Tea Garden Structure - Roof Covering Continues January 2019
  With the builders now on another break (and both me and my finances also needing a break from them) and some more spare time during the holidays, I managed to get some more roof sheeting on.

We now have the entire wood oven side of the kitchen under roof. It's a bit slow going doing it myself sheet by sheet, cutting each truss end to size and getting the purlins on nice and straight.

    Making roof covering progess - one sheet at a time

  Replanting Grass
  Our "back yard grassland" produces good grass for us but has many bald patches. Some are from the dog sniffer club members driving their cars across the field, making "roads" when they used to use the property a few years ago and some from tractor and machinery oil spills from
 
Martie out digging up a bald patch - dogs and goat hanging around    
when the land used to be worked for grass many more years ago.

So with the lovely soft ground and more rain on the way, Martie decided to plant some eragrostis seed in the bald patches. Just a matter of loosening up the top soil, dispersing some seed into the dug up areas and them lightly tramping it over afterwards so the seed is under the ground and the birds can't get to it. It will be interesting to see the results in a few weeks time.


  Tea Garden Structure - More Veranda Area Levelling
  And when the legs get a bit tired of going up and down the ladder to fit the roofing, we give the arms some work digging into the ground next to the front wall of the tea garden structure to get the ground level there correct for the veranda.

All the soil piled up from the digging there will have to later be pushed further away as fill once the retainer wall has been built.


  Rainy Afternoon Snoozies
  After putting in a morning of heavy work on the farm there's not much more you can do on a rainy afternoon than to catch up on a bit of rest. And when there's afternoon naps involved, the bed gets rather busy.

Here's Martie, Biscuit and Eva on afternoon snooze while I catch up on some never-ending admin in the "office" next to them.


  Some Wildlife Stuff
  Some good stuff, some bad stuff and some sad stuff.

Below right, a baby bat (baby bats are called pups) found on the outside shower floor one morning. The sun had already been up for a few hours and it we assumed it been laying there since the sun came up. It was still alive so we put in in a safe, cool place for the day, intending to let it fly off in the evening. But unfortunately it didn't make it.

Then below with inset, while lifting roofing sheets one by one from the driveway paving for fitting, these little critters were found between two sheets. We've seen these little groups of insects before around the farm and always wondered what they were. They look like ants but could also be some kind of roach. We're still trying to identify them as they have wider bodies than ants and long, thin, straight bulbous feelers. They hang around in small groups and when disturbed they scatter. But in a minute or so they magically find their way back together again.

Below that, a rinkals killed on the road - a reasonable size and not sure whether it was on it's way out of our forest or on it's way into our forest across the tarred road.

And the road kill of our wildlife continues. Ok, it's not easy to avoid a snake on the road even at normal speeds, but the other day I found a black shouldered kite dead on the road. They never just sit on the ground so it must have been quite visible flying across the road, probably with it's eye on some prey on the verge. And the driver probably didn't even bother to attempt to slow
  down even a bit to avoid it.

Below right, flies are a real problem this year. We haven't had them so bad since before we started living on the farm and used to have to have our meals while sitting under mosquito nets. Well, this year they're not as bad as then, but much worse than the past few years. We replace our fly ribbons about once every month or when there's not enouhg open space for more flies to stick onto. And we keep fly swatters handy at all times, with fifteen minute early morning fly swatting sessions daily before we can sit down peacefully to breakfast.


  Any help in
identifying these
little creatures
above and on
the right
would be greatly
appreciated.


  There was a small commotion one day when the dogs cornered a young guinea fowl between the growing tunnels. By the time we could get there they had already started plucking feathers off the back of the poor thing. We managed to save it and as there wasn't any blood, put it into the chicken coop to recover.

It ended up staying with us for a few weeks but was either already too old, or we didn't put in enough time and effort to taming it. We were planning to let it go to join the next "confusion" of guinea fowl that passed through but it managed to get past Martie while whe was feeding and giving it water and flew off into the forest. It flew ok so should be able to survive out there in the wild.

