2016 – 2107 Progress Report

The year has turned again, and it’s been a busy one, although a great deal of the work has been outside of our little block. With home school added to the day, a major renovation project at the other site we are also working on and a couple of sizeable landscaping works at other locations we’ve been a bit distracted from the ‘to do’ list here. None the less, a fair amount of progress has been achieved and according to my massive project schedule we are only a couple of months behind… hopefully we can catch that up in the next few months and stay on track for a completion date somewhere before the end of June 2021 (in time for a nice big Birthday/Housewarming party I’d like to hold).

For my own purposes, here is a list of what we have achieved:

  • Removed the old tank stand!
  • Redesigned the garden beds in the shadehouse to add in paths and raise the beds one sleeper height
  • Finished building the walls and roof of the garden shed
  • Planted the back two animal yards

[Time out for other projects:

  • Designed and landscaped a surburban Newcastle (NSW) yard from bare grass to something a lot more suitable
  • Re-pointed the whole cellar of the Gallery – another building 800m from home
  • Installed a floating floor in the cellar so it can be used as an office space until the office structure is built up here.
  • Worked with community members to design, apply for funding and begin implementing a picnic ground/park in the centre of the town, currently approximately 40% complete

Back to scheduled works…]

  • Put a flagstone floor in the garden shed and filled it with stuff. Still needs cladding and organising but we started the cladding process and will continue as we can.
  • Reorganised the main shed now that the ‘garden’ stuff is out of it. This still needs to be finalised but that doesn’t seem like it’s a task that will ever end.
  • Destroyed the ‘sleepout’ on the western verandah and rebuilt it slightly larger and far more structurally sound so that we have a temporary bedroom – yay for turning the tiny house into a two bedroom one
  • 3/4 built the stone wall around the well – that’s the current project which was begun at the start of the year and then put on pause so the other outside projects could be worked on
  • SO MUCH WEEDING! The downfall of a consistently wet year…

So, without further ado, here are the progress photos for the last year:

 

As a special treat, seeing we are nominally half way through this project, here are a couple of photos taken in February 2009 that show what it was like before we decided to actually do some real work here.

before-1

From the inside of what is now the outdoor kitchen looking across the block

before-2

Shadehouse, old broken clothesline, now the Faerie Garden

Thanks to all the great WWOOFers and family help we’ve had this year… may the coming year be just as productive!

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2016 Tree Tally

It’s been a very busy year so far: I’ve added Home School duties to my list with Aurelius beginning class one and we’ve had a couple of great long term WWOOFers who have kept the productivity rolling on the home front but it hasn’t left much time for tree counting and blog writing!

Better late than never though, just before we are about to start this year’s planting push, I’ve done the rounds of the block with my trusty notepad and come up with the final survival figures for last year’s babies.

2016 Tree Tally (Stats)

The vital statistics as they currently stand

So, we had a drop in survival rates this year, which can be attributed to a number of things:

  • Due to our lack of WWOOFers through the planting season last year, although we planted significantly more trees than the previous year, many of them were planted well towards the end of the season meaning that they had less chance to get established before the hot weather set in.
  • The two last areas to be planted (‘Windbreak 3’ & ‘Hecate’s Hill’) were not hooked up to the dripper systems until early November meaning that they had to be hand watered until then. I managed to get it done most weeks, but there’s no doubt that they were less well tended than is optimal. It’s no surprise that the losses were correspondingly more severe in these zones.
  • Mulching of the flat areas was not achieved until January/February (!) and none of the slopes got mulched at all (we used up 3 big round bales of pea straw just on the flats). The ‘Front Yard’ area had germinated a great amount of mustard weed which acted like a natural mulch/shade so we purposefully didn’t weed that and the losses there were less, although that was the first area planted too so they were the best established as well.
  • It was a long hot summer this year. Last year’s summer was mild throughout so none of the trees were pushed to their limits really meaning that our success rate was naturally very high. This year though, we had a number of days well over 50ºC and long stretches over 45ºC. The cooler weather also took longer to come – not really hitting until well into April. This meant that all the trees were really tested by the ambient air temperature, let alone the hot winds that always come with such conditions. Some plants like the Stone Pine which came with practically no roots had no chance, others just pulled through but will hopefully prosper next year with more advanced root systems.
  • On the other hand rainfall levels were fantastic. With the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean adding moisture to the hot El Nino conditions every tree that was well established the previous year has prospered. The minor losses of trees from previous years – of less established plants – encourages me to hope that most of the trees, once they make it through the first summer, can be expected to continue reasonably happily.

