A landmark weekend

Last weekend, we planted our very first tree!

Our very first tree, planted!

Our very first tree, planted!

One down, only about twenty million to go…. In our little nursery back home in Auckland 40 plants can look like a lot, but when we took them to the land and started to lay them out they only covered the smallest little corner! It’s a bit daunting when we think about the massive area that we’re eventually going to need to cover. Oh well, every journey begins with the first step… or something. (That sounds reassuring, we’ll go with that.)

For ceremonial reasons, the first tree we planted was a Kauri. We chose a 3-4 year old tree and only planted one as an experiment to see how well the kauri will do in this particular spot where we have plans to plant a lot more. It’s in the area we call the “manuka nursery” where there are lots of natural manuka re-generating already, and the area is fenced off so that stock shouldn’t be able to get in there. The existing manuka should provide a good shelter for the young hardwood trees, at least that’s the plan. Along with the kauri we also planted one puriri, and then about 40 coprosma (robusta and repens) to create some variety in amongst the manuka.

I really enjoy the process of planting a tree – finding the optimal spot, breaking the ground, turning over the soil, there’s something about getting your hands into the dirt that is very fulfilling. And they looked good – the bright glossy green of the coprosma sat really well in amongst the manuka and grasses, they definitely added some variety to the landscape. There’s also a permanence to it – knowing that when you put this tree into the ground it’s going to stay there – and in the case of a kauri at least, that’s where it could stay for many hundreds (if not thousands) of years after we’re gone.

My sister and her boyfriend came up with us this time (we’re getting quite good at recruiting free labour, or at least labour that will work for beer/cups of tea/a meal), and between the four of us it didn’t take very long to get all the trees we had into the ground. After we’d finished with the planting, we ventured back to the cabin for the second job of the day – installing our new solar panel on the roof. When you’re starting from scratch building accommodation on a bare piece of land, you really don’t take anything for granted. Simply having electricity will make such a huge difference to our comfort when we’re staying there, and solar panels are amazing! We think we’ll get everything we need for the cabin out of that one panel. No dishwasher or flat screen TV yet though unfortunately, maybe next year…

The solar panel goes on

The solar panel goes on

 

 

Our Tiny House

Recently, Simon and I were introduced to the Tiny House movement. A friend invited us along to see “Tiny”, a documentary film playing as part of the Architecture Film festival in Auckland. In it, Christopher Smith decides to build himself a house – one so small that it doesn’t meet the minimum floor area needed to get building consent, so has to be constructed on wheels as a transportable home. While building, his girlfriend researches other people who have built and are living in their own tiny homes and explores the reasons why they decide to do this. Most common was the desire to avoid debt and the freedom that you can bring to all other areas of your life when you’re not spending half your income servicing a large mortgage. Many people interviewed also talked about the desire to live simply and sustainably.

So it turns out in constructing our little cabin at Awanui this might be what we’ve actually been doing – building a “Tiny House”. Who would have guessed we’d inadvertently joined a movement?

Our Tiny House

Our Tiny House

It’s a trick to make less than 10m2 livable. Every centimetre counts, and you find yourself trawling auction websites trying to find a couch that is exactly 100cm long, or a bed that is exactly 150cm wide, so that it fits optimally in the tiny space that you’ve got for it. Almost all of the tiny houses I’ve looked at have a similar floorplan with the bed upstairs in a mezzanine loft, and living area and kitchen downstairs. Storage becomes an obsession, with compartments cleverly hidden inside furniture, or my favourite: drawers inside a staircase, with one pull-out drawer per step.

Inside the cabin

Inside the cabin

I have a lot of admiration for anyone who lives in a tiny house full time, whatever their motivation for doing so. We are not, at least not right at this moment. Our tiny house is our getaway, our bach, so only has to accommodate us on holiday. We don’t need it to provide for our everyday needs, we go there specifically to escape the everyday and live simply for small periods of time. We’ve been slow completing it – we still use an inflatable mattress on the mezzanine floor for sleeping, and we haven’t yet put up interior walls or laid any flooring over the particle board. But we have running water, a stove, and a couch. Last weekend the solar panel was installed on the roof. Every new addition improves the standard of living so much it’s hugely rewarding adding to it.

