Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category


Redwood, Muir Woods, California


Fall colors


El Drago Milenio, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world 

Why Arbor Day? Why Trees?

Trees are a miracle of nature, beloved and used by most people. Trees have an enormous impact on the lives of all of us. They provide beauty, protection, a changing landscape, and food, as well as regulating the climate and environment.

This year, Earth Day and Arbor Day are very close, but it seems appropriate as many of the goals are the same. Over the years we have been lucky enough to travel to many places and we’ve collected up a lot of photos related to trees. I had fun going through some of them and trying to make a selection that shows some of the different trees and functions of trees. Enjoy going through them!

For me, the word “Trees” always evokes the poem of the same name:

” Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, 1886–1918  


Walking in Allerton Park, Illinois

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear    


New tree, Urbana

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.  

There are many poems, songs and quotations about trees and what they mean to people, as can be seen from this link below.


And, trees are honored and celebrated in a special day, Arbor Day on the last Friday in April (The Latin word for “tree” is “arbor”). It is a day to plant and dedicate a tree to help nature and the environment. The National Arbor Day Foundation provides an estimated 18+ million trees for planting each year.


Merritt Island, Florida. A place for water birds


Sequoia National Park, California 


Our deck, Urbana

Background to Arbor Day

National Arbor Day has been celebrated since 1872. The idea for the celebration began in 1854 when J. Sterling Morton, a journalist, moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska. At that time it was a largely treeless plain and Morton and his neighbors noticed that trees were needed to act as windbreaks to stabilize the soil and to give shade, fuel and building materials. Morton planted many trees around his own home but also wanted to encourage others to do the same.

So, in January 1872 at a Nebraska State Board of Agriculture meeting, he proposed a holiday to plant trees on April 10, 1872. This was known as “Arbor Day” and a total of about one million trees were planted in Nebraska on that first Arbor Day. In 1874, the Governor proclaimed that Arbor Day would be observed officially on April 10, and in 1885, it became a legal holiday and was moved to April 22, which was Morton’s birthday. Other states began to celebrate an Arbor Day too and former President Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.


Fall, our street


Fallen giant, Redwood National Park, California



All states in the US now have an official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the right conditions for planting trees—generally in April, but some states have their Arbor Day during other months. Many countries around the world have similar events to encourage the planting and care of trees. The dates are usually chosen to coincide with the optimal season for planting or caring for native trees.

Although Arbor Day celebrations take on many different forms, nearly every one involves the planting of trees, and education about their importance and continued importance to the environment.


Trees are for playing


Trees are for shade. Craft market, South Africa


Trees are for eating. Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


The sign tells us this tree was 3,200 years old!

What’s Special About Trees

They are the biggest and longest-living organisms on earth. A miracle of biological engineering allows them to grow very tall and a complex chemical factory exists within their structure. Trees take water and minerals out of the earth and lift them up to the leaves, sometimes over 400 feet above. By photosynthesis the leaves take energy from sunlight and combine the water and minerals with carbon dioxide from the air to produce the nutrients that feed the tree. In this process, trees create wood as well as many chemicals, seeds and fruit that are beneficial to both humankind and animals.


Knightwood Oak Historic Tree, New Farm, England


Interesting sign showing some the benefits of trees


Redwoods National Forest, California

Some of the more obvious benefits of trees are:

—They provide important products from wood, such as lumber and paper, as well as other products like chewing gum and soap.

—They provide shade, which gives relief to people and animals in hot climates and can help us save on air-conditioning costs. They block wind, thereby saving on winter heating costs.

—They can increase property values by up to 10%, as most people prefer a property with leafy greenery of some sort.

—They clean the air by filtering and removing pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the air.

—They provide food and habitat for wildlife, and many edible items for humans too.


Lounging leopard, Masai Mara Park, Kenya


Nutmeg tree, Grenada

—For many people trees also have a strong emotional influence as they are seen as a symbol of life, of growth, regeneration and sheltering protection. Research has shown that people who live near trees feel happier emotionally and are less likely to show depression or aggressive behavior.


