Grounds

1. Paddock 1

2. Paddock 1 - reverse angle - elm grove

3. Paddock 2

4. Paddock 2

Table of Contents

Starting Point

The property has three fully fenced (small to medium dog-proof) paddocks within a triangular 0.98Ha (2.4 acre) envelope:

  1. Home paddock including a fenced and gated rear yard
  2. Original school playground (paddock 1) connected to long narrow lane-side yard
  3. A stock paddock (paddock 2) excised from the adjoining property by the previous owner who owned both properties at the time

At the time of exchange of contracts 6 weeks prior to transfer of title, paddocks 1 and 2 were being used as stock paddocks (three pet sheep) plus one stray and I suspect old and blind kangaroo. As you can see the sheep kept the grass down but numerous thistles, weeds and legumes and the small prickly kind infested the paddocks.

Paddock 1 has a leveled area which I assume was intended to become a tennis court but not completed or was abandoned as such a long time ago.

5. Paddock 1 from the house yard and lastly the lane-side yard (8 weeks prior to transfer of title)

6. Paddock 2 and the stray blind kangaroo (8 weeks prior to transfer of title)

Two weeks before transfer of title the region had a very late (mid Spring) heavy fall of snow that broke several large limbs on several of the trees that were already in leaf. So I had an immediate cleanup job to do as an initiation. Several of these breakages threatened further damage to fences so cleanup was a priority.

7. Snow breakage (cedars along main road). An upper limb snapped, which cascaded down to snap another two limbs below. The lowest one then snapped the chains holding the mail box to it's support post

8. Snow breakage (oak tree)

9. Snow breakage (corkscrew willow tree)

Paddock 1 includes a small grove of classically beautiful and very old trees (three elms and a cedar). The stone structure is one of the two out-houses erected in 1880 with the old school house. This one was the "boys" toilet and is still in working order (as a "long-drop" toilet). It is currently home to a very messy possum. The "girls" toilet is much closer to the school building but is now a garden tools store (and another messy possum house).

10. Elm tree grove

11. Elms with an old cedar (centre)

12. Old cedar

13. Elm and cedar grove

There are a total of five water tanks on the property totaling roughly 140,000 litres capacity.

The Plan

I want to restore paddock 1 to a grassed recreational area for people and dogs. I'm hoping to transform paddock 2 into a landscaped park-like garden with [drought resistant] plantations and walking trails.

I would like to enhance the existing fencing and gates to make them snake-proof, but need to consider that if snakes can't get in they also can't get out. Vigilance and the status quo may be the better option.

The disused water tank near the leveled area could be converted to equipment storage.

Tools and Machinery

Mower

The very first tool I knew I'd need was a good ride on mower. I wanted a zero-turn with hydraulic drive- there's just something about that spec that says it's seriously built for the purpose.

By chance I came across a mower service shop in Canberra that was selling a secondhand Walker zero-turn with grass handling system (catcher) and a small 36 inch deck. I wanted a catcher system because there's nothing worse than long-haired dogs and grass clippings. It was working and usable but I had not come across the Walker name in my casual searching up to that point. I researched the brand overnight and went back the next day and bought it.

The seller stressed that I was buying it without any warranty, which I took as a genuine warning over this particular unit. It was blowing some oil smoke so the Kohler engine may need attention sooner rather than later.

Over the first 12 months several minor faults appeared, which as a secondhand machine I expected to have to deal with, most of which were electrical and easily fixed with a little diagnosis with a continuity meter. The main ignition switch was replaced, and the PTO and forward drive safety switches were simply cleaned and adjusted. The later two switches failed at the same time so the problem wasn't immediately obvious. The engine does burn a lot of oil, which I've been managing so far without major overhaul. I check frequently and replace the spark plug in the offending cylinder with a cleaned plug every couple of hours and the problem doesn't appear to be getting any worse.

Update: Four years now and the mower is still doing the work. I managed to destroy the PTO uni joint through neglect and hard work, but it was easily replaced. Still cleaning spark plugs and adding oil every couple of hours. A year ago the engine started to backfire but some new spark plugs fixed it.

13. Can't wait to put it to work

About Walker Mowers

I have absolutely no commercial interest in any mower products except that I now own this one, so I can say in good conscience that I love this mower.

Everything about this brand says "original" and to me it's just an elegant design.

Given the number of features embodied in the unit it is still quite low and compact and extremely easy and agile to maneuver.

