Winter Cleanup June 2018
  Although winter is the dormant season for many things in nature, on the farm it's a very active period. It gives us a few months to clean up all the previous growing season's grass growth and all the branches shed by the eucalyptus trees on the edges of the forest (we're still nowhere near ready to tackle the fallen branches deeper into the forest yet) and to basically get everything neat and tidy and ready for the next growing season.

We took the bakkie for a drive along the front fence and after a few loads of fallen branches and old bark the area was ready for grass cutting.

So the tractor was checked out and started up and I ran the slasher up and down the front fence a few times to give us a lovely five meter cleared area along the fence line. Lots of new smells for the dogs that they couldn't get to with the grass so long.

 
Nice clean wide pathway along the entire front fence line

  Spinach Leaves Stripped
  Our spinach bushes were coming along so well, surviving and even producing well into the the winter. But our freerange chickens have discovered them and before we realised what was happening, they had stripped the leaves of all greenery, leaving just the white leaf stalks.

The protective surround nets were checked and no holes found, so it was obvious they were flying over into the growing tunnel when we weren't around. Time to make another plan there.

 

  Black Wattle Down
  While on the big cleanup project, we decided to take down one of the black wattle trees that was reaching too far out of the forest to get it's light requirements. That's what happens in a black wattle forest: The trees grow too fast and get too high too quickly as they compete with each other for light. Then the trees on the edges start "reaching out" and eventually the tops get too heavy for their shallow root system and they just fall over.
 
Mandla cutting the "leaning tree" high branches    

This project was just a bit of management for us as Mandla and Johan did most of the work. Mandla first climbed up and cut off all the high branches with the hand saw. After he had cleared all the cut branches from around the tree trunk, Johan came over one Saturday morning and made short work of cutting down the trunk and then slicing it up into manageable sizes with his chain saw for us.

Trunk sliced up into manageable pieces

Lovely black wattle cross section wood grain


  Cold Fronts: Misty Mornings, Daytime Cirrus Clouds and Crystal Clear Nights
  We don't really enjoy the cold temperatures that our winter cold fronts bring but on those days that the front actually passes over us before the cold temperatures set in are always great.
 

The sudden temperature drop and as the cold air mass pushes under the warm air that normally sits over us seems to create a mist bands all over our general area in the early mornings. It's always a spectacular sight as it rolls down off the hills into our valley.

It's an hour or two duration show that's worth watching every time it happens. And like the sunrise and sunsets, the light causes it to always look so different every time and the whole sky can look completely different from minute to minute.


    First light as the cold front arrives. Ducks and chickens are already     out and the mist hangs heavily in the forest trees.
 
A few minutes later, mist lifting a bit but still covering the hill

Then, walking out to open the front gate for Mandla, a band of mist sitting over Che's homestead
and the Cirrus clouds streaking eastwards in the clear blue sky
  Once the cold front has passed and moved on north eastwards, that icy cold air mass that moves in over the Highveld is so clean and clear. It seems as if you can see every teeny detail on the furthest hill during the day.

And at night the stars are particularly bright and clear. Here the first night after the cold front had passed over us, a beautiful waxing crescent moon (3 days old) with our evening star very close to it.


  Burning Firebreaks
  Last year there were no firebreaks burned. So this year with our local Fire Protection Officer having resigned (he's supposed to take charge at any rural fire situation and organise firebreaks) the farmers in the area decided at our bi-monthly farmers meeting to take control and burn firebreaks along all the roads. We were determined not to have the veldfire fiasco we had
 
last year. The operation took two weeks with everyone out along the roadsides working almost every week night.

Lots of manpower and firefighting equipment and some careful planning resulted in very few and minor "runaways" where the grass was really long and dry.

And as it was a controlled operation, I even had time to take a few pictures while we were out working. The light of the fires and the smoke in the dark produced some great pictures.

 

  Winter Cleanup Progress
  While nothing much is growing during our cold and dry winter season, work continues on cleaning up to protect against veldfires and preparing for spring.

Mandla is working hard sorting wood which Martie now sells by the bakkie load. On the right he's made himself a little work area and in his spare time is bringing in all the biggish logs laying around and splitting them for firewood - using two chisels he found in
the builders box and the big
  hammer.

Then out around the front and sides of the forest we've been bringing in bakkie loads of fallen branches collected from the forest edges. And Mandla has also been "trimming" some black wattle tree low branches that stretch too far out of the forest.

In the picture on the right, on the left side of the picture, the pile of "firewood sticks" collected for selling. And on the right of the picture, all the smaller branches in a big pile.

Well, not much we could do with all that smaller stuff, and the heap was really getting big. So our solution was to turn it into ash.

