Upstairs Workshop Cupboard Doors October 2016
  Not sure if it's a good thing to start off a new month finishing off an old project, but that's just how things go here on the farm. We just try to keep moving forward - one day at a time. Just so happens that yesterday was in September and today is in October. So we started off fitting the doors and finishing off the upstairs workshop cupboards.

On one of my business trips to Joburg I ordered the 10 400x600 postform doors to the closest colour I could to my stained pine. I got a good deal from Jadas on the 20 euro hinges and a big packet of
 
   First door fitted . . . only nine to go!
screws and I was ready to go. The door manufacturers did all the top and bottom edging for me but I really should have got them to do the potholes for the hinges as well. It took me a good few hours to drill them out and I needed to charge my drilling machine battery twice to complete all 20 holes.

I fitted the doors without any major problems and after all the adjustments to get them straight and level, was able to tick another job off the list.


 
All the doors fitted. I didn't think I'd need door handles, but looks like I'm going to need some near the
bottom of each door as at that height they're a bit difficult to get open without anything to grip onto.

  Dr Martie
  Watch out, Charlie. Here she comes with that pricky thing again!

Charlie was doing well for a while and then suffered a bit of a relapse. She went back into doggie ICU on a drip for a day and then was given a new course of medication and boosters to be administered over a few days. One of the boosters was in the form of an injection and instead of having to go in to the vet every day, the vet showed Martie the basics of "injecting"
and with a little package of syringes, needles, medicines and a timetable, sent them both off back to the farm.

For someone who faints at the sight of blood, Martie didn't do too badly. She handled the needles like a pro and we managed to get all the injections done every day. Personally I think she needs to improve her "jab" technique - but please count me out of any practice sessions there!


  Carrot Sampling
  Back out in the veggie tunnels Martie harvested a few of the carrots just to check that everything is ok with them. We're still a little unsure of what goes on down there under our ground. We do have a patchy harvester termite problem and something ate all of last year's radish crop under the ground. So the only way to check is to pull a few out.

And so far so good with the carrots. No "eat marks" on them at all. But they're going to have to stay in the ground for a while longer and get a bit bigger though.

Most of them are sown from Stark Ayers Kuroda seed and we tried a patch with some Livingseeds Atomic Red Heirloom seeds (the skinny little reddish one in the centre is the Atomic Red).


  Trimming Black Wattle Trees
  Mandla continues to work hard on the trees around the edge of the forest and along our fences. We're basically clearing all the bottom branches of those pesky black wattle trees that hang on or near the ground and opening up our roads a bit so the low branches don't scrape on the bakkie and water trailer when we drive around to water our new trees. We're ending up with a lot of good firewood and even more rubbish little branches that we will also just have to burn up to make ash for our soil. Nothing must go to waste - everything must go back into the ground from whence it came so that new stuff can grow.
 
Next to the kitchen area   
   Top corner along the game fence between us and Kallie's farm

 
Lots of branches cut off along the game fence trees - now I'll be   
able to easily get the tractor under there to cut the grass   
   Looks like that one'e going to fall
   soon. Martie directing trimming.

  A Few Drops of Amazing Rain
  And another cold front sneaks through to the Highveld - in the second week of October?!
As well as making us unpack a jersey or two for a few days, it did bring us a very welcome 3mm of rain to settle the dust a bit. Also just enough to wake the amphibians (Mr Ugly here rescued from the duck pond the morning after the rain) and below, another beautiful sunset.

 

  Strelitzias - 2nd Attempt in the Top Corner
  My sister Debs from Joburg was remodelling her garden and took out her entire wild banana (Strelitzia nicolai) plantation that was growing next to their house. Our vision of for top corner of the farm is still a big, green wild banana patch. So we zipped off to Joburg with the bakkie and I
 
loaded up all the dug out plants (and some other stuff to make the trip worthwhile) and took them out to the farm.

During the next week Mandla cleared the old plantation area, made a rock border and planted them where we had attempted to grow them way back in September 2012 - but lost them to either the duiker or the ants - or maybe both! They didn't look great after being out of the ground for a few days, but they're strong and with a bit of watering to get them going and trimming off a few of the damaged long leaves, I think they'll be ok.