So how has accidentally joining the Tiny House movement made me think differently about our cabin? While before I saw the cabin as a stepping stone, a temporary thing that we’d use until we could afford to build a bigger place, I now see it as more long-term. Why do we need something bigger? Right now this suits us fine. I love waking up in the upstairs bedroom, snuggled in between the eaves and hearing birds walk around on the tin roof just above our heads. I like the way that living in a small space draws you outside, the deck becomes the living room, and we find ourselves in the space that we really brought the place for in the first place – the outdoors.

Mast Season

We finally got back up to Awanui over Easter. It’s been awhile, life has unfortunately kept us in Auckland over the past two months. As always the land had changed again. In that time our neighbour had brought his bulls through to graze, and what do you know – those suckers can EAT. The grass looks great, heaps shorter which means the blackberry looks even more obvious of course (the bulls will eat, but apparently not all salad greens are the same – they don’t go near the blackberry!). So that will finally be sprayed back this week. But the best news is the electric fences held up beautifully, no major breakages and the solar battery unit is still pumping out heaps of charge.

Meanwhile over this time in Auckland we’ve been doing a bit of work in the nursery. Late summer / early autumn is a busy time for trees in NZ, and this was a special year. This year we had what is called a “mast season” where the trees go into overdrive for some unknown reason and produce lots and lots of seeds. It only happens once every 5 – 11 years, so we were very lucky it happened this year. Some trees like the Rimu don’t produce seeds at all most years, so to find mature Rimu covered in berries is something special.

The Rimu have an extra-special relationship with a native bird – the Kakapo times it’s reproductive years around the Rimu masting seasons – so the birds and the trees somehow communicate with each other so that the Kakapo chicks are born at the same time as the Rimu trees mast. Nobody’s managed to work out how they do this yet!

Kahikatea is similar to Rimu, they both produce little pinky-red fruits. The seed itself is the black bit sitting on the tip of this sweet, fleshy fruit – the whole thing is about the size of a small pea. Kahikatea is more common thank Rimu and their berries were a source of food for the Maori. I actually tasted some at a food and wine festival in Opononi over Easter – they were used as a garnish on top of potato salad! (and they were quite delicious, tasting a bit like a red grape)

 

Kahikatea berries

Kahikatea berries, with black seeds

So over the month of March we collected both Rimu and Kahikatea seeds, as well as Kauri, and planted them in seed trays in our nursery at home in Auckland. In the last two weeks the Kahikatea have just started sprouting. You never quite know if it’s going to work, so it’s very exciting when you get success. It will be another couple of years before they’re ready to plant in the ground.

Kahikatea sprout 1

Teensy(!) Kahikateas germinating

No luck yet on the Rimu or Kauri but it can take until Spring for them to come away, so we’ll keep waiting patiently.

Our next visit to the land will be in about a month – by which stage it will be the beginning of planting season and we’ll be able to put our very first trees in the ground.

Blackberries and Electric Fences

Last weekend we we went up to visit Awanui, and this time we took four pairs of hands with us. Accompanying us this time were two old friends, who are comfortable campers, willing labourers, good company and generally worth their weight in gold.

The landscape had changed again since we were last up there. Because we tend to go a few weeks between visits, each time there is something different. Usually the most noticeable change is new weeds! But there’s nicer stuff too – this time of year more trees are in seed, the blackberries were fruiting prolifically, and the cicada and cricket populations were so healthy that the whole weekend we were working against the background of a constant mid-level hum coming from the trees around us. Plenty going on for the birds to feast on!

