-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Sunday, December 31, 2006

daily weather during 2006

I thought it might be good for future comparisons to make a note of the daily weather during 2006. Fortunately, the bureau of meteorology very helpfully publishes details of temperature, rainfall, etc for the past 12 months for Maryborough, which is about the nearest spot to Amherst, about 15 minutes drive away.

Using that data, here's a graph showing the daily temperature range, in celsius:

2006 temperature at Maryborough

(In case it isn't obvious, the shading denotes the different seasons... blue = winter, yellow = summer, etc)

I was surprised, I'd thought it would have had more extremes... more 40 degree plus days and more days below zero. Although there's a clear pattern across the seasons it's not as pronounced as I'd thought. The hottest it got was 41.2 on December 10th, and the coldest -3.4 on 14th June.

Most importantly, here's a graph of the cumulative rainfall, in mm. As of end 2006 there was only 290mm of rainfall for the entire year! That is way below the long-term average of 550mm per year. This alone explains why the dam is so much lower than we've seen it before.

2006 cumulative rainfall in maryborough (in mm)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

in search of artificial lawn

This is a picture of the banks of our dam that Dad took a few weeks ago. It's drier than I've ever seen, you can not only see the hump in the middle, it's now a path big enough to walk over! It really rams home that water is going to have to be very carefully allocated in the garden.

dam with ridge showing

Lawn uses a lot of water but, as we discovered when visiting Beth Chatto's garden, it makes a huge difference to the look and feel of a place. Beth's "dry garden" is OK but it doesn't come close to my garden dream. To really shine, the garden beds need the the green lawn as backdrop.

Except perhaps for a tiny patch in the "secret garden", we're not going to have enough water to support real lawn. Even the drought resistant stuff you can get in Australia needs watering every 2-3 weeks. If you don't it goes brown... ok, it springs back to green-ness as soon as you water it again but what's the point, if it's brown you may as well have gravel. Besides, there's something miserable about the hardy grasses - they feel rough when you walk on them with barefeet, to me they're not a proper lawn.

Which leaves artificial lawn as the only alternative.

We looked at this a few years back and, at least then, there didn't seem to be any decent suppliers in Australia - at least not servicing the domestic market. Now though we've come across a few, and Dave has emailed them to find out more.

Here are the suppliers we've found so far:

Below are the questions Dave sent to each... I shall post an update with their replies. Fingers crossed. :-)

1. How real does your fake lawn feel and look? eg: If you walk on it barefoot could you tell the difference between it and real grass? If you fall over on it does it give you abrasions/burn like the old style astroturfs do? Is it possible to obtain a sample of the product?

2. Not that we are likely to need to do it often, but once the lawn is laid, if you needed to get to the ground underneath it is it possible to roll it up and re-install it later? This is a consideration because part of the area we'd like to cover has an underground gas main easement which we are not allowed to build over. As well, we are probably going to be installing various underground tanks for sewerage treatment, etc and if they could be underneath the lawn that would give us a lot more flexibility in placement.

3. To what extent is the product fireproof? If for example, a bushfire came through, would the fake grass act as a stimulant or retardant to the fire? Our property is bordered on one side by ironbark forest and so bushfire is a serious hazard we need to consider. On a smaller scale, what would happen if someone dropped a lit cigarette? If a small part was burnt, is it possible to patch?

4. Is it possible to use the fake lawn as a surface for collecting rainwater? We are going to be seeking to capture and store as much water as we can, given it's such a dry area. The lawn would be almost entirely in an area with a gentle slope, so there will be a natural path for runoff.

5. Finally, the question of price. I would be looking at 250-300 square metres coverage, though not in a square block, the grass would be going around garden beds, trees, etc. Can you give a ball park estimate of likely cost? Are there ways to minimise cost, eg: by doing the preparatory legwork and installation myself?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Xmas tree watering

Dad made one last watering trip up to Amherst a few days before Christmas. Here's some photos from that visit. What is amazing about it is just how dry it is, this is the driest I've seen it. Note the tree in the first photo. It now looks miles away from the water edge... well, when we planted it, it was only about 2 metres out.

dam view2

view from dam to house

gumtrees along driveway

swaddled fruit trees

Thursday, December 14, 2006

UPDATE: choosing a sewerage system

It's been a month now since Dave emailed the suppliers, so thought I'd fill you in on what we heard back.

Two of the six suppliers didn't have an email contact, which meant they fell off the list right away. Of the four he emailed, only two replied. So that's helpful in whittling down the shortlist. The way I figure it, if a company can't even be bothered to reply to a sales query, how helpful are they going to be if there's a problem in future!

Biocycle emailed back with contact details for our local sales representative:
Noel Zielke ph: 07 4129 8882, mobile: 0408 787 894
Dave hasn't called him yet but it's helpful to have the details and just for replying they're on the shortlist.

