Weird Weather August 2017
  Although we're not experiencing our normal winter cold temperatures, there are some sort of frontal systems coming through. There's lots more cloud than normal and on some days the clouds are almost "summery" cumulus type formations which develop into almost full sky coverage by late afternoon. But a bit of cloud around in the late afternoon western sky always makes for a great sunset.

Also very unusual, one late afternoon we had this thick bank of cloud with a very well defined edge develop over the entire western part of the sky - no sunset whatsoever. But by morning it was all gone and we had our beautiful winter clear skies again for a few days.


  Real Bunnies Already
  Only three weeks old and they're now proper little bunnies - just can't believe how these little creatures can grow up so quickly!

They're now completely weaned and eating anything green that we give them. We've separated them from the doe and they're in their own hutch now (all the hutches have finally been repaired). On the right they're munching away at some lucerne that Martie has just put into their new hutch.

  Martie also now takes them out of their hutch and handles each of them often to keep them tame and "used to" humans. The doe has also now becoming quite tame but the buck is still a little wild as we don't take him out often. He doesn't bite but does kick when you pick him up and those strong back legs and razor sharp nails can scratch you quite badly.

Looking at the scene right now I don't think there's much chance of us getting into big time rabbit farming (like breeding for slaughter). Looks like we're just going to have a whole lot of pet rabbits around the farm.

Bunnies getting hand fed . . .
 and not neglecting the ducks

  Sheep Shed Progress
  Progress continues on the sheep shed and it's moving at a rapid pace - all the enclosure walls are now built to their finished height and the first building session of the new month got us up
two courses of blocks on the actual shed structure.

Mandla's doing great with his building - he's learned the mortar mixes and is meticulous in laying blocks straight to the building line and in keeping everything almost perfectly straight and level.

Looks like we can now easily achieve laying down two courses of blocks per day, so it shouldn't be long before we're up to roof height and starting on the roofing beams.

  Modelling Workshop Ibis Project Progress
  Not much time being spent up in the modelling workshop right now - just too busy with farm stuff. But in the few hours I got in up there I've fixed up the fuselage break properly and built the new tail for the Ibis. Also designed and just started building on the first wing.

I used a new building technique for the tail - laminating two pieces of 3mm balsawood sheet with a fibreglass cloth and epoxy resin between them. Didn't come out as light as I thought it would, but more than enough strength there.

I found a nice big piece of rolled bond paper on which to draw out the wing design and the 10mm x 3mm strip pine spars have been selected and cut to size. The airfoil section (SD7084) has also been chosen and the root ribs cut out of 2mm plywood on the jig saw.

Then, as I'm going to use a 16mm duralium tubular wing joiner and space for the joiner tubes in the wing will be a bit limited, I've made my own thin walled fibreglass outer tube by wrapping thin plastic around the the wing joiner tube (so that the fibreglass and epoxy doesn't stick to the tube), wrapped some fibreglass cloth around it, wet it out with epoxy resin, then wrapped more plastic around the outside and taped it tightly to squeeze out all the excess epoxy resin. Worked perfectly. Picture below right shows the pine strip spars, the four plywood root ribs and the joiner tube just before removing the outer plastic wrapping and slipping the new fibreglass outer tube off of the inner dural tube.


  Wakey, Wakey
  With the temperatures up in the early 20's on most days now, the tortoises began stirring in their hibernation box in the garden shed.

First awake was "Doppies", maybe because he's a different species. But once out in the sun they all quickly got mobile. Martie poured a bit of water over them and then put them into the shallow drinking tray so they could rehydrate. And then she piled on a lovely mid-morning green salad snack for them. What a life!

  First Day Out
  Time to get a taste of the big world out there (sans predators, of course) for the seven bunnies.

Martie decided to let them out of their cosy little hutch for the first time one morning. They were all very well behaved and sniffed and jumped around all over the place. But in exploring the area around the hutches they seemed to always get into the little spaces between and under the other hutches where we couldn't get at them. So after playtime we just had to try and entice them out with food or wait until they came out and grab them quickly to put them back into their hutch.

