Deep in the Forest March 2019
  Another thunderstorm passing over near the end of February gave us 17mm of rain to keep the ground moist and the plants green. Forest walks were great with the leaves underfoot soft, the undergrowth lush and all the trees still sprouting new shoots.

Below, a few pictures of some interesting forest features. Below left, one of the dead really tall black wattle trees has just lost all it's bark - a striking light colour contrasting against all the other dark tree trunks and green foliage. Below centre, just when you think a fallen black wattle tree is dead, with a bit of moisture in the soil, out sprouts a little bunch of new growth. Below right, an interesting old lonesome tree stump still standing upright with a hole burned right through it. The final picture is of our sheep spotted out grazing in one of the super-green clearings deep in the forest.


  Tea Garden Structure - Main Fireplace Chimney
  The builders went on another short break so I decided to get going on the final bit of brickwork on the Tea Garden structure. First tasks were to get the height of the chimneys a few brick courses above the roof peak. I started with the main fireplace chimney as the roof sheeting wasn't fitted around it yet.

After moving some scaffolding across to the chimney area I was already tired. And then having to mix the mortar, shovel it up onto the scaffold plank, then again up to onto a board balanced carefully on the perlins, lay the bricks, checking that each brick was straight and level in all directions just finished me off completely. After a few hours and about five tedious courses of bricks, I gave it up for another day.

And the wood oven chimney already has roof sheeting around it, so it's going to be even worse working up there on the slipery surface trying not to drop blobs of mortar onto the nice clean roof sheeting. I may leave that for the builders and just supervise carefully to attempt to control the mess levels.

    Main chimney getting higher
    - a few bricks to go to full height

  A Bit More Rain

We have just had the highest February rainfall since we've been keeping records. And looking at the stats from the past few years, it looks like we normally also get a fair amount of rain in March. So here's hoping . . .

Our first 12mm came around the 8th and then two days after that we had another 6mm. For the entire three days there were lovely thunderstorm cloud formations drifting by overhead and I got some great pictures, especially the early morning and late afternoon formations.

The farm dams are surprisingly full and water is still flowing in from the hills into all of them. Obviously areas higher up and a bit further away from us got a lot more rain than we did. In fact, Johan measured double the rainfall than we did in one of the heavier cloudbursts last month. And he's just 2km away from us. Our summer thunderstorms are really hit and miss affairs - but the more thunderstorms around, the luckier we get.


  Losing a Workshop?
  Packing all our new hay bales into the chicken coop didn't leave much space left for the chickens to sleep at night. So we decided to unpack all the bales and put them on pallets in my "forest shelter" workshop.

The workshop was swept out and the bales moved in and now there's not much space left there to do any woodwork. But as most of the woodworking tools are up at the tea garden structure at the moment, I'll just do whatever woodwork needs to be done up there for now.

    Hay bales piled up on pallets in the forest shelter workshop

  Farm Cottage - Brickwork to Floor Level
  We hadn't done any work on the farm cottage project since December, when Leno and his youngest son Senele dug the foundation trenches and cast the concrete foundations. So with not much brickwork to do up at the Tea Garden, the first load of bricks already delivered there and the builders keen to do some work, we took the water trailer out to the front and began preparations to get some brickwork started.
Not much visible above the ground yet, but work is definitely in progress
Profiles all readjusted and checked and first bricks down.   

Brickwork showing above ground at the bottom corner . . .   
With two summer months and a few heavy downpours since we cast the foundations, we first had to dig the sand out of the foundation trenches that had washed in and settled on top of the concrete. A bit of the surrounding grass had also invaded the foundation and had to be cleared (we'll sort the inside grass when we level the floor area). Then we did a final sweeping of the top of the foundation concrete and the first mortar was mixed.

Our building team was Leno and Serge, who had last worked with us when we started building the garage block a few years ago.

. . . and along the back long wall

  Farm Cottage - Floor Level Cleanup and Levelling
  Two days later and much progress could be seen. The outer walls were all built up to floor level as well as the inner wall separating the kitchen and bathroom.

