Highveld Thermal League Year End Function December 2018
Good turnout of pilots and the orphanage kids spent the day out with us to help. We also had a drone out
for the day to take some aerial photography. Mouse over the picture above for the drone perspective.
  Again, the weather gods were kind to us for our 2018 Highveld Thermal League year end function. We woke to an absolutely perfect early morning and the wind only strengthened much later - but not nearly as strong as the day before or after.

Cumulus clouds were popping overhead all day to indicate good thermal activity and some serious thunderstorms developed during mid-afternoon. But they stayed away from above us and did their rainy thing all around us.

The field that we normally fly on had been ploughed this year for crops so we moved over the R23 main road to the "Goeie Nuus" farm. The farmer was very happy to help us out and we found a grass field just big enough for us there.

This year we supported the Galaxy Orphanage and they were very grateful for our contributions. All the kids spent most of the day with us helping with the catering and field work.

    Martie and Janine preparing breakfasts

    One of the latest high performance electric powered models
Great weather and lovely Heidelberg farmland scenery

  Tea Garden Structure - Back to Work
First three trusses over the open area up, builders starting to
plaster the back wall in the kitchen    

Fireplace hearth filled, levelled and concrete done    

Kitchen main server top concrete also done and more plastering    

Moving on to plaster the kitchen side wall with window opening    
After taking the first weekend off of building to organise and fly the HTL year end event, work on the building site started promptly the first working day of December in earnest.

I started by putting up the first three trusses over the open section, working from the kitchen side. The builders helped to get the trusses up onto the beams and then went back to their work. I worked up and down the stepladder for most of the morning lining the trusses up and fixing them to the two top purlins and the brackets on the beams.

Leno and Fabian started off cleaning up the building site a bit in between helping me (after seeing how nicely we cleaned up the kitchen area for them) and then moved on to complete a few of our unfinished projects.

They used all the building rubble they swept up during their cleanup to fill in the rest of the fireplace hearth. Then after levelling it all, they mixed up a bit of concrete and poured it in under close supervision so as to not mess too much. They then put on a thin topping screed to smooth the surface and cover the surround bricks, also getting all the edges straight and smooth.

They then cast a thin concrete slab on the main kitchen server counter and when half set, added a thin topping concrete screed surface there as well. Same close supervision was required there.

But no matter how carefully they worked, there were cement splashed on all the surrounding face bricks on both concrete jobs. Next day I had to get stuck in with a bucket of water and a wire brush and managed to get most of it off.

They then moved on to plastering and started with the kitchen back wall so that I could fix that inside wall truss against the wall permanently.

Then, with much too much plaster mixed, they moved on to the kitchen side wall with the window opening. They finished really late and I had to drive them all the way home to the township that evening.

  A Bit of Rain
  After two very hot and dry weeks, the rain clouds gathered and over the second weekend of December and we had two days of night rains. Only a total of 9mm but early the next week we got in the way of a passing thunderstorm and had another 13mm. All the farmers were out ploughing the moist soil in the hope of this being the start of our rain season.

  That Goat Kid Biscuit Again
  What is our world coming to - goat portraiture?! That little goat kid Biscuit is now five months old and is really taking over here. She sure is a pet with a difference! Completely independent, but she likes to be around where the action is. So she's set herself up a permanant "perch" on the one half of the dining room table and when relaxing to ruminate, can watch over the kitchen activities.  

  When out grazing, sometimes tethered, sometimes with the sheep and sometimes just loose out on her own, she just picks away at the choice grass stalks. But as a grazer/browser she always has her eye on the closest bush and when "free" grazing, there always has to be someone
  keeping an eye on her. She has been known to casually "lean" a young fruit tree over to chomp off some fresh young top leaves. And she knows we don't want her to do that because as we approach to chase her off, she grabs her last mouthful quickly just before we can get to her and then dashes off. We're trying desperately to get all our trees fenced off as we are aware our little problem is going to get a lot bigger.
    Martie & Mandla "upgrading" the almond tree protection
On the kitchen table. Above left, catching up on some chewing and above right, taking a midmorning nap.

