Builders Holidays December 2012
  Most builders can't wait for the middle of December when they down tools until early January for their "builders holidays". Our guys couldn't wait so that they could get stuck into our project.

Our builders are James and Leno. They are a pair of Mozambican immigrants who fully understand the "more you work the more money you can earn" formula. They have a dedicated team of Mozambican helpers that they bring along and Leno has a big family that he draws on when the pro's need a rest. James is the marketing and business part of the team (and very capably bricklayer and plasterer) and Leno is the labour king. I have never seen anyone work as hard as this guy. He lays bricks tirelessly all day and will often step in and dig foundations and mix concrete and mortar when his team slacken off and can't keep up!

They live in Zonkizizwe (it means "all nations") which is the southern part of Thokoza where most of the immigrants are relegated. They get around in thier trusty old Toyota bakkie, which is a story on it's own.

Seeing as they had been given the go-ahead on the pumphouse project they worked the first two weekends in December and then from the 15th onwards they were out there every day except for two days when I had business appointments and another two days at Christmas. This meant I had to be out there every day as well to make sure they had all the materials they needed. Also, we had not drawn up any plans for this project. I knew exactly what I wanted and it was essential to get the pictures I had in my head into theirs. We really got a lot done in December.

  Pumphouse - Foundations to Floor Level
Overkill on rebar structure
It was good that we started off on the smaller building. Mainly I think to get my learning curve started on it's steep climb.

It also allowed me to test the knowledge of the builders and to see how far they would go against known building practices to follow my orders and crazy ideas.

Firstly, we used too much steel in the foundation in a triangle form. Then we had to use far too much concrete to cover it.

More overkill - concrete too thick
Concrete foundation complete and building brickwork to floor level

The builders did start laying out the steel correctly but I told them to change it to the triangle form because I thought it would be stronger as the pumphouse would need to support two 2000 litre water tanks on it's roof.

Ago, my builder friend pointed out all my mistakes when he checked our progress photos we showed him and gave me the full lecture on concrete foundation principles. It is basically very logical. Concrete has very good strength under compression but needs the steel reinforcing to keep it together under tension. So put the steel on the bottom of the foundation to prevent it tensioning apart under the weight of the building.

It was too late to change anything and none of the mistakes would affect the structure negatively - just a waste of expensive materials.

All outer wall brickwork completed to floor level

  Garages and Workshop Block - Digging and Compacting Foundations

A quick negotiation session with the builders and we were ready to go on the garage/workshop block foundations. This was a big project comprising three single garages, a double garage, an "open" workshop, a storeroom and an upstaris hobby workshop above it. Whew. The building would be 20 meters long by 7 meters wide extending out an extra 2 meters for the storeroom area. And we would have to plan for the main house to join onto it as well. So lets not have any mistakes here guys.

Clearing grass in preparation for marking out the garage/workshop block foundations

  The trickiest part of this project was dealing with the sloping ground running from corner to corner of the building. We estimated we would have to dig the top corner into the ground by half a meter, step down between the three single garages and the double garage by half a meter and raise the bottom corner out of the ground by over half a meter to get floors levels correct and have a reasonably sloped ramp up into the garages.

The roof would be same level right across so from the double garage down will have half a meter higher floor to ceiling height. The other challenge would be the double storey hobby workshop above the storeroom.

All marked out - all dimensions correct and everything square
Compacting foundation trench
Digging the garage/workshop foundations

Digging was fast and furious - all done in 3 days. Ago came out and inspected the trenches and demonstrated just how soft our soil really was. He lent me his compactor and we compacted the bottom of the foundation trench down another 15cm! I was confident we then had a really good base to lay the concrete onto and we were ready to lay down the steel reinforcing.

While Ago and I were out there I arranged a mega delivery of river sand. I was always worried about the really big trucks accessing the farm and when the truck arrived, the driver wasn't even prepared to attempt to access the farm. His truck was loaded to 30 tons and he was worried that with the recent rains his truck would sink in. So we sent him off to our building supplier in town who kept the sand for us in their yard and charged us a delivery fee when he delivered it as we needed it on his smaller truck.

And here our building supplier in town is worth a mention. We have formed a very special relationship with Jada Building Supplies in Heidelberg. Jada is a muslim company and Shahid and his right hand man Cassim can get me anything and everything I need at really good prices. We only work on the farm on weekends, so we order supplies Saturday morning and deliveries always arrive, often well after their normal Saturday working hours. He hasn't let us down once. And on one accasion they even opened up their yard for me on a Sunday when we ran out of cement. That type of service deserves support.

  First Growing Tunnel Foundation
  While the builders were digging the garage/workshop foundations I got busy with finishing off the foundation for our first growing tunnel.

The top side would need to be built up just above ground level to prevent any storm water from entering during thunderstorms and the bottom side would need to be built up half a meter up above the ground due to the ground slope.


  Garages and Workshop Block - Foundation Rebar and Concrete

All hands on deck for laying out the steel reinforcing. A long and tedious job bending and wiring the steel reinforcing together and then lifting it all off the ground with pieces of brick.
Bending and wiring rebar

And finally ...
throwing the concrete
Raising the rebar off the ground

And then the concrete. We set aside a whole day to mix and throw the concrete. The team worked tirelessly and I had our building suppliers delivering stone, river sand and cement all day long trying to keep up with them. We also filled the water tank to the 800 litre mark six times!

