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Pebblespring Farm (Port Elizabeth South Africa - 34 deg South)  RSS feed

 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Pebblespring is a 10 hectare site, 20km west of the Port Elizabeth City centre.

Port Elizabeth has a population of 1.1 million people. My wife and I took ownership of the this property about a month ago and it is our intention to turn it into a small mixed farm.

The property is a beautiful combination of forest, pasture and wetland, but it has been abandoned for more that thirty years and is need of a lot of work.

It is off the grid
It has no liveable structure
it has no fences on two sides
we have just built a (very bumpy) access road to the house

My wife and I both work in the City and are at this stage trying to achieve what need to be done in between work and family.

I come to this forum to share my experiences and to seek encouragement from people on the forum who may help us feel a little less lonely in what we are trying to do.

I record as much as I can on my blog, where we also talk about the long road we walked to get to Pebblespring farm.

My attempt will be to keep this forum up to date with our project as we progress.
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Mark Thomas
Posts: 23
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
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Good luck! Looks like a huge project esp as it seems you not living there yet.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Thanks Mark. It's kind of a Catch 22 I suppose. Its very hard going because we are not yet living there. We are not yet living there because the place is not livable. The place is not yet livable because we are not spending enough time getting it right. We are not spending enough time getting it right because we are not yet living there. Step by step I suppose.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Dam and Driveway
I am still a bit upset about the three cattle we lost. I know I could have avoided it. The spray I got from the vet, really cleared up this ticks on the remaining three and they are looking much better.

We had the TLB (tractor, loader backhoe) out again yesterday. Doing some more work on the dam wall which doubles as the access road. Basically what we are doing is excavating the material that has silted up the dam and using that to raise the level of the dam wall. Problem is, we made more progress than we thought we would yesterday and about a metre of wet sand was added to the dam wall over about a 15 m length. That depth of soil will take a while to dry out, so we cant drive on it yet. No big deal, except, I had parked my car at the cottage and now cant get it out. I had to phone Hlubi to come and pick us up and take us home.

Perhaps the road will be dry enough by Tuesday. When I checked it today, it was sill so muddy, that I couldn't walk over it. Its like sinking sand in places. I am sure though it will be OK once it dries. We excavated the same soil last time and it dried out OK for us to drive on.


I have been spending my mornings for the last few days reading Wendell Berry's "Unsettling of America". What he says really resonated with me and plays over in my mind. Even when I was working with the dam wall yesterday I was reflecting on what Berry speaks of as a "nurturing" spirit as opposed to the spirit of conquest. I can see what we are doing at Pebblespring seeks to nurture, but when we bring heavy machinery on site, it is nerve racking. Perhaps it feels to close to "Conquest". This property has been so badly neglected. It has gone to ruin. If the idea is that we nurture it in order that is can, in return, provide for us, then we will have to begin with some drastic "surgery" But what I call drastic is nowhere near what my neighbours are advising "bulldoze the whole thing flat", "burn it all down".

There is a gentle, more nurturing way. I will find it.
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Sean King
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So glad you are doing permaculture in South Africa. I was born in Port Elizabeth moved to America Spetember 2013. Will come see what you are doing when I reutrn home if you allow me
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Sean,

I look forward to showing you around when you're back I PE.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Update from Pebble Spring Farm:

It was my first day back at work today after a four day long weekend which started with "Workers day" on Thursday 1 May. I spent much of my worker's day weekend working. Physical work, cutting trees, hauling branches, digging, holes, building fences and fixing quad bikes. Physical work is for me a kind of meditation. I am sure that's not the right term, but its something that is good for me. It makes me feel alive and somehow "in touch". Working outside, with the land and the forest has a very different feeling to "working" at my desk in the office, where I am invariably, writing or designing, or delegating or managing or strategising or cajoling or apologising or berating. In fact I am no longer sure that "working" is the correct term for what I do in the office, or for what millions of white collar workers do around the world in offices just like mine every day. There is such a disconnectedness between my actions in my office and anything actually getting done physically in the real world. So much of the office energy goes toward complying with government and bureaucracy. So much energy goes into delegating what I have been tasked with to someone who will delegate to still someone else who will delegate to someone else. So much energy we put in to avoid doing any real work. Years and years of study and building our careers to be sure that we are as far as possible away from being called upon to do any physical work, and for what? Because when I am there, on the ground, wrestling the chainsaw or hammering the nail or straining the wire, it is glorious, it is satisfying
and I am in a place that I want to be.

Is it just me?
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160cc Suzuki Quadrunner. A useful companion when trying to get some physical work done.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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I spent a great day out at Pebblespring. The morning was really beautiful after the rain yesterday. The skies were clear and there was a kind of silence that sounds different to there just being no noise. I did some work preparing pasture on the road side of the stream. The grazing is good there, but in order to run the temporary electric fence there, some work needed doing in clearing a new path through the forest. I am careful when cutting a new path to only cut alien invasive trees. In fact most of the bush in that area is Port Jackson, with a bit of Poplar thrown in, but there is a surprising amount of indigenous stuff fighting its way through. My objective is to help get this indigenous bush back on its feet.

In the afternoon the whole family came out. We made a braai. It was great. But now I am back home. Had my shower, now drinking my coffee, also great.

I was reading Wendell Berry's "Unsettling of America" this morning. The chapter spoke of marginal land and how much marginal land is abandoned in the US because it is just not profitable for big "Agribusiness" to work it property.

