Monday, 4 July 2016
The life of a gardener is always intense.
I was not born with a green thumb. My first foray into growing vegetables was a complete disaster. I originally believed that planting a punnet of purchased seedling lettuces during the middle of a hot summer down under, into composted woody mulch and without additional watering, would be a smart thing to do. The lettuce seedlings in question promptly died. Since then I have learned that lettuce is a winter and spring crop down here, it is required to be grown in manure, and if spring weather is at all hot, those lettuce plants require additional watering.
Way back then, I was quite surprised by the death of those seedling lettuces because people down under traditionally consume lettuce over the summer as a salad vegetable. So many unanswered questions were raised by the death of those seedling lettuces such as:
- Who is consuming all of the lettuces grown down here during winter and spring (Aliens anyone)?
- Why do we consume lettuce in summer when they grow during the winter and spring?
- Where do the lettuces that are available on shop shelves during summer come from?
But mostly, the death of those lettuce seedlings made me aware that this whole agriculture business is much more complex than I’d even begun to consider.
As an interesting and related side story, a few weeks back, I heard an amusing story on an ABC national radio youth news program (Hack on Triple J) about people who describe themselves as preppers – whatever that means. Apparently the preppers hold a rather strange belief that the end of civilised society is nigh and so they have equipped themselves with stores including plant seeds sealed in air tight nitrogen filled bags. The preppers apparently intend to feed themselves – once civilised society has crashed and burned, of course – from plants grown from those stored seeds. Needless to say, I have some very bad news for preppers, and that is that I would expect that they would share the same fate as those lettuce seedlings in about the same time frame – unless of course they are miraculously saved by aliens who may or may not be driving repossessed Chevy Malibu’s. Agriculture is a seriously complex business and requires a lot of practice, experimentation and observation.
And so it is that this week that I have to admit to a failure. I planted onions in a raised garden bed of manure. It all seemed like a good idea at the time. The various onion species initially grew very well. And then disaster slowly struck. I rarely get insect pests here, however a small black aphid seemed to flourish on the onions. The fairy wren birds which spend most of their days consuming pest insects in the garden beds could not keep up with the sheer number of aphids, and the onions slowly wilted and looked very sad as they were covered by a mass of black insects.
After a bit of research, I discovered my error and it soon became clear that growing onions in a manure rich bed was a very bad idea. The manure encourages a lot of green growth in the onions which then becomes a magnet for all sorts of insects. The lesson here is that onions are best grown in beds compromising more acidic composted woody mulch rather than manures. This also tells me more about the onion story in that they were originally a forest (or forest edge) dwelling plant, much like garlic, because those are the sort of soils that you would expect to find in those locations.
Long term readers will recall that way back in February during the late summer when the sun was shining strongly and the days were hot, the editor and I travelled to a farm expo. At the farm expo we met a guy that manufactured round steel raised garden beds. Today we ordered a number of steel raised garden beds from that guy and all being well we should have them in place for the next blog entry.
Now, the steel raised garden bed which was used for growing the aphid riddled onions was full of manure. That steel bed was also too large for its location as we were unable to walk behind the raised garden bed without falling off the edge of the flat ground. Needless to say that falling down the slope and into a mass of solid vegetation would have been an unpleasant experience. So, today, we cleared all of the remaining vegetation in that raised garden bed and either fed the plants to the chickens or the worms.
|The old raised steel garden bed had all of its vegetation removed today|
Nothing goes to waste here and the manure in that raised garden bed was spread over the flower gardens and also on the recently excavated new garden beds. Manure is very handy on slopes as it can be caked onto a slope and it will stick like a render. Observant readers will be able to spot in the photo below the many white roots which the onions had left in that manure. The soil even smelled of onions. Once the manure was removed the steel could also be repossessed(!).
|The manure from the onion bed was spread about the farm|
A much smaller steel raised garden bed which had also been removed from another location was used to replace the previous (and much larger) raised garden bed. Onions are not the only plants that do not appreciate being grown in rich manure. Broad beans are a winter bean and they also prefer more acidic forest like soils (more woody compost than manures). It is possible to grow broad beans in rich manures, however they tend to grow very rapidly and then lodge. Lodging is a fancy word which means falling over! In the new and smaller raised garden bed, we filled the bed with a mix of about 80% composted woody mulch and about 20% manure and then planted about 50 broad bean seeds into that mix.
|The new and much smaller raised garden bed was filled with about 80% composted woody mulch and then topped up with about 20% manure and planted with about 50 broad bean seeds|
The smaller raised garden bed had been repossessed (!) from an existing location next to the original asparagus bed. That left a mass of manure, which will be used to fill a new and much larger second steel raised asparagus bed which should be in place by the next blog entry.
