Tea Garden Structure - Woodwork February 2019
  Starting off the month back to the Tea Garden building site - and with no builders onsite for almost a month now, I continued with some of the smaller jobs that I could manage on my own.

I began by moving all the woodworking tools from the forest shelter up to the tea garden building site and got started on some woodwork for the inside of the kitchen.

First project there was the kitchen lighting. I built a light box to go above the main serving counter from some pine brandering and some shelving strips. The idea was to have a ceiling board inset into the wood with downlights. The box would also be able to house a lot of the wiring, some little batteries and a small solar charging system for the kitchen, inside pillar mood lights and outside lighting.

It was great to work on a level floor and with some space to move around - and an extra bonus to be under a roof.

  Tea Garden Structure - More Roofing
  Work on the tea garden structure roof is ongoing. Lots of staining, sealing and fitting purlins and all the roof sheeting that we had was fitted. The order for the next bakkie load of roof sheeting
Truss straightening jig in operation    
was placed and I ordered some ridge cap flashing and closures as well to really finish off the roofing nicely.

I had to invent a odd little jig to hold some of the trusses that had warped a bit in place while I screwed on the purlins onto them. It was just a few pieces of scrap wood screwed together to make a slotted end on a longer piece of purlin timber. When someone was around to help, they could push the jig upwards so that the truss end slid into the slot, then twist the truss straight while I screwed the purlin onto it. When I didn't have a helper I had to use the wheelbarrow and another pole to hold everything in place. And that meant a good few more trips up and down the ladder than usual for me!

In the pictures below, all the purlins fitted on the one side of the roof (and nearly all fitted on the other side as well), making the entire structure look very neat.


  Farm Animals
  . . . or should that be Farm Kitchen Animals?! First and foremost, there's Biscuit the goat. She basically lives in the kitchen when not out grazing and is almost not a kid any more - has the horns to prove it and is not scared to use them when in a foul mood or irritated. Below left, ruminating on her table at the kitchen door and right, sharing some mealie treats with one of the chicks from a dog's dish on the kitchen floor.
  On the right, our Amazon Lily indoor pot plant resides on top of the fridge. It doesn't seem too happy there as it didn't flower this year, so we're going to have to move it. The other reason to move it is that it's now within range of the goat - every leaf that hangs down has had it's tip munched cleanly off!

Below, the six chicks are also very at home in the kitchen now. They dash around cleaning up the swatted flies and crumbs and can sometimes be seen resting on the grass in Biscuit's "grass corner".


And above right, Puddles still visits Martie in the kitchen. He's now fully weaned so doesn't get any milk from the bottle any more - just pops in for some affection from time to time.

  Tea Garden Structure - More Veranda Area Levelling
  We can't tell when we'll be seeing the builders onsite again (something about a suicide in the extended family) so I decided to finish building the veranda retainer wall myself and get going on the levelling of the veranda surface.

I also decided to check all the building lines for level and distance from the main structure. Just as well as I found errors on both dimensions. I corrected the profile positions and brick course markers and got going on the building. I mixed one wheelbarrow of mortar at a time and managed about three mixes a day. In a few days the wall was done. It was a bit slow going but
it also gave me an opportunity to use up all the broken bricks laying around (they never seem to get used when the builders work) and do a general cleanup of the area.

Once the retainer wall was built (I just had to leave the kitchen side unfinished as a "cross wall" will need to tie into it) I got down to shovelling sand to level the area. This was seriously hard work and took me a few days in between other jobs - my poor back could only manage an hour or two of digging and shovelling a day!

  Edibles Update
  Our growing season started really late this year and we're not expecting normal crops for anything. But we continue to persevere, hoping for a late start to winter to make up for those lost months.
  Although there are also a variety of tomatoes in the growing tunnels, above left, this little bush came up on it's own in the flower pot next to the workshop door. Looks like a lovely roma tomato bush producing very well for the size growing pot it has chosen to grow in.