Pebblespring is like that. Abandoned, when we found it, not farmed for so many years because, its marginal. The slopes are too steep and the marsh to wet for big equipment. And its too small to make sense as a significant " Agri Investment', But perhaps, if I am running an experiment here, one of the things I am looking for an answer to is:

Is there something useful, beneficial and sustainable that can be done with Marginal land like this?

But there are other questions:


Can I support my family on a piece of land like Pebblespring?
Can I carry on my career as an architect and make a success of Pebblespring?
Is there enough time for both?
Can I really make my family comfortable off the grid?
Can I support and enhance bi-diversity while still making the landscape productive?


These questions float through my mind as I wield the chainsaw in the forest or drag branches to the heap. I think about many things. I think about what the land must have looked like long ago. Before the Dutch came. Was it all forest or what there some grassland? My neighbours speak about elephant bones they have dug up on their land. It must have been vibrant and diverse. What did the Dutch farmers (and the Irish after them) do? Did they cut the forest for timber, did they just burn it for pasture? How did the Khoi Khoi pastoralists use the land? How did they interact with the forest? Did they burn for pasture? I am interested in all of this, because I am still trying to formulate the picture in my mind of what I am trying to direct, to steward Pebblespring to become. Like the artist of a giant landscape painting or a landscape sculpture, except this is a living sculpture, an edible landscape, a practical beneficial landscape, but a landscape which holds and captures the mystery of beauty.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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I am quite sure I have more people popping in to the farm over the weekend "just driving past" that I have at my house in Walmer. I think its fantastic. I think its curious. Its definitely something about the rural setting that reminds us about being civilised, about being friendly, about being helpful, about being neighbourly. This interests me.

I spent this morning with the chainsaw again. This time working along the stream, from the dam wall toward the Oak tree. Most of what I was cutting though was Ink Berry. I cuts very easily. The Idea is to cut a path so that I can run the temporary electric fence through as I have done elsewhere. Slowly, slowly, I am beginning to make the land accessible. Beginning to make it manageable, beginning to put myself into a position where I am able to help the land achieve the "fullness of it health".

I have set myself the objective of achieving the "fullest possible health" for this land. What does that even mean? Perhaps my objective for the land is the same as my objective for me and for my family. The fullest possible personal health. The fullest possible family health. "Health" is the correct term to use when setting an "Holistic Goal" for the land (as Alan Savory would suggest we do). "Health" instead of efficiency, or productivity, instead of profitability. "Health" because the land is a living system. It's an organism, really, and if it healthy it is much more likely to be to us, efficient, profitable and productive.

I did some work on the dam yesterday. Introducing a "collar"


The basic idea is to draw the water into the overflow from a little bit below the surface so as not to drain the dam of its most oxygenated, warmed water. (or its duckweed) This simple device will make the dam healthier!
 
Miles Flansburg
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Timothy, I am really enjoying the way you write about your project. This thread is becoming one of my favorites!
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Miles. Thanks for the encouragement. (I often wonder if anybody reads these at all!)
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Miles Flansburg
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Well at the bottom , middle, of the page it says it has been viewed 205 times so far.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Miles, Thanks for that. Still new here and only noticed that now.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5865
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman wrote:Miles. Thanks for the encouragement. (I often wonder if anybody reads these at all!)


...looking forward to more...I enjoy this thread also
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Thanks Judith. I had meant to post this yesterday.

(This column first appeared in the Weekend Post n 24 May 2014)