Bananas, Grenada


Cork tree, Israel


A haven for birds


Tropical forest, Grenada

These days, much of our concern is related to conservation issues. Tropical rain forests are especially important; although they now occupy less than 6 per cent of the land surface of the earth they probably sustain more than half of the biological diversity on earth. All over the world, the forested area of the earth is steadily being depleted, which is leading to the degradation of the environment and the extinction of many species, both plants and animals.

There is now a real danger that in the not-too-distant future man will destroy a large proportion of the present population of species on earth, create an uninhabitable environment, and then die out himself. If this happens it will not be the first time that a large proportion of the species on the earth have been extinguished. It will not be only because of the loss of trees, but that will be a highly significant causative factor.


A fun house from an old tree trunk

So, please go plant a tree!



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Blue-footed Booby, Galapagos


Grand Canyon

Earth Day 2020 is on April 22nd

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is Climate Action, which sounds extremely relevant to me. In honor of Earth Day I’ve picked out some of our photos of wonderful places on our earth, and a couple of where we’ve seen evidence of pollution/plastic waste. Enjoy, and realize what it is that we may all lose if we cannot slow down this climate change and drastically reduce pollution. What humans are doing to the earth has a chain reaction on so many levels. For example, agriculture is affected in many ways (drought, flooding, higher temperatures, bees [as pollinators] in danger), and loss of habitat is extremely damaging to huge numbers of wild animals, such as African wildlife, and Monarch butterflies. Extending mining/hunting/logging, for example, in public lands and in or close to national parks can have devastating effects on these natural wonders.


Grand Tetons National Park



Rhino in Umfolozi Game Park, South Africa


Cows in France


Spring crocuses

Our earth is wonderful, so let’s help preserve it. During these times of shut-downs, lock-downs, and stay-at-home orders, I think many people have come to realize the healing and soothing power of Nature. If we are lucky enough to be allowed to exercise outside we’ve felt how great it is to see the blooming spring trees, the lawns emerging green, and the geese on the ponds. I come back from my outdoor walks feeling refreshed, as I’m sure many others do.

A very interesting side effect of the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be an obvious lessening of pollution in many places. For example, we have seen pictures and heard reports (which I assume are not fake) about clearer skies over some US cities, in parts of India, and over the Himalaya Mountains, and of cleaner waters in and around Venice so that swans and dolphins have returned.


Redwood trees, California


Cherry blossoms, Japan House, Urbana


Sheep, Scotland

This obviously shows us that the effect of humans and their actions can have an enormous effect. So let’s continue to find ways to continue. The theme for this year’s Earth Day was obviously chosen before this Covid-19 pandemic, so what’s happening is kind of prophetic in a way.


Sunset, Grenada


Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 


Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the enormous challenge—but also the vast opportunities—of action on climate change has been identified as the most pressing issue. As the official Earth Day website says, “At the end of 2020, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The time is now for citizens to call for greater global ambition to tackle our climate crisis. Unless every country in the world steps up – and steps up with urgency and ambition — we are consigning current and future generations to a dangerous future.


Pollution, north part of Hokkaido, Japan


Baled hay, France


Galapagos giant tortoises


Vineyards, France

Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd to show support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now includes events in more than 193 countries. In 1970 about 20 million Americans took to the streets, college campuses, and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. It was from this that the modern environmental movement was launched.

Here’s the website on the history of Earth Day if you want more information. https://www.earthday.org/history/ 


Pollution, Tiananmen Square, Beijing


Sunflowers, France


Yellowstone National Park






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IMG_8614Our town, Urbana, has a number of places where we can see swathes of re-created tall-grass prairie. One is at Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about before (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2004/07/30/meadowbrook-park/ ), another is along part of the railway line, and another is along Florida Ave next to the house of the President of the University of Illinois. They are gorgeous, especially in summer and fall, when the plants are tall and beautiful with swathes of bright mostly purple and yellow flowers.

