Tying Up Tomatoes

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This year we will have our best tomato crop ever! We spent the weekend tying up the plants to lift the fruit off of the ground. We actually left it too late as we managed to break quite a few branches off as they were alreafy too heavy with green tomatoes. I always use sisal string in the garden as it is biodegradable, and next season will be gone. (Rather than plastic string and wire everywhere).

Looking forward to harvesting fresh red tomatoes every day!

These we’re grown as seedlings and then planted out into out thick straw mulch bed. They survived the scorching temperatures over December and January and are now thriving in the recent rain we have had.

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Veld Food on the Highveld for beginners

I am by no means an expert on veld-food, but since we have lived here, it has fascinated me whether I’d be able to survive on my land without outside help.  The first obvious question, after your water source and shelter, is what one would eat.

Veld plants are not genetically modified, have never been sprayed with poison, and often have high nutritive value.

These are a few of the plants that I am familiar with which grow wild on our land.

WARNING:Please be very certain before eating a wild plant that you don’t know!  Natural does NOT necessarily mean safe.

  1. Fruit of the Karee tree(Rhus Lansia)  Although these tiny whitish berries are very hard, the taste of the skin is sweet.  My children love nibbling at them when in season – don’t bite down though, you might break a tooth! rhus lancea
  2. Nightshade berries (Solanum Retroflexum). Although said to be poisonous when green these berries are delicious when black and ripe and they are commercially turned into Msoba jam.solanum
  3.   Wild Medlar fruit (Mispel in Afrikaans: Vangueria Infausta) A very tasty sweet-sour fruit with large pips. vangeurinf3tbasson
  4. Morog leaves:  It is important to note that the word Morog literally means green leafy veg – therefore many different leaves can be used.  The ones we most commonly use are  Misbredie (Chenopodium album) a light green leafy weed – I love being able to eat the weeds out of my vegie garden! and b) Amarath, or common pigweed.  African Amaranth has a south American cousin you might be more familiar with, called Quinua.  The Amaranth plant is high in Vitamin A, zinc, iron and iodine.  Both these leafy vegetables can be cooked in the same way as spinach.

chenopodium album    amaranth

Boiling a Kettle with Goat Poop!

I would like to use biogas for cooking in the house, so I built a pilot project to check if and how it works. We have the feedstock, being goat manure so I decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t going to spend any money on the project, so I built a crude digester out of junk lying around on the farm. It comprises a 220 litre drum filled with goat manure slurry, a 100 litre drum upended in the larger drum with a valve and a rock on top, and a piece of gas pipe, wedged into the valve with a plastic bag. Behold its precision engineered glory!

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I filled the big drum about one third full with goat manure, topped up the drum with water and mixed it up into a nice slurry. I then put the small drum upside down inside, covered it with black plastic and waited.

For a week nothing happened.

In the next week the smaller drum started to lift a little, but the gas produced did not ignite.

In the following week a foul stench was noted.

And after about 3 weeks the contraption was producing gas every day, and I could make flares of gas flame out of the pipe.

Apparently the bacteria first ferment the mixture to produce CO2, then H2S is produced and finally methane production commences as the methane producing bugs establish themselves.

The next test was to see if anything useful could be done with the gas, so I connected up a camping gas cooker, but it wouldn’t light. It took a lot more google research to figure out that biogas (being mainly methane and carbon dioxide), behaves quite differently to your normal propane or butane gas that you buy in cylinders.

An important difference is that propane and butane liquify under pressure, so they occupy a lot less space as a liquid than as a gas. You can’t compress methane into a liquid, so you need relatively large storage volumes. Methane’s burning characteristics are different so you can’t just use a normal gas burner, it needs some tweaking.

I then bought a small one ring cooker that I could modify. What needs to be done is the jet needs to be opened up to much larger than for normal gas, and the amount of air restricted. I opened up the jet in the stove from about 0.5mm to 1.5mm, and blocked up the air intake with a piece of plastic with one 6mm hole drilled in it.

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So, I opened up the gas, applied a match and hey presto! It works!

Next thing is to boil a kettle, which I duly did (OK, only 1cm of water in it, but it boiled nonetheless). You can’t see the flame or the steam in the pic, but it is boiling, trust me….

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So I’m quite pleased that the experiment worked. The digester is probably making about 30 litres of gas per day, probably quite a lot is lost due to the small drum not filling nicely in the big drum.

My next step will be to make a 1000 liter digester so that we can use the single ring burner in the kitchen to make a cup of coffee in the morning. I am going to use the design from this website and see how it goes : Solar Cities IBC Digester

I will keep this digester bubbling as the bacteria are established in this system, so you can take this material to quick start the new system, without waiting for the whole process to establish from scratch again. Seeing as IBCs are fairly cheap, I will probably be able to get a small working system going for less than $50, hopefully enough to do some of our cooking on, but we’ll keep our normal gas stove as well. Based on the experience of this pilot system I would anticipate about 100 litres of gas per day from the 1000 liter system.

There are many variables that dictate how much gas a biogas system will produce, like type of feedstock, ambient temperature, water hardness and so on, which is why I wanted to see it work on a small scale first, but I am very pleased with the results!

I found these websites quite helpful in this process :

ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture

DIY Methane Generator

Biogas Plant in a Plastic Drum

Biogas Start Up

Backyard Biogas

Biogas from Kitchen Waste

Modifying a Gas burner for Biogas

 

 

Goat Fodder from Sweet Thorn Trees

Do goats like trees? Of course they do! And in particular they like Sweet Thorn (acacia karroo). Fresh leaves contain 12% protein and a lot of calcium and phosphorus, and the pods are even more protein rich.

I am establishing Sweet Thorn all over the farm as part of my Silvopasture project. The pictures below are of goats devouring the leaves from branches pruned from Sweet Thorn trees growing in our garden.

I prune off all of the bottom branches so the trees grow tall and spread to become shady, and the cuttings are fed to the goats.The tree below is about 5 years old. If the goats were allowed to graze the trees, they would clean off the bottom branches without my help, but there are fruit trees in the same area which would be equally pruned. The trees are full of pods after the drought a few months earlier, so I will have plenty of seeds to make seedlings from.

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The pruned branches cause a feeding frenzy amongst the adults. How they manage to nibble between the thorns is quite a talent.

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And the kids nibble off everything that is left.

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Once the branches are dry I will use them for firewood, or use them to keep chickens out of vegetables (the thorns help).

More Information

Acacia Karroo – A sweet and thorny thing

Sweet Thorn Leaves Nutritional Value

Sprout selection and performance of goats fed Acacia karroo coppices in the False Thornveld of the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Long-Term Impacts of Goat Browsing on Bush-Clump Dynamics in a Semi-Arid Subtropical Savanna