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…

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Outdoor Kitchen – Stage 2

Earlier in the year I wrote about how we had progressed on the construction of the first mortared stone masonary project: the Outdoor Kitchen

After much continued work around our other tasks I am happy to say the the next stage of this project is complete, meaning all the stone work for the structure is done!

There was a fair bit involved to get to this point, first as soon as the walls were up to height Kellie and I donned our stunning protective gear and wire brushed the walls in preparation for pointing them.

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (1)

This was necessary as all our hard work was based on three sides on the work of the previous owner who had used a more lime rich mix for his mortar and it had therefore degraded quite seriously in some areas. No point doing all the work on top if the bottom falls apart over the next few years.

Then, having got completely covered in dust we proceeded to put back what we had just scrubbed out, but with new strong mortar. Then, scrubbing back the rocks to neaten up the joints….

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (2)

Click image for a larger version

The last photo in the series is after the acid wash, but before that could be done we had to actually finish the stone work – the walls weren’t the end of it, we needed to build the structure on which to install the large cement sink we were re-purposing out of the tiny laundry where it was far to big and put in a bench using a large piece of slate.

Kellie and I worked diligently at it but it was just to the point where we could put the sink in when Kellie had to move on so we said our sad goodbyes and work slowed noticeably.

Over the next month I worked slowly at finishing the structure and then finally (with heavy lifting assistance from Noven) the sink and the bench were in!

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (3)

Next step: Acid wash. Stinky (even with an acid vapour respirator), slightly scary but well worth the effort for the resulting clean stones.

Moving right along now that the end was so close in sight, I laid a small section of mosaic in the final join of the bench and sink to the wall. This will tie in to the mosaic using the same tiles in the slated area directly next to the structure.

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (4) Outdoor Kitchen 2 (5)

Finally the last step! Sealing the top of the walls and the area behind the benches to protect it from spills and the harsh environment. DONE.

Next steps: Plumb the sink outlet, lay the floor and then the roof and a resin top for the slate bench… I really hope to get this completely finished in the next few months… when we aren’t planting trees. In the meantime this is where we are at:

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (6)

This is the corner where the BBQ will be positioned. The utensils hook is an old garden fork I found half buried in the yard. I’m very glad it was points down when I found it and that it’s been reused where it’s not going anywhere now.

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (7)

Outdoor Kitchen 2 (8)

Outdoor Kitchen – Stage 1

For the last month Kellie and I have been working on a long awaited project: the Outdoor Kitchen. Using the walls left from the previous owner’s attempt to build a carport we had planned to build a low walled gazebo with a thatched roof which over time had morphed into an outdoor kitchen to house our new barbecue and our dining table until we have a dining space in the main building. It also seems sensible to make the most of our warm climate for the majority of the year and move some of our activities right out of the tiny house.

The starting point:

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - Start

Excuse the photo – it’s the only one I could find from right at the start, after Noven’s brother and his friends knocked the corners out of the original ‘u’ shaped structure and laid the foundation for the front wall. That was in 2009.

When we returned to live here in 2011 my brother came up for a while and got a good start on the front wall of the structure but he couldn’t stay and donate his time forever. By the time he had to go this is where he had reached:

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - East (1) Outdoor Kitchen 1 - West (1)

The project languished for years as I got the easy work of major earthworks and tree planting started and was easily distracted from the daunting task of stone masonry. We had a couple of attempts at continuing to raise the wall but only small success was had.

After achieving a number of dry stone wall tasks last year though, I felt that the time had come and no more procrastination would be allowed. Kellie, fresh from her dry stone success on the sculptural wall was there to help so we set up the cement mixer and buckled down. The main aims of this wall are learning oriented as it is a practice run for other projects that require more skill so we weren’t too worried about how straight or perfectly neat the stonework went in, more about seeing how it went, what worked and what didn’t. After weeks of constant work (often 3 batches of mortar a day) and some additional help from Noven’s father who arrived at the start of March we reached the required heights all around. The final step was to finish the top as level as my basic skills could manage.

Outdoor Kitchen - East Progress Strip

Outdoor Kitchen - West Progress StripClick on the images for larger versions 🙂

I am very happy with the result, and although it’s not completely finished yet and I will do the second learning project on my list before I attempt the next big structure I do feel like I learned a lot (hopefully enough) in building this. To follow: Pointing, bench and sink installation and the floor…. and much later… the roof…

In the meantime here is where we are at:

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - End

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - West (2)

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - East (2)

Outdoor Kitchen 1 - Top

 

The Shed Tank (Part 2)

For the first part of the story see this post

Now that the hole was prepared it was time to put the tank in place. This meant some interesting manoeuvring with an old forklift and a lot of checking to make sure things lined up. After about half an hour of work though it was in and I was left to plumb it to the gutters and finish the stonework around it.

Luckily Noven was able to take on the majority of the child wrangling for 10 days so that I could make a concerted effort to get the zone finished. I excavated and levelled a further section of the old stone wall and used the rocks that were unearthed to build the start of a sculptural wall that will eventually edge the front of our block, finished the dry stone wall around the tank and wheelbarrow hole, laid out some paths and spread the shale – it was a lot of work but very satisfying especially as it constitutes an area of the yard which, now that it’s planted with some succulents, is pretty much complete.

