Finishing off the Growing Tunnel Foundations March 2015
  Oops. We almost forgot about the open compost heap we were planning at the end of the growing tunnels. So we started off Sunday back to digging.

The open compost heap will only have two walls on the downhill sides to prevent rainwater from washing our compost down into the forest.

It didn't take the team too long to finish the small foundation
  trench for the compost heap retainer walls. Then it was on to mixing and pouring the concrete to finish off the growing tunnel #6 and the compost heap foundations. By lunch time all the concrete work down at the growing tunnels was done.
Tunnel #6 concrete poured and hoop poles in place   
   Compost heap foundation done

  Finishing off the Pumphouse Surround Screed
Starting at the control room end      

Levelling the screed mix in front of the doorway      

After lunch we all headed up to the pumphouse to continue working on screeding the surrounds. We still had the remaining front section to do.

While the team mixed the screed Leno fixed up the brickwork I knocked out for my water pipes.

I checked out the levelling and found they had added too much fill the previous weekend. I skimmed about 50 to 100mm of fill off the top of the entire surface and compacted the edges neatly.

Then the team started pouring, levelling, stamping, cutting and floating the river sand mixture from the control room side across the front of the pumphouse.

A lot of hard work with them having to mix another small batch to finish off the job. But by the end of the day we had the job finished. All done bar the cleaning up. And for the first time in a long while we left the farm in the dark.

All done. Retainer/levelling walls and screeding all around the pumphouse   

  Very Bold Eland Visitors
  After being away for the second weekend of March, we arrived at the farm on the third weekend to find clear evidence that the eland had been there grazing around the growing tunnels and in the tortoise enclosure area. I was a little surprised that they would come so close to the buildings. We knew it was them as they left their little "drolletjie" droppings all over the place.

Thankfully our net system around the growing tunnel with the vegetables in it seems to be working. Either they can't see the green of the veggie plants through the white netting or they think the net is a solid structure and leave it alone. But they did make a meal of our little tomato bushes growing in the open compost heap tunnel and nipped the tips off a few little white stinkwood saplings we were nurturing in our compost heaps in the forest. Rotters.

In the tortoise enclosure
Between the growing tunnels
Not much left of tomato plants

  Growing Tunnel Brickwork
  The builders used their own transport for the weekend so we were able to have the most wonderful stay over on the farm from Friday evening to Monday morning.

So as soon as they arrived on Saturday morning in their noisy boom-boom bakkie (we know when they're nearly at the farm - we can hear them coming down the tarred road on the other side of the forest!), they began mixing the mortar and got going on building the open compost heap walls.

That didn't take too long and they then moved on to build the walls for growing tunnel #6. Not sure why they started with #6, probably because it was closest to where they were working on the open compost heap. I've given up trying to figure out the builder's logic. We just explain to them what we want and let them get on with it.

Open compost heap done
   Growing tunnel #6 taking shape

  And as they build, so we plan. The open compost heap is a bit shorter than the tunnels in that row (due to a tree being in the way) and the space left over to square everything off would be ideal for a little tool shed. It's on the south side of the growing tunnel system so building higher there wouldn't block any sun or even affect the light to the growing tunnels. So we laid out the area and one of our next projects will be to dig a small foundation and build a neat little 2 x 3 meter tool shed there attached to short side of the open compost heap and next to the tree.

  Night Rains and Fresh Early Mornings
  With the change of season now imminent, the weather pattern is changing (was there actually any pattern this summer?) and over the weekend we had a peculiar (some will say normal) cycle of after midnight thundershowers. Both Friday and Saturday nights.

The evenings were beautiful and clear and with the moon in late waning crescent rising very late, the milky way was able to display at it's best. Although we do get some of the Heidelberg town lights illuminating the west side of the sky, nights are a lot darker out on the farm than in the Joburg suburbs and star gazing on a cloudless night is just amazing.

Those thunderstorms seemed to appear from nowhere just after midnight and passed through very quickly, making the early mornings after the lightning and rain just so clean, fresh and bright.

While waiting for the builders to arrive on Sunday morning we took a walk through the forest and with lovely soft early morning light I took some pictures of some of the "old wood" stumps laying around in our black wattle forest.

