Big Birthday Bash July 2017
  There's just no better way to start a new month than with a big party.

Martie organised a big birthday bash and invited all her family and friends to celebrate her birthday with her in Che's Saloon. We're not saying how old she is now but it was a big milestone number and it started with a 6.

The weather was a bit on the cold side so the new Saloon fire was lit up for the early arrivals until the big outside braai fire got going. It was a "bring and braai" affair with Maria helping with much of the catering for the soup starter and with Jacques, Janine and Amber spending the weekend with us, Amber helped to decorate the rainbow birthday cake.


  Preparing For Some Sheep
  Among the many gifts Martie got for her birthday, one of our neighbouring farmers gave her a gift with a difference - sheep! They were very young lambs so would only be ready to collect from his farm after they had been weaned in a few weeks time. So as soon as the party dust settled we got going on two projects for our new sheep.

The first project was another concerted attempt (our third) at our lucerne patch. We trimmed down our few surviving plants and this time dug furrows to make watering easier and then
  planted some seeds.

It's really not the best time of year to plant seed but lucerne is not affected by frost and as long as we can get some sun on the ground to germinate the seeds, they should grow. But the big trick with lucerne is water. It needs to be watered regularly until it is well established. Once it has it's deep root system established, it just produces fodder in the form of new leaves continually.

It really makes me despondent to see how well the lucerne grows on all the road verges in the southern suburbs of Joburg - and nobody ever waters it there!

The second project was the sheep sleeping quarters. We had already planned and had started digging the foundations for a little wall in the forest next to the forest shelter woodworking workshop area behind the garages for a rabbit "enclosure", so we just replanned a bit and incorporated a little shed for the sheep along the long wall as well.

The plan is to free range the sheep during the day (hope that works ok and they don't drift off too far) and then teach a dog to "drive" them into their little shed for the nights - unfortunately through the rabbit enclosure and hopefully after the rabbits have been put into their hutches for the night.

There could be a bit of chaos until everyone gets used to their routines but we've got great routines working for the ducks and chickens, so I'm sure we can get it right with the rabbits and sheep.

      Lucerne patch attempt #3

      Sheep shed foundation from the forest side . . .

      . . . and the wall and sheep shed from the driveway side. Concrete
      foundation and first course of blocks being laid at the same time.

  Hobby Workshop Model Progress
  The Gentron is now finished and just needs to be test flown. Here it is fully assembled in all it's 3 meter wingspan glory taking over just about the entire open floor area of the workshop. I
installed my latest technology radio as it also has two metal pushrods running down the full length of the fuselage to drive the elevator and rudder and I just wasn't prepared to strip them out and change them to plastic. The new 2.4GHz radio control systems use "whisker" aerial systems and don't suffer the sensitivity problems that the older 35MHz frequency radios with their single 1 meter wire aerials do.
  There's been good progress on the old Simprop Optima as well. The fuselage has been sanded and resprayed and the radio installed. The model is 1980 era so I installed one of my oldest (also Simprop) radios - just to keep everything as authentic as possible.

Above left, the undersides of the wings - most of the black sanded off and a grey primer taking care of the rest of it and now ready for red coat. Above centre, the top of the wings all filled, sanded and resprayed white. Above right, the fuselage with radio installed - old Simprop SAM 53MHz transmitter there too.

  Baby Rabbits
  We're learning a whole new language. It's all about bucks, does and kits in the rabbit world. And we got a great surprise early one chilly morning when we discovered we had seven kits born to our breeding pair doe - our first successful litter of rabbits on the farm.

When we first got the rabbits we knew the doe was heavily pregnant but we lost the entire litter due to the trauma of the move and the doe not being settled in to her new environment.

The doe is now very happy in her new environment (in fact, never had it so good!) and Martie has "kind of" made friends with her. During the full moon period (as per Maria's instructions) we left the buck and doe together for a few hours and we now have the results - seven very cute little squirming creatures and a happy and very busy mommy rabbit.

On the right, mommy out for a few minutes while Martie cleans up the hutch. She puts the kits in a box on a warm hot water bottle to keep them cosy while they're out of their grass and plucked fur nest.


  Chicken Egg Stash
  Our free range chicken flock pretty much look after themselves during the day. We let them out in the mornings, throw out a scoop of crushed mealies outside the kitchen door and then they head off on their daily business of foraging, maintaining flock domination levels and other complicated chicken life stuff.

