Thieves and Vandals

Not fair. I went up to the land in the late afternoon today to drop off a bucket of compost and take pictures. It was a lovely drive, the sun just starting to sink, giving tree trunks and empty tree branches a warm orange glow, though the day was cold. Anyway, I got there, and the rickety gate and its badly attached “No Trespassing” sign were all in place, but as I walked up the trail to the homestead, I noticed tyre tracks. We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week so the ground was very soft. It looked like someone had driven a truck all the way up my trail, and taken out a tree on the way. Closer to the homestead site, there were indications that perhaps the truck had got stuck in the mud, but whoever was driving it had thrown down sand, and there was also a bit of gravel in that general area, which hadn’t been there before.

truck tracks and torn-up earth

This isn’t such a good photo of the truck damage, because it was getting dark when I decided to take it. But you should be able to see the reddish stuff filling the tracks – that’s the sand. Once I realized they had driven right up to the homestead site, I started to wonder if these were hunters coming back to put up a hunting ladder. There was no ladder, but they’d stolen one of the large tractor tyres that I’d been planning to use for raised beds. The really weird thing is that they lifted it, but managed to leave the precarious pile of firewood that was inside it apparently untouched.

a pile of sticks marking the spot

All of this was unsettling, but the worst was yet to come… I had a bad feeling about it even as I rounded the corner of the tumble-down barn with my bucket of kitchen scraps. Yes. The compost bin was gone. And it looked suspiciously like they’d taken the compost as well. How else to explain the fact that the ground looked pretty level, although the bin had been probably close to a quarter full, mounded up in the middle?

where the compost bin used to be

Now there have been some quite wild storms in the last week (although these didn’t disturb that stick pile), so that might be why the landscaping fabric was all riled up on the new vegetable bed.

veg bed loses its cover

That was pretty easy to fix, and I weighted it down with some bits of breeze block as well. The other thing that needed mending – and this was if anything the most upsetting find – was the bird feeder. It was smashed up, basically. Now this might have happened if a truck had run over it by accident – the big hole in the side; half the perches sheared off – but the branch it had been hanging on was gone, and the intruders had hung it up again on a different sapling. (Which makes me wonder: Do you remember way back in the Spring when someone stole my spade and fork? Well whoever did that refilled the bird feeder. I’m pretty sure they did.) I didn’t have tape with me today, but I patched the hole with paper, and stuck twigs back in for perches before filling it up with seed. It won’t last, but the birds will have something for the next week or two.

bird feeder mended for now...

At least the rain barrel is still there (completely full of water, which may have been a deterrent), and although the lid of the old barbeque had parted company from its base, that hadn’t been taken either. Perhaps it didn’t have the same potential for clean-up and packaging as a Christmas present. I hope whoever gets my compost bin enjoys it. It’s a useful item!

So, what do I do about all this? Only the compost bin had some value, and that wasn’t much. I could talk to the police, but that seems like overkill for this, especially since I don’t yet have a proper lockable gate or fenced entrance. That said, there is a gate of sorts, and the place is posted, so it should be obvious to anyone that they can’t just walk in. I’ll talk to the agent who sold me the land, and – through him, initially – the neighbours. I think he knows the family… See whether there’s a more widespread problem with petty theft.

These weren’t the pictures I was planning to take, but once I’d got over the shock and patched things up, I didn’t have the heart to trek off further into the forest. But I did take this lovely sunset behind the Old Lady, so can at least finish with something more peaceful and beautiful.

winter sunset


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November update

A month late, and in fact I’ve been up there again since I finished the work on the new vegetable bed, but haven’t had a chance to write things up, or show off the photos of my bit of forest in autumn. I think this is one of my favourite images:

autumn woodland

Here are a couple more:

leaves turning

splashes of red

These were all taken in early November. It had rained quite heavily the week before, and the creeks all had water in them. The rain had also softened the ground, and so digging the rest of the vegetable bed was a much easier task than when I put in my Summer Solstice bee garden. I think I mentioned in my last post that this bed should be named for my grandfathers, who were both keen and experienced gardeners, and would certainly have wanted to help me with it even if only in the form of long distance encouragement and gardening tips. Although peanuts and ginger and peach trees — all on my to-do list — were not things they ever attempted to grow.

I know I’ve already shown you photos of site clearance when I dug the bee garden, but at the risk of boring you with more of the same, here is the adjacent vegetable patch in progress:

extending the veggie bed

And here’s the full extent of it (at least for now) before I covered it with landscaping cloth:

finished (for now)

I was discussing progress with my dad, and he mentioned a gardening system I think I’ll try as well — “Das Hugelbeet”. It’s basically a layered mound of twigs, leaf litter, turf, compost… I have all the ingredients in huge abundance. Well perhaps not compost yet, but I’m working on that. Otepoti Urban Organics has a great post on this with step-by-step instructions.

