Broken clutch, stumps and starting the deck

Thanks to a quickly arranged meeting in Collie on Monday we decided to double up and have a second weekend in a row down the block.

My main goal for the weekend was to get a few stumps out along the driveway, I spent a good 5 hours on Saturday morning with the mattock, shovel, chainsaw, sledgehammer and tractor. All for a grand total of 1.5 stumps removed.

It’s always disheartening seeing how much work goes into clearing a small area, but it will be worthwhile in the end.

My stump removal exploits were suddenly stopped when the clutch in the tractor fell to the floor and stopped doing anything.

Thankfully I was in a relatively clear, although kinda steep and very uneven area. My first thought was that a split pin had snapped and it would be a quick fix. However once I had a look it turned out to be a snapped rod, I decided there was no point worrying about it up on the hill. As I was getting up the clutch was nice enough to swing up and split my lip, normally I wouldn’t care, but I’m hoping to look presentable for the meeting, thankfully it was 95% healed up by Monday, I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

My solution to driving it down was pretty much the good old fashioned, “if you can find em, grind em” , it was a very slow 1km (in and out of the trees) back to camp.

I pulled out the broken (and due to the drive down very bent) rod. Not sure if it will be a repair job, but I’m leaning more towards it being a replacement job. Thankfully, my brother in law is pretty handy with a welder, so I’ve left it with him. Thanks heaps Cam, I’ll owe you another load of wood.

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Shan helped a bit with the digging, but most of the time I was up there she spent looking after the kids and when she had a few minutes free mowing the lawn around our caravan, she was pretty happy with her patch of shorter grass.

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After some lunch we decided to pick a new job, it’s one that I wasn’t really planning on doing this weekend but it seemed like a good one to do as a family and let us stay in the shade a bit more. We started leveling and cutting out notches for the deck, I think i’m starting to get fairly good at cutting in the shape for the timber, for mature chainsaw work it looks pretty neat. It’s a slow and steady job to try to keep things as close to square and level as we can when working with our own logs.

 

I also spent about half an hour digging the ‘bore’ out a bit deeper, it’s getting fairly low and starting to be a mosquito breeding ground, if frogs get in there it’s to deep for them to get out, I’ve dug it out so the 1 side is a steep ramp, hopefully that makes it a bit easier for wildlife (frogs to eat to Mossie larva) to use and will give us a bigger collection area when the water level comes back up in autumn.

Shan decided that she needed a better shower, in the medium term we’ll have a real shower in the caravan but at the moment we don’t have pressurised water, so she got herself a little solar shower, it’s nothing fancy, but she said it’s the best shower she’s had out there.

Last time we were here Oscar and I collected a ton of acacia seed (a bucket of seed pods), I spent a few hours each night this time splitting the pods and collecting the seeds. In autumn I’ll scarify them and hopefully end up with a few more of these bee loving, nitrogen fixing natives around the place.

Sunday was more decking as well as pulling some blackberrys, it was due to be a 35c day and we were pretty much out of good food (there’s always plenty of pasta, rice ect, but not what you want for lunch on a toasty day) so we headed into Bunbury at about lunch time.

It was a quick and relatively unplanned trip, but turned out to be reasonably productive.

By complete chance I ran into one of the Facebook members on Monday, he had seen my name and I mentioned that I had just come back from my block. He put 2 and 2 together and asked me if I was from Quinsgunnado. Not gona lie, it made me feel at least slightly famous =p it really shows that it’s  small world, you never know how people will link up.

Our next trip will probably be over Christmas, or depending on how a few things work out we may have to cancel that trip, but we’ll see.

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Fire Breaks and more Roofing

It started off a fairly standard weekend, heading down out with a loaded up trailer on a Friday afternoon.

But this time turned out to be a little different. About half way there we were stopped for one of Nics many toilet breaks. I was going over the nights to do list in my head. Then suddenly I realised.

I didn’t have the keys to the caravan.

We were already an hour from home so there was no turning back.

We always try to live by the motto 2 is 1, 1 is none. Our backup for the block is mum and Kelvin’s cabin.

This was going to be a pretty good test of that, thankfully one of the keys we had opened the cabin. They have a lot of the same things as us, pots and pans, cups, cutlery. They also regularly have the other grandkids out there so some of the kid specific stuff is there also.

Oscar came out on the Saturday, he tried to pick the lock, but didn’t have much luck, I did have bolt cutters, but the challenge to see what we needed sounded like more fun.

Overall,the main things that we were missing were;

  • A kettle (we have 2 in the van but mum took hers with her to victoria)
  • The kids baby bath (it’s great for adult baths also)
  • The inverter (no power was a bit inconvenient although there was a tiny bit of solar lighting and a phone charger in the car)
  • The tractor battery (I had to pull the second battery from the patrol which we didn’t need because there was no inverter =p)

Not too bad really, a couple of things that we can do to make things easier for next time. The major one being, leave a key in Bunbury so that we can swing by there in case it happens again.

One of my big jobs for the weekend was putting in the fire breaks, realistically, if any fire came through my breaks would do nothing except maybe divert a grass fire into the trees. But I used it as a chance to get better at the more detailed use of the tractor bucket and blade.

It started off fairly thick and long grass in the cleared areas.

 

Ended up looking pretty good, cleaner than what most of the neighbors have. The bush area (where the break is least useful) was pretty easy as it was basically just pulling all the leaves away.

 

Over the past few weeks we managed to track down a few more pieces of long tin for the caravan roof, they are now up, and we have a full 6x3m undercover area to keep the sun off us. Just 5 more pieces and the whole roof will be on. While doing it I managed to fall/badly jump off the ladder and Land on a brick, twisted my ankle pretty good, but managed to walk it off.

