Helping birds with nesting boxes

Whilst the Rock Farm is blessed with many hundreds of trees, only a handful of our trees are large old trees, with all important nesting hollows for our native birds.  Hollow logs and branches take literally hundreds of years to form – and are prized by native birds for nesting.  With our young areas of re-growth promising excellent habitat in the future,  we thought we would lend our birds a helping hand.

One way to assist native birds, even in an area with as many trees as ours, is to build nesting boxes.  They replicate the hollows that take so long to form.  There is a wealth of information online, with plans freely available.  There is also a significant amount of science involved too, with the size of the box, the entry diameter and other features critical for many species.

We armed with this excellent publication from the Local Land Services (available online here: http://greatersydney.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/656610/GS-LLS-Wildlife-Nest-Box-2016_Final-Accessible.pdf).  With our heads full of plans and ideas it was time to get building.

The boys had a look around the Rock Farm Resource Centre  – also known as Dad’s Shed, and we found some old flooring that was looking for a new purpose.

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This was to be the boy’s own project.  In the interests of expediency (I was looking forward to an afternoon nap) I might have cheated and run the timber through the bench saw to cut it, but I was working to their design.  The old adage of measure twice and cut once was in force… but soon there was so much pencil lines on the boards it was hard to tell which ones to cut!

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The boy’s initial thoughts were that this would be easy… but like all good plans, they soon realised that assembling the boxes would take a little effort.  I told them they couldn’t use glue – so it was hammer and nails only.  The Little Helper found his soft oregon boards were easy to work, but the Little Fisherman regretted his selection of thick hardwood boards.  He ended up pre-drilling his holes, and only broke one drill bit in the process.

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To their credit, I only was used to hold things together a couple of times.  The bench saw made small adjustments easy and before long we had a couple of neat little boxes ready to hang in the trees.

The best way to secure the boxes to the trees is via two bugle headed screws.  This causes far less damage to the tree than tying wire around the branch.  We mounted the boxes in a Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus Haemastoma).  We are just now waiting for our first guests to move in!

It was a wonderful way to spend a morning with my gorgeous boys.  They learnt a few new skills, and as a bonus, we get to help a few little birds get a head start.

I’m not the only one with projects

With always something to do on the Rock Farm, it is inevitable that the Little Helpers want to get involved.  Sometimes they take it even further, and decide that they would rather work on their own projects.  They frequently have projects on the go, and I must admit that I had forgotten how fortunate they are.

In New York, they are creating an Adventure Playground for kids – and I think it looks a lot like the Rock Farm.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/on-governors-island-mountains-of-junk-where-children-find-adventure.html

Whilst some of their ideas are inspired by such wonderful books as “The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Igguiden, many are their own creation.

I am a big fan of the boys getting their hands dirty.  I have a good collection of hand tools, old timber and various ‘resources’ others might term ‘junk’.  The boys know which tools they’re allowed to use, and which ones they need to ask permission for.

I must admit I occasionally get nervous when they ask to borrow my tools.  I am working on solving that one, by buying them some tools of their own.  They like nothing more than using their tools to help me with my projects.

Last year they decided that they would make some bows.  It was a good fun activity, but the Rock Farm is distinctly lacking in Yew, meaning that we used wattle and then pine branches to make our bows.

It didn’t work out too well.

Other jobs the boys have taken on is the construction of a ladder into their cubby house.  I might have provided a little bit of guidance, as the Little Helpers don’t tend to use tools such as tape measures or pencils too much.

Most hand tools are pretty safe to use.  The worst the kids will do is cut themselves.  It is modern power tools that scare me.  A circular saw will take off a thumb in the blink of an eye.  I love seeing them get out there and use the traditional tools.

But of course, with all things, the kids need adequate supervision.

You might be able to do it all in New York… but I’m happy enough knowing that we have all we need right here 🙂

Pump woes on the Rock Farm

One of the joys of living on a rural property is beautiful fresh rainwater stored in your own tank.  The water tastes fresh, is free from chemical impurities and is deliciously soft.  It is your water, and you can use as much or as little of it as you like.  The consequences of your usage are yours alone to deal with.  It is a wonderful part of living on your small farm.

Until your pump dies.   And then you need to get it fixed. Quickly.

