Autumn and the Eucalyptus Trees May 2014
  We are now well into autumn with only a month and a half to go before the winter solstice and some of the leaves on our eucalyptus trees are turning orange and yellow. Although the eucalyptus is not generally a true deciduous tree, many of it's leaves do fall during winter to make way for new growth in spring.

What is very interesting about the eucalyptus tree species in our forest is that the outermost layer of bark on the main trunks of the mature trees falls off annually in long strips, leaving a beautiful clean, off-white new surface on the trunks for the next summer.


  First Door
  The first day of May was our Workers Day public holiday and fell on a Thursday. As we had put a slow-down on the building operations, we asked the builders not to come out for the rest of the weekday holidays of the month.

Martie and I spent the day cleaning up the garage area where the builders made such a mess mixing the screed and Martie cleaned all the cement off the door frames.

I then got down to hanging our first door on the workshop. I bought five of these cheapish saligna open back doors from one of the hardware stores in Booysens. It was a four hour job for me on this first one but I got it fitting perfectly. There was a lot of removing, trimming bit by bit off with the electric plane one side at a time and then refitting again. I'm sure the next one will go quicker as I get better at this. It had better, as I already have four more doors ready to hang.

Next job here will be to fit the door handle and lock and then we can remove the door for the last time to varnish it and paint the door frame. But probably hang a few more before we do that.

  Driveway Wall Brickwork
  The first weekend of May, Saturday morning Leno built the little wall in the driveway to separate the levels between the top and bottom garages. I then levelled the sand up against the new wall on the top garage entrance. And now we can drive up into any of our garages!

  House Perimeter Retainer Wall
  While Leno was building the driveway wall, the helpers got going on digging some more foundation trenches.

In order to keep the rainwater that runs down the hill during our big summer thunderstorms away from the house structure, we have decided to build a small retainer wall around the entire front and kitchen side of the house. We will then pave around the outside the house up to the wall. The area outside the lounge will serve as a veranda/entertainment area and we will probably plant new grass or nurture the veld grass into a lawn along the front of the garage block.

This is a rather big project and will have face brick on both sides of the wall with a roller course on the top and the little wall will step down with the slope of the ground so it doesn't get too high. It's going to use a lot of building material but I think will be very necessary to prevent any chance of the house flooding from rainwater running down the hill.

Controlling how the water runs off around the outside of the wall is going to be a whole nother project.

  First Door Handle and Lock
  Saturday night I fitted the first door handle and lock to our first door. What a job! My woodwork is a bit rusty but I managed to get it all in fairly neatly - but another four hours later!

The complication on this door was that the lock had to be offset to one side and not sit in the middle of the door in order to meet with the weird slot in the door frame that was supplied. Of course, when we fitted the door frame when we first started building the garage block, I didn't notice the oddity with that door frame.

This was the first door lock I have ever fitted so thank goodness there were good step by step instructions on the packaging. A lot of drilling with a big spade bit and some careful chisselling and I got it all fitted and working nicely.

Looks all very smart as well.

  Digging Day
  On Sunday the building team just spent the whole day digging and moving sand.

After checking out the foundation trench that was dug the day before, we decided before going any further with foundation trenches, we would first need to get a better idea of the ground levels outside the kitchen corner of the house.

So we started with pick and shovel to level from the kitchen door across to the corner of the house to get the ground out there down to the same level of the kitchen inside floor.

  And we were now drowning in sand again and running out of place to put it all. We filled the forest veranda, the garage block foundation trench and even dumped some on the entrance road where it was getting a little "humpy" - and still had more piles to move.
  This also turned out to be a really tough job because the ground was so hard out there from the builders working on it continually and no rain for a while to soften it.

And where I thought we may have to cut in about 40cm at the corner - at the end of the day we were over 60cm down. I am already seriously rethinking that "little" retainer wall!

