Winter Weather June 2019
  With just over 20 days to go before the middle of our winter, we're still having the most amazing weather. There have been no cold fronts worth mentioning getting through to us inland and we've had almost no frost as yet. And the weather predictions for the first two weeks of June are for more warm days with temperatures around the 20s and no night time temperatures dropping below 3 degrees! And to start the month off, another amazing sunset.

  Farm Cottage - Car Port Woodwork Goes Up
  The car port woodwork for the cottage was finished and I was itching to get it up to see what it would look like. But with the builders off for the first weekend of June (they have problems getting to us on weekends when their taxis run erratically), they wouldn't be able to help me. And it would be at least a two man job. So when Mandla was finished his farm work on the Sunday afternoon, he helped me set it all up. It was just a matter or helping me slide the beams into the wall slots and the bottom of the pillars onto their rods that I had already fitted into the brickwork on top of the low walls.

Once the front and back beams were in place he had to hold them upright while I screwed a temporary perlin between them to keep them the same distance apart as the beams in the wall

slots. Then we carefully put the first truss up into place and while checking the pillars were at all times perfectly vertical, I screwed the perlin that was sticking out from the existing roof to the top of the truss.

That seemed to lock everything together, although a little flimsily. We then put up the second truss and called it a day.

There's going to have to be a lot of fine lining up to do to get the beams sitting at the correct heights so the truss positions match those of the rest of the roof. And then extending that centre line beyond the last truss on the structure . . . well, still thinking on that one.

    Main car port woodwork up with first two trusses
New view of cottage with car port structure going up on the left side

  Forest Wood Management
  Fire season is rapidly approaching and we're nowhere near ready for it. The areas where the fire got into the forest last year were fairly clean, but another summer of growing season and windy
Bigger branches separated from the smaller ones as we feed the    
junk into the fire. All that now has to be cut up into usable firewood.    

Our burning pit - from this burn we were able to open up    
the ashes the next morning and make toast on the grid    
thunderstorms has taken it's toll on the dead trees and had produced tons more wood for us to clean up.

Mandla had spent a few weeks clearing all along the front fence line and we ended up bringing a good few bakkie loads of small sticks and branches to our burning area.

When we burn there now we scare the neighbours a bit. We're right there on standby and can easily manage the safety, but from a-far the flames sometimes reaching up over 2 meters into what looks like touching the tops of the trees gets them very excited. When we feed in the eucalyptus and black wattle branches with some foliage still on them - the flamable oils in those leaves make big flames.

And so far we've never had to clean out any ash from our fire pit. Once the heat is gone, the top layer of ash gets blown away with the wind back into the forest and grass and when it rains, the entire ash heap just seems to get flattened to nothing.

Bottom corner of the forest. Cutting down the dead black wattle trees (they don't seem to be able to
handle the hot ground from the fire as the eucalyptus trees do) and cutting them up for firewood.

Further up the fence line, the trees have been thinned out considerably by the fire,
but now most of the dead trees have fallen onto the ground and need to be cleaned up!

  Tea Garden Structure - More Veranda Concrete
  This is now becoming seriously boring stuff. I just hang around all day to make sure that we keep the concrete mess down to a minimum. I help where I can with the levelling of the conctrete and the floating, but as the builder's mixing pace gets up to speed, I feel I mostly just
  get in the way when I pick up a spade.

So day 2 of laying the veranda concrete (a Friday) came and went. In the morning before lunch the next section was prepared, the plastic layed down and mixing, pouring and levelling got going.

After lunch the next 3 meters was done with us still being able to get the builders to town in time for their taxi. Needless to say there wasn't much time for cleaning up and we had to leave that for the next morning.

I am also trying something a little different with this concrete slab. As I know we're not going to screed the veranda any time soon, I'm waiting until the concrete is just dry enough to stand on but still wet enough to work (normally really early the next morning before the sun can get onto it) and with a wooden float, down on my hands and knees, rub the surface to a neat "floated" finish, getting rid of all the levelling plank surface lines. Really, really hard work and I've already worn out one wooden float.

