Spring Day September 2016
  And that's another very mild winter behind us. The first morning of September was a little cool but bright and beautiful and calm with no hardly any wind. There was definitely a "change of season" feeling in the air. We looked through our nursery area and everything was sprouting either lovely new green leaves or little flowers. Many of the deciduous plants surprised us - we really thought many of them didn't survive the winter but most of them were budding. In particular our three little elderberry bushes that we kept in their growing bags over winter as we weren't sure where we wanted to plant them. They become fairly large shrubs and we made a quick decision to plant them on the south side of the first growing tunnel where the shade they will eventually cast won't affect the tunnel. Mandla dug up the grass there the previous day and Martie planted them.

  But we had a problem. If the ducks discovered them - and there was no doubt they would - the little bushes would be gonners. So before we let the ducks out we got out there (still in our pyjamas) and quickly fenced off the little bushes.

Martie about to unravel some chicken wire to fence off
our three little elderberry bushes
   Little elderberry bush was just
    a stick a week ago


  Downstairs Workbench Progress
  It's so important to have working surfaces on which to put things. I only realised how much I had missed my workbenches once I had a few set up. How we've lived the past year without proper working surfaces I just don't know. We've made use of portable steel tables for the kitchen and most of my work was either done on the kitchen tables, the trestles out in the forest shelter or on the floor. But now I can work comfortably on my new workbenches.

In the picture below left, the top surface of the first workbench in the downstairs workshop (now temporary spare bedroom) is fitted and the framework for the second workbench is being constructed. Below right, the 45 degree cut-off corner detail at the doorway.

 

  Upstairs Workshop Drawer Fronts
  Back upstairs the woodwork continued with the next job there to finish off all those drawers properly so we could start packing some of the workshop stuff out of their cardboard storage boxes into them.
 
12 x "drawer pullers" made from 35 x 35 pine brandering      
and routered to shape      

Router used to finish off the edges of the drawer fronts      

Drawer fronts with pullers (handles) fitted and ready for sealing      

As there was going to have to be 12 of everything, I decided to skimp a bit and not buy drawer handles (they call them drawer pullers) and have a go at making my own. Simple and easy enough. I took a nice straight 2 meter long piece of of 35 x 35 brandering timber, routered out a half-round groove down the centre of both opposite sides and then used the dovetailing bit to cut through from the grooves to the side that would be attached to the drawer front surface. On the other side of the puller I used the small rounding bit to round off the other two corners. Worked perfectly and in no time I had a 2 meter length of drawer puller material which I then cut into 150mm lengths for the 12 required door pullers.

The drawer fronts were cut to size from 20mm laminated pine shelving and when trimmed to their exact sizes I ran the router around them with the small rounding bit set 2mm deeper to give a little finishing groove effect. Before the farm woodworking projects I had never even used a router before and I'm now thoroughly enjoying the neat finishes you can get with the various bits.

The pullers were then fixed to the drawer fronts from the back with countersunk screws. Then everything was painted with Silkwood sealer and when dried to the touch, the fronts were screwed to the chipboard fronts of the drawers from the back to finish off the job neatly. I managed to get everything attached with no screws visible.

 
And just to show you the drawers working perfectly, mouse over the picture above

  Cleaning up the Lapa Big Black Wattle Tree
  The big black wattle tree under which we built our lapa has over the past two years (and that's also about how long it's been since we worked on the lapa there) has grown substantially and large branches were drooping almost onto the ground. It needed a trim. In fact it needed a serious trim. Our chain saw was stolen a few years ago and up till now we've coped quite well with a good handsaw. But the branches we had assigned to be trimmed off were much too big for our handsaw. Johan from the weekend cottage on Che's farm had a new chainsaw and needed firewood, so we did a deal and he spent an hour or two up on our long ladder sawing off the really big branches. He cut the large branches into manageable logs and took his selection of the wood. We were left with lots and lots of the smaller branches. But now we can get into the lapa again without being poked and scratched in the face by all the low branches.
 
