Fencing Our Orchard

Posted by Nick  | 16 Nov 2015  | 3 comments

Almost all of the weekends for the past two months had been designated fence building weekends. The grass in our orchard sky-rocketed come spring, so it was imperative that we fenced the orchard shelter belt ASAP to get those sheep grazing around our orchard trees.

We had never built a post-and-rail fence before, so there was a lot – a lot – of trial and error. Especially considering the surprising lack of information online. We had to nut most of it out ourselves. There’s plenty of info out there on how to build your typical suburban boundary fence, but rural post-and-rail? Nada. We put it down to it being just “one of those things” country-folk know how to do. Maybe we’ll put out some DIY instructions down the track. In any case, this was our first attempt:

First, we banged some steel Y-posts into the ground to anchor a string-line.

Once the string-line was strung, we put standards at measured intervals to mark where the post holes would be dug.

Then, hole digging.

Much hole digging. The general rule of thumb for post hole digging is to dig to a depth of about one-third the length of the post, which in this case was sixty centimetres.

I’m just thankful for the soft soil out here. I know I mention it all the time, but I come from Auckland, the land of clay. This dirt is a godsend. We were considering getting a mechanical rammer in to do the job, but it was easy enough by hand not to warrant it. Also, the feeling of accomplishment is greater when you haven’t cheated.

With the holes dug, it was time to plonk in the posts.

This was the method of transporting the wood from the driveway to the orchard:

Each hole had to be shaped a second time to get the post behaving correctly and level. Much fluffing was involved.

It was starting to take shape.

It was beginning to feel like a real boundary.

Then came the fun part of putting up rails. What we thought would be the fun part, anyway. We were umming and ahhing about how to transport them since they were so long, but the quad bike came to the rescue in the end, again.

Experimentation begins…

We didn’t quite know how to go about following the contour of the land. We wanted it to flow gently, but we were concerned about making the gap between the ground and the bottom rails too inconsistent. So we made our first mistake of following the contour too closely, which resulted in a fence that curved too suddenly in the vertical plane.

It still looked nice, but we soon realised that with such sudden curvature it was difficult to follow through with the joins without a resulting scalloping look. Hard to explain, but trust us, we learned something valuable here. We decided it could be aptly summed up as a compromise between spacing and contour. You’ll know what we mean if you build one yourself (or if you have already). I later returned to dismantle the work we had done in the above photo. It was a kick in the nuts, but hey, lesson learned.

Another important lesson we learned was not to do this:

Nailing a rail on and then being forced to cut it awkwardly instead of measuring it, removing it, cutting it, then nailing it on.

You’d think this was obvious, but when you’re manhandling six-metre long rails, clamping them onto posts, and fussing about, you sort of forget which step comes first in the flurry. It took us a little while to find our rhythm.

Also, get a god-damn cordless circular saw. Especially if you’re doing work outside of a workshop. Get a cordless everything. After a few days of tripping over the one pictured above, we gave in. It’s such a wonderful tool it can make a grown man cry. The battery technology nowadays is good enough to power one of these bad boys for a couple of days’ work.

But no matter how good the tool, sometimes you still forget to measure and cut before nailing the rail on. D’oh. I think at this point we were still coming to the realisation. It was a slow realisation.

To ensure we’d have uniform gaps between the rails, we used an extraordinarily complex piece of technology. A wooden stick with lines drawn on it.

Usually Char would align a rail by pushing down or pulling up on it and then holler at me to nail it in place. In most cases this was un-photograph-able, because we were both otherwise entangled. But here’s me nailing anyway, for err, posterity:

Below you can see there’s a gap in the fence. At this stage we had yet to dismantle the botched left side where we had forced too much of a curve, so had begun railing further down. It wasn’t a perfectly methodical process, but we were getting our bearings slowly.

Once we’d redone the left side and filled in the gap, it was starting to look like a real fence!

Gaining confidence!

