Farm Cottage - Roofing Stuff May 2019
  We started the month on a big drive to get the roofing done on the farm cottage. First job was to lay some steel reinforcing into the water tank platform and throw the concrete slab. A tiresome job with Manuel mixing concrete on the lounge floor, passing bucket by bucket up to me
  on the scoffolding where I would finally pass it on to Leno on the platform where he would pour, spread and level it. But we managed to get it all done in an afternoon.

I had already cleaned up and painted the top section of the bedroom wall with plaster primer and two coats of colour paint and we were ready to place the first truss permanently. After final fitting I bolted it to the wall while the building team started that tedious job of cleaning out the truss slots in the walls in preparation for placing the rest of the trusses.

Those slots took them a while and when done, we started erecting the trusses one by one, making sure each one fitted nicely into it's slot and also lining them up nicely with a centre line running across the top of the entire structure.

The final trusses to go up were the three kitchen half-trusses. We just can never seem to get this right and after bolting the support brackets on the wall, again ended up having to slot the bottom beam of the truss to set it to the correct height.

Once all the trusses were up I started on the perlins. I already had some 76x38 timber laying around. But they were a bit old so I needed to sand them before painting them if they were going to look good. Quite a big job but it had to be done.

All trusses up and ready for the first perlin to fix them properly upright

  Back up at the Tea Garden
  With a bit too much concrete mixed for the farm cottage water tank platform, we quickly prepared the ground for the walkway between the kitchen and main structure that the waste pipe runs through up at the tea garden. We loaded the extra concrete into wheelbarrows and
had to tediously push them through the forest driveway to get to the back of the farm to finish off that little section.

But that is another little job that I can now tick off the list.

And now we can walk smoothly across that area, although it shouldn't be a high traffic area as it is a bit narrow and we have to dodge a pillar to go get through there.

  Cleaning Up Along the Front Fence
  While me and the builders were working on the construction site, Martie and Mandla were very busy cleaning up all the branches and grass along the front fence.

Out for a late afternoon walk a few days later, it was like walking in the park with all the lovely short grass.

  Farm Cottage - More Beam Laminations
  Back to woodwork and I made a start on laminating the last of the beams for the farm cottage. These were going to fix into the walls on the bedroom side of the structure and tie in with some wooden posts and the end truss to make a little carport. The main roof will then extend to cover the carport.

Each beam needs to be about 3 meters long and instead of making another 6 meter long beam and then cutting it in half, I decided to make two more manageable 3 meter beams. It will take longer but the builders are not near ready for them yet.

  Farm Cottage - First Perlin Up
  Lots of woodwork going on at the farm cottage construction site. Those old perlins were cleaned up and stained and sealed and a whole bunch of new ones done as well.

We ran lines along the trusses front and back of the structure to see that each truss was seated properly in it's wall slot and I then got up between the wonky trusses and from the bedroom side, where the first truss was fixed to the wall, measured each truss's distances apart, ensured each was properly vertical and then screwed each one to the first top perlin.

First perlin on and the structure looking that bit more "finished"

  Farm Cottage - Back to Brickwork
  It may be a bit of a peculiar design, but because the roofing trusses cover the veranda, the veranda back wall (lounge front wall) needed to be built up to the top of the trusses. That was another seven courses of face brick right across the veranda front. And as the inside lounge wall was alread plastered, we decided to run face brick inside above the plaster as well to create a kind of high feature wall inside the lounge. It should look very nice if Leno can finish off the plaster nicely just below the bottom beam of the trusses.
Building the first few courses

Some finnicky brickwork that took some time, but the results did look rather good.

 of brick between all the trusses, from the inside and outside

Veranda upper brickwork done. Trusses look quite nice "coming out of the brickwork".

