A good Friday’s pouring…..

22 04 2017

If after finishing digging up the trenches for the retaining wall on Good Friday you had told me they would be full of concrete within a week…. I would have told you that you had sawdust for brains. Yet that is exactly what happened, but you need all your stars lining up.

Image may contain: outdoor

My first four bars…..

The day after the big dig, I excitedly started laying steel bars in the trench, only to quickly realise there was no way known I could do this on my own. I’d lift one end of a 6m long bar to sit it on a chair, then walk to the other end to do the same, and the first end would fall off, entailing walking back and forth so many times that I reckon I’d walked over 150m just to set four bars down! Then, trying to tie the L shaped bars that reinforce the wall to those bars on my own simply proved nigh impossible, I would at least need one person to just hold the bar while I tied….. and being Easter, the chances of anyone helping were very slim indeed….. I started thinking that this job would easily take me a month, and I better get used to the idea.

 

Monday morning, Caleb, a friend’s teenaged son who lives locally and could use some spare cash, came to help me. Then, out of the blue, this American wwoofer who had contacted me some weeks before but didn’t know when he’d be in Tasmania rings me up, all excited and wanting to get stuck into some construction work…. “Your timing could not be better” I told him, and he was here by lunch time keen and eager. Best of all, he had way more concreting experience than I ever had, and he literally took over, becoming my project manager!

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

Caleb and Nico hard at work tying bars…..

Nico is not only a great concretor, he’s also amazing company, and we’ve been chewing the fat every night over a well-earned cider. How this guy came into my life so unexpectedly just blows me away. Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky……

Retaining walls work a bit like you standing in a strong wind…… think ‘back to the wind’, and your feet on the ground stopping you falling over. The pressure on your back wants to topple you over, but your toes strain against the wind’s force, all you need is a heel and toe joined to strong enough calf muscles to make sure the whole leg is stiff enough to avoid the embarrassment….. that’s exactly what the L bars do, and the concrete is the muscle.

I then came up with what I can only describe as a brilliant idea. The top of the footing has to have a layer of mesh no more than 50mm from the top surface. How to set this up so you can place it while busily pouring wet concrete? My solution was to tie it to the bars at the right height, and in just three places at the top so that one of us could just run around behind the formwork, cut those ties, and drop the mesh at its lower ‘hinge’. Then all I’d have to do is sink it into the concrete with the vibrator. Worked a treat…..

Image may contain: shoes, sky and outdoor

Formwork in place

Once all the steel was in, the formwork to stop the concrete falling into the drain area had to be put up. I had bought 8’x4′ sheets of formply to cut into 300mm high boards and made a load of pointy timber stakes to hold them up with, but the stakes refused to penetrate the hard clay…  what to do? Nico said, ‘in the states we use metal form spikes’, but I’d never heard of them here. So I rang Nubco where I bought the steel, and they suggested 600mm star pickets that Bunnings sell. Sure enough, Bunnings had a whole lot in store at $5.80 each. I wasn’t keen on either driving that far let alone patronising Bunnings, so as we were approaching Huonville in the ute, I suggested Nico ring Mitre 10 there to see if they had some…. and they did. Not only that, they were on sale for $3.95 each (I needed 60 of them!), and I walked out with a bunch of screws, a new level and heavy hammer for less than what the pickets would have cost at Bunnings.  I’m on a roll!

 

Before we knew it, it looked very close to the job being finished, and I rang the concrete crowd and ordered the runny stuff…. I still can’t believe it all went so fast.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, twilight, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Dawn on pouring day……. what a gorgeous start!

We spent Friday morning finishing the formwork, tying up loose ends, adding chairs where necessary, and cleaning all the loose rubbish out of the trenches, which we finished nearly an hour and a half before the first truck arrived..

The whole West wing of the footing was poured from the first truck. The new concrete vibrator I bought myself worked a treat, most of the concrete finding its own level from being quite violently shaken.

The second truck arrived to pour the ‘pointy bit’ in the middle of the house, and that’s where the work on the hottest April day in over 50 years started in earnest….. because the chute was too short to reach, and poor old Nico had to rake and shovel the stuff into the corner while Caleb barrowed concrete from the truck to the edge of the trench, almost losing the wheelbarrow one time when he got too close, and the wheel fell into the wet concrete! Much frantic pulling and pushing from the three of us (while the truck driver never even lifted a finger) got the wheelbarrow back out again, but let me tell you we were all sweating! Swinging the heavy petrol powered vibrator at full arms length was hard yakka, but concrete waits for no man, and there was no stopping. And passing out wasn’t an option either….!

After it was all over, Nico said to me that sometimes you buy something, and you think to yourself, that was a good purchase….. but that concrete vibrator must be the best thing I ever bought according to him!

