Reality-check time again: So Far, Great!

It’s been a few months for us now, on our own land, running with it. We are now doing what we have to do, and on the side, we do the things we want to do. I thought this to be a good time to do some reality checking again. I have been making notes of the ups and downs we have experienced in the last few months, and in this post, I will expand a bit. An additional bonus is that I get to share some of the more regional/local things that pertain to us, as South African smallholders (homesteaders, micro-farmers, pick a title).

Irrigation networks grow by meters ever week – nonstop

The Western-Cape is a winter-rainfall region, with a slightly diversified range of sub-climates in the various areas. Our smallholding lies in a Csa (Koppen-Geiger) zone, defined as “warm temperate with dry, hot summers” and accompanied by a mean annual rainfall of around 660mm. Most, if not all of that rain, falls during our winter season. In summer, there are no rains and temperatures in the high 30’s, making it extremely hard and exhausting to work the land during summer. The weather was reality-check-1 for us. Insane amounts of winter rain bombarded down on us, causing pooling and mud issues everywhere during the house-building phase. As summer approached, the heat not only invades the house (even at night) but also makes it hard to stay hydrated and keep working the way we enjoy working: manual tools, manual labour. The second issue is the hardening, drying clay. 

The trusty mattock struggles to break through; a significant problem when we look at reality-check-2, irrigation. As our water source lies 30 meters from our cottages, piping was a necessary piece of infrastructure required. Once both cottages had water connected, the pipe-laying continues. The destructive, respectless behaviour of most builders leave a yard filled with unsavoury things like dumped paint, buried cement, plastic, and reinforcing-bar everywhere. Fixing it required a lot of manual work, planting of grass seeds and keeping them watered for proper growth. The irrigation system will continue to grow over time, with much left to do. The water delivery system also has other roles to fulfil, like transporting water to animal points (goats and chickens) and for feeding the [in-progress] food-pond. I will write about the pond in a later post, don’t worry. Its purpose is to grow edibles and to naturalise the environment by attracting the good guys (frogs, bugs, bees and birds) and giving them a safe home.

You would think that fires would be number one, but not quite. Reality-check-3 ties in with irrigation and pipework and is part of our fire management plan. When you buy land, you usually overlook and underthink things. I assure you, we thought about fires and how they would happen and move, but we didn’t realise the seriousness until we spoke to neighbours and friends in the area. It is what it is, and it happens, so the best we can do is prevent and have a reaction plan in place. My priority for the next month or two is to place a series of impact sprinklers on our fire-risk border. These sprinklers need good pressure to function. We will employ the pumps from the two cottages to supply more water-pressure and provide redundancy. By keeping the vegetation short and green both inside and outside the perimeter fence will help keep fires at a distance. It is one part of a larger plan.

Litengard Fire

The last one, reality-check-4, is really just something to consider and it is by no means a worry or concern to us. Time. You never have enough time to get to everything, and before you know it, weekends are over. During the week, we have minimal time to go outside and perform laborious tasks. Projects never end, and the list of things on our Trello board grows. In some ways, this is a good thing. Staying busy and building something should never really end. It’s fun, provides confidence and builds pride – but it needs to be known that time is not ever, enough.
We could save a LOT of time by using machinery, but that is not really an option and goes against some of the choices we made. Utilising manual tools gives us control, builds strength and value and is healthy. Furthermore, it creates no dependence on on-grid resources like petrol/oil to run these machines; later saving more time by avoiding broken engines and costly maintenance. Some things just need machines, but where possible, we do it ourselves. *edit: we want to buy a rotavator/tiller, however (teehee).

Last, but not least… we did not know how much we would accomplish in such little time. An ice-cold CBC Weiss at the end of the day, next to our braai fire is immeasurably awesome. We are putting a lot of work into this, but it is exactly what we planned (if not better).

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