First Produce April 2014
  Not much to shout about, but here's the very first vegetable harvested from our farm.

Our compost heaps are not working as they should yet and haven't been turned for a while. The result is that a lot of interesting plants are growing very well in there from seeds from stuff we've collected to put into the heaps.

Easily identifiable are the tomato plants. We're waiting for some flowers or fruit on the other plants to enable us to identify them properly and then possibly transplant them.

  Window Blocks
  Our solution to letting light into the bathroom and bedroom on the west wall: Window Blocks.

Ago had a few lying around and offered them to us. Thanks Ago. I loaded them into the bakkie at his place (poor bakkie taking some strain again) and we headed out to the farm on the first Friday evening of April. I offloaded them into the driveway early Saturday morning and when the builders got there they were able to started building.

We had six 600 x 600 blocks and four 600 x 400 blocks. We decided to use three of the bigger blocks for each of the rooms and could only fit in one of the smaller blocks in the passage wall.
  We really wanted to get more light into that passage but due to the garage roof pitch and having to allow for flashing against the wall, we had to settle for only the one block, and also having to set it just a little higher than the other blocks due to the brick gauge not working out well for it.

  Cutting Some Pavement Grass
  Leno's bakkie was going and this weekend he was using it to get the team to and from Heidelberg for the weekend. That was great. It gave me an extra hour and a half each morning and evening on the farm, not to mention the petrol saving in not having to fetch them from the township.
Getting ready to cut some grass in the early morning mist

Cleaning up the gate area after a few runs along the tarred road
So early Sunday morning we decided to use the time to make a few passes along the edges of the tarred road out on the pavement with the tractor and slasher and cut some of the really long grass.

It was a misty morning and by the time the builders got there I had made about six runs up and down the pavement next to the road.

Cleaning up the driveway

  Sunday Afternoon Walk
  We're looking for ideas for our shower floor. We want to build a mosaic pattern of our own with some tiles that we will have to cut into smaller squares and cut up some pebble mosaic sheets to fill in between them. But those mosaic sheets are just too expensive.

So after lunch we went for a walk into the gorges to see what we could find in the way of pebbles. I saw in my mind this little pool of flat, rounded pebbles all nicely worn and cleaned by the running water. But, of course we didn't find such a pool. Most of the pebbles there were too thick or not worn round enough for what we had in mind. So we just enjoyed the walk and drank fresh stream water.

Game Fence erection oddity
We met up with the lone eland bull on the way

Martie filling up with fresh stream water at the second gorge

Crossing the dry first gorge on the way back
That second gorge corner is so overgrown 
- and there's so much dead wood laying around
And work goes on at the construction site - the latest view from the hillside

  Shower Floor Ideas
  On my trip across to Che's farm later in the afternoon I came across a pile of pebbles that she had sifted out of her river sand from the river bed that runs into her dam.

They were not as rounded as I would like but in a few minutes I was able to select a couple that were the right thickness. We're still thinking on this one.

  Weekend Building Summary
  The first weekend's building was all about getting the wall joining the garage block and house up to first floor slab height and fitting the window blocks. Saturday we got the bathroom walls a few courses above that level, which is ok as we won't be sliding the lintels for the slab into place from there.

Getting them all straight and level
Jointing the face bricks on the bathroom outside wall

First window block in place on the bedroom side

  Sunday we built the bedroom side and passage walls up to first floor slab height.

This weekend I managed the team very carefully as the previous weekend they made such a mess on the roof that it took us over an hour to clean and wash all the mortar off of it. And from the kids walking and scraping their feet on the chromadek surface with mortar and brick fragments on it, we had quite a few scratches there. This weekend no-one but me was allowed on the roof! Even though it meant I had to do the jointing (a lousy job) myself. And together with the plastic sheet I laid onto it, it was a lot less messy on the roof surface this weekend.

I estimate one more day of brickwork and the entire house structure will be neatly up to first floor slab level, but I'm just not ready to get the lintels and blocks yet. We'll just have to move on to other projects for the rest of the month.

