Spring is here and the trees are in full bud. It seems a bit early since we haven’t really had that much of a winter. And there are big changes afoot here to boot.
Firstly, we are moving to a farm of our own near Baardskeerdersbos at the end of September. It’s a huge step and we are very excited about the change. I won’t talk about how sad we are to leave this lovely place, but it seems the time has come.
It will be a most interesting move as there are no buildings, so we will be living in a caravan and shipping container while building our own natural house. It has no Eskom power either and so it will stay. Talk about cold-turkey! At least when we build, we’ll have some experience of living off-grid and can accommodate all we learn along the way in the straw bale house.
Springing with bugs
Life on a farm doesn’t stop though and with Spring arrived all the bugs – on plants and animals. Already the flies are harassing the horses and the scaly leg mites irritating the hens. I use oil to coat the hens’ legs and diatomaceous earth in their dust bath and house for the other mites. I am all for organic everything and prevention is way better than some cures, so hopefully we can keep them at bay this year. The other way to keep the mites out is to keep the wild birds, who carry the mites, out of the hen yard and risk the few bugs when they leave the yard later in the day.
Here is a comparison between a healthy chicken leg and a mite-infested one, for those of you with your own hens in the yard:
We are planting A LOT of potatoes this year. All varieties. I am using well rotted horse manure in a shallow trench. I had the hens turning over the manure first as I find a lot of cut worms in horse manure which can just devastate the potato crop.
Sweet potatoes are treated the same way. Although this year will be interesting as the bushbuck broke through our electric fence- a huge hole! They love sweet potato leaves and so the vines have no leaves to help them get started this year. I’m sure we’ll manage if we sing to them often.
Wide varieties cross-pollinate
I’ll put in every variety of tomato I have this year and not worry to collect seed as they will all cross-pollinate (seeds in the germination cupboard as I type). I am more concerned with a good crop of fruit this year. We eat a lot of tomatoes and with only one variety last season and being sure to harvest the best for seed, we ended up very short of salad. For me, the crucial part of growing food is to be self-sustaining first. It just irked me to buy canned tomatoes when we ran out of freezer stock in July. I will be canning instead of freezing this year in an effort to cut down on freezer use.
On another track, with limited winter rains, there are some wild plants we have been unable to harvest in bulk. With 3 nice spells of wet weather, I have been harvesting Plantain for an order again (Plantago Lanceolata). It grows wherever the ground is disturbed and there is enough water. With the little hairs on the leaves, it does not mind the cold – actually it flourishes. Used medicinally for all sorts from skin conditions to liver ailments it is a most useful “weed”. Just have to get in before the horses and buck.
There are many more volunteer plants which can be foraged in open spaces, forest edges and don’t forget your back garden! Just because they are classed as weeds, doesn’t mean they are not useful plants. They make good muti, additions to salads or just look unusual in a vase.
Organic farmer Sue regularly writes for us on farm activities and challenges.