Orchard west end

We’re finally getting the last of the dirt moved from under the erstwhile sandpit. Bad dirt out …


Good dirt in.


Those two mama rocks in the first picture go well down into the ground so they can stay where they are. There was another one there also, but that came out without too much fuss. Likewise with the big rock in the foreground – it’s been literally cemented in and let’s face it it wouldn’t have been going anywhere even if it hadn’t.

When there’s digging, there’s always an interested group of ladies having a good watch.


I’d run the level around the stakes at the far end in a dead reckoning sort of fashion. With some of the mound of dirt back in the hole, a way opened up to get a string from the original datum to the latest stake, to check how far the level had drifted.


Not even 1mm you say? Very satisfying! All hail the power of the string!

With good dirt in, a layer of mulch can go on top.


We’ll be putting 2 trees in this area, one in front of each stake, but we’ll wait for winter and bare-rooted prices. For the moment we’ll let that mulch leak its goodness into the soil for a while.

Only about another 2m to go on this section, but we’ll have to move that pile of low-quality clay somewhere first.

New planter

About this time last year we planted some magnolias in the big wine barrel tubs, destined to go around the perimeter of our deck-and-lawn level. One of the magnolias looked like it had died, so I bought another one to replace it. Come spring, the “dead” magnolia came back to life.

It’s been sitting in its original pot all this time, and hasn’t been growing much at all – especially compared to the others. I thought the only thing better than 4 magnolias around your lawn was 5 magnolias, so during the week I took a trip out to Yarra Glen to get another (reasonably priced) half wine barrel. I also got a full barrel for a weed tea receptacle, which will be the subject of a future post.

This new barrel didn’t need to be de-fungused first, so we could crack right on and get it sorted out. The black plastic liner went in (to stop any fungus getting into the soil from the wood), kept in place with a rim of hoop iron and some drainage holes were drilled. A small tub of aggregate over the drain holes will encourage good drainage. Two small tubs of garden dirt went in next, then a bag of compost, a bag of composted manure (which looked to contain very little actual manure) and a bag of potting mix. Mix well, then pop in the magnolia and six Liriopes. Add a small tub of mulch and Bob’s your uncle.

The retic was already running past the last space on the deck, so we popped in a tee and ran a new length of pipe up to the pot. A good watering and it was done!


What a difference a good pot and proper soil makes! The magnolia in the foreground has grown from the size of the one in back since sprouting its new leaves in spring. Also of interest is the number of flower heads on the old Liriopes compared to the ones obtained from the shop. The leaves on the new ones are also a lighter shade of green. Hopefully they’ll get a good dose of nutrients and perk up a bit!

East ender

S has been tending to the east end of the orchard level, digging and digging and digging.

Roughly dug out; the main grey water pipe is the black one, which is perforated under the weeds. The other pipe is just the washing machine.
Move it to the other side. S is making a spot for another tree. The downhill slope is quite steep, and the dug dirt just rolls down it finding its natural angle, so half a big pot embedded in the dirt will make a small flat spot to catch the water while we’re building up the mound.
Precision-engineering the interface between dirt and the mulch pit
Chickens are finding all sorts of tasty morsels as we spread out the weeds off the weed pile a few at a time.
Evening in the pit. It would be thoroughly enjoyable if it wasn’t heads down bums up!
S downs tools for the evening
Getting some mulch over the trees now the level is right on the uphill side.

Pear circle tidy-up

While S is working on the orchard level from the eastern end, I’m working on the western end around the pear circle. The stump that was in the way is out, so we can start neatening up this whole area.


First we carve a nice circle out of the hill at the end. The first go was a half-job because the old sand pit and the stump were in the way, and it’s much easier to make the final profile with them gone.


The ground is really hard. Even the big stick is having a tough job of it.

The weeds around the sitting rock were taken out and the level dug down to make a nice deep mulch pathway.


Then we start dismantling the treated pine structure that used to be a step into the sand pit, and a step down to oblivion: it kind of led into the lower garden, but the last step was never finished and it was just an invitation to slip and fall on your bum.


We’ve also take out a couple of the treated pine sleepers from the back of the trampoline octagon. Discovered drainage pipe going around the octagon. For what reason only the gods know. It might be the standard behind-the-retaining-wall drainage, but then there’s another bit sticking out from that erstwhile step! And since the bottom board of the wall holding up the veggie patch at the right is rotting away, it’s clear that this sort of drainage is not particularly effective.