The steering levers are uniquely one-handed fingertip operation that is ergonomic and very relaxed, yet precise. The out-front floating deck is also the foot-rest, so I feel every pitch and roll. I really do feel that the machine becomes an extension of myself when I'm in the seat.

The deck and blades are driven by a shaft drive-train rather than belts, which allows the blades to cross paths without risk of colliding, that is, because there is an adjustment in the drive-train that does not change over time. This is not possible with belt-drive systems due to the risk of belt-slip, and so belt-driven decks cannot therefore align all their spindle centres on the line perpendicular to the centre line of the mower (normal line of travel). This inability to overlap cutting circles means that it is possible in some circumstances to miss cutting some grass, as it can pass between the blades. To overcome this in the normal straight ahead travel direction the line through the adjacent blade centres needs to be rotated a little from the perpendicular. But this doesn't cover all possibilities either. To be even more geeky, when the tangent to the turning arc is perpendicular to the line passing through the spindle centres, the belt-driven deck would leave a nice thin arc of uncut grass behind. It would need at least three blades in an almost equilateral triangular pattern to cover all situations.

The deck's rear feed to the grass handling system means it is symmetrical and therefore able to work around obstacles from either side. Most other ride-ons with a catcher, usually connected to a side chute on the deck, cannot do this. The catcher can also be left open while mowing if I want to spread the clippings over the paddock as mulch, which I do in paddock 2 to save time.

Being able to lift the deck to the vertical position for maintenance or for clearing wet grass build up while in the field is also a big plus.

Generally, their level of willingness to engineer solutions to real but infrequent and even theoretical problems, even if I'm just imagining it, is what I think sets this brand apart form most brands.

14. I've since bought a small trailer for the mower, which is useful for small loads.

Saws, etc.

I would need a medium chain saw. I also bought a brush cutter with multiple additional attachments including a small pruning chain saw attachment, blower, hedge trimmer, and rotary hoe. All of these have been invaluable.

Grass

Spring was in full swing at transfer of title so the first job was to get the paddocks cut before it became impossible with my small mower. It was already quite high and wet in places. This was also a nerve-racking job because I did not know the terrain nor where any of the rocks were and so progress was inch by inch at times.

There were plenty of rocks and many were hit but most avoided. All were mentally mapped for subsequent removal. I got a lot of practice removing and resharpening the blades and replacing the sheer bolts that protect the mower deck drive-train.

Paddock 1 was relatively easy. Paddock 2 had significantly more growth and was literally knee-high and waist-high in places by the time I got the mower to it. It was drier at least. The image below shows a before-and-after view because initially the grass on both sides of the fence was the same height as my neighbours stock paddock, about two-thirds fence height.

15. Before and after in the same photo

The first forays into the paddock were, literally, expeditionary trails to get a sense of the terrain. It took several days and multiple goings-over to completely cut.

16. Paddock 1 after first cut

17. Paddock 1 after first cut

18. Paddock 2 after first cut

19. Paddock 2 after first cut (reverse-angle)

Autumn Leaves

The mower with catcher is also a vacuum cleaner for autumn leaves, and with several very large deciduous trees this is a real time-saver. Last autumn I did not need to sweep or rake any leaves, particularly where leaves tend to build up against fences etc, the mower just sucks them in from the sides of the deck.

Weeds

Thistles

Started by digging out the largest with a hoe. Smaller ones pulled out using a weed puller. The seed bank would be dealt with using a glysophate wand as they came up or using a selective spray where large populations were evident. I find it good for meditating and pondering other things while patrolling the paddocks with the wand once a week. I am prepared for this to take a few years with some vigilance thereafter because this is a rural area where neighbouring paddocks with thistles are part of the scene.

Legumes

Particularly Wooly Bur Medic (Medicago Minima) ... produces prickly seed pods and is trouble for dogs and will take over if allowed to, and is just plain ugly. It suddenly broke out all over after my first winter creating patches where no grass remained, just masses of brown tentacles full of pea-sized prickly seeds. I sprayed using a selective herbicide and 8 months later the results are good.

Some clovers die off annually to form areas of dense matted runners and have to go.

Hawthorn bushes

Hawthorns were proposed and planted around the boundaries of the school grounds more than 100 years ago. There are remnants but most appear to have been cleared. Hawthorns have very sharp thorns, are not particularly attractive, and I have no need for them. They are not a high priority but will most likely see the inside of a chipper at some point.