Above center, yellow peaches. We're not sure of the variety as the tree was given to us as a gift when we moved onto the farm and we planted it up at the pumphouse. It's now doing really well but we do have a fruitfly problem up there.

Above right, a few little apples on one of the apple trees in the fruit orchard. This is the first year for our apple and pear trees, so we're not really expecting much there.

On the right, we've always wanted a granadilla bush on the farm. As soon as we moved in and settled down we chose what we thought would be the ideal spot for it next to the growing tunnel water storage structure -, east facing for the morning sun. After two failed attempts, bush number three has made it and has almost filled the entire wall. It is now full of beautiful flowers and little granadillas.

  On the right and far right, another "must have" for the farm was a fig tree. We started off with two along the path up to the pumphouse but one died and the other is only just surviving.

Determined to have our "fig tree grove", we bought another three trees and planted one each side of the surviving one and the third in the fruit tree orchard. They are all doing well so far and we even have a little fig on one of them.

On the right here we have our first two carrots. Well, not so successful with them.

  We're battling with our root vegetables. Either our soil is still too hard or Martie planted them into soil that was too compost rich.

Then on the right, the first of our hubbard squashes. Still small but doing well and getting noticeably bigger by the day!

And as you can see, we're losing the battle with weeds and grass around our veggie plants. Just not enough time.

  Eland Visit Again
  Well, it has been a while since we've seen any of them around. Seven eland passed by out of the gorge (not that we noticed them go across into the gorge) and ambled around at the foot of the hill one afternoon late. They always seem to show up in the late afternoons. I think they know it's too late for me to get out there and chase them off. Chasing eland off is a slow process and I don't enjoy walking back a kilometer or two in the veld in the dark!

Anyway, next morning they were nowhere to be seen - they must have gone back over the hill to their side of the game farm. Rumour is the herd has been thinned out considerably (not sure how) and there are only a few eland left now.


  Big Rains At Last


Mid February the clouds gathered in earnest and we had a full week of rain - 92mm during the first three days and then scattered showers over the following four days, bringing the week's rainfall to a total of 106mm.

Our solar system did take some strain with very little sun for a week, but the cloud photography was great, with very localised thunderstorms rolling through continually with electric nights and misty mornings.

The water table also lifted considerably and all the dams filled to reasonable levels.

Thunderstorm approaching from the east with a variety of amazing cloud formations on the leading edge

  First Grass Cutting
  With very reasonable December and January rainfall, and the week of mid-February rain, the grass was really growing strongly. We would normally be able to start our first cutting around
  the end of November, but there wasn't much rain for the first half of our growing season, so we may only get one cut in this year. And as it was becoming increasingly difficult to get around the farm, it was now time.

I started up along the log fence and did four runs across the entire back fence. Then I mowed a wide path from the garages to the pumphouse and also a bit around the pumphouse, including the entire section between the pumphouse and the large crop gowing area. The grass was exceptionally thick there as it gets all our bathroom grey water runoff.

This year we're determined to bale all the grass we cut so that we can use it through winter for feed and bedding for our animals. The few bales we made last year worked very well for us.

So we got Johan's hand baler out and set it up under the shade of a big black wattle tree, brought in bakkie loads of raked grass and produced our first ten square bales.

    Starting cutting this year from the log fence. Tea garden structure
     in the background now a distinct feature of the back yard.

    Nice shady spot found to bale the big pile of grass into square bales
We cleared away all the pipes temporarily and ran the tractor with the slasher over the area in front
of the pumphouse as well - no more getting wet up to our knees walking up to the pumphouse

  Kitchen Garden
  Martie's kitchen garden (outside the kitchen of the main house) is really starting to look like a garden this year. Although a lot of the green is the "wild dagga" seeded from last year's plants that we dug up and brought in from the roadside just past Spookbrug.

But there is a lot of other stuff getting bigger in there as well. The bougainvillea to cover the ornamental dead stump has survived, an acacia tree brought in as a sapling from our Mulbarton house has taken root and is almost a little tree in the "rock" section and there are a variety of citrus trees now in their second season. It should look great in a few years time when hopefully the main house structure will be finished.


