Garden Tool Shed Roof Sheeting May 2015
  After a short three day working week, another long weekend was upon us. This time a Friday Workers Day holiday.

The working week was very, very short for us as we only left the farm Tuesday mid-morning and were making our way back on Thursday early afternoon, passing through Klipriver and Henley on Klip to fetch our roofing sheets from BSI Steel and Hough.

After the normal BSI Steel in and out weighbridge palaver to collect the IBR sheeting and a quick and efficient stop at Hough to collect the IBR polycarbonate sheets, we arrived at the farm late afternoon very heavily loaded with roof sheeting, a big bunch of 32mm electrical conduit for our growing tunnel hoops and our normal trailer full of tools and equipment for a weekend at the farm. We offloaded, made a nice big fire and ended the day with a braai, relaxing to see the first stars appear in the sky.

We planned to have the builders out for the first two days of the weekend to finish off the garden tool shed and patch the garage plaster so we could start painting there in preparation to fit the garage doors.

  First Frost
  After a lovely evening, a little cold front came through overnight. We indeed felt it in the early hours in our "open" bedroom and had to load on extra blankets. Pre-dawn temperature dropped to it's lowest so far. Under the garage eaves our thermometer showed it went down to 2 degrees.

It obviously got a bit colder than that out in the open and there was frost on the grass and on the the water pipes running up to the pumphouse.

The pumphouse water system didn't freeze up but we did have to wait for the water trailer hose pipe to thaw out before we could water the vegetables.

Once the sun came up, everything warmed up nicely again for another beautiful Autumn day.

  Garden Tool Shed Plastering and Floor Screed
  I went out to fetch the builders from the township before breakfast and after breakfast they mixed up some plaster sand and cement and started plastering the inside walls of the garden tool shed.

Leno got all the walls done and then moved on to lay the floor screed later in the afternoon. Leno's
brother came to fetch them with his bakkie so they could take some firewood home to the township for their chicken braai business.

They planned to come through with his brother again the next morning. His brother works cutting hair in Ratanda on the other side of Heidelberg and their arrangement is great in that it could save me quite a few trips to and from the township to fetch and drop them off until Leno's bakkie can be fixed. Actually, it is fixed and waiting in the engineering shop until he can pay for the repair!

  Cutting Grass under the Log Fence
  Martie spent much of the day out on the log fence perimeter with the weed-eater cutting the grass under the log fence.

We've found from the previous fire that passed across the front of the property that having the grass under the log fence short allows the fire to pass through the short grass without burning the fence poles. So, just in case . . .

  Well, So Much for that New Eland Fence over the Hill
  That new fence across the top of Che's property is obviously not working too well. It's supposed to keep the eland out. During the day a large herd of cows with their calves passed across the front of the hill, into the gorge and then back again. They look like trouble just waiting for a place to happen!

  Garden Tool Shed Roofing
  First job on Saturday morning was to clean up the plaster and floor of the garden tool shed and then fit the roof sheeting onto the perlins. We were done by lunch time.

After lunch all the scaffolding was removed, the new compost heap area cleaned out and the whole area around the garden tool shed cleaned and levelled.

"Plaster and screed finished - ready for roofing
Roofing from the inside. Very glad we did the woodwork
before we put the sheeting on. Just had to patch up
here and there and now looks very "finished".
Polycarbonate strip panels let in the light
to make it very light and airy.

Roofing from the outside
- IBR sheets on and secured. All done.

  Midweek Stayover
  I picked up two very cool cheapie doors with elephant outline drawings on them at one of the Lebanese decor shops down in Booysens and Martie spent most of the day working on them.

I gave them a first sealer coat the day before and Martie painted in all the routered lines in a brown polyurethane paint with a small brush.

We'll give them a sanding and put on another coat of Woodoc 30 clear matt varnish and they should look cool as double doors on her garden tool shed.

  Workshop Ramp
  After lunch the building team got out the picks and spades and started on the foundations for our workshop ramp.

This required the building of two small retainer walls each side of the doorway and then to be filled in with rubble and concrete between them to make a ramp so that vehicles can be driven up into the workshop (presently our kitchen and dining room area).

Concrete mixed and little foundations cast

Starting the bottom wall
Small top wall built - to be on paving level

Bottom wall curves around and will be above paving

  Soil Preparation Experimentation
  With no builders out for the Sunday, we just pottered around (more cleaning up) for the day. We weren't sure what we were going to do on the open sand patch on the hill side of the pumphouse where Martie planted the poppie bed, but if we were going to plant anything there, the virgin sand there is going to need some kind of conditioning.

