New Years Day January 2015
 
Old bark loosened by so much rain      
hanging from the eucalyptus trees      
2015 already?! We spent the first day of the new year in relax mode on a beautiful sunny and fresh early morning after so much rain over the previous few days. We started off just pottering around and ended up in a serious weeding session in the growing tunnel and it's surrounds. Weeds are fantastic "greens" for the compost heap, especially the young blackjack and khakibos plants - of which there are plenty. But we've got a pretty big area to cover and for proper control they need to be pulled before they start seeding. I don't think we're going to make it in time again this year. We just tackle section by section.

About breakfast time the fog clouds came over, thickened and we had another two or three hours of good rain. By midday it cleared up again and we took a walk around the forest. Forest walks are great after the rains.
The rain and wind work together to
take down another black wattle

  All the birds come out chirping happily and you can walk so quietly - no dry leaves and twigs crunching underfoot allows you to sneak up on nature a little.

We had lunch over at Che's farm and took the kids and dogs for a swim in her dam - now half filled with water from the deluge a few days ago.

 
Dakota is a smooth swimmer - her tail
doesn't even get wet!
Timone and Charlie "running mates"
taking a drink break

 
Everyone down at the dam - kids, dogs and horses all cooling off in the water.


  Grass & Trees
  We took Friday off work (as did just about everybody else in the country) and with the builders off for the weekend as well, we were able to get on with doing the things we wanted to do on the farm.

After many rainy days we were finding that walking up to the pumphouse bathroom after a rainstorm was becoming a rather unpleasant experience. The long wet grass would have our shoes and trousers soaked a few steps into our journey. So a decision was made to cut a wide path from the garage workshop up to the pumphouse entrance. That didn't take too long on the tractor.

Then we spent the rest of Friday finishing off digging the holes, preparing them with generous quantities of our very own compost and planting the remaining two of our paperbark acacia trees around the lapa.





  Gardening
  Our first weekend of January and everyone still in New Year holiday mode. We had visitors over for breakfast on Saturday morning and then Martie made a start on her driveway garden.

The plan was to have a step down from the driveway just opposite the driveway veranda and have a little garden running down to where our two aviaries (now used as nurseries to protect our shrubs) will be located.

She also spent some time in the growing tunnel - watering and weeding and we relocated a tomato plant that was growing in the other compost heap in the forest.

 
The start of the driveway garden at the aviary    
A peek into the growing tunnel after two weeks


  Gathering Grass
  On Sunday we spent the morning raking grass. There's a special technique to this. The tractor leaves the cut grass in strips as it throws it out the left hand side of the slasher. So you start off at the beginning of a strip and rake it normally for a few meters until it is big enough to make a "ball". Then you "roll" the pile (preferable downhill and downwind) and as it rolls it picks up the loose grass under it and gets bigger. You do this until the roll is too big to manage and then you start another one.

 
Two big piles of grass in front of the growing tunnels    

Loaded up, compressed as tightly as possible (you jump on it!),
tied down and ready to go    
Then we loaded some grass onto the bakkie and headed off across town to Robert and Maria for the most amazing lunch spread - almost everything on the table was from his very productive vegetable garden!

He gave us "the tour" of his farm and we got back to our farm very fired up.

Two more piles of grass
on the pumphouse path


  Pumphouse Bathroom Shower Tiling
  We also managed to make more progress with the tiling in the pumphouse bathroom.

The new battery powered drilling machine made short work of those shower head holes and we got all the walls tiled up to the roof beams and cut and fitted the tiles on the sides with the aluminium finishing strips.

I also fitted the one shower head pipe to see that everything "lined up". Due to the low pressure we will need the water to drop directly down onto the person in the shower. We may not have enough pressure for the angled shower heads. But I think we're going to need longer shower head pipes.

Now only the shower floor left to do before we can seal the entire floor. And talk about leaving the hardest part to last. First I have to get the outlet drains set to the correct levels, then re-screed the shower floor with a bit of slope from the existing tile level down to the drain outlets. And then tile the sloping floor with those finnicky little natural stone mosaic sheets.

Just another challenge.


  Action Stations!
 
  We stayed overnight on Sunday night and left for home quite early on Monday morning. We managed to get through some work at the office and just after lunch we received a message from Che that a herd of about fourty eland were heading over our way (her facebook picture above). Yikes!! Our new trees were unprotected. With the new fence in place on Che's farm we thought the risk was low that the eland would get through to visit us so we delayed putting up protective fences around the trees. We were also still deciding on the best method of protecting them.