IMG_8615Why is this important? One of the nicknames for Illinois is the Prairie State (of course, another is Land of Lincoln). Prairie grassland was once the dominant ecosystem in Illinois, but prairie is largely forgotten and almost non-existent in our agricultural and urbanized landscape. About 60% of Illinois (approximately 22 million acres) was once prairie. Now, only about 2,500 acres remain. The rest became corn and soybean fields, pastures and hayfields, mostly in the period between 1820-1840, as more and more settlement of prairie areas in Illinois took place.

Various conservation groups want to continue to pay homage to the prairie and we are IMG_8609very happy that our town is part of that, so that people can still imagine what the state might have once looked like. There are other benefits to re-planting the prairie vegetation, such as increasing habitats for insects and wildlife.

Here are a few photos from the plot close to the president’s house.


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The famous Temple Bar area in Dublin


AJ and RM at Jameson Distillery


An information board about part of the glorious Book of Kells

We’ve traveled to many countries over the years, but never to Ireland, except in transit through a couple of airports there. So, we were very happy this summer to finally visit, partly for a conference and partly for vacation.

We had our young adult grandson with us for the first part of the trip in Dublin, which was fun and helped us see this vibrant city through young eyes, especially in the famous Temple Bar area, which is alive with people, music, and pubs. Dublin has become a big tourist destination and is a ‘happening place’ for young people, but is also popular with older tour groups. Because of this, it can be very crowded, especially in summer, and it’s best to pre-book the main sights (which we did for the wonderful illustrated Book of Kells at Trinity College, and for Jameson Distillery). The Book of Kells is a gorgeous example of how the Christian Irish monks tended the flame of literacy during the Dark Ages in Europe and then reintroduced it.


One courtyard at Trinity College, Dublin


AJ and I outside the actual Temple Bar int he Temple Bar area


Newgrange is an easy day trip north of Dublin

We found Dublin to be an international city now, with lots of immigrant workers, for example, people at our hotel, wait staff at restaurants and pubs. I guess this is mostly because Ireland is part of the EU and allows workers from EU countries in.

We did a day bus trip out of Dublin to Newgrange, a 5000-year-old stone passage tomb, which is well worth a visit if you want to learn about Ireland’s ancient history. We discovered that the country has a high concentration of ancient stone tombs, stone circles, beehive huts, dolmens and menhirs and were able to visit a few when we left Dublin. For example, the Kenmare stone circle in Kenmare, Drombeg stone circle, and many on the Dingle Peninsula, all in the southwest.


Drombeg stone circle


Killarney hosts its own July 4th festivities 


kill4thsignI will write about sights and places in Ireland in more detail, but for now, because this was our first trip, I’ll try to sum up our main first impressions. The short summary is: we loved it and would love to get back. It seems these feelings are shared by many Americans, as we met up with people from USA (or heard them talking) in various places, especially in the southwest part of the country, and especially in Killarney. Killarney even has a Fourth of July parade, fireworks etc! This must be partly because so many Americans had Irish ancestors and they love to come tracing their ancestry.




Barak Obama Plaza between Tipperary and Dublin

It’s said that about 50 million people claim Irish descent in the USA alone. A famous American family with Irish ancestors is, of course, the Kennedys. But there are many others. We discovered that 22 American Presidents had Irish ancestry, including Barack Obama, and in fact we found a whole Service Plaza on a motorway named after him. The plaza also has a special exhibition area upstairs, which focuses on Obama but also showcases other famous people with Irish ancestors. A lot of fun.

First of all, a draw to this country is the Irish people. We found them to be incredibly friendly, warm, welcoming, kind, and hospitable, so it was always great to interact with them. They rely on tourists, including Irish tourists, as a large part of their economy, but the friendliness seems to be inherently in their nature. We really enjoyed having long chats with bus drivers, servers in different restaurants, pubs, and at our hotels.

Next, one has to talk about the countryside.