  Farm Cottage - Chasing Walls for Plumbing
  By far the worst job on the building site for me - chasing walls for plumbing and electrical trunking. Well, we won't have any electrical trunking as I'll be running all my lights wires up in the roof trusses, but we will need some plumbing for water in the bathroom and kitchen. After spending a few evenings making up the shower plumbing pipes, I marked the walls with chalk lines, started the generator and handed the angle grinder over to Leno.

He made quick work of the grinding in a now very dusty little bathroom and then we got Manuel to sit and chisel out the brickwork so that the pipes would fit nicely under the plaster (and then later, the wall tiles).

Walls chased and ready for plumbing pipes. Above left, in the kitchen a bit of Manuel's over
enthusiastic chiselling and we now have a hole in the wall betweeen the bathrooom and kitchen.
Above right, fitting the shower plumbing in the bathroom.

  Main Solar Power System Upgrade
  We've finally taken the plunge and gone "all blue" on our main solar power system. That cheapie Chinese stuff works, but just needs constant pampering to keep it running properly. Our main problem was actually that we were overpowered with solar panels. Great for early mornings, late afternoons and cloudy days but around midday on a good sunny day, our panels were just generating too much power and instead of the cheapie Chinese controller shunting the excess power off to heat, when the batteries were full it would "leak" some of the excess power through to the battery. Then when the battery got this "power overload" it's management system would go beserk and shut off the power, restabilise and then after a few seconds bring the power back on. This would happen continually through the day and this continual shutdown situation eventually blew our inverter, as it would also have to switch off and on continually.

The old inverter was a 800watt Victron Energy inverter and was still within it's 5 year warranty period. By paying in a bit extra, we managed to arrange a swap-out and upgrade at the same time. The new inverter is 1200watts (and how do thay do that with only 12volts??) with all the BlueTooth interface bells and whistles. And while were at it we decided to bite the bullet and bought a Victron Energy MPPT controller as well.

The MPPT controller's efficiency is amazing. Although the battery management system still needs to be optimised so that we can maybe run the fridge through the night, provided we leave
  enough power in the battery the night before, we can now switch on the system as the sun rises and somehow that MPPT controller will find enough power for the fridge and the computers until the sun is high enough to start charging the batteries as well. Batteries are always full by 11h00.

And we can also link our tablet and cell phones to the system with BlueTooth and I'm now getting used to how the software displays the usage and status.

Although a bit pricey, this Victron Energy "Blue Power" equipment is really in a different league to the cheapie Chinese components.

  Farm Cottage - Big Perlin Push
  After rummaging through Jada's timber store, I found some really nice 76x38 perlin timber. Unfortunately the better quality strips were 6.6 meters long and we managed to get them tied
  down onto our little bakkie and out to the farm safely late one afternoon. Thank goodness Heidelberg peak hour traffic is never heavy and not sure if we can push the bakkie to carry timber any longer than that.

Then over a few days we painted and sealed perlins whenever we could in our spare time and I was finally able to spend a few hours screwing them down onto the trusses while the builders were working on the water tank platform brickwork.

    6.6 meter lengths of perlin timber just arrived at the the building site
Sorry, yet another cottage picture, now looking even more finished with all the perlins fixed
on the front side of the roof

  Two more Chicks
  One of our new hens started laying and almost immediately went broody, so we made her a neat little corner shelter in the chicken coop and two weeks later, we had two new chicks.

I'm not sure where the colouring on the one comes from. We've been trying to keep breeding to only white bantams, so must be some genes coming from way back in the gene pool there.

  Farm Cottage - Water Tank Platform Screed
  Once the water tank platform brickwork was done (parapet walls around the tank platform that the roofing will eventually butt up against), Leno mixed some screed and we passed it up to him bucket by bucket again so he could put a smooth finish up there for me to waterproof.

The overflow/runoff pipes were already fixed into the brickwork when he built the walls and I just had to make sure we kept the screed material out of the pipes.

  Farm Cottage - Car Port
  With me busy up on the roof structure still screwing down perlins and the project now basically waiting on the manufacture of the windows, there wasn't much for Leno and Manuel to do so we started on the car port.