Finally since it’s summer we don’t waste any time popping some mulch in the pathway and around the pear trees.

One ute load of mulch. It’s about 20-30cm deep in the pathway

It’s nice to see even a little section like this very close to being done. And looks like the chickens have found a new favourite haunt!

Another stump, more boulders

The epic orchard vision proceeds apace; I’m working on the western end while S works on the eastern end. Previously, the western end had the pear circle planted, and the sand pit removed. All the treated pine is gone.

There was a relatively large blackwood by the sand pit, cut down long before we arrived (probably died – there’s a cluster of trees in this spot that are all dying). In true Carl fashion, a metre of stump was left behind for posterity. It’s now in the middle of our proposed pathway, so it’s coming out.

Using the usual technique, a hole is dug around the stump until the roots diverge, then the roots are cut one by one to slowly detach the stump from the ground. The stump’s cut up at the same time to yield fire wood that can be moved by mere mortals.

While digging, we found a couple of big rocks nearby, buried deep. One of them looked to be of a barely moveable size, and had a nice straight, square edge. It’s begging to become a step. Although it was wholly below the proposed ground level and wouldn’t pose an issue where it was, it came out anyway. The phrase “gee, that’s a handy-looking boulder” runs through one’s mind.

Rock in question is at front left. The one behind it is going to be too big to move. The stump is almost out.

It’s too big to lift, and it’s down a hole on its side. It had to be dug out, loosened, then levered up to the ground level. Other, lesser rocks were brought to bear for it to stand on while it was being levered up. Once out of the ground, the trusty pink trolley was employed to cart it to the eastern end of the orchard. I wasn’t about to try to move it too far up the hill.

After measuring (70x50x24 cm) and cutting a ledge, the rock went in such that the top was level and 20cm above the orchard datum. Using the density of granite as a guide, that volume points to a weight of around 230kg. Solid!

Rock makes a nice step. In the background, S has been busy digging out the hill to move the dirt to the other side.

I put a bit of mulch in “under” the rock to give a sense of where the pathway level will be. The almond in the foreground, the mulch to the right of the rock and the first apple in the background are all on the same level.

We’ll need some other big rocks to come and help form this step. I want it 1.6m wide for consistency with other bits around the yard. Hopefully the ground will yield a couple of mere 45cm rocks for either side of this one. That should leave a bit of a gap between the step and the almond for the wheelbarrow to get up and down the hill.

Chicken feeder

The shop-bought feeder we have for the chickens is fine, but not perfect. It’s an attraction for rats, which come from next door (they climb through the chicken wire). We’ve hung the feeder and put a shroud around it to confound the rats, but they’re not particularly confounded. The feeder is also short-term, lasting 4 or 5 days before needing a refill.

There’s been a long-standing plan to make a higher-capacity feeder, but it was never really necessary so wasn’t on the priority list. We’re going on a holiday later in the year, though, so we thought we’d get it sorted out and make life easy on whoever ends up looking after the chickens.

It turned out to be unreasonably easy. We used a piece of 100mm PVC pipe as the main chamber, with a pop-on pop-off lid. The feeder part is just a 100mm PVC T-junction with the bottom half of the tee-bit sawn off. The screw-on cap on one end of the tee makes for a convenient emptying thingy if we need to empty it.

To stop the feed just pouring out the hole, another 50mm piece of PVC is set up inside, with the bottom just above the level of the bottom of the tee bit. It’s attached by putting a 100mm to 50mm reducer inside the tee piece and gluing a short length of 50mm tube to it. Then a coupling is used to connect the feeder bit to the main chamber. Two hanging strap clamps screwed to the side of the coop keep it in place.

Shopping trips aside, it only took an hour or so to make, with a bit of time spent getting the length of 50mm tube inside perfect so that the level of the feed inside was as high as it could be without any falling out.


Too easy! Should have done it ages ago!

Epic orchard vision

So we’ve been doing quite a bit of epic shovel work the last week, working on what we like to call the “orchard level”.

There are three terraces below the house, each one running about two thirds of the width of the block. The first, a grassed area, serves as a leach drain and is about 4m wide. The second is where we have our veggie patch and is about 3m wide. Another below that is also about 3m wide, with part of it serving as a base for the trampoline and the original sand pit.