This section would get us about halfway across the length of the veranda and after a really big cleanup, would be adequate to give us a reasonably clean area for our big Photography Club Star Trails event due to take place on the following Saturday evening.

    From the entertainment platform side,
first 3 meters of section 2 cast before lunchtime . . .

    . . . and from the bathroom side, mixing started for
    the next three meters.

  Tea Garden Structure - Main Entrance Steps
Above left, the main entrance step foundations. Above right, first step done and ready to build second step.
Main entrance steps done
We gave the big concrete mixing a break for a while and after a quick management meeting re the width of the entrance steps, got going on building them.

After measuring them out, Leno and Manuel dug the small foundation and made the first step - with extra depth so that the front of the second step could be built on top of the concrete from the first one. Only four courses high but Leno set up his profiles to get them all nice and straight.

  Tea Garden Structure - Veranda Steps
Above left, first course of bricks down and above right, second course built
  As the veranda concrete slab progress had already extended way past the fireplace chimney, we were able to start work on the the step from the veranda up to the main structure floor level.

We decided to make the step a little wider than standard with an even wider section on the entertainment platform side. The step was only two brick courses high and there wasn't much space to set up profiles and set building lines, so Leno gave it a go "freehand". Big mistake. The first course went down ok (got the bricks down in a straight line) but after the second course of bricks was on there was a noticable slant on the step face. It was almost a centimeter out and I wasn't happy with it, so the second course was broken off, a building line was somehow put in place and the second course rebuilt properly.

After an hour or so (lunchtime) a small batch of concrete was mixed and the step filled, levelled and floated to a smooth finish.

With enough concrete done and all the steps in place, the builders were given some time off so we could clean up properly for our Photographic Club event.

    Veranda step concrete done and being "floated"

  Photographic Club Star Trails Shoot

Well, you just can't get it right with the weather every time. We've had amazingly good luck with our model glider flying events but the weather really let us down for this event. After weeks of lovely calm evenings before the event and the lovely calm evenings returning the next evening after the event, Saturday night saw some kind of front come through. Not too cold, just a howling wind blowing in from the east.

Despite the wind, the sky was still crystal clear and the event was a huge success, with all the togs getting some amazing star trail shots using combinations of long exposure and time lapse photography. Thank goodness they all had nice sturdy tripods.

Other than letting their creativity run wild on the farm for a few hours before it got dark, we were able to keep the crowd happy by serving good food and wine and kept the fire blazing strong all night to keep them warm.

Evening scenes inside the tea garden - serving dinner and warming up around the fireplace
  And here some of the results of letting a bunch of creative photographers loose with mostly wide angle lenses on the farm for the afternoon. There are links on some of the pictures to the individual photographers' websites and the main picture on top of this post links to the Club's website.

  Tea Garden Structure - Braai Area
  While building all the steps for the veranda, the builders mixed far too much mortar. So, although the timing was bad, I decided anyway to begin the next little project up there - the tea garden braai.

There was not doubt we'd need this facility, either to help with the cooking for event breakfasts or just for friend and family socials. I'd been giving the location of the braai a lot of thought and had even considered extending the old lapa area to accommodate it. But I'd never been happy
with the one section of lapa rock wall that I had built long ago and finally decided to hide the work of my "bad rock day" by building the braai on top of it. I had to fit in the building inbetween the cleanup of the tea garden for the photographic event but managed to get the planning done and brickwork up a few courses.

Unfortunately there was no way I could have it all ready for the event, so our old steel braai did the job for that.

  Tea Garden Structure - Loosing a Roof Sheet
  That wind that nearly blew away our photographic event came up even stronger later in the night. With all the wind noises through the trees, we didn't hear it but it actually blew one of our
  roof sheets off the tea garden structure, ripping the two screws holding it down right out of the perlins.

