Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Missing Fun In The Snow

I come from a family that ski's and this year for obvious reasons I am not joining them.  
While skiing can be an expensive sport my family have always done it as cheaply as possible with second hand gear that is handed down through the generations (one pair of kids ski boots lasted over 25 years and were second hand to start with), shared ski suits (some that were even home made), gloves knitted by my Nan and shared goggles, packed lunches taken with us every day, early bird season passes where family members knew they had enough days off to make the most of them and passes as gifts for birthdays instead of other items.

As a family we have been lucky that my Nan, who taught us all to ski and skied until she was 85, brought a time share near both the mountain  and on the shore of lake Taupo back in the 1980's.  Ever since she has been entitled to 4 weeks per year and she normally books 2 weeks in winter and 2 weeks in trout fishing season (another family activity).
Now that my Nan is no longer skiing she books the 2 weeks in winter then leaves it to her grandchildren (who now all have children of their own who are learning to ski) to organise between themselves who is going to stay in the timeshare on what days .


Nan in all her gear ready to get going

Here are some photos of our trip to the mountain last year with my brother and his family.


Hubby and I enjoying our day


Hubby snowboarding for only his second time


Check out the weather, magic.
My brother and 2 of my neices having some fun.






Hubby looking after my youngest niece who was not sure about it all

My brother, his wife and their 3 girls
I can't wait to be back in New Zealand so I can ski more often although I might need to take a babysitter with me for the next few years.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Progress in New Zealand - The Farm Shed

Building was finished on our farm shed in New Zealand at the start of May.  Although we will not be moving for a little while yet for us it was important to get this built ahead of time.  Firstly it is an expensive piece of infrastructure, far more so than you would pay here in Australia due to the additional engineering required by New Zealand building standards to deal with earthquakes and the high wind zone we will be living in.  But it has been built and paid for.

In addition to  the shed being built we have purchased our first water tank.  We will rely solely on rain water harvesting for all out house water and water for our animals so it is important that we have a good supply.  Our first tank is 25000 litres and will collect all the shed water and it is likely that we will add a second tank of the same size to the shed in the future and have 2 more on the house.  We could have let all the water just run out onto the ground until we arrived but now we have the option of adding stock if we want.  We do not know that we will do that yet but it is another option that is available.

When planning our farm shed we had to consider all the possible future uses and roles it might fill. Some of the prurposes the shed might fill are:
Animal Husbandry, Garden Shed, Chicken and Livestock Feed Storage, Hay Storage, Tractor Storage, Farming Implement Storage and Food Storage.  Not doubt there will be other uses as well but time will tell what those are.

Some things we know for sure it will be used for, some things we hope to use it for and then there are all the unknowns that we never thought of that will probably happen too.  From our experience on our previous farm here in Australia we had a good idea of the things that did not work with the shed on that property.
So when we came up with the design we allowed for some flexibility in future uses by keeping it open inside and this also helped us keep the cost down.


The shed is 10 x 11 metres and is what is known as a 3 bay shed which basically means that there are 3 sections running from to back that are 3.6 metres wide each,  Our shed has 2 x enclosed bays with a concrete slab and one open bay with a gravel floor (this could be changed to concrete later if we wanted.  It has been designed with 2 x personal access doors that face north where the house will be situated and a roller door facing east that opens off the enclosed area and an open bay facing the east on the south side of the shed.
The roof has clear panels included to let in light and there is also a clear panel above each of the personal access doors.  We considered having doors with a glass window in the top half of each but the builder suggested for security it would be better that people could not look in and see what was in our shed.
There is also a personal access door just beside the roller door providing access to the open bay from the enclosed shed area.

The birds eye view of the shed and the round posts at the
bottom show that the upright posts will be concreted
in the ground



The roof of the shed is fully lined with a clear builders paper to stop condensation building up but still letting the light through and we did this in the open bay as well as there is nothing worse than being dripped on while tending to animals (if they are unwell they will also benefit from being dry) and it allows us to use the area for storage too.
One of the other features we also opted for is to line the lower half of the wall between the open bay and the enclosed area (beside the internal personal access door) with plywood.  This is because on this wall the framing will be on the inside and as animals have a habit of rubbing on the walls this allows us to protect that wall.  The other 2 walls in the open bay have the timber framing protecting them.