So with a few bags of horse manure to spare, I spread a layer out over the area. We'll just let it lay on the sand and water it so the good stuff sinks down into the soil and after a few months, turn it over and dig it into the soil. Then we'll see what the soil looks like.

Probably have a whole lot of new weeds come up there in a few weeks, but it's an experiment, so let's see what happens.


  Lazing About
  At lunchtime the herd of eland bulls came by and took a break in the shade under the black wattle trees just outside our log fence in the top corner of the farm. They lazed about for over an hour before ambling off into the gorge.

Grazing is already becoming scarse this early into winter and with fairly large herds of other grazing game over the hill probably eating most of what is there, the eland come over to our side trying to find something to eat. But not much is left our side of Che's farm as this side is already overgrazed by Che's herd of cows.


  New Compost Heap
  After lunch we did a final clearing of the area behind the garden tool shed, layed in some waterproofing plastic along the garden tool shed wall and started layering in material for our new compost heap. We had some really pungent chicken manure (as I emptied out the bags I had to stand back out of the amonia cloud to breathe), a few bags of garden refuse from our home and many, many bags of horse manure (every time we go across to Che's farm to fill the water tanker we load a few bags into the bakkie).

Once it was all laid in I watered the pile well and now it's just a matter of waiting for things to happen in there.


  When Will We Learn?!
  Protecting our plants from the eland just can't be done half-heartedly.

When we arrived for our midweek stayover on Wednesday afternoon we discovered that the eland had been through the growing tunnel area again and also visited the driveway garden and everything unprotect - or even half protected - was eaten! The white shade net around the tunnel seems to work well to keep them out of the actual growing tunnel but elsewhere, wherever the protection wire was not secured properly, they just pushed it out of the way and ate what was underneath it.

Martie left our white stinkwood saplings and her moonflower plants in bags in the forest compost heap bins. They were all doing so nicley - but are now all chomped down to stalks. The tomato plants growing in the first growing tunnel in the compost were recovering nicely from their last attack and are now again back to stalks, the same for the geranium bush in the pot and we lost the tops of a few of the new agapanthus plants in the driveway garden.

Moonflowers (poisonous?!) down to stalks

Geranium - plastic netting pushed away and eaten
What's left of the tomato bushes

Front row agapanthus plants half protected nibbled

  Growing Tunnel Area Update
  While upstairs packing up before leaving for home on Thursday morning, I took an update picture of the growing tunnel area - now with water tank platform completed and garden tool shed just requiring the doors and a window to complete. A few more hoops have also been installed.
  Phew. Lots of progress in this area from the last photo taken from the upstairs workshop at the end of February. Mouse over the picture above for a "flashback" comparison.

  Slow Drive Out with our Water Tank
  The second weekend of May we decided not to sleep over at the farm on Friday night and only headed out to the farm on Saturday morning.

We had bought a 1000 liter square caged water tank at a good price many months ago and were keeping it at home until we were ready for it on the farm. It was time. We took some time carefully tying it down onto the top of the bakkie canopy (Banda, our gardener, did a great job of cleaning it thoroughly the day before) and then we took a slow drive out to Heidelberg on all the side roads.

We arrived safely at the farm mid-morning with our water tank, all the garden refuse from the past two weeks and our normal tools and weekend supplies loaded.

Once offloaded, we placed our first water tank on the water tank platform. Those 1000 liter tanks are not that heavy when empty, just big. But the surrounding cage makes them quite easy to handle.

  So, with the first of three tanks now in place and I suppose I'd better start planning some plumbing.

  Garage Overhead Storage Racks
  How quickly stuff collects in a garage. So far we have a fair collection of roof sheeting, a few lengths of plumbing pipe and electrical conduit, and some bent and twisted left over perlins. All big stuff and all laying around on the floor getting stepped on continually.

So, time to neaten up a bit in preparation for screeding the garage floors. Best I can think of is to
Three overhead storage frames attached to the rafters

All the big stuff packed up out of the way into the frames
pack it all overhead out of the way and my solution was to use some of the scrap perlins, buy a few lengths of 105x35mm timber for the crosspieces and build up some neat and practical overhead storage racks.

As we had hundreds of 10mm nuts and washers left over from our log fence project, the most economical way to put the frames together was with some 10mm threaded rod and the washers and nuts.

I cut up the 1 meter threaded rods into 110mm lengths, cleaned up the thread ends, drilled holes into the timber where they needed to be and put the frames together on the ground.

Jacques, Janine and Amber slept over with us on the farm on Saturday night and Jacques helped me attach the first frame onto the rafters. Thanks Jacques. We found trigger clamps did the job to hold the frame in position while we drilled the holes and put in the threaded rods.

