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


South African Blog Awards

Yep, it’s that time of the year again.  The SA Blog Awards are now open for voting.  Your support (as always) would be greatly appreciated.  Synaptoman has been nominated this year in two categories, Best Environmental Blog and Best Educational Blog. A good result in this competition raises awareness for environmental issues that I am desperate to address in 2013, so please help me get my message across.

You can vote for me by following this link.

SA Blog Awards Badge

Please be sure to enter your email address to verify your vote.



The Highways of the Mind

For us living in the Southern Hemisphere the approach of Spring is clearly evident.  From the geese that have suddenly gone into gang-rape mode to the morning sun which arrives just a minute or two earlier every day.  My Permaculture experiments have proceeded unabated, mostly concentrated at my little cottage on a wine farm in Paarl.  Travelling back last weekend to the now-deserted Knysna house (the Child Bride being in the UK until November and Brat Deluxe in hist first year at University in Cape Town) I was pleasanty surprised to find that the absence of humans had certainly been good for the garden.

This Winter has certainly been one of the wettest in recent years and my very deeply mulched beds and compost heaps had benefited by the regular downpours turning the plentiful organic material into dark rich compost.Image

Meanwhile at my new home in Paarl, the chickens that are now part of my daily life, have revolutionised the way I look at gardening.  Aquaponics first opened my eyes to sustainable living but adding three simple egg-laying hens to the mix has suddenly made the process so much easier.  Their constant digging and rooting for insects in the mulched beds have aerated and turned over the soil.  Their droppings and littler from their coop has fertilised the soil in way that would have cost a load of money using dangerous and unsustaniable chemical fertlisers.

This Winter I experimented with green manure.  This is basically planting a crop in Winter that just covers the soil and is then trimmed down to soil level as Spring arrives.  Nitrogen fixing plants are used and after the plant is cut, the roots rot under the ground providing important elements to the soil and also opening deep channels deep into the soil.  The leaves also provide a handy snack for the chooks.


On the Aquaponic front I brought a couple of Tilapia and all my Comet Goldfish broodstock to the Paarl Cottage and come Spring I’ll put together a small AP system just to keep my hand in.

As soon as I start my Spring plantings I will have to confine the chickens to a smaller area around their coop as they can cause real damage to new seedlings.  I built a simple fence out of bamboo and will work on a gate this week.  They are going to have to start getting used to a smaller range area but it’s that or a ruined garden.  This is what the fence looks like.  I will probably plant gooseberries and tomatoes up against it.


I leave you with this quote from Henry David Thoreau whose book, Walden I have kept on my bedside table for years;

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”









Modern Survivalism 101 – An Introduction

Synaptoman, the blog, has concerned itself with many topics over the years and has, surprisingly, thanks to you, the loyal reader, reached the #7 spot in the News and Politics section of the local South African blog charts. Topics have ranged from Aquaponics to Sustainable Living, Permaculture, Humour and even some local politics. I have carefully charted a course for this blog based on what my readers want to read about and have even had the occasional reader survey, not that I have a particularly democratic personality.

What is clear is that most of my readers come here for the Aquaponics. While I could write indefinitely on this subject, I have put most of what I have learned into my book, Aquaponics – the Synaptoman Way, which you can buy from this website. This little publication sells a considerable number of copies and I am sure ranks as one of the most downloaded eBooks on the subject of Aquaponics worldwide.

What you must bear in mind however, is that Aquaponics is just one small component of the ‘bigger picture” and it is this, that will be the main focus of my blog for the foreseeable future.

Modern Survivalism, as practised by Jack Spirko and the other good ol’ boys at The Survival Podcast represents a 21st Century approach to mankind’s oldest problem that is, how to survive as a family or community when things are going well or even when they go pear-shaped. It is a concept far removed from the wack-job bunkered down in a cellar surrounded by guns and “surviving” on tinned food while the world around him goes to hell in a handbag.

No, Modern Survivalism is a holistic approach to the old Boy Scout motto of “be prepared” and the important thing here is that in your preparations (preps) you should not do anything or spend any money on items that you would not need anyway. In a real “Shit Hit the Fan” (SHTF) situation, your preps should place you and your family in a far safer place than all those around you without unnecessarily attracting any attention to you.

