Change of Strategy November 2014
  A really, really yucky weekend out on the farm. We felt our space had been invaded and although we stayed over on Saturday night, we didn't feel as comfortable as we did before out there in the open.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how we were going to move forward on our farm project. One thing as for sure, we would have to change our strategy and only buy stuff for the farm when we needed it (probably miss out on some great specials) and we will definitely not be leaving anything out there any more.

It's been so great for the past two years arriving out there for a weekend with everything in place and immediately being able to get down to work where we left off the weekend before. Now, we're going to have to get a lot more organised. All the solar equipment will have to be removable and everything will have to be portable. There will be a big unpacking session from the trailer before we can start working and big packing up session at the end of every day. What a pain.

  Anyway, back to work. First job was to fit a little shut-off tap on the hot water line from the geyser.

We would need to shut off the water system a few times to remove taps for the toilet and shower for tiling. A bit tricky working on the "live" hot water system. You have to get your thumb onto the pipe to block it very quickly before that steaming hot water gets to you!

Managed to get the tap neatly fitted so now we can shut off all water supply to the bathroom if we needed to.

  . . . and then back to Tiling
  We finally cleaned up that shower area in the pumphouse bathroom and layed down the last row of terracotta floor tiles up to the point that we will be laying in the natural stone mosaic sheets that we bought for the shower floor.

Still got some finicky work to get the level of those shower drains correct. But next job in there will probably be the shower walls so we can work the slightly sloping shower floors up to a consistent wall level.

  Tiling in the toilet room was going well. On the right, the first picture is the wall behind where the toilet box will go. The walls all around the toilet box will be tiled all the way to the ceiling. That means tiling all around the one window.

The second picture on the right is of the wall where the urinal will be installed. Tiling will go to window sill level around the urinal.

Whenever I see a tile shop on my daily travels around town to see clients during the week, I always pop in to see what listellos and spotters they have on their specials tables. For the toilet and shower I found a
  lovely african style four tile panel. There was a second one on the table with the top right tile missing so I took it as part of the deal. We'll use the full panel on the shower wall and I've used the panel with the missing tile around the toilet window.

On the right here, some detail of some wildlife listellos I found at one of the tile shops. We also found a few sheets of small mosaic pieces that go well with the wall tiles for finishings.

  Diggin' In The Dirt
  For the second weekend in November, the builders were back from their 10 week job down in Kwa Zulu Natal.

That job was supposed to take them 3 weeks, but due to continual changes, extra verandas and lots of unplanned little finishings they were asked to do there, the project was stretched out to 10 weeks. And Leno has still to negotiate the final price with the owner down there for all the extras! How do these guys operate?

After a two day trip back with a major breakdown in Volksrust, their bakkie wasn't going too well so we had to fetch them from the township in the mornings and drop them off back there in the afternoons for the weekend. That also meant no sleepovers on the farm for us for the weekend.

First job on the farm for them was to fill in all the foundation trenches around the outside of the retainer wall. They did a great job of levelling and cleaning the outside surrounding ground as well and lightly stamped the ground all along the wall.

By lunch time on Saturday they were done and ready to tackle the next big project we had lined up for them - levelling the driveway.

  On the right, from the side the retainer wall along the kitchen and laundry towards the driveway, all sorted. Still a pile of sand at the driveway end which we will probably spread over the driveway.

Below, the top kitchen corner of the house from the front - retainer wall foundation trenches all filled in and the ground around the walls levelled off nicely.

  Levelling the Driveway
  Here's a job we've been waiting to do for a long time - finally getting to it.

There have been piles of sand along the house on the driveway side for a while now which prevented me running a line to work out the driveway levels. They had to either be moved or as we eventually decided to do, spread across and down the driveway to get it more or less levelled.

The guys worked very hard starting from the top of the driveway and at the end of the weekend everything was levelled out down to the double garage entrance to flow into the forest shelter.

   Sand piles being spread
   at the top of the driveway
   From the bottom of the driveway
   levelled to the end of the house
In front of the forest veranda
Down at the first garages

A bit of rain not slowing down the work
And out of sand at the double garage entrance

  A Giant Compost Heap is Born
  While the driveway levelling was in progress, Martie and I made a start on our compost heap.