|A mass of manure was left behind after removing the smaller raised garden bed which was used elsewhere|
The asparagus crowns for that yet to be installed raised garden bed were purchased earlier this week. Asparagus grows as either a male or female plant and they can be purchased as either one to two year old crowns or as much smaller seedlings. Asparagus crowns are supplied to plant nurseries by commercial asparagus growers and they are generally the female plants which produce smaller spears which are not favoured by commercial growers. The growers are paid by weight of produce and fatter spears which are produced by the male plant provide more income than the thinner spears produced by the female plant. If you want to breed asparagus plants you require both the male and the female plants and so you will have to acquire seedlings. However, if all you desire is to grow and eat asparagus spears then purchasing crowns will save you a year or two of growth. The existing asparagus bed contains plants that are a mix of seedling and crowns so both sexes are present. The second raised garden bed will compromise only crowns.
|The author holds up two of the asparagus crowns purchased this week to display just how much growth a crown already has when purchased|
So you see, years after commencing this adventure, I’m still learning so much about agriculture and how it applies here, and also more importantly I’m learning what am I intending to eat from the garden. It may make you feel good winning the local best in show for the best looking Romanesco broccoli, but to my mind there is little point growing vegetables if you do not intend to eat them. Unless of course you are feeding it to aliens, who may be rather uncertain in their choice of favourite vegetables and then perhaps the Romanesco broccoli may impress them!
Winter rainfall is normally quite gentle, but persistent here. I often joke that it rains a lot, but not much rain falls. However, earlier this week the rain was torrential!
|Last week the rain was torrential|
Finally, the rain eventually went elsewhere and I had an opportunity to move a fruit tree. For about five years I have grown a white sapote fruit tree in a shady location nearer to the older citrus trees. And the white sapote after all of those years looks like a bonsai. Lewis who is a regular commenter at the blog always reminds me to talk to the trees which seems like good common sense. Today, I was reminded of an amusing quote from Bill Mollison – the Tasmanian co-inventor of the Permaculture principles – who when asked whether he spoke to the trees replied that he did, and then went on to say that he told the trees: “Hurry up and grow you bast$%ds or I’ll pull you out!” Needless to say that white sapote has been given a strong talking to and has been removed to a sunnier location on the farm.
|A white sapote fruit tree was moved to a sunnier location on the farm today|
Some of the manure from that dismantled onion bed was used in the new fern gully to feed an additional three fern trees which were planted over the past few days.
|Three more tree ferns were planted in the new fern gully over the past few days|
I have heard the opinion expressed that winter gardens are dull places where colour is lacking. I’m unsure what those people are talking about because there are a huge number and diversity of flowers to be seen in the winter garden and I thought that I’d take you on a quick tour of the winter flowers that are growing here right now:
|The hellebores produce brightly coloured flowers in deep shade at this time of year|
|The tea camellia is about to produce a show of flowers and I also spotted that the ginger root just below the tea camellia did not die off in the recent frost. The coffee shrub did die in the frost|
|The echiums are beginning their long display of flowers. The bees adore this plant|
|The borage are also still in flower. This one is Anchusa Sempervirens|
|The geraniums flower all year around here|
|Rosemary is still in flower|
|I suspect that this is the flower of the Colts Foot herb which is apparently a major ingredient in herbal tobacco|
|The pineapple sage produces an enormous amount of nectar for the honeyeater birds|
|The African daisies and pentstemon flowers bravely defy the frost|
It is with regret and much sadness that I announce the recent demise of my favourite bakery product supply business. It took five years of custom before the ladies at the shop even recognised me as a regular customer. I realised that that threshold from a nobody to a regular had been reached one day because their treatment of me changed abruptly and without warning many long years ago from a sort of surly truculence to a state of grudging acceptance. Last week however, I was on high alert as the shop was looking decidedly empty of product and the ladies cheerfully announced their immanent retirement. I had the chills because of the cheerful treatment, however this was a sad day for me as not only had several years of my charm and wit been thrown down the drain, but I now only have about one month of bakery supply products remaining in my stores. The difficulty for me is that most bakery supply outlets want to supply very large quantities of product, whilst the supermarkets want to supply only very small quantities (at high margins) of bakery supply products. It is a predicament which I have not yet resolved but am currently investigating. Anyway, perhaps it was time for retirement as this morning I discovered what looked like weevils in my yet to be opened and soon to be chicken feed (previously bread ingredients) seed mix. Alas, there is now no one to complain to about it!
|This morning I discovered what looks like weevils in my unopened bread seed mix|
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 5.2’C (41.4’F). So far this year there has been 465.0mm (18.3 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 443.4mm (17.5 inches).
Solar PV Statistics (from 4.6kW of installed PV panels)
Tuesday – 28th June Batteries started at 56% full and 8.9kW was generated that day
Wednesday – 29th June Batteries started at 66% full and 6.8kW was generated that day
Thursday – 30th June Batteries started at 72% full and 1.4kW was generated that day
Friday – 1st July Batteries started at 65% full and 4.2kW was generated that day
Saturday – 2nd July Batteries started at 63% full and 4.6kW was generated that day
Sunday – 3rd July Batteries started at 68% full and 4.9kW was generated that day
Monday- 4th July Batteries started at 67% full and 2.8kW was generated that day
Monday, 11 July 2016
Weekly notes from Poopy!
