and listening to her happy and excited voice! This might seem all quite dramatic, but we are a very close and loving family. So it would be another 7 km before we could see each other in the warmth of our farm house kitchen, with the rest of the family. Once we were all together, news was swopped, supper was eaten as a family (almost… our eldest daughter is living and working in Cape Town too) and life was great.

I am happy to say that both my daughters reports were exceptional and after a term of school, they were both loving it. The family had a brilliant school holiday together, along with Georgia, who felt like family within the first couple of days. Then the holidays were over and everything returned to the new, normal way of our lives with the kids at school, back to telephonic communication, facebook, emails, homework and our foster child, but he is another post that I might, or might not write about….


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A beezy time on African Bliss Farm

A year before we moved to our farm, African Bliss, which is situated in the Kouga mountain range, I decided to do a course in bee-keeping in preparation for our big move to a farm where I could finally explore my interest in the little beezy creatures.

I travelled from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town for the course and spent a few days with a colourful little gentleman by the name of Marchand and his wonderful wife, Jenny.

The course covered everything that would set one up for being an aspiring beekeeper, such as, hive management, honey extraction and different types of hives, as well as the history behind beekeeping. We also briefly touched the topics of apitherapy and the aspects of beekeeping as a commercial trade. All in all it was a fantastic and extremely enriching course.

By the time we finally moved to our farm in the Kouga I had already enthusiastically purchased a number of empty hives, some new and others second-hand. For those of you who have been following our stories, you will remember that we arrived here in the beginning of winter last year, which is supposedly not the season to catch migrating swarms. A migrating swarm is one that is formed when an existing swarm becomes too large or there is a shortage of food and so part of the colony sets off with a newly made queen in search of a new home.
Now, I must just tell you, after doing the course one feels pretty confident to handle just about any bee situation you can think of until you get your first swarm. The day a migrating swarm flies into one of your vacant hives and makes it their home, you just feel so honoured. I now have obtained 11 swarms in this way and I still feel so special and lucky to be landlord to these little beezy insects. Also, when you see bees pollinating your flowers or collecting nectar from your orchard or veggie patch you get such a warm feeling from thinking that while you are providing them with pollen and nectar with the plants you grow, they, in return, are ensuring your existence by making sure plants bare seed and continue their existence. Of course, there is also the huge bonus of getting their honey which, along with beeswax, we use in the making of our 100% natural soaps and body bars.

From my whole experience with the bees so far, I would like to tell you about a particular week of events that led to me taking a day off.

It all started when I awoke one morning as the sun was rising. I looked out my bedroom window as I always do, to see the colours that the new day has brought, but what do I see lying on the ground below the jacaranda tree? A swarm of bees all huddled into a tight ball around a branch that had fallen out the tree! The swarm had obviously stopped on the branch overnight, but had been too heavy and with a bit of wind in the night, the branch had snapped and fallen to the ground. It was not a big swarm but I was excited! First I woke my wife and begged her to role over and peer out the window at our new tenants-to-be. Then I went to fetch my youngest daughter, Rain (who does not get grumpy at being woken up too early) so she could come and share the experience with me.

Out we went, myself still in my long-johns, and she in her pyjamas, to fetch an empty hive. As you may have gathered, we had no protection on in the form of bee-suits or gloves which some of you may think has to bee dangerous, but when they are swarming they do not readily sting, so long as you are gentle and non-threatening towards them. To hive them, you put the box in front of them with a ramp leading up to the entrance, then they all start to move up the ramp into the box. To head in an upward direction is something they just naturally do. I then demonstrated to my daughter, Rain, that you can gently stick your hand in the swarm, or let them crawl over your hand as they head up the ramp and you won’t get stung. It is amazing to feel these little buzzy balls of energy, all with the potential to sting you, moving over your hands with the single purpose of getting the queen in safely and then getting beezy with “setting up house”.

This is the morning when all the unfortunate events started happening. Because I never got stung when I first brushed my hand through them , I become more daring and with the carefree attitude of Jamie Oliver, I swooped my hand through the upward migrating swarm and ZAP- ZAP, I got stung on the arm! Then and there, I learnt that when dealing with a swarm on the move, there are still boundaries to be kept at all times!

