Newsletter #87

July 2016



In our previous newsletter, the articles on fly larvae (it gave most people the creeps!), the large number of farms up for sale, and the electrocution of vultures drew attention.
As a follow-up on the large number of South African farms up for sale, the following comment by Pete Bower (Gauteng Smallholder, vol 17, no 6, June 2016): Land reform programme. Smallholder agriculture. Commercial farming – all terms that raise the temperature of anybody contemplating the subject of farming in South Africa. To turn a homeowner with land into a productive small farmer requires training and education, access to cheap finance for the acquisition of movable assets such as tractors, irrigation equipment and annual inputs, and established channels through which to market and distribute the result. But the vast majority of the population is urbanised, and survives on food grown and processed by others. Nobody (unless they are farmers) grows their own wheat, yet everybody eats bread. Very few people grow poultry, yet many rely on processed chicken as a main source of protein. The mass production of staples (e.g. grains, sugar, meat, poultry, dairy products) is most efficiently done by large commercial ventures able to work large tracts of land which afford them huge economies of scale. This kind of agriculture is not best suited to small farmers with limited resources. Neither is, frankly, smallholder agriculture best suited to environmental factors such as carbon emissions. A single, large, modern, fuel efficient tractor working a 1 000ha field will use far less fuel and emit far less greenhouse gas than 100 probably old, possibly Chinese, small tractors each working the 10ha allocated to 100 new smallholder farmers).

Feather in the cap for “River on my stoep”

This guest house along the Bultfontein road on the banks of the Magalies River, property of two of our members, Lourie and Pete Laatz, received a well-deserved feather in the cap in the Getaways Reviews of 19 June 2016.

Well-known travel blogger, Kelly Robertson, and her husband spent two days at the guest house. They could enjoy nature’s peace and quiet and experience a rich variety of birds and night sounds. She wrote: “At night, we heard the calls of jackal and the nightjars crooning. During the day, we saw many birds and ducks along the water’s edge. We spotted Malachite kingfisher, bee-eaters, crested barbets, bull-bulls, arrow-marked babblers, red-billed hoopoes and weavers. There was a river on our stoep for our short getaway where we celebrated in our favourite, relaxed, exploring way and reminded ourselves again what real life is about”. Visit www.bushbabyblog.com for the full article.
One cannot help but think of the wonderful experience of nature in our area, and that we should more than often take a moment to appreciate what we have.

Bird species in the garden

On 12 July, two of our members, Rob and Linda Villarini were sitting in the sun outside his workshop when a Whitefronted bee-eater treated them to a wonderful acrobatic display while catching insects. Fortunately, Rob was able to take some photos. They also came across a Greyheaded Bush Shrike and a Rock pigeon (which they haven’t seen for quite a while) in their garden.

Another PAAZA award for Vulpro!

In a press release, dated 6 June 2016, it was announced that the Vulture Conservation Programme (VulPro), has won the prestigious PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria) conservation award for the second year running.

In 2015, VulPro was recognized and rewarded for their captive breeding programme which resulted in the successful release of captive bred Cape Vulture chicks for population supplementation, the first ever on the African continent. This year, VulPro was recognized for their hard work and commitment to saving vultures through rehabilitation, education, population monitoring and surveys, research, captive breeding and ongoing involvement and interaction with landowners, farmers and the general public. According to Kerri Wolter, VulPro’s founder and CEO, winning the PAAZA Award is no mean feat – it is awarded to honour individuals and organisations that have made significant contributions to the conservation of African species diversity or ecosystems. See photo of Kerri and her team. (Visit the PAAZA website at http://www.zoosafrica.com/).
Did you know? Vultures are vital indicators of the health of our ecosystem and are invaluable guardians against disease outbreaks of Botulism, Anthrax and Foot and Mouth, due to their amazing ability to metabolise these deadly bacteria with no danger to themselves. They are, however, very susceptible to poison, certain NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Ketaprofen, lead toxicity, habitat loss and threats such as power lines. VulPro has been instrumental in arranging for the conversion of numerous dangerous power lines and pylons to ‘bird-friendly’ structures and conducting ongoing surveys to monitor potentially problematic structures. (Visit www.vulpro.com or contact Kerri on 082 808 5113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information on VulPro’s work).