Hi everyone! Long term readers know me as Poopy the Pomeranian. Although as anyone with half a brain can see, I am actually a sophisticated and very intelligent Swedish Lapphund.
|Poopy the Pomeranian (who is actually a Swedish Lapphund) hard at work on this blog entry|
Your usual correspondent, Chris, asked me to write this week’s blog because I have had the best week ever. This week it has rained, and then it rained some more. 92.4mm (or 3.6 inches) of rain fell this week to be precise. That rain was totally the best ever situation as I was able to rest and relax inside the comfort of the house all week long! Usually I sleep outside at night, but not this week. I love the rain. Bring it on, I say!
Each evening during the week, the wood fire has been going strong and I was toasty warm. As you can see in the photo above I have superior breeding (edit – Poopy was picked up as a “free to a good home” dog who had apparently been returned three times already due to his ‘unique’ personality) and a beautiful thick winter coat so I never really feel the cold, unlike the other dogs. Winter is my time!
When the wood heater wasn’t providing its toasty warmth to assist in my relaxation activities, Scritchy the boss dog would take advantage of my natural warmth and sit on me in order to keep warm. This is all very undignified, but it must be remembered that Scritchy is one mean boss dog and so I had to tolerate her proclivities otherwise I’d get a face full of bad attitude – and who wants that? Yup, that Scritchy is one real bad egg, but with a warm bottom.
|Scritchy the boss dog warms her bottom on the naturally toasty Poopy during a recent cold snap|
This week’s long sleep and relaxation has been well deserved. It is a tough thing being a working farm dog! There are rats to hunt. No matter how many of those rats I kill, there are always more. And they don’t taste very nice. Well, the truth is that I have a special arrangement with Chris who swaps dead rats for beef jerky. Now, beef jerky is tasty – rats, yeah, not so much. Due to my superior intelligence, if the other dogs ever catch a rat, I can confuse the other dogs with my super secret fluffy mind powers and then snatch the dead rat from their jaws and present it to Chris as if I had killed it. That is winning that is and I end up with the beef jerky and praise. The other dogs don’t seem to share my joy.
However, the rats are a minor diversion as my true enemies are the wombats, wallabies, and kangaroos. Oh how they tremble in fear at my bark and stealthy approach. During the daylight hours and into the early evenings I run regular boundary patrols looking for any signs of marsupial incursions and dealing with those intruders. It is a tough and thankless job, but some dog has to do it.
Then on Friday morning at day break it all changed because I looked out the window from my comfy position on the bean bag – without exerting too much energy of course as that would be a total waste – and saw that the morning dawned cold and clear. There was even a collection of frost right down in the bottom of the valley. When you are hard at work keeping Scritchy the boss dog warm on the bean bag, the thought of all that cold air down there in the valley sends shivers along your spine.
As the rain had stopped for the day, I unfortunately had to go back to work.
|Friday morning the day dawned bright, cold and clear|
It wasn’t all bad news though because for some strange reason, Chris was awake at sun up that day, so I had my breakfast even earlier than usual. I love breakfast. Next to my dinner time biscuits, breakfast is the best.
Chris returned home from wherever he went at about lunch time that day and I could smell that he had stopped along the way at a gourmet pie shop. Where is my pie, that’s what I want to know? I would share my breakfast and dog biscuits with Chris if he asked, well maybe I wouldn’t actually do that, but then again I might share them. But then he has to share his gourmet pie first. Yeah, maybe I would share food under those circumstances.
|Chris and the editor stopped at a most excellent gourmet pie shop on the recent journey to pick up new raised garden beds|
The afternoon that day was glorious as the sun shone with a little bit of warmth, I did some excellent boundary patrol work, I threatened a few rats, and I even noticed that the bees were enjoying the winter sun too. All of the other dogs tell me to be careful with the bees, but I say to those bees: Try and sting me through this thick fur coat, suckers!
|The bees decided to enjoy some nice winter sunshine on Friday|
As I said, it is hard work being a farm dog, so I assisted Chris with unloading the new steel round raised garden beds.
|Poopy assists Chris with the unloading of the new steel round raised garden beds|
Assisting with the unloading was total 100% pure fun and I got to enjoy plenty of the Lord of the Rings jokes (edit – Poopy is referring to the round steel rings) at the expense of the other dogs from my elevated position in the bright yellow trailer. My favourite was when I said to the other dogs who were on the ground below me at the time: Three rings to rule them all, losers! (edit – Observant readers will note that in the photo above that Scritchy the boss dog is incredibly angry at Poopy’s usual display of arrogance)
Once the three round steel beds were unloaded from the trailer, Chris and the editor spent the rest of that day and then all of the following day replacing two existing damaged steel beds and installing the remaining ring as a new garden bed. Watching all of that work was exhausting, so I disappeared just in case I became involved in all of that hard work. Anyway, there were plenty of rats to hunt.