Same old, same old - first we needed to dig a foundation trench. I did tell them it needed not be too big as it would only need to hold a waist high wall, but they only know one size so we ended up with a full foundation. The result was a bit more than necessary building materials required in pouring the concrete.

Above left, carport foundation dug and above right, concrete poured and ready to start brickwork
  Next day Leno got busy on the brickwork, getting it up to floor level. Then we started clearing the foundation sand and levelled the area in preparation for the floor slab. We had also at that point run out of building material for the floor slab concrete, so Leno continued building the walls a bit higher while we waited.

When the river sand, stone and cement arrived we immediately got going on a big concrete mix and managed to get the slab cast before the end of the day. It was a bit rough and I really didn't want to lay a screed for a car port so I got out really early the next morning (builders were
Our builders Leno and Manuel hard at work mixing concrete    
off that day) and scraped off the high spots, filled in a few low spots and after wetting the surface, gave the entire slab a good floating with a bit of extra cement mixed with the scrapings to get it looking nice and even.

Next day the builders were back and built the wall a bit higher and cleaned up the brickwork and jointing on the entire structure.

Brickwork done, floor area levelled and above right, carport floor concrete cast (and a bit more brickwork)

  Nature Break
  You should never be too busy to enjoy a good sunset, especially one as spectacular as this. Our Autumn weather has been fantastic - certainly a little colder at night and early mornings than the past few months but the days are warm, sometimes winter clear and sometimes still some summer type cumulus cloud formations about.
  And our elderberries. This year we donated our entire crop to the birds. Not intentionally, but we just didn't harvest them early enough and as soon as the bulbuls noticed them, they had a feeding frenzy, inviting all the neighbouring bulbuls to join in - never seen so many bulbuls around for a day or two!

On the right, just the stalks left. But there are a few bunches of green berries (you can just see them in the background) here and there so we may still have a chance.

  Our wild dagga patch in the kitchen garden has really done well this year. I think it's a wild variety of the wild dagga plant as we grew it from seed from a roadside patch and the nursery variety looks a bit different - or maybe the nursery variety looks a bit more "lush" because it gets pampered in the nursery. I think our variety is a bit of a weed as well as we now have little plants sprouting all over the farm. But they're easily controllable so we're going to let them stay.

But most importantly they give the kitchen garden a bit of bushy green and orange colour and attract lots of bees and birds. Specifically the pretty little sunbirds, who have just the right tools to extract the nectar from those abundant long flowers.


  Working Grass
  We had left this a bit late this year. With all the building going on we were just not getting enough time to catch up our agricultural tasks. But with the good April rains and no early frost, the grass was still quite green and still had some good nutritional value.

One morning early I decided to cut most of the back yard so it could dry out during the day and be baled. The cutting was easy and fun (I love riding around on the tractor), the raking and gathering tedious and Martie and Mandla decided to just dig out a whole lot of big feed bags from the garden shed and stuff the grass into bags instead of baling it. Not as neat and tidy as baling but a lot quicker and gets the job done. There is now only about a fifteen meter strip across the log fence to cut and process before we have a "parkland" yard again for the winter.

Biscuit getting to the bottom green stuff and all the chickens out looking for insects in the disturbed grass
while Martie and Mandla rake it all up into big piles

  Trailer Collection
  While out on business in Joburg, one of my clients offered me a trailer that had been laying around in their driveway for months and just getting in their way. It was from a relative's deceased estate and didn't have any paperwork, so could only really be used on a farm. It was in fairly good condition, the price was right and I was sure we could use it, so I took it.

Our collection of trailers on the farm is now growing. First and foremost, below left is our trusty water trailer. Without it we wouldn't be able to make much progress on the farm as it provides water for all our trees and gardens out of reach of the water tanks and provides the water for all our building operations. Then there's our old faithful Karet with the crunched one side of it's nose cone which made weekend trips from Joburg out to the farm with our tools and provisions for many years. And finally, our latest what looks like was originally a Venter but has been resprayed and refurbed a few times. It also has a most interesting and useful nicely made removable cage on the top of it.