Lee also found another chameleon - this time at our front gate. This is the third one found on the property, and two on the road on the way to the farm. So it looks like they are breeding in the area and seem to be able to survive in our alien eucalyptus forest. It also stayed with us for a
  while to fatten up on the flies in the kitchen and then let go in the forest.

Found in our pumphouse bathroom, below right is an expired rather large "bumble bee" (carpenter bee, actually). These creatures are good polinators but excavate nest burrows in tree stems and branches (and structural timber!), constructing a series of cells separated by partitions of wood scrapings glued together with saliva.

This one is a female, which are documented to have two either yellow or white bands over the hind thorax and first abdominal segment respectively. It is said that females with whiter bands are associated with drier climatic conditions during larval development but it has been found that females of either colour grade may emerge from the same brood.

The females all have yellow bands in the Western Cape and all have orange-red bands in Eastern Africa. The females do have a sting but are not at all agressive.





  Orchard Log Fence
  In order to protect our fruit trees from marauding sheep and goats we decided to take a break from the building site and make some progress on our orchard log fence.

The net that had been strung up between the poles as a temporary barrier just wasn't doing the job and the plan was to put in the log fence cross pieces and the run a veldspan wire fence
 
attached to the poles. The wire fence would hardly be noticeable, giving a log fence look with, hopefully, the necessary animal protection.

Mandla had collected enough logs from the forest to do the first section of the fence and cut them to size. I dug out all my fencing threaded rods, bolts and washers and we fired up the generator and drilled all the holes in the logs and fitted the threaded rods to hold it all together. Then we put up the net again (with the cross piece log support it would be a lot more sheep-proof) until we could get the veldspan fencing wire.


  Tea Garden Structure - Finishings for Roofing
  Back on the building site, I was spending a lot of time on patching the plaster on top of the back kitchen wall, cutting purlin and truss ends straight, fitting the end purlins and also cleaning up the brickwork that was a bit high on top of the walls for the purlins and sheeting to run unobstructed across the walls. Lots of time spent on lots of small things, but all very necessary to make a decent job.

Once all that time consuming small stuff was done, I continued with the roof sheeting and in no time had the entire kitchen area under roof cover. I'm working hard at getting those last few trusses up and fitting the purlins onto the trusses for the entire length of the structure.

    Patching the plaster on top of the kitchen wall
    to join neatly with the purlin
 
Preparing the eaves - cutting off the truss ends
   nice and straight for the end purlin
   Purlins all cut off straight and end timber fitted
   for the side eaves along the kitchen wall
 
Other side of the kitchen gets it's roof sheeting - and still some trusses on the ground waiting to go up!

  Tea Garden Structure - Kitchen Inside Wall Timber Finishings
  Inside the kitchen, the wall above the server had been nicely plastered but the top wasn't finished off properly and had jagged bits of plaster sticking up along it. I had cleaned off all the high bits for the purlins and sheeting to pass over, but it really wasn't looking good.
 

So after taking on the really horid job of cleaning up the bottom jointing on the brickwork roller course (normally the builders do that - it involves working upside down with the small grinder, grinding away the mortar between the bricks), I painted the wall and then decided to run a strip of truss beam wood along there to hide all the jaggedness. A few other bits of wood here and there to finish off and everything looked really neat and tidy there.

Wall plastering very "jagged" up against roof sheeting

   Wall painted and finishing beams fitted


  Tea Garden Structure - Painting Kitchen Walls
  And with all the painting kit out, I gave the kitchen wall with the window it's coat of plaster primer and a few hours later, it's colour coat.

It's amazing how a coat of light coloured paint brightens up a room. That plaster grey colour made the kitchen look like we needed more windows in the room. Suddenly, with a lighter colour paint, the room was light enough - although we're still seriously considering putting in some opaque white polycarbonate sheet panels on the one side of the kitchen roof to let even more light in.


  Tea Garden Structure - Back to Trusses and More Roof Sheeting
  Those last three roofing trusses laying down on the grass were bugging me. I was waiting for the builders to help me get them up, but one day I decided to get going and just get it done.

