Our Little Crop Field January 2016
  With very little rain (1mm per storm and only three little storms) in the last two weeks of December, on the first day of the new year we were blessed with two little 1mm showers through the day and then a lovely 9mm evening storm.

The thirsty ground sucked in the rain in no time and the next day we were back into our daily watering routine. The irrigation sprinklers were working well on the mealie field and the plants were
  recovering nicely from their dry start. But we were pumping almost 500 liters of water onto the field every morning.

We were working very hard there during the holidays. The extension for the next (and probably last for the season) section of mealies was prepared and seeded, as well as the sunflower section. I also reprepared and reseeded a section of the lucern that was in the watering range of the irrigation sprinklers.

  New Years Bullfighting
  The cows are back. They've obviously grazed all the grass over the other side of Che's farm and now they're back over our side. And not only are we not that happy with them around, but Kallie's bull is not at all happy either.
Cows, cows and more cows!

A daily pattern developed very quickly as they passed us by for the first three mornings. As soon as Kallie's bull noticed Che's herd on the other side of the fence, he would begin snorting and bellowing across to them. All Che's ladies would then head down to the fence where the bull was putting on his "performance". It wouldn't be long before Che's bull realised what's going on and put on his snorting and bellowing act, edging closer and closer to the fence until both bulls were in a "challenge frenzy".

For the first two days I would go up and chase Che's herd away, but they would eventually come back again later. And going up to chase them off twice a day can take up to an hour of my day. So, on the third day we tried to just ignore them and the inevitable bullfight took place further down the fence line out of our sight.

It must have been a spectacular fight as they mangled the fence into a pile of crumpled wire. Once the fence was opened up the cows from Kallie's herd headed out to join Che's herd leaving the bulls snorting, kicking up dust and destroying every bush they came across in front of our farm! We called
What was left of the game fence      
after the bullfight      
Che across and her staff spent a few hours separating the herds and the whole of the next day fixing the fence.

As soon as Kallie got back from holiday he got going on fitting an electrified strand of wire across the inside of the fence on his side. I watched as his cows sniffed at it with their wet noses and very quickly jumped back, but I don't think it's going to stop the bull much!

Kallie's bull greeting one of Che's cows through the fence.
Looks like he's quite enjoying the tickle of the electrified wire.

  On To Some Nicer Things
  Such a different life for us out on the farm now. Even though I'm still going through to Joburg on business at least three days of the week and Martie once to bake for her Joburg clients, getting up when the rooster alarm goes off in the mornings (ok, we sometimes lay in a bit, but we're awake) we have at least four hours before we have to hit the road.

Much of that time is taken up by small maintenance and improvements to the farm, water and power management, and lately, feeding all the
      The few minutes of perfect morning light that photographers live for.
      Here in the golden light after rain the previous evening,
      at 06h06 a little duiker grazes around the lapa in the distance.
  animals, but there's always time to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful nature around us along the way.

Our entertainment nowadays is provided mainly by our animals: The ducks, the quails, the chickens and more recently, Charlies's six little puppies. Between them all, they're pretty much full time maintenance. We don't have TV - we're too tired in the evenings for that anyway and our little recharchable battery radio keeps us in touch with what's happening in the big world out there.

      The dogs checking out a new hole
      on one of our early morning walks

  Everything Growing Well
  Still no rain to speak of in the first week of January, but with some care and plenty watering, Martie's ground creeping crop area is flourishing. The watermelon plants have lots of flowers and some little watermelons developing. Some small butternuts are developing in the butternut area as well. The hubbard squash plant is flowering well but with no little hubbards yet.
First watermelon . . .
. . . and first butternut
  On the animal front, the puppies are now a week old and basically still just eat and sleep. So far Charlie is a great mother, although Martie's pumping her with raw eggs, rooibos tea with milk and a whole lot of other stuff to keep her going. The dogs and ducks are still getting along fine. The ducks must be almost full size now and are finally starting to grow some decent size wings.
Charlie taking strain feeding six
Dakota trying to ignore the ducks

