Pond wall and plumbing

Concreting the pond wall has begun! We have a little overflow channel on the north wall, that will set the height of the water. We use that to determine how high the concrete needs to be around the edge.

The first stage is plain concrete; we’ll put a brown render over the top later to make it look more natural. Rocks along the edge at the back will let us build up a little wall there and stop the dirt from slowly eroding.

The bricks are forming a shelf to put plants on. They’ll get covered up too. We’ll also put a bunch of rocks in the bottom to give the fishies somewhere to hide from the kookaburras.

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Also finished off the waterfall/aerator’s plumbing. The green tap leads down hill to what one day will be the second pond, but for the moment is just a pipe terminating in a hose connector. We plug the hose in from the water tank, open the valve and pump the water up to here. The water will likely go straight through to the pump rather than do a righty and go up the hill, and come out of the screen in the picture above. Once the pond is full we turn the valve off and turn the little pump on and the water should circulate up to the top of the waterfall and back down to the pond.

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S gets a double upgrade

S has been working on building herself a worktable. We combined F17 tassie oak ceiling joists with glue, then screwed a couple of pieces onto the ends for strength perpendicular to the long axis. S did the glueing and the sanding and oiling, and it came up a treat.

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At 2.5m long it runs the full width of the room, and its 1m width made it too big to go up the daft staircase, so we hoisted it in the window. Being well over 100kg of wood, we used a rope and pulley technique to get it up onto the first floor roof: running a rope over the gable and down the other side, then attaching laundry tubs and filling them with water.

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Up she goes! The trolley was turned upside down over the gutter to protect the gutter and provide some wheels for rolling it onto the roof
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Laundry tubs filled with water … which kept splashing out. The first rope was not up to scratch either: here we’re switching the tubs over to the orange snatch strap

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Add in a new chair and suddenly theres a whole lot of crafting productivity going on!

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Echinacea

About six months ago I planted a couple of little Echinacea plants up on the hill. Perhaps we could make our own herbal remedies one day! Of course, the uncooperative little darlings up and “died” about a week later. I thought I’d planted them wrong. The label didn’t say anything about them going dormant over winter.

But, here they are again. Just sleeping I guess.

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Baby hollyhocks

The little seedlings are ready to go in the ground. First up is the hollyhocks, near the van cherry. The dry, compacted hillside needs to be dug up first, and the grasses removed. There was a bunch of lovely dark dirt at the bottom of the fish pond that we used here to enrich the soil a little bit.

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These seed trays go a really long way. Much pleased.

Pond

A very long time ago we were very keen to have a little pond set up in the meadow on the hill. It’s a little complicated, though, and other things always seemed more urgent, so it fell to the bottom of the priority list.

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Pretty much the last time S had a shovel in her hand

The pond is to be powered by a pump and a solar panel, which will aerate the water for the little fishies. The water supply is the rainwater tank, a long way down the hill. So after digging the hole we established drainage, dug a hole for the pump, reticulated pipe through the pond wall, built a waterfall to make the water splash and get some air, dug water pipe and electrical conduit up the western boundary and fixed the solar panel, which was a freebie because it had a burnt out cell.

Then it languished for ages, because frankly I’m afraid to go up on the roof and install the solar panel. And I’m not sure how to get the wiring down to ground level from there: I don’t want an ugly conduit stuck to the side of the house, so it means going down inside the wall which is a massive effort.

Anyway it occurred to me that the solar panel could reside at ground level for the time being, so the pond started to get a little more love.

First off the bat was to clean up the hole. Dirt had fallen in there and I’d used it as a kind of weed dump for a while, and last year we had some European wasps make a nest in the wall.

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An unrecognisable weed hole

The drain and water cycling hardware was revealed, and the drain had to be cleared out at the other end.

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Drain screen was down there somewhere

The drain screen needs to be the lowest point in the pond, so that when/if it’s drained it doesn’t leave any puddles behind. So we dug down around it and put in some little stones to make a drain pit.

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Drain pit
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Other end of the drain cleared out so water has somewhere to go

After that, the weather turned bad for a week and we had to wait to start the concrete. That’s a job for our super-fancy concrete mixer.

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This is a step up. When I was a survey hand we used to just dig a hole and mix the concrete in that.

We got special sand this time, and it’s made all the difference to the quality of the concrete. After carting 4 tubs of rocks and sand up the hill, the floor is done. It’s about 7 or 8 cm thick.

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Neat! Now we wait for a week for that to dry, then we’ll get onto the walls.

Caterpillar season

With spring comes new life of all kinds. Not the least of which is beetles and ants and caterpillars, all hell-bent on having a feed.

