The aftermath of our floods.

Life here is slowly returning to normal. Social conversations are still all about what happened and who was badly affected.  Most of us – but not all, have our electricity back on and we can get where we need to go, although there are roadworks everywhere and a few detours still.  The vegetation next to the rivers looks ravaged and huge trees are lying sadly on their sides with withered leaves.  There will definitely not be a shortage of firewood here for a while.

Our water on the other hand is still quite disgusting

I put this water into the bottles 10 days ago hoping to be able to sediment out the sand and get clean water.  To date there is very, very, little sedimentation and it still looks just as orange as when I bottled it.  I have tried filtering it through cloth and coffee filters but nothing comes out.  Ceramic jug filters just get blocked so they are no good either.

A city 100km’s away from us sends a huge truck filled with water to our town every day and we can collect water.  For a day or two all bottled water in the stores was sold out but they are all fully stocked now.  I looked at some prices for those who purchase their water – Pick ‘n Pay R18.95 for 5L, – Labamba R12.95 for 5L and Oasis, R13.95.

I use our purchased bottled water for cooking and drinking. Even Cleo and Savannah get bottled water to drink.  We shower in the orange water but I just can’t bring myself to wash our clothes in it.  Our laundry pile is quite huge.  I met a lady yesterday who is taking her washing to Nelspruit (2 hours away) to get it done in a laundromat there.  I will have to make a plan to get some washing done somehow as it does not look like this problem will be resolved in the very near future.

The small roads on and around our farm are in a state of disrepair.

These gullies will have to be filled with rock and sand to avoid further erosion when it rains.

Some good news though, is that our new baby giraffe is fit, fat and flourishing and survived the rains well.







What the (s)hell is going on in the Karoo?

The Karoo is a large landlocked region making up 25% of the land surface of South Africa. The region is generally exposed and windy, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Temperature extremes range from -5°C in winter to 43°C in summer. A wide variety of life-forms co-exist in the Karoo. Small trees occur along drainage lines and on rocky hillsides. Plains are dominated by low shrubs (generally less than 1 m in height) intermixed with grasses, succulents, geophytes and annual forbs. The grassiness of the vegetation varies over time, increasing in periods of above average summer rainfall and decreasing in periods when summers are drier than winters.  It is a very beautiful part of South Africa and water is a very precious commodity in this region.

Tanqua Karoo, South Africa
Photo: Claire Spottiswoode

Shell has applied for a license to explore for shale gas in the ecologically sensitive Karoo region.

The exploration involves a controversial process called  ‘hydraulic fracturing’, or, ‘fracking’ in which water and sand are pumped into a well in order to get the gas that is contained in soft rock to flow freely. While the prospect of exploiting such a resource may go some way in securing the country’s energy supplies, it can lead to pollution of the underground water system and may impact land use for years.

The following speech was given by Lewis Pugh at a public hearing regarding this subject.  It’s long but REALLY well worth the read.

Cape Town – 25 March 2011


Ladies and gentlemen, thank for the opportunity to address you.  My name is
Lewis Pugh.

This evening, I want to take you back to the early 1990’s in this country.
You may remember them well.

Nelson Mandela had been released.  There was euphoria in the air. However,
there was also widespread violence and deep fear. This country teetered on
the brink of a civil war.  But somehow, somehow, we averted it.  It was a

And it happened because we had incredible leaders.  Leaders who sought calm.
Leaders who had vision.  So in spite of all the violence, they sat down and
negotiated a New Constitution.

I will never forget holding the Constitution in my hands for the first time.
I was a young law student at the University of Cape Town.  This was the
cement that brought peace to our land.  This was the document, which held
our country together.  The rights contained herein, made us one.

I remember thinking to myself – never again will the Rights of South
Africans be trampled upon.

Now every one of us – every man and every women – black, white, coloured,
Indian, believer and non believer – has the right to vote.  We all have the
Right to Life.  And our children have the right to a basic education. These
rights are enshrined in our Constitution.

These rights were the dreams of Oliver Tambo.  These rights were the dreams
of Nelson Mandela. These rights were the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, of
Desmond Tutu and of Molly Blackburn.  These rights were our dreams.

People fought – and died – so that we could enjoy these rights today.

Also enshrined in our Constitution, is the Right to a Healthy Environment
and the Right to Water. Our Constitution states that we have

“the Right to have our environment protected for the benefit of our
generation and for the benefit of future generations..”

Fellow South Africans, let us not dishonour these rights.   Let us not
dishonour those men and women who fought and died for these rights.  Let us
not allow corporate greed to disrespect our Constitution and desecrate our

Never, ever did I think that there would be a debate in this arid country
about which was more important – gas or water.  We can survive without gas.
We cannot live without water.

If we damage our limited water supply – and fracking will do just that – we
will have conflict again here in South Africa.  Look around the world.
Wherever you damage the environment you have conflict.

Fellow South Africans, we have had enough conflict in this land – now is the
time for peace.

A few months ago I gave a speech with former President of Costa Rica.
Afterwards I asked him

“Mr President, how do you balance the demands of development against the
need to protect the environment?”

