Monday, August 1, 2011

Lots of wwoofer action

Update from the forest

Greetings! The long silence does not mean that we have been abducted by aliens or fallen off the face of the planet. I have been suffering from "Blogger's Block"... but mostly, no news has been good news.

I'll begin my update with the goings-on in the pet enclosure (as there is always much happening here). You may remember Mr Sox, the boy guinea pig who considered himself to be a rabbit until sexy girl guinea pig, Paris showed up to remind him of his true nature. We swopped our 4 nasty roosters in exchange for her at an animal sanctuary, to which I have not dared return in case they want to give the roosters back! Anyway, Paris and Mr Sox are now proud parents!

We waited and waited, along with Casey and Sarah (WWOOFERS from California who are medical exchange students), while Paris grew fatter and fatter. When she looked like a football, our friendly neighbor S (who boasts many pet rat birth stories) Googled "guinea pig births" and we discovered that they have exceptionally long gestation periods. Long after the departure of our med students, we woke to find the triplets: covered in fur, eyes open and able to run around and eat solid foods from day 1! We named the girl baby Mimi (we knew she was female due to the fact that she had three colours, rather than the males' one or two). She has since unfortunately succumbed to a suspected quail attack, but brothers Felix and Chip are growing at a rapid rate and providing much delight and enjoyment.

Our finch family (white mommy and zebra daddy) managed to build themselves a nest in the enclosure and lined it with soft rabbit fur from where their tiny eggs brought forth two sweet little baby birds whose beaks are starting to turn the distinctive orange colour. Daddy and babies have since escaped, leaving a rather lonely mommy to wait for her new eggs to hatch and provide some company.

Meanwhile, our rabbit breeding programme came to a rather abrupt end after Big Daddy Fuzzy's "snip". I did recently spot our baby rabbit Flash Gordon humping Speckles, quickly picked him up and managed to lay eyes on his manhood, so I have no doubt we will soon be in business again. Our "Bunny Love" stall at the Friday market was a big hit a few weeks ago (R5 for 5 minutes of bunny cuddles), so this family business might have a future! I am also collecting rabbit fur which I hope to spin into wool and knit myself a beany - currently my most ambitious project.

On the chicken front, our sole hen Penguin stopped laying eggs a few weeks ago, much to our dismay of course. Whlie chatting to guru neighbour R about farm matters, he informed me that chickens don't lay eggs in winter (unless they are kept warm and given enough artificial light) - who knew? I was given another little hen as a birthday present from kind poultry producing neighbours, and since then Penguin has been laying again. Although we've had some lovely warm winter days, it seems that loneliness might also play a part in egg production. Now Penguin and Hoendertjie scratch around the yard, looking for worms, attempt to come into the house and regularly crap on the patio. Penguin recently discovered that Kevin's car is quite cosy and promptly laid an egg on his seat!

Justin and Gervais (a South African woofing couple) arrived shortly after the birth of our guinea pig triplets, sporting their own bakkie. This was the first time we had woofers with their own transport and within no time, the farm was a hub of activity. Loads of mulch, horse manure, sand and stone were carted around and the heavy (and welcome) rains meant that the bakkie got stuck in the mud on numerous occasions. They turned our growing tunnel into an oasis, with deep fertile raised beds. On most afternoons, the children and I can be found fighting over fresh baby carrots, munching greens and edible flowers - this gives me endless joy...My forage food project is slowly becoming a reality, although I do still prepare meals. I have sent the kids to the tunnel to forage when they presented with hunger from time to time (their friends think I a weirdo!).

Justin also brought a wealth of mushroom farming knowledge and inspired Kevin to use my bath (which has been sitting around waiting for a bathroom for 2 years) to house a multitude of plastic bags filled with sterilised straw and oyster mushroom spawn. I expect that we'll be having an oyster mushroom festival soon (unfortunately not in time for the Knysna Oyster Festival which ended last week). With my bath occupied and bathroom still in the ethereal reality, I managed to buy a plastic tub recently which is big enough for me to have a bucket bath. A tight squeeze and some imagination...Update on the mushrooms is that the straw is showing signs of gross green fungus which I suspect is bad news.