Tools of the trade:

Next up was to join rails at a forty-five degree angle on a twenty degree slope. You can guess that this required some tricky geometry. We argued a bit over this, but Char nutted it out in the end. She’s incredibly logical. It turns me on.

Mica Jackson loves to be needy when we’re busy. Watch out pussy cat – you want to be a Manx?!

Getting the fine angles right took some experimentation with making templates.

This is the result:

Not too shabby, eh?

Here’s the fence with the forty-five degree corner connecting the south side to what would be the west side:

Before beginning on the western fence, we couldn’t help but saw the tops of the posts off on the completed southern fence – a finishing touch.

At some stage before erecting the forty-five-degree section that would connect the southern and western fences, we had to put the posts in for the western fence.

This was so we could line up the forty-five degree section effectively and actually have something to nail the rails on to.

The western fence went up pretty quick. By that stage we had a good rhythm going and some practice under our belts. In fact, it went so smoothly I don’t think there’s any photos of it going up! It wasn’t until we were faced with an entirely new problem that we took some more photos.

This is the part where we learn another valuable lesson. You see, here we intended to curve the fence on its horizontal axis to eventually become the northern orchard boundary (which we’ll erect at a later date). Again, it’s difficult to describe, but our mistake this time was that we’d continue the bend in the rails on every consecutive post. This resulted in a warped look – the curve wasn’t smooth. We corrected this by creating a curve along the six-metre length first between two posts six metres apart. We had to extract a few posts and relocate them to conform to the improved curve. That probably makes no sense to read, but hopefully these pictures help:

You can see above that we’ve created a visual curve with the rails by buttressing them in place before adding extra posts. In fact, at the right of the picture you can see the two posts lying on the ground which we had to dig up because they were disrupting the curve.

The result is a uniform curve once the extra posts have been added.

We have yet to fence the other side of the western shelter belt to protect the trees from stock, but the southern and western shelter belts of the orchard are now fenced! Yay! Eventually we’ll curve it around to enclose it on the north, but that’ll be next year some time. The reason being for aesthetics mainly, so it will follow the lay of the land and won’t feel too boxed in. Curves are sexy. You can kind of see the beginning of the curve in this photo, but shh, there’s a spoiler going on in the background!

Here it is in its nearly-complete glory, with sheep and all, doing what it was designed for – keeping those hungry critters away from our treasured trees. Success!

Around the Farm: Part III

Posted by Nick  | 13 Oct 2015  | 5 comments

Winter has felt long and harsh. Harsh by our wimpy standards, anyway. It’s been a busy season for us, though, so lots has gone amiss on this humble wee blog. There’s a fair few posts on the back-burner, but here are some extra titbits of country living as consolation…

Our four feathered ladies are all grown up and each producing an egg a day. More than we can eat!

They each have distinct personalities and as any chook owner knows, they provide much entertainment.

It’s a great joy seeing them roam freely, dust bathing, sunbathing, foraging for grubs, and racing around like lunatics because… well, because they’re crazy. They’re also pretty.

Crooked-tail Lady Rose is certainly the boss.

Our fattest most heavily-set chicken, Lady Edith, has become broody. She sits on a nest in the bush all day long (sometimes on top of other chickens), despite our efforts to thwart her.

We sometimes pick her up and take her down to where her food is, so she doesn’t lose condition. Fancy a bucket-o’-chicken?

After a small snack, she’ll beeline straight back for nest, going berserk en route. After a couple of nights locked in the coop, she may well be breaking free of those hormones. We’ll see. At least the other ladies have started laying in the nesting boxes I built!

Our Wiltshire sheep are happy, too, going through the short winter grass like mad.

We’ve had to feed out hay regularly to keep up with their voracious appetites. They’re mischievous things.

As you can see, they’re beginning to shed nicely, too, now that the weather’s warming up.

The ground is littered with fluffy clumps and wisps of wool, and you can always tell when someone’s had a good scratch.

Now that spring has arrived they can barely keep up with the pasture’s growth. They prance and frolic whenever they’re let into a new paddock.

