Pumphouse Retainer Walls Complete February 2015
Building the step      
Bathroom side done      
The first day of February, Sunday morning the team headed up to the pumphouse to finish off the retainer wall.

First job was to build the four little steps and fill in around them with rubble and soil. We used up every single usable face brick on the building site to finish the job!

Then the team got down to filling, stamping and levelling the whole inside area. Once filled and levelled it really looked great. Now we need to get some paving down quickly before the rain splashes all that red sand up against the walls.

Top section and control room side done
And entrance section done

  Pride of India Tree
  Our little Pride of India tree that we transplanted from our Joburg garden has been in it's new place next to the pumphouse for a year now and is doing so well. These trees transplant very easily and produce such an amazing show of flowers.
  It has grown considerably in it's first year and has a lot more foliage now than when we planted it. And we even had some flowers. Not many, but enough to be noticeable from a distance. The flowers themselves are exquisite. One teeny little bud unfolds to produce all that colour!

  Cleaning Up
  Well, as good as it gets with our building team. Those words don't really feature in their vocabulary.
Loading up the pile of rubble

Rubble dumped in the driveway fill area
As all the building at the pumphouse was now finished (only screeding of the outside areas and paving left to be done now) the team got going on "cleaning up" the area.

All the bits of dried mortar laying around in the grass up to two meters away from the retainer wall didn't seem to matter too much to them. But they did tackle that big pile of builders rubble well. They chopped up the remaining crust of old mix on the entrance side and we ran two bakkie loads of rubble down to the driveway fill area.

So what we were left with up at the pumphouse was a fine layer of builders rubble spread across the entire entrance side. I'll probably run the tractor with the ripper over the area to churn the dried little cement clods into the soil so that something might be able to grow there one day.

  Growing Tunnel #3 Hoop Poles
  While the big cleanup at the pumphouse was on, I got down to drilling the holes in the foundation concrete for the hoop posts for our new growing tunnel.

With the first two tunnels I knocked the poles into the soil and we cast the foundation concrete around them. I didn't have the steel poles when they cast the concrete on number three so I had to drill through the foundation afterwards to secure them. And they need to go right through the concrete into the soil so that if water does get into them, it can soak away into the ground instead of filling the pipes and rusting them away quicker. A lot of unnecessary work - I'll definitely be placing them before casting the concrete for the next growing tunnels.

First pole in place - used the generator and big hammer drill
All the holes drilled

  Blackjack Weed Solution?
  The tortoises just love blackjack weed plants. As soon as we put a bunch of uprooted plants down in the tortoise enclosure, all the tortoises dash across to chomp away at them.

And the good thing is we're not going to run out of blackjack plants on the farm anytime soon.

Now where can I get a few hundred more tortoises (or I suppose a goat or two will do).

  Growing Tunnel #3 Brickwork
  After lunch a batch of mortar was mixed, stock bricks brought in from the stock brick pile (now getting a bit low) and Leno made a start on the brickwork for our third growing tunnel.

He started off laying down the base course, using more of our "scraps" from the half brick pile. This rough brickwork will eventually all be under the ground anyway. He then got the normal brick courses going.

The ground for the third growing tunnel takes a marked dip downhill, so it's bottom corner is a full two courses higher than any of the other tunnels. The basic plan with building our tunnels is to set the highest corner one brick course above ground level and then build the square with the top course of brick level with it.

At the end of the day we had the first two walls three quarters to final height.

Scrap bricks to get base level
First two walls well on their way up

  Midweek Stayover - Veggie Update
  No rain for over a week now and our new trees and veggie patch are not going to survive without more regular watering. So we plan to try and sleep over every Tuesday night on the farm. Gives us a good midweek break from the business rut and we can give everything that needs it out there a good soaking.