I was planning to write this column on Workers Day (1 May), but I was too busy working. Make no mistake, I took the public holiday. Like everybody else, I was out of the office, but I was physically working with my gumboots and my chainsaw, clearing alien vegetation that has come to clog up the dam and the stream. Call me crazy, but I love to do physical work. I love the feeling of using my muscles, my arms and my legs. I love the rhythm of thinking and doing. I love the feeling of physical exhaustion in the evening. I love the supper time retelling of the achievements of the day and I Iove the deep satisfied sleep that follows it. It seems strange to me therefore, that I have put so much time and effort in my life to ensure that I don’t have to do any physical work at all. My twelve years of schooling in maths, literature, history and science required no “doing”, no lifting or pushing. It did though; prepare me for another five years of study at University which would eventually deliver to me the degrees I required to become an Architect and be guaranteed of never having to push a wheel barrow, thrust a spade into the ground or cut firewood.
On leaving University, life as a young professional was clear, nobody ever handed out a rulebook, but the understanding was that we must put in time at the office to earn our money, but if we put in too much time we will break down, so we must take some of that money to buy “leisure”. That leisure must not involve doing anything productive or meaningful. We may choose from a vast array on mindless sporting or cultural pursuits. We may participate or spectate. If the mindlessness of the leisure becomes unbearable, we may numb ourselves with alcohol, sugar or nicotine. This is just how it is.
I can see how in the headlong rush to get to the ‘top of my game” I have moved further and further in my career, away from actually doing any work. Like lifting a pencil, to sketch a chimney detail or calculating the fall and cover of a drainage installation. All of that is “outsourced”, because that is the law of competition and the law of competition says that, if I am an expert at running an architectural practice, I can’t be “wasting” my time actually being an Architect. I must spend my time delegating , checking what others have done, motivating, admonishing, fighting with debtors, apologising to creditors because that’s what we do when we get to the top of our game.
Does any of this ring true for you in your life? Perhaps, what each of us needs to do is sit back and look at the route we have walked to get where we are in our careers. Each of us needs to get down and do the dirty work of thinking through how we have been conditioned to look down on anyone doing physical work. Even in our homes, when we can’t resist the instinct to get our hands in the soil that we are married to, we make every attempt to dress up our gardening activities as “leisure”. We call gardening a “hobby”; we don’t call it “work”. When we can absolutely not resist the instinct to grow fruit and vegetables, a productive pursuit, we hide these away in the back yard.
So, what I am doing in my life about my dysfunctional relationship with work? I suppose, I am slowly beginning to participate, wherever I can, in actually doing stuff. I am also looking for family traditions and practices that involve real work, even if it just taking the time to cook the mother’s day meal. Some families in our region are fortunate to belong to a tradition where work is still honoured. If you drive through the streets of New Brighton or NU 7, on any given Saturday you will find clan groups participating in “Imisibenzi” (literally translated as “works”). These traditional functions mark a range of special occasions, but what is interesting, is that everybody attending the function, works. From the slaughtering of the beast, to the processing of the meat to the brewing of the beer and the peeling of the carrots. Hosts and guests work together. Honouring tradition and honouring the idea of work and how it is in fact not separate from leisure. To a lesser degree, but not entirely dissimilar, on any given Sunday in the suburban backyards of Summerstrand and Sherwood we find family groups around the braai (barbacue), spicing the meat, turning it on the flames. The hosts and the guests working together, some in the kitchen with the potato salad and toasted sandwiches and others outside with the chops and the wors (sausage). These are important traditions to hold onto, where the tendency is toward the American situation where 43% of all meals are no longer prepared at home and where work is generally regarded as something you sell in exchange for cash.
So more and more I come to see that any activity that helps me understand that work is not separate from leisure and that work is more than just a commodity for sale, is where I want to be spending my time.
In fact, I think I am going to braai (barbacue) tonight. It’s the least I can do!
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Its been really cold this week. Winter has come in a big way. While there is lots of rain, I can see that the grass is not growing without the heat an the light it needs.

But the big news is that, we now have bees. Yip. The swarm was moved out there on Tuesday night after work. It was a swarm that we had caught in a "catcher box" at our home in Walmer. The bees tried to make a nest in an air vent in my workshop toward the end of last year. We called the bee keeper and they came and set up a box which the swarm promptly moved into. We have a swarm almost every year in Walmer and every year we call the beekeeper to catch it. So for years he has been taking it away somewhere else. This year we took it to Pebblespring Farm. My sister says its an omen of sorts. "The Bees will seek out their beekeeper" she says.

Well, if I am the beekeeper that this swarm has been seeking, I am afraid that they have found a beekeeper that is not very ready for them at all. I don't feel ready to take on bees, it was not at the top of the list of things I wanted to get done.

To be honest it all feels like a bit too much. I am not getting nearly enough progress on the cottage, let alone the construction of the new house. Its a complicated dance. I have to keep my professional life going so I can bring the cash in for the project. The more time I spend in the office the more I am too exhausted to think of the farm. The more time I spend on the farm the more I begin to worry that I wont be able to bring the money I need to do what needs doing on the farm.

But for better or for worse we have now employed Mandoza full time on the farm. Monday to Friday, earning weekly wages. Mandoza is able to make his way to and from the farm and does not rely on me for transport this is a big advantage.

He has spent the week clearing up mostly trees and branches that have been cut making the driveway and other paths. It will take a long time. the site is big and out resources are limited.

But perhaps this farm has been to me like a swarm of bees finding its beekeeper. It has come to me "ready or not" in fact quite a bit more not than ready. Perhaps, as an experiment I should just trust that idea and go with it for a while. What's the worst that could happen?
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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For me, it has always been about design. Well I suppose not always, but for a long while. Even today as I cut away the brambles, trudged through the marsh and dragged dead branches away from the driveway, it is about design.

My career has been about design.

Pebblespring is about design.

I have learned from clever people that words point to a truth, but they are in themselves not the truth, so when I say I believe in "design" I may mean something different to a fashion designer friend or a structural engineer friend saying these words. Because, in truth, I have come to see that there is some magic dimension to design. (and I suppose by "magic" I really mean something that is very difficult to put into words) I will talk a little more about "magic" later, but let me explain what I call "design":


To me, Design is more than problem solving
To me, Design takes stock of what we have and reconfigures it into something much more
To me, Design finds beauty in the re-configuration.
To me, Design finds its order and its harmony in the relationship between the parts that make up the whole.(the parts "speak" to each other and inform their nature, their form and their position.)
To me, Design is always about the configuring of the whole, it can never just be the part.


The "magic" though is that in any loose arrangement of parts there already exists a higher harmony and a higher order. There exists beauty!

Beauty is beyond science. There is no mechanism to quantify the amount of beauty that exists in a rose or a sunset. Beuaty is qualitative not quantitative. But, beauty exits. When you sit by yourself overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunset, you are not bullshitting yourself, you really are experiencing the beauty of the sunset. It exists. It is true. It just cant be measured.

So, it seems to me as if though the design,.... the beauty, exists before I sit down with the fragmented parts. It requires a still and receptive mind on my part to spend time with these parts to give each of them the "voice" they need to find their role in the new whole. As the designer, I am facilitating the parts toward their higher self in the new whole.

