Hatching a Duckling April 2018
  Our remaining female Pekin duck and the new male that we got from Leno had definitely been mating so the female's eggs were fertile. She was laying an egg every few days, but just never seemed to settle into a proper broody pattern.
 

So when Martie got hold of a freshly laid egg and one of the bantam hens went broody without any eggs, she slipped a single duck egg under the bantam hen. To our amazement, about 28 days later (chicken eggs take 21 days, so the hen persevered well) a little duckling hatched.

We left it with the mother hen but we could see the stress there. Within hours the duckling was out and about, the mother hen very confused. Chicks should stay under her for about two days before she is ready to lead them out into the big world. The duckling also didn't want to scratch in the sand for food and no matter how hard she called and tried to show it how to

    Day old duckling and mother hen

    Duckling always at the water bowl
  scratch in the sand, it just headed for the water bowl and the meal we had put out for it near the water.

This just wasn't to be, and the duckling died after three days. Probably because it came out from under the mother hen too early one cold morning. In hindsight, I think we should have just separated them a few hours after hatching and kept the duckling in a more constant temperature environment until it was able to control it's own body temperature.

    Very emotional to have such cute little creatures not make it

  Fetching the Roof Sheeting
  We had already had the call that our roof sheeting was ready from JCP Roofing, our new steel roofing material suppliers, during last month. But I only managed to get there two weeks later. Long story, but I wanted to fetch it on a Friday and they always closed early on Fridays. And all the long weekends didn't help much either.
 

Anyway, when the timing worked out, we fitted the canopy to the bakkie early one Friday morning and off me and Spot went to Nigel to fetch the sheeting. The staff there are very helpful in loading the material with their fancy crane, but don't want any responsibility for tying the materials down on your bakkie. So after a bit of rope throwing and fancy knotting, we headed back on a slow but uneventful trip back to the farm, taking all the side roads where possible as the wind was blowing quite strongly and the sheeting was hanging off the front and back of the bakkie well over the legal limits.

Trusty old Bantam bakkie makes it back with another load - sheeting length a little over legal for the bakkie, but we took the side roads.

    Doesn't look like much, but enough
    sheeting there to cover that roof


  Forest Picnic Photo Shoot
  Lee has taken on management of the outrides at Che's Farm and plans to incorporate our forest areas into some of her events and activities. Martie arranged for Johan and Marcelle, their horse Viktor and a couple of the kids from Che's farm to come down into the forest for a few hours and she set up a little forest picnic scene for the photoshoot for Lee's promotional brochure.
 
Relaxed late afternoon in the "spooky" forest for Leigh's brochure photoshoot

  Elderberry Tincture
  Our eldeberry bushes have done very well this year, the first crop not too impressive and we just ate the few berries from the small bunches raw off the bush. The second crop gave us a number of really big bunches of elderberries and those we have now harvested here to make a
 
elderberry tincture. Provided winter doesn't come too soon, we may even get a third small crop this season as there are a couple of bunches of pollinated flowers still developing.

When all the bunches looked ripe enough, Martie harvested them and carefully removed the little berries from the stalks into a big bowl. She then poured them into storage bottles and filled the bottles with vodka. Elderberries contain lots of healthy vitamins and the tincture is known to prevent and (if taken too late) shorten the effects of colds and flu.

It's advised to decant the tincture into dropper bottles and have about 10 drops under your tongue three times a day. But I think we're just going to drink it by the tot in the evenings like a liqueur!

 
On the left, Martie taking the elderberries off the stalks - ended up with quite a big bowl full of little berries. Centre, pouring the elderberries into bottles and then filling the bottles with a good vodka. And on the right, about to go into a cool and dark cupboard storage for two to three months - and our elderberry tincture should be ready just in time for those cold winter evenings.

  Bringing a Friend
  Noticed early one morning grazing peacefully at the foot of the hill, some very skittish hartebees. Not sure if it's the same one that came over to visit last time, but this time it brought a friend. The moment they saw us they both ran off into the gorge and we didn't see them again.
 

  A Touch of Winter
  Mid-april and looks like our rainfall season is pretty much over. We only had a short spell of rain way back in the beginning of the month, and then again in the middle of the month.

