Category Archives: Design & Infrastructure

Reticulation monster bites

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I didn’t get past Day 1 in my blog posts about Edgefield’s reticulation project because it morphed into a monster that devoured our time and money in a way we hadn’t anticipated.

I would like to focus on the positive: we have Stage 1 of a sophisticated reticulation and fertigation system, which through its network of pipes takes water/fertiliser to almost the entire property and will facilitate the building and planting of an amazing garden. I’m thrilled about that.

Unfortunately, it comes at an excruciating cost. And it’s not finished yet.

We were given an hourly rates estimate for the labour component of the job equating to approximately three days, which blew out to more than eight! We have yet to receive the final bill and I am panicked at the thought. While we expected there to be perhaps 10-15% leeway, we certainly hadn’t budgeted for such an inaccurate estimate, especially given that nothing unexpected happened, like hitting rock while trenching or any other issue that could have derailed the project. In an effort to stem the financial bleeding, Jeff and I put our own work on hold and spent several days fitting reticulation, filling trenches by hand and doing as much of the manual labour as possible.

Aside from the financial, we’ve had ongoing issues with the new pump in the well, which is supposed to automatically pump water when the levels in the holding tank drop – the linchpin of the whole system. It doesn’t. And all of this was happening right on Christmas, as we were packing up to go on holidays and briefing the poor housesitters on the nightmare they had just walked into. NOT what I would call a relaxing Christmas.

Taking a break

However, I write this now while sitting under the peppermint trees of our campsite at Ocean Beach Holiday Park in Denmark, Western Australia’s South West. Sipping on an exceptionally lovely Willoughby Park Ironbark Riesling, somehow it all seems a little less stressful. Jeff, Jamie and the five kids have gone fishing. Kate is taking a nap. Life is good (and very dirty).

We’re camping on an unpowered site up the back of the park where it’s first in best dressed for an expanse of dirt under the trees. A film of fine black dust covers everything so there’s no point being precious. The kids (Hugo, Henry, Finn, Lily and Charli) are having a ball riding bikes, playing games, competing, posturing, laughing and fighting incessantly. They are ALWAYS hungry! I’ve given up on telling Hugo to wear shoes. Showers are optional. Swims, unfortunately, are not as common as we’d hoped given the cool weather. So the kids are filthy yet unfazed, of course. We’re having a ball.

Postscript

We’re home from holiday and the retic seems to be working correctly now. Our house sitters deserve a bloody medal. They were awesome! We have named two of the four new chicks born while they were here, Bill and Sue, in their honour.

It was an epic journey. We have the final invoice from Earth and Water. They have been generous and fair given the circumstances so we are satisfied yet still licking our wounds a little.

We told our Freo and Floreat friends about our the experience while we were away on holidays and they looked at us like we’d lost our marbles. No-one could remotely grasp why we would spend that kind of money on reticulation for a garden that they view simply as hard work. It got me thinking that perhaps I need some new friends that share my love and passion or simply accept that I am seen as that “weird gardening lady”- a moniker with which I am totally fine.

No designer wardrobes for this lady: I spend all my disposable income on trailer loads of shit and poly pipe!

Day 1: water installation begins

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Day 1: Trenching, pipes + pumps

“My God, the place is destroyed…in a good way.”

It’s been a long time coming but we are finally making tangible progress on turning our water strategy at Edgefield into reality. And it’s a dirty, messy, destructive business.

An excavator spent the morning digging trenches for water pipes and electrical cable in a ring around the house. A little more rain and we’d have a moat! The white/orange clay at about 400-500mm deep is ridiculous! I could line a dam with it. Little wonder I opted for raised vegie beds.

The 5,000L holding tank is now in place on the western boundary and it will be fitted with a pump and a water conditioning device to improve the quality of the well water, which currently has too much salt and iron to use on my vegies. I don’t pretend to truly understand how the device works (and many doubt that it does). But suffice to say, the proof will be in the pudding!

We tested the new zippedy-do-da Grundfos submersible well pump and pumped out all the water from the wells in order to also test their recharge capability. Please God let them recharge within 24 hours or else this entire operation is based on a false assumption. So far so good…

 

 

Sun shine on!

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5kW solar power system installed at Edgefield

Just a little bit excited about the 20 new solar panels and 5kW Fronius inverter fitted on our house today by Solargain. It’s been a long-held dream and a very big box ticked on our journey towards making Edgefield as sustainable as possible.

Immediately, the system is producing 4199 watts at 1.30pm on this lovely sunny day, the first day of summer. I’m told that is a lot of power but I really need to get my head around it. To that end we also decided to buy a Smart Meter so we can monitor our power generation and consumption. It has yet to be fitted but it will be a great way to track which appliances use the most power.