Here are some progress shots:

Poles up and ready for the concrete footings around each pole.



Topsoil scraped back so a 10 cm deep layer of sand to be added to sit the water tank on.  Footings around each of the upright poles have been poured.


Concrete floor poured and roof framing up.




Roof on and cladding going up you can see the 2 frames ready for the personal access doors.  Water tank in place.


An inside look at the shed.  You can see that there is a pole right in the centre of the enclosed are. This is so that down the track we can divide the space up so that we have a long area with the roller door at the front with the side access into the open bay and 2 smaller areas (hence the 2 personal access doors facing the house) that can be used for different purposes.
We can divide this up ourselves if and when we want to without the cost of paying someone else.



The enclosed area was built with vermin proofing included so that we can store things like chicken food, seeds for the garden and excess produce like pumpkins without having to worry about rats and mice getting in.

This is the finished product.



It was a bit daunting having this built without being able to see it but the building company we chose were great.  They took all of these photos and more and sent them through every few days during construction.  My Dad also kept a close eye on things as well and he assures me they have done a great job which from him (a engineer who believes in doing it properly the first time) assures me they have done a great job which is reassuring.

Recently we have purchased some farming items and fencing supplies that we will need when we arrive. Fencing supplies can be expensive and as we will be converting our one big paddock into smaller paddocks we will be doing a lot of fencing.  We will not know exactly where the fences are to go until we have lived there a while and see how the land behaves but we will still need to fence in the future so we are starting a bit of a stockpile now to spread out the cost.  We have also invested in some electric fencing supplies as we will use these temporary fences to test out where we want to put permanent fences before we invest the energy and time.

Since this was completed we have moved our focus to the house plans and I will post about where things are at with that this week.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Still Waiting - No Baby Yet

So 39 weeks has passed and we, well mainly me, are still waiting.  Not that it is unexpected since 40 weeks is the technical end date.

I have had a great pregnancy, good health, little weight gain and other than some sciatic pain no other issues.
Now though the waiting is the hardest part, even more so than the frequent bathroom trips and fatigue.

I have been doing a lot of reading, and am having lots of meetings with the company who is going to build our house in New Zealand and I am hoping to get a few more posts done and scheduled before he arrives but I seem to be lacking the energy to get them finished.

Anyway hopefully will have news for you soon.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Planning Our New Zealand Property - The Journey So Far Part 2

In planning our New Zealand property we had some specific ideas about what we wanted long term both in terms of the life we want to live and how we want to use our land.  I was also focused on how the principles of permaculture could be applied.  When we were looking for land we kept these goals in mind which helped us decide which block of land to purchase.


We previously had 3.5 acres of land here in Australia and we knew that it was not quite big enough to support a variety of livestock plus veggie garden and orchard without having to bring in a lot of inputs.  So we wanted a bit more land but our budget dictated that we would not be buying a large farm as we also wanted to be able to pay off the land in 3 years so that when got to New Zealand we would just have to budget for the house, out buildings and infrastructure which is the most costly part.
Some of our priorities when choosing land (other than location and price) were:
  • Vacant land (no house).  We have lived in poorly designed homes before and renovated dealing with other peoples poor workmanship and are not wanting to be trying to undo other peoples mistakes. Plus we are planning on this being our home for an extended period of time of 20+ years so we want to make it suit us from the start.
  • Fertile land that is not is need of significant remediation.
  • Flat or gently sloping land that would not require significant earth works.
  • To be able to provide as much food for ourselves as possible straight from the farm.
  • Limit the amount of inputs to the farm and garden.
  • Land able to support an orchard, house yard, large veggie garden and a variety of livestock including a house cow, beef cow, chickens, pigs with the option to try rabbits, ducks and goats.  (Note that I did not say lamb, this is because my parents currently run a small flock of sheep and a few beef cattle and we will trade them pork for lamb)
  • Generally weed free land with no pine trees (pine trees are often used for wind breaks in New Zealand but they have a significant impact on the soil and even if you remove them you have to actively manage the soil back to good health.
  • How many other properties did we share boundaries with and how would this impact on us wanting to farm organically.  We have only 2 as we have a road that goes down our western boundary and around the corner across our southern boundary.
When we were back in New Zealand last year we started planning out where our house and out buildings would be positioned.  In some ways it was a bit of a challenge.  Often you have trees and other landscape features to work around but our land is pretty much flat and completely treeless so we really could have put the house anywhere.  Our main considerations were the aspect, council requirements for the distance from our neighbors home and the distance from the power supply at our boundary.
Hubby and Dad taking some measurements off the tree planting fence