  Tea Garden Structure - Painting???!
  Yep, our methods and building processes are sometimes a bit unorthodox. Painting walls without a roof on may seem a bit odd, but I really can't see how the "real" builders would go about the
White plaster primer contrasting nicely with the brickwork.
Eventually the wall colour will be our standard shade of cream.    
task of finishing a wall with a roof truss bolted up against it. Well, I suppose roof trusses are normally above the ceiling and the walls up there don't need to be painted. But for now we're not going to have ceilings. And for me, painting the wall surface in between the truss timber would just not be an option. So we painted the entire wall with plaster primer to seal it against the elements and then gave the top section where the truss would up against it two coats of good interior paint.

It stood up fine against a small thunderstorm, but hopefully we'll be able to get the roof sheeting up at least over the kitchen area soon.

  Tea Garden Structure - Checking Veranda Ground Levels
  Not quite finished with the tea garden stucture and we're already looking ahead to starting on the outside veranda area. This area will be as big as the inside structure less the kitchen area and the ground will need to be cut in on the tea garden wall side and built up on the downhill side so we can have a level surface. There will also need to be steps here and there to get from
  the lower veranda area up onto the tea garden floor level - but we're not sure yet where the steps will be.

With a bit of energy left at the end of the day I grabbed hold of a shovel and dug the toilet end corner down to where the ground will need to be levelled to. I was surprised at how deep I had to dig down to get one course under the bottom face brick course. Looks like there's going to be a lot of digging and moving sand out there again!

  More Weather
  Halfway through December and our Highveld rainfall still seems to be resulting from frontal systems coming in from the south. By now our summer central trough should have developed to
generate afternoon thunderstorms. But weather patterns certainly are changing and we're really not sure what to expect any more - and when.

After a mid month, mid week, 24mm midday thundershower, we woke the next morning to this little front coming in from the south. It didn't produce any more rain, though. And if we don't get some big rains in the second half of the month, we're heading for a record low rainfall here for December as well.

  Tea Garden Structure - Putting Up More Roofing Trusses
  With the builders off for a few days again I was able to catch up on erecting a few more roofing trusses. It was a bit slow going as I was working on my own, but I had a system where the process was to carry a truss around to the other side of the structure, lift one side up onto the top of a beam and then move the ladder into position and slide the truss on the beam so that the other side could be lifted onto the other side beam. The truss was then centered with the truss centre joint positioned on a centre line which ran across the entire length of the structure. Then the ladder was moved to each side of the truss to check the truss distances so that the same measurement could be made on the top purlin. Then the ladder was moved again to drill and bolt the truss ends to the angle iron brackets to fix the truss to the beams on both sides.
  Finally the ladder was moved to the middle so the top purlin could be screwed down into the top of the truss.

One after the other the trusses went up and in between daily interruptions, I managed to get about five or six up a day.

I lost count of the number of times I moved the ladder from side to side to middle of the structure and the number of times I climbed up and down that ladder, but in the evenings my legs felt like it was plenty times!

    Another few roofing trusses up, working from the kitchen end
The structure so far, from the bathroom end . . .
. . . and from the kitchen end

  Tea Garden Structure - Truss Erection and Brickwork Woes
  Although tedious and slow, erecting the trusses onto the beams was going well - it was when they needed to be bolted to or slotted into the brickwork that I started having problems.

Some of the trusses needed to be bolted to the sides of the pillars and by this time were a bit warped. Pulling them straight by bolting them up against the pillars and then pulling them in line when attaching the purlins should really not be too much of a problem. But after bolting in the one side, trying to twist out the warp when bolting the other side to the other side pillar just resulted in the top two courses of brickwork breaking away. Very frustrating.

I also realised that the top of the pillars ended up a bit high on the outsides and will get in the way when we fit the roof sheeting. So we decided as we were going to have to remove, cut and then replace the top two front bricks on each pillar, we would rebuilt the tops that came apart when trying to bolt the trusses to them. But this time with a much stronger mortar mix.

Then when I got to fitting the trusses into the slots in the solid wall sections, I found that not one of the slots were the right size. I don't know what Leno was thinking when he was doing the brickwork there but that brickwork needed to be broken down and rebuilt as well.