Blackberries

Small cane colonies existed along the lane verge outside the fence and were just starting to push through the fence in places. They were easily managed with a herbicide spray. Only a few canes survived the first eradication effort.

English Ivy

Originally but relatively recently planted along the main road fence near the entrance driveway to the house yard, it has spread to all parts horizontally and vertically up trees and over fences and sheds etc.

20. Driveway ivy out of control

21. Ivy spread (one of the easier trees to deal with)

The ivy could threaten some trees and needs to be removed. This will take several years of persistent action, mostly involving physical removal. It is notoriously difficult to kill using herbicides.

Removing it from trees is not that difficult. It requires cutting the vines at the base of the tree then waiting for the vines to dry out. They can then be pulled off the tree by hand, or by attaching a rope and using the ride-on mower to pull them free. Remnants too high to be removed safely will just have to stay and decay naturally.

Removing it from where it has spread horizontally is more difficult, particularly where it has grown through other plantations because it needs to be removed completely or it will come back very quickly.

Old infrastructure

General rubbish

44 gallon drums, old tires, an old ladder used as a gate and other rubbish were removed. You can see some of that in the photo 22 below.

22. October 2012

23. February 2015

Fences

The star-picket, wire and corrugated iron fencing (far-right in photo 22 above) was removed from the lane-side paddock put there for the sheep and no longer required. The star picket and wire fence intended to keep the sheep out of a vegetation strip along the lane fence was also removed.

24. Just after brush cutting and first mowing. Shrubs not removed yet

25. Eighteen months after clearing

The shrubs had mostly died and the grass inside was fence high. My brush cutter was too slow so I hired a large walk-behind brush cutter to better effect to cut the tussocks down to size for the mower. It's been eighteen months now and the evidence of this overgrown strip is almost gone completely.

Water Well

For the first two summers I just did not bother watering anything apart from two newly planted rosemary bushes that I watered by hand. These will be the mothers for a lot more bushes that I intend to plant around the property because of their drought tolerance. The grass went totally brown but it came back through winter and spring. This summer was very mild with almost regular rainfall except for about four weeks during November-December.

Spring 2014, I was determined to get the well pump figured out, i.e. how to prime it and run it, so that I could at least water the small lawn and garden at the front of the house.

I did that and found that the well foot valve and the check valve at the top were leaky, so I replaced them plus an elbow joint at the top of the well and now the system stays primed mostly. When it does struggle to self-prime there is an inlet at the well above the check valve that can be connected to a hose fed from the domestic supply.

According to my calculations the well can provide up to 1500 litres and will replenish in roughly 24 hours. This is enough to water the house lawn and gardens. Half that is enough if the water table is down. The 2013-2014 summer was particularly hot and dry and, although I didn't run the well during, I don't recall the well level dropping right down.

Domestic Use Rainwater tanks

I have worked out how three of the five tanks interconnect, and how to transfer water between them using the one domestic supply pump and/or gravity. By opening and closing valves I can pump water from the house tank to the annex tank and/or the first paddock tank. Again by controlling valves I can transfer under gravity back to the house tank, or use any of the three tanks as the source for the domestic supply pump directly.

Combined they hold approximately 60,000 litres.

Quality can be improved with some low cost upgrades to the system. I want to put in new arrangements that will draw overflow from the lowest quality matter-laden water at the bottom of the tanks rather than the freshest water at the top.

Stock/Irrigation tanks

I have finally discovered the plumbing to the remaining two tanks, that is, the second paddock poly tank and the older cement tank at the top of the paddock. They are both connected to the well pump line via a check valve that was buried near one of the garden taps.

26. Old cement tank in paddock - front view

27. Old cement tank in paddock - side view

28. Buried valve uncovered

29. Valve box installed

Originally for animal water supplying troughs under gravity, I will use them for irrigation. I don't have stock animals and have upturned the existing trough to stop the dogs from drinking out of it, mainly because standing water attracts snakes that are often found in troughs.

Combined the two tanks hold approximately 80,000 litres. I will need to keep my eye on the older tank to check for leaks. There is a slow leak low down that I think can be fixed but the whole tank may need to be lined.

The current water supply schematic and detailed description is here.

