Our Bed gets a Lift December 2013
  Martie decided to take the double bed stretcher we bought to use in the tent out to the farm so we could sleep at normal bed levels.

It's still a little dusty in there before we do our final cleanup before painting, but our sleepovers are very comfortable and without doors and with most of the garage windows still to be fitted, we're as close to nature as we probably would want to be.


  The Corner Bath
  You've just got to fit a corner bath once in your life. And unless you're a professional plumber, I can bet you will only do it once.

We decided to spend Sunday working on the pumphouse bathroom. There are just so many little things that need to be done in there before we can actually use it as a proper bathroom.

My first job was to fit that corner bath. Just getting the drain pipe lined up took about two hours! But the advantage of building with "green" in mind allowed me to at least scrap the drain traps as our grey water will never run into a sewer (besides, we have much better plans for it than to waste it like that!). A highly modified drain system with a very short 45 degree bend in it was manufactured to get the drain lined up with the bath plug and still have the overflow functional.

Then we carried the bath down to the water tanker where Martie gave it a really good cleaning while I mixed the river sand and cement mix to bed the bath (really tough having to mix myself). Although the bath still had it's final plastic protection layer still on it, it really looked good clean.

Once the bedding mix was done we shovelled it into the little walled area for the bath and after about twenty (probably much more than that - I lost count) fittings, we got the level right and the height correct so
May not look like much but two hours of work on those angles

Finally fitted, taps and all, ready for tiling

Martie cleaning the bath down at the water tanker
  that the bath edges sit on the brick walls and the entire bath bottom (which by the way had a few strengthening battons to add to the seating problems) was supported on the bedding mix. We then compacted the mix, wet it a bit which will allow the mix to set hard, pressed the bath nicely into it's final resting place and left it at that.

Then Martie started cleaning up the door frames with some water and a scrubber while I fitted the bath taps. Not too tightly as parts of the taps will probably have to be removed again for tiling later.

And that was Sunday morning gone. There was just enough time left for a quick walk with the dogs around the farm perimeter before lunch, which Martie had been cooking on the fire in between her bath and doorframe cleaning sessions.



  Checking the Water Tank Fit
  After lunch we hoisted a water tank up onto the roof for fitting. With the rainy season well upon us it may be a while before we can paint on the waterproofing coat onto the water tank support bases, but we may as well get planning going on the tank installations. Two problems I am aware of here ...

First, I should have built so that the concrete support platform was at the height of the surrounding high brickwork. This would have given a little more water pressure (every bit counts) and made plumbing to the solar water heater panel that will be installed on the
  roof a lot easier. Not too serious, we'll deal with the plumbing problems when we get there.

Second, I should have made the support platform front to back just 10cm wider. I wanted the tanks to sit right on the edge of the platform as the balancing pipe connecting the two tanks would run across the front wall just below the roof beams. I didn't count on Leno's suggestion of building a course of bricks around the front edge to prevent the water running down the walls, making them constant "wet" zones with related damp and moss problems. The water now runs controlled out of the overflow pipes but I'll have to put beams (looking at a few of those tough beams made from recycled plastic) across to raise the tanks one brick course high. The balancing pipe will still be able to run under the roof beams.

Once we had all the measurements we hoisted the tank down again. With the wind out there, we daren't leave it up on the platform empty and without proper hold-down cables. We've already had to fetch one of the tanks and roll it back up from the forest once - and that was when it was blown over when standing on the ground just out of the wind protection area of the pumphouse!


  Pumphouse Flashing
  A lousy job, but it had to be done at some time.

Later in the afternoon I made a start on fitting the flashing on the pumphouse roof. I marked off where the flashing would need to be slotted into the brickwork and with the big angle grinder and diamond wheel, ground the slots onto the bricks.

I fitted one sidewall flashing section and after screwing it down it was getting too dark to work any more.


  Thanks Corrie
  Here's a very short extract of a video created by Corrie from footage he took out at the farm on Saturday. This clip is taken from his Go-Pro camera mounted on the bottom of the quadcopter. It shows the take off and climb up to high over the garage block.



