Cutting Grass October 2018
  Over the winter period we've been cutting grass a few strips at a time as we need it for the sheep to nibble on through the nights and for bedding for the sheep shed and chicken coop, but
  there's still a lot now left uncut. And with our first rains imminent, I decided to spend an afternoon on the tractor and just cut the entire yard so that as soon as the rains come, the new season growth can get going.

As soon as everything was cut into neat rows, Mandla raked and gathered it into big piles. He also filled a few bags for immediate use, but the plan is to get it all baled and stored before the rains come.


 

  Google Earth Satellite - New Imagery
  Well, they didn't get my last grass cutting session in, nor any of our Tea Garden construction, but we've just realised there was a new image of our area up on Google Earth - this one is dated 8th of June.

It was mid-winter when the image was captured and a lot of our other hard work was very noticable. Our large crop growing area had been cleared of what was left of the previous
 
growing season crops and the little trees in our fruit orchard are clearly visible. The little monkey thorn trees around the lapa and the two acacias at the top gate are also visible and the forest shelter workshop roof is just showing peeking out of the edge of the forest behind the garage block.

Our farm layout is looking really neat so far and the image is confirmation to us that we're on the right track as far as a practical layout of our farm is concerned. Can't wait to see the next image with our Tea Garden structure on it.


  The Weather
  After our 17mm of rain in the last week of September (just about the only rain we had in September), we're just having the weirdest weather. We have cloudiness for days on end and of course, the unrelenting winds - from all directions!

Below, one afternoon the clouds suddenly came up and we had these "rolling circle" clouds low over the entire southern horizon. Seems to be lots of moisture up there, but still no rain for us.

 

  Oversized Wendyhouse Construction - Day 1
  Now this was an experience to learn from! Lee needed to find a temporary home for her kids fast as they had all moved off of Che's farm (a whole nother story) and with her daughter working in Heidelberg town and her son still going to the Montessori School on Che's farm, it was just not practical for her to operate from her farm that she was trying to sell out Greylingstad way. With the price of petrol right now a few trips a day over that distance could work out rather expensive.

So we put the kids up for a few days in a small open corner of our garage, but that was not going to be a practical long term solution. And building something for them the way I would need it built (basically brick and mortar to match all the other structures on the farm) would take far too long. So Lee went out shopping for cheap and quick temporary accomodation structures. The kids only really needed something like a big wendyhouse and she made contact with a "construction crew" from Brakpan.

  The pictures of their work on the internet looked ok and after a morning of cell phone chat re the design options, instead of making some of the panels in their factory, they decided to just come out and make the wendyhouse from scratch onsite. They arrived with their bakkie and trailer piled with bits of wood, took a quick look at our proposed design modification drawing, renegotiated a price and began constructing.

They were a team of five "carpenters" but the only tools they had were a single angle grider fitted with a blunt circular saw blade and a couple of hammers. That should have been our first warning sign, but we organised our generator for them and let them carry on.

By the time they got going it was just after lunch and seeing how these guys worked was for me such a shocker, I could only stand back and watch. Every suggestion or criticism of their "straight" work was met with "that's just how we do it" or "just wait to see when it's finished" comment from their "supervisor" carpenter.

Speed of "construction" was fast and furious. At the end of the day they had the floor "frame" raised onto cement blocks and bricks that they bummed off of me, the floor planked and all the sides built with some of them painted with their "wax oil", diesel and colourant concoxtion. It was getting dark when they left and was starting to drissle.

    All the wood bits offloaded and construction begins

    Laying out the floor

    Short side under construction
 
Floor frame built and raised off the ground on blocks and bricks, sides being put together all over the place

End of day 1 - floor boards layed and sides up against the tree - some already painted

  Oversized Wendyhouse Construction - Day 2
 
Entire back panel, one short side and half the front panel up    

Making the veranda front and railing    

Putting up the first of two roof trusses    

Another front panel up and getting everything straight    

All the sides locked together and roof trusses in place     

Fitting the veranda frame and railings    

Nailing on the first of total of six perlins    
The main modification we had them implement from their standard 8x4 meter unit was to move the little 2x1 meter veranda from "inside" the 8x4 area to run 2 meters wide along the entire front of the unit. This resulted in some additional usable living space inside the unit and a decent 2 meter wide veranda where you would at least be able to put a chair out and be able to walk past it. The deal was that the veranda would be under the roof but with no flooring supplied.

