:: I sit and drink tea in the mornings, and come out at dusk to listen as the world tucks itself in for the night :: Please won't you join me? ::

In nature there is a large place for sentiment. Nature is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.

:: Living simply ::

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Ant and the sunflower bud


Camera : Canon EOS 550D 
Taken in my garden – Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa 
See the tiny ant at the bottom of the bud? He is just an extra bonus!

Sunflowers are very attractive to aphids, therefore I normally have a couple of them growing amongst my flowers. And where aphid colonies exist, ants are sure to follow. Just before I took this pic, I noticed the aphids on the underside of the leaves and what amazed me was the fact that each aphid had its own ant!

Ants are attracted to aphids because of a sticky, sweet substance they produce when feeding, called honeydew. Honeydew isn’t the sole food source for ants, but when an aphid colony is in the area, the ants can harvest this nutrient-rich substance continually with less effort than what is required to constantly locate new food sources. Because of this, ants protect aphid colonies ferociously, warding off other pests and parasites. I just leave the aphids, they never seem to do much damage to the sunflowers and at least it keeps them away from my other flowers.

As I do not use any pesticides in my garden whatsoever, I normally eliminate aphids from my flowers with blasts of water from a garden hose. Once dislodged, the pests are unable to re-attach before they die.


I took two of the ants and put them on a wooden pole on my patio so I could get a picture, It was almost impossible to get a picture of them at the bottom of the leaves. These two just sat there, unsure of what was happening and why they were in a strange place. After I took the photograph, I edged them back onto the sheet of paper and placed them back on the leaf, where they immediately started running around trying to get their bearings.

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant native to the Americas.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Veldfire aftermath


Shortly after I took the photos of yesterday's veldfire which swept through our smallholding, the wind changed direction and the fire hurtled up the rest of the plot, coming close to the pallisade fencing around the house. Solly's chickens, who were just outside the wall and directly in the path of the flames, all charged through the gate and into my back-yard, looking confused at all the smoke and flames billowing around. This is their first season on the plot and they've never seen a fire before.


Besides being a threat to life and home, these wild fires are devastating to the wildlife. Lizards, Hedgehogs, Tortoises, hares (usually fast enough to escape), ground-nesting birds and other small wildlife are all at risk when these fires race along, driven by strong winds.


But these fires, when they are a natural occurrence and not started by someone carelessly tossing down a cigarette, also benefit nature. Some of our Aloes will not flower until they've been burnt by our winter fires. Another benefit of these fires is all the crispy tit-bits it leaves in its wake. Later that afternoon we had dozens of Egrets, Herons and Plovers snacking on the blackened landscape. Even the Fiscal Shrike was joining in the feast.

 Here a hapless lizard is being devoured by one of the Herons

And down it goes! (See how thick his throat is)

"Now that was nice! What's next on the menu?" The Egret doesn't seem too happy about the Heron getting the best tit-bits

The Egret has also found something!

 The Heron seems to have spied something...

Giving chase...

the chase is on! I could for the life of me not see what he was after. These birds were all quite far from me, about 90 meters, so the pics are not that great.

The Crowned Plovers and Blacksmith Plovers were also out in force, but unfortunately they were too far for me to get a decent picture.

Every April we cut the grass on our smallholding and make fire-breaks to minimise the damage and the grass being short certainly helps, but every year we still have to be vigilant and keep an eye open for these fires, which can come from any direction.

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Veldfire!


Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Taken on our smallholding (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

Yesterday afternoon half our plot’s grazing was destroyed by a veldfire, driven by a strong, icy cold wind, as it raged across our smallholding. The flames were only 1 or 2 feet high, but seemed to have a life of their own, jumping and billowing to over a meter high at intervals. All the staff were out in force, trying to keep it away from the house and other buildings. Sometimes it’s not the size of the fire that is scary, but the speed at which it can gallop.