He also took some great 360 degree videos of inside the workshop and garage, in the forest and around the house building site. Hopefully we'll be able to show them here soon.


  Midweek Misty Early Morning
  Tuesday afternoon we went out to help Leno load up some scaffolding he needed to borrow for his Kwazulu-Natal job and we decided to stay over on the farm for the night.

It had rained almost every day since the weekend and with the air so heavy with humidity, Wednesday morning we were treated to the most amazing early morning. We were up just after 05h30 and there's just something about the early morning light and freshness that prepares you for the day.

The picture below, top left is of the building site from the garages with the sun coming up behind the trees producing lovely crepuscular rays. By 06h00 the mist had moved in and the middle picture above shows our pumphouse only just visible from the lapa. We took a slow walk with the dogs in the mist (coffee in hand) and got a cool picture on the right of Charlie dashing around in the forest driveway. And right at the bottom, from the front of the farm back onto the hill the mist sitting in all the little valleys on the hill. It was really tough having to get into the car a bit later and head back home for work.

 


 

  Taking It Easy
  With the builders away for a while we had a chance to get our thoughts together on a few smaller tasks and take time out to enjoy some of the beauty of the farm.

We were well into our rainy season and the second weekend in December the humidity was still very high. On the right, another misty morning and a lone eland bull passing by just outside our log fence. A shrike sits on the branches of a dead tree and swoops down into the grass every now and again to catch an insect.

And here on the right, we had seen them in the black wattle forests in the corner of Che's farm and we are now very happy to have spotted one in our forest: the beautiful African Paradise Fly-catcher.




  Some Bathroom Preparation
  On the construction site there really wasn't much happening.

We took the bathroom basins and fittings out to the farm and bought the laminated saligna sheets from which I would make the bathroom top and cupboards.

We also cleaned up a little here and there in preparation for getting the main woodworking projects going while the builders were away during the December holidays.


  Tractor Stuff
  The hour meter and rev counter on the tractor had never worked and I thought I'd give the old tractor a bit of a treat and fit a working unit. I found a tractor parts supplier out Krugersdorp way that specialises in the Massey-Ferguson classic tractors and ordered the instrument and cable. When collecting it I was given the full step by step fitting instructions and they gave me a new oil seal and gasket for the cable connector cover as well.

I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning the cover plate, replacing the oil seal and fitting the cable and instrument. The cable is in but unfortunately the new "tractometer" runs backwards. We'll get it swapped out for one that runs the other way in the new year.

   

  I also got a ball hitch pin to fit on the swing bar. I've been looking around for one of these for a long time. Now we can at last pull our water trailer around the farm with the tractor.

  Cleome Show
  With all the rain our little cleome flowers are all in full early bloom. It was good we let them seed last year before cutting the grass - there are definitely many more plants.

From what I can make out we have two different cleome varieties growing in amongst the eragrostis grass. The one on the left has very thin, almost round leaves, while the one on the right has a slightly broader and flatter leaf. The flowers are the same colours but the yellow markings are distincly different.

No definite identification yet. For all we know they may even be completely different plant species!


  Saving the Wild Flowers
  Che was about to have the flat field across the road from our farm ploughed up to plant teff grass.

The field is also full of wild flowers, most different to those we have on our property and on the hill slopes. So we took a shovel and some bags and buckets and went across early Monday morning to dig out some of the beautiful wild flower plants.

 
       The ground was still very wet from the rains the previous day and there were hundreds of little shongololos out and about in the grass. On the left is another very pretty little wild flower we came across along the way.

  Martie planted a patch of the wild flowers near the pump house. Not sure how well they'll take to the relocation, but they were going to be ploughed up anyway.

  Worms
  We're not sure what these worms are but we've seen them only on the eucalyptus trees.

The little black "tail" you see is not really a tail. This worm produces an almost constant string of thin black hardened poo.

And when you squish him the squidge smells like pure eucalyptus. He's like a little eucalyptus capsule!


