Stairway Handrail - Landing to Top Floor July 2016
  This project has turned out much bigger than I ever thought it would. Building the little stairway to get to the upstairs workshop is now stretching into it's second month.

Next step was to get the handrail from the landing up to the top floor. I cut the midrail to rough size and clamped it in place to get all the angles right, but the floor beams still running across the stairwell and the end of the big beam jutting out into the stairwell were now getting in the way (and one too many painful head bashes into them I think forced the decision). They now needed to be cut off to their correct sizes. So the handrail construction was put on hold and I pondered on how to end off and tie in all the beams. Best solution was to put in a small filler beam two cross beams long and to fit on top of the big beam to lock everything together.

The protruding end of the big beam was cut off (really should have been cut to size while it was down on the ground!) and the two floor beams that were still running across into the stairwell were cut off at the big beam and their discard ends ripped out of the wall to leave two big holes in the nicely painted wall. A time consuming operation as all this cutting had to be done slowly and carefully with the handsaw.

No point in buying a full 3 meter length of beam timber to make the little filler beam, so I laminated some 75x50mm perlins and planed and sanded it to size to fit nicely into the gap between the floor beams and to rest on top of the big beam. All the beams were then screwed together and a day or two later I was ready to continue on with the handrail without all the pesky beam obstacles (but a bit too late for all the bumps on my head).



In the pictures above, top left: Top floor post and midrail clamped in place to check all the angles. Top right: all the components for the landing to top floor handrail - handrail, midrail and post. Middle left: Little filler beam laminated from some perlin material and nicely finished off. Bottom left: A view from inside the stairwell showing the big beam bolts through the main post and the filler in place on top of the big beam. That little filler finished off the upper part of the stairway nicely into a "box" and the upstairs floorboards will rest onto it. Bottom right: A view of the main post corner from the bottom. The floor beams that were cut off for the stairway to run through them are all screwed securely into the little filler beam on top of the big beam.

  Big Winter Forest Edge Cleanup
  Fire season is upon us. And we're very late in cutting all of our grass this year - just too busy with other stuff. So far I've only cut where necessary - mainly "strip" areas along all our fences.

Living out on the farm permanently now, I'm finding it more difficult than ever to find a balance between all my interests. I have general farm work (water management, power management,
  planting food, feeding animals, etc), building and finishing the workshops and hopefully soon the house, business and a bit of leasure (flying model aircraft, taking the dogs out for walks/hikes, etc). Martie has pretty much the same interests but just bakes cakes instead of flying model airplanes.

So as we're so far behind on our winter farm maintenance schedule, it was decided to take on a casual labourer to help with the maintenance. First our annual job of cleaning away all the long grass and new trees along the front and side game fences. We did this last year and it took up a lot of our time. This year Mandla, son

      Looking along the front fence
       line down into the corner

     Looking down Kallie's fence
      line down into the corner
  of Ernest from Che's farm, is helping out. He's a very hard worker and makes short work of cleaning up. And more importantly he's a neat and methodical worker. He keeps the green branches together, the dry branches together, the grass in one pile and the rest of the sticks, leaves and bits of bark in another pile. Just how I like it! While he's working Martie usually uses the weed wacker to cut the grass next to the fence where the tractor can't get to. On the right, some pictures of their progress in the bottom corner of the property. This area gets particularly overgrown as all the water runoff passes through there.
      Now clear along the fence deep into the bottom corner

  Upstairs Workshop Handrail
  Feels like the woodwork on the stairway is never going to end. After the handrail from the landing up to the top floor post was fitted, it was on to the handrail that will prevent anyone from falling down into the stairwell from upstairs. And that's where things got a bit messy.

I had made the top floor post to the same size as the bottom floor post and when I got up there to get going on the upstairs handrail, it was just going to be a bit too low. There was no way I was going to replace the upstairs post with a new one and with a bit more pondering and I came up with a plan to "extend" it. It will be strong enough but might look a bit "patchy". But after all, it is only a workshop stairway.

