Beginning to prepare for the larger animals…

As a part of our plan for self sufficiency, we intend to include some larger animals into the mix in the future – for meat, milk, fertiliser and many other purposes. Our location and climate however necessitate a fair bit of preparatory work before we even consider introducing those animals into the fragile environment. Just looking at the local landscape’s reaction to the introduced ruminants of various types (and it’s response to their removal), shows how vital it is to ensure that our block is well prepared for their hard hooves and voracious appetites.

The first stage of working towards being able to provide for the animals we would like to include was the earthworks which shaped the area that was set aside for the animal yards (we will have 3, which will allow for rotation of the different types of animals, reducing each species’ impact on any one area). These earthworks have provided contours to encourage the plantings and also low points which manage water flow from rain events and can be flooded to create wallows for our future miniature pigs.

The second step is to plant the trees and bushes in the zone which will provide the lush environment that will allow our animals to prosper with a minimum of support. The species choice for these areas are predominantly regionally native and designated ruminant fodder options, hopefully allowing for a high yield and low loss. I do intend to spot plant non native fodder species like Bean tree (bauhinia gilva) or Tagasaste (cytisus proliferus) in the lower lying areas, if I can get either to survive to be planted out.

Last year, I began to plant some of these trees, in the area which will become the ‘Front Yard’ but there was still two thirds of the overall area left bare. This year all of that has changed. With our current WWOOFer’s  fantastic help, I’ve got organised this year and we have already planted a total of 280 native seedlings, of which 192 are situated in the animal yards. This might sound like an extreme amount of plants, especially considering the yards comprise of around 2/3 acre. My intention however is to plant this area so densely that when the animals finally arrive, they practically have to eat their way into the yards to move around. In this way I am hoping that we MAY be able to support our small group of creatures without significant outside supplements (and little reliance on the larger local environment).  In fact, both last year’s plantings in this area (120 seedlings) and the ones completed in the last two weeks do not include a couple of species which I have not had luck germinating as yet (casuarina pauper and enchylaena tomentosa) and we also ran out of 3 species this year which would have added an additional 30 or so trees if we had them. Not to worry, I will try again with my seeds over summer this year and we will fill in the gaps next year.

Now the babies will need to be settled in with some new irrigation lines and the growing time begins…

Animal Yards 1 (1)

All three animal yards from the west gateway with our lovely WWOOFer, on his last day here today.

Animal Yards 1 (2)

The new plantings from the east (centre of the block)

Animal Yards 1 (3)

Once these new trees get up in size the fire pit are will be significantly more protected… as will all the areas to the east, including the house.

Animal Yards 1 (4)

One year after planting the front part of this zone the difference is obvious.

I am really looking forward to the growth in these new areas – it will fill out the last major part of the yard which was left bare after the earthworks and greatly reduce the dust, wind and heat profile of the yard. Then of course, there are the animals for which this effort has been expended. Time will tell when the yards will be ready for them – it will all depend on how vigorously these babies grow – but I estimate 5 – 7 years before we introduce our miniature cow to the mix and then we will judge the other animals based on how she impacts the trees, which should be well established by then.

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The growth of a stone wall

Last year, when we put the shed tank in I used the larger stones we cleared from the space to begin a sculptural stone wall that will one day stretch from the shed tank, to the front fence-line and then along the front of the block. This project has been envisioned as a way to use up a lot of the stone on the property that is not a suitable shape or size for building neat structural walls. It is also as a way to reference the history of the site – there was a 6 foot high stone wall across the front and down the north-east side, with a stone walled goat enclosure in the back corner. These walls have long since fallen down but their remnants create a mound on those fence-lines that is filled with usable stones. My start on the wall can be seen below:

Shed Tank 2 (3)The century plants in the wall were gifted to me a couple of years ago and I have a number more, it’s great to get them in their final positions so they can grow properly. With the supply of stone from the tank placement used up the project went into pause mode until this year.

Fran had cleared the storage area behind the shed and in the process she had unearthed and moved a lot of stones suitable for this purpose, as had Terrica and I while sorting the stones for the bathroom area, meaning that the project could restart when we had a good window for it.

Eline returning and Kellie arriving for an extended stay it seemed the perfect time to use the sculptural dry stone walling as a stepping stone to the other, structural, stone work that is on the list. So, Eline & Kellie got stuck into clearing the space for the next section and I built a little bit more as an example of the method for Kellie.

Kellie's Wall (1)

They were clearing machines! In the time Eline was here they cleared almost all the way to the front fence and I was able to lay out a general guide for how the wall should go, incorporating a fantastic idea of Kellie’s on the way :). Then I left to join Noven in the Solomon Islands for 3 weeks, and Eline moved on to her next project, leaving Kellie to hold the fort and continue building the wall.

On my return a beautiful sight awaited me:

Kellie's Wall (2)

Kellie did a fantastic job! It’s really starting to show what it will look like as it grows and I love how the character of the stonework in Kellie’s section is different to mine – I can see how each person is going to be able to add their personal touch to the concept 🙂

Kellie's Wall (4) Kellie's Wall (3)

Thank you Kellie, especially for your addition of the seat of cacti garden contemplation, you’ve certainly made your mark on our home!

Kellie's Wall (5)

Now we’ve moved on to doing some work with mortar, but that’s a tale for another time….

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 🙂

 

Saying Goodbye…

Having WWOOFers can be great; the improvement in productivity, the help with general things and the new friendships that can be built. However there comes a time when travellers must move on and then we have to say goodbye. Sometimes it’s quite hard – you’ve made a good friend and it feels like they could stay for a bit longer at least. This last weekend was one of those times.

