Thursday, June 14, 2018

Caring for Chooks

I’ve thought about getting chooks many times over the years but it was Marie who finally convinced me we should do it. After trimming the big pine tree up the back we now had a nice clear space to accomodate them. So the first job to do before we even got the chooks was to build them a little house or chicken coop.

I decided to start with a single tanalised post in the ground and then built a frame for the floor out of 100x50mm rough sawn timber and bolted it to the post. Then I attached a sheet of plywood. When I tried standing on it, it wasn’t taking my weight as it was pivoting on the bolts, so I attached some legs to help support it.

I built each of the 4 sides on a flat surface from a plan I’d drawn, using 50x50mm battens in the corners to enable screwing the four sides together. I used the same battens to attach a couple of plywood shelves which finally resulted in a multi-level dwelling for them. I attached a few perches fanned out in a circle around the post so that they could easily make their way up and down as well as a simple ladder. I added a few little hinged doors in positions where I hoped the chooks would lay their eggs.

In one side of the coop I put a large door, hinged at the bottom to enable easy access for cleaning. The roof is also hinged at the apex on one side and is a handy way of taking a quick look inside. All that was needed then was some dried out grass clippings for them to make a nest out of and to make it more comfortable and homely.

When we first got the chooks they were still quite small and we were a bit worried about letting them roam freely in the yard until they got a bit bigger in case a cat decided to have one for dinner. So we started them off in an old ginea pig run. Then we made a little connecting tunnel with some plastic mesh to join the two together.

It was an exciting moment when we finally introduced the chooks to their new home. Amazingly, they made their way straight to the top floor to check out the view, which also brought them up to eye level for a face to face meeting.

They were still quite young at this point so it would be a while before any eggs would be laid.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Maintaining trees on my property is an ongoing job. If it’s pruning fruit trees or trimming off the odd limb that gets snapped off in a storm, I can usually handle those jobs. But from time to time bigger jobs arise that I simply can’t do on my own, as was the case earlier this year.

Following a rather severe storm a couple of years ago a huge pine tree up the back of my place had a large limb, high up in the tree, snap off. It had been dangling precariously for a couple of years, which was becoming a bit of a safety concern whenever I was walking underneath it in that part of the garden.

I had hoped a future storm would dislodge it fully, half hoping it would come crashing down by itself so I wouldn’t have to pay to get it dealt to, but that didn’t happen.

So I decided to get an arborist friend of mine to come and trim off the broken branch and at the same time remove a few of the lower lateral branches which I hoped would also let more light in the garden.

So, after clearing a safe area to work at the base of the tree, he slung a piece of rope up over a high branch then abseiled up the tree with a chainsaw and started cutting. Here was a man impressively skilled in what he does! Within a very short time he was dropping each cut limb perfectly on the ground just where he wanted it.

Before long there was a huge pile of wood gathering below which I (as ground assistant) was clearing away so he could continue working safely. I was amazed at how quickly he got the job done, so while I had him there, I had another job in mind for him to do.

On my property I also have some very tall Ti trees (Kanuka) that have started dying off. When that happens the branches become very brittle and easily snap off in high winds. Neil made it look easy but you can tell by the expression on his face, it was anything but. You need to be very physically strong and agile to do what he’s doing. I was super impressed with his accuracy, as immediately below I had many plants and shrubs that I feared would get damaged with falling branches and debris. But he managed to carefully lower each and every branch onto a clear area of ground only 2 or 3 square metres in size and nothing got damaged.

Inevitably, there was a huge pile of branches to clean up, which required me to expand my firewood storage, so I knocked together a drying rack out of waste timber I had lying around.

This should keep us stocked up for a while.

But better still, all this work has created a nice clear well lit area in the garden where we’re now thinking of putting a few chickens.

That’ll be next.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Sleepout #10 – Finishing off the Decking

Note: This article is part 10 in a series of articles about the sleepout I built in my back yard back in 2011. If you want to read the whole series of articles from the beginning start here

I’m very pleased with how the decking’s turned out and now that I’ve got decking all around the sleepout, it’s a much more usable space. But because we get so much rain, the next task was to get some roofing up over the deck.

All the rain we’ve been having has given me a chance to ensure the drainage I put in was working as I’d hoped. This would be really important once the roof is up as it would probably collect twice as much water as it did before. Thankfully, I’m now up and out of the dirt which in this weather can quickly turn to mud.

