Spring and Still Cutting Last year's Grass? September 2019
  First day of spring and the weather was glorious - but a cold front on the second day of the month (number 5 significant cold front of the season - we don't count the small ones that we hardly feel) dropped our daytime temperatures a good few degrees through the afternoon and resulted in a chilly evening - enough for us to get our jerseys out again.

Leno and his helper were off site for a while so I could catch up on some finishings on the tea garden. One day we had a call from him to tell us how his township flock of sheep were stressing with hardly any grazing left in the area. So we offered to cut our last grass field in the front of the property to help him out. We hadn't had much frost during the winter months so the grass quality was still reasonable. But to make sure we first tried a bag full of the grass on our sheep and they ate it enthusiastically. So I spent an afternoon cutting the entire field - the worst field on the farm to cut grass as it was dispersed with trees and bushes and I had to continually dodge and cut around them - very difficult to run a pattern. We raked and packed a few bags for our sheep as our stocks were also running a bit low and left the rest for him to rake and take away to the township.

 
  While on the subject of grass and grazers, the waterbuck is taking full advantage of the young grass shoots on our side of the log fence. He spends hours in our back yard grazing peacefully and almost every afternoon now comes down to the water bucket to drink. He's even getting quite used to our activities around the garage block and just looks up to watch us while we're in sight, then carries on grazing and drinking.

  Tea Garden Structure - Cleaning Up and Bathroom Progress
  My first chainsaw chain was reaching it's end of life. It had done a lot of log cutting down in the forest and although it still had a lot of blade on the chain to sharpen, it was stretching past the capabilities of the chainsaw's adjustment range. So I "used it up" on the really hard old logs up at the tea garden, which resulted in another big pile of firewood in the picture on the left.
  Then I spent a few days cleaning up the bathroom walls and floors. I started with the walls, scraping off all the plaster splashes and filling in any holes to prepare the walls for tiling and painting. Once the walls were done I scraped off all the mortar and plaster and got the floor
 

down to bare concrete again, ready for the floor screed and tiling processes.

The washbasin cupboard was then planned (picture far left) and then I began work on preparing the walls for the toilet cubicle door frames. I tried the O'Grady's roll-on skim system for the walls, but I painted the skim on with an old, hard brush in order to obtain a light textured finish - should work well.

I just did all the walls around the doors where the frames will fit - will get to do the rest of the walls when we decide on how we're going to tile the washbasin and toilet cubicles.


  Grandkids Visit
  It was school holidays for Mia and her cousin Nathan so they were able to come out to the farm to spend a few days with us. They had a wonderful time feeding all the animals, rearranging our massive sand heaps and rock piles, and going with us on our walks through the forest. And as the weather was perfect, one morning we took a walk up the hill and had a picnic up on the hillside.

On the right, on our way down the hill, Zorro lagging a bit behind - there are just so many new bush species up there to taste along the way.

Below, picnic on the rocks under a rather sparse shade tree - on the hillside (about halfway up the hill).



  Just a Bit of General Farm Life Stuff
  With the builders offsite indefinitely there's not going to be too much big building progress this month. I just need some catch-up time to get some of the finishings done whenever I can, so the going will be slower.

But without the builders here, farm life for us slows down a bit as well as we find time to enjoy
 
Martie taking the sheep out to graze, accompanied    
by Biscuit and all the sheep dogs    

Keeping heads down formation, dogs on the left, sheep on the right    

Getting a bit closer to the guinea fowl    
the farm, spend a bit more time with the animals and get into gear for our growing season.

Weather-wise, it has been another dry start to our spring season. But looking back at the rainfall stats for the past few years, that's nothing really unusual. Our big rains seem to only start later in the month and we only tend to get our more regular rainfall from mid-October.

The cold front that came through on the second day of the month was quite severe and damaged a lot of the early growth on our fruit trees. The fig trees got especially damaged but we're hoping they will resprout new growth as it warms up again.

Cold front number 6 came through a few days later. This second cold front of the month wasn't as severe and brought with it a whole night of lovely soft rain that only cleared mid-morning the next day. Although we only got 5mm of rain, it was enough to settle all the winter's dust and give us a taste of how quickly a bit of rain can freshen up the dry highveld air.

  Our September Harvest Full Moon rise on the 14th was spectacular. With some light cloud low down on the eastern horizon, the giant moon peered through intermittently to give a great show. Even though it was a day after it reached it's apogee (farthest point from the earth) thus referred to as the "minimoon", due to the "Moon Illusion" (also some interesting reading on the related "Ponzo Illusion") it still looked pretty big when low down on the horizon.
 

