Sunday, 27 July 2014

Is it fair?

The Brown Cow, that the kids have named Daisy, had a still born calf on Friday. I am not sure if I should worry about this. It is her first calf, perhaps she took the bull a bit too soon, perhaps she is not getting all the nutrients she needs. Its sad. It would have been nice to have a calf on the farm.
Each window of the old cottage is different.

I really did not get much time to get out to the farm in the week. (I speak a little more about the frustration and joys of what I deal with in the week on another blog of mine). I popped in on Wednesday afternoon and took some measurements for the new casements for the timber windows. Over the weekend, today and yesterday, my time was also quite limited. Yesterday I had to fetch and carry kids to drama practice and had to get some work done at home in the morning first. Today may daughter came out to the farm with me in the morning. We had great fun, but got only a few things done before she was bored and desperately needing to go to McDonalds for lunch. I love spending time with her. I love spending time with my family and being available to them for the things that they need my help with. So I am stretched. So little time. There is a mountain of work that needs to be done on the farm, if I can ever dream of moving my family there, but to get to that mountain is a real challenge. Work on the Cottage is an urgent priority for us.  I really want to spend time myself getting it done. I am not afraid to hire people to help me, but only to the point where I trust that they will not do more damage than good.
Is climbing a tree more fun than watching someone climb a tree on TV?

Is it fair on my family for me to take on this project? Is it fair of my family to expect me to be available all the time for their projects (at the expense of mine) ? I don't know. Right now my family is sitting in the lounge, by the fire watching "Idols" (I don't know if you can call it a project, but it seems to be quite and important weekly event a least). But I am here, in my study cleaning my chainsaw, or planning the house or scheduling the tasks on the cottage of the week, or talking to you guys. Is that fair of me? Or should I be watching TV?

And another thing. Is it fair on my family for me to develop an attitude toward my office and the business I have built, that may see me being less inclined to see myself as its slave? What if this attitude results in me bringing home less money? What if child number three can not have as much money spent on her as child number one? Would the family understand? Would I not regret this?

The farm is not just a property deal. We have bought a few properties over the years and those have always been about the spreadsheet. What rental can it generate? What can I re-sell it for?  And while I can see that Pebblespring is a good investment, its more complicated than that, because I see Pebblespring as part of strategy to simplify, to spend less and to live more fully. But this is a family project. It is a project for all of us. The reality of course is that we all see things differently. We all love the farm, but are not all equally on the same page about simplifying and spending less. While I am quite comfortable to lead this process, I am very concious of not leaving anybody behind. Not creating a gap between me and the others in my family. I am not separate from them. We are a whole. But we are all our own people, with our own minds.
Yellow rectangle is new house position. Yellow lines access. Blue lines water

In other news, I have been thinking a little more about the new house we plan to build after finishing with the renovations of the cottage.  The new plan is to have it a little closer to the cottage, so as to form the second edge of a farm yard, (with the existing cottage being the first edge).

The way I prefer to think is to sit with an idea for a while and see if it "resonates" If it still feels good in week or two or is not replaced by a better one, then perhaps we move to the next level. Slow moving, but solid.

So I will let you know if the thinking stays stuck.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

First Priority - Fix the Cottage!

I took a few days off from the office last week. I had planned to use the time to get a whole lot done on the farm. Well, I got some stuff done, but not a whole lot.

I spent a little time setting up new grazing for the cattle. The grass grows really slowly in the winter, but I count my blessings that we are able to graze our animals right through winter in our climate. No snow, no sleet, no frost, no keeping animals in a barn for warmth. I treat, the  Port Jackson weed tree, as reserve feeding, and cut a few branches down allowing the cattle to help themselves and add variety to the limited grass that there is to graze.
Brown Cow - 19 July 2014

But I also got to do some work in the cottage. The plan now is to get the cottage into a liveable condition. At least liveable enough so that the family can spend weekends there. My hope is that we all love it so much, that we will happily agree to rent out our house in Walmer and live on the farm full time. This will open up a stream of income that will see the Walmer property paying for itself. It will also put us on the farm, where we can more believably begin to get income generating projects running there like:

  • Broilers
  • Beef
  • Goats
  • Eggs
  • Tree nursery
  • Shop
So you can see that the plan that I am working on here, is not just a physical plan of how to layout the farm and the cottage, but it is a plan of how to "layout" our family finances and lifestyle in such a way that the farm does not become a burden that causes Hlubi and I to work longer and longer hours in business to support.

