Rains and Growing Season Progress February 2018
  Although January rainfall was quite a bit lower than previous years, we had some good rain towards the end of the month and February started off with some good thundershowers as well. All the plants were taking advantage of the rain and the warm weather after the early January dry spell and going through new growth spurts. Above, one of our early February thunderstorms moving off northwards after giving us a lovely midday shower.

I hadn't mowed grass for a few weeks and the tractor had been standing out in the rain. One morning I noticed the grass seeds from the previous mowing session were all sprouting as well. The top of the slasher had a layer of "green lawn" as the eragrostis seeds had germinated. New shoots were also starting to peek out of the grill in front of the radiator. Needless to say when this was discovered by our freerange chickens, they made short work of all those juicy little new sprouts.

  And below, our little sunflower field is looking really good. The sawdust mulch seems to have worked wonders there and just about every plant has at least one sunflower on it. The bees are having a ball pollinating every bud on the massive flowers and are getting "leg-loads" of pollen in return. Some of the flowers are already losing their petals as the seeds begin to develop. We should have a bumper sunflower crop this year to be able to make feed for our ducks and chickens for the winter months.

  All the tomoato bushes out in the large crop area have now been given the sawdust mulch treament and they are growing well and starting to bear their first fruit. Looks like they're a jam tomato and looking at the flower buds and young fruit, we're going to have a bumper crop.

In the picture on the left the early mulched plants, in the background the plants we mulched a few weeks after them and in the distance behind them a few pumpkin plants. In the picture on the right, one of the bushes now bearing abundant fruit .

  Breakfast Harvest
  Early morning harvests are just the best. Here I risked hands and arms to the raspberry bush thorns and harvested a good crop of black raspberries. Also found a few ripe gooseberries.

Meanwhile, Martie was out in the growing tunnels and picked another bowl of a variety of tomatoes.

Those berries went so well on a bed of rolled oats moistened with a bit of fresh farm milk, some honey and then covered over with fresh joghurt.

  Sheep News
  Out grazing the lovely summer green grasses all day long, our sheep are now considerably larger that when we got them. And they just love the young blackjack plants so we send them down into the deep forest often.

They've also started losing some of their wool. Looks like it starts peeling off from the bottom, leaving their bellies and lower sides looking so neat with their new coats still very short and clean.

Smallest ewe with her bald belly and shoulders . . .   
   . . . and our ram now a bit bare-chested

They're now getting into a "kind of" daily routine where they are let out to graze as soon as the grass is dry, they come back with their bellies bulging to their paddock for midday siesta and then if the weather's ok and they're feeling a bit peckish, they bleat loudly until we let them out again for a late afternoon or early evening graze.

  They're spoilt rotten and are sometimes downright naughty. On the right, the troublesome trio in the compost heap area where we dump all our growing tunnel weeds and the dry grass from the rabbit hutches. They're not really allowed in there, but I suppose now and again is ok. But when they raid the vegetable patch it's not ok!

  Flying Ant Restaurant
  We obviously have a very big ant population in the top corner of our farm. After a midday thunderstorm one day the flying ants decided to emerge. I still haven't figured out what triggers their "urge to emerge", but it's normally very cleverly after the swallows go to roost and before the bats come out in the late evenings. But on this day the conditions must have been just right and they emerged from their little ant holes in the ground in the middle of the day in their millions.

It didn't take long for the swallows to realise they were out and as the flying ants drew the swallows up to higher altitudes, the Amur Falcons arrived to get their share of the low altitude "flying food" as the flying ants rose up to just above tree top height.


While the flying ant frenzy
was going on, two Steppe
Buzzards emerged from
their forest perches to take
advantage of the first
thermals to gain altitude
to go off hunting after the
thunderstorm had moved off.


Above some in-flight pictures of these magnificent little falcons. Not easy to get decent pictures of them in flight in the low light conditions and with them zooming around all over the place. After watching them for a while I wondered why they extend their legs while in flight - thought maybe they used them as an "airbrake" just before they catch their flying ant. But watching closely I realised they were actually grabbing the flying ants from the air with their claws and then eating them from their claws on the wing. The top two pictures above left are just great flight profile shots but the bottom two pictures show them using their claws to catch and eat the flying ants.

Nothing like a sunset with the clouds clearing up after a rainy day

  Forest Shelter Workshop Roofing Progress
  That lonely number one truss now has friends. After a few weeks we got down to putting up the rest of the trusses. Mandla helped carry them and lay them across from beam to beam, then lifted the peaks up with a long spare perlin with a hook nail in it and held it in place while I drilled the holes and fitted the bolts to fix the trusses to the beams.

Once all the trusses were up Mandla could go on with his chores while I painted the perlins with sealer. A few days later I was able to start nailing them onto the trusses one by one. Roofing is very physical. I can't count the number of times I was up and down the ladder and up and down from the ground and onto the roof. The first two perlins had to be nailed on while I stood on the
All trusses mounted on the beams, perlins being painted with sealer    

Perlins nailed on first side   
ladder (moving the ladder across for each truss/perlin joint) Once there was enough support up there I could get up top and kneel on the first two perlins, working up to the peak - all very hard on the legs and knees.

