Monday, 27 April 2015

I said I would like some ponds...

There we were, with 23 lovely footings holes ready to fill up with concrete - and the driveway seeming just about ready for a big truck to come up it... thinking about ringing the concrete company - and then it rained. Oh well, a little bit of rain shouldn't matter too much. But it rained a good couple of inches. Oh well, a couple of inches in the holes shouldn't matter too much, we can just scoop it out and it will dry off in a few days. Then I went down and had a look at the holes after all that rain.

The holes were significantly full of water. Considering these holes were 60cm deep, that's a lot more than a couple of inches at the bottom! I had carefully arranged piles of soil around the uphill sides of the holes so that they would act as swales to redirect the water runoff. I am not sure exactly what went wrong, but it certainly didn't work the way I was hoping. Some of the holes were so full they were practically overflowing, yet other holes had only a tiny amount of water in the bottom. There was no visible reason for the random water distribution. There is a good chance that the water came from underground, in which case there is nothing we can do.
So I tell my partner the bad news, and we spend the entire day scooping out the water, and much worse - the clay slurry mixed with rocks. I started the day with a flimsy plastic scoop, but spent the rest of the time experimenting with small buckets, big buckets, and metal bowls to try and find the best tools for the job. There was also some intense mattocking action as I created little gullies so the water tipped out of the top holes didn't just run straight into the bottom holes.
I also had the genius idea to set up the 30m garden hose so that it was syphoning the water down the hill with pure gravity. First I tied some insect screening over the head of the hose with a rubber band to act as a filter, so that the hose didn't get blocked up with gunk and little rocks. Then I tied the hose head with a piece of string to the handle of a small bucket, and then put a rock into the bottom of the bucket.
Then I pushed the bucket down into the bottom of the hole of water. This way the hose head remained near the bottom of the hole, but not on top of the clay slurry at the bottom of the hole. This kept the water going into the hose relatively clean, though I still had to clean little rocks from off the filter every so often. There was a surprisingly strong suction current after the water got flowing! And when I sucked the water to the bottom of the hose with my mouth to start off the syphoning effect, the water actually tasted quite pleasant - not the mucky muddy mess I was expecting.
Then when the hole was almost empty of water, I made sure the bucket was full of water and the head of the hose was kept submerged - and quickly transferred the hose to the next hole full of water. I was very impressed with my handywork, and the way that I could empty out one hole by hand at the same time as another hole was emptying itself. It also came in handy for one of the holes which kept refilling itself full of water - I guess that is a good example of this underground water that comes from nowhere!
Now we have had another week of dry weather, so it could be about time to pour the concrete again - but of course heavy rain is forecast over the next few days. Before we risk the big concrete truck getting bogged in our driveway, we need to have a worst-case-scenario back-up plan of how we are going to get the concrete up the driveway. I will have a bit more of an attempt at redirecting water away from the holes when it rains, and may even try and cover some of the holes and see if that helps. But otherwise I think we are back to playing that waiting game we are used to. Hopefully after having so much practise we should be really good at it!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Passed First Council Inspection

     Today the council guy came out and had a quick look, measure and photograph of our footings holes and said yep, they are all fine. First we got up early and dragged our weary sore tired muscles down to the holes for some more tidying up of the bottoms of the holes, which was horribly painful. Not even time for a cup of coffee :(
     But then I asked the council guy some questions - for example, is it ok if we move the greywater trench somewhere different to our official OSSM map, since the spot chosen by the 'expert' seems to be uphill from the house site. He said yes that's fine, just as long as we stay 50m away from the creek. I also asked about the various stages for the future inspections, and we aren't due for the next inspection until we have put up all the framework. This can include putting up the external cladding and the roof panels, just as long as the inspector can see the frames from the inside.
     There is also a stormwater inspection which we have pre-paid over $100 for, even though we don't have stormwater pipes here. The council guy admitted that it is only relevant for town allotments that actually flow into stormwater drains, but still said that they would do the stormwater inspection at a later date. I will keep that one up my sleeve for when I am next in the mood to be arguing with the council!
     Here's a pic of the warning sticker on the digger that made our footings holes.

