Suddenly Winter June 2015
  With the first serious cold fronts of winter coming through early in the first week of June (two of them - one right behind the other), we decided to give our first midweek stayover of the month a miss. We also had 1mm of rain fall during the week as the first cold front approached and pushed under the warm air sitting over the interior of the country. The rain dampened the dust a little but the cold fronts gave us two very cold days.
 

The picture on the right of our max/min thermometer under the south side garage roof eaves tells the story more clearly. Monday daytime temperature before the cold front reached us got up to around 28 degrees. It must have been either Tuesday or Wednesday early morning when the temperature dropped all the way down to minus 6 degrees!

I got out to the farm on Saturday morning early and by that time it had warmed up a bit. I took the picture late Saturday morning around 10h30 - still only 6 degrees on the south side of the building in the shade. Completely different story over on the north side of the building in the sun, though.

Before getting going on any work I had an onsite meeting with Verlyn from Troskie Steel early in the morning to discuss the finer details and pricing for the workshop and garage doors.

I then checked the fitting of the garden tool shed window I collected from the aluminium window manufacturers during the week and did the preparation work for making a start on the finishing for the upstairs workshop where the walls and window sills needed to be filled and painted and the roof beams needed to be sanded and sealed.


  Hilltop View
  It's been a while since we've been up to the top of the hill, so after lunch Dakota and I went for a leasurely climb. After the first real cold front of winter, everything was already very dry and drab and set to be like that for at least the next three months.

But the view from the top of the hill is still spectacular. Our farm buildings are looking very neat along the forest line and our growing tunnel area we've been working on over the past few months is now showing very prominently.

 

  Upstairs Workshop Walls and Window Sills
  Then it was back to work finishing the walls and window sills in the upstairs workshop.

It's amazing how much effort needs to go in to finishing off a room once the builders are done with it. And I now know why standard building practices use skirting boards and ceilings - they hide the areas that are most difficult to get neat and tidy. Screeding the floors makes a bit of a mess of the bottoms of the walls and plastering the walls around the roofing beams never ends up neat. We've opted for no skirting boards and no ceilings for the garage block.

  Above left, the west side window sill cleaned, the gaps between the window sill board and walls and window frame filled and everything sanded nice and smooth.

Below left, the two north facing front window sills and surrounds done as well. Really nice view from up there.


  Afternoon Wildlife Activities
  With a great view of the entire back yard and hillside area from the upstairs workshop, any movements out there tend to catch my eye. Mid-afternoon I spotted a little yellow mongoose that had it's eye on the rock pigeons again trying to nest up on the pumphouse roof. He stalked around in the short grass around the pumphouse for a while and then went exploring into the drain pipe running under concrete floor, only to pop up a few seconds later in the pumphouse drain opening. Always alert, it was very entertaining to watch him explore and look for possible ambush spots.
 
  Late afternoon I noticed five buck ambling slowly across the hillside. They are very dark brown on their backs with very white bellies, quite long flicking tails and no horns on any of them. We have seen them on the hillside once before, but have no idea what they are.


  Screeding the Three Single Garage Floors
  The builders were back after five (should have only been three) weeks away from another KwaZulu Natal building job. We had some catching up to do on our farm project so I took the Wednesday and Thursday before the second weekend of June off work to make a start on the floor screeding for garages. We had the river sand and cement delivered the previous Saturday and the water tank was full, so everything was ready to go.

I fetched the team on the way out to the farm on Wednesday morning and we were able to make an early start. I'm not sure where Leno picked up the new guy, Felix, to help for the two days but I doubt whether he's going to last with us. When we arrived at the farm he smelled strongly of the previous night's party and was drinking water from the hose pipe at every opportunity. His productivity did get a little better as the day went on.

 
1 - Cleaning up the floor surface
2 - River sand and cement layed out

 
3 - Screed mixed and wetting down sludge layer
4 - Spreading and stamping

 
5 - Cutting stamped surface to level
6 - Wetting and rough floating

  First job was to clear the three single garages and sweep the floor thoroughly - a very dusty job. Next, a screed mix was measured out onto the garage floor and spread. Fifteen wheelbarrows of river sand and five bags of cement.

Another bag of cement was spread over the floor area and with a bit of water sprayed over it, was made into a messy sludge to bind the river sand we would be laying down onto the exisiting concrete surface.

