Friday, February 14, 2014

Hello civilization

I say this with some giddy exuberance, but we have been working on something which will bring us back in line with the rest of civilization. I am of course, referring to "roads".

Our driveway, oh boy, is something we've lived with for six years. It's like Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde. Half is perfectly presentable, the other half is somewhat of a monster to navigate. The dirt ruts are so bad, I've had my car exhaust-pipe welded back together, twice!

The big dipper

The driveway climbs a slope that needs some traction, and dirt inevitably travels down hill. We had the funds to have the front section of our driveway concreted by professionals, before we moved in six years ago - but the latter was a little project we always meant to finish ourselves. Settling on the design was the main issue. We learned with concrete, that rainwater travels down the slope very quickly. We weren't in a hurry to start pouring concrete again.

Driveway solution

In the end, we decided on turf stones, which is a concrete grid paver. It allows the water through, dispersing the energy, so water doesn't travel fast. We had two pallets of pavers delivered and starting to lay them. They will be filled with stones to help with drainage.

The main job we've been working on is the concrete stop, which will butt the pavers and prevent them from travelling down hill too. We could install wooden stakes through the grids (and may yet do this) but we wanted a concrete stop at the bottom of the slope, all the same.

Rebar leftovers, surplus to house build

We installed the form-work on Tuesday and started pouring cement the next day! A work colleague of David's loaned us a cement mixer. It was a lovely stroke of luck, that was until we tried using it. Bolts were undone, fan belts were loose and the drive wheel wasn't attached properly. Thanks to David's mechanical sleuthing, we had it fixed within an hour. Then it took 2 more hours to finish pouring the cement. We're still very grateful for the loaner.

Drive wheel fitted and secured properly

How is it that I'm so stoked about a road though? Here in the Lockyer Valley, our rain events tend to be hard and fast. Add a hill to that, and in no-time there is, a la', erosion. I don't like erosion, I need the land to stay put. But things like access roads are an intrusion on nature, and poorly designed ones can really cause damage. That's why we procrastinated so long on the design. We wanted something that would counter the energy caused by installing a hard surface driveway. The grid pavers should achieve that.

Six courses laid

We're pretty chuffed with our progress to date. The worst part (the concreting) is over. I'm glad we can put it behind us now. David and I worked diligently as a team, and our daughter was able to keep her little brother entertained (just). Thank goodness we can almost mark off another project from our list. As you can tell, we're not in a hurry - six years is a long time to finish a driveway.

We hope to catch-up on all those projects we put aside to have our baby recently. Which reminds me of a funny story (at the time it wasn't) but going up the driveway, when I was in full labour, was no picnic. The joys of being a hard-working, money poor couple. Our baby arrived safely, and we can now marvel at the soon-to-be finished driveway!

All roads may lead to Rome, but I'll just settle for the 30 metres to our house...hello civilization.


  1. Hey Chris, wow you two have been busy since i was away, you made a whole person :o) congrats
    on the driveway front those paving stones are great i have not seen these before but they will certainly solve your driveway adventures & i know what you mean about money poor LOL

  2. Thanks for dropping in. Yes, our new little person is nine months old now. He's at the stage where he's mobile and curious. We've had to retrieve him from the inside guinea pig cage, many times. He likes to play with the doors, lol.

    Money poor just means waiting longer for stuff, doesn't it. We can certainly enjoy the adventure that comes with the waiting though. I bet we'd have some stories to swap between us.

  3. Thats looks amazing! I also have not seen those pavers before but we have a section that we designated as a driveway here that needs some help too since it's at the top of a slope as well. I have been eyeing the French drain though. Some of the older alleys in Chicago have them in order to help prevent flooding and they look nice, can withstand a deep freeze and can help even out the flow of water when done right. But like you, we have a to-do list that has to get done before we deal with that. (and we did not have a baby!).
    Your family makes a great team. Its nice to see that.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. The concrete pavers were really designed for turf to be grown in between the grids, so you can drive a vehicle on it without killing the grass. This would be impractical on a slope however, because the moisture always drains away and wouldn't keep the grass alive. The stones we intend to fill the grids with instead, should help break up the force of water as it inevitably travels down hill.