Knowing we were going to install PV, we also decided to install two split system air-conditioners (in the office and the main living room), which we hope this 5kW system should be able to run. While the house performs remarkably well in summer without additional cooling (better than in winter), the split systems should hopefully just take the edge off and make working in the north-facing office more pleasant when it’s sweltering outside. There’s nothing worse than working on a computer for hours with sweat trickling down your back. Yuck!

Next week the guys from Earth and Water should be here to install the reticulation system and then we’ll REALLY be in business (and we’ll be totally broke!) Onwards and upwards.

Spring Project Central

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There’s been so much going on at Edgefield lately, along with a busy work schedule, that allows no time to write this blog (my usual, boring lament)! As cliched as it sounds, spring fever has gripped me and, by association, Jeff. We are powering through our big jobs/infrastructure list! It helps that with both of our consulting businesses going well, there’s actually some money in the kitty for discretionary spending, something we haven’t had much of for a while.

Bike race track and extending the driveway

The boys are happy little campers now that they’re finally off their bike training wheels (hooray!) and they have a new bike path of compacted Ferricrete that loops from the driveway around the top of the block. Hugo’s scratched up knees are testament to the thrills and spills of the racetrack…Henry, not so much. We also extended the driveway partway up the block with a 3-point turn for backing up trailers to the four new compost bays Jeff built from recycled pallets we had stockpiled from the house build.

Fruit Trees

I was late in finalising my orchard plan and when I finally made it down to the lovely Joanne at Guildford Town Garden Centre, the winter bare-rooted fruit tree stock had been well picked over and they had started to bag up most of their remaining stock. Still, I managed to purchase five of the trees I wanted to add to the two heritage apples I had sourced from Poppy’s Patch in Mount Barker and a double grafted Nashi from Tass1Trees. A very expensive truckload of poo (Vegetable Concentrate) from Green Life Soil Co. later and we were in business.

Recently planted:

  1. Apple Dwarf “Pinkabelle” Pink Lady
  2. Nashi Multi-Graft “Nijisseiki”/ “Shinsui”
  3. Peach “Crimson Rocket” columnar
  4. Nectarine Dwarf “Flavortop”
  5. Plum Dwarf ‘Mariposa’
  6. Plum Dwarf ‘Satsuma’
  7. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Adam’s Pearmain’
  8. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Sturmer Pippin’

Still to come:

  1. Almond Semi-Dwarf “All-in-One”
  2. Apple Dwarf “Granny Smith”
  3. Apricot Multi-Graft “Moorpark”/ “Trevatt”
  4. Peach Dwarf “O’Henry”
  5. Pear Dwarf “Bartlett/Williams”
  6. Pear Dwarf “Beurre Bosc”
  7. Avocado ‘Hass’
  8. Persimmon ‘Fuyu’

My good neighbour Tony once again came to the rescue with his excavator to save our poor backs on this heavy clay soil. So with holes dug, we planted the trees in mounds, staked and fenced them off individually to protect them from our rather large and intimidating neighbourhood kangaroos.

Moving the ATU blackwater reticulation to extend the lawn

Edgefield has undergone many, many design iterations and in the latest round we extended the lawn in a long triangle further up the block. (See recent post: “Guilt-free green lawn”.)

Water strategy

FINALLY, we’re making headway on our perennially perplexing water problem: how to sustain this thirsty, abundant garden we want to create into the future? We have explored ALL our options in detail:

  • Scheme water
  • ATU
  • Existing wells (2)
  • Magnetic water conditioning device
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Bore
  • Sub-surface drainage capture

To make sense of all these options, their viability and cost effectiveness, and to finally make a decision on a way forward, we engaged the services of Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who Jeff had worked with some years ago on an eco-village project in Chidlow. He was highly knowledgeable, slightly quirky, but genuine and friendly. We discussed everything including soil, plant biology and chemistry for two hours before even heading outside. Anyone who knows me will laugh at the thought of me discussing chemistry but I actually surprised myself with how much I knew. I kept up with him on (almost) all of it!

Anyway, at the end of it he flipped over a piece of paper and in minutes scrawled a design based on average calculations of our water use and centred on using our existing two wells as our primary water source. Let’s hope they continue to recharge throughout summer! The plan goes something like this:

  • install a water conditioning device on the wells to combat the poor water quality and a submersible pump to pump to a small holding tank
  • scheme water will be used to top up the well holding tank when/if it runs dry at the end of summer (they’re currently overflowing)
  • a 30,000L steel tank for our household use/drinking
  • dripline irrigation for the intensive veggie patch, orchard and other small areas bordering the house, plus separate “germination sprinklers” on a separate station.
  • 2-3 new taps

I’d hoped the advice we’d received earlier that a bore would likely be saltier even than our wells would prove to be false, but Nigel concurred with the bore guy. No silver bullet there unfortunately. So we are now waiting for a quote from Earth and Water to implement the plan before summer hits with a vengeance! Hand watering is taking me close to an hour already and I’m doing a light job in this balmy weather.