     We are now free to fill our holes with concrete - just have to wait for them to dry out a little more, and for the driveway to harden up a little more. We have plenty to keep us busy in the meantime, with over an acre of dirt that needs to have the rocks picked out of it...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bull Ants are Bullies

     The destruction of the bull-ant nest which is right next to the house site seems to be going well, if not complete. After pouring all that boiling water down there the other day, a day or two later I saw a couple of bull-ants carrying larvae uphill to what must presumably be another nest. I tried to follow them to find where they were going but kept losing them. I tried a new strategy of killing all the bull-ants individually which I found roaming around - which is quite a tricky feat in itself. You can't squish them under your boot because they just emerge from the dirt and keep going. You have to basically crunch them between two rocks, and if you chop them in half, the front half keeps walking around and trying to attack you. Very much like the Terminator. The next step was to disturb the nest and kill all the ants which came out, and when they stopped - to disturb the nest some more. Eventually I ended up digging about 10cm down into the dirt and discovering a whole bunch of larvae.
     I couldn't actually find any kind of head or mouth on these things, so not exactly sure how they feed in order to grow bigger. I felt bad that I was destroying the ant nest when they were just trying to live their ant lives - but they are so aggressive! And when they bite it really hurts! So I thought I had destroyed the nest because I couldn't find any more ants, but today there are still more ants appearing from the same spot when I disturbed it. They seem a little less aggressive these days, but I still want to remove this nest completely because it is so close to the house site. We don't want to be bitten every day while building!
     Today we cleaned out the bottom of our footings holes, which was quite a tricky task - some of the holes had roots sticking out, some of them still had wet sticky heavy clay, and all of them were difficult to access. Lots of swearing was necessary to get the job done. Just a little more work tomorrow morning before the council guy is due to come and inspect. Fingers crossed it goes well and we don't have some kind of spanner thrown in our works.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Small jobs take ages by hand!

     Before we can get the concrete poured into the footings holes, we need to clean out the loose dirt from the bottom of the holes. Before we can do that, I have been pulling back the mounds of dirt around the holes so it doesn't just fall straight back in again. A few hours hard work today, and the 'clearing the dirt' part is only half done. This is gonna take a while!
     It's a tricky job, trying to get clumps of dirt and rocks from the bottom of a deep hole. The long-handled shovel wasn't very useful, the campshovel is the right angle but the handle is too short, and the hole is too small to stand it. I tried a small bucket and one foot in the hole and the camp shovel - best combination so far but still tricky and time consuming!
     We will have to make sure it is done before the council guy comes to inspect on Tuesday. And since council regulations say that you can't work on Sundays (forcing everyone to follow Christianity) that leaves Monday to be a very busy back-breaking day!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

New Life

          It has been amazing how quickly the messy clearing with its lumpy dirt and rocks has renewed itself with new life. Grass has been popping up almost everywhere, and baby acacia trees too. There would be a massive seed bank of lomandra, casuarina, and tea tree - along with the various varieties of eucalypt - just sitting in the soil waiting for an opportunity. In fact I was thinking that I should dig some lines with the pointy side of our mattock out at the front of our land - the part where the trees haven't been cleared - and get some acacias growing out there for extra privacy. They love growing in open disturbed places and it seems like the perfect opportunity.
          The lone banksia tree on our place which we specifically saved from the clearing has rewarded our thoughtfulness with a burst of flowers. Suddenly the tree is getting light that it never had before, and I hope this is a sign that the tree is much happier now. Otherwise it could mean that the tree is about to die and wants to flower one more time before then! The birds, insects and glider possums will be very happy to have a feed of delicious nectar.
          Some of the animals seem to like the new habitat too - there are a couple of Willy Wagtails who have claimed it as their territory. They spend all day flying across the dirt and perching on sticks, waggling their tails and chasing insects. When the Yellow-tufted Honey-eaters come too close the Wagtails chide them, letting them know that the area has already been claimed.
          The microbat also seems to enjoy flying along the open edges of the clearing at dusk, having a clear path to chase insects instead of having to avoid trees while flying! I like to imagine the bandicoot has had a bit of a wander down there too, checking out all the disturbed grubs making for an easy dinner. The bull-ants also seem to be having a lovely time, biting us when we stand too close to their nests. I am trying the method of pouring boiling water down the nest right next to the house site, but it is not completely successful yet. Any suggestions about how to safely remove such aggressive monsters?