  A Case of Wood Rot Deep in the Forest
  While walking through the forest one day I came across this fallen tree. It must have fallen very recently as the leaves on the top of the tree were still green so it hadn't died and then fallen down. The trunk just failed and it fell over. On closer inspection the wood inside the bark at the break area was all dry-mushy and soft and even though it was deep in the forest, with a bit of a breeze (and we've been having a bit more than a bit lately), it just blew over.

I think it is a case of heart or trunk rot which is a fungus that slowly destroys the tree from the inside out.

It wasn't that big a tree so it didn't take down any others with it. But it did block off Martie's little forest path. We'll have to get down there some time soon with the handsaw and get it all cleared away.


  October Winds
  The first half of October the weather was just plain windy, day after night after day we had howling winds out on the farm. We were given a serious overdose of the seasonal hot, dry winds - which we should normally have had in August and at latest September just before our spring rains. Then there were the evening freezing cold winds when those cold fronts sneaked through. And storm clouds there were a-plenty - but the winds seemed to either just blow them away or break them up into smaller less threatening clouds.

On one particularly gusty day I took a walk up onto the foot of the hill with my anemometer and measured 27 km/h. Not pleasant and I'm very reluctant to plant any of our large crops before we have at least one good rain spell to soak the soil. If I plant now we will have to water the crops every day - and learning from last year, that only just keeps them alive.


  Quackers in Big Trouble
  Up till now our ducks have had the run of the farm. They sleep comfortably in their nice protected big aviary and get let out to a duck pellet breakfast and fresh water at first quack in the mornings. The rest of the day they forage around the growing tunnel area. We've had to "fence off" all our new plants around the tunnels as they're very fond of "greens" and can strip a garden plant down to bare sticks in just a few minutes. Their particular favourite is my mint patch!

They now also often venture up to the pumphouse and I've seen them wandering up as far as up to the top log fence once or twice. So we've had to fence off all the pumphouse plants as well. And when venturing a-far they still give us a good laugh when they come racing down to shelter when an aeroplane passes overhead - I think that swoop down of the Steppe Buzzard when they were still little ducklings will stay with them for the rest of their lives!

But now with the strong winds our protective nets around the growing tunnels often get blown
 
Done with the cucumber and maize seedlings . . .       

. . . so let's be moving on to the nursery tunnel!      
open and they've found they can easily hop the little walls when the nets aren't in the way. It was on one such occasion that they got into one of the growing tunnels where Martie had just planted out her cucumber and maize seedlings. They had a quick feast and when they were done there was just no more green left in the tunnel!

So without too much sympathy for them, when next Mandla was working with us Martie reorganised the aviaries. They were both cleaned out and the quails were moved into the more spacious one as they are always kept in the aviary, and the ducks were relegated to the smaller one. A little cramped for them but they only sleep there (for their own protection) and spend their daylight hours wandering around the farm.

We're planning to make them a large open enclosure down near the chicken house with their own little house and pond. They won't be that "free range" any more but it should at least keep them out of trouble.

 
Quails moved into the bigger aviary    

    Ducks now a little cramped in the smaller aviary

  Chick's First Outing
  Our six little bantam chicks are doing so well. They all have little body feathers now and just a bit of chicken fluff left on their heads. And they're all identical so there's no chance of Martie being able to give them names.

Here's a picture of them on their first day out of the coop. Mommy hen immediately took the opportunity to teach them how to scratch in the sand and find new sources of food. She's such a good mommy, always on the lookout for them and launching vicious attacks on the ducks and any dogs that get too close to her brood.


  Cutting Our Grass At Last
 
 

With fire risk having been much lower this past season as all the grass around our farm including the pavement had been cut short, I left the final cutting of our back yard grass very late this year - in fact, after our first rains. And I've still got the front area and forest clearings to do.

I hadn't driven the tractor for many months. It fired up first turn of the key and I spent a pleasant afternoon driving around just cutting grass. The ground hadn't dried out after our bit of rain so the dust wasn't too bad and the new season grass growth was just starting to push through.

Looking back on when I first started cutting grass on the farm, my technique is definitely getting better - I can now cut and leave it nicely layered in neat rows, making gathering it all up afterwards (still a tedious job) much easier.