Brinjal plants getting bigger
and starting to flower
Transplanted tomato bush producing well

Bell peppers getting big now,
although the plants themselves are still very small

  And on the outer edge of our first growing tunnel that we are presently using as a compost heap, two little tomato bushes are thriving. These have obviously also grown from seed of old tomato bits that we have thrown out onto the compost heap from our kitchen leftovers. One bush hasn't got any fruit on it yet and the other one looks like it's some type of little Roma tomato.

  Birding Update
  Another summer visitor, probably from the Mediteranean area, here spotted perched on the roadside power lines and in our forest, the European Roller. It does not have the lilac breast colouring of the
non-migratory Lilac Breasted Roller that is found mostly in the Northern parts of the country, but does have the same striking electric blue markings on it's wings. And although it is not endangered, just like the Spotted Flycatcher, it is another bird that we have seen in dramatic decline in recent years. Great to have one around the farm for a few days.

  Mid-summer out on the Highveld and there are now always a few Amur Falcons perched on the power lines and game fence.

They don't look very graceful in their "hunched" perched pose, but when they take to the air they take on a completely different character. Their thermalling abilities are superb and they hover very similarly to the Black Shouldered Kite to hone in on their prey on the ground.

Then below left, easily mistaken for a House Sparrow, I've noticed quite a few of these Southern Grey-headed Sparrows around the grassy areas of the farm and sometimes even
  visiting our feeding tree. It is a little bigger than the common House Sparrow (haven't seen any House Sparrows or Cape Sparrows on the farm yet) and it is recognisable by it's tail shape and distinct white wing patch. And now we have a breeding pair nesting in the gaps between the wall and the roof of the garage.

Then there's the mystery of this juvenile Spotted Flycatcher found by the builders. It was alive but very weak when it was found. We fed it some flies but it died a few hours later.

As far as known they do not breed down here in the south but I have seen another one
  about this size on the forest edges. The Spotted Flycathers have been with us since October, and two months of feeding down here should have any juveniles that migrated across from Europe to adult size (in fact, I think they would be adult size before they began their migration). My only conclusion is that the two juveniles must have been hatched here in our forest over the last few weeks. I'll keep researching on this one.

  Growing Tunnel #3 Brickwork Complete
  The second weekend of February we fetched the building team from the township and while I headed off to collect building materials, they finished off the brickwork for the second two walls of our third growing tunnel.

By lunchtime our third growing tunnel was completed. Now just to clean up all the messed mortar in and around it, level out the sand and load in some horse or cow manure to get the soil prepared for growing some veggies.


  Pumphouse Paving Preparation
  When I got back to the farm with a load of river sand and cement, the team headed up to the pumphouse to offload it and make a start on the screed for the paving. We started on the front side of the pumphouse. There we needed to get something down to prevent the water from the roof runoff splashing the red sand up onto the walls when it rains.

On the left, our first cement tiles that we are going to use to pave around the pumphouse. In the background the first batch of screed has been mixed and is ready to be put down.

I'm not sure if we're overdoing it with the base preparation there, but the screed is the best way I can think of to get the cement tiles (not really paving) down solid and straight. But unfortunately, at some expense.

  Above left, starting to lay down the screed mix. The screed mix is river sand and cement "dampened" while mixing. Once layed down it gets stamped down until the sand and cement are "tight". Then Leno "cuts" it with a straight edge and splashes some water over the surface which he works in and finally smoothes the finished surface over with the wooden float. Above right, the front section of the pumphouse nearly finished. We just didn't mix enough screed to finish the section.
  Above, while the screen was been layed down, I fitted the drain pipes for the bathroom waste water to run into the new drain we had built.

On the paving/screed exercise, we could probably save the cost of the cement tiles and just finish the whole job off by smoothing the screed and adding a bit of colouring. But our builders are just not into that kind of finese. And I know the screed surface will probably develop hairline cracks in time anyway (not too serious, structurally) and not look good. The tiles should just finish off the whole job nicely.

  More Pumphouse Surround Screeding
  Sunday morning we were back up at the pumphouse to continue with the screed for the paving blocks.