The last showy job was using some of the smaller tin to finish up the roof for the tractor shed.  It still needs a ridge cap and of course some walls, but it’s almost to the point that we don’t need the tarp.

 

Apart from that, Oscar spent some time putting holes in things and I spent some time pulling blackberries, digging stumps and just general observation.

Oscar tried to mow some of the longer grass around our caravan, but 1 lawn mower wouldn’t start and the other didn’t have fuel. Must remember to bring some with us next time.

The bore is almost dry at the moment, but it’s still only shallow so when it gets a bit drier I’ll spend some time getting it a bit deeper.

A lot of the plants are suffering already, it seems like the kangaroo pressure is higher than normal this year, it also seems to have dried out a bit quicker than normal.

We have also managed to track down a source of food grade IBC’s for a decent price, can get up to 1 every 2 weeks which is way more than we can handle at the moment, but should make a few of the water based projects a bit easier.

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When we got home, we had all the normal jobs, the rabbits had managed to break their waterer (again), while I was fixing it I noticed something fluffy at the back of their feeder, unfortunately, one of the baby’s had managed to crawl inside it, once in there was on chance for him to turn around and get back out. If you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes, this prize was drowning in food.

We have a few personal things that are putting a few plans up into the air at the moment, but we are planning to get out for a week over Christmas. It’s looking like that will be the next big update.

September Long Weekend

The long weekend was planned to be a team effort with a fair few people to help get the roof over our van.

The weather however had different plans. A few days before the trip we were forecast to get up to 45mm of rain over 3 days. That put a bit of a dampener on our free labour lol.

By some freak change in the weather we only ended up getting about 15mm of rain (almost all on the Sunday night), so it actually ended up a nice weekend.

On the Friday night we swung past my sisters house for some more scrap tin, then to Shan’t parents house to pick up the wood for the annex. We stayed the night there and were off to the block bright and early on the Saturday.

I started smashing things out and getting the frame up, by the end of the day I had the tops frame roughly up with half pieces leveled and property in.

Shan took a bit of time in the morning to head to Balingup with the kids, they picked up 6 black walnut seedlings from one of the Facebook group members in exchange for a few things I had grown. She also had a few kangaroos, cockies and various other things that Nic loved to play with.

While they were out I had a minor incident and managed to drop the top of the pole I had just shortened on to the van. I didn’t think much of it, put a peice of tin over the tiny crack and weighed it down with some bricks. More on that later…

We have a second fire drum now and found that having 2 fires is way nicer than 1. Means that you can keep the front and back warm at the same time. Nic helped make sure we had plenty of well stacked wood for them.

Both the kids slept well and I was the first up in the morning, it wasn’t long before the frame was all together, level and secure. Next up was putting some tin on.

We’ve been collecting tin for a while so I figured I would have enough to do most of the roof. I didn’t however consider that I have 3 meters between the beams. Most of my tin is in 2m lengths.

I still had 6 pieces that were long enough, I think we will need 16 in total.

During Sunday I managed to get the front right quarter up before the rain that had been promised all weekend finally came. From about 2:30 it came down fairly hard for the rest of the day.

That gave me a chance to check on my swale over in front of the cabin. I did dump a little bit of water from the rainwater tank to exaggerate the effect, it was pretty fun to see the water rising. My levels aren’t quite right, but there was at least 10m of water in it without it being more than about 3-4cm deep in any one place.

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That night was when my little log on the roof incedent came to fruition. Shan and I were toasty and warm in bed with the kids asleep (in the ‘kitchen’) when out of nowhere we heard what sounded like a down pipe gushing water.

The ‘down pipe’ was in the cupboard above our bed and was where our roof full of water decided to drain. I drilled a few strategic holes in the roof and think I’ve made it so that it will all stay drained.

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The half of the bed that was soaked had been Shan’s, but she made a convincing argument that she needed to be on the other side because of many ‘reasons’ that I’m sure would be impossible to articulate.

The following morning I used the last 2 pieces of tin to cover the back right of the van where the crack is. But we’ve left towels and containers under the main drill hole just in case that isn’t enough. We’ve also moved the mattress in hopes that we have a dry place to sleep the next time we’re down.

A few of our plants are starting to take off, our little guild around the pomegranates is doing well. In that section there are 2 pomegranate, an apple, an avocado, some sweet potato, gooseberries and parsley with a few nasturtiums starting to come up as well. The only one that is struggling is the apple which looks like it’s been getting chewed on pretty hard by the kangaroos. I had meant to track down some wire to protect it but didn’t end up having time.

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The lemon tree isn’t doing very well, but I’m still hoping it makes it. We’ve got a few dozen lilly pillys coming up in the windbreaks that we planted, but it will be a while before we know how many will make it.

On the Monday, not long before we left, I decided to a aerate the ‘compost’ from the composting toilet. It was a job that I was a bit nervous about. Stirring up a big bucket of poo isn’t high on my bucket list.

It actually wasn’t bad at all, very minimal smell and nothing recognizable as poo. The only thing that gave it away was the pieces of toilet paper that are half broken down. We’ve now got 2 full buckets. Once we get 2-3 more then we can combine them into a heap up on the hill to one day be perfect to fertilise the non-edible trees on the top of the hill.

All in all it was a super productive weekend. We need a few more like it I think. But for now we’re on the lookout for more (longer) tin.

If you aren’t into the more techy side of things you can stop reading here, it’s mainly me just documenting my confusion.