  Beautiful Birds
 
  Everything seems to be waiting patiently for the rains, and espicailly the birds. Although the weavers are all out building their nests, there just doesn't seem to be that enthusiam that there is when we've had some rain. Above, spotted on the forest edge (you just can't miss that bright yellow chest against the grey branches), one of our wonderful little bokmakeiries calling to it's mate.
  And then early one morning Martie spotted two big birds walking around in the bushes at the foot of the hill. I sneaked closer for some pictures - two beautiful big secretary birds strolled around between the bushes for nearly an hour hunting for snakes and lizards, spreading their wings and stamping their feet on the ground from time to time to attempt to flush out prey from the bushes. An amazing first time sighting for us and what beautiful birds of prey visiting us right on our doorstep.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get anywhere near close enough to get a picture of any of them like the one on the left, which I took a few years ago at the rehab centre at the Rhino and Lion Park, but I did get lots of pictures of the pair from a distance on the hillside. I didn't sneak in too close for fear of scaring them away and eventually they strolled off over the horizon toward the dam. So great to see them out in their natural environment.

 
 
 

     

  Red Roses
  The two little rose bushes from the cuttings that Martie made from our rose bush at our Joburg house are doing very well after being munched a bit last year. Although we had our first red rose last year, this year the little bushes produced an abundance of really nice roses. Obviously a very old rose variety (the bush in Joburg is over 20 years old), it is a very intense deep red colour and has the most amazing fragrance.
 

  New Weather Station
  Back at the Chinese LED shop in Crown Mines they just received a shipment of these cute little weather stations at really good prices. "We sell lots to the fishermen", said the Chinaman in his sales pitch. Well, we don't have time for fishing but knowing a bit more about what the weather was up to could be quite helpful to us, so I bought one.

As well as obviously being able to keep the time, it shows the temperature and humidity levels of the air around it. It can also tell you whether it's sunny, partly cloudy or cloudy (so it must have some kind of barometer in it) and uses all those readings to calculate a three step "comfort level" which is represented by sad, indifferent and smiley face symbols. You can also check the highest and lowest temperature and humidity readings over the past 24 hours and it shows a 12 hour temperature history bar graph relative to the current temperature.

I got some odd looks from Martie while setting it up in the upstairs workshop and after shouting down some of the readings through the day whenever I was upstairs, she was convinced it was still set to show Chinese weather.


  October Dinner Club Evening
  Mid-October and time for our second Dinner Club. As well as the usual family, Martie and Maria invited Brenda and Buzz (Brenda rides horses with Che often out at the farm and Buzz is just good
 
fun) and Theresia from Galaxy Children's Village, where she looks after 11 orphans.

The menu was a mushroom, red onion and chees tartlet for starters, boned leg of lamb, an asparagus, pea and salted hazelnut vegetable dish, duchesse potatoes and a green salad. To finish off we had a coffee pavlova with cappuccino cream. And there was lots of wine and after dinner coffee to finish off the evening.


  Gathering Grass
  That tedious job - out in the sun for a few hours with a rake gathering all the dried cut grass into heaps and then moving it all onto a big grass pile.
 
  At the moment the only use we have for it is for bedding for the chickens and ducks and once they've added their manure to it, it's ready to go onto the compost heap - it's important that nothing goes to waste here. At the moment our grass areas are much greener than the areas around us so
  we must be doing something right, even if it's just cutting it at the right time. And we do need to look after our little grassland areas carefully as they're going to be an important part of our future when we get started with grazing animals.

By lunchtime my arms were tired from pulling that rake and a few blisters were starting to form on my fingers. But we did end up with a substantial grass pile. Just got to find an easier way to do this!



  Big Storms
  Good rain at last! We got two days of good rain in the third week of October. But it came with the most violent of thunderstorms with scary winds for a few days and nights. But we did have one or two gloriously calm early mornings after the night thunderstorms.

And as we by now well know: thunderstorms plus trees equals problems - and sometimes big problems! The Eskom power was out in the entire area (thankfully didn't affect us off the grid dwellers at all) due to trees falling on power lines in a few places. But we tend to have other problems. On this occasion one of the big trees just outside our log fence along our entrance driveway fell over, breaking a small section of our log fence but blocking off our entrance
 
Early morning sunlight on the wet      
driveway next to the house      
driveway completely.