From time to time, I stealthily slunk past to see what was going on and here is what I saw:
One of the existing small steel raised beds had been very rusty to begin with, but lately it had almost fallen apart. I had wondered if cocking my leg on that garden bed had sped up the rust. I must also add that the garden bed can barely take my weight because of rust damage. I had to jump up into the bed to hunt for moths and other insects to eat. I don’t know why they were so upset about that as I was just trying to help! Anyway, Chris used some sort of electric wheel cutting thing which produced a lot of sparks and quickly removed all of the steel. That left the soil and plants undisturbed. The new and slightly smaller steel ring was then placed over the top of those undisturbed soil and plants. Now I can jump onto the garden bed without fear of being yelled at for collapsing the garden bed!
|A round and very rusty steel raised garden bed was cut up and destroyed this week|
One of the two larger new round steel raised garden beds was placed in position in the materials unloading area. Last week you may recall that Chris wrote something or other about removing the bed from that location. Apparently, I heard Chris and the editor saying that the location of this new bed will provide more room for unloading materials as the previous raised garden bed was too close and made unloading materials very difficult.
|A new raised garden bed was placed into position in the materials unloading area|
Chris then dug the area so that the raised bed sat much lower in the ground. I then overheard the editor saying that the raised bed will be planted out to asparagus. Seriously, who eats asparagus? No dog in their right mind would eat asparagus. Yuk! Now if only they could grow beef jerky in those garden beds, I’d be much more interested!
|The new raised garden bed was planted out with 10 asparagus crowns|
Then the final new steel ring was used to replace an existing raised garden bed that was too big for its location. That bed has pleasant memories for me because that was where the normally-goody-two-shoes-stay-out-of-trouble-at-all-costs member of the dog collective, Sir Scruffy, got into serious trouble because he was stupid enough to be caught burying his bone in this bed and had destroyed all of the seedlings. Too bad, so sad. Sucks to be you, dude!
|The final new large steel raised garden bed replaced an existing steel ring which will be reused later for onions or potatoes|
Then after a lot of hard work, it was all done and Chris smelled really good because he was covered in sticky and very wet manure.
|The new steel raised garden beds were now in their final positions|
It wasn’t all work this week because out in the forest on patrol I dug up an awesome joint bone. It was the best, and all of these free bones that I keep finding keep my teeth bright white and sharp.
|On forest boundary patrol Poopy discovered and retrieved this unidentified joint bone|
But, the best find of all was a dead goat horn. Yum! There was a bit of fighting over that horn with the other dogs, which naturally I won. Naturally this was after Scritchy the boss dog had chewed on it for a while.
|The dogs brought back a dead goat horn over the past few days|
I have a little confession to make here. I like apples. Apples are yum! And over the past few days Chris and the editor purchased a box of seconds apples from a nearby orchard. Some of those apples, being seconds, were a little bit dodgy, so instead of feeding them all to me, Chris cut them up, blitzed them and turned them into Apple Cider vinegar. What a total waste, I could have eaten all of them.
|Chris cuts up and blitzes seconds apples that were a bit too dodgy and turns the resulting mash into Apple Cider vinegar|
|Apple cider vinegar is produced in a bucket here with just apples, yeast and water|
Chris took me out for a drive this week to the local café because I am a sophisticated canine of superior breeding. Along the way we noticed that with all of the recent rainfall, the local river had begun flowing again. As I well know, the creek at the very bottom of the property has been flowing for a few months now, but I guess it takes a very long time for that water to work its way down to the valley below from here.
|The view from one side of the bridge across the local river looking north|
The view across the other side of the bridge looking south provides a remarkable contrast to that rather swampy looking ground.
|The view from the other side of the bridge across the local river looking south|
As an observant and intelligent canine, I realise that planting some of the local tree species in very damp locations such as drains and next to waterways is probably not a good idea as they fail to put down strong tap roots and/or cope with the damp soil. And sometimes they fall over (Edit – all trees eventually fall over) like this one that I spotted not too far from here which was in very damp soil. I’m glad I was nowhere near that one when it fell over.
|A nearby tree in very damp soil fell over in the heavy winds this week|
I do hope that you have enjoyed my story and Chris has informed me that he will be back next week!
The temperature outside now at about 7.00pm is 7.6’C (45.7’F). So far this year there has been 557.4mm (21.9 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 465.0mm (18.3 inches).
