Farm Cottage - Laminated Beams April 2019
  Another summer almost over and with the weather still rather warm and also a lovely new sheltered and spacious "workshop" to work in (actually, that would be the unfinished Tea Garden structure), it was time to get on with some woodwork for the farm cottage before Leno and his brickwork got too far ahead of me.

I started with the biggest project, the almost 6 meter laminated beam that will go right across the front veranda area connecting the bedroom front wall on one side and the kitchen front wall on the other. It will look great there but it's main purpose will be to support the roof trusses along the front of the cottage.

In the picture below right, the pile of 6 meter 76 x 50mm perlins required for the job and the first two laminated with some of the clamps just been removed. The beam will be made up of five of the perlins laminated together (one added at a time, with a day for each to dry). Below, another
  five cans of 5 litre Silkwood sealer ready for the sealing of the beams and as we won't be putting up normal ceilings in there, for all the trusses and perlins as well.

  Farm Cottage - Bathroom Door Frame
  I then made the second door frame for the cottage. This one was for the bathroom. I left all the door stop strips off for now as some of the walls were already built and we needed to screw the door frames into the walls with anchor screws. I'll fit the stop strips later to cover the anchor screw heads.

  Farm Cottage - Finishing Off Front Walls
  Back on the building site Leno was finishing off the last two courses of bricks of the front walls for the bedroom and kitchen with the slots for the roof trusses.

I was determined not to have the same problems with roof truss slots too tight as we did at the Tea Garden, so I tried to supervise closely. But alas, Leno builds well to a building line or profile, but freehand building is not his forté. He tried to make the slots fit in with the brick spacing, which is not what I wanted for equally spaced trusses. And I could see the bits of wood he was using to determine the size of the gap were already too tight. We may have to get the grider out again when we fit trusses. He says they normally fit the trusses, tie them in place with the roof wires and then build the brickwork around them. But I can just imagine the mess they would make of our nicely painted truss woodwork.

Also, the roof wires that will wrap around and "tie" the roof trusses down into the brickwork needed to be embedded into the brickwork and kept in place at the slots.

  Farm Cottage - Side Walls
Scaffolding moved from the front to the bedroom side wall     
Once those two front walls were finished, we started the next morning with an hour or so to move the scaffolding to the next wall - the bedroom side wall. Some mortar was mixed and after a quick breakfast, bricklaying commenced.

Although this wall would be next to the car port, we decided to put two high windows in the wall to give some additional light into the bedroom, which will not be walled off from the lounge inside. Mobile dividers (cupboards, etc) will have to be used there to separate the rooms.

Bedroom side wall up and built roughly to roof slope. Structure looking really nice now.

A day later the the scaffolding was moved again. This time to the other side of the structure - the kitchen and bathroom side wall. Here we had a big kitchen window and a very small bathroom window to set up and after laying on the roller courses for them, it was straight run brickwork to the top of the wall.

We left it there for now as there were complications on this wall with the water tank platform to be built on top of the bathroom and the extended trusses over the kitchen that would butt up against the parrapet wall for the tank platform.

Kitchen with big window and bathroom with small window side wall going up

  First Peppadews
  Looks like we're in for another bumper crop of peppadews this year. The bushes were cut down to almost nothing at the end of the winter season and have grown vigorously to over waist height now - and full of peppadews.

Martie has already picked the first crop and has started cutting them up, removing the seeds, processing and then bottling them to her favourite recipe. And there's still lots of green fruit on the bushes for a second or maybe even third crop.

  Back up at the Tea Garden
Kitchen waste pipe layed in the "entertainment platform" area    

North side cleaned up and new garden doing well    
Although we're putting in a lot of time on the Farm Cottage, work still continues on the Tea Garden. Every time the builders end the day with some mortar left over, after dropping them off in town to catch their taxi home, I load up the left over mortar into a wheelbarrow and push it to the Tea Garden at the back of the yard and lay a few bricks for the "entertainment platform".

Another job there was to clean up where the kitchen waste pipe would run under the concrete floor and run it out under the entertainment platform area.

Also, the back side of the structure has been cleared of all building rubble and the foundation trench filled with nice matured horse manure from the farm down the road. We've planted a few herbs and bush vegetable plants and a whole patch of tomatoes has come up from the compost as well. The garden is looking and smelling (with the basil and citronella) lovely.

