Making Hay May 2016




That's all hay bales are, really - just a whole bunch of cut grass bundled together and tied up to make it manageable.

Johan had been baling some hay from wherever there was cut grass laying around for winter feed for his horse in a medium sized rectangular plastic bucket by laying some baling twine into the bucket, filling the bucket with grass, compressing it by pushing into the bucket by hand and then tying the twine to keep the grass in a kind of squarish shape. After seeing what he was doing I directed him to an idea for a "hand baler" that I had seen on the internet and was thinking of making one day.

After checking out the concept, it wasn't long before he had built one and came across to try it out on the grass I had cut the previous week. It worked a treat and I'm now definitely going to build one for myself - just not sure where this new project is going to be slotted in on the priority list.

The device is basically an upright plywood box built onto a small platform with a compression "plunger" consisting of a flat plate to push down on the grass and a long handle to give leverage to force the flat plate down. There's a bit of intricacy in being able to get the baling twine around the bale while it's in the box, but nothing too complicated. The front of the box has a hinged door with latches so you can get the bale out when it has been "cast".

So, here's the basic procedure:

1. Prepare the the baling twine by cutting two lengths about three meters long each and then laying them into the box. Loops are tied on one end of each of the twine peices and they are attached to two screws on the top back of the box. The twine is then dropped into the box and run between (not through!) the eyelets and blocks of wood on the bottom of the box so that it stays down there but with a bit of tugging it will come loose. This is reasonably easily done as you can work through the front door. The twine is then run from the bottom eyelets out of the box through the two slots on the front door. The door is then closed and latched and the twine secured onto little handles that Johan fitted on each side of the box. Once the twine is set, the box is just filled with grass from the top.

2. Then the compression plate is lowered into the box and the handle is "leaned on" to compress the grass. Once compressed, the compression plate is removed and more grass pushed in. Compress again, and repeat until the box is full and the grass is well compressed. Normally you only need to fill and compress two or three times.

3. Prepare the twine by loosening it off the sides of the box and releasing it from the screws on the back of the box. Feed the twine from the back of the box over the grass in the box and through the top of the slots in the front door.

4. Up until this point it is really a one man operation, two people just makes things a lot easier. But for the next step two people are required. One to compress the grass in the box by hanging on the handle while the other ties the twine securely. But I'm sure the box can be modified a little to include a ratchet or some kind of lock down system on the handle to keep the grass compressed while the twine is tied.

5. Release the latches on the front door and open it and there we have a neat bale of hay in the box. It does require some pressure against the door to get the latches loose as the compressed grass tends to force the door outwards against the latches.

6. Because of the compression the bale is also fairly tight in the box and it takes some force to pull the top forward and down onto the platform. Then you simply grab hold of the twine tightly and pull it out of the box.

7. And now it can be easily handled by grabbing the twine and carried around to wherever it is required.

8. After the first three bales the team was able to step back and take a short break and photo session.

It was a perfect autumn day and after a cool morning was getting rather warm towards midday. So after Johan and Marcel had lunch with us they headed back to their farm cottage to change into more "summery" clothes and to go and to rummage around Janine's big baling machine for some more scraps of baling twine before we started the afternoon baling session.

Martie raking grass while Johan removes the broken baler handle
  Mid afternoon they were back and we started collecting all the cut grass from the top corner of our property for baling. Unfortunately the handle on the baler broke while compressing the grass on one of the first few bales so we had to quickly make another one. But even with that little setback we managed to make 14 bales which we loaded into Johan's Landy and he took it away for storage in his horsebox for winter feed for his horse.
  Below, helping Johan fit the new handle made from a perlin scrap from our building site.

On the right, just before sunset Martie and Marcel getting the bales loaded onto Johan's Landy to get them into storage.

. . . and we even had time to enjoy the lovely warm autumn sunset

  Winter Crops
  Martie planted our winter crops of broccoli, cauliflower and pea seeds into seedling trays early in autumn, nurtured them lovingly into seedlings and has now replanted them out into growing tunnel number three.

Due to our very mild winter so far our summer lettuce crop (top left in the picture) is still doing well and giving us more than enough lettuce for our salads with the tortoises and ducks also getting their fair share.

  Sealing Forest Shelter Laminated Beams
  Work continued in the first week of May on the forest shelter roof beams. Now that they were both cut to size and planed and sanded really smooth, next job was to paint them with sealer.

All our pine woodwork on the farm has so far been sealed with Silkwood Golden Brown sealer. The tongue and groove pine panelling has held up very well over the past few months on the workshop sliding doors which are exposed to rain when it blows in from the west and full sun beating down on it for most of every afternoon.

As the Silkwood Golden Brown is a mild stain as well, two coats seems to make the wood a bit too dark, so on the beams I only gave it one coat of Golden Brown and then a coat of Silkwood Clear over that.