We were in a fortunate position that our pump gave us warning it was on the way out.  It would fail to operate, and a simple reset by turning it off and on again would fix it.  For a while at least.  When the interval between resets became daily, it was time to take action.

Davey Pumps were called, and their technical department were most helpful.  They told me that the most likely culprit was the pressure switch in the controller.  The type of controller we had fitted hadn’t been made in around 20 years, giving us some indication of the age of the pump.

I was advised to take the pump to a repair agent, where the pump could be bench tested.  One phone call later, and the pump was booked in the following morning for a thorough inspection.

The pump was easy enough to remove.  The worst bit was the cold fingers on the chilly morning easing the pipe fittings from the pump.

And in no time at all, the pump was in a tub on its way to town for inspection.

After a few hours, I was told that the pump itself was in good condition, however the controller was indeed stuffed.  Thankfully the new controllers are compatible with the older pumps, meaning we were able to fit the new controller.  A few minutes work and some new plumbing tape and the pump was reinstalled and working a charm.

This little process taught me the value of buying a quality Australian made pump, particularly for critical components such as house water.  The service and support offered was excellent, and instead of buying a complete replacement unit, I was able to save a small fortune by buying just the component I needed.

I am looking forward to another twenty years of trouble free water supply 🙂

Water Water – Improving a watering system

When we moved to the Rock Farm, our garden was irrigated by dam water, pumped by a petrol pump.  To water the garden, we would have to walk down to the dam with a can of petrol, and try to start the pump.  More often than not, the pump would be hard to start and our garden would be left parched and dry for another day.

The first step was to give the petrol pump a service, and to build a small shelter or pump house for the pump.  This helped considerably, and the pump is now far easier to start.  But it was still a long way from the house, and turning a tap on to water the garden required a considerable effort.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Petrol pumps are useful for moving large volumes quickly, but are tiresome when used to water gardens

Something had to be done, and we decided on a two-phase approach.  The first phase was to install a header tank up near the house, with an electric pump on it that could water the garden on demand.  The second phase was to replace the petrol pump with a solar pump and ball valve that would keep the header tank full at all times.

The most cost-effective tank for its size is the 5 000 gallon / 22 500 litre poly tank, and we ordered one from our local rural supplier.  It arrived a week or so later and was carefully placed (dropped) from the truck on my leveled site.  Thankfully I was able to move the tank into the right position with a couple of ropes and the four-wheel drive.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Positioning the water tank – using four-wheel assistance

The plan was for the existing piping system to remain largely unchanged.  A short extension was added from the 2 inch feeder pipe to allow the tank to be filled by the existing petrol pump.  I needed a mechanism to bypass the new electric pump, so I added a  few valves to allow me to fill the tank, and then run the electric pump from the tank back into the piping system.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Plumbing inspector checks the scope of work

It took a while and a few attempts to get the piping installed and checked for leaks.  In the configuration below, the petrol pump on the dam can be run to fill the tank.  Once the tank is filled, I can then switch two valves and use the electric pump to irrigate the garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Testing for leaks – always a nervous moment… can you spot the little drip?

The fittings I used are good quality, but decidedly expensive.  The pump is a cheap one, but easily replaced should I need to.  I have found cheap fittings don’t last, but have had good luck with the cheaper pumps.  To give the pump a bit of protection from the weather, I also built a small shelter for it.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Building the pump shelter

We leave the power switched off and the tank isolated when not in use, as we have a few leaks in the irrigation system that I am still working through.  That said, it is much easier for us to open a valve and turn on the power to have water on demand in our garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

All done

During the peak of summer, we were able to water our garden every couple of days, without the difficulties of starting the old petrol pump.  We found that because we could use the water easily, we did use the water, and we were able to nurse new fruit trees through the worst of the summer without loss.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

And now water restrictions are lifted, we can use the water for all sorts of important things, like seasoning new swags!

The second phase of our plan – the solar pump on the dam – has been relegated to the bottom of the priority list for the next few years.  The little Honda pump keeps working away without fault, and now I am only running it once or twice a month, my tolerance and patience with it is much less likely to wear out.  It also provides a good redundancy in case of bush fire.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Old faithful gains a reprieve!