Friday, August 12, 2011

Online water and Pioneer trees

While on a trip to Mossel Bay for a wedding in March 2006, we detoured to show our travelling companions "The Plot". It was the first time we had been back since August when we had bought the plot. We were so excited to find our resident agent laying down water pipes for a neighbour. Not only did he sell properties, he also ran the private water system in the area, buying in bulk from Heidelberg Water.  After a quick loan approval, our travelling companion hastily scribbled a cheque for our own connection to take place and we were online within a few days. Water made all  ambitions possible and our "Plant Trees" operation started to develop.

Although now connected to water, the big question was: who was going to turn on the tap? We decided to rely on winter rains to get the trees going initially and then worry about details later. For this reason, we decided not to plant more than about 12- 15 trees in this first foray (and thank heavens we were not more ambitious). We decided that we should return at the beginning of the rainy season to plant our first trees.

Due to the elevation of our piece of ground, it is buffeted mercilessly for most days of the year from the North West, South East or a direct Northerly. Even with available water, temperatures in Summer were high, especially in February when it has been known to approach 40' C. We decided to plant trees in a U-shape to accommodate any possible future building within. We chose trees as follows:

2 Celtis Africana on the Westerly aspect because they offer shade in summer and let the winter sun through in winter.
2 Wild olives because they are as tough as nails.
2 Kiggelaria Africana because they had been tree of the year a few years previously and known for some hardiness.
7 Virgilia Oroboides because, despite having a short lifespan, they are fast growers and so pretty when in bloom. They are described as pioneer trees and this they surely would be in this totally treeless environment of our plot. (A friend predicted disaster in the face of wind but up until today, I have only lost one Keurboom and this was due to caterpillar stripping of leaves in the hot month of February in 2011, only to no doubt drown in the next watering as no transpiration could take place...the disadvantage of not being on hand to make the necessary adjustment). 

Apart from the trees, our shopping list included irrigation pipes and some little irrigation fitting for each tree, compost, bone meal, a bakkie, labour, a place to stay in Swellendam, a house/dog sitter for home. We started making plans for a lovely long weekend which included two public holidays.
Being lazy to type, I am delighted to discover an old e-mail that I sent on the 2 May 2006 after that weekend:

Hi there
We are back from our planting expedition. We left here on Thursday in our borrowed Toyota Hilux and arrived at our plot at about 4 pm just to confirm the size of the water connection fittings. Then we went to our accommodation: a classroom in my friend's private school in Swellendam with the luxury of a little kitchen and hot shower. 
Friday was a public holiday and we drove to Suurbraak where we met up with two workers from Barrydale which Suzie had organized for us. We did not know of any local labour and wanted to be sure of having some help on that first day. They started digging the holes for the trees. The poor workers really suffered  and only managed one complete hole and down a third of the others because they hit solid, never-ending layers of shale after the first 30 cm of topsoil.

We, in the meantime did our thing: Roy dug channels for the irrigation pipes and mended the broken fence posts.

As the weekend progressed and the holes were completed, I filled in the holes with alternate layers of compost, crumpled newspapers, bonemeal and cow droppings.

We decided not to employ those two workers on the next day, firstly because they were far too expensive, charging skilled-labour rates and secondly, we had found a local guy who worked for less and who turned out to be an expert at cracking this shale. (He told us his name was Danny but we learned over the months that he worked for us that he is Willem Klaasen, a member of an extensive family living in the area). He completed the holes to great depth by the Sunday and completed a channel that Roy was struggling to finish.

Each day we worked at the plot until sunset (except Sunday when it poured with rain and we had to give up a bit earlier). On Monday we were totally on our own, still filling in holes, covering up the channel, attaching the drip system to each plant and then last of all, tucking the trees in with shade-cloth against the wind and sun. We were still running about madly with the last few trees' shade-cloth when the sun started setting and, despite my not being happy with the watering system, we had to leave. I told Roy I was prepared to camp on the plot for Monday night so we could carry on with testing the system on Tuesday morning but he had had enough. We drove back to Cape Town and a hot bath at home.

Today I telephoned the agent and asked him to switch the water off. He took a reading for me and, as I suspected, the system is allowing too much water through and taking into account that the water does not drain away in that soil, I think that leaving the system on would see the trees all drowning before we get up there again. It was apparently raining again so I have no doubt that for the moment, the trees will have more than enough water.  We will have to come up with a different idea before summer.

So, that was our weekend.....I am tired after the long drive back in the dark last night, my lips and face are wind-burnt, my bod is bloody sore and I think Roy feels pretty much the same way!!!

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