The Approaching Storm

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We have been blessed with amazing rain this season. Over the past few years, it’s felt like every drop of rain we’ve had has been squeezed out of the sky with a lot of effort, but this year it’s falling easily and abundantly. The clouds build up and a beautiful shower follows, unlike in dry years when the clouds develop with great fanfare and then quickly blow away leaving a splattering of drops in the dust.

Earlier this week we took some guests up the mountain behind our house to show them the beautiful views. We’ve been wanting to go up for a while to check on the regrowth of veld after a fire burnt everything in early September. As we left home a storm started to brew and by the time we got to the top of the mountain a dark bank of clouds was approaching from the direction of Ladybrand where it was already raining. One feels so much closer to the clouds up there and we just loved seeing the storm develop. We only had time for a quick drink and some photos before it started to pour! Ah, the power of water to make a farmer’s heart sing. I have a very happy and content husband this season. Long may it last!

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Dinner with the Moo’s

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At this time of year when things are looking so beautiful and green on the farm, we try to make an effort to go out for a sundowner picnic as often as possible. The light is so beautiful and soft in the late afternoons, and the veld is looking spectacular after all the rain we’ve had since the start of November. When Quentin arrives home from work, we pack a cooler with some drinks, snacks and Livia’s supper and drive off in the bakkie with the dogs on the back. We have a couple of favourite spots, but on the day it usually depends on whether we have to check on progress with our crops or visit a particular herd of cattle. On Saturday evening when we took these photos, Livia ate her supper in front of an audience of inquisitive Angus cows giving a wonderful display of all different mooing sounds they make. You might be surprised to hear that one “moo” is very different to the next! After such a lively performance, I’ll be very surprised if “moo” is not one of the first animal sounds she learns, along with “woof-woof” “meh” and “baa”, the other sounds she hears often around the farm.

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Dahlia delight!

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I simply can’t get enough of the dahlias in my garden. They never fail to delight and every day something new emerges in a different colour, shape and size. The neon yellow dinner plate dahlias are totally irresistible! It’s been a while since my dahlia patch looked this good so early in the season. Dahlias have been a staple in the Vastrap garden since Quentin’s grandmother lived here over 50 years ago. There weren’t any when I arrived, but it didn’t take long for me to revive the tradition, because they are so easy to grow and make wonderful picking flowers. Exactly the type I like, the more you pick the more they flower! Livia and I are loving summer, spending more and more time out in the garden. We’ve had such lovely rain followed by beautiful hot sunny days, exactly what one expects from a good summer season in the Eastern Free State. It’s the definition of delicious and exactly what’s needed to keep the farmer in our house content and happy over the planting and harvesting season.

Quentin's grandparents at Vastrap circa 1940s.

Quentin’s grandmother Berry’s dahlias. 

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Little cow girl!

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Livia had her first close-up encounter with our Boran cows today. Sure she’s seen them from the safety of the bakkie before and we often pass them on our daily walks, but today she got up close with her daddy. Boy did she love it! Some of our best Boran cows were in the cattle press for our annual IVF programme, which is a way to get more offspring from our top animals. We couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity for Livia to meet our herd matriarch Hope MHB 04-11 and her beautiful little heifer calf by our former stud sire Rustin MHB 06-30, who sadly was sold this year. If her shrieks were anything to go by, Livia thought it was all very impressive and entertaining, much to her daddy’s delight!

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Counting my blessings

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The first proper summer rains came on 1 November, the weekend of my 40th birthday. That must surely be a good portend for the year ahead! It was so dry and dusty and miserable and now everything is fresh and new again. I decided to beat the Monday blues this morning by taking Livia for an early morning walk. There is still a chill in the air, but the sky is brilliant blue. The face of summer is slowly becoming visible across the landscape, which is littered with groups of cows and their new calves. Dams filled to the brim with water shimmer in the rising sun and the sound of tractors leaving for the days’ work punctuates the air. From now until the new year there will be little time for rest on the farm as maize and sunflower crops are planted and wheat is harvested.

The garden has sprung alive too with new blooms appearing daily. I’m in love with the lupins that are flowering for the first time and the dahlias have started their summer show. There are plenty of artichokes and self-seeded holly-hocks are popping up all over the place. I can’t wait for the next flush of roses as I missed most of the first. The agapanthus as budding like crazy. What a beautiful and blessed way to start the week!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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Livia and I have been away for a while visiting my dad in the Cape. While we had a great trip, and even managed to spend a little bit of time with Ashley at the beach, we were very ready to come home. For some reason I’m always away in October when the roses have their first flush and things start to really happen in the garden. It makes me very home sick knowing what I’m missing out on! At the same time, the garden is desperate for some proper rain to really get things going and the farm landscape is still very drab and brown offset here and there with bright green wheat fields. The contrast between the Cape and the Free State could not be greater than at this time of year after radically different winter rainfall. We did have a bit of rain while I was away, but it was accompanied by a massive hail storm which caused a lot of damage in the garden, but fortunately not too much on the farm. Quentin took these beautiful photos just after the storm. He even came across a porcupine that had been flushed out of its hole and looked very disoriented, poor chap!