Tess sharing a drink with the ducks
Ok, so now we're getting some wings

  Puppy Gallery
  First official photo session at 11 days old. Not an easy task as these guys wiggle like worms and don't stay still for a second. A bit of flash and a high speed exposure and we got them all. Although some of them may look the same, each one has very distinct facial markings. Captions show the order and times that each one was born, M for male, F for female.
Number 1 (F) - 11h50
Number 2 (F) - 12h40
Number 3 (F) - 12h50

Number 4 (M) - 13h00 (breach)
Number 5 (M) - 14h05 (biggest pup)
Number 6 (F) - 14h30

  Bee Tree Goes Down
  With the "extreme" weather we are having, the wind continues to howl through the farm. One morning we went out to check on the bees and found the tree on the outer edge of the forest next to which we had set up the hive had fallen down. It looked healthy enough, but a big gust must have been too much for it and broke the base of the trunk.

Fortunately, the hive was not damaged but we'll have to get in there with our bee suits on to straighten things up a bit.

  Another Cloudburst
  More extreme weather as on the afternoon of the second Saturday of January another cloudburst dumped 28mm of rain on us in less than half an hour. The chickens were ok this time as their little shelters were on the higher ground in tunnel number 6. But the tortoises had to be rescued again.
"Chicken" growing tunnel lower ground flooded
Veggie tunnel number 2 flooded

  Not So Fluffy and Cute Any More
  In just over five weeks the ducklings have grown from cute little fluffballs to almost full sized ducks. And their little cheep-cheep calls are now deep honking quack-quacks. Mouse-over the picture on the right to see the difference. It's hard to believe, but that's how quickly these ducks grow.

We've also now identified them as Pekin Ducks - a very hardy and domesticated duck primarily bred for egg and meat production. They also make great pets. All they need is a bit of water to wash down their food, clean their beaks and preen. If they can survive the farm, they'll be with us for around 10 years.

Their only problem is that they're second only to pigs for mess. Beautifully white after preening but they are not house trainable. They just poo when they need to. And after an overdose of greens it's just gross. And don't try feeding them from a dish. It'll be turned over and the food will be all over the place in minutes. But they're still so entertaining to watch - they stretch everything continually and then do sudden "for no reason" mad dashes making big plop plop sounds on the concrete slab outside the workshop. You've got to just love them.

  Chicken House Work Continues
Fitting last bricks to roof height       
The builders were back with us for their first building session of the year on the second weekend of January, and it was back to work on the chicken house.

The task for the weekend was to finish off the structure so that we could get the roof on. Most of Saturday the building team spent plastering the inside walls while I nailed the perlins down onto the roof beams.

Sunday morning they finished the plastering and I cut bits of brick with the angle grinder for Leno to fit on the side wall to finish them up to the roof sheeting level (basically to the top of the perlins).

Once that was done they dug the holes for the fencing posts, mixed some concrete using the left-over plaster mix and we planted all the fencing poles and stays to their correct heights. The fencing will be level along the top but due to the sloping ground will be lower at the gate and then get higher as it gets further away from the structure.

Inside plastering done and gate posts in
Bottom fence posts and stays planted

  Rinkhals in the Chicken Aviary
  Monday I was in Joburg on business when late morning a frantic call came through from Martie. A rinkhals was attacking the chickens in the driveway aviary!

The snake got into the aviary through a hole under the aviary frame where the chickens had scratched the sand away. The hole was only just big enough for it to get in and it managed to get one of the chicks and swallow it. But then it was too big to get out through the hole
      Dead rinkhals in front of the aviary with noticeable "chick bulge"
  and was trapped in the aviary with a full belly and very excited mother hen.

Although the rinkhals is a dangerous snake, it will mainly strike with venom to immobilise it's prey and rather "spray" venom than strike in self defence. Still, they are unpredictable and a trapped and stressed rinkhals is not to be messed with.