The right bit

Bits are a complex and fascinating subject. Things can, however, become very complicated, as everyone has their own ideas and theories. So, before you run out and buy an expensive new bit, it is essential that you understand why your horse may be resisting. Ask yourself the following:
When last were the horse’s teeth checked? An equine dentist or horse vet should check your horse’s mouth once per year.
Does the saddle fit properly? This needs to be checked regularly.
Are you quite sure what your horse is eating? Most horses require 10% protein in their diets.
Is your horse not too big for its shoes? No bit in the world will bring a youngster into shape, or force it to maintain a head carriage.
Is your horse fit enough? Resistance due to being unfit shows itself in different ways.
Is your horse in pain? A horse’s natural instinct is to run away from fear and pain.
Do you have enough experience? If need be, take a few riding lessons.
(Contact Kim Dyson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email).
Did you know? Our valley is home to a beautiful Arabian horse stud! Visit http://figtreebluearabians.co.za/History.htm

Environmental Snippets

Massive die-offs in the Kruger National Park: This park is expecting massive die-offs of animals due to one of the worst droughts in history. According to research findings published by Navashni Govender, senior chief manager of conservation in the game park, this is not mainly as a result of too little drinking water, but because of a shortage of grazing. In the short term, the drought has caused a loss of biomass, while in the long term, encroachment of wood species and a decrease in animal populations can be expected. Trees, elephants and predators survive better with a water shortage but grass eaters suffer. Currently, only half of the game park’s vegetation is available for these animals. The available biomass (grass) is 66% less than in 1992. Under normal circumstances, 4 000kg biomass per hectare is required, but only about 399kg/ha is available. While predators survive a drought better because more weakened prey is available, there is a sharp decrease of animal populations such as buffalo, hippo and buck. The current drought is much worse than the previous most serious drought (1991-92), as this drought was preceded by a much drier year (2014), and, since July 2015, the temperature had been much higher than in 1991-92. Although it did rain in March and April, it was too late, as the growing season was over. The heat and low rainfall also caused a lower water level in many of the rivers. Although anmials must travel further to reach drinking water, sufficient surface water is still available. (Hanti Otto, Beeld, 10 June 2016).

Australian mangrove die-off blamed on climate change: Some 7 000 hectares or 9% of the mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in Australia’s remote north, perished in just one month according to researchers from Australia’s James Cook University, the first time such an event has been recorded. Norm Duke, a mangrove ecologist from this university, said climate change was the likely cause: “We are experiencing an unusually long dry season. Droughts are normal, but not so severe”. The dieback occurred synchronously across 700km in one month. Some of the mangroves suffering “dieback” were defoliated, meaning they were not yet dead but had lost all their leaves, and could recover. Most will, however, not recover. Local rangers told scientists they were seeing creatures like shellfish, which need the shade of the trees, dying, and that turtles and dugongs that are dependent on the ecosystem could be starving in a few months. By all accounts, the climate is going to become more erratic in future, and these types of events are expected to become more common. (News 24, 11 July 2016).

Pecan nut terms: Pecan nut trees are hermaphrodites (androgynous), which means that the male flowers (Afr blomkatjies) and female flowers can be found apart and in different positions on the same tree. There is a time difference among different pecan nut cultivars for pollen production, so that cross-pollination can take place. This process is called diagagomy. Pecan nut trees are also heterozygous, which means that seedlings are not replicas of the mother tree. In most cases, seeds or nuts that are then planted do not perform as the mother tree did. The concept ‘biological control’ is increasingly practised by pecan nut producers, because of the resistance of certain plagues to chemical agents, pollution of the environment, poison residues on products, the increasing cost of insecticides, as well as the withdrawal of certain insecticides from the agro-chemical industry. Insect predators that feed on aphids include, amongst others, Ladybirds (Coleoptera coccinellidae), Lacewings (Neuroptera chrysopidae) and Hoverflies (Diptera syrphidae). The advantages of the larvae of these predators are, however, not so well known to producers. As the larvae increase in size, they moult, and each moulting stage is called instars. The larvae play an important role in the agro-ecosystem and provide free ‘biological control’. (SA Pecan, vol 73, Summer 2016).

Value for your money: In spite of potato prices having skyrocketed recently, a recent study have found that potatoes are the best buy as far as price and nutritional value is concerned. Although dark green vegetables contain the highest nutritional value density, researchers have found that potatoes offer more nutritional value per cent. It is one of the cheapest options for four key nutritional substances, namely, potassium, fibre, vitamin C and magnesium. One medium sized potato (150g), with the skin, contains more potassium than a banana, provides nearly half of your daily dosage of vitamin C and contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol. Potatoes are nature’s legal performance booster. It is readily available, quick and easy to prepare, delicious and natural – an excellent source of carbohydrates. Except for the fact that it boosts performance, it can also assist with the recovery process after a race or strenuous exercise. If you need fuel for a big race, get some potatoes! Visit www.potato.co.za for more information. (Sources: Health24.com, Livescience.com, BBC.CO.UK)
Did you know? The word ‘potato’ comes from the Spanish name for the tuber – patata. This is a joining together of two South American names – batata (sweet potato) and papa (potato). About 5 000 potato varieties are grown around the world. (Source: ‘International Year of the potato 2008’, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation).


