Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Sleepout #12 – Fantail Cottage Retreat


Our Fantail Cottage sleepout has slowly evolved over time to become a self-contained retreat suitable for medium term stays for travellers, artists, or students. It's quiet and peaceful and is surrounded by landscaped gardens, trees and native birds. 

In an effort to make it more comfortable and to extend the liveable area we attached PVC screens around the perimeter of the decking which shields it from the wind and rain. We also put carpet over the decking to keep it warmer in the cooler months. In summer the screens can be rolled up to keep it cool. 

A semi-outdoor kitchen equipped with basic amenities as well as a detached luxury bathroom only a few metres away means the sleepout's mostly self contained. 

There's still work to do around the place including concrete paths and steps to finish off so no doubt it will continue to evolve over time.

This is part 12 in a series of articles about the Sleepout. 
Read it from the beginning here

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Concrete Mixer

Over the years I've mixed a lot of concrete. Ive been doing it all by hand in a wheelbarrow using pre-mixed bags of concrete. Ive gotten quite good at it, but it takes a lot of time and energy and can be a bit slow for those bigger jobs. 

I've got a few concrete jobs coming up this year as I intend to replace a lot of old cracked paths, plus I've changed the layout of one part of my property and there are a number of steps I need to build. I've also decided to replace a few areas of paving to reduce the amount of maintenance they need. That's going to require a lot of concrete.

I had considered getting a big concrete truck to deliver it already mixed but that's expensive as the concrete would need to be pumped 50 odd meters from the road to where I need it. Besides it's not a job I could do all by myself in an afternoon, I'd need a team of guys to help me. So I decided I'd actually prefer to do it myself in more manageable stages.

So I started looking for an old concrete mixer on TradeMe. Thankfully, I found one for about $300.

It was an traditional old-school mixer like my grandfather and my uncles used to have. It had been sitting in someone's shed for the last 20 years and was covered in rust. But it's a good solid machine and still goes well.

I don't have a shed to store it in so I was bit concerned about leaving it out in the weather with just a cover over it. So, when I first got it home I started scraping all the surface rust off it and gave it a rust treatment.
Then I decided – why stop there. I might as well paint it.

I'm very pleased with how it turned out. I'm sure it will last another 20 years at least. When I'm finished with it I'll definitely get my money back, and then some. Now I just need a good supply of builders mix, sand and cement. 

I can see I'm going to be busy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Kakas in the Garden

The Kaka is one of 3 native New Zealand parrots which are rarely seen in Auckland. So you can imagine how delighted I was when my garden was recently visited by not ONE, but a PAIR of Kakas.

They  are a big bird and they make their presence known with a loud shrieking noise. They have now visited my garden several times and I've discovered what it is that has attracted them here and hence I was able to find a vantage point from which I could observe them closely and even get some pictures with my long lens.

They'd come to feed on the Wild Banana tree, otherwise known as Strelizia Nicolai which is related to the Bird of Paradise. This tree produces a bright orange seed or nut that the Kakas seem to love eating. The tree itself is on our neighbours property but is right on our boundary.

The local council in our area has been making efforts in recent times to eradicate pests, like rats and possums from areas of bush all around Auckland and I'm wondering if this may be a sign of their efforts bearing fruit. I've lived here for almost 30 years and this is the first time I've ever seen this bird here or anywhere else in Auckland, so I'm feeling quite privileged to have been able to enjoy such a close encounter.

I've also heard that keeping chickens can attract a variety of other bird life into the garden. I've found this to be true but I'm not sure to what extent that has helped in this case.

These two birds seemed to be well aware of my presence below them but they didn't seem at all concerned. I've heard it's even possible to tame these birds. The above picture shows them sharing one of the bright orange nuts from this tree. This is just 2 of the hundreds of photos I took.

I love how there is always something interesting going on in the garden. Every season of every year there seems to be something new happening.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Growing from Bulbs

Last year I got very inspired while standing at somebody’s front door step. The person I was seeking to speak to wasn’t home but their front entranceway was a true delight with beautiful Lillies in full bloom growing in pots. I took a photo of them and determined right there and then that I would try growing some of these myself someday.