  Coridius Nubilis
  Well, this little fella doesn't really have a common name other than "stink bug". But it is of the stink bug / shield bug family and every year I've noticed a group of them in our grass. This year the little group happened to be where we were weeding and I accidentally grabbed hold of the base of a weed that had a few of them sitting on it and unfortunately squished them. I got the usual stinkbug smell on my hand that went away after a few hours, but when squished they left orange patches on my palm and that would just not wash off. The discolouration on my skin took over a week to disappear!

Although not a problem now and we only see them for a week or two every year, we have to keep an eye on this little bug community as research shows they are very fond of watermelon and muskmelon plants, where severe infestations can wipe out an entire season of seedlings.

Above left, the orange stains on my palm (the red spots are sores from my old belt sander that continually got stuck!) and right, the Coridius Nubilis, identified by the bright orange end two segments of it's feelers

  Farm Cottage - Big Laminated Beam Done
  Days and days of work went into this project. But only a little bit of every day, mind you. After gluing all the 76 x 36 perlins together, the excess dried glue was cleaned off with a wood chisel, the sides planed with the electric planer and then sanded smooth with the electric belt sander. Then the beam was cleaned off and painted with a coat of Silkwood golden brown stain sealer and finally a few coats of Silkwood clear sealer. It turned out looking really good and stood a few days in the almost finished tea garden structure until the cottage brickwork was done so we could fit it there.

Below left, four perlins laminated, one more to go. Centre, the beam planed and sanded (note all the sawdust on the floor) and on the right, cut to size and all nicely stained and sealed.


  Farm Cottage - Cleaning up the Surrounds
  There is so much cleaning up to do around the new farm cottage. The immediate surrounds were cleared of grass and sticks when we started marking out the structure (only to now be replaced with builder's rubble!) but a little further away from the structure there's about a decade's worth of black wattle and eucalyptus tree branches laying around. And getting the bakkie in there to load them up was just not possible.
Mandla digging out a stump from an old dead tree. A few hours and he had it out and the ground levelled.
The "wild side" of the cottage now cleared so we can get the bakkie in to load the piles of branches in there.
  So we decided to put in a few hours and make a clear pathway to get the bakkie deeper into the forest there and make loading and removing the old branches a bit easier. Unfortunately the first obstacle we came across was a big old dead tree trunk. Mandla was given the task of digging it out and he did a great job of it. When he was finished it looked like there was never a tree there.

While he was busy with that I got the chainsaw out and cut off a lot of the lower branches of the other wattle species that has taken hold in the area. We'll eventually have to uproot every one of those trees, but for now we're pulling out all the saplings we come across and trimming off all the low branches of the bigger trees.

All the branches were loaded and taken around the back of the farm to dry out a bit before we burn them in our "fire pit".

    First load of branches on the bakkie. Lucky it knows where to go.

    The "burning queue" next to the fire pit. Lots of burning to do here.

  Soggy Driveway Temporary Solution
  More rain, more sloshy driveway.

In an attempt to keep the clay in place we took a whole lot of dry grass and spread it thickly over the affected area. We're hoping it's going to work but I suspect unless the clay there gets a chance to dry out, we might end up with an even bigger sloshy mess.

  Big Black Wattle Falls
Very tall black wattle now lying on the ground together with the eucalyptus tree it took down with it

  Every time I walk around the west side of the forest, I check the status of that second half of the already fallen first half of the big black wattle tree there. That second trunk had been resting against a smaller eucalyptus tree. But no need for me to ponder any more over how to fell that second trunk, as one day I noticed a lot more light over that area of our "spooky forest" and on further investigation found the black wattle had fallen completely, taking the eucalyptus tree down with it. Mother Nature had done the job for me. With a bit of bad weather - maybe the extra weight of the water from the rains or maybe some wind in the right direction - the weight of the black wattle tree snapped the trunk of the eucalyptus like a matchstick and now both trees are down on the ground and ready to be cut up for firewood.

We normally hear the crash as trees fall in the forest, so either we were out at the time it happened or it happened during a storm when there are too many forest noises for us to figure out what is going on in there.

Root ball of the fallen black wattle tree
   Eucalyptus tree trunk snapped

  Weather and Moon
  After the first week of April we already had more rainfall than we had in April for the past three years. And forecasts were predicting more rain later in the month, so we were in for record April rainfall. But although we were having good rains, nothing was really growing any more as the daily temperatures were down a few degrees. The late season rains will just mean we will have less dust during our early winter months - which is very welcome anyway.

Although they say the approach of cyclone Idai, which caused so much destruction up in Mozambique, didn't affect us directly, I'm sure our weather pattern was affected in some way to bring us a good day of rainfall on the 5th. We certainly had some unusual cloud formations and some really beautiful sunsets.

