Saturday, December 10, 2011

Survivor Secrets

The lovely Keurbooms at our plot are so pretty and yet they have a limited lifespan. This drawback has not stopped me from wanting and ensuring their presence in my garden. Keurbooms deliver seeds in pods and I have found them incredibly easy to germinate. (see Plantzafrica ) It is the next phase which sees a huge attrition rate take its toll. Snails and worms just love the seedlings. I have also discovered that being too generous with water causes them to damp off and die quickly. One has to judge the amount of watering just right. I suspect that they flourish under a degree of hardship, but not too much.

After losing about 50 babies, I have coaxed about 20 plants to a less vulnerable size. I will wait until next Autumn before I even think about planting them out at the plot. 

Another success has been the rearing of baby Cape Ash trees. To be honest, I am not quite sure whether they are Cape Ash (Ekebergia capensis) or Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum). The leaves and fruit of these two tree types appear to be identical and I guess only an expert in both could distinguish between them easily. I have one adult tree in my garden and there are two at the school where I work, of which only one bears fruit, the other presumably being the  male. The one in our garden is fertilized by a neighbour's male tree. The tree is a draw-card for baboons but then, what is there that a baboon does NOT eat when it is hungry? So, detractors, the tree stays!

To grow these, I scattered the fruit in the coolest, shadiest part of the garden in summer and just left them lying there on the surface. After the first cool weather of the following season, the ground was soon covered with many juveniles. I transplanted them into pots before they could become too comfortable in situ. Again, snails  proved a huge killing agent, despite them being a sturdier seedling than the Keurboom. Nevertheless, I now have plenty of these to plant out too.

I also have three Num Nums (Carissa macrocarpa) which I grew from fruit, filched from a tree on our dentist's sidewalk. (Gee, I do worry about myself!) They have taken a long time to reach this size and will have to put a spurt on when they get to the plot.

I germinated and planted some Green Pepper and some Granadilla (Passiflora) seeds, harvested from the fruit. Most seedlings were eaten by snails but there are a few survivors. Now that they have grown  bigger, I see that they are all Granadillas which have survived. Fruit-bearing, so these will have to go to the plot too!

Walking along the main drag in Swellendam, over a year ago, Roy picked up a pod in the gutter. He did not observe the tree from which it fell and after germinating and growing four seeds, we were stumped as to the plants' identity. The leaves are most intriguing, differing in formation between the plants. I recently identified them from this blog post: The Worlds Tree species

Illawara Flame tree

The question is, should I plant them out when they are so obviously Australian foreigners? They do not appear on the forbidden list alongside the beautiful  Jacaranda, so perhaps I might permit it!                        See Alien categories

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Step 'n Deck

Roy arrived home today after a successful ten-day building session at the plot. He left here on 13 November with all sorts of materials and tools for his next project, "Operation Top Deck", stacked into the Opel Astra, which had had passenger and back seats  removed for transport purposes.

During the time that he was there, he built the deck (with the aid of a generator for the power-tools), cut down some grass around the bungalow and other structures with our recently  repaired weed-eater, watered trees and, best of all, socialised with neighbours, including Ed and wife and Dani and Rman. He was spoilt rotten with their delicious cooking. There was a meeting on the scorching hot Saturday for residents and ratepayers, so the area was fairly bustling with part-time and full time residents. 

Marks on the Malthoid  are  from heavy wooden planks
used to anchor the sheets until next time.

Roy also had a flying visit from our neighbour in Cape Town, who is out on holiday from his home in Germany for this month. The neighbour took delight in recognising some of the materials he has thrown our way, including the door that Roy fitted this last week. (It was thrown away because it had a hole, cut by the previous owners, for a cat door).  It is a solid wooden door and it has replaced the ancient, hollow-core temporary apparition that had served up until now. The deck now means easier access to the upper level and so a second-hand security gate was also installed. (It is so difficult to find these at a reasonable price, even when second-hand).

John, our tiny but tough helper, was indispensable to this week's operations because so much of it called for another set of hands to hold the other end and, of course, to roll  out the waterproofing and Malthoid on top of the deck.  With some left over sealant from last session, he sealed the Malthoid around the edges. The other joins will have to be sealed next time because time and sealant ran out. Heavy planks have been left on the Malthoid to hold it down until then. I definitely think we will be painting it too because the black is  too hot in the sun. (I had never heard of Malthoid but Roy spent much of his childhood visiting his grandmother in Clifton, Cape Town and it seems that many of the old bungalows there had this on their roofs.)

