New Year Full Moon January 2018
  Having a full moon on the first day of the year means scientifically that the 354-day lunar cycle and 365-day Gregorian calendar start off together on the first day of the year. And it also gurantees a second full moon in January, which will be a "Blue Moon". The January "Wolf Moon"
  gets it's name from the Native American tribes who noticed wolves, who were very hungry in the early January cold, gathering in packs to howl at it (even though wolves don't really howl at the moon - they just look up when they howl).

Symbolically, the Wolf Moon is considered a sign that you should listen to your intuitions, better communicate with your friends and loved ones and focus on to fine tune your weaknesses - all things at which social and resourceful wolves are skilled. Starting the year off this way will surely ensure a enterprising 2018.

    A cloudless and calm New Year's Evening and we were able to
    watch the first full moon of the year rise up over the hill.

  Log Table Top
  I've come to realise that my little woodworking tools are just not going to cut it if I want to do this kind of woodwork. After over an hour of planing and sanding - having to give the belt sander
The flat surface of the log planed and sanded smooth . . .    

. . . and then light stained and varnished to show the lovely grain     
a cooling down break a few times - I got the flat side of the log "kind of" smooth enough to be used as a table top. I'm not sure what kind of tree this chunk of wood came from, but it sure is hard! I had to plane quite a bit off to get down to the good clean wood and as can be seen in the pictures on the left, a carpet of sawdust from the plane and sander on the ground when I was done.

Once the surface was nice and smooth and clean I decided to give it a light coat of our oregon stain polyurethane floor sealer as the natural wood was rather "light" in colour. I used the Woodoc floor sealer that I used on the upstairs workshop floor. Once the stain coat had dried I gave it a good coat of the Woodoc clear floor sealer. I figure if the sealer is good enough for floors, it'll be ok for a table top and the Woodoc products all have very good UV protection in them.

After it's final coat of varnish it ended up looking really good. Now I just need someone to help me turn it over (it weighs a ton!) so I can make a start on the other side.

  After the festive period rains, the weeds have taken over our large crop growing area (and many other areas of the farm). The weeds in the forest are great for the sheep but have to be cleared from our growing areas so our crops can make use of the soil nutrients instead of the weeds!

So it looks like January is going to be a weeding month for us.

  Harvesting Gem Squash
  Our gem squash bushes are producing abundantly. Here's one morning's harvest from growing tunnel number 1.

Due to a bad attack of leaf mildew we have had to remove two of the bush clusters (we had so many seedlings that we planted four bushes per "hole") in tunnel number 1. Thus the extra big harvest on our kitchen table. There's still one more bush cluster doing well in the tunnel and a few more bush clusters out in the large crop growing area, all still producing another basket full every few days.

  First Sunflowers
  We've started the big weeding operation in the large crop growing area but haven't got to the sunflowers yet. And our little sunflower plants have started blooming.

All the the plants on the farm are under stress at the moment. We're having good rains when they come, but the rainy spells are separated by long dry periods. We're into our third rainless
  week of January now and the dry hot winds are relentless.

On the right, the sunflower plantation with the smaller plants wilting (despite hand watering almost every day) and below, one of the first blooms ripped off it's stem by the wind drying in the kitchen.

  Chicken News
  There's been lots of exciting chicken activities over the last month or two. We now have a total of seven Koekoek chicks which our litle silkie bantam hens are raising. Having a good mother and father are so important to chickens. The chicks need to be taught how to be real chickens, something that incubator hatched and battery chickens never get the opportunity to be.
  Above, those four new bantam chicks are growing fast. And what a great little family we have there. Mr Scruff has taken over the father role (although Mr King is probably the genetic father). Mr King seems ok with it but sometimes steps in to teach the chicks about what they can eat and what they can't. Above left, out looking for food in the grass early one morning and above right, the little family settling in for the night in their cosy grass nest in the chicken coop.
  Then above left, the first four of the Koekoek chicks, also growing very fast, with one of their bantam mother hens. They're kept in the "chicken tunnel", our growing tunnel number 4. Their colouring is rather interesting. We have one kind of white with black speckles, one more black with a few white speckles and the other two speckled with about equal black and white colouring. Above right, they're now in their super-ugly stage with their new adult feathers. Looks like that colouring is the way they're going to stay.

The two bantam hens are still teaching them how to find food by scratching away the ground surface and they are often seen all taking big sand baths together.

  And on the right, the latest three Koekoek hatchlings and their bantam mother hen. As there are so many chicks out free ranging at the moment we kept them in the coop for a bit longer than normal.

Here they are on their first day out of the coop and the first opportunity for mom to show them how to scratch around in the dirt to find food. They also had their first sand bath so now they're all dirty like the rest of our chicken community.