I know its sounds a little spacey, but its difficult to put into words a process that goes on in my head when the design process is going as I like it to go. And by the way it very seldom goes the way I would like it to go. In the work I do in the office as an Architect everyday, there are so many perfectly normal businesses reasons that make it impossible for the design process to go as I would like it to. But still, from time to time we are able to step beyond even these limitations and get some good work done.

At Pebblespring right now I am getting to know and understand the parts that make up the whole. I am getting to understand what their existing relationships are and what they could be. I am in a stage of observation, yes I have done some work, sometimes subtracting parts, like the poison Inkberry trees that kill the cattle, and sometimes adding parts, like a roof over the old cottage to stop the rain from melting away the sun dried bricks.

Every system is a living system. Pebblespring Farm is a living system. So if I change something, by addition or subtraction, it reacts, it adapts. I, as the designer, must be there to observe the reaction learn from it and correct my design and approach if necessary. I must remain concious and aware.

I cannot see that it is useful in this project, or in any project, to arrive with a pre-conceived notion plucked from Top Billing or Cosmo or the latest trip to the Seychelles. That, to me, is a different process and needs a different word to describe it. Not "design". But I suppose this is the limitation of language!
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Sundays, for me, are for sitting silently. For reflecting. For taking it all in. And today was a lovely Sunday. The sun was out . It was windless. But in that quiet time today it seemed, for the first time, as if everything was beginning to add up. Beginning to make sense and that all the bits were beginning to talk to each other.

I have told you before that I have not really full understood what has driven me to buy Pebblespring farm.
It has been a compulsion that would not let me go. It is something that I have had to do because I know that the regret of having not bought it would be far greater that the sorrow of having tried and failed. But having bought the place, I have been left wondering. What now? Where will I find the money? Where will I find the time? By doing this, am I really doing the best that I can do for my family? and what of my career? Is it not just too weird that this architect would rather spend time with his cattle, his gumboots and his chainsaw than "networking" on the golf course or the banks of the Krom River? If I seem certain to those around me, it is an illusion, because I am constantly in doubt. I am constantly questioning the wisdom of what I am doing.

But today was different. Today I felt certain. Today I knew that for me it has always been about one thing.Today I could see clearly that in fact I have been dabbling over the years in aspects of the same idea. Today, I see that, more than anything else, I demand for myself.... FREEDOM.

Perhaps this burning for freedom came from the time when my freedom was taken from me. When I was locked behind those high fences in training camps and on parade grounds. For two years in the eighties, everyday when I woke up I would think of the time when I would be free. I did not even really know that I was free before that freedom was taken from me. They took my clothes, they took my hair, they told me where and when I would sleep, what I would eat, when I would eat. When I could sit, when I could stand. They told me how I should walk and what clothes I must wear. I had no freedom to choose anything. In the AngolanBorder war, in the Townships under siege, I was not free. I was a pawn in their game. But then out of the army to University in the late eighties, I immediately disregarded thoughts of my on freedom, and what felt like to have lost it. I got caught up in the sense of doing the right thing about the ending Apartheid. I took it very seriously, even though the little protests and campaigns we ran were of such a little impact so as to be meaningless in any lasting way.

As I come to the professional world and my first job, I did not last long . After two short years I could see that this was not for me and I opted for the freedom of going into practice for my own account. Yes, I was free, but I was now married and compelled to earn the money required of a marriage. As the practice grew, I came into partnership with others who would help me to work on ever larger and larger jobs. Things were busy, there was no time to think about freedom. Bigger offices, bigger projects and bigger payrol.

And this is where I am now. I have built a business for myself. It gives me a lot of things, but it does not give me freedom. Its is my own fault of course. I have built up around me a family who has become addicted to the money that is brought in from my practice. I love them and I would not have it any other way. But that does not make me free.

But when I am on the farm on a beautiful morning like today, I see a hint. A faint glimmer. A possibility of freedom. A life not without work. A life not outside of society. But a life that does not require me to "keep afloat" a company that pays the salaries of so many people. A life that does not require my to do business with mindless state and corporate machines. Machines that are necessary, if our world chooses to continue as it does, but that are mindless, and need to be mindless in order to function at the scale that they do. This faint glimmer tells me that I do not have to forget about freedom after all. That it can be achieved and that it can be real.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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I went to watch the Rugby yesterday. South Africa played Scotland. The stadium is beautiful and its always nice to visit there. Of course I am grateful to the people that invite me to these things and for the food and the booze and all the hospitality that goes with it.


I try my best to get in the spirit, but yesterday, like with most of these type of events, I felt that I had disappointed my hosts by not getting more into it. And its not really something that's changed recently, to be honest I have never really felt part of the "crowd". I do try. I do put in effort but, for reasons I don't completely understand, I don't feel what I see many people around me are feeling. Are they faking it? Are they really interested in who scores, or who comes out of the scrum first, or whether the ball is kicked over the poles to add an extra two points to the scoreline? Are they really thrilled that the Mexican Wave has gone twice around the stadium without stopping? I do try to fake it. But most of all it just makes me sad and confused to know that I am having to fake it.

All I see is thousands and thousands of people hypnotised and hysterical; falling hook line and sinker for a massive corporate marketing exercise. It is my fascination with the scale of this hypnosis and the willingness with which we embrace it that plays in my mind over and over while pretending to watch the game.