Over winter there was a bit of harvesting from our garden. Not much, since we put minimal effort into last summer’s garden, but we yanked up a bunch of onions.

And carrots, too!

Chunky mofos.

New Zealand doesn’t have much wildlife compared to more exotic locations, but its countryside certainly has more than the suburbia from which we fled. Kingfishers, for example, were a rare sight in the middle of Auckland, even in the parks. Here, however, they’re spotted in pairs daily.

Earlier in the year, when winter was approaching, skeins of Canadian geese were spotted migrating north, making a honking racket overhead as they passed.

I came across a walking twig recently, too; a species I haven’t seen since childhood. Creepy to most people, but I find them charming.

It’s a good thing there’s a bunch of wildlife out here, because our little Mica eats half of it. We pulled this darling fantail from her grasp, hoping to save it, but it died of shock in Char’s hands. If only you could train your cat to prey exclusively on invasive species.

Who knows what else she gets up to, but we haven’t seen any of her rodent kills lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trapping them all in the tool shed.

Speaking of the minx, this post wouldn’t be complete without a shot of her majesty.

We actually had an encounter with a stray earlier in the year, didn’t we Mickey-Jay? One night we heard a cat fight outside, so went to investigate. Mica was pinned to the ground being attacked by a black tom. We shooed it off, but it kept coming back. Mica had a puncture wound from the fight, which became infected. We put some food out for it for a few nights, hoping to befriend it. It must have once been someone’s pet, because it seemed all right with coming up to the door. We nicknamed it “Batman”.

That story quickly came to an end when a neighbour trapped Batman and killed him. Fair enough, I guess. Not worth your own pets being upset and injured. Especially if they have to go through the indignity of wearing unfashionable head cones…

More planting of our native boundary this year. Will it ever end? Probably not.

A whole bunch of colourful youngsters, ready for delicious ash soil.

When planting them out, I am mesmerised by their root structures.

The hares started taking chunks out of our young plants, so I tried my own concoction of repellent. Cayenne pepper, chilli powder, egg, and yep – urine.

I used our knapsack sprayer to dowse all of our beloved saplings.

Didn’t seem to repel the bunnies as much as the shop-bought stuff, though. Either that or my urine is actually quite tasty (my teenage self on a particularly disgusting dare would contest this hypothesis).

Whilst we’re on the topic of bodily excretions, I might as well slip in that we had our septic tank emptied recently. We had no idea how full it was from the previous owner, so we thought it might be a good idea before things started… overflowing. We also had no idea where the septic tank was, but our guess turned out to be pretty accurate.

The dude poked around with a metal rod until he hit concrete, then dug up the lid with a shovel. Then he proceeded to suck up our poo. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell at all. Here’s a picture, because I know you’re curious.

Good news all around – it was fairly empty, the questionable home built system was in good working order, and all the signs pointed to healthy bacteria. Excellent, we really didn’t feel like forking out fifteen grand for a new system.

Even though the septic system is in working order, other parts of this old place continue to break and malfunction. Here’s me messing around with our pain-in-the-arse kitchen taps:

The washers were bung, and being a long drive from the nearest hardware store, we had to make do with just swapping the internal parts between the two taps, which seemed to work.

We’re just going to have to put up with this until we renovate.

Waiting for the right time/finances to renovate means a bit of temporary work to make life more comfortable in the interim. Here’s Char installing more draft stopping strips around the gappy window frames. I wish I could enjoy this type of work as much as she seems to be:

With things as temporary as they are, it’s important to stay sane by keeping stuff ordered. Luckily we have a shed to house our tools, which I found gratifying to organise.

It’s been fun learning how to use farm equipment. We had the opportunity to learn how to drive a clunky sixty-year-old Ferguson tractor, an icon of rural New Zealand. This resulted in my defining masculinity.

Having driven tractors before, Char was unsurprisingly a natural.

It’s a cumbersome diesel-coughing beast, but solid as a rock and a testament to how much better things were built in those days.