Ireland is often known as the misty Emerald Isle and after driving around a bit we could see why: the countryside really is very green, much of it a bright emerald-like green. However, this summer it wasn’t misty at all, as Ireland was also having a heat wave, like much of Europe, and some parts of the country were so dry they were considering water rationing—apparently that’s not happened since 1975.

The country is surprisingly agrarian and intensely cultivated, as agriculture is still a large part of their economy. There are many trees, big rolling hills, round bales of hay and green barley fields (lots of barley ready for the whiskey production!). The fields and pastures seem mostly to be very organized, laid out and divided with hedges, tree rows, or stone walls, often making a patchwork pattern, even up quite steep hillsides.



It’s good cattle country as it’s not so hilly and rugged. Where it is more mountainous and barren, sheep do well. Most of the cattle are Friesland, as there is a big dairy industry and Irish butter is wonderful. Unfortunately the EU has surplus butter right now so Ireland probably has trouble exporting all their butter. In contrast to green fields are the scenic, often dramatic coastal cliffs that ring this small island.





One car had to pull over to allow passing

Roads tend to be very narrow and winding, especially on the peninsulas, and many have very high hedges so driving is slow. Plus, they are frequently crowded with too many cars/tourists for their size. There are many country towns, with the main road running through them, so it can be slow driving and often there’ll be a traffic build-up, especially if it’s a market day. We ran into this, for example, at Adare (on the A21 near Limerick), which has a Friday market.


But the highways are very good, with good Services stops.

The towns and villages are generally very pretty. First, you’ll notice multiple, beautiful flower baskets and pots—on shops, on pubs, on lamp posts, on bridge railings. Then, many of the buildings are brightly painted—as part of the Irish government’s “beautify” the country program. It’s in stark contrast to some of the drab row buildings that do still exist.



Flowers are everywhere

musicMusic, beer and whiskey are an integral fact of Irish life. Wherever you go you’ll find many bars, pubs and lounges (many with typical names like Matt McCoy, Murphy’s, O’Grady’s) as going out to these places is part of the way of life. Individuals, groups, families will sit and chat for hours, watching TV, listening to live traditional music. It seemed to us that it was like an extension of the living room or meeting hall.



musicsign2Ireland is also a land famous for writers, such as W.B.Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, and still today most Irish people can become quite poetic and philosophical.

One of the only downsides to our trip: We found Ireland quite expensive, probably more than Scotland or France.

But, another trip is definitely on the cards for us one day!



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Most flowers, herbs, and plants used at Christmas are associated with very ancient celebrations. In those years before blooms could be airlifted to brighten our bleak mid-winters, the presence of a colorful , growing plant in dark December seemed miraculous, and therefore many stories and tales grew up around these plants. Think of holly (Christ Thorn), ivy (ivy clings, as people should cling to a religion) and mistletoe (used by the Druids as a plant with good luck powers, and as a sign of love in Norse mythology).

But the poinsettia is a much newer addition, the New World’s contribution to Christmas.



Note the small green flowers in the center

In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina, a diplomat who was the first American minister to Mexico, was intrigued with the brilliant red “flowers” topping spindly shrubs all over the country. (The “flowers” are actually brightly-colored bracts, or specialized leaves, which attract pollinating insects to the hidden, tiny green flowers). The local people called them “flame flowers” or “flowers of the Holy Night” because they were used as decorations in Mexican Nativity processions. These flowers, native to Mexico, were known even to the Aztecs, who regarded them as a gift from the gods and called them Cuetlaxochitl.

Dr. Poinsett was an enthusiastic botanist and he sent cuttings home for his greenhouse and to share with friends. They belong to the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. The botanical name for poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima (in Latin pulchra means ‘beautiful’, so this means ‘most beautiful’).


Light yellow


Coral with cream edges

About a hundred years later, Paul Ecke of California saw these plants and began to cultivate, interbreed, and experiment with them. The Ecke family built up a thriving business, which supplies thousands of growers around the world with cuttings that produce millions of holiday plants each year.