  During our morning walk around the farm we noticed a big hole had been dug under the front fence. Obviously a porcupine - and by the direction of the digging it had come in! It was also dug very recently as the soil was piled on top of grass that was cut out on the other side of the fence the previous weekend.
Porcupine entrance under
our front fence
Soil cleared away neatly
from porcupine den
Porcupine den entrance "slot"
from the forest side

  Later in the morning when I was cutting grass in the front area I noticed a streak of red sand at the edge of the forest. After investigation I found the porcupine den. They normally just leave a pile of sand where they dig but here it had spread and flattened the sand over a wide area. The den had entrance "slots" from both sides 90 degrees from the main entrance. I took a picture into the main hole with the flash on my camera - I think that hole is pretty deep.

We really have to watch these guys very carefully. They dig around the trunks of the trees and eat the surface roots and of course will devastate any garden. I know some of them live in the old mining tunnels on the hill and sometimes come down and forage in the forest (we see the damage around the tree trunks and they leave quills all over the place) but having one resident is another story. Anything we plant, no matter how we fence it off, just won't have a chance against it! He (or they) will have to move on or get sorted.

Main entrance to the porcupine den
Charlie having a go at catching moles

  Cutting Grass
  Most of the day while the builders were digging, I was out cutting grass. Besides the big grass area at the back around the house and pumphouse, there are three other grass areas that are accessible with the tractor and need to be cut. And with that we now have just under 10 hours on the new tractometer.
The "tea garden" area along the driveway

Front area along the tarred road (above left from 
Hard work getting the tractor around all those 
Looking down into the corner "jungle"

the corner and above right from the driveway)
saplings and other bushes we want to keep

  Pumphouse Water Tank Ledge Waterproofing
  On the 7th we had our final public holiday for a while: Voting Day. After voting we headed out to the farm and I finished off the waterproofing on the pumphouse water tank ledges. I gave the walls their final coat of black bitumen, masked them off and gave the bottom area a coat of bituminous aluminium paint to reflect rather than absorb the heat of the sun on the bottom surface - all with this new "greener" water based bitumen stuff.

Next step there is to lay down the tank spacers and get the tanks up there. Then to secure them with stranded cable into hooks in the walls. And then the plumbing . . .


  Eland Visit for Shade Again
  While working up on the pumphouse roof I noticed some movement in the top corner of the farm and watched as the eland herd slowly and quietly moved in from the gorge to take a break from the sun under the black wattle trees there. They were very aware of me up there, so didn't make any attempts at hopping the fence - which I have no doubt they would have done if I wasn't there!

  Water Tank Spacers
  We missed working on the farm on the second weekend of May completely and only when we were nearly there on Saturday morning of the third weekend, Leno phoned to tell us his bakkie wasn't going and ask if we could fetch them. No chance of turning back as we were nearly there so we gave building a miss for that weekend. Just as well as we really needed to tackle some gardening and get
the pavement grass cut.

Once we offloaded our stayover stuff, we headed into town to fetch the water tank spacers.

We opted for "alternative timber plastic", which is recycled plastic junk all melted together to make wood look-alike blocks. It is considerably more expensive than wood or concrete but should last a lifetime. They cut the spacers neatly to size for us and we headed back out to the farm and offloaded them.

I'm still so unsure whether we used the best ledge system to support the tanks. Firstly, making the ledge the exact size of the tanks could have been a mistake, but may be best for the plumbing as all pipes will extend out from the wall, making working on them so much easier. Then, making that little wall around the ledge with a drainage pipe will ensure water doesn't continually run down the face brick walls and eventually cause moss growth there is causing a lot more effort and expense with these spacers to keep the tanks off the waterproofed concrete so they can rest on the ledge walls. But too late to change anything now - just have to make it all work.

JoJo recommends support beams to have only 50mm gaps between them, but as the supports will be on solid concrete, I'm going to stretch the gap bwtween the spacers to 100mm. So we will have 100mm support beams with 100mm gaps between them. That JoJo tank plastic is very thick and strong and I think it should work ok.

