Tea Garden Structure - Water Tank Platform Walls November 2018
  No, we're not going double storey on the tea garden (although I must admit, at one point I was very tempted) but we have to build parapet walls around the water tank platform - the roof sheeting will run up against the walls with some flashing to seal the rain water out.
Leno on top of the water tank platform building the parapet walls

  Chameleon "Re-skinning"
  Ghekki, our chameleon is shedding it's skin again. Interesting to observe how it stops eating for a few days and gets very thirsty just before shedding. So when it goes to the water bowl often, we know what's coming in the next few days.

And as soon as the skin starts peeling off, it rubs itself against at cage bars, sticks and plants to pull it loose. When it's all done, it's like a new chameleon, all clean and neat again.

Come on Ghekki, just that head to go now
   All clean and out in the pot plants

  Rainfall Statistics
  Never in our lives has rainfall been so important to us as it is now - it is the largest determining factor for the success of our food security for our new self sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately we just had to start our life project at the beginning of a major global climate change phase!

The solar power for lights and computers and even our solar geyser for hot water were fairly easy to set up. But growing our own food for us has been a real challenge. And although we've had some good small vegetable crops, to date we really can't say we've been too successful at being able to reach anywhere near the food self sustainability levels that we need to be.

So, where do we start to fix the food thing? The best way I know is to look at the main problem: rainfall. We've been keeping accurate statistics for the past few years we've had the farm. The figures for the first half of 2015 were acquired from neighbours, so I'm a little suspect of their accuracy. But from the time we set up our own rain gauge later that year and were going out to the farm often enough to get reasonably accurate figures, I've been plotting all the stats on a spreadsheet. It's a very simple spreadsheet where I can capture rainfall day by day from January to December and although it has given us a good idea of rainfall trends, I've just had a big rethink on how I was graphing the information. I have now set up the spreadsheet to also show seasonal stats - and those graphs look a whole lot more meaningful.

If you click on Rainfall on the left menu you will be able to choose "12 Month Comparisons" showing "Annual" (Jan to Dec) or "Seasonal" (previous year Jul to the next year Jun) graphs. Looking at the new Seasonal graphs we see a much more meningful total rainfall pattern. And the monthly comparison graph shows much clearer the 2015/16 January peak rainfall (that filled our empty Vaal Dam in a week), the 2016/17 November peak and a very nicely spread 2017/18 rainfall season with a nice late March peak that carried our last growing season well into winter.

But the 2018/19 rainfall season is so far looking rather dismal. September and October figures don't seem too bad but the rainfall we did get was of short duration and very heavy - and with long periods of heatwave and no rain between them. Now with the heat of summer with us and almost a third of the way into November, we've only had a total of 3mm of rain for the month! The lovely new green sprouts of veld grass are all starting to die off and with the strong winds that have been blowing continually, we're having as much dust around that we had mid-winter. We haven't even started preparing ground, never mind planting any vegetables or large crops yet. But I'm kind of glad we didn't plant anything as they would also all be dying by now.

I don't believe this rainfall stuff is going to get any better for us and we can't continue to just sit around and wait for rain that never comes when we need it. We now need to make a plan. So as soon as our Tea Garden project water tanks are up I'm going to fit out the forest borehole with a solar pump and just pump water all day. Should be fine as that borehole is capable of producing 3300 liters an hour - but we won't pump anywhere near that rate. So for as long as the sun shines, we'll pump water and also set up some proper irrigation systems for our crops. Watch this space!

  November Cold Front
  Did I just say that the summer heat was with us? Well during the first week of November, a cold front sneaked in from the south, producing snow on the Cape mountains and well up into the Drakensberg. It got freezing cold (with the accompanying howling winds, naturally) and we were forced to unpack our winter jerseys and jackets for a few days. This weather has truly gone bonkers.

  Nine New Chics
  After a totally disastrous winter previous clutch of chicks (not one survived!), we have just had our first broody hen hatch 9 chicks from a total of 14 eggs.

