A Travellerspoint blog

wandering the world for ideas

15 March 2008. Richard and Lynn told us about the CAT (Center for Alternative Technologies, HYPERLINK "http://www.cat.co.uk" www.cat.co.uk) centre in Wales when we visited them and we spent a while chatting about building and house ideas and looked at some CAT leaflets, which Lynn is kindly going to copy and send to NZ for us. There were some pretty cool things there like woodland gardening, where you plant your food producing garden in layers under the canopy of the woodland. We talked a bit about adobe brick building as well, which is what we think we might build the house from. There are a few disadvantages, like having ot have overhanging roofs to protect the adobe from the rain but which will also block some views. But we’re not sure how much we like the other options.
We also discussed labyrinths and what to make our labyrinth of, and I looked through a few of their books on labyrinths but came to no conclusions.

Over easter weekend we visited and walked 3 labyrinths and loved the turf one at Wing and felt it would probably be worth the work of maintaining a turf labyrinth for how appropriate it would be to our setting.

6 April 2008. We visited Stu for the weekend and spent a while on the CAT website and discussing alternative technologies. It seemed that the website was suggesting that it was more important to make your house low energy use but that it you want to go the extra step then the options are earth (adobe, cob, packed earth), wood, or straw bale. We thought a lot about the straw bale option and think we’ve decide that’s what we want to do. We can at least trial it for the barn. It has some advantages in that we know there are builders around who build in straw bale in Christchurch, it gives options for shaping interior walls and having lots of big window ledges and a lovely rustic look indoors. It also means we may be able to do quite a bit of the building ourselves which might save a bit on cost to allow us to make the foundation plan a bit bigger to accommodate the size of the bales without losing room size. It does mean redrawing the plans to account for the bale size too but I can work on that. We will try to look for a farm in France that is building with straw bales and get a bit of experience and see if we like the finished product. We also decided to try to build the barn first and hopefully to live in it from fairly early on to save on renting a place in the city and still commuting to the land regularly to build.

15-27 April. Le Chatignier
Karen and John are English and have been in France 5 years. Karen still goes back to work for 2 weeks four times a year to make ends meet. The have 25 goats (five milking goats that are milked by hand twice daily), 2 pigs, a dozen sheep, 15 geese, 8 ducks nad countless chickens plus 2 dogs, many cats and 2 children. All of these are fed 2-4 times daily and the feed bill is huge between barley and hay. They grow potatoes and some veg, a little wheat and make their own goats cheese, ham, bacon and sausages. Their house is still a work in progress and every space in the house and all the outbuildings is packed with things waiting to have a place to belong. The house is watertight and got hot water last week but most of the other outbuildings need extensive work. The cottage is finished and can be rented out as a gite in summer and the family live in it in winter as there is not yet heating in the house. They are aiming to be self-sufficient and set up a farm shop and butchery to sell their excess produce and cheese, eggs and meat. They are directing their energy at the land and making it productive in a traditional English smallholding fashion with crop and animal rotation and a diverse range of activities. They are not in it to make a profit and don’t take a marketing or ecomonic view of how things are organised.
Things we learned:
Neither goats nor geese are necessarily as problematic to manage or contain as I believed and can both be really adorable and fun. Sheep cause more problems than they are worth especially with lambing but also general health and overall stupidity. Good laying ducks are Khaki Campbells (or their components – white khakis or … Campbells), while silver appleyards are good eating ducks. When raising chickens keep the cockerels and kill off young for eating birds.
Even though money is not a primary object its really important to establish some form of income for the property as early as possible – we might try lavender but not yet sure what else will work as we won’t be there much early on to tend animals. Vege products for market are labour intensive and small earners without ‘added value’ and may or may not be worth it.
It is important to have good secure boundary fencing and makes moving animals about much easier, without it you waste energy on temporary fencing.
Sometimes its really not worth buying something on the cheap because the extra time it takes to sort out problems and added time and stress to make bits yourself would add up to far more than a ‘new’ one ie polytunnels that have bits missing and have to be innovated.
Having a toilet that is accessible with muddy boots on saves a lot of anxst, so it makes sense to have a toilet in the barn and its own septic tank will continue to get used.
Worm farms are an effective way of recycling dung to become really great soil and we should have a worm farm as well as compost heap series. They are also potential earners in the tourism industry (fishing)
The right tool for the right job is very worthwhile especially if picked up cheap ie post hole rammer, postholer, full range spanners etc, pitchfork.
Animal shelters need to be easily movable – perhaps with axles under the floors so they can be lifted up and wheeled around, or shelters that can be used for several fields (at field junctions). You need an efficient system to keep hay clean so it can be used as feed and doesn’t become half bedding.
Use whiteboards to list jobs to be done, chores to tick off etc to help communication – especially when there are WWOOFers too. WWOOFers need things to be able to get with independently without having to await instructions from you each morning.