I’m also keeping a very close eye on my batteries, if anyone has some insight I would love to hear the advice. The dual battery system in the car was in it when we got it so I’m not 100% sure what the various sensors and switches do. We’ve had issues with the aux battery not charging and have had to swap the 2 around to make sure they both charge. When we left to go back to Perth they were both saying they needed charge (main on 12.3v aux on 11.8v). When we arrive they both still said they needed charge (main holding at 12.8v which I thought was fully charged and aux at 11.9v). It’s now Wed arvo and with normal driving the main is reading 12.79 and charged. The aux is 11.94v and obviously still needing charge.

With the car running the main battery is at over 14.3v, I just can’t seem to get the power into the aux battery. I’ll give it until the weekend with what I think is the bypass for the dual battery on. Otherwise I may need to swap them out again to keep the aux in good condition.

Reading and watching videos can teach you a lot, but when it comes to real world troubleshooting things get trickier.

With what we’re planning I will be the ultimate jack of all trades. It’s a great adventure.

Weekend Double up 2/2

The second of my 2 weekend out getting our veranda started.

This weekend I managed to get all of the posts up, it was a bit of a challenge on my own, but the tractor helped a lot.

I only managed to bump the van with 1 of the poles as I was trying to maneuver it in so not a bad result and no damage done.

It’s just barely starting to look the part, hopefully for next visit I will have lined up some wood and I can start getting the roof on.
I’ve given in an got myself a new chainsaw, it’s another cheapy, but with the way they get treated I’d rather buy 5 $200 chainsaws than 1 $1,000 one. Hopefully it does me well for a few more years. The $100 ozito did me for almost 2 years and survived several trees falling on it, we’ll see if the Chinese Sthil rip off does any better.

On the Saturday morning I was woken up by a kookaburra on the front step of the van. Wasn’t a bad way to get up on a chilly morning, when I opened the door I noticed that I had a few other visitors, a sheep and her lamb were having a feed just up from me. They freaked and bolted as soon as they saw me so I didn’t manage to get a picture. They were pretty ratty looking, but I’m happy for them to help keep the grass down.

I’ve fixed the toilet shed and added a ton of bricks to the roof so hopefully it doesn’t flip again, I’ve also labeled all of the trees that I’ve planted so that in 10 years time I know where they came from.

Noticed that we have a few acacias growing well, they are about the only thing I could see in our area with flowers for the bees.

They have been specificly id’d as;

Acacia Longifolia (Sydney Wattle) and Acacia Mearnsii

Which I’m told are dreadful weeds from the east coast. I particularly like the A. Longifolia, I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of seeds fell into some hot water then got thrown around by accident.

It would be a tragedy to have some nitrogen fixing bee forage which is happy in degraded soil appearing in a few areas that are barely growing onion grass at the moment.

This coming weekend I’m swapping a few fruit trees with people I’ve met on Facebook. It’s great to find people that have different plants that they want to trade, gives me new material to learn to propegate some different things.

If you’re in the Perth area and are after; Lilly Pilly, Mulberry, Pomegranate, Willow or anything else that I’ve mentioned starting a lot of in the past let me know what you have and I’d love to work out a swap.

Weekend Double up 1/2

In a bit of an unusual turn of events we had about 8 weeks without being able to get out to the block followed by 2 weekends in a row out there.

This is the first of those weekends.

When I arrived I noticed a bit of damage, the toilet shed is on it’s roof and our van lost a piece, but everything can always be fixed. I also dropped off a ton of tin and pvc pipe, it should be enough tin to finish the tractor shed and enough pipe to run the gravity fed water supply for the van (including the shower).

 

I started off with a very optimistic list of jobs that I wanted to get done including starting to dig the lower swale so that I could plant out the apple and apricot that I have temporarily in the ground in Perth. After how slowly I got things done on the first weekend that has been removed from the to do list for now.

The main job now is getting the caravan poles up for the annex.

The annex will have 9 posts, 3 behind the van and 6 in front of the door, the roof will go over the top of the van giving us a bit of a buffer from the summer sun and also making it much easier to catch the water off it.

I’m doing a bit of an experiment with the poles. I’ve read a lot of articles about the best way to preserve the poles ranging from cement to oil to random chemicals that I probably don’t want to touch.

I decided that it was worth doing a bit of a test. We are putting in a range of poles that have been;

  • Fire/Heat Treated x2
  • Fire/Heat treated with engine oil x2
  • Engine oil x2
  • Cement x2
  • Just dirt x1

The most controversial I think is the fire treatment, it is based off a very old japanese method called Shou Sugi. In particular using this method to preserve pole wood has had mixed results so I figure its worth seeing how it works out for us. You can read a little more below;

https://permaculturenews.org/2016/12/05/shou-sugi-ban-preserve-wood-using-fire/

The others are more conventional and will be interesting to see the results.

My bet is on the combination of fire treatment with the engine oil but i’m curious to hear other peoples opinions, feel free to comment below or on the facebook page/wherever else you like.

So far I’ve managed to get 2 of the poles up and finished all the oiling/burning. I will probably give them a quick re-oil before I put them up next weekend.

 

As always we had other things going on at the same time, Oscar spent some time sighting in his new scope on the .303, he managed to put a nice hole into my brand new shooting frame and a 1 in a million shot (at least for his rifle) shot out the wire that was supposed to hold the targets.

 

The pomegranates are looking pretty good, they seem to have survived the transplant shock, the avocado and various under story plants in the little guild are looking pretty happy as well. The lemon tree ins’t looking very happy, but there are still a few green branches so hopefully it will come back in the spring.

 

I had a bit of fun lighting the fire over the weekend, w always have multiple methods of lighting a fire at the block and I generally have a few methods on me at all times, but 8 weeks with about half a meter of rain made things pretty tricky. Lucky I had the mapgas torch as a backup. It helped keep things toasty over the chilly weekend.

