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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We have wildlife (not all welcome)

So Dave saw a snake when he was clearing the long grass in the olive grove. We knew they were around but I wish they would just stay hidden. It ran away from him into the forest so at least it wasn't mean.

On the plus side though, in the olive grove he also saw a stumpy tailed lizard. These are cute in a monster-ish sort of way. They are harmless but they have a bad temper and if you come near them they will stick their tongue out and hiss. Like in this photo. Unfortunately they are also stupid and so unlike snakes that run away, these guys just stay fixed in position meaning you have to be ultra-careful when mowing.

More interestingly in the dam we have yabbies (a kind of freshwater crayfish). As I will never be able to get rid of them, I am now thinking I may adopt them as a kind of low maintenance pet.

a friendly yabbie - 1

Dave has a yabbie net - he throws it in with bait to catch them so he can see how big they are. He swears he lets them go... and indeed in this case I have proof that at least one escaped the pot. I never knew yabbies swam backwards before!

The olives are thriving

Dave spent the last day at Amherst clearing his beloved olive grove. He moved away all the bits of wire and mowed it, and it looks amazing.

olive grove - 9

Some of the trees are nearly as tall as Dave. Even better, some have actual olives on them!

olive grove - 4

olive grove - 2

Behind the olives, there are a couple of peppercorn trees that Dave planted on his last visit. They're doing really well too, they'd nearly doubled in size. They're meant to be pretty fast growing so with like by the time we move there they'll look like actual trees.

olive grove - 7

Step 4: building the columns

Once the foundations were sorted, the most exciting part (for me anyway) began - building the columns.

The brick delivery guy kindly used his forklift to scatter the pallets around the paddock, so they'd be near where Pete would need them.

Then Pete began work. First he used the mixer to make mortar by mixing cement, sand and water.

working on the garden wall - 11

Then he started laying, using the Daniel Robertson bricks on the outside and the cheaper (less nice looking) bricks on the middle. Each row needed leveling, then more mortar and repeat.

building the columns - 02 building the columns - 04

After a few rows - apparently called 'courses' - he built a frame to serve as a guide to the level. Then he just continued straight on up.

building the columns - 11

To make it easier to join up the middle bits, he left holes on the side parts. And at the top he did a nice pattern which is modeled on the shape of our chimney in London. For the time being, the top is filled in with cement, but left flat so ultimately we can perhaps put a planter or something on top.

building the columns - 07 building the columns - 09

In the end Peter managed to get 4 columns built in the time they had. Each column is around 2.1-2.2m tall (Dave can't remember exactly). But you can get a good sense of the scale in this pic with Pete atop. :-)

building the columns - 16

Originally I had planned on having columns every 3-4m, but on site Dave revised that to every 5m. I've been worried about this, right up till today when I finally had the brainwave to go and measure at the walled garden in the park - and found they were even further apart! (more like 5.5-6m). So now I am much relieved. :-)

They decided to do large columns (3 x 3 bricks) on the corners and for the gateposts at either end, with smaller columns (2 x 2 bricks) in between. This is the rough plan they sketched up:

the latest vegie garden plan

We've got a long way to go obviously, but at least from here on progress will be visible!

Step 3: pouring the concrete

Once the steel was in position, the next step was to fill the trenches in with concrete.

The area was way too vast to attempt to do by hand, so we ended up getting readymixed concrete trucked in from Eureka Concrete. Who clearly are great suppliers, not only because they were friendly and reliable, but because they have trucks that look like Tonka toys :-)

Each truck contained 5 cubic metres worth of concrete, and we needed 7m for the short sides and 10m for the long side. We poured a side a day, so each day we had two trucks turn up.

The concrete came out of a big funnel which had a lever so you could direct it. To get it to spread and settle in properly you poked it with a shovel. Then finally to smooth it out you use a little spreader thing, as if you were icing a cake.

concrete in the trenches - 04 concrete in the trenches - 09

The final complication was that our ground was on a slight slope - but the concrete had to be level in order for the brick columns to be built upon. So every so often the guys had to put in little steps in the concrete - this too had to be worked out in advance.

concrete in the trenches - 06

Overall, it took about 20-30 minutes to pour each side, then another 30 mins to do the smoothing. The concrete was hard enough to walk on within a few hours, but to be safe we didn't start building columns on it until the next day after it had been poured.

Step 2: laying the steel

After the trenches were dug, each needed steel to be carefully laid within.

Two layers were needed. The first, 5cm from the bottom of the trench; the second at least 5cm from the top of where the concrete would be poured to. Plus all needed to be at least 5cm from the walls of the trench. The steel came in 6m lengths, by around 30-35cm, so the guys had to cut it to measure using an angle grinder. Where there were joins, the steel had to overlap by 60cm. And of course the columns needed to cover a wider area.