  Fruit Tree Orchard Cleanup
  The grass in the fruit tree orchard was getting so long we could hardly see the trees. It wasn't possible to get the tractor in there any more so over a few days I climbed in with the weed eater and cut it all down and raked it up for the big grass pile.

Our little fruit trees are looking so good. We pamper them with deep watering often during the "drought" periods and they're growing rather quickly. We've still got a few open spots in the top section where we still have to plant trees and we're just deciding what to plant there. The big open section at the bottom of the picture is reserved for our new chicken and duck enclosures.


  Sawdust Magic
  We're now into our third week of no (or very little) rain and despite almost daily watering, our plants are really taking strain again. We've been researching Paul Gautschi's "Back to Eden" gardening methods for a while now. His "parallels" with gardening and spiritualism are very interesting, but it's the wood chip mulch part that is really fascinating. Despite his many "success" videos, we were just not sure how well this would work.

But now that we had discovered our local woodcutter yard, we could get as much course sawdust as we wanted - for free! So with nothing to lose we decided to give it a try. If nothing else, the sawdust will just decompose into the soil over time.

  One hot dry morning we took the bakkie into town to the woodcutter's yard and loaded up a bakkie load of bags of sawdust. But I just couldn't leave the yard without selecting a few choice peices of log offcuts that were laying around there as well. We got back to the farm with a fully loaded bakkie again and were ready to get going with the mulch experiment (and with enough wood to add a few more woodworking projects to the todo list).

We chose one of our tomato plant beds to begin the experiment. We cleared the bed of weeds, watered it well and then layed a thick layer of course sawdust over the soil around the seedlings. The other two tomato beds were left as they were with bare soil and a few weeds around the seedlings.

The first thing we noticed was that the plants in the sawdust bed didn't wilt nearly as much as the plants in the other beds on hot days. Martie also noted having to water the open soil beds a
lot more. And after about a week, on the left are the seedlings in the open soil beds vs on the right, the seedlings in the sawdust covered beds. I think more than enough proof of the magic sawdust mulch at work and over the next few days we were regular visitors at the woodcutters yard. As we cleared the weeds from the mealie and sunflower beds, they got the sawdust treatment as well. It may have been too late for some of the smaller mealie and sunflower plants that had had just too much wilting, but the bigger stronger plants should benefit from the magic sawdust mulch.
Laying in a thick layer of sawdust into the mealie   
beds after weeding and deep watering. Some of the   
smaller mealie plants in front don't look like they're   
going to make it due to our recent long dry spells.   
   Martie weeding and throwing the weeds out to the
   sheep. They chomp them up and convert them to
   pellets with extra nutrients added - better than any
   shredder. Charlie keeping an eye on those sheep.

  Rebuilding Forest Shelter Workshop Pillars
  We really needed to get going on that forest shelter workshop and although I was quite happy to rebuild the pillars, it would just take me weeks to do in between normal work and all the other projects going on at the farm. So we got hold of Leno and he was only too happy to come out and rebuild them for us.

It was good to see Leno again and catch up on what was happenning in his life. Leno Jr didn't come with for the weekend - he had just finished high school and was preparing for technical college. Leno's youngest son Selele had grown up quickly and was now in high school. After the brief social catch-up it was back to work and with all the materials on hand they got going early on Saturday morning and they finished rebuilding the three pillars (except for the roller course of bricks on top of the columns as that needed to be done once the beams were in place) by
  Sunday afternoon. Once all the brickwork was done we filled the insides of the pillars with concrete.

Unfortunately we ended up with the normal builders mess which Mandla spent most of the Monday cleaning up. But the job was done and I could get the beams up again and make a start on the roof.

Senele preparing the wall surface for new brickwork

    Breakfast break after setting up the profiles for the first two pillars

    First two pillars rebuilt and the team busy jointing the brickwork - those pillars are much stronger now

  Finishing the Log Table Bottom
  In between supervising and working with the builders I was able to sand and finish the bottom of the log table. The surface was still rounded to the shape of the outside of the tree and once all the bark was removed, the surface had to be sanded by hand.

I didn't put too much effort in there (that outer tree trunk wood is hard!) and just sanded off the rough and bumpy spots. Once the sanding was done I gave it a coat of floor sealer with stain and then a clear coat over that just like I did on the top.

  Refinishing Laminated Beams
  Checking my laminated beams now laying in the driveway, after nearly a year of being exposed to sun and rain they were starting to look a bit "weathered". So while the generator and sander were out I gave them a light to medium sanding and apply a new coat of Silkwood Golden Brown oil sealer and then a few days later a Silkwood clear coat.

They now look like new and are ready to be put up on their new, stronger pillars.

  Grazers Unite
  And what's going on here? It's time to come in for the night and our sheep are still out at the foot of the hill grazing away happily with their waterbuck friends.