There's still lots of cumulus clouds about daily and we often have heavy mist in the early mornings, so there's lots of moisture about - but just not of the rainfall type. And with our first cold front coming through rather early to bring snowfalls on the Drakensburg mountains in Lesotho, we got a distinct drop on temperatures a day later. It was a very mild cold spell as the sun is still high in the sky and warmed the day up very quickly - but there was early morning frost on the grass and mist on the hills.

 
Chilly mid-April early morning with some frost and mist

  Some Garden News
  Martie's kitchen garden is really starting to look good with all the plants starting to get much bigger this year and becoming more noticeable. Still a lot of work to go in there, though.
 

She has a small section for her succulents (we collected some nice grey granite rocks from the old mine shafts down the road for it) and there are even a few lemon trees in there somewhere.

Making the best show this year are the tall "wild dagga" plants that we grew from seed collected from the roadside.

Then down in the driveway opposite the garage doors the few plectanthrus bushes we planted last year are spreading into a big patch along the forest edge. And we're finding quite a few seedlings deeper into the forest as well. We'll keep an eye on them but they love the forest shade and shouldn't become problem plants. And they flower so abundantly all summer, attracting hummingbird moths and bees all day long.

Hummingbird clearwing moth

    The kitchen garden taking shape

   Plectranthus patch spreading nicely along the driveway forest edge


  Old Eland Remains
  I don't know how we missed this. There was never a bad smell in the area and I walk past the spot often - and even cut the grass very close to it. But in the front area of farm on the forest edge, Mandla discovered the remains of an old eland. The bones were already very dry so the eland had died there a very long time ago. Anyway, Johan scored the eland skull with the horns
  for his new toolshed door and the dogs sneaked off with a bone or two while we were checking it out.

Checking out the scene, Johan got the horns
    Lots of bones


  First Peppadew Crop
  Suddenly our little peppadew bushes are full of peppadews. We probably only really noticed because the peppadews have started ripening and have turned a lovely bright red colour.
 

Below left, our first harvest of peppadews ready for processing and below right, processed as a preservative. Bottled peppadews are delicious as a salad dressing or can be added to cooking dishes for added flavour. Martie is now experimenting with the heat - looks like the more seeds you leave in while processing it, the hotter it turns out.


 
Looks like lots more peppadews will be harvested over the next few weeks

  Berries
  We don't have many green bushes on the farm but our berry patch behind the chicken house is making a big difference to that. We have black raspberry and gooseberry bushes, and although the gooseberries have not been good this year (but there's still time), the black raspberry bushes are doing very well, producing handfulls of berries for us daily. But you do need to risk
  being ripped by a few really nasty thorns when trying to get to those ripe ones really deep inside the bush.



  High Altitude Winds
  Spotted one late afternoon just before sunset off to the west, a lovely lenticular cloud formation caused by strong upper air winds being lifted over a good solid cumulus storm cloud. Just nature giving us a quick reminder of it's awesome power.
 

  Making Hay
  Martie and Mandla have been very busy. As I finish cutting a section of grass, Mandla gathers it into big heaps and they are now baling it using Johan's manual baler.

Storage for now is in the chicken coop - but it's getting rather crowded in there with so many chickens and all the floorspace being gobbled up by hay bales.

But the chickens don't seem to mind. They peck away at any insects left in it and roost very comfortably on the soft top surface at night.


  Outdoor Shower Floor Progress
  Now here's a job where the single picture below left gives you no idea of the amount of my manhours that went into getting that project to this point!

We've really been using the outside shower a lot since the plumbing was installed, but the water runoff wasn't quite right and the roughish concrete floor finish wasn't too comfortable on our feet. So I decided to slot this project in on top of the todo list - and just finish off the whole outside shower area properly.

I first built the little wall while the builders were busy rebuilding the forest shelter pillars. I lugged a bucket or two of mortar and a few bricks up there while they were busy and with my trusty spirit level, put it together quite quickly. It's function was really to keep the rain runoff from the top section away from of the shower floor but it also worked out nicely as somewhere to put your foot up onto to scrub it while showering.

Then, when we bought the little block floor tiles a while ago, we made sure we bought enough to finish all our shower floors. So when the inside shower floors had been laid, I used the remainder to finish off the outside shower floor.