Thankfully because of the New Zealand climate and soil type in the area we were looking the land has a greater carrying capacity compared to Australia.  This means that your land can support more livestock.  On our 3.5 acres here in Australia the land could support a small orchard, house yard, veggie garden, a dozen chickens and 3/4 of a beef cow.  I say 1/2 a cow because we had to buy in supplementary feed and this is something we want to limit in New Zealand.  Our 5.5 acres in NZ should be able to support all the animals that hope to have.





We could easily site our home exactly due north but that will leave us with a view of the road, the power lines that run down the street and the corner of our property with our farm gate.  This will also leave us slightly more exposed to wind.  Instead we (think at this stage) will be aligning the house to our side boundary which will mean we rotate the house by approximately 20 degrees to the east.  This will mean the outlook from the house will be better with too much of a sacrifice of light.

When deciding where to place our house and out buildings one of the things we considered was the potential activities of our neighbors to our north.  
They are a couple a little older than us with 2 young children and theirs is a block of land about the same size as ours and again it is flat and treeless. They only built their house the year after we purchased our land so they are very much in the development stage too.  So far they have built a home and out buildings and planted an orchard.  They are currently using a shade cloth like material all around their orchard and they have told us they will be planting shelterbelts down the track.
As there is the chance that they could decide to plant a line of trees along their southern and our northern boundary we decided to set our house back far enough that any trees they might plant would not be shading out our front yard.  Instead we will have a paddock between our house yard and our boundary.  Of course there is always the chance they will never plant there but once we build our house there is no moving it so why take the risk.

Below is a diagram of the north west corner of our land showing where we are looking to site our home and shed in relation to our boundaries and each other.  The house shape and size is based on our first set of basic plans and is to scale/ in proportion to the shed and marked distances.  There have been a number of changes to the house since then but the location and size of the shed is set and the shed is now in place and complete but more about that in my next post.


Monday, 19 September 2016

Planning Our New Zealand Property - The Journey So Far Part 1

It has been nearly 3 years since we purchased our New Zealand property and started planning our move back there.  We always knew it would be a few years until we actually moved but it was a year longer than we had thought due to me getting pregnant.

The land is 5.5 acres in size on the western side of the north island with average winter temperatures with a low of 5 to a high of 13 degrees Celsius and summer averages from a low of 13 to a high of 25 degrees Celsius.  I have been there when the summer days have been closer to 30 degrees and winter days where there has been frost on the ground but generally the weather would be best described as temperate.  The area averages around 800 mm of rainfall per year which falls fairly consistently over the year with even the summer months receiving on average 45 mm in the month.  This means that there is pretty consistent weather year round farming and growing crops.

Our land is pretty flat sloping from north to south with just one area that dips down towards the neighbours dam and while it is hard to tell in the photo below there are small dips in the land that mean while we do not need to cut and fill areas to build on we may need fill to level building sites.

Looking North to South down the length of our land just after purchasing.