And finally, my expanding to-do list. If I write it up here, it might spur me to do some of these things sooner rather than later. Now that semester has finished etc etc…

1. Finish posting “No Hunting” signs around the perimeter. (Should be easier to do now that the leaves have gone and I can see the pink boundary ribbon again).

2. Get an extension for the rain barrel (aka another rainbarrel?). It overfloweth.

3. FIREWOOD!! I think I own an axe. But I need to plan better to build up firewood stores over the coming year.

4. Construct some trails through the woodland. Potentially one of the easiest ways in from the homestead site is littered with old barbed wire fencing from animal enclosures, thicker undergrowth and fallen trees. With a bit of clearance, there could be a much more inviting (and less scratchy) beginning to a woodland walk.

5. Build a cabin! OK, this is a longer term goal, but I know where (photo below), and I’m always so inspired by people who’ve done it themselves. For now I’m reading up on the subject, but a first step will be to:

6. Salvage materials from what is already on site. Breeze blocks, an old window pane or two, corrugated iron roofing.

cabin goes here!


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cleaning up, and garden expansion part 1

Two visits’ worth of news to impart tonight. A week ago, after reading some books about gardening in North Carolina (why didn’t I think to get these in the Spring?) I decided I should make a start on clearing more land for a vegetable bed. When my seedlings are ready to go next year, I might actually have somewhere to put them. No more harvesting my first tomatoes in October, delicious though they have been.

I started clearing a strip of land to the left of the wildflower garden, improvising some sides for my growing compost pile with salvaged bits of wood. It’s certainly easier to do this kind of thing in October (rather than June), but frequent tea breaks were necessary all the same. During one of them, I decided that this vegetable bed should be in memory of my grandfathers. If they were still alive, they’d have helped me dig it, I’m sure – or at least supported the cause from a distance! I’ve covered the cleared patch with a weed barrier cloth for now.

beginnings of a vegetable bed

containing the compost









Yesterday I went back up there, maybe to make more progress on the new vegetable bed, but mostly to walk over the homestead site and pick up any last remaining pieces of old metal and dangerous debris, including some coils of barbed wire. Reason for the clean-up? A Hallowe’en party next weekend! There’ll be two children visiting, so I needed to make sure that as much of the homestead site as possible is clear of hazards. Well, forget the veggie bed, although I did measure the width of what I’ve cleared so far, and it’s almost exactly – and completely by accident – 4 feet, which is apparently the optimal width for a raised bed. I also discovered some solid-looking, longish pieces of wood in one of the tumbledown buildings that would make great sides for a raised bed… but that’s for another time. It took me all afternoon yesterday just to do the clearance work.

The worst spot was around the base of one of my trees. Lots of debris, nearly all of it parts of an old electrified fence. The part that wasn’t might have belonged to a bed frame with mattress springs. It’s deeply embedded, and I’ll need to dig it out, but at least it’s easy to see, and doesn’t have sharp edges.

Here are before and after pictures of the clean-up site. Note the barbed wire. It had been there so long that plant and tree roots were holding it in place. I managed to free it all (not without suffering a few scratches – just glad I was wearing safety glasses!) and have relocated it for now to an out-of-the-way spot in one of the tumbledown buildings. Those will be out of bounds for youngsters – and probably best if adults don’t walk over them either. I had another chat with the agent who sold me the land, and he seems fairly sure that there will be a well, possibly nothing more than a deep hole in the ground, somewhere…

after: all clean

before: the dangerous mess

And I’ve refilled the bird feeder too!








Here’s all the debris…

nasty metal bits


… not including the barbed wire coils. The soil looked very rich underneath that circular piece – possibly the top of an old metal drum or container. The pile of sticks is only a fraction of the wood that was littering the area where we’ll camp next week. We’ll have a good fire with it all – let’s hope it doesn’t rain…

And something else… Lots of red bugs gathering and sunning themselves on a couple of the trees, including the Old Man. They’re boxelder bugs, and this is what they do in October/November, before finding themselves somewhere warmer to spend the winter.

boxelder bugs (click on photo to see them better)

Their presence on the tree with all the debris as well as the Old Man not only help identify those trees as boxelders (the leaves, the bark check out too), but *female* boxelders. Oops. The Old Lady from now on, I guess. The bugs feed on the leaves and seedpods of the trees, but don’t otherwise damage them. I could leave them alone to do their thing, or I could help the trees out (the leaves look very nibbled, I have to say), and try to decrease their numbers a little. Diluted laundry detergent works well, apparently. Thoughts, anyone? Leave the bugs or help the trees?


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