We're happy with the hatch rate as our freerange silkies tend to all lay their eggs together somewhere around the forest edge (under the tractor slasher in this particular case) and only when we notice one hen has gone broody and missing do we start searching around for her. We often find her sitting a huge deposit of eggs.

We then relocate the hen and the eggs to a safe place (normally the coop), so we don't really know how old the eggs were and the time span difference between the first and last egg layed. Then when the hen leaves her nest with her new chicks for the first time, we assume the rest of the eggs won't hatch and clean up the nest for the new little family.

This "uncontrolled" breeding process makes it difficult to apply any kind of scientific method to the results, but we're just grateful that we get some new chicks from time to time.

And then just days after these chicks hatched, the other freerange silkie hen went missing. Mandla found her in the forest sitting another nine eggs. As the main coop nest was now occupied by the new chicks, the broody hen and her eggs were relocated to a rabbit hutch.

But taking strain right now is father to all these chicks, our number two silkie rooster, Mr Scruff (number one, Mr King has been put into the chicken tractor with two "non-silkie" bantam hens).

So our Mr Scruff is the only freerange rooster at the moment and with one of his hens with chicks and the other sitting eggs, he's just left with the third hen that doesn't seem to get along with him too well. She just ignores him when he finds food and tries to call her across (maybe she's only interested in number one) and Martie says their relationship is so bad that they don't even sleep together any more!

It's sometimes tough out here on the farm if you're only the number two rooster.

  A Zebra!!
  It's always been a dream of ours to have zebra roaming around in front of our farm.

So what a pleasant surprise to one morning spot one ambling across the foot of the hill just outside our log fence on it's way to the gorge. Not sure why this one strayed from the herd over the hills but it was very skittish and aware of our every movement. We kept an eye out for it returning from the gorge through the day, but we either missed it or it waited for dark before heading back to the herd.


  The Weather Again
  Now halfway through November and with a few very promising days of rain cloud activity up in the sky, still no real rain out our way. Below, very late afternoon rain cloud formations far away to the north - Johannesburg probably getting some.

  Tea Garden Structure - Brick Pillars and Wooden Beams
  With most of the main brickwork done on the teagarden structure, it was now down to cleaning up and finishing off. And just amazing how much time that takes!

First job was to fill all twelve of the pillars with concrete. And I had to work very closely with the builders on this as the elecrical conduit for the lighting wires had to be put into the pillars and also the roofing wires to hold down the beams securely onto the pillar structures had to be
Leno pouring concrete into one of the pillars    

Longest beam now up and more going up one by one    

Finishing brickwork on top of the pillars around the beams    
positioned correctly.

Once all that was done the builders were given a few days break while I finished off staining and sealing the last of the beams and fitted them onto the top of the pillars. I really didn't want the builders around for that as although they are very helpful, they have absolutely no respect for wood and wouldn't think twice about using the big hammer to position a beam!

Once all the beams were all up, positioned correctly and secured into position with the roofing wire ties, the builders were called back on site to finish off the brickwork on top of the pillars around the beams and pour the final bit of concrete into the top of the pillars to lock the beams in permanently.

A bit more brickwork here and there to get everything up to the same height and we all took a building break while the roof trusses were being manufactured - and that was a story on it's own.

The truss design was so simple for the structure that I didn't even bother making a drawing. I arrived at On Time Trusses with a scrap of paper with a sketch of the truss, and to be sure they understood the requirements, popped in to check progress every day. There were no problems other than my 1200mm overhang for the kitchen area (I just had to assure them that I would support it so their computer program would complete the project) and in a few days they had my 30 trusses made up and ready for delivery.

  Tea Garden Structure - Roof Trusses Arrive
  Early one morning, after a final workshop check on our roof trusses, I watched them start loading them onto their long truck and then asked the driver to give me a ring when they were on their
  way so I could wait for the truck at our gate.

Although our trusses were only just over six meters span, "On Time" only had really big trucks to be able to transport their really big trusses. When they delivered the trusses for our forest shelter workshop, they just dropped them off at our gate and as there were only five trusses, Martie and I carried them down our driveway through to the building site. But the tea garden structure required thirty trusses, so we were going to try our best to get that truck through to the back to offload closer to the building site.