Johan and his trusty chainsaw came to our rescue and with the help of Marcelle and Martie, we had the driveway opened again in an hour of so. Now we just have to get all those branches cleared away - another job for Mandla on his next work day with us.

      The reason for the problem - not
      much good wood left in that trunk

No chance of getting through there with a vehicle.
Fence was easily fixed but now got lots of branches to clear away.

 
The team hard at work clearing branches so Johan could get to the main trunk with his chainsaw

  Getting some Big Crops Planted
  With nearly 50mm of rain over four days and the sun warming the soil nicely after the rains, it was time to plant our big crops. We started with this year's attempt at our lucern patch. Last year's lucern crop was not really successful, although it did give our ducks a bit of greens every few days. The main reason was that there was just not enough water, either from the rains or our extra
 
Lucern patch #1 prepared fro seeding      

Maize field prepared for seeding      
watering. We turned over the hardened soil, careful not to mess with the few surviving little lucern plants from last year's crop, and reseeded two sections of the patch. Learning from last year, that entire area was just too big to keep watered when there was no rain. So this year we'll start with two smaller sections that we can water more easily from main tank overflows and bath grey water and expand the planted area if we can get the lucern in the two smaller sections well established.

Next, the maize patch was prepared. Last year our maize was fairly successful. It could have been better if the plants weren't so stressed out between rainfalls and supplemental watering sessions and probably could have done with better soil conditioning. So, this year a good covering of cow manure was added during the winter and we now turned it into the soil. Then a slightly deeper furrow system was dug as preparation for planting the seed.


  Chicken Flea War Continues
  I think we're winning, but there are still some fleas around. And while there's still fleas around, the chickens need to be dusted.

Martie has made a magic muti mixture of wood ash and diatomaceous earth powder and the chickens' heads and neck areas are dusted with her paint brush continually. On the right, here she is getting down to work in the chicken tractor. Not much space for a human to move around in there but they can't run away (chasing chickens is very tiresome) and you can get the job done properly.


  Looks Like the Cow Herd Could Get Closer
  Work has started on erecting a fence from the beginning of our forest on Che's property all the way up to the top of the hill (after having the farm workers remove all the poles and droppers of same dilapidated fence a few months ago to use on another new fence over the hill).

The plan is get Che's large herd of cows back grazing over our side of her farm and the fence is planned to prevent them from getting too close to Kallie's big bull and the resultant bullfighting problems. No doubt Kallie's bull will notice the herd up on the hillside and give regular bullformances,
 
The fence line up the hill      
hopefully not gouging too deeply into the ground with his stomping and scraping or damaging the game fence too much. But you see, that will now all be Kallie's problem, not Che's.

But checking the speed of progress, this looks like it's going to be a fairly long term project. And with the expense of steel poles having to be concreted into the ground, two gates and many many metres of barbed wire, it may never even get completed. But if it does, it should still keep the cows at a comfortable distance from us. And not sure what happens when the eland decide they don't like it.


      First hole, looking down the hill

  Bottom Workshop Afternoon Sun Relief
  All our farm structures are designed to give us comfortable winters. In that they succeed 100% - we survived the winter comfortably without having to resort to gas heating much, even with gaps on the sides, top and bottoms of all our garage doors.

But in summer, being north facing and having those polycarbonate translucent light panels in all the workshops and garage IBR roofs with no ceilings, we suffer a bit more than a bit.

One retreat is in the bottom workshop under the upstairs workshop. The upstairs workshop insulates
 
the heat from the roofing and with the windows open it's actually quite cool downstairs.

But in the late afternoons the sun streams in through the west window and spoils everything. Thankfully my sister Debbie donated all her old office venetian blinds to us and even though they're quite a bit wider than our window frames, I dusted one of the longer ones off and hung it from the storage rack beams in the bottom workshop. It does the job of blocking out the afternoon sun perfectly and actually doesn't look too bad either. Thanks Debs.


  Another Little Log Fence
  We've got a bad habit problem with our dog pack. Sorting out bad habits in a dog is not too hard, but breaking a pack habit is a bit more difficult. The moment we open the door in the mornings (and any time during the day, actually) they all dash out at full speed and all head up for an "energy release" run up to the pumphouse. Their acceleration between the little wall and tunnel #4 is wearing a little more than a path there and although the grass is shooting through, it just gets continually ripped up by their "wheelspinning".