I'd forgotten all about it until I was at the Garden centre recently and saw some Lilly bulbs for sale. They're not particularly cheap (at about $5 each) and if it wasn't for my being so impressed with these last year I may not have bought them. There were a number of different ones available and I was having difficulty making up my mind which ones to buy but in the end I decided to buy one of everything so I ended up with about 8 bulbs. It's the most I've ever spent on bulbs before so I was very excited to see how these would turn out.

I got some potting mix at the same time and potted them up as soon as I got them home. Before long they were starting to sprout. I was surprised to see how differently each one looked at this early stage. Now that spring is here they seem to be thriving and I'm starting to get even more excited about how these will turn out.

According to the labels on the packets some of these are expected to flower sooner than others. Some in early Summer (around Christmas), others in late summer (Feb). These are such impressive plants, I feel like I'm already getting my money's worth and they haven't even started flowering yet.

Lillies are very popular where I live as cut flowers and you often see them in Florist shops but I'd never seen them growing naturally until I saw them on the door step that day. It’s so interesting watching them develop. There seems to be something new to observe every few days.


However, that was nothing compared to the delight of seeing the first flowers appearing in the middle of spring (October 10).

This smaller variety is known as Lilium Asiatic – Gironde
It's such a cute compact little flower. The packet says early summer flowering with an expected height of 60-80cm. This one started flowering when it was only 20cm high.

One thing I was looking forward to doing when the Lillies started flowering was to create some nice photo art of them. No wonder they're so popular as cut flowers and they lend themselves so well to still life arrangements.

November 22

The next one to open was the one known as Xmas Lilium – White Heaven which has huge white blooms on 2 tall stems about 80cm high. Christmas seems to have arrived a month early this year because it was labelled 'Christmas flowering', but perhaps that's because I've got them sitting in quite a warm spot and I've fooled them into opening early.

November 24

Only a day or so later the next one to open was Xmas Lilium – Regale. This one is not so spectacular as White Heaven. The stems are very spindley and one stem seems to have completely failed to bloom. They have a reddish tinge on the outside of the blooms.

November 29

Next to open was Lilium Asiatic – Navonna, a smaller white lilly with 4 flowers on a single stem around 80cm high.

December 3

Next to open was Lilium Oriental – Zelmira, a stunning Apricot coloured lilly with 4 massive blooms on a single stem around a metre high. This one is particularly impressive and is also scented.

December 13

About a week later came Lilium Oriental – Serrano, a stunning Yellow lilly with 4 massive blooms on a single stem more than a metre high. This is a very impressive lilly.

December 13

About the same time came Lilium Oriental – Flashpoint, a shorter stemmed lilly with 10 smaller blooms. The blooms have a crimson centre with white edges.

This first attempt at growing lillies was an enjoyable experience. I’ll definitely try that again. Next time I might try growing them in a cooler spot. Perhaps I can get them to flower later. The great thing about bulbs is that they usually multiply each year. Next year I should get twice as many.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Expanding the Chook Pen

When we first got our chooks, one of Marie's male colleagues became inspired to do the same. It gave his kids an interest outside the house and they enjoyed getting the fresh eggs. However, the interest soon waned when they discovered how smelly they can be on a small city property when they're too close to the house and they decided they didn't want them any longer.

So suddenly, with only about 24 hours notice, we were asked to adopt four more chooks! This would give us a total of 8. After some quick research on Google we learned that some care is needed when introducing new adult chooks to your colony. They need to be kept segregated initially and to introduce them slowly. This is because there's a pecking order that exists amongst chooks and there can be some initial teething issues and even fights as they all find their new place in the order of things.

So we decided we could use the old ginea pig run which we first used when we got our first little hatchlings. It was just sitting there unused, filling up with weeds. This would be useful for the initial quarantine period of about a week.

But I also decided to build another chicken coop rather than make them all squeeze into the existing one I built originally. This time I wanted to make the whole thing without spending any money, and I didn't have much time, so I wanted to keep the whole thing as simple as possible and to build the whole thing within a day.

I gathered up whatever old timber I had lying around the property and discovered I had several bits of old decking about a metre long. So I started off digging a flat platform for the coop to sit on about a metre square.