All in all I am very happy with the progress so far and it’s really starting to feel like a garden now – there are parts of the yard where you can look up and see green all around you which is a lovely thing. There is also a noticeably increased quantity of birdlife which is very satisfying, watching the ecosystem build up naturally with only the addition of trees. In the next couple of years, I hope we can finish planting the main body of the trees and hit my goal of 1000 trees/shrubs on the block, and as more an more trees get some size to them the shade and wind profile of the block will start changing dramatically. Exciting times.

2016 Tree Tally (1)

Progress of the orchard plantings from last year.

2016 Tree Tally (2)

Progress of the ‘Front Yard’ plantings in about 12 months

2016 Tree Tally (3)

Some of the trees are taller than me!!

2016 Tree Tally (4)

The first tree is about chest height now – starting to looking like a real tree 🙂

2016 Tree Tally (5)

One of my favourite views at the moment: from the back windbreak along the green zone

2016 Tree Tally (6)

A slightly different angle showing the house in the distance and the poultry yards/sheds (nearly complete) at the right.

2015 – 2016 Progress Report

Well, the last 6 months have been busy with planting and the like, we only had a couple of WWOOFers (and only one for 3 weeks of the planting season!) so not as much productivity in that time as I would like, but still, when I went out to take the progress photos I realised that we have still made some significant steps.

This year we have:

  • Cleaned and sorted all the ‘junk’ around the yard
  • Put up the Tank Stand
  • Continued to build the sculptural stone edging wall along the east side all the way to the front fence
  • Done all the stone work for the walls of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Positioned and connected up the small Header Tank
  • Cleaned down the old stone work in the Outdoor Kitchen and built the sink/bench
  • Planted significant areas with native trees as planned (I personally planted around 250 trees this year – a personal best 🙂 )
  • Extended the Orchard plantings all the way around the play area and along the front end of the western driveway
  • Trenched pipes across the driveway in two more places and connected the new plantings to the irrigation system
  • Grew a patch of barley…
  • Sourced and placed logs for the seating in the Bonfire Area
  • Laid the floor of the Outdoor Kitchen and moved the BBQ in so we could start using it!
  • Finished the trampoline hole and installed the trampoline in the ground where it now gets significant use
  • Dug the hole for Brigid’s Well
  • Put in the posts for the roof of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Installed a clothesline
  • Built half of the Garden Shed
  • Tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep on top of the weeds

 

We are now looking forward to meeting our new WWOOFer next week and getting some more projects completed. So far, on track to be finished the major yard works by the end of next year…

2015 Orchard Extensions

All the native planting that we have been doing is vital, making up by far the largest volume of trees in the ground to create the general micro-climate changes that come with large tracts of shade and wind break. However, even though the various acacias are tasty for our future cow and sheep they don’t provide us with much direct food for ourselves so some non native orchard varieties are very important.

The difficulty is that there are a limited range of trees which will prosper in our climate and soil profile so a mix of research, planning, preparation and timing is required to increase our chances of success. The first fruit trees planted while we were preparing for the others were hardier varieties – a quince and two mulberries – which could handle the harsher environment while we prepared for the other, softer species.