Border Trees

There is a good solid plantation of conifers along the main road boundary. They just need some cleanup of low branches that extend over the fence to maintain a clearance for the mower and its operator and reduce the risk of injury

After 18 months

So far approximately 30 large trailer-loads of prunings and clippings have gone to the green-waste centre at a total cost of $300 ($10 per load) plus about 15 hours travel and unload time. Some has been stored as firewood. There is plenty more that can be done for general cleanup so considering buying a chipper to deal with the bulk of it. I will want mulch and wood chips eventually for landscaping.

30. Paddock 1

31. Paddock 1 (reverse angle)

32. Paddock 2

33. Paddock 2 (reverse angle)

34. Paddock 2 (Elm Grove with paddock 1 behind and house in distance). Just a few days of Autumn 2014 remaining.

35. What was the "Boys" outhouse is still functional and incorporates a hand-basin with plumbing but needs to be connected to a rainwater tank.

Broken limb in the Elm Grove

Late November 2014: One of the large horizontal limbs on the large elm finally cracked under the weight of the new Spring growth. Fortunately part of it came to rest supported by the ground and didn't damage the fence passing underneath.

36. Broken limb

37. Ouch!

38. Clearing the foliage before cutting up the limb. Surprisingly it only took two trailer-loads for the foliage and smaller branches and one [slightly overloaded] load for the limb itself

39. First cuts with limb supported. This is about as big as my 18in chainsaw can cope with.

40. On the way to the woodshed. Must be close to a tonne of wet wood there, judging by the low ride.

Preventing the next Broken Limb

There are still another two limbs that are at risk of breaking at some point although I'm amazed this next one hasn't already, the stresses must be huge.

To try to save it, I will employ the age-old method of propping it up.

41. Saving the next limb

First, something to sit on that will spread the weight, which is a 100mm thick steel reinforced concrete pad that I poured in place in a hole approximately 400mm square. On this sit two bricks, loose, then a 150mm diameter treated pine post that I shaped at the top to fit the curvature of the limb, just to make the pressure point as large as possible. It will also help keep the post in place and keep it from rotating. The post was cut to length such that the limb would exert some load on it at this time of year (mid Winter). I'm hoping this is the time when the limb will be it's least load and therefore will keep downward force on the post throughout the year. Otherwise the post won't stay in place. Everything has to be able to move and pivot a little as the wind blows.

42. Finished prop

Main Road Screen Tree Pruning

There is a line of mature Cypress trees along the main road boundary and fenced off from the paddocks/yards. Their lower branches had started to grow through the fence making mowing difficult and damaging the fence. There is also litter that accumulates from passing traffic and retrieving it is usually difficult. So it would be good to be able to walk the line under the trees.

43. Lower branches damaging fences and inpenetrable.

44. Starting down by the water tank, now nearly two thirds done. The chipper is a Hansa C13 and it took everything up to 90mm. The thicker branches did need to be cut into shorter lengths so that the machine can finish chipping the piece before it stalls

There were a few pieces that were too thick to put through the chipper so they will go to the wood shed.

Some branches were left that are too low to walk under because those trees have high voltage power lines going over the top and have been topped by the power company and I wanted to leave as much green on them as possible rather than risk killing them. The path can go around those trees on the outside.

The undergrowth that can be seen on the left is a row of Hawthorn trees decended from the original boundary "fence". They will lose their leaves in winter so I've now planted twenty camelia japonicas to provide year-round screening.

45. The finished job.

Fruit Trees

I have finally motivated myself to prune the two apple trees, which were well overdue. A lot of centre branches have been cut out for light and air as well as low hanging branches for access and to direct growth where it will be most productive. I'm leaving lopping the tops of tallest branches for next year because the trees are not in the ideal location being shaded by a large corkscrew willow tree. Originally there were three trees but I cut one down in 2013 that was completely under the canopy of the willow. They have been producing copious but small apples that the birds and possums have been enjoying. I have no idea what variety they are - green/yellow and possibly a cooking variety - not very juicy or sweet.

46. Apple trees - first pruning in at least six years

Mid-summer: the trees produced apples again but the possums picked them all. At least I know I didn't hack the trees to death with the pruning and they look much better as garden features. Next winter I'll prune the height and think about how the possums might be encouraged to share the apples.

House through the trees

When I eventually start landscaping the paddocks I want to preserve, and if possible enhance, vistas like that in image 47.

47. House through the trees vista from paddock 2 - June 2nd, 2019