Last year the elm leaf beetles wrecked the scotch elm up in the meadow; this year I’ve been doing daily patrols and crushing any I find, and while the leaves have been eaten a little bit, we’ve generally been able to dodge the worst of it.

Forgot to patrol the vege patch though, and just a few caterpillars have had a good go at the kale.

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Anyway, we have chickens now, so chicken food!

Greywater mulch pit

(Copied from the Permaculture Research Institute)

Greywater mulch-pits provide an excellent solution when re-using greywater on your garden – they are cheap to construct, they improve the quality of water entering your soil and after some time provide you with valuable compost. They’re very easy to construct too. You basically just dig a hole, wack in some 100mm ag-pipe and then fill it up with nice chunky mulch.

Where possible a number of pits should be constructed around the garden. This enables you to rotate your greywater around and prevent the inevitable waterlogging that occurs if you leave your hose in one spot too long. For flat ground it’s great to create round pits, with each one midway between a few fruit trees. If on a slope, they will be on contour and can double as a swale.

The volume of each pit should be about 4 times the peak flow that leaves your house at any one time. For example if your washing machine pumps out 100 litres, the size of the hole needs to be 400litres (as a guide, 1m3 = 1,000litres). This is to allow for the space taken up by the woody mulch (about 2/3 of the volume) plus a bit extra. 40 cm is plenty deep enough, or else you’ll start to send most of the water down below the main feeder/drinker roots of your trees.

If you have very sandy soils in which most water just disappears straight down, it can pay to line the inside of your pit with plastic. A few punctured holes here and there allow you to infiltrate the water in the direction(s) of your choice. It also gives the critters more time to clean up the water.

With the huge increase in the use of greywater on Australian gardens, particularly here in Victoria where we’ve been on restrictions for a number of years now, there is concern about the effect it will have on soils in the long term. Even if using liquid detergents, which are much lower in sodium and phosphorus than powders (see lanfaxlabs for more info), the alkaline nature of soaps will affect soil pH. Fats and oils from our bodies can also clog up soil pores and make them hydrophobic and any bleaches or harsh cleaners will of course have a huge impact on soil life.

By filling these pits with chunky mulch, this acts to filter and clean the water, resulting in better quality irrigation for your valuable fruit trees. It’s not the mulch that does the filtering but rather the tiny soil critters that will colonise its surface and just like in a reedbed system, they greedily grab onto any nutrient that passes by. Inevitably, this mulch will be broken down into compost, at which time you should say “Awesome!” and fork it out of your pit straight onto the fruit trees beside. Then, give your local tree lopper a call and get a free/very cheap load of mulch delivered and refill them. (By the way, this is so much easier than cleaning out a clogged up reedbed, plus you get the compost out of it instead of a mess of aggregate you don’t know what to do with.)

The simplest way to get water to each pit is by extending the washing machine outlet hose. You can rotate this hose once a week or so. A few tips to prevent your washing machine’s engine from burning out: 1. Utilise gravity as much as possible; 2. Over 10m+, ensure the extension hose is at least 50mm to reduce strain on the pump; and 3. Don’t pump uphill (if you do need to, you’ll have to get a pump built for this purpose).

If you include an appropriate length of 100mm ag-pipe inside each pit, with one end just slightly sticking out, this means that you can poke your washing machine hose down inside so that the water infiltrates sub-surface as regulations rightly demand (stops kids and pets getting sick from the pretty nasty pathogens that greywater can contain).

If you want to utilise your bath and shower water also, by law you’re supposed to get a plumber in to divert the water. From here, a more permanent option is to construct branched drains which evenly distribute the water around the garden. Detailed design and installation instructions are available for this method in Art Ludwig’s book The New Create an Oasis Using Greywater.

Hot wind

In summer, the really hot days are accompanied by a hot wind that blows from the north. It swoops through and burns the more delicate plants. Last year it practically destroyed a rhododendron that was put in a spot that wasn’t sheltered enough.

We had a couple of very unseasonal days of 35ºC and the hot wind, which instantly fried most of the belladonnas. I’m thinking of moving them all onto the south side of anything shady. They need to be protected to survive.

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This particular naked lady was green two days before

Interestingly, I put these belladonnas up by the road because that’s where I had seen them at a neighbour’s at the bottom of the hill. Over time I’ve come to realise that even though they’re only a couple of hundred metres apart, the conditions are completely different. While we’re getting pummelled by the wind, whether it’s due to the lay of the land or intervening vegetation, it’s pretty much still at the bottom of the hill.

Update: it only took a couple of weeks for the ones under the mountain ash to die off completely after this sort of treatment. Protected ones will last through to January.