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

Friday, 30 August 2013

Green living

You might think that I — a lifelong nature lover — would automatically have been an environmentalist. But it wasn't until late in my 30's, when I seriously started gardening and saw what chemical insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and poisons (like rat poison) were doing to the insects and wildlife, that I became one through and through.

How we choose to manage pests in our yards is important for our families, our community and our environment. Some pesticides can cause accidental injury or death to non-target species such as aquatic organisms, birds, mammals and beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. Micro-organisms in your lawn and garden can also be harmed, reducing their ability to enrich the soil and provide nutrients for plants.

This led me to even worry about all the toxic and dangerous chemicals I'd also been using in my home without ever thinking twice. I started seeing the build-up of fabric softeners in our septic tanks, causing thick cakes of oily, creamy fabric softener to block up the whole tank, preventing water from seeping away and spilling over. The constant use of bleach was killing all the necessary bacteria needed to keep septic tanks clean and chemical drain cleaners to eliminate smell also killed any useful bacteria that was not already dead.

I turned to replacing all those chemicals with more natural products, some of which I though up myself using common sense, some of which was passed on by friends.

Vinegar, baking soda and hot water is just about all one needs. Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, softens water and scours (goodbye to Vim!). I use vinegar to disinfect my animal water bowls and it also removes the scale build-up on bowls.

To clean my drains, I mix 1/2 cup salt in 4 liters water of hot water and pour down the drain. For stronger cleaning, I pour about 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction can break fatty acids down into soap and glycerine, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour in boiling water to clear residue.

Instead of spraying my chicken coops with dangerous insecticides, I spray with vinegar and sprinkle diatomaceous earth all over the coop, even on my chickens, for fleas, lice, mosquitoes and other harmful insects. I also make a potpourri out of various herbs which helps keeping the goggos at bay as well as impart a lovely smell to the coop when it gets trampled by the chickens.

Another natural control is a soap solution which can be used to wash leaves and eliminate pests and diseases. A natural fungicide can be made from one tablespoon each of baking soda and horticultural oil diluted in four liters of water and sprayed on leaves

For many home-cleaning chores, you can make your own cleaning products out of inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives :

- Baking Soda - cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours
- Soap - unscented soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates
- Lemon - one of the strongest food-acids, effective against most household bacteria
- Borax - (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors
- White Vinegar - cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up
- Washing Soda - or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, softens water, cleans wall, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use with care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.
- Cornstarch - can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs
- Citrus Solvent - cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains. (Citrus solvent may cause skin, lung or eye irritations for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.)

All-Purpose Cleaner:
Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc

Air Freshener
Commercial air fresheners mask smells and coat nasal passages to diminish the sense of smell. Here are some natural air freshener alternatives :

• Baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice in small dishes absorbs odors around the house
• Having houseplants helps reduce odors in the home
• Prevent cooking odors by simmering vinegar (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) on the stove while cooking. To get such smells as fish and onion off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water
• Keep fresh coffee grounds on the counter.
• Grind up a slice of lemon in the garbage disposal
• Simmer water and cinnamon or other spices on stove
• Place bowls of fragrant dried herbs and flowers in room.

A natural laundry detergent can be made by mixing 1 cup liquid soap, 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup borax. Use 1 tbsp for light loads; 2 tbsp for heavy loads. As far as fabric softener is concerned, I don't use it at all - to reduce static cling, dampen your hands, then shake out your clothes as you remove them from the drier. Line-drying clothing is another alternative, saving on electricity as well.

Image from Apartment Therapy

The common Mothball is made of paradichlorobenzene, which is harmful to liver and kidneys. Homemade moth-repelling sachets can be made with lavender, rosemary, vetiver and rose petals. Dried lemon peels are also a natural moth deterrent - simply toss into clothes chest, or tie in cheesecloth and hang in the closet. Cedar oil on an absorbent cloth will also repel moths. I use the aromatic cedar obtainable from many essential oil suppliers.

I've even come upon a shampoo alternative - Sonnet of "In Sonnet's Kitchen" says, " When I found out what was really in shampoo a year and a half ago, I vowed to stop using it and so I switched to the baking soda and vinegar method. Shampoos can contain a lot of harmful ingredients like

• Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (used as a foaming agent in shampoo and is a possible carcinogen)
 • DEA/Diethanolamine (an emulsifying agent that can create carginogenic compounds when combined with other chemicals found in personal care products)
• Parabens (used as preservatives to extend shelf life, but many of these chemicals have been linked to breast cancer)
• Fragrance (the word “fragrance” on a label can mean the presence of over 4,000 separate chemical ingredients; scary!)

