I can see my house from here.

2012/11/05 kai 0

When we first thought about buying our property we did a lot of research into the area. We looked at the soil type, the lay of the land, types of native vegetation and generally wandered around to get the “feel” of the property before buying. As part of this one of the things we did was check out the property on Nearmaps.

Nearmaps is a little like google maps with a couple of important differences.

  1. It’s much higher resolution, so you can zoom in closer and see more detail. In our local apartment complex you can actually see someone sitting in one of the hot tubs in one of its images.
  2. It puts photos taken at different dates for the area on a timeline. This means you can go back and see what the area looked like a year ago, 2 years ago or just last august.

This allowed us to look at the property at different times of the year and over a long time. So we could see if vegetation was spreading, dying back or remaining static.In some of the earlier photos of our property just after winter you can see the gullies cut by rain runoff across the property. This shows the lay of the land and lack of soaking.

Based on this info we decided to buy the property and haven’t looked back since. However we’ve been so busy we forgot to check back on nearmap to see how things are changing since we started working on the property. We remembered it this weekend after a discussion with someone attending our earthbag garden bed workshop and decided to check back.

It’s really something to have the work you’ve done sharply show to you from outer space! I was amazed to see that our swales, even the ones in the forest are not only visible from space but show the contour of the land perfectly. Something else that struck me. The photo from the start of this post is from a similar time of year last year, note the extra greenery and growth between the swales that wasn’t there last year. It’s only one year, so it’s not anything conclusive, but it’s interesting to note. While not shown here, the property below us is also showing increased greenery on his open areas. We’re feeling pretty positive about our swales right now.

I’ve made an image here that you can click on to compare them side by side : Side by side.jpg

Also of note Is that the can see our new shed and first water tank, which is pretty exciting to us but probably not to anyone else. Hurrah for progress! Also, amazingly enough, if you zoom in enough you can see the plastic tape on the ground that we staked out to show the outline of where the buildings for our house will be. The level of resolution is crazy!

Another neat thing is you can see the start of Danielle’s circular Mandala garden quite clearly. You can see the first garden bed all done, the 6 trees in a ring in the center (which are no more than 4 feet high at the moment) and you can even see the faint outline of the tape on the ground marking the other 5 beds. These are actually complete now thanks to the wonderful people at our workshop/blitz on the weekend and I’m really looking forward to the next update on nearmaps in a few months. It’s a really neat way to mark our progress and see the effect we’re having on the landscape in real terms. I’m very excited to see our little area of the planet getting greener and more fertile and all the trees and plants growing to fill our property and our dreams.


Warre Beehives

2012/07/29 kai 0

Something D and I have wanted to do since purchasing our land is to have an Apiary (a beehive for the uninitiated). D did a beekeeping course a while ago and I’ve always thought they were damn cute and I love honey. So we decided we would get a beehive and put one on the property.

We did a bit of reasearch on the various kinds of beehives there are. There is the classic Langstroth beehive, which is the standard box beehive you see everywhere. There are top bar hives, these look like a log on their side cut in half. After much reading we settled on a “Warre Hive”.  This is a hive design developed in France by Emile Warré. After studying many beehive styles he settled on this design as the most efficient and easiest on the bees.

With traditional hives honey is harvested by removing frames, these may be at any partof the hive and often there is a “queen excluder” that prevents the queen from entering certain parts of the hive so brood doesn’t get mixed with honey. This isn’t really a natural setup for bees as they prefer hollow logs and holes in trees. The warre hive attempts to mimic this by being a tall thin vertical hive, usually made of 3-4 boxes. Usually there are 3 boxes on the hive and a 4th standing by. Because bees build their comb from top to bottom the entire hive is made accessible. The bees initially place honey and lay eggs in the top box. But as the hive matures the bees build down into the second and third boxes. The queen prefers to lay near the middle or bottom of the hive as this is the warmest spot. So brood is moved down and eventually your top box contains nothing but honey.

Once you are ready to harvest you bring your empty box and lift the hive off the base. You then slide the empty box in the bottom, replace the hive on this and remove the top. You then take the top box and shake the bees from this into the lower boxes. You take the top box away and replace the roof. This box is your harvested honey and the brood grows down into the empty box. Rinse and repeat each season. Yummy honey.

Last month I purchased some wood from bunnings and made my own warre hive using the plans here : Warre Hive Construction Guide. I made some slight modifications to the plans because of the differences in Australian wood sizes (my boxes are slightly higher then the ones here) but it all worked out very easily. The hive came out  nicely as you can see above. This was untreated pine and so in order to prepare it for being outside we had to coat it. Paint can be touch and go with hives because many chemicals can be toxic to bees. We decided to go with an safe mix of Organic linseed oil and mixed with melted beeswax. This gives the wood a nice slick coating that smells so good you want to eat it. (No kidding).