    Your French drain idea sounds interesting though - were you planning on installing it at the top of the slope, to stop water running down the slope? These grid pavers seem perfect to place across the French drain. You wouldn't need many, but it helps disperse the weight of vehicles travelling across the drain, without causing compaction.

    Anyway, it sounds like an interesting project when you get the time and resources to dedicate to it. We've waited six years to get to this point, lol.

    1. The French drains I have seen in person ran a certain length to a sewer but were full of gravel as well as being on flat land. I have some research to do regarding the design and we won't be doing it for another year or so. We are dealing with compacted ground already and we get sand and gravel pushed into the driveway from the road during snow plowing so its a problem area. We will see. Now that you mention that these pavers were intended for use for grassy drives, I am very intrigued! I have always thought those were so lovely!

    2. Snow plowing adds another dimension to deal with. We only get water shed in downpours. When you finally get to deal with it, it will be interesting to see what your solutions become. :)

  5. Hi Chris. Saw your great post on permaculture over at Eight Acres and followed the link here to you wonderful blog. I can see that I'll be spending some time over the next week or so reading through all of your posts.

    Then I noticed that you are also in the Lockyer Valley, or rather on the hilly fringes of the Valley - just like us. Lots of the things you write about really resonate with me, particularly issues stemming from the soils, environment, climate ...

    Like you, we are implementing appropriate permaculture approaches as we see the need - all while learning just how broadly applicable permaculture principles are to life in general.

    Your access issues really strike a chord here. We have nearly one km of easement that leads to a further km of track on our property. The latter is relatively easy to maintain, despite the fact that it climbs 70m in that km, because we can take the contours into account. The easement, being an easement, takes no notice of the land's contours and simply follows a property boundary in a straight line across a series of sandstone ridges and gullies, and it's a nightmare to maintain and (currently) to drive. Your perforated pavers with a downhill concrete stop might be a solution for some of the worst parts.

    My blog (neglected for a couple of months due to work on projects and family visits over the holiday season) is Sustainable @ Lockyer Valley and you can find it at The linked blog in the header to this comment is a discontinued one (pre-permaculture) that was more for keeping family and friends up to date with out doings, but gives a general impression of our situation.

    Keep up the great posts.

    1. It was great to find another local, attempting to garden in our extremes (and blogging about it). I looked at your blog and related to much of the material too. Although I think living on sandstone ridges would be more extreme. We get shelves of sandstone among shelves of red clay. Very little top soil. What good soil we have, we've had to build ourselves.

      I noticed you put out pony pellets for the wallabies after some bushfires went through. We often see joey carrying wallabies here too, and they like to feed on the pigeon pea leafs when there's no feed around. Just wondering if you want to add that to your soup station next time - pigeon pea prunnings? I notice you're growing it there too.

      Thanks for popping by and letting me know about your blog. I really enjoyed writing the guest post at Farmer Liz's, and enjoy reading her blog too. There seems to be many places we attempt to garden in the weather extremes. The only real solution seems to be plants, and more of them. :)

    2. Yes, I know what you mean about building soil - that's the only way we get it around here, though it is wonderful to see that after 12-18 months the "soil" under a garden bed has changed from yellow-red-sandy to a rich black as a result of the leaching down of nutrients and, probably more important, the actions of the soil organisms. Changing the world one garden bed at a time.

      You are right about the pigeon peas. We don't deliberately put out food for the animals apart from after bushfires, but we do grow pigeon peas in the unfenced garden area, and these provide hard-times food for the wallabies and possums. While their normal supply of grass, leaves, flowers, fruit are available they leave the pigeon peas alone, but at certain times of the year they are heavily grazed. It's a delight to see a wallaby sitting in a group of pigeon pea bushes, carefully pulling down a choice branch to nibble. The possums just sit in a bushe and "pig out" in true possum style. Luckily pigeon peas can be pollarded, even when it is done by the wildlife.

    3. It's great to swap notes with another local who knows the quality of the soils. Have you ever let a garden bed go (ran out of time to keep up to it) and noticed the good soil revert to something like dry potting mix?

      In our area, where we have clay shelves, any good soil we can get going on top of the clay, does better than on the sandstone shelves. I'm wondering if it has to do with the better drainage on sandstone drying it out quicker?