Read more at In Sonnet's Kitchen

Finding green products to clean your home and manage your garden is easier than you think. Most products like vinegar, lemon and many more are right under our noses in our closets. So turn to green cleaning and use cleaning solutions and methods that keep our environment healthy.

Green living is a lifestyle choice. Green living is simple -- just a few small changes can make our lifestyle more eco-friendly and reduce our carbon footprint...


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Toilet rolls and a bird-friendly garden

We all love to hear the sound of birds in the garden and the sight of butterflies, but few of us design a garden that attracts them. The good news is that you don't have to dig out all your roses or other exotic plants in favour of indigenous plants. Just ensure that at least a portion of the garden contains plants and other facilities to encourage urban "wildlife" into the garden.

An excellent way to attract birds to your garden is to offer them food, places to nest, lots of water and a bird bath or two so they can have their daily bath.

Different birds have different food choices. If you offer something for seed eaters, nectar feeders and fruit eaters you're well on your way to providing birds with a welcome habitat as well as hours of enjoyment for yourself.

I'm always thinking of new ways to attract birds and the other day, while I was throwing away yet ANOTHER toilet roll core, I decided that there must be some use for it (I already use them in various ways around the house - to store used wrapping paper, as a hold-all for my art equipment and storing computer cables, an idea I found on the internet). I already had a jug of seeds for the bird tables in my hand, so off to the kitchen I went, smeared some honey all over the core and rolled it in some seeds and voila! a lovely snack ready to be pushed over a twig on a tree for the birds to enjoy!

 Toilet roll cores snipped on one edge, folded open and stuck onto a board - perfect for all my art brushes and pens and pencils

Another useful idea for all those toilet roll cores!


Monday, 26 August 2013

Black Eagle up-date Aug 2013

Faithful Black Eagles continue to breed

At the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens in Roodepoort (Gauteng, South Africa) the female Black Eagle (Verreaux's eagle - Aquila verreauxii), called Emoyeni, laid two eggs on 15 and 19 April 2013. The eagle pair were sighted collecting twigs and leaves to prepare their nest for the expected brood. Emoyeni has bred annually over the past 30 years with the exception of a few odd years. Only the past 30 years are counted since the establishment of the Garden, but some sources claim that these eagles have been residing in this area for more than 40 years.

Usually around February, the eagle pair mate and groom each other whilst tending and preparing their nest. After a 45 to 60 day incubation period two chicks hatch, but only one is likely to make it to adulthood. The other may not even hatch, but if it does, the older chick that hatched first, will poke its younger sibling to death. This is known as the Cain and Abel struggle and it all happens in the presence of the parents who seem to tolerate this behaviour.

(Photo Lian van den Heever) 

In July 2013 however, there was no sign of the old eggs on the nest, and some mating behaviour was observed.

Picture G. Heydenrych 

Then, on the 17th August 2013, an egg was spotted in the nest with the second one following on the 19th August. Hopefully now, after a 45 to 60 day incubation period, two chicks will hatch, ensuring another future generation of Black Eagles.

19th August 2013 - two eggs in the nest 

Although this is good news, the hot summer weather can pose a challenge because breeding usually takes place in winter with the eggs hatching in mid-May. The latest batch of eggs, after a 45-day incubation period, will only hatch at the beginning of October, which is mid-summer here in South Africa. But these birds are very adaptable and all this will not hinder them from producing another generation in summer.

The Black Eagles can be viewed from a live feed web link from the wildlife multilink platform of Black Eagle Webcam that documents a multitude of animals through live video.

(Info from Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens Newsletter)

Screenshot from Wikipedia


Saturday, 24 August 2013

A wild start to my day!

This morning I went out early to let my girls out and, as usual, Chi-Chi was the first out, followed by the others, with Missy last, always in that order.



The previous night when I put them away, I had left a squeaky toy of Jacko's behind, it fell out my pocket onto the lawn, and this caused a HUGE ruckus!

They took turns in circling it while cackling loudly and those in the side-lines had their necks stretched out to the maximum, trying to stare it down! Those chickens carried on like they had a 3-meter Cobra in the backyard. They cackled and squawked and ran in and out of the hen house, wanting a better look at the 'thing'. None of them touched it.

The on-lookers running around in circles 

They only settled down once I picked the bright orange and blue toy up and removed it. They know every inch of their territory and just one thing out of place sends them into a flap - literally. Chi-Chi even double-checked after I removed it to see if it was really gone!

Chi-Chi making sure the 'thing' hadn't jumped into the pot to hide 

I go out into the garden earlier now the weather is warming up. Not that I can feel it that much yet, but the peach tree's blossoms is a sure indication that it has warmed up!