I finished off hanging the remaining two frames on Sunday, dusted off all the "stuff" and packed it neatly into the frames. The garage floor is now a lot less cluttered.

  Tackling the Pavement Bottom Corner Grass
  While I was busy with the storage racks in the garage, Martie headed out to the pavement with her weedeater and started cutting all the long grass next to the fence where the tractor couldn't get to.
  On Saturday she started from the front gate and worked down into the corner - a fairly easy job.

Then on Sunday she decided to start down in the bottom corner outside the fence and worked back up to the gate. I helped her out there as the grass was very long and thick where the summer rainfall water runs off the property down into the tunnel under the tarred road. We didn't get too far up the fence line. Cutting very tall grass requires stopping continually to untangle grass that wraps itself around the cutter head. Tedious work but we made a noticable impact on the pavement bottom corner "jungle".

  Starting the Tractor
  Starting the tractor was really becoming a tiresome process. The new battery made no difference. The wiring was fairly simple and checked out ok so it just had to be the starter motor.

I removed it and it's solenoid the previous weekend and took the whole lot along to my local motor mechanic friend Nelson Lopes during the week.

What I like about Nelson (other than his reasonable labour rates) is that when he sees
  you're interested, he will go into intricate detail about the repair he has done and even go as far as to explain how all the stuff around it works.

He found the brushes on the motor were sticking intermittently in their shafts and gave everything a good cleaning up and checking over. Being a suburban mechanic, he obviously hadn't seen one of these starter motors in a long while and after the lecture on how electric motor brushes work, the two stage solenoid operation for these big motors and a run down on all the external adjustment screws on the unit, we took it back out to the farm for refitting to the tractor.

Well, once it was back on the tractor and connected, I turned the starter key for the first time and the old Perkins diesel was kickstarted to life like never before. Thanks, Nelson.

  Grass, More Grass and Even More Grass
  Last year we cut most of our grass through the winter season on a "when we have some spare time" basis and never got to really finish off some of the front sections and all along the fence line properly. This year Martie has decided to get all the grass sorted out early in the season and to put in the time and effort to do it properly. So, the third weekend of May (and for the second weekend in a row) it was mostly grass cutting all weekend.

Cleaning up the grass inside the fence.
and above right, down 
 Above left, from the bottom corner
into the bottom corner.

The dodgem area - scattered young trees which we want to keep      
- quite a challenge getting the tractor around in between them      
I was on the tractor most of Sunday and cut the entire front section of the property grass. Our "front yard" has a few large forest openings and is scattered with young trees.

The tractor gets a good workout sapling dodging in the big open sections and quick rests on the nice long straight runs along the fence line.

The farmer across the road is collecting up and taking all our pavement grass for their animals and we'll probably let their workers in on the
  weekends to clear away all the front yard inside grass as well. Now just need to find a solution as to what to do with all that grass laying around in the back yard.

Practice makes perfect. Grass cuttings layed down
left, on the long curves and above right, 
 neatly by the tractor for easy collecting. Above
the straight lines along the front fence.

Martie working down the fence line - very dusty
work - little dust cloud visible while cutting
And that's how it looks cut inside and outside the fence - outside still to be cut in the distance.

  Workshop Entrance Walls
  Something just didn't look right with the little retainer wall we planned to have to paving height at the workshop ramp.

During some "spare time" on Saturday while Martie was out front cutting grass, I decided to build the little wall up to the same height as the curved wall on the other side of the workshop ramp. I also built the curved wall to full height and layed on the roller course (yes, after watching how Leno does
  it, I'm now quite capable and end up with a noticeably neater job. But I do need to work a bit on my bricklaying speed). Now things there look right and I can work out proper fill levels for the ramp.

I didn't build right up to the main structure walls as we need to work in there to run the tracks for the big sliding door we plan to fit across the workshop opening.

  Motion Sensor Alarms
  We used to feel very secure out there in our secluded location behind the forest, but since the burglaries, we are becoming a little more security conscious.

It's pointless putting in fancy alarm systems now because if we're not there to hear and act on the alarms, they will just be broken in order to silence them. But when we're there on the weekends and on our midweek sleepovers, we need to know of any movements around us in the dark of night.

  So, portable alarms seem to be the answer. I bought two of these inexpensive little units from Ellies and now before we tuck in at night, we put one at the garage entrance and one at the workshop entrance to our present living area. They are armed remotely have about a seven meter range and sense 45 degrees each side to the front of them.

So far we've had the workshop entrance one go off twice. Once in the early hours on the first night we used them. After jumping out of bed to check we spotted a black cat outside, probably looking for kitchen scraps or just exploring. It set the alarm off twice that night.