View of the house from the top of the garage block roof ...

... and from the ground

  Monday Morning Mist
  Early Monday morning after cleaning up the building site a bit, compiling our list of stuff to get during the next week for the farm, and packing up, we were confronted with the most amazing mist cloud rolling over Che's farm on our way out to the gate. And to top it off, while I was composing the picture, a pair of black shouldered kites came soaring past. Damn. Do we really have to go back and work during the week?

  Cosmos in First Growing Tunnel
  Our little cosmos bush in the first growing tunnel was doing so well until it had it's top munched off by some visiting herbivore a few weeks ago.

It has taken a few weeks for it to recover and looks like it's determined to spread it's seed this season. It has shot out lots of shoots off of the main stem and every one now has a few flowers and buds on it.

  Building Progress
  On the second weekend of April we weren't able to get out to the farm on the Saturday but did get a good day's building in on Sunday.

First we finished off the bedroom wall with the window blocks in it up to two courses above the slab lintel level.

Then it was back to the steps to get all the walls there up to the same height and lay in some lintels for supporting the slab lintels over the stairwell and for the base of the upstairs built in passage cupboard.

Then we started on the inside wall that will separate the kitchen and lounge areas. This is a single brick facebrick wall. On the lounge side we plan a breakfast counter with high stools and on the kitchen side we will plaster and fit kitchen cupboards up against it.

Also along this wall we will be placing our old coal stove, so we built in some tie-ins for the base and small half brick jut-out walls to blank off the sides of the bottom of the stove. The top section will be attached to the wall somehow. We also had to build a "hole" into the wall for the chimney box and pipe. We decided for efficiency reasons to have the chimney pipe open to the lounge and not built into a brick chimney.

As the builders had mixed too much mortar for the brickwork they needed to do for the day, they worked well into the night and I had to hand out the headlights to the team to get the job completed.

  Brickwork Quality
  The third weekend in April was the Easter Weekend and the start of our marathon of public holidays and long weekends. Friday morning we arrived at the farm and I inspected with disgust the lounge/kitchen wall face brick work built in the dark the previous Sunday night. The wall was straight and true but the jointing was done when the mortar was still too wet and the face bricks were smeared. Time for a site meeting. The outcome was that Leno would spend some time cleaning the wall to show me that it is "not such a serious" problem.

So the team got the scrapers, wire brushes and cloths out and spent some time scraping and washing the wall. It did look a lot better when they were finished and I started wondering why the rest of the outside of the building wasn't looking as good. So, as we had two helpers plus Leno's boys for the whole four day weekend, we decided to start a cleanup of the garage block outside face bricks while we were doing some of the other stuff I needed done and finish off the basic structure in preparation for the house first floor slab.

  Leno continued to build the inside wall a bit higher. He wanted to go a little slow on it because the section behind the stove was only a single brick wall and then would change to double brick above the stove and the little wall was getting a little wobbly as he was getting it higher.

He had also got a weekday job at WBHO and was dressed very smartly in his new work kit: new safety boots, reflective cothing and a hard hat. We were thinking of getting the guys hard hats after a rather scary incident when Leno was
  setting up the the house bathroom door frame. He was kneeling down on the ground under the door frame aligning the bottom on the floor slab and his helpers were holding the door frame and support poles. The support poles were just gum poles, each with a nail in it which they would hook onto the top of the frame and move the bottom of the pole around until the frame was positioned correctly before building the brickwork around it. His helpers weren't concentrating (so what's new) and he was giving instructions for them to move the poles when one of the poles rolled over, the nail unhooked from the top of the door frame and the pole came down square on his head. If it was me I'm sure I would have been a hospital case, but he just held his head in his arms for a minute or two, walked slowly around in a big circle a few times, gave his helpers a bit of a scolding and got back on with the job. When I asked him if he was ok, he said that he had felt dizzy for a few minutes but was now ok!