Just after sunrise, when the birds are calling out for the first time that day, I wander around, looking and thinking, filling the bird feeders, noticing what needs to be done in the garden and making a mental note. I understand now why gardening is such a popular pastime for retired folk. Not only is there a lot of gentle and robust work to be done, there is life and the potential for growth and change and as you grow older, it's wonderful being a part of that.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Striped Grass Mouse

Rhabdomys pumilio : Common name - Four-striped grass mouse. Streepmuis in Afrikaans

A Striped Field mouse in my garden. He's quite tame as I often put out seeds for them, and here I was within a meter from him. He was actually very disgusted, drying himself off as I had accidentally gotten him wet while watering the garden with the hosepipe.

I tolerate these lovely little creatures (unlike rats!) as they are totally harmless and very rarely venture into the house. I've only ever seen this pair in my garden and was actually hoping to see little ones scurrying about!

Rhabdomys is a largely Southern African genus of muroid rodents slightly larger than house mice. 

Here they are snacking on some sunflower seeds I put out for them in my garden. 

The Striped Mouse, so named because of the four longitudinal black stripes down its back, is an opportunistic omnivore, and has a varied diet. In certain areas they are mainly granivorous, while in others they may eat more plant material than seeds. They also enjoy a wide variety of other vegetable matter and insects.

The striped mouse helps to pollinate many Protea species, as pollen clings to its head while it is feeding. When the mouse moves off to feed on other neighboring flowers of the same species, it carries the pollen with it, thus assisting in the fertilization of these flowers. They normally excavate a burrow at the base of a grass thicket, ensuring that the entrance is well hidden, and lining the chambers of their burrows with soft, leafy debris; alternatively, they construct a ground-level nest under cover of dense stands of tall grass.

Striped Mouse forage by day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, and are often seen among the tall grasses growing on the perimeter of cultivated land. In central Africa, where striped mice are also found, they breed throughout the year, but in the south the breeding season is usually confined to the summer months (September to May).

During the breeding season the adult females appear to be territorial, with limited home ranges which probably overlap the large home ranges of the males. There are from 2 - 9 young per litter.
Some Info from "EcoTravel"

Location : My garden in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Roosters really do know what time it is

My rooster Artemis announcing the start of day 

Normally, at 4am like clock-work, I'm awakened by Artemis announcing the start of another day. In summer it can be as early as 3am! This sets off ALL Solly's roosters and I can assure you, NOTHING can sleep through that racket! Their crowing has now set MY internal clock and I'm normally awake just before the crowing starts.

The rooster's morning cock-a-doodle-doo is driven by an internal clock, finds new research, suggesting that male chickens really know the time of day.

The study, detailed in the journal Current Biology, found that roosters put under constant light conditions will still crow at the crack of dawn.

Past studies have found that a myriad of animal behaviors are driven by an internal clock: at night, a dip in insulin causes humans to process food more slowly, and even blind cave fish use a circadian clock to tell time.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo' symbolizes the break of dawn in many countries," said study author Takashi Yoshimura of Nagoya University, in a statement. "But it wasn't clear whether crowing is under the control of a biological clock or is simply a response to external stimuli."

Because stimuli throughout the day — such as car headlights — will set off a rooster's crow at any time, it was also possible that increasing light was the trigger for the cock's crows.

To find out Yoshimura and his colleagues put 40 roosters in a setting with constant light, then recorded when they crowed.

Sure enough, the chickens crowed at daybreak regardless of the light conditions. The roosters also crowed at other times of day and in response to light and the crows of their fellow chickens, but those behaviours were much stronger at daybreak. The findings suggest that an internal circadian clock, rather than external conditions, drive the behavior.

Read more at Mother Nature Network


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sometimes, do nothing

A simple life has a different meaning and a different value for every person. For me, it means eliminating all but the essential, eschewing chaos for peace, and spending my time doing what’s important to me.

It means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.

Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." Nature does no more or no less than what is necessary. Minimalist living helps create a simple, inspired and uncomplicated life.

In our daily lives, we often rush through tasks, trying to get them done, trying to finish as much as we can each day. We surround ourselves with more and more stuff and our lives become way too full.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to live a simpler life by just sitting back and deciding what is important to you and concentrate solely on that. Sometimes, do nothing.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Farm Talk - Robin vs Wagtail

Camera: Fuji FinePix 2800ZOOM

I posted this article before, in Sept 2008, don't know how many people would go that far back in the archives, but at the moment I've got a very similar scenario going on between my Robins and Cape Wagtails, vying for the best nesting spot in my Fan Palm tree, so I thought I would just publish it again. Luckily, as yet, there have been no fatalities so I'm hoping they'll be able to sort out their differences.