Walking on the wet ground allowed us to sneak up quietly on the birds without the normal crunch of dry twigs underfoot.

We noticed a new visitor flitting about the edges of the forest -
Early morning in our "dark" black wattle forest with some
sunshine getting through in the distance to evaporate the
moisture on the damp forest floor to a fine mist.
  definitely a paradise flycatcher and probably a juvenile male as his tail was a bit longer than a female's but not quite as long as a mature male's. Hope he finds a mate and settles into our forest.

We normally see the waterbuck bull on our walks, but this weekend we didn't see him at all. Hope all is ok with him.

Really big spider web
The tunnel
Goblin's Castle

Steam rising off our log pile as the early morning sun rays
warm them up to evaporate the night rain

Black wattle bark peeling off to reveal beautiful
red stained wood from the tanins in the bark
Taking a quick drink from the puddle in the forest driveway

  Bees Doing Well
  Having some spare time during the weekend, I also found a few minutes to sit and observe the bees for a while. The hive has been out at the farm for six months now and the bees are doing surprisingly well and it seems like there is an active queen in the hive. There are definitely new worker bees
  being produced. I even saw a small orientation flight during the morning.

This was the hive we split from our very active hive at home. The intention was to move the active queen from the home hive out to the farm but in the hive splitting chaos, we weren't too sure which hive the queen ended up in.

During the observation period bees were returning to the hive regularly heavy loaded with very bright yellow/orange pollen.

  Weekend Vegetable Harvest
  Our "experimental" vegetables in tunnel #1 are surviving despite the dry spell we had just come through over the past two weeks. If we were able to water them daily, I'm sure they would be fantastic.

Some of the tomatoes are now ripe and they tasted great. And unlike the commercial ones we buy in the supermarkets, they were deep red and very "fleshy" with not too many seeds. And delicious.

Our brinjals are growing quickly, even though the plants are still rather small. We'll let them grow a little bigger before we harvest them.

And those cucumbers? Well, the seconds crop much the same as the first - yellow! And the plants not doing well. We'll taste them in a week or so but I'm not getting too excited about them.


  Growing Tunnels #6 and #4 Completed

  On Sunday the builders were back and finished off tunnel #6. They then moved on and built and finished tunnel #4. They left tunnel #5 for last because that was going to have some complications in incorporating the water tank platform onto it.

  Afternoon Walk
  While collecting water from Che's farm on Saturday morning I also collected two of Che's kids for the weekend: Cindy and Tye. Tough keeping them busy for the weekend but Jacques, Janine and Amber spent Saturday with us and Jacques helped them make caves from some mortar and stones for their school project.

Another one of our activities with them was a walk halfway up the hill and across to the first gorge. They collected some plant material to "decorate" their caves. The cow herd had passed through in the early morning and I was surprised at the amount of dung beetles actively cleaning up. The bush was again lush after the recent rains and there were still lots of wild flowers about.

Martie and the kids at the big kiepersol tree in the first gorge

Beetles busy at fresh cow pats
Dung beetle rolling dung
Another unidentified wild flower

  Thieves Visit Again
  We managed to get out the farm for a Wednesday night sleepover and when driving up into the garage, got that sinking heart feeling again as we saw the place in a mess from thieves rummaging about looking for valuables.

Seemed like drifters passed through and were after semi-precious metals. They took any copper wire and plumbing fittings they could find and the aluminium finishing strips that we used for tiling in the bathroom. They also helped themselves to the coffee, tea, tomato sauce and some other edibles we had left in the kitchen!

And then they went and removed and stole the push-button stop-cock tap I had fitted in the bathroom wall in preparation for the urinal installation, which allowed the full 5000 liters of water from the JoJos to just run out through the bathroom! So frustrating!

We planned to do some early morning grass cutting on Thursday morning but instead ended up cleaning up their mess and running three trailer tanks of water from Che's farm to get some water into our bathroom system again.

  Building Growing Tunnel #5
Growing tunnel #5 first courses of bricks

Everyone busy - face brick front section going up
Weekend number four of March and the builders were with us again. The main project was growing tunnel #5 with it's integrated water tank platform.