We can now enjoy red, pink, white, yellow, and marbled colors to brighten the holiday season. Pointsettias can range from miniatures in pots, to 10 to 15 feet tall trees in tropical and sub-tropical countries, like Mexico. I remember tall poinsettia trees in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) when we were growing up.


Trees–hard to imagine when we buy our pots here!



Pointsettias are not poisonous to people, but some people have a skin reaction to the milky sap. Also it’s best to keep pets from eating them, as the leaves can cause gastric reactions.

December 12 is Poinsettia Day, to mark the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851. Interestingly, in Mexico December 12 is the Dia de la Vergen (Day of the Virgin Mother) and on that day pointsettias are also displayed.

On one of our Christmas CDs we have a quirly song called “Percy the Puny Pointsettia” by Elmo and Patsy, so now our family tends to call all our poinsettia plants Percy! But, mostly they are not puny, and in fact one of our daughter’s Percys stayed alive for about 3 years in a pot in her house. A fun new tradition!


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Aronia Berry bushes


Unripe berries

berriescloseIn recent years I’ve heard a lot about aronia berries and how they are one of the new “superfoods”, mostly due to their high antioxidative activity and their high level of vitamins, minerals and folic acids. We even tried a few dried berries from Whole Foods, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed with the taste.

So, it was really interesting a few weekends ago to actually see some aronia bushes and find out more about how they are grown.


Our group at the farm


A young aronia bush

We were in Wisconsin visiting a business colleague of my husband’s in Milwaukee, and after that we drove to their house in Door County, at Sister Bay at the end of the peninsula. They have a beautiful house on the water there, plus he owns a farm just behind the house. Part of the farm, called Hidden Acres, is devoted to a community garden and part to a commercial enterprise, where they grow all kinds of vegetables organically for local restaurants. Wonderful to wander around and pick fresh carrots or purple beans, for example.

Something new that he is trying is growing Aronia berries. The bushes are now about cheesecakethree years old and are producing quite nicely. The best production will come after about 5 years, apparently. The berries were not ripe yet: harvesting will be at about the beginning of September.

Our host’s wife made a cheesecake for dessert, and served it with a berry compote, made of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and aronia berries. In a mix like that, the aronia berries were quite pleasant. We tried eating a few fresh ones too, and found them very fibrous and chewy and not terribly tasty really. But, mixed in a smoothie they are very good.


eating plain fresh aronia berries

We found out that Aronia is a woody perennial shrub in the rosaceae family that is native to the eastern United States. It grows in full sun and along woodland edges, so the setting of this farm is perfect.

Aronia has benefited from increased interest in phytonutrients, plant compounds that have beneficial effects on human health. Interest in “eating healthy” has led to worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them. Aronia has been grown as a commercial berry crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s, starting in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. It is now becoming a more popular cash crop in the Mid-West of the USA too. Some sources say that Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity.


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Vineyards below mountain

Day Trip out of Sapporo to a Winery

Hakkenzan Winery, Hokkaido, Japan

On one of the days we were in Hokkaido on our last visit, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a really interesting day trip: to a winery. Rod had read that Hokkaido was producing some wine, so we were very interested to see how and where that was taking place. Besides being a new crop/product in Hokkaido, the vines and winery are in a lovely setting below a famous mountain. Satoshi and Max explained that Hak=8, Ken=peak, and Zan=mountain.




Inside the winery

So, the meaning is 8-peak mountain and the winery sits below a mountain that does indeed look like that; some even say it looks like the back of a Stegosaurus. We also went through a tunnel of the same name to get there.

Hakkenzan Winery is an interesting place, unlike any other winery we’ve been to in various countries (and we’ve been to many!). The location under the peaks is very pretty, and the notion of producing wine in Japan’s northernmost island is new and fairly revolutionary.

Trial viticulture started in 2006, and the building was constructed in 2011, the same year the first vintage was produced. It’s apparently a co-op with around 120 shareholders.

