The Young and the Eggless

OK, so let’s just ramp up the drama another notch. You wouldn’t think there’d be more notches, but there are always more notches.

Since Dynamite died, we’ve planned to get another chicken as a replacement. But the other two black ones were a bit suspect. Those hackles were very pointy. Those wattles very red. That comb quite luxuriant. We waited to see. The guy who gave us to them assured us they were pullets. They were from a different bloodline; that’s why they didn’t look like the grey one.

Last week Silvie turned out to be Silvio when he awoke the neighbourhood with his scratchy sounds-like-a-small-child-being-strangled cry. This morning, Silvio’s cry was added to, just a bit, by a second voice from White Streak.

Can’t say I was too surprised. They’ve been developing some nice colour in their tails, and little ochre splotches on their sides. This is not girl-chicken style showiness.

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No mucking around this time. We went off to the professionals and got three new ones. The Australorps they had were all a little small, and we didn’t want Popples getting too overbearing with them, so we got 2 Sussex (one Light, one Coronation), and one black Australorps.

R has already named the Light Sussex “Fern”.

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The black Australorps shall henceforth be known as “Foxy”, since she’s so quick and nimble and can’t be caught.

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We’ll see what S comes up with for the Coronation.

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Oh, and a chicken post wouldn’t be a chicken post without a couple of snaps of Popples, who has proven herself a stayer and a keeper.

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The fellow at Abundant Layers was very understanding of our story, and offered to re-home the two cockerels.

Dumb idea #112

I was thinking that the “waxed paper” cups from last year’s party season would be great to establish new plants in. Proceeded to stick in some rosemary twigs. Plants grew. Cups popped in ground to decompose, releasing baby plant.

But no, that is not what happened. The little plants struggled and struggled, even after a perfect sunshine-then-rain summer.

Investigations were held. Damn those waxed paper cup makers who use plastic instead of wax. And we’ve been recycling these things!

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Trampoline dismantled

The trampoline has been a giant, dominating presence in the garden forever. Given how glass-half-empty Carl was, it’s astonishing the effort that went into putting the thing in there.

Time rolls on, however, and the trampoline has built-in planned obsolescence in the form of the steel rings that attach the mat to the springs. They’re not galvanised, or stainless steel, and they just rust out in the weather. Some months back they started breaking. One by one the springs go twang. The rings are sewn into the mat, too, so you can’t even replace them.

It’s not safe to jump on anymore, and hard rubbish is coming around again, so it’s time for it to come down.

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It’s been unloved for a while
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Three of the springs went twang just while I was taking off the net poles.

Wood and book boxes

The space either side of the fireplace was always meant to receive some furniture. We used to just pile the wood onto the carpet, and we had sticks sitting in a basket. Now that we have a nice new slate hearth we can have nice neat wood, too. So the theory goes.

We also have spare books without shelving to sit on (eternally so, no matter how much shelving we make), so we’re going to combine wood storage boxes with book shelves. The irony of which one you burn and which one you don’t is not lost on us.

On this occasion, we’re going to go with trendy exposed end-grain ply. Each box is about 1.5m wide and 77cm high so that it blends with the edge of the fireplace. Ideally, the boxes would be 68cm deep, to get them to go against the wall and line up with the front of the fireplace. Ply only comes in increments of 1 foot, though (600mm, 900mm, 1200mm, 2400mm), so we cut that back to 60cm for material and cost efficiency. We’ll make the ply walls about 35mm thick – nice and chunky.

We got 3 2400x1200mm sheets of 15mm structural ply, and 1 sheet of 6mm marine ply for the outside skin (yay ute action). We chop each one length-wise to give us 8 2400x600mm sheets.

Of course, we didn’t have a straight edge that was 2.4m long, and we don’t have a table saw. So a bit of time was spent casting around for a piece of steel or aluminium that would give us a long straight edge whenever we need to cut big sheets. It’s surprisingly hard to find – a lot of the material on sale is only 2m long at most.

Anyway, difficult doesn’t mean impossible, so:

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It doesn’t have to be perfectly even – we can always trim with the plane later to create a uniform depth, but the straighter we make it now the closer to 600mm depth we can achieve.

Perhaps the trickiest bit is making sure the cut end doesn’t flop onto the ground and bend and crack the last bit as you’re cutting and squeeze the circular saw blade and so on. We use patented agricultural techniques to catch the piece not clamped to the table:

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No, we don’t have sawhorses.