Leno finished off the small section along the front that he didn't manage to do the previous day. Then he started down the bathroom side where the paving will be quite wide as we're planning to have an outside shower against that wall. Then we ran out of river sand!

  More Growing Tunnels
  We originally thought three 3m x 6m growing tunnels would be more than enough to provide all our vegetable requirements for our future sustainable living plan but after a bit of a disappointing two
All the tunnel dimensions pegged out on the ground      

Getting started on digging out the grass      

Tunnel #4: All the grass dug out and the foundation trench done      
months in tunnel #2 (and maybe we're just a bit impatient with this growing stuff), I think we're going to need more growing tunnels.

To be fair, we only really started half-heartedly planting some nursery seedlings in tunnel #2 in December (already four months into the growing season) and without really preparing the soil properly or being able to water as much as we would be able to if we were staying on the farm, I suppose we shouldn't really expect too much. We also didn't really plant optimally with regard to plant spacing and companion planting.

But to be safe, we've decided now to have a total of six growing tunnels.

The second row of three tunnels will be an extra meter longer than the ones already finished and the middle one will have a platform structure onto which our the water tanks will be placed. The plan is to set up a combination of drip and spray watering systems for all the tunnels from there.

When the builders finished up at the pumphouse they headed down to the growing tunnels. We first marked out the areas and knocked pegs into the ground for each corner of each of the three new tunnels .

Then it was just digging for the rest of the day. A big square of grass was dug out for tunnel #4 and then the foundation trench was dug. The ground was very dry and hard and the guys did really well to finish the job by the end of the day.

  Keeping Busy
  While the team was digging, in between feeding and watering them, Martie cut the grass in the "tortoise enclosure". I grabbed a few fallen trees from the edge of the forest and cut them up with the bow saw, adding substantially to our growing pile of firewood.

  Tuesday Night Stayover
  No rain for over two weeks now with heatwave conditions and we managed to make it out for our Tuesday night stayover.

We filled the water tanker and watered the driveway garden, all the new trees and the vegetable tunnel.

Charlie dug in to a cool spot
      Watering in the vegetable tunnel

  Gate Repair and Fence Maintenance
  The third weekend of February we called off all the building operations. The bakkie loads of building material to keep the builders going were just becoming too tedious and we had to sort out the log fence gate so that we could have bigger loads of building supplies delivered to us.
Misty early morning: The broken gate temporary secured with a bit of wire
and some very long poles pulled from the forest

Late afternoon: looking a lot neater - the gate all fixed and working again

Hanging the new gate      
We made an early start on Saturday morning - first job was to dig out the broken gate post. After cleaning out the hole nicely we put in a new post, stamped it in extra hard and then attached the old fence cross-piece logs onto it to secure it.

Then we rebuilt the gate, replaced one bent hinge and hung and tested it. With a little adjustment it worked perfectly.

When the gate was finished we worked our way down the fence and straightened all the poles that the cows had pushed over by digging out a bit of sand on the one side, pushing the pole back into place and compacting the sand we removed into the gap.

  Once we had worked our way into forest, we replaced a few cross-pieces which had rotted and broken. We originally used poles from the forest in this area and we replaced them with more forest stock. We've learned a bit about gum tree poles over the past year or two and we were a bit more selective this time. They should last a bit longer in there now. But if they don't, there are plenty more where they came from.
All the fence poles along the entrance road   
straightened - now looking very neat   
   New cross-pieces fitted where old ones   
had rotted and broken in the forest

  Of Vegetables and Lacewings
  We also harvested our first cucumbers and some tomatoes had ripened.

And I thought cucumbers would be easy to grow. I think we're doing something wrong. Although the first one was very "juicy" and tasted great, I don't think they should be yellow. Maybe they just got too much sun?

