Saturday, January 29, 2011

Harvesting pumpkins

By Saturday afternoon the cyclone had passed, but it had dumped a huge amount of water on the whole northern part of NZ. One clifftop property (on Waiheke island) had fallen into the sea after the edge of the cliff fell away under the sheer volume of water.
I was still exhausted after my ordeal battening down the hatches yesterday so I decided to focus on the garden.
We had a number of pumpkins growing in the garden which had all self-seeded. We already picked one and ate it last week. But now there were four more ready to collect. I counted 10 growing altogether which means we'll have enough to share with friends.
Izumi's got a few good recipes for pumpkin including pumpkin soup and a great pumpkin pie.

Race to Build Sleepout #4

I knew the forecast was for rain but by the middle of the week it had been upgraded to a full blown cyclone with heavy rainfall warnings. This put me into PANIC mode and I was desperate to get the roof finished and weatherproof before the storm hit, otherwise everything would get a good soaking and it would not be dry enough to add the internal Gib lining until it dried out, putting me days behind.

On Thursday afternoon I heard the rain was due to arrive midday Friday (not Saturday as earlier forecast). So I got up early Friday morning with one thing in mind: GET THE ROOF ON!
My wife Izumi was a great help, racing off to the shop to get a roll of building paper and other essential hardware I'd forgotten. When she got back she continued helping me by passing up to me all the bits and pieces I needed, including the ceiling insulation and even the corrugated iron sheeting. She was a real trooper.
I started at 7am and hadn't taken a break all day as the the storm was building and I didn't want to stop. As I'd been clamboring over the roof all morning trying to balance on the rafters and perlins without falling through the gaps, by the time midday arrived my legs were starting to feel like jelly, shaking and quivering (like a newborn giraffe). But I ignored this and pressed on. Before long I started getting serious cramps in my thighs. So although the rain had started falling, I had to lie down on the roof and take a rest until the cramps subsided.
I didn't have time to screw the iron into place so I put some heavy planks on top so the wind wouldn't blow the iron off. The forecast was for north-easterly winds so I also got some of the plywood cladding and tacked it up to try keeping it all as dry as possible inside.
By 2.00pm it was pouring down with rain and the wind was building. I was absolutely exhausted and there was nothing more I could do except hope I'd done enough.

In the mean time Izumi went off to cook me a big bacon and egg lunch as I was absolutely famished.
After taking a rest for an hour or so I was keen to make sure my efforts to waterproof the building were working. To my surprise, it was dry as a bone underneath. It had worked... Yay!
My legs were still shaking. The whole morning had been quite an ordeal and there was nothing more I could do... except stand there in the rain and enjoy the sheltered space I'd created... best of all looking out onto the garden which needed the water anyhow. I had a few beers to celebrate and that was it, I took the rest of the day off to reflect and recuperate.
Read next article here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Race to Build Sleepout #3

Progress has been a little slow because of all the wind and rain and my otherwise busy schedule. But, so far I've got the 4 walls up and I'm in the process of adding the roof. The pressure's on to get it all closed in now and weather tight because the forecast is for more rain at the end of the week. I'll be spending most of the day today in traffic with a trailer collecting more materials as I can't go any further without them.
Our niece Marié arrives on Tuesday so I've got one week left. Read next article here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Race to Build a Sleepout #2

Things may not appear to have progressed very far with building the sleepout so far, but as with many building projects there are all the hidden, unforeseen tasks that crop up as they have in my case this week.
After I started building the floor and figuring out how it would join onto the bridge I realised my outdoor tap was going to be in the way so I had to get my plumber mate to come and move it. While he was there I realised it would now be a good opportunity to get him to put another tap up in my new garden to save all the hassles I've been having with joined-up hoses and pulling them from one place to another up and down steps all the time and damaging plants in the process.

I had also called my electrician mate to get him to come and advise me regarding putting power to the sleepout and he was keen to start before I got too far ahead.