Once we had the outer walls up near floor level and all the grass dug out of the inside sand fill, we could estimate more accurately the amount of fill required. It was quickly obvious that there would be quite a lot of fill required so we decided to step the whole structure down from the bedroom separation point by two brick courses. But we weren't gong to dig any foundation for the step, just rest it on the bottom level floor slab. That meant only two or three bakkie loads of fill were required - all taken from our big sand pile next to the house kitchen and we would have to plan the casting of the floor slabs carefully so that the two courses of bricks for the step could be built on the lower level slab before casting the upper level slab.


  Giant Pumpkins
  The farmer across the road from us acquired some giant pumpkin seed, which their farm worker randomly scattered in one of their fields. The result was a field full of giant pumpkins. Although not nearly as big as the South African new record 613kg pumkin shown at the recent Livingseeds
  competition, just one was big enough to almost fill our dining room table. They harvested so many giant pumpkins that they made local newspaper headlines donating them to some of the old age homes in town. All the farmers in the area also got some - we got two.

So we had fresh pumpkin with our dinners for over two weeks and Martie made lots of pumpkin soup to put in the freezer for winter.

We've also kept some of the seeds and will be trying our luck with giant pumpkins of our own next growing season.

  Another Chameleon Saved
  On the way in to town to Jadas I came across this striking green chameleon in the road at Jakalshoogte. It stayed green even while walking across the black tarred road. The chameleons in our area seem to vary widely in colour, but I'm sure they're all the same species as their
  markings seem to be very similar.

As this little monster was already a quarter way across the road, I reversing back to it quickly and parked still well on the road to force the bit of traffic that was coming up the hill to steer wide of us, then quickly jumped out and grabbed it up. It put up the normal hissing fuss but I bundled it into the bakkie cubbyhole to calm down and went on into town to organise my building materials.

When I got back to the farm it was a lot calmer and we had a quick photo session before I let it go in one of our indigenous bushes next to our "wetland" area.

  Tea Garden Structure - Chimney and Entertainment Platform Retainer Wall
  While waiting for materials for the Farm Cottage, the builders team moved back to the Tea Garden for a few hours where Leno finished that chimney brickwork for me. They then moved on
  to dig the little foundation for the retainer wall where the "entertainment platform" (or place for extra tables if there is no entertainment) would be required to lift the floor level there another two courses of bricks higher.

The main reason for this was to get the floor surface clear of the tree roots. We won't concrete the floor around the tree but rather just leave it sand (maybe cover it with a layer of clean river sand). We plan to lay a deck floor there and maybe cover the area with a thatch roof to work around the big tree trunk.

Foundation dug, concrete cast and retainer wall brickwork almost up to normal floor level

  Soggy Driveway
  With recent regular rains and increased traffic from residents, visitors and the construction work in the front sector underway, our forest driveway is taking a bit of strain. A few days after the
rains it does dry up nicely but the clay soil there combined with the leaves from the forest make the surface very squishy and slippery just after the rains. The long term plan is to lay a concrete bridge on that part of the driveway to raise the driving surface over some pipes that will run across under the concrete to allow the water to run through to the forest. But that's a very long way down on the projects list, so we'll just have to drive more carefully through there in wet weather for now.

  Farm Cottage - Casting Concrete Floor Slab
Building materials delivered and plastic and steel mesh layed for the first concrete casting sections
  Back at the Farm cottage building site, the plastic, ref193 steel mesh, river sand, stone and cement had all been delivered so the builders moved back there to cast the concrete floor slabs.

After a final compacting of the sand surface and filling in a few little "soft spot" indentations, the plastic and steel mesh was layed down for the kitchen and bathroom areas. Thankfully I remembered at the last minute that we needed a waste pipe for the shower in the bathroom and had to hastily fit that while the concrete was being mixed.

We also layed plastic and mesh down on the area where we would be building the little step between the lounge and bedroom areas.