  Farm Cottage - Car Port Beams and Pillars
  Back to some woodwork up at the tea garden - such a nice spacious, peaceful place to work now. Once the 3 meter beams were laminated they were planed, sanded, stained and sealed
  and put aside for the wax oil to sink in for a few days.

Then it was on to the pillars. Here I laminated three 105x38mm peices of roofing timber together to form a nice bulky square pillar. I extended the last lamination peice to the depth of the beams so the beams could rest on two of the laminated peices and the third could be bolted into the beam. All timber dimensions worked out perfectly for the design.

3 Meter beams planed and sanded, first one stained and sealed
   First pillar being laminated

  Farm Cottage - Copper Thieves, Car Port Brickwork and Roofing Preparation
  There's definitely an informant network operating around here and I suspect neighbouring farm workers must be involved. It's just too coincidental that when we get to the plumbing stage on our projects (it happened with our pumphouse as well) that the copper thieves come to visit.

So one night we lost all the shower fittings I was making up and two full lengths of 3/4" copper pipe. Not too serious but just more expense to replace and more time to remake the shower pipes. And then we discovered later that they took our 3 meter aluminium ladder that is so essential to our building operations at this point as well.

It also cost us some of our time to go into town to the police station and make out a case - more for their all important statistics than anything to do with catching the thieves. And then a little disheartened, we were able to get on with our work. We are admittedly a bit lax on security here and mostly leave all our tools on the building site overnight so we can make an early start next morning. But there are night visitors (of the bad kind) out here from time to time and we're
Car port wall brickwork completed
going to have to start taking the necessary precautions.

Next job on the farm cottage was to finish off the car port brickwork. An hour or two on that and Leno moved on to filling in on top of the top course of bricks with some mortar all around the structure to finish off the tops of the walls nicely in preparation for the roof sheeting.

While the scaffolding was up on the back wall, Leno also put an extra two courses of bricks on the chimney so we could get some accurate roof sheeting measurements for around the chimney.

Working on the back wall top brick course topping   
   Leno building the chimney with the topping detail

  Cows and the Weather
  Drat. We don't really enjoy having over 100 of those big smelly creatures over on our side of the farm, but with absolutely no rainfall in May, the grass is yellowing very quickly now and good grazing is becoming scarce. So Che is moving her cow herd around to different sections of her farm and looks like now it's our side's turn for a while.
  Although no rain this month, the weather is really nice. A little cold in the late evenings and early mornings as we approach mid-winter but wonderfully warm during the days - definitely no jackets required yet, just a light jersey when the sun's not around.

And we haven't had much wind either. Skies are mostly clear but we're still getting summer type cumulus clouds developing. On the right, this one probably produced rain further north of us.

  Tea Garden Structure - Entertainment Platform
  With not much going on at the farm cottage until the windows were manufactured and delivered the building team moved back to the tea garden to see what they could do there for a while.

We also had our first tea garden event already booked for early June so we had put in some effort there to get everything neat and tidy and functional. Lighting needed to be optimised, steps built between the different levels built and all the sand and building materials laying around the veranda area needed to be moved out of the way and generally cleaned up.

Leno finishing off brickwork while Manuel digs holes for the poles    
The whole "entertainment platform" area was also a mess. I had been building the retainer walls bit by bit every afternoon with the leftover mortar from the farm cottage building and we had just a few days before dumped all the builders rubble from the farm cottage in there as fill.

So first job was to level the rubble. Once that was done we finished off all the retainer walls to their correct heights and dug the holes for the thatch structure poles. We then got the poles all properly vertical and set them into a bit of concrete at their bases.

