Growing red maize, and making our own pap.

Just about all maize and soy in South Africa are genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate based poisons. Although the companies that produce these poisons have declared over and over that they are safe for human consumption, various scientific studies have proven over the past few years that they are not.
A study by Gasnier, et al. (2009) demonstrated that glyphosate in formulation (meaning the poison you buy from the shelf) at 5 ppm (5 mg/kg) had toxic effects and resulted in cell death of human liver, umbilical cord and placental cells within 24 hours of exposure. They also indicated that glyphosate in formulation at 0.5 ppm (0.5 mg/kg) caused endocrine disruption in human liver cells within 24 hours of exposure.

The staple food of most South African’s is maize porridge. We’re eating poison and nobody seems to care. This poison is also found in all but one breakfast cereals, our meat and in our own tissue.

Our maize harvest

We decided to grow as much of our own food as possible, for health reasons, but also to be as independent as possible.

When we became more aware of the wonderful options of heritage maize varieties available, it became a real adventure. In the first year, we planted 3 types of maize. The seeds we bought from Living Seeds who have a fantastic selection. Because of timing, rain and guinea fowl, only one crop worked really well; the Bloody Butcher red maize.

We used the goat and sheep manure mixed with the food they had spilled to make fantastic compost.

Since the birds ate so many of our plants just as they came up, we decided to grow seedlings and plant them out. Stephen patiently planted out about 400 plants which grew fantastically well! Clearly no herbicide here. 🙂

Monkey’s soon discovered that our maize tastes so much better than the neighbour’s GMO Roundup stuff, so losses were once again an issue, but by April 2022, we could harvest about 400 heads of beautiful, red, poison free corn.

The next question was what to do with it. This is not sweetcorn which can be eaten easily from the cob, as it’s quite starchy, and we can’t keep it fresh to eat through winter.

When looking up how maize was processed to make the commercial maize meal available in stores, we were horrified to find that it gets processed to make it almost pure starch. Firstly, it’s roundup-ready, so the plant is genetically modified to grow despite being unable to absorb many essential nutrients from the ground. Then, the protein in the kernel is removed when the embryo is taken out. The shell is also removed. This produces a brilliant white porridge, but means that the nutritional value is even further reduced. South Africa’s maize is supposed to fortified, but alas, apparently even this is often not done. Here’s an interesting Mail and Guardian article on the subject.

We immediately decided to make our own pap. We had no mill however and a new one was out of our price range. Through a local WhatsApp group, we bought an old coffee grinder which does the job quite nicely, although it is a bit labour intensive.

In our research on how to process maize we found a wonderful alternative that is not practised in South africa. Nixtamalization. Yes, a terribly long and difficult word.

This is a process whereby the kernels of the maize is boiled and soaked in an alkali, traditionally wood ash, but also lye water.

“ Nixtamalized maize has several benefits over unprocessed grain: It is more easily ground, its nutritional value is increased, flavor and aroma are improved, and mycotoxins are reduced by up to 97%–100% (for aflatoxins).[2]” Wikipedia

We decided to use the ash mix, as lye was a bit of a challenge to find here in the sticks. The process is fairly simple. Bring a big pot of water to the boil. Add about as much wood ash as your volume of dried maize kernels. When the mix starts boiling, you add the maize. It’s quite a cool process to watch as the maize changes colour almost immediately. In our case with the red maize it turns almost black.

I then boil this mixture for around an hour and let it stand over night. The next morning one rinses the ash and loose shells off. It takes a bit of time, but the result is just absolutely yummy! We eat the maize as is, like the american dish “hominy”, or grind it up to make tortillas!

Have a look at this link if you’d like to see how it’s done traditionally. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMWwrMLO-Uw

Please feel free to comment with more ideas or any questions you may have. I have loads of scientific articles about Roundup and its effects, but I didn’t want to get too technical here.

Cow Peas

Our deal with our children is they can watch as many movies as they like, as long as they she’ll peas at the same time!

1490529136380-735930926

Here are the results:

1490529179182-897716342

We planted about one hectare of cow peas this year, and they did quite nicely with all of the rain. We are harvesting enough peas to keep us in bean soups and so on through the winter.

Our boer goats will eat the rest probably next month, before the plants dry too much. It will make a good, high protein green feed before they lamb in July.

We will also combine the peas with our tomato crop and make ‘baked beans’ as a preserve.

Winter. Endings and beginnings..

Our summer garden has come to an end. All of the tomatoes and aubergines, pumpkins and squashes, broccoli and cauliflower have been eaten, preserved or given away.

Some of our boer goat ewes are heavily pregnant and so the task of clearing the leftovers falls to them. Here they are making short work of some cauliflower plants.

20160703_082105

It’s now a few weeks since I took that pic. It is now midwinter and they are now eating their way through the lucerne and sericea I baled. The grey is last year’s mulch, and the yellow, this year’s contribution. The goats sort through the bale and eat all of the tasty bits, and spit out the stems and other unpalatable bits. I estimate about a quarter of the bale is turned to mulch, but that is simply a function of the amount of grass growing in the lucerne field when baled.mulchgoats

I will soon start making seedlings again for spring, and hopefully we should be producing abundant tomatoes again before long like last season.

20160313_100056

Some new lambs for the new season:

lambs

So this completes a cycle where goats, lucerne, vegetables and the by products of all of them, add to the fertility of the soil, the goats, and us humans even get some benefit!

Building a vegetable tunnel

I haven’t posted much lately due to general busyness, but we have baled our lucerne, weaned our lambs and been busy with a number of other projects.

One of which has been building a tunnel over our Tilapia dam before winter arrives and freezes them, and to try and keep our tomatoes going for as long as possible into the winter.

Our winter at 1600m is generally quite temperate during the day, but can drop below zero at night. The fish dam inside the tunnel will provide the thermal mass ro prevent our seedlings freezing overnight.

Some pics (our old seedling greenhouse in the background):

20160527_160559

20160530_121511

20160530_121458

Tying Up Tomatoes

2016-03-14_16.07.01

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.

20160313_100056

 

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!

bg1.jpg

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.

bg2

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….

bg3.jpg

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.

sil4

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

sil3

And the kids nibble off everything that is left.

sil2

 

sil1

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

Muscovy Ducklings

After the drought broke in January, our ducks decided it was time to breed, and one month later here are the results:

duck1

Three nests have bred out so far, with about 12 ducklings each. The ducklings like to swim, but from our unfortunate experience of drowning a few ducklings, we keep the water shallow so they can walk on the bottom and climb out of the water easily.

In late summer we have a lot of pumpkins and squash, and these make excellent duck food. We just chop them into small pieces and they are promptly devoured. Apparently the pumpkins are full of lysine which is an amino acid required for protein formation.

duck4.jpg

The males grow to about fifty percent heavier than the females. Once the males are about three to four months old, they are ready for sale or slaughter. We either take them to an abbatoir if we have enough to warrant the trip, sell them live at a livestock auction, or slaughter a few ourselves.

A slaughter ready male:

duck2

Muscovy ducks do not need water, and can be kept pretty much anywhere, as long as there is shade and drinking water. They are good lawn mowers, and are particularly adept at trimming verges. They are however partial to fruit trees and can jump up and pick off leaves and fruit to about 60-70cm high.

duck3

These ducklings are about 3-4 weeks old and are just about to start getting their proper feathers. You can see how quickly they grow, when comparing them to to the newborns!

duck6.jpg

 More Information

Muscovy Duck Central

Duck Nutrition