Last year we planted a small arc of the inner orchard, which surrounds the playground. This orchard is designed to have the most protected species in it as it will be within two arms of other trees – the windbreak and the front animal yard – on the western side and shielded from northern/eastern winds by the house and shadehouse. The trees in this area have been planned for a number of years and the soil prepared for at least a year prior to planting so we have only been able to put in a few trees each season. Last year we planted two apples (Jonathan and Granny Smith) a pear (Beurre Bosc) and in the nut orchard on the other side of the poultry yards an almond (Self-fertile paper-shell). Add in some lower storey plants and the result a year later is this:

2015 Orchard (1)

This year we continued in that vein, planting the last of the trees in that arc (except for the cherry that is on order still)  and a couple more nut trees in their area (more there next year). 2015 Orchard (2)

Look at those pretty trees waiting for spring to burst into verdant activity… There’s something very satisfying about planting trees that have been actively worked towards for 3 years now. These trees, finally, here.

Previously that would have been the end of it and we would be back to the natives. The big difference this year however is that with the push out into the side of the block the outer ring of fruit trees on the plan opens up for planting. This ring is designed for more hardy, climatically suited varieties as they will have some protection from the outer windbreak but will be in full sun all afternoon as the access driveway which encircles the whole yard is directly to their west. When looking for species to plant the first thing to identify is that our climate, and even soil conditions, can be loosely classed as ‘Arid Mediterranean’ so trees which prosper in the hot south of Spain, Italy and Greece, through Turkey and Northern Africa are likely to have a good chance here. The same can be said for similar zones in the other continents.

Therefore, after seeing what was available in that range, we purchased a group and set them out in a pattern around the edge of the driveway. Much hole digging by Noven and they went in over the Solstice, significantly increasing our potential food sources. I’m quite excited by a number of the species in this selection – ones I remember from my childhood like Loquats, Persimmons and Figs, those rich flavours of Summer and Autumn. Olives figure large in the group too and will make a welcome addition to the pate and quince paste on our cheese plates in years to come. I’m also very excited by the Jujubes, these are not a fruit I’ve dealt with much before but I really enjoy the flavour (like a date but with a light, almost mousse-like texture even when dry) and I have local friends who have had success with them. The last species in the arc is Pomegranate, which grows strongly in this area and will provide protection for slower neighbours as well as beautiful flowers and lovely fruit.

2015 Orchard (3) Looking West with the driveway turning to the north. Note last year’s pomegranate proving it’s vigour.

2015 Orchard (6)Looking South

The Nursery that we sourced the trees from also listed a Native Lime which, when I queried them I was delighted to discover it was indeed the local ‘Bush Lime’ not the more tropical Finger Lime. These trees are quite hard to find, but being a regionally native true citrus they are not an opportunity to miss. They do come with one rather large warning though…. they are very, very prickly. Some spines are as long as 8cm! 2015 Orchard (4) I pruned the ones on the trunk off for transportation.

The limes hadn’t been in the plan yet to be honest, but I was quickly able to open up the last official orchard zone in the yard – the area along the front fence on the side block. This zone will mostly be planted last as it is needed as a staging area for the future house renovations, but the far end can be done now as an extension of the western windbreak which was next on my planting schedule for this year anyhow.  Some quick excavation of the old stone wall and building of the western end of the sculptural wall which will replace it and the area for the limes was ready. You can just see their spindly trunks in the picture, but hopefully they will grow quickly as they are quite beautiful mature trees. 2015 Orchard (5)Of course now I’ve ordered a few more species to join them in that corner so there will be another, smaller, wave of fruit tree planting in amongst the natives that fill the rest of the season.

For those who are interested, here is a full list of trees planted in this round and the remaining trees on order for these zones:
2015 Orchard Variety List

Header Tank

At the start of the year we finally managed to get our new Header Tank Stand installed, but of course, the next step is to get a tank on top of it… 3.5m up in the air.

Luckily our little tank that we have been using to run all the water systems apart from one drinking water tap near the house is small enough that it seemed reasonable to be able to transfer it from it’s old, lower stand to the new one without the use of heavy machinery.

Of course nothing is ever that simple and just getting it disconnected from the old (rather dodgy) plumbing was a mission that involved angle grinders, liberal applications of RP7 and CLR and massive Stilsens to try and get some leverage on the old, seized up fittings that meant the plumbing went down from 25mm to 13mm and then back up to 25mm – causing a major loss in pressure in the system straight away. However, with some perseverance and the use of many muscles Noven and his Father managed to get it all down and disconnected.