We were building a massive collection of black bags full of garden refuse from our home in the suburbs (about two years worth of it) and now we had a ton of horse manure, so we needed to put
First layers of garden refuse down in the first growing tunnel      

Martie spreading      

Manure bag pile gettting smaller as it is layered onto the heap       

More spreading - compost heap getting higher       
all this good stuff to use.

We also had two 3 x 5 meter growing tunnels already built, one had been cleared of veld grass and we used it to throw all our farm weeds, grass cuttings and fruit and veg waste into from time to time. The other one still needed to be cleared of veld grass and dug over.

We weren't planning to plant anything in the very near future, so we decided to use the first growing tunnel to build our main compost heap.

We spent the whole weekend emptying bag after bag of garden refuse and horse manure in alternate layers to build our compost heap. Some of the bags of garden refuse had already decomposed nicely, but it all went into the heap anyway.

And then Sunday afternoon just as we were finished, we had a lovely perfectly timed cloudburst to soak the compost heap for us.

Wet wet wet

  Sundowners on the Hill

The third weekend of November the builders were off again and we spent a social Saturday with the family on Che's farm. Good food, good company and a lovely drive up to the top of a hill overlooking the farm from the south west for sundowners. Above, the view from the hill with a passing storm in the distance. Parts of Che's farm buildings and Johan and Marcelle's cottage in the foreground. Our forest is that thick band of trees to the right of the end of the tarred road. And below, messing around with some silhouette photography at sunset.

  Second Growing Tunnel Preparation
  We stayed over on Saturday night and were up early Sunday morning for work. We spent the whole of Sunday working very hard on our second growing tunnel.

The first job was to clear all the veld grass growing in the tunnel and level out the sand. That was heavy work and took us most of the day. We used the pick to dig down to remove the deep grass roots (which were chucked onto the compost heap conveniently close by) and then levelled all the sand out across the inside area.

The plan is to keep the soil level in the tunnels low so we can build up with layers of compost as we grow our vegetables from season to season. Eventually the soil surface inside the tunnels will rise as we turn it over and add new compost between crops.

Late in the afternoon we went over to Che's farm and got another bakkie load of bags of horse manure and spread them over the surface of the sand (and added another layer over all the grass roots on the compost heap). With all the rain we are having at the moment, the horse manure "goodness" should soak down into the soil and although we didn't plan to plant anything this season, with the second tunnel so nicely prepared, we might just change our mind on that one.

But if we do plant anything, we will have to find some way of pretecting anything green from our resident herbivores.

      Compost tunnel in the foreground, second tunnel cleared and levelled

      Martie spreading a layer of manure over the second tunnel

      Manure covering on second tunnel

  Driveway Retainer Wall Foundation Trench
  Our fourth weekend of November and the builders were back with us for the weekend. Projects that
  were planned for the weekend were the driveway retainer wall and to lay the concrete floor slab for the forest veranda.

They spent all of Saturday digging the foundation trench for the driveway retainer wall. This little wall would be required to eventually hold the driveway paving in place and allow us to control the rainwater run-off down the driveway. It would run all the way down the driveway along the forest edge and then curve down to meet up with the walls of the forest shelter.

Marking out the foundation line . . .
. . . and the digging

  Tractor Maintenance
  While all the digging in the driveway was happening, I got down to some tractor maintenance. First job was to attend to the drawbar which had come loose due to us using the towbar to rip out all those big tree stumps. The bolts that held it on screwed directly into the rear gearbox casing, so the gearbox oil was leaking out of the holes and I was afraid that either the bolts or threads in the gearbox casing were stripped. On closer inspection they were a little stripped right at their ends but by fitting slightly longer bolts we could get away without having to re-tap the threads for now. But there will be no more ripping out tree stumps with the tractor!

Next I removed the alternator which had a broken mount on one side. It was broken when we bought the tractor and worked ok running at a slight angle. But the fan belt would eventually wear excessively and break so it was time to fix it properly.