The solution: put up a gate there to block their runway and hopefully break the pack habit. We will keep it closed most of the time and will be able to open it up so we can use the path normally once the dogs have calmed down after being let out. The gate will need posts so I decided while I'm
  putting poles into the ground I may as well put up a little log fence there as well to define the pathway and protect our new little fig trees from any accidents.

On the right, levels worked out for the ground slope, holes dug to the correct depth, poles cut to size for the gate and log fence and the bottoms painted with carbolineum for ant and rot protection. Below, the poles planted with a bit of concrete around them and the top crosspieces fixed to them with threaded rods.



  Grass Pile Playground
  The dogs just love the new grass pile. They chase each other around it continually and often one will launch itself onto it. Then it's great fun for the others to attempt to get to it without good ground footing! The grass pile gets flattenned in no time. It's easy enough to just pile it all up again and it does help as "threshing".

  More On Chickens
  The six pure bantam chicks are getting bigger by the day. They sleep in the chicken house at night and we now let them out every day to freerange. Their range also seems to get wider every day and we often have to dodge around the six little fluffies and their mom when trying to work around the
  growing tunnel area.

Then there's the broody on-and-off cross-breed hen. She had us confused as to whether she was actually broody or not. She had a total of seven eggs and seemed to be off the nest far too often. But the weather was extraordinarily hot and she probably knew what she was doing, just needing to turn the eggs occasionally and not having to sit on them during the heat of the days.

Six of the eggs hatched - three black and three beige coloured chicks emerged.


 

  Unfortunately one of the little beige ones had severely splayed legs and had worn it's elbows down to the bone trying to keep up with the other chicks before we realised what was going on there. We separated it from the rest of the brood (there was no chance it would have survived there anyway) and had a go at trying to correct it's problem.

First step was to treat the little elbow joint with some muti and then splint the really bad right leg. Then, to keep the legs
      "Chicksitting" - chick propped up to stand against the spine of a book
  together we made up retainer from a little rubber band and piece of plastic straw. We were so pleased that it was then able to stand and we persevered to teach it to balance. It was just a matter of feeding and giving it water to keep it's strength up and get the muscles strong enough for it to stand on it's own and walk. We nursed it for two days - almost 24/7 attention - and then on day 3 we removed the splint and retaining band. It still couldn't stand properly on it's own but at least it's legs weren't splayed any more.

We tried continually lifting it up to standing position to get the muscles to work but it always collapsed onto it's elbows after a very short time. It sadly just died on us later that evening.

 
Above left, chick with splint and retainer band being taught to balance. Above center, standing and
balancing well with splint. Above right, splints and retainer removed, chick sitting ok but still not standing.

  A Calf Named "Buzzie"
  Born on my birthday and given my nickname, there was great excitement in the nursery paddock over at Che's farm when one of the Nguni cows gave birth to a cutest little black calf.

All the Montessori school kids were let out of normal class routines and gathered at the fence to witness the birth and first steps as the farmhands expertly helped the newborn out on it's way into the big wide world.


  Forest Photo Shoot (and introducing Bella)
 
  What's this! A goat in the back yard?

Yep, we borrowed Bella from Thea and Sybrand's farm across the road for an afternoon as a prop for Niki's forest photo shoot. Bella is the cutest little goat kid and completely tame and very lovable (their children carry her around their farm and she plays with their dogs just like another dog. Sybrand calls her their "bok-hond".

She sat comfortably on my lap in the front seat of the bakkie while relocating between the farms and as soon as we let her out she started exploring our farm and sampling our grass. For the photoshoot Niki made her a ribbon leash and she was quite happy walking with the models in the forest and snuggling up close to them when required. She did take a particular fancy to the rose petals Niki had spread out on the ground around the table. The photo session pictures should be up on her website under her Portfolio section soon. You can click on the picture below to link to her website.

 


  Heat Wave
  After a lovely three days of rain in the third week of October, we ended off the month with a heat wave of note. Day after day of hot, dry wind with very little cloud and very little prospects for rain. I wonder if we'll be getting any summer rains this year?
 
Not much prospects for rain in those patchy little clouds up there