Not much I could do from Joburg so Martie contacted our rural safety group and Roelie from the farm adjoining Rensburg fetched his snake enthusiast friend Joost, and they were at the farm with the necessary weaponry in no time. They assessed the situation and decided to use Joost's .45 revolver rather than Roelie's shotgun (thankfully) to sort out the rinkhals. It was shot and removed from the aviary and calm was restored to the little chicken family (minus one). We were very worried for the mother hen that fended off all the snake's strikes but miraculously she survived the ordeal fighting at close quarters with the snake for over 15 minutes in the little 1200 x 600 aviary.

  Growing After the Rains
  Into the second week of January and our summer rains seem to have finally arrived. On the Monday afternoon through to Tuesday morning it rained continuously and we clocked up over 50mm before
we saw the sun again. Once the sun came out all the plants went through a massive growth spurt.

Up at the pumphouse garden the dahlias were starting to flower, the lavender bushes were all looking good after Martie replaced a few that didn't make the hot, dry spells and the african daisy bushes just always look healthy.

Out in the crop fields the maize plants were doing well and above knee height. Where we
  ripped the ground and hadn't yet cleared it to plant crops, little cleome bushes had sprouted up en masse with thousands of pretty little cleome flowers. And the area was abuzz with bees busily collecting their nectar.

  And then the ground creeping crop area . . . just look at that watermelon! How can such a little creeper produce such massive fruit? And not just one per plant either. Nature is just amazing.

The butternuts were doing well but still no hubbard squash.

Not sure whether it's really necessary but Martie makes little grass "nests" for each of the watermelons and butternuts to keep them off the ground. Looks cute.

  Another Puppy Identity Parade Gallery
  Same order but now two weeks and three days old with mouse-over overlays to show their shoulder markings. Their eyes are open and they respond when you approach to pet them. Their ears are also starting to grow out and they're starting to hear sounds as they respond to noises around them.

Charlie is such a great mother. She really makes things so much easier for us. She knows just when to feed them and how much. And she cleans them continually so they smell like puppies when we pick them up and cuddle them.



Noticably bigger, walking and much more active. The puppy basket doesn't look that big any more

  Finishing Off the Chicken House
  Leno and his team were back for the third weekend of January. They needed to finish off that chicken house so we could get the roof on and start painting.

First job was to lay the floor screed, getting it really smooth so that we will be able to easily hose it down to clean it once the chickens take up residence there.

Then they mixed up some concrete and layed the pathway from the gate to the front door. Job done.

  Levelling the Forest Shelter Floor
  Once the chicken house was done, we moved on to the next item on the list - the forest shelter. After the rains the weeds had taken over there a bit. We weeded and then they got going on levelling and compacting the area in preparation for laying the floor slab.

The plan was to get the area that will be under roof finished - the rest of the driveway leading in to the forest shelter can only be done once all the building on the house is finished as the builders will be mixing mortar and concrete on the driveway and washing all their muck down there for a while still.

Before . . .
. . . and after weeding, levelling and compacting

  Celery Tricks
  It's peak growing season for veggies and Martie's been very busy in the growing tunnels.

The celery is coming along nicely and she is using old toilet roll inners (which we've been collecting for years for the farm) to blanch the stems and keep them nice and clean from our red sand.

When blanched, the stalks will lack the normal green colouring and we may lose a bit of the nutritional value, but the blanching should give the celery a sweeter taste and it should end up more tender at harvest time.

  Myrmecology Lesson - Losing Control
  We've got a huge termite population in and around the forest and out in the grasslands. Any dead wood that is left laying anywhere on the ground around the building site will be burrowed into almost overnight. But I suppose that would not be unusual living on the edge of a bluegum forest.
The tree we cut down to clear for the forest shelter in August      
last year - termites got to it before we could clear it away      

Termites taking over (or maybe taking back?) the driveway      
Our african harvester termite is also very interesting in that it has a symbiotic relationship with certain fungal species. The ants actively cultivate the fungus much like humans farm crops as a food source. In some species, the ants and fungi are even completely dependent on each other for survival. Agriculture is very rare in the animal and insect world so it's well worth a closer look here.