The next step was for me to clean out the nearly 20 years of accumulated calcium sediment from our well water. there were 2 and a half buckets of it – no wonder we had to turn the system off every time we filled up the tank to allow the bits to settle so it would work at all! Getting that out means that the system can start working as soon as there is water in it.

Then it was all hands on deck – Noven, Noven’s Mother and Father, Kellie and I – to tackle raising the tank to the new stand. It was a saga of ropes, props and lots of pushing and pulling with everyone playing their part to finally get it up there:

Header Tank (1)

Header Tank (2)

Header Tank (3)Lastly there was the plumbing; running a new, cleaner line from the well pump and hooking the outlet straight into the backbone irrigation line with no decrease of pipe gauge. Fantastic!

Header Tank (4)Turn on the pump and it’s all in action! We’ve at least doubled our water pressure! Everything works that much better making for much happier trees that are easier to maintain – a win all around.

We will need to get a new tank eventually, this one is about a 5th of the size of the one the stand is made for and the larger volume of water up there will improve the pressure again but that can wait until it’s convenient as this will keep us going quite happily for a while yet 🙂

Header Tank (5)

Look at that tiny tank all the way up there! So cute! Also, note the old, empty tank stand structure…. that will be going some day soon and what a difference that will make!

Tank Stand!

Our water system for the garden runs on an old, small header tank which we fill from the well via a submersible pump. It’s a good system, and for the most part it works really well. There are a few issues with it however; the tiny tank up on the tank stand has become coated with the calcium salt precipitate from our poor water which dislodges as it fills and blocks the outlet, the plumbing is done in such a way that it goes from 25mm to 13mm and then back to 25mm (extreme loss of pressure) and the initial height of the stand is not optimal for a gravity fed solution, also, the stand is right in the middle of a driveway according to my map….

All this means that there needs to be a new, larger tank stand to accommodate a new, larger tank. Hooray, all our problems will be solved! Well, getting that tank stand ready to use has been somewhat of a mission, but after 6 months of organising, hole digging, Egyptian style log manoeuvres, a gigantic front end loader and a couple of days of making concrete we have a tank stand 😀

The first step was to look at tanks and umm and ahh over which tank we wanted to eventually get (no tank until the tank stand is in place!!) so that I could specify the requirements for the structure to the steel workers in Port Augusta (2.5 hours away). It ended up being a squat version of our main tanks – 2.2m diameter and half the height allowing for a storage capacity of 5000L or 5 tonnes of water. That stand needs to be sturdy right?? So then there was the quote stage, and the saving stage which is all quite boring and we got on with other things in the meantime. Eventually there was talk of a tank stand actually existing so there needed to be some holes for it to get delivered into.

4, 1m deep holes.

Sometimes I think that all I do is dig holes.

At least this time I had some very good help. Noven started each hole with the auger and then loosened the soil with it as it got deeper but the size of the holes required someone to be in them at the end to lift the soft dirt out with a can… there are only two people in our family who could do it (Noven’s legs are too long to fit when he reached down for the dirt).  Tank Stand (1)I promise that there wasn’t much slave labour 4 year old style going on – he was far too inefficient 😉

Delays… both in the digging and in the delivery, but eventually the delivery day arrived and there came the truck with our GIANT new tank stand aboard. There was some discussion about how to do what had originally been discussed: delivering it to standing up in the holes, but it quickly became clear that not only was the truck too big to negotiate the space available (which I had questioned when this plan was formulated but the steel suppliers seemed confident) but also, even if they could have lined up neatly, there was no way that we were standing it up off of the truck with the two delivery drivers, us and our current WWOOFer. In the end they got it as close as they could and simply slid it off the back of the truck, leaving it on it’s side and around a corner from where it needed to be.