In between, John also continued with the never-ending task of scrubbing the cement off bricks, sealing bricks.

Shade break

Roy even made personal history by doing a little bit of bricklaying and created some stairs leading onto the verandah. I was so impressed. He said that he could probably lay 100 bricks a day at the very most, if he had to build a wall and so this little creation took much concentration and intense care. He filled and compacted the inside fill of the steps with bits of dry cement pieces, collected from around the site about a year ago and kept for this purpose.

The teeth are in anticipation of building another giant flower box as we did on the Eastern side of the building which, by the way, is already looking colourful after planting out only a few months ago. 

Colour box
(In case you wonder: plastic is still on the windows until the final coat of paint on the edging, inside and out, is done.)

Some of our trees are still managing to sustain the fruit they put out in early Spring.

Pickstone plum

And the damaged  Mission Olive from the Meat Mayhem episode has put out fruit too, on its surviving branches.   

Mission Olive
Its looking better and better!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poppy Patch

After spreading out a load of excavated soil, donated by our neighbour, unexpectedly, a large patch of poppies grew up from it. I was intrigued at their appearance because the soil was virgin mountain soil. I can only imagine that some seeds were either caught up in the load from the surrounding topsoil or else, blew there after the soil had been spread across our lawn.  I had to resist the urge to pull them up. They are so big and ugly before they bloom, looking very much like a weed. These are "Opium" poppies, I think, and not the more dainty type.  Their blooming time is so short after all that growth effort and they seem to have chosen this week to do it. I thought a photo of them would be appropriate for today, being Armistice Day. I can still remember when I was in my very first year of school (sooooo long ago), at the 11th hour, on the 11th day and in the 11th month, standing together with classmates for a minute of silence. I wonder whether this still happens at some schools today?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blowing in the wind ¸.•*""*•.¸¸ ¸¸.•*"

My neighbour and dearest friend for the last 30 years recently moved to the Karoo to be nearer to her extended family and her childhood roots. Their house here was sold in January but they only had to give occupation by the end of this year at the latest. Sorting through rooms and cupboards only started in earnest about two to three months before they moved out. Unexpectedly, my friend's husband ended up in hospital for over a month and when he returned home, was unable to assist with anything. My poor friend had to sort through absolutely everything, from garage to husband's study to the roof. In the end, she became quite frantic. We drove carloads of goods to the recycling dump for her. Luckily, the movers did the packing for her. She tells me now that, on the other side in the Karoo, as she unpacks, she is still giving and throwing away!

After observing this nightmare, we have resolved that, slowly but surely, we are going to go through our accumulated possessions and start divesting ourselves. As we have plenty of time until the day when the property market improves, we put our house on the market and we sell, we can experiment with selling items which we feel still have value. So, today we went to a Car  Boot sale.

We arrived at 7.30 am, unpacked all our goods and then had to hastily cover up everything with a small tarpaulin, which we happened to have with us, and sit in the car for an hour of pouring rain. The rain was too heavy to even consider getting out to pack everything back into the car. We cursed our stupidity at not observing the heavy clouds and the direction of the gentle breeze, which would have indicated the imminent arrival of rain.

Finally, the sun came out and we spent a few happy hours chatting to other stallholders, touring other tables (with determination not to buy anything) and periodically flipping the wet pages of some books and magazines which had not stayed dry under the cover. The trade was not brisk. I think most people stayed tucked up in bed on a rainy morning.

I was happy to sell off 30 Agapanthus plants at a discount bulk price of R100 and then various other little sales saw us taking home a total of R270. Not a fortune, but what fun to make a sale, chat to browsers and return home to some empty spaces in the cupboards.

On arrival at home, we spread the still wet magazines and books on our driveway and left them blowing in the wind to dry out while we drank our tea and counted our multiple gains!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Timelines with Google Earth

I just LOVE Google Earth. 
You can fly around the world and  even zip back into the past! 
I used it to create 2 pictorial timelines for our smallholding (red marker).