Lapa black wattle tree - most of the bottom branches now trimmed off
  Although the black wattle is a serious invader tree here in South Africa (originally from Australia) and we certainly have no use for it as per what it was originally imported for - basically for the tannins in it's bark to tan leather, the wood is very attractive with it's dark red heartwood and lighter colour
  outer rings (picture below). I'm nowhere near ready to use it for furniture and building yet, so right now we just use it for firewood. And as a hardwood, it makes really great firewood.


  Our challenge is to stop the black wattle forests from spreading. And they spread at a rapid rate! In the picture above right, those saplings to the right of the big tree weren't even there when we started building on the farm four years ago!

In the picture on the right, just outside the kitchen area of the house. We built the house walls there two and a half years ago and we were able to put up scaffolding where the tree branches now reach over into the house area. Those two black wattle trees nearest the house will have to go.

But our biggest problem is up on the hillside where the black wattle forests spread noticably every year. At some point in time we will have to work with Che to get them under control.

On our walks through our forest we pull out any small saplings we see. An endless task as they sprout from seeds washed down from the hill every year. And the seeds will germinate even after 50 to 80 years of dormancy! Fire is the main trigger for seed germination - another reason to prevent veldfires on the hillside and from getting into our forest at all costs.

 
Back at the cleanup area - Mandla has dug out all those saplings and sorted everything into neat little piles

  First Clivias
  Two years ago Martie raided the garden of my parent's townhouse in Heidelberg just before we sold it. One of her acquisitions was a few young clivia bulbs which she planted in our driveway garden.
 


Hardly noticeable but another small victory in putting some colour onto the farm
  This year they produced their first flowers. They really bring some lovely colour to our forest driveway.


  Excess Vegetables
  At the farm just over the hill they were harvesting their vegetables. They let all the surrounding farmers know of their surpluses on our whatsapp farm group and we dashed across to get some vegetables at really, really good prices. First week we bought bunches of beetroot which Martie made into preserves. Of course, we also ate lots and lots fresh. She boiled them up with a bit of (oops - secret recipe!) and bottled them - some with and some without onion.

Then a few days later they harvested their carrots. Martie bought a few bunches and sliced some, grated some and then put them in the freezer for when we need them. And the tortoises, ducks and chickens had a feast on the greens.

 
Beet preserves bottled and ready for storage   
   Carrots all washed and ready for processing

  Dinner Club - Farm Style
 
Doing all the work      
- cooks Maria and Martie      
Maria and Martie got together and dreamed up a Dinner Club project. We're not sure yet exactly how it's all going to work, but they used all the family living on Che's farm for a test run. We used Che's "saloon" as the venue. Martie made a brocolli soup
starter and Maria prepared the main meal of roast potato, mixed vegetables and a green salad.

I cooked a few t-bone steaks on the fire and with a big bottle of red wine we all had a lovely family evening together.


Small family group to start with
but looks like this could grow into a great feature of our month

 
Lovely evening for a bonfire - so we used it to cook our steaks

  Another Big Tree Goes Down
  On driving out one day I noticed something different on the edge of the forest near our front borehole. On closer inspection I discovered the carnage of another very big black wattle falling and taking all it's neighbouring trees with it. What a mess. Maybe we'll get around to cleaning it all up one day but for now it'll just have to stay there and we'll let nature take it's course with it.
 
An opening in the trees that wasn't there before   
   Big black wattle trunk just "disintegrated"

  Upstairs Workshop Power Panel
  Next project in the upstairs workshop was to sort out the power. Our solar power system presently consists of two 250 watt solar panels configured to charge the downstairs 200 a/h lithium iron phosphate battery used mainly for the refrigerator and a single 200 watt solar panel configured to charge the lead acid batteries that we use mainly for lighting. We have four 105 a/h lead acid batteries which we move around to where they are needed. But they're so big and heavy and I decided to move them all upstairs and permanently connect them together to make a 420 a/h battery bank for the workshops lighting and equipment. Our computers are able to use power from either battery system, depending on which power point we use to plugged them into.