It’s not a traditional-looking wine place, but then it’s not in a traditional wine growing area! The building and surrounds are a bit ramshackle and the rooms set out a bit haphazardly, and not well signed or organized inside. If we weren’t with Satoshi and Max we wouldn’t really know what was going on, but then if we weren’t with them we wouldn’t have even known about such a place.


Us in front of winery building


Vines labeled in Japanese and English

seibelbottleTasting is offered but isn’t well set out—just some open bottles on a table with small plastic glasses, sip-size.

But, that being said, the guy was very friendly when approached in his office to the side of the tasting area and this whole idea of wine here in Hokkaido is a relatively new venture. So, they are still in the process of learning how to do it. The terroir is totally different to, say, France or South Africa; the cultivars are different; and therefore the resulting wines are too.

The soil of the vineyard is clayey with a lot of gravel. He said that in the test field they are cultivating about 25 varieties of grapes, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.



Kerner grapes


Riesling vines

The rows of vines outside are neatly labeled and it was fun to see those in such an awesome setting and all with English and Japanese names. We noticed some German cultivars (such as Kerner, Seibel, and Riesling) and some hybrids, so it’s still an experiment really. The owners are searching for new cultivars that work here and therefore produce a good local wine that reflects the terroir. In the vineyard there are not many vines though and some are yielding rather meager bunches. As I said, a whole new venture. It’s a small operation, but you don’t need many vines to make some wine.



Sauvignon blanc grapes

meagreWe tried a couple of wines: they weren’t great (not unexpected, given the climate and soil) but the Portland white had a good flavor. This is a white cultivar that grows well in the US Great Lakes region too. They working on improving things and appear to be making some profit.

When Satoshi asked, the owner did have a pamphlet in English. We discovered that one of their wines is called Kanonz. The name comes from the name of the mountain, as another name for Hakkenzan is Kannon-iwayama. Kannon is the name of one of the Japanese Bosatsu (Buddhist deities). The wine is a blend of Seibel, Merlot and Riesling.

They also sell jams, sauces, sparkling water and a few curios.redgrapesEntrance and tasting are free.

It’s about 20km SW of Sapporo city and easily drivable.


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Asparagus field on Hokkaido


Plaque at rest area


View point, but Ezo Fuji is shrouded

Hail to the Asparagus!

Hokkaido, Japan: Boyonakayama Rest Area, on Hokkaido Route 230

Satoshi and Max planned a big day trip out of Sapporo one day, making a loop around the south part of the island. We saw and did many things, such as visiting a winery; having a great soba lunch; and visiting Lake Toya to look at the new volcanic mountain, Showa Shinzan. I’ll cover those later.

On our way to Lake Toya we stopped at Boyonakayama, which has been open since 1993. This is a big rest area and shopping/souvenir place at the top of the mountain pass in Lake Shikotsu-Toya National Park in the south of Hokkaido. People stop here, as on a clear day there are good views across to the local Fuji Mountain, called “Ezo-Fuji”. “Ezo” is the old word for Hokkaido, so it means “Hokkaido’s Fuji”. Apparently this mountain does look a lot like the original Mount Fuji, but we never got to see it, as the whole area was shrouded in mist.




Asparagus statue

Close to the large building at the summit is a statue of a young monk who came here at age 19 from Kyoto to help build roads, which must have been quite a feat in those days.

There’s also a marker explaining that this area was the first place in Hokkaido to grow asparagus, now a very popular crop. There’s also a modern sculpture of asparagus spears—honoring a popular vegetable. A lot of fun to see and to talk about.

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Summer view to mountains


Winter view


Entrance to the farm stall


Many creatures on the approach road


This is always a good place to have lunch in the Stellenbosch winelands area as it’s easy to get to, the prices are very reasonable and it’s a lot of fun.

Mooiberge means “pretty mountains” in Afrikaans and the view out here certainly is that, as it’s right below the Helderberg Mountains.