On close inspection 2007 - 2009

The Big picture 2007 - 2009

Monday, October 17, 2011

Proverbial Wit

Roy is one of those rare people who never seems to need food and is incredibly thin. Apart from all the obvious advantages, one plus point seems to be his ability to go walking on a boiling hot day (with his dog, naturally) and not feel too overwhelmed by the heat. It always brings this Noel Coward song to mind, and hence the name of this blog.

Noel Coward made the changes to an Indian proverb from the days of English colonialism and came up with the Gilbert and Sullivan type lyrics and music for this song in about 1932.  According to Wikipedia, the song was composed, without benefit of pen, paper, or piano, while Mr. Coward was driving through Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon. The song was sung by Mr. Coward himself on CBS TV.  I do have an old record of it somewhere but perhaps one might find it somewhere on the internet as a downloadable let me know if you find it....what fun!

The lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Noel Coward
In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire,
     to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules that the biggest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid
     its ultry-violet ray --
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, absolutely nuts --
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The Japanese don't care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta,
In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
     to protect you from the glare,
In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
     which the Britishers won't wear,
At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
     no further work is done -
But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
That though the British are effete,
     they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides, every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will
     impale his solar topee on a tree.
It seems such a shame that when the English claim the earth
That they give rise to such hilarity and mirth -
Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun.
They put their scotch or rye down, and lie down.
In the jungle town where the sun beats down,
     to the rage of man or beast,
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this stupid habit.
In Hong Kong, they strike a gong, and fire off a noonday gun.
To reprimand each inmate, who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
     there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie down and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal, to move at all, is seldom if ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulders.....

October 2011

We went up to the plot last week for a few days in this short school holiday. Our tasks were to finish painting some second-hand railings with NS4 and to oil some second-hand wood with Linseed oil. This is all in preparation for Roy constructing a deck on the side of our building. We also painted the second-hand staircase, which we will adapt to give access to this deck. (I just LOVE  !!)   

Spring is definitely in full swing!

Harry Pickstone plums. I wanted to remove them all to save the tree's strength (we probably wont be around to pick the ripe fruit) but my neighbour dissuaded me and I made him promise to pick the ripe fruit for himself in December.
Brown Salvia Africana-lutea blossoms
I was thrilled to see the blossoms on the Wild Pear (Dombeya Rotundifolia) and the Keurbooms (Virgilia Oboroides). 

Wild Pear

One Keurboom, in particular, was just loaded down with pink blossoms. 
I begin to wonder if this one is rather Virgilia divaricata
instead of Virgilia orborides

We tracked down John via the bushman grapevine and he turned up the next day, after first helping to bury a neighbour's dog which had died from biliary a few days previously. (We also learned of the death of a local sheepdog. A driver from the area finally snapped at his habit of trying to round up any moving vehicle on the road and just drove over the dog. Sad. ) 

John's tasks for us included continuation of brick cleaning with Spirits of Salts and then sealing the bricks against the weather. The builders made such a mess with the cement on bricks, that this has been an everlasting task and it is still not completed. (We have to clean off and seal the bricks inside the building too).  He did complete one task from our previous trip though: sealing the top of the walls with membrane and sealant.

Membrane and sealant on top of brick walls for rain-proofing.

In between all of this, we socialised with neighbours and enjoyed the delight of some surprising spring sights which included Roy stripping to underclothes (sadly I did not have the camera at hand), pulling on gumboots, and wading into some of the dams to harvest the last remnants of the Waterblommetjies which the locals had not managed to reach in their pickings. Washed, cleaned and frozen in my freezer here now, I will use them for a delicious Waterblommetjie bredie once I acquire some stewing lamb. mmmmm 

Our neighbours loaded us up with goose eggs in an effort to keep their population down. These are the descendants of the original two we gave them in 2008. The original male died mysteriously within minutes after swimming in the dam one day, the replacement male was carried off in a sack, in broad daylight, by a bandito and, recently, the original female plus all their ducks were gradually carried off in the night by a suspected dog and/or otter. Nevertheless, the geese continue to flourish. 