This meant that the next step was ‘Move the Gigantic Steel Structure with 3 Adults’. The delivery drivers had informed me that this structure was an ‘8 man lift’ so there was no way were even going to attempt to pick it up. Luckily we had some old post off-cuts from when we did the fence years ago, so we managed to manoeuvre them under the legs lying on the ground and using them as rollers, with some great teamwork, we got it turned around and lined up to our holes. Still no standing up though, that would require heavy machinery.

I had already organised a day’s work with the station; getting a log from the creek for a bridge, loads of sand and gravel for concrete and mortar and the like so we added ‘stand up the tank stand’ to the list and a couple of weeks later the very large front end loader arrived. using some chains and a bit of clambering on the arm of the loader the stand was raised into position with a minimum of fuss, all the legs in the correct holes! This process had pushed a bit of dirt into the front holes so it was no longer level… but, use of a ‘Wallaby Jack’ (very large heavy jack) to hold up the low side while we concreted the holes could fix that issue.

Tank Stand (3)

We had WWOOFer swap-over while everything was getting organised, so with return visitor Eline and our lovely new Kellie, we fired up our shiny orange cement mixer for the first time and got stuck into concreting the holes. It took me a couple of batches to get back into the swing of things, and some amusement with job swapping before we found our rhythm but once there it was quite efficient. Two trailers of gravel, one ute tray of sand and 16 bags of cement later we had a stable structure!

The girls wrote their names one in each hole and I wrote Fran’s on her behalf in the third as well as our names in the last hole… treats for future people to find when they decide to uncover the concrete in years to come 🙂

Tank Stand (2)Done!! well, it still needs a tank on it, but we can actually do that soon, we can shift the small tank to the new stand (cleaning out some of the sediment on the way) and re-plumb it, fixing 3 of the 4 major issues with our system without even out laying for the new tank. I am hopeful that we will get enough water pressure to mean that the tank expense is not so urgent, which would be nice.

Tank Stand (5)

Big! Not so shiny orange cement mixer now…. I still need to add the ladder that we have left over from the windmill that fell over a few years ago and then it will be totally ready 🙂

Tank Stand (4)

In this picture you can easily compare it to the old stand, which we have used for years but it really in need of destruction. That will be a very fun job and will open up the last driveway space…. exciting times. Look how tiny that tank is. I am sure it’s going to look even more insignificant on top of the new stand, but a tank is a tank and it might let us get used to the new landscape more easily so that the bigger tank doesn’t come as such a shock.

Shed Storage… Stage one COMPLETE!

A fair bit happened in December, including us going to Brisbane for two weeks over the holiday period. There were a couple of jobs that had been worked on for the last few months and now that I am back and have a fair bit of help, we are getting them finalised which is great 🙂 One of the first jobs to be finished this year has been the first stage of the shed storage area.

When the whole zone around the shed tank got finished we decided that it would be nice to clear the space behind the shed, next to the fence, and store all the maybe future useful building materials that have amassed in various areas of the block. It was a big job though – necessitating the excavation of a further section of the old stone wall. The extent of the job can be seen in the image below. I didn’t remember to take a good before shot, but this gives you a general idea of the shape of the land between the shed and fence (at the back of the hole):

Shed Tank 1 (2)Terrica started the work, but went on to other, more important projects. Then came Fran. She stayed for 7 weeks and got a lot of jobs done – bamboo fences, trenching pipes across driveways, moving tank stands and then, the biggest task of all: clearing the area behind the shed. Fran got really stuck into it and did a fantastic job, I came home to this:

Shed Storage (3)

Fran had to move on to her new location (we will miss you!!) and I brought home Eline for a return visit and our new WWOOFer, Kellie. We got stuck into sorting all the rubbish from the piles around the yard and then shifting all of the useful items and stacking them neatly in the new space.

Before

Shed Storage (2)     Shed Storage (1)

After

Shed Storage (5)    Shed Storage (4)

     New Storage Area

Shed Storage (7)

Shed Storage (6)So, it still needs a roof and some actual racks to be totally finished but the improvement is so vast that I can’t help but feel very satisfied 🙂