But I'm thinking now there's definitely something wrong with our first "experimental" growing tunnel. I've had great success with growing spinach and celery at home. But our plants out at the farm are really struggling. Could be the soil, could be the planting time or it could be the
  watering. Not sure yet. Our brinjals and bell peppers are doing great so far. But because of the late planting, the plants are a bit small to bear the fruit that has developed on them.
  Then out and about on the farm there are hundreds of lacewings out on the wing looking for mates. Some are as large as dragonfies, others as small as mosquitoes. Some have short thick feelers and others long curly ones. My big insect book references 13 families and 383 species in South Africa! It's going to take some research to identify what we have on the farm. Some other time, perhaps. Here are two of the cuter ones we found "expired" in the bathroom.

  Midweek Stayover
  Only managed to get out on Thursday for our "midweek" stayover. Not too serious as we had just over 3mm of rain out on the farm on Monday evening. But everything out there is still very dry - the grass is already going off green to yellow as if it was early winter.

And after watering all our plants we just stayed on for a bit of the Friday morning just enjoying the nature on the farm. Here from smallest to biggest . . .

The Forked-horned Rhino Beetle
- after wondering what was scratching around in the plastic bags in the corner of our bedroom all night, we found him and let him loose in the morning.
The Southern Grey-headed
Sparrow nest in our garage roof.
Well hidden and we haven't been
able to see the chicks at all. But
they can be heard screaming for
food all day long!
Parent Southern Grey-headed Sparrow - spotted here on our log fence - out looking for food for the chicks. They should be seed eaters but seem to feed the chicks a lot of grubs and grasshoppers.

  While we were having breakfast a herd of six eland bulls passed by. Not sure how they got through that new big fence over at Che's place, but it was great to see a few eland around again.

On the left, the herd leader. Young and strong, standing his ground with a definite no-nonsense attitude. Then below, number
two. Odd looking character with those droopy ears.

The rest of the gang following on. Is that a bit of beer boep on number three and six? And number four's the hooligan with the single horn.

But all seriously heavyweight beasts - and not to be messed with.


  Growing Tunnel #5
  The fourth weekend of February we had the builders out again. We arranged a big delivery of river sand, some crusher stone and cement - Jadas big truck through our repaired gate - everything went smoothly. The plan was to have enough materials to finish the screed up at the pumphouse and the foundations for all the new growing tunnels.

But it was to be a digging day. And by day end we had tunnel #5 area cleared of grass and the foundation trench dug. We found it was a lot easier to dig when the ground was wet so the area for tunnel #5 was watered well in preparation for digging on Sunday.


  While the builders were digging away outside, I built the manifold for the borehole pump from all the plumbing bits and pieces I sourced from various suppliers during the week.

This would allow us to control the output of the borehole pump. All taps off (except the borehole pump input) will route the water up to the JoJo tanks. I fitted a tap on the borehole pump input in
  case we wanted to fill the tanks from the water trailer (like we're doing now until I fit the pump in the borehole well again). So with that tap off, if water is fed into the manifold from another source, it won't just run down into the borehole!

The rest of the ports will allow us to feed the borehole pump water out to sprinklers or fill other tanks.

The planning needed to be done now as all the pipes need to be installed under the pumphouse surround screed and paving.

  Growing Tunnel #6
  Sunday morning the team got going early and worked really hard. The growing tunnel area was starting to look like a family of giant moles was let loose there. Digging continued and growing tunnel #6 area was cleared and the foundation trench dug by mid-afternoon.
  I got the generator and sanding machine going and cleaned up some of the old twisted perlins laying around in the garage.

I selected the best of the pallets we had been given by one of our suppliers and with a few long screws and some glue, put the perlins together to make a table. The pallet was a bit twisted so some concrete blocks were used to hold it kind of straight while the glue dried.

  A Quiet Hour in the Forest
  Martie went off into Rensburg to get lunch and took the dogs with her. With not much supervision required on the digging site, I took the camera, found a comfortable log deep in the forest and spent some time checking what goes on in there.

