Spring Planting

2016/08/21 deej 0

It’s been a busy weekend. As well as finishing off a literature review around implementing dehesa style agroforestry in Australia, for my uni course (once the paper is marked and returned, I’ll put it up here in the Resources section), I’ve planted 17 trees. The bare root trees from Heritage Fruit Trees arrived, so there’s been a lot of digging and planting happening. Five more apple trees for the orchard, five pears and two nashi pears planted in a new little pear grove, and another five stone fruit trees for Zone 1 behind the house.

 

Zone 1 includes the herb garden at the front, the roses, the chicken coops, the somewhat-in-need-of-repair vegetable garden, and most of the stone fruit I’m putting in. There are going to be almonds and cherries around the vegetable beds, to give summer shade for the veges and for people, to make it a pleasant space to be in. Between the vegetable garden and the house I’m planting a miniature hedge maze, made up of productive fruiting plants (plums, peaches, nectarines, persimmons, lily pilly trees, sloes, mulberries, and damsons) and some livestock-friendly fodder plants for cut and carry animal feed (willow, hibiscus) all trained into a hedge form. It’s a challenging mini project, because the soil in that area is very poor and very compacted, with a lot of rock in it. But what’s life without a few challenges? It’ll be beautiful when it’s all in.

 

All the trees are budding, and the almond is in full flower already. It’s definitely spring. The chickens are all laying again, and the wildflowers are out. Any day now we’ll have to harvest the beehive.

 

Meanwhile, K has been in the workshop, building a pair of Japanese-style sliding doors for our media room / meditation dojo / guest bedroom. The wood stain is going on as I type, and they should be ready to go up tonight or tomorrow. Very exciting. (The room didn’t get doors fitted when the house was built because we wanted something special, and also because the doorway is not a standard door size).

 

aesthetics vs utility

2015/11/17 deej 0

One of the things which many, many permaculture practitioners seem to struggle with is a particular type of hoarding. I have this problem myself. You hold on to things because they might be useful, and because the idea of simply throwing them away is distasteful. After all, we know where “away” is in this context – it’s the mid-ocean garbage patch, or the local waterways, or at best the local landfill.

I can throw away biodegradable things without a moment of guilt, because I know that they’ll just rot down and return to the soil. But those things tend to go into my compost anyway, since good soil is one thing we’re a little short on. Throwing away plastic hurts me inside, because I know that most of those plastics will still be there in 100 years, making problems – so I try to avoid buying plastic non-recyclables as much as possible, and one of the factors in my purchasing choices is the recyclability of the wrappers of the things I buy. But potentially useful pieces of steel, or aluminium, or wood.. I find those very difficult to toss. Even if they’re covered in rust or in sizes that will never actually be useful.

The problem with this is that you end up with a yard full of junk. It’s ugly, and it just sits there not being used.

Moving to a rural property doesn’t make it easier to avoid this sort of hoarding. We have so much more space now, and many, many things that we need to build. Plus, more sources of possibly-useful junk. Our neighbour has a collection of old truck gates, for example, previously used as sheep- and horse-fencing, which he’s said we can have if we want them. They’re rusty, and bent in a few places, but they have so much potential. We’ve taken the four in the best condition to use as trellising for grapevines, and we’re resisting the rest. For now. I’m still thinking about what they could be used for.

In the meantime, though, we have some epic grapevine trellising to de-rust, paint, and put up. This is useful, because the hot weather is here and I really want some shade along the western side of the verandah to keep the house cool in the afternoons.

Nesting

2015/08/10 deej 0

The house is so very, very close to being done. It’s a matter of weeks until we can move in, and while there’s a certain amount of argh-can-we-afford-all-this stress, it’s also a deeply satisfying feeling. It’s hard to rein in all the plans and projects.