  Mini Phoenix Flies Again
  Like the Phoenix rose from the ashes, my Mini Phoenix has again risen from the dust of Kallie's field (second time now!) to fly again. It took a few months to repair this time, but it is finally back in the air and flying just as well as before it's crash.

The saga began towards the end of last summer where I decided to send the model up to take some video footage of an approaching thunderstorm. The launch and climb out was fine in the lovely calm air before the storm but as the model got further away towards the storm front, it lost radio control completely and spiralled down into Kallie's grass field. The damage wasn't too bad but the mystery was why it lost radio control. When I got to the model the control surfaces were twitching madly and even then would not respond to transmitter controls. Then I switched the transmitter off and then on again and noticed that it was set to different model program, but the model's control surfaces were back to normal again. I can only think that the static in the air with the thunderstorm so close caused the transmitter to malfunction. I then flew other models with the same transmitter for a few months with no problems at all.

Anyway, the little yellow and purple Mini Phoenix is finally fixed and flying again. The main delay was trying to find some little imperial thread 4/40 nylon bolts to hold the tail on. The bolts are small and made from nylon so that in case of a crash or hard landing, the bolts can break and not the tail structure. I had run out of the little bolts and they were just not available anywhere any more. I finally gave up on finding them and had to tap the threads in the blind nuts to metric size 3mm and fit 3mm metal bolts to hold the tail on. I'll have to be extra careful on landing now as the model no longer has that little nylon bolt safety feature.

And while the model was sitting broken in the workshop, Caddx released it's version 2 of their Turtle video camera. They improved a few of the features but mainly added sound capture capabilities as well. And as the cable for my version 1 camera was damaged in the crash and I was waiting for the hobby shop to order me a new one, I fitted the version 2 camera to test it.

The first flight wasn't bad but the model seemed to be a little more unstable than I remembered
  it. I checked all the servo mounts and wing/tail angles and they seemed ok and then I remembered I had glued some additional little weights just under the motor to get the centre of gravity correct. They must have come loose and popped out in the crash and after I replaced them, the model then flew just as well as it used to and we were able to do some aerial video again - now with sound!

With the battery in place, not a lot of space for much else in there.
The camera equipment all mounted under in canopy.
   Caddx Turtle Version 2 camera
   colour is now red and it has sound
 

Below, a few of the latest videos. The YouTube links at the end of each descriptive paragraph if you want to see the full screen videos.

  First one is the loss of radio control and final "spiral in" footage where unfortunately the actual crash (the last few seconds of the flight) as the model hit the ground was lost due to something getting disconnected on impact and the video buffer not being able to be written to the SD card - could have made spectacular footage (StormCrash).

Next, just some nice late afternoon flying while the grass on the hills of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve burns in the distance - the smoke actually creating a small cumulus cloud at the inversion layer. Also included a bit of low level flying over the short grass field and the landing (Suikerbosrand Fire Sunset).

Then, on one rather breezy Saturday morning Ken and I tried a bit of model to model aerial videography. Although the Mini Phoenix had enough power to quickly climb above his model to get his model into the video frame, his model was a bit fast and I had to resort to some very rough manoeuvering with the little Mini Phoenix to try and keep up with it. And even though I managed to get the Mini Phoenix fairly close and well positioned just above and behind his model a few times, the wide angle lens of the camera made his model look like it was much further away. We will try again in better weather conditions and try to get Ken to fly slower so I can keep the Mini Phoenix in formation for longer and get it a bit closer to his model (AirtoAir).

Finally, I managed to get out flying a bit little earlier than normal one Saturday afternoon and with some thermal activity still about I thermalled the model really high and got some good high alititude footage of the farm and surrounds. This is about as high as I'm going to be able to go with this little model as at that altitude it was at times difficult to see it's orientation. And that little Mini Phoenix is not the kind of model you can leave alone for too long. It doesn't have much self stabilisation and tends to turn off in whichever direction the wind takes it if left alone - so needs constant correction and "guidance" (High).