  Second Brown House Snake
  The third weekend of December and when arrived on Friday afternoon for a planned long weekend sleep-over we did a big cleanup of our workshop "bedroom" and found this little guy under one of the cardboard boxes under the table.

He was much smaller than the previous little brown house snake that we found in the brick pile. I took him deep into the forest as well and let him loose.

 

  Sunday Morning Walk
 



It's been a while since we took a walk into the far corner of Che's farm. After all the recent rains, the little streams were flowing in both gorges. That natural filtered water with all it's earthy minerals is just so refreshing in the late morning heat.

Since we were there last there are many more trees fallen over. Not sure what happens in that corner of the farm, but some areas where we used to walk through were unpassable due to fallen branches and broken trees.

Last time we walked the area we came across a massive eland bull skull. This time we found the one below. Looks to me like a warthog, but I'm no expert at skulls. As I said, we're not too sure what really goes on in that corner...


 
  We also watched a rather large raptor riding the ridge for a while. Could be a black eagle with those white marking under it's wings. They prey on rock hyraxes and we have seen a few hyraxes in that area before.

And on the right, no, not a dead dog. Just Charlie on a quick recharge.


  Back in the Workshop
 

Then I set up some trestles in the big garage (so great to have
all that space) and laminated the beams that will make up the
workshop stairwell vertical support onto which the steps and
landing will be fixed.

I received quotes from a timber yard for the laminated beam
and it was just ridiculous. I bought some roofing timber and
I'll join and plane it myself for a fraction of their quote.

It won't be machine pressed and maybe not exactly as straight,
but it will be more than good enough for my workshop stairway.

The builders are so hard on equipment. I took some time out to replace the electrical plugs on the extension cable and all the grinders and drills. Every one was trampled and squashed.


  First Grass Cutting
       Then I hooked the slasher onto the tractor and headed out to cut some grass.

I started in the back corner and cut along the log fence, then along the forest road doing the "middle-mannetjie" all the way down to the front gate and then a bit along the front fence. There's still a lot more to do!

And while on the grass, we've got all the books and we've been taking lots of pictures. Now just to find some time to do the identification and put the names to them. Here's just a few different species:

 

  Helping with Roof Flashing
  Jacques, Janine and Amber visited for a Sunday night sleepover (Monday was a public holiday). On Sunday Jacques helped with finishing off the roof flashing on the pumphouse. Thanks Jacques.

On the left Amber helping Jacques put washers onto the roof screws.

Below left, lining up the flashing and below right, one side all finished. Our pumphouse/ ablution block now looking very neat - and hopefully there will be no more roof leaks.

 
 

  Dikkops
 
  We've noticed every time we walk up near the "rock dump" area either one or two dikkops (their new official name is the "Spotted Thick-knee") fly out and land nearby. We were sure they had settled in and were nesting somewhere there.

So one morning we watched carefully where they flew out from. They were definitely nesting there. We found their two eggs well camouflaged in the shade of a bush between the grass and rocks.

  I've been reading up a bit on them and from some of the stories I've been reading, I'm not sure if we're quite ready for the trauma of Dikkop chick rearing yet.

  Fitting Garage Block Roof Flashing
 



Monday was our Day of Reconciliation holiday and Jacques helped me again to fit the garage and workshop block roof flashing.

In ordering the custom flashing from the engineering shop we had to learn all the roof flashing terminology. On the garage block we had headwall flashing (angle bent to the slope angle of one side of the roof from vertical), sidewall flashing (always 90 degrees) and ridge flashing (angled to total of both sides of the roof). Then there was the IBR "closures" that finished off the joints and prevents wind driven rain from getting in.

It was tough working up there in the heat but with a few rehydration breaks we got it all done. And very neat it looked when it was all finished. Hopefully that'll be the end of all roof leaks on the garage block.

I'll choose a cool day to finish off screwing the main sheeting down. No rush for this as it is already secure enough to withstand a good wind storm but just needs to be screwed down onto the beams for aesthetics.