Karlo (from Cape Town) and Aysan (from Sweden) arrived shortly after the departure of Justin & Gervais and busied themselves with filling tyres to provide the flower garden with a barrier from the cows and grass. They also completed the foundation to the new shed, which went up last week.This is the first construction project which Kevin has taken complete ownership of and I (for one) am very proud of my handy husband! The shed came in panels and was acquired second-hand from mountain biking mate B, various woofers built and prepared the foundation, helpful handyman neighbour M brought his powerful drill and Kevin & I erected the last panels and attached the roof sheets. Now, we're eager to get going on the new spacious main bedroom with a spectacular view over the forest and mountains...

Rebecca is our latest woofer from Calgary, Canada where they have one month of summer each year. She's been enjoying our warm winter days while painting and preparing the shed for the Great Relocation of "Stuff" which took place last weekend. After unpacking and organising the last of our stuff, we were able to finally say good bye to the last remaining rented container. It's been almost 4 years. I now still have a stack of boxes on the patio to sort through (which I plan on covering with a table cloth and being in denial about for the near future)!

The last few months haven't been without sadness: we've said good bye to dear neighbour T (who returned to Germany), our friends (the A team) who returned to Canada after their sabbatical year in Plett, and the D'O family who left for Johannesburg. We've buried Mimi the guinea pig and Top Deck - the first of our baby bunnies to survive, who got trapped in a burrow. On the 13th of July I commemorated my mom's birthday - she would have turned 62. And although I miss her dearly every day, I am never far from her wisdom and love and blessed by the abundance of woofers she sends to help ease the load.

Mila has become quite the actress - she delivered all 60 of her lines in the recent school play impeccably even though she was coming down with the flu. She played Mohtep, the evil advisor to the pharaoh who planned to overthrow the throne. She has published her own blog: and has become a very keen mountain biker (finally, a biking buddy for Kevin)! She turns 8 on Saturday (6 August) and we're planning a mountain biking adventure and sleepover party...

Luke recently learnt about the dangers of fire when he landed with both his palms on the boiling hot Morso fireplace when he fell off the couch he was jumping on. He screamed for hours and nursed nasty blisters for more than a week, but has since recovered and is also learning to master his bicycle (in between building Lego and playing in the mud).

Kevin is constantly finding "amazing new apps" for his iPhone, developing his photographic talents and is soon off to Israel for his niece's wedding.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The end of the rooster era

We're planting!

After more than 3 years of farm life, we've finally started planting food! This auspicious event occurred on 21 March: Human Rights Day - we have the right to grow our own food. It was also the autumn equinox, full moon and the 2 year anniversary of mother's passing, so hopefully this will bode well for our veggies and ensure a good crop. We've created one raised bed (with the help of wwoofer Freya) and went for the lazy man's answer for the rest: planting in potting soil bags and old tyres. Instant gardening...I'm all for working smarter not harder!

Who would have believed that it would take so long to get some vegetables going? Most of our previous experimental attempts have ended in disaster. Our wheat grass got attacked by baboons, birds and rats; strawberries were ravished by a variety of creatures; cows repeatedly chewed our lettuce and the most colourful insects known to man feasted on the rest. Now that we have a secure (?) growing tunnel, we're finally farmers.

We planted eggplant, tomato, cucumber, basil, leeks, spinach, wong bok, beetroot, onions, turnips, chamomile and lettuce as well as potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots - now we await the next level of self-suffiency with bated breath. We're pretty much self-sufficient in terms of eggs: Penguin lays one a day and since we're not particularly big on eggs, it serves our needs. Not that these are the cheapest eggs on the planet.

Due to the bad behaviour of Lovely (one of our roosters) we decided that he should be moved to the chicken penitentiary with the two naughty Golden Boys. A vicious cock fight ensued which sent feathers and blood flying. After an emergency family meeting, it was agreed to split the chicken pen into 2 smaller holding cells by splitting the cage with our old wrought-iron head board. Luke was in favour of eating Lovely, while Kevin and I wanted to take the chicken to the forest to live it's last day/s in freedom before entering the food chain. The voices of the animal activists: Mila and our new vegan, animal-loving WWOOF volunteer Amanda were most persuasive, however. We ended up keeping and feeding 4 roosters and one hen, the price to pay for an egg a day...