Top of the main post with 
fillets around the handrail strips     
Top of the upstairs post
- different fillet pattern
     How the posts will all look when
      finished - top block routered

Once I had my plan together, I made a one third thickness post that I bolted against the wall and cut off top of the main post to size. Things were working out well. The cut off piece was just the right size to be used as the corner post.

I used a combination of slots and dowels to get the midrails locked into all the posts and then glued the main piece of the handrail onto the top of the posts. I then painstakingly made little fillets to fit around the handrail strips to "extend" the posts, trying to keep the wood grain as close as possible to that of the posts. Lots of fitting and sanding and fitting and sanding until the handrail on top of each post looked like it fitted into the post. Finally I cut some 110x110mm squares from some 20mm
Upstairs workshop handrail around the stairwell opening finished       
thick shelving and glued that on top of each post to finish it off.

Before starting work on the stairway we had the upstairs and downstairs workshops cleaned up nicely and all the dust from sanding the beams pretty much cleared out. And when building the main stairway all the planing, sanding and router work was all done outside and just fitting and final glueing and screwing everything together being done inside. But that system was just not practical for that upstairs handrail system. It had to be built, sanded, and routered up there in it's place. And we were back to wood dust everywhere!

  First Brocolli Harvest (and some interesting new plants)
  During the first week of July we harvested our first brocolli head. Very impressive size and Martie managed to save some of it (I just love raw brocolli) and made us an onion, garlic and brocolli veggie mix for our dinner.

When at Builders Warehouse to get hardware bits and pieces I always do a run through their nursery section. They have lately been stocking some very interesting plants. On the left, some lovely pink Bellis daisies for our shade garden. In the middle, a little pineapple sage bush and on the right, a seedling tray of Pak Choi.

  More Forest Edge Cleaning Up
  We're into our second week of cleaning up the front fence area with Mandla now working for us two days a week. And fastastic progress being made. We've now got piles of grass all over the place and piles of firewood to be taken back to our already massive firewood stack.
Martie and the dogs under the big dead tree and the pile of dead wood cleared away from under it

Another pile of dead branches cleared from under just two small eucalyptus trees

  Workshop Stairway - Finished at Last
  Just a few finishing touches and the workshop stairway was finally finished. A lengthy project but we're pleased with the results. Although working with wood is time consuming and needs a bit of care to get a good job done, wood always looks good. And this project is making me seriously rethink the house second floor. I originally wanted to do it with laminated beams but was convinced to use concrete. How cool would it look all in wood? Hey, enough dreaming now and back to work!
Big holes in the wall filled and ready to be sanded smooth and painted      

New beam cut to size, sanded smooth and sealed      
Stepping back to check out the entire structure, something looked missing - it just didn't look quite "finished". I put it down to the blank wall (the one with the big holes in it) as you walk up the first section of steps. The beam along the left wall just finished off in the corner and needed to be continued across the blank wall to the top of the second section of steps to form a kind of "box frame" in the stairwell.

Now that beam would need a fair sized piece of wood and there wasn't anything that size lying around. So off to Jadas to buy a length of 150x35mm timber, an hour or so to cut it carefully to size, sand it smooth and seal it with our magic Silkwood sealer.

While it was drying I mixed up a bit of mortar, selected some bits of broken bricks and shoved it all into the holes. I gave it a few minutes to set and then mixed up some filler and smeared the whole mess smooth. Next morning a quick patch coat of paint and the
New beam across the wall from      
the bottom of the stairway . . .      

. . . and looking down      
from the top      
holes were hardly noticable. They would mostly be behind the new beam, anyway.

And as this beam was purely aesthetic, I used two dowels to secure it into the floor beam in the corner and two screws through the floor beam at the top step. Really no need to go bolting it into the wall.

With that done I headed upstairs, finished off the handrails with the rounded 35x35 strips, gave everything a final sanding and smoothing and painted all the new wood with sealer, taking some extra time to try and blend in the newly sealed wood with the older sealed wood on the top of the posts.