Martie's out there wanting to fetch them in but those waterbuck gave her their best intimidating stances and looks when she approached too close to break up the little grazing partnership. I had to go up a bit later and drive off the waterbuck and herd our reluctant sheep home.


  Lightning Strikes - Twice!!
  We had almost no rain for the first two weeks of January and then at last some moist air passed over the land. This resulted in extreme late afternoon thunderstorms for a few days in the middle of the month. Really scary stuff.

One night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, we got a call from Che to say that it looked like our forest was on fire. We dashed out in the rain to check and found the lightning had struck the
Regular lightning shows with some very near strikes    
open ground between our forest and Che's homestead. The grass was mid-summer green and it had been raining for over half an hour. But when the lightning struck the ground, the grass burned as if it were a winter veldfire. There wasn't much we could do in the rain but to keep an eye on it. It took over half an hour to burn out in the pouring rain.

Then a few nights later came the sad news of a lightning strike in one of Che's horse paddocks, killing three of her ponies that were taking shelter from the storm under the tree that was struck.

Checking out the burned patch of grass while out on one of our walks with the dogs

  Animal Paths
  While out on our walk to check out the lightning strike site, we walked back along the new fence that was erected to keep the cows away from our side of the farm. The grass on all the fields was very long and although the dogs just dash through it, we find it more comfortable to walk in the shorter grass.

To our surprise we found a neat little path running all the way down the fence line. There was no way it had been made by people - we would have noticed the human activity our side of the farm. We don't see many people on our side of the farm - now and again Che's staff come out to cut and collect firewood and fix fences. So it must be an animal path. We often see little paths through our forest as well - and we don't walk those areas often enough to make them. Just surprising to realise how much wild animal traffic there is on the farm.

Also good news from Che's side of the farm is that wildlife cameras that have been set up have captured definite images of lynx and aardwolf and tracks found in the river beds have been positively identified as that of brown hyena.

  Night Adders
  One morning the dogs were very excited in the garage. Martie put the dogs away and carefully ventured in to envestigate. But when she heard the loud hiss of a snake under the workbench I was quickly called in to sort this one out. Turned out it was a fairly large night adder that must
have slithered in under the garage doors during the night.

I've relocated a few night adders from the building site before but I've never heard them hiss like this one did - it must have been scared by the dogs and was very upset.

I gave it time to calm down but it just kept hissing away whenever I moved in closer, so I shuffled the hissing bundle carefully out of the garage and into a bucket where we had a quick photo session before I took it very deep and far away into the forest and let it go.

  Then a few days later we found this little night adder dead in the driveway on the way to the gate. I must have driven over it the previous night when I came home.

I always check for toads in the driveway when I come home at night (they're easy to spot as they always raise their heads to face the car headlights) and have to sometimes get out more than once to shuffle them out of the way. But I must admit I don't scan for snakes. Will do in future.

  Pairing Ducks
  Leno, our builder, is also doing quite a bit of small scale farming in the township. He has some sheep, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, ducks and of course his main line, chickens. He noticed we had two pekins and one mallard and that our male mallard had paired with one of our pekin females. He had exacltly the opposite problem. His male pekin had paired with a female mallard. So he brought along his pair and suggested we try and pair the right ducks together out on our farm.

We separated the mallards from the pekins and put the male and female mallard together in the little aviary that we used to keep all the ducks in at night so that they could get familiar with each other. Then we let the new male pekin freerange with our two female pekins.

We'll leave the situation like that for a while and see what happens. Our only problem is that we now don't have anywhere to lock up the three pekins at night so we let them sleep under the rabbit hutches in the sheep enclosure for the time being.

    Our two female pekins taking a "swim". The new male pekin
    not too sure what's going on there. I don't think there was any
    swimming facilities for ducks on the township "farm".

  Rare Visitor
  It's only the second time we've seen one of the Hartebeest come over to our side of the farm from over the hill where the big herds gather since we've started working on the farm.

It seemed very shy as we spotted it peeking out of the black wattle forest on the hillside, into which it quickly disappeared when it saw us and the dogs going about our daily business around the growing tunnels and workshops early one morning.

  End of January Weather

What perfect weather to end off a January that really didn't start off too well - the two week droughts taking their toll on us and our plants. But we were well "compensated" with good rains every two to three days and lots of sunshine in between later in the month.

Above, another thunderstorm rolling in spectacularly - but unusual in that it sneaked in from the east and reached us mid-morning, moving on just after lunchtime and leaving the afternoon lovely and sunny.

Below, from the upstairs workshop, looking out at Martie busy watering some new seedling in the large crop growing area early one morning. Mealies and sunflowers took some drought strain but the surviving plants now seem to be doing ok.


  First Cherry Tomato Harvest
  It was pretty much pot luck with tomato varieties on the farm this year. We were given a whole pot of seedlings from Richard. Piet and Annetjie also gave us some and I bought a few interesting varieties of seedling trays from the nursery. But Martie didn't remember what she planted where.