So work on the cottage is really important right now. The other reason the cottage needs to get sorted out really quickly is because of the strategy that we have adopted with the banks. I am sure I have told you the story before, but we had to take out a mortgage loan of around  R700 000.00 (about $70 000.00 US) The selling price for Pebblespring Farm was R1 500 000.00 (about $150 000.00 US ). I am playing open books with this blog to make it as helpful to others perhaps trying to do something similar. The only way I could get the mortgage was as "new building finance". I went to all the major banks, none of them are interested in financing vacant land. The old cottage and shop were in such a state of disrepair that the valuers were not able to find any value in them.

The long and the short of it is that the bank would not just loan me the R700 000.00 I needed to purchase the farm they insisted rather to loan me R1 200 000.00 with the condition that I build a new house worth R500 000.00. It was a hell of a process and I spoke a little about it in a previous blog. The condition of my bond finance is that I complete the construction of the new house within 9 months of the end of March when the property was finally transferred. So the deadline for completing the new house, that I have not yet started building, is December this year. But, I would prefer not to build with more debt. Firstly, I want to see if it is not possible to live in the old cottage (once renovated) secondly, if I were to build a new house, I would love to take it on as a personal project, without the banks inspectors breathing down my neck. And I would like to build at a pace that I would be comfortable with. 

So with all of this in mind, our planning is as follows:

  • Plan A: fix up the cottage, make it cosy, furnish it, have a working bathroom and kitchen and lights that switch on an off (All Off the Grid of course) and then call the bank up and say, "listen.....I have changed my mind. I don't want to build a new house. I would prefer that you send your assessors around to look at the cottage again. I am sure that you will find value" 
  • Plan B: if my bank says "no" to Plan A, is then to shop around with other banks to take over the finance
  • Plan C:  Somehow scrape together another R700 000.00 by December and go back to the bank and say "Here's the cash I owe you. Thanks, it was fun"

I will keep you posted here on the progress with this game plan. All legal, all above board, but working the system to meet our needs and the needs of the farm.

Inside cottage - 20 July 2014
Specifically though, the work I was doing today, was with a tie beam that needs repair. You can see in the picture, the beam laying in the ground. Well it is completely rotted off at the one end where it went into the wall. I will have to construct a joint. I cant easily replace the beam with another because it is quite unique. It appears from its texture, to be hewn with an axe. It is definitely not a milled beam. I would very much like to keep it and to take the time to repair it as best I can. It could date back as far as 1820 or 1830. I cant really be sure. What I know is that it was a hell of a mission to get it down. It must weigh over 100 kgs and was almost 3 metres up. I quite enjoy the challenge of figuring our the complex manoeuvres required to move heavy and precarious objects when working completely alone. So it  was a lot of strapping and a of work with the "come-along" wrench, but it came down and it came down in one piece with out any injury to my good self. Now that its on the ground, I can work on it with saws, chisels and drills to remove the rotten end timber and carefully joint in a new end that will fit into the wall.

But all this is going to take time, and right now is a busy time in the office. I feel conflicted. I see where I need to be spending my time right now, but I struggle to re-arrange my life in order to get this right. 

I knew it would be difficult.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

I love Bacon and Eggs

What a luck for me to be interested in growing exactly the same things that I love to eat!

I love Rump Steak, I love bacon and eggs,  I love nuts and berries, I love cheese and tomato omelettes with fresh coriander. I love fresh cream in my coffee. I lover roast chicken, I love chicken soup. I love green bean stew with tender lamb. I love thick creamy yoghurt. I love smoked fish. Steamed spinach with feta cheese, baked sweet potato with melted butter.Cabbage fried in butter with garlic and black pepper. Biltong, Olives, Blue cheese.
Beautiful, vibrant cabbage in Hlubi's winter garden.

