Fireplaces June 2014
  The first weekend and first day of June and the builders weren't out working. We took a quick drive out to the farm early in the morning to deliver the new fireplaces that we bought on the Jetmaster big stock clearance sale in Roodepoort during the week.

We bought a 500mm wall unit for the pumphouse bathroom (have to build some brickwork around it) and a 800mm free standing hex unit for the house lounge. We still need to fetch the flue pieces and rotating cowl for the hex unit from the factory when they have stock.

  The decision to buy steel fireplaces didn't come lightly. I've been researching building my own little fireplace for the pumphouse bathroom for a while now. The idea was to experiment on the pumphouse as preparation for the main house fireplace. There are some very good plans and ideas on the internet for Rumford designs and my head was spinning with figures on firebox proportions and sizes, damper designs, smooth smoke chamber entrances and flue lengths. I was very keen for the challenge.

But all that fancy brickwork and mantle needs big space. And what if my design wasn't right? Break it all down and rebuild it? Then not to mention the time it will take to build it nicely. We just have to be practical, so I think it was the smart choice to buy pre-designed steel units, especially at the price we got them. And I'll rather use the time for other projects.

  Chilled Out Weekend
  Our first cold front of the winter came through in the first week of June and brought two weekdays of very windy and cold weather. The builders weren't going to work on the farm for the weekend so we decided to go out and continue cleaning up grass and do whatever odd jobs we could on Saturday. We took our overnight bag with us and decided if it was too cold in the late afternoon we would head off back home for the night.

And what a beautiful weekend it turned out to be out at the farm. The forest seems to stabilise the temperature so nicely in our little "spot" and protect us from the cold south wind, and having designed the building structures with lots of windows to face north with no obstructions, I think we're well on our way to surviving our highveld winters comfortably.

  As the eland poked their heads over the horizon, Martie headed off to Che's farm to fill the water tanker and then proceeded to water all the gardens. Then after a trip into town to get some plumbing fittings I planned the pumphouse water tank connections and contemplated hanging the pumphouse toilet door.

Heading out along the front fence to water the aloe garden 
and then back through the forest

  That evening we enjoyed sitting next to the camp fire with a sweet-chilli "flatty" chicken cooking and some red wine. And with an extra blanket or two and a hot water bottle each, we had a very comfortable night in our "workshop bedroom".

  More Grass Maintenance
  The weather was so nice that by 08:30 on Sunday morning we had our jerseys off and Martie got going on cutting the grass around the old tree stumps still laying up near the pumphouse. We will eventually have to move them because that's where we plan to plant our bigger crops (mealies, wheat, sunflower and lucern comes to mind right now) when we get the pumphouse borehole up and running.
  The picture above, early morning and Martie starting out. Below, late afternoon (different light, different shadow directions) and all the grass cut and gathered and ready for Kallie to take away. Next year we have to find some use for our grass instead of just giving it all away.

  Pumphouse Bathroom
  Sunday was also a much more productive day for me.

I worked in the pumphouse bathroom for most of the day. On the left, the fireplace positioned. A base and brickwork surround will have to built and the chimney will be exposed to optimise heat. The wall behind it will be rock faced.

On the right, our "cheapie bargain" door fitted to the toilet. Tricky estimating how much gap to leave for the floor tiles. I think I'll leave hanging the other two doors until after the floor tiles have been laid.

  Pumphouse Water Tank Plumbing
  After lunch I got back to planning the pumphouse water tank plumbing and fitting the balancing pipe. The bathroom cupboard has been turned into a workbench temporarily (yes, I'm very careful not to scratch the wood surfaces).

I glued the one side of the balancing pipe to the water tank decoupler, fixed it to the beams and then hit a big snag. If only I could remember which pipe into the building was the hot and which was the cold pipe!? Now that everything inside is plastered I couldn't trace the pipes, so just have to get back to the computer and check out the old photographs.