   Heading out towards the storm and losing radio control

   Sunset flight with Suikerbosrand burning to the west. A bit of
aerobatics and low fliying as well

   First attempt at air to air videography with Ken

   Launch, climb out and some high altitude footage
   with full airbrake spiral down and landing

  More Veldfires - Suikerbosrand Burns Again
  The fire started on one of the farms on the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve perimeters (also a game farm) and with a strong wind driving it, quickly jumped all firebreaks and spread into the reserve, burning most of the southern slopes of the hills and valley grasslands. With the limited access to the reserve and Parks Department management and Emergency Fire Services almost non-existent, all we could do was listen to the radio calls and monitor the WhatsApp group messages describing the destruction of the fire. Such a pity to lose so much wildlife there to fire.

Driving through the area a week later, although the hill slopes were still charred black, there was green sprouting everywhere on the grassland valleys. A few wildebeest and eland were also spotted grazing on the fresh new shoots. Nature has it's way of bouncing back.

 

  Tea Garden Structure - Toilet Cubicle Door Frames
  Back at the tea garden the woodworking tools were set up at the bathroom end and we began the manufacture of the door frames. Again, our building methods were a bit unorthodox. You normally set up the door frames and then build the walls around them but six steel door frames would have just been too expensive and having the builders build around the wooden frames would have ended up a mess (ruined frames). And then we would also have to use standard doors (also more expense) where I plan to use simple chipboard veneered doors. So we built the toilet cubicle separator walls as straight as I could get the builders to build them and I made the custom door frames from wood and then bolted them into the walls. Lots more work involved with our method as the gaps between the frames and the walls would now have to be filled as well before the walls were painted.

And to make matters even more complicated and time consuming, each door opening was a slightly different size (a bit of sloppy building again) so each frame had to be individually made - and then of course there was six of everything!

But once the manufacturing procedure had been set up, putting the frames together went quite quickly and smoothly. I first cut the sides and tops with the 45 degree angles, ran them through
 
Tea garden bathroom end temporarily woodworking workshop   
the little table saw (bought a nice new 60 tooth saw blade for the job) to cut the rebate and then glued and screwed them together one by one, ensuring they were square with a temporary spacer screwed across the bottom of each frame. The holes for the bolts were then drilled and the frames were sealed with our standard Silkwood Golden Brown wax/oil sealer.

In no time the first frame was fitted and then I moved on tediously to the next five.

 
Above left, first three frames built, centre, painting the frames and above right, first door frame fitted

  Weather Report
 
  Starting with some good stuff - above, as the sun is about to dip below horizon behind one of our taller eucalyptus trees, another spectacular sunset. This was shot just after emerging from a few hours of fitting door frames and filling and finishing walls in the tea garden bathrooms, after it got too dark to see properly in there.

Then the bad stuff - in the last week of the month our cold front number 7 (third cold front this month) came through. It wasn't too severe but cold enough to produce a little frost on the grass. It was driven by rather strong winds and we had to get the jerseys out again and put that extra blanket on the bed for a few nights. It also brought with it some intermittent and varied cloud cover for a day or two but no rain.

   Afternoon heavy cloud to the north - looks like someone got a bit of rain

   Evening huge cumulus clouds to the east - more rain for someone out there

  Growing and Blooming
 
Relaxed midmorning teatime with Martie    

Getting a bit big for the doggie basket now    
Spring has sprung and the daytime temperatures are rising, despite the two cold fronts coming through this month. But we're now over halfway into September and since our last rains at the end of April, we've only had the 5mm of rain that came with the first cold front earlier in the month. All the animals and plants
    Isn't she just too cute?!
are waiting with great anticipation for the first real summer thundershower.

On the farm animal side, our little goat kid Biscuit is now fully grown. And although when she's really thirsty she'll drink water from the sheep trough and dog's bowls, she still loves to drink her water from the bottle - seems to keep her and Martie "close". She's always hanging around the kitchen getting up to mischief when not out grazing.

One day we put the dog basket out on the wall outside the kitchen to air and she decided to climb into it for her midmorning nap - made us suddenly realise how big she was getting.

  Zorro the orphan lamb is not quite fully grown yet, but is big enough to hang out with the rest of the sheep for most of the days now, although still sleeps in the kitchen with the dogs at night.
 
Zorro drinking his water from the bottle    

When out on walks or grazing alone, we just have to laugh when he realises Martie is out of sight and bleats blue murder until Martie either calls to him or he sees her again. She's his "mommy" and he still needs the sheep security of knowing she's close by.