I put some concrete blocks in a big circle in a clearing near the pile of branches, burned the short grass around it and we began our burning project.

It was great to have a nice big fire to stand around for the early mornings and evenings, although continually fetching branches to feed it kept us plenty warm anyway. And we were able to use the hot coals


  to cook many of our meals. The picture above was when the flames were quite low. When we fed in the eucalyptus branches with slightly dried leaves, we had the flames jumping up over two meters high. We just had to keep an eye on the weather and let the fire die down a bit when the wind started blowing too strongly.

It took us two weeks to burn all the branches in the heap next to the forest and we ended up with about 10cm of ash in the entire circle enclosure which we will dig back into the soil in our large crop growing area when we begin preparing the soil there.


  Herbivore Visitors
  Some welcome, some not. Early one morning we looked out into the fruit orchard to see quite a large duiker grazing away at the dry grass. He didn't seem to be too interested in the trees so we left him and watched him take about 15 minutes to slowly amble down through the growing tunnels, past the chicken coop and off into the forest. A bit unusual for us to see them come in so close, but they probably come even closer at night while everything's quiet and we're asleep. The pictures below left are very early morning light so not that great. You have to look carefully to see the duiker - but he's there in both pictures.

Then one afternoon a rather large herd of eland came out of the gorge. They must have come across the previous night as we didn't see then go into the gorge. Anyway, we left them for about an hour and when it started getting a bit late and didn't look like they were too interested
 


in moving on by themselves, I headed out to try and herd them away back to the eastern part of the game farm where "they belong".

This turned out to be a total waste of nearly two hours. When single handedly "moving an eland herd on", it has to be done slowly, otherwise the herd tends to scatter and that just results in chaos with them all running around all over the place trying to get back together again. But this herd wasn't too keen to just keep walking a steady pace and stopped often where I had to stand and "outstare" the herd leader every hundred meters or so. I got them almost to the foot of the hill above Che's farm and then one twit eland decided to break from the herd and dash back past me. Of course the rest of the herd followed! So just before dark I had to give up on them as the entire herd ended up all the way back into the gorge on our side of the farm. Another "on alert" night for us, but thankfully in the morning they had disappeared completely.

 

  Winter Solstice
  Yep, middle of winter already. It's been a mild one on average, with the day of the Winter Solstice being one of the warmest and nicest days of the month. But those cold fronts that did get through were really cold. I didn't count them and give them numbers this year as they were more difficult to define as some of them came in in waves of two to three without any warmup periods between them. A definite characteristic of this year's cold fronts was that they held the temperatures down for longer periods than last year - sometimes freezing cold temperatures for over a week at a time, and sometimes they were accompanied by three to four days of overcast conditions - again playing havoc with our battery charging and hot water.

Our fruit trees seem totally confused by this weird weather as well. We're in the middle of winter and their leaves have just started changing colour and falling. And I'm sure we're seeing new growth bud swells on some of them as well.

 
Apricot tree leaves turning red   
   Peach tree leaves yellowing and shedding from the bottom
 

And with each cold front comes a few beautiful misty mornings. Below a misty early morning scene looking out west through our game fence towards Sybrandt and Thea's farm across the Rensburg road. Their old windmill long replaced by a more modern electric borehole pump system.

Unfortunately our farmlands are littered with ugly overhead wire systems. Some are from Telkom - although none of the telephones in the area work and I doubt whether we'll ever have them working again - but the old poles and some wires remain. And the rest are Escom overhead wires feeding electricity to the farm houses. Thank goodness we don't need any of that ugly stuff running across our property.

 

  Chicken and Egg Management
  We found this hen on a cummunal nest in the forest. She was broody and was sitting twelve eggs! It's a bit dangerous for a chicken out there at night so we set up a nest in a quiet corner of the coop and moved them in. She had no problem with the relocation and continued sitting for her 21 odd days.

During that time another hen went broody but didn't have any eggs, so we put them next to each other (with a separator). The plan was to have the second hen give a bit of a hand in hatching all those eggs.

From time to time we would shuffle the eggs between then hens and it wasn't long before the first little head appeared from under the first hen. From then on it was a twice a day check to
  move any chicks hatched from the second hen to the orignal hen, keeping a few eggs under the second hen at all times. We only wanted one mommy hen for all the chicks - a bit tough on the second hen doing a lot of the sitting work, but she'll get over it. We had two mommy hens with previous batches of chicks and there were never ending squabbles between the two of them.

Over the following days the chicks were hatching one after the other and we were continually shuffling chicks and eggs between the hens.


   First little head pops out - eleven to go?