Before long a little robin settled down close by and did some posing for me. We've got lots of robins in the forest and they sometimes come very close to us, especially when we fill their bird bath in the driveway garden.

  While sitting quietly trying to identify a few of the other birds around me, I had a special treat as our little slender mongoose family (the tips of their tails are black, where the yellow mongoose has a white tipped tail) passed by a few meters away from me in the thick undergrowth of the vlei area. They're very shy. I must really build a hide down there at the edge of the black wattle forest looking out over our "vlei" area one day.

  Back to Pumphouse Surround Screeding
  With still a few hours of light left in the afternoon, the team headed up to the pumphouse to carry on with the surround screeding.

They finished off the bathroom side, then moved over to the control room side and finished that section as well. With the leftover material they started on the outer corner of the entrance side.

  And while they were busy mixing, stamping, cutting and floating the screed, I knocked out some bricks here and there to make way for my water pipe system that will eventually all connect to the new manifold.

  Midweek Stayover
  We again only managed to get out on Thursday evening for our "midweek" stayover. There was a little rain earlier in the week but not enough to keep all our plants from wilting. The paperbark acacias seem to have taken root very well and at this point can survive a week without water after a good weekend soaking. But the vegetable tunnel was only just holding out with most of the plants showing signs of stress.

As we had to get the ladder out to get our bedding from the upstairs workshop for our stayover, I took the camera up to see what our growing tunnel area looked like from up there:


  Growing Tunnel Foundation Concrete
  February 2015 was an very odd month. It was the shortest month of the year but because the first day of the month fell on a Sunday and the last day of the month fell on a Saturday, it covered five weekends!

So, the fifth weekend and Saturday the last day of February, the builders were out with us again and as it was a little overcast with the possibility of rain later in the day, they decided against laying screed up at the pumphouse. So they got going on mixing the growing tunnel foundation concrete.

Setting up the hoop poles       
But I just wasn't ready for that! I had prepared the water pipes for the borehole pump manifold in preparation for the pumphouse surround screed the previous weekend and not the hoop poles for the growing tunnels.

So I was under pressure to work out the growing tunnel wall levels for the hoop poles and the pole positioning before the team could pour the concrete. I had to get the poles into position as I was determined not to have to drill the holes in the concrete for them later.

Maze of poles, pegs and lines

  After a stressful tunnel #4 pour, with my levelling lines being disturbed with every wheelbarrow of concrete that came in, Leno and I sat down for a quick discussion and decided that we scrap the levelling process and concentrate only on the positioning of the poles. This made sense as all the lines could then be layed flat on the ground where the wheelbarrows could easily go over them and I would remove the poles already cut to size as soon as the concrete had set enough for the holes to remain intact and use the same poles to set the holes for the next tunnel.

Much better and despite losing an hour to rain in the afternoon, we almost finished off the foundation concrete for all the growing tunnels.

Jada's delivery truck - offloading face bricks   
   Tunnel #5 covering still on after the rain

  Jada's again gave us great service. We decided to get all the bricks in that would be required for building the growing tunnel outer walls and water tank structure and top up our cement stocks. We only managed to place our order very late in the morning.

They delivered the bricks and cement well after their normal closing time. While they were offloading we realised we wouldn't have enough river sand to finish the growing tunnel foundations so the delivery team went back to load us 2 cubic meters of river sand from their yard and got it to us later in the afternoon. Thank you Shahid and your amazing team.

  Eye in the Sky
  The Google Earth satelite has been over our place again. The latest image is dated 22nd of January. That was a Thursday and I'm pretty sure we weren't there. But that looks very much like the bakkie and water trailer parked up where we water the new trees around the lapa?

The areas where I've already mowed the grass are clearly visible as well as the heaps of grass (little white strips) that were waiting to be loaded up and taken to Robert.

Also shows the mowed path up to the pumphouse very clearly.