 

The dam is holding a little bit of water, but the driveway is holding almost as much =p

 

I’m also nearing the end of my PDC, just have my final assessment and design exercise to go. It’s not due until Christmas, but i’m hoping to get the vast majority of it out of the way in the next month assuming there isn’t to much else to distract me. But as the people who know me would be aware, there is always something going on to distract me.

 

Easter Weekend

It was a busy time leading up to Easter. I managed to find a 25 year old lemon tree that needed a new home.

We got a lot of cheap apples, pears and lemons (from the tree) so we did a lot of canning apple pie filling, apple sauce, apple and pear pie filling and lemon butter as well as both lemon and lime juice. I did n’t actually get a chance to get a pick of all the food together, but there was a lot, we actually had to buy more jars.

The recipes we used were roughly from the below, although we made a few changes for a combined apple and pear pie filling and also did some different thicknesses of the apple sauce so that Harry has some baby food ready for when he starts eating.

https://www.freshpreserving.com/apple-pie-filling-recipe-%7C-canning-apple-pie-filling—ball-recipes-br1123.html

http://www.sbcanning.com/2015/08/pear-pie-filling.html

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/applesauce.html

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/lemon_curd.html

http://www.pickyourown.org/lemonjuice.htm

The Easter weekend was planned to be a big burn off weekend. We were going to burn out all the stumps along the driveway. However, because the govt is always trying to help we were denied a permit to burn.

They were fine to give us a permit before the 14th or after the 17th bit insisted that we hadn’t had enough rain to burn over a long weekend.

We made the best of it and worked on a ton of the other jobs we have going. We had plenty of people out there so our new toilet got a good workout, now we just need some rain to fill up the new handwashing station.

First up, I needed to get the lemon tree into the ground. Nice deep hole and as well watered in as we could do. I’m hoping it makes it survives, we’ve done the best we can. It left my trailer with a very unique unsquare look =p

Oscar and Donut stayed out with us 1 of the nights and we decided to try digging out a few stumps. 3-4hrs digging and pushing with the tractor shovels and mattocks later we had managed to get 2 of them out and decided that was enough of that.

The stumps we removed mean that the caravan end of the driveway is starting to look the part.

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We rewarded ourselves by testing out some safety gear and doing a bit of a penetration test on some plate steel. The result was, that if you get shot in the eyes by a shotgun at 15-20m then your eyes might be okay with most of the safety glasses (although your face will be wrecked). Even at 50m nothing could hold up to the .22. The best results were with the ugly ass goggles, but an even better result is to not be on that end of the firearm. In the penetration test (308 at 50m and the 303 at 20m) the 308 well and truely outperformed, but both left a nice mark. It was interesting fun. We also got to introduce my 2 young cousins to firearms, they seemed to enjoy putting some holes in the paper and trying to outshoot each other.

I spent a bit of time digging deeper holes for my soil samples. I still have my first results, but I’ve been told that the clay generally starts more consistently at about half a meter. If breaking the mattock is anything ti go by I think we do have more clay a bit deeper. Results at the end of the post.

Kelvin has a habit of meeting random useful people in his travels. He managed to stumble upon a pig farmer who had some fire fighting gear. He suggested that we could use the gear to try to dig a bore. It’s more suited to very sandy soils but we figured it was worth a try. we ended up digging almost a meter deep with the shovel then got about half a meter further with the water pump. Not very deep for a bore, but it’s currently filling itself up with reasonably clean and clear water, it smells a little anaerobic, but should be great for the plants. Rough numbers for the flow rate was 6 buckets of water (when full) then it refilled in about 2.5 hours so about 50l every 2 hours or about 300ml/minute. Far from record breaking, but it’s a great start and should help us get a bit more water on the plants. I still need to work out what I’ll do for pumping it, but for now buckets are doing the job in the exposed hole and we have the pipe in deeper for when we do have a pump.

Over the course of the weekend I managed to spend a bit of time up on the road side of the hill cutting in the part where the driveway goes to the road. It took a lot of work but I feel like i’m slowly getting better at controlling the bucket and taking off nice thin scrapes of dirt. It probably still needs about 3-4 hours to get it to the right level, but I figure it’s better to take it nice and slow rather than rush it and end up screwing it up.

We ended the weekend with Shan’s family coming out to the block for lunch and an Easter egg hunt as well as a few tractor rides.

Soil sample results

Assuming I’m reading my results correctly it’s looking a lot better than the previous run. It seems that up on the hill (once you get well into the subsoil) it’s basically all clay. It should work well for a couple of small dams up on the hill. There probably isn’t enough catchment for the dams all year around but with a solar pump from the new bore we might be able to get some nice high water.

It’s a bit of a pain that the wettest area of the property seems to have next to no clay even with the deeper sample, but we can always work with what we have.

Christmas Week Diary

I’ve decided to do something a bit different for this update and if it works out well I’ll do it for longer trips going forward as well. Its more like a diary entry for each day I’m here which this time around should be about a week. Let me know what you think of it as one big post or if you think it would work better as a separate post for each day.

Day 1 28/12/16

wp-image-956091587jpg.jpgI was on the road fairly early and arrived before lunch. Dragged the few things I had with me into the van then decided to get started putting up our toilet block. We have everything we need apart from bulk sawdust to set up our very basic composting toilet so the people that are to posh to push in the bush will have a more civilized place to go. I still need to print off a little instruction paper to include in there, I think our biggest issue will be people using it to pee, but they should get used to it fairly quickly.

wp-image-763610240jpg.jpgIt went together easier than expected and the only issue I had was that I’ve put the roof on backwards so the eve doesn’t go over the door. I’ve decided that it will work out for the best because the eve will be on the downhill side so it should be easy to set up some rain catch for washing hands.