Where these start is always a mystery…








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Monday, 7 July 2014

The benefits of free range eggs (for the chicken) Sensitive information


My girls supply me with 4 or 5 beautiful free range eggs every day and they are quite happy supplying these. They get to roam the garden, grazing, hunting insects and having lovely sand baths in stead of spending their lives in a 8″ × 12″ wire cage (the size of an A4 sheet of paper). They get to choose when to go to bed and when to lay their eggs, following Mother Nature’s natural daylight cycle in stead of their “daylight” being on a timer and being woken up 2 o’clock in the morning and being forced to lay another egg, giving 1½ eggs a day instead of the normal 1 egg every two days. They lie in the sun, spreading their wings and soaking up the sun’s Vit. D in stead of having Vit. D pumped into them via additions to their food. They exercise regularly by chasing insects (and one another!) in stead of being cramped up in those 8″ × 12″ wire cages with not even room above their heads to stretch their legs. They get to socialise and experience family bonds, something which a battery chicken will never know. My girls are not culled when they get to the end of their egg-laying cycle, but in stead get to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.

It is sad what we do to our animals in order that we may eat and survive…

“I am battery hen. I live in a cage so small I cannot stretch my wings. I am forced to stand night and day on a sloping wire mesh floor that painfully cuts into my feet. The cage walls tear my feathers, forming blood blisters that never heal. The air is so full of ammonia that my lungs hurt and my eyes burn and I think I am going blind. As soon as I was born, a man grabbed me and sheared off part of my beak with a hot iron, and my little brothers were thrown into trash bags as useless, alive.

My mind is alert and my body is sensitive and I should have been richly feathered. In nature or even a farmyard I would have had sociable, cleansing dust baths with my flock mates, a need so strong that I perform ‘vacuum’ dust bathing on the wire floor of my cage. Free, I would have ranged my ancestral jungles and fields with my mates, devouring plants, earthworms, and insects from sunrise to dusk. I would have exercised my body and expressed my nature, and I would have given, and received, pleasure as a whole being. I am only a year old, but I am already a ‘spent hen.’

Humans, I wish I were dead, and soon I will be dead. Look for pieces of my wounded flesh wherever chicken pies and soups are sold."
Info

Read more about The Life of one Battery Hen. (Sensitive information - I cried when I read it...)

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Monday, 30 June 2014

Farm talk - the heart of a home

I've had a couple of requests to 'share' a bit more about where I live on my little piece of African soil, so I decided to do a short series of my home in Tarlton, South Africa, situated on an 8.5ha smallholding. This is purely for fun! I would just like to mention that, when building and decorating my home about 7 years ago, I have taken inspiration from Africa, and nature in particular, surrounding myself with natural (and sometimes living!) objects and colour. I am not ostentatious by nature and prefer the simple and natural things in life. Hope you enjoy and find this interesting! I know I just LOVE to see other people's living spaces, be it small or large, simple or ornate, in suburbia or the country, in a basement or a sky-scraper, inland or at the coast.


"Best way to get rid of kitchen odors: Eat out!"
Phyllis Diller

Most of the space in my (rather big for someone who rarely cooks!) kitchen is taken up by a huge old Rhodesian Teak table (2.4m x 1.4m) which I 'rescued' from hubby's workshop - they used it to work on huge engines placed on top of it. Oil had soaked right through all the wood, in a way preserving and feeding it right deep inside! It took me a couple of weeks of washing off and stripping oil from the surface and everywhere else, trying to restore it to its original condition, but eventually ended up having to give it a couple of coats of enamel paint, as some of the oil kept on returning to the surface. I just love using found treasures through-out my home, much preferring that to buying new stuff.

A broad 'shelf' under the table offers storage for baskets containing table cloths, napkins, candles, placemats and excess cutlery. More often than not it will also be filled with boxes containing my paintings still looking for a home!

Against the far wall two carved wooden African figures serve as a dish towel rail. The basket in between them contains some of my animal skull collections.