  Latest Chicken News and Chicken Coop Mouse
  On the chicken front we put the young bantam rooster that fathered our two newest chicks - and then went and killed the cutest littlest one (but that's another story too sad to be told yet) - into the chicken coop with the old bantam hen. They didn't get along at all together so we then chucked him into growing tunnel with all the other hens and put the older rooster into the chicken coop with the older hen. They were fine together and now separated from her chicks (most of them now bigger than her) began laying eggs almost immediately.

While checking in the grass bedding on the chicken coop floor for eggs one morning, Martie came across a mouse. It was chased out of the coop and the dogs were called in to sort it out. Charlie and Tess love chasing mice but the puppies didn't even know what a mouse was! Once it had been immobilised (permanently) and no more fun for Charlie and Tess, the puppies went in to investigate. Eva seemed to take charge of it initially and kept it close by, waiting for it to make a move. Unfortunely it couldn't. Spot just didn't get more than a sniff or two here and there and within half an hour they had all lost interest in it. But later in the morning one of the ducks came waddling over with it in it's beak. And quite a fuss when we took it away from her to dispose of it.

  Our winter early mornings are getting colder and the water in the duck pond is often frozen over with a thin layer of ice when we let the ducks out. But that doesn't seem to make too much difference to them. After Martie feeds them they hop in to break the ice and take a swim anyway.
  Those ducks are really becoming a big part of our daily farm routine. They start quacking excitedly just after the first rooster crowing wakes everyone up and when we eventually get to open up their aviary door they hop out one at a time, take another hop up the step into driveway and then dash down the driveway to the concrete area between Martie's kitchen and the growing tunnels. And if Martie gets distracted while getting their scoop of pellets out to them, they all come into the kitchen and quack furiously at her.

  Stairway Cupboard
  Now that the stairway was finished, next step was to get that little cupboard under the landing done - basically a few shelves and a door, but a day or two of work nonetheless.

The usable area was 900mm x 900mm x 1.4 meters high - a good size for a cupboard and could be very handy to store things in. First was to decide the shelf configuration - we settled for two shelves on top and an open space below so we can store some bigger stuff down there. There will also be a very small shelf at the back of the bottom open space.

I marked out the shelf positions on the walls and used some 35mm x 35mm pine as shelf supports all round the inside of the cupboard, using wall plugs to attach them to the walls, and screws through the cupboard side board. The actual shelves were made up from some white melamine coated chipboard scraps still from when we broke down out computer shop shopfittings. They were cleaned up and some bits glued together to get to the right size and then neatly edged along the front with some strips cut from some scrap pine shelving and stained. Except for the not too noticable
  melamine joints they looked rather smart.

The doors were cut to size from some 450mm wide shelving I had bought and the pot holes for the hinges drilled into the back of them. I used euro-type hinges throughout - three on each side because of the length of the doors. Those euro-type concealed hinges are just so easy to install and set up.

The pot holes were made with

      Drilling a pot hole for the euro hinge
  my battery powered drilling machine and a 35mm forstner bit. It would be great to have a drill press and jig set up for doing the holes, but if you mark the holes out accurately and drill slowly and carefully with the forstner bit you can get just as good a job doing them "free-hand". Once the hinges were screwed into the door panels the doors were fitted and the hinges screwed into the sides of the cabinet. A bit of adjustment on the hinges to get the gaps around the doors even all round and job done, doors hung.

Finally, some handles, latches top and bottom on the left door and a simple barrel lock on the right door latching onto a screw on the bottom shelf.

      Fitting the shelf supports

      Shelves and doors finished

  Eland Management
  We're now deep into our winter with very little grazing about and although the eland are still looking very healthy, they will soon be getting desperate for food.
Big herd of eland being chased out of the forest on the hill and heading back to Jack's farm

Jack, the owner of the game and from the farm over the hill from Che's farm, has started allowing "controlled hunting" on his farm. It was inevitable as the herds tend to just get too big without any natural predators and the whole game farm project started a few years ago didn't seem to have any real game plan in place.

But big game hunting is a definite no-no anywhere on Che's farm and down our way - and that was agreed on when the farm boundary fences were dropped and the game were let loose into the farms. If they want to hunt, they have to get the herds over to their side of the game farm. So now we see Hans, the game manager, often as he come through on his "pypkar" to count and track the game and attempt to chase them back to their farm over the hill for their weekend hunts.

