After hand milling macrocarpa tree with electric chainsaw I was looking for a project to utilise the rugged timber and decided to create a rugged arbour behind the house to improve the look and feel while usefully supporting some deciduous fruiting vines, the hardy kiwi berry.
This area had never really been well used, despite being so close to the house and easily accessible via the concrete pathway. Part of this project involves improving the productivity of garden.
After coming up with a suitable plan there was a decent amount of work clearing the existing plants and attempting to eradicate the twitch grass. I imagine this is going to take several passes. At this stage it has been sown in a cover crop for winter.
Concrete footings were cast with galvanized metal brackets to create a sturdy base, elevate the posts to keep them dry and make any future repairs reasonably easy.
Melisa helped assemble the heavy timber framework and metal piping.
Final phase is the planting of the vines (waiting patiently in pots) and training them up and over the arbour frame.
Thanks AirBnB but we're not impressed with the crappy key and excessive packaging. I can just imagine all the creative meetings and brainstorm session that produced this monstrosity... (shudder)
September 01, 2019
A bespoke rain gauge
Our high tech, digital rain gauge device finally failed and rather than replace it with another complex 'solution' I decided to construct a more basic, traditional instrument, only on a larger scale. Essentially this is just a funnel that intercepts and collects a given area of rainfall and concentrates it in a narrow tube, magnifying the results for easy measuring.
I purchased a cheap stainless steel funnel with a diameter of 52mm connected to 2 meters of clear plastic tubing with a diameter of 12.5mm. The ratio of cross-sectional area between the two diameters is 17 so each 1mm of rainfall gathered by the funnel displays as 17mm in the tubing.
The tap at the bottom is required to drain the gauge after each measuring period.
What with an abundance of edibles and great places to hide at blockhill there has been something of an epidemic of rats. While we are generally happy to share with all the creatures it gets a little concerning when they can be heard chewing on things in the ceiling. Fearing our water pipes and electric cabling might be damaged we decided to push back. With a little help from Victor we were soon dispatching rats (also named Victor) daily.
Something I'd been planning to do for a while. Not a big project, just needed to sit down and work out the basic dimensions and materials then throw it together. The main features are a reciprocal roof consisting of 6 beams supported on 6 poles for the walls. Some metal sheeting on the rainy, windward side and chip limestone on the floor. Rubber roof membrane with ferocement to top it all off.
Since arriving at this location in 2009 and allowing it to revert to a more natural way while introducing lots of new biodiversity, we have noticed a continual increase in the numbers and types of insects and other small creatures. There is a whole world of barely noticed activity where spiders and flies, ladybugs and butterflies live out their tiny dramas... Here a preying mantis devours a fly on a pear tree.
I grow a lot of plants and trees from seeds. One space saving way that I have come up with is to use the vertical wall space at the back of the house where my nursery is located. Adding these metal 'gutters' as plant growing shelves has given plenty more growing area situated at perfect working height.
Details A hot dry summer like this reminds us of the value of hugelkultur and retaining soil moisture. So, with the help of our young and energetic French helpers we threw together another log mound garden using rotted willow sourced from the nearby stream.
Dig a hole
Pack in the logs and any other surplus organic matter trying not to have too many air pockets
Cover it over with the dirt from the hole
Stop and have a beer
When favourable weather returns add seeds and plants or just let nature do its thing...
Ever since we got our first kune kune pigs we had imagined tethering them, or using them on a leash to 'mow' grass in various areas where free ranging pigs would be a disaster. Our most recent addition, Potamus, is proving to be very willing and trainable and quickly got the hang of the harness and the resulting reward of visiting fresh pasture.
Another first for blockhill, hosting an overseas intern / student for 3 months. Zach joined us in September for a deep immersion permaculture internship and learning experience as part of his agronomy studies. As anticipated he participated in a wide range of activities and events.
December 19, 2017
Star tetrahedron rising in Kaikoura
Details Constructed from recycled 10mm steel rod as a gift for my mother-in-law.
Details We enjoyed a hot and sunny afternoon touring 11 people from the North Canterbury Tree Crops group. I think our alternative and rather unorthodox approach and philosophies were quite an eye opener for most of them...
Details Our yearly ritual of dressing in aged wedding attire and making a photo shoot to mark the passing of time. This year we had the assistance of intern, Zach, behind the camera to make things more creative.
Details We've been working flat out with our Intern, Zac, and so it's been a while since our last horn tooting photo update. So here it is, bellbirds, blossoms, native nitrogen fixers and food forest progress. Enjoy and then get out there and invite nature into your bit of the world.
Details Another project that can finally be crossed off the to-do list. The earthquake in November 2016 caused cracking in the brick wall behind our fireplace. While it was still standing and looked ok we were not happy about having this unstable stack of bricks there waiting to come down. I decided to remove most of them before another quake brought them down and caused damage to the hot water pipes that passed through to the log burner. It also allowed for the insulation of these pipes which had foolishly never been done in the first place. The project required carefully chiselling the bricks apart and reducing he height of the wall to a satisfactory level. Than a concrete bond beam was poured, encasing the top layer of bricks, locking it all together. Finally, after adding some additional timber framing the opening was covered by mini corrugated sheet metal.