He's also fully weaned now but also still likes to drink his water from the bottle in the evenings and early mornings. He's a bit of a clumsy lamb and very rough when drinking. So much so that he often knocks the bottle right out of Martie's hand. We've also taught
him to wee wee by leading him onto the grass and tapping him on the back with the words "wee wee" and I'm sure he recognises and knows his name as he always answers Martie back with a special "grunt-bleat" whenever she calls him by name.
   Zorro - extremely lovable lamb

 
Eucalyptus trees suddenly very green
Then on to that spring fauna - on the forest edges we're noticing how suddenly the eucalyptus trees are dark green again. It's a slow spring season process and you don't really notice it happening until everything is fully green.

The forest floor and driveway are also thick with eucalyptus leaves that were shed from the trees during the winter months. We have to be so careful with our fires and are on constant fire watch for fires on nearby farms. Those leaves are highly flamable and even though dried, they still seem to have a very high flamable oil content.

Just can't wait for that first big rain where the forest floor and trees give off that musty eucalyptus smell as you walk through it and the forest floor is soft and squishy underfoot.

The clivia plants in the driveway garden are also in full bloom again this year. That poor driveway garden doesn't get much water (out of sight, out of mind) but a few of the plants are now well established and manage to survive the drought periods between watering. The small patch of colour stands out strikingly in the foresty driveway.
   Clivias in bloom

 
First almond nut on the pumphouse trees   

Blooms on the log fence gate acacias    
Most of the fruit trees are doing well (we may lose one or two - but still a bit early to take any drastic measures) and those that have blossomed all have little fruits developing on them. Of particularly interest to us are the almond trees up at the pumphouse - they both had blossoms but now the one has a few fruits/nuts developing - only two or three but it's our first almonds.

Our four monkey thorn acacia trees around the lapa (the ones we thought were paperbark acacias) normally only shoot their leaves very late in spring and we're seeing the first signs of life there now.

But our other two acacias at the log fence gate shoot their leaves very early in spring and are already bushy with fresh green leaves. And for the first time they are blooming. By the looks of the leaves, thorns and blooms, we think they are probably the common hook thorn acacias but we'll only be able to confirm for sure when the little seed pods develop.

Spring is a wonderful time of the year, but we really need some rain now.

 
The two acacia trees at our log fence gate survived the winter and getting nice and big now   

  Tea Garden Structure - Sealing Bathroom Walls
  With all the door frames now fitted, the next job in the tea garden bathrooms was to mask off all the wooden frames and fill in between the frames and the walls. For this I used a thick premixed skim - it fills the bigger gaps and smooths nicely with a brush.

Once that was done I moved on to the other walls and there I used the O'Grady's roll-on skim. It seems to seal the raw plaster on the wall as good as plaster primer, fills all the little plaster holes and cracks and can be floated with a steel float if a really smooth finish is required. I was looking for a textured finish, so brushing it on with downward strokes did the job perfectly. But as it was quite a thick "paint" and the walls were rough, it was rather hard on the paint brush (not to mention the wrist and arms!).

We had also selected and bought enough ceramic tiles for the project as we had already decided to tile the cubicles up to window sill height and much of the bathroom walls around the basins, almost everything to the same window sill height. This meant it was only really the tops of the walls that needed to be sealed and painted, so using the more expensive skim product wasn't too bad on the pocket.
   One of the toilet cubicles so far
Trusty old brush now worn out   
This was a very time consuming part of the project as we had to work around the total of 10 little windows. But it's all done now and some of the cubicles even have their first coat of final colour paint already on.


  Excess Grass and the Driveway
  Leno never did come and fetch the grass we cut for him in the front yard. We ended up packing as much of the "good stuff" as we could into bags for feed for our sheep and were reluctant to
 
Above left, the forest driveway cov
and above right, working from the f

ered with dry eucalyptus leaves,   
ront gate, covering it with grass   
just leave the rest laying around there. It would be a fire hazard and would hinder the new grass growth when the first rains came. So we decided to just use it to cover the driveway.

Although also creating a bit of a fire hazard there, at least it will be quickly broken down by the cars driving over it continually. It would also help us with the wear and tear on the driveway by preserving the sand so that we don't lose it to dust and have it wash away when the first heavy rains come. It was a lot of work raking and loading the grass onto many bakkie loads and then spreading it over the driveway, but all done now.


  Last Sunset of the Month
  And to end off a very weather turbulent month, here's the sunset from the last day. If nothing else, the weird weather is really producing some amazing sunsets and as the sun's arc moves higher across our skies and more to the south, the sunrises and sunsets move across to rise and set over different trees and land features on the farm.