A Springbok (SA rugby team) and a Wallaby (Australian team)


A Stormer (Cape rugby team)

On the R44 road between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, this landmark farm stall is hard to miss, as much of the property is “fenced” with a line of colorful art creatures/’sculptures’ (can we call them sculptures?) that the farm calls scarecrows and transportation creations. They are colorful, whimsical, and sometimes naughty scarecrows! Many of them are animals representing various sports teams, both South African and other countries. For many people, Mooiberge is “that farm with the crazy oversupply of scarecrows.” We wondered how it all began and in fact, the menu explains some of the history.

It started off in the 1950s as a farm stall selling strawberries, run by the Zetler family (Samuel and Josie Zetler and 5 sons), who later added sweet peppers too. As the roadside cart grew too small, they built a bricks and mortar stall that blossomed/mushroomed out into what we see today—a colorful, sprawling complex.


Some of the crafts in the modern farm stall


Cape gooseberries for sale


What about some Mama Africa’s hot sauce?


Thirsty Scarecrow play area

Some might say it’s a kitschy produce market-cum-wine shop-cum-market for bottled goods (jams, sauces, olive oils for example), cakes, nuts, biltong, local crafts, wine barrels, fruits and vegetables. But, it’s undoubtedly a lot of fun. We once bought a bottle of wine for R25—one of their advertised specials. They seem to have many of the specials for various airlines.

It’s a great place to take kids in the strawberry season (November-January or February), as the strawberry picking is very popular. There’s a wonderful play area called the Thirsty Scarecrow, which the kids in our group loved on the last visit.





Caroline M, Rod M, and Anthea K enjoy lunch

Over the years we’ve been here many times to eat lunch and it’s always been great. In the winter, there’s obviously no strawberry picking and the rows of plants are all covered in plastic. But, it’s still a great lunch place, as it has a fun atmosphere because of the setting and very good food—a tasty meal, with very generous servings, of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

The outside deck where you can sit looks out over the kids play area and across the pepper/strawberry fields to the mountains, the whole view enlivened by the bright, quirky, animals (mostly) sculptures—which in general you’d say don’t fit into this (wine) environment, and yet they’ve become a local fixture and a tourist feature and attraction.


Miss E at entrance to Farmers Kitchen


One of their delicious salads


Rod M has the lamb burger

The restaurant is called the Farmer’s Kitchen, which re-opened in September 2011 after new owner Kelly Zetler revamped it, to “French colonial meets rustic countryside comfort”. Its hours are 8:30am-5pm, and they specialize in breakfast, snack meals and lunch, with many dishes featuring strawberries in season.

At different times over the years, members of our party have tried many items on the menu. Some of the favorites are a huge lamb burger with Greek-style cucumber-yoghurt sauce; an avocado and chicken wrap; a bacon, brie and walnut pizza, served with salad; a parma ham and fresh fig salad; and a fresh salad with pomegranate and goat cheese. They also have very good meat and cheese platters. The house wine is Du Toitskloof sauvignon blanc and there is also beer, hard cider and all kinds of cold and hot drinks.


Another great salad


We look down at rugby player scarecrows from the restaurant


More creatures

Also in the Mooiberge complex is the Thirsty Scarecrow Bistro-Pub, open Mon-Sun 11am-11:30pm.

Mooiberge the Farm Stall is open Mon-Sun 8:30am-6pm.

This should definitely be on the list for anyone visiting the Cape Town and Stellenbosch winelands.


Mooiberge’s first tractor

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We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

One of the world’s first health resorts, the Dead Sea has a far from healthy future.

The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the River Jordan. It is actually a salt lake. It is 304m deep (997 ft), making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. In 2011 the salinity was measured at 34.2% (9.6 times as salty as the ocean), which makes it one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. However, since about 1950 the water level has dropped about 130 feet, and it’s estimated that now the level drops around 3 feet every year. It’s called the Dead Sea as its composition cannot support aquatic life. At 428 m (1407 ft) below sea level, it’s the lowest place in the world—a mind-boggling concept anyway, even before considering seas and salts.