The river sand and cement was then mixed into a big pile, wetting continually to make a "damp" river sand mix. Then the mix was spread out over the floor, roughly levelled and stamped with the stampers.

Leno did the final "cutting" of the surface with a long straight edge to get it nice and level and then we started down on our knees to rough float the surface.

We made up a bucket of cement "slurry" and poured it over the surface and Leno took care of the final smooth floating. We worked with lights well into the night to get the job finished.

7 - Final smooth floating

  Garden Tool Shed Window and Entrance Ramp
  We got out to the farm after 10h00 on Thursday morning as I first went out to our local cement paver suppliers to check their paving block selection and load up some blocks to see if they would look ok for our driveway before fetching the builders on the way out to the farm.

So, we decided not to start the screed on the double garage and rather catch up on some of the small stuff that needed to be done.

The garden tool shed needed to be finished. While the helpers mixed up a batch of plaster,
  Leno cleaned up the screed we finished the previous evening. This involved scraping off any lumps and lines with the sharp edge of the float tool.

Then we fitted the garden tool shed window and Leno spent the rest of the morning plastering the inside window surround.


  We had a fair amount of "dry" screed mix left over from the previous day's garage floor screeding and it was the perfect opportunity to use it to cast the garden tool shed entrance ramp.

Martie didn't want a step in front of the garden tool shed door as she would be storing her wheelbarrow in the tool shed and getting it in and out up and down a step would not be easy. So, a ramp it would be.

So after lunch we mixed in some crusher stone and some more cement to make the screed mix into a concrete mix. Some old planks were set up to support the side edges and a small foundation was dug along the front edge to make the front edge strong. Then we cast the concrete and levelled and rough-finished the neat little ramp slab.

And with that I think the builders are finished with the garden tool shed. We'll take over now to clean up and finish off the last bit of roofing woodwork and the inside.


  Screeding the Double Garage Floor
  Our second weekend of June and on Saturday it was much of the same when we did the floor screeding for the double garage. We again ended up working well into the night, but not quite as late as on the previous Wednesday night.
 
1 - Front edge support profile setup and river sand and cement layed out in the background
2 - Spreading the mix and stamping, Leno starting to cut the surface level from the top corner

 
3 - Everyone helping with the rough floating
4 - Almost done - final smooth floating


  Front Veranda Concrete
  On Sunday my intention was to level the driveway outside the garage entrances but there was so much screed mix left over from the double garage, we had to use it for something. Whenever we had some spare concrete we would put it down on the front veranda and we already had a corner done. So, best option would be to add crusher stone and more cement and make up a concrete mix and continue casting the veranda floor slab.
  Once the double garage floor was cleaned up, the team headed for the veranda where the rest of the area still had to be cut away and levelled. The morning was spent cutting the area level and we moved three bakkie loads of builders rubble and sand around to the driveway area for fill. The veranda area surface was levelled and prepared for the concrete and we ended up with just not enough cncrete to finish the job there. Not serious, we'll continue building onto the slab when we have left-over concrete from our various future projects.
 
1 - Starting to level the veranda
2 - Loading cut away material into the bakkie

 
3 - Cut away, levelled and watered
4 - Mixing the concrete

 
5 - Just not enough to finish the job
6 - And another pile of fill for the driveway


  Starting Inside the Garden Tool Shed
  There wasn't much supervision required for the builders working on the veranda, so I was able to clean up around the garden tool shed window aluminium frame outside and ran some bronze coloured silicone sealer in between the brickwork and the frame to seal the gaps.
  Martie started inside sanding down the walls, filling any holes and touching up around the window and door frames. Messy and time consuming work, but it just has to be done.



  Ending off a Great Weekend
  Just a few odds and ends to end off a great weekend. The weather has been superb (another double barrelled cold front heading our way in a few days, though). Below left, Charlie taking a break - very comfortable in the soft red sand. Below right, Che gave us some of her excess plants: sage, some stinging nettle and a little gooseberry bush. And the bottom picture, another lovely warm Sunday afternoon winter sunset.
 

 


  Painting the Garden Tool Shed
  As we weren't able to stay over on the farm for the weekend (fetching and dropping off builders on Saturday and Sunday), we took the opportunity to stay over the night before and after our Tuesday Youth Day public holiday.