It took a morning, a bashed little finger and lots of sore muscles and they were up. And stepping back to check that everything was straight was very gratifying. The whole structure was looking fantastic and I carried on enthusiastically to at least get the top two purlins on all the way
 
Lots of woodwork up there    
across that long roof.

Then a bit more sheeting here and there and it was job done until I could get more roofing screws and purlins.

I also changed my plans a little to extend the bigger overhang all the way over the entrance area. only to find that the trusses would be just a wee bit too short. As it was not possible to change the roof sheeting size, I cut some bits of truss timber and glued and panel pinned them onto the ends. Not too neat and tidy, but it's all I could think of to sort the problem and with a bit of sanding, restaining and resealing, it should look ok.


    Truss ends crudely extended
 
All the trusses now up and ready to fit more purlins. Picture from the log fence side . . .
 
. . . and from the driveway side, the structure looking good against the hill in the background

  Crops Update
  After that good festive season rain, we didn't have time to prepare our large crop area, so as planting was so late, we just cleared little patches to plant our mealie and sunflower seeds.

The eragrostis grass has taken the land back with a vengeance - and seems to have brought a few weed friends with it. Lots of work is going to be required to clear all that out but our mealies have started shooting and it shouldn't be long before we see some sunflowers shooting as well. We'll clear grass and weeds between the seedlings as we get spare time.

 
A bit of work required to get our large crop area cleared   
   Mealie seeds starting to shoot

  Chicks Growing Nicely
  Of the nine chicks of the first little family hatched in November, seven have survived and are doing well. We have now gotten used to not having all the chicks survive - the weakest are noticed early and inevitably don't often make it past the two week mark. Those that survive the first two weeks are destined to become real chickens and then it's just a matter of making sure we don't have too many mature roosters. Mr Scruff has taken the father role with this little family and is always around watching for predators overhead and finding bits of edibles in the grass -
  calling the family in to shelter or calling them over to eat.

The second family are also doing well with three of the six chicks surviving. Mortality rate was a bit higher with them as they were put into the sheep enclosure. Although we tried to keep them separate, the chicks sometimes encroached into the sheep area when the sheep were in and one or two must have got trampled. One or two also mysteriously just disappeared. Rats, maybe?



  Goat / Dog Relationships
  Biscuit the goat kid is growing up fast now and is about the same size as Charlie and Spot. She totally dominates the smaller dogs Eva and Tess and they now just stay out of her way. Her little horns are now over 5cm long - and with her attitude she's certainly not scared to use them! Even Charlie and Spot keep a beady eye on her as they walk past her. But here one late afternoon are Charlie, Spot and Biscuit relaxing together outside the kitchen door.

  Growing Tunnel Crops
  While the plants out in the large crop area are not doing too well due to the eratic rainfall and continual heatwave periods we have been experiencing for the first half of our growing season, the crops that Martie planted in the growing tunnels where we can more easily water them regularly are doing well.

The peppadew bushes that produced so well last year have shot up again and are bearing lots of fruit - but not yet ripe. It looks like most of the fruit will, of course, be ripening together.

Martie planted a lone pumpkin plant next to the peppadews and that seems to be taking over the tunnel with now not much space left there for anything else.

She also planted some interesting marrow plants that are producing profusely. Very odd plants - big leaf spread but the marrows all grow from stem. We've harvested a few small ones and as an experiment, let one grow to a monster. They cook well and the skin can be eaten when freash. After a few days the skin has to be removed and only the flesh eaten - but they taste really good.

In the same tunnel as the marrow plants, Martie planted some mealies. She planted them much earlier in the season, watered them regularly and they're doing well. We may be able to eat some of our own mealies again this year after all.

    Pumpkin plant taking a lot of growing tunnel space. Peppadews
    in the background corner also doing very well again this year.