  Digging Forest Veranda Foundation
  During the morning the area for the forest side vernada was levelled and after lunch Leno marked out the foundation trench.

The rest of the afternoon Leno's kids and the new helper, Armando, started digging the foundation trench.

This would be a very cool little veranda (south side of the house) which would serve as a house entrance through double doors from the driveway.

  House Inside Steps
  Due to the sloping ground and the design of our house being basically straight and long, our house has lots of levels and on Saturday we decided it was time to build all the little steps that needed to be put in between the levels. After finishing off the kitchen/lounge separating wall to full height, Leno got busy building the first step - a wide step between the kitchen and the lounge areas.

Then the helpers mixed up a small batch of concrete in the lounge area and the step was filled.

Next was a big step down into the passage to the bedroom, bathroom and garage, and also down into the little space under the stairwell.

  Finally, we built the little ledge for the coal stove to stand on on the kitchen side of the kitchen/lounge separator wall.

The picture on the left shows the kitchen/lounge separator wall from the kitchen side. The coal stove will sit snugly on it's ledge base in the little alcove in the wall. The chimney will go out into the lounge area through that big square hole in the wall where it will go all the way up through the roof. I'll just have to think of some innovative way to hide the chimney box at the back of the stove and the chimney bend so that it looks neat from the lounge.

Hopefully the exposed round pipe chimney should contribute significantly to the heating of the lounge area.

That tall separator wall is still a little unsteady but we did build some steel rods into it and I'm sure it will be ok once it is finally tied into the first floor slab.

  Stairwell First Floor Landing Support
  While waiting for the brickwork to set before pouring the concrete into the steps, Leno got going on setting up the lintel support system for the stairwell first floor landing.

This was a tricky area where the upstairs walkway would have to tie into the first floor landing. We knocked away some brickwork to make good supports and layed down two maxi lintels on edge across the passage. We blanked off the bottom gap with a wood plank, supported the plank with gum poles and then filled between the two lintels with concrete. With some steel running across from the walkway to the stairwell landing embedded in the concrete, this should be strong enough to support a tie-in of the only unsupported corner of the cantilevered upstairs walkway.

Once the lintel system was set in place we layed the smaller lintels to support the blocks, spaced them out using blocks and then layed down the rest of the blocks on the landing.

Laying down the main lintel system

Getting the double lintel system lined up

I really appreciate the patience Leno has with me on these tricky bits of the construction. He sometimes has no idea what I want and as there are no drawings to show him, I just have to work with him on getting things up. Once he gets the picture he often gives me advice on the best way to do things structurally.
Concrete fill between lintels

Laying lintels and blocks on top

Spacing out lntels using blocks

  Casting Forest Veranda Foundation
  Through the morning the digging team made good progress on the driveway veranda foundation trench. I got them to clear away some sand for the edges of the trench in preparation for working easier there with the bricks and mortar when we build the wall and just before lunch Leno climbed in to neaten up the edges.

After lunch the helpers mixed another batch of concrete on the lounge floor and poured the concrete into the foundation trench. Pictures are from the first landing of the stairwell.

  Brickwork Finishing
  To end off the day we set up some scaffolding along the workshop end wall and Leno filled in the face bricks between the top of the wall and the roof sheeting. He marked the bricks, I cut them to size and angle with the grinder and he built them in.

The rest of the team cleaned up jointing and brickwork wherever they could. This was all part of our plan of now finally getting the garage block completed properly so that we could start on the finishings. An ambitious task for the long weekend.

  Easter Sunday Breakfast

Easter Sunday and the builders wanted to work.

They arrived early and after breakfast (mine on the left: a bowl of diced fruit with fresh farm dairy joghurt and coffee) got going on finishing off the facebrick cleanup.

More scaffolding was erected on the workshop end wall, the generator brought out from the garage in and the hand grinder started producing dust.

