Robert Fischer Passes On April 2016
  I've often spoken of Robert and Maria on this website. They are an elderly German couple that live a self-sustainable lifestyle (as far as food is concerned, but not yet "off-the-grid") over the other side of Heidelberg. Over the past few years that we've been developing our farm, we've become very good friends with them and they've been imparting their knowledge on growing food and I was in turn helping Robert ease his homestead off the grid.

So it came as a big shock to hear that Robert had died of a heart attack while out cutting grass in an open field (with his trusty old scythe and sickle) on a very hot morning for his small herd of cattle. And I think he died just the way he would have liked to - no hospitals or burdenning his family with him being sick. It was just so quick - he's sadly just suddenly gone. However, we did have the honour to have sat with him in our forest chatting on the afternoon before he died when he came over to visit to see how I was connecting all my solar system.
 

Robert was an extremely knowledgable man on matters nature, technical and philosophical and being a bit persistent with his opinions, I think not well liked by people when first meeting him. But when you got to know him he had a heart of gold, always willing to help anyone with anything and imparting his vast knowledge with great enthusiasm to those who were interested.

Rest in Peace, Robert, dear friend.


  Borehole Pump Manifold
  I finally got down to changing those ball valves on the borehole pump manifold system. The cheapie plastic ones were becoming very difficult to turn and some of the handles were cracking and breaking due to the force needed to switch the flow on and off.

I also checked the microfilter I installed and there was no grit trapped in it at all. So either the grit particles coming up from the borehole are much smaller than the microfilter can filter out or the grit is now cleared from the system. Hopefully the higher quality metal ball valves will work a lot better than the cheapie plastic ones. Time will tell but they do look smarter.


  Top Field Grass Cutting
 
  Janine has been very busy harvesting all the grass around the perimeter of our farm. She's scoring lots of eragrostis bales to sell and we will have some veldfire security for the winter. The entire top area from our log fence to the base of the hill has now been cut, raked and baled. That gives us a 500 x 100 meter wonderful neatly mowed parkland area right on our doorstep. And the dogs love it. We take them all out there for a good late afternoon run in the short grass often, wearing the puppies out a little to make our evenings a bit more relaxed.

  Forest Shelter Laminated Beam Progress
  Making laminated beams without industrial type presses is a long process but we're making good progress. We're now on our second 1 liter bottle of glue and my system of clamping the beams to the wall with spacers as we add perlin strips is producing fairly straight beams.

In the picture below left, the third 75 x 50 perlin being glued onto the first two and clamped with spacers where necessary against the wall. Below center, after the third perlin the beams are now rigid enough to start working upright and the fourth perlin is being glued and clamped onto the beams. Below right, perlin number six (and final perlin) being added. I designed the slots in the brick pillars for a 7 perlin beam, but I think that would just be a bit too much timber up there for that sized roof. Six looks right and makes a 30cm beam.

 

  First Real Cold Front
  Our weather has truly gone barmy. The Cape took a rather nasty cold front in the last week of March which hardly affected us at all here up on the highveld.

Then, during the first week of April the Cape's second cold front produced snow on the Cape mountains! Snow in April? This one did affect the temperature up here a bit and we had to get our jerseys out quickly. We had three days of overcast weather, a little rain (2mm a day) on two of the overcast days and constant, very strong winds.

On the left, my little "windymeter" showing 33.4 km/hr windspeed and 15,5 degrees at around midday. Although only classed as a force 5 out of 12 and "fresh breeze" on the Beaufort Scales, our little mealie field and the eucalyptus saplings on the forest edge took a good beating from the winds.
 

  Tomatoes
  Martie's been really pampering her tomato plants and they're starting to produce the most amazing tomatoes. She's had a bit of a battle with red spider and a few worms here and there, but now we're reaping the rewards.

Tomato bushes grow so easily (and fast) and most of our compost heaps have tomato bush coverings. They seem to be mostly cherry tomato varieties from seed thrown out from kitchen waste - these we just let the ducks and chickens eat (although when there's too many we do grab a handful or two for the salad bowl). But there are some other interesting varieties that come up from time to time and we protect them with a bit of welded mesh wire until we can see what they are. Last year we had an interesting roma tomato bush but that got eaten by wildlife before we could harvest anything. This year we've got a bush we're protecting with a much larger elongated tomato on it. A few more weeks to ripening to see what it is.

 

  Yellow Mongoose Family
  With all the grass around our farm cut so short we can now keep a much better eye on our little mongoose family that have made their home in an old porcupine digging out on the flat field in front of the hillside. So far we've counted four of them and they cover the entire area on their early morning and late afternoon hunting expeditions.
 