  Pavement Grass Cutting
  Saturday after lunch we made a start at cutting the pavement grass. There where patches that that were taller than us and the bottom corner at the "sloot" that crosses under the road, it was totally overgrown with weeds. As there were lots of rocks and logs in that area, Martie started there with the weed-eater while I started from the gate end with the tractor and slasher.

All went well until my second pass along the fence where we hadn't noticed one of the old telephone lines had fallen down into the grass. This brought the
The bottom corner "before" picture
  whole cutting operation to a grinding halt as the tractor stalled with the wire wrapped tightly around the slasher shaft. That was it for the day as we took the tractor back to the garage, disconnected the
Slasher disconnected
and on it's side in the garage

Martie hacking away at
the grass with her steak knife
slasher from the tractor, turned it on it's side and started to try and remove the mangled mess of wire and grass from the blade mechanism and shaft.

We cut all the loose wire away quite easily but some of the wire had wrapped itself very tightly around the shaft.

And all the wire
and grass we removed

As the windings were "knotted", the best way to get it all off would be to simply remove the blades from the shaft and try and pry and slip it off rather than try and unwind it. I removed and straigtened the cotter pin from the lock nut and started hunting for something to loosen the 40mm nut. I didn't have a spanner or socket anywhere near that big and neither did Che. So we packed it in for the night and "slept on it".

Sunday morning 06h30 we were up and at it. Martie cut into the wrapped grass with her steak knife and I cut the wire with the bold cutters wherever I could get to it. Eventually we got it all out, reconnected the slasher to the tractor and headed out to the pavement for another cutting session.

Blades refitted and ready to reconnect slasher to the tractor
Martie headed back down to the bottom corner with the weed-eater and I managed a few runs up and down the pavement before I heard a loud bang from the slasher. I checked the PTO was turning ok but the slasher just wasn't cutting grass any more.

I stopped to check under the slasher and the blades were gone! I then realised that I hadn't put the cotter pin on the locknut and the nut had come off. I retraced to where I heard the bang and found the blades but had to walk back to the garage to fetch the cotter pin and the rake to clear some of
  the grass away to find the nut. Fortunately it was a rather big nut and I managed to find it quite quickly very near where the blades came off.

It was impossible to push the blades back onto the shaft from the bottom so it was off with the slasher again, turn it over on the pavement, slip the blades back on, tighten the nut as best we could and lock it on with the cotter pin. From then on there were no more problems and with some really hard work, we finished up the entire pavement by mid-afternoon.

Martie in the bottom corner with the weed-eater
All raked into heaps - bottom corner done

And now just a bit of cleaning up around the trees and along the fence and that's the pavement all done

  And Some Nature . . .
  While working out on the pavement we witnessed one of the little wonders of nature. Hundreds of platannas decided that this was the day they were going to all start their migration to find new pools of water. The platanna lives it's entire life in water with the only exception of when their pool gets overcrowded or dries up. Then they head out to find new homes.

What a sight. All these ungainly little creatures "plopping" along in the road. Unfortunately, many
  chose the Rensburg road as their path to go out and look for their new homes and many met their demise from the speeding cars.

And on the right, in our driveway garden my delicious monster that we thought didn't make it. It has shot out a beautiful, perfectly shaped brand new leaf. Unfortunately just as winter is about to move in on us. Again, we can only hope it survives.

  Generator Maintenance
  During our Saturday morning shopping excursion into town I found a supplier of good quality starter chord. The starter chord on the generator had been broken for a while now and we were starting it by wrapping some clothes line chord around the starting spindle and pulling. Without the builders there for the weekend I was able to find some time to fit the new chord and get the generator starter system working like new again.
temporary starting system
Fitting the new chord
All fitted and working properly

  Cleaning Windows
  And after clearing the pavement, Martie still had some energy left to try out her new window cleaner. Looks like it works - check out the reflection of the water tanker trailer in the near window!