  First Solar Power
  For our long weekend stay-over I bought a great little solar powered lighting kit at our local Builders Warehouse.

It comprised a 10 watt solar panel, a little blue box that housed the 7A battery, charge controller, all the plugs for four lights and USB charger plug with adaptors for most cell phones, and four 3W LED diffused lights.

We layed the little PV panel temporarily on the roof to charge the battery and mounted two of the lights in the open workshop and at night we had
  more than enough light to read by. The little battery would give us 5 hours of light using the four lights. We would get over 10 hours using only two lights. Isn't modern technology amazing?!

  Action Stations
  The builders were back. With their tales of woe from their Kwazulu-Natal job of sitting around unproductively for days either in the rain or waiting for materials, sneaky changes in building dimensions from the original plans and of course, short pay. With Leno's brother's bakkie, some of my scaffolding and Jusinto still down there, Leno and Americo wanted to get working on the farm again.

I managed to finish off all my work by Thursday and we headed out to get going on building on the farm again on Friday morning. First job was to clean out the basement and get the roof slab on.

 



In the picture top left, cleaning out all the builders rubble, mud and water from the basement. Above, the presetressed lintels were just a little too long and had to be cut down ever so slightly to fit.

In the picture bottom left, spacing out the lintels and laying in the blocks. Below, all the lintels and hollow blocks in place.


  Basement Facebrick Shell
  While moving those heavy lintels onto the basement wall it was inevitable that we loosened a few bricks around the basement edge. So first job on Saturday morning was to fix up all the loosened brickwork and while on the brickwork Leno finished off the basement facebrick shell.



  Basement Electrical
  While Leno was working on the basement brickwork, I had a chance to fit the electrical for the basement lighting. When I bought the hollow blocks I also bought three "light boxes". These are boxes made from galvanised plate in exactly the same size and shape as the blocks. They were fitted in their places when we laid the blocks and I connected them together with a bit of conduit and pulled the wires through for the lighting.

Below left, we now need flash to take photos in the basement. Below right, the light boxes (silver metal) joined together with conduit.

 

  Lots of Eland
 

During the morning the biggest herd of eland we have ever seen passed through with lots of calves present in the herd. Grazing is now plentiful but not sure what's going to happen this winter?


  Levelling the Kitchen
  The rest of the afternoon we spent loading fill material onto the bakkie and taking it up to the kitchen to level the floor in preparation for the floor slab.

The poor bakkie was loaded to the limits again a few times and with some careful manoeuvring we got it into the kitchen for easier offloading.

We also filled the collapsed foundation trench and some of the outer foundation trenches which should make it easier to work there.


  ln the Darkness of the Night
  During Jacques and Janine's sleep-over we were plagued with mosquitos which made sleeping almost impossible.

So when Martie's sister Rina and her kids slept over we bought some mosquito nets. They worked very well and provided we kept the net securely closed over the bed, we were mosquito proof.

But it's not only mosquitoes that wake you up at night out there. At about 02h00 the dogs went on alert and we heard consistent thumping just outside our makeshift pallet door. Thinking it was just the
  wind moving something in the workshop we ignored it until Charlie started barking. I untangled myself from the mosquito net and moved the pallet out of the way to come face to face with a porcupine!

Not sure how to chase it out (I know you shouldn't try and chase it from behind) I somehow shuffled it out through the chairs. Sorry, I wanted to take a photo but before I could get my camera out it had disappeared into the darkness.


  Casting Basement Concrete Roof Slab
 
 

Sunday we started off propping up the lintels from inside the basement. We adjusted each prop careful checking with a building line along the bottom so we had a fairly straight ceiling to plaster onto later. The props will have to stay there for at least two weeks for the concrete to get to near full strength. With the regular rains we are having we shouldn't need to wet it down too often.

I then quickly finished off the electrical work - just had to run the conduit from the end light box through the hollow blocks up into the wall and leave some conduit sticking out to reach a junction box that will be built into the pantry wall.

Then we calculated the concrete mix and the guys got mixing. It was a big mix for two guys but they came through well.