The front gate system wasn't too much of a problem for the driver and showed he had the necessary skills to get the truck through if it was at all possible. But getting through the forest road was just a no-no. He took one look at the task and his face showed that there was no way he would get it right. He did try a few times but the truck was just too long to make the slight curve between the trees and we compromised and had them offload on the other side of the forest.

Later in the afternoon I carried a few of the trusses to the back and then fortunately Lee and Roelie arrived. They had hired a trailer for the day to get her horses back to her farm and had an hour or so before they had to return the trailer. So we made two trips with their bakkie and the trailer and managed to get all the trusses to the building site safely and fairly quickly.

    Long truck trying the forest road curve
Trusses offloaded on the front side of the forest. That's a lot of wood to move!
All the trusses safely relocated to the building site - ready for staining and sealing

  Tea Garden Structure - Putting Up the First Truss
  As much as I like to do everything myself, some jobs just require two people. I could manage the weight of one of our trusses to move around quite comfortably and even got the one side up on
That's about as far as I could go on my own    

With a bit of help from Mandla, we had the first truss up in no time    
to the side wall. But that's about as far as I could get it - I just couldn't slide it into place on the wall when it was raised to it's proper height.

So Mandla was called over to help get the first truss into place. With a bit of his help to push while I lifted it off the wall and pulled it into place, we had it up in no time. Once it was up and supported on the wall each side, I was able to centre it and then temporarily clamped it up against the water tank parapet wall.

The bathrooms and toilets were going to have ceilings fitted, so I didn't bother to seal the trusses that were going up there. I'll just seal the bits that stick out outside the walls to match the rest of the trusses where we're planning not to have ceilings (no ceilings there for the time being, anyway).

Leno's brickwork worked out perfectly as well, with face brick showing above the truss and the cement stock bricks below the truss where there will be ceilings.

From inside the tea garden structure, first truss looking good against water tank parapet wall

  Tea Garden Structure - Sealing Roof Trusses
  We gave the builders another short break while I got going on sealing those thirty trusses. I just had to get that done before we had any rain (well, looking at the weather forecasts, not much chance of that) to wet and warp the wood.

I set up two trestles near where we packed the trusses and after sourcing some Silkwood sealer at a good price for quantity I got going on the job. Working out in the open in the hot sun, this wasn't the most pleasant job and I managed to finish one or two trusses every early morning before it got too hot and another one or two every evening before it got too dark. It was just too hot to stand out there in the open painting in the midday sun.

Below, busy on the third truss - and when done with that one, the truss staining and sealing job will be 10% complete!


  Wood Burning Oven Test Evening
  In between preparing the tea garden structure for the roof, we also did a bit of work on the wood burning oven. Leno put down a thin concrete slab on the bottom and somehow managed to actually get inside the oven and plaster the entire inside! And I must say, he did a pretty good job of curved wall plastering in that confined space.

I also took a good look at the design and decided to drop in a steel insert down the chimney, the bottom of which sat in the dome cavity at the same level as the top of the front opening. My theory was that this would allow the "dome" to hold heat in above the level of the top of the front opening and not just let it all out through the chimney.

But while all this theorising and finishing was going on, some people just couldn't wait and organised a pizza "test evening" with Johan and Marcelle.

Johan and Marcelle have regular "pizza evenings" with friends and we were keen to try out their pizza base recipe and also make sure the oven will get hot enough to make the pizzas.

We fired up the oven late afternoon and by evening the bricks outside the oven were nice and warm. The pizzas were a big success, although took a little longer to cook due to my oven
  experiments only half completed. I think I'm going to make some kind of chimney baffle to fit inside the steel insert so that when the smokey part of the firing up is done, I can close off the chimney so that the oven will hold more heat. That also means I will have to devise some kind of door cover for the front opening because with the chimney blocked, the dome heat will begin escaping out the front opening.

  Tea Garden Structure - Starting Brickwork Preparations for Roofing
  Back on the brickwork, and Leno was finding difficulty in finding helpers. So he was mostly working with just his one helper, Fabian. That slowed the project down a bit but made it a lot
easier for me to enforce some kind of quality control.