But at least I did manage to get out to the farm this morning. It really looks to me as if though the brown heifer is pregnant, her genitals seem to be swolen and oversized, he udders seem to have enlarged, she seems be dragging her hind legs a little and every now and then she arches her tail as if though she is about to poop. She is a heifer still and this will be her first calf, but I really don't have the experience to be able to tell. I will keep watching carefully.

We have made progress with week with stripping down the interior of the "north room" I was hoping that we could just scrape off the flaking paint, but on the west wall (where the prevailing wind and rain come from) the plaster has had to come off as well.If I can get this room into a habitable state I can begin to sleep over there (at very least for weekends) and get a bit more done. I would really like to be able to really get into the house repair project and commit some real time to it. The experience I had with the builder there was not a good one. I know it will take longer, but I would prefer to do it myself.




I plan to take some leave from the office in the next week or two. I will use that time to make a big push forward.
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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As I sit inside, warm against the weather, I can hear the winter rain falling lightly outside.The fields are green, but it has not been that wet. I can monitor how wet it has been by the level of the Kragga-Kamma lake I drive past on the way to the farm.

Pebblespring farm has no municipal water. It has no electrical connection. It has no sewer connection. This is of course no a problem yet, because no one is living there full time. But we will.

In the meantime, the cattle need water and the trees we have potted need water and for this we have installed two water tanks. First a 1 kl tank and then a 5 kl tank. From these tanks I run draglines (very strong and flexible 25 mm diameter black plastic pipe) to the cattle feeding troughs that I have made by cutting in half a 200l barrel.

This has been relatively easy to achieve. For now at least all the pasture that I have accessed is at a lower level than the watertank, so I can gravity feed the water. No pumping required. The pasture that is furthest away (and where the cattle are grazing this week) cant be reached by the 100m dragline. For now, until I get around to buying more dragline, I bring water to this pasture in the wheelbarrow carrying a 25l container. I suppose it depends which way you look at it. Some of us will think its a real pain in the ass to trudge up and down in the biting winter wind pushing a reluctant wheelbarrow across lumpy pasture. But those same number among us, find it quite normal, acceptable and pleasurable to drive clear across town to pay for the privileged of battling against sweaty gym equipment designed to give just the correct amount of resistance and strain to mimic pushing a heavy wheel barrow across lumpy pasture. Like with most things its the story I tell myself about whats going on that is more powerful to me than the actual circumstance. Its the meaning I give to what I do that makes it pleasurable or painful. Even pain is not that bad, when I am able to develop a story that makes the pain appropriate.US Marines have a saying "Pain is the sensation caused by weakness leaving the body". Absolute bullshit of course, no hard science at work here, but I marvel at the hundreds of thousands of Marines that would have found push-ups that much more bearable because of that "story".

Anyway, I really did not want to let you to sidetrack me with the wheelbarrow. I wanted to talk about rainwater and "Off The Grid" stuff. Because, I really can see how we have become caught in the idea that supplying our homes with running water is an incredibly complicated thing that we can only achieve at the mercy of a massive bloated Municipality, with teams of engineers and armies of unionised workers. If running water intimidates some of us, then electricity send the rest of us running for the hills. Surely the only possible way to get light into our living room, heat the bathwater, roast the chicken and play "Days of Our Lives" on the TV, is to build massive multi billion dollar coal powered fire stations thousands of kilometres away in Limpopo province?

You see, I have got a sneaky suspicion that is just not that complicated to go "off the grid". Of course those that make a living out of selling electricity and piped water continue to work very hard to convince us that "Off the Grid", is the domain of hippies, homeless and hillbillies. Perhaps all the propaganda is completely spot on. Perhaps there is no other way than for us to trek to the office day after day, to earn the salary to pay the taxes to fund the massive infrastructure that will be able to sell to us, at inflated rates, the water and electricity we need to carry on our civilised existence. Yes, they may be right, but there is a small possibility, a minute chance that the experiment that I am slowly getting going with, can show that I can set up reasonably easily am off the grid water and power system that can keep me and my family comfortable enough for us to continue in the experiment.

My promise is to take you along with me. Let you in to all the steps, all the mistakes. Maybe we will learn together that we are not quite ready for this, or maybe we will learn that many others can easily copy me. This experiment is not trying to establish whether the technology exists to go off the grid. The technology has been available since the sixties. This we know. My experiment is a personal one and a family one. It has to do with my budget, my family's consumption patterns, our climate's demands on heating and cooling. The experiment is also very specific to the site. I have the advantage of not having any existing services connection to the site. So I am able to compare the cost of bringing these connections to the site to the cost of rainwater systems and Photo Voltaic in and wind turbines. Even the fact that we will be starting a house from scratch means that we can make choices that reduce our electrical load. We can orient a new house to harvest daylight. We can manipulate geometry to shade the house in the summer months but to gain the warmth of the winter sun. We can manipulate building materials to keep the warmth in in winter and out in summer. We are able to make choices like cooking and heating with the wood that is plentiful on the farm or heating bathwater with a solar geyser. All of the these choices may not be immediately available to many of you reading this because you are living in a house built when people did not really think about this kind of stuff, where the idea of ripping out an expensive (inefficient) piece of equipment, to be replaced with another (less inefficient) expensive piece of equipment is a lot more difficult than mine would be where I am starting from scratch. But you are welcome to come along with me an follow our progress.