The blackberry haul

The blackberry haul

With the impending arrival of our new tenants (a large herd of bulls), we needed to electrify our boundary fences and to build a new temporary fence around the forest fragments to protect the small regenerating areas we have already. So with lots of pre-planning we had sorted out the equipment we needed, complete with a 10,000v solar-powered energiser (grrrrrr!) and 800m of electrical tape.

With the extra pairs of hands the job of setting it all up was actually fun – we wandered over hills and through valleys hammering in standards and running reels of tape. The best part of all? When we plugged it all in on Sunday morning and flicked the switch, it worked like a dream! Over that large distance we can get a decent 6000v all the way around, which should be more than enough to convince even the most stubborn of bulls to change their mind.

Fencing

In between fencing, we collected blackberries. It really made me realise how entrenched some of these blackberry plants are, we collected two large bowls of fruit from quite a small area. These have now been converted into 8 jars of blackberry jam – the last and only benefit we will get from these awful plants before they are eradicated in a few weeks time.

 

How to electrocute a bull

It all started with blackberry. We have many, many weeds on our land but blackberry is by far the most annoying, it creeps along the ground with long thorny tendrils and pretty soon it is absolutely everywhere. The thorns are sharp – my legs are constantly covered in scratches, so I’ve taken to wearing trousers whenever I go for a walk there. Blackberry’s only redeeming feature is the berries it produces (which are in season now), so before we do anything about it I will also be making some jam! Although Simon refuses to eat the berries in protest, due to the fact they come from such a demonic plant.

Blackberry

Blackberry

If you let the blackberry get away it will completely cover an area, and in the few short months we’ve had the property it has made a lot of progress. We contacted a local weed expert who will spray the blackberry with an organic weed killer. The use of sprays is one thing that doesn’t always sit very well with conservationists, and is definitely prohibited in organic farming. So it’s not a decision we take lightly, but with the extensive infestation of blackberry on our land we think it’s the only real option for us this year. We are taking care to talk to the experts about the least-harmful, most targeted chemicals we can use. Once we plant and our trees begin to grow, they will shade out the blackberry and we should be free of it once and for all – and never need to spray again.

Our weed control guy visited the other day, to take a look around. His conclusion: in order to spray the blackberry, he has to be able to see it – which I suppose is fair enough. In other words we need to do something about the length of the grass first. At the moment it’s over knee height in most places, and over hip height in many others. We have an arrangement with a local farmer who has grass-control units (cows) grazing the property today, but there are only four of them at the moment so they don’t eat nearly enough for the amount of land there is. We need a much larger herd, but have no desire to farm any cattle yet ourselves so this leaves us with a bit of a problem.

Two of our current tenants hiding in the long grass

Two of our current bovine tenants hiding in the long grass

Curious cows

Curious cows

Last week we got in touch with our neighbouring farmer about whether he would be willing to let a larger number of stock through the gate, to deal with our grass. Their solution? Bulls. They have over 100 bulls, and even a small number of these big boys would certainly eat a whole lot more than the 4 cows we have currently. But bulls are not known for their subtlety, or for their observance of basic farm protocol, like staying on your own side of the fence. In order to prepare for the onslaught of temperamental, highly motivated tonnes of beef soon to take over our land, we have to do something about our fences.

We have boundary fences of course, and some internal fences – a lot of them new and able to be electrified. So we’re starting from a good place. But the fences are not complete, there are areas of regenerating Manuka for instance that are not contained within a fence, and a lot of gaps where a rogue animal could roam into a forest fragment and trample small plants that we want to protect. We need to do a bit of construction, some repairs, and also figure out how to electrify them.

Regenerating Manuka - not respecting the boundary line!

Regenerating Manuka – not respecting the fence line!

You need much more electricity to shock a bull than to shock a cow. Dairy cows are docile and easy to control, the recommendation is a single-wire, 2000v fence but even un-electrified fences will do the job. But bulls are playful and inquisitive, they weigh a lot more and if there’s something on the other side of the fence they want (some lady-cow-loving for instance, or a fight with a rival neighbour) they will walk right through an electric fence. The recommendation for bulls is to have a 4000v fence, with 5-6 electrified wires.

