🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Peace in the home?!

 
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The peace in my home has been totally and utterly destroyed today! Woke up to a computer that refused to co-operate and wouldn't start up at all. But that's not quite true, here's how it works : 

I work on a MAC that has Windows XP partitioned. Now I don't know if you know what that means, but basically it's a MAC and you can switch from MAC to Windows at the click of a button. I do most of my blogging work on the Windows side, because it has a program called 'Microsoft Office OneNote' in which I write all my articles, notes and pics for my blogs, which is not compatible with MAC. 

So this morning when I started Mrs. MAC, she wouldn't open Windows, which has totally crashed and disappeared! Oh my! I felt like I was blind, deaf and as if my hands have been cut off!! What a dilemma! 

However, being a total computer (and blogging) junkie, I was forced to start up the computer again and go to the MAC side, which is a bit alien to me as I don't use it all that often. But a crisis is a crisis and I searched the internet for a similar program as Office OneNote and came upon "Growly Notes", as near as dammit to OneNote and after installing it and a bit of testing, I'm back in business! There are still a couple of hiccups to be worked out, but I'm getting there. 

So here's to PEACE in your home and may my worst enemy never experience Windows crashing, EVER! 

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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Setaria verticillata

Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country. 
- William Jennings Bryan 

 

Cluster grass (Setaria verticillata) in my garden in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. It is an indigenous Spike grass and a weedy species. 

Afrikaans - Trosgras 
Camera FujiFinepix 2800Zoom 

I just LOVE this indigenous grass that took root in a corner of my garden. The birds actually go mad for it and it is such a delight to watch them hanging upside-down, picking at the seeds! It makes a lovely little display in that one corner and it also saves on buying seeds! 

This grass grows in weak tufts that can reach up to 1m, but are usually about 250mm high. Leaves are soft, hairy, pliable and few in number, giving the plant a rather loose, open appearance. Inflorescences are fairly short and distinctly spike-shaped. Neighbouring plants tend to become entangled in the finely barbed bristles of these spikes, creating the impression that they are 'sticky'. They flower from mid-summer to June. 

Occurs almost everywhere except for arid areas in Namaqualand and parts of the Eastern Cape. Seeds of the grass are used to make beer in South Africa and porridge in Namibia and has been used as a famine food in India. 

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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Eggs with a conscience


    From beasts we scorn as soulless,
    In forest, field and den,
    The cry goes up to witness
    The soullessness of men.
    ~M. Frida Hartley


    Free-range eggs are laid by happy hens that roam freely around outdoors in the day and snuggle up in their barn at night. Hens that are fed a vegetarian diet of grains and pulses with no animal by-products or fishmeal. Happy hens who are free to chase bugs, graze on the grass and have regular sand baths to rid themselves of lice and fleas.

    The benefits of free-range eggs are numerous, like the fact that these eggs are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Omega-3 fatty acids are not naturally produced by the human body so it's essential for us to include them as a part of a balanced diet. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that also protects the omega-3 fats. But for me the biggest benefit of free-range eggs is the fact that they are produced under natural, non-cruel conditions.

    Battery cage hens - Pic from "Say no to battery chickens and eggs"

    In the battery cage system (the dominant form of egg farming in the world), the hens are confined in cages with a sloping floor so that their eggs roll away in order to prevent faecal contamination of the eggs.

    The cages are normally stacked on top of each other in houses with no access to natural
    light. The houses use various automated conveyor belt systems to bring the hens food, capture their waste and take away their eggs.

    Because of the cramped conditions (sometimes less than an A4 sheet of paper per hen – for life!), alternative farming methods for eggs have increased in popularity. These include barn, free-range and organic (also free range, but with the additional requirement of organically produced feed).

    Freedom to behave naturally (one of the 5 freedoms that all animals should receive according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK) is one of the greatest welfare concerns for the world’s egg laying chickens.

    Research has shown that hens have a strong preference for laying their eggs in a nest and are highly motivated to perform nesting behaviour. Hens also show a strong preference for a littered floor both for pecking and scratching and for dust-bathing, and a preference to perch, especially at night.

    Battery caging prevents all of this as the hens are kept in barren cages without perches or litter, and are so confined for most of their lives that they cannot even flap their wings. I have bought battery cage chickens that have come to the end of their egg-laying life and upon releasing them in the hen house, they couldn't even walk! Their leg muscles had wasted away and it took me weeks of pampering before they started moving around. These chickens were also unusually aggressive with no social skills whatsoever, pecking one another and fighting constantly. I eventually had to separate them from the rest of the chickens into their very own hen house, but they never acquired any form of 'natural' chicken behaviour and just existed to the end of their days, fighting, squabbling and generally looking miserable...