These underground (and in some cases, mound) fungal gardens are located inside the main nest area. Bits of grass and leaves that are collected are used to grow fungus and the termites eat the fungus to help them extract nutrients from the wood and grass they consume.

Maintaining the fungal gardens takes precise temperature control, and the architecture of the mound keeps the temperature and humidity almost constant.

  But every now and again (especially with the extreme weather we've been having recently), the ants lose control of the temperature and/or humidity and the fungus explodes into mushroom growth. Hundreds and thousands of little mushrooms just pop up from the ground all over the place.

For us, the termites are handy as an extra protein treat for the chickens. Martie scoops up the new mounds and throws it all in with the chickens to sift through. They go crazy for it.


  Painting Some Garden Stuff
  We've now moved most of our small to medium size garden stuff from our Joburg house out to the farm - but still got one or two bakkie loads of the bigger potted plants to go, though.

While the builders were busy working on the forest shelter on Sunday, Martie got going on smartening up all the pots and birdbaths we've been collecting over the past few years for the farm.

The local paint shop specialist recommended the new "envionmentally friendly" water based roof paint for the job. It's certainly a lot easier to work with than the old enamel type paints and cleaning the brush afterwards under the tap is just so easy.

The pots were cleaned and rubbed down with a bit of sandpaper and a wire brush and given two coats (amazing paint - dries reasonably quickly as well) of the terracotta colour roof paint.

  Puppies First Time Outside
  One day before three weeks old and now that the puppies could "kind of" see and hear, we thought it was time for them to be exposed to life outside the puppy basket.

Sunday was a bit overcast and not too hot so we set out a blanket on the grass and took them out. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy the feel of the grass and the fresh air and after feeding, just went to sleep.


  Forest Shelter Concrete Floor Slab
  The building team's job for Sunday was to lay the concrete floor for the forest shelter. A bit optimistic for one day's work, I thought, but they started early and got the job done before sundown.

They decided to mix the concrete in the levelled area where the concrete was to be layed. All the material was brought in, the water tanker parked in the driveway and the mixing began. While they were busy with the first mix I decided to lay down a steel profile so that we could have a nice straight and level edge to work to on the driveway side. I joined two profiles and secured them into position with steel pegs and left the team to mix and spread the concrete.

  Once the concrete was levelled and set hard enough to walk on lightly, everyone climbed in floated it smooth.

Steel profile across entrance
      Bringing in the materials for the concrete mix

      Final smoothing and floating of the surface

  Bad Week for Ducks
  Monday morning Tarryn and Paula came out to the farm to visit. Paula would be taking one of the puppies and came out to do some "bonding". Tarryn brought her border collie, Cinders, out.

Now Cinders is no farm dog, but our dogs are ok with her from when Tarryn stayed in our cottage in our Joburg house. So while the humans got preoccupied with the puppies, Cinders decided to investigate the ducks. Of course the ducks weren't happy with Cinders getting that close so quickly and moved off with some running, squawking and flapping, which seemed to really encite Cinders. Before the rescue team could get to them the dog had chased the ducks deep into the forest and had nipped the smaller one. There was a bit of blood and Martie thought it was a goner. But it recovered quickly so she put both ducks back into the aviary for the rest of the day. Later in the afternoon when everything had calmed down we checked the duck out carefully. Nothing seemed broken but it still wouldn't get up or eat. Not much more we could do, so we made it as comfortable as possible and left it for the night.

Next morning we got a call from Che. She had a pair of free range Mallards and one of her dogs had killed one of them. The other one was extremely traumatised and lonely and she asked if we could put it with ours. No problem - we put it in the aviary with the other ducks. Our duck's condition had improved overnight but it was still reluctant to get up or eat.

New lonely Mallard in the aviary
So now we had three ducks, two in trauma and one wondering what on earth had happened to the tranquility of the farm it was used to. Thank goodness the stress had not noticably affected the quails in the same aviary.