That was basically when things started going wrong. I went and grabbed Kelvin’s lawn mower to mow the area that the toilets are going, couldn’t get her started. Went back and grabbed my mower and a snapped the pull cord on it.

I decided to start by cleaning up a tree that was already fallen, unfortunately it had a part up the middle that was full of rocks and dirt. I devastated my new chain and sent sparks everywhere. I sharpened it to the best of my ability and went back to it.

Unfortunately, the best of my ability is very average, my saw was still fairly blunt and was now pulling counterclockwise.

It took me well over a tank of fuel to drop one of the big (possibly Jarah) red trees. Between the hard wood, blunt saw and my lack of tree dropping skills it was pretty exhausting.

wp-image-2146487673jpg.jpgI asked on our Facebook group how to sharpen the saw to get it cutting straight and got a fair few opposing and confusing responses. In the end I think I actually asked the question wrong in the facebook group. If a saw is turning counterclockwise should I sharpen the Black or Yellow teeth?

wp-image-1818159239jpg.jpgFor the rest of the day I basically just plodded, planted some sweet potatoes at what Kelvin calls the 3 sisters and drank a few beers.

Day 2 29/12/16

It was fairly early when I got up so decided to spend some time cleaning up the blackberries. Its an ongoing job but I’m determined not to poison them all and just keep them in a smallish patch with nothing but brute force. Hopefully it works out well and we will get a few good feeds from them in the next few months.

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Next I threw everything I needed for dropping and moving trees in the tractor bucket and headed up the hill to drag a few trees out of the way and keep dropping more.

In the way up I drove over a tiny stump which clipped the grade blade. It must have hit just right because it snapped the pin that holds it all together and broke the blade off the tractor.

I decided to leave it for now and just get back to work, i’ll need to take it back to Perth and weld it back together.

I spent ages sharpening and testing the chainsaw to get it cutting better, I found that lowering the rakers way lower than the instructions said to helped a lot but it still def cuts in an anticlockwise direction.

Despite the shitty saw I managed to drop and start cleaning up heaps more of the trees, there are only 3 left to drop which I’ll hopefully get done tomorrow.

wp-image-800052358jpg.jpgIt’s amazing how much higher the sun is in the sky now, it really heats things up a lot more and the previously shady area that we had been leaving the esky is now in full sun from about 11am, not ideal for the little amount of ice I have.

While it was hot I decided to get on the tractor and keep picking up dirt for my new shooting mound, unfortunately on the first bucket of dirt I managed to get the tractor well and truly bogged, that stopped that job pretty quick.

wp-image-184918988jpg.jpgTristan has decided to come out for the night so hopefully it will be easier to pull out with a car helping as well, definitely a tomorrow job though because its turned out to be a pretty warm one.

I managed to put 2 “new” cords on my lawn mower, unfortunately the only thing I could think of to use were guide ropes which turns out aren’t strong enough to do the job and both broke before I even had the mower started.

I guess this is pretty much the farm life, shit breaking and spending more time fixing them than actually getting shit done.

I went for a walk up to the very far corner on the steep part of the block, I had still never been all the way there, it wasn’t anything special but at least I can say I’ve walked most of the property now, I’m pretty sure there are parts in the bracken that I still haven’t been.

Tristan arrived at about 7, we enjoyed some of my home canned rabbit stew and a few beers.

Day 3 30/12/16

While Tristan was sleeping I managed to dig/drive the tractor out of where it was bogged with only about half an hour worth of work so at least that problem was solved quicker and easier than expected.

First up we decided to try out the new shooting mound that I’ve slowly been building and try a few games to blow the cobwebs out of his little .22, I think Tristan may have needed a bit more of a warm up or his only goal was to make sure it was no longer a hostage situation regardless of how it turns out for said hostage, but I’m happy enough with how I did.

The above was with .22 at about 45m on an A3 sized target.

Next up we headed up the hill to drop the last few trees along the driveway line, it kinda looks like a tornado has cut a path around the hill knocking everything over but hopefully we will get some good pole wood as well as plenty of firewood and a lot of brush so that I can try my hand at hugelkulture some time soon. Tristan had a go at dropping one of the smaller trees, but I  don’t think being an arbourist is in his skillset =p I would have taken a picture of the final stump but it was a little too embarrassing for all involved.

It was starting to get warm so we decided to head down into the bracken to continue the never ending job of pulling blackberries. The path around them is looking pretty good and Tristen has cleared out some of the bracken in the area as well.

wp-image-511539785jpg.jpgBy now we were getting hungry and it was looking like Tristan was about to fall over so we headed back to the van for some lunch.

Next up we did a little more shooting before heading up the hill with the tractor and chainsaw to start bringing down the best of the firewood, over the course of an hour or so we managed to collect up a pretty good pile.

We finished the day with another shooting game, it looks like Tristan must have gotten into his grove because the second round this time on a half A4 target for each of us he managed to beat me. Not bad for either of us given the size of the target once again at about 45m.

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Day 4 31/12/16

Tristan headed home first thing this morning, unfortunately he got about 400m down the service road (about 100m past our property line) and thought he was lost so needed a bit more of a guide back to the road. After spending about 10min laughing to myself about him getting lost I decided to try to save my avocado seedling by setting up my olive barrel waterer on it, although I may already be to late. It should have enough water to keep the area damp for the next week or so, hopefully when mum and Kelvin are out there they can dump more water in and give it longer.