  And once the rain stopped and the sun had set, the clouds cleared later in the evening to give us a lovely clear sighting of the waxing crescent moon as it built night by night to produce the April full moon on the 19th.

The April full moon is called the Pink Moon, to celebrate the return of certain wildflowers in the northern hemisphere. It is also known as the Egg Moon, the Sprouting Grass Moon and the Easter Moon and in the southern hemisphere, we could call it our Hunter's Moon.

  What's Still Growing
  Our large crop area was very neglected this year due to the late start of the planting season and then a large weed infestation (from the horse manure we put in there over winter) and the eragrostis grass trying to take back it's land. We just didn't get the time to clean up the weeds and grass and give the plants there the attention they required. We will have to make a special effort next year in that area. We did manage to harvest a handfull of really nice young mealies which we just ate raw with one of our dinners. The plants will be pulled soon and fed to the sheep and goat.

ln the fruit orchard most of our fruit trees grew very well, although most of them only in their second season and still a bit too young for fruit. We were amazed to see our little guava tree survive after being devasted by the frost last winter. We'll try and protect it better this winter. We're also very glad we managed to get a granadilla bush going and had a good harvest of very
  tasty granadillas.

And our peppadew bushes have produced a second massive crop of little piquanté peppers (also commonly known as "bishop's crowns").

Little guava tree doing well

Fresh granadillas and goat nose
    Our mealie field not looking good - plants are small and lots of weeds

    Second crop of peppadews being processed

  Farm Cottage - Roofing Trusses
  With all the front and side walls now built, it was time to order the roofing trusses. After deciphering my sketches and receiving my deposit, our local truss manufacturer Ontime Trusses made snappy work of this project and within a few days they had the trusses delivered. The delivery team weren't too happy with having to carry the trusses in from the gate (their truck was just too long and high for our tree lined driveway), but we managed to get the offloading and carrying done in less than an hour one morning so they could be back at the factory for their lunch time.
Latest view of the cottage with it's two side walls up. Unfinished and finished roofing trusses
can be seen stacked on the ground to the left and right of the structure.

This time we made a really early start on painting the trusses as some of the tea garden trusses had twisted quite badly while lying unsealed, even under their plastic cover.

We set up two trestles under the shade of some trees and the trusses were moved across one by one to be painted. When each one was finished it was piled onto a "finished" pile on the other side of the clearing. The unpainted trusses were kept covered with a plastic sheet to protect them against the rain and sun.

Picture top left, unfinished trusses with their plastic covering close by and bottom left, the pile of trusses all painted and sealed. The finished ones can now handle the sun and the rain for a few days. And here we're almost halfway with the painting job.

  Farm Cottage - Finishing Off the Door Frames
  Normally I fit the door stop strips onto the door frames before I let the builders tie the frames into the brickwork. The "tying-in" is done with some nice big screws screwed into the brickwork side of the frames that get built into the mortar between the bricks in the surrounding walls as they built them.

But in the rush to get the door frames in so we could tie them nicely into the brickwork, I fitted the outer frames without the door stop strips. I thus couldn't finish the insides of the frames as the door stop strips need to be glued onto the inside of the frame and glue doesn't stick too well onto a Silkwood finished surface. So I left the insides of the frames temporarily unsealed so I could fit the stop strips later. Before the weather could take their toll on the bare wood and the builders could get too messy around the door frames, while the builders were away one day I decided to finish them off properly by fitting the stop strips and staining and sealing them. On the right, the stop strips glued and panel pinned in place and all nicely stained and sealed to match the outer frame.

  Farm Cottage - Building the Back Wall
Long scaffolding in place and ready to go on the back wall.    

Fireplace chimney going up nicely from the inside . . .    
Now just one more outside wall to go on the cottage structure. Back on site after another few days break, Leno and his helper, Manuel, got going on it.

But before they got too far with it we had to quickly decide the number of windows and their positioning on the wall. The final decision was no window on the bedroom back wall, two smaller high windows in the lounge, one each side of the fireplace and the small bathroom window the same size as the bathroom side wall window.

Just like we built the back wall up to window sill height a few weeks ago, I worked with Leno building the fireplace chimney face bricks from the inside as he built the long outside wall. He just couldn't reach in far enough and couldn't see in there to get the bricks placed straight and level enough. On the left, my little scaffold to get higher on the chimney while Leno builds from long scaffolding along the outside of the wall.

. . . and from the outside, the long back wall goes up slowly.