Solar panels

We have a consultation tomorrow with Jeremy from Solargain to talk installation of solar panels on our lovely north-facing roof. While the feed-in tariffs are pretty average these days, for Jeff and I who work from home during the day while the sun shines, it makes sense as I understand it. I’m looking forward to learning more about the details and ticking another major box on our “road to sustainability” list.

I’m so excited about the progress we’ve made recently on Edgefield. It is coming together beautifully.

Woodworking Pt 2 – Dovetail joints

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It’s now Term 3 at Mundaring Sharing where I booked into a woodworking course (in Term 2) to make a “simple” potato box for my pantry from Jarrah planks leftover from my deck. I am still plugging away. I now remember that nothing is simple or quick when it comes to woodworking and that is part of its charm. I’m just so damn impatient! And so I remind myself that this is good for me. That said, I lost about four weeks when my teacher did his back in and had to cancel the class, so in reality what was a slow and deliberate process anyway has been interminably delayed and I would very much like to finish it!

So last week I finally got onto making dovetail joints to join all the pieces of my box together. I vaguely remember making them for my coffee table all those years ago but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do them by hand, which I have now learnt to do. When I get stuck into a particular facet of woodworking, when I know what i have to do and don’t get interrupted, it’s easy to get lost in it. The repetition becomes meditative rather than boring I find. Maybe by the end of Term 3 I will have finished…

Wonderful woodworking

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I’d always longed to try woodworking, so Jeff bought me a Introduction to Woodworking course at Perth Wood School for my birthday years ago. I made a very simple document/jewellery box and loved it. So, of course, I jumped in head first and decided to follow it up with a very complicated Jarrah coffee table, complete with two soft-close drawers and a black resin inlay. I’m rather proud of that table, which now occupies centre stage in my lounge room.

So after a six year long hiatus in which time I had two kids and was mired in the exhausting, selfless routine of babies and toddlers, I’m now glimpsing a light at the end of the tunnel where there’s opportunity to do something for myself again. I thought I’d tip toe back into woodworking and signed up for a short course at Mundaring Sharing (an adult learning centre just around the corner from me). I decided to make a potato storage box for my new pantry from some Jarrah boards left over from the building of our deck. It’s an easy, achievable project through which I hope to refresh my skills and get back in the groove.

Tony, my woodworking teacher, is an eccentric, old school guy intent on teaching me the “proper way” to do things, which I’m only too happy to learn. Next week he’s teaching me how to make dovetail joints to join the sides of my box together. I find making stuff with my hands so enjoyable and rewarding. Perhaps it’s the flipside to my creativity: writing and building stuff.

If only I’d had someone to teach me this when I was younger. My Dad, bless him, didn’t have a practical bone in his body, and while Mum is pretty practical, she never learnt anything from her Dad either (because she was “just a girl”) so there wasn’t any knowledge to pass down. What I have learnt has come from trial and error (probably the best way) and my Permaculture Certificate III course, which covered a bunch of skills like bricklaying, welding and building a rammed earth wall.

I need someone to take me under their wing and I need more time…if only. However, with all the big plans we have for Edgefield, there will be plenty of opportunity for trial and error.

It pays to get expert help

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While I like to think of myself as a do-it-yourself kinda gal, I learnt from my father (who was not a handy man) that often your time is better spent doing what you do well and paying someone else to do what they do well for you. That doesn’t always hold true, but there is definitely a time and place for getting expert help, and in this case, it was well worth it.

Note: this is one of many blog posts I would have liked to do much earlier, back in November 2014, when this building occurred. However, for the same reasons I didn’t do this particular job myself (we were ridiculously busy) I didn’t write it either. 

Late last year, I was keen to get a vegie garden established in time to reap the rewards of summer’s abundance. However, time was not on my side and it seemed that the stockpile of iron sheeting we had been storing forever would never actually get used to build the raised garden beds of which I dreamed.

Enter my saviour, Brad Miles.

Brad is a roof carpenter and did a great job building the roof of my new house. While he was on site, we had the opportunity to chat about my garden and he showed my some pics on his phone of the raised garden beds he had built for himself, friends and family and listed a few on Gumtree for sale. Perfect. I think I was so excited I pretty much hired him on the spot.