The only other time the same alarm went off was on a very windy night. We couldn't see anything suspicious out there so we presume it must have picked up tree movements in the wind. Although the trees were more that seven meters away, they are so big they may have triggered the sensor.

When we eventually move out to the farm, movement sensor alarm systems and spot lights around the buildings will have to be one of our top priorities.

  Monday Morning Sunrise
  Nearly the end of May and winter is still not quite upon us. The early mornings are a little cool but as soon as the sun peeks over the hill, it's off with the jerseys down at our work area in the wind shelter of the forest trees.

As the seasons change, it's interesting to see where the first rays of the sun reach down into our back yard. The layout of everything we've built so far in the back section of the farm has worked out perfectly, although more geared for warming up our winters rather than cooling down the summers. But for us it's far more important to be warm in the cold months.

Living in the summer heat is manageable. We've got lots of shade in the forest and get the cooling breeze higher up on the property at the lapa area. The main thing is that the house is full north facing for best utilisation of the energy of the sun and our farming and growing areas take advantage of full sunlight for as long as possible during the days all through the year.


  Midweek Stayover
  We arrived out on the farm late Wednesday afternoon and just had time to check that everything was ok before heading off to the Valpre Conference Centre for our monthly Groenpoort Rural Safety Meeting where all the farmers in the area and represetatives from the fire and police services get together to discuss matters pertaining to the area.

Our guest for the evening was Warrant Officer van Vollenhoven who gave us a very interesting presentation on "battle signs". His expertise was reading signs left unintentionally or intentionally at crime scenes or when criminals plan their crimes. It was very encouraging to see a member of our police force taking such interest in his work.

The meetings are very important in getting all the farmers in the area to get to know one another and building a contacts list for emergencies. The group also has a radio network system where help can be called for at any time and where the radio system controller calls each farm every afternoon to check if everything is ok.

We spent the entire Thursday morning out at the farm fitting the double doors to the garden tool shed. This turned out to be a tedious job as the door frame was a little bent on the one side (they
  just don't make them like they used to) and those "cheapie" doors not having enough wood around the edges to be cut to the size we required.

After a lot of trimming, filling in the ends with wood that we cut off and many refits we finally got them to their correct size to fit the frame. We then took them down again and sealed off all the edges with sealer. They should be dry enough on the weekend to give them a fine sanding and their second coat of sealer.

Woodworking in the driveway

  Doors and Tiles
Good finish on the back of one   
of the garden tool shed doors   

Toilet room urinal area tiling   
now looking more "finished"   
Fixing the bottom of the toilet door

The fourth weekend of May and our glorious autumn weather continues with a good high pressure system still sitting over the interior of the country deflecting those cold fronts up along the coastline and preventing them from getting through to us.

We took it easy doing small stuff over the weekend. Martie started off Saturday finishing off all the grass cutting along the front fence (ok, enough grass pictures now) and I started off by finishing and varnishing doors. Fitting and finishing doors is tedious work. And we haven't even fitted all the workshop and garage doors yet. But I suppose we'd better get used to it, as we're going to still have lots to do for the house.

The toilet room door needed to be fixed at the bottom where we cut away a little too much to make it fit there, so I took an offcut from the garden tool shed doors and glued in into the bottom between the front and back boards and sanded it all smooth. I gave the door a final fine sanding and it's final coat of varnish and then put it back permanently.

I also finished off the garden tool shed doors with three coats of varnish. Although they won't get much sun, they will be exposed to the elements, so best to be safe there. My gratitude to the genius that discovered the use of steel wool to roughen up the surface before second and third coats of varnish. Using fine sandpaper is just frustrating as after the first few rubs it just clogs up and then does nothing. Rubbing with steel wool takes the gloss off perfectly for the next coat to bond and when the steel wool clogs up you just shake it out and carry on rubbing. Amazing.

  Then we had a good look at the tiling in the toilet room - things there looked a little "unfinished" so we decided that the entire front and side walls around the urinal should be tiled (no, it's unlikely someone would get that carried away at the urinal - it would just look better). So it was out with all the tiling equipment and on Sunday I finished off the tiling and grouted the remaining bits of the toilet room and then started grouting the shower walls with the left over grout.

The weather was so nice we stayed over Sunday night again and after watering the plants and generally pottering around, we packed up and headed back home mid-morning.

  Tree Maintenance
  Martie also did some maintenance work on our acacia trees over the weekend. Using the old rubber car tube to wrap around the stems of the paper bark acacias to keep them straight turned out not to be such a great idea. Within two or three months out in the sun the rubber broke down and the trees went back to bent. So the rubber was replaced with old jeans material and the trunks were retied to
  the stakes to get them straight again. I think if they're held straight through one or two growing seasons, they'll stay straight permanently.