  Sheep Shed Work Continues
  Another two days of work on the sheep shed (two courses of blocks per day) and we're now up to door lintel height.

As we'll eventually be moving sheep in and out of there every day, I've made the door opening slightly wider than standard. I'll be making my own wooden door frame and door similar to the one I made for the chicken coop, so that shouldn't be a problem.

  Resident Waterbuck Bull
  Our lone waterbuck bull is really making himself at home on our farm. He drifts in and out of the open gate out to the grass field and often stops fairly close by for a quick photo shoot.

  Chicken Tractor Maintenance
  The woodwork on the chicken tractor (still call it the chicken tractor, even though we don't ever move it around anywhere) is holding out well after it's 18 months in service. But the same cannot be said for the chicken wire. I'm not sure if 18 months is the lifespan of chicken wire or we just got a bad batch or cheapie rubbish when we bought it. There were signs of rust on it (supposed
  to be galvanised) after the first rains and it has taken 18 months to start falling apart.

Up till now, whenever a hole appeared, we would just lay some wood up against it. But it was now time to do a proper repair job. The chickens were moved into the duck aviary for a day and the tractor moved into the driveway and dusted off. It was partially dismantled (some of the chicken wire was held in place under the sheets of plywood) and all the chicken wire was taken off and new chicken wire stapled on. The new wire looks like a better quality wire, so let's see how long that lasts.

    Chicken tractor chicken wire falling apart on all sides now

  Fire Season
  With a good rainy season last summer behind us and with absolutely no rain this winter season (most years we at least get a few mm to dampen things down a bit), the veld grass is very high and very dry and there have been some really bad fires in the areas around us. So far, through good communication systems between the farmers in our close proximity group and really quick response times in us being able to get to the fires around us before they get out of hand, we have managed to keep them out of our area. But we're still on full fire alert until at least mid-September and we've been out on a few occasions to help other farmers further out of our immediate area to help manage their fires.
We don't have normal grass fires here. After all, it's not called "Houtpoort" valley for nothing.
When the fire gets into the "wood" the fires are spectacular. Flames rise up higher than the trees
and the dry burned wood on the ground smoulders for days afterwards.
Doesn't look like it, but this one is "under control"    
And we're learning so much about grass fires. Most of the farmers are by now very experienced at "fire management" and although getting to the fire and assessing it's path of destruction is given top priority, putting it out is sometimes not. The idea is to have the equipment on hand to extinguish it if necessary if it does get out of control, but the objective is to use the opportunity to burn fire breaks where possible to keep future fires away from their farm houses and grazing lands.
And one night a view from our back yard to the west, the trees on the "Jakalshoogte" hill igniting.
Lights from our neighbouring farms in the foreground, Heidelberg town in the background.
Also, lights from a "monitoring vehicle" can just be seen on the hillside. All the farmers in the vicinity
are kept updated continually on our radio communications network.

  Farm Communications System
  Heidelberg must have one of the best CPF (Community Police Forum) organisations around. When we moved out here we had numerous farmers meetings to try and find a workable solution for our farmers to be able to communicate efficiently between each other for emergencies. Martie started a whatsapp group (which we still use for general communication notices and daily "everybody ok" checks) but cell phone signal in the rural areas here are not reliable enough.

It wasn't long before the Heidelberg CPF heard of our plight and came forward to offer their services. Part of their mandate is to expand their services into the rural areas surrounding Heidelberg and we are fortunate enough to be "rural within range" of their system and our group has become their first test rural group.

Basically to belong to the CPF you need to buy your own UHF radio and have it programmed to use their licensed frequency. They have a radio repeater high up on the hill above Heidelberg and the whole of Heidelberg valley and surrounds have coverage on their frequency. You also need to pay a very small annual license fee to use their licensed frequency for which you are allocated a registered unique "call sign".

