Fence Work and Garden Produce

We have spent the past week continuing to work on the new fence.

The fence is now finished the construction phase and we have been getting on with cutting up the dead trees that had to be removed to clear a straight line for the fence.

I had to have a few days off to rest my back and forearms that got a bit over worked.

I estimate that I have now cut and stacked 1200 to 1500 billets of timber. Enough for 2 years firewood, if not more. Of course some of them are only small, down to 50mm dia.

But some are up to 450mm dia. I cut up the whole tree. Nothing wasted.

All the felled trees that were within 50 metres of the house are now cleaned up, cut to stove lengths and stacked near the wood shed, ready for use in the winter.

The other trees that were felled are all still stacked along side the fence line. I may get around to getting out there, right down the back and cutting them up. 

However, experience has taught me that by the time I have used up all these stacked timber billets, All the logs laying on the ground will have been degraded by the white ants.

There are still so many standing dead trees within just a few metres of the gateway through the new fence that I will most likely be choosing to work on those trees.

Each morning we get up early and do a few hours work wheelbarrowing broken bricks down the back to fill in the deep gaps under the fence.

This is to stop animals from shinnying underneath the fence in the lowest spots. We have almost finished this job. Maybe just one more cool morning’s work.

Once all the gaps are filled with brick bats and rubble, I start carting some left over crushed gravel from the pottery site footings, down to the fence line.

This gravel and dirt mix will cover the crushed bricks and level out the surface to make it easier in the future to keep the fence line mowed and clear of re-growth.

After lunch, it’s too hot to work outdoors in the full sun for us oldies. So we retire indoors to work on other projects in the shade.

I’m currently working on welding up a set of 3 gates to complete the fence line securely. Our neighbour on the back fence line saw a full size stag in his yard the other day.

I really need to get this unscripted and unfunded crisis done and dusted as soon as I can, so that I can get back to my real work in the pottery.

In the evenings we make Tomato passata, Plum sauce and Onion jam. These all need to be made and stored away for later use to make the best of our excess produce.

Bottling tomato passata

Plum sauce bottled and cooling.

At this time of year every meal starts to take on a certain ratatouille aspect. Tomatoes, basil, capsicum, zucchini, and squash.

Summer garden Ratatouille with steamed fish and hand picked capers in a white wine reduction.

Garden beetroot, home made onion jam, and 2 cheeses tart.

Desert is freshly picked blueberries baked into a tart. We are picking 3 kgs every few days at this time of year. Some get preserved for later in the year. Some eaten fresh for breakfast, some are used in cooking like this and the rest are given away to neighbors and friends.

It’s a tough life, but we just have to work our way through it.

A Deer Fence

A month or so ago, Our neighbour saw two deer crossing our road and entering our land.

We have never fenced our land. I rather liked the concept that all the local wild life could come in and graze on our grass and drink at the dam quite freely.

After-all, the wallabies, kangaroos and wombats were all here before us.

However, feral deer are another matter. They have been breeding up in extreme numbers out in the Buragorang Valley National Park for years, so now they have reached Balmoral Village.

We live in a small hamlet or village, on a very old road and disused railway line that is situated between two National Parks. 

Whether the deer got here from either the East or the West side parks, doesn’t matter. The big problem is that they are here now.

We have been so lucky to have had 46 years of living here without this problem, but now we have to deal with it.

Luckily for us, There is this guy I know who does fencing all summer and sells firewood all winter. His family have lived and worked here since 1906. AND, he’s a really nice guy to boot.

I had been talking to him about getting some help with a fence along the back lane, as some kids had been coming in and yahooing about down the back there.

We have already put a fire-proof steel and stone ‘gabion’ fence along our front boundary as a kind of heat shield for the ground fire in the next big bush fire event, whenever that comes.

We asked our neighbours on the South side if they wanted a fence 30 years ago. They didn’t. So no fence was ever built. We got on really well together as neighbours, so didn’t need one.

Those neighbours were burnt out in the last big fire, and wont be rebuilding or returning to live here.

So now we have deer in the back orchard eating our fruit trees. They particularly like cherry tree leaves. They leave their turds on the grass around the trees as they nibble, and their hoof prints in the soft muddy soil around the edge of the dam where we were clearing out the dead trees and undergrowth from the water yesterday.

 Mother turds,    

and Baby turds, so there are at least two of them eating our trees.