The weather was very mild winter and pleasant for the Monday and Tuesday evenings but we took the chance on the Tuesday night stayover knowing the double barrel cold fronts would be passing through during the night (we're starting to keep a close eye on those medium term weather forecasts lately). It was cold, but bearable with an extra blanket or two and a hot water bottle each in our "open" bedroom.

When we got up we were quite comfortable on the north side of the forest as soon as the sun came up over the hill, but my eyeballs nearly froze in their sockets when I went around to the south side to open the gate to let Verlyn in to do some more garage door measurements. That forest is just
  amazing in keeping that cold south wind off of our living and working areas of the farm.

Work for the Holiday was to cut, sand, seal and fit the garden tool shed inside window sill (just a peice of old pine shelf that was lying around at home) and after applying the plaster primer, paint the inside walls with their first coat of paint. We'll only remove that white window frame protective tape after we've given the walls their second coat of paint.



  Driveway Levelling and Paving
  The third weekend of June, with all the garage floors now screeded, we moved on to getting the driveway outside the garages into shape in preparation for fitting the garage doors.

With all the planning done and the dicisions made as to which paving blocks we were going to use and which areas will be paved and which areas are going to be just concrete, we could now get on with the job.

So, on Saturday morning we arrived at the farm with our second load of pavers (500 blocks = around half a ton) in the back of the bakkie. And would you believe there was still space for the generator, water pump and four builders!

 
 

We found the ground outside the double garage was much too high with quite a few humps, so it was wetted down to soften it a bit (it was well compacted as we had been using the double garage for parking the bakkie on the weekends) and loosened up with picks - pictures above.

On the left, top picture: Next job was to clear the pile of old cement bags and builders rubble at the entrance of the forest shelter so that we could get a line from the forest shelter floor level to the garage floor level. It's just amazing how a rubbish pile can build up over the years!

Levelling straight across would require much too much fill material, so we decided to "dip" it a bit in the middle and set up the line accordingly. We also ran a line perpendicular to that right across the front of the entire garage block so that the double garage and three single garage entrances would meet up nicely (the two sections of the garage block drop five brick courses). In the picture on the left, everything nicely levelled, the lines just visible.

 
 

Then it was down to laying the paving blocks. In the pictures above, putting down the moistened river sand/cement mixture, compacting and cutting it level and then starting to lay the pavers down from the top corner.

On the left, looking good but that's about as far as we could get with the paving blocks we had - we laid down 8.5 square meters of paving and it was hardly noticeable on the total driveway area!

Again we ended up with some river sand/cement mix left over so we used the excess to finish off the bottom section of the veranda that we had almost completed the previous week.

In the picture on the left, looking a bit patchy now, but the entire veranda area will eventually be tiled with 300 x 300mm coloured cement paving tiles anyway.


  More Driveway Levelling
  Sunday the builders were back and we spent the entire day digging and levelling the driveway area in front of the three single garages and moving all the excess sand down into the fill area at the entrance to the forest shelter area.

It's looking more and more like we won't have to eventually order in too much fill for that area. But the forest shelter will probably remain our "work area" where we'll be taking more sand out for building and move some building rubble back in when we build the rest of the house structure.

It was great to have the driveway getting done but the downside was the dust generated while working with the loose, dry sand. By the end of the day everything we ever cleaned had a new layer of dust on it. But the aim of getting the driveway paved now will hopefully put an end to most of the dust soon.




  Fitting the Workshop Sliding Door Tracks
  With business month end looming and Verlyn wanting to fit the workshop sliding door, the last week of June was going to be a rough one. We headed out to the farm with another load of pavers on Tuesday afternoon and stayed over for the night.

Wednesday mid-morning Verlyn and his dad, Brian arrived with the pre-fabricated doors and everything they needed to get them fitted. The doors looked fantastic. The design was well thought out and the steelwork and welding was excellent. And Verlyn even matched the paint on the door frame to the "bronze" aluminium windows on the building.

 
Verlyn and Brian Troskie in action - very smart and professional workmanship

  First job was to set up the rail (the door would slide on a top rail and will have a guide channel on the bottom), ensuring everything was straight and level. There were a few little glitches with walls not as straight as they should have been and a few face bricks sticking out a little too far, but nothing a bit of chiselling and quick swish with the angle grinder couldn't sort out.

