The Weather (and some Related Phenomenon) August 2019
  Our first day of August the weather was warm and the air was calm - really beautiful weather. But halfway through the morning calls were coming in on the CPF radio about a mysterious cloud of thick smoke that had settled over the town. It was so bad it affected traffic visibility. There were no veldfires reported in the farmlands around the town and no-one seemed to be able to determine the source of the smoke. It hung around for the rest of the day.

The smoke wasn't as bad on our side of the hill, but the murky air was definitely noticable. The picture below is of the road only just visible going up the Jakalshoogte hill towards town.


And the sunset that day . . . well, it was really early. In fact the sun was still high in the sky when it dissappeared behind the big, dark smoke cloud to the west. A little eery having such a long twilight.

  After a few days of lovely calm weather, on the second day of August we woke to howling winds. We've noticed over the past few years the worst of our August winds now come through well into September. So whether this unpleasant breeze was the windy season moving back to normal or just a frontal system moving through, we're not sure.

On the third day the wind subsided a little and mid-morning the sky filled with puffy, low cumulus type clouds. Nothing rain bearing but it's been a while since we've seen clouds in the sky, showing a season change imminent. And on the right, the lovely early month waxing crescent moon to the west just after sunset.

  The Firewood Business
  The wood business is extremely competitive around here (the valley is not called Houtpoort for nothing). But we had been cutting so much wood and we needed to clear it before the rainy season started. So we set up a competitive pricing structure, placed an advert on the local Whatsapp group and the orders started rolling in.

Our first order was for 100kg in town. We selected a whole lot of medium logs and weighed and bagged them and Martie headed off into town to deliver them.

Next order was a biggie - 1 metric ton to go out to a farm in Eendracht, about 20km away. We had the bakkie loaded with about a third of the order on the Friday and had to go into town to fetch Mandla on the Saturday morning. A shop owner spotted us with the wood loaded on the
Mandla working hard splitting logs - Martie and Biscuit supervising    
bakkie and was keen to buy the load. After a bit of negotiation Mandla and I offloaded the wood into his yard at the back of the shop and headed back to the farm to reload for our 1 ton order.

It took two piled loads to get that order out of the way on the Saturday and Sunday we began preparing for our next 300kg order for the Monday. We were running out of medium logs so Mandla spent the day splitting larger logs.

  After our first order experiences, we've now got a pretty good idea of wood weight and how much to load on the bakkie. We can't quite get 10kg ito our bags, so if we need to bag the wood, we need to weigh it. But unbagged, a level bakkie load is around 300kg and a heaped bakkie load is about 500kg.

Below left, our first order of 100kg "bagged" logs ready for delivery, centre 350kg sold to the shop owner in town and right, the first load of 500kg going out to the Eendracht farm.


  Fruits and Flowers
  Our warm winter weather has noticeably affected our plants. On the right, one of our peach trees hasn't even lost all it's leaves from last growing season yet - and probably won't as the long term weather forecasts don't show daytime temperatures dropping below 20 degrees for the rest of the month - and some of the lower branches are already full of bossoms.

Below, not too many fruits left on the bush now, but our granadilla bush hasn't died off at all this winter and we are still harvesting the odd granadilla. On one day we harvested three - and they were extraordinarilly tasty!

Then bottom left, after not blooming at all last year, our Amazon Lily (still living on top of the fridge) has bloomed beautifully this year.
Below right, one almond tree at the pumphouse in full bloom - the bees taking full advantage of the early blossoms. The other tree is just starting to show buds.


  Also a little early this year, all the tortoises are now out of hibernation. Last year we left them out in one of the growing tunnels with a shelter made from a few bricks and some old plywood boards as a roof. This year we left them out in their normal enclosure between the little retainer wall in front of the garage block and the garage block itself. We made them a new "tortoise house" from some cement blocks and bricks on the sides and I used some old roof sheets as a little roof. We left the front open and they all huddled in there for their winter hibernation.

As soon as they started emerging, Martie made sure they hydrated and started feeding them salad treats. They've all grown considerably since we got them a few years ago while still living in the suburbs. But Doppies disappeared again towards the end of last summer season and hasn't been found. I hope he survived the winter and we'll keep an eye out for him around the forest.

  Tea Garden Structure - Finishing Off the Braai
  But before we get on to the work progress on our tea garden, take a quick look at Leno's new bakkie on the right.

