Do you remember when our friends built us a veggie garden in the wasteland behind our house? Well we've just trashed it, but all in the name of home improvements. We discovered last summer just how bad mould can be! It was everywhere: clothes, furniture, cupboards... I am not someone who usually reacts to things like that (skin allergies, yes; hayfever, yes; other respiratory problems? No!) but even I was wheezing, despite wiping everything down repeatedly with tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil... and whatever other home remedies were recommended by those experienced in the ways of "Coffs Harbour mould".
Once the humidity levels died away and the mould went too we researched our options to prevent us going through the same thing again, and it boils down to sufficient ventilation under the house + facilitating water moving away from the house. You know how hard and often it rains here... buckets of the stuff, especially over the summer, and we've built fairly close to the hillside, and on clay. Consequently the vegetation around the house retains water, the clay prevents water from draining away, and the position of the house doesn't maximise cross-ventilation under the house. Well, you live and learn.
Last weekend we dug out our veggie garden (* sniff *), but only temporarily, and relocated the plants to the big veggie patch down the hill. The wonderful soil brought in by our lovely friends went to fill up the planter box built into the side of our verandah, which has languished, unloved and full of big bits of polystyrene (packaging materials: useful to add bulk to the bottom of the planter so that we don't need to find 1.5 cubic metres of expensive soil to fill it!). The clay at the back of the house has been dug and compacted to slope away from the house and towards the agricultural drains that will be put in along the edge of the hillside, and concrete will be laid on top, both to help the water run towards the drains and to give us (finally!) a smooth, hard path around the house. There are planting areas built into the new layout which will give us both the veggie and herb gardens back plus room for permanent planting, and the lower batter of the slope will be weed-matted and planted up with something nice, although we haven't yet decided what. There will be enough room for a table and chairs out there, which is a nice sun trap in spring and autumn, and we'll finally be able to use the big washing line.
The next step of the process is to put two big fans into the crawl space under the house: they don't use much electricity (useful when you're on solar power!) and will have timers so they don't run all day, but in theory the increased circulation of air, combined with reduced build-up of water, will mean less mould.
Lastly, we're taking the opportunity to provide some extra shade in summer by planting a 'living wall' along the back deck. We discovered that in mid-summer the angle of the sun over the ridge of rainforest at the back means that it shines into the hall and the laundry for several hours in the afternoon, which heats up the whole house. We're putting in big wooden posts, tensioned with the sort of cables you see around swimming pools, and we're going to grow vigourous but deciduous climbers up the frame! Current favourite suggestions include wisteria, grape vines and kiwi fruit, but I fancy filling in the gaps - if there are any - with things like runner beans, so we'll see how we go. It's very exciting.
And this is the planted-up planter. We absolutely should NOT have gone to a garden centre last weekend, and when we did we should NOT have enjoyed a very nice coffee and cake in their lovely cafe, and when we'd spent the money we don't have on that little bit of indulgence we absolutely should NOT have eyed off the specialist grower's new consignment of bromeliads... Somehow we found ourselves at the till with a trolley load of shade-loving tropical goodies, trying not to look at the total. I felt the least I could do was plant up the planter box immediately.