2014-10-22_0009While we were away most of the seeds I planted in pots in September germinated and the stuff we planted under the bird nets in the veggie garden seems to have survived. I’ve got some beautiful italian tomatoes, lettuce, kale, brassicas, artichokes, rocket, carrots, beans, squash and a few other bits and pieces. Our electric gate stopped working though so it stands open in the day and creates a clear path for the chickens to feast on a buffet of greens! Tseliso doesn’t have the heart to keep them cooped up all day so roam free they will. I was expecting the strawberries to be ready for picking, but sadly they were flattened by the hail.

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While we were away our new bronze garden sculptures by an artist called Sarah Richards arrived. They are a beautiful life sized wattled crane and a purple heron. I think they look magnificent (thank you my love!)

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While we were away the roses put on a magnificent display that was cut horribly short by the hail. The garden now looks nice from far, but in reality is far from nice. My fantasy of picking arm loads of blooms for the house will have to wait for the next flush later in November or early December. The irises looks beautiful though and my dahlias are coming up well. The peonies are looking a bit fragile, but hopefully they’ll pull through. Sadly is looks as if my favourite indigenous tree that was a huge attraction for birds has died. It already looked poorly last season, but it still has no green shoots. I’ll give it a bit more time, but I think it’s a goner. I don’t even know what kind of tree it is, but will try to identify and replace it.

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While we were away the new installation for our pool heating system was completed and the water pump has been connected today. I must say, the guys did a magnificent job, especially our farm manager Andre who built the structure from scratch and connected up all the little pipes. I can’t wait to have late afternoon swims with Livia and for us to have an extended swimming season! This massive new structure now standing in the garden is going to require some work to finesse and soften and my head is buzzing with ideas. I’ve already bought some more honeysuckle, star jasmine and jasmine to train up the supporting poles and along the tennis court fence. Apart from the warm water that it will provide, I’m also very glad that we now have a shady patch around the pool. My next big mission is to find some nice outside furniture to transform this into a real living space.

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Signs of life in the garden

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The Vastrap garden is slowly coming to life after a very cold and harsh winter. Things are taking their time though because we’ve had a few cold snaps over the past few weeks and it still hasn’t rained so there is little going on beyond the watered garden. The roses are in bud and a few are flowering, but the sweet and juicy flowers are very vulnerable to attack by grasshoppers and beetles since there’s so little else to eat in the veld. As always, the bottlebrush tree in our front garden is putting on a beautiful red display and I am thrilled to see the columbines doing so well in the shady spot I planted them last year. The artichokes are looking big and healthy, but unfortunately our usually robust lemon tree took a bit of a beating in the winter frost. I hope it will recover its former glory because I’m totally lost without a supply of lemons in the garden! My sweat peas all died during the winter, but the sweet smell of the flowering honeysuckle on the pool fence compensates a little. I planted some peony bulbs this winter and I’m very happy that most of them have come up and are growing. It’s early days yet, but I’m very excited to see what develops there.

We’ve only just started planting in the veggie garden because there is always a risk of late frost in the Eastern Free State. Last year I had terrible trouble with chickens digging up the seeds I planted and something eating all my seedlings. We’re trying to combat this by putting up nets this year, but I’m not sure if it will work. I’ve also planted more seeds in pots so that I can transplant them when they are more robust. The biggest problem at this time of year is keeping things watered properly in the hot windy weather before the rains come. I’m a bit disheartened about the veggie garden at the moment, because it’s never been as good as the first year it was established, but we’ll keep on trying. If all goes well we should have a good supply of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries during the season.

Things are fairly quiet on the farm while Quentin waits for the first rains to fall. That will signal the start of the crop season which is very busy, but for now we are taking the gap and installing some heating for our swimming pool. A few years ago my dad gave us a system of plastic pipes that are used to heat the pool water, but we’ve never installed them because it required a bit of work to set it up. Since I am desperate to swim with Livia this summer and our pool is usually very cold, I begged Quentin to do something about it. The team in the workshop have spent ages building a huge frame to instal the pipes on and it is looking good so far. I must say I didn’t realise what a big job it would be, but hopefully it will work!

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