Big Forest Edge Cleanup Almost Done August 2016
  The bakkie is working really hard. And so are Mandla and Martie.

They bring bakkieloads of branches around to our braai area almost all day when Mandla is with us working. Mandla is doing a great job of cleaning up. As well as cleaning up all the dead branches laying around on the ground, he's also trimming off all the branches near the ground from all the trees around the perimeter of the forest. This will make fire prevention a lot better as well as just making the place look neat and tidy. Maybe just a few more bakkie loads and we should be done.

Along the front fence, all the bottom branches cleaned off the trees    
   And at the end of our driveway

The pile of branches from the cleanup. It's going to take us a while to get all of that burned on our little fire!

  More Workbench Woodwork
  Nearly done with the upstairs workbenches now. The front finishing strip was made from 35mm square stock and I used the router to cut a square off of the one corner for the chipboard to slot into and also to round off the other two corners. This fitted together nicely as the chipboard would rest firmly onto the workbench frame without having to be fixed down and I could screw the front finishing strip onto the front beam from the back with long screws.

I used some aluminium "H" joiner strips to joint the chipboard workbench tops. Two joints were required. They look smart but I'm not sure if it's the best solution as they stand a few mm high above the top of the otherwise lovely flat workbench. I may replace them with pine strips with a joiner bracket system underneath, but that would mean removing the workbench tops in order to cut them to allow for the 35mm wood strips. I'm still thinking some more on that one.

The workbenches are long: The long one 4.8 and the short one 3.3 meters long and although the structure attached to the wall and interlinked was very sturdy, something was going to sag over time, especially as I planned to "hang" the battery box and all the storage drawers from under the workbench so that the floor would be clear under the workbench all the way to the walls at all times
  (much easier to clean). Two well placed legs would do for support so I laminated two pieces of 75x35mm strips together to make a square leg, cut them to size, sanded, sealed and then screwed them in place to the back of the top front beam and through the floor from the bottom to fix them into place.

Next was the battery box. I made up a small frame capable of holding three 105A/h batteries from some 75x35mm material and fixed the one side to the wall using wall plugs. Rummaging through the scrap wood pile I found some strips of 10mm plywood which a ran through the table saw to get all them all the same size and fixed them to the front of the frame and to the back of the front beam of the workbench to allow the box to "hang" from the workbench. Not too much "hang" stress there as almost everything around it was well secured into the corner walls.

Front finishing strip detail
      Worbench top joined with aluminium "H" joiner strip

     One of the workbench support legs and completed battery box

  RPM TV Audi R8 Video Shoot
  Early one quiet and peaceful morning the farms along our little Rensburg road were jolted to life by the roar of a very hot V10 racing engine. The RPM TV crew were out on a video shoot of the new Audi R8 for their TV show. They also had a few other cars there but we hardly even noticed them - the R8 was the star of the show.

The video team are regular visitors and often use the derelict old mining buildings on the farm just past Spookbrug as backdrops for their car review shoots. Our road has great views and they can get long shots of their cars approaching up and down the hill between us and Rensburg. They ran the cars up and down the road for a few hours and by lunchtime our valley was back to it's normal quiet tranquility again.

Audi R8 in front of our farm with Sybrand and Thea's farm and the hill up to Rensburg in the background

  Waxing Crescent & Planet Alignment
  Just after our August 2 new moon, five of our eight planets (used to be nine before Pluto was disqualified as a planet) were visible just after sunset in the same area of the south western sky.

My astral photography's not that good that I could get them all in with the moon, but I did manage to at least get a fair shot of a very thin two day old waxing crescent moon.

  More Cold
  July and August are definitely our coldest months of winter.

During the first week yet another cold front swept through. The nights and early mornings were really cold with the grass covered in a layer of frost and all our water pipes frozen solid for a few hours for a few mornings. The duck pond was frozen with ice a centimeter thick. But the ducks didn't seem to mind much: "If we can't swim in it we'll just walk around on it for a while".