The kitchen has built-in concrete tops, stained and sealed with EarthCote pigment, and the cabinets are made of stained Pine with hand-cut Bamboo sticks as panels. The stainless steel door handles were a find from a salvage yard. The tiles on the walls are from Mazista Slate's "Autumn" range.


Refrigerator and broom cupboard - the broom cupboard's handle is a pewter Gecko with screw holes in the feet for mounting.

 Close-up of Gecko door handle - I was lucky enough to find a shop at Kya Sands Office park that sells the most exquisite, earthy and nature-themed home fittings


This is the area where most of the action happens - tea, coffee, Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Milo - the worn area on the concrete top is proof of my husband's industriousness! Here he chops, pours, smears and concocts the most wonderful snacks!


A corner in the kitchen for a quick snack or using the laptop. The table is a 1920's Partridge Wood gate-leg, a lucky second-hand shop find.


My breadbin - this is actually a vintage seedling hot-house, used to protect seedlings from the cold of winter if staying outside. Next to that is Hubby's (sacred) Tupperware cookie jar. An off-cut from some of the wooden decking serves as a bread board. Do you think there's any truth to this quote...?

"Men become passionately attached to women who know how to cosset them with delicate tidbits." 
- Honoré de Balzac (1799-1859)

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Setting your intention for a simple day


A leisurely breakfast of boiled eggs, which I get daily from my chooks, tea and toast and I'm ready for the day. Taking time in preparing a meal, no matter how simple, is one of the great pleasures I enjoy every morning.

I normally rise at around 4am and, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, check my e-mail, connect with all my blogs I read and spend some time on FaceBook, catching up with family and friends. Around 6am it's time to open for my chooks and let them into the garden, fill all the bird feeders and do a quick survey of the garden to see if there's anything special that needs being done. These times are for summer, in winter it happens a bit later! At about 7am, a hot bath and getting ready for the day. Breakfast follows at around 9am, after which I'm ready to tackle all the necessary tasks that fills one's day.

Spending quality time with yourself goes a long way to increasing peace and harmony. There are many ways one can achieve this. Sketching and painting is an important part of spending time with myself, as is gardening, tending to my animals and spending some time in nature. We have enough everyday pressures of tending to a business, shopping, picking up kids from school and looking after a family, so it's important to look after yourself first in order that you can give your best to the rest of the world. Set your intention early in the day and life will be much simpler.

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Sunday, 22 June 2014

When did they change the view?


Sipping my coffee, waiting for the colour to take on my hair, I surveyed my surrounds. Just a couple of months ago, there were three huge trees in the spot where I was now sitting under an 'afdak', a sort of extension to the verandah of the coffee shop. My hairdresser had decided to renovate one of her properties into a hairdresser, beauty salon and coffee shop. I don't have to drive all the way to the shopping mall to have my hair done. Instead, it's a short drive into the suburbs, away from all the hustle and bustle of the busy mall.

I didn't know about it, until I phoned for an appointment and was told about the new address. "How exciting, an excellent idea!" I thought!

I sat looking around and it struck me that I hadn't seen or heard a bird for over half an hour that I'd been sitting there. The rest of the property was also devoid of any trees. All I could hear was the sound of traffic rushing past the front of the property and I felt a pang of sadness that this is what progress meant. The area was neat, walled and fully paved with only a few low-maintenance pot plants here and there. Very chic. Very modern in it's simplicity. But there was no life. Not even a spot for some bugs to hide, no flowers to lure bees and definitely no place for any birds to nest.

There must have been plenty birds living there before. Rearing their families amongst the branches of the three huge trees, providing them with shelter against the rain and shade in summer. And with no regard as to whether there were nestlings or not, the trees were summarily cut down to make place for our comfort, our pleasure.


There and then I lost my enjoyment of the coffee and as soon as my hair was finished, I left. I'm never going back again.