Amanda came to Africa from her native Sweden where she was involved with Green Peace and protecting the indigenous forests of Scandanavia. She prepares delicious vegan meals and entertains the children with endless jokes (which she is forced to repeat daily to their utter delight). She's been weeding, planting, mulching and mending the holes in the growing tunnel caused by the cows scratching their horned heads against it. Having experienced some farming concepts first-hand over the last few years, I am rather inclined to agree with her vegan outlook on things. Being a vegetarian is simply not enough to stop the suffering & killing of animals. By enjoying milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice-cream we are still feeding the cow industry whereby mommy cows get separated from their babies in order get them into the milk production line. What to do with the baby boy cows but eat them? Not to mention roosters which (in my experience) can be a rather nasty by-product of producing eggs. I tend to think that humans should never have domesticated animals.

On a lighter note - a cleaning angel named Fransiena has made repeated appearances, cleaning like a machine and restoring our home to neatness I have only previously imagined. My prayers have been answered! Suddenly I have spare time to spend with Kevin and the children (although yesterday, I spent this free time scrubbing dog wee off the car seat!).

We leave to Cape Town tomorrow for a fun-filled long weekend of circus and city lights. I'm rather apprehensive: the last time we went to Cape Town for a weekend I received the call that my mother passed away and we had to reroute to Pretoria. I trust this weekend will end more enjoyably...


Back from Cape Town, where we had a lovely long weekend. First stop, of course, was Toy Kingdom where Luke spent hours shopping for new Ninja Lego and Mila exhausted her hard earned stash of pocket money. The city was beautiful as always and the Cirque du Soleil was utterly enthralling, as was the Grand West Casino complex: a kind of Sun City/Montecasino experience, complete with fake trees and painted ceilings. After the show Mila headed straight for the ice skating rink and would not leave for 2 hours!

The first day of our arrival was rather emotional as I recalled the shock, turmoil and despair of our last visit. The holiday house we had stayed in when I learned that Trudy had died did not have a single blade of grass or any garden where I could find grounding. This time we stayed in a lovely guest house in Hout Bay with a wonderful garden which housed a flowering creeper that used to cover the walls of my childhood home. The velvety pink flowers of which look like fairies when turned upside down. I spent endless days as a little girl playing with these 'fairies" and if any plant could epitomize my childhood, this would be it. I could feel Trudy's loving energy embracing me in the Mother City.

The silence of the city was quite a revelation - to not be rudely awakened several times a night and ridiculously early in the morning by four lunatic roosters was a sheer delight! As I lay in my bed with the calming sounds of city traffic and far-off sirens, I begged the Universe to send a solution to our rooster problem...

Two days after our return, the lady at the Wolf Sanctuary agreed take the 4 unruly chickens in exchange for a baby guinea pig - she assured me that they would not become wolf food, but frankly, I don't care what becomes of them. At last we have our silence back!

We returned from Cape Town to discover 9 new baby rabbits in our cage - happiness is...

As I sat there cuddling the little angels, a feeling of dread and fear started rising in my being: what were we going to do with all these rabbits? And so, the idea for the Bunny Bonanza was born. I designed and printed about 80 invitations which were distributed at the children's school, inviting everyone to an open weekend of bunny love. Since I had always wanted to have a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, I decided to combine it with the bunnies and we ended up having a 2 day long, non-stop tea party. Kevin set up a temporary photographic studio in the rabbit cage where he took some incredible pictures and so managed to promote his photography as well. We managed to sell a few bunnies and the remainder were given to the pet shop...crisis averted.

Our mommy rabbit had another batch of babies in the meantime, but daddy Fuzzy went for the SNIP yesterday, so I trust that the rabbit population will now be curbed. I'm quite convinced that our new little guinea pig (Paris) will soon be impregnated by the resident Mr Sox, however.

We bid our Swedish wwoofer farewell last week and welcomed our latest arrival: a 19 year old Belgium chap, Amaury, who has started preparing our new fruit tree beds. In celebration of his arrival I prepared our most self-sufficient dinner yet - something called "Eggs in a Nest", basically a selection of stir fried vegetables and garden greens, in which indentations are made and farm fresh eggs poached in the hollows. We relished 7 of Penguins eggs and a batch of greens from our new veggie garden...well on our way to making John Seymour proud!