We finished off whatever work we could and headed back out to the farm. There was no sign of the eland when we got there so we did some planning and early on Tuesday morning we got going on putting up welded mesh fencing around each tree. We also built some neat wire mesh cages for Martie's new driveway garden.

 


  Final Levelling of the Driveway
 
Starting from the top      
Levelled down to the garage block      
Hopefully. We had the builders with us again for the second weekend of January and on Saturday their first job now that the driveway retainer wall was finished was to level the driveway.

All the mounds of sand that were dug out to make the foundations for the retainer wall had by now been well compacted by the rains and us driving over them (a bit of a "humpy" ride).

That took the four of them most of the morning to do but they exceeded my expectations in making a great job of it.


  Woodcutting
  While the driveway was being levelled, I topped up our woodpile.

The area where we stored our wood waiting to be cut up for firewood needed to be cleared as one of the plans for the next few weeks was to get the third growing tunnel built, and our pile of branches waiting to be cut up was laying in that area.

I fitted a new blade to the hand saw and almost cleared the pile of branches through the morning. The firewood pile was looking good but my sawing arm did take a bit of strain!

 

  Clearing the Pumphouse Surrounds
  After lunch the team headed up with wheelbarrows, picks and shovels to the pumphouse. The plan was to clear and level the areas around the pumhouse so that we could build the little retainer walls there to get everything level for our paving.

Around the entrance all the old building rubble needed to be cleared. We would use it all for fill to get the area level and anything left over will go down into the driveway where we need to fill between the double garage and forest shelter. Around the front and sides of the pumphouse we needed to dig out all the grass for the paving.

And while they were digging out grass, Martie sneaked in some extra orders for more grass to be removed for where she was planning her garden areas.

 
Clearing around the entrance      
Digging out grass along the front

 
Leno tackling the control room side . . .       
. . . while the rest of the team do the other side

 
  Mid-afternoon we lost an hour or so of digging to a really heavy downpour. I didn't think we would be able to work again after that due to the freshly dug areas turning to mudbaths but the soak-away was very quick and we managed to finish digging out most of the grass around the pumphouse with time to spare in the afternoon.

  Borehole and Drain Foundations and Walls
  That spare time was used to dig out foundations for the little wall around the borehole and for the square drain to channel the grey water waste from the bathroom out into the grass area beyond the paving.

I needed to enclose the borehole as I didn't want all the water pipes and electrical wires exposed on the paving and I really didn't want to just bury it all in under the paving either. Best solution I could think of was to build a little wall around the actual borehole and later fit some kind of removable roof or lid
  onto it so that I can get down into the workings there whenever I need to.

First thing Sunday morning a bit of concrete was mixed and the foundations thrown for the little borehole wall and the base for the drain.

The rest of the day we spent clearing the pumphouse surrounds properly (getting all the grass roots out of the sand), marking out the little retainer wall positions and a start was made on digging the foundation trenches.

Once the concrete was set enough to work on, Leno "quickly" built the borehole
  wall and drain.

The foundation trench along the front of the pumphouse proved to be quite a challenge. This was the work area we used for all our "mixing" when we built the pumphouse and the mortar/concrete/plaster mixes had built up a thick solid crust over 10cm deep across the whole area.

There was lots of heavy chopping with picks and even a bit of chiselling required to get through that thick layer of hard stuff to dig that front foundation trench.


  Losing Trees
  With two weeks of almost daily rain, the trees in our forest are taking some strain. The constant moisture softens the soil and tall and heavy trees battle to keep their grip in the sand. Another problem is that the moisture rots the loose bark and the rot sometimes penetrates well into the wood. A bit of wind and the wood gives in and down comes the tree.

This was the case in the bottom corner of the forest. Many, many years ago a little eucalyptus tree was damaged (probably by fire) and the trunk was split to form two trees. Those two trunks survived all these years and eventually grew to be two very big trees - in fact two of the tallest in the forest.

But with the recent rains the moisture penetrated well into the split between the trunks and softened the soil enough around the weaker pair of trunks that a recent good wind storm brought the tree crashing down. The event must have been spectacular but has now left a rather big "hole" in the bottom corner of our forest.

 
Another "youngish" black wattle down
in the old black wattle forest road      
Looking at the "top" of the big fallen
eucalyptus tree

 
Where the trunks split
Looking out over the fallen trunk
Where the top of the tree fell

 
And when a big one like this comes down, it takes quite a few of the trees around it and in it's fall path down as well.

In the pictures on the left, 30cm thick tree trunks broken like matchsticks as the big tree came down.