DSC_2641

All done…… what a job!

Needless to say, $3700 later it all ended well…… but we were all exhausted, and the entire affair reminded me of why I swore I’d never do it again after the last time.

In my last post where I mentioned this, I stated that if I didn’t save myself $10,000 by doing it myself I’d eat my hat. Well, at this stage it looks like I may well save closer to $20,000. Of course we still have to pour the slab over the top of all this work, but it’s hard to imagine how concretors can pay themselves as well as they do all the same…..

Time for a couple of days rest now…….





A good Friday’s digging……

16 04 2017

There must be something in Tasmania’s water that doesn’t agree with the building industry….. I’ve wasted so much time waiting for people to do things for me, it beggars belief. All along, I said that this time, 15 years older and wiser, I would not undertake to do my own concreting at Mon Abri MkII. So I contacted this local contractor, whom everyone around here seems to think is the bee’s knees. He came out, sighted the house site, and the plans, a copy of which he left with. I explained to him what was needed, that I had already ordered the reinforcing, and that all I needed was someone to put it all together……

About a week later, the reo had arrived, and still no quote; so I texted him to tell him the steel was here and asking for his quote. The next day, he rang back with an over the phone quote of $30,000, which I’m almost sure he said included building the block wall… I’m a bit hard of hearing these days, so maybe I got that wrong. In any case, thirty grand being such a very round number, I asked for a written quote. Which took another two weeks. And when it arrived, it was way over the top, with no break down of how much the labour was, or the concrete pumping, earthworks, or anything for that matter, it just lumped everything together, including the steel I already had….. and the quote was now $32,000……. plus $26,000 to build the wall!

I almost fell off my chair…..

That wall building quote works out at $12 a block, which I established was four times the normal rate. So he must have included the cost of the blocks (which set me back $17,000…!) Thirty pallets of blocks is sort of hard to not see….. so what on earth was he thinking about?

20170220_175633

String profiles in place

Then to top it off, I visited my friend Dave who’s building a greenhouse up the hill, and the same contractor stuffed the footings up; they weren’t level, causing the block layer to have to trim as much as an inch off the blocks to make the top of the first course level…… By that stage, there was no doubt I was going to have do the job myself, any confidence I might have had at the start of the process had by now vanished. If I don’t save $10,000 by doing it myself, I’ll eat my (very sweaty) hat…..

Having discussed this with Matt next door – who owns his own excavator – we walked over my site with Steve, a very experienced excavator and crane driver who works in Antarctica – I don’t think they hire dodgy people to work there at great expense – and settled on Good Friday to start digging the retaining wall footings.

I had almost (another) month to psych myself up on how we would do this, set the

20170414_103217

Depth/Width gauge

profiles up to accurately arrive at the house’s footprint, and eventually started painting lines in the dirt. I also made myself a gauge to measure both the depth and the width of the trenches.

Because the previous excavator driver decided to dig a hole in the wrong place last time, and had to refill it to remedy the error, that part of the bank had collapsed in the heavy rain last year, actually making it impossible to place the profiles where I wanted them. So that had to be fixed first, because a whole pile of dirt and rocks was actually right on top of where we had to dig.

20170414_082914

Fixing Trev’s boo boo

20170414_083810

earthmoving ute

 

 

 

 

Then, because the digger was too far from the bank when digging the small trench under the living space, the spoil had to be put on the ute, which I then had to move and manually unload the two tonnes of dirt with shovel and rake. Like I say, this project will either keep me fit, or kill me..!

20170414_100004

the next pizza oven base..!

There was also a huge rock that had to come out where the slab will be, because the top of it was actually higher than floor level. Trev (the last operator) reckoned his machine couldn’t pull it out, but Matt’s excavator is a newer and better device, and Steve had it out in no time…. it might not look like much in the photo, but it has to weigh close to 500kg, and it’s a great find actually, because it’s (almost) big enough to make the base of the next pizza oven on its own, and it’s nice and flat!

The rest of the digging went well, even though working so close to the embankment made things difficult for Steve, who did a great job. It’s so nice to work with professionals, let me tell you…. Now all I have to do is fill the hole with steel and concrete….

20170414_124353

20170414_124417

 

 





Fanny Farm update….

13 01 2017

It’s raining again, and too wet for fencing… so I’ll keep my faithful readers up on what’s been happening for the past few days.

Firstly, my amazing neighbour who had the most unfortunate accident that caused his expensive ute to be written off (nobody got hurt, which I have to tell you was pretty amazing…), flew to Melbourne the other day to pick up a replacement. japanesebathHe offered to pick stuff up there for me, and lo and behold, I discovered that someone in Melbourne manufactured round Japanese plunge baths that would finish the circular theme of our new bathroom. Sometimes, things are just meant to happen…. I’ve been looking for something like this for ages, but they were either unavailable, or just plain too expensive.