I will spend the next couple of posts dealing with the basic concepts of Modern Survivalism and then outline how I have applied them in my life here at the southern tip of Africa.

Be Prepared


Chickens Revisited – The Holistic Gardener

A phrase I have read on numerous forums regarding chickens goes as follows, “If I had known how easy and fun it was to keep chickens, I would have done it years ago.”

This is spot on. Chickens, especially a small flock of hens only, are clean, quiet, cheap, productive and a load of fun to have around. Today I’d like to discuss where they fit into my self-sustainability plans.

This has been a long and really interesting journey and probably started with my first interest in Aquaponics almost 5 years ago. I found the concept of a closed-loop food production system intriguing but questioned the blinkered approach of the purists in this industry. Aquaponics, despite being a really cool way to produce food still seemed overly reliant on technology, power and it was also expensive to build and maintain. Also, over time, minute nutrient deficiencies developed and had to be supplemented by artificial inputs.

At this time I really started researching a more holistic approach to home food production and delved into composting, mulching, permaculture, worms, food forests and heirloom seeds. It was only after my chickens had joined the mix that I started getting a really comfortable feeling that, at last, my system was complete.

It was not the first time that I had incorporated chickens. A client, for whom I built a commercial system, suspended his chickens directly over his Tilapia ponds, a practice I subsequently strongly disagreed with. Keeping my own chickens now has enforced this view even more. Not only was it extremely unhealthy and potentially fatal, but also particularly cruel to the chickens, even if they only spent short periods of time over the tanks.

Here is a short description, in point form, of what I believe is an extremely productive, environmentally friendly, sustainable method of producing food on a micro to commercial scale.

  • Extensive soil preparation and conditioning.
  • Zero Till thereafter.
  • Extra deep mulching.
  • Composting, with and without worms.
  • Design using permaculture principles.
  • Chicken kept for litter (mulching), eggs and meat.
  • Aquaponic system used to produce fish and supply nutrients for seedlings and out-of-season vegetables in a greenhouse.
  • Use of heirloom seeds only.
  • Zero pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Companion planting.

I don’t think I have all the answers, but nature itself is teaching me some valuable lessons. When you do something right, you are rewarded with a cheap, bountiful harvest. When you fight against nature, your results are disappointing and expensive.



Chickens Revisited – Brass Butt Hinges

As mentioned previously and in keeping with my more obsessive nature, the chicken tractor was designed to be a piece of “garden furniture” rather than a mere chicken coop. Functionality, that is easy access and weather proofing were important features, but it also had to look good. I’m not sure if the chickens would know any better, but I would, so I plodded along in my normal pedantic way. A sip of beer, one screw, stand back, admire, another sip of beer, change the screw. You know what I mean. Here is a shot of the lower door fitted with its shiny brass butt hinges.

As you can see this lower door flaps upwards to change food and water, clean the floor and let the chickens in and out.

The next big job was the roof. With the roof sheets cut to size back in Knysna, I thought that this would be a walk in the park. How wrong I was. With no-one helping and with a gale-force wind blowing I battled and swore for hours until I got all the roof sheets on to my satisfaction. No beer drinking during this stage.

The top of the roof is finished off with a ridge but the one that I had bought would not bend down as far as I needed as my roof pitch was too steep, so it was off to the hardware store to buy a more flexible roof ridge. I have also bought white roof paint which I will apply later. The lighter the colour, the more light (and thus heat) will be reflected off of the roof. Here in Paarl, South Africa, temperatures rise to over 45 deg C in Summer.

Here is a shot of the roof. Not bad, even though I say so myself. This was the stage at which one is supposed to throw a big party and drink champagne, but being alone, I just settled for a Heineken.

With a few more bits and pieces to finish off, it was almost time to move it into position and await the “ladies”. Here’s a shot of the loft apartment where all the eggs were going to get laid. You can also see the top flap-door which opens downwards.

The excitement was mounting and tomorrow was the big day !!




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.