Then we came to a bit of welding and the little Ryobi 2700 generator just couldn't cope. Luckily we located a bigger one on the farm across the road. It was a 6900 model that they used as a backup for their borehole pump when the power was down. They kindly lent it to us for the two days that we needed it to get the doors up. Thanks Tia and Sybrand.

Once we had adequate power for the welder, the top track was fitted and the doors lined up nicely by adjusting the height of the roller wheels in the top track. And that's about where the steelwork team left it on Wednesday afternoon.

 
Panel strips cut to size and first one painted with sealer
We had the doors onsite overnight and we had our first pack of "knotty pine tongue and groove" wood panelling. As soon as they left we measured up the door slots and I started cutting the panel strips to size while Martie got on with painting them with their first coat of the Silkwood oil based sealer.

As I wanted the top and bottom of each panel that gets hidden in the steel slots and the entire tongue and groove system to be protected from any water penetration into the wood, we painted each panel separately. We'll apply the second coat when all the panelling is fitted into the doors - that should go a lot quicker.


  Mid-winter Nature
  Saturday night our sleep was a little disturbed by some scratching and scuffling around the boxes and bags in our "bedroom". It was obviously a mouse and the dogs got excited every time there were noises but we just couldn't find it with torch lights. In the morning we got it, grabbed it by the tail (that's why mice have tails, right?) and relocated it deep into the forest. Also spotted in the early morning in our "dining room" and in the driveway was our first sightings of a karoo thrush.

With our Winter Solstice just passed by and only two serious cold fronts getting through to us so far, we should only have two more months of winter before we start seeing signs of spring. I think winter is there to make us really appreciate the beauty of spring and summer on the highveld.

On our walk around the farm on Thursday morning we noticed many of the leaves of our indigenous evergreen Ouhout and Sagewood bushes were starting to yellow - a sure sign that they are making way for their spring flowers. Our other indigenous bushes, the Monkey Plum are deciduous on the highveld and due to the mild winter so far, are only starting to loose their leaves now. And those in nice sheltered areas still have all their leaves.

  We've only seen a small herd of eland pass by and have the regular bull herd of eight or nine hang around so far this season and they haven't spent too much time in our forest and around the front fence area where the indigenous bushes are mostly found. Hopefully they leave them alone this year.

  Hanging the Workshop Sliding Doors
  Thursday morning when we woke up all the panelling for the doors had been painted. The elves must have worked very hard through the night. Nah, that only happens in fairy tales - it was us.

Before Verlyn and his dad arrived we slotted some of the panelling into the small sliding door. It all fitted in nicely and looked great. The last panel will just need to be trimmed slightly narrower before it is slotted in.

 
Setting the doors level in the top track
Welding the bottom guide track

 
Bottom latch detail      
Roller guide detail      
When they arrived they got down to work on setting the doors level and fixing the bottom guide track into the floor concrete.

Most of the finicky work was in fine tuning the bottom track. A lot of time was also spent on fitting the latch and the roller guides.

At the end of the day when they left, a few minor tweaks still needed to be done (an extra wheel to be fitted on the big door in top track, the top track end caps need to be fitted and the paint touched up where welding was done to the frame). They'll finish it all off nicely when they come to fit the folding garage door.

 
Sliding door working very nicely with some of the wood panelling fitted

  As soon as Verlyn and his dad left I drove back to Johannesburg to a business appointment and to load up another 250 paving blocks to get back to Heidelberg in time for our monthly farm security meeting over at the Valpre Conference Centre. We stayed over again on Thursday night and after breakfast and fitting a few lower panels into the big door, headed back home to catch up a big backlog of work early on Friday morning.

  More Door Panelling
  On the last weekend of June the third big cold front of the season came through with overcast, windy and cold weather - and even a few drops of rain.

After loading up another 5 square meters of paving blocks at the paver's yard, we only arrived out at the farm late on Saturday morning. We now have 15 square meters of blocks out there ready to lay.

  We also took out another two packs of tongue and groove wood and after unloading the blocks, we spent the rest of the day leasurely cutting and painting a pack of panels with sealer and fitting them into the big door.
 
Just before dark when we left the farm, workshop sliding door wood panelling almost done