  Because the decking goes right up to the boundary, I decided to build a fence for privacy which would also create a bit of shelter from the wind, resulting in a cosy little space for BBQ’s and general outdoor living. At some stage I will probably install a door on the back wall of the sleepout for easy access to this space.

Now that the roof is on I just need to add some guttering and flashings to finish off the roof. Plus I still need to finish off the last bit of fencing and I’ll probably install some outdoor lighting too.
I love being able to walk all around the sleepout now, enjoying the garden outside in all directions, even when it’s raining.

It still remains to be seen whether the winter conditions inside the sleepout will be any warmer and dryer now that I’ve extended the roof. I hope by doing so it will help to keep the ground dry underneath it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Sleepout #9 – Stormwater Drainage

If I was ever going to address the issue of stormwater drainage under the sleepout, then NOW would be the best time to do it. In view of all the decking I’m putting around the sleepout, once the decking’s in place it will be too difficult to deal with it later.

So, after figuring out where my posts for the decking would go I dug a trench between them which continued under the sleepout in a downhill direction.

There is always a lot of water seeping through the soil after it rains so I opted for nova-coil piping which has lots of little holes in it which will act as a kind of sieve so all the water can drain out of the soil and escape down the pipe. The free draining volcanic scoria will also help the water to drain away. The aim was to create a kind of soak hole outside the perimeter of the sleepout which will collect any of the water seeping through the soil. Then, by means of a vertical section of drain connecting to the nova-coil the plan was to finish off with a layer of concrete shaped like a dish to collect any surface water and feeding it down the same pipe. 

This required a bit of support by means of a small retaining wall which would essentially act as a dam holding everything in place. 

I also dug a trench under the sleepout using more nova-coil pipe and back filling with scoria. I made sure there was a reasonable gradient on the trench so no water would sit and pool anywhere but instead would drain away quickly. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of moisture sitting around under the sleepout and this will contribute to keeping the sleepout warmer and dryer than before. 

Finally, I created the concrete dish on top. Now I can carry on with completing the deck.

Read next article here

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Alphabetical Index to Articles

This is my 100th blog post.

With that many articles it is difficult even for me to keep track of everything I’ve written. And also because I sometimes like to go back and update articles I’ve written, I decided to create a detailed index with links to various subjects to help make finding stuff easier. I hope you find this helpful, although it is by no means complete and will likely be updated frequently.

Silver Eye (or Wax Eye)
Tiger Finch
Wood Pigeon

Building a BBQ
Building a Sleepout (8)
Retaining Walls

Flowering Plants:
Potted Colour

Garden Layout:
How it all started
Planter Boxes
Raised Gardens
Retaining Walls
The Archway
The Rockery
The Pergola

Garden Essentials:
Worm Farming

Garden Inspiration:
Auckland Botanic Gardens
Auckland Winter Gardens
The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour

Trees (fruiting):
Plums (3)

Trees (other):
Tree Maintenance (2)

Capsicums (Red)
Capsicums (Green)
Winter Crops

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sleepout #8: Six years on...

It’s been six years now since I first got the idea of building the sleepout and I have absolutely no regrets. In that time it’s been put to continuous use, usually for visitor accommodation and/or storage.

Admittedly, it’s not ideal for use all year round. Auckland’s weather has something to do with that as we get a lot of rain and despite the fact that it’s well insulated it does get a bit cold in the winter.

But as anyone in NZ will tell you, Auckland has a serious housing shortage, a problem that’s been growing for some years now, which has caused a real problem with availability and inevitably the cost of housing has gone through the roof.

For me personally, (as some readers of this Blog may know) my life was turned upside down soon after the sleepout was built, when my wife of 27 years passed away following a 3 year battle with breast cancer. Since then I’ve remarried and between my new wife and myself, we have 6 daughters between us, mostly all grown up thankfully, but each one of them has had their difficulties finding (and keeping) a suitable roof over their heads.

Hence the sleepout is getting more use than it’s ever had. So this year I decided to focus on this part of the garden and do what I can to make it more comfortable and more usable. It was always my intention to do something along those lines but now there’s a need to shift it up a gear.

So, the first thing I planned to do was build a deck that goes all the way around the sleepout, in order to create more outdoor living space. Unfortunately, the guidelines on sleepouts prevent me from enlarging the sleepout itself. As you would expect from a keen gardener like me, it was important to ensure it blends in nicely with the garden.