  Big Branch Down in the Driveway
  Early one morning we heard a big crash very close by. On investigation we discovered a rather large dead branch had fallen from one of the eucalyptus trees on the edge of the forest. It had unfortunately fallen into the driveway so had to be cleared. We managed to push it up against
  the young trees next the driveway temporarily and then a few days later got the chainsaw out and built another big pile of firewood.

  Firstly, slinky lizard news. We've got lots of them now. You can very seldom walk around the construction site or any of our buildings without one dashing off from it's basking spot in the sun
to take cover as you pass by. And both our resident bathroom lizard and the workshop lizard (on the left, the now very tame workshop lizard basking in the sun on the workshop floor carpet) are doing fine keeping down the insect populations there, although the bathroom lizard must have got quite a scare with the visit of what we're pretty sure was a wolf snake. Unfortunately the snake got squashed under the door as I opened it one evening and was only noticed the next morning. Note to me to be more careful walking around at night in the dark without a torch!

It's the first time we had come across a wolf snake and it took me a while to identify it. But eventually one of our snake books gave us all the clues.

On the left, the poor snake the morning after being jammed and squashed under the bathroom door.

Below left, the identification

clues: dark grey to white underbelly, distinct head scales and then looking closely at the dark grey to black body scales - they all have a little white speck on the back side of them. I couldn't see those wolf-like teeth in it's mouth that gives it it's name, though.

The wolf snake grows to about 40cm. It is active at night when it hunts for lizards, especially skinks and geckos. Although it is not venomous, it has long recurved teeth in both it's upper and lower jaw. This one had obviously had a meal not too long ago - just a slight bulge noticeable in it's stomach.


Then on to more dangerous stuff, there were reports of a juvenile rinkals found on the farm across the road (where there's one baby, there must be more) - thus the urgency to identify that wolf snake.

And on the left, spotted dead in the road not too far away from us, this rather large Puff Adder - not the kind of snake you want to tangle with.

Snakes seem to be very active right now, taking in as much of the autumn warmth to stay
  active to fatten up before their winter hibernation. I had a big scare one morning walking up to the pumphouse bathroom when a mole snake over a meter long slithered across the path in front of me. Not only was getting that close to a snake of that length scary, but the mole snake has a rather large girth as well. It slithered off at speed into the fruit orchard and hid under a log for a while and by the time I got back with a big stick to properly identify it, it was on it's way over into the long grass in the large crop area. I wasn't going to follow it there, so we just kept all the animals away from that part of the farm for a few hours.

  Plectanthrus Patch
  Our patch of plectanthrus bushes in the driveway is growing bigger every year. These plants multiply profusely from seed and really make a great purple show there. And they are a big attraction to all kinds of nectar hungry insects when in bloom. Other than the normal bee and bumble bee vistors, we have regular visits from the hummingbird moths and this year we noticed lots of light yellow butterflies around the bushes for a few days. After checking through the butterfly books, we think they were the African Clouded Yellow, Lucerne Butterfly.

  Tea Garden Structure - More Roofing
  While the builders were again away for a few days I got down to putting on all the roof sheeting I had collected from JCP Roofing a few weeks previously.

Lots of climbing up and down the ladder for a few days and I'm now nearly done. Just the ridge capping and closures and opaque polycarbonate sheets to do now (the polycarbonate sheets
  screw down with the ridge capping). Then finally a few sheets over the bathroom, which I still need to order and then I can get going on the flashing strips.

In the picture on the right, the completely finished side with our little solar panel in place charging four 7.2A/h batteries for the lights. And below, the unfinished side just after sunset when the day/night switch has kicked in and the all-night lights came on.


  The Weather
  As promised by the weatherman, we got a lot more rain towards the end of the month to bring the April rainfall to 115mm. Compared to our average of around 20mm for the four years we've
been keeping records, that's a record high that I don't think we'll see again for another few years. But it's far too late to extend the growing season as although we haven't yet had our first cold front come through, the daytime average temperatures have already dropped considerably and the plants are very aware of it.

On the left, typical cloud development
  that would bring a few more mm of rain later in the afternoon. And with rain every few days with the forest undergrown never getting a chance to dry out, we are having an abundance of fungi growths on the forest dead wood. On the left is a lovely giant polypore living off and helping to break down a dead branch, doing it's job of natural recycling in the forest ecosystem.

And below, on rare clear days we would get these wonderful mist bands tumbling slowly over the hilltops and settling into the valley until the sun gets strong enough to burn them up.