It was a trying weekend with scattered thunderstorms stopping work continually and making the whole building area a real muddy mess.

Tank platform back wall progress

Growing tunnel #5 at the end of the weekend
 with lintel to support the tank platform installed

  The Horses Are Out
  Sunday morning we noticed some unusual visitors on the other side of our log fence. The gate had been left open on the breeding horse paddock closest to us and the horses took the gap and came over to explore and graze a bit on our side of Che's farm.

Che wasn't too concerned when we phoned her and they seemed to leasurely drift off back to the paddock later in the morning.

  Starting on the Garden Toolshed

Sunday morning the builders made a start on the garden tool shed we planned to build onto the open compost heap.

First job was to clear all the junk we had collected under the tree (some scrap metal and barbed wire from the old fence we found laying around and all the feed bags we had found along the roadside over the years). Then all the grass had to be dug out. We threw it all into growing tunnel #3 which was now ready for soil preparation.

Measurements were confirmed (as big as possible without hitting any tree roots), then the foundation trench was marked out with river sand lines. Then digging, which the team made short work of, and finally some concrete mixed and poured into the trench.

We had to cover the concrete with plastic sheets as we were still having scatterred thundershowers coming down on us through the day.

  And How Old is That?!
  Just look what we found in the forest near the fence between Kallie's farm where the structure of their original little farmhouse still stands: A really primitive but probably effective home made rat trap made from a tin plate and some wire.

We've found other interesting old stuff around there as well, sometimes half buried. There was an ancient little glass medicine bottle and there is still some old rusted kitchenware and car parts lying around.

  Martie made a start on levelling and conditioning the soil in growing tunnel #3 with a few bags of horse manure.

And she harvested some yellow bell peppers and an aubergine from #2.

  Midweek Stayover
  We stayed over Tuesday night on the farm. The plan was to get all the building materials together in preparation for the weekend.

We intended to collect the cement blocks from Meyerton on our way out to the farm but we were too late on Tuesday afternoon. So after breakfast on Wednesday morning I headed out to Meyerton to fetch them. Then it was off to Jadas to pick up some lintels and cement.

  As the water tank platform is not that big, we decided to just use maxi lintels instead of the special prestressed lintels normally used for lintel and block structures. We'll just make the concrete a little thicker to make up the strength.

And while I was out on the road, Martie spent some quiet time with the dogs on the farm and spotted the waterbuck bull deep in the forest. Great to have him back with us.


  Water Tank Platform Takes Shape
Laying in the roller course to hide the lintel

Looking good - front and sides built to top of slab height
We didn't go out to the farm on Saturday at all and collected the builders from the township early on Sunday morning for the day to catch up on some building.

Two projects on the go at present: the water tank platform for the growing tunnels and the garden tool shed.

On the water tank platform structure, I didn't think it was necessary, but Leno decided to put a small half brick roller course over the openings to match all the other brickwork on the garage block and house. It took some time to set up the supports but I must admit it finished off the structure very nicely.

He then finished off the back wall brickwork and again, I thought bagging the inside of the walls would be fine, but he decided to plaster it properly. And again, his decision was the better one. My intention was to use the space for storage for irrigation pipes and stuff, but now we will be able to easily hose it out to clean it, so we'll be able to use it as a temporary hatch for chickens or rabbits or even a dog kennel.

Once the outside wall structure was done, Leno started on finishing off the inside of the
  walls before we could put on the main tank support slab lintel and block structure. He started plastering and had the helpers start on the floor concrete while he was busy. Ended up a bit messy with him plastering and laying in the concrete floor at the same time!

We worked into the dark again getting both the plaster on the walls and the floor all smoothed out.

Plastering inside walls and
concrete being poured for floor
Eight maxi lintels cut to their correct lengths
- little generator and angle grinder worked hard

  Garden Tool Shed Brickwork
  In between working on the water tank platform, with quite a bit of mortar to spare from building the walls there, Leno made a start on our little garden tool shed. He set up some profiles and got the first side wall up to the height of the open compost heap wall. From there on up that back wall will need to change to face brick to roof height.
First brickwork for our garden tool shed - above
 left, from the inside and above right, the outside