He looked at me and said

“It is not a balancing act.  It is a simple business decision.  If we cut
down our forests in Costa Rica to satisfy a timber company, what will be
left for our future?”

But he pointed out

“It is also a moral decision.  It would be morally wrong to chop down our
forests and leave nothing for my children and my grandchildren.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is what is at stake here today: Our children’s
future.  And that of our children’s children.

There may be gas beneath our ground in the Karoo.  But are we prepared to
destroy our environment for 5 to 10 years worth of fossil fuel and further
damage our climate?

Yes, people will be employed – but for a short while.  And when the drilling
is over, and Shell have packed their bags and disappeared, then what?  Who
will be there to clean up?  And what jobs will our children be able to etch

Now Shell will tell you that their intentions are honourable.  That fracking
in the Karoo will not damage our environment.  That they will not
contaminate our precious water.  That they will bring jobs to South Africa.
That gas is clean and green.  And that they will help secure our energy

When I hear this – I have one burning question.  Why should we trust them?
Africa is to Shell what the Gulf of Mexico is to BP.

Shell, you have a shocking record here in Africa.  Just look at your
operations in Nigeria.  You have spilt more than 9 million barrels of crude
oil into the Niger Delta.  That’s twice the amount of oil that BP spilt into
the Gulf of Mexico.

You were found guilty of bribing Nigerian officials – and to make the case
go away in America – you paid an admission of guilt fine of US$48 million.

And to top it all, you stand accused of being complicit in the execution of
Nigeria’s leading environmental campaigner – Ken Saro-Wira and 8 other

If you were innocent, why did you pay US$15.5 million to the widows and
children to settle the case out of Court?

Shell, the path you want us to take us down is not sustainable.  I have
visited the Arctic for 7 summers in a row.  I have seen the tundra thawing.
I have seen the retreating glaciers. And I have seen the melting sea ice.
And I have seen the impact of global warming from the Himalayas all the way
down to the low-lying Maldive Islands. Wherever I go – I see it.

Now is the time for change.  We cannot drill our way out of the energy
crisis.  The era of fossil fuels is over.  We must invest in renewable
energy.  And we must not delay!

Shell, we look to the north of our continent and we see how people got tired
of political tyranny.  We have watched as despots, who have ruled ruthlessly
year after year, have been toppled in a matter of weeks.

We too are tired.  Tired of corporate tyranny.  Tired of your short term,
unsustainable practices.

We watched as Dr Ian Player, a game ranger from Natal, and his friends, took
on Rio Tinto (one of the biggest mining companies in the world) and won.

And we watched as young activists from across Europe, brought you down to
your knees, when you tried to dump an enormous oil rig into the North Sea.

Shell, we do not want our Karoo to become another Niger Delta.

Do not underestimate us.  Goliath can be brought down.  We are proud of what
we have achieved in this young democracy – and we are not about to let your
company come in and destroy it.

So let this be a Call to Arms to everyone across South Africa, who is
sitting in the shadow of Goliath: Stand up and demand these fundamental
human rights promised to you by our Constitution.  Use your voices – tweet,
blog, petition, rally the weight of your neighbours and of people in power.
Let us speak out from every hilltop.  Let us not go quietly into this bleak
future.  Let me end off by saying this – You have lit a fire in our bellies, which no
man or woman can extinguish.  And if we need to, we will take this fight all
the way from your petrol pumps to the very highest Court in this land.  We
will take this fight from the farms and towns of the Karoo to the streets of
London and Amsterdam.  And we will take this fight to every one of your
shareholders.  And I have no doubt, that in the end, good will triumph over

We need to stand up and be counted  – you can sign a petition here.

Fixing an old home with old things…. my way of recycling

When I think of my home, I see a very long to-do list.  It’s a really old place with very many things that need to get fixed, changed, built, painted and planted.  I want to use second-hand (or older) products to do these things where ever I can – firstly to save money and secondly to recycle products that would normally be thrown away.  I know that there will be times where I will have to buy some things to complete tasks and I won’t beat myself up about them, as long as I can stick with my principles for the majority of things.

This last weekend I made good use of my parents being with me and we got quite a few things done. My dad replaced two very old broken light switches (with new ones) for me.  I can now use my bedside light properly and my veranda light can be switched on.  There was just a black hole to put your finger in if you would have tried that last week.  Not a good idea.

While we were at the hardware store I looked very lovingly at new hose pipes.  I really need to be able to water the area where I want some lawn before I even think about planting any. I did however have a few shorter old bits at home which we decided to join and try out.  It looks really bitty with about 10 joins in it but I now have a hose pipe that is about 30 meters long and works reasonably well.  The few leaks get positioned to water plants en route. Even the joins are made with different bits and pieces – it’s rather colourful actually.

We also started a mini herb garden –  I now have basil, rosemary, chives, origanum, lemon grass and parsley planted.  They are not planted where I eventually will have my herb garden because a lot more needs to be done there before I can plant.  This way I can get some herbs now – while I slowly prepare my veggie patch.  I just hope they don’t get eaten by passing animals.