I quickly got to grips with the technology, bought two radios and a programming cable and downloaded all the necessary software to program our radios to their frequencies.

Then we had to get through some farmer politics here and there as some of the farmers didn't want to be part of the CPF and some already had UHF radios that they used for internal
    Amazing how such a little device
used effectively can become
such an important part
of our daily lives
  communications on their farms. So we have compromised and we leave our group's channels 1-8 on the standard two-way radio frequencies and program channels 8-15 to use CPF standard frequencies for those that want to be part of the CPF network. Channel 15 is our CPF licensed channel and we have range across the entire Heidelberg valley. All other channels are line of sight range only and channel 16 is the "scan" channel. I have programmed our scan channel to scan channels 5 (our local line of sight farmer call channel) and channel 15 (CPF call channel) only. So we can leave our radios on channel 16 and be able to hear communications from both networks.

If you use the licensed CPF channel you are expected to use their radio protocal and call everything in through their 24/7 control room (manned by volunteers and our local Security companies). You always first identify yourself with your call sign and every call is logged: volunteer patrollers have to call in to go on duty, call in to go off duty and every incident is logged with an incident number. When police and emergency services are called to action by the control room, patrollers (they're always on the scene first) report back to the control room and give the response times and the registration numbers of the emergency vehicles on the scene.

At bi-weekly meetings, the information is discussed with the emergency services in a very positive way in an attempt to improve their service offerings. So organised, so functional. One big advantage is that the CPF work very closely with the SAP and we are able to get crime stats and identify crime hotspots and high crime incident times and get the problems sorted out very quickly, either with increased SAP patrols or CPF volunteer patrols.

And support for the CPF in the town is growing daily. The aim to to have almost everyone own and carry a radio and be able to report any crime or emergency incidents immediately to the control room where the volunteer patrollers can respond and the required emergency/security services can be mobilised quickly. The town is already now "alive" with so many more eyes and ears and it is so interesting listening to the way in which situations are dealt with so effectively by our amazing CPF network.

  Back to the Sheep Shed . . .
  We've slowed down on the sheep shed now as we're on to the finicky bits around the roofing timber and it just takes more time to lay the blocks when you have to cut just about every second one to fit.

We use a piece of scrap beam to leave the space between the blocks for the beams and below left, the beams have now been cut and sealed.

Below right, the perlins ready to be sealed before getting nailed up onto the beams.


  Winter Crops
  With our warm winter weather all our winter crops grew well but are now all bolting. So now it's a big rush to harvest (not much planted this year anyway) what we can. Below right our first crop of broccoli - enough for at least two meals for us.

  Cold Fronts #5 & 6
  It just had to come. After weeks and weeks of lovely warm winter weather, a biggie cold front managed to sneak in from the south. It brought heavy snowfalls to the southern parts of the
  country so we had ice cold winds for a few days until the snow down there had melted.

We also had some really interesting heavy cloud formations just ahead of the front, but no rain.

Then just a few days later, another one. Not much cloud but a day of really strong winds putting all farmers on the highveld on veldfire emergency alert, with runaway veldfires wiping out farms between Heidelberg and Nigel and thick smoke blowing across the N3 highway causing some very serious accidents.

Smoke thick in the air in the Heidelberg valley. After a day of veldfire havoc, nature soothes us
into a calm but cool evening with another beautiful sunset.

  Power System Upgrade
  Our power systems are adequate on perfect sunny days but a little "on the edge" when we have a bit of cloud cover. On good days our batteries are fully charged by just after lunch time if we use the computer through the morning. And as we're moving the computer workshop to the farm soon we decided we were going to need a power system upgrade. Jacques arranged an additional two 270 watt solar panels at very good prices and I started planning the reconfiguration of our power system.

Our power system is actually split into two systems, one for the upstairs workshop and floodlights and the other for the downstairs lights, radio and cell phone charging, fridge and computer. Simply splitting the panels between the two systems would probably work ok but I prefer full control to switch the solar panel power to whichever system needs it.