But we were wondering why we weren't getting any eggs for a few days and put it down to the cold weather. Then one day Mandla heard a commotion deep in the forest (there's always a big announcement commotion when an egg is layed) and found a stash on 15 eggs with two hens going broody on the little nest at the base of a tree made from eucalyptus tree debris twigs and leaves.

The eggs were gathered and added to our collection of duck eggs. Yippee, we can now have eggs for breakfast again.

Two hens on their stick nest deep in the forest   
   Big egg stash recovered (with our duck eggs)

  Cold Front #4
  Not sure whether it's climate change or that we've just never been able to appreciate it while living for so many years in the suburbs, but our winter weather here on the highveld is just fantastic. The evenings, nights and mornings are sometimes a little cold but once the sun is up the weather is glorious.

And just after the middle of July, our 4th real cold front of the season came through. It did snow in the Cape and the weather forecasts were for severe cold up on the highveld. But something must have hapenned because it didn't get that cold here. But it was a text book cold front with the approaching high altitude cloud bank forming across the entire southern skyline as the colder air pushed in under the last of our warmer air and the sudden few degrees air temperature drop as the clouds passed overhead.


  It's Been a While
  Spotted coming out of the long grass a lone waterbuck bull. The four that were hanging around in the late summer seem to have split up and looks like one has set up his territorial boundaries here, waiting for some girls to drift through (sorry Mr Bull, we haven't ever seen the girls come over this side of the farm but if you can make enough pong and the wind blows the right way for a few days, there may still be a chance). The waterbuck are grazers and not as destructive to plantlife as the eland - really nice to have one around.

  Progress on the Rabbit Enclosure and Sheep Sleeping Quarters
  Work continues on our new building project. We've decided to use cement blocks instead of our normal semi-face bricks for this one - much cheaper. But any building right now is just so ridiculously expensive.

With the first course already laid while we threw in the concrete for the foundations (our building methods are sometimes a little unorthodox, but they work for us), we were able to lay another course and have the "sheep shed" building up to floor level. We contemplated keeping the floor level very low but with all the driveway rain water runoff going to end up in that area, we decided to get it at least 20cm above the surrounding ground level. But that does mean that quite a bit of fill is going to be required there.

Building between the trees, the first course for the wall finished and sheep shed built up to floor level.
That front wall is actually straight - just some lens distortion showing it curved.

  Dust Prevention
  The dust levels on the farm at the moment are horrendous. We're just not used to it from our suburban lives. You can dust off a surface in the morning and by afternoon you will be able to run a line in the day's dust with your finger. Our main problem is our driveway right next to our living quarters, but we just can't lay our concrete driveway until the house building is finished.
Driveway tracks now well covered with old grass      

In an attempt to prevent some dustiness, we've laid some of the bigger clumps of grass that Mandla took out from the front fence area onto the driveway section coming out of the forest towards the house area. That certainly does the trick of reducing the dust but it's just impractical to do the whole driveway through the forest and down next to the house.

We just learn to live with the dust - only a few more weeks until we get some rain to dampen things down a bit.

  More Hobby Workshop Model Progress
  Being able to spend most evenings up in the cosy (and now with music and video facilities) hobby workshop and having the workshop so nicely organised and equipped, there's rapid progress on model projects up there.

I still haven't test flow the Gentron yet but the Optima has been finished off completely and "kind-of" test flown. After a few hand launches on the flat field at the foot of the hill it was a choice of setting up the winch or, as the wind was blowing in the right direction for slope soaring, heading up the hill for the real test flight.

I decided to lug it up the hill. When I got to the top the wind was howling a gusty gale. It wasn't ideal conditions for test flying but after the climb up the hill with the 2.8 meter wingspan glider, transmitter and camera bag, there was no way I was going to carry the model all the way down again! I waited for a lull in the wind and managed to get it launched. It immediately climbed away at a phenomenal rate - not surprising it being a thermal soarer with so much wing area and the massive slope lift. I did manage to fly it around for a bit and ran some passes across the front of the slope, but there was no way I could pick up the camera and get a few shots in. Just keeping it in the air below VNE speed, away from the rocks and down at a comfortable altitude was a full time job with both hands on the transmitter at all times. Let's say it wasn't a very pleasant flight, fighting an unfamiliar and untrimmed glider in very rough and gusty weather, but we both survived to fly another day.

