Front Fence Freshen-Up

Posted by Charlotte  | 08 Jan 2016  | 3 comments

We’ve been doing some work around the entrance of our land to make it feel more welcoming. One of the things that bothered me most was the grungy “white” picket fence at the front of the house.

Doesn’t look like the place is deserted, nope, not at all…

Closer inspection revealed a lot of lichen and black grime all over.

Spring was the perfect time to give it a good clean – the days were starting to warm up but it was still raining enough that we didn’t have to worry about our water usage.

I hauled out the water blaster and after a few battles with a hose extension and a jerry-rigged connector from the previous owner that kept popping off, I was on my way.

Water blasting the fence was immensely satisfying – the grime was easily blasted away with a swipe of the jet leaving the fence sparkling white.

Ok so it wasn’t perfect – the lichen had left dark spots where it was growing, and a fair bit of paint had come off – especially on the gate, but it was certainly an improvement.

Now I was going to leave it like this and just call it a day, after all this fence will be replaced at some point in the next few years… but the missing paint on the gate was enough to annoy me.

I figured it would probably be at least 2 years before we get on to replacing the fence, and I really didn’t want to put up with it looking like it was for that long. So I got out the paint, brushes and rollers…

And painted the entire fence.

I’m so glad I did – the difference between the painted and unpainted bits was striking.

I wasn’t going to do in between the pickets but my perfectionist streak kicked in and I happened to find a smaller roller that fit perfectly, so quickly touched up all the noticeable bits.

Yay, all done! And only got a little paint on my clothes…

Now the fence looks so much better, and makes the front of the house much more inviting.

Just for fun, here are a few before and after photos:




The only problem now is that I keep noticing our rusted old letterbox…


Posted by Nick  | 06 Jan 2016  | 0 comments

Before the summer heat kicked in about a month ago, we finally lit the giant pile of sticks and logs that remained from having some trees felled in 2014. It had been an eyesore for long enough.

It’s difficult to tell the scale of the pile, but it’s bigger than it looks. A lot of the bulk has settled, but this is what it looked like soon after felling:

We were a little scared, to be honest. We had never set fire to anything of this magnitude before. Despite choosing a windless day and preparing for disaster with ineffective water buckets, we were all too aware of how easily fires can get out of control.

Nevertheless, we’d put it off long enough. It was time to light. We added a bunch of sticks to the pile in an effort to tidy up around the yard a bit. Fortunately for us, we managed to rope a couple of slaves into helping out. With the addition of Dingus and James our labour was cut in half.

I built four fires around the circumference of the pile…

…but I ended up only needing to light one of them.

The gentle north-easterlies took over… with a frightening and unexpected voracity.

All of a sudden there were unstoppable five-metre high flames consuming the pile at a quickening pace.

The inferno took hold in under a minute. Its speed was unsettling. There were large trees nearby, as well as sheep confined to the nearby orchard.

Before it took off and reached the other side, we threw in some remaining branches scattered through the paddock.

Then we all stood back and watched in rapt respect for the awesome fury of mother nature.

You could still feel the intense radiation at this distance – any closer was uncomfortably warm:

This is about as close as you could get without feeling like your face was melting, but only for a few seconds:

When the flames had died down a bit, I attempted to push some of the outer debris into the centre with the tractor.

A couple attempts worked, but I had to reverse quickly when I got a face full of smoke.

As it died down we continued to throw sticks into the glowing core.

Later the next day we all roasted some marshmallows over some embers, but there’s no pictures of that because we were too busy stuffing our faces with burnt gooey goodness.

The collapsed pile continued to burn slowly for another five days, and was still smouldering after a week. A few big trunks remained, which we’ll have to try burning again at some stage.

All in all, a successful mission with zero casualties! Our first big burn – now we have confidence for the next.

Fencing Our Orchard

Posted by Nick  | 16 Nov 2015  | 6 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!