A Friendly Visit

Posted by Nick  | 24 Oct 2014  | 4 comments

We’ve been itching to rope friends and family into visiting our new farm, but currently our humble rural abode can only accommodate a small number of guests at a time. Last weekend we arranged for a couple of good friends to come down, offering the meagre comforts of a blow-up mattress and bare rooms.

Arriving Friday afternoon we wasted no time in giving them the grand tour of our blank canvas, including a battle through the bush to the nearby waterfall. In my excitement I annoyingly left the camera at the cottage. Luckily, Dingus had his phone.

Saturday’s weather was mostly poo, but that didn’t stop us from bunging the remaining trees in the ground that we’d bought for our border.

As a matter of record and sentiment, the first ever trees planted on our farm by our friends Dingus and Lauren were a snazzy pink manuka and a giant-to-be kahikatea, respectively.

The first-time visitors seemed thrilled by the idea of seeing their tree-planting efforts grow over the years. How much bigger would they be in five years? In ten?

Two extra pairs of hands saw a third of the border completed in half the time. Our hard-working guests were rewarded with bacon sandwiches.

Here is a happy Char. Why is she so happy? Because bacon. Bacon is the life-force.

After lunch we called it a day and settled in early, driven inside by the relentless rain. Both nights we stayed up far too late playing Monopoly. The theme of the board we used was based on the Hobbit films. For a first-time player, this was an odd experience. Purchasing “properties” the likes of Legolas Greenleaf and Bilbo Baggins felt as if I were somehow partaking in a Middle-Earth slave-trade… Nevertheless, the game had us enthralled to the wee hours, resulting in a wake-up time that would mortify the sensibilities of any farmer.

Sunday thankfully brought clearer skies for viewing the farm in a more charming light. We did a spot of archery then casually goaded our guests into chopping some wood. Maybe if we brand this as an “authentic homesteading experience” we can score some more free labour… Muhaha.

The grimace of manliness:

The girls decided to clean up the mess I’d left when I’d last cleaved carbon. Thanks girls – oh, and Dingus too at one point when Lauren was wielding the maul. While everyone busied themselves, I hung back and stuck to the laborious task of snapping photos.

The girls soon wandered off to go thistle grubbing. We men continued to contend with the wood pile. Dingus found splitting the rounds quite meditative and satisfying once he got into a rhythm, which seems to be a common appreciation by most who give it a go.

A little while later when I scanned the distant paddocks to see where the girls were, what I spied was not thistle grubbing. No, something else had caught their attention…

Donkeys! Needless to say, we found them just as irresistible and made a beeline straight for them. These sweeties are our neighbours, and are very friendly. We hadn’t met them before. They were quite keen on introducing themselves with kisses.

The friendliness of these gentle burros made us long for some of our own to care for.

Quite a lot of thistles were grubbed in the end. We all had a fair whack, probably annihilating a couple hundred of the prickly bastards altogether. The satisfaction of this task, likewise with the wood chopping, did not go unnoticed by the friends. The novelty hasn’t worn off for us yet, either, but I’m sure it will over the coming years. Hopefully it will remain an entertaining pastime for our infrequent visitors.

We had a blast sharing our new country home with some of our closest friends, despite the weather being pretty lame. Thanks for the help, guys – come back any time!

Rusted Relic Restoration

Posted by Nick  | 13 Oct 2014  | 8 comments

As you might have read, our farm came with a plethora of old relics. Some unwanted, but others worth a second glance…

One of the many odds and ends the previous owner left behind was an old iron garden seat which looked like it had seen better days. It instantly became a bright blip on our DIY radar.

The slats of wood were random, perhaps replaced one at a time over the years in a passing “that’ll do”. Most of them looked like old garden stakes. We’d ditch the wood altogether for the project — it needed to be replaced. The real treasure to be restored here was the cast iron frame, which was heavily rusted.

The first task was to strip off the rusted weathered layer. For this we used a set of wire brushes attached to a drill. Worked like a charm.

Parts of the cast were intricate and a little fiddly.

But with persistence the result turned out pretty good.

The bolts that held the wooden slats on once upon a time had rusted so badly that we had to cut them off.

Once all the rust was stripped and bolts removed, we gave the frame a thorough wash and dry.

We wanted to protect the iron and give it a dark finish, so picked up some exterior metal “ebony” spray paint.

A couple coats later and it was looking pretty sexy.

The screws and bolt heads would be visible as part of the final product, so we drenched them as well.

Next up: Sanding. A lot of sanding. Oh man, so much sanding.

Originally we had planned to use some of the cypress we’d had milled, but none of the cuts were thin enough to fit the iron frame. Without a thicknesser we were relegated to sourcing wood the old-fashioned way: From a big-box hardware store.

We were limited by the specific dimensions of the frame slots, so the only treated wood that fit was rough-sawn.

The sun was shining this particular spring day, and with little shade around we both regrettably got quite sunburnt. Mental note to bring sunscreen and hats now that summer is on its way!

