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 disappeared 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.

 

  Tortoises
  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 - Bathroom - Making Holes for Pipes
  We had another week without the builders on site and when they did arrive back we were ready for 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 brick 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.



  Sheep (and a bit of Goat) News
  Our flock of sheep and one goat - one is more than enough - are keeping us very busy at the moment.

All the lambs are growing fast and have all started to eat bits of
   Biscuit - havoc in the kitchen

Biscuit vs Zorro's little droppings    
grass and the odd black wattle branch - they're almost not lambs any more. Zorro is the oldest of the trio and is almost too heavy to carry already. The other two spend most of their time in the sheep enclosure are very entertaining to watch at play and when out on walks are venturing further and further from their mommies.
face markings of our  
two new little lambs    

  On the right, very peaceful late afternoon scene in the sheep enclosure with the two mommies and their lambs taking a rest away from the rest of the flock. At only one month old, you can see how those lambs have grown. Interesting that Zorro is growing better on our local diary milk that Puddles did on milk supplement. Also, we normally feed Zorro every four hours during the day. One day we couldn't get dairy milk so we bought some from the supermarket. On supermarket milk, after two hours he was hungry and crying to be fed?!

On the right, when the chickens go into the sheep enclosure to scratch for leftover mealies and insects, the lambs get very curious.



 
Zorro out and about on a walk, drinking water from the "duck pond" and sampling tomato plant trimmings

  Tea Garden Structure - Bathroom Plumbing
  Another of my less favourite jobs - soldering copper pipes together for plumbing. I'm not practiced enough at it so my joints don't look that great, but I did the pumphouse bathroom and haven't had a leaky joint yet, so here's holding thumbs on this job?

As just about every pipe went through a wall, I had to build the system in it's place, which made the soldering even more difficult. But all done now. And those little coloured things are balloons to prevent stuff getting into the pipes when Leno starts plastering.


  Tea Garden Structure - Bathroom Plastering
  We were so looking forward to having clean walls to work on so the project could move into it's painting, tiling and finishing stages, but we never look forward to that messy plastering process.

But the time had come, so early one morning we got going with the first plaster mix and before long Leno wash splishing and splashing the plaster all over the walls (and anything else in range).

Once the "thrown" plaster had dried out a bit on the walls he "cut" it with the straight edge and then began floating with the wooden float. We weren't going to smooth finish the wall as we would be doing quite a bit of tiling there, so running the steel float over that wasn't necessary.

At the end of day one we had the gents bathroom almost done - just one wall and a few of the corners left to do.

The bathrooms were rather tricky with lots of walls for the cubicles and doorway corners - and those do take some time to get level and straight.

    Preparing the plaster mix
Leno floating and cublicle doorw
ay top corners still to be finished

  Sunsets and Moonrises
  After a rather stress filled plastering day, with the builders off home we lit up a braai fire, cooked some meat and vegetables and with a little unusual cloud cover running crepuscular rays up into the western sky, were able to enjoy another of those really amazing sunsets.
 
  Then the next evening, on the 15th day of the month, with extraordinarily clear skies we were able to watch a very bright Full Sturgeon moon rising on the eastern skyline above our tea garden with it's night lights on.

The August Full Surgeon moon is so named because of the large number of fish in the lakes where the Algonquin tribes fished. Other names for this full moon include Green Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Fruit Moon and Grain Moon from Old English/Anglo Saxon origins.

 

  Tea Garden Structure - Putting the Sewerage Waste System Together
  While the builders continued with their plastering mission in the tea garden bathrooms, I went out and bought all the pipes and fittings we would need for the sewerage waste system.

Pushing the load length limits on the bakkie again I arrived back at the farm carefully didging the low branches in the driveway to get to the back yard. In the picture below left, there's actually
 
Bakkie length limits again stretched for sewerage waste pipes    

Building the sewerage waste system    
  nobody sitting in the bakkie - the cab is chock full of joiners to put everything together.

I really enjoy putting stuff like this together - this one particularly challenging as just about every pipe was a different length. This resulted in a rather slow build as I was back and forth around the structure to measure wall pipe exit distances continually. Though not so pleasant dodging plaster flying out of the window openings and trampling about in the mounds of loose sand.

Pushing the pipes into the joiners was also tough as each pipe end had to be chamfered and wetted with some dishwasher liquid to make it slippery enough to slide into the rubber seal at the end of each fitting. But I got it all together nicely and it looked really good when in place and all connected.


 
Entire bathroom waste system completed   
 
  Urinal and basin waste detail

  Inspection hatch and air vent pipe detail

  Clearing Bugweed
  We've been keeping an eye on our bugweed problem in the forest for a while now and finally climbed in to sort some of it out before the seed pods ripened this year. A really horrible job working with that plant. It has a kind of furry stuff on it's stalk and leaves which is a very nasty skin irritant.