  Mr T comes to Visit
Mr T takes a quick break from running with our pack      

All the collies with Kevin and Martie: Mr T, Spot, Charlie and little Eva      
So far we've had two of the four puppies that left the farm out for visits. And Lady now lives on our neighbours Kallie and Suzette's farm, so is still kinda on the farm. The only puppy we hadn't seen in a while was Mr T, so we arranged one Sunday that Kevin bring him through for a visit with our puppies.

Not sure whether all the brother and sister dogs (or even mom for that matter) remembered each other so it took a while for them to become "friends" again.

Charlie's puppies are now eight months old and almost fully grown. Mr T has grown into a very handsome dog and has the typical collie temperament - once confident that you're a friend, never shy to snuggle up to you for a pat and a scratch behind the ear. And just like Spot (but not Eva!), he's already very obedient.

Kevin's a horse breeder and trainer and has now also moved out of the suburbs to stay on his horse stud farm just a bit further down the Balfour road, so Mr T is farm fit and could easily keep up on the runs with our pack.

  Woodworking - Moving on to the Bottom Workshops
  I suppose while all the woodworking tools are out and still working well (they've been working rather hard lately), why stop with the woodworking projects?

Next on the list was to put in the wooden frame in the opening between the two downstairs workshops. I had all the materials - some shutterply offcuts from the upstairs workshop floor and a few long lengths of 70mm wide by 20mm thick laminated pine shelving. So in between projects still on the go in the upstairs workshop, I made a start downstairs.

The two downstairs workshops will eventually be able to be closed off from each other with folding up and down doors to open and close the workshop "opening hatch" link. The bottom door will have fold-out legs and will also serve as a table and workbench in the workshop it folds down into.

The workbenches on both sides of the hatch will tie into the hatch "frame", so that's where I started. Now I know the right way to tackle this project would be to build the whole inner frame on the floor with one side frame attached and then just slide it into the opening and then fit the other side outer frame, but the frame is 2,5 meters long by 1,3 meters high and I could see problems for me working
  with a frame that size on my own, so I decided to just build the entire frame bit by bit in the opening.

I first cut the top and bottom inner frame sections from shutterlpy and attached one side front with the 45 degree angles cut at exactly the right places. Next I cut the side inner frame sections so they could support the top while I screwed it up into place. I used wall plugs and expected a big job drilling up into the lintels, but just so happens as I drilled through the plaster the bit slipped into the gap between the two lintels - and the wall plugs I had chosen fitted snugly in between the lintel gap. Couldn't ask for better luck than that!

Martie helped hold everything in place while I tightened up the coach bolts into the wall plugs, which expanded nicely in the lintel gap to secure the top inside frame. The rest of the frame will not be secured into the walls - the plan is to have it all (hopefully) locked in place by the front frame strips on both sides of the wall glued to the inner frame.

Once the top and bottom frame sections were in place I cut the left and right side front sections of the frame, sanded and sealed them and then glued the 45 degree bits to the top and bottom front frames, using clamps all over the place to keep it all square

   Top and bottom insides and
fronts of frame fitted

   Fitting left hand front of frame . . .

   Coach bolts and wall plugs
between the lintels to keep it up

   . . . and right hand front of frame
  and in it's place. I'm still working on the fold down door detail so that when the bottom door is folded down it lays level with the inner frame so the inner frame becomes part of the table. Some fancy hingeing tricks on the other side frame front will be required there.

  Upstairs Workshop Storage Drawers
  And I'm going to need a lot of them. So, first the upstairs workshop - I planned to have drawers under all the workbenches. There would be one set 500mm wide, two sets 700mm wide and one set 900mm wide, each set having two top drawers 100mm high and below that one 240mm high. That's 12 drawers to put together! The idea is to make the drawers and then build the cabinets around them for a good fit and then hang the cabinets under the workbenches, keeping the floor area below them clear.