The mortar between the face bricks that wasn't cleaned out properly by jointing during the building process when it was still soft, now had to be cut out with the grinder. All the gaps between the bricks that weren't filled nicely by the guy doing the jointing when he was supposed to be doing the jointing now also had to be filled in. What a job.

We just resigned ourselves to a few days of builders dust. Everything had a layer of building dust on it - inside and outside! There is just no way to keep it out of anything.

  Stairwell First Floor Landing
  Cleaning up face brick work was boring and I just couldn't sit around and watch. Mainly I was too irritated that the job hadn't been done properly during the building process. So I went off to the house side of the construction site and fitted the rest of the blocks on the first floor landing.

On the left, from the top of the stairwell, all the blocks set neatly in place and on the right, from below in the passage leading down into the garage.

  Eland Take Some Shade
  Around lunchtime a big herd of Eland passed by and took a few minutes of shade under the black wattle trees on the top corner of the farm. Just stay over there on your side of the fence, guys.

  Cleaning Up Branches
  When she wasn't preparing food, Martie spent the day cleaning up the old fallen dead tree area now just ouside her kitchen window.

Many of the smaller branches of the dead tree had already been cut off and taken away by the builders for firewood. They help us to clear the areas where I am just not getting the time to cut the wood up neatly to store.

I cut away more of the branches so that Martie could get in under the big stuff with the weed wacker and cut down the blackjack and khakibos weeds.

  Forest Veranda Wall
  And through the day we also managed to get the forest veranda wall built.

We decided to keep it one step below the lounge floor level so that there won't be too many steps down onto the driveway. I have a fair idea but I'm not 100% sure how the driveway levels will work yet and we can always lift it two courses of brick if necessary if the driveway ends up higher than it is now when we level it.

Here Leno is checking that the face brick jointing was done properly.

  Garage Windows
  Easter Monday and in our quest to finish off the garage block we tackled the fitting of the last of the garage block windows.

I quickly cut all the cement board window sills to size on the circular saw and the first job was to fit and plaster in the last of the long window sills in the double garage.

Then we moved over to the workshop (now our temporary "living area") and Leno cleaned up the brickwork in the window surrounds for the last two windows. Dust, dust and more
Cleaning up after plastering in double garage window sill
  dust. What a mess! We fitted the windows and he plastered in the surrounds and window sills.
Grinding the face brick window surrounds 

Workshop windows lined up and fitted 
By far the worst job on the building site!

Plastering the windows in

  Cheap Wheelbarrow
  They just don't make them like they used to! The newest of our three wheelbarrows - the builders call it the gardening wheelbarrow - relegated to the scrap brick heap with the wheel and axle taken to keep one of the older ones running.

But have no fear - despite the builders recommendations to scrap it, I will get it going again!

  Cosmos Munched
  When we arrived at the farm on Friday evening for the second long weekend we found one of the logs of our log fence had fallen down on one side and the cows had taken the opportunity to hop in and work their way through the farm (and even through the garages and house!). Someone had needed washers and removed the nuts on the fence to get them. And of course they didn't bother to just put the nuts back. We do have our suspicions as to who it was but no proof as yet.

So everything munchable was
  munched, including the cosmos bush that was doing so well in the first growing tunnel. Over the weekend it shot out another two flowers. But it looks like what the cows and other herbivores don't eat, the worms will.

  Fitting Garage Block Window Sills
  Now that all the windows along the long garage wall were in, Saturday's job was to fit all the windows sills.

Careful lining up was required to get them all set at the same angles and for them to all stick out the same distance from the wall.

Lots of refitting and light knocking and by the end of the day we had them all lined up and securely in place.

  Big Truck Delivery
  Planning for the weekend with not much to do on the house before the first floor slabs are laid, we decided we were going to start the floor screeding in the garage. Leno wanted to start on the big garage areas but after some consideration, Martie and I decided we would rather have the workshops (our temporary living area) done first so that we could start finishing off there.