I really enjoy maintenance work on the tractor. Everything's so big and mechanically simple. But what I can't handle is having my hands and fingernails look like a diesel mechanic's for the week afterwards.

  Not much supervision required for either the builders or me, so Martie got busy with cleaning up all the long grass around the growing tunnels. She also found time to start digging over the top section of the second tunnel which had been well soaked by the rains almost every day for the previous week. After digging over, the soil looked very ready to plant our first vegetables.
Very tempting.

  Nature Update
  Sunday morning our building team was one man short (we couldn't find Americo waiting where he should have been in the township). They started off with the concrete mix for the driveway retainer wall but after about half an hour it started to rain.

We lost an hour and a half of production on the driveway wall foundations but the rain was great. When it cleared up everything was so fresh and clean. So while the builders got into gear for mixing concrete, we took a few minutes out to appreciate a bit of the wonderful nature around us.

  On the left, all the way from Europe (probably England), our little spotted flycatcher. Can't see the "spotted" part but maybe that's just because he's a bit puffed up after the rain. And that's what makes bird identification so interesting.

  Above centre and right, with all the rain during the past week, our new compost heap is growing mushrooms! They look so clean and white and delicious. But we're not too sure if these are edible.

And on the left and right, looking into the forest, the beautiful patterns of the eucalyptus tree trunks as they start shedding last years bark after the first rains to leave a new, lovely smooth creamy coloured trunk ready to roughen up and weather over the next year.

And all that cool, fresh air . . .

  Driveway Retainer Wall Foundation Concrete
  We mixed, poured and spread concrete for the rest of the day. And we nearly got the driveway retainer wall foundation completed. We ran out of cement (and with one man short on the team, I think, energy as well).

And with all the rain and running the wheelbarrows up and down to pour the concrete, our driveway is again unfortunately unusable. But it should be ok again once the wall is built and the sand piles levelled, dried out a bit and compacted.

Pouring and spreading concrete
into the trench
From the bottom
of the driveway
Curving down
to the forest shelter

  Two Years of Building
  Our first year of building saw the pumphouse/ablution block and garage block structures completed and roofed. A very productive year for us.

During our second year we got the entire house structure built up to top of first floor level. Then we put the brakes on building on the main structure as I needed to more carefully research the floor slab for the second level of the house. The builders continued work on a lot of small stuff: building and filling the forest shelter, building all the outside retainer walls, levelling the surround veranda and working on the driveway.
  Although we did a lot of work on the house, it didn't seem as productive a year as our first year of building. I think it probably seemed not as productive because we didn't get anything more under roof.

Now, moving on into the third year I will have to have some plans drawn up so that some floor slab guys can give us quotations on laying the second level floors. This will decide whether we use the lintel and block system and have the builders mix and get all that concrete up there, or just contract the job out to specialists that pre-cast the slabs to size off-site. No mess, no fuss but we'll probably have to get a mobile crane in there for a day or two.

Once the floor slab is down, we can finish off building the second level of the house. The only small building work that still needs to be done now is the completion of our driveway retainer wall and our third growing tunnel. But we will keep the builders busy for many weeks on levelling and throwing concrete surrounds around the pumphouse/ablution block and garage block areas. Roll on 2015.

  More Concrete
Driveway retainer wall foundation      
Our last weekend of November and the builders were keen to finish off the concrete work they started the previous weekend.

On Saturday morning I went across to Jadas early to fetch a bakkie load of cement while they prepared the river sand and stone mix. The first small mix they did on the driveway and that finished off that small section of the driveway retainer wall foundation.

Next was the floor slab for the forest veranda. That mix was done on the lounge floor and poured "out the door" onto the veranda.

But first the fill soil needed to be well compacted, the waterproofing plastic sheet layed down and then ref 100 steel mesh cut to size and layed down as well to prevent any surface cracking of the concrete.

By mid-afternoon we had all the concrete for the forest veranda in and levelled but with even more than the normal concrete pouring mess. They promised to start off Sunday by cleaning up all the facebrick work around the veranda.