And on final sad note, another loved one has crossed the thin veil of this earthly reality to the realm of Spirit. Kevin's cousin Heather lost her dear husband Brian to a heart attack while he was on a business trip in China. I trust that Heather and her three lovely girls will sense his loving support and guidance from the Other Side, and that they will be blessed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Farm life

Farm life

We've had our first chicken egg! Our little hen, Penguin, neatly deposited her delivery on a shelf in the chicken coup cupboard where it was met with much excitement and then enjoyed by the family plus wwoofing volunteer. And what a delicious egg it was - fresh, dark yellow, nutricious yolk...

For all the joy derived from our hen, we've been equally dismayed by the behaviour of our 4 roosters, however. Yes: Popcorn, Lovely and both Golden Girls do now appear to be roosters, and the bigger of Golden Girls has developed into the terrorist of the chicken coup. He pecks at people (ouch!) as well as quails and rabbits - presumably because he thinks that everything that moves is edible. I suspect chickens' lack of intelligence precludes them from being sinister or malicious, nevertheless, I awoke on Sunday morning with murder on my mind. Armed with John Seymour's Ultimate Guide to Self-Sufficient Living, I was fully prepared to wring that little chicken's neck, de-feather and gut it & have a lovely Sunday braai on the Weber with our friends. We could not get Mila to agree to the slaughter (it being her chicken) and so Golden Boy #1 can still be counted among the living.

After discussing the matter with one of my catering clients who has some experience in meat matters, I was advised to slice the chicken's neck and let it bleed out after which it should be kept in the fridge for 2 days before cooking it in order to avoid the meat becoming tough. Well, that was enough to put this vegetarian off that idea! And once again, Kevin's Jewish heritage came to the rescue in the form of our sukkah which has been converted into the chicken detention facility, with Mila's approval. Golden Boy #1's people pecking has ensured his incarceration, soon to be followed by Golden Boy #2's decapitation of a quail. These 2 have also now started cock-a-doodling in the mornings (and throughout the day) making sure no-one sleeps late on the farm - or at our neighbour's restful guest houses!

We have a new WWOOF volunteer: 20 year old Freya from Canada, who has been chasing summer for a year before starting college in cold Ontario in September. Her trip started in Costa Rica, moved to Argentina and after SA she's off to France and Norway (the land of her forefathers). While waging war against the ceaseless weeds last week, she made the gruesome discovery of 3 dead baby rabbits chewed on by our lovely dog, Mushroom. Much to our delight we discovered 2 live baby rabbits who had not yet dug their way out of the cage to follow their siblings' destiny. Top Deck and Chocolate are the sweetest little things - spreading loads of bunny love as they are cuddled often and spend lots of time in the bed with all of us. Coco (the mommy rabbit) has started digging another burrow, so I suspect we'll be having another litter soon. Initial enquiries have indicated that it would cost more than R400 per "snip" to curb the wave of procreation soon to follow. I love my rabbits way too much to start looking for a recipe for rabbit stew!

On the garden front: we've started experimenting with the quickest and easiest form of making vegetable beds: planting bags. I took a bag of Potting Soil (purchased from our local nursery) sliced a hole in the top and planted some tomatoes and cucumbers in the bag. According to the experts, it's quick and easy (I can vouch for that), the bag retains the moisture and the soil is weed-free (yeah!). Will report on the progress soon. Freya has also started preparing our first proper vegetable bed in the growing tunnel from which we will hopefully have some yield before the end of the growing season.

The Liquid Amber tree I planted on my mom's ashes is growing strong. The leaves are turning yellow for its third season and I always feel loved and cared for when I hold the still-slender trunk for some inspiration and strength. Yesterday, as I stood stroking the bark, Sade's lyrics "Is it a crime, that I still love you" drifted through Kevin's office window, carried by a breeze which softly rustled the leaves of Trudy's tree and I sensed her nearness.

I am progressing well on the ladder of technology: I am the owner of an iPad (on which I am composing this blog, while sitting in a coffee shop). Courtesy of a tax refund - we love SARS! The non-materialism which I have endeavoured to adopt over the past few years has become so ingrained, that I find it difficult to not experience some shame regarding the acquisition. But now I finally have the ultimate disciplinary tool - I have never seen the children clean their room quicker than when their iPad privileges are in question!