And what a further luck that the scientific community is slowly catching up tot he fact that these things are actually really good for us. Thanks to Prof. Tim Noakes, I have had the confidence to eat this way for the last two an a half years. (for about two years before that already, I had given up bread because it really just messed with my gut). Noakes calls this High Fat Low Carb diet "Banting", in reference to a fat London guy, more than a hundred years ago, who cut out carbohydrates, eating fat, veg and protein to loose a significant amount of weight and probably saving his life in the process. The way of eating has now become quite popular thanks to Noakes' latest book: "Real Meal Revolution". You can get a sense of the enthusiasm of those following this thinking in the very useful Facebook group called Banting (Tim Noakes Diet). Its inspiring stuff.

For me, eating this way just makes sense. I feel a lot better, Within six months of starting to eat this way, I was lighter than I had been in 10 years and was running faster than I had in 20. What is interesting to me though is that to this day I still have some reluctance or hesitance about eating the amount of fat that I have now come to understand in necessary to remain healthy. I suppose this is because I, like you reading this, was brought up with the belief that fat was bad and would give me a heart attack. What is even more interesting though is to find that idea that fat is bad is actually a recently new notion. It is an idea introduced by a scientist in the 1950's. This scientist selected data from 6 countries that showed that in countries that ate more fat, there was a higher incidence of heart disease. He did not show that fat caused the heart disease, but that just was enough "science" to get people dreaming up new markets for the massive excesses of grain and sugar that had resulted out of the massive commercialisation of agricultural land in the US after World War 2. I mean, we had been eating bacon and eggs for ever before the Kellogs Corporation convinced us that is was a better idea to eat a bowl full of reconstituted processed maize for breakfast.

What I am interested in is where ideas come from, that end up playing a role in our lives, sometimes devastating roles in our lives. Many people have died of diabetes and cardio-vascular disease because of ideas that have caught on and spread through our society. Very often these ideas are based on the flimsiest of science. Looking back its so easy to see that it really stupid to smoke, that slavery is not an option and that women are actually just as good as voting as men are (or aren't) The point though is that at the time when these (now unpopular) practices were widespread, all kinds of science was hauled out to defend them.

That's in the past and I am not that interested to dissect all of that, but what about now? What about today?what beliefs do we hold that may be dangerous? What beliefs do we hold that are not supported by the facts? Let me make an example of some of my beliefs:

  • I hold a belief that I need to earn big money every month to keep my family happy.
  • I hold the belief that my life will not change either way whether Germany or Argentina win the World Cup.
  • I hold the belief that I must remain faithful to my wife in order for me to remain happy
  • I hold the belief that if I keep working hard, it will all work out.
  • I hold the belief that bribery and corruption can not form part of a sustainable business.
  • I hold the belief that this country is the best place for me to be and that it will all be ok

But which of these beliefs will be blown out of the water as clear facts emerge in the next five or ten years? So I say to myself, "be wary of belief" and  in the absence of belief, I keep an open mind and while having an open mind, I know that my path is to  pass the days doing what I love. I choose not to wait for the scientists to catch up to me in five years time with confirmation of  what I knew was right for me all along. We don't have enough time to wait for them. But we do have the time, every day, to be silent with ourselves to hear what we have to say. We speak to ourselves through our preferences, our tastes, our likes, our dislikes our arousals and our cravings. These voices cannot lie to us if we take the time to listen out for them. If we take the time to cancel out the noise and the clutter, we will hear our own voice.

About this there can be no doubt.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Off the Grid - small steps

As I sit inside, warm against the weather, I can hear the winter rain falling lightly outside. At the farm, the fields are green, but it has not been that wet. I can monitor how wet it has been by the level of the Kragga-Kamma lake I drive past on the way to the farm.

Pebblespring Farm has no municipal water. It has no electrical connection. It has no sewer connection. This is of course not a major problem yet, because no one is living there full time. But we will.

In the meantime, the cattle need water and the trees we have potted need water and for this we have installed two water tanks. First a 1 kl tank and then a 5 kl tank. From these tanks I run draglines (very strong, flexible 25 mm diameter black plastic pipe) to the cattle feeding troughs that I have made by cutting in half a 200l barrel.