  Digging Retainer Wall Foundation Trenches
  Great to have the builders back for the fourth weekend in May but there just wasn't any building to do on the house. The weather was very mild winter and Saturday evening and early Sunday morning must have been amazing out on the farm. But the builder's bakkie was broken again (diesel pump or something - very expensive fix) so we didn't stay over as we had to fetch them for work and take them home in the evenings.
Starting the retainer wall foundation trench
By lunchtime - the trench up to the lounge

  So it was back to digging for the weekend. Cutting away that top corner was a real tough task so I can't blame Leno for giving it a break up there and marking out the trench along the front of the
From the workshop end ...

... and from the house end
house and starting from the bottom end. Maybe it'll be easier when the bottom trench meets up with that top corner?

Leno marked out the trench four meters from the house along the entire front and the team got digging.

The trench didn't need to be too deep - really just needed to be enough to give us a decent level surface to put brickwork on, but we made it 600mm wide to give the little wall a good footing to hold back the ground ouside.

In the top corner the wall will have to hold back more ground so we may have to reinforce a bit up there.

  Raking Grass
  While all the digging was going down on Saturday morning I took the tractor over to Che's farm and hooked up her wheel rake to have a go at raking up all the grass laying around into some kind of bundles.

This was the first time I used the wheel rake and I found raking grass is not as easy as I thought it would be. I'm going to need a lot more practice to get nice neat rows of grass for a baler to pick up. But the object of the exercise was to just get the grass into bundles for picking up manually. The farmer across the road from us will be very happy to take our pavement grass and Kallie will take the grass from our back yard.

  One problem was that our grass was a little patchy and in order to optimise the raking, I tended to steer off course to pick up the thicker lines. Also, our back yard is a little bumpy in places and on the bigger bumps the rakes would lift off the ground and miss some grass. Also, the yard isn't really that big (for a tractor) and by the time I got into the swing of running one line, it was time to turn around and set up for the next line.

Anyway, in four hours I did the pavement, the big grass section in the front yard and the entire back yard. Phew. And below is the result. Much easier to load up bundles of grass like this than to rake up the rows by hand and load it.


  Eland Show
When we arrived on Sunday morning while opening the gate we were confronted with a small herd of eland grazing right there at the entrance gate of the farm.

It's so great to see them letting us get so close to them.
A little later I took a walk down into the forest to take some photos of them. But they're so sharp - it's virtually impossible to sneak up anywhere near them. The best I could do was get a few shots through the trees before they casually moved off deeper into the forest out of sight. Later in the morning they hopped the log fence and headed across towards the horse paddocks at Che's farm.

  More Digging
One very long trench
We made an early start on Sunday morning and on reviewing the previous day's work, decided the retainer wall would have to extend past the workshop side of the garage block to protect the driveway and workshop entrance. Another six meters of trench! But it didn't take the team long to get that done.

Then it was everyone back to the lounge and kitchen veranda area - the dreaded top corner. There was good progress being made there as well but the sand heap was becoming a problem. They were digging into the corner and piling the sand up onto the area they had just cleared. There weren't may other options and we would have to move it out to check levels. Leno would move it out with the bakkie when the corner was dug away completely.

Battling into that top corner

Lots of dust and more piles of sand
At the end of the day - just a little more to go

  Cutting Fence Grass
  Throughout the day Martie continued cutting away at the grass along the front game fence with the weed-eater - a really tedious job.

She started from the bottom corner and worked her way up to the gate. In the picture you can see the uncut section closest to us and in the distance, the cleared section. Also the neat piles of grass on the pavement being taken away by our neighbour across the road.

  Aerial Photography
  During the morning Corrie and Alida visited us for breakfast and Corrie took his quadcopter up to take some aerial shots of the building site. With his Go-Pro camera mounted on the bottom of the quadcopter he got some really fantastic pictures for us.

Below is the whole back yard and forest with the pumphouse visible in the bottom right corner.

And below that, a closer and more overhead picture of the house and garage block. That long retainer wall foundation trench we are presently digging is very visible.