Top bricks broke loose when bolting on the truss   
   Front two pillar bricks cut to allow for roof sheeting
Slots for trusses in the solid wall - not one the right size for the trusses to slot into!
Starting to erect the trusses from the bathroom end    
So with the builders still away for a few days, I decided to start erecting the trusses from the bathroom side. That went quite smoothly (albeit slowly) until I got to the first pillar - same problem there with the pillar brickwork coming loose.

With not much more that could be done there until the builders decided to start work with us again, I just went back to the boring job of painting trusses and purlins out in the summer heat.

  Tea Garden Structure - Fitting the Kitchen Window
  With all the building supply companies wanting to close up for the Christmas holidays, I realised that I was a little late to get the kitchen window ordered. I spent an hour or so at the drawing board and submitted the drawing for the window for quotation anyway.

Then with no power in the Alberton industial area for a few days, we had a few communication problems in getting the quotation from RDA Aluminium and they mentioned they might not even be able to fit the manufacturing into this year's schedule. And to delay things even further, they
  quoted on window dimensions different to my drawings. I wasn't sure whether the change was due to the small size of the fixed section at the bottom being too small, or just a mistake on their part. After checking with them, it turned out to be a mistake on their part and as I had already paid them for the job, we negotiated to keep their window size (we would just have to knock off two courses of bricks under the window) and with a small change to the size of the bottom fixed pane, I gave them the final go-ahead.

A wonderful surprise phone call came the day before they were due to close that my window was ready. I included the collection in my Joburg client visit trip the next day and looked like we were going to be able to install it over the holiday period.

When the builders got back from their break, after cleaning up their brickwork mess, fitting the window was next on their priority list. And with a quick "knock-down" and a bit of plaster patching, the window was in. A bit of clean up and removal of the protection plastic and it looked great.

    Aluminium window fitted and surround plastering completed

    From the outside with window sill fitted

  Tea Garden Structure - Roof Sheeting
  Another order that needed to be processed before the big builders holiday shutdown was for the roof sheeting. I was still a few sheets short for the forest shelter workshop and after
Doesn't look like much, but enough IBR roof sheeting to finish    
the forest shelter workshop and cover the tea garden kitchen area    
measuring up the requirements for the tea garden structure, I ordered as much of the IBR sheeting as I could afford to at least make a start on the roof sheeting for the project.

JCP Roofing also came to the party and had my order ready before they closed down for the holidays. I took a drive out to Nigel in the bakkie one morning to collect it and after a quick loading session there I was back on my way to the farm with some more work for the holidays.

  Tea Garden Structure - Digging the Veranda Foundation Trenches
  As most of the brickwork was now done, we moved on to the next project there - to build the retainer wall for the veranda.

The entire veranda area was cleared of logs, old cement bags and building scaffolding and profiles and the foundation marked out. It was to be six meters wide along the entire length of the structure.

Digging soon began and they had the foundation trench dug in no time - with not one rock or tree root to slow them down.

While they were digging I calculated the concrete material requirements and ordered the materials from Jadas. They arrived late afternoon (on a Saturday) with the scappiest truck we'd
  ever seen, spilling stones all the way through Rensburg on it's way out to the farm. The truck was so bad that it couldn't even make it up our little hill to the building site and we had to open one of the sections of our fence for it to get through.

We were planning to have them tip the sand and stone into the middle of the veranda so that the builders wouldn't have to wheelbarrow it too far to the mixing area (on the tea garden structure floor). But the driver couldn't get the truck there so just had to dumped it all outside the veranda area.

    From the bathroom end, lots of digging going on . . .
. . . and from the kitchen end when all the digging was done

  Tea Garden Structure - Casting the Veranda Retainer Wall Foundation
  Next day was a Sunday and we started work a bit late due to transportation problems from the township, we had a three man building team and as soon as Mandla finished his early morning
Big concrete mix on the nice clean tea garden structure floor    

Foundation cast complete - from the bathroom end . . .    
farm chores, he joined in to help mix and cast the foundation concrete.

They all worked really hard and with me helping to spread and level the concrete as they poured it into the foundation trench, we had the whole job done by lunchtime.