A few days later our duck had recovered well but was walking with a bit of a "hobble" - it may have to hobble for the rest of it's days but it was getting around ok and eating normally. We left the Mallard in the aviary every day for a while and it seemed to be settling in well enough.

Taking a dip in the "pond"
Food tastes much better when out of the dish

  Weaning the Puppies
  With the puppies just into their fourth week now (three weeks and two days) and Charlie taking some strain with feeding the six of them, we decided it was time to start weaning the pups.

On the first attempt we soaked and mashed some puppy pellets and Martie fed it to them from her hand. No problems there, they ate it as if they had done it all before and didn't feed nearly as much from Charlie afterwards.

Next feeding time we decided to separate them into two groups and feed them in two sessions, three at a time out of one big
Not a lot of space left when they all stretch out for a snooze
  dish. No problem with them eating the food, but it ended up a very messy feeding session. The dish was too flat and the pups were able to climb right into it.

Then we went out and bought three cheapie puppy bowls from the plastic shop and used them with the three big dogs' bowls and fed them all together. Perfect - just had to take feet out of the big bowls every now and again.

First solids from the hand no problem
Three at a time from a big dish gets a bit messy
Why didn't we just do it properly from the start - no need to experiment - collie's are
preprogrammed to do everything they need to do!

  Magnificent Steppe Buzzard
  One of those glorious summer early mornings we spotted one of the Steppe Buzzards perched on the branches of a dead tree just beyond our log fence. I managed to quickly put the long lens onto the camera and got some great shots before it flew off gracefully for it's day's hunting.

  Another Chameleon Rescue
  Amazing how Martie spots chameleons crossing the Rensburg road on her shopping excursions. And then she stops the car and goes back to face the hissing, snarling creature being rescued. Here's another one rescued from certain road kill and then released onto our farm - we let this one loose in the growing tunnel on the brinjal plants to hopefully sort out some bugs there before it moved off into the forest.

  Veggie Update
Watermelons still getting bigger
Over the fourth weekend of January we had good rains every day, with the second cloudburst for the month on the Friday afternoon. Due to the predicted rain, we called off all building operations for the weekend.

Of course there was the normal growth spurt for all the plants when the sun came out a day or two later. Out in the creeper veggie field the watermelons continue to grow at a rapid rate, the butternuts a bit slower. And we finally have our first hubbard squash.

Butternuts also getting bigger
First hubbard squash

Working in the main veggie tunnel
In the growing tunnels, we're also having some successes.

Our little gemsquash bush is still producing the most delicious gemsquashes and the bean bush has produced a few really juicy and tasty beans.

We're battling a bit with the green peppers - losing a lot on the bushes with rot - not too sure if they're too dry, too wet or too hot.

And the spinach (swiss chard, actually) just keeps going. Martie harvested some and sold it off at the local school farm market.


  We've learned a lot this season (and it's not over yet). We've realised we have to put a lot more effort into our soil preparation. We've spent far too much time fighting off red spider and mildew problems - healthier soil will produce healthier plants that won't be as succeptable to these problems. Farm animals will also need to be introduced as part of the plan. We've got more than enough grassland to feed a few of them and we're going to need the manure for our composting.

As far as watering goes, we've found we can hand water (or irrigate) as much as we can during the dry spells, it's just not the same as rain - hand watering just keeps the plants alive and surviving. The real growing only happens after a period of good rainfall and the few days of sunshine after that. We are becoming much more aware of the weather patterns and keep an eye on weather predictions daily. Very difficult in the times in which we are presently living, with global warming starting to have a noticable effect on our weather patterns.

So far we have only planted a few plants of each veggie type, just to see what the plants are like and how easy they are to grow. We now have to decide on what we are going to plant and go at it on a slightly bigger scale. And we have to go about growing vegetable varieties a bit more scientifically with crop rotation in mind in the growing tunnels. We are by no means anywhere near the self sustainable level we need to be - it's going to get very challenging.