So one blistering hot Sunday, Brad rocked up with his ute full of professional carpentry tools and set to work building me three new garden beds 4.25m L x 1m W to “match” the dodgy one Jeff and I had cobbled together much earlier. Boy, is it a sorry cousin to the new ones! Brad reused and cut down to size all our old iron sheeting and bought new treated pine boards to build a solid frame. (Some people might wonder why I used treated pine instead of something like Jarrah, which is naturally resistant to rot. To be honest, I didn’t do my own research before giving Brad the go-ahead. But he had, and assured me that while it wouldn’t be considered organic, it wasn’t harmful. Cost was also another deciding factor. Jarrah was simply unfeasible for me at the time.) The beds are solid enough to sit on, stand on and, of course, rest your beer while you’re gardening, a very important design consideration. Brad charged us very reasonable hourly rates for his time and built three huge beds in a day – a bloody good effort while working in the blazing sun. And that’s exactly why I didn’t attempt this job. Not only would I have passed out from sun stroke, we didn’t have the proper tools, knowledge, skills, time or freedom (with two little kids at foot). 

While we didn’t exactly have a lot of cash to throw at this venture given that we were coming to the end of the very costly exercise of building a house. The cost benefit analysis for this was pretty easy. So much so, I’ve asked Brad to build me four more to mirror the others and complete my kick-arse vegie patch!

Five months later, I have just planted my winter vegetable crops and the beds look fantastic. Ages ago, I’d bought a huge piece of reo (that builders use to reinforce concrete pads) to create an arbour but had never used it. It’s now found a home spanning two beds and the walkway between creating what I hope will be a blushing arbour of fragrant climbing sweet peas in a few months time.

Postscript: Brad has a small selection of completed raised garden beds for sale and is able to build them made to measure. If you’re interested, contact me and I’ll be happy to pass your details on to him to follow up.

Five months of silence: Where to start?

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It’s been so long since I last posted on my beloved blog it was becoming untenable. Either find a few minutes to write for enjoyment or call it a day. So here I am. I am under no illusions I write almost exclusively for myself but perhaps an explanation of the last five months of silence is warranted, if not simply to remind myself that no online activity does not equate to no activity at all, quite the opposite in fact.

There have been a number of monster projects undertaken and milestones achieved lately, on top of life’s usual hectic pace:

  • My regular communications consulting work increased to 3+ days/week (often more, sometimes less) – October 2014.
  • We finished building our new house – 22 December 2014.
  • We moved into our new house just before Christmas – 23 December 2014.
  • Jeff quit his corporate city job and started a new housing, urban design and planning consulting business, Edgefield Projects, working from home – February 2015.

And within each of those simple little bullet points lies a veritable tsunami of work that it only just starting to subside and equalise. Having Jeff working from home full-time is still a novelty and has not been without its hiccups, but we are quickly finding our rhythm. There’s pretty much only upside to this situation, for both of us, but especially for him. He has joyously cast aside the ball and chain of commuting and is loving being able to drop the kids at school; shoot some hoops with Henry in the afternoon; eat dinner together as a family; and work when, where, how and as often as he pleases. It seems like such a simple thing, setting your own agenda and prioritising the activities in your life, yet it’s often so very difficult to achieve.

Finding balance

Jeff and I have held a long term goal of achieving “balance” in our lives. That elusive little word means different things to different people but for us it has underpinned a desire to more evenly split financial and domestic responsibilities for a raft of reasons, which we hope will generate positive outcomes for our family. Some of the simple mechanisms by which we do this also have greater implications for the environment and the community, which is part of our goal, such as:

  • Working from/closer to home:
    • saves up to 10 hours a week not commuting, which is time that can be spent on work or play
    • reduces our energy consumption and bills
    • builds the local arm of our two consulting businesses, increases connections and networks
    • enables us to become more involved in the local community, school, volunteering
    • enables us to spend more time on projects at home, such as the garden, which builds resilience and self-sufficiency, among other things.

Of course, the benefits of Jeff being a hands-on Dad are enormous. The kids are loving having him around more, as am I (for the most part). We still need to find our rhythm on the domestic front. I anticipated that was going to be the biggest hurdle we had to jump. Of course, Jeff doesn’t see any issue there, but he wouldn’t, would he?

It’s early days yet in our new family and financial structure. While things are looking really positive for Edgefield Projects with a number of small jobs already on the books, consulting is a roller coaster ride that never ends. You never know when or where the next job will come from. We are in “claw back debt” mode, and when we are on more stable financial ground I will breathe a big sigh of relief and stop to look around and smell the roses. But for now, it’s heads down, bums up, working on building our businesses.

Our glorious new house

In regards to our new house, there’s little to say other than we are feeling supremely happy and incredibly fortunate. Good design, great natural light, beauty and space – what more could anyone want? Living in it is a transformative experience.