Later that day, I went to go and check on my other hives and noticed that some of the bees were behaving rather oddly. In from of a few of the hives, some of the bees were very busy on the ground (my hives are only 30cm off the ground on cement blocks). Upon closer inspection, I noticed some of the little guys were wrestling with ants and I realised that I needed to help them urgently. Not wanting to introduce any more poison into this world of ours, I found out that ants are acidic and do not like an alkali environment. Off I went to town and came home with a large bag of Bicarbonate of Soda. I cautiously approached the first hive from behind, (wearing no protection again) and sprinkled the powder around the entrance, very carefully, so as not to upset the bees. Later that afternoon, I went to do another check on the hives and although the situation was much better, the ants were still around. So, now highly irritated on my bees behalf, I fetched the bicarb and poured a nice fat stripe across the entrance to the hives, all caution thrown to the wind! This I had to do to four hives and on the fourth one, ZAP, I got stung on the back of the head. The abovementioned exercise got carried out while the bees were flying in and out of the hive, so naturally some of the powder landed on them! I decided then to stay away from the hives for the rest of the day. The next morning, I was out early inspecting the hives and I saw that the bees, obviously not impressed with the powder across their landing strip, had removed it and the ants were still a bit of a problem. I then came up with the bright idea of dissolving the bicarb into water and wetting the ground in front of the hive with a watering can. This seemed successful and only the hive in the veggie garden got slightly agitated and I ran into the house for cover with miraculously no stings! About an hour later I ventured out to go and water my vegetables and in a state of utter contentment, focusing on the water droplets leaving the nozzle, travelling thought the air full of love, beauty and life, soaking into the soil, down to the roots of my veggies… when the whole blissful moment came to an abrupt halt with a buzz and a ZAP to the eyelid. Again, I ran for cover, waving my hands around my head. I guess not enough time had passed for them to have forgiven me!

Three stings in three days in a row, I was starting to think that maybe I should stay in bed and take the day off. By now the whole family are standing in the kitchen and laughing at me while Rae, my wife, removes the sting from my eyelid. That night it rained and the next morning was a glorious sunny day. I went outside and hallelula, the ants were gone and the bees were beezy as always. I felt safe again in natures playground. It was with this happy feeling, looking a sight with my swollen head, eyelid and forearm, my daughters and I decided to go and move our horses to new grazing We decided to ride 800m down the road, bareback. As I was pretty new to horse riding and had learned that bareback riding at a trot is not suitable for the male species, I was not keen but my daughter assured me that cantering was the answer, as it was a much smoother pace. So, off we went at a canter and she was right, it was easier but the horses all cantering together, got a bit excited and to cut a long story short, I fell off! Nothing broken, just scratched and feeling great for not being dead. So, day four and another injury and while my wife tended to my wounds, she advised that perhaps I should just go and lie down for a while. I nearly took her advice, except there were things that needed to be done in town. So, after wounds being patched up and a change of clothing , I was strolling to the bakkie when I felt something crawling inside and up the leg of my shorts. I absentmindedly swatted it…... ZAP! Yes, it was another bee and I got yet another sting. I turned around right then and there, went inside and removed the sting, saw my wife’s flabbergasted face and went to bed, where I remained until the next morning. It was great and the spell was broken!

On a final note, the following day I went to the local co-op to buy some more bicarb (just in case). While I was standing at the counter, there was an old farmer standing next to me. After a while, feeling his eyes on me, I greeted him and raised my swollen forearm and told him that I’d been stung by a bee. He then replied (in Afrikaans) that he’d noticed my arm and had thought what strong looking arms I had, not noticing that there was only one that looked like that! With that, everyone in the queue burst out laughing.

I must just say, that I have been stung again since those four days but you get used to it and I don’t swell as much as before!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Its the first day of autumn on African Bliss Farm