We installed this 1 kl tank first last year sometime. (I remember posting a video)
5 kl tank. Best price from PennyPinchers 

This has been relatively easy to achieve. For now at least all the pasture that I have accessed is at a lower level than the water tank, so I can gravity feed the water. No pumping required. The pasture that is furthest away (and where the cattle are grazing this week) cant be reached by the 100m dragline. For now, until I get around to buying more dragline, I bring water to this pasture in the wheelbarrow carrying a 25l container. I suppose it depends which way you look at it. Some of us will think its a real pain in the ass to trudge up and down in the biting winter wind pushing a reluctant wheelbarrow across lumpy pasture. But those same number among us, find it quite normal, acceptable and pleasurable to drive clear across town to pay for the privileged of battling against sweaty gym equipment designed to give just the correct amount of resistance and strain to mimic pushing a heavy wheel barrow across lumpy pasture. Like with most things its the story I tell myself about what's going on that is more powerful to me than the actual circumstance. Its the meaning I give to what I do that makes it pleasurable or painful. Even pain is not that  bad, when I am able to develop a story that makes the pain appropriate.US Marines have a saying "Pain is the sensation caused by weakness leaving the body". Absolute bullshit of course, no hard science at work here, but I marvel at the hundreds of thousands of Marines that would have found push-ups that much more bearable because of that "story". The story I give myself about the wheelbarrow is that I am giving myself a perfect cardiovascular workout with just the right proportion of weight training.
Wheelbarrow Pilates
Anyway, I really did not want to let you to sidetrack me with the wheelbarrow. I wanted to talk about rainwater and "Off The Grid" stuff. Because, I really can see how we have become caught in the idea that supplying our homes with running water is an incredibly complicated thing that we can only achieve at the mercy of a massive bloated Municipality, with teams of clever engineers and armies of unionised workers. If running water intimidates some of us, then electricity send the rest of us running for the hills. Surely the only possible way to get light into our living room, heat the bathwater, roast the chicken and play "Days of Our Lives" on the TV, is to build massive multi billion dollar coal powered fire stations thousands of kilometres away in Limpopo province?

You see, I have got a sneaky suspicion that is just not that complicated to go "off the grid". Of course those that make a living out of selling electricity and piped water continue to work very hard to convince us that "Off the Grid", is the domain of hippies, homeless and hillbillies. Perhaps all the propaganda is completely spot on. Perhaps there is no other way than for us to trek to the office day after day, to earn the salary to pay the taxes to fund the massive infrastructure that will be able to sell to us, at inflated rates, the water and electricity we need to carry on our civilised existence. Yes, they may be right, but there is a small possibility, a minute chance, that the experiment that I am slowly getting going with, can show that I can set up reasonably easily off the grid water and power system that can keep me and my family comfortable enough for us to continue in the experiment.

My promise is to take you along with me. Let you in to all the steps, all the mistakes. Maybe we will learn together that we are not quite ready for this, or maybe we will learn that many others can easily copy me. This experiment is not trying to establish whether the technology exists to go off the grid. The technology has been available since the sixties. This we know. My experiment is a personal one and a family one. It has to do with my budget, my family's consumption patterns, our climate's demands on heating and cooling. The experiment is also very specific to the site. I have the advantage of not having any existing services connection to the site. So I am able to compare the cost of bringing these connections to the site to the cost of rainwater systems and Photo Voltaic in and wind turbines. Even the fact that we will be starting a house from scratch means that we can make choices that reduce our electrical load. We can orient a new house to harvest daylight. We can manipulate geometry to shade the house in the summer months but to gain the warmth of the winter sun. We can manipulate building materials to keep the warmth in in winter and out in summer. We are able to make choices like cooking and heating with the wood that is plentiful on the farm or heating bathwater with a solar geyser. All of the these choices may not be immediately available to many of you reading this because you are living in a house built when people did not really think about this kind of stuff, where the idea of ripping out an expensive (inefficient) piece of equipment, to be replaced with another (less inefficient) expensive piece of equipment is a lot more difficult than mine would be where I am starting from scratch. But you are welcome to come along with me an follow our progress.

In the meantime, tonight, the rain is filling my water tanks free of charge and free of fluoride : )