So, what now?

We’ve achieved an awful lot in the last year but 2015 is set to be just as big. Building a new business is no small feat but hopefully the lifestyle we’re trying to create will allow us more time to do what’s important to us and what we’re passionate about. With all that I juggle in my day-to-day life at the moment, that idea seems fanciful. I know I need to learn how to slow down and do less (Jeff tells me this constantly). A Physio, of all people, once suggested I operated on a permanent adrenalin rush, which he said was unhealthy and unsustainable (hence the reason I was seeing him). I often feel that no matter how hard I work, my “to do” list is endless and forever growing. But I also recognise that my “to do” list is self-generated and much of it consists of projects I want to do, primarily in the garden and on our property. So I’m not complaining. I just wish, like everyone else, I had more time. And therein lies my problem and, perhaps, its solution.

I know what I need to do to obtain mental balance, I just don’t know how to do it. Perhaps that’s my challenge for 2015?

Recycling blackwater: a step in the right direction

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We have installed this Fujiclean ATU (Alternative Treatment Unit) in our new house. It treats every drop of water we use, including our blackwater (from toilets and kitchen), to an almost potable standard and reuses it all again through reticulation piped under the lawn and fruit trees. Not a cheap system but well worth the outcomes. I can have a guilt-free green lawn all summer. It’s a step in the right direction to making Edgefield as sustainable as possible. Next stop: solar panels.

Link

Swimming Pool Farms: Going Off the Deep End in Arizona

http://modernfarmer.com/2014/09/ground-gardening-going-deep-end-arizona/

How cool is this?

Instead of water wings and inner tubes, Dennis and Danielle McClung’s backyard pool in Mesa, Arizona, is filled with tomato plants, grape vines and wheat. There’s a chicken coop and a fish pond, and the food that comes out of the pool, from tilapia to tomatoes, feeds the McClung family of five. It’s a system that took a few frustrating failures to perfect, but now the McClungs hope to take swimming-pool farming international.

Spring gardening fever takes hold

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Life has been so busy of late with a new marketing contract for a local realtor, school holidays and myriad jobs readying our current house for its imminent rental that this blog has taken a back seat. However, there have been many blog-worthy gardening and chook activities on Edgefield so I thought it was about time I caught up on my posts.

About a month ago, Jeff and I wrestled our large DIY corrugated iron raised garden bed into its final resting place in the location of the new vegie patch. This point was noted with great relief by Jeff (and me) as we talked about how much abortive work we have done on this property. That is to say, mainly gardening-related planting and infrastructure that has since been pulled up, bulldozed and relocated, such as a water main line and 12-station reticulation system, a small orchard worth of fruit trees and too many garden beds to count.

Jeff and I might be dreamers but we’re also pretty damn good at getting things done too. This new house was one of many ideas that became a project that became a reality. Not all our ideas do (thankfully) but we’re pretty thrilled we’ve managed to pull this one off because it is the best by far and it feels permanent. I have joked that Jeff will have to use a crowbar to ever get me to move again. After so many houses, and our third time building, it feels like we’re in this one for the long haul and that feels spectacularly good.

raised bedAnd so moving that enormous raised bed and filling it with dirt knowing we wouldn’t have to ever move it again (hopefully) was a significant act. It’s sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of a construction site but sowing seed in it made me feel a step closer to moving in and starting our new life. Hooray! I built a couple of trellises today and planted:

  • ‘Lemon’ cucumber
  • ‘Crystal Apple’ cucumber
  • ‘Double Yield’ cucumber
  • ‘Mexican Sweet’ corn
  • ‘Balinese’ corn
  • ‘Flageolet Flagrano’ semi-climber bean
  • ‘Frost’ bush beans
  • ‘Lazy Housewife’ climbing beans
  • Bull’s Blood beetroot
  • Burpee’s Golden beetroot
  • Chioggia beetroot

Henry and Hugo helped me plant the seeds and then began building tunnels in the pile of yellow brickies sand nearby. Henry did ask though, I’m pleased to say, for his own garden bed so he could plant his own vegies. That’s definitely something I want to encourage so I guess I’ll have to build another bed ASAP.

I am waiting impatiently for my Diggers Club order to arrive in the mail to top up my already overflowing seed bank. Buying seed is addictive. My Seed Annual catalogue from The Diggers Club, as a friend once said, is “permaculture porn”. Indeed!

