First Grass Cutting February 2016
  Late rains, late grass growth and therefore late grass cutting.

Last year we were mowing our first grass at the end of December, this year the first week of February. Amazing that the rain patterns can make that amount of difference.

First area to be cut this year was from the pumphouse down to the growing tunnels, parallel to the edge of the ripped large crop area. On this first cut of the year I tried something a little different. As the slasher throws the grass out on the left hand side, I did my runs up and then down again along the same parallel next to the previous cut (instead of the circular circuit I normally do). This piles the grass from two passes on same line and each line is two tractor cutting widths apart which should result in half the amount of gathering.

Note: the grass in that ripped area is doing better than ever after being ripped for removal!

From the pumphouse down to the growing tunnels . . .

. . . and from the growing tunnels up to the pumphouse.
  And again, this year we must try and get the grass raked and picked up as it is cut. But still not sure what we're going to do with it all yet.

  Just Puppies
  The puppies are now five weeks old and things are getting a little hectic around the farm homestead.

Charlie is starting to play with them a little but moves off very quickly when they try their luck drinking from her. Dakota is just a grumpy old granny and just ignores the puppies completely and growls at them if they approach her to try and play. But Tess makes a fantastic playmate. She takes on all six of them and thoroughly enjoys a play session - even though it involves her ears, lips and tail being pulled to their extremes by razor sharp little teeth. She's a bit rough on her "runs" through the pack but when she's down, she's ever so gentle with them.

Tess taking on the pack during a play session.
 Lots of teeth and growling but it's all play.

"You distract her up front, I'll get the tail"
Spot getting bowled over by Eva. Gabby attacking.

Little Eva taking a break hiding behind the birdbath
Eva takes on Spot again - lots of snarling and teeth

Life right now is just eating, sleeping, playing and che
wing - everything gets chewed to "learn" it's texture.

What is this stuff?! - First time on dry pellets
Dirty paws after a quick run outside in the mud

  They're all getting cuter by the day and each now has noticably individual facial features and are developing their own personalities. Spot (the male with the big dot on his head) is by far the biggest pup and is the most confident and outgoing of them all. Eva (female with hardly any white on her face and shoulders) is the smallest of the litter and is shy and reserved (although can give it stick at playtime). They are our two puppies from the litter - most of the others have their new homes already booked.

We've been through all the puppy theory and we fully understand why the puppies should be kept together until they are at least eight weeks old - but I don't think we're going to make it! Six weaned
Trying to keep the puppies contained for outdoor play sessions      

Blocking the forest entrance - but that's not the only entrance!      
puppies are a full time job (Charlie seems to think she's done her bit now) and us trying to manage them takes more time as every day goes by. It's also becoming more difficult to move around in our two room "workshop home" - there's always either a puppy or a puppy poop underfoot. We can't keep them indoors all the time and outdoor time becomes one big chase and track session to try and keep them from chasing the ducks, keeping them together or finding where they've gone. Oh yes, and now they've discovered the forest and it's interesting smells.

We've barricaded our grass area in front of the workshop and garages with pallets (and whatever else we could find to keep them in) but Eva, the smallest and most agile pup has learned how to scale the little walls and makes it her mission to get out into the grasslands and chase the chickens and ducks at every opportunity.

  Another Biggie Goes Down
  Another big tree goes down in the black wattle forest. Just like the tree next to the bee hive, it looked just fine. This one just ripped out of the ground instead of breaking at the trunk. And it took a few little ones around it down as well.

Obviously the rain softened the soil nicely around the trunk and roots and then a good gust of wind must have taken it down. Just so weird that there's bigger trees around it in the same soaked soil and they all held steady. Sometimes there's just no (apparent) logic in nature.

  Building the Forest Shelter Feature Wall
  The builders were back with us again for the first weekend of February to continue work on our forest shelter walls and columns. We had all the materials so they were able to get down to work early.

Helpers throw bricks up onto the scaffolding while Leno builds       
With all the surround walls now already built to full height (only four courses of bricks plus the roller course high) and the bases for the corner columns in place, next job there was to get the "feature wall" up to full height so that we could get the columns that will support the laminated beams for the roof all to the same height.