  First Water Tank Installed
  My task for the day was to fit the first water tank. I didn't have enough wall fixing rings and turnbuckles to fit the second one but while I had the generator running, I drilled the all the holes in the walls in preparation for the fixing rings for the second tank.
Alternative timber spacers in place
Tank fitted and secured with hold-down cables

  Once the spacers were layed down on the ledge, Martie and I hoisted the tank up and positioned it on the spacers. I marked out the positions of the hod down fixing rings and drilled all the holes. Then the rawl bolts were inserted and the ring stightened up to secure them. I cut the plastic coated cable to size and used clamps to secure loops through the turnbuckles and the tank hold down tabs moulded into the top of them. All that was left was to adjust the turnbuckles and the tank was secure.
Very neat turnbuckle cable adjustment solution
And the pumphouse with first water tank fitted -
just need some more fittings and number two will go up

  Replenishing the Woodpile
  While waiting for the builders to finish off and clean up I got the chainsaw going and replenished the woodpile. In no time it was almost back to it's original level (newly cut wood colouration different to old wood) but still not much of a dent made on the wood heap. Got to cut all those branches up to make place for growing tunnel number three soon.

  Conquering That Top Corner
  The last weekend and Saturday, the last day of May we continued digging to get the ground level and a foundation trench for the retainer wall on that top corner of the house.

By lunch time all the ground was turned over but we couldn't get the last bit of foundation dug - just no place to put the sand. On the right, the top corner ended up over 700mm down from the ground level.

  Second Water Tank Installed
  Although I appreciate that digging is hard work and I have the utmost respect for the builders who can dig all day long, watching digging is plain boring. After getting the remaining fittings necessary from town, I headed up to the pumphouse and installed the second water tank.
  I also put together the outlet pipes. I get most of my fittings from The Pump Shop in Randburg. They stock just about every fitting there is and have given me invaluable advice when building up the water trailer and so far on the water tanks for the pumphouse ablution block.

On the left, the picture shows one of the the outlet pipes. All fittings are PVC and glued together with PVC cement. It consists of a threaded output feeding into a 90 degree elbow, then a ball valve shut-off and then a decoupling device.
  Water tanks do need periodic maintenance, so it's important that they can be easily decoupled. This outlet pipe will be connected to a mirror image outlet pipe from the other tank to form a balancing pipe (the borehole pump will only feed into one tank). The output will be tapped off the balancing pipe with a t-piece reducer. Lots more plumbing to be done here.

  The Forest Shelter
  Next project: The forest shelter where we can store the scaffolding and other farm stuff and I can hopefully set up some woodwork production where the sawdust can dissipate naturally into the forest instead of cover everything in the garages. But unfortunately, this will involve ... yes, more digging!

So the team got going down to clearing some forest and digging the foundation trenches for the shelter. It would be about double garage size with a IBR sheet roof but with open sides. To get it level I estimate we will have to build it up on the bottom end just under a meter, where there will be steps leading down to the forest pathway that Martie is clearing to the "tea garden" clearing near the front of the property.

And the reason for starting this project now? Mainly, we are going to need fill to get the levels right. And do we have sand for fill!

Clearing the forest floor and some saplings
Sapling surprise - massive tree stumps under ground

  We selected an area between the bigger trees but had a few saplings to clear away. But unfortunately those saplings were all regrowth from old (and rather big) trees that had probably burned down in the big fire that swept through the forest the year before we bought the farm. This set us back in having to dig out the the roots as they were in the line of the foundation trench.

We also have one dead tree (also with big root) just inside the foundation area and will later need to fell one or two very big ones when we set up the entrance to shelter from the driveway. Not looking forward to that but we'll tackle them when we get there.

Marking out foundation area
Dropping some plaster sand lines to dig to

Basic foundations trench dug - needs to be cut and levelled and then we can cast some concrete.
And Dakota finds newly dug sand so cool to lay on.

  Pesky Cows
  That top corner where the bullfights occur and Kallie's bull gets so excited with all the girls on the other side of the fence, is becoming a real problem.

I suspect one of Che's bulls took his frustrations out on our gate. This was the first of the gates I made and not the best and strongest. I'll have to remake it one day but in the meantime I'll just have to try and repair it.