Solar PV Statistics (from 4.6kW of installed PV panels)
Tuesday – 5th July Batteries started at 57% full and 0.5kW was generated that day (this was the worst day on record – ever)
Wednesday – 6th July Batteries started at 50% full and 0.9kW was generated that day
Thursday – 7th July Batteries started at 43% full and 1.1kW was generated that day
Friday – 8th July Batteries started at 38% full and 9.1kW was generated that day
Saturday – 9th July Batteries started at 47% full and 6.4kW was generated that day
Sunday – 10th July Batteries started at 51% full and 1.1kW was generated that day
Monday- 11th July Batteries started at 43% full and 3.2kW was generated that day
Monday, 18 July 2016
Feels like we’re only going backwards
Sometimes rock bands are so good that they can produce a feeling and an emotion in the listener. The listener is then able to grasp, feel and then hold onto that feeling, before the emotion once again disappears to wherever it came from. The highly acclaimed Australian rock band, Tame Impala, produces dreamy vocals and melodies. In their highly awarded 2012 “Lonerism” album, the band included a song which describes the feelings of only going backwards. The song was on my mind this morning as I made my morning coffee.
I freely admit that I am a coffee snob but can appreciate that not everybody shares my views in this matter. At home I have a proper Italian espresso machine and more importantly I know how to use that machine to produce a quality coffee. When I am away from home, coffee must be made on an espresso machine or I will refuse to consume it. To my mind, instant coffee is a wasted food opportunity and I can vividly recall both of the situations where I have consumed – with absolute horror – instant coffee. Yes twice! Life is too short for such food outrages and there is no place in my life for such things.
The problem is that coffee when consumed in the form of a latte requires milk. Long term readers will recall that I celebrate my tightness with money, however where a product represents true quality over the standard offerings I will support both that product and the producers with my hard earned cash. Milk is one such product and I will happily pay almost $4 per litre (that is almost $15 per gallon) for quality certified organic milk. It is good stuff. Now, I do appreciate that many other people will happily pay $1 per litre (that is slightly less than $4 per gallon) for milk.
Out of curiosity I tasted that $1 per litre milk product and have noted that when the product is heated in an espresso machine it appears to me to consistently have a very sour and acidic taste which I personally do not appreciate in my coffee. And I also wonder what this $1 per litre milk is doing to the dairy farming business because I have read many reports that the dairy farmers are now being forced, because of many different local and global issues, to sell their milk for less than the cost of production: Dairy farmers facing a tough year with new milk prices below cost of production
Then I stumbled across the very worst agricultural news that I have read for quite a long while. The varroa mite which has devastated European honey bee colonies in all other inhabited continents other than Australia has only a few days ago been discovered in the north eastern part of this continent: Varroa mite discovery in Townsville could put the bite on northern queen bee breeders
I believe that the guy in Melbourne that supplies me with bee colonies, sources his bee colonies and/or bee Queens from that corner of the continent and so the discovery of the very destructive varroa mites may change my future plans in relation to the European honey bee hives here.
The possible loss of the European honey bees here will be a disaster for future honey production. On the other hand, there are many species of native bees and other insects present on this farm which can pollinate crops. However, none of those species at this location can produce a surplus supply of honey for their winter stores which humans can harvest. The European honey bees are unique in that regard and their loss will be felt; although I also feel that some of the claims made in the media in that regard have been exaggerated.
And so this morning, I consumed my coffee, looked out of the window into the paddock below and wondered about the future of the dairy and apiary industry. It really felt to me that, we as a society are going backwards, and I wondered what it all meant. And the song looped over and over again in my head as I contemplated the decline of those two industries in Australia.
When products are in decline I often choose to become more self sufficient in relation to those products. For example I do have bees. However it is fortunate that I don’t have a few Jersey cows (for milking purposes) free roaming around the lower parts of the orchard and paddock because last night a huge branch fell off a very old tree. There have been very heavy wind gusts which have followed on from the recent very heavy rainfall. The main branch of that fallen limb now on the ground is well over 1m (about 4 feet) across and it would certainly have squashed a cow or three. In the photo below observant readers will note the huge scar left on the old tree that the branch fell from.
|Very heavy wind gusts ripped this huge chunk of a very old tree overnight|
As sometimes happens in very heavy wind gusts, a branch from one tree can also fall high up into an adjacent tree and there it hangs. The unfortunate thing about this situation is that you never quite know exactly when that branch will fall to the ground. You can be certain that the branch will inevitably fall though.
|A very large branch has become detached and lodged high up in an adjacent tree due to heavy wind gusts|
With the weather today and yesterday it feels to me as if the Spring has arrived early. The skies are blue and the air is warm. But only a few days ago, it snowed more heavily than I have previously experienced at this location. The outside air was very cold that Wednesday morning at -0.6’C (30.9’F), whilst inside the house it felt toasty warm at only 13.3’C (55.9’F).
|The weather station here shows cold temperatures on a very snowy Wednesday morning|
A solid dusting of snow covered everything that morning! It was a real pleasure to experience as it is such a novelty. All of the colours of that morning were completely washed out except for the warm and inviting yellow light coming from inside the house (and the bright yellow trailer):
|A solid dusting of snow covered everything that morning and washed out all of the colours|
Even the nearby mountains (Mount Bullengarook to the left and closest and Mount Blackwood to the right and further away) which are slightly lower in elevation than the farm were covered in snow and I felt as if I were living in some sort of alpine area!