Monday the 16th of January, is the first day back at work for most tradies and small businesses around here. So Phil turned up with his two sons to get a bit of a start on our fance.

A lot has changed since I spoke to him in late October last year. The fence now needs to be twice as long, to seal off the property, and twice as high with the arrival of the feral deer, as they can jump very high. We originally discussed a wire mesh fence 1200 mm. high with 3 strands of barbed wire on top. This is apparently the basic, standard rural fence these days around here. I wouldn’t know. I’ve lived here for 46 years and never spoken to a fencer before. I have done all my own internal fences around the gardens and orchards over the years, cut my own fence posts, crow-barred and shovelled my own holes. Rammed my own posts solid in the ground. But now I am a bit too old for all that hard work these days, as the fence will end up having to be 250 metres long to keep the deer out. I’m learning to relax and to compromise my standards by letting someone else do some of the hard yakka this time. Basically, I trust Phil to do a thorough job.

The new deer fence will now be 1800mm high, at a greater extra expense and a very dear fence it will be.

We cleared a track through the bush that had never been cleared before. I tried to keep as many trees a possible, allowing the fence to wander a bit to find the line of least destruction of the bigger trees. The first thing that Phil said after walking the fence line, was that some more trees will have to go. It needs to be straight, otherwise you’ll be up for the added expense of extra strainer posts and stays.

All the trees in question are already dead. Standing blackened, leafless and burnt dead. Victims of the catastrophic bush fire that raged through here 3 years ago. I have no idea why I wanted to ’save’ them. Just habit I guess? So out they come and the line of the fence is straightened. They drag the trunks out of the way and into the clearing where we stack our fire wood. A place well away from the house. I spend a day chain-sawing. I stop regularly to refuel, re-oil and sharpen each of the three chainsaws. Large, medium and small. I spend all day at it, but can’t keep up with the delivery rate that the fences are dragging the dead wood out.

I cut them up into usable sizes for the pottery oven/heater, the kitchen stove and the lounge room heater. The trees with the largest diameter butts are cut into just 150 mm. long slabs. This is to make them lighter, and easier to lift and stack them, and eventually move them to the hydraulic splitter. Large diameter hardwood logs can be very heavy. The skinny logs and tapered top branches, anything less than 150 mm. dia. are cut to the longer lengths, as their weight doesn’t matter at that size. All the intermediates are cut to 300 mm long. It all works out quite well, but the site looks like a bomb site with timber and branches everywhere. 

Phil and the boys have already got most of the iron bark timber posts in the ground by the end of day one. Phil acknowledges that I have worked all day on the saws cutting up the 14 trees that he has dragged out this morning. There a still more to come. He asks if I ever want a job, he’ll give me one as a fencer. He tells me that he has watched me work and says that I work harder than most of the young fellas half my age that he has employed!

They have an antique tractor, fitted with an antique post hole drill and fence post rammer. They drive the iron bark posts 900 mm. into the ground. The gear may be a bit old, but they work fast and efficiently.

Tuesday, the fencers don’t turn up. They have told me already that they need to finish off another job from last year that was waiting for some more parts to be delivered. They are keen to get it finished and get paid. I was pretty tired and achey after working on the chainsaws all day yesterday. So in the morning I weeded some of the garden beds in the veggie garden, then picked just over 3 kgs of blue berries. I sharpen and service the saws from yesterday, then after lunch, I’m back into it, collecting up all the short cut billets of wood and taking them around to the new firewood stack. Once I’ve cleared away all the cut wood from yesterday, I start the cutting again. I want to get at least one side of the site cleared of tree trunks, branches and twigs ready for tomorrows task of doing it all over again, cutting, carting, stacking and splitting. 

The wood is stacked more or less 20 billets wide x 6 or 7 billets high x 7 stacks deep.

We have several tonnes, possibly 10 tonnes, of wood cut and stacked, with just 4 more trees to work on tomorrow. I’m trying to get all the logs and timber detritus out of the way of the fencers, so that they can work efficiently and un-interrupted tomorrow. I also get a lot of satisfaction in seeing it all cleared away and neatly stacked.

I’m assuming that the fencers would normally like to take all these trees away with them each day and sell the wood as fire wood over the coming winter? However, we have a need for it, so I’ve kept it for our own winter needs.

We celebrate with an eye fillet mini roast, just for the two of us. Janine makes a traditional Yorkshire pudding with the left over meat juices in the little roasting pan.