  First Duck Eggs
  Our two pekin ducks are now about 20 weeks old. Five to six months old seems about right and they've now both started laying eggs. Since they started laying we've had an egg a day almost every day from each of them. In the beginning we had a few eggs with "softish" shells and we've had a few
 
Fried duck egg on toast for breakfast      
really small and really large ones, but they've now settled into laying nicely and the eggs are consistently a good size - just a little bigger than a jumbo chicken egg.

So we've been having duck eggs for breakfast. Can't really taste too much difference from chicken eggs, maybe just a wee bit richer. But Martie's since baked lemon meringues with them and says they make a much thicker and solid meringue than with chicken eggs.

Early duck egg size variation      


  Chicken House Door
  Continuing work on the chicken house, the next step there was to build that custom sized door. As long as they don't need to keep burglars out, doors are actually quite easy to make and after some quick internet research (where we can also learn the proper descriptions of the parts), with a few pieces of 110 x 35mm roofing timber and some 10mm plywood, I was confident I could put together a door suitable for the chicken house.

First I cut the sides (stiles) to size and then worked out the size of the crosspeices (rails) and cut them to size. Then I cut the square plywood bottom panel. The top panel will be left open for a wire mesh frame. I used the table saw to make a 10mm slot in the one side of the top and centre rails as well as the bottom 40% of the stiles for the plywood panel and then simply glued and clamped everything together (pictures on the right).

Then my favourite job (not!) hanging the door in the door frame. The frame still seemed fairly straight and square (despite the builders bricking up around it) and it was just a matter of trimming off a bit of the sides and top to get it to fit snugly into the doorframe. Then I lifted it off the floor a little with spacers and fitted the hinges.



 

In the picture above left, the door is hung in the door frame with the hinges installed. By the way, notice those neat hand made trestles I've been working on. While cleaning out Robert Fischer's garage, his grandson Richard gave me a ring and asked if I had any use for them. What a question! Thanks, Robert. They've come in so handy for the woodworking projects I'm busy with right now.

Once the door was fitted I took it down again for painting. Two coats of Silkwood Golden Brown oil sealer (pictures below) and it was ready to go up permanently. Now just got to fit some kind of latch and then on to building all the wire mesh frames.

 

  Hello, Toby
  A family member of one of my clients was "downscaling" from their suburban home to a townhouse complex and had a little pet tortoise that they now didn't know what to do with. They had "rescued" it from an unscrupulous street vendor.

No problem, we took it on. So, welcome Toby. Not sure if it's a him or her yet but it's quite a bit smaller than the rest of our creep of tortoises. Here it is with the rest of the gang warming up in the early morning sun for their wake-up fresh lettuce breakfast starter.


  Grassland Invaders
  Last year we had some "lovely little green bushes with teeny white flowers" growing in between the erogrostis grass in the central area of our grassland. Not yet properly identified, this year they've
 
gone wild and almost taken over some areas. The little bushes grow very fast to about 30cm high and get so thick that they don't let the grass through, so the grass just dies off underneath.

There was really no option but to manually remove all the little bushes before they took over the whole field.

On the left, Martie busy pulling out bushes - the bare patches where the bushes took over very noticable. On the right, some nasty little bushes ready to be pulled out. Below, the pile of bushes pulled out and dumped on our top compost heap. We need to cover them over with some grass that we remove as we clear more of our large crop area over winter.


 

  Cluck Cluck
  All the chicks are almost fully grown now and we still keep the two "families" separated. They do meet up from time to time when we let the "driveway" family out and the "growing tunnel" family get out as well. But there seems to be enough space and they don't seem to make any trouble.

Both hens are still very protective over their broods, even though some of the weird cross breed chicks are now bigger than their mother bantam hens. The only time we hear frantic alarm cackles is when one of the puppies gets too close to the little flock or when the "chicks" get separated from the mother hen.

The growing tunnel flock out "freeranging"     
We've only lost a total of two chickens so far: one to the rinkhals and the cutest (looked like it had eye makeup on) from the growing tunnel flock. Not sure what happenned there, just found it lying dead under their little shelter one morning.
     Ginger "hopping the fence"

 
Spot practicing a bit of herding on the growing tunnel flock

  Puppies First Walk to the Dam
 
Martie and the dogs taking a quick break on the high west bank      
Early mornings are great out on the farm and we're normally up just before it starts getting light. Our roosters and the ducks make sure of that! One really sunny and calm weekday morning we decided to take some time out and walk the dogs across to the dam before breakfast. Our autumn weather is lovely right now and the puppies really enjoyed their first walk out to the dam.

And to our amazement there were still little pools of water in the dam - and that's after
  almost no rain for a month. Normally the dam soaks away quite quickly after a dry spell. The water table in our area does work a little mysteriously and so far it hasn't let us down too much. During that really dry December period when all the farmers in the valley were dropping their pumps further down in their wells, we were still able to pump about 450 liters a day from our little borehole. After those good January rains we were pumping over 700 liters a day and we're still able to pump over 650 liters a day now.
 