But most of the big construction stuff was done now anyway, and it was just the finnicky little finishing offs to do. Like here on the picture on the left, we've built the kitchen side wall up to the rough slope of the roof.

Next job there will be to cut bricks with the angle grinder to the correct angle for the top row to finish off the wall to roof junction really nicely.

  Tea Garden Structure - Fireplace Raised Hearth Construction
  The fireplace was also progressing nicely. The wall above it was finished as high as will go and the beams were locked in neatly. We also built the first two brick courses of the chimney above the wall.

Then when the builders were away I mixed a bit of mortar and built the brickwork for the raised hearth and cleaned up the joints into the main wall.

We'll eventually fill the hearth with small builders rubble and then lay in a concrete slab.

  Tea Garden Structure - Toilet & Bathroom Roof Trusses
  The next trusses to go up were the two little half-trusses over the toilet and bathroom sections not covered by the water tank slab. Quite a simple job, but each truss had to be fixed in differently. The middle half-truss had to rest on a supporting bracket fixed against the parapet wall and the outer half-truss needed to be fixed against the outer wall. In the picture on the left, that outer half-truss was waiting for the slot in the wall to be cleaned out before slipping it down into place.

  Tea Garden Structure - Finishing Brickwork Preparations for Roofing
  Then two days of dusty work cutting bricks with the angle grinder to exact sizes and angles for the top of the walls that would go to roof height.

The kitchen back wall had already been built up to roof height, but the top wasn't finished as I wasn't around to cut the bricks.

When I was able to start working with the builders for a few days, we started on the one side of the inside kitchen wall and when that was done, moved across to the other side, which was offset from the first half due to the server counter arrangement. Both half walls were finished off with all their angled bricks in place.

We then jumped back to that kitchen back wall (thank goodness they left the scaffolding up) to just do the angled bricks and then finally finished off the angle grinding with the little wall over on the toilet side where there would be a bit of roofing hanging out off the end of the structure.

Toilet short wall
    First half inside kitchen wall nearly finished

    Another truss up and building the second half inside kitchen wall

    Kitchen back wall

  Tea Garden Structure - Putting Up the Kitchen Inside Wall Truss
  The next logical step was to make sure all the tops of the walls that go right up to the roof were the correct angles for the trusses. I just hate having to grind away bits of brickwork while fitting perlins. But looks like that's part of the process as although there were trusses to temporarily put up and build up against, Leno chose to put a stick up on the centre line, measure the truss height and then run a building line to what he estimated was the top of the truss on the sides.

When we fitted the first truss up against the kitchen back wall, it was apparent that his calculations were a bit out. Only a centimeter or two here and there, but enough to have to grind away some brickwork to get the perlins to sit directly on top of the truss.

This truss fitting was very temporary as half of the inside of that back kitchen wall will need to be plastered before the truss can be bolted permanently to the wall.

  Another Six
  A few teeny cheeps one morning brought our attention to the second broody bantam hen now in the rabbit hutch.

And lovely to see her snuggling six little chicks. It wasn't long before we were able to let them out into the sheep enclosure (while the sheep were out grazing) so we could get in there and clean up the nest.

  Tea Garden Structure - Truss Painting Progress
    Great to see the painted truss pile (in the foreground) now getting bigger than the unpainted pile (in the background under a plastic sheet to protect the bare wood from the elements).

And just so relaxing working out in the early mornings and late afternoos when the weather is great - getting my three or four trusses done almost every day.

  Tea Garden Structure - Another Truss Goes Up
  And now the painted truss pile is starting to go down a bit as well as we fit the trusses one by one onto the walls and support beams of the structure.

Once the kitchen walls were finished the next truss to go up was the one across the front of the kitchen wall. Same problem with the brickwork there - a little high in places. I'll tackle that when I fit the perlins.

And I'll be fixing the perlins on here myself - I'm not having any builders bashing nails in skew and wrecking the timber. I managed doing the forest shelter workshop myself without having any nails knocked in skew and here I'm going to screw all the perlins onto the trusses anyway.