But I think by now the eland have realised what's going on and seem to know they'll be safe down on our side of the farm and just keep coming back to us.

Although lately we only see a few of them up on the foot of the hill during the day, we're seeing more and more hoofprints in and around our forest - they obviously come in at night when we're not
Hans and his helpers passing by on their "pypkar"
watching out. And my little struggling lucern patch is taking a beating. They eat what few surviving plants we have right down to the roots and leave only their hoofprints!

Eland footprints in our lucern field

  Johan's Hide
Stunning view from inside the hide - flat grassland area below the dam wall, the side of the hill
above our farm and the "fern gorge" running up the right hand side of the hill
  Johan and Marcelle invited us over one Saturday evening for dinner - a game pie made from a blesbok he had hunted a while ago on one of his hunting trips. The dish he and Marcelle prepared for us was delicious.

He's keen to do a guinea fowl potjie next and is busy fattening up the guinea fowl flock that frequents the dam area. He's built a lovely little hide there so that they can keep an eye on the wildlife.

     Neat little hide nicely nestled in the bushes
And while out there checking out the hide I took some time out to enjoy another of our
wonderful winter sunsets over the Suikerbosrand hills

  Starting on the Upstairs Workshop Flooring
  Next on the job list was the workshop floorboards. After much pondering we decided to paint the underside of the floorboards white. I just can't bring myself to cover lovely wood grain (even though
First floorboard on the trestles for painting      

First two floorboards being fitted upstairs onto the beams      
it's only shutterboard ply) with solid paint but the underside of the floorboards was the ceiling for the downstairs workshop and staining it that same colour as the beams would just be too much wood and would probably make the downstairs workshop look a little dark and dingy. And the contrast of the white and the stained beams really did look good. So a cheapie sealer/undercoat and then a coat of good white PVA it was.

I estimated five boards to do the job and started with the first two - all I have practical working space for. Once they were painted we huffed and puffed them upstairs for fitting. I did the easy two first - just a bit of trimming on the edges to get them to fit the "square" corners of the walls and then to get them the same size after the trimming.

And more lessons learned here with paint as well. I was assured that "on that plywood one coat would cover" with the cheapie undercoat/sealer. Well you pays your price and takes your chances. It needed two proper coats to cover and then it still wasn't really "white". When applying the good white PVA the difference in "whites" was very noticable. Good paint is expensive and there's just no way to get around that.

  Fresh Free Range Farm Eggs
  We're getting very spoilt with our fresh eggs. I've never seen yellow eggs like this in my life before. All our poulty is pretty much "free-range" - they're out in the sunlight all day pecking away in the dirt and eating seeds and insects wherever they can. We do supplement with a scoop of crushed mealie and sunflower mix every morning and they're all (ducks, quails and chickens) producing the most amazing eggs for us every day. On the right, on one of our plastic polka-dot plates, the perfect omelette. It even has a fresh natural cheese filling from
The Hydeaway Dairy Farm just down the road from us.

  Cold Front Clouds
  After really nice weather for the early part of July, another cold front got through to us around the middle of the month. We tolerate the low temperatures quite comfortably (warm clothes in the early mornings and evenings and hot water bottles and lots of blankets at night) but it's the winds and
clouds that accompany those cold fronts that get to us. The wind makes dust and brings in the unpleasant chill factor and the clouds block out our heat source and mess with our battery charging routines!

But the cloud formations are great for photography. On the left the early morning with mist blanketing out the hill in front of us and the sun trying to break through the broken cloud above it. And on the right, even though it's cold, the sunset colours are always lovely and warm.

  Finishing Off the Upstairs Workshop Floor
  . . . which is also really the ceiling for the downstairs workshop. In the top left picture, the 20mm shutterboard plywood painted white underneath gives a lovely contrast for the beam woodwork.