Yes that’s right – we need to build the electric fence, to contain the bulls, who will eat the grass, that will expose the blackberry – so that we can finally get the bloody stuff sprayed!

Off to the hardware store again then.

Kauri

One of the big goals we have for the property is to replenish the Kauri forest that was once there. Kauri trees have an almost mythical status in New Zealand, they’re our largest native tree and are often referred to in a poetical ways like “gods of the forest”. Their timber is very beautiful – dead straight, durable, with a soft golden colour – so it was highly desirable for building. Many of the historic villas and bungalows in the older Auckland suburbs have Kauri timber in them – the result of the widespread felling of most of NZ’s Kauri forests during a few short decades in the mid-1800s. During this period of New Zealand’s colonisation, enterprising men of the time managed to bring down these monsters in the middle of isolated forest areas with nothing more than a saw, and then transport them out of the forest using only wagons and floating the logs down waterways. I wonder if they had more than a passing thought for the long-term future of the forest – or if they just saw the trees in terms of economic gain. They no doubt felt that farmland was more valuable than bush. I wonder what they’d think of our project – probably that we’re completely mad! One of the things that we’ve had to get our head around during this whole process is that by returning the land from farmland to native bush we’re actually devaluing it.

There are very few places in NZ where you can see virgin Kauri forest. One of these places is right on our doorstep – the Waipoua Forest.

Driving through the Waipoua Forest

Driving through the Waipoua Forest

To drive through the forest you take the West Coast (State Highway 12) which is the alternative route north (the other being the major route State Highway 1). Because it’s a lesser-travelled road, the forest itself is quiet. Even in the middle of summer when most of Auckland is heading north to the beaches, you can still drive through the Waipoua forest and not encounter another car for miles. The road winds through the forest for 18Km, twisting and turning. From your car window you have a magnificent view of the forest floor, overgrown, lush and green. Then you turn a corner and from out of nowhere a mature Kauri tree appears. The trunk is monstrous, several metres in diameter, and you need to crane your neck over the steering wheel of your car to see the canopy at the top. Some of the largest are over 2000 years old. They actually take your breath away, these gods, standing their ground so peacefully.

Mature Kauri tree

Mature Kauri tree

Kauri’s have a very attractive shape. Their trunk is straight like a pine (they are a conifer so there’s a family resemblance) but the branches grow upwards, reaching through the forest canopy. The leaves are thin, sharp and tough, they cluster at the end of branches in a way that makes them look from a distance a bit like clumps of green cotton-wool stuck on with glue. Up in the nooks of the branches are epiphytes, large non-parasitic plants that grow all over the Kauri in such a spectacular way that they look almost decorative. The Kauri is a gracious host, and you don’t see many mature trees that don’t have a multitude of these guests resting in the branches.

Kauri’s are now protected, it is illegal to cut them down. But unfortunately they’re waging a battle on a new front – Kauri dieback. This fungus-like disease is spread by microscopic spores, often brought into an area by animals or humans. Even though the Kauri tree is immense, the roots are delicate and shallow and the rot sets in easily. Throughout the Waipoua, you can see skeleton trees in the canopy that have succumbed to the disease.

A tree in the Waipoua, dead from Kauri Dieback

A tree in the Waipoua, dead from Kauri Dieback

In almost all national parks around NZ, people are asked to clean their gear, and spray their boots with disinfectant before going on walks.

Sign at the entrance of a forest walk

Sign at the entrance of a forest walk

There’s no know cure at this time, prevention is the only thing we can do. Sadly, some think the prognosis for Kauri forests like the Waipoua is bleak.

So for us, Kauris are the main prize – we want to use our land to nurture as many healthy trees as we can. March is Kauri seed season, so we hope to plant as many seeds as possible in the next 2 months, and get our own little Kauri forest growing.