It turns out, this one was made by the bloke who sold it to me, and, wait for it, his factory was just two streets away from where Matt picked up his new car…!

Now I just need a house to put it in…. like the toilets, the bidets, the handbasins, the kitchen sink, the taps, I have accumulated a lot of stuff for this house already.

The same day the bath arrived, all the reinforcing steel was also delivered. On a very large truck, that the driver had to reverse the entire 400m back out to the main road…

20170111_122920

Then yesterday, as part of the rezoning of this block of land, Julia and Matt, my current wwoofers from America and I moved the entire composting system from where I first sited it a year ago to where it will be needed, next to the market garden.

20170112_145937

20170112_153212No mean feat it turns out, I had way more compost than I realised, almost enough to fill the ute…. It was also a good opportunity to teach young people how to make compost, because it turns out they had no idea…… In fact, it may be an American thing, or maybe they’ve led sheltered lives, but they know very little about what’s going on in the world, particularly when compared to the young French people I’ve had here who have actually impressed me with what they already knew……

On the downside, my new pump is driving me insane…… it pumps when it feels like it, and when it won’t, I cannot get my head around why not. I’ve spent so much time flushing out the suction line, even wading out into the muddy bottom of the dam several times… I’ve modified the footvalve assembly to ensure it can’t suck air – and now it CAN’T because it’s anchored underwater permanently – but it still refuses to pressurise my sprinkler for more than three to five minutes….. my understanding of pumps is that they should work, or not work at all, but not this…..





Hartz Mountain….. all the way to the top!

8 01 2017

Since getting down here on the Huon, and speaking to the many locals who have made it to the top of Hartz Mountain, I have been saying that before I die, I have to climb this local icon…. and yesterday I did!

hartz5

Those stains aren’t nicotine…. they’re sweat..!

I’ve visited this National Park many times now, and when I took la p’tite Charlotte up there last year on an unprepared walk without food, we got very close. I thought the views were amazing from Hartz Saddle, but from the top, they are truly stunning.

hartz2

The weather forecast was for a stinker, and neither I nor the current American wwoofers were too keen on working at the Fanny Farm that day, so we opted to climb to what we thought would be a cooler climate……. it was a stinker anyway, even up there.

hartz4

On the drive up the mountain, we came across a young Nepalese couple who’d skidded off the road. Beats me how they managed to do that, but they were lucky that I still had my log dragging chain on the back of the ute, and we had them back on their merry way in no time at all….

As I expected, the place was full of tourists, and, amazingly, locals wearing jeans…. in this weather..? It also occurred to me that it was a very very long time since I stood atop a mountain. I can’t even remember which mountain it was I last climbed… apart from the mountain of life of course..!

hartz3

At the top there were twenty six people, including the three of us. It was like Grand Central Station, only with a much better view. The old legs are a bit sore this morning as I write this, but it was all worth it…… Enjoy the photos.

hartz1

federatio-peak

Federation Peak…….





One down, five to go……

28 12 2016

It’s raining. Which is good, because it’s watering the first of our six market gardens, and bad, because the house site was just starting to dry out nicely….. and now it isn’t. Bah humbug…….

Having slashed and rotary hoed the first patch of garden, the task of starting garden beds and planting them was next. The rotary hoe quickly found a 50kg rock, aka an immovable object, which I dutifully dug up with a mattock and crowbar…. good thing it didn’t weigh any more, I was only just able to lift it into the wheelbarrow for disposal.

img_0339I marked out the paths and beds with building string, then hoed out the paths which were subsequently raked downhill onto the beds, creating terraces. The paths will also act as mini swales during the heavier winter rains, and the soil is so good, it may just hold onto the water too..

Five bags of sheep poo were then applied and hoed into the soil for good measure, you can’t have too much organic matter!img_0340

Glenda planted kale and pumpkins on the first (lowest) bed, and once the whole patch was done, we planted snow peas, sweet corn, cucumbers, and broccoli seeds. There’s a bed left over for beans, and we might do that tomorrow.

On the weekend, we even sold our first batch of zucchinis from the poly tunnel, such as it was, but it’s a start, like everything else around here! We should have a bumper crop of tomatoes soon; they’re later than I would have expected, but everyone around Geeveston (and the Huon) is complaining that the whole growing season is late this year, which surprises me as we had such a wet winter….. or maybe it’s the cause?

indian-game

Indian Game Chickens

I also bought some Indian Game chicks I’m going to try to breed as a source of meat. They are pretty big birds too, and should be great scratchers in the gardens when needed with those stout legs….! Quite beautiful poultry actually.