All the roof sheeting there was pretty much only "tacked down" so that I could get all the sheets straight and would be screwed down properly when I fitted the polycarbonate sheets on the one side and the ridge caps. Looks like it's time to get on with it now before we lose any more sheets.

Gap in the roof sheeting and perlins now needs repair
    Roof sheet a bit "mangled"

  Tea Garden Structure - More Veranda Concrete
Starting another big mix on our clean concrete surface . . .     

. . . and at the end of the day another 6 meter section completed    
The Sunday after our photographic event the builders wanted to come out to work. I was keen to get the veranda concrete done so we went ahead. They got a lift from some relative into town where we fetched them early and were still able to get in a full day's work.

For the last two 6 meter sections, finding space to work was becoming a problem. We decided to do the far end bit first so we would end up with the last section of concrete in the middle still to do.

We also decided to mix the concrete on top of the last concrete slab we layed - and the builders promised to clean it up nicely afterwards.

So after a quick clean up, levelling and stamping of the area, it was basically just another boring day of concrete mixing and pouring.

  Losing Another Silkie
  The bantam hen and her two chicks that were brought up in the rabbit hutches next to the sheep shed eventually ventured out into the sheep enclosure during the days and finally just joined with the rest of the freerange silkies. But the bigger of the chicks seemed to take some strange comfort in going back to sleep in the rabbit hutch it grew up in for some nights.

And it was on one of those fateful nights that one of our predators came to visit. We're pretty sure it was one of the cats as the remains of the chick were found up in a tree just
like with previous cases. I found the fluffy feather trail down our forest path one morning. Martie did a quick chicken count and we discovered the bigger chick missing. Then after following the trail I eventually found the carcass high up in the tree.

  Farm Cottage - Windows Arrive
All the windows for the cottage on the back of the bakkie. Mouse over    
the picture to see Biscuit about to start taking the plastic off!     

Windows unloaded and packed neatly in the driveway    
Once the guys at RDA Aluminium let me know that the windows for the cottage were ready, I took a ride out to their workshop to collect them.

Before I left I quickly checked the dimensions of the windows to the size of the back of the bakkie and it looked like some of the windows would have to hang over the edges quite a bit. I took a chance and went through anyway, prepared to make two trips if I had to. But I needn't have worried - it was like we had again designed the windows to fit the bakkie! Most of the smaller windows fitted inside the back of the bakkie and we used some scrap packaging to keep them apart and in place. The bigger windows fitted perfectly on top of the back of the bakkie framework and once tied down securely to the bakkie hooks, survived the trip back to Heidelberg safely.

Once back on the farm Martie helped me unload and pack them neatly in the driveway. Not sure when we're going to fit them as we've stopped work on the farm cottage for a while so we can finish off the tea garden properly.

  Another Nature Break
  Our June full moon is called the "Full Strawberry Moon", getting it's name from the tribes in North America who knew it as a signal to start gathering the ripening fruit of the wild strawberry. This year it also had two special features for us. Firstly, it fell coincidentally on our Father's Day and secondly, it actually met with Jupiter in exactly the same point in our night sky.

It is also known as the Honey Moon (and yes, traditionally the month of marriages), the Mead Moon or the Full Rose Moon.


For us, the full moon evening started with another amazing sunset with lots of high cloud in the western sky. After taking in all the deep red and orange sky colours, a few minutes later we were able to look over to the east and see the full moon rising over the hill. There were no clouds over that side of the sky so the moonrise was lovely and clear.


And it's that time of year again where all leaves on the fruit trees turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red and will soon all be falling off so the trees can take a short rest before starting their spring and summer growing and fruiting cycles all over again.

Inset picture, another visitor to the wild dagga garden - the bulbuls can't reach into the flowers for the nectar, so they just rip out the petals and eat them up.