I've also just read that it's not a good idea to use white pipes for carrying water. Apparently the pipe lets in too much light and allows algae growth! Changing the system now to black pipe would mean replacing most of the plumbing fittings - not worth it. Maybe we'll paint the pipe black or brown later.

  Lintels and Hollow Blocks
  While Martie was packing up I spent some time on the house construction site. It was time to get planning there so that when all our outside retainer walls and the forest shelter were completed we could get building on the house again.

I marked out the positions of all the lintels and calculated the number of lintels and hollow blocks that would be required for each room. Got it all up on our garage white board.

Phew. Building materials for the next phase of the house are going to knock the bank balance a little. We need more bricks (another 5000), then that's over 5 tons of prestressed concrete lintels (various lengths from 1.3 to 7.6 meters) and 14 tons of hollow blocks (that's nearly 800 of them)!

We also decided to cantilever the balconies for the upstairs bedrooms out to 1.8 meters. That makes the longest lintels for the upstairs main bedroom floor on top of the kitchen area to be 7.6 meters long. I'm still a little worried about how on earth are we going to get such long and heavy lintels up there?

  Warm Sunset
  Then just before leaving we took a walk around the farm perimeter to catch the last rays of the winter sun giving a lovely warm glow to the landscape while filtering through the trees.

  More Face Bricks Delivered
  The third weekend of June, on the Saturday morning we had our third delivery of face bricks to the farm. This time we only ordered 5000 bricks.

Brikor sent their very capable one man rasta team, Amos to drive and offload the bricks. This guy manoeuvred the big truck expertly through the forest and our narrow gates and operated the offloading crane expertly.

These should build all the retainer walls and get us started on the house second level.

Rasta Amos at the controls
The crane offloading our bricks 500 at a time

All offloaded, the big Kuvula truck ready to leave

Another 5000 face bricks ready for building

  Forest Shelter Foundations
  Leno and his father needed to get car spares for their bakkie in town on Saturday morning so his father spent the day with us and put in a helping hand when he could.

While Martie took them into town, I got the helpers to dig out the third tree stump in the way of the foundation trench. Very deceptive, these tree trunks: not much shows above the ground, but at some time they must have been big trees - this one nearly a meter across just under the ground! There was lots of digging and hacking away at the "surface" roots with the chopper required.

Although there won't be high walls around the shelter, we decided to put steel into the foundations anyway. Once the reinforced bar was cut, bent and wired together, the concrete was mixed and the rest of the day was spent pouring it into the trenches and getting it all levelled.

Laying rebar into trenches
Third Large tree stump removed for foundations

Leno and his father in action pouring concrete

Foundations layed and all ready for next day bricklaying

  Chainsaw Blade Sharpening
  When last I cut up old branches into logs for firewood I noticed the chainsaw battling through the very dry wood, which tends to be much harder to cut than the wetter wood from freshly felled trees.

As the chain still had about 7mm of stretch left before it became unusable I decided to have a go at sharpening it. This is a really tedious process where each little cutting blade is clamped into the vice
and reshaped with a round file and then the top and side surfaces cleaned up with a small flat file.

And it probably would have gone much easier if the round files I had at hand were of a better quality! The hardened metal of the cutter blade actually wore the files down. Anyway, I got all the "teeth" a lot sharper than they were before and tested the chainsaw on a log. It definitley cut through the dry log much easier after my sharpening.

  On Sunday morning we invited Deon, Hein and Lourens over for an early breakfast. Lourens was a building contractor and we were keen to have his opinions on some of our building techniques.

Deon and Hein were planning a "wigwam" type weekender village on another part of Che's farm and were busy working on their business plan. But today their main reason for being over on our side of Che's farm was to cut some wood for their suburban fireplaces.

  Forest Shelter Brickwork
Starting on the side wall
Side wall getting higher
Leno had a small team for the day and they immediately got going on the forest shelter.

The helpers mixed up some mortar and brought a few hundred the bricks down into the forest and Leno started laying bricks. As the wall got higher I filled in the foundation trench around the wall with sand to make it easier for him to work there.