And on to the woodwork. First I cut all the materials for the drawers. I used 10mm plywood for the sides and 14mm chipboard for the fronts and backs (mainly because that's what I had laying around - the 10mm plywood left over from the stairway risers and the 14mm chipboard incorrectly ordered
Drawer assembly with clamps      
for the workbench tops - I needed 16mm thick). A fair bit of cutting and then each side and front piece was slotted for the 3mm base masonite hardboard. Whew! Martie helped me cut up the big, floppy 2400x1200 sheet of 3mm masonite hardboard on the table saw and then I got on to glueing everything together to make drawers.

And as I only had enough clamps to make one drawer at a time, making all 12 drawers took me about a week!

All the materials cut for the 12 drawers

And finally, all the drawers assembled

  Ceiling Storage
  Seeing as it was a long glue and wait process with the drawers project, in between drawers I got going on my ceiling storage racks for the downstairs workshop. A very simple storage system - a beam front and back hanging from the ceiling beams and a few extra support beams between, all with the usual smooth sanding and staining of each component before assembly. Here's what it ended up looking like . . .
Mouse over the image above to see my model glider kit collection now neatly packed up there out of the way

  Big Bird of Prey
  While out working one morning we spotted a really big bird of prey coming out over the forest and then circling gracefully over the property. Martie grabbed the binoculars to try and identify it but by the time I got the camera out and put on the long lens it had thermalled to a much higher altitude. And then we took our eyes off of it for a few seconds and it disappeared out of sight. I got some reasonable shots but still very difficult to identify as I couldn't get a view of the it's colour patterns from the top. It could be a juvenile of one of the eagles that hang around our hills south of Heidelberg.

  Growing Field Preparation
  Mandla is doing a great job and has started on a new project - clearing up all of last year's mealie and sunflower plants and loosening up the soil in our big crops area. Hopefully we will be able to extend the growing area this year and plant a few more crop varieties.

But first we need to dig some manure in there. We plan to start planting early this season, but only after the first rains.

  Tortoises Awaken
  Wakey wakey. August is normally a cold month but two weeks in and the the weather has suddenly turned lovely and warm. So warm in fact that the tortoises began stirring. So Martie took them out
of their cozy little cardboard hibernation box in the garden shed, gave them some water to rehydrate them and fed them their first meal of lettuce and tomato of the season.

And now that they've been woken up, we have to keep them awake if the weather turns cold again.

  Making the First Upstairs Workshop Drawer Cabinet
  I chose the smallest set of drawers to start with, expecting a bit of experimentation and maybe an oops or two. But everything worked out almost perfectly.

Very simple, really. Two solid shutterboard ply sides with a 35x35mm drawer stopper strip glued down the inside back of each, four exactly equal length spacer strips in each corner to join the two
  sides the correct width for the drawers and some hardwood sliders screwed into the inside of the sides for the drawers to slide on.

And I was very fortunate to have an amazing collection of hardwood. When Robert Fischer died, his wife gave me his entire stock of hardwood pieces that he had cut to rough size and then stacked together for drying. Can you believe he made all the floors throughout in his house from selected hardwood saligna in a beautiful herringbone pattern. And he cut all the wood from logs he collected from around the area. He was truly an amazing man. And thank you, Robert.

The trick with constructing the cabinets was to get everything perfectly square, and that's when a big oops nearly had me floored. I didn't realise that the board on the trestles that I was working on had a wee twist in it and I built the cabinet on the board. Not too serious, just a bit of pushing, pulling and twisting while fitting the unit under the workbench was required. The other issue was that I had been a bit too conservative with the spacing left and right of the drawers in the cabinet so I'll have to make some small wedges later to make sure that

   First drawer cabinet ready for sealing and fitting the hardwood sliders

   1st cabinet finished and fitted under the workbench with it's 3 drawers
  the drawers centre nicely in the cabinet when they're closed. All in all a simple and functional design - one down, four to go!