    The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?" 
    ~Jeremy Bentham

    Free-range eggs from my hens - I get between 6 a day

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Aloe splendour



     My aloes (this is Aloe ferox, also known as Bitter aloe) have started flowering and I'm beside myself with joy! Last year I had no flowers, an early frost annihilated the lot just as the buds started. I actually know what the problem is - since I planted them 7 years ago, the trees surrounding them have grown huge, resulting in a lot of shade. So I have two options - cut down the trees (no ways!) or move the aloes to full sun, which is going to be a huge task. As you can see from the photo below, they are very big and I'm not looking forward to this mammoth task. Wouldn't it be easier to lose them (sob, sob!) and just plant new ones in a sunny spot...?


    So I'm hoping for no severe frost this winter. They're a bit big to try and cover with frost covers...


    This hardy plant is indigenous to South Africa, and with its succulent leaves can survive the harshest conditions. When damaged by man or animal, the plant seals off any wound with a sticky, dark liquid that prevents infestation by virus, fungus or insect. This dark liquid has been successfully used by ancient inhabitants as a traditional remedy for many ailments.

    The white inner gel of the leaf has the ability to hold and store moisture through hot, dry conditions and months of drought. Traditionally the local inhabitants use it to soothe burn wounds, cuts and abrasions. Today those same qualities are still the being used in a wide range of moisturisers and rejuvenating creams and gels.


    The nutrient rich leaf is filled with the goodness of the earth and contains no herbicides or pesticide making it an ideal source of nutrients and helping your body to cope with modern day living in a gentle and natural way.

    The bitter aloe is most famous for its medicinal qualities. In parts of South Africa, the bitter yellow juice found just below the skin has been harvested as a renewable resource for two hundred years. The hard, black, resinous product is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis.

    The Aloe is winter-flowering and did you know that they flower in mid-summer in France, when it's Winter time here in South Africa? Isn't nature's clock just amazing...?

    Camera : Canon EOS 550D

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Friday, 15 June 2012

Echeverias - Nature's wonders

 

My Echeverias are really enjoying the winter sunshine and less watering and have produced some gorgeous little flowers. 

Echeveria is a large genus of succulents in the Crassulaceae family, native from Mexico to North-western South America. Many of the species produce numerous offsets, and are commonly known as 'Hen and chicks', which can also refer to other genera such as Sempervivum that are significantly different from Echeveria. Sempervivums cannot tolerate the heat that Echeverias can, so mine grow primarily in pots on my patio or in the house.

  
Some Echeveria elegans in a pot 

Some Echeverias can mimic Sempervivums very closely so I understand the confusion this causes.  But when in doubt about what genus one has in one's collection, all doubts will vanish as soon as the plant flowers since the two genera have very different flowers. Echeveria flowers are not fuzzy, are often arching and the flowers themselves are quite succulent and bell-shaped. Sempervivum flowers are non-succulent and usually pink with thin, narrow, aster-like petals often on oversized inflorescences.  And if still not convinced, one only need wait for flowering to end, as most Echeverias flower yearly while Sempervivums are monocarpic (die after flowering).



 
Part of my Echeveria collection 

Many Echeveria species are popular as garden plants. They are drought-resistant, although they do better with regular deep watering and fertilizing. Although they tolerate winter quite well, the winter frost here in Tarlton is quite severe and often I take them out of the garden, putting them into pots and bringing them into the house, especially those that have got long stems and are not compact and dense any more.

  
Another section of the garden with a couple of Echeverias 

Echeverias need bright light, heavy soil and excellent drainage. When grown in soil-less mixes, they grow large and lush and lose their colour and character. Many of the plants have a waxy sheen on their leaves. When they are watered over the top, the water collects in drops and spots the leaves when it dries. These spots are especially noticeable when the water is high in minerals. Drench and let dry. Water from below.

  
My Echeverias in full flower 

These lovely plants are moderately fast growers. If your plant begins to show more and more space between the leaves, it is stretching and needs more light to help it keep a compact rosette shape.

 
The lovely pink edges on Echeveria glauca - this one is growing in the shade and the space between the leaves shows it is reaching for more light. 

In general these are inexpensive easy plants, popular mostly because of their ornamental flower-shaped, thick-leaved succulent rosettes and wonderful colours and textures... but their low cost certainly helps, too. Most Echeverias are suckering plants, eventually forming small (or large) colonies of closely growing plants. My original collection started with a few Echeverias given to me by my father in the late 80's. This suckering/offsetting behaviour makes them particularly ornamental pot plants as, in time, most will offset enough to completely fill a pot, often spilling over the edges and making living bouquets of succulent rosettes.

