Protecting Fruit Trees: An Invention

Posted by Nick  | 12 May 2018  | 4 comments

Ah, orchards. The homesteader’s epitome of wishful thinking. If you’re a novice in such matters, like us, you’ve got to be at least a little naive to start an orchard. Especially if you don’t have a ride-on lawnmower.

You see, there are three ways to keep down the grass in a new orchard: 1, have a ride-on lawnmower; 2, don’t have grass at all; or 3, as in our case, use farm animals to graze the area. Because our orchard area is quite large, it’s downright unmanageable unless you graze it (or are fancy enough to own a ride-on, which we’re not, nor want to be). Grazing not only maximises the usefulness of the space and provides shelter for the animals once the trees are mature, but also maintains soil quality by adding fresh manure.

But grazing your orchard raises one big fat question: How do you prevent the herbivores from sampling (read: devouring) the delicacy of your vulnerable saplings? Well, for us it’s been a journey of innovation. We began with a simple approach…

Three winters ago in 2015 we started planting our orchard, and this was how we protected our saplings from the voracious quadrupeds:

The bare-root baby trees were spindly enough to fit into these plastic oblong sleeves, which were held in place by wooden stakes pounded into the ground. Easy online-ordering method and foolproof assembly. You can tell this is true by the following depiction of a fool assembling one.

They worked for a time… but only until the trees outgrew their confines…

Especially the poor citrus, which grew into long box shapes!

Okay, that’s hilarious and ridiculous. Ah, sweet naivete.

The sheep (especially Gordon Ramsay) also had a tendency to scratch up against them, tearing them and loosening the posts over time.

On our already large olive which didn’t fit into a sleeve, we tried shade cloth wrapped around Y-posts, but the sheep actually climbed the material to sneak a nibble. It looked a lot less saggy than this when we first put it up:

We searched far and wide across Internet Land for a better solution, but short of building expensive wooden cages, buying expensive steel frames, or sourcing expensive steel barrels (which are commonly seen skirting the trunks of old trees in the country, but are harder to come by nowadays), our search turned up cold. So, we put our heads into inventor-mode. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

We had long played with the fantasy of affordable semi-permanent cages interconnected on an underground grid which could be electrified. (Idealistic much?) We played with a few concepts, most unfeasible, until finally arriving at a somewhat sensible solution. We had no idea if it would work, but it was worth a shot.

While we were thinking, the pasture decided to be a dick and grow:

Our idea consisted of making a bunch of eighty-centimetre diameter hoops of high-tensile fencing wire, clipping them onto thin fibreglass posts which were banged into the ground, then joining the loops of wire with a stripped underground cable. Err, maybe photos will explain it better…

So there we have some hoops of wire, which we laboriously crimped. Some one-hundred-sixty in total for our forty-plus fruit trees (four hoops per tree).

Then came the next step of banging in the posts. We had a process where Char would hold the post next to a stick to gauge the height, and I would smack it with a shitty wooden mallet hastily fashioned from a scrap of two-by-four.

Obviously we couldn’t both be in the photo at once during this process, so we totally posed for the shot above and the shot below. Can you tell?

(Excuse the knee-pads. I wear them to bolster my sex-appeal more than anything else.)

We angled the posts away from the tree so the hoops of wire would be taught when clipped on.

After the posts were banged in we used wooden spacers to measure out where to put the clips, having estimated the right space and height to deter your average sheep proboscis.

It was fiddly work, spreading the spring to loosen the friction so you could slide them on and rotate them. As usual, I got flustered on multiple occasions. Mostly because Char was so quick at it. Her efficiency is a damn super power, I swear.

Once all the clips were spaced at the correct heights, we seated the wire hoops…

…and then commenced the finger-bruising task of closing the clips.

This holds the wire hoops at the right height and prevents them from coming loose.

And then, as if suddenly materialising – poof! – a tree cage!

The first of many. Each took about five minutes to erect, excluding the time spent making the hoops.

I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t look very sturdy, does it? Well! That’s where the next step comes in…

Electricity! Nothing says “STAY THE FUCK BACK” like a brutal jolt to the snout. (Isn’t that right, Mica? Poor kitty.)

After clearing strips of summer grass with a weed-eater, we used spades to cut thin deep trenches which connected all the tree cages.

Lifting the sliced sod with a trowel, we pushed the insulated underground wire firmly down into the trenches. Then we stripped the ends of the wire and twisted them around the hoops, connecting them all.

When it came to connecting to each subsequent tree cage, we only had to loop the underground wire around the lowest hoop of the previous tree, because all four were already connected from the tree before that one (if that makes sense…).

Once we connected all the trees, it was all down to hooking up a solar energiser to test our work…

Success! Not the highest voltage (this usually reads around 7.5 kv on a tape line), but certainly zippy enough to keep those insatiable gobs at bay.

And with that confirmation, it was time to graze out this jungle!