We started off our day by flattening our mielie field stalks, so that they can decompose through winter and add organic material to the soil. All cobs that had not properly developed, we collected and put them in the drying shack, so that they can be used as a supplement feed for our horses, which is not such a bad thing in these times of drought. We then cleared a bed of basil and spent tomatoe plants. We managed to save some tomatoes and with the basil, Rae bottled some pesto for the winter months ahead, as well as some for now. Because we don't have pine nuts, we us almonds from our almond trees. When you live in a rural area, you have to improvise! In fact, we make hummus that started off pretty close to the original recipe but has now morphed into a hummus that has the Conterio signature all over it and tastes absolutely delicious. The rest of the basil got tied into bunches and hung in the drying shack, we also intend to collect the seeds off the flowers to plant again next season.
In the middle of all this activity, my neighbour phones to let me know that he spotted a lone baboon moving in the direction of my beehives, which are situated behind my house. So I bang down the phone and  rush out to confront him, only to find that his superior senses must have heard, smelt or even seen me, long before I saw him and he was ambling off in direction of a clump of prickly pears with what only can be described, as the coolest and most arrogant swagger in the animal kingdom. He then sat down in the midst of them, plucked off a ripe jucy  fruit and proceeded to eat it, while casting me a contemplative "whats up" look. It was only when Rae, my wife appeared, that he decided it was time to leave the property. Its weird because she does not look at all scary, but maybe in the baboon world she does, what with the curly hair and dark sunglasses!
By now it was lunch time. We ate homemade wholewheat bread, with wheat that had being ground by myself, bread baked by myself, homemade hummus, homemade basil pesto and tomatoes from the garden, all made into a wholesome sandwiches. We then retired for an afternoon siesta. Aaaaaa..... the life I tell you.
When we awoke, Rae decided that seen as we had so many almonds, she was going to make biscotti to go with some coffe later on. All went well and the biscotti was sitting in the oven for drying and I was outside busy with the horses, when I heard Rae scream. This is not uncommon, as she does regularly scream for one or other reason and usually its just one shriek followed by a, "Dinoooo, please come and get this spider out". But on this occasion, as I waited for the "Dinoooooo", all I heard was a bang, clash sound followed by another shriek. I then knew this was serious and was met by a panic-stricken Rae shouting,  "Cape Cobra!", after which I flew into a flat spin and because she had screamed the way she did, all the dogs went pouring into the house. So I instructed Rae to get the dogs out and I went and fetched my snake catcher which is always close at hand for such emergencies and believe you me, there are many but this is the first time we have had a snake in the house. To cut a long story short, while kicking an 17 year old cat out the way repeatedly because she was so fixated on lending me a hand, the snake was caught. It was the most angry Cape Cobra I have ever had to deal with. I later learnt, while we where eating our biscotti and drinking coffee on our stoep and reflecting on the nerve racking experience, that Rae had bent down to pick up her dust pan behind the kitchen door and discovered the cobra was curled up underneath it, he got such a fright that he reared up at her and she shrieked and dropped the dust pan on him. No wonder it had been so angry, I mean who would not be!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The promise of rain

This is just a pic taken on a blistery hot day with the promising rain clouds forming, and indeed it did rain.

Friday, February 26, 2010

More happenings on the Kouga farm

In our area we have group of people that have started growing a varity of plants for the production of essential oils, aswell as one guy that has built himself an essential oil distiller. So slowly but  surely a new industry is starting to grow inthe area. This is great as the main industry is fruit, which is all run by big farms as this is the only way to make money out of the fruit industry with the profit margin being so small on fruit unless you exsport. So now the guys with small holdings of 10h and less are growing crops for the essential oil market and are then forming a co-op to sell their oils thru. We already purchase some of our oils through them and knowing the induviduals involved I therefore know that no pesticides are used and  they only use EM( effective micro-orginisms) This improves the soil by giving it a kick start to replenish all the organisms in the soil that make food available to the plant and improve soil structure. This suits us down to the T as we prefer using plant material that has not been adulterated by pesticides and chemical fertilizer.
One of the growers grew a small area of german chamomile on their land and asked me to put it thru my small two kg still to test for azulene, this shows itself as a blue oil and has anti- inflamatory properties, analgesic and calming properties superior to normal camomile. This is therefore sort after by the cosmetic industry and they are prepared to pay good money for this oil. As you can see the tests were positive and they have now planted larger areas. Its actually quit interesting as chamomile oil has the same weight as water so therefore to seperate it in quantity, requires a far more specialised process than straight distilling.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I am back.

Well after a long hot and busy summer, what with endless soap orders (we are not complaining!), entertaining friends and family, I'm finally getting the time to sit down and write on our blog again. Now that things have calmed down and are a lot quieter, we are having the time to get back into the veggie garden once again! 

The last two days  have been the hottest we've had this season. Late this afternoon, when we finally felt brave enough to venture outside again, I went to inspect the state of things in our veggie garden. While walking around the mielies, I realised to my utter dismay, that while I thought I had been watering them sufficiently over the past two days, it hadn't been enough and we are going to loose quite a lot of plants, including some of the pumpkins, butternuts and melons that had been interplanted amongst the mielies. 

Oh well... it's a constant learning curve, this change of lifestyle we've chosen and we are all  healthy and happy and still harvesting and eating plenty from the garden!