  
Echeverias hanging over pot 

 
 Echeveria glauca in flower

  
Two Echeverias in a pot in the garden 

Camera : Kodak EasyShare C195 
Location : My garden, Tarlton, South Africa. 

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The humble Black-jack

 

Afrikaans - Khakibos 
Camera : Canon EOS 550D 

Essential oil is extracted from the Khaki bush - Tagetes minuta (also known as Tagetes glandulifera) of the Compositae family and is used as the base oil for many perfumes. I absolutely LOVE Khaki bush myself and often grab hold of a clump while walking in the veld, pulling the leaves through my hand, leaving a strong, oily smell which I just adore! 

Also known as Black-jacks here in South Africa, the black, spiky seeds are really irritating, clinging to your socks and pants and very time-consuming to get rid of. This 'weed' springs up profusely once the ground has been disturbed, as after ploughing, and it is not uncommon to see acres and acres on farm lands. 

The leaves and flowers are a good insect repellent and are often seen hanging from native huts to deter swarms of flies and mosquitoes. In a 5% dilution, tagetes oil has been used to kill maggots in open wounds, while the roots and seeds have been found to help rid the body of poisons. The therapeutic properties of Tagetes oil are anti-infectious, anti-microbial, antibiotic, anti-spasmodic, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, insecticide and sedative. 

After the Boer war in South Africa, Australian troops brought plants to their native land where it grew profusely. It is an ingredient of many foot treatment preparations - the oil is extracted from the leaves, stalks and flowers, picked when the seeds are just starting to form. 

Khaki bush oil is not to be confused with Marigold Tagetes oil, Tagetes Grandulifera, which is produced by steam distillation from the leaves and flowers of the Marigold. 

With many pests becoming resistant to commercially produced insecticides and pesticides, many of us have turned back to Mother Nature for a solution. Well, I at least have - I often pick clumps of Khaki bush, hanging them from the rafters in my bedroom and I also crush the leaves, soaking them in boiling water and then spraying my Bonsai for that pesky fly that lays brown eggs on the leaves, slowly killing the leaves off one by one.

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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Straw hats, chickens and watering cans

How does one do it? How does one weave a hat of straw and create a finished product that serves as art upon our head? It seems magical. Or, perhaps it is the magic and the grace which carries the hat that is the thing which makes that hat seem so special.  
- Bohomamma

  

Summer's end and I'm still in straw hat and brown pants, my usual summer garb. Winter is no reason to stop gardening and even though the days are cold, the sun can be just as deadly as in summer. I'm by no means a hat-lover, but straw hats, watering cans and garden gloves just seem to go hand-in-hand when you enter nature's domain.

  

But there definitely won't be any gardening done today! The Cape weather has thrown a tantrum and here in Gauteng the temps have dropped drastically to 12°C! Luckily I had put in thick, fresh straw in the chicken coup earlier in the week so at least they are warm at night. But I worry about all the garden birds...

 
Fresh straw in the chicken coop 

I think I should invest in one of these for the hen house...!

  
(Chicken coup heater - Picture from Pinterest) 

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Seeing Pink

 

We all know what pink means, right? To dress a baby boy in pink would be nearly as bad as filling his bottle with Scotch. No construction worker will be caught dead using a pink hammer, unless he was colour-blind or possessed a well-developed sense of humour. Pink means “girl” in a way so direct that no other colour comes close. 

So does that mean that Pink flowers are girls.....? 

This Cosmos in my garden is still putting up a brave show even though we have been really hit with cold weather now. 
Camera : Kodak EasyShare C195

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Monday, 4 June 2012

The sound of birds

The sound of birds stops the noise in my mind. 
 ~ Carly Simon

 

Birds... those lovely little creatures that just brighten up any day, no matter how cold. Without any complaints they just go about their business, finding food for the family, basking in the sun on a bare branch, singing soft melodies that gladden the heart. 

Having the birds in my garden visiting my various bird feeders makes me feel so special. Makes me feel alive with purpose. Brings a smile to my face and makes me feel grateful to be part of Mother Nature who surrounds us and takes care of all her siblings, me and you included. 

Nobody else knows your reason for being. You do. Your bliss guides you to it. When you follow your bliss, when you follow your path to joy, your conversation is of joy, your feelings are of joy — you're right on the path of that which you intended when you came forth into this physical body. 
--- Abraham-Hicks 

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Saturday, 2 June 2012

June Gifts


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Winter is in full swing and my 20-year old Peach tree plays host to two Laughing Doves, basking in the warmth of the early morning sun. 

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