Then it was almost two days of mixing and pouring concrete to get the floor slab down. I tried my best to keep the site neat and clean but it was just impossible. The builders insisted on continually overfilling the wheelbarrows with the resulting inevitable spills on the way to the pouring site and we had some rather big splashes over the side face bricks to clean up afterwards.

Serge's boots, plastic bag socks
   Kitchen and bathroom section done first . . .

   . . . then the lounge step area. Once concrete had set sufficiently
   the step brickwork was done, and then the raised bedroom floor . . .

   . . . and finally the rest of the lounge section.

End of day one - big messy concrete scene . . .

. . . and job done by lunchtime next day. Now just got to clean up the mess.

  Farm Cottage - First Wall Brickwork
  As the floor slab for the bedroom top section was cast early in the day, it was dry enough to start laying the first few courses of brick when work got going after lunch.

Mortar was mixed, bricks brought in and piled up next to the structure and in no time Leno was laying bricks. By the end of the day we had the entire side wall up three courses of bricks above the floor level.


  Farm Cottage - Back Wall Brickwork
  Next day was extremely productive with Leno building the entire back wall up nine courses of brick and me trying to keep up with him building the little fireplace in the middle of the wall. He worked from the outside and I worked on the inside, helping lay the cement stock bricks on the long wall when I got some spare time from my little project.

It was so peaceful working with Leno and Serge out there with nature all around for the day. Kind of like a whole day of "bricklaying therapy" for me .


  The Weather
  Halfway through the month and we've had nowhere near half of our average March rainfall. Things are a little dry but the dams are all full and the water table has lifted a little. But we are having lovely sunsets with the cloud fronts coming through, sometimes threatening rain and sometimes just giving us a great sunrise and sunset shows.

  Farm Cottage - More Back Wall Brickwork
  Another day's work got the back wall up to as far as Leno could lay bricks comfortably. Any higher there and we would require some scaffolding.

We also got the fireplace all worked out with the top roller course of bricks and all the internal lintels in place. We left a ledge for the mantle and started building the chimney up two courses of bricks.

Then to finish off the day Leno started laying a few courses of bricks for the kitchen and bathroom outer wall.

  Little Kill Site
  While taking the "shortcut" forest path route to the farm cottage construction site I came across this pile of feathers just next to the path. Something must have caught an unfortunate dove
there. It could have been one of our wild cats (either serval or caracal), a genet, a mongoose, a jackal or maybe even a sparrowhawk. But all that was left was a pile of feathers.

And no, the bone was not part of this kill. That's an eland bone, one of the many now scattered far and wide over the farm by our dogs from sites from where two eland had died on the farm over the past few years.

  Farm Cottage - Kitchen and Bathroom Walls
  Another big brickwork day where Leno built the bathroom and kitchen outside wall to as high as he could go.

I worked on the inside and built the inside walls to separate the kitchen and bathroom and to separate the kitchen and bathroom from the lounge.

Serge and Leno work very well together and Serge is an excellent helper. He makes sure we both have bricks and mortar on hand at all times and gives a hand in setting up the profiles. He also keeps a close eye on building progress and is always there to move the building line up on a profile when Leno has finished a "line" and is on the other side of a long wall.

At the end of the day we could step back and see real progress on the structure, especially as we had managed to lay the first few courses of bricks for the final front wall.

   Leno on low planks to get just that little bit higher

   Serge packing some bricks for me to build on the inside walls
With the kitchen and bathroom walls as high as we could go and a bit of mortar left at the end of the day
we set up the profiles for the front walls and put down a few courses of brick there

  Super Worm Moon
  The March full moon is called the "Worm Moon" and is usually the last full moon before the equinox (when the length of day and night are exactly the same as the seasons change) which takes place around the 20th. It is named after the earthworms that emerge at this time of year in the northern hemisphere and is also known as the Lenten Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Chaste Moon, Sugar Moon and Sap Moon. All the names have been given by the ancient people across Europe and the Native American tribes that they had associated with the northern
hemisphere seasons. In those days it was common to track the changing seasons by following the lunar month rather than our 12 month solar year.