He's obviously overextended himself financially in a big way to get his dream bakkie and I just hope he can make it work. He does always seems to pull through ok, although runs in survival mode a lot.

  Then, on to the finishing off of the tea garden braai. The builders hadn't been around for over two weeks after finishing off the kitchen floor (they do that - I think basically to give us a enough time to clean up after them when they finish a project!) and arrived in the new bakkie to finish off the braai.
  A bit of plaster was mixed, then some screed. The damp screed was put on the top of the braai lintels, carefully compacted and then cut level.

While waiting for that to dry out a bit the plaster was thrown onto the inside bottom walls. One side will eventually be a cupboard for all our braai tools and accessories and the other side will be a wood storage area. That plaster was then also left to dry out a bit.

Then a mortar mix was made and Leno then build up another two courses of face brick on the top of the braai. This should help prevent the wind blowing "over" the top of the braai, cooling the cooking meat and hopefully allowing air in through the holes in the wall down at the fire level only. Well, that's the theory.

Then work began on making those lintels look good. The plaster was thrown onto the lintel sides. Now that was a chellenge and despite adding some plaster key liquid into the mix, Leno really battled to get plaster to stick. Slowly and carefully he got it all on and then worked the corners smooth. A rather tricky process for the top surface as the plaster mixture from the sides had to be combined with the screed mixture on top to make a nice smooth surface.

Working the sides smooth
- left "side table" detail
    Leno setting up the mix and preparing for plastering

    Braai top screed on, compacted and nicely levelled

    Plaster on the lintel sides and building an extra two courses
of face brick on the top while the plaster dries a bit

Above left and right, progress on smoothing the screed and plaster on the lintels
  Below left, while waiting for the plaster to dry on the braai job, Leno was able to do a fix up on the edge bricks of the main structure. Without the screed on the floor the bricks weren't locked in and as strong as they should be, and some of them had worked loose with people stepping on them continually.

Below right, far too much mortar was mixed for the top two courses of brick on the braai and I quickly got some suitable rocks together and made a start on the rock wall in the lapa area we had just extended.


  Tea Garden Structure - Making Holes for Pipes
  We had another week without the builders on site and when they did arrive back we were ready fore two of the worst building jobs I know - chasing walls and digging trenches for waste pipes.
Chasing bathroom walls    

I had decided on how the hot and cold water pipes would run in the bathrooms and marked my proposed positions for the pipes with chalk lines on the walls. Then I started up the generator and let Leno loose with the grinder. He made short work of grinding slots to the chalk lines and when the dust had settled sufficiently his new helper, Solomon, got in there with the big hammer and chisel and knocked away the bricks in the slots so the pipes would fit neatly into the walls.

We then used the electric jack-hammer to knock the holes through the toilet cubicle walls as it was much more economical on pipe to run the cold water pipe for the flush toilets through the walls between the cubicles than to drop each point down from the ceiling.

With the wall chasing done, Leno and Solomon moved outside and marked off the trench for the waste pipes. With picks and spades they spent the rest of the day digging the trench while I started cutting, soldering and fitting the copper water pipes inside the bathrooms.

Progress pictures of Leno and Solomon digging the trenches for the waste pipes
  We've also finally made the decision to put in a septic tank system for the toilets in the tea garden bathrooms. My first plan was to have one big tank deep down in the forest downhill from the house and run the waste pipes from the tea garden down to the driveway road and then all the way down the driveway past the house so that we could collect all the house waste as well into the same system. But that pipe run was rather long and I think we'd be looking for big trouble if blockages ever occured. So we're going to have a smaller system for the tea garden and worry about the house later. The fall of the ground was perfect for the waste pipes and we found a reasonably clear area directly in line with the pipe line about ten meters into the forest where we will built the tank. The soak away should also work well with all those thirsty eucalyptus trees around.

Digging the trench went well and the team got all the way to the driveway road with time to spare. We left the road intact so we could still use it and in the picture below left, carried on
digging a good few meters down into the forest before the working day was over.

While the team were digging I got stuck in with the chainsaw and took down one fairly big tree that would be in the way when we started building and cleared some of the other fallen trees and branches from the work area. While busy in the area I also took down any black wattle saplings I came across. Below, the new log pile and a big bunch of sticks and branches we ended up with.