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Friday 13th Full Moon


oh, the one i love 
is like the moon 
so unattainable 
bathing me in light 
i gaze i gaze i gaze 

my heart is filled 
but i will never hold him 
in my arms 

others may take my hand 
and gently lead me 
to the dance 
saying: "you are dreaming tonight 
your eyes are always skyward 
tonight" 
and i blush and i say 
"it's only the moon" 
- unknown

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Last week Friday the 13th it was full moon - this in itself is not unusual, just the fact that it doesn't happen that often. The previous Friday 13th full moon was on October 13th, 2000 and the next Friday the 14th full moon will only happen on August 13th 2049, then again in 2063.

Despite many myths, the full moon does not actually embolden criminals, bring about births or make people mad. However, pet owners might want to avoid walking their black cats under the full moon on Friday 13th! he he!

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

A melt-down and a broken heart


I've had a melt-down. And I've got a broken heart. And so have my girls.

First, the melt-down. My girls have absolutely ruined my garden! In about two years they've reduced it to a barren landscape with all but a few of the hardiest plants gone. GONE! My prized Echeverias, which I started with just a few plants given to me by my dad shortly before he passed away in 1990, and which had grown into beautiful specimens which I had in various parts of the garden, are all but annihilated.

The same area as above before the girls arrived.


I've managed to rescue a few of my Echeverias and planted them in a basket and placed them in my bathroom court-yard garden. Hopefully they will recover to their previous glory.


Where there used to be a thick carpet of ground covers, now there's only dead leaves and a big mess. Not that Missy minds, she's quite happy to relax there with Artemis close-by, blissfully unaware of my melt-down.

Kiep takes time out on the rock just behind Missy.


Now for the broken heart part. I'm broken-hearted because I've banned the girls from the garden. Locked up in the chicken run. No more chickens happily doing what chickens do, scratching and foraging in the garden. Having gorgeous sand baths, chasing after grasshoppers and other bugs. One thing I must say, my garden is totally bug-free - no cut-worm, no fruit beetles, no plant lice. In fact, no anything. But I'm not so sure that's entirely a good thing either. I haven't seen a lady bug or a praying mantis for absolute ages. My lizard and frog population has also suffered tremendously. NOTHING is safe from these bug-devouring lovelies!

"Why, oh WHY can't we come out?!" In stead of scouring the grass for insects, the girls would spend hours at the gait, waiting for me to open up.


ChiChi and Snookums, who grew up in my studio, are totally puzzled with this new development. They've never been locked up and cannot understand what's going on.


A couple of months ago, I did start some landscaping inside the run and I presume that, shortly, there will also be nothing left of this.

Now, as I see the matter, I have three or four choices. One is that the girls stay locked up in the run forever. FOREVER! Or I can reduce the population and only keep three or four (that's not likely to happen!). Another option is that I adapt the garden to suit the girls - no beautiful, colourful borders, no tender Echeverias and give up my love for insects and all the other garden visitors.

Hmmmmmm... Decisions, decisions....

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Friday, 13 June 2014

Striped Grass Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio)


Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Taken in my garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa

This little Striped Grass Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) or Four-striped Grass Mouse was quite unperturbed at my presence this afternoon as he shared some corn with all the other garden birds. I often see a pair together snacking on seeds I put out.

As its common name suggests, the four-striped grass mouse is easily identified by the 4 distinct dark longitudinal stripes running the length of the back. Colour varies from dark grizzled russet brown to a grey-white. The sides and underparts are lighter but vary from off-white to pale grey-brown. The backs of the ears and the snout are russet to yellowish brown. The upper surfaces of the feet are usually lighter in colour than the body. Research has shown that the average body size does vary in different geographical areas, and that tails can be shorter or equal to the body length.


Length 19-26cm, weight about 43g. Diurnal and occuring in all parts of South Africa except most of Limpopo. Prefers fairly dense cover and feeds mostly on green vegetable matter, seeds and insects. Also likes the soft parts of the bracts and flowers of Proteas thus becoming an important agent in the pollination of some species. They excavate burrows, sometimes to a depth of 50cm. Striped mouse are active during the day, but are seldom active at night as they cannot maintain their body temperature if the environment is below 5 degrees C.