It’s one of the best that she has ever made. It’s a beauty!

Their big old tractor almost gets bogged in the low spot where the dam over-flow water seeps down to the back lane. It was almost dry enough to drive over, but we had 30 mm. of rain overnight and on their last pass over the soggy bit, they sank in.

Wednesday morning we spent a few hours loading barrows with broken bricks , left over from the brickwork on the facade of the new pottery building. I knew that all those broken bricks would come in handy one day. I fill the deep muddy tyre gouged trenches with the brickbats and stomp them down into the mud. This may not be enough, but I’ve filled the deep trenches, so we’ll see how the tractor goes over this lot before I barrow another 20 loads down there. I’ll try and finish off with all the smaller pieces and mortar sand and gravel when this is all over.

Enough for now.

The first layer of mesh is tied onto the strained high tensile wire. There will be another 600 mm. of barbed wire on post extensions that fit on top of the steel posts to make the fence more Deer resistant. The extensions are not often called for, so are not in stock and will have to be ordered in. 

A very Dear fence indeed.

Phil and his sons have done a very nice job of staying the strainer posts with a mortice and tenon joint in the iron bark posts and a huge flat stone embedded into the soil to buttress the other end of the stay. A very impressive and thorough job.

Thursday morning sees more rain, so I’m putting off doing the last of the wood carting and stacking till later in the day, when the weather is forecast to clear. I’ll spend the morning writing. While Janine is sorting the hazel nuts.

I wasn’t planning on spending my first week back at work after the summer break on chainsawing and wood stacking. I imagined that I was going to be making new batches of clay bodies for the coming year. That will be next week now. The fencers can fit me in just now, between other jobs, so that is what we will be doing. We are lucky to get them. 

John Lennon said that life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. So true.

Life goes on. As my friend Anne says; “How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives”.

In my case, that appears to be lurching form one crisis to another.

Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

Life is good!

Weekend Clean-up

This weekend we spent Saturday over at the Village Hall, helping out with the clean-up, maintenance and garden building.

Janine did a lot of pruning and mulching of the existing garden beds, while I helped with the wheel barrowing of several tonnes of road base , then gravel to create new paths, followed by filling the new garden beds with another few tones of topsoil and mulch. The final part , was to plant out all the donated plants to fill the new beds.

A terrific effort from a lot of the Village residents.

Janine shovelling mulch

Road base spread to level out under the gravel paths along the tennis court.

Next we filled the garden beds with top soil and then covered it with a thick layer of mulch before planting out the flowers and shrubs.

Janine watering in the new plantings. It’s a lovely feeling to be part of a communal group activity.

We finished up with a BBQ. A great day of work, that wasn’t too onerous, because everyone turned up and got stuck in.

Many hands = light work.

Today, Sunday morning,  Janine and I spent time communing with nature.

Janine engaged deeply with nature by walking into the muddy dam fully clothed to hook some very heavy load chain around the dead tea trees bushes that were killed by the fire, and have been sitting in the water, standing dead and ugly for 3 years now.

We decided that today was the day to snig out as many of them as we could reach safely, and drag them out of the water and up onto dry land, then cut them up for fire wood for next winter.

It has been raining so much for the past few years since the big fire, that we couldn’t even get close to the dam bank without getting bogged. This has been our first opportunity to get this long-term job started.

We have cut about half of the wood that we will need for the next winter so far. Cutting and splitting fire wood is an on-going job all year.

We have achieved as much as we can at this stage. We will come back to it when and if the dry weather continues, so that we can walk further into the dam safely to get to more of the branches.

This small dam used to be our most reliable swimming dam in summer, because it was the deepest, and therefore held water the longest. The largest dam is beautiful to swim in, but only when it is full, as it is quite shallow and the water soon seeps and evaporates down to a waddling level.

Once the dam dries out once more, we will get all the dead tree branches out of the small dam, we will clean it out, so that we can swim in it safely on the hottest summer days once again.

Everything worth doing takes time. This is a long term plan.

A change is as good as a holiday

Over the solstice break, I’ve been having a bit of time off.

A change is as good as a holiday I’m told. So I took some time out to weld up a steel frame to make a fume extraction hood to go over all the electric kilns.

I have been ‘making-do’ with a bathroom exhaust fan set into the kiln room window, but it doesn’t catch all the fumes.