Quantity

CODE

DESCRIPTION

1

S 0101

BEAN BABY SUN

1

S 087

CUCUMBER RICHMOND GREEN APPLE

1

S 013

BEAN CLIMBING 3 COLOUR MIX

1

S 064

CAPSICUM SEVEN COLOUR MIX

1

S 072

CARROT BABY

1

S 114

SWEET CORN HONEY and CREAM F1

1

S 163

PEA SHOOTS

1

S 197

ROCKMELON ANANAS

1

S 2510

WATERMELON MOUNTAIN SWEET YELLOW

1

S 280

WATERMELON SUGAR BABY

1

S 2372

TOMATO PINK BUMBLEBEE

1

S 246

TOMATO TEN COLOUR HEIRLOOM MIX

1

S 2221

TOMATO CURRANT MIX

I have been doing quite a bit of gardening work on the current house lately. In the small herb and kitchen garden that remains, I’ve been harvesting the last of my super-productive broccolini and pulling out the winter brassicas, and replacing them with summer crops of tomatoes, basil and capsicum. I also have stacked the garden full of a variety of lettuces and loose leaf greens for summer salads, yum! I’m not sure why I’m going to so much trouble when we’re going to be moving out in two months but I guess I’m hoping that if the garden looks lovely and inviting, our future tenant will want to maintain it.

I’ve also plugged lots of holes and gaps in the rest of the garden and have been giving myself an education on Australian natives. I’m not very knowledgeable about natives as I’ve been a bit obsessed about edible plants for the last few years, but there’s an amazing range of lovely foliage and flowers to be had. And of course they make sense in our climate. It’s so easy in this gorgeous shoulder season of Spring growth to forget the blistering, unrelenting heat of summer in Perth that bakes everything to a crisp regardless of how much water you pour on it.

raised brick bedsTomorrow the builders are going to waterproof my new recycled red brick planter boxes that line the (as yet unbuilt) Jarrah verandah so I can plant them out with herbs. Our builder, Neil, is a patient bloke. Poor guy is probably thinking I’m mad, and I know I should wait until they’ve finished building everything around them, but I’m just so keen to get my plants established now to catch all this vigorous Spring growing weather. And I’m bloody impatient! So little by little we are preparing for the big move. Bring it on, I am so excited!

Roof on, wall cladding…it looks like a real house now!

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It’s been a while since I posted a house update but I’m so excited with the progress. Unfortunately, the windows and doors we ordered from Queensland were late in arriving which set everything back. So our progress against schedule has slipped. But the windows arrived on Monday and our builder has sprung into action and reckons he can make up the time. I just had a beer with the chippies this afternoon (standard Friday afternoon practice) and they reckon we’re still on for a Christmas completion, so cross fingers.

DIY brooder box and new Australorp chicks

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I built a chick brooder box and I’m a little bit proud of myself. It’s a simple thing but often they’re the most rewarding, especially as I now have six new one-week-old Australorp chicks happily peeping outside my back door.

I used as many recycled materials as I could and loosely followed some instructions off the net. I’ve been clearing out my shipping container and getting rid of box after box of baby clothes (a cathartic but slightly melancholy experience) and repurposed one for my brooder.

  1. I cut out most of the box’s rectangular lid with an angle grinder to provide ventilation.
  2. I had to buy a piece of heavy gauge wire mesh to fit over the lid, cut it down to size with the angle grinder with a hole for the lamp to fit / hang, drilled holes and secured it with cable ties.
  3. Add to that some wood chip mulch for bedding.
  4. I found an old spotlight buried on a back shelf of the garage which still worked, then inserted a new red globe to provide heat.
  5. I splurged and bought a thermostat online which is an awesome gadget. You plug it into the wall, plug the lamp into the thermostat, set your desired temperature, put the temperature probe at chick head height and you’re set. The light turns on and off automatically to maintain the correct temperature. Simple genius! It guards against chicks over or under-heating, saves me having to manually adjust the light and gives me comfort that I’m not going to start a fire, melt the box and kill my chicks. All good things.
  6. Add a mini waterer and a plant saucer full of chick starter crumble.
  7. Add chicks and voila! 

Designing a chook palace using permaculture principles

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Another rainy day design session at home, this time imagining a monumentally magnificent chook house that would do any dandy rooster proud.

jo drawing

I wanted a lesson in SketchUp, an awesome 3D modelling program that Jeff uses regularly for work and in which he created some of the amazing images of our new house. But of course, ever the old school architect, Jeff can’t think without sketching. So, pen in hand, surrounded by library books on the subject, we set about designing the infrastructure centrepiece of our garden plan by hand.

The chook house is but one of many mini projects within the larger overall plan for Edgefield which will probably take us a decade to fully realise. 

My impetus for this doing this now is an unfortunate string of events involving a voracious fox and the loss of some of my prize chickens. Our current set up is a small coop from which I free range the chooks every day and lock them up at night. This scenario is left wide open to human folly (read: I’ve forgotten more than once to close the door despite a daily reminder on my phone). Devastated by my recent losses and wracked with guilt, I’ve decided that building an enclosed chook house, run and yards has become Number One priority on my to-do list.

chook house drawing

Sketching various configurations and nutting out the details.