Of course, in truth we experimented with just a couple of tree cages to see how they stood up against the sheep (not depicted) before putting in time/money for the rest.

It couldn’t have worked better! A couple of zaps on the schnoots and they kept well clear after that. They even avoided eating a ring of grass around each cage.

The orchard thrived since we could access it better, the trees could breathe, and the grass could be kept down(ish).

(The tea-towel under the hat is also for sex-appeal, FYI.)

And now, a season or two later, we’re literally enjoying the fruits of our labours…

Even if the odd one is a little bit sour…

Workshop Revamp #3: Door Build!

Posted by Nick  | 15 Aug 2017  | 2 comments

Now that we had a table to work on, we hopped to replacing the shoddy internal entrance. Ramshackle, borer-ridden, insecure, and brittle:

The “lock” was simply a chain through the tin around the frame and through a hole in the door. Fairly effective to a point, I guess, but about as convenient as a dead mouse in your gumboot.

Its other side shows its simple Z-frame construction, which was held together by an assortment of nails. Easy to pry off if someone really wanted in.

We chose to use rough-sawn material for the new door, because we thought that if we used dressed timber it would look out of place surrounded by the “rustic patina” of the surrounding corrugated tin overlapped in hodgepodge fashion.

It was a blast using our new workbench.

We pocket-holed the slats together (don’t worry, they were covered up after by a frame):

Then built a frame, which we mitred at the corners:

 

And another shot because workshop view, aw yeah!

We fixed a horizontal brace for sturdiness, sexiness, and to hide the pocket-holes:

And then screwed the slats to the frame:

And then… Are you ready? I don’t think you’re ready. You might want to sit down for this.

BOOM! You might be thinking “oh yeah, that’s all right I guess”, but did you know that we built this in under a minute?! Okay, that’s a lie, obviously. But still, for a brief moment you were REALLY impressed.

Here it is being held up with the old door still attached for comparison. Should last a bit longer, eh?

Then came the satisfaction struggle of demolition. Arm wrestling these haggard hinges took a bit of elbow grease:

We fixed new sturdier hinges to the door with nuts that wouldn’t un-thread if someone tampered with the bolt heads.

We mounted it, added more secure locking plates, and… hold on to your pants…

SHAZZAM!

From the inside, a little planer, but a good fit (the chain was removed after):

Such a slick product ought to be demonstrated by a model…

SKIDOOSH!

It was also granted approval by our resident everything-inspector:

“Smells like you did a good jobs, guys. You will be rewarded by feeding me extra tonight.”

Next up is replacing that hideous ramp with an actual step:

WTF?

Workshop Revamp #2: Workbench!

Posted by Nick  | 08 Aug 2017  | 1 comment

A workshop is incomplete without a solid workbench, and it was one of the first things we needed before we set out on any future projects. We designed the workbench to have a table saw on one end for ripping down ply and the like. We will also build another bench which will run the length of the workshop along one side for a drop saw and storage.

We wanted the workbench to be heavy and chunky – something that would hold up to a lot of abuse. The only timber we could source which had decent dimensions for the legs were treated fence posts. First we cut them to length as well as all the bracing, to the specifications of our 3D model. Google Sketchup has been an invaluable tool for designing a build before committing to the cuts.

We used a jig to create pocket holes for the screws, which are a lot more stable and have the benefit of being unseen.

We then assembled the frame of the lower shelf:

And then attached it to the legs:

The result resembled a cot:

We then ripped down some ply for the shelf and the tabletop, all under the dim light of an LED work lamp connected to a fifty metre extension cord back to the house. (Oh how delightful it will be once we finally have power in the workshop… Running extension cords through chicken crap and sheep shit in the rain ain’t fun.)

We used a jigsaw to cut out the corners of the plywood shelf to accommodate the legs of the workbench:

Clamped it down:

Turned the whole thing over and screwed up into the shelf so you can’t see any screws in the finished product:

We then attached the frame for the tabletop:

Screwed together two sheets of ply to make the tabletop extra durable:

Then flipped it over, clamped it down, and screwed up from underneath. As you can see, we left a goodly overhang for the top to allow work-pieces to be clamped with ease:

At this stage phase one of the workbench was pretty much complete! Just a bit of a sand…

And viola!

And then we repeated the process by building an attachment for our table saw:

We bolted down the table saw for extra sturdiness:

We designed it in such a way that the top of the table saw was a few millimetres higher than the top of the workbench, so that when we were pushing wood through it wouldn’t get stuck on the lip of the workbench. A slight fall prevents this.

We’re happy with the result. It’s basic but it’s super strong and should hopefully hold up to decades of abuse. And finally we have a work surface for the projects on our endless list of things to build. No more working on the uneven floor, bruising our knees and hurting our necks. Yus!

It was a pleasure building a new door for the workshop on our new workbench, which will be the next post in this Workshop Revamp series. Stay tuned!