Now we’re just waiting till August when the weather is better and we’ll be taking it up onto the land to deploy it for delicious makings of honey. We’re on a waiting list for a starter hive (yes there is a waiting list) so hopefully we’ll get our bees soon. I’m so excited and can’t wait to report how it turns out. You can see a few interesting construction pics here : CONSTRUCTION.

Badger Badger Badger Badger…

2012/06/18 kai 2

…Mushroom Mushroom! D and I have been experimenting with  exciting things that can be grown in an apartment setting. This months experiment has been Oyster mushrooms. We got a starter kit from a nice gentleman at the Manning Road farmers market. We brought them home and lovingly spritzed them with water and kept them humid and moist and indeed there has been success. As you can see above they grew quite prodigiously and provided us with enough for a large oyster omelet and quite a few left over.

At his recommendation we kept the base after picking and kept it moist and warmish and we were lucky enough to get a second crop so far. We’re hoping and aiming for a third and fourth. When the fungus appears to be losing steam, we’ll take it up to the land and bury it in a compost heap with our bukashi bin and a bunch of brown compost. Who knows, maybe we’ll seed it on the land. Yum!

This is something we’ll definitely be doing again in the future and hopefully next time we’ll make our own bags and split the mushroom kit up among them and get our own strain going. A nice darkish room with a whole row of them producing over time and we’ll be swimming in mushrooms. Hurrah!

Permie Porn!

2012/06/18 kai 0

It’s finally the rainy season here in Perth! We’ve been waiting for this for a while now and the first serious rains started up about a month ago. I meant to post this earlier but life has conspired to keep me busy. We were eagerly waiting the first big rains as it would be the first big test of the swales we spent so much time working on over the last few months. Our first visit up after the major storm was actually for our house warming night up on the land with the bonfire (We made up for the lack of house with extra warm).

We arrived fairly early in the day to set things up and get some work done. As we pulled up I found myself quite anxious with worry that the swales might not have held, or they hadn’t worked somehow or washed away. D often says I’m a nervous parent and I suspect she’s right. When we pulled into the property I noticed a strange black line about half way up the swales. My head went into panic mode. Was it a slip? Were they separating? Was it erosion? What was it!?!

Then it suddenly occurred to me.. it was a high water mark! They worked! They captured the run off, held it and then let it soak into the land where they were. SUCCESS! I will admit to dancing a small jig when I saw them and you can see the wonder for yourself. There was much rejoicing. They are performing their required duty perfectly. They are capturing the water and just as importantly the silt in the bottom is rich and soil-y and dark. Things are already growing merrily in them and the broad beans and lupens and nitrogen fixers are growing all over them like mad. We couldn’t be more pleased.

Our Permaculture teacher arrived on site later in the evening and exclaimed with glee when she saw them. She declared it “Permaculture porn” and seductively stuck her finger in it before declaring. “It’s wet!” Clearly we hang out with crazy permies.

The bonfire night was amazing fun and I was so full of happy and joy to be surrounded by family and friends on our land and with the growth of winter starting around us. I can’t think of a happier place to be and people I’d rather be with.

Next time, we might even be able to lay on some food from the property.

“The Machine” – An instructional

2012/05/09 kai 0

It’s only been 2 days since we set up this blog, and already D has gone crazy with the writings below. I figured it was probably about time I contributed somewhat to the effort and I thought the best place I could add value was in giving a bit of a breakdown on how we made the seedball machine and the costs/effort involved.

We’d first seen a seedball making machine on youtube in a video which, sadly, I’ve not been able to find again. There are quite a few other videos out there but it was really the only one that showed how it had been made from start to finish, including the seedball scoop. I really liked the idea of a machine (especially after making 600 of the buggers by hand) and it seemed like a fun construction project.

D seemed pretty keen on making a bicycle powered one after seeing the milkwood video and I also liked the idea of it being independent of power. Not to mention that anything that allows me to avoid mains power is probably a good thing.

My first sketch of the machine (to the right) was pretty much from memory of the original video we saw. It consisted of basically;

  • A table on which small wheels were mounted upwards
  • A large barrel with two open ends, mounted on the wheels to turn
  • A belt going down to a roller below the table
  • A second belt going to the power source of the machine, in this case a (badly drawn) bicycle, but a motor in the original. (We had an old dead bicycle carcass (2 flat tires and a bent rim) given to us for free. Check your local areas for bike exchanges or friends wanting to get rid of old bikes. It’s usually easy to find something useable.)