|The nearby mountains of Bullengarook and Blackwood where also covered in snow that morning giving the Central Highlands an alpine feel|
All of the plants in the many raised garden beds were covered in snow that morning too:
|All of the plants in the raised garden beds were covered in snow that morning|
None of those plants have shown any signs of being damaged by the snow in the days since. The courtyard behind the house was also covered in snow and it just looked nice.
|The courtyard behind the house was also covered in snow and it looked nice|
The ferns from which this place gets its name also put on a good show in the snow and it is possible to see how the ferns collect rainwater and nutrients in their core trunk through the shape of their leaves.
|A tree fern puts on a good show in the recent snow|
None of the fruit trees showed any damage from the snow fall and even this avocado tree has survived unscathed.
|An avocado tree has not shown any damage since the recent snow fall|
The most showy of the fruit trees were the citrus as they displayed their snow catch along with their showy winter fruits.
|The citrus trees put on the best display with their snow and showy brightly coloured fruit|
The chickens however were not quite so keen on the snow and despite having an all-weather run, they hid in their attached chicken house.
|The chickens were unimpressed with the recent snowfall|
Regular readers will be happy to note that Poopy the Pomeranian (who is actually a Swedish Lapphund) reached far back into his genetic heritage and revelled in the cold and snowy conditions.
|Poopy the Pomeranian enjoys the recent heavy snowfall|
Poopy took time away from enjoying the snow to munch on a bone that had been recovered by Sir Scruffy, but discarded due to the unfavourable (for him) weather conditions.
|Poopy enjoys munching on a bone in the snow|
Poopy who is an intelligent canine was also quick to point out to me that solar photovoltaic panels were very unlikely to produce any energy at all if they were covered in snow!
|The solar photovoltaic panels were covered in snow on Wednesday and produced very little energy that morning|
I was aware of the impending predicted heavy snowfall for that day. With that prediction in mind, on the previous day I ran the petrol generator for a few hours for the first time in three years and put about 4.4kWh of charge into the house batteries. That decision was made because the charge in the batteries had become low enough due to the very heavy winter cloud that had hung over the farm for many weeks and I had become concerned about damaging the batteries and/or shortening their lifespan.
Fortunately the snow melted by mid-morning and the solar photovoltaic panels once began to produce some energy as the sun peered through the heavy clouds.
After the snow eventually melted, the editor and I could get back to work on farm activities. All of the screenings were repaired around the recently installed new steel round raised garden beds. Screenings is just a fancy name for small white rocks and these come from a local quarry and those rocks have a high quantity of lime which means that with a little bit of rain and some sun they will set hard like rock and provide an all-weather surface.
|Rock screenings which contain good quantities of lime were placed around the new steel round raised garden beds this week|
The editor and I also constructed another concrete step on the new stairway up to the future strawberry and blackberry beds.
|Another concrete step was added to the new stairway leading up to the future blackberry and strawberry beds|
Observant readers will also notice that the screenings leading up to the new concrete stairs were also repaired this week.
I mentioned before that despite the snow fall, the sun and warmer air of the past few days makes me feel as if Spring has arrived early. And that feeling is also shared by some of the plants here:
|An asparagus bravely pokes its head out of the soil during the middle of winter|
|The first of the many jonquils planted in the orchards put on a flower show this week|
|An almond tree began to produce its first blossoms this week in the middle of winter|
Maybe despite the snow, we are actually going forwards into an early Spring?
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 10.1’C (50.1’F). So far this year there has been 570.4mm (22.4 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 557.4mm (21.9 inches).
Solar PV Statistics (from 4.6kW of installed PV panels)
Tuesday – 12th July Batteries started at 37% full and 2.9kW was generated that day (and 4.4kW from the petrol generator)
Wednesday – 13th July Batteries started at 44% full and 7.6kW was generated that day
Thursday – 14th July Batteries started at 50% full and 5.1kW was generated that day
Friday – 15th July Batteries started at 57% full and 5.2kW was generated that day
Saturday – 16th July Batteries started at 67% full and 7.3kW was generated that day
Sunday – 17th July Batteries started at 69% full and 8.5kW was generated that day
Monday- 18th July Batteries started at 73% full and 6.2kW was generated that day
Monday, 25 July 2016
For a vegetarian
It is hard to believe that only a year ago, we were constructing the new chicken enclosure. The chickens here are very grateful (or, so I believe) for that new chicken enclosure as it provides them with an all-weather outdoor protected run which is attached to a sturdy steel hen house. There has been so much rain over the past few months, that had the chickens remained in their old enclosure (which was eventually converted to a firewood storage shed) that those chickens would have been unable to venture from their previous hen house as they would have huddled miserably in the doorway whilst contemplating the very muddy conditions – of which they wanted no part.