Young Kauri on our property

Young Kauri on our property

Home away from home

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One of the first things we’ve had to do is create somewhere that we can stay while we’re on the land. We have an area that would make a very obvious future house site, 1Ha that is largely flat, close to the driveway and has 180-degree views of the mountain ranges. So when we’ve saved up some more money and have some more project time to dedicate to it we will construct a small house there, but until then the cows can call it home.

To begin with we just needed something economical that would provide basic shelter, so we set about building a one-room cabin. We didn’t want to interfere with any future building plans on the house site, so we’ve constructed the cabin next to the creek, downhill a little way. We’ve re-purposed a pre-existing structure, a small platform. I’m not sure what the previous owners meant to do with it – perhaps it was the start of their own building project. But it was in a good position next to the creek, in a flat, sheltered corner so we decided to build there.

Laying the foundations

Laying the foundations

We’ve used this existing platform as a deck, and constructed our cabin behind it. We built the foundations over a weekend (and when I say “we”, I really mean Simon and my Dad – I was making cups of tea again) and we used a local company to construct a kitset cabin to our specifications.

It’s only 10m2 (which is the maximum size you can build before you need resource consent) and has an attic level where we’ve put a bed and a downstairs with a couch and table. For a toilet we dug a long-drop nearby and we’ve been using solar showers. Very basic but it does the job, in the summer months at least!

It was constructed over a long weekend in October last year, my parents and my sister all got involved – the five of us rented a house in nearby Opononi and during the day we were building and doing other things on the land. Dad and Simon spent 3 days meticulously laying out the foundations, measuring, drawing diagrams, drinking tea, measuring again, putting down piles and joists, drinking more tea, laying concrete, measuring again. Then the kitset shed company came on the final day with the main structure already mostly assembled, and spent only 4 hours whacking in nails and erecting the pieces in quite a hurry. So unfortunately we ended up with some nails going astray here and there and a few errors in the assembly which is a shame considering the standard of the actual design, which was beautiful.

Assembling the kitset on the last day

Assembling the kitset on the last day

But now that it’s on the site it looks like it belongs there, and we’ve stayed several times since. Waking up to the sun on that hillside and having breakfast on the deck is really cool – it feels a bit like a treehouse and Simon and I are kids playing “house”!

Our next challenges are water and electricity – something kids games don’t usually consider. It’s strange having to think about these basic necessities, when you come from a city environment where everything is provided for you with the flick of a switch or the turn of a faucet. Just last weekend Simon installed a water tank, which meant building a tower to hold it (and me making more cups of tea) and attaching guttering to collect rainwater off the roof of the cabin. That finally gave us a running tap, and a water supply so that we don’t have to bring our own water in large, heavy containers every time we come to visit.

Electricity is more challenging. Our address is on the main highway but because there is at least 300m of driveway, getting electricity run to our house site would cost tens of thousands of dollars. So we’re looking into solar and already have a couple of solar-powered lights which work great. We’ve also hooked up another solar panel to a car battery and will experiment with what we can run off that. We’re also considering installing a turbine in the stream to generate hydro-electricity. More on those projects later, as they develop! Other than that, we have a gas bottle for cooking, and make do with leaving the hairdryer, electric toothbrush and other luxuries at home.

It’s comfortable enough, and getting better all the time since we put in some shelves and a couch. It’s still very much a summer solution though – with no lining the walls it doesn’t provide much more warmth than sleeping in a tent. Before the winter planting season starts we will need to sort out insulation so that we can stay here in the colder weather too.

Our Home Nursery

In October, my Dad built us a plant nursery in our garden in the city. Because “home” for us is a 3-hour drive from the land, we wanted to be able to get on with propagating seeds and growing trees in our own backyard (or front-yard, as it actually turned out) that we could then transport up to the land when they were ready to plant.