By lunch time he had the side wall up to what we estimated would be full height. The slope was again very deceptive - on the lowest point we ended up 10 courses above ground level.

Side wall full height and bottom wall halfway there

We were going to put steps down from the floor level down into the forest to Martie's "forest path". Not sure at this stage how many steps we would need so we just left tie-in points in the bottom wall. We would only know the final height for the structure when we can get a better idea of the level and slope of the driveway, so we'll probably only cast the floor slab much later and may have to add one ot two courses of bricks if necessary to get it to "flow" from the driveway.

In the meantime, I have to get rid of some of those big trees that are in the way!

  Father's Day Lunch
  We had lots of visitors for Sunday lunch. Martie's family arrived and Corrie brought his amazing new camper van out for a drive. Everyone brought food and the woodcutter crew were invited down as well.

Our big table was taken out of the workshop and set up down at the campfire area and the big braai and salad feast was enjoyed by all.

  Woodcutter Saga
  During the morning I took a walk up to see how the woodcutter crew were doing. They had borrowed a little Ryobi chainsaw and the chain tensioning mechanism was giving trouble. They were basically getting nowhere fast.

So I lent them my chainsaw. Hein assured me he knew how to use it and I left them to it. There was much activity up on the hill through the day and late afternoon they walked down to return the chainsaw. But Hein had had a bit of an accident and his hand was bleeding badly. Apparently while cutting branches he held the chainsaw on idle in his left hand and pulled a big branch out from the pile with his right hand. The branch came loose unexpectedly easily and his right hand brushed against the chainsaw blade. It didn't look good and Deon rushed him off into town to the hospital to have it checked out.

Next morning they were back to load up their wood. He had to have 40 stitches to fix all the cuts and rips to his hand. Chainsaws are dangerous! He was in good spirits (although I'm sure a little sore) and they loaded up their wood and headed off back to Joburg.
  Later in the day we took a walk up to see the cutting site. What a mess! Although they were cutting black wattle trees (basically weeds, I suppose) they had downed three of the larger trees in the forest on the hill. But they had just cut up the trunks and taken all the larger pieces for firewood. All the branches were just left there.

Although this was all on Che's property with her permission, it is in our "view" from our farm. And it seems to be the modus operandi of people coming in for firewood on Che's farm. The good firewood is taken and all the smaller branches are just left strewn around the cutting site.

When we cut down any of our trees we clean up thoroughly and use all the smaller branches for firewood as well. It's a lot more work cutting them up and feeding them all to the fire, but we at least use them. We are planning to buy a chipper/shredder soon so that we can rather use the smaller stuff for composting and mulch. This episode (for two reasons) makes me feel I shouldn't lend out my chainsaw. We continue to learn.


  More Pumphouse Plumbing
  Monday was our Youth Day public holiday and the builders weren't able to work. As there was more than enough work to be done out there, we went out and took the opportunity to overnight and return home early on Tuesday morning. It was cold but with a good fire and some warm clothes we were just fine.

First job was to fit the waste connections for the basins in the pumphouse. I've been putting this off while researching the best way to connect wastes for double basins. Looks like there's no way to do this without having water come up into the second basin when a full basin of water in the first basin is released so in the hope of at least reducing this problem I opted for double traps. Hopefully having pop up plug systems fitted to the basins and bath will prevent this.

Then it was up on the ladder to finish off the water tank connections. I had figured out which was the hot and cold connections and connected the second tank to the balancing pipe and the outlet from the pipe into the cold water system. The hot water system output from the balancing pipe and the input to the pumhouse were open (that water needs to go through the solar heating system) and I could easily connect a temporary pipe between them to test the water system.


  Going Away Preparation
  We had been afforded the opportunity to spend a few days up in Botswana over the fourth weekend of June so we spent most of the day generally cleaning up and watering plants.

As it was high fire season, one of our tasks was to fill the water trailer (we actually only fill it three quarters to not stress the trailer too much) in readiness for fighting fires and to park it in the garage
  out of harms way. Quite a challenge reversing it in but after a few attempts we got it right. And take a close look at the water in the tank. It's blue - the way water should be. We have such amazing underground water in Heidelberg. I'll never forget the time we brought the water tank up to Joburg for some maintenance and filled it from our garden tap. The water colour showed kind of yellow/brown in the tank!