We plan to design and build it ourselves using recycled materials where possible, both from an ethical perspective, but also because we’re on a budget. In reality, there is no budget for this at the moment. We are saving every cent to finish the new house. Despite this, I want it to be beautiful as well as functional. After all, it will be the centrepiece of our garden and this garden will be stunning, damn it…if it takes me till the kids leave high school! I want to build the wall facing the house (south side) out of recycled red brick which will match the built-in planter boxes on the jarrah verandah as well as the internal fireplace. The balance I’d like to build out of timber frame and zincalume metal sheeting with a skillion roof facing north to capture the sun. Passive solar design for our chooks: why not?

I’m rather hooked on chooks I must say and I plan to breed them. So I want this set up to accommodate up to 50 birds (a number that made Jeff’s eyes widen in disbelief). We’ll more than likely never get close to that many but numbers will fluctuate with the seasons, new broods and dispatch of roosters, so better to be safe than sorry. We won’t be free ranging anymore and I don’t want my precious soil to be ruined from overstocking birds.

Designing to permaculture principles

When designing with permaculture principles in mind I think about a system that minimises effort and maximises efficiencies. In permaculture, you’re taught that everything you do, plant, build or own should fulfil multiple purposes. For example, if you plant a tree, ask yourself, what is the purpose of that tree and how many functions does it provide? Will it provide shade, produce food (for humans and/or animals), act as a windbreak, fix nitrogen into the soil, produce timber, attract and protect wildlife, etc?

And so we’ve found, there is more to designing a super efficient, integrated chook house than meets the eye. Collection of manure and spoiled straw is as important a part of this system as egg production. The chooks will be the engine room of my garden; the nitrogen component of my future compost system, which will be located within stone’s throw of the chook house. I want nesting boxes and roosts located on outside walls with hatches for easy egg and manure collection. The design will allow up to six separate yards including the future covered orchard, which will enable me to rest the soil in some yards and plant green manure and fodder / medicinal herb crops for the chooks to access and enjoy. Importantly, it’ll enable flexibility including brooding boxes for hens and chicks, a sick / quarantine bay and a rooster yard if necessary.

The details have yet to be finessed but we’re getting there. I’m learning SketchUp via a much smaller project: designing potato and onion boxes for my new pantry. I’m going to build them out of some recycled timber floor boards we stockpiled from the demolition of our old pump house. But stay tuned for the chook palace in 3D!

Stormy conditions fail to stall building progress

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Mother Nature has been doing her worst of late, hurling rain and wind down on Edgefield. Freezing temperatures and frost creeping insidiously down the valley have turned my heat-loving Brazilian cherries brown and halted the early mulberry shoots in their tracks.

However, nothing is getting in the way of our builder it seems (long may it remain so). OK, so maybe last Monday the three roofing guys finally called it quits at 1.30pm before they were nearly blown off the roof altogether. It’s probably the one and only time I’ll say I’m glad they left early. Otherwise, it’s been delightfully steady progress as the pictures will attest.

When the wall frames went up, the rooms felt bigger: that odd trick of the eye / brain I remember from our last build. It’s been so exciting to finally be able to visualise and spatially understand the rooms. With his architectural training and design experience, Jeff probably never had a problem understanding the space. But despite all his wonderful 3D modelling images, which helped no end and are more than most people have when they build, nothing quite matches standing underneath vaulted roof beams to truly understand how a room is going to feel. And it feels gooood! Bring on the roof, windows and walls!

Winter Wonderland

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Edgefield is so beautiful this time of year. There’s something beguiling about winter in the Perth Hills: dripping trees, misty mornings, citrus trees groaning under fruit, mushrooms popping up and the last splatters of russet-coloured leaves clinging to the trees. Inside it’s all roaring pot belly stove, red wine and slow-cooked casseroles, long cuddly bedtime stories and blankets precariously hung between couches to make cosy cubbies.

It’s also a time of exciting action on our building site with timber frame walls going up yesterday and structural steel framing being installed as I type. The concrete was ground down to its pre-polished finish last week and looks amazing. It’s just the standard plain grey concrete mix with white quartz and blue metal aggregate strewn through it. Indestructible! Just as well given my crazy boys.