The new chicken enclosure however was constructed to withstand sub-optimal chicken weather and so now the chickens enjoy a charmed life and their health has improved markedly. The hen’s now turn their beaks up in disdain at snow or heavy downpours and simply get on with their important chicken business. Part of the new hen house and enclosure was constructed on a substantial concrete slab so that the chickens enjoy dry housing conditions despite the worst that the weather can throw at them. And I was thinking about this today as the rain fell and the wind blew, about just how hard it would be to construct that same concrete slab this year.
In the past two months 324mm (12.8 inches) of rain has fallen over the farm. Fortunately, this week in between bouts of rain, the sun has also shone. With the increased sun, the solar power system has been generating respectable amounts of power and the house batteries are starting the slow process of recharging. That sun combined with the rain has produced the most excellent display of rainbows this week!
|Rainbows have been a regular feature this week over the farm as the heavy rain has combined with the sun|
All of the water systems at the farm work towards getting every drop of water from whatever source into the soil. From there that water accumulates in the ground water table. Not everyone pursues this strategy and an alternative strategy with water is to move any water off to another location altogether as rapidly as possible. With the recent sudden increase in rainfall, I can see from this eagles eyrie high up on the mountain side, that there are many locations in the valley below where water is now pooling above the ground and forming what looks to me like a swamp.
|Water is now pooling above the ground in some low lying paddocks in the valley below|
In other parts of the valley it is now possible to see where the water moves across the surface through various paddocks.
|In the valley below it has become possible to see where the water moves across the surface through the paddocks|
The recent rain has given me time in recent weeks to turn my mind to stories and other philosophical matters.
One of the joys of writing this blog is the ongoing dialogue that is shared with the many thoughtful and intelligent commenters who take the time to post a comment. Many weeks ago now as part of that ongoing dialogue in the comment section, I received a very insightful comment which was: For a vegetarian, I consume a lot of meat.
My friends are likewise baffled by my philosophical stance in relation to the consumption of meat. Other people who discover my preference for consuming a predominantly vegetarian diet are also curious and confused about the issue.
I must now out myself as: A mostly vegetarian. What I mean by the term “mostly vegetarian” is that at home I consume vegetarian meals, but once outside the confines of the farm, I eat whatever is being served with an eye to quality food.
Diet is one of those topics that can produce strong displays of passions as everyone feels it necessary to defend their chosen turf. I on the other hand, believe that everyone exists on a continuum somewhere between the Vegans and the Protein cohorts. I have total respect for people at either end of that continuum as not only are they making complex dietary choices, but those people are constantly challenged and judged by yet other people who are usually testing them to defend their values. I on the other hand tend to fly below the radar and not make a big issue out of the whole diet thing. If someone wants to feed me meat, I respect the animal and consume the meat. Done.
Long term readers will recall that I am careful where I spend my hard earned money. This mode of living is also known as being “tight”. For those that are curious, my “mostly vegetarian” concept is compatible with my “tight” philosophy. You see, my experience on this farm of growing edible plants, I quickly learned that it is an inefficient process to grow plants which I could potentially consume and then feed those same plants to other creatures so as to build protein stores in those creatures. Obviously, I am unable to consume pasture and herbage, but the wildlife here can consume that and that is my preference and gift to them.
However, as a method of food preservation, turning plants into protein is a great idea, thus the traditional popularity of the mid-winter feast where an animal is slaughtered and cooked during the very depths of winter. However, the winters are milder here than in other corners of the planet and I am able to grow edible greens and fruit all year around. So despite the dark night, the driving winds and the very heavy rainfall here just outside of the window, if I so chose, I could grab an umbrella and pick enough greens and citrus fruit to make a meal. If I wanted a bowl of stewed rhubarb that is no problem at all as there are dozens of that plant to choose from. Potatoes, no worries, I accidentally dug up some today and I then cut them up and gave them to the chickens. But for me to eat the chickens would be very inefficient and costly when I could simply eat the greens myself. It would also mean that I would have to commence the process of breeding chickens which is a more complex task than simply keeping hens for both eggs and manure, and that is something that I have no desire to do at this stage in my life.
I do occasionally depart from my “tight” philosophy. The departure usually arises when I stumble across – or discover a need for – an item that is of such high quality that I can intuit that the product will have a long life and also enjoy much use. On Friday, I travelled into the big smoke of Melbourne to undertake a large number of tasks. I tend to accumulate a number of tasks before heading off the farm. One of those tasks was visiting a large shop which sells old style preserving equipment.