A scaffold plank "road" was made from the mix area to the basement and while Leno and Americo mixed and threw the concrete, I leveled it.

We had the whole slab cast by just after lunchtime.


  More Levelling
  Although the builders must have been very tired after mixing and casting that concrete, with some daylight still left they loaded the bakkie with fill material and offloaded and spread it out over the kitchen area. They then washed out the bakkie, cleaned up all the tools and we headed off home.
 

  Preparing for House Floor Slab
  We didn't work on Monday. On Tuesday, the day before Christmas, we set out to prepare the ground for the house floor slabs (in between going into town for Leno to draw money from the bank and for Americo to do some Christmas shopping).

We started with the bottom bathroom and bedroom areas. The fill there had already compacted well with the regular rains and everyone walking on it continually. We did a final levelling and compacting and then layed down the 170 micron plastic and REF100 steel mesh.

  Once that was finished we moved up to the kitchen area. This was a different story as it had just been filled over the last few days and needed lots of compacting. The soil was moist so it built up very quickly on the compactor. The solution was to lay down a sheet of metal and then stamp onto that. After a lot of effort we got it hard enough to lay down the plastic and steel.
 
 

Above, as we left the site for the Christmas break, a bit of brickwork to fix and then we can cast the floor slabs for the bottom bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The lounge area has been roughly levelled and we'll walk it a bit while laying the other slabs to compact it before finally preparing it for the floor slab.


  Growing Tunnel Soil Preparation
  While the builders were busy I checked out the condition of the growing tunnel soil. Due to the old grass and leaves we had laid down under the top soil, the ground still had a bit of "give" when stepped on. The weeds (not sure yet if we can call them pioneer grasses) were growing well. I pulled them all out and layed them on the top to make a green layer for decomposition.


  Laying Down the House Concrete Floor Slabs
  We all took Christmas and Boxing Day off. Just as well as it rained almost solidly for the full two days. Despite the threatening rain on Friday we decided to take the chance and push on with the next stage of the house project: casting the concrete floor slabs.
 
First mix going in on kitchen floor, Leno levelling.
Second mix being prepared in the foreground

Leno levelling the kitchen floor slab
But we did make sure we had all our plastic sheets at the ready to cover up in case of rain.

Leno organised a third helper, Dino for the big concrete mix job. We started with the kitchen floor. The plan was to then do the bathroom and bedroom floors and then finally the 9 x 7 meter lounge/dining room floor.

Next, the bathroom floor slab

 
Dino and Jusinto doing final levelling and compacting of lounge area
Friday we managed to get the kitchen, bathroom and passage done.

Then Saturday we took on the big lounge/dining room area. One team layed down the plastic and steel while another team continued final levelling and compacting. After a few levelling adjustments everyone got stuck in to mix and cast the concrete slab.

Work progressed well through the day and we managed to get it all done with only three or four quick and light rain interventions. We were very lucky.

 
Dino starting on the big mix

All levelled and compacted, ready for steel
Final stamping - most of the plastic down

Some steel down, laying down the rest of the plastic

 
Offloading river sand from the bakkie onto mixing area

Dino and Leno in action - very hard work
Although the staff at Jadas pulled out all the stops for us, they had some problems beyond their control with stock supplies. They completely ran out of river sand and 19mm grey crusher stone so we took what they had in "brown" stone.

Fortunately we still had some river sand and stone up at the pump house so we had to move it down with the bakkie.

Leno levelling off the concrete

  Due to a little miscalculation over the big lounge area we ended up with quite a bit of concrete left over. But not near enough to finish off the bedroom slab. It's not good practice to cast a floor slab in two parts but with so much concrete already mixed and just not enough working hours left in the day there wasn't much else we could do. We levelled the remaining concrete in the bedroom and planned to finish off the concrete work early the next day.

  Wet Sunday Working Indoors
  On Sunday morning when we left home it was heavily overcast and to me it looked like we had about a 50/50 chance of it raining. But by the time we got to the farm it was raining constantly.