Hardwood slider detail
    Robert's collection of flooring hardwood now in my garage

  Painting Downstairs Workshop Floor
  During the construction of the bottom workshop opening frame I made a start on the downstairs workshop workbenches as well by fixing the back support to the wall (you can see it under the window in the picture below). The downstairs workbench pattern would be much the same as the upstairs except the long wall workbench will be shorter to cater for the door opening. All the woodwork for the upstairs workshop was now basically finished except for the storage systems and power panel and the bottom workshop only had the workbenches to be completed and some storage systems to be installed and then it would also be finished.

So in order to prevent having to paint around more obstacles in the bottom workshop - bad enough having to paint around the base of the staircase and inside the stairway cupboard - we decided the
next step downstairs was to paint the floor.

We moved all the ladders and tools out, gave the floor a good sweeping and damp wipe down and when dried, gave it two coats of grey roof paint (couldn't get grey floor paint anywhere!). The idea was to have it a natural cement colour, but medium grey got closest without having to have paint colours mixed for it.

It's so nice having a "clean" room and we're determined to try and keep it clear and clean for as long as possible.

  Securing our Trees
  We havn't seen the eland for a while now, but when they do come through, we're sure they're going to come through hungry. Our acacia trees at the lapa log fence gate were protected by some chicken wire wrapped around four poles but over the past two years, have outgrown their "enclosure". So Mandla and Martie removed the chicken wire, replanted the poles to give them a wider space and then rewrapped them with some higher welded mesh fencing. Hopefully the eland won't be able to reach in to munch on them. And while they were at it, they put in some poles around the mulberry tree and wrapped the chicken wire they took off of the acacias around the mulberry tree. Sorry about the pictures below, but deciduous trees just don't make for great photographs in winter.
Acacia trees at the lapa gate   
   Mulberry tree at the top corner gate

  Project Cowpoo
  From our growing tunnel crops we're quickly realising that we're not going to get anything to grow properly without some serious soil conditioning. Our sandy soil has great texture but lacks the necessary nutrients to get plants growing to their full potential. And our compost heaps are not
  optimum either - not enough water. Martie has barely been keeping up with watering the plants, never mind having to dampen down the compost heaps daily as well.

The solution: more and better compost. And the largest component of the our compost will be good manure. We've tried digging a bit of old horse manure into the beds and although it softens up the soil nicely, it seems to be a bit weak in nutrients. So now we're going to move on to cow manure.

Che has over 100 cows and Mandla knows exactly where the best cow poo is. He guided Martie across to the area where the manure seems a bit more mature and the clumps have been nicely broken up by the cows continually walking over it. So Martie made a few trips and made a start on our pile. She collecting four bakkie loads one day. One load was spread directly into the vegetable tunnels to be dug in with the horse manure already in there and the other three dumped in a pile near our large crop area to "mature". We've got to get serious about this and she will be adding a load to our pile every time she goes over to Che's farm to fetch Mandla.

      Martie and Mandla bringing in the first load of cow dung
       from the cow paddocks at Che's farm

      Three bakkie loads to make this little pile!

  Upstairs Workshop Bamboo Blinds
  Working up in the top workshop on the workbenches and drawer cabinets, I realised how hot it's going to be there in summer. Those opaque roof panels and windows all round were probably not the best idea for the heat. But the wondeful natural light and all round view from up there is great.

The solution to reduce the heat is to close off the windows - but not completely so as to cut out all the light. The bamboo blinds we fitted in the pumphouse bathroom were working fantastically. They blocked out the harsh sun, let through ample light and allowed you to still see out of the windows with the blinds down. But they were quite expensive.

So while in Joburg I did some scouting aroung in the shops for a cheaper solution. I was pleased to see bamboo blinds were available ready made (we had the bathroom's blinds custom made) for a lot cheaper, but "standard" window sizes presented a problem. In some shops "standard" was 1500mm wide and in others it was 1600mm wide? I went for the cheapest which coincidentally also happened
Tedious job - trimming the ends off the      
bamboo blinds to fit our "standard" window frames      
to be the widest and resigned myself to the task that they would have to be "trimmed" to fit. Also interesting is that I could get 1800mm wide blinds substantially cheaper than 1600mm blinds. And if I have to trim them to fit, it shouldn't make any difference if I trim a small or large amount off. Unfortunately they were also only available in a dark brown (mahogany) colour, but gee whiz - it was only a workshop and as long as they kept the sun out, the colour should be ok.