The additional expense was for moving the roof peak forward to accomodate the extra 2 meter veranda, so there was a bit of extra material required for the sides and the longer roof sheeting that would be required.

At first we also negotiated to have them not put their roof on and I would have arranged some nice brown finish IBR sheeting to match the rest of the structures on the farm. But when I saw the quality of their workmanship (would the structure actually hold a decent roof?) and the budget they had set aside for their roof sheeting, we decided to just let them put their standard roof on.

The other little modification was to move the door to the middle of the front panel and to move their two standard teeny windows - one to next to the door and one to the middle of the back panel. And then they left us two larger window openings left and right of the front door on the front panel. Those two larger windows we would have to make ourselves later. For now plastic curtains would have to suffice.

So, day 2 dawned and the team arrived early. The generator was started up and they immediately set to work cutting up bits of wood and erecting (nailing) all the sides to the floor platform.

Once the back and the one side was in place, the first section of the front long side was erected with the first roof truss nailed into place to hold the front and back panels together. Then the second half of the front side was attached and held in place with a second roof truss. Finally, the other short side was nailed to the floor platform and the front and back long sides and all the walls were up!

Next, everyone got involved in getting the veranda frame and "railing" in place. This was necessary to hold up the roof over the veranda.

Then after borrowing my long stepladder, three of the team perched themselves up on the trusses and they began nailing the first of their total of six perlins to the roof trusses, during which time the bakkie headed off into town to buy the roof sheeting with the 50% deposit they aquired for starting the job.

When the bakkie arrived back with the roof sheeting (currugated tin foil!) they had it nailed it down onto the perlins in no time - I noticed that they at least used proper roofing nails and washers.

  During all the time the carpenters were working, the painter worked furiously at his job. He had this big worn out brush that had seen better days (although I'm sure he would be stretching it's life well into the next few jobs) and he just dashed around to whatever part of the structure was completed, sloshing his paint mixture all over any bare woodwork that he came across. Painting
 
First roof sheet going on    
with the grain wasn't an issue with him and I don't believe any comment from me on how to paint wood properly would have made him change his ways.
The painter
 
End of day 2 - after a whirlwind construction session, Martie and Lee relax and chat on the veranda
- not many people can claim to have had their house built in two days!!
  All in all, I don't think you could get much more for the money or have a better living space up in two days. And it looks really cool from up at the pumphouse and even from our workshop living quarters. Just don't look too closely - the build quality is seriously appalling!

But it's a very basic 8x4 meter open plan "house" with 2 meter veranda and with some additional supports here and there (or possibly a complete rebuild onto a level 8x6 meter concrete slab), it'll be fine for Lee's kids to stay in until they decide what the next step in their presently turbulent lives will be.


  Rain at Last
  We had to wait until mid-October for our first real summer rain this year. And only just in time as all the plants had sensed the warm spring air and were shooting their new foliage - just waiting for water. It is so sad to see them wait, and wait, and wait and even start to wilt before they get
  their water. We try to supplement as much as we can with hand watering, but it's just not the same as rain.

And rain it sure did. A full weekend of dark clouds playing havoc with our battery charging and hot water systems. Not to sound too ungrateful, but we had just too much rain at once again - a full 48mm over the three days, most of it falling on the first day as a cold front passed over us.

What tends to happen when we get too much rain at once is that some rain water does soak into the ground but most of the water just runs off down into the dams in the valley - and takes a fair amount of our top soil with it. Would be great to have a little less but more often.

But with the weather patterns seeming to change so rapidly now, I suppose we should just be grateful for what we do get.

For us there's still nothing like walking through the forest after the rain. The tree trunks tend to use the moisture opportunity to shed some bark and they turn the most amazing green yellow brown colours when wet. And the smell of the dry eucalyptus foliage on the ground (I'm sure the live foliage on the trees contribute as well) give off the most amazing musty eucalyptus smell.