Dad and I worked on a design together, and went to the hardware store for timber and garden mesh. We were pretty constrained by space because of the small size of our garden, but we ended up with a big enough nursery to have several trays of seedlings going at a time. Initially (enthusiastic as usual) I thought I’d give the construction of the frame a go myself, but once we got to actually building the thing, my role in the production became smaller but highly important – making cups of tea. Dad somehow seems to convert tea into pure building energy, and I’m certain could go for days on nothing else.

The end result was a small timber-framed nursery, with an upper and a lower shelf, with plenty of space for storage underneath. It’s less than 2m wide, but has deep shelves with lots of workable space. It’s covered in a garden mesh, creating a shaded environment which has proven to be a pretty good climate for growing so far.

Our little home nursery

Our little home nursery

We started out with seeds of scrubland plants – the establishment species that you need first before you can plant the bigger hardwood timber trees in between. We tried Manuka, two types of Coprosma (Robusta and Repens), Flax (Phormium Tenax) and Cabbage Trees. Initially we had mixed success – the Coprosmas and the Flax came away great and we now have more of these plants than we know what to do with – resulting in an urgent shortage of pots. But the Manuka and the Cabbage Tree were total flops, with hardly any of the seeds germinating.

Coprosma Repens

Coprosma Repens

Coprosma Robusta

Coprosma Robusta

I’ve heard that with Manuka the best way to propagate them is just to cut branches laden with seed pods off other established Manuka trees, then lay the branches over the soil. The pods dry out, open up, and distribute seeds over the ground. Manuka don’t like being transplanted so it’s better that they germinate in situ. So I think we’ll give that a go this year, we have plenty of Manuka already on the land – and then we would be “eco-sourcing” too so there’s a bit more assurance that the strain that you’re planting has likelihood of success in your climate.

Eco-sourcing is a popular topic when considering native plants. The Coprosma and Flax seeds I actually sourced over the internet from gardeners in different parts of the country, which purists would probably tell you is a no-no. I’ve read various opinions on eco-sourcing, most of which supported getting seeds locally as the preferred method if at all possible. That way you know that they’re more likely to grow well in the conditions, and you’re not introducing something new that doesn’t belong, into your environment. Our problem is that the land that we’ve brought isn’t exactly “natural” (ie: in it’s original state) anyway. It’s covered in weeds and introduced grasses, and there are very few native species in any great number, so eco-sourcing seeds becomes difficult. Also you’re not allowed to collect seeds from national parks either, without a permit. So we’ve been looking to the neighbouring forests to get an idea of what grows naturally in our area, and then we’re growing what we can with the seeds that are available to us. I figure getting something into the ground is better than nothing. Then when we have established our initial colonies of plants, we can continue by eco-sourcing from them because we know they’ve been successful.

Probably the greatest delight in the nursery so far has been our success with Kowhai. This is one of my favourite NZ trees – it’s a small tree that needs a lot of light so tends to grow on the edges of bush. It has attractive ladder-shaped leaves, and beautiful yellow flowers shaped like fingers that hang like droplets off the branch. (I’m sure a botanist could do a lot better describing them properly! I’m going to have to stick to terms like “ladder” and “finger” because that’s what I think they look like!) Kowhai seeds are really tough, they have hard shells and are difficult to germinate without some preparation. So the recommendation is to boil the seed in hot water to soften the coating, but we actually ended up sand-papering them. We had about 50 seeds, and spent a good deal of time with some fine sandpaper scratching away at the surfaces of the seeds. Once they went into the soil I didn’t hold much hope, but about 20 of them have come away beautifully. Some are now about 20cm tall and looking beautiful and strong.

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Going out to the nursery each day when I come home from work to water the plants and check on their progress is lovely.

Next stage – trees!

Totara

Totara

The dominant tree species we have at the moment is Totara. These are native to New Zealand and are really common in some areas including Northland. They’re often found on farms where they make good wind-breaks and add to ground stability. They also have the added benefit that they’re resistant to livestock (they don’t like the taste of them apparently). But they’ve been so successful, particularly in this area, that they’re often considered weeds!