It was very stressful for me to see so much money going in under the ground, but it was a very important part of the build. I was also keeping a very accurate record of all materials used and costs for each project. Below is a comparison table of materials used to get the two projects to floor slab level:

32 sq m
32 m trench
Garage Block
150 sq m
72 m trench
River Sand
10mm Rebar
Stock Bricks
Face Bricks
4 cu m
12 cu m
43 bags
10 cu m
16 cu m
148 bags

  Bees Robbed
  There was no beekeeping course for December - Peter needed a holiday from us. But one Saturday morning when checking our catchbox (we check it every time we go out to the farm) I noticed lots of activity around the box. I didn't think much of it - thought it probably just their daily orientation flight for the new bees but was surprised at the amount of bees around the catchbox.

Then on the Sunday morning I noticed very few bees around. Some were coming back to the hive with pollen and just hanging around looking confused. Then I realised what had happened: the hive had been robbed! If I looked more carefully at the activity the day before I would have noticed fighting and bees leaving with pollen rather than arriving with pollen.

Our swarm was a very weak swarm. The swarm grew well while the black wattle trees were flowering but once that was finished there wasn't much forage for them around the area.

It is quite common during lean times for a stronger swarm to rob a weak swarm's hive and steal all their honey and pollen and this is what obviously happened to ours.


We decided not to take our swarm from home out to the farm as planned until we had some crops for them to forage. They were doing very well on the suburban gardens around us.

I think the main problem was we had just left the farm swarm in the catchbox for too long. The catchbox is made from folded corroplast board and the joints are not well sealed like a proper wooden hive. Too many access points make it very difficult for the bees to defend the hive from scouts from other swarms and when being invaded. We continue to learn.

  Tractor Tyre Woes

You know the saying "don't fix what's not broke". We kept the tractor on Che's farm when we weren't using it and I noticed the front right tyre was a little down. So out with the compressor and I quickly pumped it up. And while I was at it a topped up all the other tyres as well. Bad move.

The next weekend the right back tyre was completely flat. I pumped it up and next day it was flat again. No way out of this but to jack the tractor up and remove the wheel. Those wheel nuts were well painted over and I don't think they had ever been removed, so a few hours later with the massive back wheel on the bakkie we were off to town. The local tyre fix shop took the tyre off the rim, checked it out and found the tube had perished around the valve. Now this is no ordinary tube at no ordinary price. I dug deep and bought the new tube. They fitted it, pumped it up again it and I took the wheel back to Che's farm and put it on the tractor. I took it for a test drive and all was well.

Or was it ..? Next weekend it was flat again. So off with the wheel and back to the tyre fix shop. Turns out the tyre was perished as well on the inside and made a hole in the new tube. Fixing the tube was easy, but replacing the back tyre with a new one was just unaffordable. We rummaged around the tractor tyre scrap heap and found one in slightly better condition than my perished one, gave them a few hundred bucks for it and we were sorted.

The treads on the back tyres of the tractor don't match any more but I really don't think it's going to make any difference to the straight line speed or cornering capabilities of our little red devil!

  The Aviary

People up the road from us were selling their house and needed to get rid of their aviary. They were keeping budgies. We had no use for the birds so they took them to the local pet shop but we thought we could use the aviary structure on the farm either for plants or raising young fowl, so we bought it from them.

Getting it out to the farm was a mission on it's own, with each panel almost 2 meters square it stretched off the bakkie in all directions! We took a slow ride on the back roads to the farm and got it there safely.


  Lapa Progress

Going very well thank you. Front retaining wall built to floor level and the wall around the tree well on it's way up. Still a long way to go, though. That top half section still needed to be dug into the ground about 40cm and the little rock wall needs to go all the way round.

Front lapa wall looking good at floor level

Double sided rock wall
takes a little more time

Selected rock collection being continually replenished
from the rock ditch

  Big Tree Dies


One day we noticed one of our bigger eucalyptus trees in the western corner of the property was dead. We immediately suspected a lightning strike until further inspection. Termites! Could these little blighters have killed a tree this size?

When we broke open some of the fallen branches, some of them were infested with thousands of tiny red ants. They had made tunnels just under the bark on almost every part of the tree. Hopefully winter will sort them out but we will have to keep an eye on them in case they spread to other trees.

  Resident Waterbuck Bulls

Often when walking around the perimeter of the farm (we do that almost every day we are there) we spot one of the two waterbuck bulls that seem to have taken up residence in our forest. They're not always together and don't seem to stay with the main herds which we have seen far over the hill to the south of Che's farm. They are very skittish and either head deeper into the forest or out up the hill as soon as they see us.

One of the waterbuck bulls on the hillside

  Garages and Workshop Block - Brickwork to Floor Level

  The weekend before Christmas and the builders worked furiously to get to floor level before their short two day Christmas Holiday break.

Bricks were laid at an amazing pace under my close supervision to get all visible outer walls in face brick and the retaining wall to the correct height to get the split in the levels accurate.

And we very nearly got it finished.



I hope you have noticed how clean our building site is. I went to great pains to ensure that it is kept that way. The builders think I'm mad. When they dug the pumphouse foundations they just threw the sand out in any direction. They seem to work on the "big cleanup afterwards" method of construction. I made sure that they dug all the sand into the middle of the building so that we won't be working on mounds of sand when we erect the scaffolding later. There were still many concrete and mortar spills all around the building, but unfortunately that's just in the nature of our African builders.

We were also very fortunate in that we could use our sand for building. So as we built we used up the piles of sand from the middle until it was time to level. All excess sand after levelling was put in a pile where we would need to fill for the driveway ramps from where it was used for building the walls to roof height. On the garage block the sand worked out almost perfectly.

  Spooky Moonrise


While working late one evening we were graced with another wonderful moonrise. The thin cloud cover near the horizon produced this amazing "spooky" scene as the full moon came up over the hill.