The order was placed for 3 cubic meters of river sand and lots of cement and Jada's Hardware
  sent their big truck in to deliver. We managed to convince the driver to manoeuvre the big truck into the driveway to dump the sand neatly just where we wanted it so it would be near to where we could mix the screed.

  Workshop Floor Screed
  Early Sunday morning before the builders arrived we moved everything out of the workshops into the garage area. When they got there the area to be screeded was clear and after final sweeping,
If there was sand in your scrambled egg, you knew why!
Martie made us breakfast while the helpers started mixing the screed.

They used a moist mix of river sand and cement, wet out the concrete floor with some neat cement, layed the mix down onto the concrete floor in small heaps, levelled it roughly and compacted it with hand compactors and then Leno stepped in to "cut" it level with a straight edge.

We wanted a smooth finish so once the surface was levelled, Leno "floated" it with water and extra neat cement until it was smooth.


  Cleaning up Windows
  While the floor screed in the workshops was being done Martie got going on cutting off all the protective plastic from the garage windows and cleaning up the window surrounds.

Most of the plastic was by now brittle and breaking down and as all the cement work was about as good as it was ever going to get on the garage block walls, it was time to prepare for some finishing and painting.

  Bathroom Cupboard Finishings
  Once the floor screeding was started and initial overseeing done, there wasn't much for me to do in the workshop area so I headed off up to the pumphouse and did the final hinge adjustments on all the cupboard doors and fitted the door handles. I bought a little gear-driven hand drill for all the little wood drilling jobs and it worked great for jobs such as this.
  Then I started up the tractor and cut some grass.

  Autumn Monday Morning
  We slept over at the farm on Sunday night as Monday was our Freedom Day public holiday. Our normal workshop "bedroom" floor's screed was still setting, so we moved all the bedding and essential overnight stuff up into the pumphouse where we set up camp for the night.

When we got up the mist was laying heavy on the hills and we watched as it rolled down into the valley through the gorge on Che's farm on our early morning walk. Early mornings are just so amazing on the farm.

Martie and Charlie
enjoying the new day's first sun rays
Tractor left out overnight where it had finished off halfway through cutting the back yard grass

  Early Morning Building Tasks

The builders also arrived early and after inspecting their previous days work, their first job was to wet down the newly screeded floor to prevent it drying out too quickly and cracking.

It was now hard enough to walk on and looked so clean and smooth. It must be the only surface on the building site not coated with builders dust!

Martie started off working with Leno Junior to fill in between the window sill cement boards and the window frames with a plaster mix.

Careful supervision required there - the protective plastic had been removed from the inside of the windows and these guys just have no idea about finese and finishing. And cleaning up after the job doesn't seem to feature in their work ethics.

  Driveway Wall Foundation
  The garage block levels are split about half a meter between the top three single garages and the bottom double garage. This means the driveway entrance to the garages are at different levels so a small retainer wall is needed to allow a smooth entrance to the last single garage from the driveway.

The wall was only two meters long so it didn't take the helpers long to get it dug. They then mixed a bit of concrete and threw the foundation.


  Second Growing Tunnel
  While his helpers were busy with the driveway wall foundation, Leno built the brickwork for our second growing tunnel.

Due to the slope of the ground we were able to drop the top corner level of the tunnel one brick lower than the first growing tunnel, but the bottom corner ended up a bit higher!


  End of Season Grass Cutting
  I'm really getting the hang of cutting grass. In the beginning it was just a matter of zooming around on the tractor and cutting the grass, but there is certainly an art in doing it so that the grass can be gathered more easily afterwards.

After reading some of the farming tips on the internet, the trick is to know how the slasher throws the grass out to the left, so you do right hand circuits keeping the front wheel of the tractor on the edge of the uncut area and you end up with neat little rows of grass cuttings.

And below a picture (actually
  three photographs stitched together to make a wide angle shot) from the top of the house stairway of the whole back yard - all the grass neatly cut and waiting to be gathered and taken away.