  Baling Grass
  By putting off a menial task, we just made a whole lot more work for ourselves. We had all the cut grass gathered into big piles and should have baled it before the rains came. After a weekend of soaking rain we had to load it all up on the bakkie and move it to an open area for
 
Lots of grass layed out to dry    

12 square bales of hay on the bakkie made with Johan's hand baler    
drying before the grass underneath the piles started dying off and could get some sunlight on it for the new season's growth.

Once the wet grass was moved, it had to be turned every hour or so to let it dry before we could bale it.

I spent an afternoon baling with Johan's hand baler and managed to make 12 bales, with some more grass still too wet (the sun got too weak and the shadows from the trees crept over the drying area) to be baled another day.

The bales were put in the chicken coop to keep them dry and will be used for feed. Although there is a lot of green grass out now, the sheep bloat if they eat too much of it. So when they're in their enclosure we force them to eat some dry grass as well.


  Tea Garden Structure - Water Tank Base Concrete Slab
  After two weeks with no builders on site, Leno finally arrived back from his trip up to Maputo to arrange the burial of one of his family members that had died in a mining accident there.

First job on site was to lay the rest of the blocks onto the lintels for the water tank base concrete slab and build the brick surround. Then we layed in the steel reinforcing and were finally ready to "pour" the concrete up there. Unfortunately, with our rather light duty building resources, we had to mix the concrete on the bathroom floor and pull it up with a rope one bucket full at a time to the top to pour it.

 
Not a very big area, but ends up a big job when concrete has to be lifted bucket by bucket up onto the roof

  October Full "Hunter's" Moon
 
On the 24th we had our second full moon of our southern hemisphere spring season. The October full moon is called the "Hunter's" Full Moon as in northern hemisphere it is their autumn and their hunting season.

You may have noticed that this full moon had risen noticeably farther north on the horizon, from one night to the next. And there was no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise. The time between successive moonrises was also greater than average.

This is all due to the October full moon swinging it's maximum of 5 degrees (10 moon diameters) south of the ecliptic (Earth's orbital plane) - just another of nature's wonders as our planetary system goes about it's regular phases.

 


  Tea Garden Structure - Fireplace Progress
  While the builders were busy with the brickwork and concrete for the water tank platform, I took the opportunity to do a bit more work on the fireplace.
  Firstly, I made a small change to my original plan and I brought the mantel lintel down one course of bricks. This was mainly for aesthetics but it also resulted in an advantageous slightly larger opening between the top of the firebox and the smoke shelf at the base of the chimney.

Above left, the lintel in place with first course of bricks layed
  onto it. On the left, two pictures of the fireplace structure from the top. The middle square is the base of the chimney. I used cement board to close up the triangular holes on either side of the chimney and those side walls will slowly come in until they become the outside course of bricks for the wall between the pillars.

At this point the space above the cement boards and behind the firebox was filled with concrete to finish off the smoke shelf and to lock everything together nicely - making a nice base for the rest of the walls to go up higher.


  Tea Garden Structure - First Roof Support Beam Goes Up
  The forest shelter workshop has been a busy place for woodworking since I decided to laminate wood to make the beams that will run between the pillars to hold up the roof trusses instead of
  continuing my hunt for that standard timber.

The standard size 228x50 timber was available but I was really battling to find any that wasn't warped and twisted. I would be laminating three 76x50 perlins to make up the beam and in fact, I was even battling to find straight 76x50 perlin timber!

After a lot of glueing, sanding, staining and sealing, the first beam was finally ready to go up. The builders had in the meantime filled all the back section pillars with concrete and I had to work very carefully with them on that to ensure the electrical pipes were put in the right places for the pillar lights and the roofing wires to tie down the beams into the brickwork were also placed correctly.

Once the first beam was finished Martie helped me to lift it up onto the pillars and I twisted the roofing wires around it temporarily so the wind couldn't blow it over.

