Before and during

I can’t call this post “after” as I suspect this particular project – the property, the land, the trees, all who live there – will not be a project which is ever finished. But, it’s also important to mark progress, at whatever speed it happens.


Probably the largest changes have come from the demolition of the house and sheds. Before the diggers could come in, we had to pay for an asbestos inspection, in which we won the jackpot. In a bad way. The asbestos removal bill was roughly 1.5 times the removal of the rest of the house, the sheds, and all the cars. If ever anyone wants a lucrative profession … sigh.

The demolition process had its own hiccups. I’d thought, when I bought the land, that the power had been disconnected. The vendor confirmed it, but when I called the power company to triple check – the day before the diggers were due to arrive – they said that everything was still active. Panic. Please can you disconnect. No, because I am not a customer. You can make a power account with us. OK, great, please do that. There’s a set up charge of $160. Really? I have to set up an account for the sole reason of disconnecting the power? Yes. And there’s a disconnection charge of $140. OK, fine, whatever. Please do that. Oh, we don’t do the disconnection, you have to call a Powerco electrician for that. Who are they? There are two approved people in your area. I call the first number, answerphone lists mobile number. Call mobile number. Number doesn’t exist. Call answerphone again to recheck number, this time it’s answered. Man on the other end is no longer an electician, retired, sold business. Try second number, this one in Te Aroha. Yes, they can disconnect, but it takes a few days. Please fill in the online form. Open online form. What is your ICP number. I’m in Auckland, not at the property. I don’t know the ICP number. You can get it from your power bill. I don’t have a power bill, since I don’t have a power account. The power company can tell you. Call them back. Get ICP number emailed to me, but email lists the wrong address. Have I just disconnected my neighbours’ power? Call power company again in a panic. They update records. Resend correct ICP at my address. Try to complete filling in online form. Do not have electician so cannot submit form. Powerco sends PDF version. Printer doesn’t work. Fix printer. Fill in form. Photograph and send to Powerco, one minute after closing. Well, bugger.

Incredibly, the next day miracles happened. I got a call from a contracting electrician to say that while their wait time is usually around three weeks, he was on a job at the head of the valley, and his boss had given the OK for him to come and do the disconnection that day. Was that OK with me? Umm, let me think. Called the demolition company to warn them. They could work around the sparkies. Fine. Whew. Demolition was go!

I wasn’t able to be at the property when it all started since the first thing was the asbestos removal. When I arrived a couple of days later, the house still stood but all the fibreboard cladding had been removed.

Work had begun in earnest on the huge sheds above the house since. Cue discovery of two more buildings and three more cars than I thought were there.

Big diggers are great at removing big stuff, but they leave behind small stuff. And, when it comes to glass, create huge amounts of even smaller stuff. I spent a week raking and digging through the new flat area where the sheds had been, removing the worst of the remaining rubbish. My broken back and I filled crate after crate of broken glass, bag after bag of plastic rubbish, and took a short break to google what “strakes” are, since I now have two. Apparently, they’re the 4WD technology of yesteryear; they bolt on to tractor tyres to provide traction in muddy and wet conditions.

Weed clearing

The top layer of broken glass removed, I moved on to weeding. This, I feel, will be a full-time job for months, if not years to come, so I won’t post all of the photos of all of the weeds. Just a couple. Of thousand. First up was the blackberry behind the orchard which will be where the septic soakaway system drippers will go, and the area next to the bush where the septic tank itself will go. Clearing blackberry on its own is quite straightforward and pretty fast; I can clear about 100m2 in a couple of hours. As soon as it’s combined with anything else – jasmine, gorse, kikuyu – it takes forever! Strength in diverity, anyone?

Of course, the ubiquitous beer bottles continued to surprise. I collected two 60L crates full of bottles from about 6m2, including three that were still full!

Jasmine used to be one of my favourite scents and flavours. Jasmine green tea is a cup of summertime. My jasmine patch is proof positive that you can get too much of a good thing. The vines will regrow from pretty much any part of the plant, so where they had reached the bush, it was a matter of unwinding them one at a time and tracing every vine, every root, every little shoot. I spent a week weeding it out from the top edge of the bush, and then a day or two spraying roughly half of what was in the open. The spray process had its own complications, since the demolition diggers broke the water line from the bath-tub creek barrel water supply, so I had no running water. There was the pond, of course, but the nozzle was fine enough that it would get clogged up in no time. Luckily, my neighbours came to my rescue and let me refill the tank from their tap. 100L of poison later (not counting what ran down my back) and I hoped to see a difference in the jasmine. Unfortunately for me, the weather had become too cold for the poison to be taken into the root system, and it would be several months before spring arrived and a difference could be seen. In the meantime, I removed the jasmine patch by the driveway – no spraying, all unwinding – and wrestling with ancient barbed wire too.

Of course, it’s not all been destruction and demolition. I’ve taken seedlings from existing overgrown tracks so that they can be replanted in less squash prone places. I didn’t expect them all to survive, but since they would have all been crushed where they were, anything that did was still a bonus. Some kanuka seedlings have been planted now in cleared area above the orchard.

Fence line clearing

Before we can put stock into the paddock area, the fences need to be repaired. Before they can be repaired, they need to be cleared. Before new ones can be added, I need to know where the road will go. Before the road can be designed, I need to know where the house that it leads to will sit. And we’re not going to decide that straight away. The purpose of building the garage is to give us somewhere to live and get to know the land before building the house. So clearing the fences dropped lower on the priorities list, but most of the existing ones have now been cleared of lopper-worthy weeds. In a lot of places, gorse trunks that will be chainsawed remain – a fun job waiting for a day when other things have been done! In one place, a huge tree has fallen over the fence, but it’s well beyond my chainsaw capabilities so will wait for help on that one.

And finally …

I’ve tried, during all the hard yakka, to spend time actually enjoying the land instead of only working there. I’ve deliberately not explored throughout the property as I want to leave the majority of it to discover when Sam gets here so we can discover together, but there has been plenty to see along the existing open tracks. The hours I’ve spent just wandering and looking have been just as satisfying as those spent working. Perhaps the best aspect of aimless wandering in a forest is the humility and perspective it brings. I spend all of my time worrying about the things I have to do, but the living bush is not only far, far ahead of me, it has absolutely no need for me at all. I can’t teach trees to grow – I don’t know myself, and they are the experts. I don’t need to plant seeds, the trees have taken care of that too, and throughout the bush baby seedlings, adolecent saplings, and ancient granddaddy behemoths are just doing their thing. Their thing, not mine.

And here we are in lockdown. Building should have been started by now. It hasn’t, and when it does, I probably won’t be able to be there as it seems that Auckland will be in lockdown longer than other places. The only bonus is that it’s given me time to actually get these pictures together. I can be grateful for that, but I’m looking forward to getting back to work too. But it’s not all about me; the seeds will still sprout, the trees will still grow, same as always.

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