Terrica arrived at the start of August and settled right in. She had been recommended by a close friend and it seemed meant to be – an easy fit with our family. And that girl, she can work! In the time that Terrica was here we achieved quite a lot and the vast majority of it was due to her fantastic efforts. A couple of examples of the achievements while she was here:

Playground/Orchard

Before (Jan 2014)

Before (Jan 2014)

Terrica (2)

After (Oct 2014)

In the orchard the garden beds have been weeded, mattocked, sown with various seeds/seedlings and mulched to start the ‘under canopy’ garden. A low netting fence has been installed to deter the guinea fowl from the germinating green mulch and the bamboo fence repaired and extended.

Greater Bonfire Area

Terrica (3).jpg

Before (End May 2014)

Terrica (4)

After (Oct 2014)

This area is even more noticeable! everything on the other side of the driveway except the inital earthworks has pretty much been Terrica’s doing in the after image. Not just the date palms, but another two watering zones (‘west hedge’ and ‘windbreak’). Extensive tree planting, irrigation laying, mulching, edging rock collection and placement about covers what has happened in this zone – amazing transformation!

***

Of course that’s just two areas. In total Terrica planted around 120 native trees, laid irrigation for 5 new zones, helped plant 6 palm trees, sorted tons (literally) of rocks, weeded and cleaned the next layer of rusty wire/sardine can rubbish from vast tracts of garden beds, mulched, installed tree guards, looked after the house for nearly two weeks while we were away, took part in wrangling the 3 year old with good nature and helped grandma out no end… gosh we will miss her!

Aside from all of this she has become a grand friend and I have no doubt that we will keep in touch (and see her again).

Now the time has come to search for our next visitor, and in that aim I have set up a new page here – ‘WWOOFing with us’  which provides some more information about the program and a guestbook of our previous visitors. Check it out and let me know what you think 🙂

The 2014 Planting Round Up

2014 Trees (1)

Left over trees, sorted and ready for pick-up

With the passing of the equinox my self-imposed cut off for this years planting has been reached. The weather is quickly warming up and the spring winds have set in (Today’s readings are around 30 degrees celcius and northerly wind gusts of 70km/hr) so any trees that would like even a fighting chance of survival really need to be settled into their roots by now. A couple of weeks ago all the trees that we were going to use this year were planted out and I sent the left over seedlings to other local homes.

With our losses last year (we had a survival rate of 4% out of 250 natives) we have been implementing a number of strategies in hopes of increasing the survivors by the end of the summer. I had hoped to have all of this work finished by the Equinox, but with the last tree guard placed yesterday afternoon we weren’t too far behind optimal schedule. Just in time it turns out as these warm to hot north winds in the spring were the cause of a great deal of last year’s losses.

The vital Planting Statistics for this year’s effort are:

2014 Trees (5)

Each of these trees has dripper irrigation, mulch and tree guards. Some of the areas the whole beds have been mulched but we’ll finish that over the coming weeks – at least the trees themselves are done.

You can spot the little pale green Trees for Life tree guards in the following photos if you look closely 🙂
2014 Trees (2)

2014 Trees (3)

2014 Trees (4)

Two survivors of last year’s plantings in the foreground with replacements for the ones that didn’t make it behind.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful Terrica who has been with us for the last two months and in that time has made a fantastic contribution. Planting fully half this years trees is just the beginning of the help she has been. We love our ‘Rica’ ❤

Shadehouse Stage 2

Over the last few weeks we have been working on finishing a long running project – the second stage of the shadehouse. This part runs along the back of the house, a thin strip of shade against the back verandah, shading the house from the afternoon sun. The garden bed within is the ‘kitchen garden’ for herbs and salad greens. Half of this area (to the west of the back door) has been in use from the start with the first attempt at a roof on it but it needed desperately to be upgraded to the new, far more successful method. A few months ago I had taken down the old roof and put up the frame for the new one over that side and also the next section over the unfinished garden bed on the other side of the back door. I drilled all the holes for the wire but then the tank came up so I had to move on to that and leave the shadehouse for another day.

A couple of weeks ago though we had a visit from a family of WWOOFers and as they were only going to be here for a couple of days we decided that the shadehouse roof would be a good project to work on. They put up most of the wire structure and re-hung the two western bamboo sections before they moved on and then I was able to finish it in the following weeks. The rest of the wire went up and then the shadecloth stretched over as tightly as possible before being sown to the edge wire. I hung the bamboo section on the east of the back door and then made the gate from some mesh and more bamboo. 

With the addition of a couple of small barriers to discourage the guinea fowl until the fence for the house yard is finished it has made the whole shadehouse pretty much poultry proof which means we could finally take down the low fence that had run along the edge of the verandah, opening up the space – it’s so much better!

We’ve also been able to finish building up the soil in one end of the eastern garden bed and I’ve planted it with some tansy and mini red cabbages which is exciting – new garden!

Shadehouse 2 (1) Shadehouse 2 (2) Shadehouse 2 (3)

Shadehouse 2 (4)

Now the shadehouse is at the point where it’s done until we can shift the tank at the end to put on the second half of the eastern bed, but that’s a tiny part compared to the rest and we’ve finally got a properly shaded house for more than two thirds of the back wall. I can’t wait to see the difference it makes when the warm weather gets here – it’s already lovely to sit on the verandah in the afternoon without being blinded by the sun 🙂

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)