Afrikaans : Streepmuis
Die Streepmuis (Rhabdomys pumilio) is ’n muis wat in die hele Suid-Afrika voorkom behalwe in die grootste gedeelte van Limpopo en die noorde KwaZulu-Natal. Die streepmuis is bleek rooibruin in die weste tot donker grysbruin in die ooste van die area waarin hy voorkom. ’n Kenmerk van die soogdiertjie is die vier strepe op die rug. Die streepmuis is daglewend en word tot 19cm lank en weeg 30 – 55g. Hierdieie knaagdiertjie woon in grasryke dele in halfwoestyn tot bergwêreld met hoë reënval en is daglewend. Die streepmuis grawe gate onder ou gras of by die basis van ’n bos met voetpaadjies na die weigebied. Hulle eet sade en ander plantmateriaal. Daar word gewoonlik 5-6 kleintjies in die somer gebore.

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Solly's dustbin chook


This is Solly’s chook, one of the dustbin chicks born last November 2013. He’s turned into a beautiful rooster, obviously of mixed blood as his feathers are like those of a Silkie. But what makes him adorable is the fact that he talks to me – whenever he sees me, he utters this whole repertoire of cackles and croaks all the while staring me straight in the eye. He’s also very tame, sitting down when I put my hand on his back and then allowing me to pick him up for a cuddle. Normally all Solly’s chicks that turn out to be roosters are destined for the pot, but I’ve asked him nicely to spare Mr. Chook. (Solly is our mechanic/handyman and he has all these chickens that wander all over our smallholding and usually end up breeding somewhere in my garden.)

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Thursday, 22 May 2014

I can't find the sugar, Hon!

Camera : Canon EOS 550D 
Taken in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

A female African masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus) inspecting a nest to see if it suits her requirements. More often than not, the female will reject the nest and look elsewhere, sending the males into a frenzy of building two or three nests at the same time, sometimes as many as six!

This female was quite impressed with the housing and shortly after her inspection, she flew to the ground, returning with a feather and disappeared inside. the male was ecstatic! He did a little dance on the branch above her, and then joined her inside. How I wish I could have seen what was going on in there!

But the nesting season is all over now, the males have all lost their breeding colours and the garden is strangely quiet with just the odd chirps.

The Southern Masked-Weaver or African Masked-Weaver is a native of sub-Saharan Africa with a short, conical bill. Adult males in breeding plumage have a black face and throat, red eyes, a bright yellow head and under-parts, and yellowish-green upper-parts, whereas females (and non-breeding males) are dull greenish yellow, streaked darker on the upper back, and the throat is yellowish, becoming off-white on the belly, with duller irides. It nests in colonies, like other weavers, and the nests, again like those of other weavers, are woven of reeds, palms or grasses. The Southern Masked-Weaver appears to have established itself locally in parts of northern Venezuela.

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Half a beauty!


Artemis during his moult. Half his cape and half his beautiful tail feathers are gone, but it won’t be long before they are all replaced by healthy, more beautiful than ever, new feathers!

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

I saw a flock of birds today...


I think Autumn is at and end now, the days are getting colder. My Swallows left in middle-April and the call of the Red-chested Cuckoo is quiet. I'm looking forward to their return in spring. And will enjoy the birds that stay for winter.

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Thursday, 8 May 2014

How to know if it's going to be a beautiful day



Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Taken on our smallholding (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa) at 6.15am this morning.

It is purported that thick, early morning mist heralds a beautiful day ahead. Today it certainly has turned out to be true, it turned into a beautiful day with blue skies and not a cloud in sight. Even as I was taking the photos, the mist was quickly clearing and half-an-hour later all the mist was gone and it promised to be a lovely day.




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