With all the bits in half, it’s a tad easier then to chop off one end. Each piece will become one left-and-right and one up-and-down piece.

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Planters done

It might have taken a month, but the planters on the deck are refreshed.

We left the story having a moan about fungus and with plans to eradicate it. The idea was to line the inside of the wine barrels with plastic. The other issue was water management. Wine barrels are waterproof – otherwise there’d be wine all over the winery’s cellar floor and that can only end in tears … The barrels need drain holes, but in the summer the holes need to be plugged. With the two barrels we have the soil gets very dry in the hot weather, and it’s hard to moisten it when the water just runs out the hole in the side.

We got two more barrels. In the 5 years since we got the last ones, the price has gone up by 60%, the quality has gone down, and the barrels are no longer French-made. Such is progress.

We had some 22mm tassie oak dowel that we’d used to repair our deck chairs. Also a 22mm spade bit. A test drill showed the spade bit actually drilled a hole compatible with a 22mm diameter object. Gods be praised. So we chopped that dowel into little pieces, and made two holes in each barrel – one to let excess water out in winter, and one to empty the barrel.

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Ah, a snug fit.

We’ll do all we can to stop fungus like this growing back again:

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Gave them a good scrub, and left some bleach water to sit in there for a couple of days.

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Seems to have done the trick. Smells just like the swimming pool. Not a great reflection on the swimming pool, I must say.

Meanwhile, we also need to sort out the watering situation. There is no water supply up on the deck per se – there are hoses at ground level at either end, but they’re both a pain to use. One you have to go mountain climbing to get to, the other you need to turn the tank pump on to get working, then go around the long way through the house to get back onto the deck.

A bit of retic and automation will sort that out. We ran a pipe along the edge of the deck with a riser for each planter.

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We popped a cheap watering timer onto the hosepipe.

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Then got back onto lining the planters. This is a sheet of 200 micron plastic sealed around the bottom edge with duct tape. The barrels are a bit cone-shaped, so the plastic down the side is slightly folded and taped down. A bit of hoop iron left over from the chicken coop holds the plastic in place. We put some holes in the plastic where the plugs are inserted.

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It’s not a totally watertight solution, but it will keep whatever might want to grow on the wood away from the soil.

Righto! Good to go. We pop a magnolia in the middle of each one, and take care this time to ensure the plants that go around the edge are ones that will remain low.

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And the plants that used to be in these planters? Struggling little babies infested with fungus, crowded out by weedy herbs and trashed by the weather?

Apparently loving the change.

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Tahitian lime says thanks for getting me out of there

 

Soil sample

One of our desires is to build some retaining walls with reinforced rammed earth. Rammed earth can be really great in that the materials are both very cheap and environmentally-sound. A wall can be built with human energy alone. Formwork is wood and reusable. For reinforcing a bit of steel is required, and perhaps some line to improve the earth’s binding qualities, but that’s a minimal input as far as wall building goes. Tests show that adding a small amount of concrete (up to 6%) to a silty loam can actually reduce compressive strength.

The first step to rammed earth building is to assess the quality of the soil on site. The soil needs to have a good mix of sand, silt and clay to bind well. To find out what the soil is like, one of the tests is to mix a sample with water and then let it settle out. Rock, sand, silt and clay will settle out at different speeds, forming layers that can be interpreted.

It’s important to get soil that’s below the humus level, to reduce the amount of organic matter in it. Organic matter contributes to shrinkage as a rammed earth structure dries. Thankfully, we have a relatively deep sample available right in front of us, where the ground was cut out for the driveway. It’s pretty easy to chop a bit out.

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Scrape off the surface first
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Judging by the mattock marks, it looks very clayey

The soil comes out in clumps. It’s enough to just pop it into the jar and then shake it.

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Prior to shaking

 

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Shaken, not stirred says Mr Bond. The silt precipitates out fairly quickly.

 

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Enough of the clay has precipitated out to tell what’s going on after a few hours.

There are no stones in this sample. When you do find a stone, it tends to be bigger, at least palm-of-hand sized. There’s also no appreciable amount of sand in there – the stuff at the bottom is very fine. There is no organic matter at all, which tends to float on the surface. So the soil around here is around 3/4 silt and 1/4 clay.