The finish looks great and I think I'll repaint all the woodwork every now and then with the clear sealer to keep it looking good and to keep the light stain colouring.

  Big Eland Herd Still Visiting
  That big herd of eland is still hanging around the area. Here they are taking a break in the shade of the black wattle trees up in the top corner of our farm. So far they're behaving themselves and staying on their side of the fence. But we're still keeping a continual watch on their movements.

  Forest Shelter Beams Go Up
  We gave the sealer a few days to work it's magic on the wood and once it had soaked in/dried enough for us to handle, Martie and I huffed and puffed and put the forest shelter roof beams up. Great that they fitted nicely into the slots in the brick pillars and feature wall we had built without any problems. And with a really big job out of the way, it was nice to have some working space in
  the forest shelter area again. Just not sure when we're going to be able to get going on the rest of the roof there, though.

Right hand side one up first . . .

. . . and then the left hand side one 

  Bringing the Power Down
  Our solar power systems are working quite well. I have split the four batteries up into two systems. The main one uses the older two batteries which charge from two 270 watt solar panels. That's fairly big power and those two panels produce enough power to charge the batteries as well as run the fridge, the computers and various other small battery chargers comfortably during the day when the sun is shining. However, it does lack storage capacity and we normally have to switch off the fridge in the late afternoon and the batteries usually die on us late evening if we have to work on the computer in the late afternoon into the evening. But that's what the backup system is for. It uses the other two batteries and charges from a single 170 watt solar panel. As we don't use it for power during the day, it always has a full charge for the nights. So we can switch over to the backup system to run the computer for the rest of the evening if necessary.
Backup system moved downstairs      

Our floodlights run off the backup system using Quickswitch remote switches and all our other lighting is run from separate smaller systems scattered through the rooms where we need lights.

In preparation to start working on finishing off the upstairs workshop, we needed to move all the power systems out of there.

The main system was moved down to the double garage (our bedroom/office/workshop area) onto a temporary little table and the backup system moved just downstairs from where it was. All the wires from the solar panels were rerouted to the new locations and the output wiring to the fridge and computer desk as well. Phew - and all done in one afternoon.

Main system moved into the garage

  Taking Down Upstairs Temporary Flooring
  Now there's a job I wasn't looking forward to. The temporary floorboards were up there since the upstairs workshop was plastered and still had splashed plaster and builders dust at least a millimeter thick in places on them. And those 20mm thick 2.4 x 1.2 meter boards were big and rather heavy.

Simply tilting them and dropping them down between the floor beams was just out of the question as all the dust would "unsettle" (mostly onto the person standing below to hold the boards as they are lowered down) and just make a big mess. The obvious solution was to clean the boards while they were up there and then lower them down between the beams.

We brought our vacuum cleaner out from our Joburg house a few times but just never got to the job,
  but now it was time to take the boards down and we didn't have the vacuum cleaner handy. So I quickly swung plan number two into action (probably the better one anyway) and took a bucket of water and an old cloth up there for a few hours and wiped off the dust with the wet cloth, rinsing it out in the bucket of water continually. Worked well and we were able to lower the boards down without much dust and mess at all.

Cleaning off the boards with cloth and water

   Taking down the old boards 

  Veggie Harvesting
  Well into a very mild winter and we're still harvesting lots of summer vegetables. On the left, spinach (swiss chard) plants still producting abundantly and some red peppers. Still losing lots of red peppers to rot but getting a few good ones out.

Right, Martie dug up all the remaining sweet potatoes that
survived the wild animal attacks through the summer. Not a great crop, but we'll be fencing off areas for next year that should give them better protection.

And below, more tomatoes than we can ever use. The large tomato plants did very well and the little cherry tomato plants covered all our compost heaps. They're now all nearing the end of their season. Martie bought some onions (we're not growing any of them yet) and cooked them all up into four bottles of tomato and onion mix for our pap and wors braais.


  Big Winter Rains
  Our second weekend of May a big cold front moved through and it rained the entire weekend. We got 40mm of rain in two days - in May! A little unusual but I suppose we'd better just start getting used to unusual weather.

Once the cold front had moved off and the rain had stopped we had the usual super clear two days. Below, some low cloud moving across in front of the Suikerbosrand hills.


  Wildflowers and Walkies
  Not sure it it's the right season for these flowers, but after it warmed up a bit after those good rains we found quite a few of the little wild plants up on the foot of the hill flowering again.

We've still got to dig into that wildflower book (now packed away in a box somewhere) so we haven't yet identified most of them.

On the left we have these lovely little bunches of white flowers that produce the cute little round hairy seed pods. Below left a little wild gazania and below right our little pink and yellow "smiley face" flowers.