The most thorough response though, by a mile, came from Anthony Knight at Septech. I've pasted his response in full below. OK, some of it was clearly cut & pasted from a brochure, but he took the time to answer the questions via email which as far as I'm concerned wins them major brownie points. As a result, it's Septech who are our current favourites although we still need to do more research.


Good Morning David,
Thank you for your enquiry. Firstly, yes we can supply to the Maryborough/Avoca area.
The cost of the system does vary with installation and/or irrigation options. To give you an estimate, I will base this on a Turbojet2000 and 200 sq.m of Irrigation Kit. This type of setup would typically be, between, $9,000 - $ 11,000.

EPA/Council Regulations require that this type of system has a service plan. Ours is $280:00 per year (4 Services). The 1st Year of Servicing is included with the purchase of a Turbojet.
With regular servicing, we estimate that the system should last indefinitely. The Warranty on the Tanks is 15 Years.

Why our system? Reed Bed systems take up too much room in a standard installation, ours is sub-surface, with only the access hatches visable, and far less room than a Reed setup. As for our competitors' models…

A 100% Australian owned and operated company, Icon-Septech have set the benchmark and are leading the market in wastewater treatment systems. Icon-Septech's Turbojet Series of products are designed so that you can't see, hear or smell the system working. In fact, all you'll see is crystal clear and odorless water, perfect for irrigating your garden. Plus for your own peace of mind, the output of the Turbojet system far exceeds the Australian Standard's for On-site Domestic Wastewater Treatment Systems ( AS1546.3:2001) which defines the standards for wastewater treatment in Australia and New Zealand.

Turbojet's competitive advantage is its look, or more specifically, its lack of one. You see, with Turbojet, there are no unsightly pumps or boxes and no flashing lights or noise from generators or motors. The Turbojet system is totally submerged underground with just a small, flat cover for access and a stylish LCD control, so you can monitor the operation.

Additionally, the Turbojet system utilizes a unique combination of technology and proven componentry such as:

  • Aerated Wastewater Treatment Processes – a naturally occurring biological process that has been harnessed to produce crystal clear water that doesn't smell or pose a risk on human contact.
  • Microprocessor System Control – in-built smart technology for enhanced performance, maximum reliability and minimum human intervention.
  • Advanced Hydraulic Design – ensuring the highest efficiency and most consistent performance of any wastewater treatment system on the market.
  • Strong Pre-cast Concrete – designed for strength, durability and maximum lifespan, in even the toughest soil conditions.
  • Quality Componentry – to minimize maintenance issues and provide added value to our customers.

Years of research, development and continual improvement, along with the installation of over 20,000 units across Australia, has shown that the Turbojet System is perfect for both domestic and commercial applications. And with system sizes ranging from 2,000 litres of wastewater per day up to 100,000 litres per day.

With 10 Service Vans on the road in Melbourne alone, and over 30 years experience in this field, our service department provides solutions that fit the customer's needs. We also have Service Vans dispatched from Numurkah. (Relevant to your area)

Conclusion Superior Technology and results, Solid Service background and deployment, Customer service and satisfaction.

We've provided a standard quote in the attached file, but there are variables to be considered. Ie: Council Permit/Plans, The amount of Irrigation required for the premises. We would also require to assess the site physically to allow for excavation/installation. We would like to invite you to view our Website for further information and details – http://www.septech.com.au/

Monday, December 11, 2006

watering trees and firefighting

I don't know what we would do without Dad helping out at Amherst, especially with watering. We'd hoped that this year it wouldn't have been necessary to make so many trips, but as it's so dry and the fruit trees still so young, he's had to go still every few weeks. At least it's only the orchard needing watering now, we've not been giving any to the gum trees or olives anymore.

Below are accounts of his recent watering trip and some local news - Dad has met the guy who will soon be our new neighbour. He is Tex's son-in-law and building on the site just near our dam opposite Tex's place. He's a professional firefighter and so Dad has donated some equipment to help set up for protecting our place. Hopefully Dave will get a chance to meet him in March.



I have plans to go on Monday to water the fruit trees as there has not been rain for this past month... i plan to pump from the dam for the day, and to take extra hay there. To fill in time while the trees are being watered, I plan to wheelbarrow loads of manure and place these about the fruittrees outside the area protected by the wire, and between the trees as well. Enriching the ground there will help the trees and the manure is old and not too hot. I will pile some on top, but not too much so as to burn the trees.

Tell me if this is not what you want, but if I don't hear at all from you, I will use the pile of manure in this way as it is not going to be enriching the soil where it is right now. It may be that working the soil around the trees would encourage water absorption and allow the manure to settle into the ground well and make it's contribution.