  Getting Really Cute
  Nearing the end of week four and the puppies are getting very cute. They've now all got needle sharp little teeth and their ears are growing out and getting floppy. Their faces are maturing and they're a lot more energetic and starting to play with each other.
  Although Charlie still lets them feed off of her, while they're busy drinking she turns her head around towards them often (probably as their sharp little teeth and claws rip into her) and sometimes just gets up and walks off.

They now often hang over the edge of their basket and some have taken the plunge and piled over the edge onto the floor. So Martie has set up a barrier in our "bedroom" from some wood planks so they can have a bit of a "playground" outside their basket.

  Outdoors time is now getting a bit hectic. It's a full time job for two to keep track of where the puppies are and counting to six is becoming obsessive. They're also now very inquisitive.

First few times out everything was fine. But then the puppies realised the big white things moved away when they got closer to them. And the faster they tried to get closer to them, the faster they moved away. And they made honking noises when they moved fast. So that was that for the happy hour with everyone outside together.


  Interesting Exotic
  I remember buying this plant from a nursery many, many years ago for our Joburg house - just a really interesting looking plant with it's leopardskin patterned stem and unusual leaf formation. I don't remember digging it up and planting it in this bag though, but out of one of the bags we brought from the house suddenly popped this lovely Voodoo Lily.

And after a bit of research, what an interesting plant it is. Not a true lily, it's a shade-loving plant from temperate and tropical Africa and Asia. I've never seen one flower, but apparently it shoots it's flower before the leaf stem and the flower stinks really bad to attract it's carrion-feeding pollinators. The flower only lasts for about two days, so I've probably just missed it. It's growth rate is
phenomenal - estimated at around 7cm a day as the foliage stem shoots from the bulb. It's called Voodoo for it's ability to flower from the bulb without soil or water and it is extremely hardy. Should do so well in our forest.

  Chicken "Tractor"
  That chicken house is still going to take a while before the chickens can move in. And the poor "family of four" (used to be five) are cooped up all day in that little 1200 x 600 aviary. They seem happy enough there but I'm sure they'll be much happier with a bit more space.

So sneaking in onto the top of the projects list is the "chicken tractor". The basic principle is to house chickens and be able to move them around to wherever you need the ground scratched and cleaned. It needs to have a shelter area for night time roosting and a larger open area for them to be able to work in during the day.

  The frame is 3 meters long and one meter wide and is made from some 35 x 35mm timber roof brandering strips nailed and glued together at 30 degree angles. Not easy with square material but I think I got most of the angles right.

Then I used some of the plywood from packing crates I scored from one of our computer suppliers, cut it to size on the table saw and screwed it onto the frame for the shelter area.

The whole thing was then painted with two coats of Waksol and left out in the sun to dry and colour for a few days. Waksol goes onto pine an ugly green and with a few days in the sun it changes to a lovely golden brown colour.

Not sure if they intended this stuff to be recycled into chicken tractors

So far so cool. Now we just have to wrap the whole thing in chicken wire, make up and fit all the doors and I think we're ready to go.

Basic framework done

Putting on the plywod sheeting

  Puppy Progress
  Now into week number 5 - a very active pack of puppies. Although Charlie now tries her best to stay well away from them, she's still affectionate for a few seconds when they approach her and then moves off quickly before they can smell the milk.

They're all walking, running and jumping around continually (sometimes with a lot of puppy growling and biting) and we're getting into a good eating, sleeping and playing routine, although night times are still a bit problematic and toilet training is progressing in earnest.

We bought another three cheapie plastic feeding bowls and now feeding time is very neat and tidy - to start with! Amazing how the guy next to yours' food always looks so much better. Well, at least they share generously without any problems at this stage. And Martie makes sure there's more than enough food to go around.