  Farm Cottage - Fitting the First Truss and Big Veranda Beam
  Back in the front yard on the farm cottage building site the first roofing truss was erected temporarily against the bedroom wall so that the inside brickwork could be finished off properly
  and prepared for plastering - picture of that on the right.

In the picture below, the big wooden beam was also fitted into the wall slots along the front veranda. Needless to say the brickwork slots were too wide (not a problem for now) and not deep enough (big problem) so the first fitting attempt had to be aborted, a few centimeters trimmed off the one side of the beam, the end resealed and then the beam could finally be slotted and dropped into it's place.


  Farm Cottage - Finishing Inside Walls and Bathroom Roof Slab Preparation
  With the builders back on site for a few days again we got going on finishing the inside wall brickwork between the lounge and the bathroom and kitchen.

While we were busy in that area we also put the lintels up over the bathroom for the concrete slab that will hold the water tank and started fitting the blocks.

Everything went together really well and when the walls were up to full height we were ready to pour the concrete roof slab there.

   Above left, bathroom inside wall almost to full height with bathroom roof slab lintels in place and first blocks fitted. Above right, walls all done and all blocks fitted - ready for roof slab concrete.

  Farm Cottage - First Wall Plastered
  Then once the plaster sand was delivered we moved on to plastering that bedroom wall so that it could be painted (yep, we'll be painting before the roof is on again) and the first truss permanently fixed against it.

Instead of taking the truss down we decided to just move it out of the way and let it hang upside down on the walls. Bad move - even though it was over a meter away from the plastering, it managed to acquire a coating of plaster as well. Just have to clean it up nicely when we get to fixing it into it's final resting place.

  Small Indoor Wildlife Stuff
  A new resident (although they don't seem to stay too long) in the bathroom, up in the corner of a rafter this rather large wolf spider has made it's tough and untidy web. I suppose she helps keep the flies and moth pupulation down, so she is going to stay with us for a while. We leave the pumphouse bathroom door open most of the day so things do tend to move in and out of there periodically. And nothing unusual for a big huntsman spider or lizard to fall out of your trouser leg as you put your working clothes on in the morning!

Back in the office I think it's my workshop lizard that's moved downstairs. This guy has now found a lovely warm spot on top of the notebook keyboard (we use a separate keyboard and screen anyway) and hangs out there most of the day. He's very tame - we can work away right next to him and he just lays and watches us while soaking up the heat generated by the notebook CPU. Who needs the sun to get warm?


  . . . and some Expired Wildlife
  We know of a little very sick mongoose that died around where we're now building the farm cottage a few months ago. I followed it around the undergrowth to see if I could spot what was wrong with it - it just didn't look normal and didn't dash off with speed like a mongoose should. We found it's body dead at the edge of the forest a few days later and then the body disappeared.

Then the other day I spotted something at the base of one of the trees on the other side of the clearing. It was the little skull. I've put it away safely for our little natural history museum (when we get there).

  Farm Cottage - Windows Design
  The builders continued with plastering for the next few days, so not much supervision was required there. During that time I was able to sneak off back to the workshop for a few hours, set up my drawing table, put on some music and spend a leisurely hour or two on the window design drawings.

Everything worked out perfectly and when I was done and all the dimensions were double-checked, I scanned and emailed my sketch off to our regular aluminium window suppliers, RDA Aluminium for quotation.

  Biscuit News
  Biscuit has grown up to almost adult size and is now quite a big goat. You can see it and you can feel it when she stands on your foot! She's always game for a bit of play and likes to be around us all the time, taking every opportunity to catch up on some grazing wherever we stop to work on the farm. She has the best spot in the "workshop kitchen" on her little table where she is able to lay on her soft pillow and gets the first warm rays of the sun in the mornings. Her favourite spot while we're inside during the day is just outside the kitchen door where she justs lays peacefully watching all the farm activities around her while catching up on her rumination. We're continually moving branches from around the farm to our burning pit and now also have to move bales and bags of grass around. She used to give us great laughs when Martie headed off in the bakkie when she would run behind the bakkie screaming all the way until Martie stopped
  at her destination. Biscuit would then quickly settle down to a bit of grazing while Martie did her work. But nowadays she hops up onto the bakkie with the dogs for those trips, quite enjoying the ride.

And the most amazing thing is how goats can actually be trained. We used to have to drag her around by her harness if we wanted to move her in or out of the kitchen. Now, as soon as we grab her by the harness, she responds as if waiting to see which direction we are going to guide her. And if she's been indoors for a while, we can guide her out onto the grass, tap her on the back and say "wee-wee". And she does.