Lining up those window blocks carefully  
  Getting the first column up to height

Window blocks in and bricking around them  
  Feature wall up to full height - first column going up

  Escape Artists
  I suppose born (hatched) free range, they will always want to be free range. Here the hen and her six chicks from growing tunnel number 4 are out scratching around in the grass around the growing tunnel. We let them out as a treat and to see what they would do out of their growing tunnel home.

All the adults and the smaller chicks seem happy in the confines of the growing tunnel with it's shade net "fence" but the three bigger chicks (the two black ones and Ginger) always somehow get out and enjoy roaming around the growing tunnels and sometimes hang out with the ducks. And when we chase them back in, they're out again within an hour so we now only chase them back in in the evenings so they can sleep with the rest of the chicks in the safety of the enclosure.

  And then the puppies have an escape artist amongst them as well. The smallest of the litter, Eva, has mastered scaling the little retainer wall where we try and keep them in for their early morning outside time. None of the bigger puppies seem to be able to get the hop, pull and push actions properly coordinated - yet!

Step 1 - a quick hop and get back feet hooked into the brick jointing
Step 2 - pull with the front legs and push with the back legs.

Step 3 - and we're over and away!

. . . while brothers and sisters just watch in awe

  First Watermelon
  The second weekend of February we had Lynda and Andreas over for lunch and we decided to harvest our first watermelon. We chose the biggest of the three out in the field and it was perfect - thin white rind and lovely pink fruit, very juicy and sweet.

  Watermelon is 98% water and has good vitamin A and C content as well as potassium, magnesium, and other important nutrients.

We harvested ours in the morning and ate it in the afternoon. But some very interesting facts about watermelons are firstly, they don't ripen further after being harvested, and secondly, they shouldn't be refrigerated until they've been cut.

Watermelons like it hot (for growing and storing) and should be stored at room temperature. Research shows that compared with freshly picked fruit, watermelon stored at 21 degrees centigrade can gain up to 40% more lycopene and 50% to 139% extra
beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Watermelons continue to produce these nutrients after they are harvested and chilling slows this process.

  Off to Their New Homes

Phew!! Six puppies are just a few too many to handle. After six weeks of Charlie's nursing and some "pack training" with us, three of the puppies headed off to their new homes.

Above left, Paula and Nicolas have taken on Gabby. So far they've only got cats - hope everybody gets along.

Above right, Dain with Vicky. Dain has an oldish labrador that will hopefully be able to make the necessary adjustments to having a puppy around.

And on the right our neighbour Suzette with Lady. Lady's going to be a farm dog. They've already got three dogs, two of which we often see at our boundary fence socialising with our dogs. We'll probably see Lady there as well soon.

We'll be keeping the largest and smallest of the litter, Spotty and Eva. So just one more puppy to find a home for now - a male with our temporary name, Mr T.

And with the puppy count halved, things are just so much more relaxed and manageable around the farm.

  Chicken Tractor - Finishing and Moving the Chickens In
  In between bringing up puppies I managed to get the chicken tractor finished. With all the woodwork painted I cut the chicken wire to size and stapled it to the wooden frame, fixed the top hinges in
Stapling the chicken wire to the frame      

Top hinged door all fitted      
place and fitted the two doors: one on the enclosed area so we can check what's going on inside there and the other the center one third of the open area so we can let the chickens in and out if we need to.

Then we found a nice level open patch of ground on the edge of the forest next to the driveway retainer wall not too far from the aviaries and set it all up in place. Once everything was ready we put in some water andf food and moved the chickens in. They seemed very happy to be able to scratch around on some new ground.

Hen with her three big chicks in their new home       

  New Discoveries
  Life for the animals is quite an adventure on the farm, especially for the puppies. Every day they explore further and further away from the indoors kitchen and bedroom environment that they've
  been brought up in. They've been up in the long grass, in the mealie field, up to the pumphouse, in the forest (not too deep, yet) and all the way to the top of the long driveway. But recently they've discovered the builders river sand pile next to the driveway wall and now when we let them out, they often head straight for it. Great stuff, river sand. Gritty and course and such fun to dig in. Notice that Tess has already taught them her "push your head deep into the hole you just dug" trick.