Biscuit getting some of the upper   
leaves of a live tree fallen down   
I've been without a chainsaw since mine was stolen way back at the end of 2014. Since then we've been relying on Johan to do any emergency cutting (like when a tree falls across our driveway) or bits of essential cleaning up that we need done.

He enjoys cutting wood and has been studying up on tree felling methods. He's also built a sliding contraption that his chainsaw fits onto that cuts planks from logs with his chainsaw. But he's only out here on weekends and has more than enough maintenance on his weekend cottage without having to come over and help us clear forest debris continually. And we do have some forest to clear!

So I finally went out and bought a new chainsaw and put it to work for it's first cutting session in our "spooky" forest to clear some fallen trees. With the recent rains softening the surface soil nicely and bit of wind from the thunderstorm activities, the dead and fire damaged trees were falling there like dominoes - sometimes taking good live ones down with them.

It was great working with a clean new machine and perfectly sharp blades. In just over an hour I had cleared a new path through the forest and piled up enough good firewood for our entire winter. Also created a masive pile of smaller sticks which we'll just have to burn away in our "burn pit".

New chainsaw on it's toolbox and firewood pile. In the background, the kind of work still to be done there!

  Tea Garden Structure - Kitchen Lighting
  The entire roof wasn't on yet, but the entire kitchen area was covered and with a week of rainy weather, there was only really indoor work that could be done. So on we went with the kitchen lighting project. The light box for the main serving counter was built so I finished it off nicely with our now standard woodwork Silkwood stain and sealer and fitted the ceiling board into it. After cutting out the holes for the downlights, the little 12 volt, 3 watt LED downlights were fitted and connected. And five holes into the wall and five wall plugs later, the lightbox was up.

I set up a small 20 watt solar panel on the roof, mounted a 10A controller (the new Chinese model now comes with two USB charging ports!) and some light switches onto the front of the woodwork and placed two 12 volt 7.2 amp gel batteries connected in parallel onto the ceiling board and we were ready to test. Everything worked great but I think the five downlights there were a bit of a lighting overkill.

Main kitchen serving counter lightbox fitted   
   Second kitchen serving counter also done
  Next project was the second serving counter. There I didn't build a lightbox as the lights were going to be high and I would just use the bottom beam of the truss as a lightbox "frame". I screwed two long strips of 75 x 35mm wood flat onto the bottom of the beams to make a "ledge" for the ceiling board to rest on and instead of cutting a full board like I did in the first server lightbox, decided to use up all the odd bits of ceiling board I had laying around. After drilling the downlight holes and starting to join the panels together, I realised what a lot of work I had made for myself. Fitting all those bits into the joiner strips and then getting that flimsy, wobbly board up there proved to be a real challenge and it ended up with me having to set up some scaffolding and getting the girls in to help to get the 3 meter long jointed ceiling board up.

But once up the "segmented" board looked quite attractive and with this one I fitted seven downlights - even more of a lighting overkill than the first. Our first night time test proved my point and I ended up disconnecting most of the downlights. Two over the main counter and three over the second counter were more than adequate and dropped
   Transylvania wall fittings
  the power consumption from 36 watts down to 15 watts - much easier on the batteries.

I also put up the first of our wall lights. There will eventually be a total of seventeen of these! There will be six fitted on the outside of the pillars on the veranda side (and one outside at the steps on the other side) and they will be our "night lights". They'll be controlled by a day/night switch and will just come on when it gets dark, stay on all night and go off when the sun comes up in the morning.

I modified the "Transylvania" fittings that we got at a really good price on Black Friday special from Lighting Warehouse to take a little 12 volt 1.5 watt LEDs. Total draw for all seven night lights will be 10.5 watts which equates to 0.875 amp/hr. The two 7.2 amp/hr batteries (giving a total of 14.4 amp/hr) should easily allow them to stay on all night.