Details Ah summer, so hot and dry... Well it has been a good year for fruit, considering the ongoing drought. I spend a lot of time moving hoses around, delivering precious water to young trees, tending vegetables and propagating new plants from seed and cuttings. Several 'construction' projects are under way including an 'upgrade' to roof water distribution and shipping container bunk house. More about these in due course.
Details It's been a hot, dry summer (again). Despite the ongoing drought things are looking fairly good. Most of the trees have a decent amount of fruit set with apricots already harvested and drying. There are lots of flowers buzzing madly with insects. Guest numbers have picked up again post earthquake and now all we could wish for is a drop of rain.
Blockhill survives 7.8 earthquake with off-grid resilience
We were shaken violently awake around midnight on the 14th of November as a series of massive earthquakes rocked the region causing widespread damage. Fortunately we (and the guests who were staying) were not hurt and all buildings and infrastructure at blockhill came through virtually unscathed. Lots of broken plates, jars and bottles but with a freezer full of food and a functioning solar backup system and hot water heating array we are living comfortably. The garden is supplying more salad and beans than we can eat and the chooks are laying a steady stream of eggs. Electricity was restored on the evening of the 15th but there is no indication of when water pumping will resume. Fortunately we have a big water tank and a couple of rainwater tanks just in case. Aftershocks continue to roll in but things have quieted down considerably. Despite the poor access over cracked and slipping road, we have had a number of locales pop in to make sure things are ok here. Since there is so much damage to the coastal Kaikoura road there is a focus on opening up the inland route, which connects to our road, so we are seeing a lot of heavy machinery heading through that way.
Details So we made it eight years so far and the traditional gifts are either bronze or salt.
Date November 01, 2016
Food Forests, Permaculture & Water Harvesting
Olmec will show you how he and his wife Melisa designed permaculture-style food systems by nurturing and enhancing the natural features of their land. Together they have created a diverse, beautiful and bountiful environment. During a tour of the property, you'll learn about planning an integrated system that includes plants and animals, natural methods of fertilising and soil conservation. Olmec will also demonstrate how to drought-proof your property using swales; that is, earth-shaping to harvest water.
Contribution: 2 time-bank credits or $10 suggested fee To register contact: Belinda Meares, 03 314 3406, email@example.com (Car-pooling can be arranged).
September 17, 2016
A group of us gathered to help install a new vegetable garden for Heidi and Nuk out at Gore Bay. Many hands made things progress quite quickly and we were able to create and plant an area directly beside the house for easy access as well as a new contour garden mound in what was lawn.
Once again I will be presenting to students at the BHU organic training College in Lincoln. The 2 hour talk will cover rainwater collection via land shaping (swales, terraces and hugelkultur), soil conditioning for improved water holding capacity (PDF download) as well as forest gardening (PDF download).
We recently had a visit from Cosmo Kentish-Barnes. He interviewed us and toured the property for his show 'Country Life' on Radio New Zealand. We chat about our lifestyle, water harvesting systems, pigs and more.
There's always digging to be done and much as I love moving earth about it is hard, tiring work. Sometimes it pays to get a machine to help. A little bit of diesel goes a long way and having an efficient operator helps also. This year we did some more terracing, created a large catchment pond, some additional swales and a flat area for a future natural building. All in a days work at blockhill.
Details Progress has been made on the upgrade of our chook and pig shed. The overall objective is to reconfigure the north facing side of the building as under cover growing space that we can rotate the chooks through.
Food forest gardening site visit, tour and workshop
We enjoyed showing our garden and emerging food forest to a group of curious individual from the greater Hurunui district. About 20 people made the journey out to Blockhill to learn more about our version of food forest gardening. The event was organised as part of the Hurunui Time Bank Learning Exchange Program
Details A well designed, large greenhouse is great way to grow plants that otherwise would have a limited season or not be possible to grow at all. Here we are growing (from left to right) tomatoes, purple passion fruit, thai ginger (galangal) and babaco (mountain pawpaw)
Details It's never too late to add another swale, it's just a matter of squeezing it in amongst the existing plantings, fences and other obstacles. The swales not only do a fantastic job of capturing and infiltrating surface runoff during rainy times but also break up the land in interesting and attractive ways.
Details Here is quite exposed to the wind but has water nearby and with the addition of some swales and several years of cover cropping things are starting to improve. Many young trees have been planted here including walnut, butternut, hazelnut, gevuina, soap nut, tagasaste, alder, acacia, cape broom, flax, persimmon, fejoa, apricot, bamboo, pear, peach, loquat, dogwood, pomegranate, gooseberry, raspberry, rhubarb, asparagus, green tea, kiwifruit and many more.
Details This photos shows a young area of planting where pigs and chickens roam free. Largest trees are tagasaste, alder and almond at around 3m. An assortment of fruit trees about 2-3 meters including peach, apricot, apple, cherry. Some black currants and an assortment of flowers and herbs. Additional wind protection and nitrogen fixation from acacia (tasmanian black wood) and cape broom.