But not so quick and easy - the entire section of floor surface first had to be levelled and then sloped with a thin screed. We decided not to complicate things with chasing drains into the concrete floor and just run the shower water off the slightly sloped paving down into the garden on the edge of the surround.

 
Almost done. The little pattern in the centre of the shower floor due    
to a shortage of a little tile blocks - I used every last one I had!    
I started off with the shower flooring, but as we had already bought quite a few of the the cement tiles we were going to use to finish off the whole pumphouse bathroom surrounds, I ended up just finishing off the whole side section. It also gave me an opportunity to test my sealer as the small tiles were made from little square rock fragments and the big tiles were cast from cement.

Lots of tile glue, grouting, cleaning and sealing and it really looks great. And we can now shower outside a little more comfortably - when the wind is not blowing!


  Adding a Few More Rocks
  We don't like to waste anything on the farm. So when I mixed a bit too much screed while levelling the floor for the outside shower, I added a bit more fine building sand to the river sand mix, a little more cement to strengthen it up for building, and took a break from the shower floors to use it up on building a bit more of the pumphouse bathroom rock feature wall.

I also had to take some time out to head up to the rock pile in the top corner of the property and select some suitable rocks for my building session. Once I had a pile of rocks to work with it took a good few hours jigsaw-puzzling them together to get them fitting together nicely to make that rock feature wall.

Building with rocks is real slow work. First, finding the right rock and then making sure it sits securely with it's flat face forward and doesn't come tumbling down when the next rock is placed above it.

But it's so worth it - being able to use natural building materials really makes the difference to the aesthetics of a building project - and especially if the natural building material is from the same place as the building is being built.


  First Roofing Sheets up on the Forest Shelter Workshop
  Quite a bit of construction work going on this month with the third project on the list being the roof sheeting for the forest shelter workshop.

I tried to make an early start a few days after the roof sheets were offloaded - but as hard as I tried, this was just not a one man job. I could get the first sheet up onto the perlins but due to the roof slope and the smooth wood of the perlins, by the time I got up the ladder and climbed
 
First two solid sheets and first polycarbonate section fitted both sides    
into the beams to get it secured, it had slid down. So after a very frustrating hour I just gave up. Martie doesn't do ladders so I had to wait until it was Mandla's day to work for us and he helped me get the initial two sheets up. It was really easy with two people on the job.

Working from the front of the structure we got the first few sheets up and then the overhang section started to sag with the weight. So the project had to stop there while I made a support post.

 

  New Woodworking Projects
  Pausing the roof sheeting project, I headed straight on to some woodwork to make up the support post for the forest shelter workshop roof overhang. The roof truss engineer warned me that I would need a support post for that overhang, but I really thought it would be ok, especially as the one side is bolted to the feature wall. The overhang was only about two meters and it was supporting it's own weight well. And how much could a bit of IBR roof sheeting weigh
 
Support post made up from   
3 x 115x35mm roofing timber   
laminated to form a square post   
to make it need a support pillar. Anyway, it was sagging noticably and the only solution was to put in the support pillar.

I started by cleaning up 3 pieces of 150 x 36 roofing timber and laminating them together with glue and lots of clamps. A few days later I was able to remove the clamps, run the plane over them and give them a final sanding in preparation for sealing.

And while the woodworking stuff was out I selected a couple of saligna strips salvaged from the wood yard and ran them through the table saw to get them all the same size. As clamps became available from the support post I started laminating them together, adding one additional strip per day. A rather slow process.


   Some saligna strips selected and
   trimmed to make the bench top
   for the ouside shower

  Late Summer Walk to the Dam
  What a lovely surprise to have Niki, my daughter, out with us for the last Sunday of the month. We spent a very relaxed day catching up on news and events and what's going on in each others' lives.

After lunch we took the dogs out for a walk to the dam. With not much rain this month, the water in the dam was soaking away fast, and we were just in time to see the last of it in a little pool still at the deepest section. It looked a bit muddy so we tried to keep the dogs out of it. Was quite successful, with just some muddy feet to dry off on the way back.

    Last bit of water now soaking away from the dam
 
Not quite the the exotic tree canopies found in some of our suburbs, but black wattle is all we've got