Up until the end of April 2003, we had lived on our smallholding (8,5ha) in Tarlton since 1975. Over the years, I had established a lush garden with numerous indigenous trees and various types of ivies, one of which covered the kitchen wall on the South side of the house and in which the Wagtails made their home. I also had a resident pair of Cape Robins, nesting in the ivy creeping up a dead tree trunk opposite the Wagtails. I dearly loved my Cape Robins, who would take mince out of my hands at the kitchen window, but I must inform you that they are utter terrorists as far as the Wagtails are concerned!

Over a period of 2 weeks, I watched in fascination as both the Robin and Wagtail parents fed their chicks. (After a long, careful search I located the Wagtail nest in the ivy on the kitchen wall – the Robins’ nest was much lower opposite them and more obvious). Both sets of parents scurried hurriedly for the available cache of insects and the Robins, who would dive-bomb and chase them at every opportunity, constantly harassed worms, with one hitch – the Wagtails.

Then, one morning, I heard the Wagtails’ panicky cries and to my utter horror, found the Robin plucking the Wagtail chicks from their nest, dropping them, bleeding and fatally injured. The gentler Wagtails could do nothing but scurry helplessly about. I tried to rescue the unfortunate Wagtail chicks, but to no avail – they were already dying.

The only conclusion I could come to was that the Robins regarded the kitchen window and my mince meals as their domain and begrudged the Wagtails being anywhere in the vicinity!


Friday, 16 August 2013

August inspiration

At no time is Winter more spectacular in South Africa than when the Aloes start flowering in July or August. Then the grey winter is forgotten as bright bursts of orange colour gardens and the country-side, drawing nectar feeders like the Amethyst Sunbird, bees and wasps. My Aloe ferox was lucky to escape the onslaught of any frost this year, providing much-needed sustenance for the birds at the end of winter.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Gardening with "living fossils"

Long before mankind started gardening, Mother Nature was already growing gardens of her own.

By growing these ancient plants, even today we can create a garden reminiscent of a time when dinosaurs ruled the animal kingdom and the dominant plant types ruling the plant kingdom were cycads and ferns.

My Cycad - Cycas revoluta (sago palm, king sago, sago cycad, July 2013 

The Sago Palm is native to the Far East and the cold hardy Sago Palm has been used as a choice container and landscape plant for centuries. The growth habit of Cycas revoluta displays an upright trunk with a diameter from 1" to 12" depending on age, topped with stiff feather-like leaves growing in a circular pattern.

Regardless of age or size, the Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are one of the easiest plants to grow and care for, indoors or out, by beginner or expert. Sago Palm plants adapt to a wide range of temperatures from 15 to 110 degrees F (-11 to 42 degrees C), Sagos accepts full sun or bright interior light, thrive with proper care and maintenance, and tolerates neglect. In addition, Cycads are extremely long-lived.

My Cycad Cycas revoluta when planted in 2007

Cycads are often referred to as “living fossils” because they date back to the age of dinosaurs of which only fossils remain today. Some scientists believe cycads date back as far as 250 million years, but reached dominance about 150 million years ago - widely known as the age of dinosaurs. During this period they were a prominent component of the earth’s vegetation and a very important part of most herbivores’ diets.

Cycads are arranged into numerous families and genera. Most southern African cycads belong to the genus Encephalartos in the family Zamiaceae. This is said to be the second largest genus of cycads and consists, to date, of about 63 living species. They are all endemic to the continent of Africa.

 My Cycad Cycas revoluta almost two years later in 2009

Cycads are slow growers and therefore need time and patience to grow. They can prove difficult in some instances and may require a little more effort to grow successfully, but they are well worth the time and effort spent on them.

Cycads do best in areas with a moderate climate. Certain species however prefer tropical to subtropical areas and there are a few that are able to survive in cold, dry areas. Extreme climates with prolonged periods of intense heat or cold are not suitable, unless the cycads are in greenhouses where the conditions are controlled.

My Cycad Cycas revoluta in 2010

The basic requirements to grow cycads are: unimpeded soil drainage, good soil, warmth and plenty of water. Your pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline, not acidic. I know that my soil is slightly alkaline, as most of my nearby hydrangeas are pink, the colour of which is caused by alkalinity in the soil. They are sun loving, although some forest species requires some shade.

My Cycad in 2012

The Sago Palm growth rate is extremely slow and are extremely long lived and old specimens can grow in curious ways. Many Sago have multi-trunks and multiple branches.