I don't know when we'll ever be able to start the big cleanup operation down there, but for now it will have to stay well down on the priority list - we've already got more firewood than we will ever be able to use.

I would also love to be able use that beautiful wood from the main trunk for something, but I'm just not geared up for that kind of woodwork just yet.


  Midweek Stayover
  A really good start to the business year and before it got too hectic we took a quick stayover break during the second week of January.

And with no rain since the weekend we gave the new trees and gardens and the growing tunnel a good watering.

The previous Saturday I was too late to fetch a load of face bricks from Jadas, so I dashed off as soon as they opened, got them loaded on the bakkie and Martie and I offloaded them at the pumphouse before packing up and heading home to work again.

Bell peppers doing well
Another week and all our plants a little bigger

Cucumbers also getting bigger

 
The compost heap getting it's next layer of garden refuse from our Joburg house garden


  Pumphouse Retainer Wall Foundations
  On our third weekend of January it was everyone up at the pumphouse and we started off casting the little foundation for the retaining walls all around the pumphouse.
 
Control room side
Mixing concrete is just so boring for the supervisor - just a matter of trying to keep the mess to a minimum with our guys.

The team worked tirelessly and we managed to finish everything except a small section along the control room side. We ran out of river sand.

Along the front
Bathroom side


  Building Pumphouse Retainer Walls
  Sunday morning the concrete had set hard enough for us to work on. We double checked our measurements and Leno set up his profiles and started laying bricks. He started along the entrance side of the pumphouse and just after lunch we ran out of face bricks.

I'm battling a bit with building materials at the moment. With the front log fence gate still broken and the opening all wired up to keep the cows out, we can't get Jada's delivery trucks through to the back of the property. So I'm fetching what we need as we need it in our bakkie. Just can't keep up with the builders using up the river sand and bricks faster than I can deliver to them.

 
The scene as the first bricks are layed for the pumphouse retainer wall.
As we clean up around the building for the paving, so the building mess just seems to move out further!

 
First face bricks along the entrance side      
Entrance side - one more course of bricks to go


  Growing Tunnel #3
 
Area marked out and the digging begins
So with no more bricks to lay, the team moved down to the growing tunnel area to make a start on our third growing tunnel.

I had cleared the area of branches by cutting them all up for the woodpile, so the next step there was to mark out the area for the third growing tunnel. It will be the same size as the other two and run parallel with them. Then it was down to the tough job of digging out all the veld grass.

A good afternoon's digging and we had the area cleared and the foundation trench 75% done.

 
Progress on digging out the veld grass      
Grass cleared and starting the foundation trenches

 
End of the day progress: 
Growing tunnel #3 taking shape


  Rocks
  Don't you just love rocks? We do. No two rocks are the same - each one has a character of it's own.

While the digging for our third tunnel was progressing, Martie and I headed up along the base of the hill to look for some rocks to border her new garden on the forest edge next to the new driveway retainer wall.

We selected some really big ones and loaded them onto the bakkie. Heavy work but so interesting to see what lives under them. Unfortunately if we needed the rock, the fauna that was living under it just had to move on and find new homes. There was certainly no shortage of rocks around. We off-
  loaded the rocks in the driveway and arranged them to create the garden border. And ended up with a pile left over that will later be used for building.



  Pumphouse Retainer Walls Progress
  The fourth weekend of January early Saturday morning I dashed off to collect a load of river sand so the building team could cast the last part of the foundation for the pumphouse retainer wall (picture below left).

While I headed back to Jadas for another load of face bricks Leno started the base of the retainer walls down the sides of the pumphouse (pictures below centre and right). We used up most of our stock half bricks for this. The base course doesn't look too neat and tidy but it's just to get a level to build the face bricks onto and it'll eventually all be under the ground.

 

  Then I installed the waste drain pipe that will run under the paving and Leno built the last course of face bricks along the entrance side of the pumphouse.
 


  Straightening Up The Paperbark Acacias
  Our Paperbark Acacia trees were doing very well. We take the water trailer over that way whenever we fetch water and give them a good soaking. I think their roots have already spread out and penetrated into the compost/soil mixture we made in the big holes we dug.

Being "budget" trees (from the demolition yard), the baby trunks were a little wonky and needed to be set straight. The poles we had put in around each tree to secure their protective fences were perfect to attach them to in order to straighten the young trunks.

While on one of my early morning Jadas trips I popped into our local tire repair shop and picked up an old perished tire tube.

We cut it into strips and Martie spent the afternoon tying the trunks to the poles with some thin nylon rope.