We sampled some soil from around the farm and sent it away for chemical analysis. The core-sampling auger was kind of fun.

Turns out we’re short on potassium, so we’ll have to remedy that eventually. That also might explain why our garden didn’t do so good last summer, because despite adding fertiliser and compost, none of it had potassium.

It rained graupel the other day. What’s graupel? This is graupel:

Not quite hail, not quite snow – somewhere in between.

We heard from our Auckland friends and family that it had happened there recently, too. It’s a strange phenomenon, like slush falling from the sky.

It may be chilly to the bone and raining graupel, but at least our waterfall is pretty during the wet season:

The brook is full, too.

Glorious kereru are returning with the change of seasons. They’re such majestic birds, don’t you think?

They’re a frequent ornament to our blossoming plum trees and the heavy whoosh whoosh whoosh of their beating wings overhead is becoming a common sound.

Spring is definitely here…

Evident not only by the fewer clothes one must adorn when going outside, but also by the vibrant new coats donned by our recently planted fruit trees.

Bring on the sunshine!

Planting Our Orchard

Posted by Nick  | 01 Oct 2015  | 0 comments

An orchard is one of those endeavours whose rewards take time. A long-term investment, if you will. That’s why we decided to make a start on one fairly soon after moving. Apart from planting up more native shelter belt and specimen trees, creating an orchard has been our main goal over this cold season.

First of all, here’s a flashback to when we planted a shelter belt for the orchard – you can see standards erected where we intended to plant our fruit trees:

We ordered a variety of trees from an online nursery which had a broad and comprehensive selection. Some of the varieties were bare-rooted, and came packed in damp straw.

Bare-root trees should be replanted as soon as possible. So naturally, the day they arrived it was, of course, raining. Despite getting saturated ourselves, the wet weather was probably a good thing for the trees’ exposed roots.

We separated the varieties, putting the citrus aside for the moment – they could be planted another day, since they came potted. These included varieties of lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, and a couple of non-citrus like mulberry and pomegranate.

We initially focused on planting out the bare-rooted trees, which included varieties of apple, cherry, peach, apricot, and nectarine. (Yum!)

There were also a couple of potted plants of ours that we’d been carrying with us for years, knowing someday we’d plant them on “our farm”. Here’s our seven-year-old olive, poor thing:

I somehow fell into the role of digger, as usual.

I’d excavate and shape the holes while Char followed behind with a bucket of fertiliser and a boxful of weed mats, transplanting the awkward-shaped roots into their fertile new homes.

It was tough work in the rain and the dwindling light, but our excitement to finally see our orchard come to life pulled us through.

As we neared the end of the day and I had finished digging all the holes, I began erecting the stakes and guards to protect the trees from the sheep we’d eventually let in to graze. We barely finished by dusk. I remember hammering in those last few stakes with Char in near-darkness.

A couple of weekends later we had some friends over. As well as tagging sheep and lighting a bonfire, we had them help with planting out the citrus trees. Many hands do indeed make light work!

After we’d erected the guards around those, too, the orchard was finally starting to look like a real place.

Try to imagine five metre tall nectarine trees here, their canopy edges brushing one another in the wind, dropping succulent fruit… and being mauled by possums.

With the shelter belt planted at the south and the west, these fruit trees should have adequate protection when they grow up a bit.

The final aspect of our orchard this year is to build a post-and-rail fence bordering the shelter belt, to allow sheep to freely graze around the fruit trees. This project has already started, and it’s going faster than expected, so stay tuned!

Now that spring is here, the signs of a successful planting are becoming apparent.

It seems the cherries and nectarines bloom first, and we’ve also noticed that the guards act as miniature greenhouses, encouraging early growth at the lower parts of the tree where it’s insulated from the cold.

Char’s like a giddy little school girl when she sees the blossums and leaves unfurling from their buds. Okay, I won’t hide it, I’m like a giddy little school girl too.

Bring on the noms!