The children and happy and well: Luke is still a strong Lego-man and loves playing Plants vs Zombies on the iPad while Mila is discovering the joy of reading and has keenly taken up gymnastics (with no assistance from my genes!). We're planning a trip to Cape Town at the end of March to see Cirque du Soleil, which will no doubt inspire her to leap and somersault from high and dangerous places.

Our Bibby's Hoek Book Club remains a continual source of support, laughter, advice and good reading. After my introduction to Tom Robbins, I laboured through "The Road": the most depressing book I have ever read and something I cannot recommend with ease. It follows the journey of a man and his son as they wander around a dismal post-global warming landscape in search of the odd can of tinned fruit, while fending off other survivors-turned-cannibals. I believe that it's an important read and has made me seriously reconsider my survivalist ideas. I'm now enjoying Isabel Allendes memoirs to her dying daughter, Paula - much lighter reading!

Kevin returned from Mozambique where he did a photoshoot for a new lodge. He is finding a balance between the silence on the farm, his Apple computers and the occasional mid-life crisis, and has started distributing a lovely brochure for his family photography which should get him off the farm more regularly.

With the shock of the tsunami in Japan, the marriage separation of a dear neighbour/book club member and the sudden and tragic passing of our friends' 14 year old son, I find myself holding onto my family tighter, appreciating life more...with love and gratitude.

The latest photo’s can be viewed online @

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A new era

2011 started off with a bang as we have finally been blessed by a visit from Sylvia, my delightful mother-in-law. This was her first visit to the farm since we left the hustle and bustle of Jozi more than 3 years ago. Daunted by our tales of dry toilets, baboons, solar power failures, bathing in buckets and Kevin’s exaggeration: “our entire house can fit into your kitchen” – she hardly slept a wink the night before her arrival, worrying about what she would encounter on Farm 119!

After much cajoling (and some Jewish guilt tripping), she finally acquiesced to a visit, so Kevin brought her back from Jo’burg where he had been visiting a mourning friend. Concerned about her comfort, I phoned home just after her arrival and learned that she already had a swim in the farm dam and was happily snoozing in a hammock! (I have yet to set foot in the murky waters of our dam; much preferring the heated indoor pool at the Pezula Spa.) Always ready for an adventure, with a fresh and inspiring approach to life, Syl explored the forest with the children, hiked with Kevin, attended Mila’s ballet class and discovered that the farm is actually quite luxurious and civilized - if you don’t mind peeing in a pot in lieu of an en suite bathroom!

What a delight to share our home with a mother again – not since my mom’s passing 2 years ago have we had the privilege. This visit will hopefully signal the first of many…


We’ve slipped comfortably into our new routine for the year, and I thought I’d share our daily comings and goings:

Monday mornings signal the start of the early rise routine for the week: my cell phone alarm rings at 6.15, after which we all snooze 3 times until 6.45. “We all” being myself, Kevin and the kids. Although the kids start off in Luke’s racing car bed in the evenings, they make their way to our bed during the night. We take turns snuggling each other with each snooze, then do the quick bathroom-dressing-toothbrush run and enjoy a healthy breakfast of oats and fruit smoothies prepared by our Minister of Nutrition (Kevin). Mila feeds the chickens, quails and rabbits (part of her chores-for-pocket money arrangement) and by 7.15 we’re off to town, picking our neighbour’s son up for a lift to school.

The 25 minute drive to school is a peaceful one (zero traffic, beautiful scenery, the occasional baboon/cow crossing the road) while we take turns deciding on the music: Luke’s favourites being Cat Stevens and Lenny Kravitz, Mila usually opts for Beyonce and has discovered Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, while Buddhas (the neighbour’s son) prefers Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Bob Marley. Sting is an all-round favourite, and I try to work in the odd Les Miserables or Ella Fitzgerald for a bit of cultural indoctrination! This morning it was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody - full blast and on repeat. Musically inspired, the kids are delivered at the Knysna Montessori School and (if I’m lucky) I’ll be on time for work at 8.00.

First task at the office is the preparation of coffee: 2 strong cups in my mom’s old plunger: one cup for me and one on her behalf. Thereafter, it’s me behind my computer, preparing financial statements, completing tax returns and auditing the accounts of a variety of businesses (hotels, sawmills, property holding companies, body corporates, estate agents, restaurants, etc). By 2pm (after 6 hours of work), the caffeine has worn off and it’s time for the afternoon shift.