  Bakkie Working Hard
  The bakkie has been working very hard over the past few weeks. And we just couldn't get by without it. After the major repairs a few months ago, I'm very careful not to overload too much. Having wheel bearings replaced is quite an expensive operation.

Below left, 150 stock bricks, 100 face bricks and 2 bags of cement. Below right, another 0.5 cubic meters or river sand and 2 bags of cement.

 


  Back to Pumphouse Retainer Walls
  We still had some face bricks left so on Sunday morning Leno continued building on the pumphouse retainer walls.

He finished the bathroom side and joined it to the completed entrance section, and then started on the front section.

Due to the ground slope, we would have to step four courses of bricks from the front to the back of the pumphouse! That means two steps, each step to be two courses of brick.

The paving will be wider on the bathroom side as we want to set up an outside shower on the wall there. The control room side paving will be narrower - just enough to keep water away from the structure and to be able to walk on.

The front side will have paving against the building wall, then there will be open soil for a garden up to the retainer wall which will be another two courses of brick higher than the paving to prevent sheet water running down into the garden and against the structure when we have those heavy summer thundershowers.

 
Progress on the front section: Left, Leno building 
course done and the 
and right, last course before the roller
ground being levelled 

  The entrance side of the pumphouse will be paved (about 3 meters wide) from the pumphouse building right up to the retainer wall.

But before we could finish the roller course on the front section, we ran out of face bricks. So that will just have to wait for next week.

Leno used up the remaining mortar by started the base course for the control room side and then the team quickly dug the little foundation trenches for the steps (four of them in total) and mixed and threw a bit of concrete there.


  Summer Gardens
  Summer is just great. Everything grows! Below left, our driveway garden is actually looking "bushy". Some of the plants that we thought would really battle to grow under the shade of the eucalyptus trees (and in that rotten black wattle "compost" we started off with there), are doing surprisingly well. Part of our success there is obviously water. We've had good rains and we water the garden there whenever we go out with the water trailer to fetch water from Che's farm.

Below right, Martie watering her new garden on the forest edge. We've even got a little bit of colour showing above the driveway retainer wall there.

 


  Growing Tunnel Foundations
  After lunch the team headed for the #3 growing tunnel. The plan was to mix the concrete and throw the foundation there. But there was a problem. Someone wasn't thinking too well last week and the top foundation trench was dug out in the wrong place.
 
Some of the concrete already in . . .
. . . and quickly re-digging the top foundation trench

 
Top trench fixup!!
So while the concrete was being thrown, they also had to dig out and straighten up the top foundation trench. We also boarded it up so we didn't waste too much concrete on the now extra wide foundation trench.

My challenge was to try and keep the mess around this growing tunnel to a minimum. The building team's "throwing" of concrete isn't that accurate! We spent weeks cleaning up around our first two growing tunnels when they had finished building them.

Foundation all done


  So Who's Been Eating the Plants?!
  I wouldn't go so far as to say our forest waterbuck bull is "tame", but he now allows us to walk reasonably close to him when we go out on our forest walks. But I never thought he would be so bold as to venture into our driveway right next to the house structure.

Martie had planted some agapanthus bulbs in her new garden on the forest edge and they were shooting very nicely. But there was clear evidence who was there chomping away at them. He also
 
really enjoyed the little geranium bush that was unprotected in a pot next to the aviary.

We really want to be friends, Mr Waterbuck, but this is just not the way to go about it.




  Pumphouse Retainer Walls - Almost There
  The last week and last day of January had the team back up at the pumphouse working on the retainer wall.

With another load of face bricks collected from Jadas, Leno put the roller course on the front section of the wall and finished off the section on the control room side of the pumphouse.

The team also continued levelling off the sand all around the pumphouse between the building and the retainer wall.



  Other Work Going On
  While Leno was building the pumphouse retainer wall there has always been mortar available to build on my rock wall in the pumphouse bathroom, but there always seemed to be some close supervision required to ensure the retainer wall was in the right place and straight. The rock wall was always on my mind, but I just never got the chance to build on it.

On Saturday he was just finishing off the retainer wall (no measurements and planning required) and I took the opportunity to grab some of the available mortar and added a few rocks to my rock wall. Still a long way to go there.

Meanwhile, across the road on Che's farm, grass cutting and baling was being done big scale. Janine, Che's daughter has taken over the grass business of Che's farm and is doing very well. She ploughed a large area and for the second year has planted teff there which is now ready for cutting and baling.

Below, the view from her main gate. Very green teff in the foreground, eragrostis bales in the distance. Our forest visible on the right of the picture.