Because of the trimming, fitting took a day. But the results were fantastic. And not only do the blinds control the light perfectly, they also let air through when the windows are open. Just couldn't have asked for a better solution there.

Four bamboo blinds fitted. One on each of the front windows and two - split left and right -
on the wide side window. And still lovely daytime light filtering through into the upstairs workshop.

  Finishing the Seedling Preparation Station
  Now here's a project that was started way back in last November. I just lost interest in it because it was made out of really scrap materials. I tried to lock the pallets into the round pole legs by slotting them and then used all the twisted leftover perlin wood for crossbeam supports. Then I used some too thin 120mm long screws to try and attach the square timber to the round poles. The whole thing was a crooked mess and rather rickety and unstable. I just left it laying out on the concrete section outside the workshop to remind me never to do anything like that again, although it has been quite handy for Martie as a sort of washline structure on which to hang our carpets and towels out to dry.

But the plan was to have a seedling preparation station on the edge of the forest opposite the garden shed, and Martie wasn't going to forget about it. In fact, she and Mandla had cleared a section of the forest edge especially for it. And with a bit of nagging I got my brain into gear to work out a solution for the mess that I had made. I certainly wasn't going to build another one, so I just had to make it work. And actually, the solution was quite simple - for an engineer! I just fitted two support beams at angles from the top of the back pole to the middle of the front pole on each side to stiffen up the whole structure. It worked just perfectly.

Martie helped me carry the monstrosity across into the clearing she prepared and it wasn't long before she had her seedling trays out and was planting our veggie seeds for the summer season on her new seedling table.

  Big Footprint Walk
  Towards the end of August Che invited Joel and Alex out to take us on a hike into the hills above our farms. Joel and Alex live in Pretoria and come through every few weeks to take the Montessori school kids out into the veld for "survival" extramurals. They teach the kids the basics of living off of nature, what you can and can't eat out there and basic veld safety. And it allows them to earn a bit of extra cash. Joel is a musician and he and Alex are very keen on nature and living the natural way. On one
Joel explaining his theory on the big footprint   

The big footprint in the rock   
of his recent excursions he discovered a rock high on the hillside with the shape of a giant footprint indented into it and he took a group of us up to have a look and to see what we thought of it.

Johan and Alex taking a break

The excursion team consisted of Joel and Alex, myself and Johan, Che, Maria, Debbie and Dot. The weather when we left was wonderfully warm but by the time we got to the top of the hill unusual summer type thunderstorms were developing all around us and the wind picked up as the storm fronts approached. After viewing the footprint we decided to hike up further to the top of the hill to have a look at some of the strange rock circles up there. Below are a few pictures of our hiking team and the amazing views from the top of the hill.


Taking a quick rest - over the first ridge but still quite a climb to the very top of the hill

Alex standing at the edge of one of the bigger rock circles on top of the hill

Looking down on the the ridges just behind Che's farm - lovely rock formations everywhere

Another imprint shape example    
So, what do we think of it all? Well, nothing's impossible but that imprint in the rock being an old giant's footprint is unlikely. Looking around at other rocks nearby, there's imprints of all shapes obviously caused by erosion. It's just that particular one is shaped like a giant foot. The black colouring around the imprints is dead (or dormant) algae from when the indentations get filled with water from the rains.

Close by we also discovered an old mine shaft. Not as big as others around the hills, but interesting that this one was marked "No 6". There's just so much history in those hills.

    Overgrown mine shaft entrance

  Cleaning Water Tanks
  One of the more tedious tasks that needs to be carried out on the farm every few months is to clean out the water tanks. Those "container" tanks that we're using at our growing tunnel water station and the water trailer are very practical and cheap and are really designed more for transporting bulk chemicals. But with their top filling cap and bottom built in tap, they make for a great solution for water storage.