On Mondays I go to a private Pilates class which leaves me so stiff that I’m generally immobilized on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s been more than 2 years that I’ve done any formal exercise, so my muscles have gone South and need some serious resurrection. With wobbly legs and shaky abdominal muscles, I drive to school to collect the children, where I am almost always greeted by: “what did you buy us, Mommy?” If they’re lucky, I’ll stop at the farm stall on the way home and buy them each a piece of droë wors. (We’ve become occasionally meat-eating vegetarians.)

We arrive back at the farm around 4 pm, after which we disperse into various activities: visiting the chickens and rabbits, watering plants, training dogs, playing computer games, swimming in the dam, weeding, scraping cow poo off the patio (the cows can be so rude!), trampolining, picking food, playing Lego (mostly Luke), unpacking the car (mostly me) or cleaning the house. We had a newly appointed cleaning angel coming twice a week: she arrived for the first week and has absconded since…

I start preparing dinner around 6 (something simple, quick and vegetarian) and we eat together as a family with each one getting a chance to discuss their day. Bedtime for the children is at 7.30 (theoretically), so we end up getting to bed at 8. Since Kevin’s birthday is on the 12th and mine on the 29th, we’ve allocated even days to him, while I take the odd days to read to the kids and put them to bed. On the nights that I don’t fall asleep with them, Kevin & I might watch a movie on the cinema size Apple screen with surround sound: a marvelous home theatre system devised by my clever, computer whiz of a husband.

Tuesday afternoons mark the first visit of the week to Knysna’s legendary bakery/ restaurant, Ile de Pain. I simply refer to it as: Heaven. Here I procure a masterfully, wood-fired bread and sip on the best cappuccino in town (if not the world), while reading my book. I’m currently enjoying my first Tom Robbins book, courtesy of the Bibby’s Hoek Book Club: a group of formidable women who get together once a month to support and inspire one another (we also discuss/share books in between drinking wine and eating decadent treats!). After an hour of me time, I’m off to collect Mila from Sidwell Roman’s School of Ballet: yes, he is a charming, coloured ballet teacher! Then, the home run while trying to avoid the droë wors.

I’ve managed to slot in an hour’s worth of writing on Wednesday afternoons at a dubious coffee shop at the old-jail-turned-art-studio, where I wait for Mila while she attends art lessons. This should translate into more correspondence from me in 2011!

Thursday afternoons see another ballet lesson and some grocery shopping, and on Fridays I head straight for Ile de Pain again to collect my fresh kitke (traditional Jewish Sabbath bread). If we’re not doing a Friday night dinner with friends at home, we support the evening market at the school, which is a delightful get-together of locals, live music and food stalls. The kids run around with their friends, beg for candy floss and spend their pocket money on cheap and nasty glow-in-the-dark toys from China!

Weekends see us pottering around the farm (building chicken cages, erecting shelves, gardening, painting, various domestic chores) interspersed with family outings to the beach/forest/local tourist attractions. For the past few months we’ve been visiting our friends Danny & Stacy & kids in Plettenberg Bay regularly, where they have decided to take a year’s sabbatical from their lives in Vancouver. We wade in their heated swimming pool, visit the beach or laze around reading books while the kids have their faces firmly stuck behind Danny’s iPad or one of the many Apple computer screens while playing Club Penguin (an on-line virtual reality game). In true South African form, they were burgled last week and are now without said Apple laptop and iPad…hopefully this won’t send them packing back to the North!

Seems pretty suburban for an off-the-grid family on the farm!


In the meantime, Kevin is off to Mozambique thid week to work his photographic magic on a new hotel development – a welcome change from the quiet life on the farm with nothing but the chewing cows for company. He has redesigned his website with some help from his “man in India” ( and is reading “The 4 Hour Work Week” while spending most days glued to his computer screen.

On the animal front, our dogs are responding well to some training advice we received from a dog psychologist (!), the neighbour’s cows are grazing happily and our new guinea pig (Mr Sox) has sided himself with Fuzzy the rabbit. We had to rescue our weakest quail (named Fernando Torres because of his running speed) from his brethren who continually peck him in a cruel “survival of the fittest” scenario. He’ll be spending the rest of his days with a colleague’s rabbits (hopefully in peace). Our chickens are growing at a rate of knots, but still no eggs….