And with all the early winter dust settled by the rain and the air so fresh and clean, it was such a pleasure taking our early morning and late afternoon walks up in the short grass at the foot of the hill. And all the puppies just love it up there sniffing all the wild smells and being able to get up to full speed on their sprints across the big field.


  Sanding and Sealing Upstairs Workshop Floor Beams
  And another job I wasn't looking forward to comes along. The upstairs workshop floor beams have up been there for over three years now and had been well weathered for a few months before the roof was installed on the workshops and then the rest of the time indoors but still ageing and hardening.

I was hoping to just sand off the red product qc stamps but once I had sanded off the first stamp, the newly sanded wood colour was so different from the aged wood colouring that I just had to bite the bullet and sand all the beams all round. And sanding that aged wood at head height was not pleasant - in
      Working up close to the sanding
      machine breathing in some dust
      First three beams sanded,
      five more to go
  fact, the surprised look on Marties's face when I emerged for breaks gave me an idea of how much sawdust I created - and must have breathed in. I've tried working with a dust mask but then I battle to breathe at all. And I'd rather breathe dust than not at all.

A few days later the beams were all sanded smooth. I then gave them a coat of Silkwood sealer. Job done and now moving on to filling and sanding the bottom workshop walls in preparation for painting (another not so nice job) and then onto getting those steps to the upstairs workshop done.

Workshop beams all sanded and sealed. Phew!

  Reshuffling Chickens
Pair of Bantams in the      
chicken tractor
Time for some chicken management. The chicks are getting close to breeding age now - almost 6 months old and the young rooster is already "crowing" properly. So we need to get them grouped so we could eventually end up with some clean (well, not really sure how clean) bloodline bantam chicks and have some of the weird crossbreed chicks separately.

Catching chickens is not my favourite pastime. They are really stupid birds but frustratingly seem to get short spurts of intelligence when being chased by humans. They manage to dart,

Cross-breed rooster and two      
hens in the chicken house      
dash and jump up at just the right moment to make the people chasing them look like idiots who really don't know what they're doing.

And so the day went - chasing and catching chickens in the growing tunnel and around the yard. And once they get into the forest we just have to
  leave them until they decide to come out and then start the chase again. It's just impossible to catch a chicken in the forest! One day I really must make myself one of those wire chicken leg hooking things - kind of like a little shepherd's staff to make the job easier.

Eventualy we got the job done and we now have one of the old bantam hens and the youngest of the old bantam roosters in the chicken tractor. Once separated from her chicks she started laying eggs almost immediately and went broody quickly after that.

Then we separated the cross-breed rooster (a real handsome specimen - going to be very colourful and almost six months old now) and two of the cross-breed black chicks and put them all into the new chicken house. Although not quite finished yet, we just ran chicken wire across the entire front of the building to cover the window openings and door and left the high top vents on the other wall
All the rest left in the growing tunnel
open for the time being. Martie layered the floor with some old grass cuttings (could be called hay, I suppose) and after a few hours they all seemed happy in their new home.

All the rest of the chickens were left in growing tunnel number 4: That's the old bantam rooster, the other old bantam hen, the ginger cross-breed chicken, the two white cross-breed chickens (most "bantam looking" of the chicks) and the other two black cross-breed black hens. Not sure what's going to go on in there.

  Setting up Upstairs Workshop Stairway Post
  First step for the stairway was to set up the stairway main support post. I made this post a long time ago by laminating three pieces of 110 x 35mm roofing timber and then planing and sanding it all smooth. The sealing was done while sealing the laminated beams for the the forest shelter workshop.

I had already "kind of" designed the stairway in my head all that time ago, so the positioning of the post would determine the width of the stairway. I had also put in a threaded rod into the bottom of the post that keyed into a hole in the concrete floor and I had made sure that the beam it would be attached to was aligned with the hole in the floor, taking half the thickness of the beam into account.

So far so good. All that was left to do was to drop the beam back into the keying hole in the floor and get it all aligned so it was next to the beam and perfectly vertically level all round. Quick and easy with the level and as the finer details of the stairway were not quite in my head yet, I just marked the position of the post on the beam and clamped it there temporarily until the designwork had caught up a bit.

  Cutting Pavement Grass
  In return for allowing their sheep to graze our pavement all summer Sybrand and Thea, from the farm across the street and opposite Kallie and Suzette's farm, arranged that their tractor driver come across with his big tractor and slasher and cut our pavement grass for us.
All the rest left in the growig tunnel

That saved me a day on the tractor and although I love working the tractor, the diesel saving in our present ecomonic climate is worth consideration.