  New Sightings for the Birding List
  While out at the dam Martie took the dogs higher up on the bank for a while and I was able to catch up on a bit of birdwatching. Just a few quiet minutes alone and along came a Three-banded Plover walking along the water edge (below right with a great water reflection) and on a branch near the dam wall I spotted a cute little Familiar Chat (below left).
 

  Full Moon Rising over the Hill
  I just can't resist watching a great full moonrise. And a bit of cloud about just makes for a great photograph. Full moon is symbolic of the height of power, the peak of clarity, fullness and obtainment of desire. And full moon always seems to have an energetic buzz about it.

It always means the Sun and Moon are in opposite Zodiac signs. It's a super charge time, but also one of balance where the solar (male) yang and the lunar (female) yin are in harmony. That's if you're into all that astrology stuff.

 

  Eucalyptus Tree Pests
  Last year our forest was infested with eucalyptus weevil (Gonipterus scutellatus). Through summer and now well into autumn their numbers have reduced dramatically to the point that you actually have to go out looking for one if you want to see one. Still not sure why their numbers have declined so much but we're very pleased that they have. In case you're wondering what they look like, on the right are two of the little pests doing what they do best. Their other pastime is eating eucalyptus leaves and that seems about it for their function in life.
  Although we've always had our other eucalyptus pest in the forest, this autumn the forest became infested with the bronze bug (Thaumastocoris - the name is of Greek origin and, ironically, translates as "wonderful bug"!). It's a very teeny (2-4mm) sap-sucking insect and in large numbers they can kill the leaves of Eucalyptus, reducing the trees photosynthetic ability. The lack of food results in stunted growth and even death of severely infested trees.
 
The foliage on a tree infested with bronze bug is usually seen to turn a deep red/brown, starting at the northern side of the canopy, but progressively spreading to the entire canopy. This is sometimes referred to as “winter bronzing” and/or “winter die-back”. Although
this phenomenon occurs throughout the year, the bronzing of leaves usually appears during high infestation levels of the bronze bug. The tree may, however, appear to recover when the bronze bug population is reduced when unfavourable conditions for their survival occur.

Obviously also imported from Australia, the bronze bug was first reported in South Africa in 2005 and shortly after that was found in Argentina, Italy and New Zealand. Due to the our new "global village" world, the pest is now in all the neighbouring countries of those initial countries as well.

Both the weevils and the bronze bugs have biological controls in
  the form of minute egg parasitoid wasps. The weevil's eggs are host to the wasp Anaphes nitens. Cleruchoides noackae has been found to be the most effective biological control wasp for the bronze bug and is at present the main international focus of control efforts. Both wasps have been released into South Africa and monitored by University study groups (excellent study examples of biological pest controls) but with the eucalyptus being (controversially) declared an invader species here, I'm not sure how much research and development will still be permitted.

  Cutting Some of Our Grass
  Most of our grass is now very long and very thick in places and we're really late this year in getting it sorted out before winter sets in and the veldfire season starts. There's just too much other stuff on the go on the farm at the moment.

So Sunday late afternoon after it had cooled down a little I fired up the tractor and made a start on cutting a few rows along the top and side log fence and around the pumphouse.

The old tractor is in desperate need of a good service and filter cleaning, but it'll just have to hang in there and keep working as it is for another month or two.


  Klein Kallie's Hill
  Later we went over to our neighbours Kallie and Suzette and they took us for a sunset drive up to the top of the hill on their farm in their Landy 4x4, to where they lay the ashes of their son Kallie Junior. Klein Kallie loved riding his Landy around up there.

The view from up there is great. Kallie Senior is the second generation on his property and knows quite a bit of history of the area and the farmers around us. Also nice to get to know the different farm borders, although there's not much fencing to really separate them all any more.

 

  More Laminated Beam Progress
  All the gluing is now done on the forest shelter roofing beams and they were moved (only just manageable by one person) onto the trestles for planing and final sanding before sealing.

They look great. My little electric planer produced a full bag of shavings and got all the sides nice and even. I had to buy a new electric belt sander to cope with the finishing sanding. The little one that I bought to do the roofing beams in the workshop and bathroom was just too small (but essentially small to sand the beams working on a ladder).

  Then they were both put on the trestles together and the ends were cut off squarely and cleaned up to make them both exactly the same size. All the little holes and gaps were filled with a pine coloured wood filler and when that was dry they were given their final finish sanding with finer sandpaper on the belt sander. Job done bar the paintwork.
 

  Not So Welcome Visitors
  On the last weekend of May the biggest herd of eland we've ever seen drifted past. We were on full alert for the weekend in case some of them decided to hop our fence and invade. But they just drifted off into the gorge for a few hours and drifted back again to disappear over the hill. Great to see a big herd like that, as long as they're just passing by.