The power station passed its first milestone of sorts, now that we have extracted a whole 100 kWh of electricity from the batteries.

It’s all going very well, powering up the dam pump more frequently now we have things to

20161226_144925

Our first 100kWh….

water, even boiling water in kettles for the purpose of killing weeds and grass….

The next big thing we need to do for this particular project is move a big pile of soil (covered in weeds!) sideways to fill the remaining windrow furrows left over from the apple orchard days. Hopefully, that will also help in slowing the flow of water down to the house site, those furrows act like gullies in heavy rain… once that’s done, the fencing will be finished around the six garden patches, and one by one they will be turned into gardens just like the one we’ve just finished. It’s a big job, lots of hard work, but very rewarding.





Building soil on the Fanny Farm

18 12 2016

With the new chicken pen finished, and at least half the new market garden finished – the other half is awaiting the moving of a huge pile of soil 30 to 40 metres away to fill in more furrows between existing windrows – the time had come to prepare the first area for production. Everything takes time, not least this project…….

The green manure I planted there soon after the house site excavations were finished was starting to go to seed, and looked promisingly ready for ploughing in… so I slashed it with my trusty Honda brushcutter. This machine is part of the ‘use fossil fuels while you still trimmerheadcan’ strategy…. after literally burning through two plastic auto string feeding heads for it, I replaced them with an alloy fixed string device that is proving way superior. With wet grass now a metre high, and uneven ground left over from the orchard heydays, mowing is very difficult, and this machine has been priceless, working long hours on 98 octane fuel. Because it’s four stroke, it starts first time every time too!

gardengreenmanureOnce slashed, the rotary hoe I bought last year was started again, and the grass clippings and green manure was laboriously ploughed into the soil. The plan is to eventually not disturb the soil ever again, but after years of cattle roaming all over it, me driving utes over that section of grass, and lately the excavator, the ground needed to be de-compacted…

I then added lime for Calcium (most Australian soils are Calcium deficient) and a starting point for rectifying the soil pH. No doubt further pH testing will be required later until I’ve got that right……gardencompost

A tonne of compost bought locally was then unloaded off the back of the ute by my better half, and the whole lot was rotary hoed again to get it all thoroughly mixed in.

The chickens were then allowed in to start scratching around and adding their bit to the soil. I need lots more chickens before this system starts working properly, but like I said, everything takes time…… we have one clucky chook sitting on a dozen eggs at the moment, so there are more on the way, and I am trying to source some meat chicks, because they are very good at tractoring soil.

The main pipe between the pump and the cube atop the power station was then cut, a T piece inserted, and a a one inch riser installed for access to water from our wonderful dam…..

gardenwaterCharlotte and Fanny might be back soon, and they will be able to see the progress since they left. Nothing will be planted there for a while, as it will take some time for all that new soil biomass to settle in. We’re getting there though……. and I will have another couple of French wwoofers here in February for some more action.

gardenchickens





Charlotte’s day off…….

4 12 2016

charlotte-hartz

La p’tite Charlotte, Hartz Pass

Having been here for a month with little time off (her choice, not mine….), I thought it would be nice to take Charlotte for a walk up Hartz Mountain on a splendid early Summer’s day in Southern Tasmania.  I hadn’t particularly planned anything, so armed with just a water bottle each and my trusty Nikon over my shoulder, we headed off for the hills……

tarnCharlotte has experienced little of Tasmania so far, just both sides of the Huon which she shared while Fanny (who is currently on the overland track between Cradle Mountain and Lake StClair) was still with us in Geeveston.

tarn2Being quite a little greenie, la petite Charlotte, as she likes to call herself, was I think blown away with the scenery our neck of the woods offered up today. There is of course nothing like it in France, it’s virtually impossible to get away from people, anywhere in Europe…… but here in Tassie, even with the park’s car park chockablock with cars, it still feels like you’re the only person on the planet.

I’ve often said I want to climb Hartz all the way to the top before I die (before the oil runs out…?), and we almost did today…… and would’ve done quite likely had I had more than one piece of toast for breakfast and brought some more food along for the walk!

Unlike other times I have visited Hartz, usually in winter looking for snow, today was filled with wildflowers and other beautiful attractions. It almost felt like I hadn’t been there before…….hartzflower

alpinegumAs they say, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey…. So enjoy the photos, we did.

hartzsummit

The Summit. So close… to do another day……

From Hartz Pass, you also get the most amazing view of the South West Wilderness area…. one can only imagine how much better it looks from the top!

southwest

From here, you even see Federation Peak…….