I'm planning to add another 300 watts of solar panels soon so I decided to build another power panel so that I could switch the exisitng 200 watt and the new 300 watt panel outputs between supplying power to charge the upstairs lead acid batteries and when they are fully charged, be able to switch the panels to use the excess power to the downstairs controller to help charge the downstairs lithium iron phosphate battery. Another reason for this is that I suspect that we're not charging that lithium iron phosphate battery to it's full capacity as I never see the controller going into "float" mode, where it opens the solar panel circuit and you can see the solar panel voltage go high as it "unloads". Let's see what giving it more power does. As we run our power systems pretty much "on the edge" I need maximum flexibility in sharing the charging resources between the battery systems.

I built up a little wooden square frame and slotted some old 6mm grey painted plywood (more scraps from our shopfitting stock - will we ever get to use it all up?!) to make a faceplate. Lots of drilling and cutting for the controller, monitors, inverter, power and lighting switches and plugpoints. Then a few head scratching hours of connecting everything together and the panel was ready to be mounted up on the wall.

 
The business side of the new power panel

The trick was to keep the 12 volt and 220 volt circuits separate. For efficiency we are keeping all our lighting on 12 volts - no need to run inverters with their idle current overheads through the night. While connecting the 220 volt wiring to the downstairs workshop I used a plug point as a junction box (left) under the upstairs workbench. You can never have too many plugpoints!
    All done - the front side with everything
    neatly mounted and functioning

  Sick Dogs
  We like to support our local suppliers as much as possible, and that included our dog food.

But one morning we realised something was not good with our dogs. Eva was very lethargic and Spot not as enthusiastic about his food as he normally is. We left it for a day but the situation deteriorating further. As we'd taken some early season ticks off of them a few days before we thought it may be biliary. So our neighbour Kallie was invited over with his doggie first aid box. We weighed them and he gave them an injection of the medication that kills the parasite that damages the red blood cells. At that point in time we were also battling to get the dogs adjusted to their new feeding system. So with a few variables and the dogs getting sicker by the hour, we had no option but to get them out to the vet.

We chose a retired military equine vet in town. A no-nonsense lady who got straight down to business on them. She agreed the symptoms were biliary-like but kept asking us whether they hadn't eaten something that was poisoned (some of the farmers around here are known to lay poison bait for the jackal!). Spot got another injection which seemed to sort him out fairly quickly but Eva continued deteriorating and had to be admitted to the doggie ICU for a few days. Once she was back with us Charlie fell ill and was put straight into doggie ICU as well - and it was really touch and go for a while with her. We tried hard to think of how all of this happened. The new feeding system, the early season ticks, where they could have possibly eaten poison bait? Then the vet phoned to tell us of a few other cases being admitted with similar symptoms. It just had to be the dog food.

The dog food manufaturer was called in and samples sent away for analysis. We now wait patiently for the results, but at least all the dogs are back to their normal energetic selves again. But the other mystery is that old Dakota and Tess the Africanis were not affected at all on the same food?

 
Charlie very sick and on a drip
at the local vet's doggie ICU   
   When the vet gives you a bag for the medicine,
   you can start imagining what it's going to cost you!

  Egg News
  Our pekin ducks are each now giving us an egg a day. But the variation in size is a bit puzzling. Below left, Martie with two eggs collected from their aviary on the same morning.

And below right, our one bantam hen has been sitting her nine eggs for three weeks now and when Martie moved her over to check on things, two chicks popped out from under her. Next morning there were seven chicks and then she left the nest with her new brood. This is the second batch of chicks born on the farm from the same hen. We had no survivors from the last batch of two chicks (one killed by the rooster and the other didn't survive one of our very cold winter nights), so we're really holding thumbs on these.
 