I instinctively knew that the visit to this shop would be dangerous as it would apply extreme pressure to my “tight” philosophy. And I was not wrong. It is a dangerous shop, and so it was that after a long and interesting discussion with the old bloke that ran the large shop, I purchased a fruit press. I also broke my general rule about buying the cheapest and smallest tool before committing to a larger and better quality product and so instead purchased the mid-sized fruit press. Oh, that shop is dangerous!
|The new fruit press was immediately put to use in pressing the apple which had been quietly fermenting away in the most recent batch of apple cider vinegar|
That afternoon, the new fruit press was immediately put to use in pressing the apple which had been quietly fermenting away in the most recent batch of apple cider vinegar. The next day, I picked an overflowing bucket of ripe lemons.
|The author picks a bucket full of ripe lemons. The bucket represents about only a quarter of all of the ripe lemons ready to harvested at the farm|
Those lemons were then cut into eights and placed in the fruit press. As space became available in the press, more cut lemons were added.
|The lemons were cut into eights and then placed in the fruit press. As space became available in the press, more cut lemons were added|
I’m starting to question the wisdom of growing so many lemon trees here as I am unsure what to do with all of the lemon juice and/or fruit. In Melbourne from my earlier experience of fruit tree growing, lemon trees suffer from a lot of problems. Those problems are absent here and the fruit trees are very prolific. From just that first pressing, I produced about 5 litres (1.3 gallons) of lemon juice which will be used to make: lemon wine; jams; for cooking; and added to preserves (eg: quince, the poaching liquid also forms the base of quince wine). What wasn’t used for starting a batch of lemon wine on that day was placed in the freezer for later use in the year.
|The author harvests about 5 litres (1.3 gallons) of lemon juice|
All of the citrus peel was fed to the worms in the worm farm. If anyone has any other potential uses for so much lemon juice, please don’t be shy and leave a comment! Bear in mind that I have only now harvested a quarter of the fruit so there is a lot of lemon juice left to be harvested!
Earlier in the week we experimented with making peanut butter from raw peanuts. We purchased a basic peanut butter grinder which was of such low quality that we threw it out. That grinder was total rubbish and the bin was the best place for it. After a suggestion from a regular commenter of the blog, we ran the peanuts through the food processor and made peanut butter in no time at all.
In a feat of microbiology, we have also this week reverse engineered sake which is otherwise known as rice wine. It is very nice stuff.
|This week we have performed a feat of microbiology and reverse engineered sake which is otherwise known as rice wine|
It is not all food this week as in between bouts of alternating heavy rain and sunshine, we cleared out the tomato beds and set it up in preparation for next summer’s crop of tomatoes.
|The now dead tomato vines were piled up in the tomato enclosure|
Observant readers will note that we have grown the largest and healthiest looking celery within the tomato enclosure. I have no idea at all how that celery came to be in the tomato enclosure, however it is clear to me that celery plants enjoy the same soil mix as tomatoes, which is a mix of carbon heavy (i.e. woody) materials and manures. There are also a number of blackberries and raspberries (bramble berries) in that enclosure which will shortly be removed to a new location – once the weather dries out a bit.
|The dead tomato vines were mowed and chipped flat|
I used the push mower to chip and mulch the dead tomato vines.
I then placed a layer of woody composted mulch over the top of the chipped and mulched material. The tomatoes for next season will then be planted into that soil mix in about late September early October.
|A layer of composted woody mulch was placed over the top of the chipped and mulched material and the tomato seedlings will be planted into that in a few months|
It is hard to believe, but on Friday a one in twenty year record warm winters day occurred of 19’C (66.2’F) before a late storm swept through and winter rapidly returned. I’ve noticed that in the orchard, the fruit trees responded to that warm weather and the sap can clearly be seen rising in the fruit trees as a different coloured wood.
|The sap in the fruit trees rose this week which can be seen in the different colour of the new wood on this apricot tree as the fruit trees put on additional wood|
Whilst I was travelling in the local area, I noticed by accident some very cool buildings which I wanted to share with you. One of those buildings was a bluestone (a blue / grey granite) windmill which most likely dates back to the 19th century and would have been used for milling local grains.
|I spotted an old granite windmill in the area once used for milling grains|
In another out of the way corner of this part of the world, I also spotted a beautiful old settlers cottage made from the local stone. I do not believe that it is now lived in as it has an air of decay about the buildings. Still, I doubt I will look as good as that building does when I reach the same age!
|I spotted an old settlers cottage made from local stone|
Last but not least, the barking owl who calls the farm home stopped by for a visit the other night and was nice enough to pose for a photo opportunity!
|The barking owl stopped by again for another night of rat hunting at the farm|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 5.0’C (41.0’F). So far this year there has been 622.2mm (24.5 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 570.4mm (22.4 inches).
Solar PV Statistics (from 4.6kW of installed PV panels)
Tuesday – 19th July Batteries started at 72% full and 3.6kW was generated that day
Wednesday – 20th July Batteries started at 71% full and 6.1kW was generated that day
Thursday – 21st July Batteries started at 76% full and 7.1kW was generated that day
Friday – 22nd July Batteries started at 82% full and 3.5kW was generated that day
Saturday – 23rd July Batteries started at 77% full and 7.8kW was generated that day
Sunday – 24th July Batteries started at 76% full and 7.8kW was generated that day
Monday- 25th July Batteries started at 81% full and 5.0kW was generated that day