    Marrow plant producing lots of marrows from the stem

    Monster marrow harvested
 
On the left, mealies planted early in season in the growing tunnel and on the right, the marrow plants

  Tea Garden Structure - Cleaning Up Under the Wood Oven
  While patching the kitchen wall plaster I also patched some of the edges inside the bottom of the wood oven. This is where all our wood will be stored and Martie was keen to get the wood in there, already piling it up next to the structure.

So while all the painting stuff was out and I was in painting mode, I climbed inside the wood storage box to give the walls and floor a coat of paint (dark brown walls, terracotta floor). Once that is all dry, the wood can be packed in.


  Tea Garden Structure - Veranda Area Levelling Continues
  Now this was hard work! The veranda retainer wall was not finished (builders not available for a while) but until it was, I was able to dig away the sand at the structure side to get the level against the wall and push all the sand dug out into a pile in the middle of the veranda area. Once the retainer wall was built, we could level the area right across.

The hard work was cutting into that compressed sand next to the structure - which was still littered with building rubble. The big pile of sand in the middle area was loose sand and would be a lot easier to move out up against the retainer wall when the time for that was right.

 
On the left, from the kitchen side and right, from the bathroom side - starting to dig in quite deep there

  What are the Chances . . .
  . . . of finding a little tortoise missing for a few weeks over 4km away!

Doppies, the tortoise that had it's shell chewed by a dog that was given to us by lacal vet in town is an escape artist of note. We just can't keep it in any of our enclosures. It escapes continually and we're always finding it around the farm after a few days of it disappearing.

It had disappeared around the Christmas season and had been gone for a few weeks - we really thought it was gone for good. But one day when Martie was driving up Jakalshoogte into
  town she spotted something crossing the road. She stopped the car, jumped out to check it out and it was Doppies - casually crossing the road about 4km away from the farm! Anyway, it's back on the farm, still escaping continually and being found either down in the forest or up at the pumphouse.

Doppies is a different species to the rest of our tortoises. It's shell shape is flatter and longer and it seems to be fully grown, as the rest of the tortoises are now really starting to noticeably outgrow it.


    Doppies on the left, with one of our other tortoises

  More Chicken News
  The seven chicks that hang around freerange with their mother hen and Mr Scruff are really getting into the swing of farm activities. Except one particular chick, that is. We're really trying to work out what it's mission in life is, and we're not ruling out some chicken suicidal tendencies! Martie rescued it from the duck pond one afternoon where we really thought it was a goner. It had obviously been in there for a long time and was soaking wet and hardly breathing. She coaxed it back to life by drying it off, wrapping it up warmly on a hot water bottle and feeding it egg yolk muti. It survived only to be found in the duck pond again later in the day, but this time just standing in the shallow end.

All seven chicks look exactly the same, so it's a bit difficult to keep tabs on the one that behaves oddly. We think it's the tamest of them and a bit of a loner - mostly away from the rest of them doing it's own thing.

They're all so cute. When we leave the kitchen door open and are swatting flies, they now know the swatting sound means food and those in range head into the kitchen to clean up the swatted flies on the floor. And they're not scared of the fly swatter - you can swat right next to them and they just keep an eye out for the "downed" fly. And if they don't spot it on the floor you can just point the fly swatter in the dead fly's direction and they will rush across to gobble it up. What great fun.

 
Looking after the recovering chick. On the left, all wrapped up and being fed some muti
from a syringe and right, warming up on the hot water bottle.
 
Two of the seven working hard cleaning up swatted flies from the kitchen floor
 

Unfortunately seven is now six. One chick has disappeared and we suspect the Steppe Buzzard that's been hanging around in the trees on the edge of the forest for a few days. Although, can't rule out the Sparrowhawks heard recently getting ready for their breeding season. Sounds like they could be setting up nest in our forest again this year.


  Rainfall
  January rainfall has been good. We started the month with a week of rain, then had some regularly spaced showers and near the end of the month, another three days of soaking rain.

But the water table still hasn't lifted and the dams haven't taken any runoff from the hills this season yet.

On the right, an early evening storm rolls in to bring soaking rain until midnight. Next morning was beautifully fresh, clear and sunny.