    Optima ready for it's test flight

Above left, very neat Optima radio installation with all original Simprop equipment - all four servos in the fuselage with mechanical pushrod connections to all the control surfaces. A real pain to assemble the model as the wing control surface pushrods all need to be mechanically connected when attaching the wings. The more modern method is to have the wing control surface servos mounted in the wing and just have to connect the electrical plugs into the receiver when attaching the wings.

Above centre, comparing the new and old transmitter technologies. The transmitter on the right is the old Simprop SAM. It is a single model setup system with all channel mixer switches and predefined mixer adjustment potentiometers on the front of the transmitter. On the left, the new Multiplex system. All channel mixing is computerised and programmed using a menu system displayed on the LCD and has memory to hold individual settings for 20 models. Only computer keyboard buttons and a few mixer on/off switches are on the front of the transmitter. Almost any channel can be variably mixed with any other channel and the mixer on/off switches can be assigned to any mixer. It can also receive data from sensors in the model while it is flying (altitude, varimeter, rpm, battery voltage, battery current draw, etc) and display it on the LCD screen. We've come a long way since the 1980s.

Above right, the innovative airbrakes on the Optima. Very effective and not much pitch change in the model's flying attitude when the brakes are applied. Thank goodness, as I had to fly with the brakes out for most of the test flight on the slope!

  And with the workbenches now all clear, it's time to get going on the next project.

It's going to be a model based on Helmut Quabeck's "King". A local guy started producing a version he named the "Ibis" here in South Africa many years ago - very shoddy fibreglass work and even worse veneered foam wings.

  I bought two fuselages from him at the time, shortened one of them by about 12cm and built my own wings and tail. It never flew well due to radio interference problems - those metal pushrods again. I don't know how many models I wrote off due to radio installation problems back then. After it's last major crash I chucked out the wings, did a patchy job on repairing the fuselage to get it all in one piece again, and then shelved it.

Here it is out on the workbench now, second full length fuselage out next to it just for comparison. Such a great looking fuselage deserves a good set of wings so I'm going to have only this one project on the go for a while as I have to fix that fuselage break properly and design and build new wings for it from scratch. And that ugly old constant chord tailplane is going to have to go as well.

  Haystack Flattened
  The dogs just love the haystack. They take turns in digging themselves deep into the grass and all the others dig furiously to find and pull it out.

Needless to say, the haystack needs constant fixing. It only takes about half an hour to pile it up neatly again and lets us get at the inner grass for the chickens and rabbits. But as soon as the dogs notice the pile they head for their favourite playground and within an hour it's all flat again.

  Growing Fast
  Make that really, really fast! They're only one week old and the seven kits already have enough fur to keep them warm and their eyes are almost open.

And where we used to be able to hold one in the palm of our hand, we now have to cup both hands to hold one. Probably just as well as their back legs have springs in them and even though they can't see, they hop all over the place.

  Progress on the Rabbit Enclosure and Sheep Sleeping Quarters
  We're making good progress but still way behind schedule on the new rabbit enclosure and sheep shed. We should have taken delivery of the sheep already, but just can't take the chance of leaving them out in the fields at night (jackal and stock thieves). And the rabbits are growing fast and are going to need more space real soon.

The wall for the rabbit enclosure has now been built to above ground level and the sheep shed walls are up to floor level. We are also slowly filling the shed area with rubble and sand so that we don't have to lay in too much concrete for the floor.

It's really great working in the forest amongst the trees - doesn't get too hot and always a cool breeze coming through the undergrowth. It's also the first time we're building with cement blocks, so it's taking a bit of time figuring out how the all go together and planning the joints and corners.

Wall above ground level and sheep shed to floor level    

Doorway concrete "ramp" now done as well    
The other problem is all our loose sand on the farm has turned to powder. We normally get a bit of rain through winter, but this winter there has been absolutely nothing. The water just runs off the sand so we have to dam up the filled floor area so the water can eventually soak in.

As we're going to be doing most of the building of the walls from inside the structure, we also cast the concrete door "ramp" so we can get the building materials in much easier.

On Mandla's work days he now quickly starts the day off with his farm chores and then spends the rest of his day with me on the building site.

Water just not soaking in

  Very Early Spring?
  With no more cold fronts predicted on the long term weather forecast and mid-July daytime temperatures now constantly up in the low to mid twenties, the plants have all woken up really early and started producing their spring shoots and flowers.