In the meantime, tonight, the rain is filling my water tanks free of charge and free of fluoride : )
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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What a luck for me to be interested in growing exactly the same things that I love to eat!

I love Rump Steak, I love bacon and eggs, I love nuts and berries, I lover cheese and tomato omelettes with fresh coriander. I love fresh cream in my coffee. I lover roast chicken, I love chicken soup. I love green bean stew with tender lamb. I love thick creamy yoghurt. I love smoked fish. Steamed spinach with feta cheese, baked sweet potato with melted butter.Cabbage fried in butter with garlic and black pepper. Biltong, Olives, Blue cheese.

And what a further luck that the scientific community is slowly catching up tot he fact that these things are actually really good for us. Thanks to Prof. Tim Noakes, I have had the confidence to eat this way for the last two an a half years. (for about two years before that already, I had given up bread because it really just messed with my gut). Noakes calls this High Fat Low Carb diet "Banting", in reference to a fat London guy, more than a hundred years ago, who cut out carbohydrates, eating fat, veg and protein to loose a significant amount of weight and probably saving his life in the process.

For me, it just makes sense. I feel a lot better, Within six months of starting to eat this way, I was lighter than I had been in 10 years and was running faster than I had in 20. What is interesting to me though is that to this day I still have some reluctance or hesitance about eating the amount of fat that I have now come to understand in necessary to remain healthy. I suppose this is because I, like you reading this, was brought up with the belief that fat was bad and would give me a heart attack. What is even more interesting though is to find that idea that fat is bad is actually a recently new notion. It is an idea introduced by a scientist in the 1950's. This scientist selected data from 6 countries that showed that in countries that ate more fat, there was a higher incidence of heart disease. He did not show that fat caused the heart disease, but that just was enough "science" to get people dreaming up new markets for the massive excesses of grain and sugar that had resulted out of the massive commercialisation of agricultural land in the US after World War 2. I mean, we had been eating bacon and eggs for ever before the Kellogs Corporation convinced us that is was a better idea to eat a bowl full of reconstituted processed maize for breakfast.

What I am interested in is where ideas come from, that end up playing a role in our lives, sometimes devastating roles in our lives. Many people have died of diabetes and cardio-vascular disease because of ideas that have caught on and spread through our society. Very often these ideas are based on the flimsiest of science. Looking back its so easy to see that it really stupid to smoke, that slavery is not an option and that women are actually just as good as voting as men are (or aren't) The point though is that at the time when these (now unpopular) practices were widespread, all kinds of science was hauled out to defend them.

That's in the past and I am not that interested to dissect all of that, but what about now? What about today?what beliefs do we hold that may be dangerous? What beliefs do we hold that are not supported by the facts? Let me make an example of some of my beliefs:


I hold a belief that I need to earn big money every month to keep my family happy.
I hold the belief that my life will not change either way whether Germany or Argentina win the World Cup.
I hold the belief that I must remain faithful to my wife in order for me to remain happy
I hold the belief that if I keep working hard, it will all work out.
I hold the belief that bribery and corruption can not form part of a sustainable business.
I hold the belief that this country is the best place for me to be and that it will all be ok

But which of these beliefs will be blown out of the water as clear facts emerge in the next five or ten years? So I say to myself, "be wary of belief" and in the absence of belief, I keep an open mind and while having an open mind, I know that my path is to pass the days doing what I love. I choose not to wait for the scientists to catch up to me in five years time with confirmation of what I knew was right for me all along. We don't have enough time to wait for them. But we do have the time, every day, to be silent with ourselves to hear what we have to say. We speak to ourselves through our preferences, our tastes, our likes, our dislikes our arousals and our cravings. These voices cannot lie to us if we take the time to listen out for them. If we take the time to cancel out the noise and the clutter, we will hear our own voice.

About this there can be no doubt.
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Sue Rine
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Hi Timothy. Paul's email has just alerted me to your thread and I love it. We've been through a similar process and thinking to that which you're going through. And of course, it never really finishes. We have a farm which, for years was leased out. We came and camped at weekends with our young children and planted trees and fixed or built fences. After a few years we moved a two room cabin on, which made our weekends a bit more comfortable and meant we took less time to get set up when we came out. Eventually we extended and upgraded the cabin and moved out fulltime. Our 4 children ranged in age from 7-13. We had no power at the cabin we had solar and wind power at a shed, about 300 metres away. There we ran a freezer and washing machine, and , eventually, a Tv and computer. We ended up living there for 4yrs before we had a new, 'real' passive solar house to live in. Those 4 years were precious and did good things for family relationships even though the children were sceptical at the time.
You're not crazy, Timothy. Go where your heart and thinking are taking you. And, when you have time, keep writing. It's great.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Sue, Thanks for you encouragement. Its lonely sometimes. It really is like a journey. I know I am moving forward, but I don't exactly know where i will end up or how long it may take me.
 
Elaine Fike
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We used to cut and burn the port Jackson but it just seemed to grow even more viralent. A farmer told us to cut and stack the cuttings in a pile. Mice and insects eat the seed and over time you start to win the race...good luck Boet
 
Elaine Fike
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Your land has potential. Depending on its placement you may be able to get both wind as well as solar generated electricity. You mentione a stream. If the stream has its origins in a spring on the farm you are very luck. It will hopefully keep on flowing during the periods of drought that P.E. Is renouned for. The fact that the land has not been touched for so long is fantastic as you assured that indecticides and every other "cide" have not been used on the land is all that time. Link up to local farmers and they will tell you about stock sicknesses etc.predominant in the area and what to look out for. As for the farm being hilly...there's plenty of info on this site about berns and swales etc that will assist you. Keep on going a step at a time. You are building something very special for the future of your family. As you often heard on the radio in days gone by :Vasbyte!
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
Posts: 140
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Thanks Elaine,

I appreciate the encouragement.