And they've now all got names. Nothing exotic - mostly according to their markings and features.
From the left Lady, Eva, Spotty, Vicky, Gabby and Mr T

  Good Rains and Running Water
  On the days leading up to and during the fourth weekend of January we had four days of really good rains. Actually, perfect weather for us with light cloud cover to sunny mornings so that the solar system batteries could charge and rain every afternoon and evening. And over the four days we had over 100mm of rain with no cloudburst downpours.
Early morning mist rolling over the hills into the valley
  Early Sunday morning we took a walk up to the gorge to see the stream running. We could hear the water coming down the hillside from our farm. So good to see all the streams running again.
Stream coming down the gorge from the hills
Strong flow through the fence

  Avian Update
  All the chicks are much bigger now - almost not chicks any more. Growing tunnel number four is still the happy home of the rooster, two hens and the six chicks. All is well there (other than the odd hen fight for pecking order) and the chicks are starting to find ways out of the shade net surround to venture out into the long grass to scratch and peck. We just chase them back in when we have the time.

The ducks are also all getting along well. The smaller pekin has stopped "hobbling" and now waddles normally. The lonely mallard has joined the pekin "friend group" and sometimes the pekins follow it into the long grass - venturing much further from the workshops than they have ever gone before. Then when they dash back to the safety of the workshop area, the mallard follows them.

Getting them all in and out of the big aviary every day is still a mission - that little mallard is fast an agile and there is no way one person alone can catch it in the forest - it's a two man task with lots of strategy and good communication required.

  The Final Step
  "I promise, Leno, this is the last steps we will need to build". After all that clearing of the forest around the driveway area we thought it would be nice to have steps down from the driveway into
Little foundation for final steps
that cleared area of the forest. So a quick change of plan with the forest shelter wall, a little foundation and Leno built us a step down into the forest to integrate into the forest shelter wall and front support pillar.

Needless to say my calculations were out again (when am I ever going to get steps right) and we had to make the top step an "extension" of the driveway at the same level. But it all worked out good in the end and looks just fine.

Building the step into the wall
Little step almost done

  Building the Forest Shelter Walls
  The last weekend of January, the weather was clear enough for building and on Saturday morning the builders were on site to get going on the forest shelter wall.

Now that the floor was finished we decided to move the project up the list and get the walls done (and maybe even the roof) so that we could use the space. It's such a nice space to work in down in the shade of the eucalyptus trees with perfect access to the garages for tools.

The plan is to have a low wall around the area and to build four columns to support the roof
  structure. One of the columns will integrate into a "feature wall" where we'll use the remaining three window blocks we still have lying around.

Saturday Leno finished the one side around to the main steps down into the forest, and then on Sunday finished the other side and the base of the "feature" wall, incorporating holes for the water to run through out into the forest.

All cleaned up, the forest shelter area with all low walls built and bases for pillars and feature wall. New steps on the left and everything tying in nicely to the curved driveway retainer walls on either side of it.

  Large Crops Field
  We're ending off the month with pictures of the large crops field that we started the month on.

January rainfall was very high, although with the now normal extremes of torrential cloudbursts and long dry periods. Well, maybe a week without rain is not that long, but the heat waves and continual hot dry winds sure took their toll on the crops.

The high rainfall has been beneficial, though. The grass is now much greener and has suddenly grown much taller. Our crops have also grown considerably. The maize is almost shoulder high. Interesting that the plants in the middle of the field are always bigger then those on the edges. The
Maize in the background, little reseeded lucerne area in front

Nigerian Oilseed Sunflowers
wind has battered them a bit and we've had to harvest a few mealies way before they were ready. Even at that stage they were delicious.

The reseeded lucerne area is looking much better. Lucerne needs lots of water to get going (and to keep going, I think) so we're going to have to get the whole strip under regular irrigation soon.

And finally, those sunflowers. Not too many of the seeds germinated, but they are growing at a furious rate. We have only fourteen plants but that will probably be enough for us to use for one season and allow us to harvest seed for next season. So looking forward to seeing what those Livingseeds African Heirloom Nigerian Oilseed Sunflowers will be like. Livingseeds claim they are a traditional African variety typically collected in deep rural villages throughout Africa that have developed a natural disease resistance.