Original bowling green mode before we moved in. Dude was out here mowing every weekend. We’re not up for that kind of laugh.

Being so narrow, these two lower terraces aren’t good for much – especially now that the sandpit has been moved up hill, and the trampoline has decayed and been removed. We’ve started piling junk on the trampoline base. You can’t kick a ball around, because they’re not really level, and the grass is just this awful maintenance problem (which we partially solved by turning the second terrace into a veggie patch).

The master plan calls for these two terraces to be combined into a single 6 or 7m wide terrace with fruit trees either side creating an avenue.

We had the idea to use the centre pathway as a grey water mulch pit, and we half set up the pipes back in October. We plonked one ute load of mulch on there and it worked a treat. The weeds around the mulch grew like crazy, and the smell from the grey water was gone. We’ve put apples down one side, and pears at the end of the avenue. We’ve been removing the treated pine that was keeping the original sand pit together, and bringing the dirt under it down to a consistent level.

It’s a lot of work! Now’s a good time to show a bit of vision to help keep our spirits up.

Here’s how it looks now:

Earthworks always make things look a bit of a mess. Inspiration required!

The level of the apple trees on the left matches up to the level of the trampoline base, indicated by the treated pine sleepers. Our grey water pipe is sticking out of the mulch, and the pile of dirt is where the weeds were (still some super green grass downhill from that spot).

We wanted the grey water to feed a useful plant instead of weeds, so we piled up some dirt and popped another apple on top at the right level. It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture, but standing there you get a sense of what the avenue will become. A wall will extend along the hill on the right to keep all the dirt in.

Here’s the vision (kinda – bad Photoshop skills aside):


We have apples this side of the trampoline base, then stone fruit from the trampoline base nearly to the end, then the circle of pears at the end. The baby mountain ash will have to go, but we’d like the baby blackwood to stay. This is our permaculture zone 2.

Orange tree

So I said that we’ve probably already got all the trees that we need … except another orange tree. Like all the citrus, it goes next to the chicken run for conveniently fertilising with chicken poo.

As always, any job around here starts with some digging first:


It’s a good thing we dug up a bunch of rocks lately, because the slope is steep in this spot. A little rock wall on the downhill side keeps all the dirt in place.


Lovely! Ready to go.


We put some looser dirt and some of the old chicken poo/hay mix that’s sitting at the bottom of the run into the hole. Then a good thick layer of mulch, as this is a pretty dry area. It gets a lot of sun, and the giant mountain ash sucks the water out of the ground.


The final step, not shown here, is to surround the tree with cut bark. The chickens won’t scratch around the bark, so it protects the delicate surface roots from their tough loving.

That’s probably it for citrus: two lemons, two oranges, two mandarins and two limes. Yay! … and we’re getting a couple of passionfruit on the vines over the run! Woohoo!


Planting the Christmas tree

We’ve just had our fourth Christmas here. We’ve been getting “proper” Christmas trees, to go in the garden afterwards. We got our tree early this year; it was looking a bit yellow when it got home from the nursery. Some of the pics online give it a bit of a yellow cast, so we thought it was normal.

Himalayan spruce

After sitting on the deck and getting good food and water, it had perked up, though, with new green shoots and improved colour.


It’s gone down to the bottom of the garden. It was very ready to come out of that pot; maybe that was its problem. The pot wouldn’t come off and I had to slice it in two to remove it. The roots inside were very tightly packed.


We gave it a nice big hole and showed the roots where to grow.


This completes the conifer triangle I had in mind for this corner of the garden. These guys will grow big, their branches overlap and the space between them will become a dark hidey-hole perfect for spooky campfire stories. They’ll also wipe out the view of the downhill neighbour’s roof and gravel yard.

At the right and rear is 2012’s Norway spruce. Left rear is 2014’s Indian spruce, and front and centre the new Himalayan spruce. The Siberian larch of 2013 went up by the chicken coop, and is doing well despite the dryness of the ground under the big mountain ash.

Of course, now I don’t know what I’m going to do for next Christmas. We don’t really want more conifers in the garden. In fact, we reckon we’ve got almost all the trees we need – now it’s up to them to grow!