We’ve made a pact that we’re not going to buy any furniture except for a rug or two (the floor of the new house is tiled throughout, because I like tiles and hate the ground-in filth that accumulates in wall-to-wall carpets – rugs can be taken outside and beaten, or washed, or at worst replaced) for the first few months. We’re going to move ourselves in and cull our existing stuff down to what we really want. The rest will either be re-homed or broken down to use as building material for things like new shelves and the cat runs.

translucent blindsOur first major project after moving in and unpacking and building the cat runs is probably going to be window-somethings.

We told the builder to exclude window treatments because we weren’t sure what we wanted, and we thought we’d just sort it out once we’d moved in. Now’s the time to start thinking about that, working out logistics and aesthetics and the cat-survivability (as in, will the blinds or curtains or whatever survive the cats) of the various options. So that’s a practical project.

whole tree cat toySlightly less practical are the array of landscaping projects, such as the as-yet hypothetical rockery courtyard which will be landscaped in around the front door. I’m imagining trailing veils of banksia roses and colourful succulents, rocks and sitting spots which will catch some of the afternoon sun, and a pathway leading to the front door. And the collection of paddocks, marked out by posts to which temporary fencing can be attached, for rotational grazing of goats & the house cow I want to acquire – and also the chickens, who’ll appreciate some variety in their surroundings, and will scratch the cow and goat manure into the ground so that it breaks down into soil. And the courtyard garden I plan to put along one side of the house. And the mulched on-contour pathways I want to put around the entire property.

wall decalsAnd just in case I ever run out of landscaping ideas (which I won’t, honestly), I have so many interior decoration pictures and ideas that it’s absurd. At least some of those elements are also in my plan: some whole-tree (or whole branch, at least) pieces, wall decals (ordered already), indoor plants (which the cats will inevitably try to eat), artistic and unobtrusive cat-climbing toys, reworking my enormous loft bed to be a little lower to the ground and somewhat redesigned, possibly with four-poster style curtains (which in my head are still called “princess-bed curtains”). Shelves in the craft storage room so that we can have our art/craft/electronics stuff out and easy to get to, but not in the middle of our living space or anywhere that the cats can try to eat it (seriously, George will try to eat anything – I have kitty chew-marks on my laptop). Shelves in the library so I can have books out and accessible. I miss my books; they’ve been mostly stored in boxes for years now.

Basically, I’m dreaming of the nesting part of this exercise, the bit where I get to put all my artworks up wherever I want them,  and plant my fruit trees out in the ground so they can settle in, and cuddle up on a beanbag with my sweetie in our space, together. I imagine sitting in the bath together on a winter evening in the not too distant future, with candles lit, reading our books together while we listen to the wind and the silence and the occasional oceanic roar of a truck going past on the highway up the road.

(P.S. I don’t have image sources for these pics. Sorry.)

The Pointy End

2015/07/23 deej 0

People say that building a house is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

No one said it directly to me, mind you, but in theory people say this to other people as some sort of warning of the amount of stress and effort to expect. And the people they say it to (or don’t actually say it to) listen and agree and don’t fully comprehend what it means. I thought I did, but .. with hindsight, I was in the same boat as John Snow (i.e. I knew nothing).

It’s taken three years to get to the pointy end, and we’re so close now. The house is built, and it’s being delivered to site on Monday.We went and walked through it on the builder’s lot last week, and it looks good. The colours we picked for the floor tiles and the interior walls work together; the kitchen feels spacious and user-friendly (although the cupboards will need retrofitting with those cute pull-out wire trays and baskets); the bathroom makes me happy. I have strong opinions about bathrooms being restful and not claustrophobia-causing. I feel good about the house.

house

siteThe site on the other hand is a typical building site. The sand pad is in (and it cost $6000 more than anticipated because they found a giant slab of rock and had to bring in a rock-breaker), as are several piles of extra sand and rubble. The sand pad for the crane is in – and the ground to and from it is compacted to the solidity of concrete, and streaked with oil from the various leaky machines. Every time it rains, more of the soil we’ve spent three years nurturing and building washes downhill into the neighbour’s paddock.