  Tea Garden Structure - Veranda Concrete
  Then we moved on to the veranda. I had "roughly" levelled the area but there was still a big pile of sand to be cleared away. The builders decided to move it into the entertainment platform area as fill. We would worry about getting the correct depth for the wood deck flooring there and levelling it all a bit later once the sand had settled (we're going to need rain for that, though).

The veranda is a rather big area - 6 meters wide by 20 meters long - and there was no way we would be able to cast that concrete in one, or even two or three days. So the plan was to start from one side, level a section, lay down the plastic and cast the concrete there. We would then move on to the next section and do the same until the whole area was done. The plastic sheet was three meters wide, so that determined the sections to be done at a time and the main priority was to get at least one third of the length done by the time of our first big event.

Above left, big section cleared and levelled and above right, plastic in place ready for casting concrete
  The first load of materials was ordered and delivered. As the whole veranda area was already low walled and elevated, the builders requested to have all the materials dropped onto the
  veranda area so they didn't have to "wheelbarrow" it up over the little walls.

The river sand delivery came late afternoon after the builders had left so I guided the driver as close to the wall as possible and when he tipped the sand it fell directly onto the wall, so half the sand was on the veranda and half down the other side of the wall. Not a bad compromise with no damage to anything.

Next morning the stone arrived and Leno quickly levelled a sand pile and supervised the driver to drive onto the veranda area to dump the stones. And that was the end of our little retainer wall on the side of the veranda. But "No problem boss, we can easily rebuild that".

   Big truck wrecks little veranda retainer wall
  Once we had the area prepared and the materials, it was just a matter of mixing, moving, pouring and levelling concrete for the rest of the day. We averaged about 5 meters a day but couldn't work on it every day, so progress was a bit slow going.
Above left, first concrete being poured and above right, end of day 1 about 6 meters done

  Farm Cottage - Car Port Roofing
  While Leno and Manuel were busy with all the concrete work out on the tea garden veranda, I worked within supervising distance in the tea garden main structure and caught up on some
Mounting the truss brackets on the car port beams    

Attaching the pillars to the beams    
woodwork for the farm cottage.

The car port beams were finished so I planned the truss spacing, measured and marked the positions on the beams and then mounted the little angle iron brackets to the top of the beams.

Once that was done I took a trip out to the farm cottage and as the car port walls had been completed, was able to get an accurate measurement of the height that the support pillars would be.

Back at the tea garden the pillars were then cut to size and the ends sealed. Next job was to attach the pillars at 90 degrees to the beams. Three really big coach screws did that job nicely.

Everything looked a little "lightweight" but I'm sure once the perlins were run across from the existing roof to the new carport section and the roof sheeting was on, everything would tie together well and the structure should be more than strong enough.

  Goat News
  We've really created a monster for ourselves here! As unique and cute a pet as our Biscuit is, she's impacting on our lives in a big way.

There's a whole lot of problems. Firstly, she's a farm animal and we've been letting her sleep in the kitchen like the rest of our dogs, so she has a bit of an identity crisis. Secondly, she is totally stubborn and always "playful" to downright naughty . For example, to prevent her from walking round on the kitchen cupboards (actually, rather to warn us), Martie has been putting up empty
  plastic bottles all along the fronts of the cupboards at night. We are now certainly warned when she's up to no good in there but one of us has to get up out of bed to sort her out with a bit of food or drink and "reset" all the bottles - and it's playing havoc with our sleep patterns.

Worst is now she thinks it's a game and in the dead of night will stand up on her hind legs and slide across knocking all the bottles down onto the floor like skittles with her nose.

The goat shed is still way down on the projects list so we've

    Getting a bit big for her table in the kitchen now
  decided to put her into the sheep shed at nights. She doesn't get along too well with the sheep so we've also moved her table in there so she can stay out of their way and look down on them majestically. So far so good and we're now getting some sleep again.

Lovely new curly and fluffy winter coat coming out now
    On her table in the sheep shed