And those beams are actually quite straight - it's just the weird camera lens distortion that's making them look a little odd. But we never thought they would ever turn out so nice when we first started with plaster and cement splattered all over them. Lots of time and hard work and they're now looking great.

Now I do know that the floorboards should always be joined on a beam, but that would have meant an extra board and a lot more cutting. So, as can be seen in the picture below left, I have one join running down the middle of the room parallel to the beams for which I made a wide cover strip and used screws every 10cm to prevent sag when standing on the joint in the upstairs workshop. Works perfectly. I used smaller cover strips to cover the joints running perpendicular to the beams where there is much less of a structural strength problem.

Unfortunately this "feature" has spoilt the clean white of the ceiling and has made it look a little "industrial", but it is only a workshop after all.

And below, the finished floor from the upstairs workshop. Lots of little time consuming cutouts around the stairway posts. And that whole complex little stairway structure now looks a lot simpler with the floorboards in place.


  Preparing Growing Tunnel #1
  In between clearing the forest edges along our fence line, Mandla is helping Martie make a start on preparing our number one growing tunnel for some summer veggie crops. Until now the tunnel has only been used to make compost, so all that compost has to be moved out.

Where to move it? Back into our original compost heaps I made from split poles in the forest. But there's far too much to fit in there, so we'll just live with a bit of "overflow".

While clearing the inside tunnel area out to "four bricks deep", we realised that it hadn't been dug out to that depth before, so looks like we're going to end up with a good pile of building sand as well. But we'll be down to subsoil, so there'll be a bit more soil conditioning required before we can use it.

Once it's been dug out and levelled we'll lay in a layer of horse manure for a few weeks and water it regularly so the "good stuff" can soak down into the soil. Then we'll dig what's left on the surface into the soil. I'll also have to fit the hoops and protective net around it before we plant our veggies.

      Martie and Mandla moving sand. Ducks and dogs close by to
       catch anything flying up out of the freshly turned soil

      A good quantity of our own compost for our next growing season
Nearly down to 4 bricks deep inside - and a few bags of horse manure ready to go into growing tunnel #1

  Finishing Off the Chicken House Windows
  Whew, do I make work for myself. I'm sure any normal farmer would probably just staple the chicken wire to the wooden window frame (or even just get one of his farm hands to do it) and job done. And I did seriously consider doing just that but then what about all the pokey little sharp ends of the chicken wire that would stick out around the frame and damage fingers and maybe even chickens? So I made up little subframes to fit into the window frames, painted them with sealer, stretched the chicken wire across them, wrapped the sharp edges around so that they would all be concealed between the two frames and stapled the wire into the concealed outer edges of the "mini-frame". Much neater and safer but a whole lot more work.
  Once all the frames (one door frame plus two big window frames plus four little air vent frames) were painted with sealer and had their chicken wire stapled on, it was just a matter of placing them into the main window frames and putting in a few screws to secure them into place.

      All the subframes made up and sanded ready for sealing
      Chicken wire subframe fitted

Back of the chicken house with vent windows   
   Front of the chicken house

To get the subframes fitted we had to clear away all the scaffolding (should have been done long ago when the roof was finished off) and clean up nicely around the chicken house. Next job is to put up the fence around the chicken house and fit the gate so the chickens that live in there can run around outside a bit during the day.

  Painting the Upstairs Workshop Floor
  Before that freshly sanded floor in the upstairs workshop gets too dirty I thought I'd better get it sealed. I chose the Woodoc 25 Polyurethane Indoor Floor Sealer for the job - first coat with an Oregon stain to give it some colour and then after a light sanding (all by hand!) a final coat of Satin Clear. Looks great for what started out as some builders yard scrappy shutterboard plywood.

  More Brocolli
  Our brocolli patch is now in full production and on some of the plants the little yellow flowers are just starting to burst open from their buds. So Martie went out and harvested a big basket full.

Brocolli grows very easily and doesn't seem to feel the cold of our winter nights and mornings at all. But it is problematic in that it is very prone to aphid and other insect infestations. And once the little gogos take hold, they're very difficult to get to between the tight little flower bud heads. We inspect the plants regularly and Martie sprays with her special garlic and onion brew often. So far so good.