Uses and cultural aspects
In the past, the pith from the stem of cycads was removed, then enclosed in an animal skin, fermented and ground into a meal which was used to make bread. Hence the Afrikaans name of broodboom.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Serval (Stenostira scita)

Photograph: Roelof van der Breggen 

The Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden in Roodepoort (Gauteng, South Africa), in cooperation with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the North West Province through the Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism as well as Gauteng Nature Conservation, have embarked on a pioneering camera-trap project to capture images of largely nocturnal animals in the wilderness/natural area of the Garden. High tech infra-red cameras are used to reveal what goes on in the animal world under the cover of darkness.

A Serval cat was the first animal to be recorded through this technology in the Garden and, according to Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert, Head of Conservation Science at Endangered Wildlife Trust, this is the first sighting of this cat species in Gauteng!

This project would later be rolled out to a wider area in the western parts of Gauteng towards North West. It would greatly assist in monitoring the extent and number of some threatened animal species that have been thought to be extinct in the area.

This Botanical Garden was founded in 1982, but has been a popular venue for outings since the 1800's. The Garden has been voted the best place to get back to nature in Gauteng for 9 years in a row and is one of my favourite places to regularly visit.

The natural vegetation of the area is known as the 'Rocky Highveld Grassland' and consists of a mosaic of grassland and savannah, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams. The variety of habitats accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species.

A breeding pair of majestic Verreaux's Eagles nest on the cliffs alongside the waterfall. The Garden is home to an abundance of wildlife with over 220 birds species recorded on site. There are also a number of reptiles and small mammals, including small antelope and jackals, which occur naturally in the Nature Reserve.

A Serval is a medium-sized, slender, African wild cat with long legs and a fairly short tail. It is nocturnal and hunts mostly at night, unless disturbed by human activity or the presence of larger nocturnal predators. Although it is specialized for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes birds, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. DNA studies have shown that the serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal.

They are commonly found in savannah where there is plenty of water and they occur in most parts of Africa, with the exception of Central Equatorial Africa, the very southern part of the continent, and the Sahara region. These cats prefer bushy areas, tall grass and dry reed beds near streams and are also found on high altitude. They can live up to 20 years in captivity according to some sources. Servals’ spotted coats are sometimes marketed as young leopards or cheetahs and can attract a hearty price on the black market. This, as well as the Serval’s tendency to attack poultry, makes it a target for hunters. Consequently they are no longer found in heavily populated areas, yet, as nocturnal animals, they may still be around though not in greater numbers.
Source: Wikipedia


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Coffee, Mollie and frugality

It's a sunny winter's day but there is an icy wind blowing. And yet I'm sitting outside in the garden having coffee. Braving the cold. And the reason, you might ask?

Well, I spotted Mollie, my resident Mole Snake, just as she made her way down a hole against the wall. I haven't seen her for months and I'm very keen to get a couple of photographs and also to see whether she has grown at all. The skin she shed just a few months ago panned out at almost two meters (which means she's about 1.3m-1.5m in length as the shed skin is always longer) and the length that disappeared down the hole looked considerably longer. Maybe it's somebody else, so I'm waiting to see. But I don't think I've got much hope of that, she's probably settled in there for the day now.

While I was waiting, I did a couple of chores - filled the seed house with a new block of seeds, filled the nectar bottle with sugar water and watered a few plants, all the while keeping an eye on the hole in case Mollie surfaced. 

 Seed Tower in my garden

Seed Tower - Image from Elaine's Wildlife Birding Products

I purchased this feeder from a lovely garden shop in Ballito in the "Sage" shopping centre and they have the most exquisite plants, pots and bird paraphernalia. All I need to do now is buy the blocks of replacements seeds which I can do on-line, no need to drive 600km to the coast!

 Nectar feeder

I  also filled up my pine cones with fresh peanut butter sprinkled with some wild bird seed. This is a delicacy that the birds really love.

I'm not having much luck with my Suet feeder - the birds don't seem to want to have anything to do with it! So I break out pieces, place it on one of the bird tables and then they seem to lap it up. but I'm giving it some more time, patience, patience!

I saw a really cool idea on the internet the other day - a raffia bag filled with feathers from which your garden birds can easily pluck some ready-made nesting material. I've made one out of an empty orange bag but have not yet managed to collect enough soft feathers from the garden to fill it with. Moulting season for the chickens is finished for the moment. And I really don't know of anywhere where one can buy feathers from. Maybe a hobby shop...? (I'm also just thinking, why didn't I just buy it when I saw it! But that leaves no space for creativity and frugality, does it? he he!)



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