It was just so great to have a roofed area (now with no leaks). We had breakfast and waited around for half an hour or so and seeing that the rain was not going to let up, Leno got going on some indoors work. Finishing off the garage block insides plastering needed to be done and it looked like the perfect day to do it.

  We mixed up some plastering mortar on the garage floor, removed the middle window (again), cleaned up all the window surrounds facebrick work in the garage area and the team spent the day plastering the window surrounds and the top of the walls up to the roof.

 

  Very Wet Day Overview
  Other than very brief breaks, the rain did not let up all day and not needing to supervise much on the plastering in the garage I headed up to the pumphouse and fitted a toilet light. Very simple at this stage: a little 7A battery wired through the switch to a little 3 watt downlight. This will give us at least 18 hours of good light and I'll look at a bigger battery and solar charging system later when I know what power we may need for water pressure pumps. Now all we need there is water and the toilet!


  Above right, with all the intermittent rain over the previous few days and now a solid day of rain the driveway was getting very slippery. The bakkie tyres dug in almost 20cm into what was left of the fill material.

And below, during one of the short rain breaks, a photo of the house construction site. All the concrete floor slabs now cast with only half of the bedroom still to be done. No need to keep wetting the concrete for a slow cure - nature doing a great job of that for us.


  More Garage Block Windows
 
  Monday started of rainy as well but with much more promise of clearing up, so to start off the day we continued the work inside the garage and fitted two more (the largest two) garage windows and did the plastering of their surrounds. Only two more to be fitted and then they'll all be in.

Above, fitting and plastering and below a picture of the garage block from the outside with the two new windows fitted. The protective plastic on the windows we first fitted (especially the upstairs workshop) is now starting breaking down on the outsides and we have opened up a few of the windows completely. We have still left the protective white tape on the frames, which will only be removed once we have sealed the outside frame to brick joint with silicone and painted the inside window surrounds.


  Last of the Concrete Work
  Monday afternoon the weather cleared up enough for us to venture out and mix the last batch of concrete to finish off the bedroom floor slab. We even had some sun around mid afternoon.

It was a fairly quick and easy job, compared to the concrete mixes we had done over the previous few days and we had it levelled by mid-afternoon with a few wheelbarrows of concrete to spare.

So, what to do with the extra concrete? Remember the lapa we were building under the big black wattle tree that I hadn't worked on for over a year now? Well, it needed some concrete for the last three sections of the server base so we pushed a few wheelbarrows full up the hill and put it in there. It worked out perfectly - just enough to finish off that little job.

We finished off the day early with another big part of the build done. All the floor slabs were completed and we managed to squeeze in fitting two more garage windows and finishing the lapa server base. If all goes well we could still lay down the first bricks on the house in 2013!




  First House Brickwork
 
Laying down the dampcourse
Tuesday, the last day of 2013 and we got going bright and early on a beautiful mid-summers day for the start of a very exciting phase for us of our farm project: the building of our little farmhouse.

Setting out the doorframes

 
Helping Leno set up the profiles

Profiles set, Leno gettting ready to lay the first bricks
While the mortar was being mixed I helped Leno set up the profiles for the first house wall. After working with concrete for so long it was great to be back to laying bricks again.

First course of bricks almost down

  And fantastic to see the start of our house going up. As I was not 100% clear on the effects of the split levels on the final project, we started building from the highest level. We would keep the ceiling height of this level as low as possible so that we wouldn't have to go too high on the bottom split level ceiling height, which due to the four (yes, every room is at a different level!) split levels, will be 10 courses of brick (0.85 meter) higher than the top level. That's high, but I'd rather use more materials and have higher ceilings than have to split the roof into different levels.
 
Leno laying the first bricks for the kitchen
Martie laying the first brick for her kitchen front wall


 
    At the end of the day we had the "back door" frame set in place and seven courses of brick
  on the kitchen level and four on the basement level.


  In the pictures above, outside views from the two front kitchen corners. Below left, from the
  driveway looking up to the top of the basement and below right, from the garage block doorway.
 
 
What a great way to end off the year.