Building Tree Cages

Posted by Nick  | 30 Jul 2015  | 0 comments

What’s a tree cage? Well, we’re not really sure, since a common term for these constructions has eluded us.

What we call tree cages could also be described as tree boxes, guards, or fences. The point of these constructions is to prevent animals, namely burly beasts like cows and horses, from nibbling (read decimating) treasured specimen trees planted therein. In other words, it keeps expensive trees out of mouth’s-reach.

If you’re still confused, this is a completed tree cage:

Since our farm is pretty bare in the tree department (like most NZ farms), and we have a vision for a park-like landscape, we decided we’d begin beautifying it this year by planting a dozen exotic specimens like oaks and maples throughout (more on that in a future post). We’ll plant more in coming years, but this amount, we reckoned, would be a good start.

These trees can be a little pricey, but its the time and maintenance invested which makes them truly priceless. The last thing you want is to watch them grow for a couple of years and then have them ring-barked by some lumbering beefcake. That’s why it’s worthwhile forking out for the right kind of protection.

Protecting our specimens meant ordering a decent sum of wood. After a bit of maths, this is what we ended up with:

We decided on post-and-rail because it provides the best protection. Large animals can lean/rub up against it without it budging, and it will last a long time. Keep in mind these cages are actually temporary, intended to be removed after the resident trees have grown big enough to withstand the brawn of livestock. The wood will likely be re-purposed for future cages.

We went with 1800mm No.3 half-rounds for the posts (H4 treated) and 150 x 40mm rails (H3.2 treated) cut into 2m lengths. Sturdy and hardy.

Now that we had our wood, the first task was to construct a template (from different wood), which would make marking out the post holes a hell of a lot easier.

This was placed on the site where we intended for a tree to be planted.

So begins the digging of four holes to 600mm deep. This is the part where I mention yet again how awesome our soil is here. Were we doing this back in Auckland… well, we wouldn’t be.

Having the right tools really does make the job so much easier. We got proper fencing spades and shovels, which are designed specifically for this kind of work. It’s a dream. It’s also good having two of us with a job like this – one digs and the other scoops. Goes much quicker. Even Mica “helped out”, by batting clumps of soil back into the holes…

After the correct depth is reached in the holes, it’s time to chuck in those posts and get them level. We kind of posed for the next couple of shots, since this is a two-person job; one levels whilst the other tamps/compacts the soil around the post. Hence Char carrying Mica down her jumper – hardly a practical accessory!

After the posts are plumb in the ground, it’s time to nail on the rails (we use 125mm galvanised flat-heads). This would also be rather difficult without a helping hand. One of us would position a rail and hold it in place whilst the other banged in some nails underneath to keep the rail from slipping down.

(That one had already been nailed on top, but you get the idea.)

Then it’s simply a matter of hammering away until you have two levels of rails 250mm apart forming a box. Bada bing, bada boom. They’re high enough to keep the larger animals out, whilst letting sheep under to keep the grass down around the tree.

At the time of this post, we’ve completed eight out of twelve tree cages. Some have been on steeper ground, like this one, which prove to be more challenging:

It would be lovely if the corners were mitred at forty-five degrees to meet up all tidy-like, but it’s practically impossible given the odd angles of the land and our limited skills. Also, these cages are only usually seen from far away, so noticing all that effort would more often go amiss.

Forty-two acres isn’t a massive farm, but it’s still a decent hike from one end to the other if you’re carrying a bunch of wood and tools for building a tree cage. We were overjoyed when the farmer leasing our land said we could borrow his tractor.

Making slaves out of some visiting buddies sure made quick work of these cages.

It was satisfying, wasn’t it, hitting those nails dead-on with every swing? Heh.

Char called me a show-off with the hammer. It’s not my fault I embody the precision and power of Thor.

A childhood friend, Dingus, has been coming to the farm frequently lately, so we’ve been able to construct a few when Char’s up in Auckland for work meetings.

It’s a good opportunity for boyish behaviour.

The below picture reminds me of some kind of cheesy teamwork triumph stock-photo. I almost wasn’t going to include it, but screw it, it was a fun day and the only shot of us all together. Ka pai.

Four more cages to build… We got this. We’ve already started planting out our specimens, so watch this space to see the final result!

The Ladies are Laying!

Posted by Nick  | 27 Jul 2015  | 2 comments

Announcement! We finally have eggs!

Our four chooks, Ladies Rose, Edith, Mary, and Sybil have become women. Congratulations, Ladies. We’re pretty sure two of them are already laying, so the others won’t be far behind.

The Ladies have been rowdy lately, making all sorts of horny clucks and gossipy squawks. Lady Rose, in particular, lets out this guttural trill which sounds especially like a wary dinosaur.

This peculiar change in behaviour led us on a search for eggs. We found a couple of empty nests, but no eggs. Checking back the next day, however, and – oh!

Can you spot the lone egg?

We were pretty excited at this discovery – we had been wondering when our birds would start providing us with these delicious little presents.

It’s pretty tiny, but well formed for a first egg. Congratulations Lady Mary!

Like a bloodhound on a scent trail, Char went sniffing in the under-brush and searching beneath draping foliage. She cried out when she found another nest, this time with a whole bunch of eggs!

Looks like a good a place as any to squeeze out some cackle berries.

Now to get the Ladies laying in their lovely nesting boxes I built them so we don’t have to continually seek their eggs out, or worse yet, stumble upon some future rotters…

The Frozen Farm

Posted by Nick  | 26 Jun 2015  | 3 comments

Who’s daring enough to go outside at dawn to photograph the frost?

Not me.

Char, however, does have the balls. (Surprisingly, she doesn’t actually have balls, which might be the driving factor in her ability to venture out into the crotch-numbing dawn.)

Subzero mornings seem common at this time of year – something we’re not accustomed to coming from Auckland.

A delicate layer of ice forms on nearly every exposed surface – this is as close as we’ll get to a winter wonderland at this latitude. Though the locals have reported snow on more than one occasion.

The crystalline structures are quite beautiful up close.

Man, these strawberry plants are tough!

There was even an icicle starting to form at the end of our garden hose…

Char reported, in fact, that the whole hose was frozen solid. It also took a little time for water to flow through our pipes, which is a little worrying seeing as some of them are copper and could potentially burst.

You know it’s cold when the sheep’s water has frozen over…

And the bathtub/trough/duck pool has become a little frozen lake. If the Pugging were still around, we might have seen an ice-skating duck!

The ladies don’t seem to mind, though. Up bright and early foraging in the garden.

We wish we had feathers at this time of year…