Category Archives: Food

Small bites of Synaptoman

Thank you for all your votes on the SA Blog Awards, your support was greatly appreciated. Although I won no awards this year, Synaptoman still maintains a Top 10 position in the News and Politics category in the South African Blogosphere.

The weather here in Paarl has been challenging with regular daytime temperatures of close to 40 deg C. February is normally hotter and we are starting to wonder if 2013 will be another 50 deg year.

The grape harvest has started coming in and we look forward to a great vintage. The Child Bride (back from the UK at last) has started spending more time here in Paarl with me while the Knysna house is being used as a holiday destination. The garden and small fruit orchard looks after itself and we pick fresh produce whenever we go there.

On the Aquaponics and Permacuture fronts the vegetables and fresh eggs flowing from my Paarl garden now form a large part of my daily diet. Those following my Twitter feed will also know that I have been flying my ARDrone 2 on a regulare basis and taking some awesome aerial photos of the Cape Winelands. Bush fires have recently threatened many wine farms in the area and violent labour strikes have also added their share of irritation.

For my US readers, why not pop over to the Aquaponics Store (link on the right)? They have some great aquaponics equipment for us “geek gardeners”.

My Twitter account is slowly gaining traction and a steady stream of Aquaponics, Permaculture, Technology and current affairs tweets have attracted some followers. Have a look around and I promise you won’t be bored.

Well, enough for now. Time to make some delicious Basil Pesto.

Fresh Basil


Chickens Revisited – And then we varnished

Like any project, the initial construction is the easy part. Where the real time (and costs) comes, is in the finishing. The frame didn’t take more than an hour to screw together with nice weather-proof brass screws and eventually looked like this;

Then the slog work started. As this is an outside structure, proper weather-proofing is required. The frame needed at least 3 coats of a weather-proof sealer and I decided on an oak colour. Here’s a shot after the first coat;

As mentioned previously, the chicken tractor would have a loft for egg laying. This I constructed and made it removable for cleaning. I also wanted easy access to the run area as well as the loft area for feeding and watering and egg-collecting respectively. I also decided to complete the chicken mesh at this stage. In this shot you can see the mesh on and the lower (run) door finished and the supports for the loft floor;

At this stage I could almost taste the fresh eggs that would soon be flowing from this little egg factory and with the Child Bride in the UK for a month, I could now rush this project along to have it finished by the time she arrived home. I also started making enquiries about some laying hens and located a local chicken farm that would possibly part with a few hens.

I placed my order for a date 2 weeks off which would at least give me a time target to work towards. At this stage I also went shopping for some really cool brass hinges and fittings (dankie Niggie dat jy saam gekom het).


This was going to be the most blinged-out chicken tractor in the world.


Anyway, enough for now.



Chickens Revisited – Budget? What budget?

I suppose the first step in any project is to compile a list of materials and a rough budget. The Chicken Tractor was “roughly” a $200 project, and with this number in mind, I started with a rough sketch with approximate dimensions and then went shopping.

The design was an A-Frame structure made up of 3 triangles with approximately 2m x 2m x 2m sides. The height would thus be about 1.5m (Mathematics 101) The 3 trusses would be placed about 1m apart giving me a nice square 2m x 2m structure. I used 38mm x 76mm wood for the frame as this would give me enough strength without being too heavy. This would be sufficient space for the 4 ladies. I would then also build a “loft” apartment for egg-laying with a handy little ladder for easy access. They would also need perches for sleeping at night and it would all be covered in a nice waterproof zinc roof.

I purchased the bulk of the materials in Knysna, cut them to size and transported them to Paarl for assembly. This included the wooden frame as well as the roof sheets. The zinc roof sheets were cut to size with an angle grinder and I used a good old-fashioned hand saw for the timber.

With the timber cut to size the frame was assembled in double quick time. I used “gang-nails” to join the timber which is very similar to how roof trusses are constructed.

As you can see, I used bamboo poles to hold the frames in position as I had no-one to help me in this process.

I have been begging the Child Bride for years to let me keep chickens and the objection has always been that they are noisy and dirty and neighbours would complain. Since starting this project I have learned first-hand some fascinating facts about chickens and I’ll share some with you today before signing off;

  • Laying hens are almost totally silent save for a very subdued cackle when an egg is laid.
  • Without a rooster, hens still continually lay (unfertilised) eggs.
  • A laying hen in good health and age will lay an egg every 26 hours. You can thus get an egg a hen most days.
  • Chickens are FAR more intelligent than you imagine and will happily follow commands and learn from normal fear/greed impulses.
  • A chicken can destroy a garden bed in approximately 15 minutes scratching for insects.
  • They love ranging and get pretty bored sitting around all day doing nothing.
  • Chickens are omnivorous (the same as humans and pigs) and will happily eat meat.
  • They need constant access to fresh, cool water, the more so in hot weather.

Anyway, I’d better be off.









Could this be the one?

My enthusiasm for, and confidence in Tilapia farming as a sustainable means of producing protein in the 21st Century never wanes. Despite the challenges facing potential investors in this sector, I remain bullish that this is THE species that will provide a large percentage of our protein intake in the future.

I have however, watched in dismay as the industry struggles to find its feet here at the southern tip of Africa.  All that has probably been lacking is a coordinated marketing plan and the resolution of some minor technical issues, the temperature requirement being one.