So I chose a clear day with a biting cold wind and headed up onto the roof to rewire and install the new panels. I moved our smaller 200 watt panel across and put our two old 250 watt panels into it's place. All three of those panels were then wired into individual switches on the upstairs workshop control panel so that each one's power can be switched to either system. The two new panels were installed and permanently wired to the downstairs control panel.

I did the roof installation stuff during the day and in the evening made the wiring connections into the upstairs control panel. I must have been a bit tired as I got two of the wires swapped around and after a very puzzling testing session the next morning, it took me the best part of the day to find the fault and get the system tested properly. My little fault also blew the remaining working pole on the 20A switch that I originally used to switch the 200 watt panel between the systems. Nothing like two problems at once to complicate the problem solving process and gobble up your time! So I had to replace that switch as well.

All the switches are now 60A switches and should easily handle the inputs loads of the panels (biggest panel to be switched is 250 watts - divide by 12 volts equals 20.8 amps). But what happens when you switch a 250 watt panel into a circuit already carrying 990 watts? My logic says no extra load on the switch but we'll just have to see.

So now we've just broken through the 1 kilowatt barrier with a total of 1.24 kilowatts of solar power, although split between the two systems. Unless we really run the batteries flat during the night, all batteries are fully charged by 10h30 every day and we can run computers and charge all little stuff batteries all day long without having to worry about either of our main battery systems not being fully charged for the night.
Up on the roof in the cold wind connecting solar panels    

All panels connected, new ones still nice and clean    
Control panel with new switchbox
  You'll also notice perched on top of the control panel is our new internet router. If we ever get LTE in our area, we're ready for it. But for now it steps down to 3G for us and most importantly, gives us a decent wifi internet connection around the entire garage and workshop area and on a good day, all the way up at the pumphouse. Unfortunately, as we're on the very edge of the CellC cell phone network, we do have numerous irritating internet drop-offs. But it's the only internet solution we have at the moment.

  Last bit of Blockwork on the Sheep Shed
Side wall blocks cut and fitted to the slope of the roof    

Ready for the dusty job of cutting blocks for the forest side long wall    
This project is dragging on a little but it's a first time building with blocks for me and basically it's just me and Mandla putting up the entire building. And 2 meters by 4 meters didn't look very big when we started off, but once the walls are up it has turned out to be a substantially spacious room.

But we're now up to roof height and we've got all the angled blocks on the two short walls cut and fitted to the slope of the roof.

We used maxi bricks to fill the gaps from the top course to the roof on the long wall with the doorway because they were just the height we needed, although they're about a centimere narrower! Why can't they standardise on stuff like this to make it easier for building?. But on the forest side long wall we had to cut each block to the correct height.

Really dusty and dirty work cutting blocks to size with the angle grinder.

  Modelling Workshop - More Ibis Project Progress
  Lots of evening work also happening up in the hobby workshop this month with the latest Ibis project taking shape nicely.

On the left, the bottom wing balsa sheeting cut to size, glued to the bottom of the main wing spar and layed out on the building board.

On the right, a few evenings of cutting out ribs and gluing them onto the sheet and up against the spar, one wing panel at a time - four in total: two centre panels and two tip panels.

And then below, the wing joiner tubes epoxied to the spar and ribs and I could finally plug the "skelton" wings onto the fuselage to see what the model is going to eventually look like.


  And Some More Sheep Shed and Enclosure Work . . .
  With all the block building now completed on the shed, the roofing beams were slotted into place and the perlins layed on top of them - basically just to get them out of the way. I'll nail it all
  together later as the roofing sheets still need to be ordered, so it may be a while before the roof goes on. But I see Martie has moved it up the priority list for before the rains.

Then (pictures below) it was on to neatening up the enclosure entrance gate. We dug out and levelled both sides of the entrance floor level blocks, cut and bent some leftover steel from the flooring, mixed some concrete and layed in a small ramp on both sides of the blocks. Very neat now.

Finally a bit of woodwork for the gate posts and job done.