Posted by lyndalb 03:45 Comments (0)


a frantic flurry of work

I got a fabulous three wheeled wheelbarrow for my birthday and we finally got it assembled. It took a bit longer to get its wheel pumped up but its fairly useful for getting heavy stuff around the land.Balcairn251.jpg
We really enjoyed spring – there were new things to see every time we went out - the first daffodils Balcairn275.jpgand then daffodils all round the oak circle, almond blossoms and first leaves on our oak trees.Balcairn291.jpg
Nick came out and helped us get rid of the willow that had been torn down for the big dam and Steve got a chainsaw lesson as well as us getting some firewood. We are starting to get a reasonable woodpile now – it’s the biggest woodpile Steve has ever owned.Balcairn265.jpg

We also got the woodland area rotary hoe’d so we could plant wildflowers to help control the grass around the woodland but also to encourage insects for our nut trees. Balcairn272.jpgThen we just had to wait for a calm day to plant the wildflowers – and the north Canterbury summer Nor’wester arrived which blows for weeks or months on end.
The tent had stood all winter since the wedding but the Nor’wester was finally too much for it and it had to be moved to a more sheltered site then it tore along three sides and finally it and its contents had to be tied down to fence-posts under the roof which was still a solid piece of canvas. However that meant our garden shed was out of action and that slowed progress somewhat. It all involved a few emergency trips out to the land either before or after work to make sure we had our belongings still and they hadn’t ended up in Antarctica.

Wednesday 10 October was a howling gale again and a lot of rain. It had rained for nearly 2 weeks, which is unheard of in north Canterbury at this time of year – we should be well into the drought. The river outside work rose by a foot during the morning and it was too much for me so we decided the dam needed to be checked. Gordon very generously went out for us and found everything fine and in addition a baby Pukeko.
When we went out on Saturday there were four babies. It was really windy so we didn’t feel much like getting any work done and only really achieved Pukeko watching for the weekend.balcairn140.jpg
It was getting a bit desperate to get the container onto the land so we could start packing and on Friday 19th Gordon again went out to check how dry the ground was and this time found 9 paradise ducklings! We think we might send him out more often. We got to see them on Saturday and they are soo cute. We call them fluffy zebras because they are black and white striped. balcairn147.jpgThe poor mum got used to rather a lot of comings and goings during the day as we had the container delivered. That turned into a bit of a drama. The truck negotiated the gate and got about halfway up the drive when it suddenly sunk. balcairn159.jpgThe driveway had disintegrated and when we eventually got the help of a digger it disintegrated even further balcairn170.jpgso that by the time we got all the vehicles off the land we really didn’t have a driveway from the dam onwards. Fortunately the front part stayed fine but now the rest all needs to be repaired. The guy that did it was the one who helped us out with the digger and he was mortified at what happened and is going to repair it for us as soon as possible. Unfortunately it will still take a few weeks and in the meantime we can’t begin moving boxes out to the container. That is causing a bit of stress as we only have 3 weekends to ourselves before we leave! The remaining three weekends we have visitors or are away. On the positive side we are the proud owners of a container in which to contain our whole lives and at the moment it is a great garden shed.balcairn175.jpg
Sunday and Monday (which was a holiday) we went out with a carload of boxes and light things we could carry from the car to the container. We also finally got the wildflowers planted as Sunday was the first calm day since they arrived a month ago. Getting them watered in was another story altogether and it took us most of Monday to get our new water pump set up and going to the back of the property. That takes 500m of hosepipe and is fairly hard work up and down wee slopes. In the meantime we got some other things planted including some lemons and a passionfruit, avocados and a wee herb garden and some tiny oaks that I grew from acorns. The woodpile got a big bigger when all the various piles of wood around the place got added together and is now pretty decent. It was a hot weekend and we were both pretty tired and rather glad we have a Jacuzzi by the end of it, but we are somewhat further ahead in the plan.
Since we had finally decided we had planted enough for this year we inherited 18 roses which also had to be planted. We will also miss them flowering this year.