We returned home on Saturday in time to watch the Springboks lose to Australia in the rugby, and to give last minute assistance to my dearest friend and neighbour of 25+ years, as she left our village on Sunday morning to start a new life in the Karoo.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meat Mayhem

We went up to the Plot last week and were amazed at how green everything is.
We were dog-sitting a friend's dog and so she came along too 
(much to Mad Dog's irritation).

Bonnie and the sweet Jasmine flowers
Meat prices are just climbing higher by the day and its seldom that we treat ourselves to anything other than sausage or mince. While we were up at the Plot, we noticed that there seems to be a frenzy taking place. The fields are lush and green after some generous winter rains and other landowners are hastily jumping on the bandwagon to make a good amount of money, despite many of them  living 260 km away in Cape Town, as we do.  They have acquired more livestock in the form of sheep or cattle. One owner has expanded his flock of sheep to over 100 and he also owns some cattle and yet, he only owns about two hectares! Most of these meat barons will rely on being able to rent Commonage from the Municipality or  approach other landowners, who don't own livestock, to rent out their fields to them. However, if a property is not fenced off, then its a free-for-all! Only a fence demarcates: "So far and no further". Or at least, that's the theory.

I was so disheartened when my neighbour there telephoned me three weeks ago to tell me that he had chased an entire herd of cattle off our plot. Somebody had opened the fence to our property (the gates are secured) and allowed their cattle to browse on our land. Cattle love to rub every itchy bit of their bodies on a tree and as our trees are still relatively small, the damage was extensive. The most upsetting was the damage to one of our four Mission Olive trees, which had borne fruit for the first time this year. 

Mission Olive
Mission Olive's new shape: a wind tunnel

Wild Pear

Wild Peach
One of many damaged Wild Olives
The worrying thing is that the heavy winds and harsh climate might just prevent a full recovery and lead to an ultimate demise. 

 One man's dream creates another's nightmare!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Belated Birthday Beat

It is customary at my work to bring edibles for the staff when its one's birthday. This year I have been so negligent that I am already six months overdue. Yesterday, on our way back from the Plot, we stopped at Riviersonderend to buy some goodies at the Ou Meul, a bakery which sells the most divine Venison pies and Bobotie pies, amongst other items of delight. They also bake a delicious Melk Tert and I bought one for the belated birthday feast at school on Friday. Tonight I baked the savoury part of the menu and it is a recipe that I use every year (I tend to stick with recipes that work and do not venture too far afield!), varying the filling according to what I have in stock. This time, its mushrooms and bacon. (I doubled up on the following quantities, for fifteen people.)

1.  Cut off the crust from 9 - 10 slices of white bread and then cut each slice
     into little blocks.
2.  Beat 6 eggs in a mixing bowl.
3.  Add 500 ml cold milk to the beaten eggs and mix.
4.  Add the blocks of bread to the egg/milk mixture. Let it stand for about 5 minutes 
     and then beat it  all up until it is like a porridge.    
5.  Turn on your oven to 180 degrees C and while it heats up,  add the following
     ingredients to the egg and bread mixture:
     * 250 grams finely cut cold meat - any kind: leftover bits of gammon or bacon 
        or smoked pork or bully beef or Vienna sausage and/or left over veges and/or 
        mushroom or asparagus bits.
     * 2 coffee cups of grated cheddar cheese
     * 1 finely chopped onion
     * some parsley
     * ½ teaspoon mild mustard powder (or less if it is strong mustard)
6.  Melt 50 grams of butter or margarine in the microwave and add that to the mixture
7.  Mix all of this together, lightly yet thoroughly, with a fork. Add some salt.
8.  With butter or margarine, smear a casserole or pie dish or non-stick baking
     dish  which can hold about two litres.
9.  Smooth the mixture into the dish and bake for 30 minutes in the ready oven on the  
     middle rack. The mixture will rise completely as it bakes and turn pale golden 
     brown before it is ready to remove. Once it is removed, it will sink down as it cools
10. Serve hot or cold with some salad.    

I placed the left-over bread crusts into a roasting pan and then into the warm oven, stirred them around every now and again until they dried out. I  sprinkled the hot crusts with some Green Onion flavouring and allowed them to cool into crunchy snacks.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Our garden is on a rather steep slope on the mountainside. The slope has been made more dramatic in the past by the removal of soil for filling foundations walls before pouring a slab or for leveling out a garden behind a retaining wall.  While the village was still relatively uninhabited nearly thirty years ago, people happily helped themselves to tons of soil from "empty" land.