This year's Worm Moon was also a super moon and was unusual in that it occurred almost four hours after the March 20th equinox. I got great picture of it behind the only little late evening cloud as it rose up over the hill.

  Farm Cottage - Big Brickwork Progress
  A solid week of work at the end of the month saw good progress on the brickwork for the Farm Cottage. First, all the walls, inner and outer, were built as high as Leno could work comfortably with. Then, after a few hours of erecting scaffolding along the front wall, brickwork continued around the window openings. Finally we saw the roller course bricks over the window openings and then the last few courses of brick above them to the level of the bottom of the roof trusses. Below, three pictures of the week's work.
All walls up to max working height from the ground with all the front window openings in place.

Scaffolding up and brickwork continues

First roller courses on the front windows and brickwork ongoing

  Farm Cottage - Fireplace and Front Door Frame
  Some things that I could get on with on the construction site were the fireplace and some woodwork. I took out the roller course supports and cleaned up the fireplace nicely - picture below. Now it just needs the base screed which will only be done when we screed the main floors. And the chimney will go up higher as we build the back wall. Finally, the timber mantle will only go on when all the mess is over.

I also made the first wooden door frame for the front door. Very easy stuff, doorframes. Just sand and finish some straight 114 x 36 roofing timber and glue and screw it together square at the top. As soon as it was screwed into the brickwork, Leno layed the roller course of bricks over it so he could get on with building that front wall higher.

  Pretty Butterflies
  I don't know whether it's just me being outdoors on the building site a lot lately, but I've been noticing an abundance of very colourful butterflies about. They are especially attracted to the building site as there's always puddles of water around the mortar mixing area and some moisture in the fresh mortar itself.

Below left, on one day we were visited by lots of these very pretty Blue Pansy butterflies sucking up moisture and minerals from the wet bricks. Then below centre, for over a week we had hundreds of these quite common Painted Ladies all over the farm. And then below right, what could possibly be a Rainforest Brown, found one late afternoon in the duck pond. Unfortunately it was discovered too late to be saved.


  Snake in the Chicken Coop

Yep, another full adult (about 60cm) night adder. Regular rains bring out the toads and seem to be attracting quite a few of these snakes.

Martie had heard a chicken commotion at the rabbit hutch coop while I was out working in Joburg and when checking what was going on, spotted the snake in one of the cages. We leave the cage doors open during the day so the chickens can go in and out as they please, so the snake must have slithered in through the open door while the chickens were out. Anyway, she just closed the door to shut it in until I could get there to sort it out.


Next day I went in to "bucket" and relocate the snake and on closer inspection, saw it had a rather fat belly. We didn't have any little chickens so we were quite safe there, but we did a chicken head count anyway. The night adder's main diet is toads and frogs and it had obviously caught a good sized one a day or so before and took refuge in the chicken coop cage to digest it's meal. It was coaxed out of the coop into a bucket and let loose deeper into the forest.

I took a picture above of it just after I let it loose - amazing camouflage against the forest undergrowth and the discolouration of the "toad bulge" on it's body. The inset picture is of the snake at the chicken coop door waiting to be "bucketed".

  Fly By
  One perfect weather weekend afternoon while we were working up in the tea garden we had a surprise fly by from my friend Ago. All work stopped for a few minutes as we watched him circle over the farm in his new little experimental aircraft and then fly off towards town.

  Google Earth Update
  And while we're on things up in the sky, a little higher the Google Earth satelite took this really beautiful updated picture of our farm on the 20th of February. We only just noticed it online now.

Things are getting a bit busy down there - the new tea garden structure is clearly visible. The new farm cottage is also visible but due to picture size restraints, I cut it off the bottom of the picture. All the grass has been neatly cut in patterns around the fences (we'll cut the middle sections as we need the grass for feed and bedding for the animals) and almost every one of our fruit trees are visible in their neat rows.