Truss mounting bracket detail

  First Potatoes
  Out digging in the large crop area early one morning, Martie harvested the first crop of her potatoes.

She made a little potato patch out there from potatoes she was given by Piet and Annetjie and also from a few potatoes that were going off in the kitchen. The plants were a very welcome patch of green with beautiful abundant white flowers out in the large crop area for a while.

Hopefully the potato patch will yield many more harvest over the next few years.

  More Forest Shelter Workshop Roofing Progress
  After a few days for the legs and knees to recover, I was back up on the forest shelter workshop roof structure to put the perlins onto the other side. This side was a bit longer than the first side as half of the roof width stretched down to cover the rabbit hutch area behind the feature wall
Up on the roof again nailing on perlins   

From the upstairs hobby workshop, all the perlins now fitted   
to give them some shelter from the rain. Up till now we using scraps of roof sheeting and some old plywood from pallets to keep the rain off their hutches. But soon they will have a proper roof for shelter with some polycarbonate "skylights" to give them some light as well.

Although I was warned by the truss manufacturers that the overhang would require support, I thought with the front truss extension secured into the back of the feature wall with rawlbolts I might get away with not having to put in a support on the other side. And it nearly worked out ok as with the perlins in place the structure was strong enough to hold it's own weight and that of the roof sheeting but it did sag a bit on the unsupported corner and was far too "bendy" when I was on it nailing down the perlins. So looks like we'll have to put down a small concrete base into the ground and a pillar will be needed to get support the unsupported corner and make the whole overhang structure nice and sturdy.

  Rotten Confounded Damned Pesky Eland Herd
  The eland had been around from time to time but I would always chase them back over the hill as soon as they got too close. Unfortunately these chase-offs were almost always late afternoon and I often had to make my way back to the farm in the dark - very irritating.

One afternoon when I got back from Joburg very late in the afternoon I noticed a small herd near the front fence on Che's farm. It was late, I was tired, so I left them. Big mistake. The rotters came in through the forest during the night very quietly (often the dogs hear them and we have a "night" chase) and destroyed our mealies and sunflowers - and anything else that was green in the large crop area. They trampled the pumpkins, taking bites out of a few of the smaller ones and also flattenned most of the little tomato bushes.

Mealie and sunflower field destroyed by a sneaky night attack from a herd of eland
  The rest of the day on the farm was gloomy. Martie got out some old feed bags and headed out to see what she could salvage of the crop.

The eland didn't seem to eat the mealies - just munched the plants down to bare stalks. We recovered two full bags of mealies and also a few half munched sunflower heads.

Got to sort these pesky eland out before next year's growing season.

   Martie out collecting up what was left of the mealie crop

  Chicken Shelter
  We don't often use the canopy on the bakkie any more, so when it's not on the bakkie we put on the paving and concrete area next to the driveway so it doesn't get all full of sand. Now the freerange chickens have discovered that it makes a great chicken shelter for when it rains, when it gets a bit hot out in the sun and when the Steppe Buzzard passes by overhead.

Here's Mr King, our alpha rooster with two of his harem bantam hens taking a break from the midday sun one hot autumn day.

  Out in the Grasslands
  With a good rainfall season almost behind us, and with well over 100 head of cattle to get through the winter, Che has decided to start her grass cutting a little earlier this year. First area
  they tackled was the section between our log fence and the hillside. The whole area was instantly transformed from irritating (to walk through) long grass into a lovely parkland.

And as soon as the grass was cut and the workers moved off for the afternoon, the wildlife moved in to check out the new environment. First to appear were three storks that spent the rest of the afternoon rummaging through the cut grass for any insects exposed by the cutting operation.

While out taking the stork picture, I found a bit of time to mess around with some action sequence photography. Above, two very experimental pictures. It's tricky getting the sequence timing right (top composite uses a slower sequence timing than the bottom one). And as the bird was flying right to left, the pictures used for the sequence also had to be transposed. An hour or so on the graphics package to merge and touch up the sequence produced two very resonable attempts.
  Once the storks had flown off (ok, I may have messed with them a bit too much with my photography experiments), the five waterbuck bulls emerged from the gorge with their little flock of egrets and began grazing on the newly exposed short grass shoots.

When their bellies were full they began entertaining us with a bit of bull fighting - looked more like play but at times things could have gotten serious.


  Salvaging Tomatoes
  Those tomato bushes that were trampled and damaged by the eland attack were not looking good, so Martie and Mandla got stuck in there one morning and trimmed all the damaged branches off the bushes and picked all the tomatoes that were hanging off of them - and some ripe ones that survived as well. They salvaged a big bowl full of green and ripe tomatoes.

Next day was tomato processing day in the kitchen where Martie spent most of the day cutting and cooking the tomatoes to make lots of tomato and chilli jam.