Three months ago, just as the wettest quarter in Tasmania’s history started, an excavator arrived on our block to dig the house pad. It promptly broke down, three times, and was eventually removed for repairs. Then I was tasked with going to Queensland for a month, eventually driving back in a rusty old 4WD ute I decided I needed to get around to do the work on the farm when it pours and the whole place turns into a quagmire. When I finally arrived back, I was sick as a dog, and thus another six weeks just vanished from the Tasmania Project…… I am very pleased to say, that task is now finished….. and what a monster task it turned out to be, bigger than Ben Hur.
Everyone I know in Tasmania is complaining about how waterlogged the place has become. At least, I am assured, I now know this is not normal, though as the climate goes pear shaped, who can predict what the new normal will be in the future. Needless to say, all this damp did not make the excavating any easier….. it did, however, show me what the worst case scenario looks like, and how best to design the drainage to ensure we stay nice and dry no matter what. I am now very tempted to double up on the engineer’s drainage, what’s another $400 at this stage?
As we dug our way into the unknown, speaking of drainage, we discovered five metres of 300mm concrete pipe smack bang in the middle of the house site. I knew I had selected a challenging place to build our house, after all, right above it were two natural gullies falling towards the dam, and I basically want to block those off with a dam of my own, made of concrete, and also known as a retaining wall. Two drainage pipes designed to capture excess rainwater from the original apple orchard that existed there some 12 to 15 years ago fed runoff into these pipes, and yes, they were working very well!
I then decided that while I had the excavator here, I may as well attack the drainage problem there and then rather than bring the machine back later… The access road was designed as an all weather affair years ago, but since the apple trees were removed, cattle had used the road and that section of the house apron closer to the trees I cut down as shelter from the Summer sun. As a consequence, their droppings over the years had accumulated over quite some area, turning into the slipperiest black soil know to mankind. There were times my 2WD utes simply would not go beyond this patch, and in any case, beautiful rich soil like that was wasted on a road, it belonged on the paddock I will eventually turn into my market garden. So it was all scraped off (all three tonnes of it) and loaded on the new 4WD ute and moved 50 metres uphill, joining all the topsoil Trev was scraping off all over the site for later use to re-cover all the clay moved uphill….. Underneath the black soil, we did indeed find road base. However, so much water was coming down the hill, affecting the road, it was decided to put a proper drain beside the road to ensure it remains dry in all weather.
This worked immediately, and if the rest of this project works out as successfully, I will be more than delighted! The drain goes as far uphill as where the Eastern water tank will reside and also drains part of the house pad. The concrete pipes found in the cut were relocated to this drain and used as a culvert where cars (and likely trucks) will be driven further up past the house.
It’s interesting how things I hadn’t considered in the search for level ground popped up…… like it never occurred to me that some of the tree stumps would be higher than the apron. So about eight of them had to be removed, with a claw that looked like it belonged from a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
As the task at hand was growing and growing, I was half expecting Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame to walk up the drive to ask me how my budget was going, and did I still believe I’d be in by Christmas!
Eventually, the two gullies above the house were filled with clay and subsoil, also getting
rid of those pesky windrows left over from the days this place was part of a gigantic orchard… and the powerline from the power station is now buried too, after months and months of laying above ground in the weather.
One of the unintended consequences of all this work is that the whole area is now covered with twice as much topsoil as we started with…… and as even Trev himself said as he was digging, it looks good enough to grow babies in!
Now that I have a good quarter acre of bare topsoil, I must decide what to quickly plant in it (preferably a green manure crop) before the spring weeds take over.
To say I am delighted with the end product would be an understatement. Yes the budget took a hit, but it was worth it. And as Geoff Lawton always says, earthworks are the best way to spend fossil fuels…. Hopefully it will all dry out soon enough, and planning for the concrete foundations will be the next big task.