Many of the black wattle trees are in heavy bloom. The bees in our hive still only get going well after the sun is up and the air has warmed up nicely, but all through the day there's a constant stream of very busy bees coming back to the hive with their back legs packed
    Some black wattle trees in heavy bloom
  with big yellow blobs of pollen.

Our fruit trees are nearly all showing signs of new growth buds and an almond tree is first to show blossoms.

The elderberry bushes are also showing new leaf growth and as their branches were getting a little long and scraggly, we gave them a good trim and we're going to plant the cuttings to see whether new plants can easily be grown from them.

Night time temperatures are still a little low, though. Nature has it's way of gently reminding us that summer is not quite here yet.

   Almond tree blossoms
   Elderberry bush cuttings

  Greenhouse Tunnel
  Our local electrical shop has ordered us some 32mm electrical conduit (so I don't have to schlep to Joburg to get them any more). I also bought a sheet of 7m x 8m greenhouse plastic (UV resistant for at least 3 years) from a supplier at Multiflora and we're now ready to enclose one of our tunnels to make a "greenhouse". We've just lost too many of our tropical and semi-tropical plants this year leaving them out in the cold. Next winter they will be protected.
  We put the plasic sheet over the tunnel hoops to get an idea of how it will fit and what we can do to secure it - what a job! We then took it off again.

A bit more planning is going to be required on this project. The few minutes that the plastic was on, the temperature inside the "greenhouse" became unbearable. We need to think of a way of securing it without damaging the plastic and a flexible ventilation system.

  Eyes Open
  Two weeks old and the kits are growing bigger by the day. Their eyes are now open and they're starting to supplement their mother's milk with some grass and some of mommy's spinach, lettuce and carrots.

I suppose being at the bottom of the food chain means they have to be independent quickly and breed fast and furiously. These little animals are amazing.

Almost too big for a hand now . . .
. . . and the box getting a bit small
  And they've even now made themselves a "bunny nest" from all the hay that we put into the hatch.

We're not sure whether the mommy rabbit packs all the grass together nicely to make the nest or the kits just move around until a nest shape is formed. And then a little hole is poked through the grass so the kits can come out and drink when they want to. Here's one peeking it's head through the hole while mommy eats her carrots and spinach. Very cute.

  Sheep Shed Concrete Floor
Floor prepared and Mandla spreading the first concrete mix    

Phew! Job done before dark and looking really good    
I was very worried that we wouldn't cope with this task. Mixing concrete is really hard work and with only me and Mandla to mix enough concrete to cover the 2,4m x 4,3m floor area (and which really had to be done same day), it was going to be touch and go against the clock and our available manpower energy.

The floor base had been filled, compacted and we had been watering it for two days and we didn't want to lose momentum on this job. So one morning we decided to just bite the bullet and get going on that concrete. We started early and I cut the Ref 100 steel to size, straightened it out flat and layed it onto the floor area while Mandla prepared the first mix.

Then it was just mixing, pouring, spreading and levelling concrete all day long. We worked tirelessly through the day with Martie piling on the refreshments at regular breaks. And although we had to keep Mandla on for a bit of overtime, we managed to get the job done before dark.

  Eucalyptus in Bloom
  And on the north forest edge, the eucalyptus trees are all showing early blooms.

On the right, the flowers which are a big part of our bee foraging for a good early summer honey harvest. Also, hundreds of little "gumnuts" ready to burst into fluffy white nectar flowers.

The chickens have been working hard scratching around on the ground on the north side forest edge as well. It will be interesting to see their effect on the eucalyptus weevil population this season as they seem to be eating all the pupae just under the ground surface.

  Sheep Shed Walls Going Up
    First course of blocks down, working on the second course

    Enclosure wall almost up to full height all round
With all the concrete work done and allowed to set nicely for a few days, we then started on building the walls for the enclosure and the "sheep shed".

Building with blocks sure goes a lot faster than building with bricks, but those blocks are heavy and cumbersome to handle. And it seems a bit more mortar is required. We almost get one full course of the wall and building built from a three wheelbarrow sand and one bag of cement mortar mix.

By the end of the month we had four courses of blocks up on the entire structure. And that's as high as we're going to go on the enclosure wall.

Now it's just getting the building structure up. Not looking forward to working with those blocks up on the scaffolding to get the building up to roof height. Then it's just roofing beams and perlins, IBR sheeting, doors and gates and we'll be done there and the sheep can move in.