Workshop Revamp #1: Powerwash!

Posted by Nick  | 28 Jul 2017  | 2 comments

This farm came with a few old haphazardly-put-together outbuildings, one of which is a carport with an attached workshop. At least we suspect it was a workshop at one point, on account of all the masterpieces of grease.

When we visited the property for the first time, the “workshop” was housing the kind of odds-‘n’-ends and mucky miscellany one might expect to find on a farm. But really, let’s be honest, it was a storage room for junk. Not anymore!

This post is the first in a series following the course of our workshop revamp. It’s not the largest of areas, but it will do for most of our DIY projects, like building our furniture. We intend to construct new doors for the workshop, replace its dilapidated window, outfit it with workbenches and tables, as well as install power outlets and lights (which will involve digging a twenty-five metre powerline trench from the house, ugh).

But first, this unloved, unclean, greasy mofo needs a good wash.

There are two entrances into the workshop. The one you see above, through which much rain comes due to the poorly-constructed doors, and another accessed through the carport (a door of equal quality, but at least sheltered).

The “deck” above needs to be replaced. It’s slimy and rotting, and there are no gaps in the boards for rain to go, so pooling water has begun rotting the interior floor. This isn’t helped by the overflowing gutter above.

Inside you can see this place has had little love over the years, with layers of oil, grease, mud, blood, shit, and general organic debris strewn throughout.

After we got the keys to this place, there was still a bunch of stuff left behind by the previous owner. Most of it was junk, but there were a few potentially useful bobs, including this here botch-welded table for a grinding wheel.

Just needs a little motor and some TLC and it’ll be a quick way to sharpen most hand tools, or remove bits of metal from various objects, which is done more frequently than you’d imagine on a farm.

The best part of this workshop is the view. A vista of rolling farmland, native forest, and tall hills is framed by the double doorway.

There’s no pictures of me foaming up this place and using the pressure washer to blast it all out (cameras don’t like that amount of water), but I can tell you it sure was satisfying stripping away the layers of grime, scum, and detritus. It’s still stained in places, like really stained, but that adds character… right?

Here’s a shot after the water-blasting:

A little lighter and now it doesn’t feel like something creepy is going to drop down on you from above, or you’re going to put your hand in tar. It was even clean enough to hide my easter egg basket without grossing anyone out! (Yes, this was done last year… I’m behind on posts, all right?)

Next up in our workshop revamp series, building a new door and replacing this shitty entrance “ramp” with an actual step:

Stay tuned!

Bushing Up the Roadside

Posted by Nick  | 15 Jun 2017  | 2 comments

Although we hillbillies-at-heart are reclusive enough by nature to covet the isolation of where we’ve chosen to live, it’s still not as secluded as we had envisioned. Our little farmhouse is unfortunately as close to the road as any found in suburbia. A shame, since there are forty-plus acres of excellent house sites for the settlers to have chosen from, well away from the road.

We gather that when this hovel was erected a century ago the “road” was little more than a dirt track, so its horse-and-cart proximity would have been of little concern back then. Nowadays, although it’s a fairly dead road most of the time, there’s still the odd thundering stock-truck, house-shaking tractor, or lingering motorbike which more than make up for the infrequency of, albeit quieter, soccer-mom minivans.

Additionally, our house is regretfully overlooked by the neighbouring community hall, giving us little privacy when a couple dozen folk turn up every so often. I like my privacy as much as the next person, but perhaps need it a little more; I yearn to dance naked around my yard and let free the inappropriateness of my, ahem, creative nature.

So, what’s a couple of crazy recluses seeking optimal seclusion to do in this instance? Our answer: Bush the fuck out of the roadside.

Above you can barely see the meagre efforts of our first year to the right of the gate. A couple of rows of tiny wee saplings. Not enough. Needs more bush. So, with the ideal of having a home nested in forest, we set out to begin some epic planting. Having learnt all about the uncontrollable nature of grass and weeds in planting up the roadside of our home paddock and orchard, we chose to fork out for some weedmat and mulch to save ourselves future labour. If we didn’t, we reasoned, it’d inevitably become an eyesore of saplings lost in a sea of seedheads and thistle, just as our previous efforts have.

We found some extra thick stuff at a pretty good price from a local supplier (local being an hour twenty away).

First job: Weedmat around the already planted trees. This was tricky, as we had to manoeuvre the heavy rolls around each tree and pin it in place. As you can see, I’m hard at work.