Looking West to East across our land just after purchasing.
You can see the top of the dirt pile we inherited at the front of the photo.
In the past the land has been used for growing crops, mainly maize I believe, and it was re-grassed a few years before we purchased it.  Because we did not know many details about it's use and we had plans for the property to be able to produce much of our food, we obtained a full soil analysis.
At the time the property was in what I would consider average condition by New Zealand standards with: 
PH - 5.8
Organic Matter - 3.3%
Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium at just below minimum target levels and all the other trace minerals will range from below to above average. 

Once we are living there we will be taking steps to improve things with re-mineralisation with the the addition of calcium and magnesium (which will unlock other minerals in the soil) and pasture management to improve the organic matter content.  We will also do another soil test once we have dealt with the calcium and magnesium so see where things are really at.

Looks really healthy but is actually pretty average.
The first principle of permaculture is Observe and Interact and although we are not living nearby where we can watch our land through the seasons there are other things we can do.  
For instance we have visited twice a year in different seasons for the past few years and we have seen the land after lots of rain as well as a period without.  
We have looked at the plants that grow among the grass and while we have lots of plantain and clover and a few different types of grass we also have lots of buttercup which indicates that the soil is compacted and prone to water logging.  
We can also look at what is happening on neighboring properties and along roadside verges.  So when we see trees bent into curves by the wind and established homes with deep shelter belts around them that tells us quite a lot about the wind conditions we can expect.
Our land is quite exposed the area is flat, we do not have any trees at all and we are not really that far from the coast so one of the first priorities was to establish a wind break on our western boundary. We wanted this to be a permanent planting so we decided to also fence the area off.  This left only one issue, the big pile of dirt right in the path of the new fence.  So I set to digging a trench right through which I did over a couple of days.  I had thought it would just be dirt but it was full of stones so I decided that in the future I would be enlisting the help of some machinery to more the rest of the pile.


Cut right through for the new fence

My Dad mowed the area we wanted to plant out, a 4 metre wide strip the length of the boundary (198 metres)


Fence post were laid out then rammed in using a borrowed post rammer.



Meanwhile Mum started the planting.  As this had been planned in advance Mum had been potting up self seeded natives from her garden for a number of months. We have continued to buy Mum potting mix and source extra pots for her pus pot up more plants when ever we are in the county and slowly but surely the planting out continued.


When ever we were back we cleared the grass from around the establishing trees.



Every time we visited we planted out more of the plants Mum had grown on for us and now we have completed the planting (with only dead ones to be replaced for now) and on one visit we had the big pile of dirt removed that I had to dig through to get the fence going.

Ongoing planting

Putting the end panel of the fence back up after the dirt pile was removed

Mums self seeded natives now form the entire planting other than about a dozen plants we specifically purchased for the entire 198 metre boundary.  Over all we have planted more than 500 plants including a few that had to be replaced due to rabbit or hare damage, being accidentally cut by the whipper snipper or just dying off.  We count ourselves very lucky as all we have paid for are a dozen plants and some potting mix for Mum to use.  If we had had to pay for all the plants that have gone in the ground it would have cost us a small fortune.  
Needless to say we will continue to pot up seedlings from Mums and anyone else's gardens into the future as we will need thousands more trees to create suffiecient windbreaks on our property.

On our most recent trip we decided to do some planting out outside our actual boundary fence on the south west corner of our property.  This is to strengthen the wind break on our most exposed corner and also to create additional shelter for the plants in our windbreak that were the last to get planted in the hope that they will establish more quickly with the extra protection.



After clearing the long grass we planted out a whole lot of giant New Zealand Flax (also from Mum and Dads where they grow it around their veggie patch for wind protection) which grows over 2 metres tall and about a metre wide,  Being such a thick dense plant that grows quickly it was ideal for our needs.

The flax all planted out down the side an around the corner.  It has been cut off to form
small fan shapes to allow it to establish.

All planted out and the earliest plants are now well established

With the western boundary windbreak finished other than the odd plant replacement we will not do any other planting without being in New Zealand permanently and doing a lot more planning as future windbreaks will be planted out in relation to buildings and run across the property in an east west direction.

I will post tomorrow about where things are at with buildings as we have made progress over the last 8 months in this area of planning too.