Owner Building a Strawbale House
printed in reverse order - most recent at the top:
Late Winter 2010
Another animal has graced the farm - a cow. It is a Brahman - Galloway cross (meat breed), but we plan to use her as a house cow (her mother was the "milker" for the previous owners). More fencing required.
The pigs now have a mini-silo (holds a ton of wheat).
Liz has a new countermarche loom - which fills the studio.
WE HAVE PIGLETS! Thursday 19th August our oldest sow (Patsy) gave birth to 10 piglets, a litter of 7 and then a litter of 3. One died, but the others are (so far) going well.
Another break in the journal. We have built an anti-aviary (keeps birds out) to plant wheat in - but as we now have pigs, they have gone in there first. The pigs will dig up the ground, eat out the kykuyu (running grass), and dung the area. We have had the driveway graded, worked on the workshop (electrics, compressed air, dust extraction system, shelves, racks, etc).
Liz has taken up fibre crafts - knitting, spinning, weaving, dying (fibres different colours). We have bags of fleece around the place, and a 4 foot floor-loom - so the computers got kicked out of the study and it has been converted into a studio.
It has been a while. Lets see, since last time we wrote we have: planted lots of things including fruit trees, macadamia nut trees, and a lemon; we have harvested from some perennial plantings (summer: asparagus, strawberries, apples, mandarines); made some garden beds in the courtyard with shadecloth and a trellis; finished the store room; painted the laundry; put some straw bale walls up on a part of the shed, then pulled them down and clad it with colourbond; sheeted the ceiling of the patio; had work done on the driveway; started on the pergola on the north face of the house; started on the laundry bench; and done a fair bit of work on the workshop.
The courtyard is planned to be a lush, green area and a source of cool air for the house in summer. To achieve this we have added raised garden beds and shade cloth, and to cut down the wind a large mesh trellis to grow vines on. The shade cloth (and the trellis) are held up by some 50mm galvanised steel poles, embedded in a contrete footing (inside a large hole drilled in the ground by the trusty tractor). Then some pebbles were put down to cut the dust and manage the bare ground. The garden bed walls were made from stabilised earth bags.
To give the poor chooks some shade over summer, and try a different vegetable, we grew a single Choko over the chook run. This produced buckets of chokos, which are OK when young, mixed into stir fries, etc. I wouldn't say we are wild about them, but it created effective shade very quickly.
The house has been performing really well in terms of staying at comfortable temperatures. Last winter we also managed to grow tomatoes indoors, with great success.
Liz stopped editing the Producer magazine, and has been writing articles for its successor Sustain magazine.
Liz joined the local seed savers network, so now we have trays of seed in various states drying all over the place, and containers of seed in the store room, and worries about crossing varieties when we grow things.
The workshop was originally going to be straw-bale, but the time and effort required for all that rendering stopped us. So we have switched to colourbond cladding over a pine stud frame and some insulation blanket. Before we pulled down the part of the shed that had straw bales we had a wombat make a little home there for itself. Anyway, now the workshop has some glass on the north side, plus a roller door, plus a gap (where a door needs to be), and colourbond wrapped around the other three walls, with a long gap on the south side for some more windows (to be built in-house, so to speak, from local hardwood and some second-hand laminated shower screen glass). Notice our funky curved colourbond corners, to mimmick the curves of straw-bales. Soon we can build in benches, and we plan to put a grid-interactive solar panel on the roof.
We started work on the pergola so we can grow grapes on it over summer and help cool the house. A little bit more work is required, plus some bag-wall garden beds to grow the vines in. The pergola is made from 90mm OD galvanised pipe, which will be fully welded, and each pipe gets embeded into the ground by 900mm in a 300mm wide hole filled with concrete. It should stand up to some fierce winds !
The patio got some attention - we clad the ceiling with cement sheet, put up the lights, and a pair of external speakers so you can garden or enjoy a barbeque with music.
Also getting some attention has been the laundry, which is getting fitted out with a bench (concrete, pour-in-place this time) and later a cupboard or two.