After some learning, we’d finished the most difficult part. The rest would be easy… right?

A brief break to admire our efforts and to play the cardboard roll like a didgeridoo.

Some hid from the sounds of my beautiful playing.

We continued laying the mat, hammering in pegs every half-meter or so. It was pretty smooth sailing until we encountered a bunch of large stones – excess fill from the driveway which had obviously been dumped and spread there back when the driveway had been laid. The previous owners strike again!

Fifteen by fifteen meters is the area we intended to cover, up to the base of our towering hundred-year-old pear tree.

The final part was to follow the edge of the driveway at an angle, which took some tricky thinking. Lucky Char was with me. A string-line helped, too.

Above you can see the aforementioned hall directly across the road. Pervy, huh?

And, after a couple afternoon’s worth of effort, viola!

Looks really out of place, we know, but it’s the beginnings of something beautiful.

A boot and trailer load of plants later, and we were ready to once again get our hands dirty.

First, placement:

We decided on types of trees which had proved to be well-suited to our climate; a mix of natives and exotics including blue cedar, holly oak, red robin, kowhai, pittosporum, ake ake, ribbonwood, laurel, and a mix of others. There are a variety of heights which should create an attractive dense bush.

The next step was an arduous one. Digging a lot of holes. It would have taken a quarter of the time if it weren’t for those damn stones hiding under the grass.

As well as cutting holes, digging holes, and planting trees, I also had to shovel off all the soil I’d dug out, otherwise the weedmat was for nought.

But no part of the project was as toilsome as MOVING MULCH. Oh em gee.

Twenty five cubic meters, every bit laboriously shovelled, forked, barrowed, and raked.

And someone kept wanting to shit in it.

I moved about a third myself until my faithful slave, Dingus, drove down to help a brother out. I love you, Dingus.

Here are my efforts before Dingus joined:

And after a couple of days with his help, we were finally done. Done! DOOONE!

It’s sweet, huh? Looks a little weird with grass on either side and in front, but that will all be filled in with bush at a later date when we sort out connecting it to the orchard and widening our driveway.

And here it is a year later, after a friggin’ excellent growing season:

And those original plantings at the roadside from our first year are really starting to fill out now. It excites us. A lot.

Already the few hundred trees we’ve planted around the farm are bringing in more birdlife, which is so fulfilling to see (and hear). If living out here weren’t also a money game, I’d have my way and restore the whole place into a forest wilderness. Aww yeeah.

Here is looking at our cottage from the far corner of the mulched bush patch.

And here’s a before and after for comparison:

Because this is only the beginning of turning this place into a wild jungle, we decided it would be cost-effective to buy a mulcher attachment for our tractor, so we can process our own in the future. Buying mulch is f-ing expensive; it cost almost a grand for that original twenty five cubic meters – and that was a good price apparently!

So, even though it was a bit of an investment, we think the chipper will pay itself off in no time. Especially with all the labour that’s saved; weeding, mowing, spraying, etc. We’ve already chipped a trailer’s worth of mulch from some branches that came down in a recent storm, and we’re really pleased with the beast’s performance. But that’s a post for another time…

Shiitake Happens

Posted by Nick  | 16 Apr 2017  | 4 comments

One-and-a-half years ago we inoculated logs of plum wood with some special fungus; the spawn of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, to be exact. It’s a waiting game. You have to give the mycelium enough time to fully impregnate the logs. After nine to eighteen months, to trigger fruiting you submerge the logs in water for forty-eight hours. Our farm came equipped with an old bathtub perfect for the job, which fills with rainwater from the adjacent shed.

We started with just four of our twelve logs as a trial, weighed down by bricks.

A couple of days later we pulled them out, propped them out of reach from the sheep’s exploratory gobs, and waited again for another couple of weeks.

We were giddy when we spotted a couple of mature shrooms which had suddenly emerged from one of the logs inoculated with shiitake.

Only two caps had sprouted, but soon, hopefully, these logs will be inundated.

Eager to fry up a sample of our very first homegrown mushrooms, we harvested the fruiting bodies from their woody abode.

Sauteed in butter and garlic is a must. Shiitake is known as a meaty mushroom, and we were surprised to find the texture quite similar to meat indeed. The taste wasn’t strong, but it was pleasant. There wasn’t enough! Here’s hoping many more pop up in the coming weeks, so we can make a proper meal of them.