  Tuesday Early Morning
  Winter early mornings are just the best out on the farm. The air is so crisp and clean.

We're always up at first light and rekindle the fire from the evening before to keep us warm until the sun peeks up over the hill to warm everything up.

I just love watching the first sunlight touch the top of the trees and slowly make it's way down onto the ground.


  Heidelberg Hills in Flames

  Back to reality. Wednesday afternoon Che called. There was a big fire approaching from the north west and they would need all the help they could get with this one.

We quickly got out on the road and once out of Joburg we could see smoke over that way. Surely that wasn't the fire? As we got closer we realised it was! The above photo was taken from the highway just north of Heidelberg.
First flames visible from the bottom of the hill
  The fire was in the game farm on the other side of the hill so I took a walk over the hill to check it out. From the top of the hill I could see the upwind side of it in the flat grassland area there and although we were on the upwind/sidewind side of the main fire, it was slowly creeping towards us. If only we could get some firefighting equipment up there we could sort it out on the flat grassland area up there in no time. But there were some property politics involved as well and we would just have to wait until it became a threat to our property before we could tackle it.

As it got dark the fire did get near enough to us to become a threat and it was all hands on deck beating it out on the hill where we couldn't get vehicles to it. The biggest danger points were in the gorges where the grass was thick from a season of good rains and the terrain very steep. All the gorges run into forests on our side of the hill so it was essential to put the fire out before it got down into the forests. There was enough manpower working very hard in the gorges so I headed up onto the slopes to beat out flames in between the rocks.

Although fighting fires in the short grass and between the rocks is not really dangerous, you need to be aware of the flames around you and try and stay out of the smoke. The worst is your first exposure to the smoke where your throat burns and your eyes "spit" out tears onto the inside of your glasses! After that your body acclimatises to the situation quite quickly and your problem changes to muscle fatigue as you beat the fire and climb the slope over all the different size and shaped rocks on the hill.

Anyway, we got it all out at about 22h00 and after a cup of coffee at Che's place, we headed off back home to Joburg. We now had a good fire break from the north and east. Our only danger points now were from the south (low risk as that direction was Che's farmstead) and the west which was the high risk Rensburg road side. Need to do a controlled burn on our pavement when the conditions are right as soon as we can.

  Forest Shelter Brickwork Complete (for now)
  June was a rather slow month for building. The builders were only out on the farm so far for two of the possible eight working days of the month so the last weekend was catchup time to bring the figures up to four of a possible ten days. Although there wasn't much building to be done on the house until the first level lintels and blocks arrive, there was still lots of preparation work to be done.

Saturday morning Leno got busy early on finishing off the forest shelter brickwork to the height that we estimated to merge in with the driveway level. We won't know if this is the correct height until we can get the driveway levelled so we'll leave it at that for the time being.

The weather was unusually "summery" for the middle of winter with cumulus clouds developing in the afternoon and even a few drops of rain.

Inset pictures on the right show the new structure from the driveway and from the forest. The wall is a lot higher than I had initally planned it but the ground slope is just so deceptive.

  Pumphouse Outside Tap
  While the brickwork was happening down in the forest I installed the outside tap up at the pumphouse.

This was a bit of an afterthought. If I had included it in the original plumbing planning I could have easily run a much shorter pipe through the wall from the toilet system directly inside the wall.
  It is now fed from the balancing pipe above it. As it will probably be used mainly for irrigation, I'm not unhappy with this. By feeding directly from the balancing pipe I was able to use 3/4" pipe all the way to the tap. If it came through the wall it would have been fed by the 1/2" pipe system used for the bathroom plumbing which would have resulted in slightly reduced flow.

  Pumphouse Bathroom Fireplace
  And when the brickwork down in the forest was finished there was some mortar left over. Yipee.

