Chicken tractor, snakes and monkeys, news update March 2009

Greetings from a rather damp Lowveld. We had 60mm of rain over the weekend, the little river in our valley is now rather large and is flooding with the overflow from Witklip Dam, where we saw a lazy fish eagle waiting for fish to be swept over the dam wall (it knocked off at about 6 pm, we watched it fly off to its roost). The rain has been fantastic but has also meant that we have mould growing on everything from handbags to wooden carvings and dining room chairs. Ahhh, the sub-tropical life!

We had a very laid back Christmas break, it disappeared in a haze of working in the veggie garden, reading books and staring into space. Too divine. The year started off in top gear and we are shooting ahead despite what we read is a "sputtering" art market, (bit much being part of an industry which is described as sputtering!). So far we have already had Robert Hodgins and Conrad Botes in the studio. While here Conrad signed two large "comic strip" prints. Helen Sebidi has also returned to complete the big print that she started last year. Claudette Schreuders has just signed her latest series of prints, The Fall. In January we also launched Anton Kannemeyers latest prints. Judith Mason's retrospective exhibition opened in January to the Sasol Gallery at the University of Stellenbosch, until the 18th March 2009, if you are in the Cape and have not seen it yet, get there!

Maru is now in grade three and Simon has sprouted into grade six. For Christmas Maru got a soccer ball and Simon a cast net (yet to catch a fish). For her birthday Maru got a guitar (early present), it is tiny and will commence service this month with her taking up lessons. She has been begging us to let her learn how to play an instrument since grade one, we decided that a guitar would lead to less parental rage than a piano and we harbour fantasies that she will learn to play guitar in the vein of Louis Mhlanga.

Simon continues to amaze us with what he sees in the garden, no insect, flower bud or monkey goes unnoticed. On the 14th January Sarah went to tidy up the stone house and noticed a mamba in the rafters ( the house hadn't had a human occupant for some time), we called in the mamba catchers and they ably removed the fellow, just over 2m long. After evicting the dodgy tenant Andrew asked if he could rent the stone house, he and his land rover (vanity plates read SNAIL) have now happily settled in. Then at lunchtime (still the 14th) Mark and Leshoka caught a Mozambican Spitting Cobra near the recycling bins and took it off the property. In the evening as we sitting down to dinner Emma started barking, thinking it was the scavenging monkey Simon got out his kati and shot a palm seed into a small tree on the lawn. A vine snake fell to the ground, most grumpy at being dislodged from its perch (they can sit still in one position for days on end waiting for prey). It puffed up its neck and gave us a good display of its beautiful markings before being caught by Mark to be released in the bush far away! Fortunately, on the snake front, things have been very quiet since then.

The vervet monkey that has made occasional forays into our garden has been getting bolder (taking food from the kitchens) and has discovered the veggie garden. This meant that we had to harvest all our mangos in one shot, and we are trying to disguise the butternuts, which it takes one bite out of before moving on to the next delicacy. He has also ruined our mielie crop and we are fed up. He has also stated to bring in back up; Syneth spotted four the other day. Any suggestions for chasing them away would be most welcome!

On the bird front, things have also been busy. We have spotted two stunning snake eagles soaring over our valley and about fifty amur falcons have been seen swirling overhead. Plum coloured starlings and green pigeons have been feasting on the mitziri fruit and Simon intercepted a hawk eating one of our baby guinea fowl (through the cage net). We have made a chicken tractor... it is a permaculture concept and is basically a portable chicken hok that you put over veggie beds when they are finished producing. The chickens eat the weeds, pests, remaining plants and dig it all up for you while busily fertilizing the soil. All organic food waste and weeds get tossed into the hok too. The net result is digging is cut out; chickens feed themselves, the soil and produce eggs. Even the earthworms seem to thrive in this no dig system. Mark is busy converting anyone who will listen to the permaculture way (Maru is bored stiff and is begging him to talk about Sonae's pollution instead). Tamar has taken to hiding his latest reading, a book about biodynamic farming that goes into stuffing cow horns with dung and burying them at strategic points, playing Bach to your seedlings and a whole host of Steiner ideas that bring back deeply buried memories of a Waldorf education for Tamar.

On the green front we have added a green page to our website: Green Living Yesterday we got a quote for our micro-hydro scheme (gulp, it will take us fifteen years to pay it off) but the thought of buying an electric car in a few years time and then being able to tell people we run it off our canal water makes us feel a little better about the cost. On the 28th March is Earth Hour, take a look at how you can participate, even if it is just having a candlelit dinner and gazing at the stars.

While you are on the web take a look at The South African Print Gallery which Gabriel Clark Brown (of SA Art Times fame) has just opened in Cape Town, we wish them loads of success.

Vasbyt through the elections, we have wild moments fantasising about the military being deployed to plant veggies (the First Airborne Vegetable Division...) is this what happens when the faithful lose hope?

With best green wishes

Mark and Tamar

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