I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon sitting in the tractor moving piles of dirt from inconvenient places onto the new shooting mound, its really starting to look the part, well over 2m tall at its highest and about 8m wide and 4m deep. I just need to put a few more logs along it to discourage erosion and it will be all done. It should be safe and big enough for some of the non-shooters that we have been teaching out here.

I’ve included flagged markers at 25, 50 and 60 meters. I do potentially have space to push it out to about 80m but we’ll see if it’s necessary later. The picture below is taken at 60m and the white square is a piece of placard that is probably 50% bigger than A3.

wp-image-512859624jpg.jpgMy plan is to build a little shooting area at each of the flags so that people can comfortably lay down or sit, I’ll probably try to border the area with plants that discourage fly’s and ants because there are a lot of both along the range area.

I ran out of ice completely last night so I finished up the last of my cold food for lunch, nothing but tins and jars for the next few days. Although it’s looking like I’ll probably head home Tuesday (3rd Jan) so I should be fine to live off them for a few days.

Mum and Kelvin dropped by in the arvo with a bit of a care package, some chicken and well as beer and scotch, it’s all about the priorities, it is new years eve after all.

While they were here I got Kelvin to give me a hand loading the tractor blade into the back of the car, it’s lucky I packed light because the thing is huge even after I pulled it apart.

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They also left their mobile WiFi and tablet so I’m spending the evening starting the online pemaculture design certificate course that I signed up for last week. It officially started yesterday but I haven’t even gotten through the prelim material yet.

wp-image-141148705jpg.jpgHopefully before I go to bed I will at least be finished going over/watching the prelim stuff so I can start catching up on the official course when I get home.

Day 5 01/01/17

I felt asleep at about 8 o’clock last night so def didn’t see the new year in. It meant I was up bright and early this morning and up on the hill with the tractor at about 6:30.

I managed to push out a few huge burnt out/rotten stumps that I had been a little worried would be hard to burn or cut out.

The main job today was to collect up a heap more firewood and start collecting post wood to build our annex.

After lifting a few of the logs onto the tractor I realised it would be much easier (and I could move much bigger pieces) by tying them to the back of the tractors hydraulics, then I could lift the front of the log off the ground and pull them around and down the hill. I managed to get 3 nice straight poles between 5 and 9 meters and another 3 that are 3-4 meters. All but 1 are jarrah I think, thicknesses ranging from about 5-10 inches so good size to hold the roof up.

Around lunch time I managed to break the throttle on the chainsaw and decided to have some lunch, a beer then head down to the blackberries, they are fairly under control at the moment so I decided to try to turn the patch into a keyhole garden.

wp-image-1413519927jpg.jpgI’m not sure if it will work with how quickly blackberries grow and how invasive the runners are but its worth a try. After a bit of a break during the worst of the heat of the day.

wp-image-1039577811jpg.jpgI pulled the chainsaw apart, thankfully the tension spring thing for the throttle had just come off so it was a pretty easy fix, since I had it apart anyway I gave the insides a bit of a clean out as well. Working better than it has all week now.

There are about 6-8 good sized pieces of pole timber as well as a few loads of good firewood still on the driveway line, hopefully I’ll get it all down tomorrow.

Day 6 02/01/16

Up bright and early and on the hill pulling out more poles and firewood. At about 10 o’clock it was already starting to get stinking hot. Shan ended up in Bunbury at her parents house since Saturday so I decided to pack it in a bit early. I spent the next couple of hours packing up and making sure all the plants had been watered, I was heading back to Bunbury a little after 12.

The final result was several tons of firewood and several tons of pole wood that will come in very handy over the next few months/years.

wp-image-1657297902jpg.jpgMy sister went into labour this morning and her third kid was born at about 10:30. We’ll hopefully swing by and see her before heading back to Perth tomorrow.

I generally think of myself as a bit of an asocial person and thought it wouldn’t be a problem to spend a week largely on my own, but it was surprising how much I actually wanted to chat to people after only a few days, especially at night or in the heat of the day when I couldn’t work.

I got a fair amount done in my time at the block although I always wish that I got more done.

By my guess there is about a half a day more work to go bringing down poles and firewood from the driveway line, then we need to burn out the stumps (when we’re aloud to have fires again) and I can smooth out the line (once I fix the tractor blade). Our toilet block is pretty much ready, just need to mow the area and put a few cement pavers down for the floor. A bit of sawdust and we’ll be up and pooing.

Very big week, I’ll be happy for a hot shower and a few hours on the couch.

New Tractor

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I’m a real farmer now, we picked up our tractor last Saturday morning. An old ford with a bucket and a blade. It is 2wd with 8 gears 4 low and 4 high.

The hydraulics on the bucket don’t seem great (it moves really slow) but it will do the job. The owner said it leaks water but overnight it only lost about 100ml so it doesn’t seem to bad.

I managed to drive it down the service line, there was a tricky part but once I had powered through it I think the track is actually a bit flatter than when I started.

As soon as I got it actually on the block I wanted to start playing and working out how the blade and bucket were. I bladed a grassy area a few times to flatten it then decided to try to scape away the top few inches of grass and soil with the bucket.

That was where my problems started.

After a few meters of scraping I noticed I was bogging down. Not wanting to stop I put it into 1 low and went half throttle. Unfortunately with a few hundred kg of water logged dirt on the front and I think the angle of the bucket a bit to low I just dug in and sank the back wheel.

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I figured if I just lifted the bucket I would drive out of it. That wasn’t to be the case.

15 min after getting there I was down to the frame with the fully raised back blade now resting on the ground with a full bucket of dirt.

14215719_1478183375531549_678402992_oAn hr or so emptying the bucket, digging the tyres and under the frame along with some well placed pavers and a good few tugs from the patrol and we managed to drag/drive it out.