Yes we have a spring on our property that feeds the stream.

We are very lucky.

The old people say that the spring has no dried as far back as they can remember (they can remember as far back as the 1950's)

I have been stacking the Port Jackson with the intention to burn, but perhaps I should just leave it until it rots away. (better for soil)

The cattle also love Port Jackson if I cut it for them.

 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Sue,

I don not see Paul's email.

Would you mind pasting it here?

thanks
 
ronie dee
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Location: NW MO
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Walt Whitman meets Henry David Thoreau. "Leaves of Grass" mixed with "Walden," yet with a modern twist. (Your city job/position contrasted with your country outlook and life.) Your posts read like prose and poetry. I would be honored to edit the English version of your book when you write it. In the meantime I'm humbled and honored to read your posts here. Living sometimes the only book we have time to write. Tim, thank you for sharing your life here. Ronie
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Ronie, Thanks for these generous words.
 
David Manley
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Location: Mossel Bay South Africa
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Hi Timothy
We have a similar project on the go just outside Mossel Bay in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountains, and will be following your progress with interest. As I clear the wattle, a neighbouring farmer keeps the land clear and uses it for grazing until I can take over permanently. I have 9 more paychecks to go before I join the Fun employed at age 65. Currently the weekends are just too short.
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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David. Sounds interesting. Are you recording your progress here on the Permies forum? I would like to read more about what you are up to.

Tim
 
David Manley
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Location: Mossel Bay South Africa
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Hi Tim
Currently I have somebody living on the farm who has converted the 4mX9m shed into a very comfortable house. I think this was the original farm house, built mainly of stone and mud. The house is heated by a woodburning stove, and after various experiments on solar heating for his water has settled for a pipe inside an outside oven he built, which heats a tank of water on the roof by convection. Lights are from LED's powered by a small battery and charged from a 30+ year old BP solar panel I had. He has a small garden fully enclosed which supply his vegies, as we have baboons monkeys bush pigs as well as other wildlife on the property. He only has chickens at the moment but the intention is to get milk goats as well. We are entirely off the grid although there is an ESCOM pole I can connect to at great cost. We collect water off the roof and pump from the perennial river that flows through the property. The baboons are a real problem, probably because their natural enemies the leopards have been killed off by the farmers over the years, so there is no control of their ever increasing numbers. Last year I put a 2m high electric fence arround a big plum tree but they managed to get to the tree anyway. If you disturb nature you pay the price eventually.
When I find out how I will post some photos
Dave
 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Dave,

Sounds really nice. A lot of similarities to Pebblespring. It seems quite a lot wilder though. We have monkeys, bush buck, porcupine and the odd jackal, but no baboons yet.

How big is you place?

How far out of town is it?

Posting pics is really easy, just click on the "attachments" label, bottom left of the page when you are typing a message. Then you can choose pics from your hard drive.

 
David Manley
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Location: Mossel Bay South Africa
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Hi Tim
We currently have 68 hectare on 2 title deeds. we have consolidated and then subdivided the property so as to be able to keep a 20 hectare section we want, and be able to sell the other at a later stage.
The Farm is 35Km from town and 45 from where we live, on a 6 hectare small holding which was out of town when we bought but now boarders on a housing estate.
Some thought on clearing the wattle and mistakes I have made. The farm was effectively unused for more than 10 years when I bought it and the Black Wattle had taken over, I let somebody cut firewood and they stacked the brances on the land in piles. I did not want to burn so left the piles. The wattle now came up like grass and is 3m high in 2 years. I am unable to get in with a wheeled tractor because of the risk of puntures from stumps left in the land. What I believe I should have done was originally remove some of the trees in the thickly wooded areas and planted in between the remaining trees then ringbarked the remaining wattle and let them die in place, after what I had planted had established itself . This is not my idea but Shane of Terra Khaya in the Hogsback, and it seems to be working for him.
I have been using a Stihl 50cc brush cutter with a tugsten tipped circular saw blade to cut down trees up to about 100mm in Dia. It works really well as long as the blade only touches the wood. The blades are about R80 from the local Agri supply store. I have a number of chain saws but my favourite is an Stihl MS 250 I think still on special at R4000, punted as an ocasional user saw, but it is very light and more than powerful enough to cut any but the very biggest wattle on the property. I have hired a crawler to push fire breaks and found the saw very usefull in cutting down the trees into about 6 m lenghts ahead of the tractor otherwise they stack up in front on the blade and catch on the trees still standing next to the firebreak wasting time that I have to pay for.
I will try to put up some photos over the weekend
Dave
 
David Manley
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I will try to post some pix
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Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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Dave,

Great pics thanks.

Very much like the look of your cottage and outbuildings. Look a bit like mine (on a better day)

68 Hectares - thats big!

I am sitting on 10.

I must say - its gonna take me a long while to "tame" the whole 10 hectares.

I am very partial to my Husqvarna Chansaw - nice and light. Took a bit of getting used to, but now I think I have the hang of it.

