It’s amazing how projects grow. I wanted water for my vegie garden. I wanted a gravity feed water tank that would allow intermittent use of drippers and taps that tend to freak out our heavy-duty sprinkler pump.
The result, so far, is 550 metres of pipes and two rock walls.
Somehow I thought, when I waved my arm at a patch of sloping grass, that flattening it wouldn’t be a big deal. And the retaining wall that would be needed would be maybe waist high. Apparently I have no eye for a slope. James O’Keefe, the master bobcat driver was pretty clear from the start that we would need to move a lot of dirt.
He was also going into hospital for his second shoulder reconstruction. So we had a time limit.
I’d been talking to him for a few months about doing the ramps and, hopefully, the garden retaining wall. He said “I’ll come and have a look at the garden when we do the ramps.”
He came, we walked around for half an hour discussing what needed to be done, including making the Annexe guest space less damp by grading the slope away from it. Next thing I knew, James was there tearing out the old cypress stump and flattening the ground.
Massive amounts of dirt were shifted as he careered around the garden, taking one bank away and creating another lower down.
The new gravity feed system had to be connected to the existing garden pump from the river through a 200 metre trench, then the down line spread out to taps around the vegie garden and all the way down to the stock troughs in the two paddocks around the house.
In the process, two sections of the existing garden watering system were obliterated and had to be replaced.
So why did we invite all this chaos? With new pop-up sprinklers Craig will have far fewer obstacles to mow around. I can use much more efficient drippers and soaker hoses for the garden beds, although the river water has to be filtered or every nozzle will block up.
In a fire, our electricity is likely to fail, leaving us with only the portable pump on the back of the truck. But now we’ll also have the gravity tank to run hoses from and an extra reservoir for filling up fire trucks. The same goes for an ordinary power failure – we’ll be able to at least get buckets of water and run hoses.
In a flood, where the river pump might have to be disconnected or repaired over weeks, we’ll have a backup system to keep the garden alive. If the powerful spray pump has “issues” we can, again, still get water for the garden.
In a drought, we can now separate out the lawn (and sacrifice it) from the garden beds (which we’d try to protect) and water them separately.
It’s the biggest shift in the water system since my brothers put in the first sprinkler system (in 1980) and automated it (in 2003). It’s a large garden. Dad always considered, however, that the big area of lawn was essential for safety in a fire.
And the troughs – previously the stock water for the paddock below the house ran through a pipe from the creek, over the ridge to the tank and then down across the lucerne paddock. It was shallowly laid and constantly suffered breaks. It’s remained broken since the paddock was last ploughed up. It seemed more logical to bring the water from closer by, as long as it could be reliably stored in a big tank.
After the trenches came the rocks.
Lots of rocks.
I’d figured that if we were going to break the old system and put in new pipes, we should put in the retaining wall that was needed. Otherwise it could never happen without digging up all the pipes again. And I wanted it to happen.
But rocks are heavy.
There are lots of them all around us. The house foundations are built out of the local granite, which often splits into fairly straight blocks. The Davis family when they built the house, used their bullock dray to haul them into place. The outer verandah is walled with round river rocks, as are a set of Fred Flintstone-style dog kennels that are slowly collapsing in the paddock.
When Mum first bought the farm, she decided that some decorative stone would be pretty and suppress weeds. So two semicircles were covered with rocks of various sizes, each one carefully placed so that its lichen and moss were facing upwards. Even though I didn’t do much of the rock laying, I still remember it with some horror. Unfortunately, they didn’t suppress weeds for long and in recent years have become so hidden in the grass in the orchard that they’re a huge danger to ankles.
So we recycled those rocks, plus many more and bigger ones that James picked up with his bobcat from the paddocks. That meant picking them up individually and throwing them in the bucket of the bobcat, then picking them out again after they were driven down, and putting the smaller ones in behind the wall as packing and drainage. Suitable ones were made part of the wall face.
Where possible the lichen was left exposed where it could live on for decades longer. I’m not sure how old ours are, but some lichens can live on exposed rock faces for up to ten thousand years. In lichenometry, the size of lichens on rocks (in the US, I think) has been used to measure how long rocks have been exposed, for example since a glacier has retreated. My guess is the big obvious lichens are not that old, since there were a lot growing on the cattle yard timbers that were put up in 1967. On the other hand, the other rock wall in the garden was put up in 1988 with no lichen, and still has none. Perhaps it grows more easily on timber. Anyway, I’d love to know how old ours are.
Craig and I were even allowed to lay one or two stones ourselves. James did nearly all the laying because he has a special skill at seeing how the shape of a rock will fit with the others. Mostly we just scurried around fetching “the donger”, or “the nipple” or “the bush” or any other arcane piece of equipment James wanted in a hurry. Craig, as “the Professor” got in a lot of trouble for coming back from the hardware store with the wrong nipples.
Finally James made a special expedition to the paddock and came back with a monster boulder for the end of the wall. He pushed around the dirt a little, then plonked it into place with the bobcat. Amazing to watch.
The completed job included a second wall of boulders, mowing edges and backfill with topsoil. Not to mention the pointing, which I was allowed to do a little of. It’s not so easy to flip around the cement mixture the way James and his son Bryce could do. It kept splatting at my feet, or sliding off the trowel, or dripping down the wall and not filling the gaps the way it should. Once again, skills it was fun to watch.
Next week we should get the big tank for the gravity system.
And one day I might get the (much less fancy) sleeper retaining wall for my vegie garden. And we can figure out what to do with the new pieces of garden we’ve gained