The next two beams went up the next day and progress on the entire structure below:


 
Update on the entire building structure so far - the design concept hopefully a bit more clear now

  Fruit Trees
  Before moving on to our fruit trees, just a quick look at our elderberry bushes. On the left, they're in full bloom right now. But looking back at last year's crop, the early season first flowers didn't seem to produce many berries. Only the flowers that shoot later in the season seemed to produce the berries. We'll be keeping a close eye on them this year.

Then out in the fruit orchard we had lots of blossoms very early this year due to some very warm spells during
  autumn. But we unfortunately lost most of the small developing fruit (especially the apricots) when we had a very late and very cold front come through. Our weather has just simply gone bonkers.

But a few little fruits have survived and despite the poor small trees being threatened by our days and days of howling spring winds, so far they are surviving. But we're not certainly not going to have a bumper fruit crop this year.

On the left, a few of what is left of our apricots. Maybe with less fruit, they'll be better quality. Then below left, some plums and below right, a few little peaches.

Our apple and pear trees are only now shooting their blossoms and first leaves. Although those trees are still a bit small to bear too much fruit, we're watching them with interest.

Finally, our two pecan nut trees up at the pumphouse are doing very well. Although there were quite a few blossoms, we can't see any fruit on them.

 

  More Weather
 

It's already mid-October and summer is nowhere near to settling in up here on the Highveld. We're having a lot more wind than normal, some really cold nights and odd hazey cloudiness for days on end.

And here we have a lovely cloud formation developed right over the farm - the result of high winds driving the air up to condensation altitude by some hills - not sure which hills were responsible for forming these clouds but they were probably quite a distance from us.

 


  Tea Garden Structure - Front Pillars and Fireplace Wall Go Higher
  Back on the building site, after the team's recent concrete sessions, Leno moved everyone back on to brickwork. With the fireplace inside now completed (except for the raised hearth, which we will build last) and the first course of bricks already built onto the mantel lintel, we could carry on with the pillars and the full height fireplace wall along the front side of the structure.
 
Leno building on one of the front pillars    

The front of the structure - all pillars and walls now up to roof height    

There was still quite a bit of tricky brickwork still to be done on the fireplace outside wall where the back of the fireplace was to merge into the straight wall. And we also still had to merge everything in with the chimney.

Although the construction was a little unconventional, the fireplace design seemed to be working out well. The front opening was a little wide but the actual fire would probably only be made in the middle. The outer walls will hopefully function to reflect the heat out into the room. The gap from the top of the firebox to the smoke shelf looked about right and the chimney dimensions should also be ok. It was a bit difficult determining the right dimension for the "fireplace opening" in the design calculation.

We hope it all works ok - the only variable adjustment now being the chimney height, which has to be high enough to draw but not too high that it draws too much. And who knows what effect the "open structure" will have.

 
The fireplace wall - on the left from inside, on the right from outside

  Tea Garden Structure - Making the Truss Support Beams
  Towards the end of the month we stopped work on the building site so I could catch up on the woodwork and get all the truss support beams laminated, sanded, stained and sealed as the pillar brickwork would need to be built up around them.

So the forest shelter workshop was a hive of activity while I optimised production for the beams. The main problem was I only had ten decent clamps, and I sometimes needed to use all ten on one beam if the wood was a bit warped and twisted. A tedious job but woodworking is great.

 
The longest beam being laminated   
Two short side beams finished
   And laminating another two

  That Goat Biscuit Again
    It was also pleasant to end off the month with a whole day visit from Niki, who was up in Joburg for a wedding photography conference.

She didn't bring her camera along but got some wonderful farm animal shots with her iPhone. The trick to pro photography seems to be able to shoot the moment, and sometimes all the fancy equipment is not all that necessary.

Here she got Biscuit up to no good in the kitchen. You can just see the mischief on that face! Biscuit is really a big part of our animal family here on the farm. Completely indifferent to the dogs, I don't think she even thinks of herself as a goat. When she's not out in the yard (we have to tether her otherwise she heads for the orchard and gobbles all the bottom leaves of the trees), then she's hanging around the kitchen. She needs to sniff and taste everything and we've found she has a particular liking for biscuits and raisins. And breakfast is her favourite time - she can clear your bowl of Weetbix or rolled oats before you can get back from the fridge with your milk!