 

Jeff and I have been busy too, slowly fixing this place up. We finished building a new fence last weekend, reusing the existing fence panels but concreting in solid new posts and a gate. From what we thought was an awkward, small triangle of land, we have created a substantial, north-facing herb and vegie garden with a new patch of lawn connected to the patio and a gravel pathway leading from the laundry to the new clothesline. It’s a wonderful space which adds a lot to the useability of the outdoor area. Herbs and vegies (mostly greens and beetroot) have been planted, ferricrete purchased ready to do the pathway but we’ll wait till Spring to lay the lawn. It’s looking really great and I’m so happy to have a little garden to potter in again. After some time off, I’ve caught the bug again. Garden, old friend, I’ve missed you. Pots just don’t cut it.

Itching for a concrete slab

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We’re back on schedule according to the builder’s program, as opposed to being ahead of it, as we were. But how can I complain about that? Progress has been slow and steady (I’m just really impatient). The brick build-up was finished last week, filled with truckloads of river sand, then compacted ready for plumbing pre-lay, which looks like it was finished today. So we are a go go for a concrete slab on Monday. Pity it won’t be finished tomorrow as I’m dying to have a “slab on the slab” party. So bogan… but I’m just trying to fit in around these parts.

Last weekend Jeff and I spent a pretty penny at Bunnings on DIY materials to start fixing, tidying up and improving the current house in readiness for its eventual rental when the new house is completed. We’re moving the house block fence line to incorporate an awkward triangle of land that sits adjacent to the patio. It was part of my former illustrious vegie patch, which was displaced by the new driveway. Fortunately, it is north-facing and perfectly located next to the back door so it will make a delightful, albeit small herb and kitchen garden.I’m itching to plant out my herbs which I dug up and put in pots at the end of summer.

While I’m enjoying the respite of no gardening and keeping busy with a thousand other tasks, I feel somewhat lost without something to pick, plant, stake or weed. My garden is an integral part of me and my life I’ve now realised. It’s in my DNA and I can’t fight it. Why would I want to? There’s no place I’d rather be on a clear, cold, sunny winter’s day than pottering in my garden.

Edgefield Design Session #3

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The kids were in bed, it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’d been to the library earlier in the week returning with armloads of divine inspiration. So with a cup of tea (or was it a beer?) we set to work on finishing the second draft of the permaculture plan that will turn our muddy, cleared back block into a green oasis of fun, tranquility and abundance. It’s so much fun to dream, design and then do!

House footings and an asparagus patch

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We’ve started Edgefield’s new house project with a bang, I’m thrilled to report. In a week and a half, our builder and his earthmoving team, have managed to complete a massive site works program including:

  • laying all the services (water, power, phone/broadband)
  • building a new driveway over the top
  • clearing all remaining vegetation and levelling the block
  • putting in an extensive network of sub-surface drainage pipes to drain off all the water that accumulates in winter as it’s a low-lying back block that sits in a small valley with heavy, clay soil
  • marking out and pouring the concrete footings
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Footings are in: 16 May 2014

Sand pad and bricklaying of the brick build-up will happen on Monday with the concrete slab scheduled for Wednesday. Aah, progress. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet seemingly, so often it’s elusive on residential building projects. 

Jeff and I have previously built two houses together: one was a spec home built by project home builders, WA Country Builders, in Drummond Cove, 10 minutes north of Geraldton on WA’s north coast. It couldn’t have been easier, but we weren’t emotionally invested in the slightest. The other was Flinders St in Mount Hawthorn: the blood, sweat and tears custom design project that nearly killed us. We can look back on it now with some distance and say the result was worth the pain…perhaps. We built a beautiful house of our own design of which we are very proud and we sold it for a profit that got us where we are today. However, it was a traumatic experience with a builder who was in over his head and seemingly incapable of communication. Needless to say, we learnt a lot and have taken that experience with us into this project. So hopefully, this one will go a little more smoothly, if experience and organisation is worth anything.

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Henry and Basil the class bear sitting in the excavator.

Asparagus patch

My old asparagus patch was in the way of the new driveway so the three-year old crowns had to be lifted and moved to a permanent new location. I attempted to dig them out myself, shovel in hand…silly woman. I quickly realised how futile that was and so asked the earthmoving guy in his big excavator to dig them out for me. God bless diesel: they were humungous! They looked like giant sea monsters. There is no way I could have dug them out or lifted them for that matter. So today Jeff and I took on the gargantuan task of planting them. Unfortunately the trench I’d asked the excavator guy to dig for me was insufficient so we had to dig it by hand. God almighty this clay soil gives you a workout! Who needs to lift weights at the gym when you can dig holes?! Several hours later we got the six monster octopus crowns partially planted (will finish tomorrow) with a trailer load of mushroom compost and mixed manure, dolomite lime and gypsum sprayed all over the clay base and sides. They should now be the happiest asparagus alive (as long as I got them in the ground quickly enough.) The first residents of our future new vegie patch.

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Asparagus: the first residents of the new vegie patch