I will make one more trip after Monday to water, but briefly only as I will leave the tank full and not need to pump next trip, before I go to Lithuania at the end of December, unless we get very good rains. I realize it is costly to get this foothold with the orchard during these early years, but think what blessing they will be when up and running well. I will talk to you some time about putting an inexpensive wire fence around this little orchard and placing the netting on this fence and so let the trees spread out a little. We need not fear the sheep will get in, and built properly the roos will be kept out as well. It is a small orchard so a close fence will be not too dear".



I have had difficulties to water at Amherst. The dam was too dried up to pump from the place where I usually do so I had to totally redo the pumping situation and moved to the part of the dam where the water was over knee height, that portion nearest to the road.

There were no sheep on the property. Roos ate top only of another tree where I'd not reinforced the wiring protection, but tree is doing well otherwise.

Some good news though with regards to the trees: The trees that had been stripped last time have fully recovered and are well leafed, albeit all along their trunk as new little limbs are not yet grown. Also I discovered that one agave was still growing up near the olives.

While there, I watered well as before and placed more straw, but could not obtain bales of straw at nursery, only expensive chopped stuff so only took for the two trees which I had to replace from the last destruction. Am so pleased with growth.

The trees where there's no shadecloth in place (the ones along the road directly up to the house) are but slender poles so will need shadecloth at the next next opportunity. I will talk to you later about what must be done to do justice to this present orchard. So much has been done now that it would be stupid to just let them die now or to merely grow as stunted trees in the himalayas.

I talked to Tex about the drought. He has enough potable water to see him through, but stock is suffering. He will be butchering most of his flock. His son-in-law was just back from firefighting in Gippsland. He is a professional firefighter. He is the one building below you. I spoke to him after talking to Tex for about 20 min. He was working on getting set up with a quick response unit for putting out a fire on his property and yours should it occur. He did not have a tank yet so I gave him one of the tanks I bought for water saving here in Melbourne. I feel it is the least we can do to aid him in his frontline efforts to quell the small fires that may occur or to fight fire from encroaching larger fires.

I placed a very long pipe in the deep end of the dam to put the firepump sucker pipe into so it is possible to quickly access the water there with his firepump. He has one like you. You also have a tank and we will need it to be setup with your firepump. I have a small trailer here in Melbourne that we will use for this purpose. I have had it resprung with heavyduty springs to carry the weight. I have not taken it up there yet, but it will be the frontline defense we will have when I am working there. The water pump will be setup with it so a woman will be able to use it in an emergency, ie not requiring the lifting of the pump into the back of a ute or such, but merely hitching up the trailer to any vehicle with the strength to shift it. I will have the Jackeroo when I work.

I started the watering of the plants at 630pm and finished at 930pm, and that was possible only because I made a new arrangement with borrowed pipe from the pipe that leads up to the olive tank for watering from the deep end of the dam, and using the rest of the pipe to make a means of watering with 3/4 pipe rather than the 1/2 pipe. With the tank only 1/4 full my pressure only permitted to water each tree over 30 min, one at a time. Once the pump had filled the tank I could do two trees. However I pumped continuously for 3 hours and left the tank 3/4 full and watered all the trees deeply with the use of this extra pipe where the water time of the trees was only 10-15 min. I arranged that I could do one tree with the little existing pipe while doing 2 other trees with the other pipe in the same timeframe.

Initally I moved a small amount of water from the potable rainwater tanks (about 1 foot on the tank measure) to hasten the increase of water pressure available to me.
So it is done, and I got all the explosive things out of the container too so there is not a risk if a fire comes.

Ebay wins: fireplace, fretwork, tiles

Over the past few months we've picked up a couple more things on Ebay which will be really useful in the house renovations. Here's details:


Unbelievably, this turned out to be only 5 minutes drive away from my Mum's!

fireplace closeup of firegrate

From the description:
"This beautiful (I think original) fireplace came from an 1890's home on Canning Street in Melbourne's Carlton North when friends were renovating. We had plans to install it into our home, but as we are now moving and new owners have not expressed interest, we have it available. Although not professionally restored, I believe all pieces are present and in good condition. The main detractor is some dust and cobwebs! All in good order with adjustable metal hood/vent, a draft stopper flap and the blue insert tiles. The timber mantel is painted, but sound. See photo's for further details (please note the slight green tinge to pic's is from the overhead laserlight)."


fretwork piece

fretwork piece

From the description:
"A pair of 2 original victorian hallway brackets. The red one, without the outside pieces of timber, measures 37 inches (94cm) wide x 25 1/2 inches (65cm) drop; ... The two arches are mathching except one is missing the outside timber trim... They are made of pine. They need to be repainted. The main body is made in two peices, which are firm, but somebody has put a screw on the inside of each piece to reinforce the joint (easy fix)"



From the description:
"300 Black, Glazed brick-tiles. 222 mm x 30 mm x 110 mm. Unfortunately, the photos tend not to do them justice. They remain stylish and have been removed from a brick wall at the front of our place and window supports to for the purpose of us rendering the wall and our house. We were considering using them for paving or even as bathroom tiles but have decided against this. Some mortar remains attached with most tiles (as you can see in the main photo), but this seems to be very easy to remove (although there are 300!) and the need for total removal will be contingent on what they will be used for. I think they are circa 1960s but could be 70s or 50s (as the house underwent renovations during these periods)."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

planning permit for walled garden

One of the concerns flagged by Dad in relation to the vegetable garden wall is that he feared we needed a planning permit for it. But we didn't understand why that would be the case in our area, as there's no neighbours to overshadow or views to obstruct.