      The hardest challenge for us hasn't been building the soil, but rather maintaining it. I notice where we have swales, the soil doesn't need much of our attention, except where it crosses a sandstone shelf. It only takes a season of hot dry weather, to cook any good soils we don't maintain.

      Have you noticed anything similar?

      I know I don't have enough canopy trees in some areas, and I think this is causing excess evaporation during summer.

    4. Hi Chris. [I'm trying to have Blogger show my current website as the link behind my name, but it seems to want to call me "Anonymous"!!, Gordon]

      I sure do recognise those situations. We don't have the clay, but on the sandstone I notice two situations that arise. One is a change to something like "dry potting mix", and the other is to a strange "hard but friable" condition. In my experience "dry potting mix" is a good description, particularly if one interprets it as the crap bagged potting mix that supermarkets and garden supply places sell. The plant material in these mixes is generally at best only partly broken down, and there is no evidence of life in them.

      I'm pretty sure my "dry potting mix problem" is due to a lack of humic matter, as distinct from compost, in the soil to give it structure, enhance moisture levels, and provide plant nutrient (directly and indirectly). Good compost of course contains some humic material, which is part of the reason it's a good idea to sieve your compost and put the finer fraction into the soil, reserving the coarser material for mulch or for feeding the next batch of compost. However unless you already have a healthy soil, there's not a lot of point in incorporating coarse compost material into it.

      I'm no expert on soil processes, but I suspect that the coarse material in our "dry potting mix" soils is compost "residue" that has not been broken down. This is probably because (a) the soil was not sufficiently healthy initially; (b) when we let the bed go there isn't sufficient ongoing moisture in the system for biological processes to continue creating humic matter; (c) if there isn't a continuous cover of thick (but air and water permeable) mulch then soil temperatures rise and water content decreases; and, on a sandstone base, there is likely to be significant leaching of nutrients when major rainfall events occur. I have to say that I have had this problem in some beds that I was actively managing, not just in ones that I'd been ignoring for a few months. Does the above explanation seem to match your experience / observations?

      My way of tackling this problem is still evolving, but it includes:
      # keeping a fluffy mulch cover on the soil that allows air and water to penetrate and insulates from overheating;
      # adding green manure to the soil and digging it in. This isn't the usual "green crop dug in" approach, but a mix of moist and drier (but still living) plant material put through the chipper / mulcher sufficient to make a 25-50mm layer on the surface, then watered and dug in;
      # adding sieved compost "fines" to the surface layer and mixing it into the top layer with a hand fork;
      # same as above but using dry horse manure that has been put through the chipper / mulcher so it becomes a very light fluffy material;
      # to the extent that our water supply allows (we have only tank water), keeping the soil moist.

      If you want a good guide to how soil "works" and how to maintain its health, the best book I've come across is Toby Hemenway's _Gaia's Garden_ (Chapter 4: Bringing Soil to Life). This is by far the best and most practical permaculture text I know. The other good source for soil matters is, perhaps surprisingly, Harvey Ussery's _The Small-scale Poultry Flock_ (pages 137-144 for soil matters). We have a pretty comprehensive permaculture / organic library but these are the two books I go to first when I have a question, and I seldom need to go past them.

      Writing this reply might just have inspired me to write a blog post of my own on these issues.

  6. (b) is definitely something we are familiar with too, being on tank water we don't lavish our garden with adequate moisture. One thing I've found helps however, are the pigeon peas and lantana. We don't like the lantana and we try to control it without using chemicals, but I fear if we removed it without having something suitable in its place - we'd have the unbroken compost residue you speak of, and worse soil than at present.

    What you shared makes perfect sense to me, and I've also experienced the same dryness in beds we try to manage too. They just want to soak up as much moisture as you can give it, and sometimes its never enough. I've found the addition of shade trees, which brings the marsupial, bird, reptile and insect droppings, takes that burden away from me. But the area often needs a good soaking rain at least a few times in the dry season.

    Thanks for sharing the book sources and I look forward to reading something on your blog, when you get the time. It's something I think the average local needs to know about. The Local Council published a pretty extensive brochure on the areas traits and possible solutions...

    This was enormously helpful to me when just starting out. It told me a lot about the areas natural traits and how to attempt to address it. Although not a perfect text on a comprehensive problem in our regions soils, its still a good place to start.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. :)


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