Farm talk - The (Blissful!) Trials and Tribulations of life on a Smallholding

After quite a severe winter here in South Africa and struggling with the many ‘veld’ fires we get every year (we’re very much similar to Australia in that regard, and where do they COME from?) – the first spring rains have arrived and it really amazes me that, no matter HOW much you water the garden and the vegetables, just 5mm of rain and everything is flowering, towering and spreading with zest and zeal!

The view towards our neighbour’s property after a fire swept through both our properties, leaving the landscape charred and blackened.

The fires are always a mystery to me – part of our smallholding is not situated near a road, so it cannot be from somebody carelessly throwing down a match or cigarette, yet the fires would always start ‘somewhere’ and then spread ferociously the length and breadth of properties in its path, resulting in every possible helping hand rushing in with wet sacks, branches and whatever is available to try and extinguish the demon and rushing to get animals out of harm’s way.
Life on a smallholding or small farm is always very much at the mercy of the rain – too little and you have to supplement from the borehole and in any drought situation, there’s always the worry that the borehole might dry up. This is every small farmer’s greatest fear, as it’s costly and time-consuming drilling a new borehole, or two or three, because no matter how strongly the ‘water diviner’ insists THIS is the place to drill, there is no guarantee that one will find any water.  Too much rain and the potatoes might rot.

The old pump house with water tanks on top, and the borehole now dried up and defunct
During one such drought, the water level in our trusty 20-year old borehole dropped to beyond a depth that was viable to try and retrieve, so we opted for drilling a new hole. Now this takes major organisation, because you must remember that, from the minute that your water tanks run dry, you are in a position of having absolutely NO water – not even to wash your hands with!
So while the drilling contractor is busy setting up his equipment, we were busy organising with the next door farmer to get some water pumped into our tanks for daily use – pipes and fittings have to
be bought and trenches dug for hundreds of meters to get the water into the tanks 10m high – there are equations to be worked out between the Kilowatt strength of the neighbour’s pump, the distance to the tanks and the pressure needed to get the water 10m up …
Once the water from the neighbour has filled the tanks, utter caution is exercised in the usage of the water – every spare drop is used to full capacity for flushing toilets, watering plants and supplying the animals with enough to drink. And possibly weeks later, when the new borehole is finished, all the equipment is removed from the old borehole and fitted to the newly drilled hole, once again trenches are dug for new electrical connections and then, hopefully, beautiful, sweet cool water once again flows.

I wonder how many town folk ever give this precious commodity a second thought …

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Farm talk - The (Blissful!) Trials and Tribulations of life on a Smallholding by 

4th August 2010 – FEATURED Writing in Show Us Your Bloopers

The ramblings of a nature lover living on her little piece of African soil – 8.5ha smallholding in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa


farm talk, smallholding, south africa, trials, tribulations, maree clarkson, tarlton, magaliesburg, krugersdorp, gauteng

I am a watercolorist living on my little piece of African soil in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. The inspiration for my art is the wonderfully rich variety of Fauna and Flora to be found throughout this beautiful country.
“There is a fine line between dreams and reality; it’s up to you to draw it.”

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  • Linda Jackson
    Linda Jacksonabout 4 years ago

    Wow Maree, Thank the good Lord you have a great neighbor!!!!
    My grandparents all had wells, but they had handpumps, and some of them, the water wasn’t drinkable! You could wash with it, clean with it, water the garden and the livestock, but it tasted absolutely terrible! I remember cleaning out old milk jugs, and anything else big so that they could haul drinking water from my great-grandmother’s house up to the farm. 12 miles each way.
    I remember seeing some places once in a while that fire had scarred the land, but never close to them.
    Their major worry in the warm weather was tornadoes. Sometimes called twisters, or cyclones.
    These funnel clouds come down and randomly wipe out whatever is in their path.
    I am glad you got your water situation under control, and hopefully the fires will steer clear of you!

  • And I also say WOW Linda! At least we have decent drinking water and most modern amenities – life must’ve been hard on the farm in those days… Thanks for your interesting comment!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • David's Photoshop
    David's Photoshopabout 4 years ago

    Having live in the Middle East for a number of years we know what its like to be without water.

    The locals always described it as a “Water Shortage”, actual translation “There Isn’t Any Water”

    Local people use to laugh when they visited the UK in 1977 which was in the midst of a “Water Shortage”. They just couldn’t believe that you could turn on a tap in a their forth floor hotel room and get splashed by the force of the water pressure.

    We usually had about four months with little or no water. Sometimes there would be a trickle from the taps in which case we would collect as much as possible and use it very sparingly. Toilets rarely got flushed unless the water had been used several times over. We would sometimes travel miles to fill up a few cans with water.

    It was maddening to think that we were almost surrounded by water, salt water, but not the wherewithal to convert it.

    Those were the days.

    I’m still careful with water and keep six butts that collect rain water just in case we need it.

    The fires sound really strange, no explanation at all, how odd.