Anyway, we agreed to disagree until Dave and I could do some research ourselves. Here's what we discovered.

Since we initially bought the property, it seems to have been slightly re-zoned. According to the map here, we're now in a Farming zone (code FZ), which is part of the Rural category. A PDF of the requirements for this zone can be downloaded here.

This says we don't need a permit for Agriculture, which in my opinion clearly encompasses a vegetable garden ... which we can't have without building a wall to keep out the sheep and kangaroos. Thus, building a wall to enable us to create a vegetable garden shouldn't require a permit. We figured we'd better doublecheck this logic though, so Dave called Norm at the local planning department.

Norm said we wouldn't normally need a permit, but we might in this instance only because the area being enclosed is much bigger than typical for a garden in the Amherst/Maryborough area. Norm said he knew exactly the kind of thing we meant though, and said there are loads of them in the Western District (which makes sense as that's where a lot of the grander properties were built years ago). He didn't seem to think there'd be a problem getting approval for the wall even if we did need a permit though. What we needed to do was to send him a few sketches... indicating where on the property it is, what it will look like roughly, etc.

Below is what we sent and Norm's brief reply, which we have interpreted as meaning that it's OK to go ahead, provided we abide by building regulations. Which is a big relief as it means there's at least one project we can work on while we're overseas and only able to make sporadic visits.

Hello Norm,
I'm writing to follow up on our telephone conversation of last week,regarding whether or not a planning permit would be required for awalled garden on our 30 acre property.

Attached are:
--A site plan showing existing buildings/features and also 'proposedbuildings' (what we plan to build once we return from UK in 5+ years)
plan of garden1

--A sketch of the garden
plan of garden 2

The proposed garden is 25m x 40 m, surrounded by a wall of approx 2min height. We're intending for the wall to have old fashioned redbrick columns, but we are still undecided at what will fill in the space between the columns. We are investigating the options of:
- Mud brick/cob wall made in part with clays from the property.
- Wood
- Hebel sheeting

My wife's brother is a bricklayer by trade, and he has offered to build the required foundations and lay the bricks for the columns whenhe has spare time over the upcoming holidays. We intend to continue to build and complete the rest of the wall, with volunteer help from family and friends, on our holiday trips back to Australia. These are usually for 3-4 weeks every 18 months or so.

We decided to make it a walled garden, with a solid wall, in order to:
- Protect from sheep and wild life (kangaroos etc)
- Protect from frosts and wind
- Provide a growing support for espaliered fruit trees and other vines
- Because my wife really likes the style of old fashioned walled gardens

Inside the garden we are thinking about having small sheds at two of the corners of the walls, one for tools, one for growing seedlings/potting etc, although we don't envisage building them until the wall was built.

The garden might seem large compared to suburban vegetable gardens,but we arrived at it after doing research on the growing spacerequired to keep us reasonably self sufficient in vegetables, plus provide room for some small fruit trees that otherwise would not survive the hard frosts.

The site for the garden was chosen because:
- Only really flat land on property near to present house
- Site is near to existing dam, for water supply
- Near to orchard area we have started to plant
- Away from shade of established tall gum trees
- Doesn't disrupt views down the valley

At present, the site for the garden (like all of the 30 acres) is unused except by the next door neighbours who occasionally graze sheep on it to keep the grass down. It is just bare land with no vegetation except for a sparse covering of grass.

Based on the above, do you think we would need planning permission for the garden walls? If so, are there any things we could change about our plans that might make it not the case, at least for the initial stages?

We're happy to apply for permits, but, as this is likely to be a 5+ year project (given the problem of us not living in Australia), we would, more than likely, be unable to complete the structure within 2 years. If we were able to hold off on getting a permit until a later stage of the garden building (eg: after we'd built 2 of the 4 walls or some such other partial step) so that we'd have a shot to complete it within the life of the permit, that would be brilliant. Alternatively, what if we initially just built columns but did not fill in the wall between them? Is it possible to apply for extensions?

Any advice you can give would be appreciated.


"While walled gardens are not common it looks ok subject to wall heights not being visually excessive in appearance and materials[concept ok] also masonary code building regs apply"