My objective is not to have to wait until I am 65 before I get to be on the land full time. But whether I achieve this objective is of course an open question. Perhaps that's what I am doing here on the Permies site: speaking to people like you and others who are able to encourage and give practical advice that will improve my chances of succeeding in this mission.



 
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman
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I took a few days off from the office last week. I had planned to use the time to get a whole lot done on the farm. Well, I got some stuff done, but not a whole lot.

I spent a little time setting up new grazing for the cattle. The grass grows really slowly in the winter, but I count my blessings that we are able to graze our animals right through winter in our climate. No snow, no sleet, no frost, no keeping animals in a barn for warmth. I treat, the Port Jackson weed tree, as reserve feeding, and cut a few branches down allowing the cattle to help themselves and add variety to the limited grass that there is to graze.

But I also got to do some work in the cottage. The plan now is to get the cottage into a liveable condition. At least liveable enough so that the family can spend weekends there. My hope is that we all love it so much, that we will happily agree to rent out our house in Walmer and live on the farm full time. This will open up a stream of income that will see the Walmer property paying for itself. It will also put us on the farm, where we can more believably begin to get income generating projects running there like:


Broilers
Beef
Goats
Eggs
Tree nursery
Shop

So you can see that the plan that I am working on here, is not just a physical plan of how to layout the farm and the cottage, but it is a plan of how to "layout" our family finances and lifestyle in such a way that the farm does not become a burden that causes Hlubi and I to work longer and longer hours in business to support.

So work on the cottage is really important right now. The other reason the cottage needs to get sorted out really quickly is because of the strategy that we have adopted with the banks. I am sure I have told you the story on my BLOG before, but we had to take out a mortgage loan of around R700 000.00 (about $70 000.00 US) The selling price for Pebblespring Farm was R1 500 000.00 (about $150 000.00 US ). I am playing open books with this report to make it as helpful to others perhaps trying to do something similar. The only way I could get the mortgage was as "new building finance". I went to all the major banks, none of them are interested in financing vacant land. The old cottage and shop were in such a state of disrepair that the valuers were not able to find any value in them.

The long and the short of it is that the bank would not just loan me the R700 000.00 I needed to purchase the farm they insisted rather to loan me R1 200 000.00 with the condition that I build a new house worth R500 000.00. It was a hell of a process and I spoke a little about it in a previous blog. The condition of my bond finance is that I complete the construction of the new house within 9 months of the end of March when the property was finally transferred. So the deadline for completing the new house, that I have not yet started building, is December this year. But, I would prefer not to build with more debt. Firstly, I want to see if it is not possible to live in the old cottage (once renovated) secondly, if I were to build a new house, I would love to take it on as a personal project, without the banks inspectors breathing down my neck. And I would like to build at a pace that I would be comfortable with.

So with all of this in mind, our planning is as follows:

Plan A: fix up the cottage, make it cosy, furnish it, have a working bathroom and kitchen and lights that switch on an off and then call the bank up and say, "listen.....I have changed my mind. I don't want to build a new house. I would prefer that you send your assessors around to look at the cottage again. I am sure that you will find value"
Plan B: if my bank says "no" to Plan A, is then to shop around with other banks to take over the finance
Plan C: Somehow scrape together another R700 000.00 by December and go back to the bank and say "Here's the cash I owe you. Thanks, it was fun"

I will keep you posted here on the progress with this game plan. All legal, all above board, but working the system to meet our needs and the needs of the farm.

Specifically though, the work I was doing today, was with a tie beam that needs repair. You can see in the picture, the beam laying in the ground. Well it is completely rotted off at the one end where it went into the wall. I will have to construct a joint. I cant easily replace the beam with another because it is quite unique. It appears from its texture, to be hewn with an axe. It is definitely not a milled beam. I would very much like to keep it and to take the time to repair it as best I can. It could date back as far as 1820 or 1830. I cant really be sure. What I know is that it was a hell of a mission to get it down. It must weigh over 100 kgs and was almost 3 metres up. I quite enjoy the challenge of figuring our the complex manoeuvres required to move heavy and precarious objects when working completely alone. So it was a lot of strapping and a of work with the "come-along" wrench, but it came down and it came down in one piece with out any injury to my good self. Now that its on the ground, I can work on it with saws, chisels and drills to remove the rotten end timber and carefully joint in a new end that will fit into the wall.

But all this is going to take time, and right now is a busy time in the office. I feel conflicted. I see where I need to be spending my time right now, but I struggle to re-arrange my life in order to get this right.

I knew it would be difficult.
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Sue Rine
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Hi Tim. The email was Paul's dailyish email which I've deleted. It just gave the link to this thread.

 
Sue Rine
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It's also really interesting to read about and see the pictures of your property, David.
 
David Manley
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Hi Tim I see our stories are very similar except I took a second bond on our house to buy the farm. Absa still had me hanging on a string for many months before the bond was registered, and to add insult to injury charged me more than their initial quote. Attached is some photos of the shed converted by our Cotter Roy. The cost of the conversion came to about R15000 ($1500) of which about R6000 was for ready mix concrete for the floor. Doing the floor was the only additional labour other than occasional friends. 90%of the work was done by Roy himself. The existing floor mainly made up of rocks had to be dug out as it was not level and the door frame was already too low to have the floor raised, as we needed to put down DPC below the slab
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What we started with
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The slab cast
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The ceiling in
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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