Posted by lyndalb 18:50 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

preparing the ground

the first year

We made a trip from Wellington to Christchurch for a week from 12 to 20 August 2006 to look for a piece of land to buy. Over the week we looked at about 20 pieces of land and properties from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs to the Waimakariri gorge. We narrowed it down to three and went back to them with Jude and Gordon for a second look on a day with a howling Nor’wester (which is Canterbury’s worst wind). One place really spoke to all of us and had north facing slope for a great garden, great views out to the sea and the city and Port Hills and to Mt Grey. It was also reasonably sheltered from the wind – at least in comparison to the other places – and not as damp. There is a wee stream running through it and some willow trees growing along the stream. Unfortunately the stream is only seasonal but its great to have a stream. Balcairn009.jpgBetter yet the price was OK and we put in an offer a week later. Our offer was accepted (after some negotiation and trauma) and from there the process was incredibly slow. The title for the land had to come through from the council and the settlement was to be for early December. Eventually we came to an agreement that we could start some work on the land to put in a driveway and set up our stone circle for the wedding. We spent a while looking at quarries for stones and found our stones up near Hanmer Springs from a great guy called Brendan. balcairn040.jpgWe selected some stones and Brendan’s cool digger dug them out from the stacks. The stones were delivered to the land and we had a wee champagne celebration to honour their arrival. We finally got full possession of the land on 1 March 2007.
Balcairn090.jpgIt only took a morning for the stones to be set up and then another two days laying the ready-lawn which was really back-breaking work. We built a couple of dams along the streambed – one for the driveway to go across and a bigger one to make a big pond with an island in the middle. Brendan dug it one day while we were not there and we were very surprised by how big it was. Balcairn120.jpgThe driveway was in and the stones set up in time for the wedding on March 17. We had a wee blessing ceremony for the stones with a close link to the stone circles in Orkney. Balcairn126.jpg
The wedding went really well and the stones were magnificent. At the end of the night a group of us went down to the stone circle and lay on the ground looking at the amazing vista of stars and listening to Jay’s beautiful voice singing Celtic songs. We camped overnight on the land for the first time and it was lovely to wake up at our own place.
Nothing happened for a while on the land while life settled down from the wedding. Balcairn128.jpgWe worried for a while that the pond would fill up before we got the run-off sealed but we stopped worrying by the end of July when we were told the worst of the winter was over and there only a foot of water in the bottom of the big pond. We started planting on 29 July. That involved a trip to the nursery early on Saturday morning to buy plants for the native woodland and shelterbelt. Balcairn156.jpgTo fill up the trailer we also got a few of the oaks and most of the olives. Glenda designed our native woodland and her and Nicole and I planted it on the Saturday. The native woodland has a couple of layers as it slopes down the hill. At the top is a manuka scrubland area then a dry woodland and a beech forest and finally at the bottom, as it meets the streambed, a small wetland. Meanwhile Steve planted the shelterbelt at the back boundary which should protect us a bit from the nor’wester. It consists mainly of two varieties of eucalypts with a section at the eastern end of Pinus radiata. The second layer of shelterbelt, which we planted together is Italian Alder and Stone pine (the ones that produce pine nuts) at the eastern end. The long term plan is to cut down the first layer in about 10-15 years and have the Alders and Stone pines remaining as a permanent shelterbelt. We got 114 trees planted in the native woodland, 133 shelterbelt trees, and 9 oaks during the weekend. The oaks were in a circle to make an oak grove which is lined up to the midsummer sunrise and will have a labyrinth in the centre. We have also planted daffodils around the circle with the oaks as well as down by the stream in a gorgeous spot where I plan to put a hammock under one of the willows to escape the summer sun.
The next weekend we hired a rotary hoe and had a go at turning over the ground for the English woodland. Unfortunately it had rained rather heavily the Sunday night before – which was great for the trees we planted but made it rather muddy to turn over. We gave up part way through the day with a fairly small amount done. Despite the amount of rain there was still only just over a foot of water in the big pond. We went back the next morning after a bit more rain to discover the big pond completely full and a pretty stream running. It all looked rather beautiful and we spent quite a while just standing gasping at both how lovely it was and also at how it had filled up 13 feet overnight!Balcairn184.jpgBalcairn181.jpgBalcairn188.jpg
The weekend of the 11 August we had a day off on the Saturday and planted the remaining olives on the Sunday. Balcairn246.jpgThere is a variety of olives including Manzanillo, Frantoio, Lecchino, Picholine, Barnao, Koroniko – 33 in total. That should be enough to provide us with table olives and some oil. We also re-organised the layout of the woodland so we would be ready to plant next weekend.
Saturday 18 August was another big planting day, starting with a trip to the nursery. This time it was really just trees for the woodland – almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, oaks, birch and two more different alders which will also be cut down in the long term but are there to make the woodland feel like a woodland without waiting 20 years. We also got the remaining oaks planted, a couple of weeping willows down by the stream and some pussywillow twigs stuck in the ground to see if they’ll grow. Some more cabbage trees and some native grasses got put in around the lower pond to create a habitat for the family of 6 Pukeko’s who have moved in ever since a little bit of water was in it. Balcairn203.jpgBalcairn195.jpgWe have named it the Pukeko Pond in their honour but since we did that they seem to prefer the bigger pond. Actually they roam through our place and the neighbours on each side and have 5 ponds in a row but we’re hoping if we make a nice habitat they might nest at ours. We also have a young pair of Mallard ducks looking like they will nest at our big pond.
A quiet day of easy chores at the land was interrupted badly by a pair of Paradise ducks looking for a nesting site. It was decided that they needed grasses to make them feel welcome so another 50 plants got planted in the afternoon. Hopefully they will appreciate the effort and it would be lovely to have ducklings on our pond. The other residents we have are a family of hares. We are currently negotiating with them about land use and trying to come to a compromise where they get to stay and we get to not have all our plants eaten. I think it will involve extensive ongoing discussions! We believe the hares are a good omen so really don’t want to chase them away and would prefer to share with them if possible but we shall see.

Posted by lyndalb 23:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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