Footing Holes Dug

     Well the good news is that the footings holes are dug, a pretty easy job and hardly any rocks encountered. The bad news is that the truck completely destroyed our new driveway when it arrived. The guy did his best to fix it with his little digging machine, and it wasn't exactly his fault because there were a couple of dodgy bits of driveway which had hidden trapped compartments of water. This was due to the hole left from the felled tree, the clay under the road base, and the swale failing to keep water from running all the way down. Anyway eventually the truck was positioned so that it could unload the digger and roll up to the house site to dig the footings.
          Josh was a fantastic assistant who carefully positioned the auger onto each marked spot, pulled rocks out of the way and picked bits of root stuck on the end of the auger off. It was a lovely sound hearing the auger hitting those rocks and just digging right past them, much easier than trying to do it by hand! The last two holes were a bit tricky as they had a lot more rocks, and ended up being a lot wider than they needed to be, in order just to get past those rocks to get sufficient depth. We didn't need the rock breaker or anything so that was a relief.

          So now we have 4 rows of 5 holes with an extra 3 at the western end for the verandah, each hole 60cm deep and 45cm wide. Then we got the guy to dig a bit of a pad at the eastern end for the tank to sit - I was thinking that we could pour extra concrete there but apparently it would be better if it was just sand for the tank base. A bit more research before the tank is delivered and we will work it out exactly what we are going to do for that. Now we will have to figure out something else for a place to put the extra leftover concrete - a little shed slab maybe?
          There was even time to ring the council at the end of the day, and schedule them to come and check the footings, which should be early next week sometime. Meanwhile we just need to tidy up the holes by hand and dig out the last little bits of dirt and rock. Then comes the tricky part - waiting until the driveway seems like it will be ok for a big heavy cement truck to drive up it. And hoping that it doesn't rain.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Official Construction due to start tomorrow.

          Tomorrow we are due to have a fellow come out to dig our footings holes for us. He has an auger attached to a bobcat or backhoe or something, and some kind of rock breaker as well. Hopefully it will be enough to get through the infamous rocks around here. We have a mixture of smallish rocks up to rockmelon size which aren't too hard to dig out, bigger rocks - beachball size and bigger - which are almost impossible to dig out, and rock shelves which are only a relatively short distance under everything else.
           There is a great variety in the types of rocks that we have dug up here, some are light blue speckles, some are dark purple-black sparkles, some are delicate white and yellow, some are shades of orange and red, and the rock shelf itself is sandstone. All are amazingly beautiful, especially when you crack one open and it reveals layers of different colours - usually a dark centre surrounded by light blue speckles and rounded with orange and red. Sometimes when digging and the metal blade hits the rock quite hard - it gives off a smell like gunpowder. Other times it gives off a shower of sparks.
           We know that the rocks are not something annoying that gets in the way, but instead are a great resource which provides us with free material to build with - garden walls, retaining walls, maybe even shed walls in the future. At the moment I have been putting the rocks around some of the little plants which survived the clearing - such as tea-tree and lomandra - and they instantly look like absolutely beautiful little gardens. It is great to have a little taste of how great the site will look in the future - after a lot of hard work!
           So we have been busy trying to get the house site prepared and ready for the digging guy to do his thing. He says the job should only take a couple of hours if all goes well. In orded to get the house site cleaned up first we had to pick up all the random branches and rocks lying around on the surface, then rake all the lumpy dirt piles and hollows leftover from the excavator clearing the trees. Suddenly the small floor area of the house of 70 square metres seemed like a large area when having to do all this work! Then we put up some lines pegs and tied string lines to mark out the external dimensions of the house site, followed by measuring out where the holes need to go exactly and marking these spots with sticks and yellow spray paint.

           After we have had the holes dug, we need to contact the council to come out and inspect the footings. They say they need 48 hours notice, so that would make it early next week sometime at the soonest. My neighbour says that when he built his house, he just sent them some photos of the holes with a board across it and a tape measure down it. Perhaps the council will be okay with that - we will see.
And then after the council approves the holes, we need to ring the concrete people to bring out the truck to fill the holes. I don't think they need more than a day or two notice, but we will see what happens when it comes to the crunch. And of course during this week or so after the holes have been dug, we will be hoping that it doesn't rain. We can plan to cover the holes with tarps and corrugated iron and see how effective that is at keeping water out of them! Also if it rains then our driveway will get muddy and slippery again, which makes it difficult for vehicle access - especially big concrete trucks! There was not a cloud in the sky all day today, we'll see how auspicious that turns out to be...