So, the first job was to dig out the area where the deck would go, cutting into the bank sufficiently to create a reasonable space for the deck. That also meant there were 2 Pungas (tree ferns) that needed to be removed which I relocated to other parts of the garden. There were also 3 Lancewoods which were surprisingly easy to relocate. In the picture above one punga has already been removed with one still remaining. The Lancewoods are the 3 skinny trunks on the right of the photo.


I figured getting rid of more of the vegetation from around the sleepout may let more light in which will help keep the sleepout warmer and drier. Besides that, they were simply in the way.

I decided to continue with Keystone for the retaining wall, so after measuring everything out I figured out where I needed to install a couple of timber piles and a beam to support the deck. I was careful to ensure the height was just right so the new decking would be flush level with the old decking. Then I continued framing it up with 150x50mm joists.

Ultimately, the intention is to create some outdoor living space that is also weathertight, so I needed to install some posts and beams to hold up the roofing which would tie it in with existing roofing on the sleepout. This was all bolted to the framing for the deck which could only be done before the retaining wall was properly finished off otherwise I couldn't drill the holes and get the bolts through as the retaining wall butts up tightly to the decking.

I’m pretty sure this will eventually create a nice outdoor space especially from spring to autumn, and that bank will look nice once it’s all planted out. 

The next job that needs doing involves a bit of storm water drainage. Part of the project so far has included re-positioning and levelling a large water tank that collects stormwater. The gully where the sleepout is situated is a natural water-course. Up until now I have not done anything to address all the water that flows directly underneath the sleep out following a heavy downpour. 

That's my next job. Read about it here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surprise Gift Provides Needed Inspiration

A good friend of mine named Tovio rang me one day last summer to ask if he could drop something off at my place. I had no idea what it was or what I had done to prompt him to do this, but I was delighted when he arrived with a planter box he’d made and wanted to give it to me.

I absolutely love it and I found the perfect spot for it in front of my home office. I was so pleased with it I wanted to find an appropriate plant to put in it as soon as possible. I eventually decided to buy a new hibiscus which is another tropical plant that seems to do quite well in Auckland and I was sure it would do well in this spot which is very hot and sunny in the afternoons.

I was very interested in how Tovio made this planter, which he had put together using some surplus materials from a job he had done where he installs imitation stone as cladding on houses, fireplace surrounds and other garden features, including letterboxes. The more I looked at this planter box the more I realised how well this material compliments the style of my house which has a kind of colonial character to it but also the material would lend itself nicely to the tropical garden I’ve created out the back. So I started thinking about how I could incorporate this concept into my garden.

One area that has been bothering me for some time is a little garden space at the back of the house where the back garden begins. I put this in years ago using ‘half round tanalised timber edging’ which despite being tanalised has slowly rotted because of an overflow pipe from a hot water cylinder which constantly drips water into this garden. So I decided to ask Tovio if he could install some of his imitation stone into this space, which he was more than happy to do for me.

After installing some tanalised plywood into the space (on both sides) it was ready to have the stone attached to it. If you look carefully in the picture (above left) you may notice how I also added an extra timber rail above the space as the thickness of the stone material would protrude beyond what was there originally by about 50mm. I thought it would look better if the top edge of the stones were concealed.

At this point Tovio set about installing the stones, which are actually made of solid concrete, using a special waterproof adhesive. After that he pointed all the gaps with a cement mix to which he’d added a charcoal colour. If you live in Auckland and you'd like something similar done at your place, why not get in touch with Tovio. Learn more about Tovio's Stone Cladding Service here.


After the stone work was completed, I made a custom fit box which I lined with black polythene to sit in the garden where the pipe was dripping and planted it out with a Maiden-hair fern, which had previously been growing in this part of the garden. There should now be no issues with rotting substrate and I know the maiden-hair will thrive in this position. I also added some mother-in-laws tongue which I felt also worked well in this space. (Picture above right shows the plants thriving after just a few months.)

To complete the effect I laid a couple of flat stones in the garden on which I would sit a couple of pot plants, the large bright blue one creating a feature in this area with a Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ to compliment the colour of the pot.

Although it appears to obscure the stonework, you get glimpses of it as you walk past, in between the pots. I added some white pebbles to finish it off. I’m very pleased with the stonework and I’m keen to use more of it around the garden. I’m already cooking up a few ideas on that — watch this space.