At least I have a pretty good idea of what its limits are now, and clearing grass in a wet and boggy area is past the limit.

I flattened a few paths with the blade, pushed a few logs around so they are easier to cut up for firewood, collected a ton of firewood and had a general good time learning how to drive.

One of mums ongoing jobs has been clearing bracken near their cabin, I gave her a machete to get the job done a bit quicker than the little axe that she was using. I finally got around to sharpening it for her so she went from blunt for the last few months to razor sharp, needless to say she came to our camp 20min later with a cut hand. It wasn’t to bad luckily but shows the need to pay a lot of attention when using dangerous tools.

She has managed to make a pretty good dent in the few acres of bracken, but there is still a lot to go. While she’s been doing that Kelvin has been working on his annex/verandah.

I had a good walk along the driveway and marked about 30 trees that need to come down. Hopefully when Kelvin finished his varandah he’ll start cutting them down.

A few of the trees I planted at the start of winter are starting to show a bit of life. Hopefully they make it through spring and will be giving us fruit/herbs in a few years. Rabbits seem to be the main thing that are killing trees so far, but after the guys next door shooting what sounded like 100 of them hopefully they will be less of a problem for the next few months.

The next time we get out there will be for my bucks party so hopefully I’ve cut up enough wood for the night, depending on how much fun we have that will probably be the next update.

Cabin to the block

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We (Syl and Kel) love to go out to the block to get away for weekends. So after some negotiations with Kevin and Shan they said it was ok to put a caravan or something like that out there for us to have a weekender.

We start looking on Gumtree and eBay.  Kel found a great buy on Gumtree,  a cabin. It was in Margaret River. $3000. We took a trip down there one Saturday morning and loved it. It is approx 6 metres X 3 metres. After a few days thinking about it we made an offer of $2500. She met us halfway at $2750. Talked to a tilt tray company about transport. They said $500 to get it from Margaret River to Brookhampton (Quinsgunnado). We thought that was reasonable.

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Kel and I spent quite a few hour preparing and clearing the track. Steve came out with his chainsaw on a long pole. We cut down all the branches we thought needed coming down.

The transport was all organised for Tuesday the 12th July. 2pm to meet in Donnybrook. Kel and I finished work early so we could meet them there. It was a lovely sunny day. They rang me at 12 and told me the cabin won’t be coming today as the truck is at Worsley and they are waiting for it to be unloaded and the crane had not arrived yet. Was then changed to Thursday 14th. …Cold and wet day. ..They said they will be leaving Margaret River by 1pm with our cabin. Got a call from them about 2.30pm to say they are running late and will call us half an hour before Donnybrook. So we were expecting them around 4.30pm. We decided to go out to the block earlier and check out the track we had cleared the previous weekend. On the way out there at 3pm my phone had no service for some reason. Turned it on and off . Took the battery out. Still no service. So at 4.30 we made sure we were in Donnybrook waiting for the truck with our cabin to arrive. By 4.50 still no phone working and raining, we found a phone box to ring the truck driver. He was relieved to here from us as he had been waiting on the other side of town for 40 minutes. We found him. 20160714_172834We looked at the cabin on top of the truck and thought, I don’t know if this is going to fit down the track that we have cleared. He followed us through town and into Brookhampton. We turned onto the track stopped and talked to the driver. We said it looks too high to fit. We told him we had cleared the trees to fit 4.5 metres. He said that was the height of his load, it should fit. He got about 200 metres in and started hitting trees. We were in front and it wasn’t looking good. After about 10 minutes of negotiating trees we decided it wasn’t going to get through. Kel helped guide the truck backwards to the start of the track. I drove passed them to see if we could leave it with the neighbours. No one was home so we told the driver to just put it here on the side of the track. It was now 5.35pm and my phone started going off with missed calls and messages. Getting dark so we had no choice. The cabin was unloaded. Luckily it is on wheels. We went home to Bunbury disappointed that it wasn’t on the block.

We told our friends Steve and Pop what had happened. They offered to help us tow it in when Kel finished work on Friday.

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On Friday morning Steve and Pop decided to go out there to check it out and pump up the tyres of the cabin and connect the drawbar. They came back and we waited for Kel to finish work.20160715_171419

Kel came home at 4.15pm and we all headed out there. We hooked up the Xtrail to the cabin and off we went. Was all going well until we starting hitting branches on the sides of the cabin. Got through that area. It was raining and we had a fair bit of it too. The track was wet and we went through a big puddle and came to a stand still. Why aren’t we moving we thought. I jumped out of the car and the cabin was on a lean. I said to the guys I can’t see the wheel. We thought we we bogged. Then we thought we broke  the axle. Then looked under from the front and could just see the wheel on an angle. We then looked into the glass sliding door of the cabin and seen the floor broken. I opened the door and went in and couldn’t believe that I could see the wheel. I grabbed it and passed it to the guys. They looked at it and realised the wheel nuts had come off. Good news really. Could have been worse. They jacked up the cabin. They only found 1 wheel nut.

20160715_16593820160715_17115720160715_16592420160716_10292420160716_10293120160715_170739Was getting dark so had to leave the cabin on the track for the night.we were about 800 metres in. 700 to go. Luckily we could get out going through the block and around the other way.

It rained all night. The boys arranged to go out at 8am and it was pouring down. I couldn’t go as I had to work. They got to the block and went through Kev’s drive and down to ours and back onto the track heading back towards the cabin. Then come to a stop right on Kev and Shans boundary. A big tree across the road. Took them nearly an hour to clear it off the road. Luckily they took a chainsaw with them. At least the rain had eased up now. They got to the cabin and jacked it up and put the wheel back on. They made their way to the block and clearing more trees as they went.