But it had to go so we started in the worst affected part of the forest. I was amazed at how fast the plants ahd multiplied and how quickly they had grown since I last checked on them. Being dispersed in amongst the tall eucalyptus trees, their foliage was sparse and the the plants rather tall - almost small trees - as they reached up as high as possible to compete for available sunlight. The chainsaw made quick work of them but we'll have to keep an eye on the stumps and either treat them with poison or somehow debark them (haven't decided yet) to prevent any regrowth.

 
  In the picture above, a few of the bugweed plants pulled out of the forest and ready for cutting up into smaller bits for burning. Below right, Martie removing all the seed pods as they're the poisonous bits while Biscuit feasts on some fresh leaves she couldn't reach before. And below
  left, the pile of thicker branches after cutting up the plants. We have no intentions of farming this stuff, but we're going to try and use what we have for a bit of firewood.



  Fruit Orchard Maintenance
  Almost spring now (actually, we've had spring weather all month) so time to get things prepared for the growing season.

First on the list of things to do was to clean up the fruit orchard. This meant clearing encroaching grass from around the fruit trees, giving them a bit of food and a good watering to keep them going until the first rains arrive.


  Tea Garden Septic Tank - Digging the Hole
  With most of the bathroom plastering done, we decided not to go any further there until the windows arrived. So next project was to build the septice tank. But before any building could be done, a hole had to be dug for it. So, the start of a new day and a new project, Leno and Solomon got down to some serious digging.

We had decided that the septic tank be about ten meters down into the forest. Firstly to be out of sight (although most of it is under the ground anyway), out of danger of being driven over by cars and also to make the soakaway more practical. The eucalyptus trees should love it.

Watching their progress through the day, I couldn't help but be amazed at how Leno and Solomon worked. Although the soil wasn't too hard and there weren't too many roots to cut through, they had the approximately three meter square hole dug over a meter deep by the end of the first day.

    Early morning, dimanesions marked out and starting to dig . . .

    . . . and by the end of the day the bottom not visible from the road
  At the end of digging day two of the hole was at the required depth of around 1.6 meters and some time was taken to clean up the sides and get the bottom reasonably level. The hole was quite a bit bigger than the stucture we were going to build inside it - just needed some space to work down there - and at this point we had to drop a stepladder down to get the guys in and out of the hole. On the right, I ran the sewerage piping down the trench as far as I could go before we would have to dig up the road.

Just a whole lot more digging in progress
   Long trench going into the forest


  Tea Garden Structure - Fitting Bathroom Windows
  As the tea garden bathroom windows weren't very big, I was able to collect them from the manufactureres in the car on my way back to Heidelberg after one of my Joburg business trips.

And to take a break from all the digging, Leno decided to fit them and finish the bathroom plastering before doing any more work on the septic tank project. But first job was to clean up the window openings nicely. I got the generator going and Leno settled into the dusty job of
 
Leno jointing the roller course brickwork with the small grinder   
grinding the jointing between the bricks neatly. Those top window opening bricks weren't jointed during the bricklaying process as the wooden supports that held the roller course of bricks up needed to stay up for a few weeks.

10 small windows ready to install

 
Solomon measures the window frame to the outside brickwork while Le
no fits the wedges from the inside

 
Entrance non openers, al
l other windows open
 
Once the window openings were ready, I fitted the little aluminium fixing brackets to the sides of the window frames and let Leno and Solomon get going on fitting the windows. They put brick spacers under the frames to get them tight up against the top roller course and then used slivers of wood wedges to jam the fixing brackets into position tightly against the side walls, making sure each one was levelled across the top and down the sides of the openings.

As each window was levelled and positioned I drilled the holes into the side walls and knocked in the anchoring plugs and screws to secure the frames permanently.

Then the plaster was mixed and the windows plastered in securely from the inside and the surrounds finished off nicely. I cut some 150mm cement board to size and Leno plastered them in as inside windows sills. That just seemed to finish off the job nicely but the whole process took up a good few hours of the day.

Once the insides were done we moved on to the outsides where the side gaps between
Cutting the outside window sills to size    
 
All bathroom windows fitted with window sills inside and out.    
And all plastering inside also completed.    
the frames and the brickwork were filled.

I cut the outside concrete window sills to size with the angle grinder (the windows were just too wide for a single sill, so I cut the sills so that two pieces - and sometimes three - would make up one sill) and then Leno fixed them in with mortar. Now just got to get to preparing all those inside walls for painting.


  Lambs Out Grazing
  Although the two lambs are still drinking from their mommies, their rumen systems are working well and they're always nibbling at grass in between quick drinks. And now when we let the adults out to graze, the lambs go out with them on the adventure. That is, all except Zorro, who only ventures out when his mommy, Martie, goes with as well. Below, seven of our eight heading slowly down the driveway out into the front grass fields for a few hours of grazing.
 