So first to be ready for harvest were the tomatoes planted in our growing tunnel and on the right, the results of our first harvest. These were all used to make some delicious tomato and chiili jam.

  Forest Shelter Workshop Roofing
  With the forest shelter workshop now nice and clean, Mandla helped me move the beams up next to the new pillars so I could calculate the truss spacing and fit the brackets to hold the trusses in place. Once the brackets were screwed securely onto the top of the beams he helped me put the beams up onto the now much stronger support pillars.

The top roller course of bricks still needed to be put on so I layed the beams in some plastic in the brickwork to keep the mortar from messing them up when we get to finish that off.

Then one afternoon Martie and I decided to put up the first truss. We layed it in place on top of the beams and then she pushed the top up with a long perlin while I drilled the holes for the bolts and bolted it securely to the brackets on top of the beams. Stepping back to take a look at
Beams resting on trestles and brackets for trusses being fitted    
our handiwork, it looked like it was just balancing on the beam, but it was fairly secure, even though there was only one bolt on each beam top surface holding it in place.

Truss bracket detail on beams

Beams in place and here's Martie holding the first roof truss in place while I drilled the holes
in the trusses and fitted the bolts to fix the trusses onto the top of the beams

  Figs and Tomatillos
  Back in the kitchen Martie was processing a the last pickings of a bumper harvest of figs from a friend's fig trees in town. Having finished bottling as much fig jam as she could manage to make, she still had figs left over. So she bottled them whole in a syrup which we can use as a desert.

Then, in our tunnel number 5 the little tomatillo bushes were bearing fruit in abuntance. Below left, the first few fruits of the first harvest. The plants are very much like gooseberry plants (definitely nighshade family) and the tomatillos even grow in husks like gooseberries. But they quickly outgrow their husks as they become a dark purple colour when they burst through.
We tasted one raw and it had a firm watermelon type texture with a rather unusual taste. Tomatillos are normally used to make Mexican salsas but we don't do mexican foods often so are still deciding how we're going to use them. They most probably will be going into our stews and soups.

  More Fruit Trees
  One of our plum trees planted last season didn't make it and in replacing it, we also bought a few nectarine and prune trees to fully populate our fruit tree orchard. Below, Mandla has dug all the almost 1 meter square holes. He then mixed in lots of compost and then planted all the new trees neatly.

  Sheep Dog
  Shame. Managing sheep is so obviously deeply ingrained into Spot's genes.

When we let the sheep out in the mornings he always dashes out into the field. He instinctlively knows that if there's sheep about, he should be doing something - but he's not too sure what.

Charlie does a fairly good job of herding the sheep but sometimes gets a bit over-enthusiastic. And when it's sheep herding time, Spot and Eva think it's time to play and chase each other around.

  Voodoo Lilies
  Our Voodoo Lilies are doing so well this year. I've put them on the old growing table which has now collaped. I'm going to have to remake that project again one day. The location is right on the forest edge, so they get early morning sun and tree shade during the day.

The mommy plant's leaf has finally sprouted on the end of a magnificently speckled stem and is surrounded by it's baby plants.

Last December I separated two of the baby plant bulbs before they started shooting leaves - but unfortunately the sheep got loose in the area one day and chomped off the new leaves as they emerged. To my surprise two weeks later the bulbs shot new leaves and and are now doing very well, each in their own little pot.

  Sparrowhawk News
  Courting season must be over for the Sparrowhawks in the forest as they have gone very quiet. We thought we saw fledgelings in the treetops once while walking down our driveway - but not sure if was them or whether the breeding pair even had chicks.

But the pair are still around and we often see them flying back into the forest in the late afternoons after their day's hunting. They also often hang around the forest edges in the early mornings and a few times we've had to step in to fend off their attacks on our chickens. A lot of feathers fly during the attack but they haven't managed to get one yet - the chicken gang make such a commotion when the sparrowhawks are spotted that it probably scares the raptors off - it definitely brings us running outside to see what's going on!

On the left, early one morning one of the sparrowhawks perched in the branches of the the dead eucalyptus tree on the border between Kallie and our farms.

  Another Chameleon
  One morning while Mandla was raking up grass in the fields we heard him yell and then whistle and wave to call us over to see something. We dashed over to find a little chameleon, black with anger and hissing furiously at Mandla - who by then was a very safe distance from the reptile. We quickly scooped it up and removed it from the scene so he could continue with his raking.

We took it inside and put it into an old bird cage to give it some time to calm down, then went on with our daily chores. A while later we went back to check on it. It had settled in nicely and we decided to swat some flies for it. It must have been quite hungry as it entertained us for quite some time by snatching up some "disabled" flies from our finger tips with it's long sticky tongue. It's really so cute. Martie has decided to keep it around for a while.