To position the steel, effectively in mid-air, they dangled it from wires tied to rods that were balanced across the top of the trench. In short - it was a really fiddly job, and pretty tedious when you consider they had to do it for 130m of trench!

trench work and laying steel - 18

trench work and laying steel - 19 trench work and laying steel - 15

Finally, the upright steel poles that would go in the middle of the columns needed to be put in and wired into place in the mesh. These were carefully measured to be 5m apart and there were two poles per column, each about 6 foot tall.

trench work and laying steel - 12

Step 1: digging the trenches

Dave is back, and brought the camera with more photos. Looking through them makes it clearer just what an enormous task it was to get the foundations in place.

The first step was the get the trenches dug. They needed to be 60cm deep and around 50cm wide, except where the columns were, when they needed to be about 1m wide.

trench work and laying steel - 05

The guys tried to do it first using our tractor, but it was such slow going that they ended up having to hire another tractor - the main difference being that it had a bucket with special teeth.

I fear we are going to need to buy one of these teeth buckets.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The first columns go up...

Despite the disasters, the guys have slogged on and made progress. I'll have some more photos to put up (I hope) once Dave returns with his camera, but in the meantime, here's a sneak preview of what they've achieved thus far from Mum. I really like them :-)

This shows a close-up of the first column Pete built, looking I think along the short end. Even here the concrete trench looks endless... The yellow sticky up bits are steel rods that apparently go in the middle of the columns to provided added support.

working on the garden wall - 07

Here's some more views of columns being built. The gaps are for us to attached whatever it is we end up using to fill between the columns. The inside is solid brick also.

working on the garden wall - 06 working on the garden wall - 04

Here's a view of one of the gatepost columns, with Pete in the background. I really like the little pattern he's done at the top - we took a photo of our chimney here in London and it's modelled on that I think. :-) Ultimately we'll probably put planters on top of each column for succulents - the kind that need little water and will trail branches down, as a sort of living finial - but waiting on that until we get the walls filled in.

working on the garden wall - 03

And finally, here's a view where you can see a couple of the columns done.

working on the garden wall - 08

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

digging out rock to put down fake rock (aka why building regulations suck)

So things haven't gone quite to plan in the work at Amherst on the brick wall. I'd had the notion that it would take only a day's work to finish off the trench digging that was started a couple years back. Then a quick visit from a concrete truck or two and voila - ready to lay bricks.

Unfortunately it turned into an epic saga, and not in a good way.

The first bad news was that the old trenches were apparently unusable, as the rainwater they'd caught and held like very long thin dams had apparently worn away the edges and made them too wide. So the guys decided to dig new trenches everywhere.

trench for walled garden foundation

The second bad discovery was that despite having had so much rain recently the ground was as hard as a rock. So hard that digging the trenches was taking forever, and so they had to hire a bigger tractor! (This is after justifying the purchase of our tractor by it saving us from ever having to hire equipment again *sigh* I swear, next time I'm buying a new car and forget the tractor).

Even with the hired tractor and working round the clock under floodlights on shift, it still took them days to get the trenches dug. The ground was so solid and they kept hitting rock.

And then, this is the bit where I think building regulations are UTTERLY MAD... we were only digging out all that rock to replace it with FAKE ROCK aka concrete. Honestly, I don't understand why this was required. Our 2 storey brick house in London has stood with a foundation of about 10cm of rubble on clay soil for over 100 years now with no problems. (I'm serious - we found this out when we dug down to have a look when we put on extension). Yet apparently in the middle of a paddock in rural Australia you can't build a brick wall on rock-solid ground without sinking a deep concrete trench. *sigh*

Oh, and then there's the steel. All this steel mesh and rods and other stuff had to be buried in the concrete. No-one had told me how much steel we'd need - or how pricey it'd be. In the end I reckon the raw materials alone have come in about double the budget, and that's before you factor in the dire exchange rate at the moment.

Still. It had to be built if we wanted to get anywhere near the dream for the garden. I guess I'll just be working in London a while longer than planned to pay for it all. :-(

Thursday, April 07, 2011

da da, the bricks are here

So... it was a saga and a half to get the bricks.  The delivery company never told us it'd come in two separate loads - and then they decided to deliver one of the loads a day early (thankfully a combination of my Mum on the phone, and my brother making a mad dash to get up there early saved the day).  And of course they all got confused about the location, having not paid attention to the instructions we gave when ordering.

But all is well in the end - they arrived safely and they are lovely.  This is my brother Pete showing a few off.   :-)

pete and bricks

New photos from Google Earth!

I signed up a few months ago to get an alert whenever imagery in Google Earth was updated for our place. Lo and behold, today an email arrives. They've put on new satellite photos - this time from Oct 2009 when it was green!

It was quite fun to re-do the site plan map and see what a difference it made.  I especially like how in these new photos the dam is full and you can see the little dam shed as if it is floating. :-)

Amherst site plan - detailed

For comparison, this is what it used to look like, with the imagery from April 2007:
latest site plan