Welcome to 2019!
We are heading into our third year of this blog, thanks for sticking around!
The December-January time is always a crazy time for us with end of the school year, the peak holiday season in the guesthouse and peak of summer-farm-busy-ness.
We started this year with a bang and lots of new developments that seemed to happen faster than we anticipated!
We started the holiday season with only a handful of bookings but a flood of last minute bookings kept us on our toes throughout the season! Our stats showed that about 50% of our bookings came in a week before arrival, and most of those a day before arrival so everytime we thought we had some breathing space, a booking would come in and we would be back on the trot again! It was a good time of learning again though for us. We had decided to offer meals for the holiday-makers who were staying much longer than the usual weekenders that only stay a night or two. And we did cooked breakfasts. All a lot more than we are used to!
However we met some wonderful guests and made some lovely connections, with lots of encouragement. We held farm tours and many guests were interested in the closed loop, regenerative farming methods, as well as purchasing fresh produce. Thank you to all our guests for your wonderful, kind reviews!
Throughout this time, we continued full steam ahead on the farm too. The school holidays and general shut down time give us time, when other companies are closed, to focus on our business 100% with less distraction than during the rest of the year – besides for the busy guesthouse.
During this time we continued with REKO Notties, the Facebook based pre-order system of local, wholesome produce. The market is steadily growing despite many local people being away over Christmas and the schools on holiday. We had a fair amount of interest from people in other areas, with two ladies volunteering to each head up a REKO Ring in their area! Thus we met with a group of interested producers in Howick (about 45mins from us), and in Hilton (about an hour away). We are supporting the start up of both REKO Rings, with Hilton launching this week and Howick shortly after. We hadn’t anticipated REKO to take off as quickly as it did but we are over the moon! It is also good timing for most producers, being summer, as it gives time to establish the market before the natural slow down in Winter.
Pasture Raised Poultry
Our other major achievement was building the egg mobile! The layer chickens were our original ‘Step One’ of the farm but we quickly learned that they required a fair amount more investment than the broilers so they had to take a backseat for a bit. We were given this caravan chassis and Andre and Sandile built the egg mobile onto it over a couple of weeks (after months of drawing, planning and working out quantities). We largely used the design from Ridgedale Permaculture’s book “Making Small Farms Work” by Richard Perkins.
My Christmas present was 50 laying hens (Lohman Browns). Every morning I was up at 5:30/6am to feed and water the chickens before starting breakfast in the guesthouse. We have managed to source some medication and hormone free feed so we can be sure that the chickens have the best diet available to us.
The egg mobile houses a large roost space for the hens (and our two roosters) and nesting boxes. We open the nest boxes early in the morning and close them when we collect the eggs at night. This prevents the hens roosting in them and making a mess, ensuring clean eggs. The egg mobile is moved every couple of days to ensure clean, fresh forage for the chickens. The entire floor is mesh so all the chicken litter drops right through onto the grass and fertilises the grass. Ideally the chickens would follow behind grazers and feast on any larvae in their droppings. For now, ours are enjoying grass and bugs in the soil. We are having to learn though about moving this large contraption up and down the slope… learning about mobile infrastructure on a slope is a steeper learning curve than our mountainside… !
Forest raised Pigs
The pigs began their adventures of free ranging on the forest edge during the day. They loved it! Andre held his breath the first time as he opened the gate and the pigs rapidly disappeared into the veld! But they were sure to be back in time for their milk dinner. One afternoon they managed to walk all the way around and quietly came trotting up the driveway! They were, luckily, very happy to follow Andre back to their milk trough though.
The pigs have also been very helpful in cycling through the market garden. Using the electronet to contain the pigs in one area, we have been able to crop out old/bolted/dry plants and weeds and prepare the soil for planting. Normally this would have been an all or nothing game with either all beds planted, or all beds prepared and waiting to be planted. But now the pigs can prepare a section for us beautifully with the nose-tills and then we can plant again while other areas remain planted and untouched by the pigs. They seem to be churning up a lot of dormant weeds though but they do eat a lot of these on their second go through a bed. We have struggled with a particular weed growing from rhizomes, almost like an underground stem/tuber with multiple shoots underground, making it very difficult to always pull out by hand. Hopefully the pigs are slowly eating away at these roots and next year will be better.
It has been unusually dry this summer and we are really starting to worry. Consequently we had to prioritise water to the guesthouse during the peak time. This meant sacrificing any crops we had planted by not irrigating frequently enough. This resulted in the weeds just going absolutely crazy! It is so demoralising and demotivating but we are hoping to get on top of it again now with the help of the pigs. The dam has been incredibly low and we are worried that if it doesn’t fill by the end of summer, we will have a very hard time in winter!
Luckily this weekend past we had some rain and there seems to be a lot of rain forecast later this week – holding thumbs! A couple days of good drizzle over the weekend seems to have softened the ground so we are hoping that most of the predicted rainfall doesn’t just wash over the hardened soil. We are digging drainage this week to try and direct as much run-off into the dam as possible for the future. While our dam is situated below the house with no pump system yet, it does give us a back up if we need, if we can keep it full. One huge benefit of being on a slope is gravity fed water with excellent pressure! This saves us hugely on energy costs by not having to pump water – and not have to worry about something going wrong with the pump. Because of the situation of the dam, we are looking at trying to use as much area below the dam for running animals in the future so that they are not sharing the same supply as the guesthouse and we don’t have to have the same problem of needing to prioritise water. This takes some serious planning and a lot of work so we’ll see!
Fruit and Veg
We began pruning the summer growth on the fruit trees to stunt unwanted growth areas. We had a fairly good harvest of figs, peaches and apricots but most of the other trees didn’t produce this year. That’s ok, we did prune very hard in Spring. Winter pruning encourages growth and summer pruning stunts growth to ensure the tree directs its energy to the best, strongest branches.
After the wattle loggers left mid-December, we went and collected a whole lot of wattle sticks to make trellises for beans, pumpkin and butternut. Hopefully this will help these plants climb instead of rambling along the ground, at risk of damage by passing people and dogs. A hailstorm last week has damaged some of the baby fruit so we will have to wait and see how many survive. Multiple pumpkin plants around the garden will hopefully mean some have success. Andre tested the pH of our soil recently and discovered we have very acidic soil, plus most of the organic matter that we have been using is even more acidic. This gives us some more information to work with. We have put a small amount of lime into the beds to bring the pH up a bit but in the meantime we are going to focus on crops that like acidic soil, and look into planting green manure and/or cover crops to neutralise the soil (without tillage though).
Luckily poultry manure tends towards being more alkaline!
Our cherry trees have exploded with fruit! While the baboons got most of the fruit, and the pigs got the floor fruit, we managed to pick a fair amount and enjoyed making jam for the first time! These little cherries were so irresistible that even Elliott fancied himself as a browser and picked fruit off of the low hanging branches!
It wasn’t all work and no play though… we did have a glorious week where we had the place all to ourselves, and the most gorgeous hot summer days. We spent most of this week at the dam, swimming, having a braai, catching up with friends and family who we weren’t able to see over Christmas with us working, walks, reading and just catching our breath again.
And now we are off to go an collect eggs on a warm, sunny evening followed by walk along the stream.