  Tea Garden Septic Tank - More Digging in the Big Hole
  Once the tea garden bathrooms were done, the building team moved back to the septic tank hole. I'm not sure if all of what we were doing down there was really necessary, but it's what I know will work and be strong enough to hold the 5.5 cubic meters of waste and water, so we're
  going to use our conventional building techniques to build the septic tank wall and floor structure. Inside dimensions were 2,4 meters long, 1,6m wide and 1,4m deep with a single wall dividing the length into two third and one thrd chambers.

So first step was to dig a foundation where the outer walls would go. A bit of measuring and double checking for squareness and I made sure a "small" foundation trench was dug.

And the sand pile around the hole was now getting a bit out of hand. It wasn't easy working down there, so not much care was taken. The sand was just shovelled out as far as they could throw it.

Unfortunately bricks were already being brought down in preparation for the brickwork and the wheelbarrow left a little too close to the hole. So it was almost buried. I also had to keep a close eye on any tools taken down there - they could also very easily get buried.


   Little foundation trench being dug

    First wheelbarrow of bricks getting slowly buried
 
Sand mounds getting rather big around the hole

  Tea Garden Septic Tank - Casting Foundations and Brickwork
  I never realised how difficult it would be to work in that confined space deep hole down in the forest. Next job there was to cast the concrete foundation. The concrete was mixed up on the tea garden outside concrete slab (the driveway was suggested by the builders, but learning from their past concrete mixing experiences, their request was turned down) and taken down into the forest in the wheelbarrow where it was transferred into a bucket to be passed down into the hole for pouring. So casting that little foundation took some time.

Then the corner profiles were set up, all measurements and squareness checked again and the
 
Outer wall foundation cast   

Building to floor level   
first two courses of bricks were laid onto the foundation to get the structure to floor level.

Some of the surplus sand from the floor was then moved to around the outside of the walls and the rest thrown out of the hole. A bit of compacting and we were ready to lay the plastic down and cast the floor concrete.

It was the same process for mixing the concrete and casting the floor slab as for the foundation. Slow and tedious work with one bucket at a time going down into the hole.

Finally brickwork on the walls commenced, with Solomon passing mortar and bricks down to Leno. He did well to get the brickwork up to almost full height, having to hop over that chamber separation wall continually. We stopped the structure before full height so I could get the plumbing planned and the builders went off on another break - this time at my request as I had so much work on the tea garden bathrooms and septic tank plumbing to catch up on before they did any more building there.

Floor levelling and compacting   
Floor concrete cast   
 
Walls going up - Solomon passing   
bricks down to Leno   
We did a few more courses of bricks after this picture was taken
and left it there so I could work out all the plumbing stuff

  Road Closed
  It's not often that we have to close our driveway entrance road any more (last time was during the digging of the basement for the house) but we had to get that sewerage pipe across there. So we put up our little traffic cones (just in case someone forgot about it) and dug the last little stretch of trench. In the picture below, the building team hard at work digging it.

On the right, I ran the tea garden bathroom sewerage pipe as far down the trench as I could before the driveway road.



  Welcome Back
  What a handsome creature! A pleasant surprise one afternoon when we spotted him laying just outside our log fence watching us.

With all our farm activities going on, we always wonder whether the waterbuck will return each year. Once all the little waterbuck babies are born, it seems the male's job is done and they are cast out of the herd. They seem to enjoy our side of the farm and last year we had five bulls hanging around for many months forming their little batchelor herd. Always great to have them around and we now make sure there's enough water in a big bucket fairly close to the garage block for them.

  Further out from our log fence in the now short grass fields we have started hearing and seeing large flocks of guineafowl. I don't know where they go or what they do during the winter months, but the warm summer weather brings them out in abundance. But they just don't let you close enough to get a good photograph.
 

  Tea Garden Septic Tank - Plumbing Under the Road
  After I had connected the pipes to run under the driveway road and put in the necessary inspection hatch, when the building team were able to take a break from building the septic tank walls they mixed a bit of concrete to encase the pipe that would run under the driveway road. We left it all open for two days and then covered it up so we could use the road again.
 
Encasing the pipe in concrete under the road    
   All covered up and driveway road open again

  Our Back Yard
  Spring is in the air. But to be honest, with the weather we've been having it seems it's been in the air for a few weeks already. While getting my day's farm work planning done on the last morning of our official autumn season, from the workshop "office" I noticed Martie taking Biscuit, all the sheep and dogs out into the field. Just realised how great it is to be out on the farm with all the open space, clean air and sweet water. Going on four years now out on the farm, I don't think there is any way we could go back to suburban life.