It still looks a little sparse – I will be adding to it when I can.  We also built/laid pathways to the guest cottage and to the Beans cottage so that one can walk to the main cottage without getting thorny dirty feet – especially if it ever rains when it rains.  The pathways are made from old railway sleepers which I got for free and big flat rocks that we went in search of on the property.

You can see how incredibly dry it is here now. We look to the sky many times a day in search of rain clouds. According to those in the know, it should rain by the 10 October. That’s a long wait when things are so very hot and dry.

We cleared this area of some rubble and rocks too – it was good exercise. My wheel barrow is about 95 years old and is full of holes. I think it might die soon.

I want to plant grass in the area around the pathways and I am already one step closer by having my long hose now so that I can water the lawn.  I need to get something to cut the lawn with though.  I mentioned to the folk at work that I wanted one of those old roller lawn cutters that don’t require fuel or electricity and they all burst out laughing at me. They think I am very funny and old-fashioned. Ah well. I will find something.  I think some animals will help keep the lawn short but I am not sure to what extent?

Thanks so much to my parents who worked so hard (and bought me some plants).  We had a grand weekend!

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!

A few months ago I told you about our water supply on the farm.  Our water comes from the Blyde river pipeline and we store it in this tank

With three of us living here at the moment we refill the tank every second day.  On Wednesday last week I noticed a slightly mouldy smell when I showered in the morning.  After washing myself thoroughly – thinking it was me – I still smelled the smell.  Once I was out of the shower I washed my bath sponge and face cloth properly, thinking that maybe they were a little “off” and then went to work.  Unbeknown to me, Hannah has also noticed a funny smell and mentioned it to the Bean who said she had smelled nothing.

Continue reading

A chilling question

While I have not yet started producing my own food, it is on my mind most days.  I really can’t wait till I can get my hands into the earth and begin.  I spend much of my time planning and dreaming about how I want to do these things and one thing that keeps stopping me in my tracks is refrigeration or cooling.

For most of the preserving, fermenting and cheese making that I want to do, it is going to be necessary for me to have a room that stays reasonably cool.  I would prefer to keep it cool without the use of electricity or gas.  In colder climates many people have root cellars and basements where they can store food over the winter period.  Here our temperatures are really very high in summer and reasonably high in winter.  One advantage of our climate is that we can grow food in winter time, so massive storage place won’t be that necessary, but for fermenting purposes and cheesemaking I will need this space.

After having done a bit of research about how people managed without fridges in the old days, I have a few possible solutions but nothing that I think will work properly here.  If I lived near the river and not 1km away from it, it would probably be my best solution – cold running water all year round would be available.  Digging down into the ground here is almost an impossibility with the amount of rock we have.  I have  heard about cold rooms that they used to use on farms years ago where water dripped down the outside of the walls and evaporation cooled the inner room down.  This works much like a cold safe that used hessian and evaporation for cooling like the one below – I would need more space than this though.

The one big problem in using an evaporation method in our area is the level of humidity in the air.  Our air is quite humid in summer (70% average) and this hinders evaporation.  I remember last summer when, although the temperatures were sometimes in the 40’s (C),  clothes on the  wash line would take very long to dry.

I really don’t need the room to be that cold – only about 15 – 18 deg C will be fine.  That may sound reasonable until you experience the crazy heat we have here in summer time. Nothing is ever that cold here in summer.  Have any of you had experience with solar cooling?  Any other ideas for me to investigate?


When you turn on a water tap and you see water run into your sink, what do you think about?  I would guess, for most of you, nine times out of ten, you are thinking about something else entirely – what to prepare for breakfast maybe, or confirming in your mind when your early morning meeting starts? Well that’s what I used to think of.  Not anymore.

I know we are told continuously around the world to conserve water and that the next world war will be over water not oil – but somehow that always seemed a little distant to me, even living on one of the dryest continents. I still didn’t think about my water very much.

Now, the first thing that comes into my head when I turn the tap on – even in my very groggy state in the morning – is if the tank has water in it, then after the first squirt I wonder if there is enough for my shower or if I will be left with shampoo in my hair.

Our water tank holds enough water for our family for two days if we don’t use much on the garden.  When W is away, we last three days during the week and only one to two days over the weekend when I do the washing and cleaning.  So, every second day we have to remember to fill the tank. I am still not in the habit, so it does happen that we run dry.  W is very good with it though so I normally don’t have to worry when he is at home. 

We will have to replace the tank once the property transfer goes through.  The scaffolding that it currently stands on is rather rickety and we would like to replace it with a store room and laundry with stone pillars on the roof holding up the new shiny tank (or most likely a recycled second-hand – new-to-me one) like one of these

You may be wondering why I am making such an issue about filling the tank – well to do so I  have to turn on three more taps, one at the bottom of our tank scaffolding and the other two are one kilometer away next to the road at the router.

On foot, the whole process takes about half and hour to turn it on then after it is full, another half and hour to turn it off.  It is much quicker to go by car but then you have to hop in and out of the car a few times to open gates etc. – quite a process.

I am glad that, because of our situation, that each time I turn on the tap I am more conscious of the water that comes out.  It keeps me in the moment, more grounded and real and I appreciate every drop of water I use.