There is good reason why families everywhere gather around Christmas trees during this festive time of year: It holds the promise of intimacy, warmth and companionship, recalls old memories and creates new ones, thereby making this time of year a special time of togetherness.
This will be 2015’s last newsletter. The next newsletter will be posted end January/beginning February. We wish all our members and readers a wonderful holiday and festive season. Those of you who are fortunate enough to drive on far roads and to go and relax somewhere, please drive safely and come back safely. We wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2015: “Blessed are those who can give without remembering, and can receive without forgetting” (Elizabeth Bibesco).

Comments on our previous newsletter:

Our members/readers seemed to have enjoyed the article on the Blue gum debate. One of our readers, Tallies Taljaard, wrote via email on 30 September (translated from Afrikaans): “When I read the newsletter, I had to leave everything, and share my love for Blue gums with someone. I have always thought of Blue gums as mystical, majestic, special – more than just a tree… Have you ever travelled through the Free State flats with kilometres of grassland and maize crops? Everywhere, a blue gum or even a blue gum plantation can be seen – large, not only in height, but also in bulkiness and splendour … like a shepherd watching over God’s creation, farm houses, kraals, the ‘perkeerplek’ of farm implements, by old farm houses and ruins. Can you think of any farm without a Blue gum? It not only catches your attention because it overshadows all other trees, but because it forms part of the big and perfect diversity and entirety. This is the Blue gum, my favourite tree… I attach some photos that I took myself – to share it with all, because I enjoyed the article on the Blue gum so much, and because it made me think back to days long gone”.
We would like our readers/members to do as Tallies did and send us some photos of Blue gums on their properties – Ed.

Summer arrived quickly this year. This means that sinusitis and flu are hopefully something of the past. Many people in our area believe that it doesn’t normally rain before Oom Paul’s birthday (10 October), but we had lovely rain (and hopefully the last cold snap) during the second week of September, for which we are grateful.

Unfortunately, summer brings the usual pests and diseases for us to endure, like spiders, moths, flies, and after the first rain, fleas, mozzies, ticks and midges (muggies). Then, “’n boer maak ‘n plan” with a “boereraat” or two (see below).

Tip to get rid of mosquitos: Put a container with vinegar in your children’s rooms to prevent mosquito bites (Tanya de Vente-Bijker). Or crush some mint leaves, put it in a small bag and hang it in the bedroom. Mosquitos hate this smell. If you and your family do get bitten, rub some toothpaste on for quick relief.

Why do mosquito bites itch? Mosquito saliva produces histamine, which makes the skin around the bite itch.

With salt or white pepper: Sprinkle salt or white pepper in window sills and at doors or on ant paths to keep them away (www.thecountrychicottage.net).

Fleas in your home? Sprinkle borax or salt on carpets, floors, along skirting boards, on your animals’ bedding, underneath beds, furniture and matrasses. Seal the vacuum cleaner properly or you’ll spread more fleas. If there are fleas on your lawn, spot spray some diatomite. Also plant Pennyroyals, gladioli and stinking weed (wurmkruid) in your garden.

Cook without flies: Put a slice of bread on the lid when cooking cabbage to keep flies away (Maretha Coetzee, Britanniabaai).

Comments on our previous newsletter: It seems that our members/readers found the articles on the fire season not being over yet, the trees of the year, Sylvester (the Karoo lion), and the Glyphosate debate interesting. Nice words from one of our readers, Tallies Taljaard: “The newsletter is like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day – interesting, informative and well researched”.

One of our readers, Lynne Harrison, of Clarens in the eastern Free State wrote via email on 30 August: “We have many parsley trees on our farm. They are hardy and also endemic to the area. Having been to the Karoo National Park earlier this year (just before Sylvester escaped), we followed his exploits keenly.

How is it that every year, when we have said goodbye to August, the rest of the year seems to speed by? Before we know, it is Christmas! The past few weeks, it has felt like spring is in the air. We have, however, not experienced a very windy August up to now, and this might mean that neither spring, nor early summer rain may result just yet. Some fruit trees are flowering, and lawns also think spring has arrived, with spots of green appearing everywhere. As we know by now, we should not become excited too soon, especially since we have had a very mild winter and relatively little rainfall during the past summer season. Weather forecasters say that the 2015 summer season may only start later, and we may experience low rainfall once again (See the article on El Nino under Environmental Snippets).

Maybe Manie (Soos ek dit sien, Landbouweekblad, 10 July 2015) is right. He reckons that whether he watches weather forecasts or not, it doesn’t have any influence on whether it rains or not. “If it doesn’t rain, we pray for rain. If it rains, we say thank you prayers. About two years ago, I decided, no more! I don’t watch any weather forecasts, and I don’t take any weather forecasts to heart. My health is much better now”.

Our readers and members found the articles on a balanced outlook on nature and our feathered friends in our August newsletter excellent, “in our hearts”. Our newsletter’s readership extends much wider than we think, because it is passed on to family and friends. We also receive requests to publish some of our articles in other newsletters quite often.

 

This year, we’re not experiencing an exceptionally cold winter. Because of the air being so dry, we have also had very little frost, which probably means that we’re going to have an outbreak of pests and diseases this coming spring and summer. We can still remember black frost on 27 August one year, though. Nevertheless, we have much to be thankful for, even if heaps of dry leaves and the blue, blue winter skies will still be with us for quite a while.
The announcement about the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve was welcomed by our members and readers. We have received communication about nominations for a management committee, and we will keep you all posted about future events. However, not all of us are equally aware of the importance of protecting our beautiful environment.