Well that's it. We're going to get less dilligent about writing our journal from now on. We're starting to settle into the house and other things are getting in the way so we might not have much on the building front to add each month. When we do we'll write about it and send a note to our email list
Some minor things in the bathroom were completed this month.
Most of the rest of the effort was outside in the vege garden and building the permanent chook run and shade house which is shared with the chooks.
We've started adding the house's temperature performance statistics to the website for those interested. So far the only conclusion I can reach from it is that our habits of when we leave doors open and closed have a big impact on the results. We generally have doors open during the day and closed at night at the moment. It is only when the outside temperature has been over about 25 degrees C that the habit has been reversed. I expect we'll have doors closed during the day and open at night over summer.
The bath is complete, the glazing has still not arrived despite being ordered at the end of August.
As the cliche goes "spring has sprung" so there has been a rash of planting - a handful of flowering things, a few acacias for extra wind break, a couple of avocadoes (with shelter) and more vegetables. The vegie beds now also have some wind protection with shade cloth added to the fence on the east and west sides.
The planned chook run didn't quite make it this month, but we have decided on a retaining wall at the end of the vegie beds and started on that. The wall really needs to be done before the chook run fence gets in the way.
We went along to a field day at the Davison's early in September. They were showing off the good growth they are getting on their paddocks by spraying the product from their worm farms over them. No artificial fertilisers, but some fairly wiffy experiments with fermenting sea urchins (waste product from environmental clean up work), molasses and worm castings. Their Saler cattle seemed happy with the results, the Davison's certainly are as the cost was about $50 versus several thousand for chemical fertiliers even leaving their biological farming philosophy out of the equation. We came home very enthused about worm farming on a bigger scale than our current efforts.
We did a bit of tripping around this month with a very short visit to Canberra to catch up with a few people (including a new arrival to the world) and gather some supplies. We also zapped up to Narooma to overnight with some friends and then spent a lovely Sunday morning having brunch over the water there.
The highlight of the month could have been the whale-watching. Except John missed the only sighting by making a cup of tea during the 15 seconds of air-blowing preceding a great view of a tail up in the air before a deep dive that meant it was never to be spotted again. John did however get to admire the very nice professional photos that were pinned up near the tea making facilities so probable got a better look at whales on the day than Liz. It was a glorious spring day, we did get to see dolphins and a fur seal and plenty of sea birds so we had fun anyway despite the whales being shy.
John was also offered and accepted full time work this month. So bye-bye to the part-time teaching he had recently started doing and hello to providing IT support for 33 state schools, both primary and high schools, and two TAFE's. The patch he is covering, with one other person, runs from Bateman's Bay to Eden and inland to Bombala. It's a good thing John doesn't mind driving because the other person already doing the job has been doing about 4000 kms per month.
What with the job and having moved into the house the building work has slowed down considerably. We're thinking about dropping the monthly journal and just adding entries when we actually do something new. We do have building plans for this summer. There are a few, not very exciting, things to finish on the house and we need to stack and render at least a few walls on the shed so that the (in)famous Jag restoration project can have a reasonably sheltered home before next winter. So stay tuned, but be prepared for us to get a little slack about new entries here for a little while.
This month saw lots of work in the bathroom. We have been tiling the floor and walls, grouting, and cleaning. The vanity concrete benchtop is covered in building dross. The support for the bath is complete, we now just need to install the bath itself, and the shower is pretty close, just needing the glass panel (which will sit on top of the white tiled stub wall, attaching to the vertical wall). The glass panel (plus the mirror) have been ordered, and should arrive real soon.
We have also done work in the vegetable garden, Liz has been digging and planting in our new permanent vege beds (zone 1, close to the house). To keep the rabbits away, deter the wombats, and maybe keep out the foxes, we havebuilt a perimeter fence. Soon there will be a permanent chook house included, with a chook run just inside the vege fence, which should stop kykuyu (and other invasive weeds) from getting in - as well as offering some defence against low flying moths.
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