The main problem with them for storing water is that the tank is made from a translucent plastic and the daytime light gets to the water. And when light gets to water, algae grows. The easiest solution is to do what the municipalities do and just add chlorine. But that would just spoil our lovely clean water and defeat everything we're trying to achieve on the farm. So, the only other way we have to get rid of the algae, which by the way does absolutely no harm to the quality of the water, is to scrub it off the inside of the plastic tank surface with a brush and then flush the tank. But these tanks are not well designed for cleaning and the only way to do it is to get a good brush on a long handle into the little 150mm diameter opening at the top of the tank and spend an hour or two huddled over the cage scrubbing away with your arm in the "hole", working blind most of the time because you can't get your head in there as well!

But with some sweat it can be done and after flushing and refilling the results are stunning. In the picture on the right (I promise it hasn't been retouched) is the clean tank refilled with clean water from our borehole. The water is actually blue!

  More Upstairs Workshop Drawer Cabinets
  Another three drawer cabinets later, two 700mm wide and the 900mm wide "biggie", and a lot of "under the counter" arm twisting and head bumping fitting and that's all the drawers and their
cabinets done for the main workbench in the upstairs workshop.

Now it's just those twelve drawer fronts and handles to be made and fitted. But as you can see, that's not stopping us moving some stuff in already. Not too much though, as we still have to fit the cupboard units (also from our old computer retail shop fittings) over the long workbench above the windows and get the power panel made to fit into the right hand corner above the battery storage shelf. Probably also a few shelves here and there.

  Thinning Out the Carrots
  Back in the growing tunnels, Martie got down to thinning out the carrots. Carrot seeds are so small that you inevitably sow them too close together and once they are of reasonable size you can harvest some baby carrots while thinning out the crop.
Enough baby carrots for a meal   
   The carrot patch now thinned out

  Feeding Time
  Early morning dog feeding time was getting a bit out of hand. Far too much excitement and food competition between the puppies was starting to make feeding times very unpleasant with both Martie and I having to continually try and keep each dog at it's own bowl. And with Spot and Eva now off puppy food and onto "adult" food, we just weren't too sure if we were feeding them enough. They would beg whenever we were eating and scavenge around the farm all day long, eating the most disgusting stuff. Food was becoming their main focus for most of their day.

Our solution was to implement a central "auto-feeder". This was a bit of a shock to all of their systems. And knowing that they would all initially overeat, we filled it with some of our local cheaper
  lower protein food and let them at it. For the first two days they took continual turns at the feeder and as predicted, gorged themselves until they couldn't eat any more. But at least those early morning feeding competition frenzies seemed to be a thing of the past. Although Eva would spend a lot of time futilely attempting to push the pellets back up the feeder chute so that the other dogs couldn't get them.

When the overeating got a bit overwhelming (lots of regurgitating and endless poo runs) we decided to shut down the feeder mid-morning. That seemed to sort out the eating all day problem. We're still all adjusting to the new system but I think it's going to work better than the early morning chaos we used to have.

      Charlie still not too sure about this new
      "eat as much as you like" system

  Starting the Downstairs Workshop Workbenches
  With the upstairs workshop taking shape nicely and now almost functional and the downstairs workshop now a "clean room", the downstairs workshop became an ideal temporary spare bedroom for a few days for Niki's stayover with us at the end of the month.

But next on the job list was the downstairs workshop workbenches. And not being too messy a job I got going on that with all the bedroom furniture still in place. All the woodwork was cut, sanded and sealed outside and then just brought in for screwing together. In the picture below, the first workbench frame along the window wall. Bedroom curtaining very rough at this stage.


  Stocking up with Firewood
  Mandla's still working very hard on cleaning up the forest edges and has decided to spend some time cutting up some of the thicker branches into useful sized logs for us for firewood. He packed it all neatly under and next to our braai. Thanks Mandla.