. . . and from the kitchen end

  New Project - Farm Cottage
  Lee's little matchstick cottage was leaning more and more after each wind storm and as long term she wanted to move to the front of the farm, I contemplated and decided the time was right to start work on a cottage in that area. To save some costs I was going to build the short side walls which would include a bathroom and kitchen from bricks and then depending on the condition of the present cottage when we're ready, we planned to build a proper wood frame and maybe use the front and back present cottage wood planks. The entire roof would also need to be replaced to match the other buildings on the farm and also so it could at least hold a solar geyser and some solar panels.

The other reason to start this project now (yep, starting a new project before the others are finished is nothing new to us here on the farm) is that we could locate the stucture close to the
  front borehole and I could include the fitting of that borehole into the project. We found the "perfect spot"at the original tea garden location and after checking the facing direction for solar energy, put in a few temporary pegs.

So when the foundations for the tea garden veranda were done, after lunch the builders moved to the front yard to clear the selected spot and mark out the foundations.

    Nice north facing edge of forest location selected
Clearing away the grass surface and marking out foundations

  Weather - Thunderstorms Passing Us By
Out to the north-east one mid-afternoon - East Rand about to get    
some good rain (and note the goat getting into the weather picture)    
Another two weeks of hot and dry weather for the second half of December for us and looks like we're going to have the lowest December rainfall since we've been keeping records out here. Although, there were areas around us getting rain - and lots of it by the look of those thunderstorms often seen on our horizons in the afternoons - mainly to our west and north.

The warm dry winds continue and the soil is as dry as it was through winter. And we have still not yet planted any crops.

Late afternoon thunderstorm out to the north-west - Jo'burg getting some rain today

  Farm Cottage - Foundations and Building Materials
  It took a full day for a team of three to get the foundations dug. Size was 11 x 6 meters with and extra 6 meters for a middle wall, so not bad going.

And I was determined to keep this little building site neat and tidy, so all the soil from the digging was put on the inside so we could move around the outside unobstructed and we wouldn't have to later erect the scaffolding on mounds of sand. And so far so good.

    Digging done and materials for the foundation concrete delivered
Clearing centre area and measuring out wheelbarrows of river sand and stone for the concrete mix
Getting going on the mix - first wheelbarrow full and ready to pour

I did the material calculations and then had the river sand, stone and cement delivered. Big surprise for the Jadas driver when we directed him to the new building site instead of sending around to the back of the forest.

The builders took Christmas Day off and the next day they were too "tired" to work. The new guy, Matines got drunk and
    First concrete goes in
  fell off his bicycle, damaging his fingers, so when we started working again it was only Leno and his son Senele - but they assured me the two of them could cast the foundation in a day. I helped with a bit of mixing but mostly did all the levelling after they poured the concrete into the foundation trench and with a lot of hard work and finishing a bit late, we got it all done.
Job done - casting the foundation complete without too much mess

Next delivery of building materials offloaded - face bricks, stock bricks and cement

Next day Jadas delivered two truck loads of bricks and more cement. It should have been one load actually, but their scrappy truck wouldn't have made it up the hills fully loaded. We split the one stock brick load between the new building site and the tea garden site, where the builders had already started building the veranda retainer wall. They were using up all the stock bricks laying around the site. The new load of bricks arrived just in time.

  Tea Garden Structure - Building the Veranda Retainer Wall
  Once the profiles had been set up and checked and the mortar mixed, Leno was able to get going on building the tea garden veranda retainer wall. This wall will only be built to ground level and I'm planning to face it with rock on the front. It needs to retain just under a meter of soil in the bottom corner, so we planned to build a full double course wall using cement stock bricks.
Tea garden veranda retainer wall from the front corner . . .    

. . . and from the kitchen end, levelling as we build     

I also remeasured the ground levels of the veranda and decided that it would be best not to have a step somewhere in the middle of the veranda to get to the tea garden floor level, and instead to keep the entire veranda at one level and rather have two steps up onto the main floor level of the tea garden at it's entrance. This meant that we would be lifting the floor level at the bottom corner by two brick courses and there'll be a lot less digging there to get the veranda floor level.

We started from the toilet end of the structure where the most digging would need to be done, and as Leno built the wall, so I dug the soil away from the tea garden structure wall and pushed it across to the new retainer wall to fill in the corner.

Just after lunch some big clouds came over and we had some intermittent rain. The rain was very welcome but it prevented us getting as far as we should have with the wall and the levelling.