We are expecting a string of female woofers from all over the world, with the first arriving at the end of this week. Our growing a tunnel sports a new door - thanks to our previous woofer, Idez from Belgium (a 30 year old artist and meditation enthusiast). Now that it is finally secure from the cows and hounds, we are looking forward to starting some serious growing. Whether the tunnel will hold up to being ripped apart by the beastly baboons, remains to be seen… 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve sent out an update from the forest and the cliché “no news is good news” certainly applies. Besides being sucked into the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy of brick-sized novels, there are a variety of reasons for the long silence. Predominantly, spring (and by now, late summer) has arrived, delighting us with an abundance of flowers, insects and butterflies. This is the first season that we are truly settled on the farm and I find myself pottering about: planting, picking, smelling, weeding, feeding animals, watching freaky spiders spin their prey into web cocoons with the children… basically enjoying life.

When we first arrived in Knysna, there was talk of a magical three-year period in which to find one’s feet. October saw the dawn of this new era and I can definitely say that there is truth to the rumour. It does feel as if we are finally settled and looking back over the past 36 months, I hardly know how we made it some days! Coming here does seem like an idealistic dream (testimony to my permanently rose-tinted outlook). We had no idea of the hardships that farm life would involve – from the baboons, lice and flea plagues to the lack of water and adjusting to solar power. Then there was the unexpected passing of my mother/friend/soulmate as well as the general existential and financial crisis experienced by pretty much everyone on the planet! But the increased appreciation for life, love, water and resources, sharing these incredible natural surroundings with our beautiful neighbours and seeing our children run free, has made all the “suffering” worthwhile.

And after 3 years, we finally got ourselves some chickens! The children and I selected 5 little one day old chicks: I chose “Penguin” a little black and white number, while Luke went for “Popcorn” and “Lovely” and Mila has the two “Golden Girls”. Having had absolutely no experience with live chickens, I was quite shocked to learn that they should be kept under lights for the first few weeks. The words: “are you out of your mind” went through my head as I listened to the purveyor describing how to position a 100 watt globe over the chicks and keep this light on 24 hours a day for two weeks. She obviously had no experience of solar power! We resorted to good old fashioned water bottles - refreshed 3 times a day - and this managed to keep our chicks alive long enough until they could be placed outside with the rabbits and quails in what is becoming a very lively little enclosure. (Luckily, we had some good rain, so constantly filling the water bottles was not a problem.) The rabbit/quail/chicken cage is of course another reason for my long silence: the kids and I find ourselves chasing chicks and stroking our rabbits rather often. The there’s the constant task of filling in the tunnels that the rabbits keep digging in order to ensure that they don’t escape – something that my guru neighbour, Mr R had warned me about…

We watched our chickens grow bigger in anticipation, anxious to discover whether they would turn out to be egg-producing hens or noisy, troublesome roosters. At one point we suspected 4 of them of being roosters and were debating the option of eating these (a strange discussion to have in a vegetarian household!). But alas, it appears by the rather amusing cock-a-doodle-ling that Popcorn is our only rooster and pretty trouble-free (for now).

Our beloved rabbit Fuzzy turned out to be a boy after all, but our first set of 7 baby rabbits all died within 2 days of being born. The first 3 gruesome little bodies were strewn around the cage with injuries presumably inflicted by the chickens, and the remaining 4 babies were discovered in a half-dug burrow - one already cold. It appeared as if Coco had abandoned them. After hot-water bottles and various tactics to try to get her to bond and feed them, we eventually took the last two survivors into the house and proceeded to feed them baby formula with a syringe. Both managed to get through the night, but neither made it past the next day. We spent a few hours demarcating the cage in order to separate the rabbits from the birds, and will report on the next litter soon.

In the meantime we’ll continue rearing the pair of baby field mice we found amongst our extra dinner plates when we tackled some boxes on Boxing Day.

Of course, there’s been the dependable presence of wwoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). We were blessed with a 3 week visit by Tasuku, a mathematician from the island of Okinawa in Japan. He built a very neat growing tunnel (mathematically quite accurate!) and having worked in a sushi restaurant in California, was able to show us some nifty new tricks and recipes – tuna mayo rice balls wrapped in nori have now become a regular meal in our household. He infused our farm with Japanese grace and cleaned the kitchen immaculately.