Looks like it's going to be a tough dry season for herbivores. Our summer rainfall was lower than normal and the cows are already looking a bit thinner. I think Che supplements with bales of grass when they're in their paddocks at night but to keep prime condition they need to eat all day every day. They presently seem to spend most of their daytime energy wandering aimlessly around the area looking for things to eat.

The eland haven't been around for a while but as a precaution we also put chicken wire covers over the little acacias that we planted at the top gate near the lapa. Last year they had their tops munched off.

Word is the eland have discovered Che's lucern patch and had settled in there nicely for a few overnights. Not much lucern left there now and attempts to chase them out with lights and noises at night were futile - they just stood their ground. Now everyone's got paintball guns and they're waiting for their return to see if that will make any impression on them.

  Garage Block Custom Doors

With things developing very quickly with our Johannesburg home situation, we may have to move ourselves out to the farm much sooner that we were originally expecting to.

The builders should be back soon to lay the floor screed in all the garages and then we'll be able to move into our temporary living space until the house can be finished off.

So, time to clean up and close things up in the garage block in preparation for moving in. First things that need to be done are to get the doors made for the big double garage and the side workshop "drive in" openings. A few hours on the drawing board (actually, trusty old dining room table) and the doors were planned.

The original plan for a roll-up door for the oversized double garage opening was just not affordable so a space compromise of a four section folding door would probably be the best solution there.

We were planning a sliding door for the open workshop so it was just a matter of putting those ideas down on paper.

Now we just need a few quotations and suggestions from some steelwork fundis so we can make a start on this project.

  We headed out for our midweek stayover on Wednesday evening with an appointment with Verlyn Troskie, a local steel fabrication specialist, early the next morning. He came out, measured up, gave his suggestions on how what we want done should be done and after he checks out the material list and available hinge/roller wheel systems, he'll present us with his quotation.

  Garden Tool Shed Door Latches
  The garden tool shed doors had been fitted the previous week and then removed so they could be painted with their third coat of varnish the previous weekend, so we spent the rest of Thursday morning at the farm fixing them onto their hinges and fitting the latches to the left hand door. Thankfully there was enough solid wood inside the doors to hold the latches securely where they needed to be fitted.

Once the latches were fitted to the door, I drilled the holes into the door frame for the top latch and into the concrete floor for the bottom latch. Now all we need to do is fit the lock into the right hand door and that'll be the garden tool shed doors done. We jammed the doors closed until the weekend before packing up and heading off for home.


  Garage Block Custom Doors Second Quotation
  The last weekend of May we could only work on the farm on the Saturday. We had an appointment mid-morning with Abdul, a welder recommended by Shaheed from Jadas. He had a slightly different modus operandi. He measured up, discussed his ideas on mounting the doors and then compiled a materials list.

I would get pricing for the materials and then he would determine his labour price based on the material price?? Then I would have to buy all the materials and he would just do the welding, painting and fitting.

So, we'll soon end up with two very different quotes, one for a complete job where all materials will be supplied by the fabricator, most of the work will be done in the fabricator's workshop and just fitting and finishing touches done onsite. And the second, where I would have to source all the materials and Abdul just charges us for the work he does - all work to be carried out onsite.

An interesting comparison but I'm going to go through the exercise of getting the material prices anyway and we'll wait and see what each of these guys come up with.

  Garden Tool Shed Door Lock
  The rest of the day I spent permanently fitting the garden tool shed doors (basically lining them up nicely and putting the rest of the hinge screws in) and fitting the lock.

We have decided not to put any handles on the doors. Unlocking the right hand one and a slight pull on the key opens it easily enough and the left hand door can be easily opened when the top and bottom latches are released.

One thing is for sure, there'll be no more "cheapie" (I think they're Chinese) doors. They are just too difficult to fit with with not enough solid wood surrounds between the front and back panels and the solid wood is very weird - it doesn't even cut cleanly with a sharp chisel.

  Clearing That Bottom Corner
Cleared down Kallie's farm side      
fence to the bottom corner post      
We finished off the day making a start on clearing around the fence in the bottom corner of the property.

We didn't clear this area last year and some of the eucalyptus saplings there were already almost two meters high.

One day when we have the time we'll have to get in there and dig out all the roots, but for now we just chop off all the growth from the root bulbs every year.

We worked until it was too dark to see any more and then packed up and headed off home.

   Along the front fence into the
   bottom corner still to be cleared