Squeakygate Retreat is purpose built as our home and B&B. In 2003 I purchased the 1/2 acre block of land on the banks of the Clarence River south of the village of Ashby, with the dream of building a B&B on the site. At that time the Clarence Valley Council did not permit B&B's on RU1 (rural) zoned land. Mercifully, the regulations changed in about 2006 to allow this.
From the time the block, and shed out back, was purchased at auction in September 2003, until July 2012 the place was rented and used as storage. At one time there were no less than 12 caravans with 'stuff' in them on site... It was known to the locals as 'the block with all the garbage on it'! From the end of July 2012 I had a cleared site to begin the construction.
The first job was to build a 'unit' at one end of the already existing shed, where Cheryl and I lived for 18 months whilst our home and B&B took shape. I am the owner builder. They say you don't have to be mad to be an owner builder, but it helps... No argument there!
I purchased a kit home (well actually 2 kit homes - our home and the B&B) with what has become know as the 'alfresco',or, 'bridge' connecting the two. This is primarily a steel constructed building. The kit being supplied by PAAL. The house had to be elevated to be above 4.6 AHD for flood reasons. It does flood here for sure. We have already been through three floods. The building floor is actually 6.1 AHD, well above what is required. This allows an understory (laundry, car parking area etc.). The total floor area upstairs is about 285 sq. mtrs., of which about 125 sq.mts is deck and verandah, and the same amount of space downstairs as well.
The sub-floor and posts were supplied in kit form by Spantec, the kit homes by PAAL. To say I had problems with the kits supplied by both companies is huge understatement. Add to this the first 'builder' I used, recommended by Spantec, turned out to be completely incompetant. Not a good start! Locals came to my rescue in the shape of Macca & Daz (angels in overalls) and got me going again. With the able weekend assistance of a couple of local lads - Rob and Brenden (who worked at the local sawmill), the building began to take shape over the first half of 2013. Constant rain and three floods didn't help a lot. The latter part of 2013 saw much better weather and the arrival 'out of the blue', Aaron (a steel frame contractor) who made a huge difference to the progress of the building. As magically as Aaron arrived, in early December, he disappeared without trace. From then till the end of January, I was helped by another local 'Groover' so progress continued at some pace, painting, laying a floating floor and internals etc.. The latter part of this, kitchen, etc., ballastrading, the extension (yes we did an extension before we even moved in) and all the other bits and pieces, I completed alone. The occupation certificate was finally issued in August 2014 two years from the date we started building the unit in the shed.
I have have done many renovations, built heaps of furniture, and now 5 kitchens over my DIY lifetime, but I have always wanted to build my own home. Now I have done that! Would I do it again... not a chance on the planet! What am I proudest of? Well two things... First, the fact that it got completed at all. Second the kitchen... Took me a whole month to do this and I just love the natural edge river red gum slabs. These came to me from the local sawmill and had to be sanded back to the finish they are now. A massive job.
We opened for business on December 1, 2014. We love what we have and where we live... It is a gorgeous part of the world and we have no intensions of ever moving. We both have a background in tourism, accommodation and hospitality. We have loved sharing our B&B with guests who have stayed and and look forward to continuing to do so for many years to come. We hope that you will come visit us sometime in the future.
Stages 1 & 2: House and B&B
Stage 3: The Family Unit
Once we opened as a B&B on December 1, 2014, we pretty much got the hang of normal operation under control, making modifications to the way we did things to strive to give the best service we could. We also improved our efficiency so that we were able to minimise the turn around time after vacation for new guests. Next, we turned our attention to the development of the Family Unit. The work began in March, 2015 and was completed at the end of July, 2015. The Family is the same size as our home section above minus the world biggest laundry, so the total area of the studio is 63 sq.m.. See 'the Family Unit' for a description of its facilities.
The 'lacky' hard at work.
The Boss inspects.
Stage 5: The Meadery
The second last stage of the building development is the Meadery. The plan is to begin construction probably about June 2017 to be completed by December, 2017.
The plan is to develop a commercial meadery. At the time of writing, I am working on designs and getting advise from the relevant authorities. It will be a small production meadery which in NSW means you produce less than 1,000 litres of wine pa. I have been making wine and beer as an amateur for decades. I have always enjoyed making Meade (the oldest of all wines) and its associated ancient wines like Medomel, Cyser and Sack. There are 6 commercial Meaderies in Australia. I would like Squeakygate to be the 7th. Time will tell.
There are several other developments planned over the next couple of years:
What's planned is to make the B&B as self sufficient as possible, using no chemical at all in the gardens.
* The chicken coup: This is completed and in use now. This is located behind the front gates. Henrietta and the girls. Pic is Cheryl with girls. The chooks arrived on July 1 and seemed to have settled in well.
* Herb Garden: This is completed and in use now.
* Organic Terraced garden: The produce from the garden will be used for the B&B meals and our of course. Work in Progress.
* The Front Block: There is approximately .7 of an acre of riverland out the front of Squeakygate Retreat that is owned by the local council. We are the only ones who can lease this from the council. This will happen probably late in 2016 when we are ready to develop the block. The plan is mow the grass and then keep it down by having 2 or 3 alpacas there to keep the grass short and also for guests hand feed if they wish, pat and 'commune' with. The front block is on the inner meander of the river, but there is a 3 metre channel that comes very close to the bank. There intension is to in a temporary floating wharf that can to pushed into water on a temporary basis to allow small boats to tie up. That way guest can arrive by water, larger boats anchoring in the channel and coming ashore. It is hoped that this will be completed by the end of 2016.
Stage 6: The Spa & Massage Rooms
The last stage of the building process will be an outdoor spa. This will be located outside the family unit in a indoor/outdoor building which allows guests to sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden, but at the same time providing privacy.
The Family Unit completed
The place takes shape.
Open for Business
First 2 of 4 aquaponic growbeds, outside.
Stage 4: Acquaponics and the Greenhouse
I started with a raised garden and pond with Jade Perch. There are were two IBC with approximately 60 fingerling fish, for produce for the B&B and our consumption. Stage 1 was completed in April 2016. Stage 2 is an increase to 4 IBC's and to place them in a greenhouse. This is to grow more veges over the winter and to keep the water temperature above 20C. During stage 1 over the winter of 2016 the water temp. got as low as 12C. Jade perch stop growing below 20C and stop eating below about 16C.
Anyway, I purchased a 'flat pak' greenhouse designed by a chinese person with a very odd sense of humour. Put it together (lot of swearing) and now have 4 IBC setups in there. The 2 new aquaponic unit have 81 Australian Bass (River Perch) fingerlings in, purchased locally. The biggest of Jade Perch purchased last year are now 200gms or so. They will be plateable for guests by the end of the year. Stage 2 was completed June 2017.
By June I found that the temperature of the water in the IBC's was hovering at about 18C, which is pretty good and much better than last year, but I wanted it above 20C. So, I built a passive heating polypipe wall to pump water out of the IBC's through the heating wall and back to the IBC with a timer. The aim was to keep the water temperature about 21-22C, and then at night the water in the IBC's (approx. 3,000lts) act as a heat bank for the plants to keep the temperature in high teens in winter, thus encouraging plant growth. The water temperature is critical to the amount of food the fish will eat, thus their rate of growth. This has proved very effective with the perch continuing to eat and grow all winter, as did the veges. The pump brings in hot water in the afternoon for 3 mins every 15 mins. On a sunny day it comes in at up to 50 degress C. Impressive!
Cheryl 'communing' wiht the girls.
All 4 aquaponic growbeds, in the Greenhouse,
above the fish tanks.
Heatwall to heat water in fish tanks.