I was also pleased with the results of the stone masonry – I’ve been playing with it a bit but this was the first serious ‘start to finish’ project I’d done so its success gave me hope for the eventual major house renovations that I’m working towards becoming skilled enough to complete to my satisfaction.

Following are photos of the finished product. I’ve planted the succulents in the raised garden beds since they were taken and there’s still a bit of work to do but all in all I’m quite happy with the point it’s at now 🙂

Shed Tank 2 (1)

 

The Shed Tank (Part 1)

A while ago we had organised a tank to replace the tiny one that was attached to the shed. Tanks take time though, so we didn’t expect it to come quickly. Time passed… All of a sudden, with very little warning we discovered that the tank was due to arrive and of course I’d been concentrating on other things so the area wasn’t cleared properly yet! With the help of the WWOOFers we had at the time, we pumped the small tank empty and shifted it to the poultry yards where it could have a useful temporary home. Then came the clearing process. It turned out to be quite a big job.

Shed Tank 1 (1)

The bushes came away easily as they are a shallow rooted (or so we thought) variety. However, underneath that camoflaging layer was the remains of an old stone wall and the tank that was coming was BIG so to fit it in that needed to be levelled, ie: digging out all the stones down to ground level to remove the mound from where the wall had fallen down years previous and melded with the landscape. The wall was made of very large stones so it was hard work but the lovely WWOOFers put in a Herculean effort and got it down to ground level.

Then the tank arrived. It was even bigger than we thought! In fact it was bigger than the shed, well taller anyway. This presents a problem when you want the water from the roof of the shed to run into the tank with maximum efficiency/minimal storage loss. The only solution is to sink it into the ground. Cue a lot of digging. The hole required needed to be 4.5m diameter and 40cm deep from the level at the base of the corner of the shed. Not only was that a massive volume of dirt to shift, but the stone wall had foundations (with some truly phenomenal rocks in it) that went a way below the ground level and those shallow rooted plants actually turned out to be deep, fragile rooted plants which broke off easily and left behind a network of woody booby traps to contend with. It took over a month to do with the help of 7 other people (WWOOFers and visitors) through that period it was achieved and what a relief that was!

Shed Tank 1 (2)

I also cut out a ramp for the wheelbarrow to get the dirt out and then, when it was deep enough for the tank I sank the ramp down a further 80 cm so that the wheelbarrow could be positioned under the tap. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get underneath a tap at the bottom of a tank! All the original tanks here suffer from that problem, but not this new one 🙂

Before we could position the tank though I needed to sift some shale and line the base of the hole so that there was a soft, level base for the tank. With a future 27,000L of water to be stored there it is vital that the base is prepared properly so as not to puncture the base of the poly tank – that would be a disaster. I also put up the first part of a dry stone wall where the tap was going to be situated so that the tank could rest on the edge of it when in position. Finally…. we were ready to put the tank in position… to be continued 🙂

Shed Tank 1 (3)

The First Year

During the first year we did a lot of basic planning and I started learning how to build things and grow things. I had had some successful vegetable gardens in the past but that’s a bit different from attempting to set up 2 acres of arid land permaculture gardens with view to self-sufficiency…

111102 Gazebo (2) (800x600)

My brother came up for a couple of month or so and started some of the stone masonary for the outdoor kitchen/dining area but we couldn’t keep paying him at that point and of course he couldn’t stay for free so I moved on to other tasks111102 Shadehouse (800x600)

I started to build the shadehouse for the vegetable garden – this is vital out here with our hot summers so it was important to get it up as soon as I could. Using the bamboo on the walls has proven to be a fantastic solution for our high winds – they let the wind though without bending the structure too much.  We also removed the old mostly broken clothesline soon after the photo to the right was taken

The summer v111220 First Harvest (600x800)egetable garden was the most productive I’d ever had at that point confirming my thoughts about the necessity of shade. We didn’t have much water, or a pump down the well, so the garden had to be very small but it was still lovely to have so much vibrant green just outside the back door.111220 Chickens (800x600)

We also got our first chickens – day old barred plymouth rock chicks. It was another set of skills again, learning to care for the tiny things. They grew very quickly though so it wasn’t long before they were living in a makeshift yard built off an old goat pen.

120926 Chook Yard (2) (598x800)

Later in the year, after losing those first chickens to a fox 😦 I started to build a more permanent yard for them out of recycled materials that were found on the block. I learned during that process that while it is all well and good to use recycled materials, sometimes it is not worth it for the frustration and structural instability of less than fantastic quality. The yard was a definite 120621 Play Area (2) (800x598)improvement though! We also added an English Staffy to our family to help with fox deterrence. Happily, so far we have had no further problems.

That year I also started to build a play area for our son in hopes that in time he would be able to play somewhat unsupervised while I was working nearby – hoping to increase my productivity, but also because, who doesn’t want a sandpit made out of old tyres, in the shape of a stegosaurus?

All in all, I didn’t get as much done in that year as I had sort of expected when I started, but partly that was due to the small one, partly due to my learning process and partly due to unrealistic expectations. Still much to be done!