  Other People's Dogs Problems
  Our lady neighbour across the road has more than twenty dogs on her property. We have five and we're really battling with "pack" control problems. That many dogs obviously cannot be controlled. We have reports of staff being hospitalised and we've even witnessed her being bitten by her own dogs during a chaotic late afternoon robbery scene there.

Thea and Sybrand (her direct neighbours) have endless problems with the dogs attacking their cows, sheep and poultry on their farm and other than shooting the dogs while they're on their property, there's nothing much they can really do about it.
 
The SPCA have been called in and they've checked the premises and won't do anything as the dogs all look well fed and looked after (yep, they eat all the animals on the neighbouring farms!) and since Heidelberg was incorporated into Lesedi, there have been no municipal
by-laws in effect in Heidelberg at all. So that means there's not much the police can do for us either.
Can you just believe that!

One morning commuters on the Rensburg road brought to our attention that there was a pack of dogs eating something on our pavement. We went around to see what was going on and sure enough it was the neighbour across the road's dogs that had killed a little duiker and were eating it. We sms'ed the owner and as usual she wasn't at home but assured us that her dogs were secured??


  More on Chickens
  We're shuffling chickens again. We gave the a rooster (father of the seven chicks) and our "Ginger" hen to Mandla. He's setting up his own little farmyard with chickens and vegetables at their place over on Che's farm. The hen with the seven new chicks was moved into the chicken house where Martie built them a nice cosy little shelter with cement blocks and a board for a roof. Some fresh grass and a bit of food and they
  all looked very happy.

The hen and rooster pair that were in the chicken house were moved to the chicken tractor. That hen went broody very quickly and after laying only two eggs started sitting them.

But we noticed a chicken flea problem on the new chicks and when the rest of our chickens were checked we discovered a serious flea infestation. It's a special chicken flea that attaches itself to the head parts of the
  chicken only, so they are reasonably easy to sort out. Martie dashed out to get some muti to sort out the problem and one of the farmers at the Agri shop told her not to waste her money. Plain wood ash smothers them almost immediately. So with a bit of chicken commotion we dusted all the chickens' heads with wood ash and just for good measure, some Diatomaceous Earth powder. All completely organic and non-poisonous. The results were noticable next day and although there are still some fleas around, we will just need to keep treating them until we can eradicate them completely. We never stop learning.
   One died . . .
   . . . other six going strong

  More Ceiling Rack Storage
 

You can also never have enough storage. The ceiling storage system in the downstairs workshop was so successful that I decided to expand it with another rack to run perpendicular to the already full unit.

This one I was able to build and paint outside and while holding it in position with supports, attached it to the end of the first one and to the rafters.

Worked well and I fixed some of the white masonite sheet left over from the drawers to the first two sections of the rack to make a kind of "floor" on which I can put smaller stuff.

The corner is a little difficult to access but I have used that to store model glider fuselages. They are long and I can feed them through from the middle of the rack.


  Long-Crested Eagle Visits Again
  What a beauty! One morning we heard strange child-like screeches from the forest. I took a walk deep into the forest and spotted a big bird up in the big dead tree. It was obviously a raptor and after watching it for a while I saw the long crest waving in the wind when it turned it's head. I dashed back for the camera and we had a lovely relaxed photo session for hour or so.

The Long-crested Eagle is one of our medium sized eagles - around 56cm. Not near as large as our rare visitor the Verreaux Eagle (88cm) but quite a bit larger than our regular summer visiting raptor, the Steppe Buzzard (48cm). The Long-crested Eagle is known to habitate eucalyptus plantations.

It stayed with us for two days (with Martie on full 24/7 duck and chicken alert) and then moved off to visit someone else's forest.

 
 
From the right, from the front, from the left and in full cry. What a stunning bird.