With deep regret: One of our members and dear friend, Dawn Jack, passed away unexpectedly from complications after an operation on 24 June 2015. Our heartfelt condolences go to her husband, Ronnie, children, next of kin, family and friends.

Once again, many thanks for all the positive comments on our previous newsletter. Our readers/members found the articles on our feathered friends and Sweden's recycling programme fascinating. Below are some of the emails in response to the articles.
One of our members, Carol van der Linde wrote via email on 8 June: "What a coincidence, in your latest newsletter. We were sitting on our veranda on Saturday 6 June, at about midday, when we spotted a Secretary bird wandering about on our field. About a week before that we saw a Gymnogene in a Eucalyptus tree near to the house. We feel so privileged to have seen these birds". 

Ernst Retief, Regional Conservation Manager of SA Birdlife: Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State, drew our attention to the fact that our Conservancy falls into the Magaliesberg Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA)

One of our readers, Gerrie Jacobs, forwarded an interesting article of Trevor Hardaker, wildlife enthusiast and photographer on 16 June: "Bird migration is a really fascinating subject and I am constantly amazed at the distances that some birds travel each year. A female European Honey Buzzard was fitted with a satellite tracking system in Finland recently and was of particular interest to locals because it spent the most recent austral summer around the town of Reitz in the Free State in South Africa. She left Reitz to start heading north on 20 April 2015 and, yesterday morning, 2 June, she finally reached Finland where she will probably spend the boreal summer before probably returning again next season to visit us here in South Africa. In just 42 days, she covered over 10 000km at an average of more than 230 km every single day! Isn't that just amazing?"

Pauline Kaufmann's (GCSA) point of view via email on 8 June: "Always an enjoyable and interesting read. Pity our government can't implement Sweden's recycling programme, or even better, why don't we send our garbage there?"

On 17 June 2015, two of our members, Mike & Cilla Crewe-Brown were honoured as this year's Food Heroes by the Johannesburg Slow Food Convivium for their contribution to the "development of rare breeds and education on sustainable food and farming". Congratulations!

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks for all the positive comments received for last month’s newsletter. It seems that our members/readers found the articles on the water crisis and termites most interesting. Fact is: Our population growth is alarmingly high. And these new people don’t substitute those who pass away – they are added! It also doesn’t concern only the birth rate – people live longer and enjoy living longer more than before. This means that not only are there more people consuming food, water and energy – each one is also consuming more than his/her predecessor. Worse – if governments really started caring for our earth, the whole political power balance will be derailed! Another fact: We can live without electricity but not without water. If our natural fresh water resources are depleted our water is finished. We can always make some other plan to generate more electricity, but we cannot make more water!
A warmer than usual winter is forecast for the northern parts of our country and a wetter than usual winter for the Cape. Whatever the case, winter time is time for baked sago pudding. But what is sago? It is a carbohydrate that comes from the inside of the stem of the sago palm. It is then processed into small, round granules that we know as sago. Tapioca (with the bigger granules) can be used as a substitute for sago. Mouth-watering!
Important:
Please make a note of the new contact numbers for SAPS Hekpoort: 014 576 9108 or 014 576 9109.

Welcome: We would like to welcome Marlise Kurth as a new Conservancy member. May she experience much joy from her association with us.
Important announcement: At the Hartebeestfontein Fire Protection Association’s (FPA) AGM on 9 May 2015, it was decided that the cut-off date for burning fire breaks will be 30 June 2015.

Our neighbouring Rhenosterspruit Conservancy (VeldTalk no 74 of March 2015) reports an increase of snake activity in their area during February. These were mostly very dangerous snakes, such as the Snouted cobra (Naja annulifera) and the Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica, Zulu M’fezi), as well as the mildly venomous Night adder (Causus rhombeatus). In our area, Mozambique spitting cobras and Boomslange (Disphollidus typus) were spotted by some of our members. Please let us know whether you also experienced an increase of snake activity on your property during February. Useful information available from www.snakebiteassist.co.za

We welcome interesting photos and news of unusual creatures.

On Newsletter 71: Our members and readers enjoyed the articles on Andrie’s owls, the ticks and the invader plant species. Thank you for all the positive feedback!

Welcome: We would like to welcome Neels & Sarie Nothnagel as new Conservancy members. We hope that their association with us will bring them much fulfilment.

A special request: Many people in our area go to bed hungry at night and will probably also go to bed cold at night during winter. If any of our members/readers have any excess products (vegetables, eggs, etc.) or old blankets and clothes that they want to get rid of, please contact Shelley Bownass (082 491 5912 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). She will see to it that your donations go to deserving people).

Membership fees: Conservancy membership fees for 2014/15 are due now. Please contact Deon Greyling (082 856 3183 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Liz Greyling (082 880 9297 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) in this regard. Accounts were sent out during January.

New Year’s resolutions: 2015 and all its challenges have arrived! We hope that all our members and readers have had some time to rest and are ready to tackle the New Year and all its many challenges. Most people’s resolutions and wishes will probably focus on weight loss, good health, more money, less corruption, etc., all ‘human’ resolutions. Let us make a new year’s wish for conservation!

Welcome: We would like to welcome new Conservancy members, Heinz & Cecile Hächler and Werner Fiel & Ester Müller. May their stay in our beautiful valley bring them much happiness and fulfilment.