20160716_115050Yes it was there at last. Those 3 were so happy. Thanks Steve and Pop for all your help. It is Pop’s 65th birthday today. I am happy too now. Just have to work out how to get photo’s  on here.

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Long Weekend With Dad

It took a while to get this out because it was a huge weekend, got heaps done and we’re improving in leaps and bounds.

My dad was over to visit for a few weeks so last weekend I took the Friday and Monday off so that we could spend some time on the block.
We were weighed down with everything that we wanted to take out, so much so that dad needed to carry a few things on the way out from Bunbury and mum had to bring a few things out that were left behind at her house.

We now have seating and a fire pit as well as a few good sized fire extinguishers that I managed to pick up for free I also have a ton more bamboo for marking as well as a heap more pillows blankets and a spare mattress.

With the fire pit set up and keeping us toasty as well as having a gas bottle for the van it’s starting to feel like home.
We’ve got a couple of hot water bottles that kept the bed toasty all night, they were still warm in the morning.
We realised that we need a second kettle. We have potable and non-potable water and don’t want to use non-potable water in the kettle, that means Nicholas’s bath and our hot water bottles eat into the drinking water quickly. But we still had plenty and will get a second kettle soon.
It’s all the little things that will take a long time to get right.

The fire extinguishers were a great find and I packed a ton of them into the lancer, the guy said if I ever need more then to let him know. They are out of date so he was going to be charged to dispose of them but from testing a few they still seem fine.
I picked them up on my way to work and was pretty stoked with myself cruising around with several dozen in the car including on the back seat.
I must have hit a bump which knocked a pin out of one, then went around a corner to fast which bumped it against the door. A few seconds later the car was full of powder and I was trying to pull over without crashing. When I got to work I looked a bit like a ghost, but at least we have extinguishers all over the house in each car as well as a heap at the block.

One of my main jobs for the weekend was getting some ground cover planted around the van so that we didn’t need to compete so much with the grass. I sent a ton of runners from my strawberry patch at home into pots and ended up with about 40 plants spread over 3 pots. They fit nicely around 2 sides of the van, then I threw a thin layer of parsley seeds over the top of the turned soil. Hopefully some of it takes and our grass problems will be kept to a minimum. It looks like the cold is finally slowing down the growth of the grass, so my fear of 12ft high grass may be premature.

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I also took down 2 mulberries, an avocado, a fig, a pineapple top and some large clumps of lemon grass along with almost 100g of parsley seeds for around the van as well as to overseed some areas that had been burned recently by a well meaning family member.
All of the plants were from our owns backyard from cuttings taken at a community orchard up the road. Its still only a very small dent in the planting but it feels good to be getting some perennial food growing out there.

This weekend is going to be all about getting as many new cuttings started as I can. I’m expecting to lose a lot of what I plant to weather and wildlife but if I plant enough we should be fine.

On our first night out when I was giving dad the grand tour of our block he managed to find some solid hollow logs for a project that he was wanting to do.
He turned 2 logs into 2 lamps one for me and one for Emma. A few coats of varnish and they came up pretty good.

It was a bit of a rowdy night on the Friday, a bottle of some very unique honey bourbon disappeared, and some very potent vodka left us hearing banjos and sleeping well.

On the Saturday we had great weather and got to check out the local market and get some Indian for a late breakfast.
Then it was off to look at a tractor at a friend of a friends place, couldn’t pin him down on a price but he seems like he’ll be good about it and we might have the one once he finds his replacement.
I had my first go driving it back up to the house, all was going well until I had a bit of a brain fart and forgot that I needed to put my foot on the clutch to stop it. On a narrow track with nowhere to go. Very nearly put a set of forks through the back of the Patrol. Very good way to learn a lesson is from a close call. Could have been way worse.

Its seems like it runs well, hydraulics look good to an untrained eye and no major rust or leaks that I could see. Didn’t check the PTO but it is less risky dealing with mates. Owner said it loses water so he just tops it up before use. Even if there are issues it will likely still be the right price, and I have a personal heavy diesel mechanic who needs me for property letters so I’m sure we can work it out.

Mum and Kelvin stayed out on sat night and a few friends of theirs from the park came out to relax by the fire for a while.

There was a little rain that night which kept it pretty warm but by lunch time on Sunday it was raining pretty steady.

Shan went into Donneybrook to meet a friend and Dad spent most of the morning cutting firewood and finding bases for his lamps.
I spent some time planting my trees and walking some parts of the property that I still hadn’t been over much, I found a few tracks and animal sign right up the western corner which I had thought was pretty empty. There are way more rabbit tracks all over the western half than we’ve seen previously so I’m guessing they have been breeding. I really need to get a .22.

Mum and Kelvin spent most of the morning trying to widen the track in. They are looking at a portable unit for them to stay in while they’re on the block, but it will need to go on a flatbed and is 3 meters wide. Our road in was previously 1.5-2m wide. They have pushed it out to about 2.5 for most of it but it’s very unlikely that they will get the 3m that they need. At least we can fit cars down it without a worry now.

Dad ran out of chain bar oil not long before mum and Kelvin got bored so we all ended up slowly marking more of the main driveway in. We used all the bamboo that we had carried up and went back to camp for a coffee and to grab some more just as the rain was setting in. We messed around with tarps for a while but dad ended up just turning it into some rain catchment and we all hung out in the van to stay warm and dry.

We planned to leave early on the Monday but after a few hours of on and off rain while we struggled to keep the fire roaring. Nothing productive was getting done and we decided that we might as well head back. We grabbed some chilli dogs for dinner, ended back in Perth at about 7.

It was a great weekend as always, very slowly we’re turning bush into a homestead.