The large amount of silt is a good thing. Silty loam has relatively high compressive strength. By vibrating a silty loam, compressive strengths of over 4 MPa are possible, compared to 17 MPa for residential-grade concrete. This means that an earth wall needs to be around 4 times thicker than a concrete one, for the same strength, but is perfectly capable of supplying the strength of concrete if required.

Not having any sand in the sample is a bad thing. The sand grains provide anchor points for the small silt and clay particles to bind to. A bit of aggregate wouldn’t go astray also, to “fill out” the soil, but it’s not necessary, and would have to be imported to our place. We can make a silty loam by adding the same amount of sand as we have clay in this sample – about 25%. 3 parts local dirt plus 1 part imported sand will yield a silty loam with 20% sand, 60% silt and 20% clay. We should add some water repellant to the mix to make it durable, and top walls with a short concrete slab to protect the edges and corners of the rammed earth.

In house-building, water repellant in a rammed wall is not necessarily a good thing. One of the benefits of earth is that it absorbs vapour from the air, or gives it up when the air is dry, leading to a home with an almost constant internal humidity of 50-55%. Humidity at this level is good for health – not too dry so that airways dry out, and not too wet so that mould becomes a problem. Earth-wall bathrooms will even happily absorb the water from shower time. In a retaining wall, however, admitting water vapour to the structure doesn’t help, so it’s better to add a hydrophobic compound.

Step 2 is to test the strength of some standard rammed earth samples (in a lab).

Balance

Up by the road, the original pittosporums that Dave planted just before we got here have become Quite Tall Plants.

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Side of the road, top of the yard

They are indeed performing their desired function of creating a bit of a screen from the road, and serving as a guide for misdirected motorists about where the edge of the road is.

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Believe me, just plonking great bit boulders down does not appear to deter them at all from driving into the garden.

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The big boulder on the right used to be up in the divot at centre left of the picture until someone drove over it – and all the belladonnas.

Unfortunately those plants only extend for about 8 metres, and we have about 30 metres of road frontage. Some time ago we planted some bay laurels to continue the roadside screen. These ones curve in from the last pittosporum to the stone steps, making a bit of an entrance.

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4 out of the 5 bay laurels, back in June

We put the little carpet roses either side of the steps to define the entry point.

It was always the plan to balance these plantings on the downhill side of the stone steps, with more bay laurels and more pittosporum. The pittosporum was started back in December, working our way down from the steps and past the lower path entrance. With 8 out of 11 plants done, though, we hit a snag: the big stump.

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Big stump stands proud at the edge of the road back in April ’13

The shape of the knot holes make a kind of a ghoul face, and it’s been the comeuppance of at least a couple of motorists.

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This hipster moron managed to back his truck into the stump. The hill is too steep and gravelly for him to drive up, the stump stops him going down. Hipster is done for the day.

Anyway, stump begone. The process started out OK; I figured I’d dig around it and then cut it just below ground level, lime it, and let the rest rot away under the dirt.

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Dug around, salvaging all the bulbs that had been planted here, and cut most of it away. Thing is, that stump was serving as a bull ant nest, and they were literally flying out of there as the chain saw carved through. Being peppered with bull ants that somehow manage to survive being chainsawed is not lots of fun. They’d chewed away the inside and it was full of dirt from the deeper parts of their nest, which blunted the chainsaw pretty quickly. Not to mention that the wood was as hard as a rock.

Anyway, we doused them with the hose, which effectively drowned a lot of them, and washed a lot of the dirt away. The chains went off to be sharpened, and then the job could be finished.

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Stump becomes firewood

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And the line is finished.

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These guys are about the same height as the ones higher up were when we first moved in, so they’ve got a couple of years of growing to do before they’re really screening anything.

The bay laurel from the planter on the deck has also gone into the ground.

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Encouragement

These chickens.

They’re very outdoorsy sort of animals. They’d much prefer to sleep outside, on a stick, in the rain, than go into their nice coop. In a bid to encourage them in, their favourite stick was taken away, the big wood blocks re-arranged, a ramp constructed out of waste wood, and the run-facing end wall of the coop taken away. The food dish was put inside the coop and the old water thingy put in there as well.

Tried plonking one of them onto the curtain-rail roosts in there to see how they like it, but it seemed a bit slippery and smooth, so the lowest one was wrapped in wire to give a bit of holding power.

Hopefully they’ll start thinking of the coop as a nice place to go. We’d like our eggs to appear in the nesting boxes, if we can, thanks ladies.

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