My promotion, over the years for Aquaponic (AP) farming of Tilapia, is well-documented and not a week goes by without a number of my readers emailing me with questions or advice in this regard from all corners of the world.  While AP is my passion, I also keep my eyes and ears open for any traditional aquaculture systems that seem worthwhile.

Recently I came across a turnkey system locally that really got my attention.  The technical aspects were impressive enough, but when I realised that it was being marketed by David Fincham, who is now at Dicla Farm and Seeds, I really got excited.  David has a wealth of experience in the tilapia industry locally and has served on numerous industry-specific committees.  Dicla on the other hand are a well-respected agricultural supply company with years of experience in the farming sector.

The Dicla Tilapia system can be summarised as follows;

  • Tilapia are stocked in net cages and held for a period of 21days in each net.
  • Every 21 days the Tilapia are carefully transferred to the next cage until after 189 days they are ready for harvest at a weight of 260-350g a healthy plate size fish.
  • All the water is recycled and put through various filtering and cleaning processes to return to the system.
  • Water temperature is maintained by Solar energy from the greenhouse and is retained by the efficient system design so that heat losses between day and night time temperatures are only 1-2 Degrees Celsius.
  • The Dicla Eco Tilapia are fead a well formulated and processed commercial Tilapia Pellet feed.   The Tilapia are hand fed according to a feed table 7-8 times a day.  This hand feeding allows one to monitor the feeding response of the Tilapia, their health and the health of the system.
  • Water quality is constantly monitored and tested on a regular basis to ensure Tilapia health and growth.

I am sure that a couple of vegetable growbeds could easily be bolted onto this system to provide a supplementary crop and assist in the bio-filtration, but I am sure David could answer this question.

If you are looking for a well-designed, turnkey Tilapia system, this could be it.  I was most impressed by the design of the system and the realistic and verifiable production figures given in their promotional material.

Who knows?  This could just be, the one.

You can find Dicla’s website here.

Davids email address is david(at) or phone him on + 27116622846.

Be sure to tell them that;

Synaptoman sent me“, and you will be looked after.



Aquaponics 101 – Festive Building

A very Happy New Year to all of my readers.

Believe it or not, we have worked straight through on the new system with the exception of the Christmas and New Year long weekends.  The system is coming along nicely and the only problem encountered so far has been the extreme temperatures.

With the normal temperature in our area hovering in the 30-34 deg C range, in the valley where I am working and in full sun, I am enduring temperatures of up to 40 and in the greenhouse tunnel, who knows?

We have now completed the tunnel, the shade cloth area and the two ponds.  The growbeds are positioned and the support ends have been glued and bolted on.  All that is now needed is to plastic weld the PVC sheet half moons into place on the growbed ends.

All the underground plumbing has been completed and the supply line from the sump is also complete.  The ponds are full of water and I have put the standpipes in the ponds in case the valves (which are closed) leak.  Most of the drains are complete and all that remains here is to run the main 80mm drain down the hill to the sump.

Some images for clarity.

This is a shot of the inside of the shade cloth area before the large pond is installed.  You can see the plumbing for the central drain.  You can also see the growbed stands which have just been completed.

After the large pond was installed and fitted, I treated myself to my traditional swim.

The growbeds are bolted together using stainless steel.  We use off-cuts of PVC as spacers so that everything fits neatly and snugly.

Here is an image of my bush workbench where I cut all the PVC.  We just use an old wheelbarrow and a couple of clamps to keep everything in place while I cut with the grinder.

This is what the system looks like from the outside at present.

And after a hard day building in the bush, this is how the Child Bride treats me.  Sushi, prawns and Champers.



The Clay Oven – Buy the eBook

With the clay oven project now completed and with much encouragement and support from my mates over at The Survival Podcast in the US, I have just completed a comprehensive how-to guide on building and using a traditional clay oven.

This user-friendly eBook is jam packed with step-by-step instructions, accompanied by colour images explaining every step of the build.

The second section explains how to use the oven to make pizzas, bake bread and rolls, roast and grill meats and poultry, smoke products and even make a turbo-charged potjie.

Get your copy from this site now by clicking on the icon on the left.

Thank you in advance



The Clay Oven – The Proof of the Pudding

Well the oven looks good, it’s dimensions are correct, it seems to fire OK and hold it’s heat. But does it work? Well today we set out to prove (or disprove) a theory that you can make an oven out of clay from your own garden.

Step One was to start a fire. We built it up about two hours before the cooking and slowly got the clay up to a decent temperature. Then we made the pizza bases (12 in all).


Everyone then built their own pizzas using tomato, cheeses, spinach, feta cheese, salami, onions, mushrooms, bacon, ham, spicy chicken and numerous other delicious toppings.

Then they were popped into the now scorching hot oven using a hastily made pizza paddle (made out of a recycled road sign !!) This is what the first pizzas looked like in the oven.


Here is a shot of my two “assistant chefs” hard at work.


And here is what the first pizzas looked like on the plate.


After the last pizzas were cooked I popped some bread rolls in and closed the door to see how it baked.


The overall verdict was a big thumbs up. This is certainly a great way to spend a long lazy Sunday with family, good friends and a good few glasses of red wine.