Tasuku (whom Luke called “Hey, let’s play Lego” for about a week before he could remember his name) was followed by our first South African wwoofer (a lady name Lucianne) who spent 2 weeks wrestling with the “Kak”-kuyu grass, which is constantly invading our flower beds. We then had our second local volunteer, Alexa from Cape Town, who jumped on the trampoline with Mila and painted the newly erected patio roof beams. Yes, we finally have a roof over our patio and celebrated with a fabulous roof wetting party attended by our kind, caring (and quite eccentric) community!

I had a break from the farm when I recently visited Pretoria for my 20-year high school reunion.  I attended a rather well-respected, Afrikaans girls’ school. What a blast! Whereas the 10 year reunion still had a measure of posturing and showing off (who got married, gained/lost weight, etc.), by now we all seemed to have grown up, even sporting the odd wrinkle with pride. The “koeke” (i.e. the “good” girls) had figured out the carnal matters which led to them having children while the “terte” (the “naughty” girls) also bore children, causing them to settle down, and so we were pretty much all on the same page. (In case you were wondering, my allegiance was with the naughty ones!) After the official lunch with the girls on Friday, about 20 of us went to a “resort” in Warmbaths for the weekend, where things got loud and juvenile (especially since many of us left our husband and children at home for the weekend and had complete freedom to regress to our teenage silliness!). Plans are already underway for our 25th – this time at a wine farm near Cape Town and the doctor among us is rumoured to have made promises of bringing the Botox along…

Kevin has been living the high life – travelling to Johannesburg to work his photographic magic on the 5 star Legacy hotel group (and being accommodated at one of their fine establishments, which of course made me green with envy!). He also had a stint in Cape Town and was awarded a Gold and Silver award in the Fuji Film photographic competition (no prize money, though). He also has a new lady in his life: a sleek 17” MacBook Pro (Apple laptop) – a truly sexy piece of equipment which has enabled us to watch movies at a much lower energy consumption and have internet access in the house…the first time in 3 years that we can surf from the comfort of our couch. Things are really looking up!

The kids are doing marvellously – Mila goes to grade 2 and is switching from recorder to guitar while continuing with her ballet lessons. Well on her way to becoming the next Hannah Montana (she even received a blonde wig from Santa)! Luke is ever the Lego builder and enjoys kicking the soccer ball, imitating pirates and Michael Jackson and catching frogs and fish in the dam with his new fishing rod.

A few months ago, our cleaning angel, Sophie, resigned from our domestic chores in favour of her Thesen Island employer. I have since spent many hours in cleaning meditation – getting closer to enlightenment with each wipe, scrub and sweep of the mud and dirt left behind by the actions of my beloved family. I have discovered that there is something rather fundamental and cathartic in cleaning up. It sets a certain pace to the daily activities and completes the cycles of creation - like teaching the children to pack one game away before starting another one. However, for fear of ultimate enlightenment and spontaneous combustion, I have relinquished my domestic stronghold and agreed to employ a new domestic helper (if only for one day per week)!

We have been immensely blessed with an abundance of rain over the past few months – our tanks (capacity: 26,000 litres) are full, our dams are swimmable and we have more water than we’ve had in three years. Flushing the toilet and filling the hot water bottles for the baby animals have not presented any problems. Now the new bath in storage is really starting to beckon for a bathroom!

We’ve had a fabulous festive season, hosting dear friends (Brett, Sue & co) in our refurbished container/wwoofing room: by now quite a civilised guestroom. The daily mud baths and dam swimming was quite a change for them from their London existence and Brett applied full-blown urban warfare techniques when a fly plague presented itself. With sticky fly catching strips dangling from every conceivable place and armed with fly swatters, we sipped our sundowners, discussed New Year’s resolutions while gazing out over the forest, listening to the call of the fish eagle.

Speaking of which, the large wooden eagle carving (which we moved with from Johannesburg) was positioned at the edge of the dam, but got knocked over continuously by the grazing cows as they try to scratch their ears against it. After three attempts at stabilising it, Kevin finally dug a huge whole and poured 4 bags of ready mix into it, adding some solid steel bars for good measure, and proclaimed: “the eagle has landed”.