We have them dotted around our paddocks, some individual trees stand alone, but more often they’re found in groups of half a dozen or more. They’re so plentiful, and capable of regeneration on their own that we certainly won’t be propagating or planting any more of them!

What we would like to have in a few years is more variation. In particular we want to propagate species like Kauri, Kahikatea and Rimu.

But in the meantime the Totaras provide shade and break up the landscape nicely.

Paddock

The search for the right property

During 2013 we spent the winter months searching for the right section. Where do you start? We knew the area of New Zealand we wanted to buy in, and we had a budget in mind, but we didn’t really know what to look for. Bigger was better obviously, in order to make any kind of impact we knew we needed as much space as we could afford. But other than that, what attributes make a parcel of land more suited for a project like ours?

When you find yourself completely lacking in experience, you turn to others for help. I got some great advice from another project in NZ like ours that I found online, I contacted the owner and he gave us some tips based on his experience. Other advice we sourced from numerous places, including people we knew who had farmed, and from a local conservation project we had done some volunteer work for in Auckland. In the end you take all this information into account but you just have to make up your mind and go with the piece of land that feels right. So rightly or wrongly, these are the factors that we eventually based our decision on:

1. Size – In order to have a lifelong project and to be able to feel like you made a difference, you need space. Bigger blocks than ours often have houses on them and are run as productive farms. These were out of our price range, so we chose the biggest section of bare land that we could afford within our budget.

2. Proximity to an existing forest – Birds and insects are critical for the reproduction of plants, so being located near an existing forest (in our case one owned and managed by the government’s Department of Conservation) was a major bonus. Also we also have a lot of scrub and early regrowth on our land already, in the form of manuka, totara and a small section of existing bush which means there’s a lot of little critters in residence there already.

3. Water source – We have four streams running through the property, which we’re told have never dried up (even in last year’s exceptionally bad summer drought). I don’t think we fully realised the benefit this would bring until after we started staying on the land. Having a ready water supply makes things so much easier both for humans and for plants, we’re already taking water from the stream for washing (it’s so clean we’re told we could even drink it if we needed to) and these streams will no doubt become invaluable as a means of irrigation once we get planting areas established.

4. History – This one is the toughest, as you’re never going to know the full history of the land unless you buy it from someone who has owned it forever – and even then you’re limited to what they decide to tell you. We did see a few properties that had large stands of exotic pine, due to be milled. This would have given us a small income (a few hectares of pine is worth a few thousand dollars) but pine needles do horrible things to the soil, drying it out and turning it acidic and chalky. So re-planting these areas in native bush would have been harder than farmland. It’s still a very worthwhile thing to do, but we felt like such a project would require more skilled managers than we are. The other thing we worried about was the use of pesticides and chemicals on the land. In the past farmers of the 1950s and 1960s would have used chemicals like DDT which are extremely toxic to humans and other organisms. This particular chemical was banned in the 1980s and more recent chemicals are much less destructive but it’s still a concern when buying land that was previously used for agricultural purposes.

5. Variation – More for the fun of it, a bit of variation will keep things interesting throughout the life of the project. Within the property we have a small section (a couple of hectares) of mature bush, we have other areas which are covered in scrub and primary plants, and the rest is bare pastoral land. This means we can have several different projects going at once – we can be planting native hardwood trees amongst the scrub, planting primary plants in the bare grass areas, eco-sourcing seeds from the mature bush and planting some species in the wetlands by the stream while we plant others on the sunny dry banks… all at once if we choose to.

On top of these factors there was also of course an emotional element to selecting the land we wanted to buy. We chose a section that has a 180 degree view of the neighbouring mountain ranges, it slopes gently northwards (so in the southern hemisphere that means all-day sun), it is off the main highway and it’s close to the beaches that we love. For amateurs like us we had to consider that having a place that you want to visit and stay at, is more likely to help with your motivation to keep your project alive and moving.

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