Plastic layed in and steel mesh being cut to size
First wheelbarrow of concrete being poured

Almost halfway there . . .
. . . and all done

  Last Front Veranda Step Foundation
  While levelling the front veranda, we couldn't decide at the time where we would step down from the kitchen to the lounge section. But once we had the outside braai position finalised, that determined the step position.

So with a few hours of daylight still left for the day, Leno decided to "quickly" dig the foundation trench and mix and pour the concrete for the little foundation. And we still managed to leave for home while it was still light!

Senele making a start on the foundation trench
Foundation trench dug and concrete in

  Back to the Growing Tunnels
  In between supervising the concrete work I loaded the week's suburban home garden refuse onto the compost heap and while out to get lunch for the builders, popped into the local nursery to get some vegetable seedlings. That second growing tunnel is just begging to have something growing in it.

So now we've got some brinjal and green pepper plants in there so I put some temporary protection in place using droppers and barrier tape. I wonder, do herbivores take notice of barrier tape?


  Building the Last Veranda Step
  Sunday morning we got out to the farm nice and early and the builders immediately got going on mixing mortar and bringing in some bricks to build the little front veranda step.

That was a quick job and they had it finished within two hours.

Now we just have to clean up the area (not their favourite task), re-level all the sand around the wall and fill the top section to get it level with the top of the step.

  Pumphouse Bathroom Tiling
  In between the building operations, I was fairly productive on Sunday as well in getting some of the finishing tiling done in the pumphouse bathroom.

Below left, all the floor and wall tiles now layed under the "shower seat" and below right, in the
  little toilet room, the wall facing the door now done.

Without a generator onsite I have resorted to marking the tiles for cutting and doing the cutting at home during the week. A bit tedious but hopefully just a temporary setback until we can get generator power back on the farm again.

  Building the Driveway Retainer Wall
Profiles up, ready to build      
The next job for the builders was to start the brickwork for the driveway retainer wall. Profiles were set up for the straight section from the forest shelter up towards the garages and that section was built five courses high by lunchtime.

Then the big curve. It became obvious very quickly that without profiles and the "fishline" to guide him in laying bricks straight, Leno was clueless. I have a pretty good eye for curves (it's a man thing, I think) so I had to work with him very carefully to get a smooth flowing curve on the wall to join the section already built onto the forest shelter to where the straight section will start that will run along the entire length of the driveway.

Then just after lunch we had a big thunderstorm roll in from the west. Not that much rain, but enough to stop our building for nearly two hours. But by the end of the day (leaving again in the dark) we had still managed to finish off the brickwork for the entire curved section and do final planning and setting up of the profiles for the straight section up the driveway.

Wall curving into driveway      
Work stopped during our mid-afternoon rainstorm      

View of the driveway retainer wall so far from the upstairs hobby workshop driveway side window

  More Nature
  Lots of nature this month - and a great way to end off. With lots of rain and everything so green and fresh, it's hard not to notice and talk about it.

Firstly, the brown-veined white butterflies are out on their migration north-eastwards across the country again. Not as plentiful in Heidelberg as in previous years, but it's still early in the season. I used to joke with the kids that the butterflies fly up to the north west corner of the countly, lay their eggs and when the worms hatch, they spend the rest of the year walking back south-west to their origin to pupate and make more butterflies for the next year's migration. So then, how does butterfly migration really work?

Then, a walk into the deep forest shows our ants and porcupine have been very busy. Below left, the ants have taken another tree. This time quite a small eucalyptus where they ate right into the heartwood about a meter up and the top part of the tree just toppled over. We also "lost" another very big black wattle on the edge of our "little vlei" area where they all lean out to get the light. A bit of extra weight of rainwater in the foliage and some softening of the soil around the base and over they go. Just can't keep up with cutting them up for firewood. Below right, the porcupine dig away around the bases of the trees and eat all the surface roots. These trees do still seem to survive.


  Below left, in the forest we have very different looking mushrooms from those that are growing on our compost heap. These are very attractive with their stripes and blotches but don't look edible. Below centre, our little spotted flycatcher is often seen sitting on a branch and dashing around to catch insects in the grass - it's white chest stands out strikingly against the forest background. And below right, a perfect and striking guinea fowl feather laying in our driveway.