  Real Rain
  At last! I think our rainy season has finally begun. Three days after Christmas a central trough settled in over the interior of the country, widespread thunderstorms developed, and it started to rain properly. And the long term weather forecast showed daily rainfall well into the first days of the new year.

And although we had to manage our battery power very carefully for a few overcast days, it was great to have real rain again. I almost forgot how lovely it is to walk through the forest after the rain with the leaf cover squishy underfoot and the musty eucalyptus smells thick in the undergrowth air.

Spot ambling casually down our very soggy driveway after a day of rain

  Planting New Trees
  With most of the smaller eucalyptus trees badly burned along Kallie's fence line, we can now see our building structures from the road - although you do have to look carefully.

So while the soil was soft and moist, we took the opportunity to plant out our syringa saplings that we've had in pots in our "nursery" for a while now. As they are also not indigenous trees (they originate from Asia and Australia), we were contemplating carefully where to plant them, with the final decision to plant them in the now open gaps along the fence line parallel to the game fence between Kallie's farm and ours. And with the medium term rainfall forecasts looking so good, they should have a good chance of surviving the replanting.

We already have a few small syringa trees scattered around in our forest, and as a fast grower it should serve our purpose of a treeline screen from the road over the next few years until the eucalyptus trees regrow. But if they fit in nicely, we may even keep them as their flowers are good for the bees and the berries can be eaten by the birds. Mandla took a day to dig all the holes and did all the planting for us.

  Forest Fire Damage Update
  The rains just make everything so clean and green in the forest. The eucalyptus trees damaged by the fire did start sprouting new shoots a few months ago, but the green is just so much more noticeable after the rains. And while walking down in the forest, the new green growth contrasts strongly against the burned black trunks of the bigger trees.

Our little grove of Ouhout bushes were also burned completely by the fire, including one of the biggest bushes in the area. But all have new sprouts shooting from their bases - though not sure how long it will take for them to get as big as they were before the fire.

New green growth against the   
burned black bigger tree trunks   
   Our biggest Ouhout bush on the farm burned down completely
   - but little green shoots are just visible sprouting from the base
Bottom corner of the forest - lots of new green growth from the bases of the fire damaged trees

  Tea Garden Structure - Starting the Roof Covering
  Back on the tea garden building site I was working hard to get some roofing up before the holidays were over. I had enough purlins stained and sealed to make a good start and enough
First purlins screwed down onto the trusses . . .   

. . . and from the other side, first roof sheets up    
roof sheeting to cover about a quarter of the structure.

So I started from the kitchen end, on the wood oven side, and in a few hours had the side overhang around the wood oven chimney and the purlin spacing all planned and enough purlins screwed onto the trusses to be able to put roof sheeting over the one side of the kitchen area.

Next day I started with the roof sheeting. I was working alone so it was a lot of up and down the ladder again to get the sheets into position and then to screw them down on the overhang end and in the middle. I wasn't screwing the top end down until I had the top capping sheets and closers.

It was a bit tricky fitting the sheets around the chimney so after a bit of replanning I decided to shorten the side overhang a little so that I would only end up having to cut the last sheet for the chimney. This meant removing the end timber and cutting each purlin shorter and then refitting the end timber again.

  Forest Shelter Workshop - Finishing off an Old Roofing Project
  I had the roof sheeting, so with some spare time during the holiday period I got back up onto the forest shelter workshop roof to finish putting those last few sheets on.

I had extended the overhang on the forest side to try and keep any driving rain coming in from the south out and being so high, it was a bit tricky working up there with just the extended purlins to support the weight of the roof. There was no chance of me being able to stand anywhere near the edge up there so all the work that was done near the edge had to be done at full stretch from on top of the last truss which would be able to support my weight.

Now it's just the final finishings of roof cap and closures to be fitted and I can start cleaning up in there. Although I've been using the shelter workshop for making up the tea garden roofing support beams and a few other small woodwork jobs, things in there were a bit disorganised. And we have a small problem of sand being washed down the driveway onto the floor. That will hopefully be solved when we concrete the driveway, but any furniture in there will need to be raised off the floor as there will always be water washing through there into the forest when it rains hard.

    Extra overhang to keep the rain out
Coming up the forest path up into the forest shelter workshop