He made quick work of all the neighbour's pavements and we were out checking on him often, making sure he stayed about a meter away from our fence at all times. But someone should really show him how to set the slasher on the back of the tractor - the one side was hanging a bit low and he did a fair amount of light ploughing while he was cutting the grass.

  Eland News
  A small herd of eland were still around. Above, they head back towards the dam on the short grass area just beyond our fence.

One weekday while I was in Joburg on business, one of our friends driving down the Rensburg road to work in Balfour spotted a lone eland out in the road. Martie immediately put out a message to our whatsapp farmers group to let everyone know to look out for it. Not long before Hans, the manager of the game farm that manages the animals in the reserve was over looking for it to get it back into the reserve before it could do damage to a car or some hungry farmer in the area got to it first.

He and his team attempted getting it back into the reserve for most of the day. They would locate it, cut the fence and try and herd it in through the break in the fence. But eland don't herd well and when unsuccessful, they'd have to fix up the fence and start their attempt again.

The saga ended when it was later spotted by Thea on Che's side of our farm. Hans was notified and Martie dashed out, opened our gate 90 degrees to the fence and hid behind a tree. With a bit of
  coaxing from Hans and his team, it ran down the fence line and into our driveway through our gate. It was exhausted but seemed to sense it was safely back in the reserve (people weren't chasing it any more), laying in our driveway for a few hours recovering. Martie took a big bucket of water and put it nearby in case it needed to drink. One eland saved. By the time I got home, it had moved off to probably join with the rest of the herd.

Then, on one one of our walks to the dam we spotted this poor eland on the right with two porcupine quills stuck into the top of it's nose.

It must have had an altercation one night with a porcupine and obviously came off second best. Sore and uncomfortable with the quills jabbed quite deep into the soft flesh of it's nose, it probably got a bit too irritating in the herd and was booted out until it got it's problems sorted.

Not sure how this problem will get resolved. Not much chance of having it darted and it's nose patched up in our reserve so nature will just have to take it's course there.

  Losing Another Chicken
Dead chicken stuck    
high up in the tree    
After our chicken reshuffle, things were fine on the chicken front for a few days. Then suddenly the two chicks that used to be in the chicken tractor began flying out of their new growing tunnel home and spending their days hanging around the chicken tractor where their "mommy" was. And they just weren't interested in returning to the growing tunnel in the evenings to roost with the rest of the chickens.

So, more chicken chasing ensued every evening for a few days to catch them and chuck them back into the growing tunnel with the other chickens. On the first few evenings we would let them into the chicken tractor and grab hold of them in the confined area quite easily. But they soon got wise to that and wouldn't go in any more. And with the chicken tractor being right on the
    No more flying - the survivor chicken's
    primary wing feathers cut short
edge of the forest, we couldn't always catch them before dark. So on some nights we just had to leave them out to roost somewhere in the forest near their mommy in the chicken tractor.

They would usually be out and about and around the chicken tractor in the mornings for food, but one morning one was gone. Not much we
could do so we put our solution plan into action. The second one was captured and we took her into the kitchen (no, not that yet!) and cut the primary feathers short on each of her wings. We then put her back into the growing tunnel and problem solved. But we had lost one chicken.

Taking a break from woodwork one afternoon I decided to take a good look around deeper into the forest

    Shame. And that makes it
    three chickens lost so far
  area around the chicken tractor and spotted something high up in one of the trees. It looked about the size and shape of a chicken and I thought maybe our chicken had flown up into the tree to roost for the night and got stuck in the fine branches. I selected a long stick and hooked it down to check it out. It was our chicken all right. But it had been the victim of a night predator. Whatever got it just bit off it's head, took it up into the tree and ate the contents of the crop. It being up in the tree ruled out dogs and jackal - so it could only have been some kind of cat.

Lesson learned: Chickens just cannot overnight in the forest. Although we don't see them often, predators are around. The genet and cats are quiet but we often hear dogs from the farm across the road (our problem farm) barking in our forest and we hear those wonderful but sometimes very eerie black-backed jackal howling calls every evening and often through the night. Sometimes they're very close by in our forest and sometimes a little further away in the gorges or the forests on the foot of the hills. They are always out there!

  Winter Crops and Plants Update
  First the plants. On the right Martie's little lavender bushes are doing amazingly well. They were each planted from a cutting and just about every one is now a cute little bush (those few that initially didn't make it were replaced with new cuttings). They are all flowering and the bees are visiting them often. That will one day be a beautiful lavender hedge along the front of the pumphouse in front of our bathroom windows. The rest of the

pumphouse garden is also looking great - a little winter oasis in the drab light brown grassland.

On the left are the cauliflower and below the broccoli plants in the winter crop growing tunnel number 3. They seem to be very cold resistant and are just about to produce.

Below right, some unusual fruit colouring on our bell pepper bushes.