Saturday, December 10, 2016

Building an acre together: Useful Resources

Last Updated: 10th December, 2016

As mentioned in my previous post, our little family has embarked on a journey together, of designing, getting the materials, and building, our own house and landscape within an acre we've recently purchased in Tasmania.

I'll be documenting each step as they pass here on my blog, but I'm also going to be throwing together (and maintaining/updating) a post on resources we've used which have been useful to us. Everything from books on owner building, books on building with cob (which is what we plan to build our house out of), vendors who have been great value in both price and how nice they are to work with, and anything else that we found useful. The idea is that if someone else wants to do something similar to us, then this resources page would be a good "jumping off point" for them.

There's not much on this post just at the moment, but come back and check it out every once-in-a-while. I'll be updating it with more resources as often as possible.

The Hand-Sculpted House

A must-have book for anyone planning on building their own house, garden shed, anything really, out of cob.

It explains the rich history of cob, the philosophy that often accompanies cob houses, what makes it such a good building material, how to make and use cob yourself, how to test your own soil to see if it's suitable for making cob (or whether you'll need to buy in sand and/or clay), and much, much more. Truly indispensable.

We've read through our copy already, and we haven't even started building yet. You can safely bet that we'll be reading through bits and pieces of it again once we're actually building, too.

Get it from Amazon through the link below.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Building an acre together


Our little family has embarked on a bit of a journey together.

From where we are in South Australia, we're moving back to our hometown in Victoria for about a year, while we build on a one acre block we've recently purchased in Tasmania. Once the house is built, we'll then make the move to that block in Tasmania, and continue our work on the land itself.

Note that when I say "while we build", I don't mean that we're going to be paying other people to do our work for us. Certainly, we'll legally need to get a plumber and electrician in to help with certain parts and sign off on the house, and we'll need an engineer or an architect to sign off on our house plans. Otherwise though, we're doing everything else ourselves.

The house designs; the permaculture-based landscape designs; the searching for and retrieving of materials; the actual building of the house; the ongoing creation of the landscape (from which we're planning to grow at least 90% of our food off this single acre) and other maintenance and additions to the house... All of it!

But wait, there's more.

The house itself is going to be built from Cob, in a circular design. It's not going to be big by any means, but the ultimate benefit of it being of modest size, made of cob, largely built from recycled materials we've collected for free or very cheaply, and largely built by hand, by us, and maybe some friends and family who want to help out, is that we're planning to have it all built for less than $60,000. Yes, that includes dealing with the few contractors, too. Though, the exception is that it doesn't include fencing and plants for the property landscaping.

The posts

I'm intending for this to be a "master post" of sorts, for this journey of ours. So, every post I make regarding working for or on our Tasmanian acre, I'll link to in here. Hence, if you don't feel like subscribing by email to my blog, you can just check back on this post every two to three months, and hopefully there'll be something new for you to check out.

Unfortunately, there's no posts yet, but the first post regarding our (rather successful) search for building materials while we've been living here in South Australia should be up within a month.

Resources

I'm putting together a post on resources which have helped us, and might help anyone else planning on doing something similar to what we're doing. This will be books on owner-building, books on building with cob, good places to find materials, vendors we've worked with who are great to deal with and great value, and more.

There's not much in it yet, but just like this post, I'll be updating the post on useful resources as this journey continues.

You can find this post on useful resources, here.

I hope you enjoy keeping up with our journey, as much as we're enjoying making it!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

DIY Small Raised Fairy Garden Bed

Fairy garden/forest, a year and a half later (see update at bottom of post)
We’ve built several large raised garden beds at our current house (and a guide on how to build one of these will be put up at some point in the future), mostly for our own fruit and vegetable crops. What we haven’t done, however, is create our own fairy garden… until recently.

This is a quick, simple, and generalised step-by-step guide with photos on how to create your own fairy garden amongst a proper (if a little small) raised garden bed containing a few useful plants. The intention is that this can be followed step-by-step as-is, or be used as a “jumping off point” for creating a raised fairy garden bed using (possibly vastly) different materials.

Choosing a Spot

Our chosen spot for the fairy garden.
We recently got a family of ducks and ducklings (this may seem unrelated, but bear with me, it had an impact on where we decided to put this new garden bed). While they’re still getting used to us, learning to trust us, they’re confined to their cage at night, and an outside fenced enclosure measuring about 10 sq. metres with a pond throughout the day. In future though, we’d like to let them be free-ranging on our property during the day.

A few of the items we put (and will be putting in future) in the fairy garden are fragile, and if the ducks wandered through this garden bed on their search for tasty snails and insects, they may accidentally break some of the items.

Of course, they may decide the vegetables in our vegie gardens are too good to pass up, too. As such, we already have plans to fence off the area around the vegie garden before letting the ducks roam free. Due to this, we decided to put the new garden bed in the area which will eventually become fenced-off, and hence become safe from webbed feet.

After this decision, we still had to decide where to place the new garden bed in the area which would become fenced off. We ended up deciding that the garden bed can sit against an old wattle tree to act as its fourth wall, and for added ambiance.

To generalise, choosing a spot should be a matter of finding somewhere not too far from the house (so you can enjoy it easily), and if applicable, somewhere pets are unlikely to find themselves amongst the garden bed if there are fragile items being used for decoration.