My thought was that the bicycle could easily be swapped out with a motor at a later date if we felt we wanted to do that. The core of the machine is an old olive barrel. It’s perfect in that it’s robust, large and already has a curving lip at the top and the bottom should you choose to cut these off. Ensuring that your mixture stays in the barrel with minimal fuss. It’s a 190 litre barrel and cost us $20 from a local person selling them off.

The original design called for a frame of wood, kind of like a table with a opening in the top and a solid floor below the feet with a axle mounted on it. However while talking with D’s step-dad T, he mentioned that he had an old broken Bunnings saw-horse, cutting table…thing in the garage that might suit. It was perfect! It even folded down! I turned it upside down and removed the broken wooden support surface. I then screwed 2 lengths of wood longwise across the two legs.  This was all flipped over and used as the base for the barrel.

To this I added 4 x trolly wheels purchased at Bunnings. These were a little tricky to find in the maze of Bunnings and come in a variety of sizes, I ended up choosing 4 with a diameter of about 8-10 centimeters. This seemed large enough to give the barrel enough clearance to turn while still maintaining a good surface area contact. These were the most expensive part of the final design at $19 each, but you could probably use any second hand trolly wheels you can get your hands on.

Do make sure to place your wheels and check that your barrel clears the wooden rails before attaching them, or there shall be embarrassment later. Also make sure that your wheels are aligned both side to side and longways or your barrel will sit crookedly and bounce/jostle while it turns. Here is a shot of what your creation should look like if all goes well.The barrel will turn easily and smoothly at this point with no jumping or sticking.

Now to power it! My original design called for an axle under the barrel that took a belt from axle to barrel, then a second belt from axle to power source to turn it. Once again T came to the rescue of my overcomplicated design and asked why we couldn’t just run a belt directly from the barrel to the wheel, given there was now a nice gap in the front of the “device” table. I agreed that this was a fine plan and we ran a test string from the bike directly to the barrel to see if it worked. In the picture to the right you can see the original thought for the axle (a PVC pipe with a looser PVC pipe over it) still in place. This was later removed.

In order to run the string/belt we removed the rear tire of the bike so the string could fit in the groove where the tire normally goes. This worked well and seems to be impossible to get to “jump” out through abuse.

In order to hold the bike in place we created a fairly simple rear wheel “hold-up-a-thinger” out of some scrap wood, nails and two D-nuts. A base line of wood (here a board that we had spare, but any flat piece should work) with two uprights measured for placement and angle to be just outside the rear horizontal swingarm of the bike. Sadly I have no close ups of this available but might add this later.

We then used two angled D bolts to go around the swingarm and through (outwards) the two uprights. Securing these in place with washers and nuts. Make sure your uprights are tall enough to hold the wheel a good 6-10 CM clear of the base board when bolted on. Next we used our test bit of string from the wheel to the barrel to give it a go: SUCCESS!

The string actually worked surprisingly well. It was a slightly stretchy string, almost elastic, and very cheap from Bunnings. ($8 for 10 meters). It worked so well in fact that I, with much sadness, pushed aside the (rather expensive) rubber belt I had bought and decided to just stick with the string as the belt was quite wide and did not sit well in the bicycles wheel groove.

After this there was just the business of getting the bike level and comfy to ride. For this we simply built an upside down “T” shape out of wood that just fit between the front forks of the bike with the wheel off. Next we drilled a hole right through the top of the post at the right height and ran a long bolt through it that would fit into the axle slots on the front fork. Finally we mounted the frot forks on this and added washers and a nut to clamp it down solidly.

Viola! A finished seed ball machine.

I’m looking forward to “giving it a spin” as it were. Total cost breakdown was as follows.

  • Bike: Donated, free
  • Wood: recycled scrap, free
  • Trolly Wheels: Bought at hardware store, 4 x $19
  • Barrel: Bought via local second hand, $20
  • Rope: Bought at local hardware store, $8

Grand total? : $104

And you could easily get that down by using old trolly wheels on the base from somewhere. The only addition I intend on making to the machine so far is to get one of those “no slip” bath mats and wrap it around the barrel to give the rope a slightly better purchase. It works fine as it is but you have to accelerate up at a steady pace. It can sometimes slip if you put too much sudden power into it. I’m also considering a thicker rope, but it depends on how well the current one does.

The only other suggestion I’ve had (which was genius) relates to the fact that I have an old “Magic Pie” Electric bicycle wheel lying around from when I used an electric Bike. A friend pointed out that if I wanted to safely and quickly “be lazy” I could simply pop the rear wheel off the bike and replace it with the Magic Pie electric wheel. It’s a 2kw wheel and runs off a battery pack. It’s PLENTY powerful enough to spin the barrel for hours and even has a “cruise control” button, so we could get it to a speed we like and lock it there. No muss, no fuss! So if we find peddling gets too tiring we can charge the battery up via solar and let the sun do our work for us. 🙂