I dragged the building team up to the pumphouse with the leftover mortar in the wheelbarrow, a few armfulls of face bricks and we layed down the brickwork for the fireplace base and filled it with whatever mortar was left.

  Felling Some Trees
  Sunday morning and it was time to take down the big tree that was in the way to the entrance of the new forest shelter. We were planning to move sand into the forest shelter area with the bakkie and it would be much easier without that tree in the way.

While the team was cleaning up in preparation for moving sand, I tied up my long ladder (not so long compared to the size of that tree!) against the tree and got the chainsaw into action. The plan was to cut the tree trunk as high as possible as the tree would need to fall into the driveway and I wanted to make sure that it wouldn't fall onto the garage roof.

As soon as I started cutting into the trunk perched on the ladder I realised that plan was not going to work. I was too uncomfortable on the ladder cutting too close to my face for comfort and although by now I was confident cutting to make the tree fall in the right direction, I wasn't sure where the trunk would come down - maybe even knock into the ladder against the tree!

First plan - just not going to work    
So next plan was to build a scaffolding structure next to the tree. This was much more comfortable being able to stand away from the tree and cut the trunk but I was still a little weary of where the bottom of the trunk would fall.

With the help of Leno guiding in the right direction, the tree came down perfectly into the driveway and the bottom of the trunk dropped down next to the scaffolding. Phew.

Leno guiding the tree down into the driveway

Tree down safely    

"Must fall that way"
Lucas on the ropes
Cleaning off bark          
Well, that got the forest shelter entrance accessible. Although I really don't like cutting down trees, Leno was able to convince me that the other tree should also come down. This would really open up the entrance completely. But it had a double trunk so it was actually taking down two trees.

After some planning, Lucas was assigned to throw the rock with one end of the rope attached through the fork high in the tree. He seemed very good at this. Then I cleaned off the loose bark from the cutting area and made the cut. Number two crashed down safely into the driveway.

First cut into trunk number two - sawdust flying
Number two on it's way down

  Trunk number three gave us a bit of a problem. It wasn't straight and was growing in towards the forest. I cut it as best I could to try and get it to fall into the driveway but it was too heavy on the forest side and fell into the forest onto another big tree where the top branches tangled together. We knew this one was going to be problematic so I cut it 90% through and for the sake of safety got down from the scaffolding to help pull it down with the rope. I had to get up there again and make another cut higher up the trunk (which was laying over the scaffolding) before we were able to dislodge it from the other tree. Everything was cut up into smaller branches and dragged away onto a pile near the campfire area.

All the trees down, just the stumps to be cut off just below ground level

Big stump almost cut through on the bottom.
Leno "big kicking" the stump over
Big stump down. Really heavy - just rolled it
down into the forest out of the way for now

  Once all the trunks were cut down and out of the way, Martie painted some plant poison onto the tops and we covered them over to level the forest shelter entrance.


  Going through that exercise I realise just how much wood is in our forest. It would have been quicker if we could cut the trees down nearer the bottom of their trunks, but I'm glad we cut them off higher as the first two fell dangerously close to the garage block buildings and if we cut them at the bottom, the tops would have probably fallen onto the garage block roof. It took us almost five hours to cut and clear the three medium sized trees. And unless you stand right in front of the forest shelter, you wouldn't even notice that they are gone!
The logs from the trunks of the three trees. Probably more than enough firewood for us for a season

  Moving Sand
  After lunch we removed the canopy from the bakkie and Leno and his two helpers started loading sand from the house top corner.

I drove the first two loads of sand down into the forest shelter where they offloaded it. Then Martie and I went for a walk and left them to it with Leno driving the bakkie to and fro.

They managed six loads through the afternoon, making a fair dent in the house top corner sandpile but only just noticable in the forest shelter fill area. Not serious if we don't fill it now. It's a perfect place to dump all our future building rubble.

And poor old bakkie worked hard again. Dust everywhere.

Six loads of sand in the forest shelter, bakkie washed and ready to put the canopy back on to go home