What You'll Need

As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, this is intended to be a general guide, including a broad method for how we created our particular garden bed. So I won’t be giving exact numbers and measurements, just the materials you’ll need in general, and the materials we used as a guide.
  • Walls. We used old wooden planks from around the property. You can do the same, or find something else to use. Logs, bricks, or even buy some simple untreated planks from your local hardware store if there’s nothing you can use for free.
  • Something to hold the walls up. If you’re using thicker materials such as logs or bricks which hold themselves up when under pressure, this may not be necessary. However as we used planks, we used “star-steels” (a.k.a. “star-steel pickets”) to hold the walls up, both for their structural stability, and re-usability over a long time period. You could just as easily use simple wooden stakes, rocks, or anything else to hold the walls up, as long as it’s stable and safe once it’s all put together.
  • Soil. As this is going to be a home for living plants (not just the fairy garden decorations), there needs to be something for the plants to live in. You can usually use soil from elsewhere in the garden, but since we live in an area of very poor soil, we had to buy bags of soil from a local Bunnings.
  • Plants. We used Lawn Chamomile (a medicinal ground cover no taller than 10cm's, which smells faintly of apple), Wooly Thyme (a ground cover and culinary herb, which is also anti-microbial, and useful as a highly-effective gargle), and Yarrow (a wound-healing herb, which also attracts bees). They are all medicinal in their own ways, and all edible.
  • Fairy-themed decorations. Doors, stepping stones, mushrooms/toadstools, whatever you want as decorations. Have fun with this dot point in particular – after all, isn't that the point?
In terms of the plants chosen, you could pick plants which would just look good amongst fairy-themed decorations, plants which are purely functional, or possibly plants you haven’t had room to plant elsewhere. The only advice I might give is to make sure the plants you choose aren’t poisonous, as fairy gardens are a natural place for inquisitive little toddlers to gravitate towards. So safe (perhaps even edible and tasty) plants are a good place to start.

Having a general design in mind before you go out to find your materials may be wise, but that’s not to say that you can’t “wing” the design as you go. If you end up with a rather eclectic design due to no prior planning, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that as long as it all holds together in the end.

Putting it all together

You’ve chosen your spot, you’ve got your materials, and you have some semblance of an idea of how you’d like it all to look at the end. Now comes the fun part: the assembly.

Wherever your chosen location is, the first step is to put up the walls. How the walls go together depends largely on the materials you’ve chosen your walls to be made out of.

Since we used old slats and star-steels, we placed the slats on top of each other and used the star-steels to keep them upright. Note that the star-steels only need to be placed on the outside of the walls – this is because the walls will be held up from the inside by the soil, once it’s been added.

If there are any large holes in the wall, they will need blocking. Small holes aren’t often an issue as once the soil has settled it won’t escape very easily, but large holes have the potential to disrupt the soil and let it escape, especially after a heavy rain.

Whether or not you’ll have big holes in your wall depends largely on the location and materials used for the walls. We chose to place the raised garden against the old wattle because it can act as a fourth wall, and adds an ambiance to the garden bed which would be hard to replicate without it. But its twisted shape at ground level did mean we had to fill in a couple of big holes before continuing to the next step.

Once the walls are up, the next step is simple: Fill the bed with soil.
Whatever greenery you’ve chosen, now’s the time to plant them. While doing so, keep your design in mind so that you’re not displacing where the various fairy decorations were planned to end up.
Place your various fairy decorations in their intended locations.

If you don’t have all the decorations you’d ultimately like, don’t fret, neither do we. We’re planning lots more decorations to go in, and you too can add more decorations to your heart’s content in future. For now however, just place what you have.
You have now completed your own small raised fairy garden bed. Congratulations!

Design changes, and personal touches

This is a very simple design which lends itself nicely to alterations. I’ve aimed this design and these instructions at demonstrating how simple it can be, but fairy gardens are (and in my opinion, should be) highly personal, and/or collaborative with anyone else you’re creating it with. So if you’d prefer to use different materials for the structure, plant different greenery, change the locations or type of decorations, or even just decide to create a much bigger and grander fairy garden bed, go for it!

As for us, in future we’re planning on adding more decorations including (but not limited to) long benches for the table. From there, we’ll add more stepping stones leading to a fairy ring of mushrooms to help complete the current design. Possibly we’ll add stone creatures, possibly we may add other plants in the ground surrounding the bed, who knows?

I’ll try to add another photo at the end of this article, once the coming winter has passed and spring has arrived, to show any progress the plants in the fairy garden have made (not to mention display any additional decorations).

However you go about creating your own raised fairy garden bed, I wish you luck, and I hope you have fun creating it.

(Originally published, by me, on Hubpages.com - 04/04/2015)


Update - 6th November, 2016

Well, it's been about a year and a half, and boy there's been some changes!

Unfortunately, we lost the Wooly Thyme when we were trusting a friend to water our garden for us in summer last year (mentioned in more detail in my Yule over Christmas post), but the Yarrow and Lawn Chamomile managed to survive, and have completely taken off since then.

See the following pictures (and captions) for yourself. We're actually now planning to have the fairy garden path go straight into the yarrow and chamomile, similar to a hidden path off into the forest.

Imagine searching through those plants and finding a hidden fairy path, complete with hidden fairy decorations. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty appealing to me.

Fairy Forest - front view
Fairy Forest - top view
Lawn Chamomile up close
Yarrow up close
Fairy Forest