  First Fruit Trees and Some New Gardens
  Whenever I'm near a nursery I pop in and just have to buy a fruit tree or two for the farm. But it looks like it's going to be a while before we will be able to fence off an area for a proper orchard and keeping them in their blacks backs for too long really does them no good. So we decided to start planting what we've collected so far around the growing tunnels and our living area - just to get them settled into the ground and hopefully producing some fruit in the next few years. They are being positioned carefully and their varieties documented as they will be permanent. And of course, with each tree planted, the necessary protection cage is constructed.
 
White Genoa and Adams fig trees now define the beginning   
of the pathway from the garage block up to the pumphouse   
next to tunnel number 4   
   Sungold Plum and Peeka Apricot
   trees down the bottom of the
   driveway next to the tunnels
  We also have our Joburg house gardener working hard at collecting plants and seedlings from the garden there. Plants are just so expensive and the Joburg garden has so many nice plants that reproduce continually. So instead of him throwing away plants when he thins out the bulb beds and pulls out seedlings, he replants them into little black bags and pots and every time I go to Joburg I come back to the farm with a few new plants.

We did a big walk-around the garage and growing tunnel area and found a place for each plant and planted them so they could get a bit of a head start on the growing season.

 
Lavender and Plectranthus bushes   
next to the driveway wall just   
down from the chicken tractor   
   Some "hen-and-chicken" plants (Chlorophytum comosum) at the
   end of the driveway out of the forest. Some rocks and logs placed
   to hold back water run-off and essential protective cage.
  Then it was on to the entrance gate which underwent a total makeover. Martie marked it all out and Mandla did a lot of digging to get all the grass out. Then they headed up the hill to fetch a bakkie load of rocks and he arranged them neatly to make a nice garden outline. Martie planted three Yucca plants inside the gate and one more outside and then scatterred lots of summer flower seed in the open spaces.
 
Front gate area with new rock border garden. A bit of rubb
le to still be removed.

  More Floodlights
  Part of the process of wiring up the control panel in the upstairs workshop was to get all wiring neatened up and completing the installation of all the planned floodlights done.

Our two main 20 watt floodlights which give light out towards the pumphouse and down onto the growing tunnel area had been fitted a while ago when we first got our extra long ladder. But we did need lighting on the forest side of the workshops and down the driveway as well. There I used two smaller 10 watt floodlights. They gave more than enough light into that area.

All the power for the floodlights was fed from the new control panel upstairs and I connected them so that the master switch was a remote switch so that we could switch them on from our bedside tables or from a light switch on the wall in the downstairs workshop. I then ran the circuit through
  individual switches so that all the floodlights don't have to be on at the same time. When we're out sitting on the concrete area
between the workshops and the growing tunnels having sundowners, we can switch all but one of the 20 watt lights off temporarily to give us light just in the area that we need it.

So it was another session dangling up on the long ladder drilling mounting holes into the brickwork and bolting the two new little 10 watt floodlights in place.

And while I was up there I extended the ladder a notch or two to get up onto the roof to fix a few roofing bolts that leaked when it rained.


  Harvester Termites in the Growing Tunnel
  While Mandla was turning over the manure in tunnel number one he noticed that there were a few patches with harvester termites nests. The termites obviously liked something in the manure but if
 
we started planting our summer crop of vegetables there I'm pretty sure they wouldn't just stop at harvesting from the manure.

So we chose a quick and natural solution and chucked a few chickens in there for a few days. They thought they were in chicken heaven and thoroughly enjoyed scratching around in the dried manure and I think they ate most of the termites. Hopefully the rest got the message and moved off. And if they didn't, they'll be getting the diatomatious earth treatment just before we plant our vegetables.


  Over the Hills
 
  Just love the early morning views we have from our farm of the mist as it rolls down into the gorges between the hills in front of us. Seems every time we have a cold front come through we get early morning mist on the hills. And the stronger the front, the more mist we get.
 