So we now have a ‘proper’ hood that covers all 3 kilns and there is room for a 4th kiln at the end, if I ever get round to building it.

The frame is welded out of 20 x 20 RHS sq. section tube and then primed, undercoated and top coated with a strong yellow industrial grade paint. Something resembling ‘CAT’ Yellow, just to give it that heavy duty industrial look. Actually, I was thinking of the sort of colour that big factories have to paint over-head cranes, gantries and such.

It has turned out to be a massive edifice measuring 4.5 metres long by 1.5 m wide and 500 mm. high.

I had to build a special little trolley to manoeuvre it out of the welding area and into the court yard, where I could rotate it so as to allow me to screw in the poly carbonate lining.

I decided to use light weight RHS construction and poly carb sheeting because of the weight factor. I have to lift it up into the ceiling. But I also noticed after the fire, that poly carb doesn’t burn. It just melts, even at really high temperatures. So I thought that I’d give it a try as a fume hood lining. It wont get too hot, so shouldn’t melt. It is very light weight. It lets the light through, adding to the ambiance of the kiln room. It is cheap compared to any other sheeting. BUT most important of all, it doesn’t rust. The big killer of overhead hoods is the condensation of acid gasses and the rust that they create. This could be a solution?

Time will tell.

My son Geordie and my friend Warren came over for our Solstice lunch get-together, so before we ate, we did the install. It took all of 5 minutes, because I had every thing planned out and ready.

Now, the bathroom fan will be more effective at removing all the fumes from the kilns, and there is room for expansion.

Hopefully, a cheap and effective solution to the kiln vent fume problem.

While we had both Geordie and Warren here, I got them to help us move an exquisite old Japanese cupboard into our bedroom.

We were given this gorgeous old Japanese cupboard by my lovely friend Anne, who I have known for a very long time, getting on for 58 years in fact. Where does the time go?

Thank you Anne!

Somewhat disappointingly, we had another flood in the new pottery shed this week. Each time it happens, I look at the causes and find a solution and fix it. This time we had a brief, but severe storm of just 25 mins, but we got 25 mm of rain come down in that short time. It caused the gutters to over flow into the court yard around the kiln. However this time the rain all came it, not from the open wall leading into the courtyard, but deep in the enclosure against the kiln room wall from the gutters that couldn’t cope with the intense volume of water.

It has become apparent that the builders were pretty sloppy with their levels, such that the concrete slab is high at the edges and low in the middle of the kiln/glazing rooms. The result was that all the water flowed in under the gal iron wall and pooled in the centre of the kiln room, with some seeping into the glaze room.

There is absolutely nothing that I can do to change to the contour of the slab to stop this happening again. So my only option is the make a drain that can intercept the water before it reaches the wall and enters the building.

To this end, This morning I used a diamond saw blade to cut two 8 metre long slices through the 115 mm thick concrete slab down to the substrate of compacted rock dust and gravel. It was one of those nightmare jobs that nobody would ever want to do. But someone has to. Meet muggins.

You can see in this image, where I had initially tried (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to create a small diversion channel around the wall using a circular saw and a friction disc. This wasn’t deep enough to cope with the flood of water from this last storm. I realised that the drain needed to be substantially larger and deeper.

Then, I hired a jack hammer to break up the concrete into rubble. That was another big job.

Finally, I removed the broken ‘rio’ bars and the strip of black plastic waterproofing membrane, and then shovelled out all the larger pieces of crushed concrete and re-installed all the finer gravel.

This allowed me to then lay pavers over the rubble to make an ‘agg’ drain.

With my remaining energy, I completed the job by laying a line of terracotta pavers to cover the scar, but leaving a gap all along the trench to allow any future flood water to flow down into the rubble drain and seep out along the alley way between the two sheds. Hopefully a simple and effective solution to yet another problem left by our slack and seemingly incompetent builders. ( who have now gone out of business I’m told). I have noticed that any rain that is driven into the courtyard by the storm, just sinks into the porous pavers and their gravel bed. That paved part of the kiln shed/courtyard never holds any water. It’s just a total bummer that the slack builders cast the slab with the fall in the wrong direction.

It’s been a hard day. I’m pretty worn out from the effort of jack hammering, crow-barring and wheel barrowing all the broken-up concrete out of the trench, but very happy with the out come, now that it’s done!

I’m hoping that it will work.  I’m getting too old for all this strenuous high energy stuff.

I need to lay down.