The builders have promised to repair the swales, re-contour the ground where they put the pad for the crane, and to take away or move the extra sand. And they’re being as careful as they can. But – it’s hard. I almost wish I didn’t have to see it in this awkward, in-between phase.

cats in the cat runOn the other hand, I’ll probably look back on this as a positive experience. After all, the house is almost done, things are finally happening. Yesterday we put the first coat of varnish on the bathroom vanity (which we’re building ourselves, and getting a custom stone countertop cut and a custom ceramic basin made for, rather than leaving to the builders). And I have the support of the best and loveliest people I could possibly want, which is something I think is essential to get through a building project – or maybe any big project.

Also, cats. With their fuzzy little faces and their uncomplicated view of the world (can I eat it? I’m gonna eat it), they help a lot with the stress.

This is a big dream. It’s not quite perfect, not quite as I imagined, but – I cherish it. I cherish each stage of the process, each memory, each experience. Even the stressful ones. This is something I chose. I’ve worked very hard on it to make it happen, and I’m proud of the outcome.

George the cat

miscellany – end of May 2013

2013/06/04 deej 0

It’s the end of May already – and past the end, by now. This year is going so fast.

So, some updates: The house planning & building is going, although ever so slowly. We’ve almost finished sorting out a small mortgage extension to cover getting the first water tank in, the second big shed up, and the full engineering plans drawn up. It may sound like an odd selection of things to prioritise, but those are the things we can get money for from the bank without having a builder, and getting a builder is still proving tricky.

The water tank will be invaluable. We meant to get it in last winter before the rains started, so it’s a full year and a few months late, but with luck we’ll get something in in time to catch some rain this winter. With luck there will be some more rain this winter. I’ve had to abandon – or at least put on hold for now – any hope of a stainless steel tank. Just too expensive to ship (truck) over from NSW. So the plan is to go with unlined concrete, since concrete is a well-understood and reliably non-toxic building material (assuming you don’t put toxic fillers in the mix, I know) even if it isn’t the most environmentally friendly option with its high embodied energy and non-recyclability.

The shed will eventually be the main workshop for woodwork and large-scale projects (like building the Lifetrac Open Source Ecology DIY tractor). In the shorter term, it will be used for a bedroom. Although the initial kitchen/living room pod of our distributed house, which (along with the bathroom & toilet) will be the first part to be built, is designed to function as an independent cottage, I didn’t design in anything like enough storage space for the wardrobes of two urban professional who also like to dress up in steampunk, and have enough casual farm clothes to handle camping and farm maintenance. In short, we have too many clothes for the space we’ll have, and they’re not things we can easily do without while maintaining our current jobs and social lives. Thus, the shed will fill that gap until we get the bedroom pod built with it’s wardrobe space.

Meanwhile, we’re getting chickens! We’ve started building a little chicken coop in the back yard, and we have permission from the owner to get a couple’ve chooks as long as we keep them contained and clean so we don’t attract rats. This will not be a problem; I can’t stand stinky, inefficient livestock operations and rats are just right out. Except tame, friendly domestic rats, which are ok for those who want them. The frame should be done this week, and we can get paint for it and the wire to enclose the run on the weekend. So, maybe another 2 weeks and then we can go chicken shopping at Comp’s Poultry for a couple’ve heritage breed chooks. I’m thinking we’ll get one naked neck and one wyandotte, and see how they go. This can be an initial experiment to see which breed(s) we end up keeping once we have a house and are moved up to Gallifrey full time.

I’m also signing up – well, applying – to do a postgrad course in dryland agriculture. Don’t know yet if I’ll be accepted, but there’s a good chance. I have a meeting set up tomorrow afternoon to fill in all the paperwork and look at my potential timetable with the head of school. Wish me luck 🙂

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