    We have local scrubland that catches fire most summers but you can usually recon its a discarded cigarette or youngsters playing with matches. Fortunately far enough away that it does not threaten our house.

    David xx

  • Hi David,

    “Water shortage” here in South Africa, especially on the smallholding and farms, refers purely to the fact the one’s water supply, being the borehole, has dried up for some reason or another and is easily (but not cheaply!) solved by drilling another hole. The borehole system is necessary because of the vast distances to the farms, making it virtually impossible to lay on “municipal” water. Unless we have a very severe drought for years at a time, our towns and cities to not have any water problems.

    Many of the veld fires are started by cigarettes or vandals, but mostly they are caused by lightning, which is a totally natural occurrence and very necessary to the ecology of the land. Many of our indigenous wild flowers, like some Aloes, will not flower at all until ravaged by our winter fires. Hope that clarifies some of the mystery for you! :-) smile


    – Maree Clarkson

  • almaalice
    almaaliceabout 4 years ago

    Maree, here am I sitting wearing my delightful affirmation tee shirt reminding myself that I have such an abundance of everything I need. Reading your description of life on your farm has made me even more appreciative of the conditions we live in here in England. We are obsessed with the weather because of its unpredictability and when we had half an inch of water flood our garage in a deluge a couple of weeks ago that was a real event!! The only fires we have around here are caused either by a chip pan left on a stove or faulty wiring, nature is very benign when it comes to starting fires. We watch the news of weather happenings around the world, particularly Pakistan at the moment, and never cease to be amazed at the resourcefulness of people and their resilience to bounce back. At the moment we have a hosepipe ban and have to water the pots with a watering can, having read this account from you of your problems I will never complain again!!! The female elephant which charged us repeatedly in Africa had apparently lost a baby in a fire and they think that as there was a bush fire close by she was very distressed and was making every effort to protect the other babies in the herd. Mere tourist have no appreciation of the struggles you natives have and reading the details of your hardships has given me a new insight into a lifestyle which seemed idyllic from a distance. I hope your well doesn’t run dry anytime soon and that the smoke from distant fires is the nearest you come to another one. Alma x

  • Maree  Clarkson
    Maree Clarksonabout 4 years ago

    Hi Alma, would LOVE to see a pic of you and your T-shirt! Photograph please!

    Ah, maybe I should change the heading of this post to “The BLISSFUL Trials and tribulations”, (read my other post The Bliss of life on a smallholding) as I wouldn’t exchange this country lifestyle for ANYWHERE on earth! Especially definitely not for a large town or city. Farming in a country as vast as ours, with some farms almost the size of a small country! is definitely a different sort of lifestyle, but once it’s in your blood you’re totally hooked! And I dare say, you need to be a special type of person to live a life of “out of Africa”. Wait till you here the story of our sewerage system! lol

    have a great day and nice chatting to you!

  • AuntDot
    AuntDotabout 4 years ago

    Very interesting to read your story. I can’t imagine being without water. We should all try to preserve our resources.

  • It is rather unimaginable, isn’t it Dot? And living out in the country, we all learn innovative ways of saving water, from catching rain run-off to leading our gutters into the garden so that not a drop gets wasted. thanks for reading!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • Arco Iris  R
    Arco Iris Rabout 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this story. I have running pipes here in Puerto Rico, and depend on the government to fix them if one breaks. But, since it is not them with the problem it could go on for weeks. Twice, after two hurricanes I was without power and water for a month and a half, while about 1/3 of a mile there were a lot that in one week had all of the commodities. Reason for that? Not meaning to complain, but it is a fact, we have the judge, attorney at law, General Post Officer living there. I am glad though that we don’t have to go through fires, for this is the tropics and it is very humid. Thanks for sharing and adding this to Show Us Your Bloopers.
    xoxo Iris

  • Sometimes it’s not who you know, but who you ARE Happy! Besides being at the mercy of the elements for our water and electricity, it sometimes seems the human factor is a bigger problem! thanks for accepting it into the group!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • Elizabeth Kendall
    Elizabeth Kendallabout 4 years ago

    I enjoyed reading this very interesting “debate”! Congrats on the feature Maree!

  • Thank you very much Liz!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • Shulie1
    Shulie1about 4 years ago

    Great shots, Maree – the fires are starting up again here too – most of them are spontaneous but some of them have been deliberately lit. There were 40 homes totally lost in one fine last week – absolutely nothing left and it was started by someone welding and a spark ignited the grass

  • Fires are always scary and dangerous, but luckily here, in South Africa, it very rarely threatens homes and I cannot remember when last any homes were in danger. It’s the forests and animals that suffer. thank you for your lovely comment!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • Shulie1
    Shulie1about 4 years ago

    There was a huge one near last year that lasted over two weeks and after it was finally out – hundreds of vultures flew over every day to feast on all the dead animals. They just seem to appear out of nowhere

  • That is very sad Julie – were these farm animals or wild animals?

    – Maree Clarkson

  • Shulie1
    Shulie1about 4 years ago

    Probably both

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