  Tea Garden Structure - Bathroom Windows
  It didn't take too much time up in the hobby workshop to do the drawings for the tea garden bathroom windows. Eight of them were all basically the same size and the other two were little thin non-opening windows just to let in some light to the entrance passages.

I sent the drawing off for a quotation and was amazed at how expensive they turned out to be - the result of a combination of the opaque glass and opening mechanisms on the small windows. So now they're on hold until we can afford them.

  Veldfire Season Begins
  What, already?! Yep, we've now just passed the middle of winter and even though we had really good April rains, May rainfall was zero and the grass has dried out completely and is highly combustable.

Under our new local area fire officer/leader for the season we had our first pavement fire break burning session. We all got our firefighting equipment together one late afternoon and burned about half a kilometer of pavement grass and bushes, starting from the Rensburg end of our tarred road. Still a long way to go, though.

Many of the farmers have already made an early start on their firebreak burning programs and communications using our radio and WhatsApp network are working well. We are only alarmed if we see smoke from a direction that hasn't been reported on the group. On the right, big smoke as one of the firebreaks get into some long grass. This firebreak fire was reported on the radio as "under control".

  Last Grass Cutting for the Season
  We're nowhere near short of baled and bagged grass yet. However, our stocks are being used daily for feed for the sheep when they're in their enclosure and the older grass for bedding for the sheep and chickens. But we still had one section to cut and thought it best we cut it while it's still got a little nutrition left in it. We haven't had any real frost yet, so the condition of the grass is still quite good.

So after putting some diesel in the tractor (amazingly we only need to do that once or twice a season!) I got going on running the last few lengths of cutting across the back yard. Quick and easy, although a little dusty, and in an hour or so it was all done and ready for raking and bagging, which Mandla got to on the next weekend.

Cutting all the edges around the log fence poles with the weedeater was ongoing with Mandla making good progress. We would be able to catch any veldfires very quickly this year if they got anywhere near us.


  Yes, I know it's mid-winter, but there's still some gardening going on around here.

Martie arrived back at the farm one morning after fetching Mandla from town with a bakkie load of grey rocks which they collected from the old mine site near the highway. Looks like the plan is to rearrange the grey rocks at the kitchen garden. There is already a bakkie load of grey rock layed out there with our acacia tree and some succulents growing between them.

Above left, pile of new rocks just arrived. Above right, the rock garden ready for rock revamp.
  Then below left, up at the pumphouse we've been nurturing these melons that just started growing in and around the garden up there. We were hoping they would get bigger so we could identify them properly but their growing season is over and it doesn't look like they will. And we needed to cut the grass around there, so while we were cutting the grass along the fence we cut them from their now almost dead vines and gathered them to feed to the animals.

Bottom right, still up at the pumphouse the lavender hedge is doing really well this year. Lots of little purple flowers still attracting bees, hoverflies and hummingbird moths.


  Firewood Management
Up next to the pumphouse one big black wattle branch processed     

At the burning pit, a small pile of branches and leaves still to burn    
Work continued on cleaning up the fire damaged part of the forest and the trees along the north west fence line. My new chainsaw was working really well but with cutting lots of old dead branches, I had to sharpen the little blades on the chain by filing each one sharp almost every day. I lost count of the number of days I spent down there cutting the logs, carrying them to the road, piling them up neatly and then dragging all the smaller branches up to the fire pit area for burning. Really hard work but so rewarding to see the neat log piles now lining the forest road.

Old trunk with lots of insect holes
Spooky forest road getting slowly lined with piles of neatly cut firewood logs

  First Cold Front
  We were wondering when the first cold front would finally get through to us. It was during the last week of the month, after weeks of clear skies and lovely warm days, that we had a cloudy day as the cold front approached. The clouds started off as an early morning thick covering and later dissipated into broken cloud. The next morning was windy and cold and as we're not used
Early morning cloud cover    
to this cold winter weather any more, we called off the builders and farm work and spent the day comfortably indoors.