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

As we drove from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, we passed a large board announcing “Sea Level” and then markers every so often, saying “minus 200m” for example. As we drove down, the landscape changed from groves of date palm trees and many vegetable tunnels to much drier and sandier with amazing rock formations. Some wild camels roam, and at a couple of petrol stations locals had camels, decked out ready for tourists. As we went along, it was really difficult to work out what’s Israel, what’s West Bank, what’s off-limits behind walls. Huge walls snake along the hills and the Israelis say they’ve helped cut crime etc. It’s hard even for the locals, such as Shani our Jerusalem guide, who lives on a kibbutz near the north-east part of the Dead Sea—Jericho is very close to his kibbutz but he’s not allowed to go there, because it’s in Zone A.

As we drove down, the guide explained that the Dead Sea is shrinking, for a combination of reasons: less rain,

A person floating in the Dead Sea

A person floating in the Dead Sea

less water coming in from the River Jordan (because of dams), less drainage into the Sea, and more evaporation, much linked to various salts extraction. We also had to go on a detour, to skirt a huge sinkhole, one of many that have appeared due to the change in the Dead Sea levels.

The sea is so dense with salts that it’s basically impossible to actually swim in it— you can just wade in and then float on your back. The weather was a little chilly and very windy when we were there, so I couldn’t actually get in and test it for myself. But we did dip our hands in— the water feels sort of thick and a bit oily. Strange.

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

Health benefits of the Dead Sea. It has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. In the Bible, it was a place of refuge for King David, and was one of the world’s first health resorts, for Herod the Great. It has supplied a variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification, to potash for fertilizer. People also use the salt and the minerals to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.

At the Dead Sea resort area of En Bokek, where the conference was held, is a cluster of high-rise resort hotels with spas and special pools, and a series of small malls with a variety of cafes and shops for the visitors. Many of the flyers and signs are in another language, besides the usual three of Hebrew, Arabic and English: Russian. Apparently they get lots of Russian tourists and visitors (although the numbers are down right now due to the dip in the Russian economy), some of whom come for medical tourism. Our one tour guide told us that some Russian medical insurances will even cover some of these treatments!

Dear Sea herbs for sale---note the Russian language too

Dead Sea herbs for sale—note the Russian language too

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Many of the shops sell all kinds of beauty and health products that have ingredients that come from the Dead Sea, and are supposedly very healthy—although one Israeli lady from the conference told me that there is very little empirical evidence to prove this claim. Supposedly, the salts are very good for skin ailments, like rashes, eczema and psoriasis, if you rub some of the water on the skin area. This very robust industry of salts, cosmetics, and creams etc is actually part of the problem affecting the health of the Dead Sea. There are conflicting interests between the tourist and industrial sectors and they are destroying what they depend on.

The local Regional Council, working with the Dead Sea Preservation

A typical shop sign

A typical shop sign

Government Company (with help from the Kingdom of Belgium and US Aid), is making an effort to try and stem this. They’ve set up information boards explaining the problems and have prepared a walking trail, on both sides of the Sea (Israel and Jordan), to help people appreciate unique natural features and heritage of the region (and then try to save it). I walked a bit of the trail and it’s fascinating to see what can grow here if it’s fostered, using the drip irrigation method. They say the desert landscapes of the Dead Sea have changed a lot over the last few decades, on both sides of the Sea, due to mismanagement of the Jordan River and Dead Sea ecosystems.

Greenery in En Boqeq

Greenery in En Boqeq

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

They also say that Israeli and Jordanian industries that intentionally aggravate the evaporation of water to harvest minerals are responsible for accelerating the yearly decline of the Dead Sea. Also, the evaporation process causes the annual accumulation of 20 cubic meters of salt residue at the bottom of the pools, which raises the seabed and water level, constantly threatening to flood the surrounding areas, especially in hotels and other infrastructures, like roads.

In short, a very real, serious problem. It’s a shame, as the area is gorgeous, and the Dead Sea such an unusual geographical feature.

The view from our hotel window---how gorgeous is that?

The view from our hotel window—how gorgeous is that?



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