Then there will be ten more of the same fittings, one on each pillar, inside the structure. Same modifications were done to those fittings and total draw for the inside "mood" lights (at 1.5 watts each they don't give much more than mood lighting) will be 15 watts (1.25 amp/hr). Adding another two 7.2 amp/hr batteries (to make a total of four which equates to 28.8 amp/hr) should ensure the night lights stay on all night and we should have more than enough power available for the kitchen and mood lights to run well into the night and charge any cell phones that need charging from the USB ports while we're there.

Evening testing of the serving counter lights and a few of the pillar lights installed

  Super Snow Moon
  Sometimes also called the Storm Moon or Hunger Moon by some of the Native American tribes, the February 19th full moon was also the best Supermoon (when the moon is at it's closest point in it's orbit to earth) of 2019. I managed to get a reasonable picture of it as it came up over the hill with some of the hilltop trees in front of it. Always great to be out on a full moon evening.
It may be my imagination but there seems to be so many more night animal and insect sounds during full moons.

The Snow Moon is known for it's energies of cleansing, healing the spirit, inner strength and transformation.

And in a northern hemisphere location somewhere the Snow Moon may coincide with some actual snow flurries, for an extra magical winter's night.

  Poisonous Critters
  Found on the tea garden kitchen floor the morning after one of our Pizza evenings. Someone with closed shoes (well, nobody there reported sore toes) must have stepped on the biggest
  scorpion I've seen on the farm so far. We have quite a few of these little beasts that collect under our rock piles and builders rubble. Sometimes we see them still out early in the mornings but during the day they are only seen when we uncover them in their "hideouts".

Then while Mandla was working just outside the tea garden with the weed wacker, he shouted across for us to come and check something. Standing well back, he showed us where he saw a snake. I moved a long stick around in the long grass but couldn't find anything there.

So Mandla continued very cautiously cutting the grass and it wasn't long before he relocated the snake and called us over again. This time we didn't lose it and I shuffled it with my long stick into a big bucket. It was a reasonably sized (about 70cm long) night adder and after a quick photo session I took a long walk deep into the forest and let it loose back into nature.

  Another Big One Comes Down
  A bit more rain, some more big winds and one of our bigger fire damaged black wattles on the edge of the forest came down - right across our road around the south west side of the property. We very seldom use that road for vehicles and can still drive around the fallen tree, so no rush to clear it. But as we're busy cleaning up the "spooky forest" close by we'll cut off and burn the top branches that are laying over the road when we get some spare time. What to do with the massive trunk will be another problem - and cutting it up before it dries out and gets too hard would be preferable.

And then there's the other half of the tree (it was one of those "split trunk" trees) that's now leaning up against a big eucalyptus tree. It could push the eucalyptus tree over in time or slide off and fall down next to it, taking lots of smaller trees down as well. I'm busy researching the best way to take down a big tree leaning up against another one safely.


  More Grass Cutting
  As we had just cleared all the builders rubble, scaffolding and bricks from around the tea garden structure, we decided that the next place to cut grass would be there. The grass in that corner gets very thick but the tractor was going well and made short work of it.

I've also learned a lot about cutting grass with the tractor over the last few seasons. I've found that using the low ratio third gear works best. Although it does use a bit more fuel as the engine has to rev a bit highter, the tractor labours very little when it hits the really thick patches of grass and moves along at a perfect pace - fast enough to get quite a bit done and cut the grass properly but slow enough to be able to dodge obstacles like rocks and trees safely. When I used to use the higher ratio gears the tractor went a little too fast, so dodging those obstacles was tricky and it didn't really cut the thick patches of grass properly.

And I've also settled on cutting patterns for the various sections around the farm and can get the cut grass layed in a nice heap in a reasonably straight line behind the tractor to make raking it up a lot easier. Below, a picture of the neatly cut grass ready for raking and then below that, all the grass raked and baled and the tea garden structure looking like it's been located in a parkland. And a nice way to end off the month.