This meant I had to interrupt what I was doing to sort these things out which included digging a few trenches for power and water. While I was about it I decided to run phone, TV aerial and broadband wiring to the sleepout as it would be so much more difficult later. This all required my time and attention.

Anyway, that's all sorted now so I can plough ahead and get the framing up which I'm ready to do next... read next article here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Race to Build a Sleepout #1

As I've said before I must be a glutton for punishment when it comes to the big jobs in the garden.
We just found out our niece from Japan wants to come and stay with us while she learns english in NZ but we're bursting at the seams in the house so rather than send her elsewhere we decided to build a sleepout to make room for her. She's only here for 6 months but the extra room will come in handy after she's gone.
The tricky part is that she's arriving on the 3rd of February which only gives us a few weeks to do it. So it's 'Action Stations' because I also know I've got a busy week the week before she arrives.

First of all I had to decide where to put it. Actually the only place I can really put it is right in the bottom of the gully which is a bit of a dead zone where nothing but weeds grow (it's also very wet in the winter with plenty of mosquitos in the summer – but I'll get to that). Everywhere else in the garden is valuable growing space. So first of all I had to clear the site of Punga trees – native Silver Ferns.
One important criteria was that I wanted to do this as cheaply as possible and also minimise any waste.
So, not that I wanted to make the job any bigger, but I decided to use the Punga trunks to build a Punga fence. I had the ideal spot in mind where it would create shelter from the wind and provide some privacy from a neighbouring property at the rear of the garden.
I started off by digging a trench about a foot and half deep, then after cutting the trunks up into lengths I stood them up in the trench and packed soil around the base to hold them in place. If I keep them well watered they'll probably continue growing.

Anyway, with the site cleared, it was time to get started on the foundations of the sleepout (although I'm thinking about it as more of a rustic cabin), which is going to be built on poles. So after mapping out the position of everything, I started digging the holes.

Then I got some H5 treated house piles and concreted them into the ground starting with the four corner posts, which is where I got up to today.

It's going to join onto the bridge with a little deck. I reckon it'll be pretty good once it's finished and best of all it'll be right near the garden. I just hope I can get it finished before our niece (Marié) arrives. 
Read about what I did next here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Growing Tomatoes

One of my favourite plants in the garden is the Tomato. I've grown Tomatoes a few times now so I'm becoming familiar with their ways, but as I've discovered there's always more to learn.
When the weather started warming up in spring I noticed a number of tomatoes popping up which had self- seeded from the previous year. Great! No need to buy Tomato seedlings this year. So instead I decided to splash out on a bag of Tomato compost ($14 - Ouch!) and some Tomato fertiliser ($10).
So I dug up all the homegrown seedlings from various places around the garden and prepared the tomato bed for planting by loosening up all the soil. I then gave it all a general dressing of the fertiliser. Then it was time to plant the seedlings so I made a hole for each seedling about 10-12cm diameter and filled it with Tomato mix and planted directly into it.
I counted more than 25 seedlings so I knew I would either run out of space or of tomato compost before I'd planted them all, so I selected the most vigourous ones first. (Planting date: Nov 7)
Here are a few snaps of how they've done since then up until the other day...
I've been making a point of plucking out the laterals as they grow which encourages better fruiting and restricts their growth to one central trunk, meaning they grow upwards not outwards. This would be important as I realised I'd probably planted them too close together. Anyway, the plants are now as high as me and I'm nearly 6'3" (187cm). As you can see I've staked them pretty firmly.
If there's one lesson I learned this year with my tomatoes, it's not to be too stingey when it comes to buying seedlings. Although I thought I was pretty clever not having to buy seedlings, the trouble with self seeded tomatoes is that you never know what you're actually growing. I had no clue what varieties I was growing. As it turns out they're my least favourite variety and they seem to be all the same. And although the fruit appear to be forming nicely, my recollection of this variety is that the fruit is small and the skins are rather tough.
Anyway it's all good fun and rather satisfying. I'm sure we'll at least have something to bottle.