As a result, when we built our house, we had to shore up embankments created by these excavations, in order to stabilise the soil for a garden. Being broke at the time, the quickest and cheapest method was to use cement blocks, fill them with soil and build retaining structures throughout the garden.


Over the years, these blocks have done a fantastic job of holding back the soil but they are so ugly, I have grown to hate them. I could not imagine how I would ever escape them. To remove them would be an intense activity and then, to replace them with pretty retaining walls, would be prohibitively expensive. 

However,  a house was built recently on the mountainside behind us and the owners had to dispose of many truckloads of soil. They offered us any amount we would like and we did our best to make the most of this windfall. Their front end-loader deposited a mini Mt. Everest of soil and rock on our front lawn. I would have liked to take more in other areas of the garden but existing trees and fence prevented access. 


During this winter, we have moved the soil gradually and at last I have come up with an idea to camouflage a great number of the cement blocks. 


I cannot wait to start digging in compost and planting out under the Wild Olive tree.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baboons and other pests

Living along the coast near to Cape Point, we are held hostage in our homes all year round by the baboons. One does not mind keeping all windows and doors shut tight in the winter, but on a hot summer day, it is really annoying, to say the least. When we go out, even just for a walk down to the postboxes in the middle of the village, we have to block off our cat door, which means that our cats are trapped inside for the duration (and since we are forced to leave out a litter-tray when we leave, the cats become lazy to go outside at other times.)

Should we ever forget to secure the house completely, we can be sure to return to some blood-boiling sights!

Have you noticed how certain types of fruit trees are few and far between these days. When last did you see a fully-laden mulberry tree or a loquat tree in a garden? I remember these from childhood, when people had large gardens and there were no supermarkets. Even if growing a fruit tree takes too long, I dream of growing just a few vegetables in my garden.

Another baboon-inflicted limitation on our freedom is directed at our garden. It is impossible to grow vegetables of any kind, as well as certain flowers and plants. Heaven forbid that you should have a tree which bears fruit of any description, including indigenous trees. These serve as a magnet, drawing them into the village. One's neighbours tend to become irate at this and in frustration, you begin to wonder whether you should pull everything out and cover with concrete!

The baboon known as Splitlip enjoys the fruits of his burglary
At one stage, we built a wooden framework and covered it with shade cloth  as a barrier to the baboons, and then planted out some lettuce and strawberries within. How naive of us! It is nothing for a baboon to bite and tear the shade-cloth and devastate the entire crop in a few minutes. Shortly after that, an incident where an alpha-male baboon tore apart our door to enlarge the cat-door opening in order to get into our house, highlighted our futility. Access to the contents of a  locked fridge presented no problem either. They are very strong creatures.

I can imagine how a farmer must feel when his harvest of grapes is plundered either by baboons or the informal fruit-sellers in De Doorns, or when a troop of baboons moves onto corn or onion fields.

Somebody told me that baboons do not like spinach. Delightedly, I planted out baby spinach and they grew into beautiful bunches but before I could pick them, the baboons passed through the garden. While they might not eat the leaves, they do like the stem-base of the plant. Their harvesting method is to pull the entire plant out, take a huge bite of the lower stem and then abandon leaves and roots in the "slagveld". 

This year I grew some spinach and strawberries in pots in our little sunroom where we normally final-dry our winter washing. It has worked quite well but as the days warm up now, the room is too hot and leaving a window open for fresh air is not an option.  I also germinated some seeds of Dragon Fruit, Tree Tomato and Pomegranate and planted them out in some multi-pot trays (which my neighbour's landscaper had discarded).

What I did not realise when I put all these pots and multi-pot trays into the sun-room  was that there were 2 worms and 2 snails hiding in or on the pots and the devastation they caused was huge, way out of proportion to their size. They must have thought that they had died and gone to heaven when they found themselves trapped inside with all those tender plants. I lost two trays of Dragon Fruit babies, some Tree Tomato seedlings and a few heads of baby lettuce before I discovered and banished them.

The Survivors
Baby Tree Tomato
Baby Dragon Fruit