A few passes of coarse grit with a random orbital sander stripped most of the rough-sawn ugliness away. Rough-sawn slats on the left compared to a couple sanded ones on the right:

After yet more sanding on finer grits, we had eight sleek-looking slats ready for staining.

We chose a stain colour called “driftwood”. We thought a weathered grey look would go well with a black frame.

After the second coat of stain had dried we battled with positioning the wood slats in the iron frame. It was a bit of a terror because the iron bar connecting the two sides was bent, skewing the structure of the whole seat. We corrected it as best we could, racing to complete the project before we had to head back to Auckland.

As evening began to settle in, we drilled holes for the slats and jammed the bolts through. Bam, done. We stood back and appraised the finished product.

In the end we had turned this:

Into this:

What do you think? Pretty nifty, right? Our first piece of restored furniture for the farm! It’s not perfect, and we’ve definitely learnt some things for next time, but overall we’re stoked with the result. Not only do we now have a sweet garden seat at a fraction of the cost of a new one, it comes with the bonus of having saved something from ruin. It’s something we can smile at and say “shit yeah” – this is what DIY is all about.

From this:

To this:

What’ll pop up next on our DIY radar? Not sure. All we know is that these sorts of projects are addictive…

Mulch, Volts, Peas, and Poop

Posted by Nick  | 02 Oct 2014  | 1 comment

It’s been a little slow on the farm for the past month or so. Auckland still has its jaws firmly latched onto our lives, so we haven’t had too much time lately to launch into bigger farm projects. Since this is undoubtedly your favourite blog about country living, I bet you’ve been overwhelmed with anticipation for a hot new post. I’ll tie a few odds and ends together to put you at ease. You’re welcome.

We’ve planted two thirds of the initial tree boundary but are leaving the final portion for when a couple friends come down soon. Then they, too, can enjoy the pleasure of planting trees (and we can score some free labour). In the mean time we’ve made use of the pile of wood chips from the cypress milling to mulch around the wee saplings. It’ll keep them warm and moist, and hopefully act as a defence against the encroaching pasture.

Oh, and did I mention we finally got a wheelbarrow? I’m quite chuffed about that.

With dryer paddocks and new tyres on the ute, next time we’ll be able to transport the mulch by the tray-load.

We set up a temporary hot fence to keep the stock well clear. Can you imagine if those heffalumps got through and trampled/devoured the babies and all our hard work? I’d lose it. It would be the Waikato Chainsaw Massacre, hamburger style.

Instead of buying an expensive mobile solar unit for the hot fence, we just ran it through the orchard to a pre-existing energiser in the laundry/tool-shed near the cottage. Not the prettiest set-up, but it’ll do for now until we decide on something more permanent.

When it came to connecting the electric tape to the energiser, I had to work around the expertise of the previous owner (a recurring theme), whose penchant for rough-and-ready improvisations is unabashed.

The quality of our own set-up ended up being no less makeshift.

In other news, along with a wheelbarrow we also picked up an extendible ladder, allowing us to finally reach high places like this to untie random loops of rope:

One of us was particularly enthralled with investigating the new gadget:

The wheelbarrow was immediately put to use, and not just for carting mulch.

I believe this is the technical unit of measurement for a shit-load. We dumped this lot around the old plum trees in the orchard, whose fruit were tasteless last summer (when we first visited the property). Here’s hoping with some extra fruit food and scattered manure they’ll squeeze out a bit more sugar this season.

Aside from those odd jobs we’ve been doing a bit of gardening. Nothing major, just adding a few greens here and there. Twenty strawberry plants should suffice for the two of us this year, right? Nom.

The lettuces have picked up! Not looking like stunted frost-bitten frills any more. Char’s pointing at the lettuce in case you miss it:

We also planted some snow peas and built a trellis from some old wire net that we fished out of the shed:

We’re committed to having a productive veggie garden this summer; we’ve become complacent at our little unit in Auckland the past couple of years. Veggies need love! We’ve weeded, fertilised, and mulched this bed, adding a little pathway so we can reach the middle. Will it all have grown when we return? Ohh, I feel like a giddy grandma!

We met some more of our new neighbours who are just as lovely as all the others. They spotted us grubbing thistles in a paddock adjacent to their property, so they popped over bearing a carton of (truly) free-range eggs, courtesy of their own chooks.

As well as having a couple hundred acres for sheep, they have the makings of a little lifestyle block going on around their house, including — wait for it — donkeys. That’s right. Donkeys. Having some burros of our own has been part of our dream since the beginning, so to hear their broken heehaws from across the farm warms our hearts. We’re obviously in the right place. The fact that these neighbours also accommodate a bunch of other animals, including a striking white goose, tells us we’re going to get along just dandy.

It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve been down to the farm, so we’re itching for this weekend to arrive. In the coming weeks we hope to see a few more projects take the spotlight, like the restoration of an old cast iron garden bench, the construction of an archery target, and — if all goes to plan — finally showing some friends around our paradise-in-progress. Watch this space!