Then the following day we were back to clear skies and temperatures back to where they were two days before. Very weird weather.

    Birdbath water frozen
Hole in the cloud - waiting for the sun to come out to charge batteries

Cloudy day sunset. Sorry, third sunset pic this month, but it really has been a month of beautiful sunsets.

Cold front early morning - windy and cold with Che's cows emerging from the mist on the hillside

  Winter Cleanup Continues
  With not much activity on the building sites lately, we kept ourselves very busy cleaning up around the farm. This involved raking up fallen branches (more like big sticks, actually) and
  thinning where the leaves were lying thick on the ground to give the grass under the trees a chance to grow.

It was really tedious work and we ended up with huge piles of sticks and leaves that we had to load onto the bakkie and take down to the burning pit.

Our little road up to the pumphouse through the perimeter trees had also become almost unpassable, so we took a day and tackled that. About six or seven bakkie loads of "combustables" were taken down to the burning pit. Afterwards we could drive the road again and everything looked neat and clean there.

    Little road between the perimeter trees along Kallie's fence
    - we can now drive the bakkie up through there again
New branches and leaves for burning - weather permitting, the fire pit burns most late afternoons

  Tea Garden Structure - A Bit More Veranda Concrete
  Will we ever get finished with this concrete job!? After more than a week away, the building team arrived back with Leno acquiring a new bakkie. And he also found a new helper. They got straight down to the task of finishing off that tea garden veranda concrete.

Our biggest problem there (other than getting the builders on site) was building materials. Jada's two big trucks were down and they were trying to keep up with their deliveries with a little one ton tipper. I collected the cement we needed earlier in the week on our bakkie, they managed to deliver 1.5 meters of river sand for us and we had to load all the left over stones from the farm cottage building site onto our bakkie and take it around to the back to have enough material to make the mix - and we still ended up about a third short to finish the job!

Above left, concrete mix measured out and last patch being levelled and stamped.
Above right, mid afternoon and most of the concrete cast, levelled and floated . . .
. . . and at the end of the day, as far as we could go with the building materials on hand - just the
last patch down the middle still to be cast and we're done. But that will now have to wait for another day.

  Tea Garden Structure - Old Lapa Back Corner
  It was a job I've been meaning to get to for a while now, and with an hour or so to spare after finishing the concrete, the building team made a start on it for me.

The job was to make something of the odd little corner at the back of the old lapa. The angle of the wall was all wrong for joining in with the tea garden structure we had built. I originally considered putting the braai area in there but it was just too close to the building walls and the trees. I also needed to put a gas bottle for the stove there somewhere and not a good idea to have that too close to a braai fire. So best plan was to just square it off with the building wall
The before picture - a pokey little non usable corner of the old lapa     

Some time to spare, so the team got down to some digging    

Fixing up and cleaning out the foundation trench    
and include the new little space in the lapa area. And the extra space would make the server opening we had built into the wall there much more usable.

But just to get all that right meant a whole lot of work. The existing little wall needed to be broken down, the soil needed to be dug away half a meter deep into the sloping ground, another pole needed to be set in to make a new corner and then we would have to build a retainer wall across the back and down the side of the new corner.

The builders made a good start and once the initial digging was done, they took the last weekend of the month off. Saturday morning I got down to cleaning up the foundation trench nicely and casting the little concrete foundation so we were ready to build the retainer wall the next week.

New pole in and foundation cast

  Another Birthday
  And first birthday party in our tea garden. Martie invited her family and a few of our friends for lunch for her birthday this year. The weather wasn't too cold but we got the fire going in the fireplace anyway. Good thing as the event went well into the evening and by that time the fire was giving off optimal warmth without anyone having to huddle too close to it.

Maria made all the food and provided a huge bottle of wine from her collection and Marcelle made the dessert. As they say in the classics, a good time was had by all.