Basically the idea was to start off building a big square box. I had a couple of old bits of tanalised plywood that I could use for the cladding and roof.

Within a few hours it all started coming together. I had the ginea pig run positioned right up next to the new coop with a door cut in one wall so the new chooks could easily get from one to the other.

The new chooks arrived before I even got the house finished.

In anticipation of their imminent arrival I had decided it would be necessary to identify the first group from the second as they are all the same breed (Brown Shavers) so I probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart. So using a cable tie and a soft plastic tag for each one I numbered the first group from 1–4. If there were any issues I could separate the 2 groups.

Over the first few days the chooks egg laying pattern was a bit hit and miss but by day 5 we were almost back up to an egg each per day.

So we decided to let them out and mingle with the first group. But sure enough, as we'd been advised, there was a bit of territorial squabbling with the original group being the aggressors, as can been be seen in the pic below with one of the chooks pecking at the neck of one of the new ones.

At times there was even a major scrap which was quite a spectacle as each chook puffed themselves up to nearly twice their normal size. We decided to separate them again, but we hope they will eventually integrate well with each other. I've been told they can stop laying if they get too stressed or upset. So, we just have to manage them carefully until they get used to each other. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New Pests in the Garden

The area where I live has been identified as ground zero in the search for a new Pest – a newly arrived Fruit Fly that has authorities in NZ worried. So much so they are asking the public to keep an eye out for it so it can be destroyed before it gets a foothold here.

It arrived from Queensland, Australia. and so far eight fruit flies have been captured in the 3 months since Biosecurity NZ started laying traps to find it.

Interestingly, the Queensland fruitfully is not the only new insect pest to arrive in NZ recently. Regular readers of my blog will have heard me mention a worm infestation that ruined my plums this year. At first I thought it was Codling Moth and I was determined to do something about it this year even if it meant having to spray.

When I described the symptoms to the good people down at the Garden Centre,  they told me it wasn't Codling Moth at all, but a new pest called Guava Moth. The bad news is there's nothing that can be done about it – at least not yet. The Guava Moth too, is a new arrival from Australia. It was first detected in the far north of NZ but it has gradually spread farther south to Auckland and is thriving in our temperate conditions.

The Guava Moth has the potential to decimate fruit crops and in my view is a much bigger problem than the Fruit Fly as it affects ripening fruit on the tree. I saw it for the first time in my garden 2 years ago but this year it totally ruined my plums, pleaches and feijoas. Strangely, despite the name of this pest, my Guava bush has been unaffected.

The Aukland council website has this to say...

More information about the Guava Moth can be found on the Auckland council website

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The 'Back to Eden' gardening method

I recently heard about an approach to organic gardening that has confirmed a lot of my own thoughts regarding the seemingly elusive, natural approach to gardening. For me it ticks all the boxes by encouraging the garden to function as it was designed to, naturally, without the use of complicated chemicals, sprays and fertilising systems.

The method I refer to has been dubbed 'Back to Eden' which recognises that the systems that work best are already there in nature, we just need to understand them and work with them. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the years with all my efforts to compost and feed the soil naturally, but I have struggled to know exactly what I should be doing and how, until I watched a documentary film on u-tube recently entitled the 'back to eden' gardening method which focusses on imitating nature by covering the soil and mulching, which brings huge benefits to the soil.

There’s a short version of the film which goes for about 20mins (use link above), and a longer version that goes for 1 hour and 43 minutes. If you can spare the time I recommend the long one as it has lots of interesting interviews and examples showing the various conditions it applies to and the various results attained. Having said that, I watched the shorter one first which is like a trailer but I was intrigued, so I watched the full version which you can see here.

If you believe the earth is the product of an All-wise Creator then you may appreciate the various quotations from the bible that inspired the Author Paul Gautschi and which he makes reference to. If not, it doesn't matter, because it all makes such perfect sense regardless.

The movie has already inspired me to make plans for a renewed focus in my garden, which thankfully only requires a bit of tweaking. Suffice to say, there are 2 words that sum up this approach to gardening, Sustainability and Permaculture.

You may hear me talk about aspects of this method in my garden moving forward.