A tentative start

27 06 2015

It was not very well attended but Geoff, who is naturally optimistic, said “Yes, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this and that is good news”.

I had to agree. It was not a big agricultural machinery show by any standards but it was most certainly a start.  The really big combines were privately owned and on loan for the show. There were some very high tech irrigation systems and all nature of sprayers including a Brazilian made battery powered knapsack sprayer that caught my fancy. But who has the money to afford these systems and where are the farms that need them? Mostly gone in the chaos that peaked in the early part of the century when government backed “war vets” evicted most of the white commercial farmers. And the country is very nearly broke.

It continues in a smaller way today. I was chatting to the owner of a smaller nursery near Karoi in the north west of the country. She and her husband rented a farm and co-existed with 7 small scale farmers. A year ago they were kicked off the farm and today there is only one small scale farmer left and very little evidence that it was ever a productive farm.

So will there be another farming equipment show next year? I cannot answer that but a lot of people are hoping there will be and it will be bigger.

 

show

Not a big show but a start.

local spuds

Local ingenuity – a potato lifter. Not high tech but it works.

high sprayer

Now that’s what I call a tall sprayer!

demonstration

Field demonstrations

big combine

A combine harvester worthy of any first world farm. This one was on loan for the show.

diesel pump

A diesel powered pump. Useful when the power is unreliable

centre pivot

High tech irrigation system

big john deere

One careful owner.

banners

Well, the advertising banner industry seems to be healthy!





Dissing the ZRP – part 2

27 06 2015

Today, on my way into Borrowdale, I was once again stopped by the police. It is a straight piece of road near my work so I couldn’t have done anything untoward.

“Good morning sir, how are you?”

“Cold” it IS winter.

“We are just checking two things this morning, your horn and your hand brake.”

I sound the horn. I pull on the hand  brake thinking he is going to try pushing the car.

“Please put your foot on the clutch. Ah, yes, that’s nice, you may go.”

What? This is a level piece of road!

“Don’t you want to push the car to test the handbrake ?” It’s a Land Cruiser, good luck mate.

“No, there is a slope here, you may go.”

OK, whatever, looks dead level to me!

For a contrasting encounter, please see the previous post.





Dissing the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police)

24 06 2015

Driving out of town this morning I had to make a decision; gym or go home and try out my shoulder on the rowing machine. It has been giving trouble lately and I had a sneeky suspicion that it was due to the gym workout. I knew if I went to they gym I wouldn’t be able to resist doing more exercise than using the rowing machine there and I wanted to isolate the problem. So home it was. An unfortunate decision.

The police were at the Groombridge intersection on College Road waiting to catch those not stopping at the stop sign. I made a point of stopping and then they waved me over.

Bullshit! I thought.

“Did you see the stop sign?” the officer asked.

“Yes, and I stopped at it!”  I replied heatedly.

I realised that I was trapped. My word against his. I had no witnesses and he knew it. I couldn’t lose my temper, I couldn’t accuse him of lying. So I launched into full-blown psychological warfare.

“You know this means that I can never help any ZRP officer I see needing help?”

“You must not say that, you made a mistake” he countered.

“No I did not, I know when my vehicle is stopped now I insist you write me a ticket” I demanded.

“I need the money” he asked.

“You must find the change” (usually a problem) I replied and unfortunately pulled out a $50 note instead of a $100. Damn for making his life easier.

He duly found the change for the $20 fine and passed the form over for signing. I scrawled something that did not resemble my signature (like it was going to make a difference!).

“How can I respect the ZRP now?” I asked.

“But you must not say that” he replied looking genuinely hurt – or so I fancied.

I drove off resisting the temptation to spin the wheels.

The above exchange is heavily abridged. It went back and forth for about 10 minutes.

The ZRP attract much contempt for their complete lack of professionalism. They have been told to collect their own wages as the government is broke so the emphasis is on easy fine collection and real traffic policing, such as catching motorists driving dangerously, is neglected. How they will ever gain a measure of respect with the general public is difficult to see.

There are another 2 police who man a very informal road “block” on the road into town. I see them there most days. I am hoping they will pull me over as there have to be at least 3 police officers at any official road block so I can legally tell them to get lost. We’ll see!





Scruffs dog show (by VAWZ)

14 06 2015

Amidst all the chaos that is the Zimbabwean economy we have normal dog shows. Or in this case a dog show for non-show dogs. Scruffs. Well, that requirement was not enforced so everyone had a great time and lots of prizes were given out all as a fund raiser for Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Zimbabwe (VAWZ) who do an amazing job of getting out into the rural areas, mainly, to keep an eye on animal welfare and educate people in how to look after their animals.

Just a small selection of photos I took. Fancy dress, nicest eyes, waggiest tail etc…





The bees are back

10 05 2015

Actually the bees have never left. They have been around almost continuously ever since my first post “Rats, bees & barn owls” some 9 years ago. We have pretty much tolerated each other since then but I had to do something when, a couple of months ago, they attacked the gardener and harassed the dogs and I one afternoon. Mike the bee man was called in and after two attempts the swarm in the chimney was killed. Alas it was not long before another swarm was scouting the chimney, attracted by the smell of the defunct hive. They took refuge in a nearby tree whilst making a decision. I called Mike again and he arrived with his bee handler.