The harvest was far too much for the two of us to eat at once so Martie washed and blanched it and then put into the freezer for when we'll need it. There's still lots of fresh stuff on the plants for us to eat for now.

  Growing Tunnel Shuffle
  Work continued on growing tunnel #1. Once it was dug out to the correct level the surface was loosened up, covered with horse manure and then the horse manure dug in lightly.
Loosening up tunnel #1 surface . . .    
   . . . and putting in and spreading the horse manure

We were going to leave it to settle like that but our dogs were much too attracted to it so we moved the hoops and net from tunnel #6 (our nursery tunnel) and put it onto tunnel #1. Dogs sorted.

We then moved all our plants from the nursery tunnel (#6) into tunnel #3 with our winter crops as tunnel #6 was the next to be worked over for summer crop planting. All the other tunnels (except the one with the chickens in it) were also cleaned out and some horse manure dug in. Mandla is a great help - we would never have been able to have all the tunnels prepared for the summer season without him. And in between working on the growing tunnels he continues working on the forest edge cleanup!

Tunnel #1 with hoops and nets fitted   
   Old nursery tunnel #6 ready for levelling

  Big Cold Front
  Just before the last weekend of July another really big cold front came through. It gave us overcast weather for three days with 12mm of rain. The cloud formations and sunsets were spectacular.
Last weak, filtered rays of the late afternoon sun on the hillside with storm clouds moving off to the north

The sun setting over the horizon through the trees to the west setting the sky ablaze with colour

Sybrand and Thea's farmhouse with the sun just set behind the Suikerbosrand hills in the distance

  It's always worth a walk through the forest with the camera right after the rains. The wet softens all the twigs and leaves underfoot and you can walk so silently between the trees.

All the dead wood of the black wattle trees on the edges of the forest turn a beautiful red-brown colour as the tannins are released by the moisture.

Deeper into the black wattle forest where the tree trunks don't get much light, it doesn't take much moisture to get the algae on the tree trunks to activate and turn all the tree trunks a vibrant green colour.

  The Mulberry Tree
  I know we shouldn't plant mulberry trees but a farm is just not a farm without one. And mulberries are handy for making jam - and just eating straight from the tree. Not to mention the treat for the birds. We'll just have to manage the seed dispersion carefully.

We've been nurturing our sapling for nearly two years. It had sprung up in our Joburg house garden from seed from the tree in our neighbour's yard. So while clearing out the nursery tunnel we noticed
  it was starting to get leaf buds and decided to plant it next to the log fence out at the top corner gate. I trimmed off all the branches shooting from the bottom of the main stalk and Mandla dug the hole, planted it and gave it it's first watering.

  Upstairs Workshop Workbenches
  The woodwork projects continue on. The next job was to get some workbenches set up in that new upstairs workshop. A bit of planning, a few rough sketches and I was ready to go.

I went out to Jadas and selected a few of their straightest 75x35mm beams. They think I'm nuts when I start unpacking their wood stock shelves to select my wood - and look at me real funny when I go through their shutterply stock to find sheets with "nice grain"! I cut the beams to size, smooth sanded and sealed them and used a few long wall plugs to attach them securely to the walls.

Next I cut the front beams to size and made a few support strips. dropping them all the 16mm thickness of the chipboard workbench top so that the back beam against the wall would end up on the same level as the workbench top. This would give me an extra 35mm workbench top width. That's material saving again - cutting the chipboard sheet into three equal lengths produced three workbench tops each only 610mm wide. Using the back beam as part of the workbench top surface and adding a front pine finishing strip I could get a total workbench top width of just over 700mm, also giving the chipboard top a nice stained pine "border" all round.

With the framework in place and checked for straight and level, I started fitting the chipboard workbench tops. This took a while as the walls weren't that straight and the corners weren't that 90 degrees. The beams took the line of the walls but the chipboard top needed some fine trimming to get it to fit nicely.

      First woodwork attached to the wall along two of the walls

      Front beam and supports added
      Workbench top fitted - looking all very clean and neat