And the ducks have finally discovered the little "pond" we put out for them a while ago. When we first put it out they wouldn't go near it, even though we always made sure it had a bit of water in it. Then one day the mallard took the plunge and before long the pekins were in as well. Now they all thoroughly enjoy "swimming" and splashing around in it. Only thing is it takes about 70 liters of water to fill and we have to change the water every two or three days. That water doesn't stay clean too long with the three of them in and out of it all day but at least we can use the dirty water for watering the plants (and they get "fertiliser" as well).

      Digging in the river sand pile

      Enjoying the new "pond". And look - now we've got real wings!

  Preparing Growing Tunnel #3
  Martie's keeping very busy in the growing tunnels (also in between raising puppies) and has started getting our number 3 tunnel ready for some winter crops. All the weeds were dug up and thrown onto the new compost heap and we broke open and used the compost from one of our original compost heaps in the forest to plant some lettuce seedlings.
Before, overgrown with weeds, first corner cleared
 ... and after, cleared and lettuce seedlings planted.

  Crops Update
  With good rains during the second and third weeks of February the large crops and veggies are doing very well.

We planted the first section of mealies using the Starke Ayres Zama Star seeds at the end of October last year, then added a second section three weeks later and finally followed (a bit close to the end of the maize sowing season) with a third planting of Revolution seeds at the end of December. The first plants really took a beating from the hot, dry spells we had during November and it's a bit early
Mealies in the background, lucern now doing ok in the foreground       

Sunflowers growing strong       
to see if we can tell the difference between the two varieties. Right now the Revolution seed plants, although smaller, do look considerably greener and healthier - but that may just be due to the weather the've been exposed to.

The sunflower seeds were also planted at the end of December. They've grown very quickly and now have flower buds visible. They are the Livingseeds Nigerian Oilseed variety - very interested to see what those seeds are going to be like.

Sunflower buds now visible

  The veggies are also all doing well but we're still battling with red spider and powdery mildew problems. We'll probably only be able to get rid of them when our soil is capable of making the plants stronger (those things normally only attack weaker plants).
First butternut harvested  
  One of the early brinjals - lots more to come

  Sealing Upstairs Workshop Roofing Beams
  A job I've been putting off for a while now - but the time is now right. We can't go on building continually without finishing off the interiors of the structures. And living in builders dust is starting to get to us. So far we have the three workshops, a three single garage area and a double garage area to finish off.

So we're starting at the top and first step up there is to seal the roofing beams. The workshops were the first structure we built and we were a bit naive and guided by the builders who just put everything together as it was delivered. We learn. In future no woodwork will be going up before being sealed and treated first. It would have been so much easier to paint the woodwork down on the ground. Now we have to work upside down on scaffolding and step ladders. A real difficult job and unless we remove the roof sheeting, the top of the beams and perlins can't be sealed. The picture on the right shows the roofing beams in the upstairs workshop halfway done.

Once the beams are done then the walls will need to be sanded smooth, painted with plaster primer and then painted with two coats of good paint.

  Preparing the Chicken House for Roof Sheeting
  It always happens this way. When ordering materials for a job, you always have to order a bit more just in case and you always have some materials left over. But it's just never enough to finish off another project. So it was with the roof sheeting for the chicken house. We had enough roof sheeting left over from the garage block to do half the chicken house roof. Now we have to put through a relatively small order to finish off the job.

But there was a lot of preparation work before the roof could go on. The top course of brickwork was particularly bad (must have been one of Leno's off days) and was sticking up a centimeter or two
  above the perlins. So a few hours of dusty grinding work up on the scaffolding and we had that sorted out. Then it was on to the plastering! Shoddy workmanship again finishing off the pillar next to the doorway and around almost every wooden window frame. So, a few hours of chipping away the bad plaster and replastering and we were ready to roof it (well, at least half roof it).

  Forest Shelter Brickwork Completed
  The builders were onsite for the last weekend of February to finish off the forest shelter pillars. Very slow and finicky work getting the slots on the top of the pillars the correct width for the laminated beams to slide into. But have to resign myself to probably having to do a bit of grinding to get them to fit nicely.

I've now decided I'm going to "build" the laminated beams myself. A bit of a slow process building them up by gluing one
  strip onto the beam at a time but much cheaper than buying pre-made beams. The money I save on buying pre-made beams will probably have to be spent on trestles and clamps, but at least I'll have some good trestles and clamps that I can use on other projects when these beams are done.
All brickwork on the forest shelter now done and looking very smart - view from the garage block