The swarm -  medium sized

The swarm – medium sized

 

Swarming bees are not aggressive; they have nothing to protect and that’s important as stinging for them is fatal. The ultimate sacrifice. African bees have a fearsome reputation for defending their hives when they have brood or honey. In extreme cases the whole swarm will go into a stinging frenzy and can kill humans and livestock.

Preparing for action

Preparing for action

Somewhere I have a photo of my father as a young man holding a swarm of bees on a branch and not wearing any protective gear at all. Mike’s bee handler was not taking any chances though I noticed he was not as heavily kitted out as he would have been during the day when working with and established hive (I used to keep bees in a small way.

Smoking the bees to calm them

Smoking the bees to calm them

A few puffs of smoke and the bees were bumped into an open cardboard box and brought down to the ground. Mike and I (we were both unprotected) watched from a respectful distance. The bees buzzed a bit in the box and Mike said they would soon calm down when the queen released her pheromones. No point in wasting good workers! They soon did and the box was picked up and they were on their way.

In the box and ready to go

In the box and ready to go

The next day there was a small cluster of bees on the ground nearby so I collected a catchbox (a small hive prepared with attractive prop0lis) and they duly moved in. A few days later there were MORE bees around the chimney and as I was about to go on holiday thought it would be a good idea to get another two catch boxes to try and attract them away. They day before I left the swarm moved into one of the boxes.

For the moment all is peaceful on the bee front and Mike will come and take the swarms away and put them to work in his commercial bee keeping practice. The next swarming season is in August and I will have to be prepared again.





About the units

9 05 2015

Zimbabwe (Rhodesia as it was then) went metric in 1970. We were using the old imperial system up to then; acres, pounds, ounces, miles, feet and inches etc. The property my mother owned in Penhalonga was measured in morgen. The metric system is far easier to use. Like I mentioned to my sister in the USA it’s all in base 10 and length and mass are related. Want to convert metres to kilometres? Move the decimal point! Despite all this, 45 years later, relics of the old system remain.

Yesterday in the industrial sites of Harare I was shopping for hardware essential in our annual maintenance programme. I blithely asked for 25kg of 6 inch nails! I could have asked for 150mm nails and everyone would have known what I was asking for but try saying “150mm” and then “6 inch”. Much easier to say 6 inch! Relics exist elsewhere too, nowhere more bizarrely than in plumbing. Old style copper and steel piping is measured in inches and refers to the internal diameter. PVC piping is measured in mm and refers to the outside diameter. It is a blatant conversion of the old system; 50mm is 2 inches, 32mm is 1¼ inches etc. Speed and distance are all firmly metric as is temperature and mass. ºF is utterly meaningless to me though I can grasp pounds weight and speed if I think about it. That the weight of the recent UK royal baby was measured in pounds didn’t mean much except that I think it was in the normal range.

One day the world will actually share the same system of units and we will look back at the old system with puzzlement and wonder why we put up with it for so long. That it costs the USA (and presumably Liberia and Burma) vast amounts of money to not metricate is beyond doubt. The only disputed fact is how much.

For a fascinating and entertaining read on the invention of the metric system (amongst other things) read Chet Raymo’s “Walking Zero”





Not an insect season

14 04 2015

Stick insects are difficult to photograph. Have you ever tried photographing a stick? They are aptly named.

Not great camouflage

Not great camouflage. The front legs are pointed towards the top left of the photo. The head is about 1/3 down from the top left corner.

This one I rescued off the floor in the dining room one morning. How it had got in I don’t know but Zak would almost certainly squashed it with his nose or a paw so I lifted it up onto a vase of roses and there it stayed for the next three days until Marianne took pity on it and moved it outside.

It has not been a great season for insects. Come to think of it, it has not been a great season for growing crops either. The rains were very late starting last year and early planted maize succumbed to a long dry spell that lasted into the first week of December. Savvy farmers (who could afford it) replanted after the first good rains in December but short-season maize, as it is known, does not yield heavily at the best of times and erratic rains since December have really given the late plantings a hard time. And now to top it all the rains have finished earlier than usual.

Insects of course also flourish in good rainy seasons so I have not seen anything like the variety and numbers this season that I have seen in previous years. I should be seeing a profusion of golden orb spiders in the nursery about now but they have not appeared either. I guess it must be something to do with a low prey population.

Droughts and erratic rainy seasons are nothing new in this part of southern Africa but in the distant past we had strategic reserves to fall back on. And farmers to grow the reserves in the first place. Now much of the once productive commercial farmland lies idle and Zambia produces a surplus of maize, thanks largely to displaced Zimbabwean commercial farmers. The government is bankrupt and the President, Robert Mugabe, has gone on a state trip to South Africa to try and attract investment. But South Africa does not have spare cash so I guess the begging bowl will be once again held out to the World Food Programme.








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