Did you know?

More than half of the timber produced in South Africa’s 1,27 million hectares of forestry plantations goes to the pulping and paper industry. New eucalyptus hybrids have been introduced to the South African paper and pulping industry to improve fibre quality and produce a higher pulp yield (Karen Eatwell, CSIR environment science researcher. Source: Farmers Weekly, 26 September 2014).

Your own vegetable garden can support your health in many ways: Grandma and company have always believed that pottering around with your hands in the soil regularly, keeps you healthy. Scientists have now confirmed what the green finger brigade have always said: Exposure to the microbal diversity of the soil – and specifically the soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae – not only suppresses inflamation in Homo sapiens, but is also a natural anti-deppressant that boosts the prouction of serotonin and makes you feel happier and more relaxed. Buy Groente van tuin tot tafel by Wynand Boshoff (Lapa Publishers).

Codeine addiction: This type of addiction has suddenly become such a massive problem that medication containing more than 10mg of codeine may not be sold over the counter any longer. In terms of the new regulations of the health department that came into effect two weeks ago, medication containing more than 10mg codeine is now schedule 3 medication. According to the Council for Health Occupations of South Africa, 37 million codeine products to the value of more than R1 milliard were sold over the counter between October 2012 and October 2013. Codeine abuse in South Africa is estimated at 0,84%. In Britain it is 0,83% and in Ireland 0,93%. Quintin van Kerken, chief executive of the Anti-Drug Alliance of South Africa (Adasa), blames this on a general increase in opiate abuse and accidental codeine abuse by uninformed users. It is cheap, effective and readily available, not like other opiates such as opium and heroin. According to Lorraine Osmond, spokesperson of the Chemist Association of South Africa, codeine is not addictive if prescribed dosages are followed (Johan Eybers, Rapport, 19 June 2016).

Passionate pomegranates: The average pomegranate contains ±600 crunchy fibre-rich arils (seeds). It is the symbol of Armenia and represents fertility, abundance, hope, and is a semi-religious icon. Pomegranates are high in antioxidant polyphenols like tannins, antheyanins and ellagic acid, with one pomegranate providing about 40% of the daily requirement for vitamin C. They have anti-cancer properties (University of Maryland Medical Centre), reduce arthritis symptoms and support joint health (Israeli Medical Association Journal), and promote heart health (proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). In his book, The Antioxidants, Richard A Passwater says that humans have such a long natural lifespan, most likely because of the wealth of antioxidants in our omnivorous diet (received via email from Slow Food, June 2016).

We are not alone: If you have ever wondered if there are aliens somewhere out there, here is something you should know. Your body tissue also contains foreign microbes. In 1972 already, microbiologist Thomas Luckey found that the number of microbes in our bodies was ten times more than our own body cells. So, we are 90% alien material. Most recent studies, however, show that we are about 40% - 50% ourselves. This means that less than half of what you see as your body is human. Actually, you are a massive colony of microbes! (Leef gesond, Rooi Rose, April 2016).

Have you come across these words?

Doohicky (n.): The name for an object or person you either can’t remember or never knew in the first place. Other variations are whatchamacallit or thingamajig.
Ecocide (n.): The extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other cause.

Food for thoughts

“I love rumours. I always find out amazing things about myself I never knew” (Anonymous).

“Happiness doesn’t depend on what we have, but it does depend on how we feel toward what we have. We can be happy with little and miserable with much” (@mindsetofgreatness).

“The ultimate prize for having lived well does not go to the naturally bold, the unconciously competent, or those whose confidence has never been shattered. It goes to those who, despite fears and insecurities and self-conscious doubts have the radical courage to lean all the way into the very living of it all the way ... to those who will not compromise for sake of comfort” (Jacob Nordby).

And finally...
Nobody forces us to live busy lives. We do it because we want to feel a sense of purpose, commitment, and accomplishment. You may have to maintain a full schedule out of obligation—kids to feed or loans to pay off—but there are a lot of things we could sacrifice if we truly wanted a simpler life.
If you’ve chosen to do various different things, engage with many people, and strive toward numerous goals, realize a lot will feel out of control at times. The more elements you introduce to your life, the more unpredictable the days will be. Sometimes the uncertainty is both the most exciting and terrifying part. Choose to focus on the former. Why fight the game you’ve chosen to play? (Unknown).