One morning as soon as the mist had lifted we heard a helicopter flying around along the ridge. There was a problem. Apparently there was a break in the game fence between Jack's part of our game farm (managed by Hans), and the neighbouring game farm - who's owner had originally sold off a lot of his eland to Jack.

Thought it was odd that we hadn't seen any eland around for a while - they had obviously extended their grazing into the farm next door.

The two owners were obviously communicating and they needed to get all the game back to their respective farms. Well, good luck to them all (the eland and their owners).



  Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery Fully Charged
  Now that the upstairs power panel is working I can switch all the solar panel power through to the lithium iron phosphate batteries. So, one sunny day when the upstairs lead acid battery bank was charged to full capacity I switched their 200 watt solar panel to run in parallel with the two 250 watt
 
solar panels that charge the lithium iron phosphate battery and within an hour their charging system switched into float mode. For the first time ever the lithium iron phosphate battery was fully charged! I was getting quite worried that the internal circuitry was set incorrectly and wasn't allowing the charger to get the batteries to full charge, but everything is working perfectly now. It seems that 500 watts of solar panel is just not enough to get the lithium iron phosphate battery to full charge. 700 watts did the trick and when I eventually add the additional 300 watts of solar panels, when all switched in together, the 1000 watts will charge the battery even quicker.

On the left, the 50 amp charge controller showing the battery voltage at 14.2 volts - fully charged. My little breakout box above it shows the controller has open circuited the solar panels with their output flying up to just over 30 volts. And the controller is still allowing 2 amps through from the solar panels to keep the batteries in float mode.

The system does require some manual intervention to switch the solar panels between the two battery systems, but Martie can even manage that quite easily.


  Protective Netting
  While out working in the tunnels Martie spotted some of our local bulbuls nibbling away at her seedlings. Now that's just not on, so we quickly got hold of some shade net and we draped it over the seedling station and stapled it in place to keep them out!
 

Also, summer's here and as soon as we get our first good rains (and I'm confident we're going to get some soon) the mozzies will be out. Martie washed and patched up our mosquito nets in preparation for them.



  Upstairs Workshop Wing Racks
  With a bit of time before month end I was able to unpack and remove my wing racks from my Joburg house workshop, paint the woodwork to match my new workshop and bolt them up onto the wall. Good move to reuse them as they're quite time consuming to make - just dowels glued into square strips of wood - but alignment and distances between the dowels has to be perfect.

It wasn't long before I was able to dust off a few more of my model gliders and get them packed neatly up onto my "new" wing racks.

 

  Upstairs Workshop Cupboards
  I planned to have cupboards running all along the wall above the windows in the upstairs workshop - lots more more storage space! I had lots of cupboard carcases from our computer shop but they weren't really the right size and just wouldn't look right. I'll make use of them later for storage in
 
the garages.

So a quick outline drawing with dimensions and off to the kitchen cupboard manufacturer on the other side of town. He knocked together five carcases for me in an afternoon at a reasonable price and it took me an hour or two in the evening to bolt them up on the wall - it was a bit of a job getting them all straight but at least they were all exactly the same size and square.

I also fitted some LED lighting strips onto the bottoms to light up the workbench. Next project there is to fit cupboard doors.


  The Weather and another Great Sunset
  We're having a rather slow rainfall start to the season with this month's figures well below that of September last year (10mm this year vs 45mm last year). And our rainfall is still cyclonic, resulting from cold fronts coming in from the south getting through to the interior of the country.

By now I would have thought that the high pressure trough that normally develops down the central part of the country (because we have a cold Atlantic ocean on our west side and a warm Indian Ocean on our east side) during our summer months that keeps the cold fronts out and produces our Highveld thunderstorm activity should have started developing. But I'm no meteorologist so I may be jumping the gun a bit on that one. And even if it is too early, we can only hope.

Anyway, those late winter and spring cold fronts that are getting through to sometimes bring us a little rain always bring in some amazing cloud formations. And that's what produces those beautiful, blazing Highveld sunsets for us.